Actions

Work Header

Idol Fanfic Heaven Promptober - 2021

Chapter Text

For having a name that could be read as "sun," You sometimes much preferred the shadows. In a small town like Uchiura and an even smaller school like Uranohoshi, You's status as a nationally ranked diver (not to mention being a school idol!) had turned her into somewhat of a local celebrity. It wasn't exactly a status she had ever asked for, though, so the moments where she could be alone and out of the public eye were something she cherished.

It also sometimes let her overhear things that others might not normally say around her.

At the moment, You was taking a quiet moment in the shadows underneath the stairs at school and found herself in the perfect place to overhear an absolutely fascinating conversation.

"I can't believe You is actually dating that weirdo Tsushima."

"I know, right? She could have picked anyone in the whole school, and they'd have said yes."

"Ugh, it's just not fair. What does that dumb chuuni have that I don't?"

You casually stepped out from the shadows and into view. "Kindness, to start with," she said. The look of utter horror on the two girls' faces was almost enough to make up for what they were saying. Not quite, though, so You continued. "Yohane is the kindest person I've ever met, and that's something very important to me in a partner. She's genuine. She's funny. And she's really pretty, too. So I guess those are a few things she has that you don't."

After a downright stunned silence, the two girls fled without saying a word. A small part of You felt like she went a little overboard, but most of her didn't care. She had no tolerance for people being mean to anyone, especially not her girlfriend.

Further down the hall, out of a dimly lit doorway, another figure emerged from the shadows.

"Do you really think I'm pretty? That's kinda gay, You."

You looked over and saw her girlfriend standing there in a pose just shy of being her classic "giran." She blushed a little, realizing that Yohane had probably heard everything.

"Yohane, we're literally dating, of course it's gay."

"Yeah, but that was like, mega-gay," Yohane said, walking up to You. When in range, she leaned in a placed a quick kiss on You's cheek. "Thank you for sticking up for me. I didn't realize you were hiding over there, so it made for a nice surprise."

You rubbed her neck, feeling embarrassed for some reason. "I like being out of sight sometimes. Somewhere nice and dark. It's... relaxing."

"Kukuku, it is only fitting that one drawn to a fallen angel would also be a being of darkness."

This time Yo rolled her eyes at her girlfriend's antics. "I learned how to appreciate it from you, oh great Yohane-sama." Then she leaned in and returned the kiss.

Chapter Text

Dia sat on the roof of Uranohoshi, staring at a piece of paper. Her eyes constantly scanned up and down across the page, and every time she reached the single red slash, her throat tightened up a little. It was ridiculous. It was childish. It was, frankly, stupid that she was reacting so strongly to this, but she couldn’t help it.

For most of her life, perfection had been expected—even demanded—of her. Whether it be her studies, her manners, her composure, or anything else in between, she was the heir to the Kurosawa family business. She needed to be the best. Period.

And for the most part, she delivered. She excelled at school, she was the student council president, and she was developing impeccable marketing skills through being a member of Aqours.

So with all that success, why was a single 99 on a wholly unimportant test leaving her on the verge of tears?

It was the first time she had scored anything less than perfect since she entered middle school, and if she wasn’t perfect, that meant she had failed.

Dia balled her free hand into a fist and brought it down against the hard concrete of the roof. It hurt, but it gave her something else to focus on besides fighting back dumb, stupid, childish tears.

“Dia-san?”

Her head whipped up at the unexpected voice, and she found Yō standing at the doorway. She cleared her throat and tried to regain her composure.

“Ah, hello Yō-san,” she said, somehow keeping her voice level. “I thought you had returned home for the evening.”

“The bus was taking a long time, and then I realized I never saw you leave the school,” Yō said, cocking her head a little. Then she rubbed the back of her neck and glanced away. “I guess I got a little worried. Is everything alright?”

The last thing Dia wanted to do was admit why she was so upset, so she tried to brush it off. “Yes, everything is fine. I was simply….” She realized she had no good excuse for her current situation. “I was simply putting a little more practice in,” she finished lamely.

Yō did not look convinced. “Sorry, it’s just… it looked like you were about to cry when I got here. Do you wanna talk about anything?”

Dia opened her mouth to immediately refuse, but she stopped herself at the last second. Ever since she had joined Aqours, she had been trying to open up a little more. Maybe… she could talk about it without getting into specifics. She looked down at the ground.

“I… have you ever done very well on something but still felt like you failed because it wasn’t perfect?”

She heard footsteps approaching, and a few seconds later, Yō sat down next to her. Dia's eyes remained downcast.

“Honestly, yeah, I have,” Yō said after a few seconds of silence. “With diving. I’m supposed to be the best on the team, so I always go out there aiming for perfect tens. And it’s silly, because I know I can’t get a perfect score every single time, and I even know my teammates and coaches don’t expect that from me. Still, any time I see a nine, I can’t help but feel like I let them down somehow.”

Dia raised her head to look at Yō, surprised at how familiar the other girl’s answer sounded. She found Yō smiling at her, and that somehow lifted a bit of the distress from her mind. Then Yō placed a hand on her shoulder, and the gentle touch gave Dia something else to focus on.

“You don’t always have to be perfect, Dia. The people who care about you will see you doing your best, and that’ll be what matters. Okay?”

For a wonder, Dia actually believed her. Weakly, she returned Yō’s smile.

“Okay.”

Chapter Text

After a slightly agonizing few months of indecision, Karin had finally made a choice. It was possibly one of the most important choices she’d made so far in her life. With only about a month left before graduation, Karin had decided to pursue a modeling career professionally.

It felt like a great weight had been lifted from her shoulders. That uncertainty about her future was gone, replaced by a desire to be the best model she could be. 

The first person she told was, of course, Emma, and she was nothing but supportive and proud. Kanata was the next, and in her half-asleep state, she gave Karin a gentle headpat. Under normal circumstances, she wouldn’t have allowed that, but this was a special occasion. It felt good. Validating.

After idol practice that day, she announced it to the rest of the club. Everyone congratulated her, saying that she’d do wonderfully. The support was something she had never really had before. 

“Congratulations, Karin-san!” Setsuna said with her usual smile. Before Karin could respond, though, Setsuna’s expression became more thoughtful. “Though if you wanted to stay in the public eye, I’m sure you could have become a full time idol! You’re so good at it, and it seems a shame to let that talent go unused.”

It took a large effort for Karin to bite back a fairly mean response. She knew how much Setsuna valued idols and what they did, so in a sense, it was a compliment that she wanted Karin to continue being one. Or at least that’s how Karin decided to interpret it.

“I appreciate the praise, Setsuna, but modeling is where my passion lies right now.”

Setsuna accepted that, and things moved on.

At least, she thought Setsuna accepted it. For the next month, any time post-graduation came up, Setsuna would use it as a chance to ask Karin why she was giving up on being an idol. Every time, Karin would shoot her down as politely as possible. It hurt, in a way, having her own stated desires so clearly ignored. Karin had made a decision—one of the most important decisions of her life—and instead of support from someone she had considered a friend, she received opposition. Whether or not malice was the intent, it became the result.

Graduation came, and as the school idol club spent one last opportunity together, Setsuna took one last opportunity to question Karin’s choice. It was the last straw, and Karin snapped.

“Setsuna, I would not-so-kindly request that you never ask me that again. Why do I not want to become a professional idol? Because I never wanted to be an idol in the first place! The only reason I did all this was to gain skills and confidence for my modeling! I never cared about any of it! It’s a childish pursuit for those too stupid to realize that passions and dreams only get you so far. It takes hard work and sacrifice to be successful. Idols are a waste of time. You’ll have to grow up eventually, Nana-san.”

Karin turned on her heel and left.

Her last view of Setsuna Yuki was one of hurt and betrayal. Those grey eyes, usually so filled with excitement and passion, were on the verge of tears. She never looked back to see if those tears actually fell. Instead, Karin walked away, leaving Setsuna standing in the ruins of their friendship.

Chapter Text

Chika stood atop the roof of Uranohoshi, holding the Love Live victory flag loosely in one hand. As she looked out across the grounds of the school she had tried to save while holding the proof of a triumph that had come too late, a pang of… something filled her chest. Was it regret? Maybe. A regret that even after everything she and her friends had done, they hadn’t been able to save the school they loved so much. 

There was more to it, though. She would be lying if she said there wasn’t a sense of triumph. In less than a year, Aquors had turned their zero into a one—or rather, a won. From not a single vote in their first Tokyo event to hoisting the singular flag of victory. It felt good. But it also mixed with bittersweet memories. All of the time spent in the halls and classrooms below her, learning, practicing, laughing, crying… the last memories that anyone would ever make in this place.

Maybe she wasn’t able to save Uranohoshi, but Chika and her friends had given it one last hurrah. They had shown the whole world just how special this place was, just how special the people who went there were, and that moment would forever go down in Love Live history.

Behind her, a door opened, and Chika looked over her shoulder to see who it was. Her best friend in the whole world, Yō, walked out onto the roof with an easy smile and playful salute. Behind her was Chika’s other best friend, Riko, looking happy and serene as ever. Then came Ruby, Hanamaru, and Yoshiko, followed by Dia, Mari, and Kanan. All of them wore happy expressions tinged with the faintest bits of sadness. 

“We thought we might find you up here,” Yō said, standing next to Chika and wrapping an arm around one shoulder. Riko took the other side and did the same.

The others all lined up around them, embracing in one way or another, creating an unbroken chain between all of them. They stood there together, looking out over the school in silence.

Eventually, Chika broke it. “We were good, right?” She looked back and forth at all her friends and felt a tear slip down her cheek. “We were really good, right?”

“We were great!” Yō said, pumping a fist as her own tears began to fall.

“It was an honor to perform with all of you,” Riko said, clearly trying to maintain her composure.

That was enough to break open the floodgates for Ruby. “You guys!” She wrapped as many of the others as she could in a hug and started to cry.

The line they had formed collapsed in on itself as all nine of them broke down and cried together. For Chika, she cried for losing her school and for making the best friends anyone could ask for. She cried for finding her shine that she had long thought impossible to reach. She cried for all of the good times and the bad. She cried for the end of this magical year where her whole life had changed for the better.

This one moment froze in her memory as if trapped in amber. And it shone with all the brilliance of nine girls who had forever been changed by their time spent here together.

Chapter Text

Dia gripped the edges of her seat with such intensity that she briefly worried she might rip a chunk out. Meanwhile, in the seat next to her, Mari sat, perfectly relaxed, with one hand on the steering wheel and the other out the window. Ocean air blew into the car as they traveled down a coastal highway, and the sky was glowing orange as the sun dipped lower on the horizon. 

“Shiny Racers” was blaring through the stereo system, and Mari was blissfully belting out her own lyrics while traveling at a speed Dia was too afraid to look at. When a particularly sharp turn shoved Dia against the door, she’d finally had enough.

“I do not understand how you feel safe driving like a… like a bat out of hell!”

“Oh Dia, this is how everyone drove back in America, and that’s where I learned!” Mari said, sounding entirely too gleeful at Dia’s outburst.

“If you hadn’t noticed, we’re not in America!” Dia couldn’t help but say.

“You’re right. No one in America was as pretty as you, my shiny diamond.”  

Immediately, some of the anger drained out of Dia, replaced by embarrassment at such an over-the-top compliment. Even after so long together, the casual way Mari could say such things still caught Dia off guard. She let out a long exhale through her nose and tried her best to relax. 

“Where are we even going in such a hurry?” she eventually asked. “You refused to tell me when you appeared at the house and just said to get in. I’m beginning to question why I trusted you so easily.”

Mari gasped in the most exaggerated way possible. “Why Dia, you wound me! I am the most trustworthy person I know!”

“Mari—” 

“I arranged a little something for you,” she said, cutting Dia off. “For our anniversary. I know it’s still a few days away, but this was the only day I could make this work.”

Dia’s eyes widened, and her stomach fluttered a little. This being something for their anniversary was about the last thing she had expected.

“Am I allowed to ask what it is?”

“Nope! But we’re almost there, anyway. Just sit tight and try not to worry that pretty face of yours.”

“As if I could sit any other way with the way you drive,” Dia muttered, just loudly enough to make sure Mari heard it. All her girlfriend did was laugh in response and keep driving.

A few minutes later, they pulled off into a beachside parking lot. It was mostly empty, save for a few other cars. The two exited the van, and Mari led Dia towards the stairs that would, presumably, lead down to the beach. From the geography, Dia couldn’t actually see it yet.

When they reached the edge of the embankment, Dia stopped in her tracks. 

Down on the beach, a medium-sized stage had been set up. A banner on the scaffolding read: “Private μ’s Reunion Event!” The audience was small, only seven people, and Dia would recognize them anywhere, even from this distance.

Dia turned towards Mari, who was looking at her with the biggest, smuggest grin she had ever seen.

“Is this real?”

“Sure is.”

“How?”

“When you move in the right circles and have such overflowing charm and charisma, anything is possible. Especially if I’m doing it for you.”

Dia had absolutely no idea how to respond. All she could do was stare at her girlfriend in awe as she felt tears prick at her eyes. Mari reached out and cupped Dia’s face in both hands, and Dia almost melted into the touch. 

“Don’t go crying now, bella,” Mari said, carefully wiping the tears away with her thumbs before they could fall. “Save that for later. For now, have fun, and happy almost-anniversary.”

Taking a deep breath to calm her nerves, Dia nodded, and the two walked hand-in-hand down to the beach. It was a night Dia would never soon forget.

Chapter Text

The great fallen angel, Archmage Yohane, ran through the woods with haste, unwilling to let her former attackers escape. Slightly behind her followed her party member, the famous bard Riri. The two had been traveling through the woods between towns when a group of bandits had thought to waylay them. The poor fools had been woefully unprepared for the powerful magics the two unleashed at them.

After the initial onslaught, the thugs broke and ran. Yohane, however, was feeling less than generous. She gave chase, intending to prevent the foul men from accosting any more travelers. 

Yohane broke through the trees and into a small clearing, and there she found the remaining bandits stopping to catch their breath. Kukuku, these poor slobs knew not what was in store for them. She weaved a pattern in the air with her hands then reached into her voluminous sleeves.

“Thunderbolt!” she cried, throwing a hand forward. “Thunderbolt! Thunderbolt!” Each cry was accompanied by a thrust of her hand as her powerful electric projectiles flew towards her enemies. All of her attacks hit their mark, and the screams of pain were music to her ears.

“Gah, quit it! We’re already out! Jeez!” 

And just like that, Yoshiko’s immersion broke. The three people before her were no longer dangerous bandits to be hunted down; they were instead just fellow LARPers—and pretty bad ones, at that. Her thunderbolts were no longer deadly and powerful magics; they were just yellow beanbags. And Yoshiko was no longer an all-powerful archmage; she was just Yoshiko. 

It was then that Riko caught up, putting her hands on her knees as she caught her breath. 

“Yohane-sama, are you alright?” Riko asked, and Yoshiko really appreciated that she was still in-character. 

“Yes, I’m quite alright. These lowly thugs were no match for the great Yohane! But your concern is appreciated, my little demon.” Yohane paused and threw a disgusted glance at the defeated bandits. Then she looked back at Riri and smiled. “Let us return to our peaceful travels.”

The two left the clearing and re-entered the woods, walking side by side. Aside from the momentary diversion, it had been a peaceful trip, and it continued to be so now. A cool breeze filtered through the trees, and the sounds of birds and insects filtered in from all around. 

“I’m actually having a lot of fun, Yoshiko,” Riko whispered, as if afraid to break character. “Thank you for inviting me.” The smile she wore was absolutely heavenly.

Yoshiko’s heart sped up, and her mouth went dry. She looked away, hoping to hide the blush she knew was forming. It had taken her a lot of courage to invite Riko to go LARPing with her, and she’d been really happy when Riko accepted. Then it became nervousness over whether or not Riko would actually have a good time. Hearing her say she was… well, it took a lot of anxiety off Yoshiko’s mind.

“I’m having a lot of fun, too,” she muttered, still not looking at Riko. “It’s a lot better with a friend.” Yoshiko finally looked back and found Riko still smiling. She forced herself not to look away again, though. 

Riko nodded, then her expression went back to a more neutral one.

“So what shall we do in the next town, Yohane-sama?” Riri asked in a normal tone of voice.

“I believe it prudent to inform the local guards of the bandit problem in the area. Beyond that, I feel we deserve a feast after such a job well done, don’t you, Riri?”

“That sounds lovely, my Lady!”

The two continued along the path through the woods, and it was the happiest Yohane could ever remember being.

Chapter Text

Yō woke up bright and early, brimming with excitement from the moment her eyes opened. Today she was traveling to Odaiba for one of her all-too-infrequent dates with Setsuna. After they’d confessed to each other on the beach so many months ago, they tried their hardest to see each other in person as often as possible. It was hard, sometimes, and the time apart could be quite extended, but that just made the moments together feel even more special. 

A solid hour was spent picking an outfit to wear (not that she’d ever admit that to Setsuna). Eventually she settled on a pair of white shorts, a loose black shirt, and sneakers with knee-high socks. To round it all out, she put on a light blue short-sleeved zip-up hoodie. Even though she was happy with the outfit, something still felt… missing. She looked around her room, hoping something might stick out to her, when an idea struck. Yō grabbed her dad’s old cadet hat from when he was in school and put it on. For some reason, that made the whole thing come together.

Finally happy with her look, and with barely a moment to spare, Yō left her house to hop on the train that would take her to her girlfriend. After so many trips along the same route, she had gotten used to it. The few hours flew by, and she eventually found herself in Odaiba. Her feet took her on autopilot out of the train station.

“Yō! Over here!” 

Yō quickly found the source of the voice and saw Setsuna off to the side, smiling and waving at her. Her girlfriend was wearing an oddly similar outfit, just with the colors swapped: beige shorts, a green shirt, and a red hoodie. No hat, though, but that didn’t surprise Yō too much. She was definitely the hat girl in their relationship. 

The two hurried towards each other, meeting halfway and practically colliding into a big hug. As she almost always did, Setsuna nuzzled her face into Yō’s shoulder, and Yō rested her cheek on top of her girlfriend’s head. They spent almost a full minute like this, both of their worlds condensing down to the person in their arms. Yō loved this feeling. 

Eventually they broke the hug, but they transitioned to holding hands. 

“You look extra cute today, Yō!” Setsuna said almost immediately. “Not that you’re not always cute! But today you’re, like, super cute!” She paused as if considering it more, and Yō tried not to blush at the compliment. After a few scans up and down, Setsuna’s eyes lit up. “The hat! It adds such a unique flair to the outfit that’s a little vintage but just so ‘you’!”

“Hehe, thanks!” Yō said with an embarrassed chuckle. “It’s actually my papa’s old cadet hat from when he went to Toba.”

Setsuna’s expression turned to one of near-awe. “Your dad went to Toba National Maritime College?!”

Yō nodded. “Yeah, that’s where he learned to be a captain.”

“That’s so cool! I knew your dad was a ferry captain, but I didn’t know he went to such a prestigious school for it.”

“My papa’s pretty awesome,” Yō said, unable to keep the pride from her voice. 

“You really look up to him, don’t you?”

Yō’s smile turned a bit introspective as she thought about her dad and the impact he’d had on her. “Yeah, I do. He’s a hard worker, he supports the people he loves, and he knows how to have fun. What’s not to look up to?”

“Then it’s easy to see how he’s shaped the person you’ve become,” Setsuna said, giving Yō’s hands a little squeeze. “I hope I get to meet him one day!”

“I’ll let you know next time he’s back on land! I’m sure he’d love you to bits.”

Even though Setsuna had already met Yō’s mom, letting Setsuna meet her dad felt… different. Normally when he was home, Yō didn’t want to share him with anyone, but with Setsuna… Yō wanted them to meet more than anything else. She wanted the two most important people in her life to know each other and be friends. Hopefully she wouldn’t have to wait long.

Chapter Text

Chika stood outside of the inn she had been running for ten years and looked towards the beach. There was a flurry of activity in the waning daylight hours as people from across Uchiura and Numazu worked to complete last-minute preparations. Pride welled up in her chest as she watched it all happen. For the past five years, she’d been pushing the local tourism board to let her do something like this, and they’d finally relented.

It was a difficult thing to put together a brand new festival, but Chika was no stranger to difficult tasks. She tried her best, like she always did. And as so often happened in a town like Uchiura, the people came together to support her. Carnival games, food stands, entertainment, it was all put together by people who wanted to help, who wanted to see this festival happen just as much as she did. 

Well, maybe not just as much, but pretty close. 

At last, the preparations finished, and just in time. People were already starting to show up, so Chika took her place at the entrance to greet them. Everyone who came in received a warm smile, a paper lantern, and a warning not to let it go, otherwise it would float away. 

She stayed at the entrance until well after sundown, but even from there, she could see and hear everyone having a wonderful time. Soon, though, she had someone take over for her; it was almost time for her announcement. Chika made her way to the main organizational tent and got on the PA system. 

“Everyone! Thank you so much for coming!” she said, and she heard her voice echo through the festival area. “Many of you may already know me, but for those who don’t, I’m Chika Takami, owner of the Tochiman Inn. It’s almost time for us to christen this festival, so could everyone please head towards the shore! And don’t forget your lanterns!”

She paused and gave people time to follow her instructions. After a sufficient amount of time, she got back on the mic.

“This is a festival that I’ve dreamed about doing for many years now. You see, back when I was growing up, there was a tradition here in Uchiura for all the townspeople to gather together before sunrise on the first day of beach season to release floating lanterns—just like the ones you all hold in your hands. To me, it was something that made Uchiura feel truly special. Sadly, that tradition died off not too long after I graduated high school.

“That just never sat right with me. Uchiura feels different without its seaside stars! So it’s been a dream to bring that back, bigger and brighter than ever! It took a lot of hard work, and just like the tradition that came before, it was only possible because of everyone’s help and support.

“But enough sappy talk. It’s time for the big event! Everyone! Let those lanterns fly!”

Immediately, hundreds of paper lanterns ascended into the sky, and it shone more brilliantly than ever before. Memories of standing on a stage lit by those same lanterns came rushing to the forefront of her mind. A single tear slid down Chika’s cheek.

“As we all watch the beach fill with new stars, thank you once again for coming to the first ever Uranohoshi Festival!”

Chapter Text

Yoshiko found comfort in stairwells. To some it might seem strange, but to her they felt safe. To her, they felt like liminal spaces, the fake place between real places. They were out of sight, and you didn’t normally give them much thought. No one bothered her in stairwells. 

That was why, on her first day at Uranohoshi, she immediately sought out one to hide in. 

As she explored the school and tried to stay out of sight from any other students or teachers, she came across a door that seemed just slightly out of place. She couldn’t exactly describe what gave her that feeling, but it was like it was made wrong—different from every other door she’d seen. Her curiosity piqued, Yoshiko opened the door. 

It was a stairwell. A brief flash of excitement coursed through her before she took in other details.

For one, it was pitch black inside. There were no lights anywhere to be seen, and the ambient light coming in from outside did little to illuminate much beyond the first few steps. Yoshiko took out her phone and turned on the flashlight feature. The light it created traveled an absolutely pitiful distance, only revealing about half a dozen steps.

Curiosity battled with apprehension, but after a few moments, curiosity won out. 

Yoshiko descended.

After seven steps, her flashlight revealed a semicircular landing where the staircase rotated 180 degrees before continuing down. She continued until she reached the landing and stopped. Another wave of curiosity hit her, and she looked over the railing. It was pitch black. Even shining her light down only illuminated the landing directly below her. Beyond that, the darkness was in control. 

On the edges of her awareness, a sound disturbed the formerly-total silence. It was too faint to hear clearly, but it almost sounded like… crying? With extra caution, Yoshiko continued down to the next landing.

“please. help.” 

Yoshiko froze as the crying resolved into words. It came from below her, very far down, at least a few hundred meters. It sounded like a young girl. She strained her ears to hear more, but it was difficult over the sound of her own heartbeat. 

“down here.”

The voice compelled her onwards. Further down she went, step after step, landing after landing, minute after minute. She lost track of just how far down she went, but the voice never got any closer. Sometimes she thought she heard other things in the darkness, but that was impossible, right? She just couldn’t shake the feeling, though, as if the darkness itself was adding its own voice to the silence. 

It sounded like a heartbeat. But it couldn’t be hers. It was beating much too quickly to be hers and completely out of sync with what she felt in her chest.

Yoshiko took another step, the latest in an uncountable number, and stopped.

At the very edge of her light, she saw a face. It was a human face, but it was also wrong. It was pale to the point of almost being translucent. It was wrinkled in places that made no sense. It had no mouth, only perfectly smooth skin where a mouth should be. It had no nostrils, like its nose wasn’t really a nose, just a fleshy mound in the shape of one.

Its eyes had no pupils, but when Yoshiko looked into them, she knew they were looking back at her. 

The heartbeat in the darkness grew louder, faster. Part of her wanted to look behind her, but the rest of her brain screamed at her to keep her eyes on whatever was in front of her.

She blinked, and the face was closer, impossibly closer, close enough to smell something that did not belong here. It was the smell of a forest after it rained, right around a fallen tree. It was the smell of putting metal in a microwave. It was the taste of iron.

Yoshiko ran.

She did not know how long she ran, but she didn’t stop. Her lungs burned, and her legs strained from the effort, but she couldn’t stop. Step after step, landing after landing, minute after minute, she ascended. Always in the background, she heard the young girl’s voice crying for help.

When she finally reached the top, she burst through the door and collapsed into the hallway. 

Yoshiko no longer found comfort in stairwells. Only fear.

Chapter Text

It was dark and quiet outside as Ayumu walked down the sidewalk. The only sources of light were the streetlamps and the occasional headlights of a passing car. If this weren’t such a familiar walking route for her, she might have been a little apprehensive, but she knew she was fine. She’d made this sort of late-night trip to Family Mart dozens of times when she craved a late-night snack.

A few blocks away from the convenience store, she had to cross the street, so she waited patiently for the crosswalk signal. The road was empty, but she knew better than to jaywalk. The signal switched over, and Ayumu stepped out into the street.

She heard it before she saw it, and by the time she saw it, it was too late. A searing light, a sharp pain, and then nothing at all. 

The pain was the first thing to come back. Everything hurt, and not in the sort of dull, passive pain when you get the flu. Every nerve in her body was on fire.

Sound came next, though it was more subtle. The electronic hum of the streetlamps, the idled engine of a car, and the faint thud of boots on asphalt.

Ayumu blearily opened her eyes, and the whole world was on its side. Or rather, she was on her side, lying in the middle of the road. Nearby, she saw a pair of boots pacing back and forth. Through the pain, she turned her head enough to see more.

It was a young woman wearing tight jeans, a black, low-cut shirt, and a leather jacket. She had long, black hair with red highlights, and she looked only mildly annoyed.

“Crap crap crap, I do not have time for this,” the woman muttered. She stopped pacing and took out her phone. “Hey, Mrs. Osaka? It’s Kaoruko. Listen, I’m about to have a fledgling on my hands, but I don’t have the time or ability to take care of her. Can one of yours keep an eye on her?” She paused, presumably as the other person spoke. “Yeah, whatever, you can swear me out later, I’m in a hurry. Can I count on you or not?” Another short pause. “Good. Thank you.” 

She hung up and finally turned her attention towards Ayumu. Her eyes widened.

“Oh damn, you’re not dead yet? Eh, doesn’t make much difference, but at least I’ve got a chance to warn you about what’s gonna happen.” The woman, Kaoruko, walked over to where Ayumu layed and crouched down. “Long story short, I hit you with my car, sorry about that. I give it a 99% chance you’re gonna die unless I bite you and turn you into a vampire. Oh yeah, I’m a vampire, by the way.” She smiled, and Ayumu clearly saw the two prominent fangs.

This was too much. Vampires? Dying? Turning into one? Even if Ayumu had the strength to talk, she wouldn’t know what to say. Kaoruko, though, continued without seeming to care much about how Ayumu might be feeling.

“So yeah, careful when you’re feeding, and… uh… good luck!”

A sharp pain in her neck pierced through the agony in the rest of her body. A moment later, Ayumu felt every single vein and artery in her body pulse. If she had the ability to, she would have cried out in pain. Instead, she passed out.

She woke up some unknown time later in an alley. Her body didn’t hurt anymore, but it felt… numb. She took a deep breath and almost vomited from the intense, putrid smell of waste and refuse. Despite how dark she knew it must be out, she could see clear as day. Inside her mouth, her tongue was now flanked by two long fangs.

Ayumu’s stomach sank. That woman had been telling the truth.

She was a vampire now.

Chapter Text

Setsuna ran through the forest as fast as she could, her cloak fluttering behind her. To her rear, she heard signs of pursuit, and while she wasn’t exactly happy about being chased, it was better than the alternative. If the bandits were chasing her, it meant they weren’t attacking the caravan anymore.

Something whipped by Setsuna’s ear, and an arrow hit a tree in front of her. Crap. They were finally starting to shoot at her. That meant running evasively through the woods, and that was always dangerous. It took a skilled woodsman to do so without tripping and falling.

Good thing Setsuna was the best. 

Against her better judgement, she risked a glance back, and she quickly identified five pursuers. Good, that was all the bandits. Hopefully the caravan had taken the opportunity to escape like she told them to.

Even though Setsuna had never been to this area personally, she knew from looking at maps that there should be a river nearby. In fact, if she concentrated hard enough, she could hear it off in the distance. If she could get there and jump in while out of sight of the bandits, she could likely hide underwater long enough for them to lose her completely. It wasn’t exactly her best plan ever, but it was all she had at the moment.

More arrows flew by, and it felt like each one got closer than the last. Their aim was improving. She was running out of time.

Setsuna burst through the tree line and saw the river only a few meters away. It was flowing in the same direction she’d been running, meaning the current would carry her away from the bandits if she jumped in. That erased any lingering doubts about the plan. She ran towards the river.

Something impacted her in the shoulder blade. The force knocked the wind out of her and almost made her lose her balance, but Setsuna continued to run. She was so close! Only a little further! As she tried to pump her arms while she ran, she realized her left arm wouldn’t move. She felt something trickle down her back. Distantly, Setsuna realized she’d been shot by an arrow.

Another one hit the back of her leg, and she lost her balance. The world flipped end over end as she toppled to the ground, but her momentum carried her forward. It was just enough to send her into the river. 

She splashed into the water, and the current immediately began pulling her away. It also began pulling her under, and she tried to fight it with all her strength. With only two working limbs, though, it was hard to keep her head up.

The water pulled her under, and she had just enough time to see a rock rushing towards her head.

Everything went dark.

When her consciousness eventually returned, Setsuna was surprised she was alive at all. Even more shockingly, she found that she was barely in any pain. Considering everything she remembered happening before passing out, that seemed strange. In fact, as more of her mental processes came back, she realized her head was resting on something soft. 

Setsuna opened her eyes and looked up into the most gorgeous yellow eyes she had ever seen. A woman of absolute ethereal beauty looked back at her and smiled. The woman had pink hair with a distinctive side bun, and around her head sat a crown of flowers.

“Oh good, you’re finally awake,” the woman said. “My name is Ayumu, and welcome to my forest.”

Chapter Text

Yō woke up in Chika’s bed. 

On the whole, this wasn’t exactly an uncommon occurrence; they’d been best friends for most of their lives, and there had been more sleepovers than either could count. The strange part, though, was that Yō didn’t remember falling asleep in Chika’s bed. She didn’t even remember falling asleep at Chika’s house.  

When she looked around, Yō realized she was alone in Chika’s bed. Part of her highly doubted Chika got up before her, but she supposed it was possible. Looking around some more, she realized something else. 

She didn’t have her glasses on, but she could see just fine. After a few blinks, Yō determined that she didn’t have her contacts in, either. So how could she see perfectly?

With a renewed drive to figure out just what the heck was going on, she hauled herself out of bed, making a little “hyup” noise. 

Yō froze.

That had sounded like Chika making that noise. But she had felt herself say it. Now that she was on her feet, she looked down, and she saw that she was wearing Chika’s usual pajamas. She ran a hand through her hair, and it felt wrong; it felt like Chika’s.

Yō rushed into the bathroom.

Looking back at her from the mirror was Chika. But every single move Yō made, the Chika in the mirror made, too. So Yō pinched herself, hard. She yelped, but once again, it was Chika’s voice that made the sound.

This established two things: First, Yō wasn’t dreaming. Second, she was somehow in Chika’s body. It was ridiculous. It was like something out of one of Riko’s manga that she tried (and failed) to keep hidden from everyone. 

But all the evidence pointed to it being true. 

She had no idea how this had happened, and she had no idea how to fix it. She was, however, fairly sure that any fix would need the real Chika around. And Yō had a sneaking suspicion that Chika was probably stuck in her body right now. All they both had to do was act like each other until they could meet up at school. Easy.

And for a wonder, it actually was a lot easier than she might have feared. They were both the same height and had similar builds, so moving around felt natural. They’d been best friends for so long that Yō felt reasonably confident in nailing Chika’s mannerisms. Even the part she thought might be embarrassing—getting dressed for school—turned out to be no big deal considering how often they’d changed around each other.

She met up with Riko to wait for the bus, and it was shockingly easy to act like Chika. As far as she could tell, Riko had no idea. The weird part came when the bus arrived, and she saw herself sitting in the back. Her face looked at her and smiled. 

Somehow, the bus ride only felt a little weird, and even that passed quickly. Both of them were so good at acting like the other that… nothing felt different. When they finally reached school, Chika dragged Yō away, making some excuse to Riko.

“Please tell me that you’re Yō-chan,” Chika said once they were alone. It was kind of funny, hearing her own voice say that.

“It’s me, Chika-chan,” Yō said, and she saw herself visibly relax.

“Oh thank goodness. You’re the only one I trust in my body.”

“Right back at you.” The two smiled at each other. “So any idea how to fix this?”

“If this were one of Riko’s manga, I’d say with a kiss or something,” Chika said, clearly joking. They both paused and thought about it. “Wanna try just to make sure?”

“Is it weird if I’m kissing myself?” Yō joked, trying to hide the sudden nervousness at the thought of kissing her best friend.

“Only if you make it weird,” Chika joked back.

The two looked at each other a little awkwardly before they both started leaning in.

Yō closed her eyes, and their lips touched. When she opened her eyes, Chika’s face looked back at her.

“It worked….” Yō muttered, her lips still millimeters away from Chika’s.

“Yeah, it did,” Chika muttered back. Yō felt Chika’s breath dance across her lips.

“Can I… kiss you again?” 

“If we end up swapping, I’m making you kiss me a third time.”

Part of Yō wanted them to swap again.

Chapter Text

"Okay you two, hear me out," Mari said, looking across the table at Riko and Yoshiko. "Metal."

Aqours had decided to form sub-units to allow for some extra creative freedom to make music that didn't quite fit the full group's normal image. Mari had immediately gravitated towards Yoshiko because of the first year's imbeccable aesthetic, and Riko had such a strong musical ability. They were the perfect team to fulfill Mari's dream.

Yoshiko and Riko looked at each other, and Mari could see the apprehension on their faces. Time to push the sell harder.

"Riko, dear, think of the musical complexity on display with metal! The intense guitar riffs, the drumline, the driving bass, all complimenting our gorgeous voices! Wouldn't it be so exciting to write music like that? 

"And Yoshiko, darling, imagine the lyrical themes we could write with such a dark, intense sound! Fallen angels, heavenly battles, epic magic, you name it! So what do you say?" Mari topped it all off by waggling her eyebrows.

Her friends shared another look, but this time she saw Yoshiko shrug her shoulders.

"I guess it could be fun," she said to Riko, and Mari fist pumped. Then Yoshiko looked over her way. "But if we do this, you have to call me Yohane, okay? That is the only name befitting a fallen angel creating such devilish music!"

"Of course, Yohane-sama!" Mari said in English. Then she looked expectantly at Riko.

The second year sighed. "Just… let's not go too overboard, please? I reserve the rights to rein you two in."

"Deal!" Mari said without hesitation. Finally! She could make the music she had learned to love while in America. "We just have one more thing to take care of, then. Our unit name!"

"Yohane and the Little Demons!" Yohane said instantly. 

"Buu buu!" Riko said, crossing her arms. Yohane pouted, but didn't fight the veto. "What about… Mystic Flower?"

Mari shook her head. "No no no, it's too innocent. It's gotta be something… sexier."

"Vampop," Yohane said.

"Lolic?" Riko said, completely ignoring her. Mari shook her head at both. 

Then inspiration struck, and she snapped her fingers. "I've got it! Guilty Kiss! It's indulgent, it's sexy, and it's perfect! Right?"

Once again, Riko and Yohane looked at each other. Then they smiled, looked back at Mari, and nodded.

"We are Guilty Kiss!"

Chapter Text

“Roundy roundy owl, little baby Maru. Roundy roundy boy, Maru Maru round!”

Kanon couldn’t help but laugh at hearing Chisato’s little nonsense song. It was absolutely adorable watching her sway back and forth in time with her own rhythm.

“I always knew you only loved me for my owl,” she said, poking fun at her girlfriend. Heh… girlfriend. It had been a few weeks since they’d confessed to each other, and just thinking that word made Kanon’s chest feel warm and fuzzy.

Chisato looked back and stuck her tongue out. “I don’t love him because he’s an owl, I love him because he’s a perfect sphere of a creature! Look at him! He’s the roundest thing that ever lived!”

Kanon laughed harder. “So, what, does that mean you’d love me more if I was round like that?”

“Hmmm….” Chisato made a play of thinking about it. “No, I think I love you as much as possible already!”

For some reason, Kanon hadn’t been prepared to hear such a blatant compliment, and her face immediately lit up red. 

“Jeez, Chiichan, you can’t just say stuff like that,” Kanon said, hiding her face in her hands.

“Why not? It’s true! I think if I loved you any more, I’d like, explode or something.”

“Maybe you’d just puff up big and round like Maru.”

Chisato gasped. “Do you think so?!” 

She held her hopeful expression for about two seconds before they both burst into laughter. It only took a few seconds for them to calm down, and they settled into a comfortable silence. Chisato continued to lightly poke and pet at Manmaru while Kanon was content to watch from her seat at the counter. 

It all felt so similar to the years they'd spent growing up, but at the same time, it was different. They still hung out at the cafe, they still played with Manmaru, they still spent as much time as possible together. But now that they'd been open about their feelings, there was an extra level of comfort, of quiet intimacy. 

It made Kanon feel glad to have a person like Chiichan in her life.

Chapter Text

Yohane had always been a city girl. She was born in Numazu, and part of her feared that she would die in Numazu, too. The concrete jungle was a constant part of her life. Going to a smaller, more rural town like Uchiura was the most removed she ever got from the city. 

As a child, this never really felt like a big deal. The city was all she knew. It was comfortable, familiar. 

Growing up, though, especially as her interest in the mystic and the occult grew, she became dissatisfied with a life surrounded by civilization. The more she read, the more she studied, the more she realized that the forest was like the ocean; the deeper one ventured, the less familiar things became. The gateway to the otherworldly resided in the wilderness. Where man's influence ended, the gods' began.

And she desperately wanted to see it.

In her first few weeks of high school, Yohane finally took her first step. She found a popular campsite near the edge of the wilderness and took a day trip. Once there, she received the safety briefing from one of the rangers. It all seemed like normal stuff: don't venture off the trails, be careful going too deep, etc. At the end, though, he said something that took her by surprise.

If you hear a voice, do not trust it. 

She had heard about people hearing voices in the wilderness, but it had never sounded real. It had to be fake, right? Yet here was a serious park ranger warning about the same thing. Maybe it was just the ranger having a bit of fun, teasing city folks. 

Yeah, that had to be it.

And so Yohane ventured out into the trees. 

What struck her at first was how the light almost instantly changed. Even just a few meters into the tree line, the ambient light dimmed, and the sunlight filtering through the treetops took an almost ethereal quality. The breeze danced through the god rays, visible by the leaves that flew along those unseen currents.

Occasionally she saw creatures off in the distance. Squirrels climbed trees, and deer weaved through them just barely in sight. None of them though, ever ventured too close to the path she walked.

Said path was well maintained, and it meandered through the trees almost at random. However, after almost an hour, she realized that it never took her too deep into the woods. It snaked her back and forth along the length, but even after walking for so long, she doubted she was more than a hundred meters from the tree line. This wasn't what she wanted. She wanted to go deeper, to find where the otherworldly began.

Yohane left the path. She ventured deeper. 

The going was slower without a trail to follow, but she progressed. After another hundred meters, the light was a quarter what it had been at the campsite. 

Something cracked beneath her feet. She looked down, expecting a rotted piece of wood, and found a skull. A deer skull. She had stepped on one of its antlers and snapped it in two. 

Somewhere in the distance, she thought she heard a sigh.

It was likely just the wind.

Then it became a whisper. "i am here."

She followed it without a second thought. 

Two hundred meters, and Yohane had to turn on her flashlight to see more than a few steps in front of her. She swept it back and forth in front of her as she walked. It stopped on another skull, and so did she. This was a bear skull.

"closer."

She ventured further.

After an unknown distance, the light had all but left her. Her flashlight provided the only illumination, and even that was a pale facsimile of true light. She came to a strange clearing. There were two rows of trees, each evenly spaced from each other. They all curled inward as they rose up, creating a strange canopy above her. 

"here."

Yohane touched one of the trees.

She felt bone. 

The bones had called her here, and she had given herself to them. 

When Yohane's body left the wilderness, the rest of her did not go with it.

Chapter Text

It was hard, sometimes, being a sailor’s wife. Long absences, equally long periods of no contact at all, the nagging feeling in the back of your head that maybe this time they wouldn’t come back. It could play hell on the nerves.

But Chika knew what she’d signed up for when she and Yō got married. Yō was worth it.

Still, that didn’t mean she couldn’t hate it sometimes. And the worst was always the day Yō had to leave for another voyage. Today was another one of those days, and Chika could hardly sleep because of it. 

It was three in the morning, and Chika was awake. Yō needed to be at the docks really early for departure, so their time was steadily ticking away. She subconsciously pulled Yō closer, relishing in the warmth her wife radiated in the chill pre-dawn air. Chika didn’t want to let go, even though she knew she had to in the end.

Eventually, Yō’s alarm went off, and the two got out of bed. They got ready for the day. Chika put on her brave girl facade and pretended like these weren’t always the most difficult mornings of her life. Yō pretended not to notice that it was all a front, even though Chika knew that her wife knew. She appreciated it because if Yō tried to overtly comfort her, she’d probably break down crying. Still, her wife did what she could to subtly reassure her. It helped.

They drove to the docks in silence. Yō kept a hand on Chika’s knee the entire drive. The contact helped.

Walking down the pier always had a slightly disorienting effect on Chika. It was a sort of liminal space, like an airport or a train station. The dock’s only purpose was to be a transition for the sailors to go from their life on land to their life at sea. Chika never got that transition. She would follow her wife right up to the edge, to the boundary that would separate their lives for the coming months, but she could never cross over. She was stuck on this side, fated to watch Yō go where she could not follow.

With a final kiss, Yō crossed the boundary.

Chika stayed behind.

Chapter Text

Yō liked the cold. 

Okay, that was actually a lie, she hated the cold. She was a summer child through and through, preferring the warm, sunny outdoors where she could go anywhere and do anything. And swim. Swimming was very important to her, and that was most definitely not a cold weather activity. 

So really, Yō hated the cold, but recently she had taken a liking to being cold. If she were cold, that meant she could sit on her bed and bury herself in her favorite blanket. It was a super big, fluffy blanket, ocean blue in color with a vibrant mikan pattern. 

It had originally been Chika’s. Her friend had left it here after their last sleepover almost a year ago. When Yō told her about it, instead of asking for the blanket back, Chika had stolen one of Yō’s blankets to “make things even.” So that’s how she came to possess her new favorite blanket.

It smelled like Chika. 

Okay, that was most likely a lie. After so long in Yō’s possession, it probably didn’t smell like Chika anymore, but it felt like it did. When she wrapped herself in the blanket on a cold evening, it felt like one of Chika’s hugs. When she fell asleep with her face buried in it, it felt like the countless sleepovers they’d had over the years, the sleepovers Yō had come to miss terribly once they’d stopped. When she hid under the blanket, creating a little cave of warmth and secrecy, it felt like growing up, like being a kid again, playing with Chika late into the night, much later than they would ever admit to their parents. 

It felt like being safe.

It felt like being home.

It felt like being in love. 

It felt like guilt. Guilt that even after a year, she still let romantic thoughts creep out of her heart. 

It felt like betrayal. Betrayal that she would still cling so tightly to a memory of what never was. 

It felt like delusion.

Yō hated the cold.

Chapter Text

Fallen leaves littered the sidewalk. A chill gust of wind came in from the ocean, and it cut right through the light jacket Chika wore. She wrapped her arms around herself and just barely suppressed a shiver. How was it already that time of year? It felt like just yesterday that the beach had opened up.

Whatever, it just meant another year was almost over. With the way the last few had blurred by, what was one more? Chika kept walking, feeling the crunch of leaves beneath her feet. She needed to finish this errand and get back to the inn.

She passed by an electronics shop, one with TV's in the window with random news stations on. Normally she never paid it any mind. The news hardly ever talked about Uchiura. Even the local stations barely mentioned it; they only cared about Numazu. It frustrated her, but after a few years working the inn, she'd come to accept it as a reality: most people didn't care about Uchiura.

Something on the TV caught her eye. A flash of ashen hair. She stopped and looked.

"Local sports phenomenon, Yō Watanabe, has captured the gold medal at yet another international tournament!" the news anchor said. As he spoke, some B-roll footage of Yō diving played on screen. "She's been lighting up the diving world for years now, and she shows no signs of slowing down."

"I remember her first collegiate tournament," another anchor said, "and I knew right then and there that we were witnessing the beginning of something great."

Chika had been at that tournament. She vividly remembered Yō's dive and the way the crowd had erupted at the perfect score. She remembered the ecstatic look on her friend's face. She remembered thinking that their months without contact had been worth it for Yō to achieve this victory. She remembered waiting for Yō to look her way so they could share this moment together.

She remembered how Yō's eyes passed right over her.

She had left the venue after that. Yō never tried to contact her. It was another friendship Chika had walked away from, the latest in a long string. 

It hadn't been a shock when Dia and Mari stopped texting much after they graduated. They were both super busy learning to take over their respective family business. Nevermind that Chika could relate to that with the inn. No, theirs was a whole different level. After a year of trying and failing to stay in touch, Chika stopped.

Kanan, though… that one had hurt. Sure she was in Australia for school, but the time zone difference wasn't that big. But after being friends for so long, the calls and texts became less frequent until they stopped all together. Then again, after what Kanan had done in high school, maybe it shouldn't have come as too big a surprise.

The first years also hadn't come as a big shock. She'd known how much Ruby wanted to study fashion in Tokyo, and Hanamaru had wanted to do the same for library science. Even Yoshiko had left, going to get a classics degree in Kyoto. At least Chika had had an extra year with them. One of the perks of staying in Uchiura after high school….

Riko had been the last holdout. The last friend from Aqours she still spoke to somewhat regularly. Like all the others, they had left Uchiura and Numazu for greater things; in her case, studying music in Kyoto. At least she came back during breaks for the first year or two. They hung out when they had time. And between that, they still talked pretty regularly. At least until she studied abroad in her junior year. Chika tried to make it work, but the time difference had been too difficult to overcome. She saw how tired Riko always was when they video called. 

So in the end, Chika stopped calling. 

Not even five years after the miracle that was Aqours, Chika had walked away from all of her best friends.

Or maybe they'd walked away from her.

The leaves crunched under her feet as she continued down the sidewalk. She needed to finish this errand and get back to the inn.

Chapter Text

Twenty years was a long time, and yet it could somehow pass by in a flash. Yō remembered turning twenty, more than half a lifetime ago. She’d felt so mature, finally being able to drink legally and lording that fact over Chika for the few months she was able to. Heh. They hadn’t even gotten together at that point, though it wouldn’t take much longer. After years of hidden feelings on both sides, it all came exploding to the surface after they both graduated university. 

They’d gotten married a year later.

And then somehow, twenty years passed. Chika took over her family’s inn, using everything she’d learned over the years to make it one of the most respected ryokans in all of Japan. Yō did her stint as a sailor and even made captain towards the end. She’d retired last year, though. Even though forty wasn’t that old for a captain, she felt it was time. Now she helped Chika run the inn. It was nice, always waking up in the same bed next to the woman she loved more than anything.

Though even after twenty years, said woman still needed some help waking up sometimes. Yō pressed a gentle kiss to the nape of her wife’s neck.

“Chika, wake up. We need to get breakfast ready.”

Her wife just grumbled and pushed herself back further into Yō’s embrace. Yō laughed. 

“Don’t you wanna spend every possible moment you can with me on our twentieth anniversary?”

Chika flipped over and placed her lips against Yō’s before Yō could react. Her eyes fluttered, and when Chika pulled back, she was smiling. 

“Happy anniversary, Yō.”

“Happy anniversary, Chika.” The two spent a few moments looking into each other’s eyes until Yō gave Chika a mischievous smile. “That was two, by the way.”

Chika cocked her head. “Two?”

Yō leaned forward and stole another kiss. “Make that three.”

That earned a cute little giggle as Chika realized what Yō was talking about. “What, am I only allowed a certain number of kisses today?”

“I guess you’ll have to wait and see.” They both laughed and finally got out of bed. There was an inn to run, after all.

Throughout the day, Yō tried her best to make each kiss a surprise. Number four was on the cheek as Chika made breakfast. Number ten was on the top of the head as Chika sat at her desk doing administrative work. Number nineteen was on the back of the hand as they sat on the couch and watched TV that night.

When it finally came time to sleep, they both got ready and crawled into bed together. They laid on their sides, facing one another and holding hands under the blanket. Yō leaned in and placed a kiss to her wife’s lips, and even after twenty years of marriage, it still felt as magical as their first.

“And that’s twenty,” Yō whispered. “Twenty kisses for twenty years. Happy anniversary, Chika, and I love you.”

She saw a small tear slide down her wife’s cheek, but Chika was smiling brighter than she ever had before. “I love you, too. You’ve made me the happiest woman on the planet today, and every day we’ve been together.”

Warmth spread through Yō’s chest, and she put the final part of her present in action. She stole one more kiss. When she pulled back, Chika’s eyes were wide.

“What was that kiss for?” she asked.

“For all the years still to come.”

Chapter Text

"Oh wow, look at the time. It's almost midnight!"

Setsuna took her eyes off the laptop screen and looked at the clock on the desk. Sure enough, it was only a few minutes before midnight. A wave of guilt washed over her.

"I'm so sorry, Ayumu-san!" she said, looking at her friend sitting next to her. "I got so caught up in showing you Blade Work: Eternia that I completely lost track of time!" She paused and looked out the window as her mind kept spinning. "At least my parents aren't home tonight to notice how late I was out. Do the buses even run this late?"

"You could just spend the night here I'd you want, Setsuna-chan," Ayumu said, accompanied by one of her angelic smiles.

Setsuna's heart sped up a small, but noticeable amount. "I-I wouldn't want to impose."

"It's no problem! I've always got a spare futon ready for if Yuu-chan is too lazy to go back to her room. If anything, this would be a much more reasonable use for it." That serene, beautiful smile remained in place, and for a second, Setsuna’s mind completely blanked.

She gave her head a little shake to get her brain working again. “In that case, then… th-thank you very much.” Not knowing what else to do, she bowed slightly.

Ayumu covered her mouth and giggled. “Jeez, Setsuna-chan, what’s with the sudden formality? It’s just a sleepover.”

A sleepover. Setsuna had never had a sleepover before—not that she would ever admit that out loud. This would be her first time spending the night at a friend’s house, and she was trying very hard not to think about the fact that she also had a small crush on said friend. It’d be fine! All she had to do was not make it weird! That should be easy….

“Do you wanna borrow some pajamas so you don’t get your clothes all wrinkled?” Ayumu asked.

P-Pajamas? Borrowing pajamas? Borrowing Ayumu’s pajamas? It took a herculean effort for Setsuna to keep her expression calm and her voice level.

“Yes, that would be wonderful. Thank you so much, Ayumu-san.”

“Of course!” There was that smile again, the one that would make Setsuna weak at the knees if she were standing up. Ayumu went over to her dresser and pulled out a pair of pink shorts and a matching pink camisole. She handed them to Setsuna. “You can change in the bathroom while I get the futon ready, okay?”

Wordlessly, Setsuna took the pajamas and went into the bathroom. She changed into them mechanically, not letting herself think about the details. All she had to do was not make it weird. Friends lent each other clothes all the time, right? Totally not weird.

When she came back out, Ayumu already had the futon set up on the floor next to her bed. With the bathroom free, she took her turn to change into pajamas while Setsuna got situated under the covers. Ayumu returned in short order, climbing into bed and turning out the lights. Setsuna glanced at the clock and saw it was just a little past midnight.

“Thanks for coming over tonight, Setsuna-chan,” Ayumu said in the darkness. “I had a lot of fun watching your favorite anime with you. I’m gonna have to watch more so I can catch up!”

Ayumu had? Had fun? Watching anime together? And she wanted to get caught up? For some reason, tears welled up in Setsuna’s eyes, and she was incredibly glad for the darkness around them. She wiped them away and took a deep breath before answering.

“If anything, I should be thanking you for having me, Ayumu-san. It makes me r-really happy to know you enjoyed BW:E. ” She hoped Ayumu hadn’t heard the way her voice hitched in the middle there.

“It’s hard not to like it when I see how much it means to you. Once I get caught up, we should watch new episodes together when they come out!”

“I’d really like that,” Setsuna whispered, feeling a stray tear slip down her cheek. 

Ayumu yawned then giggled sheepishly. “It’s pretty late; we should try to sleep. Goodnight, Setsuna-chan.”

“Goodnight, Ayumu-san.”

The clock read well after midnight before Setsuna calmed down enough to sleep.

Chapter Text

Setsuna Yuki, world-famous idol, sat on the bed in her Shibuya apartment. She was trying to write the most difficult song of her entire ten year career: her send off. After so long spent chasing and achieving her dream, it just felt like time. She wanted to end her idol career proudly and on her own terms. This song was supposed to be a sort of culmination of all her hard work.

But how on earth were you supposed to write something like that?

She knew how to write about chasing your dreams, about not giving up, about keeping your passions alive; that had been her life ever since high school. But how do you write about it being over? The deepest recesses of her soul knew that it was time, but how was she supposed to explain that? Was she supposed to just… pack a lifetime’s worth of experiences into one song and bear her raw emotions for the whole world to see?

…Huh… maybe….

Setsuna began to write.

 

We’d run right through those nights.

I’ll never find my way back to you

Inside this labyrinth of lights.

 

The Setsuna Yuki that had stood on stage for ten years had been born in high school, at Nijigasaki Academy. All of her treasured friends in the school idol club, the ones she’d spent countless nights with. That had been the start of it all, and one of the biggest regrets in her life was that she had grown apart from them. In the labyrinth of lights that was fame, she could never manage to find her way back to them.

She kept writing.

 

I'll fly, no proof

Those heights,

I'll never find another chance to say

"Hey, thanks for saving my life"

 

And boy had she flown, straight to the top of the idol world. It was all thanks to them, but she’d never been able to say it. 

An entire verse spilled out onto the page before she even knew it. Her past, before Nijigasaki, unable to make friends or even just be who she wanted to be. Finding all of them, that one magical year that changed her life forever. And even a part of her that wondered how her life would have been if she’d never gone pro. A pang of sadness surfaced up from the deepest part of her soul. It was a sadness she had long since buried without realizing. A sadness of leaving the ones who had saved her life.

The second verse was more to her current self. She pursued being an idol so relentlessly, not wanting to become just another office worker who blended into the crowd. She wanted her words to be heard! She wanted the songs she had in her heart to reach others, to inspire them, to make the world a better place! It was her dream! 

So why did it not feel like enough anymore? Had it been worth it, watching the best friends she’d ever had disappear into the rear-view mirror? It was stupid! She shouldn’t feel this way! Setsuna had chosen to live this life! So why were these feelings coming out now? She should feel blessed that she had this opportunity to do what she loved!

 

Recollect the days you hoped

And you prayed for this

What is there to miss?

 

A bridge tumbled out, a jumbled mess of thoughts and emotions that she couldn’t keep inside anymore. And then the final lines.

 

Waking up now, to my real life

Let me daydream, 'til the next flight

Drowning so long, I got older

Now the crowd's gone, is it over?

Is it over?

 

Is it over? 

Yes. This was the end of a life. And the start of something new.

Chapter Text

Sometimes Chika wondered what it was like to have a dream. Something that she wanted more than anything else, that she would be willing to expend all her effort to achieve. So far, through her first year of high school, she still hadn’t found one.

It was… frustrating, at times. She had watched her best friend Yō discover diving and become absolutely enthralled by it. She had watched, in real time, as a dream had been born. Chika knew what having a dream looked like. She even had a pretty good idea of what it felt like, but she'd never felt it herself. 

It wasn't for lack of trying, either. She'd tried joining the diving club with Yō, and even though it was fun, there was no passion there. So she apologized to her best friend and tried something else. Softball ended up the same way, as did tennis, volleyball, track and field, and every other sport she tried. She tried the limited cultural clubs that Uranohoshi had, and it all ended the same. They were all fun in their own ways, but none of them sparked that feeling of… something inside her.

Maybe Chika didn't actually know what having a dream felt like. 

Maybe not everyone was meant to have a dream. She was just a normal monster, after all. Maybe only special people got to have dreams. Maybe everyone else had to take what they were given. 

On New Year's, Chika prayed that she could become special. 

The rest of the school year passed, and nothing happened. She resigned herself to always being a bystander, a supporting role in someone else's story. If she could continue to be Yō's best friend, continue to be by her side as she climbed up through the diving world… Chika told herself that would be enough. If she wasn't allowed to have a dream of her own, at least she could help Yō achieve hers.

At the end of her first year, she and the rest of her class took a trip to Tokyo to celebrate. It actually felt exciting! It was the big city! Maybe Chika’s dream had been waiting here all along! Heh, as if. Still, it should at least be a fun time with all her friends! And in Akihabara, there was no shortage of things to do.

Yō immediately spotted a cosplay shop and ran off to look, yelling, “Chika-chan, check this out!” She was going to follow, but then a really cute maid stopped her and handed her a flyer. A gust of wind blew down the sidewalk, sending the flyers… well, flying. Chika rushed after them, trying her best to help the nice maid.

The flyers led her down the street, under a pedestrian walkway, and out into a courtyard before she finally grabbed them all. Then another gust hit, sending the newly-collected flyers back into the air. Her eyes followed them up, and then she saw it.

“I say! Hey! Hey! Hey START:DASH!”

Up on a giant monitor on the side of a building, nine high school girls stood on a stage, singing and dancing and shining. They all wore their school uniforms, but despite looking completely normal, every single one of them sparkled with a radiance that took Chika’s breath away. She stood there, absolutely entranced, as they performed in front of thousands of people.

They sang of taking flight, of deciding that they wanted to change who they were and become something better, something brighter. They promised that if she just followed their voices, sang along with them, and joined them in their dash towards the future, that she could escape the worries plaguing her heart.

And for a wonder… she believed them. Seeing those completely normal girls do something so incredible… it made Chika want to do that, too.

Maybe this was what having a dream felt like.

Chapter Text

"So what exactly do you want with my Shizuko?" Kasumi asked, glaring at the third year sitting across from her. Normally she tried to be more polite towards her senpai (Karin-senpai notwithstanding), but this was an extenuating circumstance.

"Kasumi-san, I don't think this is—"

"Quiet, Shizuko, this doesn't concern you."

"Actually I think this specifically concerns me," Shizuku said, equal parts exasperation and mirth in her voice.

The senpai across the table spoke up. "Kasumi-chan, I'm sure Shizuku-chan had already explained to you that I want her to be the lead in our next performance."

Kasumi shook her head. "Nope, she's too busy being my gir—"

Shizuku stood up and pulled Kasumi up with her. The sudden movement almost made Kasumi fall over, but her incredible idol reflexes saved her. It still didn't stop her from glaring at her girlfriend. Shizuku, though, was smiling a little nervously at their senpai.

"My apologies, president, I've tried explaining it to her, but obviously I need to try harder." She looked at Kasumi. "Why don't we go continue this in private, Kasumi-san."

Kasumi's heart soared. Private time with her wonderful Shizuko! It's what she always wanted. With a final smug look towards their senpai, she followed her girlfriend away from the cafeteria.

"So what do you wanna do now that we're free of that mean old senpai?"

Shizuku stopped abruptly and sighed. "I want to talk to you about why you're so angry with the president. She wants to give me a lead role! I… thought you'd be happy for me." She looked down with a slightly dejected expression.

It felt like a cold hand suddenly gripped Kasumi's heart. 

"I… I am happy for you, Shizuko…." she muttered. 

"Then why are you trying to stop me from accepting it?"

"Because… because…." Kasumi screwed her eyes shut and grabbed at the hem of her uniform. "Because I'm worried you won't have enough time to spend with me if you do."

She couldn't bring herself to open her eyes. Kasumi knew just how pathetic that feeling was, and she hated that she had to admit it. 

A warm pair of hands took hers, stopping her worried pawing at her uniform. She opened her eyes and saw Shizuku looking at her with compassion in her eyes. The look made Kasumi want to cry, but she couldn't explain why.

"Kasumin, I will always have time for you," Shizuku said, and Kasumi hated the way she couldn't quite believe her.

"But you're already so busy with classes and the idol club and how long your commute is, and if you add being a lead actress, you won't have any time left for anything else."

"Then I'll make time for you."

The words stunned Kasumi, shook her down to her very core. No one had… ever said something like that to her.

"Do… do you mean that? Do you really mean that?"

"Of course I do," Shizuku said, giving Kasumi's hands a gentle squeeze. "I'll make it work because I want it to work. I want us to work. Do you trust me enough to let me try?"

The question scared Kasumi. Her trust was not something she freely gave anymore, but… if she wanted her relationship with Shizuku to mean anything at all… maybe she had to take a chance. She squeezed her girlfriend's hands back.

"Okay, Shizuko. I trust you."

Chapter Text

Dia looked ahead at the path in front of her. It was a dirt path, barely wide enough for her and Mari to walk side by side. Flanking both sides were stalks of corn, easily ten feet high. They were planted very densely, in such a way that she could barely see more than a few rows in. She looked over at Mari.

"You know, when you suggested we take a vacation to America, I was expecting something like New York City, or Chicago, or LA." She paused and looked back at the vast field of corn in front of her. "Not a corn maze in the middle of nowhere."

"But Dia, why would we come to America just to see a boring old city?" Mari asked. "We live in Tokyo! A vacation should be a chance to experience something new! And what could be more new than rural America? I was always sad I never got to escape the city when I was here for school."

Dia tried to find a fault with that logic, but it made a shocking amount of sense. In a very "Mari" way, at least. Despite growing up in a small Japanese town, Dia couldn't argue that the rural American lifestyle seemed about as foreign as she could reasonably get. And being here at this corn maze gave her a new appreciation for the sheer scale of the plant that produced one of Japan's favorite vegetables. She'd never seen a corn stalk up close before.

"I also heard about a thing called the 'Left/Right' game. Supposedly if you constantly alternate making left and right turns in a maze, it transports you somewhere else entirely!"

Dia scoffed. "Mari, we're not kids anymore. Do you honestly believe that? The only thing this little game will do is get us horribly lost."

"C'mon, Dia, pleeeeease? Can we at least try it? For me?" Mari turned on her puppy dog eyes, and that was it for Dia. Even after years together, she hadn't found a way to say no to that look.

"Fine," she said, pouting and looking away. "We play your silly little game for half an hour, okay? When nothing happens after that long, we switch to navigating this maze normally."

"Deal!" Mari said in English, clapping her hands. Then she grabbed Dia's hand and pulled her into the maze.

It all started out exactly as Dia expected; which was to say nothing happened. About ten minutes went by, and all they did was pass by stalk after stalk after stalk of corn. It was actually getting a little hot in the maze. The dense corn blocked even a hint of a breeze, and the midday sun beat down on them without mercy. The still air trapped heat, making the world feel like an oven.

The worst part was that Dia could see evidence of a breeze she couldn't feel. The tops of the corn stalks swayed gently. A quiet rustle filled the air as neighboring stalks rubbed against each other. Dia felt a bead of sweat drip down her back, and she stopped to take a drink. 

They were on a fairly long straight section after taking a left. Strangely, in all this time, they hadn't encountered a single person. As Dia drank from her water bottle, she watched as Mari continued down the path before finally reaching an intersection about ten meters away. She paused for a moment, looking both directions, before turning to the left and going down that route. Dia sighed to herself and shook her head. Leave it to Mari to forget the rules to her own game.

"Mari, you were supposed to take a right!" Dia called out. Her words felt heavy, dampened, as if the still air around her swallowed up the sound. There was no response. She sighed again, capped her water, and went to follow. 

The rustling of the corn grew louder as she approached the intersection. Was the corn always that tall? Had it always blocked out the sun, despite it being directly overhead? The air felt hotter here. 

When she reached the intersection, Dia looked down the left path. It stretched all the way to the horizon, perfectly straight and perfectly empty. There was nothing there but corn, obfuscating even the sky that Dia knew had to be there. 

There was no sign of Mari.

"Mari? This isn't funny, Mari! Where are you?"

Dia took a step to the left. 

She blinked, and in that fraction of a second, it appeared. It looked like a man, almost two meters tall and standing about ten meters away, but the proportions were just slightly wrong. The head was a fraction too small, and the arms hung at its sides, extending a little bit below the knee. The torso was too long. The mouth was too large. 

She blinked again, and it was right in front of her. 

The hot, dead air swallowed her screams.

Chapter Text

Yō sat on the bed and looked down at the message that Chika had just sent.

Chika: Yō-chan, are you alright?? You haven't come to school or answered my messages in two days. I'm starting to get a little worried

Yō knew Chika was just worried and had no way of knowing, but seeing that "chan" filled him with an indescribable mix of anxiety and self-loathing. Two days ago, Yō had finally accepted that he was trans.

It had been the culmination of… a lot of thinking and introspection over the past few months as he tried to peel back years and years of societal conditioning. The more layers he pulled back, the more it made sense. A lot of things clicked into place. One of the reasons he loved costumes and uniforms so much was that it let him pretend he was someone else for a while.

When he finally said the words out loud to himself in the mirror two days ago, it came with a rush of euphoria. That was quickly followed by a wave of anxiety as he started thinking about what that would mean for his personal and social life. Could he still go to Uranohoshi without staying in the closet? Could he continue being a school idol? What about his friends? 

What about his girlfriend? What would Chika think?

That was why he'd stayed home from school and hadn't answered any messages. He was scared.

But he also didn't want to keep secrets from Chika. They'd always told each other everything. And… he wanted to believe that Chika could still love him, even if he were a boy. If they loved each other as much as they said they did, Yō wanted to believe it could still work.

He typed out a response.

Yō: Hey Chika-chan, sorry to worry you. Could I… come over right now? I wanna talk to you

Almost immediately Chika responded with a yes, so Yō left to get on the bus that would take him to her. He tried not to freak out on the way over. Thankfully it didn't take long.

As soon as Yō walked through the door to Chika's room, she pounced on him.

"Yō-chan!" she cried, throwing her arms around his neck. He flinched at hearing the feminine honorific applied to him, and Chika clearly noticed it. She pulled back. "What's wrong?"

Crap. That entire bus ride, and he hadn't even thought about what to say. Time to wing it….

"So, you know how you're my girlfriend?" Chika furrowed her brows in confusion, but nodded. Yō continued. "How would you feel if instead of me being your girlfriend, I was your boyfriend?"

Now Chika cocked her head. "We'd still be dating, right?"

"Y-Yeah?" Yō said, not expecting that response.

Chika smiled. "Then it doesn't matter to me!"

Yō blinked. That almost felt too easy. "Chika-chan, you do understand what I'm saying, right?"

"Yeah, you're trans! I'm so proud of you and happy for you, and it also makes me really happy that you trust me enough to come out to me!"

The immediate, unwavering support almost made him cry on the spot, but he managed to hold it in. "Do… do you really mean that?"

“Of course! You’re the person I love the most in the whole world, so it doesn’t matter to me if you’re a boy or a girl; as long as you’re happy.” Chika paused for a moment as she seemed to consider something. “Does this mean I should call you ‘Yō-kun’ when we’re alone together?”

This time, Yō couldn’t stop himself from crying, but he smiled as the tears fell.

Chapter Text

Ayumu looked into the mirror.

Her reflection did not look back.

She hated this. Sure, she had her life, but at what cost? So many aspects of living were now forever out of her reach. She could never again look at herself in the mirror. She could hardly stomach real food anymore. All she had wanted that night was a snack.

And now she was a vampire. 

Ayumu looked into the mirror and cursed the empty reflection. She cursed the woman who so callously turned her into a monster against her will. Some nights, she almost thought she’d have preferred dying there on the road that night. Nothing could be worse than this.

The one, single thing that had kept her going so far was Yuu. After the initial shock, Yuu had done everything in her power to help Ayumu adjust to this new life. Without her… well, Ayumu didn’t really want to think about that.

Someone knocked on her bedroom door, and she knew that must be Yuu. It was that time of the week again. She left the bathroom and let her friend in. Yuu smiled at her, but Ayumu could hear the way her friend’s heart sped up just a fraction. It always happened when they were alone together. She appreciated how Yuu was able to look calm, though. She had decided a while ago not to mention the heartbeat thing.

“You ready, Ayumu?” Yuu asked, sitting on the edge of the bed.

Ayumu just nodded and took a seat next to her friend. Yuu held out her left hand, and Ayumu gingerly took it and brought it up to her mouth. As gently as she could, she cut Yuu’s palm with her fangs and proceeded to feed. The heartbeat got faster, and she’d heard the sharp inhale that Yuu tried to hide. Yuu’s smile was still in place, though.

She fed as much as she could stomach, which was frightfully little. Still, the warm blood quickly spread through her body, and for the first time since her last feeding, she didn’t feel quite so cold. Even though it wouldn’t last, it still felt nice in the moment.

When she was done, Ayumu helped Yuu bandage her hand. After that, she walked over to the terrarium where she kept Sasuke.

“Hey baby boy,” she whispered, reaching in and picking him up. His tongue flicked out, and after a moment, he wrapped himself casually around her arm and shoulder. She breathed a sigh of relief. 

This was the only time she could hold Sasuke anymore—when her body temperature was higher. Even though it wouldn’t last, it felt nice in the moment. 

Yuu stuck around for a while, and the two of them tried to hang out as normally as possible. Ayumu knew better, though. She could hear Yuu’s nervous heartbeat. She could smell the faint tinge of fear. She could see the brief glances towards the door. 

It hurt, but she knew she deserved it. 

When Yuu finally did leave, Ayumu put Sasuke back in his terrarium. She knew how quickly the warmth faded, and she didn’t want to upset him anymore than he already was. Afterwards, she went back into the bathroom and looked in the mirror.

An empty room looked back.

Chapter Text

Setsuna Yuki strode into the throne room, her steps filled with purpose. Light from the hallway spilled into the previously-dark room. The clang of her armored boots against the marble floor echoed loudly through the large, mostly empty space. The area had been sealed off for the better part of three weeks as the court awaited Setsuna’s return, and the reason for that sat on the throne.

A red, shimmering crystal encased the dias, and Setsuna walked right up to it, placing a gauntleted hand against it. The crystal was translucent enough that she could still see inside. What she saw gripped her heart with fear.

Queen Ayumu sat on her throne at the far end of the grand room. She looked absolutely stunning in her characteristic pink gown, and around her shoulders hung the mantle of her authority as Queen. Atop her head sat the ceremonial rainbow crown of the kingdom. In her hand, she held the royal scepter.

Her eyes were closed. There was no sign of movement from her at all—not even the slow rise and fall of her chest that would indicate breathing. For all intents and purposes, the queen appeared frozen in that crystal.

Setsuna looked back at her friend Lady Osaka, the noblewoman who had taken her here.

“How long?”

“A little over a month ago, Ser Yuki,” Lady Osaka said. “We got word to you as soon as we could.”

Setsuna balled her fist at her side. “Please tell me everything that happened. No one has given me a straight answer yet.”

“Well… shortly after you left to check the border, the Queen fell ill. The physicians tried all they could, but nothing seemed to work. That was when we sent for you to return, though we all feared she wouldn’t last that long. Then the priestess, Mifune, came in one day with a group of her acolytes, saying she’d found a way to buy the Queen time. We were all desperate, so the council agreed.

“She and her twelve followers took the comatose Queen, dressed her in her royal finery, and sat her on her throne. Then they performed some sort of magics, and that red crystal appeared around her. According to Mifune, that will keep the Queen in a stasis for as long as all thirteen of them still draw breath. The hope was that you might find a way to save her, Ser Yuki….”

Setsuna tried to process that information as she turned back to face Ayumu. She rested her forearm against the crystal, closed her eyes, and pressed her forehead to it. The smooth surface felt slightly warm against her skin, and she could sense the faint hum of magic imbued within its surface.

It felt like it was all her fault. If she had been here, she could have stopped this, whatever it was. She was supposed to be Ayumu’s knight, her protector. And when her Queen had needed her most, she was on the other side of the kingdom. She slammed her hand against the crystal. The magical stone did not yield. The shock of the impact reverberated up her arm, and despite the pain, she was glad for it. 

The pain in her hand distracted from the pain in her heart.

Then she felt it. A vibration reverberated through the crystal itself, incredibly faintly, but easy to feel once noticed. The telltale twin thump of a heartbeat. 

Her Queen still lived. 

And as long as her Queen lived, Setsuna could save her. She would save her.

She had to.

Chapter Text

Nana, the Baroness Nakagawa, walked through the hallways of her family’s ancestral estate, her heels clicking on the hardwood floor. She wore a gown of the finest scarlet silk, as befitting a noble of her stature. Her neck was adorned with jewels, and her signet ring sat heavily on her finger. A large portion of her face was covered by a beautifully intricate white fox mask. She was hosting a masquerade ball, after all.

In truth, this was the last thing she’d prefer to be doing. If she had her way, she’d be with her bardic troupe as the famous Setsuna Yuki. But sadly, the Rainbow Troupe was traveling through Nakagawa lands, and Setsuna had to stop and perform her semi-annual public appearance. At least there was a sort of mystique about hosting a masquerade ball.

At the moment, though, she was heading back to her quarters for a brief respite. Just a chance to briefly take the mask off and generally freshen up. She’d be back out to the party before anyone had a chance to notice her absence.

When she opened the door to her bed chambers, she found a tall woman, dressed in a fine blue gown, standing over her desk. When the woman heard the door open, she turned around and stood up straight. She wore a fantastical bird mask that completely covered her eyes and one cheek while leaving the mouth free.

“Excuse me, Lady Tori, might I inquire as to what you were doing in here?” Setsuna asked. She didn’t recognize this woman as one of the usual attendees of her periodic parties. The woman’s long legs and hourglass figure surely would have stood out in her memory. Strangely enough, the only person she knew with a figure even remotely similar was one of her troupe members.

“My apologies, Lady Kitsune,” Lady Tori said, offering a brief, but flawless, curtsy. “I had gotten lost in this grand manor and was searching for some clue to find my way back to the festivities.”

Setsuna raised an eyebrow that went unnoticed behind the mask. “And you thought to find it in Lady Nakagawa’s bed chambers?”

Lady Tori covered her mouth in overexaggerated surprise. “Oh is that where I’ve found myself? It does make sense, I suppose. Such lavish quarters are befitting a noble lady such as she. Though now I must ask what you are doing here?”

“Is it so strange for a lady to visit her own quarters?” Setsuna asked. Something about this woman felt oddly familiar, but the full connection eluded her. The voice, perhaps? It was deep, sultry in a way that few ladies could manage.

“My apologies, Lady Nakagawa,” she said. Her tone was subservient, but her smile had morphed into one that appeared downright predatory. “That mask serves well to hide your true identity.”

“As does yours.”

The woman simply grinned at that and ignored it. “In truth, I had hoped to speak to you this evening. I’ve heard of your penchant for traveling and would love to hear about the foreign lands you’ve visited. Things you’ve seen. People you’ve met.” While speaking, she had closed the short distance that separated them, and she finished by trailing a gloved hand lightly down the exposed skin of Setsuna’s upper arm. 

Setsuna barely suppressed a shudder at the touch. Her trust of this woman, which had started quite low in the first place, sank even further. She knew what this was. Whoever this woman was, she was fishing for information. While her motivation was still unknown, Setsuna recognized a spy when she saw one.

“I’m terribly sorry, Lady Tori, but I don’t make it a habit of discussing my private travels with those whose identity I do not know.”

“Would it change your mind to learn my name is Karin Asaka?”

Setsuna’s heart froze as so many little details clicked into place. But there was no way that could be true… right? 

“Very bold of you to claim such fame without proof,” she managed to say with a level voice. 

The woman slowly reached up and removed her mask. It revealed a face Setsuna knew all too well. After all: she and Karin had formed the Rainbow Troupe together.

Chapter Text

Dia hurried through the back hallways of the reception hall, trying not to have a panic attack. The ceremony had gone off without a hitch, as Ruby rightfully deserved, and Dia had hoped that good fortune would extend to the reception, as well. Sadly, it seemed like anything that could go wrong was in the process of going wrong all at once. 

And it was her responsibility as the maid of honor to make sure absolutely none of it reached Ruby and Hanamaru. 

She entered the kitchen area and found the other maid of honor, Yoshiko, quietly freaking out in front of the cake. Almost immediately she could see why: the cake toppers were currently not topping the cake, and the icing where they should have been was a complete mess.

"Yoshiko, what happened?"

The younger woman whipped around, panic in her eyes. "I don't know! Someone knocked the Ruby and Zuramaru figures off the cake, and now it's ruined!"

"Calm down, deep breath," Dia said, trying her best to sound comforting. She waited until Yoshiko complied before continuing. "Do you think you can fix it?"

Yoshiko's eyes darted back and forth. "I don't know if I trust my luck enough for something like this…."

Internally, Dia agreed, but she didn’t want to make Yoshiko feel bad by saying it out loud. Instead she said, “Then go find Yō in the main hall. The DJ cancelled at the last second, and she’s going to take over, but she’ll need input on songs Hanamaru likes. Can you do that while I take care of this?”

Relief flooded Yoshiko’s eyes, and she nodded emphatically. “Yes! I can do that!” She hurried out of the kitchen. Then Dia turned her attention to the disaster on top of the cake. She was determined to fix it. It might not look perfect in the end, but she would do her best. This was for Ruby.

Somehow, after ten minutes of intensive icing-based cake surgery, she fixed it to the point of being presentable again. She made her way to the main hall, where dinner was about to start.

Dia didn’t even sit down once she reached her seat. Instead, she grabbed the microphone that had been left next to her plate. Her heart felt like it was going to beat out of her chest, but she could do this. This was for Ruby.

“Excuse me, everyone. Before we get started with dinner, the maids of honor would like to say a few words.” She turned and looked at where Ruby and Hanamaru sat together, looking absolutely radiant. Almost immediately, she choked up and had to stop herself from crying, and she hadn’t even said anything! Dia took a deep breath and turned back towards the guests.

“As most of you know, I’m Dia Kurosawa, Ruby’s older sister. I’ve had the honor and privilege to watch Ruby grow up from the cutest, most adorable baby girl to the stunningly beautiful young woman who sits before you. And over the years, I’ve beared witness to many an embarrassing moment that would make for a hilarious story. However, since Ruby will hopefully be the maid of honor at my own wedding, I don’t want to give her any excuse to share the embarrassing stories I know she has about me.” The crowd laughed, but more importantly, Ruby laughed. “Instead, I’ll just say that Ruby has always helped me remember that it’s important to be patient with the ones you love. I’m sorry you had to grow up with someone like me who even needed reminding of that in the first place.” Another laugh from Ruby. Then Dia turned to look at Hanamaru.

“Hanamaru, I remember feeling very happy when Ruby first told me she’d made a friend in school, but also worried. Worried that whoever this ‘Hanamaru’ was wouldn’t be good enough for my perfect little sister. When we first met, I felt better, but still couldn’t shake the worry. You know how I am.” Hanamaru smiled at her. “It wasn’t until your first year of high school, when you so boldly told me to pay attention to what Ruby actually wanted, that any lingering worry disappeared. I knew right then that Ruby had found someone special. Years later, when you first told me your intention to marry Ruby, all I felt was joy. Joy that Ruby was gaining a true partner and that I was gaining a new sister. 

“Congratulations, you two. I love you both more than I can ever say.”

Chapter Text

The silent alarm went off on Rin’s Fitbit, letting her know it was time to get up for her morning run. She got out of bed as quietly as possible—a feat she had practiced to perfection over many years—so as not to wake her girlfriend up. The last time she’d accidentally woken Maki up at five in the morning, she had to sleep on the couch for a week. Rin spared a moment to look at Maki sprawled out on the bed and smiled.

After changing into her running clothes, she went out into the living room to stretch. Her morning routine was so ingrained in her at this point that she probably could have still been asleep. Nothing had stopped her morning run for years: not weather, not holidays, not birthdays. It started every day off fresh and on the same foot.

A chill autumn wind greeted her as she opened the door, and she couldn’t fight back a shiver. Her runs always started cold at this time of year, but she knew she’d warm up pretty quickly. And so Rin started to run.

The cold air stung her lungs at first, but the shock helped shake away the last vestiges of sleep. The sun hadn’t come up yet, so the world was still in its pre-dawn haze. There was hardly anyone out and about at this time. Rin liked this time of day. She’d tried explaining it to Maki one time, but she was never the best with words. At least Maki accepted that Rin liked it, even if she didn’t understand it herself.

Seconds turned to minutes turned to hours, disappearing into the past with each step. She glanced at the time and saw it was almost seven, which meant she was almost back home. In truth (not that she’d ever admit it to Maki), she barely paid attention to her route anymore. She knew the entire area by heart. Once she got home, she’d take her shower, and then maybe Maki would be up by then. It was hit or miss when her girlfriend would wake up on her days off. Not that Rin could blame her.

When she opened the door home, she immediately noticed something was different. For one, the lights were on, and she was pretty sure she’d turned them off before leaving. Then her nose caught a whiff of chocolate coming from the kitchen. Her curiosity piqued, she made her way over there.

Maki sat at the table, holding a mug in one hand and her phone in the other. Rin’s mug was on the table in Rin’s usual spot, and steam rose from the liquid inside it. Rin furrowed her brows. This was weird. Maki never woke up this early if she didn’t have to.

“Maki-chan?”

Maki looked up from her phone and smiled. It made Rin feel warm inside after a long run in the cold. “Welcome back, Rin. How was your run?”

“Pretty normal,” she said, still feeling a little strange that they were having a normal conversation this early. “A little cold I guess, but it’s that time of year. I’m kind of really surprised to see you up and about already.”

“Oh! Um….” Maki glanced away, and Rin thought she could see a little red color her girlfriend’s cheeks. “I just thought I’d make you some hot chocolate to help warm you up after your run.”

The warmth in Rin’s chest at seeing Maki smile instantly doubled on hearing that. She couldn’t hold back any longer, so she pounced on her girlfriend and wrapped her into a big hug. Then for added effect, she nuzzled her cheek into the top of Maki’s head. Maki, to her credit, just let out a quiet sigh that morphed into a soft chuckle. Rin had conditioned her well to hugging after so many years together.

“Maki-chan’s so sweet! Just like the hot choco she made.” Rin let go and took her seat at the table. After a few blows to cool the drink off, she took a sip and cooed at how good it was. “Maki-chan makes the best hot choco!”

“It’s just stuff from a packet…” she muttered, her blush growing deeper.

“Yeah, but I can taste the love you put into it by waking up so early to make it!”

Maki squirmed in her seat, turning as red as the tomatoes she loved so much. “Well… I wanted to surprise you on your birthday.”

Rin paused and thought for a moment. “Oh yeah! It’s my birthday!”

Maki stared at her for three seconds before putting her head in her hands and laughing.