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gymnopédies

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There’s a ringing in his ears.

Sumio wakes with a start. Instinctively, his hand darts for his side table; his fingers, however, grip around an armrest instead of the phone’s receiver. For the first time in two weeks, it isn’t the ceiling above his bed in the Flower, Sun, and Rain that greets him: it’s an airplane’s cramped economy seat.

He squeezes his eyes shut and counts in his head: one, two, three. Still aboard. Still leaving Lospass. Sumio slides backward off the edge of his seat, adrenaline subsiding. But awake now, gathering his surroundings, the discomfort at last takes its time to settle in. A low drone reverberates through the cabin’s stale air, like a buzzing fly tossing itself back and forth against his skull, again and again. His head begins to throb with an incoming migraine. His legs ache with stiffness; his throat is parched and dry. And there’s a conspicuous lack of weight in his lap, too: his briefcase—where

“Catherine—”

—stowed safely under the seat in front of him, he realizes.

The sigh he breathes is a stabilizing one. He can’t just lose himself to panic now. Not after all it took to leave an island practically made of crazy. The cabin pressure is just messing with his head, Sumio decides: he must not have adjusted to it properly. Or he actually is going insane— his mind folding up two weeks into the compactness of one day, hours seeming to break and crumble into second-long pieces, his head stuffed fit to burst with the waking of morning after morning after morning. No wonder his ears are ringing.

....Wait. Cabin pressure?

“—Sumio? Hey.”

No, that’s not right.

”Sumio.” And he snaps quickly to attention, turning to face the man with a vice grip on his right shoulder. Sumio blinks up at Peter— no, Kusabi— his eyes flicking from the older man’s eyes down to his lips. He’d completely forgotten he was here, much less awake and watching him compose himself.

“You good?” Kusabi asks: gruffly casual, to mask the concern.

“My eardrums.”

“Ah, fucking airplanes. Guess that’s why you drove in instead of flying.” Kusabi frowns tightly. “What do you want? Painkillers?”

“No, I mean...” Sumio massages his forehead and shakes his head slowly, sorting through the tangle of memories in his head: long before the island, long before Catherine and Giggs and searching, even before the distant part of his recollection that knows for sure that Kusabi was a friend. Or a friend of a friend. Something.

And all of a sudden, it clicks, like a flashbulb going off behind his eyes. He doesn’t even need Catherine’s help. The pain he recalls is visceral and blinding-white, even when he can’t quite place how and when and why yet: why there are names he can’t remember but knows he must very soon; why that absence, never there before, digs a cavity deeper and deeper into his chest the longer that it takes him to remember. So it’s not just the ringing, which has already begun to taper off.

As Sumio speaks, his own voice is distorted and far away, as if he’s hearing himself underwater. ”I just remembered why my hearing’s so bad. When I was a child... something happened to my eardrums. They were ruptured, I think? So I shouldn’t really be feeling that pressure there. It’s just a headache.”

The admission leaves them both speechless for a moment, and the white noise of the airplane sailing through the blue, that incessant ringing in Sumio’s ears, is all that cuts through the oppressiveness of that silence. Kusabi’s fingers rear back, floating all-too-hesitant in place before his entire hand retreats back to the older man’s lap. Sumio should probably feel worse about this, but the look on Kusabi’s face tells him that he wasn’t wrong. Besides, he could never invent the memory of that kind of pain. For now, he resolves, another breadcrumb on the path to Sumio Kodai can’t be bad.

“Oh,” Kusabi manages at last, like he’s been winded. “So you...” He stops. Opens his mouth, closes it, not to trip over words where there aren’t any good ones to say yet. His expression’s unreadable: a light of hope in his eye, even as he struggles, vainly, to pick out something considerate; something like anger tugging the lines on the man’s forehead closer; something, too, that searches. Somehow, it makes Sumio even more uncomfortable. For a second, Sumio thinks the man’s about to say ‘sorry’, the way his tongue draws back in his throat, the way his lips begin to round. And then he presses them together and starts again.

“Maybe I should just start explaining.”

“Please don’t.” It’s bizarrely satisfying to see Kusabi look so lost. “That was the longest day of my life. Is it too much to ask for an hour or two of peace?”

That answer seems to placate him well enough, and Kusabi nods, satisfied. (The wry grin spreading across the man’s face tugs at Sumio. He knows the facts of his situation: he knows who Tetsugoro Kusabi is, theoretically, and yet there’s some inkling of feeling stretching its way back into his mind, like a long-forgotten dream unfurling itself. He knows this man. He knows they were partners, once, and he can feel the weight, muscle memory persisting, of an old gun in his hand... distant still, but better than some old timer’s smile. He’d give up another two weeks of his sanity to get some closure, for the love of God.)

Tetsu leans back in his seat and reaches up, jabbing a button on the panel above them with a thumb.

“You want something to drink then? Water? Coffee?”

Sumio snorts. “No more coffee. Tea, please.”

“Heh. You got it.”

(Tetsu… Tetsu. Maybe that’s a start.)