Disclaimer: I don't own FF:U. This twoshot is mine, though. Thank Reinna. She's inspiring. But mostly, I wrote this because I felt this subplot deserved more than the three or four sentences total it gets in After and the series summary in the final-episode-drama-CD's dust jacket.
And with a jolt, he awoke.
For one long, suspended moment, Kumo had no idea where he was or how he'd gotten here. For that brief, eternal expanse, all memory, all self-knowledge evaded him completely, and there was only a mild pang of irony that hinted to him that this situation should be familiar in some way.
And then the pain hit, solid agony that dragged a sharp gasp from his raw throat, seizing his entire body but especially that bitter wound just below his ribs. He remembered that, and remembered the screaming that had all but broken his voice, and then everything else followed.
Damned Chaos. If Kumo was here, alive, even after imprisoning that thing with his soul itself, and telling Kaze to destroy them both—then it hadn't worked. Again. Chaos' body might have been lost, but its high priest Oscha would just find it another one. Why? After they'd all fought so hard, it was a bitter, unfair outcome. What would it take?
Kumo knew that it should've worked. Not just now—the first time, almost thirteen years ago now. He'd learned back then that it wasn't only his and Kaze's Unlimited potential that Chaos had feared and hated so, it was the inherited powers of Mystaria and Windaria themselves—Mist, and Soil. He and Kaze had used them to fight Chaos—so why hadn't it been destroyed, then or now?
Kumo closed his eyes and managed something between a weak whimper and a hoarse moan, settling his right arm across the wound that had almost killed him. He couldn't ever remember being in this much sheer physical agony. It was almost too much for him to take.
But—he had to take it. He had to keep living, and find out just what it was that Chaos truly feared about Soil and Mist. So that he and Kaze could beat it back, and restore the true balance between order and chaos, so that their lives could finally start again after they'd been so cruelly halted so long ago.
So that Kumo could finally, finally grieve for all he had lost.
He opened his eyes again and raised his arm. His sleeve and the bandages across his cut and scraped palm were splotched red; he was still bleeding. No wonder it hurt so much. Well, he doubted he could get back to sleep so easily—so he'd just call a soft haze of Mist to soothe his battered body.
But when he tried, nothing came.
Quiet horror bloomed in Kumo's heart as incomprehension tangled his thoughts. This couldn't be right. Had he not—not called strongly enough? Or had his throat been hurt in the conflict—worn too raw with his own desperate cries?
Although Kumo tried again and again, nothing ever came.
Oh, no. No. Panic jolted from Kumo's belly to his chest, and he fought through the excruciating pain that weighed his body down, sitting up and then standing, crossing the small room in unsteady steps to the mirror on the wall.
As he stared into his own wide green eyes, Kumo felt along the side of his throat. His Mist gland was there, a hard curve along the side of his larynx, but try as he might, he just couldn't produce any at all.
Fragmented memories of Kaze and his condition after the first battle with Chaos spilled through Kumo's mind. The Magun, broken—incapable of sustaining its thawed form, incapable of processing and heating Soil in order to summon. Nothing had been wrong with Kumo after that fight. But Kaze had been the one to contain Chaos then. Chaos had damaged him somehow, and until those children had come along, Kaze's formidable powers had been severed and unreliable.
Well, their roles had switched in the last battle. But Kumo wasn't just damaged or rendered only partially reliable. His Mist was just gone.
An awful, hollow feeling washed through Kumo's body as his legs gave out, sending him sprawling onto the floor. He didn't want to believe, didn't know if he could take it in without his mind shattering completely, but—it was there, a solid and undeniable truth, no matter how painful or ugly.
But Kumo's Mist was part of his soul. It had always been there, always. What was he without it? What was a Mystarian without his Mist?
The question cut him to the heart the way that nothing had been able to since Chaos had brought his beloved brother back to life and forced the two of them to do battle.
The need to escape seized Kumo's body, too powerful to ignore, though he would carry his hollow helplessness with him wherever he went. Painfully regaining his feet, Kumo lurched for the door in uneven steps, forcing it open and spilling out into the hall, too weak to remain standing on his own.
"Hey! Are you alright?! What are you doing up so soon?"
That voice. Kumo recognized it as belonging to the Comodeen woman—he'd never known her name. He looked up to find her standing next to him; she'd apparently been walking down the hall when he'd fallen right in front of her. As he stared up at her, her image blurring and wavering as numb tears burned his eyes, her shocked expression changed to a worried one, and she knelt down at his side.
Kumo couldn't answer. Just thinking it seared his heart, threatened his already unstable mind with insanity. He couldn't possibly put it into words.
Seeing his stunned silence and his inability to speak, she reached out and put her arm around his shoulders, wiping away the handful of stray tears he'd let fall from his cheeks with her free hand.
Kumo wanted badly to collapse into those supporting arms and just cry, the way he hadn't been able to in so long. But he couldn't. Not only would Chaos only gain that much more power from him if he did, but he highly doubted his tortured soul could stand the strain now.
He tried to speak, to tell her not to waste her sympathies, but before he could get a single word out, agony seared through his body. Gasping, he clutched at his wound.
"Take it easy," she advised him. "I'm amazed you even got this far without help. It's only been a few days since the Comodeen found you—and you're damn lucky we did, we only crashed here by chance—if you overexert yourself, you're going to tear your stitches out."
"…………" Kumo shuddered and fought back the pain. "This…"
"You're on our airship," she supplied. "The Earl damaged our submarine, but we managed to get back to our base in time to save Lisa, the twins, and their parents when Gaudium fell apart." She frowned as she looked at him. "They told us you and Kaze were dead."
Because we should be. But Kumo didn't say those words aloud; he just shook his head at her.
"At any rate, you've got to get back to bed. Even you won't be able to heal from wounds like that unless you get plenty of rest. Here, I'll help."
"Wait…" Kumo shook his head. "I—must talk to your people first…"
She sighed defeatedly. "Alright, but then you need to get your sleep. Nobody in the Comodeen will let you go on like this. Even if you don't care about yourself at all, you risked your life to protect us. We won't let you die."
Kumo didn't speak as she helped him to his feet. Somehow, he had to convince these people to cease their foolish fight against Chaos—it would only get them hurt in the end—and he had to think of something, of some way he could take care of things without his Mist, or how he could get it back. Thinking too much hurt, but as long as Chaos still threatened worlds with the horrible fate his own had met, he could not give in.
He had to make this all work—somehow.