"Let's go for a drive," says Yuutarou, and Akira's eye twitches.
"Why?" she complains.
"Because I want to," Yuutarou says, setting her jaw, and Akira gives up without a fight. It takes too much energy to argue with her girlfriend even when she isn't possessed by some crazy idea.
Yuu has always been the hotheaded one, Akira thinks fondly. It does not bother her. She just rests in the shadow of Yuutarou's bright flame, ready to cool her down when she inevitably burns out.
Today, though, she doesn't think that will be necessary. Yuutarou is quiet in the car, all the way out of Sendai, not so far that Akira can slyly fall asleep in the passenger seat, but far enough to escape the city's chokehold.
Just before sunset, they park at a familiar beach along the bay.
"This is where you took me on our first date," Akira accuses, trying not to betray how touched she is.
It does not work, Yuutarou's triumphant flush tells her.
"Yeah," she grins. "I had to put the sunscreen on you myself, because your arms were tired."
"I only said that because I wanted you to touch me," Akira informs her, and then gets out of the car before Yuutarou can splutter and blush, as if it has been ten minutes, not ten years, since that sticky summer of half-finished sentences and awkward fumbling.
The sand is cold beneath her toes—or at least, she imagines it would be, if she were the type of girl who liked spending her evening cleaning tiny grains from her bare feet. She leaves her shoes on.
Yuutarou announces her presence with one (deliciously toned) arm around Akira's shoulders, and they wander down the abandoned shore.
The sun sinks near the horizon, casting the sea in gold streaked with crimson, and for a long while, Akira's world is quiet except for the gentle wash of the waves and the cries of a few straggling gulls, and Yuutarou's soft breath beside her ear.
"We came here with your grandmother once," Yuutarou remembers.
Akira hums her agreement, then smirks.
"What?" Yuutarou looks down at her, suspicious.
"That was the time you tried to impress her with your stupid volleyball trick—"
"—the sand-slide megablock was not stupid—"
"—and stepped on a broken seashell and cut your foot open."
"Oh, god," Yuutarou groans. "We spent the rest of the day at the emergency room, didn't we."
Akira snickers. "I fell asleep in the waiting room and grandma forgot about me."
"I had to get stitches."
"You couldn't play for two weeks, and I kept bringing you sweets just so you'd say you didn't want them and I could eat them myself."
"What a thoughtful, generous girlfriend you were."
"I did my best."
"You did your most average."
"That's the best I can offer, for you."
"Hey!" Yuutarou tries to sound affronted, but she's grinning, and Akira barely evades a tickle attack by slipping free of Yuutarou and jogging down the beach.
"I thought you said you forgot how running works!" Yuutarou yells, chasing after her with a shriek of laughter. "You lied!"
"I didn't think you'd actually believe that!" Akira protests, but she's laughing too, just a little.
Yuutarou's years with a V. Challenge League team allow her to easily overtake her girlfriend and catch her by the waist, lifting her off her feet and spinning her in circles, balancing precariously along the tideline.
"Put—me—down—" Akira complains, all for show, of course, because they both know that her favorite place in the world is here, in Yuutarou's arms.
"You'll get your feet wet," Yuutarou informs her.
Yuutarou walks them out a little further, so that her sandals are covered, and the waves wash over her ankles when they roll by.
"That's not fair," Akira pouts.
"What's not fair? These guns?" Yuutarou flexes, squeezing Akira closer to her chest, and Akira rolls her eyes.
"This can't be comfortable for you."
"It would help if you'd stop acting like a limp fish, yeah."
Akira kisses her, purely out of spite, and wraps her legs around Yuutarou's waist so that she can adjust her grip.
They stand there, letting the cool breeze toy with their hair and their clothes. Yuutarou tilts her face up to kiss Akira again, and when she pulls back, there's a stupid smile on her face that Akira knows all too well.
"Why are we really here, Yuu?" she asks quietly.
The sunset is brilliant over the bay, the sky and the sea a watercolor of pastel violet and orange, soft like the sweaters Yuutarou swears she doesn't keep buying just so Akira will steal them.
Yuutarou is diaphanous in her rosy blush, gazing into Akira's eyes like she might find a treasure buried there.
"Aki-chan," she murmurs, blissful. Akira feels her heart burrowing into its own cozy sweater, warm and content.
"What is it, Yuu?" she asks, languid, patient. She knows Yuutarou will answer.
Strangely, though, Yuutarou looks away, casting her sights on the setting sun, chewing her lip like she does when she's nervous.
The moment passes, and she turns back to her girlfriend, light in her eyes, a deep breath filling her lungs. Akira wonders what words she plans to say, to need so much oxygen to form them.
"Please!" Yuutarou adds. "I have a ring, and everything, but I'm holding you, and—"
She stops, collecting herself.
"Akira, I have never belonged anywhere other than by your side. So please, let me stay there for the rest of my life."
Akira stares down into the eyes of the only woman she has ever loved, radiant with fractals of hope and glimmering dusk, and wonders why Yuutarou thought she needed to ask.
"Yes," she whispers, and when she kisses Yuutarou, Akira thinks they must both be glowing.
(Seconds later, Yuutarou's so-called "guns" reach their limit, and Akira's feet do get wet. She only laughs while Yuutarou fusses over her, helping her back to dry land, asking if she's cold, if she wants to go home now.)
"We can't go home yet," Akira says. "You still haven't given me your ring. It's not official without the ring."
"That's not true," Yuutarou frowns. "Is it? Shit, good thing I actually bought the ring—I almost didn't—you don't like flashy stuff—"
She stops. "Why are you laughing at me."
Akira covers her mouth with one hand to hide her glee. "Yuu. The ring isn't necessary."
"Quit playing with me like that!" Yuutarou demands with no conviction whatsoever.
Akira ignores her.
"Besides," she muses, "I'd marry you with or without a ring."
"Aki-chan!" Yuutarou wails, sweeping Akira into a tearful embrace that knocks the wind out of her. "Sorry, sorry! I'm not crying! I just—I just love you so much—"
"I'd think so, if you want to marry me," Akira says without inflection, and Yuutarou squeaks.
"You're gonna have to stop saying that phrase," she gulps. "Or I might die."
"What phrase?" Akira asks innocently. "Marry me? As in, you asked me to marry you, and I said I would? Marry you, specifically? We're getting married?"
"Stop it, stop it!" Yuutarou begs. "I'll give you the ring! Just please, stop!"
"Wedding planning with you is going to be a disaster," Akira decides, and Yuutarou nearly drops the little box she pulled from her shorts pocket.
The ring is soft yellow-gold, and it is unadorned, but not plain. It glistens in the last light of the dying sun when Yuutarou slips it onto Akira's finger.
(She starts sobbing again immediately after this, overwhelmed by how beautiful Akira is, and how perfectly the thin band seems to rest on her skin. Akira kisses her tears away.)
The seaside twilight is cold, and at the first sign of a shiver from Akira, Yuutarou insists that they return home.
As they drive back into the city, Akira finds herself leaning against the window, watching the way the streetlights catch in Yuutarou's short, spiky hair, the way her lips part slightly when she concentrates on the road.
She is mesmerizing, Akira thinks, drifting into slumber, lulled by the sound of Yuutarou's gruff voice humming one of the K-pop songs she likes so much. Even now, after many years sharing a life they have built together, Akira does not think she will ever stop discovering new ways that Yuutarou takes her breath away.
Her last feeling, before sleep steals over her, is of immeasurable peace, and of adoration for this silly, fretful, tender-hearted firecracker of a woman who she has chosen to love, who has chosen to love her, for the rest of their lives, however long that may be.
(Akira hopes it will be forever.)