by Suzume CA
Scissor-blade in hand, Ryūko lowered herself into the ruined basement of her former family home. After scanning the near-darkness for a few moments, she called up to the open hatch high above her. "It looks safe enough. Toss me the bag, Mako."
"Here you go, Ryūko-chan!" Mako called in reply, tossing their supplies down to be caught by Ryūko. She then quickly descended the rope while Ryūko set about positioning their electric lanterns to at least give the wreckage around them some shape and color.
Satsuki was the last to climb down into the cavernous space, after which she took a disdainful look around. "This is your family home, then?" she smirked. "Hmm, much has suddenly been made clear to me."
"What's that supposed to mean?" Ryūko snapped.
"Satsuki-sama, shame on you!" Mako admonished, waggling one finger at her former President. "I'm sure this was a beautiful place before Crazy Eyepatch Girl set everything on fire. You should be more sympathetic to your little sister!"
Satsuki's not inconsiderable eyebrows came together in a scowl, but she said nothing. Ryūko was about to laugh, but then Mako turned the waggling finger on her. "And as for you, Ryūko-chan, shame on you for taking that tone with your onee-chan! You two are sisters! You should be loving and respectful to one another, now more than ever!"
Ryūko bit back an acid response to the effect that there was still plenty of bad blood in that blood relation. Mako had been doing her best all along to keep the two of them from one another's throats, and Ryūko had to admit that they owed a lot to her friend's eternal optimism in the midst of this dire situation. She took a deep breath, then nodded. "I'll get the hatch closed," she said, looking around for the manual-close hand-crank.
"Are there any other entrances?" Satsuki asked, surveying the room.
"No," Ryūko grunted as she turned the heavy crank. "This should be a defensible position."
"Either that or we're voluntarily sitting in a trap," Satsuki frowned. "Our enemies are aware of this location. What makes you think they won't look for us here?"
"Because it's too obvious!" Mako piped up. "They'll be expecting us to be much more clever than to hide out in a place they know about, don't you think?"
"That's why we're only staying long enough to get some rest," Ryūko reminded Satsuki. "If we're going to go through with your four goons' crazy plan tomorrow, we're going to need to be at the top of our game."
"Very well," Satsuki allowed, holding out her hand. "I shall take the first watch, then. Your blade, Matoi?"
"Satsuki-sama..." Mako said in a warning tone.
The former President took a slow, stiff breath. "I shall require the scissor blade during my watch... imōto-chan."
Ryūko tossed her the red blade, handle-first. "Mind that you're careful with it, Kiryuin."
"Ryūko-chan..." Mako said in the same voice.
For several long moments, Ryūko stared at her friend, but Mako had that determined look in her eyes again. She sighed in defeat. "Thank you for taking watch... onee-chan."
Mako smiled brilliantly, then began unpacking their sparse bedding and laying it out in a relatively clean corner of the room, softly singing to herself as she worked. Satsuki gave Ryūko a long-suffering look, then with a swish of her long black hair, she stalked off to find a spot from which she could watch both the entrance and their campsite.
Ryūko watched her go, then went to help Mako with the preparations. To her surprise, her friend was already under her blanket and fast asleep. The previous days had given Ryūko cause to be extremely envious of Mako's ability to fall asleep at the drop of a hat. It was a useful skill to have at times like these.
Truth be told, as dangerous as things had been, Ryūko was deeply grateful that Mako had been with them during this time of exile. If not for her acting as the tireless buffer between them, this uneasy alliance between Ryūko and Satsuki would likely have come to blows time and again, sisters or not. Mako was not one to easily let go when it came to getting what she wanted, though, and she had been determined from the word go that she would bring these two together, damn the consequences.
Even Satsuki's resolve had been gradually worn down by the force of Hurricane Mako, though things had been dicey at first: Satsuki seemed very uncomfortable with physical affection for some reason, and with Mako being her normal touchy-feely self, Ryūko had more than once been given cause to worry that one of the younger girl's tackle-hugs would have led to bloodshed. Fortunately for them all, Mako had quickly learned to tone things down with their surly companion, and Satsuki had begun to grudgingly accept that Mako was only being Mako.
Ryūko pulled back her blanket and settled onto her thin bedroll, which was laid out next to Mako's. She had grown accustomed to sleeping while wearing Senketsu, even if the suspenders sometimes made her uncomfortable. Better a little discomfort, though, if it meant she could synchronize at a moment's notice if necessary. After casting a look across the cavernous basement to see Satsuki still keeping watch, she dimmed the lantern slightly and settled down on her side, so that she was facing Mako. After taking a few deep breaths, she closed her eyes and tried to settle her tired mind.
"Ryūko-chan?" said Mako softly.
"Mako?" Ryūko whispered in reply. She opened her eyes to see that her friend was just as suddenly wide awake again, staring up at the distant ceiling.
"I was just thinking of how strange it all is," Mako mused. "All this time, it turns out clothes were the enemy all along."
"Well, clothes, along with that monster Kiryuin Ragyō," Ryūko muttered, trying not to think about the fact that this... thing was her mother... not to mention the other horrifying traits they had in common.
"We're going to win, right?" Mako asked.
"Of course we are," Ryūko told her, though the question caught her by surprise: normally Mako was not the one needing reassurance.
"Well, if you say we will, then we will," Mako smiled.
Ryūko smiled in return. "Go back to sleep, Mako."
"This basement is cold, isn't it?"
"C'mere, then," Ryūko chuckled, holding out one arm. On the few occasions they had been able to find sleep since going into hiding, Ryūko had often awakened to find Mako snuggled up against her for warmth, but this was the first time she had been so blatant about it.
Mako smiled brilliantly and scooted under the covers until she could wrap her arms around Ryūko and lay her head on the taller girl's shoulder. Ryūko hugged Mako against herself for a moment, then froze as she felt something completely unexpected: the skin of Mako's bare back beneath her hands. Slowly and carefully, she slid her ungloved hand upward and then downward, but felt nothing but soft, warm skin.
It was the softest thing her hand had felt in recent memory: she was far more accustomed to the cold hilt of the scissor-blade, or the rough weave of Senketsu's life fibers. Even her own skin felt nothing like this: small wonder, considering the violence of her everyday life.
"Mako," she said carefully, "aren't you wearing your pajamas?"
"Nope," Mako said, snuggling more tightly against her. "Clothes are the enemy, remember?"
"Well, yeah, but..." Ryūko started, then chuckled. "What about all that stuff you said about how a girl only shows her full glory to the one she loves most in the world?"
Mako brought her face up and stared into Ryūko's eyes, a small, unreadable smile adorning her lips. For a long while, they just looked at one another, and then Mako gave a tiny giggle. "Ryūko-chan is very silly sometimes," she whispered, then settled back against her.
Ryūko felt her breath hitch in her chest as the implications hit. "M-Mako?" she gasped.
"It's okay, Ryūko-chan," Mako whispered, and while Ryūko could tell that she was still smiling, there was an uncharacteristic note of sadness in her voice. "I know that you and Senketsu belong to one another, and that's fine, but... being here, like this... I am with the one I love most in all the world, so I don't mind being naked."
"Mako..." Ryūko whispered, trying to wrap her mind around what she was hearing. Was Mako talking about... her?
Was Mako in love with her?
Not since their first day together had Ryūko doubted the odd girl's singular devotion to her, though at first she had found it unwelcome and more than a little bizarre. But then Mako had given her a home, and a family. Mako had fearlessly placed herself between Ryūko and a kamui-clad Satsuki in order to give her the final encouragement she needed to truly synchronize with Senketsu. Then, in yet another battle between Ryūko and Satsuki, Mako had again stepped into the heart of danger to come between them, this time to confront the berserk monster who had lost her mind and her way, and to bring Ryūko back at the risk of her own life.
Mako had stayed by her side during the war in Osaka, saying that being with her was the safest place of all. Mako had fearlessly followed Ryūko into the base of Nudist Beach, and had refused to be left behind when the time came to assault Honnouji Academy.
And every time, even knowing the danger, Ryūko had caved and allowed Mako to stay beside her, because she knew that as long as Mako was there, believing in her, she could not lose. Why, though? Why had the perpetual loner allowed this insane girl a place in her heart?
She felt a small hand slip under Senketsu and lay flat against her chest. "Ryūko-chan's heart is beating very fast," Mako whispered.
Suddenly remembering the terrible truth of what was inside that heart, Ryūko pulled herself away from Mako's arms, feeling a shock of cold as they broke contact. "Mako, don't," she whispered, but then she choked as she saw that in the process of squirming away, she had half pulled the blanket off of her friend, giving her an eyeful of the Full Glory Mako had alluded to.
Mako was... beautiful. Ryūko was so used to looking at other people as either potential opponents or things in need of protection that she had never quite noticed how truly stunning her friend was.
But then Ryūko saw the look of absolute devastation on that normally cheerful face, and her heart sank. "Mako, I'm sorry, I..."
"No, I'm the one who's sorry, Ryūko-chan," Mako said, giving her a pathetic attempt at a smile as she made an effort to cover herself. "I didn't mean to make you..."
"Mako, it's not that," Ryūko interrupted. "It's nothing you did, it's just that..." She felt her heart hammering against her ribs, and she hated it. "You need to... not get mixed up with me."
This time, Mako's smile was a little more genuine. "Isn't it kind of too late for that, Ryūko-chan?"
"What I mean is... you can't fall in love with me, Mako. You can't."
"Is it because we're both girls?" Mako asked quietly.
The question blindsided Ryūko: honestly, that part of it had not even occurred to her. "No, it's not that either," she sighed. Suddenly aware that Satsuki might hear them if she spoke any louder, Ryūko again settled next to Mako and looked at her intently. "Mako, look at my eyes. I'm not even a human being: I'm a... a thing. I don't even have a real heart... just this ball of muscle and life fibers."
"I think Ryūko-chan has beautiful eyes," Mako said, an almost indignant tone creeping into her voice. "And Ryūko-chan is strong, and kind, and has a gorgeous body, and of course Ryuuko-chan has a heart."
"Not a human heart..." she began, but then she could no longer say anything at all, because Mako had silenced her by covering Ryūko's lips with her own.
For just a moment, the rest of the world went away - Satsuki, REVOCS, Nudist Beach, the war and its constant peril - and there was only Mako kissing her.
This was devotion.
This was love.
This was something she had been living without for so long that she had never realized just how badly she needed it.
And this insane girl was offering it up to her, monster that she was.
They broke, and Ryūko found that the smaller girl was somehow back in her arms again, and she again traced her fingers up and down the smooth skin of Mako's back. "I..." she whispered, but she could not piece together her thoughts sufficiently to say any more.
"When I had my goku uniform," Mako said quietly, "I nearly lost myself to these life fibers. But you didn't let me. You stood there and took my punches until I realized that the one I was fighting wasn't you at all."
"And then you returned the favor," Ryūko whispered. "When I was a monster, you fought to bring me back."
"Maybe, but you're the one who showed me that it could be done," said Mako. "You've beaten these life fibers before, and with your help, so did I. So I'm not afraid of them, Ryūko-chan, and I'm not afraid of you either, because you're strong enough to be you, even with these things inside you."
Mako then broke away from Ryūko slightly, took the other girl's ungloved hand, and placed it against her bare chest. "And if you ever feel like you need a human heart... you'll always have this one."
Ryūko once again felt as though the world were slipping away, leaving only the feel of Mako's skin and the endless depths of her eyes. They once again had taken on that familiar determined look, but there was something much, much more.
"I love you, Ryūko," Mako whispered, her lips curling into an easy smile. "Whatever else happens, remember that."
Through all the doubts regarding herself, her ongoing conflict and her future, Ryūko felt a simple truth shining through: if Mako believed in her, maybe she could find it in her heart - whatever that heart was - to do the same.
She also realized that she never wanted a day to go by without that smile in her life. So she kissed it again for good measure.
Several long, breathless moments later, they slowly settled back to lie against the too-thin bedrolls, but with their arms still around one another, it hardly seemed to matter.
"We really should get some sleep, shouldn't we?"
"Probably so," Mako sighed.
There was a lengthy silence, and Ryūko felt her pulse returning to normal. In the end, Mako had always been the one person capable of instilling a sense of peace within her... even after all that.
"Ryuuko-chan?" Mako asked quietly.
"Do you... want me to put my pajamas on?"
Ryūko chuckled at the almost plaintive tone in Mako's voice. "Nah, I think I kind of like your Full Glory," she smiled. "Tell you what. After we win this little war, let's you and I go off somewhere that we can go Full Glory together, and... see what happens after that."
Mako looked up at her for a moment, eyes shining, then snuggled even more tightly against her. "I like that idea, Ryūko-chan."
From across the wide space, Satsuki watched the proceedings from the corner of her eye. She had caught every word, of course: it was obvious that neither of those two knew anything at all about subtlety.
At least now, though, they appeared to be settling down, so she would not have to intervene and demand that they sleep. Honestly, if they had gone on even a minute longer...
...well, perhaps five minutes longer, but no more than that. They had a war to win, and she needed her allies, tenuous as their bond was, to be rested and at their best.
Satsuki smiled to herself, but it was most certainly about the prospect of their forthcoming victory, and nothing more.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Happy Valentine's Day, all! I'm sure this story will be completely invalidated by next week, but I'm fine with that. These characters have just been eating my brain too much for me to not do something about it.
BELATED AUTHOR'S NOTE: For those coming to the party late, this was originally going to be a one-shot, but then somewhere along the line it became an exercise in writing a "response" to each new episode of Kill la Kill. As a consequence, none of the forthcoming chapters are connected, per se: they are individual stories rather than a continuing narrative. I shall endeavor to not be hopelessly repetitive in the successive confessions and first kisses. ^^