The nerves came in waves. Within minutes she would second guess herself, regain confidence, and lose it all over again. As far as Ichino knew, she had never loved anyone before, let alone confessed those feelings. But things had somehow spiraled out of control in the last year, while she gave her everything to catch up to Akari. When she questioned why she was trying so hard, why she refused to give up, why she couldn’t allow herself to fail, the only answer that came to mind was Akari. She has been through the phases of denial, telling herself Akari was just a friend, and a rival, but the arguments stopped holding water around the time she saw Akari kiss (or rather, be kissed by) Kris during the finals of the Great Competition. Such a hot rage came over her, along side a feeling of deep seated envy that she could no longer explain away as mere protectiveness. At that moment she knew their relationship could never return to the way it was ever again. She thought back to the nights spent with Akari in her arms, sleeping by her side, and supposed she’d always had these feelings but had no frame of reference for what to do with them. She supposed she owed Kris that much, the girl’s boldness to do something that felt completely out of Ichino’s reach was to be envied to some degree.
As the self doubt crept back up again, Ichino shook her head to try to snap herself out of it. She and Akari had plans to train together tonight, and she had no intention of letting this chance slip by her. As scared as she was, as uncharacteristically unsure of herself as she was, she was also an athlete, and refused to let her competition continue to get further ahead of her. The “prize” at stake this time was something even more important to her than the title of Cosmo Beauty, it was the dearest thing in the universe. As she collected her thoughts in preparation for what was to come, and how it would change the face of their relationship forever, Akari arrived. Ichino braced herself:
“Itchan!” Akari shouted, in her loudest, most excited voice. It was music to Ichino’s ears, but also a little harsh as well.
“Not so loud, idiot.” Ichino said playfully, doing her best to conceal the happiness she felt at seeing the girl she loved in front of her again. It never got old. Akari began her warm ups, and Ichino followed close behind. The girl’s motivation hadn’t tapered off a bit since becoming the Cosmo Beauty and defeating the Nerillians, Ichino was glad to see. She loved Akari as a klutz, and she loved her as a star athlete, but as a rival she wouldn’t forgive her if she let herself be overtaken immediately.
Throughout their training, Akari continued in blissful unawareness of the inner turmoil Ichino was experiencing. It wasn’t that she feared being rejected, she was strong enough to handle that. She feared their existing relationship being torn apart, and she couldn’t bear to lose Akari as a friend. What if she thinks I’m gross? Akari was still friends with Kris in spite of her constant advances, but Ichino and Akari were a different matter entirely. They had been friends for longer, shared a bed on multiple occasions, and Akari trusted her. There was no guarantee this would go well, but she wouldn’t forgive herself if she kept these feelings in any longer.
“Akari...” she mumbled.
“What is it, Itchan?” the reply, as oblivious as it was possible to be.
“There’s something we have to talk about. It’s important to me that you hear me out.”
Akari’s face grew serious, and she nodded. “If it’s important to you, I’ll do anything.”
“I...uh...” the words felt caught in Ichino’s throat. She could barely speak, it felt like she was choking.
“I don’t really know how to say this after all” she tried to laugh off the nerves. It didn’t work.
Akari looked at her quizzically, but gestured for her to continue when she was ready.
Ichino took a deep breath, and let it all out, all at once.
“Akari, I love you. I probably always have, and I feel like I always will. I’m not going to ask you to go out with me, or be my lover, but I needed you to know that. Everything I do lately is for you, everything I AM is for you. I want to not only measure up to you, but also fulfill all of your expectations of me. I’ve seen you go from a klutz and a crybaby to the greatest athlete in the universe, and I’ve loved you the whole time.”
She couldn’t bear to look at Akari’s face, both to conceal the deep flush on her face, as well as to avoid seeing the girl’s reaction to her sincere feelings. She felt a hand on her head, and seconds later, one around her back.
“Itchan...it’s okay.” Akari whispered in her ear, trying to comfort her. “I can’t say I never expected you to feel that way, but I didn’t know if you would ever say it, because I couldn’t say it either.”
“Akari....what do you-?”
She was cut off by a kiss. It was warm, and tender, and filled with Akari’s true feelings and the words she couldn’t say.
“Does...that make it more clear?” Akari asked as she pulled away.
“Akari....I...I really don’t have anything I could possibly offer to you. I don’t understand why.”
“Its...because you’re Itchan. All you need to be is Itchan, that’s all I could ever ask from you.”
Ichino flushed even deeper, so much that she thought she might explode.
“Then...I’ll be the best Itchan I can possibly be.” she responded, “You deserve nothing less.”
“And I’ll still...feel the same even when you fail. Just like you did for me so long ago.” Akari said, holding Ichino’s hand in her’s, and bringing it to her lips.
“Akari...” Ichino’s words and thoughts trailed off as she brought their lips together again.
“Itchan...can I...spend the night?” Akari whispered, her face deeply red.
“I’ll never say no to that, not then, not now, not ever.”