Setting: This is an AU setting where the circumstances of our favorite K-On! girls are markedly different from canon. In this universe, the original four girls met for the first time at a private women's college in the United States, and the ones a year younger are arriving for their first semester as the story begins.
Notes: I represent internal dialogue as italics, English as "simply quoted" and Japanese as "[bracketed italics inside quotation marks]."
I don't own K-On!. I am using characters from that work without permission, but I am not using them for profit. I promise.
I have used excerpts of the Lennon-McCartney song Blackbird, which I also do not own. Sir Paul, please do not come after me.
Page breaks finally added in, thanks for pointing that out ZIIIX!
American Style, Chapter 1 – Blackbird Fly
Nakano Azusa stared out the window of the Boeing 777. The flight from Japan was almost sixteen hours nonstop from Narita to JFK airport in New York. After a short layover and plane transfer, she'd be at college in Pennsylvania to start a new life. In a way, it felt unreal that her local arrival time in Philadelphia would be less than three hours after her take-off time from Narita. She knew she had to get some sleep, and she'd taken some pills to help. It was hard not to reflect on what had led her to this journey as she watched the tops of the cottony white clouds below. So peaceful.
At four feet eleven inches, Azusa was a small woman even by Japanese standards. She was pretty, with waist length black hair worn in two ponytails and a trim build that made it easy to mistake her for someone even younger than her eighteen years. Her amber eyes, large in her heart-shaped face, were rounder than those of the typical Japanese, and were perhaps the feature that stood out most.
The flight attendant walked the aisle of the 777, checking on the passengers on the long, overnight flight. She noticed a light on in one of the rear-most rows.
Stopping by to investigate, she saw Azusa sitting alone, clearly unable to sleep. She hadn't been informed there was an unaccompanied minor on this flight, and the girl wasn't wearing the usual tag, so she decided the girl was simply small-sized. Her tiny frame made her appear vulnerable, and she seemed sad. Maybe it wasn't her size at all. The flight attendant decided to see if she could soothe the young girl.
"[First time out of Japan?]"
Azusa turned and nodded. She smiled, and the flight attendant returned it.
"[You'll want to sleep as much as you can. Can I get you anything to help you relax?]"
Azusa shook her head.
"[I took something earlier to help me sleep. I'm waiting for it to take effect.]"
The flight attendant nodded.
"[You look like you're doing a lot of thinking,]" she said. "[If your mind is racing, you won't be able to sleep. My break is overdue, so if you want to talk, I'm willing to listen.]"
Azusa smiled and nodded.
"[That would be nice.]"
The flight attendant reached into a nearby overhead bin to get a blanket and pillow. After handing them to Azusa, she slipped into the seat next to her.
"[May I ask what you're traveling to America for?]"
Azusa looked out the window a moment, then slid down the blind. She propped the pillow behind her head, spread the blanket out over herself, and turned towards the flight attendant.
"[I was accepted into a college in America. Cnoc Mor. It's a women's college that concentrates on music and science.]"
It was prestigious, too, but Azusa didn't want to brag about that.
The flight attendant clasped her hands in her lap and smiled.
"How's your English? Do you think you'll have any trouble keeping up?"
Azusa was momentarily startled by the switch in language. The woman she was talking to had that "Continental Accent" prized by the airline industry. Needless to say, her diction was far better than Azusa's.
"I took a three-month immersion course in English after I graduated from high school," she answered, speaking slowly and carefully. "There was a long break between when I graduated in April and when school starts in America in September. I used it to my advantage. My parents also speak English well, and they've helped."
The flight attendant clapped her hands lightly together once and grinned.
"Oh, you're quite well-prepared! So music or sciences, correct? What are you planning on studying?"
Azusa smiled back.
"I am majoring in modern music and theory. I might take a minor in mathematics."
"So you are a musician? Did you have to audition to get into the school?"
"I play guitar," Azusa replied with a nod. "Classical, jazz, and rock. I want to learn more about composition. There was an audition, and, um, I passed."
Azusa was a fairly accomplished guitarist for her age, but part of that was due to the influence of her parents, who were professional Jazz musicians. She'd been playing guitar for as long as she could remember, from about age six. Her tiny hands had the telltale calluses of an experienced guitarist on the finger tips and along the leading edge of her left index finger. She rubbed them together and smiled at the flight attendant. She'd more than passed her audition – the judges had actually applauded – but she wasn't going to say anything about that because she didn't want to sound like she was bragging.
"Have you gotten a cell phone for America yet?"
The flight attendant knew that kids these days were really into their smart phones, and it would therefore be a safe topic of conversation. She was rewarded with a big smile.
"Yes! I got one of the new iPhone 4s! I paid for it myself with money I earned from my summer job, and my parents are paying for my phone plan. Since I am a scholarship student, they are rewarding me a little for the money they are saving."
The flight attendant heard a "bing" sound as another passenger requested attention. She glanced at her watch, then rose and bowed slightly.
"Sorry, my break is over. I'll come by again when I can. Try to get some sleep – you'll need it. It was nice talking to you, Miss."
Azusa waved goodbye and then curled up in her seat, her mind still in motion even as sleep tugged at her.
She thought about the real reason she was headed to America. Not that the amazing opportunity she was getting going to this school was not enough. There was a bigger reason she couldn't be happy in Japan. It was one that her parents had picked up on almost before she was fully aware of it herself. They loved their precious Azusa, and wanted her to grow as a person and be happy. They were fully supportive of her, and that included her sexual preference.
"Lesbian" is a nasty word in Japan. As they say, "the nail that sticks up gets pounded down." For a girl to like girls is not the norm. Discrimination would be the least of my worries in Japan.
Luckily, her parents had contacts in the music world, and through them she had been able to get into Cnoc Mor on scholarship. She was told the college had a very liberal attitude toward homosexuality, and even had a large and very active student LGBT organization. They welcomed and nurtured young women, and did not discriminate based on sexual preference. It sounded like a fairy tale to Azusa, and she had hopes of being able to fully be out of the closet for the first time in her life.
By the time she reached junior high, she was already well-aware that she liked girls. Going to a coed school helped her figure it out. She had ample exposure to boys, but all her crushes were girls, and that made things obvious.
At the time, she was nearly the same size as everyone else, having pretty much hit her adult size already, and she fit in normally. Some of the other students were already dating, but Azusa knew her preference would make her stick out, so she avoided it. She focused on her studies and on Jazz Band, staying safely in her closet at school. Most thought she just was a late bloomer, and she let them believe that for all three years of junior high.
Little did my classmates know I was avoiding contact because I thought they would just know that I found other girls attractive. I hate living a lie.
Azusa decided to go to a private all-girl high school. In the single-sex environment, she felt more comfortable, and very carefully came out. She even dated a few girls. One of them broke her heart in her second year, and that was the last time Azusa had seriously tried to date. Aiko was her name. She had seemed so open and honest, but it turned out she was just experimenting, while Azusa was serious. Aiko was the only girl who had let her go beyond kissing, but she never touched Azusa back the same way. When she got tired of Azusa, she dumped her for a guy.
Aiko was just "bi-curious." She led me on, but I guess I let her. I tried to pretend everything was fine afterward, even though I was so wounded. I haven't let anyone close since. But it's been really lonely for me lately.
The school didn't have a music club she wanted to join, but she did get to play at a few live-house events as a replacement several times. One replacement gig even lasted six months. No one really wanted to keep a tiny high school girl as a full time member of their band, though.
Especially once they figured out I like girls. The rumors always found me, even though I tried to act "normal."
Azusa sighed and settled in as she felt the drugs doing their job. She adjusted the pillow and curled her small body up into a ball in her airline seat as the lights in the cabin were dimmed for night. She fell asleep wondering about her roommate. The information packet she'd received from the college said she'd be rooming with another freshman, or "frosh" as the school called them. A girl with a Japanese name: Hirasawa Ui.
As Azusa slept her way across the Pacific and continental United States, the incoming frosh in question, Hirasawa Ui, was loading the last of her belongings into a slightly battered late-model Honda Element. The rear seats folded to the sides to allow a fairly impressive amount of flat space in back, and the rubber-matted cargo area was packed full with guitar cases, amps, bags, boxes and every other item that two young women might need to take to college for a year. She'd had to adjust the load to make things fit without being dangerous, because her older sister had already shoved her belongings in rather haphazardly.
I love you, Onee-chan, but you really stink at packing. No helping it…I couldn't stop her from shoving all her stuff in last night. It's so cute how excited she is to go back.
Ui and her older sister Yui closely resembled each other. Both were about 5'2" ethnic Japanese with brown chin-length hair. Yui wore her hair down with her bangs pinned back, while Ui wore hers in a short ponytail. While Ui was serene and patient, her sister was impulsive, extroverted, and quick to laugh. Both had the spare build typical of young Japanese women: compact, but curved where it counted.
Ui was wearing long loose shorts, a long loose floral top she had determined would be comfortable for driving, and a pair of sneakers. Her sister, however, was wearing much shorter shorts that showed off her surprisingly muscular legs, and pink sleeveless top that tended to expose her midriff if she moved much. She was barefoot, too, with her flip flops already carelessly dropped on the passenger floor mat.
"Uiiiiiiiii! Come on, let's go!"
Ui winced internally at the way Yui drew out the last syllable of her name in a whine, but she couldn't keep from giggling in spite of herself.
She is just too cute, even when she's being annoying. I'm glad we're back together again. I missed her so much last year.
"Onee-chan, it's a five-hour drive, and the dorms don't open until noon," she answered patiently. "It's barely seven now."
Yui, already seated and buckled into the passenger seat, huffed and folded her arms.
"Why can't I drive?" she whined as Ui shut the back hatch and did a quick walk around of the vehicle before slipping into the driver's seat and buckling her own seat belt.
"Who is it that backed into a light pole and opened a door into a dumpster?" Ui said firmly as she adjusted the mirrors. She couldn't help smiling at her sister's antics, though.
Yui was silent for a moment as her sister started the car.
Ui smiled softly and reached over to pat her sister's leg.
"Who has a better chance of staying awake on a long drive?"
Yui sighed and patted her sister's hand on her leg before it was withdrawn.
"My cute little sister does, of course. You know I'm just worked up about seeing the girls again. It's been months, and we're all coming back early to get in some practice before the semester starts. And we're sharing one of those cool suites, too! It's going to be great! You'll love them, Ui!"
Yui seemed to get more excited with each statement she made. Ui laughed softly in response as they pulled out of the driveway of their home in suburban New Jersey.
"I've met them, remember?" she reminded her older sister with a giggle. "They all stayed with us over Thanksgiving, and over Christmas break Mio and Ritsu stayed with us because they couldn't afford to go back to Japan. Mugi even came to my graduation with you in June."
"Oh, right, you do know them," Yui said, lightly hitting her forehead with her palm. After a moment, she gave her sister a sly look.
"How could I forget that Mugi came to your graduation?" she said with a dry chuckle. "You were so thrilled. I'm still surprised you accepted her gift."
She kept watching her younger sister, grinning now.
"Something going on there you need to tell me about, little sis?"
Feeling her cheeks pinking slightly, Ui decided to change the subject. She wasn't quite ready to discuss Mugi with Yui.
"I'm thinking we can hit a drive-through at the state line. Burgers sound good to you, Onee-chan?"
Yui squirmed in her seat and looked around, her stomach rumbling with approval at the suggestion of food. They still weren't out of their home town of Red Bank.
"Burgers sound great. Do we have to wait that long though?"
Ui giggled a little and relaxed. Bringing up food never failed to distract Yui.
"We'll stop for some food in on the way out of town, so why don't you relax?"
Yui plugged her iPod cable into the console on the SUV and settled back into her seat as the song mix filled the cabin. By the time they were on the highway, she was dead asleep, smiling in a pile of burger wrappers.
Azusa found herself looking out another window on another plane, this one much smaller.
Almost there. My haven.
This leg of her journey was much shorter. The plane barely got up to cruising speed before it entered the pattern to land in Philadelphia. She stared at the rural greenery below with astonishment.
Does anyone really live here? America is so big!
She glanced through her travel packet again, checking her itinerary. After landing at Philadelphia, she would get off the plane and catch the shuttle bus for incoming Cnoc Mor students.
The college had arranged flights for its foreign students so that it could ferry them somewhat economically, so she would likely be traveling with other foreign students to the school. She sighed softly and looked over a few other things before putting the packet away just as the plane descended and the fasten seatbelt sign lit up.
The baggage claim area confused Azusa. Luckily, a kind airport worker took pity on her and helped her find a cart to carry her baggage.
When she finally got to the shuttle bus, she found was the last to arrive. Embarrassed, she slumped into an empty seat by the door as the driver loaded her bags. She didn't look around at the other passengers. She was too short to see over the high-backed seats anyway.
Soon the bus was headed out of the airport and away from the Philadelphia metropolitan area. It was a little surprising how quickly farmland appeared outside her window, since was used to the sprawl of Tokyo. She didn't notice any other passengers looking at her, until one approached her.
At the back of the bus, a pair of young Japanese women did indeed take notice of the diminutive guitarist who had held up their departure. They didn't complain, but watched with interest as two guitar cases and what looked like an effects box were loaded along with several bags. This bus was specifically for Cnoc Mor, and one of those cases was a turtle-shell Fender case. They had Azusa pegged immediately as a music major.
The shorter of the two girls, Tainaka Ritsu, grinned. Ritsu was 19, a returning sophomore, about 5'3" with a toned, athletic build that her baggy shorts and loose spaghetti-strapped top showed off to full effect. The top also clearly advertised she wasn't wearing a bra. Her chin-length dyed-brown hair had the bangs held back with a yellow hair band, exposing her prominent forehead.
"Did you notice the shorty had two guitar cases, Mio?"
The young woman she was talking to, Akiyama Mio, was quite the stunner. Her jet-black hair hung in a single loose ponytail that fell to her waist. She was tall for a Japanese woman at 5'7", but slim, with provocative curves and a generous bust. Her skin was pale, where Ritsu's was tanned. She was wearing a light blue sun dress that came past her knees and a pair of white strapped sandals. Her toes were immaculately manicured, but her fingernails were instead clipped short and uncolored. Looking twice, one might notice the tall beauty had rather large hands with long fingers. Honestly, they didn't really stand out, but she was self-conscious about them anyway.
"And an effects case," Mio added. "I recognized a Fender hard-shell."
"Think it's time to recruit?"
"Recruit for the club or for the band, Ritsu?" Mio asked.
"Either or both, but not for the bed, so don't worry," Ritsu grinned. She winked as she squeezed Mio's hand, which she held concealed between them. "Anyway, I'm damned glad to be back in the States. I know your parents were okay with it when we told them about us, but my parents won't be when they find out."
"We might want to stay here and work somehow or something next summer. I need to build up a bit of cash before they disown me so I can ride it out, y'know?"
Mio popped Ritsu lightly on the top of the head.
"Idiot! You have friends that will take care of you. Let us, okay?"
Ritsu smiled a little and rubbed her head lightly where Mio had hit her.
"I hate being a burden," she shrugged.
Mio squeezed Ritsu's hand and lightly stroked the back of it with a calloused thumb. She spoke softly so the rumble of the bus would drown out her words so only Ritsu could hear them.
"I love you, Ritsu, and I'll always be there for you." Then she grinned, and raised her voice a bit. "Except when you want to start harassing incoming frosh before they even get on campus. Now go, recruit her before anyone else can."
She smiled and gave her girlfriend a little push to get her going.
With a groan, Ritsu got up and moved to the front of the bus. She looked down at the tiny woman in the front seat. She was pretty cute, actually, resembling a mini-Mio.
Ritsu decided to test the tiny girl's English. She was proud of her own English skills. They were hard-earned during her first year at college, and although she had an accent, she sounded almost fluent now. She and Mio had been speaking it almost exclusively to each other over summer break. Their speed and proper enunciation made it difficult for most Japanese to follow much of anything they said to each other, even before you added in the slang they inevitably used.
"Ah, hey! What kind of guitar was that I saw being loaded?"
Azusa was startled out of her scenery-watching by the sound of Ritsu's voice. Turning away from the window, she saw there was an attractive young Japanese woman standing next to her. She sat up straight, and found herself staring directly at the woman's chest. Ritsu, being Ritsu, had no idea that the bus' air conditioning was making it fairly obvious she wasn't wearing a bra. Azusa gulped.
I didn't realize it was quite so cold on this bus.
She forced herself to look the newcomer in the eyes.
"Ah…it is Fender Mustang Reissue, Japanese."
Not bad. Not perfect English, but I can hang.
Ritsu grinned when she heard Azusa's reply. She switched to Japanese, and noticed the girl seemed immediately less tense.
"[Tainaka Ritsu. Mind if I sit with you for a bit?]"
Azusa shook her head and gestured toward the open seat.
"[Nakano Azusa. I'm pleased to meet you. Are you a]…frosh, [or a returning student?]"
"[I'm a second-year. Are you an incoming] frosh?"
The diminutive guitarist nodded.
Ritsu motioned her head towards the window to indicate the cargo compartment.
"[Music major, I'm guessing? With an axe like that, I hope you're going into the new Modern Studies curriculum.]"
Azusa blinked as her gaze momentarily dropped to the other woman's top by reflex. She tried unsuccessfully to fight off a blush as her eyes snapped back up to Ritsu's face.
"[Yes, I have classical and jazz guitar training, but I was thinking of the Modern Composition major,]" she squeaked nervously.
To her surprise, Ritsu grinned eagerly.
"[I'm with the] Rock Music Club, [and my group is looking for another guitarist. It counts for your practical or ensemble credit, and if you can really wield that axe, we'd love to have you audition for us.]"
Azusa's eyes went wide and she nodded.
"[That sounds wonderful.]"
Especially if they're all hotties like you.
Ritsu looked thoughtful for a moment, then held out her hand.
"[Can I see your dorm assignment? I bet you're in] Tullamore. "[It's where most of the foreign music majors get assigned.]"
Azusa pulled her packet out of her carry-on, slipped out the top sheet, and handed it to Ritsu.
"Hot damn!" the brunette exclaimed. "[Your roommate is our guitarist's little sister. You weren't going to be able to avoid us anyway.]"
She got up and motioned to Azusa.
"[Hey, come back and talk to our bassist! She's got a picture of Ui on her phone, I'll bet.]"
They walked to the back of the bus, and Ritsu motioned for Azusa to sit.
"Hey, Mio, this girl is Ui's roomie! Pull up a picture of her on your Droid."
"Oh? That's good, then."
Mio hummed to herself softly as she pulled out her phone, which had been mostly useless when they were in Japan. She unlocked it and started flipping through pictures. Meanwhile, Azusa stood openly gawking at the beautiful, raven-haired girl.
Wow, she's gorgeous! That's two for two, and this one is even hotter.
Ritsu might have been clueless about someone staring at her own breasts, but she was very quick to pick up on anyone checking out Mio. She leaned in towards the smaller woman and growled softly in Japanese.
"[Don't get any ideas, short stuff. She's mine.]"
Azusa went rigid at her words.
Crap, they're a couple, it seems. Oh well. At least they won't mind my preference.
Mio's eyes widened, and she blushed slightly as she caught Ritsu's comment. With an embarrassed smile, she bowed slightly to Azusa in greeting.
"[Akiyama Mio,]" she said in a low voice, continuing in Japanese rather than English for the sake of privacy. "[Please excuse Ritsu. Even though we've been dating for over four years now, she can still be very possessive. Besides, you know how drummers are.]"
Ritsu stuck out her tongue at Mio, then sat back in her seat and crossed her arms over her chest, her facial expression suggesting that anyone hitting on Mio was dead meat.
Meanwhile, Azusa was blushing furiously, her eyes firmly taking in the view of her own feet. Mio patted the seat next to her until Azusa finally sat down.
"[What's your name?]" Mio asked softly.
"[Nakano Azusa,]" Azusa managed to squeak. "[Please take care of me, Senpai.]"
Ritsu leaned in and whispered to the younger girl so that only the three of them heard.
"[Okay, so you were obviously checking out Mio just then. I guess that means you prefer girls, huh?]"
Azusa nodded hesitantly, unable to look at either of them. She worked desperately to fight back a panic attack. She was planning on being out of the closet at CMC, but she wasn't planning on coming out like this.
"[Yes, I do. Is that a problem?]"
Ritsu looked amused, but said nothing. Mio, however, smiled and reached out to pat Azusa's arm.
"[Relax. It's okay.]"
Azusa looked up at Mio in surprise.
"[So, you really don't mind?]"
To Azusa's amazement, both Mio and Ritsu looked like they were trying not to burst into laughter.
"[You're asking two women who are dating if they mind single-sex relationships?]" Ritsu asked, shaking with amusement. "[You've got to be kidding me! Of course we don't mind.]"
"[Ritsu!]" Mio scolded. "[Quit being mean. Don't listen to her, Azusa. Just relax, and I'll find a picture of Ui.]"
Azusa sat still, her chin on her chest. She stared at the seat back in front of her, fighting down her embarrassment as Mio thumbed through the pictures on her phone.
"[Oh, here we go. You'll like Ui. She's a sweet girl.]"
Mio held the phone out in front of Azusa, who studied the two girls in the photo. One had with chin length hair and a huge smile and was giving the camera a big peace sign. Her arm was around a similar-looking girl with a ponytail, who regarded the camera with a composed expression.
"[The one hamming it up is our guitarist, Yui,]" Mio explained. "[The other is her younger sister Ui, your roommate.]"
Azusa examined the picture. They were both very pretty, but her eyes kept going back to the older sister.
God, they're both gorgeous! That's four for four. My roommate is really cute, but that's probably a really bad idea. The sister, though…
She cleared her throat and looked back to Mio.
"[Ah…Mio-sempai…Is she…are they…like us?]" Azusa stammered.
Mio raised her brows at that question, then smiled gently. She knew right where this girl was coming from.
"[I'm pretty sure they both are. And both single, at least for now. They both definitely have their fans, especially Yui.]"
She smiled again when she saw the blush start to rise on Azusa's face again.
"[It's OK, Azusa. Cnoc Mor is a safe place for women like us.]"
Mio waited for her kouhai to recover.
"[Now, let me see your hands,]" she ordered.
Azusa was even more flustered by this request, but she held her hands up. Mio inspected them closely, lightly touching the calluses as she did so.
"[Pretty heavy calluses for such small hands. You must be a serious guitar player. Our band is practicing tomorrow, and we'd love to have you come look us over. But why wait until tomorrow? How about you come down to our suite and meet everyone at our little welcome back party tonight? Ui is invited too, and we wouldn't want to leave you out.]"
Azusa found herself on the receiving end of a heart-winning smile, and she slowly nodded in response to the invitation. Suddenly, she felt a pounding on her back from the nearly-forgotten Ritsu.
"Don't worry, we won't get you drunk or nothin'," the drummer grinned, abruptly switching back to English. "We'll be happy to welcome ya to the family."
Mio looked up at Ritsu and cocked an eyebrow at her.
"Sit down Ritsu. The bus is still moving."
The remainder of the trip went by in a flash for Azusa as she chatted with the bassist and drummer, getting to know them. They told her about how things worked on campus: where to eat and what the routines were, details on registration, and more. Before she knew it, they were off the interstate, and she was craning her neck to check out the view from the windows of her new hometown for the next four years.
"The town of Cnoc Mor, home of Cnoc Mor College." Ritsu stated with mock solemnity. "You are going to love it here Azusa, I promise!" A murmur of agreement came from the few other foreign upperclassmen on the bus.
Azusa was awestruck as she took in the sights of the pretty, rural town. There seemed to be trees and bushes everywhere, and she was charmed by the brick buildings and storefronts, restaurants, benches and parks. It looked like something out of a movie – a perfect little American town. As they approached the Cnoc Mor campus on the east side of town, she could see alabaster white and brick buildings poking out from among the trees up on the top of a big hill. The bus trundled up the access road and stopped in front of a fairly large building that looked like a Bavarian inn, all stone on the first floor, and dark wood crisscrossing over white stucco for the upper three stories.
The students all got off the bus and unloaded their baggage, placing it on the curb. Ritsu's load was the smallest since she wasn't carting around instrument cases – she said something about her drum set being in storage somewhere on campus – so she volunteered to help Azusa and a couple other new frosh to sign in and get their keys. While Azusa was filling out paperwork with the dorm manager, Ritsu disappeared upstairs with her own bags. When she came back down, she had two women with her who she introduced to Azusa. Azusa immediately recognized one from them photo Mio had shown her: Hirasawa Yui.
The woman in question was still dressed as she was earlier, and still barefoot as well. When she smiled, Azusa felt like she was being bathed in sunlight. She felt her heart pounding in her chest and a faint heat rising in her cheeks.
Wow, she's even hotter in person. And single, Mio-senpai said.
Ritsu took the lead to introduce everyone to each other.
"Yui, Mugi, this is a new frosh and Ui's roomie, Azusa Nakano. Azusa, meet Mio's and my awesome friends, roommates, and band mates, Yui Hirasawa and Tsumugi Kotobuki."
With difficulty, Azusa tore her gaze from the grinning Yui and took a closer look at Tsumugi.
She was maybe 5'4", with long slightly wavy blonde hair and big sapphire-blue eyes. She may have had a Japanese name, but Azusa was hard-pressed to see much of anything Japanese about her. She was dressed a white sun dress and Birkenstocks, and was nearly as curvy as the tall bassist she met earlier.
And that makes it five for five. I'll have to have a girlfriend if I'm hanging with this group or I'll go crazy.
Tsumugi bowed to Azusa in greeting.
"[Nice to meet you Azusa-chan. Please, call me Mugi.]"
Azusa was immediately impressed.
Not only is her Japanese perfect, she sounds so elegant and demure!
Azusa's gaze shifted back to the far less elegant and demure guitarist.
"I am pleased to meet you both." She bowed at the waist to them out of habit.
Azusa was caught flatfooted when Yui promptly scooped her up in a hug.
"Welcome to CMC! You're going to have a blast!"
It was embarrassing to be hugged in front of everyone like that, but Yui didn't seem to be inclined to let her go. Azusa started blushing yet again, wondering in the back of her mind if her facial capillaries might be getting too much of a workout that day. After several seconds, the surprise wore off, and she began trying to struggle out of Yui's embrace.
"[Gah! Let me go, already!]"
Yui let Azusa go and smiled brightly at her.
"Oh, she's just like a little kitty! Can we keep her?"
With a big cat-ate-the-canary grin on her face, Ritsu drawled, "She plays a Mustang, Yui. So yeah, we just might keep her."
Azusa was confused for a moment, but what Ritsu seemed to be saying finally filtered in. She nodded, looking around at the upperclassmen.
"I am music major, yes. Play guitar well. Mio-san invited Azu…um, me to your practice tomorrow."
Oh crap, I hope I don't sound like an idiot. My English was…
"Perfect!" Yui squealed. She threw her arms around Azusa again. Mewling like a cat in surprise, the tiny kouhai went stiff in Yui's arms for a moment before smiling a little and relaxing.
I might be able to get used to this, actually.
Surprisingly, Yui let her go after only a few seconds.
"Let's get all your stuff to your room, little kitten! I know right where it is, and I'll introduce you to my sister."
Azusa didn't at all care for being called a kitten again, but since it was Yui, she decided to let it slide. All the girls pitched in and carried up Azusa's belongings, except Ritsu, who had the rest of Mio's bags.
"You even sound like a kitten, you know?" Yui grinned. Azusa hoped silently that the meowing noise would quickly be forgotten.
They headed up to a fourth-floor two-woman room with Yui in the lead. She took them at a forced march pace, and it was all Azusa and Mugi could do to keep up.
When they arrived, Azusa took a moment to take stock of the room. It was a bit more luxurious than she was expecting, almost like a hotel room. A bathroom was to the left of the entrance. An ironing board stood tucked in a nook beside the bathroom door, and there was a small refrigerator nearby.
The room itself was furnished identically along both sides. Matching twin-sized beds had their heads against the outside wall. By the foot of each bed there was a desk with a chair. A dresser stood between each desk and bed. There was a large window in the middle of the far wall between the two beds. Along the wall between the living area and the bathroom were two spacious closets.
This pretty spacious for two women. It's easily sixteen tatami mats. Hard to tell with the furniture in it, though. My room at home was only six tatami.
There was a girl in the room, and when they entered she stood up from bags she was unpacking into one of the dressers. Azusa noted absently that both beds were made, and the area on the left looked pretty well unpacked already.
She looks even cuter than her photograph. I will definitely need a girlfriend…that or lots of extra time in the shower.
"Ui! Found your roommate!" Yui crowed as she dumped Azusa's bags by the bed on the right. Azusa came behind her with both her guitars and Mugi followed with her gear box and practice amp. Azusa noticed that there was already a guitar case in the room, and she smiled as she put her own case down.
She stepped over to her new roommate and held out her right hand.
"I am Azusa Nakano. Please take care of me from now on."
Ui bowed instead of taking her hand, and greeted her in excellent Japanese.
"[I am Hirasawa Ui. Please take care of me as well.]"
They smiled at each other, and then laughed at the reversed greetings. Yui immediately hugged Ui tightly, and then hugged Azusa once more for good measure before the younger woman had a thought to try to escape it, if she truly wanted to. Then Yui traipsed back out of the room like some sort of force of nature.
Mugi bowed to Ui and smiled gently.
"It's really good to see you again, Ui-chan."
Mugi nodded towards Ui's guitar.
"Come down when you get unpacked, both of you. Ui, please bring your guitar. I'm dying to hear you play it."
Ui smiled warmly at Mugi and nodded in return. Azusa could see more than a faint flush on her roommate's cheeks.
"Certainly, Mugi. It's really good to see you again. We'll be down in an hour or so."
Mugi smiled once more at them, and left. With that, Ui and Azusa were alone, and they turned their attention to unpacking.
"Is your sister always like that, Ui-san?" Azusa said as she started arranging her belongings on her side of the room.
Ui pondered the question for a minute before answering with another question.
"Can I ask you something personal, Azusa-san?"
She turned to her roommate with a soft smile on her face, hands clasped in front of her.
Azusa closed a dresser drawer and turned to face Ui, feeling suddenly nervous. She wondered what was on Ui's mind, but nodded her assent.
"Sure, go ahead."
Ui took a deep a breath before speaking again.
"Azusa-san, how do you feel about girls dating other girls?"
Crap! Am I setting off everyone's gaydar today, or what?
Azusa took a deep breath of her own. Knowing that Mio had hinted that Ui was probably at least bisexual, she felt much less nervous about answering her roommate than she had on the bus.
"I do like girls that way, Ui-san. I hope it does not upset you to share a room with me."
Ui herself seemed to let go of a breath she didn't know she was holding.
"No, no, I'm the same," she said with a relieved smile. "I'm glad you're that way, too. It'll make things easier, you think? Anyway, I brought this up because my sister only hugs people she really likes."
"You mean…" Azusa said with a blink as she attempted to process what Ui was saying. After a moment, she turned away and pulled out her desk chair and sat down heavily.
This is really complicated. I'd better switch to Japanese to make sure I understand her completely.
"[Ui-san, are you telling me your sister is hitting on me?]" she asked in disbelief.
"[Onee-san might not even realize she's doing it,]" she replied. "[She acts on instinct a lot. I have no idea what she might do, because this has never really happened before.]"
Azusa pondered this.
"[She's never hit on another girl?]"
Ui shook her head.
"[She gets hit on, but I've never seen her take the initiative before. She usually just goes with the flow. It's unusual she would start hugging someone she just met. She might be attracted to you, but I doubt she realizes it herself. You might want to think twice before you go down. You had a long flight. Maybe a shower will help you relax? ]
Azusa thought for a moment, then shrugged and went back to unpacking.
"[I haven't dated anyone for over a year, so it's been a long time since anyone's paid attention to me like this. Your sister is…]"
She paused a moment and blushed slightly. She wondered just how many times had she blushed today. It felt like her cheeks had been red since she got on the shuttle bus at the airport.
I can't tell Ui I think her sister is totally hot. It'd be too weird. I've got to play this cool until I figure out what's going on.
She paused to clear her throat.
"[…I'll admit I find Yui-senpai…very interesting, Ui-san.]"
She turned to look at the younger Hirasawa sister, her gaze dead serious. Ui looked up from her packing, looking back at Azusa with calm reassurance.
"[It's okay, Azusa-san. The fact that Onee-san is so drawn to you says a lot about you. So don't worry.]"
Those unassuming light brown eyes were so warm, Azusa found herself comforted. She smiled back at Ui.
"[Mio-sempai said that you were a nice girl and that I'd like you. She was right. Thank you.]"
Ui beamed in response, then switched back to English.
"I think we're going to get along just fine," she declared.
Azusa nodded, and without further talk the two girls resumed unpacking. As she worked, Azusa took stock of the day so far.
This is what you were hoping for, wasn't it, Azusa? Being accepted for who you are instead of judged for it…making friends who are just like you…and maybe…what? Love? I'm so glad I came here.
An hour or so later, after Azusa had showered and changed into jeans and a loose Fender t-shirt, Ui texted Mugi that they were about to head downstairs. A minute or so later they went, with Ui carrying her guitar case.
Soon, Azusa found herself in the suite of Ui's sister and her band mates. The main room seemed to be similar to their room upstairs, but instead of a bathroom there was a kitchenette, and instead of the closets there was an entertainment center with a TV. There was a table near the window at the back, with four chairs around it, and the area in between was much like a living room, with a couch, a small table, and a couple of soft chairs.
How luxurious. They get a room the size of ours just for shared living space.
In the room were all four of the sophomore girls, who rose to greet them. Azusa braced herself to be hugged, and she wasn't disappointed. She didn't fight it this time. In fact, it felt so good that she relaxed into Yui's embrace, softly whimpering in her throat. The others in the room did not miss this, and even if Yui was oblivious, Azusa sensed four sets of eyes watching them intently.
Oh, God, that felt so nice. If she keeps this up, I'll need to change my underwear more often, though. And I'm blushing again. What is that, the umpteenth time today? I just can't seem to help it…
As soon as Yui released her, she bowed to the others.
"Thank you for having me here, and for treating me so well."
A few voices cheerfully dismissed her humble greeting, saying it was really no big deal. After a moment, Mugi spoke up.
"I want to hear Ui-chan play!"
"Right, and I want to hear Azusa here play," Ritsu added as Ui uncased her Taylor 514CE. "You mind letting her try it out, Ui?"
Ui stood up with the beautiful spruce topped mahogany guitar in her hands and nodded.
"Sure," she agreed. Walking to Azusa, she handed the Taylor to her with a smile. "Play us a song, Azusa."
Azusa took the guitar with great care. Taylor acoustics were very expensive, and this was one of the high-end models from that maker. American made and all solid wood, it was the choice of professional folk and country singers worldwide. This model was a cutaway, making the lower end of the frets more easily accessible. It also meant it had the premium Taylor pickups built into it so it was easy to amplify. It was one of the top production acoustic guitars available; the only better acoustics were custom made.
She seated herself at one of the dining room chairs, facing the couches. After tuning the guitar, she did a few finger exercises on it to get the feel of the instrument, and then she looked at the audience with a smile.
"This song means a lot to me."
She looked back down at the frets and started tapping her foot to get her timing. She started to play, her small hands and fingers dancing along the frets in a finger a finger-style rendition of a Lennon-McCartney classic, Blackbird. Her voice, while ill-suited for rock vocals, had a tremulous quality that fit this particular song well. She let the intricate guitar line flow from her fingers and out through the Taylor, while her voice transmitted the lyrics straight from her heart.
"Blackbird singing in the dead of night/Take these broken wings and learn to fly..."
She looked around the room, making eye contact with each woman in turn as she played. Last of all, she felt Yui's eyes on her. Meeting the brunette's gaze, she poured her heart into the song.
"Take these sunken eyes and learn to see..."
Azusa knew she was singing for five people, in an impromptu audition at that, but she found herself focusing on the one person she thought had the capacity to nurture her lonely heart, reaching to her through the song. She didn't know if this was right, but it seemed that she was running on the same kind of instinct as Yui.
If we fell in love, I just know she wouldn't hurt me.
She dropped her gaze to the frets as she launched into one of the more difficult passages, not wanting to a single note of this song to be out of place. After a playing for several bars, she looked up again and searched out those same eyes, and found they were shining now with unshed tears. Had she truly reached Yui?
"All your life/You were only waiting for this moment to arise..."
Azusa brought it home, taking it from the complex to the simple, a last pattering of a few soft notes, and finishing with a slide along the wound strings that echoed a with light buzz. She damped the strings and looked up at the five women who were listening. Everyone was silent for a moment before breaking into light applause. Everyone except Yui, that is, who seemed on the verge of tears.
Azusa rose and handed Ui her guitar back with a smile.
"Wonderful instrument, Ui-san. I'm jealous."
"You played well, Azusa-san," Ui said as took the Taylor back with a bit of a bemused expression.
"It was so easy to play," Azusa enthused. "I would love to hear you play it, Ui-san."
The pony-tailed brunette glanced at Mugi questioningly.
"I want to hear you play, too," the blonde seconded, smiling serenely. Azusa caught the flush that crept onto Ui's cheeks in response.
As Ui sat in the chair that Azusa had just vacated and started changing the tuning of the guitar to match the song she wanted to play, the twin-ponytailed guitarist crossed the room, looking for a place to sit.
Yui rose to meet her, and wrapped her in a hug the younger girl didn't even pretend to resist. Yui spoke softly into Azusa's ear as she held her gently for a few moments. Her Japanese was as good as her sister's, Azusa found.
"[Azusa-chan, that was so beautiful.]"
"[Thank you, Yui-senpai,]" she whispered back before pulling away.
"[I want you to audition for us tomorrow. We'll let you know the details.]"
Azusa nodded her assent to the offer.
She turned to look for a seat, but Yui tugged her arm to guide her to a seat on the couch between herself and Mugi. Presently, Ui launched into a finger-style display that put Azusa to shame, a complex rendition of Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring that truly showed off Ui's technical skills.
When Ui finished her song to a round of applause, everyone complimented her on her playing. To Azusa's approval, Ui took the compliments with humility.
The group took a break for refreshments. Azusa sampled the various American snacks the upperclassmen had provided, including pretzels, some kind of corn chips with salsa (which was a new experience for her, although certainly tasty), cheese, and some cut-up fruit. Yui did more than "try" them, seemingly intent on vacuuming them all up.
"Mmmm…Azusa, save room for pizza!" she said between bites. "We already have it ordered."
Azusa's mind boggled a bit at this statement, considering how much Yui had already eaten and was continuing to eat. But Ritsu laughed.
"Yeah, I'd say the same for you, Yui, but we all know better," the drummer commented. "We ordered a pizza just for you. Ham, pineapple and anchovies, right?"
Yui gave a thumbs-up to that while she swilled some diet soda to wash down her latest round of snacks.
"We know our little piggy…Ow! What was that for?" Ritsu rubbed her head, looking at Mio with an injured expression. Her girlfriend said nothing, fixed the drummer with a glare that silenced her momentarily.
Azusa noticed the tall bassist was the quietest by far of the four upperclassmen, saying little except for when she felt the need to keep Ritsu in line. In a group, she seemed withdrawn, and a bit shy. It made Azusa appreciate all the more how Mio had gone out of her way to befriend her on the bus earlier.
Mugi leaned forward to catch Yui's eye.
"Can you stop eating long enough to show our new frosh what you can do, Yui?"
Yui grinned and moved to take the Taylor from her younger sister, complimenting her honestly on her playing before she took the same seat herself.
Azusa watched intently as Yui tuned the instrument. She noticed that Yui didn't seem to be using the electronic tuner that she and Ui had used, and worked quickly with one ear turned toward the guitar.
I wonder if she has perfect pitch? I shouldn't be surprised at a school like this, though. These guys are all bound to be talented if they made it into Cnoc Mor.
Yui pulled a slide out of her pocket, installed it on her left pinkie, and began to play. Azusa's jaw dropped open as listened. The brunette was an amazing technician. The song was one Azusa was familiar with: Leo Kottke's Vaseline Machine Gun. It was designed as a tour-de-force for the twelve-string, but on a six it still demanded an advanced level of slide and finger control that Yui obviously had down pat.
There was no mistaking that Yui belonged at Cnoc Mor as a music major. Azusa was deeply impressed with the ease with which she played the wickedly difficult piece. She was more enthralled with the look on her senpai's face as she played, though. Gone was the air-headed woman of just a few minutes earlier. The concentration showed on her furrowed brow, and her joy showed in the happy smile on her face. She was relaxed, but had an air of competence. Azusa couldn't look away.
I know I've got to be blushing again. Wow. I want her to look at me like that.
As Yui finished with a flourish, everyone applauded. With almost perfect timing, almost as soon as she was done the pizza arrived. True to Ritsu's word, there was no alcohol, but diet sodas were being downed in copious quantities. It was a fair bit different than a gathering like this would probably be like in Japan, where likely everyone would be drunk already.
To Azusa's amazement, Yui ate nearly an entire large pizza on her own, except for one slice Azusa managed to talk her into giving up. American-style pizza was a new experience for her. She'd never had anything quite like it. Certainly what was sold as pizza in Japan was nowhere near the same. She decided she liked the American version better.
As she listened to the conversation, Azusa was able to pick up more details on everyone's origins. She found out that Mugi had triple citizenship. Having been born in America of a Finnish national mother and a Japanese national father (whom she gathered was of mixed ancestry himself), she was able to retain citizenship in all three countries. It also explained to Azusa why this woman spoke such good Japanese. Apparently, she had spent a lot of time in Japan, and was partly raised there.
Azusa also saw very clearly that Mugi focused most of her attention on Ui. Judging by the tinges of pink on her roommate's cheeks, Ui did not at all object.
I'm no math major, but something seems to be adding up here.
Mio and Ritsu turned out to be from the Kantou region, and Yui and Ui were first generation Japanese-Americans from New Jersey. To Azusa's disappointment, Yui didn't return to the couch, but instead got caught up in a conversation with Mio and Ritsu about music classes.
Before too long, Azusa's jet lag caught up with her, and she could no longer fight her urge to yawn. Ui immediately picked up on her being tired, and suggested it was time they headed up to bed.
When the younger women excused themselves, Yui hopped to her feet, insisting on walking them to their room. As they paused outside the door, Yui gave her sister a quick hug.
"You two go ahead and talk," Ui urged. "I'm going to get ready for bed."
Ui gave Azusa a quick wink before slipping into their room and closing the door. Azusa turned back to her senpai, who was looking at her with barely contained excitement.
"Azusa, I can't wait for your audition tomorrow!" She hugged the younger girl tightly once more, causing her to mewl involuntarily again. "Aww. You even sound like a kitten."
Yui's mouth was right next to her ear. Azusa could feel her breath as she spoke, and it made her pulse race.
"Fly with me, little kitten," Yui whispered. "I've been waiting so long for someone who can fly with me."
She let go, and Azusa stood frozen in place, unable to respond. All she could do was gaze into those eyes.
"I can't wait to hear you on that Mustang!" Yui continued. "I've got a feeling we can make beautiful music together."
And like a fast-moving breeze, the energetic upperclassman was gone, leaving Azusa weak in the knees.
Oh, kami-sama. I want her so badly.
Azusa went into the room and got ready for bed. Her mind was racing. She turned Yui's words over and over again in her head.
Fly with me…
Was Yui simply looking for another guitarist to play alongside her, or did she want something more?
Despite the thoughts bouncing around in her head, Azusa was exhausted enough that she fell asleep easily. A certain brown-haired guitarist haunted her dreams, though. Her smile, her serious expression while playing, her goofy grin, the way she smelled, the warmth of her body against Azusa's.
Azusa didn't remember any dreams that night, but she was sure they were wonderful.
A/N - Over 9,000 words now with notes. Without your help, Genki Collective, I would not have come this far. Little did I know just how bad my grammar was, and the help you offered with plot development was invaluable. This story would not be where it is without you. Thank you!