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Phases of Venus

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Few things ever really fazed Shizuha, if she could help it. The everyday things, at least. That it was an everyday thing that was occupying her mind recently was both a surprise and, for its other incidental nature, inevitable.

Earlier on Misora asked what it was about the second year curriculum that required the seniors to do their respective schoolwork separately so often.

For starters, there weren’t as many group assignments anymore, Tsukasa was explaining. Shizuha added there would be more work you did on your own, and that she and Aruru should get used to doing things without each other.

“It won't be easy, but you'll live,” Tsukasa finished. “You two have an unbreakable connection.”

“Really? It’s different from yours and Shizuha-senpai though.”

Aruru was furiously nodding her head, standing up as if struck by an epiphany. “Yeah! You even finish each other’s sentences.”

“Not all the time!”

Tsukasa went on to dissuade their kouhai of their antics before they eventually made their leave. No exasperation was apparent on her face, just affectionate incredulity.

“What's gotten into them.”

Shizuha shrugged. Whatever it was got into her as well. Tsukasa folded her arms.

“And what's got you smiling?”

“They're a funny pair, aren't they?”

“Mm. Funny they happened to leave just as we were finishing up here.” Tsukasa set upright an upturned chair from the corner of the room and sat down. “Have you seen Lalafin? I think she left before I came back.”

“She told me she has rehearsals for the…” Shizuha mimed doing a backflip with her hands, inscrutable to anybody else, but to which Tsukasa sighed. “Seems like they're right.”

“Right about…?”

“Our telepathy.”

Tsukasa was shaking her head, a tired smile on her face. “Not you too. You know I’m not a mind reader. Unless you are?”

Shizuha nodded sagely.

“Okay,” Tsukasa said yieldingly. She put on an expression as flat as she could make it. “What's on my mind right now?”

“Art history,” Shizuha ventured. Tsukasa scrunched her nose endearingly.

“Maybe that was too easy. But I was also thinking we should clean up so we could get going.

Thankfully, there was not much left to fix. Cords were lying around, as well as some light fixtures on the floor that were facing the wrong way. Even the two of them could finish early. Every now and then they would chat while they worked, but most of the time Shizuha kept to herself today. Maybe Misora and Aruru had a point about her and Tsukasa.

Sometimes she'd hear things from other students. People thought they were dating. And, really, could they convince people they weren't? Was it more believable than if they let others believed they were just friends? Or should they let people draw their own conclusions?

Even when they had been considered rivals for some time, Shizuha and Tsukasa were close friends first and foremost; that was as uncomplicated as it got. But was it that uncomplicated? Shizuha had felt rather lonely while Tsukasa was recovering from her injury.

She could see Tsukasa's face, pink when the sunlight was on it, her eyelashes making long shadows. Tsukasa coming around the hall, nibbling on candies and sweets from the little basket in the drawing room. Tsukasa in a thousand places, most of all on the stage, where she belonged. Shizuha would spare a few moments ruminating about these that she would need to be brought back into the present with some effort.

Distantly she knew they had already reset the lights to their default calibrations, unplugged and coiled the cables that were strewn around the floor, and double-checked the sound systems. 

At the moment, Tsukasa was asking her something, and the sound went through Shizuha. When the words reached her, they were muffled and reverbed. She had to speak it herself to hear it with sharp clarity.

“Have I ever been in love?”

Even with her back turned to the only other occupant of the room, she could already picture Tsukasa’s hands on her hips in amusement.

“Yeah,” came Tsukasa’s reply. Vaguely Shizuha was aware there had previously been a conversation about a topic more mundane that was presently escaping her.

Looking at Tsukasa’s reflection in the mirror, Shizuha replied, “It’s a strong word. If I had to count one, I’d have to count every one who’d gone before.”

Tsukasa's eyebrows were raised, as if waiting for Shizuha to elaborate. When she did not, Tsukasa folded her arms.

“Huh. I can’t imagine you being head over heels for someone.”

Shizuha blinked slowly at her. “Is that so?”

“No.” Tsukasa studied her face, thinking, maybe, she could find an answer in her eyes. “I don't think you'd fall for just anyone."

Shizuha started humming, thinking it best filled the silence for now. She didn’t know what kind of person Tsukasa imagined she’d like.

“Have you?”

“…You may not believe it, but I have.” Tsukasa scratched the back of her neck, doing something with her eyes that made Shizuha believe she was recalling a good memory. No doubt she would have had her eyes set on someone really special. “It’s a little embarrassing.”

“Oh? I’d love to hear about it.”

“I'll save it for next time. It was supposed to just be a dumb crush.”

Shizuha sensed she should wait, here. But the mood was tipping fast.

”Things like that, it changes.” Anticipation was hanging in the air, and then it disappeared. Tsukasa’s look became somewhat faraway, pensive, as she broke their gaze. “I guess it still does.”

Only the low thrum of lights in Sun Flag dorms betrayed a sign of late-night activity. Shizuha made sure everyone had gone to bed before she slipped out of her room and into the hall, to read her own copy of overseas myths and legends.

No one knows how the concept of romance began to become so widespread around the world, the preface began, and she always made it a point to read the preface. The text continued to talk about the origins of the word and their contemporary meanings, or whatever.

Dimly she was becoming aware that she was scanning the print of the book more than actually reading it.

It changes.

“The Greek romances?”

Shizuha started, but only slightly. Tsukasa had shown up from behind, two mugs in hand of what must have been coffee.

“They’re not all tragic,” Shizuha said assuredly, assuming she knew what was on her mind. She accepted the drink with a quiet thanks.

“Sure,” Tsukasa replied playfully. She was in a good mood. “Got more room in there?”

Shizuha patted the seat next to her, and Tsukasa sat down.

“Feels a little too familiar, doesn't it?”

“I figured two heads are better than one.” Tsukasa settled in the cushions, peering. “Are you staying up?”

“I'm still far from finished.”

“Okay. Let me know if you come up with anything. If you stop nodding off, that is.” She leaned back against the couch. “You won't get anything done if you're half-asleep doing it.”

On the contrary, Shizuha could name a lot of things she had done half-asleep doing. However, it was not the schoolwork that was keeping her up. She took another liberal sip of coffee, which was full and piquant. Tsukasa watched her, drinking from her own mug.

“Do you still like it without the sugar?”

“Mm, I haven't really had much coffee before now.”

“You should've said.” Tsukasa made to take back the mug when Shizuha cupped it in her hands possessively, offering a shy smile.

“It's a nice break from the usual.”

The look with which Tsukasa then regarded her made something in Shizuha's chest flutter.

“Fine. But only so you could lay off the energy drinks.”

“Coming from you, Tsukasa?”

“Why not?” Tsukasa’s smile was growing wider. She scanned the titles of the books laid out on the table. Art history was one of the subjects that demanded their better wits. “Oh, this is heaps of work.”

“How’s your research coming along, by the way?” Shizuha flipped a page from her binder.

Tsukasa was stretching, adopting a thoughtful expression. “Borrowed a few books myself and I’m stumped.”

“I thought you'd enjoy the challenge.”

“Oh, I do. It's just equal parts exhausting and exciting.”

Shizuha nodded to show she was listening. When Tsukasa too became immersed in her own reading, she then hummed with the tone of preoccupation. She picked up her own notebook, and made herself comfortable on her side of the couch. For a while there was uneven flipping of papers between the two. The silence that followed was a comfortable one. In almost no time at all Shizuha slipped back into concentration.

Studies, the book continued, suggested that romances ultimately left their most distinguished mark in literature in the 12th century, gaining insight from antique classics of Greek folklore.

Romanz, as it was originally known in France, originated from the Latin word Romanice, because these stories were written in the vernacular. This part Tsukasa was reading out loud.

“Weird, isn’t it? And it completely makes sense,” Tsukasa was saying, “associating romance with its more popular stories—rather than the language it was written in. So its meaning changed along with it.”


“Stories like Ovid showed how love typically rendered young sweethearts helpless. The themes of self-torment inspired Western literature in later works.”


“Less well known is that this led to the rise of niche anthropomorphic art, not exclusive to the fluffy kind. The subgenre attracted the attention of men and women alike from all walks of life due to the growing appeal of muses wearing cat ears and maid outfits.”

Shizuha looked up from her book. “Are you making this up?”

“I wanted to check if you were still listening.” She could hear the smirk in Tsukasa’s voice.

“Don’t worry, I’m always listening. That reminds me, how would using the writer’s lens for the analysis sound?” There was a proper word for it that refused to reach her, and it would’ve if she wasn’t this distracted. “Some parts here talk about how divine intervention in works reflects their historical context. I was thinking of using that perspective on my paper.”

“It does? Let’s see.” Tsukasa leaned forward, impressed and bemused. "Ohh that’s fair. It won’t be as flexible for interpretation. But it can show the writer’s intent as they were working on the story. It’ll be harder to prove, though. Do you mind going out of the scope?”

"Not really.” Shizuha playfully tapped away at the sides of the mug, and it sounded like a butterfly beating its wings. Shizuha scooted closer to her. "Will you be quoting me in history books?”

Tsukasa grinned, quick on the draw, "Only your best advice. And there’s a lot.”

"It's a good theory.”

“Probably too good, Shizuha. Too good for a term paper.” There was an unsaid too good for Frontier that Shizuha could sense. There were some thoughts that seemed like she could just pluck out, but even infinitely more that were so elusive. Did people really think they read each other’s minds?

Tsukasa gestured to the stuff on the table. “We should narrow down the source material. There’s too much stuff in here.”

Some books they chalked up as material they wouldn’t use, and some they skimmed for one or two citations. By the time they had sorted out the ones they would need for their respective reports, two hours had flown by. It was in their heavier-eyed states that Lalafin found them.

“How are you both still up?”

“Cat's out of the bag…” Tsukasa was muttering. Post-it notes had at one point attached themselves to her face. “We're just about to head to bed.”

"Uh-huh. I don't buy it. You've probably done enough for tonight, haven't you?”

"She's right,” Shizuha said, collecting her things. Tsukasa laid herself back on the couch.

"Never thought I'd see the day you'd be telling us to get some sleep."

"Heh. I hope it doesn't get to happen too often! Wanna kiss goodnight?”

Shizuha nodded, kissing her on the forehead.


Looking slightly embarrassed, Tsukasa glued herself to a wall. It was Lalafin who kissed Tsukasa on the cheek, for good measure. “Goodnight!”

Tsukasa sighed, a lopsided smile and a hint of a blush on her face. “Goodnight.”

“I'll see you tomorrow, alright?” Lalafin hovered at the entrance to her room, as though making sure the two of them were at theirs.

“Yup. See you.”

“Get a good night's rest.”

Slowly, her door shut closed again. Shizuha found herself waiting on the threshold of the doorway. Tsukasa met her eyes, tentative. For a brief moment, she looked like she considered approaching her. The moment passed, and she was still standing on the same spot.


The lights went off in the hallway, and everything was dark. Shizuha could barely make out Tsukasa's face, and she conjured it in her mind's eye.