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Butch Diana

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It was the unanimous opinion among the Luna Nova Academy student body and faculty that it was merely a matter of time before Atsuko Kagari’s recklessness injured someone other than herself. When Akko became friends with Diana, Luna Nova rejoiced, reassured that the school’s top student would mitigate the possible permanent damage caused by its most troublesome student.

Little did they suspect that Diana would become Akko’s first victim.

Saint that she was, Diana had volunteered to pair up with Akko to help her with a transmutation charm which she had been having trouble with. Trouble, in this instance, meant desks and other equipment transformed into unidentifiable, highly reactive substances. The professor breathed a sigh of relief, hoping that Diana would avoid another class that ended with turning the floor into jello, but even Diana wasn’t enough to control the force of nature that was Akko.

“Now, then, Akko,” Diana began. “The key is to have a clear mental image of what you want your target to become. If you’re distracted, the spell won’t be successful.”

“I know!” Akko whined. “It’s hard!”

“You need to focus on the target’s essence, as well as the essential being of the substance you wish to transform your target into.”

“It’s confusing! How am I supposed to keep track of all the different chemical elements?”

“The what now?”

“The chemical elements! All those different atoms! I get tripped up by all the different numbers of protons and neutrons and electrons!”

“Akko, I understand you even less than usual. There are only four elements: fire, earth, air, and water. I don’t even know what a ‘neutron’ is.”

“You can’t pull one over me!” Akko said indignantly. “I’ll have you know I got straight A’s in science class! It’s this witchy alchemy stuff that makes no sense!”

Diana raised an eyebrow dubiously. She’d heard of what non-witches called “science” and it sounded like poppycock to her. Same with Croix’s “magitronics” tomfoolery. All numbers and concrete principles. Diana had no use for it whatsoever. And it seemed to be holding Akko back from understanding the finer points of magic.

“Never mind that mundane nonsense,” Diana said dismissively. “Just concentrate on the fundamental nature of the stone in front of you and the nature of the diamond you want to turn it into.”

Akko swallowed a salty retort. When she’d first arrived at Luna Nova, the first thing she noticed was the complete absence of logical, linear thought. She had always been the kind of student who could get high marks without much effort, so she thought that magical studies would be a piece of cake. Unfortunately, when it came to an understanding of how the world worked, witches were stuck in the dark ages. Except for Constanze. And Croix’s magitronics course had been a breath of fresh air. Too bad that she turned out to be a baddy and almost killed Akko, like, a dozen times. Worth it, though.

Akko sighed and stared at the fist-sized rock on the desk in front of her. She was supposed to turn it into a diamond, but even after witnessing Diana’s perfect result of a flawless gemstone, she doubted she could manage even a lump of coal.

“If witches can turn rocks into diamonds, doesn’t that kind of mess up the economy?” Akko asked, stalling for time.

“That sounds dangerously like maths. The economy can handle the strain, I’m sure.”

“Easy for an aristocrat to say,” Akko muttered.

“Akko. Stone. Now.”

“Ugh, fine.” Akko focused on the stone, imagined her goal, and let loose.

“Mutatiella substansis!”

There was a flash of light; the stone glowed red, its surface bubbling angrily.

“Akko…”

“Uh, that’s not supposed to happen,” Akko said unnecessarily. “I got distracted when I started thinking about quarks!”

The stone rumbled and rocked back and forth. Sensing impending danger, Diana covered her face with her arms — she would’ve cast a spell, had her wand been in hand, but there was no time. With a hissing pop, the stone burst into a fountain of hot sludge that rained down on Diana’s head, quickly coagulating in her hair.

Once the dangerous mass cooled and solidified, Diana lowered her arms. The entire class was staring at her, eyes wide and mouths agape. Nobody looked more horrified than Akko, mouth flapping open and shut, gasping like a fish out of water.

“I appear to be.. unharmed…” Diana said slowly, hoping to reassure Akko and their audience.

“I’M SO SORRY!!” Akko shouted. She clapped her hands over her mouth, speaking again once she adjusted her volume. “I’m sorry! I didn’t mean to!” She looked around at her classmates. “I really didn’t mean to!” she said, begging everyone’s forgiveness.

Hannah and Barbara were petrified, not even blinking. Lotte looked back and forth between shellshocked Akko and sludge-covered Diana in anticipation of further development. Sucy snorted in derision. Amanda shoved her fists into her mouth to keep herself from laughing out loud.

“I’m fine, Akko,” Diana said. “Really.” She reached out and held the other girl’s hands. Akko froze, then her face heated up, steam whistling out of her ears.

And then she fainted.

The class blinked as one. Then Amanda’s self-control broke under the pressure.

“HA!!”

“I fail to see what’s so funny, O’Neill.”

“Oh, lighten up, volcano head.”

*******

After her classmates and the professor had recovered their wits, Diana was carefully escorted to the nurse’s office; Akko’s unconscious form was levitated alongside her.

The professor explained to the nurse what had happened while Hannah and Barbara settled Diana on one of the cots, carefully avoiding the mysterious substance in her hair. Akko was placed on another cot, and the others departed.

“Never thought I’d see you in here, Miss Cavendish,” the nurse said. “I figured you’d be clever enough to avoid this one’s shenanigans.” She gestured at Akko.

“Some things can’t be avoided,” Diana said neutrally. This was hardly the first time a faculty member had subtly discouraged her friendship with Akko, and it wouldn’t be the last. The professors were worried that their star pupil would become a delinquent due to Akko’s influence, as if Akko were the more powerful force, and Diana’s actions would have no impact on her friend. Admittedly, it was an uphill battle, but she was certain that Amanda was to blame for her lack of progress. That girl was bad news.

The nurse said nothing more on the subject, turning her attention to the magic-induced mess on Diana’s head. The hardened sludge defied all analysis and deflected all attempts to be charmed, changed, or vanished. In the end, the nurse decided that the only solution was to cut off most of Diana’s hair.

“Very well,” Diana said with a resigned sigh. She had concluded as much in the classroom — nothing could be done about Akko’s previous transmutation disasters either — but she had held out hope that her lovely locks might’ve been spared by some miracle.

“That girl has a lot to answer to,” the nurse said, nodding at Akko again. “She’s gone too far this time.

“I hardly think that’s true,” Diana said. “This is hardly as dire as the macaroni incident.”

“Property damage is one thing,” the nurse huffed, “but she’s done permanent damage to another student. I can’t fathom why the headmistress hasn’t thrown that brat out yet.”

Diana frowned. Certainly Akko had caused problems in the past, but none with lasting consequences. Usually they were put right with a simple counter-spell or potion. But her hair, luxurious as it was, was nothing worth castigating Akko to such an extent. “It’s merely my hair that’s been injured. It will grow back, after all.”

“Let’s see if you think the same after I’m done with these scissors.”

After an hour of snips, cuts, and machete-like hacking, Diana was liberated from the magical sludge. The transmuted mass lay on the floor in clumps, covered in a haystack of her hair. The pile looked enormous, too large it seemed that there could be nothing left on her head. Diana bemoaned the loss of her hair, silly as it may seem, and she dreaded to see what she looked like now.

“I did the best I could do, sweetie,” the nurse said, passing her a hand mirror.

Diana accepted the mirror and held it in front of her face. Her heart fell at the sight.

“I look like…” she could barely bring herself to say it. “I look like a tomboy.”

Her hair was as short as a boy’s, with only a paltry fringe in the front to assert some semblance of femininity. It was a nightmare, an unmitigated catastrophe. Diana had never felt particularly attached to her long hair, but it hadn’t been this short since she was an infant. Shorter hair just looked unnatural on her, she was certain that everyone else would think so. Maybe Amanda O’Neill could’ve pulled it off, but Diana knew in her heart that she would be a laughingstock tomorrow. Aunt Daryl would have a field day when she saw this. Maril and Merrill would commission a portrait and hang it in the grand hall at the manor.

Diana was struck by an even more terrifying thought. What will Akko think?

Her eyes darted to the cot next to her where Akko lay. Most distressingly, the erratic girl had yet to wake up. Diana supposed she ought to be concerned, but Akko’s roommates were quite open about the fact that Akko was a disastrously heavy sleeper, so perhaps there was nothing to be worried about.

Nevertheless…

Diana found it difficult not to worry about Akko. The girl was reckless beyond all reckoning. Early on in their acquaintance, Diana had dismissed her as an attention-seeking troublemaker, but after getting to know her better and paying her increasing amounts of attention, Diana was forced to conclude that Akko had no concept of risk assessment or self-control. The macaroni incident was proof of that. To spend time with Akko was to expect trouble. Whenever Diana found herself in Akko’s presence, she felt a fluttering feeling in her stomach as if her anxiety had become manifest, her heart racing as if cognizant of some future calamity. Her body had adapted to Akko in true Pavlovian fashion; the mere sight of her caused Diana to break out in a sweat, her palms clammy in anticipation of the stress of witnessing Akko’s latest fiasco. Try as she might to suppress these symptoms, they persisted even after Diana became adept at subverting or distracting her friend from dangerous behaviour. It was, in a word, frustrating.

However, Akko had never been one to faint. Even in the most dire circumstances, she had always been the type who, when she got knocked down, she got up again. Nothing ever kept her down. In the face of all the perils and horrors she had faced, Akko had always fought harder or fled with vigour, not frozen or swooned. It was very unlike her, and Diana couldn’t fathom it.

The memory of Akko’s horrified face flash through her mind, and Diana realized with a rush of guilt that Akko’s condition may well have been a result of her emotional distress at the results of her failed spellwork. Certainly Diana wasn’t pleased with her short hair, but it was only an accident, nothing to be so stressed over. Her guilt intensified: what if Akko thought she would be mad at her? That she wouldn’t forgive her? Diana resolved to reassure Akko that their friendship was as strong as ever. In fact, she would offer to personally tutor her friend in order to ensure that it never happened again, no matter how long it took. But first Akko had to wake up.

Diana went over to Akko’s bedside and looked over her carefully. Perhaps she was already suffering from an illness? A weakened constitution would help explain why so resilient a girl had been taken so low by emotional shock. But there were no signs of any prior condition. Diana felt Akko’s forehead, but her temperature was normal. Odd. She stroked her friend’s hair as she contemplated the problem.

Then she realized what she was doing and jerked her hand away, stepping away from the cot. Diana turned around and prepared some excuse for the nurse, who had surely seen, cursing the blood rushing to her cheeks that would give her away.

Fortunately, the nurse hadn’t been paying attention, her nose firmly wedged in a Nightfall book. Diana cleared her throat. “A-Akko has not woken up yet. Are you sure she’s alright?”

The nurse didn’t look away from her book. “Kagari will be fine. She’s been through worse. As long as all her parts are still attached, there’s nothing to worry about. You can run along.”

“Nevertheless, I would prefer to remain with my classmate.”

The nurse waved her off. “No need. She’s not gonna wake up any faster if you hold her hand.”

Diana’s blush intensified. “V-very well. I will return to my dormitory.” She didn’t wait for a response, dashing out of the nurse’s office before her embarrassment was noticed.

Classes were over for the day, and the student body was busy with dinner, so Diana was able to move through the empty hallways undetected. Not yet having the courage to face everyone with her boyish haircut, she had no choice but to go to bed without eating. Unhealthy choice, but necessary. Perhaps she would sneak out to the kitchens under the cover of darkness for a midnight snack like Akko and her friends were so fond of doing. She smiled at the thought of how her professors would react to catching the esteemed Diana Cavendish pilfering the pantry. She giggled, imagining what Akko would think of her rival following in her footsteps into delinquency.

She reached her room and heard voices coming through the door. Apparently Hannah and Barbara were finished eating and returned to the dorm, conversing in raised voices, and they sounded furious. The cause was obvious. Diana sighed. No doubt her roommates were angry at Akko for today’s incident and would need a stern talking to. She wouldn’t tolerate anyone bullying Akko for an honest accident.

Putting on her patented Strict Diana Face™, she opened the door and stalked into the room, her anxiety over her short hair apparently forgotten.

“Akko is seriously out of control,” Hannah said.

“Whatever Diana does to her after this won’t be pretty,” Barbara said.

“And just what exactly am I going to do?”

Hannah and Barbara looked away from each other to see Diana standing in the doorway, arms crossed, eyes colder than ice, emanating an aura of frigid fury. Her roommates were frozen in place, their eyes widening. And then they noticed her hair and let a single tortured screech.

“EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEH!?!?”

*******

After Akko stopped the Missile Crisis and brought back magic to the world, the Luna Nova student body stopped bullying her and her witch cred went through the roof. It appeared as if her days as the school’s metaphorical punching bag were over, but in one afternoon it all came crashing down on her. After her alchemical accident yesterday, barely anyone would meet her eye. Those who did glared so hard she was afraid it’d peel of a layer of skin. Everywhere she went, people muttered about her as she passed by. Akko was used to this sort of treatment, but it hurt a heck of a lot more now that she felt she deserved it.

She had woken up in the nurse’s office shouting “I’M SO SORRY!” but Diana hadn’t been around to hear, nor was she anywhere to be found. No one answered the door when she tried the Blue Team’s dorm. Akko got up early in order to try to catch her at breakfast and apologize, but she wasn’t there. Hannah and Barbara also failed to make an appearance, so she couldn’t even probe them for information about their roommate. Class was about to begin and Akko hadn’t heard so much as a rumour about Diana. The nurse had told her that Diana was unharmed. “Except maybe her pride,” the nurse added, though Akko had no idea what she’d meant by that.

Akko began to fret. She needed to apologize to Diana as soon as possible. What if Diana hated her? It was imperative that she cleared things up with Diana, and hopefully everyone else would forgive her too.

“Looking out for volcano head?” Amanda said, coming over to Akko’s seat and throwing an arm around her. “Boy oh boy, I wouldn’t want to be your shoes when she finds you.”

Akko made a strangled, gurgling noise. “You really think she’ll be mad?” Her lip wobbled pitifully.

“Of course not, doofus. Wouldn’t surprise me if she pretends it never happened. Just like we all ignore the macaroni incident.” Amanda slapped her on the back. “Cheer up! She wasn’t bothered by being turned into a volcano head. She even said so.”

“She did?”

“Yeah, it was right before you passed out.” Amanda grinned slyly. “Y’know, when she held your hand. And then you fainted.”

Akko snapped right from being blue to flushing bright red. “Oh, yeah. T-that was a thing that happened. Totally slipped my mind. Didn’t mean anything at all.”

Amanda snickered. “You fainted because a pretty girl held your hand.”

“Sh-shut up!” Akko looked around to see if anyone heard, but everyone but the Red and Green Teams was pretending Akko didn’t exist.

“It’s not funny!” Akko pouted. “What if Diana hears?” Akko had found herself inexplicably drawn to Diana for a while, and it wasn’t until Amanda picked up on it and pointed it out that the inexplicable became explicable: Akko liked Diana. Akko wanted to be around her, but her presence caused Akko to want to run for the hills. Akko wanted to look at her for days on end, but whenever their eyes met, she felt like she was melting inside. Akko wanted to talk to Diana until they both ran out of words (which would’ve been a long time, given that Akko spoke two languages and Diana knew lots of fancy words), but Akko tripped over her own tongue just saying hello if she didn’t emotionally prepare herself first.

And on the rare occasions that they touched, Akko got flustered to the point of losing all cognitive function. None of this was helped by Diana’s habit of reaching out to Akko, offering to help her out with various things. Spending more time with Diana was exactly what Akko wanted, but the heightened stress of being around her crush was going to take years off her life.

“Don’t worry, bud. Your secret’s safe with me.” Say what you want about Diana, she held matters of girl-love above all else, and hadn’t told anyone about Akko’s crush. For the time being, it was just between them. “No need to get your panties in a bunch over Cavendish. If she knew you had the hots for her, she’d sweep you off your feet and carry you off to that mansion of hers. After all, she can’t afford to pass up someone who finds that personality of hers attractive,” Amanda added snarkily.

“She’s actually really sweet when you get to know her!” Akko objected.

“Yeah, well I don’t want to know her. That’s your job. Go for it and get to know her real good.” Amanda went back to her seat with a lewd laugh.

Just then, the classroom door creaked open and Hannah and Barbara sidled inside. The pair looked shellshocked.

The class pounced on them at once, asking about Diana.

“She’s, uh, fine,” Hannah said sheepishly.

“Really fine,” Barbara agreed.

That hardly satisfied the class, but they couldn’t pry anything else out of the girls. They informed the class that Diana would be a bit late, and that was all.

“You must’ve really done a number on the teacher’s pet,” Sucy cackled.

“Don’t, Sucy,” Lotte pleaded. “You’ll worry her.”

“Never mind that,” Akko said glumly. “I’m already at max worry levels.”

“I know that we’re all concerned about Miss Cavendish,” Professor Finnelan said, “but we have to begin class now. Diana wouldn’t want you all to neglect your studies.”

“You’re quite right, Professor.”

Framed by the doorway was Diana and the sight of her nearly knocked Akko’s soul right out of her body. The rest of the class didn’t fare any better. They all swooned as one (except for Sucy, who was unaffected by such things). Amanda somehow managed to do a spit-take without having anything in her mouth.

“What in the fresh hell happened to your hair!?”

Diana’s hair was practically gone. The long, lustrous locks Akko had admired were reduced to almost nothing, a boyish cut with a fringe in the front. Akko felt like the lowest of the low for being responsible for the destruction of Diana’s beautiful hair. But she also looked A-MAZE-ING. Akko was weak in the knees at the sight of her. How was it possible that she could look so perfect regardless of her presentation? It was just plain unfair, especially to Akko, who was fighting the urge to get on one knee and propose on the spot. The only way to resist was to not look at her at all.

Akko was so distracted by Diana’s new look that she almost missed her crush’s response.

“We all need a change in style every once in a while, do we not?” Diana smirked and flicked her fringe, sending the entire front row into cardiac arrest.

Everyone was staring hard enough at Diana that she could feel it as a physical pressure, but no one saw that her hands were shaking ever so slightly. She had been so sure that her short hair would’ve been received with derision, so she’d had no way of anticipating the response from Hannah and Barbara. Far from ridicule, her roommates had been reduced to blushing and stuttering, looking back and forth from Diana to each other and giggling like the schoolgirls they were. “You’re, um, really hot, Diana,” Hannah had said, wringing her hands nervously. “Like, unbelievably hot,” Barbara agreed, biting her lip. It had taken an hour of flustered conversation before Diana accepted that her roommates were being serious, that their demeanour was caused by sudden attraction to her.

They had convinced Diana that there was nothing wrong with the way she looked. Actually, they had phrased it as her looks being “everything right.” Still, Diana had requested that they arrive to class late in order to avoid being seen by other students and potentially causing an incident in the hallways. Diana had barely slept, thoughts whirling as she tried to convince herself that if she feigned confidence, everything would go fine. So far everything had turned out as planned: she didn’t make a fool of herself, everybody had fallen for her bluster and regarded her with heart-shaped eyes. The only problem was that Akko’s eyes, heart-shaped or otherwise, were turned away, as if she couldn’t bear to see her. Diana’s heart fell. She wanted to go to her, to speak to her, but Amanda had other ideas.

“Looks like we have a butch on our hands!” Amanda shouted. “Anyone need a shelf installed?”

“That’s quite enough, O’Neill,”Diana said dismissively, attempting to move toward Akko.

“Hold up, something’s missing.” Amanda leaped over to Diana and waved her wand. “Metamorphie Vestesse!”

With a poof of magic, Diana’s school uniform transformed. The skirt became a pair of tight pants, the top half of the uniform reshaped into a more masculine cut. The effect was instantaneous: an appreciative sigh escaped the lips of every girl in class. Akko pretended not to notice that her temperature raised by twenty degrees.

Amanda scanned Diana with her wand. “The readings are off the charts. Even Professor Croix doesn’t have a butch-i-chlorian count this high.”

Somewhere off in the distance, a certain lilac-haired witch sneezed.

“Very funny, O’Neill,” Diana said, rolling her eyes. “ I too have seen Star Wars.” With a wave of her wand, Amanda’s chair galloped over, scooped up the delinquent, and carried her away to to her desk.

With Amanda removed as an obstruction, nothing stood between Diana and Akko. Diana walked up to her friend, who was staring intently at her desk. Her eyes flicked up just long enough to see that Diana was standing in front of her.

“I’m sorry about yesterday,” she mumbled in her smallest voice. “I’ll understand if you don’t forgive me —”

Diana put her hand on Akko’s chin and angled her head upward until their eyes met. Diana smiled softly. “Of course I forgive you, Akko. It was merely an unfortunate accident. I wouldn’t hold such a thing against a dear friend of mine.”

The words “dear friend” rang in Akko’s ears. She thinks of me as a “dear friend,” Akko thought giddily. She tried to say something in response, but no words came out. It was impossible not to focus on the delicate grip Diana had on her chin, how soft Diana’s hand felt, the way her thumb rested just under her lower lip…

Akko’s temperature spiked. She began babbling. Her eyes darted back and forth, searching for a way out, looking at anything other than the gorgeous girl in front of her. The class watched the interaction between the two girls with something like rapture. “She’s so lucky,” one girl whispered to her neighbour, who giggled in response. Knowing she had an audience only exacerbated her embarrassment.

“Are you alright, Akko?” Diana leaned in over the desk, her face mere inches from Akko’s.

“Y-y-yep! I’m totally fine! Never been better! Uh, how about you?”

Akko didn’t look fine to Diana. Her face was burning up, the colour matching that of the eyes that seemed unable to focus. She seemed to be having trouble speaking. Her condition was far too similar to yesterday for Diana’s liking. If only she knew the source of Akko’s agitation, she could cure it and Akko could have some peace.

“I was so worried about you yesterday, when you fainted so suddenly,” Diana murmured, absentmindedly stroking Akko’s face. “If you’re unwell, you need to say so. You need to be more honest about what you’re feeling.”

If I were honest about what I’m feeling, I’ll die of embarrassment, Akko thought. On the other hand, confessing her feelings in front of the entire class might be enough to send this new, dashing Diana running, which would at least allow her to breathe properly..

Despite Diana’s urging, Akko remained silent. Was she being too pushy? She understood that everyone was entitled to their privacy, but this for Akko’s own health. She was just trying to be a good friend. If Akko fell ill again, Diana would blame herself for not doing all that she could. Diana’s forced confidence was wearing thin, but she decided to make one last push. Perhaps a little more pressure would impress upon Akko the importance of confiding in her friends.

Diana leaned in tantalizingly near. “You need to tell me what the problem is.”

You’re the problem! Akko felt as if every blood vessel in her body was about to burst.

“P-p-p-professor Finnelan! We should start class now!”

One would think that it was impossible to experience in a single day two devastating surprises that shattered one’s worldview, but one would be wrong. “Did Akko just say we need to start class?” Sucy asked Lotte. “She really must be sick,” Lotte answered.

Finnelan was taken aback, then she regained her composure and cleared her throat. “Miss Kagari is… correct. We must begin class now. Please go to your seat, Miss Cavendish.”

Diana frowned — pouted, really — and left to sit between Hannah and Barbara. Class began, but Akko couldn’t focus, a persistent twinge of guilt plaguing her mind. Her eyes were distracted, taking sidelong glances at Diana, who stared numbly at the board, her eyes cold and forlorn. She didn’t mean to hurt Diana’s feelings, but what was she supposed to do? It’s not my fault, Akko told herself — a miraculous 180 turn. It’s all her fault, getting up in my grille, making me all flustered. No need to get butthurt about it.

Her guilt didn’t buy it, pricking her heart. It really wasn’t her fault, though. It’s not as if she could up and say “I’m practically bursting into flames because I’ve got the hots for you.” There’s no way Diana would react well to that. “Please refrain from expressing such vulgarities to me,” she would say. Akko would be lucky if Diana would be willing to stay friends after that. That’s definitely what Diana considered her: a friend, and nothing else. Diana was very fond of referring to their friendship. No doubt the impeccable Diana Cavendish felt no need for a girlfriend. Besides, she could land any girl she wanted now, judging by the drool pooling on the classroom’s floor.

Akko deflated onto her desk, resembling a beached jellyfish. At least she could admire her crush from afar.

Chapter Text

“I was mad at you before, but now I want to hug you!”

“Thank you, Akko. You’ve done a service to this school.”

“Akko you’re my new hero! I would totally have your babies!”

Amanda walked over to Akko’s cafeteria table just as a trio of students left. Akko was wearing an expression appropriate for someone who had swallowed a toad.

“What’s with the face, Akko?” Amanda asked, dropping herself into the chair next to her. “Sucy force feed you another mushroom souffle?”

Akko didn’t register her comment. “Did you know those we the fifty-eighth, fifty-ninth, and sixtieth girls to thank me for the alchemy accident?”

“Really? That many?” Amanda was impressed.

“Today.”

“Wait, what?”

Ever since that fateful morning, girls had been coming up to Akko and expressing their gratitude for her being responsible for Diana’s new haircut. It had been a week already and some girls had thanked her every day. Akko rolled her eyes at the thought of it.

“You’d think they’d have gotten over it by now,” she said bitterly. Unfortunately, everyone else adored Diana’s new look as much as Akko did. The student body of Luna Nova had always admired Diana, but now they practically drooled at the sight of her. Diana couldn’t walk into a room without eliciting excited screams.

“She’s like a one-woman boy band,” Akko muttered aloud.

“A butch Hayley Kiyoko,” Amanda said, nodding.

Akko wasn’t done yet; on the contrary, she was just revving up, now that she had someone to listen to her. Lotte and Sucy had gotten tired of her after one day of her ranting. “It’s just short hair! It’s nothing worth screaming about, or ogling her over.”

“You mean the way you keep ogling her?” Amanda said with a smirk.

“They’re just jumping on a bandwagon!” Akko said angrily, too angry to be embarrassed. “I’ve liked Diana for ages! And these floozies didn’t look at her twice till I blasted her hair off!”

“Quiet down, lover girl,” Amanda chuckled. “Any louder and she’ll hear you. Might as well use a megaphone right in her face. I bet she’d love to hear how you’re the only one allowed to ogle her.” She was being uncharacteristically sincere, not that Akko would pick up on it, seeing as she was still unaware that Diana was head over heels for her. Amanda didn’t need her gaydar to know what she’d witnessed between Akko and Diana, when Miss Fancy-Pants practically oozed all over her, so saccharine that Amanda nearly threw up. They didn’t even kiss, an anticlimax which showed a blatant disregard for audience expectations. The pair had made little progress since then, due to Diana’s fangirls getting in the way, fawning over the object of their affection so shamelessly that Akko was driven off in a fit of jealous disgust. Even when Diana could make it to Akko, the girl got too flustered (and bitter for jealousy reasons) to talk to her crush and ended up fleeing the scene, a habit which had gotten out of hand once she tried to jump out a window to avoid Diana and had to be restrained to prevent her from injuring herself. Thankfully, Diana kept her distance after that, though she always kept the Japanese girl within sight. At the moment she sat alone, gazing mournfully out the window.

“Seriously, Akko, why don’t you go talk to her? She’s not going to bite you.” Not until the third date, at least, Amanda thought.

“I can’t do that,” Akko said weakly, pushing her food around on her plate with her fork. “I’ll just get nervous and freeze up and I won’t be able to say anything. She’ll think I’m stupid.”

“Don’t worry, she already knows you’re stupid. We all do.”

“Thanks, jerk. Any other helpful comments?”

“Actions speak louder than words, babe. Just give her a big ol’ hug. Maybe a smooch on the cheek.”

“I can’t do that!” Akko squeaked, blushing at the thought of it.

“Sure you can. It’s easy as pie. See?” Amanda threw an arm around Akko, pulled her in close, and pecked her on the cheek. Akko didn’t register this at all, which annoyed Amanda in a I’m-totally-not-annoyed-but-why-aren’t-you-blushing-for-me-the-way-you-blush-for-Diana-aren’t-I-a-hot-kinda-butch-too way.

“Easy for you, maybe. She’d hate me!”

Amanda rolled her eyes. She’d probably bang you on the table right in front of everybody. “What can you do then? Are you gonna stop being friends with her or what?”

“No! I’ll just wait until her hair grows back,” Akko said. This was the only way she could see herself ever having another conversation with Diana that contained actual words.

“We’ll have graduated by then!” Amanda groaned. “Can’t you just write it down? Just slip her a love letter under her door or something.”

Akko blanched. “I can’t handle that! I just want to be friends with Diana. There’s no way she’d want to date me. Not when she could have her pick of any girl in school.” She pouted, set in her belief that her crush couldn’t possibly return the feelings she was totally absolutely returning and it was so obvious anyone with a brain could see it.

“Jennifer’s tits, you’re hopeless.” Amanda pushed away from the table, chair screeching in her wake. If she couldn’t convince this klutz to make a move, she might as well take a crack at the prissy princess — or was it prince now?

At the moment, the prissy princess in question was attempting to detach herself from her emotions, a task that perhaps necessitated the aid of a guillotine. The past week had been tumultuous for Diana, the alchemy accident and her display the morning after being the least of it. Akko had been avoiding her. At first Diana believed their lack of contact had been a consequence of the throngs of admirers cutting her off from her friend, but every time she had approached, Akko muttered some excuse and ran away. She even tried to jump out a window to get away from me, Diana agonized, glaring at a cafeteria window as if its disappearance would solve all her worries.

She’d asked Akko’s friends if they knew what had come over her. Lotte didn’t know. Sucy thought it was funny. She didn’t even bother asking Amanda. Hannah and Barbara exchanged a loaded look and suggested that Akko probably had some feelings to sort out.

Diana brooded over the matter daily, isolating herself so she could lose herself in thought, her cold anguish was considered by many girls to be rather fetching in a Byronic sort of way. She must’ve done something to offend Akko, she was certain of it. Perhaps she had come on too strongly that first day, overstepping the bounds of their friendship. It was possible Akko had grown tired of Diana “sticking her nose in others’ business” as it were, and her further attempts to communicate had only continued to alienate her friend. Perhaps they were no longer friends, or perhaps they had never been friends at all. It was all Diana could do to fight off despair. She had done her best to be a proper friend to Akko, to make up for her shameful treatment of the girl the previous year. She’d always gone the extra mile, but now she regretted not taking a more laissez faire approach like Akko’s other friends. Bitterness stung her heart. At least she cared for Akko, unlike those who rarely showed concern for her well-being, like that vile poisoner Sucy, or the ever irreverent Amanda O’Neill. Oh, how she hated Amanda O’Neill lately.

Ignoring how bad it was for her blood pressure, Diana had been stealing glances at Akko throughout the lunch hour. Her fist clenched as she’d watched Amanda join Akko at her table, envious of the ease with which the other girl accepted her presence. Diana longer to know what they were talking about. Something asinine, knowing O’Neill. She noted the suggestive expression on Amanda, the embarrassed one on Akko. Discussing something untoward about some ditz, no doubt, Diana decided. Then she froze as she saw Amanda cozy up tp Akko and kiss her on the cheek. Her heart nearly jumped out of her chest and beat Amanda to a pulp. The nerve! Touching my Akko! Wait, my Akko? Diana’s thoughts ground to a halt as she tried to rationalize. Where did that come from?

Before she could make significant progress deconstructing her jealous rage, the devil herself, Amanda O’Neill, left Akko’s table and came over to hers.

“Yo, butch, how’s it hanging?”

“Good afternoon, O’Neill,” Diana’s voice was like a glacier: cold, heavy, and unrelenting. “How may I help you?”

The heiress’s killing intent was not lost on Amanda. “Is that aristocrat for ‘fuck you’? And what a way to treat someone who’s come to help you.”

“I’m perfectly fine on my own, thank you very much.”

“Don’t give me that, Cavendish.” Amanda said, taking the seat opposite Diana. “You look like one of those brooding Nightfall boys.”

Diana raised an eyebrow. “And just how do you know what the Nightfall boys look like, Amanda O’Neill?”

Amanda opened her mouth, then closed it again. “Let’s agree not to talk about Nightfall ever again,” she said after a long pause.

Diana rolled her eyes. As much fun as it would be to accuse Amanda of being a secret Nightfall fan, she wanted the delinquent to leave her alone. “Any problem with my appearance is your fault, isn’t it? I doubt you can help.” For the past week Amanda had been transforming Diana’s clothes into various masculine styles, lurking outside her dorm before she left every morning to butchify her, changing them again every time Diana attempted to revert to her normal uniform. Diana gave up after several days and let Amanda have her way.

Amanda waved her hand dismissively. “Don’t worry about that, you look handsome as shit.” Diana couldn’t tell if that was a compliment or not. “I meant you look moody as hell. Depressed and all that. Melancholy.”

“Big words for you, O’Neill. Have you become acquainted with the thesaurus?”

“Wow, nice claws. Any reason you’re being so catty?”

“I am not being catty,” Diana hissed.

“Are too. You’re definitely suffering from vitamin A deficiency.”

“Vitamin A?”

“Vitamin A-kko!” Amanda cooed.

Despite Amanda’s expectations, Diana didn’t get embarrassed. She didn’t even blush. On the contrary, her face distorted in disdain. Amanda hadn’t seen this much raw contempt from her since that time she filled the Blue Team’s dorm with giant vampire bats. Hey, it was a birthday present for Barbara. She was supposed to love all things vampire.

“You should really go stock up,” Amanda added, attempting to provoke a flustered reaction from the heiress. “It’ll do wonders for your mood. I just got my fill and see how cheery I am!”

“Oh, I saw alright,” Diana said sharply. “You can’t help yourself can you, tramp?” She slapped a hand over her mouth, surprised by her own insult.

She saw me smooch Akko? No wonder she’s pissed. I can definitely use that. Amanda grinned wolfishly. “Jealous to see someone else cozying up to your ‘dear friend’, eh, Cavendish?”

“Jealous!?” Diana huffed, crossing her arms. “Hardly! I couldn’t care less how Akko fraternizes with. She’s her own woman. She’s free to fool around with her friends whenever she likes. Why would I be bothered?”

“Because she’s leaving you out, isn’t she?” Amanda leaned in. “Your dearest friend.”

Diana looked away from her, staring into the distance beyond the window. “She may be my dearest friend, but obviously she doesn’t feel the same way. I’m merely one of her many friends, that is if we still are friends after what I did to offend her.”

“You think you offended her?”

“Why else would she be avoiding me?” Diana snapped.

Because she’s a disaster for pretty girls and you’re a bangin’ babe. “It’s, like, impossible to offend Akko for longer than five minutes. I insult her every hour on the hour and she still loves me.”

“And yet she’s willing to spend time with you, but not me.”

It would be so much easier if Amanda could just spill the beans, but there was a code of conduct that needed to be respected. And it’s no fun to watch if you do all the legwork yourself.

“She’s just awkward around you right now. You’re a bit intimidating, what with your new fanbase and all.”

Diana scoffed. “Akko? Awkward? If the girl knew the meaning of the word, she never would’ve followed me home and ignored all etiquette in doing so. Intimidating? She never cared about my admired status before now. I have a hard time believing Akko would care about a few extra students enamoured with my superficial resemblance to a boy.”

Amanda blinked. Her gay spidey-senses were tingling. “Maybe she’s mad at you for spending so much time with all those fans of yours.” Diana raised her eyebrows dubiously, but Amanda pressed on, layering in a little more subtext. “Maybe she’s afraid one of those is going to start taking up all your time and there will be none for Dear Friend Akko.”

“Why would Akko worry about that?” Diana asked. “I’ve always made my intentions toward Akko clear. I’ll always be willing to make time for her.”

Amanda’s gay senses tingled harder. Something was off here. Subtext wasn’t making much progress here. “Maybe she’s worried that’ll change if you start hooking up with one of those fangirls.”

Diana laughed, surprising the other girl. “Hooking up? As if. Only your mind could come up with such a thing, O’Neill.” Diana flicked her hair fringe (her fans who were watching swooned). “And I almost thought you were being serious for a minute there. My mistake. Hooking up, indeed.”

“I was being serious,” Amanda said slowly. “And so are those girls. Some of them anyway. The repeat customers definitely. They aren’t just interested in the sights, if you catch my meaning.”

“I most certainly do not catch your meaning,” Diana said. She was beginning to get agitated. “You’re insinuating some rather scandalous things about your fellow students.”

“Not really, princess. Why do you think they’ve been sending you love letters?”

“Those weren’t love letters,” Diana said. “They were merely expressing their admiration for me.”

“And just how much of that admiration was about your body?” Amanda deadpanned.

“T-there’s nothing wrong with that,” Diana said quickly. A crack had appeared in her previously perfect certainty that Amanda was messing with he. Some of those letters had been rather… racy, but that was merely a case of overzealous compliments, wasn’t it?

“How would you know about it?” Diana accused.

“Those girls aren’t exactly quiet about it.” Neither was Akko, who had taken to burning whatever love letters she could get her mitts on.

“So,” Diana pondered the matter with deliberation. Amanda could almost see the gears in her head turning. “You’re saying those girls want to… court me?”

Is that what the kids are calling it these days? “Sure, that. Lots of late-night waltzing in the bedroom.” If Diana understood Amanda’s innuendo, she gave no indication.

“But surely they’re confused. I’m a girl. I only look like a boy because of this atrocious haircut. I can understand how they might develop a fondness for me in this state in an environment without actual boys, but in reality —”

Amanda’s ears shut off at this point and her mouth took over. “Have you considered those girls might like girls? That they’re gay or whatever? You may not have heard of that in aristocrat land, where everybody’s obsessed with breeding themselves like show dogs.”

Diana considered that, her hand on her chin. Amanda could see those gears of hers turning, and turning — and shudder to a stop. “But I’m not.”

Amanda was speechless. Her gay senses didn’t tingle, they flipped over a table and set it on fire. She doesn’t even know? She’s that jealous of me and she doesn’t even know she’s gay? I took her for a distinguished lesbian, not a disaster lesbian.

“Besides, what does this have to do with Akko?”

It took all of Amanda’s seldom-used self-control not to reach out and shake Diana.

“Your dear friend, Akko?”

“Yes. My dear friend, Akko.”

“The dear friend Akko who you got jealous over when I got too friendly with her.”

Diana scowled. “Yes.”

“The dear friend, Akko, who’s been avoiding you and you’re heartbroken over it.”

“That’s not the word I would’ve chosen, but I suppose you’re correct.”

“The dear friend, Akko, who’s so important to you that you’ve been neglecting your other friends so you can brood over her?”

“I haven’t been neglecting my friends…”

“Oh yeah? Then why are Hannah and Barbara so lonely that they hung out with me yesterday?” Why they needed anyone but each other was anyone’s guess, but Amanda didn’t have it in her to turn down girls with sad puppy-dog eyes.

“Where are you going with this, O’Neill?”

“Look, you want to make nice with Akko, right?”

“More than anything.”

“Listen closely. I’m gonna let you in on what you need to do. Close your eyes and imagine what I tell you.”

Diana looked at her with suspicion. She had her doubts about Amanda’s capability to solve interpersonal drama, especially after that previous conversation, but she had run out of options. What did she have to lose at this point? If it got Akko to act like normal...

Dismissing her misgivings, Diana closed her eyes and listened to Amanda.

“Imagine getting up from the table and going over to Akko.”

Diana cracked open one idea to sneak a glance at Akko, who was trying and failing to feign disinterest in their conversation. She shut her eye again and tried to picture what Amanda told her to. Her mental image of herself got up from the table and strode confidently toward Akko, locking eyes with her friend. She imagined Akko would, as she had the previous week, look back and forth for an exit and flee.

“And what shall I do, should she run away from me?”

“Go after her, numbskull. No wonder you’ve been having trouble. And here I thought you were the aggressive type..”

Ignoring Amanda’s comments, Diana imagined herself following Akko out of the cafeteria, chasing her through the hallways. Akko was much more athletic and energetic than Diana, but she had the advantage of superior magical prowess that could make up for it.

“Make sure she can’t get away. Corner her.”

Diana imagined anticipating Akko turning a corner, teleporting around it and cutting her off. She imagined blocking Akko’s path with her arm, the other girl screeching to a halt to avoid a collision. Nevertheless, she bumped into Diana, almost embracing her. Diana imagined herself pinning Akko to the wall, trapping her so that she could no longer evade Diana’s attempts to address the broken relationship between them.

She imagined Akko trying to stutter out some excuse, but she silenced her with a finger placed gently on the excitable girl’s lips. Her soft, playfully pink lips.

Despite her repeated attempts to contact Akko, she had no idea what to say now that she had (imaginary) Akko in front of her. What would close the gap that had formed between them? Would she ask how she’d wronged Akko? Would she reiterate her friendship to her, pledge to remain at Akko’s side? Would she give in to (at last she had to admit it) jealousy over her familiar interactions with Amanda? She was utterly lost. “What do I do now?”

“Isn’t it obvious? You kiss her.”

“WHAT!?” Her eyes flew open, her stomach lurched, her mind rebelled, but something buried deep inside her forced the vision into her head. She imagined drawing close to Akko, slipping her finger off the other girl’s mouth to replace it with her own lips. Those tender lips, so often pulled into a smile, at other times plumped in a queerly endearing pout. They had frequently drawn her attention through their owner’s animated expressions, and as of late Diana had dwelt on that ghost of their touch when she’d held Akko’s face in her hand, when she’d expressed her deep and everlasting f r i e n d s h i p…

“W-w-why would I do that!?” Diana choked out. “Akko is my friend! I have no interest in k-kissing her!”

“Aw, not even a little bit? I’m sure you’ve thought about it…”

“Of course not! I would never — I couldn’t —” Diana’s mind was spinning. Just because she’d had a passing thought — it had nothing to do with any secret desires — it was all that damn O’Neill’s fault, bring that up suddenly out of nowhere. Just because of one single fantasy — no, it wasn’t a fantasy! It was merely free association. That was it! She couldn’t be held accountable for her mind wandering to thoughts of kissing Akko’s adorable, kissable lips. It didn’t have to mean anything!

Diana attempted to distract Amanda. “What about you? You kissed her on the cheek!”

Amanda smirked. “Yeah, and did I blush the way you are right now just thinking about it? You’re the same colour as your beloved’s sultry, scarlet eyes.”

Diana didn’t even bother denying the fact that she was blushing; the heat in her face made it painfully obvious.

Talk about defrosting the ice queen, Amanda thought.

Diana forced her voice to be level. “Of course I would be embarrassed at the thought of kissing a friend. One is not supposed to kiss friends! Only you would be so bold.”

“What? You never smooch one of your gal pals before? Not even Hannah or Barbara?”

“Of course not,” Diana said flatly.

Amanda smiled smugly. “No reaction to that idea, huh? Not a peep? It was all very ‘the lady doth protest too much’ when it was Akko.”

“I know what you’re implying, and it isn’t true!” Diana said, panicked. “I have no such feelings for Akko! All I’m interested in is her friendship!”

Amanda could see that she wasn’t getting anywhere and she didn’t have any more patience to deal with baby gays today. She got up from the table and walked over to Diana, placing a hand on her shoulder. “Fine, fine. I’m not saying you’re in love with her. But maybe ask yourself why you’re so obsessed with your dear friend Akko.”

Diana shot her a confused look, but Amanda didn’t offer her any other answers. She walked away and left the heiress alone with her puzzling thoughts.

*******

Class ended and Amanda was faced with an afternoon of inevitable boredom. If either Akko or Diana had been less obstinate, she might’ve had some entertainment. The way things stood, both girls would be a pain to spend time with. They ought to have a little more consideration for her, their audience. It had been fun to watch Akko awkwardly run away from Diana, but now Diana was too put out to even bother. Amanda had been watching this romance slow-burning along for months, she was owed a little action by now, damn it!

Amanda decided to spend the rest of the day napping under her favourite tree, a plan which was cut short by the presence of two people under said tree. Hannah and Barbara.

“Hey, twerps,” she said standing over them. Both girls looked up at her. “This is my napping tree. Shift.”

“Your tree?” Hannah scoffed. “I don’t see your name on it?”

Amanda pointed to a spot on the tree just under the branches, where she had carved her name over a year ago.

“I stand corrected,” Hannah said, but made no move to relinquish her spot.

“Can’t you sleep somewhere else? Like your dorm room?” Barbara asked.

“Naps are at least twenty percent better outside.” Besides, she had it on good authority that girls found her lackadaisical displays pretty cool. “Why are you two out here instead of your palace of a dorm?”

Hannah groaned. “Because Diana’s brooding there, and it’s, like, depressing to be around,” Barbara answered.

“I can imagine,” Amanda said. She didn’t really have it in her heart to evict the girls, so instead she plonked down between them and leaned back against the tree’s trunk. Hannah and Barbara were startled and seemed to want to say something, but Amanda played it cool and payed them no mind. “So she’s still brooding about Akko, huh?”

Hannah rolled her eyes. “It’s been the only thing on her mind lately. She barely notices us any more, and whenever she does it’s to ask us about Akko.” Hannah mimicked Diana’s voice: “Do you think Akko hates me? Have you spoken to her lately? Has she mentioned me?”

Barbara huffed. “It’s like, hello, we’ve been your friends for forever. We get you’re sad about Akko, but can you at least be bothered to remember we exist?”

“Jealous of Akko?” Amanda jeered. “Disappointed that Luna Nova’s prince isn’t paying any attention to you?”

“As if!” Hannah and Barbara said in unison.

“Oh really? I seem to remember you two being blown away by Diana. You were practically drooling, if I recall correctly.”

Barbara was unfazed. “Well, obviously. The girl goes around presenting as femme for a decade and then suddenly goes butch? We hadn’t built up any resistance to that.”

Hannah nodded. “Diana’s always been drop-dead gorgeous, but some of us have a weakness for boyish-looking girls.”

Amanda blinked, registering what the girls had just said. She’d always thought they were a couple of starstruck straights. “Wait? You’re saying you like girls? But you’re always fawning over Andrew Hanbridge and crap like Nightfall.”

Barbara sniffed at the slight toward her favourite series. “It’s called being bi, jackass.”

“Oh. Fair enough.” She settled down into more comfortable position, more lying down than sitting. “I’m more of an ‘all or nothing’ girl myself.”

“A lot more ‘nothing’ than ‘all’ from what we’ve seen,” Hannah said under her breath, only loud enough that Barbara could hear her.

“Anyway, we’re not jealous of Akko,” Barbara said. “We know Diana only has eyes for Akko.”

“How do you know that?” Amanda asked, fishing for any info Diana might’ve told her roommates. Anything that she could use as ammunition against Diana’s resistance to her true gay calling.

“We suspected it for a while, what with the way they’ve only gotten closer lately. But there’s no denying it after that little display.”

Hannah and Barbara leaned over Amanda, each reaching out and cupping one of Amanda’s cheeks in their hand.

“I wouldn’t hold such a thing against a dear friend of mine,” Hannah said, inflecting her voice to match Diana’s.

“You need to be more honest about what you’re feeling,” Barbara added, echoing her roommate’s imitation.

Amanda felt frustrated by the lack of new information. She also felt an unfamiliar emotion that had something to do with the way the two girls were touching her face while emulating the dreamy-eyed, amorous Diana.

Shoving that feel down deep into her chest and mentally stomping on it for good measure, she pushed their hands away and sat up again, shifting uncomfortably. “I see,” she coughed. “I was hoping you had better dirt than that. She didn’t listen to me when I tried to make her see the light. For an egghead, she can be pretty thick sometimes.”

“We’ve been trying to subtly imply that she should consider dating girls, but she never gets it,” Hannah said.

“Like, for years,” Barbara affirmed. “She’s always treated male suitors like cockroaches, but she doesn’t know why. Hey, Han, remember the time that countess started flirting with her? She was all like, ‘isn’t she so friendly?’ We tried to set them up so many times, but Diana never went for it.”

Hannah shook her head in disdain. “Hey, Amanda, what did you try?”

“I told her to imagine making out with Akko,” Amanda said unabashedly. She expected the noble girls to frown on her methods, but she was pleasantly surprised.

“Gosh, we should’ve thought of that,” Hannah said. In retrospect, they should’ve considered dropping the subtle approach years ago.

“She didn’t even seem to think that hooking up with girls is even an option,” Amanda added.

“Maybe we should’ve made out in front of her,” Barbara said thoughtfully, eliciting a nod from Hannah. They should’ve realized that some people learn best through example.

Amanda did her best to ignore what she just heard. “Cavendish turned red as a Soviet beet, but she’s convinced herself that she only wants friendship from Akko.”

“Yeah, well she’d have an easier time admitting that she’s gayer than Oscar Wilde’s buttplugs if she thought Akko was the same way,” Hannah sniped.

“If she pulled her head out of her ass she’d see it plain as day,” Amanda said. “Akko’s got it bad for Diana and she knows it. She’s so hot for her I’m surprised the school hasn’t burned down yet.”

“We figured as much, but there’s no way of making Diana seeing it,” Barbara said, about to fire up her Diana impression again. “Akko’s just a friend, girls. She’s constantly hugging me and blushing because we’re friends.”

“Can’t we just tell both of them they’re in love with each other and be done with it?” Hannah asked.

“That’s cheating!” Amanda said indignantly. “I want to see them get together as much as you do, but I also want to see drama! Seeing these two freak out about each other gives me life. If we let them know their feelings are mutual, they’ll just become a lovey dovey couple and where’s the fun in that?”

“That’s the single most self-serving I’ve ever heard,” Hannah said. “I love it.”

“All the best fanfiction follows that pattern. Established relationships are rarely as interesting,” Barbara said, voicing her own personal opinions as if they were the gospel truth.

“We’re all in agreement then,” Amanda declared. “We need to force Akko and Diana together so we can watch them squirm for our entertainment!”

“And make sure they get together eventually, right?” Hannah asked.

“Yeah, sure, sure,” Amanda said, waving her hand impatiently.

“You know, if this is what you get out of romance, I see why you never ask any girls out,” Barbara said, her brows knitting together.

“What do you mean by that?” Amanda asked, confused by the turn in the conversation.

Hannah shrugged. “Well, you tease Akko about liking Diana, and Diana about liking Akko, and how they need to get together, but you aren’t really making any moves yourself, are you?”

Amanda couldn’t see how this was relevant. Were they questioning her romantic street cred? It wasn’t her fault she couldn’t land a date. Not that she was trying that hard, of course. It’s just that girls at Luna Nova had no taste. Yes, that was it. And who were they to question her? It’s not like they had any experience to speak of. As far as she knew.

“There just aren’t any girls who measure up to the amazing Amanda O’Neill,” she said, flashing her signature cocky grin. “Besides, where am I supposed to find girls who like girls here? All the good ones are taken,” she added with a bitter laugh.

The two bisexual girls looked at each other, then shot Amanda a stony look a gorgon would be proud of. “I see,” they said dryly.

The conversation got back on track and the three girls discussed various methods to get Akko and Diana in each other’s company again, Hannah and Barbara vetoing Amanda’s more radical suggestions. Where were they going to get a giant crocodile on such short notice anyway? Despite herself, Amanda found herself having fun chatting with Hannah and Barbara, plotting against/on behalf of their friends. Turns out the two dorks had a sense of humour after all. But every once in a while she saw the other girls exchange meaningful looks whose nature Amanda couldn’t divine. It didn’t really bother her, but she couldn’t help but feel that she was missing something important.

Chapter Text

In spite of her repeated attempts to avoid it, Akko was caught in what was both her greatest dream and her absolute worst nightmare.

She and Diana sat side by side — literally side to side with nary an atom of oxygen between them — at table of their own in the library, astrology textbooks sprawled out before them, wrist deep in the star student’s copious notes taken in class. Diana’s arm rested across Akko’s shoulders, her blue eyes staring deeply into her study partner’s soul and demanding all of her attention. In her primmest, most proper library voice, Diana whispered, “I need you to pay attention, Akko.” The way her gentle tones caressed the name ignited a revolution in Akko’s insides, and the poor girl screamed internally, not knowing whether in despair or delight, “What did I do to deserve this?”

Incidentally, what Akko had to deserve this was fail an astronomy test, a rather embarrassing feat for someone who practically used to be on speaking terms with a whole constellation. She was beating herself up for it even harder than she normally would, seeing as it was her mentor’s class she’d performed so poorly in. It wasn’t that she didn’t know the answers — Akko always did her best to try to impress her childhood heroine — she couldn’t focus because Diana was in the seat next to her and damn she looked good in profile. Thankfully, Professor Ursula was willing to let Akko retake the test once Akko explained why she’d turned in a paper that was almost blank.

“Honestly I can’t blame you, Akko,” Ursula said. “I can’t tell you how many faculty meetings I zoned out of when Croix was here. That hair… and that outfit...” The professor’s eyes glazed over as she lost herself in reverie for a moment, blushing once she realized she was doing it.

Ursula gave her a day to study before retook the test, and Akko intended to make full use of it. Some people had other ideas.

Amanda caught Akko on her way to the library, throwing an arm around her shoulders. “Hey, Akko. I heard you failed a test.”

Akko pouted, suspicious of Amanda’s interest. If she suspected the reason Akko failed the test, she’d never hear the end of it. “I did. I have to study today before I retake the test tomorrow.” She hoped that Amanda would take the hint that she didn’t want to be bothered.

No such luck. “The way I see it, you’ve got a great opportunity here.”

“To get a better mark…?”

“No, Juliet, an opportunity to hook that Romeo of yours?” Amanda smirked. “Ask her to tutor you. She’s too much of a teacher’s pet to resist. Then you can have handsome Cavendish all to yourself.”

That was the opposite of a great opportunity. Having Diana around would make impossible to read, never mind study. But Akko couldn’t admit that without opening herself up to more teasing.

“I can study by myself,” Akko said adamantly. “Besides, Diana probably has more important things to do than tutor me. Lots of people depend on her, you know? I wouldn’t want to bother her.” More like I don’t want to get hot and bothered because of her, Akko thought guiltily. Though she meant what she said. If there was one thing she’d learned during her brief impersonation of Diana Cavendish, it was that the young heiress had barely a moment’s peace to herself. She didn’t want to deprive someone else more deserving of Diana’s assistance, nor did she feel entitled to take up any of her friend’s free time. Especially since her studying would be more productive without… distractions.

“What is it you don’t want to bother me with?”

Akko nearly jumped out of her skin. She turned on her heel, shoe screeching like the ancient door hinges in a haunted house. Diana was walking toward her with assertive purpose, one hand on her hip, eyebrows arching over inquisitive eyes, her lips quirked in a moody sort of pout.

“D-D-Diana!” How can she even do that? Make herself even hotter? That pout isn’t fair! Anticipating her own embarrassment, Akko was overwhelmed by the urge to run as fast as she could. But Amanda’s relentless grip on her shoulder made it clear she wasn’t going anywhere. She would have to face her fear, though her chances of escaping unscathed were depressingly unlikely.

Diana stopped in front of her close enough to hear her heartbeat and feel the heat rising in her body, Akko dreaded.

“Many people do depend on me, but I would’ve thought it was obvious you’re allowed to be one of them,” Diana said. “If there’s anything I can do you, Akko, please don’t hesitate to ask.” She smiled and placed her hand on Akko’s arm, just under Amanda’s.

This isn’t good for my heart! Something’s going to burst! Akko thought. Diana had clearly caught the end of her conversation with Amanda, but how long had she been listening? If she heard the part Amanda said about her…

“See, what did I tell you, Akko?” Amanda patted Akko on the back. “Cavendish’s willing to do anything for you, isn’t she?” She winked at Diana.

“O’Neill is correct,” Diana said, smile stiffening, pulse quickening, “There isn’t anything I wouldn’t do for a friend.” Apparently Amanda hadn’t been cured of her delusions since their last conversation, judging by her not so subtle hints. Diana wouldn’t have been bothered by her nonsense, except that she was doing it right in front of Akko. Her stomach roiled at the thought of Akko hearing Amanda’s conspiracy theories. Not that they had any validity. But the idea of Akko having such misconceptions about her dismayed her almost as much as the sight of Amanda’s arm around Akko’s shoulders. For some reason.

“Ain’t that lucky, Akko?” Amanda said. “Cavendish can help you study. Good thing she just happened to be around, eh?”

Diana frowned. Was Amanda accusing her of something? “I’m known to frequent the library. It’s not that great of a surprise.” Of course, that wasn’t the whole truth. Diana had heard through the grapevine that Akko had failed a test. Which is to say, Hannah and Barbara told her and spent every class that day trying to convince her to tutor Akko, all the while suggesting that she use the opportunity to mend fences with Akko — the girls had noticed Diana’s moodiness and the cause thereof. Diana was unable to leave Akko to her plight. As a star student, she couldn’t allow her classmates to neglect their studies. She had no ulterior motives, whatever Amanda suspected. What was suspicious was Amanda’s presence.

The truth of the matter was that Amanda, Hannah, and Barbara had been conspiring since they got their astrology tests back and Amanda spied the failing grade on Akko’s. They hatched a plan to convince the awkward girls to meet up under the pretext of concern for Akko’s academic well-being. Hannah and Barbara spent the day as the angel and devil on Diana’s shoulders, persuading her that she an undeniable duty to help her dear friend, a duty with obvious perks. Amanda’s job was to track Akko down and hold her up until Diana arrived, all the while doing her own part to convince Akko to take the bait.

Amanda ruffled Akko’s hair. “I’ll leave you two alone so you can get down to business. Have fun studying.” She skipped — actually skipped — away.

Diana watched Amanda like a hawk as she left. “Shall we go?” she asked, giving Akko’s arm a gentle squeeze. “You’ll want to make the most of your time before you retake your test.”

“How did you know Ursula’s letting me retake the test?” Akko was genuinely confused.

“Professor Ursula asked me to help you study,” Diana lied confidently, though she didn’t understand her own rationale. Why was she opposed to Akko knowing the truth? She knew what Amanda would say, but Diana couldn’t let the troublemaker get in her head. Deception aside, she no reason to feel guilty wanting to spend time with her friends, and surely the deception could be forgiven. If only she knew why Akko was avoiding her, she wouldn’t have to resort to such measures.

“Oh. That makes sense. She’s always looking out for me.” Akko didn’t believe her. Why would Ursula tell Diana to help her study, knowing that Akko being distracted by her was the problem in the first place? Unless… what if her mentor was trying to set her up with Diana? That wasn’t helpful at all!

“But really, Diana, you don’t need to worry about me,” Akko said, attempting to tug her arm out of Diana’s grip so she could evacuate at full speed. She was being as subtle as she could to not offend Diana, but she had her own health to worry about. “I can study on my own.”

“If that were the case, you would’ve passed the test,” Diana replied playfully.

Akko was stuck between a rock and a hard place. She couldn’t explain that she only failed the test because she was ogling a certain butch girl, but if she didn’t come up with an excuse, she’d have to let Diana tutor her, and she was in no state to think on her feet. Approximately half of her brain power was devoted to thinking about Diana’s hand touching her.

Diana could see that Akko was hesitating. She decided to press her advantage. Taking a page out of Amanda’s book — she was not jealous! — she put an arm around Akko’s waist — it’s not as if she was trying to one-up O’Neill! She started leading Akko toward the library.

“If you aren’t going to argue with me, I’ll have to assume I’ve won,” Diana purred. Akko seemed to be placated; in any event, she offered no further debate. The heiress smiled to herself, pleased that she’d convinced Akko to see things her way. The girl had always been fond of expressing herself through physical affection (though less so toward Diana as of late), so Diana chose to mirror her to bring the two of them together. All she had to do to make it work was ignore the tingling feeling that buzzed through her body every time Akko hugged her — or the other way around, as it were in this case.

Akko, for her part, was doing amazing under the circumstances. Her crush was all over her and she hadn’t spontaneously combusted even once. She allowed herself to be led along by Diana, passive as a cherry blossom petal caught in a breeze. Where did that come from? she wondered. Diana had never been touchy-feely. Usually she froze up when she was hugged, awkwardly patting Akko on the back after a too-long pause. This was a complete reversal, and Akko didn’t know how to feel about it. On the one hand, her heart was doing victory laps for being this close to Diana; on the other hand, why is she doing this?

And so Akko found herself at a desk in the library, attempting to demonstrate her knowledge of astrology while Diana cozied up to her, obliterating her ability to focus. Was it the way Diana huddled close to her with her arm around Akko’s shoulders that was so distracting? Was it the fringe of Diana's hair, hanging so close to her face, that drew her eye? Was it Diana's library-voice whispers, ghosting over the most sensitive parts of her ears that made her heart skip.

It was all of it, of course. And it was tearing Akko apart. As much as she wanted to bask in the glow of Diana’s attention (and that was a lot!), she wanted to get away as fast as possible, lest Diana suspect how much she was enjoying this. She doubted her friend would approve of her distracted thinking when she was supposed to be studying, and she knew Diana would disapprove of what their bodily contact was prompting her to think. Then there was the matter of her studying...

“Hey, um, Diana? Aren’t you a little close?” Maybe if Diana backed off she could concentrate on the textbook in front of her instead of worrying she was breathing weird.

“If I’m not close, I can’t read the textbook,” Diana replied. “Then I wouldn’t be able to help you with anything you can’t understand.”

“I can, uh, call you over when I need you,” Akko countered. She had no intention of doing anything of the sort, in part because she knew that if she tried asking Diana to come closer, her voice wouldn’t so much crack as shatter.

Diana chuckled. “Considering the mark you received, we both know that you’ll need me all night.”

By the Nine Olde Witches, Akko shrieked in her own head, you can’t just say that right in my ear! Did Diana really not know what that sounded like? Akko calmed herself. Her mind had gone into the gutter because of her own feelings, not over what Diana had actually said. In the state she was in, she was likely to misinterpret anything.

“I’m serious, Akko,” Diana continued. “If we don’t finish in time, I’ll be keeping you up past curfew.”

Oh, come on! Now you’re doing this on purpose!

Akko wasn’t the only one getting aroused by Diana’s comments. Far away from Akko and Diana’s table but close enough to watch the pair’s interaction was none other than Amanda, Hannah, and Barbara. Amanda sat sandwiched between the other two girls, all crowded over a piece of paper Hannah had charmed to write out what Diana and Akko were saying. They stifled their laughter as they watched Akko’s tortured expression at Diana’s latest unintended innuendo.

“Sweet, merciful Hecate, I can’t believe Cavendish doesn’t know she’s gay yet,” Amanda said.

“Looks like Akko can’t believe it either,” Hannah replied, covering her mouth with both hands.

“This is better than Nightfall,” Barbara declared. No one argued with her.

Akko: We’re going to have to stop at some point so we can have dinner, the paper wrote out.

Diana: I won’t let you have a taste until you show me you know what you’re doing.

Amanda guffawed. “Is Cavendish usually this bossy?”

“I mean, she’s always been kinda strict,” Barbara said.

“But this is something else,” Hannah followed. “We’ve never seen her be so persistent.”

Amanda watched as Diana reached over the textbook to point out something, in the process leaning closer to Akko, who nearly jumped out of her skin. As the heiress resumed her posture, Amanda caught a glimpse of her smirking.

“Maybe Diana does know what she wants,” Amanda wondered.

Hannah shrugged. “I suppose we’ll have to keep watching.”

Diana had thought that it would be at least a little trouble to teach Akko the test material, but she quickly learned that Akko had a considerable grasp on the subject. Peculiar. With the knowledge she was currently displaying, Akko should’ve passed the test. Perhaps her nerves had gotten to her and she stumbled when it came to the examination itself? Or what if, said a voice in Diana’s head, she failed on purpose so she’d have an excuse to spend time with you.

She dismissed the thought. Even Akko would be so reckless as to endanger her own education just to hang out with a friend. Especially a friend she had been avoiding for a week. No, she was only projecting.

And yet, Akko hadn’t run away yet. True, Amanda had prevented an escape by holding onto her, and Diana had been clinging to her since then. “Clinging” is a strong word, Diana convinced herself. I am merely sitting close to my friend. And leaning on her a little. And breathing in the scent of her hair…

A blush crept across Diana’s cheeks. She was being entirely too forward. Where had her manners gone? A lady did not drape herself over people, even her dearest friend. , Diana berated herself. Where is my composure? Akko leaves me alone for a week and I pounce on her like a housecat on a mouse. I ought to be embarrassed for myself, really. And she was, but not nearly enough to satisfy her noble sensibilities. It was all well and good for girls like Akko and Amanda to be so brazen in their affection, Diana had no choice but to sedate in her behaviour. That simple fact of life frustrated Diana. She could admit it now: she was jealous of Amanda O’Neill and the freedom with which she could express her friendship toward Akko. From time to time she wished she could throw her arms around Akko and pull her close, but every time she restrained herself to the mere touch of a hand. It was no longer enough. And with her aristocratic demeanour in tatters — what with her boyish hair and male attire — she had no reason to hold back any more.

“You’re a little quiet,” Akko said.

“Did you need something?” Diana asked. “If there’s something you need from me, don’t hesitate to ask.”

“I bet she can think of a few things,” Amanda snickered, tracing an hourglass figure with her hands.

“No,” Akko said quickly. “It’s just that, well, you were kinda drifting off there.” To be more specific, Diana had been glaring off at the distance, eyes unfocused but cold. She looked like she was mad at someone, and Akko hoped it wasn’t her. She didn’t want to be on the receiving end of that dirty look — okay maybe a little. It was kinda hot.

“My apologies, Akko,” Diana said. “From now on I’ll devote my attention solely to you.” She gave Akko a squeeze for good measure.

For Akko, the stimulus of Diana’s words, her voice in her ear, and the one-armed hug was too much. She couldn’t help herself. She let out a pitiful squeak, an inferno of a blush consuming her face instantly.

Diana blinked. Was that meant to happen? Akko didn’t usually make such noises when she was hugged. Had she done something wrong. Diana wouldn’t have thought that such a blunder would be impossible for a hug, but she was hardly the expert. she wondered. Then she saw the sweat beading on Akko’s forehead and jumped to the worst, most incorrect conclusion.

“Akko,” Diana said hesitantly. “Am I making you uncomfortable?”

At the other table, Amanda, Hannah, and Barbara held their breath.

“Wuh-what?” Akko blurted. Why does she think that? Akko had been almost certain that her embarrassed squeak would’ve outed her, but this was even worse. True, her heart was beating so hard it was apt to rip a hole in the space-time continuum, and that sort of thing took a lot out of a girl. She wasn’t uncomfortable in the sense that Diana’s touch was unwanted, however, she was overwhelmed by it. Even after all the times she’d hugged Diana since they’d become friends, the other girl taking initiative was enough to blow Akko away, hence the squeak.

“I-I’m not uncomfortable!” Akko insisted. “You just, uh, surprised me is all! That’s it!”

Diana smiled sadly. “You don’t need to be concerned with my feelings. If I’ve failed to respect you boundaries, I’d prefer that you tell me.” She removed her arm from around Akko and shifted her chair to the side, breaking off all contact with her friend.

Akko’s body and mind wailed at the separation. Why is this happening? She cursed herself for letting things get this way. It was bad enough that Diana had stopped snuggling up to her; she had gotten the wrong idea and was now beating herself up for it, and that made Akko want to disappear.

“I’m serious, Diana,” Akko said, scooting her chair toward Diana, reclosing the distance. “I was just surprised. I’m not used to — I mean, you’ve never…” Akko fumbled her words, attempting to spoof an excuse that would let her fix this without revealing her feelings for Diana. Unfortunately, her romantic vexation combined with her emotional distress robbed even the talkative Atsuko Kagari of words.

But Akko had the devil’s own luck, and Diana was able to fill in the blanks with her own insecurities. “I’ve never… you mean that you reacted as you did because I’ve never… hugged you before?”

Akko nodded fervently, not trusting herself to get the idea across with words.

“You’re saying that you’re not used to receiving… physical affection?”

“Uh-huh!”

“But you’ve never reacted in such a way to any of your other friends,” Diana pointed out.

“Oh, well, that’s —” Akko began.

“You barely reacted when O’Neill kissed you,” Diana said sharply. She may or may not have still been bitter over the incident.

Hannah and Barbara turned to Amanda in unison. “Oh?”

“What are you looking at me for?” Amanda snapped. “C’mon, you’re gonna miss the show. It’s finally getting good.”

“Wait, you saw that?” Akko’s jaw dropped.

“You’re awful chummy with her aren’t you?” Diana’s amygdala was in control of her mouth now. O’Neill has nothing to do with this. Why am I changing the subject?

Akko made a mental note to kick Amanda’s butt the next time she saw her. She could only imagine how that looked. The last thing she needed was for Diana to think that she had the hots for Amanda of all people. The Green Team member had enough on her plate anyway. As reluctant as she was to confess her feelings, she was loathe to have Diana under the impression that she had feelings for someone else. Though, she had to admit she was mystified as to why what Amanda had done had bothered Diana so much.

“Oh, you know. That’s Amanda for you. She’s just like that. It didn’t mean anything.” Akko practically wheezed the last sentence in her effort to emphasize it.

“Is Amanda really in the habit of kissing her friends?” Diana asked dubiously.

Not at all, but I’m not about to let you know she’s started with me. “Oh, sure. All the time. She does it to get a rise out of us. You just don’t see it because you don’t hang out with Green Team that often. Just ask Hannah or Barbara. I bet it won’t be long before she plants one on both of them.”

“Is that so?” Hannah asked, smirking.

“You’d better not make us wait,” Barbara said.

Amanda rolled her eyes, ignoring them. “No way is Cavendish gonna buy that. Akko better come up with something better or her girlfriend’s gonna give it to her.”

Diana stroked her chin. “I wouldn’t put it past O’Neill. It must be troublesome to have a friend with such improper behaviour.”

“Oh, yeah,” Akko said. “Doesn’t know when to let it up with all the touchy-feely stuff. She’s such a tease.”

“You two can talk,” Amanda grumbled.

Akko had to resist the urge to wipe away the sweat from her forehead. Dodged a bullet there. Diana was just ragging on Amanda for being “improper.” As if Diana would care who’s been kissing me.

Diana suppressed a smug smile. So Akko finds O’Neill’s affection a nuisance. She felt like she’d won something, but couldn’t quite place what. That was a load off her mind, but she still hadn’t resolved the matter at hand.

“I apologize for being so forward with you,” Diana began. Akko tried to interrupt, but Diana held up a hand to quiet her. “It’s understandable that you would be shocked by my sudden change of behaviour. I’ve never been so… open… in my affections. I assure you that my feelings of friendship toward you have been just as strong as yours, though I chose not to be express it as you do.” Diana hesitated, unsure if she could be honest about why she’s changed. But if I cannot be honest with Akko, who can I confide in? “You see, Akko, I was... jealous. Jealous of O’Neill and your other friends. I felt as if my actions toward you were inadequate given our… relationship. I sought to remedy that, though I see my folly in coming on so strongly and so quickly.”

Akko was fighting off a blush to no avail. Diana was jealous? She wants to be closer as friends? It wasn’t quite what Akko’s heart wanted, but she wasn’t about to turn her nose up to more hugs from her crush. Even if she was putting herself at risk of a heart attack. She couldn’t possibly turn Diana down. “That’s, uh, great!” she said, trying to downplay her enthusiasm. “We’re dear friends, right? Like you said? If you want to snuggle up all the time, it’s no problem for me.”

Oh, by the Nine Olde Witches, did I say that out loud?

“Jennifer’s tits, did she just say that out loud?” Amanda was surprised by Akko’s boldness.

“There’s no way even Diana could see that as platonic,” Hannah declared.

Alas, Diana only heard what she wanted: Akko was okay with being hugged her her. She had reaffirmed their status as dear friends, and Diana couldn’t see past the subtext in her dear friend’s words, so overwhelming was her relief that she hadn’t made Akko uncomfortable.

“Very well, Akko,” Diana said with a crooked smile not unlike Amanda’s smirks. “I’ll resolve not to hold myself back when I’m around you.”

“Even Akko couldn’t hear that as platonic,” Barbara said hopefully.

But wonders never ceased at Luna Nova Academy. Though Akko’s heart skipped a beat at Diana’s words, she didn’t pick up on the hidden meaning even Diana herself didn’t know was lurking underneath.

“I’m afraid I’ve let my insecurities interrupt your study session,” Diana said. “We really must continue. Don’t be afraid to ask for my help.”

Diana looked at Akko expectantly, eager to share her knowledge. But Akko’s problems lay elsewhere. As much as she was enjoying Diana’s company — ignoring the strain it put on her cardiovascular system — she couldn’t allow herself to take up so much of her friend’s time. After all, Diana was under the impression she needed to study. Akko was certain her crush would tend to her own studies as usual if she knew Akko had the material covered.

Before her heart could change her mind, Akko told Diana the truth. Well, the important part. “I think I’ve got it from here. You don’t need to stay here and hold my hand through the rest.”

“Oh, don’t I?” Diana teased. To Akko’s regret, Diana didn’t literally hold her hand. “If you’re so confident you don’t need my help, prove it.”

“Fine,” Akko said, her competitive spirit awoken. “How about a couple of horoscopes?”

“Indeed. Read mine and yours, then I’ll accept that you don’t need my help.”

“You’re on!” That would be a piece of cake. Akko had recently become proficient in reading horoscopes in order to show off to her mentor in her own subject. Not for any other reason. She certainly wasn’t doing it to read her and Diana’s love horoscopes. The thought definitely had never crossed her mind ever at all.

She cast a star-reading spell, simulating the day’s astrological conditions for easy interpretation. “Let’s see,” she muttered to herself. “Cancer, Cancer.” She read the stars, drawing lines in the air with her wand to connect the dots, and announced her findings.

“My horoscope says… My insecurities are getting the better of me. I need to come out of my shell and see the way things really are. I need to stop making compromises at my own expense. The new moon means there’s someone in my life who’s on my level, but I’m just not seeing it. If I reveal how I’m really feeling, I’ll solve the problem I’m currently facing.”

“Oh gosh, I can’t imagine what that means,” Amanda snarked.

“Are you having a problem with one of your friends?” Diana asked. “I’ll lend an ear, if you’d like some advice.”

“Oh, no, it’s fine,” Akko said before the more reckless part of her could blurt out the truth. “I’ve got it all under control.”

“You’ve got to be kidding me!” Hannah complained.

“That was your opening, numbskull!” Barbara groaned.

“That was an exemplary reading, Akko,” Diana said. Akko glowed at the praise. “And now mine?”

Akko used her wand to push the first star map to the side and cast a new, unblemished one. “You’re a Taurus, aren’t you?” Akko asked as if she did not already have the answer memorized. “Your birthday is the thirtieth of April, right?”

“Yes,” Diana responded. “I’m flattered that you remembered.”

“Okie dokie then! Your horoscope… The sudden changes you’re facing aren’t the obstacle you think they are. You can be bullheaded and possessive sometimes, but those can be assets. Your relationship with Venus is strained because you’re denying your inner urges. You’ll achieve your goal if you rely on your own hands?” Akko trailed off hesitantly. “I wonder what that could mean?”

“I haven’t the slightest idea,” Diana said not-so-truthfully. The word “possessive” rang a bell. Was she being possessive of Akko? Her jealousy concerning Akko must have a basis, after all. But according to Akko it could be an asset. In a way, her possessiveness did lead to their current understanding. That satisfied Diana and she ignored the rest of the horoscope and what it meant for her.

“You did a good job, Akko. I do believe you can handle this test on your own.”

Akko rubbed the back of her head, pleasantly embarrassed by Diana’s praise. Part of her wanted to show off a little more in the hopes of receiving more praise. That part of her hijacked her mouth before she could think better of it.

“Did you know that Cancer and Taurus have great romantic compatibility?”

What the hell am I saying!? That’s practically a pickup line!

Diana beamed, the implications of Akko’s statement soaring high over her head. “You’re right, Akko. You really do know the material.”

Amanda slammed the trio’s table with her fists. “You useless lesbian!

“Well, that’s enough of that,” Akko said. She needed to convince Diana to leave her alone before she spilled her guts to her crush. She cast a cancelling spell to get rid of the star maps. In her haste, she covered a much larger area than intended, cancelling out the enchantment Hannah put on the paper, as well as the Metamorphie Vestesse spell on Diana’s clothes.

Or rather, it should have. Diana’s masculinized clothes remained as is. Which could only mean…

“Diana, why are you wearing boy clothes?”

Diana’s face turned ruby red. She cursed the loss of her long hair, which she would’ve been able to hide behind. “W-well…” she stuttered. “You see… What you have to understand is…”

Akko was staring at her, her gaze intensifying the longer Diana made her wait for an answer.

“Clothes for men are more comfortable!” This was, essentially, a mistruth. “O’Neill changes my clothes anyway, so I figured I might as well wear them anyway.” Faulty logic. “And the student body seems to appreciate the change in scenery.” Closer to the truth. “Do you think it looks weird?” The unvarnished truth was that Diana had noticed that many of the other students were mesmerized by her new look, and — if Amanda was to believed — a few of them were quite taken with her. She had changed her wardrobe with the goal of, perhaps, catching Akko’s eye. For purely platonic reasons, of course.

“Oh, okay.” Akko said. It didn’t make that much sense to her, but she didn’t want to argue at the moment. She wasn’t about to compromise Diana’s handsome looks for the sake of logic.

“What are they saying?” Amanda asked.

“We must’ve lost the connection,” Hannah concluded, staring at the paper, now blank.

“How are we going to get our entertainment now?” Amanda groaned.

“Keep your shirt on,” Barbara said. “We’ll come up with another strategy later.”

“So, now that I’ve proved I’m okay studying on my own, you can take care of your own business,” Akko said. Her resistance to Diana’s charms was already failing. If I don’t get her out of here soon, I might mess up everything.

Diana’s moody pout returned with a vengeance. “Akko, is there a reason you’re avoiding me?”

“Wh-what do you mean?”

Diana leaned closer. “You’ve been avoiding me ever since the alchemy incident. Every time I’ve tried to come near you, you’ve run away. I’ve been asking myself all week why you would do this, and I can’t fathom why. This is the first time we’ve spoken in ages. Why are you so eager to be rid of me?”
Diana’s wounded voice cut deep into Akko’s soul. “I don’t want to get rid of you—”

“Have I offended you? Have I crossed a line and not realized it? Were you lying earlier when you said I wasn’t disrespecting your boundaries? Please don’t soften the truth to spare my feelings, Akko. I just want to know what I’ve done to deserve this.”

You didn’t do anything wrong except let me fall for you. But of course Akko couldn’t say that. Then Diana would be the one avoiding her. She knew Diana deserved the truth, but Akko had to protect her own feelings. And their friendship.

“I-I just don’t want to take up your time needlessly—”

Diana leaned even closer, putting a hand on Akko’s arm. “Didn’t I tell you that you can depend on me? More than anyone else, Akko, you can consider yourself entitled to my time. You’ve done so much for me, I’d be a cad not to do the same for you. We’re friends, Akko. You don’t need to separate us for my sake.” She moved her hand up to Akko’s chin the way she had on that first day. Perhaps she did it unconsciously, perhaps she was deliberately attempting to overwhelm Akko.

“Tell me truthfully, Akko, why are you trying to avoid me?”

Because I’m head over heels for you and just being around you turns me into a nervous wreck and the longer we’re together the more likely I’ll open my heart to you and ruin everything between us with my weird feelings. Akko was certain that Diana only saw her as a friend and would only ever see her that way. She could cope with that until her feelings faded, but only if Diana was unaware of those feelings. The thought of Diana rejecting her broke her heart, and Akko preferred anything to that, even if she was throwing away the slightest, tiniest chance of romance to protect herself.

Heart racing and sweating up a storm, Akko swallowed thickly and tried an excuse. “I was… mad at you.”

Diana’s face fell. “Made at me? Whatever for?”

Akko felt like trash for lying to her crush, to her dear friend. But it had to be done. “I was jealous. I was jealous of all your fans, taking up all your time. I got mad because they were hogging all your attention and then there was none for me. And then I took it out on you and avoided you, to show you I was upset with you. I can be kind of petty like that.” The worst part of Akko’s manipulation — which made her feel like the lowest of the low — was how much of it was true. She was jealous of Diana’s fans, but she had left out the all-important fact that her feelings were romantically driven. And that her avoidance had nothing to do with Diana’s behaviour, but had all to do with Akko’s unacceptable feelings for her friend.

Diana seemed to buy it. “Oh, Akko, I apologize for making you feel that way.”

Akko’s heart cringed, deepening her sense of self-hatred. You didn’t do anything wrong! It was all me!

“I’ll give all my attention to you if that’s what you want.” Diana stroked Akko’s chin, hiking up the brunette’s heart rate and sweat production. Naturally Diana noticed none of this.

Amanda, Hannah, and Barbara, however, could tell even at a distance.

“Oh hell, Diana’s gonna kill her with kindness, isn’t she?” Barbara asked.

“We might have to rescue poor Akko,” Hannah agreed.

“Not if I have anything to say about it,” Amanda objected. “This shit gives me life.”

“Just say the word, Akko, and I’ll give up the rest of my day to you,” Diana cooed.

“Oh no, I really couldn’t,” Akko muttered. She was caught in place by Diana’s cool, blue eyes. I guess snake-charming runs in her family, she thought idly.

“Oh yes, Akko, you really could.” Diana leaned in even closer until their foreheads touched and her superego caught up with her id. What the bloody hell am I doing?

The contact was too much for Akko, too close to a kiss for her little gay heart to take. She backpedalled so hard she fell out of her chair, yelping as she hit the floor.

“Akko!” Diana was at her side in a second.

Amanda cursed. “So close.” Hannah and Barbara sighed in agreement.

“Ouch.” Akko held her hand out in front of her gingerly. She had scraped it in her tumble.

“Oh, Akko, let me fix that for you.” Diana took Akko’s wounded hand in hers, eliciting a squeak from the girl, which Diana ignored. She performed a quick healing spell — as expected of the heiress of the House of Cavendish — and scratch disappeared as if it were never there.

“Um, thanks, Diana,” Akko choked out, hyper-aware of how soft and gentle her crush’s hand was.

“Think nothing of it,” Diana said, smooth as silk. “That’s simply how one is supposed to treat a lady.” Her words triggered an impulse, buried deep in her aristocratic breeding, implanted by the etiquette and chivalry education required by all of her class. Diana inclined her head and raised Akko’s hand to her lips, brushing them against the skin she had just healed.

Sirens went off in Diana’s head. Did I just do what I think I did?

Did she just do what I think she did? Akko just about died on the spot.

“Did she just —”
“— do what I—”
“— think she did?”

The trio were no less surprised. Amanda was the first to recover. “Oh no way are we letting them live this down.”

Diana was paralyzed by shock at her own actions, but Akko had built up somewhat of an immunity. She was on her feet before even she knew what she was doing.

“Y-you just can’t do that! It’s not fair!” she half-shouted. Despite her ostensibly angry words, a confused, giddy smile spread across her face from ear to ear. She scrambled to collect her things. “It’s just unreasonable! You’re not allowed to be that hot!

Akko clapped her free hand over her mouth. Her face was radiating enough heat for Diana to feel it. Hell, even Amanda could feel it.

Diana blinked. I’m what?

“I’mgoingtofinishstudyinginmyroom.” Akko made a hasty exit, almost tripping over herself twice. “GoodnightDiana.” And with that she was gone.

Diana blinked again. After too long a period of time, she had processed two pieces of information.

One: Akko had gotten severely flustered in response to her reckless gesture. Despite the show Akko had put up, Diana could tell that she had been pleased by that particular form of attention. O’Neill didn’t get a tenth of the reaction.

Two: In her embarrassment, Akko had called Diana ‘hot.’

Chapter Text

For the next three days, Akko’s last words to Diana played in her head on repeat like a broken record. You’re not allowed to be that hot!

She cringed every time she remembered what she’d said, how she’d let her feelings slip out. There’s no way she doesn’t know, Akko was certain. I called her hot! Right to her face! Friends don’t just up and call each other hot! Do they? Lotte had said on various occasions that she looked lovely. Amanda had once called her a cutie patootie in an attempt to boost her morale about her crush. Diana had never referred to her as anything close to “hot.” If she had, Akko wouldn’t be here right now, though she was sure the funeral would’ve been nice.

After her slip-up, she’d run directly to her room and buried her head under the pillow until she fell asleep. She just wanted to disappear, but life didn’t oblige her. As tempting as it was to stay in her bed for the rest of her life, she needed to retake that astrology test. She couldn’t let Ursula down twice. Passing the test was easy enough from a knowledge standpoint, but her focus was impeded by memories of her last encounter of Diana.

Akko was spared the effort of avoiding Diana, who hadn’t tried pursuing her since their study session in the library. Instead, Akko had repeatedly caught Diana watching her intently, smiling at her whenever their eyes met and waving nonchalantly until Akko looked away, blushing profusely. It had gotten to the point that even her friends had noticed.

“Do you and Diana have some kind of inside joke going on?” Sucy asked.

“N-no. Why do you ask?”

“Because you two keep staring at each other and when you look away, Diana chuckles to herself. It’s kinda weird.”

What does that mean!? Was Diana laughing at her? Laughing with her? Akko would die of embarrassment if her inadvertent confession was just a joke to Diana. But on the other hand, wouldn’t it be a good thing if Diana hadn’t taken her seriously? If that were the case, they could go back to normal and Akko could play off her little slip of the tongue as a playful comment between friends. But she had no way of knowing what Diana was thinking.

Ugh. This is too complicated. Maybe I should confess properly just to get this whole mess over with.

As if. Akko would be lucky if she could get out a single word before her dissolving into a nervous wreck. Not that she hadn’t entertained fantasies of confessing. However, they were hardly a model on how to proceed with her feelings, given that they usually ended up with Diana sweeping her off her feet and whisking her off to Cavendish Manor on horseback. After all, Diana did say that Akko should be treated like a lady.

Akko’s stomach did a backflip at the memory of Diana’s words. You can’t just say that to a girl out of the blue! She had been unconsciously touching the skin on the back of her hand her Diana’s lips had graced her skin, her she’d k-k-kissed…

She’s got a lot to answer for! Akko thought. Going around toying with the hearts of innocent maidens! There ought to be law against it! Diana may be used to smooching hands in aristocrat land, but this is a learning environment! She’s lucky I don’t tell the headmistress!

Of course, Akko was more likely to beat Diana at exam scores than actually mention to a teacher about how flustered she’d gotten from Diana’s chivalrous overtures. Ursula was the obvious exception, but Akko wasn’t quite ready to voice her anxieties concerning her crush’s intentions. She wanted to preserve the ever so slim hope that Diana’s actions were a sign of more-than-friendly affection, and she didn’t think her heart could survive being told that the kiss was nothing more than routine etiquette that meant less than a handshake. What’s up with Europeans and all their confusing customs, anyway?

But a kiss on the hand had to be some kind of progress, right? It’s not everyday that a girl up and smooches her friend on any body part. Surely that meant some sort of change in their relationship, given that Diana was hardly in the habit of making such gestures, nor was Akko in the habit of receiving them. Sure, Amanda had pecked her on the cheek, but that was a casual thing. Who even kissed hands in this century? There was no way that wasn’t something special. You don’t kiss your friend’s hand even as a joke, right? Right? It had to mean something!

Akko wanted to pull her hair out. Why is friendship so hard when you’ve got the hots for your friend? Why doesn’t this come with a manual?

Such thoughts occupied Akko during class, so much that she didn’t even realize when the bell rang and was late to the cafeteria. So late, in fact, that when she got her dinner, the desserts were already gone.

“This is the pits,” Akko said aloud. “Dessert is the only thing that keeps me going through the day.”

“What a pitiful state,” came a voice from behind her. Akko spun around to see Hannah and Barbara smirking at her.

“What a shame that so famous a witch can’t go twenty-four hours without a sugar injection,” Barbara said.

“Don’t you two have somebody’s boots to lick?” Akko snarked.

“We took the day off,” Hannah said dryly. “Too bad for you, Akko. Babs and I got the last two desserts. You snooze, you lose.”

“I thought you two were on some hokey low-carbs diet. Like you even want dessert.”

“We deserve a treat every now and then, wouldn’t you agree?” Barbara said smarmily.

“Oh I agree you deserve something, but it sure as heck isn’t pudding.” Akko had very little patience for Hannah and Barbara at the best of times; she was just about ready to start a fight when it came to sweets. The pair had somewhat chilled out after Diana had become friends with the Red Team and Green Team, but Akko felt justified in being suspicious of the two former bullies. Granted, she was aware of the soft spot they had when it came to Diana (like when they thanked Akko for bringing her back to Luna Nova), so she knew they weren’t all bad. But you just don’t make fun of someone over dessert. Who does that?

“Tell you what, Akko,” Hannah began. “We’ll give you one of our desserts if you'll have a little chat with us. The two of us have been thinking that we ought to get to know you better, seeing as our roommate is your dear friend."

“Where’s Diana?” Hannah and Barbara were the smoke to Diana’s fire, and Akko wasn’t ready to deal with the heiress right now.

“She’s busy helping the teachers. Somebody hexed the suits of armour into fighting each other.” Somebody in this case was Amanda, causing a distraction so Hannah and Barbara could get to Akko without arousing their roommate’s suspicions.

"What do say, Akko?" Barbara asked, waving a bowl of vanilla pudding at her. "You know you want it."

Akko did want the pudding, and a talk with Hannah and Barbara wasn't too steep a price to pay for it. Oh, what's the worst that could happen? If they were too rude to her, she could always fling her mashed potatoes at them.

"Alright," Akko conceded. "Let's find a table."

The unusual trio found a table at the back of the cafeteria at Hannah and Barbara's urging — to make it harder for Diana to find them after dealing with Amanda's hex. The Blue Team girls sat at one side of the table, so close they were practically in each other's laps. Akko sat on the other side. They ate their meals with intermittent dialogue about casual everyday subjects. Akko was waiting for the other shoe to drop, and she wasn't disappointed when Hannah started playing with one of the bowls of pudding.

"So, Akko, are you gonna earn this?"

Akko sighed. "What do you really want to talk about?"

Naturally, Hannah and Barbara wanted to know what words had passed between Akko and Diana after their surveillance method had failed. They could infer to some degree (the lovebirds' actions had been pretty telling), but assumptions couldn't hold them over. and they simply wouldn't settle for anything less than the exact account. And they might as well find out how Akko felt about butch Diana's new, amorous attitude. All without revealing the fact they'd been voyeuristically enjoying the entire spectacle, of course. They didn't want to put the almost-couple on edge.

Hannah took the lead. “We’ve noticed that Diana’s gotten a lot happier lately. She used to be so gloomy and brood all the time. Which is, you know, kinda hot from a distance, but really depressing when you spend all day with her.”

“But now she’s smiling all the time,” Barbara continued. “She’s practically giggling. It’s kind of weird actually. But at least she’s happy. We’ve got to thank you for cheering her up.”

“Huh? What makes you think I had anything to do with it?” Akko asked.

The girls had the benefit of seeing Diana grinning like a giddy schoolgirl after her hand-kissing stunt. She’d seemed pretty pleased with the reaction she’d gotten from Akko, who had left too early to make the connection between herself and Diana’s improved mood.

But Hannah and Barbara were interested in what led up to that, and they were dead set on squeezing Akko for all the feelings she had on the subject.

“Well, who else could affect Diana that much?” Hannah asked innocently. “We couldn’t get her to lighten up.”

“Remember when you convinced Diana to come back to Luna Nova?” Barbara reminded her. “She wouldn’t listen to us, but you got through to her.”

“And we thought we were her closest friends,” Hannah added.

“You two must really have something special,” Barbara said, raising her eyebrow slightly. They were only going to get info out of Akko by applying pressure, and leaning on her feelings for Diana was the best strategy.

“I mean, we’re not really that close,” Akko said, rubbing the back of her neck. Not as close as I’d like us to be, anyway.

“We want to know what you did to get Diana out of her funk,” Hannah said. She leaned forward, propping her chin up with her hand, elbow on the table. Barbara mirrored her pose and they inclined against each other. Hannah prepared a spoonful of pudding for Akko.

Akko tried to think of what she’d done that would’ve made Diana that happy. Well, I did say she was hot, but I’ll get a hug from Finnelan before I tell Hannah and Barbara that. Maybe Diana had gotten a kick out of Akko’s embarrassed reactions to her. But that didn’t seem like enough to shake her out of a depression. Akko worked backwards from the last words they exchanged, attempting to puzzle out the answer. The only things she could think of was when she reassured Diana that she wasn’t making her uncomfortable, then when she admitted (sort of) why she was avoiding her friend. Was that really what had shifted Diana’s mood? It didn’t seem like enough to Akko, but it was as good a reason as any. Maybe Diana had been more shaken up by Akko’s avoidance than she’d been willing to admit.

Whatever. Akko really wanted that pudding.

“Diana was worried that I was avoiding her because of something she did,” Akko said at last. “I told her that wasn’t the case.”

Hannah and Barbara each suppressed a grin. They knew exactly why Akko had been avoiding Diana, and they could tell she hadn’t given the whole truth, otherwise the two would’ve been locked together at the mouth by now.

“And what is the case?” Barbara asked

Akko hesitated. She would have to tell the two the same thing she’d told Diana on the off chance the three of them had talked about this already or would in the future. She had to keep her stories straight (ha!).

“I said I was mad at her because I was jealous of all the attention she was giving to her groupies,” Akko said, cringing in anticipation of how Hannah and Barbara would interpret that. “Because Diana’s my rival and everything,” she added quickly. “And I can’t have her looking at anybody but me.” She bit her own tongue before she could sabotage herself even more.

“I see,” Hannah said, clearly pleased. She lifted the spoon and held it in front of Akko’s mouth. “Here you go.”

Akko accepted the spoonful of pudding, too stressed about her crush coming to light to care that she was literally letting Hannah and Barbara feed her.

“Rivals, huh?” Barbara said. “Is that the word for your relationship? I thought it was a different term…”

“Dear friends, I believe it was,” Hannah supplied.

“Right! So,” Barbara smiled slyly. “You were jealous that your dear friend wasn’t paying enough attention to you, so you avoided her?”

“Totally logical,” Hannah said. “And she was so mad that she turned red whenever Diana talked to her.”

“Oh no, Han,” Barbara chimed in. “I think she was blushing, actually.”

“Fascinating,” Hannah replied. “So Akko was running away from Diana, while blushing, because she was jealous her dear friend wasn’t giving her enough platonic attention. Seems legit.”

Seeing as they were already aware of Akko’s crush on Diana, there wasn’t any point in haranguing her over it. But Hannah and Barbara had spent ages bullying Akko and old habits die hard. Besides, it was fun to see Akko squirm and get flustered.

“I-I-I don’t know what you’re implying,” Akko said unconvincingly as humanly possible.

“Don’t you?” Barbara took the spoon from Hannah and prepared a heaping spoonful of vanilla pudding. “Tell us, Akko: why have you been getting so flustered around Diana?”

Oh, just kill me now. It was clear that Hannah and Barbara had known about her crush before they even started. And now they were trying to make her say it out loud. Nothing good would come of that. She might as well pack her bags if these two knew about her crush. She’d never have a moment’s peace again. If Amanda told these two about my feelings for Diana, I’ll kick her butt to the moon this time.

“You’re a couple of demons, you know that?” Akko grumbled. “You’re just going to tell Diana, aren’t you?”

“Of course not, Akko. We wouldn’t betray your trust like that?” Hannah asked.

Akko scoffed loudly.

“Okay, maybe we would. But if child prodigy Diana can’t figure this out on her own, does she really deserve to know?” Barbara argued.

“Fine.”Akko took a deep breath. I may or may not have some feelings for Diana that aren’t exactly platonic.”

Hannah smirked. “Now that wasn’t so hard, was it?” She fed Akko the next spoonful.

“You’re awfully smug,” Akko said. “Amanda must be rubbing off on you.”

“I wish,” Hanah scoffed.

“So you like Diana,” Barbara said. “We heard you had a private study session with her. How did that go?”

Akko shrugged. “Oh, you know, she helped me understand a few things I was having trouble with. The usual.”

Hannah and Barbara weren’t buying it. “Is that all? Nothing more memorable happened?” Hannah asked.

“Nothing I’m going to tell you,” Akko said, regretting the words as soon as they left her mouth.

“Oh? And what happened that you won’t tell us about?” Barbara asked. She and Hannah had an idea what Akko was thinking of, but they needed the exact context. What had Akko and Diana been talking about when Diana put their foreheads together? What did Diana say before she pulled the Prince Charming move and kissed Akko’s hand. They simply had to know. More importantly, they needed something to tell Amanda that the three of them could laugh over.

Akko tried to ignore her memories of the encounter, but they were not to be denied. “I’ll give all my attention to you if that’s what you want,” Diana had told her, and then leaned in close enough to kiss her. If Akko hadn’t known better, she would’ve thought Diana actually was going to kiss her.

“Watch out, Akko,” Hannah said. “You’re heating up!”

“I wonder what happened,” Barbara said. “You’re acting like she kissed you or something.”

“What!? Of course not!” It was amazing how much a set of words could sound like their complete opposite.

“Of course not, sweetheart,” Barbara said, stuffing another spoonful of pudding into Akko’s mouth before she could keep protesting.

“We totally believe you, Akko,” Hannah said. “We’re totally going to take your words at face value and ignore the fact that you’re grinning like a fool at the thought of it.”

“Alright maybe she sorta kinda kissed me on the hand,” Akko said quickly. “She was just teasing me though. It doesn’t mean anything. Amanda would do the same.”

Hannah and Barbara zeroed in on her. “Just out of curiosity, under what conditions would Amanda kiss one of her friends?” Hannah asked.

Akko grinned. “Give me the rest of the pudding and I’ll tell you.”

“We’re getting off track,” Barbara told her roommate sternly. “Why did Diana kiss your hand? You must’ve done something to warrant that.”

Akko threw her hands in the air. “I don’t know! Nobody does that in Japan. You tell me why somebody would do that.”

“I can think of a few reasons,” Hannah said quietly. Of course they couldn’t just tell Akko why Diana had done it. It would cut their fun short. And Amanda wouldn’t be impressed with them if they took such a huge step without her. Thus they had to give Akko something to nudge her in the right direction without letting her realize the truth.

Barbara figured out the answer. “Don’t get your hopes up,” she said snidely. “She’s just making fun of you. As if Diana would be interested in charming you.”

“Yeah,” Hannah said, having caught on to Barbara’s ploy. “I bet she’s just playing with you. She probably does the same to her other fans.”

If the spoon had still been in her mouth, Akko would’ve bitten right through it. “Hey! What do you know? I’m not Diana’s fan, I’m her friend!”

Hannah and Barbara held back giggles. They knew that Akko wouldn’t have trusted anything that they said, but they could count on her contradicting anything mean they said. Simple reverse psychology. If they couldn’t inspire confidence, they’d instigate defiance.

“Why wouldn’t Diana be interested in me? I’m a catch! And I haven’t seen her getting cozy with anyone else! That’s because I’m her dear friend!”

Hannah wanted to curse. How can you be that thick!?

Barbara was more level-headed. “How can you be so sure you’re that special to her?” she asked.

“Trust me,” Akko said. “I’m extremely perceptive. Nothing gets past me. I’m very aware of my surroundings.”

And then a hand landed on her shoulder. Even through the fabric of her shirt, Akko recognized the firm, but gentle grip. Hannah and Barbara’s eyes widened as they stared behind her.

“Is that so?” Diana asked.

*******

For the past three days, Diana had been walking on air. She felt so light, unburdened by the weight of her former sorrows. Her worries that she’d upset Akko had been dispelled and their friendship was as strong as ever. Diana had poured out her soul made it known to Akko that all she need do was ask for Diana’s help and her dear friend would come to her rescue like a knight in shining armour. To think that Akko was holding back for fear of distracting her from the needs of others at the school. If it weren’t for Akko, Diana would never have returned to Luna Nova, and everyone would’ve had to suffer without her. It was only fair that Akko be entitled to the lion’s share of her time, should she need it. Or want it.

Lately Diana’s admirers had become more reserved. Though she felt their gaze in the classrooms and the halls between, fewer and fewer of them were going out of their way to speak to her without a specific reason. Of course some girls were persistent as ever, but the bulk of them contented themselves with admiring her from afar, much like the way it had been before her transformation. The novelty was wearing off, and that’s all there ever was to it. Amanda had been quite out of line with her scandalous accusations. Diana was certain that eventually they would tire of it altogether and no one would think anything of it.

This was patently false, but Diana wasn’t paying enough attention to her fellow students to notice that they had simply become subtle with their attractions.

Diana would never have believed that she would one day adopt an androgynous aesthetic, but stranger things had happened. The change had gone over swimmingly with her admirers, and who was she to fight the desires of the many? To cling to one style could be considered a rigid way of thinking, and surely she would benefit from a change every once in a while. She was certainly benefiting from the pockets her butch look afforded her. And that was to say nothing of what she’d gained in terms of her relationship with Akko.

And at the culmination of their study session, Diana had learned that Akko wasn’t as immune to her gentlemanly charms as she’d thought her to be. After holding out for so long, Akko’s resistance had faltered and failed, and butch Diana had brought her to a blush just like so many of their classmates. And why would Akko have been any different? She was made of sterner stuff than her classmates, but in the end she was a girl — or rather, a lady. All she’d needed was a push to fall into her role.

Diana certainly hadn’t planned on kissing her friend’s hand, but after seeing the effect it had had on Akko, she retroactively labelled it a stroke of genius. Judging by her reaction, Akko had never experienced such a thing before — which is to say that none of Akko’s friends had beat her to the punch. Not even Amanda. But her greatest achievement was what Akko had blurted amid her embarrassment: “You’re not allowed to be that hot.” Diana had never seen Akko so flustered, nor had she seen Akko try to restrain her own emotions and fail so spectacularly.

Akko had taken her by surprise multiple times in the many months of their acquaintance, and Diana had found a certain joy in turning the tables on her. You ran me ragged for a year; it’s only fair that I return the favour.

Diana had noticed in the past that Akko accepted her compliments bashfully, as if positive attention embarrassed her. Diana was unfamiliar with the concept, given how she’d been inundated with accolades almost since birth. Such was the fate of a witch of her lineage and skill. But perhaps after being admonished by Diana so many times, hearing praise from her so-called rival was overwhelming for Akko.

And Diana had decided to take full advantage of this.

If Akko was weak to her gentleman act, how could Diana resist teasing her with it? What better way to hold Akko’s attention and secure her place as Akko’s closest friend? Clearly that was what she had been missing. Akko’s other friends teased her, chiefly Sucy and O’Neill. Hannah and Barbara had begun teasing Diana as they’d become closer. Her austere approach must have been an impediment to becoming closer to Akko. She couldn’t lower herself to the immaturity of Amanda O’Neill, but perhaps she become more familiar with Akko by playing the gentleman and lady act. Akko had certainly reacted positively to her accidental application of aristocratic etiquette, so it only followed that she could achieve so much more if she tried. The only problem was that if she went to far, her endurance may run out before Akko’s. There was only so much she could do before succumbing to embarrassment herself.

When was it that Akko began making her lose control? She could maintain her usual, austere demeanour with everyone else, but something about Akko drove her to such emotion that could not be contained. Akko had touched her heart during the events at the Cavendish Manor, warming her enough to melt the coldness she herself hadn’t realized was a façade. Akko had brought her smile back, and Diana felt the uncontrollable urge to bring smiles to Akko’s face in return. Diana would do everything in her power to become Akko’s most important friend, even if it meant defying the sterile expectations for a witch of her station. Akko was worth it.

“You seem distracted, Diana.”

And so she was. She and the professors had dealt with the commotion (no doubt caused by O’Neill, though they couldn’t prove it) and were cleaning up the mess. A few spells here and there to repair the damage and everything was just as before. But Diana had been meandering, lost in thought when she ought to have been helping.

“I’m sorry, Professor Ursula,” she said. “I was thinking about… future plans.”

“No worries, Diana,” Ursula reassured her. “I’m sure the school’s top student has a lot on her mind. Especially of late.” She sidled close to Diana and whispered behind her hand. “Are you having any trouble with those fangirls of yours?”

“Pardon me?” Diana asked. “Fangirls?”

“Croix had the same problem back in the day,” Ursula said. “Star student and futch icon. She got asked out more times than the rest of the students put together. They were terribly possessive, too. They kept dumping buckets of toilet water on me because I was close to her,” she added darkly.

“Fortunately my, er, fangirls are a little more tame than that,” Diana said.

“Thank goodness,” Ursula sighed. “I was worried they might target Akko. You know how they consider her to be an easy target already.”

Diana recalled the less than charitable initial reactions to the alchemy accident. But that matter had been resolved by the favourable results it gave. “I don’t think there’s any reason Akko would be at risk.”

“Well, they might get mad over, you know,” Ursula ventured. “I’m not saying that you two are — I mean, it’s natural that some people would assume — I shouldn’t be making comparisons —” she floundered at the sight of Diana’s increasingly confused expression.

“Anyway, we can handle the rest ourselves.” Ursula said. “You should go back and eat dinner before too long.”

“Naturally.” Diana nodded at Ursula and turned to leave.

“And don’t forget to check in on Akko,” Ursula called after her.

As if Diana had plans to the contrary. She’d held off in the past few days in the interest of not coming off too strongly, but she felt she deserved a reward after fixing one of (no doubt) Amanda O’Neill’s messes. Diana had limited herself to friendly waves whenever she caught Akko’s attention, but enough time had passed since their last encounter to merit another.

Diana made her way to the cafeteria where she hoped to find Akko. She carefully thought out her approach. Shall I wave to her as I walk up to her table? Or shall I surprise her from behind? She debated the amount of physical affection she could get away with. It was early days yet, and she didn’t want to overwhelm Akko so soon after the hand-kissing incident. I have no idea how Hannah and Barbara can be so free with physical affection, Diana lamented. Her roommates had the sort of friendship she was striving to have with Akko. Perhaps I should ask them how I might deepen my relationship with Akko.

Speak of the devil, all three of the girls Diana had been thinking of were all sitting at the same table. Furthermore, it appeared that Hannah and Barbara were spoon-feeding Akko pudding.

Diana pouted. What are those two doing with Akko? It was unusual to see the three of them interacting without furniture being sent flying. Diana’s protective instinct flared, but it didn’t appear that her roommates were bullying Akko. On the contrary, they appeared to be pampering her.

Employing all of her self-restraint, Diana collected her dinner — a plate of curry and rice — before marching over to the trio’s table. As she neared the table, she heard Akko speaking loudly.

“Trust me,” Akko said. “I’m extremely perceptive. Nothing gets past me. I’m very aware of my surroundings.”

Diana couldn’t resist the temptation. She put a hand on Akko’s shoulder. If her other hand hadn’t been holding her dinner, she might’ve hugged her.

“Is that so?” she asked playfully.

A strangled sound caught and died in Akko’s throat. “D-D-Diana! It thought you were busy!”

“I was, but now I am not,” she answered. She pulled up a chair and sat next to Akko. “What were the three of you talking about?”

“N-n-nothing!” Akko sputtered. “Right, Hannah? Barbara?”

She looked to the other Blue Team members for help, but they only grinned like jackals. “Don’t mind us,” Hannah said.

“We wouldn’t want to interrupt,” Barbara agreed.

Traitors! Akko mentally accused. Though she had to admit that she ought to have expect their allegiance to default to Diana.

“If you can’t tell me, you must’ve been talking about me,” Diana reasoned.

“W-what? No!” Akko’s blush betrayed her just like Hannah and Barbara.

“Talking about me behind my back, Akko? For shame.” Diana chuckled. “I dread to think of what dastardly slander you three might’ve shared.”

“No! It was all nice things!” Akko insisted.

“Oh? And what nice things were you saying about me?” Diana asked, smiling.

Barbara giggled. Akko walked right into that one.

The sound of Barbara’s giggles drew Diana’s attention. She noticed the spoon still in Barbara’s hand and recalled the scene of her friends feeding Akko pudding.

“Is there any particular reason you two were feeding Akko?” she asked.

Hannah was quick as lightning. “Akko said her hand was sore, so we did her a favour.”

“Really?” Diana asked Akko, her voice softened with concern.

Barbara followed Hannah’s set-up. “You can feed her the rest if you’d like.”

Diana did an exemplary job containing her excitement. “Naturally. It isn’t proper to reach over a table. You’ll also strain yourselves.” She took the bowl from Barbara and spooned a dollop of pudding.

“Here you are, Akko,” she said gently.

Akko laughed nervously. If I let her feed me, I’m going to choke to death on pudding. If Akko had a choice, she didn’t want to literally die from being gay. “That’s kinda silly,” she said. “I’m not a baby.”

“True, but there are some people who think you’re a babe,” Diana replied. It sounded like the kind of thing O’Neill might have said at some point.

Akko babbled for ten whole seconds. “Who thinks that? Just out of curiosity?”

“Anyway, you let Hannah and Barbara feed you.” Diana put her irresistible pout on. “Are you saying you won’t let me do the same?”

I’m going to put Hannah and Barbara on my “kick to the moon list,” Akko thought darkly. They can populate the moon with Amanda.

“I guess… when you put it that way,” Akko surrendered.

Diana smiled again, victorious. “Open wide.”

“Yeah, Akko,” Hannah snickered. “Spread those lips.”

Akko would’ve cursed her out hard enough to leave a mark, but Diana put the spoon in her mouth as soon as she opened it. Akko’s mouth filled with sweet, vanilla pudding. She swallowed quickly, lest she end up dribbling it all over herself in some embarrassed fit.

“How was that?” Diana asked. She seemed quite pleased with herself.

“Great,” Akko said weakly. “Vanilla is my favourite.”

“Conservative,” Barbara noted, “but bold that you came out and said it.”

Diana was about to feed her another spoonful, but Akko intercepted her hand. “Wait, Diana. Your dinner is going to get cold.”

“You’re right.” Diana was disappointed she couldn’t continue pampering Akko, but her friend had a point. She put the spoon back in the bowl and started eating her own food.

Several spoonfuls in, Diana noticed that Akko was looking at her curry.

“Is something the matter, Akko?”

“No. It’s just, you don’t usually eat that kind of thing,” Akko said.

“Let’s just say that my tastes have changed as of late,” Diana replied.

What am I supposed to do with a statement like that? Akko thought.

“Would you like to try a bite?” Diana asked.

“I’ll pass,” Akko said nervously. “I, uh, can’t handle spicy stuff.” More like I can’t handle you feeding me any more.

“No to worry, Akko,” Diana said. “There are regulations on how to prepare the food. It’s not allowed to be that hot.”

Akko’s jaw dropped. Did she just!?

“You did that on purpose!” Akko accused. “That’s why you got curry today!”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about, Akko.” Diana brushed her hair-fringe. “I simply got what was left.” I suppose I’ll have to be more subtle in the future, Diana mused.

That cemented it for Akko. She is teasing me! The nerve!

Akko stewed in silence as Diana finished her dinner. Hannah and Barbara wondered what they’d missed that had gotten Akko so agitated. Diana soon set her plate aside and touched the rim of the pudding bowl.

“Now that we don’t have to worry about my dinner, it’s about time you finished your desert.”

“You’re still going on about that?” Akko said dismissively. “It’s just pudding…” Please someone, save me from being fed by my crush.

“So it’s fine that Hannah and Barbara pamper you, but not I?” Diana raised an eyebrow.

“Ugh! Stop trying to guilt-trip me!”

“So you admit you have something to feel guilty about?” Diana said slyly.

Akko wanted to slap herself. “Fine! Do whatever you want to me.”

Blissfully oblivious to the potential of that statement, Diana picked up the spoon. And stopped.

“However, I want you to tell me what you were saying to Hannah and Barbara about me,” she said.

Hannah and Barbara giggled in the background. Akko didn’t know what to do. As if I could tell her that I like her. That would be a disaster. Then she decided that she could just get it over with by telling a bold lie. A little something to get back at Dina for teasing her.

“I told them that I think you’re a smoking-hot bombshell of a witch and it’s too bad that you’re such a meanie pants.”

Diana heard the first half and dropped the spoon on the ground. Hannah and Barbara gasped.

Akko registered the shock on Diana’s face and went into recovery mode. “I’m kidding! I’m kidding! I don’t think you’re a meanie pants!”

She thinks I’m a what!? Diana’s stomach did a backflip. She almost hadn’t heard the second half of the sentence and Akko’s retraction. Her internal organs settled back into place. Of course. She was just teasing me back. And then she took it back when I was shocked by it. Nothing to be upset over.

Diana was upset over it.

“Well, you dropped the spoon, so I guess you can’t feed me anymore pudding.” Akko almost sighed with relief. Now I won’t die of embarrassment.

“There isn’t very much left,” Diana said, looking at the bowl.

“Exactly!”

To Akko’s horror, Diana wiped up the remaining pudding with her finger and held it out in front of her. “Here,” she said firmly.

“What?” Akko squeaked. “You want me to…”

Diana nodded.

“By the Old Nine Witches,” Hannah said to Barbara. “I can’t believe Amanda is missing this!”

“Isn’t that going kinda far?” Akko asked, her head steaming. If she blushed any harder her eyes might pop. There’s no way I can do that. No way. I’ve literally never even fantasized about this kinda thing. It’s too much. And most importantly, there was no way Akko would do it with Hannah and Barbara as an audience.

Diana noticed that Akko was fidgeting nervously. Oh no. I’ve really gone too far, haven’t I? She’d never been in the habit of teasing people before, and she didn’t know the limits. I’ve just gone and ruined my friendship with Akko, haven’t I?

“I suppose you’re right,” Diana said. “I’ve made things awkward…”

Akko could she the regret manifesting in Diana’s expression. Her heart fell. Oh crap. Now she’s worried that she made things weird. The sight of Diana’s sadness spurred Akko on to try to salvage the situation in a way that wouldn’t leave both parties in an awkward hell.

Her solution was, perhaps, not the most advisable.

“Alright, alright,” Akko said. “Go ahead.”

Diana perked up slightly. With great trepidation, she moved her finger toward Akko’s mouth.

Akko parted her lips to allow the finger to enter. Diana put it in up to the second knuckle, careful not to trigger Akko’s gag reflex. Upon tasting the vanilla pudding, her tongue moved of its own accord, conforming to the shape of the stiff appendage.

Diana’s eyes widened, then turned away as Akko’s tongue wrapped around her finger. She made no sound, but the pinkening of her cheeks told Akko everything she needed to know. Her own face was heating up, pressure building like the boiler in The Shining. But Akko couldn’t just quit halfway. It would be more awkward if they did.

She circled her tongue around Diana’s finger, licking all the pudding off it. Once she was certain she’d finished, her tongue retreated. Diana slid her finger out from between Akko’s lips and held it gingerly at her side where she would’ve wiped off Akko’s saliva on her pants if her upbringing didn’t prevent such a breach of etiquette.

Nobody said anything. Not even Hannah or Barbara.

Akko felt a trickle of something warm on her upper lip.

“Your nose is bleeding,” Diana said.

Akko’s hand flew to her nose. She looked at her fingers and saw blood. If her nose was bleeding, that meant…

She had gotten so turned on that she burst a blood vessel.

Akko wanted to die on the spot.

“Are you alright, Akko?” Diana asked.

“Y-yeah! I’m fine!” Akko said quickly. “I’ll be fine, I just need to, uh, visit the nurse’s office and then I’ll go lie down. It’s been nice tasting you — I mean talking to you!”

Akko ran off pinching her nose. Diana still, stunned and unsure of what to do with her wet finger. Hannah and Barbara were trying to cope with the fact that they just watched their roommate fingerbang Akko’s mouth.

Amanda walked up to the table and looked at the three flabbergasted witches.

“Hey, what did I miss?”

Chapter Text

“I was wondering how long it would be until I saw you again,” the nurse said idly, not even bothering to raise her eyes from the page of her Nightfall book. She could recognize Akko from the reckless pace of her footsteps.

“Hey, I’ve been keeping out of trouble!” Akko said indignantly.

“Didn’t you try to jump out a window a week or two ago?”

Akko had no response to that. She sat down on the closest cot, which by now had an imprint the exact shape of her butt due to her frequent visits.

The nurse sighed and put her book down. She took a look at Akko and spotted the blood leaking between her fingers as she pinched her nose. “What did you do to yourself this time?” the nurse asked.

“I didn’t do anything!” Akko said. “It was all Diana.”

“Diana punched you in the nose?” The nurse couldn’t disguise her amusement. “I figured it would only be so long before she took a swing at you.”

“She didn’t punch me!” Although, Akko thought, I don’t think I’d mind if Diana beat me up.

The nurse shrugged. “Whatever she did, she could’ve fixed you up herself. No need to get me involved.”

“Well, I sort of ran away from her,” Akko said. “Hey, isn’t it your job to deal with this kind of thing anyway? Don’t try to pawn things off on Diana!”

“You’re awfully quick to defend someone who just punched you in the nose,” the nurse said.

Akko didn’t bother correcting her a second time. After all, Diana might as well have punched her in the face. Actually, it would’ve been preferable. It would’ve been less shocking and a whole lot less awkward to deal with.

I can not believe that Diana’s finger was in my mouth. She put her finger in my mouth. Akko was still reeling from that simple, unavoidable fact. No matter how many times she mentally rephrased it, she still couldn’t wrap her head around that unfortunate reality. She put her finger in my mouth, and I sucked pudding off it. I, Atsuko Kagari, licked vanilla pudding off Diana Cavendish’s finger. In front of Hannah and Barbara of all people. What was she thinking? Akko had no explanation for her crush’s behaviour. She could blame Hannah and Barbara for giving Diana the idea to feed her, but there was no explaining why Luna Nova’s top student thought it was a good idea to feed her friend off her own finger! Had she intended it as some sort of gesture to show how comfortable she was with Akko? She had mentioned a desire to be closer to her dear friend, but Akko didn’t think she wanted to be so close she was inside her. There was friendship, and then there was that, whatever that was. What they had done was shockingly intimate, probably even more intimate than a kiss. Did Diana seriously not know how it looked if she was willing to do that kind of thing? Did she have any idea what she was doing to Akko's health? She’s probably just teasing me, Akko concluded, recalling Diana’s reference to her earlier slip of the tongue. She was just trying to get a reaction out of me again, but even she wasn’t prepared for it. She got flustered too because she bit off more than she could chew. The question was, would Diana’s misstep cause her to abandon teasing her friend, or would she only continue to escalate?

Akko feared for her health. Diana’s teasing had already drawn blood, what was next? Would Akko have an aneurysm next? Would her heart literally explode? Didn't she ever learn not to tease people? This is downright bullying! Who even raised her? I’m going to send her aunt a sternly worded letter about this! I’m going to dig up her mother and tell her what I think of her daughter! No, Akko thought, I’m going all the way to the top. I’m going to find Beatrix Cavendish and demand an explanation for her descendant’s behaviour!

Hypothetically, Akko could explain to Diana what her teasing had wrought, but that would require Akko to explain why she was having such severe reactions to her “friend’s” words and touches, and Akko didn’t consider that an option.

While Akko mulled over the aftermath of sucking on Diana’s finger, the nurse consulted a medical spellbook for the precise spell to heal a nosebleed. She slammed the book shut, bringing Akko back to the real world. “Alright then, stop pinching your nose for a minute.”

Akko dropped her hand to her side, careful not to get fresh blood on the bed sheets. Not that she hadn’t done that before.

The nurse cast the spell, and Akko felt the inside of her nose grow warm. When the heat faded, she could not longer feel blood dripping down her nose.

“Wipe off your face and wash your hands in the sink over there,” the nurse said, pointing at a sink off to the side. “I trust even you can handle that part yourself. When you’re done, stay still for a few minutes so you don’t agitate the rupture again. I have something to take care of, so I’ll be back in ten minutes or so. You can leave before I get back.” The thing she had to take care of was a bet with Professor Finnelan, who had (correctly) believed that Diana’s composure would prevent her ever punching Akko. The nurse left without so much as a backward glance, her eye on the fifty pound prize.

Akko did as she was told, cleaning the blood off herself and lying down on the cot. She didn’t even have time to get lost in her thoughts before someone arrived at the door.

Professor Ursula limped through the doorway and looked around for the nurse, groaning in dismay when she realized the nurse was out.

“What’s up, Ursula?” Akko asked, sitting up on her cot.

“Oh, Akko,” Ursula smiled briefly before wincing in pain. “Is the nurse…?”

“She said she’d be back in, like, ten minutes,” Akko answered.

Ursula groaned again. “I was hoping to get the nurse to do this for me. I’m no good at healing spells, and I… well… it’s sort of embarrassing…” Ursula’s voice trailed off as she visibly shrank under Akko’s gaze.

“It couldn’t possibly be more embarrassing that what I just went through,” Akko said flatly.

The seriousness in Akko’s voice swayed Ursula. After all, it wasn’t as if Akko, Shiny Chariot’s biggest fan would make fun of her, especially considering all of the embarrassing situations she’d been in herself. “I sort of threw my back out carrying too many books,” Ursula admitted.

No reaction from Akko. Not even a light-hearted joke about her age. “See,” Akko said at last, “that wasn’t that embarrassing, was it?”

“Um, what brings you to the nurse’s office, Akko?” the professor asked.

Ursula watched the light fade from Akko’s eyes. “Let’s not talk about that.” Akko would rather watch a porno starring Finnelan and Nelson than tell her idol what was in her mouth less than an hour ago.

“Oh, um, okay,” Ursula said quietly. “If it’s not too much trouble, um, could you find Common Magical Maladies for me? I’d prefer to move as little as possible in my current state.”

“Sure!” Akko jumped up from the cot and went over to the nurse’s desk and turned over the book the woman had been perusing earlier. Sure enough, it was a copy of Common Magical Maladies. She handed the book over to Ursula with a smile. “Here you go!”

Ursula leafed through the index to find the right spell for her complaint. She found the right spell, and after consulting, and anxiously re-checking the spell, she cast it. With a somewhat satisfied noise, she stretched herself to check the spell’s success.

“Right as rain,” she said cheerily. “I’ve never been confident about my skill with healing spells. My forte has always been flashier magic.” She patted Akko on the head. “You’re quite lucky to have a friend who’s superb at that kind of magic.” Naturally, she meant Diana.

“Sure, when that friend isn’t the one causing the need for healing magic in the first place,” Akko grumbled without thinking.

“She did what!?” Ursula asked urgently. “Did Diana punch you in the face?” And she’d had such faith in Diana and Akko. The professors you had bet against her would be impossibly smug when she found out.

“No! Why does everybody think Diana wants to punch me?”

“Well, it doesn’t take a genius to know that Diana wants to hit that…” Ursula said under her breath.

“I couldn’t hear that.”

“N-n-never mind!” Ursula said quickly, scrambling for a distraction. “So, why are you mad at Diana?”

How can I bring it up without me and Ursula dying of embarrassment? “Diana’s been… teasing me.”

“Teasing you?”

“She keeps saying and doing things that get me flustered,” Akko said. “I guess she thinks it’s funny to see.”

“I don’t think that teasing is something that Diana would do,” Ursula said. “I doubt she’s making fun of you.”

“Then what is she doing?” Akko asked. “She’s gotten all weird lately, ever since I, uh, blasted her hair off. She’s all clingy and she keeps smiling at me, like she there’s something funny.”

Ursula was familiar with this level of dense obliviousness. It was best to tread lightly so as not to provoke a denial that would set back progress. “Maybe she’s just expressing affection for you? Don’t your other friends tease you too?”

“Yeah,” Akko conceded, “but Diana’s never been like that before. She just suddenly started acting all weird around me.”

“Why do you think that might be? Maybe her feelings for you have changed,” Ursula ventured. “Maybe she wants a closer relationship with you.”

Akko thought about it. She did say something about that, didn’t she? But I don’t get it. “You might be right. But I don’t get why she decided to tease me. I didn’t even think Diana was physically able to tease people. You’d think it would be ‘too improper’ or something.”

“Oh?” Ursula sensed an opening. “Doesn’t that mean you’re an exception to that? I think that Diana considers you someone special…”

“I’ve got it!” Akko exclaimed. “She’s finally accepted me as her rival! That’s why she keeps trying to get under my skin. She keeps teasing me and getting me flustered because she wants me to show weakness. And she got all touchy-feely because she wants to lure me into a false sense of security.” Akko smiled smugly at her own thought process, rubbing her chin in a self-satisfied way. “Clever thinking, Cavendish, but I’m onto you. You won’t get the best of me!”

Ursula wanted to pull her hair out. I was so close to getting her to see the truth. If she couldn’t gracefully show Akko Diana’s feelings for her, she’d have to work with the reverse to coax some progress out of the school’s problem couple. And this time she’d go for a sucker punch.

“Rival? I thought you wanted to be her girlfriend?”

Akko spluttered wordlessly. “G-g-girlfriend!? How did you know — I mean, what gives you that idea!?”

Ursula chuckled. “I’ve seen the way you look at Diana. Students are often starstruck during astrology class, but you really take the cake. And don’t forget,” she said, wagging her finger, “that you had to take a make-up test because you couldn’t stop staring at her.”

“Th-that doesn’t prove anything!”

“Akko,” Ursula said in her best mom voice. “You like Diana, don’t you?”

Akko couldn’t get out of this one. How could I possibly lie to Shiny Chariot? “I… like Diana.”

“That wasn’t so hard, was it?” Ursula asked airily. “Now you just need to tell Diana.”

“What? No no no no non! I can’t do that!”

“Why not?”

“...because she might not feel the same…”

“So, you’re going to give up because there’s a possibility of failure?” Ursula asked. “That doesn’t sound like the Akko I know. The Akko I know went half-way across the world to attend the same school as her idol, even though she had never done magic before. The Akko I know entered a broom relay even though she couldn’t even fly a broom. The Akko I know didn’t let being given the sacrifice duty at the Samhain festival keep her from trying to attain the title of Moonlit witch.”

Ursula smiled. “The Akko I know wouldn’t let even the greatest of odds stop her from trying.”

“But I don’t even know if she likes girls!” Akko said weakly.

“Why don’t you ask her?” Ursula suggested. “Or if that seems too bold, you could try figuring it out on your own.”

“But how would I do that?”

“Spend time with her, silly. You won’t learn anything about her if you keep running away from her.

Akko couldn’t deny her teacher’s logic. “But I get all nervous when I’m around her. How am I supposed to even ask her to hang out with me?”

“Just ask her to join you in something you both like,” Ursula replied. “She won’t turn you down. Play up the rival angle,” she added with a wink.

Ursula’s suggestion gave Akko a few ideas, but she still wasn’t willing to commit. “I don’t think I can do it. Why would Diana like ever like me back?”

Oh, you wonderful, oblivious girl. Who wouldn’t like you? “Be brave, Akko. Rejection can be scary, but it isn’t the end of the world. If you never tell her, you’ll end up regretting it.” I certainly did, Ursula thought, recalling her stalled attempts to begin a relationship with Croix when they were teens.

“Promise me you’ll at least try, Akko.”

“Alright, Ursula. I’ll think about it. Gosh, you’re acting like such a mom.” Akko went over to the doorway. “Goodnight!” she said with a wave, and disappeared down the hallway.

“Oh my,” Ursula said. ,em>She said I was like a mom, she thought. She’d nursed maternal feelings toward the young witch for a while, and it was nice to hear that Akko thought of her having such a role, even jokingly. I suppose I wouldn’t mind having Diana Cavendish as a daughter-in-law, she mused, chuckling aloud.

Akko made her way to the Red Team dorm room where she would, true to her word, consider some possible plans for hanging out with Diana. She didn’t know how she would approach Diana after what had recently happened between them. No doubt the memory would be incredibly awkward for both of them, but at least Akko could take solace in the fact that Amanda hadn’t been there to watch.

*******

“She licked what off Cavendish’s what!?”

“Like Hannah said,” Barbara answered. “Diana put her finger in Akko’s mouth and she licked vanilla pudding off it.”

“And then her nose started bleeding,” Hannah added.

Amanda shook her head. “Unreal. And I missed this? Seriously unfair. Next time, you ladies are going to pull distraction duty.”

The three co-conspirators were sitting in the courtyard under “Amanda’s” tree. The summer sun had yet to set, and the grounds were lit with an orange glow. After Akko made her escape and Diana had retired to her room to think about what she’d done, Hannah and Barbara filled Amanda in on what they’d learned and the spectacle she’d been deprived of.

“Akko’s still going to be clueless isn’t she?” Amanda groaned. “Cavendish got her to deepthroat a finger and she’ll still find a way to write it off.”

“Diana’s going to be impossible,” Hannah said. “I can’t imagine what excuse she’ll come up with to ignore her feelings.”

Barbara revved up her Diana impression. “There’s nothing wrong with a little metaphorical fellatio between friends.”

“Unreal,” Amanda repeated. “So you’re saying this all kicked off because Cavendish saw you two feeding Akko?”

Hannah nodded. “You know how she is. She’d get jealous of a teacher for giving Akko a detention.”

“Akko’s not much better,” Amanda said. “I’m surprised she hasn’t taken a piece out of either of you for daring to sleep in the same room as Cavendish.”

“We can definitely use that,” Barbara said. “Make them jealous and push them closer to realizing how in love with each other they are.”

“At the very least will get a rise out of them,” Amanda said. “And isn’t that the most important thing here?”

Hannah and Barbara shot her finger guns. Amanda really was rubbing off on them.

“I’d bet my inheritance that Diana’s gonna grill us over giving Akko so much attention,” Hannah said.

“We’ve got to milk that for all it’s worth,” Barbara agreed. “Let’s see if we can get her to admit that she’s jealous.”

“And hear her explain how it’s platonic jealousy,” Hannah added.

Amanda pouted. “Sounds like you two are trying to have all the fun without me.”

“Did you want to join us? We could have a sleepover!” Barbara tried to make it sound like a joke, but the eagerness in her voice revealed her true intentions.

But not to Amanda, who was too busy pouting to realize the invitation being laid at her feet. “I’ll pass. Cavendish wants to kill me during normal hours. She’d probably end up doing it if she saw me before she’s had her morning tranquilizers or whatever.”

Barbara tried to conceal her disappointment. She didn’t have to try too hard, given the perceptive abilities of the person she was dealing with.

“You’ll get your turn soon,” Hannah reassured Amanda.

“Do you want to flirt with Akko or Diana?” Barbara asked.

“That’s a tough one,” Amanda said. It was the choice between being blasted by Diana for making a pass at Akko or being blasted by Diana for making a pass at her. Although, Amanda was curious if she could make Diana flustered by flirting with her. And there was more progress to be had from proving to Diana that Akko could be jealous over her.

“Diana, I guess.”

“Great,” Hannah said, clapping her hands together. “We’ll meet at lunch tomorrow to figure out the best time to do it when they’re both around.”

“I wonder who will be angrier,” Barbara said. “Akko or Diana?”

They debated the matter at length, Amanda coming down on the side of Diana, who she claimed had enough reasons to hate her. Hannah was of the opinion that Akko would turn her notorious hotheadedness against Amanda as she had against the Blue Team members in the past. Barbara took the bold position that Akko and Diana would unite their anger over Amanda’s flirtations and determined that the troublemaker would be lucky to escape without injury.

“It’s almost curfew,” Amanda said, suppressing a yawn. And so it was. Night had fallen and the night patrol would be out soon, searching for the likes of Amanda and her friends. “Doesn’t Cavendish make you two go to bed early or something?”

“More or less,” Hannah said.

“Are you offering to tuck us in?” Barbara joked.

Amanda rolled her eyes. “I’m going to get in some broom practice before bed.”

Hannah raised an eyebrow. “You’ll get detention if you’re caught.”

“When have I ever cared about detention?” Amanda scoffed.

“If you get detention, it’ll cut into our planning time, you gremlin,” Barbara scolded.

“Yeesh, don’t be such a nag,” Amanda said. “The professors won’t be a problem. I’m too quick. They can chase me, but they can’t catch me.”

“You’re telling me,” Hannah muttered under her breath.

The three girls got up off the grass and walked off together, Hannah and Barbara on either side of Amanda. As they headed to their respective destinations, Hannah and Barbara told Amanda how Diana had actually started wearing boy clothes, supplied to her by unknown means. The girls had observed Diana admiring her new style in the mirror, smiling at thoughts which they inferred must have something to do with Akko. Barbara shared what she’d learned from Lotte: Akko spent a truly bizarre amount of time complaining to her roommates about how unfair it was that Diana was allowed to wear the aforementioned clothes — for the sake of respecting the school’s dress code, Akko claimed.

“Jennifer’s tits,” Amanda said. “Does it get any denser than those two?”

“Oh, I don’t know,” Hannah said. “A certain witch comes to mind.”

“Really?” Amanda asked. “Who?”

“You’ll figure it out eventually,” Barbara said.

Just then the three girls reached the point at which they parted ways. In perfect unison so harmonious it must’ve been practiced, Hannah and Barbara slapped Amanda’s ass. They walked off arm-in-arm, cackling like their evil, old selves.

Amanda watched them in stunned silence until they disappeared around a corner. “Are they messing with me?” she asked herself aloud. She wondered who of all people could be more oblivious than Akko and Diana, then dismissed the matter. After all, anyone that clueless would’ve failed out of Luna Nova ages ago, no way was there anyone like that around. Amanda made her way to where the brooms were stored; she had to keep up her skills, otherwise how would she impress the ladies?

Hannah and Barbara started talking about Amanda the minute they were out of her sight.

“Who do you think will figure out their being crushed on first, her, Akko or Diana?” Hannah asked.

“I don’t think it’s fair to compare them unless we start fingering Amanda’s mouth,” Barbara replied.

The girls laughed. To be fair to Amanda, she didn’t have the kind of history with them that Akko and Diana had with each other. Still, for a girl who postured as some kind of gay expert, she had her head too far up her own ass to realize not one but two girls wanted to be up there as well.

“I still can’t believe Akko got a nosebleed from that though,” Hannah said with a giggle.

“Seriously though,” Barbara replied. “What a horndog.”

Hannah opened the door to their dorm and the two girls went inside, closing the door softly behind them in order not to disturb their roommates. They needn’t have worried; Diana had been lying in wait for them. She walked around the divider that separated her section from theirs and confronted them.

“I’d like to have a word with you two,” Diana said sternly.

Had they been looking at her eyes, Hannah and Barbara would’ve seen the cold fury swirling within them like an Ice Age blizzard. As it were, Diana’s roommates were unable to tear their eyes away from what she was wearing.

Usually Diana wore a light blue nightgown to bed, but tonight she had opted to change her sleepwear as she’d done with her uniform. Hannah and Barbara were treated to the sight of Diana wearing a grey tank top and a pair of boxers with a dark blue plaid pattern.

A streak of blood trailed down from each girl’s nose. Oh no, they thought in unison, we’re horndogs too!

The fury in Diana’s eyes was replaced with concern. “Are you alright, girls? The same thing happened to Akko. I hope there isn’t some illness going around.” She fussed over her roommates and fixed their problem with a quick healing spell.

It was all that Hannah and Barbara could do to keep their cool. They had been building up a resistance to Diana’s butch charms they same way they’d done for her former femme charms, but this was a surprise attack no one could’ve been properly prepared for. The only thing keeping them from giddy infatuation was the thought of how Akko would react to the sight of Diana Cavendish wearing boxers.

“Hey, uh, Diana, what’s with the wardrobe change?” Hannah asked, determinedly avoiding looking her head-on.

“Not that anyone’s complaining,” Barbara chimed in, unable to help herself.

“I changed my everyday clothes,” Diana began, “so I figured I might as well try changing what I wore at night. It’s quite comfortable, you know. So much more liberating than a nightgown. I am wearing the proper combination of clothes, correct? I did research the styles as much as I could.”

“Yup, that sure is correct,” Hannah said, still not looking at her.

“Is there, uh, anyone you were hoping to look good for?” Barbara asked. “Sounds like you put some effort into that look.”

“Don’t be silly, who besides you two would be seeing what I wear to bed?”

Hannah and Barbara looked to each other and smirked before looking back at their roommate.

“Akko, duh.”

Diana’s cheeks warmed with a radiant pink. “W-what? What does Akko have to do with my attire?”

“Isn’t she the one you’ve been dressing up for?” Hannah asked. “We figured you were trying to catch her attention.”

“Lately you’ve been smiling every time you see her,” Barbara said. “It stands to reason that she’s the person on your mind.”

“Akko is frequently in my thoughts, but I’m doing this for myself, not her,” Diana huffed.

“Really?” Hannah asked. “Then why did you blush when we mentioned her name? Why are you blushing at the thought of Akko seeing you in what is essentially underwear?”

“I have no intentions of having Akko see me in my underwear!” Diana objected.

“Oh? So you want her to see you out of your underwear?” Barbara asked smugly.

Diana’s face went from pink to red. “Th-that’s preposterous! I-I—” A realization flashed in her eyes. “You’re attempting to distract me!” she declared, her expression hardening. “What were you girls doing with Akko?”

“We were just getting to know her better,” Hannah said not-so-innocently. “Didn’t you say you wished we were closer friends with Akko?”

“And can you really blame us for trying to get closer to Akko?” Barbara asked. “After all, she’s kinda gotten cuter lately, wouldn’t you say?”

“Definitely,” Hannah said. “Isn’t she just the cutest when she gets all flustered? It makes you just want to spoil her.”

“Honestly, so true,” Barbara agreed. “Watch out, Diana. We might just switch our allegiance to Akko.”

The girls giggled as they watched Diana unsuccessfully attempt to hide the fact that she was fuming. She crossed her arms and exhaled heavily. She was about to chastise her roommates, but Hannah caught her off guard.

“You think Akko is cute too, right?”

Diana’s comment died in her throat and she choked on its corpse. She barely coughed out her objection. “I-I’m not sure I would say that?”

“Oh what would you say she is?” Barbara asked. “Pretty? Beautiful? Gorgeous?” She narrowed her eyes and dropped her voice to a whisper. “Sexy?”

“W-w-why would I say something like that?” Diana stammered. “You two have been spending too much time with O’Neill!” Diana felt as if her friends had turned on her. She expected this level of mischief from Amanda, but why would Hannah and Barbara question her relationship with Akko? There was nothing suspect about her intentions toward her dear friend.

“That’s not a no,” Hannah noted.

“Come on, you’re among friends,” Barbara insisted. “You can admit giving Akko the once over. We’ve all done it.”

“There’s nothing wrong with appreciating a girl’s looks,” Hannah said.

“I-I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Diana denied. Why does it matter what I think of Akko’s looks? Why would that matter whatsoever to our friendship? “Of course I agree that Akko is an attractive girl, objectively speaking—”

“‘Objectively,’ she says,” Barbara snarked. “You’re telling me you haven’t thought about those legs of hers?”

“And just think of that ponytail of hers,” Hannah said salaciously. “I'd like to give that thing a tug if you know what I mean—”

“That’s quite enough!” Diana said angrily. “It’s one thing to compliment her appearance, but it’s quite another to say such untoward things about her! You two ought to be ashamed of yourselves!”

“Oh, I get it,” Barbara said, giving Diana a knowing wink. “We’ve got to lay off the Akko-talk, Han. Diana doesn’t want to share.”

“Sorry about that, Diana,” Hannah said. “We didn’t mean to horn in on your girl.”

“Akko isn’t ‘my girl,’” Diana nearly shouted. “And I’m not being possessive!” she denied of her own accord. What’s wrong with me? Diana thought. Why am I getting so agitated over their suggestions about Akko? She had no reason to be so offended by harmless comments about her friend. It’s not as if we’re… partners…

Diana calmed herself and cleared her throat. “Akko and I are friends. The two of us have been through a lot together, and I wish to be closer to her. That is all. I value her for the person she is, and I don’t see how her physical a-a-attractiveness has anything to do with it.”

“Closer, eh?” Barbara said. “You mean, finger inside her mouth closer?”

“Don’t worry, Diana,” Hannah said. “We’ll leave that kind of thing for you.”

“That was just a joke that went too far,” Diana claimed. “I was simply feeding her. And on what grounds can you two ridicule me? You started this foolishness of feeding her in the first place!”

Hannah and Barbara made no answer, save for smirking and raising their eyebrows to astronomical heights.

Diana realized that she had again made it about what they had done. I sound like a jealous girlfriend who can’t stand that her partner is spending time with other people… She pulled the brakes on that train of thought. I’m not anybody’s girlfriend! Certainly not Akko’s! She was playing right into their hands getting so riled up, though she had no idea why they were so intent on getting such reactions from her.

“Hannah, Barbara, listen to me. I enjoy being with Akko and I want to be her closest friend. She makes me happy. If she feels the same, I would like to have a relationship with her similar to the one you two share.”

Hannah smiled. “I see. Just like Barb and I.”

Barbara mirrored her roommate’s grin. “After all, we are the best of friends. Just gals being pals.”

“Exactly,” Diana said obliviously. “Just gals being pals.”

“Diana, could you sit down on my bed, please?” Hannah asked.

“Alright.” Diana sat down as requested.

Hannah and Barbara sat side by side on Barbara’s bed, opposite their roommate.

“So,” Barbara began. “You want to be close with Akko? The way Hannah and I are?”

“Yes,” Diana answered. “The frankness and intimacy between the two of you is truly inspiring.”

“Intimacy, huh?” Hannah took Barbara’s hand in hers, interlacing their fingers. “You mean like this?”

“I suppose,” Diana said. Her mind wandered to thoughts out walking with Akko on the grounds of Cavendish Manor, hands interlocked and gently swinging between them.

“How about this?” Barbara used her free hand to caress Hannah’s face, pulling her close and planting a kiss on her cheek.

“I guess so…” Diana replied. After all, she had already kissed Akko on the hand; it wasn’t too far a stretch to kiss her on the cheek. Akko had let Amanda O’Neill do the same with little fanfare. Diana imagined sitting with Akko atop the observation tower’s platform, giving Akko a peck on the cheek and receiving a delighted giggle for her efforts. She smiled idly at the fantasy.

“Well, how about this?” Hannah forcefully pushed Barbara onto the mattress, so hard Diana could hear the bedsprings groan from the impact. Without a moment’s hesitation, Barbara lifted her legs onto the bed so that she could lie down properly. Hannah straddled her “friend,” pinned her arms down, and descended upon Barbara like a spider upon its prey. Their lips crashed together with reckless abandon, both girls moaning into each other’s mouths at the exotic thrill of doing so in front of their roommate. The kiss got sloppier and sloppier as it went on, for the sake of putting on a show for their audience. Hannah let go of one of Barbara’s wrists so she could use that hand to grope at her roommate’s chest; without missing a beat, Barbara used her recently liberated hand to tug at Hannah’s ponytail, spurring her own into an even more aroused state.

As with Amanda’s suggestion not long ago that she kiss Akko, Diana’s imagination bucked her control at the sensual stimulus and went for a joyride. Diana imagined throwing Akko onto her queen-sized bed and climbing on top of her. Imaginary Diana held Akko’s face in her hands and kissed her passionately, claiming those precious lips for her own. She imagined Akko’s arms wrapping around her, pulling her dangerously close. The fantasy only escalated as Diana imagined thrusting her tongue into the mouth that had so often disparaged her in the past. The last thought she had before aborting was her hands dropping from Akko’s face to begin undoing her uniform…

Unaware of the erotic turmoil raging in Diana’s mind, Hannah broke off the kiss. She raised her head, but her mouth was still connected to Barbara’s by a ribbon of saliva, which broke when she spoke again. “Intimate like that?”

The combination of the display of physical love she’d just witnessed as well as they one she’d just imagined left Diana speechless. She was too mortified to even blush. She struggled to find the words to articulate a response. At last she said, “I appear to have underestimated the nature of your relationship.”

Diana was having a minor life crisis. No longer could she use her roommate’s relationship as a model for her friendship with Akko. How could I have been unaware of this? She didn’t even have the luxury of writing off their behaviour as a joke; nothing about their makeout session suggested that it was merely in the spur of the moment, nor could it be assumed that this was their first time. The thought of judging her roommates for their relationship hadn’t crossed Diana’s mind, for reasons obvious to anyone who knew her. She was merely thrown by the harsh reality that she had completely missed this aspect of her roommates. How could I be so clueless? What else has passed by me unnoticed?

Diana was about to contemplate the meaning of the fantasy she had entertained about making out with Akko, but Fate or some similar entity with a terrible sense of humour interrupted Diana’s thoughts with a knock at the door.

Jumping at the opportunity to ignore those problematic thoughts, Diana rose from Hannah’s bed and went to the door. Behind her, Hannah dismounted Barbara and both girls straightened themselves out so as not to tip off whoever was at the door.

Diana opened the door and found none other than Atsuko Kagari, dressed in a white t-shirt and a skimpy pair of red shorts.

“Hey, Diana,” Akko said. “I was wondering — WHAT ARE YOU WEARING!?!?!?”

Diana looked down at her tank top and boxers. “Is there something wrong with it?” She noted that Akko wore a rather interesting expression as she looked Diana up and done. Or perhaps it was an interested expression.

“I’ll say!” Akko yelled. “You’re not supposed to be wearing something so revealing!”

Diana frowned, raising an eyebrow. “We’re wearing practically the same thing.” With her hand, she touched the hem of her boxers, then touched the same height on Akko’s legs, brushing the bare skin of Akko’s thigh. “Yours are shorter, actually.”

Akko blushed furiously and shoved Diana’s hand away from her thigh. “It’s not the same! You can’t just—”

Hannah had appeared behind Diana. “Akko, are you drooling?” She’d expected the girl’s nose would be gushing blood, but this was just as good.

“N-no!” Akko lied, wiping around her mouth with he hand and, sure enough, finding a trail of drool.

Diana didn’t connect the dots. “You must be half-asleep. It is after curfew, you ought to be asleep.”

“How can I sleep when you’re running around wearing boxers!” I’m definitely not getting any sleep tonight after being blessed with this view, Akko thought, her dirty mind getting the better of her. Diana may not have noticed her feelings, but she was bound to realize if Akko stared any longer at those pale, shapely legs and the collar bones brought into sharp relief against her bountiful chest… “Don’t you have any sense of decency—”

Diana gently placed a finger on Akko’s lips to silence her. The same finger, incidentally, which had been inside Akko’s mouth the last time they met. Both girls couldn’t avoid thoughts of how easy it would be for her to push it past Akko’s willing lips and into that warm, wet, welcoming orifice…

Diana got ahold of herself first. “Akko, it’s late. We both should be in bed by now.” In the background Hannah and Barbara snickered. “Please ignore my attire and tell me what it is you came here for.” She retracted her finger to allow Akko to speak.

Akko swallowed her flustered complaints. “I was wondering, um, if it’s not too much trouble, and if you’re not busy with anything more important, uh, would you be willing to help me practice flying a broom?” She mentally patted herself on the back for actually using real English words, but she still braced herself for rejection.

“I would be delighted.” Diana’s heart soared. Not only is she no longer avoiding me, she’s inviting me to spend time with her! “As I told you before, I’m always willing to lend you a hand. Don’t be afraid to ask me for my time.” She flashed Akko a brilliant smile.

“Oh, okay,” Akko said sheepishly. I can’t believe that worked! I ought to give Ursula one of those candid photos the journalism team shot of Professor Croix as thanks. “Um, how about after dinner tomorrow?”

“That’s fine,” Diana said.

“Great!” Akko smiled nervously. “Anyway, uh, I probably should get back to my room before the night patrol finds me. Good night, I guess.”

“Good night,” Diana returned. Akko ran off down the hallway and Diana closed the door. She virtually floated over to her bed. “Lights out, girls. We’ve stayed up long enough chatting for one night.”

“Of course,” Barbara said slyly. “You need to get your beauty sleep for your date with Akko.”

“Oh, shut up Barbara.” Diana hugged her pillow and used it to muffle the sounds of delight she made as she recalled the way Akko looked at her in her sleepwear...

Chapter Text

“Diana Cavendish. Wearing boxers. You’re kidding me, right?”

Amanda, Hannah, and Barbara were sitting together in the cafeteria. The latter two girls filled the former one in on the previous night’s events (though they tactfully left out their impassioned makeout session, because they figured she hadn’t earned that information yet). After learning that she’d missed out on more shenanigans, Amanda was, in a word, incredulous.

“Don’t tell me you’re gonna complain again?” Hannah rolled her eyes. “You need to stay on top of the program here.”

“I mean, I did invite you to sleepover,” Barbara remarked. “This one’s on you.” Amanda’s presence surely would’ve made the makeout session a whole lot more interesting. A three-way would’ve overloaded Diana’s brain beyond repair.

“Fine, fine,” Amanda said. “But don’t come crying to me if I start squeezing quality content out of those dorks when you’re not around.”

“You mean you wouldn’t comfort us?” Hannah faked a scandalized tone. “You wouldn’t lend us a shoulder to cry on?”

“And here we thought you were a gentleman.” Barbara covered her mouth in pretend shock.

Amanda groaned. These girls are so high maintenance, she thought. What a pain. “I’m no good with that emotional crap.”

Hannah and Barbara eyed each other. Wrong answer, they silently agreed.

“You’re never gonna land a girl like that,” Hannah said adamantly.

“Honestly, you’re as bad as a guy.” Barbara spoke from experience.

Amanda frowned. “Hey, lots of girls like the “emotionally unavailable” thing. Wait, why are we talking about me anyway? We’re supposed to be plotting against Akko and Cavendish.”

“Diana should be here soon,” Hannah said. “She’s helping Professor Finnelan sort some new textbooks, but it won’t keep her long.”

“And we passed Akko getting lectured by Professor Badcock on our way over here,” Barbara added. “Who knows how long that will take.”

“Alright, then,” Amanda rubbed her hands together like a particularly devious fly. “Cavendish gets here and she’ll either join us or go all mopey-loner-girl and get her own table. When Akko shows up, I’ll start flirting with her girl and we’ll watch the fireworks go off.”

“How are you sure Akko will be paying attention?” Hannah asked.

“Bitch, please,” Amanda scoffed. “If Diana’s in the room, Akko’s paying attention to her. I’m surprised she hasn’t been tossed out of class yet for staring non-stop at the butch wonder.”

“Have you really nothing better to do in class than watch Akko?” Barbara asked. “I’m pretty sure there are other subjects more deserving of your attention.” Such as what was on the blackboard, what the professor was saying, or two out of the three Blue Team members.

“Trust me, Akko’s expressions are to die for,” Amanda said. “I almost died yesterday when she started drooling.” Apparently Diana had that effect on her.

Speak of the drool-worthy devil, Diana entered the cafeteria — a symphony of sighs announced her arrival — and collected her lunch. She spotted Hannah and Barbara and took several steps toward them before realizing they were accompanied by Amanda. Her expression soured and she found an empty table where she could brood in peace.

It wasn’t long before Akko appeared. Her eyes sought out Diana at her lonely table and they didn’t leave her even as she went through the lunchline. It was clear that she intended to join Diana at her table. Sorry, Akko, Amanda thought. Too bad I’m gonna have to throw a wrench in your plans.

Before Akko finished getting her lunch, Amanda left the co-conspirators’ table and walked up to Diana, countless eyes following her to watch what could only result in the juiciest of drama. Akko, correctly assessing that only trouble could come from being around her crush and Amanda, deferred and stopped at Hannah and Barbara’s table instead.
“So,” she said as she set her tray down. “Diana’s wearing boxers now. How you two holding up?”

“It’s a struggle,” Hannah said gravely. “Like, how are we supposed to sleep in the same room as that?”

“You mean, how are we supposed to sleep with the thought of Diana Cavendish in boxers bouncing around in our heads,” Barbara moaned. “By the Nine Olde Witches, my wrist is tired.”

“Big mood,” Akko said, nodding. The three girls ignored the implications of what exactly they had just collectively admitted to.

“Um, what’s Amanda doing?” she asked the pair.

Hannah giggled. “Oh, you’ll want to experience it for yourself.”

“Try not to toss your lunch,” Barbara laughed.

Akko raised her eyebrows. She was beginning to suspect that there was more going on between Amanda, Hannah, and Barbra than the bitchy bis’ attempts to get in the American’s pants. And just when she thought she could almost nearly trust the pair in very certain specific situations sometimes.

She turned her attention to Amanda and Diana, who were getting along less than swimmingly. As usual.

While Akko had been speaking with Hannah and Barbara, Amanda strode across the cafeteria with as much arrogant pomposity as she could muster, which was a considerable amount. Amanda had been training all her life to achieve such cockines, and not a bit of it was wasted. She came over to Diana’s table, pulled out a chair between them with her foot, and slammed that foot on top of the chair; she rested her arm on her raised leg and leaned in toward Diana.

“Hey, sugar tits. What’s shaking?”

Over at the other table, Akko’s eye twitched involuntarily.

Diana raised her eyebrows, then her eyes flicked downward for a moment. “American flag pattern? I hadn’t any idea you were so patriotic.”

It took Amanda a moment to realize what Diana was talking about. Oh. I just flashed Cavendish my panties, she realized. “See anything you like?”

Diana blinked slowly. “No.”

“Oh, don’t play hard to get, Cavendish,” Amanda said, ignoring the clear rejection for the sake of riling up both Diana and her admirer. “We all know you’re pretty pent-up. I bet you’re looking for a little release.”

“If by release you mean your removing your foot from that chair, then yes,” Diana said coldly. “Have you no respect for the proper use of furniture?”

Beneath the salacious smirk she wore, a scowl struggled to reveal itself. Change the subject all you like, Cavendish. But I’m not leaving until your future girlfriend blows her top. “Lemme tell ya, sweetheart, I can think of a few improper uses of furniture you can I can respect.”

Akko clenched her teeth. “What the hell is she doing!?”

Hannah gave a noncommittal shrug. “Looks like she’s making a move on Diana.”

“You snooze, you lose, Akko,” Barbara said with a fake yawn.

Whatever, Akko thought. I won’t let this bother me. Amanda’s definitely up to something. No way in hell that’s she actually interested in Diana. And there’s no way Hannah and Barbara would be cool with Amanda flirting with her. Akko calmed her seething mind with cool logic. She closed her eyes and did just that.

Amanda glanced back at the other table and saw Akko eating her lunch, serene as a Buddhist monk. Shit, she thought. I’ll need to step up my game.

“O’Neill, I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Diana said sternly. “If there’s nothing I can help you with, please leave so I can eat my lunch.” Her plate was as clean as the look she shot Amanda was dirty. Diana Cavendish was in no mood for Amanda’s tomfoolery today or any other day. She had a sneaking suspicion that she was about to be inflicted with more of the American’s inappropriate thought processes.

She was not wrong.

“Tell you what, Cavendish.” Amanda leaned in closer and winked at her. “I’ve got something you can eat. You can help me with that.”

Though they had been pretending to be disinterested in Amanda’s faux flirtations, Hannah and Barbara’s eyebrows rocketed up into their hairlines. Akko’s graceful act of meditation was ruined by the not so graceful act choking on her potatoes. She did not just say that to Diana!

They weren’t the only ones reacting to Amanda’s innuendo; all across the cafeteria girls tried to hide their shock, disgust, and in some cases arousal at what she had just suggested. In fact, the only student who hadn’t reacted to the vulgarity was Diana herself.

“I’m afraid you’ve lost me again,” she said obliviously. “Either be clear about what you mean, or leave me alone.” Obviously Diana favoured the latter option, but it would be improper to say so openly.

“Alrighty then,” Amanda said grinning with gleeful anticipation. “I’ll put it in terms that you can understand, Cavendish.” She leaned in close to Diana’s ear and explained what she’d said in excruciating, gruesome, anatomical detail. When she retreated to a safe distance, Amanda saw that Diana’s face had turned a dangerous scarlet from a mélange of embarrassment and rage.

“I! BEG! YOUR! PARDON!?!?!?” Diana was visibly shaking. Amanda began to fear for her life, but she wasn’t about to quit after going so far as to explain the concept of oral sex to the school’s biggest stick in the mud.

“You heard me, babe,” Amanda said. She spread two finger in front of her mouth and wagged her tongue between them as lewdly as possible. “You know you wanna taste me.”

Amanda quickly looked at Akko to gauge her reaction: she sat uncharacteristically still, either flabbergasted or apoplectic. C’mon, dork, she urged. Get your ass over here and defend your lady’s honour before she obliterates me. In a bad, not kinky way.

“She sure is, uh, going all out, isn’t she?” Hannah said nervously.

“Jealous she’s not doing that for you?” Akko said out the side of her mouth.

“Shut up,” Barbara hissed.

Diana exhaled deeply, attempting to calm herself to no avail. “That is obscene! And unsanitary!”

“That’s not a no,” Amanda remarked.

“Shall I make myself perfectly clear? I have no intentions of ever doing such a thing to anyone, much less you, Amanda O’Neill.” She glared not daggers, but full-sized claymores at the other girl. “Cease and desist or else I will be forced to report you for sexual harassment.”

“Spoilsport,” Amanda groaned. “You’re missing the time of your life here. If nothing else, I bet you’ll wish you had the practice.”

“And why in the name of the Nine Olde Witches would I need—”

Diana noticed that Amanda’s eyes were pointed at Akko. Then Amanda locked eyes with Diana, wiggling her eyebrows suggestively.

“N-n-ow see here, O’Neill,” Diana stuttered. “Let me get one thing straight—”

“Alright,” Amanda cut in. “One thing straight, but the rest will be gay.”

“— your delusions are just that. I assure that I only have the purest intentions—”

“And yet you have to go out of your way to clarify that.” Amanda chuckled. “Your intentions are pure, huh? Untainted? Might I say, vanilla?

Akko squeaked. She had no idea what they were talking about, but there was no way she could miss that reference. “You told Amanda about that!?” I’m surprised she hasn’t beaten that to death already.

“Look, it’s not like it was a private event,” Hannah reasoned.

“You did do it in the cafeteria, after all,” Barbara said. “It’s fair game, really.”

Diana glared at Hannah and Barbara. There was a conversation to be had with Hannah and Barbara about the nature of privacy and loyalty to one’s friends. “Y-you’re taking that out of context!” she said to Amanda.

“How about I take you out of your clothes next?”

Amanda’s eyes darted over to Akko, who despite her obvious displeasure with the proceedings had yet to leave her chair. Diana was somewhat less reserved. In one smooth motion she kicked the chair out from under Amanda, knocking the orange-haired girl off-balance, and rose from her own chair so forcefully that it fell down behind her. With aggression unbefitting a lady of her status, Diana grabbed Amanda by the lapels and said with voice of an executioner, “Would you care to repeat that, O’Neill?” The implied meaning: Any last words?

Amanda’s life flashed before her eyes like a movie. And like most movies it didn’t have enough lesbian sex scenes for her liking. I guess this is the end of the road, Amanda thought. I’m going to die the way I lived, getting choked by a pretty girl.

“What do we do!?” Hannah wailed.

“She’s not supposed to be manhandling her!” Barbara despaired.

“Damn right!” Akko exclaimed, jumping out of her chair. “She’s supposed to be manhandling me!” Akko was only faintly aware of the danger to her friend’s life; even if she were, she wouldn’t be too worried about saving Amanda after everything that she’d said to Diana — everything Akko wished she could say to Diana. In any case, she wanted the two of them apart from each other as soon as possible.

Fortunately for Amanda, Akko’s arrival distracted Diana enough for her to loosen her grip on Amanda’s uniform. Unfortunately for Amanda, Akko took this opportunity to shove her away from Diana. Her knees were weak from terror and they gave out from under her and she dropped onto that tight broom-dancer’s butt of hers.

“Oi! What was that for!?” Amanda indignantly waved her fist at Akko. “I’m the victim here!”

Akko growled at Amanda with every hateful fiber of her body — granted, that wasn’t a lot. Maybe enough for a particularly vindictive handkerchief.

“You stay away from Diana!” Akko shouted. “If you’ve got anything else indecent to say, how about you shove it up your ass!”

“Akko!” Diana covered her mouth with her hand, scandalized by her friend’s coarse language.

And then Akko took that same hand and half-lead, half-dragged Diana away from her table. “We’re leaving! Sorry about pushing you,” she added. “Get Hannah and Barbara to kiss your ass better for me!”

Amanda was too stunned to respond — Hannah and Barbara hoped she would take Akko’s advice. Akko, however, left the cafeteria in all haste, pulling Diana along with her. The uninvolved bystanders noticed the heiress’s ears turning pink. When both girls disappeared, the students shifted their attention to the disgruntled pile of girl that was Amanda. She picked herself up and dusted herself off. “Don’t judge me,” she told the crowd. “I’ve got an agenda and no impulse control.” And she sure as hell got results, though they weren’t quite as amusing to her as she’d been hoping. Those idiots better use this chance to get closer, or I’ll have sacrificed by tailbone for nothing.

Meanwhile, Akko was still stalking away from the cafeteria, Diana in tow. After traversing the fifth hallway, Diana couldn’t hold back her amusement any longer. “Did you have a destination in mind, or where you just taking me for a walk?”

Akko screeched to a halt. “Oh, I, uh, got a little carried away.” What was I thinking!? Dragging Diana off like that! Just who do I think I am? “I just… didn’t like all those things Amanda said to you…” she turned to face Diana, expecting to see that familiar, exasperated expression of hers, but only found a gentle smile.

“How chivalrous of you to rescue me from that vagabond O’Neill,” she said. “She really is the antithesis of a proper lady, isn’t she?” Diana was surprised by Akko’s initiative. Naturally, she could’ve dealt with Amanda on her own, but she felt elated that Akko cared for her enough to step in. What a dependable friend who didn’t stand for such lewd and inappropriate advances. What’s gotten into O’Neill’s head, she wondered. It was as if the American had lost all reason, attempting to seduce Diana of all people, who she surely should’ve known would’ve rejected her under any circumstances. It was all that Diana could do not to slap the confounded girl. Thankfully Akko’s intervention had absolved her of that temptation. Sweet, gentle Akko, who would never embarrass her with such propositions. Although, came a thought from deepest, darkest, most repressed recesses of her mind, I wouldn’t react so adversely if she did.

“What I mean to say,” Diana said, interrupting her own thoughts, “is that I’m grateful. I guess it was your turn to play the gentleman.”

Akko’s mind flashed back to the time Diana had called her a lady instead, and kissed her hand. The same hand, Akko suddenly realized, was tightly clasped around Diana’s.

“Waaaaaaaaaaah!” Akko screamed. “I’m sorry! I wasn’t—”

Panicked, Akko let go of Diana’s hand only for Diana to clutch at her in turn. She grinned slightly, eyes sparkling with joy. She gave Akko’s hand a squeeze.

“Oh.” Akko was unsure of how to react. She’d grabbed Diana’s hand on impulse, her mind occupied with the need to resolve her the source of her jealousy. Under normal circumstances, she wouldn’t have had the courage to hold Diana’s hand. But Diana felt no such compunctions. I’m surprised she hasn’t told me that public displays of affection are against school regulations, Akko thought. Of course she was happy that Diana was willing to hold her hand — to be specific, her heart was pounding so hard that Diana was surely aware of just how happy Akko was — but she felt a pang of uncertainty. Is this just a friendship thing? Akko wasn’t in the habit of holding hands with her friends (unless one counted being caught in mid-air while on a broom) and nor was Diana. Remembering Ursula’s advice, she tried to suss out Diana’s feelings on the matter.

“So, you’re not bothered by…” Akko gave Diana’s hand a return squeeze.

“Why would I be?” Diana asked. “Is holding hands not something friends do? After all, Hannah and Barb—”

Diana started coughing. She recalled the events of the previous night and decided that her roommate’s “friendship” was not the best point of comparison.

“Are you alright?” Akko asked.

“Perfectly fine,” Diana said. “Are you bothered by…?” Diana gave Akko’s hand another squeeze. “You did scream, after all.”

“What? Me? No!” Akko laughed nervously. “I just, um, surprised myself.”

“You surprised me as well,” Diana said with a chuckle. “It’s one of your finer points, being able to catch a jaded aristocrat such as myself off guard. I hope you keep surprising me, Akko.”

Oh, I can think of something that’d surprise you. Akko was on the verge of spilling her secret right here and now in the hallway. The mood was right, they were holding hands, she’d just saved her crush from a lecherous creep (sorry Amanda!). When would she have a better chance to confess her feelings? What do I have to lose, besides Diana’s respect and friendship and, oh, by the Nine Olde Witches, this is impossible!

“There’s still ten minutes left in the lunch hour,” Diana said. “Shall we take a stroll in the courtyard?”

Akko’s confidence (or what was left of it) deflated. “I’d like that.” She consigned herself to silence on that most crucial of matters. The pair walked through the courtyard hand in hand, discussing their studies and smothering the conflicted feelings in their hearts.

*******

It’s time! For our date! Wait, it isn’t a date. It’s just two girls hanging out together. And one of us is stupidly in love with the other.

Akko stood outside the cafeteria, rocking back and forth on the balls of her feet to burn off some of her nervous energy. Most of the students were taking their time with their dinner, but Akko had sucked hers up like a vacuum and rushed out of the room to wait for Diana to finish. Maybe she was being a little too impatient; Diana probably wasn’t expecting “after dinner” to mean the minute she swallowed the last bite, but Akko was afraid she would be an anxious wreck if she waited any longer. This broom practice was going to be the highlight of her day — no, year! — nay, her life!

Diana emerged from the cafeteria accompanied by her persistent shadows, Hannah and Barbara. The latter two spotted Akko and smirked.

“Eager little puppy, aren’t you?” Hannah said.

Akko pouted. “If I’m a puppy, what are you, a pony?” Hannah, as a professional snob, was well known to be a horse girl. The ponytail didn’t help.

“Actually, Han’s more of a rider than a pony,” Barbara said shamelessly.

Akko didn’t need to ask to know what that meant. But she was shocked to see Diana blushing from what she’d just heard. Akko had long suspected that Diana’s only flaw was the inability to parse innuendos, but apparently she was on the same page as the rest of them. Curiouser and curiouser.

Diana scowled. “Come along, Akko. We ought to make the most of our time before curfew.” She took Akko’s hand and strode off in the direction of the practice field.

“Have fun on your date!” Hannah and Barbara called after them.

Akko and Diana let go of each other’s hand in unison, turning their faces away to hide the oncoming blush.

“It’s not a date,” Diana reassured no one in particular.

“Definitely not a date,” Akko half-heartedly agreed.

“This is just two friends spending time together,” Diana continued.

Akko swallowed nervously. She figured she might as well try to push things in the right direction. “Just two friends together, alone.”

Diana noticed that Akko sounded distant, as if she were feeling lonely. “We’re never alone when we’re together,” she said in an attempt to make her friend feel better. “I’m here for you, Akko.”

If anyone else had said that, Akko would’ve drawled out a “gaaaaaaaay” at them. As it were, Akko would sooner nail her tongue to the roof of her mouth than jeer at Diana, particularly given the risk it would discourage Diana from any further heat-pounding statements.

“Th-thank you Diana.”

Time passed and they reached the practice field. The broom shack bore signs of a nighttime intrusion (“O’Neill,” Diana sighed), but Diana neglected to fulfil her duty of informing a professor of the issue. The matter could wait until after her date — practice session with Akko.

Akko mounted her broom and chanted the flying spell. The broom rose to a proper flying height — the result of more than a year’s worth of hard work. Diana couldn’t help but feel proud of her friend.

“Excellent, Akko,” Diana said. “Let’s see about your posture.”

“Eh? Isn’t it fine?” Akko whined.

“It’s passable, but you’re sacrificing aerodynamics, and you’ll give yourself back strain.” Diana reached out with her hand, but stopped herself before initiating contact. “May I…” she hesitated, “correct your posture… manually…”

Play it cool, Kagari. You’ve got this. Just say “yes” and she’ll put her mitts all over you. “Okay.” Akko’s voice cracked.

Diana placed her hands on Akko’s wrists and slid them further toward the front of the broom. “Tuck your elbows in,” she instructed. Akko acquiesced. “Lean forward.” Akko did so, but not enough for Diana’s liking. She put a hand on the top of Akko’s spine and firmly pressed down, bending Akko over. She slid her hand down Akko’s back to mold her into the correct pose, or so Diana told herself. She had to consciously stop her hand from moving past Akko’s spine and onto her pert, round bottom.

Akko suppressed the desire to shiver and shudder under Diana’s touch. If I moan, I’m going to fly into the stratosphere and live there for the rest of my life. Against all odds, she had hoped that Diana would let her hand wander a little farther. Fighting off the disappointment, Akko devised a devilish device to sneak a little more forbidden contact with her crush. With as much subtlety as Atsuko Kagari could manage, she let her legs slip into a position she knew was improper for flying.

When Diana stepped back to assess Akko’s posture, she noticed Akko’s insufficient grip on her broom. “Akko, those loose legs of yours are going to get you into trouble.”

What if I said that was what I was looking for? Akko thought, clenching her jaw shut to ensure that she wouldn’t say anything out loud.

Diana touched Akko’s bare thighs and squeezed them together around the broom. She moved her hands down to Akko’s calves and denied herself the urge to squeeze the taut muscle she found there. How can Akko be so athletic and yet so soft? Diana wondered to herself. She chalked it up the physical education classes and love of sports characteristic to mundanes. And yet Akko’s skin was so soft, so smooth, like the finest silk. The pleasant combination of hard muscle and soft skin was tantalizing to her. So this is what another girl feels like, she thought absentmindedly.

After what Diana felt must’ve been too long a time to reasonable, she finished adjusting Akko’s legs. She crossed her arms in order make sure she kept her hands to herself. “Alright then, Akko. As Amanda O’Neill might say, ‘show me your moves.’”

You got it!” Akko shot off like a cannonball. She waited until she was out of Diana’s earshot before letting out a whoop of celebration. For someone so obsessed with efficiency, Diana sure did spend a lot of time “adjusting” my legs. Maybe I have a chance with her after all.

Akko did every trick she had, as well as flying a few laps around the practice area. She didn’t often have a chance to show off, so she took this one with gusto.

After exhausting her repertoire, she touched back down on the ground next to Diana. “How was that, Miss Broom Relay Champion?”

“Spectacular,” Diana complimented. “Though might I say, I detected the influence of O’Neill in some of those maneuvers.”

“Well, if you wanna become the best, you gotta learn from the best,” Akko evaded. She knew that Diana disapproved of Amanda’s dangerous flying style, but it looked cool. “Hey,” she said, hoping to distract Diana from a potential lecture. “How about we have a race?”

Diana grinned. “I wouldn’t mind a little friendly competition. But I’m not sure how losing a race to me will help you learn how to fly better.”

“Hey, don’t be so sure you’ll win!” Akko said indignantly. “And besides, wouldn’t it help me improve if I push myself against the best there is?”

“I thought Amanda O’Neill was the best,” Diana said cattily.

“Oh, Amanda Shamanda,” Akko scoffed. “You’re number one in my eyes.”

Diana tried not to look too pleased after hearing that. “Fine. A race it is.”

Akko got an idea, an absolute lightbulb over the head moment. “How about we make it interesting?”

Diana raised an eyebrow. “How so?”

This is my chance to get closer to Diana, Akko thought. If I play my cards right, I can make some real progress. All I’ve got to do is not ask for too much. Then Akko got another brilliant idea. And idea of how she could find out if Diana definitely liked girls.

“How about, the loser has to tell the winner a secret about herself.”

“Intriguing.” Diana had every intention of getting to know Akko better, and this was a golden opportunity to find out the kind of secret that even her friends didn’t know about her. “How bold of you to so readily volunteer such information about yourself.”

“Hey! Don’t count your chickens until they’ve hatched,” Akko said. “I’ve improved a lot, you’ll see!”

One broom race later, Akko consoled herself with a reminder that at least she got to look at Diana’s butt the entire race. She landed next to where Diana was patiently waiting for her, sitting cross-legged on the grass.

“So, Akko, I believe you owe me one of your deepest, darkest secrets,” she said in a tone that one would refer to as smug, if not for the fact that a lady is never smug.

“I did specify the depth of darkness of the secret,” Akko said sourly as she plonked down on the grass beside Diana.

“What shall I ask you?” the short-haired girl wondered aloud. There were so many questions she could have answered, so many personal secrets she could have Akko expose. Diana didn’t want to exploit this chance maliciously, but she found it difficult to restrain her imagination. I could ask her what she’s most afraid of others knowing. I could ask her about her unfiltered, unaduletered opinion of me.

I could ask her if any of the things Amanda has said about her and me are true.

Diana dismissed the idea. Of course Amanda was making things up. That girl lived off the chaos she created, and Diana had no interest in failing for one of her tricks. What would Akko think of her should she reveal that she took Amanda’s nonsense even the slightest bit seriously? It was out of the question.

But there was another matter, separate but germane, that she could ask Akko about.

“Before I ask for a secret, could I consult you on a certain matter?”

“Uh, sure.” Akko was pretty keen on delaying having to spill her guts to Diana, though she felt safe that the heiress wouldn’t ask anything too daring.

“Are you aware that…” Diana tried to find the right words. “Did you know that Hannah and Barbara… well… that they’re… that they have a physical relationship?

Akko blinked hard enough to make her teeth rattle. “Yeah.”

“Oh.” Diana wasn’t sure what she expected. “For how long?”
“I thought everybody knew,” Akko said. “Didn’t you?”

“I only learned of their relationship last night.”

“Oh. Did you walk in on them or something?” Akko asked.

“...let’s go with that.”

“So what’s up?” Akko asked.

“It’s just that…” Diana didn’t know what to say. There was an unnamed, demanding feeling twitching at the back of her skull pushing her in this direction, but now that she had arrived, she didn’t know why she’d decided to bring this up to Akko. Was she merely questioning her own obliviousness? Was she looking for some kind of advice?

“Is their relationship a problem for you?” Akko imagined that the knowledge of what Hannah and Barbara had gotten up to had explained some previously unexplained noises during the night.

“No! Please, Akko, don’t assume I’m a conservative simply because I belong to the aristocracy.”

“I meant — actually never mind what I meant,” Akko said. “You’re cool with your friends dating, right?”

“It’s hardly something I have any business being upset about,” Diana replied. “It’s simply that I was so surprised. I didn’t even know they were inclined in such a way.”

“They’ve been drooling over you, a girl, since you got your haircut,” Akko deadpanned.

Diana rolled her eyes. “The whole school has been doing that. Even you have, Akko.”

“Haha I guess you’re right.” Akko was relieved that at the very least Diana wasn’t repulsed by the idea of two girls dating. If anything, that meant she didn’t need to be scared to death that Diana would stop being friends with her if she confessed. But none of that was an assurance that Diana actually liked girls.

“I suppose I’ve lived a sheltered life,” Diana said. “I didn’t realize relationships between two girls were so common.”

“Oh, you know, lots more people are realizing they aren’t into the whole hetero thing and are open about it,” Akko rambled.

“What about you, Akko?”

The words left Diana’s mouth before she could stop them. She watched Akko’s eyes widen like expanding suns. “Is-is that the secret you want to know?”

Diana hadn’t planned on asking such a question, but she would foolish if she retracted the question now. “Yes.”

“Oh,” Akko said in her smallest voice. The tables were turned on her. The question she’d planned on asking Diana had been turned on her instead. I guess this is also progress, she reasoned. Coming out to Diana might change things between us for the better. Or for worse. Akko dreaded the thought of Diana avoiding physical contact with her after learning she was attracted to girls. I guess it’s out of my hands.

Diana nervously played with the ends of her fringe. “You don’t have to tell me if you don’t want to.” Diana had to admit that she was interested in the answer now that the matter had been brought up, but she didn’t want to make her dear friend uncomfortable for the sake of her own curiosity.

“No, it’s fine.” Akko took a deep breath and vomited up a word salad. “Um, well, you see, I’ve never actually dated anyone before, so I don’t have any romantic experience or anything, but I definitely have a preference, but I don’t really know if it’s an exclusive preference or whatever, because I haven’t really had the opportunity to explore it, but there was that one time that I thought Andrew Hanbridge was handsome and it made me blush and everything, but now we’re bros and I totally don’t see him in that way anymore, so does that mean it’s a fluke or compulsory heterosexuality or is it just that I don’t like him like that anymore because I got to know him, but is it really that simple, because I’m not sure I know enough about myself to give myself a definite label.”

Diana tried to use her monumental brain power to decode what Akko had babbled, but the only coherent information she could retrieve was that Akko didn’t like Andrew, which Diana considered a positive.

She considered asking Akko for clarification, but she noticed that Akko had drawn herself up into a ball, arms wrapped around her knees, face buried in her arms.

“But I know I definitely like girls.”

“I see.” So what O’Neill said had at least a grain of truth to it. Naturally she dismissed the rest of what Amanda had been implying, attempting to instigate discord between herself and Akko. The American had made no secret of how much she resented how close her friend had become with the “teacher’s pet” and it would make perfect sense that Amanda would plot to split the two apart. As if it would be that easy. Akko and I have been through more than that girl can imagine. My friendship with Akko won’t lose to her scheming.

Day had turned to night, the twilight of their free hours fading into dark. It would be curfew soon, and as much as she liked spending time with Akko, she couldn’t break school rules to do so. She stood up and brushed off the back of her pant legs. “We ought to be getting back to our dorm rooms.”

Akko made a despondent noise. She raised her head to see Diana offering her hand. Akko took it hesitantly, unsure of how to approach her friend after coming out to her. Diana didn’t shy away from her; she helped Akko up and, on a spur of the moment urge, put her arms around Akko.

“I suppose I shouldn’t have asked you to say what you did,” Diana admitted. “I’m sorry. But I’m glad that you trusted me enough to do so. I want you to know that as your friend, you can always depend on me if you need someone to talk to.”

As much as Akko would like to enjoy being both hugged and accepted by Diana, her mind could only focus on the echoing death knell: friend, friend, friend, friend, friend. She told herself that she shouldn’t consider herself out of the race just yet, but how was she supposed to not lose heart when her crush learned that she liked girls and didn’t even question the status of their relationship? Get your head in the game, Kagari, she told herself as she returned the hug. You haven’t lost until she gives you a solid “no.”

They parted and Diana forced a smile. She could tell that something was still bothering Akko, so she tried to quell her friend’s bad mood with humour. Not my forte, but anything for Akko.

“I suppose you’re lucky,” she said. “Your chances of finding romance are pretty high, seeing as you’re attending an all-girls school. You have an entire castle of options.”

“Hmm.” Funnily enough, the girl I already like isn’t inside the school.

No success. I suppose moral support is all I’m good for. “Again, Akko, I admire you more than I can say,” Diana said. She knew that words could only comfort a person so much. Diana looked at Akko’s face to check her response. Nothing. The normally cheerful and animated girl was utterly without expression. It’s just wrong, Diana thought. She was desperate to provoke a reaction. So she didn’t repress her urge to reach out and touch Akko’s face, to cup her cheek in the palm of her hand. Akko’s eyes brightened, meeting Diana’s.

“You really are the bravest person I know,” the butch girl said.

She leaned forward with delicate precision and pressed her lips against Akko’s cheek.

Her hand fell away as she pulled away and joined it with Akko’s. “Shall we return to the castle?”

Akko nodded silently, a confused but unambiguously joyous smile broke across her face. She wouldn’t fully process what had just happened until an hour later. Lotte and Sucy put up with her jubilant cheers and fist-pumps until the potion mistress lost her patience and force-fed Akko a mushroom with sedative properties that knocked her out cold.

Diana slept soundly, satisfied that her kiss had apparently cheered Akko up. She gave no further thought to the revelation that Akko was attracted to girls, and that Diana herself fell under that umbrella.

A third party reflected on the night’s events. In the journalism team’s dorm room, Wangari bounced up and down. “Please tell me you got it!” she said excitedly. “Please tell me you got it!”

“Calm down, Wan,” Joanna said. “I did my job. It wasn’t the best angle, I’ll admit, but we got it.”

Wangari, Joanna, and Kimberly crowded around the team’s camera and stared at the photo Joanna had snapped of Akko and Diana’s late night rendezvous. Amanda had tipped them off that the pair would be meeting. They’d lain in wait for the juicy scoop the American had promised them, and they didn’t regret a bit of the agonizing anticipation. Little did they know, the angle from which they’d witnessed the night’s most significant event misrepresented what exactly had occurred.

“This story hits the presses tomorrow morning!” Wangari declared. “And this picture is going right on the front page.

She jabbed a finger at the image of what appeared to be Diana Cavendish kissing Atsuko Kagari on the mouth.

Chapter Text

Akko awoke feeling as if she’d slept on a heavenly cloud, though she couldn’t be sure if that was because of the previous night’s events or the aftereffects of the mushroom that had been unceremoniously shoved down her throat. Thankfully the dosage had worn off with plenty of time before classes started. Though Sucy may be cold enough to force-feed her roommate a mushroom, she wasn’t so cold as to deliberately make her miss class. “That dolt does that enough on her own,” she told Lotte, when the blonde girl raised the question, shortly before the aforementioned dolt awoke with a contented yawn.

Rather than get out of bed, Akko snuggled her pillow and contemplated the happy yet conflicting feelings tickling her brain and jiggling her stomach. She reviewed the positives and negatives of the previous night. Positive: when I came out to Diana, she accepted me. Negative: she still sees me as a friend. Positive: Diana kissed me on the cheek. Negative: what does it mean if a girl kisses you on the cheek right after you tell her you like girls!?

She let out a deep sigh. How am I supposed to take that, Diana? Was that a “I understand you like girls and I’m showing you I’m still comfortable with you” kiss, or a “now that I know you like girls I’m showing you interest in a subtle way” kiss? Or was it a nonchalant kiss between friends? Akko groaned. That’s a thing Europeans do, isn’t it? A kiss on the cheek is just a greeting to them. Not to be culturally insensitive, but Akko found that a little too promiscuous for her upbringing. But then again, it’s not like I’ve seen Diana kiss Hannah or Barbara or anyone else. If she were paying attention to anybody but Diana, she would’ve noticed that none of the students were casually kissing each other. Maybe that means I’m special to her. Akko buried her face in her pillow to muffle her scream. If only there was someone I could ask! An answer hit her at the same time as Sucy’s pillow.

“Pipe down with the bodily noise orchestra,” Sucy drawled.

“You should get up, Akko,” Lotte said. “You don’t want to be late.”

“More like you don’t want to keep Diana waiting,” Sucy muttered.

“Sh-shut up, mushroom head!” Akko blushed and threw Sucy’s pillow back at her. Sucy dodged fluidly, letting the pillow hit the wall behind her and fall onto her bed.

Akko huffed, but went about her morning routine with a smile on her face. I can ask Professor Ursula about what Diana meant with that kiss. She should know.

Due to her occupation with mentally replaying and re-examining the kiss she received the night before, Akko didn’t realize the signs that yet again the student body had taken a special interest in her. What little focus Akko could spare from her musings was directed at Diana, who seemed to be quite distracted herself. Though the professors made no note of it, Diana seemed to be paying less attention than Amanda. She maintained the illusive of attentiveness by looking forward, but anyone who looked close enough (i.e. Akko) could see that her eyes were unfocused, as if lost in a daydream. As the day wore on, Akko noticed that Diana was spending an irresponsible amount of time glancing in her direction, smiling softly at her — she even spent most of the lunch period gazing at Akko’s table instead of listening to Hannah and Barbara at her own. The feeling of butterflies in her stomach wore off after the tenth time she caught Diana staring at her and she began to wonder if Diana was thinking about the same thing she was.

Akko’s thoughts weren’t too far off the mark. Diana was concerned about how Akko was feeling the day after their emotional night together. She’d managed to cheer Akko up before they parted, but she worried that whatever had been bothering her friend might resurface the following morning. She couldn’t help but look Akko’s way to see if she was alright; Diana’s anxieties were eased by the sight of Akko’s absent minded grinning.

While the not-yet-lovebirds were lost in their own thoughts in each other’s eyes, they would’ve realized that they weren’t the only people concerned with what had happened last night — or at least a garbled version of it. The journalism team had pulled an all-nighter to push out the article in time and it quickly became the paper’s most popular edition. Rumour spread like wildfire. Every student either had a copy or read a friend’s, and soon the only girls who weren’t aware of the half-half truth being told about Akko and Diana were the girls themselves and their friends. But that quickly changed.

The first girls in their social circle to learn of the article were Hannah and Barbara. Naturally, their connection to all the popular girls let them keep atop the freshest and juiciest of the school’s gossip. Between classes, Avery passed them a copy of the paper, saying, “Aboot time, eh?”

The picture alone nearly made them die on the spot.

“I can’t believe she did that!” Hannah said, her mind reeling.

“I can’t believe she did that and we didn’t get to see it!” Barbara wailed.

Both girls had been aware that Diana and Akko had spent the evening together, but who could have predicted that the two would end up kissing. At the pace they’d been going, Hannah and Barbara weren’t expecting the couple to kiss until next year. It was like if Akko suddenly started using advanced level magic; it just didn’t compute.

“There’s no way Diana just up and kissed Akko like that,” Hannah said. The picture seemed to portray such a scene: Diana’s hand cupping Akko’s cheek, their faces certainly close enough for a kiss.

“We all know that Diana doesn’t have the self-awareness to go for a kiss,” Barbara agreed. As far as they could tell, she was still in denial that she wanted any kind of kisses from Akko.

“And let’s face it,” Hannah said. “Even if Diana kissed her, Akko would be dead right now if she had been kissed by Diana.” Even if she survived, she would hardly be acting as normal as she was (or as normal as Akko could be). Furthermore, Diana would have shown some sign of having kissed Akko if she’d done it; the girl’s practiced poker face tended to go out the window where Akko was concerned

“If this actually happened,” Barbara concluded, “there’s no way either of them could’ve kept it from us.” Unless the pair had gotten a whole lot less oblivious and a whole lot more subtle overnight.

They could easily get to the bottom of this by simply asking, but before they could interrogate either of the lovebirds, there was someone else they needed to talk to. The only other person who would’ve known about Akko and Diana’s little date was Amanda, who had been informed by her co-conspirators. The “anonymous tip” that resulted in the journalism team catching Diana and Akko in the act could only have come from her.

Hannah and Barbara found Amanda hanging out with Constanze and Jasminka in the courtyard, the three of them laughing over the article.

“Constanze, Jasminka, could we borrow Amanda for a bit?” Hannah asked sweetly, placing a hand on Amanda’s shoulder. Barbara mirrored her movement.

Constanze gave the girls a thumbs-up. Jasminka said, “She’s all yours!”

“Wait, what?” Amanda yelped before being dragged away by Hannah and Barbara, waving the newspaper she held through the air as she struggled.

“Don’t worry, we’ll bring her back before curfew!” Barbara told the other Green Team members.

Constanze and Jasminka waved at the trio and silently wished them luck.

The Blue Team girls pulled Amanda into a secluded alcove of the courtyard before Amanda freed herself of their grip.

“Hey, what’s the big idea?”

“How in the name of the Old Nine Witches did you get this to happen?” Hannah asked, pointing to the scandalous photo above the fold.

“I’m not responsible for them kissing,” Amanda said. “Or whatever it is. With our luck, it only looks like they’re kissing. I’m sure they have some god-awful explanation for whatever they did that it’s totally platonic gal pal stuff.”

“We figured the same,” Barbara said. “No way they’d both be standing if they actually kissed. One of them would be in a coma at least. What we really want to know is how somebody even got a photo of… whatever this is.”

Amanda smirked, quite proud of herself. “You know how we agreed not to follow Akko and Diana around on their little date?” Hannah and Barbara had determined that there was no way to spy on the two without giving themselves away, but Amanda disagreed. “I found a nice compromise. The journalism team’s always sniffing around for stories, so I figured if I pointed them in the right direction, they’d do all the work for us.” Without getting caught, evidently. Though Akko and Diana would’ve been on the lookout for the three co-conspirators, they wouldn’t have looked twice at the journalism team — or once, for that matter. Amanda was given to understand that they had a knack for snapping delectable candids with no one the wiser.

“Great idea,” Hannah said. “But what about when Diana finds out? She’s not pleased with you after yesterday.” Neither were Hannah and Barbara, for that matter. They’d kill for a chance to be the target of Amanda’s over-the-top, cheesy pick-up lines.

“Even if she figures out I’m involved, her beef will be with the journalism team,” Amanda deflected. “In any case, she’ll be too busy trying to stamp this out to take time to tan my hide.”

“True,” Barbara conceded. “But isn’t this kind of risky, exposing Akko and Diana to the whole school? Are you sure this won’t blow up in our faces or scare Akko or Diana off?”

Amanda scoffed. “As if. Those two are head over head over heels for each other for ages. There’s no brakes on that love train. The worst that’ll happen is they’ll get too embarrassed to be around each other, and we can fix that by ourselves by making them jealous again. I wasn’t expecting the journalism team to get a scoop as big as they did, but it’s only doing us a favour. The way I see it, they can only act so oblivious toward each other if everyone thinks they’re dating. Sooner or later, they’re going to have to ask themselves why everyone bought the idea that they’re dating. Then they’ll definitely start smooching for real. It’ll be absolutely disgusting and they’ll be insufferably lovey-dovey happily ever after.” Amanda laughed. “In any event, it’ll be fun to watch them get flustered over this whole thing.”

“Amanda, you’re a genius!” Hannah said gleefully. “Oh, I could kiss you myself right now!”

“Same!” Barbara agreed.

With a chuckle, Amanda rolled her eyes playfully. “What’s stopping you?” she joked. Had Amanda been less concerned with patting herself on the back, she might’ve anticipated what would happen next.

Hannah stepped forward on tippy-toes and threw her arms around Amanda’s neck firmly planting her lips on the American’s still-smirking mouth. Amanda’s eyes widened in shock and her stomach did some acrobatics worthy of its owner. Her brain’s processor’s slowed to a crawl, and the kiss seemed to last forever. At last their lips parted, and Hannah uncoiled her arms and bowed at Barbara, giving her the right of way.

“Wait, what are you—” was all Amanda got out before Barbara did the same as Hannah. Not to be outdone, she ran her fingers through Amanda’s hair, sending bolts of electricity through her scalp and stunning her all over again. Barbara’s hands slid her hands down Amanda’s face before breaking off the kiss with an exaggerated “mwah.” Retreated to Hannah’s side; the two girls grinned at Amanda like jackals.

It took Amanda half a minute to get her bearings. What the hell just happened!? Amanda tried to comprehend how she’d gotten to a place in her life where Hannah and Barbara were kissing her. How the hell did that just happen!?

“Okay, hold on,” she said, putting her palms out as if that would halt the conflicting information bombarding her brain. “What in the world was that for?”

“We said we could kiss you right now,” Hannah said. “And you didn’t seem adverse to the idea.”

“I mean, what did you expect us to do?” Barbara asked.

“Not kiss me, for a start,” Amanda replied. “Why would I think you were actually gonna kiss me?”

“Why wouldn’t we?” Hannah asked. “Are you really having so much trouble believing you just got kissed?”

“Goodness, Amanda,” Barbara said. “It’s almost like you’ve never been kissed before.”

After putting up so valiant a resistance, the blood vessels in Amanda’s face finally gave up the ghost and dilated to allow a surging blush spread across her cheeks. “Wh-what are you two doorknobs talking about? Of-of course I’ve been kissed before. T-totally!”

Hannah and Barbara reacted in unison. “Oooooooh.”

“So those were your first kisses!” Hannah said triumphantly.

“Was it everything you’d ever imagined?” Barbara asked haughtily. “Being kissed by two pretty girls?”

“Sh-shut up!” Amanda stuttered. It was the truth. As Hannah and Barbara had pointed out before, she was more talk than action. For all her bluster and claims of being an expert in lady love, she had never been kissed before. It’s not my fault, Amanda thought, a girl as cool as me should have at least half the fans Diana has. Why aren’t they showing up for what I’ve got going on? The ladies should be lining up to get a piece of this action! Amanda ignored the obvious presence of the two girls who had quite literally lined up for a piece of that action.

“In my fantasies I’m the one sweeping girls off their feet, thank you very much,” Amanda snapped, attempting to cover up her embarrassment.

“Calm down, hotshot,” Hannah said. “We get it. You’re a swoon-worthy babe.”

“If you make a fuss, we’re going to think you didn’t like it,” Barbara said with a pout.

“I mean, I didn’t dislike it…” Amanda didn’t like surprises (unless she was the one doing the surprising), but she couldn’t deny that she enjoyed her first two kisses. Even if they only did it to mess with me. The softness and warmth of their lips… the weight of Hannah’s arms around her, the feeling of Barbara’s fingers running through her hair… the way that Hannah smelled faintly of cinnamon, and Barbara smelled like a new book. And that was to say nothing of how she’d felt all tingly all over her body just from the short and sweet contact with the two girls...

“By the Nines, you sound like Diana,” Hannah laughed.

Barbara unleashed her famous Diana impression. “Girls, it’s not as if I have any particular desire to be hugged by Akko, but it’s not as if I could turn her down if she asks for a hug, can I?”

“Don’t compare me to Diana,” Amanda said. “I’m nothing like the Duchess of Denial.”

“Well I can think of one way that’s true,” Hannah agreed.

“In that Diana hasn’t been kissed yet,” Barbara said. The pair giggled and high-fived each other.

“Never mind all that,” Amanda said hastily. “We need to monitor the dorks so we can witness their ridiculous reactions and/or tease the hell out of them!”

“Alright, we’re going to keep an eye on Diana,” Hannah said. “Chances are she’s still clueless about it.”

“And you keep an eye on Akko,” Barbara said.

The girls each blew Amanda a kiss as they wheeled away from her, giggling as they left Amanda to her own confused thoughts.

“I… what... “ Amanda didn’t even know what to say. Are they trolling me? she wondered. She had no idea what in the hell Hannah and Barbara were thinking. They were obviously on board with the plan to get Akko and Diana together, both for their own entertainment and to get their roommate to sort out her broody obliviousness. But they’re messing with me, what the hell is with that? Amanda couldn’t think of any other reason for Hannah and Barbara to kiss her unless it was to screw with her head, maybe to get revenge for all the times she messed with them. Jasminka was right; I shouldn’t have greased their brooms before that one big broom race.

Amanda had never been able to puzzle out Hannah and Barbara’s minds (nor had she tried). But she always had the option of asking someone with more insight on the subject. Naturally Diana was the person best acquainted with her own roommates, but even if she weren’t an oblivious clod, she’d probably hex Amanda into a fine paste after how their last encounter went. Akko was less clueless and less likely to reduce her into a non-Newtonian fluid, though Amanda didn’t have faith that her friend would be any better tuned in to Hannah and Barbara’s thoughts than she was. Then again, maybe Diana told her something, she hoped. It’s better than nothing, I guess.

But she couldn’t afford to waste time wondering why girls would kiss her. Amanda had a solemn task to complete: witnessing Akko’s reaction to the article and teasing her within an inch of her life over it.

Fortunately for Amanda, she wouldn’t have to go far to find Akko; Akko sought her out on her own. Unfortunately for Amanda, Akko was less than pleased with her.

“We have to talk, Amanda,” Akko said as she marched up to her friend.

“Hey there, Akko,” Amanda said cheerily. “Read anything good lately?”

Akko didn’t get the joke. “Did you do something? People have been giggling at me whenever I walk by. Like they’re making fun of me.”

“Why do you assume I have anything to do with it?” Amanda asked.

Akko gave her a look. “Seriously?”

“Alright, fine. It was me. With a little help from LNN.” Amanda held the paper in front of Akko. “So tell me, what does Cavendish taste like?”

The look on Akko’s face was priceless. Amanda could almost see her brain short-circuit.

“Wh-wh-wh-WHAAAAAT!”

“Cool it, lover girl,” Amanda said. “Save the screams for the bedroom.”

Akko was flummoxed, flabbergasted, and gobsmacked. Her private moment with Diana was now public knowledge. And not just that: the pictured made it look like Diana had kissed her on the mouth instead of the cheek. This is what people have been giggling about?

Akko turned her attention to the article and read it slowly, her face turning redder and redder with every line.

Star Student Seen Smooching School Stooge
Everybody loved Diana Cavendish before her boyish makeover, but now nobody can get enough of her. And that goes double for one equally famous (or is it infamous) witch! Atsuko “Akko” Kagari was responsible in part for Diana’s transformation (a service for which Luna Nova’s student body thanks her), and there’s been much speculation about how this change would affect the relationship between the two bosom buddies. Would Diana’s biggest fan be lost amidst the upsurge in admirers? Would the two famous witches who saved the world and restored magic be split apart?
Never fear! Because it turns out that Diana and Akko are closer than ever. Your trusty journalism team received an anonymous tip that the girls would meet yesterday evening for a private flying session. And just what occurred in this intimate, late-night setting? LNN reports that there was a lot more talking than flying, and let’s just say their hands spent more time on each other than on their brooms! The romantic rendezvous culminated in what you see pictured above: a show-stopping, jaw-dropping kiss between our school’s prince and her unlikely princess! Yours truly swooned at the sight of it. We can only assume that Diana is officially off the market. Akko bet keep out of detention, otherwise she’ll be the one to sweep up all the hearts she’s responsible for breaking. Sorry, ladies, but at least looking is still free!

Akko blanched when she got to the end. Everyone thinks we’re dating now!? What is Diana going to say? Of all the days this could’ve happened, the day after she came out to her crush was probably the worst possible option.

“Since when am I Diana’s biggest fan?” Akko objected. “She’s my rival!”

“Oh, you cares about that,” Amanda said, pulling out her metaphorical fishing rod. “Please tell me Cavendish kisses like a dead fish.”

“Th-that’s not what happened!” Akko said, shaking the paper. “We’re not d-dating! She didn’t kiss me like that!”

“Ah, I figured,” Amanda said despondently. “I knew it was too good to be true.”

“Wait, why’d you assume we didn’t kiss?” Akko asked.

Amanda laughed. “Because you’re both idiots, that’s why.”

“Hey! Diana isn’t an idiot!”

“Defending your girl and not yourself? Jennifer’s tits, you’re whipped.” Amanda sighed. “Diana’s so clueless she doesn’t even know you like girls.”

Akko pouted. “Shows what you know. I told her last night.”

“Wait, what?” Amanda looked serious for once in her life. “You came out to Cavendish? What did she say?”

Akko sighed. “She said I was really brave and she made it pretty clear that it’s not going to negatively affect our friendship.”

“Oof, that’s rough.”

“And then she kissed me on the cheek! Right after I came out to her! What does that even mean?” Akko huffed.

“Wait, so that’s what happened?” Amanda looked at the photo. “Well I’ll be damned. But hey, at least you got a smooch from your dear friend, right?” Amanda had no earthly idea what was going on in Cavendish’s head. Never mind the school’s prince, she’s the queen of mixed signals.

“I mean, I guess!” Akko huffed again, crossing her arms. “What does kissing even mean when you’re calling someone your friend? Europeans are so weird!”

“You said it,” the American agreed. “Um, on an unrelated note, did you know that Hannah and Barbara are bi?”

Akko eyed Amanda with something that looked suspiciously like condescension. “Yes,” she said slowly. “It’s not like they’ve ever hidden it. Why do you ask?”

“Um, well, you know…” Amanda realized that there was no non-embarrassing way of telling Akko that she’d just been kissed by Diana’s henchwomen. Why is this so hard to talk about? It’s not like I’ve got any reason to be shy about it. Two girls just kissed me. I should be bragging about it!

“Are you going to ask one of them out on a date?” Akko knew quite well that Hannah and Barbara were a package deal, but she wanted to see if Amanda knew that.

“What? As if!” Amanda blurted. “Why would I date one of those weirdo girls? We’re totally incompatible! And I totally wouldn’t let either of those snobs kiss me, ever!”

Akko smiled knowingly. “Sure, Amanda.” She shook her head. “Those poor girls. And you say I’m the oblivious one.”

“I’m not oblivious!” Amanda shouted. “How was I supposed to know those dweebs were bi?”

“Sure you’re not oblivious,” Akko said, walking away. “I have things to do, like dealing with the mess you made. Good luck asking Hannah and/or Barbara out!”

Akko was gone before Amanda could fire off a retort. “Acting all high and mighty,” Amanda muttered to herself. She walked off to find Jasminka and Constanze again. “Like you and your girlfriend are any better.” Next time she messed with the two of them, she’d go for the kill.

 

 

*******





Elsewhere in the castle, Diana was about to discover what the rest of the students thought they knew about her relationship with Akko.

After class Diana had spent some time assisting the professors, as was her custom. She didn’t get back to her dorm room until long after Hannah and Barbara had finished laying their trap for Diana. True to her roommates expectations, she had remained oblivious of the rumours swirling around her and Akko. And that blissful ignorance was about to be torn away from her like an old band-aid.

She entered the room and saw Hannah and Barbara lounging on the former’s bed, apparently idle. Had she been looking closer, she would’ve caught the glint in their eyes when she walked in.

“Good afternoon, girls,” she greeted.

“Hey, Diana,” Hannah said.

“Something arrived for you,” Barbara said. “I put it on your desk.” She buried her nose in a book to hide the grin breaking across her face.

“Thank you, Barbara,” Diana said. She went over to her side of the room and saw not one, but two things on her desk. Curious, she picked up the first thing, a letter with the Cavendish family seal on it. She frowned. Daryl, she thought. No one else had any business using the family seal. She could only imagine what horrors lay within the envelope.

Her train of thought was derailed by the sight of what had lain under the envelope. The school newspaper. Diana considered herself on top of all the important occurrences at the school and had never seen the need to keep up with the paper. But here it was on her desk, almost as unwelcome as the picture displayed under the headline: “Star Student Seen Smooching School Stooge.”

Is that a photograph of last night? Her mind was unwilling to accept what it was seeing. Is that me kissing Akko? She scanned the article quickly, her hands shaking with unease. They were watching us last night? “Their hands spent more time on each other than on their brooms,” that’s completely out of context! And since when am I the “school’s prince”? And what do they mean by “officially off the market”? She reread the article twice before she finally grasped its conclusion.

“Akko and I are not dating!” she said aloud, triggering twin fits of giggles on the other side of the room. Diana prowled around to the other side of the room. “What is the meaning of this!?”

Hannah and Barbara burst into full-on laughter.

“It looks like a picture of you putting the moves on Akko,” Hannah said.

“Gosh, Diana. I had no idea you two were dating already,” Barbara said.

“You two are moving so fast. Don’t forget to use protection.”

“When’s the wedding? Can I be your maid of honour?”

Diana was having none of it. “Girls, why on earth did you put this rag on my desk?”

“We figured you wouldn’t have noticed it on your own,” Hannah said.

“You weren’t going to notice anything, the way you were making googly eyes at Akko all day,” Barbara said.

Diana blushed. “I was simply checking in on the emotional state of my friend.”

“Good idea,” Hannah said. “You probably blew a few circuits in her brain when you kissed her last night.”

“Did you use tongue?” Barbara asked. “That make out session you witnessed was supposed to be educational, you know.”

“I did no such thing!” Diana shouted. “I kissed her on the cheek to cheer her up—”

“Sure you did,” Hannah and Barbara said in unison.

“— and this vile tabloid has taken it out of context. Not a word of this is true! Akko and I are not in a relationship! The so-called journalism team has misconstrued our friendship as something else entirely. I shudder to think what Akko thinks of this.”

“I doubt she’s offended,” Hannah said. “Who wouldn’t want to date you?”

“Akko considers me her rival, thank you very much.” Diana couldn’t imagine how Akko felt right now: the day after she admitted to one of her closest friends that she was attracted to girls, the school paper romantically links her to one of her female friends? She must be uncomfortable having her friendships with girls being brought under scrutiny. Those paparazzi have no respect for anyone’s privacy. “She and I are friends, close friends, and to suggest anything else is grossly irresponsible.” Diana wouldn’t let anyone let Akko feel uncomfortable about her sexual orientation.

“I mean, it’s not like they’re pulling this out of nowhere,” Barbara said. “There’s been plenty of speculation ever since you made your butch debut. You know, when you gallantly marched up to Akko and started stroking her face.”

“That’s out of context!” A phrase that was well on its way to becoming Diana’s catchphrase. “Why is reassuring a friend with gestures of physical affection considered so suspect?”

“Hey, Babs, when’s the last time Diana held your hand?”

“I don’t think she’s ever held my hand. Han, when’s the last time she kissed you on the cheek?”

“Never. It’s almost as if our friend considers Akko to be more special to her than us.”

“You two are impossible,” Diana said. “You two can take care of yourselves.” Or each other, Diana thought. “Akko has different needs—”

“Oh?” Barbara smirked. “Tell us what it is that Akko needs, Diana. What is it that Akko needs so bad?”

“She needs her prince,” Hannah said. “It says right there in the article. Akko’s a princess and she needs a prince. And who else at Luna Nova can provide that service?”

“I’ve had enough of this conversation,” Diana said sternly. “Tell me, did you have anything to do with this monstrosity?” She pointed to the newspaper.

“Nope!” Hannah said. It was technically true, seeing as Amanda was the one to blame.

“You’ll have to take this up with journalism team,” Barbara added.

“Oh, believe me, I will.” Diana tossed the paper to the floor. “But first, I’ll see what the faculty has to say about this abuse of their position.” She left the room in a huff, slamming the door behind her.

“She’s going to kill Amanda when she finds out, isn’t she?” Hannah asked.

“Shame,” Barbara said. “We were making so much progress with her.”

Diana speed-walked (a proper student never ran) through the hallways, stalking her way to Professor Finnelan’s office. On her way she saw students cooing over the school paper, giggling as she passed by them. Do they actually believe what’s printed in that rag? She asked herself. Is it really so easy for them to believe that Akko and I are dating? She supposed that, rather than their classmates laughing at the idea of Akko being her girlfriend, she would prefer they believe the paper’s outlandish claims...

In her haste, Diana didn’t even knock on the professor’s door. She opened it without so much as a pause. She instantly regretted her decision.

Professor Finnelan was somewhat busy. Professor Nelson was there as well. They were busy together, as it were. Professor Nelson was sat upon Finnelan’s desk, arms thrown around the other woman’s neck, her legs around her waist. The pair appeared to be deeply engrossed in a passionate kiss that Diana had just interrupted.

By the Nine Olde Witches, am I the only person in this school that isn’t gay? Diana wondered.

Finnelan and Nelson broke apart. “Hey there, Diana!’ Nelson said. “Uh, what brings you here?”

The other woman quickly shoved her lover away, sending her tumbling to the floor. Finnelan cleared her throat. “I believe the proper protocol for entering a professor’s chamber calls for one to knock first,” she said, her voice constricted.

“My… apologies…” Diana said, doing her best to ignore the pile of Nelson lying next to the desk. “It has come to my attention that the journalism team has abused its privileges to publish scandalous, unfounded gossip and pass it off as news.”

Nelson spoke up from her place on the floor. “Oh, you mean the article about you and Akko? I loved it!”

Finnelan stomped her foot dangerously close to her lover, who quickly silenced herself. “That is rather unfortunate.”

“I was hoping you could compel the newspaper to put out a retraction acknowledging the erroneous nature of today’s article.”

“I’m afraid the faculty has very little power in that area,” Finnelan said. “It wouldn’t do well for the professors to censor the newspaper. It’s out of our hands.”

Diana frowned. “I see.”

“However, I’m certain you can convince the journalism to issue a retraction if you raise the matter with them. They’re reasonable girls, even if they do get carried away sometimes…” Namely the time that they caught Finnelan and Nelson together in an empty classroom and blackmailed them into giving the paper free reign to publish more scandalous material.

“I will do just that,” Diana said. “I’m confident in my ability to… persuade them.”

Catching the dangerous glint in her eye, Nelson spoke up again. “Just out of curiosity, did you punch Akko in the nose the other day?”

Diana was taken aback. “Whyever would you ask that?”

“The nurse said Akko’s nose was bleeding and that you were responsible.”

Diana’s mind flashed back to the incident: Akko’s nosebleed, her finger in Akko’s mouth, the sensation of Akko’s tongue touching her finger…

“I did nothing of the sort,” she said, her voice cracking.

“See, Anne, you were right!” Nelson said. “You can keep those fifty pounds after all!”

Finnelan slapped her own forehead.

Diana cleared her throat. “If there’s nothing else, I must visit the journalism team.” Neither professor protested. “Very well. I’ll take my leave.” And leave you two to get back to… that…

Diana exited the office as fast as humanly possible. She was just as eager to get away from that situation as she was to shake down the journalism team. But before she could force a retraction out of them, there was someone else she needed to speak to.

 

*******



Ursula let Akko into her room, happily humming as she did.

“Did something good happen?” Akko asked Ursula as the woman led her over the table.

“I should be asking you that question,” Ursula said cheerily.

Akko was confused until she saw a copy of the school’s paper on the table. “Wait! That’s just a big misunderstanding! Me and Diana aren’t dating!”

“Really?” Ursula’s disappointment was palpable. “I was so happy for you. It looked like you made so much progress...”

“It’s not like I didn’t make any progress…” Akko told her mentor about the not-so-date the previous night. She explained what the article got wrong, what it got right, and what really happened on their so-called “romantic rendezvous”.

“And when I told her I like girls, she didn’t seem bothered at all,” Akko said. “So I’ve got that going for me, I guess.”

“I don’t think it would’ve been very likely that she would’ve reacted negatively,” Ursula replied. It would’ve been very hypocritical of her if she had. “You’re very brave for coming out to your crush like that.”

“That’s what Diana said, minus the crush part,” Akko said. “And then she kissed me on the cheek!”

“She did what?” Ursula asked.

“That’s what the picture is! Just at a weird angle!” Akko pouted. “She said we were friends or whatever, and then she kissed me! On the cheek! What’s with that?”

“Oh my.” Ursula didn’t know what to say to that. Diana, what is going on in that brilliant head of yours. Why on earth would you kiss your best friend right after she comes out to you? You’re even worse than Croix.

“Is that a European thing?” Akko asked. “I heard that Europeans kiss each other as a greeting. Is that true?”

Ursula had heard that Japanese people in general were more reserved when it came to public displays of affection, so she could understand why Akko had bought into that stereotype. Ursula was French, and she rolled her eyes every time she had to deal with the cliché. Not that I never used it to my advantage, she mused. She played the French card back when she was a teenager to get away with kissing Croix on the cheeks whenever they met. The young Croix had been clueless enough not to question it. She’d even played along, returning the kisses on occasion, which pleased young Chariot to no end. Croix had never realized why her friend kept kissing her, but at least she wasn’t so oblivious that she was the one initiating the practice. Oh, Diana, what are we going to do with you.

“It’s true in some cases,” Ursula said, preparing herself to tell a little white lie for the greater good of Akko and Diana’s relationship. “I think Diana’s trying to show you that she cares about you and that you’re special to her. You feel the same way, don’t you?”

“I guess so.” Akko was pretty sure that her feelings toward Diana were different though.

“You should show her that you’re on the same page,” Ursula said.

“How do I do that?” Akko asked.

“Kiss her on the cheek as well, silly.” Ursula had complete confidence that Diana’s obliviousness couldn’t take the strain of Akko showing unambiguous affection like a kiss. Ursula could tell that Akko had been restraining herself out of fear of reaction, but if she took some initiative and the pair grew closer, there would be no way Diana could keep denying the obvious love between the two of them.

“I can’t just do that!” Akko said. “What if she doesn’t want me to? What if it makes her uncomfortable?”

“You can always ask her if you can kiss her,” Ursula replied patiently.

“But that will make it weird! What if she says no?” Akko wailed.

Ursula wanted to scream. Why are teenage girls like this? Go for it before your girl disappears for ten years!

“She might say no, but why would she?” Ursula asked. “After all, she has no problem kissing you. Why would it be different if you were the one who kissed her?”

“Because my feelings are different from hers,” Akko said. “I like her! She only thinks of me as a friend or a rival or whatever. She doesn’t want to date me.”

Ursula debated her options. Telling Akko outright that Diana liked her might meet resistance, but she might accept the idea if she came to the conclusion herself. All Ursula had to do was ask a series of leading questions. What could go wrong?

“Akko, have you considered that Diana might…” , were the words that would’ve followed, but Ursula was interrupted by knock at the door. Both mentor and student squeaked at the sudden noise.

“C-come in!” Ursula called out to the visitor.

In walked none other than Diana Cavendish. Speak of the butch, and the butch will appear.

“D-D-Diana!” Akko stuttered.

“What brings you here, Diana?”

“I was looking for Akko,” Diana answered.

Of course you were, Ursula thought, smiling to herself.

Diana spotted the newspaper sitting between Akko and Ursula. “I see you discovered that rather unfortunate article.”

“Um, yeah, it sure is a thing,” Akko mumbled.

“It’s an utter lack of respect for our privacy,” Diana said. “It’s not anyone’s business how I express myself to my friend.”

“Yeah, and we’re totally not dating,” Akko said nervously. “Where’d they get that idea?”

“Well you two do spend a lot of time together,” Ursula chimed in.

“But that doesn’t have to mean anything!” Akko said. “It’s totally normal for two girls to spend lots of time together!”

Ursula sighed out loud. Akko was clearly attempting to deflect any possible suspicions Diana might have that her feelings were anything other than platonic. You’re shooting yourself in the foot, dear. You need to move forward, not backward.

“Exactly,” Diana agreed. “There’s no excuse for anyone making scandalous assumptions about who you choose to socialize with, Akko. As your friend, I won’t stand for such things.” She brushed her fringe with her hand, causing Akko’s breath to catch in her throat.

She’s so cool! Akko realized that Diana thought she was defending Akko from negative assumptions about her sexuality. If only she knew the truth.

“I was about to confront the journalism team about this matter,” Diana continued. “I thought you might also wish to give them a piece of your mind, as it were.”

“Um, sure!” Akko said. She got up from the table and went to Diana’s side, half-ponytail bouncing happily as she skipped over to her crush.

“Don’t worry, Akko,” Diana said, taking her dear friend’s hand in hers. “We’ll straighten this out.” Akko cringed at her choice of words.

Ursula, however, had hit the limits of her near infinite patience. “Juste embrassez enfin,” Ursula muttered to herself.

Diana blushed. “Vous n’êtes pas la seule personne dans cette chambre qui parle français, professeur,” she said curtly before leading Akko out of the room and into the hallway.

Ursula laughed at her own mistake. Of course a British aristocrat would know French. She let her forehead hit the table. Oh well. Maybe that’s the push she needs.

“What did Ursula say?” Akko asked Diana as they left. “What did you say back? C’mon, I don’t speak French!”

“It was nothing of consequence,” Diana deflected. She would’ve thought better of Professor Ursula. Making such sarcastic comments about her students was out of line, she thought. All the more reason to wipe it from history, she concluded.

But then again, said a usually quiet part of her mind, you’ve already kissed Akko twice? What’s once more?

Diana repressed those thoughts immediately, as if she were in danger of Akko hearing them. Such a thing was preposterous. They weren’t connected by their minds, only by their hands…

She realized that she was still holding Akko’s hand in hers. A hand which seemed to be getting clammier by the minute. By the Nines, what is wrong with me? It’s only Akko. Nothing to be nervous about.

On the other end, Akko was fearing the exact same thing. Oh hell, I hope she doesn’t notice my hand’s getting sweaty. My little gay heart can’t take this!

As they traversed the hallways, various students called out to them to congratulate them. Those who could manage words, that is. Some merely swooned at the sight of them together.

“You two are such a cute couple!” Mary said as they passed.

By the tenth time this happened, Diana stopped correcting them. Don’t let yourself be distracted, she told herself. This will all be sorted out tomorrow when the paper retracts their lies and half-truths.

Akko was blown away by the support she seemed to be getting from random students. She’d expected jealousy, not admiration. Every girl in the school had been drooling over butchified Diana, but it didn’t seem that anyone resented her for apparently stealing Diana’s heart.

Diana noticed that the eyes of her fellow students were drawn to the pair of hands joined between herself and Akko, and she could only assume they saw it as evidence that the rumours were true. But she refused to let go of Akko’s hand just to dissuade them. What kind of friend would I be if I let the assumptions of others keep me from acting this way with Akko? She needs moral support in this trying time, and I won’t deprive her of it.

After an agonizingly long walk and a dozen more congratulations, Akko and Diana reached the journalism team’s dorm room. Diana knocked with enough force to indicate the urgency of their calling.

Wangari opened the door. “Hey, no need to knock the door down.” She realized who was visiting. “Well if it isn’t Luna Nova’s star couple! Come on in!”

The “couple” accepted the invitation, cramming themselves into the room, most of whose space was devoted to the needs of the school newspaper.

“What brings you here?” Wangari asked. Joanna and Kimberly leaned in eagerly from their bunk beds to listen in.

“What brings us here,” Diana began, “is that pile of lies you three published. “Not a word of it is true.”

“What? You mean you’re not dating?” Wangari asked.

“You mean you didn’t actually meet late last night?” Kimberly asked.

“You mean you aren’t bosom buddies?” Joanna asked.

“Diana, what’s a bosom?” Akko asked.

Diana ignored the lot of them. “Akko and I are friends. That is all.”

“Do you expect us to believe that?” Wangari asked. “You two are literally holding hands right now.”

And so they were. Akko hastily tried to let go, but she was no match for Diana’s iron grip.

“And so what if we are? Is there something wrong with two friends holding hands?” Diana asked.

“Nope, nothing at all,” Kimberly said, covertly taking notes of what Diana had said.

“And you deny the part about getting your hands all over Akko?” Joanna asked. “I saw it all.”

“That’s completely out of context!” Diana objected.

“Yeah, she was just helping me adjust my posture!” Akko said.

“Sure, got it,” Wangari said with a huge wink. “So tell me, if you’re not dating, then why did you two kiss? There’s no denying the photographic evidence!”

“She only kissed me on the cheek!” Akko said.

“And how do you feel being kissed on the cheek by your friend, Akko?” Wangari had taken out her reporter’s microphone.

“Um, I, uh.” Akko looked to Diana for help, but she seemed to be just as flustered by the question. “It felt nice, I guess?”

“And the two of you are going to keep doing that in the future?”

“That is entirely inappropriate to ask!” Diana said. “This is not an interview! We’re only here to demand that you issue a retraction tomorrow to make up for the lies you told today.”

“Hey, we can only tell the people what we got wrong if we know the truth,” Wangari reasoned. “So tell us what we got wrong! So you only kissed Akko on the cheek, correct?”

“Correct.”

“And you’re saying all of the compelling evidence that you two are all over each other is being taken out of context?”

“I resent the phrasing of that question, but yes.”

“So the two of you aren’t dating?”

“We most certainly are not.”

Akko tried not to let the sadness show on her face in front of the other girls.

“So you’re saying you’re still on the market?” Wangari asked.

“I am not ‘on the market’ as you put it,” Diana said.

“Wait, so are you dating someone, or not?” Wangari inquired.

“I have no intentions of dating anyone under any circumstances until I have graduated from Luna Nova.” Diana figured that would sever all further questioning, but she was dead wrong. Wangari never let a story just die like that.

“So are the two of you going to date after you graduate?” the reporter asked.

“I have no intentions—”

“If you had to date someone, who would you date?” Wangari asked. “Akko, right?”

“In what world would I be forced to date someone?” Diana demanded.

“You’d probably pick your closest friend, right? Wouldn’t that be Akko?”

Diana pinched the bridge of her nose. “Akko is indeed my closest friend, but that doesn’t mean—”

“And what about you, Akko? Would you date Diana?”

Akko wasn’t prepared for the question, and the only response she could manage was incoherent babbling. In Japanese.

“No need to get so flustered, Akko,” Wangari chuckled. “I think that’s an answer in itself.”

“I’ve had enough of this.” Diana took out her wand and began spinning it between her fingers. “We want a retraction for this joke of an article. You will assert that Akko and I are friends. You will retract all statements claiming anything to the contrary. You will rescind all speculation about our respective love lives. Is that understood?”

“Sure,” Wangari said. And why would she complain after squeezing more juicy material out of the pair.

“Furthermore, you will not print any more scandalous photographs of Akko or myself,” Diana added.

“But we have so many more candid photos we could use!” Joanna complained.

“Is that so?” Diana asked, her tone dangerous.

“Yeah, we’ve got a ton,” Kimberly bragged. She fished out a pile of photographs from a mountain of them. She handed the pictures to Akko and Diana. “Just look at these beauties.”

Each and every one of the photos depicted either Akko, Diana, or both of them together. Pictures of butch Diana dominated the pile. A lot of them were like a greatest hits reel of the past few weeks. There was Diana’s butch debut; her affirmation of her friendship with Akko, where she held Akko’s chin lovingly; their study session in the library, including a shot of Diana kissing Akko’s hand; the pudding finger incident; and many, many shots of their not-so-date last night.

“How on earth did you get all of these?” Diana asked, appalled.

“Trade secret,” Joana said slyly.

Akko held a photo of Diana, caught showing an adoring smile. She suspected that this smile had been directed at her when it was taken. Shuffling around excessively, Akko put her hand by her hip to hide that she had the photo. “So, uh, what are we going to do with these?”

“Dispose of them,” Diana said coldly. “And if you’re lucky, I won’t tell the professors that you took these pictures in the first place.”

Joanna shrugged. “They’re all yours.” They still had the negatives, after all. No loss for them.

“Remember to publish that retraction,” Diana said, opening the door to leave. “Otherwise I will be back, and I won’t be so patient.”

“Have fun ‘disposing’ of those photos, Diana!” Wangari said.

Diana left without another word. Akko followed her, hanging back slightly to hide the photo behind her back.

“Um, all’s well that ends well, I guess,” Akko said.

“We’ll see,” Diana said.

“That sure is a lot of pictures,” Akko noted.

“They’ll all be gone soon enough,” Diana said. “Then neither of us will have to worry about them again.”

Something occurred to Akko. She figured she ought not to say it, but her mouth wasn’t that good at restraining itself. “Why don’t you get rid of them now?”

“I beg your pardon?”

“I mean, you definitely know a spell to get rid of them without a trace,” Akko said. “So why haven’t you yet?”

“I was going to…” Diana faltered. “...look over them in my dorm room and make sure there is nothing serious enough to bring up this breach of privacy to the faculty."

“I see.” Akko didn’t sound convinced.

“It’s not as if I can’t be trusted with photographs of myself,” Diana said nervously.

“But a lot of those pictures have me in them…”

Diana stopped walking, and Akko nearly bumped into her. The butch girl turned around. “Are you insinuating—”

She noticed that Akko wasn’t making eye contact with her. At first she thought it was due to distrust, and then she noticed that Akko held one of her hands behind her back.

“Akko, what are you holding behind your back?”

“N-nothing.”

“Akko.”

Akko sighed and held out the photograph she’d been hiding. “It’s a good picture of you,” she said in a small voice.

Diana’s expression softened. Of course Akko was thinking the same thing as me.

“Akko, it occurs to me that neither of us has a picture of the other,” she said. “It seems only right that two close friends such as ourselves to have some. Perhaps we should, um, select a few from these and dispose of those which remain afterward?”

“Okay,” Akko said, glad that Diana hadn’t read to far into her picture pilfering.

The pair huddle together and reviewed the pictures, each picking out several photos of each other (and of themselves) that they wanted to keep. They both avoided the more suggestive ones, but Diana adamantly asserted her desire to keep one of her gentlemanly actions in the library.

“But it’s embarrassing,” Akko said, blushing at the thought of her crush possessing a picture of herself kissing her hand.

“Embarrassing, you say?” Diana was amused. “It’s simply noble etiquette. Are you saying you would avoid such things in the future?”

“I can’t say no when you put it like that,” Akko said, pouting to hide her being flustered.

Diana chuckled. ‘“I’ll take that as an invitation, my lady.”

Akko squeaked. “Do whatever you want!”

Diana smiled, and used her wand to destroy the rejected photos. That was that. They walked to their dorm rooms, Diana escorting Akko right to her door.

“I guess this is goodnight,” Akko said.

“I’d advise you keep those pictures out of sight from your roommates,” Diana said. “You never know how they might… misconstrue things.”

“Right back at you,” Akko said.

Diana nodded in agreement. She could only imagine the field day Hannah and Barbara would have if they saw her with a secret cache of Akko photos.

Akko remembered Chariot’s advice to try kissing Diana on the cheek. She wondered if this would be an appropriate time. Then she thought better of it. I’ll try it sometime when I don’t have a handful of candid photos of her.

They bid each other goodnight and entered their respective dorm rooms, each quickly hiding their illicit photos under their own pillow. Akko slept easier with the likeness of her crush so close to her, but Diana spent the night restless, puzzling over why she’d attempted to trick Akko just to get her hands on a picture of herself kissing her friend on the hand. As she drifted off to sleep, Diana tried to ignore that not just Amanda, Hannah, and Barbara, but Ursula as well was telling her to kiss Akko already.

Chapter Text

Retraction: Butch Babe still single… for now
Luna Nova News apologizes for some factual errors and exaggerated speculations in yesterday’s article. The picture attached to yesterday’s article was framed misleadingly; Diana and Akko only kissed on the cheek not on the lips, so it’s totally possible for that to have been a platonic friendship kiss. Although we can assure our readers that Diana and Akko are very, very, close to each other, they have firmly stated they are not dating each other.
The pair did meet two nights ago so that Diana could help Akko with her broom flying, but Diana adamantly insisted that the part about “their hands spending more time on each other than on their brooms” was taken out of context, and the Cavendish heiress wasn’t at all feeling up her friend. As many people have noted, Diana and Akko are quite fond of holding hands with each other in public, and they’re quite comfortable kissing each other (on the cheek as friends). It must be repeated that Diana is not dating anyone at the moment, nor does she intend to date anyone until after she graduates. So Diana is technically still on the market, but she seems to be awfully close to Akko, so if you want to get in on that action, girls, you better get in on it quick.
But lesbihonest, we all would rather watch Luna Nova’s royal couple fawn over each other, wouldn’t we?

“Is that even a retraction when you lean into the Diana-Akko shipping?” Amanda said, holding the newspaper at arm’s length.

“O’Neill, why aren’t you at your own team’s table?” Diana asked.

Lunch was in full session; Diana had been eating lunch by herself until Amanda showed up. The Red Team was socializing loudly at their own table (Akko was paying attention to people other than Diana for once), the Green Team on the other hand was quieter in the absence of their liveliest member. Hannah and Barbara sat with their friends outside the Blue Team in a multi-table congregation that was given over to fits of giggles at regular intervals. Diana found the solitude agreeable, as it allowed her to focus on certain conflicted thoughts.

Until Amanda interrupted her, that is.

Amanda brought a copy of the today’s paper and read the journalism team’s pitiful excuse for an apology as she leaned back in her chair. “Seriously,” Amanda said. “It’s almost worse in a way isn’t it? Not that I’m complaining, of course. This is pure gold.”

“Clearly I need to threaten to curse them next time,” Diana said darkly.

“Or maybe not let your mouth run,” Amanda replied. “Anything you say can and will be used by the journalism team. Honestly, an egghead like you ought to know better.”

Diana sniffed. “I made the mistake of assuming other people operate on some standard of decency.”

“Says the girl who fingered her dear friend’s mouth in public.”

Diana slapped her hand on the table in irritation. “What are you getting out of this?” Diana asked.

“Whatever do you mean, Cavendish?”

“You know very well what I mean, O’Neill. Your constant harassment of Akko and myself. Your lewd insinuations about our relationship. Your incessant interference in our affairs, not to mention your obscene comments towards me the other day. And everything with the school newspaper, which I can only assume you had something to do with. What do you stand to gain from this? Are you amused by the discord you’re sowing in someone else’s friendship?”

“Jennifer’s tits,” Amanda said. “I just think it’s funny.” Naturally, a significant factor in her efforts was a desire to resolve her friend’s romantic troubles, but she obviously couldn’t just tell Diana that Akko was head over heels for her, could she? “No need to get stressed about it, Cavendish. It’s not like anything could ever come between you and Akko, right?”

Diana agreed with that assessment of her bond with Akko, but was deeply suspicious that it was Amanda’s. The American’s words annoyed her, but Diana was no slow learner; she knew by now that things would only escalate if she either asked Amanda what she meant or made preemptive denials. She refused to take the bait, choosing instead to starve Amanda with silence.

It worked. Amanda shot her impatient glances, but Diana said nothing. The other girl sighed and flicked through the newspaper, setting it down on the table after nothing caught her eye. Time wore on as neither girl spoke, Amanda becoming increasingly fidgety and distracted. Eventually, this came to be more annoying to Diana than if she’d been roped into another conversation about her supposed affair with Akko.

“O’Neill, is there any particular reason you’re still here?” Diana asked, pinching the bridge of her nose.

Amanda pretended to think about it. She did in fact have a reason she wanted to speak with Diana, but she was having trouble bringing things around to that subject. The newspaper had only been a pretext to start a conversation with her frenemy, but couldn’t bring herself to mention what was really on her mind. Asking Akko had only gotten her teased, but there was chance that the uptight heiress might take her seriously. Even if doing so meant exposing a tiny, minor, insignificant anxiety of hers.

This is hopeless, Amanda thought. Cavendish is the last person who could help me with this. I doubt she’s even noticed… She spun the newspaper around on the table with her finger. Why am I even letting this get to me? Since when does Amanda O’Neill let herself get all turned upside down by a little female attention?

Her gaze inevitably drifted over to where Hannah and Barbara were sitting arm-in-arm, tittering away at whatever Avery had just said. A year ago, Amanda would’ve laughed in the face of anyone who told her she’d ever spend so much as a moment of her time thinking about the dynamic duo when they weren’t around. But here she was. This is exactly what they want, she thought. They want to get in my head and make me question myself. I’m onto their little game, I just need to find out why they’re playing it in the first place. That’s where Diana came in, but Amanda was still struggling to take the plunge and actually ask Diana Cavendish for advice.

Fortunately, Amanda was as obvious as she was oblivious.

“You can join them if you wish,” Diana said. “I’m certain Hannah and Barbara would be willing to accomodate you.”

Amanda almost fell out of her chair. She eased the chair back onto all four of its legs and tore her eyes away from the orchestrators of her frustration. “Why would I want to do that?” Amanda forced a laugh. “I’ve got better things to do than gossip and giggle.”

“Better things to do?” Diana repeated. “Such as sitting at my table, saying nothing, and staring at them.”

“Hey, I’m just chilling out here,” Amanda evaded. “You should try it out, just chilling.”

Diana raised an eyebrow. “You know,” she began, “my family has two dogs. Whenever I come home, I find them waiting at the door for me, sitting absolutely still until they see me, when they start wagging their little tails so hard they might fall off.”

She stroked her chin. “I wonder if I called Hannah and Barbara over here, would I get to see your little tail wag?”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Amanda growled.

“It’s clear as day,” Diana said with a shrug. “You’ve grown accustomed to the attention Hannah and Barbara have shown you and you don’t know what to do with yourself when they’re not around. Furthermore, you want to go over to talk to them, but your pride prevents you from openly acknowledging your friendship with two people whom you used to deride at every opportunity.”

Amanda scoffed. “I’m not friends with those two.” Am I? Amanda had never really thought about it. They’re more like co-conspirators. We’re just pulling an extended prank on Akko and Diana. But come to think of it, that was the kind of thing she usually did with Constanze and Jasminka, who were definitely her friends. But something felt of about calling Hannah and Barbara her friends.

“Is that so?” Diana said. “You spend an awful lot of time with them.”

“I spend a lot of time with lots of people,” Amanda deflected. “I’m very popular.”

“Just out of curiosity, would you say as much to Hannah and Barbara’s faces?” Diana asked with a smirk. “Could you tell them that you don’t consider them friends?”

“I… well..” Amanda imagined their faces if she told them the three of them weren’t friends. She could see Barbara tearing up at the admission, Hannah covering up her sadness with vitriol. Amanda hadn’t even been able to turn them down when they’d originally said they were lonely without Diana and asked to hang out with her instead. Faced with the possibility of making the pair cry, of course she couldn’t say they weren’t friends. And if she was that concerned with their feelings, it could only mean one thing…

“Fine…” Amanda admitted. “They’re my friends.”

“Then you should tell them as much,” Diana said. “Those two talk about you to no end in our dorm room. If I had a pound for every time they mentioned your name, I’d have the assets to solve my family’s financial situation and have enough money left over to pay for a lifetime of my aunt’s extravagances.”

“What do they say about me?” Amanda asked. If those two are crap-talking me behind my back, I’m going to noogie them into next week.

“The primary topic is that they think you’re clueless,” Diana said indelicately. “I get the impression that you’ve been underestimating how much they care for you, which is another reason you should be honest about your feelings and tell them that you consider them your friends.” In reality, a great part of her roommates conversations about Amanda had to do with her physical appearance — namely her athletic figure and her great hair — but Diana figured that Amanda didn’t need the ego boost.

Amanda had been hanging around Diana with the goal of asking her to interpret Hannah and Barbara’s more unusual behaviour, but she didn’t want to add another lecture on top of the one she’d just received. I’ll deal with this on my own right now, she decided. She could always ask Diana another day. In the meantime, she grudgingly admitted that she ought to do as Diana said and stop tiptoeing around her friendship with Hannah and Barbara.

“Alright then,” she said as she stood up. “I’ll leave her royal broodingness to herself and go show Hannah and Barbara some love.”

Diana rose as well. “I have my own business to attend to, now that I am unburdened by an oblivious American.”

“I can’t believe you of all people are calling me oblivious,” Amanda said indignantly. The crown prince of useless lesbians needs someone to knock her off that high horse of hers, she thought, and she was willing to volunteer for that solemn duty.

The perfect opportunity to do so arrived in the form of Akko, walking toward Diana and waving enthusiastically.

“Hi, Diana!”

“Hello, Akko,” Diana said, her lips breaking into a smile, her eyes warming at the sight of the girl she so obviously and obliviously adored.

“Hey, Amanda,” Akko sniffed, clearly still sore over her friend’s over-the-top flirting with her crush.

Not as sore as Amanda was. Her tailbone throbbed angrily.

“Don’t mind me, Akko,” Amanda said, stepping ever so slightly into Akko’s path. “You won’t see me again until after your trip.”

“Wait, what trip?” Akko asked just before her foot hit Amanda’s and the clumsy girl was sent sprawling into an uncontrolled nosedive… directly into Diana.

The pair went down like a ton of bricks. They landed in a pile, Diana breaking Akko’s fall. Diana didn’t mind the bruises, as long as Akko was okay. After all, the girl injured herself on a regular basis and didn’t need any more scars to add to her collection. Diana landed painfully on her elbows in a half-sitting, half-lying down position with Akko caught safely in her arms.

Akko had been expecting a painful encounter with the floor and was pleasantly surprised by the soft landing she’d received. Especially for her face. She’d worried for a split second that she might land face first and mess up her cute, little button nose, which was currently buried in something warm and soft...

With a jolt, she realized that she had landed on top of Diana. Their legs were tangled, the length of her body cushioned by her crush’s, Diana’s arms cradled her upper back, and her face was firmly lodged in Diana’s—

“Well, whaddya know,” Amanda drawled. “The paper was right. You two are bosom buddies after all.” Amanda had promised to herself that she’d go for the kill next time she messed with these two and she’d meant it.

Akko’s face burned bright red, not that anyone could see it when it was nestled in Diana’s chest. I want to die right now. No, I’m going to die. My heart is going to burst and my body will go limp in Diana’s arms. Then again, Akko wasn’t sure she’d mind a death like that.

“Akko, are you alright?” Thankfully it seemed that she’d prevented Akko from hitting the floor. Diana couldn’t feel any serious injuries on her own part, either from hitting the floor or the collision with Akko. There had been a risk that Akko’s notoriously hard head might’ve hurt her, but luckily for Diana, Akko landed on the softest part of her. These things have made themselves useful for once, Diana thought, attempting to distract herself from the embarrassing nature of the situation.

“I’m so sorry, Diana!” Akko said directly into Diana’s breasts, which muffled her apology. She tried to get up as quickly as possible.

“Don’t get up quite yet, Akko,” Diana said, pulling her back down and effectively forcing Akko’s face back into her chest. “We need to make sure you’re okay.”

Akko raised her herself slightly, just high enough so that she wouldn’t get a mouthful of Cavendish boobs when she spoke. “I feel fine,” she said. Actually I feel like I’m going to die from gay overload, but I’m not exactly going to tell you that. Why does this kind of thing keep happening to me?

“Try to stand up,” Diana said softly. “But slowly,” she warned, suspecting that Akko would jump upright immediately in her usual, reckless manner. Though I couldn’t blame her for wanting to escape this embarrassing situation as quickly as possible. Diana could still feel the impression of Akko’s face burning into her chest.

Following Diana’s instructions, Akko slowly eased herself up. She didn’t encounter a problem until she put pressure on her left foot. “Ow ow ow ow ow!” Akko flopped onto the floor beside Diana and nursed her ankle.

Ignoring her own advice, Diana shot up and rushed to Akko’s aid. “Don’t move,” she said. “We should let the nurse take care of this.”

Akko groaned. “Do you think she’ll come all the way down here?”

Diana shook her head. “No need to wait for her to come to us.”

“What do you —”

The speech centre of Akko’s brain stopped working when Diana put her surprisingly strong (magically strengthened?) arms under her and stood up carrying her bridal-style. Akko felt her temperature rise as she noticed how high up her legs Diana had positioned her arm in order to prevent her infamously short skirt from flashing innocent bystanders.

And speaking of bystanders, one not so innocent one chose this moment to speak up.

“Damn, Cavendish,” Amanda said. “You’re romantic as all get out.”

Akko and Diana had forgotten all about Amanda, even though she had been responsible for the whole ordeal. Something about their predicament demanded all of their attention. And the pair realized that not just Amanda was watching them; the entire cafeteria had their eyes on the Luna Nova’s alleged star couple. Akko could see Hannah and Barbara each sending a thumbs up in their direction, though Akko suspected that it was intended for Amanda and her role in the spectacle.

Without so much as a word to the rubberneckers, Diana strode out of the cafeteria, carrying Akko with as much grace as she could manage under the circumstances. She didn’t stop until they reached the nurse’s office, both parties blushing all the way there. Diana set Akko down on the ever familiar cot in a sitting position, her legs hanging over the edge.

“Back again, Kagari?” the nurse said. “You just can’t stay away, can you?”

“It was Amanda’s fault this time!” Akko said indignantly.

“Sure it is,” the nurse replied. “I was about to get lunch. Diana, you can do healing spells, right? I’ll let you two have some privacy.” She left without waiting for Diana’s answer.

“The nerve!” Akko crossed her arms. “I can’t believe she’s playing hooky, just because you can do her job for her. I bet you can do better than her anyway,” she added bitterly.

I don’t think she was shirking her duties, Diana thought. The nurse’s parting words suggested another intention. Diana would wager anything that there was a copy of yesterday’s paper lying somewhere in the office. Yet another staff member making inappropriate assumptions about their students…

She dismissed the matter and turned her attention to what was important: Akko. Naturally she could fix whatever injury Amanda’s stunt had caused.

“Akko, you need not worry about the nurse,” she reassured her friend. “After all, I’m a Cavendish. I know just how to take care of you.” She kneeled on the floor in front of Akko, and in doing so she missed the blush spreading across the brunette’s face.

Calm down, Akko told herself, banishing the synopses of a dozen yuri manga from her mind. Just because she carried me like a princess, and we’re alone in the nurse’s office, and said she’d “take care of me” doesn’t mean anything is going to happen!

“Let’s see the damage,” Diana said, ignorant of her patient’s flustered mental state. “I’ll need to take off your shoe and your sock.” She waited until she heard a strangled affirmative noise from Akko before proceeding.

She undid Akko’s shoe and delicately slid it off her foot like a reverse Cinderella. Then she slowly pulled Akko’s sock off, careful not to aggravate her injury. Diana inspected Akko’s foot carefully, holding it in one hand and running her fingers over Akko’s ankle with the other. The ticklish sensations made Akko want to free her leg from Diana’s clutches, but that urge was overcome by the mesmerizing effects of being touched by her crush.

“It seems you have a twisted ankle,” Diana said at last. “Fixing this is quite literally as easily said as done.” She performed a spell to heal sprained ligaments. The pain subsided.

“How do you feel?” Diana asked.

“Better than ever,” Akko replied.

“Just to be sure, you should stay off it for a while,” Diana advised. “The best medicine is rest. Healing spells aren’t perfect.”

“I thought they were literally magic,” Akko joked.

Diana rolled her eyes, betraying herself with a small grin. “I’m feeling charitable, so I can tell the professors that you’re resting and you can skip your afternoon classes.”

“Since when are you so soft on me, Diana?” Akko asked. “I’m surprised you’re not telling me to suck it up and go to class.”

“I-is there something wrong with doing a favour for my dear friend?” Diana prickled. Was that going too far? I thought she’d appreciate the gesture. Then again, what am I doing? Encouraging a classmate to miss classes? Why does Akko have this effect on me? Diana wondered if she was losing her way in her attempts to deepen her friendship with Akko.

Akko shrugged. After a moment’s silence, she mumbled a suggestion, averting her eyes as she did. “Maybe you could skip classes too. Pretend you got injured and you need to rest if off. That way we can hang out together.” She stopped just short of suggesting they share the cot. No way even Diana wouldn’t see through that. Life isn’t a yuri manga, you dork.

“As much as I would like to join you, I can stretch the truth for you, but I can’t lie for myself,” Diana replied. “Besides, I’m not sure the nurse would believe it.”

“What does that mean?”

“It means it’s much more believable that you would injure yourself badly enough to merit missing class,” Diana answered. “Your resume is right here.”

From Diana’s position on the floor, she could clearly see the starscape of scars on Akko’s legs. The harsh lighting in the nurse’s office revealed the pale, white skin that hadn’t been distinguishable in the twilight during her previous "inspection" of Akko’s legs. Diana knew that most of these scars were from her dear friend’s childhood attempts to fly on a broom. Such an Akko-like thing to do. Diana ran her finger along one particularly attention-catching scar that lay just above Akko’s knee and stretched along the underside of her thigh.

“Eek!” Akko almost jumped off the cot. “You can’t just do that to a girl without a little warning!” I don’t know if I should be annoyed or grateful!

Diana pulled her hand back as if bitten, standing up quickly. “My apologies, Akko. I shouldn’t have done that. Of course such a thing would make you uncomfortable, for a girl to—” Diana slapped a hand over her mouth. What on earth am I saying? It’s not as if Akko’s attraction to girls should matter. Anyone would feel this way. Simply being touched by me wouldn’t get Akko aroused— If Diana could slap a hand over her brain, she would have.

For a girl to what? Akko wondered. Does Diana think I was into that? Because I like girls? She wanted to disappear. Is that how it came off to her? Akko hardly needed another reason to be nervous around her crush. “Hey, uh, it’s fine.” Wait, does that make it sound like I liked it? “I mean, don’t worry about putting your hands on me—” That’s even worse! What’s wrong with my mouth? “Um, what I meant is—”

Diana chuckled. “I think I understand what you’re trying to say.” At the very least, it seemed that Diana hadn’t made Akko feel uncomfortable as she’d feared. “I’ll refrain from letting my hands wander in the future.” Diana wanted to slap herself. What’s wrong with me? I’m making myself sound like an old lecher!

“Oh, okay,” Akko said, repressing the desire to tell Diana that she could let her hands wander whenever she liked. As if I need to make this interaction any more awkward.

Akko’s expression seemed confused to Diana, perhaps a little despondent. “But don’t think that means I’m going to leave you alone, Akko.” She caressed Akko’s face, delighting in the resulting blush. “You won’t get rid of me that easily.”

“S-s-says the girl who ran away from school just to get away from me,” Akko grumbled.

Diana smiled. “And you came to bring me back. I never should’ve tried. We were meant to be together.”

Those words hung in the air like the executed witches of the Middle Ages. Akko blinked very slowly. “What?”

I’m making a fool out of myself, Diana thought, feeling blood rush to her face. “What I mean to say is — I was fated to help you with the Shiny Rod. As such, I—”

A bell rang to signal that the lunch hour was over and classes were about to resume. “Diana, go back to class,” she said with a giggle. “I promise I’ll get some rest.”

“Very well.” Diana wanted to have the “last word” when it came to the two of them getting flustered, so she bowed to Akko, took her hand, and kissed it. “I’ll see you again soon, Akko.” And with that, she disappeared into the hallway, moving quickly in an attempt to outrun her own embarrassment. Akko, on the other hand, was still bright red when the nurse returned an hour later.

*******

Classes ended for the day, and Diana stood outside the Red Team’s dorm room, nervously twisting the hem of the shirt on her masculinized Luna Nova uniform.

What am I so anxious about? Diana asked herself. It’s not as if this is going to be difficult. All that is required of me is that I knock on the door, ask to speak to Akko, and ask her a simple question. How much more simple could it be? The trouble was that Diana had no idea how Akko would answer, especially after the awkward circumstances of their last interaction. Don’t be foolish, she told herself. It’s not as if she would refuse. I’m hardly asking much of her, and in any case I shouldn’t be afraid of hearing a no.

Before she has a chance to talk herself out of it, Diana rapped her knuckles thrice on the door. The door opened to reveal Lotte and Sucy, but no Akko.

“Let me guess, you’re here for Akko?” Sucy cackled.

“I am indeed,” Diana said stiffly. “Is that a problem?”

“She hasn’t come back here yet,” Lotte said. “But she should be here soon. Um, you can wait here for her if you’d like,” she offered.

“That would be easier than chasing her around the castle,” Diana said. “I’ll take you up on that.”

“We were just leaving,” Sucy said. “Don’t go snooping around too much. You might find Akko’s secret stash of contraband.”

“Sucy!” Lotte said scandalized.

Diana didn’t know what to say to that. Have they discovered those candid photos already? Oh, Akko. She stepped out of the way to allow Lotte and Sucy to leave before entering the dorm room. It was much smaller than her own, criminally so. It was also far more disorganized than the Blue Team’s dormitory, and the messiest section was that which belonged to Akko. Diana sat down on the bottom bunk and waited for Akko to arrive.

Despite Diana’s consummate patience, Sucy’s comment weighed on her mind, and she felt an overpowering desire to find exactly what contraband Akko’s roommate had spoken of. If she had meant the photos, then there was nothing to worry about. But if Akko had other contraband…

Ignoring her guilt, she went looking for whatever it was Akko was supposedly hiding — naturally, this had been Sucy’s intention all along. Diana checked the most obvious place first: under Akko’s pillow. There she found Akko’s collection of candid photos they had “confiscated” from the journalism team. So many pictures of short-haired Diana, with a few of her with Akko. Diana smiled. It’s nice to know that she’s thinking of me when I’m not around.

She returned the photos to their proper place. I have to admit, I’m not sure where else to look. Another obvious hiding place would be in Akko’s drawers, but Diana had to draw the line at rifling through her friends clothes. Imagine if she caught me in such a position…

Diana relaxed her posture with a deep sigh echoed by the creaking bed springs of Akko’s mattress. Such a poor quality mattress, I can’t imagine how Akko can sleep on such a thing. The floor must be more comfortable. I ought to let Akko try out my bed so she can see what a proper mattress feels like— Diana cut off that line of thought. Yes, Diana, invite Akko into your bed. That will go over swimmingly.

She lay down on the bed and buried her face in Akko’s pillow so she could muffle her own frustrated scream. What is wrong with me today? Why is my wandering to such things? Why am I so obsessed with Akko?

Diana wished Akko would show up already and distract her from her wayward thoughts. She was simultaneously relaxed and anxious in a way that confounded her logical mind. As she lay on Akko’s bed — the place where Akko slept every night — she almost melted into the covers as if she belonged there, feeling queerly at home in a place suffused with Akko’s scent. A deep-seated sense of comfort permeated every fibre of her being, and in this moment Diana desired nothing more than to shed her tired body and become one with this bed, the bed that embraced her d e a r f r i e n d A k k o on a nightly basis. And at the same time, Diana was racked with an unknown tension, her heart rate erratic, her body was hot and her breath was short. It felt like a sickness, one that would only be soothed with Akko’s presence. I saw her only hours ago, she agonized. Yet why do I long for her so?

As if called to her by the longing in Diana’s heart, mind, and body, the door creaked open and Akko entered the room.

“D-D-Diana!?” she yelped. “Wh-wh-what are you doing here!? On my bed!?”

Diana sat up so quickly she hit her head on the baseboard of Lotte’s bunk. Luckily for her, that particular spot had been weakened after so many collisions with Akko’s much harder head.

“A-Akko, I was w-waiting for y-you,” she stammered. “L-Lotte and S-Sucy let me in.” Why am I speaking like George VI? It’s not as if I have anything to feel guilty about… “I’m sorry that I… allowed myself to become a little too comfortable on your bed.”

“Oh no, that’s fine!” Naturally Akko had been shocked to see her crush lounging on her bed, but it’s not as if she had a problem with the situation… “It’s good to know that you can feel comfy in my bed.” Akko shut her eyes to avoid seeing whatever reaction Diana had to that accidental come-on. Wait! Backpedal, backpedal! “Because that means it’s fit for someone used to your standards. Like a princess and the pea situation…” She cracked open an eye to see if she’d recovered.

“Indeed,” Diana said idly. She was thankful that Akko hadn’t questioned her disgraceful appropriation of her bed, but she wasn’t about to allow Akko any time to notice her intense blushing. “A princess and the pea situation… are you hiding something under your mattress that you don’t want anyone to know about?”

Akko blanched. “Wait, you could feel that?”

Diana chuckled. “Of course not, silly. Sucy suggested that you had something to hide.”

Akko pouted. “She has no chill. But never mind her.” Suppressing her nervousness, she sat down on her bed, as close to Diana as she dared. “Why were you waiting for me?”

“Akko, I…” Diana took a deep breath to calm herself. “It has occurred to me that we rarely have opportunities to spend time with each other.”

“What do you mean?” Akko asked. “We see each other in class all day, plus meals, and breaks, and—”

“I meant time alone with each other.”

Akko’s soul nearly jumped out of her body. There’s no way that she’s asking me on a date.

“Oh?”

“Every time we spend time together, someone is watching us, using what we do against us,” Diana elaborated. “I would like to spend some quality time with my friend without it becoming a spectacle for those of our classmates who can’t mind their own business. Would you like to accompany me to Blytonbury tomorrow? Just the two of us, far from prying eyes.”

She is literally asking me on a date, Akko thought. She’s literally asking me on a date and she doesn’t even realize that’s what she’s doing.

“Sure, Diana,” she said with forced cheeriness. “I’d love to spend my weekend time with you. You can have as much of it as you like,” she added recklessly, suspecting that Diana wouldn’t even register her enthusiasm.

“Excellent,” Diana said, smiling. “I’m glad you said yes.” All my nervousness was for nothing, she thought.

“Hey, Diana,” Akko said suddenly. “Since you want to spend more time with me, why don’t we start now?” Diana cocked her head to the side inquisitively, so Akko went on. “I mean, we’re already alone. Lotte and Sucy will probably be out for a while, and nobody else is going to show up and spy on us. Since you’re here, we might as well hang out for a while.” Akko knew her chances of turning this into something were slim, but even Akko wasn’t foolish enough to waste the potential of having her crush on he bed with her.

“I can’t see why we shouldn’t,” Diana answered. They smiled at each other. Akko finally let herself relax, slumping up against the wall. Diana eased herself against Akko’s pillow, slouching into a position Anna would’ve shamed her for its unladylike nature.

“So, about what you’ve hidden under your bed…” Diana said slyly.

“Eh?” Akko tried to think of a way out of this one, but her panicked mind came up with nothing. Hell, maybe this might actually be a good thing…

“Okay then, just a second.” Akko slid off the bed and stuck her arm under the mattress. She pulled out a modest stack of thin books. She hopped back on the bed — closer to Diana this time — and dropped the books in front of her. “It’s, um, yuri manga.”

Diana quirked an eyebrow. “I’m afraid I don’t know what either of those words mean.”

Akko explained manga to Diana, and somewhat coyly did the same for the term “yuri.”

“It’s stuff about, y’know, girls. Really, um, intense friendships and relationships between girls.” She swallowed thickly. “And, um, romance between girls.”

Diana’s turned a delicate shade of pink. Of course Akko would have such material. It’s what appeals to her. I’m exposing myself as a fool or a prude by blushing at something so simple.

“I see,” Diana said. She considered asking Akko if she could borrow one of her books — for the express reason of learning more about her dear friend — but she realized that they were written in Japanese, a language of which she had no knowledge. Unlike French, she thought bitterly.

“What do you like to read, Diana?” Akko asked.

“I’m quite partial to the classics. Victorian romances, in particular.”

Akko laughed. “That’s so like you.”

“What does that mean?” Diana demanded, but Akko didn’t answer. She only laughed harder, a sound which despite its playful ribbing at her, Diana found undeniably melodious.

“I enjoy Victorian romances for the strong female friendships which characterize the genre,” Diana protested. “The companionship between the protagonists and their friends is something I’ve craved for a long time.” Diana wondered if that’s what she had found in Akko, that long-waited female companionship which for some reason had been lacking in Hannah and Barbara.

“So what’s your favourite book?” Akko asked, genuinely interested in what her crush liked.

Shirley by Charlotte Brontë,” Diana answered. “It’s a book about an orphaned heiress who adopts a masculine personality and strikes up a close friendship with another young woman. Each time I read it, I’m floored by the depth and passion of their friendship. In my opinion, the novel’s only flaw is the tired and uninspired way in which both girls are paired off with gentlemen who are neither interesting as characters or people and do not deserve the attention of their wives. But such was the expectation for novels in that time, no female character was permitted to survive the book without a marriage.”

Akko reached deep within herself and found self control she didn’t even know she had. I can’t just yell “gaaaaaaaay” when she describes her favourite book to me. But that’s exactly what it sounded like to Akko.

Diana continued. “The friendships are more interesting to me than the romance, truth be told. Romance in novels is often too reductive and forced such that a person of my tastes can only salvage the non-romantic elements from an otherwise dreary read.”

“Oh, so you like books that are about just gals being pals?” Akko asked, unable to restrain herself.

“Yes, just gals… being pals…” Diana’s was suddenly reminded of the last thing she’d heard that phrase. It was being used in reference to Hannah and Barbara, who had shortly thereafter made out in front of her to demonstrate how un-platonic their relationship was.

Is Akko insinuating…? Diana quickly considered the matter. I suppose if one read between the lines, lesbian subtext wouldn’t be unreasonable to infer… The book revolved around the relationship between a young woman and the entrancing, charismatic personage of an aristocratic woman who exhibits some typically masculine traits…

...just…

...like…

...her…

It was at that point Diana became acutely and inescapably aware of the fact that she was sitting next to a girl who liked girls on that girl’s bed, with a pile of Japanese lesbian literature between them.

Diana expressly forbid herself from jumping to conclusions. What is wrong with me, making absurd assumptions about my closest friend, or all people. I can’t fault her for bringing up a possible interpretation of my favourite book just because it aligns with her sexual orientation. It’s not as if this situation was her design. I was the one who urged her to bring out her lesbian books; I was the one who made myself at home in her bed; I was the one who came here in the first place. If anyone is suspicious, it would be me.

Diana mulled over that conclusion in silence.

Akko made no assumptions about why Diana hadn’t continued talking. She was enjoying the quiet moment between them. No, we're not having a moment. We’re just hanging out. As covertly as she could when they were so close, she watched Diana out of corner of her eye, drinking in the handsome beauty of her crush. Akko found it intoxicating to have her so close and all to herself in such a private setting. Calm down, dork. Nothing’s going to happen, she told herself. It certainly won’t if you don’t try to make something happen, whispered the seductive voice of her id. And indeed, it would be so easy for her to reach for Diana’s hand, to snuggle closer to her, to nuzzle at her neck, to kiss along her jawline until she reached those proud, unattainable lips...

Needless to say, the rest of the afternoon passed in a torturous haze as both Akko and Diana vehemently denied thoughts which came so easily to them in each other’s presence...

*******

“Wow, you were right. Your team’s beds are softer.”

Amanda rolled around on top of Hannah’s bed. Hannah and Barbara sat together, leaning back against the pillows and the headboard, watching Amanda closely.

“I didn’t think it would really make a difference,” Amanda said. “It’s gonna blow Akko’s mind when Cavendish brings here her and does the dirty to her.”

Hannah and Barbara exchanged glances, frustrated that Amanda’s immediate thoughts went to a dirty joke about Akko and Diana rather than… more obvious places.

“Alright, Amanda, quit rolling around before you fall off the bed,” Hannah said,

“Unless you want to sprain your ankle and have us carry you to the nurse’s office,” Barbara joked.

Amanda stopped rolling and laughed. “Cavendish really outdid herself this time. Carrying her bridal style? She didn’t even hesitate. What a butch icon.”

She came up closer to Hannah and Barbara and sat in front of them. “What do you think they’re up to right now?”

Hannah rolled her eyes. “Sex acts passed down through the Cavendish family for generations. Listen, can we not talk about Akko and Diana for once?”

“Yeah, we didn’t invite you up here so we could talk about them for the thousandth time this month,” Barbara added.

Amanda frowned. “Then why did you?”

Hannah groaned. “Because we wanted to hang out with you, you clod.”

“Really?” Amanda was surprised.

“Is that really so hard to believe?” Barbara asked.

“I guess not.” Amanda twiddled her thumbs. She’d thought over what Diana had said this morning, and at her core, she doubted that Hannah and Barbara felt as warmly about her as she did about them. After all, they seemed to have some problem with her. She didn’t want to admit it out loud, but they were fun now that she’d actually gotten to know them. Hannah was fiery and unpredictable; Barbara was quick-witted and sassy. Even if it was only to give people grief like they were doing to Akko and Diana, Amanda wanted to keep hanging out with Hannah and Barbara.

But she couldn’t be sure that they felt the same. Not unless she asked.

“Hey, I have sort of a stupid question…”

Hannah and Barbara gave her a look to continue.

“The three of us… we’re friends, right?”

“Well, of course we are,” Barbara said hesitantly.

Hannah scoffed.

“Hannah!” Barbara hissed.

“Um, I’ll take that as a no,” Amanda said with a hard voice. Of course they wouldn’t think that way.

“No, that’s not it,” Barbara said hurriedly. “We’re friends, aren’t we, Hannah?”

“Yup, that’s us,” Hannah said. “Friends.” She spat the word out like a slur.

“Hey have you got a problem?” Amanda growled.

“I’m not the one with the problem!” Hannah snarled back.

“Hey, hey, calm down,” Barbara urged, visibly panicked. “We’re all friends here.”

Amanda and Hannah glared at each other and backed down.

“Let’s just chill out,” Barbara said in a soothing voice. “No point in wasting quality time with the three of us together like this.”

She got up from her spot next to Hannah and laid her head on Amanda’s lap, curling her body up into a comfortable position. “Let’s talk about something else.”

Amanda was slightly thrown by Barbara’s move, but she wasn’t going to let it show. If the pair of them really were messing with her, she’d be giving them exactly what they wanted. Gotta play it cool, Amanda reminded herself. She wouldn’t let herself be played like Akko or Diana.

The three of them chatted about nothing in particular, the topic changing rapidly at will. A decent amount of the conversation focused on the romantic exploits of Luna Nova’s students, ranging from confirmed rumours to wild speculation. Amanda had never really cared about people other than herself getting laid (unless she was playing wingwoman, like she was for Akko), but she made an effort to engage with the conversation, for Hannah and Barbara’s sake.

Hannah, who had been sitting on her own and shooting dirty looks at Amanda, eventually came over to the bed’s two other occupants, She moved past Amanda and kneeled behind her, slipping her arms over Amanda’s shoulders and embraced her.

Amanda found herself feeling unexpectedly nervous. Her mouth started moving to alleviate her uneasiness.

“So how long do you think Cavendish’s going to be gone?” she asked.

“Long enough,” Hannah cooed into her ear.

“Long enough for what?”

“Long enough to get into some… trouble…” Barbara purred.

“Trouble… what are we going to read Cavendish’s diary or something?”

“UGH!” Hannah groaned in disgust, letting go of Amanda and flopping backward onto the bed. When Amanda turned around to look at her, she was covering her face with her hands.”You honestly can’t be this stupid.”

“Hey, who’s stupid!?” Amanda growled. “What’s your bright idea for what to do while Cavendish is gone?”

“Barbara, why the fuck did we even pick this one?” Hannah lamented through her fingers. “I’ve seen two-legged horses that were less useless than this troll of a girl.”

Barbara sat up, panic setting into her face once again. “Hannah, please, if you’d just explain to her—”

“Why should I explain anything?” Hannah sit up and ran her hands through her hair in frustration. “She acts like she knows everything! You’ve heard the way she talks, what she says about Akko and Diana. I thought this was going to be easy!”

“It’s not about what’s easy, Han,” Barbara said. “It’s about her. Don’t forget that. We weren’t looking for just anyone. Remember what you said before this all started? About your feelings?”

“Yeah, well maybe I’ve changed my mind,” Hannah replied stubbornly.

Amanda was at her limit. “Can one of you please explain what the fuck is going on?”

“No fucks are going on,” Hannah shouted. “That’s the fucking problem.”

“I have no fucking clue what you’re talking about,” Amanda shot.

“That’s the problem!” Hannah got up and stormed off toward the door. “If you’re too oblivious to figure things out on your own, I’m sure as hell not going to hold your hand and walk you through it.”

“Hannah!” Barbara got up and approached her best friend.

“If you think you can salvage this lost cause, but be my guest,” Hannah said. “I’m tired of this dead-end bullshit.” She opened the door and and stomped away down the hallway.

“Hannah!” Barbara looked back and forth between Amanda and the open door, before ultimately choosing the latter. “I’m sorry,” she told Amanda. “I’ll talk to her. She’s just a little impatient with you, that’s all.” And then she followed Hannah out of sight.

Amanda sat in stunned silence. She had no idea what had gone wrong, but she was sure of one thing: she’d fucked up big time.

Chapter Text

Hannah passed through the halls of Luna Nova like a storm, putting as much distance between herself and the Blue Team’s dorm as possible. She and Barbara had made a strategic error by coming onto Amanda in their own dorm room; now she was forced to abandon her only refuge. It was only a matter of time before Barbara caught up to her and calmed her down, but Hannah wasn’t in the mood to be calmed down. She wanted to be angry.

“I hate her,” she hissed under her breath. “I hate her. I hate her. I hate her.” Hoping against hope that if she repeated the lie vehemently enough it would become the truth.

Of all the senseless, useless lesbians I’ve ever met, Hannah thought, Amanda is the most senseless and most useless of the lot. Hannah had known that Amanda wasn’t exactly the brightest girl at school, but there was a limit to how clueless a girl could be — especially when that same girl was able to pick up on the obliviousness of others.

In fact, Hannah had thought that Amanda would’ve been immediately on board with her and Barbara’s intentions. She was surprised that the American hadn’t initiated some action herself. After all, Amanda’s troublemaker attitude was what drew Hannah to her in the first place.

At a physical level, Hannah had been attracted to Amanda since they first met. She’d gotten so bored with good, proper aristocrats that it took a bad girl to get her engine running. That tight, broom dancer’s body didn’t hurt her case either. That photo of her in suit pushed her over from “vaguely hot girl” territory into the “full-on crush” zone. Hannah had been waiting patiently for an opportunity to get closer to Amanda, but now that they were essentially friends, she discovered that Amanda was as sharp as a bowling ball.

“Hannah, please come back!” Barbara had caught up with her. Hannah sighed. She’s really going to give it to me. Hannah stopped where she was (outside in the empty courtyard) and waited for her girlfriend to catch up to her.

“Han.” Barbara slipped her arms around Hannah’s waist and nuzzled at her neck. Barbara preferred to be on the passive end of things, but her active side came out whenever she needed to comfort her girlfriend. “Come back to our room. We need to sort this thing out with Amanda.”

“No,” Hannah said stubbornly. “I’m mad at her. She can rot.”

“You don’t mean that,” Barbara cooed. “You care about her a lot, babe. This is just a little rough patch.”

Hannah snorted. “Doesn’t it bother you that she doesn’t see us as potential partners at all? She talks all about how much she wants to land a girl, and when there’s two willing girls right in front of her, she doesn’t go for it? What are we, chopped liver!?”

“So things aren’t going as smooth as we would’ve liked,” Barbara said. “I still believe that Amanda really likes us, and we just need a more gentle approach from now on.” When Hannah didn’t reply, Barbara pressed on. “I get that you’re frustrated. I am too. I like her just as much as you do.”

“I know,” Hannah grumbled. Barbara was a girl with very specific preferences, and Amanda checked almost every box — she lost a point for not being a Nightfall fan. She finally met Barbara’s standards one day while in town, when she told a couple of guys to fuck off for making fun of Barbara and Lotte for being fans of Nightfall. Hannah and Barbara had agreed that Amanda was an excellent choice to round out the triad that was their dream relationship.

There had never been a time that Hannah and Barbara weren’t together in some capacity. They were childhood friends who developed into a nebulous “something more” when they realized they preferred kissing each other to kissing the boys, girls, and others they were supposedly practicing for. At first they tried to date other people while remaining best friends, but they couldn’t bear to be apart from each other. Then they tried dating other people while being openly polyamorous, but their other partners were too insecure to accept that Hannah and Barbara were soulmates. Each girl loved the other more than she loved herself, but there devotion to one another was so complete that neither took issue with the other exploring her crushes and having flings. But at their core, what both girls wanted someone they could share, someone with whom they could have a stable relationship, someone who could absorb all the love left over from their own romance, someone confident enough to handle being an accessory to their soulmate romance.

Enter: Amanda O’Neill.

Their past attempts to find someone to complete their triad had failed miserably. They had found that Andrew Hanbridge was beyond their reach, and had they not been childhood friends with Diana, she would’ve been first on their list. But Amanda, Amanda was the perfect mix of cocky and thirsty. Hannah and Barbara thanked their lucky stars for meeting a girl like her, but they’d never have suspected that Amanda would’ve been so much work.

“We can talk to her tomorrow,” Barbara said diplomatically. “It’s not as if either of us can just turn off our feelings for her overnight. It would be better if we just put our frustrations aside, made up with her, and tried another strategy.”

“What’s with her anyway?” Hannah sniffed. “Every other girl I’ve been with was way easier to charm than her.”

“And look how those relationships turned out,” Barbara chided. She, of course, was the exception. “We’re taking the slow approach this time because we really want this to work. Being coy doesn’t get results as quickly, but we want the best results.”

“You’re the romance expert,” Hannah conceded. “How are we going to even turn this around? I acted like a total jackass. I wouldn’t be surprised if she hates me now.”

“I’m sure she doesn’t,” Barbara reassured her. “And I have just the thing to get us back on course with Amanda. We might even make some major progress.”

“I’m listening.”

 

 

*******

A night of fitful sleep passed in the Blue Team dorm room. Hannah’s simmering temper kept her awake, only dozing off once it burned out. Barbara tossed and turned as even in her dreams she fretted over whether or not Hannah would make up with Amanda (dream-Hannah did not, and instead turned into a dragon and burned Amanda into a crisp). Diana’s mind, on the other hand, lingered on more positive thoughts, replaying the events of her time with Akko over and over again. She relentlessly cycled through attempts to parse meaning from their interactions, followed by her asking herself whether or not she was reading too deeply into things, and then she wondered why it mattered so much to her. Rinse and repeat. She drifted in and out of consciousness throughout the night, half-dreaming of invented scenarios with herself and Akko, confusing herself even further.

Morning arrived and Diana went through her morning routine robotically, her thoughts flitting back and forth between her last encounter with Akko and their upcoming da— outing. She was so distracted that she barely even noticed Akko at breakfast, nor did she pick up on the furtive glances Hannah and Barbara shot in Amanda’s direction. She was as ignorant to the drama brewing under her nose as she was of the laser-focused, nervous stare radiating from Akko, whose thoughts were solely devoted to their da— outing.

Akko and Diana had agreed to meet early enough to arrive in Blytonbury for lunch. That left plenty of them for the two of them to get ready — and more than enough time to agonize over the impending totally-not-a-date.

After an uneventful breakfast, the Blue Team returned to their dorm room, where Diana began absentmindedly pacing back and forth. An hour passed, and Hannah lost her patience at seeing her roommate mill around the room aimlessly. “Diana, if you want to go for a walk, you should just go outside.”

“You’re burning off a lot of free energy,” Barbara chimed in. “It’s kind of like you’re Akko.”

Diana stopped dead still, neck almost creaking as she stiffly turned her head toward the pair. “Wh-what does Akko have to do with anything?”

“Everything, judging by that response,” Hannah said with a smirk.

“What’s on your mind, Diana?” Barbara asked. “We know you spent quite a bit of time with Akko yesterday. Did something happen?”

Should I even bother asking how they know that? Diana asked herself. She decided against it (ever loyal to fellow Nightfall fans, Lotte had been kind enough to share this tidbit with Barbara). “I did indeed spend some of my free time yesterday with Akko. We had a very engrossing conversation about our tastes in literature.” The only way Diana had been able to survive the unnamed tension between herself and Akko had been to distract herself with more book discussion. She also asked Akko for the titles of her favourite books so she could order them in English. For research purposes.

“Oh, is that why you were annotating all of those Victorian romance novels last night?” Hannah asked.

Diana felt sweat beading on her forehead. She had spent a considerable amount of time skimming through some of the classics and finding more and more lesbian subtext. Without fail, each and every one of her favourite books had what could only be labelled “gal pal behaviour.” By the Nine Olde Witches, she had thought before going to bed, what are the chances that every one of my favourite books can be read as a romance between two women? Amanda would certainly have something to say on the subject if she heard about it. Diana had briefly considered sharing this fact with Akko, perhaps as an expression of something they had in common. She scrapped the idea once it occurred to her how it would sound if she went up to her sapphic friend and suddenly gushed about her recently-discovered love for lesbian subtext.

“Did you see what books she was reading?” Barbara asked her gal pal.

“She spent the most time on a book called Shirley,” Hannah answered.

“Oh, that one would be your favourite, Diana,” Barbara said with a giggle.

“Putting my reading habits aside,” Diana said sternly, her face flushed, “I have somewhere to be today, and I can’t afford to be distracted with idle conversation.”

“Somewhere to go with Akko?” Hannah giggled.

Is there any point in denying it? Would they believe me if I did? Diana sighed. “Yes, Akko and I are going into town for the afternoon. It’s been so difficult to have any private time with my friend, what with all the gossips and troublemakers watching our every move.” She shot an ice-cold glare at her two roommates.

Neither of them were fazed; they were too excited by the news.

“So it’s a date?” Barbara asked.

“Of course it’s not a date,” Diana protested. “Why on earth would Akko be going on a date with me?”

“Interesting that you phrased it that way,” Hannah said, “rather than asking why you would be going on a date with Akko.”

Diana ignored her insinuation. “I don’t have time to debate this matter. I need to make sure I’m presentable for an afternoon outing.”

“It shouldn’t really take that long to get ready,” Barbara pointed out. “You’ve got a few hours left. Sounds like you’re going to a lot of trouble for her...”

“And why wouldn’t I be willing to trouble myself for the sake of my friend?” Diana deflected. “As a dear friend of mine, Akko deserves that I be looking my best when I meet her for the engagement to which I invited her.”

“I don’t recall you ever dolling yourself up for us,” Hannah said bluntly.

“Wouldn’t it be action figuring herself up now, though?” Barbara asked.

“I don’t even think we can trust her to handle this herself, Barb.”

“You’re right, Han. We’ll act as your fashion advisors, Diana.”

“Girls,” Diana said nervously, “there’s no need to—”

“Oh really? What were you planning on wearing?” Hannah asked.

“I don’t see why my uniform wouldn’t be acceptable—”

“Your uniform? By the Nine Olde Witches you’re hopeless,” Barbara lamented. “This is your chance to impress Akko!”

“Impress her?”

“Come on, Diana,” Hannah whined. “Don’t you wanna wear something that’ll make her jaw drop?”

Despite her better judgement, Diana considered the idea. She enjoyed the way that her butch looks had held Akko’s attention up till now, and she wasn’t in a hurry to relinquish that hold on her dear friend’s thoughts. Logically speaking, I should be able to become even closer with her if I show her different sides of myself, Diana reasoned. A uniform, after all, was an expression of homogeneity; an ensemble of her own choosing would convey a sense of individuality that might appeal to Akko.

“Very well,” Diana said. “I suppose I ought to put some of my other clothes to use.”

“That’s the spirit,” Barbara said. “Now get in the shower and freshen yourself up. You’ll want as much time as possible to pick an outfit!”

Hannah and Barbara gently pushed Diana toward the en suite bathroom. Diana sighed as she entered, closed the door behind herself, and stripped out of her uniform.

“We don’t hear any running water!” Hannah shouted from the other side of the door.

“Do you need us to come in there and help you?” Barbara joked.

Diana rolled her eyes and stepped into the shower, turning on the water before Hannah and Barbara could make good on their threat.

A modest period of time later — Diana was never one to linger in the shower — she emerged from the en suite bathroom, her soft, boyish hair still wet on the ends. Seeing as she was about to change into another outfit, she didn’t see the need to put her uniform back on. Having changed in front of her roommates before, Diana didn’t see any issue in returning to the room in her underwear.

Hannah and Barbara just about lost it when they saw Diana wearing nothing but a pair of plaid-patterned boy shorts and a matching bra. They averted their eyes immediately before their brains overloaded.

“Where did you even find a plaid bra?” Hannah whimpered.

“I didn’t find it myself,” Diana said, oblivious to her roommates’ plight. “I sent a request to the manor for clothes of a… butch… nature, and they arrived accordingly.” She had to admit it was something of a mystery; Anna normally would’ve said something on the matter, encouraged her to act more like a lady. But her request had been complied with, no arguments or complaints attached to the packages.

She opened her closet and picked a few things out of it. “I must admit, girls. I have very little functional understanding of how to coordinate clothes for a casual setting.”

“Leave it to us,” Barbara said, suppressing her urge to ogle her roommate. “We’ll send you out of here with something that’ll knock Akko’s socks off.” And hey, maybe her panties, she added mentally.

The next hour or two were spent rifling through Diana’s closet and dressing her up like a doll. Hannah and Barbara made her try on every article of clothing she had in just about every combination, even those which they had ruled out from the outset, “but just wanted to see what it would look like.” Her roommates were having a ball, practically dressing the heiress themselves before wheeling her in front of a mirror where she sometimes was flustered by their comments about what Akko would think of the look. Once they ruled out the outfits they deemed “too obvious” (“plaid is a little on the nose, we need to be more inventive”), they found what they deemed to be the perfect ensemble.

“It’s understated, but there’s no way Akko is going to forget this,” Hannah declared.

“So stylish and relaxed,” Barbara agreed. “You could pick up any girl you liked in this outfit.”

Diana looked at herself in the mirror and desperately hoped they were right. The outfit was such a radical departure from her old style of clothing that she could barely recognize herself. I’m changing so fast, she mused. Though she didn’t feel uncomfortable with the new look. In fact, the snug fit of the clothes made her feel quite at home. Perhaps I didn’t change. Perhaps I was always this way and merely didn’t realize it. To think that an event as serendipitous as an alchemy accident could have brought her to this point. I’ll have to remember to thank Akko for inadvertently expanding my horizons.

She touched the ends of her hair with her fingers. Her wavy, tomboyish locks had dried on their own a while ago. The former length of her hair had made drying it a chore, as well as washing it. Short hair was so much less of a burden. She felt lighter and less restricted by the need to be mindful of any flowing tresses. But it’s still so soft to the touch, she thought idly, fluffing the volume of her hair with her hands.She wondered how it might feel for someone else’s fingers to run through her hair, for Akko’s fingers to run through her hair…

Her hands dropped to her sides. “Is there anything else I need to be concerned with?”

“Do your makeup the way you always do,” Hannah suggested. “Wait, are you still using makeup? Never mind, it's not like if you don't someone dare steal your girl.”

“You do realize that Akko is my friend, not my girlfriend?”

“Not yet,” Barbara said.

Diana rolled her eyes.

 

*******

 

Akko waited near Luna Nova’s leyline terminal as patiently as she could, which is to say, she had been rocking back and forth on the balls of her feet for the past half-hour. She had arrived earlier because she desperately didn’t want to be late — also because Sucy was threatening to poison her if she kept bouncing around their room in her impossible-to-contain excitement.

Diana arrived precisely on time, carrying a broom. Akko noticed neither of these facts due to yet again being captivated by what Diana was wearing. Is she doing this on purpose? Does she want my heart to burst out of my chest and bow down to worship her in person?

As if her androgynous version of the school uniform weren’t devastating enough, Akko could only guess that Diana was waging open war on her little, gay heart. She wore a pair of dark boy jeans that hung on her legs in just the right way; her top was plain and white, but cut lower than Akko thought Diana would ever agree to; the pièce de résistance was the black leather jacket that hugged her chest in a way Akko only wished she could. Diana, once the very model of well-bred heiress, looked for all the world like a teen rock star. Akko was half-tempted to ask for her autograph… on a marriage form.

“D-D-Diana, you look…” Damn it, remember how words work, Akko cursed in her head. “...different. Great, I mean! You look great! Fantastic, really. Just amazing. Total knockout. I MEAN — it’s a nice change of pace to wear casual clothes, huh?”

Maybe if I just keep saying words, she’ll miss the part where I called her a knockout.

Luckily for Akko, she had managed to say all of her compliments in a single breath, and even someone as well-versed in languages as Diana couldn’t decode her babbling. But she got the gist of it — Akko’s expression said more than her mouth ever could.

Diana had to say she was pleased with the reaction. Akko was simply adorable when she was flustered, and even as her dear friend, Diana couldn’t resist provoking these reactions. Or perhaps this is a privilege of our friendship, she thought, suppressing a chuckle. She’d had mixed feelings about the depth of her top’s neckline and she felt like a delinquent wearing a leather jacket, but Akko seemed to appreciate the sight.

Akko’s outfit was simultaneously more relaxed and more outrageous. She wore a rainbow-coloured tie-dye shirt like a pride flag emblazoned across her chest. It was tacky in a way that Diana couldn’t help but find endearing. On her feet she wore a pair of bright red crocs, a transcendentally confident and quintessentially Akko-like choice. But as Diana’s gaze slowly moved up Akko’s legs, she realized that she was seeing a lot more leg than usual. Just when she was afraid the legs wouldn't end, her eyes landed on a the tiniest pair of shorts she’d ever seen in her entire life. She’d seen belts with more real estate.

“Atsuko Kagari, please don’t tell me you’re planning to go out in public in those shorts?” Diana pleaded.

“Why, what’s wrong with them?” Akko asked, looking down.

“What’s wrong with them? They’re barely there! Lingerie has more material than that little thing!”

Akko shrugged. “I like feeling the air on my legs. I don’t see the problem.”

The problem is that every lustful-eyed goon in town will be ogling your legs, Diana wanted to say. The way you are, you mean? Diana’s conscience deadpanned.

Diana sighed. “Fine, never mind. We shouldn’t waste any more time.” She mounted her broom. “Get on, Akko.”

Why did it have to be a single broom? Akko cursed. Snuggling up to Diana while riding a broom was bad enough for her health when her crush wasn’t dressed like a teen rocker heartthrob. Nevertheless, Akko did as she was told and wrapped her arms around Diana’s waist as tightly as she dared — only half as tightly as she’d have preferred. Diana took them off the ground and into the leyline.

“Say, Diana, do you like my outfit?” Akko asked nervously. “I don’t look like a dork, do I?”

“You absolutely look like a ‘dork,’ as you put it,” Diana said softly. “But that’s the charm. It’s very cute.”

Diana felt Akko’s arms squeeze around her middle, her face pressing into Diana’s back. “You can’t just say that,” the Japanese girl said bashfully. “You’re going to make me fall off.”

“You called me hot in the past,” Diana said. “It only seems fair that I get to call you cute.”

“DIANA!”

“If I recall correctly, you said I wasn’t allowed to be ‘that hot.’ Tell me, Akko, am I still breaking the hotness rules?”

“You’re breaking the being a tease rules!”

Diana chuckled and deigned not to torment her friend any longer. They emerged from the leyline and flew toward Blytonbury.

Their first stop was a coffee shop, where they stopped for lunch. Diana stopped outside briefly to chain the broom to a bike rack using magic. They entered the café and Akko urged Diana to sit down while she ordered for them. Diana found this to be a sweet gesture right up until the point where Akko started what seemed like a lengthy conversation with the girl behind the food preparation counter. More than one smile and wink passed between them, and Diana didn’t like that at all. She masked her discontent when Akko arrived at their table, somehow balancing their orders in an insufficient number of hands.

“Alright, here’s your black coffee and your apple tart,” Akko said, placing the items in front of Diana. “And that leaves my tea and my bagel.”

Diana noticed that Akko seemed to have a bit more than that with her, but she held her tongue.

Akko grinned to herself and pulled her bagel apart into two halves. She used a plastic knife to spread cream cheese across part of it, the cream cheese coming from a small tub she seemed to have negotiated from food-prep girl. When she was done, Akko giggled. “Hey, Diana, look.”

She showed Diana one half of the bagel, whose toasted cinnamon raisin surface was only covered at one edge — the top, if a round foodstuff could have one. A swirl of white cream cheese decorated the bagel, a swirl that look suspiciously like her hair…

“Butch Diana, the bagel,” Akko giggled.

“I beg your pardon?”

“This is you, but in an alternate universe where bagels are people.”

Diana rolled her eyes, but her lips betrayed her with a smile.

Akko showed her the other half of the bagel. “And look, this is bagel me!” Bagel-Akko had considerably more cream cheese to denote her longer hair. “Hi, Diana!” Akko said, moving her bagel self and giving it a voice. “I’m afraid I’m embarrassed by my minimal amount of cream cheese,” Bagel-Diana said. “Don’t worry,” Bagel-Akko replied. “I think it looks even better than before!”

“How kind of Bagel-Akko,” Diana purred, amused by Akko’s admission.

“Hey, Diana, look at this.” Akko spun Bagel-Akko in place, as if it were dancing.

“I don’t think such wild dancing is good for Bagel-Akko’s health,” Diana said with a small chuckle. “She could fall over and lose her cream cheese.”

But she’ll still be—” Akko suddenly cut herself off with a yelp. Bagel-Akko had fallen over right on top of Bagel-Diana, their cream cheese “hair” smooshing together. Akko turned bright red. “You two can’t just do that in public! How embarrassing!”

“What on earth are you talking about?” Diana asked.

“I couldn’t possibly explain it to you,” Akko said solemnly. “It would hurt those delicate aristocrat ears of yours.” Akko sighed deeply. “I guess the only way for you two to redeem your honour is to be eaten by a holy angel, aka myself.” She pried the two halves of the bagel apart and bit into the half which represented Diana, her teeth scraping the delicate flesh of its body, her tongue tasting the sweet—

That’s enough of that bizarre line of thought, Diana chastised herself. “I almost can’t believe you went to all that trouble for such a bizarre joke.”

“It wasn’t that much trouble,” Akko replied. “The girl behind the counter was really nice when I explained that I wanted to make a pretty girl laugh.” Oops, was that too far? Akko wondered.

“I see,” Diana said, not quite registering the compliment. “I was wondering why you were spending so much time talking to her…”

“Ooh, you mean you were jealous?” Akko teased.

Diana crossed her arms and huffed. “Naturally I would be annoyed if you spent all your time here talking to other people when I was the one who invited you.”

“Diana’s jealous of a coffee shop girl!”

“Oh, eat your bagel self, Akko.”

They drank their beverages and Diana started eating her apple tart. “How is it?” Akko asked.

“Just sweet enough. Would you like a taste?”

“I guess so. I — what are you doing?”

Diana held out a piece of her tart on her fork, specifically the fork that had already been in her mouth. “What’s the problem?”

Akko’s face turned pink. “I can’t just eat off your fork like that! It’d look like…” Well, if they shared food with each other, leaning in close over the table, they would look like a couple.

“I suppose if I tried hard enough I could feed it to you with my finger…”

Akko’s face turned reddish-purple. “You can keep your silly tart!”

“Suit yourself.”

They finished their food and left the café. “We have plenty of time left,” Diana said. “What would you like to do, Akko?”

Still bitter over Diana’s reference to the pudding finger incident, Akko’s mind hatched a devious plan. “How about we see a movie? At this time of day it’ll be practically empty, and we can talk at the movie as much as we like.”

Movies were not of any particular interest to Diana, especially the hassle of going to a movie theatre. But she wouldn’t say no to Akko if that was what she wanted.

That was, simply put, a mistake.

An hour later, they were sitting in a dark, dank theatre and watching some horrible horror movie. How on earth did I let myself be talked into this?

Akko had grown up on the most twisted of Japanese horror movies and anime and had never so much as startled at what Americans had to offer as horror: cheap jump scares and obvious fake gore. However, she reasoned, a sheltered girl like Diana had never seen so much as a Scooby Doo cartoon to acclimate her to the idea of spooky stories. She quickly learned that her assumption had been correct. This is for the finger comment, she thought as Diana jumped for the tenth time in the first half-hour.

“This premise is simply pr-pr-preposterous,” Diana protested in a quivering voice. “If the ghost truly o-o-operated on this set of rules, it wouldn’t have k-k-killed the girl in the opening scene. H-h-how am I supposed to stay invested in this n-n-narrative if it can’t be consistent?” Apparently Diana had a habit of waxing intellectual to distract from her own discomfort.

“You seem to be managing just fine,” Akko said, cool as a cucumber. Her grace under pressure (“what pressure? I’ve watched kids’ movies that were scarier than this!”) gave her a whole new level of confidence — or willingness to tease. “If you’re scared, you can hold my hand.”

“I assure you, Akko, I am not scared!”

Ten minutes later the kills started ramping up, and Diana reached into Akko’s lap and grabbed her hand in a vise-like grip. Akko suddenly regretted her offer as her fingers were nearly crushed with every jump scare. At the climax Diana held Akko’s entire arm in a crushing embrace that even Akko couldn’t enjoy. Though it did please her to know that Diana was paying for her teasing earlier.

“That movie was simply absurd,” Diana said as they exited the theatre. “Utterly unbelievable, from the story to the special effects. I simply can’t see the appeal. Simply unbelievable.”

“So unbelievable it’s scary, eh?” Akko laughed. “You were so scared you were almost sitting in my lap by the end.” Not that I would’ve minded, she thought.

“You wouldn’t have minded?”

Oh gosh did I say that out loud? “Well, yeah, I’d be okay with whatever as long as it made you more comfortable,” she said quickly.

“Hmmm.” Diana said nothing. She didn’t want to draw attention to the fact that she and Akko were still holding hands as they had been in the theatre. Her dear friend had a habit of getting embarrassed by more intimate expressions of affection, particularly sudden ones (or those which were suddenly noticed). Diana had already gotten over her unfortunate experience in the theatre — though her heart was still racing for some reason — but she still found the sensation of holding Akko’s hand in hers to be very reassuring, comforting.

They wandered in and out of shops, walking hand in hand. Nothing of note caught their attention, but they managed to have fun with each other anyway. However, when they reached the last store in the downtown area — a toy shop — they found something that not only held their attention, but demanded to be bought. It was simply too good to pass up.

On a shelf, sitting side by side, were two stuffed animals: a white cat with a blue ribbon around its neck, and a brown dog with a red ribbon tied the same way.

“It kinda reminds me of us,” Akko said softly.

“Indeed.” Without hesitating, Diana took the two stuffed animals off the shelf and walked toward the cash register.

“You’re buying them?”

“Obviously. It would be a waste to let these slip through our fingers.” Diana bought the pair of stuffed animals and they left the store. The moment they were outside, Diana shoved the stuffed cat plushie into Akko’s arms. She hugged the dog plushie to her own chest. “To remind us of each other… when we’re not together.”

Akko found it hard not to jump into Diana’s arms. That is the single gayest thing I’ve ever heard, and I hear Amanda talk every day. She hugged her new cat plushie. If Amanda or Sucy or Hannah or Barbara find out that we have matching plushies, we’ll never live it down. But on the other hand, it’s worth the risk, because it has to mean something that Diana wants to have a stuffed animal to remind her of me when I’m not around, right? Please tell me it means something, I’m literally dying from this.

Diana retrieved her broom and they returned to Luna Nova with a decent amount of time before dinner. Akko dismounted from the broom, but found herself held in place; Diana had grabbed the hem of her shirt. The heiress look away from Akko, uncharacteristically shy.

What’s come over me lately? Diana thought. There’s no need to be so nervous. It’s only a simple request, one that Akko has fulfilled so many times without being asked. But perhaps things really have changed…

“Akko, it occurs to me,” she began, “that you haven’t hugged me since the alchemy accident.” Actually it had started a short while before the accident, but who was keeping track? “That is, besides the night you… came out to me.”

Akko blushed. “I guess you’re right.” She’d been fond of hugging Diana ever since she’d joined her circle of friends, but became hesitant and nervous once she realized she had feelings for her closest friend. And naturally she started sweating at the very idea of suddenly hugging butch Diana the way she used to hug her friend.

Diana fidgeted. She looked as if she was about to say something but decided not to.

“Um,” Akko mumbled. “Are you asking me to give you a hug?”

“...yes.”

Akko grinned nervously. “How could I resist a pouting girl wearing a leather jacket?” She stepped closer to Diana and wrapped her in a close hug. Diana responded by holding her tightly. They stiffly held their stuffed animals to the side to keep them out of the way, but the awkwardness of the embrace somehow made it even more intimate. Diana leaned into the hug, grateful that Akko has fulfilled her request with such enthusiasm.

Akko’s thoughts were of the last time the pair had hugged. The night Akko had come out to Diana, her crush. The night Diana had kissed her on the cheek…

Ursula’s advice echoed through Akko’s mind. She contemplated kissing Diana on the cheek. After all the parallel between this situation and the one where Diana had kissed her on the cheek were undeniable. What better chance am I gonna get? But there was always the chance that she’d be upset with her if she tried…

“Diana?” Akko whispered into her dear friend’s ear. “Would you mind if I kissed you on the cheek?”

Akko could feel Diana’s face getting hotter. “How could I resist a girl wearing a tie-dye shirt?” Diana had hastily edited that comment as it was coming out of her mouth. Akko surely would have taken it the wrong way if I had mentioned her shorts. Which weren’t on my mind at all. Nor were her legs.

She felt Akko pull back slightly and press her soft, warm lips to her flushed, hot cheek. It was like being brushed with rose petals. The contact was far too brief for Diana’s liking, and she almost whimpered when Akko drew back and broke off the hug. They both stood still, staring at each other and blushing more profusely with each passing second.

Akko was the one who broke first. “Anyway, um, we should get going, shouldn’t we?”

“Indeed,” Diana said, her voice cracking slightly. “I have to put this broom back in its proper place before returning to the school.”

Akko nodded. “I’ll, uh, see you at dinner, then?”

Diana silently nodded.

“Alright then. See ya.” Akko skipped off, barely able to contain her joy at her success. I kissed Diana! She thought in a sing-song inner voice. I asked her if I could, and she said yes!

Diana watched Akko leave, and only once the girl was out of sight did Diana touch her fingertips to the place she had been kissed, as if that explain to her the tumultuous emotions raging in her heart at that moment.

 

 

*******

Amanda didn’t sulk often, but when she did, she did it in style. She moped around in bed all day, only leaving to get meals. And most importantly, she did her best to avoid Hannah and Barbara. Despite her best efforts, she was at a loss trying to figure out what she’d done to offend Hannah. Just when they had become friends.

Unfortunately her moping technique produced an inordinate amount of boredom, and by late afternoon she was just about ready to eat her own pillow for something to do. Rather than ruin a perfectly good pillow, she climbed out her dorm room’s window and sneaked down to the yard where the brooms were kept. There she found the person who had recently moved down to third on her “People I Least Want to Be Found By” list.

“What do you think you’re doing, O’Neill?” Diana asked.

“I’m going to get a broom and fly around on it,” Amanda answered. “What else would I be doing here? More importantly, what are you doing here? And dressed like a rock star no less?”

“I was returning a broom—” Diana started.

“Dressing up for Akko’s sake, I bet,” Amanda interjected. Diana’s blush was answer enough. “Ooh, did you two go on a date?”

“It was not a date,” Diana insisted. “We simply went into town for tea, saw a movie together, went shopping…” The more she said, the more it sounded like a date. And that was without even mentioning the hug and the kiss at the end. Diana was thankful that she’d had the foresight to magically teleport her stuffed animal onto her bed before Amanda could see it.

“Sounds like a date to me,” Amanda said stubbornly. “Have you considered that if a girl asks you to do all those things—”

“Akko didn’t ask me,” Diana interrupted. “I asked Akko.”

Amanda facepalmed. “And you don’t see how it looks for two girls to go out to town by themselves and see a movie together?”

“There’s nothing wrong with two dear friends spending time together in private.” Diana averted her gaze and tried not to think of the kiss whose effects still had her stomach waltzing wither her other internal organs.

“Why do you keep touching your cheek?” Amanda asked.

“What?” Diana hadn’t realized she’d been unconsciously touching the spot where she’d been kissed. She needed a way to distract Amanda before she stumbled onto the truth with that fool’s cunning of hers.

“What does it matter to you O’Neill?” she said dismissively. “Shouldn’t you be busy chasing after Hannah and Barbara?"

It was Amanda’s turn to feel uncomfortable. “Ah, well, you see, the thing is…”

“I see. They tired of your attitude and what nothing more to do with you.”

“That might be right…” Amanda had no idea what to say. Hannah’s behaviour was a complete mystery to her.

“That prospect seems to make you unhappy,” Diana noted. “I take that to mean that you wish to continue being friends with them?”

“Well, yeah—”

“Then apologize to them.”

“But I don’t know what I even did!”

“Then ask. Tell them that you acknowledge that you made a mistake, but that you’re too clueless and insensitive to figure it out on your own—”

“Oi!”

“—and express your heartfelt desire to continue your friendship. I’m certain they’ll take pity on you.”

“Y’know, I really don’t like your tone.” Amanda said with a pout.

Diana shrugged. “If you don’t like it, maybe you could ask the journalism team for advice.”

“Wow, you really know how to hold a grudge, don’t you?” Amanda groaned. “Why does this even matter to me so much. I wish I could just brush it off and go back to my life.”

“Perhaps you’re attracted to one of them,” Diana said sarcastically, rolling her azure eyes. “Or perhaps both of them. Wouldn’t that be exciting?”

A light bulb turned on inside Amanda’s head. A very unfortunate light bulb.

“Wait, what?”

“I’m sure that’s what you’d say to me in such a situation,” Diana replied.

No way, Amanda thought. It can’t be. There’s no way that I’m… not Hannah or Barbara!

But why not Hannah or Barbara? A dissenting voice in her head asked. It’s not as if either of them are unattractive. And for aristocrat girls, they’re no pushovers. You’re into that kind of thing, right? Sassy girls? So why isn’t a little Hannah or Barbara action on the table?

I really don’t want to have this internal debate right now, Amanda thought.

Diana went on. “Then again, that would be complicated, seeing as Hannah and Barbara are already a couple."

That factoid hit Amanda like a ton of bricks. Of course they are. How could I not see it. Does that have something to do with why Hannah’s mad at me? And if they really are a couple, why have they been messing with me when they have each other? I just don’t get those girls.

“Unrequited love certainly is a shame, but I’m sure you’ll live through it,” Diana said.

“And what about you, Diana?” Amanda asked, eager to change the subject so she didn’t have to figure out her feelings or Hannah and Barbara’s.

“What about me, what?”

“What about you and your inviting Akko on dates? I bet that has something to do with why you’re touching your face. Did she kiss you or something?”

“K-k-kiss!?”

“‘K-k-kiss!?’ Yeah, that’s a bingo right there.” Amanda laughed. “What’s the fuss? Didn’t you give her a peck on the cheek too?”

“That’s different!” Diana objected.

“And why would that be?” Amanda asked. “A smooch is a smooch. Or are you saying that your kiss was just a good-old fashioned platonic gal pal kiss, but you don’t think Akko meant it the same way?”

“I don’t think— I wouldn’t presume—” Diana was caught off guard. Why do I think our kisses are different? It’s not as if Akko had any sort of secret intent behind that kiss. Did she?

“Getting this flustered over a little kiss from your dear friend? I wonder what that could mean?” Amanda shrugged. “If I didn’t know better — because you’re always telling me I’m wrong — I would think that maybe you liked Akko. Y’know, like like her. Romantically. Like you want to be her girlfriend and her wife and have little baby Cavendishes with her.”

Diana spluttered. When she responded, she did so sternly and coldly. “I suppose we’ll just have to agree to disagree.”

“Works for me,” Amanda said. “Screw this, I’m going to get something to eat.”

“Don’t forget to kiss and makeup with Hannah and Barbara,” Diana called at her retreating back.

“Don’t forget to wed and bed Akko,” Amanda shot back over her shoulder. She’s so oblivious it actually hurts, she thought. Thank the Nine Olde Witches that I’m not like that.

 

 

*******

Diana retired to her room after dinner, having rushed there in order to avoid the fluttering feelings in her chest whenever her eyes met Akko’s. Why am I getting so flustered over a simple kiss on the cheek? If only there was a book I read to find the solution to this problem.

She stripped out of her leather jacket, hung it up in her closet, then collapsed on her bed. Abandoning all semblance of noble composure, she grabbed her pillow, held it to her chest, and buried her face in it.

Why am I letting this get to me? Akko and I are simply expressing physical affection for each other in a friendly manner. There’s nothing more to it. I can’t let O’Neill’s nonsense get to me…

But Diana wasn’t as sure as she was before that she was immune to Amanda’s words. Her arguments had become more and more persuasive. After all, were Hannah or Barbara to kiss her on the cheek she would hardly react in this way more than an hour after the fact. But it’s different for me and Akko. We’re dear friends…

A rebellious part of her brain spoke out. Is that really what it is? Can you and Akko continue to kiss each other like that without something changing?

Diana’s imagination latched onto that idea and ran with it. Diana imagined herself and Akko casually kissing each other on the cheek as a greeting, as a farewell. She imagined openly holding hands with her dear friend as a matter of course, between classes, at lunch, when they were spending time alone. Her arms tightened around the pillow as she fantasized about frequently hugging Akko, cuddling with her, perhaps sharing a bed. And, inevitably, as her lips brushed against the silky pillowcase, she imagined what it would be like to kiss Akko on the lips, to feel those soft, angelic lips against hers. After all, they were dear friends, and Diana was sure that Akko would let her try if she asked…

She rolled back and forth on the bed. What a preposterous idea as if Akko would ever agree to such a thing! As if I would ever ask! But if I were to kiss somebody, would it not be Akko? After all, who is closer to me than Akko, as dear to me as Akko? Who else would I be comfortable with? Diana became lost in her imagination, and unlike the other times, there was no timely force or presence of others to rouse her from it. She thought about the times when she and Akko had been alone together, when they might’ve had a chance to kiss in the past. In the secret hospital beneath the Cavendish Manor; when she had found Akko out in the snow; when they had stood at the edge of space. When she had tended to Akko’s sprained ankle in the nurse’s office; when they had been alone together and so, so close on Akko’s bed; at the culmination of their date that day.She pressed her lips to her pillow, as if it were Akko, right there with her...

Diana sat bolt upright and tossed her pillow to the side. I’ve let O’Neill’s chaos infect my thoughts. Nothing good will come of fantasies about kissing my closest friend. Diana conceded that fantasies about kissing were standard amongst girls her age, and she needn’t punish herself on that basis. She merely thought it was improper to be having these thoughts about Akko. I can’t rely on her for such things simply because I know she’s attracted to girls. Diana tried to imagine how Akko would react should she mention these thoughts to her or — Beatrix forbid — actually asked Akko to kiss her. Diana imagined that Akko was dead tired of girls having these sorts of assumptions about her being willing to kiss any girl who happened to be around. What a failure of a friend she would be to treat Akko like that.

Attempting to straighten out her thoughts, she made several points to try to figure out how her thoughts had gone down this embarrassing path. 1. She had a standard teenage desire to kiss and experience other forms of physical intimacy. 2. The person with whom she was most comfortable was Akko. 3. Akko liked girls and would theoretically be interested in kissing her, seeing was a girl, leading to the conclusion in 4. Diana fantasized about kissing Akko because such scenarios had a somewhat plausible basis, even if they were unlikely.

There it is, a somewhat logical progression with certain conclusions being leapt to, Diana reassured herself. And yet, she wasn’t convinced. Is that really what it is? A logical assumption that Akko is my best bet to experience a kiss? That hardly explained the warm, gushing feeling and stomach butterflies that had been the result of being kissed on the cheek by Akko. Maybe O’Neill had a point, maybe I do actually—

Diana ran away from those thoughts as fast as she could. She needed something to distract herself with, something to keep her thoughts from straying again. With all haste, she stood up from her bed and went over to her desk, desperate for something to read. What she found immediately knocked any warm and fuzzy feelings out of her head: the letter from Daryl. It had arrived during the newspaper debacle and she had forgotten to read it. She had been so busy since then thinking about Ak — other things.

Diana opened the envelope using her wand and read the letter. There was to be a party at the Cavendish estate and Daryl requested — demanded — her niece attend. Diana couldn’t care less about parties, the endless posturing of families who, like her own, were fading into irrelevance and were keenly overcompensating for it. One of the better parts of being of being in school was that she could dodge many of the nobility’s dreary social events by citing her academic responsibilities.

Her eyes skimmed over the letter’s contents with dim indifference until they snagged on the postscript: all invitees were permitted a plus one, and Daryl firmly suggested that Diana do so as well “so people won’t accuse you of being anti-social and boring.” One name came to her before she had even considered whether she wanted to invite a date. The name of the person who had been on her mind all day. She couldn’t think of inviting anyone else to accompany her, nor could she abandon the idea of inviting Akko now that it had occurred to her. And that frightened her.

Diana suddenly felt powerless. What is Akko to me that she’s on my mind all the time? That I can’t stand the thought of passing up a chance to be with her? She had never experienced such an obsession with someone else before. It was strange to realize that another person had a constant place in her thoughts. And if I invite Akko to this party with me, will I fall deeper and deeper into these feelings?

 

 

*******

Akko was too excited to sleep. Lotte and Sucy had fallen asleep ages ago, but Akko was too busy relishing her memory of kissing Diana on the cheek to fall asleep.She had to keep reassuring herself that it wasn’t a dream. I asked Diana if I could kiss her, and she said yes, so I did!

She wasn’t the only one kept awake by thoughts of that nature. There was a gentle knock at the door, so soft that it wouldn’t wake anyone up, but just loud enough to alert those you were still awake. In this case, Akko, who tiptoed over to door and cracked it open to see who was visiting.

“Could you step outside for a minute, Akko?” Diana requested.

Akko shimmied through the doorway and close the door behind her so their conversation wouldn’t wake her roommates.

“What’s up, Diana?” Akko asked. She did her best to keep her eyes level, but it was a struggle not to let them drift downward and drink in the sight of her crush wearing only a tank top and boxers. And this is right after wearing a leather jacket too. This girl has no mercy.

Diana was having a similar problem. She’d been having an issue with not staring at Akko’s legs all day. How many pairs of tiny shorts does she own? Diana wondered. Out loud she said, “Akko, I have a question to ask you. A favour.”

“Okay.” Don’t overthink this, Akko told herself. This is just a normal, urgent, late-night question. Nothing to get excited about.

“You see, Akko,” Diana began. “Next weekend there is to be a party at my family’s estate. My presence has been requested and, well…” She hesitated. You still have a chance to back out, she reminded herself. She decided that going along with her feelings — whatever they were — was better than repressing them. “My aunt has impressed upon me the importance of bringing a… a… a d-d-date to accompany me.” She coughed, choking on her own voice. “As the new head of the Cavendish family, I can hardly allow myself to be viewed as antisocial, or so Daryl says.”

“Oh, huh.” Akko pondered that for a second. “So who are you taking?”

Diana almost ran away at that point. I can’t do this. She’s going to make me say it outright, isn’t she? As fond as she was of Akko, her oblivious streak was not charming at this hour of the night.

She swallowed thickly. “I was wondering, Akko, would you be willing to be my companion that night?”

“Wait!?” Akko squeaked. “You want me to be your d-d-date!?”

“In a manner of speaking, yes.” When Akko’s response wasn’t immediate, she instantly began backpedalling. “Of course, if that doesn’t appeal to you, I could find someone else to—”

“I’ll do it!” Akko said leaning in closer to Diana. “Don’t worry, Diana! I can handle that mean, old aunt of yours! She doesn’t scare me! And we’ll have a hell of a good time too, while we’re at it!”

Akko’s confidence made Diana chuckle. “I don’t think it will be like last time, but i appreciate the thought.”

“Wait, I don’t have anything to wear to a fancy people party,” Akko said.

“Don’t worry about that,” Diana said. “I’ll make sure it’s taken care of. You are doing me a favour after all. Leave all the details to me. I’ll tell you anything you need to know later. But for right now we should go to bed.”

Akko almost asked “together?” which would’ve been a world record for ruining one’s own luck. “Okay.” But she didn’t return to her room just yet. She stretched herself as high as she could and planted a kiss on the tip of Diana’s nose. “If this is going to be our first date, you better make it a good one,” she joked in the way that people do when they’re being completely 100% serious and attempting to disguise it with irony. She was still giddy from the first kiss that day and would only regret her actions after waking up the next morning.

Akko went back into her room before Diana could react, which was a generous window of time given that receiving a second kiss from Akko in one day had almost caused her a mental breakdown. Was she… being serious? Diana had assumed that she was being arrogant any time she considered that Akko might be interested in her aside from being her friend or rival.

She stood in front of the Red Team’s dorm, bewildered. It wasn’t bad enough that she had to sort out her own feelings; now she had to parse Akko’s as well.

*******

While Diana had been mulling over her feelings in her room, Amanda had been busy. She could hardly sit still after having advice shoved down her throat by Diana Cavendish. That was a clear indication that she was being a square, and that needed to change on the double.

She sat in the open Philosopher's Stone chamber at the top of the New Moon Tower. A bit melodramatic for her tastes, but she didn’t want to be overhead.

Before long, Hannah and Barbara arrived, the latter smiling, the former scowling. She didn’t want to confront them (Hannah, specifically) directly before then, so she asked Lotte to give a sealed message to Barbara, asking her to convince Hannah to come to their current explanation.

“So what’s this?” Hannah asked sharply. “Bringing us to the top of a tower. Are you going to tell us you’re secretly Batman or something?”

“Calm down,” Barbara whispered into her ear. “Remember what we talked about.”

“I’m sorry.”

Hannah and Barbara stared at Amanda in mild shock. Did Amanda O’Neill just apologize?

“I don’t know what I did, but I figure I must’ve done something stupid. Whatever it is I did, I want you to tell me, so I can apologize and promise not to do it again.”

Hannah forced a laugh. “You’re apologizing without even knowing what you did? You’re sort of swallowing your pride there. I’d have thought—”

“It’s worth it.”

“Huh?” Hannah let her interrupt, a definitely rare occurrence. Barbara bit her lip in anticipation.

“Whatever it is I have to drop, whatever it is I have to do to make things better, it’s worth it.” Amanda took a deep breath, steeling herself for sincerity the likes which had never left her mouth before. “I like you guys. I want to keep being friends with you. I regret being kind of a shit to you two before. You girls are awesome and you’re kickass friends. Whatever I did to mess that up is something I don’t want to do again. So please tell me, so we can go back to normal.”

Barbara was speechless. That was beautiful. She just bared her soul to us. It was like something out of Nightfall, but a thousand times better. She’s so pure! Barbara was certain that they could mend fences. In fact, she figured they could tell Amanda the truth up front and she would—

“Tell you what,” Hannah said stiffly. “We — I’ll forgive you on one condition. There’s a party at Cavendish Manor next weekend. Be my plus one. Deal?”

Amanda blinked. That was easy. Wait… “Be your plus one? That’s it?”

“Did I stutter?”

“What about Barbara?”

“You can also be my plus one,” Barbara tittered.

Not what I meant, Amanda thought. Aren’t these two dating? Why do they want me to be their plus one and not just be each other’s date? Amanda didn’t know what to think of it, but she did know that there was only one acceptable answer.

“Yes.”

“Good,” Hannah said. “We’ll give you the important details later. Welcome aboard.”

Amanda nodded and got up to leave with the two of them.

“Oh, and one more thing,” Hannah said, her eyes burning with what Amanda was tempted to call lust. “If you really want to sweeten the deal, you’ll show up to the party wearing a suit.”

Chapter Text

The date of the party at the Cavendish Manor approached at an agonizing pace, the time paradoxically drawing out like a torture session even as the days themselves seemed to vanish into thin air. Each of the girls was nervous about the impending event and what it would hold. Though the grace period before the party was far too short for their liking, the time they spent with their dear friends seemed to dilate the passage of time due to their awkwardness with one another.

Of the five girls, Akko was the one least affected by nerves. Her characteristic overconfidence for the most part insulated her from thinking about what could go wrong at the party. What concerned her most was what Daryl and her twin daughters would say or do; she didn’t trust them not to try to hurt her Diana and she wouldn’t hesitate to protect her crush. Maybe she’ll give me a kiss as thanks , she thought giddily after one of her many fantasies that week about gallantly rescuing Diana from the clutches of her aunt. 

“Are you gonna make a move on Cavendish tomorrow?” Amanda asked the day before the party. “Never mind someone else snatching her up, there’s a definite chance one of you is gonna die of old age before you get a move on.”

“I’m working on it, okay!” Akko fumed. “And I don’t want to hear that from another single girl!”

Out of all the girls, Akko was the one who had been consciously dealing with her own feelings for the longest and had taught herself to lower her expectations. Despite the apparent deepening of her relationship with her dear friend, Akko wasn’t hoping for much to happen at the party. Quite frankly, she was still high off getting to kiss Diana twice in one day and considered her good luck exhausted for the rest of the year.

Diana, on the other hand, was more nervous than she could ever remember. Exams had never elicited such a response from her. Even her family’s succession ceremony hadn’t fazed her; Diana had approached every hardship in her life with cool resignation, secure in the knowledge that anxiety would only hinder her. However, Diana’s heart fluttered whenever she thought of the party. The mere mention of it caused her to drop whatever she was holding, or to stumble over her own feet.

“Somebody’s excited about the party,” Amanda said, smirking up a storm as she watched Diana barely avoid falling down a flight of stairs. “Since when does Luna Nova’s biggest stick-in-the-mud get excited about parties? I wonder what the difference could be...”

Diana could offer no denial. After all, her date to the aforementioned party was none other than Akko, the girl who kissed her twice in one day. Diana had never been more confuddled. She couldn’t stop herself from wondering what the kisses had meant to Akko (Simple expressions of friendly affection? Something more?) and chastising herself for questioning her closest friend’s intentions; Diana was the one who had leapt at the chance to invite her friend to an event which would surely entail dancing. There was also the matter of her insistent, intrusive thoughts about what it might be like to kiss her dear friend…

“If you don’t stop staring at Akko in that totally heterosexual way, she’s going to get the wrong idea,” Amanda said.

“It’s not too late for you to be uninvited,” Diana said. “Or rather, banned from the premises.”

Amanda was of two minds where the party was concerned; she was glad for the opportunity to make things up to Hannah and Barbara (though she still had no idea what she’d done wrong), but she was worried that she would mess things up again. Her previously invulnerable confidence as a smooth operator had taken a hit she had yet to recover from. She spent the week leading up to the party hanging out with Hannah and Barbara, masking her anxiety with feigned confidence. From what she could tell, Hannah and Barbara were none the wiser about her current insecurity. In fact, they seemed to have gone back to normal, save for the rare, narrow-eyed glances from Hannah, like a hawk weighing the merits chasing a particularly pathetic mouse.

“If you keep acting like this, Amanda’s going to think you actually don’t like her,” Barbara pointed out.

“Well if she can’t figure out what I’m really feeling, that’s her fault,” Hannah grumbled. She knew that wasn’t exactly fair, but she wasn’t sure she cared.

Hannah was conflicted, caught between her feelings for Amanda and the sting of her rejection. Well, not a rejection per se, but her complete lack of awareness regarding the two girls who were currently angling to jump her bones. Far from wising up, Amanda was trucking on oblivious as ever, but with a suspicious niceness layered in, her joking and snarking replaced with sincere friendliness. There was something about her remorse that rubbed Hannah the wrong way. To be direct, it just wasn’t Amanda. It was almost upsetting to see the characteristically uncooperative girl going out of her way not to offend either of them. Hannah wasn’t sure if she wanted to give her a hug or smack her back to normal. In the end, she took to alleviating her own frustrations by teasing Diana about taking Akko as her date.

“Diana’s totally ridiculous,” Hannah said with a smirk. “She’s literally taking Akko home and she hasn’t even figured out how she feels for her yet.”

“Talk about the pot calling the cauldron black,” Barbara mumbled.

With matters between Amanda and Hannah unresolved, it was up to Barbara to play the diplomat. She became the bridge of affection between the two of them, maintaining a delicate balance catering to each of her beloved’s feelings. Amanda seemed tense for reasons Barbara couldn’t suss out, and her attempts to ease that tension through physical affection only seemed to complicate things. Despite that setback, Barbara’s hopes were high. She formulated various plans with Hannah on how to use the party to lock Amanda into their dream triad, and she couldn’t have been more excited when the appointed day finally arrived.

Diana, Akko, Hannah, and Barbara left for the leyline after lunch. Diana’s presence was required in the hours leading up to the soiree, her roommates were going to help her, and Diana had insisted that Akko come along with them. Amanda was to arrive at the manor just before the party so she could meet up with her dates.

Even with a full week to prepare for it, Akko and Diana were flustered for the entirety of the broom ride. This easily could’ve been avoided had they taken separate brooms, but it would’ve been suspicious for either of them to ask that they take separate brooms after sharing one on their last outing together. Or at least, that’s what Diana told herself. The awkwardness might have been preferable to the nervousness caused by Akko clinging to her waist. Emboldened by the progress she’d made a week ago, she wasn’t holding back. Akko’s heart was racing, sure, but she wasn’t going to let that get in the way. Even the knowledge that Hannah and Barbara could see them couldn’t deter her.

Akko raced off toward the manor as soon as they dismounted, boasting that she would be the first one inside.

“You didn’t need to do that to yourself if you were going to get so flustered,” Hannah commented.

“I have no idea what you mean,” Diana said. 

“The two of you could’ve ridden your own brooms,” Barbara replied. “Interesting that you decided not to.”

Diana made a frustrated noise and left them behind to chase Akko. Anna and the staff, who had been dutifully waiting for their mistress, met them at the door. “It’s so good to see you again, Lady Diana… and friend.” The matronly woman seemed unsure of how to treat Akko, her discourteousness from her first visit to the manor weighing heavily on the scales of Anna’s judgement despite everything Akko had done for Diana since then. Or perhaps she was measuring how close her mistress was standing next to the girl she’d invited as her companion for the night.

Undaunted, Akko cheerily greeted Anna in return — she was hardly the mansion resident the girl was worried about. Anna received Hannah and Barbara when they caught up, and the staff took the girls’ brooms away for them.

“The preparations are proceeding according to schedule,” Anna said as she led them inside. “Your assistance would be greatly appreciated. Your aunt is… not forthcoming with regards to providing the enchanted decorations.”

Diana wasn’t surprised. Aunt Daryl’s attitude toward magic had changed after its revival, but it was still too much to expect her to lift so much as a wand herself when there were others who could do the work for her.

As if summoned by Diana’s silent criticism, Daryl appeared at the top of the entrance hall’s stairs, wearing that bulky, green suit of hers. “Long time no see, Diana,” she said, lips curling into a serpentine smile. “I was beginning to think you weren’t going to show.”

Without missing a beat, Akko stepped between her crush and the evil snake lady. “You!” She pointed her finger at the woman accusingly.

“That’s hardly the way to greet your hostess,” Daryl said. “I would’ve thought that spending time with my niece would’ve tempered your insolence, but it seems I was mistaken.”

Diana stepped around Akko and placed herself between her dear friend and her aunt. “I won’t hear a word against Akko. She is my guest and she will have your respect.”

Daryl raised an eyebrow. “Wasting no time throwing your weight around as the new head of the House? I can’t say I disapprove. The House of Cavendish needs a strong leader, and you appear to have something new to offer.”

Diana couldn’t tell if Daryl was insulting her or not, knew better than to rise to her aunt’s provocations. Akko, however, silently seethed at her side, tensed like a spring ready to launch to her friend’s defense at the first sign of abuse. Hannah and Barbara held back uncertainly.

“There’s no need for those snarling looks,” Daryl said. “There are still matters which must be attended to before the party begins.” She looked down at Diana. “Seeing as you’re the new head of our house, I’m certain that you’ll see that they’re taken care of.”

Diana briefly regretted undoing the curse beset upon her aunt when she interrupted the succession ceremony.

Naturally, Diana took over organizing the rest of the preparations. Hannah and Barbara helped her with all magic-related activities, and Akko helped out with smaller tasks and acting as a gopher. As expected, Daryl did little to assist them, but she was always lurking off to the side, watching the interactions between Diana and Akko like an anaconda 

Or maybe she just had snakey resting face. The staff insisted on doing all the kitchen work, despite Akko attempts to help that may or may not have been in service of trying to sneak food. Once the preparations were finished, dinner was served. Akko’s table manners hadn’t improved since her last visit, but Diana found she didn’t mind so much this time around. She was too glad to have her sitting at her side to be embarrassed. Thankfully Daryl, Maril, and Merrill didn’t join them.

The girls left the dining room so the staff could clear things up. Diana and her guests made their way to the bedrooms.

“Alright, girls, Hannah said, clapping her hands together. “Let’s get the two of you dolled up.”

“I can dress myself you know,” Akko whined.

“We’ve seen the way you dress,” Barbara scoffed. “You’re not hitting the dance floor in high-heeled crocs.”

“Hey! I wouldn’t — wait are those really a thing?”

“Akko, if you care about me you’ll do what Hannah and Barbara tell you,” Diana said sternly. As charming as Akko’s unique fashion sense was in casual settings, Diana didn’t need that sort of flashiness at her side during her first formal function the new head of the House of Cavendish. “I hope you two can trust me to ready myself with assistance.

“Oh, don’t worry,” Hannah said with a snicker. “We’ve got you covered.”

How perfectly ominous, Diana thought.

“We’ll make sure your date is the prettiest girl at the ball,” Barbara said.

Diana blushed and refused to rise to her friend’s playful taunt. “I’m required to kick off the festivities with my aunt,” she said. “I’ll find you girls as soon afterward as I can manage.” She turned to withdraw to her room only to stall when Akko grabbed her hand, clinging to her tightly in the way Diana was gradually becoming accustomed to.

“Are you gonna be alright?” Akko asked, a slight wavering in her voice. “That aunt of yours is acting all suspicious.”

Oh, sweet, darling Akko, Diana thought. The depths of Akko’s kindness never ceased to surprise her. She really does care for me dearly. If Diana could’ve had her way, she wouldn’t let Akko leave her side so she could bask in the warm glow of her dear friend’s loving eyes. “My aunt isn’t going to do anything to me,” she said. “And I’m not going to let her or my cousins do or say anything to you.”

Akko didn’t look convinced, and even a tender squeeze of her hand did little to assuage her worries. Diana wanted to do something to reassure her, but she couldn’t decide what to do. Since their outing the previous week, the idea of being intimate with Akko made her uneasy. Not uncomfortable, but uncertain. The thought of giving her dear friend a hug made her heart pound like a jackhammer, and the thought of touching her lips to Akko’s cheek exhumed buried memories of her kissing fantasies. Paralyzed by indecision, Diana defaulted to doing nothing. And ached terribly for it.

The other girls went to the guest room Hannah and Barbara used during their visits, Diana staring after Akko longingly before returning to her own bedroom.

Half an hour passed and Diana had yet to so much as pick something to wear. Diana had never been one to dally when preparing for social functions. She had always readied herself mechanically, conforming to the expectations that she knew she would inevitably be held to. Today, she faltered. Though she was not as obsessed with fashion as her cousins, Diana had no shortage of dresses to wear. The sheer variety should’ve provided an option, but nothing looked right.

What would Akko like to see me wear? Diana wondered. Akko was her date after all, and would be looking at her all night, a fact that made Diana’s heart flutter.

“Are you going to stare at your closet all night, or are you going to put something on?”

She had been so lost in thought that she didn’t notice her aunt enter the room. “If you need help with something, ask your daughters.”

“You’re the one who needs help,” Daryl said. “Fortunately for you I’ve decided to take mercy on you.” She walked around Diana and closed the closet doors. “You’re not going to find what you’re looking for in there.”

“How would you know what I’m looking for?”

“Look at what you’re wearing right now and ask me that again.” Daryl shook her head, smiling smugly. “Honestly. Just who do you think has been providing you with your masculine clothing?”

“I assumed it was Anna, given that it was she whom I asked to do so.”

Daryl tutted. “That old woman wouldn’t know fashion if it knocked over a family heirloom. I’ll admit, I never would’ve expected such a deviance from the norms from someone who’s constantly lecturing others on the importance of tradition. I’ve been keeping abreast of your activities at Luna Nova. Your school’s newspaper has been very insightful.”

Diana blushed. “By which I hope you mean lacking journalistic standards.”

“My, my, what a reaction. They did publish a retraction after accusing you of dating your little friend. Or is that the error you were referring to?”

“I hardly see how it’s your business.”

“There’s no need to be so defensive. I’ve elected to indulge your eccentricities. It’s no skin off my back if my niece dresses like a boy and dates the saviour of magic. The reactions from the other noble families will give me something to laugh about.”

“I’m not dressing ‘like a boy’,” Diana said. “I’m dressing like myself. And I’m not dating Akko!” She wished her face would cool down so her protests would be more convincing.

“Not yet,” Daryl said. “Date whomever you like, but you’re not going to win over any suitors by squeezing yourself into a dress and moping all night over it. You’re going to need eveningwear to match your new style.”

“Maril, Merrill, bring it in.”

Diana’s cousins appeared at the doorway, bearing an outfit which they laid out on Diana’s bed and stepped back so she could take it all in.

Diana didn’t take the outfit in so much as fall deeply into it. The navy blue jacket and trousers, cut sharp as a knife. Layered underneath were a lighter blue plaid-patterned waistcoat and a white dress shirt. The indigo bowtie studded the sternum like a sapphire necklace, and the outfit was paired with a pink rose boutonnière that would rest over her heart.

“It’s perfect,” Diana said, breathless with awe.

“Your friends Hannah and Barbara gave me suggestions,” Daryl said. “They argued that your outfit and Akko’s should be coordinated.”

If this is what I am to wear, Diana thought, what am I to expect from Akko?  

Daryl smirked. “Now put that on before the party starts and I have to explain that the new head is mooning over her own clothes.” Maril and Merrill tittered as they followed their mother out of the room.

Diana ran her hand across the suit. She half-expected it to dissolve under her fingers like a dream. It didn’t seem real. Naturally her thoughts strayed to anticipating Akko’s reaction. She recalled the look on Akko’s face every time she dressed differently, from her date outfit to her new sleepwear, to the way her dear friend stared at her when she first presented as butch. Akko found her new wardrobe attractive; there was no doubting that. The two of them would be together for the rest of the night, paired for everyone to see.

They weren’t dating, no matter what anyone said. But Akko was her date for the night. Her eyes would be on Diana, and there existed a possibility that she looked at Diana as someone closer than a dear friend. She was to use the word “date,” after all.

Maybe, just maybe, would it be alright to entertain that fantasy.

 

*******

 

Several doors away, Hannah and Barbara were trying to wrangle Akko, who was spaced out thinking about her parting interaction with Diana. It was obvious that the heiress was troubled by something, and Akko wanted to help her. Diana had been acting oddly all week. Maybe she was fretting about the party. Whenever she was around Akko she seemed distracted, like she wanted to say something but kept holding back. Sometimes she wondered if she’d messed up and made Diana uncomfortable, only to have those doubts allayed whenever her crush’s face lit up just from seeing her. It was all very confusing, and Akko hoped to get to the bottom of it by the end of the night.

Hannah groaned. “Look, we get that you’re pining for Diana but can you hold it in for like ten seconds and stop fidgeting?” She was trying to do Akko’s hair, and it was awfully tempting to pull on it to keep the girl in check.

“Who says I’m thinking about Diana?” Akko said, admitting a little too much. Did I say that out loud?

“You have your ‘pining for Diana’ face on,” Barbara said. “It’s extremely recognizable.” The girl only had two faces, that one and her “gawking at Diana” face. “It’s also really difficult to put makeup on, so stop scrunching up your face unless you’re okay looking like a clown.”

Mou, fine!” Akko smoothed out her face and sat as still as possible. As still as possible for Akko, anyway. How could she not vibrate with excitement when she was attending a party with her crush? 

She couldn’t have been more pleased with her dress. It was a knee-length pastel-pink number made of flowy, light fabric like cotton candy. It was slim at the waist, displayed a tasteful amount of her décolletage, supported by two thin straps over her shoulders. A choker of the same material circled her neck, adorned by a deep blue rose that tickled when it brushed against her skin.

‘This dress is amazing though,” Akko said, playing with the hem. “When Diana invited me to a fancy party, I was worried about what I was going to wear, but this is perfect!”

“You can thank us for this little dream come true,” Hannah said. “Your dear friend won’t be able to take her eyes off you.”

“Diana’s been excited about this party all week,” Barbara said. “Even you won’t be able to screw up tonight.”

Akko frowned. While she didn’t mind the encouragement, she found it hella confusing. “Why do you two care? Like, I thought you two pretty much hated me.”

“Hating on Akko Kagari is so last year,” Hannah said. 

“Like, you honestly have no idea how much entertainment you’ve given us,” Barbara added.

Akko wasn’t sure how to feel about that. Then again, she was never one to look a gift unicorn in the mouth. “If you really want to help me, you could tell me if Diana likes girls or not.”

Hannah and Barbara exchanged a glance that did not inspire confidence. “So here’s the thing,” the former said, “she’s never really said anything definitive about her sexual or romantic orientation.” Well, nothing that didn’t sound like self-denial.

“On the other hand,” the latter added, “you’re the only person she’s ever gone on a date with. Like, tons of guys have tried to court her but she’s never let them get anywhere near her.”

“I guess that’s something,” Akko said. She would’ve liked a little more confirmation, but if nothing else she learned that she was special to Diana. “At least you guys know that Amanda’s actually gay.”

“She sure doesn’t act like it,” Hannah grumbled as she applied powder to Akko’s cheeks.

“Uh, are we talking about the same Amanda?” Akko frowned, the crease between her eyebrows stressing out her makeup artist. “The same Amanda you two are taking as your date?”

“Never mind that,” Barbara said as she uncapped a lipstick tube. “Zip those lips for a second before I give you a Glasgow smile.”

Akko did as she was told. What’s gotten into Amanda lately? Akko mused. Maybe the self-professed lesbian icon of Luna Nova had been holding herself in check so Hannah and Barbara wouldn’t think she was into them. And she’s been getting after me for not being direct enough. She wondered if she could play the wingwoman for her benefactors tonight. If she wasn’t too busy trying to charm Diana, that is.

Hannah stepped back “Let’s see the finished project.”  She looked Akko over and a flurry of emotions crossed her face. “Ugh, it’s just what I thought.”

“What!?” Akko asked, alarmed. “What is it?”

Barbara did the same as her other half, complete with a matching expression. “I can’t believe it either. You’re disgustingly cute, Akko.” She gestured to the mirror. “Take a look.”

Again, Akko did what she was told. She couldn’t believe her eyes. She barely recognized herself. Who was the princess staring back at her, and could Akko get her number? Her face was like a supermodel’s, powdered to perfection to bring out her natural features, her lips painted pink to highlight what otherwise might go unnoticed. Her hair was pulled into a bun at the back of her head with a pink scrunchie, leaving matching shoulder-length side bangs to frame her face. Akko looked pretty damn gorgeous if she did say so herself. Which she did.

“I’m so damn beautiful.” Akko’s eyes watered and she threw her arms around the other girls. “You two are the best.” 

“Ew, you’re going to give us commoner cooties,” Hannah said, holding back a giggle.

“More importantly, you’re going to mess up your makeup,” Barbara said. “We’re not going to do it for you a second time.”

Akko giggled. She was pretty as hell, and tonight she’d have her crush all to herself. Akko hadn’t felt this good since she defeated the Noir Missile and restored magic to the world. She felt like she could do anything, like push through the awkwardness between her and Diana, maybe even end up being her girlfriend! Anything could happen on tonight of all nights, and Akko was going to make sure something happened. A believing heart was her magic, and her heart was certain that she had a chance with Diana.

 

*******

 

Evening fell upon the Cavendish Manor and the long-awaited party began. Amanda arrived unfashionably on time to make sure Hannah didn’t have another thing to hold against her. Following her instructions of the letter, Amanda was dressed in her best (and only) suit. The jacket hung loosely from her shoulders, and she left her tie in her dresser where it belonged.

She swaggered into the entrance hall like she owned the place. Despite her vulgar attitude, Amanda had been raised with the knowledge of how to behave at a high-society party. But that didn’t mean she was gonna use it.

“Where are my bitches at?”

Akko appeared at her side immediately. “ Mou! You’re gonna get kicked out if you keep talking like that.”

Not her bitches, but she’d do. “Lighten up, this is a party, right?” Amanda threw an arm around Akko’s shoulders. “I can’t believe we’re finally here,” she said. “That week dragged on forever.”

“I know right?” Akko chuckled. “It’s like we’ve been waiting a year or something.”

There was an awkward silence.

“Damn, though, Akko. You clean up nice. I might ask you to save a dance for me,” she teased.

Akko giggled. “Thanks, I had a lot of help from Hannah and Barbara. Who knew those two could be totally awesome wingwomen?”

“Yeah,” Amanda chuckled uneasily. “Right. So, uh, did they say anything about me?” She had a sinking feeling that she was being stood up.

The nervous tension surrounding Amanda was palpable, but that didn’t mean Akko was going to pick up on it. “I think they’re talking to Diana right now.” She nudged her friend playfully. “How did you even get two dates? Did you blackmail them or something?” Of course Akko knew what was up, but she was curious if Amanda did. 

“I honestly don’t know.” Her confidence faltered, which simply wouldn’t do, because she was Amanda-fucking-O’Neill, and Amanda-fucking-O’Neill never let petty shit like drama get her down. She cranked up the cockiness. ”I guess I’m just that irresistible.”

As if in agreement, a wolf-whistle caught their attention. They turned to see Hannah and Barbara approaching them. Like at Andrew’s birthday party, Hannah had let her hair down, and Barbara had her hair up. Hannah wore a sunny yellow dress whose hem playfully floated around her knees and teased the sight of her lower thighs. Barbara wore a slinky, violet dress that hugged her figure like a lover. Matching necklaces glittered at their throats, drawing attention to their collarbones and bond between the pair.

“Colour me surprised that you can arrive on time and dress yourself,” Hannah said, openly raking her eyes over Amanda’s suit.

“Hannah! Barbara! We were just talking about you.”

“I hope you were saying nice things,” Barbara said.

“Yeah, nice. Really nice.” Unlike Akko, Amanda had never seen Hannah and Barbara dressed to the nines, and it sure was something. Those two were fucking gorgeous. “Realy, really nice.”

“If you really wanted to impress us, you should’ve worn a tie,” Hannah said, producing one herself. She shot Barbara an exasperated look. “What did I tell you?”

“She wouldn’t be Amanda if she followed social convention,” Barbara replied. She gave Amanda a lopsided smiled. “You know, ‘black tie event’ isn’t a metaphor.”

“Ties are for boardrooms and BDSM,” Amanda said. She eyed Hannah with suspicion as she gripped the tie like a garrote. “Are you going to strangle me with that thing?”

“I might,” Hannah said sharply.

Barbara rolled her eyes at the two and took the tie from Hannah’s hand. “Come here, you.” Before Amanda could react, she slipped the tie around her neck and knotted it for her. Barbara was altogether too close for Amanda, and the way her hands gently tightened the tie made her throat close up. “Is that tight enough? Loose enough?”

The tie might as well have been a noose for all the noise she could get out. Amanda looked to Akko for help, but the other girl was too busy trying not to laugh. 

Hannah smirked. “What was that you said? Ties are for boardrooms and what?”

Amanda blushed. Tonight was either going to be a whole lot of fun or downright torture.

Barbara smiled, evidently pleased by her effect on Amanda. She stepped away and nodded in the direction of the ballroom. “Now that all of us are presentable, we ought to join the festivities. Diana has to give a speech, and then the party starts for real.”

 

*******

 

Diana had never seen her ancestral home so lively, nor had the ballroom ever looked so exquisite. The staff had scrubbed away the decay of the years until the floor shone and the walls glimmered. Magical fires floated overhead, bathing the partygoers in a warm glow. Some of the guests were from witch families, some from the mundane aristocracy, all eager to see the new head of the House of Cavendish in her natural habitat.

They had no idea what they were in for.

Diana stood atop a dais at the far side of the room, and despite the fact that her aunt was nearby, she had never felt more confident. Her suit felt right . It fit like a second skin, tailor-made for her not just in its stitches but in its essence. Whatever the reaction the party guests had to her unusual attire, Diana couldn’t be troubled to notice. She only cared about the reaction of one person at the party...

“I see you’re pleased with your suit,” Daryl said, smirking. “I wonder what your girlfriend will think of it.”

“Akko is not my girlfriend,” Diana said automatically.

“Is that so? Such a shame. She would make an excellent addition to the House of Cavendish.”

Diana scoffed. “I find it hard to believe you want a commoner to marry into our family. Your initial reaction to her heritage was one of disgust, if I recall correctly.”

“That was before she became the saviour of magic. Our family could use all the standing it can get, and getting our hands on the witch world’s latest celebrity would be a step in the right direction. I’m sure you find the prospect more appealing than marrying some old man for money.”

I should’ve known. Diana realized that her aunt had been counting on her bringing Akko as her date, and she felt foolish for being that predictable. “Of course I’d rather marry a friend than a rich stranger. There’s only one problem — I’m not interested in women.”

Daryl rolled her eyes. “When have you ever shown interest in a boy? Either you’re interested in no one, or you’re going to make an honest woman of your date.”

Why does everybody keep saying this about me!? Diana despaired. Why can’t they leave me alone? “For the last time, Akko and I are just friends, and I can safely assure you, I am not a—”

Diana’s breath was sucked from her lungs as the crowd parted and her eyes fell on Akko. Had she ever seen anyone so beautiful? Her first thought was that Hannah and Barbara had used a glamour, but even magic couldn’t explain the sight before her. It was Akko as Diana had never seen her, refined like a cut gemstone and shining brilliantly as the sun. From the hem of her fairy tale princess dress to the crown of her perfect head, she was the very picture of beauty, like the goddess Aphrodite rising from the sea foam. Diana was struck by the sudden urge to sweep Akko off her feet and take captive her attention in return. She wanted Akko — she needed Akko. All the confusing, conflicting feelings she had struggled with for so long crystallized into an earth-shattering revelation. The scales were cleansed from her eyes and she saw the truth before her for what it was and had always been. Their eyes met and in that moment Diana realized that was hopelessly and desperately in love with her dear friend.

Daryl snorted. “You were saying?”

Diana swallowed. “I think I’m a lesbian.”

Chapter Text

Under more ideal circumstances, Diana would’ve had time to examine these newfound feelings and consider their implications. If only she had the opportunity to do some research, to write down her thoughts and organize them, and generally freak out. As it were, she had to contain the tempest while remaining at her aunt’s side as she delivered her opening speech.

Luckily, Daryl’s speeches were dull and carried by a droning voice that was easy to tune out.

How could I have possibly mistaken these feelings for anything else? Diana wondered. How could I have been so oblivious? She had even fantasized about kissing Akko without realizing she was unambiguously attracted to her. She had never felt anything like this before. Her heart ached for Akko. She wanted nothing more than to run to Akko and hold her tight, propriety be damned. Alas, she was compelled to restrain herself, counting the seconds until she could go to her side. To think, Diana Cavendish , lovesick. Over a girl, no less. She really was a lesbian. A wonderful discovery to be sure, but unfortunately it meant that Amanda O’Neill had been right all along.

“Without further ado, the new head of the House of Cavendish.” Daryl smirked as she gave the floor to Diana, amused by the prospect of her lovestruck niece having to perform under pressure. To her credit, Diana launched into her own prepared speech with practiced ease. She could’ve recited it in her sleep, which meant that while her frontal lobe concerned itself with the speech, her hind brain was given free rein to think about her crush. All she could do was mull over how to proceed and tried not to look at Akko. Should their eyes meet again, the facade would crumble, and Diana’s thoughts would mix with her words. What a disaster that would’ve been. She didn’t want Akko learning about her feelings that way.

And how would she reveal her feelings to Akko? What words? What circumstances? The temptation to try to close the gap by the night’s end was tantalizing. Proceeding recklessly would do her no good, but she resolved to use this evening as an opportunity to make up for lost time.

 

*******

 

The crowd dispersed and the girls moved over to the punch bowls. Diana would be along shortly, but until then the others would be discussing her latest look.

“Damn,” Amanda said. “Cavendish is in top form tonight. Never mind a snack, she’s looking like a fucking banquet. Why do the rest of us even bother?”

“Feeling insecure?” Hannah sniped. “You can go home if you’re feeling shown up.”

“It’s Diana’s job to be hotter than the rest of us,” Barbara said. “For what it’s worth, there are girls who are much more my type.”

Amanda quirked an eyebrow. “What’s your type?”

“Redheads,” Hannah said bluntly.

They’re definitely messing with me, Amanda thought. Even now they were standing just a bit closer to her than was usual; they weren’t so much a group of four as a triad with a hanger-on. Would they be flirting with her all night? Normally she’d be down for a little non-committal fun at a party, but with these girls she had to worry about her own feelings, which sucked the fun out of it like Diana with a vacuum.

“And what does Akko think about her dear friend ’s new look?” Barbara asked, giggling.

Akko hadn’t said anything since she caught sight of Butch Diana in all her suited glory. So far she had made her nose bleed, made her drool, and now Butch Diana made Akko do absolutely nothing. She had barely breathed since she laid eyes on her crush, breathless from her non-stop internal screaming. Her last coherent thought was, I didn’t know what to expect, but I sure didn’t expect that!

Amanda tapped on Akko’s head. “I think her brain is broken. She’s got a serious case of gay overload.” Given how stiffly Diana had delivered her speech, the feeling was mutual.

Hannah sighed. “Those two are going to fawn over each other something awful, aren’t they?”

“Most certainly,” Barbara said. “It’s such a shame that things are going to go so smoothly for them,” she added with a grin.

“In that case, how about we mix things up a little?” Amanda leaned in between Hannah and Barbara and whispered a devilish plan. “I’d do it myself, but…”

“Got it,” Hannah said.

“Hey, Akko?”

Akko didn’t react to Hannah and Barbara closing in on her like two lionesses on the hunt, but she almost jumped out of her skin when the pair each kissed her on the cheek, leaving two prominent marks from their lipstick.

“What are you doing!?” The pitch of Akko’s voice rocketed into the stratosphere. “What if Diana sees!?”

“What if Diana sees what?”

Akko shrieked, turned around, and came face to face with the girl of her dreams. If Diana was dazzling at a distance, she was devastatingly handsome up close. The hair, the suit. The everything. Akko could’ve died happy as long as the last thing she saw was Diana.

Diana was no less subtle in her open admiration of Akko. She had seen Akko in a dress before — and squirmed when she realized she’d seen Akko in her dress before — but this . This was an experience.

“H-h-hi Diana,” Akko managed to get out. “Y-y-you look g-g-great.”

“Thank you, Akko,” Diana replied. “You look very attract—” She veered off at the last second. “—tastic. Attractastic.” 

“Yeah, that’s definitely not a word,” Amanda observed.

“It is, not that you would know.” Diana doubled down. “It derives from the Middle French attractastique , itself derived from Latin and Greek roots—”

“Sure it does.” Amanda smirked as she never smirked before. Diana and Akko were useless gay at the best of times; this party would be a no braincells affair.

“They look pretty good together, don’t they,” Hannah whispered to Amanda.

“We made sure that their outfits were colour coordinated,” Barbara added.

Amanda’s eyes look over the aforementioned outfits and made the connection. The flower on Akko’s choker was the same colour as Diana’s suit, and the rose on Diana’s lapel was the same colour as Akko’s dress. Amanda grinned.

“By the way,” she said to Akko, “cute choker. What’s that flower mean? ‘Property of Diana Cavendish’?”

“Urk!” Akko had been too busy ogling Diana to pick up on the colour coordination between their outfits. She absolutely would have signed up to belong to Diana, but she wasn’t about to admit that right in front of her. “Uh, it means that I’m up to my neck in love and appreciation for my dear friend!” Nailed it.

Diana internally flinched at the term ‘dear friend.’ Whatever had possessed her to utter those words in the first place? She had spent so much energy distancing herself from her true feelings that surely she would look foolish to admit to them after all that denial. ‘Dear friend,’ indeed. What’s worse was that Akko had adopted the words to match Diana’s description of their relationship, and its originator had no earthly idea what it meant now. Was Akko using it in the platonic sense that she had originally meant it; was she also covering up her own feelings, or was that simply wishful thinking on Diana’s part?

She realized that it was pointless to internally speculate about her crush’s feelings. Better to allude to her own and see Akko’s reaction. “As for my outfit, this boutonniere means that I hold Akko close to my heart.”

Okay, Akko thought, but how close? She could stand to be a little closer than she already was, and the thought made her blush ever so slightly. Just kidding, she blushed a lot.

Diana looked at Akko closely, attempting to assess her reaction for signs of more-than-friendly affection. That was when she noticed what would’ve been glaring obvious to anyone not blinded by their own recently-discovered lesbianism.

“Why is there lipstick on your face?” There were two lip-shaped smudges of obvious origin on Akko’s face. It didn’t take a genius of Diana’s stature to connect the lipstick marks on her crush’s cheeks to the matching colour of Hannah and Barbara’s lips.

“How did it take you that long to notice?” Amanda rolled her eyes. “By the nines, you’re gay.”

Diana, for once, did not protest to that assessment.

Akko, however, did start protesting. “Hannah and Barbara did it! I mean — I didn’t want them to!” There was only one pair of lips she wanted on her face.

“You don’t need to defend yourself,” Diana said. Before she knew what she was doing, she took Akko’s hand in hers and led her away from the group. “If you’ll excuse us, I need to fix Akko’s makeup.”

“Use protection!” Amanda yelled after them.

Diana didn’t hear her over the noise of the party, thus was not too embarrassed to let go of Akko’s hand. She led her dear friend back to Hannah and Barbara’s room and sat her down at the vanity, searching for the makeup products the girls had used on Akko.

“Um, sorry for getting my makeup messed up,” Akko said.

“You have nothing to apologize for.” Diana took out a wet makeup wipe and cleaned off the lipstick smudges off Akko’s cheeks. “They were trying to make me upset.”

Akko squirmed from the cold, wet wipe and tried not to think about how close Diana was to her right now. “Why would that make you upset?”

“No reason! They’re imagining things, they—” Why was she so quick to deny things? It would be so easy to tell the truth, “Because they think I like you,” and perhaps to add, “And they’re right.” She considered confessing to Akko, but the words wouldn’t leave her throat. Instead, she babbled. “I mean, because having to fix one’s makeup is a chore, and naturally I would be jealous if someone was being so forward with my date.” That was too much, wasn’t it? Was Akko going to suspect something?

Luckily for Diana, Akko was too enamoured with her to question her excuse. “Oh yeah, that makes sense!” Though her verbal response was mild, she was screaming inside her head. She said she’d get jealous over me! Akko thought erratically. Or did she say she  is jealous over me? What does that mean, you gorgeous enigma?

Hannah and Barbara’s little stunt required a complete redo of the makeup on the lower half of Akko’s face. Rigidly still, Akko sat in silence as Diana laboured over her with various powders. Unlike during her previous makeover, Akko didn’t dare move; she barely breathed. How could she when there was a devastatingly attractive girl looming over her, staring at her intensely with those calculating turquoise eyes? Diana had never looked so handsome. Scratch that — no one had ever looked so handsome. If this makeover didn’t end soon, Akko’s heart was going to burst.

“Now the finishing touches,” Diana said, picking up the tube of lipstick and staring at it. It was new, no doubt chosen by Hannah and Barbara specifically for tonight to compliment Akko’s dress. She couldn’t have chosen a better colour herself.

And yet…

Diana put the tube back on the vanity. She excused herself for a moment, returning at a brisk pace with one of her own old lipsticks clutched in her sweaty palm. “This one might be more suited to you,” she said hoarsely. Because it’s mine, she thought. Diana was astonished at her own childishness. Feeling jealousy over who chose her date’s lipstick colour was absurd, but Hannah and Barbara were the ones who started using lipstick to mark Akko; Diana was simply following their example.

“If you say so.” Akko did her best to seem neutral, but having Diana adding a personal touch to her outfit was pretty damn exciting. She’d have to try extra hard to stay still.

Diana leaned over Akko, willing her hand to steady itself as she brought the lipstick closer to Akko’s mouth. The lipstick that she used to apply to her own lips. It occurred to Diana that this would constitute what Akko bashfully referred to as an “indirect kiss.”

That’s the last thing I need to be thinking about in this situation, Diana berated herself. Instead, she focused on what actually mattered, applying lipstick to Akko’s luscious, kissable mouth...

It took all of Diana’s self-restraint not to lick her own lips.

Akko giggled nervously. “It’s kinda awkward when we’re this close. Maybe it’ll be easier on us if I close my eyes.” She screwed her eyes shut and tried not to think about the hunk right in front of her.

Temptation had never been a notable adversary to Diana, but at the moment she found herself caught in a life-or-death battle with her desire to kiss Akko’s face off. Diana couldn’t fathom how Akko could be so vulnerable in front of her. Oh wait, she realized, it’s because I’ve been telling everybody that I was in no way romantically attracted to other girls. How repulsively ironic.

By some miracle she did Akko’s lipstick properly. Diana looked over her work, unable to draw her eyes away from Akko’s lips. It would be so easy to lean in and kiss her… And in doing so, ruin the lipstick I so meticulously fixed, she reminded herself. At last the logical part of her mind reasserted itself.

But not before her unconscious desires pushed her to lean in, bringing her face mere inches from her crush’s.

Akko cracked an eye open and nearly jumped out of her skin in surprise. “Um, is there something wrong with my face?”

Diana leaned back so quickly she almost fell over. “Not at all,” she said quickly. “I was just making sure I did a proper job. We ought to return to the party,” she added nervously. “The, um, dancing will commence shortly.”

“The dancing!? Uh, lead the way!”

As she was led back to the party walking arm-in-arm (Diana had chivalrously insisted), Akko tried to covertly fan herself. For a second I thought she was going to kiss me! Who knew that makeovers could be so dangerous?

They returned to the ballroom and found Amanda, Hannah, and Barbara again, the trio hanging out at the edge of the party. Amanda was apparently trying to stuff as many prawn canapés in her mouth that could fit, Hannah and Barbara pretending not to be amused by the sheer number she’d achieved.

“I suppose I should be happy you’re putting that mouth to a use besides disparaging others,” Diana said.

Not wanting to give up her record by swallowing the hors d’œuvres, Amanda used her wand to write out what she wanted to say: “And what’s your mouth been up to?”

Diana remembered that she had nearly kissed Akko not ten minutes ago. “Nothing that it shouldn’t have been doing,” she answered.

“Let’s see what Akko has to say about that?” Amanda wrote out. “Akko, what that mouth do?”

“Um, lecture me? Probably? I don’t remember!” Akko did, in fact, remember, and it was written all over her face. “Uh, I’m hungry. Lemme at those snacks!” Maybe if she filled her face with food then nobody would notice she was blushing.

Diana sighed. She got a glass of punch for herself and Akko in the probable event that she choked herself on some of that food.

“Thanks!” Akko washed down the food with a long drink. “That really hit the spot!” She went in for another sip, her lips glistening with punch, pressing gently against the rim of the glass...

Diana stared at the glass and thought, Nine Olde Witches, I wish that were me. She downed her drink all at once.

“That was a little unladylike,” Hannah commented. “Is something making you lose your composure?”

“Normally Diana’s composure is impeccable,” Barbara noted. “Maybe she’s trying to literally drown out some unladylike thoughts.”

Was she really being that obvious? Fortunately, Diana was spared having to respond by the band starting to play. The dancing was about to commence.

“That’s our cue,” Diana said. She put her empty glass on the table and whisked Akko away toward the dance floor.

“Dancing? Like, uh, fancy people dances? Like waltzes and lobster quadrilles?” Akko had plenty of moves if she did say so herself — and she often did — but none of them were appropriate for this crowd.

“Quite. If you’re unfamiliar, I’d be glad to give you some quick lessons.”

Akko pouted. “Sh-show off! Don’t think you being an aristocrat means I can’t keep up with you! I’m still your rival after all.”

“I’ve told you before, Akko,” Diana said, placing one hand on Akko’s waist and taking Akko’s hand with the other. “I’ve never seen you as my rival.”

The dance commenced, and true to her word, Akko was able to hold her own with Diana. Just barely. Thankfully, she was quicker to learn things that didn’t involve staying still. With Diana’s encouraging smile, Akko felt like she could do anything.

The rest of the ballroom disappeared. They were only aware of each other. Very aware of each other. Unbeknownst to the other, they both were conscious of the placement of their hands, if their clasped hands were sweating, and the tantalizing distance between them. 

“Do you dance like this all the time?” Akko didn’t like to think of anyone else being this close to Diana.

“Only as practice. You’re the first partner I’ve taken on a real dance floor.” Until now Diana had rejected all offers to dance at these social functions out of a desire not to be courted; until now there hadn’t been anyone she wanted to court.

The pair spun and twirled across the dance floor, stepping in perfect rhythm. They had both built up this moment in their minds, and the reality exceeded their expectations in ways they couldn’t imagine, like a dream or a fairy tale.

The song came to a close, and Diana was feeling daring. She had never dipped anyone during a dance, even as practice, but tonight was a night for firsts.

Akko had only the briefest of warnings, a flash in Diana’s eye before she found herself lowered parallel to the floor, a strong hand supporting her back. Their faces were dangerously close, and Akko’s eyes were inevitably drawn to Diana’s lips.

In a fevered, hormonal, detatched from reality sense, the timing would have been perfect for Diana to kiss Akko. Back on earth, however, an impromptu kiss in front of an entire ballroom full of people was an invitation for scandal. Or a slap. She had no idea Akko would feel about being kissed by her, bystanders or no, and she didn’t feel this was the right situation to ask.

Diana pulled Akko back into an upright position.

Akko giggled nervously, rubbing the back of her neck. “Wow, that was, uh, intense.”

“Indeed.” Diana needed to reign in her hormonal urges. This would only be the first dance of many that night, and she couldn’t afford to make a fool of herself. She wanted to make this a night Akko would never forget for all the right reasons.

 

*******

 

Amanda watched Diana and Akko over the rim of her glass when they left for the dance floor. “Tonight’s going just swimmingly for those dorks, huh?”

Hannah nodded.

“Kinda makes me wanna interfere,” Amanda continued. “Can’t have those two getting along too well. We’ll lose our main source of entertainment.”

“Uh-huh,” Hannah said.

“Maybe I should go over there and steal Cavendish’s dance partner. She’ll be seething.”

“Is that all you’re going to do at this party?” Hannah asked, raising an eyebrow. “Mess with those two?”

Amanda frowned. “What else is there to do?”

“How about dancing with me? You are my date after all, you reprehensible lout.”

“Oh. Right.” In all the excitement of getting to tease her otp, Amanda had almost forgotten that the whole reason she was at the party: making up with Hannah and Barbara. “Uh, what about Barbara?”

“Obviously you’re going to dance with her too — I’ll hex you if you try to get out of it — but she’s busy right now.” She pointed with her thumb at Barbara, who was chatting up some older girl, apparently an old friend from the Blue Team’s circle of aristocrats. “Plenty of time to dance with her when you’re done with me.”

“Are you sure? We could always—”

Hannah shushed her as she grabbed her by the wrist and dragged her onto the dance floor. “I thought you were going to show us a good time. What are you afraid of?”

Amanda was afraid of making Hannah mad again. Hannah and Barbara were important to her — she still couldn’t believe things between them had changed so much — and she didn’t want to mess things up with them.

She answered half-truthfully. “I’m afraid of redheads with pointy teeth.”

“Hey! Those teeth are one of my charm points!”

“They are.”

“That was dangerously close to a compliment.”

“I never said you don’t have your good points,” Amanda said. She had been discovering more and more of them lately, but she neglected to mention that in favour of trying to seem chill.

“Damn right I do,” Hannah replied. “One of those is that I’m a good dancer. Can you say the same?”

Actions spoke louder than words, so Amanda answered by showing Hannah her moves. Her upbringing had required that she go to a whole lot of boring parties and learn how to schmooze with potential business partners, including how to dance. The only thing that got Amanda through them was that they were a great place to meet girls — most certainly not her family’s intention — and that made the obnoxious process of learning ballroom dances worth it.

“So you really can dance,” Hannah said. “And here I thought all your moves involved twirling a stick around.”

Amanda arched a brow. “Isn’t that what I’m doing?”

Hannah laughed. “First off, you’re the one whose hair usually looks like a bunch of straw. Secondly, if you’re going to compare me to a broom, I’m going to think you’re trying to straddle me.”

As they continued to dance, Amanda’s brain was filled with visions of her greatest broom dancing moves with Hannah in place of the broom, and the results were anything but PG. Hell, just flying on a broom normally involved it being between her legs. Of course, that didn’t affect her concentration one bit. She definitely didn’t step on Hannah’s feet at all.

When the dance ended, their eyes caught sight of Diana and Akko’s dip. More importantly, they saw the sexual tension passing between the pair during those several seconds.

“Wow, I thought they were going to start making little Cavendishes right on the dance floor,” Amanda said.

“I really thought they were going to kiss,” Hannah commented. “I’d love to see Diana ‘dear friends’ that away.”

“PDA is too gauche for Cavendish, and she’s not creative enough to find somewhere here to privately smooch Akko’s face off.”

“Oh really? And where would you kiss in a ballroom, o Master of Stealth?”

That really put Amanda on the spot. She pointed to a magically sculpted ice statue of Beatrix Cavendish that was nearby. “Behind Cavendish’s great, great, grandma.”

Hannah eyed the relatively secluded spot. “Are you sure that’s hidden enough? I guess there’s only one way to know.”

“What do you—”

Hannah grabbed Amanda by her tie and pulled her into the space behind the statue. There was little space to hide in, and even less between the two girls. While maintaining determined eye contact, Hannah slowly wrapped the tie around her hand, drawing them closer like a winch. Soon there wouldn’t be any distance between her and those smirking lips.

She’s messing with me, right? Amanda thought. She doesn’t actually want me to kiss her, does she? If that were the case, dragging their lips together would be pretty counterintuitive. Unless Amanda was supposed to not want to kiss her and move away. The problem with that scenario was that she kinda sorta really wanted to kiss her. In the end, Amanda was a huge lesbian, and she was going to err on the side of doing something really gay.

Amanda put her hand on Hannah’s and pushed down, pulling down on her own tie and bringing their lips together. The kiss was fiery as Hannah’s temper. Their lips pressed together hard, harder as Hannah kept tugging on Amanda’s tie. Amanda didn’t need any reinforcement to participate. She hadn’t had nearly enough when Hannah let go of her tie and gently pushed her back.

“You were right, that was a good kissing spot,” Hannah said as if what she’d just done was totally normal. “Amanda, I’m thirsty—“

“I’ll say,” Amanda interjected.

“Could you get me a drink? Oh, and go say hi to Barbara.”

“Sure.” As soon as Amanda turned around, her hand went to her lips. She had just kissed Hannah. But wasn’t Hannah dating Barbara? What was she playing at? She smooches someone who isn’t her girlfriend then sends her over to see the missus? Either Hannah was playing some serious mind games, or Amanda was the pawn in some weird relationship drama. At least she got a kiss out of it.

Luckily, Barbara was still near the drinks table where she’d been when they’d left, though her friend appeared to have wandered off. She smiled when she saw Amanda.

“Hey, what does Hannah like to drink? There’s so many choices and she didn’t tell me what she likes.”

“Maybe she was expecting you to have figured it out by now,” Barbara said.

“There’s too many to choose from.”

“Maybe you’re not supposed to choose between them. Go big or go home.”

“I don’t think the punch would go well with whatever that fancy drink is.”

Barbara rolled her eyes. “Never mind. Her drink can wait. The next dance is starting.” She held out her hand expectantly. 

“But, uh…” Amanda didn’t want Hannah to get mad at her again, especially after they were, ahem, getting on so well.

“Don’t worry. She’ll understand if you tell her you were with me.” Barbara said it with such sincerity that Amanda couldn’t doubt her. She would know, seeing as she was Hannah’s girlfriend. Amanda’s stomach twinged with guilt.

“She’s actually quite fond of you,” Barbara said as they danced.

Yeah, I got that impression, Amanda thought, recalling that kiss. Out loud she said, “She’s kind of been giving me mixed signals.”

Barbara giggled as Amanda spun her. “She’s always had trouble being honest about her feelings. Not as bad as Diana, but she’s never been good at admitting she was wrong about someone. She feels bad about being such a snob to you.”

“Really? I already forgot about that.” The period of animosity between herself, Hannah, and Barbara had been so long ago that Amanda barely thought about it. They had said and done way more memorable things since their bullying phase. “What about you?”

“Whether I feel bad, or whether I can admit what I like?” Barbara smirked in a hauntingly familiar way.

“Uh… yes?”

“I like you, Amanda. I want us to be closer. All three of us. If there’s something we need to do to make it up to you, don’t hesitate to say so.”

“No, um, you’re good.” Amanda’s heart skipped a beat at the phrase ‘all three of us,’ though she knew her brain was just jumping to wild conclusions.

She didn’t have time to recover. As the dance ended, Barbara surprised her with a short shallow dip, turning her torso away before pulling her back up quickly, bringing their faces startlingly close. “In that case, we can move on from that,” Barbara said.

This is getting a little familiar, Amanda thought. She briefly wondered if she was supposed to kiss Barbara too before she disengaged and went back to the drinks table. Amanda awkwardly followed her and stared at the drinks again.

“Hannah will be fine with the punch,” Barabra said.  “Don’t worry about the other stuff.”

You could’ve told me that earlier, Amanda thought. “Do you want a drink too, since I’m already getting one?”

Barbara stepped between Amanda and the drinks table. “If you’re going to give Hannah one, then I want you to give me one too.”

Amanda had a sinking suspicion that she wasn’t talking about drinks. Did she see me kiss Hannah? “Um, so what can I get you?”

“I don’t need a lot, just a taste.”

Alright, she was definitely talking about kissing. “Well, I really need to get back to Hannah…”

“Why? You’re my date too.” Barbara got a loose grip on Amanda’s tie. Nothing like Hannah’s brusque tugging on it, but it conveyed the same message.

Hypothetically they could kiss here. No one was looking at the drinks table with all the dancing going on, and Barbara would be hidden behind Amanda. Technically it could work. And here she thought Hannah was the more daring of the two. These girls were putting a strain on her heart in more ways than one.

Her walls having already been knocked down by Hannah, Amanda didn’t take much to convince. She was already weak to pretty girls.

“I guess I can’t disagree with that.” After all, if she was going to kiss one member of the couple, why not both? In for a penny, in for a pound. She leaned in under the guise of reaching around Barbara for a cup and Barbara went on her tiptoes to meet her.

Barbara’s kiss passed even faster than Hannah’s, quick and to the point. Little more than a peck on the lips, it left Amanda wanting more. Wait, more!? I want more of this nonsense? She didn’t even know what she was doing, what Hannah and Barbara were doing with her, and she was signing up for more?

Amanda quickly scooped some punch into a cup, trying to ignore Barbara’s satisfied grin. “Uh, I’m gonna bring Hannah her drink.”

“You do that,” Barbara said, grinning even more.

As Amanda went around the dance floor back to Hannah, she wondered what exactly she’d gotten herself into. If the way she made it up to Hannah and Barbara was to be a tennis ball served back and forth between them all night, she could think of worse ways to atone.

Her messy lesbian mind also couldn’t think of a better one.

 

*******

 

The party came to a close, and Diana was still processing everything that had happened: she realized she was infatuated with Akko, danced with her, and desperately wanted to kiss her. She wanted to dance with Akko all night long, though she knew her body wouldn’t be up to it. Her mind wasn’t up to it either, because the phrase “all night long” conjured Amanda-esque asides. Diana needed to put these thoughts to rest for the time being by putting her entire body to sleep.

She found Anna and requested that she show Akko to one of the guest rooms.

Anna raised an eyebrow. “I was informed that Miss Kagari would be sleeping in your bedroom.”

“Informed by whom?”

“Miss England and Miss Parker.”

Diana frowned. It wasn’t as if she were against the idea of sharing a room with Akko per se, but she didn’t trust anything Hannah and Barbara were setting up behind her back. “This arrangement wasn’t cleared with me. She’ll be sleeping in one of the guest rooms.”

“I’m afraid it’s not that simple, my lady. The guest rooms, apart from the one shared by Miss England and Miss Parker, are being renovated at your aunt’s request. They aren’t fit for sleeping in at the moment.” Anna huffed. “I don’t know what Daryl was thinking when she started this less than a day before the party.”

“I have a feeling I know exactly what’s going on.”

Akko, who had been politely waiting off to the side, came over to Diana. “Is everything alright?”

“It won’t be for two certain people.”

Diana brought Akko up to her bedroom and told her to wait outside while she confronted her so-called friends. She burst into the room to see Hannah, Barbara, and Amanda sitting on the queen-sized bed the former two slept in on their usual visits. The three were already in their sleepwear, Hannah even having let her hair down.

“Looks like somebody found out about the sleeping arrangements,” Amanda said.

Diana ignored her, turning on her friends instead. “Are you two trying to sabotage me? What in Jennifer’s name possessed you to set this up?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Hannah said, twirling a finger through her hair. “What did we do that could be called sabotage?”

“All we did was give you an excuse to share a room with your dear friend,” Barbara said, twirling her own finger through Hannah’s hair. “We’re giving you an opportunity to grow closer with her.”

For a moment Diana was afraid that her friends had discovered her secret, but then she remembered they had been suggesting she was attracted to Akko for ages. She supposed they had created this scenario with the best of intentions, but that wouldn’t make the ordeal any easier on her heart. “If you’re going to argue this is something for my benefit, I’m afraid you don’t have a leg to stand on—”

“What’s going on? Are you guys having fun without me?”

Akko had come into the room behind Diana, having changed into her sleepwear, a plain t-shirt and those infamously short shorts. Diana’s eyes were immediately drawn to her legs. I’m going to be sharing a bed with her when she’s dressed like that? she thought with a mix of horror and gay delight.

“What was that about legs?” Amanda smirked.

Diana scowled. “I expressed my grievances to Hannah and Barbara—” she hadn’t really, but that was irrelevant “—and now I have no further business with them. I will be returning to my room.”

“And, what, go to sleep?” Amanda asked. “Boring! Come hang out with us for a while, you big square. I’m sure Akko’s up for it!”

“I sure am!” Akko bounded over to the bed and took up a place next to Amanda. “I couldn’t sleep right now if I tried!”

“That’s the spirit!” Amanda clapped Akko on the shoulder. “Get your fancy ass over here quick, Cavendish. You don’t wanna be left out.”

“Diana, you’re the only one still dressed up!” Akko said. “That’s no fun!”

“She’s right,” Hannah said. “You should go get changed. You don’t want to get creases in that suit.”

“Don’t worry,” Barbara said. “We’ll take care of Akko while you’re gone.

While Diana didn’t want to get involved with anything that was going to happen in this room, she couldn’t very well leave Akko in their midst. “Very well.”

Akko watched Diana as she left the room. Her crush had been acting weird all night. Different. Hot. Very hot. Akko had no idea what was up with Diana, but she didn’t want it to stop anytime soon.

“Wow, drool much?” Hannah said.

“I’m surprised you didn’t slip in it during your dances this evening,” Barbara said.

“Shut up!” Akko thought those comments were pretty rich coming from those two. She’d seen the way they looked at suited-up Amanda.

“So,” Amanda said, leaning closer. “What was it like dancing with your crush?”

Akko lit up like a fireworks show. “It was the best thing ever! I could die happy. Did you see that suit? Oh my GOD, did you see when she dipped me? Diana’s really something else. She looked amazing. Just like a prince!”

“A prince, you say?”

Akko hadn’t heard Diana come back into the room. She was standing in the doorway, wearing a grey tank top and a pair of boxer shorts. What a look.

“Gah! How long were you listening?”

“Long enough.”

Once Akko’s heart rate reduced from “dangerous” to “overexcited,” she realized that there was no way Diana had heard herself being referred to as Akko’s crush. Compared to that, Akko’s glowing praise was nothing to be worried about.

“How the hell did you change that fast?” Amanda asked. “Did you have that on under your suit or something?”

“Don’t lump me in with you,” Diana said as she walked over to the bed and took a spot next to Akko. “What happens now?”

“Since this is technically a sleepover, we should play some party games,” Hannah said, smiling impishly.

“I suggest truth or dare,” Barbara said, wearing a grin to match.

Diana didn’t need her divination magic to see what they had planned. “Under no circumstances would I engage in such childish party games.”

Amanda made a guttural noise of disapproval. “Come on, everyone plays childish party games.”

“Not me. I stopped playing games when I was ten to focus on my studies to support my family.”

“That means you haven’t known the triumphs and defeats, the epic highs and lows of truth or dare!”

“I want to play!” Akko chimed in. “C’mon, Diana! It’ll be fun! I’ve always wanted to play this kind of game with you.” She meant it. A game of truth or dare had the potential to close some serious distance between them, and she planned to take full advantage of it.

At this point, Diana very well might have jumped off a bridge if Akko asked her to. “If you insist.”

“Then we all agree.” Amanda turned on Diana. “Truth or dare, Cavendish.”

Panic hit Diana like a runaway train. Though she had never before deigned to participate in a game of truth or dare, she was aware of the sort of things such a game entailed. The truths and the dares, the revelations of schoolgirl crushes and compulsions to embarrassing actions; such things had never held any sway over the prim and proper Cavendish heir. Until now.

By the Nines, Diana thought. What if someone asks if I have a crush? Suddenly the thrills and perils of truth or dare became very real as she considered the possibility that she might be dared to kiss Akko, or worse — Akko might be dared to kiss someone else right in front of her.

“D-dare.”

Amanda, who had perfected the ability to see through poker faces due to countless illicit poker games, was living her best life. She could practically read Diana’s thoughts in the sweat visibly forming on her forehead. It would be so, so easy to go for the kill and dare Diana or Akko to kiss each other. But where was the fun in that?

“I dare you to do a handstand.”

Diana’s attempt went as comically bad as could be expected, but Akko got to see a flash of her stomach when her top rode up her chest, and her reaction was almost as funny as Diana falling on her ass.

Akko said “truth” when her turn came and was asked what she found attractive in girls. “Um, blondes who are nice and know what they want.”

Just because Diana was no longer oblivious to her own feelings didn’t mean she was aware of Akko’s. Two out of three isn’t that bad, she thought as she considered her own chances.

Diana and Akko were walking a tightrope, hoping to pry information out of the other without admitting anything in return. Each played coy with their turn to compel the other, and they listened and watched intently when the other was being asked someone else. Neither was letting anything slip. It was a delicate balance of matched offense and defence.

On Amanda’s end, she was hoping if things between Akko and Diana stayed interesting enough, she wouldn’t have to touch any of her messy feelings about Hannah and Barbara. Unfortunately, Akko was just as eager to keep the heat off herself, and she used her first chance to when Amanda opted for “truth.”

“How many girls at Luna Nova have you kissed?” Akko asked Amanda.

“Uh, two.” It took all of Amanda’s self-control (which honestly wasn’t a lot) not to look at Hannah and Barbara when she answered.

Akko put on her best shit-eating grin. “I thought you were some kind of Romeo, and you’ve only kissed two girls? There goes your reputation.”

“Are you offering to be number three?” Amanda puckered her lips.

“Hell no! I’m not giving my first kiss to you! I'm desperate to kiss a girl but not that desperate!”

Diana perked up. Her newly-awakened lesbian brain whispered to her that she could be Akko’s first kiss if she played her cards right. A more devious voice whispered, “If you dare her to kiss you, you can make sure of it.” To openly demand a kiss would of course be too obvious a play. However, if she weren’t currently suspicious of her friends’ intentions, she could have bribed one of them to do it.

Hannah and Barbara were having even more fun than Amanda. Not only did they have Diana and Akko as entertainment, they also had Amanda to tease. There was no putting a price on the face Amanda made when she was made to tell the truth about which of them was the best kisser. Naturally, they were both aware of the other having kissed Amanda during the party. All according to plan. There was a certain joy in playing around with Luna Nova’s playboy lesbian. They would tell Amanda about their feelings soon enough (“She’s thicker than Diana for not figuring it out already,” Hannah complained,) but they wanted one last bit of fun before things got serious.

Diana’s mind was on serious matters as well. When it came to her turn to make Amanda reveal a truth (she was giving dares a break after a disastrous dare involving Akko’s flavour magic), she realized she had a source of information relevant to one of her current predicaments.

“How did you… under what circumstances did you let everyone know that you’re attracted to girls? If that isn’t too personal to ask.”

“No, it’s a fair question.” A hella interesting question, Amanda thought. “You don’t just come out once, y’know. It’s a constant thing. If you want everyone to know, you have to keep coming out. Me? At Luna Nova I just started talking about hot girls are and how hot guys aren’t, and everyone pretty much got the message. I never told my family, and they’re only gonna find out when I get married to a woman. Not that they’ll be invited.”

Technically the first person Diana had come out to was her aunt, so at least she already had the family angle covered. The real trouble would be coming out to Akko. She owed it to her, seeing as Akko had come out to her first, but she was too nervous to do so tonight. Diana needed an intricate, immaculate plan for something so important, if for no other reason that she was afraid she would blurt out her feelings if she wasn’t careful.

And with that thought, Diana decided to quit while she was ahead in this game.

“I think we’ve stayed up long enough,” she said, getting up from the bed. “I don’t want to sleep in to an unreasonable hour tomorrow.”

“Aw, but I was gonna dare someone to kiss next!” Amanda grumbled.

That comment nearly had Diana sit back down, but she restrained herself with the reminder that such a dare could be between any two of the participants, not just herself and Akko. She left the room and made Akko follow her out, leaving the mischievous trio to themselves.

“So, did anyone else think it was weird that Cavendish asked about coming out?” Amanda asked as soon as Diana was gone.

“Do you think she’s figured it out yet?” Hannah wondered. “Are her ‘dear friend’ days over?”

“It might just be my imagination, but she might have been ogling Akko even more tonight,” Barbara said. “I didn’t even think that was possible.”

“And now they’re going to sleep in the same room?” Amanda cackled. “This is going to be great. Let’s sneak over and do some eavesdropping magic. I bet we can hear something juicy.”

“I don’t know about you, but I have to sleep sometimes,” Hannah said. “Let’s just go to bed.” She pulled the covers back and slipped in.

Barbara wasn’t far behind. “You can try to eavesdrop and get chased through the manor by boxer shorts Diana if you want, but we’re going to sleep. This bed’s  a lot more comfortable than the hallway carpet.”

If Amanda had to choose between sleeping between two hot girls she was lowkey crushing on and hanging out in a hallway, the choice practically made itself. No sooner was she under the covers than Hannah and Barbara each clung to one of her arms. As if that weren’t enough, they each planted a kiss on one of her cheeks and whispered a sultry “Good night,” in glorious surround sound.

Like she was going to go to sleep after that. Amanda had no idea what was going on between the three of them, but it seemed that the tension between them from the previous week had gone away. A couple of kisses was bound to do that, she guessed. The party had been a success for her.

Amanda wondered if Akko had been lucky as well. As badly as she wanted to check (and maybe mess with her a little) she wasn’t getting out of this bed. Oh well, it wasn’t like Diana and Akko would be getting up to anything that interesting tonight anyway.

 

*******

 

Diana led Akko back to her room — or rather, their room, as it would be for tonight. Their hands drifted dangerously close to one another, like a matchstick and a fuse whose collision would ignite something dangerous. Diana wished she were confident enough to take Akko’s hand in hers, but above all else she wanted to avoid the untoward implications of bringing Akko into her bedroom.

With a wave of her wand (shorts with pockets were so useful), the fireplace roared to life, lighting the room with a soft glow. A magic ward prevented sparks from escaping, so they would be able to fall asleep without worrying about any unfortunate accidents.

“That really sets the mood,” Akko said. “I mean, uh, for sleeping!” 

“Right.” Diana hoped the firelight wouldn’t reveal the blush building in her face. She hadn’t meant anything romantic by it; she personally found the fireplace comforting and wanted to share that comfort with Akko… which was rather romantic now that she thought about it.

“Wow, your room’s just the way I remember it!” Akko remarked, spinning around to take it all in. “It barely looks lived in at all.”

“As you well know, I’ve been spending almost all my time at school. You’ve spent almost as much time here in the past year as I have.” Those words inevitably brought to mind the idea of sharing a room with Akko long-term, and that was more than Diana could handle.

I only just realized I’m a lesbian, Diana thought. How am I this gay?

While Diana was off in her own little world, Akko was running calculations in her head, estimating how much she could get away with. They had already gotten so much closer tonight — at least physically. The impromptu makeover, the dance, the truth or dare game… though she had seemed stiffer than usual, Diana hadn’t shied away from greater intimacy with her. If Akko didn’t know better, she’d think Diana was falling for her.

It was tempting to push the limits of what she could get away with as Diana’s admirer, but as her friend Akko was also obligated to tease the hell out of her. The bookshelf caught her attention and she was peering at the book’s titles at close distance before Diana could react. “Do you have any dirty books in your collection?”

“I most certainly do not.” Diana was extremely thankful that the lesbian fiction and yuri manga she’d been ordering (for “research purposes”) hadn’t made it to her bedroom shelf yet.

“I know! You’ve got it hidden under your mattress!” Akko scurried over to Diana’s bed and made a show out of pretending to inspect underneath it for illicit materials. She giggled as Diana rolled her eyes at her antics.

“Please don’t make a mess of the bedsheets,” Diana said. “We’re going to have to sleep there, you know.”

Akko jumped a full metre into the air. “We? We’re going to — we’re both — together — in your bed!?”

Akko might have had the luxury of ignoring this reality up till now, but the fact that they had no choice but to share a bed had been lingering on Diana’s thoughts since her conversation with Anna. “There isn’t anywhere else for you to sleep, and I refuse to let my guest sleep on the floor. It would be an affront to my honour as a lady.” As a gentlewoman? She would have to consult Amanda for the proper vernacular to use as a butch. I really am I butch lesbian, Diana realized. Who would’ve thought?

“But, but I — and you —!”

“I insist. Is there any reason we can’t share a bed? We’re… dear friends, after all.”

Akko rubbed the back of her neck. “I guess I can’t argue with that.” Do “dear friends” dance with each other like they’re trying to seduce each other? I still haven’t recovered from that dip! Despite those thoughts, Akko slipped under the covers of Diana’s bed ( “Diana’s bed!”) and made room for its owner. “This is super comfy!” She patted the spot next to her. “Come on in and get comfy!”

Swallowing thickly as she approached, Diana couldn’t understand how Akko could remain so calm as she strode over to the bed. How could a sapphic girl such as her be so calm at the prospect of sharing a bed with a female friend? Then Diana recalled that Akko — to the best of Diana’s knowledge — still didn’t know that her “dear friend” was not only attracted to girls, but to her specifically. For all she knew, Diana was straight as a ruler. Diana considered and immediately dismissed all the ways she might shatter that illusion.

She got under the covers and her bed had never seemed so small. All she could see was Akko — the girl she’d pining for so long was merely a hand’s breadth away. Diana was one mistake away from acting on her impulses, and that terrified her more than anything.

Akko was no less affected, but she kept up a brave face. She was well-used to holding herself back around her crush — or at least covering up her feelings in a plausible way. “So…” she began, cutting through the tension like a machete, “is this your first sleepover?”

Diana, taken aback for a second, giggled at the unexpected query. “Yes, I suppose it is. You’re certainly the first person other than myself to sleep in my bed.”

A person with better impulse control would have swallowed these words before they could escape, but Akko was not that person. “I’m super happy that I got to have one of your firsts.”

If Akko hadn’t noticed Diana’s blush yet, there was no way she’d be missing it now. Even her ears burned crimson. One of my firsts? Diana thought in agony. Do you have any idea what you’re doing to me?

Of course, Diana could always let Akko know the full effect she had on her. She had no intention of staying in the closet, so her dear friend would be learning about her true sexual orientation sooner rather than later. But she couldn’t very well come out to Akko right now. “Please get into my bed, by the way, did you know that I’m an enormous lesbian?” It would practically be a come-on, and an egregiously inelegant one at that.

Akko was feeling the awkwardness as well, but she still wanted to make the most of this. It wouldn’t be fun just to go to sleep immediately. They had to at least talk about something first. But what could they talk about? With this atmosphere Akko had to actively resist the urge to admit her feelings for Diana. But of course, the possibility of messing things up held her back. She was in Diana’s bed. If she couldn’t admit as much when she was hanging out at school, how was she going to confess her feelings in as fraught a situation as this?

Akko had lain down on her side, propped up on one elbow, and Diana mirrored her position. They had nowhere to look but each other — not that either of them minded the view. It wasn’t as if they hadn’t been physically this close before, but the space between them had never been so intimate. Lying beneath the same blanket produced a strange tension in both of them, a drive to make something, anything happen.

Diana wanted to reach out to Akko, to pull her in close and fall asleep in her arms. She felt an overpowering desire to close the distance between them, but she didn’t know how to do so without being too forward, and the last thing she wanted to do was make Akko uncomfortable.

“It’s been a long day,” she said at last. “We should get to sleep.”

“Eh? But it’s barely past midnight! Don’t you know how sleepovers work? You’re supposed to stay up and gossip and play games!”

“We already suffered through a game of truth or dare. Isn’t that enough?”

Mou! Well you can at least kiss me goodnight!”

Akko didn’t know what possessed her to say that, and she sure as hell didn’t know how to recover from it. Her life flashed before her eyes.

Diana’s eyes widened, and her blush showed no sign of abating. “Is… is that part of normal sleepover protocol?”

“No, it was, uh, just a joke!”

“Why would you joke about something like that?” Diana asked, leaning in as if getting closer would allow her to hear Akko’s thoughts. “What would you have done if I had assumed you were serious?”

“Well, um…” Akko felt herself melting under the intensity of Diana’s gaze. “I can imagine worse things that could happen.” Unless, of course, she died from sheer joy of being kissed by her crush.

“So you wouldn’t have minded? If I took it seriously?” Diana knew she shouldn’t utter what she did next, but she did anyway. “I suppose you did say earlier that you were desperate to kiss a girl…”

“That isn’t what I meant by a goodnight kiss!” Akko couldn’t tell if Diana was teasing her or not. “And I never said I was desperate! Mou!

“I’ll kiss you if you want me to, Akko.”

… there was no way Akko heard that right. Did Diana just say she would kiss her? She had a feeling Diana meant a kiss on the lips — the gravity in her voice suggested something heavier than just a kiss on the cheek. Was she just being nice? Was she just trying to satisfy Akko’s desire to kiss a girl? Or was there something more to it? In the end, there was only one way to find out… ”I want you to.”

There was a pause, a moment of uncertainty when neither of them moved. Then Diana shuffled closer, reaching out and cupping Akko’s cheek in her hand, stroking her gently as she checked Akko’s eyes for any sign of discomfort. Finding her path clear, Diana had a decision to make: she could chicken out and go for a kiss on the cheek, keep things straightforward between them...

Or...

Diana leaned in and pressed her lips to Akko’s.

Mere hours ago she would’ve denied ever wanting to kiss Akko; now she couldn’t imagine how she’d ever wanted anything else. She recalled the times she’d imagined kissing Akko, and none of them could compare to the real thing. The warmth, the velvety softness of Akko’s lips, the sheer exhilaration of having her fantasies fulfilled. How had she ever thought she was straight?

She had only meant to go for a short peck, but she lingered regardless as if their lips were magically drawn together. In fact, she could almost swear that Akko’s lips were pushing back against hers.

Diana panicked, worried that her “kiss goodnight” had lasted too long. She pulled back — and Akko followed her, capturing her lips in another kiss.

Akko’s mouth was needy, and Diana surprised herself by answering the call. She leaned in, bringing their bodies closer as she drank in her crush. She hadn't meant for the kiss to go on this long, but she couldn't stop herself. It just felt so good. Her instinct — her desire — was to deepen the kiss and take full advantage of this intimacy. Fear of going farther than was appropriate held her back, but Akko's apparent enthusiasm wasn't making it easy for her.

Akko ran her fingers through Diana’s handsomely short hair, just the way she’d been imagining since Diana walked into class after that fateful accident. She couldn't believe it was finally happening. Diana was kissing her. She was kissing Diana. Her heart soared, her body tingled, and her brain short-circuited. The only thought running through her mind was that she must have fallen asleep and was having the best dream ever, one she would enjoy as much as she could before she inevitably woke up to a world where Diana was unaware of her feelings.

Less than half a minute had passed since Akko initiated the second kiss, but the passage of time had lost all meaning to the pair. Diana was at her limit. She either had to make her move or retreat. She wanted Akko. She needed Akko. Her entire world was Akko.

“Akko…”

Akko stiffened as her name was murmured in a breathy voice she’d never heard Diana use before. Did Diana want her to stop? Did she do something wrong? Or did she do something right? She had never been so self-conscious.

“Well, um, night good! I mean, goodnight!” She rolled over, turning her back to her dear friend. The one she just kissed. What the hell was that !? Akko screamed internally. We almost made out! Not that she had a problem with that, but she had no idea where that sultry, bold Diana had come from. Had Diana boarded the S.S. Sapphic, or was she just playing around? Akko sure hoped not. The way Diana had offered to kiss her made it sound like she was just trying to satisfy Akko’s desire to be kissed (and perhaps her own?), but straight girls didn’t kiss other girls like that. Not that Akko was an expert on that, having only kissed one girl so far. Wow, Akko thought as it really sank in, I just kissed my crush at a sleepover. I’m in gay girl heaven. Her heartbeat pounded like thunder in her ears, no doubt loud enough for Diana to hear. Mou! I hope things aren’t all awkward when we wake up. If one of them ended up cuddling the other in their sleep, Akko didn’t think she’d survive it.

On the other side of the bed, Diana was just as awed by what occurred between them. I can’t believe I kissed Akko, she marvelled. She kissed me back as well. It was almost too good to be true. Granted, she’d done all she could not to admit her attraction to Akko. The kiss wasn’t proof of reciprocated feelings, particularly given Akko’s awkward retreat. Awkward, but not uncomfortable. The sort of awkwardness, Diana imagined based on her own situation, bubbled up in one’s stomach after unexpectedly kissing one’s close friend. she found a petty pride in knowing that she was her crush’s first kiss. It had only been hours since Diana discovered her own feelings, but now she was certain that she would have to act on them. She couldn’t be satisfied with just this kiss; she needed more. Luckily, she happened to know two girls who managed to turn their close friendship into a romance.