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i'll give you the most beautiful jewel in the world (so just shut your eyes a little)

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Haruppi first meets Sakura when she’s fourteen years old. This is before everything, before her hiatus, before she was centre, before she was even known as Haruppi. Kodama Haruka meets Miyawaki Sakura when she’s fourteen years old.

She knows her as Murashige’s friend. The two middle schoolers are attached at the hip and she doesn’t really take note of it but it becomes a staple dynamic in the team, a mere fact that everyone is aware of. When they’re first seated in a circle after a lesson and sensei is telling everyone to reflect on how they’ve done, it’s the first time Haruka really hears her speak. Her voice is soft, hesitant and cracks as she visibly tries to make herself louder, but there’s an undercurrent of steel. Haruka doesn’t really notice it at the time, but in the future, it’ll be the moment she pinpoints when she realises that there is something special about this girl. At this very moment, however, Haruka simply listens intently during the reflection session, mind whirring as she takes note of all her own mistakes.

They become friends at one point. Or perhaps gradually, Haruppi can’t remember. But one day she realises that their entire group feels like family and Haruppi can’t imagine life without them. Sakura listens intently to her opinions, looks to her for leadership at times, and jokes around with her. She shares her snacks with her and has a pretty smile and Haruppi doesn’t even realise it at the time but the beginnings of a crush roots itself into her heart.

They have a weird dynamic, the two of them. As they grow older and more things happen their relationship becomes even weirder but even at the beginning, when they’re still kids, when Haruppi still calls her Sa-chan, before they ever start to feel the crushing pressure of carrying their group, they’re weird. It’s weird because Haruppi’s older (two years isn’t a large gap but the difference between a high schooler and middle schooler is enormous) but Sakura keeps up easily. It’s weird because Sakura looks up to Haruppi but Haruppi looks up to Sakura yet they also see themselves as equal to one another and it doesn’t even make sense in words. They are both more than merely friends and less than that as well. Rivals yet partners. Comrades.

When the team shuffle happens and Sakura’s sent to KIV along with half of the first gens, Haruppi cries. They’ve been a team for so long, have been together from the beginning, and now it’ll be different. There are four members of the first gen in H with her but eight in KIV and she doesn’t know what she’d do without those eight. But the first member she beelines straight towards when Sasshi’s done speaking and the music starts up again is Sakura. The younger girl welcomes her embrace with arms open, tears streaming down her face as well, and the clear reflection of her own feelings on the other’s face makes her cry even harder.

(They hold each other tightly, their bodies shuddering as they sob. It’ll be a long time until they do this again, years in fact. For a little while in the future, their relationship will allow tears and deep serious talks but not tight embraces laced with tears. For all their closeness and honesty, they couldn’t be that vulnerable with each other for a period of time.)

When Sakura joins Team A, Haruppi’s heart stops. She’s crying for Chiyori’s transfer when her name is called and fear wraps around her heart before she hears the word kennin. It makes her cry harder, the slight relief that she wasn’t going to lose another comrade amplifying the fact that they’re losing one in the first place. Later, when she’s seated with the rest of Team K, she glances at Sakura, hands clasped with Chiyori’s and the older girl leaning against her, and feels a tug in her heart. A part of her wishes that she could be with them.

They grow closer when they start getting more jobs together outside of HKT. Sakura's never been the most friendly person, nice and funny and kind but never good at making friends, and they stick to one another whenever they're together without the rest of their group. It's during one random meal grabbed between shootings in Tokyo when it suddenly hits Haruppi.

Sakura's eyes are wide and her hand is on her mouth as she tries not to spit out her food while laughing and it's slightly gross but warmth curls around Haruppi's heart and she herself is laughing and she realises that there's no other place she'd rather be. Sakura's eyes sparkle and her laugh is genuine and Haruppi knows the younger girl is completely comfortable, which is especially clear to her now that she's seen her when surrounded by AKB members. Sakura's amazing, she thinks, and the urge to pull her into a hug to deal with the overwhelming fondness she suddenly feels for her is squashed in favour of throwing a (clean) napkin at her face.

“What's that for?” The younger girl laughs, throwing it back at her and failing completely. This makes both of them laugh even harder, and Haruppi's glad that they're the only customers in the empty restaurant. It's a small moment, nothing extraordinary, but one that makes her realise that she likes Sakura.

The first time they kiss is for a music video. Haruppi frets over it in the days leading to the shooting, worries plaguing her at night when she should be asleep. She probably shouldn't have. It's awkward and weird, especially with everyone watching them, and they have to take extra care of the angles of their faces and lean towards each other really slowly, but Haruppi's felt awkward tons of times when she was doing her job. When Sakura brushes her off when Haruppi asks if she felt anything and nonchalantly informs Haruppi that her heartbeat was regular, the older girl feels slightly embarrassed. Sakura doesn't ask Haruppi if her heart was racing, though, which she's thankful for. She doesn't know how she would respond. She doesn't know how Sakura would react if she told her that her heart was beating unhealthily quick.

By this time, they're the closest they've ever been. Being the representatives of their group have made them feel more like partners than rivals, Haruppi the center and Sakura the ace. They spend hours huddled together under blankets, whispering their fears and hopes and dreams. They discuss the future of their group, their future. They've done this for years but never as often as now.

"Some days I wish we could time travel," Sakura says one day, eyes wide and earnest and Haruppi feels like she's staring straight into her soul. Haruppi remains quiet, silently urging the younger girl to elaborate, fingers playing with Sakura's hair.

"I'd go back to when it was just us," Sakura continues, eyes looking ahead but not really seeing, "Back when we just wanted people to support HKT. Before kennin, before senbatsu, before everything. When it was just the first gens."

Haruppi smiles sadly, "I miss just being HKT48 Team H Kodama Haruka."

Sakura turns to face her fully, breaking into a wide smile and pulling her into a hug, "I knew you'd get it."

Haruppi allows the younger girl to hug her, feeling bemused when Sakura presses even closer and snuggles into her neck. She can feel her heart rate picking up and there's a few beats of silence before Sakura mutters, "Your heart is beating really fast."

"Yeah," Haruppi says, because Sakura is smart and she suspects that the other girl already knows that she likes her. Whether she will ever address it, Haruppi isn't quite sure. Sakura isn't one for confrontation, and while they share secrets together and have even talked about their slight resentment and rivalry with one another, Haruppi's romantic feelings for the younger girl is a completely different ball game. She's content with having them buried until they vanish for good, and she's almost completely certain that Sakura would ignore them until that happens as well.

They remain quiet for the rest of the night until they both fall asleep. Neither of them mention it in the morning.

Sakura isn't there when Haruppi gets hurt. Of course she isn't, while she is the lead of the stupid drama they're filming, the two of them don't have many scenes together and hence the odds that they're filming together are very low. She stays overnight at a hospital and when she wakes up in the morning, she's seated by her bed with her phone in her hands.

"Good morning," Haruppi croaks out, running a hand through her hair and stretching out further. A sharp pain shoots up her spine and she cringes, gasping lightly. Sakura's eyes are wide as she drops her phone onto her lap, leaning forward worriedly, grasping her hand and asking if she's alright.

Sakura's hand is warm and her attention makes Haruppi's cheeks warm once the pain in her spine dulls to an ever-present ache. Haruppi squeezes her hand slightly, muttering a reassurance. She can hear her heartbeat on the monitor and it's quicker than it had been. She looks down at her hands, embarrassed that her feelings are out on display again to the girl who continues to ignore them. The two of them sit in silence, Haruppi's hand in Sakura's, the latter's thumb brushing ever so slightly against the former's hand in a comforting manner.

Haruppi wonders what the younger girl is thinking about. That's the thing about Sakura, despite how open she is about her thoughts, they're impossible to predict. The girl's brain is too extraordinary, simultaneously so clever and just plain weird. She could be thinking of the future of HKT without Haruppi active or which Hogwarts house she belonged to and Haruppi wouldn't be able to tell.

“Sakura?” The both of them turn to the door when the silence is broken. One of the managers has entered the room without either of them noticing. Sakura's fingers tighten. The manager tells her she has to leave. The younger girl ignores this.

Haruppi feels like she's holding Sakura back. That's new. For the longest time they've been running alongside one another, heads tilted back and rushing forward step by step. For the longest time, Sakura felt so far away despite being so near, like if Haruppi were to stretch out her arms, the younger girl would be just a breadth away from her fingertips. There'd always been the feeling of moving together, perhaps being a little left behind at times. But Haruppi's never felt like she's holding Sakura back. No, Sakura had always seemed to be an unstoppable force pushing forward, regardless of Haruppi.

But now.

(Now, her moves are stilted. Her stamina's low. She's struggling to dance, struggling to sing, to perform. It feels like her run has come to a standstill, and she's dizzy because she'd been running and running for 6 years without a pause and now she's completely frozen. A part of her feels ill at the thought of having to push on further. A part of her only realises the extent of the exhaustion she felt during her run, how terrifyingly tired she'd been without her even realising it.)

Now, Sakura holds her hand and pauses when she's told to return to her job. She takes an awful long time to leave her side. Her thumb rubs again the skin of Haruppi's hand, and she can't even bring herself to smile at her, eyes sad. (Now, Sakura turns her head and watches Haruppi stop. She slows down. Haruppi can't bear it.)

“I'm counting on you,” Haruppi says. The thumb stills. Haruppi looks straight at the younger girl, and feels so utterly guilty. She intertwines their fingers, “I trust you. Just until I come back. I know you can do it."

"I will work hard," Sakura says. Then she drops Haruppi's hand and leaves.

It's the last Haruppi hears from her until a month later. No texts, no calls, no nothing. The only reason why Haruppi knows Sakura hasn't fallen off the face of the Earth is her presence on social media and their shared group chats. She's the only fellow first generation member who doesn't check up on her privately. Nacchan texts her regularly, keeping her up to date with most things. The others ask of her wellness, recovery, and chats with her as they usually would. The juniors text her too, Miku sharing stories, Meru asking her to grab dinner together. Even Chiyori texts her regularly. She doesn't hear from Sakura at all.

One day, she's in bed with her laptop propped up on her lap, watching a movie. Her earphones aren't the best at noise-reduction, so she hears the doorbell when it rings. Pausing her film, she sits in silence, wondering if she'd misheard, before hearing the doorbell ring once again, causing her to spring into action and brisk-walk to the door.

She opens the door to see Miyawaki Sakura shivering on her doorstep, a sheepish smile lining her lips. The younger girl doesn't even have a jacket on, and considering that it's still mid-February, she probably must be freezing.

"How's your back?" The younger girl asks as she's being ushered into her room, Haruppi rambling about how cold she must be feeling.

"It's fine," she says, even though she still can't dance, still isn't fine enough to return to her job. That's the last time Sakura refers to her injury that night, they spend the entire time watching episodes of Terrace House together and talking about random things.

"Do you think alternate universes exist?" Sakura asks as Haruppi's digging into the bag of potato chips they were sharing. They've moved on to watching some horror movie, a thriller that's mostly gory and more gross than scary.

Haruppi shrugs, chewing on her chips, slightly glad to turn her attention away from the man being bludgeoned to death onscreen, "Maybe."

The younger girl launches into a monologue about the possibilities, and how and what everyone would probably be doing in a different world, and Haruppi listens. Sakura wonders aloud if there was an alternative universe where either of them weren't in HKT, would they have known each other? Would their generation mates still be in HKT, would they feel like something was amiss? Or perhaps an alternate universe where the mass graduation hadn't occurred all those years ago, would the first generation members still be as tight-knit as they are now? Onscreen, the main characters wrestles with the antagonist, the fight ending when the former manages to stab the latter with their own weapon.

"Do you have work tomorrow?" Haruppi asks, lying flat on her back and ignoring the film. She shoves the closest pillow under her head, tilting her head backwards uncomfortably to see the younger girl's face. Sakura has her back against the wall, feet hanging off the side of the bed, and she shrugs as she pauses the film, setting the laptop aside, and steals Haruppi's pillow. Haruppi blinks up at her offendedly as she replies, "I have a theatre performance in the evening."

Sakura pats her lap and Haruppi obliges, scooting up and resting her head on her lap.

"That sounds fun," Haruppi says, and Sakura nods in response. There's silence as Haruppi lies there and Sakura runs her hand through her short hair, making braiding motions. She looks like she wants to say something, but she doesn't so Haruppi waits quietly.

"Do you want to sleep over?" Haruppi eventually asks, because they're comfortable and settled in, and they haven't shared a bed in years but the ease of it hasn't gone away. Sakura smiles gently, beautifully, and brushes Haruppi's hair out of her face. There's a look in her eyes that makes Haruppi's heart skip a beat, but all she does is shake her head.

"I need to go home," she says, as her left hand cradles Haruppi's chin, "I haven't been home in a while."

Haruppi remains quiet, smiling up at her because Sakura's soft and kind and pretty and looking down at her with a twinkle in her eyes and her fingers in her hair and Haruppi likes her. Sakura removes her hands, and Haruppi sits up.

"Bye," the younger girl says, tapping the older girl's shoulder as she scoots off the bed.

"Bye," Haruppi echoes, and Sakura leaves.

This time, they keep in touch. They send Line messages ever so often, sharing funny videos they'd stumbled upon on the web, pictures of food they'd find appealing, little anecdotes of their lives. They don't text every day, but they do text and it's easy and light and fun and Haruppi finds herself being able to enjoy being Sakura's friend more without their work looming above their heads. They don't even really have conversations, just tiny exchanges each time. But it is a constant that Haruppi grows comfortable with. It continues even when Sakura moves to another country. (Even when it seems like she isn't even in Haruppi's line of sight anymore, let alone a finger's breadth away. Only this time, Haruppi isn't quite sure she'd even want to continue on in the same direction.)

'You should visit Korea one day,' Sakura sends once, 'You've always wanted to travel, right?'

And Haruppi feels overcome with longing, but for the girl or her dream, she doesn't quite know. She hasn't been with the girl in a long time, hasn't done much in a long time, her old normal is gone and she isn't even sure of what her dream is now. She isn't even sure if she still likes Sakura. There's a fondness she feels for her groupmate, but with her absence, Haruppi can't tell if her heart will even still beat faster when she's near.

Haruppi has changed. Or rather, her life has changed and she has adapted along with it. So she moves on.

'You're graduating?' Sakura sends on the morning of the announcement. It's short but heavy and Haruppi doesn't know if the girl feels betrayed or hurt or just angry. Haruppi doesn't know how Sakura's feeling, because she's never really been able to tell. So she calls her.

"I'm sorry I didn't tell you," Haruppi says, tracing shapes across her dining table as she leans back onto the chair she's sitting on. Her voice is soft, and she ignores the rest of her notifications. She shifts forward, hesitant, “Nobody really knew. Besides Marika."

Haruppi doesn't really feel like explaining herself, even if it's to Sakura, perhaps the one person who'd understand her the most. Sakura's even moved on herself, even if it's technically temporary, and she knows Haruppi, knows how much it kills her that she couldn't continue.

(It hurts. She's always done things halfway. And this is another journey which she was never able to complete.)

(She misses being an idol, misses the theater and dancing and performing. But a part of her feels like running far away from the life she once led. She's exhausted, emotionally and physically. But the decision's already been made for her, because she still can't move like she used to be able to.)

"I'll miss you, partner," Sakura says, playfully yet with a hint of sincerity, making Haruppi's heart stir. (Haruppi feels slightly disconnected. It's amazing how their lives were once so intertwined and now, now they are so far.) They continue speaking, a mixture of reminiscing and catching one another up on what's been going on in their lives recently. Sakura laughs in the middle of a story about Aoi and Nacchan, and Haruppi's heart skips a beat. She still likes her, she thinks faintly. At least one thing has remained the same.

"So many things have changed," Haruppi says, her voice light. She hears Sakura make a sound of agreement on the other side, and idly wonders what she looks like at that very moment, a country away. Haruppi smiles as she mentally pictures Sakura with her easy smile and dorky glasses, “But I kind of still like you.”

There's silence.

“Oh, right,” Haruppi says, straightening up in her seat, “Sorry. Never mind.”

She can still hear the younger girl's light breathing, and she apologises once again, heart racing. She's extremely tempted to put the phone down, but if this conversation were to end that way, so would their friendship. Haruppi likes Sakura, she has for years. But they're friends, first and foremost, and she doesn't want to ruin that.

“In another life,” She hears Sakura say, “We wouldn't be idols. We wouldn't know each other through being groupmates. We wouldn't be SakuHaru, or Sakuruppi, we'd just be Sakura and Haruka."

(Perhaps it had always been this. They were never in a situation to be together, never in a situation to like each other. But Haruppi had liked Sakura anyways. It had been too easy to fall for her, just like how thousands of others have done the same thing.

Perhaps Sakura has always been conscious of exactly who they were. Sakura is professional and hardworking and responsible and Haruppi is all of that, yes, but they're different. Haruppi is more closed off, shares her feelings less, a realist. But Sakura prevents herself from feeling, makes rules up for herself in her mind that she follows closely, a dreamer that only allows herself to do things she wants in her dreams but never in real life.)

"In another life," Sakura begins, but never finishes.

(There are too many words left unspoken, in this conversation and countless many before.)

“Sa-chan, you still think too much about alternate realities,” Haruppi laughs lightly, “In this one, we just never happened.”