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It's fine when I'm here

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She doesn't want to leave.

"Please, make yourself at home!"

Welcomed away from the torment of rain, Chisato enters the smooth hallway of a quaint home, her smile slightly lost by the tedium of the day. "...Thank you for having me again."

Beside her, on the other hand, is a smile so unfalteringly bright that it can't even leave the minds of those who see it. It probably doesn't leave Eve's face often either, the way her cheek muscles are. "You are welcome here any time, Chisato! Feel free to call me about coming over, whenever my house would be a shorter trip from work than yours! ...And whenever else you'd like to, too!"

Hanging her sacky weight of a raincoat up, Chisato feels her nerves loosen. "That's awfully kind of you, Eve. Although I will say, you shouldn't let me become so frequent an imposer."

"But it's always lovely having you around! My room has even become more organised, thanks to you. If you have any other late nights at that studio, I'd be happy to have you over again," Eve states. "You can head to my room after you've had your shower. I'll bring up the tea shortly!"

Oh dear, she thinks. Her face is heating up, isn't it? "T-this is already the 2nd time this week..."

To be honest, she... shouldn't really be here. Her home isn't really much further from her current filming location than Eve's is; the distance's nothing an extra half-hour of walking wouldn't solve. Taking advantage of her friend's kindness instead of toughing out the extra steps is rather selfish, from her point of view. For someone whose work has plenty of needless 'extra steps' to take already, it really shouldn't be that hard.

And taking advantage of Eve's kindness doesn't come without consequences on her health, as much as it might seem otherwise. Normally, she'd be in bed right now... but instead, she's staying up just to accommodate Chisato's late-night slogs of work. She's ignoring the disparity between their sleep schedules just so Chisato can borrow a plush futon from her instead of using the bed already present at the Shirasagi household.

Yet despite all that, Chisato feels weak. She can't turn Eve down, even though there'd hardly be any consequence if she did. What on earth is she doing?

"..."

Looking at the dusty night sky from Eve's window doesn't answer that question. She may as well move and take that shower, then... and after that, have the tea Eve's offered... and then after that, stay over for the night...

...she was going to do all this the second she put her foot in the door, wasn't she? She really is weak. There's a low, ticklish rumbling scurrying around beneath her heart as she thinks of how much time she'll be spending in Eve's proximity tonight. Dragging on Eve's resources. Using up her kindness, no doubt already strained between all the photoshoots, schoolwork, club time and band practice she adheres to day in and day out. Chisato should know as well as anyone that such a packed schedule makes it harder to show the smile your friends give you...

...and yet she takes every piece of offered kindness, from the running hot water, to the plush carpet of Eve's room.

"Ah, Chisato! You're already here." Eve cheerfully strides in, with a cute sunrise-patterned set of pyjamas and... two cups of tea in hand. "You showered very quickly."

"I've learned to be efficient over the years," she responds. "...Are you planning on having this with me? Don't you need to go to bed now?"

"It'd be rude of me to leave you in silence."

A blink. Eve's dragging the coffee table next to her bed and placing the cups on it.

Then she comfortably seats herself and pats the duvet, smiling at Chisato. "I want to talk with you while you're still awake. Would you like to sit here with me?"

"...Don't be reckless. You'll only have 4 hours of sleep at this rate."

"I feel rested enough when I'm with you!"

A-ah. Oh dear. Her mouth's turning to a smile, isn't it? "That's no substitute for actual rest..."

"...Do you not want to talk with me?"

"I-I enjoy the time I spend with you, Eve. But I don't want it to affect your health."

"Thank you for your concern! But I promise, I'll be perfectly awake for tomorrow's practice."

"..."

She knows she shouldn't buy into it. But... she doesn't want to suggest she dislikes Eve's presence.

It's almost too invigorating, even. Dangerously so.

It pulls her closer to Eve than she'd presumably like.

How strainful it is, to be conscious of that fact while she approaches the bed and takes a seat, the soft yellow lighting of Eve's lamp warding off the dark outside. There's a pure, twinkling smile reminding her of the pulse going through the side of her neck as she picks up the tea and takes a sip.

"...This is delicious. Perfectly warm, too."

"Thank you! I've honed as much of my tea-making power as I have my tea ceremony power."

"Why, for some reason, I'm not surprised," Chisato chuckles. "The bags you bought for this are from that shop near downtown, correct? I should tell my sister about that place."

Eve's eyes sparkle. "Does your sister like hot drinks too?"

"Well, she hates tea and coffee," she responds. "But there are times where our household is used for filming or meetings, so we've had to sharpen our skills at hospitality. On the rare occasion I'm home before she is, I have a habit of making her some hot chocolate."

"That's very sweet of you," the words ring. "She must love you a lot."

"It's rather flattering sometimes," Chisato smiles. "It's a shame we don't see each other much. Between my overnight stays at hotels, her sleepovers with friends, and the job my mother has, it's rare for more than one of us to be in the house at once."

"I see. I understand how that feels. But I'm sure she's happy you're having sleepovers with Pastel Palettes now!"

Her voice... it's as lovely as it is constant. Unendingly like the taste of a nectarine sweet. "It certainly is more chaotic when the band's together, isn't it?" Chisato says. "I think it's lovely how working as a team gives us more opportunities to relax with each other."

"I'm glad you think that as well, Chisato! I treasure the time I spend with all of you... it teaches me so many new things. It's given me so many new memories in just the past three months."

"That's great to hear," she responds. "But make sure you're balancing band practice with your other interests. We do not disappear overnight if you choose to spend a few days without us, Eve... so give yourself a rest when needed. Your arms'll be less stiff that way when you greet your fans."

"..." Eve's smile turns radiantly gentle. "...It's just like you to notice these things, Chisato."

Is that a compliment-worthy characteristic? To her, such choices are more a survival tactic than anything, given the network-focused nature of her industry. "Hardly." Chisato takes another sip of her tea. "You constantly offer your encouragement to Pastel Palettes' members, and invite them over to your house whenever it's easier for them. Anybody could tell that's taking its toll on you."

"...? I haven't invited the others over in a while. I should do that, actually!"

Wait. "H-have you not? But I've been here several times lately. I assumed you were offering your home as a place to sleep whenever one of us worked late."

"I'm doing this specifically for you, Chisato!"

Pierce.

...She doesn't know what her own expression is right now.

What is she feeling?

There's only one thought she can muster; it's funny how Eve can make her mind whirl, while simply smiling all the way. "W... why?"

"Because you're a wonderful person."

"I-I-"

She has to look away. She has to. There's a steam of unfairly intense lights, charging into the stage of her heart, and it's inviting her to fly. It takes all her composure not to be lifted from the ground beneath her feet.

"W-well... that's a lovely thing for you to say. But I hardly merit any special treatment."

"That's not true. I can't count the number of times you've helped us, Chisato. You're our guardian angel!" Eve says, without any hesitation. "I want to do anything I can to make you feel more welcome as a part of Pastel Palettes. After everything that's happened."

"You still...?"

Her heart aches, now that Eve reminds her. It's the same way her heart aches every time she remembers how she threw the band away, at the start of its journey.

"...Thank you, Eve. But I haven't done anything worth such high praise," she says. "I'm simply taking Pastel Palettes with the seriousness it deserves now. That's what I should have done to begin with. If anything, I'm grateful to you all, for waiting until I started practicing with you."

"I don't think you ever treated the band as a joke. If anything, I think you're the most attentive to its state of us all. That's why I'm happy to express my gratitude to you. For all you've done, to keep us together."

"E-Eve." She places her cup down. "That's-"

"I want to make you feel special."

Any further words she has are completely tucked away,

once Eve gently leans in, brushes their foreheads together, and wraps her arms softly around Chisato's chest.

She can't immediately speak up. There's... something.

Something beating, very fast.

Something whispering at her to sing a melody of joy.

She'd dare call it her heart.

...'Special'. What a ridiculously self-indulgent word that would be, to describe herself as. And yet... when Eve's the one using it for her instead... it's... "W-well..." she finally manages, "I... don't believe I'm anything all that special..."

Even as she says it, she can't help but rest her hands against the fabric on Eve's shoulders.

"Then I'll hug you until you believe it as much as I do. Because I'd love to see your expression when that happens, Chisato."

...

...Chisato presses her face into Eve's shoulder. And she asks:

"Why? I don't understand."

Eve waits.

"These past few weeks... why have you insisted on staying so close to me?"

Eve quietly moves her hands around Chisato's back. Her fingers feel so firm, yet always so soft. Even through the shirt, Eve's embrace feels so warm.

"You don't need to be this close... just for my sake. So why...?"

...

...

"...Because I don't want you to be alone, Chisato."

A pulse.

Chisato feels that pulse in the side of her neck, the blood gently flowing into her cheeks. Her breaths become softer. Her hands upon Eve become more tender.

She looks up, and stares through what little distance there is between her and Eve's eyes, to find the longing in-between. And when that distance is so miniature... so much smaller than it would be if she was on the futon instead, or if Eve was downstairs, or if Eve was half the world away instead...

...that longing only grows so much larger, until it becomes her whole blushing world.

"I know what it's like. To have so much on your plate, and so little to connect to others with, that you end up with nobody to talk to. It's a very sad feeling."

That distance between their heads becomes zero.

At that point,

Chisato wonders what it'd be like, if that 'zero' was reached with their mouths instead.

How would Eve's lips feel?

"So I'll make sure I'm always here for you, Chisato. Because every time I see you, I want that fate to never come upon you. You deserve to be happy with us."

...

...

...

Chisato loses the last piece of tension in her back, and falls onto Eve.

She stares into the world of sky-blue, welcoming in her eyes.

It takes only one moment, with only one thought:

She doesn't want to leave. "...You..."

She gives in to the yearning, and lets their lips meet.