CHARACTERS: Kuroi Mato/Takanashi Yomi
WORD COUNT: 4,700
SUMMARY: Mato wakes up on Friday morning in a daze, mind clouded over with memories that aren't her own, eyes deceiving her.
Mato wakes up on Friday morning in a daze, mind clouded over with memories that aren't her own, eyes deceiving her. She blinks heavily, balls her hands into fists and rubs them against her eyes, but it does no good; she stares up at her ceiling and sees cracked squares of black and white, black and white, littered over it, like a checker board. It's not until she stops trying to turn away from it and actually focuses on what's before her that the pattern fades away, disappears and leaves nothing behind but the off-white colour her ceiling's always been painted.
She's getting used to feeling like this, used to being drained. Nothing comes into her mind quickly enough, but nothing leaves it with any particular ease, and when she thinks back, it takes a while to arrange her thoughts, like they're not her own. Mato knows that she has school today, knows that her alarm's due to go off in eighteen minutes, but can't think of anything else, for a moment. Yomi's back, she realises, and her chest pulls tight like it does each and every time she realises it anew, but other than the warm feeling that's lodged there, not an awful lot comes back to her. There was crying. She remembers that much. Remembers talking to the police for a second time, tears streaming down her cheeks and fingers grabbing at the hem of her skirt, but that was okay, because Yomi was back, she was really there, and it was all such a relief that she sobbed for two days straight, holed up in her room because of course her mother couldn't make her go into school in that condition.
No matter how much she concentrates, though, Mato can't piece together what they told the policemen had happened, but there's a card on her windowsill from Yomi's parents that says something along the lines of thank you thank you thank you, so maybe, just maybe, she took some of the credit for it. There was no kidnapping, at least, because that would've thrown the neighbourhood and school into a greater sense of panic than they'd already worked themselves up into, but Mato knows that Yomi wasn't to blame, either. It doesn't matter, she thinks, so long as Yomi's there to walk with her to school today; everything else, whether it truly happened or not, can be placed firmly in the past and not looked back on.
Still, as she finally sits up, arms stretched out over her head, Mato lets her hand come to rest against her left eye as her arms fall back to her sides, as if she's expecting to feel something. She tells herself that she doesn't know what, but then she looks down at the blue star printed on her pyjama top, brushes her fingertips against it, and swears that she can almost hear somebody's voice.
They meet at the bottom of the hill as they always do. Mato smiles as she heads over to Yomi, sprinting not because she's running late, but because she can't possibly have Yomi in her sights while her feet move that slowly. Yomi smiles and Mato catches her breath in an exaggerated manner, chest heaving out for effect, and then gives her a lopsided salute before they get caught up just staring at each other. They've walked this route to the train station hundreds of times before, but there's something so new and uncertain about it all. It's like this is something Mato's been told about time and time again, a story that she's always wanted to be part of, and now here she is, taking the lead role while improvising all of her lines.
Their chatter doesn't die down with the quickening of their footsteps, and they're so engrossed in it all that the sound of passing cars and bike bells barely register to either of them. Yomi tells her that she herself only went back to school yesterday, and that it's probably a good thing that Mato wasn't in, because her father insisted on driving her in, and she spent the whole day being questioned mercilessly by classmates and teachers alike. The only reason she was allowed to take the train in today, Yomi says, was because her parents knew that Mato was going to be there, so there's no way that any harm could ever come to her, is there? Mato smiles with a soft laugh, more pleased than she is modest, and takes the chance to link her arm with Yomi's.
They walk like that for some time, and it's a happy, peaceful sort of silence. Mato snerks at something every so often, and when Yomi sends questioning smiles her way, Mato only dismisses her with a wave. Eventually, though, she remembers what the arm linking was for, and slips her hand into Yomi's as she sucks in a breath. She entwines their fingers together tightly, so that there's no way Yomi will be able to miss the plastic pressing against her palm, and then pulls away slowly, making sure that Yomi wraps her fingers around the star charm that fell off her phone.
Most day pass by as if nothing happened at all. The only reminder they ever have seems to come from other students who shoot Yomi knowing, sympathetic looks, and then speak in hush whispers as they pass. There are a thousand and one rumours about what happened to Yomi spreading around, and Mato refuses to confirm or deny any of them, even when her classmates approach her and beg for answers. It's easy to laugh everything off when they're telling themselves that they're just as clueless as everyone else in the school.
They play basketball and volleyball respectively after school, and when practise ends, Mato ducks beneath the divider, ball held under one arm, so that they can play a game of their own. The rules seem to change with every bounce, kick or throw of the ball, to whatever amuses Mato most in that very moment, and Yomi doesn't particularly mind, because it's not like there's anyone around to keep score, anyway. One day, Mato has far too much energy to spare and sends the ball flying Yomi's way, which leaves their practise cancelled, in favour of Mato sitting on the floor next to her, apologising profusely as she wraps her fingers in bandages. She doesn't know exactly what she's doing, but that's alright, because Yomi's hand isn't that sore, and the way Mato keeps grabbing her wrists and begging for forgiveness makes her smile.
Of an evening, they walk up to their spot overlooking the whole of the town, and stand with their elbows rested against the railing, eyes fixed on the tops of roofs. Mato never says anything about the blank message she received, purely because it doesn't seem important now, and Yomi's eyes soften as she takes in the view, no longer regarding her (their) town as a strange land. Everything else that they did before they do again, only with a renewed sort of vitality, like they've somehow realised it's something they ought be grateful for, and not take for granted. When Autumn begins to creep in they try on scarves once more, only this time, Mato picks out one that's impossibly long, and wraps it around the both of them.
It's not always that simple, though. Sometimes, their minds will just slip back without them realising it's happened, without them realising that things have ever been any different. They'll look out at the world and wonder what became of the perfectly measured square pattern against the landscape, and then Mato will say something that begins with Hey, do you remember when I was Black Rock Shooter... ? and ends with her grasping her forearm, fist pointing up in the air as she goes pew pew pew and then pachoom!.
Yomi tries to laugh at it all. She really does, but she can't get away from the implication behind it. If Mato was Black Rock Shooter then she was Dead Master, and the thought that she'd set out to attack Black Rock Shooter (Mato) like that makes her feel sick to her stomach and ashamed all at once. She has the memories flickering through the back of her mind like faded photographs, of course, but that doesn't mean that she has to let herself believe that she truly did become like that, even if it was a whole world away. Subconsciously reaching up, Yomi brushes her fingertips across the top of her head, fingers sliding freely across her hair, and no, there's nothing there. When Mato looks over and catches her dwelling on the past like that, Yomi immediately fixes her eyes on the dirt between her shoes, and moves her hand down, like she'd been meaning to twirl the tips of her bangs between her fingertips all along.
(And whenever that happens, Mato just looks at her with a faint smile, and then says something characteristically stupid to break the mood.)
Mato's still stood facing the bathroom mirror, long after the bath water's turned cold. She pulls wet strands of hair out of her eyes, irritated by their presence, but still not in a frame of mind to consider cutting them, and isn't sure, exactly, what she's looking for; if she's even looking for anything at all. Hands placed flat against her stomach, she looks down at herself, and then back up to the mirror, as if there might actually be some discrepancies between the two. Her fingertips trace paths, but there are no scars there, only bruises below her ribs where she skidded to an abrupt halt on her bike and crashed against the handlebars.
She's not sure how long she stands there, or if she even intended to be there at all, but Mato doesn't make another movement until she hears her phone chime outside of the door. Startled, she grabs a towel, barely avoids slipping on the wet floor, and then throws herself out of the bathroom, surprised by just how cool it is in the hallway. There's only one person who would message her at this time of night, and she's smiling without having to read the name of the front LED screen, flipping the phone open to see what Yomi has to say at this hour.
we'll be in our third year soon, won't we?
The words carry more of a tone than text rightly should, and as soon as she reads it, Mato can imagine Yomi muttering the words, deadpan, even though she's still trying to smile. Mato snaps the phone closed immediately, trying to think of a way to reply that actually carries some real weight. She considers phoning Yomi at first, but no, it's far too late for that, and Yomi hasn't actually said that there's something the matter. She probably just wants her to think that she's musing out loud via text, and that it's more of a statement than an attempt to reach out to her. But Mato, she knows Yomi far too well to take this lightly, after all that happened because their first year had drawn to a close; Yomi needs her to tell her not to worry, but in a way that doesn't seem too obvious.
Unfortunately, Mato doesn't do anything other than obvious particularly well, and in the end, sends a message that almost seems dismissive.
yup. we're getting pretty old haha
Half an hour later and there still isn't a reply.
Mato sits on her bedroom floor, hair still damp where, as ever, she only got half way through towelling it dry before losing interest, arms folded across her duvet as she stares at her phone, waiting for it to light up the split-second before the message alert goes off. She considers sending another message, but then thinks that she'll only be disturbing Yomi, because she must've gone to sleep by now, right?
Still, some reassurance would probably help. She's been trying a lot harder, ever since Yomi came back; they both have. They get the train together every day, and Mato stands with her outside of her classroom until the bell rings and she has to make a mad dash to get to her own room on time; Yomi tells her when there's something wrong, rather than bottle it up, thinking that she might be bothering Mato in some way, by letting her know what's on her mind; Mato makes sure to introduce Yomi to the rest of the basketball team, so she knows who her and Yuu are talking about after practise; and between lessons, Mato stands impatiently outside of Yomi's classroom, praying desperately for her to come to the door, in the hope that Yomi's been set a vaguely similar piece of homework to her, because she really, really needs someone to copy.
(And it's strange, sometimes, because Yomi will come up to the door, and though Mato will see her silhouette cast against the window, for a moment, she won't recognise her. It's like she's expecting to see something more than is really there.)
Then, of course, there are the breaks, weekends and hours spent after school together, so all in all, Mato thinks they're doing pretty well. She doesn't have enough fingers and toes to count the number of first-year friends who drifted apart the moment they were split up.
By the time she's managed to force herself to crawl into bed, Yomi still hasn't replied to the message. There's just not much that Yomi can say in reply, Mato supposes, and then uses her thumb to ease her phone open as she grips it tight. It's been shut for so long that the bright light is momentarily too much for her, and Mato screws her eyes shut, slowly peering out of one until she can make out the screen once more. She begins to tap away at the keys, deciding that this will come out a lot more easily if she just doesn't think about what she's trying to say.
anyway, what i meant to say was.....don't worry about our third year! your grades are fine (so jealous) and it's not like the school is so big that i could ever lose my best friend in it. and if we ever get too much homework or the classes suck that much, we can just run away!
The message sends, and there's a reply before Mato even thinks to close her phone back up.
where would we go?
Mato lets out something that sounds suspiciously like a giggle, and then sits up, pillow between her back and the headboard, so that she can message back faster.
germany, of course! you'd have to translate for me, though....
Yomi takes a little longer to reply, this time, and Mato begins to worry that she won't answer at all.
i've already told you that i can't speak that much german. i thought you loved this town too much to leave, mato
Mato scratches the back of her head, grinning for a reason she can explain.
i like it even more ever since you moved here! don't you like it too?
She feels her eyes becoming heavy, and sinks back down against the mattress, even if that probably isn't the best place to send and receive messages from. Mato nods off a few times, always managing to start herself back awake, but her mind's fogged over, and she can't quite remember what she's trying to stay awake for. Three odd dreams about trying to cycle on square wheels later and Mato suddenly realises that it's morning. There's a message on her phone from Yomi that reads i do, and Mato scolds herself for falling asleep without saying goodnight to her. She gets ready for school in as much of a hurry as ever, carrying her toast in one hand as she rushes out the door, phone open in her other hand as she messages Yomi to say sorry for not replying, for just falling asleep like that.
By the time that Yomi actually gets the message, Mato's practically run into her at their usual meeting spot, genuinely out of breath and in need of a better alarm clock.
The next weekend is a slow one. Yomi's busy with relatives visiting, and on Friday night, Mato boldly announces that she's going to spend all of Saturday catching up on overdue homework. Her resolve fizzles out about half an hour after waking up, when she realises that Yomi really won't be spending the day with her, and by the time that the evening's drawn to a close, Mato's flopped face down against her bed, too lethargic to sleep, and riddled with so much boredom that she has no desire to rid herself of it. Hiro peeks into her room without knocking first, and asks where Yomi is, because doesn't Yomi always have dinner with them on the weekend? Mato gets rid of him by throwing a bundle of clothes she's yet to put into the wash his way, and then promptly returns to draping herself across her duvet.
The doorbell rings at around nine o'clock, and Mato wouldn't usually have the energy to scramble down the stairs and pull the door open, if not for the small part of her that just knows it's Yomi. She doesn't even use logic to get to that conclusion, because it's far too late for Yomi to be wandering around the neighbourhood, and logic only ever gets in the way; but when she does get the door open, there's Yomi standing there, smiling like this isn't unexpected at all. Mato laughs through a grin, suddenly feeling motivated enough to get all of her homework done in an hour flat, and calls out to her mother that it's just Yomi, so there's no need to worry.
Before Yomi can get a word out, Mato's stepped out into the cool night air, slamming the front door behind them. Whatever Yomi has to say, nobody else needs to hear, and Mato stands there, suddenly uncertain, scratching the back of her head. The street light filters down on them both, and like that, Mato can see the way that Yomi's cheeks have been pinched red by the cold. She reaches out, placing her hands against Yomi's elbows, but then isn't sure why. It doesn't do anything to keep her warm, and so Mato slinks back into an ebbing sense of awkwardness, laughing softly under her breath to cover it up.
“Do you have a few minutes?” Yomi asks with a smile, chin tucked beneath her scarf.
“Of course!” Mato asks without hesitation, “What's wrong?”
Not that the could be anything wrong with her smiling away like that, but Mato thinks that it's only right to ask, regardless. Yomi just tilts her head towards the hill, hands dug in her pocket as she slowly starts to head off, and Mato understands what she's getting at. Telling Yomi to wait up, Mato pops back into the house, grabs a star-spangled hoodie, and then runs around the back to unlock her bike. By the time that she's hopped on it, Yomi's half way down the street, and Mato has to stand as she pedals to catch up with her. Skidding to a halt, she grins back at Yomi, asking her if she wants a lift.
It's not easy going, but she manages to get up the hill with Yomi sat on her seat; and besides, the way that Yomi wraps her arms around her waist makes up for any shortness of breath she's subjected to. Once they're at their spot, Mato gets off, offers out her hand to help Yomi off the bike, and then leaves it resting against the railings. She's oddly eager to know why Yomi's dragged her up there, but at the same time, is overcome by the usual sense of peace that always envelops her, when she's looking over the town like this. Standing with her elbows rested against the railing, she chooses to look out over at the groups of shadows that make up the buildings in their neighbourhood, rather than turn her attention to Yomi, just yet.
“Why do you think they were fighting?”
Yomi's words come out oddly abruptly, and Mato tenses, before she's able to take in the tone of what Yomi says; there's no ache behind it all, and she sounds resigned in her curiosity, as if she's accepted the fact that nothing can be done to change the past, and has learnt to be okay with that. Mato feels no need to ask Yomi to clarify herself, even if it would fill the silence, and slumps against the railing, running over answers in her mind. She's tried to piece it together a dozen times, but now that Yomi's come out and asked the question, Mato finds that all the explanations that rattle around the inside of her head don't add up to anything at all. Heaving a great sigh, she pushes herself away from the railings, so that she can pace in circles, arms folded across her chest.
“I guess... I don't think that they know, either,” Mato eventually murmurs, “Back when me and Black Rock Shooter were working together, I felt like—like we'd just been caught up in that fight for so long that we couldn't remember how it started. And because we couldn't remember, there was no way we could stop, until it was really over.”
Yomi glances over her shoulder at her, listening carefully, and then keeps her lips pursed together long after Mato's forced the words out, though she looks as if she has something of her own to say. Mato tries to be patient, but the longer the silence drags on, the more she's forced to reflect on what she's just said, and it all seems wrong, somehow, even if there's no other explanation for it.
“I think you're right,” Yomi eventually says, giving her the slightest of nods, and it's not until that point that Mato realises she's been holding her breath all along. Mato's about to speak up, until Yomi's gaze flickers to the ground, and with some hesitance says, “We won't end up like that, will we?”
“—there's no way that we could!” Mato says all too quickly, breaking the peace of the quiet night air. She's got her hands balled into fists and one foot out in front of her, and all of a sudden, it's like her heart is pounding ten times harder at the thought alone, and she can't calm down until she seems that her response has actually made Yomi smile.
“No, of course there isn't,” she mutters softly, looking up to meet her eyes. Mato relaxes, suddenly self-conscious that her reply might've been a little too passionate, but finds it hard to actually be embarrassed in any capacity around Yomi.
Just as she's about to step over to Yomi's side, Yomi turns to face her, back rested against the railings behind her. Mato's heart seems to leap out of her chest, and then she's flooded with this horrible, sinking feeling, that might be déjà vu, or might just be the corner of her mind that isn't hers any more playing tricks on her. All she knows is that Yomi's going to fall backwards, even though that's ridiculous, because there's the railing behind her, and she's pushed herself up on it on her palms, just to breath in the crisp spring air dozens of times before; despite all that, she can't help but dart forwards, feet carrying her impossibly quickly, so that she can just wrap her arms around Yomi's waist.
Yomi makes a soft, surprised sound, and Mato pulls her close, convinced, for a moment, that Yomi's going to use all of her strength to push away from her. But Yomi does nothing of the sort, and just rests her head against the side of Mato's, arms wrapping around her waist in kind. Mato wonders if she should say something more, if she should apologise, though she isn't certain what for. In the end, she decides that standing there like that is enough, and buries her face against Yomi's shoulder, where she isn't quite tall enough to rest her chin on the top of it.
“Mato...” Yomi murmurs gently, and the sound of her own name is enough to get her to look up, suddenly not sure why she was burying her face against the fabric of her coat, when she could've been looking up at her like this all along. Mato grins, doesn't feel any of the confidence that the expression implies, but before she can laugh any of her nerves off, Yomi's leaning down towards her.
Mato knows that she should be frozen, that her mind should be reeling so much that she's unable to do anything but stare up at Yomi, but somehow, she manages to approach this with the same eagerness that she does everything. She pushes herself up on tip-toes, just so that she can say that she kissed Yomi first, rather than letting it play out the other way around.
They hold the kiss for a long time, letting it unwind slowly and gently, and Mato's so enthralled by it all that she completely forgets that she's capable of displaying hesitance. She keeps her arms wrapped around Yomi's waist so that she can't escape, and makes a disappointed little noise when Yomi eventually breaks away. Looking up at her with a pout, she sees that more than the weather's turned Yomi's cheeks red, but that's okay, because she expects that it's exactly the same for her, right now.
“Was that okay?” Yomi asks after long, comfortable pause, sounding just as nervous as she does happy.
With a laugh, Mato headbutts her shoulder, and then takes a step back, making sure to take hold of Yomi's hands, so they're never too far apart.
“It was!” Mato says, giving her a lopsided smile, “After all, I've been in love with you since you first let me copy your homework.”
Yomi giggles, sounding infinitely relieved, but not particularly surprised, and lets Mato drag her off. Whatever the real reason for them coming up here was seems to be resolved, now, and Yomi entwines their fingers together as they head back to Mato's bike, and Mato says something like Speaking of homework, do you think you could come back home with me for a while... ?
Even if the trip back to Mato's place is downhill, meaning they could be back in a few short minutes, they still choose to walk; Mato holds the handlebars of her bike with one hand and Yomi's with the other, and they chatter idly as they step in and out of pools of light thrown down by the street lamps above. There's a different sort of warmth fluttering between the two of them, but it doesn't doesn't feel unfamiliar in the least. Mato swings their hands as they walk and Yomi obliges her playfulness, leaning over to kiss her on the cheek, as if to make sure that it all really happened.
As they sit there side-by-side at Mato's table, once Mato's begged her mother to let Yomi stay over, and convinced Yomi that her visiting relatives won't notice that she's gone, as long as she makes sure to leave really, really early in the morning, Mato slumps against her, suddenly not hating the idea of catching up on work so very much. Despite the racket that she makes the and volume she speaks, it's oddly peaceful, like that, and Mato feels like her mind's the clearest it's been in months. Still, that isn't to say that she feels like she and Yomi are alone in their contentment. Mato drifts off with one of Yomi's arms around her, pen still between her fingers, and dreams that Black Rock Shooter's still out there, somewhere, but doesn't feel that she has to fight, any more; and when she sees the checker board world cracking behind her eyelids, the landscape doesn't seem quite as bleak as it once did.