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Kokoro noticed that Arisa hardly ever smiled. 

 

That was one of the first things she noticed about her. 

 

It was a shame, really. 

 

Arisa was such a pretty girl… she had hair that caught the sunlight and turned into coiled strands of gold. Her eyes were warm and syrupy, like a perfect honey. The kind of honey Kokoro imagined plenty of bees happy to dedicate their lives to making! She had a lovely amount of curve; she was very warm and soft, in appearance. 

 

But she frowned. 

 

She scowled. 

 

She scoffed. 

 

As if nothing mattered; as if smiling was beneath her. As though laughter was unfit for someone who looked like they were born from the sun. 

 

It was intriguing - if not confusing - to say the least. 

 

Especially considering the rest of Arisa’s band. The girls in Poppin’ Party were full of smiles. Full of laughter. A group of people well suited for Kokoro’s antics. All juxtaposed right next to Arisa’s outright stubborn downturn of her lips. 

 

“Hey, Misaki,” Kokoro questioned her friend and bandmate, one day, knowing that Misaki was rather close with Arisa. “Why doesn’t Arisa ever smile?”

 

“Hm?” Misaki seemed perturbed. “I mean… she does…?”

 

“Huh?”

 

Misaki blinked. “You’ve never seen Arisa smile?”

 

“No…?” Kokoro drawled the word out, suddenly wondering if Misaki was alright. “She never smiles.”

 

“I mean… not like full blown smiles or anything,” Misaki clarified. “I can’t say I’ve ever seen her grin from ear to ear or anything like that, but she’s smiled before. That little smirk she has counts as smiling. Everyone smiles. Even if they’re little.”

 

Kokoro couldn’t find it in herself to be satisfied with that response. 

 

Sure, Arisa’s little simpers or half smiles could be interpreted as happiness. Amusement, maybe. But Kokoro couldn’t help but be put off by the fact that no one, from the sound of it, had ever seen Arisa even grin. Kokoro was even beginning to wonder if anyone had heard the girl laugh, either. 

 

“We’ve gotta make Arisa smile,” she announced to Hello Happy World!, one day, at practice. 

 

“Oh, no,” Misaki immediately interrupted, visibly displeased with the turn things seemed to be taking. “Nope. No. Nuh uh.”

 

“Why not!?” Kokoro lamented. “She’s always so grumpy and she would look so much prettier and happier if she just smiled -”

 

Kaoru seemed to jump right on board. “Ah, dear Misaki, I believe our princess may just be on to something here!”

 

“Of course you do.”

 

“Imagine this; a stunning young lady of Arisa’s breed… usually a rather prickly thorn, budding into a rose in bloom! Ah… how lovely.”

 

“See, Misaki! Kaoru gets it!” Kokoro grinned, cheekily. 

 

Misaki sighed. “And it seems you don’t get it at all-”

 

“Well what’s so wrong about trying to make Aa-chan smile, Mii-kun?” Hagumi interrupted. “Wouldn’t smiling make her more happy? That’s what Hello Happy World! is for… Smiling feels so good and being able to laugh with your friends is the best thing ever!”

 

“Well…” Misaki huffed, roughly running a hand through her dark locks of hair. “Everyone has different ways of feeling and expressing things, guys.”

 

“Maybe Misaki-chan is right,” Kanon added. Thankfully always a second source of common sense in this crazy little group. “If Arisa-chan doesn’t want to smile, it’s… um… probably not a good idea to force it from her. Besides, a fake smile is… worse than a frown, isn’t it?”

 

Kokoro puffed her cheeks at that. “But… a real smile is better than both.”

 

Misaki could see they weren’t getting anywhere with this. “Fine, but just be careful. I doubt Ichigaya-san will be all too pleased with you lot making her your next pet project.”

 

And Misaki was right. 

 

Arisa was infinitely annoyed with the unfolding situation. 

 

She’d considered herself rather lucky, before, that most of the bands tended to leave her to her own business. She doubted Afterglow cared much for her at all. Pastel*Palettes and Roselia too. In fact, the only people she ever really was bothered with was her own band, and sometimes she talked to Misaki. 

 

Outside of that, no one bothered her.

 

While part of her might have been a bit disheartened that no one really seemed to think much of her aside from being Poppin’ Party’s quiet “ladylike” keyboardist… The benefits outweighed any sort of sadness from that thought.

 

She was left to her own devices. 

 

Left to her own. 

 

Alone. 

 

The way she liked it. 

 

And now… around every corner was another one of Hello Happy World!’s doofuses. Hagumi trying to walk with her. Kaoru “coincidentally” catching her by the station. Even Kanon and Misaki were more caught up in her day to day life, if not just out of concern for the new occurrences. 

 

Kokoro was the worst of them all. 

 

She would come barging into Arisa’s classroom, asking to eat lunch together. She’d be there, during break, trying to tell the worst jokes Arisa had ever heard. Hell, she’d even been trying to come around to their band practices and she’d been showing up to every show Poppin’ Party had put on in the past month. 

 

What a menace.

 

What a nuisance

 

Arisa was beyond irritated with the fact that her peaceful life of being left to her own devices was slowly but surely becoming a thing of the past. 

 

“Why the hell are Kokoro and her gaggle of idiots following me around everywhere?” she ground out through grit teeth, aimed at Misaki. 

 

“Ah…” Misaki breathed out, as if she’d been hoping that, somehow, Arisa hadn’t noticed the recent developments. “Well…”

 

“So, you did know.”

 

“Look,” Misaki huffed. “I’ve tried stopping her, but she’s determined. For some reason, she’s got the idea in her head that you’re ‘devoid of smiles’ or something like that. Don’t give me that look,” she admonished, seeing the indignance on Arisa’s face, “I’m not the cause behind this. I told her she was being silly, but she won’t listen to me .”

 

“What the hell?” Arisa groaned, her face burying into her hands. “What did I do to deserve this?”

 

“I guess you’re just… ‘too pretty not to smile’ or whatever she said.”

 

“Wh-wha-?”

 

Arisa’s face felt warm and she was sure it was flushing into an embarrassing shade of pink as she spluttered. 

 

“Her words, not mine,” Misaki hurriedly asserted, not wanting to be embarrassed, herself. “Look, just shoot her a smile or whatever she wants. She’ll leave you alone then, probably.”

 

“ ‘Probably’, she says…” Arisa grumbled. “I don’t see why I should… she’s not one of my friends and even they usually don’t make me smile. So what gives?”

 

“Well…” Misaki hummed. “You might wanna ask her that? I wouldn’t have the foggiest idea of what goes on in Kokoro’s head half of the time. The only time I ever even partially understand is when I’m translating her drawings into song lyrics.”

 

Groaning, Arisa realized she wasn’t going to get much else out of Misaki. It was understandable; not many people could say they knew what was going on in the mind of Tsurumaki Kokoro, after all. 

Unfortunately for her, Kokoro was nothing if not persistent. Thus, these shenanigans of hers seemed to continue. Much to Arisa’s own aggravation, if nothing else. 

 

“Oi,” she growled, one day, catching Kokoro’s attention. “Why are you suddenly all over the place, Tsurumaki-san?”

 

“Hm?” Kokoro tilted her head, not unlike a dog. Some sort of… overly enthusiastic golden retriever? Labrador? Arisa squinted. 

 

“I’m asking you why you’ve been following me around, like you’re lost.”

 

“Oh!” Kokoro brightened. “I’m not lost!”

 

“Oh?”

 

“Yup!” Nodding, Kokoro seemed very sure of herself. “I’m right where I need to be.”

 

“Huh,” Arisa rolled her eyes. “Is that so? Well, if you’re where you need to be, then you won’t be going anywhere else?”

 

“Nope!”

 

“Makes sense,” Arisa brushed off her skirt. “Well then, if you’ll excuse me-” She glared as Kokoro began to rise with her. “You just said you were right where you needed to be, didn’t you?”

 

“Yup!”

 

“And that you didn’t need to go anywhere else…”

 

“I mean,” Kokoro latched on to her arm, causing Arisa to let out an unladylike squawk, “if you go, I have to, too.”

 

Arisa fought the violent urge to throw Kokoro off of her. “And why on earth is that?”

 

“Because…” Kokoro hesitated, catching Arisa off guard, for just a moment. “If you smile while I’m not around, I’ll miss it.”

 

“Ugh…” Arisa felt the beginnings of a headache. “So, if I smile, will this all end? Will you leave me alone and stop following me?”

 

The faintest shimmer of something unfamiliar - uncomfortable - flickered in the liquid gold of Kokoro’s eyes as she appraised her. It was almost sad… Kokoro’s fingers seemed to squeeze her arm just a tiny bit. 

 

“Do you want that, Arisa?” Kokoro inquired. “Do you want to be left all alone?”

 

Arisa nearly choked. 

 

“Th-there’s…” she stumbled over her words, panicked. “There’s no need to be that dramatic. I just… don’t like being followed all over the place, with you chirping all the time-”

 

“Well then, I won’t follow you.” Arisa almost felt relief from the declaration. “I’ll just go with you; then I can’t follow you, right?”

 

What a pain in the ass…

 

There was no getting rid of her. And it was only getting worse. She seemed to cling to Arisa wherever she went. 

 

She was a bit more… calm about it, Arisa supposed. Often, she was surprised to find that Kokoro was content with simply humming next to her as she worked on her school assignments or read over lyrics Kasumi had been working on. 

 

Never had she thought that the day would come where she and Tsurumaki Kokoro could have companionable silence. In fact, she was rather surprised to consider the fact that she was… beginning to even possibly enjoy having Kokoro’s company. 

 

When Kokoro was calm… Arisa rather liked the girl. 

 

Tsurumaki Kokoro was like biting into a lemon and tasting ripe strawberries. 

 

She was spunky and bright and oh so yellow . A sunflower as a human; choppy with sporadic petals. She was all peals of laughter and warm, heart melting smiles. Yet… there was something more in those eyes of hers; something deeper. As if she understood Arisa. And God that was such a… good feeling. 

 

“My parents aren’t around much, you know,” Kokoro confided in her, one day, unprompted, out of nowhere. All while stroking the back of Arisa’s hand with her thumb, languid. “So I know what it’s like.”

 

Arisa didn’t reply; she didn’t have to, and she knew it. Kokoro knew it too. 

 

You and I aren’t so different , she was saying. We both know how to be alone. So… can we be alone, together?

 

Ichigaya Arisa was like biting into a peach and tasting pineapple. 

 

Kokoro knew Arisa looked soft, plump, and sweet. Everyone knew that. Rarely did people even find out that Arisa was more like a prickly pear. Yes, she was like a sweet, juicy peach… until you bit in, got under the skin, and found out she had a sharp acidity to her. 

 

But that was the thing about pineapple, Kokoro reasoned; while it has that certain sharpness to it… pineapple is also oh so sweet - sweet as sin - in it’s very own way.

 

She knew Arisa was a subtle girl; she wanted to be subtle. Kokoro wasn’t entirely certain to the reason why, but she didn’t like receiving or giving large displays of affection. She didn’t even seem keen on initiating small ones, either. 

 

Kokoro was fine with that, as they settled into… whatever this was. 

 

As she kissed the tips of Arisa’s fingers, she was content. 

 

Though, her mission was still intact. 

 

She’d seen plenty of those tiny smiles that Misaki had promised her. Seen the amount of love Arisa had within in her small gestures and efforts. Just seeing that Arisa was capable of such things made Kokoro’s heart swell. 

 

It was at a point where she didn’t know what it would take… getting Arisa to just let go. Of course, Kokoro cared deeply for her, regardless. But… Kokoro knew the fun in releasing inhibitions and foregoing what society wanted from you. She wanted that for Arisa too… 

 

“What do you have going on in there?” Arisa demanded, poking gently at Kokoro’s forehead. “You’ve been awfully quiet today…”

 

“I thought you liked me quiet,” Kokoro teased, a cheeky grin on her lips. 

 

Arisa grumbled and Kokoro swore she heard the tiniest voice say “Depends…” 

 

“Anyway,” Kokoro knew she’d only embarrass Arisa by commenting further, “I’m just thinking about how lucky I am, is all.”

 

“Oh?”

 

“Yeah! You’re so beautiful, Arisa.”

 

“W-wha-!?”

 

There she goes, Kokoro thought, smiling. 

 

“Why are you lucky if… I’m…” Arisa couldn’t even get the words out. “It’s not like you benefit-”

 

“Of course I do,” Kokoro interrupted. “I get to look at you, all the time. And you’re super sweet, and I get to talk to you all the time. And…” Kokoro caressed the very tips of Arisa’s fingers, tentatively asking permission through her actions before taking the small, soft hands into her own. “I get to feel you, all the time.”

 

“You’re so…” Arisa scoffed, looking away, “you’re so embarrassing…”

 

Kokoro leaned forward, forcing Arisa to make eye contact. 

 

“I love you.”

 

She breathed in Arisa’s soft gasp, as she kissed her. 

 

Oh she kissed her. She kissed her. Warm and soft and in love

 

This was why, Kokoro realized. This was why she wanted Arisa’s smile so deeply. Because it made her heart flutter in ways she couldn’t even hope to describe. And how her heart felt like a flurry of butterflies as she looked upon her love. 

 

Arisa tried to hide her face behind the back of her hand, but she couldn’t quite make it as she smiled, radiant. Her flushed cheeks, her golden hair, and her sunny, beautiful smile… she was beaming. 

 

Kokoro couldn’t help but feel a little greedy as she leaned in for seconds.