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A Peculiar Attempt at Hypnosis Leads to [X]

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“I swear I’m getting another alarm after school! Another two, actually! Hell, three more!” Riichi shouted, too frustrated to care about saving his breath as he sprinted toward his school, trying his best to keep pace with his two best friends.

“How the heck is one not enough for you?!” Uruka Takemoto, the sporty, toned girl leading the pack shouted back, barely even breaking a sweat despite all their running.

In times like this, Riichi desperately wished he could have even an ounce of her endless stamina.

“I’ve heard your alarm, Rikkun! It’s loud!”

“Mornings are just tough, that’s all!”

“I-In that case…”

Fumino Furuhashi, the stunningly beautiful, slender girl who completed their trio, tried her best to speak up, but she, much like Riichi, was hardly equipped to handle much in the way of physical activity, and could only force her words out through panting breaths.

“I don’t think getting any more will help much, Rii...Riichi…”

“You two aren’t in any real position to talk! You’re both late, too!” Riichi yelled in response.

“We practically pulled an all-nighter! It was great! Fuminocchi brought over a bunch of snacks, and we studied until we passed out!”

“You mean you binged on sweets until you both collapsed!”

His words came out a little harsher than he’d intended, but he was too tired to make much of an apology at the time.

“Nuh-uh, Rikkun! We worked super hard!”

Uruka quickly ground to a halt outside the school gates, turned around, and flashed the other two her most confident smile, which faded after barely a second of looking at Riichi’s and Fumino’s very worried, thoroughly exhausted expressions.

“And I don’t remember any of iiiiiit!” she wailed, dashing towards Fumino and wrapping her up in a tight hug.

“Fuminocchi, what am I gonna do?!”

“Th-there...there…”

Fumino gently patted her friend on the back, still trying to catch her breath. Though her tone was sweet and serene, it was clear, from the terrified look she shot Riichi, that she wasn’t feeling even the slightest bit confident.

“It’ll be OK. It’ll all come back to us when we sit down for the test…

I hope…”

“You don’t remember any of it either?!” Uruka cried, thoroughly dismayed by how hopeless it all seemed.

“I..well…”

Fumino tried to think of any way she could reassure her friend, before swallowing her pride completely.

“It’s all so confusing! Anytime I see that many numbers, my mind just goes blank! None of it’s sticking for me at all!

“You get it, right Riichi?!”


“It’s just impossible, right?!” the girls asked, in turn.

The situation was dire. Fumino and Uruka knew that.

But, if Riichi was just as lost as they were, at least they’d all have that in common. At least that solidarity would be worth something.

“It is!” he cried out.

“It’s so hard! All of our classes are! None of it ever makes sense and...and I wish it did, but studying just feels impossible! I’m gonna have to drop out at this rate! It started making sense last night, but then I went and overslept, and...and…

Why’s it always like thiiiis?!” Riichi cried out, as both girls wrapped their arms around him.

“Don’t give up, Rikkun!”

Uruka looked determined, almost fierce as she held tightly onto her friends, all three of them apparently more than willing to ignore how she’d all but given up just a moment earlier.

“Never ever, OK? It’s tough but we all worked hard, right? Like Fuminocchi said, when we sit down, it’ll all come back to us!”

“R-right.”

Fumino nodded, trying her best to go along with Uruka’s enthusiasm despite still feeling completely hopeless.

“I’m sure we’ll all pass if we just do our best!”

Fumino wasn’t, in fact, sure of that at all.

“Y-yeah, you’re both right.”

Riichi tried to smile, wanting to cling onto whatever optimism he could find.

“Besides,” Uruka said, “we don’t have time to just mope around here, right? We’ve gotta start in…”

Uruka quickly pulled her phone out of her pocket, then let out a shocked yelp when she saw the time.

“Three minutes! Three minutes, you two!”

“Ah, crap!”

Riichi pulled out of the hug, all three of them quickly resuming their dash toward their classroom.

“Uruka’s right though!” Fumino shouted, smiling warmly.

“We’ve all worked so hard, there’s no way it won’t pay off!”

She still didn’t quite believe it, but with their prospects looking grimmer by the second, it hardly hurt to offer up what hope she could.

“That’s the spirit!”

Uruka grinned, and flashed the two of them a confident thumbs-up.

“Good luck, you two! We’re gonna do so great!”

“Yeah! We will!” Riichi agreed, carrying himself forward on nothing more than blind optimism.

“Good luck, Uruka! Good luck, Fumino!”

~~~

“Better luck next time, right…?” Riichi grumbled, before slumping over and resting his head against the restaurant’s menu.

“Five percent…”

Fumino stared down at her lap, feeling utterly listless, as if her soul had completely abandoned her body.

“I scored...five percent.”

“The teacher’s got it out for us, right?” Uruka asked, barely capable of lifting her head enough to sip at the massive drink she’d ordered.

“She saw that we were almost late, and decided to give us a harder test to punish us. That’s...that’s gotta be it...”

“Then she’s been doing that since we started high school…” Riichi mumbled.

He almost wished Uruka was right. If it meant he didn’t have to accept how utterly terrible he was at mathematics, along with just about every single other one of his classes, he’d buy into just about any story his friends could throw at him.

“Maybe she has? We don’t know for sure.”

“But…were any of us any good at this before high school?” Fumino asked.

The three of them fell silent.

Their waitress, more than a little unsure of how to pull them out of their fugue long enough to let them know their food had arrived, simply placed their plates on the table without so much as a word, before hurrying away.

It was Uruka who snapped out of it first, the smell of the cutlet in front of her rousing her from her sorrows.

“It’s OK!” she declared, quickly picking herself up and digging into her meal with almost reckless abandon.

“I don’t need math anyway! Swimmers don’t, that’s for sure!”

“But you do need a solid grade average, right?”

Riichi reluctantly picked himself up in turn. He wasn’t particularly hungry, but he was sure food would lift his spirits for the time being.

“Or you can’t go to college.”

“L-l-l-let’s just put that aside for now, huh? I’ll get better at another class! Like English or something! I’m...well...not good at it, but I know some English words! Fuminocchi, you’re great with humanities, you could help me out!”

“I...well…”

Fumino, who had very shyly started nibbling at her meal, wasn’t quite sure how to answer that. She was a particularly talented humanities student, that much was true, but it was hardly her passion. Besides, she had no idea where to begin when it came to teaching others what she knew.

“But weren’t you two studying late last night? It doesn’t seem like Fumino’s tutoring helped much there,” Riichi interjected, filling Fumino with a mixture of happiness and irritation all at the same time.

“Th-that was just for math! Math! Something else would be different entirely, r-right, Fuminocchi?”

Uruka looked at the blue-haired girl expectantly, but, as she kept her gaze down at the food she grazing on, Uruka felt the gravity of reality pulling her back to Earth.

“Right...yeah...probably not…” she muttered through a mouth of cutlet.

“A-anyway, I’m sure there’s something we haven’t tried yet,” Fumino said, covering her mouth as she spoke.

“Ohhh, like that whole ‘studying in the bath’ thing? We spoke about that one a while ago, but I thought it sounded kinda weird, so I never gave it a shot,” Uruka asked, the idea suddenly seeming far more plausible to her now.

“I did…” Riichi admitted, his shoulders slumping as he spoke.

“I...don’t recommend it… Paying for phone repairs isn’t fun…”

“You mean…?”

“Yeah, it...it fell in,” he mumbled, practically on the verge of tears.

“Well, how about sleep study?” Uruka eagerly suggested.

“Sleep study?” the other two asked.

“You put in headphones when you’re in bed at night and listen to audio lessons while you sleep. I hear it makes remembering stuff way easier! Bet you wouldn’t even need to open a textbook if you did that every night!”

“Uruka…”

Fumino rested her hand atop Uruka’s, and offered her a sympathetic smile.

“You’re trying to sleep past the problem, aren’t you?”

“Nuh-uh, Fuminocchi! I’m...I’m…

...Yeah…”

Uruka looked straight down at her meal and got back to eating, too embarrassed to even look her friends in the eyes.

“I heard about one thing that’s...well, I dunno how good it’ll be, but it’s interesting,” Riichi offered.

“Oh?”

“Don’t laugh, OK?”

“I promise we won’t.”

Fumino smiled, while Uruka gave a supportive thumbs-up, her mouth too full for her to offer up much more than that.

“...Hypnosis,” he mumbled.

Uruka swallowed her mouthful of food with a loud “gulp.”

Both she and Fumino stared dumbfoundedly at their thoroughly embarrassed friend.

“Ya...ya mean like ‘you’re getting sleeeeepy?’ That kinda hypnosis?”

“Y-yes. Well, there’s more to it than that, but...yeah.”

“Oh-ho, I get it! Planning on having us act like animals or something, Rikkun? Just tryna have fun with us, hmm?” Uruka teased, absolutely certain that Riichi’s suggestion was a joke.

“N-no! It’s nothing like that! I mean, like I said, I dunno how good it is, but...”

“Don’t tease him, Uruka. I’m sure it’s a serious idea, right Riichi?” Fumino asked, doing her very best to hide her own skepticism.

“Mmm,” he hummed, nodding.

“You use suggestion to iron out negative behaviours and habits, and reinforce positive ones. I mean...that’s what I’ve heard, anyway, but…”

He sighed.

“It’s ridiculous, isn’t it?”

Uruka wasn’t quite sure what to say. As silly as bringing up hypnosis sounded at first, the idea that she could shake off the habits that had made studying so arduous for her was, though she hated to admit it, incredibly appealing.

She had no way of knowing that Fumino was starting to feel the same way. The dream she’d been working so hard to reach for years seemed to be slipping out of her grasp with every single test she failed, and if Riichi’s suggestion held any water, that could make up for all of those losses and turn things around for her in a way little else had thus far.

Both girls, however, were far too embarrassed to admit that, and just nodded slowly.

“Y-yeah, totally ridiculous, Riichi. Ehehe, kinda feels like you’re just trying to sleep through your problems too!”

“Mmm. It’d be fun if it worked, but I guess all we can really do is keep trying our best.”

Or so they said.

As Riichi laughed his idea away and the girls continued to pick at their meals, though, both of them found their heads constantly drifting back to the suggestion.

For Uruka, her studies were only secondary to her real passion in life, but she knew that if she really wanted to pursue that, if she wanted to take her swimming any farther, that she needed to raise her grades high enough to get into college. No matter how hard she pushed herself, how fast she got, and how low she cut her times, no one was really going to pick up a swimmer out of high school. Unfortunately, it just wasn’t how things worked.

Fumino, on the other hand, had always been an exceptionally gifted student. One who was, despite still being in school, already considered to be a literary genius on par with many of the world’s greatest writers. Though the opportunities her skills had afforded her were nothing to scoff at, a part of her hated her talents and how everyone used them to box her into a life that she absolutely didn’t want to lead. Her interest had always lay squarely in astronomy. She wanted nothing more than to study the stars, and find the one star in particular that held more importance to her than she knew how to convey. Sadly, when it came to mathematics and science of any description, she was, at best, a below-average student, locking her out from the kind of life she truly wished to lead.

As aware as the two girls were of their own shortcomings and wants, though, they had no idea what really motivated Riichi. They knew, of course, that he struggled in school just as much, if not more, than they did, and had even heard him mention once that it wasn’t certain he’d even be able to graduate. If there was anything else there, something he was passionate about or wanted to pursue, though, the girls were entirely in the dark.

Ultimately, though, they didn’t begrudge him for his distant nature, and were resolved to help him in any way they could, to the best of their ability, just as he was with them.

And, as silly as he was still insisting it was, he had certainly come up with an intriguing idea.

“Ahaha, I guess it was kind of a shot in the dark anyway, huh?” he laughed, both girls smiling along with him.

~~~

“Your purchase comes to 890 yen. Will that be all, sir?”

The bookstore’s clerk smiled at Riichi pleasantly.

“C-could you please bag it up? In two bags, please.”

“Certainly, sir.”

The clerk complied with his request without a word, before handing Riichi’s purchase back to him and wishing him a nice day as he stiffly headed for the exit.

“Rikkun, it’s not like it’s anything dirty. We don’t need to hide it!” Uruka angrily whispered, trying to brush past the fact that her cheeks were currently painted a bright crimson.

“B-besides, we’re just buying it as a joke, so there’s nothing wrong with it.”

Fumino awkwardly smiled, trying to peek in the bag as she walked, a part of her still stunned they’d really gone through with this. She was endlessly grateful that her house wasn’t far from here. She wasn’t sure she could bear staying this embarrassed for much longer

“Right, and we’re just gonna try it out as a joke too, so…

I’m…just trying to be safe. We don’t...we don’t need anyone knowing what we bought, y’know,” Riichi explained, doing nothing to alleviate any of their anxieties.

“I guess there’s nothing wrong with erring on the side of caution…” Fumino sighed, leading the way to her house.

The rest of the walk was completely silent, all three of them unsure of what they could really say to lighten the mood. Sadly, this had the knock-on effect of making their walk seem so much longer than it really was. By the time they eventually reached Fumino’s house and stumbled into her bedroom, the three immediately flopped down next to her bed, doing their best to relax now that they finally felt like they could breathe.

“So uhhh…” Riichi started, “should we take a look?”

“Y-yeah,” Uruka and Fumino both responded, nodding.

“O-OK, here goes.”

He smiled, doing his best to keep the atmosphere as light as possible as he dug into the bags and pulled out, with much hesitation, a very dull-looking book entitled Self-Improvement through Hypnosis.

“That’s a super boring cover, huh?” Uruka asked, giggling at how silly their earlier embarrassment now felt.

“We were really worried about people seeing us with this?”

Riichi was in total disbelief.

He’d treated this like such a big, scary thing earlier, but now he couldn’t see his worry over it as anything but ridiculous.

“Ehehe, not to blame you, Riichi, but I think you set the tone there. Uruka and I just got pulled into it along with you.”

Fumino giggled, thinking back to the way Riichi clutched the bag tightly against his chest as he walked.

“Ahaha, that’s not fair at all!” he laughed, smiling.

“All three of us got pretty wound up! It looked like you and Uruka had been holding your breath from the moment I found it in the store.”

“Nuh-uh! We were OK right up until Fuminocchi said we could read it at her place. Remember that? It kinda freaked me out, Fuminocchi! You got all serious and said, ‘We have to read it at my house. Nobody’s around, so we can keep it between us.’ Really felt like you were treating it like...y’know, something...something pervy…”

Uruka tried to stay in high spirits, but just ended up getting herself flustered and trailed off.

Laughing softly to himself, Riichi started patting the poor girl on the back, doing his best to calm her down.

“B-be that as it may,” Fumino stammered as she took the book in her hands, not wanting to accept her part of the blame, “let’s take a look, hmm? Even if it’s not worthwhile as a study aid, it should at least be interesting.”

“Let’s see,” she started, flipping the book open and reading through the table of contents, “‘quit smoking in seven days,’ that one’s not important…”

“‘Lose weight hassle-free,’ huh?” Uruka whistled.

“Pretty nifty! Might be good after all our snacking last night, huh, Fuminocchi?”

Fumino just frowned, too flustered to offer any more response than that.

“A-anyway, here’s one about curing stage fright. None of us are performers of any kind, but a bit more confidence during exams could be worthwhile, and...oh! Here it is! There’s a whole section on studying!”

Quickly thumbing through the book, it didn’t take long for Fumino to find the chapter they were all the most interested in, and lay the book flat on the ground in front of them so that the three of them could all read it together.

A quick, simple method of hypnosis to bolster work ethic and iron out undesirable traits and habits that can be performed even by total beginners. As one cannot hypnotize themselves without a great deal of practice, this will require the aid of one other person who will serve as the hypnotist.

However, as the subject will be incredibly susceptible to suggestion throughout the process, it is highly recommended that a third party is present, one who is highly trusted by the subject and can ensure that the hypnotist does not deviate from what they and the subject have agreed will take place, so as to prevent the hypnotist from manipulating the subject’s behaviors and actions in ways that could be considered undesirable.

“That’s...a heck of a lot of disclaimers,” Uruka sighed.

“Ahaha, it’s a bit silly, yes,” Fumino giggled.

“I imagine the publisher insisted on it, to make sure that there’s nothing printed in here that might get them in trouble.”

“Well, it’ll be OK,” Riichi said, smiling.

“There’s nobody else I’d feel comfortable enough trying this with than you two, and I know that neither of you would try anything funny, so, well, there’s nothing to worry about!”

“Yeah! That’s the spirit!”

“But, well, if it’s OK with you two, could I go first? Get hypnotized, I mean. Even if it doesn’t work, it does sound kinda fun, ahah,” Riichi asked, before somewhat shyly adding, “I’m really not expecting it to work, but y’know.”

“Fine by me, Rikkun! Fuminocchi and me’ll make great hypnotists, won’t we?”

“Ehehe, we’ll try our best. I’d be a little antsy about going under first, anyway so I really do appreciate you stepping up.”

“Thanks, you two!” he said, grinning.

“Maybe I’ll be a genius by the time we’re done, huh?”

“Ehehe, yeah! Bet we’ll all ace whatever test comes next!” Uruka beamed, pulling a coin out of her pocket and tying it to a string.

“Mmm, that’s definitely the hope. Riichi, are you sure you’re comfortable sitting like this? The book says it’s easiest to get hypnotized when you’re completely relaxed.”

“Mhmm! This should be just fine, thanks. I’d feel a little strange if I ended up lying on your bed or something, ahaha.”

“Right, ready to go, Rikkun? The book makes this sound super simple! So, if you just take a look at this for a sec…”

She pointed at the coin in her hand.

“I’m gonna rock it side to side slowly, OK? Keep your eyes focused on it as best as you can,” she instructed, already starting to move the coin.

Riichi kept quiet, offering a quick nod before fixing his eyes firmly on the coin.

There’s no way this could possibly work, right?

He kept his eyes locked on the coin.

Uruka and Fumino both let out an excited shout as his gaze grew steadily more unfocused and distant, though he hardly heard it.

But if it does make me better at studying, that’ll be incredible, won’t it?

The coin was, at that point, all he could see.

The rest of the world may as well have ceased to exist.

And...and if it manages that...I wonder...wonder if it could also help me...tell...them...

Soon, even the coin vanished, and Riichi’s mind was plunged into a heavy fog.

~~~

“I’m gonna rock it side to side slowly, OK? Keep your eyes focused on it as best as you can.”

Uruka was in high spirits, and spoke in a giddy, if somewhat hushed, tone while she did her best to stop her excitement from bubbling over and exploding.

Fumino clutched at her sleeve, her grip tightening as, against all odds, Riichi’s eyes seemed to cloud over, as if he was on the verge of falling asleep.

“Uruka!”

“Fuminocchi! He’s...he’s all sleepy!”

“Can...can he hear us?”

They looked over at Riichi.

Though his eyes were wide open and firmly locked onto the coin dangling from the string in Uruka’s hand, he seemed utterly oblivious to everything else around him.

“I mean, he could be messing with us…” Uruka muttered, staring intently at her hypnotized friend.

“Rikkun? This isn’t a joke, right? You’re actually hypnotized?”

No response.

Riichi just kept blankly staring at the coin.

“Jeez...Rikkun’s never been good at keeping a straight face,” Uruka whistled, thoroughly impressed.

“Unless he’s been taking acting lessons, I’m gonna guess this is genuine.”

Both girls smiled, ecstatic at the idea that they may have finally found their ticket to overcoming the hurdles that had held them back.

“Gosh, he went out fast, didn’t he? I thought this would take a few minutes, but Riichi barely held in for more than a few seconds.”

“Ehehe, guess he’s super sensitive to this stuff! Pretty nifty, huh? We can just conk him out whenever we want to!”

“Uruka…”

“Nah, I’m just kidding! I wouldn’t do that to Rikkun! But, hey, we should probably figure out what comes next, huh? Could you check the book, Fuminocchi? I’m a little tied up here,” Uruka said, giggling while she held to coin out to Riichi.

“Oh, right!

Umm, it says that once the subject is under, you can put away whatever it is you used to hypnotize them. Even without it they should be…’primed for suggestion?’ It seems like he can’t hear us as long as that image is locked in his mind.”

“Fuahhh…”

Uruka let out a relieved sigh.

“Glad to hear it! I was gonna ask you to hold my arm up for me if I had to keep this up.”

Uruka grinned as she pocketed the coin, then turned her attention back to Riichi, who stared straight ahead, still as distant as ever.

“So...he can hear us now?” she asked.

“Mmm, he should be able to. Why don’t you ask him, though? The book recommends asking a few very simple questions before getting to the root of the issue.”

“Right!”

Uruka flashed Fumino a giddy thumbs up, before looking Riichi straight in the eyes.

”Rikkun, you can hear us, right?!”

Fumino bit her lip, worried that something might still go wrong, while she stared intently at her hypnotized friend and hoped they might get any sign that things were going according to plan.

Slowly, Riichi gave them a small nod, accompanied by an equally small and soft, “Yes, I can.”

Both girls let out a breath they didn’t even know they were holding in.

“A-and you feel OK, right Riichi?” Fumino asked, struggling to hide the shakiness in her voice.

“I do.”

“Jeez, Fuminocchi! I’m the hypnotist, remember?”

“R-right, ehehe…” Fumino shyly laughed.

“But, remember, we need to ask a few more questions, just to get him ready.”

“Got it! Rikkun, you know who we are, right?”

“Yes.”

“Could ya be more specific?”

“Uruka Takemoto and Fumino Furuhashi.”

“Right!” Uruka beamed.

“Next we need to establish that things are safe, to make sure he isn’t guarded or nervous,” Fumino said, smiling as she put an arm on Uruka’s shoulder.

“Ooh, yeah, sounds important! Rikkun, I know you’re a little hazy right now, but we’re your friends, got that? We’re gonna be helping you out, understand?”

“I understand.”

“And you trust us, right?”

“I do. You’re both important to me.”

Both girls did their best to hide their reddening cheeks.

“Y-yeah, that’s right!” Uruka stuttered, before quickly veering back on course.

“So, basically, we’re gonna ask a ton of questions, and you need to answer them honestly. Don’t hold back anything, and don’t worry about saying too much or too little. Just...be yourself, got it?”

“Yes.”

“So now…” Fumino spoke up, poring over the book’s instructions, “umm, we need to get to the real issue, to ask him about anything that may be troubling him so that he can fix it.”

Uruka nodded, smiled, and immediately got started.

“It must’ve hurt, huh, working hard on that math test and failing it anyway, right?”

“I think you need to be a bit more direct than-”

“Yes, it did.”

Fumino immediately grew quiet, relieved, if not confused, by Uruka’s own style of questioning working just fine.

“You wanna be better at studying math and stuff, right?”

“Yes, I want to be better at studying math.”

“Buuut,” Uruka grinned, a particularly good idea forming in her brain, “wouldn’t it be even better if you could be a little like Fuminocchi there? To just know that stuff, even without studying?”

“Uruka,” Fumino interrupted, blushing, “I’m only good with humanities, so I don’t think that-”

“Mmm, I’d like that.

Fumino’s so talented, she always tries her best. Both of you do.”

“Mm, that’s the spirit, Riichi!”

Fumino smiled, her spirits buoyed by the unexpected compliment.

“We won’t let anyone talk us down from our dreams!”

“Ehehe, you...you admire Fuminocchi and me?” Uruka asked, giggling and doing a particularly terrible job of covering up how flattered she was.

“I do.”

“R-really?” Fumino asked.

She knew this was veering away from the reason they’d hypnotized him in the first place, but both girls were too intrigued by this new development to not delve at least a little further.

“Yes. I’ve always wished I could be more like the both of you.”

“Ummm, Rikkun...if you could...y’know…” Uruka stammered, twiddled her thumbs awkwardly, “tell us what else you like about us… Or, well…why you wanna be more like us, that stuff…”

She waffled far more than she meant to, but thankfully, Riichi still seemed to understand what she was trying to say.

“Uruka...you’re always so strong and noticeable. You’re honest, and upfront, and there’s no way anyone can see you for anything other than the person you are. You make it impossible for them not to.”

Uruka sat there, her eyes going wide as she covered her mouth, trying not to shriek.

“And Fumino...people don’t really see you, not the you you want them to see, and even though it sometimes gets you down, you keep following your own path, working so hard. Even when people don’t actually see you, you’re still so nice and kind to them.”

Now it was Fumino’s turn to try and hide her embarrassment.

“I wish I could be more like the both of you. I wish people would see the real me, the me I want to be, and I wish I could be strong enough to show them who that is even when they don’t. It’s hard, though. I’m scared to take the steps I need to to feel even a little more like that person, and I wish that wasn’t the case.”

“A-are you OK, Richi?” Uruka asked, recovering long enough to recognize that, despite the monotonous, almost-sleepy tone he’d been using since he’d been hypnotized hadn’t broken, Riichi’s expression was markedly gloomier.

“I worry about people looking down on me now, so I know if I tried to change myself at all, those worries would only get worse, or people would look down on me more. I wish I didn’t care about any of that, though. I wish I didn’t have to worry about what other people might think or say about me. I want to live without feeling burdened by anyone’s expectations.”

“R-Riichi, we don’t look down on you, we never will…”

Fumino’s voice was soft and sad as she tried to reassure her friend through insecurities that neither she, nor Uruka, had ever known he’d been grappling with.

“You two are the only people who ever made me feel like I could eventually be myself. Everything about you two is incredible, and you’re both so beautiful...”

Their worries took a back seat for a moment as both girls fought back surprised, embarrassed squeaks and tried not to launch themselves through the roof.

“I wish someone would think the same about me. I wish they’d see me as cute, just like you two.”

Neither girl had expected this turn in the slightest.

“It would be so nice if my features weren’t so harsh. If my nose was a little smaller, if my eyes didn’t look weird and angry. I want to look at least a little sweeter…

I feel so wrong every time I see my reflection, and I always wish it could be different. But I know it’s impossible. It’s even worse when people compliment me for it, honestly. It’s like they’re praising something I never wanted to be.”

“You don’t look weird or angry...or, or any of that, Rikkun!” Uruka yelled.

She wasn’t sure what she could say right now that would help, but she wasn’t going to give up on trying, either.

“I know you said praising you is wrong, but...but if you don’t like yourself now, Fuminocchi and I at least wanna help you feel like you can get there one day!”

“Of course we will!” Fumino agreed.

“Because you’re worth liking, Riichi, even if you don’t feel like you are! And if we can help you feel cute, we’ll do that too! And it’s not like you’re as far from that as you think you are, either. Your features have never seemed harsh, and...and…”

Fumino started to waver.

She hadn’t really just seen that, had she?

“F-Fuminocchi?” Uruka asked, her tone shaky and confused as she stared straight at Riichi.

“Does Rikkun...does he look...different?”

Fumino bit her lip, a little unsure of how to respond. If Uruka was seeing the same thing as her, that meant it couldn’t just be in her head, but...that was impossible, surely...

She swallowed, deciding there was nothing to do but answer truthfully, even if it meant acknowledging something that, by all accounts, simply shouldn’t have been real.

“He...he does...”

“Like, his eyes are...they’re bigger, right Fuminocchi? And...bluer?”

They undoubtedly were.

Riichi was wearing the same blank expression he’d worn for a little while now, but that only served to make it all the more clear just how much wider and brighter his eyes were. They’d always been a sweet, chocolate brown, but now it seemed as if they were steadily dyeing themselves a brilliant, almost sparkling blue, to say nothing of the noticeably thicker, fuller lashes that surrounded them.

“They are, somehow…”

“And, hear me out, but...Rikkun’s...well, he’s…”

Uruka trailed off for a moment, while both girls kept sizing up what was so different about their friend. His eyes were one thing, but his face seemed so much softer, too. It looked a touch rounder, with smaller, prettier features and slightly fuller, pinker lips than they remembered.

While neither Fumino nor Uruka really understood why he’d been worried about his nose specifically to begin with, that fear seemed particularly unfounded as they looked at the tiny, sweet nose he now had, and slight upturn it took at the tip.

“C-cute, right?”

There was really no better word for the way his face looked. There was something so soft and gentle about it now, even beyond the noticeably puffier cheeks. Neither of them had considered Riichi half as harsh-looking as he himself did, but now there was absolutely nothing about him that fit that word in the slightest.

Shyly, Fumino nodded, taking Uruka’s hand in her own and gripping it tightly.

“Mmm, he is.”

Both girls froze, the silence letting the gravity of it all really sink in.

They’d just called their best friend cute, which would have been more than they could handle under ordinary circumstances, but when coupled with the impossibility of their situation, as well as how quickly they’d accepted it happening like it was nothing, was enough to send both girls over the edge.

“Ahhhh, Fuminocchi! I just admitted that I think Rikkun’s cute!” Uruka cried out, burying her face in her hands.

“I mean, he is, but, but...Fuminocchi!!!”

“How are we just going along with all this?! Riichi barely even looks like...well, Riichi! He’s gotten all adorable!” Fumino cried in turn, equal parts dismayed by the way she was acting, and terribly flustered over her choice of words.

“We’ve gotta be seeing things, right?!”

“B-but we both seem to be seeing the same thing, so that can’t really be possible, and-”

“It’s nice, hearing you both call me ‘cute’ and ‘adorable.’”

Fumino and Uruka were quickly silenced by the sound of Riichi softly speaking up in his dazed, monotonous voice, and turned to face him even as his own eyes seemed to stare ahead at nothing.

“I hope I can agree, one day. For now, maybe I could grow my hair out a bit. Even if it wasn’t too long, I just want to be able to look a bit prettier. It’s so boring, having to keep it so short… I wish it was a lighter color, too...”

“O-oh gosh, Riichi heard every word, Uruka!”

Fumino’s cheeks felt as if they were on fire.

Too flustered to do much else, she clung onto the other girl, who hugged her back tightly as they looked over at their hypnotized best friend.

“Wh-what do we do? Should we wake him up or something? If Rikkun’s face really is all different, I bet he’d wanna know and...and…”

Uruka’s words tapered off as both girls watched Riichi changing in front of their eyes, cementing that they weren’t simply seeing things.

“Now his hair’s getting longer, Fuminocchi!” Uruka cried, watching in complete shock as his once closely cropped hair rapidly lengthened, and lightened from his usual, jet black shade to a bright, warm apricot.

“B-but how? Is it because of what he’s saying?”

Fumino watched as Riichi’s growing hair started to settle into a pleasant little bob, bangs dipping in front of his eyes. She was tempted to clip it back for him, neaten it up just a little, but the thought of just how much more adorable that would make him look kept her frozen in place.

But...Riichi did say he wanted to be cuter, so...if he’d like it…

“It’s gotta be, right?! He said all that stuff about his face, and now that’s all pretty, and now his hair’s done the same thing right after he spoke about it…”

“Mmm, but...that’s just not possible, right? Hypnotism shouldn’t be able to...to…”

As embarrassed as they’d been over just rolling with it earlier, it now seemed completely pointless to argue against the results.

“Do we even know how to wake him up, Uruka? Does the book say anything?”

“Right, lemme check…”

Uruka looked over the pages she’d been reading earlier, hastily scanning or more info while Riichi, oblivious to just about everything, kept on speaking.

“I feel like I’m too broad...” he started, “I always just want to retreat into myself. I wish I didn’t feel like I was in everyone’s way, but my shoulders are so wide, and my hands and arms feel so big. I wish all that was smaller…”

“H-how’d he even get on all this, anyway?!” Uruka asked, quickening her pace as Riichi’s clothes started to look a little baggier, his hands disappearing completely beneath his sleeves.

With each second that passed, he seemed somehow softer, losing all of his usual broadness.

“I mean, the whole point of this was to...help Riichi, right…?”

Fumino trailed off, realizing exactly why things were happening how they were.

“He figured that if he could get better at studying, it would be like fixing a major part of himself, so if all of this is happening, then…

Uruka, you can stop reading. We shouldn’t put a stop to this yet.”

Fumino smiled at Uruka, who seemed confused for a moment, before quickly realizing exactly what Fumino was trying to say.

“Right.” she smiled back, setting the book aside and looking toward her hypnotized friend.

“It’s...it’s what Riichi wants, so let’s...let’s support him.”

“Mmm, we will,” Fumino affirmed, nodding.

Both girls were still more than a little shaky, shocked by the reality of their strange situation, but if it would help their friend, even in a way they’d had no idea he wanted to be helped, then it would all be worthwhile as far as they were concerned.

“Ehehe, and it looks like you wanted to be kinda small, huh Rikkun?”

“No,” he flatly replied.

“I merely want to be a perfectly average height…”

The two girls looked at each other as Riichi continued to stare off into space.

Considering he was still sitting, it was hard for either of them, who were themselves of average height, to say that he was anywhere near that description.

Careful not to disturb him, Uruka even took a seat next to him, put a hand to the top of her head, and moved it over to the open air above Riichi.

Her hypnotized friend was easily several inches below her hand.

“F-Fuminocchi…”

“Riichi’s…” Fumino hesitated, a little unsure of what her friend considered “perfectly average” as they looked over at someone who was, at best, adorably short.

“A perfectly average height,” Riichi spoke up.

His response seemed so perfectly timed that the others could swear he was aware of their confusion

“R-right! That’s what we were gonna say, Rikkun! Nice and, y’know, average sized!”

Uruka smiled and laughed nervously as she stood up, shuffled over to Fumino, and whispered in her ear, “Rikkun’s friggin’ tiny now!”

“He...he is,” Fumino whispered back.

“I mean, if that’s what he wants, cool, but...does he think we’re super tall or something? I bet he’s not even five feet anymore!”

“Let’s...let’s just keep going. If this makes him happy, then that’s enough for me.”

“Mmm, yeah, you’re right. Besides…” Uruka started, her cheeks reddened once more, “it does kinda go along with making him look cute, right? When someone’s this tiny, don’tcha just wanna protect ‘em?”

Fumino felt like her face was on fire. She agreed with Uruka completely, of course, but she felt like dwelling on things much longer could get extremely dangerous extremely quickly, so she hastily changed topics.

“So, Riichi!” she shouted, her voice shaky and uneven.

“What else would you like to be different about yourself?”

“I don’t like how my voice sounds. You two always sound so cute. I wish mine could be more like that.”

“Rikkun…even talking was difficult for you?” Uruka asked, pouting.

Neither she nor Fumino could see it, but his neck looked a little smoother as she questioned him, the bump of his Adam’s apple fading away with little ceremony.

“I’m sorry, Riichi. I wish we’d known how much you were suffering…”

“But it wasn’t too bad around you two.”

Both of them looked over at Riichi, a little taken aback by just how radically different the voice they heard was from what they were used to, from what they’d heard just seconds earlier.

“I feel more at-ease around the both of you. You never seemed guarded around me, so all of those worries feel at least a little bit smaller.”

Riichi’s voice was so much higher and softer now, and, though it was a little hard to tell through his flat tone, there was a composed, serious edge to it that he’d almost entirely lacked before.

“I just hope that one day I can tell you both how much it matters to me. How glad I am to be with you.”

As different as that voice was, however, both Fumino and Uruka couldn’t deny that with every word he spoke, it only sounded more and more fitting for the way his body was changing.

None of that, however, felt important to either of them in the face of what they had just heard.

“Rikkun…”

“You...you matter so much to us, too, Riichi. We mean it.”

“And I think, if I ever get to a place where I can love myself, then I’ll have the strength to open up about that, too.”

“Y’know what, Rikkun?” Uruka asked, her expression fiery and determined.

“I know you’re gonna get there. We both do. And, if you don’t feel like you can get there alone, then we’re gonna help you every single step of the way. Don’t ever forget that!”

“I won’t,” Riichi replied.

Behind his flat expression, both Fumino and Uruka could almost sense a warm smile.

“Is...is there anything else you’d like, Riichi? To be different, I mean?”

“As nice as being around you both always was, I always felt like I stood out. Everything about my body made me feel like anyone who looked at the three of us would single me out, like I didn’t fit in at all.”

Fumino and Uruka stayed silent, simply nodding at what he had to say.

“That’s part of why I always wear baggy clothing. If I can hide just about all of my body beneath my clothes, I feel like I don’t stand out as much. I wish I could more easily wear the kinds of clothes I want, without having to worry about things like body hair, or if my legs look too big and stocky...”

Riichi’s already small frame seemed to dwindle just a little further at that, his socks hanging uselessly off of much cuter, tinier feet. It seemed to both Fumino and Uruka that his complexion was a little lighter and gentler now, but it was a little hard to tell from just how covered up he was by his now ridiculously loose, baggy clothes.

“The older I got, the more I wished my body would develop a little differently. I wished I could be fuller and curvier. Maybe it’s childish, but I wanted to be the kind of person people wouldn’t be afraid to hug.”

Though it did nothing to make his clothes seem any less loose on his frame, for the first time since Riichi had started getting cuter and smaller, his clothes seemed to be pushing out just a touch, the waistline of his pants resting on hips that seemed softer and fuller, while his posture shifted a little upward, as if he’d been propped up on a cushion. It was clear, to both Fumino and Uruka, what that might mean, but both of them were too endlessly shy to even begin to speak up about it.

Besides, as they noticed the front of his shirt beginning to tent out a little, both of them realized there was far more that, try as they might to not pay it much mind, demanded their attention.

“F-Fuminocchi?”

“Y-yes, Uruka?”

Fumino tried to smile pleasantly, ignoring the irritation welling up within her as best as she could.

“Rikkun’s, uhhh...Rikkun...well…”

Uruka knew Fumino was seeing what see was seeing, that she was watching as two round, prominent bumps rose ever higher on Riichi’s chest, looking fuller and heavier by the second. Even so, she had no idea how to give voice to the thoughts that flooded her mind.

“It’s just that...well…”

“I can see, yes.”

Fumino still smiled, though it did nothing to hide her frustration.

“Mine are ‘Ds,’ so…”

Uruka’s gaze shifted downward to her own chest. Though she’d never really flaunted it, she’d known that her bust was, comfortably, one of the biggest in their high school.

As she looked back up at Riichi, however, she quickly realized that her place in the rankings had just gotten a little bit lower. As embarrassed as she was, Uruka couldn’t help but giggle a little at the thought.

“Ehehe, jeez, those’ve gotta be, what? An ‘F,’ right? And with that super tiny, cuddly figure? Ahhhh, I’m kinda jealous! They look huge!”

“Uruka…”

Uruka looked up at her friend, whose forced smile had completely faded now as she rested her hands on her petite chest with a look even emptier than Riichi’s.

“W-what’s up, Fuminocchi?”

Uruka swallowed.

She knew Fumino’s size was a sore spot for her, but she’d never seen her get this bad.

“We don’t need to talk about this, do we? What’s that? You agree? That’s wonderful, Uruka, because it definitely isn’t even a little bit important. You know mine are getting bigger, right? You know that, don’t you? I might even be able to graduate to a higher letter soon, so-”

“F-Fuminocchi?”

“-So let’s not dwell on this, shall we?”

Fumino suddenly smiled once more, though she spoke with a hurried, frantic tone, clearly eager to move things along as quickly as possible.

“Riichi? You can still hear us, right?” she asked, not missing a beat.

“I can.”

“So if all that stuff you told us about had come true, would there be anything else you’d want to change? Would it all make you happy?”

“I don’t think it would suddenly fix all my problems, but…”

“But?”

“I think that might be the start I need. I think, maybe, that would at least make me feel so much more like myself, like I’m who I’ve always wanted, always known myself to be.”

Fumino sighed, her distress steadily melting away in the face of her friend’s sincerity.

“Y-yeah, that’s it, Riichi. We’re so, so glad you can get this fresh start.”

“So, when you wake up, know that we’re gonna stay by your side, Rikkun,” Uruka chimed in.

“We’re sure that it won’t suddenly be easy. There’ll be lots to overcome,” Fumino explained, smiling, “but we’re never, ever gonna give up, got that?”

The two girls beamed down at their hypnotized friend, ready to face them warmly.

“So, wake up, OK? We’re right here for you!”

Uruka snapped her fingers, confident, somehow, that it would do what she needed it to.

As their friend began to stir, Uruka excitedly shouted.

“Hey! I think that did it!”

~~~

With a snap, the thick fog that ensnared Riichi’s thoughts started to thin.

“Wait, that’s really all it took to wake them up?”

Everything had been so cloudy and indistinct before, but Fumino’s voice rang out clearly. Her tone seemed...strange to Riichi. Fumino’s feelings were difficult to parse. Was she surprised? Happy? Disappointed? Angry?

Whatever the case, they were still endlessly comforted by her presence.

“Huh, guess we didn’t need to read the book at all, huh Fuminocchi? That was crazy simple!” Uruka loudly shouted.

She’d always been so loud, but...wait, why had she always been so loud? Did she feel that people needed to hear her better? Was she worried about not standing out?

Still, it was reassuring. It felt right for Uruka to be loud, even if Riichi couldn’t pin down why she was that way. It didn’t matter too much; they were just glad both of them were nearby.

“Didja sleep well, Rikkun?”

“I was asleep?”

“Ehehe, you don’t remember, Riichi? You wanted to be hypnotized.”

Their thoughts were still muddled, but they could vaguely recall all of that. How embarrassed they were to be carrying that book down the street, shyly flipping it open, and deciding to test out its techniques...

Wait, why would carrying a book be embarrassing? Why were we shy about any of that? I can understand being skeptical of something with so little logical grounding, but shy? That simply doesn’t make sense. There’s nothing salacious or worrying about words in the slightest.

“Mm, I think I remember…”

Strange…

They had hated the sound of their voice before but...everything they said felt so different, now.

It’s still my voice but...it’s nice.

Riichi’s eyes slowly started to flutter open, though the world was blurry and indistinct, hazy enough to the point where they could barely even see the expressions on Fumino and Uruka’s faces. They narrowed their eyes, trying to make things out a little more clearly.

“Yikes! Rikkun, are you OK? We didn’t do anything wrong, did we?!”

Anything wrong? I’ve been unconscious, so how would I know?

“I’m perfectly fine.”

Though Riichi couldn’t tell, their own tone of voice seemed terse, almost grumpy. Coupled with what looked to Fumino and Uruka like a death stare, Riichi seemed absolutely furious.

“A-are you sure? I know things must be confusing, but we’re here to help, Riichi,” Fumino asked, more than a little nervous about things herself.

“I don’t understand why you think something’s wrong. I feel perfectly fine!”

“Because, well, so much happened, and you look angry, so…”

“While I was unconscious. I’m not angry, and I’m not sure what about me gives that impression. If you’ll recall, I was the one who asked for what has transpired, whatever that may be.”

Slowly, Riichi picked themselves up off the ground, and heard what seemed to be a surprised squeak, accompanied by the sound of fabric falling to the floor. The room felt a little drafty to Riichi, though they paid that little mind.

Quickly, the girls rose to their feet, each resting a hand on Riichi’s shoulder in an attempt to keep them steady.

Strangely, though it was still hard to see anything, it looked to Riichi as if Fumino and Uruka towered above them.

“So...uhm...Riichi, do you remember...anything about what happened?” Fumino asked, gently guiding him towards...something...against one of the corners of her room.

“No, I don’t. Isn’t that customary with hypnosis?”

“Y-yeah! P-probably, I guess so, ahahaha,” Uruka chuckled, though Riichi wasn’t sure what they’d said that was meant to be humorous.

“And where are you leading me? My legs are a bit tingly from sitting for so long, I suppose, but I’m perfectly capable of walking.”

“We just...uhm...l-look, it’s just quicker to show you what we’re trying to say in the mirror, okay, Riichi? You trust us, right?”

Riichi was silent for a moment.

They couldn’t figure out how their trust for their friends was relevant at all to a simple question of location, but they responded all the same.

“Of course,” Riichi answered, squinting harder and harder with every step they took, eager to see much of anything beyond the indistinct blur of their vision and get some context for why their friends were acting so incomprehensibly.

“G-good! So...uhm…” Uruka sputtered, taking her hand away from Riichi’s shoulder as soon as the group had stopped.

“W-what do you think? Uh...pretty cute, right?”

Riichi narrowed their eyes even further.

They could make out...some sort of orange blob.

Maybe?

“I-I don’t think Rikkun likes it!” they heard Uruka frantically whisper behind them, though they weren’t sure what gave that impression and why it would demand what was, as far as Uruka’s boisterous nature was concerned, secrecy.

“Actually,” Riichi interrupted, coughing loudly, “I can’t see very well without my glasses…”

“R-right!” Fumino shouted out, her voice strangely loud and direct.

“Yes, umm…”

Fumino scampered off, hurrying away to fetch Riichi’s glasses and quickly hand them to them.

“I hope they still fit.”

“Thank you, Fumino.”

Riichi nodded, and rubbed the lenses against their shirt.

“I’m sure they will. They’ve fit me well enough for years, and I can’t have possibly outgrown them over the course of the after-

Ah…”

Riichi slipped on their glasses as they spoke.

As the reflection in the mirror suddenly grew as clear as day, they paused, contemplating what it was, exactly, that they were seeing.

Staring right back at Riichi was a curvy, very studious-looking girl with a cute, apricot-colored bob of hair and an oversized pair of glasses, standing between her two much taller friends, wearing an expression so blank it was impossible to tell what they were feeling.

As Riichi’s glasses slid down the bridge of their nose, so too, did the girl’s.

Then, the both of them quickly pushed them back into place.

In that instant, the reality of the situation sunk in.

“It’s me.”

Riichi’s expression was unchanging.

There was a swirl of emotions running wild within them at the sight of what they knew, deep down, was the person she’d always wanted to be.

Fumino and Uruka were beet red, and it seemed they were doing everything they could to not stare at their best friend.

Is there something wrong? They seem flushed, They’re not getting sick, are they? Perhaps they’re both a bit warm? The room feels chilly, if anything, so that seems strange. I’m not unsightly in some way, am I?

Riichi sized up her reflection a little while longer, trying to comprehend what had come over her friends, before finally noticing something that, in the excitement of the moment, she’d completely overlooked.

Riichi was clad in nothing but a very, very oversized school shirt that reached low enough to cover up her upper thighs, but otherwise left her entirely exposed to the room. The more she looked, the more her expression shifted from a blank stare into an adorably flustered pout. Her cheeks reddened and puffed up at the sight of her remarkably large breasts pressing against her shirt, and her pink, puffy nipples were far more visible than she cared for them to be.

Riichi shuddered a little and shyly rubbed her legs together, which only made it clear that, even though it was thankfully hidden from view, she wasn’t even wearing any underwear.

“W-w-w-w-why did you decide it would be a good idea to strip me?! Is this what you meant by doing something wrong while I was hypnotized? Did you dispose of my clothing?! I understand that it would be ill-fitting as things stand, but taking my underwear seems like a step too far!”

“R-Rikkun! Why would we…?! I mean...we wouldn’t take any of your c-clothes to begin with, but your u-underwear?! W-we’re not perverts!”

All Uruka had managed to do with her answer was embarrass herself further. It was distressing enough that Riichi had been so blunt about things, but Uruka’s own choice of words didn’t help in the least.

“Riichi, I know that it’s...a lot right now, but...that’s really what you’re the most surprised by?”

Fumino offered up a shaky smile, trying to steer things back on course.

“Anyone would be surprised to find themselves stripped in their sleep, Fumino! I hardly think that’s unusual!”

It quickly became clear to both Fumino and Uruka that far more of their friend had changed beyond their appearance.

“B-but Rikkun! You aren’t surprised that you’re all tiny now? Or that you’ve got that huge chest, or-”

“Tiny?!” Riichi yelled, interrupting Uruka with a voice that was anything but.

“I’m a perfectly average height, thank you! And I know my breasts are...larger, but that hardly seems like something to call attention to!”

“Thank you, Riichi. Really…” Fumino groaned.

“But well, you do realize that things are...different for you now, right? Your whole body is.”

“I know.”

Riichi turned back to the mirror, pushing her state of undress out of her mind for the time being.

“But it’s me, isn’t it? I’m not sure why seeing myself in the mirror is cause for concern. My body looks different, perhaps more to you than to me, but it’s a reflection I’ve wished I could see for years now. I see no reason to greet that with shock.”

“And...you being a girl? None of that surprises you?”

The bemused expression Riichi wore told Uruka exactly how highly she viewed her question.

“No?

Why would it? I’ve always been one.”

“R-right, yeah. My bad, Rikkun…” Uruka slumped her shoulders, wondering how long it would take to completely adjust to her friend’s new attitude.

“I will admit, however, that I am curious right now. I don’t want to regard any of this with any kind of suspicion, but I am interested in finding out how it happened.”

“It’s...well, we think it’s because of the hypnosis,” Fumino admitted, smiling,

“But it’s not like you’re seeing something that isn’t really there! You were the only one who was hypnotized, and we definitely see you...”

Fumino gulped, looking over her friend’s curvy figure once more.

“...as you are now. But, while you were hypnotized, you kept saying how you really wanted to be, and somehow, your body...changed...with all of that. It was a little surprising at first, but we didn’t want to stop it until we were sure you were done. It wasn’t hard to see how important all of this was to you, so we wanted to help you reach that.”

“Very well.”

Riichi nodded, apparently satisfied with the explanation.

“It seems absurd, I should be questioning it, but I wouldn’t want to argue with any of it. I’m sure it will be difficult, but frankly, all I can feel right now is an intense relief that I won’t have to hide behind a facade any longer, I can just be myself.”

Riichi smiled for the first time since she’d woken up.

“So, thank you both. I...I hope I can express how much this really means to me someday.”

“Ahhhh, you’re so friggin’ cute, Rikkun!” Uruka beamed, wrapping up her much smaller friend in a tight, giddy hug.

“Don’t worry about saying a thing, got it? We’re just super happy you’re happy, right Fuminocchi?”

“Y-yeah, of course.”

Fumino really was happy, but at the sight of her particularly well-endowed best friends’ chests smushing into each other, that was much harder for her to actually show.

Thankfully, Riichi didn’t seem to notice.

“C-c-c-cute?!” Riichi stammered, looking more genuinely excited than she ever had before.

“Yeah! Super cute! Huggable, curvy, short, and super soft! Ahhhh, I’m so excited to take you clothes shopping sometime!”

“Disregarding your comment about my height,” Riichi started, coughing, “I’d certainly like that, but I don’t think the idea holds much water right now. Honestly, I don’t understand how you could expect me to go shopping when the only clothes I have right now are...”

Riichi pulled away from the hug and gestured at her loose shirt, blushing intensely all the while.

“...So revealing…”

“Ah!”

“M-Maybe we should go out and get Riichi some clothing, right Uruka?!”

Riichi stared at Fumino as she took Uruka by the hand, completely baffled as to why she herself was blushing so brightly. She could hear her perfectly well at a more appropriate speaking volume, so she hardly needed to shout quite as loudly as she did.

“Ehehe, yeah, we probably should…”

Uruka scratched the back of her head, her eyes drifting towards Riichi’s full, soft chest, the memory of the sensation of it pressing against her own breasts suddenly filling her mind.

“Before you do,” Riichi interjected, adjusting her glasses as they slid down her nose once more, “I have some things I wanted to bring up.”

“Oh?”

“I’ve never cared for that name. I’ll be going by ‘Rizu’ now,” she stated matter-of-factly.

“Ah! That’s a cute one! Gotta think of a new nickname for you then, huh, Rizu?” Uruka grinned.

“It’s a very pretty name, Rizu.”

“Thank you,” Rizu replied, nodding,

“You can use a nickname if you’d prefer. Outside of that, however, I’m curious about something else. Wasn’t the hypnosis related to my study habits? Were those addressed at all?”

“Ah...”

Fumino and Uruka spoke and then froze in unison.

In all the excitement, they’d completely forgotten that they’d lost sight of the entire reason they’d hypnotized their friend in the first place.

“I...think so? Uruka and I asked some basic questions about it, but...as for how effective it was…”

“It’s gotta be effective, right? You totally give off the whole ‘diligent student’ vibe now, Rizurin!”

Uruka grinned, apparently having thought of a nickname in record time.

“And it’s not just your look, either! You’re talking like one and everything! And it adds to how cute you are!”

Rizu furrowed her brow.

Was she really talking differently? Even as she thought over the way she’d been talking since she’d awoken, there wasn’t anything that, to her, revealed any kind of ‘vibe,’ as Uruka had said. She was just using words in a manner she deemed appropriate, that was all.

“I’m just me. I don’t understand how that alone indicates any kind of ability or aptitude.”

“Well, there’s an easy enough way to check,” Fumino offered, as she wandered over to the desk in her room, pulled out a particularly thick math textbook, and handed it to Rizu.

“While we’re out, why don’t you try to study a little and work on the problems in here? I highlighted the pages that today’s test was set to cover, so that should give you an idea of how much more easily things come to you now.”

Rizu nodded. The idea seemed sound enough.

“We might be a little bit. I want to make sure we can get you enough clothes to last at least a few days. I’ve got some snacks in my desk drawer if you get hungry, though, OK?”

“Mm, thank you both. This means a lot to me.”

Rizu smiled at her friends as they prepared to leave.

“I hope we can talk more when you’re back. There’s a lot I’d like to tell you both.”

“Of course. We will,” Fumino promised, smiling.

“We’re super happy you’ll finally get to let it all out Rizurin!” Uruka beamed.

~~~

Where...where does this go?

Rizu sat at the small table in the center of Fumino’s room, her slender fingers tightly gripping a playing card as she contemplated the rows of stacked cards in front of her. The intense pout of concentration that puffed up her face only broke when she heard a knock at the door.

“Ricchan, can we come in?” Fumino called, from the other side of the door.

Rizu looked up from the table, ignoring the card she’d let leap out of her grasp at the sound, and furrowed her brow at the door.

“Ricchan?” Does she have a nickname for me, too?

And why is she asking me if she can come in? It’s her room; she should certainly know that she’s free to enter and leave as she pleases.

The door isn’t locked either, so it seems even more unnecessary that she should ask permission.

“U-umm, Rizurin, you there?”

I suppose they really do intend to wait out there until I speak up. I do wonder just how long they’d stand there, but…

“Yes, I’m here. You can come in.”

As soon as she’d finished her sentence, the door was hastily pushed open, and both Fumino and Uruka practically stumbled into the room, loaded up with stuffed full, heavy shopping bags that they dropped onto the bed the instant they could.

“Oh? Weren’t you just buying some clothes?”

“Yep! But we figured we’d splurge a little!” Uruka grinned, “Made sure you’ve got an ultra-cute wardrobe and plenty of underwear! Had to pick out a few different sizes for some stuff, too, since we don’t really know how big you are. Fuminocchi and I wanted some stuff for ourselves, too! We’ll have to show you some time, Rizurin!”

“Oh, thank you.” Rizu nodded, more than a little taken aback by just how much they’d apparently done for her, but pleased nonetheless that she’d finally be able to wear something a bit more appropriate. Still, the issue of clothing sizes seemed strange to her, it should be easy to find something for someone of her, as she put it, ‘perfectly average’ stature.

“Playin’ Solitaire, Rizurin? Textbook bored you out that fast?”

“No. I finished it.”

“Finished it?” Fumino asked, furrowing her brow as she rifled through the bags, pulling out some clothes for Rizu to change into. “Oh, you covered everything the test went over? That was pretty fast!”

“Yes,

But that felt particularly brief, so I went through the rest of the book.”

“T-the rest of the book, you say?”

“Every page.”

“It’s...it’s 300 pages, Rizurin…”

“I’m not sure how that disproves what I’m saying!”

Rizu pouted, apparently frustrated that she had to explain her point any further than she already had.

It was perfectly clear, surely?

“I know we took a while,” Uruka said, “but we weren’t gone that long, Rizurin!”

“It was long enough!”

Rizu was still pouting, her cheeks pushing out even further as she got up and handed the book to Uruka.

“But at least take a look through the textbook, that should be more than enough proof.”

“Got it,” Fumino said, smiling gently and trying not to think of the smaller girl as a hamster as she handed her a bag of clothes to wear, all while trying to hide her own disbelief at what Rizu was insisting.

“We’ll look through this, so why don’t you try these on in the meanwhile?”

Rizu looked over the clothes in her arms, furrowing her brow at the underwear on top of the pile.

“Thank you, but...four bras?”

“Fuminocchi and I wanted to make sure we’d get your size!” Uruka explained, while Rizu looked over the cup sizes and saw that she’d been given a sliding scale running from “D” to “G.”

“I told Fuminocchi there’s just no way you’re the same size as me, but the higher up we went, the more dejected she looked, so-”

“Th-that’s not important, is it?!” Fumino hastily interrupted.

“Anyway, make sure you try them all on, OK, Ricchan?”

“Right.”

Rizu nodded.

It seemed absurd that they’d picked out such massive sizes, but erring on the side of caution seemed sound, nonetheless. Without another word, she walked over to the mirror and started changing.

“You uhhh, you don’t really believe she’s done everything in here, do you?” Uruka whispered into Fumino’s ear.

“I...don’t, no.”

Behind them, Rizu had unsuccessfully tried to put on the smallest of the bras she’d been handed, finding it far, far too small for her chest.

“You think she’s any better at studying than she was before? I know it’s a little dumb to expect some huge change right away, but considering how much everything else changed…”

“Well, the best thing we can do right now is take a look like she asked us to. If there’s still a problem, we’ll all work through it together.”

Rizu tried on the E-cup next. Finding it incredibly restrictive and tight, she put it aside, and reached the next bra.

“Wait,” Fumino muttered, flipping to the initial section they’d asked Rizu to work through.

“She...she’s written answers here, just like she said.”

“Y-yeah, sure looks like it…”

Uruka bit her lip shyly.

“But I mean, any old dummy can just fill in something that looks half-right and call it a day. Hell, it doesn’t even look like she’s shown how she worked these answers out at all.”

“Right, it’s just…” Fumino flipped to the back of the book, cross-referencing the answers printed there with what Rizu had filled in.

The F-cup came next. It seemed a little better, but the tops of her breasts still bulged slightly out of the cups and the fabric dug into her skin uncomfortably.

Bras surely have to feel better than this…

Blushing softly, Rizu picked up the biggest bra she’d been given.

“Every single one of them is correct,” Fumino whispered, furrowing her bra a little harder with every answer she checked.

“She doesn’t show how she gets to it, like you said, but...it’s all correct.”

Fumino gulped.

Ordinarily, anyone would have dismissed this as cheating, but she’d been on the receiving end of that in her humanities classes enough times to know exactly how much accusing Rizu
could hurt…

Besides, why go through the effort of lying to her and Uruka if she really hadn’t improved at all?

“The whole book is like this. She’s written answers for...for every single problem, just like she said.”

G-cup…

Rizu’s cheeks reddened at the thought, staring at her breasts cradled lovingly in their surprisingly soft, frilly new support.

It feels good, but...G-cup…

Rizu shook her head, trying to put her embarrassment out of her mind as she started on the rest of her outfit, grateful that it seemed to be a fairly simple, comfortable-looking ensemble.

“H-hey, Rizurin?” Uruka spoke up, looking through the book in utter disbelief.

“Yes?”

“How long did...did all this take you?”

“Just shy of 30 minutes.”

“And you just played solitaire while you waited for us afterward?”

“No,

I tried reading through one of the novels on Fumino’s bookshelf. A romance story, ostensibly.”

Rizu shuddered a little, quickly slipping on the hoodie she’d been provided in an effort to cover up her embarrassment.

“It was baffling. Completely nonsensical. So, I put it aside and played with a deck of cards I found instead.”

“Baffling?” Fumino asked, more than a little confused by Rizu’s description.

All the romance novels she kept in her room were almost ridiculously straightforward.

“Absolutely!” Rizu said, puffing up her cheeks once more.

“I couldn’t comprehend it at all! Not a single picometer of it!

It simply doesn’t make sense why the characters acted the way they did! I don’t see any logical link whatsoever between holding someone’s hand and growing embarrassed as a result. It’s a simple physical connection. There’s no deeper meaning behind any of it.”

Her tirade was far stranger to the other girls than any of the fictional events she’d just described, but there was something so endlessly adorable about how worked up she was getting that neither Fumino nor Uruka had the heart to interrupt her.

“It’s simply two parts of two different bodies making contact. There’s no reason for such a strong reaction over such mundane physical stimuli.

And then the book went even further, spending pages talking about the pressing of lips together, as though that was somehow any different. It just makes no sense! I could potentially understand the physical sensation that comes along with kissing bringing with it some modicum of pleasantness, but it seemed as if the lead characters treated this act as though it was sacred, as if it was the only proof of something they both already knew to be true! I couldn’t even begin to comprehend their thought processes in the least!”

“R-Rizurin?”

Rizu felt Uruka’s hand rest atop her head, and looked up to see the tanned girl staring down at her with a somewhat shaky smile as she gently petted her.

Though she was reassuring Rizu, Uruka desperately hoped she wouldn’t notice how red her cheeks had grown at everything she’d just said.

“You’re a good girl, huh, Rizurin?”

“I...I suppose? I’m not sure what you mean.”

Rizu’s cheeks puffed out once more, too embarrassed to admit that it felt as if Uruka was treating her like a child.

“And hey, the clothes fit! They suit ya, y’know!”

“Oh, they do!” Fumino cried, slamming the book shut and joining Uruka in guiding the conversation toward something a little gentler.

“I knew that red would be your color, but those tights and that skirt look really adorable on you, Ricchan!”

“Th-they’re very comfortable, at the least, so thank you both. I’m glad you like them.”

Rizu stammered a little as she spoke, her hands clutching the hem of her skirt.

“I’d never been able to wear anything like this in the past, so it’s...refreshing. It feels nice,” she muttered, completely unaware of the soft smile that she now wore.

“Even so!” she shouted, quickly looked back up at her friends, the pout they were already growing so accustomed to returning instantly.

“You looked through the textbook, didn’t you? You saw that I’d answered every single question within, correct?”

“We did, Ricchan,” Fumino said, gently resting a hand on Rizu’s shoulders.

“But, could I just ask one thing?”

Rizu nodded.

“You didn’t really show how you worked out any of the answers. Every single one I checked looked correct, but is there any reason you skipped those steps?”

Rizu looked up at Fumino quizzically, her brow furrowed tightly.

“You don’t just know the answers?”

“C-come again?” Fumino stammered.

She’d heard this before. Not from Rizu, but this was the kind of reply she herself was all too used to giving.

“If I know the answer, why do I need to explain it? There’s no real process for working it out. I just knew it all. There’s nothing more to it.”

“Fuminocchi…?” Uruka asked, tugging at her friend’s sleeve. “Rizurin’s...uhh...what she just said to us…

It...kinda reminds me of you, don’tcha think?”

Fumino shyly nodded.

“We did bring up my own aptitude when she was being hypnotized…”

“Ah! So you think that-”

“Yes,” Fumino interrupted, nodding.

“Rizu might...might just be a prodigy now.”

It seemed strange, considering just how much Fumino herself struggled when it came to anything other than humanities, but the evidence was growing harder and harder to deny by the minute.

“I can’t speak to any labels like that,” Rizu spoke up, “but I think it’s clear, based on the results here, that the hypnotism was an undeniable success.”

“Ehehe, sure was, Rizurin!” Uruka said as she grinned, glad to see that Rizu seemed to be taking this all in stride.

“Absolutely,” Fumino added, smiling and gently petting her much shorter friend’s head. “You’ve cleared a really big hurdle today, Ricchan.”

“Indeed. So, I’d assume the both of you still plan on being hypnotized as well?”

“Eh?” they cried out in unison.

Both Fumino and Uruka completely froze. They’d initially decided that if it had worked for Rizu, they’d try it on themselves shortly after, but in light of just how drastic the effects had been…

They both sized up their friend’s now short, curvy frame, and watched as she cutely pushed up a pair of glasses that fit her perfectly earlier in the day, but now seemed almost comically large.

“Is there some reason you wouldn’t want to? My aptitude with a field I’d struggled with has dramatically increased, so it stands to reason that it could do the same for the both of you, could it not?”

“Y-yeah…” Fumino whispered, her gaze drifting over to Uruka.

She knew the thought that entered her head was completely illogical. That, clearly, Rizu had a lot more going on than the two of them did. But, then again, she’d have never thought that Rizu was carrying such a burden before today, either.

So, then what if Uruka was dealing with similar feelings?

Fumino couldn’t shake the vision of Uruka with shorter hair and her already-tight tummy rippling with well-defined abs, her figure made all the more striking thanks to broader shoulders with the powerful muscles of a swimmer.

Meanwhile, Uruka was looking at Fumino, with similar thoughts running through her head.

In her mind, Fumino’s hair was every bit as silky as it was now, even with its shorter style, and the bangs that covered her eyes added to the appeal of her more masculine, though still strikingly delicate features. She tried not to crane her neck as she imagined her slim, slender figure on a far taller body.

“No way, that’s impossible!” they both screamed, the two girls shaking each other to try and drive out their thoughts.

“We’re good, Rizurin!” Uruka cried out, her painfully embarrassed expression making it clear that she was anything but.

“Yeah, we’ll leave things as they are, Ricchan! We’re both more than happy we could do everything we did for you, so we’ll call things there for the day!” Fumino yelled, trying and failing to maintain any semblance of composure.

“Are you sure? Think of how much you two could stand to gain if-”

“Ahhh! I just remembered something!” Fumino quickly cut Rizu off, eager to move onto any other topic as quickly as possible, without any real plan as to how she might actually do that. “W-well, Uruka and I were talking about what we’d like to do with the evening on the way home, right, Uruka? You remember that, right?!”

“Y-yeah, sure do!” Uruka said with a nod, having precisely no idea what Fumino was talking about.

“A-about how we thought we might pass the time with some, ummm…” Fumino’s eyes darted around the room, before stopping on Rizu’s interrupted game of solitaire. “Ah! Card games! Yes, that sounds fun, doesn’t it Uruka?”

“Card games?” Uruka asked, furrowing her brow, before Fumino gently nudged her side.

“That’s right, card games! We really want to do something fun with you, Rizurin!”

“You do?!” Rizu asked, her eyes lighting up excitedly at the prospect. Much to Fumino and Uruka’s relief, their desperate attempt to divert the conversation seemed to be working.

“We do! We’ve got some snacks, I can bring us some drinks, and we can relax with some games all night long! I’ve got some board games we can play too, so there’s plenty for us to try!” Fumino said with a smile.

“I’ll warn you both, if you’re challenging me, I intend to take it seriously,” Rizu boasted, puffing out her chest with pride and wearing a remarkably confident smile as she pushed up her glasses once more.

Fumino and Uruka both knew that, with Rizu as she was now, they’d both likely be no match for her. Still, seeing how excited she got, there was no way they could even consider backing out now.

“Of course, we’ll do our best too!”

~~~

“Alright, Rizurin, I’m getting rid of three 9s!” Uruka said with a smile and a wink, hoping that their fourth game of Cheat for the night might end a little differently.

“I’m not quite sure why you’re telling me specifically, but alright,” Rizu replied through gritted teeth, doing a terrible job of hiding how upset she was by the outcome.

“Ricchan, you know she’d win the game if she did that, right?” Fumino asked, wearing a bemused smile, stunned by how oblivious Rizu was being.

“I do…”

“And, I shouldn’t be telling you this,” she confided, leaning in close and dropping her voice to a whisper, “but I don’t have any 9s, and I know you played two of them earlier…”

“Fumino, please don’t try and get me to cheat,” Rizu chided, pouting. “If I win, I’d like to win honestly.”

“But...Uruka’s saying that she’s playing three of them, and...you know how many suits are in a deck, right?”

“Of course I do, but that seems neither here nor there. There’s no reason for Uruka to play cards she doesn’t have, so you must be confused about something. It seems to me like she’s won this match.”

Fumino and Uruka both sighed, the former not even bothering to call the latter on her bluff.

“Yeah...sure looks like I win,” Uruka grumbled, flipping over last of the cards she placed down and revealing two 9s, a 10, and the very, very obvious fact that she’d been lying.
“Rizurin…you...get the rules, right? You’re meant to try and lie to get rid of all your cards. It’s super simple!”

“The rules are perfectly simple, but…” Rizu started to explain, before her cheeks began to puff up in a pout, “this game is completely nonsensical! It relies on understanding what others might decide to do, but there’s no formula to assess human behavior or actions! It’s a fundamentally absurd idea!”

Fumino bit her lip, remembering she’d seen Rizu act like this earlier. She could understand her getting flustered by a romance novel, although her wording about why felt particularly odd, but the fact that she seemed to be having so much trouble understanding her two closest friends made it clear that something much deeper was at play, and she had a sneaking suspicion she knew what it was.

While Rizu was lost in her tirade about the apparent absurdity of the game’s very simple rules, Fumino crawled over to Rizu’s bag, and dug through it until she found an old literature test the three of them had taken a few weeks ago.

“Ricchan, could we try something?” she called out, cutting Rizu off.

“Another round?!” Rizu asked excitedly, her passion for the games they’d been playing apparently not dampened in the least by her losing streak or her very strong, very verbose opinions on the game’s ruleset.

“Ahaha, a bit later, OK? I was actually wondering if you wouldn’t mind taking some practice test questions for me.”

“I don’t mind, but...why exactly?”

“Jeez, Fuminocchi, you really wanna study more? Aren’t you burned out?”

Both Rizu and Uruka looked baffled.

“It won’t take long!” Fumino reassured the both of them. “It’s just something I need to take care of, then we can relax for the rest of the evening. I’ll tell you why afterwards, I promise.”

“I suppose that’s fine,” Rizu said with a nod.

“It’s a fairly simple test, I’ll read out an extract from a novel, and you’ll answer some basic questions relating to it. Does that sound OK?”

Rizu nodded again, and Fumino quickly started reading.

To Fumino, the test was almost absurdly simple, the kind of thing she would have breezed through effortlessly in much the same way Rizu had worked through the math textbook. And, even for Rizu, it had been a test she’d performed adequately on back when they’d first written it in school, and she’d showcased at least a basic understanding of everything that was being asked.

Now, however, Rizu looked nothing short of baffled by even the simplest questions that were asked of her. She stared blankly in front of her the whole time, occasionally interjecting to say that there was absolutely no logical foundation for the questions she was being asked, and precisely no way to discern what the correct answers might be, even on questions she’d answered correctly when she’d first written the test.

It had become clear, as Fumino wrapped things up, that Rizu’s particular brand of genius had someone ended up far closer to her own than she would have ever expected.

“Alright, let’s call it there for the day, Rizu,” Fumino said, putting away the test.

“If you insist,” Rizu huffed. “I’m certain I’d have arrived at something if I had more time…”

“So, uh, why’d ya pull out the old literature test, Fuminocchi?” Uruka asked, prompting the other girls to stare curiously at Fumino.

“Right...well, about that…

Uruka, do you remember during the hypnosis, when you asked Rizu if she didn’t wish she knew things more like I did?”

“Uhm...I think so, Fuminocchi.”

“And, well, you did specifically talk about math, but…”

Fumino paused, and looked at Rizu, who was hanging intently on her every word. She did her best to muster up the most reassuring smile that she could before…

“W-wait, you don’t mean that I made it so she’s only good at math, do you?!”

...Uruka complete ruined any chance she had at delicacy.

“That...that seems to be the case, yeah,” Fumino admitted, wishing she’d had a chance to lead into the conversation.

“So, then, the reason I couldn’t answer the questions right now is because of the hypnotism?” Rizu asked, her brows adorably furrowed as she tried to work everything out.

“Yes, but I think there’s more to it than that. Rizu, you were saying that you had a hard time with the novel you tried to read too, right?’

The smaller girl nodded. emphatically.

“Well...I think that’s because…

Look,” Fumino said, sighing softly, “it’s hard to explain, but when I say I don’t know how to do math, it’s not just knowing the answer that’s hard for me. I struggle with all the steps leading up to solving for it.”

“You mean…” Uruka whispered, before covering her mouth.

“I think that you have a hard time with the steps leading up to answering any kind of problem that isn’t math, like literature. Which, in that field, means that-”

“-That I don’t really understand people,” Rizu finished, her eyes downcast as she sagely nodded. “I see...that makes sense…

It certainly clears up why the game you both found so simple completely escaped me. I...I wonder if I’ll be good at anything like that at this point, honestly. I would imagine not...”

Rizu sighed. She seemed even smaller now, so despondent and sad over losing such a fundamental skill.

“I recall taking the test, and I recall struggling with it far less than I do now, but even my actions then seem so strange to me. As if I was operating on an instinct I just don’t possess anymore.”

“Rizurin…”

“Ricchan…”

Fumino and Uruka closed in on Rizu, wrapping her up in a gentle, loving hug.

“Would you like us to hypnotize you again, Ricchan? We’ll see if we can...fix things,” Fumino asked, wincing the instant the words left her lips.

Rizu didn’t hesitate for a second, shaking her head gently.

“Thank you, Fumino, but there’s nothing to fix,” Rizu responded, pulling back from the hug and smiling softly at her friends.

“It’s an issue, to be sure, and, though I know it’s at odds with how we got to this point, I feel it’s all part of being who I am. And...I don’t want to change even the smallest part of me, not anymore. Perhaps I don’t understand people now, but, Fumino, you struggle with much beyond the humanities, and that’s never deterred you from following your dreams. And the same goes for you, Uruka. You’re both working so hard to reach every one of your goals.”

Rizu took a deep breath, before nodding confidently at the both of them.

“So, then that’s my new dream. To understand all the things I now find so baffling and illogical. To end my losing streak and, perhaps most importantly, to understand the two of you more completely than I ever did even as I was before today.”

“Yeah, that’s the spirit, Rizurin! We’re gonna be with you every step of the way, got it?”

“We will,” Fumino agreed. “I’m sure it won’t be easy, but with how fired up you got about games earlier, I’m sure you’re not one to back down from anything, right, Ricchan?”

“That’s correct,” Rizu said, nodding. “I won’t ever give up, no matter what happens.”

“Yeah!” Uruka cheered.

“So, let’s get back to playing.”

“Huh? R-right now?”

“I assume that’s not a problem?”

“I-I mean, it’s not, but...you’re really getting back to it that fast, Rizurin?”

“It’s all part of my dream,” she stated, matter-of-factly. “I wish to end my losing streak, and the more I play, the more I should understand about how you both behave, so games seem like a perfectly reasonable way to spend the evening.”

Rizu nodded, before adding, in a much quieter voice, “I’d also like to relax and have fun with the both of you, so…”

Fumino and Uruka smiled, both girls taken with how adorably flustered their friend had made herself.

“Ahaha, of course, Ricchan! Let’s all have fun together!”

~~~

“OK, can I turn off the light, you two?” Fumino asked, leaning back to face her friends while keeping her finger firmly pressed on the switch.

“Yup yup! Rizurin and I are snuggled in nice and tight!”

“Got it!” Fumino called back, smiling before hitting the light and plunging the room into near total darkness immediately.

“Don’t get startled, OK Ricchan? I’ll just be settling in next to you”

“I-I’m fine,” Rizu stammered. “Just because it’s dark, that’s no reason to be scared. B-besides, Uruka’s right next to me, so-”

She froze for a moment, shaken by the feeling of Fumino’s weight pressing down next to her on the bed despite her insistence that such feelings were illogical.

“Mhmm,” Fumino hummed, nodding before wrapping an arm around Rizu. “And now I’m here too.”

“-So I’ll be OK,” Rizu said after letting out a relieved sigh, grateful to be sandwiched tightly between her two best friends.

“That’s right, Rizurin, we’ll protect ya from anything and everything!”

Rizu just nodded, not wanting to pry into what Uruka might protect her from in the least.

“Not that there’s anything to protect you from,” Fumino giggled, reassuring Rizu more than she possibly could have known.

It seemed surreal to Rizu as she lay in Fumino’s bed, experiencing a situation that seemed so utterly impossible just earlier that day. Fumino and Uruka likely wouldn’t have allowed it, and Rizu herself would have been too shy to even consider asking.

But, here they were, cuddling each other as if they’d been doing this for years, any and all concerns the three of them might have had about the situation melting away in their gentle, loving grasps.

“I know we’re all rather tired, so it’s likely not the best time,” Rizu started, grateful that her eyes had adjusted to the light well enough for her to see her friend’s faces, “but could we talk for a moment?”

“Ooh, yeah, you’re new to sleepovers, huh, Rizurin?”

“I’m not sure how that’s relevant here”

“Ahaha, of course we’re happy to talk now, Ricchan. Chatting until we just can’t keep our eyes open is a sleepover tradition! Almost like a game where you see who falls asleep first.”

“A game?!”

“Jeez, Fuminocchi, you’re gonna get her all fired up! She’ll stay up all night at this rate!”

“I-it’s a game where, after everyone else has fallen asleep, you have to fall asleep with them as fast as you can!” Fumino quickly added, hoping that might prevent an impromptu all-nighter for Rizu. “But, really, what did you want to talk about?”

Rizu paused for a moment, took a deep breath, and started speaking.

“Thank you both. For everything. For helping me feel like myself, and...and for not dismissing my dream at all. I understand that there’s a long way for me to go if I want to reach it, but the future no longer scares me the way it once did, and...I have the both of you to thank for that.”

“We’ve gotcha, Rizurin! We’re always gonna do our best to help out our best friend.”

“Mm, but don’t ever count out your own strength, Ricchan. You’re taking things so, so well. I don’t think either of us would have stayed quite as strong as you if we were in your position,” Fumino said, quickly pushing out the image of Uruka that tried to claw its way back into her head.

“But,” Rizu continued, “you both give me a lot of that strength, I realize. I’ve wished for years that I could be more like the both of you, but just being with you makes me feel so...warm. I’m so very glad to have both of you in my life.

“Ricchan…”

“Rizurin…”

“There’s something I’ve wanted to tell you both for so long, but it’s never felt like the right time. I was convinced that it would somehow backfire. So, perhaps it’s a blessing that I struggle to understand people, because now all that worry seems utterly incomprehensible.”

Rizu smiled, confident that she could finally say the words she’d waited so very, very long to get out.

“I love you both. Romantically, that is. And, I know that you might not feel the same way about me, or about each other, but I don’t think I’ll ever be able to find people I wish to spend every single day with quite the way I do with the both of you.

Even if you do feel differently, I’m just glad I’ve managed to say it.”

Fumino and Uruka poked their heads over their much smaller friend, smiling and nodding at each other knowingly, before leaning down and kissing Rizu, the girls planting a kiss on both of her cheeks.

“F-F-F-Fumino?! U-Uruka?!” the tiny girl stammered, her cheeks growing hotter and hotter by the second.

“Ehehe, I guess you really don’t understand us, Rizurin! Isn’t that weird, Fuminocchi? She thought that we wouldn’t love her back!”

“It is!” Fumino giggled. “And our poor little Ricchan thought we wouldn’t love each other, either!”

“S-s-s-so what are you saying, that we all…

We all love each other?”

“Sure seems that way to me, Rizurin!” Uruka beamed, snuggling in as close as she could against the smaller girl, while Fumino did the same.

“Ahaha, if I had to guess, we’ve all felt that way for quite some time. It seems silly now, but...jeez, we really danced around our feelings for far too long, didn’t we?” Fumino asked, letting out a warm, happy little yawn as sleep started to catch up with her. “But, gosh, I’m glad we got them out now. I love you both so much…”

“Ehehe, looks like you’re gonna lose our sleepover game, Fuminocchi,” Uruka teased, despite letting out a yawn of her own. “But, yeah, having it out in the open is super, super nice, Rizurin. We’re so glad you finally said what we’ve both wanted to for ages now...”

“Y-you’re both falling asleep? Even though we’re finally all...girlfriends?!”

“Sorry Ricchan,” Fumino said, smiling as her eyes began to droop. “But, every day...every day’s going to be so wonderful…now that we can spend them...in each other’s arms,’ she finally finished, despite all the yawns.

“You’re the best, Rizurin… You too, Fuminocchi...” Uruka said, yawning herself. “Ehehe, I think it’s kinda amazing, we’ve barely been dating a minute and we’re already sleeping together…”

The tanned girl blushed softly, snuggling lovingly against Rizu’s soft, full chest.

“B-but I think I finally understand something about people that I didn’t before!” Rizu shouted, too flustered and taken aback to even realize that she’d also managed to break her losing streak.

Wrapped up in the loving embrace of her girlfriends, Rizu blushed brightly, whispering, almost inaudibly, “At the least...I seem to understand why the characters in that novel were so obsessed with kissing…”

Her words hung in the air until, easily following the rules of the game, Rizu drifted off to sleep alongside the people she loved.