One of the earliest memories Sayo had of Hina involved them running around in one of their relatives' backyard, gleefully getting sprayed by an automatic garden hose, as Sayo (tried to) read on the porch.
It felt like a moment that encapsulated Hina, at least from Sayo’s perspective- carefree, doing things just because they seemed ‘boppin’’, and not caring what others thought of them.
But that wasn’t really the reason why Sayo remembered that moment as well as she did.
‘Hina-chan! Please, put on a shirt!’ a voice, one made for a middle aged aunt and belonging to one, called out, as the woman in question waved a shirt she hoped Sayo’s wild sibling would wear.
‘Why though?!’ Hina yelled back, as they cartwheeled by the hose, their reserves of energy seemingly bottomless as always.
Their aunt sighed heavily at that and put her hands on her hips, as if this was something Hina was already supposed to know at the age of… what age were they when that happened? Sayo can’t pin-point it exactly. Five maybe? No, too young. Six? She supposes there is no point worrying about a detail like that.
‘Because, Hina-chan’ she started ‘you are a girl. Girls can’t run around shirtless.’
Sayo didn’t know why the phrase ‘you are a girl’ aimed at Hina felt like someone took a sharp needle and pierced it directly through her heart. She knows why now, but how could she back then? There was no way for her to know.
Desperate to hide the unknown emotions, Sayo tried her best to concentrate on her book, but the damn letters, already so hard to make head or tails of under normal circumstances, just ended up being meaningless scribbles for her. There was no way for her to tune out the rest of this conversation.
It did seem like what their aunt said had given Hina pause, as they pondered over what she had just said. After a moment of consideration they frowned and loudly announced:
‘I don’t get it!’
Their aunt blinked at that proclamation ‘You don’t get what?’
‘Like…’ Hina made some bizarre hand motion, as they are wont to do, before saying ‘Why can boys run around shirtless and girls can’t? I mean, I would rather be a boy in that case since it means I can run around like this!’ their face beamed at this proclamation and Sayo’s heart felt like it was being punctured by a million needles.
There was a chuckle coming from their aunt before her reply ‘Hahaha, you really are a very special girl, Hina-chan. But,’ she said ‘it doesn’t work like that.’
Cold sweat was running on Sayo’s back, as her stomach kept on churning and oh god, why is she feeling so, so sick right now?
Her aunt and Hina started sounding as if talking underwater, as if Sayo was drowning on a dry land.
‘It doesn’t?’ Hina asked, clearly confused. Sayo could barely hear them.
‘It doesn’t.’ her aunt shook her head ‘it’s something decided before you are even born.’
And then she smiled, her smile full of this sickening kindness of a family member who thinks they know you but they really, really don’t, as she said:
‘It just so happened you were born a girl Hina-chan, while your brother was born a boy.’ a buzzing sound drills into Sayo’s head, as their aunt turns to her and says:
‘Isn’t that right, _-*$(#)(--?’
The memory cuts off there.
What was Sayo’s reply, she will never know.
If Sayo could, she would facepalm at knowing the source of the noise and the sudden pressure on her seat, but as her hands were firmly glued to the steering wheel of her car (well, her long time girlfriend’s father’s car) the most Sayo could do was to sigh deeply and say:
‘Hina, for the last time, stop leaning on mine and Tsugumi’s seats. It’s dangerous.’
‘Whyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy?!?’ Whined Hina, but they still obliged, as they sat down with a loud thud in the back of the car.
Before an exasperated reply could leave Sayo’s mouth, a soft and loving hand touched her arm, as if the owner of the hand was a kind owner calming down her dog.
It’s amazing how even after all these years Tsugumi’s touch was still enough to set Sayo’s heart ablaze.
She flashed her an awkward but sincere smile (while still keeping an eye out for the road, of course), as she let Tsugumi do the explaining for her.
‘You leaning on Sayo-san’s seat could distract her, Hina-san. It’s just a matter of safety.’ another whine coming from the back seat. How could a 24 year old act so childish?
There was another voice coming from the back seat, one that seemed to be personification of a trembling puppy- god what was it with Sayo and her dog metaphors today?- aimed at Hina:
‘H-Hina… um, can you not lean so hard at me? You a-are squashing me….’ Aya Maruyama, despite having years of idol showbiz under her belt, still sounded like a lost teenage girl when it came to dealing with Hina. Seemed that even dating Hina for almost as long as Sayo had dated Tsugumi didn’t make it any easier to tame her beast of a sibling.
‘Eh?! But that’s just me cuddling up to you! You don’t want to have your girlfriend to shower you with their love?! You wound me, Aya!’ Sayo wanted to do nothing more than to bonk her head against the wheel and groan. She was never good at dealing with Aya and Hina’s brand of flirting.
‘T-that’s not it Hina and you know it!’ Aya whined, trying to defend herself even though all the people in the car knew that was a sisyphean task. Sayo and Tsugumi both shared a concerned gaze- knowing Hina this situation could soon escalate.
But their worries were assuaged when the voice of the final passenger in this car rings out:
‘Hina? Do you mind not moving so much in your seat? It is cramped already as it is and you are not helping.’
Chisato Shirasagi, one of Japan’s current top actresses and Hina’s other girlfriend, was never a person Sayo could get a proper read on. She was always polite to Sayo and was an exemplary student, but was also a person who preferred to keep others at a safe distance.
How all three of them ended up together would forever remain a mystery to Sayo, as Hina’s explanations were as nonsensical as ever, Aya’s had too much stuttering due to embarrassment and Chisato would always say, when asked about their relationship, that ‘it’s personal’.
Still, they seemed to be happy together and that was all Sayo really needed to give them her blessing.
‘But Chisatooooooo, I am booooooored!’ whined Hina, as if these were magic words that excused all of their actions (and in Hina’s world, it probably did).
‘Hina-chan….’ Chisato’s voice could easily be mistaken as a cold and exasperated one by a stranger, but Sayo knew her long enough to be able to hear the underlying fondness. Surely, her eyes were filled with the same fondness… that Sayo couldn’t see as she made sure to keep her eyes on the road. She really didn’t expect the beach to be this far away by car.
Sayo didn’t hold back her sigh this time, as Hina perched her feet on top of Sayo’s seat, as if it was the most normal thing in the world.
‘Hina. Get your feet off my seat.’
Sayo needed to ask Mr. Hazawa if it would be okay for her to install a safety net meant for dogs in his car when she got back.
‘If you get dirt on Mr. Hazawa’s car seat…’
‘Don’t worry sis! Took my shoes off before!’
A tighter grip on the steering wheel and a concerned glance from Tsugumi.
‘How… thoughtful of you Hina….’
Hina remained oblivious to the sarcasm in Sayo’s tone as they cheerfully replied ‘Right? So you don’t have to worry about having to dust the car or anything!’
Sayo was slowly approaching the limits of her patience, as she seriously wondered the benefits of stopping the car (in the next appropriate place, of course) and giving Hina a lecture about proper etiquette in a borrowed(!!!) car, but before that could happen Aya’s voice broke the tension in Sayo’s muscles:
‘Um…. Hina, is it really such a good idea for you to move this much around after the surgery…?’
There was a moment of silence in the car, interrupted only by the sound of the engine, before Hina answered:
‘Eh, it’s been five months, it’s fine.’
‘It’s been only five months Hina.’ Chisato joined in the conversation ‘if you overexert yourself and need to be taken back to hospital I am not driving you there.’
Hina cackled at that ‘You only say that cause you would be the first one to call the ambulance~. It’s fine Chisato, we all know how kind you really are in here~.’
Chisato didn’t dignify Hina with response but Sayo could see in the rearview mirror that she was blushing, just a bit. Somehow the sight made Sayo uncomfortable, as if intruding on something private. She was, in a way. Chisato was a private person when it came to her affections, as opposed to Hina or Aya. It's not that Sayo doubted she loved her sibling or Aya… it was just bizarre to be able to see that affection, that’s all.
‘Still… I don’t think you should move as much, Hina… I know the recovery has been going smoothly but—‘
Aya didn’t get the chance to finish as Hina cheerfully hugged her, much to the former’s confusion. Hina didn’t seem to care as they nuzzled into the crook of Aya’s neck while saying:
‘It’s fine, it’s fine~. Doctor said what I can’t and can do, it’s fine.’
They continued to shower slightly confused but happy Aya with their cat-like affection, as they softly added:
‘I mean, I will be swimming today, so this much is no big deal!’
A soft smile appeared on Sayo’s lips. That’s right. Even if Hina was being slightly annoying and bouncing off the walls today, it was just because today was a big day for them (and in a way, for Sayo too).
After all, today was Hina’s first time going to a beach after their top surgery.
‘Hmmm, sis, do you think this looks good?’
Sayo turned her head in Hina’s direction, assessing the dough situation.
‘Should be good enough… you can stop, and I’ll turn on the oven.’
‘Aye, aye captain!’ Hina laughed as they set aside the bowl and leaned on the cupboard, a surprisingly vacant expression appearing on their face.
That… was unusual, thought Sayo. As she turned the oven on to warm up she asked:
‘Hina? Is… everything alright?’
That seemed to wake Hina up from their vacant state as they quickly blinked and looked at Sayo, puzzled.
‘Hm? Yeah, yeah everything’s been pretty boppin’ lately!’
‘Is that so…’ Sayo hummed out her reply. ‘Are you sure nothing is going on? Even with Maruyama-san or Shirasagi-san?’
That got a hearty laugh out of Hina. ‘Ahahah, nah, nah, these two have been especially zappin’ recently! Chisato should get three days off next week so we will be able to hang out together for the first time in a while!’
‘That’s... good. I’m happy for you Hina.’ Sayo probably sounded a bit awkward, but she wasn’t exactly sure what else she could say. But it looked like Sayo was mistaken after all. Hina was probably just distracted by thinking about their girlfriends, and not worrying about anything. Well, better to be a little over cautious than to ignore it, Sayo thought, as she reached for the bowl- the oven should be warm enough by now.
Just as Sayo grabbed the bowl, a lightbulb went off above Hina’s head.
‘Oh, right! I forgot to tell you but I’ll be having my tits chopped off next month!’
The bowl landed with a loud thud on the floor.
All in all, the remaining part of the car trip went rather smoothly: Hina seemed content just nuzzling up to a slightly flustered Aya, as Chisato simply chose to admire the view from her window (with just occasional blink-and-you-miss-it light touches on Hina arm). Tsugumi was a sweetheart as always, of course, even if she did end up embarrassing Sayo thoroughly by feeding her some candies by hand.
Still, it was… pleasant. And soon enough they were pulling by the beach's parking lot- Sayo frowned a bit at the number of park slots already taken. More cars meant more people and as many steps she had taken since her teen years, she still felt more than a little bit awkward over the idea of so many people seeing her in a swimsuit.
Her anxieties must have shown on her face as she felt Tsugumi tightly squeeze her hand. Surprised, Sayo looked in Tsugumi’s direction and was greeted with a warm smile and sparkling eyes, the same expression that made Sayo fall in love with her all these years ago.
Wordlessly, Tsugumi said to her: ‘It will be alright.’
And Sayo believed her.
For a brief moment it really did feel like only Sayo and Tsugumi were here… until Sayo felt the familiar pressure on her seat and groaned, out loud this time.
‘Hey, hey, we can get out, right sis? Sorry for interrupting your flirting but--’
‘We are not flirting, Hina.’ Swiftly, Sayo cut Hina off but that wasn’t enough to deter Hina.
‘Mmhmmm, remember when you’ve said the same thing back in high school, when you two were making googly eyes at each other after Afterglow’s live?’ Hina coughed, and said the next line in a (in Sayo’s opinion) poor imitation of Sayo’s voice ‘Hazawa-san… your performance today was exquisite. It was as if an archangel herself has descended from heaven to--’
A light punch to Hina’s arm and ‘I have literally never said that.’ spoken through teeth. That only caused Hina’s shit eating grin to grow wider, as Sayo could hear snickers coming from both Aya and Chisato… and Tsugumi as well. How could her love forsake her like that?!?
‘A-anyway,’ thoroughly embarrassed or not, Sayo had a question to answer ‘yes, you can get out. Could you take our bags out of the trunk of the car?’
Hina did a quick salute as they replied ‘Roger that, sis!’ and went for the car door, not caring about the comfort of Aya who was still strapped in seat belts.
Quick unbuckling of the seat belt, a soft squeeze on her arm from Tsugumi and they were out of the car as well.
Sayo had to squint her eyes a bit, with how bright it was. Summer sun was determined to shine on everything it’s rays could touch.
Aya and Chisato were by the car’s trunk taking out everyone's bags (while Chisato narrowed her eyes at Aya’s extremely pink & flashy parasol), Tsugumi was right behind her reply to Afterglow general chat judging by the buzzing of Sayo’s phone and Hina was…
...where was Hina?
Before Sayo could even open her mouth to call for Hina her sibling voice rang in her ears.
Why was it dark all of sudden and why was it hard to breathe?
The answer soon revealed itself as sounds of Hina’s laughter and panicked Tsugumi noises as the latter tried her best to assist Sayo with taking off the shirt Hina threw at Sayo.
‘Hahahahahaha, sis you’ve looked so funny! Ahhhhh, this trip just keeps on being more and more zappin’!’ As far as Hina was concerned, Sayo tangled up in their shirt must have been the highest form of comedy, visible tears in their eyes from laughter.
Sayo pinched the bridge of her nose ‘Glad you find making a fool out of me so amusing, Hina, but--’ Sayo got cut off again, but this time it wasn’t Hina fault. Well, not exactly.
It just dawned on Sayo that this was the first time she really saw her sibling’s surgery scars in the flesh.
With how suddenly Hina announced their surgery to Sayo, she didn’t have much time to adjust her schedule and thus couldn’t be there for Hina when it came to driving them to the hospital or back, or caring for them in upcoming weeks. That duty fell on Aya and Tsugumi primely, with Chisato helping out when she could (not to mention the rest of Hina’s many, many friends) and as much as everyone tried to tell Sayo that it was out of her control it was hard not to feel guilty.
It was a big moment in Hina’s life and Sayo failed to show up. It was as simple as that in Sayo’s mind.
Even months after the surgery Sayo’s schedule was so packed, her and Hina barely saw each other in the flesh. This trip was really their first chance to catch up since even before Hina’s surgery, with how any time Sayo was free it turned out Hina was busy and vice versa.
It’s not like Sayo didn’t see Hina’s surgery scars-with how they seemed to spam their post-op chest photos almost daily, to every single person they knew- but it was different to see it in a, frankly, bad quality photo and in the flesh.
It was hard not to stare.
Not to stare at still fresh scars that would fade over time but never fully go away- not like Hina seemed to mind. If anything they found the prospect of scars ‘exciting’ and ‘zappin’. What was probably the most startling however--
‘A-ya~! Chi-sa-to~! How are you two liking my ‘no nipples’ look today?’
Yeah, that. Sayo would never understand why Hina had specifically asked her surgeon to ‘not bother with the nipples’ but they seemed to be… more than happy with this arrangement. There wasn’t a day where they didn’t seem to cheerfully reference their no nipples- or nipplesless, as they called it- state.
‘Ah, um…’ Aya stuttered, red faced and clearly flustered by topless Hina while Chisato replied, not even bothering to look. ‘You keep asking us that everyday for the last five months, Hina, you already know the answer.’
Hina grinned ‘Yeah yeah, I know how much you both love it but I wanna hear you say it once more! Say it again, Chi~sa~to!!!’
That earned them a chuckle from Chisato ‘My, greedy aren’t we? But if that satisfies you…’ Chisato finally looked up, her eyes boring into Hina ‘you look as handsome and pretty as ever, Hina.’
Somehow, despite the impossibility of it, Hina’s grin grew even wider at that. That wasn’t the end of it, however, as Aya, still beet faced, added in a small voice:
‘Y-yeah… you are… you are very handsome today, Hina…’
‘Awww, Chisato, Aya!!! Lemme kiss ya!’ Before Hina even finished saying that, they pounced on Aya and shamelessly started kissing on her, while Chisato shook her head, no doubt used to these two’s antics by now.
Sayo groaned- it would take them a while before they left the parking lot, wouldn’t it?
Despite Sayo's worries, it didn’t take them so long to leave the parking lot after all- no doubt thanks to help from Tsugumi and Chisato, reminding Hina that time spent in the parking lot is time lost at the beach.
They were now able to fully take in the view of the beach- the dunes of gold sand, the deep blue sea and the bright, bright sun in the sky. The view was dotted with humans, so small from this distance.
It was, as far as Sayo could tell, the platonic ideal of a beach. She would have to thank Uehara-san for recommending this place to Tsugumi.
Now, while the number of people wasn’t overwhelming, there still was enough of them that finding a good place could prove difficult- especially when taking into account Chisato’s desire and need for an at least somehow secluded place.
Sayo turned to the rest of the group, mouth already open, and the question at the tip of her tongue when:
‘I DON’T GOT NO NIPS!!!’ Hina screamed as they made a beeline to the sea, as if unaware of all the surprised or shocked faces looking at them. After all, the sight of a person loudly announcing the state of their nipples to the world and then running into the sea was not an everyday occurrence…. So really, Sayo understood why everyone on the beach was staring at Hina.
She just wished they also didn’t stare at the group Hina left behind.
None of the people seemed to look at them in a hostile manner, just bewilderment and curiosity, she knew it, but if there was something Sayo was never a particular fan of it was being stared at in public by a total stranger. Sure, nowadays if people did stare it was most likely because they’ve recognised Sayo as ‘the guitarist of Roselia!!!’ but part of Sayo would always live in a moment when a young ‘boy’ was chased out of the womens section of a clothing store for ‘being a pervert’.
Having so many eyes on her while she wasn’t in her Roselia’s guitarist armour was terrifying. So many eyes, and not all of them could belong to kind people.
But unlike in her memory of a lifetime ago Sayo wasn’t alone.
‘Well, shall we go? Sayo-chan, Tsugumi-chan? We can’t let Hina get too far away from us, can we?’ Chisato's voice rang out, and Sayo was able to catch a good glimpse of Chisato Shirasagi’s beach getup.
Chisato was always the type who seemed to have a preference for more old fashioned beach outfits, or ones that at least harkened back to said styles, at least judging from all the photos Hina was always over eager to share with Sayo. For today’s outing Chisato chose a floppy wide brimmed hat with an elegant headscarf wrapped around her head underneath. Coupled with sunglasses it should hopefully keep paparazzi off her trail… at least long enough that by the time the ‘Wait, was that…?!’ leaves their lips Chisato would be long gone.
‘Ah, yes yes…’ Sayo replied ‘I am sorry about Hina, really…’
‘Oh, it’s no problem.’ Chisato laughed softly at that ‘It’s our ‘’same as always’’ as Afterglow calls it. Right, Tsugumi-chan?’
That earned a yelp from Tsugumi. Tsugumi was barely ever teased by Chisato- her most common targets were Aya or Sayo- even if the teasing was always gentle. It was impossible to be truly mean to Hazawa Tsugumi (even if she asked you to-- ah, this is not the type of thoughts Sayo should be having right now).
‘Chisatooooooo…’ Aya called out ‘Help me, Hina left me with their bags and they are heeeeeavy.’ Poor Aya- always getting swept into Hina antics and regretting it. At least her other girlfriend was…
‘Oh my,’ Chisato chuckled ‘and what if I don’t want to?’
‘EH?!’ Aya’s eyes popped comically out of her eye sockets.
...well, honestly, as a bystander, Sayo felt that sometimes these three relationships mainly consisted of gently (?) bullying Aya.
Despite her words, Chisato still reached out and took the load off Aya’s shoulders.
‘Hmmm, I think Hina-san is already swimming.’ Tsugumi hummed, narrowing her eyes and looking in the direction Hina ran to- Sayo following suit. Normally it would be hard to be sure if a small, vaguely Hina-colored dot was Hina but with the wild way they were swimming in the water… well, it couldn’t be anyone but them. Sayo could only hope they weren’t overdoing it.
‘We should probably look for a place close by where Hina-san ran off to, shouldn’t we?’ Tsugumi tapped her chin ‘I don’t want them to get lost…’
Sayo smiled ‘Oh, I wouldn’t worry about it. If anything, they would probably find having to look for us ‘shooby’.’
‘Still…’ Tsugumi didn’t seem fully convinced. Ah, she real was too cute like this, in her yellow sundress that Sayo oh-so-adored. If Sayo was braver, she would give her a kiss on the cheek but as it was, even holding hands in public made her nervous.
But that just meant that Sayo would make sure all of her feelings were transmitted when they held hands, even the ones she was too scared to voice out loud.
And so she gently took Tsugumi’s hand in hers and said:
‘Let’s go to the beach now, Tsugumi.’
Finding a good spot that was both a) secluded and b) visible from the place Hina was swimming at proved to be a surprisingly difficult task. They’ve managed to find a good one, but by the time they did, Sayo felt ready to just drop on the towel and nap. After applying sunscreen to her body properly, of course. Safety first.
Still, they now had their place reserved and the beach trip could truly begin in earnest now.
‘Sayo?’ her girlfriend called out to Sayo, having already changed in her yellow one-piece.
‘Could you put the sunscreen on my back?’
A younger Sayo would audibly choke at this question. The current Sayo wasn’t much better but at least didn’t make any embarrassing noises. There was no reason for her to be this awkward over this!!! They’ve been dating for years now and done much more intimate things…!
A snort could be heard behind her and Sayo quickly turned her head- only to be met with Chisato face behind her book, as if totally innocent. Another person, however, did not have the foresight to not make it obvious she didn’t just laugh at Sayo’s predicament.
Aya tried her best to pretend she wasn’t just laughing but making a poor job at that. Sayo gave her the best glare she could in this situation, but it only served to make Aya chuckle out loud.
Aya had already changed in her bathing suit- a tank top with bikini bottom. Bright pink as always- the first time they met Sayo entertained a stray thought that Aya’s pink obsession was a way to make up for all the years she was told it was weird for boys to like pink, but soon she has learned that no, Aya really did just love pink that much.
As for Sayo herself, she opted for her usual bikini top with a skirt. Sayo’s tastes in her choice of swimwear didn’t change from her teenage years but seeing as Tsugumi was a fan- as much as she might have wanted to hide herself staring- she didn’t feel the need to.
Speaking of Tsugumi, she has been looking at Sayo with anticipation-- oh, right, Sayo still hasn’t answered the question. Even if there was only one answer she could give.
‘Ah… forgive me for getting distracted, Tsugumi, but yes, of cou-’
A flurry of similar mint colored hair appeared before Sayo and cut her off, once again.
‘BIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIG SIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIS, SWIMMING TOPLESS ROCKS!!! IT’S SOOOOOOOOOO MUCH BETTER THAT WAY!!!’
Well, they did find a good spot if Hina had no problem finding them, clearly. Hina appearance could be easily compared to that of a wet dog, with the way their wet hair covered their eyes, with how water droplets slid down their body, with how their tacky neon colored swimming shorts were clinging to their body.
Hina was staring with expectation at Sayo, waiting to hear what their beloved older sister had to say at their new discovery.
Sayo sighed and smiled ‘Well, I am glad you’ve been enjoying yourself, Hina.’
Hina’s eyes twinkled at that. ‘Hell yeah I am!’ they pumped their fists, proudly showing off their chest to the world ‘Ah, to think just so recently I would have to wear a bikini top or something… this is really so much better! I think everyone should be able to swim topless!!!’
Something in Sayo’s look must have made Hina add ‘Ah, only if they want to, of course! But I think this is so much more sploshin’ than swimming while wearing a swimming top… ah, I bet swimming naked would be even better-!’
‘Please, don’t say things like this, especially not in public.’
‘’Why not’’ they asked-’
Before the situation could escalate a voice interrupted the twins:
‘A-ah, Hina-san, sorry but Sayo promised to help me with sunscreen so…’
Hina’s eyes sparkled in that particular way, like a cat who just saw an unattended glass of water, just waiting to be knocked off.
‘Hehehe, I see you two are getting some proper beach flirting in… well, I have two babes to attend to myself so cheerios!’
By the time Sayo could scold Hina for their words they were already off and excitedly waving around the tube of sunscreen they just took out of Aya’s hand. Oh well, Sayo thought, at least that meant she wouldn’t be the one who had to keep Hina in line for the time being.
A light tap on Sayo’s arm brought her back to a much more pressing and important issue. Tsugumi smiled at her, her eyes full of anticipation as she handed Sayo the tube of sunscreen.
Perhaps, as Hina put it, her and Tsugumi would ‘get some proper beach flirting in’.
‘Sayo, do you want to go for a swim now?’
Sayo looked up from the book she borrowed from Chisato to see her girlfriend, freshly out of water. Soon after they were finished applying sunscreen to each other Hina dragged both Aya and Tsugumi with them to the sea. For the time being Sayo and Chisato stayed by their spot, spending time reading (with Sayo just occasionally taking a peek at Tsugumi playing in the water with the other two). Ah, the way she looked like when fixing her hair, still dripping with sea water, the way her swimsuit was clinging to her body…
Tsugumi Hazawa real was too beautiful for her own good, Sayo decided.
‘Fufuf…Sa-yo how long are you going to stare at me before giving me an answer?’ Tsugumi asked, wearing the flirtatious expression that was usually reserved for, ah, more private settings.
‘Ah--!’ Sayo blushed and averted her eyes. How embarrassing...
‘So?’ Tsugumi asked again ‘Do you want to join me?’
‘Of course.’ at least Sayo’s tongue didn’t fail her this time.
Tsugumi smiled at that and started opening her mouth in reply but before she did Tsugumi stopped herself, as if something new occurred to her.
‘Um, actually before that…’ Tsugumi trails off, as if embarrassed ‘there is… a place I would like to show to you, if that’s alright…’
‘A place…?’ Sayo asked, puzzled. ‘I don’t see why not, but don’t you want to show it to others as well-’
‘No! Er, I mean, um, it’s something…’ Tsugumi stuttered, mulling over something in her head before getting closer to Sayo’s face and whispering:
‘I… want this to be a moment for just two of us.’
How did it suddenly get so much hotter?
Sayo doesn’t remember much from their walk to their destination- she remembers Tsugumi told Chisato that they would be gone for half an hour or so, how Chisato gave them two a knowing smirk, how the sand burned between her feet, the sound of waves…
But through all of it one sensation never left her: Tsugumi’s hand in hers.
It turns out ‘the place’ was the rocky part of the beach, just five minutes away from the spot their towels were. The way the cliff framed the spot it looked as if there was nothing more but if you only walked a few more steps you could see a secluded spot.
It was only as if Sayo and Tsugumi existed at this moment.
‘Himari-chan recommended me this spot.’ Tsugumi said, blushing and fidgeting a bit. ‘Said no one ever comes here… unless they know the spot, that is.’
‘I see,’ Sayo hummed in the reply ‘I will have to thank Uehara-san for recommending a place with such a nice view.’
‘Y-yeah, off course!’ Tsugumi replied, somehow faster than she would usually.
‘...Tsugumi.’ Sayo said slowly and put her hand on Tsugumi’s shoulder ‘Is everything alright?’
Tsugumi’s breath hitched and a fierce blush appeared on her face. Finally, she replied: ‘Y-yeah I’m fine… um, Sayo?’
Tsugumi was now staring deeply into Sayo’s eyes and it took all of her willpower not to audibly glup- how was it that even so many years in the relationship and the mere touch of Tsugumi’s bare skin made Sayo feel as parched as if she’s been wandering the desert for weeks?
‘Um… you know how I’ve said that no one comes around here?’
An understanding of why Tsugumi was so insistent on leading her here started to form in Sayo’s mind.
‘Y-yes.’ She replied, cringing at how much of a fool she sounded like.
‘So…’ Tsugumi continues, her hands slowly, slowly, so agonizingly slow traveling from Sayo’s arms to her nape. ‘I know you don’t feel comfortable with PDA and since no one will come here…’ Tsugumi looked into Sayo’s eyes again, asking the unspoken question.
And Sayo, as dense she might have felt when it came to anything related to personal relationships, answered the question with a kiss.
There was only them and the gentle splash of waves against the shore.
‘Chi-sa-to! Where have sis and Tsugu-chan gone to?’ Hina said at the same moment they flopped on their towel in all of their wet glory, like a dog coming back from a hunt, only that Hina had nothing to show but the way water droplets ran down their body in a tantalizing manner.
Judging from their grin Hina has noticed Chisato staring, a grin that Chisato rewarded by a soft bonk to their head with the book.
‘Ice cream break. They wanted some time alone to flirt.’ Well, Chisato wasn’t exactly lying here. The glint in Hina’s eyes told her that they suspected her of telling half truths but didn’t seem too concerned about pressing the issue.
What they were more concerned with was how Hina unsubtly put their hands on Chisato hip while their other went to her shoulder and Hina’s face was--
‘Hina? What did I say about PDA?’
The voice coming from behind the book said ‘To not do it.’
‘And what were you just about to do?’ Chisato continued her ‘interrogation’.
A hand lowered Chisato’s book revealing Hina’s wide grin, Chisato’s action failing, as always, to put out the fire inside their heart.
‘I was about to kiss on ya!’ they cheerfully said.
A sigh. ‘You know you can’t do that.’
‘Mmmm.’ They purred, setting their chin on Chisato’s knees as if it was exactly where they belonged (and it was). ‘But I just want you to know that I am ready to cause a big scandal any~time. For you.’
‘Come on,’ Chisato snorted ‘you would gladly cause a scandal without any reason.’
‘Yup!’ an enthusiastic reply if there ever was one.
There was more that Chisato wanted to say but before she could another voice interrupted them:
‘Ah, Chisato, Hina! What are you talking about?’ Aya called out, in her hands holding five cans, probably of some fancy soda she saw Himari post on Instagram and decided she had to try that. The drink was probably sickeningly sweet, way too much for Chisato’s tastes but she could probably paw off her can to Hina. Or Sayo.
‘Aya!’ The arrival of their other girlfriend distracted Hina from the conversation they just had. The simple yet complicated at the same time affection Hina had for Aya since the first time they’ve met hasn’t changed a bit.
The way Hina's eyes shone every time they saw Aya was something else. They stood up and launched themselves at Aya despite her cries of protest ‘I’m holding cans Hina!’.
There would be no doubts for anyone that these two were a couple… while Chisato was just a friend they dragged with them.
She would be lying saying that she didn’t feel like her presence only complicated things. Now that their idol days were over Hina and Aya could be as obvious in public as they pleased. Chisato had no such luxury. As far as the public was concerned Chisato was single, probably waiting for some ‘good man’ to make a woman out of her. The reality of her being in a three-way relationship involving a woman and self-proclaimed ‘whatever’ would be seen as too outlandish for even the trashiest tabloids.
And Chisato was fine with that. Real, she was… but it was hard to deny that there weren’t times where she wondered if dealing with her wasn’t weighing on Hina and Aya. How much happier could they be if they didn’t had to take her into account-
This train of thought was interrupted by a shockingly wet sensation against her cheek out of the blue. Chisato almost jumped while sitting up and was met with Hina’s laughing face.
‘Hahahaha, what was that?! You seemed lost in thoughts so I thought this would shake you out but this reaction was just too funny!’
‘Hina…’ Chisato real tried to not make her tone sound annoyed but she most definitely failed judging by Hina’s expression. They somehow reminded her of that one meme one of Tsugumi’s friends showed her once, that of a smug looking cat having knives pointed at them from all directions.
‘You know, it’s a real shame we can’t swim naked here.’ Hina mused, already having moved to another topic.
Hina gave their girlfriends’ a look that said ‘isn’t it obvious?’ but still explained.
‘Like, you know, swimming without any top feels great and I bet that swimming while wearing nothing at all would feel even better!’ Hina explained as if it was the most obvious thing in the world.
‘...do you mean skinny dipping?’ Chisato said and immediately regretted doing so.
‘Oh, right, that!’ Hina excitedly snapped their fingers. ‘Say, doesn’t Kaoru-kun’s uncle or something live close by a lake? We could go there on some weekend when you are free and have fun!’
‘Hina,’ Chisato slowly said ‘I am not going skinny dipping with you.’
‘Eh?!? Why not?!’ The genuine confusion in Hina's voice was almost enough to make Chisato reconsider her answer… almost.
‘Too risky and I don’t find the idea of being naked in a big body of water particularly attractive.’ At this point Chisato has given up any pretext of reading her book and gently set it aside.
Hina pouted at that, disappointed that their shooby proposal was rejected so harshly. Well, that wouldn’t do. Despite what some media outlets would like to believe, Chisato wasn’t the type to take pleasure in seeing her life partner sad.
And she knew just what she could say to turn that frown upside down.
‘...just because I won’t go skinny dipping with you, Hina, doesn’t mean Aya won’t.’
‘EH?!?!’ The shocked expression on Aya's face made Chisato once again understand why Hina loved to tease Aya so much. Her expressions truly were something else.
Hina was obviously excited at Chisato’s proposal. ‘Boppin’! Hey hey, Aya, when will you have time to go skinny dipping with me-?’
‘I am not going skinny dipping with you!’ Aya shouted back.
‘Awwww, why not?’ Hina asked while doing their best puppy eyes impression. ‘It would be so shooby--’
‘Why would it be? I see you naked pretty much every day, Aya-’
‘Ahaha, you look so funny Aya!’
‘What is going on in here?’
All three of them jerked back their heads into the direction of the voice.
Sayo was looking at them, well, Hina and Aya to be precise, already ready to switch into lecture mode… though she looked significantly less threatening with her hand still holding on Tsugumi’s own.
Hina wasn’t swayed by her sister's stern appearance however. ‘Oh sis! And Tsugu-chan!’ How was your ice cream break? Did you bring back any for us?’
Sayo frowned ‘What do you mean ‘’ice cream break’’-’ the realization hit Sayo just then and her entire face burst into flames ‘ah, yes, yes the ice cream break, which we just came back from, yes…’ Next to her Tsugumi hardly looked any better.
‘So so? Any ice cream for me?’ Hina asked, not paying attention to the uncharacteristic way Sayo was acting.
‘EH?! Why not?!’
Sayo smirked at that. ‘I don’t see why I should buy ice cream for someone bullying their girlfriend.’
‘I am not bullying! Aya, tell sis that’ Hina whined.
In a surge of bravery Aya answered ‘...you kind of are... Bullying me.’
‘Aya, how could youuuuuuuuu.’ Hina tried their best to make their voice sound as hurt as they could. ‘Chisato! Back me up!’
Chisato pretended to consider this for a moment before offering short answer:
‘Chisatoooooooooo.’ The whine coming from Hina real was something else.
‘You opened this can of worms, Hina.’
‘You are all so mean! That’s not boppin’ at all!’
That caused everyone sans Hina to erupt in laughter, who kept on whining how everyone was being mean. And, somehow, this moment reminded Chisato why despite all the troubles she wouldn’t give up this relationship for the world.
With Hina clinging to her arm, talking about how unfair everyone were being, with Aya trying to take the most viral-able photo of her can of soda but being constantly interrupted by Hina touching her back with their feet, and with Sayo and Tsugumi quietly sitting down, drinking their sodas and smiling at the antics playing before them… there was a comfort in all of these nothing else could bring her.
While Sayo did enjoy swimming in the sea, especially if she could ogle her girlfriend from time to time, she wasn’t as keen on other sea activities, so when Aya proposed they play ball she politely declined and got back to their spot, probably get back to reading the book she borrowed from Chisato.
...what she didn’t expect was her sibling to follow her and sit by her, in silence. Did they just want to keep her company? Sayo would expect them to join in with the rest, that sort of thing seemed like something they would enjoy.
Sayo sighed and closed her book, making peace with the fact that she was too distracted to read the book properly.
Instead she joined Hina in watching their girlfriends play in the water.
...they’ve picked a great day for a beach outing, haven’t they? The sun was shining, a gentle wind was soothing any stray, harsh rays...soft waves almost lullying Sayo to sleep…
It really was a perfect day, she concluded, as she watched a conversation between Tsugumi and Chisato be interrupted by Aya playfully splashed water on them which seemed to go poorly for Aya as Tsugumi and Chisato shared a look before teaming up to gang on poor, poor Aya.
It was a beautiful day and yet there was a thing eating at Sayo. Well, it has been eating at her for a while now… but seeing the way Hina was running around on the beach and swimming in the sea, topless, unashamed of their scars… if there was a place and time to say it, that would be now.
‘...I’m sorry Hina. I should have been there for you.’
Sayo words seemed to surprise Hina.
‘Eh? What do you mean? You’ve always been there for me.’
Sayo shook her head. ‘No, I wasn’t.’ Before Hina could cut in she continued:
‘I… all these years I’ve been struggling with who exactly I wanted to be and I never stopped to think and wonder if you also weren’t struggling.’
‘But you did-’ Hina tried to chime in but Sayo cut them off.
‘Only after Shirasagi-san pointed out stuff you’ve been saying around her. I was too self absorbed to notice what you’ve been going through, even when we got closer again--’
‘Don’t say that!’
Sayo was too surprised at Hina’s outburst, their eyes full of anger born out of love.
‘Don’t say stuff like that about yourself sis…’ they repeated ‘you talk as if you didn’t spend time talking with me about this, linking me stuff you’ve thought could help, trying out new names and pronouns with me… you did all that, sis. You were there for me.’
Sayo faced away from Hina, embarrassed at the earnest praise of her sibling.
‘Still…’ she tried arguing back but Hina immediately stopped her.
‘No arguing.’ Hina put their head on Sayo’s arm, looking at their girlfriends playing in the water. ‘Even when I’ve had my top surgery you’ve had my back.’
‘H-how…’ Sayo asked, baffled ‘I wasn’t able to be there for you at all. I was so busy, I barely had time for anything but work and sleep-’
Hina laughed at that, and then laughed harder when Sayo glared at them. ‘S~is! Who sent all these post top surgery recovery tips to Aya and Chisato?’
‘You, sis!’ Hina didn’t even give her a chance to reply. ‘You sent them all these articles… I think there were so many they weren’t able to go through them all, even with Tsugu-chan’s help. And you say you had no time but you still made sure to text me every day to ask how my recovery is going!’
‘...’ Sayo was too embarrassed to answer.
Hina nuzzled up to her. ‘You might not have been physically there but I could still feel your presence.’
And then they said:
‘You are real the best big sister anyone could ask for.’
It wasn’t the first time Hina called Sayo their sister, far from it. It wasn’t even the first time they called her ‘the best big sister’.
But, somehow, sitting on a beach during a warm summer evening, the sun setting, the sentence made her tear up.
‘Sis?! Are you okay?!’ Hina asked, their eyes full of worry.
‘Y-yeah,’ Sayo sniffled. She could see her and her sibling’s girlfriends going towards them, probably concerned about Sayo’s outburst.
Her girlfriend, her sibling, her band… how on earth was she this blessed? It felt like a miracle that a meek ‘boy’ who shunned everyone away, scared to let anyone in and show what was in ‘his’ heart could grow up in a woman who wasn’t afraid to speak her mind and who’s phone contacts were in almost three digits.
How could Sayo ever express just how grateful she truly was for people in her life? That Sayo didn’t know, but there was something she could start with:
‘Hina… you are the best sibling anyone could ask for.’
There was another memory Sayo had of Hina from their young days, one that she would always hold close to her heart.
They were older then, but not by much.
A warm summer evening and an unknown anxiety in Sayo’s stomach.
Her and Hina were sitting on the porch, alone, adults busy with adult talks of bills, health and alcohol while the two twins were left alone.
Hina was happily swinging their legs back and forth, humming a theme song of some new tokusatsu series they adored but only Sayo was ever given toys from, despite her ambivalent feelings towards any of it. Still, that just meant that Hina loved their big ‘bro’ all the more, with Sayo gladly giving them any of the toys gifted to her by adults.
Sayo wasn’t feeling the same merry mood as Hina however. And it was apparent as soon Hina stopped humming and looked at her concerned.
‘Hey, big bro? Are… are you upset at something?’
What was she to say to that question? Upset she was, but at what? Some nebulous concept? That wouldn’t do.
So instead she replied:
‘It’s nothing.’ if Sayo had one talent it was denial.
But that wouldn’t sway Hina.
‘Big bro I can tell you are upset at something…’ and then, with a small voice they added ‘...is it me?’
‘Hina, it’s not-!’ Sayo almost shouted but stopped herself- no reason to blow up at Hina for something beyond their control.
‘It’s not you Hina, it’s…’ she started ‘...I just… I hate when all the adults in our family get together like this.’
Hina tilted their head at that ‘Why? They always make sure to bring some candies and toys for us. I like it!’
A harsh reply almost got past Sayo’s lips but she stopped herself in time. Not now. Not now.
‘They do but… have you noticed how they always get me toys from these shows you like even though I don’t care for it while they always give you something bright and pink?’
Hina frowned ‘Hmmmm, yeah… I mean, I like the bright and pink stuff too, but Kamen Rider is just so much more woosh you know?’ their eyes sparkled at that ‘It’s all like shooby and dooby!’
‘Maybe…’ a tired reply from Sayo. A concerned look from Hina.
Sayo looked up above, to the early night sky and to it’s centerpiece: the moon.
‘I just…’ the words from her heart, ones she hasn’t even begun to understand herself, spilled out ‘I just hate when they tell me how I’ll become a handsome man soon…’
A shoe dropped. And a realization of what she has just said.
Quickly, quickly, she had to find the way to save this…! Even then she knew what she just said wasn’t what any ‘boy’ was supposed to say.
So she turned to Hina, to take it all back, to say ‘Just joking!’ or whatever excuse just so Hina won’t realise what a freak she was but…
But when she and Hina’s eyes met there was no judgment to be found.
‘I see!’ Hina replied and Sayo couldn’t believe the cheerful tone of their a voice ‘I mean, I sorta get it, they all tell me how pretty I am and how all the boys must be lining up to date me but I don’t real care for it!’
They pumped their hands into the air.
‘But, you know, if you don’t want to become a handsome guy then I don’t think you have to!’
Sayo frowned at that ‘What…?’ Hina only grinned.
‘I mean, you can become whatever you want to, big bro!’ They said it as it was the most obvious thing in the world- and for Hina it was ‘Like, I know all the adults say all this crap-’ a frown ‘-sorry, sorry, um, baloney but I think if you don’t want to be what everyone tells you to be it’s fine!’
Hina took Sayo’s hands into theirs.There was warmth in Sayo’s heart she didn’t know before.
‘Whatever you want to be, I will always be there for you! Always, always!’
And, like in a movie reel, Sayo's memory ended there, on a warm feeling spreading through her body.
It’s not like Hina’s words that night made her realise she was a girl- they were merely a small puzzle piece in a big puzzle canvas. They didn’t protect her from all the doubts and fears she would face when she finally had a word for what- who she was.
But, however small, Hina’s words were Sayo’s ward that protected her against giving in to her worst impulses.