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Of Fabrics and Identity

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Arashi Narukami was not one that gave into self-doubt and gloominess very often.

At first, that had just been an act, of course. Something she'd heard so long ago she didn't even remember who told it to her anymore— even if you don't actually feel positive, even if you don't believe your own acting, pretend like you do hard enough, and you will convince yourself you're right eventually.

So it was, through practicing this with enough stubbornness that it did eventually come true, that the miserable, angry, vindictive person she was had faded into obscurity, a dark secret that the few that were close enough to her to remember kept hush-hush about for her sake.

But despite her best efforts towards perfection, she was still only human, and still fell victim to her own negative thoughts on occasion, same as anyone else.

Today was one of those occasions. It had snuck up on her from out of nowhere, on a perfectly ordinary day off doing a perfectly ordinary chore— organizing her closet. Normally something that would be a task she finished in the blink of an eye without any serious feelings, now had her sitting on her bed, staring at the garment in her hands with an expression that could only be described as brooding.

And...why? She didn't normally have any particularly complicated relationship with the clothing she wore. It was, as she saw most things, just a means to show a certain image of yourself to the world. One of the most important ones, admittedly, and one she devoted much of her time to picking out personally when it came to putting together her own wardrobe, but...

No, maybe that's exactly why it bothered her. What was in her hands was one of Knights' outfits. Something she couldn't choose for herself. One of the pieces of her public identity and image that was completely out of her control, and one that was infuriatingly rigid and masculine.

Arashi had gotten very skilled at not thinking too hard about it. She didn't even dislike the style, particularly— knightly themes were such a romantic concept by nature, and she enjoyed playing into that angle, enjoyed the fanservice she was able to give their princesses, enjoyed that she could be appealing and flirtatious in her own way. And by sheer will and honesty, she had cultivated a fanbase that largely respected, understood, and loved the complicated relationship between her self and her role in service of them— their beloved sister knight. A few had even taken to calling her their queen, despite her giving that title up willingly, each use of such names setting her heart alight with joy all over again.

But still, she realized, as her thumb trailed over the weighty matter how much she had managed to mold the role she'd been given by fate into something that fit her better, to be something she was comfortable in and proud of, there was that one piece of the puzzle that would never budge for her. She would always be playing the masculine role in their dynamic, she would never be able to experience the allure of being the princess— and she felt that difference keenly as she glanced around the room at the lovingly-crafted outfits strewn around her.

Suits. Almost all of them were some form of a suit. Some had flair. Capes, or long tails, interesting designs on the coat, or some other ornamentation that made them less painfully boring and traditional, but at the end of the day, most of her work as an idol saw her buttoning up the same style of dress shirt buttons, tugging on padded jackets that made her silhouette boxier, stronger— to appear more capable of protecting their princesses from any threats, of course.

And while Arashi could feed into the fantasy most days, could ignore the weight on her shoulders and focus on performing to the best of her ability and pleasing her fans...sitting here alone in her room and staring at the collection of clothing that all felt just slightly wrong for her to imagine herself wearing was a much different story.

Her hands were shaking a bit, she noticed, as she brought the suit jacket to her chest and held it close. The fine fabrics and craftsmanship of all of these costumes felt wasted on her, in a roundabout way. It felt dreadfully disrespectful to have such disdain for custom-made pieces just for her, but she couldn't help it. She wouldn't trade the life she had now for anything, it was a dream most days, but...but...

There was always going to be a little piece of her that spoke to her self-doubt and fears. That wondered how her life could have been different, and that longed for a reality where she could be the one in the elegant dresses and tiaras, could enjoy the feeling of gentle ruffles and lace against her skin instead of heavy cotton. Where she could enjoy being the beautiful counterpart to her own knight, instead of looking directly at all of the women living her wildest dream, blissfully unaware of how much of a blessing it was for them to be able to experience it.

No matter how much she strived for perfection, there was always going to be a little piece of her that looked right past how happy and fulfilled she felt with her career, her friends, her life, to feed into those bitter and angry thoughts instead, and she could feel tears pricking at her eyes as they crept in again, the temptation to dare to think she should have never gotten involved with Knights building up—


"Narukami~senpai! I'm home!"

Tetora was a bundle of sunshine as ever, and of course, returning back to the dorm at the most inconvenient time. She wasn't about to cry in front of him, after all, not when he was all smiles, his affection and respect for her as obvious as always.

"Ah— Welcome back." Arashi greeted, carefully keeping her voice from sounding wet or teary as she dabbed under one of her eyes with her finger, pretending she just had a stray eyelash irritating her instead.

Thankfully, he doesn't seem to be any the wiser to how close he'd come to seeing his beloved senpai so vulnerable, bright catlike eyes instead drawn to the uncharacteristic mess on her side of the room.

"Ahah...spring cleaning day, huh?"

"Something like that." She heaves a sigh, masking it as a tired sigh from working so hard, rather than the actual sigh of relief it was, as any trace of her near-breakdown were gone by the time her junior had approached her. "It would be lovely if your boss used some of his money to get us all some nice walk-in closets, you know. It's not like I can just toss out any of these old outfits..."

No matter how much she wanted to, sometimes.

"Heh. Y'know if I could ask for something like that for ya, I would! But I know you'll sort them all out, Narukami-senpai. You're good at this sort of thing! And if ya need help putting it all away, then you can leave it to me! I've been training extra hard lately, so I could probably carry it all in one go if I needed to!"

And despite herself, she can feel Tetora's upbeat energy rubbing off on her, making her smile even as she folds the navy-blue jacket in her hands carefully, her gaze firmly focused on his toothy grin instead of the task. He was always so sweet and attentive to ready to show off and treat her like the princess she wanted to be. She was so lucky to have a junior like him...

"Oh, oh, Narukami-senpai, look! Nyanko seems real cozy...~"

She blinked a couple of times as she followed his pointing, her smile widening as she caught the darling kitten curled up and napping right on top of her own classic Knights uniform, the only movement her serene breathing and happy purrs.

"Now, I wonder why she would doze off there...~? And when she has a perfectly good cat bed, too..."

"Mmm...Probably 'cause it reminds her of her mom~ You've worn it so many times, it's gotta smell just like you by now, no matter how many times you wash it! N-Not like I mean anything weird by that, you know, just—"

Arashi rests her cheek on the palm of her hand with a soft laugh, at that, shaking her head just a little. "No, no, I understand exactly what you mean, Tetora-kun! And you're probably right. That outfit is practically just 'me' at this point, isn't it?"

"Well...sorta. I mean, in Knights, it's the same as everyone else's, isn't it?" Even without looking, she can hear the furrow in Tetora's brow, the way he's carefully considering his words, even for what should be such a trivial little discussion... "What makes it yours is the fact that it's...well, you wearing it, Narukami-senpai! That's the important part!"

...right. Right, it was, wasn't it?

No matter what she wore...nobody else was really paying attention to that, were they? Not beyond just admiring the aesthetics, at least...her fans didn't look to her and see an effeminate man, or a woman in an outfit that was so not her, or an odd knight that was too confusing for them to truly appreciate what they were looking at.

They saw Arashi Narukami. The Arashi Narukami that they adored, or admired, or aspired to be like. The Arashi Narukami that could turn the most traditionally masculine role of a protector into something uniquely feminine and elegant and hers, against all odds. The Arashi Narukami that gathered up her surroundings in a whirlwind, and shifted the winds around herself to suit her instead of yielding to them.

They saw her, no matter what fabrics she was clad in. And that was more than enough reason to keep pushing through those bitter, angry, selfish thoughts, to stay, and keep stubbornly molding her unique little corner of existence into her own little paradise for herself, and anyone else like her.

So, that's just what this Arashi Narukami will do... ♪