Chapter 1: Like Something Growing
“Kureha! Kureha! Kure-ha!” Kanata half-shouted, half-sang. Kureha scowled and huddled further into her sodden uniform, eyes scanning the ground ahead. The path was slippery, and neither of them were falling. There’d been enough of that for both of them, last year. Lightning arced across the sky and Kureha made a quick sightline scan before the blinding rain stung its way into her eyes. There were enough high points around them that lightning probably wouldn’t strike. Probably. She re-settled her knapsack and started moving faster, just in case .
“Kureha!” Kanata shouted again, sounding plaintive. If she looked around, Kureha was positive she’d see some kind of pathetic, injured-dog sadness on Kanata’s face, the kind that squirmed right underneath her defenses and burned her with hot shame. Kureha mentally called halt and found an alcove in the rainslick rocks, large enough for both of them. She was right. Kanata’s face looked like it did when Noel fell asleep and crushed her creepy ghost-horse-eggplant-thing. Kureha sighed. There was no way she’d get out of this one, whatever it was.
“What?” she snapped, because even if she knew she’d do whatever Kanata asked, it didn’t mean she had to be graceful about it. “What could possibly be so important that you’re pestering me on the side of a mountain in the rain?”
Kanata shrugged, sheepish grin in place. So help her, Kureha felt her stomach flutter and her lungs fill with a melty warmth, but didn’t let it show on her face. Not even a little bit. Folded her arms but tilted her head to show she was listening. Even cold and hungry and confused and a little bit angry, Kureha always listened to Kanata when she had something to say. It was important.
“Well,” Kanata began, the shrug sort of filling her body, all uncertainty and caution. Kureha bit her cheek - this wasn’t supposed to happen anymore; she’d gone too far. “It’s just … we’ve been walking through the rain so fast, we haven’t been able to really feel it. Or… enjoy it at all.”
Any remains of a scowl dropped straight off Kureha’s face. She was probably gaping like a fish, or Rio when they surprised her with something nice. “We’re in the middle of a thunderstorm, and you wanna stop to feel the rain?” As if to accent her point, thunder rolled menacingly above them.
“It’s March rain,” Kanata said, and smiled like it wasn’t a weird thing to say out loud. “I’ve never felt March rain here, only back home.”
“Is this another one of your ‘village traditions?’” Kureha managed to keep any harshness from her voice, but only just. Weird mountain people things were important to Kanata and she’d been trying hard not to make fun of them. Because Kanata was important. To their unit. And maybe, just maybe a little bit more to her.
Kanata smiled and then laughed, a little spot of sunshine in the freezing drizzle. “Of course not, Kureha! That would be weird.” Her face shifted into something a little more serious, a little melancholy. “My mom and I used to do this, back when we … had to move around a lot.” Kureha leaned in, since Kanata’s voice had dropped so low the storm almost swallowed it whole. “It was nice, because even though every place was different, the rain was almost the same. At first. And then when I got older I realized that all the rains were different, even in the same month, and it turned into something kind of nice, another way to really know about where we were.
“March rain was always my favorite.” Kanata smiled, damp and fragile, and Kureha reached out with one trembling arm to touch her elbow. To let her know it’s alright. “It’s the first month when the rain stops feeling like winter. Maybe it’s not quite spring yet, especially here where everything’s so cold always, but it feels like something growing, a little.”
Kureha gasped a little, had to remember how her lungs worked. Smiled at the girl in front of her who always saw so much, felt so much. “Okay,” she said, breathless. “Okay.” Ducked her head a little before she could look at Kanata’s face again, at the delicate smile on her face. “How do you usually do this?”
Kanata’s smile strengthened into the unstoppable glee Kureha was used to seeing, and her chest unclenched a little. Kanata’s fingers tangled between hers, hesitant, and she pulled Kureha back into the height of the storm. Kanata’s arms opened like she was hugging the whole world, and Kureha mimicked the motion, gasped as the wind buffeted them and clenched her hand where it rested in Kanata’s
Kanata looked over at her for a moment, so bright and lovely that she almost couldn’t be real, before turning her face to the sky and laughing loudly as lightning struck a distant tree. Oh , Kureha thought, as the cold drops of water pelted her cheeks and ears, as a cautious smile worked its way onto her cold-numb face. Like this.
Hours later, when they curled together by the fire and under thick blankets (They’d gotten such a lecture from Filicia, about common sense, about catching cold, about finishing missions in a timely manner, about how they could have died, did they know that…), Kanata’s smile from the rainstorm was still there in echoes on her face.
“I’m glad you were with me,” She whispered, like the words would crumble if she said them any louder. “I’m glad I got to share that with you.” Kanata’s chest burned warm and soft and open, and she smiled back, hid it in Kanata’s shoulders because maybe it was a little too new and fragile to be in the air between them quite yet.
“Me too,” she whispered back as the fire crackled and popped. She leaned a little harder into Kanata’s side, just for the soft, warm noise Kanata made. “Me too.”
Chapter 2: New Spring
There are days, still, when noel looks at her and sees nothing but grave dirt. Still days when Aisha carries winter’s chill in her bones, When the march of soldiers’ boots is louder than her heartbeat...
Even so, it's a pretty good day.
Another prompt thing: Aisha/Noel head scratches.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
The afternoon holds a quiet calm that, even after close to a year since the treaty was announced, feels like a miracle. Aisha lets out another breath, slow, calm, and shifts her head a bit further into Noel’s lap. The fire crackles and pops. Noel turns a page of whatever she’s reading. Aisha stretches her toes in their thick wool socks; her left leg hardly twinges at all. Shuko flutters and rustles on the grandfather clock, clucking softly to herself. It’s a good day.
One of Noel’s hands drifts from the book and sinks into her hair, soft and hesitant beyond reason. Aisha lets out another happy sigh and leans against the fluttering touch. To show how welcome it is, how glad she is that Noel wants this, too. A page turn rustles between them again, the same gentle swish as always. Noel’s so endlessly tender toward the world around her and sometimes Aisha wonders why, after all the harshness the world gave her in return. Whether it’s strength or fear, or something of both. Perhaps the blood Noel sees staining her hands might rub onto someone else if she reaches too hard. Noel’s fingers twitch twice and start a slow, steady motion across Aisha’s scalp and she hums happily in response.
Noel’s fingernails are filed to their shortest, so they don’t catch on small machinery, so motor oil and axle grease have fewer places to hide. But she curls her fingers just so, and the dull points of them drag along Aisha’s scalp wonderfully. Almost absently (Noel can never truly free her attention from any task), Noel finds every tension point in Aisha’s head; behind her ears, the base of the skull, her hairline, presses and tugs just so until Aisha is left with a warm thrumming lightness in her, eyes half closed and lips pulled into a soft smile.
Then she hears a little catch in Noel’s breath and her chest blooms with what must be sunlight. It’s the soft inhale that means Noel’s smiling, in her quiet way. That means she’s found something worth smiling about, here on the fortress floor. Aisha almost squirms with the delight that fills her, knowing something in the mysterious book gave Noel real happiness. Noel swallows, licks her lips, taps a nervous rhythm on Aisha’s head. Maybe, just maybe this means she’ll hear whatever tiny wonder Noel has found. Her smile grows.
“ The rose is fragrant -- yet if … she doth know
Her s-sweet scent’s meaning, id the nightingale
Herself feels aught … that through Man’s soul doth
flow At the sound of her en -- enraptured madrigal …”
Noel falters, tiny cracks and a hoarseness in her dusky voice. Aisha rolls over, to better look at Noel’s face. Her wide eyes glimmer with wonder and a few tears and the tiny wrinkle between her eyebrow, the one that means she’s afraid, is deep. There’s a stiffness to the hand that had been in Aisha’s hair that shows how hard Noel is trying not to tremble. Aisha smiles, tangles her fingers in Noel’s (how did they get this cold so quickly) and huffs out, half-voiced, to remind herself how to talk.
“It’s beautiful, Noel,” she murmurs, all the certainty she has inside her ringing out. “Thank you for reading to me.” And the wrinkle, the freezing stiffness lessens a little. Sometimes that’s the best she can hope for, even now. Even after months’-worth of letters and visits and careful, fragile courtship. Sometimes she hold hope for both of them, looks toward the morning and the next and the next after that while so much of Noel is buried in the ground. Today, though, Noel lets out a shaky breath and her lips twitch up the slightest bit as her body bleeds out tension. She squeezes Aisha’s hand once, twice, her eyes flicking from Aisha’s face to the book, again and again. She licks her lips again inhales shakily.
“As the moon’s fair image trembles
In the troubled tossing, tides,
Though herself, serene and stately
O’er hea… heaven’s vaulted pathway glides …”
Noel looks to her again, shy and open and needy in a way she hasn’t been for days. Aisha pulls herself up to kneeling and shuffles forward the tiniest amount, reaches so slowly for Noel’s shoulder and squeezes. Runs her hand down Noel’s watchspring-tight arm and strokes her elbow. Nods gently, afraid words might break the fragile moment.
“Even so glidest thou, beloved,” Noel begins, blushing fiercely.
“Still, serene; thine i-image taken
In my heart but seems to tremble,
For my heart is tossed and shaken.”
The book closes with a crisp thump and Noel sets it aside reverently, her eyes still pleading for so many unnameable things. Her arms fall open in invitation and Aisha surges forward, close and present. Tucks Noel’s head to her collarbone and strokes along her spine humming Napoli . She and Kanata had played it three days ago; the memory is still fresh for them. Still warm and soothing like the clear day, the morning sun flashing bright against the snowfall. Noel clings to her shirt, fists it tight in her clever fingers and Aisha is struck again with awe at someone so sweet and wondrous needing her this way…
After minutes that she doesn’t, never counts, Noel relaxes her grip, slumps on her with steady-smooth breaths and she smiles wide and bright because Noel is alright , she is. There’s something warm and rich-smelling in the kitchen that drifts over with Kanata and Kureha’s arguing over spices, the warmth of the fire and the weight of Noel, trusting to be held and Aisha’s full to bursting with thanks that her life could be this wonderful. That she could ever be so lucky.
There are days, still, when noel looks at her and sees nothing but grave dirt. Still days when Aisha carries winter’s chill in her bones, When the march of soldiers’ boots is louder than her heartbeat. Days when either, or both of them are left so raw and tender that even kindnesses cut like glass and burn like bullets. Today though, is a triumph, carried in the halting, staggering music Noel made of words for her. Today is a good day, to be living, to be here, to be herself. There’s a warmth here that feels like growing, like life. Like maybe spring has just begun. And so Aisha holds tight to the precious body in her arms and breathes, slow and steady, and smiles.
The italicized poetry is from Heinriche Heine's poem, New Spring [title drop], written in the 19th century. Since a decent amount of wat we see in Sora, especially in terms of medicine and scientific understanding, is from the same era it seemed topical. Also he's a german poet and his words are gorgeous so that also made me wanna go with it. I messed around slightly with which stanzas I used (they are not consecutive because i'm a jerk that way) and so yeah anyways. Things.