Diclaimer: I don't own Kamen Rider Den-O. I just play in the fun sandbox.
Author's Note: I haven't seen any of the summer trilogy (no subs available yet), so anything in them is still a mystery for me. This still wanted to be written, though. Set many years after the end of the series.
Ryou kept all his pictures.
He has a portfolio now—has had one for decades where he keeps his best work. It still feels… right, somehow, that Ryou would keep the rest. An entire box is filled with drawings from when he was a child, rough crayon sketches that bring both nostalgia and embarrassment. He was good at caricature even then, though, and everyone is at least recognizable.
A second box is filled with his later works. Some of them he gave to Ryou, over the years; others he's fairly certain he threw away in frustration and disgust. At another time, when he was younger, somewhere in the transition between the two boxes, he would have been upset about that. Now he just smiles, fingers tracing over the labels carefully placed on the boxes.
Ryuutaros documents our life.
Simple, succinct, and very, very Ryou.
He spends hours going through the boxes, trying to find just the right images. Sometimes the ones he thinks of aren't present, have been lost to time, and he growls in frustration. There's always something else that will work, though, something else that says what he wants to.
Airi is the first one he goes to see, because she's handling everything so well. She's also never hard to find. Today, like most days, she's in the Milk Dipper, talking with her youngest grandchild. The boy hangs on her every word, follows her instructions with care and reverence, because even if her hands are too gnarled and shaky to do the work herself, Airi's still the best in her field.
She looks up when he walks through the door and smiles at him. Even after all this time, even with all the marks of human aging criss-crossing and etching her face, it's one of the most beautiful sights in the world.
"Ryuu-chan." She hugs him enthusiastically, with all the strength of her frame. "I'm so glad to see you."
"Nee-chan." He picks her up, spins her around easily, sets her back down again. His ponytail, still pale pink and long and flowing, mixes into her beautiful white hair, and she laughs as she pulls away and they separate again. He tries hard not to think on how fragile she feels—how fragile they all feel, the aging humans. "I brought you a gift."
"Oh?" That soft, infectious smile is still there, and she reaches eagerly for the pictures.
Her smile doesn't disappear, doesn't falter, but it does change. Grows more distant, sadder, takes on an edge of lost disconnectedness that he hasn't seen since he was a child, and her fingers shake as they trace over the images.
The first is from when he was young, a hasty drawing in crayon. The colors are bright, the lines thick, and subtlety wouldn't have meant anything to him then. But Airi's face is recognizable, and somehow even his poor art managed to catch a hint of her wistful kindness. More importantly, sometime over the years, Ryoutarou added a title across the top in neat black characters.
Ryuutaros learns to love.
Her fingers stroke the words, and her lip trembles just a bit before she turns to the second image. This one he titled himself, long ago, scrawling Family along the edge, though Ryou evidently added an Our later. Yuuto stands by Airi, holds her hand gently; Ryou stands on her other side. Hana is in the foreground, and the image he used of her is older than the date on the picture says she should be. They always knew what she would end up looking like, though.
He never meant for anyone else to see that image, because he's also in there. Sitting with Hana in the foreground, in Imajin form, leaning back against Airi's legs. His left hand rests on Ryou's foot while the other plays with the girl. And if he had the gall to put himself there, he should have put the others in as well. Momotaros, at the very least, but he didn't.
"Thank you." She hugs him again, open and Airi, and she's still smiling though he can see the tears in her eyes. "Thank you, Ryuu-chan. How are you doing?"
"I'm fine." He spins in a circle, hair flipping against his back and shoulder. "Just fine."
"That's good." Taking his hand, she gives it a soft squeeze. "Though it's all right if you're not. Just tell me. Talk to me. I… don't think I could stand to lose you, little brother."
"You won't, nee-chan. I promise." He returns the pressure on his hand, so very careful not to hurt her, and considers saying more. Saying how it's lonely, a bit, and quiet. How it's quiet even when he's playing music as loudly as he can. How it's better than he thought it would be, in a lot of ways, and yet so horrible in others.
He doesn't get a chance to, though. The door to the kitchen opens and Yuuto strides out, the hint of a rainbow reflected in the door and the grains of sand clinging to his clothing betraying where he's been. Though he's younger than all the other humans—all their humans—he doesn't look it. Too many battle scars and too much laughter have scored his face, put a limp in his step, made his breathing all too often a ragged affair.
Deneb still looks the same as always, of course. He runs out the door a few seconds behind his human, fabric clutched in his hand. "Yuuto, your scarf—"
"Wear it yourself, Deneb." The fond exasperation in Yuuto's voice has never changed. Nor has his focus, his gravitational center, and he immediately limps over to stand by Airi. He lays an arm across her shoulder, a chaste kiss on her forehead before even acknowledging that anyone else is in the room. "Ryuuta?"
He doesn't say anything as he hands over the pictures. It's been a long time since he and Yuuto really needed words.
A full-throated laugh rolls from the human as he studies the first image. It's in crayon, rough, the paper yellowed and the pigments rubbed and dulled by time. The glistening cherry red he used for blood still shows well, though, as do the forest green and the imperial purple.
"Nogami would have labeled it that, wouldn't he?" Yuuto sighs and shakes his head, though there's a fond smile on his face. "He never did have good taste."
Maybe not, but Ryou understood things. Comprehended that hatred and jealousy were as much a part of learning to be human as anything else, and that he was making them human, whether he intended to or not.
It's a soft sound, but coming from Yuuto that just makes it all the more powerful. Yuuto's expression is frozen, unreadable, and Deneb's hand immediately goes to the human's shoulder.
Ryuutaros spins away, because sometimes silence is worse than anything else.
"When did you do this?"
"What, forgetting how to read numbers already?" He keeps his tone light as he looks back at the humans. "It's in the lower right corner, by my name."
Yuuto holds the picture gently, by the edges, so Airi and Deneb can both see it too. It's from decades ago, and the faces reflected in the image show it. He and Yuuto rest on the ground, back to back, matching expressions of annoyance on their faces. Their weapons are lying next to them, Ryuuta's gun held loosely, Altair's crossbow in Yuuto's bare hand. Their other hands, though, the ones in the foreground, are wrapped together, fingers tightly entwined.
And Ryou leans behind them, has an arm wrapped around each of them, pulling them together. The positioning isn't quite right, with his right arm and his neck at a slightly odd angle, but his face and the expression on it are perfect. Exasperated, loving, pleased with the way the universe worked out, and Ryuutaros turns again, paces away from the humans and the artwork they're studying.
"It's beautiful, Ryuuta." Yuuto's hand is firm, warm where it grasps his shoulder, and if he doesn't look at the human he could almost believe that things haven't changed. That everything's still the way it should be, with all of them together, and everything's perfect and right and wonderful like they earned.
Imagine it's still the world they helped dream into being with Ryou, and not one that's marched on, constantly, while they stay the same.
"We really did end up brothers, didn't we?" The softness in Yuuto's voice at times like this is always disconcerting, no matter how often he's heard it in the years and years since they met.
"I didn't title it, you know." His voice is rough, and he pauses, takes a breath, clears his throat. It shouldn't feel so swollen and rough. "He did. Ryou."
"I know. Like I said, bad taste. No need to state the obvious, is there?" Yuuto's hand pulls back. "Have you been to see the others?"
"Not yet. Not in a while." He turns back around, bounces back to the counter with his usual flare. "I've got other people to visit and things to give out first. Here, Odebu."
The images he chose for Deneb are simple. The earliest one is from after he first learned about dynamic positioning, a charcoal sketch of Deneb guarding Yuuto from an unseen threat. His right hand is raised, prepared to fight; his left is busy shoving Yuuto back behind him despite the human's best efforts. The better image, the later one, depicts Deneb in the middle of a gaggle of children, happily chasing the third generation of Sakurai and Nogami progeny as they indulge in a human child's never-ending quest for destruction.
Deneb thanks him profusely, offers him candy, and praises the artwork with more enthusiasm than understanding. He should respond to it like normal. He knows he should, knows he should tease Deneb, should preen under the well-earned acclamation, but he can't.
And it's not just because Yuuto's sitting on a chair, watching them, sipping coffee and trying to burn a hole through him with his stare.
No, it's not Yuuto, or not only Yuuto. He can't stand seeing Deneb with Yuuto right there, and even though they're not doing anything to highlight their link—are maybe even being careful not to draw attention to it—he knows it's there. And right now he hates Deneb a little bit for that, for being Imajin and still being whole.
"Oh, Ryuu-chan." Airi hugs him again, without any warning, and there are tears in her eyes. "Yuuto, stop it. He'll do what he can. Don't ask for any more."
For a moment Ryuutaros thinks Yuuto will argue, but the look in Airi's eyes is apparently enough to discourage him. Sighing, the human turns away, sipping at his coffee, somehow managing to look both long-suffering and petulant.
"It's all right, nee-chan." He rests his head on her shoulder, holds her against him. "He's just being Yuuto."
"Don't you think I know that by now?" Tugging on his hair, she smiles at him. "This isn't a fight, though. Not a battle for time or a universe. You don't need to hurt yourself more—"
"Have you been to see them?"
A pause, just a split second, before she softly whispers, "Yes."
"And he's still… not doing well." He can't make himself say the other word, the real word. Not yet. "I can't fix him, nee-chan. I would if I could. I want to. I want everything to be all right again, to be the way it was, but it's never going to be. It's never—"
"It will be." Holding him at arm's length, she stares into his eyes. Tears run down her cheeks, glisten in her gaze, but there is fire and strength and horrible, beautiful certainty behind them. "I've lost a lot of people in my life, Ryuutaros. And it always hurts, and it always seems like nothing can be right again. It's different for you, I know, and it has to be even more terrible to go through what you do, but things will still be all right. They'll never, ever be the same, no, but they will be all right. You won't forget… you won't ever forget, but it will hurt less. And this universe will never run out of people worth loving and living for."
He stares at her, at the tears she's crying for him. Tears he should have been crying, these past few days, and has been avoiding.
Her fingers curl around his cheek, and there is still strength in them. "Do you understand?"
"It's so quiet, nee-chan." His hands, his whole body is shaking as he puts his hand over hers. "It's so quiet. It shouldn't matter this much. Shouldn't hurt this much. We've been our own people for so long now… I have my own job, my own life… but it still…"
It's still a nagging absence, an emptiness where something full and fantastic had lived for years. No matter how far apart they were, his Imajin could always find Ryou when he called for them… and, through him, each other.
"Why do humans have to die?"
She doesn't answer, and he's grateful for that as he clings to her and cries. There is no answer, no perfect, succinct explanation. Death and life, the two forces an artist invariably toys with, and he's seen and heard and explored all the possibilities offered.
Death as the thing that gives life meaning, the ending that makes the journey beautiful. Death as punishment, as torment, as eternal unfair punishment for mortal wrongs. Death as a gift to people, something to be valued, a surcease from suffering. Death as emptiness, the void, the silence in his head, but he refuses, even now, to believe that one. Death as life, continued, renewed, a cycle of change that, while bittersweet, is ultimately worthwhile.
He likes that last one, believed in it himself for a while, but it doesn't help now. None of the things the humans have written and drawn and sung help now, and if he thinks on it too long he'll get mad at Ryou again. It isn't Ryou's fault that humans age, humans die, while Imajin can live forever.
After all, what nineteen-year-old human could really imagine aging, give slow, creeping, stalking death to those he loves?
Airi hums as she rocks him, a wordless song of grief and hope, inextricably tangled together. Hiccuping, he straightens slowly, smoothing out the wrinkles his grasping hands have made in her clothes.
"I'm sorry." His head hangs down, his hands twisting together behind his back. "I'm all right. Really I am."
"I know." She pats his cheek. "You're fine now, and you'll be even better later. Grieve however you need to."
"I should go see the others, shouldn't I?" The words aren't childish, but they're lacking his usual self-confident tone, too.
"If you can. If you want to. I think it would help them a lot, having all of you together."
"Right." He nods. "I've got pictures to give to them, anyway. I'll see you later, nee-chan."
Grabbing his bag of pictures, careful not to bend anything, he heads for the kitchen door.
He pauses, looks back at Yuuto.
"Nogami would be proud of you." Yuuto smiles, spins his cup around. "Come back and see us again soon, all right? All four of you."
"Can't hear you, old man." He smiles at Yuuto, gives Deneb a little salute and blows Airi a kiss as he waits a few seconds for the time to be right.
The sands of time are as beautiful as ever. He has loved them since the first time he saw them, following Kai into a strange, fascinating, wonderful, awful new world.
Not as much as he loves the world he's stepping from, though. Not as much as he loves Airi, as he loves Yuuto, as he loves Ryoutarou, and all the years they've had since then.
Not as much as he loves the other Imajin, the ones he's been avoiding, because he doesn't know what to say or what to do to stop stupid Momo from bleeding sand everywhere until he's gone.
Maybe he won't have to say anything, though. After all, he's armed with a bag full of pictures, works that Ryou thought were important enough to save. A lifetime of memories, to help them find their new place in the world, the new people who are worth loving and living for as the old ones fade away.
He hopes it'll be enough.