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Certified Bangers

Chapter Text

The question popped into Kanon's head one day after a concert, as she was helping Misaki out of her Michelle costume.

At first, she dismissed it as frivolous - nothing worth knowing. Or at least, none of her business. It was something that Misaki alone knew, and if Misaki wanted to tell her, she would. Not to mention if Kanon was the one to bring up the topic, she would feel like she was being intrusive. Did people just pry into personal matters so brazenly? Of course not. So she quickly pushed it out of her mind, with the intention of forgetting it entirely.

But the next time they practiced, it came back - picking at her brain stem, compelling her to just go forward and speak up already.

It seemed like a simple inquiry; it wouldn't take more than five words to ask, and only one to answer. Yet its brevity belied its complexity: it wasn't the sort of question that you could casually ask upfront and out of nowhere. And it also wasn't as if it were something she could discuss with the other members of HHW, either - they simply wouldn't understand. Not to mention, again - none of her business. It had absolutely no bearing on Kanon's life or well-being, and had entirely to do with her own sense of curiosity. Yet  the more she tried to placate it, the fiercer the feeling in her skull became: like a bad itch, gnawing at her cerebral cortex with every thought.

The day finally came where she couldn't take it any more - she simply had to know. With quivering hands, she approached Misaki after practice, long after Kokoro, Kaoru, and Hagumi had already left the scene.

"Hey, Kanon-san," said Misaki, packing up her DJ equipment. "What's up?"

"U-Um..." Kanon stuttered, inwardly steeling herself for the task ahead. "Th-There's something I want to ask you, Misaki-chan."

Misaki nodded. "Okay. What is it?"

Kanon took a deep breath, clenched her hands into nervous fists, and - with a ramrod spine - squeaked determinedly:

"Are... Are you a furry?"

Misaki's eyes fell upon the horizon, lightless and distant. The lines on her face suddenly seemed much more haggard and wizened. Her lips slowly curled into a smile, but there was no joy or contentedness in her expression - only resignation.

Kanon's guilt welled like a geyser inside of her. "I-I'm sorry, I didn't mean to-!"

"No, it's okay," said Misaki, her voice tinny and flat. "I...I knew this day would come." A single tear trickled down her cheek.

"Mi-Misaki-chan..."

"It was inevitable, really," said Misaki with a bitter laugh, plopping down in a nearby chair as she continued to stare blankly into space. "Nobody would put up with doing so much labor inside of a pink bear mascot without a reason, right? There had to be some sort of underlying motive."

"B-But I thought it was for Kokoro-chan and the others?"

"That's what I told myself at first too," said Misaki, shaking her head. "It was just a facade to make them happy. A willing sacrifice for their sake. And sure, I had fun doing it too. But the more I performed, and practiced... I couldn't help but wonder if there was something more. Something I couldn't put my finger on."

"Are... are you saying...?"

"I... I don't know," said Misaki, now looking at her hands as if they were unrecognizable. "I ask myself that same question every day, Kanon-san. There are times where I think I've found an answer, but then the next day my emotions shift again, like a sand castle swept away by the sea. I... I don't know what to think of myself. Am I Misaki? Am I Michelle? Who... Who do I want to be, really?"

Kanon couldn't take it anymore, she pressed herself into Misaki's limp torso, enveloping her in a warm embrace. "M-Misaki-chan, it's okay!"

The sudden hug seemed to jolt a sliver of emotion back into Misaki's face. "K-Kanon-san...?"

"W-We all question things about ourselves every now and then, b-but that's normal!" Kanon shouted. "I... there's lots of parts of me that I'm not sure about either, but I know... I know that I'll figure them out! And you should know that no matter what you discover about yourself, I'll... I'll still love you, okay?"

Misaki's smile warmed, though it retained a small bit of awkwardness. "Er... I mean, I would hope so, considering there's, uh, nothing wrong with being a furry... I think."

Kanon tousled a strand of her own hair. "Oh... right."

"Still..." said Misaki, sighing contentedly and squeezing her back. "Thanks, Kanon-san. I'm sure I'll figure things out eventually."

Kanon rested her cheek against Misaki's shoulders. "I know you will."

And for the moment, that was enough.

In the face of uncertainty, whether it was trivial or earthshaking... they knew they could confide in one another without hesitation.

Chapter Text

Chisato was walking with Eve to the shoe lockers one day after school when she saw that old, odious sign: a crowd of fangirls, onlookers, and devotees that could mean only one thing - that a certain tiresome, bombastic prince was about to make her appearance. 

And surely enough, in the center of the throng - surrounded by reverent worshippers and resplendent sparkles - stood the Patron Saint of Theater Lesbians.

“Ah, dear Chisato, gentle Eve,” said Kaoru, posing illustriously as usual, “I bid you good day.”

“Hello, Kaoru-san!” chimed Eve. “What are you doing at Hanasakigawa?”

“My question exactly,” said Chisato, not quite in the mood to deal with Kaoru’s brand of theatrics at that moment.

Kaoru smirked. “Ah, well, you see, I seem to have come down with-” Suddenly she coughed - once, then twice. “E-Excuse me for a moment… I seem to have caught something in my-” Another cough cut her off, and she sank dramatically to the floor.

“Kaoru-senpai!” cried the horde of fangirls, all encircling her with fearful faces.

Kaoru heaved deeply into her hands, her head descending into the pit of her chest for several seconds. When she lifted it up again, her hands were filled with several crisp, velvety rose petals.

“Oh, what tempestuous fate!” she pontificated, raising the back of her hand to her forehead. “From my ragged lungs come such bright blossoms… could it be…? That detestable disease? The telltale sign of an unfulfilled heart? Nay, it cannot be so… I could never have hanahaki…!”

The crowd of fangirls gasped. One fainted. Eve turned to Chisato, confused. “Chisato-san, what is hanahaki?”

“I suppose they don’t have a name for it in Finland, hm?” Chisato remarked. “Hanahaki is an illness of unrequited love. They say that when you’ve fallen for someone and they don’t return your affection, you start coughing up flowers.”

“Oh, how awful!” Eve exclaimed. “Kaoru-san is in love with someone, and they don’t love her back?”

The assembly of fangirls screamed lamentations. “Kaoru-sama, say it isn’t so!” “Does that mean you don’t love me ?” “Oh, my heart!” “Dude, this is my favorite trope, hell yeah.”

“Fret not, my fair little kittens…” Kaoru moaned, raising her hand weakly. “I shall yet live. Though the pain in my chest throbs like the crash of the waves, I will soldier on.”

Chisato watched Kaoru, recumbent and defeated on the ground, before walking over and picking up one of the rose petals from the floor. “You know, Kaoru, this petal is awfully dry.”

“I-Is it now?” Kaoru asked. “Alas… my lungs are like a desert… I can feel the cacti sprouting in my throat as I speak.”

“Well, that must feel terrible indeed. I would see a doctor at once.” Chisato looked back towards Eve and motioned her head. “Come along, Eve-chan. We don’t want to be late to practice.”

“Ah, r-right,” said Eve, still looking glum as she caught up. The horde of onlookers fell around Kaoru at once as the two exited the building. “Will Kaoru-san be okay?”

“Oh, she’ll be fine,” said Chisato. “Hanahaki hurts, but it’s never fatal.”

She realized she probably seemed a little cold to Eve. But she knew Kaoru well enough to see where all this was going, and she had better things to do with her afternoon.


 

Chisato was being dragged along by Leon on his walk the next day when a particular purple poet appeared.

“Oh, my dear childhood friend!” exclaimed Kaoru, grinning ear to ear. “What good fortune that we would encounter one another like this.”

“...Hello, Kaoru,” said Chisato, keeping as tight a grip on Leon’s leash as she could muster. “H-How are you today?”

“I am-” Kaoru stopped mid-sentence, her cheeks puffing up with sudden swollenness. She held up a finger and turned around, her hands reaching for her mouth. 

After a moment of unseeable movement, she rotated again, now grasping a spit-covered gardenia bud.

“Why, what cruelty…! The symptoms faded yesterday, but flare once again!” she bemoaned, her free hand clutching at her breast. “If only the object of my love knew of my woes… nay, I could never say it! The pain is simply too great to… bear…”

Kaoru trailed off as she realized Chisato was no longer in front of her, having been long carted off by Leon’s leash-tugging. She could practically see the skid marks.

Of course, the blonde bassist didn’t feel like she had missed much.


 

Chisato answered the doorbell that evening, and only wished she could be surprised to see who had shown up.

“We meet again,” said Kaoru. “‘Tis a most fleeting fate, is it not?”

“There’s nothing fateful about this,” said Chisato with an unamused expression. “What do you want, Kaoru?”

“Yes, I, uh…” Kaoru cleared her throat. Chisato expected her to surreptitiously pull a carnation out of her sleeve. Instead, Kaoru… started punching herself in the stomach.

“What on earth are you doing?” asked Chisato, concerned in more ways than one.

“Ah, well, you see...” Kaoru blinked. And then she awkwardly jammed a finger down her throat. 

Chisato, finally fed up, slapped her arm away. “Kaoru, I know you don’t have hanahaki. Did you eat a flower earlier that you’re trying to hack up now?”

“Wh-What?” asked Kaoru, sweat coalescing on her forehead. “I would never jest so cruelly, madam!”

Chisato crossed her arms. “What kind of flower was it?”

“......A-A daffodil,” Kaoru muttered.

“Kaoru, daffodils are non-edible. You’re going to get sick - actually sick.”

“Well, that certainly explains why my stomach is raging like the sea…”

Chisato sighed. “Come in. We need to get you some water - medicine, too.”

“Y-Yes, of course…” Kaoru murmured. “But, Chisato, how did you know I didn’t actually contract hanahaki?”

Chisato, in spite of the situation’s gravity, smiled. “Oh, come now. Isn’t it obvious, Kao-chan?”

Suddenly, she grabbed Kaoru by the necktie and pulled her in, so that the prince’s ear was right by her tender, reddened lips:

“You can’t cough up flowers if I love you back.”

Chapter Text

Ran lay atop her bed, staring at the uneven handwriting that had appeared on her wrist the night before:

remember: get bread

It wasn’t the first to appear. Shopping list items, algebra equations, and other miscellaneous reminders had sporadically become inked onto her palms over the past few months. Himari had informed her of the affliction - a soulmate. One she was destined to be connected to.

Ran scoffed at the idea at first. Who was silly enough to believe in something as maudlin and fantastical as that? But after repeated attempts to ignore the marks, she was beginning to get tired of dealing with them. If nothing else, she had to tell whoever was on the other end to stop blotting every stray thought possible onto their wrists - if that was really the cause of what was happening. With a sigh of resignation, she clicked a nearby pen and scrawled onto her forearm:

Can you read this?

The red ink sat upon her flesh, like trickles of blood from a fresh cut. She wondered how long it would take to get a response, if ever - she had doubts about this whole ‘soulmates’ business in the first place. But just as she was about to pull up her sweater sleeve and forget about it, a response in fat sharpie ink appeared below:

r u a hot girl y/n

Ran felt blood shoot to her cheeks. Without thinking, she was already scribbling a reply. Why the hell does that matter?!

it’s very important

just circle one plz

What are you, some hyper-thirsty guy with nothing better to do? Ran wrote.

um excuse u

i am a hyper-thirsty GIRL with nothing better to do

Ran’s palm met her forehead. Oh well… she supposed it was more comforting having a girl as her soulmate than some dude.

u still haven’t answered my question

Ran grit her teeth. Well I am a girl, but I don’t know if I’m “hot”

i’ll be the judge of that

send pics

How do I do that?

A pause.

good point

where u from, gurl

r u japanese

Obviously, yes.

I mean, we’ve been writing in Japanese, haven’t we?

tru

we really lucked out there huh

can u imagine if ur soulmate was from brazil

speakin brazilian and you couldn’t understand em

“Brazilian” isn’t a language 

I think they speak Portuguese

wowww my soulmate’s smart ♥

Shut up

Despite Ran’s response, she felt strangely warm at the complement - even if she could feel its flippancy. However, any amount of tenderness she felt was wiped away at the next comment:

so

what r u wearin ;)

Ran was beginning to think that “hyper-thirsty” was an understatement. Just a hoodie and jeans. Why does it matter?

oooh a fellow hoodie girl

i’ve fallen even harder 4 u

if i could draw the heart-eyes emoji on my skin i would do it

You could always try.

An esoteric doodle that looked like a mangled moon appeared on Ran’s elbow. She couldn’t help but laugh at how terrible it looked.

behold

a master artist at work

Ran’s laughter died down just a little. You’re a real Da Vinci, you know that

i know thank u for telling me

so 

what do u like to do

Ran thought to herself for a moment before answering. 

I like music

Singing and guitar

I write lyrics and stuff

whaaaaaaaa

no way me too

i play guitar

damn we really ARE soulmates

next u gonna tell me u luv bread too

Ran shrugged. Bread is okay, I guess.

WAT

HOW DARE U

jk more 4 meeeeeee

Well, Ran could glean what her favorite food was, at least. Why bread?

um why NOT bread

have u seen a food pyramid

that shit’s at the bottom ‘cuz it’s IMPORTANT

like can u imagine life w/out bread

Uh yes

Pretty easily

I’m pretty sure Japan survived for thousands of years without it, actually

well life sucked more than a hundred years ago

there was war and other bad stuff

and u know what i bet if there was bread? no war

That’s a pretty bold claim

u know i’m right you just don’t wanna admit i’m big brained

Shut up

Ran wasn’t sure how much more of this she could take. Her thoughts (and her arm) were getting drained by her partner’s quick hand. Just as she was about to eke out a farewell message, more text appeared:

what’s ur name btw

The black-haired girl hesitated, but decided to answer honestly. 

Ran

oh, like “orchid”

nice

i’m moca

like coffee

cept w/out the h

Moca? That was a strange name. Though it was clear from the conversation that she was a strange girl.

hey ran

u said u write lyrics rite

can u show some to me

Ran stared at the marks for a few moments. She somehow felt both apprehensive and excited about the idea. Are you sure?

hell yeah

i bet they’re super deep

Ran took a deep breath before popping open her notebook and copying down the words on her leg:

The twilight sky that day

The illuminating light was a burning scarlet

Because this sky connects us

Always, even if we're separated

In this place that we can call our own

Let’s meet up here no matter what

These feeling we want to shout out, towards this red sunset

...That’s it

wow

so cool

i wanna play that song with u

let’s jam together sometime aight

As much as it irritated a part of her, Ran smiled at the suggestion. Yeah. Let’s do that

schweet

i also gotta meet u in person

to see if ur hot

i bet u r and just don’t wanna admit it

OK, I think this conversation’s done

i was just gonna say

i mean, have you looked at our limbs

Every single inch of Ran’s extremities was covered in red and black scrawlings. There was barely enough space for farewells.

luv uuuuuu soul-roomiiiiiiee ♥♥♥♥♥

Shut up

Chapter Text

It began with a scowl.

Sayo scowled often - it was practically her neutral expression, after all - but Tsugumi wasn’t sure why she looked so cross, especially after making a chocolate cake that looked so lovely, with white-chocolate accents and a velvety mousse base. The thick chocolate frosting congealed perfectly as Tsugumi cut slices for the both of them. “It turned out great, Sayo-san!”

“...Yes, I suppose it did,” she responded, huffing.

“Wh...What’s wrong?” Tsugumi asked, saddened by Sayo’s displeasure. “Did I mess up somehow?”

“No, it looks wonderful, it’s just…” Sayo’s mouth pursed to one side, as if contemplating whether or not to speak further.

“You can tell me, Sayo-san,” said Tsugumi. “Messing up is a part of learning, after all-”

“It’s not that,” said Sayo, shaking her head emphatically. “It’s just… I don’t know how to eat desserts.”

Tsugumi assumed she had misheard at first. “I’m sorry… repeat that?”

“...It sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it?” said Sayo. “Let me show you what I mean.”

She took a crisp, perfectly layered cake slice and sat at the kitchen counter, fork in hand. Sayo looked over the cake, prodding it from several directions - just as she looked ready to take a bite, her fork stopped millimeters from the chocolate matter. Sweat dribbled down her chin. The whites of her gritted teeth glimmered through her parted lips.

“Um… are you okay?” asked Tsugumi, smiling fretfully.

Without warning, Sayo suddenly clutched the cake with her free hand and crammed the entire slice into her mouth, smearing chocolate and frosting all over her face and apron.

“S-Sayo-san!” yelped Tsugumi, running to grab a paper towel.

The flash of confounded rage disappeared from Sayo’s aquamarine eyes, and her head drooped in shame. “...Now you understand.”

“N-Not really,” said Tsugumi, wiping the chocolate off of Sayo’s mouth. “Why didn’t you just take a bite with your fork?”

“I always overthink it,” said Sayo. “I keep trying to picture the best way to eat it - the ideal ratio of frosting to cake, which direction to start from, what to save for last - and I get so steamed that I lose control of my arms and… that happens.”

“A...And you’re like this with all desserts?”

Sayo nodded glumly. “...That’s right.”

“Cotton candy?”

“I don’t know which direction to eat it from.”

“Ice cream?”

“I get conflicted over whether to dig in right away or let it melt.”

“Parfaits?”

“...I tried one with Roselia and ended up dumping it on my head,” said Sayo, as hoarsely as a woman on her deathbed. “Imai-san and Udagawa-san wouldn’t stop laughing for hours…”

“Th-That… seems like a serious problem,” said Tsugumi, stifling a giggle. As embarrassing as it had been for the guitarist, it would’ve been cute to see Sayo in that situation. “B-But what about those cookies I made you?”

“Cookies are simple,” said Sayo, her face lightening. “You simply plop them in your mouth. You don’t have to think. Besides… your cookies are delicious. I couldn’t turn them down.”

Tsugumi’s felt her cheeks warm. There was something adorable about the way Sayo said that while her face was still riddled with dark chocolate smudges.

“I don’t know what to do, Hazawa-san,” said Sayo quietly. “I thought learning to bake with you would help…”

“W-Well, maybe just like with cooking, you need to be taught how to eat!” said Tsugumi, trying to maintain a positive attitude.

“...Do you think so?” asked Sayo, her voice tinged with hope.

“I… I do!” said Tsugumi, ignoring the ridiculousness of the idea. “We just have to find something easy that you can practice with, like, uh…”

An idea clicked in her head, and Tsugumi dug around in her pantry as Sayo wiped the last of the frosting away.

“Oreos!” Tsugumi chimed, pulling out a familiar blue plastic container. “Have you ever had them?”

Sayo shook her head.

Tsugumi grabbed a handful of monochromatic cookies. “They look simple, but there’s a lot of different ways to eat them! It’ll be great practice!”

Sayo stared at the oreos quizzically. “...How do you eat them?”

“I like dunking them in milk,” Tsugumi replied. “Himari-chan always licks the cream off first, Tomoe-chan stacks multiple together to make towers, Ran-chan eats only the cookie portions, and Moca-chan… uh… goes with the ‘cereal’ method.”

“Which is ideal?” asked Sayo.

“It depends on the person!” said Tsugumi. “There’s no wrong way to eat an oreo, so you don’t have to worry.”

Sayo stared at the cookies for a second before picking one up. “I’ll… do my best.”

Tsugumi pumped her fist. “I believe in you, Sayo-san!”

Sayo held the cookie before her eyes, opening her mouth as if to simply bite into it before hesitating. Slowly, she twisted the top off to separate it into two halves, but then growled in frustration, as if she hadn’t meant to. She tried stacking them together, but with the cookie parts directly touching and the cream on top. Tsugumi was somehow enraptured by all of it.

Finally, gradually, the re-fused cookie approached Sayo’s mouth.

Come on, Sayo-san…!

It passed the space between her teeth.

You can do it!

And right as her incisors were centimeters from chomping down, Sayo suddenly yanked the cookie out, crushed it in her hand, and shoved the crumbles down her throat.

Tsugumi couldn’t hold it in. She bursted out in a fit of giggles as Sayo guiltily chewed on before swallowing. “I’m… I’m sorry. There was a wrong way to eat an oreo, wasn’t there…?”

“N-No, it’s fine, Sayo-san,” said Tsugumi, quashing her laughter. “That’s just y-you, that’s all… it was very cute.”

“C-Cute?” Sayo stammered, as she picked up another oreo. “I must have looked like an idiot.”

“Well…”

Tsugumi opened her mouth to deny it - but then the realization hit her, like a beanbag to the gut, as she watched Sayo confusedly examine the cookies as if they were foreign objects, her mind finally grasping the truth:

Oh my god. I’m a morosexual.

Chapter Text

Christmas Eve.

After a long, drawn-out game of Monopoly at Chisato’s place that had left Aya sobbing at Hina’s triumphant feet, the members of Pastel*Palettes were winding down, cozying up under blankets and meandering away from conversation. Maya and Eve found themselves on the balcony, bit by sharp frigidity, yet admiring the pale blue beauty of the snow-draped cityscape at night. Steam from mugs of hot cocoa wafted up towards their rosy, frost-tickled cheeks. The yellowed lights of the indoors behind them illuminated their bundled-up silhouettes. For several minutes, they simply stared into the quiet world, the silence broken only by foggy breaths.

And then, right as Maya was taking a sip, Eve spoke.

“The moon is beautiful, isn’t it?”

Maya nearly spat out her drink. She choked and sputtered on the sweet chocolate liquid as Eve suddenly scrambled to console her. “Are you all right?!”

“I-I’m fine,” wheezed Maya, her face becoming even more flush. She couldn’t believe that Eve had just… come out and said that so brazenly! Sure, it was a bit old fashioned - much more so than a simple “I like you” or even the... stronger version of that - but that was totally in Eve’s character. Wait… did she even know that old idiom? No, Eve was a Japanese history nerd - she definitely had knowledge of Souseki Natsume’s writings; Maya remembered her talking about the author a while back…

“Maya-san?”

Eve was looking at her with wide eyes. Maya realized that she was probably anticipating a response. But how could she reply to such a sudden confession? She was caught completely off-guard.

She took another look at Eve. At her hair, silky silver in the pale moonlight, the depths of her earth-blue eyes glowing faintly. The tip of her button nose was a crisp red, as were her rounded, blemishless cheeks. She thought of the times that Eve had so passionately rambled on about samurai and historical battles to her for hours, and how Maya had done the same talking about audio equipment and instruments. All the concerts, adventures, outings, and memories… she had never felt so comfortable with someone in her life.

All things considered… there was only one response.

“I… I can die happy.”

Maya reciprocated with the proper phrase, her nose buried in her mug as she spoke. She was too embarrassed to look Eve straight in the eye. Which is probably why she was unnerved by what followed:

“D-Dead?!” asked Eve, her voice fraught with concern. “Why would you ever want to die, Maya-san?!”

“U-Uhm, er, n-no, see,” said Maya, awash with guilt at making her worry. “I don’t mean it literally, Eve-san, it’s just-”

“Are you okay? Do you need medicine? Chicken noodle soup?!”

“I’m f-fine, Eve-san!” Maya insisted, trying to calm Eve, who was leaning in with a fearful face. “It’s just an expression, that’s all.”

“An expression…?” asked Eve. “What do you mean?”

It then dawned on Maya that Eve, in fact, did not know what she was implying earlier with her wayward comment on lunar splendor. “It’s… nothing.”

“Nothing? Then why would you say that?”

Maya would die of humiliation if she had to explain it. “I-It’s not a big deal…”

“Please tell me!” Eve begged, her brow furrowed. “I am worried about you, Maya-san!”

Maya felt the Finnish girl’s pure blue gaze puncture through her facade. There was no escape now. “Um… Eve-san, do you know what ‘the moon is beautiful, isn’t it’ means?”

Eve’s eyes drifted upward in thought. “It means that the moon is pretty, yes?”

“Well, on one level, it does, yeah… but on another it means that you… er… l-love the person you say it to.”

“But I do love you, Maya-san!”

“R...R-Romantically, I mean.”

Eve’s expression softened. “Oh…! I...I didn’t realize.”

“I thought so…” said Maya. “The, um, response you’re supposed to make if you… have the same feelings… is ‘I can die happy.’”

“Oh, I see!” said Eve, realization landing on her face. “But Maya-san, if you said that to me, then that means…”

She trailed off.

Neither spoke for a few seconds. 

It suddenly felt a lot warmer outside.

“D-Don’t worry about it, said Maya. “It… It’s just a big, giant misunderstanding, that’s-”

“Maya.”

The bespectacled girl stopped dead in her tracks. She had never heard Eve refer to her - or anyone - without honorifics before.

“Th-The moon…” Eve murmured, facing the great glowing orb in the sky with quivering lips. “The moon is the biggest, brightest, beautifulest thing I have ever seen!!!”

The chilled night wind knocked air into Maya’s lungs. The echo of Eve’s proclamation skipped across the ice-laden streets below, sounding out for all to hear.

“Eve…” she muttered. “Do… Do you really mean that?”

Eve nodded, her voice wavering but strong. “I love… the softness of the moon’s eyes, the gentleness of its laugh, and the fire that burns within its heart! I love seeing the moon every day! I love playing music with it! I love staring into its pretty face, whether it has glasses or not!”

“E-Eve, I get it, you don’t have to-”

“I… I love the moon so much I cannot even put it into words!”

The final wave of words subsided, leaving both girls as red as a hearth fire on a winter’s day. But Eve didn’t look embarrassed in the slightest. If anything… she seemed proud.

“Maya… wh-what do you say?”

A crisp, still silence. And then...

“Hu...huhehe…” Maya giggled softly. “Y-You know what?”

She gingerly reached out and grabbed Eve’s hand, so warm and tender in the cold.

“If I were to die right now… when I’m the happiest I’ve ever been… that’d be just fine.”

Chapter Text

oh oh!!! how about a long song!!

Yes… and in English, the Bard’s tongue…

Um, but maybe not too difficult? (#><)

i wanna feel it in my heart!!!!

Misaki looked at the directions her bandmates had messaged her, her smile twitching involuntarily. She was experienced with looking for songs that HHW could cover, but she wasn’t used to following directions… usually she just chose whatever she thought fit their typical sound. Now she had guidelines - and ones that didn’t mesh together particularly well, to boot. 

With a resigned sigh, she started browsing through the song library on her laptop. Misaki actually had a pretty wide selection of music - some for research/arrangement, and some just for her own pleasure. Hello, Happy World! tended to have a pretty consistent tone, so she generally had a fairly limited range of songs for cover consideration. Considering the requests, however, she might have to step outside of their usual zone.

As she casually scrolled through the lists of albums, her mind methodically checking each one to see if it would fit the criteria, Misaki stumbled upon one that, to her surprise, fit what everybody had asked for - 16 ½ minutes, few English lyrics, and very emotional. It would have been perfect if not for the fact that it was, bluntly put, completely antithetical to HHW’s usual sound. The melody was low and meandering. The lyrics dealt with topics that would make a hardened adult depressed. Even so, the coincidence was enough to elicit a chuckle, and she decided to send it to the group chat as a joke. How about this one? she typed, along with a smirk emoji and a link.

For over fifteen minutes, there was no response. And then…

oh my gosh!! this sounds incredible, mii-kun!!

This is… the most fleeting song I have ever heard!!

let’s play it! let’s play it!

I-If everybody else wants to… Σ(°△°|||)︴

Misaki read the messages with wide eyes, taken aback by the enthusiastic response. For a moment she couldn't believe they had eaten up the suggestion, but then she remembered an oft-forgotten lesson: never joke with the three dummies. For such ridiculous people, they took everything so seriously.

come on, misaki!!

do it do it do it!

With their pleas buzzing in her ears, Misaki gulped, sighed, and began transposing.


 

A few weeks later, they were waiting in the wings at CiRCLE for their turn onstage. During their last several rehearsals Misaki had kept waiting for the moment where Kokoro, Kaoru, or Hagumi would suddenly stop and comment on how dreary this song was, how it didn’t fit them in the slightest, or how the lyrics were not something that should ever come out of the mouths of high-schoolers. But they only got more hyped as time went on - clearly none of them understood a word of English. When Misaki asked Kanon for her opinion, she simply slackened her shoulders and ‘fueeed’ in response.

Is this... going to be okay? Misaki thought. If any school faculty was in attendance, they would have a fit - and Misaki didn't want that. But she could hardly refuse the eager expressions of her bandmates, so she had - against her better judgment - remained silent.

Afterglow and Roselia finished their sets, and Hello, Happy World! bounded onto the stage with their usual enthusiasm. Kokoro backflipped up to the front of the stage before addressing the crowd. “Hi, everyone! Hope you’re having a happy night!”

The audience cheered in response. As the closing act, HHW was expected to leave everybody pepped up and jazzed.

“We’ve got only one song today!” Kokoro chirped, her ear-to-ear grin as dazzling as ever. “But it’s a really cool one! A totally new cover!”

More enthusiasm from the crowd. Misaki set up her DJ decks carefully, already fearing the worst.

After introducing the rest of the band, Kokoro gripped her mouthpiece, surveying the crowd with bright eyes. “Are you ready?”

A roar of approval.

Kokoro nodded. “Okay! This is our brand new song: ‘The Dead Flag Blues’ from Godspeed You! Black Emperor!

She nodded towards Michelle. With a heave, the big bear put her first record on the turntable and pressed play.

A low, ominous hum began sounding from the speakers. The crowd, initially raucous, slowly dimmed as the atmosphere thickened. A single spotlight fell upon Kokoro, who remained uncharacteristically still. With her usual cheery lilt, she spoke in thickly-accented English:

“The car’s on fire

And there’s no driver at the wheel.”

A beat of shock.

“And the sewers are all muddied with a thousand lonely suicides

And a dark wind blows.”

The audience was now dead silent, mouths agape. Kokoro, still beaming, continued:

“The government is corrupt

And we’re on so many drugs

With the radio on and the curtains drawn.

We are trapped in the belly of this horrible machine

And the machine is bleeding to death.”

Misaki felt more sweat than usual coagulate inside her suit. If Kokoro had any sense of what she was saying, she wouldn’t be wearing that carefree expression right now. She prayed that the audience was similarly non-understanding.

“The sun has fallen down

And the billboards are all leering

And the flags are all dead

At the top of their poles.

It went like this:”

Kaoru started somberly playing the violin. Misaki didn’t even realize until weeks ago that Kaoru knew the instrument, but she wasn’t surprised to hear it.

“The buildings toppled in on themselves

Mothers clutching babies 

picked through the rubble

And pulled out their hair.”

The tear of the strings was more soul-rending than the deepest rainfall.

“The skyline was beautiful on fire

All twisted metal stretching upwards

Everything washed in a thin orange haze.

I said ‘Kiss me, you’re beautiful:

These truly are the last days.’”

A downturn in the timbre. Kokoro closed her eyes.

You grabbed my hand and we fell into it

Like a daydream, or a fever.

They weren’t three minutes in and Misaki already felt guilt leaking from her pores.  Kaoru switched to guitar, melancholily strumming dissonant chords as Hagumi provided the world’s most reserved bassline. Hollowness echoed from every speaker, as lonely as a starless sky. 

As Michelle switched discs, she watched the stunned silence of the crowd, who beheld the destitute melody with listless expressions. The strings grew louder in her ears. Kokoro faced the people directly, unblinking:

We woke up one morning

And fell a little further down -

For sure it’s the valley of death.

I open up my wallet

 

And it’s full of blood.”

A silence. Misaki put on another backing track - the lonesome whistle of a far-off train, churning bitterly into the horizon. The three dummies remained stationary, soaking in the ambient noises, listening to the wailing moans with faces of pure contentedness. Kanon, who had rested easy thus far, began to show signs of terrible anxiety, her drumsticks frenetically whirling in her fingers. 

Eternities passed. Hagumi picked up a dirgelike bassline. Kaoru began striking chords once again. Kokoro slowly swayed her body back and forth, as if head-banging to the universe’s slowest song. Kanon finally struck a drumbeat, rhythmically matching the wild west-styled drawl of the melody. Misaki felt the harmonies collide and cohabitate in midair, before somehow meshing into one dedicated wall of sound.

The world seemed gray-scale. Memories of color washed through her mind before evaporating into dust.

The tempo picked up.

Kaoru shredded out a guitar solo, meandering and drawn-out, formless and without meaning.

Kanon, out of some desire to keep sane, began smashing her sticks against the snares with the full motion of her body, her mouth pursed in a determined grimace.

Hagumi bent down with her already low body, the vibes lowering her center of gravity until she was on her knees and straddling the bass with vigorous glee.

And Kokoro punctuated it all with slow cartwheels - not so much joyful displays of exuberance as they were showings of bounding restlessness, prickled by the nihilism that poured from the audio system.

All while the world continued churning, cruelly and without stopping, below their measly feet.

Music melted into notes, which melted into noise. Their performances suddenly harmonized: blaring from the stage in an unceasing flood of harrowing, hallowed sound. Consciousness swept away and was replaced by the vibrations, pulsing and permanent, the only sound that anyone had ever heard, that implacable and unstoppable tone that plucked at DNA like harpstrings.

Things softened. They entered the final, ironically upbeat movement, Kanon taking to a glockenspiel as Kaoru pranced about on her violin, rocking back and forth with a bittersweet recollection, neither lively nor subdued. Kokoro and Hagumi contemplated the music without motion, so still that they could be statues. Misaki watched as the last, meager little notes reverberated from Kanon’s mallets, the final vestiges of happiness sinking out of her costumed feet and deep into the earth until there was nothing within her spirit but monochromatic apathy.

The band finished its song not with a bang, but with a whimper.

For several moments, the world was quiet.

And then from the limp crowd thundered the loudest applause Misaki had ever heard.

The standing ovation deafened their ears. At least a dozen people heaved over with tears of joy. One person sank to the ground, convulsing in rapture.

“Thank you for listening, everyone!” sang Kokoro, as if she had just finished one of their usual sets. “We’re glad you enjoyed it!”

Hagumi and Kaoru gave their typical proud faces. Even Kanon managed a nervous grin. Misaki had no idea what her own expression looked like in that moment - she had trouble even processing this reaction.

“Happy!”

“Lucky!”

“Smile!”

“Y-Yay!”

Despite the farewell catchphrase, the cries of the audience did not simmer down - they pleaded ravenously for more, shouting ‘encore’ with every breath. Realizing they didn’t have another song like… well, whatever that could be characterized as, Misaki hastened to pack up their equipment and squirrel the remaining members off-stage - only to bump into familiar faces.

“Mitake-san? Minato-san?”

Ran and Yukina awaited in the wings, their eyes soaked red with tears. “That… that was incredible…” Ran heaved, her entire body trembling.

“I… I have never listened to such music in my life,” said Yukina, staring at her sweat-soaked palms as if they were foreign. “I... I feel like an insect in comparison.”

“Oh, don’t say that!” said Kokoro, hands happily on her hips. “We just want to inspire people, that’s all!”

Both Ran and Yukina looked the golden-locked girl straight in the eyes. Suddenly, they prostrated themselves upon the floor:

“Kokoro-san! Teach me to rock as hard as you!”

“Tsurumaki-san! I beg you! Tell me what my sound is missing!”

Kokoro chuckled. “Don’t worry about it! I’ll help you both out! I’m glad to see you so excited!”

As the two vocalists flocked behind Kokoro, as laymen do behind prophets, Misaki suddenly felt the exhaustion fly out of her shoulders. Somehow, things always turned out right in this band - even when playing the most plodding, morose rock song in the world, they somehow made people happy. Maybe Kokoro's goal was feasible after all.

Unconsciously, Misaki brought her right hand up to a salute, grinning inside the Michelle suit as Kokoro somersaulted away.

Godspeed you, gold empress.

Chapter Text

70.2 kg

The number on the scale stared back at Himari, cold and static.

She squeezed the sides of her belly, feeling an inch-wide roll of fat fold between her fingers. With a heavy sigh, she let go, watching the little love handle jiggle back into place, before stepping off the scale and out of the bathroom, her arms listlessly sinking towards the floor. 

After all that dieting she’d been doing - she’d been trying to cut back on sweets, really! But there was a new deep fried ice cream shop in the neighborhood that had looked so good, and the Yamabuki Bakery had just stocked their lineup of autumn treats, and she and the girls had all taken a bunch of day trips recently, so… it wasn’t quite her fault, was it? She groaned bitterly. Of course it was. If she wanted to keep a good figure, she’d have to be disciplined, even when new snacks popped up on the block.

... Fat slob, she thought bitterly.

Her frustration grew to the point that she needed to vent to the closest person in her vicinity - the girl currently reclining on her bed with a music magazine. “Tomoooo eeeeeeee !”

The scarlet-haired drummer flashed her eyes over to Himari, wearing an assuring grin. “Hey now, what’s the matter?” she asked, tossing the magazine to the side.

Himari gurgled a vague, guttural noise before flopping belly-first onto Tomoe’s lap, her arms dangling in mid-air. “...I gained weight again.”

“Aww,” said Tomoe, pitying Himari with a supportive pat on the back. “Even though you’ve been cutting back?”

“I’ve… had a lot of cheat days…” Himari bemoaned, flapping her arms about in ho-hum annoyance. “Moca-chan keeps inviting me to grab food from the convenience store, and I’m bad at saying no… uggghhh, why am I like this?”

“Cheer up!” said Tomoe, her hand moving to lightly massage Himari’s shoulders. “You still get plenty of exercise and stuff, right? I don’t think you’re too unhealthy or anything.”

“That’s not the pooooint!” Himari fussed. “Whenever I hang out with Lisa-chan I just… notice how slim and fashionable and gorgeous she is, and I get like so amazed by her, but then I look at myself in the mirror and I just…” She deflated. “I wish I could be pretty, too…”

She rolled over onto her back, staring up at Tomoe with watery eyes. The taiko master wore a contemplative expression, her hands curving around Himari’s back. “Do you really think that way about yourself?”

“W-Well- I mean…” Himari stuttered, her thoughts meandering into a tangle. It wasn’t as if she was filled with self-loathing, but… maybe she did hate the shape of her own reflection. Just a little. ...No. More than that. How many times had she lamented her homeliness?

“Hey,” said Tomoe, her voice softening. “Do you like the way I look?”

“Um… yes ?” Himari replied incredulously. She couldn’t count the times her heart had been reduced to pitter-patters by the sharpness of Tomoe’s eyes, her assurant grin, that tomboyish frame...

“Well, look at me.” said Tomoe, flexing her bicep, so built and shapely that Himari had to force down a squeal. “I’m not exactly the model of femininity either, y’know.”

“Th-That’s different though!” Himari protested, trying not to lose herself in the curves of Tomoe’s musculature. “I mean, er…”

Tomoe smiled knowingly. “Himari, do you like my muscles?”

Oh God Yes Of Course I Do, she mouthed, feeling drool coagulate on her lower lip. All she could manage to show for it was a shaky nod.

“Well, it’s the same for me!” said Tomoe. “I like the way you look right now, Himari - so big and round and loving.

Himari swallowed, feeling her heart swell with a different affection. “You… you really mean that?”

“Duh. Besides, how else would I be able to do… this ?” Tomoe suddenly pulled back the belly of Himari’s camisole and pressed her nose against her stomach, blowing a raspberry.

“T-Tomo-aahaha-! St-Stop it-!” cried Himari, giggling at the sensation. “I-It tiheeheeheecles!”

Tomoe continued nuzzling Himari’s gut before planting a delicate smooch right above her belly button. “I love your little jelly belly, hon. It’s cute.”

“Aw, cut it out!” said Himari, holding back her laughter. “You’re just teasing me.”

“I mean it!” said Tomoe, resting her head on Himari’s tubby tummy. “It’s soft, and warm, and full… just like you.”

Himari felt her heart fizzle and scream as her face blossomed into a pink grin. She stroked Tomoe’s long, velvety hair, her hand running down to smoothen her shoulder blades, thinking of how tenderly the fiery drummer gazed into her. She was never one for flattery or dishonesty. She always directly spoke her mind. And that’s why, right now… Himari could trust that she was speaking the truth. She lightly scratched at her girlfriend’s torso, sharing in that intimate and unspoken appreciation of another human being’s form, closing her eyes as her fingers became lost in the contours of Tomoe’s skin…

“You’re feeling for my back muscles, aren’t you?”

Himari’s cheeks puffed up. “I-I can’t help it!! T-They’re just s-so… firm , okay?!”

Tomoe chuckled as she sat up. “C’mon, bae, let’s get cozy.”

Himari rose, nestling her head in the crook of Tomoe’s collarbone as they turned to lie down on the sheets. She smelled the mixed scent of sweat and Tomoe’s pinewood shampoo, and felt the warm blood pulsing within her neck. 

And in that moment, tinted orange by the sunset through the half-shut blinds, cradled in the arms of her beloved... she felt comfortable in her own skin. Just a little.

...No. More than that.

Chapter Text

Thunder cracked the midnight sky. Gray rain torrented down castle walls, sloughing dirt and dust off the smooth-stone backs of gargoyles keeping lookout. And knocking at the front door was a pink-haired village maiden, clutching a hidden wooden stake in her trembling off-hand.

“H-Hello?” called Aya. pounding at the rain-slicked entrance. “I-Is the lord of the castle there?”

Without impetus the rickety door creaked open, inviting her into a dimly lit corridor.

Faint orange torches illuminated blood-red carpets and gold-laden candelabras. The tempest outside raged and raged, echoing hollowly in the empty hall. A grand, crystal-encrusted chandelier swayed with every breath. Shadows cast from every corner. The place was lifeless.

Aya had heard the tales. Pallid skin. Alluring eyes. Teeth that could drain the very marrow from her bones. Others chalked it up to superstition and old wives’ tales, but Aya believed the stories with all her soul. That’s why she had taken it upon herself - boldly and foolishly - to slay the monster before it harmed anyone else. She had come prepared: silver bracelets dangled from her wrists, three crosses hung around her neck, and an hour beforehand she had ingested as many garlic cloves as she could stomach. She would be fine… she just had to be cautious-

Just as Aya thought this, the torches blew out, leaving her in complete darkness.

Her heart rate quickened. She crept down the pitch-black corridor, its outline faintly visible by the glare of the moonlight through the windows. Aya felt dread crawl down her neck, prickling at the top of her spine like spider legs. With each tiny step forward, she shuddered worse and worse.

“You can do it, Aya… you can do it… you can do it…!”

Lightning crashed, brightening the room - 

And revealing a caped shadow that engulfed her own.

With a quivering frame, Aya ratcheted herself around, and-

“Boo!”

“AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHH!”

Her scream was shrill enough to break glass. Aya curled up into a tiny ball on the floor, clutching the wooden stake tightly for some miserable modicum of protection, but the cloaked figure just started laughing. 

“Ah, never gets old! Especially when the weather’s perfect like this.” She snapped her fingers, and the hall lit up again, revealing the extent of her form - a turquoise-haired woman, draped in a cloak as deep as night, two triangular fangs jutting from her upper lip.

Aya’s fight or flight instincts kicked in. With only a moment’s hesitation she thrust the wooden stake towards the chuckling villain, still screaming. The vampire, spotting the weapon, simply held up a hand, and contentedly watched the splintery pike dig deep into the flesh.

“Whoops!” the monster yelped lightly, pulling out the stake and casually tossing it to the side as the wound magically healed. “That was close. Wouldn’t wantcha to nab me like that.”

Aya felt panic well up even deeper inside of her - but this just made her more determined. “T-Take this, beast!” she barked, limply hurling her silver bracelets at the vampire.

The bloodsucker watched amusedly as the ringlets bounced off her torso. “Oh, are these a gift? I know you villagers like to pay tribute, but really, you don’t have to-”

“Th-The power of Christ compels you!” Aya stuttered, holding up her crosses with shut eyes.

“Christ? Like Jesus? Oh hey, I know that guy! He’s pretty cool. Heard him speak a couple times-”

“B-Begone, monster! Y-You don’t belong in this world!” Aya shouted, and she did her best to breathe her garlicky breath directly on her foe’s face.

The vampire pinched her nose, wafting away the smell. “Ahaha, why does your breath stink so bad? Get a mint or something.”

Aya collapsed to her knees, hopeless. “N-No… i-it can’t be…”

If anything, the vampire seemed more chipper than before. “I swear, all you villagers do this schtick! It’s so funny.”

Aya was too paralyzed to speak.

“Cat got your tongue? What’s the matter? Oh! Maybe I should clear the air...” The girl extended a hand. “I’m Hina! Like ‘sun.’ Kinda ironic for a vampire, isn’t it?”

Aya was only now starting to process that this monster was a bit… eccentric. “Um, why are you introducing yourself?”

“Isn’t that the polite thing to do?” sked Hina, looking upward in thought. “That’s what my sis said… though she’s also one of those gloomy, shut-in bloodsuckers who’s all fwah-fwah and urm-urm.”

“Wh-What does that mean?”

“Oh, you know,” said Hina dismissively. “Anyway, what’s your name?”

“A...Aya?” she replied, as if it were somehow a question.

“Aya!” repeated Hina. “Good to know. I always make sure to learn my dinner’s name before I drink.”

“H-Huh?”

Faster than shadows, Hina was suddenly right in front of her, the tip of her index finger, pushing up Aya’s chin. “Why…”  The red of her tongue danced across her sharp incisors. “You look simply delicious .”

Aya should have felt a pure fear; the kind that made one as meek as her fade on the spot. But there was something about Hina’s eyes… vast and intoxicating, almost magnetic in how much they pulled her in. It made her voice smoother, brighter… inviting. She almost felt compelled to simply accept her fate without resistance.

Hina chuckled lightly, leaning into the nape of Aya’s neck, her fingers straddling the shoulder line. “Tell me… are you afraid?”

Aya gulped. In spite of that hypnotic gaze, she couldn’t fully quash her trepidation. “Y-Yes… Yes I am.”

She expected a chuckle before Hina plunged in. But instead, the teal-haired vampire tilted her head back, looking Aya in the eyes. “You...are?”

“O-Of course I am!” said Aya, her eyes stinging with tears. “I-I mean, who wouldn’t be afraid to die?!”

Hina blinked, before bursting out in a fit of giggles. “Wow! Everybody who comes here is always like ‘do your worst, monster!’ or ‘I’m not afraid of you!’ or something else like that, before they start crying out in their last moments… but you… you’re willing to admit your fear? How interesting!”

Aya blinked. “Wh-What are you saying?”

“Hmm…” Hina stepped back, letting go of Aya’s torso. “I don’t think I’ll dine for right now. In fact… I’d like to get to know you.”

“M-Me?” asked Aya. “B-But…”

“What? Would you rather be sucked dry?”

The answer was obvious. And Aya couldn’t shake that feeling she got, when staring into Hina’s eyes… that mesmerizing stare… in spite of herself, she felt the same desire. “H-Hina, was it?”

The vampire nodded. “Yup! Now then, you must be hungry - come on, I can make a roast for you. Oh, and I’ll get some nice wine while we’re at it.”

“Th...There’s not going to be blood in it, is there?” asked Aya shakily.

Hina chuckled. “Um, no? Why would there be? You’re weird.” Her cape enveloped Aya’s shoulder, bringing them closer together. “But I like that.”

Aya felt her lungs freeze. She wasn’t sure whether to feel fear or security in that moment. But against her better judgment, she clung tightly to the pale-skinned lord of the castle as they descended into the depths.

Chapter Text

The tables outside CiRCLE. A brisk, autumnal afternoon.

Yukina stared contemplatively into the distance. Other people often took the songstress to be a stoic, but Lisa was well acquainted with the little particulars of her body language - and right now, it was clear that something was up. “What’s the matter, Yukina?”

Roselia’s leader crossed her arms. “Hm… I’m just concerned about Ako right now.”

Lisa felt her mouth purse into a feline grin - seeing Yukina grow attached to her teammates over time warmed her heart. “Aww, that’s sweet of you. Why are you worried?”

“Well, I was messaging her and Rinko earlier…” began Yukina, mindlessly stirring her sugar-drowned coffee. “And she said she had come down with an awful illness. She won't be able to make it to practice tomorrow.”

“Oh no! Is it the flu? We’re starting to hit that season, after all.”

Yukina closed her eyes in thought. “No, it had a more specific name… what was it…?”

As she pondered, Lisa took a sip of boba. After a moment, Yukina’s eyes flashed open in realization:

“Ah, that’s right. She called it ‘ligma.’”

Lisa spat out her drink, spewing a tapioca pearl straight into the eye of the nearby Michelle statue.

“A-Are you all right?” asked Yukina. 

“I-I’m fine,” Lisa coughed, trying not to double over laughing. She knew Yukina had more than her share of blind spots when it came to trendy topics - including modern lingo - but this… this took the cake.

“I didn’t realize the condition was so well known…” Yukina muttered. “It must be a grave ailment indeed.”

“R-Right,” said Lisa, both fighting and fostering the urge to correct her.

“I asked her what the symptoms were, to try and understand what she was going through,” Yukina continued. “But I was a little lost… she said the main effect was an abundance of ‘bofa’ in her bloodstream.”

Lisa’s hand darted to cover her mouth, stifling a snort. The way Yukina recounted the exchange, so steely-eyed and serious, only made it funnier.

“Dreadful, I know,” said Yukina, mistaking Lisa’s motion as cupping her mouth in shock. “Rinko also seemed concerned - she was typing messages like ‘Ako-chan, please no!!!’ in the chat. She must be worried sick...”

“Y-Yeah, totally,” stammered Lisa. Rinko definitely knew what Ako was doing, but even her good-natured dissuasion was misinterpreted as fear for the drummer’s health.

“I asked if the illness would pass, or if she needed medicine,” said Yukina. “Apparently it can only be cured by a substance called ‘Rydon,’ which is a Sugondese drug.”

“S-Sugondese, you say?” hacked Lisa, trying to disguise her giggles as coughs.

“Yes, I hadn’t heard of it, but it’s apparently a Scandanavian nationality,” said Yukina. “Perhaps Wakamiya-san knows more about it?”

“I’m… not sure about that,” said Lisa. Her laughter was beginning to die down - it was high time she fess up and explain the situation.

“It’s a shame Ako will miss practice, however,” said Yukina, drinking her coffee solemnly. “There was even an exclusive one-day NFO event tomorrow that she’s going to skip out on because she needs to go in for treatment.”

Oooooh, Ako, you little devil! Lisa thought, realizing the purple-pigtailed demon’s scheme at last. Fortunately, her little charade would be torn down with just a few words.

“Still…” murmured Yukina, her eyes drooping. “I cannot help but feel responsible, to some degree.”

Lisa’s playful mirth evaporated. “Huh? Why?”

Yukina sighed. “I push everyone in Roselia to reach the utmost apex of their abilities, but… sometimes I can’t help but feel like I go too far. If she’s fallen ill, is it because I made her practice too long and too hard?”

“N-No,” replied Lisa shakily. “I don’t think it’s your fault…”

“That’s kind of you, Lisa,” said Yukina, smiling sadly. “But even so, I wish for everyone in this band to take care of themselves. Becoming the best means nothing if we break upon reaching the summit.”

In spite of the situation’s silliness, Lisa felt her insides fuzzen. “Yukina…”

“I made sure to tell Ako and Rinko this too, of course,” she replied. “They were very encouraged. In fact, Ako gave me a way to help her out.”

“She…” Lisa gulped. “She did?”

“Yes. She wanted me to pick up her favorite drink from the convenience store. It was called… hang on.” Yukina pulled out her phone and scrolled through her conversation. “Ah yes, ‘ICUP.’ Apparently it’s an acronym, so I’m supposed to spell it out to the cashier...”

This, finally, was too much. Lisa collapsed onto the table, her diaphragm guffawing with every breath.

“L-Lisa?! Are you well?!”

“I-I’m * hack* okay!” Lisa claimed, trying to mask her chortles as convulsions.

“You certainly don’t sound as such-” Yukina suddenly gasped. “Could… could you have come down with ligma as well?”

Lisa rolled out of her chair and onto the floor, slamming the ground with an uproarious fist. Yukina bolted from her chair and ran over, anxiety plastered across her face.

“Lisa! Speak to me! What’s wrong?!”

Lisa wanted to assure her that everything was fine, and that the only thing she was dying of was laughter. But then she saw the opportunity - so easy, so flawless, so golden - and she couldn’t resist. She just had to take it. “I… I actually do have a condition.”

“Truly?! What is it?”

Lisa hid her face, snickering. “It’s called ‘updog.’”

Yukina bent down to her, embracing her tightly and without question. Her usual cold facade had been replaced by deep, warm affection. “Oh, Lisa… I’m so sorry. But, what is updog?”

Lisa pulled her head back, facing Yukina with a wink. “...Not much. What’s up with you?”

Yukina blinked, her expression stiff. “I… I’m fine. But what about you? Aren’t you sick?”

“Um…”

Yukina shook her head. “Let me call an ambulance; you might need a hospital stay.”

“W-Wait, Yukina!”

Explaining the situation to the paramedics (and the clueless vocalist) took a long time, and cost an unreasonable amount in medical bills. But Lisa couldn’t deny that having Yukina wrap her tightly in her arms until the sirens came was a nice experience.

Chapter Text

Chisato had had enough.

The meticulously handwritten love letters had been one thing. So had the lockers stuffed with flower petals, the mountain of heart-shaped chocolates sent to her address, even the one occasion where a certain “Happy Phantom Thief” had alighted upon her balcony at two in the morning backed by a shower of roses. But this - a full white carriage with matching horses pulling up to the Hanasakigawa gates, accented by a flurry of lilies and doves soaring into the sky as Kaoru (clad in a blindingly silver tuxedo) bent down on one knee - pushed her past the brink. She could no longer mask her discontent as she stormed past the lurid ensemble, crossly clearing the hair from her eyes as she passed the thick-headed thespian.

“Ch-Chisato?” Kaoru called, wielding a silken top hat in one hand and a gem-encrusted cane in the other. “Where are you going?”

“Home,” she replied tersely. Half of the school was gawking at the spectacle.

“H-Hold a moment. Do you not feel my ardent passion? The yearning affection that soars through my veins?”

“Is that what it is? How strange. I thought it to be a bombastic display of narcissism.”

“I… I only wish to express the depth of my-”

“Kaoru,” Chisato interrupted, ice-cold. “You don’t seem to understand, no matter how many times I inform you of your embarrassing, embarrassing acts, how little patience I have for these tedious presentations of love. So I will make you understand.”

She blustered off, leaving Kaoru with a strained curiosity and a whole lot of birds to corral.

 


 

Kaoru strode past the Haneoka entrance the next morning, greeting her gaggle of fangirls with the same assured confidence as always. As Himari and others flocked to her, Chisato’s comments from the day prior lingered in her mind.

She’ll make me understand, she says… how so? Were my professions of ardor truly so displeasurable? Hmm… how unfleeting…

Just as she mused, the roar of an engine cracked the sky. One of her fans pointed behind her in wonder. “Woah, who’s that?”

Kaoru turned. A stylish yellow motorcycle had rolled right up to the gates, polished to a sunlight sheen. The rider, clad in a sleek, bumblebee-colored jumpsuit, casually booted out the kickstand prior to disembarking, taking off her helmet to let loose a short bob of blonde hair. She nonchalantly flipped on a pair of round, magenta-tinted glasses, twisting around to reveal wine-red lipstick, gold hoop earrings,  and eyeshadow sharper than daggers.

Kaoru stared in disbelief. “Ch...Chi-chan…?”

Chisato winked. “Hey there, tall stuff.” Her voice was breathy and flirtatious. “Surprised to see me?”

Kaoru could only stand there, gaping alongside her fan club at the stunning transformation. “You… got a haircut… and…”

“Oh, come on, Kao~chan ,” said Chisato, striding up to her with an amorous grin. “Why so nervous?”

Normally, the childhood nickname would be enough to send Kaoru into a tizzy. But she was already far more shaken by the rest of Chisato’s demeanor. She attempted to regain some modicum of control. “Y-You’ve simply caught me off guard, kitten… I’m used to a much more… reserved version of your beautiful self.”

“Aww, don’t sell me short,” said Chisato, her hands straddling Kaoru’s slender wrists. “A girl’s gotta go a little wild every now and then.”

Kaoru felt her heart rate skyrocket. The onlookers were beginning to snap photos. “Has… Has something happened, my friend?”

“Come on, tiger,” said Chisato, her brow pursing. “Don’t look so disappointed. I gussied myself up just for you, you know.”

“T-Tiger…?”

“You’re always going on and on about your kittens, after all.” Chisato smirked as her fingers traced the lines of Kaoru’s slim biceps. “Meanwhile, you’re the king of the jungle. Lithe. Strong.” She inhaled deeply as she brought herself closer. “ Fierce.

“St-Stop that!” Kaoru begged, recognizing that every student within a hundred meter radius was witnessing the school’s prince in the midst of humiliation.

“Oh, I forgot…” said Chisato, shaking her head with disappointment. “You boast like a big cat, but you’re really just a cub at heart, aren’t you?”

“Kn-Knock it off, Chi-chan!”

“What? It’s just a little playful teasing. Don’t you love me?” Chisato pouted. “And after all those little letters… how sad. You said it over and over again, but I guess it was just... “ Her fingers curled around Kaoru’s shoulder. “A lie .”

Kaoru was quickly becoming lost in the deep pink of her glasses, the casual smoulder of her lips. “N-No, it… it wasn’t…”

“Oh?” Chisato brought her arms to dangle loosely off of Kaoru’s back. “Then why so flustered, tiger?”

“W-We’re in public, that’s why!”

“Aw, come on. So were we yesterday, when you strolled up with those doves.” Chisato’s hands moved to stroke Kaoru’s neck. “And you were so confident then.”

Kaoru had gotten the point. “Ch-Chi-chan, I’m sorry, all right? I-I won’t do that kind of thing any more.”

“Oh, Kao~chan , that doesn’t matter right now.” Chisato suddenly grabbed the scruff of Kaoru’s collar and tugged, bringing their noses together. “All I can think about is how much I want you. I’m getting crazy just looking .”

Kaoru could feel a hundred eyes bore into her back, shocked and appalled at the scene. She was desperate. “O-Okay, Chi-chan! I get it! I understand how you felt! I… I didn’t mean to embarrass you, I… I just wanted to show how much I loved you, okay? I’m so used to being flamboyant that I couldn’t figure out how to just say it normally. B-Because I couldn’t find the words, I pulled a bunch of stupid stunts. But now I can see how thoughtless I was. So please… st-stop!”

Chisato’s head pulled back, her expression falling to a soft burn. “Aw, Kao-chan… you’re being honest for once.”

She dipped Kaoru to the floor, gliding up to the prince’s face, smiling with sweet seduction.

“That’s so adorable.

And then she implanted a big, sloppy kiss right on Kaoru’s lips, leaving a chianti-colored stain the size of a tangerine as the crowd swooned around them.

Chisato lifted Kaoru back up, massaging her shoulders tenderly before releasing her grip. “Wish I could stick around longer, but I’ve gotta get to class on time.” She began strutting away with a chuckle. “Though… I guess I’ll end up a little late, huh?”

She straddled her motorcycle, winking to Kaoru one last time before donning her helmet and revving up the motor. “Catch you later, babe.”

And with that, she sped off, leaving a horde of converted admirers howling in her wake.

“Ohhh my goooood! Chisato-senpai!”

“That was so cool!

“Please step on me!”

Kaoru could only watch her drive off, dumbfounded and beet-red, until a buzzing in her pocket snapped her to attention. It was a message:

-Chi-chan: Don’t pull any more of your grandstanding, unless you want a repeat performance.

-Chi-chan: Understood... tiger? ♡

It was in that moment that Kaoru Seta swore to never flirt with another human being ever again.