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masks (and the way you break mine)

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Michiru shuffles some papers on her desk, tapping her pen to the table as she watched the time ticked past two in the afternoon. Even on the rare times where she had the student council room to herself, she preferred to get work done. Ootori Michiru, right hand woman to the head honcho herself, Yukishiro Akira. She’d be remiss if she let others see slipping on her duties. She briefly entertained not doing it and pretending she did, but the thought left as quickly as she came. She prided herself on her candor (in her work ethic, at least), even though she preferred not to show it off. Michiru liked working behind the scenes. It was more comfortable, it was more productive for her to be out of the limelight. She knew she wasn’t the only one who thought like this.

“Sorry for being late, Michiru-senpai~!” Michiru instinctually sat up straighter at someone else’s voice, but immediately sighed and relaxed slightly as the voice fully registered in her brain.

“Speak of the devil.” Michiru muttered under her breath. In a louder voice, she asked, “What took you so long?”

“Aww, were you thinking about me?” Yachiyo teased as Michiru rolled her eyes in response. “For your information, I was caught up in talking to Mei Fan.”

“Oh?” Michiru blinked. Yachiyo talking to Mei Fan wasn’t anything new, though she felt off at the thought. Michiru thought back to the sushi Akira had made and concluded that the weird feeling in her stomach was because of that. She refused to believe it was anything else. She’d have to make sure Akira stuck to store-bought lunches, or better yet, let Michiru cook for the two of them again.

“You have a lot on your plate, Michiru.” Akira had said. “Let me cook our lunches for tommorow.” 

Oh, Akira, Michiru thought. She has a lot of skills, but cooking was definitely not one of them.

“Yep, I was talking to her about crushes.” Yachiyo said, shaking Michiru out of her thoughts. “There’s some rumors popping around Seigfeld about which edels are dating or not, and Mei Fan, sweet, innocent girl she is, got caught up and believed some of the rumors.”

“It is getting that time of year again.” Michiru replied. “Valentines and White Day are coming up. Who did she think was dating?”

“Well...” Yachiyo winced. “That was the problem. She thought I was dating you, Shiori, and Akira-senpai at the same time. It wasn’t pleasant, you could probably guess.”

“That’s what you get for flirting with the other edels.” Michiru snorted. “Don’t suppose she heard any rumors about her and someone else?”

“If she hasn’t, she will eventually. As angry as she was about me and Akira, I can only imagine how angry she must be at the mere insinuation that she’d cheat on Akira.” Yachiyo let out a wry grin. “In any case, I got Shiori to distract her while I make my getaway to the student council room.”

Michiru halved the stack of papers she’d been looking through. “Here’s your workload for the week. Make sure you sign it with black or blue pen, please. There were some complaints about your glittery pink signature.”

“I swear that wasn’t on purpose. I really didn’t have anything else.” Yachiyo defended. “Trust me, I’m a lot of things, but a person who signs official documents with a glittery gel pen is not one of them.”

“Just start signing, Tsuruhime.”

It only took half a minute for Yachiyo to move on to a new conversation topic.

“So, Shiori’s been telling me about wanting to have a sleepover with the edels.” Yachiyo idly commented, moving to another piece of paper. 

“We live in the dorms together.” Michiru pointed out.

“I said that too, but apparently she wants us all to sleep in the common room and watch Disney movies until we fall asleep on the couch or something. Plus, she wanted to invite her girlfriend.” Yachiyo shrugged. “I couldn’t really say no after she pulled out the pout.”

“The day Shiori learns to weaponize that pout is the day we all die.” Michiru shook her head. “In any case, we’d need to do it on a Friday or Saturday so we don’t have to rush for school the next day.”

“Already planning ahead, as expected of Akira’s right hand.” Yachiyo playfully elbowed Michiru. “Does this mean you’re on board too?”

“Not like I can do much against Shiori.” Michiru chuckled. “At least it isn’t her and Mei Fan.”

“They’re honestly too cute.” Yachiyo agreed. “If they weren’t so smitten with Akira and Rui, I might’ve been tempted to ask them out myself.”

Michiru blinked. “You’re...?”

Yachiyo snorted. “Noooooo, what gave it away? Seriously, I’m surprised you haven’t figured it out. You’re usually so on top of things.”

“For your information, I don’t make a habit out of butting into people’s love lives.” Michiru finished going over another document, stacking it on top of the other complete papers. “I have other priorities, like making sure nosy little Frau Perles get their work done.”

“I’m multitasking.” Yachiyo rebutted. “And come on, you’ve never indulged in a bit of romance gossip?”

Michiru chewed her lip. “I mean, sure, who hasn’t. But I have my whole life ahead of me to think about that. I have plans, goals. I guess if I liked them enough, I’d pursue something, but I’m not big on taking initiative in romantic relationships.”

“Are you speaking from current experience? Anyone catch our Frau Saphir’s eye?” Yachiyo prodded. It was more confrontational that Michiru expected from Yachiyo.

“No, but that’s what I’d tell you even if it wasn’t true.” Michiru bit back, regretting the words as soon as they came out. She blamed Yachiyo for catching her off guard. Then again, why was her guard down in the first place?

“Interesting answer.” Yachiyo grinned. “The possibility of Frau Saphir herself, second in command to the Platinum King herself, Yukishiro Akira, fraternizing and possibly falling for one of us common folk? How scandalous.”

“You’re in the student council.” Michiru pointed out, the words coming out of her mouth before she could think about it. “I highly doubt you count as ‘common folk’.”

“Or maybe the second in command will fall for a monarch of the neighboring kingdom.” Yachiyo mused, either not noticing or ignoring how Michiru’s sentence could be misconstrued. “What are your thoughts on Tendo-san?”

“Too much like Akira.” Michiru snorted, shaking her head. “There‘s something called being too dramatic.”

“Bold words for a theatre kid.” Yachiyo grinned. “Where’s your proof?”

“Look in the mirror.” Michiru shot back.

This banter was easy. Too easy. She’d gotten comfortable, gotten complacent. And as much as she denied it to herself, she couldn’t shake the fact that she got attached to the Frau Perle. Too attached for Michiru’s liking. She had plans, dammit, goals she had to see through. Like she was going to let a little crush get in the way of that.

You don’t have to, a little voice in the back of her head said. You don’t have to go through with them. You could focus on yourself for once.

Michiru quickly dismissed the thought. She decided a long time ago that wasn’t an option.

A month, some schedule reshuffling, and an angry Fumi later, the edels plus Rui were all gathered around the common room.

“—And when I told Fumi-senpai I was going to a sleepover with Shiori, she...” Rui trailed off, rubbing the back of her neck. “Let’s just say it took a lot of ponzu to get her to calm down.”

“Fumi-senpai hasn’t changed, has she?” Yachiyo snorted. “Maybe if we bribed her with ponzu she would’ve stayed.”

“Knowing onee-chan? That would’ve worked.” Shiori giggled.

“She really knew her way around ponzu though! This one time, when I first became an edel...”

Michiru tuned out Mei Fan as she tapped away on her phone. In truth, she still had some work to do, but getting a timeframe where all of them were free without any work or obligations was difficult, and Michiru hated to see Shiori disappointed. A little bit of work couldn’t hurt, she figured, and since she was planning the whole thing, she might as well spare the others. She tried to make it subtle, trying to make it look like she was simply texting someone instead of working, and occasionally looked up to check up on everyone else.

She grew increasingly conscious once she realized Mei Fan and Akira were casually leaning against each other on the couch while Shiori was sitting on the ottoman while Rui was on the floor, the blonde idly playing with the brunette’s hair. That left her paired off with Yachiyo, who sat on the lounge chair next to hers, keeping her distance. Michiru put her knees to her chest, leaning against the armrest as Yachiyo made eye contact with her.

Michiru looked away. She didn’t need to get distracted right now. She had work to do, and the faster she did this, the more time she could spend with the others. Fortunately, she was almost finished, typing out one last suggestion that she would send to the stage crew in order to improve their upcoming play. As she sent it off, she got a text from Yachiyo.

> better not be doing work during Shiori’s sleepover~~

> I see you on your phone over there, and since you aren’t smiling, I’m assuming you aren’t talking to a special someone

< I don’t have any more work. Plus, as we’ve established before, I‘m not interested in getting into a relationship.

> RIP Michiru-senpai’s fans lmao

> And we call Akira the heartbreaker

< Is there a reason why you’re texting me instead of just speaking to me?

> Didn’t wanna draw attention to us

> Plus this way, I get to talk to you one on one~~

Michiru hoped her face hadn’t turned red. She surreptitiously checked using her phone camera. Of course it hadn’t, Michiru internally sighed in relief. Years of acting like it was breathing didn’t go away because of a schoolgirl crush. Though the fact that she wasn’t sure was unnerving. Michiru couldn’t crack, not now when she was in the final stretch of her plans.

< Very funny.

> I know, I’m hilarious 

Michiru idly wondered if Yachiyo knew and was trailing her along. It hurt, but Michiru wanted to account for all possibilities, even the least probable ones. Yachiyo had been pushing her more often than she did with the other edels, making flirty comments directed to her. That wasn’t Yachiyo MO. She flirted, of course, but she took measured care into making sure she flirted with everyone equally and lightly. With Michiru, Yachiyo flirted more often, more blatantly than she did with the others. From an outsider’s perspective, nothing had changed, but to Michiru, everything did.

Yachiyo kept her cards close to her chest, keeping a straight face. Michiru did the same. The question now was who would crack from here on out.

“...and Mei Fan bought new puppy stickers.” Akira said as Michiru tuned back into the conversations. “Two different kinds, actually, of my two favorite dogs.”

“I asked Michiru-senpai what her favorite dog was, and when I heard it was chihuahuas?” Mei Fan giggled, clinging onto Akira. “German shepherd I expected, but chihuahuas? That’s when I realized there was a dorkier side to Akira, and that’s when I fell further.”

Akira gave a small, soft smile and kissed the top of Mei Fan’s hair. “The very next day she confessed clearly and obviously so I would get the hint.”

“It took three tries.” Mei Fan snorted. She yawned, relaxing against Akira. 

“It’s getting late,” Michiru looked to the clock. “It’s almost nine.”

“You call that late?” Yachiyo raised a brow.

“Not all of us are night owls like you, Yachiyo.” Mei Fan grumbled, snuggling into Akira’s side further. Akira simply wrapped an arm around her girlfriend.

“Plus, I have to get back to the dorms after breakfast tommorow morning.” Rui turned back to Shiori apologetically. “The stage waits for no one, and neither does Fumi-senapi’s practices. Plus, if I stay later than what I told her, she might actually kill me.”

Shiori sighed, but smiled and nodded in understanding. They moved the coffee table for the occasion so that the common room would be able to fit all six of them. Shiori and Rui’s were next to each other, as were Akira and Mei Fan’s and Michiru and Yachiyo’s, spread out in a way that sort of resembled a triangle. Michiru made no move to her futon despite the other two couples getting settled in.

Yachiyo stood up, nudging Michiru who was once again distracted planning tommorow and the day afterwards. “Not going to sleep yet?” 

Michiru shook her head. “Don’t feel like sleeping.”

“Don’t suppose you’d want to join me in the kitchen making hot chocolate then?” Yachiyo smiled. This could just be a friendly offer, Michiru told herself, but she couldn’t shake the feeling that Yachiyo wanted to spend time alone without the others, despite them being half asleep.

Michiru’s phone buzzed. 

> Michiru. Stop being stupid. Go with her.

Michiru took a glance to Akira, who placed her phone down and made eye contact with Michiru. Akira simply smirked. You get a girlfriend before your best friend and think you’re an expert in romance, Michiru thought, rolling her eyes.

“Sure.” Michiru got up, stuffing her phone in her pocket and pointedly ignoring Akira. They made their way to the kitchen, Yachiyo filling mugs with water and popping them in the microwave. Michiru, meanwhile, kicked the stepping stool (a gag gift from Yachiyo that had actually turned out to be fairly useful) below the cupboard that held the hot chocolate, and grabbed two packets.

“You know, I was younger, my parents never allowed me to have coffee.” Michiru ripped open the packets as Yachiyo opened the microwave, the water hot and slightly steaming. “Said it would stunt my growth and I’d be even shorter. So when I needed to pull all-nighters, I’d drink hot chocolate as my coffee substitute. Obviously, once I learned that coffee doesn’t actually affect how tall you grow, that went out the window.”

“Even tiny Michiru was a workaholic.” Yachiyo laughed as Michiru poured the hot chocolate powder into the mugs. “I was always a coffee girl. Chitose and I would sneak past our parents and older sister and drink whatever we could get our hands on. Granted, it was a little troubling when Chitose got old enough to drink, but she only gave me a shot of some fruity cocktail once and called it at that.”

“This better not have been recently.” Michiru furrowed her brow.

“Funnily enough, the day before the auditions for Frau Perle.” Yachiyo laughed. “So don’t worry, this was months ago. Liquid courage, Chitose said. I was pretty calm the next day, though I’ll chalk that one up to one short, blonde senpai telling me to do my best when I passed her in the hallway instead of the alcohol.”

“I’ll admit, I did see you a little out of it, so I thought I’d give you a little pick me up.” Michiru threw the empty packets away as Yachiyo stirred their drinks. “I had a good feeling about you. Glad to know my intuition wasn’t wrong.”

“What about me now?” Yachiyo picked up and blew on her hot chocolate, sliding the other cup closer to Michiru. 

“I still have a good feeling about you.” Michiru took painful care not to let her smile show more than she wanted. “Besides from the whole spy debacle a few weeks ago.”

“I’d say that was the highlight of my acting career here at Seigfeld.” Yachiyo giggled. “What did you think of it?”

“Before I caught on? I...” Thought you were interesting, thought you were— are a great actress, thought you had a crush on me, still think you have a crush on me— “I was confused, more than anything. You wrote stuff down at the most inconspicuous times, so I only caught you in the act once or twice. I thought it was a diary at first, but Akira told me she looked over your shoulder once and told me what she saw. Something about a council, traitor to Seigfeld.”

“Oh, that page.” Yachiyo nodded. “That was where I put my setup, actually. So I’d remember what my role was and made sure I always stayed in character. I don’t need it a lot these days, but early on I’d have to go back and remember my role. Guess that helped me get the part of the Earth Goddess, huh?”

“It’s really amazing how easily you slide into a role.” Michiru praised, getting a rare flush on Yachiyo’s cheeks. “For example, I need a second to immerse myself in my character.”

Michiru took a deep breath in, and out. She curled in on herself slightly, but still enough to be proud, pointing her feet inwards and made sure to soften her features. She channeled the shyness of an underclassman, and the insecurities of a girl who had a point to prove. “Yachiyo-senpai, I hope you don’t mind the intrusion. I was on my way to get some tea, and I was wondering if you’d like to join me?”

“That Shiori impression is uncanny.” Yachiyo shook her head, smiling. “She asked me that just the other day, too.”

“Thank you.” Michiru took the moment to preen at the compliment. “But if you tried to do the same thing—“

“Michiru.” Yachiyo cut her off, a cold stare that pierced her. It was a stare she knew well though, well enough to recognize the confusion and helplessness under the coldness in her eyes. “I have a crush on Mei Fan. How do I tell her I like her?”

“—Like that.” Michiru snapped her fingers, then giggled. “Not far off of what Akira asked me the day Mei Fan confessed, actually.

“Idiots, the two of them.” Yachiyo sighed and shook her head, taking a swig from her mug. “Though, I’ll give it to them: they actually managed to confess to their crushes. Not many people have the courage to do that.”

“Sounds like you’re speaking from experience.” Michiru pointed out, taking a sip from her hot chocolate to calm her racing heart.

“Not really.” Yachiyo shrugged, her expression neutral and unreadable as she took another drink from her cup. “I mean, I could if I wanted to, I just prefer to keep my cards close, you know? Make sure that the other person feels the same first before confessing.”

“You already know my views on relationships.” Michiru swirled the hot chocolate in her hand. She could leave it there, keep Yachiyo in the dark, continue with her plans. A small voice that sounded like Akira chimed in at the thought. You deserve to be happy too, she said. Chase your own star.

Yachiyo raised a brow, feeling like there was more to that sentence. Michiru made her decision. “Though, I guess if I were to confess to my crush, I’d do the same.” Michiru admitted, catching Yachiyo’s surprised, unguarded expression. “Make sure they’re on the same page then confess. Like I said, I’m not one to make the first move, so my crush would have to be the one to initiate.”

“Cheers.” Yachiyo recovered quickly, raising her mug and smiling. Michiru raised hers to join it.

Yachiyo finished her mug off, placing it in the sink. “I think I’ll follow the others into the dream realm now. You?”

“I’ll finish mine and wash the cups.” Michiru nodded. She swallowed any words that dared break her crumbling facade now. “Goodnight, Yachiyo.”

“Night, Michiru-senpai.” Yachiyo kissed Michiru on the cheek and scurried away before Michiru could even register what happened.

“Yachiyo...” Michiru mumbled, her hand going up to her cheek where Yachiyo had kissed her. She was smiling so much her cheeks started hurting, and she took a deep breath in, and out. 

There was no mistaking it. Tsuruhime Yachiyo had a crush on Ootori Michiru, and Michiru was all to happy to reciprocate.