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the words to say

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Umi fidgets as she waits outside Honoka's house. The air is cool, whipping around her coat and fluttering the leaves that have dusted the sidewalk. Beside her, Honoka's neighbors have begun to rake the autumn leaves away. Honoka had told her five more minutes!, but five more minutes to Honoka can be the equivalent to an hour. Or it can feel like one, when Umi is this nervous this morning.

Kotori had called in sick to school today, which makes this all the more terrifying. Umi wishes she was here, holding Umi's hand and smiling, telling her it'll be okay. Umi's not sure if it will be, regardless -- but it's the sound of Kotori's voice that has always soothed her. Kotori's fingers against her own, the way her eyes twinkle and crease when she tilts her head the right away.

Umi's stomach jumps at the thought of Kotori. That she's alone here makes her jump more -- this was a mistake, she shouldn't come out with it today. Even though she and Kotori had discussed for weeks, even though she had stopped by Kotori's house earlier this morning and Kotori had apologized for getting sick and Umi had said it was okay, she could do it by herself. She had told Kotori already; she couldn't let Kotori down. Umi would honestly much rather spend the day in bed next to Kotori's warmth, even if she is sick -- but she has school, and also Honoka.

Honoka comes down her front steps eventually. "Sorry I'm late!" she says cheerfully, bag swung over her shoulder. There's a piece of bread in her hands, but Umi can't even bring herself to be annoyed now.

She loves Honoka -- not in the same way that she loves Kotori, but she's still one of her favorite people, ultimately special. Honoka is bright as they begin their walk to school, chewing on the crust of her bread. Umi says, "That was more than five minutes, Honoka."

"It was like six minutes! I was close, Umi," Honoka says with a pout.

Umi rolls her eyes. It's not that she minds too terribly -- she would have rather endured the minutes, holding off ultimately this. "Honoka," she says.

"Yeah, yeah, I know I can be slow, but I was actually on time today!" Honoka keeps going. "Gosh, Umi-chan, don't you think I'm -- "

"Honoka," Umi says again. "It's okay."

Honoka blinks at her. And then a smile spreads across her face again.

"Okay!"

They walk to school, in mostly silence as Honoka is chewing on her bread and Umi is trying to think of how to bring this up. It's not often when the conversation between the two of them is limited, but unless Honoka has something interesting to say about her bread, or maybe whatever she watched on TV last night, or a new dream she had about Muse (that's all any of them dream about these days), it's Umi's responsibility to bring up what she wants to talk about.

"Um," Umi says, finally. "Honoka, there's something I have to tell you."

Honoka glances at her, piece of bread between her teeth. "Yeah?" she says around it.

Umi sighs and tugs it out of her mouth, before thrusting it back into Honoka's hands. "Don't talk while you eat," she says. "And, um."

She shuffles her feet on the ground. Honoka's not hard to talk to, usually -- but sometimes having her full attention can be a little intimidating. Scary.

"It's -- Kotori was going to tell you, too, before she got sick." Umi flinches; she hadn't meant to sound like she would blame Kotori for anything. She presses on. "But she -- and I -- Kotori, I mean, we're, um -- "

Honoka doesn't interrupt, just continues staring at Umi wide-eyed. Umi shifts under her gaze, suddenly wishing for Kotori again, her hand on Umi's back at least, preferably tangled with her own.

"Me and Kotori, we're, um, dating." Umi's face flushes as soon as she gets the last word out. "But it -- it's not like we're trying to leave you out! Of anything," she rushes to explain, jerking her eyes up to meet Honoka's, terrified. "We're just -- we feel the same way about each other, and we, um. We're not trying to leave you alone, but we -- "

"Umi-chan, what are you talking about?" Honoka cuts in. She's beaming. "That's great -- gosh, should I have seen it earlier? Should I have -- "

"No, no!" Umi rushes to say. They'd been keeping it under wraps for weeks -- honestly, it's the first time that Honoka's obliviousness actually works to her advantage.

Meanwhile, Honoka has her hand to her chin. "I should've noticed and set you two up!" she goes, snapping her fingers and frowning.

"No, it's fine," says Umi, waving her hands. "It's fine, I just -- I wanted to let you know."

Honoka glances at her. Umi's cheeks are warm, at the confession and the moment, and adds, "As our best friend."

"Well I'm glad you told me!" Honoka exclaims. Before she knows it, Umi finds herself caught up in a whirlwind of Honoka's arms, wrapping around her shoulders and neck, laughing eagerly. "You two are my favorite, this makes me so happy!"

"Um," says Umi. She's delighted by this response, but also -- "You're not going to try to sneak around and follow us on our dates, are you?"

"What? No." Honoka scoffs, unconvincingly. "Of course not."

"Honoka," Umi says sternly.

Honoka laughs again, keeping her arms around Umi's neck. She kisses Umi on the cheek and whines, "Ah, why is Kotori sick today? I need to congratulate her too! Let's stop by her house on our way to school so I can see how cute you two are!"

"We're going to be late," Umi calls, as Honoka takes off running again. Honoka laughs, not paying her any mind, down the street.

Umi runs after her. She smiles to herself, though; she doesn't mind it too terribly, with Kotori in her heart and Honoka in front of the two of them, leading the way head-on.