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to every bird, his own nest is most beautiful

Chapter Text

It’s been a day since that night-long call, where Kanade and Mafuyu told the lonely story of how they met one another. While unspoken between them, they agreed not to hide any of their history. A somewhat intense resolution, their pasts being riddled with self-loathing, destructive behavior, and suicidal ideation. Mafuyu’s no stranger to laying bare her mental state to the others, but Kanade rarely speaks about her past, her delirious fervor to compose with even less regard for her own health. It hurt to hear. It hurt Kanade to revisit. But they’re both past that now, and they aren’t alone anymore.

After the emotional unloading of that night’s call, Mafuyu actually does feel better. It made her appreciate having met Kanade even more, so much that it was hard to breathe. And she hasn’t felt that strongly for as long as she can remember.

Blinking, Mafuyu finds herself in the present, alone with Ena in their server voice chat. Kanade and Mizuki checked out way earlier. She must have been zoning out for a while, because she barely remembers them leaving. Whatever… Mafuyu gets back to work on Kanade’s song. She and Ena both work in silence for a short while, until:

“Hey, Ena.”

“Oh, what’s up, Mafuyu?”

“What does it mean to have a warm feeling in your chest when you’re around someone?”

Ena’s sigh is audible through her mic. “Ugh, why do you wait until it’s just us two to ask these things?” she huffs. “I guess it can’t be helped. Can you tell me more about what it’s like? Because it could be love, happiness, gratitude…There’s a lot of positive emotions, you know.”

Mafuyu tilts her head. “The feeling of being warm and safe…glad that they’re with you. Like they lessen your suffering. …What’s that feeling called?”

Ena let out an exaggerated gasp. “Seriously… Mafuyu…It sounds to me like you’ve got a crush on somebody! I never thought of you as a romantic at all, but I’m happy for you if you really do feel that way towards someone.”

“But why is it happening?”

“Oh, please. I mean, it could be that you think they’re pretty, you like spending time with them, you’re already good friends… Which one does it sound like?”

“I think… it’s that they make the darkness lighter, just by being with me… that’s the reason. It’s gotten stronger over time, I think. Especially today.”

Then Ena knows. “Oh, Mafuyu, you’re in love with Kanade…?”

Mafuyu nods. “If that’s what this means… I think I want to tell her.”

“Mm! Do you know how you’re gonna do it? Last night, you were pretty lovey-dovey with her… Stuff like saying you’re glad you met her… That can be super romantic, y’know?”

“…I want to talk to her. It should be too late tonight, so I’ll wait until tomorrow at 25.”

“You sure you don’t want some more privacy? If you want, I’ll tell Mizuki to give you two some time alone as well…”

“Oh. I don’t want to distract you from our group stuff, though. …Maybe I’ll take her to SEKAI. I think… I feel like that’s the right choice. My chest feels warm, thinking about it.”

Ena shook her head, smiling. “God, you’re being so sappy out of nowhere! It’s really nice hearing you sound so passionate, though… You better do your best out there, you got it?”

“Mm. I will. …Thank you for answering me, Ena. It was helpful.”

“‘Course. I really do wish you guys the best of luck, okay?”

Mafuyu hums in agreement.

“Goodnight, Enanan.”

“Goodnight, Yuki.”

Chapter Text

Earlier that night, Mafuyu messaged Kanade to meet her in SEKAI. She agreed, since the two of them would often visit for the opportunity to work silently in a calm place. Hefting her laptop under her arm while picking up her phone, Kanade pressed play on that song…

-

Mafuyu stood stock-still, unusually nervous. Maybe nervous is the wrong word, since she isn’t scared… it’s the anticipation, maybe. She needs Kanade to be here so she could tear the sticky words out of her own chest, finally, but she can’t do anything other than wait. It’s only been something like a minute since she told Kanade to come, so it’s fine, but…

Ah.

Just like that, she’s here, computer under her arm, eyes blinking rapidly to adjust to the bright white landscape. She popped into existence right in front of Mafuyu, and she smiles, giving Mafuyu a little nod.

The words are going to claw themselves out of her throat.

“…Kanade.”

She smiles softly. “Mafuyu. Thanks for calling me here… I felt pretty frustrated with reworking this melody before I got your DM. I’m in sort of a slump…”

Mafuyu closes her eyes… Big, deep breaths.

“Hey, Kanade, I want to tell you something. …Is it alright to do it now?

Kanade’s eyes widen slightly. “Ah… Of course, Mafuyu. What’s wrong?”

“I love you.”

Kanade’s heart stops. Her eyes are frozen.

“I’m glad I took your invitation that day, to make a song with you. I thought you understood me, and that your songs could save me. I think… Kanade, the person, is what I like the most.

“You make me feel so warm… I want to stay with you, Kanade.”

She sees Kanade relax in front of her, and her smile, her eyes so gentle. That soft expression Mafuyu was privy to whenever she appeared happy in front of Kanade.

“…I’m glad.”

Kanade reaches out and holds her, gently, arms circling loose around her waist. Mafuyu finds that she wants to hold Kanade too, and she bends down, resting her head against Kanade’s shoulder, hands finding space comfortably on her back. She feels the arms around her squeeze more tightly, and they held each other as if they were lifelines.

Mafuyu feels muffled sobs against her chest.

“…Why are you crying?”

Exhaling, Kanade’s voice wavers. “Ah…” She laughs. “I’m sorry, it’s just that I’m so happy… I always wanted to see you smile. I’ve,” she gently pulls away, waiting for Mafuyu to look at her. “I’ve always loved you, Mafuyu. I know I need to save you, but you know that you saved me too, pulled me out of the darkness…I’ve always, always loved you.”

Looking back at her, Mafuyu has the fondest, most beautiful smile in the world.

Chapter Text

The time had crept rather close to midnight, so Mafuyu and Kanade agreed to leave SEKAI in order to call with the others at 25 o’clock. Mafuyu felt she needed some time to process on her own, so she was fine with that.

Back in her room, though, she needs to talk to someone before anything else.

Yuki: I did it

Enanan: omg
Enanan: you told her?

Yuki: yes
Yuki: It was really nice
Yuki: Thank you for helping me with what to say

Enanan: ughh congrats to you nerds<3
Enanan: awww no I only helped you think it through
Enanan: the words were all from you! don’t be humble
Enanan: I’m happy you can talk about ur emotions more descriptively n stuff
Enanan: and that I think ur doing better mentally obviously
Enanan: ok im done rambling see you in an hour. You know what I mean

Yuki: I do
Yuki: I’m happy you’re here Ena
Yuki: I’ll see you at 25

-

Everyone joined call, casually greeting each other as usual, and they worked in familiar silence for a while. Mafuyu imagines that after listening to a five-hour story last time, the others are perfectly happy with a quieter session. She was still thinking about it, though; it was difficult to tell her side of the story. She doesn’t normally talk about her home life, or how she’s treated at school. There was a lot that even Kanade had heard for the first time, and that went for her as well. Overall, though, it was nice. It was a story about both of them finding one another, staving off the darkness and resisting the urge to disappear. It made her heart twist painfully to think of what would happen if she never heard K’s music. If she never accepted K’s offer to talk. But being there in the moment, she realized that all was pointless to think about for too long. In a world that slowly leached her true self away, she found K, and her pain lessened, if only by a fraction.

Her hands move on their own with the current song she’s working on, fiddling with the EQ, especially keen to get it right. This song was dedicated to her and Kanade’s past together, after all, so it struck her as more personal. She likes the more upbeat sound. It’s significantly unique in their discography for that reason, yet still touches Mafuyu with those brief measures in the melody that make her heart hurt.

Kanade’s singing voice is beautiful. The first time she heard it, it was just the two of them, as Kanade said she had wanted them to start singing along with her music. Their microphones were absolutely unsuitable for studio recording, but they’d decided to try their best regardless. Most of it was shared over Nightcord calls, so they were both aware of one another’s mistakes, weaknesses, and strengths in their singing that they could play off of. They improved rapidly with practice, and Mafuyu consistently admired Kanade’s singing. Whenever Kanade would forget to mute while coming up with melodies, Mafuyu could hear her soft, quiet humming through the mic. Mafuyu thinks she might be able to sleep better if she had someone like Kanade sing to her every night. Childish, maybe, but Mafuyu doesn’t mind.

Mafuyu remembers how, when she collapsed from exhaustion on her way home from school, Kanade brought her to her own house all by herself, and she cared for her, nursed her as she lay there on the bed, half-delirious, and Kanade held her hand tightly, and promised Mafuyu that she wouldn’t leave. Her memory of that day was still fuzzy, likely due to that intense fever, but Mafuyu remembers feeling utterly and completely safe in that room. Kanade could protect her from the entire world.

Mafuyu wants to feel that safe again, but for now it’s close enough in the voice channel, calmed by the unspoken presence of the other.

Maybe tomorrow…

Chapter Text

While every single day at school isn’t exactly hell, there are always some moments Mafuyu feels like she could genuinely snap right then and there. Of course, she never does, having impeccable self-control (as befitting the “good girl” honor student). Every move she makes further tightens her shackles as the perfect ideal of a young lady. Helping a student with her homework after repeated begging, delivering something for a teacher at lunch, or writing a flawless answer on the board before a sea of sheepish students. Mafuyu does anything they ask her to, and she wants them all to be happy. But it’s so, so exhausting. Some days, she’s truly just done.

On one such day, Mafuyu stumbles home, gives a saccharine greeting to her mother, changes into her comfy clothes, sits gingerly on her bed, and stops. What was she doing? Why is she here? Who—

Stop.

She can feel herself slipping away, desperately trying to claw at the edge of whatever it is she’s falling from. This line of thinking is dangerously close to what happened to her in middle school, when everything started to

…shut down.

-

Kanade finds her in SEKAI, perched atop a lone cross-beam in a messy pile of detritus. Since Mafuyu had asked Miku to leave her alone, the other singers are off talking to each other now, stealing glances at her over their shoulders. (Mafuyu knows they’re looking.)

“Mafuyu, so you were here… Mizuki asked me to ask you something, so I tried to DM you, but you were offline…You seem more and more worried these days.”

“I’ve been using SEKAI just to be alone recently, it seems.”

Kanade cocks her head. “Do you need anything? I want to know how I can help, but I don’t know what specifically you’re having trouble with yet.”

“…I don’t know.”

“Would you like some help? I could sit with you, is that okay?”

Nod.

Kanade hops up on the sideways beam; it’s fairly wide, so she struggles quite a bit trying to swing up onto it. Scooting a bit closer, she lays her hand on Mafuyu’s arm.

The touch grounds her, but it can’t erase the dark, staticky haze clouding her mind. She finds that any effort to speak isn’t worth the energy. None of her body can move.

…The SEKAI is blood red. The stark white void of the sky, now awash in furious crimson. Across the landscape, as far as one could see, a boiling tempest crashes across the cold ground, sweeping away any debris in its midst. Oh… There are easels, speakers, mannequins… Her fish tank.
Mafuyu can’t see anyone, but there are people looking at her. Everyone is looking at her. Go away… this was supposed to be a space just for her… There are so, so many eyes on her… Why won’t they get out… Get out! She desperately claws at her face, digging deeper to hide, to escape. No one should know that she’s like this… She needs to be there for them… She can help… She can be useful… Stop…

 

“Mafuyu.”

Miku?

She blinks. Miku crouches over her, visibly distraught; her hair bow had fallen further askew, her dress is untucked and rumpled, and her very demeanor is frantic.

“…Mafuyu. You collapsed for a long time. I was very worried about you.”

Oh. The sky is a brilliant white. Her friends’ belongings are all right where she last saw them. Pillars and beams of unfinished (or time-worn?) scaffolding remain firmly planted in the ground. No one else has come into SEKAI.

Miku fidgets.

“…Miku…I had…a nightmare…”

Mafuyu suddenly feels deeply tired, and her lingering fear must be showing on her face.

She tries to get up to a kneeling position, but clutches at Miku’s arm. She’s so weak… That horrible vision won’t leave her head.

“Kana…de…”

Before she could muster the effort to say anything else, the three other members of 25:00 appear around her.

“Oh no, Mafuyu… Are you okay?” Mizuki frets.

“She’s crumpled on the floor, of course she isn’t okay!“ Ena snaps. “Hey, Mafuyu, c’mon, can you hear me?” She crouches down, and Mafuyu turns her head.

“…Everyone…”

Kanade exhales at that, still awkwardly standing right where she appeared in SEKAI. …She really isn’t known for her quick thinking.

At the very least, Ena’s able to smile. “You dummy… What on earth happened? When Kanade called us, we were freaking out, you know… We had no idea what happened to you.”

Miku perks up. “…Collapsed. Mafuyu says…it was a nightmare.”

“We were sitting together, when it happened.” Kanade fidgets with her sleeve. “Mafuyu fell asleep on, um, my shoulder, but she sat up really suddenly. She was looking at the sky, but then, she just…collapsed, and pitched forward…”

(Kanade takes a moment to wipe her eyes with her sleeve. Mafuyu’s heart hurts.)

“Miku caught her. It was only from that, over there, that we were sitting on,” (She points.) “but it was really scary to think that… Thank you, Miku… I owe you so much.”

Bowing her head, Miku looks down dejectedly. “I have to keep Mafuyu safe, but I almost failed…”

Mafuyu sits up. “…I’m fine. I just had a nightmare.” She doesn’t know why, but hearing everyone talk about her makes her uncomfortable.

Sighing, Ena offers her a hand. “Then, do you wanna come back to reality with us?”

She grabs it.