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Turn It Up Notch

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Tsubasa -san has not been entirely honest,”  Hibiki  mused.  

Miku , who was scrubbing her back, halted for a moment. “What makes you say that?”  

“I might have forgotten to tell you. When I dropped by the HQ last time, we headed over to Flower for a quick snack,” Hibiki said.   

Miku  shrugged. “It’s just like you to forget things like that. So, what happened?”  

“Well, we got to talking about how she just...left Maria-san at the HQ that day. It  kinda  rubbed me the wrong way at the time, but I had to set that aside and get  Tsubasa -san out of her awkward situation.  Tsubasa -san said there’s something complicated going on between the two of them, but she didn’t elaborate on that. Made me think that something was up.”  

Miku  hummed. “Could it be that  Tsubasa -san...”  

“Yep. It could be.”  

Ne Hibiki , I wonder when they’d both come clean about their feelings?”  

“It’ll come at the right time, I guess,”  Hibiki  said. “ Miku ?”  

Hm ?”  

Lemme  scrub your back.”  

“Not until you promise not to stray your hands too far,”  Miku  said, her tone growing stern.  

---  

Tsubasa  was at a patisserie one morning and was perusing  the baskets  for something to buy.  Funny enough , it was where Maria had once quipped about buying her favorite pastry. She had stepped out of the apartment complex and walked aimlessly minutes earlier, and she found herself in front of the shop. She scoffed at herself then she stepped inside and decided she might as well buy something to eat.  Tsubasa  then found Maria’s favorite and saw that it was the last one in the basket. As she grabbed for it, another hand had also reached out.  Tsubasa  stepped back to see who the other person was.  

To her surprise, it was  Shirabe , carrying a cloth bag filled with groceries.  The younger girl was surprised to come across  Tsubasa  as well, and they were now at a standstill as to who gets the last piece of the pastry.  

Shirabe  was the first to retreat. “You can have it,  Tsubasa -san.”  

Tsubasa  shook her head. “Ah, no, you go ahead. It’s for Maria, isn’t it?”  

“You seem to have been aiming for it since you stepped inside.”  

“Well, you probably had your eye on it for a while. Go on, I can buy something else.”  

Shirabe  then sighed with a smile and picked up the pastry.  Tsubasa  settled with another variant and they headed over to the cashier to pay. As  Tsubasa  was about to head home,  Shirabe  called out to her.  

“If it’s not a bother to you, can we  stay a bit  for  coffee?”   Shirabe  asked.  

“Uh, yeah,”  Tsubasa  said. “Sure.”  

The two took a seat at one of the tables at the side of the patisserie.  Shirabe  ordered coffee for the both of them and declined when  Tsubasa  offered to pay for it.  Tsubasa  leaned back into her seat, nervous at what  Shirabe  had to say.  

Shirabe  was frozen in her place. She had jumped to the urge to keep  Tsubasa  from leaving, but she wasn’t ready with the words she wanted to say. She couldn’t just say that  Tsubasa  had caused Maria a great deal of pain, since the  bluenette  was actually unaware of Maria’s long-harbored feelings.  

“I...”  Shirabe  began. “I’ve heard about—”  

“The set-up,”  Tsubasa  spoke, a smile forming on her face. “Word gets around fast, huh.”  

Shirbae  shrugged. “We’re not that much of a huge circle of friends, it’s bound to happen.”  

“I’ll have to agree on that,”  Tsubasa  said. “ Yukine  definitely gets the news fresh and piping hot.”  

Shirabe  giggled. “So it seems,” she said. “So, how have you been doing,  Tsubasa -san?”  

“I’m doing fine.”  

“I see.”  

“How...is Maria?”  

Shirabe  took a sip of the creamed coffee. “She’s okay.”  

“Ah, I see.”  

Tsubasa -san.”  

Hm ?”  

“If you don’t mind me asking, why did you end the set-up?”  

Tsubasa  adjusted in her seat. “Did n’t Maria say anything about what I told her?”  

“She wasn't really elaborate.”  

“I see.”  Tsubasa  wrapped her hands around the coffee mug. “I needed some space, that's all.  

Shirabe  nodded thoughtfully.  “Was  she becoming too much for you?”  

Tsubasa  was internally mortified by  Shirabe's  question, but she concealed it with feigned perplexity. “No. No, she wasn't. It's just… she has nothing to do with it, to be honest.”  

“I see.”   

“It’s nothing to be gloomy about, really. It’s not like something’s changed after the set-up ended.”  

“Yeah, you’re right.”  Shirabe  then finished her coffee. “Oh, you should drop by our place sometime.  Kirika  misses playing videogames with you.”  

“I’ll let you know once I’m free.”  

The two finally parted ways. As  Shirabe  looked on at  Tsubasa  walking away, she tightly clutched at the cloth bag’s straps.  

There’s no harm in being honest,  Tsubasa -san , she thought.  

Maria had cheered up a bit when  Shirabe  gave her the pastry, and she helped around the kitchen for dinner.  Shirabe  had half a mind to tell Maria about seeing  Tsubasa  at the patisserie, but she decided not to so as to give Maria some respite.  

---  

“Ah, so you’ve talked a bit with  Senpai ,” Chris said before biting off the burger. “Oh, have some fries.”  

Shirabe  had met up with Chris this time, at a nearby diner. She and  Kirika  were on a date at the time, and they decided to grab a bite to eat before heading somewhere else. They came across Chris who had just sat down at a table by the window, a tray full of supersized combo meals laid out before her.  

“Thank you,”  Shirabe  said, picking up the  french  fry from the carton. “ Tsubasa -san seemed...dodgy. When I talked with her, that is.”  

Hmph . Just as I expected.” Chris sloppily wiped off the ketchup from her lips, earning cringes of discomfort from  Shirabe  and  Kirika . “That idiot...she’s too afraid of jumping in.”  

“I think it’s reasonable,”  Shirabe  said.  

Both Chris and  Kirika  turned to  Shirabe . “What makes you say so?” they both asked.  

Shirabe  was taken aback for a moment, then she composed herself and began her explanation.  

Tsubasa -san’s fear of admitting her feelings isn’t something we should just be mad about,” she said. “What if the situation here was that Maria had no feelings at all towards her? What if the set-up really had no strings attached? If you were in  Tsubasa -san's place, and you’ve developed feelings for Maria during those three months, surely you’d be scared of having those feelings out in the open without the assurance of having them reciprocated.”  

Chris blinked. “That’s...an insight.”  

“So you say,”  Shirabe  said. “But to be honest, I’d really like to give  Tsubasa -san a hit on the head for making Maria cry.”  

“My sentiments exactly,” Chris agreed with an eye roll.  

“So, what’s the big plan?”  Kirika  asked. “ Tsubasa -san’s too chicken, and Maria breaks down at the mere mention of the set-up. They are very much far from being capacitated to act on their feelings.”  

“There is no big plan, shortstop,” Chris said, wagging a ketchup-coated  french  fry at  Kirika . “We’re not  gonna  do anything major.”  

“But what about Maria?”  Kirika  asked.  

Chris frowned. “It wouldn’t be right of us to interfere. We can give nudges, but when it all comes to it,  Senpai   and your darling  onee  will be the ones throwing down. They should be.”  

As Chris spoke, she had turned her eyes to the window, frowning not at the bleak outdoors but at the matter at hand.  

---  

Genjuuro  knew that something was amiss.  

He dropped by the apartment one morning and was expecting to see it neat and tidy, only to be met with clothes strewn on the floor, dishes waiting to be washed, takeout boxes on every surface available, and a sulking  Tsubasa  on the couch.  

Tsubasa ,” he called.  

Tsubasa  didn’t respond.  

“You left your door unlocked,”  Genjuuro  said.  

No response.  

“I got takeout. You free for a dinner with your good  ol ’ uncle?”  

Tsubasa  didn’t say anything in return, so  Genjuuro  walked over to the dining table and cleared it out for the food he brought.  

“Has Maria dropped by?” Genjuuro  asked.  

“No, she hasn’t,” was  Tsubasa’s  terse reply.  

Whew, she can still talk.  “I see. Hey, come on here and grab a bite to eat. You look like you  haven't eaten for days .”  

It took almost a few  minutes before  Tsubasa   rose from the couch  and joined  Genjuuro  at the table. They began eating the takeout meals without so much as exchanging words. After the meal,  Genjuuro  took to cleaning up the mess while  Tsubasa  resigned to head over to the bathroom and take a quick shower.  

Something must have happened, but Chris hasn’t said anything yet , he thought.  

He  found it oddly humorous that Chris would be the first one to know what’s up with  Tsubasa .  

Genjuuro  took care of the unkempt living room and settled himself on the couch.  Tsubasa  joined him at the living room as he watched TV.  Genjuuro  made small talk as they watched and bit by bit  Tsubasa  had begun to open up a little.  

“You okay, kiddo?”  Genjuuro  asked later on.  

Tsubasa  stared at the TV  as  she propped her arm under her head , then she slowly nodded while biting her lip. It didn’t take long for her to start shaking her head, and a tear started to trickle down her face.  

“What happened?”  Genjuuro  asked.  

Tsubasa  sniffled then she sighed and smiled wistfully. “I crossed the line.”  

He was quick to understand what his niece had meant, but it surprised him nonetheless. “W-What did she say?”  

Tsubasa  grasped at her hair, her smile forced and watery.  “I didn't tell her  that I started having feelings.  I  just ended  the set-up and told her I needed space.”  

Genjuuro  was incredulous.  He had the urge to spill out what he knew  from Maria's side, but he chose to keep quiet about it and focused on his niece instead.  

“You could have at least tried to tell her the truth,”  Genjuuro  said.  

“Then what? She'll distance herself from me and things will get  awkward  between us,”  Tsubasa  said indignantly. “ We agreed not to fall for such things when we started the set-up. I failed my end of the  deal, and it's only right of me to end it before I lose whatever control I have over my feelings for her.”  

Fool.   But still, you could have taken a shot at it,” he said. “You were not one to back down from a fight, even if the one you're fighting against is yourself. How is this any different?”  

“It ’ll hurt me a thousand times over, I just know it.”  

“How can you even tell? You’re sitting here, moping.”  

“What do you want me to do, then?”  

“I don’t know. I’m not you,  Tsubasa .”  

Tsubasa  fell silent at that. With that,  Genjuuro  settled in his place at the couch and let  Tsubasa  simmer down. He eventually had to leave for home a couple of hours later.  

“There is one reason why it’s impossible for us to see a definite and solid future,”  Genjuuro  said as he headed for the door. “It tends to change depending on what we decide to do in the present, so we can’t exactly get a clear image of it no matter how hard we try.”  

“What are you getting at?”  Tsubasa  asked wearily.  

Genjuuro  sighed. “ Tsubasa , how could you tell that something’s  gonna  happen in the future when you haven’t done anything at all now?”  

---  

Miku  visited Maria’s apartment one afternoon. Maria was cooking when  Miku  rang the bell. She had taken to watching  Shirabe  in the kitchen in the past few weeks and decided to focus on honing her cooking skills.  Shirabe  then gave her easy recipes to practice, and Maria was close to perfecting them.  

“It’s nice how you’ve gotten better with these dishes, Maria-san,”  Miku  said after tasting the latest meal that Maria had made. “I still have a long way to go in making Hibiki’s other favorites.”  

“You focused too much on stroganoff,” Maria said with a laugh. “But that’s not to say you haven’t gone far.”  

Miku  nodded thoughtfully, then she sighed. “So, how have you been, Maria-san?”  

Maria shrugged. “I’m doing okay.”  

Miku  smiled knowingly, but not with the intent to mock Maria. Maria let out a weary sigh.  

“I’m doing okay,” Maria said. “For the most part.”  

Miku  nodded again. “Have you ever thought about making a move, Maria-san?”  

Maria blinked for a bit in surprise, then she let out a laugh and shook her head. “I don’t see the point of it, really. She ended the set-up, and if I tell her the truth, she’ll—”  

Maria gestured with her hand and Miku  hummed in response.  

“I  once thought  that  Hibiki  would only see me as a friend,   Miku  began. “Like, in  the same way she does with our classmates. I asked myself what the point would be in coming clean about my feelings when it ran the risk of not being returned.”  

“But it turned out that Tachibana is just as deep in it as you are.”  

“Yes, thankfully so. But here’s the question—what if she didn’t? Then I’d surely get rejected and it would be painful for me. I wrestled with that possibility so much that it ended with me clamming up and keeping it all to myself. One is not forbidden to keep secrets, but sometimes, Maria-san, it pays to reveal some truths in you because it frees you.”  

“What if it ends up badly? It’s not like the two of us share the same fate when it comes to confessing to the people we love. You were lucky that Tachibana’s feelings were mutual with yours. As for  Tsubasa ...you know how she is.”  

“True, but still, Maria-san, you can fight for it. I refused to fight for my feelings in the past because I let my fears get to me, and I ended up suffering disastrous consequences. I should have stepped up and took a gamble in the first place.”  Miku  reached out and held Maria’s hand. “I do not want you to suffer the same pain I went through just because of fear.”  

Maria leaned on the table and rubbed her hands nervously. “Tell me,  Kohinata -san, how should I go about it?”  

Miku  smiled like a sage. “That, Maria-san…is merely up to you.”