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Love in a New World

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"Oh, then you're just like Nono and I!"

Those words were haunting Noriko. Words she'd heard from L'arc. But those words, said with a smile, were wrong...

Kazumi and Noriko reached the room they'd be staying the night in. The door opened automatically, making a whoosh as it did. That was still gonna take getting used to for Noriko. She hadn't even figured out how she was supposed to lock doors yet, not that it mattered all that much.

The room itself felt somewhat empty. On the gray metal walls were a couple of holographic portraits. There was a dresser and lamp that seemed to be made of wood beside the bed, and a couple of potted plants in the corners of the room. Tho clearly some effort had gone into livening the room up, it was still cold and empty. It was a shame.

Then there was the bed. Just one. Singular. A double with fluffy pink blankets and matching pillows Noriko had ever seen. It looked far more comfy than the beds she'd been sleeping on before the final battle. Under any other circumstance, she would have dived right in and rolled around, happy for the opportunity to rest.

But there was just one bed.

"Strange, I wonder why there's only one bed?" Kazumi wondered aloud.

"Oh, then you're just like Nono and I!"

Noriko forced a smile. "Do you want me to ask them to give us a room with two, oneesama?"

Kazumi just smiled back at her, that dazzling smile she'd always loved, and it made Noriko's heart ache as tho it were in a vice. "It's fine, it'll be just like a sleepover. I never got to have one as a kid."

"Yeah, just like a sleepover." Noriko blinked away her tears before they could overflow.

It didn't take long for the pair set down what few things they had to their names. Most of it was gifts from L'arc anyway. A couple sets of clothing, some pajamas, toothbrushes, and even some panini sandwiches (tho Noriko had already eaten hers). Settled in, Kazumi went to take a shower and Noriko changed into her pajamas and laid down. Kazumi had offered to let Noriko join her in the shower, but right now that was a bad idea, so Noriko just made an excuse about being too tired.

Alone, listening to the sound of the shower in the other room, Noriko fought her urge to cry. She had too many tears. If she started crying now, she wasn't sure she'd ever stop.

So, with those thoughts in her head, Noriko drifted off to sleep. When she woke up, the lights were out and Kazumi was laying beside her.

"Sorry, did I wake you?" Kazumi asked, smiling. That smile of hers was dangerous. It was so pure and full of kindness.

"No, it's fine. I think I just woke up on my own." Noriko tried to match her oneesama's smile, but she knew a fake smile could never come close.

"You know, it's sad, losing everything we had before, but if I have to start again in a world like this, I'm glad it's with you, Noriko."

Not fair... It wasn't fair of Kazumi to say things like that while Noriko felt like this.

"You should stop saying things like that, oneesama. People will get the wrong idea."

"Huh? Wrong idea?" Kazumi didn't get it. Noriko expected as much.

Noriko took a deep breath and explained. "They only gave us one bed because L'arc thinks we're lovers."

Kazumi laughed as tho she couldn't possibly believe what Noriko was saying. That made it even more painful when she said, "I know I have my hair short, but I didn't know I'd get mistaken for a boy."

"L'arc and Nono were lovers. She told me while you were in the bathroom. It's normal in this world, but even before... I'd started dating Jung-Freud while you were away. She was my first girlfriend."

Kazumi's eyes went wide. "Then you're... like that?"

Why did she have to ask it like that?

Noriko shook her head. Everything was coming out now and she couldn't stop it. Her eyes stung and her vision swam as she began to cry. It was a rising tide she couldn't hold back any longer.

"Not 'like that'. I'm a lesbian. Well, close enough. And I've... I've always loved you. That's why I offered to get us a room with two beds. That's why I didn't take a shower with you. And... and..."

Everything else Noriko wanted to say disappeared. All she could do was sob. She hated herself. She knew she shouldn't have said it. She knew she'd just ruin things, but she still couldn't stop herself.

Then there was warmth. Kazumi's slender arms wrapped around her and held her tight. "I'm sorry, Noriko. I'm sorry I didn't notice. I'm sorry I took you away from Jung-Freud. I'm sorry for being so careless."

"Don't apologize!" Noriko practically yelled it. She felt so ugly right now, inside and outside. It didn't make any sense for Kazumi to be the one apologizing. "I'm the one who's weird. I'm the one who kept secrets."

Kazumi just held her tighter. "I'm an old woman now. At least, I feel like one. I'm not the same Kazumi you fell in love with, but... if you still want me to be your lover, I will."

"No! I don't want you to just be with me out of pity." It took a few tries to force these words out, between more heavy sobs and aching cries. Noriko was falling apart. Every wail that she made felt like her lungs were going to give out.

Kazumi shook her head. "No, it's not that. I'd never thought about being with a girl before, but I like you a lot. You're important to me. Before, you were second only to Kouichirou. Now, you're all that I have. I want to try loving you the way you love me."

Hearing those words, Noriko finally let herself cling to Kazumi. Clinging tightly, as tho she thought Kazumi would disappear if she didn't. This was scary, in its own way. This was hard to deal with and even a little bit painful, in its own way. But...

Noriko was happy.