Oh, look, Qu wrote a thing! Do I get to be part of the Zexal fandom now?!
This is just a short, kind of introspective piece about the Kamishiro siblings, padded with a lot of headcanon to compensate for everything we've not been told about Rio yet (which is... basically everything). I tried doing a little research into burn victims, although I'm not sure I portrayed it quite right anyway. In fact, I probably got a lot of the medical bits wrong... if anyone happens to be more savvy about that stuff than me, feel free to lead me along the correct path!
I don't really have a time frame in mind for this, although it obviously can't fit anywhere into the current Zexal timeline. It'll all probably be made obsolete if/when we finally get more info on mummy girl, anyway.
Finally, I didn't really mention it in the fic itself, but my headcanon is that Ryouga and Rio are fraternal twins. But again, that'll probably get debunked at some point... oh well, let me dream while it's still feasible.
She had been in this hospital for far longer than she cared to recount. The oft-described sterile smell was never really sterile - disinfectant lingered in her nose, and the almost sandalwood smell that filled the air was undetectable to her now that her senses had adjusted for good. The sick and the dying, it turned out, smelled like sandalwood; soft, musky, a smell she could almost feel dissipating in her lungs and falling apart every time she exhaled.
Ryouga pushed the door open, surprised to find her in a private room. She'd been moved since the last time he'd seen her. Rio sat, propped up by pillows, listening peacefully to the breeze tickling at the curtains. He looked to the floor in desperation, hoping that maybe the bland tiles would somehow organize his thoughts for him.
This was not the meeting he'd envisioned. He didn't even think she wanted him there.
Her voice was careful, just affectionate enough to be reassuring. Maybe she did want him there. Maybe she wouldn't be angry or offended - or worse yet, hurt - that it had taken this long for him to come back.
Her only answer to that was a thin smile.
The silence stretched on, and Ryouga crossed the room. He looked at her chart, which stated that she had recovered enough to move her hands and arms freely, and walk for a short period with assistance. Her eyes were open now; it almost hurt that he could identify exactly how many shades of blue they'd changed since he'd last seen them look at him.
"The nurses said it was almost four months, and then another three since then. I had all that time, and I didn't even prepare a lecture for how dumb you are." The perfectly level way she said it made his heart turn over in his chest, but Rio wasn't finished. "But... not dumb enough to forget to bring me flowers, huh?"
He'd almost forgotten them, though, and sheepishly placed them on a side table. She tried to smile for a moment, but it flattened when the singular question encompassing all that she really wanted to ask became too pressing to ignore anymore.
"Why didn't you come back?"
It was strangely silent in the hospital room this time - there were no machines to beep at him anymore, and the TV in the corner was off. The absence of sound in the aftermath of the question made him feel sick all of a sudden.
Ryouga tugged at his sleeves, and Rio stared at him. He regretted it the second he looked up to meet her prying gaze again - the eyes of both Kamishiro siblings were as marine and hypnotic as the waves of the deep Pacific, and each could see themselves reflected in the eyes of the other, not merely due to simple physical reflection on the surface.
No, he saw himself there. He knew she saw herself in his eyes, all the simmering residual hatred that she was capable of as well, and he knew she was aware of the whole thing as well, but the worst part was that he was there in hers. Ryouga saw himself being devoured by fire, more than just metaphorically by the flames of hatred and revenge this time.
That was the worst part.
In, out. There was nothing else. He was not in a hospital; there was no such thing as a hospital. Even the words sounded unreal: debridement, intravenous drip, analgesics. The nurses did not exist either, not when they swarmed around her body cocooned in gauze and tubes, nor when they dispersed to focus their attention elsewhere and only periodically came back to monitor her.
Energy churned around him, cold and stinging as salt water. He tried not to rock with each wave of anger, fear, grief. They flowed through him easily, but they stained his blood like poison. They held him upright as he stood somehow, surrounding him. Maybe he was the one who belonged in the hospital. He was the one who belonged in the hospital.
There was nothing to see, but Ryouga was helpless but to look anyway. He gaped down at her, deliberately not counting heartbeats from either of them - not the monitoring machine nor the palpitation sounding so ungracefully in his own chest. It felt like her slow intake and release of breath was the only thing that kept her there, anchored to her own body.
She was alive. There was nothing to it but silence and stillness and breath, but she was alive.
He almost couldn't bear to touch her, fearing that he might break her or send needles of pain harpooning through her, much deeper than her skin could ever go. But even without speaking to her, even without knowing if she could hear him or recognize his presence at all, Rio spoke. She tried to speak, even though she had no guarantee that her words would reach.
"Ryouga. Please win... please win the tournament. I'm... all right..."
Where the hunch came from, he couldn't say, but Ryouga suddenly knew that not only was she not all right, but that things could only get worse from here. He could win that tournament where the opportunity was taken from her, and he would, if that was what she wanted, if it might even be her final wish...
He allowed that line of thought to die off pitifully, and told himself instead that he would win, and there would be nothing else to it. She needed him to win. He needed himself to win, for her.
Shortly after he stepped out of that room, Kamishiro Rio went into shock, and was eventually put in a medically-induced coma. And shortly after that, the rest of Kamishiro Ryouga's life went to hell along with her.
The hospital room was lonely for a long time after that.
"How could I show my face to you, after that?"
Rio couldn't hide her dismay at his answer, and Ryouga realized she'd expected it. He felt abjectly stupid all of a sudden, knowing that she'd read him like an open book. He'd just given the most important person in his life one of the lines no long-term hospital patient ever wants to hear.
So he didn't follow up, even into the further silence Rio seemed to be using to give him a wide open opportunity to explain himself. So she gave him another look, one that was less uncomfortable and more exasperated. Ryouga noticed the purely physical change in her eyes all too keenly again, and felt even stupider.
"How could you not?" she said, as though it were the most obvious thing in the world. "The first thing I remember was seeing the date on a whiteboard... and the only thing I could wonder was what had happened to you, because you were there just a second ago. I thought you were standing next to me, but then..."
Rio conveniently left out the part about the fact that exactly one week later, she'd seen her body as she was being redressed for the first time. She could only take it all in pieces at a time; she'd started from her legs, and moved up to her stomach and arms, and then the hands she almost couldn't recognize as hers. All were swirled and splotched with varying patterns and textures of pinks and reds and purples, to many different extents. Later, much later, she would compare her body with morbid amusement to an artist's sunset canvas spliced onto a human body and smile to herself, just a little.
"I... it didn't work out. A lot of things didn't. I hit rock bottom, so instead of going up, I... I didn't care anymore. Nothing could've made it worse, so I-"
"I know," Rio interrupted, "I heard about everything. Only second-hand, but I can take a guess at the rest."
That gave Ryouga pause. Again, she knew what was coming. Maybe all that time spent in bed gave her the chance to think about it and prepare herself accordingly, but that couldn't have made her any less upset... could it?
Rio closed her eyes, against the sterile room or the indescribable feelings welling up or her idiot brother. After a moment, she tried standing up, and Ryouga moved closer as if to stop her. But she strengthened her grip in protest, and he held her steady as she wobbled.
Once she was upright on her own strength, he took a step back to look at her. He expected her to try walking somewhere else in the room, or to hug him... but what he got was much different.
She smacked him.
"That's thanks... for finally coming back to me again."
Ryouga saw the expression on her face clench out of the corner of his attention; obviously, it hurt her to move so sharply like that, but she didn't seem to care enough to react otherwise. It felt like something she'd wanted to do for a long time, and so he accepted it without protest. Once he was sure she was done, he gingerly set her back on the bed where she'd been, letting her adjust herself and moderate her own breathing before continuing at her discretion. Rio, however, felt accomplished enough to try leaving it at that.
"Now, you're forgiven, and it's over."
He paused, taken aback. "That's it? It's over?"
"Well," Rio began, in a supremely reasonable way. "I would say it isn't your fault, because it isn't, but I don't think you'd believe me anyway." She grinned at him, much more genuinely this time. It was clear she'd just lifted a great weight off her chest. "And I would vent the rest of my frustrations at you, but then you'd feel justified in sulking. So I forgive you, and now it's over."
Ryouga reminded her, "But I didn't even win. The guy who made both of our lives hell did. Don't tell me you're not even a littlebit angry?! He- he almost ruined you, damn it!"
"I could be," she explained, carefully deliberating how she would justify her position little by little between every word, "and I probably was, when you put it that way. But if he'd intended to kill me, he'd have left me there to die. Wouldn't that have been easier, in the end?"
Rio barely flinched when Ryouga gave her a look that wanted to protest her choice of wording, and kept going. "Wouldn't it have been easier for him to just let me die? He could either try and pull me out and risk both of us in the process, or run while he could and say it couldn't be helped. What could he possibly have had to gain from going through all that effort to-"
"Alright, I get it," Ryouga said tightly, clenching his jaw so much it ached.
"Okay then, I'll cut to the chase. I'll forgive him too if he wants to be forgiven, no matter what really happened that day."
The elder sibling gripped his chair so hard his knuckles were white. He didn't even need to ask; she'd do it even if he didn't want to be, because Ryouga knew she already had this all figured out. With frightening accuracy for someone who, until now, had been completely in the dark about everything, up to and including her brother's goal to make anyone involved with the incident that had hurt her wish they'd never crossed either of them.
"You honestly think he deserves any bones you throw to him? Intent doesn't mean a damn thing; he hurt you, decided it wasn't enough, destroyed what I'd made of my life, and then made a joke out of the entire thing! I don't care who he was taking orders from or why, or how 'sorry' he claims to be, that doesn't excuse any of it!"
"So he did apologize to you," Rio pointed out, with insight that stunned him out of the rage he'd been building up from the beginning of this leg of the conversation.
"Don't waste your energy on him anymore," Ryouga said in a low tone after taking a moment to collect himself again. "He needs your forgiveness as much as he needs your pity, which is not at all."
The girl nestled among the pillows smiled. He looked at her, and immediately knew what was coming before he said it. They both knew they were simultaneously fighting a stalemate battle and an incredibly stacked battle all at once; neither would change their position unless forced, but both already knew what the result would be.
"It's not a perfect apology, not yet, but it's a start that he told you as much," she admitted, leaning her head back and staring straight at the wall again. "And he can feel bad and try to atone for it all he wants, regardless of what either of us think. But think about it... if there's no one on the other end to forgive him, why even bother going to the effort to apologize at all? If he's just going to go to a lot of lengths to prove he's sorry for nobody to even see any of it..."
The silence hung over the room for a moment, tense.
They stared at each other, Ryouga with fisted hands clutching the bed angrily, Rio calm with her fingers fidgeting at the opposite edge of the sheet.
He said tightly, "Are you really okay with that?"
"Tell you what," she replied, "how about when things sort themselves out a little better, you let me introduce myself to him formally?"
The battle was already over. Seeing Ryouga relax, finally, and meet her eyes again to respond in a gruff way that she knew was reserved for her alone - his grumpy little "I'm not going to look like I'm submitting to your arguments, but I'm not going to fight you, so consider this one battle over" tone - was immensely uplifting. After too many months of focusing her energy on putting together tiny, insignificant little grains of progress for herself, it was a relief to hear him using it again.
Who would be the one keeping a muzzle on the Shark so he didn't bite anyone needlessly, if not her?
"Tell him yourself, once you get out of here."
Rio smiled at him, and Ryouga had no choice but to fly like a moth into that dazzlingly tempting flame and smile back, despite himself.