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Youka sleeps through over half of her Friday morning physics class. That’s gotta be a world record or something. Dozing off during the dull parts has always kind of been her thing, but she's never been so worn out that she had to rely on someone prodding her awake before.

“Youka!" Her classmate prods her harder. “It’s already lunch.”

Lunch?

Youka springs upright.

Lunch!

She looks around and finds that her classroom’s already half-empty. Crap. Not good. Youka bolts up out of her seat and shouts a grateful thank you over her shoulder as she slides out through the open doorway. She races right past that notice about not running in the halls (because everyone knows rules are meant to be broken, right?) and only just manages to avoid a messy collision with a group of bewildered looking first years.

They look at Youka like she’s weird, but she doesn't take it personally. She knows they’re just uninformed and unawakened to the power of rock and all that. Youka can't judge them too harshly. She was like that too before she was reborn.

Yep, Youka’s pretty used to the strange looks by now. That whole school festival thing didn't exactly help her slip through high school under the radar, but who freakin’ cares, right? It was the most rock and roll moment of her entire life. Even half a year later, Youka still gets this weird, tingly feeling in her stomach when she thinks about it. Ahh, she really owes Yuna and the guys in Strange Magnet a lot for that one!

Youka’s so busy grinning to herself and replaying the blurred memory of that insanely good moment that she makes it down the stairs in record time. She's not sure anyone in the whole of Shirojo has ever been so pumped to slam through the doors of the cafeteria.

Youka doesn't stop to catch her breath. She looks around and she spots her within seconds.

She’s the one person that Youka can always pick out in a crowd, but that’s not because she’s particularly flashy in the way that she dresses. It’s because her aura’s the brightest thing in the room. Because she’s so cool that no one else can come close. Even sitting alone with an open book and a serious expression, she’s so elegant that just looking at her causes all kinds of heart palpitations. Youka doesn't get how other people can walk by and barely spare her a glance. How they can stand to be in the same room as her without being overcome with the urge to drop to their knees and leave an offering to the god of the known universe.

Yeah, lunch is the best time of day. Because lunch means -

“Aki!”

Youka beams breathlessly as she drops down into the empty seat opposite her.

Aki looks up from her book. Her sharp eyes flick down to her watch and back up to Youka. It's amazing how she can communicate so much with just one glance. It's kind of crazy too, how Youka can pick up on all that subtle stuff more easily now. Back in the day, that cool expression would've intimidated the heck out of her, but she’s better at reading Aki now. Better at noticing the softness behind her eyes; the way she tries to look strict, but she can't quite hide her smile.

And of course, Aki’s cool glare still intimidates Youka. But, like, in a sexy way, y’know?

“Youka,” Aki says. “Did your class get out late?”

“Uhhh… yeah,” Youka says. “Yeah, it was pretty freakin’ crazy! Someone left the window open and there was, uh… a bird! A bird flew in and we were all like whooooa! And the teacher was like-” Youka waves her arms around wildly.

Aki laughs and Youka feels a little proud of herself. She doesn't get much chance to relay wild excuses about why she’s late now that she actually gets to school on time. So this feels like a total throwback to the way things used to be.

“What a coincidence,” Aki says. “I bought lunch for us from the bakery this morning, but a bird swooped in and stole your half.”

Youka’s heart sinks. “W-What? Seriously?!”

That’s, like, the very definition of coincidence! After Youka made just made up that story? What are the chances of a bird actually flying in and stealing the lunch that her girlfriend lovingly -

Ohhh.

Aki’s laughing. That was a joke, huh? Well... that makes sense. Who’d leave the windows open that wide in February, anyway?

“Oh,” Aki says, with a little gasp of fake surprise. “Looks like he brought it back.”

She covers her mouth and tries to hide her laughter as she drops a bag full of tasty looking bread onto the table. Youka loves it when Aki giggles and teases and makes jokes and stuff. Even now, it still feels like something special. Like it’s a secret side of her that not many people get to see.

“What the heck...” Youka mutters.

“What?”

“You're so cute today, Aki. It's kinda unfair.”

Aki fixes her hardest, sharpest glare on Youka. “Am I not usually cute?”

“Eh? No! W-Wait, I mean, yes. I mean-”

Youka feels heat rising to her cheeks. There's this twinkle in Aki's eyes that's almost mischievous. She's teasing again. Gotcha.

“You're always cute. But today you've just got this really killer vibe, y’know? Just looking at you is like… whoa!

Youka feels a rush of satisfaction when Aki looks a little flustered too. She holds Youka’s gaze and it hits her like bam! Like a sick bass drop that she feels right in her core. Youka can't stop herself from grinning like an idiot. She loves Aki so much.

Aki clears her throat and nudges the paper bag towards Youka.

“A-Ah,” she says. “Help yourself.”

Youka's stomach rumbles enthusiastically. She got so distracted by her hot girlfriend that she almost forgot about lunch. She tears off a chunk of the nicest looking bread and stuffs it into her mouth.

“Thanks for the food! What do I owe you?”

Aki shakes her head. “It’s my treat. Since I’d say you're particularly cute today too, Youka.”

Youka’s heart flips. She really wasn't expecting Aki to treat her and compliment her, especially since she turned up late on one of those rare lunch breaks when Aki’s not busy with committee stuff. This is bad. Youka can't let Aki out-girlfriend her. She'll treat her back next time, for sure!

“Ahhhhh,” Youka sighs happily. “You’re the best! I love you, Aki!”

Youka only realises how loud her voice is when several nearby students turn to look. She knows that subtlety isn't exactly her strong point. Sometimes it’s hard to keep her rock from exploding out at a deafening pitch, y’know? Nini says that’s a good thing, but Youka knows she’s gotta try keep it under control more at school. It's not that she cares what people think but... she worries, sometimes, that she might get Aki in trouble again.

“Oops.” Youka laughs and it rings out a little nervous. “That was kinda loud, huh?”

Aki doesn’t look mad or anything. In fact, she looks pretty amused.

“At this point, I’d assume the majority of the student population already know about us.”

“Yeaaaaah…” Youka rubs her neck sheepishly. “I guess that one’s kinda my fault, huh? I’ve gotta be cooler! Gotta be like. Less obvious or somethin’?”

Youka’s breath catches as Aki reaches for her hand right there in the cafeteria. Youka always feels so clumsy with her touches, but somehow Aki’s always so smooth.

Aki tugs her forward and Youka squeaks in surprise as the bread falls from her hand. She ends up leaning awkwardly across the table, but not in a bad way. In an Aki’s face is close and perfect way.

“I keep telling you,” Aki says, “You don't have to hold back for my sake.”

“I know! B-But-”

Aki leans even closer. Youka’s heart rocks into overdrive.

“I don’t mind if people stare a little,” she says, softly. "In fact, there’s a selfish part of me that wants everyone to know that you're mine.”

Youka just kind of melts right there. If it wasn’t already a known fact by now, then that comment would seal the deal. Aki’s solid rock.

“One song isn’t enough,” Youka says, clutching at her chest with her free hand. “I’m gonna write a whole concept album. An Ariu Aki world tour! I’ll sing for you every night while you're right there beside me on stage! We’re gonna be unstoppable, Aki.”

Aki holds her gaze and Youka feels a sharp twist of heat in the pit of her stomach. She knows those eyes. They're dangerous.

“Youka,” Aki says.

“Y-Yeah?”

“Eat quickly.”

***

 

“A-Aki,” Youka hisses. “Ahhh -”

Aki presses her lips against Youka's again, muffling her voice and stealing her breath in one swift movement, and all Youka can do is kiss her back hard and pray. Pray that she can hold back any embarrassing noises that’ll totally give them away. Pray to her insatiable goddess of a girlfriend. Yep, Youka's livin' on a prayer right now. When Aki throws out a good rhythm like this, she can't do anything but ride it til the end.

And this is the end. This is it. They’re definitely getting kicked out of school for this one.

So far, they've got away with all kinds of seriously hot stuff in a variety of questionable locations. The drum tower. The bathroom. Backstage at a Strange Magnet gig. Aki's room when no one's home. Youka's room with her music blaring loud. But this time, it's different. Someone's definitely going to catch them here.

They're in a teeny, tiny storeroom in a dark corner of the library, surrounded by a bunch of yellowing, dusty books that probably haven't seen sunlight since the 60s. A backup plan, Aki said, since there were teachers lurking outside their usual spots. It feels super exciting, but also super dangerous. Like, okay, the door's shut, but the library monitors are probably smart enough to work out that it opens. And, yeah, maybe Youka didn't know this place existed, but she’s not exactly a library regular. She barely reads anything other than sheet music!

Aki presses closer and makes an impossibly soft sound and it’s not the first time that Youka’s wondered if maybe the thrill of getting caught gets Aki going more. Youka's heart pounds harder at just the thought of that, and her legs tremble and she's kind of overwhelmed by the urge to drop to her knees and just yell about how insanely hot and perfect her girlfriend is.

But she can’t do that with Aki’s thigh between her legs and several hardback books digging into her spine. She can’t do anything when Aki’s breath is hot against her lips, when her tongue is even hotter in Youka’s mouth -

“W-W-Wait-” Youka gasps out.

Aki leans back. Her eyes are sharp. Her cheeks are flushed. Aki’s so enchanting that Youka can't do anything but stare. She’s not sure she’ll ever be ready for how pretty Aki looks when her face gets all close. Or when she smiles. Or when she breathes. Or when she -

“Is it too much?” Aki asks.

Her voice is low and smooth. It packs the punch of a perfectly placed guitar solo. It's a jolt of electricity straight to the heart. Dang it, Aki. Stop having such a sexy voice.

“N-Not too much, but-”

Youka’s voice trembles. She always sounds so uncool compared to Aki. She groans as Aki’s lips press against her throat. They’re soft. Like, really freakin’ soft. Youka feels the gentle scrape of Aki’s teeth and it ignites every single nerve in her body. She’s done for. She's not gonna make it. This kind of mood is beyond dangerous.

“W-What if-” Youka breath hitches as Aki’s warm fingers trail up under her shirt, skimming over her waist. “If someone sees-”

“That would be troublesome.” Aki’s voice is soft purr, a hot breath against her neck. “But it’s like I said. I’m quite sure no one ever comes back here.”

"Good," Youka says. "That's-" She groans as Aki kisses her neck again. "So good."

"Sorry," Aki murmurs. "I know I should stop getting carried away like this. But you make those cute expressions and I can't resist. I just... want to be close to you."

Youka takes Aki's hand and she squeezes.

"Don't be sorry. You're incredible. I love this!"

Aki smiles. "Yeah," she says. "Me too."

Aki’s fingers trail through Youka’s hair and she’s a goner. Nothing else matters. The only thing she's worried about is how hard it’ll be to stop ten minutes from now when the bell rudely interrupts them. About how tempting it is to actually drop to her knees and get Aki to make that really, really cute noise -

“Oh,” Aki says, forcing Youka to switch from her unreasonably sexy daydream to her unreasonably sexy reality. “Youka. Your hair-”

Youka opens her eyes and the room blurs into focus. “Hm?”

“This part is all,” Aki lifts a few strands of Youka’s hair to examine the roots, “dark?”

“Crap!” Youka yells. “I totally forgot!”

She ducks out from the corner Aki’s got her backed into and covers her hair with her hands. How could she forget? Her natural hair colour has totally started to grow through again. Like, a lot.

Youka usually dyes it pretty regularly but things have been crazy busy lately. She's been bouncing between school and band practice and gigs and cramming in as much time as she can with Aki - going on dates and talking on the phone until they fall asleep and wow, having a girlfriend is, like, the greatest thing that’s ever happened and - no, focus.

It’s not like Youka forgot about her hair. She noticed a couple of days ago and thought maybe she could hide the worst of it under her headband. Youka probably could've fixed it up sooner, but she’s just been super worn out lately. She has to get up at an ungodly hour every single morning to make it to school on time, and she spends a lot of time with Aki, like, being physical and stuff and Aki’s intense. She's completely hardcore! She’s always good to go for at least three rounds - not that Youka's would ever complain about that (because whoa) - but it’s a lot to keep up with.

And it’s not like Youka sleeps any better at night either. She's always thinking about exciting stuff like what guitar chord she'll teach Aki next or how cute Aki’s bra was the other day or how hot it was when Aki made that noise or how freakin’ good Aki’s voice is going to sound when she calls in the morning to check Youka’s awake. And she always gets sick bursts of musical inspiration for new songs when she’s trying to fall asleep. There are so many important things to think about. So it's not really a surprise that she slacked off on the hair thing, is it?

“Ahhh - uh - don't look, Aki! Just - just pretend you didn't see anything, okay?”

“Why?” Aki asks, looking puzzled. “It's not like it’s a bad thing.”

“Because it’s not me! It's not who I am anymore! T-That part of me is dead. Deceased! Extinct.”

Aki frowns and smooths out the creases in her sweater.

“But it’s not like I’m surprised or anything,” she says. “I am aware that that's not your natural hair colour.”

“How did you-”

Aki raises her eyebrows. The amused little smirk on her face makes Youka flush.

O-Oh.”

“And I have wondered from time to time. About the way you were before.” Aki nods. “Yeah, I’m pretty interested, actually. I think I’d quite like to see a photo.”

Youka makes a startled sound. It makes stomach lurch, just thinking about how mortifying it'd be if Aki knew about how plain and yawn-inducing she used to be. Youka’s dull, pre-rocker days have been written out of history and Aki’s the last person she wants to find out about them.

“You can't!” Youka says, so forcefully that Aki looks kind of alarmed. “I mean... history’s, like, such a bore, y'know? Who even cares about that stuff?”

“I do,” Aki says. “It interests me.”

“B-But I-” Youka looks at the ground. She hates how weak and timid her voice sounds. “I don't want people to know that stuff...”

“Not even me?”

Especially not you!”

Aki’s face falls.

“...Oh.”

She looks really bummed out and Youka feels so terrible that it makes her stomach ache. Aki must think she’s a chicken fried coward. She’s gotta explain -

“Aki,” Youka says, quickly. “Wait. Listen-”

The bell rings like the traitor it is. It’s always out to get Youka. Couldn't it just be on her side for once?

“I’ll see you after school,” Aki says, in a voice so cool that Youka gets chills.

She opens the door and she strides out of the storeroom.

And Youka just watches her leave.

***

 

It’s just before midday when Youka hears her phone buzz. She’s lazing around and lying in bed because it’s a Sunday and it’s not like she has any plans or anything. Strange Magnet aren’t rehearsing today and she did wanna go on a date with Aki, but... she didn’t get around to planning anything. Things have felt a little weird since Youka totally overreacted the other day. They met up after school on Friday and they’ve texted and stuff, and it’s not like Aki seemed cold or mad or anything but… they haven’t seen each other all weekend, which is kind of a bummer. Youka could’ve easily asked Aki to go somewhere, but the truth is, she still feels pretty bad about what happened. She feels like she's keeping a deep, dark secret or something.

Youka sighs as she reaches out to grab her phone. Her eyes are bleary as she squints at the message on her painfully bright screen. She jolts upright when she sees it's a message from Aki.

I’m coming over, it says. See you soon.

Youka makes a startled sound. Aki’s coming over? Now?

She leaps up out of bed and tugs off the old band t-shirt that she sleeps in, exchanging it for a nicer, cleaner shirt from her closet. She drags her fingers through her freshly dyed hair in a futile attempt to smooth it down. She’ll have to rock the bedhead look today. She doesn't even have time to find her best headband. She doesn’t have time for anything, not when her room is such a mess. She rushes around, tossing empty soda cans into the trash and kicking dirty clothes under her bed. Aki’s room is always so spotless and nice, while Youka’s is more… lived in. Kinda grungy. It’s rock, basically. That’s why there’s sheet music scattered everywhere and guitar picks all over the floor. Because it’s rock.

Youka’s making her bed for the first time in a week when she hears their apartment buzzer.

“I’ll get it!” Youka yells, swinging open her door and racing out into the hall.

Aki’s waiting when she opens the front door. Youka’s breath catches. Her heart skips a beat. Her whole body feels light. Ooh, Youka's nervous as heck right now!

“Hi,” Aki says. “Sorry. For turning up so suddenly.”

“Nah, it’s good. It’s cool. Really cool. Like, a super good surprise, y’know? I was gonna text you, but I guess you kinda beat me to it. B-But I’m glad you're here! It’s not like I was doing much anyway so...”

Crap. Youka’s babbling. Relax, you fool. Be cool!

“Ah… Come in!”

Youka grabs one of Aki’s cold hands and tugs her so hard that Aki stumbles through the doorway and bumps right into Youka. (Smooth. Nailed it.)

“Um. Sorry for the intrusion,” Aki says, stepping out of her shoes.

She takes off her scarf and her winter coat.

Whoa," Youka blurts out. “You look super cute!”

Aki’s wearing a pretty dress, and Youka looks like she just rolled out of bed. She definitely should've made more of an effort, but it's too late for that now. She'll have to rock what she's got!

“A-Ah,” Aki says. “Thanks-”

“Oh! Is that Aki?” Youka freezes as her mom rushes out into the hall. “Youka didn’t tell us you were dropping by.”

Aki bows politely.

“It was a little last minute,” she says. “I hope I’m not in the way.”

“Not at all! I'm just glad you managed to drag Youka out of bed. I thought she was going to sleep the whole day away. We haven't seen her once all morning.”

Youka jumps as Aki sends a disapproving look her way. Great. Now she's probably gonna get a lecture about her poor sleep schedule and Aki will glare at Youka and her voice will be all sharp and stern and it’s probably kinda weird that the thought of that makes heat flare in Youka’s stomach, but strict Aki is seriously hot and - no. Now’s not the time for those kind of thoughts! 

“Would you girls like some lunch? Or maybe I could make some tea-”

“We’re cool!” Youka says quickly. “We’ve got some school stuff to work on soooooo-”

“Oh!” Youka’s little sister comes flying out of her bedroom. “Hey! I just got this new game, you guys wanna play?”

Youka shoots a panicked look in Aki's direction. Please don't say yes, please don't say yes

“Perhaps after we've finished our homework?” Aki smiles politely.

“Yeah,” says Youka. “We’ve got like. Super insane amounts of homework so, uhh. So don't bother us for a bit!”

Youka ignores her sister’s comment about how that never usually stops her and pulls Aki towards her bedroom before her dad can join them in the hall and make it a full on Koba family gathering.

She’s glad everyone likes Aki and it’s not that Youka minds them all hanging out together or anything but… she just wants her girlfriend to herself a bit first. Is that so much to ask?!

Youka slides her desk chair firmly in front of her closed door when she finally gets Aki alone in her room.

She exhales a big sigh of relief.

“Sorry about them...”

“You don't have to apologise,” Aki says. “You know I find your family interesting.”

“Then, uhh, sorry about the mess…”

She grimaces as Aki’s cool gaze sweeps over the room.

“I’ve seen worse,” Aki says, with an amused little smile.

She kneels down at Youka’s low table with her posture all perfect and stuff. Youka flops down next to her, and she feels so nervous. Aki’s been here plenty of times before, and she’s even slept over a bunch of times, but Youka’s heart is still racing like crazy. She watches Aki twist her hands together, fingers toying with the strap on her watch. Is it just her imagination or… does Aki look kinda nervous too?

“S-So!” Youka says. “You came over kinda suddenly. What’s up?”

“Right.” Aki sits up even straighter. “I wanted to talk to you. I didn't think I could wait until tomorrow.”

“I wanted to talk to you too! So, um, about the other day-”

“Here."

Aki pulls a leather-bound book from her bag and holds it out towards Youka. What is that? A list of Youka’s wrongdoings? Letters of complaint about how many times she took Aki to look at instruments? A case study about how bad it is to keep secrets? A book of breakup song lyrics?!

Youka just stares Aki’s outstretched hand. She can't reach out for it. Her body’s completely frozen. 

"W-Wha-"

“I realised it might have been unreasonable of me to ask about your past without offering up any information about myself. So here. It’s an album of photographs from my childhood.”

Youka blinks.

“...Photos?”

“Yeah,” Aki says, flipping open the first page.

There are lots of photos. So many cute Akis that Youka didn’t know existed. Aki looking weirdly stoic, even as a baby. Aki dressed traditionally at a summer festival. Aki in her elementary school uniform. Aki on the beach with ice cream on her nose.

“Whoooooa! These are so cute! Hey, who’s that?

“My cousin,” Aki says. “And that's my grandmother.”

“Your parents sure took a lot of pics! They seem kinda strict but they really dote on you, huh?”

Aki smiles and she looks kind of embarrassed and cute - really cute!  Youka looks at the photos and she feels a flutter of excitement in her chest. She thought Aki was gonna be super pissed, but instead she’s sharing a side of herself that Youka’s never seen before. That makes her feel pretty special. It’s so cool that they have nothing to hide. That they’re always learning new things about each other. That they can share so much without holding ba-

Ohhhh.

Oh.

Oh crap.

“A-Aki,” Youka says, in a small voice.

“Hm?” Aki says.

“I… think I just worked somethin’ out.”

Aki closes the photo album. “Oh?” she says.

“When you asked me the other day about, like, my h-hair and stuff? I kinda freaked, right? I freaked ‘cause I was all like, why does Aki want to know that stuff, it’s not who I am anymore! But… I think I just worked it out. It’s, like, beyond cool to know lots of stuff about the person you’re in love with. So, when you asked about the old me it's... because you love me, right?”

“Right,” says Aki.

Youka feels a little proud. It was probably pretty obvious, but she still feels like a detective for working it out. 

“And I guess..." Youka says, "I guess you came over here 'cause you were worried or somethin'?”

Aki nods. “You seemed... troubled. I thought I might have upset you.”

“No!” Youka says. “I thought I made you mad by being weird and keepin’ secrets and stuff.”

Aki shakes her head. “I’ll admit, I was a little hurt at first, but...”

Youka bows down low and only narrowly misses smacking her head on the table.

“Sorry! I’m really sorry, Aki! I didn't mean-”

“It’s okay. There's no need to apologise so dramatically.”

“But I-”

Aki pushes on Youka’s shoulders and nudges her back into an upright position.

“Youka. It’s okay. It's really not a big deal. It’s just... something that I’ve wondered about. Not so much that I’d put pressure on you to tell me, but…” Aki looks down at her lap. “Honestly, I was a little jealous.”

“Jealous...?” Youka repeats, slowly.

“Of Yuna,” Aki says. “She knows a whole side of you that I don’t. I even thought that I could ask her, but... I always hoped one day you'd tell me on your own.”

“O-Oh.”

“If you really don't want me to know, then I’ll accept that. And I promise I won’t ask anyone else about it. But I love you, Youka. And nothing’s going to change that.”

Youka’s heart performs an over-enthusiastic drum solo. She loves Aki too! She doesn't want to hold anything back. Not even her embarrassing pre-rock existence.

Youka leaps up off of the floor.

“W-Wait there!”

Aki kneels politely as Youka rummages through various drawers, tossing an assortment of crap onto the floor. Her hands are shaking and there’s this cowardly part of her that kinda hopes the evidence might have been destroyed or, like, sucked into a blackhole or something, but she finds it pretty easily. She clutches the photo close to her chest so that Aki can’t see it when she drops back down next to her. She sits closer this time. So close that their knees are touching. Their eyes meet and it's enough. It's enough for Youka to push past that timid side of herself that wants to run away.

“Okay,” Youka says, glumly. “I’m sharin’ top secret information here, so you’ve gotta swear. Swear on your life that you won’t laugh.”

Aki nods seriously. “I swear."

“And, like, promise you’re not gonna break up with me over how uncool I used to be?”

“Youka,” Aki says. She steadies Youka's shaking hand with her own. “That's not going to happen.”

Youka exhales loudly. Her heart’s hammering and her stomach’s twisting into knots, but… she’s gotta get it over with. She flips over her middle school class photo. She squeezes her eyes closed and braces herself. No Aki! Don’t look!

There’s a long moment of silence. Youka peeps open an eye and finds Aki frowning in confusion.

“...I can’t find you,” Aki mutters. “There’s Yuna, but…” She brings the photo closer to her face and squints a little. “You are in this photo, right?”

Youka would laugh if she wasn’t so nervous. Her old self is so unrecognisable that not even her girlfriend can pick her out of a crowd.

She points. “There.”

It's no wonder Aki can’t find her. She barely even recognises herself. The old Youka is so lifeless that she might as well be dead. Her hair is much longer - darker and flatter - and she’s looking down a bit, all meek and timid. She’s so dull that she’s even wearing her uniform exactly the way she's supposed to. Her whole vibe is basically a gigantic downer.

Oh,” Aki says. She frowns, looking between the photograph and Youka like she’s trying to make the connection.

Youka bites her lip so hard that it’s kinda painful. She feels all exposed. Like the crowd’s waiting and she’s stuck under the spotlight in just her underwear and she hasn't even glanced at the setlist.

“Same nose,” Aki says. “And the same eyes. But other than that, it’s quite…”

“Different?” Youka says, weakly.

“Like a different person,” Aki says, nodding.

“Right?” Youka says. “It’s so weird. Like, this doesn’t even feel like me, y’know?”

Youka’s pretty relieved when Aki places the photo back down on the table.

“Yeah,” Aki says. “You seem much happier now. More like yourself.”

“I am. Because of rock! And,” she feels her cheeks get hotter, “because of you, Aki.”

“A-Ah,” Aki says, and her cheeks are kind of pink too.

“Sorry if it seemed like I was keepin’ it a secret or something. It’s just ‘cause it’s so embarrassin’, y’know? I didn’t want you to laugh at me. Or, like, what if you preferred the old me? I can’t go back there, Aki - even for you!”

Aki reaches for Youka’s hand. Their fingers twine together.

“I don’t care who you were, Youka. I love you because of who you are now. Because you're sweet and charming and you never fail to amuse me. Because you were bold enough to sing your heart out in front of everyone, but you used to be too timid to look me in the eye. Because you brightened up my day from the moment you charged into my life and asked if we could be friends. And while I do think you're very cute now, I don't particularly care if your hair is brown or blonde or blue. As long as you’re you. That's the only requirement.”

Youka’s glad she’s sitting down because that totally made her knees go weak. Aki’s got so much impact. Youka loves the way she can just say stuff like that. She clutches at her chest and feels the rhythmic thrum of her pounding heart.

“Shot through the heart," she whispers. "I love you, Aki! You’re so cool! I just fell in love with you all over again!”

“Then... maybe I did too.” Aki smiles. “You should worry less, you know. Knowing more about you only makes me find you more endearing. Because every little thing about you interests me, Youka.”

Oh no. This isn’t good. Youka’s heart’s gonna burst at this rate. She flings herself forward and kisses Aki with so much force that they both fall backwards onto Youka’s carpet. Aki makes a soft sound of surprise. She wraps her arms around Youka and kisses her back and it’s clumsy and messy and so perfect that Youka can practically hear the romantic power ballad kicking into full force. They’re so in sync. They’re a perfect harmony. Youka touches Aki’s face and her hair and she’s so happy that she kinda just ends up giggling against Aki’s mouth.

“What's so funny?” Aki asks.

“Sorry,” Youka says, leaning back. “I was just thinking about how I’m the luckiest person alive!”

Aki taps Youka's nose. “Always so dramatic.”

Youka’s a little breathless as she beams down at Aki. Her face is flushed and her perfect hair bun’s all messed up, which is always a sure sign of success. She smiles back at Youka and she’s perfect. She really is a goddess. Her fingers brush over Youka’s cheek.

“Thank you,” Aki says, “For telling me.”

“I don’t mind if it’s you, Aki. But you’ve gotta promise not to tell anyone else! I’ve got a rock and roll reputation to protect, y’know?”

Aki laughs. “Okay,” she says.

She pulls Youka close again and they kind of just end up cuddling on the floor. Aki’s fingers are so soft as they trail through Youka’s hair, and under her shirt and across her hip. Some people might think this isn’t as rock as all that other sexy stuff, but it feels so nice that Youka just closes her eyes and tangles her legs with Aki’s and basks in the warmth of her skin.

“...Youka?”

Youka opens her eyes. “Mm?”

“Do you think I should have a rock phase?”

She flicks Aki’s shoulder. “Rock isn't a phase. It’s a way of life!”

Aki’s body shakes. She’s laughing again.

“A rock makeover, then? Since I have a guitar now.”

Whoooooa! Youka’s stomach twists at just the thought of that. That image is so exciting that Youka springs back up.

“That would be so cool! But, man, you're so perfect now... But rock Aki would be super hot? But, wait, rock’s not all about the look...” Youka drags her fingers through her hair. “Nooooo, I’m so torn! I don’t know which would be better!”

Aki laughs harder and just the sight of it makes Youka feel dizzy. Aki catches her hand and tugs Youka back close.

“Will you play it for me again?” Aki asks. “Your song?”

“O-Our song?” Youka asks.

Aki nods.

“I know it’s far from my skill level, but I’d like to see if I can at least read along with the sheet music. It might be a selfish request, but... I'm kind of in the mood to hear it."

Aki's smile is kind of shy. Youka feels herself blushing.

“Uh, yeah. Sure. No problem!”

Aki’s asked her to play their song a whole bunch of times since the school festival, but somehow it’s even more nerve-wracking when it’s just the two of them and Youka's guitar. She tries to tone it down a bit when they’re alone, but it still has a one hundred percent success rate. Her rock’s so powerful that Aki’s kissed her afterwards every single time!

Aki sits up and smooths down her dress. She fixes her hair and she picks up her guitar and even now, just seeing her holding it makes every one of Youka's dreams come true. The guitar's not as good as Youka’s, but it’s a pretty decent entry level one they picked up after what felt like months of shopping around. Aki leaves it at Youka’s place sometimes, after Youka’s been teaching her stuff. Aki’s still a beginner, of course, but she seems to have a natural ear for music and, uhhh. It’s safe to say that Aki has pretty skilled fingers. Plus, she’s a really hard worker and she gets super motivated. She's basically a natural rock god! 

Youka smiles to herself as she grabs her own guitar and starts tuning. Guess she had no need to be worried, huh? Youka thought Aki seeing her old photo might be a super dramatic experience, but it’s right there on the table, forgotten about already. 

Aki lays out the sheet music. Her face is tight with concentration. Youka looks at her and warmth swells in her chest. She wonders if Aki knows that the whole world revolves around her.

Maybe Aki’ll just listen today. Maybe she’ll just follow along and she'll watch Youka with those eyes that make her blush and that smile that makes her soar. But they'll play it together one day. And there'll be more songs, Youka will make sure of it. They'll shout it out in perfect harmony to the whole world and they won't give a damn about who’s listening.

Aki looks up and catches her staring. Youka holds her gaze and she grins. She cranks up her amp and she counts herself in.

She might have been dead before, but these days, she’s never felt so alive. She could happily live like this forever.

Yep, these days are the ones that count.