Title: A Proof of Existence

Author: isumi'kivic'

Pairings: Soushi-centric, implied SoushiKazuki.

Disclaimer: Soukyuu no Fafner belongs to XEBEC and Hisashi Hirai. I own nothing, and I make no money out of this fanfiction.

A/N: Other than Soushi is so damn hard to depict? Happy Birthday, SheilaLuv. :3 This is your present. I'm sorry I can't write better…

A Soukyuu no Fafner Fanfiction

A Proof of Existence.

It happened a week after Kazuki hurt his left eye..

Minashiro Kouzou brought him to theValkyrie, where little Tsubaki seemed to be sleeping inside, and said that he'd be sent outside of Tatsumiyajima—or 'the outer world', as he usually referred to—to study many, many things. Why, he'd asked innocently, don't I exist to protect her? Shouldn't I remain here to do so?

You're a Minashiro, his Father replied. You need to know—to understand—before you can protect anything. If your injury someday disables you to ride the Giant, then the Siegfried System is your responsibility.

The Siegfried System? The boy echoed, the slightest of curiosity and fear creeping into his voice. And his Father explained: something about crossing with the pilots, and the ability to feel their pains, emotions, souls—

At that time, a thought naively entered his mins; a thought which would remain long even after he was sent to the outer world and back to the island at last: To feel is to understand.

-o0o-

He could see the whole Tatsumiyajima from up here, like a reminder of what he had to protect. What his existence meant. It was the real reason why he came, aside from the one he'd given Toomi as an aswer before. But the girl seemed to be too perceptive, reading too easily on what lay behind his simple answer of 'because Kazuki came here often.'

"Do you really want to know what Kazuki-kun feels?"

I don't really need to, Soushi thought as his brain registered Toomi's inquiry. I felt him—we were connected. I understand him; his pains, feelings, and soul—our crossing is perfect. Even though sometimes I could feel his doubts about me; my aim, my reason to fight. And that's exactly why I am here, trying to see everything through his eyes. Because that's the thing I'm really good at: to watch.

But he didn't want Toomi to see through the façade he'd spent years to master, the very mask that he kept perfect everyday. So all that came out of his mouth was "Why, can't I?"

To feel is to understand, Soushi thought; but how he was going to react upon the understanding was an entirely different matter.

-o0o-

He felt everything Kazuki felt during their crossing.

Kazuki, always so honest and pure, an untainted soul that gripped tightly onto Soushi's for guidance, reassurance, security—everything. He felt the fear and confusion that Kazuki's soul screamed at the first battle, which later turned into uncertainty, grieve, doubts, and a mix of guilt and denial following Shouko's death and Koyou's assimilation. He knew, he felt them, and he understood—but he had to remain impassive, because he couldn't—couldn't let them see his own sufferings, feel his own pain, couldn't let anyone understand him because he just had to—had to spare them the pain of knowing.

He trusted Kazuki, though. He trusted the tight grip on his soul Kazuki had never once let go of, trusting that Kazuki believed in him no matter what. That despite the lies told, despite the harsh words, despite closing himself so that Kazuki wouldn't be able to see through too much, Kazuki would always accept him just the way he was. That Kazuki would be able to understand him better than anybody else, even with such little openings he'd allowed himself to make.

And then, Kazuki left.

They said Toomi was the one whom Kazuki last talked with before he left the island, and that was why he'd come all the way in a foggy morning to look for Toomi. To ask, for once, what did Kazuki say to her. Because deep down, he was afraid. Scared that he'd let Kazuki seen too much. That some parts of himself he'd opened up only for the boy had scared Kazuki—of the battle. Or perhaps—perhaps of him. Yes, that might be it. Kazuki was honest, and not even once had Soushi felt his desire to run away from the battle. And yet, he left. He left, running away—most probably, from him.

"He only wanted me to remember him."

Why? Because Kazuki would never come back? Why? Why did he pick Toomi? Why not him?

"Did Kazuki tell you anything, Minashiro-kun?"

Silence. "No." His voice came out weak, suppressing the turbulence of emotions swirling in his chest, threatening to burst. "Nothing." Stronger now, building back his persona, and he took a breath softly.

"Then..." a pause, and Soushi thought he heard Toomi's voice strained in tears as she burst out, "Why did you say he ran away?"

He chose not to react at that. No, not because he had no answer. He did have—thousands of them—about his determination to spare everyone the pain, about his own insecurities of how Kazuki would look at him if the incident years ago was revealed; how Kazuki would look at someone who once tried to assimilate his own best friend—

"You should have talked to Kazuki-kun more!"

Ah. So that was the answer. Kazuki chose Toomi because they could talk. And Soushi could not. Was that why? Then, whose fault was it?

"The one running away is you!"

No.

No, he was not. Running. Away.

No.

He was just—

"What do you know?"

scared.

His retort came out more defensive and harsh than he intended. No. He was not running away, and he was not blaming Toomi of what she knew. No. He was just—hurt. Everyday, every single moment, he was hurt and no one knew it. No, it was okay, he was too used to it anyway, and it was his duty as a Minashiro. He preferred it that way; shouldering the burdens himself, if only to protect what little innocence left in their Shangri-la. But this time, the wound left by Kazuki's betrayal ran deeper than he thought, affecting him much more than he predicted. And he—he knew he had to go. He had to stop, before Toomi saw through his façade more.

"He… at least he…"

Silently walking past the still shocked girl, he let out the string of honest words for once.

"I thought that at least he would understand me."

He didn't halt, nor did he turn when Toomi retorted—more to the blue sky than to him—"Kazuki-kun, too…thought the same of you!"

Her last cry echoed in his ears, and quickly riveted into his mind. Understanding. That was right. He failed to understand Kazuki, didn't he? Why? To feel was to understand, wasn't it? He'd felt Kazuki, way more too often. Then why couldn't he understand?

Hadn't he felt enough to understand?

-o0o-

Perhaps it was Toomi who first made him doubt that very faith he held since his childhood. That simple, straight comment she always managed to find to retort him, and the way she acted that seemed to be judging his every move through thoughtful eyes, subtly telling him that she could see through his persona quite easily; that she knew something was wrong even though she couldn't pinpoint exactly what was.

"Using machines to peek into people's minds—do you think you would understand that way?"

No. He was supposed to be the one who understood Kazuki the most. He was the one in Siegfried System after all. And their crossing—his and Kazuki's—was supposed to be the most perfect, because Kazuki trusted him (yes, Kazuki did, he should have!) and there never was a barrier between them when they crossed. And yet, Kazuki left. It was something that had never crossed Soushi's mind, and the bitter feeling of betrayal left a deep wound in his chest, aching and throbbing like an infected scar.

Until Toomi finally burst out—not just in front of him, but everyone.

She cried, exclaiming that no one cold understand Kazuki and what Kazuki really wanted. What his best friend really wished. There was a lump in his throat then, refusing to be swallowed down that even his tongue could taste how bitter it was. Something in his chest restricted, for once wanting to protest—what did I do wrong? Why couldn't I understand? I felt him—through the system, everything of him—so how come you could understand him better than I could?

He didn't want that. The feeling of fury mixed with guilt and disappointment—and for the first time in his life, doubts of himself, of his reason to fight, of what he was doing—was threatening to swallow him whole, and he could almost feel his father's eyes on him, staring in accusation because he failed. Failed the system, failed the island—failed his own reason of existence.

Oddly, as he watched Mizoguchi-san and Toomi left the island in search for Kazuki, Toomi's request sent his selfish wishes arose in his mind. For once, those treacherous thoughts he thought had disappeared since he was only a kid, came back up. What about me? No one understands me. Not my pain, my thoughts, my feelings—my soul. No one could. No one could understand. Not even Kazuki.

But that was selfish—too selfish. He pushed it aside, back to the corner of his mind and locked it. Silently swearing that such thoughts would never, ever again came into mind, because it didn't—should not—matter at all. If compared to the dreams, wishes and hope still retained in the island, his anguish was a small price to pay.

It didn't matter. It never did, and it would never matter.

-o0o-

For the Human Army to take over their Shangri-La—the very thought of it had never even crossed his mind. Not once. Their Fafner units were strong, and even with Kazuki gone, they still had Sakura and the others. With him in the Siegfried System, they could've wiped off the whole fleet that was sent to Tatsumiyajima. They could have fought—if it weren't for Commander Makabe's decision.

Not for the first time, as a fine strategist himself, Soushi questioned Kazuki's father decision. Only this time, instead of keeping it quiet like the usual, he verbally confronted the Commander; because this time, their paradise was truly at stake. Because Mizoguchi-san and Toomi still hadn't come back. What would they feel when they came back only to find the island had been taken over? What would… Kazuki feel… when he came back… and found out that Soushi couldn't protect their paradise?

"Why didn't you let me fight? Handing over the island this easily…" His voice was tinted with frustration, torn between yelling and respecting the adult before him. Without the system, he was unable to understand everything, because he couldn't feel. Still, he wanted desperately to understand Commander Makabe's reason, because he trusted him. Because he believed that there must be a reason behind the decision—one he wasn't able to see. But what? "When Mizoguchi-san and the others come back—"

"I will not be able to face Kazuki, is that it?"

The words went straight right to his heart, and whatever it was that he wanted to say instantly dissolved into a sharp inhale. He hesitated for one split second—enough time for denial to make its way into his brain, as he answered, "It is not like that.."

It wasn't an answer. It was a spell for himself, telling himself that it wasn't true. He didn't intend to do this for Kazuki at all, it was all for Tatsumiyajima and whatever hopes and dreams that resided inside. He didn't care—he didn't want to care about someone who ran away, who betrayed his trust, who—

And even when he thought about that, he knew that he was lying to himself.

"I cannot fight against humans." Commander Makabe's answer came in a firm tone, telling Soushi that nothing he could do would change the outcome. "No matter what happens. If blood is spilled even once, the one who will be suffering when Kazuki returns will be you."

Something in his heart constricted at that, and the deepest corner of his heart admitted that it was true. After all, it was Kazuki who risked their whole island to save the Human Army pilots from Festum, regardless of the fact that they were enemies. But his logical side still refused that, so he put on his mask as a strategist and retorted, "You… Have you ever shed any blood?"

"More than I would have liked."

Soushi didn't expect that. He backpedaled, opening his mouth, but he had nothing to say.

Makabe turned to him, grave eyes staring right into his light brown ones. "If, by chance," he began, and Soushi realized with a tightness in his chest that whatever this was Makabe was about to say, it was certainly no small thing. "If, by chance, the Human Army made Kazuki shed the blood of other people…" A pause, and Soushi felt that those eyes staring at him, judging him, weren't a Commander's eyes—they were eyes of a Father entrusting his child to someone else.

"I want you to save him."

It was the trust that laced the adult's voice that almost rendered him speechless, because he knew then, it was a huge responsibility—even bigger than operating the Siegfried System. He wanted to object at first, to say that he himself couldn't understand Kazuki. He was the one in the system, and yet everything he felt of Kazuki led him to confusion and uncertainty, not understanding. He wanted to ask—why me? Why not Toomi?—but something about the trusting tone made him unable to say no; partly because he was taken aback at how much Commander Makabe trusted him, and partly because he actually understood how it felt—the desire to protect Kazuki from something so dreadful called killing humans.

And so he answered, forcing his voice not to sound uncertain, making a vow in front of the most respected adult in the island: "I will save him."

"I am counting on you." The reply came, and Soushi knew that at the moment, the Commander saw him as an adult, despite his young age—and he didn't know whether he should be relieved or bitter about it. So instead, he asked the very thing that had been bugging him since Kazuki left: "Do you trust Kazuki?"

"Yes." Their eye-contact finally severed, the Commander smiled bitterly. "But he left without even talking to me. Whether he trusts me or not… I honestly have no confidence in that."

He understood, Soushi realized. What they felt, the wound of betrayal left by Kazuki—it was etched in both of their hearts. As a Father, Commander Makabe felt it, too. They were the same, regarding Kazuki, and Soushi found himself a little bit relieved at that.

But it came then—almost as strong as a desire—the fleeting feeling of wanting, and left him unsettled. He wanted to talk to Kazuki, to ask what he had done wrong, what Kazuki hid from him that disabled him to understand even though he had felt. To meet Kazuki and ask what he wanted, expect, or hope. To ask Kazuki whether his best friend ever understood him, care for him—and again, his mind chastised him. Your duty is to protect the island, at any cost. Even yourself.

"It is the same for me, too," the words came out as a mutter, wistful and sour.

He admitted bitterly, then, that it was impossible even for the Siegfried System to understand someone fully. The system had failed him—or maybe, he had failed the system.

-o0o-

As the Festum rose above the ocean, hovering before the lighthouse and, consequently, his sister, he could literally felt his blood frozen. Because it was his sister who was facing death calmly—like a Minashiro was supposed to be. And if he let that happen—if he let the lighthouse blown up, if he let the Festum killed the Core, his sister, just because he was helpless and couldn't do anything; everything—each lies, promises, hopes, the Paradise—he had sacrifices everything for, the very existence he had been protecting all his life, would be lost.

If only he could ride Fafner instead of being stuck inside the System—

And then the new unit came, crashing down out of nowhere and assimilated the Festum back. It saved his sister, the island, the Paradise—his life, his existence—and trapping everyone into an amazed stupor with its unexpected abilities. He nearly forgot where he was and what he had to do, if not for Tsubaki's voice penetrating his mind, reminding him of his duty—the thing only he could do. Analyzing. Finding. And so he called out.

The response, this time, froze his whole existence.

"Soushi."

No way, no, no, no, it can't be—the thoughts swirled in his head, jumbled and abstract, negating the hope that threatened to drown him in its warmth. Nevertheless, the name fluttered out of his mouth, dancing on his tongue, and it almost tasted like honey: "Kazu…ki…"

He came back.

Not for him, perhaps—of course not, his mind chastised—definitely for the island, for their sole paradise. But he came back, and it should be enough, and Soushi really should be happy—but he wasn't.

The wound left by the betrayal,-the wound he's stitched himself without anesthetic, which pain had dulled as he pushed it aside in favor of the island's matters—was ripped open involuntarily. It bled, and it hurt. And he hated that, hated to find that the wound made his emotion—his heart—unstable, made him angry and yet, still couldn't help but hope, leaving him confused beyond reason. Or perhaps, though not quite, it scared him.

He understood now, Kazuki said. But Soushi couldn't help but bit back, "What did you understand?"

Kazuki understood. The pain and burden Soushi had shouldered all alone for a long time, his sufferings, his sacrifices, his reason, his lies, his hopes. He understood, albeit a little, about how Soushi had been trying to protect the island since the time they all had not the slightest idea of truth. For the sake of the island. For the sake of their Paradise. For their—his—own sakes.

And Soushi was surprised to find the pain intensified thousands of times, prickling at his supposedly numb heart, enveloping him and flooding his very existence, clashing with hope and relief, blending into a sensation he'd never felt before, and the gate broke down—letting his emotion rushed out in the form of a shuddering breath and silent tears.

Tryinig to control the storm of emotion he nearly couldn't suppress, he let out a choke inquiry of the new unit's name.

"Mark Schein."

"Registering the unit for crossing. Wait five seconds."

There was a hesitant tone mixed with surprise and worry when Kazuki called out his name, but it was okay. Five seconds were all he needed to wipe away the crystallic tears and steel his heart once again, because battlefield required his full attention. Because the island needed him—Tsubaki needed him—and Kazuki did, too.

Their crossing felt stronger this time—he felt his best friend clutching onto their connection in a different way than before. He felt the raw determination to protect their Paradise grew more intense than before, but that wasn't the thing that had him surprised. It was the full trust that Kazuki placed onto him, onto their connection. Then, without warning, hope flooded his entire being, overriding his fear and healing the pain of betrayal bit by bit.

Understanding was a two-way road.

So this what Toomi was trying to make him understand. Kazuki wouldn't be able to understand him if he didn't try to understand him more than what he felt in the System. Kazuki wouldn't be able to understand him if he wouldn't give him a path for him to take into his heart. Understanding is a complicated word, he realized, but once they started to understand, though perhaps not yet fully, then perhaps everything could be mended. Perhaps everything would be alright.

"Can you see what I am seeing?"

"Yeah, I can see it."

-he still had a chance to try.

-o0o-

"You are not going to help Kazuki?"

Canon's inquiry had this curious tone hiding, and he halted his reply for a second. Despite every complicated feelings arising inside him upon hearing the question, he successfully replied with a nonchalant voice, "It is his responsibility for losing." He hesitated, and once again reminded himself, Understanding was a two-way road. There was nothing wrong to let someone you wanted to understand saw a glimpse of who you were. He wanted to understand Canon, too, because Canon was a friend first before an important ally in battle. So he let the real reason out: "Also, by now, someone other than myself would have probably helped out."

He had to bring Canon to the kitchen only to take a peek on Kazuki. As expected, Toomi was there, helping Kazuki out with the dishes. Something in his heart fell, realizing that she was always one step ahead of him when it came to Kazuki. Toomi liked Kazuki, that much he understood—perhaps she even loved him. It only made sense if she tried her best to be able to understand Kazuki more than anyone else.

Somehow, it felt like she'd defeated him.

"Look." His voice shook a little, but thankfully Canon didn't seem to notice. If anything, the redhead seemed to be a bit impressed.

"How did you know?"

"I just knew."

That last one managed to escaped his throat with no difficulty, even though his throat felt like closing up to see Kazuki and Toomi side-by-side like that. He turned around, took a deep breath, and walked away. Canon followed him with careful, measured steps—a sign that she was thinking. Soushi knew, since that was what he did when he was thinking, too. He and Canon shared some things in common, especially regarding how a fighter was supposed to think.

"Is Maya fighting for the sake of Kazuki?"

He halted, and turned. "Did Toomi say that?"

"No… I just knew."

"I do not know that." He responded truthfully. Whatever it was Toomi's reason to fight, and why she was able to fight—knowing them didn't mean he understood them. Toomi was complicated, and even though Soushi had a hard time understanding her way of thinking, he knew Toomi was someone this island needed. Without Toomi, Kazuki wouldn't be Kazuki. Without Toomi, he wouldn't be able to understand Kazuki. Without Toomi, Tatsumiyajima would surely, quickly lose hope and dreams. She was the kind of person whom this island continuously needed—unlike him.

"Even though you shared feelings with the others through the system?" Canon retorted, apparently not satisfied with his answer.

"Certainly… I know her motive. Her sense of duty and her loneliness. The fact that only she could not pilot Fafners bothered her." He answered deliberately, thinking and weighing every word coming out of his mouth. He was not the same Soushi who used to believe that to feel is to understand. Toomi had proved him that she could understand even without feeling someone directly through the system. She had understood Kazuki, perhaps better than Soushi—and he had wanted to understand Kazuki the most.

Even so, he was defeated. He was wrong, from the very beginning.

"You do know, do you not?" Canon protested.

"To think that you understand someone with just that much…" he cut her off there, knowing that he would have to make his point across before Canon misunderstood what he meant. "That would simply be arrogance."

He used to be like that, and he knew now how much it cost him. How much it hurt Kazuki, how much it hurt those standing around him. How much it hurt the people he wanted to protect.

"She taught me that."

And that was why Toomi deserved to win.

-o0o-

Trapped.

The word didn't quite scare him—the system had become an all too familiar place for him nowadays. What scared him was the numb feeling that started to overwhelm him after several hours—or could it have been days? Months? He had no idea to know.

He still existed, that much he knew. He was very nearly assimilated, if it hadn'tbeen for Mamoru's heroic sacrifice. It was bitter, being the last person with whom Mamoru talked to, but still he was unable to save both him and the island. It was painful, too, to be the only one who witnessed Mamoru's last determination to protect everyone, who felt the pain of leaving and the happiness to have protected those who were important until the very last second of his life—and deep, deep inside his heart, there was this small twinge of envy that he quickly disposed of.

He couldn't afford to be selfish. Not while the island still needed him.

The Festum seemed to have learnt a great deal since the last time they fought, though. They tried manipulating him several times, trying to inflict him with the wounds of guilt. Guilt of trying to assimilate the one he most treasured, the one who had given him his proof of existence. The scar was not a punishment; it was his proof of living. Of being here. Festum couldn't understand that, but Soushi understood now.

But he couldn't run away. He couldn't run away from the facts hiding beneath the Festum's wicked remarks, couldn't deny the soft nudges of the old feeling reminding him of why he had wanted to become one with Kazuki. He was nowhere, he didn't have any reason to exist other than for the island. Yes, he envied Festum because they could go back into nothingness and be one with everything—something he thought was a blessing, and he envied that—

No.

He opened his eyes wide, let out a nervous chuckle. That wasn't right. It was part of him, but not whole. He'd understood much more now, he had a reason to fight. To exist. To protect everyone—to support Kazuki with all his might. He had a right to live because he had the reason to live. And the scar was a proof of it.

-o0o-

Something…

Something was penetrating the shell.

I know this… this feeling…

"Kazuki… is it you?"

"Soushi!"

He sounded far, so very faraway—and Soushi wondered if this was just a dream. He had no means to differentiate anything now; the lack of sensation and numbness had spread throughout his entire being, and he was scared.

"Kazuki." He called out again, voice raspy from lack of use. Something on the back of his mind kept telling him to relax and let go, to just let whatever would happen to happen because he was tired, but he struggled and clung onto his consciousness. "How many hours has it been… since the last battle?"

"21 hours." Kazuki's voice was his lifeline, and he held dearly onto that.

"That long, huh?" he mumbled, shaking his head when he felt his consciousness slipping away. The fear gripping his heart grew stronger, because he couldn't feel Kazuki now, and that meant he had no means to understand what was happening. He couldn't feel. "My perception of time… has numbed."

"Are you in pain, Soushi?"

Pain. How did pain feel like? He couldn't remember. Everything was numb, and he couldn't feel, couldn't think. Why did Kazuki sound so concerned? "I don't know." He paused, swallowed the fear rising up to his throat hard, and continued, "It seems like my feelings of pain have disappeared."

He heard Kazuki's shocked gasp—heard the worry and slightest touch of fear in his voice. Once again, he wondered if this was a dream, so he called out once again, "Kazuki, are you really there?"

"I am! I'm here!" Kazuki cried out, sounding almost desperate, and Soushi allowed a relieved smile to grace his lips. "I will get you out now!"

He trusted Kazuki with his life, and that was enough.

Sadly, Lady Fate never meant for them to see each other face to face anymore.

-o0o-

The pain shot through his whole being, and all he could do was screaming out in pain.

"T-This is…crossing…" Fear rising up on his throat, closing it up and made him gag, but he managed to swallow it down. Something forceful was trying to take control of the system through him—assimilating him—"Unit code… Mark Nicht…"

And everything went wrong.

Chaos descended upon their paradise, and he could only listen as his sister cried out a painful plea to the Festum who refused to understand. He felt the Festum infiltrating Alvis, drowning everyone within reach as people scrambled to protect each other and save themselves; lives were lost in mere seconds and he could do nothing. Nothing.

Stop.

Don't touch them.

Don't touch my reason to fight.

Don't—

And suddenly those assimilation crystals shot up out of nowhere, crawling up on his legs, his waist, his chest—and slowly he lost everything. He couldn't feel, couldn't move—he could barely let out a sound, and he felt nothing. Absolutely nothing. No pain, no sadness, no fear—hollow. Nothing.

"Kazu…ki…"

"Soushi! Soushi!"

His last effort, calling out to the one he cherished the most, whom his lifeline was tied on.

"Soushi! Soushi! Soushi! Soushi!"

I'm—

"Give him back!"

-nowhere…

"Give me back Soushi!"

Kazu… ki…

"SOUSHIII!"

-o0o-

He was still here.

It confused him at first—he thought he was as good as dead, but apparently the Festum hadn't fully assimilated him. In fact, they dared trying to use him to their advantage—they dared to ask for his guidance in battlefield.

"The humans who are at this land now, you will destroy them."

He was beyond furious, yes, but the fear lurking in his chest thickened at the possibility. They brought him as a hostage, luring his treasured friends out of the safety circle of their Paradise, and now forced him to betray his friends by telling them the true way to fight. The mere thought nearly gagged him and sent him vomiting, but he didn't even have the control of his body anymore. Stuck, with nothing he was capable of doing; he was of no help to his friends. He had no way to refuse, not if he wanted to keep himself alive for the sake of those who risked their lives to come and save him—for the sake of Kazuki who wanted him back.

One wrong move, and he could kill his friends.

But then it struck him; the hatred that the Festum emanated. He could feel the Festum now that they were together in crossing, and the intense hatred puzzled him. Where did they learn such powerful emotions? Makabe Akane definitely wasn't the one who taught them, and he was beyond certain that Kouyou never harbored such intense, painful hatred. With this kind of hatred, he realized, the Festum wouldn't stop trying to destroy humans. They wouldn't understand the happiness of being alive, because all they'd understand was hatred, and Makabe Akane's effort of imposing the idea of humans and Festum living together in harmony would be wasted.

He had to take a step. He had to do something, he had to teach Festum something that would make them understand that hatred brought nothing but despair, and that humans, as Tsubaki once cried out, weren't only full of hatred, but also—

—love.

That was the most special thing humans had, wasn't it? The opposite of hatred—the very emotion that made humans into humans; the emotion that supposedly could end even the most vicious war. Or so they said.

But love was such a complicated and confusing feelings—he couldn't even understand it the slightest. He wasn't even sure if he had ever felt it—loving someone like Commander Makabe did to Makabe Akane, perhaps. Maybe if Toomi was on his shoes, she could perhaps teach the Festum how to love—she loved Kazuki, after all. But Soushi—he never really understood himself what love was. How could he teach the Festum something he couldn't even fully comprehend himself? What was love? How did it feel? How would it affect your life?

No. He couldn't teach Festum something he didn't understand.

He had to teach Festum something that would make them understand that hatred brought nothing good to themselves. Something that he understood very well himself, something that had been a part of his life since he was little.

"Children of Alvis have infiltrated inside us. What should we do to defeat them?"

Toneless. Rebuking any other existence in this world except their own. That was how Festum was. And he had to make them understand, teach them something new that Makabe Akane and Tsubaki hadn't yet taught them—

"Break up their team… Defeat each one…" The assimilation crystal crawled up his cheek, and he recoiled as pain stabbed throughout every fiber of his being. "Stop it! Don't touch that wound!"

"What should we do to divide them?"

His breath caught, his eyes narrowed. This was it. He could do this much, at least. Even at the cost of his own existence—hadn't he always do that?

He could teach Festum this.

"Show them your defenses… and lure them…" the assimilation crystal kept creeping up, reaching his scar, and he screeched out painfully. "Sacrifice some—and divide them…"

"We have understood your thoughts." No, you haven't, Soushi thought; heart hammering in his chest so fast he was acutely aware that he was alive. No, the FEstum had no idea what his aim was. "I will try to destroy the Children of Alvis, with the hatred that I have learned."

"Wa—wait…" The crystal crept up again, covering his whole left eye as he desperately called out for the Festum to stop it. Panic gripped his heart, fear residing in his chest and chuckling victoriously. No. If he lost his scar now, he'd lose the proof of his existence. He wouldn't be able to meet Kazuki again—

—or not.

As he watched the battle unfolding before him—how the Festum started to work in groups, hindering attacks from the Human Army—he suddenly realized it: he was learning. He's starting to understand the Festum's blessing fully now; that existence and nothingness is an unending cycle. That he couldn't envy Festum for being able to go back to nothingness, because everyone eventually would. When the time came—when his time came—it wasn't the end. It was a beginning, something that perhaps Makabe Akane and Kouyou had understood ahead of him. That beginnings and endings continued on forever.

The cycles of existence and nothingness.

The panic and fear gripping his heart stilled at that realization almost instantly, as if he'd finally found the very thing he'd been searching his whole life. So he watched intently, silently willing his friends to persevere, to survive—

"Soon—" he breathed out, struggling even to do so. "Soon, they will understand. Until then…live…"

And they did. Brilliant as the light that they were, Soushi watched as the Festum were driven back, almost madly so, and his friends emerged victorious. It was then that he finally shouted out to the Festum, telling them the very core of what he'd been trying to teach them from his strategy.

The War of Exhaustion.

Where you fought while enduring your pain.

Pain.

That was what he could teach Festum the best. Something that he was very familiar with, something that had been a constant part of his life—a constant part of humans' lives. Something he understood the best.

As the Festum rose to the sky, wishing to be back into the nothingness, he shook his head.

Existence was an enormously beautiful thing, he thought, and Festum should understand that.

"Be thankful to be alive," he murmured a small smile gracing his lips. "That is… the happiness to be here now… Festum."

Because that was what made humans into humans.

-o0o-

He thought he couldn't understand him. Kazuki, that was.

"Soushi! Are you there? Soushi!"

But he could feel him again—they were together again in crossing, now, and he felt that familiar, trusting grip Kazuki always placed on him. He was glad, silently, that he didn't disappoint his best friend. He did what he could.

"Kazuki…"

And then, the grip was unbearably tight, as if Kazuki didn't want to let go of him—and Soushi felt it. Fear, inexplicable fear mixed with immense relief and happiness that he couldn't even begin to describe—Kazuki's mind was a turmoil. A whirlwind of emotion was there, only between them, and Kazuki was crying again—eyes red-clouded with assimilation, and somehow, Soushi was happy that he could see the power to accept. That Kazuki could understand what he was supposed to understand.

"Soushi…" that voice. He missed that voice, too much. "You're really here… aren't you?"

"Yes," he answered softly, smiling. Kazuki. Only Kazuki. Always Kazuki. His life—all his life, had always revolved around Kazuki. "I'm still here."

And he thought, he understood a little now. Kazuki, that was.

-o0o-

The grip Kazuki had on their crossing didn't falter. Not once. Not even when they were almost dragged into the nothingness, and definitely not now when there were only the two of them, flying back to Tatsumiyajima. It was strong, unrelenting—and Soushi understood what it meant: I am not losing you again. Not again.

But it was impossible. He couldn't make it. He had to go, to the Festum's side for once, and recreate his whole existence. Kazuki would be alright once he received the assimilation treatment, but he didn't have the time.

He'd be back, though.

But Kazuki hadn't understood that yet.

"L—let's go back to the island and receive the treatment together! If we do that, then surely—"

"You go do that, Kazuki," he said softly. Kazuki was important. The island needed him—their Paradise needed him. He would be alright, even without Soushi, because he was strong. "I will be gone soon."

Those words tasted bitter. Something in his chest twisted, reminding him that he was still alive, still there with Kazuki. He felt the grip on their crossing tightened, and subconsciously he did the same—if he could help it, he didn't want to leave. He wanted to stay where Kazuki was. And he knew, he understood from the whirling panic Kazuki felt as he demanded Soushi to stop saying things like that, that Kazuki felt the same.

To protect each other.

To support each other.

To understand each other.

To stand side by side.

Soushi closed his eyes, unable to recognize the warmth filling his whole being. Was it? What he felt for Kazuki, what he wanted to do for Kazuki—was it? Was it what you call love?

He didn't know. He didn't understand that much yet. But as he felt his existence fade into nothingness, releasing Kazuki's grip on their crossing bit by bit, he thought he finally understood something.

They—both of them—were nowhere.

"I'm here. Until the time we meet again."

But they were both now here, in the presence of each other, as they both finally understood their reason of existence: each other.

A promise was sealed, and Soushi's last bit of existence faded with Kazuki's painful cry reverberating in the azure sky.

-finito-

A/N: I'm dead. I have no words.

Reviews and constructive criticisms are revival potions, by the way. Please? :3

P.S: Extras for you, Eila-chan, so read the one on my LJ, 'kay?