Christmas day was always a lively time no matter where one was in the world. Tokyo was no exception to the magical whimsy of the winter season. Its wide streets, glistening towers, and tight alleys breathed in the magic of the holidays. Its magic was not only through fantasy glamor or extravagant displays of wonder, but in the smiles of everyday souls that woke up to exchange gifts, merriment, and joys that carried the weight of emotions both great and small.
However, that wasn’t to say magic didn’t exist during this festive day.
“Ah, excuse me!” Pushing past against the flow of people on the sidewalk, one such Yohane Tsushima found refuge in a narrow street that broke away from the main artery of pedestrians. Tokyo was always a formidable den of evil, she thought in her mind as she heaved to calm her breath.
Muffled sounds emerged underneath her coat. She squeaked, pressing down on the squirming lump before moving deeper into the thin street. Buildings loomed overhead, their bland exterior making amethyst eyes wander their blank surfaces.
A sudden force pushed the hand on her chest aside, a slithering sensation brushing against her skin as a head popped out from the inside pocket of her coat. Emerald eyes gleamed, a piercing black slit capturing her gaze.
White fangs were borne and would terrify any soul, if they weren’t half the size of her pinky. “I would much prefer it if you didn’t suffocate me in your pockets, Yohane!”
The girl let out a stiff laugh, rubbing the back of her neck. “Aha… Sorry about that, Dia. I didn’t want anyone to see you like this.”
Dia huffed but sounded more like a hiss. Residing in Yohane’s pocket was Dia Kurosawa, her senior and fellow Aqours member.
Not the capable, commanding yet kind, steadfast student council president she had known, but a small dragon that could fit in her coat pocket.
After escaping the antique shop, escaping the accidental disaster brought upon by her insistent prodding, she finally had time to inspect the creature in front of her. Dia now had the body of a serpent dragon, a thin frame with brilliant red scales with occasional differences of teal, black, and lighter shades of red. Her eyes maintained the same eye color, but the black was replaced with sharp slits that pierced her soul. She had wings that were folded, resting against her back. Long eyebrows floated, furrowed in a steep angle to show displeasure. Yohane gulped at the return of her frightening stare.
“I told you not to mindlessly touch the merchandise.”
“How was I supposed to know they’d turn you into a dragon?” she defended herself, her voice laced with guilt. In truth, Yohane thought she looked less like a dragon and more like a pet reptile. She had enough tact not to anger Dia and say it aloud.
The dragon sighed, slumping its body down in a depressed curve. “Whatever shall we do now? There’s no way we can go back to that store.”
Yohane nodded. The results of her mistake caused a large plume of smoke to cloud the entire store, and before she knew it Dia had transformed into a mythical creature: a dragon. An entity of myth, children’s books and epic fantasies.
She watched as Dia crawled out her pocket, feeling the soft pinch of her claws as she crawled to her shoulder.
Impulsively, she let out a small cackle. “Polly wants a cracker?”
Dia raised an eyebrow, Yohane hearing her sharp breath. “What did you say?”
Yohane quickly waved her hand, dismissing her frustration as she continued walking down the path. “Patience, Dia. We can try returning to that store later today. Probably the guy there would’ve forgotten about us, and we can just turn you back the same way we turned you into a dragon!”
There was a look of distrust present in Dia’s new features. Yohane took careful notice to note down the different expressions. “And do you know exactly how I turned into a dragon in the first place?”
A shrug nearly pushed Dia off her shoulder. “No clue, but it has to be simple, right?”
“For our sakes, I better hope it is.”
Yohane walked out into another major road. Not as crowded as the one she felt, but still it led to bustling establishments lining up in front of the sidewalk. She continued on, the dragon perched upon her shoulders.
Dia kept her body low against her shoulder. It somehow felt broader than usual, or perhaps her size made everything felt imposing. Every passerby made her wings shudder, the hum of cars in the street adjacent howling in her ears.
“Perhaps a break is in order, Yohane?” she raised, her voice unable to hide her distress.
Luckily, Yohane agreed, checking her watch before looking around. “Yeah, it is almost lunchtime too. Where do you think is a good place? An animal café?”
“One more quip from you and you’ll be the first to find out if I can breathe fire, Yohane.”
The girl laughed, giving the feisty beast a stroke along its back with a finger. “You gifted me this coat, so I wouldn’t imagine you singing it so soon.”
Her retort made Dia hiss, curling into a ball on her shoulder. Relishing in her victory, Yohane walked on, stopping when her eyes fell on a storefront that caught her eye. “Dia, look!”
The sudden excitement in her voice made the dragon perk up from her coil, looking past the street following Yohane’s finger. Her eyes landed on modern reimaginations of a certain product dear to her heart, but the fact that such a trendy façade could only exclusively be for it made her wary.
“A shop just for cheese?” Dia wondered aloud. Yohane nodded her head, navigating the sidewalk to the nearest pedestrian crossing. “Would something so specific a purpose exist?”
“Anything can happen in Tokyo, Dia. Dragons, cheese shops, anything!”
The rush in her steps nearly made Dia fall off her shoulders. Despite her complaints to slow down, Yohane skipped across the street and into the restaurant; a restaurant that served cheese.
Yohane dashed through the doors, excitedly moving over to the counter. On her way, she passed by the window seating, two sets of eyes spotting her enthusiasm as she made her way to order.
“Someone’s sure excited about cheese,” Shizuku Osaka remarked, facing back to her date for the day. Her words brought on a satisfied grin, above it a glinting gaze of taffy pink.
“What did Kasumin tell you, Shizuko? This place is to die for.”
Kasumi Nakasu brought her attention to the table between them. On it were an assortment of cheeses set on small plates, wooden boards, and bowls. With them were a variety of nuts, bread slices, crackers, and fruits. A formidable, classy charcuterie.
Shizuku curled an eyebrow at the daunting assortment, meeting the ash-brunette’s eyes. “I cannot even begin to fathom the number of calories this table is.”
In response, Kasumi casually waved her concerns with a hand, her grin hanging loose on her face. “Silly Shizuko, everyone knows calories don’t exist when it’s Christmas!”
“Just because you refuse to check your weight during the holidays doesn’t mean you’re not gaining any,” Shizuku replied smoothly, eyes back down on the table, unsure where to begin.
“Once you are introduced to the majesty that is cheese, Kasumin is sure you’ll be begging me to bring you back here.” Kasumi posed with confidence, then reached a hand over the table. “Enough talk, you have to try their soft brie!”
Shizuku watched as she took a slice of brie. A curious gaze saw Kasumi’s face glow in delight at the cheese touching her tongue, a sigh of content following suit when she paired it with a few candied walnuts. Her cheeks were busy, chewing happily.
Melancholic gray paused to scan the restaurant, spotting the enthusiastic girl sitting down with a tray piled high with cheese and complimentary elements. There was something moving perched on her shoulder, but before Shizuku could scrutinize the girl, a sudden voice brought her out from thought.
“Hey, Shizuko! Is Kasumin boring you or has another girl come to take your heart away with cheese?”
Shizuku feigned a dramatic air, placing a hand on her chest as her eyes met Kasumi’s. “My dear Kasumin, I don’t think cheese is the deciding factor in that imaginary possibility of yours.”
A laugh escaped between them. Kasumi picked up a slice of bread, spread with goat cheese. “Here, say aah~”
She humored the action, Shizuku learning forward to accept Kasumi feeding her. Her mouth chewed carefully, tasting the milky taste and light salty taste of the cheese. It softened the dryness of the bread, and Shizuku chewed with enjoyment before swallowing.
“That was… pretty good.”
“I know, right?” Kasumi clapped her hands, her smile radiant and relieved. “Kasumin wants you to try this next!”
The ash brunette pushed a small plate towards Shizuku. Small squares of warm yellow cheese, all stabbed with a toothpick. Beside it was a bowl of grapes. “What kind of cheese is this?”
Kasumi smiled, picking up one of the squares with the toothpick, coupling it with a grape. “Gouda and grapes are a must-try, Shizuko! The salty flavor with sweetness are a perfect match.”
As if to prove her point, Kasumi ate one after the other, her face relaxing in satisfaction.
“Kind of like you and Kasumin together,” she added, her mouth busy as she chewed.
“That makes me wonder which one of us is the cheese.”
Shizuku followed, not expecting the ash-brunette’s words to ring true. The strong, but not overpowering taste of the cheese melded well with the sweetness of the grape. Her mouth chewed cautiously, tasting the combination of flavors coating her tongue.
After she swallowed, her eyes looked back to see Kasumi reach inside her bag. The next second, she took out a bread roll, packaged neatly in plastic film.
“You brought your own bread with you?”
“What?” Kasumi returned the look with a challenging glare. She unpacked her bread roll, a simple back with no fillings inside. “Kasumin’s bread is the best. So, I thought that pairing it with the best cheese would bring my bread rolls on a whole new level!”
Shizuku could only watch as Kasumi put cheese in between the buns. With it, some preserved meat, slices of fruit, and sausages. She couldn’t even try to differentiate between the cheeses. Kasumi’s trained eye for dairy products was unmatched compared to anyone else’s she’s ever met.
Though, Shizuku considered, wasn’t much when she realized there weren’t many people in her life who had even the vaguest attraction to cheese.
Still, Shizuku enjoyed herself. Not from the cheese, though she had to admit they were quite tasty. It was the smile on Kasumi’s face when she would bite into it, the glow of delight whenever cheese met her tongue.
That was Shizuku’s real reward and made the odd smells of cheese almost bearable.
“Give this a bite, Shizuko!” Kasumi said, excitedly pushing the stuffed bread roll towards Shizuku. There was a big bite out of it, exposing the chaos of cheese, meats, and fruits bulging between the buns.
Shizuku leaned close, resolving to go on a diet until New Years’ as she took a bite. Her eyes landed on a familiar gaze of expressive gold and gave a pitiful wave. She didn’t want to subject another to her ordeal, that and she could clearly see a certain pair were out on a date.
“Rina, what are you looking at?” Setsuna asked, taking her eyes away from the window to study Rina’s expression. To anyone else, there would be only a monotone neutrality, but Setsuna absorbed every subtle change, understanding the small hints to discern the girl’s emotions.
She spotted the small twitch on the corner of her lips. Rina must be happy. “Ah, nothing, Setsu. I thought I saw something just now.”
“Ah, I understand!” Setsuna grinned in return, making sure to smile enough for both of them. Rina appreciated the gesture, finding the girl’s hand using her own.
“Did you find what you were looking for?” she asked, looking up to see passionate gray. Setsuna shook her head, but the negative response did none to dull the curve of her lips.
“Nope, though I did see a lot of good things!” She looked down the street, starting off with Rina at her side. “Let’s try the store you recommended now. Rina.”
A daytime date on Christmas day. Both decided to spend the day wandering the streets together, buying gifts for each other whenever they fancied. Sharing interest in video games and anime, both had specific venues to go. In their free hands were bags of previous stores that they had visited together, buying obscure games and cult classics to one another.
Rina felt light with each step. The day had barely reached midway, and she couldn’t feel happier.
“You still want to come over to my house later, Setsu?” Rina tugged their joined hands, getting her attention. “If you are, I’d like to buy a new game we could try.”
Setsuna took note of the hopeful tone in her voice. The soft, momentary quiver of her lips told her enough. “Of course! I’d to!”
“I’m glad,” Rina said, a bright hum in her voice. Both continued to walk down the bustling street, eyes looking at display windows and signs sticking out overhead. “Let’s get lunch after, too.”
Her suggestion made Setsuna laugh awkwardly, eyes glancing away to the side. “My apologies for getting carried away at the previous shop, I’ll make up for it today by paying for our meals later.”
“I’m teasing,” Rina reassured, tracing soft circles on the other’s palm. “Free lunch I won’t say no to though.”
“You’ve been spending time with Kanata too much, Rina.”
A laugh bubbled from small lips. It was a light puff of breath, fleeting and nearly inaudible from the large stream of people all around them. However, Setsuna heard it clear as day, and it made her head light with glee.
Turning at a corner, they left the main artery of foot traffic and into a thinner street filled with shops. Some had themes, others specific merchandise that justified the store’s existence. Rina spotted their destination, pointing a finger for Setsuna to follow. “Over there, Setsu.”
“Right, let’s go!” She took off, pulling Rina with her as she raced down the street. The brisk cold contrasted the heat rolling off her cheeks, suddenly using her body to keep up with her energetic date.
She spared no moment to admire the unassuming frontage, dashing inside with Rina in tow. Inside made Setsuna gasp. Rows and shelves of video game titles were plenty, all ranging from triple A titles to obscure indie games that were lucky enough to have physical copies. Rina kept Setsuna close as she wandered inside, making sure to restrain her so she doesn’t spend too much.
“Ooh, I heard about this one!” Setsuna squeaked, picking up a game from the shelf. Rina reached forward, placing a hand on the box. “Rina?”
The girl shook her head, gently easing Setsuna to release the game. “You said you didn’t want to buy any more games, right?”
“No buts, Setsu,” Rina asserted. Despite her authoritative words, Setsuna couldn’t help but swoon at her cute tone. Her eyes betrayed none and Setsuna abandoned the spotted game, continuing down the shelves for her prize.
They soon found their game, Rina making sure Setsuna wouldn’t be tempted to buy another as they made their way to the counter. Safely back outside, they walked hand in hand down the street, making turns to herringbone patterned sidewalks and fancy garden hedges.
“Do you know where we are?” Rina asked, gently swinging their hands between them as they walked.
Setsuna made a surveying glance around them, not recognizing the specific area of Tokyo. “I’m not sure. We walked through Shibuya, so maybe we’re on the border?”
The neighborhood had an air of regality. Spotless windows, intricate patterns on the stores, and well-kept landscaping gave the impression that they were in the richer areas of the suburb. A mix of commercial and residential buildings. It awed Rina, who had lived high above in an apartment complex her entire life.
“Oh!” Setsuna’s sound brought her attention. A finger was pointed out to a café, brilliant glass decoration and windows reflecting the sun above. “I think it’s a café, Rina. Do you want to have lunch there?”
Feeling the slight soreness in her legs, Rina couldn’t nod sooner. “Yes please.”
With a smile, Setsuna led the way, standing in front of the front door. Her hand reached for the handle, but the door swung open before she could.
“We’re heading out-“
“Woah!” She pivoted just in the nick of time, narrowly dodging the girl barreling out the door without looking in front of her. Another figure followed behind, a scolding tone harsh in her voice before spotting both Setsuna and Rina.
“Ah! I sincerely apologize!” She bowed deeply. Rina felt embarrassed, but Setsuna took control of the situation with a composed voice. It was a phenomenon Rina referred to as ‘Nana-mode,’ dubbed after the specific nature of Setsuna whenever she was dealing with anyone outside being a school idol.
“Please, don’t worry about it,” Setsuna reassured, offering a small smile. “She just narrowly missed us, so no harm done.”
“I’m glad…” The girl deflated with relief where she stood. Unwavering lilac blinked, as if remembering something. She straightened herself a second later, bowing again. “Please! Enjoy your time in the café.”
Setsuna suppressed her surprise, maintaining a controlled air with every aspect of her being. “We will, thank you very much.”
She walked inside, Rina following close behind. Kanon Shibuya offered a service smile to the couple, closing the door behind them before her eyes snapped to a sight in the corner of her vision. “Keke, watch where you’re going!”
Passionate aquamarine met her gaze, next a hand that grasped her own. “Come on, Kanon! The crepe shop I told you about is about to open their Christmas menu.”
Ginger hair swayed in the soft breeze, brushing against furrowed eyebrows. “What’s the hurry, anyway? Aren’t they open for the whole day?”
Keke Tang stomped her feet impatiently, tugging Kanon along as they started down the street. “It’s a super special menu and everyone’s going to line up there. If we don’t hurry, they’ll sell out before we can try!”
The ginger grimaced at her stomach, the way her body protested with every pull telling her the possibility of an unfortunate fate. “We should think about other date ideas than food, Keke…”
“Huh?” The ash-brunette replied incredulously, continuing to keep Kanon at her side. “What’s wrong with food?”
“Nothing is wrong. J-Just, uh… I feel like our indulgence is beginning to show…”
“It is?” Keke questioned, looking down at herself and then to Kanon. “We do practice, so we can work any weight we put on later!”
Kanon sighed, but small puffs of laughter worked their way out her lips. She always found Keke’s optimism to be the eighth wonder of the world. No matter what, she would always look on the bright side, even on the darkest days.
It was an aspect of Keke that kept Kanon drawn in, despite the sacrifices she would make along the way. Her weight included.
“Next time, tell me about where we’re planning on going, okay?” Kanon threw out, jogging to keep pace with her. Keke gleamed a smile her way, an excited curve tugging her lips.
“Ooh, okay! Kanon’s turn to show me the best snacks in Tokyo.”
“W-Wait, that’s not what I mean-“
“Keke can’t wait!” Before Kanon could protest, Keke led them around another corner, bringing them to a busy part of the city. It was a high street, the bustling activity daunting as they entered the footrace.
Kanon tugged Keke close, intertwining their fingers between each other. “Don’t get lost again, Keke.”
Feeling the grip tighten, Keke barked out a laugh, brushing up against Kanon’s shoulder. “Keke won’t get distracted this time!”
They shared a laugh, chatting as they walk down the street. Suddenly, Keke picked up her pace, forcing Kanon to match it. “H-Hey, Keke!”
“We’re almost there!” Keke tugged their joined hands, the warmth clasped between their palms a comforting sensation that determined the ginger not to let go. “Hurry, people might already be lining up!”
Keke led them through the crowd, arriving in front of a crepe shop in front of the busy sidewalk. True to her word, there was already a small line forming in front. The ash-brunette moved to take her spot at the back of the line, Kanon keeping up right behind her. As soon as they had lined up, another took up a place right behind them, more following suit.
“Geez, how famous are these crepes anyway,” Kanon asked, looking up and down the line.
“It’s a tourist attraction, but very famous with locals!” Blue eyes glimmered, looking up with a voice of admiration as she spoke. “Everything made to perfection, and now they have festive flavors to commemorate the season!”
“I see you’ve done your research, Keke.” Kanon stifled a laugh, watching the girl’s excited glint in her eyes. “Leave it to you to know the trendiest places.”
Keke took pride in that comment, and it made Kanon smile in turn. Suddenly, she turned to face the ginger, her smile softening from its prideful curve. “It’s because Kanon keeps coming along Keke wants to find more of these places!”
Their eyes met, an intense gaze that stole a natural beat of breath. Kanon felt her face heat up, the resolute line ringing in her ears.
Kanon looked down, placing a hand on her stomach.
“…I don’t think daily practice can keep my weight down if you keep bringing me along.”
“Nonsense,” Keke blurted out in Chinese. Kanon didn’t understand, but she was sure that Keke raised her voice to disagree. “Chisato will help you out if it’s trouble!”
The thought of disappointing her childhood friend sent a shiver up Kanon’s spine. She shook her head ruefully, making an attempt to dispel the dark thought with laughter. “Chii-chan won’t let me hear the end of it.”
“Ah, the line is moving!” Keke tugged their joined hand, yanking Kanon a few steps closer to the shop. Enthusiasm beamed on Keke’s face, her excitement contagious. A smile teased at Kanon’s lips. An unsure but adoring smile at the ash-brunette.
“So, what kind of crepe are you planning to get, Keke?”
“There’s so much, Keke can’t possibly choose!” A non-answer that even made the people beside them chuckle. Kanon giggled, narrowing her gaze at her as she wondered. “Keke will just buy all of them!”
“Can you even eat all of that?”
Keke answered without missing a beat, and their eyes locked once more. “You’ll help me, Kanon!”
A despaired shriek rang through the air, Kanon’s cries eliciting a soft giggle from a brunette passing by. “Everyone sure is lively on Christmas, huh?”
Emma Verde remarked with a gentle smile, a small breeze wrapping her arms tighter against her partner. Alluring blue spotted the lively duo lining up in front of the crepe shop, a soft laugh escaping her lips.
“Is it different over in Switzerland, Emma?” Karin Asaka asked, accommodating the tighter hold on her arm by slowing her pace. Emma smiled at the gesture, then pondered Karin’s question.
“I usually spend Christmas at home with my family, so I don’t know what it’s like in the city.” Emma reminisced, a familiar sight showing on her face. Karin knew it well, a cross of nostalgia and homesickness.
She dispelled the latter by pulling her close by the waist, squeezing out the negative thoughts. “In that case, I hope you’ll show me how you spend Christmas next year.”
Emma beamed at the thought, nodding her head energetically. A smile split her face, a radiant sight that was warmer than any fireplace. “Of course, Karin!”
She smiled back, happy to be the reason behind such beautiful smiles. Suddenly, the brunette hummed, a thought entering her mind. “We could do it right now if you want! There’s something I’d like to try.”
She paused, her eyes upturned to meet Karin’s gaze. “If that’s okay, Karin?”
There was no force on earth that could get her to deny her. “What is it, Emma?”
Their steps slowed, Emma leaning close. Her breath brushed against Karin’s earlobes, and the girl shivered. A thousand thoughts crossed her mind, all enough to make her face heat up.
Emma spoke her words quietly, behind it a childish glee that took Karin by surprise. “Chestnuts.”
Karin raised a brow, watching the brunette back up, her smile wide and almost goofy. “We used to roast chestnuts over the fire every Christmas night!”
Both had stopped walking. Karin looked around, her confusion growing as Emma’s words registered. “I, uhm… Do you know where we could find some?”
Emma blinked. After a second, she began to laugh. A strong, delighted laugh. Soothing but upbeat, it left Karin puzzled, who pouted at the sudden burst of laughter. “H-Hey, what’s so funny?”
The brunette shook her head, but laughter still made her body rattle with each gulp of breath. Karin resigned herself to wait, watching her resume composure, laughter trailing into the cold air. Emma rested against her arm, cheek brushing against the soft fabric of her coat.
“That was warmer than any fire. Thank you, Karin.”
Karin smiled, though it looked more like a grimace. “All we need now are chestnuts and we’re all set.”
Emma raised a hand, gently tapping her face. “Hush you, I was only teasing.”
They continued walking, losing themselves in another set of topics. Before Karin could focus on the warmth on her side, a sudden glint of shimmering red made her stop in her tracks. She threw a look over her shoulder, but it was gone.
“Karin?” Emma looked the same, way, confused when she saw nothing but the continual movement of pedestrians. “Something wrong?”
“A-Ah, nothing.” Karin held her breath before releasing it, then taking a soft inhale.
“I thought I saw a lizard or something.”