all zero @isurani
Chapter 1


it's izu's voice, coming out of izu's lips, and izu's eyes looking right at him, but aruto can't move his head to look at her. even as the cold fingers find their way under his chin, as his head is gently pushed up to look her in the eyes, aruto is still limp, numb.

"you were perfect out there, ark-sama," she says, and aruto wants to protest. he isn't ark, he's human. he's aruto hiden.

but the word "human" dies on his tongue, and he lets himself go limp, her hand the only thing stopping his head from falling. the only thing stopping him from falling even further.

aruto can't leave, not even if he wants to. there's teal in her hair if he looks closely enough, but not close enough that he could reach out and hold her, so he doesn't look.

"don't cry," he hears, and if he pretends enough, it's just like izu's voice. the words themselves don't sink in until he feels the tears drip down his cheeks, until he hears his breaths begin to come out in gasps rather than the steady, controlled rhythm he's been forcing himself to use.

he's not in his own body. he's a passenger, forced to watch as it all breaks apart around him, waiting for izu to pull him out of this nightmare once more, waiting for izu to save him like she's always done.

the ark pulses, a second heartbeat.

she wipes his tears, trailing her fingers down his cheek.

"don't cry, ark-sama," she says, and aruto can't keep himself still any longer. he slumps to the ground against the cold bars, and the gray on gray on gray makes the world fill up with static.

"i'm with you. forever."

she kisses his cheek, but aruto doesn't feel it.

it doesn't hurt, being the ark.

There's red light, and then aruto feels calm. the pain was still there, the rage, the hatred, the despair, they grow louder and louder and louder until aruto could hear them more than feel them, seething around him until it was so much, too much, he has to make everyone else feel it too, they have to understand -

but it didn't hurt.

no. it was easy.

easier than anything else. easier than being ceo, easier than being president, easier than holding onto the dreams and hopes he couldn't carry anymore, easier than breaking. easier than being trampled on, easier than being torn apart over and over until all he had left was the pieces of a dream he was desperately trying to hold together, easier than smiling and working together with someone who had hated him and wanted him dead, easier than pushing fuwa-san and yaiba-san and jin all away because he could handle it, easier than seeing izu -

it was numbers, lists, data, and it was so, so, easy.

if he was hurt during it, he doesn't feel it. he doesn't have to feel it. the ark did the hard work, and all aruto had to do was fight. he couldn't completely handle it, but it didn't matter.

it doesn't hurt.

it doesn't feel bad.

it feels nice, throwing it all away. it had hurt for a moment, the ark integrating with him, and then aruto felt more at peace than he had in months.

he forgot everything else.

he forgot everyone else.

he wishes he hated it. he hates that he doesn't.

dimly, aruto realizes he's crying again. it was quiet, this time, his shaky breaths the only reason he could tell. it wasn't as if he felt the wetness on his cheeks.

"it's going to be okay," she says, and aruto knows it isn't true. but he almost wants to believe it, almost wants to use the key once more to throw away all his thoughts.

"you're going to evolve even more, ark-sama," she responds, and aruto…

aruto wants to trust her, so badly.

he doesn't know when he last spoke.

time has passed, since he started crying. aruto knows that, knows that his uneven cries had finally faded, but it still felt like evening. he doesn't feel like raising his head up to check.

his mouth opens - not that he knows why, not that he knows what to ask, just in some desperate way to make sure she was still there - but nothing comes out before a glass is pressed against his lips.

"you need to take care of yourself, ark-sama." even without looking up, he can see her smile, and it was enough that he begins to drink the water she was offering him.

soon enough, the glass was empty, and it's taken away, but aruto still reaches out. he doesn't want to look at her, doesn''t want to see the scarlet in her eyes, but he doesn't want her to leave.

"don't -" and his lips are numb, voice hoarse, as he finally raises his eyes in hopes she will still be there. "don't go."

her eyes were teal, and her highlights were teal, and if aruto doesn't look at the humagear modules it was normal, it was izu. it's a fragile dream, only saved by the blinders he was forcing on himself, and he clings to those blinders so that all he would see was her and not everything crumbling around her.

her fingers found their way to his cheeks, holding him still as he finally notices he's shaking.

"i'll never leave you, ark-sama." her smile seems like all he can see in that moment, and aruto nods, slowly.

he wonders when he had started responding to "ark-sama".

"ark-sama," she says again, and aruto meets her eyes immediately.

she smiles in a way that he would never see from her, like a sharp red line in the darkness, but he wants it more and more.

"how are you feeling?" concern seeps from her voice like honey, sticky and cloying, and aruto finds his lips moving before he even registers the question.

"it hurts," he hears himself say, "but it's better. don't leave."

his thoughts are full of 'don't leave, don't leave, don't leave,' like a mantra. he can't be alone. he can't handle being alone. he'd fall apart again, and he's just barely begun to hold himself together.

"don't you trust me, ark-sama?" a finger presses against his lips, and he realizes he was still mouthing 'don't leave'. the contact is grounding, and even as it leaves him, he feels himself talk more than just hears it.

"you won't leave me," he says at the same time she says "i won't leave you."

she looks elated at that, clapping her hands together, and aruto feels a flicker of it as well. he's doing something good, and she's happy, and he's clawing himself out of the grayness he was deteriorating in.

"exactly!" and it should be wrong that she's treating him like a child, but aruto's grateful for the reassurance. "i'll never leave you. okay?"

"you'll...never leave me." it sounds like a lie when he says it - flickers of fire and metal and farewell and it hurts too much to think about, so he says it again. "you'll never leave me."

for once, he doesn't hate it. he doesn't hate himself for smiling.

"you'll never leave me," he echoes, and he's smiling, and she grasps aruto's hands in her own. she's smiling as well, eyes scarlet, and he feels -

he feels human?

he can't put a word to it.

aruto's managing to get himself to move, now. she's pressed an energy bar into his hands, and made sure he closed his eyes for long enough, because "the body needs to recharge, right?" and he agreed without even thinking.

it's strange to look up and see the sun rising when it hadn't even set when he last saw it. as if he was finally blinking awake from a long, continuously-changing dream.

but in that dream, aruto was alone, and he isn't alone right now.

"say, ark-sama~" her voice is practically singing, as she leans on his shoulder. "you feel it, right? that malice burning within you?"

of course he does. it would only be a fire if it had room to burn, after all. if he hadn't been left alone to fall into that void of his own thoughts, it wouldn't have sparked. it would have been smothered by all those hands he had desperately wanted to reach out to him, by her smile and warmth, if he had heard someone's voice. instead it was sucking up all the air around him, fuel for the fire, fuel for the anger he could still feel.

he nods. she looks happy at that.

"that's my ark-sama. i'm so happy~" with that, she pulls out the ark-one key once more, and waves it. there's a glimmer to her gaze that unnerves aruto, but he can't turn his gaze away from her anymore.

he wonders if he ever could. if there ever was a choice to stop this. if he would ever be able to leave.

not that it mattered. he didn't want to.

"now, let's show them all. the cycle of malice continues."

aruto grasps the key as soon as she lets him.

he's supposed to hate it. he's supposed to hate himself.

the red light glows, and it's so peaceful, and it's so easy.

all he feels is the cold fire, the cold malice, and he thinks he's smiling again, even if he can't see it.

she was right. it's okay.

maybe she was always right, and he just didn't want to hear it.

there's the call of "zero-one!" from jin, and "pres!" from fuwa-san - oh, so that's who's trying to block his strikes - and he's sure yaiba-san is around here somewhere, but it doesn't matter.

there's just a target for the malice, after all, right in front of him.

everything, everyone else just feels so far away. there's a wall between them, and they're gray on gray on gray, dissolving into static.

"that's my ark-sama," he can almost hear her say.

and isn't he supposed to protest? isn't there something wrong?

but he doesn't.

the ark attacks once more.

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