So much brotherly and Atsubro fluff in this fic.
I tried to have more going on, but it got drowned under the fluff and Naoya deciding that he'd rather garden than do what I wanted him to. So here you go.
"Naoya?" he asked nervously as the guard who escorted him here closed the door behind him.
Under other circumstances he might have noted that wow, this was some cushy cell, but then Naoya was the one who programmed Babel to accept the government's instructions. Had he only agreed to Atsuro's plan because it gave him leverage on them, leverage he could use to wrangle himself a backdoor pardon?
The only reason he hadn't been released already was because Naoya had no real objection to staying in protective custody until memories of the lockdown faded, until people became grateful to the creator of the demon summoning program for giving them healing magic, magic that would even let them bring back dead loved ones like Honda's son instead of hating him for all the people who died in the lockdown.
This wasn't even a cell: the car that picked him up had driven Atsuro to some isolated estate. It wasn't like walls could hold Naoya, he knew.
Especially not the walls of a greenhouse.
"So, the prodigal student returns," Naoya said, turning to smile at him. What stunned Atsuro was that he seemed almost happy, almost gentle, standing here among all these plants.
"Hydroponics, huh?" Atsuro asked, looking around him at the maze of glass tubes of all colors – that was so like Naoya, to even make something like this beautiful because he was the one making it and he never did shoddy work – that was spread throughout the greenhouse.
"Growing plants entirely without soil, so they draw their nourishment from the water if the earth refuses to nurture them." Naoya smiled to himself. "I've been interested in the concept for a long time, but I've been too busy to experiment until now. It works." He surveyed the greenhouse with a soft, almost parental look in his eyes, the way he'd look when Abel got an A, patting him on the head and saying 'That's my cousin.'
Atsuro wanted to say yeah, people had been growing stuff hydroponically for awhile now, but the earth refusing to nourish plants? What Remiel said, Babel and Abel?
Seeing Naoya like this, retiring from the world to a small estate to farm?
He opened his mouth a little, but even he was smart enough not to say it. Naoya, you really are Cain, aren't you? It explained everything. How Remiel knew him, why the angel had known him long enough to even trust him, even though Sariel hadn't trusted him an inch.
"Shut your mouth, Atsuro, unless you want to swallow a bug. Speaking of bugs, don't worry, I swept for them. You noticed that the walls of this greenhouse are one-way glass, I trust? I have this magnificent view, but they can't see in, so no need to worry about lip-reading. Not that you're saying anything but 'Oh.'" Oh, like Atsuro had realized something.
That almost made Atsuro say what he knew, but if Naoya really was Cain, then he might not help when "Abel is sick. Just tired all the time: he doesn't want to do anything anymore, and no matter how much he eats, he's still hungry and you know what I'm talking about, don't you?" The expression on Naoya's face was annoyance, not real worry. Frustration, frustration with himself? "I thought you said he wouldn't be turned into a demon!"
"He wasn't," Naoya said, giving Atsuro a quelling look for a moment before his eyes regained that distant look and he scowled at something.
"But you knew this was going to happen?" Atsuro demanded angrily.
"No, I thought I solved that issue…" He started walking towards Atsuro: no, past him, to the door. "I'll have them fetch him here: I dislike repeating myself."
"If this is your mistake then you can fix it, right?"
"I find your lack of faith disturbing… Don't worry, Atsuro. He'll be fine. He was fine until recently, so the…" Naoya paused, thinking of a word. "Traditional methods clearly still work. If he'd listened to me and fought him for our sakes this wouldn't be happening, but he is my cousin, after all. It seems I'll have to adjust some things, but he'll be able to have that ordinary life if he wants it so much." Naoya paused with his hand on the door, looking back past Atsuro, at the expanse of light and green and color. "Peaceful days themselves are a luxury," he said, and a flash of something old and sad appeared in those red eyes. "But if we don't fight for them, they will be taken from us." He seemed to shake himself awake, out of old, old memories. "Wait here, Atsuro. I'll be back in a moment."
Atsuro opened his mouth again, wanting to go after Naoya to make sure he hurried to have them bring Abel here, so he could get better, but then he frowned at himself. Didn't he trust Naoya at all? He'd admired him so much: he still did. Finding out that Naoya had started the Lockdown that killed so many people, that he wanted to turn his own cousin into a demon: Atsuro had thought better of him than that. He'd looked up to Naoya, all this time, and then he'd trapped them in the lockdown, betrayed and used them like that?
He came here asking for Naoya's help, and he'd just assumed this was Naoya's fault and gotten angry at him like that, when Naoya had tried to keep Abel from getting sick in the first place? Just like he'd put so much work into the cathedral of shadows and everything else to help them survive.
In hindsight, Atsuro knew that the Bel demons would have come after Abel anyway, so Naoya was trying to protect them and his cousin, but "Look, Naoya…" he started to say when his teacher returned.
"It's alright, Atsuro. Of course you're worried for him," Naoya said with a hint of a smirk as he passed Atsuro one of his energy drinks, keeping a can of tea for himself.
He hadn't said that like, 'you were worried, so I'm going to take pity on you and ignore that you snapped at me.' He'd said it like Atsuro being worried was the result he wanted, something going exactly according to plan, and Atsuro remembered seeing that smirk before, hidden in the smile his teacher wore after asking Atsuro about Abel, what his student thought of his little cousin.
"You wanted us to be friends, didn't you?" Atsuro said, taking the can but not drinking, not yet, just holding it in his hands, not knowing what it meant that Naoya had this here, obviously for him. Naoya was always so good at planning ahead, so thoughtful about everything all the time, that it was easy to mistake it for him giving a damn about you. It was easy to feel flattered that someone cared enough about you to understand you, to take you and what you wanted into consideration. He'd thought it was just that Naoya was nice, even if he didn't act like it all the time, but was it really taking care of people or was it manipulation? Or even just good planning: had he thought 'Atsuro will come, so to be prepared I will put this on the shopping list,' or 'Atsuro likes this, so I'll get it for him, so he feels welcome?' Where could Atsuro even draw the line, when Naoya was so… Naoya?
"Of course," Naoya said, and it was a relief that he wasn't angry. No, he looked the way he did when Atsuro was failing to see something obvious, something that was part of a lesson, and it was cute that he was trying. Like watching a child try to stumble upright. "Didn't you want a friend your own age?"
"Yeah," he'd confided that in his teacher. Naoya was really good at getting people to open up, but "Naoya…"
"I wanted my cousin to have a loyal friend who would stay by his side in order to protect him." The corner of Naoya's mouth tilted up, but red eyes were still warm. "Is that such a bad thing? Yes, I used you, but everyone uses everyone else. You complained that I was treating you like pawns in the lockdown, but didn't you come to me and try to make me program for you, be a pawn in your little scheme? You need to learn to rely on yourself, Atsuro, but there's nothing wrong with making use of others, as long as you look after them instead of just assuming that they'll look after you without being given anything in return. Weren't you disgusted by all of those in the Lockdown who just sat around, waiting for the government, for someone else to fix everything, and complaining about how terrible it was to have food and water provided to them while they did nothing productive? Haven't you figured out by now that I taught you for a reason, that I introduced you to my cousin and gave you the friend you wanted for a reason? And were those really such bad reasons?"
Atsuro's hands tightened around the can, just not knowing what to say because, well, because Naoya.
Silver hair shone in the light that came in through the mirror glass. "Tell me, Atsuro. Aren't you glad you weren't one of those people? Aren't you glad that I chose you? Otherwise, you would have been just another face in the crowd: you wouldn't have been able to shape the future, to convince my brother to follow the path you choose and restore control over demons and magic to the world." Naoya laughed, but there was barely any mockery in it. "Haven't I been an excellent pawn in your own schemes? Haven't you used me to grant so many of your own desires? Admit it, Atsuro: if you could do it over again, would you really ignore that first e-mail I sent you? Aren't you glad we met?"
"Yes," Atsuro said, feeling something tight in his chest. "I'm really glad I met you, Naoya, and you're right, I really am grateful, but… I just don't know anymore."
"I tended you, Atsuro, as I've tended this world. In some ways, I've done more to shape you into the man you are than your parents have."
And that was true: it was Naoya that Atsuro had gone to when he had a problem, not his so-distant parents. When he locked himself out, when they forgot to deposit money into his account and he couldn't get a hold of them…
"Of course we feel betrayed, of course it hurts, when we realize that someone we regarded as family never loved us." It was Naoya that looked down at his tea now. "That they were only planning to use us from the start: that every bit of pain and anguish we've experienced was just part of their grand plan… As Abel said, Atsuro, I am a jerk. It runs in the family. I am also very good at manipulating others, but I draw the line at convincing someone that I care for them in order to use that against them. If I despised you, Atsuro, that would have been clear from the beginning. I wouldn't have chosen you, among all the billions of people on this world, to be my student and my brother's friend if you weren't worthy. Now," Naoya said, raising his head again to look at Atsuro. "Does that make you feel better."
That was barely a question, and it did. Almost: Atsuro's eyes stung now, and he had to take a deep breath, had to swallow.
"Drink up," Naoya told him, as advice. Focus on something else so you don't cry from relief.
Was this why Naoya had brought him something? For a moment that seemed like a silly thought, but Naoya probably could have thought this conversation out in advance. Atsuro knew he probably wasn't that hard to predict, not for Naoya.
"Showing up here at this hour: you didn't eat breakfast and you were too shy to ask the driver to stop somewhere so you could get something to eat while they were bringing you up here, weren't you." Naoya tched. "I thought I'd show off my garden while we waited for the helicopter, but that will have to wait until Abel gets here."
Right: low blood sugar, that was totally why Atsuro's hands were shaking a little.
"Follow me," Naoya said, and that sounded like a really good idea, since that way Atsuro was facing Naoya's back and he could pretend Naoya couldn't imagine what he looked like perfectly well.