My first fic for A/Z. No idea if I'll write any others; I need to focus on plotting and outlining for Fairy Dance of Death. But Aldnoah Zero currently owns my soul, and this is one of several pairings in this show that I like quite a lot.

Warnings: alcoholism, PTSD, partially-clothed (non-graphic) sexual situations.


A naval vessel under way never slept; in theory the same number of people should be awake at any given time as they rotated through the watch schedule. But in the dead of night, when the midwatch was on duty, things were quiet enough that the vessel could at least be said to be napping. This was especially true on the Deucalion, where the majority of the population consisted of refugees and survivors of the Martian attack on Japan, not military personnel.

For Lieutenant Kouichirou Marito, the lull of midnight was a convenient blessing—it helped him avoid disturbing others when his nightmares and panic attacks wouldn't let him sleep. He knew that his reputation as a drunkard was both self-inflicted and well-deserved, but his usual disheveled appearance and rough edges owed as much or more to the near-constant state of sleep deprivation in which he lived—deprivation which was the penance demanded by his conscience.

During the day, Marito drank to forget things best left unremembered—or at least to dull his nerves enough so that he could pretend not to care about them. At night, before bed, he drank so that he wouldn't dream. There was something about having a few shots as a nightcap, something that kept him from being able to fully submerge himself in deep, restful sleep. It was the kind of sleep that a person's body needed—but that deep sleep also brought with it dreams, and dreams turned to vivid nightmares which often wouldn't let him sleep anyway. Tonight he'd decided to try going dry before bed, just to see if maybe this time he could make it through the night.

That little experiment had ended somewhere around zero-dark-thirty as he came awake screaming, bedsheets soaked with sweat. The nightmare was still fresh in his senses; he could still smell Humeray's burning flesh mixed with the pungent stink of melted plastic and scorched silicon pouring out of the hatch of their tank, all undercut with the sharp tang of cordite from his service pistol. The pistol he'd used to—

Marito ended that train of thought there, squeezing his eyes shut and rubbing them until his temples throbbed. He'd never been able to stop these things from coming to mind unbidden, but occasionally he managed the presence of mind and willpower to stop himself from dwelling on them. The pounding of his heart in his chest began to slow a little, and slowed further still when he reached over to the bedstand and blindly closed his fingers around the flask that he knew would be there. It was a placebo effect; he hadn't even taken a drink yet—but somehow just the act of having it in his hand seemed to scratch some itch inside him, reassuring him that oblivion was within his grasp if he decided to seek it out.

He didn't—not yet. The previous day's clothes were still lying at the foot of the bed where he'd dropped them; he donned them with slowly-fading grogginess and decided to take a walk. The flask of alcohol didn't leave his grip until he had to transfer it from one hand to the other in order to slip on his shirt, but even that became awkward enough that he just stuffed it in the back pocket of his pants.

The Deucalion was vast enough that even during peak daylight hours when all of the civilians were awake, a person could walk from one end of the ship and back without encountering one of the skeleton crew who had piloted it out of Tanegashima. Here in the midwatch, it might as well have been a ghost vessel. Marito walked the near-silent corridors without aim or destination, losing himself in the rhythmic humming of the ship's ventilation system and the much lower rumble of the Aldnoah drive that kept the battleship in the sky.

Aldnoah. He shook his head. What little they knew about the technology in this flying battleship went a long way to explaining why his men had been wiped out at Tanegashima fifteen years ago, and why the military had put such a tight lid on the report he'd written about that debacle. Even if we'd had our own Kataphrakts back then, we were still so hopelessly, obscenely outclassed that the outcome would've been the same. But if we'd had our own Aldnoah… if we'd somehow found a way to make it work without some Martian royalty standing there… well then.

The thought made his fist clench. He wanted another shot at them, wanted payback for his buddy and everyone else who had died. For everything that had been wreaked upon Earth in the Heaven's Fall incident. He wanted a second chance to redeem himself. But the last time he'd tried to go out in a Kat with the others, the ensuing panic attack had crippled him so badly that he hadn't even been able to clear the hangar. Instead, my kids—my students—ended up going out there and doing the job I couldn't do. As their drill instructor, I should probably be proud of them… but I have a feeling Inaho would've been exceptional regardless of what I did or didn't teach him.

And in the end, I can't take pride in teaching them just enough to go out and get themselves killed. Too many of them already have.

That line of thought was another rabbit hole into which he tried not to dive too deeply. It was also one that made him itch for a drink, and his hand was halfway to the flask in his hip pocket before he stopped himself. No… let's see how long I can go tonight.

It wasn't intent that brought him eventually to the hangar bay where the Kat trainer was set up, but the disabled mech wasn't an unwelcome sight either. Looking up at the decommissioned KG-7 Areion, Marito could at least content himself with the fantasy of getting over his PTSD enough to take to the battlefield again, supporting the others in what was probably a hopeless fight—perhaps even being able to trade his life for one of theirs.

He grinned suddenly, although there wasn't any real amusement in it. Hell, there's no one here right now; maybe a few rounds in the sim will loosen me up and get me acclimated to it. If I came here during the day, Yuki—Warrant Officer Kaizuka—would insist on running me through it. I'd never live it down.

The simulator wasn't difficult to operate; the pad that ran it remotely was still docked at the observation station, and it didn't take long for him to figure out how to launch a basic training exercise. We'll start simple, he thought as he tucked the tablet under his arm and climbed the gantry to the Kataphrakt's entry hatch. Just a 1v1 against a computer-controlled KG-7.

The hatch closed behind him, sealing off the floodlights of the hangar and illuminating him in the greenish glow of his instruments. Compared to the Type 10 Main Battle Tank that he'd driven during the war, the cockpit of a Kataphrakt was almost offensively roomy—he could stretch his arms out completely in either direction, and while all of the instruments were within reach, there was still room to spare where the non-touch-enabled display screens scaled the walls of the cabin. And unlike the Type 10, the clearance above his head didn't make him feel like he was going to get a concussion if he nodded without opening the hatch first.

See? It's not a tank. It's not even real. You can do this. And once you can do this, you'll be able to do it for real as well.

He tapped at the tablet's screen to start the simulation, then set it down on the floor to one side and cracked his knuckles. "All right, punk, it's showtime. Let's see what you've got." His left hand settled on its control stick. He reached out for the right, heart pounding with excitement—

A wave of dizziness hit him, along with the spike of adrenaline accompanying a fight-or-flight reaction. The Kataphrakt's forward display swam in his eyes. He could feel his heart trying to drum its way out of his chest, and a muscle spasm rippled down his right arm every time he tried to close that hand around the control stick. The motion of doing so was so similar to the motion of gripping a gun, and something within him wouldn't even let his finger near the button for the mech's trigger finger. It had become a trigger of an entirely different sort—one which set off the panic that was never far from the surface.

Damnit, not again! Knowing full well that it was futile, Marito tried to force the motion—tried to will his hand to close, his arm to stop trembling. His breath came in short gasps, and his vision was so blurry that he couldn't even tell if he was looking at the display screen any more, hunching over and pleading inwardly for the panic attack to pass. He could hear the sounds of battle in the simulator, and periodically the frame of the trainer would shudder slightly in order to signify a hit, but these things were very distant now.

The simulation came to an end with the destruction of his Kat, the simulated enemy tearing him to pieces while he was incapacitated in reality. He barely noticed; his body was trying to curl itself into a fetal position in the pilot's seat, hands folded into inarticulate claws. Tears poured down his face in hot rivers, obscuring his vision even when he opened his eyes.

Why? This isn't even a real combat situation; it's just a goddamn simulation! Why can't I do this, even in here? Even now, in the dead of night, with no one around for me to hurt!

The sound of the cockpit comm crackling to life was sudden and unexpected enough to jar him out of the vicious mental spiral. Even through the haze of panic and the distortion of the transmission, he recognized the voice. "Is someone in there?"

Kaizuka! Marito cursed inwardly. Half the point of doing this now, in the middle of the night, was to try using the simulator without her being there—without having to expose even more of his shame to the young woman with whom he worked. The one saving grace was that at least with the simulator's control tablet in here with him, she wouldn't be able to see him in his current state. He tried to answer, to say something that would satisfy her and make her go away, but all that came out was a weak croak—as if he'd lost his words or his voice entirely.

"I didn't copy that—who is this? No one's authorized to use the simulator right now!"

Another croak was his only answer, this one a little louder and more closely resembling an attempt at words. The pace of his heartbeat was starting to slow a little now that the triggers were gone, but this attack had been particularly bad—it still lingered with him, fading only gradually and leaving him feeling numb and incoherent. He desperately wanted a drink, but the flask was in his back pocket and he was sitting on it.

He must have been unresponsive for some time; the next thing he heard was the sound of the Kataphrakt's hatches parting and lifting out of the way, light from the hangar spilling into the dim interior of the mech and assaulting his eyes. The backlighting made it hard to see Kaizuka's expression as she leaned over and peeked into the cockpit, but the surprise on her face and in her tone was plain. "Lieutenant Marito!" she said. "You're the last person I expected to… what's wrong?"

Tear-streaked face burning with humiliation, Marito leaned back and looked up at his subordinate instructor, trying on a weak smile that he imagined must look ghastly. "It isn't like I'm unauthorized or anything, Warrant Officer Kaizuka," he said, evading the question. "I've got as much right as anyone to be here, don't I?"

"I wasn't questioning your right to be here, Lieutenant," Kaizuka said as she leaned further over the edge of the hatch and peered inwards, dark hair falling forward and shadowing her face. "I was just surprised is all. You could've come by anytime during the day and I would've helped set you up."

What if I didn't want your help? he thought. In lieu of those words, which would probably be needlessly hurtful, he instead turned her question around. "Why are you here in the dead of night, Kaizuka?"

"Me? I..." She leaned an elbow on the rubber seal at the lip of the hatch, resting her chin in her palm and looking away slightly. "I'm too on edge. I couldn't sleep."

"That's a switch."

The young woman glanced down at him and gave him a look that was one part reprimand, two parts pout. "Oh, hush. I mean, uh… with all due respect, sir, that's not fair."

The back-and-forth banter, strained through it might be, was helping ease Marito back to a sense of normalcy; he could no longer hear his pulse in his ears, and the cold burn of adrenaline was fading and leaving him with an empty void that begged to be filled with liquid courage. "Easy, Kaizuka, I was just giving you shit. I couldn't sleep either, so I thought maybe if I came and got some sim time, it'd help with… whatever's holding me back."

A deep silence came and passed before either of them said anything more. Kaizuka's voice was quieter now, and no longer echoed from the walls of the hangar. "It didn't work, did it?"

Marito snorted. "Nothing ever does. The only solution is the one that's 70-proof."

Kaizuka made a small, noncommittal sound of disapproval, but that was as far as it went. Marito was grateful for her restraint. He was used to being pitied or held in contempt, but one of the reasons he liked the young Warrant Officer was that he saw neither in her eyes whenever she looked at him. Which only made it that much harder to be seen in this kind of state—bleary, bloodshot eyes, yesterday's wrinkled clothes, and the stink of fear sweat that would probably linger in the cockpit all day. At least his breath wouldn't be stinking of booze right now, as much as he wanted a drink.

"That's not the only solution to your problems, you know."

"Isn't it?" Marito was still struggling a little with the sense of disorientation that followed a particularly bad panic attack; his hand fumbled at the side of the pilot's seat until he found the lever that released the seat back, allowing him to recline the seat and not have to crane his neck so much in order to look up at Kaizuka. A little more comfortable now, he laced his fingers behind his head. "Have you got a different one for me?"

Kaizuka hesitated. "Not really," she admitted. "But there has to be something better than drinking yourself stupid all the time. Especially now that we're at war—it sets a bad example for the students."

"Right, right," he said, eyes drifting closed. "You'll forgive me if I'm not all gung-ho about inspiring those kids to go out and get themselves killed. Maybe it's better if they take a good long look at what's left when you survive a war."

"I don't think you're giving them enough credit, Lieutenant," Kaizuka said. "These aren't green cadets any more. They've fought—in both winning and losing battles. Some of them have bled. And some of them have died."

"Died because of what we trained them to do."

"No," she said firmly. "They died despite the training we gave them. But the others… they keep fighting anyway, because that's what they have to do."

"And in fifteen, twenty years?" Marito's eyes opened once more, and immediately locked on hers. "I'm old, Kaizuka. An old soldier who's seen what I have is just an empty shell to hang decorations on and fool the next generation into following in their footsteps. The kids that live through all this—if any of them do—they'll be scarred like me. Full of memories they don't want, things they can't forget that stain everything else in their lives. I don't want that for them."

There was another pause. "You really do care about them, don't you Lieutenant?"

Marito's gaze unfocused slightly, and he too waited a moment before replying. "Goddamn right I do. And it completely fucking kills me, sending them out there with half-assed training and Kats that might as well be toys when they go up against the monsters those Martians are driving." His fingers clenched tightly around the arm rest of the pilot's seat before relaxing again. "And if I wasn't so damn useless, I'd at least be able to go out there and die with them."

"Stop that," Kaizuka said sharply.

Marito blinked owlishly up at her, confused. "Stop what?"

"Calling yourself useless… sir. Tearing yourself down like that. I hate it when you do that."

The only sound then was the steady hum of the Kataphrakt's electronics. "Sorry," he mumbled at last, sounding more like a contrite child than a man three ranks and more than a decade her senior. He shifted in his seat, planting his palms on the arm rests and trying to push himself upright. The cockpit wasn't exactly cramped, but his position was prone enough and his level of weariness high enough that the exercise was more difficult than it ought to have been. He glanced down at the side of the pilot's seat and pulled at the release, but the back wouldn't incline with his weight on it. Sighing in exasperation with himself, he stretched one arm upwards. "Gimme a hand?"

Thankfully, Kaizuka refrained from any urge she might've had to roll her eyes at him. He could hear her scrabbling on the hull as she tried to get to a position of good leverage, leaning into the cockpit and reaching out with a slender arm far enough for them to clasp each other's wrists. "I can't pull your full weight out," she warned him. "Just get you upright enough to do it yourself."

"Fair enough," he said. "On three."

"Alright," Kaizuka said. "One… two… threeyaaaaa!"

It had been a straightforward plan, and Marito wasn't sure what had gone wrong with it. They had firm grips on each other's wrists, he was fully prepared to push off the seat and get himself moving, and from what he'd seen she had been braced securely against the hatch. But when she spoke the word "three" and he gave the lunge all the effort he could muster, what he ended up with was a dizzying blow to the head and a soft but incredibly discomfiting weight landing on him head-first in a tangle of arms and legs. As Kaizuka flailed for balance and purchase, it occurred to him that the hammer that had hit him in the head had probably been the robotic brace on her injured left arm.

"What the hell, Marito?" Kaizuka yelped from her doubled-over position, twisting and squirming in an undignified way while she tried to right herself without kicking any essential equipment. "You said you were going on three!"

"I did!" he protested, uncomfortably aware of her sudden nearness and the weight that pressed against him while she squirmed. He tried to reposition himself so that she could free herself more easily, but only ended up making the situation worse. "One, two, and then I went on three; that's how it works!"

"It's one, two, three, then go!" A stray elbow caught him in the chin; thankfully it had not been the augmented one this time, or else he might've ended up with a broken jaw.

"Ow! No, when you say you're going on three, you go on three, as in one, two, then three-go!"

Both of them stopped suddenly, freezing in place and looking at each other across a span that was measured in centimeters. Petite though Kaizuka was, there was just barely enough room in the cockpit for her to carefully maneuver, and she was effectively sitting in his lap now, legs hanging across one of the arm rests and narrowly managing to avoid the bank of sensor controls on that side of the cockpit. The absurdity of the situation and the simple miscommunication that had caused it seemed to break some of the tension, and soon enough both of them began to dissolve into nervous laughter.

"If the kids saw this…" Marito began.

"Oh god," Kaizuka said. "Don't even say that. We'd never regain their respect if any of them saw us like this. My brother wouldn't make a huge deal out of it, but Inko or Calm..."

"Or the Captain," Marito offered.

Kaizuka groaned. "Even worse."

Marito didn't reply right away. Kaizuka's weight on him was no longer distributed in uncomfortable ways; only the metal of the flask in his hip pocket was still making a nuisance of itself, trapped between him and the seat. "You're still sitting on me," he said lamely, unsure of how else to point out the obvious.

Kaizuka raised her eyes to the open hatch above, then looked back down around the cabin. "This is a bit awkward," she admitted, although she didn't make any further attempt to extricate herself.

"For both of us," Marito said with a laugh. It had been a long time—a truly, terribly long time—since he'd been this close to a woman, and that physical closeness and pressure was starting to have an entirely involuntary effect on him. He glanced down briefly, then away at one of the display screens, embarrassed. "Sorry."

It didn't take her long to notice, or to realize what he meant by his apology. A blush rose hotly on the pale skin of her cheeks. "It-it's not your fault," she said quickly. She nibbled on her lower lip, looking away when his eyes returned to her. "Marito... " She trailed off at the end of his name, as if she'd started a sentence she wasn't sure how to finish.

Marito wasn't sure how to finish it either—mostly because he had no idea what it was that she'd wanted to say. She had to know what this was doing to him, and she was obviously just as embarrassed by the situation as he was, so why wasn't she making a renewed effort to get out of the Kat? "Kaizuka, I—"

Their faces weren't so very far apart to begin with; she hadn't had to move much. A moment and a sudden twist in her sitting position were all it took for her lips to close on his, the impulsive motion silencing him as much from shock as from the interruption of his words. It took him several seconds to really process what was happening, that the meeting of their lips was actually her willfully kissing him rather than another unintended side effect of their entanglement.

Countless thoughts paraded through Marito's head in those moments while he adjusted to what felt like a sudden, abrupt change—thoughts which dramatically conflicted with one another and warred for dominance. It wasn't that he'd never had any impure thoughts about his smart, pretty subordinate before. But that was precisely the problem—he was her superior officer, and even if he hadn't felt wrong about making any moves on her, it still would've been forbidden from an ethical and professional standpoint. He might not have much pride as a soldier or a man, but he at least had that much. It didn't help that he was probably twice her age—he didn't know, not exactly, but he didn't think she was that much older than her brother; early 20s, maybe. What could she possibly see in him—in a broken old soldier who couldn't give her anything but the weight of his own past?

He still didn't know the answer to that question, and it was going to bug him until he did. But as his mouth opened to hers and their kiss deepened, fingers beginning to tangle in each other's hair, the abstract question began to matter a lot less than the reality of what was happening right now. There was a heady immediacy to the softness of her lips and tongue, and to the increasingly needful way that she ground her hips against his lap—sensations that almost entirely drove out irrelevant trains of thought and left him with only a bittersweet blend of desire and guilt.

A part of him wanted to ask—wanted to find out why she was doing this; why with him, and why now. He could've easily lifted her off of him or pushed her away, but he didn't want to. Instead he found his hands slipping underneath her uniform top and touching bare skin, drawing a sound from her that—muffled though it was by their unbroken kiss—was hard to mistake for anything other than encouragement.

Any doubt was erased moments later when she drew back just far enough to access the buttons on her shirt, forehead still pressed against his. Her motions were awkward and unpracticed, but quite deliberate.


"Yes," she said insistently, her own breaths short now. It wasn't a yes to acknowledge being addressed—there was no query in her tone. It was a yes of assent to whatever question he'd been about to ask, one which she then reinforced. "Yes. Please."

"But Kaizuka—"

Then her mouth was on his again, interrupting his protests briefly. "Yuki," she murmured against his lips. "Keigo wa mou yamete."

"Yuki," he said, accepting her desire to shed formality given the circumstances, and interspersing every few words of his reply with another kiss. "It's not that I don't want to… I mean… I'm flattered as hell, but…"

Yuki sat up a little straighter, this time pulling back far enough to look him in the eyes. Her face was flushed red, as was her upper chest where it showed through her unbuttoned uniform blouse. Her mouth was parted slightly as she regarded him, catching her breath. "We, ah…" She licked her lips slightly, swallowing. "We could probably get in a lot of trouble for this."

"Yeah," he said. "No, I mean, screw that, that's not what I… it's not like anyone has to know. It's just…" He coughed meaningfully. "My flask is in my back pocket. It's kinda digging into my ass."

Now she did roll her eyes. "You and your booze," she said, sniffing. "Speaking of which… I didn't smell… taste any on you."

"Yeah," he said. "Not tonight, anyway."

"It was… it was kind of nice."

This time when Yuki leaned in, there was less urgency—but the slow, measured way she brought her lips to his somehow managed to make the kiss that resulted even hungrier. Marito managed to lean to the side long enough to retrieve the metal flask from the offending hip pocket, and drop it to one side of the chair.

When they broke again, she sat up and braced herself so that she could carefully raise one leg, lifting it just enough to get it up and over the back of his seat so that she ended up straddling him. The process of doing so gave Marito a show that he never imagined he'd see, and when she noticed him looking, her face became—if possible—even redder. He half-expected her to slap him, but she just continued to blush.

He was baffled. "I can't believe you're getting shy about me seeing your pantsu, after all..." He waved at the air, trying to indicate the whole situation. "This."

"I'm not shy," she said. "I'm just…" She trailed off, eyes downcast.

"Hey," he said, suddenly a little uneasy. "Are you sure about this?"

For someone who'd just gotten done protesting that they weren't being shy, the smile she gave him then was the very picture of it. "I'm okay," she said. As if to reassure him that she meant it, she slowly leaned forward and engaged him in a kiss again, the new position making the whole exercise require far less twisting and discomfort.

Her weight on top of him was a pleasant one, now. As their tongues danced she began to rock her hips, grinding against the outside of his pants in a way that for him was maddening from all the layers of fabric that separated them, but which spurred her to moaning into his mouth. He ran his hands down her back, then let them continue down until he was squeezing her ass—a touch which only encouraged her to rock herself against him harder, her breathing now as fast as his had been during his previous panic attack.

He couldn't stop there—he wanted to touch her everywhere, wanted to let his hands wander anywhere that they could find skin. More than anything he wanted all of these infuriating clothes to be gone so that he could be inside her. He wanted to completely lose himself in this moment, in her, lest it never happen again. As his fingers slipped beneath her waistband, Yuki reached down and hiked up her pencil skirt, getting it out of the way before pressing back against him harder. She molded her chest to his and buried her face in his neck as her movements became more and more frantic, her moaning more throaty.

"Yuki," he gasped, fingers digging into the skin of her thighs as she started to shudder. "I want—"

Yuki cried out suddenly, fingers gripping his arms with white knuckles while she thrashed atop him. There was nothing intelligible in her wordless cries, and the only thing that seemed capable of stopping them or the tremors they accompanied was the sudden sound of explosions that boomed out over the cabin speakers, startling them both out of the moment and causing even Marito to yell suddenly.

"The hell—!"

Her own response wasn't even that coherent. "Wha… wh-what… wha…"

Another explosion sounded off in time with the vibration of the trainer, and the flash of light that lit up the main screen was impossible to miss this time. As the truth began to sink in they both stared at the simulation's newly-rendered ending screen, then looked at each other.

"It, um…"

He finished her sentence for her. "It restarted." He glanced down at where her right leg was draped, and then laughed weakly. "You um… you restarted it."

Yuki's look was blank at first, but then she followed his gaze and stared down at the bare skin of her leg where it pressed against the armrest of the chair—an armrest studded with the Kat's controls. Then she seemed to take in her own appearance as a whole: uniform blouse completely unbuttoned and bra pushed out of place, skirt hiked up around her waist, the state of her panties…

Yuki suddenly wrapped her arms around both sides, trying to get herself back into her bra and work the buttons of her shirt with trembling fingers. "Oh my God. The hatch was open."

None of this gave Marito the impression that the torturous pressure he was feeling now was likely to be relieved anytime soon. He looked around at the cockpit walls, at the instrument panels that would have to be individually checked to make sure none of them had been nudged into a strange setting by the last few minutes of surreality. An awareness of just how easily anyone could come walking into the hangar began to penetrate, along with the realization of just how inconvenient and uncomfortable it would be to try to go any further with this tryst here in the enclosed cabin of a Kataphrakt. God, what if one of the kids had come walking in? "I don't think this is going to work," he said.

"This, here and now?" she asked, making an encompassing gesture. "Or this… us? At all?"

A pause. "I don't know," he said. "Definitely not here and now. After this… I dunno. I gotta get my head on a bit straighter." And do I ever need a drink now.

She might as well have read his mind. "Getting drunk isn't going to help you do that."

Marito closed his eyes briefly. "I know," he said. And he did. For all of his flippancy about his addiction, he wasn't blind to it—he just didn't care.

That thought stopped him, made him reconsider. Don't I? He wasn't really sure. He wasn't even sure where the idea came from. He didn't really care what the alcohol was doing to him—not really. Not for his own sake. But if there was anyone who could make him care, it was her.

"A week," he said suddenly.

Yuki looked confused. "I don't understand."

"Give me a week," he said, reaching up and brushing his fingers absently through her long, disarrayed black hair. "If I'm still sober by then… I'll come say hi. It's not like I'll have to go far."

She looked back at him intensely, eyes searching for something. "And if you're not?"

He couldn't meet her gaze as he answered. "Then I don't deserve you."

When she didn't answer, he raised his eyes again and saw that same intense, unwavering stare. "What?" he said.

"That's not how it works," she replied.

"What do you mean?"

"How long have I known you?"

He honestly couldn't remember, and it shamed him. "A long time," he said. "Years."

"How long have you been drinking?"

He laughed. "Longer than you've been driving."

She swatted him in the arm; thankfully it wasn't with her left. "It's not conditional, you know. It's not like, if you change this thing about you, then I… I can like you. It's not like anyone doesn't know you're an alcoholic. And I know you went through some terrible things."

"And you're okay with that?"

"No," she said. "I don't like it at all. I hate it when you talk down about yourself, or don't take care of yourself. And I really don't like how much you drink."

Marito nodded. "That's what I thought. That's why—"

"But it doesn't change how I feel," Yuki said. "So if you're going to go on the wagon… if you're going to start taking better care of yourself... do it for yourself. Not me."

"What if that's not enough?" Marito asked, although he thought he knew the answer. "What if my own sake isn't enough for me to do something—what if I care more about others than I do about myself?"

"Then maybe you should try letting go of whatever makes you hate yourself so much that you don't care if you destroy yourself," she said. "Maybe you should learn to love yourself before you try loving someone else."

While he looked on wordlessly, she pushed herself upright enough to stretch and reach the lip of the open hatch, freeing one hand long enough to smooth down her skirt. "Still need a hand climbing out of here, Lieutenant?"

"I'm good," Marito said, leaning back against the headrest again. "I think I'm just going to take a nap here before heading back to my bunk."

Kaizuka nodded once, her expression unreadable. "Don't oversleep," she said. "First sim class is at oh-nine-hundred."

Marito closed his eyes, and was asleep before her footsteps had stopped ringing out on the gantry.