A/N: I have been thinking about this sort of Come Morning Light futurefic almost since I finished Come Morning Light, but I was pushed into starting the actual writing by a prompt from a tumblr friend, lazy-rain-dancer. Buckle in, folks. I don't know how many chapters this is going to be. I have given up on trying to predict myself.
Waking up was vastly unpleasant. Taiga flinched and moaned the second his eyes cracked open. The light seemed to stab right into his brain. He slammed his eyelids shut, screwing up his face in a grimace of pain. He wanted to roll over on his side and curl up, hiding his face from the light, but he couldn't…
He couldn't move. His body twitched, but it wouldn't obey him. Taiga's eyes flew open again in panic, and his breath started to speed up. Why...why couldn't he move? It felt like...something was holding him down? Restraints, or... Or what else could it be?
He rocked his head to the side and stared blearily down at his wrist, expecting to see cuffs or a strap pinning him to the bed. But there was nothing, just a tube in his arm... An IV, it was an IV, he recognized it from all the trouble two years ago, when Tetsu was so sick…
But this time Taiga was the one in a hospital bed, trembling and weak, unable to control himself. He blinked, trying to take it in, but his head ached and his eyes burned, and nothing made sense. It was all just a big jumble of confusion and pain.
And he still didn't understand why he couldn't move. There was nothing on top of him but a hospital blanket, and yet he felt weighed down in every limb, every muscle. If someone had told him that every square inch of his skin had somehow been transformed into lead, he wouldn't have even blinked in surprise. But it was nothing like that, there was nothing, there was…
He tried again to roll over on his side, hated lying on his back like this, vulnerable and laid out like a body in a morgue. This time he moved so strongly that he thought he might be making headway, the muscles of his abdomen tightening as he struggled to move. He grunted, bleary and dazed, still trying, still trying, but he knew that he had barely moved, barely even lifted his head off the pillow…
Agony ripped through his gut and he fell back again, limp, a short cry bursting from his lips. Then there was movement in the room, rapid rustling, a soft footstep. Taiga blinked down again at his own arm, his own hand, his vision blurry and blacked out on the edges. But it was enough for him to see another hand reach out for his, slender fingers wrapping around his palm in a warm, tight grip.
An urgent voice, close to Taiga's head, and he started away at first, then lay still, blinking, trying to understand. The words were all scrambled together, a rush of discordance echoing in his ears and bouncing around his head, but then they began to coalesce and make sense. He knew that voice, it was very dear to him, as dear as anything in his life, even basketball…
"Taiga-nii, Taiga-nii, I'm here. It's Tetsu-chan, I'm right here. I'm sorry you woke up alone. I fell asleep in the chair. I didn't mean to. But I'm here, I'm here, and I'm not going anywhere. Please don't try to move, all right? You are badly injured. You need to be still, or you could make it worse. Just lie still and rest. You are safe now. I'm taking care of everything."
"Tetsu-chan..." Taiga forced the name out, syllables slurring against each other like drunks leaning together as they stumbled home. He blinked, still dazed, trying to catch up. "Tets'-chan... 'R you okay?"
He didn't know why he felt the need to ask—clearly Taiga was the one who was injured this time, trapped in a hospital bed by the weight of pain while his little brother stood by, holding his hand in a protective grip. But suddenly, no other question in the universe seemed as important as this one. Taiga blinked, hard, trying to force Tetsu's face into focus as he waited almost breathlessly for a reply. "Y'r... You're okay, right? Nothing bad h'ppned t'you?"
A small, pained smile flitted over Tetsu's lips, visible even in the middle of Taiga's blurred vision and straining eyes. "I'm fine, Taiga-nii. Perfectly fine. I was nowhere near the incident. I came to the hospital as quickly as I heard, though, and I haven't left your side since. But I am unharmed, I assure you."
"Oh. Tha's good." Taiga blinked again, still trying to make out his brother's face. His headache was rapidly becoming brutal. He could hear the sincerity and honesty in Tetsu's voice, though, and that helped. It helped a lot. "And...and Nigou? He's 'kay, too?"
Tetsu nodded. "He's fine. He's at home. You protected him."
"Oh. Good. I'm glad." Taiga blinked for a second longer, blankly, then let his eyes fall shut. There was a memory... Nigou barking... A flash of metal in the yellow light of a streetlamp... He couldn't hold onto it. It slipped away.
"Everything is okay now," Tetsu said, and his voice was soft, but it was very fierce. Taiga felt cool fingers on his forehead, slim and gentle and slightly shaking. They brushed back his sweaty hair and lingered above his eyebrows, then fell away again. He missed them instantly.
"Everything is okay," Tetsu said again, very firmly, and Taiga believed him.
It was all too confusing, and it hurt too much. But with Tetsu at his side, assuring him, Taiga knew that all was well. He let it slip away, let it all fade. It was too much. He would leave it in Tetsu's hands for now, then come back and figure it out later.
"You're going to be okay," Tetsu said, and Taiga murmured an agreement, then fell asleep.
The next little while seemed to pass for Taiga in a series of snapshots. He woke from a restless slumber now and then to be examined by doctors, or some half-remembered dream would chase him out. Every time, though, he could only seem to stay awake for a few minutes. The light hurt his eyes, and his body still felt leaden and weighted down. He was aware of pain in his body, in his abdomen, though it all felt muted and far away.
"Where's Dad?" he asked Tetsu on one of those occasions when he woke and managed some form of coherence for a short time. He'd never stayed in the hospital before, not that he remembered. Even the time he had been bitten by the dog, he had gotten his stitches and gone home the same day. But despite his lack of experience with these matters, he felt sure that his dad was supposed to be there.
"He had that business trip, remember?" Tetsu said with the air of someone who had told the same story many times. Taiga blinked, but couldn't keep his eyes open. Had he already asked this? Had Tetsu told him? "He's doing his best to cut it short and come back as quickly as possible, but New York is far away. He keeps calling my cell phone to check in, though. If you're awake next time, he'll want to speak to you."
New York... That was right, Dad had gone to New York. It was supposed to be for a week. Taiga and Tetsu had laughed when he fretted about being away for so long. "What if something happens?" he had said, raking his fingers through his hair, and his sons had grinned and called him an old woman for worrying so much.
"I'm eighteen now, Dad!" Taiga had blustered. "Tetsu-chan will be eighteen in a few months! We can take care of ourselves. Everything will be fine!"
How strange to look back and remember that. To know how wrong he had been. Because yes, something had happened. Dad's ridiculous worries had turned out to have a basis in reality. When Taiga tried to remember exactly what had happened, though, the memory slipped away. It was like trying to grasp oil-slick metal with numb fingers. He was too clumsy, too weak to perform such a delicate task. His head throbbed, and he turned his face against the pillow and let his consciousness fade again. It was easier than staying awake.
In another snapshot, Tetsu explained what was wrong with him. Lacerations to the abdomen. A mild concussion. Blood loss. Taiga blinked, trying to take it in, but none of it seemed to sink into his brain. He felt even stupider than usual, being so unable to grasp the simple facts of his physical condition. And Tetsu remained patient, so patient, telling him again and again when Taiga asked him to repeat what he'd just said.
"But y'r okay, right, Tetsu-chan?" he asked, urgency suddenly beating in his chest. He tried to force his eyes open wider so he could look in his little brother's face and read the truth there. The effort burned and stung, the daylight in the window behind Tetsu's face seeming to wash out everything else. He could barely see Tetsu's features, but he wanted to. He had to. He had to know.
Tetsu nodded, slow and calm. "I'm fine, Taiga-nii." He even managed a note of amusement in his voice, despite the stress and concern that overlaid everything. "It's very like you to keep asking that, even though you're the one who is hurt this time. I suppose I shouldn't be surprised that more often than not, when you're able to speak, it's to ask if I'm all right. I'll tell you every time, I don't mind. I'm fine. Everything is okay, and everything will be okay."
Taiga blew out a breath in an approximation of a grunt of understanding. He had discovered early on in this strange ordeal that grunting hurt. It tore at something deep in his gut. So he found other ways. "Okay. That's good, then. I'm glad you're not hurt."
Tetsu shook his head and held Taiga's hand a little tighter. "I'm not hurt. I wasn't even there. Everything is all right, Taiga-nii. Why don't you try going back to sleep?"
Taiga blinked, long and slow, barely able to keep his eyes open. "But..." Anxiety crept into his voice. "I want to stay awake for when Dad comes. He's coming, right?"
"Yes, he is. But it won't be for quite some time. We'll wake you as soon as he arrives, I promise. You have time for a nap."
Taiga wanted to stay awake. But Tetsu had promised to wake him, and that was just as good as Taiga being awake himself. He tried to hold onto consciousness for a little while longer, just so he could look after his little brother and make sure he was okay, but it was too hard. His eyelids were too heavy, sinking of their own accord.
"I want my dad," he heard himself saying, his voice high and plaintive. Not like an eighteen-year-old's at all.
Tetsu squeezed his hand. "He's coming. I promise. In the meantime, I'll be here with you. I'm not going anywhere."
Before long, Taiga was asleep again.
Taiga didn't understand why he kept worrying about Nigou. But along with his questions about Tetsu's health and well-being, he found himself frequently asking after the dog, too. It was true that over the last two years he'd gotten a lot more comfortable with Nigou (to Tetsu's immense pleasure and satisfaction), to the point that he would volunteer to take him on runs to give them both some exercise. But he would have never thought that he was that enamored with the mutt. Nigou was Tetsu's dog, and while Dad thought he was adorable and perfect, just like he thought Tetsu was adorable and perfect, Taiga's feelings usually stayed more similar to tolerance than anything else.
But now, he found himself asking again, "Is Nigou okay?"
This snapshot was slightly more clear than usual. Maybe he was starting to feel better, his body catching up with whatever massive amount of rest he'd been needing. The light still hurt his eyes, though, so he kept his eyes squinted almost shut. Tetsu's hand still felt warm and strong, wrapped around Taiga's palm.
Tetsu merely nodded, calm as ever. "Nigou is fine, Taiga-nii. You took good care of him. I'm very grateful."
Taiga released a sigh, careful not to let his gut move too much. "I know I've asked you more than once. I'm sorry I'm so troublesome. I know I'm being really stupid right now."
Tetsu brushed the hair back from Taiga's forehead, the touch on his skin as light and gentle as a butterfly. "You're not being stupid. I told you, you have a concussion. And you're still recovering from a great deal of shock to your system. Confusion is natural. I don't mind answering your questions."
"Even when I ask them twenty times?"
Tetsu chuckled softly. "Even then."
Taiga made an effort to smile and shifted where he lay. He was feeling much more coherent and himself than the other times he'd woken. "I don't...I don't understand why I keep worrying about Nigou, though. I know he's fine. And I've never had him so much on my mind before. It seems like if anyone would worry about him, it would be you, not me..."
"It's nothing, Taiga-nii. You're thinking about Nigou because he was with you when you got hurt, that's all. But he's fine. He wasn't hurt at all. He's at home."
"Oh." Taiga's head ached, deep and sharp. He felt like his brain was being pierced with icicles. He squeezed his eyes shut, his face screwing into a grimace. "I keep thinking that I hear him barking..."
"Yes, you've heard him barking many times."
"No, this is different... He sounds scared and angry... I didn't know a bark could sound scared and angry..."
Tetsu's fingers brushed his forehead again, careful, so careful. "Don't think about it. You should rest, Taiga-nii. Your condition is still rather fragile. You don't need to worry about anything. Everything is okay. I'm fine, Nigou is fine, and you're going to be fine soon."
"All right..." Taiga settled down again, mumbling. He trusted Tetsu. If Tetsu said that everything was all right, then it was true. If he said that Taiga shouldn't think about something, then it was true. If he said that he and Nigou were fine and Dad was on the way, those things were all true.
And yet, he drifted off still with that sound in his ear. The sound of Nigou barking, high and loud, too sharp and near. The sound rang and echoed in Taiga's head like a giant bell, vibrating his body and piercing his head. He wanted to cover his ears with his hands and hunch over, but Tetsu was still holding his hand and it was still too difficult to move.
So he just lay there, a breathless moan punching out of his lungs as the pain of that sound built and built. Tetsu's hand pressed flat against his forehead, firm, trembling lightly. As if he could feel Taiga's pain and longed to take it away, but could not. Taiga was sorry to cause his little brother distress, but he couldn't help it.
Why was Nigou barking? "Shut up, Nigou," he muttered, tossing his head on the pillow in an attempt to rid himself of the endless barking. "You're too noisy. It hurts..."
Tetsu's hand pressed his forehead. The other squeezed his hand. And Taiga couldn't fight the darkness pulling him under anymore. He drifted off once more, the sound of barking chasing him down into a restless slumber. And again, he saw the glint of a knife…