Author's Note: It would be wrong if I said not to listen to Define Dancing from the soundtrack to Wall-E throughout this fic. So you should. Absolutely. This fic was heavily inspired by it.
Something isn't right, Sakaki thought. But *what*? Wait...where's Kaorin?
She looked around the room. Yomi was reading. Chiyo, Ayumu, and Kagura were playing some kind of board game. Tomo was doodling something in her notebook. Nyamo was also reading, albeit made difficult by the large English-teacher-sized child passed out in her lap. Another pleasant night at Chiyo's summer home was motoring along, but the energy was thrown off by the absence of Kaorin. Suddenly, whatever Sakaki was doing felt less important than finding her, and making sure she was okay.
"Hey, does anyone know where Kaorin is?" she asked the room. People looked up from what they were doing, and mostly just shrugged.
"Dunno," Ayumu said. "Think she went outside, but that was a while ago."
"She's probably fine," Tomo said. "Come join us, Sakaki!" Sakaki looked to the teachers, but Yukari was still asleep and Nyamo was either ignoring her (unlikely) or too engrossed in her reading (more likely). It looked like the task of checking on her was up to her. She stepped outside. It was cool, but not cold; it was maybe even still slightly warm out. A preliminary survey yielded no Kaorin. Nobody on the deck, and the beach appeared to be empty, as if Kaorin would want to be there anyway at this time night. She looked up. The stars tonight were gorgeous.
She bonked herself on the forehead. Of course! She looked up towards the roof, and saw a small figure sitting on the edge with some sort of device. Smiling to herself, she scaled up the gutter pipe and made sure to take her shoes off, as to not make too much of a racket, and walked towards the girl.
"Figured I'd find you here," she said, nearly scaring Kaorin off the roof.
"Jesus, Sakaki! You just about made me fall!"
"Sorry about that. I didn't see you and got worried."
"Yeah, I got bored so I came up here."
"With a...is that a telescope?"
"Mm? Yeah, I bought one with my New Year's money. Figured I'd do some observations with a sky like this."
"You really couldn't have picked a better night," Sakaki said as she sat behind her.
"Mhm! I really, really couldn't have. It's been a bonanza tonight. So much cool stuff. Nebulæ, globular clusters, planets."
"Tell me about it."
"Oh, sure! Well, nebulæ are clouds of gas where stars are born, and globular clusters are, well, clusters of stars. And you know what planets are."
"Mhm. Tell me, Kaorin, why do you like astronomy?"
"Why do you like studying the stars?"
"Well, there's more than just stars, you know."
"You're very good at dodging the question," Sakaki chuckled.
Kaorin fidgeted as she turned to face Sakaki. "Well...I like studying the sky because it's, well, beautiful. And I like studying beautiful things." Like you.
"That's an interesting way of looking at it," Sakaki mused.
"Yeah, sure, I guess. I guess I just love the beautiful, and there's something...innately pretty about what's out there. It's like a painting, with different components and consistencies of paint and technique, but physical, real."
"You're like...an artist-scientist."
"An artist-scientist. I like the sound of that. I guess I do like the more artistic side of science. And astronomy is just about as artistic as science gets. Poetic, even."
"Gimme an example."
"Well..." she fidgeted again, and started swinging her legs. "There's...this theory. Called Hawking radiation."
"Well...long after, and I mean like, looooooong after life has ceased existing, and all the stars have burned out, and the universe is leaving adolescence, and the only things left in the universe are black holes, there's a theory that black holes will emit these particles. Called Hawking radiation. And they're always emitted in pairs. Well, not always, but...no, stay on track! They're emitted in pairs, and they dance around together, then collide and blip out of existence. And to me, it's like, proof, that even billions upon billions upon billions of years after the universe has stopped being anything we remotely recognize, after all of these stars have burned out and even more billions of years after all life in the universe is gone, love still exists. And yeah, I guess there's like, science-y reasons for why they do that, but what can I say? I am an artist. And the artist in me says that Hawking radiation are two particles that love each other so much, that their union is too much for the universe to handle, and they disappear."
"Heartwarming, yet sad," Sakaki said.
"Isn't that just the way?" Kaorin said. "Pure poetry, as far as I'm concerned, between two particles of radiation in a time inconcievably remote from my own."
"Why don't you do art? You seem to have a real knack for it, as well."
"Isn't exactly the best time to be an artist, now, is it?"
"When is it ever?"
"Heh, yeah. So I'll do astronomy. I do love it. I just have a...unorthodox way of looking at it, I guess." She shrugged and started putting away her supplies. She didn't want to accidently knock them over the edge.
"I like it."
"Yeah! I love hearing you talk about your interests."
Kaorin gave a nervous laugh in response.
"You know," Sakaki said slowly, "I think the sky wasn't the only thing driving you up here tonight."
Kaorin sighed. "Yeah. Yeah, you're right, it isn't."
"What else is there?"
"Something Ayumu said to me earlier."
"She asked if..." She took a deep breath. "She asked if I was gay."
"That's a strange question to ask unprompted. But it's pretty on-brand for her."
"It wasn't unprompted, but that's not the point. The point is...I denied it."
"You said you weren't gay?"
Kaorin looked to the sky. Staring straight at Saturn, if only to avoid seeing Sakaki's reaction, she replied, "Yes."
There was a painful moment of silence, before Sakaki followed up with, "Am I the first person you've told that?"
"I..." Another agonizing three seconds. "I admire you telling me."
"Wh-what do you mean?"
"It's hard to tell someone that. It's even harder telling someone you're close to, even admire."
Kaorin blushed hard, and nervously looked Sakaki's direction. But the face of the taller girl was hardly judgemental. In fact, it was kindly, even in true admiration, as if Kaorin had done something Sakaki wouldn't be able to do.
"I'm not completely unaware, you know. I hear...heard rumors. But I wanted to hear it from you directly. I don't take currency in rumors."
"I...I appreciate that. I really do. I just-"
"I guess there's only one question left, eh?"
"C'mon, Kaorin. I want you to say it. Only you should be able to say it."
She stared at Saturn again. "Do I love you."
"Yes." She shut her eyes tightly. "Yes, I do."
Sakaki didn't respond immediately. Instead she responded with, "You know, there's a story I'd like to tell you."
"Yeah. So a while ago, like, years ago, a boy was born, and his name was Kenji. Well, he wasn't a 'boy', per se. You see, there was a clerical error, and the hospital forgot to mark his gender on the birth certificate. But, he had a penis, so his mom was like, 'Well, guess I gotta raise this kid as a boy'. And so he was. He didn't know about the error, he just knew that he was a boy. Or at least, his mom said he was. But when he was around 5, he started not feeling like a boy, and this feeling exacerbated over the years."
"That's...that's awful!" Kaorin said. "His mom should've told him, and let him decide for himself!"
"He was picked on pretty badly in elementary school, and the school doctors were of no help as to why he was so antisocial. He was all of 8 years old and already experiencing what we'd call major depression. A caretaker, an old man who'd been a groundskeeper at the school for decades, decided to start talking to Kenji every day. And this caretaker became the closest friend he had." She paused before continuing.
"One day, Kenji was having a particularly bad day on the playground, and took to sitting underneath a tree. And when the caretaker came to visit and the two got to talking, he couldn't hold it in anymore. He told the caretaker he didn't want to be a boy. He didn't feel like a boy. He wanted to be a girl. And, additionally, he hated the name Kenji. It didn't fit. It never had. He asked the caretaker what the name of the tree they were sitting under was." She closed her eyes and drew the kanji from memory. "The caretaker said, that the name of the tree was sakaki."
Kaorin froze. "Sakaki..."
Sakaki smiled, but with a twinge of melancholy. "He asked the caretaker to call him 'Sakaki', and to use 'she' and 'her' to refer to her from then on."
"So you see, Kaorin? You're not alone. We both came out today. If only to each other, at least we know that there's someone who knows. We're a little less alone now."
"So, do you...do you love me?"
Sakaki looked up at the stars. "I'm not sure there's anyone else who could've captured my heart like you have. And I didn't realize it for a while. I didn't, like, feel love for a while. I didn't get the heart patters, that kind of stuff. What made me realize I love you was after you were transferred. My heart ached, Kaori. I missed your face, your smile, the way you always greeted me every morning, the way you always wanted to make these little things for me to make me happy. The first day without you, I cried. It felt like someone had died." She lowered her gaze to Kaorin, and smiled. "So yes, Kaori, I do love you. I have, and will."
Kaorin had no words. She only had actions. And that action was throwing herself on Sakaki, in tears. "I thought I was insane, being in love with you."
"Love is kind of insane," Sakaki said. "I would know. I am. Being in love with you is hardly the most detached-from-reality decision I've ever made."
"Glad I could bring you down to Earth," Kaorin said softly as she planted herself in Sakaki's lap, throwing her arms around her neck.
"Down to Earth? Hardly," Sakaki said, her voice dropping as she whispered in Kaorin's ear, "when I'm in heaven with you right now."
"So that's why I see a beautiful angel. Gorgeous, even." The corniness would be endlessly more hilarious if the pair weren't in the midst of an intimate moment. If anything, the corniness added to the intimacy.
"You called me Kaori," she said.
"Yeah, because it seemed like a more serious name for a more serious situation."
"Can you...can you call me that from now on?"
Sakaki smiled. "Of course."
Kaorin thought her heart was going to burst through her chest. She caressed Sakaki's cheek. "Such a beautiful face," she murmured, before leaning in and kissing her. It was the first time either of them had kissed anyone, let alone a girl, and it was truly magical. When Kaorin pulled off, she said, "Where would you like me to kiss next, my love?"
Sakaki smiled. "Why don't we see where the stars take us?"
Kaorin looked into the stormy grey eyes of the girl she'd always loved, and said, quietly, breathily, "Let's make music worthy of Jupiter."