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Kouya knew how it felt when the rain fell on her skin; the sensation of droplets merging and running like tears over her body, under her clothes, making her hair fall lank and heavy about her face.

If it was a cold night in autumn or winter she'd see others shiver and clasp their coats closed with stiff blue fingers, and she'd look down at her own hands but nothing had changed. The biting pain of a night in winter couldn't touch her. She'd just stand letting the rain fall as those around her turned up their collars and hurried on their way, and wish she could feel what they did.

The blue of cold, the red of warmth.

Physical sensations were only colours in Kouya's mind.

This past week, her skin had been getting tight, and she knew that meant a battle was coming. Soon Nagisa would call. Yamato took the news lightly, or pretended to. She was more interested in knowing Kouya's opinion of her new school socks.

Staring at the socks, Kouya could only think of one thing to say. She whispered, "I won't let you get hurt, Yamato. I promise."

Yamato laughed too loudly. "Silly Kouya. We don't feel pain, remember? There's no spell that can hurt me."

Kouya raised her eyes and looked at Yamato solemnly. "You could still die. We're not invincible."

"Come on, Kouya. No one is going to die. It'll be fine, like always."

Her false carefree smile had no effect on Kouya's mood. She touched Yamato's cheek and murmured, "do you know that if something happened to you, I wouldn't even be able to feel your body going cold? I wouldn't be able to feel when I was losing you. Afterwards, I wouldn't have the memory of your warmth to hold close in the night. I've never touched you and felt anything more than the pressure of your skin against mine. But it still hurts, Yamato. It hurts inside my chest all the time, even more because I know I'll never understand what I'm missing, because I'll never get to know how you really feel…"

Despite her stoic appearance, Kouya was actually the more highly strung of the two. She was the one who cried, who lost her temper, whose voice modulated at times like these with emotions she couldn't control. She was shaking in Yamato's arms, clutching her, tears leaking out from behind her glasses as her breaths repeatedly hitched.

"You know how I feel, Kouya," Yamato said softly, her fingers stroking comfortingly through Kouya's hair. "You can feel me in here, can't you?"

Her hand moved to rest over Kouya's heart. Kouya held her there, and inside she was feeling so much she didn't know how her body didn't fly apart, but on the surface she was dead. She could trace every inch of Yamato's skin with her fingers a thousand times over and still not get as much as a stranger did from a handshake.

"I can always feel you in there, Yamato," she said, drawing back. "But I still wish I could feel how warm you are. Don't you ever—?"

Longing flickered through Yamato's eyes, and her hand tightened in Kouya's. "Every time I'm with you," she whispered.

They leaned in closer, mouths meeting in a kiss, and Kouya's cheeks were still wet with tears, both for all the things she felt with Yamato and all the things she'd never feel. She couldn't even remember whether she'd read that tears were supposed to be hot or cold, but she could taste the bitter salt of them on her lips.

Chapter Text

They picked up a car along the way that they weren't old enough to drive, but rules didn't seem to matter on the remote roads they travelled.

An ever-changing landscape drifted by outside the windows; mountains and oceans and lush green plains, little towns where they'd stop for food and gas and leave again quickly, before anyone could ask too many questions.

Most nights they just stopped and camped somewhere, in a tent or under the stars. They'd sleep pressed body to body, listening to each other's breaths, and they didn't speak, they didn't speak about anything until one night when the silence weighed on Kouya more heavily than it had on any night before.

"Yamato," she whispered, her voice rusty as old nails, "I'm sorry. I never should have performed that spell."

She curled into herself a little more tightly as she remembered the horrible emptiness inside her when she severed her bond with Yamato. Worse still was when she'd been able to sense the strange Zero boy instead, his emotions and his presence defiling the sanctum in her heart that should have belonged to Yamato alone.

It hadn't lasted long, no opponent could win against such a brutal tactic, but in the end they'd perhaps done more damage to themselves. The bond was still there, but it was different now in a way Kouya couldn't explain. Yamato had lost her name. They were no longer Fighter and Sacrifice.

"I told you to do it, Kouya." Yamato's reply was soft. She didn't seem surprised by Kouya's words. Perhaps she'd been waiting all this time for Kouya to speak, not because she wanted the apology but because she knew Kouya needed to give it to her.

Kouya closed her eyes, knowing Yamato must be able to feel the tremble of fear that went through her. "What are we going to do now?"

Theirs had been a relationship whose foundations were laid in the inevitability of fate. Kouya had always thought she hated all the orders, the constraints, but looking back it seemed almost comforting. How would they stay together in this brave new world? There was nothing but Yamato's arm around her, Yamato's hand holding hers, and an uncertain future in which they no longer had their old roles to play.

"Whatever we want. We're free."

Yamato's breathless tone sounded exhilarated, not afraid. She'd always been the brave one.

"I don't want to stop feeling you again."

"Kouya."

Yamato's hand moved to Kouya's shoulder, exerting gentle pressure so that Kouya rolled onto her back. Yamato was above her, ash blonde hair framing her face as she looked down, and her eyes were shining with something Kouya had never seen before – wonder, perhaps, and happiness for something she couldn't yet believe to be true.

"Kouya," she repeated, "Didn't you always want more than to feel each other inside? Well now I can do that." Gently, she stroked Kouya's face. "When I touch you, I can feel how warm you are. The sensation of your skin against mine is…like seeing lightning light up the sky. When I think of kissing you, of being with you, my belly tingles, my whole body heats. I wish I could make you understand…"

Kouya's heartbeat sped and her mouth went dry. Since their escape, since Yamato's new ability to feel that which she could only inadequately name, they hadn't been together, though Kouya had thought about it and she knew Yamato had too.

Sex between them had always been intimate, loving; they could make each other come and experience some ghost of pleasure. But to Kouya it sometimes felt like reaching for something just beyond her grasp, wanting to experience a connection that her deadened skin short-circuited again and again. She never told Yamato, but sometimes all she was left with was a feeling of loneliness and frustration, and she'd wrap her arms around Yamato as she slept, smelling her skin, her hair, nearly crying with how much she wanted to feel her body's warmth.

If she could give that to Yamato, give her what neither of them had ever felt…

"You have to let this go, Kouya." Yamato brushed her fingers over the mark on Kouya's chest, and though the touch made Kouya shiver Yamato shook harder. "You don't have to be Zero anymore."

Reaching up to tangle a hand into her hair, Kouya drew Yamato down into a kiss, the only answer she could give in that moment. Immediately Yamato pressed into her and made a strange, needy sound in her throat Kouya had never heard before, hands reaching to hold her tight.

With growing wonder Kouya kissed Yamato, touched her, watched her partner become wordless but for cries and moans she couldn't contain, felt Yamato's fingers clinging onto her with blind desperation as she came.

"Oh, Kouya." Yamato was still shaking, her voice just an unsteady murmur, "you have no idea…"

The puffing of Yamato's breath onto Kouya's skin, the feel of her hands as she began to caress, the bright glimmer of her eyes and the flush of her lips; Kouya had never seen Yamato look so beautiful, so happy.

It made her stomach tighten with the sensation she knew to be desire, but it had never felt like this before, like the beginning of a warm glow low in her abdomen. She shuddered and gasped, the feeling becoming near unbearable as Yamato touched her between her legs.

Vaguely she heard Yamato giggle, heard her say, "you see, Kouya, we don't need them to tell us who we are, how we feel. We don't need our old life to show our love."

Yamato was running her lips over Kouya's breast, over the mark on her skin, all the while moving her hand faster, and Kouya made a strangled sound as something swept through her she couldn't describe, every nerve on fire from Yamato's touch, her body saturated with white hot pleasure as she peaked.

"Yamato…" she whispered, barely able to get her lover's name out between her laboured breaths, "Yamato…"

Any words more coherent wouldn't come, but she realised it didn't matter, that a million things could be said just in the language of touch, in the tender warmth of sated kisses. She could finally feel Yamato, every bit of her, skin against skin, heat against heat, and now that she'd felt it once she never wanted it to go away, wanted to keep forever this whole new realm she'd discovered at last after years of futile desire.

Giving her an uncharacteristically shy smile, Yamato whispered, "you felt it, didn't you? You felt me touch you."

Kouya nodded with a shuddering breath. She mumbled something, tried to explain how good it made her feel, but her body was filled with a warm fuzzy radiance that caused her to stumble over the words.

Brushing a finger over her lips, Yamato whispered, "shh, Kouya, it's okay. I understand. I understand everything."


The next morning, Kouya awoke to find Yamato cuddled into her chest, her head resting on the spot where the mark used to be.

Kouya didn't have to move Yamato to know the mark was gone; she could feel within herself that the Zero was no longer there, was no longer her. It would have scared her before, but it didn't after last night, after realising they had the power now to forge their own connections, that the will of their hearts was all they needed.

She and Yamato, they were beginning all over again, sensing each other's warmth for the first time. Discovering who they could be now that they were whole.

Yamato stirred, opened her eyes. She smiled at Kouya and kissed her, and the sun was high in the sky before the two girls hit the road again.