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A Blossom of Flowers

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     “Tsugumi, is everything okay?” She’d been uncharacteristically quiet through the whole rehearsal, and had a focused look on her face.

     “Hm…” She didn’t seem to notice and kept thinking.

     “Oi, Tsugu. You there?” Tomoe waved her hand in front of Tsugumi’s thoughtful face.

     “Uaaah, sorry! I completely spaced out. What were we talking about?”

     “Tsugu is here~” Moca said sarcastically.

     “Eh? What did I…?”

     “You looked a bit… serious.” Ran spoke again.

     “Serious…?”

     “Really serious. It wasn’t like you.” Tomoe nodded in agreement.

     “Is… is that so…? Um… why don’t we run through it again..?” She tried to dodge the question.

     Ran offered a small smile. “Actually, why don’t we call it here? Himari, is that okay?”

     “Huh? Me? Why are you asking me?” She replied, slightly confused.

     “Well, you are our leader, after all.” Ran said with a small laugh.

     “Oh! Right! Um… Tsugu, are you okay with that?”

     Tsugumi looked down a little. “Oh. Sure, I guess.”

     “Alright. I’ll go tell Marina-san we’re wrapping up a little early. Tsugu, why don’t you come with?” The red-haired tomboy drummer motioned her over.

     “Eh? Ah, sure, I guess…” She followed her out of the room, and as soon as the door closed Tomoe spoke up again.

     “So are you gonna tell me what’s up, or…?”

     “Hm? What do you mean? I’m fine!” She put a smile on her face, but it was clear that she was still thinking something.

     “Come on, Tsugu. We’ve been together practically all our lives. We all have. It’s obvious that something’s up. If you don’t want to tell the group, then you can at least start with me, yeah?”

     “Well…” She looked down again with a pause.

     “Don’t tell me… you’ve fallen in love?” She teased her, knowing that probably wasn’t it.

     “N-no! T-that’s n-not it at all!” she waved her hands in a panic, “It’s just… I’ve been thinking about our sound…”

     “...our sound?”

     “Yeah. It’s just...since we heard Roselia play at Future World Fes… I don’t know. It just doesn’t sound as energetic.”

     Future World Festival. A 3-day event held in Japan where the best bands in the world are invited to play in a concert. Performing there had been Roselia’s dream for some time, and, after the Bang Dream! competition, they were invited. All expences are paid for by the event, including 1 guest per performer. The Roselia girls invited Afterglow to come with them.

     “Ah, that one. That was really one hell of a show, wasn’t it?”

     “Yeah. It was…”

     “You know, the funny thing is that I was thinking the same thing. After hearing them play like that… I can’t help but feel like we’re lacking something.”

     “You… you really feel that way?”

     “Yeah. Didn’t say anything because I thought I was the only one, but I’m glad I’m not alone on this one.” She turned to Marina at the front desk briefly. “Hey, Marina-san, we’re packing up.”

     “Eh? Already? But you have half an hour left on your reservation.”

     “Yeah, but we don’t think we’re gonna do anything productive at this point, so we’re calling it quits a little early.”

     The two turned around and headed back to the room, when Tsugumi spoke up again. “Hey, Tomoe-chan? Can we keep this just between us?”

     “Between us…? I mean, sure, but you’ll have to tell them eventually. We all noticed that something was up.”

     “I know, but… I don’t think this is a good time. Maybe tomorrow.”

     “Alright. Tomorrow, then.”

     “Thanks, Tomoe-chan.”

     “Sure.” She but her hand on the back of her head. “I don’t know why you’re treating this like a big deal. You telling the others your opinion. It’s not like you’re confessing your love or something.”

     Her face flushed red for a moment.”I-I know that, but… still…”

     “Oh? So you do have a crush after all!”

     “I-I do not! Well, actually I do, but that’s not the point!”

     She let out a small laugh. “Alright if you say so.” She glanced down at the shorter brown-haired girl. “But who is it on?” She teased.

     “Um… um…!” Her eyes darted around a bit. “C-coffee!”

     “Coffee…?”

     She flinched, realizing what she just said. “Y-yeah! I… I really like coffee…”

     “...man. I know that everyone has their own quirks, but I think that one definately takes the cake!” She smiled and laughed. 

     “Let’s go eat cake~! To Yamabuki Bakery~!” The slow-speaking Moca announced from a little ways down the hall, followed by her marching past them.

     “Guess it can’t be helped.” Ran sighed. “Been a while since we’ve all hung out outside of school, though.”

     “All right! To the bakery! Eh! Eh! Oh~!” Silence. “Oh come on! I thought you guys were gonna do it with me this time!” There was a light laughter from the group as Himari complained to them.

 

~{]0o0[}~

 

     The five were walking towards the station, Moca happily munching on some rolls as they walked.

     “Hey guys? I want to write a new song.” Tsugumi announced suddenly.

     “A new song?” Ran asked, turning towards her. “What about?”

     “Bread~!” Moca called out from behind them, holding up a roll before bringing it down to take a bite.

     “I… I’m not sure. Something… powerful, maybe? Big and grand?”

     “Powerful, huh?” She placed her hand on her chin, starting to think. “What brought this on?”

     “Oh, it’s uh… nothing. I just thought that we could put something new on for our next show.”

     She turned, separating from the group to head home. “I’ll put some thought into it. Why don’t we talk about it more tomorrow?”

     “Tomorrow… alright. That sounds good.”

     The group split ways and went home for the night.

 

~{]0o0[}~

 

     “Tsugu, I’m heading up to the others. Do you wanna come with?” The sun would be setting soon, so Tomoe thought she’d make the offer.

     “Oh! Yeah, just give me a sec…” She gathered her things and walked with Tomoe to the roof where the others were watching the sun just as it began to set.

     “Hey guys, there’s something I need to say.” She looked sheepish as the others turned to look at her.

     “What is it, Tsugumi?” Ran asked.

     “Well…  do you remember Roselia’s Future World Fes. performance?”

     “How could I forget? It was absolutely breathtaking!”

     “Well…” She sighed, “I’ve been thinking that we don’t have the same kind of… energy as they did. I think… I think we could do better than we are.”

     “Tsugu…” Himari started.

     “Tsugumi, I didn’t know you felt that way. But if I’m being honest… I’ve kind of been thinking the same thing.” Ran spoke with a small smile.

     “But Afterglow is Afterglow, and Roselia is Roselia.” Moca protested. “What’s wrong with that?”

     “Moca, what I think we’re trying to say is that we’ve been inspired to make Afterglow a better version of ourselves.” Tomoe walked over to her.

     “...sure, I guess…” Moca put her head down.

     “Well, Himari? It’s your call.” Ran and the others turned to her.

     “What are the odds that we all had the same thought?” Himari said with a slight laugh.      “Besides, I have some ideas for that song you mentioned, Tsugu! Uh, if- if that’s okay…”

     “That’d be cool, Himari!” Ran gave her a bigger smile. “Alright! Let’s go write a song!”

     “Alright! Eh! Eh! Oh~!...” Himari thrust her fist in the air before trailing off. “Oh, come on guys!    If that wasn’t the chance to do it, I don’t know what is!”

     The girls laughed as they started running down the stairs, where they ran into Yukina Minato, the leader of Roselia.

     “I wondered what all that shouting was about. Of course it’d be Afterglow.”

     Ran paused. “Minato-san.” she spoke coldly to the girl she deemed her rival.

     “So you’re going to write a new song?” Yukina replied.

     “Yeah.”

     Yukina offered a small smile before returning to her usual cold expression, and turned around and waved as she walked away. “Save me a ticket.”

     The Afterglow girls hadn’t planned on doing a live, but they agreed amongst themselves to do one as part of their improvement.

Chapter Text

     Their live show at CiRCLE had gone well. Afterglow agreed to split the costs with Poppin’Party and Hello, Happy World!, and they all did a mini-live a few weeks later. Ran had, of course, saved a ticket for Yukina like she said she would, but she didn’t see her in the audience that night.

     Ran had already split from the others on their way home, and had been thinking to herself for a while, when she bumped into someone at an intersection.

     “Ah! Sorry, I wasn’t… Oh, it’s you , Minato-san.”

     “Good evening, Mitake-san.” She spoke with the same bland expression as always.

     “Did you go to our live?” She stared coldly back.

     “Yes. It was a good live. I was surprised that you actually reserved a ticket for me like I asked.”

     “And what’d you think of it?”

     “There are a number of things you all can improve on. For starters-”

     “Minato-san, I get that you don’t like me, so you’re hard on me. But the others don’t deserve to be treated that way.”

     “Mitake-san, it is because I do like you that I’m hard on you. As for the others-”

     A blush formed on Ran’s face as she became flustered like she usually did when she was complimented. “Wh-what did you say?”

     Yukina paused, realizing what she had just said. “Mitake-san, I like you.”

     “B-but not in that way, right?”

     She looked away. She may be cold and harsh, but she wouldn’t lie.

     “W-wait. A-are you saying… that…”

     Yukina sighed, closing her eyes and looking down before looking straight into Ran’s deep red eyes. “Mitake Ran. I like you in that way.”

     Ran’s face became more flustered. “U-um… d-does that mean th-that we… that you and I are…”

     “Only if you want to be.”

     “W-well… um…” She took a breath and took a step back, pointing at her. “Minato Yukina! From today on, the two of us are g-girlfriends!”She turned around, blushing deeper, and stormed off.

     Yukina gave a smile and spoke to herself before continuing on her way home. “I’ll never get tired of that personality of hers. Shy, but bold at the same time.”

 

~{]0o0[}~

 

     “Aoba-san, play that part a little softer so Udagawa-san’s riff will have more power. Mitake-san-”

     “Yeah, yeah, I know. My guitar’s a little off.”

     “No, your guitar is fine now. Your vocals are too weak for the quality of the rest of the song. Have more power and energy behind them.”

     “Minato-san, if I sing any louder, I’ll be belting for the whole song, and I’ll lose my voice!”

     “Mitake-san, I said more energetic, not louder.”

     “They’re the same thing!”

     “No, they’re not. They’re two very different things.”

     “Then what’s the difference?!”

     “Being loud means having lots of volume. Being more energetic means putting more passion into it.”

     “Are you saying I’m not passionate about my own music?!”

     “No, I’m saying that you’re not putting enough energy into your vocals.”

     “Guys, calm down…” Himari interjected, “Ran, Minato-san’s been nice enough to help us improve from last night’s live, and you’re just being mean to her. I know the two of you don’t really get along, but can we please just finish this rehearsal before we start fighting?”

     Yukina exchanged glances with Ran before replying. “Uehara-san’s right. I apologize for getting off-track. Why don’t we start from the lead-in to that phrase, and stop just before the chorus?”

     She closed her eyes and listened as they played the section. The balance was much better, and, despite the fight Ran put up, her vocals were a lot more energetic than they were beforehand. 

     “So? What did you all think?”

     “Afterglow-like~” Moca quickly replied.

     “It felt so much more alive!” Himari added joyfully.

     “Tomoe-chan’s drumming sounded so cool!” Tsugumi added.

     “Not as cool as Himari’s bass!” Tomoe replied.

     “...I liked it…” Ran had turned her head and spoke quietly, so no one heard her over their laughter except Yukina, who gave her a small smile.

     After the rehearsal, Ran pulled Yukina outside saying “We need to talk.”

     “I thought we agreed to be girlfriends.” Ran had a serious look on her face.

     “Yes, we did.”

     “Then what was that back there? You were still being harsh to me like before!”

     “Mitake-san, don’t forget that you’re the one who asked me to help you in rehearsal last night.”

     “Yeah, but you were still way harsher on me than on anyone else! Besides, I don’t think you did a single thing I asked you to in those texts.”

     “Mitake-san, I have done all of your requests. I kept our relationship a secret from the others, and I kept Afterglow sounding like Afterglow. As for being harsh on you…” She sighed. “Mitake-san, as both a guitarist and the lead vocalist, you have one of the most difficult jobs in the band. You’re playing two instruments at the same time, and you have to pay attention to what your other band members are doing as well. It’s easy to focus on only two of your tasks, which is why I was harder on you. You’re talented, Mitake-san. I want you to be the best you can be.”

     Ran puffed her cheeks, slightly flustered. “Fine. You win this one. Should we… um…” Her blush deepened. “...walk home together?”

     Yukina closed her eyes with a small smile on her face. “I think the others would start to suspect us if we did, but I’ll see you tomorrow.”

     “Tomorrow…?” Ran thought for a moment. “But tomorrow’s Saturday.”

     Yukina, who had started walking away, turned around. “Mitake-san. Do you want to go on a date?”

     “Uh… sure…” This had caught Ran off guard, and she wasn’t entirely sure how to respond to it.

     “Then I’ll see you tomorrow. We’ll meet in front of the school.”

     “The school…?”

     “I don’t have your address, so it’ll be easier to meet there.”

     “Ah… right.”

     “Good night, Mitake-san.”

     “G-good night, Minato-san…” She turned and headed back to CiRCLE.

     “Should we head home now?” She looked around. “Where’s Moca?”

     The three girls looked at each other before Himari spoke up. “Ran… Moca left quickly. She didn’t say why.”

     “She ran off…? I hope she’s okay… Maybe we should go look for her?”

     “That would probably be a good idea, but… where did she go?” Tsugumi asked.

     “The bakery’s probably a good place to start.” Tomoe suggested.

     Himari agreed, and the four of them went to the bakery.

     “Welcome!” A girl with a brown ponytail called as they entered the store. “Oh, it’s Afterglow! No Moca today?”

     The girls sighed, and Ran spoke up. “Actually, Saaya, we were hoping she’d be here, but I guess she hasn’t come by.”

     She tilted her head. “Did something happen?”

     The girls exchanged glances. “We… don’t know.”

     “She took off suddenly, and we wanted to make sure she was okay.” Tsugumi followed up.

     “Have you tried texting her yet?”

     “We thought it would be better to see her in person.” Ran replied.

     “I see, that makes sense. I’ll let you know if she comes by.”

     “Thanks. We’ll let you know if we find her.”

     The four walked out of the shop and looked at each other, worried.

     “So what should we do now?” Tsugumi broke the silence.

     “Well… we’ll probably find her faster if we split up. Where does she usually go?” Ran answered.

     “In that case, I’ll see if she went home.” Tomoe offered.

     “There’s a park nearby she sometimes goes to.” Tsugumi brought up.

     “I can check the diner we usually eat at.” himari added.

     Ran nodded. “Then I’ll check to see if she went back to CiRCLE.”

     The four went their separate ways to look for her. Ran had just gotten to CiRCLE when her phone went off.

 

You have been added to Afterglow + Saaya by Tomoe

Tomoe: Found her

Tomoe: She says she wants to be alone for a while

Tsugu: Is she okay?!?!

Himari: Be right there!

Tomoe: But I’m going to stay and talk to her for a bit

Himari: Wait

Tsugu: Oh

Himari: Nvm I’ll let you do your thing

Himari: Wait

Himari: You have a thing, right?

Himari: As in

Himari: You know what to do?

Himari: Because

Saaya: I’m glad you found her, but why am I in this?

Himari: Otherwise

Himari: It would be awkward

Himari: I mean

Tsugu: Himari

Himari: REALLY awkward

Tsugu: You’re spamming again

Himari: And I wouldn’t want to make this awkward

Himari: But it’s too late, isn’t it?

Himari: Oh no

Tsugu: @Himari Please stop I don’t have unlimited data

Himari: It’s awkward now

Himari: Sorry Tsugu

Saaya has left the chat

Himari: I’ll stop now

 

     Ran frequently didn’t reply to messages, but she figured now was a good time to reply.

 

Ran: I’m glad she’s okay.

     

Chapter Text

     She checked her phone. Half an hour early. It wasn’t unusual for Yukina to arrive this early to events, but she’d have to admit, her nerves were getting to her, so she felt like she was running late.

     She was wearing a light blue collared blouse with a long white skirt, and a black jacket for the cold weather there was supposed to be today. She didn’t usually like wearing anything in her hair except for performances, but today was an exception, as she chose to wear a purple ribbon with a black rose in the center on the left side of her hair.

     She was a little self-conscious about her dress. She was used to dressing up a little compared to everyone else, but there was something about spending time dressing with the intention of impressing someone else that made her a bit… uncomfortable. 

     After a few minutes, she saw Ran approaching her with a light blush, though much to her surprise, she almost wouldn’t have recognised her had it not been for the stripe of red hair. She was wearing a light grey blouse with a short black skirt, black stockings, a nice black leather jacket and a red scarf.

     “Minato-san, you look nice. Same as always.”

     “You too, Mitake-san.” Yukina’s words were met with Ran blushing a little deeper and looking away slightly. “I half expected you to show up in your usual, rebellious outfit, or at least something similar.”

     “Sh-shut it. I just… thought I should dress a little nicer for my first date…”

     Yukina smiled. “Mitake-san, you look wonderful. Can we agree to not do this again?”

     “W-what? Do you not like it? I-is it that bad?”

     “No. In fact, I prefer this outfit to your usual ones. But I think we’ll both be more comfortable if we don’t change our dress style for the sake of dates.”

     “Oh. R-right. Agreed. We should change and come back-” She had turned and started to walk away, but was stopped by Yukina grabbing her sleeve. “Hm?”

     Yukina looked away slightly, blushing. “May I… have one date with you looking like this…?”

     “S-sure.” What’s going on? Ran thought, She sounds like she wants to spend as much time with me wearing this as she can, but doesn’t want to to be uncomfortable. Or maybe it’s because she doesn’t know how to respond to me wearing something like this. Either way, she seems to like it, so I guess it’s not that bad. “Anyway, you got my texts last night, right?”

     Yukina let go of her sleeve, composing herself. “Yes. Our route will not take us in or by places the other members of Afterglow frequent or work. The same applies to Roselia’s members, but Lisa works in the same place Aoba-san does, and Ako, Rinko, and Sayo are playing NFO today, so we won’t have to worry about running into them.”

     “Thanks. Sorry, I’m just… not ready for people to know about… us…”

     Yukina smiled again. “It’s alright. It’s my first date, too, after all. Now, shall we go?” She started walking in the direction Ran had come from.

     “G-go where?”

     She stopped and turned around. “It’s around noon, right? I thought we’d start with lunch.”

     “S-sure. Sounds good.”

     The two walked to the station and took the Nankai-Koya line to downtown Osaka, where they headed to a rock cafe for lunch.

      “Didn’t know there was something like this nearby.” Ran commented.

     “It only opened a few weeks ago, so I’m not surprised. They have small groups come in and play when they can. My understanding is that they’re booked a week out.”

     “For reservations…?”

     “For performances. Though I made a reservation just in case.”

     “I see. Is there something of a status already…?”

     “I think it’s more likely a performance opportunity for smaller groups who don’t get invited to other concerts, but I think it’ll get to that point.”

     “I see. It would be kind of fun to perform here.”

     “Yes, it would. But I think if Roselia were to perform here, it would completely change the dynamic of people wanting to perform here, along with the number of bands, so even if we were invited, I would turn it down.”

     “That makes sense. I hadn’t thought of it that way before, but Afterglow’s probably the same way.”

     “Yes, I would imagine it is. Shall we head in?”

     “Y-yeah.”

     The two walked into the cafe. It was decorated like an American-styled diner, but using a darker color base, working primarily in black and red. There was a bar in the back, which hada selection of drinks Yukina thought would be expected in an American bar, the rest of the walls and windows were lined with booths, and there were no normal tables. The room highlighted a stage opposite the bar.

     Yukina walked up to the check-in counter. “Reservation for Minato Yukina.”

     Let me see… Minato Yuki-” The girl paused and looked up. “Oh! I’m so sorry! I thought it might’ve been a prank, so I- it was a table to two, right?” She looked up again, seeing Ran.

     “Correct. And we would appreciate it if it wasn’t made a big deal. We’re only here for lunch, after all.”

     “Oh, right. Of course. Right this way, please.”

     The two were led to a table fairly close to the stage, and were handed menus. They primarily had a list of burgers, but there were various other items on the menu as well. One side of the menu was in English, while the other side was in Japanese.

     “Wow. The attention to detail here is incredible. They’re really going for that American rock feel.”

     “Yes, looks like it.”

     A group of girls then walked onto the previously empty stage.

     “Oh, it’s Sunrise Sunbeam.” Yukina commented.

     “You know them?”

     “Not really. They’re a cover band. Typically, they try to stay close to the original song, but they’re starting to get their own style. They’ve done a cover of one of your songs, if I’m not mistaken.”

     “Hm. Nothing I’ve heard about, but Himari or Tsugumi would be the ones who would know. What do you think about them?”

     She paused and thought for a moment. “They have potential.”

     The waitress took their orders while the band did sound checks, and they started introducing themselves. “Um… Hi everyone! We’re Sunrise Sunbeam, and we’re going to start with one of our favorite songs, Afterglow’s “This Is How I Roll!””

     “They got the name wrong…” Ran mumbled to herself.

     The cover had its differences, but it wasn’t bad, all things considered. There was definitely room for improvement, but the stylistic differences worked, and the same went for most of the rest of their pieces.

     The members looked at each other with smiles on their faces, and the vocalist turned back to the mic. “For our last song, we’re going to debut our first original song! Here’s ‘From Me to You’!”

     Yukina looked up from her tea, and started paying more attention. Their style was much more defined, and they seemed to be much more into the song than they were their covers. There were some small technical mistakes, and she could tell that it wasn’t as refined as some of their covers. Regardless, it was much more enjoyable. It was a good decision to save this for last. It left a good impression.

     A few mintues after the performance, the girls meekly came up to the table, and the vocalist spoke up shyly. “Um.. excuse me… are you… Minato Yukina?”

     She set down her teacup. “Yes.”

     The girls giggled a bit and gathered around the table. “Um… we’re really big fans… could we maybe… have your autograph?”

     “Of course. Would you like Mitake-san’s as well?”

     “Hey! Minato-san!” Ran complained in a hushed voice.

     “Mitake-san…?” She gasped. “Mitake Ran?!”

     Ran blushed, and slowly faced them, giving a shy wave.

     “Uuaaaah! Mitake Ran listened to our performance of That Is How I Roll!” She became flustered, and buried her face in her hands. “And the one time I mess up, too!”

     “Um, well… I didn’t think it was too bad. Um… other than the title, I didn’t really hear anything significant.”

     Her face brightened up. “You… you liked it?!”

     “Uh… y-yeah?”

     “A-aaahh… I’m so happy…!”

     The keyboardist grabbed her by the shoulder. “Aiko, calm down. You’re making a scene!”

     “Ah, sorry!”

     “But still. I can’t believe that Mitake-san’s so shy!”

     “Or that she’s so close to Minato-san!” The drummer added.

     Ran became incredibly flustered, and gave Yukina a look that said ‘help me’.

     “We came here to discuss business between our bands. We’re not on very familiar terms.”

     “Oh, I-I see.” Aiko looked down.

     “Now then. Did you have anything in particular you wanted us to sign?”

     “S-sign my guitar!” She pulled it out of its case and handed it to them.

     Yukina looked down in thought, and looked back up at her. “Aiko-san. When you’re good enough to play on the same stage as me, I’ll sign your guitar. Until then…” She pulled a guitar pick and a silver sharpie out of her purse, signing the pick. “...play with one of these. The kind of strings you’re using will resonate better when plucked with an 88 than a 60.”

     “Ah! Th-thank you…!”

     “Um… I didn’t think to bring any of my picks, but… I’ll sign one of yours…”

     “Ah, really?!” She dug into her case and pulled on out, handing it to her in two hands. “P-please sign it!”

     She borrowed Yukina’s sharpie to sign it, and handed it back to her. “Keep practicing. You sound a little tense, and you’ll sound better when you’re a little more comfortable.”

     “Th-thank you so much!” She bowed deeply, but her guitar in its case, and walked off with a large smile on her face with three of the other girls, while the drummer stayed behind.

     “I apologize for her. She’s a fan of Roselia, and, well… Afterglow inspired her to put this band together. Mitake-san, you’re… something of an idol to her. You wouldn’t believe the amount of posters she has in her room. But anyway, I wanted to say thanks for putting up with her.” She bowed deeply.

     Her flustered look returned. “Ah, not at all. Um… I take it you’re their manager…?”

     “Ah, yes! Tanaka Umiko, Drummer and Manager of Sunrise Sunbeam.”

     She grabbed her napkin, wrote on it, and handed it to her. “Give me a call when you have a line-up of five or so original songs. I’ll try to find space for you at our next concert.”

     “Th-thank you so much!” She bowed deeply again. “E-excuse me!” She ran off to catch up to her friends.

     Ran had so many questions, but before she could ask them, she noticed Yukina had a smirk on her face. “What?”

     “I never would have thought you would give them your number.”

     “Sh-shut it!” She hid her face behind her coffee cup. “I just… wanted to be nice… Besides, I didn’t know we were so famous.”

     “Among certain crowds.”

     “I also didn’t know you played.”

     “I don’t, much. I mainly use it for composing, and the rest of Roselia helps fine-tune the piece afterwards. I’m not very good.”

     “Hm. I… I could teach you, if you wanted.”

     Yukina thought about it for a minute. “I’ll take you up on that. In exchange for my helping Afterglow.”

     The two continued to talk for a while as they finished their meals, and headed out. The path to the mall Yukina had planned for them to go to took them past dub, a local live house.

     Ran looked over at a poster in the window. “Hm? A DJ competition between CHU2 and Michelle…?”

     CHU2 was the DJ of Raise A Suilen, or RAS for short. She’d been a jerk to both Roselia and Poppin’Party during the BanG Dream competition, but something changed before the finals, and she started treating them and the other bands better. Michelle was the DJ and mascot for Hello, Happy World!, Hello, Happy for short, a band that played for the fun of it. The person in the suit was called Misaki, though it seemed that the drummer, Kanon, was the only one in the band who was aware of this fact.

     “Do you want to check it out? We still have a few hours before our next reservation.”

     “Ah, sure I guess. It wouldn’t hurt to support Misaki-san.”

     The two headed in, standing in the balcony to watch. Neither Ran nor Yukina knew much about DJing, but they could both tell that it was an intense and impressive battle. CHU2 showed off her coolness and occasionally did some singing lines, and in response, Misaki would do something equally impressive and say some witty line that would either make people cheer or laugh. 

     The battle was starting to wind down, as CHU2 was drenched with sweat, and Misaki could be assumed to be the same. However, being clearly behind, Misaki gave another line that renewed the battle: “Oh, you’re already done? I thought we were warming up!”

     CHU2 became fired up with her second wind, but it was clear that she wasn’t as used to playing this intensely for this long as Misaki was. Either that, or more likely, Yukina thought, Misaki held back in the beginning so she could have the stronger finish, knowing that CHU2 would go all out from the start.

     “Not bad!” CHU2 said in English with one eye closed when they finished, “but let’s see what the audience thought!”

     “Pull out your phones and vote on dub’s website!” Misaki finished.

     The two went off stage for five minutes, presumably to rest and get some water while the audience voted. Afterwards, they came back on, a graphic appearing on the screen behind them with both CHU2’s and Michelle’s faces, and numbers next to the starting at zero.

     “Now!” CHU2 started in English before switching to Japanese, “Let’s see who you thought was better!”

     The numbers began growing at the same time, and stopped at nearly the same moment. The final totals were CHU2 with 752 and Michelle with 748.

     CHU2 burst out in happiness. “Yes! Sweet! Excellent! Unstoppable!” she spoke in English.

     Yukina looked down with an understanding look on her face. “The home field makes a big difference.”

     “Home field…?” Ran looked at her.

     “Yes. If this contest had been done at a venue where Hello, Happy regularly performs, I suspect Michelle would have won.”

     “CHU2~! Congratulations~!” KokoroTsurumaki, the vocalist of Hello, Happy came running across the stage, jumping towards CHU2, nearly tackling her.

     “Hey!” She interjected in English, “No! Get back! Stay away! Pareo! Pareo!”

     The audience laughed.

     “Yes, CHU2-sama!” Pareo, with her hair black and white, and running out to try to pull Kokoro off her, without much luck.

     “Smile! Smile!” Kokoro persisted.

     “I’ll smile when you get off me!”

     Kokoro immediately stopped, doing a backflip as the two finally got her off CHU2. “Now where’s that wonderful smile you had during the contest~?”

     CHU2 smiled awkwardly.

     “Well that’s no good! But I know what’ll make you smile! Let’s do a concert! Egao・Sing・A・Song!”

     The audience cheered.

     “Wait! But the stage isn’t set up for a-”

     She was cut off by a number of people in suits wheeling out sound equipment and instruments, along with Michelle’s DJ table being pushed next to CHU2’s.

     “Hey, Misaki.” She whispered to the giant, pink bear that had just been pushed next to her, “Did you know about this?”

     “No, but the suits are always on standby when there’s a stage because Kokoro usually does something like this.” She whispered back.

     “Aren’t you in charge of this band behind the scenes?!”

     “I have no power in this band. Everything is at the whim of the others.”

     “What?!”

     The bands took turns playing songs, though they only played two each due to their DJs being tired. It was a… strange concert, but it wasn’t planned, and it was fun.

     It was dark when they got out, and Yukina checked her phone for the time. “That was a lot longer than I thought it would be. If we hurry, we should still be able to make our dinner reservation.”

     “Really? What time is it?”

     “About 6:30.”

     “6:30 already? That was a long concert.”

     “The sun was starting to set when we went in*, so It was only about two hours. That’s still long for just two bands like this, though.”

     Yukina led them to a fairly nice sushi restaurant.

     “Isn’t this place a bit… expensive?” Ran complained.

     “Mitake-san, you’re a high school student, and you play a six hundred thousand yen** guitar. I assure you, this place is not expensive for the kind of money your family has.”

     “Yeah… I guess that’s fair…”

     They headed inside. It was a normal rotating sushi bar, but it was owned and worked by a famous sushi chef who also owned several other high-end sushi restaurants in the city.

     The two sat down and started eating. Towards the end of their meal, Yukina spoke up. “Mitake-san, are you okay?”

     “Hm? Yeah, why do you ask?”

     Yukina gestured towards Ran’s two plates. “You haven’t eaten very much, is all. I don’t want you to go hungry.”

     “Really, Minato-san. I’m fine.”

     Yukina looked at the conveyor belt, and grabbed a plate of Tako (Octopus) Sushi. “Here. At least have one more plate.”

     “Minato-san, I’m fine. I just… I’m not actually that fond of sushi…”

     She took the plate back from her. “Why didn’t you say anything earlier? We could have gone somewhere else.”

     “I just… didn’t want to inconvenience you, especially since you’ve put in all this work…”

     “Mitake-san” She grabbed her hand. “the only inconvenience to me is not knowing what you don’t like.” She offered her a smile. “So please. Don’t hesitate to tell me if you don’t like something. Your happiness is important to me.”

     Ran blushed, taken aback. “Uh… yeah… okay…”

     Yukina ate the two pieces of sushi on the plate, and paid the check. “If you’re not too tired, I have one more thing planned for tonight.”

     “Sure. What is it?”

     “I have a reservation at a karaoke place not far from here.”

     “Karaoke? Sure, I guess…”

     “...is there something wrong with that?”

     “Oh, no, I just… didn’t take you as the type to enjoy karaoke…”

     Yukina smirked. “It’s nice to relax and sing without worrying about how I do. I don’t go very often, but I thought it would be fun to go together.”

     “As long as we don’t miss the last train, “ Ran joked, “I’m not to keen on the idea of walking home from here.”

     “Mitake-san, if we miss the last train, I will carry you home. Does that sound fair?”

     “C-can you even do that…?”

     “Would you like to find out?”

     “...actually, I kinda do now…”

     Yukina smirked again. “Unfortunately for you, I don’t. We’re getting on that train.” she joked.

     They went to the karaoke place, which was only a few blocks away, and checked in to the room.

     “I’ll let you have the first pick, Mitake-san.”

     “Oh, o-okay.” She took the pad, and started typing for a while before selecting a song, handing the pad to Yukina and taking one of the mics they were given.

     Yukina closed her eyes and listened to Ran as she started singing.

     “ Boku ga zutto mae kara…

     This was Ama no Jaku, Yukina recognized. Hearing it, she started typing on the pad.

     “I didn’t know you were into vocaloid,” Yukina commented when Ran finished.

     “I-I’m not, really. It’s just… a good song…”

     “And so is this one.” Yukina didn’t know much vocaloid. She knew a few songs, but she really only knew the lyrics to A Tale of Six Trillion Years and a Night.

     “That one’s really fast… good job, Minato-san.”

     “Thank you.” She handed the mic over to Ran for her next song. “Great Escape… I should learn the lyrics to this one at some point.”

     The two went back and forth singing songs, occasionally singing them together until the buzzer signaling five minutes left went off.

     “Looks like we have time for one more song,” Yukina commented. “Let’s do a duet.” She grabbed the pad and started typing.

     “Hold on! What song?”

     “One that you’ll know. After all, we did sing a bunch of anime songs.” She handed her the second mic.

     Ran was familiar with Kakumei Dualism, but didn’t know the lyrics as well as Yukina apparently did, but she got through it. “That was fun, Yukina.”

     “It was. I enjoyed singing with you, Ran.”

     They checked out and paid for the room, walking outside.

     “Mitake-san?”

     “What is it?”

     “Can we agree to only refer to each other by our first names when we’re alone?”

     “I was going to ask if you didn’t.”

     The two girls walked quickly to the nearby station and got on a train heading back in the direction they had come from. The local lines were probably not still running this late, but it wouldn’t be that much more of a walk from the larger station, so they decided to not try to transfer to the local line. 

     Once they got off the train, they decided to walk a little slower, partially because they wanted to spend a little more time together, and partially because they were too tired to walk quickly. There wasn’t a lot of talking as they walked, as their voices were tired from the singing they had just done. Due to being vocalists, their voices were in better condition than most people’s would be, but they also knew that they should let their voices rest so they wouldn’t lose them.

     They didn’t need to talk, though. It was enough for them to just slowly walk home (taking some scenic routes, though they wouldn’t admit to it) and enjoy each other’s company. When they arrived at Ran’s house, they had been holding hands for quite some time, though they wouldn’t have been able to say when they started. 

     As they approached the entrance to the household, Yukina stopped, holding on to Ran’s hand, taking the moment to stare into her eyes.

     After what seemed to them to be an eternity, Ran broke the silence. “This was fun.”

     “Yes, it was.”

     “Let’s do it again sometime soon.”

     “Yes, let’s.” She leaned in close, putting her free hand around Ran’s waist, stopping only an inch away from her lips before pulling back. 

     “Minato-san…” Her face was flushed red.

     “Mitake-san, I-” She was cut off by Ran placing a finger on her lips.

     “Let’s make it special, okay?” She pulled away, smiling. “I’ll text you later, okay?”

     Yukina smiled back. “I’ll look forward to it.” 

     After seeing Yukina off, Ran headed into the house, where she was met with a masculine voice upon closing the door. “You’re late.”

     She sighed. “You knew I was hanging out with my friends, dad.”

     “And you said you would be back by midnight. Do you know what time it is?”

     “No, not really.”

     “It’s two in the morning.”

     “We lost track of time and had to walk home.”

     “And you didn’t think to let me know?” He sighed. “Ran, I know you’re serious about this band, and it’s great that you’re getting out and spending more time with your friends, but you need to be more responsible.”

     “Responsible?! I’m plenty responsible!”

     “Then prove it to me.”

     “Dad, you’ve heard me practicing my parts, and I-”

     “I said prove it to me , not your friends.”

     “Fine. What do you want me to do, inherit the school?”

     “...I won’t make you inherit the school if you don’t want to.”

     “Then what?”

     He sighed again. “...that’s not something I can tell you. You need to find the answer on your own. Figure out what you need to do, and do it. Once you do that, I will get off your case.”

     “...Fine.” She stormed off to her room where she threw herself onto her bed for a few moments before turning her head, and grabbing a stack of papers from her desk. They were thank-you letters from performances Afterglow had been invited to. She often read them when she was upset. She could probably recite them from memory by now, but they still never failed to make her smile.

     She set them aside and grabbed her phone.

 

You: Hey

 

     She didn’t expect her to respond this late, but she wanted to get her mind away from her dad.

 

Minato Yukina: Hey

 

     Ran smiled and sat up.

 

You: Thanks again for today. It was really nice.

Minato Yukina: Of course. I also enjoyed my time today.

You: If you’re free next week, do you want to do this again?

Minato Yukina: Sure. Since you asked, I’ll let you plan it out.

 

      She had to plan it out? She didn’t know the kinds of things people did on dates, but maybe she could use this one as a guideline…

 

You: Okay.

 

      She paused for a moment.

 

You: Do you want to hang out tomorrow?

Minato Yukina: As in a date?

You: No, just hanging out.

Minato Yukina: I have rehearsal in the evening, but as long as I can make it in time, it’s okay with me.

You: You have another live coming up?

Minato Yukina: Yes. A small one on Monday evening at CiRCLE.

Minato Yukina: You’re welcome to come. Entry starts at 7:00.

You: We have rehearsal then, so I won’t be able to come. Good luck though!

Minato Yukina: Thanks.

You: You’re probably tired, so I won’t keep you up any later. Good night.

Minato Yukina: Good night.

 

      She set her phone on the table, plugging it in, and got ready for bed. Did I really ask her to hang out tomorrow? What should I wear? It’s not a date, so I could probably just wear my usual outfit…

     She drifted off to sleep, thinking about what they should do tomorrow, and next week on their date.

 

*During November in Osaka, the sun sets around 4:30 PM every day

**Around $6,000

Chapter Text

     Moca had pulled Ran aside after rehearsal.

     “What is it, Moca? Is everything okay?”

     She paused for a moment. “There’s a concert at the Budokan on Friday. Do you want to go with me?”

     “On Friday…? Yeah, I should be able to do that. What time?”

     “We’ll meet there at six.”

     It had been a couple weeks since Ran and Yukina’s first date, and Saturday had become a regular date day for them, though that sometimes involved going to each other’s lives. Christmas was fast approaching, and, although it fell on Friday, the two had decided to celebrate it on their usual date day instead. 

     After she got home, Ran’s phone buzzed. It was a text from Yukina.

 

Minato Yukina: Afterglow is not rehearsing tomorrow, right?

You: Yeah, why?

 

     There was a pause.

 

Minato Yukina: No reason. Good night.

 

     Knowing Yukina, there was a reason. There was always a reason. That reason became clear the following day after school.

     “Oh, you really are still here! I honestly didn’t think you would be!” A familiar voice called out from the stairway.

     Moca turned and called out, “Oh~ It’s Lisa-san!”

     “Lisa-san. What do you need?” Ran asked. To her, this explained Yukina’s text last night.

     “Well you see, Roselia was invited to play in a big Christmas concert this Friday, and since we were each given a backstage pass for a guest, we thought we’d invite you!”

     “That sounds cool!” Tomoe exclaimed.

     “I’ll look forward to it!” Himari added.

     There was a pause from Ran. “...bad timing. I’ve already agreed to go to a concert with Moca.”

     “Oh really? That’s too bad. Which one?” Lisa looked at Moca.

     “...The Budokan’s…”

     “Oh! What a coincidence! That’s the same show! I’ll have the passes added to your tickets, so you can go backstage when you feel like it. Sound good?”

     Moca looked down. “...sure.”

     She paused. “Is everything okay, Moca?”

     Tomoe put a hand on Moca’s shoulder. “It’ll be fine. Go ahead and do it.”

     “It’s settled then! I’ll go let Yukina and the others know.” She waved back and walked off.

     After a short, slightly awkward pause, Moca walked up to Ran. “Will you still go with me?”

     Ran offered a small smile. “I said I would, didn’t I?”

     Her face brightened and she suddenly hugged Ran. “You’re the best!”

     Ran became flustered and awkwardly hugged her back. “Uh… Th-thanks…”

     

~{]0o0[}~

 

     Roselia was in their prep room putting final touches on their outfits, with Tomoe, Himari, and Tsugumi hanging out and chatting, mainly with Ako and Lisa. Ran and Moca should be making their way from the crowd, as they agreed to head back to meet up with them just before they performed, but there was a good chance they’d be late.

     “Roselia, you’re up after the next band. Please get ready.” One of the staff members opened the door to announce.  Each band performed two songs, so they would be on in about ten minutes.

     “Thank you. We’ll head out now.” Yukina answered.

     The other band just finished when Ran and Moca showed up.

     “Did we miss our chance to say ‘good luck?’” Ran called.

     Yukina smirked. “Unfortunately, not quite.” 

     She returned to a serious look as Moca went to talk with the others, and Ran and Yukina were left mostly alone. After a short while, Ran smiled and gave Yukina a thumbs up.

     Yukina’s mind went blank. The only thing she could do was step forward, place a hand on her cheek, close her eyes, and press her lips against Ran’s.

     To Yukina, this was a perfect moment. Ran’s soft lips were locked with her own, and suddenly the world’s problems all melted away. This was bliss. A moment that lasted for eternity.

     Ran had gone beet red. She didn’t dislike it, but she expected their first kiss to be more… private. On top of a ferris wheel maybe, or on some remote island 1000 kilometers* away from civilization. 

      Well, I guess it’s fine as long as none of the others see… she thought. At that moment, as if on cue, Tsugumi looked over and took notice of them, and not long after, the others did too. If it was possible for Ran to turn any more red, she was doing it. Of course. I just HAD to think that, didn’t I?

     As suddenly as she had started, Yukina pulled away and started heading to the stage. “Let’s go.” This was her way of stopping herself from blushing. If she had to face Ran right now, she wouldn’t be able to perform properly. She’ll undoubtedly have to talk to Ran after the show.

     At that moment, Moca’s heart shattered. With Tomoe’s help, she had mustered up the courage to ask Ran to this concert, and the day finally came where she would confess her feelings to her, only to find that she was already in a relationship with Yukina, who she’d only known for a fraction of the time she’d known Moca. And on top of it all, this is how she found out.

     It wasn’t fair.

     She could handle the band changing their attitude, and she could even handle Ran being in a relationship. But this… she couldn’t handle this. Not right now. With tears in her eyes, she ran off.

     “Moca-chan, wait!” Tomoe ran after her.

     “Ah, w-wait up!” Himari followed them.

     Moca didn’t care. She kept running, all the way home and to her room, slamming doors behind her.

     Moca was a faster runner than Tomoe (and they were both MUCH faster than Himari), but she had a hunch she knew where Moca was heading, even after she lost track of her.

     Breathless and sweating, Tomoe knocked on the Aoba family’s door. “Is… is Moca-chan…” She panted when Moca’s mother opened the door.

     “Oh, Tomoe-chan! Moca ran in just a minute or so ago. Didn’t say a word to me when she did. Did something happen?”

     “I need to… talk to her…”

     There was a light sigh, and she gave a worried smile. “Come right on in, dear. I’ll get you some water.”

     “Thanks.” Tomoe walked in and headed directly to Moca’s room , knocking on the door.

     No response.

     She opened the door to the darkened room, stepping inside slowly. “Moca-chan? Are you okay?”

     She didn’t see her initially, but she heard rustling from the far end of the room.

     “I’m going to turn on the lights, okay?” She closed the door behind her and turned on the lights. Moca had her head buried in her knees.

     Tomoe walked up and sat down next to her, wrapping her arms around her and holding her close. “I… I’m so sorry, Moca-chan. I had no idea she was… with Minato-san…”

     Moca didn’t answer, but she lifted her head and placed it on Tomoe’s shoulder. After several minutes of silence, she spoke. “Tomo-chin…”

     “What is it?”

     There was another pause. “...I want to quit the band.”

     “Moca-chan, you don’t really think that.”

     She paused again, holding Tomoe tighter. “...I want to quit…”

 

~{]0o0[}~

 

     “Minato-san, what exactly is your relationship with Mitake-san?” Sayo sat across from Yukina with a stern face.

     “Why do you care?”

     “Why do I care? What do you mean ‘why do I care’?! You kissed her!”

     “Yes, I did.”

     “So then what’s your relationship with her?!”

     “...that’s something between the two of us.”

     Sayo furiously stood up, knocking over her chair, and stormed out of the room.

     She didn’t often get angry, but the others knew that when she did, it was best to give her some space to calm down.

     The four of them in the room sat in awkward silence before Lisa spoke up. “Wasn’t that a bit harsh, Yukina?”

     “Harsh…? How so?”

     “‘Why do you care?’ Yukina, she asked you a question. She-”

     “Sayo didn’t ask a question. She demanded an answer she already had, and was angry about it.”

     “But still, you could’ve been a little softer about it…”

     “Mitake-san and I agreed to not discuss the relationship between us to other people until we decided otherwise. I was simply doing what I agreed to her.”

     There was a pause, and Rinko spoke up. “Yukina, I think you should apologize to her.”

     “Apologize…?”

     “She seemed more upset than usual…” Ako added.

     Yukina looked down and thought for a moment. “...very well. I will apologize to her next time I see her.”

     “Thank you,” Lisa smiled. “We should probably get going now. It’s getting late.”

     When they left the building, they were faced with Ran, who had her arms folded.

     “Minato-san, what the HELL was that?!”

     “What do you mean,” she replied.

     “Don’t ‘what do you mean’ me! What was with that kiss?!”

     “...we agreed on making it memorable, right?”

     “Well, yeah, but I didn’t mean we should do it in front of our closest friends!”

     “...was it non memorable, then?”

     Ran shook her head. “You’re unbelievable.” She took off running.

     “Ran-” Lisa started.

     “No.” Yukina stopped her, then turned her head towards her. “This is something I have to deal with. I started it after all.”

     She started walking after her, heading in the direction of her house. After several minutes, she caught Ran’s red streak of hair in a park not far from her house. She headed towards her and sat down on a swing next to her.

     After a few moments, she spoke. “...this is a wonderful place. I can see why you’d come here.”

     “...how’d you find me?”

     She looked up. “I’d like to say I remembered you mentioning that you enjoy coming here when you’re upset, but in all honesty, I just happened to come across you.”

     She lowered her head, letting out a chuckle. “I like coming here in the evening. The peacefulness of the air here helps me clear my head.”

     “I can see why.”

     “I… I haven’t told anyone about this place. Not my dad, or even anyone in Afterglow.”

     “I see. So this place is special to you. It’s your sanctuary.”

     She chuckled again. “Yeah, I guess so.” She paused, turning to face Yukina. “Promise you won’t tell anyone about this?”

     Yukina turned to face her for the first time since she arrived, giving her a smile. “I promise.”

     She smiled back. “Thanks. So… about tonight…”

     Yukina looked down, closing her eyes. “Yes, I suppose we should talk about it.”

     “Actually, I wanted to apologize…”

     “Apologize…? For what?”

     “Well… I’ve been thinking about it and… well… they were going to find out eventually, even if we didn’t say anything, so… sorry. For overreacting and… making you keep quiet about us for my sake. I’m sorry I was so selfish.”

     She let out a small laugh and looked backup at her. “Mitake-san- no. Ran, that’s nothing to apologize for. I truly didn’t mind not telling anyone about this, and I think you were right to react that way after I broke my promise to you.”

     “But I-”

     “I know you’re going to insist on apologizing anyway, so I’ll accept your apology and we’ll move on. Does that sound fair?”

     She paused. “Yeah. It does. So… we’re good now, right?”

     Yukina stood up and held out her hand. “Yes. We’re good.”

     Ran took her hand, standing up, and was pulled into a hug by Yukina. After a moment, Ran spoke hesitantly with a slightly red face. “Um… you know… we never got to finish that k-kiss properly…”

     Yukina paused and released the hug, keeping Ran close. “You’re right.” She looked into her eyes, feeling the same sensation she had felt earlier in the night. “Do you want to try it again?”

     Ran looked away slightly. “S-sure.” She became more flustered and looked back into Yukina’s eyes. “B-but this isn’t a second one or anything! It’s… it’s just a redo of our first one… okay?”

     Yukina closed her eyes and smirked. “That’s a shame. I was looking forward to stealing your second kiss,” she teased.

     “W-well… maybe we could…” Ran’s face grew redder, “...do one afterwards…?”

     She smirked again. “Whatever.” She pulled Ran in close, and pressed her soft lips against her own again. There was something different about this one. It felt… warmer. More intimate. It made her feel happier. She wasn’t really sure how to describe it.

     She pulled away slowly, keeping Ran close to her as she stared lovingly into her eyes that glistened like rubies in the moonlight. Just a moment later, Ran returned the kiss, wrapping her arms around Yukina’s neck.

     When Ran finally pulled away, Yukina found herself in a blush. “Let’s get you home, Ran.” 

     Ran nodded, and they started walking to her house, hand in hand.

     In truth, Yukina would have much preferred to stay with Ran much longer, but she knew about the situation with her father, and decided that she would be late enough as is. Once again, the two didn’t speak on their way back. This had become something of a tradition to them. They walked back in silence, simply enjoying each other’s company. This time, however, Yukina decided that she wanted to meet Ran’s father.

     “Yukina… I don’t think that would be such a good idea…”

     “Why not?”

     “He’s… an old-fashioned kind of guy, and… I don’t think he would approve of… us…”

     She lowered her head. “I see. Then we won’t mention it.”

     “Yukina, I… still don’t think it would be a good idea…”

     “Ran.” She looked at her with a serious expression. “I’m not leaving until you open that door.”

     She sighed. “You’re not going to give this up, are you?” She shook her head and opened the door.

     “Ran, you’re late again.” A voice belonging to Ran’s father greeted them.

     “Yes, and I would like to apologize for making her late,” Yukina replied before Ran had a chance to speak up.

     Ran’s father stepped into view and looked at her. “Ran, who is this?”

     “I’m Minato Yukina. It’s a pleasure to meet you.”

     He folded his arms. “Hm. My daughter’s told me a lot about you. Come in. Ran, make our guest some tea.”

     “But I-”

     “Ran,” he snapped, “ make our guest some tea.

     She scowled and walked to her room.

     He sighed and shook his head. “I apologize for her behavior. She’s been like this ever since her mother died.”

     Yukina paused in surprise. “...her mother died…?”

     “Yes. It was nine years ago now. She had a heart attack, and she died before she reached the hospital. Ran wouldn’t talk to me about it, and she hardly talked to anyone at all. As her father, I was extremely worried for her well-being, so I didn’t have much time to mourn, myself. I was worried that she wouldn’t learn how to talk to people her own age.” He paused and smiled, bringing over a tea set. “But I’m glad she’s making friends, now. Or, at least rivals, or whatever the relationship between the two of you is.”

     “Something like that.” She took a sip of the tea placed in front of her.

     “Do you like it?”

     “Yes. It has a unique flavor. What kind is it?”

     He let out a gentle laugh. “Well, my late wife made a special blend, but I… I haven’t been able to bring myself to look at the recipe she left behind for Ran. This is my own version of it, but it’s not nearly as good as hers was.”

     “Hm. Ran’s lucky, then. She has such a caring father, and a recipe for tea better than this waiting for her.”

     “Yes, she is. I just wish that she’d listen to me occasionally.”

     “Like what?”

     “I wish she’d get some male friends. Going to an all-girls school and hanging with the same friend group she’s had since she was little… It makes me worry that she’ll fall for one of them.”

     Yukina set down her teacup. “Would it be so bad?”

     “What?”

     “If she dated another girl, I mean.”

     “Well… if I’m being honest, I wouldn’t support it, but I wouldn’t stop her from doing it either, as long as she’s happy. I just… wouldn’t want her to miss out.”

     “Miss out?”

     He put on a small smile. “You may be too young to understand, but the happiest moment in most people’s life is holding their child in their arms. The moment they become a parent. Sure, adoption’s an option, but in my experience, they don’t quite experience the same thing. That opportunity is why I wouldn’t support that relationship.”

     “And what of medical technology?”

     “What do you mean?”

     “There have been recent advanced medical technologies would allow same-sex couples to have children. Of course, this technology has not been fully developed yet, but significant strides have been made.”

     “Really? Well, if that technology comes about during my life, I’ll gladly support her decision. Until then, well… I’ll let her do what makes her happy, whether or not she has my support.”

     She paused. “I understand, but… during your life…?”

     “Call it a gut feeling. I don’t think I have much time left, so I want her to have someone to comfort her and be there for her when I go.”

     “I see.” She gave a small smile to herself. “I don’t think she’ll have any trouble finding someone.”

     “See, the problem is that I’m not sure of that myself. She’s shy, and has a hard time making friends, and has trouble sharing her feelings with friends she has.”

     “But the friends she has understand her. If she feels a certain way about someone, I’m sure they’d help her express her feelings.”

     He smiled and looked back up at her. “I like you, Yukina-chan. We may disagree on certain points, and Ran has told me some… words about you, but you’re a reasonable person.”

     “Likewise.”

     There was a pause. “Well, it’s getting late, so I shouldn’t keep you much later.” He walked her over to the door, where she stopped and thought for a moment.

     She turned to face him. “There’s something else I should tell you. Mitake-san has someone by her side.”

     “...and she told you , of all people?”

     “I wouldn’t say that. She hasn’t told you because she’s afraid of how you’ll react.”

     “How I’ll react…?”

     “Yes. She’s afraid that you won’t approve. That she’ll disappoint you.”

     “I see. Is that all?”

     She looked down. “Don’t mention this to her. She’ll talk to you about it when she’s ready.” She turned back around and walked out the door. “Excuse me.”

     “...I won’t approve, huh?” Yukina had perhaps given him more information than she had meant to. Most likely, it meant that she was going out with another girl, and probably someone who behaved in a way he wouldn’t approve of.

     Then there was Yukina. She didn’t match any of the descriptions Ran gave, and she seemed to defend Ran at every point. They clearly didn’t have the relationship Ran had described, and it seemed to him to be something more.

      Mitake-san, you probably only have a year or two left to live. The doctor’s words echoed in his mind. That’s right. He couldn’t afford to be picky. He had loose ends to tie up.

     He’d tried to solve the inheritance of the school by having Ran take it, but she was adamantly against it, and proved that she was serious about doing well with her band. That was still an issue. Maybe one of his promising students…? Maybe he could reach out to that Arisa girl that had started coming recently…

     Then there was the matter of Ran. She was nearly old enough to live on her own, and he had saved up enough money to last her at least part of the way through college. If she could float herself until she turned 18 in a few months, it would probably all work out, but that didn’t exactly ease his concern. After all, she had no other family.

     Then there was the issue of...

 

*about 620 miles

Chapter Text

     Hina had been watching the concert on TV when she heard the door open.

     “Onee-chan! That concert was-”

     Slam.

     “...boppin’...” Hina went up to the door Sayo had just slammed, and knocked on it lightly.

     Sayo, who had just flopped onto her bed, replied with her face in a pillow. “Go away.”

     Hina gently opened the door and spoke softly. “Onee-chan, I don’t know what I did, but-”

     “I told you to go away!” Sayo snapped back, turning to face her. She was still in her concert outfit, and, although slight, Hina could make out her eyes starting to water.

     Hina closed the door as softly as she had opened it. She had seen Sayo upset before, but… this was something else. Something different. Unsure of what to do, she slid down the wall, thinking for a moment as she sat before pulling out her phone and calling the only person she could think of that could help.

     “Hey, it’s Hina. … Could you come by? … It’s Sayo. She’s… something’s up. … Oh, don’t worry about that. The door’s unlocked. … Thanks, see you soon.”

     Several minutes later, the door opened as the brown-haired girl entered. 

     “Thanks for coming, Lisacchi.”

     She gave Hina a warm smile. “You’re almost going to scare me with that serious tone you have.” She put on a more serious expression, though she still had a smile. “She’s in her room?”

     “Yeah.”

     Lisa listened at the door briefly, and, hearing Sayo’s faint sobs, she opened the door.

     “Hina-san, how many times do I have to tell you to knock?!” She hurled the pillow towards the door, and gasped as it hit Lisa in the face. “...Imai-san…”

     She smiled, picking up the pillow that was now at her feet. “Yaho!” She closed the door behind her, and walked over to Sayo’s bed, handing her the pillow.

     She sat up, grabbing the pillow and hugging it tightly. “I already know what you’re going to say. ‘You’re overreacting.’ ‘We don’t know the full story.’ ‘Let’s calm down and work this out.’ You don’t need to say anything.”

     Lisa sighed, sitting down on the bed, putting her hands behind her head, and leaning back to the wall. “Look at us. We’ve both fallen for someone who doesn’t see us the same way. Someone who has eyes for someone else. We really are idiots, aren’t we?” she finished with a small laugh.

     Sayo looked down and hugged her pillow harder. “...is this the part where you say ‘Don’t worry, you’ll find someone?’”

     “But you don’t want someone, do you? You want Yukina. She’s not just someone, she’s… Yukina. She’s special.”

     Sayo didn’t respond, continuing to hold the pillow.

     Lisa’s face shifted as she looked down. “Trust me, I know exactly how that feels.” There were a few moments of silence before she spoke again. “I know there’s nothing I can say to make you feel better, but you can always tell me anything.” She got up and quietly left the room.

     Hina turned from the TV when she heard Lisa come down the stairs. “Is she…?”

     Lisa smiled. “I think she’ll be fine. She just needs some time.”

     Hina let out a sigh of relief. “Thanks again. And… thank you for taking me seriously. I really had no idea what to do.”

     “Well, it’s not hard to when you didn’t say ‘boppin’’ a single time during a phone call. I think your previous record for fewest times was… 3 or so?” She was making an effort to lighten the mood.

     She smiled, putting a hand behind her head. “I can’t help it! It’s just a boppin’ word!”

     Lisa let out a laugh. “There’s the Hina I know! Anyway, I need to be headed back. Take care of Sayo for me!” 

     She headed home, falling back onto her bed and covering her eyes with her arm.

     I’ve got to stop. This can’t be healthy…  

     Just then, her phone buzzed. It was a text from Sayo.

 

Sayo: Thanks for that. I already knew what you said, but I guess I needed to hear it from someone else.

 

      She relaxed her arm over the edge of her bed. ...I’m gonna break out again at this rate…

     Her phone buzzed again. This time it was the Roselia group chat.

 

Sayo: I apologize for my behavior tonight. I should have been more reasonable.

Yukina: No, it was my fault. I acted purely on impulse and caused problems for a lot of people. I should be the one apologizing.

Sayo: Even so, I let my feelings get the better of me, and I overreacted because of it. I apologize.

Yukina: I caused problems for no less than five people, and probably more than that.

Sayo: Minato-san, I’m giving you an out.

Yukina: And I’m telling you that you were justified.

Ako: THE DEMON PRICNESS AKO HAS APPEARED

Ako: SHE DESRIES ETERNAL SULMBER

Sayo: But I wasn’t.

Ako: at least for the night

Ako: SHE REQUESTS THE

Ako: um

Ako: MEMBESR OF THIS

Ako: THIS

Ako: um

Yukina: You were.

Ako: um

Ako: mu

Ako: whats a cool way of saying group chat

Sayo: Minato-san, I have no desire to have this discussion with you at this hour.

Rinko: Information relay?

Ako: THISD INFORMTAION RELYA

Ako: screw it

Ako: Im too tured for tihs

Ako: GO TP SLEP

Yukina: That makes two of us.

Rinko: Ako-chan, why are you still awake? We logged off an hour ago.

Ako: uh

Ako: why are YOU awake

Sayo: I agree with Shirokane-san. I did not anticipate replies this early in the morning.

Rinko: You were sending so many messages, I thought my alarm was going off.

Yukina: I had to talk with Mitake-san, and was caught talking with her father. I’m on my way home.

Rinko: Ako-chan, why does your status say you’re online?

Ako: UH

Ako: WELL

Ako: YOU SEE

Ako: I

Ako: UH

Sayo: ...I didn’t realize your relationship was that far along. When were you planning on telling me that you were in a relationship at all?

Ako: UNUS AMARUS CALBIRI

Yukina: We can have that discussion later. If you want to meet up on Sunday, I would be happy to explain the situation to you.

Sayo: Udagawa-san, The emergency teleport spell does not remove you from any methods of communication under any circumstances until cast at level 20, which is unlocked at character level 175, which, as I recall from yesterday, you are still 10 levels away from. There is no amount of grinding that can give you the amount of experience needed to reach level 175 in that short of a time at your current level.

Sayo: I’ll take you up on that, Minato-san.

 

     The conversation carried on for a while, but at this point, Lisa turned off notifications, rolling over and drifting off to sleep

 

~{]0o0[}~

 

     Tomoe woke up sitting next to Moca, her arms half around her, and a blanket over the two of them. She figured that Moca’s mother must have come in sometime after they fell asleep and put it around them.

     Moca shifted around, waking up herself not long later. “Mmm… Tomo-chin…”

     Moca’s head was still resting on Tomoe’s shoulder, so she smiled and glanced down at her. “Morning, Moca. How are you doing?”

     “...” There was a pause. “I’m okay.”

     “Of course. You’re Moca, after all.” She tightened her grip and hugged her, and she hugged back.

     “I’m okay…” She hugged her tighter.

     “Do you want to talk about it?”

     Moca gripped her tighter. “...what’s there to talk about? I didn’t even get to ask her out…”

     “Moca…”

     “It’s okay… I’m okay…” She started to tear up.

     Tomoe offered a warm smile. “Why don’t we get something to eat?”

     Moca looked up at her.

     “You didn’t get to have dinner last night, right? You said you weren’t going to in case you got nervous.”

     She looked back down and put her hand on her stomach.

     “Let’s get you something to eat. I’m sure your empty stomach’s not helping anything.”

     The two girls walked into the kitchen, where they were greeted by Moca’s mother.

     “I see you two are finally up! Oh, Moca dear…” Noticing Moca looking down, she glanced at Tomoe, who shook her head slightly. “...I’ll make the two of you some breakfast. Why don’t you just sit tight?”

     Their breakfast was quiet, but not awkwardly so. Tomoe wanted to talk to Moca, but couldn’t think of something to say. Her go-to was usually to talk about the latest issue of a manga they’d been reading, but the latest issue ended with a character being rejected, so she decided it was best if she kept quiet.

     Following the meal, Tomoe thanked Moca’s mother, and headed home. It didn’t come as much of a surprise to hear Ako practicing when she got back. She usually practiced in the mornings on weekends so she had more time to play NFO, though she also heard frequent  playing throughout the day as well.

     Now that she thought about it, that was probably one of the reasons why Ako was so much better than she was, despite that she’d been playing for less time. 

     She’s better because she spends so much time practicing. If I spent that much time practicing, would I be able to get where she is?

     She’d walked into their practice room, where Ako waved at her.

     “Onee-chan! Wanna practice together?” 

     ...or at least, that's what she thought she said. She couldn’t really hear her through the glass, but Ako invited her to practice together often enough that she was fairly certain that’s what she was saying. 

     She grabbed her practice sticks and headed into the room.

Chapter Text

     It was lunch hour for the first years, and Asuka, Ako, and Rokka had pushed their desks together as usual.

     “By the way, I don’t think I mentioned it this morning, but that was a good performance you gave on Friday.” Asuka mentioned as they sat down.

     Ako put her hand behind her head and let out a fake laugh. “Oh, you saw that? It wasn’t very good for any of us…”

     “Really? You of all people are going to admit to that?” She teased as she placed her lunchbox on her desk.

     “TH-THE DARK MAIDEN AKO… has to admit when she’s wrong sometimes…”

     As Asuka let out a small laugh, Rokka tilted her head. “...there was a performance last Friday?”

     “Yeah. A Christmas concert. About twenty or so bands were invited to perform a couple songs.” Asuka continued, “Actually, now that I think about it, I’m surprised RAS wasn’t invited.”

     She thought for a moment. “Well, I guess Chu2-san would be the one to know. I’ll ask her at rehearsal.”

     “Well either way, I’m surprised you didn’t hear about it from Kasumi and the others, given how excited they were to perform in it.”

     “P-Popipa performed?!”

     “Oh, that’s right. I almost forgot how much you like them.”

     “Wah, I can’t believe I missed a Popipa concert…”

     “There, there. It’ll be alright.” She looked over to Ako, who was looking down with her hands in her lap. “You’ve been surprisingly quiet. Something happen?”

     “Wah! I-it’s nothing…” She waved her hands, still holding her phone.

     Asuka smirked. “Who is it?”

     “N-no one in particular…!”

     Her smirk faded. “Don’t tell me you’re going out with someone, too.”

     “N-no! It’s just the drummer group chat!”

     “A drummer group chat…? I’ve never heard Masuki-san talk about it. Is she in it, too?” Rokka tilted her head again.

     “Masuki-san…? Ah! We forgot to invite her! Rokka, what’s her LINE?!”

     “Ah! I-I don’t know…!” 

     “Ask her! We’re making plans!”

     “S-s-she’s probably in class, but I’ll text her!”

 

You: What’s your LINE?

 

     After sending the message, she thought for a moment. “By the way, Asuka-san, what did you mean by ‘too’?”

     “Hm?”

     “Earlier you asked if Ako-san was going out with someone too.”

     “Oh, that. My mom’s been nagging me to find someone to go out with since Kasumi started going out with Ari… sa…” She paused. “Actually, can you forget I said anything? Arisa didn’t want news getting out just yet…”

     “Oh, so it’s like Yukina-san and Ran-chan?” Ako added.

     They both looked at her, and Asuka spoke first. “Yukina-senpai and Ran-senpai are going out?”

     “Wah! D-d-did I say that out loud…?”

     “You kind of did.”

     “I guess that’s not much of a surprise given that Layer-san and Tae-senpai are going out.” Rokka added.

     “What?! Layer and Tae?!” Ako interjected.

     “That’s true.” Asuka continued.

     “You knew about it, too?!” Ako replied.

     “Kasumi told me.”

     “I heard from Layer-san.” As if convenient timing, her phone buzzed. “Oh, it’s Masuki-san.”

 

Masuki: Why? You already have my number

 

     “What’d be say?!” Ako peered over.

     “She wants to know why.”

     “Tell her it’s of the upmost- wait! No! Tell her the Dark Sorceress Ako demands her presence on a council of the most… um… coolest people… but make it sound cooler than that!”

     “I already sent the message, though.”

 

You: Ako wants it.

     

     “D-did you make it sound cool?”

     “Um, well, I…”

     “I don’t think she has an answer to that that’ll please you.” Asuka came to her rescue.

 

Masuki: Oh, sure I guess. Here

 

     “H-here’s her LINE…!” She interjected to get Ako’s mind on something else.

     Ako looked over while typing into the app. “The Dark Witch Ako forgives your past action!”

 

Ako has added Masuki to the chat.

Maya: I refuse! I absolutely refuse to ride something that simulates falling to a horrible death!

Tomoe: It’s not even that bad

Maya: No!

Kanon: I also don’t want to go on something like that…

Tomoe: WHAT DO YOU MEAN FALLING TO A HORRIBLE DEATH

Tomoe: IT’S A THRILL RIDE

Tomoe: THAT’S WHAT IT’S FOR

Saaya: Got it, Maya and Tomoe aren’t in the same group

Tsukushi: Maybe Maya-senpai and Kanon-senpai?

Tomoe: DOES NO ONE ELSE WANT TO GO

Maya: But I still want to do SOME thrill rides…

MISTRESS OF DARKNESS AKO: WAIT ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT THAT TOWER RIDE

Saaya: Hm… I could go with Kanon-senpai. I don’t mind slower rides.

Masuki: what is this

Tomoe: YES THAT ONE

Masuki: and why was I added

Kanon: Fue…

MISTRESS OF DARKNESS AKO: LET’S GOOOOOOOOOOO

Saaya: Tsukushi, would you mind going with Maya?

Tsukushi: Wait

Tomoe: YES

Tomoe: IT’S SETTLED

Tomoe: AKO AND I IN A GROUP

Maya: I’m okay with that

Masuki: hello

Tsukushi: Wait

Saaya: Wait for what?

MISTRESS OF DARKNESS AKO: LET’S ALSO GO ON THAT MOUNTAIN ONE

Saaya: Do you have a different idea?

Tomoe: YEAH

Maya: Ooo I’m down for that!

Saaya: Going with Tsukushi, or the ride?

Tsukushi: GUYS

Maya: Both!

Tomoe: THE BACKWARDS RIDE

Saaya: Okay, so idea. What if we go as threes?

MISTRESS OF DARKNESS AKO: YESYESYESYESYESYESYESYES

Masuki: video attachment

 

     The video was a three-hour compilation of video footage of Masuki going overboard during rehearsals initially sent to her by Chu2 as a response to her saying that she didn’t go overboard that much.

 

Masuki: now that I have your attention

Masuki: I would like to know

Masuki: what the FUCK is this

Masuki: and why am I here

Tsukushi: Thank you. Ako, you added her. Did you not tell her anything beforehand?

MISTRESS OF DARKNESS AKO: oops

Tsukushi: Alright, I’ll explain.

Tsukushi: Welcome to The Unofficial Girl’s Band Party! Drummers’ Group Chat

Tsukushi: I apologize for not adding you sooner. I didn’t realize Raise A Suilen was part of it.

Masuki: blame chu2 for that

Tsukushi: In this chat, we discuss various matters, be them band related or not.

Masuki: I know what a group chat is

Tsukushi: Wonderful. That speeds things along greatly.

Tsukushi: I assume you know what a get together is as well?

Saaya: We’re going to the amusement park on Saturday. Want to come?

Masuki: sure

Masuki: what time

Saaya: Around opening time?

Masuki: I’ll be there

Tsukushi: Wonderful. I look forward to meeting you in-person.

Masuki: I have a question for you

Tsukushi: What is it?

Masuki: actually I have two

Masuki: first, why keigo*

Tsukushi: I’ve never met you in person.

Masuki: second, why all the kanji

Masuki: this is a group chat

Tsukushi: It’s more formal.

Masuki: last I checked, group chats aren’t formal

Masuki: gtg, sisters eyeing me



*Keigo (敬語) is a formal type of speech primarily used in politics, inter-business interactions, public announcements, and employee-customer interactions by the employee.

Chapter Text

     Masuki didn’t like mornings. It bothered her enough that she had to get up early for school, and it really pissed her off when Chu2 woke her up on the weekends. Why exactly it was that she agreed to meet with the other drummers at 8 in the morning on a Saturday was beyond her. Regardless, she found herself walking up to the amusement park’s entrance far too early to be awake on a weekend.

     As she walked up, she could see the five other drummers she recognized, and a short girl with black hair in pigtails she assumed to be Tsukushi. “Yo.”

     “Yo, King!” Maya raised her hand, and the two of them high-fived as Masuki walked by, and again as their arms reached the bottom before giving eachother a thumbs up.

     “So you showed up.” Tsukushi crossed her arms. “Given that you didn’t open the group chat since you stopped talking on Monday, I was under the impression that you-” She was cut off by Masuki bending down and scowling in her face. “W-what?”

     Masuki stared at her face for a few moments before speaking. “You’re kinda cute.”

     “Uh- well- I, uh-” Tsukushi wasn’t entirely sure how to respond to that. Given the look on her face, she was expecting her to say something scary, mean, or maybe even cool, but… that was the last thing she was expecting. She zoned out of everything trying to comprehend what just happened.

     “But still, I was kind of surprised by your messages…” Saaya commented.

     “Ah, sorry for swearing. I was just kind of frustrated because I was dropped into an active group chat in the middle of class.”

     “Ah, you were in class?!” Ako spoke up. “I’m sorry, I didn’t know!”

     “Hey, no sweat. You had good intentions.”

     “Still, I was surprised that you have sisters.” Kanon added quietly.

     “Hm…? Sisters…?”

     “Yeah, the last message you sent said that your sisters were eying you.”

     “Oh, that. No, it was just the sisters at school?”

     “Sisters at school…?”

     “I go to a Catholic school. They’re like the teachers.”

     “A-ah, I see…”

     “Looks like they’re opening the gates. Shall we go?” Saaya pointed out.

     “That’s why we came, ain’t it?” Masuki agreed.

     “I’m totally going with you, king!” Maya warped her arms around Masuki’s.

     “Fine by me. Let’s go.”

     “B-but I was… going to go with Maya-senpai…” Tsukushi looked down as she trailed off.

     Masuki turned to face her. “Then you can come along, too.” She waved her over and started heading towards the gate.

     “S-sure…” She looked down. “I just… don’t know how I’m going to spend the day with two legendary drummers… “ she muttered to herself before heading to the gate herself.

     

~{]0o Tsukushi, Masuki, and Maya o0[}~

 

     “So Masuki-san, aren’t you worried about what people might think about this?” Maya teased, still holding Masuki’s arm as they walked to their first attraction.

     “Think about what, a cute girl holding my arm to my right, and another cute girl walking on my-” She turned to her left, where she was expecting to see Tsukushi, then looked behind her. “Oi, Tsukushi, what are you doing back there?”

     “Oh!” She jumped a little at being mentioned. “I just… thought that you two were getting along well, and… I didn’t want to… get in the way…” She looked down and to the side slightly.

     “Well, you’re part of our group, aren’t you? Get up here and join the conversation!”

     “Ah, r-right!” She ran up beside her. “W-well, you know… the two of you like that might give people the wrong idea…”

     “Hm? Like what? That we’re dating?”

     “Uh! Well, I…!” She felt like she had been intentionally trapped. She didn’t want to assume that they were dating, but at the same time, if she said no, she would be implying that they’re not a good match for each other.

     “Hey, don’t sweat it. Neither of us have feelings for each other.” Maya spoke up.

     “O-oh, really?”

     “Yeah.” She laughed as she spoke. “Think of it as… well… we’re both big fans of each other.”

     “I-I see. Isn’t she a bit flirty, though…?”

     “Oh, she’s like that with everyone!” Maya laughed again.

     Tsukushi looked at Masuki for confirmation, who raised her chin in response.

     “Only with the cute ones.”

     “I-I see…”

     For Maya and Masuki, this was just another normal day out. For Tsukushi, however, this was extremely awkward. The entire day she felt like she was third wheeling on a date, with brief exceptions when Masuki would grab her for photos on the rides.

     Around noon, they stopped for lunch at the park’s rest area, Maya ordering a plate of vegetable sticks, Masuki ordering a plate of curry, and Tsukushi ordering the largest bowl of fires they had.

     “By the way, Masuki-san, I wanted to apologize for how I treated you in the group chat the other day.”

     “Hm? What are you… oh, that. Don’t worry about it.”

     “No, I mean… it was wrong to treat you that that way. I-”

     “Hey.” She put a hand on her shoulder. “You were organizin’ this, right? You were stressed and all?”

     “Well, yeah. I-”

     “Don’t worry about it. I can’t count the number of times Chu2’s lost her cool when I started going overboard. Trust me, I’ve had much worse than that. It was kinda refreshing, actually.”

     “...yeah, I saw.”

     “Oh, that wasn’t her losing her cool.”

     “Wait, what?”

     “Yeah, no. That was all in character for her.”

     “But… she was just… completely screeching in some parts…”

     “Well… let’s just say that wasn’t the worst half. But more importantly, I have a question for you.”

     “Hm? What is it?”

     “Why are you eating fries with a fork?”



     

Chapter Text

            “Mitake-san, I need you to break up with Minato-san.” Sayo spoke with a cold face, her arms folded, in the doorway of Ran’s house.

            “W-what?! No way! Why would I do that?!” Ran had opened the door expecting Yukina, as the two of them had plans to go to dinner after going to Roselia’s rehearsal.

            “Because Minato-san will be heartbroken, giving me an opportunity to be there for her and make her fall for me.”

            “A-and what makes you think that I’ll have any part in this?!”

            “Because you’re Minato-san’s girlfriend. In order for my plan to work, it is necessary for you to break up with her.”

            “Sayo?” Yukina called from a short ways down the street. “What are you doing here?” She finished as she walked closer.

            “It’s nothing. I’ll see you at rehearsal.” She swiftly turned and walked away.

            “Sayo, would you like to come with- ah.” Yukina started to ask, but Sayo didn’t respond and continued walking as Ran stepped out to greet Yukina.

            “Well, I guess we’ll go with just the two of us?”

            “It seems so. Let’s go.”

 

~{]0o0[}~

 

            Lisa turned as the door opened, and Sayo walked in.

            “Oh! You’re here early, Sayo!”

            “I had business with Mitake-san a short while ago, is all.”

            “With Ran…? What did you talk about?”

            “I asked her to break up with Minato-san.”

            Lisa froze, dropping her pick. “You did what?!”

            Sayo looked down, folding her arms. “As long as the two of them are together, I won’t have an opportunity to-” She was stopped as Lisa slapped her hard enough to knock her to the ground.

            “Do you have any idea how stupid that was?!”

            Yukina walked into the room. “Lisa? I could hear you shouting from-”

            “Go apologize to her right now, or I’m walking out on this rehearsal!”

            Sayo slowly touched the now red handprint on her cheek. “Imai-san… is the person you like… me?”

            Lisa shook her head slightly. “You’re unbelievable.” She stormed out of the room, pausing briefly as she came face to face with Ako and Rinko, who were just outside the room, then continued pushing past them.

            She turned the corner, seeing Ran waiting on the couch in the entrance of the room. Ran had regularly shown up to their rehearsals alongside Yukina, but after a while had opted to wait outside, as she didn’t have any feedback that anyone in the room didn’t already know.

            Lisa flopped back on the couch next to her and sighed. “Geez, I just can’t stand her sometimes.”

            Ran looked over, a little surprised. “Uh… who are you…?”

            “Look, whatever Sayo told you, just ignore it. She’s…” She sighed again. “She doesn’t always think things through.”

            Ran looked at her before looking down. “Lisa-san, do I… is Minato-san… happy with me?”

            Lisa looked over at her, surprised by what she just said. “What do you mean?”

            “Well it’s just that… I’ve… given some thought to what Sayo-san said and… I…”

            “Ran, listen to me. Yukina’s happier than she’s ever been, now that she’s with you.”

            “Huh? R-really?”

            She nodded and smiled. “Of course! I don’t know if you can see it yet, but I’ve been by her side since we were little. Her face lights up when you enter the room in a way that I haven’t seen before.”

            “Ah, it… doesn’t seem that way to me…”

            “Don’t worry.” She let out a small laugh. “I’m sure it’ll come with time. I mean, you love her, don’t you?”

            Ran looked away, becoming flustered. “Uh… well I…”

            Lisa let out another small laugh. “It’s fine to say so, Ran.” She leaned back on the couch, looking forward in envy. “I mean, it must be nice to have the person you care about reciprocate those feelings, after all.”

            “Uh, well… the thing is…” Ran looked away, becoming more flustered. “we haven’t… um… said that to each other yet…”

            She focused her gaze back on Ran. “But you feel that way, right?”

            “Uh, well, yeah, but-”

            “Then tell her! I promise you, it’ll make her day!”

            “But Sayo-”

            “If Sayo gets in your way, just tell her to go to hell.”

            “Huh?! B-but…”

            “Look, I’m kind of angry at her right now, so…” There was a pause from both of them. “Anyway, I think I’m going to get going.”

            “Uh, w-what about your bass?”

            “Ah, that. Well… it would be kind of awkward if I walked back in there after that, and besides,” she offered her a small smile. “I think it would leave a more powerful message if I left the bass I spend so much time with there, don’t you think?”

            “I-I guess you’re right…”

            Lisa stood up and started heading out, but stopped at the door. “Oh, that reminds me! Yukina’s been wanting to try the new cat-shaped ice cream they have at the cafe outside. You should get some for her for when rehearsal ends~” She gave her a wink.

            “Uh, cat-shaped…?”

            “Yeah! Yukina loves both cats and sweet things, and I’m pretty sure I’ve heard her mention wanting to try it.”

            “I-I see. Is there a reason why she hasn’t yet…?”

            Lisa thought for a moment. “Hm… I’ve never heard her say this before, but I remember her saying that she wanted to watch her weight.”

            “Her weight…?”

            Lisa smiled. “I told you, Yukina’s become a completely different person since you two started going out! I’m sure it’s because she wants to keep herself looking good for you!”

            Ran blushed a bit. “A-ah, I-I see…”

            “Well then, I’m off! See you~!” She pushed the door open and walked through, giving Ran a wave as she left.

            “S-see you.” She thought for a moment. Lisa had just given her a lot to think about.

            Her face lights up? And she’s watching her weight? I guess she likes me more than I thought… She placed her hand on her chin. I should definitely get her that ice cream. If she really hasn’t had it because she’s watching her weight for me, then that would be the least I could do. How long do they have left? Twenty minutes? I’ll go get it when rehearsal ends. Then there’s the matter with Sayo… She scratched her head. Obviously I don’t want to break up with Yukina, but… what should I say? Should I just tell her that…?

            She gave it more thought, then let out a soft chuckle of her own. “I’ve really become a part of Roselia, haven’t I?” she realized, speaking softly to herself. A part of both Roselia and Afterglow.

            Her smile turned into a frown. Afterglow. They had many rehearsals outside of the ones Yukina came to about once per week. They hadn’t spent as much time hanging out together, now that Ran was spending more time with Yukina. Whenever she did hang out with them, Moca always left as soon as Ran arrived. Tomoe had told her about Moca’s plans that day, and she genuinely felt bad, both for her and about what happened, and wanted to talk to her about it. Moca was her childhood friend, and the last thing she wanted was to lose her.

            Ran let out a sigh, not sure what she was supposed to do. Moca wouldn’t answer her texts, and she wouldn’t tell the others where she was going when she left, so she had no way of actually talking to her.

            She checked her phone. Rehearsal ended in just a couple of minutes, so she figured that she would head out to buy the ice cream Lisa had recommended. Unsurprisingly, she got back at the same time as Yukina.

            “Mitake-san, have you seen Lisa?”

            “Lisa-san…?” She thought for a moment about whether she would want her to tell Yukina. “No, I must have missed her, sorry. Did something happen?”

            Yukina looked down, closing her eyes. “She left the room shortly after I went in to see what was happening, and she left her bass.”

            “I-I see. Sorry, no. I didn’t see her.”

            Yukina thought for a moment. “Do you mind if we take a detour?”

            “Uh, well, I…” She paused as Sayo glared at her as she passed by with a red mark on her cheek. “Um… I thought that we could… maybe…”

            Yukina noticed the bowl Ran was holding. “Ah… it’s a kitty...” She caught herself zoning out while looking at the ice cream. “Ah… I suppose we should eat it before it melts.”

            The two girls sat at the table, and Ran gave Yukina one of the plastic spoons and waited, figuring she should let Yukina have the first bite. Yukina, however, was staring at it.

            “Minato-san? Is… everything okay?”

            “Hm? Ah, yes, it’s just… it’s really cute…”

            “Yeah, but… if you let it melt, it won’t be cute anymore…”

            “Ah, you’re right.” She moved her spoon down, but stopped before she touched the surface. “…”

            “Minato-san… here.” Ran took a spoonful and held it out to Yukina.

            “Ah…!” Yukina was a little distraught when Ran damaged the cat’s perfect face, and blushed a little when her spoon was held in front of her mouth.

            They’d been going out for a little over a month now. Yukina didn’t know how fast relationships usually advanced (Ako and Rinko never talked about their relationship), but she certainly didn’t think they’d be at this point this soon. Not that she was complaining, she just didn’t think Ran would be this forward in making a step like this, given how shy she usually was.

            Yukina put the spoon in her mouth. The ice cream was a rich and creamy vanilla with a thick, dark chocolate sauce almost reminiscent of a bitter fudge that complimented the sweetness of the vanilla well.

            “Uh… hey! I…” Ran became flustered, just realizing what she’d done.

            “…It’s delicious,” Yukina summarized.

            The two girls sat awkwardly for a moment before Yukina sunk her spoon into the melting cat face, and held the contents out to Ran, looking away with a blush on her face.

            “Ah- Minato-san… I…” She looked away slightly.

            “M-Mitake-san… it’ll melt if you don’t…”

            How awkward, Yukina thought, We’ve been dating for nearly three months now, and despite that we’re feeding each other ice cream, we’re still… like this around each other. Is this… normal? Are all couples like this? Or are we doing something wrong? Or… am I doing something wrong? Hm… I’ll ask Ako tomorrow. I believe we have the same lunch hour, so it would probably be easiest to ask then…

            The two girls awkwardly finished the ice cream and headed to Lisa’s to drop off her bass.

Chapter Text

     “Ran! I needed to talk to you, actually!” Lisa grabbed the girl and pulled her inside, leaving Yukina alone holding Lisa’s bass out.

     “…I brought your bass…” Yukina spoke to the closed door.

     Lisa pulled Ran a little farther inside, and spoke in a quiet voice so as to not let Yukina hear. “So… how much did you tell her…?”

     “Uh… N-nothing. I told her I must have missed you as you left, but that was it…”

     Lisa let out a sigh of relief. “Thanks. Normally I’d tell you not to lie to Yukina for any reason, but… I think it would be best if we worked this out without telling her.”

     Ran looked down, as if disagreeing. “Are you sure? I felt terrible doing it.”

     Lisa smiled a little in relief. “I don’t know if you’ll believe me, but Yukina can get… how should I put this…?” She thought for a moment. “She… responds emotionally when her close friends… betray her, I guess is the best way to put it. And to be honest," she put on a clearly fake smile, “I’m… not so sure that Roselia could survive if Sayo was kicked out.”

     “W-wait, kicked out…? That doesn’t sound like her…”

     “I thought you might not believe me. Of course, I could be wrong, and I really hope I am, but I’m pretty sure that’s what she would do if she found out.”

     “But… couldn’t you get back together later? You know, after she calms down.”

     Lisa looked to the side and sighed. “I wish it were that simple.” She reached to a nearby table and picked up some envelopes.

     “Hm? What are those?”

     “Invitations. Offers. As a band, we’ve yet to receive an offer to go pro, but as individuals, well… that’s different. A lot of companies are looking to fill vacancies in their bands, but not a lot are looking to pick up an entire new band.”

     “Ah, I see…” If Lisa had received offers to go pro by joining another band, then the others had, too. If Sayo was kicked out of Roselia, she would probably take one of the offers she received, and there was a chance the others might do the same, as it looked to her like Lisa had thought seriously about some of these offers.

     After a short silence, Lisa spoke up again. “Well, I guess I shouldn’t keep you from your girlfriend too long. After all,” she winked playfully, “I bet you’re just dying to get time alone with her~”

     Ran’s face went beet red. “Uh…! Well I…!”

     “Joking, joking~” she said with a small laugh, “but may I ask why you came here?”

     “Oh uh…” she tried to return her face to a normal color, “We came to return your bass…”

     She gasped. “My bass! I totally forgot I left it there!” She took off towards the door, being greeted by an unamused but slightly irritated Yukina holding out her cased bass. “My bass! Thanks so much, Yukina! You’re a lifesaver!” She quickly slung the case onto her back and hugged Yukina.

     “Be a little more careful next time. I may not have time to bring it.”

     “Sorry, sorry~” She let Yukina go and rubbed the back of her head with her hand. “Won’t happen again, I promise. Anyways, sorry for making you go out of your way while you’re on a date.”

     Ran, who had walked out during their hug, became a little flustered. “I-it’s not a date, it’s just… hanging out as a couple…”

     Lisa let out a little laugh. “Alright, well whatever it is, thanks, and have fun, you two!” She waved as the two headed out.

     A little ways down the road Yukina suddenly spoke up. “Mitake-san? May I ask you a question?”

     “A-ah, sure.”

     “…What’s the difference between a date and hanging out?”

     “H-huh? Where’s this coming from?” Ran started to get a little nervous.

     “It’s nothing. I’ve just been thinking is all.”

     “What about?”    

     “Don’t worry about it. It’s not important.”

     Normally, Ran would have just left it be, but after everything that happened today, she didn’t want to seem uninterested in Yukina. “Well… Now I’m worrying about it…”

     Yukina stopped in her tracks, keeping a hold on Ran’s hand so as to have her turn around. “Mitake-san.” She looked into her sparkling ruby eyes. “Ran. I love you.”

     To anyone else, that would have sounded like she was trying to convince herself of that, but to Ran, it sounded like she was trying to convince her of it.

     “!” Ran flinched, blushing deeply and looking away. “Y-yeah. I… love you too.”

     Yukina looked down, and her tall stature shrunk for a moment before returning as she began walking again.

     “Hey, wait, Yukina! I’m not just saying that, I really do love you!”

     Yukina stopped again and gave her a brighter smile than she had seen before. “I know.”

     That smile had been brighter than any she’d seen from her, but… why did it feel like a defeat? It felt like Yukina had been testing her, and she failed that test. There was a throbbing in her chest, and she couldn’t help but let her hands shake in nervousness.

     Am I… truly the best person for Yukina? I mean… I’m barely good enough to be her rival, let alone her partner. Lisa said that she’s much happier whenever I’m around, but… wouldn’t that be true for whoever she was dating? Maybe Sayo had a point. Maybe I’m holding Yukina back. What if… what if she would be happier with Sayo? Her heart sank. What if… I’m the reason they haven’t gone pro yet? Would Yukina be happier and more successful if she was with Sayo? I mean… she’s known her for a lot longer than she’s known me, and Sayo’s a better guitarist than I am

     Maybe she’s right. Maybe I should break up with her. I mean, I know I love her. What else could these feelings possibly be? She confessed to me, and made all the first moves in our relationship, so I know she feels the same way…

     …right?

     Come to think of it, I can’t really tell what she’s thinking. I only really get what she’s feeling because I can see it on her face, but… I don’t really know what’s going on in her head. Come to think of it, I don’t really know much about her home life either. She knows a lot about mine, but I don’t even know her address.

     I don’t want to break up with her. I really don’t. But… I just can’t seem to shake this feeling of guilt. Well, whatever. I’ll think about it for a few days before I come back to it.

 

~{]0o0[}~

 

     “Is that…?” Ran started.

     “Wakamiya-san? What are you doing?” Yukina finished.

     “Staaaaare” Eve replied to herself, unaware of the other two.

     Yukina and Ran peered around the corner into Hazawa café, where they could see Tsugumi serving some customers through the glass doors.

     “It’s Hazawa-san.” Yukina commented.

     “Definitely Tsugumi.” Ran agreed.

     “WAH!” Eve exclaimed and fell backwards in surprise. “I can’t believe you saw me through my jutsu! Do you have special powers or something like that?”

     “Y-yeah, something like that…” Ran hesitantly replied.

     “So what were you looking at, Wakamiya-san?” Yukina asked, looking for more than the obvious answer.

     “Um… an beautiful… object…” She said with a hand on the back of her head as Yukina helped her up.

     “…I see. Have you considered confessing to her?” Yukina replied.

     “Ah… I wish it were that simple…” Eve said, a bluish growing on her face.

     “Why’s that? You know she has a thing for you too, right?” Ran casually said.

     Eve’s light blush turned into a bright one. “W-what?! N-no way! T-t-t-t-there’s no way that’s true! She’s perfect! A goddess! A being too pure for anyone in the world! I can’t go out with someone like that!”

     “Hey, you two!” Tsugumi yelled to Yukina and Ran, who had been standing where they were visible from the door. “We’re closing soon, so hurry up and get in here before I lock the door!”

     Eve had been peeking out from behind the corner.

     “Oh! Eve-chan!” Tsugumi ran over, and started nervously playing with her hands and taking a meek stance as she blushed lightly and looked away. “H-hi…”

     “Ah… Ah…!” Eve started to panic, “S-stealth jutsu!” She waved her hands in a certain shape none of the others could make out, and ran to the side of the building, ducking behind a corner.

     “Ah, she ran away… A-anyway, should I get you two your regular table?”

     The two girls looked at each other, and Yukina spoke. “Table for three, actually.”

     “T-three…? Um, would it be alright if I just added a chair to your table? I already have it set…”

     “Sure.”

     “I don’t mind.”

     While Yukina sent with Tsugumi to claim the table, Ran went to get Eve, who was probably still hiding around the same corner.

     Hm. Maybe we’re closer than I thought. We had the same thought, and didn’t have to say anything to get that across, after all.

     “Hey, Eve, let’s go.”

     “Wah! Ah… I guess you’re pretty good at finding me, ha ha ha…”

     “Yu- Minato-san and I want to talk to you, and I’ll pay for whatever you get, so don’t worry about that.”

     “Ah! I-I couldn’t let you pay for me! Don’t worry, I’ll take care of it!”

     Ran remained adamant in her claim as they headed for the door. “No, really, I-I’m the one inviting you, so the least I can do is pay for you.” Really? That’s what she’s questioning? Not anything about Yukina and I wanting to talk to her?

     “No, no, really. I don’t want to inconvenience you at all…”

     “Eve,” Ran replied in a stern tone, “I’m paying.”

     S-scary! Eve thought. “O-okay.”

     As the two of them arrived at the table, Tsugumi was bringing Yukina her regular cup of coffee.

     “Hazawa-san.” Yukina spoke without opening her eyes.

     Tsugumi flinched. “Y-yes, Minato-san?” She spoke with irritation in her voice.

     “You forgot the sugar I asked for.”

     “Ah, of course. How clumsy of me. I’ll just get that right out for you.” She turned to see Ran and Eve, and her tone changed on a dime. “Oh! Ran! Eve-chan! What can I get you two lovely ladies this evening?”

     “Same as always.” Ran replied without hesitation.

     “Ah, um…” Eve, who had never seen this side of Tsugumi before, hesitated before answering. “I’ll have the frosted cookies and… um… w-whatever you recommend…”

     “Coming right up~”

     The two girls sat down, and shortly after, Tsugumi returned and gave the two girls their coffee.

     “Here you are~ One cappuccino with a shot of cream for the nice lady with the lovely red stripe of hair, and an americano, extra dark, like it’s supposed to be,” she glared at Yukina, “for my wonderful coworker~”

     “Hazawa-san.”

     “Yes, Minato-san?”

     “I would like some sugar, if you wouldn’t mind.”

     “Oh my. Did you ask for some sugar for your cream mocha with four shots each of cream and milk with extra chocolate? I must have forgotten. I’ll get that right out for you, dear honored customer.” She was practically grinding her teeth with those last words.

     She reluctantly grabbed a plate of sugar cubes and placed it rather harshly in front of Yukina.

     “Thank you, Hazawa-san. Sorry to be a bother.”

     You could practically see Tsugumi’s face contort as she screamed internally and continued to smile politely.

     Plop… plop… plop…

     Tsugumi’s face grew a little redder as her eye twitched with each sugar cube dropped into the coffee.

     Plop… plop… plop…

     Plop…

     Plop…

     The dropping of sugar cubes seemed to slow down, almost as if to taunt her before stopping briefly as Yukina looked up to her for the first time since receiving her sugar.

     …plop

     “Aaaahhh! That’s it! I can’t take it anymore!” She snapped, yelling loudly without caring if there were other customers in the café (fortunately, the previous customers had finished and left a while back.) “Ran, how can you stand being with someone who puts twelve cubes of sugar into a cup of coffee, masking the flavor given to it by the perfectly ground beans, left to mature for the perfect amount of time?! How can you stand that… that monster?!”

     Yukina was looking up at her, holding another sugar cube over the coffee.

     “…don’t…” she quietly squeaked to herself in a voice several octaves higher than usual, looking as if she might cry.

     …

     …

     …plop

     “Haa… haa…” Tears started welling up in her eyes, having witnessed the horror of a thirteenth sugar cube being added to an already super sweet cup of coffee. Fortunately, the bell signaling the cookies being done rang, and she wouldn’t have to bear witness to that monster committing any more atrocities to that poor cup of coffee.

     “Ah, Tsugumi-san! Wait! Don’t cry!” Eve stood up and walked after her.

     Ran took a sip of her coffee. “So… was that part of your plan?”

     “An added bonus” Yukina took a sip of her coffee, and Ran could see a slight contortion on her face.

     “How’s the… coffee?” She hesitantly asked.

     “Terrible. There’s far too much sugar in it.”

     “Huh? Then why’d you keep adding it in?!”

     “…partially out of curiosity, partially out of revenge.”

     “Um… revenge?”

     She took a sip of her… well, it couldn’t really be called coffee so much as a cup of sweetener with some coffee in it, but her face contorted as she drank it. “I’m sure you’re aware, but Hazawa-san is a coffee enthusiast, and puts a great deal of effort into each cup she makes. This place has quite the reputation for having good coffee because of her.

     “But while she puts her effort into blending the flavors together, I much prefer sweeter tastes to the bitter flavor that coffee has on its own. And while she’s used to customers putting in one or two sugar cubes or sweeteners, I put in a great deal of sweeteners to counter the bitterness. Tsugumi views this as ruining the coffee she poured her heart into making.

     “Because of this, I think when it comes to coffee, the relationship between Hazawa-san and I is somewhat similar to the relationship we had before I asked you out. Due to her being an employee, she can’t flat-out turn my request for more sugar down, but she can certainly resist it in the ways you saw her doing when you walked in.

     “This time, she was… a bit more adamant about not giving me the sugar I requested, so I figured I would put in more than I usually do.”

     “I… see. And the curious part?”

     “I wanted to know how many I could add before she broke.”

     “…I see. Still, I think you went too far.”

     “…yes, I think you’re right. I’ll apologize to her when she comes back.” She looked into her almost empty cup of coffee. “I’m envious, you know.”

     “Huh? Envious? Of what?”

     “…you all can pick on each other’s flaws and laugh about it a joke. You all respect each other and know each other well enough to know that you’re not being mean when you say things like that.

     “Roselia doesn’t have that. The only one of us who could laugh off something like that is Ako. We’re too serious. Too critical of ourselves. I wish…” She looked up at the ceiling. “I wish we were more like Afterglow.”

     “Yukina…” Ran thought for a moment before smiling. “There’s only room in this town for one Afterglow.”

     “Hm? You’re right. If we did that, we’d have to kick you out.”

     “Hey! You don’t think we could beat you?!” She suddenly stood up before starting to laugh.

     “Hm.” Yukina smiled.

 

     “Ah, Tsugumi-san! Wait! Don’t cry!” Eve stood up and walked after her, hugging her just before she entered the kitchen. “I, um, I…” She clearly didn’t know what to say, so she decided to hug her instead.

     "Wah- E-Eve-chan… what are you…?”

     “I-it’s okay! I… I think your coffee’s great…!”

     “Eve-chan…” She sighed, letting out a small laugh. “It’s okay. Really.”

     “But…! But…!”

     “Eve-chan… Minato-san and I have a… complicated… relationship. She knows I don’t like how much she sweetens her coffee, so I deny her the means to, and she makes it sweeter as a result. At least… that’s how I see it. I mean… that what friends do with each other, right?” She spoke with a small laugh as she finished.

     “Ah… I see…” Eve stopped hugging her and stood there awkwardly.

     “But thanks for caring about me, Eve-chan. It means a lot to me.” She offered a warm smile as she played with a low-lying strand of her hair.

     “I… um… I…” She blushed and looked away. “S-sure…”

     After a short moment, Tsugumi spoke up again. “Um… why don’t you go back to the table, and… I’ll bring your cookies?”

     “Oh! Yeah, I forgot, haha!” She laughed nervously and headed back to the table.

     “Hm? Wakayima-san?” Yukina gave a faint smile. “How did it go?”

     “Oh, ah… Tsugumi-san’s okay.”

     “Ah…” The two girls lowered their heads.

     “Eve, she means the confession. How did it go?”

     “C-confession..? Ahahaha…”

     “Wakamiya-san.” Yukina started, “Is courage not one of the tenants of bushido? If that’s so, then would it not be better for you to face your fears and confess?”

     “Ah! Your right!” She got back up from her chair and ran towards the kitchen.

     “Yukina… since when did you become familiar with bushido?”

     Yukina lowered her head and let out a slight smile. “I was… inspired for a piece.”

 

     “Hey dad! Are those cookies ready yet?” Tsugumi called when she entered the kitchen.

     “Ah, Tsugumi!” He replied, “Just finished with the kitchen. Be sure to whipe down the last table when you’re done, alright? And as for the cookies…” He turned to the table the plate was sitting on. “They’re for Eve-chan, right? Tell her you made ‘em. It’ll make her day.”

     “Ah, um… sure, I’ll…” She looked at the table. “Dad! I can’t give her these!”

     Her dad was already heading out the door by the time she finished. “See you in the morning, Tsugu!”

     “…right…” She looked at the plate covered with heart-shaped cookies. Well, I guess I shouldn’t let them go to waste, but…

     “Tsugumi-san!” Eve burst into the kitchen.

     “Ah! E-Eve-chan! U-um…! Y-you can’t be in the kitchen without an apron…! Ah-“ She stepped in front of the cookies as Eve ran up to her.

     “You see… I want a girlfriend!”

     “Ah… um… okay…?”

     “Ah!” She looked down for a moment in thought. “…did I say that wrong? Let me try again!”

     “Ah… okay…”

     “Tsugumi-san! I want to become a girlfriend!”

     “Eve-chan…” Is she…?

     “Ah! Was that still wrong…? One more time…!”

     “Eve-chan, are you…” She gulped, hoping she wasn’t misreading what Eve was trying to say. “…are you… asking me out?”

     “Ah! That’s what the word is! Tsugumi-san! Will you go out with me?”

     “Um… sure…!” She stood meekly, but made sure to look her in the eye as she replied.

     “I understand! I don’t- …what?”

     “Eve-chan… I… I feel the same way.” She took a deep breath as she stepped to the side. “And… I’ve felt this way for a while. I… I made these for you…”

     “Wah~” Her eyes lit up. “They’re super cute! Thanks, Tsugumi!” She jumped on to her with a hug. “But, um… I should probably be going home soon, so… can I get these to go?”

     Tsugumi sighed, followed by a laugh. “Only you would ask something weird like that. Let me see…” She looked through the kitchen briefly for a container that she could let Eve go home with, but not finding anything on the fly, she came back with some plastic wrap, wrapped up the plate, and handed it to Eve.

     “Ah! I-is it really okay for me to take this home…?”

     “Well, I trust you, Eve-chan, so yeah. Just… try to bring it back, okay?”

     “Ah… Okay then…” She hesitantly took the plate and put it in her bag.

     The two headed for the door that lead outside from the kitchen, but Eve stopped just before opening it. “Ah! I almost forgot!”

     “Huh? Forgot what?”

     “Tsugumi-san! Let’s take a picture together!”

     “Ah, sure…!”

     Before Tsugumi had time to react, Eve had already taken her phone out of her bag, and wrapped her arm around her while holding her phone out and making a peace sign with the other. Although she felt like she had been faking one due to lack of preparation time, Tsugumi’s smile came out surprisingly genuine.

     “I’ll send this to you…” Eve started tapping on her phone.

     Tsugumi took the moment to look at the schedule near the kitchen door. “Eve-chan, you have a shift tomorrow, right?”

     “Um… yeah!” She finished sending the photo and looked up.

     “In that case, I’ll see you tomorrow, okay?”

     “Yeah! See you tomorrow!”

     Tsugumi looked at the photo on her phone, putting her back against the wall next to the door, and slid down it with a happy sigh, looking at the ceiling with a blush.

     “When did I become so gay?”

 

Chapter Text

                “What?! No! Absolutely not!”

                Tsugumi’s smile disappeared as she heard her mom yelling from above her.

                “No. You know what? I’ve had enough of this crap.”

                Tsugumi stood up and left the kitchen as she heard footsteps, stopping when she made eye contact.

                “Tsugumi.” She stared at her with furious eyes. “You’re not seriously thinking about going out with that… that foreigner, right?”

                “Mom…” Tsugumi thought for a moment before clenching her fist. “…she’s half.”

                Tsugumi’s mom clicked her tongue and looked away. “A halfer’s not any better.” She sighed. “I let your father give you far too much freedom. You won’t see me again.”

                Tsugumi stood in silence as she watched her mother walk out the front door and across the shop front.

                Is this… my fault…? She folded her arms and looked down. Did I do something? I… was I… wrong? Eve-chan is my girlfriend. Was it… wrong to defend her…? I… She started shaking as tears started welling up in her eyes. I don’t want to lose mom… I… I…

                “Tsugumi.” Her dad placed a hand on her shoulder. “I won’t pretend to know what you’re thinking, but none if this is your fault. Your mom and I… we had some… disagreements about your… well, your upbringing. I thought we were on the same page, but, well… guess not.”

                “Dad… do you… still like mom…?”

                “Yeah… but I guess she doesn’t feel the same way.”

                She thought for a moment. “If you feel that way, then… maybe you should go after her.”

                “You’re probably right. Knowing her, she probably headed to her hometown. If that’s the case, I may be gone for several days. Will you be alright on your own?”

                She put on a smile. “Yeah! I’ll do my best to keep the café open while still working hard at school!”

                “Actually, it… might be better if you close the café.”

                “Huh? Why?”

                “Tsugumi, this café can’t really be run by one person, and-“

                “But I won’t be alone! Eve-chan is-“

                “Tsugumi, let me be honest with you. While I love having Eve work here, she’s not a great employee. She’s not a great cook, her coffee, while not bad, isn’t as good as the rest of ours, and her keigo, well… you know how her keigo is.

                “If you’re running the kitchen, that’s all you’re doing. And with only two employees, that would leave the other to be both the waitress and the barista. Eve doesn’t really know the ins and outs of working in an industrial kitchen, and honestly, I’d rather our recipes be kept in the family. That would leave her to be the waitress and barista. If it were just her coffee skills that were lacking, I wouldn’t mind it so much, but because of her keigo…”

                “But her keigo’s never been a problem before, so why is it one now?”

                He sighed. “The stress. I’m sure you know that both taking orders and brewing coffee can be extremely stressful, and I’m afraid that without you to catch and apologize to the customers for her mistakes, things might get, er… difficult.”

                Tsugumi looked down for a moment in thought. “…I understand.” She clenched her fists. “I’ll keep it closed until you come back.”

                He nodded in understanding. “Well, I’ll be off then. Don’t get into too much trouble while I’m gone, okay?”

                “Right.” She watched as her dad walked out and headed towards the café.

                She turned out the lights, headed upstairs, and sat down at her computer. She wouldn’t be going to sleep for a while to come.

 

~{]0o0[}~

 

                “I’m back~” Eve called as she opened the door to her home and leapt in.

                “Welcome back!” Her mom called from the kitchen. “Hm? Someone’s happy.” She spoke again in Finnish, commenting on Eve’s unusual happy-go-lucky behavior, “Who’s the lucky girl?” While Eve hadn’t come out to her parents yet, her mother had been able to piece it together based on her school choice and behavior around her friends.

                Eve smiled as she threw herself back onto the couch, and locked the lock button on her phone as her mother walked over. She’d already changed her lock screen to the photo of the two of them she took. “Her name is Tsugumi,” she replied in Finnish, “Her family owns the café I work at. She’s smart, she’s kind, she’s hardworking and caring… and she’s the cutest girl in the whole world!”

                “I see. She is pretty cute! You’ll have to bring her here so I can see if she lives up to your praise! After all, it’s not every day that someone makes my little Eve break character!”

                “Yeah.” She looked down at her lock screen. “She’s perfect. I’m really happy that she accepted my confession. I… I don’t know what I would do if she turned me down…”

                Her mom smiled and hugged her. “Well, good thing there’s no same person in the world turn down a confession from my little Eve!”

                Eve let out a little laugh. “Thanks, mama.”

                “Though, I’m not sure I can call you that while making a claim like that my- …Eve.”

                “…mama…” she said with a slightly concerned tone.

                “You’re all grown up now. And what a lady you’ve become!”

                “Mama…!” she laughed.

                “It’s true!” she laughed back, “And I’m proud to call you my daughter!”

                “Thanks, mama.”

                “Of course… Eve.” Well, I preferred girls when I was her age, too. I guess that really only changed when I decided I wanted kids. And, well, of course when her father came and stole my heart. Well, whatever. As long as she’s happy, I’ll let her do what she wants. It’s the freedom I wish my parents gave me, after all.

 

~{]0o0[}~

 

                Yukina had been lying in bed for some time now thinking about the events with Ran earlier that evening. When Ran had told her that she loved her, Yukina had done her best to express how she felt but… her reaction was… strange. Confusing. She wasn’t sure what to make of anything that had happened or how to proceed.

                She picked up her phone and dialed a number she’d dialed many times before.

                “Yukina! It’s unusual for you to still be up this late. You need help studying for the test tomorrow?”

                She paused. “We have a test?”

                She sighed. “Yukina, our entrance exam is tomorrow after school. Don’t tell me you forgot to study for it…?!”

                Yukina paused again. “Don’t worry about it. More importantly, I have something else to ask.”

                “What is it?”

                “Lisa, when you spoke with Ran earlier, did she… say anything about me?”

                She sighed. “Yukina, I don’t know what happened between you two, but if it bothers you that much, then why aren’t you calling her about it?”

                “Ah, she hung up…”

                She sighed and tossed her phone to the side. Why don’t I call her, huh? If that’s the case, I’ll talk to her during lunch after I speak with Ako. She yawned. For now, I’ll just get some sleep and worry about it tomorrow…

 

~{]0o0[}~

 

                Tomoe was sitting in her practice room, panting heavily and drenched with sweat. She looked down at the pair of broken drumsticks in her hands. How long have I been practicing? A couple hours maybe?

                A couple hours and I’ve already broken this many sticks… god, I’m pathetic. I bet Ako doesn’t go through this many…

                She angrily threw them into the broken stick bucket, but they bounced out of the already full bucket.

                She sighed and reached into her stick bag, grabbing the last pair she had, and checked the label to see which ones were left. In the center, written in a thick, messy font was the word GYROAXIA, and overlapping it slightly in a thinner, silver color was the relatively neat signature of Miyuki Sakaigawa, the drummer.

                “…these are…”

                Ako had given them to her as a birthday present last year, bringing them back after having had them personally signed at Future World Festival after their performance. Miyuki’s drumming style had a big impact on Tomoe after she first heard it, and she had worked to try and replicate it. She always kept them on her, and refused to play with them under any circumstances, but…

                “Guess there’s no choice.” She raised her drumsticks, ready to keep practicing.

                “Onee-chan… can you go to bed? It’s four in the morning and Ako can’t sleep while you’re practicing…”

                It was Ako, who had just come in from behind her.

                “Ah, Ako. Sorry, I didn’t realize what time it was. Four in the morning, huh? That makes it six hours, then…”

                “Um… Onee-chan… you haven’t stopped practicing since you got home Friday evening. It’s Monday morning now.”

                “M-Monday?! But… But I thought you said you couldn’t sleep with my drumming…!”

                She turned away meekly. “…I spent the weekend at Rin-rin’s…”

                “Rin-rin’s…? Ako, you shouldn’t spend the night with your girlfriend…!”

                “But Onee-chan was working so hard and I didn’t want to disturb you-“

                “Shut up!”

                Ako froze. She’d never seen Tomoe this frustrated, and had certainly never heard her say ‘shut up’ before.

                “What the hell is wrong with you?! Whenever you talk to me, it’s always ‘Onee-chan this,’ or ‘Onee-chan’ that! I have a god damn name, you know!”

                “B-but Onee-cha-“

                “I told you to shut up with that! Why the hell do you even call me that, anyway?! It’s not like it matters!”

                “B-because you’re my Onee-“

                “Am I, though?! You always say you look up to me, but why, you freak?! You’re better at drumming than me! You get better grades than me! You got a girlfriend before me! Hell, you’re even better at controlling your emotions than me! What the hell do you have to look up to me for?!”

                “Onee-chan is Onee-chan, and that’s all I-“

                “Don’t give me that crap! That’s not true, and you know it!”

                “But I-“

                “But what?! Because I’m cooler than you?! You always use that as an excuse to follow people and try to talk like them, then you try to come up with these dumb phrases about being a dark princess, thinking that it’s so cool, but it’s not! It’s cringe! Everyone hates it and finds it annoying! So why don’t you just stop and be normal for once, you freak?!”

                Tears welled up in Ako’s eyes, and she ran from the room. Moments later, Tomoe could hear the front door slam.

                “Tch. I’m not in the mood to practice now. Guess I’ll head to bed.”

Chapter Text

     Ako just ran. She didn’t know where, and frankly, she didn’t care. All she knew is that she had to get away from here. Away from Tomoe. She didn’t know what had gotten into Tomoe or why she was responding that way.

     As she stopped to catch her breath, Tomoe’s words echoed in her mind. You freak. Can’t you just be normal for once? She buried her face in her arm as she continued crying.

 

     Rinko’s alarm went off at its usual time, and she turned it off, stretching as she sat up. She opened her balcony door and stepped out, breathing in the cool, crisp, morning air before the sun came up.

     As she felt the cold wind gently blow by her, she heard the faint sound of sobbing, and looking down, she could see a familiar head of purple hair. She turned around, swiftly moving through her house, putting on some outdoor slippers, and opened her front gate.

     “Ako-chan?”

     The girl sobbed, looking up at her from her seated position. “Rin-rin…” Tears welled up in her eyes as she lept onto her with a hug.

     “Ako-chan…” She wrapped her arms around her as she continued to cry in her arms.

     Around 10 minutes later, Ako’s crying slowed down, and Rinko brought her inside, making her a cup of tea and handing it to her.

     “Rin-rin, do you… think I’m annoying?” She held the cup in her hands.

     “Ako-chan? Why… would you think that?”

     “Onee-chan… said that my speech patterns are cringy…”

     “Ako-chan…” She placed a hand on her shoulder and walked around, hugging her from behind. “I don’t think that at all. It may not be the cool look you’re going for, but your determination to keep going and keep trying is one of the things that made me fall for you. And besides,” she smiled and hugged her a little tighter, “it’s what gave me the courage to be able to speak without pausing like this.”

     She smiled softly. “…I guess you’re right.” She paused for a moment. “Rin-rin? Could you… brush my hair…?”

     She smiled again. “Of course.” I thought so. Ako’s not a morning person unless it involves NFO, and she hates having her hair brushed, but… something else happened. I’ll ask her about it while I brush her hair. She came back down with a hairbrush and a comb and placed them on the table next to Ako to signal her return. “Ako-chan, you can tell me anything, and I won’t think any less of you, you know. I’m your girlfriend, after all,” she spoke, pulling out Ako’s hair ties and running her fingers through her hair to get the larger knots out.

     “…I know…” She paused, feeling Rinko’s delicate fingers work their way through the many tight knots in her hair. “…I just… don’t want to talk about it right now…”

     I see. So whatever Tomoe-san said to her was that traumatic, it seems. In that case, as much as I’d like to give her some space… “Ako-chan, I won’t pretend to know or understand what happened with Tomoe-san, but I’m here for you. You know that, and that’s why you came here. So when you feel ready to talk about it, I’ll be here, listening.” She grabbed the comb and started running it through her hair.

     Ako looked down and clenched her fists on the bottom of her shirt. “…I just… I don’t understand why… she’s so mad at me. She… she’s never said anything before. I look up to her. I really do. And I don’t care about things like grades and skills. She’s my older sister, and that’s all I need to respect her and look up to her. So then, why? Why is she so mad at me? I… I don’t understand…”

     “I think she’s probably thought those things for a while now, but didn’t want to upset you, so she kept it to herself. Over time, they built up until she finally snapped. I don’t think she’s really mad at you, and I certainly don’t think she hates you. Give her some time to calm down, and I’m sure she’ll apologize.” She grabbed some hair ties and started pulling her hair up.

     “…thanks, Rin-rin. I… I needed to hear that.”

     She smiled before getting changed, and the two girls did their makeup before going to Ako’s to get her uniform.

Chapter Text

     Yukina paused as she slid open the door of the first years’ class and walked towards the table Ako and her friends made by pushing their desks together. “Ako, do you have a moment?” She looked past her to avoid bringing attention to her hair, which she noted was down and unusually straight.

     “Hm? Sure.” She got up and followed her out of the room.

     “Ako, do you mind if I ask you something… personal?” She turned to face her.

     “Personal? What you mean?” her thoughts drifted to her hair, which she had put down shortly before entering the classroom in the morning.

     “…” she turned her head, slightly flustered. “…are you and Rinko still… you know… awkward with each other?”

     “Awkward…? How do you mean…?”

     She hesitated again. “Mitake-san and I… we’ve been going out for a little over two months now, and… we’re still awkward around each other. As in… you know… dates and… sharing food…”

     “Yukina-san… Everyone has their own pace that they’re comfortable with.”

     Hmm? That’s odd. She’s being awfully calm about this…

     “Rinko-san and I were good friends long before we started going out, so we never really had that awkward period.”

     Rinko-san…? Did something happen between them…?

     “You and Ran-san weren’t on great terms before you started going out, so it’s only natural that you’re taking a little longer to become comfortable around each other.

     Didn’t she used to use chan with Ran? And her speech patterns… something’s definitely wrong. “R-right. Thanks, Ako. I appreciate the advice.” She paused. “If you need help or someone to talk to, you can always come to me, you know.”

     “I know.” She paused. “I just… everyone needs to grow up sometime, you know?” She looked down with a tired look on her face. “It just… took me longer to realize that…”

     “Ako, I never once saw you as childish. You’ve made a number of grown-up decisions, and your personality and hairstyle have nothing to do with how I see you.”

     There was a moment of silence between the two of them. “…I should get back to class and finish my lunch.”

     Yukina sighed. “Very well. I’ll see you after school.”

 

~{]0o0[}~

 

     The two girls were left in the classroom as Ako left with Yukina. Normally, this would have left the two in an awkward silence due to Ako being the fuel for most of their conversations, but Ako had been strangely quiet the whole day.

     Although neither realized it, the two were awkward around each other and avoided eye contact for their mutual feelings for each other. Asuka was lazily looking out the window, eating fairly slowly while Rokka was looking down at her lunch nervously.

     I mean, she’s cute and all, but she’ll think I’m a total creep if she catches me checking her out. Just keep looking out the window, Asuka. Don’t even look at her gorgeous blue hair, and certainly don’t look into her sparkling, emerald eyes. Her cheeks flushed red at that thought. Well… I guess just a quick glance won’t hurt anything… She looked over at her, and for a brief moment made eye contact before quickly turning back away, her blush growing a little deeper. Of course she looked over. Just my luck…

     Rokka looked back down, now flustered. Ah… I hope she doesn’t think I was staring at her…! Ah, but look at her expression… I totally made her mad… What can I do to fix this, I wonder? Maybe I could-

     “Hey, Rokka.”

     “Ah! Y-y-yes…?” She jumped a little, being pulled away from her thoughts.

     “Do you-“ she cut herself off, leaving a strained expression on her face as she looked for what to say next. After a short while, she sighed and turned her head, having a defeated look. “…think Ako’s been weird today?” Damn. Of course I would change the subject like that. Leave it to me to screw up a confession that badly. Sigh. I guess I could ask Onee-chan how she asked Arisa-san out…

     “Ah, you mean… like how she didn’t say anything when she walked into the classroom?”

     From there, the girls stayed quiet until the bell rang, and they moved their desks back into place for class.

 

~{]0o0[}~

 

     “Oh, Minato-san!” one of her classmates called to her as she reentered her classroom, “Mitake-san was just looking for you.”

     “Mitake-san was?”

     “Yeah. I told her to check the area of the roof where you usually nap. I guess you weren’t there, though.”

     “…I’ll see if she’s still there.”

 

     Ran had sat down on the bench, and had the Afterglow group chat open while she waited for Yukina. They hadn’t spoken since their last rehearsal on the 9th, a little over a week ago now, and prior to that, they had chatted through it every day.

     “Mitake-san.” Yukina stepped around the corner.

     “Ah!” Ran jumped, unexpectedly hearing Yukina’s voice. “Minato-san! D-don’t sneak up on me like that!”

     “Hm? But I didn’t-“ she glanced down at Ran’s phone, seeing the message she just sent, probably by accident when she startled her. “I see,” she smiled softly, “Is this what you wanted to talk to me about?”

     “Ah, n-no, there was… something else.”

     “Very well. There’s also something I need to speak to you about. Would you like to start?”

     “N-no, you can go first.”

     “Very well.” She sat down next to her. “Mitake-san, about yesterday…” She looked down for a moment before looking back into her deep red eyes as Ran gulped. “I… I’ve noticed that you seem to get frustrated around me because you can’t tell how I’m feeling. Because of that, I… decided to try being more expressive, but… you didn’t seem to like that either.”

     “Yukina…” she placed a hand on hers, “To me, being in a relationship isn’t about changing for the sake of your partner, it’s about accepting and loving them for who they are. You don’t need to express yourself more for me. It’s slow, but I’m figuring out how to tell what you’re feeling, bit by little bit.”

     “…so… you’re okay with the me I am now?”

     She smiled. “You just stay the same as always you, and I’ll stay the same as always me.”

     “…I understand. And what is it you wanted to talk about?”

     “Ah…” she lowered her head. “…Lisa-san told me not to tell you because she said you might do something you’d regret, but…” She took in a deep breath and sighed. “When she was at my place just before you got there, Sayo-san… told me to break up with you so that she could be your girlfriend.”

     Although slight, Yukina’s eyes widened for a moment before looking away, and clenched the hand that had been covered by Ran’s. “…Lisa was right. I… I want to kick her out of the band, but… I know that’s not the solution…”

     “Yukina…” noticing that she had started trembling, she wrapped her arms around her. “I was wondering since then if I was really the right person for you. I still don’t know the answer to that, but I’ve made up my mind now on what to do. I’m going to stay right here by your side. I’ll stay here as long as you want me to. No. As long as you need me to.”

     “Ran…” She slowly moved her arms around her. “…you smell nice.”

     Ran became flustered and started choking on her words. “Ah, um… Yukina… d-don’t say embarrassing things like that…!”

     After a moment’s pause, she spoke again. “…maybe we should head back to class-“

     “Just a little longer,” Yukina interjected.

     Ran sighed and smiled. “A little longer.”

Chapter Text

                A notification from the Afterglow group chat popped up for the first time in a little over a week.

Ran: I want to host a self-sponsored live.

                It was several minutes before a reply came in, as everyone had all been doing their own things during the lunch break. Himari, who had been studying, was the first to reply.

Himari: I think that’s a great idea!

Himari: When were you thinking?

Himari: Also what songs should we do?

Himari: Also where?

Himari: Should we make new costumes?

Himari: Also do we want to sell merch?

Tsugumi: Himari-chan

Himari: What should we do for art?

Tsugumi: You’re doing it again

Himari: Oh

Himari: Sorry

Himari: Maybe we should talk about this in person

Himari: When is everyone available?

Tsugumi: I think you’re a little too excited for this. First of all, what do Tomoe-chan and Moca-chan think about this?

Tsugumi: I’m interested, but I’d rather not if it’s not unanimous.

                Tsugumi had been eating lunch in the classroom, going over everything that needed to be done before she could open that afternoon, and was pleasantly surprised by the barrage of messages from Himari, as she’d been missing the rehearsals they usually had.

Himari: Huh? Why not?

Tsugumi: This is a big step for our band, but given that we haven’t really spoken to each other much in the last week, I don’t want to make anyone do something they’re not comfortable doing. Furthermore, Moca-chan’s been kind of upset lately, and I don’t want to upset her more by bringing a sudden change into our band.

Tomoe: Moca and I are down

Tsugumi: Never mind

 

~{]0o0[}~

 

                The bell rang dismissing classes for the day, and Rokka got up and headed out.

                “Um, Rokka…” Asuka called out just as she walked out the door.

                “Hm? What is it?” She stopped as she heard her, and turned to face her.

                “Um, well it’s…” She hesitated. “…never mind. I-it’s not important.

                “O-okay…” Rokka turned back around and headed out to rehearsal.

                Asuka sighed and headed home. Unsurprisingly, Kasumi beat her home, and was with Tae in the kitchen.

                “I’m home.” She called out as she entered the door.

                “Welcome back!” her sister called out in reply.

                She set her bag down and flopped on the couch in the entry way, sighing as she shoved her face into a pillow.

                “Hm? A-chan, what’s wrong?” Her sister peeked from the kitchen.

                Asuka rolled her head to the side. “Onee-chan… how do you ask someone out…?”

                ”That’s easy!” She replied brightly. “First, you make them love you SOOOOOOOOO much that they EXPLODE in a show of their feelings and ask you out first!”

                She sighed. “I don’t know why I asked. Arisa was the one who asked you out. Tae-san?”

                “I can confirm that Kasumi’s strategy works.” She gave a thumbs up.

                “Oh… right… You didn’t ask Layer-san out…” She sighed again. “Thanks, I guess. I’ll just figure it out on my own.” She got up and picked up her bag and headed to her room to do her homework. As she started up the stairs, she stopped and looked back at them. How they still have girlfriends is beyond me.

                The two of them didn’t seem to mind her comment. On the contrary, they seemed rather pleased with her reaction. It came across to her that they knew they didn’t have anything that could help her, so they intentionally gave her the most useless response possible, just to be that way. Nah, that would be too thoughtful. They were probably trying to be helpful in their own way, given the info they had. That said, it’s Onee-chan and Tae-san, so it’s probably some mix of the too.

                Maybe I’m thinking too much about this. Onee-chan is always super energetic, and Tae-san isn’t really someone to make a first move, so their answer makes sense. She sighed. But Rokka isn’t the kind of person who would make a first move, so even if I wanted to, I couldn’t follow their terrible advice.

                She pulled out a notebook and opened the internet on her phone. “Let’s see… how to ask someone out…”

 

~{]0o0[}~

 

                As soon as she walked into Chu2’s studio, Rokka walked up to Masuki, who was sitting on one of the sofas.

                “Masuki-san!”

                “Hm? What is it?”a

                “How do you ask a girl out?” She asked, perhaps a little too loud. Masuki-san’s the coolest, gayest person I know! If anyone can tell me how, it’s her!

                Everyone else’s ears perked up, most notably Pareo, who started intensely listening to their conversation.

                Masuki smiled, continuing to lean back while resting her arms on the back of the sofa. “Asking girls out is easy! Have a seat and I’ll tell you all about it.” When she did so, Masuki continued, demonstrating her actions as she gave them. “First, you sit down next to her. Then, you put an arm around her, like this.” She brought her arm arounds her neck, pulling her close and resting her arm on her shoulders. “You look deeply into her eyes, and after a moment, you slowly lean in and- ah!” Just as her lips were a mere inch away from the other girl’s, Rei pulled her away by the ear.

                “Come on, Masuki, don’t do that to the poor girl,” she spoke in an irritated voice.

                “Do what?! I’m only doing what she told me to!” She protested.

                “Rokka-chan, please ignore her terrible advice.”

                “Huh? W-was it that bad…?” Rokka asked, innocently and confused.

                “Well it’s better than any boring advice that Rei could give you.”

                “Then why is it that I have a girlfriend and you don’t?”

                “…!” Masuki paused, defeated by that statement. “…Hana’s your childhood friend, so it doesn’t really count. She was going to agree anyway…”

                “That doesn’t make it any less difficult to ask her out!” She sighed. “You getting a girlfriend would be nothing short of a miracle.” She turned to Rokka. “Rokka-chan, don’t rush into it. It can take a while to build up the courage to ask someone out. But once you do, just be yourself. Take her to somewhere where it’s just the two of you, and tell her how you feel.”

                “Is that really it?”

                “Don’t force yourself to be something you’re not. Rokka-chan, you’re a sweet girl, and I’m sure that whoever you’re planning on asking out knows that as well.”

                She smiled softly. “Thanks, Layer-san.”

                “Of course.” She replied with a smile before turning to Masuki. “You and I are going to have a talk after rehearsal.”

                She hesitated for a moment. Woah, talk about scary. Hana, don’t ever make Rei angry. You may not live to regret it. For that matter, I’m not sure I’m going to live to regret it…

 

Chapter Text

                Rei folded her arms. “Masuki, you’ve been acting strange lately. What’s going on?”

                “Strange? What do you mean?”

                “You’ve always been something of a flirt, but lately you’ve been going over the top. And earlier, you went so far as to try to kiss Rokka-chan.”

                “Are you kidding? She was talking about me! I’m the one she-“

                “No, you’re not! Have you even been listening to what she’s been talking to you about lately?! She likes a girl from her class who I’m pretty sure is Kasumi-chan’s sister! And as if that’s not enough, you’ve been getting really touchy on the subject of you not having a girlfriend! What happened to the whole ‘bachelorette for life’ thing you had going?! I’ll ask again, what’s going on with you?!”

                “I’M JUST CONFUSED!” She practically screamed, catching Rei off guard. Pacing back and forth, she continued. “I just… a while back, the drummers went to an amusement park together, and Tsukushi said that Maya-san and I liked each other, but didn’t realize it, and I… I don’t know anymore. I’ve never thought of her that way before, and I… I don’t know if I do. I… I’m confused… I’m lost… I…” She buried her face in her arm, tilting her head up, and for the first time, Rei could see tears streaming down her face. “I don’t know what to do…”

                “Masuki… I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have yelled.”

                Masuki didn’t reply, and continued to fight the tears rolling down her cheeks.

                “…you don’t have to keep this stuff to yourself, you know. I’m your friend, and I’m here to help you.”

                “That’s what everyone says.” She sniffled. “But no one ever is.”

                “…I see. So that’s what’s going on.” She gently grabbed Masuki’s free hand with both of hers. “Have you tried talking to Yamato-san about this?”

                “Maya-san…?”

                “She’s the one you’re unsure about your feelings for, right? Why don’t you try talking to her about this?”

                “Talk to Maya-san about this… Yeah. I could do that.” She sniffled again.

                Rei smiled. “Why don’t we sit down? We can stay here as long as you need.”

                Masuki nodded. “I’d like that.”

 

~{]0o0[}~

 

                As she’d finished setting up the café, Tsugumi taped the poster she’d made last night on the window of the door.

 

 We are currently short staffed.

Please be patient!

 

                “That should do it! Now just to wait until Eve-chan gets here and-“

                There was a knock at the door, and Eve’s face peeked through the door.

                “Ah, right. Unlock the door.” She turned the lock and opened the door, and Eve jumped through and hugged her, nearly knocking her to the ground. “Woah! Um… H-hi…”

                She broke the hug, but continued holding her arms. “Hi…”

                She cleared her throat. “So um… my parents aren’t here right now, so it’ll just be us tonight…”

                “Wow! You’re parents trust us that much?!”

                “Um… yeah, something like that, haha…” There’s no way I can tell her about this, she’ll completely freak out…! “Um… My dad said he’d rather keep our recipes in the family, so I’ll be in the kitchen, and you’ll be doing coffee and waiting. Are you up to that?”

                “Yes! Of course!”

                “Okay, just… I won’t be here to cover for you, so make sure you really focus on your keigo, okay?”

                “Right!”

                Tsugumi flipped the sign to open, and smiled. “Let’s both do our best!”

 

                Eve showed the last customer out and flipped the sign to closed.

                “That’s everyone?” Tsugumi asked as she left the kitchen, drying her hands on her apron.

                “That’s everyone.” Eve nodded in agreement.

                Tsugumi sighed with a smile. “Good work today!”

                “You too!” Eve smiled back.

                The two girls stood for a moment in awkward silence, neither knowing what to say or do next.

                “Hey, Eve-chan, are you… free tomorrow?”

                “Y-you mean like… f-for a…”

                “Yeah,” she nodded, “another shift.”

                “Ah, yeah, that’s totally what I meant. Haha yeah…”

                “It’s just that… I can’t open the café without you, so… it would mean a lot to me. I know you didn’t have a shift scheduled for tomorrow, but-“

                “Tsugumi-san,” she grabbed her hands, “if it means that much to you, I’ll be here. I have rehearsal tomorrow afterschool, but I’ll come right away!”

                “Oh, well… if you have rehearsal, then it might just be best to close for the day…”

                Eve shook her head. “I should be around two hours late or so, but I can come!”

                “Well…” she smiled as a slight blush crossed her face. “If you’re really sure, then I guess it’s okay…”

                Eve smiled and hugged the slightly shorter girl.

                “Ah… I… Um… Mm…” Tsugumi hesitated.

                “Hm? Is something wrong?”

                “Um, it’s just that… actually, I guess we’re g-girlfriends, so…” Tsugumi hugged her back, and spoke again after a moment. “I guess you should get home now.”

                “Um… about that…” She turned to look out the window, and Tsugumi followed.

                “Ah…” She looked out at the pouring rain. “Gimme a sec…” She ran around, looking for an umbrella everywhere she could think to find one. She checked by the front door, in the coat closet, and finally running upstairs to check her room before coming back empty handed. “Um… I’d really hate to send you home without something for the rain…”

                Eve thought for a moment. “Tsugumi-san, could I spend the night?”

                “Huh? Y-you mean… like a sleepover…?”

                “Yeah!”

                “Um… I, Uh… A-are your parents okay with that?”

                “My parents…? Ah! Give me a minute!” She pulled out her phone and called home.

                “Eve dear, it’s rare of you to call! What’s up?” her mother answered in Finnish.

                “Mama, can I stay at Tsugumi’s tonight?”

                “Eve dear, it’s a school night. You know you can’t.”

                “U-um… N-nice w-weather we’re h-having…” Her voice shot up as she stuttered.

                There was a pause followed by a sigh. “Remember to bring an umbrella next time.”

                “S-so does that mean…?”

                “Don’t worry about your father. I’ll take care of it.”

                She smiled. “Thanks, mama. I know how strict papa can be, so thank you for understanding.”

                “Of course, Eve dear. Just try to be better prepared next time.”

                “I will. Thanks, mama. Love you.”

                “Love you too.”

                They hung up, and Eve turned around, smiling.

                “I guess I should learn some Finnish if I’m going to be your girlfriend,” Tsugumi laughed.

                “Y-you don’t need to do that! I-I’ll translate for you…!”

                “Eve-chan,” she laughed, brushing her hair to the side, “I was joking. But I take it this means that your parents are okay with you staying the night?”

                “Oh, uh… Yeah, I got permission.”

                She smiled in thought. “Hm… The only other room is my parents, so you’ll have to stay in my room. I’ll get the futon out, but in may not be in great shape since I’ve never had guests over…”

                “That’s fine!” she smiled, “I don’t mind!”

                “O-okay, then, um… pajamas… I-I guess you could borrow some of mine, but they may be a bit small since you’re a bit, um…” She glanced at her chest before looking away with a light blush. “…bigger…”

                “Bigger…? What do you mean? I’m not that much taller than you…”

                “Uh, y-yeah! T-that’s what I meant…! Y-you’re a bit taller than me, and my pajamas are a little small on me, so they might ride up when you put them on, haha…” She nervously laughed it off. “Oh, and if you want to take a bath, you can feel free to use any of the stuff we have in there.”

                “A bath sounds nice! I think I’ll take one first!”

                “Okay. I’ll leave some pajamas just inside the room, so feel free to take your time.”

                The girls went upstairs and got ready for bed.

               

Chapter Text

                Rinko and Sayo had been given their last period off to study for their upcoming entrance exam later that day, and while Sayo went straight to the university to do some studying, Rinko took a detour to Haneoka to pick up Lisa, and Yukina, who were not given off for the exam. However, she was looking forward to spending time with Ako before the exam started, given her behavior that morning.

                “Ako-chan.” She called out as she saw the purple-haired girl walked past the school gates, talking immediate notice that she’d let her hair down.

                “Hey Rinko-san.” She replied calmly.

                Still using my name and san? I guess she’s still upset. I should try to cheer her up…! “Ako-chan, do you want to get some ice cream on the way?”

                She gave an exhausted smile. “Rinko-san, it’s the middle of winter. Why would I want ice cream when it’s this cold outside?”

                “I just… thought that since you like ice cream so much and it helps you feel better when you’re down, I’d offer to get some with you-”

                “Well maybe I don’t like ice cream anymore!” She snapped. Sighing, she continued. “Rinko-san, you don’t have to try anymore. It’s clear that I’m not the same person you fell in love with, so it would be better if we just stopped this before someone gets hurt.”

                “But Ako-chan, I-“ she tried to protest.

                “I’m talking about you! You’re the one who’ll get hurt if we continue this idiocy! Rinko-san, I’ve grown up, and I’m moving on. I suggest you do the same.”

                “Ako-chan… what are you…”

                She sighed. “Do I really have to spell it out for you?” She turned around and started walking away. “Rinko-san, I’m breaking up with you.”

                “A-ako-chan… I-“

                “And would you drop the -chan? We’re not dating anymore, so there’s no need to be so casual to someone who’s just a part of your band.”

                “B-but Ako-chan, I…”

                “I told you, drop the -chan.”

                “B-but I…” Her voice dropped, and she was now speaking soft enough that Ako couldn’t hear her. “I don’t know how to deal with this… I… I’m not ready, I… need you…”

                “Rinko,” a voice called from behind her.

                “Huh?” She jumped slightly and turned around to see Yukina, Lisa, and Ran.

                “…where’s Ako going? I thought she was coming with us.” The voice continued, coming from Yukina.

                “Ah, she…” she paused, “…she’s not feeling well, so she’s… going to rest before rehearsal.”

                “…I see.” What’s going on? She thought, Ako has her hair down and is surprisingly… normal, Rinko’s started being meek again, Sayo asked Ran to break up with me so that she could date me instead, and Lisa… there’s been a hint of sadness in her eyes whenever she’s looked at me since Christmas… …why is no one talking to me? I’m the leader, the one everyone’s supposed to go to when they have problems, and- …no. I can’t blame them. I need to take the initiative and talk to them about this myself. Otherwise, I’d be failing as a leader…

                “Um… Mitake-san is…”

                “Afterglow’s not meeting until tomorrow, so she said she wanted to come with us.”

                “I… see.” Of all the times she comes with us… why now…?!

                There was a moments pause, and Lisa spoke up. “A-any way, we should get going, haha…”

                “…that’s right. We wouldn’t want to miss that test you studied for last night.” Yukina replied.

                “Huh? Didn’t you study, too, Minato-san?” Ran asked, surprised.

                “Let’s go.” She started towards the station.

                “Hey, Yukina, wait! Answer me!” She started after her.

                Lisa giggled to herself and followed after them, and Rinko followed shortly after her.

               

~{]0o0[}~

 

                “Mm~ Tests always make me so stiff~!” Lisa stretched as the girls left the room, meeting up with Ran in the prep area.

                “How’d it go?” She stood up to meet them.

                “Ahaha.. I think I managed somehow…” Lisa laughed nervously.

                “It was a very… stressful test…” Rinko commented.

                “Yes. I was fine until the math portion. I certainly wasn’t expecting to have to take an integral of something that long,” Sayo added.

                “Right?!” Lisa agreed. “We’ve only done integrals on basic quadratics and some geometric functions so far, and they expect us do it with both combined?! And with two variables nonetheless!”

                “You realize that if you multiplied first, every variable had an i, so you could pull it out of the integral, right?” Sayo suggested.

                “What?!” Lisa buried her head in her hands and looked up. “Aaaaaahhh! I totally bombed the entire math portion!”

                “The triangle problem didn’t have anything like that though.”

                “Yeah, but I completely forgot how to do that proof. I’ve used that identity so often that I haven’t done the proof in several months…”

                Sayo sighed. “Honestly. And you two are supposed to go to the better school for this kind of stuff.”

                Rinko giggled. “I think… the purpose of that first question wasn’t to see if you knew how to get the answer… but to see how you would approach a difficult problem that… you don’t know how to solve quite yet.”

                “…and what’d you get for that one…?”

                “Four pi theta times i plus C, but I’m sure that’s wrong…”

                “Well, that makes more sense than the mess that I got… Yukina, what did you get?”

                “…I got seven.”

                The girls sighed, and Yukina tilted her head. “What?”

                “Yukina,” Ran spoke up, “You can’t get a constant as a solution as a solution to an integral.”

                “…I see.” There was a moment’s pause. “…In any case, we should get going to rehearsal.”

                “Ah, about that…” She turned towards the glass door, and the Roselia girls noticed the pouring rain for the first time.

                After a brief moment, Sayo spoke up. “…I didn’t think to bring an umbrella.”

                “It was sunny earlier, so…” Rinko agreed.

                “Should we cancel rehearsal since we have to wait out the rain?” Lisa asked.

                There was another moment of pause before Ran said “Wait here,” and ran off into the rain despite brief protests.

 

                She returned a few minutes later, completely soaked, and with some umbrellas. “They only had three, so we’ll have to share.”

                “I’ll go with Sayo!” Lisa called out as soon as Ran finished. “What?” She asked as everyone looked at her, “We’re the only ones here not in a relationship!”

                Yukina looked over to Ran. “It’s great that you got these and all, but you’re completely soaked now.”

                “Huh? Ah, don’t worry about it. I’ll be fine.”

                “…” Yukina closed her eyes before grabbing her wrist with a “Come with me,” and pulled her into the bathroom, locking the stall behind her. “Take your top off. All of it.” She started unbuttoning her jacket.

                “What?!” Ran nearly yelled.

                “…if it bothers you, I’ll look away.” She finished sliding off her jacket and handed it to her. “Put this on afterwards.”

                “Fine, just get out!” She took the jacket and pushed Yukina out of the stall, relocking it behind her. A few moments later, she came back out wearing Yukina’s jacket and her wet clothes neatly folded in her hands. “What am I supposed to do with these?”

                Yukina opened her bag. “I’ll carry them.”

                “But… what about your school books?”

                “Don’t worry about it.”

                “But I-“

                “Ran. I’d hate to think that you caught a cold because I was worried about my school books.”

                “…fine.” She reluctantly handed them over, and Yukina carefully but them in her bag so as to not leave them with wrinkles.

                “…I feel so exposed like this…” She held the top of the jacket closed.

                “Would you like me to take you home, then?” Yukina offered.

                “Uh, ah, n-no…” Ran looked away, flustered.

                Yukina tilted her head. Then what does she want? If she’s uncomfortable in this, she should go home and get a change of clothes. It’s not like it’ll take time away from rehearsal since Lisa and Sayo have to go home and get their instruments, so why is she opposed to the idea…?

                “I-in any case, we should get going…”

                “…right.”

                The two girls walked out, were met by a smirk from Lisa, and the five of them headed out to CiRCLE.

 

                For most of the walk there, Ran had continued holding the top of the jacket closed, raising her shoulders and pushing up against Yukina, who responded by taking a step to the side. This was consistently met with a look of irritation from Ran and a confused look from Yukina. Lisa, as hilarious as she found this, convinced Sayo to bring the umbrella closer to them, and whispered a hint to her.

                “Yukina, don’t you think Ran looks cold?”

                She glanced over at Ran, who was up playing how cold she was.

                “…she already has my jacket.”

                “That’s not the point~” She teased with a wink, giving them some space.

                She looked over at Ran again, who had a face somewhere between annoyed and hopeful. “…would you like to step in somewhere warm for a moment?”

                “Ah…” Lisa facepalmed, “I try…”

 

                Lisa and Sayo had slip earlier to get their instruments, while the other three headed into CiRCLE. Unsurprisingly, Ako had already arrived, and Rinko joined her in the room.

                “Marina-san.” Yukina spoke up after Rinko left the table.

                “Ah, Yukina-chan, how can I help you?” She replied.

                “Do you have anything Mitake-san can use to dry her clothes with? She… got us some umbrellas.”

                “Hmm…” She thought for a moment, “I have some towels you could use, but I don’t think I have anything to dry clothes off with. Sorry.”

                “It’s fine,” Ran replied, “it’s better than nothing.” She took the towel and headed to the bathroom, and Yukina went into the room to begin warming up.

 

~{]0o0[}~

 

                Rehearsal ended and, uncharacteristically, Ako quickly left. Sayo caught her on her way out.

                “Udagawa-san, are you still on for that grinding session in NFO tonight?”

                “NFO…?” She let out a little laugh. “Hikawa-san, don’t you think games like that are childish?”

                “Childish… …Hikawa-san…?” By the time she replied, Ako had already left, and she was talking to herself. “…what’s with her?” She put it in the back of her mind, and headed back to the room.

                Meanwhile, Yukina had been talking to Rinko.

                “Rinko, did something happen to Ako? I noticed some unusual mistakes in her playing.”

                “Well…” Rinko summarized what Ako had told her that morning.

                “I see. In that case, I think we should talk to Udagawa-san about this.”

                “I agree,” Ran added, “I find it hard to believe that Tomoe would do something like that.”

                “Mitake-san,” Sayo entered the room, “I need to speak to you.”

                “Ah, sure-“ Ran started.

                Yukina stepped in front of her. “Anything you have to say to her, you can say to me.”

                “Very well,” she looked down, closing her eyes, “You have a right to hear this too. Shirokane-san, may we have the room?”

                Rinko  stepped out and waited in the lobby, and Sayo continued. “Minato-san, I don’t know if she told you, but a while back I asked Mitake-san to break up with you so-“

                “I’m aware.” Yukina interrupted, folding her arms.

                “Mitake-san,” she bowed deeply, “I must apologize. I have taken time to reflect on my actions and have realized that I was being selfish and only cared for my own feelings, rather than yours or even Minato-san’s. Minato-san,” she remained bowing, “I realize that what I did was unforgivable, and will be resigning from Roselia to begin correcting my mistakes.”

                “Sayo. Do you really think that-“

                “Yukina.” Ran glared at her, before turning back to Sayo. “Sayo-san, you’re being selfish again.”

                Both girls were taken by surprise.

                “You want to make up for your mistakes, but you’re not thinking about the feelings of the people around you. What would Roselia be without you as it’s guitarist? Would the other members still be interested in being in the band?” She paused briefly as Sayo thought for a moment. “And what would Hina-san think if her older sister suddenly resigned?”

                This caught Sayo off guard, and she looked away at the thought.

                “Would she keep playing if her role model stopped?” she finished.

                “I…” She was at a loss for words. “M-Minato-san, what do you think?”

                “I… hadn’t considered those points either…” She stopped and thought for a moment before continuing, “But Ran, are you really okay with that? After what she said, are you okay with continuing to see her this often…?”

                Ran recalled a line from a book she had read once. “’It’s a center piece of religion that there’s no sin so great it cannot be atoned for if one truly repents,’” she paraphrased, not remembering the exact line, “Well, that’s kind of a difficult line, but basically it means that if you truly regret something, if you’re truly sorry for something you’ve done, any misdeed can be made up for. Sayo, if you’re willing to try, then I’m willing to forgive you. Well, I’ll try, at least.”

                “Mitake-san…” She stood back up. “…it’s no wonder Minato-san fell for you.” She looked over to Yukina. “Minato-san, I have a request. I would like to remain in Roselia. I don’t know if either of you can forgive me for what I’ve done, but as Mitake-san suggested, I’m willing to do what I can to make it up to you.”

                Yukina hesitated, and looked back at Ran, who gave her a gentle nod. She sighed. “Sayo. I’m only doing this because of Ran’s request, but I will allow you to remain in Roselia. For now.”

                “…I understand. If I step out of line again, I will accept being kicked out of the band.”

                “…Then our business here is concluded.” Yukina walked past her out of the room.

                As Ran went to follow her, she was stopped by Sayo. “Mitake-san…” she paused to try and find the right words. “…thank you.”

                Ran smiled. “Everyone messes up. And sometimes we mess up big time. Friends are supposed to stand by them and guide them down the right road.”

                “…you consider us friends…?”

                “Mm…” she thought for a moment, “to be honest, no. It’s more like I don’t want Yukina to do something she’ll regret. But I meant what I said. I don’t know if I can truly forgive you, but if we both try, I’m sure we can become friends.”

                Ran left the room, leaving Sayo to her thoughts, and the three remaining girls headed to Tomoe’s.

 

~{]0o0[}~

 

                Tomoe opened the door, seeing the three girls on the other side. “What’s up?”

                Rinko was about to speak, but stopped herself, and looked to Yukina for help.

                “…Udagawa-san, we’ve heard that you said some… choice words to Ako, and she’s been behaving strangely since this morning.”

                “Yeah, and?”

                This response caught the three of them off guard. They had been expecting her to give her perspective, or refute it, or maybe say that it’s a misunderstanding, but instead she accepted it like it was common knowledge.

                “…aren’t you going to… say something about it…?” Rinko asked meekly, looking up at the girl that towered before her.

                Tomoe folded her arms and snickered. “You’re expecting me to apologize, or say that I regret saying those things, or that it was just in the heat of the moment, right? Well, it’s not going to happen. I’ve thought those things for a while, and I’m not going to apologize for speaking my mind.”

                “You…” Rinko clenched her fists before reaching up and grabbing the taller girl’s collar and looking up at her with a furious look in her eyes, and, for the first time, raised her voice. “How can you say something like that?! Isn’t she your little sister?! How can you say something so insensitive about her like that?!”

                “H-hey, Rinko-san, that’s a bit-“ Ran started

                “…was I wrong?” Tomoe spoke flatly.

                “…!” Rinko shoved her, not that she was really affected by it, and ran off into the rain.

                “Tch. What a crybaby.”

                “Tomoe.” Ran spoke, “Not cool.” She ran off after Rinko.

                There were a few moments of silence between the remaining two girls before Yukina spoke up. “…that was a pretty mean thing to say about your younger sister.”

                “It’s a sibling thing. You wouldn’t understand-” She avoided eye contact.

                “You’re wrong,” she cut in, “I do understand. My little sister’s in elementary school, which is why I understand better than you that you can’t say things like that.”

                “…I didn’t know you had a little sister.”

                “No one asks, so I don’t talk about her.”

                There were a few more moments of silence, and as Yukina was about to speak again, a voice was heard from behind. “Udagawa-san.” It was Sayo.

                “Sayo? How long have you been there?”

                “Since the beginning. I was waiting for a good time to come, and this was the best opportunity I had.” She turned to Tomoe. “I do not know what exactly you said to her, but it had something to do with growing up, correct?”

                Tomoe was caught off guard, and looked away.

                “I do not know how much you realize it, but Ako looks up to you, and consistently follows the advice you give her without fail. Everything else you said, whatever it may have been, is not what impacted her. It was your telling her to grow up that made her like this.” She looked at Yukina, then back at Tomoe. “I have made my share of mistakes, and I have realized that you need not apologize for every bad thing you said, but for the things that matter most. Even under the assumption that you meant well, which I am not, that suggestion has made her throw away the things that made her who she is.”

                “…it’s not like I can tell her what to do.” She looked away, starting to feel bad.

                “You did not listen.” Sayo folded her arms.

                “…?”

                “I said earlier that she follows all of your advice. She looks up to you, and wants to be like you. That is why when you told her to grow up, she looked to you as an example of what to be like. She is trying to mimic you in many ways, including both physical appearance and behavior. And before you can say anything… Hina looks up to me much the same way that Ako looks up to you.”

                “…she’s your younger sister, right?”

                “We are twins… though our parents have told me that she was the one born first, despite that she calls me the older sibling.”

                “…really?”

                “Yes. Hence, Hina, daytime vegetable, and Sayo, nighttime silk. But we are getting off topic. Think about what I have said, and I think you will understand where you have gone wrong.” She turned to Yukina, and grabbed her by the wrist, knowing that she wouldn’t leave if she didn’t. “Let’s go, Yukina. We should not disturb the Udagawa household any longer.”

               

                The two girls met up with Ran and Rinko, and Sayo took Rinko home, and, as usual Yukina took Ran home.

                Might as well try it again… Ran thought. She took a step closer to Yukina, who, to no one’s surprise, stepped to the side.

Chapter Text

                “Mitake-san, good morning,” Yukina called out the following day.

                Ran took notice, making sure to make eye contact before turning away and heading into the school.

                Did she not hear me? She walked in afterwards, and approached her to try again. “Mitake-san-“

                “I’m mad at you.” She cut in, closing her locker and walking away.

                “Mad at me…?” After a slight pause, she followed her. “Did I do something?”

                Ran sighed, refusing to look at her. “Think about last night.”

                “Last night…? …did you want to take the long way home?”

                “No! Well, I did, but that’s not why I’m mad.”

                “Then… what is it?”

                “Come talk to me when you figure it out.”

                Yukina paused and headed up the stairs shortly after her, but decided to go to her own classroom rather than press her about it.

                As she walked into her classroom, Lisa greeted her. “Yukina! Good morning!”

                Yukina didn’t notice, being too deep in thought.

                “…you okay, Yukina?”

                “Ah, Lisa. Yes, I’m fine. It’s just that Mitake-san’s mad at me and I can’t figure out why.”

                “She’s mad at you, huh?” She thought for a moment. “Yeah, I would be too.”

                Yukina looked up at her with a look of surprise mixed with hints of desperation. “Then you understand why?”

                “I have a pretty good idea, haha…”

                “What is it, then?”

                “That’s… well… remember what I whispered to you under the umbrella?”

                “Yeah.”

                “I’m… pretty sure it has to do with that.”

                “…is she jealous?”

                “Not quite. Think carefully about both what she was doing and the hint I gave you.”

                “…I see.” Yukina started thinking again, and in the meantime, Lisa texted Ran.

Lisa: Just thought I’d let you know that Yukina’s working really hard to figure out what she did wrong

Lisa: Not very successfully, but she’s trying

Lisa: And just so I know when she gets it right, it’s about her not cuddling you under the umbrella, right?

                A few moments passed, and Ran replied.

Ran: …I only wanted her to hold me.

Lisa: I see, I see~

Ran: I just thought that it would be nice if we did stuff like that every now and then, but she seemed like she wasn’t interested.

Ran: We don’t spend a lot of time alone, so I thought it’d be okay around our close friends.

Ran: We’ve been spending time discussing our relationship pacing, but she just seemed genuinely disinterested in me.

Ran: Sorry, I’m ranting.

Ran: Normally I’d say this kind of stuff to Moca, but… we’re not really on speaking terms at the moment.

Lisa: It’s fine, it’s fine~

Lisa: I’m sure you’ve noticed, but Yukina’s… not very bright when it comes to things that aren’t music

Lisa: So it probably wasn’t that she wasn’t interested in cuddling, but she just genuinely didn’t piece together that you wanted to

Ran: hugging.

Lisa: To be honest, I haven’t seen Yukina put this much energy into anything since PoPiPa’s first self-sponsored live

Lisa: She’s really giving her all to your relationship

                The bell rang, signaling that class would be starting soon.

Lisa: Gotta go! See ya!

                She put her phone away, and turned to Yukina.

                “What do you have so far?~”

                “…did she want me to teach her to play NFO?”

                Lisa sighed. “Please tell me that was a joke.”

                “…so that’s wrong, too…”

                She sighed again. “Well, class is starting, so think about it more afterwards.”

                Of course, Yukina wouldn’t be paying any attention in class.

 

~{]0o0[}~

 

                The bell rang dismissing class for the day, and Asuka spoke up as Rokka left the classroom, seemingly in a hurry.

                “Uh, Rokka, could we talk for a moment? Maybe somewhere private like the rooftop?”

                “S-sure…” she nodded in reply.

                As the two girls reached the rooftop, Asuka continued. “Rokka, I-“

                “Actually, there’s something I want to say first!” Rokka blurted out.

                “I, uh, okay. Go ahead.”

                Rokka took a deep breath in, and let it out slowly before continuing with a blush on her face. “Asuka-chan, I…”

                No… Asuka thought.

                “…we’ve known each other for a while now, and I…”

                …I refuse to believe it…!

                “…grown closer, so I…”

                No no no no no no no…! There’s no way!

                “…that when you took me to meet your sister, I…”

                There’s no way my dumbass sister was right…!

                “…all the things we’ve done together, so-“ She took a deep breath, having completely emptied her lungs.

                Thank you for being such a good friend…! Please say thank you for being a good friend…!

                “Will you please go out with me?!” She practically shouted.

                “Sure.” She replied calmly with a smile.

                Rokka’s face lit up as she hugged her now girlfriend before pulling away and looking down meekly. “Um… what now?”

                “I’m… not sure.”

                There was an awkward pause between them.

                “Ah, I just remembered I have rehearsal! See you!” Rokka ran towards the door.

                Once the door had closed, she let out her pent up frustration, “Damn it, Kasumi!” she shouted.

 

                Kasumi sneezed, and was met with great concern from Arisa.

 

                A few moments later, Tomoe opened the door. “Hm? Asuka, what are you doing up here?” She spoke with a friendly tone and a smile.

                “Hm? Ah… i-it’s nothing… why are why are you here?” she blushed at the question.

                Tomoe leaded against the rail. “I always come up here after school. Well, I usually do it with Afterglow, but… everyone’s so busy now.”

                “Busy?”

                “Ran started dating Yukina, so they’re always hanging out now, and Tsugumi’s parents are out of town so she’s having to work overtime to keep the café open. Since everyone else isn’t here, Himari’s started taking the time to study for her entrance exams, and Moca… she’s still depressed. That leaves me as the only one who’s still coming up here.”

                “…I see. I’d offer to join you, but… I should also probably get to studying.”

                “No worries, I get it!” she smiled before looking down and speaking to herself. “It’ll all work out.” She clenched her fists on the rail. “Somehow.”

 

                Himari was standing in the stairway taking deep breaths. Alright! Let’s do this!

                Just as she reached for the door, it opened, seemingly on it’s own.

                “Ah, T-T-T-T-Tomoe…! F-fancy seeing you here…!”

                “Hm? Oh, Himari-senpai. Good afternoon.”

                “O-Oh, it’s just you, Asuka-chan. Aha.. ahahahaha…” she laughed nervously.

                “…right. I’ll see you later, then.”

                The two girls waved as Asuka went down the stairs, and Himari took another deep breath. This time for sure!

                “Tomoe!” Himari called out as she ran over.

                “Hm? Himari! Thought you’d be studying!” she replied with a smile.

                “I had some free time, haha…” She scratched the back of her head before looking out to the setting sun next to her.

                What’s going on? None of this is going according to the script I wrote… I was supposed to not even notice she was here at first…!

                Never mind the script, just say something! You made an awkward silence!

                Say something? Like what?

                I don’t know, anything!

                “Hey, Tomoe? D-do you want to be my girlfriend…?”

                NO! NOT THAT!

                But you said anything…!

                ANY THING BUT THAT, OBVIOUSLY!! …crap. She’s looking at you weirdly! Say something!

                But the script-

                FORGET THE SCRIPT!

                “Ahaha… I kind of figured you aren’t into girls like me…” she replied to Tomoe’s surprised face.

                HIMARI!

                WHAT?!

                STOP!

                BUT I-

                NO! NO BUTS! YOU MADE IT WORSE!

                “No, it’s not that, it’s just…” She reached behind her head. “…I didn’t think you’d actually muster up the courage to confess to me…”

                WHAT?! Both of her internal voices screamed at once.

                “Y-you knew that…?”

                “Himari, I…” She sighed. “…I’m pretty sure you were the last person on the planet to figure that out.”

                “Huh…? But I… Everyone…?”

                “Well, anyway, why don’t we go on a date after the meeting today? It’s about time to go to that, yeah?”

                “A d-date…?”

                “Yeah! Come on,” She grabbed her hand, “The sooner we start the meeting, the more time we’ll have for our date!”

                Tomoe ran with Himari, well, perhaps dragging the flustered Himari would be more accurate, heading towards Hazawa Café.

               

Chapter Text

     Yukina had left class, heading home when Ran caught up with her.

     “Yukina.”

     “Ran…” She looked down in thought for a moment. “…are you mad at me because I let you go out into the rain like that?”

     “Uh, no, I- never mind. It’s not important. Afterglow’s having a meeting about our self-sponsored live today, and I thought that since you have experience with that you could help us.”

     “If it’s experience you want, it might be better to have Sayo or Lisa, since they’re usually more involved in the planning than I am.”

     “…are you gonna come or not?”

     Yukina thought for a moment. “…very well. If you want me there, I’ll be there.”



~{]0o0[}~

 

     Himari and Tomoe were the last to arrive at the café, holding hands, as Moca noted.

     “Welcome~” Eve said as they entered the storefront, “Oh, it’s you two! The others are already here, at the table over there.” She gestured to the side, at the only table with people seated.

     “Sorry we’re late,” Tomoe said, letting go of Himari’s hand, “we… had something to take care of first.

     Yukina looked at them briefly. “Congratulations.”

     “It-it’s not like that…! We-we’re just… uh…” Himari denied, visibly flustered.

     “Himari.” Tomoe stopped her, “We’ve been busted. Guess we’re just not as good at hiding it as you two, haha,” she laughed, flustered herself.

     Moca and Ran both looked down, though for different reasons. For Ran, she simply didn’t like that she and Yukina were hiding their relationship, though she was still too embarrassed to be open about it. For Moca, this was like a punch in the gut. She was still depressed about finding out about Yukina and Ran’s relationship, and now that Tomoe and Himari were dating, she was left as the only one without a girlfriend, and she just couldn’t bring herself to tease the others, no matter hard she tried.

     “In any case, we should get started with the meeting now that everyone’s here.” Yukina continued.

     “Oh, right! Ran, since it was your idea, did you have any ideas?” Tomoe followed.

     “Huh? I, um… not really. I… I just…” Ran became flustered at the unexpected direction.

     “Hmm… then we need a theme, right?” She thought for a moment. “How about ‘same as always’?”

     “Same as always, huh?”

     “I like it!” Tsugumi chimed in after bringing drinks for Tomoe and Himari.

     “Right?!”

     “Not bad.” Yukina added.

     Himari giggled. “If Yukina likes it, then it must be good!”

     “…that’s not quite accurate, though, is it?” Ran thought out loud.

     “Hm? How do you mean?” Tomoe questioned.

     “Uh, well… this is our first self-sponsored live, right? That’s not really ‘same as always’…”

     “Ah, should have thought of that, haha…”

     After a brief pause, Yukina spoke up. “It could still work if you perform like any other performance.”

     “…in that case, why don’t we call it ‘Same as always brand new days’?” Ran replied.

     “Oh, so like we feature that piece?” Tsugumi questioned.

     “Yeah, something like that.”

     “Oh, that’s good! I like that!” Tomoe chimed in. “Our lives are all changing right now, but we’re still Afterglow, same as always!”

     “Y-yeah… something like that,” Ran stuttered, not expecting someone to get it right off.

     “And maybe…” Tsugumi started, “...this might be a stretch, but maybe we could do a collab piece with someone?”

     “Hm. Maybe?” Tomoe responded, “What piecce? And more importantly, with who?”

     “Um… well… I was thinking…” Tsugumi attempted to answer, clearly flustered, “...since I’m going out with Eve-chan now, and Ran’s going out with Yukina-senpai now…”

     “...I see,” Ran picked up for her, “In that case, maybe … Sasanqua?”

     The rest of the room went quiet.

     After a moment, Yukina broke the silence. “Ran, have you spoken to Aoba-san yet?”

     “...No…” she hesitantly replied before looking away.

     “...Aoba-san-” Yukina started, standing up.

     “It’s fine.” Moca interjected coldly. “I don’t mind.”

     “...I need to have a word with you. In private.” She continued after making sure Moca was finished, then walked through the kitchen doors.

     Moca, after being nudged by Tomoe, followed her.

     “Aoba-san-”

     “It’s fine.” Moca repeated herself. “I don’t mind. I’m always in the way, so I’ll step out before that happens this time.”

     “...I need to apologize to you. I-”

     “You don’t need to. It’s my fault. I’m in the way.”

     “...Had I known what you were planning that night, I would have controlled myself a little more. No, I should have controlled myself anyway. My selfish actions that night caused only problems for everyone. Ran wasn’t ready to take those steps yet, and you were deeply hurt because of my own actions. On top of that, Lisa’s been avoiding me recently, Sayo’s been acting strange, and I have reason to believe that it’s responsible for Ako and Rinko’s break-up.

     “Because of that,” Yukina looked her straight in the eyes before bowing deeply. “Aoba-san, I’m sorry, both for hurting you like this, and ruining the lives of the people around you.”

      Moca folded her arms. “...it’s fine. I don’t mind…”

     “...Aoba-san, I know that Sasanqua is important to you, and have no intention of taking that away. I will not sing that piece on stage-”

     “I said it’s fine!” Moca snapped, “I don’t care! I really don’t care! You’re her partner, not me, so you should get to sing Afterglow’s love song with her! I don’t care! I’m staying out of the way, so… stop involving me…”

     “...the bond you share is special, and you shouldn’t need a reason to protect it.”

     “…” Moca left without replying.

     Tsugumi, who had just been informed about the situation, spoke up upon seeing Moca leaving the kitchen. “Moca, I-”

     “I have to go.”

     “...gotta get to Yamabuki before it closes, right?” Tomoe tried to lighten the tense mood.

     “...I have homework.” She picked up her bag and left without another word.

     The room fell silent again, until Yukina walked out of the kitchen.

     “...I think it would be best if we ended the meeting for today.”

     After a brief moment of silence, Tsugumi spoke up.

     “...I’m sorry, guys. This is all my fault…”

     “No, it’s not,” Yukina countered. “I’m at the root of this. Even ignoring Christmas, I should have spoken to Aoba-san about this sooner, and have patched things up with her before now.”

     “B-but I’m the one who-”

     “You didn’t know, Tsugu,” Tomoe stopped her. “We can’t fault you for something you didn’t know about.”

     “But it is my fault! I’m the one who brought up a touchy subject, whether I knew it or not!” Tsugumi sat down in a chair with a slouch. “Are we… gonna be okay…?”

     Yukina spoke after another moment. “...if it makes you feel any better, I was going to reject your proposal anyway. I don’t think it would be a very Afterglow-like thing to do.”

     “I… was thinking the same thing,” Himari agreed.

     After another pause, she spoke again.

     “Um… also, I know the meeting was supposed to have ended, but… maybe we should do it at CiRCLE? It’s a place we go to often so…”

     “I think that’s a great idea,” Yukina agreed.

     “Much better than my stupid idea,” Tsugumi nodded.

     “Hazawa-san, you idea wasn’t stupid at all,” Yukina countered, “it just wasn’t right for this kind of performance. Perhaps, once Ran and I have sorted things out with Aoba-san, we could do something like that at one of your festival performances.”

     “Really?”

     “Of course.”

     “And for now,” Ran added, “maybe we could have them as guests?”

     “Roselia will of course be there.” Yukina then looked over to Eve, who had been standing awkwardly behind the entrance table, thinking that she shouldn’t have been there for Afterglow’s drama.

     “Hm? Oh, uh, maybe? I’d have to check with our producer first… do you have a date in mind?”

     The girls looked at each other.

     “Maybe… the middle of April?” Himari suggested.

     “The middle of April… I think the 18th is a Saturday. Would that work?” Tsugumi proposed.

     “April 18th? I’ll definitely ask about it!”

     “Then I think it would be best if we stopped discussing the matter,” Yukina drew the conversation to a close. “It seems to me that Aoba-san is already beginning to feel like an outsider. It would be best if we don’t alienate her from our plans any further.”



~{]0o0[}~



     “Ran,” Yukina spoke suddenly on their way home, “did you… happen to hear the conversation I had with Aoba-san?”

     “Ah- n-no…” She lied poorly.

     “...I see.”

     After a few moments of silence, Ran spoke again.

     “...‘the bond you share is special, and you shouldn’t need a reason to protect it?’ Really?”

     “So you were listening-”

     “The bigger deal here is that you just tried to solve a love affair with Honeyworks!” She couldn’t help but crack a smile at a line she never thought she’d say.

     Yukina thought for a moment. “...the alternative was to use geometry, but I’m sure you know by now that that’s not exactly my area of expertise.”

     “...pft,” Ran couldn’t help but laugh. “Yukina you’re such a nerd!” she playfully elbowed her.

     “If you understood my references, then doesn’t that make you just as much of a nerd?” she laughed back.

     “Sh-shut up!”

     Yukina laughed again. “Let’s get you home, you nerd.”

     “I-I said I’m not a nerd!” She tried to defend herself.

     “...that’s a shame.” She walked a little ahead of her.

     “Huh?”

     “...I happen to have a thing for nerds.” She turned around with a smile.

     Ran stuttered and looked away. “...then… maybe you shouldn’t get too close to my friends. I… wouldn’t want them stealing your heart…”

     “Ran, you don’t have to worry about them stealing my heart,” Yukina walked up and grabbed her hands, “because I already gave it to you.”

     Ran was flustered, and didn’t know how to reply. She simply stood there, enjoying the closeness between the two.

     Yukina slowly moved her head forwards, only to be stopped by Ran’s backing away.

     “...sorry.” she looked away.

     “No, I’m the one who should be sorry. I said I would wait for you to make the next move, and here I am, like a mindless idiot…”

     “No, it’s… not that. I… I wouldn’t have minded that being our… you know…” she brushed her red stripe over her ear. “It… it was a good set-up, and…” She paused. “...I just… feel kind of bad about Moca…”

     “...I see. My timing was off. I’m sorry, Ran. I… don’t know anything about ‘love’, so… please, be patient with me.”

     There was a moment of silence before Ran spoke up.

     “...maybe we should go home separately today.”

     “...if that’s what you wish.”

     “Sorry. I know you look forward to walking me home. It’s just… Moca’s an important friend to me, and…”

     “...you don’t want to lose her, so you need some time alone to think about how to make up with her. Is that it?”

     Ran nodded her head slightly.

     “Then I’ll give you that space. I understand that feeling, even if just a little.”

     “...thanks. And… I’ll see you around.”

     “See you.”