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"Yukinaaa~" As soon as they're informed about the timeslot's end, the bassist wraps her arms around the vocalist's waist. "Your voice was amazing today!"

Even though the atmosphere was tense and focused barely ten seconds ago, the sudden gesture of affection isn't received negatively; in fact, it doesn't result in any kind of flustered or stressed response. Rather, the response of "Thank you, Lisa," is decorated merely with a light blush on Yukina's face. "You tell me that every time, though..."

At the back of the stage, the drummer and keyboardist exchange a spirited high-five and a giggle. Yukina basks in Lisa's embrace, though not without proper feedback for Lisa's flaws during rehearsal. But the sweet laughter she hears from her loved one breaks out a smile from her lips, in the end. Rinko can't help but blush as she looks at the pair's affection; and soon, that blushing gaze is turned towards Ako, who's hammering a few more beats on the drums to express some unbridled satisfaction or other, unaware to the scene playing out in front of her.

As Sayo, Roselia's guitarist and self-assigned disciplinary monitor, looks across the display of Roselia's cooldown period, she initially wants to think that this is a positive scene. The journey of their music is always appropriately self-critical, no matter the level of progression, and she’s learnt that the joy and camaraderie everyone expresses when their efforts bear fruit always serve to strengthen future practice sessions.

In theory, this sight exemplifies a perfectly up-to-standard rehearsal at Circle. But... there's just one thing bothering Sayo.

...Hasn't everyone been a lot more... affectionate, lately?

"Sayo, Sayo!" Ako comes bolting towards her. "I didn't go ahead or behind at any point that time, did I! I kept the rhythm with everyone else!"

"Indeed. Well done, Ako," she says. The beam on Ako’s face threatens to blind her eyes. "But make sure you're focusing on what you’re emphasising the most during-"
She's already bolted off before Sayo can finish her feedback, though; in a characteristic burst of energy, she's practically running loops around the studio, singing Roselia's praises, before congratulating Rinko and jumping straight into a hug with her. Rinko can't restrain her smile at all when faced the sudden affection, likely a stark contrast to what her reaction would be if anyone else mimicked Ako's behaviour.

...See, this is the kind of thing Sayo's thinking about! Were her bandmates always this... this... close, with each other?

"Ah, studio time's gonna be over in 2 minutes," Lisa comments, one arm still linked with Yukina's. "Hey guys, let's head to the family restaurant! It’ll be good to celebrate at, and we'll have some more Roselia time there to schedule our next lives."

"I don't think a mere practice session is worth a celebration-"

"Come on, come on! Just think of the food, Sayo!" But Lisa's evidently caught a bit of Ako's uncontrollable surge for herself, because she's already clearing up and packing. Yukina just lets out a light sigh, smiles, and starts helping her out.

...Yes, this could be a problem. No, not the fries; rather, the problem is that there's an almost lovesick vibe in Roselia's practice sessions lately, with the way everyone's acting. It's mainly sprouting in Yukina and Lisa's constant displays of affection, but their romantic aura is hardly the only factor; there's also a general increase in physical contact, particularly between Ako and Rinko, and also generally between Lisa and... everyone? Though that last point might be a biased perception, since Lisa's always worn her heart on her sleeve, lately she's been rather... well...

Sayo shakes her head, trying not to think about the other details she's noticed. Her taskload finished, she kneels down, places her guitar in its case, makes sure the cable, tuner and picks are in the front pocket, and then zips the whole thing shut.

"Sayo, let's go!" The rest of the place has already been cleared up, so evidently everyone's pretty enthused. She turns around, and speak of the devil; there’s Lisa's hand, reaching down to her.

Strange. It's not as if Sayo can't lift herself up when carrying an instrument. "...I suppose we may as well. Not every good session should merit a celebration, though." She doesn't take the hand as she stands up, painting a surprised expression on Lisa's face that just confuses her even more.

But then Lisa giggles, with that frustratingly charming lilt carried in her voice. "Everyone seems so motivated, so I thought I'd keep the energy going. Nothing like a bunch of fries to make you practice even harder, right?"

"I'd rather not be treated as a child, Lisa." The pair walk side-by-side, Lisa shooting a quick wave at the Circle staff as they leave the building. "I hope you're spending at least as much time on your personal practice as you are at places like these."

"Hey, I'm not a big eater by any means! I mainly do this for the company." Lisa responds, her smile intoxicating. "It always feels the most like home when I'm with everyone in the band."

"I-I appreciate the sentiment. But in all seriousness, do make sure you're-"

"You worry too much!" She pokes Sayo lightly on the face, a gesture that nearly makes the guitarist jump on the spot. "Don't worry, I'm not slacking at all. So let's go and get you something sweet, hm?"

"I told you, Lisa, please don't treat me like a child-"

"I'm not, I'm not! Come on, let's eat fries like the MATURE women we are, then," she says, before taking Sayo's hand and rushing to catch up with everyone else.

"Wh-" Sayo can feel the blush spreading on her face, and she has to suppress an exasperated yelp as she feels Lisa's hand pulling her forward.

...Calm down, Sayo; there’s no reason to react dramatically. Lisa is always like this, anyway.

Running at a light pace, Lisa calls out to Yukina and the others. The three of them turn their heads around; Ako and Rinko smile, hand in hand as they watch the pair catch up, and Yukina looks rather surprised at first. But as her eyes focus on the connection between Lisa and Sayo's hands, the ends of her lips curve upward.

...Out of all the soft-hearted interactions Sayo's been dealing with in the past month, these are the kind that bother her the most.

 

---

 

Junk food has a strangely soothing effect on Sayo.

It's one of the parts of herself she hates the most, but most kinds of unhealthy foods help to distract her from the various challenges Roselia faces. Eating mounds of starch in silence here alongside Yukina while Lisa and the others converse is a good way to temporarily relieve Sayo of her concerns regarding everyone's, uh... love-coloured condition.

"Sayo, Sayo! Am I helping out a lot lately?" A pair of dangling purple tails shoot their way into her field of vision.

"...Mm?" This feels rather impromptu. "...Why do you ask, Ako?"

"No particular reason! I-I just wanna do everything to make our band as high-levelled and geared up as possible..."

Sayo smiles. Her vocabulary does become strange and undescriptive at times, but Ako's usually the one who has the best understanding of what Roselia's state is. "Of course you're helpful, Ako. Without you, Roselia's sound wouldn't be what it is. Take pride in yourself."

"Yay! Thanks, sis! I mean, uh." Her face suddenly flushes and her expression melts, and she quickly shifts her gaze at the scheduling notes laid out before Yukina. Rinko's suppressing a small bout of laughter, beside her.

"...Sis?"

"Ehehe, what's the harm, Sayo?" Lisa pokes in. "I think Ako looks up to you, you know. Right?"

Lisa's knowing grin freezes Ako on the spot temporarily, but the drummer's wide grin quickly returns. "Yeah, Sayo's cool! I-I won't call you sis again though,so d-don’t worry about it!"

"...It’s ok. I’m not bothered by it." Sayo responds, before continuing her meal. Admittedly, ever since she found out that there was another transgender girl in her band, she's felt a new kinship with Ako. And if this interaction is any evidence, Ako feels the same... something that she doesn't really mind. It'd be wise to look out for her and help her with any problems Sayo's familiar with herself, right? She'd probably be 'high-levelled' for it, in Ako's terms.

Lisa sends Sayo a wink, and Sayo very quickly goes back to eating fries. She very much hopes her face isn't showing any evidence of a blush; she has an image to maintain, after all.

The scene continues as it usually does; it's down to Sayo and Yukina to direct the band's attention towards future activities, and they make sure they have everything planned out as per usual. Once that's done, Sayo finds the opportunity to give Ako her feedback from earlier, and then the conversation unfortunately derails into unrelated topics. She doesn't comment on it, but she also notices Yukina sneaking a fry from her plate.

...One thing Sayo regrets heavily about playing NFO in earnest, despite its benefits, is that she has to invent a lot of excuses to Ako and Rinko in order to not talk about it offline.

Of course, it's also on Sayo to stop everyone from spending too much time here. "Let's end the discussion and leave, before it gets too late. I trust everyone can get home on their own?"

"Ah! I'll walk home with Ako... we've, uh..." Rinko gestures to Ako frantically.

"Ah, right! The event's starting soon!" Ako jumps from her seat, vitality clearly far from spent. "C'mon Rinrin, let's play it at my place!"

"S-see you tomorrow then, everyone..." The two skip out of the building, like they're a pair of excited kids. Although Sayo supposes they still are excited kids, in some ways.

"Ah, you two, I've got a quick trip to make before I head home!" Lisa says. Behind her, Ako's dashing back in and picking up a forgotten bag. "Moca asked me to bring a few things to the convenience store."

"All right then, Lisa." Yukina gives her another glitteringly soft smile; there's been a lot of those from her today. "Stay safe."

"Will do! See you both tomorrow~" And she's off, too. "Hey, Ako, don't run too fast! You'll trip!"

Yukina turns to the only other person left. It's much less noisier, when it's just the two of them.

"Should we travel together until our paths split, Sayo?"

"I'd like that."

The pair make their way out. The evening sky hums in slowly overlaying blue; it looks right in place with a corny romance movie (the type Lisa would probably love) as the two take in the fresh moonlit air. It's enjoyable to gaze upon the view with Yukina, but Sayo soon makes sure to take the extra steps the band needs, and discuss everything else Roselia-related with Yukina that she couldn't before. Times like these are valuable, too.

...It’s strange, though. She feels like these opportunities with Yukina have occurred a lot more, lately.

"...Do you think she'll be fine with a concert of that size? We don't usually have that spacious of a venue."

"I'm confident in Rinko," Yukina responds. "And she's come extremely far. She may be intimidated by the crowd, but I've no doubt she'll rise to the challenge as long as we're beside her." A cliff of diamond against the raging sea, her unwavering certainty is as inspiring as always. The way Yukina unabashedly assesses their capabilities helps Sayo with her own reassurance, and it definitely helps out the other members too.

"I won't worry about it further for now, then," Sayo replies. "I've noticed she's not as hesitant to talk with the rest of us either, nowadays. Even about her other interests."

"Discussing topics outside of the band helps, sometimes. We are friends too, after all. And we owe it to her, for all she’s done." Yukina’s smiling face looks captivating, the amber in her eyes taking in the shine of the surrounding lampposts. "I'm certain that it's helped both Ako and Rinko in their performances. Much like how talking with Ako has helped you, Sayo."

"...Has it? I haven't noticed."

"It's hard for anyone to notice changes in your behaviour, I imagine." Well, she can't deny that. But she can't help but feel like Yukina's teasing her. "Same goes for Rinko, sometimes. But with her recent demeanor and the... um, way she and Ako are with each other occasionally... I feel like she's more open in expressing her emotions."

Ah. Back to this again. "About that actually, Yukina..." Sayo turns to face her leader.

"What is it?"

"...Have you noticed any changes in Roselia's behaviour lately, Yukina? I'm slightly concerned about one particular aspect."

Momentary silence.

"...And that is?"

Ugh, she can feel herself heating up slightly, trying to bring it up. Literally ten minutes ago, she was completely prepared to discuss this in detail, but now she's just awkwardly stammering her point out:

"Well, um. Yukina, I... I have no reservations with the members of Roselia pursuing romantic interests and activities in their own time. B-but..." Gah. Despite attempting to summon as much of her dignity as she can, she's struggling to try and blurt this out. "I think it might be prudent for such... gestures to be toned down, during practice sessions."

"...What kind of gestures are you referring to?"

"W-well." This is mortifying. "T-the... way in which you and Lisa will often... well, link arms during conversation, or sneak in k-... k... kisses, before practice starts..." Yukina makes a very distinguishable... 'sound' of some kind, at that statement, "or... the way in which Ako and Rinko cling to each other for minutes at a time during breaks... in addition to, generally speaking, a lot of physical contact from Lisa. Not so much her typical gestures, but rather-"

"Yes. I. I get it," Before Sayo realises, Yukina's already red in the face. What she's just been told is evidently something she hadn't noticed herself. "I uh, I apologise... I didn't realise that me and Lisa were... well... quite like 'that' during... practice sessions... as well."

The sheer embarrassment of this conversation is soul-permeating, so Sayo tries to hasten her point. "I won't question any interaction that occurs outside of band matters, of course, and I wish the relationship between you two all the best. B-but I think it'd be best for Roselia's professionalism, and the atmosphere of our rehearsals, if those behaviours were toned down. During rehearsals."

"...Between you two... you mean, just me and Lisa?" Yukina appears somewhat bewildered. Her expression resembles that of a sister who can't understand why her sibling doesn't know what the answers to the math homework are. "Sayo, did you not...?"

"...Yukina?"

She blinks as if she's just been woken up from a daze. "Right. Uh. Right. Mmm. You're right, it'd be best to tone down that kind of... 'interaction' during practice. We have a lot we need to focus on, after all. I'll let the other members know. And I apologise for getting myself carried away, too............ I hadn't even noticed..." she mutters the last part.

"Mmm." Sayo doesn't even know how to respond at this point; this whole conversation is ridiculous. At what point did she start having to get involved with feelings like these? She's not a relationship counsellor. Hopefully, the rest of the band members will sort themselves out in the future; they have much more important things to worry about.

Fortunately, their paths soon end up splitting, meaning their awry conversation gets to come to an end. Sayo's done her best to keep the love lives of her relatives and peers out of her mind up until now, and it's going to stay that way.

It's going to stay that way.

"Well then, I'll see you and everyone else tomorrow, Yukina. 1pm on the dot, as per usual."

"O-Of course. Ah, wait, Sayo!"

It's going to stay that way.

She doesn't even realise how hasty her footsteps are until Yukina calls back out to her. "Yes?"

"Well... um..." There's an... unusual expression on the vocalist's face. "Here. You dropped one of your guitar picks earlier..."

"...Oh. Thank you."

"D-don't worry about it. W-well, see you tomorrow." And then she quickly scoots off.

Time to head home, then, and fast. Today has felt weirdly off-putting, and if Sayo is being sloppy enough to drop her equipment-

Wait.

There's... a number of anomalies, regarding what just happened. Firstly, Sayo has no recollection of losing anything this afternoon; she won't boast about it, but she takes pride in her ability to keep track of her possessions. She KNOWS she only brought two picks with her; one brown and one grey, and she made sure they were in the case's front pocket...

Sure enough, she checks, and there's both picks, right there in the guitar case. She's carrying one more guitar pick now than she was this morning. The design on it is gorgeously intricate, actually, decorated in wavy turquoise; nothing like most of the ones Sayo has. It looks like the kind you’d get someone as a gift.

...And suppose Sayo really DID bring three picks, and then lost one. Couldn't Yukina have just given the pick back earlier, while they were in the restaurant? And why was she still stammering and blushing like a lovestruck underclassman? Why did she bolt off so quickly after giving it back to Sayo?

...Wait, but she might have just forgotten to give it back until now. And maybe the previous conversation about physical affection was just lingering too much on her mind as well, and that's why she wanted to get away from it. Sayo's reading too much into this... right?

Ugh. No, no, no, there's no alternate reading to this. Sayo probably just forgot all about this pick, among the other two. Yukina just forgot to give it back until now, that's all. Nothing more to it. She desperately tries to flush out ANY implication behind the conversation just now as she walks home, because this is just ridiculous; something as simple as returning a lost item isn't any reason to infer people's emotions over.

...It's going to stay that way, she repeats to herself.

 

---

 

A heaped sigh.

The guitar's lying beside her bed, her personal practice time once again thrown into disarray; that's the second time so far, and it's only been three days since...

Well, now it turns out that, much to her chagrin, she remembers it's been three days since that awkward conversation after the restaurant celebration. Whether she likes it or not, Yukina's blushing face is something haunting her mind now. For no reason whatsoever.

It's also been two days since Lisa gave her a surprise hug from behind, and nearly a heart attack alongside it. And two days since she saw Yukina and Lisa whispering with each other about something, before quickly trying to act as 'normal' as they could when Sayo approached them. The same kind of 'normal' that first-year students in Hanasakigawa act out, when they're trying to obfuscate the use of their phones in the classroom.

And it's been one day since the three of them got to spend some time alone with each other, and the conversation veered off from the band into lighter topics, and Yukina's hand lingered on hers just a bit longer than she thought might be normal-

"Uggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggh."

Burying her head into a pillow, she considers. What on EARTH is making her think like this? It's not normal for someone to have their thoughts linger on every brush of physical contact with another person, not normal for someone to make bizarre interpretations of every interaction they have with their peers. This is just disgraceful of her. It's not only rude of her to constantly misinterpret Lisa's and even Yukina's gestures towards her as... well, 'intimate', but it's also disrespectful to the relationship Yukina and Lisa already have with each other.

Wait, no, scratch some of what she just said. Specifically the parts that imply love, because she is absolutely not... romantically... attracted... interested... pining... ANY of that, for Yukina or for Lisa, whatever the words are. Ugh. Not in love, not interested, just... replace every part of what she just thought that implied-

This is too much. This is the 5th time, already, that she's chastised herself for her romantic paranoia, but it seems to be completely ineffective at stopping whatever on earth is going on inside her heart right now.

"My lovely cool whooshin’ tubular big boppin’ big sis Sayo! What's up!" A muffled cacophony of a voice makes its presence known before its owner, like a meteor, bursts right into the room. Fortunately, Sayo's got the pillow off of her face before her sister catches her looking like a baby.

"Hina, how many times have I told you to knock-"

"You sound so frustrated! Like, something's just been whammin' and bumpin' you! What's up! Is it homework?"

"I'm fine, I'm fine. Thank you for the concern, though-"

"Oooh, did your new boots from Lisa not fit? Did you lose your conditioner? Or is it another kind o' whooshy-washy girl issue?"

"Hina-"

"Oh, I know! I bought a couple of skirts on Eve's recommendation the other day, so you can try them on-"

"Hina!" Her sister halts at the volume. Sayo tries not to make her voice sound too sharp, though. “No, it’s not a girl problem. I’m doing just fine, I promise.”

"Are you suuuuure? I can tell when you're wearing that thing now... I think Chisato calls it a pokerface?"

...Pokerface? Is that what she's doing? She's pretty sure she always looks like this. "I'm sure, Hina. I can sort myself out."

“Hmmm.... if you say so! Just lemme know if you need help though, yeah? And by the way, save some cookies for me the next time you bake them!”

"Of course. But make sure-"

"Oh, I’ve gotta make sure I’m not late for my date with Aya! Bye, sis!"

"See you later Hina, but don’t run-" But it’s no use, as usual. She’s already gone like the wind. At this point, Sayo can’t help but smile at her sister’s antics, despite how blisteringly dangerous they can be for her safety sometimes. And how Hina passes literal essays' worth of conversations in mere seconds.

...Appreciating the support she gave in Sayo’s transition has become easier, now that they’ve reconciled, as... blunt as her support is sometimes, for lack of a better word. She counts herself blessed for Hina's presence now, something she'd express a conflicted face at the notion of if this were a year or two back.

Right. A short walk is in order.

After a proper stretch, she heads downstairs at a much safer pace than her sister. A nice bout of fresh air, to let herself regain focus and continue practicing, now that might do the trick. She's evidently not going to rid herself of this train of thought by sitting around, after all.

Actually, she thinks, as she's putting on her shoes and heading out; didn't she hear Ako and Rinko talking about the... polar bear effect, was it, recently? The idea that trying to deliberately NOT think about something will only cause you to think about it more. Maybe she's just been approaching it wrong this whole time; she'd reacted too intensely to one thought of romantic attraction, and then just spiralled down into a chain of mental meanderings out of sheer meta-contemplation.

So, that means she's not actually, uh. 'Interested' in any of her friends; she wouldn't dare humor that possibility. She's just let a negative thought pattern get out of control, that's all. Finally, a good piece of news from this whole fiasco.

The cool breeze hits her face as a gentle sky’s light casts across the surrounding scenery. The lampposts provide a dim amount of illumination as the sun finally begins its descent beyond the horizon; despite the numerous clouds in the sky, its radiance continues to subtly blaze through the earth. She's not normally one for sightseeing, but she's picked a good evening to let her brain unscramble itself.

Right. She'll let herself ruminate on the fret transition she can't quite get down on her guitar right now, look up a new cookie recipe to... well, 'surprise' the band is probably the best way to describe it, corny as it is... wait, no, she can say it's for practicality's sake. That's partially true, after all; and then after all that she'll feel composed, refreshed and ready to resume practice. Perfect.

Sayo continues to walk.

...

...

...

...

...

...It's not working.

One recollection of Yukina's blushing face, another of the fire in Yukina's eyes on the day she apologized to the band and said Roselia would continue to stay together. Two recollections of the time Yukina and Lisa complemented how she looked in the dress, the one she tried on at a recent shopping trip. And on at least three different occasions, the hand Lisa slipped around her waist as she took an unexpected selfie with her popped into mind (which Sayo didn't object to at all for some reason). Actually, one of those recollections was about the arm she slung around Sayo’s shoulders casually while she was looking at the list of up-and-coming girls bands playing in Galaxy's live hous-

...

...She remembers both of those occasions vividly, doesn't she. Well, just great. This walk has literally not helped her one bit. In fact, the feeling of heat spreading across her face is just suggesting that it's making it worse.

There's a buzz from her pocket, and then another; she wasn't planning to respond to any messages at first, but now it's a welcome enough distraction from her current thoughts.

...Or so she thinks.

They're from Yukina.

Don't read it... please don't read it...

Against her own desperate pleas, she opens the log.

'Sayo, there's a new pet cafe opening this weekend, three stops from the train station closest to Hanasakigawa. The cafe features both cats and dogs. Me and Lisa are planning on visiting it, and if you'd like to-'

She shuts her phone off immediately, shoves it back in her bag, and quickens her pace.

The evening backdrop is starting to feel useless, and it won't be long before she stops being able to rely on the monotonous patter of foot against concrete, too. The torment's becoming unbearable; she can't even remember the total number of hours her schedule's been disrupted by her own traitorous heart, at this point. All she knows is that she can't stop thinking about what she COULD have been getting done during all that lost time. Every minute she could’ve spent for the sake of her guitar, every minute she could’ve spent for the sake of her companions, flushed down the drain for a feeling she swore to cast away the moment she grew her hair out. It's the worst.

But she can't just amble around, letting this whole situation spiral even further downward. Three blocks into her walk, Sayo turns back around; so be it. She'll just play on her guitar until every thought of hers drifts away.

"...Oh? Could it be?"

But one block back towards her home, the voice and the face of a fiend makes herself known. Even at their current distance, the light of the lamppost is exposing all the breadcrumbs scattered on this person's mouth.

She knows there’s only one person it could be. "...You’re... Moca."

 

---

 

Minutes.

Seconds.

Milliseconds, even.

Sitting at the chair in a restaurant Sayo's had no reason to ever go to, all of her worst fears have long moved past howling at her; now they're content to just waltz across her shoulders, fully aware that Sayo can hear them. 'You could be practicing guitar right now' is a phrase that's practically engraved itself into her veins at this point.

"That’ll be all, thanks~" Moca waves the waitress off. "Hey Sayo, do you like girls?"

"Y-" She has to pull the brakes on her speech like a desperate train driver in order to not accidentally out herself. This was a bad start to the evening. "No. Not that I see how it’s any of your business."

"Got it."

.

"Moca, I’d like to clarify that-"

"This bread is pretty tasty." She cuts in, fishing out a baguette from her pocket. "Oh, you can’t have any though, Sayo. Lesbians only."

"I didn’t want it. I doubt you’d share it with anyone, anyway."

"Darn. You saw through the ruse..." She takes a bite.

.

Why is Sayo here again? Well... this conversation... could help, in some way. Somehow. At least, that's the path of desperate, pathetic rationalisation she's using to justify her presence here. That and the scent of junk food, a staple of Sayo's darkest hours at this point in her life. She's aware Moca is a work acquaintance of Lisa (although whether she's interacted with Yukina or not is wholly unknown to her), so for all she knows, she might be able to...

...Advise? Assist? Assuming Sayo would want to tell this person anything; because judging from what she's heard, Moca Aoba is likely just as loose-lipped about most secrets as her own sister is. Combine that with how deliberately mischievous she is compared to Hina, and that's a recipe for disaster.

Sayo heaps out her biggest sigh yet. For some reason, she can't bring herself to care about whoever's hearing her exhalations of misfortune.

"Ooo....." The imp observes. "So it really is that bad, huh."

"...Is there any reason why you've invited me to this place?"

"It's a test." Moca responds. Nearly right on cue, the food arrives; two baskets of salted fries, nothing more. Moca holds out one right in front of Sayo and dangles it. "C'mon Sayo, say ahhhhhhh."

"If you're just intending to mock me, I'll be taking my leave now." She stands up from the table.

"Noooo, baby please don't go~... I won't do it again, promise."

One chance. She'll give Moca one more chance.

"I guess it's because I wasn't Yukina or Lisa, huh... I'm just not good enough for you."

Time for her to leave.

"Wait, wait, wait wait wait..." Moca practically yanks her entire arm with both hands in order to prevent her from leaving, like the world's most overbearing leech. "Come back! Don't miss out on this episode of Moca's advice corner!"

"So long as you see fit to stop acting like a circus clown, I'll hear you out." One last chance, for real this time. Might as well have the fries here, while she's at it.

"Glad to remain in your good graces, Guitar Goddess~" Moca performs the positively delightful action of shoving both a handful of fries and a piece of baguette into her mouth at the same time. One of the fries slips out and falls onto her lap mid-bite. This person genuinely calls herself a guitarist. "But in any case, I had a good reason to invite you out on this secret, passionate rendezvous. Let’s have a talk, lesbian to lesbian."

"I’m not a-" She sighs. Words can’t reach a wild animal like Moca. "Do tell. I'm wasting my time here, otherwise."

"Don't worry, I won't cut too much into it~... The time where a maiden's heart blossoms with the sensation of love is precious, indeed..."

...Her comments so far have had implications that Sayo does NOT like, at all. For starters, Moca gives off a vague impression that she knows Sayo... ‘likes girls’, to put it in her words. That’s a secret she hasn’t told a soul about, and it doesn’t feel very safe in the hands of this fool. And what about her bandmate problems? To the outside world, she should have appeared the same as she's always been the past three days; only Hina's had even an inkling of her troubles so far. So what on earth does this random associate of hers know?

She has about twenty seconds to ponder these questions, thanks to Moca taking an unnecessarily long slurp of her cola. Twenty seconds too long.

"Don't frown at me like that," she speaks up. "I’ve heard a few juicy tidbits of knowledge from my dear coworker lately, is all."

"...And those 'tidbits' would be?"

"Don't rush me, dearie~... I'm getting to the good part. But first, dear Sayo Hikawa." Moca's hands begin to imitate writing with a pen on paper, and her voice takes on the worst posh accent Sayo's heard in her lifetime. "I'd like to make a dear confession to you, as a trusted friend..."

Interacting with this goblin is a trip.

"It's not ultimately an important thing, but I felt that as your friend, it would be wrong for me to not let you know... so..." Moca fakes a deep breath. "I'm gay, Sayo Hikawa."

"...Right." If this were coming from literally anyone but Moca, she'd probably feel a lot more inclined to express support.

"Would you be able to accept my presence in your life regar-"

"Yes. Get to the point."

"Cold~... but at least Sayo Hikawa supports gay rights! Woo!"

Afterglow fights as much of an internal battle as it does an external one, evidently. "...What are you up to?"

"It's a vibe check," she says, before delving right back into dramatic monologue; "but Sayo! You may find that I'm not the only lesbian in the world... there are many others. Would you accept them all into your life, too?"

"Obviously."

"That includes me and my lovely girlfriend Ran?"

"Yes."

"And your beloved Lisa and Yukina?"

"PLEASE get to the point." Even the fries aren't worth this hellion of a charade right now.

"Even little ol' Sayo?"

"Yes-"

She’d fallen right for that trap. If she'd noticed her mistake even a fraction of a second earlier, perhaps she could've stopped that word from coming out of her mouth.

A second passes. Moca smugly raises a eyebrow.

"...Was there any intention you had behind this conversation OTHER than crassly outing me?"

"Sorry, sorry," She responds, with what Sayo can only hope is genuine reprieve. "I had to, though; it's a veeeeeeeeeeery important precursor to my main talkin' point."

Before Sayo can inquire, an index finger's pointed itself rudely towards her face. "Sayo, Sayo, Sayo." Moca says, wagging it back and forth. "A little birdie's been telling me a lot about her romance problems, lately."

She means Lisa, obviously. "I don't see what your work conversations have to do with this," Sayo responds. "You shouldn't even be having them while you're on the job-"

"She talks a lot about her girlfriend, y'know. TWICE as much as she used to, now." Yukina, also obviously. "Just a loooovely kind of girl; hard to dig into, but so deliciously sweet on the inside. It makes me feel all gooey, hearing about her stories over the years~"

So Lisa and Moca spend a lot of time talking about their girlfriends, unsurprisingly. It also occurs to her that Moca's known Lisa longer than Sayo herself has, and she's not sure how to feel about that.

"It makes me jealous, seeing how lovey-dovey she is sometimes... it took a bit before I could start boasting about my dearest Ran the same way. Anyway, lovely Lisa's been saying some pretty curious stuff lately..." Moca then raises another fry, pointed towards Sayo; it’s the world's least intimidating mark of scrutiny. "...So I've been wondering. I know the deets about a lot of crushes my friends have on each other... but what about YOU, Sayo Hikawa?"

Another sigh.

"C’mon, tell me. Who’s your special someone? You got a crush on any of Roselia’s crew? You can trust ol’ Moca with a secret; I’ve the biggest gay heart around."

Deep breaths. "...Even if I did have one, I absolutely would NOT tell you."

"Awww, but why?"

Sayo's next response is going to seem unbecomingly dangerous of her, she imagines. But it’s the kind of serious and honest enough rebuttal that it might actually succeed in keeping Moca in her own lane. So...

"Putting aside your notoriety," she starts, looking Moca directly in the eyes for the first time that evening; "I’m not at discretion to talk about my... romantic preferences," she scoffs at the phrase, "just because I’m talking with someone of the same orientation. Unlike you, I wasn’t considered a girl at my birth. That’s something I had to realise about myself later."

Moca’s eyes widen briefly. She takes a slightly less lax posture, which is hopefully a good sign.

"As a result, I have my own concerns when... deciding who to talk about regarding my preferences. So I’d appreciate it if you didn’t pry any deeper."

.

Moca looks worried, briefly. Is she scared? Possibly not; it’s not the expression of fear Sayo’s used to. It looks more like her own expression when she messes up a guitar phrase, instead.

"I give." Moca puts her hands up. Then she grabs a couple fries and offers them to Sayo. "Thought I was digging through a wall with a little less weight than that. My bad."

Sayo’s circulation returns in a moment of relief. "...Please promise that you won’t tell anyone else," she says, taking the fries. "Roselia knows most of this information, but... they don’t know about my, uh. Preferences."

"Promise. Shouldn’t have dug that deep, without knowing you all that well." A lazy peace sign, in both hands. Then Moca whips out her phone.

...Why did she tell THIS sloth, of all people? Is there some kind of disarming charm laced in her behaviour? Whatever the case, it went well, at least. Now Sayo can pretend she hasn't made her most reckless decision ever when she goes to sleep tonight.

"...Besides, ol’ Moca’s got a new reason to talk to you now. Who’s gonna enable your gay daydreams if I don’t?" The sound of an outgoing text message is audible from the device.

"...I don’t have daydreams," she lies in response.

"Aww, you don’t gotta bottle it up around your good chum Moca," the imp responds. "I’ve seen what happens when you do. Without me as her guardian angel, Himari probably would’ve denied herself until her poor gay heart drifted away..."

It... feels... weird, in some way. For Sayo to be compared to a girl like Himari. Maybe a lot of ways, actually.

The sound of an incoming text message can be heard. The owner continues to gesture like an interpretative dancer; "drifted away, like ash in the wind... oh! Hehe." Suddenly, Moca’s looking down at her lap. "I’ve been given the ok..."

If she’s that distracted by her phone, then it means the conversation here’s winding down. It’s not THAT late yet, but... Sayo wishes she could leave, soon.

"Oh, Sayo, I never finished my story." Okay, maybe not yet. "Hear me out?" Moca’s offering a couple more fries.

Sayo doesn’t take them, though; she can’t let the image a rival band member has of her become any more casual than this. She can afford to sit a little more upright, at least, now that one of her biggest fears isn’t dragging her down. "Very well. I’ll be heading home before too long, though."

"I’ll be swift as a samurai." Moca strikes a pose resembling a ninja. "Gist is, Lisa’s lovely angel doesn’t actually realise she’s got an admirer."

"...What?" This is starting to feel too gossipy. "To my knowledge, Yukina and Lisa are practically wide open about their relationship, at this point."

"Oh no no, not Yukina. That relationship’s going swimmingly. I mean-"

Hold on.

"Wait," Sayo says. "...What do you mean, Not Yukina?"

"Welllllllllll......." Roselia’s potential downfall responds, "Y’see............... oopsy! I forgot who."

"Moca Aoba, speak now or forfeit your life."

"Got it, got it, I’ll speed up. Yukina n’ Lisa both have the hots for a third girl."

.

"Slow down, actually," Sayo responds, hoping the panic isn’t showing on her face. This is quickly becoming madness. Moca has to be lying.

"Ah, wait wait wait. That might’ve been a bad way to word it." Oh, thank god. "I'm not talking like, a love triangle kinda thing. I mean that they're both in love with each other AND with another girl, capiche?"

"Ah." Sayo... breathes. "I see."

It's kind of surreal, hearing that. Yukina and Lisa have such a strong bond that it's hard to think about them loving anyone other than each other. But a polyamorous affection, while uncommon, isn't nessecarily impossible. The way Moca makes it sound, at least, it's not causing any bad blood between the two of them.

"...You're not gonna ask who?" Moca says.

"...Hm? Why should I?"

"This is like, the climax point of the conversation! You're gonna miss it out?" She strikes a pose Sayo can't even describe.

"No. That’s quite the breach of privacy." Truth be told, she very much wants to know. Sayo absolutely wants to know, even if it goes against her nature; after all, she feels like the rest of Roselia would've eventually found out if Yukina and Lisa had another object of affection between them... right?

"Buuuuut Sssssaaaaaayoooooooooo...." She’s never seen someone so insistent on spilling another person’s love life.

...There’d better be a good reason behind this.

"Well," Sayo replies to the fiend, placing one hand on her hip, "you're probably going to tell me anyway, aren't you?"

"Wow, you're on the Moca wavelength now, aren't you~" The least flattering compliment she's ever heard. "But lemme torment you at least one more time before you head out. Who do YOU think it is?"

...

 

It's obvious, isn't it? Sayo has no human idea of who it could be. After all, she's never seen Lisa and Yukina act that amorously towards anyone else. Except for...

...No. That's not even possible. Not remotely. And she knows that better than anyone.

"...I don’t know." Sayo's heart remains still.

"...You really have no idea at all, do you?" Moca gives an almost pitying smile. "I feel sorry for those two sometimes." She sits up slightly and and grows a rather goofy grin. "...Well, then..."

...

...

...

Moca's pointing a finger. Right at her.

Wait, why?

Wait, no, she can't mean-

"...Moca, that finger isn't meant to mean..."

"Ohohoho."

"...I don't appreciate this kind of joke."

"Well, I mean..." Her grin could make the worst demons in Pandemonium shudder. "I never said anything, technically."

Sure, she hasn’t. But the finger is still pointing at her.

And it stays pointing.

Every piece of Sayo's heart wants to deny this. It's Moca Aoba, after all. There's no one else more likely to be pulling a prank on her.

So she desperately tries to ignore any possibility of Moca's next utterances being true:

"On an unrelated note, Lisa tells me," she says, her finger starting to wag, "that she and Yukina have been a LOT closer to you lately."

Memories of all the invitations, all the outings just the two or three of them had, all the moments of contact she's been dwelling on. The miniature baskets of fries on the table are empty, now; Moca finished them both off while she wasn't even looking.

"She was pretty happy for the past few months, since you were pretty, uh. Well, in your lingo, 'receptive to their affection.' They really like you, you know."

God, stop. The fear that Lisa's making her look like a cuddle bunny to her peers and coworkers feels like nothing but a speck in the wind, compared to the flooding, surging feelings of remembering-

Right. She's not giving Moca anything other than a calm, composed expression.

...She’s just being toyed with, right?

"Yukina was pretty shocked when she found out you didn’t realise any of this, actually."

Stop.

"In fact, the two of them were already thinking of-"

"I've had my fill for the evening. Both of the food, and of your lies, Moca." Sayo curtly rises from her seat.

"Oh." She looks quickly surprised as Sayo picks up her bag and moves out onto the open space, but a gentle smile quickly returns. "It was a good convo. I wanna talk to you some more sometime. Rival guitarists, n' all that."

"That makes one of us. See you another time." She starts walking.

"Ohhh?" She's about to pass Moca's seat. "You sure? I've got a reeeeeaaaaaaaaaally cute picture of Yukina pettin' some cats, here-"

"I don't need to hear any more of your insensitive teasing tonigh-" She starts to respond, coldly, as she turns her head towards Moca.

And then she stops.

Moca's phone screen is displayed right in front of her eyes. The brightness isn't that high, but the restaurant has dim enough lighting that Sayo doesn't need to squint to see the chat log displayed on it.

...And now, she doesn't have any reason to doubt Moca. Not when Moca’s smiling like that, too.

 

 

"...I see." Sayo smiles back, smiles for the first time this evening.

"See? Moca's advice corner was pretty handy, wasn't it?"

This smug bastard. But she can't help but smirk at the provocation. For a brief moment, at least, before she wears a calmer smile again. "I suppose I can't deny that. Thank you, Moca."

"No probs. Consider it my apology, for how much I ended up digging into you. It's the best an idiot like me can do."

"It was plenty. You're surprisingly perceptive when you want to be," Sayo responds, as she turns her back. "...But save that apology for Lisa. She trusted you with the information you leaked to me, after all. Good evening, Moca."

"I’m more perceptive than I wanna be, really..." Moca’s voice raises as Sayo gets closer to the exit. "...You're as warm on the inside as she says you are, dearie~"

That last sentence, spoken in a poorly cobbled imitation of a grandmother, is what Sayo hears before she leaves the restaurant.

 

---

 

There's only a scant few messages, but neither of these two are big on their words.

Sayo's contact list was once as sparse and as organised as it needed to be. But over the past year, it's added a lot of unexpected faces; Tsugumi was one thing, but then to think that Tomoe and Kasumi, of all people, would be on there too, is kind of surreal. She doesn’t talk to them much, but... she wonders how the past her would've reacted if she was told this. What a dream all-star roundup.

And now Ran Mitake is the newest on the log. If Ako being transgender was like a comet running into Sayo, then Ran being transgender would most likely be akin to a planet-sized asteroid. No matter how much she tells herself there are other people in the world like her, it's always an overdose of whiplash to run into someone else in real life.

But that's merely a side-product of Sayo's thoughts right now, as she sits out on the terrace of Circle's cafe.

Yukina. Lisa.

...At this point, it does no good to deny the fact that the two of them... well... they probably... might possibly l-like Sayo. Sort of, possibly.

...What would it mean, to be in a relationship with them? The idea of such an experience feels like it was nothing but a distant set of thoughts until last night. A box of sweet, lovecarved chocolates, sitting in the dumpster for years on end, finally finding their way back into her hands, somehow fresher than they were on the day she first bought them, without her ever expecting it. They melted first like luscious caramel into Sayo's dreams, but her every waking thought soon became consumed by their seductive taste. And if they weighed like merely a giant stack of blankets last night, they're now positively enormous bedsheets, threatening to envelop her with a desperate, passionate embrace.

...God. She's starting to sound like Lisa, now.

Ugh. Think about it realistically, Sayo. What does a relationship involve? Definitely seeing the other parties a lot, that's for sure. More than ever before. Interacting with them in ways you could've never imagined, supporting them throughout, embracing them throughout, melting throughout... It's enticing, but it requires proper dedication too. Dedication she has in spades, mind you, but...

Well, hang on. Let's not get lost in fantasy. If she wants to be serious about this, she's going to need to divide her time wisely so that neither Roselia nor her... uh, loved ones... suffer. She's going to need to be more efficient than ever, and that's going to mean schedul-

Wait. Back up, back up. Before she realises, even her seemingly normal thought patterns have forayed right into Cinderella's ball, wrapped and decorated like the rest of the crowd. It's a neverending dream.

...But strangely, it's not weighing her down anymore. Her warmups, her rehearsal today, they were both devoid of the hesitation and mistakes that had been slowly plaguing her guitar for the past while. She was able to focus on her own sound without any problem.

 

It's so strange. The thoughts entering her mind, of every embrace, every interaction, between her, and Yukina, and Lisa... they mirror the thoughts she was having before, but now their effect seems to be completely different.

"Heyyyyyy Sayooooooooooooooooooooo~!" Her cheeks feel... strangely squished, for some reason. But Sayo barely notices it, her gaze fixed ahead into the vast beyond.

....Yukina and Lisa... the words from yesterday, Moca never completed them, but they try to ring complete into Sayo's mind...

Yukina and Lisa... were they thinking of... of... conf... confess...

...A-and this whole time, every interaction she wrote off as her own delusions, was at least partly... actually... real...

She can imagine it, right now. If she squints, she can imagine that strange, face-squishing sensation she's feeling right now being caused by a pair of hands lovingly wrapping around her-

Wait.

"Hey, earth to Sayo!"

Sayo blinks.

There's a pair of hands on her face.

"Gah!" She jumps from the chair, practically squeezing a gargled noise out of her reddened face. She turns around.

"...That's a new reaction. It's not like you to get lost idly in thought, Sayo." Lungs of gleaming crystal pound their way into Sayo's chest. That second voice could only belong to one person. With how many times she's met her, both in her life and in her dreams, she couldn't ever mistake it now...

"...Yukina. Lisa." She doesn't even comment on how Lisa's hands linger for just a bit longer than they normally would. She’ll certainly remember it, though.

Illuminated by the sunlight, gems of ruby and sapphire cast all manner of reflections over Sayo's figure.

"Can we sit with you, Sayo~?" Lisa’s melody rings in her ears. "We need some time to look at the details of the next live."

"Of course. Let me know if there’s any help you need with the budgeting."

So they do. It feels so strange, but these menial activities aren’t being impeded at all by Sayo’s thoughts surrounding the pair. In fact, every look at their faces just motivates her to sort everything out even more efficiently.

It’s only half an hour, but it feels like countless ballads of the clouds pass through the sky around them, as the sun continues its journey. Yukina orders the coffee and ice cream she considers her favorite, and Lisa occasionally distracts herself by placing earrings over her vision of Yukina, as if coordinating some kind of look in her imagination.

...And Sayo hasn’t even taken a sip of her drink, since the two arrived. Between Roselia’s hectic schedule and the presence of the two warmest people in her life, it feels like even an action as mundane and automatic as that would cost too much of her attention. She’s impressed enough at herself for contributing her workload while her eyes struggle to resist dancing between the way Lisa’s hair falls on her shoulders, the way Yukina awkwardly fiddles with her cup when trying to learn about putting proper budget saving into practice, the way Lisa’s lips-

She has to slap both her cheeks to stop her thoughts going any further.

"...Sayo? Are you feeling tired?" Yukina asks. It's hard for someone unacquainted with the songstress to see it, but the concern she always notices in Yukina's eyes makes the rhythm of her heartbeat soar now.

"...I'm fine. But thank you for your concern. As I was saying..." she continues. Neither Yukina or Lisa ever neglect to monitor the health of any band member. They're some of the kindest and warmest people she knows.

Sayo dearly hopes her supposed 'pokerface' is maintaining itself, right now. She'd scoff at the idea of her behaving amorously just a week ago, but there's a slowly building feeling in her chest now, whispering the possibility of just dropping her pen and diving into the arms of the people she loves the most, right here and right now...

Yukina's nodding attentively as suggestions are passed around about how to maximise the efficiency of their updated practice schedule. There's so much more to her than just having the voice of a goddess; Sayo would've never thought, in her life, that she'd meet someone just as used to punching themself down as she was. Someone else who, in their darkest of moments, felt that their music was the only positive attribute they had. But Yukina's struggles spoke deeply to her own sometimes, and her critical yet constructive presence feels like it always blesses Sayo for her dedication and persistence. She's someone who works just as hard, if not harder than Sayo does, to improve herself.

And Sayo hopes she's been able to help Yukina in the same way; she hopes that her own support has uplifted the silver wolf, that Yukina has gained as much self-confidence from Sayo's presence as Sayo has from hers... because with everything she puts herself through, the times where Yukina smiles mean so, so much. The calm, confident smile she gives before she knows a live will go well, the adorable smile she tries to hide when she sees a herd of cats, the exasperated smile she gives when Ako or Lisa drag her into something, the straggled smile she tries to subdue when everyone's praises go beyond what she expects... and best of all, the warm, welcoming and gentle smile she gives when her bandmates are happy. The same one she gave Sayo a few months back, as Sayo cried her heart out more than she ever would've expected to in front of other people, and the flowers bloomed further than she ever thought they would. Sayo really would do anything to bring her joy.

"Ah, it's getting pretty late already~... Why don't we wrap this up for now, guys?" And Lisa. Lisa could pour out her entire heart to everyone around her, and she'd still insist that she has more to give. At first, Sayo wouldn't consider herself to be similar to Lisa in any aspect, and she was too blind to understand the angel’s dedication. But Lisa, despite her horrible attempts at subtlety, was the sort of person who just couldn’t hide how lovely and passionate she was, and Sayo fell head-over-heels for it; she remembers how floored she felt on the first day Lisa was absent for practice, just how paramount she was to everyone being able to have even just a simple conversation, back when the band was still so new.

And Lisa has her own form of self-depreciation too; a habit of downplaying her own kindness. She remembers how Lisa blamed herself for changing Roselia during the Sweet Music Shower event... and how she, almost without thinking, bared her own heart out and did everything she could to convince Lisa that what she gave the band was invaluable. Because without Lisa, Sayo would've never realised how important the bonds she had with the people around her were, and how the connections between each member of Roselia were just as important to their music as the notes they played. And she remembers, more than anything, a few months back; the feeling of Lisa's arms wrapped around her shoulders as her walls fell apart, as she revealed a secret to Roselia she thought she'd have to hide for her entire life. She's so unendingly sweet, so unendingly strong... Sayo wants to do everything she can to give her that same taste of saccharine. She’ll do everything, and then more.

...The conversation's already closed, and the two of them are already starting to leave, before Sayo wakes from the bed of her heart, her mouth and mind having worked on autopilot this entire time. Lisa's face has already looked away, humming along as she starts to walk, but Yukina's turned back to look at Sayo.

...Moca's words from last evening are ringing in her head. Should she ask them? Should she ask how they feel about her?

...How does she feel about them?

...How does Sayo Hikawa feel about Yukina Minato and Lisa Imai? She can't help but become lost in thought as she stares at Yukina's concerned face... they're... they're her colleagues, her bandmates, her friends, her trusted partners... they're...

"Mm? Yukina, something wrong?" Lisa calls back.

...No. She couldn't, right? The garden under her has blossomed so much already. How could she possibly ask for more, when every verdant being in the place she dares to call home has already grown so much for her? How could she be so selfish, trying to grow her own flower in the soil that's somehow found its way beneath her, when it's already let her experience skies she's never even dreamed of? Whatever she plants, she tells herself, will probably be what finally rips the veil from her eyes, from everyone's eyes, and show everyone what a wilting, perverted presence she is... right?

...No. She knows, deep down, that she means more than that. Sayo Hikawa has a positive meaning in this place. And she's going to have to confront that, to acknowledge that, if she wants to move forward.

"...Wait for a moment, please, Yukina. Lisa." She calls out. Lisa faces her too, and Yukina's eyes narrow in surprise as if they've just been sent an electric shock.

"What's up? You can talk to us about anything~"

...Where she's going to, she doesn't know, yet. The location, she knows what it looks like, she'll recognise what it is when she sees it, but... she can't quite put a name to it, just yet.

But still, she's heading towards it.

"...It's about the message Yukina sent me yesterday. About the cat and dog cafe."

Yukina breathes a sigh of relief. "...Phew. I thought you hadn't seen it..."

"I apologise. I was rather... occupied yesterday, so I didn't respond to it at the time." Sayo takes a deep breath; it'll probably be the first of many. "...I'd love to go."

The pair both smile. Lisa makes a comically exaggerated fistpump, the sort of action that makes it clear what effect Moca has on her; "Yes! Is about 4pm on Saturday okay, Sayo? It's an awkward time, but it avoids the rush hours."

"That's fine. I can work it in, if it's for you two-" Oh.

Lisa just giggles. Yukina, fortunately, manages to blush alongside Sayo; "...I-I suppose that's settled, then. I just thought it'd have a, a... therapeutic effect... going to that place..."

"I imagine so. Thank you for inviting me." Two days from now... But that's not all Sayo needs to discuss. "Oh, and... there was, um." She needs to discuss it. "...Another thing I had to talk about."

"We're all ears~! Nothing's gonna get me down, now that you've made my day." Poor Lisa. She's about to find out what CAN make her feel down.

"...I ran into Moca, yesterday evening," she starts. Evidently, that's a surprise to both of them, and she can understand; the bread devil doesn't really mesh well with Sayo's aura. "...She, was, well. Much like her typical self. And that means she said an awful lot more than she should have about certain topics. Specifically, certain topics that you discuss with her during work, Lisa."

As expected, Lisa’s face is starting to look a little awry. Yukina's just looking confused; "What do you talk about with her, Lisa?"

"Ahahaha, well.... admittedly, we, uh. I boast about you, sometimes, to her. About us dating, I mean. I guess I don't really have to hide that anymore."

"...Ah. I already knew," Yukina says. "She's told me about that before."

"....mmmmmmmmmMocaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!" ...Wow. She's never seen Lisa hide her head in her hands like that before.

"D-don't worry. It was only after we were more public about our relationship..." Oh, thank whatever dear deity exists out there. Moca hasn't spoilt Lisa’s love for someone pre-confession TWICE after all. This is going to be awkward for Sayo now, though.

Deep breaths. She's not backing down now.

"...Well... about that." She continues her original point. "She, uh, told me that..." Oh god, it's no good. She can feel herself burning up. How on earth did she ever manage emotional control until this point? "She told me... something, about how, you, uh. How, you... you... you mentioning me. Y-you mentioning, regarding me, that you and Yukina were, uh... well..."

It's no good, it's no good. This is the hardest thing she's ever done in her life. Words just fail to exit Sayo Hikawa's mouth at this point. She looks up at Lisa and Yukina's faces.

Well, it seems like she doesn't have to finish that sentence, at least. Lisa looks like she's about to blush herself into a coma. Yukina's just distressedly whipping her head between Lisa and Sayo, for about a full five seconds; then it stops, mid-turn, and her eyebrows raise in realisation.

...Now Yukina's blushing, too. "L-Lisa... what else did you tell Moca?"

"N-not that much! I swear!" She's... is she laughing? Lisa's sounds hit some strange line between happiness and panic. "Oh god, this is the worst..."

"A-ahem!" Sayo has to get this back on track, somehow. She'll do it or die trying. "Now, OBVIOUSLY... Moca is not a person to be trusted, with anything, at all, period. Ever. So. I'm going to assume that she's, at the very least, distorted or misreported her conversations with you in some way." Lisa nods. A good sign; any damage control for Moca's chaos would be helpful at this point. "And, in addition, uh..."

Ten seconds. Lisa lets an eye peek out from the hands covering her face. Yukina's gazing at her fixatedly, probably unaware as to what her own expression currently looks like.

Then there's the next deep breath; took long enough. "...I... also have something... that I'd like to tell you two, at some point. So-"

Her point's temporarily interrupted by Yukina making an absolutely inhumane squeak; her body reels back and nearly trips over the terrace boarding. Lisa makes a daring and... quite a dashing maneuver, catching her under the arms and whirling her around back to solid ground. Like Yukina, she's also blushing.

"..." For Yukina's dignity, it's probably best to ignore what just happened. Sayo continues; "So, I-I was going to suggest..." Third deep breath. Or was it the fourth? She can't tell. "...That, uh. We, we, m-meet up, about half an hour before 4pm, somewhere rather quiet, and... talk. Right, yeah, talk."

"...Y-yeah," Lisa practically has to stuff the words out. "...Y-yeah! That sounds good! L-leave it to you to plan something like that... s-sounds good!"

...It occurs to Sayo that this trio of individuals, herself included, are absolutely AWFUL at discussing these kinds of feelings.

"R-right then." Sayo responds. "Yukina, I trust that you're, you're... ok with that too, correct?" Yukina just nods, quickly.

...Silence.

...Is Sayo being too forward, in asking something like this so soon? Lisa's smiling, sort of, but...

Best to check. "Um! If. If that's too soon... w-we could discuss this at a later date, rather than at the cafe..." The last thing she wants to do is pressure the two of them. She's evidently been way too naive to their affection so far, after all, so this must be quite the sudden turnaround.

...Assuming those gestures were intended as romantic. They were, right? She's not doubting that at this point, is she? They ARE both blushing...

"Ah... uh..." Lisa looks at Yukina, then back at Sayo, then back at Yukina. Yukina is evidently at a complete loss, because she just. Freezes, on the spot. Completely. "Ah!" Suddenly, Lisa speaks up just a little bit too loud. Some of the other Circle attendees briefly glance their way. "We, uh. Thanks... do you mind if I go and talk with Yukina about it, briefly?"

"O-of course. Take as much time as you need," Sayo responds. Good. No pressure, right? "...I-if you'd like to give me your answer tomorrow after practice instead, that's also, uh..."

"N-No, that's fine!" Lisa's the only one with a verbal response, but Yukina gives across the same kind of response in gesture. "We'll uh, justtalkaboutitnowandthentellyouafter,we'llbeabouttenminutesseeyousoon!" And they move, like the wind. The pair rush to a corner of Circle's main building, situated behind Sayo's vision.

...They're gone.

Sayo gasps for air. Evidently, she was holding her throat shut this entire time, because it feels like an age until she's back to a normal breathing rate. Her heart is practically bursting from the seams, as if it's about to make her entire body shiver in anticipation at once. Her back shudders, she collapses in her chair, and slowly, she regulates herself.

...She did it. She said it. Well, she said something. Verbalised the topic, at least. Indirectly, sure, but they got the message. Sayo's life expectancy has been cut down to two hours now, because she'll be impressed if she survives the evening after having looked upon the two most extraordinarily amazing people in her life, in the eye, told them she wants to talk about something, and didn't receive the sort of reaction that she'd exp... ected...

The thought hits Sayo like a tidal wave. Is she really going to do this? She's half-waiting for someone to drop in and just go "Are you really doing this? That's not what I'd expect of you at all." What if someone in the disciplinary committee finds out? Or Ako, or Rinko, or Tsugumi, or god FORBID Hina. No matter who finds out, though, nobody’s going to be more surprised by this than Sayo herself is.

...And the reaction wasn't negative. If she dares to assume so, it might actually be positive. She has no idea what she's actually talking about, right now, but it feels... surreal. For a girl like her, to be... well...

...Well, yes, Ako's pretty close with Rinko, it'd seem. And from the sound of it, Moca and Ran are openly... dating. So it's not immensely surprising, looking at it that way. But still. Still.

She's long regained her outward composure, at least; it's probably been five minutes since they left. Is there any strange expression on her face? No? Good. She takes a sip of her long-cold drink at this point, trying to calmly and efficiently understand What On Earth Is Going On Right Now.

...Dating? Wait, is that what she's doing?

...

...Try not to think about it.

...

Minutes.

Seconds.

Milliseconds, even.

God, please let them come back. Sayo hasn't been this nervous about the passage of time since she had to leave her guitar during a family trip.

...

...

Oh thank god, she can see them.

Lisa actually looks rather merry, now. She's taking Yukina by the hand up the steps, back onto the terrace. Yukina... still looks red hot in the face, which is a feeling Sayo can relate to a bit more currently.

"U-um, Sayo..." Yukina starts, surprisingly. But she clams up afterwards, and just nods.

Lisa has to pick up from there; "It's settled! There's a park Yukina goes to sometimes, near the cafe. We'll meet up there half an hour before."

...It's happening. "...Right..." That's all Sayo can respond with. Her face feels weak at this point. "...Then, I’ll see you later."

"See you later!" Lisa dashes off, Yukina awkwardly rushing beside her. It takes about 30 seconds for them to disappear from Sayo's view as they head home.

That's it. Nary a sentence more, for the rest of the day.

...

...Two days. Two days until Sayo does the craziest thing she's ever done in her life.

That's some time, at least. She needs to think about what she's going to say to them.

...What is she going to say, actually?

Oh god. What on earth is she doing?

 

---

 

The cycle of time is absolutely merciless. Roselia's next two daily rehearsals continue, unhindered by the romantic peril the trio have found themselves in.

Strangely, she isn’t all that concerned with her own thoughts during these sessions. Rather, she keeps finding herself turning towards the voice ringing in her head, and the bass humming beneath her feet, and her hands play like they’ve never played before. It’s as if her guitar has been caught in a hurricane of her own doing, and her arms have to move like lightning just to keep up.

Her thoughts keep turning to them; she feels inspiration, admiration, concern, resolution, adoration, appreciation, and more. She wants to chastise herself for not focusing on her own playing, her own sound more; but when she grits her teeth and sharpens her gaze, the sound seems to come out without her even trying. It feels nothing short of unreal,
as if she’s gazing into an alternate universe.

But it is real.

"That was soooooooo good!" Ako yells out, at the end of the morning rehearsal on the fateful Saturday. "We’re like, uh..." She turns her ear towards Rinko for a second; "...demons blazing in the flames of the abyss!"

"...Yeah..." Lisa’s response is short, and Yukina’s is non-existent. They just seem starstruck; eyes glittered, grins adorned that could crystallise a crowd into enchantment if they were witnessed.

"I... was thinking, actually..." Rinko speaks up, "that... it’s much easier to play along with everyone’s rhythm lately. M-maybe that’s why?"

She and Ako are eager to discuss more, but Yukina just tells them they’ll discuss this improvement during tomorrow's session, before excusing herself. They look confused, almost shocked that she doesn’t book herself for overtime as usual; but it’s assuaged somewhat when Lisa sends a thumbs-up their way as she follows Yukina out.

...Everything feels like a blur. Sayo’s barely even planned what she’s going to say to Yukina and Lisa this afternoon. But right now, instead of excusing herself too, she’s offering Ako and Rinko her guitar as they fit some extra practice in.

It’s fine, she tells herself. She was originally the one who said romantic affairs need to stay out of practice, after all.

 

---

 

But then 1pm comes.

"...Um... Sayo..." She’s about to pack her guitar back in its case, when Rinko’s voice comes from behind.

"Yes? What is it?" She turns around.

Ako and Rinko exchange glances; Ako nods, and the pair send a dazzling smile her way. "...We’re proud of Roselia!" Ako says.

...She can’t help but smile. It’s true. Sayo’s proud of Roselia’s music, proud of Roselia’s struggles, proud of Roselia’s members. Her friends. "...Yes. We’re all proud of Roselia."

 

---

 

Then 2pm comes.

Sayo’s sitting alone at a bench, eating lunch right at the train station closest to Hanasakigawa.

In about an hour, she’ll board the train, and make her way to the park near the pet cafe. Twenty minutes after, she’ll be standing near the park’s entrance, waiting for them. And ten minutes after that...

...She still doesn’t know what she’ll say to them. She wanted to plan and rehearse it, communicate herself with as much clarity as the event demanded. That’s why she’s here early. But she still doesn’t know what it is she’s feeling, even after everything she’s done.

A small sigh escapes Sayo’s lips. She wishes... that she could understand all of her feelings. Show the ones people don't expect. Express them.

Sometimes, she sees someone burst into tears, or sees someone light up the stars in their eyes as they speak. Sometimes, she sees Yukina’s face break into sheer unadulterated joy as she witnesses a cat playfully rolling on its back. And when she does, she wonders; when was the last time she felt her own face make that kind of expression? Was anyone even there to see it?

...Before she knows it, Sayo Hikawa has drawn out her guitar. She’s already holding her new pick in her hand.

Right. There’s a way she can express herself, right now.

So Sayo starts playing the guitar. The station is eerily quiet; barely a soul is likely to hear her fingers on the strings. But if Sayo closes her eyes and focuses, forming a medley out of Roselia's songs, she can hear someone’s voice sing, and another person’s fingers play. She shifts between multiple songs without skipping a beat, seemingly at random; it starts at LOUDER, goes to Rhodonite, ends at Symphony.

...At least, she wants to believe that she's playing with someone else, right now; she wouldn’t have it any other way. Sometimes, playing the guitar on her own just isn't enough nowadays. Sometimes, she wants...

"Ah."

She lowers the instrument from her chest. Her heart beats.

"...It’s love, isn’t it?"

 

---

 

Then comes 3pm. The public transport whirs by. It's never felt this fast before.

She's not quite sure what to feel; it's hitting her slowly, like a heaping tidal wave whose water feels just like the air any human on this earth would normally breathe. Happiness, shame, self-hatred, embarrassment, enchantment...

What should she feel? Is there any one emotion that could summarise her state? Until recently, she lived her whole life suppressing herself in the shadow of someone else. What was she supposed to do with this sudden surge of feeling, this wholly complete opening of a dam?

She's already on the platform, without even realising it- stop. Stop. Slow down.

It's like the ground beneath her feet has fallen apart, and the tidal wave has turned into a ruthless waterfall. She has to swim with all her might to stop, let herself stand still at the station, to not get carried away in the flow.

"...This isn't fair..." She says, as if she'd have it any other way.

The other passengers have already departed the station, leaving her alone in the breeze. Standing still in the spot, Sayo does everything she can to try and quieten herself, to control herself, to try and comprehend her own emotions, to make some sense of what's in her head.

...But she can't.

So Sayo panics, with all the dignity of a drunk goose. She has to rest her head against the cool tiles of the wall, repeated moans and groans of disgruntlement spilling their way out of her mouth, because words have apparently just given up on her. She can feel her eyebrows crease and her cheeks flare up as the images of her beloveds hit her face front and center.

...Eventually, it becomes exhausting to protest any further about her current situation.

No, screw that. It's tiring. What has she done to deserve denying herself like this, suppressing herself like this? She's in love. That's the truth of it.

...She checks her watch. 3:10pm. Sayo takes a deep breath, and lies her back on the wall.

Amazingly, groaning like a cupid-struck bat has done wonders. Everything is clearer now. It's almost miraculous. Thank GOD nobody saw it, though.

...Right. Sayo has made sense of it now, somehow, by just letting the waterfall spill. She's observed so much just by trying not to monitor anything, control anything. She was the opposite of calm for 5 minutes, and yet the clarity she feels now is astounding.

Sayo Hikawa has fallen in love. Head over heels. And it's possible that this love might be reciprocated. In that case, it'd be rude to not show up to the meeting place, wouldn't it?

...

...

...She's going to have to rush to make it on time, now. Great.

 

---

 

Finally. 3:30pm. With bated, ragged breaths, Sayo's standing at the entrance to the park. For once in her life, she’s failed to arrive early.

Time has never felt so fast or so slow in her whole life. She ran like her life depended on it, the clock's hands spinning like the pattern of a rose, yet now she's left waiting in suspense, every tick feeling like an eternity. At the very least, the two of them being late means Sayo can catch her breath, and make sure she doesn't look like a wild animal. Her moment of panic certainly threw a spanner into the works, for sure.

But on the plus side, it was exactly that moment which gave her the understanding she needed. Every feeling having processed itself through her mind and her heart, Sayo already knows what she's going to say. She had already rehearsed it before, long before, without ever realising it.

So she waits. And as she regains her composure, her heart starts to beat more. As she realises what she's pursuing, the strings inside start to play frantically.

It's excruciating. Are all those silly romance movies her sister humors when Aya's over true? Is this kind of fluttering the same sensation they describe all the time? This whirlwind of petals, wildly coursing through her entire being until she can’t help but shake from the mere thoughts the currents carry into her head? She can barely wait a second longer, lingering in the shade of the autumn trees like this. It's one of the most exciting moments, one of the most anxious moments, in her life.

A singular leaf, lighted with orange, grazes her cheek and flashes past her. And then, they're arriving.

"Saaaayoooo! I-I'm sorry, we're late!"

From behind. Sayo whips her head around, and...

They almost crash-land, right in front of her. Yukina's panting with the vexation of someone who's clearly not used to sprinting, clinging to Lisa's shoulder for some stability. If this were a meeting for band practice, then Sayo would probably have some choice words for their image, but...

...They're here. She can barely think about anything else.

The pair look up into Sayo's eyes, and she nearly deadlines on her breathing; she was evidently NOT as prepared for this as she thought. Focus, now...

"...Tardiness isn't a good trait for members of Roselia to have," she starts.

"Heyyyy now," Lisa's quick to retort, despite her panting; "I can see the leaves in your hair too, Sayo. You only just got here, right?"

She doesn't know. Was it two minutes ago, or ten? Whatever the amount, it was too long. "M-moving on..." she tries to deflect, ignoring Lisa’s smirk. "Are you two okay? We can sit down if you need to rest..."

"It's... fine..." Yukina finally catches up to her breath, a bit. "We were going to arrive on time, but... we played music, a bit, outside of our stop at the station."

"Ahahaha... we, uh, missed our train because we got a bit too into it. We had to wait for the next one."

"...I see." Sayo responds. "...I-I didn't think you'd perform on a limb in public," she lies.

"I didn't expect it either, but Yukina wanted to!" Lisa responds. The accused jumps on the spot, a subtle blush adorning her cheeks. "It's not like it caused a big commotion, anyway."

"...That makes all of us, then. I ended up playing guitar outside of my station, too."

"You did?" Yukina asks.

"You did?!" Lisa exclaims. "Now THAT'S a surprise if I've ever heard one!"

"I-I just..." Sayo squirms. "...It helped to calm me, that's all."

"Ah, I see, I see." Lisa just giggles at that response, as if she's heard it before. "...Yeah, music's always been good at times like these."

Neither she nor Yukina can resist sharing her upbeat smile. But soon, there's a silence melding the air, and the three of them stand awkwardly upright for a moment...

...She's come this far. She can't just stand here and do nothing now. So Sayo tries to unmute.

"Um!" Two voices ring out simultaneously.

...Oh. Yukina had the same idea as her.

"...You first."

"N-no, it's ok..."

"But you... s-said it slightly before I did, anyway..."

"No, I'm... pretty sure you spoke up first, Sayo."

It's taken ten seconds for this to devolve into a mess. Sayo can't cover her mouth before her distressed sigh escapes.

"....Ehehe... ahahaha!" The golden bells of Lisa's laughter ring out. "Both of you are red in the face now!"

"L-Lisa!" Oh god, has Sayo been like that this whole time? She wanted to at least look a little dignified to them...

"It's cute, it's cute! Blush more, while you're at it!"

"I-I..." She can feel her heartbeat skyrocket, like Lisa's mercilessly lifting it into orbit. She can't take it.

Then Yukina laughs, too; it's just a small chuckle, but every part of her voice feels like it's filling her head, drowning it in sweet hot chocolate.

"Well, we aren't gonna get anywhere if we just stand around like this, are we?" Lisa says. "Are any of us ready to talk? We've got a cafe to get to soon enough, after all!"

"...A-are you?" Sayo responds. She thought she was prepared, but... every carousel these two take her on dizzies her until she can't think straight. It's impossible to prepare for them, sometimes. It's unfair.

"I'm ready! But I feel like you two should go first, y'know? ...It might be selfish, but I wanna spoil myself a bit."

Urgh. When she says it like that, there's NO way she's going to back out now.

"...Then, I'll go first." But Yukina beats her to the punch. Her smile's so serene, it practically wipes out the image of her messy state just a few minutes back. "...Sayo."

Hearing her name from that voice... it's hard enough to avoid the somersaults from just THAT. But Sayo stays rooted to the ground. "...Y-yes?"

"...When me and Lisa started dating a while back, I was the happiest I'd been in a long time." Lisa grabs Yukina's hand. "Even now, I don't think I could fully explain why I was so elated, not even to myself, but... it was evident for a while, I imagine."

Sayo nods. And smiles.

"I... w-would gladly do anything for her. I... love her." They're both smiling. But Yukina’s expression starts to grit. "...So when I first realised I was falling in love with you, Sayo... I panicked."

It's... it's true.

She was... expecting it, partly, at this point, but it's blowing her away. There's a vine in Sayo's heart right now, ringing out flower after flower, bloom after bloom, at such a fast and magnificent speed that it feels like a whole garden's taken root in a mere second, a flash.

"I panicked, because I was worried I'd let Lisa down... I was worried I'd let the friend I'd known the longest, the one whose heart shone the brightest, down... and I felt like I'd already done that too much." Lisa's smiling brightly. But her hand is gripping Yukina's just a little tighter now. "For a while, I... I hated myself for it."

"...But..." she continues. "I realised, eventually, that that wasn't the case. I kept thinking that my heart shouldn't have had room for more, but I was mistaken. Loving you didn't make Lisa any less important. So..."

"...Sayo Hikawa. You're my bandmate, my friend, my confidant... you're one of the pairs of wings, bursting from my shoulders. You've stuck by my side, tirelessly, even when I felt I didn't deserve it. And every day I see you, I feel like your smile grows more and more, and mine does too. I look back to when we first met, and how far you've travelled with me."

...Sayo might cry before this is over.

"...You're... more indispensable to me than you know. I... I love you."

A sky of brilliant purity, value two hundred and fifty five. The light above doesn't shine rays down below; no, it simply blankets every space above the autumn leaves, content to let Sayo live in its splendour.

...Does she... deserve this? Does she deserve to look so far into the rose's heart?

...For now, at the very least, yes. And hopefully forevermore.

"...Y-Yukina..." It's never been any harder for her to talk, never been any harder for her to not burst into tears. "...T-thank you. I... that means more to me than I c-can probably put into words."

...

Right. There's more Sayo needs to say.

"...A-and... before I respond, I want to apologise, first, to the two of you." Good... she didn't stumble over the most important part. "...I... when I first thought that I could have loved you... and that you could have loved me... I suppressed it."

They smile. Doubtless, they saw this coming. Sometimes, concealing your words behind the front page only makes their content more obvious. "...I... I couldn't believe that both were possible. I convinced myself that I couldn't be loved, for so many reasons... at this point, you probably know all of them." They nod. "That's why I became blind. I couldn't see your affection because... I'd already convinced myself it had to be something else."

...Then, she smiles. She doesn't burst into tears; not because she doesn't want to, but because she wants Yukina and Lisa to see. To see the pride she wants to carry in herself, to see the pride she has in the two of them. "But... but. It may have taken a while... it may have been hard... but I'm here. I won't ignore your feelings again. And I don't want to leave you with nothing but silence anymore." She sniffles, much to her own chagrin. She grips her the hems of her shirt where they meet her chest, as if holding them will prevent her from bursting. "So... if you two would welcome it, please accept my love... my love for you. And I promise that I'll never let you down... no matter what. The both of you... mean so much to me-"

And that's all she can say, before the words choke out.

She... wasn't finished. She... she had more to say! She wanted to say how much she loved them, everything about Yukina that drove her forward, everything about Lisa that carried her along the way... it's not fair, blanking like this. She's not done-

Before she knows it, Yukina's arms have already wrapped around her, hands resting below the back of her neck.

"I..." Sayo tries to start. "I, I apologise, I wanted to say..."

"You don't need to force it." Yukina reassures her, rubbing a circle on her back with one hand. "Your tears, your words. They've told a lot on their own already."

...She's felt warmth similar to this before. Back when she first came out to Roselia. She didn't realise just how much she'd cherished it, until now. Even though she'd loved it so much already.

"I... I'm in love with you, Yukina." Sayo raises her head. "And... I-I'm... in love with you, Lisa..."

...Even now, she's not one for open sobbing, really. Sayo lets her few tears fall out, lets her breaths take themselves in, as sharp and wobbly as they are. She'll let herself be content with it. Flooding it out all at once would be... a bit much.

And then, suddenly, she yelps as she's caught up in someone else's pace. Because Lisa's hands have caught hers, and enraptured them in her honeyed heart.

"I'm happy. Thanks, Sayo." Her voice is unchangingly sweet, almost criminally so. She just takes in every word her loved ones say, and tucks them into herself without hesitation.

"...I-Is it your turn yet?" Sayo can't help but blush. It's thanks to Lisa that her and Yukina have bared their souls, after all.

"...Mm?" The grin doesn't change. Her fingers are finding their way in between Sayo's. "Do I need to say anything? You two already know, don't you?"

"L-Lisa!"

"Kidding, kidding!" She's a heart-taking devil. But then, Lisa's hands start to grip hers just a little bit tighter. "U-um... to be honest, this makes me a bit nervous. Sayo... I can hold your hands, right?"

Oh my god, of course. "Yes..." Please don't ask that question again, in that tone. She'll faint. "Please."

"Thanks." Lisa responds; no matter what she's feeling, she always keeps a smile on her face, doesn't she? "I... kinda did something similar to this with Yukina, before. I kept asking myself if I even deserved to, if I'd even done enough for it. Kinda weird for me to get cold feet twice, huh?"

She laughs. Sayo's overcome by the urge to grip her hands tighter.

"...Thanks." Lisa continues. "I guess it's obvious enough as is, but... I love you too, Sayo." The sky doesn't dare change its colour for even a second. "...You know, I've kinda dreamed about holding you like this for a while. I've seen these hands play music like their life depended on it, I've seen them move with the kind of determination I wish I had, I've seen them awkwardly knead in baking dough, just to help the band out... you're so lovely, Sayo. You're so sweet. It always shows, even if you don't think it does."

Sayo's breaths go sharp, again. Hearing that from the sweetest girl alive feels criminal.

"Don't beat yourself up for not noticing for so long, yeah? I know the feeling. Speaking from my own experience, at least." ...Right. "And... I figured it'd take a while for you. I actually ended up love guru-ing for Ran a while back, when she and Moca were getting together... we knew we'd have to wait. We don't think any less of you for it!"

"...Thank you." They're wonderful. Sayo's blessed to know them. "...You're-"

Lisa looks like she's about to start crying. "Ah... ahaha. D-don't worry, I'm just..."

Sayo looks at Yukina, and she nods in response. That's all she needs.

The two wrap themselves around Lisa without hesitation. The embrace feels so natural that it almost scares Sayo.

Sure enough, Lisa's expression crumbles, and she ends up sobbing in their arms. "S-sorry, it's... just... I'm happy... I didn't think we'd ever get to this."

"...It's ok," Sayo responds. "I didn't think it'd happen, either. Speaking from my own experience, at least."

Hearing her own words echoed back makes Lisa laugh a bit; that, or it’s making her sob. It’s hard to tell which. Maybe it’s both.

"You can let it out with us." Yukina's voice rings crystal-clear. She's nothing short of charismatic when her words are that concise; it's a blessing for Lisa. "...We love you, after all."

...So Lisa lifts her head up, and her smile slowly grows back. "...Yeah. We all love each other, don't we?"

"...Yeah."

"Mm."

...

...

...

...

...That's as far as they can carry it for now. There's other things that could be said, of course, but those feel like they can wait. For now, Sayo's content to bathe in the warmth of her loved ones' embrace. And it looks like they feel the same way.

Being here, like this, is reason enough to be happy. They can afford to take their time.

She looks back, looks back upon everyone, everything. Everyone, and so much more. Every person in her life who helped her become who she is today.

"...Might be around 4pm now, huh?" Lisa wipes the tears from her eyes. "You guys still up for the real-life Kingdom of Cats and Dogs?"

She sees the sour expression on her own face as she sizes up Yukina for the first time in Circle. She sees Yukina take one step forward, and then another.

"...Yeah." Yukina nods, then turns to Sayo.

"...Of course." What can she do, but nod too?

She sees the tears in Lisa's eyes as she returns from covering someone else's work shift. She sees the tears in her own eyes, as Roselia welcomes her home.

She sees everyone in Roselia take steps backward, before they all run right into the fray again, blooming further than they ever had before, and more. She sees Ako's intimidated face following a practice session. She sees Hina's resigned smile, then the stars in her eyes. She sees Tsugumi's brow crease as she prepares for the cooking lesson. She sees Rinko's fear, slowly making way for a gentle grin.

She sees Lisa's despair, followed by her hope, and Yukina's wails, followed by her cry of glory. All that, and so much more.

She looks back at what she's shared with the two of them, and knows for certain; she loves them. And they love her too.

...

She doesn't know what the future will bring, from now on. Probably, there'll be lots of huge changes, and lots of things that don't change. It's the sort of thing that can't be planned for or accounted for, sometimes. But she's sworn to carry the determination to go forward; as herself. As Sayo Hikawa, guitarist of Roselia, unabashedly in love.

No mask, no regrets; she'll do her utmost to remain proud and dedicated.

One of her roses blooms from her hands, and joins all the rest.