Disclaimer: Kamen Rider belongs to Toei.
Author's Note: This is set between the finale of the Decade series and the start of Movie War. Rating is for minor profanity and mild violence.
The Space Between
The stars don't change.
It's a stupid thing for him to notice, really, especially right now. There are a dozen other very important questions his mind could be considering—where he should go, what he should do, how likely it is that Tsukasa's going to be coming after him. Actually, considering anything other than the stars outside the window—the window, the one with the couch in front of it, the one that Tsukasa would lounge in so elegantly—would be more helpful.
He doesn't really want to think about the other things that spring to mind when he stops looking outside, though.
He doesn't remember deciding to shoot.
It doesn't matter, in the end, because he did shoot. But it bothers him, still, that he doesn't remember making the decision.
He remembers thinking about it. He remembers rushing up to Tsukasa, the thoughts in his head hammering against each other, somehow going at two, three, four times the speed of his jack-hammering heart. It didn't matter, though, because there wasn't a good way out of the situation.
He could run. He can always run. It's his favorite tactic, honed to perfection over the last few years, and he remembers thinking that he should use it again. He should use the chaos of the new battle to his advantage. He should slide between worlds and hope that he chooses one that won't be destroyed. He should get as far away as he can.
But how far away was far enough? When the universes were threatening to fall apart, when people were vanishing before your eyes, erased completely whether they had been friend or foe, did it really matter how far you ran?
Could anywhere be far enough?
So maybe running really hadn't been an option. Maybe that's why he hadn't run, because he'd considered it and realized that it was pointless, that the safest place to be was in the world where Tsuaksa was.
Did he decide to shoot Tsukasa then? Did he decide to try to protect himself by destroying the person who had caused the whole mess, the person who was eliminating their friends one by one, the person that everyone said had to die if the universe was going to live?
No. It's tempting to say it, now, and he probably would, if someone asked him. He shot Tsukasa because Tsukasa might kill him, might destroy him unconsciously by destroying his home world. It makes a nice story, neat and tidy and self-serving.
But he knows it's not true.
He wasn't thinking about his world when he charged Tsukasa. He wasn't thinking about his brother, about his brother's friends, about the rebels-cum-leaders who still haunt his dreams. Does he even belong to that world now? Would he disappear if it did, when his last ties there broke with Junichi's betrayal? Or is he tied to DaiShocker's world now, or to Tsukasa, or to nothing at all, a lost soul in a collapsing sea?
(Tsukasa. He belongs to Tsukasa's world.)
He didn't shoot Tsukasa to save his world. He didn't shoot Tsukasa to save himself.
What had it been, then? What impulse, what thought, what desperation tightened his finger on the trigger?
"Kaitou?" He can hear the word as clearly as though Tsukasa is saying it now, speaking to him now, though Tsukasa's impossibly far away now.
The shot hadn't done what it was supposed to do. It didn't kill Tsukasa, didn't give a quick, clean end to everything. It did destroy his helmet, blasting away more of the left side than the right. The eyepiece still hangs from the right side, blocking Kaitou's view of Tsukasa's right eye, but Tsukasa's left eye is fixed on the thief. Confusion fills the man's face, a confusion made worse by the blood dripping down from a dozen small lacerations, running in a thin, fast river down the left side of Tsukasa's nose from a wound somewhere above his hairline.
Tsukasa's armored left hand reaches up, feels at the skin of his face through the broken armor. "You shot me."
Kaitou doesn't know why the heroes stopped. He doesn't know why they don't use this moment, this gift he's given them, to finish it all. Probably he should look at them, at what they're doing, and figure out what's taking so long. That would involve looking away from Tsukasa, though, from the slow well of blood along some cuts, the fast flow from Tsukasa's scalp, and he doesn't think he could do that if his life depended on it.
"You shot me." The confusion gives way to anger, and Tsukasa's hand falls slowly to his side. His hands don't ball into fists, though. This isn't that kind of anger, sharp and fierce and hot. This is cold rage, hard and flat and unyielding, and Kaitou can finally snap his eyes away from Tsukasa's.
His eyes don't go to the heroes, though. They should. To save himself, they should, but instead they drop to the ground, drag over every stick and pebble, because looking at the heroes might mean seeing something worse than Tsukasa.
"I shot you." His tone is flippant, bright, doesn't waver at all, like the gun clenched hard in his right hand. Wavering is weakness. Wavering is real, is vulnerable, is a conversation on the road to the canyon, and none of this can be real and he can't possibly be this vulnerable. Not again. "I told you I'd be the one to kill you, didn't I?"
Tsukasa's right hand snaps out to the side, though his eyes stayed focused on Kaitou. There's no thought involved in Kaitou leveling DienDriver on Tsukasa again. There is simply a need to survive, an instinct that has become the core of his identity.
If he was going to die, he would have killed himself on his world, before he met Tsukasa and DaiShocker. No one else is ever going to kill him.
Tsukasa isn't attacking him, though. Tsukasa is summoning a portal between worlds, one of the wavering walls, and he controls it in a way that Kaitou hasn't seen from him since before Tsukasa's amnesia.
Natsumi realizes what's happening a moment too late, her hands falling from her mouth, the shock and bedraggled despair giving way to furious anger and denial. She doesn't have time to move before the portal sweeps over her, though, dragging her to a different world, taking her out of harm's way before disappearing.
Kaitou's eyes return to Tsukasa, but not before they scan over the rest of the scene, giving him the information he'll need to make his next move.
Yuusuke. Yuusuke is at least part of the reason that the heroes haven't attacked. One of them—Hibiki, but not the boy that Kaitou li—…toyed with—burns, slapping ineffectively at flames on his arm. Another—Blade—is stumbling slowly to his feet, the gold of his armor charred black. Kabuto pries at Yuusuke's right hand, locked around the Rider's neck, while Yuusuke's black-gloved left hand digs at the man's armor, searching for a weak point. Inhuman sounds of frustration and rage come from the Kuuga armor.
The Kuuga armor, not Yuusuke, because Kaitou knows as his eyes meet Tsukasa's again that Yuusuke is very far away from this battlefield. Kivaala's kiss loosed something that may wear Yuusuke's body and wield the same power, but there's nothing of Yuusuke in the way it moves or sounds.
The heroes are regrouping, Agito, Ryuki and Den-O turning to deal with Kuuga while Kiva and Faiz turn their focus back to Tsukasa.
Tsukasa opens DecaDriver, and the remains of his armor fall away, revealing the undamaged, bloodless right side of his face. Kaitou finds his eyes flicking from right to left, comparing the bloodied and pristine skin with fascinated horror. The heroes seem equally confused, stopping their approach for a moment, and Kaitou wishes he could see their faces.
"Take care of her, Kaitou." Tsukasa's hands fumble with the card in his belt, jerk it up and then press it back down in sharp motions that reveal his fury even if the cold, placid lines of his face don't. "And stay out of my way. If I see you again, I'll kill you."
"You'll try." It's a flippant return, and he smiles as he says it, but there's a tremor to his voice that hadn't been there before.
Tsukasa doesn't reply. There isn't time to reply as the heroes charge him, swords out.
Tsukasa's hands snap DecaDriver closed. For a moment nothing happens, and Kaitou can feel his finger tighten around the trigger again. He will kill Tsukasa before he allows the heroes to do it. He owes the man that much, somehow, though he doesn't know why he owes him or what kind of debt can be repaid in blood and pain.
Then energy explodes outward, driving the heroes back, driving Kaitou back a step and causing him to raise a hand to shield his eyes from flying rocks and dirt. Never mind that his helmet protects him. Some instincts are too ingrained and important to really want to fight.
"Damage detected to armor and user." The belt's voice hasn't change, the same deep, resonating tones sliding over English words. "Unable to upload standard armor. Equipping upgrade."
It doesn't look all that different. If he hadn't heard the belt make the declaration, if he hadn't been here for the transformation and watched the damaged suit fall away and this new, pristine one take its place, Kaitou might have missed the differences.
But they're there. Slight differences in the eye shape, slight differences in the coloring, slight changes; just like the slight difference in the way Tsukasa used his power to send Natsumi away, the slight difference in his tone when he tells Kaitou he'll kill him that makes the thief believe him, the slight difference in his expression as he transforms.
Tsukasa will kill him.
Tsukasa will kill all of them.
He doesn't wait to see the heroes charge. He doesn't wait to see if Tsukasa will attack him, include him now in the ranks of the enemy. He doesn't even glance in Yuusuke's direction, to see how the heroes are handling the berserker, exactly how dangerous Kuuga is without Yuusuke's compassion to hold it in check.
He just runs, slipping between worlds, and he doesn't stop running for hours.
Kaitou gasps in a breath, dragging his nails across his bare skin in an effort to wrench himself back to the present. Is this what a flashback feels like, then? Reliving the past, in vivid color, in horrible clarity, unable to change anything? He's glad it's never happened before, and if he has any say it won't ever happen again.
Forcing his eyes to focus on what's real, on what's present right now, he rakes his gaze over tree branches, stars, the too-white moon shining down outside. It should be red. The moon should be red or black or some other color, an external reflection of the horror sweeping over the multiverse, of the corruption and death of something that had been good as the heroes try to slaughter one of their own.
It should change, but it won't, because the universe never cares about little things like love and heroism. A low chuckle squeezes its way out of Kaitou's throat, and he turns away from the window though he doesn't rise from the couch.
The heroes will kill Tsukasa. Tsukasa will kill the heroes. Yuusuke will either find his sanity again or destroy everything. The universe will end or it won't.
And there's not a damn thing Kaitou can do about any of it.
"Kaitou?" Natsumi's voice is soft, rough, but it's a roughness that comes from crying, not from sleep.
Looking up at the woman, Kaitou forces a smile onto his face. "Yo, Natsu-melon."
"Daiki…" The expression on Natsumi's face is far too vulnerable and open, relief and anger and a terrible, terrible loneliness that Kaitou doesn't want to face. "Why… what… do you know what happened?"
For a moment Kaitou just studies Natsumi. She stands stiff, still, her arms hugging her chest as though she's cold. Her hair hangs loose around her shoulders. She's showered and changed since this afternoon, replacing the dress Apollo Geist had placed her in with long jeans that hide her feet and a tank top, a long-sleeved shirt, and a too-large hoodie over top. It's more layers than she usually wears, shows less of her figure, and though it should make her look less vulnerable somehow knowing her makes the outfit look… wrong. Likes she's hiding, or hurting, or some painful combination of the two, and Kaitou has to look away. "They're alive."
The pure relief on her face is almost as bad as the mixed emotions had been. "Did—"
"Or, rather, they were both alive when I last saw them a few hours ago. Yuusuke was completely insane and Tsukasa was planning on murdering all the heroes before they could kill him, but they were alive."
The relief freezes on Natsumi's face, and she takes a step back from him. "Why did you… just… why, Daiki?"
"Because it was all I could do for him."
It's the truth. He knows it as soon as he says it. He couldn't protect Tsukasa from the heroes—they have more skill, more firepower, more… determination isn't the right word, but whatever drive it is that makes them heroes, that lets Yuusuke keep coming back to fights despite everything that happens, it's something that's broken in Kaitou. He can't make himself face them, not when it's impossible odds.
But he couldn't leave Tsukasa there, not alone, not after they faced Apollo Geist together.
He couldn't leave Tsukasa with Yuusuke, with the possibility that Yuusuke would kill Tsukasa or Tsukasa would kill Yuusuke. Tsukasa loves Natsumi and Yuusuke. He couldn't let Tsukasa hurt either of them.
(Tsukasa gave them to him.)
"Oh, Daiki." Natsumi moves toward him again, her left hand reaching out toward him again. She doesn't actually touch him, though. "What are we going to do?"
"Nothing." He says it simply, though he hugs his knees to his chest more tightly. "There's nothing we can do."
"I tried to get back there." Natsumi hugs herself, too, head bowing down. "I can't. That world, that place… it's one I can't make myself go back to."
"It's not your fault. He doesn't want you there." Turning back to the window, Kaitou stares hard at the unchanged stars. "He doesn't want either of us there."
"We could help. We could try to explain to the others about Tsukasa. We could try to save Yuusuke."
"We can't save Yuusuke." Shaking his head, Kaitou turns back to Natsumi. "This isn't like any of the other times, Natsumi. There isn't Fourteen or a Moonstone or something that we can break and free him. This is just… him. Him and Kuuga's power, and if he's going to come back it's going to be because he's strong enough to control it."
"He will. He won't hurt Tsukasa." Natsumi's voice shakes, just slightly, but her face is set with determination. "They'll come back to us. They'll…"
The sound is choked, harsh, but Kaitou recognizes it as a suppressed sob.
He should leave. He should never have stopped here. He didn't mean to, not really, but when his running led him to the door of the photo studio he hadn't been able to resist stopping inside.
(Take care of her, Kaitou.)
He doesn't say anything. He just holds out his right hand, and a moment later Natsumi's fingers wrap around his, her grip tight and determined.
She cries for a few minutes, sobs that wrack her body, tears running down her face though she keeps wiping them away with the sleeve of the hoodie—Yuusuke's hoodie, he realizes belatedly. She doesn't say anything, doesn't even try to meet his gaze, just cries and keeps his hand locked with hers in a death-grip.
Eventually she stops crying, though, sniffling and wiping the last of her tears away. "Are you going to stay, Daiki?"
No. He doesn't do things like homes and family and staying in one place. He's a thief, just a thief, a man who runs and looks after himself and shoots his friends in the head if he can't think of a way to save them. He's not the kind of person that can be counted on to stay, and Natsumi knows that.
Squeezing her hand tightly, he stands on legs that feel stiffer than they should, keeping his back resolutely to the window and the couch and all the memories that are still waiting. "Just for the night. I'll get some coffee in the morning and then—"
She hugs him. She doesn't say anything, doesn't give him a chance to hug her back, just wraps her arms around him, squeezes, and then lets him go. Her voice is rough still. "I'm glad. Even if it's just for the night… I'm glad."
They don't say anything else. They move into the kitchen, and Kaitou cooks himself a long overdue dinner. He makes too much, somehow, and Natsumi picks at the extra while he eats. Kaitou doesn't comment on the fact that it's really too warm to wear three shirts at the moment, or on the fact that the long-sleeved shirt over her tank top and under Yuusuke's sweater is Tsukasa's. He just cooks and eats, being careful to focus entirely on each task, never giving the memories a chance to overwhelm him.
He sleeps on the floor, because he can't bring himself to sleep on the couch—and if the couch is too painful then he sure as hell isn't going to try going into Tsukasa and Yuusuke's room.
Natsumi sleeps curled against his back, touching him, and even though they don't talk about the missing members of their group anymore, Kaitou can still sense them in the space between her body and his and the silence that rings louder than any sobs ever could.