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Tsugumi of the Graceful Feather

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I’m Hazawa Tsugumi, an average 16 year old high school student in her second year with a perfectly average life. I play the keyboard in a garage band with my childhood friends, my hobbies include baking, shoujo manga and astrology. I suppose I sometimes overwork myself or take on too many responsibilities at once, but in the end I make it out fine, as any average girl would.

Today was the day where that all changed.


 

It's a calm and warm summer day, an average day in June if you will. I'm delivering schedules to various clubs that had submitted requests to the student council in order to use the auditorium during the upcoming festival. The last schedule to be delivered is for the Drama Club, who fittingly have practice in that very same auditorium this very day.

“Ah, if it isn’t Tsugumi-chan.”

“Kaoru-senpai, good afternoon!”

My upperclassman and starlet of the Drama Club, as well as all of Haneoka Girls' High School, Seta Kaoru greets me at the door to the auditorium’s backstage area. It seems my arrival interrupted a conversation she was having with another student, a first year going by her uniform, though I'm ashamed to admit I've not yet committed her name to memory.

“What gives the Drama Club the honor of seeing your pretty face today?”

“Student council business, I’m delivering your schedule for the festival. Is the president present?”

“She and Maya-chan were moving some old props back into storage, they shouldn’t be hard to find.”

“Then I won’t disturb the two of you any further.”

I make my way towards the storage room to find the club president. Despite not being a member of the Drama Club, I know my way around their facilities like the back of my hand. I had helped out with a few productions they put on during my first year, including even playing a smaller role in their very successful production of Romeo and Juliet.

The storage room is large, befitting the school’s strong reputation when it came to its stage productions. The lights are off and from the doorway I can’t spot the president or Maya, the student Kaoru had said she was here with. Not wanting to risk messing up the structured mess of the room, I decide to just call out for them.

“Excuse me? President Tenoh-san?” I call out.

No response.

“It’s Hazawa-san from the student council. Are you in here?”

Still nothing. I decide to turn around and return to the backstage area, maybe I had somehow missed them while passing through. However, as I’m about to close the door shut I hear something from deeper within the storage room. I push the door back up and look back in, turning on the lights.

“Tenoh-san? Yamato-san?”

The light doesn’t help much with the packed shelves blocking my sight of the room, so I decide to step inside and take a better look around. Perhaps my mind was playing tricks on me but I could have sworn I heard something, even if I can’t really describe what it might be.

Moving through the aisles I can see that props from the most recent production had indeed been returned. If the two weren't here they at least had been just before I arrived. I continue moving further back into the storage room, maybe they were looking for something and didn’t hear me calling for them?

The perfect silence started to grow somewhat eerie. I realized that if the two actually were here rummaging through props then I should be able to hear something. As I reach the back of the room I breathe a deep sigh. There’s no one here and there’s nothing making any kind of sound whatsoever.

Suddenly I’m startled by a vibrating sensation and buzzing noise cutting through the silence from right next to me. As I’m catching my breath I realize it’s just my phone, I’ve got a message.

Tsugumi-san, do you have practice today or can I meet you at your place?

The text is from Hikawa Sayo. My girlfriend, I think. We never really made it official or anything, but we sort-of started going out late last year. She started coming to my place to get a break from her twin sister, Hina, who had a tendency to overwhelm her. I begin making my way back as I type out a reply.

No practice today. You can come over~♥

Locking the door behind me and checking the time I realize that it’s nearly five. While school faculties doesn’t have to be vacated until six, most clubs close up with an hour to spare. I accept that I’ve likely missed my chance to catch the president of the Drama Club and start heading back out.

As I make it to the courtyard I can spot my friends from the band are all waiting for me by the gate. I greet them and we all start heading back home together. Same as always, a perfectly average end to the mostly average school day.

“Hey Tsugu, are you meeting up with Hikawa-san again today? I recognize that smile.”

Uehara Himari gleefully question me about mine and Sayo’s relationship whenever she can, she’s always been weak for romance talk, despite having no experience of her own with relationships. Her experience with the bass is something worthy of bragging rights however.

“Himari! Let the girl breathe and have some privacy.”

The feisty redhead coming to my defense is Udagawa Tomoe, the kind of girl any girl who likes girls would fall for if she was self-confident enough to invite such things. She’s our drummer and the one who’s the closest to Himari. In fact, me and the other two always thought her and Himari would be quite a good pair.

“Oooh, I think Hiichan is jealous of Tsugu’s Tsugurific ladykiller skills.”

While her words are slightly hard to make out in between her chewing on her melon bread, Aoba Moca is the soft-spoken yet unpredictable guitarist who can’t help but poke fun at Himari’s forever alone status. She has every right to do so, however, since she was the first in our friend group to actually date someone. Well, technically she was tied with the person she dated…

“I don’t get it, so she’s seeing Roselia’s guitarist, big deal.”

Mitake Ran, our lead vocalist and Moca’s girlfriend. Always direct to the point and keeping her emotions in check. She also started an ongoing rivalry between her and the vocalist of the band that Sayo plays in, Roselia. She’s not subtle about how much it annoyed her that I wound up liking someone from that band, but it’s not like she would tell me to break things off.

“We’re not officially going out or anything.” I try to guide the conversation to a close.

“Woah, she’s your side-chick?” Moca chimed in with a smirk.

“Scandalous!” Himari looked shocked, “Tsugu would never!”

“Please calm down, that’s not what I meant. I like her and she likes me but we just haven’t actually talked about whether or not we’re… You know, a couple or not.”

The four girls looked at me with judging eyes, not saying a thing. They didn’t have to, I knew exactly what those gazes meant. As we reached the crossroads where we’d split up I felt Tomoe’s hand on my shoulder.

“Tsugu, don’t worry too much about it.”

“Tomoe is right.” Ran turned towards me. “What the two of you have is for the two of you to define, don’t let Moca’s nonsense get to you.”

“Ran, that’s rude.” Moca feigned being upset.

“Well I for one think you two make a great couple, official or not.” Himari reassured me.

We said our goodbyes and split up and it wasn’t long before I arrived back home. My family runs a small cafe out of our home, meaning the front door was primarily used for customers. As such I sneak into the small yard behind the house to use the back door. Sure enough I see her standing there by the wall, waiting for me.

Sayo is dressed in her summer uniform, its sky blue top and white skirt making her look absolutely divine, like she had descended from the clouds to greet me. She’s carefully holding on to her school bag on her shoulder while fiddling with her phone using her free hand. As I approach she moves her hand from the strap of the bags to brush her hair back behind her right ear.

Hikawa Sayo.

My Sayo.

My Sayo? I suddenly realize that I’m standing at the edge of our backyard just staring at the pretty girl in front of me while fantasizing. I flush and put my hands over my face, trying not to let Sayo see my red cheeks until I have collected myself.

“Tsugumi-san?”

She’s seen me. I put my hands down, then quickly put one back up again to wave to her. She approached me and kissed me softly on the forehead.

“Good evening.”

“Hi, Sayo-san… Good evening.”

I look up at her, seeing her smile. The most radiant smile in the world belonging to the girl I treasure the most in the world. I take her hand in mine and we head inside. My parents are busy working the counter at the cafe, so I bring myself and Sayo right to my room upstairs to not get in the way of them. At least that’s the excuse I’m using.

“You seem surprisingly tense?” Sayo asks as I drop my bag on a chair.

“It’s nothing, really. I just had a lot on my mind.”

“You too, huh?” She sits down on the side of my bed, I follow suit.

“You asked to come over rather suddenly, is everything alright?”

“Everything is fine, Tsugumi-san, I promise. I just had this sudden feeling of wanting to see you, I suppose.”

“Well, I’m glad. I wanted to see you too.”

I put my hand on hers, it’s warm and soft. The kind of hands that feel good to the touch and good to be touched by. We don’t say a word to each other for a while, instead we just share in each other’s presence. After a moment Sayo puts her arm around me and pull me in closer, close enough to where I can rest my head on her bosom and hear her heartbeat.

The rhythm of her heart is soothing and I can feel all the tension in my body disappear as I listen to it. This is where I belong, that much I know. Yet I’m afraid to ask if I may truly remain by her side like this. Someone so amazingly talented, beautiful and kind shouldn’t have to take pity on an average girl like me.

Suddenly, in between the silence of Sayo’s heartbeats, I hear something else. Something far away. Further than downstairs at the cafe, further than the yard or street outside the house, further than my ears should be able to reach. It’s a sound I can’t describe.

It’s the same thing I heard from inside the storage room.

I jerk back, nearly falling over from it all. Suddenly all the tension that I had let go returns and I stand back up. Sayo looks understandably concerned at my sudden reaction.

“Tsugumi-san, are you okay?”

“It’s that sound just now. I heard it before.”

“What sound? I didn’t hear anything.”

“I… I don’t know.” I try to calm down. “Something’s not right.”

“Please, tell me what’s wrong. Was it something I did?”

Suddenly the sound reverberate through my head once again. Like it’s calling to me, a sound no one else can hear. I can tell where it’s coming from. It’s the same place as before. I turn back to Sayo, who look understandably concerned.

“No, you didn’t do anything wrong.” My mind wanders. “It’s back at school.”

“Back at school? What are you talking about?”

“I’m sorry, I’ll be right back, I promise.”

“Where are you going? Tsugumi-san!?”

I rush back downstairs and slip into my shoes, making my way outside. I’m not even sure why I’m running, I just know I have to get back to the storage room right this moment. The fact that I just left Sayo alone at my house doesn’t even fully register in my mind, all I can think of is that sound.

The gate will close at six, I’m not even sure if I can make it in time. But I keep running. Sure enough, I arrive back at school. The guard by the gate tries to stop me as I slip in, I shout back at her that I’ll be back in a minute. I have no idea if I will however. I unlock the door to the auditorium, make my way through the backstage area, through the hallways and arrive back at the door to the storage room.

The sound is now constant, running through my head as if I had suffered sudden discombobulation from a loud deafening sound. I can only compare thanks to accidents with our sound equipment during band practice. But this is somehow much louder, much worse, and yet it doesn’t hurt or cancel out my hearing.

I switch on the lights and made my way to the back of the room once again, following the sound to where I had been startled by my phone vibrating just an hour ago. On the floor I spot the schedule I meant to give to the president of the Drama Club, I must have dropped it and not realized. I pinpoint the source of the sound, it’s at the bottom of a shelf.

I pull out a box full of props used in past productions, finding a few pieces of jewelry I recognize as part of our Romeo and Juliet production, I wore them as part of my outfit. But they’re not what the sound is coming from. I keep rummaging through the box, realizing that most of it is from that same production.

The bottom of the box is packed with two bags containing rose petals and feathers, used for the final moments as Romeo and Juliet take their lives. There’s a hole in one of the bags, the one containing feathers, but nothing else is in the box.

I start putting things back into its place, realizing that several feathers have slipped out beneath the shelf, seemingly because the box itself had a hole in the bottom as well. I start gathering them up to place them back into its proper place as well.

That’s when I find it. The source of the sound.

Among the feathers beneath the shelf is one special feather, different from the ones we used in the production. Unlike the regular feathers this one seems to be made from a different material, strange to the touch, possibly synthetic.But more important than its odd texture is what emanates from it, not just this strange sound but a yellow glow.

I pick the odd feather up, holding it in front of my face, its glow growing brighter and brighter.

Until it completely blinds me and the world around me disappears.

Chapter Text

My head is numb, like when you’re sedated at a hospital.

I’ve spent a lot of time at the hospital, more so than a girl my age should. It’s often for the same reason; collapsing from stress. Ran have called me a workaholic more than once, but I don’t think it’s accurate.

I just like helping people out.

I’m not sure where I am and I only vaguely remember what happened before this. I remember a voice and a blinding light. After that there was nothing.

Right now there was nothing.

In an attempt to open my eyes I realize that they’re already open, the pitch black void is all that surrounds me. Or at least I think it’s black, my brain is struggling to make anything out right now.

What was the voice saying?

Did I ever hear it clearly enough?

Whatever it said, whatever it was, it’s all gone now.

Silence.

I consider for a moment that this is a dream. That I collapsed as usual and whatever medication the doctor has given me is causing this strange sensation and situation.

Yet I know that’s not the case.

“Hello?” I finally decide to break the silence myself. “Is there anyone else here?”

“I am here.”

The voice from before is now clear as crystal. I hear it and I understand it, though I still can’t tell where it’s coming from. It sounds like it’s coming from everywhere at once.

“Uh, I’m Tsugumi, Hazawa Tsugumi. Wh-who are you?”

“I know who you are, Tsugumi. It’s why I called out to you.”

“Oh.” I’m not really sure what to say.

“As for your question, I do not believe a name would suffice to explain my true nature, though you may call me Grace.”

“Grace?”

“If the name isn’t to your liking, I can adjust to your preference.”

“No, it’s fine.” I don’t feel any closer to understanding what’s going on, but it seems I’m at least making some progress.

I try looking around again, hoping to see where Grace might be. I’m not any luckier this time, with the empty void still being all I can see. I look down at myself, despite the lack of light I can perfectly see my body.

I’m not wearing my school uniform.

In fact, I’m not wearing anything from what I can see.

I quickly see to covering myself, realizing as I’m doing so that there’s something odd about my body - aside from the lack of clothes. My skin is glowing, that same yellow glow I had seen before everything disappeared. Looking closer, I notice that glow envelops my entire self, not revealing anything more than my silhouette.

“Grace, can you explain to me what’s going on?”

“You heard my call and found me, so I joined with you.”

“What does that mean? Why am I naked? Why am I glowing?”

“Calm down, Tsugumi, you have no cause for panic. It simply means that we are joined as one. As for your body, you are neither naked or glowing. Your body is fully covered in your uniform back at your school right now.”

“What? But I’m here.”

“Here is not a place, it’s our minds joined as one, as I already explained.”

“You didn’t explain anything, how are we joined?”

“By magic.”

I go silent. Did I just hear they say what I think they said? Magic? I want to refute that, but how could I do so when I can’t explain what’s going on right now. I decide to accept what Grace is saying for now.

“Why did you call out to me?” I ask, trying to calm myself.

“Because you were the first person who I have been able to establish a connection with.”

“So it was just by random chance?”

“Not exactly, I have waited a long time and attempted to establish a connection with other girls from your school, but none of them have had the latent ability to hear me.”

“Latent ability? Are you saying I’m special?”

“By what you and your fellow humans perceive as normal, yes.”

“This is nonsense… I’m not special, I’m anything but that.” I stand back up, “I’m as average as you can get. Nothing has ever stood out about me.”

“I’m afraid I can’t explain it in any other way. You could hear me, so I called for you.”

“Where are you, anyway?”

“I already told you, we are joined as one. I am where you are.”

“And now what? You must have had a reason for wanting to establish a connection with someone, right?”

Yes and I am glad you finally asked. I needed to establish a connection with someone to pass on my knowledge of magic and provide the assistance and magic potency needed for you to protect the life on this planet from the ongoing threats it face-”

“Hold on, slow down for a moment, please.”

“I’m sorry.”

“You want me to do what? Protect the planet? This is all so much to take in, I’ve never fought anyone before, let alone planetary threats. I’m a perfectly average girl, at most I try to stop a food fight in the cafeteria. I can’t be who you’re looking for.”

“I just like helping people out.” says Grace.

“What was that?”

“It’s something you thought earlier, is it not?”

“You can read my thoughts too!?”

“Only when we’re here. But that is what you thought.”

“I-I suppose it is, yes.”

“I believe that reasoning might be what let me call out to you in the first place. You may be, as you put it, average. But that doesn’t mean you don’t put in an effort to always help out when you’re needed. That’s the kind of mindset that makes a hero.”

“A hero?”

“And a hero is what I have been waiting for all this time.”

“...”

I’m not entirely sure why, but after hearing Grace’s words I can feel my head clear up for the first time since coming here. They might be talking about stuff I could never have imagined were real and a responsibility far greater than I expect possible… But I want to do it.

“I accept.” I take a deep breath, “If you will guide me, I will do my best and become this hero you’ve searched for.”

“I’m glad. I shall return your consciousness to your body.”

“Thank you.”

The pitch black void of nothing shines a bright yellow as I’m once again blinded, becoming one with its glow. Seconds later I’m back to where I was before all this, sitting down on the floor of the theater club’s storage room.

I stand back up, realizing I’m still holding the strange feather in my hand.

“Grace?” I ask, instinctively.

“Yes, Tsugumi?” their voice echo from the feather.

“I’m just making sure everything that just happened really happened.”

“It did, you can speak to me like this whenever we are nearby.”

“That’s useful, I suppose. I guess I should be getting back to…” I stop myself. “Sayo.”

I quickly check my pocket for my phone, fishing it up and looking at the screen.

23:08
Sayo: (43 new messages)
Mom: (15 new messages)
8 missed calls

“Oh no.”

Chapter Text

The moment I arrived back home I was in for a lecture. My parents weren’t the kind to yell or say degrading things when they were angry, instead they showed deep disappointment. In a way I felt that might be worse than the alternative, since it made me feel like I couldn’t defend myself.

Of course, this time I didn’t exactly have a good excuse to defend myself in the first place. I had told them that I forgot my phone at school and rushed to get it back but got locked in when the gate closed. It was a blatant lie, but they seemed to have bought it, though they noted that it was surprisingly careless of me.

Lying to my parents hurts, but it’s not like I have much of a choice right now. On the other hand, lying to Sayo is something I never want to do. She hugged me when I returned home before leaving me to my parents and waiting upstairs in my room. She told me she was glad to see me safe.

I take a deep breath before I put my hand on the handle on my door, I’ve never felt anxious about entering my own room before, but right now I feel like a branch that could snap from just a small breeze.

“Tsugumi?” Grace’s voice echoes in my mind, speaking from my pocket, “Are you okay?”

“I’m fine, I just need to figure out what to say.”

“If privacy is a concern I can leave momentarily, just touch my vessel and call for me when you need me.”

“Thanks.”

I suppose I’m relieved they won’t be spying on me and Sayo, though that means they definitely saw what went down with my parents. Everything that had happened tonight had jumbled my brain into a ball of yarn with no clear end in sight.

I open the door as step inside.

“Tsugumi-san.” she sits on my bed, smiling as I enter.

“Sayo-san…” I brush my hair back with my hand, “I’m sorry for making you worry.”

I sit down next to her and lean my head on her shoulder. She’s warm. The warmest and kindest person in the world. I could spend an eternity like this, forgetting the world and just exist together with her.

“Do you want to talk about it?” she puts her arm around me.

“I’m not sure what it even is, to be perfectly honest.”

“You said something was wrong, something at your school.”

“Well…” I play back the events of the evening in my head, “You’d think I’ve lost my mind if I told you.”

“That’s not true.” she turned me around so she could see my face, “I assure you, after growing up around Hina, nothing you say will make me think that… Probably.”

“Okay.” I take another deep breath, “I heard a voice in my head calling out to me.”

“A voice?”

“It seemed to be coming from someone or something at school. I had heard it earlier today as well, so I ran back to find the source of it.”

“I see.” Sayo puts her hand to her chin, “Did you find it?”

“I did.”

“And what was it?”

I brought out the feather, Grace’s body, and presented them to Sayo.

“A feather?”

“I found them in the drama club’s storage room.”

“I don’t understand.”

“One second.” I put my fingers on top of them, “Grace?”

“Hello again, Tsugumi.” their voice echoes in my mind.

Sayo doesn’t seem to hear what they’re saying, but she can clearly see the glow from their body. She looks confused and worried, very worried.

“Grace, is there a way to let others hear you?”

“If you will it, I can speak through you.”

“Tsugumi-san, what’s happening?”

“Take her hand, Tsugumi, and she will be able to hear me.”

I grab hold of Sayo’s hand, holding it gently. Hoping it will both calm her down and let her hear Grace’s voice.

“Hello, Sayo.”

“I…” Sayo’s eyes widen and her grip on my hand tightens, “I can hear it, the voice.”

“This is Grace, they’re the reason I left in a rush.”

“How is this possible?”

“The simplest explanation would be that it’s magic.”

Sayo doesn’t say a word in response, she looks like she’s questioning her entire worldview. I suppose that’s only natural in the case of something like this. I’m sure I looked the same when I first began talking to Grace as well.

“Tsugumi, shall I leave the two of you alone once more?”

“Yes, Grace, thank you.”

I put Grace’s body on my nightstand and and face Sayo again. She’s still holding onto my hand as she lies down on my bed. I join her and we both just lie together in silence for a while, looking at each other, feeling each other’s hands and waiting for one of us to break the silence.

“Sayo-san.” I cave first, “I’m sorry I left you here and I’m sorry things have gotten ...strange.”

“Strange is putting it lightly, but you don’t have to apologize. It’s clear that you had a good reason now, even if I fully can’t understand it.”

“I suppose magic isn’t exactly the first thing one thinks of when it comes to me.” I chuckle a bit, “I’m still not sure I understand it myself.”

“Tsugumi-san…” Sayo lets go of my hand and hugs me, “You’ve always been magical to me.”

Her words hit me like a wrecking ball and I feel tears welling up as I bury myself in her chest. Everything that happened this evening had been so overwhelming and it finally got to me upon hearing Sayo’s kind words. I cry, the ugliest crying I’ve ever cried, as she softly pets my head and holds me tight.

I love her so much.

I want her to know that. I try to compose myself and look up at her to tell her, but the words won’t leave my lips. I’m too scared she’ll reject me, that I’ll cross a boundary if I let her know I want us to be something official.

And as if she had read my mind, she smiles and brings my face up to hers. She kisses me, not on the forehead but on the lips. She’s even warmer than before. The kiss tastes of salt from the tears and yet it’s the greatest kiss in the history of kisses.

As the kiss ends I notice my tears have stopped, I answer Sayo’s smile and finally feel like I have the courage to utter the words I wanted to say for so long.

“I love you, Sayo.”

“I love you too, Tsugumi.”

This is all I need. To be in the arms of the girl I love and feel her love and warmth. Come morning I might have to face some unthinkable magical threat that I know nothing about, but for now, nothing can ruin this moment. Our moment.