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Author Topic: Portraits (Atsumina) Chapter 4 Part 2  (Read 38085 times)

Offline crazywota

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Re: Portraits (Atsumina) Chapter 2 Part 4 (Chapter End)
« Reply #60 on: June 23, 2012, 01:17:02 AM »
Another very well written story. I am waiting for the update, and finally! Thankyou very much. I like how the story was written.

added to my favorite atsumina series.  :heart:

Offline Sydney W

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Re: Portraits (Atsumina) Chapter 2 Part 4 (Chapter End)
« Reply #61 on: June 23, 2012, 03:56:54 AM »
Good job !

Offline Hitobo

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Re: Portraits (Atsumina) Chapter 3 Part 1
« Reply #62 on: July 11, 2012, 06:28:11 AM »
I have returned!

Short Author's Note:
Chapter 3 'reads' differently, as it isn’t focused on any one person.  For the most part formatting remains the same: scene separations with one underscore indicating a minor change and three meaning a complete change altogether.  Narrative sections, if any, will be minimal.  As might be noticed when reading, Chapter 3 has fewer but longer scenes than the previous chapters.  Also, while Chapters 1 and 2 spanned a period of several years, Chapter 3 will only cover about one year's worth of time (eighteen months at most).  That being said, the time that passes in between scenes is very short compared to the time in between scenes in the first two chapters.

Enjoy!
       Minami quickly slammed the door shut in her face and turned around, her back now pressed to the door.  She slumped slowly to the floor, her face pale, eyes wide in shock.  Hearing footsteps, she looked up to see Yuko flanked by the Twin Towers, with the rest of Team K behind them. 
       “What’s wrong, Takamina? You’re blocking the doorway.”  Sayaka grunted, staring down at the quivering lump that was Minami.
       “C-c-con…”  Minami stuttered.  “They were c-c-“
       “Oh, spit it out already!” Yuko huffed, the curiosity killing her.
       Minami’s eyes met the others’ with the utmost seriousness.  “They were c-consummating their m-marriage.”
       “What? Who?” Yuko asked, her eyes now sparkling.  Before she could step past Minami and look inside, however, the door flew open and Atsuko came running out…

       “Minami!”

       …only to trip and fall on Minami.  A worry stricken Miichan came to a pause in the doorway behind them.
       “Woah, Acchan!”  Yuko shouted merrily, bending down to grasp the fallen Atsuko by her shoulders.  “As expected of our ace!  You just finished with Miichan and already you’re onto Takamina!  You’re my hero!”
       The sound of Sayaka’s hand meeting Yuko’s skull pealed through the now crowded hallway.  “Would someone please explain what exactly is going on here?”  she demanded.

Portraits
An AKB48 Fan Fiction
Chapter 3, Part 1



     Miichan was by no means ignorant of the love running rampant around her.
     She had seen it all, from the start of AKB to the present.  She had been there for everything, though the others often did not know.  She had seen all the friendships being born.  She had seen the way certain members looked at certain other members.  She watched the fallings in and out of love with sharp, cautious eyes.
     She saw Atsuko fall out of and then in love in one day, her heart broken in the span of a few hours.  She watched Yuko going through each day with a fading smile until one day it shone brightly.  She saw all of the interactions among the hordes of AKB members, all of the potential couples to be made.
     Miichan had witnessed certain events as well, though no one knew that, either.  She had been there for the birth of Minami and Haruna’s relationship.  They had been careless, really, kissing in a break room used by the drama’s entire crew.  (Though if ever asked, she would be quick to admit that it was a bit odd seeing two girls dressed as guys kissing.)  Even if she hadn’t witnessed their kiss, the touches and whispers the two were suddenly sharing would have given them away anyway.  Coincidentally, she had also seen the end of their relationship, having followed Minami on the same day that Yuko and Atsuko had followed Haruna.  She, however, had gone into the bakery, and with her face hidden behind the menu she had heard every word.  At the time, though, there was no way to clean up the window spies’ misunderstanding.
     That had been the day Yuko’s smile disappeared and Atsuko’s heart had fallen into turmoil.  The ace’s aloof behavior the next day had been a bit too obvious.  It had been Miichan that clarified the situation, tipping off Yuko that Haruna and Minami had in fact split up that day in the cafe.  As predicted, Yuko immediately informed Atsuko, and friendships (as well as crushes) were patched and maintained.
     Miichan knew it all.  She knew that Atsuko had first liked Yuko.  She knew that Yuko genuinely loved Haruna, and wasn’t just a perverted squirrel-like nuisance.  She knew that Haruna reciprocated Yuko’s feelings.  She knew that Haruna and Minami still loved each other, though not to any extent beyond close friendship.  She knew that Atsuko was now (and had almost always been) head over heels in love with Minami.  She knew that Atsuko and Minami had some sort of misunderstanding, resulting in the two opting to avoid each other rather than reconcile things.
     Most importantly, Miichan had an inkling about the subject of their misunderstanding, and she knew that Minami could be as dense as a brick.  So when she had seen Atsuko sneak into the theater and stick around, Miichan had called Minami and invited her out to eat, with the stipulation that Minami first meet up with her at the theater.
     Yes, Minegishi Minami was no ignoramus.  So when she reached the door to find a flustered Atsuko on a panicked Minami (her plan of goodwill having since gone horribly awry), Miichan put two and two together in an instant, blurting out the first remedy she conceived.
     “Takamina, it wasn’t what you think.”
     The hell, Minegishi? Mii-chan thought with a face-palm.  That’s the worst thing you could have said.
     “Wh-what do you mean it wasn’t what I think?  And why would it even matter what I think? A-Acchan,  p-please get off me; I don’t feel so well,”  Minami pleaded, refusing to look at the upset girl sprawled atop her.
     Miichan leaned down and grabbed Atsuko’s elbow, taking the chance to offer Atsuko the last of her sage advice.  “Don’t worry Acchan; you’re madly in love, and you definitely stand a good chance of winning the grand prize,” she whispered in Atsuko’s ear as she helped her to stand.  Atsuko looked at Miichan incredulously, not yet fully comprehending what Miichan had disclosed.
     No longer pinned downed by two people, Minami stood slowly and brushed herself off.  Suddenly remembering her current situation, she stole one last glance at Atsuko before running away down the hallway.  The team K members gathered in the hallway simply stepped aside, watching curiously as she ran away.
     “What are you doing?”  Miichan shouted, distraught.  “Don’t move out of the way, catch her!”
     “Twin Towers, after her!” Yuko shouted, pointing in the direction Minami had run with one hand as she rubbed her newly acquired bump with the other.
     “ROGER!” the two replied in accented English, snapping to attention with a mock salute before turning and chasing down Takamina.
_

     Hearing footsteps quickly approaching from behind, Minami swiftly rounded another corner.  Just ten more yards and she would be free, out on the busy streets of Akihabara.
     And away from Atsuko, she thought.  Just as she was about to step through the door, however, she was stopped in her tracks by a strong grip on the back of her collar, choking her and forcing her to the ground.
     “C’mon, girl; time to go back now,” Minami heard Sayaka say in a sing-song voice usually reserved for pets or small children.  The strong Team K captain began dragging her back down the hallway by her collar.
     “Wah!  Help!” Minami whined, reaching out to Sae.  “Sae-chan!  Help me!”   She flailed wildly in a vain attempt to break free of Sayaka’s grip.
       “Sorry, Takamina, no can do.”
       “I can’t go back there!  I’m not ready to face her!”
       Sayaka stopped then, not far from the hallway where the whole debacle had begun.  “That’s it!”  she shouted as she released her grip on the smaller girl, having since grown tired of fighting with her captive.  Minami remained stunned in a heap on the floor.  “Both of you are grown adults, Takamina.  Whatever it is that happened between you and Acchan has not only affected the two of you but the whole group as well.  Obviously there’s an important issue that requires resolution, and this is a perfect opportunity for it.  So you had better stand up and walk back to Acchan on your own two feet or so help me I will stuff you in a bag like I did with Yuko and carry you back.”
     Minami gulped nervously under Sayaka’s intense gaze.  She could see Sae gesturing wildly behind her counterpart in what Minami finally realized was an attempt at warning her to comply, else Sayaka’s threat would definitely be put to action.
“Well?” Sayaka grunted.  “Which will it be?  Which do you think would make a better impression?”
     “Alright; I’ll go back, on my own two feet.” Minami sighed resignedly as she slowly picked herself up from the floor for the second time that day.  “I’m sorry that others have had to suffer due to my immaturity.”  What Sayaka said had struck its mark.  Minami had not been aware that her riff with Atsuko (if that’s what it was) had brought discord upon the group.  It was her responsibility to put the group before such personal matters and it hurt to hear that she had failed.
     I understand now the dangers that relationships can pose to this group, and to think, Atsuko and I are only friends.
_

     “You two need to kiss and make up already.”
     “What?!” Minami shouted in disbelief.  The prior statement had been made by Yuko and supported with a nod from Miichan.
     Minami and Atsuko had been forced to sit next to each other on the sofa in the dressing room and were told to ‘ponder their situation’ as the others from Team K began to leave for the day.  They found it impossible to meet each other’s gaze, and both would blush and quickly look away if they did happen to make eye contact.  The Twin Towers stood guard at the door and swiftly locked it tight when the last unnecessary member had left.  Thus began Miichan and Yuko’s ‘interrogation’, with a declaration that all would be made better with a kiss.
     “I don’t see how a kiss would solve anything,” Minami protested, hiding her blushing face.
     “On the contrary,” Miichan objected, “a kiss would solve everything.”
     Minami huffed.  “You two aren’t making any sense.”
     “No, it makes perfect sense,” Yuko countered.
     “Acchan,” Minami whispered, finally acknowledging the girl next to her.  “Why won’t you say something?”  Her plea finally garnished a response from the unusually quiet girl as she watched Acchan grip her skirt tighter.
     “Could all of you please leave?” Acchan asked, not lifting her gaze from the floor.   The tone behind the statement was a bit threatening and Minami stood to leave, having quickly grown more apprehensive of her current predicament.  “Not you,” Atsuko sighed, rolling her eyes as she pulled Minami back down to once again sit beside her.
     Yuko and Miichan both glanced between the two seated in front of them before glancing at each other, concluding with a firm nod that leaving the two alone would be a safe action.
     “Alright, we’ll leave the room,” Miichan replied.  “You two had better hurry and make up, though, because I really do want to go out to eat.”
     “You heard the girl; we’ll be right outside,” Yuko said, narrowing her eyes menacingly.  “That means no- ouch!”  Yuko spun around to glare at Sayaka.  “I didn’t even say anything yet!”
     Sayaka stared down at the shorter girl chidingly.  “No, but we all know you were about to say something uncalled for; come, let’s leave them alone,” she said, guiding Yuko out of the room expertly.
     Tomochin, who had stood silently behind the sofa this entire time, simply gave both Minami and Atsuko a reassuring hug before leaving the room.  The two were soon left alone, neither sure of what to say.
     “So, umm…”  Minami started, but she hesitated, drawing in a quick breath as silence quickly settled between them yet again, only to be broken a moment later.  “I’m glad to see that you’re feeling better,” she finally mumbled, the silent atmosphere having become too much to bear.
     “I am; thank you,” Atsuko whispered before meeting Minami’s gaze with a smile.  Noticing that the attitude she’d heard in Atsuko’s voice just moments before had disappeared, Minami breathed a relieved sigh.  Atsuko gave a small, guilty chuckle at Minami’s apparent relief.  “I hear that you came over and cared for me while I was ill.  Thank you.  I appreciate it.”
     Minami turned away to hide her embarrassment.  “Eh, it was nothing.  But… when I heard you were sick, I suddenly felt compelled to see you, to do everything I could to help you.  Acchan… I’ll admit that I’m a bit worried and upset with you; you’re working too much and too hard; our bodies weren’t made to handle such workloads.”
     Atsuko sighed, still refusing to meet Minami’s gaze.  “I know; it’s not the only time I’ve been so exhausted lately.”  Then, without any hesitation or warning, Atsuko looked over at the girl beside her and spoke, tears threatening her eyes.  “I should never have run away like that; I felt mortified.  I took on so much work outside of AKB so that I wouldn’t have to see you, Minami.”
     “Acchan…”  Minami’s voice had developed a small whimper and she looked up at Atsuko with pleading eyes.  “Atsuko, I don’t know what I did or said to make you run away like that, but I’m sorry.  I’m really sorry.  And I’ve missed you so much so please, can we stop avoiding each other?”
     What is that?  Hiding behind her tears, wondered Atsuko, studying the young woman before her.  Worry?  Honesty?  Or…
     “I missed you too, Minami,” Atsuko said, crying as she trapped a surprised Minami in a tight hug.  “I was an idiot.  I’m sorry that I let my emotions get the better of me like that.”
     As Minami brought her hands up to return the hug, she noticed that once again, her heart was beating furiously at Atsuko’s touch, and she wondered for just a moment if Atsuko felt the same.  Without a second thought, she buried her face in Atsuko’s neck and cried.
_

     “How are things going?” Yukirin asked as she arrived outside the dressing room.  She stood with her arms crossed, a misleading grin on her face.  “Am I late?”
     “Just on time,” Sayaka greeted with a meager smile.
     “What’s the Black Princess doing here?” Sae asked, somewhat fearfully, looking to Sayaka for an answer.
     “I called her here,” Sayaka admitted, patting Sae’s head reassuringly.  “No matter the outcome of what’s happening in that room, it affects all of AKB48.    If the ace and captain are no longer on good terms with each other, the camaraderie within AKB could be endangered.  As a fellow captain, I felt that Yukirin should be here for the potential aftermath.”
     “What about Oba?”
     “Her team’s pretty new; she has other things to focus on; she needn’t worry about this.”
     “Okay, I can understand that.  So what is she doing here?”  Sae gestured toward the newly arrived Haruna with a confused expression, looking this time at Yuko for an answer.
     “Nyan Nyan!” Yuko shouted, tackling Haruna in a flying hug.  “I invited her, of course.  We are going out to eat, after all, and there’s a good chance that drinks might be involved, so I couldn’t go without my Kojipa!”
     Haruna nodded.  “When Yuu-chan told me what was happening, I wanted to come.  Their avoiding each other has gone on long enough.  I wish the best for the both of them and being here supporting them is the best that I have to offer.”
     “Agreed,” Miichan said with a simple nod.  “So, why is she here?” she asked, pointing at Mariko, who had arrived with Haruna.
     “You messaged me, remember?”  Mariko replied, flicking Miichan in the forehead, an action which elicited a pained squeak from the younger girl.  “You said that there was something big happening, and that with any luck we were all going out to eat afterwards.  Well, I’m hungry, and,” she paused, bringing her ‘goggles’ up to her face, “I’m rather curious to see how things are going to play out.”
     “So how are things in there?” Haruna asked while reflexively dodging Yuko’s advances.
     The others simply looked at each other, uncertain of how to answer, before Sae finally spoke up.  “They’ve been crying for a good fifteen minutes now,” she stated nonchalantly with a shrug, earning a glare from Sayaka for her indifference.
     “We don’t really know,” Yuko said with a small pout, glancing at Tomochin.  “Tomochin won’t let us near the door, so we can’t eavesdrop.”  The others looked at the door’s guard, who shook her head ‘no’ with a small sigh.
     “They deserve to not have you spying on them for once,” Tomochin scolded.
     “Well then how do you think things will turn out?”
     “It’ll work out alright,” Tomochin offered after a moment, though the way that she had said it was uncomfortably reminiscent of a prayer.  The others simply nodded in agreement as they nervously focused their eyes on the door before them.
_

     Atsuko and Minami sat side by side on the small couch, hand in hand.  Both had red, puffy faces, the trails of their tears still visible on their cheeks.  Casting side glances at each other, they gave small, honest laughs at their current pathetic conditions.  Having done nothing but cry constant tears in each other’s arms for the past fifteen minutes, both were nervous about the inevitable conversation.
     “I’m sorry that I ran away from you,” Atsuko whispered, rubbing her thumb on Minami’s hand.  “I feel like a fool.  There’s no way that you could have known what I was thinking or feeling and you didn’t deserve that.”
     “I’m just glad that you’re not mad at me,” Minami stated, relieved.  “I still don’t know what it was I said that made you so upset.”  She paused a moment before adding, “That’s the first fight that we’ve ever had, and I don’t want to do it ever again.”
     “Minami…” Atsuko began hesitantly, suddenly unable to meet Minami’s intense gaze.  “When you said that you would support me if I wanted to graduate… did you mean that?”
     “I did,” Minami sighed.
     “How could you be so supportive of me leaving?”
     “That’s easy; because you’re my best friend and I love you.  No matter what, I’ll support you.”
     The words were nothing but honest, and as Atsuko looked into the blushing Minami’s eyes she could see that the other girl would honor them fully.
     Just not as I love you, Atsuko thought sadly.
     “Will you?”
     “Will I what?” Atsuko replied, shaken from her sad thoughts.
     “Graduate.”
     That one word alone possessed a fine amount of gravity, and Minami’s voice held a sadness that Atsuko immediately detected.  A small smile graced her lips.  “No.  Not yet, at least.”
     “Not yet?”
     “C’mon, Takamina,” Atsuko said teasingly, giving Minami a playful shove.  “We all have to graduate at some point.”
     “I suppose that’s true.”  There was a brief pause, and then, “Atsuko?”
     “Hmm?”  Atsuko turned to see Minami staring intently at the ground.
     “Atsuko… these past few months, when you haven’t been here…” Minami’s voice trailed off for a moment and she gave a reflexive shake of her head before continuing.  “Those months were very painful for me.  There were many times when I would turn to talk to you but you weren’t there.  And… I don’t ever want to experience that again.”  Minami stood from the couch then and began pacing in front of Atsuko, her nerves getting the better of her.
     “Minami…” Atsuko gasped.  As she listened to Minami speak so candidly, she watched as a certain emotion made its presence known in the speaking girl’s eyes and voice.
     “A-and then there are the times when I think about you, or even now, when we hold hands like this, like we always have, and I get washed over with these strange emotions, and… I know I’m rambling but I guess what I’m trying to say is that…”  Here Minami’s pacing ceased, and as she looked Atsuko directly in the eyes, Atsuko felt her heart leap in her chest.  “Atsuko, please, let’s never let this happen again.  I don’t think that my heart can take it.  You know, it just doesn’t feel right without you there beside me.  I… well….I missed you, I guess.  I’m not entirely sure what it is I’m feeling, but I care about you, Atsuko.  I love you; you’re my best friend.”  Minami’s voice trailed off then, its owner now too confused and embarrassed to be able to formulate words.
     “Minami…” Atsuko gasped again.  It was there; she was 100% sure it was there.  There was love in Minami’s eyes, the kind of love that Atsuko felt for Minami; the kind of love that Atsuko had waited years to receive from the other girl, and in that instant she knew that she’d been a fool for not having realized it sooner.  What Miichan had whispered in Atsuko’s ear not long ago suddenly made sense; Minami was in love with her, as much as Atsuko was in love with Minami.  However, it was apparent to Atsuko that there was one (rather large) issue that needed to be resolved before she could obtain the happiness that she desired.
     A hand rested on her shoulder then, and as Atsuko was shaken from her revelations she found that Minami was now kneeling before her with worry.  “Atsuko, are you okay?  I know what I said might sound a little strange but I really needed to say it and-”
     “Minami.”  It was one word; just a name, and yet it was the start of something that could change Atsuko’s life forever.  “Minami… Right now that last thing I’d even think about is leaving.  When I said that I was going to graduate… I let my emotions get the better of me.  I have many good reasons to stay in AKB, but one most especially.”
     You.
     “Oh!”  Minami exclaimed, jumping up excitedly as the words reminded her of something she’d been told all those months ago.  “Come to think of it, Mariko-sama had said that you had a good reason to stay but she wouldn’t tell me what it was.  She said I had to ask you.  Can you tell me, Atsuko?”
     Atsuko cast Minami a coy smile.  “I’ve been waiting for years for something to be realized; I’m sorry, but I can’t tell you what that something is.”  I was hoping that you would love me, but now that I know you do, I’m waiting for you to realize and accept that what you’re feeling is a love beyond our special friendship.
     “I see,” Minami mumbled with a slight pout.  “That was kind of vague, Acchan.”  The remark drew a small giggle from Atsuko, and Minami shot her a displeased glare.  “Ah, I know!”  Minami exclaimed, recovering from her displeasure as she knelt before Atsuko yet again.  “Can’t you give me a hint?”
     “A hint?”
     “You know, a hint,” Minami repeated with a goofy grin.  “Something that might help me figure out what it is you’re waiting for; maybe I can help you to gain it.”
     Atsuko looked upon Minami’s smiling face as a sigh of mixed emotions escaped her lips.  A daring thought sprung to mind, and with a nervous laugh she stood, guiding Minami to stand as well.  “Alright, I’ll give you a hint,” she said playfully.  “However, the hint comes at the price of a promise.”
     “A promise?”
     “Yes, a promise.  Minami, I promise to never run away from you again, so long as you promise to do the same.”
     Minami tilted her head curiously.  “I’m not sure I understand, Atsuko, but I promise that no matter the circumstances, I will never run away from you.”
     Hearing the devotion in Minami’s words, Atsuko leaned forward, and in one fluid motion wrapped her arms around Minami’s neck and captured the stunned girl’s lips in her own.  She pulled away a moment later leaving a red, speechless Minami behind as she walked towards the door.  “Good job not running away, Minami,” she teased as she stepped through the door, their friends waiting outside anxiously.  The door closed behind her, Minami still frozen in place.
_

     “So spill; how’d things go in there?” Miichan asked excitedly, bombarding the newly emerged Atsuko with the one question that was on all their minds.
     “Things… went well,” Atsuko answered honestly, smiling as she looked over her friends’ relieved faces.  “Our misunderstanding has been cleared up.  And like you said, a kiss solved all our problems.”
     “You didn’t?!”  Yuko exclaimed in disbelief, gasping as she received a simple smirk from Atsuko as an answer.  “You did!  Nyan Nyan, I want a kiss, too!”  Yuko exclaimed, inspired by Atsuko’s gallantry.
     “What?  You finally confessed?” Mariko asked, as she and the others watched amusedly as Haruna easily rejected Yuko’s advances.
     Atsuko shook her head.  “No… not quite.  But… I do know now that she loves me.  You all probably think I’m an idiot since it’s taken me this long to realize.”  There was a resounding chorus of polite denial before the others broke into guilty laughter.
     “Why didn’t you confess?” Tomochin asked curiously, ceasing their laughter as she placed a hand on Atsuko’s shoulder.  “You had the perfect opportunity, and you know that she likes you.”
     A dark shadow crossed Atsuko’s face as she answered.  “She-” Atsuko sighed, taking a deep breath a moment later before finally admitting on the brink of tears, “It seemed to me that Minami hasn’t fully realized that what she’s feeling is a love beyond friendship, and if she has, she doesn’t seem to have accepted her feelings.”  The admission spurred a group hug, and the now giggling Atsuko was quickly tackled beneath the others.
“Well, I suppose you take what you can get,” Sae commented, resulting in more laughter.
     “So the kiss…?” Yuko asked, wriggling her eyebrows suggestively and earning a coy smile from Atsuko.
     “Was a hint, to help her realize what it is she’s really feeling for me.  And when she does realize, she’ll know how I feel about her.”  Atsuko was blushing now as she bared her feelings. 
     “Do you think she will?”
     Atsuko nodded firmly.  “I do,” she stated before gently smiling as tears threatened her eyes yet again.  “The question now is if when she does realize how she feels about me… will she accept those feelings, or will she break her promise and run away?”
     All present stood in awe, watching as a lone tear slowly slid down Atsuko’s cheek.  The moment was interrupted then as a stomach’s gurgle was heard from within the gaggle.
     “Ah, it’s definitely dinner time,” Miichan confessed with a laugh.  “I did invite Takamina out to dinner, after all.”
     “We’ll go get her,” Yukirin offered, casting a glance at Sayaka which the other captain returned before heading towards the dressing room.  As if on cue, the door opened up to reveal the short, beloved member.
     “Umm… hey, everybody; let’s go eat?” the still dazed Minami proposed with a smile, red-faced as she stood scratching her head sheepishly.
     “NOT SO FAST!” Sayaka shouted, once again in English, and the others stood dumbfounded as she and Yukirin each grabbed Minami by an arm and ushered her back into the dressing room, the door clacking shut behind them.
     “Acchan,” Tomochin whispered, taking Atsuko’s hand and giving it a light squeeze.  “You and I both know that Minami is not one to break promises.”
     Smiling, Atsuko wiped away the last of her tears.
_

     “Be honest, Takamina; is everything okay now between you and Acchan?”  Yukirin asked, standing just inches away from Minami, looking down on her.  “The rift between you two was affecting everyone, and we need to know that all will be alright now.”
     “Not to mention the effect that it’s had on the both of you,” Sayaka added, her position mirroring Yukirin’s.  “Acchan worked herself too hard, to the point of exhaustion, and your happy meter has barely been off the ground these past few months.”
     “Yup, we’re fine now; why wouldn’t we be?” Minami answered, her words a bit too quick and her voice a bit too chipper.  The two looming over her were certainly intimidating and she was afraid to upset them.  Her charade, however, did not convince them.
     Sayaka stared down at Minami questioningly now.  “You sound uncertain…”
     It was Yukirin’s turn to mirror Sayaka.  “A bit too uncertain.”
     Minami wavered under their intense glances, caving into their desire for further explanation.  “We’re fine, honest.  We won’t be avoiding each other anymore.  Things might even be better than they were before, so you don’t have to worry about the group.  It’s just…”
     “Just?”
     “Well… I’m a bit confused about some things now, but it’s not anything that will affect the whole of AKB.  At least, I pretty sure it won’t.  Well… I don’t… maybe… umm…”
     “Spit it out, Takamina.”
     “I… have some thinking to do.  That’s all.”
     Sayaka and Yukirin shared curious yet knowing glances before finally stepping away, much to Minami’s relief.  With a smile, she led the other two toward the door.
     “Thanks, you two,” Minami muttered as the three neared the exit.
     The K and B captains again shared glances before finally answering in unison, “For what?”
     “For caring not only about your friends, but also for AKB48 as a whole.”
     They left the room and joined the others, everyone in the group now smiling.  Not one pair of eyes missed seeing Minami silently and hesitantly grab Atsuko’s hand as the hungry group of girls exited the theater, only to release it when they reached the restaurant.  For the rest of the evening, Minami could not bring herself to meet Atsuko’s gaze, let alone speak normally with her.  Atsuko, though, was not bothered by this; she was simply happy enough to be by Minami’s side once again, the hand that had briefly held hers a sign of what might come to be in the future.
End Chapter 3, Part 1

Thanks for returning and reading!
We've had quite a bit of comedy in these past two parts, but the story is going to maintain its more serious, realistic tone.
I reserve the right to edit this section, though hopefully that right will never need to be enacted.

I hope this update wasn't disappointing.
« Last Edit: October 11, 2019, 12:46:59 AM by Hitobo »

Offline Haruko

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Re: Portraits (Atsumina) Chapter 3 Part 1
« Reply #63 on: July 11, 2012, 06:49:34 AM »
OMG!! takaboy you are so slow!!!.. but acchan can help you..

like the chapter I think the thing could happen like that.. minami have a large way to walk towards atsuko´s feeling :D

love it.. maybe some jelousy can help to minami..

Offline Kid_Alpha

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Re: Portraits (Atsumina) Chapter 3 Part 1
« Reply #64 on: July 11, 2012, 10:23:41 AM »
Some progress I see has been made but just a tiny bit though it's expected of Takamina.

I wish I could say more but I rather wait to the next update(s) to articulate more on what I want to say. :')

Offline Tanchan

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Re: Portraits (Atsumina) Chapter 3 Part 1
« Reply #65 on: July 12, 2012, 03:07:50 AM »
I don't think your update is disappointing. I like it as how even though Acchan knew about Takamina's feelings, she still chooses to let her realize it herself, which is rather a wise move because as how Takamina is now, even if Acchan had told her she wouldn't accept it and may cause a riff in their relationship again. Let her heart take her to truth.

Offline Takamina_Captain

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Re: Portraits (Atsumina) Chapter 3 Part 1
« Reply #66 on: July 13, 2012, 08:58:34 PM »
acchan...you need make more moves to takamina... :fap

I like the progress....i'm really happy takamina,little by little,realize her feelings for acchan...


Offline Megumi

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Re: Portraits (Atsumina) Chapter 3 Part 1
« Reply #67 on: July 16, 2012, 10:53:59 PM »
 :) Yeas can't wait for next update!

Mariko-sama's Yuri goggles made me laugh  :rofl:

Hopefully everything will be fine and Takamina come on are you still uncertain?
Now you must know that Accchan have feeling for you anyway...

Thank you for your update!
ArígatoU! :kneelbow:
Have tumblr have twitter. Just ask ^^

Offline anonymousdowner

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Re: Portraits (Atsumina) Chapter 3 Part 1
« Reply #68 on: July 29, 2012, 09:19:03 AM »
Can I go in a corner now and cry at how beautiful this fanfic is? ...Like you have no idea how amazing this is...it's as though I've found a place I belong!  :panic: I usually can't express my fangirling through comments but I really really enjoyed reading. (I barely moved the whole day, because I was too happy. I even knocked out from the lack of sleep, but woke up soon after barely being able to see, yet trying to continue reading.) I don't know how to convince you to update it sooner though, because I know you're already doing a great job BUT I seriously want you to know that I sooo appreciate the magic you have worked into this awesome Atsumina fic.  :jerk: This tops my list for most satisfying fanfics I've ever read ever since I've first walked into the world of fics.... :bow: :bow: :bow: I love love you author  :cathappy: In every chapter I can't even put it into words how wonderfully you were able to bring out the characters. I wasn't confused at all, just euphoric. I'mm soo looking forward to the next part and how everything will be... I don't like waiting, but it can't be helped. I wondered how I stumbled upon your fic again? ...Tumblr maybe? I don't even remember...my mind is filled with the story, I'm not even sure if I can fully function right anymore ahah. Well, I promise to comment and thank every update until this work is finished just know it is loved  :wub:

 --- Your obsessive reader  :grin:

Oh and sorry I rambled, I was just too into it. Need to know what happens next!  :sweatdrop:

Might I say despite Autsumina being  :heart: Miichan is awesome too ahaha!

The last update, seemed like such a happy ending already though lol.

The last scene with them holding hands and such..omg I was smiling with the characters till the end of that :')
« Last Edit: July 29, 2012, 12:24:16 PM by anonymousdowner »

Offline fausto

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Re: Portraits (Atsumina) Chapter 3 Part 1
« Reply #69 on: August 06, 2012, 07:55:44 PM »
oh pleaaaaase update soon!!!i want to know more^^
The story is great, i can't wait! :drool:

Offline fausto

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Re: Portraits (Atsumina) Chapter 3 Part 1
« Reply #70 on: August 10, 2012, 04:54:02 PM »
Aaaaah please update soon, i want to know more, i want more Atsumina!!!^^ :thumbup :thumbup :thumbup :D

Offline Hitobo

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Re: Portraits (Atsumina) Chapter 3 Part 1
« Reply #71 on: August 14, 2012, 08:47:12 AM »
Fear not, for I have returned! (Were any of you even remotely pondering the chance that I might never come back?)  Chapter 3 is proving to be very difficult to organize.  I've been debating for months now what order the "main" scenes should be placed in, and it's especially hard when most of the "in between" scenes are yet to be written.  I greatly appreciate your patience.

Notes for future readings: Ultimately, this is a fan fiction story.  While I have made references to actual events in past chapters, there will be events in upcoming parts that are entirely fabricated by yours truly.

I think some of you eagle-eyed readers may have already caught on to something important in Part 1.  That being said, please, read on and enjoy.

One more thing, in regard to this update specifically: please don't hate me.  I've said it numerous times, and those of you that are also writers know very well that  the story writes itself.
     “Thanks, you two,” Minami muttered as the three neared the exit.
     The K and B captains again shared glances before finally answering in unison, “For what?”
     “For caring not only about your friends, but also for AKB48 as a whole.”
     They left the room and joined the others, everyone in the group now smiling.  Not one pair of eyes missed seeing Minami silently and hesitantly grab Atsuko’s hand as the hungry group of girls exited the theater, only to release it when they reached the restaurant.  For the rest of the evening, Minami could not bring herself to meet Atsuko’s gaze, let alone speak normally with her.  Atsuko, though, was not bothered by this; she was simply happy enough to be by Minami’s side once again, the hand that had briefly held hers a sign of what might come to be in the future.

Portraits
An AKB48 Fan Fiction
Chapter 3, Part 2

_   _   _

     Peeking out from behind a few of the other senbatsu members present, Oshima Yuko eyed her prey cautiously, the girl in her sights sitting across the waiting area seemingly staring off into space.  There were still thirty minutes left until the television interview, a half an hour which in Yuko’s mind equated to thirty minutes of prime cuddle time.
     With an eager smile, she quickly moved behind another cluster of chatting girls just a few feet closer to her target, the confused members giving her curious looks before realizing the reason behind her actions.  Closer to her goal, Yuko quickly ducked behind a full clothes rack before slowly and quietly tip-toeing behind her prey.
     “Nyan-Nyan!” she shouted, immediately reaching out to grope the other girl but failing miserably as Haruna easily dodged the affectionate attack.
     “No fair,” Yuko whined as she gave Haruna a proper hug.  “You were staring off into space again so I thought for sure that I’d be able to successfully sneak up on you this time.”
     “Sorry, Yuuchan, but I always know when you’re nearby,” Haruna explained with a soft smile, her words earning an even bigger smile from her girlfriend.
     “That just proves how special I am to you!” Yuko cheered, posing proudly.  The comment caused Haruna to blush, a rare occurrence while they were together with other members.  “So why were you staring off into space?” Yuko asked, following the red-faced Haruna’s example as she took a seat at the table in the room’s center.
     “I wasn’t spaced out.  I was watching Takamina.”  Seeing Yuko’s confusion (and was that jealousy?), Haruna nodded to a certain couple across the room.  Upon seeing them, Yuko’s eyes twinkled with curiosity.
     “What about her?” Yuko asked, her gaze not leaving the couple before her.  Atsuko was asleep, lying across four chairs with her head in Minami’s lap.  Haruna and Yuko watched as Minami stopped a passing staff member to ask him something, the man nodding and quickly disappearing soon after.
     A warm smile graced Haruna’s lips.  “Just watch; there’s something… peculiar happening.”
     “Do you mean peculiar as in how Takamina can’t seem to get a word out today?”
     Again Haruna nodded.  “Just watch; you’ll see.”
     Doing as told, Yuko watched as Minami stole a glance at the slumbering Atsuko in her lap, immediately flushed red, and then quickly looked away, making it a point to look at anything but Atsuko.
     “Wow,” Yuko muttered.  “Acchan’s not even awake and Takamina’s getting embarrassed about something just looking at her.”
     Haruna chuckled in agreement as she turned away from her current source of amusement.  Scanning the room full of girls, her eyes settled on the other member she sought.  “Mii-chan!” she called softly, inviting the said girl over with a small wave of her hand.
     “What’s up?”
     Pointing across the room at Minami once again, Haruna whispered with a smile, “Watch.”
     It was then that the staff member from earlier returned with a blanket, draping it over the sleeping Atsuko as Minami smiled gratefully.  As he stepped away, Minami again looked down at Atsuko before quickly turning her gaze away, though this time she seemed not to notice that she was gently running her fingers through Atsuko’s hair.
     “Huh,” Miichan grunted.  “That was odd.”
     “Something’s up,” Yuko stated, earning sounds of agreement from the other two.
     “Takamina’s acting even more oddly around Atsuko than she usually does,” Haruna began.  “I’ve only ever seen her act this way once before, years ago.  It’s almost as if…”  She trailed off then, allowing Miichan and Yuko to each make her own conclusion.  All three shared a knowing glance.
     “Perhaps we should give her a little push?” Yuko suggested with a playful smile.
     “Acchan did say she was tired of waiting,” Miichan added.
     “Maybe just a little one…” Haruna proposed.  “But only when the time is right.  Let’s let them alone for now.  Honestly, the two of them together right now is a sight too cute to be disturbed.”
     The sound of a camera reached their ears and the three turned to find Mariko beside them, snapping a photo of the couple in question that would undoubtedly wind up on her blog.
     The three shared proud grins before returning their gazes to the couple before them, watching as a red-faced Minami awkwardly but lovingly fixed the blanket around Atsuko’s shoulders.
_   _   _

     “Ta-ka-mi-na,” Miichan said cheerily, poking the visibly withdrawn girl in the cheek.  She’d arrived at the get-together to celebrate Tomochin’s latest solo release only to find Minami lost in thought in a corner of the room, her eyes unfocused.  “Takamina,” Miichan repeated, as her first greeting had gone unanswered.
     “Eh?  Miichan, when did you get here?” Minami asked, looking up at the younger girl with a curious smile.  “Tomochin’s here somewhere; you ought to go congratulate her.”
     “I already did, ten minutes ago when I first got here.”  Miichan placed her hands on her hips and stared down at Minami.  “What’s up with you?”
     Minami shot Miichan a weak smile.  “Nothing’s wrong; I’m fine.”
     “It doesn’t look like nothing,” Miichan said, sitting down next to Minami with a huff.  “Care to share?”  Receiving nothing but a heavy sigh as an answer, Miichan followed Minami’s gaze across the room to a smiling Tomochin, who sat surrounded by other members.  Pondering for a moment, a small gasp left Miichan’s lips as she discerned the reason behind Minami’s sigh.
     “You must think me a lowly person,” Minami stated quietly, seeing that Miichan had figured out the reason for her melancholy.  “I’m honestly really happy for her and proud of her.  So… why do I still suffer from such an ugly emotion?”  She didn’t dare to meet Miichan’s kind eyes, and instead cast her gaze to the floor.
     Miichan gently rested her hand on Minami’s shoulder.  “Takamina, I’d be more worried if you didn’t feel any jealousy.  Last I checked you were only human, and as such it’s okay to feel that way.  Heck, if two of my best friends were living my dream before my eyes, I don’t think I could be nearly as supportive as you’ve been.”
     “Thanks, Mine-chan,” Minami said, granting Miichan a more honest smile.  “It means a lot to be able to talk with you like this.”
     “You’re welcome!” Miichan chimed, smiling brilliantly.  “But, why don’t you try talking to Acchan about it?”
     Minami shook her head.  “I can’t do that.”
     All cheer vanished from Miichan’s face.  “Oh, no.  It’s only been two weeks since you guys got over your misunderstanding!  Now what’s happened?”
     “Nothing!  Nothing happened!” Minami shouted, waving her hands defensively.  “It’s just that… I can’t talk with Acchan about this.”
     Miichan curled a brow, her curiosity piqued.  “Is it because she’s one of the people that have achieved your dream?”
     “It’s not so much that,” Minami started, her face growing red with blush.  “When I’m with Acchan I can’t talk about these kinds of things.  It makes me feel weak and I want to be strong in Acchan’s eyes.  I want to be somebody that she feels she can depend on.  It’s… kind of hard to explain,” she admitted, crossing her arms with a small pout.  “I don’t quite understand it myself.”
     “Nah, it’s easy,” Miichan started with a teasing smile.  “For Acchan, you want to be manly.”
     “I do not!”  Minami shouted, her face now bright red, but whether due to frustration or embarrassment Miichan wasn’t sure.
     “Relax, Takamina, I’m just teasing.”  Seeing Minami’s momentary outburst was indeed over, Miichan wrapped Minami in a tight hug, which the smaller girl did not try to escape.  “You’re right; Acchan does have a lot on her plate.  Wanting to help her with that is very noble of you.”
     “She has a pretty heavy burden.  I don’t want to add to it; I want to bear it for her.”
     “I need someone like you in my life,” Miichan sighed, releasing Minami from her hold as she stood.  “You know, someone that loves me.”
     Minami looked up at her curiously, if not a bit confused.  “But, I am in your life, and I love you.”
     “Yes, but…” Miichan leaned down and finished her statement in Minami’s ear with a whisper.  Satisfied with the reaction she’d gained, she flashed Minami a teasing smirk and left to join the others, not giving Minami a chance to respond.  Minami was left in the corner, dumbfounded and blushing.
     While it was true that she didn’t want to discuss her troubles with Atsuko for the reasons she’d mentioned to Miichan, there was another reason that Minami couldn’t speak with Atsuko.  Ever since their reconciliation, whenever she was with Atsuko (which, thus far, had only been at two media promotions), she turned into a blushing, incomprehensible fool.  Her thoughts would wander, and it took everything she had to concentrate on their conversations.
     She had pondered her mystery feelings for months while she was apart from Atsuko.  Believing she had her emotions under control, she faced Atsuko honestly at the time they made up, admitting simply to missing her.  However, something had happened on that day three weeks ago, something unbeknownst to any of the others, and Minami’s heart and mind had been in chaos ever since.
     As Miichan’s last words repeated in her mind, Minami was beginning to understand that she had a very important decision to make, one which could possibly bring an end to the self-erected protective (or was it restrictive?) wall around her heart and, in a worst-case scenario, her dream.  At the very least, she’d have to learn to control her nerves the next time she saw Atsuko.
     “…not as you love Acchan.”
_   _   _

/////
     Atsuko sighed as she glanced out the window and subconsciously tightened her grip on the cell phone in her lap.  She was on break during a script reading and most of her cast mates had since left the room.  She hadn’t moved from her seat, her thoughts having since traveled elsewhere for the past ten minutes.
     Just before their break, as the cast read through a scene in which she was not included, Atsuko cast a forlorn look out the window.  She missed Minami, but there was her best friend and love interest on the building across the street, sixty feet tall on a no3b promotional poster.
     //It’s not the real thing, but it’ll certainly do for now,// she thought with a small smile, unknowingly letting a sigh escape her lips.  There was an awkward silence in which she realized that the others present were staring at her curiously, and she, embarrassed, brushed away their looks with a wave of her hand.  The director suggested taking a break then (with a teasing smile on his face), and thus Atsuko found herself nearly alone, staring at the giant image of Minami across the street.
     //Minami’s been acting quite strangely lately, she thought as another sigh escaped her lips.  Whenever I’m near her she freezes up and stutters and she won’t look at me.//  She slumped in her chair and buried her head in her hands.  //Perhaps kissing her was the wrong thing to do.//
     “Somebody’s in love,” Atsuko overheard one of her cast mates say as he stood chatting with one of the elder actresses across the room.
     //Right on.//  With another sigh Atsuko began to stand and stretch when the phone in her hands suddenly vibrated and she let out a small, surprised squeal, earning a small chuckle from the others present.  With an apologetic bow, she turned her back to them and eagerly read her new message.
     [Normally I’d call to make this kind of request, but I assume you’re probably too busy right now to talk.]
     //Minami,// Atsuko thought with a small smile as a warm feeling washed over her.  //For her to make any kind of request is rare.//
     [There’s something I need to tell you.  Please let me know when you’ll next be available.]
     [Tomorrow night.] Atsuko replied almost immediately, her fingers typing the answer before it even completely formed in her mind.  In truth, she’d spent every day since their reconciliation counting down to the next day that she’d be able to spend quality time with Minami.  Her heart fluttered as she hit ‘send’.  The seconds she spent waiting for a reply felt like an eternity, and she bit her bottom lip nervously.  Her phone buzzed again, the phonebook ID confirming a follow-up message from her still secret love.
     [You’re the busiest of us, so I’ll let you decide.  When and where would you like to meet?]
     //Always so considerate,// Atsuko thought as once again her fingers flew over the keys.
     [Let’s do dinner, sometime after 6.  Is your place okay?  I haven’t visited with Nyaachan in quite some time.]

/////

     Minami’s reply had been positive, and thus Atsuko found herself in Minami’s apartment, its owner buzzing around the kitchen preparing a meal.
     “It’s only the two of us, Takamina.  There’s no need to cook a feast.”
     When she’d first arrived Atsuko had tackled Minami in a tight hug the minute she’d opened the door, and Minami, as expected, stiffened like a board, stuttering her welcome.
     It was, perhaps, mildly sadistic, but Atsuko loved teasing Minami this way.
     However, what she did not know was the true reason behind Minami’s new, adverse reactions.
     “You know as well as I do that you could eat an entire feast all on your own,” Minami countered, earning a playful scowl from Atsuko.
     For her part, Minami was a bit relieved that Atsuko had suggested meeting at home.  While it meant more quality time with Atsuko (in other words, more time in which she could not escape Atsuko’s affections), Nyaachan’s presence provided the perfect distraction.  The young cat fell victim to the majority of Atsuko’s affections that night, though Minami was not entirely scot-free.
     Though she always missed Atsuko when they weren’t together, Minami was sometimes relieved to know that they wouldn’t be, for ever since their reconciliation last month it seemed as though Atsuko’s affections had started to increase and become more brazen when they were together.  Atsuko seized upon any chance to touch Minami, most often grasping her in a tight hug and whispering in her ears, though arm brushing, shoulder rubbing, and playing with Minami’s hair were also common occurrences. Minami froze at every touch, and to her own astonishment, she had caught herself several times returning the gestures in kind.
     No, Minami thought as she paused to glance over at Atsuko, who sat on the floor playing with Nyaachan.  That’s not true.  She’s always been this affectionate.  Atsuko looked up at Minami then, casting a happy smile.  Embarrassed at having been caught staring, Minami returned the smile and then turned away to continue setting the table.  It just seems like her touches have increased because I’m noticing them more now that I know the truth behind them.   
     “So what did you want to discuss?”
     Minami jumped with a yelp as she turned to face Atsuko, who now stood beside her.  “You scared me, Acchan!  Don’t sneak up on people like that, especially when they’re holding a pot of your dinner!”
     A melodious laugh escaped Atsuko’s lips.  “Sorry.  Here, let me take that.”  Taking the pot from Minami, she carefully set it on the table before taking a seat.    “So…” she began again, watching as Minami sat down across from her.
     Strange… she always used to sit next to me.
     “Let’s talk after we eat,” Minami proposed red-faced and unable to meet Atsuko’s gaze.  Unbeknownst to Atsuko, Minami’s heart was beating wildly, her mind racing.  She had invited Atsuko over to discuss a specific matter, but it was a subject that could potentially ruin what both desired to be a good evening.

     After all, love is indeed a powerful thing.

     For months she had pondered her situation and her feelings.  Shortly before their misunderstanding, Minami had decided to keep what she suspected she was feeling a secret and at that time, believing it to be for the good of all involved, cast aside the idea that she was in love with her best friend.  After all, she had sworn to not fall in love, to not risk her career.  At the time, she had still been a bit uncertain about what she was truly feeling, and there was no need to risk their friendship for fleeting emotions.
     Then they had argued, and Minami suddenly found herself without Atsuko.
     Ironically, it had been her time apart from Atsuko that helped her to realize and accept how she truly felt.  Without Atsuko there beside her, Minami began to realize how much she missed everything about the girl that was one of her best friends; her smile, her voice, her laugh, and, most importantly, Atsuko herself.  The pain of such feelings finally brought Minami to admit that what she felt towards Atsuko was indeed a love beyond friendship.  However, acceptance did not make this truth any less dangerous to their friendly relationship.  She had decided yet again to keep her love a secret.  This was one of the reasons she avoided Atsuko for so long; not only because of their argument, but also because not seeing Atsuko meant that she would not have to confront her own feelings. 
     Ultimately, things changed when they had been locked in a room together and forced to reconcile last month.  (Was it really only four weeks ago?)  Minami, doing her best to avoid any unnecessary turmoil, was determined to cast her feelings aside forever and had intended to simply stress how much she missed Atsuko.  There was no need to jeopardize their friendship again, as the relationship the two shared was already on shaky ground.  Yet at the time, a nervous, emotional Minami had almost confessed.  She had no intention of doing so; such a declaration could potentially have dealt a death blow to what remained between them.  Panicking, Minami had barely managed to cover up her unintentional confession by quickly adding the phrase, “You’re my best friend,” after those three powerful words.
     In the end, though, she was shocked to discover that her initial worry was obsolete.

     (Neither had spoken a word since they began eating, as Minami appeared to Atsuko to have quickly grown lost in thought.  She watched with a bemused smile as Minami’s face grew suddenly red.)

/////
     //She… she kissed me.//  Minami slowly brought her fingers to her lips, the realization trickling over her with a tingling sensation.
     //She kissed me!//
     //Wait…// She froze again, wide-eyed in a mixture of confusion and panic.  //Why?  Why did she kiss me?  What the heck kind of hint was that?//
     //No way… does Acchan like me?//  She shook her head furiously in an attempt to rid herself of such a thought.  //That’s not possible.  She must have been teasing me.  This was all some sort of joke, I’m sure.//
     With a sigh, she shook her head and walked towards the door, pausing when she heard the sound of muffled voices on the other side.
     //I forgot the others were here.//  Reaching a hand to her face, she could feel the heat in her cheeks.  //I can’t go out there like this!  They’d tease me endlessly!//  Cautiously, she grabbed the door handle and slowly turned it, opening the door just a small amount to be able to hear the discussion outside.
     “It seemed to me that Minami hasn’t fully realized that what she’s feeling is a love beyond friendship, and if she has, she doesn’t seem to have accepted her feelings.”
     //That’s Atsuko,// Minami thought, listening as another comment resulted in laughter.  //Wait… a love beyond friendship?  She doesn’t mean…//  The next words captured her attention, and Minami again focused on the conversation.
     “So the kiss…?”
     “Was a hint, to help her realize what it is she’s really feeling for me.  And when she does realize, she’ll know how I feel about her.”
     //This… what I’m feeling… Atsuko and the others know how I feel?//  Minami took her head in her hands, her thoughts now in chaos.  Her heart was beating frantically as she tried to make sense of the situation.  // What she said just now…// Realization dawned on her, and Minami’s face suddenly grew the reddest it had ever been.  //No way…  It wasn’t a joke?//
     //Atsuko loves me? //
     //These feelings are mutual?//
     Still in disbelief, the sound of her name brought Minami back from her thoughts.
     “… out to dinner, after all.”
     “We’ll go get her.”
     //Not good.//
     Quickly standing, Minami opened the door and stepped forward, doing her best to give the impression that she hadn’t heard a thing.
     “Umm… hey, everybody; let’s go eat?”
/////


     Knowing that Atsuko had loved her all this time brought a foreign sensation to Minami.  However, the peculiar elation was accompanied by a new worry, one that had plagued Minami’s thoughts ever since that day.  Takahashi Minami had entered AKB48 with the intent to eventually achieve her dream.  She had not entered AKB48 with the intention to find and fall in love.  She had tried to love once, in the end swearing to never do so again while she was in AKB.
     Not long after their reconciliation, the others (mainly Miichan and Haruna, along with her ever present attachment, Yuko) began dropping hints and reminders that the former Minami would have never picked up on or taken into serious consideration.  While they did not know that Minami had learned how Atsuko felt, their whisperings did help her to reach some conclusions and to encourage her, enabling her to take an important step.
     At the very least, Minami figured that she owed Atsuko a couple apologies, which was the reason she had requested a meeting with the girl that was potentially more than her best friend.
     “Okay, you need to tell me what’s been on your mind this whole time.”
     “Eh?”  Minami’s head jolted up and her eyes met with Atsuko’s, the other girl wearing an amused smile.
     “You haven’t said a word throughout dinner, yet you’ve gone through so many different facial expressions that I’ve lost count.”
     Minami broke their eye contact as she suddenly stood and quickly began gathering the dishes.  “I’m sorry that I was so quiet.  Was the dinner good?”
     “Yes,” Atsuko replied cheerily.  “It was made by you with love,” she teased.  “How could it not be good?”
     Minami suddenly stopped in her turn to the sink, nearly dropping the stack of dishes she held.
     “Minami, what did you want to discuss with me?”  Atsuko asked, noting Minami’s peculiar reaction.
     Now I’m convinced that kiss was too much.
     “L-let’s do the dishes first,” Minami stammered, her nerves getting the better of her.
     “No.  No more stalling, Minami.”  Atsuko stood from her seat and walked to Minami’s side, removing the stack of dishes from the shorter girl’s hands and setting it on the counter.  She grabbed Minami’s hand with a stern look and led her to the sofa, bringing them to sit beside each other.  Atsuko crossed her arms with a small huff and stared at Minami, waiting for an explanation.  After a couple moments of fidgeting, Minami finally broke under Atsuko’s intense stare.  With her head hung low, not daring to meet Atsuko’s eyes, Minami finally whispered:
     “I know, Atsuko; and I want to apologize.”
     Atsuko’s brow wrinkled in confusion.  “You know what?  Apologize for what?”
     “I want to apologize for causing you to languish all these years, and because I must selfishly ask you to wait a while longer.”
     Atsuko studied the girl that still refused to meet her gaze.  Minami’s apology was obviously heartfelt, yet her words did little to enlighten Atsuko as to why she was apologizing.
     “Minami, please look at me,” Atsuko pleaded, and as Minami hesitantly lifted her gaze and locked eyes with her, Atsuko gasped.  The reason behind Minami’s apology was suddenly clear.
     “Minami, you don’t mean-”
     “Atsuko, I know what you feel toward me.  And I-I feel the same.”
     “No way,” Atsuko gasped, bringing a hand to cover her mouth in surprise.  “You mean, you really?”  Minami said nothing, opting to respond with a simple, red-cheeked nod.  As the first of many tears filled her eyes, Atsuko bound Minami in a tight hug.  A moment later she pulled away and, still in shock, she shot Minami an accusatory look.  “Wait… how long have you known?  How do you know?”
     “Last month… I overheard you speaking with the others after you k-kissed me and left the room,” Minami admitted sheepishly, a bit ashamed to admit to eavesdropping.  She could feel her face grow warmer as Atsuko grasped her hands and she heard Atsuko sigh in relief.
     “I’m glad,” Atsuko finally stated, barely above a whisper as Minami stared back at her. Both had tears glistening in their eyes.  “Honestly, I’m not sure how much longer I could keep it a secret.”
     Minami, feeling suddenly disgusted with what she was about to say, abruptly stood and distanced herself from Atsuko.
     “Acchan,” she started, keeping her back to Atsuko.  “I know what you truly want to hear and I want to be honest with myself and tell it to you, but… I...”
     “Minami,” Atsuko whispered as she watched Minami’s hands clench at her sides.
     Minami gulped nervously before continuing.  “I’ve thought about things for months, Atsuko.  When I believed these feelings were unrequited everything was fine, but now that I know how you feel and that something could stem from all of this…”  Minami sighed deeply and spoke again, the confidence in her voice waning.  “I suppose the best word to describe it is scared. I know what I’m feeling and I know what my heart wants but… my mind, Atsuko.  My mind just isn’t ready to accept the potential consequences of what could be between us.”
     Growing more confused and frustrated, Atsuko stood and joined Minami, gently placing a hand on Minami’s shoulder.  The touch brought Minami’s gaze to meet hers.  “Minami, what do you mean?  What aren’t you ready to accept?”
     Minami’s face grew redder as she continued, her nerves and emotions causing her to stutter. “I-I didn’t join AKB48 to fall in l-love.  Being in a r-relationship with you would mean jeopardizing both of our careers.    You know as well as I do the effects that our troubles had on the group, and we were simply friends at the time.  I understand now why relationships are forbidden; the drama that comes with them is dangerous, Atsuko.  I’d- we’d be risking the opportunity to achieve our dreams.”  Minami paused to take a deep breath and then continued.  “I need just a little more time to gather the courage to be able to truly accomplish what both of our hearts want.”  Minami looked away yet again, taking a deep breath before next she spoke.  “I know how you feel and how I feel and I know what you want and I want to give it to you, but… I need more time, Atsuko.  I’m asking for your forgiveness and patience; I have a life-changing decision to make.”
     There was a brief silence then, the tension in the air having grown to be almost tangible.
     “I’ve wanted this for years, Minami.”  Atsuko looked at Minami sternly, her emotions beginning to take their toll.  “I understand what you’re saying, but I’m willing to take those risks!”
     “Acchan, please calm down.”
     “This was cruel, Takamina.   Why would you ask me here tonight, dangle before me the very thing I’ve wanted to hear for years, and then tell me that I can’t have it?”  Tears once again flowed freely from Atsuko’s eyes, and Minami’s eyes instantly clouded with shame.
     “That’s not true-”
     Minami’s protests were ceased by the mere presence of Atsuko’s palm held up before her, a clear sign for Minami to stop talking.  Without another word, Atsuko turned, grabbed her purse, and started towards the door.
     “Acchan, please don’t be mad.”  Minami’s voice quivered with tears.
     Atsuko suddenly paused and took a deep breath but did not yet turn around.  “I’m not.  Really.  I’m just… a little upset.”  She turned then to look at Minami.  Seeing the burgeoning fear in Minami’s eyes, Atsuko’s eyes began to glisten with tears as a gentle smile graced her lips.  “Don’t worry, Minami.  I promised not to run away, remember?”  She paused a moment to allow Minami a chance to recall their promise, the shorter girls eyes widening in remembrance.  “When next you see me I’ll be all smiles.  For now, though, I need to leave.  I need to prepare myself in heart and mind.”  Though her words were positive, Atsuko’s voice betrayed a still lingering sadness.
     Minami clenched her hands briefly before she spoke, her body trembling due to the force behind the action and a struggle to keep her tears at bay.  “I asked to meet with you tonight because I felt it too cruel to let you go on any longer thinking that things would absolutely never be between us or that I still didn’t know how I feel.  It could still happen, Atsuko.”  Minami hesitantly took a step forward.  “I don’t want you to leave here like this.  If anything, please leave here knowing that I do know what it is I’m feeling.  Atsuko, you, I-”
     A soft finger on her lips stopped Minami from saying anything more.  Atsuko stood before her, shaking her head as her tears continued to fall.
     “No; don’t say it, Minami. Not until you’re truly ready.”
     “But-”
     “You’ve asked me to wait just a little bit longer, and I will.  Until then, I won’t say it, either.  However,” she paused, gently lifting Minami’s chin higher.  Atsuko captured Minami’s lips in her own effortlessly, neither daring to part from the kiss early.  They pulled apart a moment later, both slightly out of breath with hearts racing.
     Surprisingly, Minami was the first to recover and speak.
     “Gosh, Atsuko, that was a bit unexpected.”
     Atsuko tilted her head.  “How so?  From what you’ve said here tonight, I’m fighting against your dream, Minami.    Should you choose your dream over me, I want you to at least have a full knowledge of what you sacrificed.  Unexpected?  No; even you’d have to know that I’m going to do everything I can to prove to you that you can have both.”
     Atsuko left then, leaving behind a bewildered Minami, who slowly brought her fingers to her lips.  Inches lower in her body, her heart was still racing.
     I’m definitely in love, Atsuko.  But I definitely want to achieve my dream, too.
     Slumping to the ground, Minami brought her knees to her chest as she grasped at her hair in frustration.
     I’m sorry that I’m not as brave as Haruna and Yuko.
     I’m sorry that I’m so weak.
     For you, I’ve only ever wanted to be strong.

End Chapter 3, Part 2

Another thing I've said numerous times: it's amazing how one word (or the lack there of) can change an entire story.

I could go on about the 'whys' and 'why nots' involved in writing this section, but... well, we all have our own different opinions, ideas, and understandings of the characters.  As long as you're enjoying the story, then in the end, that's all that matters.

Perhaps at the end of Portraits I'll write a special "behind the scenes" post that might (hopefully) answer some of your questions.  (Personally, I think the evolution of the story is particularly interesting.)  If you can't wait that long then feel free to send me a message, though I'll probably be slow to respond.

Until next time.
« Last Edit: October 11, 2019, 12:46:25 AM by Hitobo »

Offline crazywota

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Re: Portraits (Atsumina) Chapter 3 Part 2
« Reply #72 on: August 14, 2012, 08:57:59 AM »
I've been waiting for your comeback.  :cry:

*Brb reading.
I'll edit this later for my review  :peace:


Damn, it hurts so much to read the scene wherein they were exchanging with each other. at least acchan is still willing to wait and knows that they both feel for each other is mutual. I love angst stories so much. Thank you and Can't wait for the next update!  :thumbup
« Last Edit: August 15, 2012, 04:55:09 AM by crazywota »

Offline Tanchan

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Re: Portraits (Atsumina) Chapter 3 Part 2
« Reply #73 on: August 14, 2012, 09:56:34 AM »
I admit that I was a bit worried not seeing you update the next chapter after 2 weeks( since you usually update your fic around every 2 weeks). About the questions, I won't ask it, I have my own way to interpret the things presented in this chapter. I must say, again, that your update never disappoints me. But honestly I didn't even once think about Minami pondering between love and career. I just feel that she's the type of person who, once in love, will accept it without hesitating and embrace it. But may be I've overlooked things and failed to recognize that she also has her dream to achieve and in this case, it's both of their dreams. Atsuko seems to be the one who's more willing to take the risk( may be it's because she's loved Takamina for a long time and she doesn't want to let her go).

Offline fausto

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Re: Portraits (Atsumina) Chapter 3 Part 2
« Reply #74 on: August 14, 2012, 12:14:50 PM »
Thank you for updating!!!I was so worried!!!I really love your fanfic, please update soon, I really like your story, how it goes, even if I don't like when Aachan and Minami are arguing... :thumbup :thumbup :thumbup :)

Offline anonymousdowner

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Re: Portraits (Atsumina) Chapter 3 Part 2
« Reply #75 on: August 14, 2012, 12:30:52 PM »
I had to do a double take when I saw your fic  updated on the first page. After reading this chapter I so feel that angsty seriousness you've warned us... Not enough Atsumina moments to satisfy my needs, but I totally feel my heart thumping with every word the two were exchanging with each other. I wonder what will happen next? I have no idea at this point, but I guess all that matters is that the love is there although they're not ready to say it say it... Gawd, I am frustrated for both the characters. They have their own complicated reasons T^T

Thank you for updating and I will be anxiously awaiting for chapter 4, this is awesome stuff Author-sama.  :thumbup

Offline arrow27

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Re: Portraits (Atsumina) Chapter 3 Part 2
« Reply #76 on: August 14, 2012, 03:49:21 PM »
I love your fic!! It's really amazing! The characters are done so well and the situations are very realistic. You're a pro at writing :) Thanks for your update & I'm excited to read the next chapter ^^

Offline Haruko

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Re: Portraits (Atsumina) Chapter 3 Part 2
« Reply #77 on: August 15, 2012, 05:06:27 AM »
omg!! love that chapter you have a point a view very realistic.. Well if you have another chapter its ok.. if you leave this fic.. Im gonna be sad but respect.. Im waiting always :D thanx

Offline Megumi

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Re: Portraits (Atsumina) Chapter 3 Part 2
« Reply #78 on: August 17, 2012, 12:18:26 AM »
 :panic: Hitibo-san!

AtsuMina! That was super  :thumbsup
Gosh! What I'm like in your writing it's that the story is detailed, long (not too long) and captivating...

Thank you for your update!
Can't wait for next!
ArígatoU! :kneelbow:
Have tumblr have twitter. Just ask ^^

Offline Hitobo

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Re: Portraits (Atsumina) Chapter 3 Part 2
« Reply #79 on: August 26, 2012, 10:17:27 PM »
Drum roll please...
     Atsuko left then, leaving behind a bewildered Minami, who slowly brought her fingers to her lips.  Inches lower in her body, her heart was still racing.
     //I’m definitely in love, Atsuko.  But I definitely want to achieve my dream, too.//
     Slumping to the ground, Minami brought her knees to her chest as she grasped at her hair in frustration.
    // I’m sorry that I’m not as brave as Haruna and Yuko.
     I’m sorry that I’m so weak.
     For you, I’ve only ever wanted to be strong.//

Portraits
An AKB48 Fan Fiction
Chapter 3, Part 3 (Chapter End)

_   _   _

     “Ahahaha!”     
     The sound of Mariko’s laughter pealed through the small restaurant and Atsuko looked around them nervously.
     “Mariko, stop laughing!” Atsuko hissed.  “Nothing that I told you was at all funny!”
     Mariko waved a hand before her face in a vain attempt to indicate that it wasn’t anything that Atsuko had said.  However, her laughter still had the upper hand, and Tomochin that was with them began to laugh as well.
     “Fine, laugh, but would you please tell me what’s so funny?” Atsuko pouted, crossing her arms in displeasure.
     Finally gaining control of her laughter, Mariko looked back at Atsuko.  “It wasn’t anything specific, really.  When you said that you told her you would prove she can have both her dream and love, my mind suddenly filled with images of how you would do so, and they were so amusing that I couldn’t help it.”
     “I know what you mean,” Tomochin agreed.  “Takamina’s reactions are always amusing.”
     “What are you planning to do, anyway?”  Mariko asked, suddenly returning to a more serious tone.
     Atsuko leaned back in her seat with a sigh.  “I was thinking that the best approach would be to establish a probationary relationship.  If we were to get caught, which I doubt, then the truth would be that we were just fooling around.”
     Tomochin shot Atsuko a curious look.  “And by ‘probationary relationship,’ you mean…?”
     “I’m going to do all the things that an ‘official’ girlfriend would: hugs, kisses, emails.  All in front of other people, too.”
     “You do realize that you do those things already,” Mariko teased.
     Atsuko smiled faintly.  “To an extent, yes, but now, I suppose you could say things will be more… passionate.”
     “Not a bad idea; you have to up your game if you want better results,” Mariko advised with a small laugh.
     Tomochin nodded and took a sip of her drink.  “Just be careful, Acchan.  Takamina’s right: no matter how strong your love, it’s not immune to the rules of the group.  Perhaps Takamina’s hesitation is less about protecting only herself and more about ensuring the safety of your career as well.”
     “I know that already,” Atsuko replied curtly.  “She’s being so cautious because she loves me, and one of us needs to be.  But…”  Atsuko’s voice trailed off as her phoned beeped, and she excused herself to briefly check the message.
     Mariko and Tomochin shared quick, concerned glances upon seeing a shadow flitter across Atsuko’s eyes.
     “Not from Takamina I take it?”  Mariko chanced.
     “No… it’s nothing,” Atsuko said with a dismissive wave of her hand and a fake smile.  She returned to eating her food eagerly.  Tomochin and Mariko, noting Atsuko’s odd behavior, decided not to pursue the subject any further.
     “So when can you see her next?” Tomochin asked.
     Atsuko shrugged, her shoulders falling sadly into place.  “I’m not sure.  We’re both so busy lately that it’s hard enough to just talk on the phone together.”
     Mariko nodded.  “That’s understandable,” she said, sipping her drink.
     “I miss her already,” Atsuko admitted with a sigh.
     Tomochin couldn’t help but to chuckle at her friend’s forlorn behavior.  “Acchan, it’s only been two days!”
_   _   _

     Atsuko walked slowly down the familiar hallway, biting her lip nervously as she once again glanced down at the message she’d received the night before.

     [Your deadline has passed, and we’ve not received a definitive answer from you.  Please come to my office tomorrow to discuss your future.]

    So much has happened lately that I forgot.  Atsuko hung her head, mortified by the idea that she could have neglected something so important.  Of course, I’ve also been distracted with Minami.  After the other night…  Atsuko shook her head in frustration in an attempt to momentarily cast aside such thoughts.
     Stopping before the office door, she took a deep breath to calm her nerves.  With a steady hand she knocked firmly on the door and was quickly welcomed inside.
     “Please excuse the intrusion.”
     Atsuko’s greeting was quiet, and Akimoto Yasushi smiled warmly as he set aside his phone and indicated for her to sit.  He observed her quietly for a moment, gaging her stability before he spoke. To his mild surprise, the girl that remained shy after all these years spoke first.
     “I apologize for causing you trouble.  It was never my intention to neglect giving you an answer.”
     “It’s alright.  I had a feeling that such a thing would happen.  I’ve a proposition for you.”
     “Sir?”  Atsuko tilted her head to the side, not quite sure of what Akimoto was proposing.
     Akimoto paused a moment before he continued.  “You’re a bright girl, and I’m proud of you.”  Atsuko muttered a small thank you, unable to meet Akimoto’s eyes.  With a sad smile, Akimoto spoke again. “Personally, I don’t want to see you graduate, Acchan.  I get the feeling that you’re not quite ready to graduate, either.  However, a decision must be made.  I’ve decided to leave such a decision to the fans.”
     Atsuko still refused to look up, and kept her eyes focused on her hands in her lap as she spoke.  “How do you propose the fans do so?”
     A hint of a smirk reached Akimoto’s lips.  “We’ll hold an election, allowing the fans to help you to decide, via the very roots of Akihabara48.  Votes can only be cast on the back of theater tickets purchased within the span of six weeks, one ticket per fan per show.  Of course, the fans will not know the ulterior reason behind such an election.  Neither will the other members.”
     “And the terms?”
     “It will be an election of AKB members only.  Score within the top fifteen and you stay.  Place beyond fifteenth, and I will believe that to be a sign that it is time for you to graduate and pursue your career whole-heartedly.”  He paused then, and Atsuko listened as he stood and stepped beside her.
     Am I still popular with the theater crowd?  I haven’t done a show in months.
     A hand came to rest gently on her shoulder.  “I know that if and when you graduate, you will do so with your head held high, Acchan.”
     Atsuko finally looked up then, and she could see in his eyes that Akimoto would support her, no matter the outcome.  It was not dissimilar to the look of support that Minami always had for her.
     Minami…
     Graduation would mean that I would no longer stand on stage next to Minami.

     Akimoto watched amusedly as a peculiar emotion claimed Atsuko’s face.  He smiled a small, knowing smile and returned to his seat behind the desk.  Neither said anything for a few moments.  It was a life changing decision, and Atsuko needed time to fully comprehend exactly what had been decided.  Akimoto checked his phone, the small grin on his face going unnoticed by Atsuko.
     “You should go now,” he suggested kindly, not wanting to give the impression he was casting her out.  “You’re free the next few hours, yes?  Don’t fret, Acchan.  Have a little faith in the outcome.  If you believe, it will come to be the right one.”
     Atsuko stood and left the office, and as the door clicked shut behind her she leaned against it with a heavy sigh and closed her eyes, tears threatening to fall.
     Will this be the end?  Will my time with Minami end this way, without us ever truly being together?  This, after I’ve finally come so close?
     “Atsuko?”
     It was Minami’s voice, and Atsuko thought for a fleeting moment that her emotions were causing her to hallucinate.
     “Minami!” She gasped as her eyes flew open to take in the sight of Minami standing before her.  Without a moment’s hesitation, she flung herself upon Minami, burying her face in the shorter girl’s hair.
     “Atsuko, what’s wrong?”  Minami asked as blush crept across her face.  “You said that the next time we met you would be smiling,” she added jokingly, though the meaning behind the words was more serious.
     “Minami, what are you doing here?” Atsuko managed to choke out, fighting to keep her tears under control.  Though Minami had likely said the words teasingly, they brought too many emotions to the surface.  Atsuko felt Minami tighten her hold on her waist comfortingly.
     “I received a mail from Aki-P this morning.  He said there was somebody at his office that needed to see me.”
     “Oh; I’m sorry.”  Atsuko reluctantly stepped away from Minami, wiping at her eyes with her sleeve.  “You should hurry up; they might be here soon.”  She didn’t dare to meet Minami’s gaze, else her resolve would break.  She turned away but was stopped by a grip on her wrist.
     Minami’s heart ached in her chest.  Seeing the state that Atsuko was in, she suddenly (and for her, to some small extent, unexpectedly) became sure of one thing.  After a nervous gulp, Minami hesitantly reached a hand under Atsuko’s chin, uncharacteristically guiding Atsuko’s gaze to meet her eyes. 
     “Atsuko, I think he meant you.”
     Her resolve broken, Atsuko collapsed into Minami’s arms once again.
     “C’mon, Acchan.  Let’s go eat a nice meal,” Minami proposed, her voice overflowing with kindness.  “You don’t have to tell me about it if you don’t want to, but please understand that I’m here for you.  I always have been and will be.”
     To Minami’s bewilderment, her words did little to stave Atsuko’s tears, and instead Atsuko cried harder.  Minami dared not to say anything more so they sat quietly together with only the sound of Atsuko’s sobs between them.  After a moment’s hesitation with her hand suspended in air, the concerned girl rubbed Atsuko’s back consolingly, unsure of what else to do.  As the sobs began to wane, Minami was relieved to see a small smile reach Atsuko’s lips.
     “Thanks for the offer, Minami,” Atsuko finally said, her voice small and a bit hoarse.  “A lunch together with you is just what I need.”
     “Sure thing,” Minami stated with a blush as she beamed at Atsuko.  Despite Minami’s smile, however, Atsuko was briefly taken aback as she would have sworn that she saw a darker emotion flitter across Minami’s eyes.
     Worry?  Anger?  Atsuko eyes narrowed.  No… that was shame.  But, why?
     The two slowly left then, Atsuko gripping Minami’s hand tighter than ever before.  As Minami did her best to cheer Atsuko up with a failed attempt at an amusing story, neither noticed the door to the office behind them click shut.
_   _   _

     Minami sat on the bench with a tired sigh, her body sore and glistening with sweat.  Their dance lessons had ended thirty minutes early, meaning that she had gained enough extra time in her busy schedule to enjoy a nice meal out.  First, though, she had to clear her thoughts.  She’d missed some steps during practice, and she was frustrated that she allowed her thoughts to distract her from her work, even if such thoughts were about a certain person that made her heart beat more quickly than usual.
     It had been about a week since she saw Atsuko outside Akimoto’s office.   Atsuko did not tell her what was wrong, but the theater-only election had been announced just a few days later, and Minami was sure the two were connected.  At that time Minami had simply been a shoulder for Atsuko to cry on, assuring her that everything would be alright.  Yet in the back of her mind, Minami knew that at that time, Atsuko needed to hear something more from her, something she could not yet bring herself to say, no matter how much her heart protested.
     With another heavy sigh (though this one not because of exhaustion), Minami wiped her face with a small towel.
     “Mi-na-mi,” a voice cooed beside the called girl, and Minami shuddered as she felt Atsuko’s breath on her ear.  Two arms snaked around her waist, and as the exhausted Minami reached a hand up to touch said arms, she suddenly jumped three feet into the air with a squeak.
     “Wow, Takamina, nice air,” someone teased with a laugh.  Minami, red-faced, pointed at the smirking Atsuko.
     “Atsuko!  You… my ear…”
     Atsuko chuckled.  “Spit it out, Minami.”
     Stepping closer to Atsuko, Minami said in a hushed tone, “You licked my ear!”
     “Yes, I did.”  Atsuko pulled Minami back down on to the bench and swiftly wrapped her arms around the embarrassed girl again.  Her lips turned up into a small smile as Minami, still glowing red, tried her hardest not to look at Atsuko.  “Minami, please look at me,” Atsuko said with slight whine in her voice.  When Minami did as asked, Atsuko stole a kiss from her unsuspecting victim.
     “A-Acchan,” Minami stuttered in disbelief.  “The others-”
     “Look around, Minami,” Atsuko said, not lifting her head from Minami’s shoulder.  “The others don’t care.  You know firsthand that they would all be very supportive of our relationship.  You have no reasons to be afraid of what they might see.”
     “But-“
     “Nope.  No buts, Minami,” Atsuko whispered, turning Minami’s chin with a delicate finger.  She caught Minami’s eyes with a loving gaze.  “I promised myself that I would prove to you that we can both love each other and strive toward our dreams.  We don’t have to choose.”  Minami froze as once again Atsuko captured her lips in a chaste kiss.
     They sat quietly together for a moment before Minami finally whispered, “That’s something that will certainly take getting used to…”
     “What was that?” Atsuko asked, and Minami smiled at the hint of sleepiness in Atsuko’s voice.
     “Nothing,” Minami answered, giving Atsuko’s arms about her waist a small squeeze.
     “So what were you thinking about?”  Atsuko asked, standing up and stretching.  “You missed quite a few steps today.”
     Minami stood and stretched as well.  “You,” she said, her face flushing red yet again.  For the first time that she could ever remember, she had succeeded in causing Atsuko to flush just as red.
     More specifically, how I feel like I let you down.
     Again.

_   _   _

     Atsuko stared out the taxi window with a forlorn sigh.  Her agent had called not long ago to inform her about a schedule change, meaning that Atsuko’s plans to surprise Minami in the afternoon had to be cancelled.  It had been over two weeks since they’d last seen each other in person.  Atsuko had reluctantly accepted the fact that even if their relationship were to become ‘official’, even if they were to exchange those three powerful words, in would not change the fact that both of them had blossoming careers preventing them from seeing each other.  In fact, it was a contract signing that she needed to attend this afternoon, one of the last steps in accepting a new acting role.
     Atsuko was nervous, too, to say the least.  The election results would be announced in four weeks’ time and her future within AKB was at stake.  None of the other members were told of the election’s true purpose, though she suspected Minami had figured it out.
     True to her word, Atsuko had continued to shower Minami with affections upon every opportunity.  At first Minami had shied away, but it seemed to Atsuko that her beloved was starting to accept the touches without worry.  (Atsuko’s tactics were perhaps a bit deceptive, desperate even, but she felt them to be absolutely necessary for Minami to accept her heart’s desires.)  In fact, Minami had begun to initiate less intimate acts of affection, namely taking Atsuko’s hand whenever possible and embracing Atsuko in tight hugs.  They weren’t acts that others would consider overly romantic, but since they came from Minami, Atsuko treasured each and every one.  She knew the true message behind such touches.  They were Minami’s way of conveying her feelings, and Atsuko’s heart leapt every time.
     Of course, it is not just touches that make a relationship.  Communication is also a key aspect.  They called each other at least twice a day and mail was exchanged constantly.  (Minami had told her during one of their last phone conversations that she could set a clock to Atsuko’s messages.)  Atsuko loved their phone conversations and cherished every one.  It was during such private conversations that she could hear the unabashed warmth and love in Minami’s voice.
Atsuko sighed again and lazily brought a finger up to trace shapes in the cloud her breath left on the window.  Her intention in proceeding with a “probationary relationship” was to prove a point to Minami, yet it was beginning to seem that it was more herself to whom she was proving a point.  There was a minute worry in the back of her mind that was beginning to grow exponentially.  Currently, it seemed as though the only time they were able to spend together was during AKB related events.
     If I have to graduate, will Minami and I ever have time to be together?
     Another forlorn sigh escaped her lips.
     For years now I’ve wanted to be happily together in love with her, but… is it truly right of me to pursue such an unfair relationship?
     Atsuko closed her eyes, her train of thoughts suddenly becoming uncomfortable.
     Perhaps I’m thinking too far into things.  I need to believe in Minami.  I need to believe in me.
     I need to- No, I will believe in the love that we share.

     “Ahem.  Maeda-san.”
     “Eh?” Atsuko jolted upright at the sound of her name.
     The driver gave a kindly smile.  “We’ve reached your destination, Maeda-san.”
     “Ah, thank you very much.”
     After paying the driver, Atsuko stepped from the cab and took a deep breath, stretching her arms high above her head.  It was just the beginning of another busy day.
_   _   _

     “Ah, Takahashi-san!  Welcome.”
     With her stomach demanding a good meal of katsudon, Minami stopped in at her favorite family restaurant for the first time in a long while.  The owner quickly greeted her, happy to see one of his favorite patrons return after such a long time.
     “It’s been a while.”
     “Yes, it has.  I’ve missed your meals.”
     “Will it be your usual then?”
     Minami nodded eagerly, and the owner left as quickly as he’d come.  Taking a deep, relaxing breath, Minami leaned back in her chair and closed her eyes.  She loved it here in this restaurant.  It was tucked far enough away from the main streets that it was never crowded and there was just the right amount of chatter in the background.  She’d brought Atsuko (and quite a few of the others) here many times over the years, and the gluttonous girl immediately fell for the restaurant, its owners, and its food.
     “Here’s your meal.”
     Minami’s eyes flew open in excitement.  “Wow that was fast!  It looks great.”
     The owner smiled proudly.  “Please enjoy, Takahashi-san.”
     As she started eating, Minami smiled as her thoughts once again drifted to the girl that she came to realize occupied her mind during any free time.  There was no denying what she felt; Minami was in love, plain and simple.
     Well, maybe not so simple; but she was in love nonetheless.
     Yet that love was accompanied by frustration, and Minami often grew irritated with herself over the heartache through which she put Atsuko.  Then, last night, in the midst of one of their nightly conversations, Minami was suddenly struck by a heart wrenching thought.  With her voice barely above a whisper, she asked Atsuko about her dream.

/////
     “Minami, are you still there?”
     There was a brief pause, and then, “Atsuko…”
     “What is it, Minami?  Your voice is weak and trembling. What’s wrong?  What happened?”
     With the phone held tightly against her ear, Minami flopped backwards onto her bed.  The  kindness and worry in Atsuko’s voice was a reminder of the pillar of strength that Atsuko had become for Minami, and Minami let slip a proud yet bitter smile at the realization that Atsuko had become much stronger after all these years.
     “Atsuko… those weeks ago, when… you know…”
     “I do,” Atsuko affirmed, and Minami need not imagine the small frown that undoubtedly graced the other girl’s face.
     “Well… please be honest, Atsuko.  Do you truly believe that our dreams can successfully coincide with a relationship?”  There was no immediate answer, so Minami continued.  “I’ll admit that you’ve proven your case in that I need not be afraid of what the others might do or think, but…”  Minami’s voice trailed off then, its owner unsure of how else to continue.
     Neither spoke for a minute, and the silence only served to amplify Minami’s anxiety.  Then, like a melody, Atsuko’s voice reached Minami’s ear.
     “You know, Minami… you always speak about wanting to fulfill you dream, but you speak as though you have only one dream.  To be honest, I have three.”
     Minami’s brow furrowed at the sound of Atsuko taking a deep, nervous breath.
     “The first is my mind’s dream, the one to which you so often refer.  As far back as I can remember, I’ve wanted to become an actress.  Like you, Minami; you’ve always wanted to be a singer.”
     Minami nodded at first, and then remembering that she was on the phone, she mumbled, “Yes.”
     “The second,” Atsuko continued, her voice a bit more confident now, “is my body’s dream to always be in front of the camera, where I can most efficiently bring a smile to the faces of those whose lives I’ve touched.  I want to always present myself as a person my fans can look up to, much like I look up to you.”
     Minami blushed then and she heard Atsuko give a small, melodic laugh.  She probably knew the effect that her words had on Minami.
     “My third dream, Minami, is my heart’s dream.”
     “And what is that, Atsuko?”  Minami asked, genuinely intrigued.
     “To be together in love with you, always.”
     There was another pause, this one much lengthier.  Just as Minami opened her mouth to speak, Atsuko’s sweet voice once again filtered into her ear.
     “Minami… when you talk about fulfilling your dream, are you considering your heart’s dream, too?”
/////


     “My heart’s dream, huh?” Minami muttered, tapping her chin with the butt of her chopsticks, her meal having since vanished.
     “The meal was to your liking, I take it?”
     Minami, startled from her thoughts, looked into the expectant eyes of the restaurant’s owner.
     “It was as delicious as ever, ojisan.”
     “Glad to hear it; have you decided on a dessert?”
     The idea of something sweet appealed to Minami tonight, and she quickly scanned the dessert menu before her.
     “I can’t decide,” she said aloud to no one in particular.  “Desserts A and B both sound really good right now.”
     The owner gave a small laugh.  “Next time you ought to bring someone with you.  You can order both, and whomever you bring can help you to finish them.  That way you wouldn’t have to choose; working together, you could have both.”
     Minami smiled up at the owner.  “That’s a good idea; I’ll keep it in mind.”
_   _   _

     “Thirteen.”
     Minami, oblivious to the two watching her, sighed and fiddled with the phone in her hands.  She was in a van with Haruna and Miichan, the three of them en route to a no3b television appearance.
     “Fourteen.”
     Her gaze soon settled outside the window yet again, but it wasn’t long before she glanced at the phone in her hands longingly.
     “Fifteen.”
     “How long has it been?”
     “Seven… almost eight minutes.”
     “So that’s almost twice a minute?”
     “Ah, sixteen.”  Haruna nodded towards Minami, and as Miichan turned to look she saw that, true enough, Minami was once again cradling her phone forlornly.
Miichan pushed up her imaginary glasses, pretending to be a scientist in the midst of an observation experiment.  “Do you see, Kojima-kun, the effects that love has on a young maiden?”
     “Yes, Minegishi-sensei!” Haruna piped, playing along with the farce.
     “Ah, who am I kidding?  You know plenty about love firsthand.”  Miichan teased.
     “Yes, Minegishi-sensei!” Haruna chimed again, earning a laugh from Miichan.  “Seventeen,” she said, dropping the assistant’s role.
     Miichan turned and nodded.  “So what has Takamina in such somber spirits this morning?”
     Haruna smirked.  “Acchan didn’t call this morning.”
     “Oh?” Miichan asked, intrigued.  “That’s odd.”
     “Mhmm.  Takamina called her and left a message, but Acchan has not yet called back.  Takamina, being who she is, is probably worried that something tragic happened to Acchan.”
     Miichan nodded, agreeing to Haruna’s hypothesis.  “She’s probably just busy filming.”
     A chime filtered through the air then, and they looked over to see Minami eagerly check her phone.  They watched as her face first turned ashen, but then brightened up again a moment later with a smile.  As Minami quickly typed a reply, two more chimes sounded.
     Haruna and Miichan gave each other curious glances before checking their own phones.

     [You two are with Minami today, right?
     I’ve been so exhausted lately that I overslept this morning, that’s all.
     Please don’t let her worry too much about me.  I want her mind to be focused only on your performance.]


     The two quickly sent replies.
     “Do you think Atsuko realizes?” Haruna asked as she put her phone back in her bag.
     “Realizes what?” Miichan asked as she returned her attention to Minami.
     Haruna smiled.  “That she has the cat in the bag, so to speak.”
_   _   _

     Minami happily hummed a song as she walked towards Atsuko’s house.
     She missed Atsuko.  Though the two had promised to never run away from each other, they hadn’t been able to make promises to spend more time together.
     It was now nearly five weeks since she and Atsuko had addressed each other’s feelings.  For five weeks, Atsuko had done her best to show Minami the happiness they could share through love.  Yet unexpectedly, in that same time the two had also experienced the hardships they would encounter.  In those five weeks they saw each other in person only eight times that Minami could recall.  The first had been outside Akimoto’s office.  The second was during one dance lesson.  Three times had been during theaters shows; another three times had been brief encounters during media appearances.  (Atsuko had not let the opportunities go to waste, however, and showered Minami in affection when possible.)
     Minami was no expert on love, but she was sure that two people in a relationship were meant to spend time together.  Sadly, any plans they had ever made were cancelled due to their busy schedules.  It was surprising that they were both still able to make tonight’s meeting.  Yet while Minami’s schedule was growing more complicated, she feared for Atsuko, whose schedule was even busier.
     Worried for Atsuko’s health (as she continued to overwork herself), Minami would sometimes stop by her friend’s house unannounced, only to find, unsurprisingly, that its owner wasn’t home.  She’d often leave Atsuko a small gift and exit the house with a heavy heart, knowing that Atsuko was pushing herself doing what she loved.
     Minami sighed, her warm breath clouding in the cool evening air.
     The election period would be ending soon.  Through bits and pieces of information garnered in their conversations, Minami had been able to conclude that Atsuko’s very continuation in AKB was dependent upon the results of this election.  Atsuko had only appeared in three theater shows since the election’s announcement.  Minami was worried if Atsuko would place well.  She was the most popular with those who were fans of AKB on television and radio, but for those devoted to the theater shows, Atsuko’s being in their number one position was doubtful. 
     Minami suddenly stopped in her tracks.  Tilting her head back, she looked up at the cloudy sky, wide-eyed in thought.  This whole time she’d been considering her dreams over love.  Yet… if either she or Atsuko were to successfully achieve their dreams, it would undoubtedly lead to graduation.
     If we were to have a relationship, could we survive a graduation?  Is this love strong enough to survive outside of AKB?
     Her eyes softened with her next thought.
     Is a relationship with Acchan what would make me, make us, happiest?
     With a bitter smile, Minami pulled her jacket tighter and continued her walk.  She’d had plenty of time to think, and she was still uncertain about the decision she’d made.  Every time she paused in her walk, she was tempted to turn around and go home.  Yet each time, she felt a warmth in her chest, and her heart won over her nerves.
     She was soon at Atsuko’s doorstep, her heart beating rapidly as she nervously raised her hand.  It would be the first time in five weeks that they would be able to spend quality time together.  Atsuko had sounded doggedly tired on the phone so Minami had suggested that they not meet tonight, but Atsuko would hear nothing of it.
     She paused with her hand mere millimeters from the doorbell.   Perhaps, she thought with a smile, she somehow knew not to let me back out tonight.
     An image from the last time they met filtered to mind, and Minami could feel her cheeks grow warmer at the memory of Atsuko kissing her, and she, for the first time, kissing back.  Shaking her head to clear it of such thoughts, Minami closed the distance between her hand and the bell.
     Hearing the doorbell chime inside, Minami waited patiently for Atsuko to come answer.  She could hear the pitter-patter of tiny feet on the other side of the door, the dogs roaming free a sure sign that Atsuko was indeed home.  However, the door stood closed, so Minami rang the bell once more.  Again there was no answer, aside from a couple small, excited barks.
     Minami fished the key from her purse with a sigh, realizing that she would have to let herself in tonight.  As expected, she was greeted at the door by Atsuko’s beloved pets, all of them happy to see her.
     “Where is your owner?” Minami asked, realizing that aside from the light in the entry and the pair of shoes at her feet, there was no sign of Atsuko.  Glancing down the hallway, she saw a small stream of light escaping from the bedroom, and Minami had a sneaking suspicion that Atsuko had fallen asleep while waiting for her.  Slipping off her shoes, she stepped quietly down the hallway.
     “Geez, Acchan, what were you thinking?” Minami whispered as she found Atsuko asleep on the bed before her, face down on the covers and still dressed in her day clothes.  “You must have fallen asleep the minute you hit the mattress.”  Padding over to the side of the bed, the dogs at her heels, Minami gently sat down beside her sleeping friend.  “You’re beautiful even in your sleep, Acchan,” she whispered, blushing madly as she brushed aside some hair to catch a glimpse of Atsuko’s face.  “I’ve always believed that.”  She gained some relief in the fact that Atsuko was indeed asleep at the moment, using the opportunity to prepare herself for the conversation they would undoubtedly have later.
     “I do love you, Atsuko,” Minami stated in a hushed tone, somewhere between a whisper and her normal speaking decibel.  A small sigh escaped Minami’s lips as leaned back on the bed beside her slumbering friend.   “I hate knowing that all this time, my ignorance has caused you pain.  I don’t want to make you wait any longer, Atsuko,” she admitted, lifting a hand above her face.  She stared at it for a moment before clenching it to her chest.  “I came here tonight having made a decision.  But first,” a mischievous smile claimed her face, and Minami rolled off the bed, setting her hands on her hips as the dogs circled her excitedly.  “You need to wake up.”
     Minami bent down to her companions, and after obligatory licks to her face, she lifted the small dogs and placed them on the bed beside Atsuko.  “Get ‘er, guys,” she commanded with a small laugh, and as if on cue the dogs attacked their owner merrily.
     “Minami!” a sleepy Atsuko yelled somewhat angrily, quickly connecting the dogs’ actions with her friend’s presence.
     “Good evening, Atsuko,” Minami greeted with a smile.  “Go change and freshen up while I feed these guys.”
     “Minami, come back here!” Atsuko yelled after Minami’s back, giggling as she was once again tackled by the dogs.  “No fair!”
     Minami set about swiftly preparing dinner not only for the pets but also for her and Atsuko.  Hearing the sound of the bathroom faucet, Minami was not surprised when a moment later the pets had returned to her feet, Atsuko’s cat having since joined the gaggle.
     “Here you go, guys,” Minami announced, setting the bowls of food on the floor.  She smiled as she watched the animals attack their food ferociously, a behavior reminiscent of their owner.  Turning back to the stove, she began quietly singing a song as she stirred the pot of food before her.
     “Hajimete kimi to deatta hi boku wa biru no mukou no sora wo itsu made mo sagashiteta…”*
     “You’re singing that song again,” a still sleepy voice said from behind her as a pair of arms snaked around her waist, and Minami felt her face flush immediately.  Her heart was racing, and Minami thought for a minute that it might leap from her chest as Atsuko’s breath tickled her ear.  “Why do you always sing that song?”
     Minami didn’t answer right away as another memory came to mind, a memory from months ago.

/////
     “You were singing that song again,” Tomochin stated as she sat down beside Minami.  Following the short girl’s line of sight, she easily determined that Minami was watching Atsuko dancing out on stage.  “You do know why you sing that song all the time, right?”  she asked, earning Minami’s attention.  Minami tilted her head to the side, not knowing the answer, and Tomochin rolled her eyes at Minami’s ignorance before speaking again.  “This is just my opinion, granted, but the refrain of that song… doesn’t it remind you anything?”  Minami stared back at her blankly, so Tomochin elaborated, her voice betraying an old, forgotten sadness.  “I caught you that day, staring at her for minutes, off in your own little world.”
     “What are you talking about?” Minami asked, reaching a hand behind her head sheepishly as her cheeks grew red.
     Seeing that Minami was not going to admit to it, Tomochin stood and walked away with a shake of her head.  Minami returned her focus to the girl on stage.
     “Is that really when these feelings first began to develop?” she wondered, as the image of a young, smiling Atsuko with a flower in her hair came to mind.
/////


     “…Kimi ga oshiete kureta hana no namae wa machi ni umoresouna chiisana wasurena kusa.”
     “Forget-me-not,” Atsuko whispered, and Minami finally turned to face her.
     “Yes,” Minami said, looking at Atsuko curiously.  “Does it mean something to you?”
     “I think… it does, actually,” Atsuko answered, her face turning a faint pink.
     “It means something to me, too.  Let’s talk about it over dinner, shall we?”
     They set the table eagerly, neither wasting anytime to eat.  Atsuko looked over at Minami expectantly, though not without wasting the chance to pop a piece of food into her mouth seductively.  As expected, Minami immediately flushed red at the sight, and Atsuko suppressed the urge to laugh.  Though she’d upped her game around Minami in the hopes that the two of them might one day do something more, Minami sometimes still stiffened like a board at the likes of a simple kiss.
     They sat quietly for several minutes, both feeling uncharacteristically awkward in the other’s silent presence.  It was, perhaps, because of the knowledge of what had happened the last time they’d had a night together like this, as well as the ideas of what could potentially happen tonight.  And while the food provided a welcome buffer (Atsuko would never turn down food), it also detracted from their holding conversation, and Atsuko was rather eager to speak with Minami in person for the first time in weeks.
     The sudden intrusion of Minami’s confident voice in the silence made Atsuko jump a bit.
     “I’ve come to realize that, whether by choice or unconsciously, I sing that song whenever I think about you.”  Atsuko, who was caught off guard by Minami’s sudden admission, remained speechless.  Minami took a sip of her drink and continued.  “Do you remember back when AKB first started,” she said quietly, “you and a few other girls would often tuck flowers in your hair?”
     A fond memory returned to Atsuko at Minami’s words.  “How could I forget?  The dance instructors would always get mad when the flowers fell out.”
     Minami laughed, also remembering the incidents.  “You always had a small blue flower,” she said with a fond smile.
     Atsuko gasped.  “A forget-me-not.”
     Minami nodded.  She ate a few bites of food before she continued, her cheeks glowing bright red.  “I…used to watch you, from across the room.  You were always smiling and chatting with the others.  You know, in reflection… for as far back as I can remember, I’ve always loved your smile.” 
     This time is was Atsuko’s turn to blush.
     Minami gave a small laugh.  “Tomochin caught me staring once.  She’s teased me about it ever since.  It was probably since then…”
     Again Atsuko gasped.  “You don’t mean…”
     Minami met Atsuko’s gaze and nodded again.  “It was probably all the way back then that I first started to… well...”  Minami scratched her head with a sheepish smile.  “Heh, sorry it took me so long to realize that.”
     Tears began to well in Atsuko’s eyes.  “That’s not something you have to apologize for,” she chided with a small laugh.
     Not sure of how to reply, Minami simply shrugged and changed the topic.  “Your turn… you said that the forget-me-not meant something to you, too.”
     Atsuko slowly ran a finger along the edge of her glass as she organized her thoughts.  “You’ll think I’m crazy,” she said with a shake of her head.
     “Try me.”
     “I had a dream, not long before our dark period.”
     Minami shook her head, understanding that ‘dark period’ referred to the time in which they had avoided each other.  The phrase was one that Atsuko had fallen into the habit of using during their phone conversations in order to refer to that time.
     “Actually, I’d had the dream quite a few times.  I sat waiting forever in the middle of nowhere, waiting for someone.”  Atsuko, having since finished her meal, stood and cleared the table as she continued.  “The last time that I had it, I had found a forget-me-not, and you were there, singing that song.”  With her back turned to the table, Atsuko gave a small yelp when Minami crept up behind her and hugged her.  It was rare for Minami to initiate such contact, so Atsuko closed her eyes and leaned back into the smaller girl’s hold, enjoying the feel of Minami’s arms about her waist.  She stepped from the hold a minute later, turning to guide Minami over to the sofa to sit.
     However, Minami didn’t budge, and Atsuko was swiftly stopped in her tracks.  Atsuko looked back at Minami, confused as to the other girl’s refusal to move.  Their hands were conjoined, their connected arms outstretched by the small distance between them.  Minami looked up at Atsuko then, with a strong determination in her eyes, and Atsuko felt her heartbeat accelerate rapidly with every tiny step Minami took to close the space between them.
     “Atsuko.”
     “Yes?” she answered, growing more nervous with every second that passed.
     Minami took a deep breath, her confidence waning just a bit.  “Atsuko, I missed you.  Even though we spoke on the phone nearly every day, I missed you.”  Atsuko watched as a deep blush painted Minami’s cheeks.  “I… missed your touches.  I missed feeling your arms around me.  I missed… being able to have my arms around you.”  As she said this, Minami grasped Atsuko in a strong, protective hug.
     “Minami,” Atsuko began, her voice indicating a minute amount of shock.  “What’s gotten into you?”
     “Atsuko… not long ago, you asked me about my heart’s dream.”  Minami’s voice was a bit muffled with her head still against Atsuko’s chest in a tight embrace.
     “No way…” Atsuko gasped, and she knew that her heart had never beaten as quickly as it was now.
     “I have an answer for you.”
     “Minami-”
     “I know now what I want; I want you, I want us, to be happy.  And I realize now and I've come to wholeheartedly accept that I can no longer be truly happy without you.”  Minami stepped away, but still held Atsuko’s hands in hers.  “I’m still a bit scared about the future, but I know now that if I’m with you, everything will be okay.”  With a warm smile and tears in her eyes, she met Atsuko’s gaze.  “And that’s because I love you, Atsuko.”
     It only took a second for Atsuko’s eyes to fill with tears.  Her resolve broken, she collapsed into Minami’s arms.  Minami carefully led the weeping girl to the sofa as she wiped at the tears that fell from her own eyes.
     “Atsuko, please say something!”  Minami panicked, when after three full minutes she had still not received a response.  She lifted Atsuko’s face and loving wiped away the tears that flowed down Atsuko’s cheeks.
     A large smile finally found its way to Atsuko’s lips.  “I love you, Minami.  I love you so much.”  The two of them laughed at their current states, both of them now crying happily in each other’s arms.  As their gazes met yet again, Atsuko closed the small gap between them, capturing Minami’s lips in the first of what quickly became many kisses that night.
     They sat together on the sofa, their hands intertwined.  Neither had said anything for a while; they hadn’t needed to, as there was nothing more to say.  Occasionally, Minami would bring their conjoined hands to her lips.  Atsuko, who had earlier insisted that Minami spend the night, fell asleep on Minami’s shoulder just moments ago.   As she felt herself getting sleepy, Minami studied Atsuko’s peaceful sleeping face.  It was a face she loved, belonging to a person she loved, a person she wanted to care for and protect.
     “Atsuko,” she whispered, gently shaking her girlfriend awake.
     “Hmm?”
     “You need to go to bed, Atsuko.”
     Sitting up, Atsuko rubbed her eyes tiredly.  Looking about her, she realized she’d fallen asleep on the couch, undoubtedly drooling on Minami’s shoulder in the process. “Only if you come with me,” she teased as she stood and stretched.
     “Okay.”
     The answer caught her by surprise, and Atsuko spun around to face Minami wide-eyed in disbelief.
Minami gave a slight chuckle.  “If all I need to do to ensure you finally get a good night’s sleep is sleep beside you, then I’ll willingly join you.  Besides, your bed would definitely be more comfortable than this sofa.”
     Atsuko cast a brilliant smile and the two moved to the bedroom without further conversation.  Minami smiled when, as expected, Atsuko had fallen asleep again the second her head hit the pillow, though not without first giving Minami an eager goodnight kiss.  Taking one last moment to study Atsuko’s sleeping face, Minami leaned down and kissed her cheek before turning off the light.  As she settled under the covers, she lovingly draped an arm over Atsuko.
_

     Waking the next morning, Minami was confused for a moment before remembering that she’d spent the night at Atsuko’s house.  She turned to face Atsuko, realizing that at some point in the night, Atsuko had wrapped herself around her.  Freeing a hand, Minami gently brushed aside the bangs blocking Atsuko’s face.  In that moment her heart skipped a beat, as it occurred to her that waking up beside Atsuko and seeing Atsuko’s face glowing in the morning sun was something that she definitely wanted to continually experience.
     “A-tsu-ko,” she whispered, poking Atsuko in the nose with each syllable.  She watched with an amused smile as Atsuko wrinkled her nose before she awoke and stared at her wide-eyed.
     “Minami… what are you doing here?” she asked sleepily.
     Minami chuckled.  “I spent the night here, remember?”
     Atsuko shook her head.  “No, I mean… you sleeping here, beside me; everything that was said last night; that wasn’t a dream?”
     Resting a hand on Atsuko’s cheek, Minami smiled warmly before answering.  “No, that wasn’t a dream.”  She hesitated a moment, gathering her nerves as she looked into Atsuko’s eyes.  She loved Atsuko, and Atsuko loved her.  Minami had pondered this very fact for months, always concluding that this one fact, and only this fact, was most definitely undeniable.  Now, Minami had the proof in her heart that being here beside Atsuko was something that could not feel more right.
     She took in a sharp breath in an attempt to gather her nerves.
     “Minami?”
     Ever so slowly, Minami leaned forward, closing the gap between them.  As she saw Atsuko’s eyes waver in disbelief, Minami closed her own and rested her lips on Atsuko’s.  She pulled away a moment later with a sheepish smile, her face glowing red, her chest a little lighter.  “Good morning, Atsuko.”
     Recovering from her shock, an elated Atsuko returned the greeting in kind.
End Chapter 3, Part 3 (Chapter End)
* "forget-me-not," copyright Ozaki Yutaka (CBS Sony, Mother & Children).  The original is great, but when I imagine Takamina singing it, I hear the version sung by Makihara Noriyuki (in a tribute to Ozaki).  The words of the refrain have been used here.  "That day I met you for the first time/I was on the opposite side of the building/Always searching in the sky/You told me/The name of the flower/Soon to be covered by the city/A small "forget me not".  (If interested, many different versions of this song can be found on youtube; the original, Makihara's, and even covers by Shimizu Shota and Chemistry, to name a few.)

I wanted to post this much before Acchan graduated.  I made it just in time!

This story is not over.  There will be future updates.  However, I can't make any guarantees as to when; I really need to work on some of my other stories.

Thank you for reading. Until next time.

P.S.: A very heartfelt congratulations to Minami for her dream come true!

« Last Edit: October 11, 2019, 12:45:30 AM by Hitobo »

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