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Vulnerability

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Being vulnerable is hard. When a person is so used to putting up walls, playing roles and pretending like they are stronger than they really are, being able to tear those walls down and show themself for who they really are becomes terribly difficult. In fact, it becomes terrifying.

Because when you fit a certain narrative for such a long period of time, that narrative becomes other people’s reality...making it yours as well. You play the role of the strong one and now people see you as strong. You play the role as the talented, fearless, outgoing and happy individual and suddenly that outer display becomes who you really are in not just other people’s eyes but also your own. If you lie to others enough: tell them you’re powerful, intelligent, joyful, talented, a person of worth who has everything right in her life and state of mind... then eventually you end up convincing yourself and soon enough everything is okay. Or at least everything is okay until you’re unable to hide your vulnerabilities anymore.

Kaoru knew that at some point there would come a time where she couldn’t just swallow everything down anymore. But despite this knowledge she still foolishly clammed her mouth shut and locked her feelings away, only presenting the Kaoru Seta that was known and loved...not the Kaoru Seta that she had hidden away all those years ago. 

But the problem with hiding that side to herself was that it was only hidden. That little girl was locked away but she was never truly gone. She still lingered in the back of Kaoru’s mind, every once in a while reminding Kaoru of the person she once was, the person who she refuses to show to other people...the side to herself that was only snuffed by an act, not really gone.

For the longest time Kaoru had convinced herself that there actually was a change. She was foolish enough to believe that by shoving all of her cowardness, weakness and vulnerabilities into a box and tucking it away that she would magically become a person that was worthy. She had convinced herself that everything was okay by merely pretending.

This was not the case, and unfortunately Kaoru had to learn this the hard way.

She didn’t remember what exact day it started. In a way, the ordeal had begun as soon as Kaoru started swallowing things down. 

However it wasn’t as noticeable until the beginning of that week, perhaps the weekend leading into that Monday.

It started with simply a sense of feeling tired. Kaoru knew that her fatigue wasn’t because she hadn’t been sleeping; Kaoru was very good with keeping a decent sleeping schedule, yet for some reason she was just...tired. One morning Kaoru just woke up and suddenly felt a lack of her usual motivation to go out and embrace the world, greet her friends and rehearse with Hello Happy World, the usual things that made her so happy.

Kaoru brushed it off as just getting unlucky and not sleeping well that particular night. However, the tiredness continued on throughout her day. Even after eating, drinking coffee, getting active and engaging with her day as normal, Kaoru still felt so tired. It was almost as if an invisible blanket had been thrown onto her and it made her whole body feel so heavy, and the more the days went on, the heavier the blanket became.

Has life always been this overwhelming? There were suddenly so many things to do...so many people to talk to, rehearsals to attend, club meetings, homework, school, more and more and more. This was supposed to be her ordinary, happy little life, but suddenly it had become incredibly exhausting. The mornings became harder, fatigue stronger, mind heavier. 

Perhaps it was simply burnout, and Kaoru needed a break. She would make it through the week and take the weekend as a time to simply rest and recharge. Then for sure, she would be back in her previous, positive state.

 

When school came again, Kaoru didn’t even want to leave her bed. 

 

Should she skip? Pretend she was sick? Kaoru was never the type to do so, so she’d probably get away with it. But at the same time, she immediately felt incredible guilt. How let down her fans would be, and she was sure that Hello Happy World would begin working on another live show today…

No. Kaoru Seta was not like this. Even when something was pulling her down, she was always the one to pull through and make it through the day for the sake of her friends and those who cared for her. No matter what, Kaoru had to just snap out of it.

“Snap out of it” soon became the common mentality that Kaoru put herself in throughout the day. She soon gained the ability to flick a certain switch that would automatically bury down the heavy feelings and replace them with a false sense of confidence. 

Everything was okay, she was fine, just make it through the day, soon you’ll feel better tomorrow.

But when tomorrow came it was only worse, and things just got heavier. And yet Kaoru always forced herself out of bed, convinced herself that there was nothing wrong, and went on to pursue the day.

What was funny was that when Kaoru did pretend like the heaviness didn’t exist, she was able to actually enjoy herself. If anything, life was just as it had always been. School, drama club, entertaining fans, band practice, outings with friends...everything seemed to be simply normal. Until she got home, that is. 

As soon as Kaoru was back in the solitude of her own room, the heaviness hit her like a truck. All of the buried down emotions and fatigue rose back up again and hurt twice as bad as it did the previous day. All Kaoru could really do was lay in her bed and hope to sleep the feelings away, so that she could go back to pretending when the morning came again. 

The cycle went on and on until it became Kaoru’s strange new normal. She was no longer surprised and instead adapted to her new daily routine. She soon began to think to herself that perhaps this wasn’t that bad. At least she felt energy and happiness when around those she cared about. It was only when she was alone that suddenly she had no will to do much of anything. Then she could at least struggle with her problems without burdening anybody else. 

Sometimes Kaoru considered reaching out, or simply expressing how tired she felt...but she immediately rejected the idea every time. How unfair it would be for her to suddenly lean on her friends that relied so much on her! Kaoru was there to love and support her friends and bring happiness to those who admired her. It would be selfish to take advantage of that and bring her miniscule problems onto those who trusted her so much.

Thus, even when Misaki would send a text asking if Kaoru was alright, or Maya would tell Kaoru that she was always available to talk, Kaoru refused to burden them with her troubles. It was better to simply cope on her own than to drag others into unnecessary troubles. 

Kaoru always had a wall around herself, one that hid how vulnerable she really was. It had been in practice for so long now that nobody could penetrate it. If anything, nobody even noticed that the barrier was there. To everybody else, Kaoru was just Kaoru. A friendly, dashing, fleeting companion who was always there for her friends and classmates. It was not like that was a lie either, this was very much part of who Kaoru was. But it was only one part. It was the only part Kaoru found about herself to be desirable, so therefore that one portion of herself became her entire reality, forcing herself to ignore the side that was actually so vulnerable. 

But even though Kaoru hid it, that delicate side to herself was still there, secretly yearning for affection and comfort from a person who cared about her…

The locked away child in Kaoru knew that there was a person she could turn to, a person who would give Kaoru that childish comfort she secretly yearned so much for. Yet Kaoru stubbornly pushed away the temptation. She knew that she was just afraid of showing weakness again. In a way it was kind of ironic; even now Kaoru was so much of a coward that she can’t simply reach out. 

However the desire still remained, and by each passing day it grew stronger and stronger. Soon it turned into heartache. Kaoru felt so silly to be secretly hoping for that person to come to her. Even grown up, Kaoru still wanted to rely on her. She felt so pathetic for it. 

But what made Kaoru feel even more pathetic was that her person would probably never reach out. After all, Kaoru worked so hard to convince herself that this narrative was all of who Kaoru really was. There were no doubts, insecurities, or vulnerabilities lurking beneath it. 

Everything was alright, Kaoru just had to snap out of it.


For some reason Kaoru had issues focusing today. Admittedly Kaoru didn’t sleep as well as she usually did last night. She went to bed with a splitting headache, as a result she didn’t actually fall asleep until around 2:00 a.m. That morning was miserable, and quite honestly Kaoru seriously considered calling in sick. But as usual Kaoru managed to pull herself together and prepare for the day. Her condition from this morning had improved, though Kaoru had to admit that she felt sort of detached from real life itself. 

I just need a nap… Kaoru thought to herself. 

That desired nap would take a while to get to unfortunately. It was a Wednesday which meant that Hanoeka had it’s weekly drama club practice, as a result Kaoru was at school an hour and a half longer than normal.

Practice went well as it usually did. The club was making preparations for a new production that was to be put on a few months from now. As expected Kaoru would be playing one of the lead roles: a gallant knight who leads the rest of the cast on their journey. It was the role everybody believed to suit Kaoru the most. On any other day she would likely agree, though as of right now Kaoru didn’t know if she was worthy of such a title anymore.

“Ah, Hina-san, Chisato-san! Good afternoon!”

On days Maya had band-related activities after drama club, Hina would usually come to pick Maya up. However, this time Hina had decided to bring Chisato along with her.

At the mention of the blonde’s name, Kaoru felt herself stiffen ever so slightly. Now that she thought about it, she hasn’t talked to Chisato in quite a while. Part of it was because the two were simply so busy, though Kaoru knew part of it was her fault as well. She’d be lying if she said she wasn’t purposefully avoiding her childhood friend. 

“You guys seem quite busy, huh?” Hina’s typically energetic eyes sparkled as she gazed across the room; it full of students bustling around with their respective duties. 

Maya nodded, “We’re officially beginning work on a new production. It’s our first new one in a while, so everybody is quite excited.” Green eyes gazed around the room until they suddenly met with Kaoru’s. Slightly caught off guard, the taller girl gave a friendly smile to the drummer.

“Kaoru-san is going to be playing one of the leads-- though I doubt that’s surprising.” Maya giggled. Hina and Chisato’s attention turned to Kaoru. Making eye contact with them, Kaoru made her way towards the trio, giving a friendly wave as she approached them.

“Hina, Chisato, Good afternoon. On your way for band related work, I presume?”

“Mhm! We’re doing a fun livestream today!” Hina chirped, her energy making both Chisato and Maya smile fondly at their bandmate. 

“You guys are working on a new show, aren’t you?” Chisato’s eyes met with Kaoru’s. The eye contact caused the taller girl to unexpectedly flinch and look away. Noticing her flub, Kaoru quickly covered it up with a deep chuckle and a smile.

“Yes, I am looking forward to it. It is a fleeting story that kept me invested until the very end. I hope it does the same for you all as well.”

“With you playing as one of the leads, I’m sure you’ll keep the audience at the edge of their seats, no?” Chisato gave Kaoru a warm grin and a playful chuckle. Normally, Chisato’s comment would cause Kaoru to beam and happily accept the compliment, but this time it only made Kaoru freeze.

You could tell her, you know.

If anybody was to see through the barriers Kaoru put around herself, it would be Chisato.

Just reach out to her. You know she’s the only one who can give you the comfort you really want.

And then what? Let herself become weak again? After Kaoru has come so far, why should she suddenly cave in now and bring somebody so special down with her…

All you want is love, right? Surely, Chii-chan can give you the love that you want, right? After all, she’s always been the person you’ve been in--

Kaoru already had enough love from those she cared about. There was no need for her to selfishly ask for more. 

“Kaoru-kuuun? Are you in there?” 

She was snapped out of her daze by a little poke on her forehead. Her eyes refocused to see Hina gazing at her with a mix of curiosity and concern. She noticed that Maya and Chisato appeared just as worried. 

“Ah, my apologies.” Kaoru gave the girls a sheepish smile, “It appears I have been so focused on this upcoming production that I tend to get lost in my own thoughts about it.”

Maya put on an uncertain frown, “Are you sure? Now that I think about it, you’ve been kind of out of it lately.”

“Have I?” Kaoru faked her surprise, “How odd, I’ve been feeling nothing but chipper today.”

“Kaoru,” Chisato gave the taller girl a stern look, “If you are not feeling well, you need to take proper care of yourself, you know?”

Kaoru gave a laugh that was a bit too hearty and attempted to give Chisato a reassuring smile, “I appreciate your concern, Chisato. However, I am feeling quite alright. Some folks just have a tendency to get lost in their own fleeting thoughts, am I wrong?”

The blonde gave Kaoru a look that seemed to give off some kind of message. What that message was Kaoru did not know, but something about it made Kaoru immediately tear her eyes away.

“Waah! Chisato-chan, it’s almost six!” 

“Shit-- already!?” Maya frantically swooped up her school bag and made her way to the room’s exit. Chisato sighed exasperatedly.

“Hina, nobody is going to want to come along with you if you keep on getting us side-tracked!”

“Don’t look at me! You were the one who started flirting with Kaoru-kun!” Hina shot back as she trailed behind Maya. The blonde flushed, but only for a moment. With an agitated huff, she followed her bandmates’ lead out the doorway. 

However, Chisato did not leave without giving Kaoru one more look. It was only for a second -- maybe even less than that -- but to Kaoru the eye contact seemed to last a lifetime.



Kaoru’s head was hurting again.

She should probably sleep now. It was almost nine and Kaoru had no other plans to take care of that night. Her homework was done and she could care less to occupy herself with her usual favorite activities. The passion she held for poetry or reading seemed to seep away, and Kaoru felt a lot of guilt for it. She wished she could indulge in her hobbies like she once did, but nowadays she simply felt too burnt out to do so. 

Kaoru had nothing to do but sleep, and yet she still stayed awake. She sat cross-legged on her bed, eyes focused on the phone laying across from her. It’s screen remained black, unbothered by any notifications. 

All she had to do was send a simple text.

Chii-chan would be more than happy to listen, you know?

But to how much? Kaoru would end up just being bothersome.

But she seemed so concerned about you today. Surely she would want to be there for you. 

What if leaning on Chisato only made Kaoru hurt more?

It’s okay to accept her love, you know, even if it’s not the same kind of love you feel for her.

The thought made Kaoru let out a cynical laugh.

Even if Kaoru did reach out to Chisato, she still wouldn’t be getting the kind of comfort she truly wanted. Even if Chisato wiped Kaoru’s tears and held her close like she did all those years ago, it still wouldn’t be the nurturing of somebody who was in love with her.

That’s all Kaoru wanted, after all. She just wanted a person to love her.

Not the kind of love of a friend or family member, but the romantic love of somebody who truly cared for her. Kaoru felt so stupid to be yearning for something that was so out of character for her. Seta Kaoru, the gallant prince to so many of her classmates, yearning for love? It was so laughable that Kaoru smiled darkly at the realization. It was even more pathetic that the person she wanted this love from would never love her back anyways.

But of course, who else could Kaoru want love from? She had only genuinely been in love with Chisato, after all. Even when her childhood friend pushed her away, Kaoru had always held on to the silly childhood crush that gradually bloomed into something far greater. It was only expected that when craving for special affection that Kaoru would want it from Chisato.

“How weak I am…” Kaoru mumbled to herself, “to be crying for Chisato like this, even now.”

The little girl Kaoru once was would cry for Chii-chan, lean on her, hide behind her back and clutch her hand when she felt afraid. Kaoru was supposed to be past this point now. She had grown, hadn’t she? She was a stronger person now. It was Kaoru’s purpose to be strong for others now. To suddenly break down would be so selfish…

“Pull yourself together.” Kaoru sighed to herself and went to shut off her lamp. She just had to get to sleep, and then the troublesome thoughts would leave her alone. For now, at least.

Kaoru picked up her phone to place it on her nightstand when it had suddenly lit up.

A text notification. From Chisato.

The violet eyes that gazed at Kaoru earlier flashed through her mind. Kaoru suddenly felt light-headed. She already knew the message she was going to see when she unlocked her phone. Kaoru just didn’t know how she could handle it.

Chisato: Are you doing okay?

Kaoru should just ignore it, so that when she finally did reply she wouldn’t be lying when she said “Of course!”. But unfortunately, Chisato had already seen that Kaoru opened the message. If she simply left the blonde on read, it would definitely be suspicious. 

Kaoru’s entire room was dark now, the only thing providing illumination was the light coming off of her phone screen. How badly Kaoru wanted to just bury herself under the covers, letting her room’s darkness and the comfort of her bedsheets lure her to sleep so her mind could finally be at some state of rest. 

But foolishly, Kaoru decided to type out a reply.

Kaoru: Of course.

The blonde’s reply came back almost instantly, taking Kaoru by slight surprise. 

Chisato: Are you sure?

Kaoru: Yes. What would make you think otherwise?

There was a moment where Chisato wasn’t typing, as if she was thinking about what to say next. It was about two minutes before the next reply came.

Chisato: You were acting oddly today, and Maya told me that it’s been like this for a while. She’s quite concerned, you know.

Ah, was it that obvious?

Kaoru: I’m sorry for making you worry about me, I really am okay.

Kaoru: I’ll let Maya know as well, I’d hate to have her think that something was wrong. 

Chisato began typing, then stopped. The screen remained still until suddenly Chisato began typing again.

Chisato: Are you taking proper care of yourself? 

Kaoru: Of course I am, Chisato. One cannot be a prince without pampering themselves, am I wrong?

Kaoru: I really appreciate you checking in on me, Chisato, but please believe that all is well. I’m alright.

Moments passed after Kaoru sent her message, then a few moments more. Perhaps Chisato had decided to let it go and head to bed. Part of Kaoru hoped so, but the other side of her…

As soon as the light of Kaoru’s phone screen began to dim, it immediately illuminated again. It was a phone call.

Why was Chisato suddenly calling her?

Hesitantly, Kaoru answered the phone.

“Hello--”

“Can you say it to me out loud, Kaoru?”

Chisato’s voice immediately cut off Kaoru’s weary greeting. Her voice sounded harsh, yet there was a sense of gentleness and concern underlying it. That alone was enough to make Kaoru completely freeze.

“...Say what, exactly?” She replied dumbly.

“That you’re okay.” Chisato said back, her firmness of voice making Kaoru bite her lip. She saw this coming, she should have known Chisato was going to do something like this. Chisato was the only one who could see past Kaoru’s barriers, after all. 

Kaoru was so stupid to think she could just deceive her.

As if she was giving herself away, Kaoru remained silent. She merely listened to the faint breathing of Chisato on the other side of the phone, patiently waiting. The silence dragged on for several seconds. Kaoru remained still the entire time, not even daring to let out a breath. For some reason such a simple request had put Kaoru in a strange state of uncertainty and anxiety. Part of her wanted to just resort to her old ways and simply laugh, say “Of course I’m okay!”, and call it a night. But then there was the childish part of Kaoru who longingly wished for comfort. It was the side to Kaoru that had made her such a weak person, the part she tried so hard to suppress, even when it was wisest to allow the child in her to have what it wanted. Just for once.

“You can’t say it, can you.” Chisato murmured. Kaoru remained silent.

“Kaoru…” Chisato spoke again after the silence, “I will not pry. You do not have to tell me anything, but I want you to listen carefully to what I have to say, alright?”

Her voice was gentler now, causing Kaoru’s entire heart to ache. How badly she just wanted to break down crying right then and there, spilling out all of the feelings, turmoil and heaviness that had been purging her mind for lord knows how long. But Kaoru bit her tongue and allowed herself to listen.

“...Okay.”

There was a soft sigh on the other side of the phone. It seemed to be out of relief, like Chisato was holding her breath before Kaoru gave her response. Just the sound of Chisato’s breath alone caused Kaoru’s body to loosen up, but only a little. 

“All of us care about you.”

For some reason, Kaoru was not expecting Chisato to say something like that.

“I know that this seems like something incredibly obvious, but sometimes…” Chisato hesitated, “...I think you don’t realize what people caring about you really means.”

“I cannot speak for your fans, or Hello Happy World, or your drama club, but at least for me…” There was a longer hesitation this time. Kaoru heard Chisato slightly breathe in, “I care about you because of who you truly are as a person. Not just the side to yourself that you deem as worthy, but everything about who you are.”

Kaoru’s chest suddenly felt heavy.

“You showing a side to yourself that is not perfect won’t suddenly make me not see you as worthy, Kao-chan. It wouldn’t change anybody’s minds, because we care about you.”

Right as Chisato’s voice said “Kao-chan”, Kaoru’s throat began to choke up. The ache in her chest began to bubble.

“So please understand that asking for something doesn’t make you any more weak, or any less desirable. It’s okay to be vulnerable, Kao-chan.”

“...And once again, I cannot say this for anybody else, but…” Chisato’s voice reduced itself to a gentle whisper now, one all too similar to how she once comforted the little girl Kaoru locked away.

“If you need a person to be vulnerable around, it can be me.”

Can it really?

“If you need to ask something of somebody, it can be me.”

It’s not something a coward would do? It wouldn’t be selfish?

“Asking for something won’t make you weak. If anything, it’d make you stronger, no?”

Kaoru’s throat was still choked up. For a moment it felt like if she tried to say anything nothing would come out.  But after several seconds, Kaoru managed to croak out the beginning of a sentence.

“...Then…”

Chisato remained expectantly quiet.

“Then,” Kaoru quickly inhaled so that her voice could pull itself together, “Is it okay if I can be vulnerable, just this once?”

“Yes.”

“Is it okay if I ask something of you, even if it’s selfish?”

“You’re not selfish, Kao-chan.” Chisato whispered. 

Kaoru pressed her lips together, emotions threatening to burst from deep in her chest. Chisato was so good at reminding Kaoru about how hard she had fallen for her childhood friend. It was a sentence so simple, and something that would seem so obvious to any outsider, and yet it had Kaoru on the verge of tears. The desire to be held overwhelmed her. Kaoru knew the love that Chisato was showing her in this moment was far from what Kaoru ideally wanted it to be...but it still felt so good. She wanted so badly to just melt down in Chisato’s affection and let the bottled up angst in her heart run free. It was so overwhelming, and Chisato’s gentle breaths on the other end of the phone were so welcoming.

“...Can you please come over?”

Maybe, just this once, Kaoru could give in.



Chisato was in her pajamas when she had shown up on Kaoru’s doorstep.

“I’m sorry,” Kaoru mumbled as soon as she saw the shorter girl’s appearance, “If I had known you were getting ready for bed then--”

“I don’t care.” Chisato said sincerely. 

Kaoru felt like she should say something, but she was too taken aback by Chisato’s reply to do so. Instead she merely swerved her eyes away from the blonde’s, unsure of what she should really do. 

“...Let’s go upstairs.” Chisato went softly.

Kaoru remained still for a few moments before Chisato decided to lead the way up the stairs. Slowly, Kaoru trailed behind. At this point her mind felt oddly empty. All of the emotions rushing through her mind had seemed to freeze, and Kaoru was left in a strangely sedated state. It was like her feelings had been purposefully shut off, causing her to simply go through the motions of walking up the stairs and sitting on her bed next to Chisato.

When the pair sat down, Kaoru didn’t say anything.

Yet Chisato looked at her. It wasn’t in the same fierce way Chisato had looked at Kaoru earlier that day, rather it was a warm look of simple compassion and gentleness. Kaoru refused to look back at her childhood friend, yet she could feel those violet eyes focusing on her.

“Why did you want me to come over?” Chisato asked after some silence passed.

Kaoru still didn’t say anything, but the question had caused her to shift out of her strange calmness. Her feelings rudely began to flow into her mind again, and her head started to hurt.

Guessing that Kaoru wouldn’t give a reply, Chisato asked, “Do you just want me to be with you?”

Slowly, Kaoru nodded her head.

“Okay. I can do that.”

More moments passed with nothing said. Kaoru began to sense Chisato becoming a bit awkward, and immediately Kaoru felt bad. How stupid of her to force Chisato into a situation where she’s probably so uncomfortable. She should have just kept her mouth shut…

Just as Kaoru opened her mouth to apologize yet again, she felt warmth press against her hand.

She swerved her eyes over to see Chisato’s hand gently pressed over hers. Kaoru’s heart skipped a beat and the emotions steadily seeping back into her mind began to rush in at full force, threatening Kaoru’s misty eyes to start overflowing.

“Um…” Chisato started awkwardly. Kaoru absolutely refused to look up at her, fearing that she’ll see how close Kaoru was to breaking down.

“You don’t have to tell me anything. If you want me to just stay here with you, then I can.”

Ah…

“All I really care about is just making you feel a bit better, even if it doesn’t solve anything or it’s just for tonight...um…” Chisato shifted a bit, clearly not knowing what more she should say, or if what she was saying was even appropriate.

“I-I’m sorry, Kaoru. It seems that I’m pretty bad at this…?”

Chisato stopped talking once she saw the silent tears falling down Kaoru’s face.

For the first time, Kaoru allowed herself to look at Chisato’s face. It was flushed red and covered in surprise, but there was so much compassion there as well. It only made it harder for Kaoru to say anything, and the tears began to fall faster. Like it was an instinct, Chisato clutched Kaoru’s hand harder and placed her free hand on Kaoru’s shoulder. The contact caused Kaoru to sniffle and finally use her voice.

“Ch-Chii-chan…!”

At the murmur of her nickname, everything seemed to automatically fall into place. Kaoru’s entire body collapsed against the shorter girl’s chest. Chisato wrapped her arms around Kaoru and allowed the taller girl to desperately press against her, suppressing the silent sobs that shook her body. The barrier that had guarded the terrifying emotions Kaoru held inside crumbled, and with each broken sob and body tremor they all flowed out. Chisato said nothing and merely cradled Kaoru in her arms, burying her nose in the taller girl’s hair.

It had been so long since Kaoru let herself be like this in front of Chisato, yet it was so natural once she finally allowed herself to do it. A tiny voice in the back of her mind screamed for her to stop, for if she let this continue then Kaoru would have to face what she had been locking away for so long...but it was all overpowered by the weak, vulnerable Kaoru finally grasping out for the comfort she had been wanting for so long. It was only now while in Chisato’s arms that Kaoru realized how badly she just needed to cry and be held. It was such a simple thing, yet for Kaoru it was so monumental. The realization made Kaoru start to cry even harder, and throughout the entire time Chisato simply held Kaoru in silence.

Kaoru cried and cried. She was probably making such a huge mess of Chisato's shirt, but the shorter girl paid no mind to it. She stroked Kaoru's back as her broken sobs became louder and more distressed. Kaoru was acting so pathetic and so childish, but there was no way she could stop the catharsis of emotions spilling from her heart. They just kept on spilling and spilling, until Kaoru's sobs reduced to whimpers, and gradually turned into mere sniffles. Throughout the entire time Chisato simply held Kaoru and stroked her back, providing comfort until Kaoru could calm down.

Kaoru had no idea how much time had passed before she had relaxed, but after a while she had stopped crying and was now resting on Chisato’s lap in silence, her face still buried in the shorter girl’s shirt.

“I’m sorry for acting like such a child.” Kaoru murmured, so quiet that she didn’t even think Chisato could hear.

“There’s nothing to apologize for.” Chisato whispered. As she did so, her hand began to play with a strand of Kaoru’s hair, “You’re not doing anything wrong.”

Kaoru gave a shaky inhale and exhale as she nuzzled her head against Chisato. The rise and fall of Chisato’s breathing along with the gentle touch as the blonde played with Kaoru’s hair was so comforting. Despite the slight turmoil that still vibrated in Kaoru’s mind, she felt peaceful enough to take comfort in Chisato’s presence.

“You might have to go home soon.” Kaoru whispered.

“I can stay here.”

“Are you sure it won’t be too inconvenient?”

“It won’t.” Chisato answered simply, and as she did so she gently guided Kaoru off of her lap. Chisato shifted herself so that she was now laying down on Kaoru’s bed. Hesitantly, the taller girl followed.

Now the two were lying down face to face. In spite of the puffy eyes and dry tears on Kaoru’s face, she felt herself blush. When was the last time the pair had been so intimate with each other? Why did it feel slightly different from what it was when they were kids? Kaoru just assumed it was because her feelings for Chisato were stronger, yet a small part of her hoped…

“I know I said I would not pry, but may I ask you something?” Chisato murmured, breaking into Kaoru’s whirlwind of thoughts.

“Yes.” Kaoru replied.

“How long have you been hurting?”

Once again, Chisato’s question was unexpected. She blinked and kept her eyes focused on the bed sheets rather than Chisato’s face. 

Kaoru really didn’t know. She had adapted to her dilemma until it was her new normal. There was no recollection of when it had started; if anything, Kaoru felt like it had been going on her whole life, she was just never aware of it until recently.

“A while.” Kaoru said as her reply.

“How bad does it hurt.” Chisato murmured another question after some silence.

“...A lot.” Kaoru answered, and as she said it she felt her eyes go misty again.

It was true, after all. It hurt so much. She didn’t even know what it was, but it was so incredibly painful.

Chisato seemed to sense Kaoru’s eyes welling up again, and she placed a gentle hand on Kaoru’s shoulder. The touch was simple, but it instantly made Kaoru yearn for more.

“Kaoru…” Chisato began, “I may not know everything, and I don’t have to. But…” 

The blonde hesitated a little bit. Kaoru could sense slight shyness seep into her voice.

“As somebody who cares for you, I promise I’ll be here.”

Kaoru wanted to cry again, but she held it in. Her heart ached and yet it soared when Chisato said those words. Oh, how much she loved her. It was a sad, unrequited tragedy, but just this once Kaoru didn’t mind.

For the first time, Kaoru managed to let out the faintest of smiles.

“Thank you.” 

She could not see Chisato’s face, but Kaoru could tell that the shorter girl had on a small smile herself. She rubbed Kaoru’s shoulder affectionately.

“You would do no different for me.”

The two fell into more quiet, and soon Kaoru found herself becoming sleepy. Her tense body started to relax, and her breathing started to slow. The whirling emotions ebbed off, and soon Kaoru found herself in a state of gentle calmness.

It was then that something surprising happened.

As Kaoru felt her consciousness begin to drift, Chisato started to bring her body closer to the taller girl. Tenderly, the blonde wrapped her arms around Kaoru’s back and pulled her against her chest. By now Kaoru was far too close to sleep to give much of a reaction, so she simply let Chisato cradle her yet again and took comfort in her warmth. In reality, nothing was truly resolved, and Kaoru would likely have another episode where she’d have to reach out for Chisato again….whether or not Kaoru would be able to do it a second time, she didn’t know. But at least for this moment, Kaoru could fall asleep in a state of peace.

And right before sleep completely took over, Kaoru’s heart jolted as she felt the gentle press of lips against her forehead.

If Kaoru weren’t half asleep, she’d have the time to question why her presumed unrequited love had just kissed her. But instead, Kaoru merely let it happen, softly blushing as Chisato embraced her even tighter. 

“It’ll be okay, Kao-chan.” She heard Chisato whisper.

For the first time, Kaoru could genuinely believe it.