They were at Yaya's apartment; Tsubomi on the floor sketching, Yaya at the corner strumming a guitar.
"I told them that you were my little sister, you know. The people at the club."
Tsubomi paused. It's funny, she thought past the lump in her throat, how an innocent phrase like "little sister" can hurt like the devil. All she said aloud was, "Oh?"
Yaya hadn't failed to see the hurt flash across Tsubomi's face. Lately, she and Tsubomi had been having odd little moments; episodes where the younger woman would fall strangely quiet or look away or change some unnamed subject. Yaya briefly recalled the incident with the measuring tape and blushed.
"I had to tell them that to make them back off..." She told the younger woman, feeling apologetic for some reason. "You...You look so young and so pretty and so vulnerable, sitting there night after night. I knew they were planning to ask you out eventually..."
A realization dawned on Yaya then, one she found that she didn't like.
"Or...did you actually want one of them to take you out?"
"No!" Tsubomi shook her head violently. "Not at all." Then afraid that she had revealed too much to the older woman, she added. "I guess I was just worried about how people would react if they thought I was your sister. What with me being the delicate, proper beauty that I am, and you being the coarse, uncouth boor that you are..."
It took ten minutes of yelling and begging before Yaya stopped smothering her with a pillow.
It happened one night, during Yaya's summer vacation road tour. For months, the more unhinged members of Yaya's fan base had been watching Tsubomi through narrowed eyes. At first, they had cheered her from the sidelines (if that slip of a girl can get past the lone wolf's defenses, then we can do it too!), but when it became obvious that the younger woman had succeeded rather too well, the sense of comradeship had turned into unbridled jealousy.
As usual, Tsubomi had been waiting outside the club for Yaya, when the five female (she presumed they were female) forms converged on her. Tsubomi took one look at their faces and decided that abject cowardice was the best approach.
"We're not dating. I'm her sister. We were adopted. You can have her. I can give you her number."
A fingernail extended from the shadows and traced Tsubomi's cheek with just the slightest pressure.
"You know, a fast mouth is really unbecoming on a young lady..."
"That's funny. I keep telling her that myself." All five figures spun around at the sound of the steely voice behind them. An icily calm Yaya made her way to a relieved Tsubomi. "That's the problem with these young ones, they're so hard to train..." Before Tsubomi could react, Yaya had tipped her chin up and covered her mouth with a kiss.
Lips, teeth, tongue, stars...Those were Tsubomi's last coherent thoughts before Yaya let go of her. From somewhere inside a vast constellation, Tsubomi could hear Yaya's final words to her admirers.
"I'm sure you ladies understand..." Then there was the sound of reluctantly fading footsteps and then Yaya's concerned face swam into view.
"Tsubomi? Are you okay?" Tsubomi realized with a start that she was clinging to Yaya's collar with a death grip and let go.
"Thank you...for kissing me," she stammered, then winced. "To rescue me, that is." And then she added somewhat lamely. "I could have handled them myself, you know. I've had my fair share of brushing off ardent admirers."
The cheeky grin on Yaya's face was not helping Tsubomi recover her composure. If anything, the older woman's smile kept calling Tsubomi's attention to her lips.
"Besides," Tsubomi chided the older woman, "that was a stupid stunt to pull you know. There are going to be all sorts of rumors after this. What are your fans going to think?"
Yaya shrugged. "If they really like my singing, then they'll still come. Although," she added, her grin returning, "it would have been fun to see if you could have talked your way out of that."
"That, or I could have dropped them like a rock." Tsubomi looked wryly at the skeptical expression on Yaya's face. "You don't know this because I joined after you left, but I was a member of Spica's varsity judo team. You're looking at a twelfth degree brown belter and three-time participant to the Judo Inter-High School Competition."
Yaya stared at her open-mouthed. Tsubomi asked irritatedly, "What? Are you going to stand there all night or what?"
"Brown belt? Brown belt?? And you just stood there and let me rescue you?? Of all the scheming, conniving..."
They squabbled all the way back to their hotel.
They were sitting under the shade of a tree, surrounded by the campus' autumn foliage. Tsubomi was trying to complete a set of fall season sketches. Yaya was lying down, her guitar neglected at her side.
"Have you ever wondered what it would be like if the person you are now was the person you were before?"
Tsubomi raised an eyebrow at the older woman's convoluted line of questioning.
Yaya explained, "I mean, what if all the skills and talents you have now were skills and talents you had when you were younger? How would your life have turned out?"
Tsubomi stopped drawing altogether; it was very rare for Yaya to get into introspective moments like these.
The older woman was lost in her own reverie. "I'd sometimes wonder you know...What if I'd been the lead singer of an up-and-coming jazz band then with lots of screaming fans and a reputation for über-coolness? Would that have given me a better chance against her fairy-tale prince? But then again," Yaya gave a short laugh, "maybe not. It's hard to compete against the full package after all. She even had a white horse and everything."
Tsubomi barely heard Yaya's final lines; the ache in her chest was so painful it was hard to breathe. There's something wrong with that sketch I made over there, she thought, tracing a finger over a section of her last drawing. For some reason, the lines on the pad seemed blurry. Five years later, and it's still Hikari.
"What do you think, Tsubomi?"
Tsubomi concentrated. If she focused hard enough, she could say what she had to say without curling up immediately afterward into a ball that the earth could swallow.
"It's the horse. You can't win against the horse."
Yaya laughed. Tsubomi laughed too, though tears fell down her cheeks unnoticed.