“Oh god, oh no, oh man, where is it where is it where is it…!”
Aya grunted as she propped up unplugged amps and empty boxes around the edge of the studio room, her fingers and feet scurrying along the floor in a desperate search.
“I-It has to be around here somewhere! Aagh, I better find it before Hina-chan or Chisato-chan arrive, or else… or else…”
“Or else what?”
Aya shrieked as Chisato’s deathly calm voice rang just behind her ear, tripping over the ankle-high speaker in front of her to slam her forehead into the wall.
Hina busted out laughing as Aya slumped down to the floor. “Wow! The way you hurt yourself is really boppin’, bwahaha!”
A meager croak escaped Aya’s throat.
“Now then.” Chisato’s smile was sharp enough to cut diamonds. “What were you looking for, Aya-chan?”
“N-Nothing!” Aya yelped, scrambling to her feet. “I just, uh, lost my contact lens! Wait no I don’t wear glasses… uh, Maya-chan lost her contact lens and asked me to look for it!”
“Maya-chan isn’t here today,” said Chisato. “She’s got a bad head cold. Now would you like to fess up?”
“N-Not really, no.”
“Hey, what’s this?” asked Hina, reaching down to grab a loose flier that had gotten kicked around in Aya’s mad scuffle. “‘Marvelous Magilou’s Magical Mixture’?”
“Hey!” Aya reached out to snatch the paper out of Hina’s hands. “Give that back!”
Hina held the paper high above Aya’s head, like a sixth grader taunting a kindergartner. “Wow, why do you want it so bad? It’s just a piece of paper, ahaha! I can’t even do anything with it!”
“Come on, Hina-chaaaan!”
While she did find the display amusing, Chisato wanted to get to the bottom of this. “Hina-chan, may I see?”
“Sure!” Hina’s arm effortlessly swerved around Aya’s noodly reach to hand the paper to Chisato, who read its contents aloud:
“‘Marvelous Magilou’s Magical Mixture – a concoction for your charisma… made with a heap of holistic herbs, this bevy of a brew will boost your natural charms high enough that everyone will cherish you… for 24 hours after drinking, just one smile will be enough to make anyone turn their head your way… perfect for stage performers, musicians, and other entertainers.’” Chisato squinted. “‘Disclaimer: Works only on those within two to three years of age due to liability reasons. Comes in Strawberry, Matcha, and Mango flavors.’”
“Ah, I get it!” said Hina with a nod. “Aya-chan got scammed!”
“I-I did not! I mean!” Aya put on a bashful smile and kicked her leg around with faux-innocence. “I-I’ve never seen that flier before in my life, ehehe! A-And I definitely didn’t order one to drink today as a test! And I definitely definitely didn’t stick it in my locker and then somehow lose it!”
“Lying isn’t very becoming of an idol, Aya-chan,” said Chisato, tutting in that knowing yet smiling way a mother does when her child falsely claims to have brushed her teeth. “Now would you like to tell us where you put this ‘mixture’?”
“I don’t know!” said Aya, throwing her hands up in defeat. “I put it in here, went to use the restroom, and then when I came back it was gone! It was just a little pink bottle about the size of my fist.”
“Well, we better find it before someone accidentally ingests it,” said Chisato, scanning the room. “It could be full of some dangerous substances.”
“I dunno, it sounded kinda like a… what’re those things called… love potion?” said Hina, her eyes sparkling. “I’ve always wanted to see what would happen if I drank one of those!”
“Love potions don’t exist in reality, Hina-chan,” Chisato replied, double-checking the corners to make sure there weren’t any pink bottles around. “There’d be a whole mess of trouble if they did.”
“Exactly! Wouldn’t that be boppin’?”
“Why do you always cause problems on purpose…?” asked Aya, her shoulders slumping over.
“Regardless, Aya-chan, you should know better,” Chisato continued. “I don’t know what kind of ‘marketing’ you received, but there’s no way a substance like this would work as intended.”
Chisato nodded as she rejoined the two of them. “Of course. I mean, captivating with just one smile? That’s the sort of thing reserved for silly romance novels, not—”
The door creaked open, and the three turned to face... the most luminous presence to ever walk the earth.
Resplendence poured from every fiber of her being, from the cheery crinkle of her eyes right down to the energized gait with which she entered. Her ‘good afternoon’ carried not the usual listlessness of tired platitudes but the sincere eagerness of being able to see those she cherished, filled with not even a shred of falsity. Her pigtails flopped happily in the air, as bright as her smile, so captivatingly warm that the sight sent three hearts afluttering in their ribcages:
Aya, Hina, and Chisato all stood breathless and heavy-hearted, their mouths agape as Eve Wakamiya innocently--and angelically--strode towards them.
“Hello, everyone!” she said, each syllable ringing like a pluck from a seraph’s shamisen. “How are you today?”
“I’m… hn… hrm… ugrh… mrm…” Aya grunted, stepping back. Suddenly her foot caught on a loose wire, and she was in free fall. “Wha--?”
Without a moment’s hesitation Eve leapt over to catch her mid-air, grasping Aya’s wrist in one hand and sliding around her back to support her with the other. They froze at a 45-degree angle mid-air, in what would be a perfect dip if they were dancing. “Aya-san. Are you alright?”
Aya’s throat gurgled gayly.
Eve brushed aside Aya’s bangs with a gentle touch, giving her a clearer view to look into Eve’s burning blue irises. “There is no need to look so afraid. I am holding on tightly.”
Aya squeaked out a tiny, inaudible “right...”, feeling blood rush to her head. It was probably the angle they were at, right? That’s why she felt so warm and lightheaded. Y-Yeah. She definitely didn’t want Eve to lean down and kiss her or anything. Wait, huh? Wh-Why was she thinking about that right now?
Eve smoothly lifted her back on her feet, making sure Aya was stable (if deflated) before letting go. “You must be careful to watch where you are going. I do not want you to hurt--”
She turned to find Hina’s face pressed right into her own, supernova eyes burning golden into her gaze. “Eve-chan!”
“Hina-san!” Eve greeted, unfazed and in fact pleased to see Hina so close. “How are you?”
Hina didn’t answer, instead coiling around Eve with glittering enthusiasm. “You’re so… zappin’! Shoobity wap! Kapow blammo!”
“I am glad!” said Eve, bowing graciously. “Perhaps it has to do with that strawberry beverage I drank a few minutes ago--it felt so invigorating! However, I must ask. Am I bushido?”
“The most bushido there ever was~!” Hina cheered, suddenly taking in a whiff of Eve’s lavender-scented hair. “So bushido you’re… you’re…!” Hina was at a loss for words. She couldn’t even describe how Eve was making her feel right now. How interesting was that!
“Ahem.” Chisato stepped between them, facing Hina with a rigid smile. “Don’t you think you’re getting a little close, Hina-chan?”
“I think I should probably get closer, actually!”
Chisato might deign to laugh at that normally, but now she took Eve by the arm and gently pulled her away. “I’m so sorry about that, Eve-chan. You know how she is with personal space.”
“I do!” Eve replied, letting herself get tugged away from the preening Hina and the frozen Aya. “Personally I do not mind.”
“Well… p-perhaps you should.” Chisato’s fingers subconsciously squeezed around Eve’s bicep… was she always this toned? Impossible. Eve had such a round, cherubic face… big perky ears… rosy cheeks... sh-she was cute, not handsome. Wait, no, she wasn’t either of those things! She was just a friend. A co-worker…
“Chisato-san, are you alright?” Eve reached forward and felt for her forehead. “It feels as if you are burning up.”
In any other circumstance Chisato would shrink back at the touch, but instead she let Eve’s cool, delicate fingers lie against her forehead. And it was looking into Eve’s deep-set eyes that she realized, with an emotion that should have been dread but was instead total elation, that Eve was cute and handsome.
“Hey, no fair!” called Hina, yanking on Eve’s other arm. “I want Eve-chan to feel my forehead too!”
“M-Me three!” Aya yelped, tackling Eve into a hug from behind.
Such affection might have been daunting to anyone else, but Eve was purely delighted. “Goodness, you are all so loving today! Should we have a group hug?”
“I…” Chisato cleared her throat as she removed Eve’s hand from her forehead and held it in her own. “I would rather only hug one person. I-I mean, nobody. Nobody at all.”
“I wanna kiss somebody, actually!” said Hina, her face gliding up Eve’s arm to rest on her shoulder..
“I want to kiss Ev--” Aya cut herself off by burying her face deeper into Aya’s spine.
It was only now that Eve began to wonder if something was amiss. “Are you all alright? You are acting a bit strangely compared to usual…”
“St-Strange?” asked Aya, suddenly tearing herself away from Eve with a frenetic chuckle. “What’s strange? I’m not strange! I’m cute, right? C-Cute enough to be girlfriend material?”
“Well, of course you are!” said Eve. “But I do not know why you would ask--”
“Boooo!” Hina jeered, sticking her tongue out towards Aya . “I’d make a better girlfriend than Aya-chan would!”
“You would both be woefully inadequate,” said Chisato, venom now dripping from her smile as her grip around Eve’s hand tightened. “I think it’s quite obvious who’s best-suited to such a position.”
“Why I oughtta--”
Eve’s voice, clear and firm, sent all their burning hearts still.
“That is no way to talk to your friends!” said Eve, pulling herself away from their grasps with a frown. “If you cannot respect each other, then how are we to practice?”
The other members of Pastel*Palettes might have been sheepish about the situation if they weren’t getting lost in the rich, passionate tones of Eve’s voice.
“I do not understand what the matter is, but if we are going to argue like this, then practice today will yield no fruit.” With a respectful bow, Eve made for the door. “I am sorry. But I think we should take some time to cool down.”
The reprimanded idols bore expressions riddled with shame.
“R… Right,” said Chisato.
“Mmhmm,” said Aya.
“Boppin’,” said Hina.
Unable to leave them with such sour spirits, Eve put on a smile again. “It is alright. Such setbacks are natural, especially when we are stressed and exhausted. Rest well tonight, and we shall return tomorrow with clear hearts and clearer spirits! Until then!” She made her way out the door brimming with exuberance.
Aya, Hina, and Chisato sighed dreamily as she left.
“U-Um… w-was Eve-chan always that…” Aya gulped. “...Attractive?”
“She must’ve been!” said Hina. “What other explanation is there?”
Against her better judgment, Chisato eyed the flier on the floor. No. That couldn’t be. That kind of asinine concoction only existed in fiction… sh-she was just now recognizing Eve’s wonderful qualities for what they were. That was all.
Because if it did exist…
“Ah! What a wonderfully fresh day!”
After telling the other members off, Eve forced herself to have a calming evening, holing up in her room to meditate and reflect. She had come across to her bandmates much harsher than she intended to… she would have to apologize in person. But hopefully they took her words to heart as well. She was also worried about Maya, who was still sick at home… perhaps she’d bring her some tea after work. Until then, she intended to practice her bushido way all throughout the day. And that meant spreading positivity and virtue to her utmost! Holding open the door for passerby, cleaning up litter she came across… and, of course, greeting everybody in her path with a smile!
So it was that she strode through the Hanasakigawa gates grinning from ear to ear, greeting everybody she recognized as she passed. Her positive energy must have been even brighter than she thought, because people were staring at her with fawning looks as she passed. Due to her modeling career she was used to catching people’s attention, but this seemed like even more than usual. Oh well! Maybe her work in Pastel*Palettes was garnering more fans!
Eve hummed as she opened the door to her homeroom, every head in the hallway turned her way. “Good morning!”
Hagumi--who had been kicking her legs out under her desk--bobbed up and began jogging towards her. “Hiya, Eve-chin!”
Eve beamed. “Hello, Hagumi-san!”
Hagumi screeched to a halt, stumbling forward on one leg before planting both feet on the ground and facing her. “Eve-chin...”
Head tilt. “Is something the matter?”
A giddy grin melted on Hagumi’s face. “Y… You’re REALLY pretty today! Wow!”
“Why thank you, Hagumi-san!” said Eve, bowing. “You’re looking adorable as well!”
Hagumi felt her tender little heart explode at the compliment, but instead of letting that energy out she froze on the spot, suddenly filled with one, singular desire. “U-Um, Eve-chin, c-can I get a hug?”
“Of course!” Eve wrapped her arms around Hagumi and squeezed tightly, injecting as much love as she could muster. “I love you, Hagumi-san!”
Hagumi got so overwhelmed by Eve’s overflowing warmth that she started dozing off. “Eve-chin… soft… happy…”
Eve felt her grow slacken in her arms. “Ah, Hagumi-san! You should not sleep in class!”
It was too late: Hagumi had fallen asleep standing up. Seeing no other recourse, Eve carried her to her desk and set her down delicately on her chair.
“Rest well, Hagumi-san.” Eve patted her dozing head before heading to her seat with a smile. “Ah, good morning as well, Tae-san!”
Tae said nothing, instead staring at Eve all throughout class without so much as sparing a glance ahead at the board.
Eve, of course, didn’t notice her, or any of the other students gawking at her all throughout the day, instead focusing her attention squarely on the teacher’s words and her notebooks.
Lunch rolled around soon enough. Eve bent down to grab her school bag, but by the time she sat back up a dozen students had crowded around her desk. “Oh my! Is there something you need from me?”
Cries mewled out from around her. “C-Can we eat lunch together, Eve-chan?”
“I’ll give you all the sausages in my bento!”
“I’ll give you all of my bento!!”
Several lunch boxes were crammed towards her face, but Eve remained undaunted. “I appreciate the offer, truly! But I already agreed to eat with Aya-chan today--she sent me a hundred messages pleading and I do not want to keep her.”
“You should eat your meals yourself!” said Eve, gently nudging her seat back as she rose to her feet so that she didn’t shove anyone out of the way rudely. “It’s important to get your nutrients so that you can grow strong! I would not want you to malnourish yourselves. Now if you’ll excuse me…”
She slid past the crowd of doting admirers, each so taken with her words that they immediately sat down and started shoveling the food into their mouths. Hagumi was still sleeping. Tae was still staring.
“Now then, where did Aya-san say we should meet?” wondered Eve aloud in the hallway, stepping briskly as she pulled out her phone. “I know she wanted somewhere more private than our usual place in the courtyard…”
She was caught up enough in scrolling through her phone that she accidentally bumped into somebody. “Hey, watch where you’re going!”
“Ah, my apolog--” Eve stopped as she recognized the irate tone of voice. “Arisa-san?”
Arisa turned and faced her with a huff. “Hey, Eve. Sorry, I’m just in a hurry. I have student council business and I didn’t mean to snap.”
“Student council business?” Eve parroted, a smile breaking out on her face. “Oh! Should I help?”
“W-W-W-W-Well…!” Arisa coughed, suddenly feeling feverish all over. “M-Maybe I could use an extra hand…”
“Wonderful!” said Eve, grabbing onto Arisa’s hands. “I hope to help as best I can!”
“G-G-Get off of me!” Arisa squeaked, attempting to yank out of Eve’s grip. Unfortunately, her will was weak, and Eve’s bushido was strong, and so they traipsed off to the student council room hand-in-hand, drawing both irate glares and mournful sighs from passerby.
Rinko waited in the student council room--diligently processing paperwork and brainstorming ideas for the upcoming cultural festival--when the door to the room shuttered open, drawing her gaze.
“Good day!” greeted Eve, grinning wide.
“L-Let go already!” Arisa yelped, finally squirming away from Eve and towards the wall, overheated to the point where she felt on the verge of passing out. “D-D-Do you get that touchy-feely with everyone?”
“Yes!” Eve replied, turning to face the rest of the room. “Hello, Rinko-san! Why is your head buried in those papers? Are you trying to rest?”
Rinko trembled in place on the desk, unable to so much as speak a word or spare a glance in the direction of such a blindingly sunny presence.
“Ah, I will not disturb you, then!” said Eve, her voice dropping to a whisper as she turned towards Arisa. “So what did you need my help with?”
“U-Um, well…” Arisa didn’t actually have anything Eve could help out with, she was just a disaster lesbian who blurted out that she did because she wanted to spend time with her. “Y-You could turn on the fan! Yeah!”
“Very well!” said Eve, saluting proudly before stepping over and flipping the fan’s switch. The entire process took three seconds. “Mission complete! What else needs to be done?”
A sigh from the entryway. “What are you all doing?”
Arisa rigidly turned to face her treasurer. “Akh! Sayo-senpai! S-Sorry, I…”
“Rest is warranted, but we have a lot of work to do,” said Sayo, scanning both the guilt-ridden Arisa and the shame-faced Rinko before turning right. “You’ll have time to recuperate once we--”
Sayo stopped in the middle of her tirade, thrown off by Eve’s eager eyes. “Sayo-san! How are you today?”
Sayo’s mouth hung agape, unanswering.
“What is the matter?” Eve peered in closer, the freckles on her nose magnifying as she approached Sayo’s face. “Have I done something wrong?”
Wrong? How could someone this bright and beautiful have ever done something wrong? Indecent thoughts poured into Sayo’s mind, and she cursed herself for it. “...N-Nothing.” She forced herself to turn away, feeling undeserving of beholding a person too good, too pure for this world. “Forgive me. I… I must focus on our assignments…”
“Understood! If you do not need me for anything, I really should be meeting with Aya-chan.”
Everybody present wanted to beg her to stay, but lacked the courage--and brain cells--to do so.
“Very well! Have a wonderful day!” Eve waved them off with unwavering enthusiasm, leaving behind three lesbians who absolutely, positively would not be able to focus on their work anytime soon.
Aya told her to meet right by the school gates, which meant passing through the courtyard first. Which meant she could greet her other friends on the way! Look, there was Poppin’ Party and Hello, Happy World!, eating together right in the middle of the quad. She should step over and say hello! “Hi, everyone!”
Eight pairs of eyes bore into her… although Tae’s had been locked-on since Eve had stepped onto the grass, and Hagumi’s expression hadn’t shifted an inch from its dreamy wonder.
Kokoro’s head craned around, her hands suddenly grasping at her sternum. “Hm? What’s this? There’s this weird, funny feeling in my chest! Do you know what it is, Misaki?”
“H-Huh?” asked Misaki, who had crammed her baseball cap over her eyes so she didn’t have to look in Eve’s direction. “I-I dunno… m-maybe it’s heartburn…?”
“Th-This is it!” Kasumi yelped, suddenly rising to her feet. “This is that sparkling, heart-pounding feeling I’ve been looking for all these years!”
“Oh, you finally found it?” asked Eve, clapping her hands with glee. “That’s wonderful, Kasumi-san! What is the cause?”
“I-I think I know what she’s getting at,” said Saaya, hiding her face with a bun. “It’s that same sensation as when you… um…”
“Y-You eat a really good chocolate cornet!” said Rimi.
“Wh-When you watch jellyfish float by at the aquarium…” Kanon murmured.
“When you catch somebody with a big old smile on her face!” Hagumi exclaimed.
“How wonderful!” said Eve. “I hope to experience that sort of feeling someday myself! I have to cultivate my aesthetics first, however! The path of bushido is arduous!”
Everybody present nodded, too wrapped-up in the presence of their newfound goddess to really pay attention to what she was saying.
“Ah, but I must be off!” said Eve. “Take care, every--”
Eve nearly ran into the person who cut her off. “Oh, Chisato-chan! How are you today?”
Chisato felt deathly, in fact. She’d intended to avoid Eve all day because she knew the mere sight of her would make the Yearning seep into her being. But upon catching just an accidental glimpse she couldn’t help but approach. “I’m… fine. Truly.”
“Really?” Eve’s face tightened with concern. “You look horribly pale. Do you feel ill? Tired?”
“N-No, it’s nothing, I’m--”
“Please tell me, Chisato-san!” said Eve, suddenly grabbing her by the shoulders right in the middle of the courtyard, drawing the attention of the last five or so people who weren’t already staring at her. “I can tell something is wrong, and that you are hiding it, whether it is out of concern for my well-being or otherwise. But I do not wish for you to suffer in silence! So please!”
Eve’s words pierced Chisato like a flaming arrow to the heart. How could her consideration extend so far? Chisato felt unworthy of such gracious affection. But how could she ever tell Eve what the cause of her aching was? It would just lead to pain for the both of them… considering their personal lives, and careers, and her own feelings… it was all just a burden.
“Chisato-san… do you not trust me?”
“E-Eve-chan, that’s not it, I’m…” Chisato coughed. “It’s nothing you’d be able to help with. It’s nothing anybody would be able to help me with.”
“Do not say that.” Eve’s voice was low and sharp, an uchigatana gliding along the ground. “Nobody is beyond help. Tell me.”
Chisato stared into Eve’s unwavering gaze, resisting the urge to press her lips into Eve’s own, taking in every last unknown flavor lying on her tongue…
A very boppin’ interjection sent both their heads turning towards the front gate, where Hina stood with arms akimbo. “Hina-san?” asked Eve. “What are you doing--”
“Come on!” called Hina, running up and yanking Eve towards the front gate. “I got bored at school and I realized it was ‘cuz you weren’t around! Nothing’s spankity-danky if you’re missing!”
Eve looked behind her to see Chisato watching them off with a smile. A smile that just barely concealed the longing in her chest. But it was just furtive enough that Eve followed Hina without resistance. “Are we going to Haneoka, then?”
“Yup! As student body president, it’s my job to show everyone just how boppin’ you are!” They strode just outside the school gates, at which point Hina swerved around and pecked Eve on the cheek. “Like that!”
“Ah! A homie kiss! Thank you very much!” Eve always loved receiving homie kisses from her dear friends; in fact, there was nothing she liked more! “Should I give homie kisses to everyone at Haneoka?”
Under any other circumstance, Hina would enthusiastically endorse the idea, but for some reason she wasn’t into it right now. She only wanted Eve to homie kiss herself. Why was that? How interesting! Maybe if she spent more time with Eve she’d figure it out! “Nah… Let’s go, Eve-chan! We’ll talk once we get there!”
“Right behind you! Oh, and hi, Aya-san!”
They passed a hunched-down Aya, who was so lost in her fantasies of Eve kabedon-ing her behind the bleachers that she didn’t even notice their presence.
By the time they sprinted over to Haneoka, lunchtime was winding down. It occurred to Eve halfway there that she would have to go back to class soon, but Hina’s enthusiasm was infectious and she wanted to treasure time with friends just as much as time spent studying. But did that mean she lacked discipline? Being bushido was difficult…
A crowd greeted them as they entered - a familiar fanclub for a particular purple ponce. “Ahaha, my dear kittens… no need to pile atop one another, there’s plenty of me to behold at a safe distance.”
“Oh, it is Kaoru-san!” said Eve, being dragged by Hina around the circle of onlookers. “Hello, Kaoru-san!”
“Oh? Is that the sound of a darling samurai?” Kaoru smirked as she began turning in Eve’s direction. “How are you, my fair--”
Kaoru’s eyes went wide as Eve’s cheery wave entered her vision. Within seconds she had closed the distance between them, taking Eve’s free hand into her own as she prostrated upon one knee. Hina stopped and turned around, befuddled. “Huh? Kaoru-kun? What’re you doing?”
“Wh… Wh…” Tears began streaming down Kaoru’s face. “What gift of heaven is this? The gods themselves could not fashion such beauty if they toiled a thousand years! Magnanimity flows from this precious being before me, so glittering in her every facet that I feel unworthy to even glance upon her! Existence in her presence is a sin, for she’s too good for such cruel earth!”
“Oh, was that a poem, Kaoru-san?” asked Eve, currently being tugged in two directions. “Your acting skills are quite impressive!”
“Yea, it was a poem for thee!” wept Kaoru, kissing her hand. “By your good grace, I devote myself to you for the rest of eternity--nay, far beyond!”
Hina suddenly felt something that was most certainly not shoobity-wap in her chest. “Hey, Kaoru-kun, what’s the big deal? I wanna spend time with Eve-chan!”
“Hm? Oh, Hina…” Kaoru’s gaze set upon her and narrowed. “I see. So you are whom I am to contest in this battle of wills.” She rose to her feet and clapped. “Kittens! Fetch me an epee and protective gear--I must fight for a young maiden’s honor.”
The fanclub complied, not because they were still enamored with their previous idol, but because now they too wished to take up a rapier for Eve’s sake.
“Oooh, an old-timey battle!” said Hina, the usual glitter back in her eyes. “I wonder how long you can even last, Kaoru-kun.”
In the midst of this fiery tension, of course, stood one person who was absolutely elated by what was transpiring. “A duel? Right now?!” asked Eve, her already bright eyes now positively blinding. “I would also like to participate! But I left my shinai back at Hanasakigawa… hm…”
“Concern yourself not with this matter,” said Kaoru, her stare pointed directly at Hina. “This is between two women.”
“Bwahaha! You always talk in such a zappity way, Kaoru-kun!” Hina replied. “But not as zappity as Eve does!”
Eve wanted to thank Hina for the compliment, but she could sense the friction between them was thick. “P-Perhaps I shall visit the kendo club here and ask for a spare?” she said, stepping towards the school.
“Wait, dear!” called Kaoru. “I shall attend to thee!”
“Yeah!” said Hina. “I wanna learn more about you!”
“I respectfully decline--I can take care of the matter myself!” And before either Kaoru or Hina could give chase, she slank into the school with ninja-like ability.
“Goodness, people are acting strange today!” Eve said with a sigh. “Whatever has them so restless?” She shrugged it off after only a moment’s contemplation. Character is a matter of perception--if something seemed off in everyone else, it was far more likely that the fault lied in herself. She must remain vigilant and grant everyone else their due kindness!
So with a slap on the cheeks she set off for the local kendo club, greeting a couple familiar faces on the way. “Yukina-san, Lisa-san, hello!”
The two stood still as she walked past, Lisa twiddling her hair as she blushed. “W-Woah. Did Eve do something with her hair? Or her face? Her outfit…? No, sh-she was just wearing a uniform, b-but… she just had this je ne sais quoi about her, I guess, ahahaha?”
Her laughter couldn’t have come across any more nervously, but Yukina didn’t notice, instead reaching for her own chest with a strange calmness. “Lisa.”
Yukina, unaccompanied with the palpitations surging through her veins, had come to one conclusion. “I believe I’m having a heart attack.”
As Lisa tried to calmly explain to Yukina how the circulatory system worked, Eve began checking nearby classrooms. “Kendo? No. Kendo? No. Ken-- oh! Hello, Ako-san, Rokka-san, Asuka-san!”
Eve disappeared before any of them could get a word in.
“Wh-What is this?” asked Ako, her brow furrowing in anguish. “I-It’s as if some abyssal… um… s-something has seized my heart! But that white hair… those blue eyes… that wasn’t a devil, it was an angel!”
“S-Stop being so dramatic,” said Asuka, suddenly very interested in the windowsill. “Attractive people are sometimes just… attractive. That’s all. Nothing to make a big deal out of. Right, Rokka?”
Rokka’s head was too busy turning into steamed gay mush for her to comment.
Eve’s journey, meanwhile, had taken her to the end of the hallway. “No kendo here… perhaps I should find a guide? It would have to be someone familiar with the school… too bad Maya-san is sick.” For a moment, Eve fretted over her ill friend, and even considered calling her out of concern. But she decided to hold off a while longer--she didn’t want to disrupt Maya in case she was taking a nap.
Just as she came to this decision, an idea dawned in her mind. “Ah! Master would know! But where would she--oh, the rooftop! That’s where she always is!”
Sure enough, Ran was with the rest of Afterglow (sans Tsugumi, busy with student council work left in Hina’s absence) upon the rooftop, despite the fact that class was just starting. It was okay. They were punk rebels, it’s what they did. At least, that was Moca’s justification.
“Woah, check it out,” said Tomoe, pointing down to the crowd below. “It looks like Kaoru-senpai and Hina-senpai are about to fence.”
“They ARE?!” asked Himari, zooming up to the railing. “Wha- Hey! They’ve got masks and stuff on! That’s no fun!”
“Um… yeah?” Ran replied. “That’s the stuff you wear while fencing.”
“Poor Hii-chan wanted them to be shirtless,” lamented Moca. “But unfortunately for her, they have just the one single brain cell needed to prioritize safety.”
Far below, Kaoru and Hina dunked their epees in oil and set them on fire.
“See?” said Moca with a nod. “Safety first.”
Himari turned away from the spectacle with a huff. “W-Well who cares, anyway? N-Not me!”
“You just have a thing for tall girls with swords, admit it,” said Ran. “If Tomoe had a sword you’d be drooling all over her. More than you already do, I mean.”
“Himari drools on me?” asked Tomoe.
“Hmph!” said Himari. “It’s not like I’d fall for any sort of tall swordfighter, you know!”
It was at that moment that Eve entered, elated to see them. “Hello, everyone!”
“Apologies for disturbing your time!” said Eve, pacing briskly towards them. “I simply needed direct--”
She was cut off by Moca slinging an arm around her shoulder. “Yooooo, Eve-san. What’s up? You’re looking bushidomazing today.” Her catlike grin was stretched to its breaking point as she koalaed tighter around Eve. “It’s enough to make me wanna marry you.”
Bushidomazing? That was even better than bushido! “Thank you, Moca-san! I think you are very marriageable, in all honesty!”
Moca clutched at her heart. “Oof… you’re a real phantom thief, stealing my heart like that…”
“Mocaaaa!” Himari whined, clinging onto Eve’s other side, hearts pounding in her eyes. “Don’t take her all for yourself!”
“Do you need me for something, Himari-san?” asked Eve, very appreciative of the fact that she was getting two hugs now instead of one.
Himari sighed dreamily. “Eve-chan… carry me…”
“H-Hey!” yelped Tomoe. “M-Maybe someone else wants to be carried by her, you ever think of that? Hell, maybe someone even wants to carry her!”
“I’ve never had anyone carry me before!” said Eve. “Not since I was a little vauva… ah, but that is not why I came up here! Ran-san!”
Ran--who had desperately been looking away from Eve in an attempt to look cool and mysterious--turned around with an awkward smoothness. “Y-Yeah? Wh-What is it?”
“I require your assistance!” said Eve, trudging over with Moca and Himari still wrapped around her to clutch onto Ran’s hands. “As my ikebana master, I am hoping you will be able to help me find a shinai! It is imperative if I wish to duel properly.”
Ran gulped. A-A duel? What did Eve need to duel for? And why was she trusting her? And since when was she an ikebana master? “H-Hold on, I don’t get why y-you’re coming to me, though…”
“I respect you dearly!” said Eve, her fingers tightening around Ran’s own. “Just last week you helped me arrange a display for Hazawa Coffee! I am hoping that knowledge and kindness can help me out in this matter as well!”
Ran stammered incomprehensibly for a moment. “I-I’m not that special, really… I-I mean, not as much as you-- erkh!”
“Boooo,” Moca hissed. “Get your own Eve-san.”
“That’s my line!” Himari pouted.
“Mine too!” shouted Tomoe, who by now had joined the bandwagon and was haunched onto Eve from behind.
“Y-Yeah, well, does she call any of you ‘master’?” asked Ran smugly.
Eve could tell by the energy brewing around her that a quarrel was stirring. And the cause seemed to be… herself? In that case, she should leave at once. “If none of you know, that is alright! I should be going back to my own school regardless.”
“Eve-chan, waaaaait!” Himari moaned, being dragged behind as Eve began soldiering towards the rooftop door. “Don’t you want to princess-carry me?”
“Don’t you want me to princess-carry you?” asked Tomoe, also lugging behind.
“I apologize, but I do not have the time!” said Eve, gently but firmly prying off the barnacles clinging to her. “Farewell!”
And before Moca or anybody else could latch on, she escaped through the door, the distant clanks of Kaoru and Hina’s flaming fencing resounding in the distance.
Eve employed the utmost of her stealth capabilities in escaping Haneoka and making her way back to Hanasakigawa, at which point class for the day was almost done. But that left her with no shortage of odd encounters. During class she was called into the student council room by Sayo and the rest, only to have them awkwardly mumble a few trite questions about her day. In Tea Ceremony, Kanon and the other members all wanted to serve Eve and Eve alone, and were so distracted by her presence that they accidentally spilled everywhere. Even walking towards work after school brought a host of classmates crossing paths with her, each more awkward than the last. And while Eve was delighted to see all of them, she couldn’t help but feel that something was amiss.
“Is there something the matter today?” she questioned aloud, her usually good posture slouched over as she trodded along. “Everyone is acting so strange in my presence… have I done something wrong…?”
Eve thought hard. The strange behavior had really begun the day before, at Pastel*Palettes’ practice… Aya, Hina, and Chisato had all seemed much flightier than usual. Was it something in her appearance? Her demeanor? Or was it something in the way she was acting? She needed an unbiased third party to check.
Fortunately, there were two of those walking her way right now. “Masuki-san, Rei-san! Hello!”
Both stopped in the midst of their conversation to look at Eve.
“Ah, I hope this is not a strange question to ask,” she continued, “but is there something odd about me today?”
Masuki leaned in close with piercing eyes, every inch of her being emitting a menacing aura. “You’re… awfully cute. You know that?”
“Why thank you!” Masuki had just said the same thing to her last week. “But if my appearance is better than usual, shouldn’t that be a good thing…?” she wondered alud.
“I-I think it is,” said Rei, casually stepping forward and pulling Masuki back. “I mean, if you’re feeling weird for whatever reason, we could always grab a coffee together? Maybe jam a bit on our instruments? Just hang out? Whaddya say?”
“Ah, I would love to! But unfortunately I have to work now.” Eve bowed politely as she stepped past them. “Come visit me at the cafe if you would like!”
“Yeah,” said Masuki, still glaring. “It’s a date.”
“Wonderful! See you later!”
Eve bid them off, unaware of the silent sparks flying between the two bandmates, skipped off, satisfied to hear that she was simply overthinking things. She must have been looking a little gloomy for whatever reason! Maybe it was because Maya was sick, or that practice yesterday had gone sour. She just needed to perk up more!
Less than a half hour into her shift at work, however, she was having doubts again. After all, she was greeting customers with the biggest smiles possible, and doing her best to clean counters and wait tables and serve drinks with the utmost speed and care… but she was drawing a lot of stares in the process, including from all her school friends (who had decided to visit the cafe at the same time--how nice of them!) “Tsugumi-san, am I doing something wrong?”
Tsugumi--who had been red and fixated upon Eve since the moment she stepped through the door with a smile--gawked at her as the coffee she was pouring for a customer began to overflow. “N-No! You’re a-actually perfect today, Eve-chan! In fact, y-you’re always perfect…”
“Thank you very much!” Eve could hardly believe she was feeling so down when people were giving her such kind compliments. But this uncanny feeling in her gut just wasn’t going away. Maybe she ate something bad? She had been feeling a little funny since the day before, ever since she drank--
“Eve-chan,” called Chisato, with Kanon at her usual booth. “Could you come over here, please? I accidentally spilled tea on the table.”
Eve walked over to meet them, spotting a few meager droplets on the countertop. “Do you truly need assistance, Chisato-san? I do not mean to patronize, but that seems like something you could wipe up with your napkin.”
“U-Um… whoops!” Kanon ‘accidentally’ spilled her tea on the table. “Ahaha I’m such a klutz! S-S-Sorry, Eve-chan!”
“It’s okay, Kanon-san! I’ll get a rag!” Eve disappeared into the kitchen.
Seeing the tactic used effectively, Hina at the next table over dunked her coffee all over Sayo’s head. “Eve-chan! Sis spilled! We need your help over here too!”
Wasting no time, Kokoro did the same to Misaki at their own table. “Cleanup on aisle whatever!”
Seeing an opportunity, Ran lobbed her mug at Yukina from across the entire cafe, hitting her square in the back. “L-Look! More spilled coffee!”
“You were supposed to spill it around us, Ran,” said Moca through grit teeth.
Yukina, feeling the steaming coffee seep throughout her blouse, pivoted and hurled her own 80% sugar cup of joe right at Ran’s stomach. Within seconds the entire cafe had turned into a madhouse, hurling ceramic and cutlery back and forth like an elementary school cafeteria, Tsugumi’s parents watching in utter horror as teenagers began to demolish their humble cafe.
“I found a rag! Give me one--” Eve returned from the kitchen, only to stop and bear witness to the bedlam, her hands shaking. “Wh-What is happening? Why is everyone fighting?”
“I’m doing it for you, Eve-chan!” cried Kasumi, cramming Arisa’s head into a cake slice. “Come and show us your bushido already!”
“Yeah yeah yeah!” said Hina, emptying a sugar packet into Aya’s eyes. “It’ll be zappity! Whappity! Kablammity!”
“Please slice me with your samurai sword!” cried Rimi through the chaos.
Eve had been witness to such violence only once before--when the fans of Pastel*Palettes argued amongst themselves for petty, cruel, inconsiderate reasons. And she detested it now just as much as she did back then. Which meant that the solution had to be much the same.
She took a meditative breath. In. Out. In. Out. And then, slowly, with zen concentration, she raised one knee high in the air… focusing...
Her quaking stamp silenced the entire cafe at once, the reverberation of her blow against the wooden floor sending everyone quivering.
“I do not know what I have done to cause such a scene,” she continued, “but if you claim to be hurting one another out of consideration for me, then I want no part of it! If you truly cared for me, then you would care for each other as well! Love is not something you selfishly hoard for yourself!”
A sea of eyes stared at her dumbfoundedly. “Eve-chan…” “Eve…” “Eve-san…”
“Now I want an explanation!” said Eve. “What on earth has you all acting this way?”
There was a stiff silence. And then, from among the throng, Aya stepped forward with burning eyes. “It… it hurts, Eve-chan… I want you to be mine…”
Eve blinked. “Be yours?”
“Me too,” said Himari, shambling forward with the same enraptured expression. “I want you to carry me away to a castle, like a classic romance…”
For the first time all day, Eve’s face grew flush. “R-Romance?”
“My heart aches,” said Kaoru, equally enamored. “If I cannot grasp onto such luscious beauty, I will surely die…”
The crowd began shuffling towards Eve, no longer cognizant of each other’s presence, mumbling sweet desires under their breaths.
Recognizing that the zombie-like trances of those before her didn’t truly belong to her dear friends, Eve stepped back. Once. Twice. And then made a break for it, ducking down the back hall and into the girls’ restroom, slamming it shut and locking it behind her, hearing their pleading moans through the door.
“I love yoooou ♡”
“What in bushido is going on?” Eve gasped, pressing her body against the door (even though no struggle was being made to open it). “Has someone done something to them? Think, Eve, think! There must be some way to help!”
Unfortunately, she was stuck in a single-stall restroom, with the only tool around being an old wooden plunger. There was no way she’d be able to fight back the crowd using that--if she even wanted to in the first place. She didn’t want to hurt her friends! But… were they her friends right now? They seemed almost possessed...
...What would a warrior do, in this situation? She thought back to her favorite historical dramas… where the lone samurai would be on the edge of the cliff, about to be driven off by a horde of scoundrels… in those situations, what always saved the day? Was it courage? Wit? Strength?
Wait, of course! It was friendship! The samurai’s closest allies would engage in a pincer attack from the rear and rout the enemy easily! But all of Eve’s friends were the proverbial enemy right now, weren’t they? They were the ones clawing at the door like a pack of hungry wolves…
No. There was someone. One person Eve could rely upon. She hastily pulled out her phone and punched in a number, murmuring Buddhist sutras to herself as the dial tone rang in her ears.
Kilometers away, in a darkened green room covered with tissues and empty bottles of medicine (half-dayquil, half-estradiol), an arm slank out from under a comforter to grab a cell phone and pull it beneath the sheets. “H--HACHOO--Hello?”
“Maya-san!” Eve cried. “Are you well? Still sick? Have you gotten Vitamin C and the proper fluids?”
“O-Oh, Eve-san! Huhehe!” Maya giggled, her already nasally voice even more clogged up than usual. “I’m feeling better today, actually. I should be able to go to school tomorrow--”
“Wonderful news!” said Eve, relieved to hear that Maya sounded normal and not… entranced, somehow. “But I need your help desperately right now!”
Maya catapulted out of her bedsheets. “What’s wrong? And what’s that thumping I hear?”
Fists pounded against the bathroom door. “Eeeeeve, pleeeease!” “Bushidoooo!” “Be Everiffic~!”
Eve concentrated, not letting her be distracted by their begging as she calmly explained the situation to Maya, whose face contorted with disbelief as Eve progressed through her account of the day. “Um… I’m sorry. How did everyone in our mutual friend group turn into a pack of lovesick zombies, exactly…?”
“That is what I am trying to understand!” said Eve, forming a horse stance to properly ground herself against the door. “I do not understand the cause of it!”
“Hmm…” Maya slank out of bed and over to her laptop, booting it up. “When did this behavior start?”
Eve reflected on the day’s events. “Since this morning, at least… though now that I think about it, Aya-san and the rest of the band were acting quite strange yesterday.”
“At practice, you mean?”
“Yes.” The handle next to Eve’s elbow rustled fruitlessly. “But they were fine at school.”
“Hmm… what did you do in-between? Did you visit a shrine or anything else weird or mystical?”
“I went straight from school to the studio!” said Eve. “I did not do much on the trip except say hello to neighbors and rescue a cat from a tree. When I arrived I put my bag away, visited the restroom, and then drank a beverage before going into the studio room.”
“Beverage?” Maya parroted. “What was it?”
“I am not sure, honestly,” said Eve. “ I did not see a name on it, but it was left in my locker… alongside Aya-san’s bag, strangely enough. I figured perhaps she left it as a gift for me? It was in a pink glass bottle and tasted like strawberries.”
“Pink glass…? Straw--?” It all clicked together in Maya’s head instantaneously. “Holy crap! Marvelous Magilou’s Magical Mixture!”
“Oh, what a fancy name!” said Eve, delighted. “What is it?”
“It’s a, er, substance supposed to make you charming to everyone you smile at for 24 hours. I think. I guess in reality it operates more like a love potion...”
More pounding against the door. “That sounds like the culprit! But how do you know of it, Maya-san?”
“N-No reason,” said Maya, hastily removing the potion in question from her online shopping cart. “Shoulda figure it’d only lead to trouble, though…”
Eve ignored Kanon blubbering incoherently outside. “How do we solve the problem?”
“When did you drink it yesterday?”
“Hmm… right before practice, so around 3:15?”
Maya checked the clock. “It’s almost 4, now… but if people are still enchanted, I guess it doesn’t just ‘wear off,’ then…”
“What do we do?”
Maya hunched forward. “Hang on. Let me do some digging.”
A quick google later, and she’d found what she needed--the FAQs page for the mixture. She scrolled down to the “how do I remove the effects of MMMM from my loved ones?” and read it aloud: “‘Due to the enchanted properties of our devilishly delicious drink, there is no chemical or medicinal antidote that can be administered. However, clinical trials have shown that you can remove the effects of the mixture with… with…”
“With what, Maya-san?”
Maya gulped. “With a ‘swift blow to the noggin.’”
Eve’s stance faltered. “I… I must hit them? On the head?”
“Th-That’s the only option they list,” said Maya glumly. “I’m sorry. I know you don’t want to hurt anybody.”
Eve felt the slam of hands against the door reverberate against her torso. “...I apologize as well. But if it makes them themselves again… then it must be done.”
“Artificial love like this is no love at all,” Eve continued. “If they cannot love be genuinely with true hearts, than I cannot do the same to them. As much as it will hurt me…”
“A-Are you sure, though? I mean, maybe there’s another way. M-Maybe.
With a righting breath, Eve stepped towards the bathroom corner and grabbed the plunger. “Worry not, Maya-san. I know how to make it up to all of them. I will do what I can.”
Maya could sense that her mind was made up. “G… Good luck, Eve-san.” Her voice was hoarse, but filled with encouragement. “I-If I can do anything to help…”
“Thank you, Maya-san. But this is something I must do myself.”
They hung up. With one last forlorn look at her phone, Eve faced the door, standing ramrod straight and bellowing:
“HALT, MY SAMURAI!”
The decrepit noises from outside the door ceased.
“You are all my dear, loyal comrades!” said Eve, commanding the spirit of the imposing daimyo that she so loved to see on TV. “I wish only for your continued happiness and health! And I wish to reward you for your affection! So…”
She stilled her quivering lip and placed her plunger on the ground, both hands atop the handle.
“When I call your name, enter this room… and I shall repay your kindness with a kiss!”
Cries of elation rang out from beyond the door. “A kiss, from our shogun?!” “I could ask for nothing more!” “Ah, how fleeting!”
“Form a neat line at the door! Regimented out! Everyone will have their turn!” Eve barked commands, and the scrambling noise she heard told her that they were being followed. Once the proverbial dust had settled, Eve closed her eyes. “First, Aya-san!”
The door to the restroom opened and Aya meandered in, her entire face covered with snot and tears. “EeEeeEeeve-chaaaan! You called me first?!”
“Yes, Aya-san.” Eve smiled gently. “You work so hard, so often. Even when your efforts fall short, you get back up and tackle them with courage and grace. You should be rewarded for that.”
Aya melted into Eve’s arms. “How are you so niiIIiiIIice, Eve-chan?”
Eve comforted her with tender hands, brushing aside her pink bangs. “You inspire me every day, Aya-san. I would half twice the effort I do now if you were not there to guide me. I hope you know that.” She reached her head forward and touched Aya’s lips to her own, soaking in their supple, cherry-flavored texture.
Moments later, she pulled back. Aya’s face was no longer scrunched up with pain and longing, but clear and luminous, filled only with contentment. Someone had finally recognized her for all of her efforts. “E… Eve-cha--”
The handle of the plunger met Aya’s cranium swiftly, sending her dazed and unconscious to the bathroom floor. A single tear flowed down Eve’s cheeks as a haiku escaped her lips:
Round, pinkened mountains
Stretch beyond the horizon
Sprouting every day
“Forgive me, Aya-san,” said Eve, delicately shoving her body to the side, “for what I must bushi-do.”
She gave Aya’s resting face one last look before composing herself and calling for her next arrival. “Hina-san!”
Hina burst in without hesitation, immediately tackling Eve while paying Aya’s limp figure no mind. “Eve-chaaaan! Have I ever told you just how boppin’ you are?”
“Many times,” said Eve, letting Hina squeeze her as tight as possible. “I wish I were truly as ‘boppin’’ as you are yourself, Hina-san.”
“Ahaha, you think I am?”
Eve nodded. “Your passion, and curiosity, and desire to learn all you can about the world around you so that you may better understand it… it is truly admirable. I only wish I could maintain such a thirst for knowledge.”
Hina pressed her face against Eve’s own. “Oh, I think you could.”
And then Eve tasted salt and sugar and spices she couldn’t possibly name, an enigma wrapped in a conundrum without an answer.
Hina pulled back just as suddenly as she had leapt in. It was the first time she had ever soaked in another person so wholly… the first time she had understood the base desire behind her own inquisitiveness. She wanted to take that desire with her all across the universe. “That was bop--”
Another blow, just as true and twice as painful. Hina crumpled to the floor without resistance. Again, words came to Eve unwillingly as she controlled her tear ducts:
Starlight at high noon
Shine on towards tomorrow
Brighter than the sun
It took longer to wipe her face this time, gently nestling Hina right up against Aya. With a shudder, Eve soldiered on. “Chisato-san!”
Chisato’s entrance was much more restrained than her bandmates’, but the earnestness in her eyes was overflowing. “Eve-chan… I-I know this cannot last.”
Eve shook her head as she reached out and stroked Chisato’s cheek. “Do not say that, Chisato-san. You must learn to not be so stringent on yourself.”
“How can I?” asked Chisato pleadingly. “I’m trapped. I’m not like you, able to blaze a path forward via sheer will alone. If I’m not careful, I’ll--”
Eve stopped her mouth. She tasted honey and ginger and just the smallest hint of black tea. “Chisato-san… you’ve blazed our path. Guiding us onward through more perils than we could ever know. Please do not forget that.”
In that incomprehensibly small moment, Chisato believed. Believed in herself and her ability to find her own way of life. Tears began streaming down her face. “Eve, I love--”
Remorse washed over every last fiber of Eve’s being as Chisato sank to the floor. But still her soul had words to bare:
Of a thousand sacred stars
The caged bird will dream
Eve took a moment to kneel by her fallen companions, apologizing profusely into their unhearing ears as she rose. She had dozens more comrades she would have to fell in order to cleanse them of artificial feelings. The pain she’d endure would no doubt be half as bad as theirs. And while she dearly wished it could fall another way… her course was set. “Next!”
She called in friend after friend, comrade after comrade, granting them both the labors of love and the relief of release. By the time the afternoon was done, Hazawa Coffee was riddled with unconscious bodies, a lone, aproned samurai striding off into the sunset, her plunger-blade at rest.
“Ooooough… my head…”
The next day, Maya handed the members of Pastel*Palettes a set of ice packs, resisting her desire to nervously chuckle. “You guys alright?”
“My brain’s been feeling urgity-gurk all day,” moaned Hina, slouching against the studio mirror. “It sucks.”
“I can’t recall yesterday at all,” said Chisato, rubbing her temples in smooth circles.
“I think I remember… getting hit by something?” asked Aya. “A lot of things, actually…”
“Maybe you were playing dodgeball?” suggested Hina.
Nobody seemed to have an answer. Maya decided to keep quiet for the moment, figuring the trouble of explanation would better be suited for someone else.
The door to the studio opened. “Hello, everyone!”
The other four members turned to see a charming little samurai. “Hi, Eve-chan!” called Aya.
“Yo!” said Hina.
“How are you?” asked Chisato.
Eve grinned, pleased to hear their usual intonations. “I am well! I brought snacks for everyone as a manner of apology!”
“Apology for what?” asked Hina.
Eve didn’t answer, instead pulling out a giant bento filled with dango, manju, and a whole other host of Japanese sweets. “I also booked us a stay at an onsen for our next holiday, my treat! And if anybody needs any sort of medical assistance for their head trauma, I shall pay it in full. Do not be concerned about my wallet, for I have plenty of--”
“Eve-chaaAAaaAAnn!” Aya cried, suddenly hugging her tightly. “You’re so niiiiice!”
Eve’s brow furrowed. “Aya-san?! Has it happened again?! Are you bewitched?!”
“Oh, are we hugging Eve-chan right now?” Hina ran into her from the other side. “She always gives boppin’ ones, so it only makes sense to return the favor!”
Eve’s head spun warily towards her. “Oh no! Did I drink it without realizing?”
Chisato giggled. “Drink what? I think they’re just being affectionate.”
“You should join us, Chisato-chan!” called Hina. “Don’t you want to~?”
“Well…” Chisato sighed with a smile. “I suppose I can be a little less stringent with myself.” She hugged Eve from behind, effectively locking her in place.
Eve’s head swerved from side to side. Upon recognizing that the emotion in their faces was genuinely theirs, her heart grew light and warm. “Everyone… you are my most dear, precious friends! Thank you!”
“Uuuu… Eve-chan…” Aya sniffled. “I’m gonna cry…!”
“You already are, though,” Hina pointed out.
“Huhehehehe!” Maya giggled. “I’m glad everything’s okay. I was worried yesterday…”
Eve nodded towards her. “Come here too, Maya-chan! We should all hug!”
“M-Me?” Maya kicked her foot out bashfully. “W-Well, I dunno…”
“I insist! Come here!”
Telling herself not to sweat so much, Maya tiptoed towards Eve until she got within hugging range, at which point Eve squirmed her arms up out of Aya and Hina’s grip and around Maya’s torso, pulling her in. Eve smelled Maya’s hair, scented like forest rain, and squeezed tighter. “I cannot thank you enough, Maya-san.”
“I-It was nothing,” muttered Maya. “You did all the dirty work…”
“But I never could have done it without your help. You are always resourceful, and kind, and intelligent… and I appreciate that more than could be put into words.”
“H…” Maya’s body trembled. “Huhehehehehe…”
Eve pulled back and, looking into Maya’s moss-green eyes, recognized there was one last debt to repay. “Maya-san.”
Eve bent over smooched Maya right on the lips. “Thank you!”
Maya froze on the spot as Hina exploded with excitement at the gesture, Chisato scrambling to calm her down, Aya creeping over to sneak some of the sweets laid out in the bento. Eve just laughed and laughed as she recognized that everything was back to normal, her lips parting to reveal glimmering white teeth as she took Maya’s hands into her own and spun around and around in glee.
The idea of stealing someone’s heart with just one smile seemed patently ridiculous. Especially to the point where an entire legion of people could fall in love with one person. But with Eve Wakamiya...
Well, Maya could understand just how it happened.