At long last, I've done what I set out to, and written something close enough to a thorough exploration of the hundreds of ideas ricocheting around my head about Black Rock Shooter and all the things left up to the imagination...while also writing a collection of selfcest yuri stories. Better yet, I managed to have the kind of thin line connecting them that I wanted. I'm not out of ideas, but this will be my last BRS fic for a while. I can't say I'm completely satisfied with how things have gone in this story, but I'll let the chapter speak for itself.

Thank you for reading, and a special thanks to everyone kind enough to tell me what you thought of the story.


"So now you know."

The cloudy surroundings are gone, replaced by a solid but no less ugly world of spikes tinged purple and navy blue. It's much darker than the memory of it Mato had seen inside Black Rock Shooter's mind, and instead of a bright sky above them, there is only more shadow.

"The truth about this world…"

Mato is curled up in a corner of the clearing they stand in, hugging her knees. She wants to wake up, but she remembers what Yuu told her, and she knows that she can't…and possibly won't ever be able to. She is trapped in this place, this ugly world that isn't her own, alone but for the purple-eyed girl who stands menacingly over her. Mato wants to ignore her, pretend she doesn't exist—

Black Rock Shooter slams her enormous, pointed cannon into the earth beside her, the metal clanking loudly, causing Mato to recoil. "And about me," she completes.

Getting to her feet, Mato slowly backs away from the pale girl, but Black Rock Shooter advances. Behind her snakes a chain connected to the cannon, its metal links rattling as she walks. "Don't you see how foolish you were? How stupid you had to be to think this world could be at peace"—she spits the word, disgust etched in the lines of her face—"or that any of us want it to be? You don't know anything, little girl."

They're gradually circling the small clearing, an exposed surface of dark purple checkerboard bordered by rocky spikes. Mato is still unwilling to open her mouth. She's not even sure what she would say. She thinks she might just cry if she tries.

"I got so tired of your speeches," Black Rock Shooter goes on. There are rhythmic clanks of the armor she now wears accompanying each of her footfalls. "Some girl, coming to my world and telling me what to do? I should have killed you the moment I saw you."

"Kill me…" Mato whispers. "Like you killed everyone else?"

"That's right." There's a brief note of malicious glee in the girl's voice. "You don't even know what it means to kill someone here. You don't know what that means for your world."

Mato glares at her. "You mean taking away pain."

"So you do know." Black Rock Shooter's expression is just as flat as always, but marred with a downturn of disdain. "And you still—"

"But that's wrong!" Mato's sudden shout silences Black Rock Shooter, whose surprise quickly turn to anger a moment later at having been interrupted. "That's not how you deal with suffering! You don't just forget! That's wrong, just like it's wrong to fight in this world!"

Black Rock Shooter remains silent, then smiles a faint, unsettling, smile. "I never said that was why I killed them."

Reeling, horror clawing at her insides, Mato resumes backing away from the dark-haired girl. "What?" says the thing, the demon. "Don't tell me you're scared of me. I thought…" She reaches out a hand, fingers almost catching Mato's chin, and the girl stumbles backward and increases her pace to get away. "I thought you loved me."

"I don't love you!" Mato shouts before she can stop herself. Black Rock Shooter's twisted smile only widens.

"You don't?" the other girl says, stopping and allowing Mato to widen the gap between them, knowing she can't get away. "Why not? Why don't you love me? If you're going to belong to anyone, you might as well belong to me…" She leers at Mato. "Right?"

Slowly shaking her head, Mato backs up until her back is pressed against the stones bordering the clearing.

"Why don't you love me?" Black Rock Shooter asks, and if it wasn't for her false smile, Mato wouldn't think she was acting at all. "You said you did!"

"Not to you." Mato can feel her voice becoming choked. "I said that to the real Black Rock Shooter. I said that to my Black Rock Shooter!"

"Oh? You said that to 'Rock,' did you?" Abruptly, the girl's smile vanishes, and her voice is pure poison as she advances on Mato. "She doesn't exist." Before Mato can react, Black Rock Shooter viciously kicks her in the knee, and instantly she feels her leg give way. As soon as she's fallen onto her knees, the purple-eyed girl smashes a hand into the side of her head, and Mato is knocked to the ground, seeing stars.

"Stop playing make-believe, you naïve brat!" Black Rock Shooter roars, kicking at Mato as she tries to move away. "There is no girl who loves you! There is no girl who ever cared about a word you said!" She punctuates each of her words with a stomp which Mato tries to push aside. "There's…just…me!"

Mato rolls aside as her foot comes down the last time, and quickly leaps to her feet. Black Rock Shooter keeps closing in. "Why don't you fight back?" she demands. "You can't solve your problems without fighting, in this world or any other!" She lunges at Mato again. "Fight back!" Mato hurls herself to one side; Black Rock Shooter turns to follow her and attacks again. "Fight back!"

Mato glares defiantly back, but there are tears dripping from her eyes now. "I want my Rock," she says, her voice small. She tries to stand upright despite the pain in her leg. "Give her back."

Infuriated, the violet-eyed girl charges at her, yelling, "Didn't you hear what I said?" She drives an elbow into Mato's chest, knocking the wind out of her. "There's no such person!"

Mato gasps and stumbles backward, breathing raspy breaths for a few seconds. Black Rock Shooter doesn't stop advancing on her, all the while hissing malicious words. "I am Black Rock Shooter. There is no one else."

Trapped by the ring of stone spikes, Mato can't back away any further. "I miss her," she whispers.

"You miss a lie." Black Rock Shooter comes to a stop, too, standing just in front of Mato. "It's a lie you had better stop believing, because if you don't fight back…" She holds her arm out to the side. The chain trailing from it snaps taut, and then her cannon comes flying to attach to the outstretched arm. "I'll destroy you."

"I'm…" Slowly Mato looks up into the girl's violet eyes, into the bright flame burning over one of them. "I'm not doing it because I think you're Rock."

"Then why?" shouts Black Rock Shooter. "You don't honestly believe you can work out your problems by talking to me!"

Even as the other girl's words grow louder and angrier again, the strength is returning to Mato's voice. "Why shouldn't I try?"

"Everything you believed in was wrong!" Practically screaming with rage, Black Rock Shooter raises her cannon and points it at Mato, holding it perfectly parallel to the ground despite its massive size. "The girl you talked to, the things you said, your love! Fighting is the only way you can change anything, in this world or yours! How has all your love helped this world?" The pattern on the cannon's surface begins to glow purple, and a hum fills the air. "Did it save any of those others? Is it going to stop me from killing you, right now?"

"No…" Mato doesn't flinch. "But I won't fight you."

The air seems to vibrate with Black Rock Shooter's fury. "You're dying alone, do you understand that? Alone, because you wasted your time trying to save a girl who never cared about you, because you thought you'd rather not fight in your life until your friends eventually walked right over you and left. And then they all fell to the same weakness you did, in the end. What do you think would have happened to those two pathetic girls if I hadn't killed their—"

"Don't," says Mato, her voice quiet but steady, "talk about my friends like that."

"They would have killed each other, or themselves! That's what they got for letting themselves get involved with this world. All their love and every foolish thing they hoped for in this place all came to nothing!" Black Rock Shooter readies her weapon one more time. "Just as your efforts were in vain."

Mato closes her eyes, preparing for death or whatever other void will swallow her up, but suddenly she feels something quite different form darkness. She feels…color. And it is as if something is reaching out to her in that color and light, pushing its way through some boundary to connect with her. She feels…

Don't listen to her, Mato!

She opens her eyes. "Is that really what you think?"

Black Rock Shooter's eyes widen, and she makes no response.

"Or…" Mato continues. "Are you just lying?" Slowly, Black Rock Shooter lowers the cannon, and from the expression on her face, Mato can tell she feels the same thing Mato does. "They're out there," she says, deathly quiet, watching the other girl's reaction. "Everyone you killed…tried to kill."

The sensation of color grows stronger, brighter with each passing second. As the pale girl looks up and around her, almost appearing panicked, as if she could somehow stop the threat if she could see it, Mato takes a step forward. "You're wrong." She says it with such force that Black Rock Shooter looks down at her in shock. "You're wrong…Black Rock Shooter." She does not turn her defiant stare away from the girl's face.

"You—" Black Rock Shooter begins, but Mato cuts her off. "You don't have to fight. None of you do. You say love hasn't done anything for this world?" Her voice falters once, and her eyes fill with tears, tears for the girl she lost who never really existed. "Even if I…even if I can't have it, there is love in this world. Look what love can do. Look…" Her words hitch again. "Look what a little love did."

Yellow light begins to shine somewhere high in the darkness, bathing their surroundings in a soft glow like colored sunlight.

"Love can heal you," says Mato while the light grows ever brighter. "It…it can make a crippled girl walk again."

The beams—no, the torrent of light breaks as it hits the ground, and when the great burst of illumination fades, Mato can see two girls with golden hair standing close together. Their hands are linked, the one who stands atop two powerful wheels and the one who stands on her own legs. Kagari meets Mato's gaze and nods, and Chariot raises her other arm protectively. Black Rock Shooter looks at them briefly, but quickly turns back to Mato; it is as if she can't look away. "What?" says Mato, and even as she speaks, there is a glint of green high above them. "You didn't think anything could heal the pain you've caused?" She takes a step forward.

The green light falls over them now, as in the darkness above it transforms from a glow to a tangible stream, ever descending, but something strange is happening to the ground beneath their feet. The patterns of checkerboard, before stained only with purple like the rest of the landscape, seem to have retained some of the yellow light that fell upon it. Now a few scattered squares begin to turn faintly green, too, just in time for the great stream of light—not just light, Mato knows, but the presence of another world—to reach the ground.

"Love can bring you peace," Mato whispers, unable to stop the tears from welling up. "Yomi's courage… Just look at her courage…"

Amid the dissipating green light stand Yomi and a veiled girl in a black dress, and they too hold hands. All the anger, the hatred and disdain, are gone from Dead Master's face. The way she grasps Yomi's hand is almost as though Yomi is supporting her, but they both stand tall. Yomi looks at Mato and smiles. This time Black Rock Shooter's eyes only flick over to them for an instant. Shock is written on her features. Again, Mato steps toward the black-haired girl. "If my friends get the strength to not be afraid of you from each other, then I'm not afraid of you, either."

Black Rock Shooter makes a jerky motion, as if she wants to bring her cannon up to aim at Mato but simply can't. Already the checkered squares underfoot are showing highlights of red, and the light in the sky is not far behind. Crimson and scarlet descend in a rush, a world of red merging together with the darkness and shattering it and casting everything in fiery light. Like the colors before it, it splits and flares up and fades when it reaches the ground, but it never really leaves the surroundings.

"Love can bring back the things you care about, the things you thought you'd lost." Mato is crying, but she doesn't falter. "Saya…and Saw… They care so much. They want to make this world a better place."

There appears not just Saya, hand resting on Black Gold Saw's on the hilt of that blood-red sword, but all the hooded girls raised from the wasteland by the two of them. At first they stand in a circle around the two women, as if to protect them from Black Rock Shooter—who doesn't even look now—but then Saya and Gold Saw step in front of them with fierce determination in their bearing. "If anyone believes this world can be saved…" Another step forward. "Then I won't let you tear it apart."

Now it is orange light that falls on them from above, and Mato remembers how strangely orange Yuu's eyes seemed when she came and found her. Now she understands, and as everything is bathed in the hue of a sunset, her heart goes out not just to Strength—her Yuu—but to the girl who gave her a chance to meet Mato and become best friends with her, to live without pain or fear. The new color joins the others in the tints of the checkerboard. Now, with all those hues filling it, it somehow looks like there's only one missing…

"Love can be the reason to give someone a wonderful gift," says Mato, distracted looking for the appearance of her best friend out of the light. "Even if you're apart for a long time… It can make it like you never left each other."

When Strength and Yuu become visible from their pulse of light, they aren't just holding hands. Yuu—snow-white hair and orange eyes—is clinging to Strength, the side of her head pressed close to Strength's bare chest and stomach. There are fractures in Strength's body, but with Yuu holding her tight, it doesn't look like they could possibly do her any harm. It doesn't look like anything could ever separate them. Mato takes one final step forward, and now she stands right in front of Black Rock Shooter. "If they could find each other after so long, how can I be alone?"

There is one color missing, and Mato knows it needs to be there, even though it pains her to understand what that means.

"All of them are happy together, all of them know what love is. So…" She takes a deep breath. "You're the only one left, Black Rock Shooter!"

"What?" Black Rock Shooter finally speaks, unable to put anything but surprise behind her voice.

"Even if I can't have what I wanted…" Mato feels the tears rising again when she thinks of her Rock; she forces them down. "Even I'm the only one who doesn't get to… If I'm…" She shakes herself. "I know you can change! I saw it in you! There isn't only the part of you that wants to destroy. You can't deny it."

Flashes, pieces, fragments of memories are bouncing around her mind's eye…

"There was something in you that listened to what I said! At first, you were only focused on one thing…"

She remembers when she first met Black Rock Shooter, and the girl nearly looked right through her, her single-minded focus on the trail of light that led away into the horizon…

"But then you started to hear me! I know you did!"

She remembers how with each passing night, Black Rock Shooter would turn her head more and more often when Mato spoke, how the number of her seemingly disinterested glances increased each time Mato came to see her…

"And, eventually, you cared enough about the things I said that you even stopped fighting, for me!"

She remembers the look Black Rock Shooter gave her when she ran down to her in the world with the pink sky, begging her to stop what she was doing. Both the crowned girl and the veiled girl looked at her then, but there was something more in the blue eyes of Black Rock Shooter. Mato is sure of it…

"After that, I thought for sure you'd act differently. And you did…" Mato pauses, and suddenly she finds herself putting words to a nameless doubt she's carried since a night that seems long ago. "But…then there were times when you weren't…you."

She remembers the violent flame that burned over one eye, when she awoke in the gray wasteland and found the other girl had moved away from her. The flame was blue, but the eye beneath it… The eye wasn't.

"So there is a good part of you," Mato whispers, and for the first time her gaze has left the purple-eyed girl's face, as she stares in wonder at no one thing in particular. "And that part of you did care about what I said." She is telling herself as much as she is the other girl. "And she…she cared about me."

The girl who started out indifferent to Mato's presence, yet who felt something strong enough to let Mato travel alongside her. Anyone else she would have attacked, but with Mato, the thought never even crossed her mind. And the more Mato talked to her, the more she told the girl about herself, the more the girl started to like her. Just simply like her, and that was something the girl had never felt before. She liked her so much that she started to listen to what she said and trust her, and when she did what Mato asked and saw the results of those very different actions, she liked her even more. And eventually, when she saw just how much Mato liked her, and how determined Mato was to help this silent girl form another world whom she barely knew, she fell in love with her.

She remembers resting her head on Black Rock Shooter's shoulder. She almost remembers the other girl learning against her and, just before she drifted off to sleep, brushing a shy kiss over her hair. She doesn't remember anything after that, yet… Black Rock Shooter stayed there while Mato slept, Mato who she loved and admired and wanted to protect so much. She brushed the girl's dark hair and wished with all her heart…

"Ridiculous!" The girl in the black and purple armor's shout is tinged with hysteria. "None of this means anything! I'll destroy every one of these weak souls, and I'll start with you! I'll kill you!" Appearing to make a tremendous effort, she finally brings the cannon to bear, its barrel dead on Mato once again.

"You won't." Wiping the last teardrops from the corners of her eyes, Mato smiles briefly. "I'll fight…and I'll win."

"See?" screams the violet-eyed demon. "You admit it! You will fight! It's the only way you can resolve your differences with anyone, after all! You will fight, fight whoever you have to! You'll fight everyone who stands in your way!"

"No." Mato shakes her head once before locking her eyes with the other girl's. "Just you."

A brilliant blue glow flares to life around them, and the dim colors reflected in the checker pattern seem to leap in response, a spectrum now complete. But this time the light doesn't come from above; instead it comes from Mato herself. As the azure illumination grows still brighter, Mato shouts fiercely, "Of course I can change this world!" The ground begins to shake. "You—just—watch me!"

The purple-eyed girl's screams are lost in the growing roar as a rainbow of colors wraps itself around Mato and the core of blue that shines from her body. "But not just me," she says, and her voices cuts easily through the noise. "Me…and you, Black Rock Shooter."

"What?" The other girl is still frozen, too scared even to shoot at Mato. She shrieks, "Why would I—"

"I wasn't talking to you," says Mato. "I was talking to Black Rock Shooter."

She holds out her hand, and moment later it is joined by another's, this one wearing a glove with a star printed on the back.

Mato looks beside her, to Black Rock Shooter, who gazes back with what Mato knows is anything but a lack of emotion. The girl's deep blue eyes lock with hers, and in a moment removed from everything going on around them, a moment in a peaceful bright blue sky, she smiles at her. And Mato smiles back, and says, "I missed you."

Together they turn to face Insane Black Rock Shooter, who has lowered her arm and is just staring, utterly still and wide-eyed. The rage has been drained from her, along with everything else, as she faces down the mouth of a cannon big enough to swallow her whole. As the titanic weapon forms, light begins to pour into it. From Saya and Black Gold Saw there is red, from Strength and Yuu there is orange, from Kagari and Chariot there is yellow, from Yomi and Dead Master there is green, and from Mato and Black Rock Shooter there is blue. From the surroundings there is even purple and every other color besides. Finally the cannon swirls with a rainbow of light that is then released, lasering forward in an instant to consume its target, who is reduced to colorless ash, then to faint dust, then nothing.

The rainbow becomes the multicolored hues of the sky above the gray world…a world ready to start anew.

Mato can't help herself. She runs to Black Rock Shooter and jumps into her arms, embracing her tightly before kissing her lips. "Rock," she murmurs. "I'm so glad you're back…" She wants to tell her a hundred things. Black Rock Shooter wraps her strong arms around Mato and hugs her back, and there is finally peace in the knowledge that Mato has reached the good part of the girl she cares about so much, and that they have all the time in the world to tell each other what they want.

But there are fractures, too, and they are spreading.

Mato doesn't even remember breaking away from Black Rock Shooter and running to her friend's side, but she will never forget how Yuu's cry fades into echoes as Strength's soul fades into light. When Mato turns, crying, to find her Rock, she sees only the ends of her twintail hair vanishing from sight as the girl turns and walks away. "Wait!" she shouts, hurt and confusion and grief, and she leaps to her feet and sprints after the other girl.

She finds her on the other side of a ridge, facing away but not moving any further into the distance. "Yuu… Strength… she…" Mato can't finish. She sinks to her knees, shaking slightly.

A hand touches her shoulder, and she looks up to find Black Rock Shooter kneeling in front of her. On her face…is a tear? But the next moment she reaches forward and encircles Mato in her arms and pulls the girl to her, holding her through her tears. They stay together for a long time, until Mato finally awakens in a dark apartment, and it is somehow only the night of the day she fell asleep beside the river colored orange.

In the weeks after, along with Yomi, Kagari, Saya, and Yuu, Mato begins putting her life back together, piece by piece. Black Rock Shooter never leaves her side, no matter which world she's in, and as the days go by, Mato lets herself open up again. She tells the blue-eyed girl about her friends, about her childhood, and about school. She tells her about everything. Black Rock Shooter doesn't talk, but with the way they link their minds, she shares just as much with Mato. It's the same between Mato and her new friends, and even the old ones, and it's the same between those friends and the certain girls in another world they like.

Mato spends more and more time in the other world, too, usually when she's asleep. It still holds painful memories of Yuu—Strength—but Mato can't run from that, and she wants to spend as much time with Black Rock Shooter as she can.

Saya's counseling sessions no longer require her to look for anything beyond one world, and when she can, she devotes that attention to Black Gold Saw and the young souls she's raising. Her thoughts are always on Yuu, who for the first time has a life with friends that is free from pain. She smiles and laughs with the rest of them and every day grows a little more accustomed to living, but she still cries whenever she thinks too much about Strength.

Kagari, wheelchair a distant memory, has stayed involved in the baking club and other school activities, but she also spends much of her time with Yomi. Chariot likewise travels around the other world, but she always returns to eat the macarons Kagari brings her. Yomi herself is busy knitting bracelets, painting, composing—creating things. Her creativity is mirrored in Dead Master, so different from once long ago, and the ruins of the other world seem to sometimes be rebuilt overnight.

All of them remain friends, and all of them are at last happy. Five girls and their other world counterparts… A rainbow of colors, even if orange is missing.

And one night, Black Rock Shooter takes Mato to the world of many colors to show her something. It's past nightfall, and the palette of bright colors that normally fills the once-cloudy sky and warms the once-gray earth has been transformed into a deep midnight blue starfield with multicolored points of light for stars. But instead of lying on their backs together and watching that night sky, as they've done before, Mato follows Black Rock Shooter until finally she sees what the girl wants her to see. Or rather, who.

"Yuu?"

A spectrum of shared identity, difference, sameness, and love; a complete rainbow.