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Our name is not Zero, for we are more than nothingness.

“Pain is proof that you are alive.”
Kouya doesn’t remember who said this. But she doubts that they took time to examine the statement. Why should she need “proof” that she is alive? She has nothing to prove to anyone.
Today, Kouya takes the long way home. The slender, raven haired girl drifts to the edge of town, close to the rocky coastline. She stares, mutely, at the tumultuous sea. Enormous waves, the colour of pale green glass, crash endlessly into each other, their great aquatic bodies helmed by foam. A piercing wind blows in the distance. The sun is beginning to set, staining the sky a faint purple. A bird cries in the distance.
Kouya turns, and walks up an unremarkable dirt road, into a beautiful place.

She ascends a hill as night begins to fall. The air is sweet, hot and heavy. Kouya wanders purposefully towards an apartment a few blocks from the water. It is a large, grey building that juts unceremoniously from the landscape. She walks into the coal-black car park, and ascends the stairs. As she climbs to her destinations, she passes several of her neighbours. Mr. Nonomura, an elderly man who keeps leaf insects. Abhaya, a pretty Indian woman with twin boys and a saxophonist husband, (who practises his craft a little too late at night for Kouya’s liking.) She even sees their landlady, a severe little woman, arguing with her daughter about something. Kouya greets them all in a perfectly friendly manner, but declines to stop and chat.
Finally, on the penultimate floor, she reaches the right door.

Yamato is there to greet her, as usual. They exchange perfunctory chatter, and she kisses Kouya on the forehead, as she does, sometimes. Yamato removes a gunmetal pan from a creaky cupboard and extracts several vegetables from the fridge, in preparation for a valiant attempt at dinner.
As Yamato attacks a leek with a large knife, Kouya scans their small apartment. It is all, essentially, the same room, with a kitchenette pulling double duty as a dining hall. They have a small, country style bathroom, and a miniscule living room, with a couch that spans its breadth. The ceiling is low, the wallpaper is faded, and every other floorboard creaks. There are strange stains on the tables, a framed picture of a startled cow above the doorway, and a family of daddy-long-legs behind the showerhead.
And it is Kouya and Yamato’s home, and they adore it.

They talk, in between mouthfuls. Kouya reflects that this meal is probably an improvement upon Yamato’s previous effort, which reminded Kouya strongly of the time Professor Nagisa forced her to drink cold medication that had made everything taste bizarre for a week. They discuss, casually, their respective days. Yamato had gotten into an argument with goateed man about the temperature of his coffee, which she had won via upending said beverage over his head. And yet, she retained her job. Kouya mentally attributes this to Yamato’s occasionally ridiculous powers of persuasion.
Or perhaps that’s just with her.
Kouya tells the other girl about her lessons. She adores school. Her former school had given her adequate lessons, but there was no spark to its teaching. There was no love of knowledge, just rote, bare education. There are but a few students in Kouya’s class, and most of them, like her, lack ears. Their teacher, a balding little man, is a recovering alcoholic with ever-present armpit stains. They lack resources, and their classroom is nothing compared to the facilities Kouya had grew up in. And yet, she loves it. Her teacher truly cares about teaching, and his students truly care about learning. Every day is fascinating to her. She loves discovering new information, she loves attacking the problems that are given to her, and she loves seeing her friends. Sachiko, a girl with cartoon skulls on her fingernails and ears like a Panda, invites her over to her house, where they watch Korean dramas and beat each other at Mah-jongg. Teru, a stocky boy with white blonde hair, had taken her to “the arcade”, which in this neighbourhood consists of a battered Dance Dance Revolution machine outside the 7-11. She enjoyed herself all the same. One boy, Makoto, with green hair and a sonic t-shirt, had even asked her out, an offer she had, naturally, politely yet firmly declined.
She has little experience with the mechanics of friendship. Yamato had been quite literally given to her, and they had always been together, so she never felt she had to act a certain way with the one she loved. But she likes the others, and she likes being around them.
And, importantly, they know which questions not to ask.

The day ends, as it often does, with Kouya and Yamato curled up in each other’s arms, upon the couch. Together, they watch as their diminutive television plays some sort of pre-1948 Chinese children’s animation. Yamato kisses Kouya’s neck. It is a pleasant sensation. In return, she licks the other girl’s cheek. As they lie, resting their heads against each other, Kouya watches Yamato fall into slumber.
Kouya examines her finger. She cut it upon the knife at dinner, and did not notice for several minutes. Thankfully, it does not appear to be bleeding.
Pain is an indescribable notion. She has never felt it, but she is experienced with its effects. She hopes, one day, she will feel it, but not out of some asinine obligation to be “natural” or “normal”.
She hopes she will feel it to better understand the girl she loves.
Sometimes, Kouya worries. About the future, and about what they are running from. About the day they will have to leave this place forever, lest a worse fate find them. Kouya knows that Yamato worries too. Perhaps more than she does. She just doesn’t show it.
It was almost surreal, for them to have abandoned so much. Septimal Moon, Professor Nagisa, being Zero, being Fighter and Sacrifice.
They were Kouya and Yamato. That was enough.
Kouya stares at her languid girlfriend. She is truly beautiful, her features more refined than Kouya’s own. Her nose, her chin, her brilliant blue eyes are perfectly formed. Her hair had grown longer in the time they have spent away.
“Kouya?” says the blond girl.
The girl tilts her head forward and kisses Kouya deeply. Her small, pink tongue caresses Kouya’s own. She returns the embrace, her tongue tracing the walls of Yamato’s mouth, as petite shockwaves of pleasure fill their bodies.
Yamato pulls away.

She is the proof that I am alive.

Yamato thinks of something Professor Nagisa once said.
“Nothing lasts forever”
Not if I can help it, whispers Kouya to herself.