Falling from the Moon
A "Please Save My Earth" fanfic
By Natalie Baan
The raft he was adrift on rose up, rocked, then settled. He jerked, dug his fingers into it, his heart flailing wildly as he felt an endless fall reaching up for him, pulling at his arms and legs. /Scared./ Then that jolt broke him free into air and almost-light and something that yielded underneath his hands--not a raft. A mattress. He was in bed, and though he vaguely remembered something unpleasant waiting for him in the near-future, /this/ place was safe, and the depths that were sucking him back down into them were nothing more than sleep. Rolling over, he found a warm spot, wrapped his arms around a pillow and buried his face in it as he let himself go under once more, gladly.
As he sank, he thought that something was missing. He wondered what it was.
"/Jinpachi./" A hand was on his shoulder, shaking him. He heaved his head out of the pillow. "It's time to get up." Bits and pieces of things fell nearly together, making a fractured kind of sense: Issei's voice. Had to be Issei's grip just releasing him, Issei somewhere behind him, already out of bed. The prospect of leaving the bed himself and facing another day of--he collapsed back down into the pillow.
"/Nggh./ Jus' gimme few mor' minu's...."
The mattress dipped and leveled as Issei went away, and Jinpachi clutched at his reprieve, eager to make every second of it count. Snuggling under the covers, he groped after that floating feeling, trying to let it carry him into unconsciousness once more. Somewhere between sleep and waking, a sensation trickled through to him--dream? memory?--of slow fingers sliding through his hair, over and over--
--/Ah, Enju--sorry about that. Did I fall asleep?/--
"--come on, Jinpachi. Now you really /have/ to get up." He started, confused--Issei's hand was on his shoulder again, a familiar touch, but somehow not quite what he'd been expecting. Issei's voice and the teasing smile it hinted at hovered just above his ear. He could feel warm breath on his skin. "If you don't, Shion's going to come in here and look for you."
Now /that/ was just plain unmerciful. Jinpachi groaned and began prying himself off the mattress. "I'm done in the bathroom," Issei added, which made Jinpachi realize that /he/ needed the bathroom rather urgently. Moving with a bit more energy, he staggered upright and stumbled into the small, brightly lit room, closing the door behind himself.
Necessary business done, he located his toothbrush and toothpaste, applied one to the other, and began scrubbing his teeth. The rhythmic, automatic movement started to lull him back to sleep; he found his eyes shut, didn't know where he was for an instant, and jerked himself back into wakefulness, blinking. He was faced with his own reflection, complete with rumpled hair, eyelids resentfully half-adroop, and a toothbrush hanging from the corner of his mouth. /Ugh./ And it was slowly dawning upon him that on all sides was an alien bathroom, blandly impersonal, showing no signs of the person it had once belonged to. Strange and at the same time not--if he weren't still half-asleep, he might know which bugged him more. Might even be inclined to care. /Ugh,/ he thought again, that being about the level on which he was ready or willing to deal with his surroundings. Mornings were a pain at the best times. He worked the toothbrush around some more, then bent forward to spit, and found himself drifting, staring into the contoured bowl of that funky alien sink, wondering if it would be as comfortable as it looked if he put his head down in it.
This was not good, his lagging brain informed him, finally starting to click into gear. He was going to have to go out there, work with yet more finicky electronics and explosives, and deal with the rest of the group, especially Shion. He had to wake up. Cupping water in his palm--the water system was working, and safe, as far as they could tell, but it tasted funny to him, stale and with a subtle aftertaste he couldn't identify--he rinsed his mouth, then bent further and splashed more water on his face, rubbing briskly. He repeated the action a couple of times before straightening; running wet hands through his hair, he stared at his reflection once more. There he was, Ogura Jinpachi, maybe not at his best, but more or less functional, and the water had at least helped his hair. He nodded at his reflection, then looked around and realized there wasn't a towel, and wiped his hands and face on his shirt instead. He'd been going to change it anyway.
On that thought, he glanced at the door, and his stomach clenched around a small, too-familiar stab of tension. /Issei./ He was still uneasy about the two of them having spent the night together, even though, as Issei had promised, nothing had happened. And he wasn't sure why--it had something to do with the usual doubts and uncertainties, naturally, and something to do with the realization just hitting him, which was that if anyone had walked in on them during the night or this morning he was petrified even to imagine the consequences. And part of it was that things still weren't that great between him and Issei, and hadn't been since that miserable meeting when they'd all decided to come to the moon. He knew he'd been kind of a jerk to Issei since then--hell, to be honest he'd been a real jerk--but he was still sore about getting blindsided by all those unpleasant revelations, those shadowy corners around Issei where he hadn't even realized there were secrets hidden, and he didn't feel ready to talk about it.
That Issei had come to him anyway, had lain down next to him without comment, without even a pained expression--
And stealing up on him like a cat, so that it was suddenly just there, unannounced, came a flicker of confused recollection: that ghost touch of fingers stroking his hair as he lay half-buried beneath the soft weight of sleep. Those two pressures blurred, getting muddled when he tried to separate them, a fleeting instant as elusive as a mirage. He shook his head. Just a dream--a real dream, not a memory of the moon, because he was overpoweringly certain that Enju and Gyokulan had never actually fallen asleep together. Had made love, but never stayed, instead parting with the same easy courtesy that had let them keep coming back to each other, even though Gyokulan's heart had been surrendered elsewhere. He had--Gyokulan had--thought at the time that it was fine: that it was a kindness, two people mature enough to share physical comfort without demanding anything more. He'd convinced himself it was for the best that things remain on that level, their relationship never defined, what they felt and were to each other unspoken. He'd felt safe like that, virtuous and sensitive, even, believing that he was giving Enju what she wanted, and that whatever private illusions each of them might be seeking refuge in would be protected and at the same time held at bay by their silence.
But Enju had always known the truth.
Shaking his head again, harder, Jinpachi drew in a breath. He reached for the door and hesitated, his fingers hovering over the touchpad. Gyokulan and Enju had never slept in each other's company, but he and Issei-- He flashed back onto their first time and waking disoriented in Issei's bed, having lost the struggle with anxiety and exhaustion. A burst of heat flamed into his face. Then, and last night also, a funny kind of closeness that left him unsettled, just slightly on edge, once more losing his grip on how things in his world were supposed to be.
That patient, lingering caress, almost lost in the fog of waking--
--not a dream?
Pressing the touchpad quickly, he stepped out into the other room before he completely lost his nerve.
Issei was sitting on the end of the mattress, just pulling on his second shoe. He glanced up at Jinpachi, who faltered, freezing in front of the door. "Good morning,"Issei said.
"'Morning!" Broken free of his brief paralysis by that one blurted word, Jinpachi moved to the dresser where he'd dumped his backpack the night before. Issei's attention turned back to his feet. Jinpachi couldn't tell if he was upset about something and hiding it or if it was just normal quietness. With a small, convulsive effort, he stretched a bit further, offered, "Uh, did you sleep okay?"
"Mm." Knotting his shoelaces with a decisive tug, Issei slid another look at Jinpachi, this time with a sly smile. "I know /you/did."
"Uh, ha, ha, ha! Yeah." Jinpachi turned around and undid the buttons on his shirt. He shrugged it off, his skin prickling, whether from the faint, constant chill or the uneasiness of possibly being looked at, he wasn't sure. Unzipping his pack, he dug down into it, found the warmer navy mock-turtleneck.
"Jinpachi," Issei said, "I've been thinking."
If he'd been asked to name the four words he least wanted to hear that morning, Jinpachi thought, those might not have been on the list, but hearing them he knew they ought to be. He risked a furtive look at Issei. Issei sat with his legs still drawn up, elbows on knees, chin resting on the heels of his fists.
"It's funny," Issei went on, "but being back here again, I keep thinking about how hollow this place is. How empty. Or maybe 'meaningless' is the word, I guess." Eyes half-lidded, he gazed at a point on the floor. "You know, nothing got resolved here. Everybody died, but they--the people we used to be--never really moved on. They never found any answers. So now they're just like echoes, repeating and repeating. Shion's still walking these halls. Shukaido's still wrestling with his guilts and failures. All of us are." Issei chuckled weakly. "I'm starting to understand why Shion wants to blow this place up."
Issei's disjointed murmuring was starting to creep Jinpachi out. Glancing down, he shifted, clenching his hands in his shirt. "Issei--"
"Do you remember how I said I'd let you go when it was time?" Startled, Jinpachi looked at Issei again. Issei had turned his head, was watching him. Issei held his eyes for what seemed like a little eternity, and then smiled, an unexpected but familiarly brilliant smile, like a gleam just above the horizon, breaking through clouds.
"It's time," Issei said, and if there was any sadness there it was scarcely visible behind that shining. "For me, anyway."
"I think it's for the best, though, for both of us," Issei added after a moment. Unfolding himself, he stood, rubbed his hands distractedly on his jeans, then began walking across the room, toward the door. "And there's no way to say this without sounding dumb, but I honestly hope we'll be able to stay friends. Because you really are important to me, Jinpachi. You always will be, in a way no one else ever will come close to."
"Don't." Issei stopped and looked back at him, grave blue gaze level and unwavering. It halted him at the brink of saying--he didn't know what he might have said. He only knew that he felt like a fool, a stupid dork, tangled and pulled in too many directions, standing there half-dressed with his shirt clutched in his hands, trying not to shiver.
"What was in your heart," Issei asked gently, "when I said that I was letting you go? What did you feel?"
/Guilt, thinking that he could have done better for Issei, that in some barely grasped way he'd failed his friend; emptiness, a sense of something lost that he hadn't fully realized was there till it was gone./
/Embarrassment at being set aside, just left like that; a little coal of anger, that from start to finish he'd had no say in anything--shame, in understanding that it was largely his own fault./
/A betraying surge of relief, freedom, no longer having to deal with making those choices, a brief burst of longing for--/
"I know," Issei said.
Jinpachi flinched. Head tilted to one side, Issei was regarding him steadily, without any visible pain, although surely there was pain there, and Issei was just sparing him. Jinpachi realized then that he was never going to forget this instant, not in a single detail: the jolting, surprisingly physical shock, his heartbeat thudding in his veins, even the way Issei was standing, dark bangs falling slantwise across his forehead, one hand almost casually on his hip--the earring's silver glint missing from his ear, Jinpachi noticed for the first time.
"Try not to have any regrets, okay? Because I don't. Not for any of it." Issei bent and picked up his bag, already packed, just as he was already dressed, brushed, and ready to go--one step ahead, one more time. Swinging the bag onto his shoulder, he touched the button pad, and as the door whirred open he took a step into the hall.
"I'll see you on the chain gang," he said, quiet amusement in his voice.
The door slid shut on his smiling backward look.
* * * * *
"...and that was it, really." Issei shrugged, leaning forward onto the railing, crossed arms hugged about his chest. "There's not much else to tell. It's over." He glanced at Shion, who was sitting on the same rail, facing the opposite direction, short legs dangling. Shion gazed down at the jump platform's metal flooring, looking thoughtful and inscrutably amused, his eyes still smudged with traces of exhaustion, but the previous day's high pitch of tension seeming for the most part to have eased. With a twitch of recollection, Issei turned back to the main reason why he was confiding all this to Shion in the first place. "He'll make a beeline right for Sakaguchi-san, of course, but he hasn't got a chance with her. So go easy on him till he figures it out. Don't hurt him too much. Okay?"
"Hmph." Shion kicked at the railing with one sneakered foot. It made a dull clonk against the bars. "I've never understood what you see in that guy!" Issei shot him another look, instinctively on guard, but if there was mockery in Shion's voice it was gentler than usual, still ironic but not as acid as it could be, and Issei relaxed. It wasn't really his place to leap to Jinpachi's defense so quickly--if indeed it was even necessary.
"He can be very kind," he mused, half to himself. "He can't see anything but what's in front of his face, but he means well, and he honestly doesn't want to hurt anyone. And he's protective--I guess that's related to the other part. If he's devoted to something, he'll stand by it and take care of it at any cost." Somewhere at the back of his eyes there was a lingering burn, the reflex toward tears, but he'd done his crying earlier and gotten it over with, or so he hoped. For now, at least, they stayed dry. He managed a faint smile. "I suppose that's why I was drawn to him in the first place, as Enju: that combination of gentleness and strength."
"/Heh./ Silly Enju-chan." Drawing his legs up, Shion stood, balancing effortlessly, pushed up onto his toes and then further, his feet leaving the railing. He drifted backward, thumbs hooked into belt loops. "There's still a lot to do today. As soon as everyone's had breakfast, we'd better start." He met Issei's gaze, and his mouth quirked. "See if you can keep Hiragi from getting sucked back into the archives," he added, blurring and fading at the edges. "Tell him I'll leave him here for sure if he slacks off!"
Bewildered, Issei stared at the empty air where Shion had been floating, before his eyes refocused onto the wall beyond, starred with green. He had a feeling that Shion had been laughing at him again, that there was some obscure joke he hadn't gotten, but somehow Shion's amusement no longer bothered him.
Well, not as much, anyway.
He sighed and pushed himself upright. Leaving his bag on the platform--he didn't think he'd need anything from it before they left the moon base that evening--he made his way down the stairs, then paused at the bottom to glance back at the structure rearing up behind him. The plant growth that had smothered it lay in heaps about the floor, one of the many tasks Shion had been busy with the night before. Beyond the intricate projection unit, the room soared to the observation balcony, and then to the windows that ringed the round walls, only a meter or two above the moon's surface: a sunken tower plunged deep into the rock, designed to channel the teleport technology's energy field. Issei smiled, nostalgic, remembering the first time Enju had seen it, and how its narrow height had appealed to her, conjuring the image of a castle's spire, the setting of one of her favorite stories. In fact, it had been because of her that they'd dubbed it "the tower," when more usually it would have been "the well." He turned and stopped short, struck by the sight of the blue and white disk of the Earth, perfectly framed in one of the windows. Fascinated by its clarity, its stark contrast to the blackness around it, he watched it for several breaths. Incredible as it seemed, somewhere on that finite, far-off circle was Japan, Tokyo, Tsuwabuki High School, his house with his mother, father, and sister in it.
He lowered his gaze at last. Some plant scraps small enough to have escaped Shion's piles were scattered about the floor. A strand of blooming vine lay close to his feet, already wilted, its pale, trumpetlike flowers crumpling and curling in on themselves. He picked it up, catching a lingering whiff of its fragrance, grown oversweet with decay. Rolling its stem between his fingers, he glanced back at the Earth and smiled again, more wistfully.
<It's almost over. Soon we'll be leaving all of this behind--not just the moon base but everything it holds, all its history, our previous lives. At least, I know /I/ plan to.>
<It's more than time.>
<Shion was right, in a way. Maybe I didn't actually go back, but I wouldn't go forward either. I was just standing frozen in place, motionless, trapped in all the decisions of the past. I told myself that I couldn't do anything else, but that was a lie.>
<I was afraid to end the stories that I was telling about myself.>
<To be made to change....>
Issei clasped his hands, the vine still twined between his fingers, then straightened and drew in a breath. As he gazed toward the Earth, he felt weightlessness enter him, as though a flutter in the moon base's gravity had taken some burden from his heart. And it hurt, rising so suddenly, but the ache held joy as well as sorrow, was an ecstasy of fear and freedom, love and letting go.
<I /am/ Enju--I'm what she's become. I can't and won't deny that part of me. And I'll always feel something special, true, and deep for Jinpachi. But the choice of what to do about it--like Tamura-san said, that's mine, in this life.>
<After all, what's the point of having a whole new life if you just do the same things with it?>
With an inward laugh, rueful yet oddly joyful, he swayed back a step, almost ready to go, but he held onto that view of the Earth for one more moment, letting the memory burn itself into his mind, shining, like the flame of a promise.
<I'm not the romantic heroine that Enju used to dream of being, sitting alone in a prison, waiting to exchange its walls for the protection of some prince. I'm not held to the choices that they offered her: shut yourself away or become a danger to yourself and everyone around you. And I'm not a slave to my father's ambitions or the mixed-up disappointment he thinks I am.>
<I'm Issei, and I haven't even begun to figure out what that means.>
<I'll be--whatever I'll be.>
Turning, he walked from the tower with a light but determined step. He let the vine fall onto one of the piles as he passed it.
* * * * *
From behind the doorframe, Jinpachi peered into the dining area. The room was mostly empty--there was just Hiragi at the round table and Shukaido's friend Tamura standing with his back to the door, messing with stuff on the serving counter. None of the people he really didn't feel ready to see. Slinking into the room, he dropped his bag next to a chair. Hiragi glanced up, nodded absently, then resettled his chin on his fist and stared at the tabletop, seemingly lost in thought.
"Ah, good morning!" Turning, Tamura smiled with a vigorous cheerfulness that made Jinpachi feel every second of the sleep he hadn't gotten. He sank into his seat and managed a mutter of acknowledgment. Tamura chuckled. "Yeah, well, I think everyone's the worse for wear this morning." His sleeves rolled up and his shirt tieless and unbuttoned at the top, he rustled through bags and papers. "Breakfast is basically sandwiches, I'm afraid," he added, setting some out on a plate. "Your big choices are limited to instant coffee or tea. Or juice."
"/Coffee,/" Jinpachi declared, and the man grinned again as he reached to put a small Earth-brought kettle on an alien hot-plate.
"You young people and your coffee. You're gonna stunt your growth."
"Uhh." The plate of assorted sandwiches arrived in front of Jinpachi. He picked out one that was ham and bit into it. He chewed slowly, swallowed, and felt the subtle strain in his jaw, in his throat, all the way down through his chest and into his stomach: the ache of pushing past a funny kind of sadness, that dull, persistent feeling of loss.
He turned the situation over in his mind while he ate, but it didn't seem to change, just like a stone that, no matter which side you looked at it from, was nothing but a stone. On the one hand, he should be glad that the weird, mixed-up part of their friendship was over--and he hadn't even had to be the one to break it off. He should be relieved, and he was, but he also felt...incomplete. Not so much from knowing that there'd be no more of that close touch, Issei's arms warm around him, the disquieting but pleasant startlement of intimacy and release, or that their last kiss had been--god, he didn't even remember, /days/ ago, back before that last disastrous meeting--although that was part of it too, he was realizing. It was the sense that in some way he'd let both himself and Issei down, that he'd been less than he should have been.
And there wasn't even anything he could do to make it better. Issei had arrived at some place of decision, had found the clarity in which to make a break, and if he went running after Issei now, trying to patch things back together, it would only muddy them up all over again, especially since he still didn't know what his real heart was, what he truly wanted.
The best gift he could give Issei, he was beginning to understand, was to respect that choice and not mess with whatever peace Issei might have found.
But then, for himself--
A faint click announced the appearance of a mug on the table. Startled out of his thoughts, Jinpachi looked at Tamura and nodded thanks. The man gave his shoulder a light clap and squeeze before turning back toward the counter. Picking up the mug, Jinpachi blew into the steam, then stole a sideways glance at Hiragi. Hiragi was meticulously breaking crumbs into smaller crumbs with a fingernail, head still propped on his other hand.
He kind of felt like he wanted to talk to somebody about these things, but he wasn't sure Hiragi would be the type who'd just listen and try to understand, especially something like this. And Shukaido's friend Tamura seemed like a nice enough guy, but Jinpachi knew even less about him. This definitely wasn't a conversation he wanted to have with a man he'd barely gotten acquainted with.
Issei had always been the person he'd poured his heart out to. Through all the years they'd known each other, he'd been able to go and share whatever was bothering him, whether it was a question on a test he'd been afraid he might have missed or the angst of being a kid growing up in Tokyo. He'd gone to Issei for the good things too, the little victories, the moments of inspiration and mindless fun. But he couldn't turn to Issei for this, not if Issei was the last other person in the universe. Jinpachi sighed and watched his breath disrupt the coffee's steam once more.
Tamura looked around, a lightning flicker of surprise and concern crossing his face. Jinpachi tensed, but the man was gazing past him. "Ah--Haru-chan!" Tamura smiled, his expression half-teasing but welcoming, the worry already covered over. "Decided to join the rest of the world, huh?"
There was an incoherent mumble, and Jinpachi turned partway around in his seat. Shukaido--or maybe it was better to think of him as Haruhiko, because it was for sure that just then he looked nothing like the moon base's medical scientist--was wavering in the doorway, like a candle flame about to go out. He came forward into the room, not looking that good, eyes unfocused and skin pale beneath its dark tones. Wobbling, he crossed one foot in front of the other, but recovered and made it to the table. Bracing himself on a chair, he scrubbed at his face with one hand, then fumbled in his pocket and pulled something out. "Here." The tiny object slipped from between his fingers and clattered on the tabletop; he made a shaky grab for it before it could skitter away. As Haruhiko's hand drew back, Jinpachi saw a bright flash, a circle of gold, naggingly familiar, and then the recognition hit him: Gyokulan's earring. "I thought--I thought you might want this."
"Wow." Intrigued despite his tiredness and the things weighing on his mind, Jinpachi leaned forward, reaching for the earring. "Where'd you find--/eugh!/" He snatched his hand back as it occurred to him just /where/ it might have been found. He shot Haruhiko a shocked stare. Haruhiko didn't seem to notice, instead deflating into a seat, head sinking onto his crossed arms.
"If you wanted it--don't know how it would work for you, or even if it would. Still, just in case...." Stunned, Jinpachi turned back to contemplating the earring. "Everything's almost done," Haruhiko went on, his voice muffled and slowing, like a cassette player on nearly depleted batteries. "Just running synthesis. Few hours. A few more hours. That's all."
"Haru-chan," Tamura said with the same inflection Jinpachi had heard him use on Tokyo Tower, part tireless patience, part amusement, "was it /really/ necessary to spend all night in the medical center?"
"Yeah." Fading though it was, Haruhiko's voice held no doubt. "You do what you have to do."
Jinpachi glanced at him. Haruhiko's eyes were closed, his rumpled dark bangs tumbling over them and across his wrist. His shoulders lifted and lowered with deep, widely spaced breaths. There was a brief silence.
Then Tamura clicked the hot plate off with a quiet but decisive snap. "Jinpachi-kun, just leave the rest of the sandwiches when you're done. I'll be back to clean up in a minute." Approaching the table, he laid his hand on Haruhiko's chair. "I think Haru-chan's more in need of sleep than food right now."
"Uh, sure." Haruhiko didn't seem to register that he was being talked about, Jinpachi noticed. Had he really dropped off that fast?
Tamura's gaze swept the room. "Everyone else has been through here, I think, except Mikuro-kun and that kid, and I know Sakaguchi-san picked something up for /him./" The man's lip twitched. From what Jinpachi'd seen, he figured Tamura probably didn't like Shion much better than he did. "But I wonder where Mikuro-kun's got to?"
"I saw him last night," Hiragi volunteered before Jinpachi could say anything. "He was working on the halls with us. He did look a little odd, though--distracted, or maybe disoriented. At times, he seemed only half-aware of what was going on." Sitting up, Hiragi leaned forward on his elbows, knotting his fingers together. "I wonder if it's some side effect of being in outer space. I hope he hasn't gotten lost."
"Hm." Jinpachi looked at Tamura's face and saw the man's brows lower, his mouth tighten into a serious line. "/Ghosts./" Jinpachi blinked, and then the moment had passed--Tamura was smiling with his usual easy confidence. "I'll go and look for him in a while. I /think/ I'm starting to find my way around this place. C'mon, Haru-chan." Sliding both arms around and under Haruhiko, Tamura hefted him out of his chair. He sagged against Tamura's chest, never moving or waking. Tamura turned and walked from the room carrying Haruhiko in his arms, as though it was the kind of thing he did all the time, and Jinpachi didn't know whether he should pity Haruhiko for being babied like that or envy the way he had a guy like Tamura looking after him.
Once those two had left, Hiragi sighed and pushed himself out of his seat. "I guess I'll go and get started on those wires," he said. "Are you coming?"
"I'll be there in a minute." Hiragi glanced down at Jinpachi and smiled. There was a tiredness in his eyes that matched what Jinpachi felt, and tied into that a look of sympathy--one Jinpachi didn't quite get, coming from Hiragi, unless it was simply that shared mental exhaustion, the sense of there being too much of the past to deal with and still too much ahead to be faced. Nonplused, Jinpachi looked at the table. He felt Hiragi push in the chair and walk past him.
"See you later, then."
Hiragi's footsteps faded in the distance. It was really quiet in the room with everyone else gone. Jinpachi put the mug down, just to hear the sound. Slowly he reached out and touched the earring's cool metal, picked it up and held it between thumb and forefinger, the gold circle gleaming beneath the moon base's lights.
He stared at Gyokulan's earring for a long time, wondering what it all meant.
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