Chinatsu Hinata was naturally a very cheerful and optimistic person. Her optimism, while generally a good trait, often made her less aware of the gravity of some situations.
She knew Sakura was being bullied, but since the girl had asked her to stay out of it, and approach her less while at school, she assumed it was fine and that Sakura would manage.
Hinata herself wasn’t unpopular, and was often surrounded by male students, though most of them viewed her as a friend rather than having a romantic interest. She was outgoing and participated in sports after school, making her more approachable to much of the male student body.
However, after maths class, her friend Airu walked over and lightly tugged on her sleeve, indicating she had something to say.
Hinata understood she wanted to talk to her privately, and hurried to say goodbye to her usual group of friends. It was kind of rare for Airu to approach her in school. Not only was she in the year above, she was more of the studious type and would spend her breaks working for school, though Hinata suspected she was a bit scared of the more boisterous guys that often surrounded her.
In any case, she was glad for the shy Airu to finally make some kind of move.
She was led to a kind of remote place of the school, where there usually weren’t many students around. This place was mostly used by couples to hide away from the crowd and engage in passionate acts, though Hinata was not planning on getting her hopes up. Her friend probably just had something important to tell her, that she couldn’t say around others.
This was correct.
Airu wasn’t quite sure how to start, so Hinata was the one to ask.
“You have something to tell me, right? Something you don’t want either our classmates or Sakura to know about.”
Airu nodded and pushed up her glasses a bit.
“You, you know the situation between Sakura and that girl, right?”
“Ah, you mean Ichika?” Hinata nodded. “Yeah, she really seems to hold a grudge against her...”
“Yes, but,” Airu hesitated.
“Something’s changed. Lately, that girl’s been acting different, and Sakura has been as well. I think it’s safe to say something happened.”
“Observant as ever, Airu-chan! I didn’t even notice,” Hinata smiled.
While Airu was too shy to really participate in gossip, she was really good at noticing things like these, and, of course, accidentally listening in on gossip. She’d once told her that she couldn’t help picking up all these rumours, it seemed like every time she wanted to study, a group of girls flocked near and began talking like she wasn’t even there. Even when someone tried to be subtle about it, her ears still ended up listening.
Hinata was the exact opposite. Not only did she have pretty terrible hearing (or rather, listening comprehension), she also was blissfully unaware of her surroundings. You could probably murder someone and she wouldn’t notice if it happened further than a metre or two away from her.
Airu’s cheeks reddened a bit. “Don’t call me that at school, please.”
“Alright, alright, Airu-senpai. In any case, what do you think happened?”
“I’m not quite sure...” Her cheeks reddened even more. “I did hear certain rumours, but I don’t know whether I should trust them.”
“Oh? What kind?” Hinata remained oblivious to the awkward expression on Airu’s face.
“Well, the rumours, they, they said that Ichika has started liking Sakura.”
Hinata smiled. “Oh, that’s good! Then she won’t bully her any more, right?”
“Well, yeah, but...” Airu sighed. “Never mind. I just wanted to hear your thoughts.”
“I’m glad then! I’m really happy you wanted to discuss this with me.”
Though Hinata was happy that Airu had approached her like that, their conversation appeared to make things a bit awkward when the trio went home.
Airu couldn’t seem to look either of them in the eye, and was especially quiet. Hinata didn’t really know what to talk about either, and any attempt at conversation failed as Sakura was acting quite absent-minded as well.
Really, what had happened between her and Ichika?
Not much had happened, and that was exactly what was bugging Sakura.
Earlier that day, she’d tried several times to get close to Ichika, but she managed to avoid her each time.
Did she really hate Sakura after all?
But then, why did she no longer torment her as before? Why would she look at her with those eyes?
Obviously, Sakura wasn’t the only one who noticed. Many rumours had started circulating, reassuring the protagonist that it wasn’t just her overactive imagination this time.
Ichika really was looking at her differently, in a positive way.
Ah, she really wanted to get closer to her. Maybe she should take things more slowly, as to not scare her off.
The reason Ichika started avoiding Sakura even more wasn’t that she was scared off (although the protagonist’s behaviour surprised her).
It was the rumours that had been going around. At first she didn’t mind, but now pretty much the whole school was whispering about some secret romance between them, and Sakura’s actions weren’t helping.
First of all, while she did really like Sakura, she wouldn’t ever dream of tarnishing the main character like that.
Instead, she should simply admire her from afar!
Homosexuality wasn’t very widely accepted, especially amongst the older generations, and such a burden was not one the protagonist should have to carry. Besides, while she didn’t know whether this was some kind of alternate universe or not, the fans would definitely start bashing if the heroine ended up with some minor villain character!
Sakura probably didn’t even have romantic interest in her anyway. She had a male love interest after all, though he only appeared in the second half of the season.
In conclusion: it was best to stay away.
Ichika wasn’t the only one who had come to this conclusion either, although the other’s thought process was likely a bit different.
Tsukiyo had caught wind of the rumours, and she most definitely did not approve.
While she wasn’t one to care much about school life and the gossip it involved, she had clearly ordered her subordinate not to get involved in unnecessary things, yet here she heard increasingly dramatic love stories about said subordinate and the girl who currently was their greatest enemy.
Maybe Ichika didn’t know?
But then, it was quite hard not to. Tsukiyo remembered at some point Sakura had transformed in front of her.
She often acted rashly when people were in danger, and if one of the villains were to reveal her secret, she’d know their identity as well. For that reason, her identity as Cherry Blossom luckily remained hidden.
In any case, that Anemone needed a talking to! Tsukiyo thought as she angrily made her way to Ichika’s home.
Ichika was sleeping. She’d been extremely tired lately, and this was the first time she’d managed to fall asleep properly, her dreams for once pleasant.
She dreamt of ducks. Nice and fluffy ducks floating in the water. Maybe she was a duck as well, she wasn’t quite sure.
One of the ducks was speaking in Sakura’s voice, and she blushed and turned in her sleep.
Suddenly, another duck yelled at her.
“Well, Anemone, I didn’t expect you to be able to sleep so peacefully while neglecting your duties!”
Ichika immediately jolted awake. She looked behind her and stared at Tsukiyo for a while, before yawning and finally replying. To be honest, this still felt like a dream.
“Tsukiyo- I mean, Aconite-san, what are you doing here.”
“Anemone, I am greatly disappointed in you. But before I explain myself, I ought to make sure of one thing.”
She snapped her fingers in front of Ichika’s face, as she was starting to fall asleep again.
“Do you know the identity of Cherry Blossom?”
Ichika had to think quite a while about this.
Obviously she knew, but did the original Ichika? She honestly couldn’t remember, it was never brought up in series. At this moment, all she wanted was to go back to sleep…
In the end, she decided to play it safe and just shook her head.
Tsukiyo didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.
She’d literally transformed in front of them before! Come on Ichika, how could you not figure it out after that!?
Maybe she overestimated the intelligence of this girl. Perhaps, while she excelled in schoolwork, she had a hard time with things generally considered logic and common sense?
Tsukiyo decided to take pity on her.
“Oh, don’t worry, that’s okay… You’ll figure it out eventually, I’m sure! Just tell me if you have any ideas!”
She really couldn’t bring herself to just tell Ichika the truth. Realising that she was pretty much the last of the involved to find out would wound her too much, as someone who usually had great thinking skills and took pride in them.
This meant that she had to trick Ichika into believing she reached this conclusion herself. A hard challenge was in front of her, but Tsukiyo would not give up! Surely this idiot subordinate of hers could figure it out somehow!
Ichika just nodded, not really caring about the whole situation. All she wanted was to sleep, for god’s sake!
“That reminds me,” Tsukiyo clapped her hands together, “I’ve heard you’ve been getting closer to a certain girl called Chibana Sakura, I believe.”
This was bad. What if Tsukiyo suspected something? She couldn’t bring the protagonist in danger like that! Quick, she had to think of something!
“N-n-no, not really!” she quickly sputtered.
“Oh? That’s good then.” Either she was lying, or she truly was an idiot. Had she not realised herself the way she acted?
Well, that was a possibility. Tsukiyo had to be careful with this person. Of course, Ichika had kind of a sheltered upbringing… maybe that explained her low emotional intelligence as well. It was for the best if she never realised, and instead stayed far away from this Sakura.
Ichika breathed out a sigh of relief, but Tsukiyo continued.
“I do think she’s been trying to get closer to you, though. You’d best avoid her, she’s, um, a very dangerous person.”
This wasn’t good. She should avoid Sakura for a while, it was possible for her to gain the protagonist’s favour later, when Tsukiyo wasn’t looking.
Even just not bullying her would have a good effect, right?
“Oh, before I forget!” To Ichika’s chagrin, Tsukiyo still wasn’t done talking. “I know you attacked a few days ago, though you were defeated yet again… I’ll generously give you one more chance to prove yourself though! But, if you fail this time, I’ll take over.”
Another attack? That was a pain. Ichika still hadn’t figured out what was wrong with her soul flower or how to fix it…
Things were progressing a bit too fast as well, normally Tsukiyo wouldn’t take over until 5 or so episodes later. This was a bit dangerous, the protagonist should have the chance to level up properly, if things happened out of order she may even be defeated!
After that, Tsukiyo left. Once again, Ichika couldn’t sleep. It was all too worrying!
She couldn’t afford the protagonist losing to Tsukiyo… but she wasn’t able to beat Sakura either, at least with her soul flower this way.
Well, it all depended on the outcome of the next battle. Hopefully Tsukiyo would change her mind. And, while it seemed Sakura wanted to be Ichika’s friend, this would only bring both of them in more danger.
This world really was troublesome. Ichika wanted to go home and return to her former life. It might have been lonely, but at least she didn’t have to get involved in this kind of thing.
Well, since she couldn’t sleep, she turned on the television, and watched some late night anime.
The anime in this world were surprisingly good. There were a few series that had been mentioned in Beauty Flower Magic, but there were a lot more.
Ichika had to wonder whether this was a side effect of the world being, well, real here, or whether the original writer had genuinely come up with all of these. The former seemed the most likely, though.
And thus she fell asleep in front of the television. It was about 2 am, so surely she’d be exhausted again the next day. At least the anime was interesting.