Their hands made a perfect fit. It was like their very bodies had been made for one another, or at least Aya found it comforting to think so. She felt the cold breeze of autumn on her face, and Tsuyuno's warm fingers around her own. She shivered, then giggled foolishly, drawing a smile out of Tsuyuno.
"You should have brought gloves if you're so cold," she said. "You're so careless sometimes."
"But then I wouldn't be able to feel your hand," she said, squeezing. She brought Tsuyuno's fingers closer to her mouth, then kissed them gently, one by one, quick pecks, almost shy. Then, she put Tsuyuno's palm on her cheek, and enjoyed its warmth for a moment, before Tsuyuno admitted defeat and blushed.
It was quite late, starlight reaching down for them, here and there peeking through heavy clouds and smothering darkness. There were few of them in sight, but those that showed themselves did so brightly, proudly. Aya looked up at them, oblivious to the path ahead of her, but it was fine. She trusted Tsuyuno to guide her. She pulled her closer, to avoid a park bench on their way, and Tsuyuno told her to pay attention, but all Aya could think about was how some of her fingers felt rough, others soft, so she rubbed the tips of her own fingers against them, focusing on the sensation, thinking of nothing more, and stopped only when Tsuyuno was getting weirded out. I like to touch you, Aya justified herself, and Tsuyuno laughed.
It was Aya's favorite laughter, the one that came out of Tsuyuno's mouth whenever she witnessed Aya doing something silly, one of her little quirks she could not explain nor justify, but that she never stopped doing - and Tsuyuno never asked her to stop. It was how she would softly tap her cutlery on her plate as she ate, absentmindedly, or how Aya sometimes tripped on her own words and got lost in her own explanations, or how she would always insist on standing on the side of their bed that was against the wall, lightly hitting Tsuyuno's arm to ask her to move, when she playfully took her place-
They were too many things to note. Aya was a silly girl, she knew it herself, but Tsuyuno's laughter never made her feel bad about it. It was an endearing laughter, one that dripped with affection and joy, so of course Aya loved it. And she loved what it meant: that Tsuyuno's eyes were always on her, and that they were attentive, aware of every silly little habit of Aya. It made her happy, to be noticed by one she cared about. Life made her get used to being essentially invisible that Tsuyuno's attention made her absurdly content.
They stopped underneath a street lamp, Tsuyuno taking a look at her phone, while Aya looked at the street around them, deserted save for the occasional car ignoring a red light. These were ugly streets, in truth, or at least Aya always found them ugly, because when her father was driving around this part of town, he avoided stopping, and Aya could tell that he would speed up. Sometimes she would watch the news and hear about these neighborhoods, and, her mother told her, appearing in the news was always a sign that there was something bad about a place. She didn't feel afraid when she was next to Tsuyuno, though. She was fine with the emptiness.
"Are you thinking about something?" Aya asked her.
"Only about you," said Tsuyuno. Aya looked away, her cheeks flushed. "Incredible. So you're still not past the point of blushing when I say this sort of thing."
"N-Neither are you," Aya retorted. "And, besides, I don't ever want to be past this point. Right now, this feeling is all I want. I want to take hold of it and never let go. We've fought for our future, and we won. That means we don't have to think about it. We don't have to think about how we should be feeling, nothing of the sort. Let's just feel."
"I-I was just teasing you…"
It always ended like this, her teasing. Tsuyuno would joke, and Aya would dump all her feelings on her lap - and she had feelings to spare. Tsuyuno should probably have learned to stop teasing, by now, because Aya was always astoundingly serious about everything, but it was fine that she didn't. Whatever she wanted to do was fine. It was part of their happiness.
"Kiyo really didn't make things easier for us," said Tsuyuno. She was looking at a map on her phone, but it didn't seem to be going well. "Place's a goddamn fucking mess. There's apartments all around, but I don't really see any numbers or anything, and it all looks the same…"
"Now, now, let's ask around-" The second she said that, she realized how absurd her words were.
"Don't think the wind's gonna answer us," said Tsuyuno. "I wonder if I didn't get the wrong address from them. Sometimes I don't really understand what Kosame says, she speaks so softly, so maybe I misunderstood."
That's not a nice thing to say, Aya heard Kiyo's voice inside her head. It never stopped being a surprise, so she recoiled, briefly, and, on instinct, Tsuyuno's arms were around her, and she scanned her surroundings for any danger. When Tsuyuno realized there was nothing and let go of Aya, Kiyo laughed. Aya told her to stop scaring her like this, but Kiyo swore she didn't mean to scare her. She just wondered how long it would take for the two of them to find their way around, lost as they were. I'll help you, she said at last.
With Kiyo's directions in her head, Aya had an easy time finding her apartment, and explained to Tsuyuno that Kiyo was guiding her. Aya thought she saw in her girlfriend's face a hint of light-hearted envy.
"Kiyo never gives me any messages," Tsuyuno said, shrugging, "but she's always talking to you…" Almost on cue, Tsuyuno let go of Aya's hand, shaken up. "Eep! Goddamn it, Kiyo, give me some warning first! Okay, okay, I get it. Is it always this shocking?"
"I wouldn't say shocking," said Aya, "because I like hearing from her. I don't always expect it."
Kiyo laughed telepathically, which always struck Aya as a very weird thing to do, but that was fine. Her instructions led them to a small door, hard to see in the dark. It was unlocked, leading to a rather shoddy building. The two went up way too many flights of stairs, because Kiyo's apartment was inconveniently high up, and this place's elevator was, apparently, extremely unsafe. When at last they got to the thirteenth floor, Kiyo was waiting for them in the corridor, and told them to hurry inside.
She locked the door behind her. Aya got to take a good look at the place, and though it didn't look as run-down as the outside, it was awfully small, the cramped kitchen far too close to the entrance. Kiyo looked a bit embarrassed, at first, but soon she was hugging Tsuyuno, then Aya. Aya held her close; she adored how tight Kiyo's hugs were, so loving. Kosame, meanwhile, was in the kitchen, cooking something. It smelled good, but Aya couldn't recognize what it was. As she passed by, on her way to the dining room, Kosame waved at her, and even managed to smile. It was a tiny one, but that was quite a lot for her.
While they sat down and waited, Aya offered to help Kosame, but Kiyo told her that she was almost done when they were getting there. Because they were taking so long. Aya laughed, awkwardly, while Tsuyuno, more defensive, told Kiyo that it's not their fault she lives so far away.
"At least my apartment hasn't collapsed," Kiyo said, and Tsuyuno had no counter for that. Aya nearly laughed, but she caught herself, realizing this really wasn't a laughing matter. "Ah, here she comes," she said when Kosame walked up to them, holding in her hands a tray full of what appeared to be burgers, but if they were, why did they smell so strange? A mystery for the ages, indeed.
"Sorry I'm late," Kosame said. "Trouble with the sauce," that explains it, Aya thought. "Tried to fix things. Didn't really go so well, but it's edible. If not, I'll heal everyone. Just a little joke. Haha."
"I'm sure it tastes good," Aya said, ever the diplomat. She picked one of the burgers, and took the first bite, and it definitely tasted much better than how it smelled. But maybe Kosame should have asked for help…
"Thanks for coming in such short notice," said Kiyoharu. She sounded very honest. "I kind of always make my decisions on impulse, to tell the truth, because long-term planning, er, isn't really something I'm usually concerned with."
"It's no problem," said Aya. "I'd rather be here than home, really, so it's fine by me."
Both Kiyo and Kosame understood very well how that felt, and thankfully they didn't ask any further questions. These were the sort of matters that would make a pleasant dinner with friends turn sour, and Aya was tired of sourness.
"We were shopping for groceries," Kosame explained, "when Kiyo thought about inviting you two to eat with us."
"The two of you live together, now?" Tsuyuno asked. Aya didn't know about that, either, but, then again, as of late she had been focused mostly on her own life. Her life with Tsuyuno.
"Not really," said Kiyo. "Kosame just helps me with groceries," she said, and Aya noticed that their fingers entwined, too, as they look at one another, and she realized that it was the exact same thing she and Tsuyuno did when they ate together. She thought it was adorable; right on time, Kiyo began to smile, so Aya had to wonder if she was in her mind, taking notice of her feelings, but that didn't seem to be the case.
"It's just an excuse to be with you," Kosame said so plainly that it was like she wasn't even trying to be romantic. An outwardly romantic Kosame was not really something Aya could imagine. "I'd like to live here, but my parents don't really give me that much leeway. They're fine with me staying out all night, but they want me to come back now and again."
"Not Kiyo's parents, though?" Tsuyuno asked. Aya wished she hadn't, but Kiyo didn't seem troubled. Tsuyuno didn't know, she could not be blamed for her curiosity, though it was touchy…
"Ah, well," Kiyo began, faking a frail laugh, "my parents were really okay with me leaving, you know… They didn't like having me around, so it was just fine with them. I'm fine with it, too," she shrugged. "I know I'm too young to be alone, by anyone's standards, but, you know…" She tapped her temple, gently, "people don't ask me questions if I don't want them to."
Tsuyuno nodded. She let go of Aya's hand so that she could finish eating her burger. She wolfed it down, so fast that Aya worried she might choke. She could try and act as cool as she would like, but, really, Tsuyuno was more than a little awkward. Fortunately, neither Kiyo or Kosame seemed to care. It was, indeed, a rather complicated arrangement they had here: Kiyo unwanted by her parents, Kosame almost entirely disregarded. Aya felt a little bit guilty: she had her mother, at least, and she seemed to care… It wasn't much, but it was better than abandonment.
Suddenly she let herself feel down, and that was no good. She was with friends and with her lover, she should smile. It's just that sometimes she caught herself remembering these sorrows, and it was not always easy to pretend they weren't there.
"It's pretty tasty," said Tsuyuno. She sounded like she meant it. "I don't think you'll have to heal me at all."
"See?" Kiyo turned to her girlfriend, whose fingers were now fidgety. "Told you. I'm not telling you I like your food just because we're dating."
"We're not saying it to be polite, either!" Said Aya. Once she got past the weird smell, it was tasty: it was hard to mess up a burger, after all. "I'm glad you invited us."
"Burgers don't make for much of a date," said Kosame, "but it's good that you enjoyed it. Truth is, I've been wanting to invite you for a while. Kiyo says she did it on impulse, and for it might have been one, but I had considered the idea for some time now… I thought I would like to keep in touch with the two of you, but, ah, I'm kinda shy…" She sighed, looking quite weary of a sudden. "Or maybe I thought you'd not want to come. Kiyo saved the day, I guess."
"Well, I'm glad for Kiyo, then," Tsuyuno said with a smile. "And hopefully now you know that we'd love to hang out. When Aya told me that the two of you started dating, I was really happy for you, you know? The two of us had just started, too, so I guess once I saw how good it felt, being with Aya every day, I just got really sentimental."
"S-Sentimental?!" That was not a word Aya ever expected Tsuyuno to use for herself.
"I'm glad I got the chance to say that, now," Tsuyuno said. Kiyo was trying very hard to not look flustered, but she was really bad at it. "Don't hesitate to invite us ever again. I'd be happy to come. Even if it's just for burgers."
"Even if they smell like the ones tonight?" Kosame asked.
"W-Well, if you're not confident," Aya said, as gracefully as she could, "you can always ask me for help."
"Maybe I will. I only know how to cook about, hm…" She paused to think. "Four dishes? No, make that three, putting cheese on burgers doesn't make it an entirely different sort of meal… And sometimes I wonder if tossing a bunch of vegetables together and at random really counts as a proper salad…"
When the four of them were done eating (Kosame was the last to finish, the harshest critic of her own cooking), Aya offered to help clean the dishes. Kosame meant to follow her, but Kiyo got up faster, and said that, since she had already gone through the trouble of cooking, it wouldn't be fair if she had to clean, too. She accompanied Aya to the kitchen, so tiny that the two had a hard time fitting comfortably unless they moved sideways.
The water on her fingers felt cold, the dish sponge filthy, in need of replacement. She pointed that out to Kiyo, who said that the two of them always forgot about it. It was just as Kosame had said: they went shopping together as an excuse to spend time with one another, so that Kosame's parents wouldn't ask too many questions. They didn't ask many to begin with. She told Aya, once, that they didn't care much about Kosame going out late at night. What could she be scared of? Dying?
"Kosame really hates doing the dishes," Kiyo said, taking a cup from Aya's hand, then rinsing it. "Really fucking hates doing them. She hates the way the cold water feels on her fingers, scarred as they are," when Aya didn't say anything, Kiyo turned to her. "Sorry. I forgot that it's not something we should talk about openly. She's okay with it, so I get used to talking about this sort of stuff. It's not really something one wants to hear just after dinner, huh?"
"No, it's not that," said Aya. "I'm not bothered. I just don't know, either, what's right or wrong to talk about. I was just a little surprised, that's all."
"Hm," Kiyo said. She took another plate from Aya. "That's fair. As far as I'm concerned, none of us in this apartment have anything to be ashamed of. But that's not really how we're told to feel, is it? We should be embarrassed for having been hurt. Took me some time to be able to be truly open with Kosame, you know," Aya nodded. Tsuyuno, too, had not been quick to open her heart to Aya. "Anyways! I forgot my point entirely. If Kosame was offering to do the dishes, then she either was really desperate to be polite, or she was scared of being alone there."
"What?" Aya found it almost funny. "Tsuyuno is so harmless, though! If anything, she might be the one who's bad with others. She's not the most sociable one, and she spends most of her time with me, so she doesn't try to make other friends. At least she's not sleeping during class anymore," she vented, and finished cleaning the last plate, leaving only the cutlery.
"Thank goodness they have us, huh?" Kiyo began to laugh. "Social prodigies, the both of us! Of course, if we're being fair, none of us have any reason to be friends with the scum surrounding us, but that's just how it is," she shrugged, picking up a cloth to start wiping the dishes dry. "Now, uh…" Suddenly she sounded serious again, now that she was done cleaning. "I told you I invited the two of you on impulse, and that's true, but I did have something I wanted to ask you."
"What is it, Kiyo?"
She lowered her voice, and whispered into Aya's ear.
"I don't know if Tsuyuno would like it, so I decided to get your opinion first," she said, "but Kosame thinks it might be good if we went out together, someday. Soon, she hopes. Neither of us really knows much about, like, cool activities for couples, so we don't have anything planned, but we can figure something out, if you'd like."
"Of course I'd like that!" Aya raised her voice, without thinking, then, when she bowed her head in a thoughtless apology, she banged her head on a cabinet when she lifted it. At least she remembered to whisper afterwards. "Tsuyuno would like it too, I'm sure! We should do it, absolutely."
"That's great to hear," said Kiyo. She wiped her hands on her own shirt, and Aya did the same when she looked around for a wet cloth, and found nothing. "Now, let's go rescue our girlfriends, shall we? Sometimes Kosame is just totally quiet, but when she starts talking, oh boy."
The two walked out of the kitchen together, and, when they returned to the dining room (which was really supposed to be just a living room, but there was nothing there but a table and four mismatched chairs) they found Tsuyuno smiling, now sitting next to Kosame, who was deep in conversation. Kosame's face was the same as ever, but her voice was excited.
"Seems the two of you are getting along," said Kiyo, and Kosame just nodded.
"Tsuyuno's nice," she said, "and I think that when I sew another teddy bear I'll let her have it."
"I want a scary one," said Tsuyuno, "with fangs and a nasty scowl! I didn't know you made your own, Kosame. I used to have a lot of them, when I was a kid. Really liked to collect them. Maybe I'll start again, soon."
"It's fun," said Kosame. "Handling needles helps me relax, too. If you'd like to learn, I can teach you, but I'm not very good, I just watch videos that tell me what to do…"
"That's fine, that's fine," she said, then she faced Aya and Kiyoharu. "See, we can get along too, it's not just the two of you," she said, playfully locking their arms together. Though her mouth didn't smile, her eye did, or Aya thought so. "Did you have something to ask? I heard you say something…"
"Oh, right," said Aya. "Kiyo and Kosame invited us to go out with them someday."
"A double date," Kosame explained. "Are those a thing that couples do? Well, they are now if you agree."
"I'd be really happy," said Tsuyuno, without hesitation. "If it's up to Aya, all our dates are always the same, so if you have any new ideas, I'm all for it. Getting kinda tired of always kissing in the same park!"
"Don't be mean!" Aya said, squeezing Tsuyuno's shoulders. "We're free most of the time, I think… There's school, but-"
"School can eat my ass," said Tsuyuno. "Anytime is fine."
And that was it. Aya certainly didn't feel like arguing that school was a better way to spend her time than being with Tsuyuno, at this point… Besides, Tsuyuno had missed so many classes that she was probably failing everything. It really didn't matter, Aya realized. After all they had been through, surmounting even that which seemed impossible to face, Aya couldn't care about these things. She took Tsuyuno's hand, and, as she got up, wrapped her arms around her.
"Alright," she said, letting go of Tsuyuno. "Anytime is good, yes. It's getting late, now, though. Next time, we should get out a bit earlier."
"I told you so," Tsuyuno laughed.
They each said their goodbyes, and though at first they were only quick waves of their hands, in the end Kiyo ended up hugging Aya and Tsuyuno, and Kosame joined in, too, though from the way she put her arms around Aya, it was really obvious that she didn't hug people all that often. Soon, though, she would be getting quite a lot of practice.
Aya and Tsuyuno went on their way, then. Aya checked her phone, and saw that it was not yet so late that her mother would get worried, which was good. If they were, then she would have to teleport them back home, and that would deny her time spent walking alongside Tsuyuno, holding her hand, enjoying her warmth in such a cold autumn night…
It was a strange thing, Aya found, how she felt, at the same time, in a hurry to do everything she wanted with Tsuyuno, yet also so tranquil, like she had all the time in the world. It was not a bad feeling. If anything, it was comforting to love so fiercely, and to be so safe next to the one she loved.