Story: Familiar Unfamiliarity (all chapters)

Authors: Love-is-god

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Chapter 1

Disclaimer: Hidamari Sketch is the creative brainchild of Aoki Ume, was published by Houbunsha, and brought to the screen by Shaft, and is owned in some part (I'm sure) by all three, but none of it by me.

There was something there, just outside of perception. It was in the compartment she rode in. It was in the people; those friendly and unfriendly, young and old, tall and short, thick and thin. It was the in green of the grass, the blue of the sky, the blur of the ground rushing by and the more sedate pace of the far-off clouds. It could be heard in the the air coursing over the traub car, and the vibration of the tracks under her feet. It was in all reflected in a pair of large, shining brown eyes. It was sameness. A sameness that many would consider routine, unmentionable, expected. Dull. Yet it filled one heart with warm content. Which is why, when the train finally approached its destination, the owner of this heart was able to hop from her seat, take up her small, two-wheeled luggage carrier, and go down the aisle with a bouncing step and infectious smile that her fellow travelers found themselves sharing, despite the distinct doldrum atmosphere that surrounded just this one day amidst others.

She looked out on the city with the nostalgic air of one returned home after time untold away. Though traditional sense told her that the place she had left a few hours before was "home", the road she walked on now felt more a homecoming than when she had travelled it the other way. Could this be a part of growing up, she asked herself, feeling giddy at the thought of that ever-elusive maturity--but also managing a light pang of nostalgia, almost unnoticeable even to her, which was the only thing that really confirmed that maturity. Not too terribly confirmed, as she began in full view of the other commuters, to laugh at her own oddly serious thinking. She couldn't be too mature yet, how many adults found time to indulge in laughing at themselves?

She continued with a bright smile and shining eyes which now found time to take in sights which were different and new. New didn't trouble her, whatever contentment she found in sameness. That would always be the way life worked. No matter how similar things might seem after time passed, and how ever much she might want them to stay the same, changes would always come. Privately, though, she could hope that change had decided to pass over three particular little parts of her life. She stood at the edge of the street in front of the train station, waiting for the light to change to cross.


Yuno froze and looked behind her, just as the lights did change. She wanted to stand stock-still and hold her breath in disbelieving excitement, but instead she was jarred and forced to yelp a quick apology as several people following closely behind ran full into her, jarring her belongings. She checked over her cart to make sure the collision hadn't knocked anything loose, and raised her eyes just in time to catch the most wonderful thing she'd seen today. A blond mop of hair, haphazardly tied back in a loose ponytail, bobbed up and down around the shoulder level of the majority of the throng exiting the train station. Yuno could hardly stand in one place without receiving some amount of ire from the crowd, given the space she and her things took, so turning the awkward thing around to go meet her friend was strictly out of the question. She was forced to sit impatiently through as her friend approached. Then she was there, burst through the wall of people and skidding on her heels to a teetering halt just before she too, crashed into Yuno. For a long moment the girls just stood and looked at one another. Yuno thought, amused, that Miyako looked as though she could really use that moment's rest. Several strands of sun-bleached golden strands had worked loose and hung lazily across shining pale green, almost amber eyes and a wide grin. Her chest rose and fell with her lightly puffing breath. Miyako looked to all the world like she was on a brisk hike, with her only possessions the clothes on her back and a single pack slung over her shoulders.

"So it was you," Miyako started, "I wasn't sure, I couldn't see you that well because everybody else around is taller and all, but I started running as soon as I thought I had maybe seen you. Isn't that kind of funny? Maybe I have some kind of powers, x-ray vision to see through people. But...I don't think I saw through anybody, so maybe I have psychic powers? I suppose I could have those and not really know about them. But you know what that means, Yuno-chi, we can never play hide-and-seek, I'll always be able to find you!" Yuno giggled at her breathless, babbling declaration, very glad to see that Miyako was as happy and excited to see her as she was to see Miyako again.

"Miya-chan," she laughed, not knowing how else to answer the statement, but then she put on a serious countenance, "Psychic powers? Then why don't you tell me what I'm thinking about right now?"

In response, Miyako looked deeply into her eyes and a look of intense concentration grew on her features. Yuno felt an odd, lightheaded sensation, coupled with a spread of warmth through her chest. Could I be having my mind read? The thought skimmed through her mind in one brief burst of illogic, but Miyako answered the unspoken question herself with her following words.

"Yep, I'm reading... that you're really happy to see me, and... that you want so much to buy me lunch," she accentuated the statement with a certain mystical flair that was altogether ruined by an impudent wink.

"One out of two isn't bad, Miya-chan, but I don't think you can read minds. Sorry." Yuno smiled, then her breath caught in alarm her friend drooped, suddenly appearing crestfallen.

"Oh, Miya-chan, I'm sorry, I didn't mean to ruin your fu--"

"No, it's okay Yuno-chi. I'll be happy enough with a free lunch for now, but I sure wish I knew why you weren't happy to see me..."

"Miya-chan!" She protested, but Miyako's bright smile made everything alright again. A few quiet minutes of just walking passed. They'd had plenty of time for talking and such over the summer, they had kept in contact, and were happy now to just soak up the physical presence which they had really missed most.

They stopped at another light. Looking over, Yuno was forced to admit that while Miyako had been the best bit of familiarity she had seen today, she was also a remarkable specimen of change. Yuno was used to being the shortest of her circle of friends--as Miayko had just casually mentioned, she could be hard to find in a crowd it being hard to see her in a crowd--but it looked like Miyako had shot up another five or six centimeters over the summer. Also, while she still had that same active, toned body, it looked as though it had stopped strongly suggesting feminine curves, and finally got to making them part of the overall scheme. Not too much, but just enough to make Yuno look between Miyako and over her own self, fretting a little about her own womanly progress.

"I think Yuno-chi look plenty cute and shouldn't worry about anything," Miyako commented with a bout of always surprising shrewdness. Yuno blushed, and that only encouraged the blonde "I thought I noticed you noticing, and I didn't even need any powers," Miyako observed her with a careful eye, "I don't think poking at them will change them much, though, and you look a little silly walking around pushing them together like that."


"Oooh-ooh! Especially if she can blush like that whenever she want to, Yuno-chi will get any boy she wants!" Miyako continued to dig into her shy friend with an irrepressible grin. The light signaled to walk.

"You could always try like Sae-san and pray at the Buddha statue. It didn't do her any good, but maybe it needs more to work with. Oh yeah, do you think she and Hiro-san will be getting here soon? I'm sure it wouldn't take too much to convince Hiro to fix up a nice reunion meal."

"I'm not sure, they might already be there," Yuno answered, remembering that she hadn't heard from either of her other friends in the past few days, "I'll call Hiro-san and see," she fished her phone out of her pocket. The line rang a few times, then stopped and went to voice mail. Though feeling it might be impolite, Yuno tried once more, but this time it didn't even bother with the ringing.

"I can't reach her right now."

"Hmm... but they were there before us last year, right?"

Yuno nodded.

"Then there's still a chance for my stomach! Hang in there, old friend," Miyako rubbed her belly with a sympathetic expression.

"Miya-chan, have you eaten today?"

"I had a sandwich on the train."

"I'll get you something if Hiro-san isn't there, you know."

"Oh, of course I know that, Yuno-chi. I'm psychic, remember? Now come on, step up, no time to be dawdling now." Miyako quickened, and Yuno had to work to keep up with Miyako's now even longer-legged pace.

"Wait for me!"

The apartments looked just as they had left them. They hadn't been gone more than two months, so this wasn't really very surprising. Yuno looked with dismay towards the staircase, however, there was no way she was going to be able to carry all her things up there without taking several trips. While she stood there unwilling to start the process, however, Miyako took the situation in at a glance and picked up two suitcases. Yuno watched as she went into an exaggerated military knee-high march in place and ran up the stairs.

"Hup-too three-four! Let's go, Yuno-chi!" It took Yuno a moment to shake off her grateful surprise and pick up another box. She should have known she could count on Miyako. Between them, they only had to take that trip and one more for the last package and the carrier, a lot less than the four or five Yuno had been thinking of by herself.

"Phew. Thanks, Miya-chan."

"You're welcome. Now we can go see everybody, I'm starved." Yuno put a hand to her forehead, you couldn't expect Miyako to let her thoughts stray too much when she was hungry. They stopped so Miyako could unlock her door and unceremoniously sling her backpack inside.

"You sure didn't bring much," Yuno observed.

"Most of my stuff from last year is still in there," she explained brightly, "I only took a sketchbook and some pencils when I left."

Yuno herself had packed up everything for her sojourn back to her parent's house. Bedding and toiletries and knick-knacks had been gathered, as well as all of her school things. It wasn't that she thought she would need all of it, exactly... but she couldn't leave her bath salts or rubber duck behind, and she really liked her shampoo, and that was the most comfortable blanket she had taken when she moved to the Hidamari apartments in the first place, and a lot of her cutest clothes too, and--Yuno shook her head. She occasionally envied her friend's carefree running through life, but didn't think she would ever be able to emulate it.

They went over to room 102, but a few loud raps on the bright yellow door and a few minutes of waiting told them nobody was home. Undeterred, they went across one to Sae's apartment, but just as Miyako was about to knock, the door opened and they were faced with a stranger that looked quite a bit like Hiro. Only, this person was deprived of the steady, warm smile and eyes brimming with kindness that belonged to their friend, and had the edge of one thumbnail clamped firmly between her teeth. It took the pair at the door a few seconds to wrap their minds around the fact that this had to be Hiro, despite what told them it wasn't, and less than a second for Yuno to process this information and reach out for her hand.

"Hiro-san, what's the matter?" Hiro, also taking a few seconds to process that two friends had suddenly appeared in front of her when she was on her way elsewhere, managed to affix a ghost of her usual expression on before answering.

"Nothing, Yuno-san. Don't worry about it."

Yuno looked, in her naïve and trusting way, supremely unconvinced.

"Are you upset because you gained a few kilos?" Miyako grinned, poking at Hiro's perfectly reasonable belly. Hiro's eyes flashed in a way that was certainly unlike her, and she smacked Miyako's hand away.

"No! I said don't worry about it," she looked apologetic right after, but did little more than mutter a quick, "Sorry."

Miyako was surprised, and a little hurt. A little friendly teasing had never really angered anybody among their circle as much as embarrassed, especially Hiro.

"Yuno, Miyako? Is that you? You can come in if you like," Yuno and Miyako looked at one another, thinking that this looked to be a less pleasant time than originally thought. But an irritated Hiro, with a casually inviting turn of her head, beckoned them to follow her back inside. The apartment was dark, and they found Sae sitting in her desk chair, stretched back to look at the ceiling. One toe extended pushed against the floor, tilting her back, and a pencil was clenched in the side of her mouth. They might have thought that she was in the middle of composing a manuscript for her novel project, but her desk was bare. The only thing she looked was preoccupied, but she smiled lightly when she saw the two enter. Her eyes showed more worry when they let them fall on Hiro, who refused to meet her gaze. Yuno and Miyako felt quite uncomfortable being in the same room with these two, and the latter couldn't even bring herself to inquire about snacks.

"I thought I'd see them in," Hiro said, still refusing to look at Sae, "But I'm still going now," she turned and walked back to the door with a measured pace. Whether this was to avoid appearing reluctant or relieved Yuno couldn't tell.

"Hiro, come on, don't go yet," Sae turned her head to plead with the other girl, but though Hiro hesitated for a moment, she didn't stop, and nobody could see what was on her face. The door closed with a soft click. Sae exhaled explosively and let her chair fall back hard on all fours, muttering something under her breath that sounded somewhat like a string of strong curses, though Yuno didn't want to assume. As though only just remembering that the other two were still here, she turned her head sharply to them with a wan smile.

"Sorry about that, me and Hiro are just having a little disagreement, don't you concern yourself with anything. So how have you two been, it must have been a week or more since we spoke?" They could tell by her affected nonchalance that Sae didn't want to talk about what had just happened.

"I'm doing well, Sae-san."


Sae smiled, "Should have guessed, you two probably don't have much to worry about." Her mouth twisted with just an edge of bitterness, but then she shook her head, angry at herself, "Ah, don't pay attention to me."

"It's okay," Yuno said consolingly, and fixed Sae with the sort of sympathetic, concerned, caring, and just a little sad expression that only Yuno could really manage, and only then because she wasn't aware that she could do it. Yuno searched for the most tactful way to ask what was going on, while Sae softened under her gaze.

"Yo, what's up with you and Hiro-san? I was just assaulted a moment ago, what'd you say to her?" Miyako continued for her, though she hadn't quite put as much thought into tactfulness.

"Assaulted?" Sae said sharply, raising her eyebrow.

"Yeah, how can a poor little girl like me stand against a ferocious fighter like Hiro-san?" Miyako made a cowering motion, crouching down a bit, and Sae snorted. Mostly because Hiro wouldn't do such a thing, and also because even with Miyako cowering down a bit, she could still have looked Hiro at eye level.

"She just got made at Miya-chan poking her tummy and slapped her hand away," Yuno explained, "But that's still so unlike Hiro-san. I mean, not the slap, but how angry she looked."

"Look you two, don't worry about it. Hiro is having some problems, and I'll be able to help her with them. As soon as she lets me anyway. Friends don't always get along, you know, things will be fine before you know it."

"Are you sure we can't do anything, Sae-san?" Yuno asked earnestly.

"I'm sure, Yuno. Everything will be back to how it was soon... I hope very soon. I sure do miss... never mind." Sae had started to turn red as she always did when embarrassed, and Yuno wondered why.

"Uh-oh! Are there boys involved?" Miyako butted in. Yuno expected Sae to get angry, whether it was true or not. Instead, after looking startled, she started chuckling, still a little red.

"No, definitely no boys involved, Miyako. I can promise you that. Now really, you two don't need to concern yourselves with this. Now don't you two have some unpacking to do or something? I don't mean to run you off, but..."

"We understand, Sae-san," Yuno said kindly, "We'll go now," she grabbed Miyako's hand and led her out as well to make sure her sometimes insightful, but more often less-than, friend followed. Yuno shut the door, leaving Sae alone in the dark with her thoughts. They looked to Hiro's door and, neither of them saying anything, walked the other way. Miyako, however, was not one to dwell uselessly on matters she could not change at the moment.

"Hey, Yuno-chi, I guess you're buying lunch?" Yuno blinked, and might have thought something along the lines of Miyako not caring about her friends, but one look at her face told otherwise. Miyako could be spontaneous, sometimes dim, and always a little spastic, so it was easy to underestimate her. Yuno was one who knew Miyako well enough to see her own worries echoed in Miyako's face, and also enough to see that her friend was trying to cheer her up. So she put on a brave face and a small smile, nodding and walking back towards town.

Chapter 2

"Sll-fslup!” Miyako slurped up her noodles as Yuno watched on in a sort of reluctant fascination. Her own small, measured bites of the banbanji that she had ordered felt somehow overly fastidious in comparison. She felt that the dish of chilled vegetables and chicken was perfectly cool and light for the ongoing summer weather, but Miyako had chosen a more substantial yakisoba dish for herself. They sat in the open air section of a small diner not too far from where they lived, and Yuno was happy to note that their prices were, on the whole, quite reasonable. Even if they hadn't been, though, Yuno didn't mind footing her friend's bill once in a while. The obvious pleasure and zeal with which the starved blonde attacked her food were enough for Yuno. It wasn't that she felt sorry for Miyako because of her financial woes, you somehow couldn't feel sorry for somebody who couldn't feel sorry for themselves, and Miyako's usual countenance was about as far from "sorry” as it was possible to get.

Miyako glanced up while trying to free a few stubborn noodles from the discussions they were having with their fellows in the bottom of the bowl, and noticed Yuno looking rather comical: mouth half-open and chopsticks half-moved to it, eyes fixated on her friend. Miyako smiled inside, and with one last heroic slurp freed the noodles for their final journey. She turned her slurping pucker into a kiss and blew it over to Yuno. Yuno blinked.

"Did you want some?” Miyako invited, "I knew that a growing girl wouldn't be able to settle for just a little salad-thing,” she finished her statement with a knowledgeable air, picking up a small amount and twirling the noodles carefully on her chopsticks before reaching over to Yuno. Yuno had been about to say that that wasn't it, but she didn't quite know what was it, so that would have been a difficult explanation to finish. So instead she took the offered yakisoba.

"I think it's pretty good,” Miyako said, retracting her hand, "How about you?” Yuno chewed and had to admit it was really tasty, there was a moderately talented cook in the back. She looked back to Miyako to tell her the same, but stopped, watching as her friend continued eating, bringing the chopsticks up to her lips and... Yuno blushed, memories of countless uses of that cliché in the shoujo manga she read coming to her. The indirect kiss. Miyako looked curiously at her.

"You don't think it's spicy, do you?'

Yuno answered with a nervous little laugh and shook her head, not about to tell Miyako what went through her mind. Unfortunately for her, Miyako chose that moment to display her occasional uncanny knack for accidentally stumbling right to the heart of a matter. With a wicked little smile she closed the chopsticks together and brought her lips to them in an exaggerated kiss.

"Indirect kiss!” She crowed, "I guess Yuno's pretty cute, so I don't mind at all,” Miyako smiled her most cheerfully unapologetic smile, causing Yuno to blush deeper. Miyako usually didn't actually mean the things she said to tease her friends, and everybody knew this, but somehow they remained just as effective in embarrassing them.

"Miya-chan!” Was all that managed to emerge from her flaming face, and she bent down to continue eating her own meal accompanied by Miyako's peal of laughter.

"So what do you think could be going on with Sae-san and Hiro-san?” Miyako started with no warning. Yuno looked back up quickly, and saw that Miyako had cleaned her plate already, with all the attention Yuno had not been giving to her own. To think for a moment longer, she took a bite and chewed slowly.

"I don't know. I don't think I've ever seen either of them really upset before... and I can't think of anything that would make them that way.”

"I think it was mostly Hiro-san that was mad, Sae just looked troubled by her. You think Sae-san hurt her feelings somehow by accident?” Miyako was at her rarest now, not even a hit of a smile decorating her mouth, "Doesn't seem like something she would do though...” Miyako pondered quietly, lip twisted in thought.

"Sae-san did tell us not to worry, though. Maybe I'm just thinking about it too much,” Yuno sighed and leaned back in her chair, appetite lost and plate sitting ignored and half-full in front of her.

"Friends are there to worry about their friends,” Miya answered firmly, though there hadn't been a question, "Hey, Yuno-chi, this banbanji is pretty good too. If we come here again I might get this instead,” it was a good thing Yuno had lost her appetite, she wouldn't have had much left to fulfill it, not with a hungry Miyako still at the table with an unguarded plate.

Yuno shook her head ruefully and pushed herself back. She paid their bill and they went back to the apartments, Yuno's apprehension growing all the way. She didn't want to just ignore her two other friends, but neither did she relish the opportunity to speak with them if they were still as, er, excited as earlier. As they rounded the street corner and came into view, they noticed an unexpected visitor rapping on Hiro's door.

"What's the landlady doing here?” Yuno wondered aloud. They veered over.

"Yo,” she greeted them with an inclination of her head, cigarette dangling from one side of her mouth.

"Good afternoon, Landlady.”

"Hey, Landlady.”

Then the door opened and Hiro stepped out. Her eyes appeared red around the rims, and her face was slightly drawn and tired, but she worked up a smile that was a good deal more natural and genuine than she had tried to put on earlier. When here eyes caught the pair standing past the landlady, she flashed them an apology with her eyes, then turned back to Landlady.

"Hello. What can I do for you today?”

"Can I come in?” Came the casual question of a reply. Landlady pulled on her cigarette and blew a stream of smoke into the air. Then she flicked it on the ground, grinding it beneath one heel. Hiro looked relieved that the smoke wouldn't be following her into the room, and nodded, opening the door wide.

"Come right in. You're welcome, too, Yuno-san, Miya-chan.” Hiro invited them.

"Sorry it's not too homey right now, but I've been doing some packing,” Hiro smiled apologetically, and all three guests looked around astonished, though Landlady to a lesser degree, at the sealed boxes stacked against the walls.

"So you were serious when you said you wouldn't be staying here this year,” Landlady observed. Yuno and Miyako gasped, and whipped around to Hiro, who was biting her lip.

"Yes, I'm afraid I won't be able to stay. Yuno, Miya-chan, I'm not going to school this year either,” they echoed their own gasps.

"Hiro-san!” They both began explosively, but the landlady cleared her throat loudly and all three turned their attention over to her.

"Just so you know, there's no hurry to be out soon, take your time.”

"But Landlady, don't my things have to be out before the start of the month? That's tomorrow.”

"Yeah, if you haven't paid your rent. But you've got your first and last months rent, and security deposit, covered.”

"What! How?”

"I got a call an hour ago from Sae,” she jerked her head to the wall adjoining Sae's apartment, "She took care of it. She asked me to let you know for some reason. I didn't want to, but she really didn't want to have to tell you. I normally wouldn't; I just came down to see what's up,” she crossed her arms and looked at Hiro expectantly. Hiro, though, didn't seem to notice the penetrating stare she was receiving, her eyes were flashing and she looked furious.

"No,” she said stonily.

"No what?”

"No, I'm not accepting this. You take back that money, and I'll be out of here before tomorrow.”

"Sorry, no can do, Hiro-san. You're here, and you're paid up for this month and the last month. You'd be breaking your lease with me, you'd have to pay a penalty, and your friend wouldn't get her seventy-five hundred yen back. Could you deal with either of those?” Hiro went stark white, and shook her head mutely.

"Mind telling me why the girl who paid your rent had to make me let you know about it?” Hiro flushed, eyes darting over to Yuno and Miyako, who had been silent in the background for most of that exchange, and even more confused than they had been at the start. Landlady followed her gaze, and rolled her eyes.

"Can't talk with these two in the room, is that it? Beats me as to why, I got the feeling you four were really close. Fine then,” she turned to face the two with a look that told them, far more effectively than any vocal directive could have, that they should probably excuse themselves now. Outside, Yuno fretted and Miyako trying to think of how to make her stop fretting.

"Miya-chan, what's going on? Hiro looked so angry, and she said wasn't going to live here, and Landlady said Sae-san paid her rent, and without her knowing? Why is all this happening and why is everybody so angry and sad? I just wanted us to all be together and have fun again!” Miyako was a little alarmed at Yuno's sudden rush of words, and the tears that sparkled in the corner of her eyes.

"Oh Miya-chan!” Yuno cried in a half-sob, and threw herself into her friend. Miyako stood stiff for a moment, then awkwardly put her arms around Yuno's shoulders in a tight hug. She didn't say anything, no "there there”s or anything of that nature. Yuno didn't really cry so much as she just let herself be embraced, burying her cheek against Miyako's chest and letting out a long sound of discontent. This wasn't how her first day back at Hidamari was supposed to be...

Yuno didn't look to be going anywhere anytime soon, so Miyako gave her a reassuring squeeze and laid her head down on her friend's. Yuno quieted soon, but she didn't move, and Miyako didn't at all mind the warm body pressed against her, or the soft hair under her cheek. Yuno felt peeved with herself for having fallen apart like that, but she hadn't realized how much she took for granted her two older friends being so implacably... themselves. Always together; kind and soft-spoken Hiro-san, with her abundant generosity and patience, then cool and confident Sae-san, insightful and always ready with some little gem of wisdom to pass to her juniors. To have those two at odds with one another was somehow unbearable. At least Miya-chan was still Miya-chan. Yuno kept her arms around Miyako, feeling warm and protected from the damage reality had done to her idealistic expectations. In that suspended moment of unwillingness to see or hear or think about her current situation, she suddenly was struck by everything she was taking in with her every breath. She could smell the faint, slightly harsh scent of what was, knowing Miyako, a laundry detergent on the cheaper side of the spectrum, offset only slightly by the sweetly fragrant overlay of a fabric softener. She was close enough to catch the scent of a lock of Miyako's hair, flowery and sweet. And there was something else, a little under and a little over and a little in between everything was... it was like the smell of bright sunlight, and a brisk wind, and stream of sparkling clear water. If those things had a smell, it would be what Yuno breathed in from Miyako. It even seemed to have something of her friend's blithe, natural enthusiasm for life in it, because Yuno caught herself feeling very content, and even happy, standing here with her friend. With an odd reluctance, though, she made herself pull away, becoming conscious of the fact that they couldn't stand here like that in front of Hiro's door all day.

Miyako loosened her arms slowly, and nuzzled her cheek against Yuno's hair one last time before they parted, just because she felt so much like she needed to. Yuno looked up at her, and Miyako noticed some moisture sitting in the corners and bottoms of her eyes. Somehow knowing just what to do, she placed her hands to the sides of Yuno's face and wiped it away with her thumbs. They held one another's eyes for a few moments longer, then the odd spell was broken.

"Er, sorry, Miya-chan. I'm okay now. I'm just worried about...”

"I know, Yuno-chi.” Miya replied, softly smiling, "So, I know just what we need to do then.” Miyako said, tapping one thumbnail against her lips.

"What is it?”

"I think we have some questions that need to be answered, and Sae-san probably knows what's up. Isn't that right, Chocoyama-kun?” Yuno smiled brightly, though a little sadly. It was usually Sae who played the part of fashionable detective Lovely Chocolate. She recognized though that Miyako was, once again, trying to cheer her up, so gave the requisite response.

"You're right, Miss Chocolat! We need to go see Sae-san right away and ask her a few questions.” Behind their little play, however, Yuno could feel their shared determination to get to the bottom of this. It wasn't entirely fair for their friends to go about acting the way they were without giving an explanation. The walked across one room and knocked. After a minute, they heard curiously slow footfalls approaching, and Sae's irritable face filled the gap between the wall and door.

"Ah, Miss Sae-san, is it?” Miyako started, affecting a light cough, "Would it be okay if we troubled you for just a few minutes. We won't be long, we just have a few questions we need you to answer,” Sae looked hard at Miyako for a few seconds, then sighed and turned to Yuno.

"I give up, what's with her? Is she mad at me now too?”

"No, Sae-san, she's just in character,” Yuno explained a little vaguely, Could we come in and talk to you for a little bit?”

"Eh, sure, why not. I can't promise I'll be any more talkative than earlier, though,” she opened the door for them and they entered. Miyako's eyes seemed to be working overtime, darting to every nook and cranny they could find, and she often stopped them with no particular focus for a loud "Hmm... I see.” Sae looked at her with raised eyebrow on every such occasion, one could really only find so many interesting things to say, "Hmm... I see,” at in the four or five meters between the door and the main room, and she was pretty sure Miyako had passed that limit. Yuno just smiled, and this seemed to calm Sae's nerves a little. Yuno and Miyako sat down at the low square table in the center of the room, while Sae took her seat once more at her desk chair, this time sitting in it backwards to face the middle of the room and look at her friends.

"So what's up with you two?”

Miyako cleared her throat loudly, "So, Miss Sae-san, if I may ask, where were you and what were you doing on the afternoon of...!” She paused, and turned to Yuno, "What's today's date again, Yuno-chi?” She whispered out of the corner of her mouth. Yuno shook her head.

"Miya-chan... I'll just ask her. Sae-san, we were just coming back to the apartments and met the landlady outside of Hiro-san's apartment. We all went inside, and Hiro-san looked like she was packing to leave. Landlady told her that she didn't have to go because you had paid for her, and Hiro-san looked really mad, and Landlady said something about you asking her to tell Hiro-san so you didn't have to. We were about to hear why, but Hiro-san didn't want to say in front of us and they made us leave. So, Sae-san, please tell us: what's going on?” Sae's eyes had widened and stayed that way from shortly into the explanation. By the end, she laughed ruefully.

"Looks like you don't need detective skills like Lovely Chocolat with Miyako's blind luck. Now you two know all of that, and you found out mostly by accident,” Sae said it almost accusingly.

"I don't think that there's any reason we shouldn't know, Sae-san. We're all friends, and it makes me sad that you don't think you can talk to us about what's troubling you.”

"Well, it's kind of a big deal, Yuno, and a little private. Even friends are entitled to a little bit of privacy. I guess I can tell you some of it, though, if you already know this much. Hiro wasn't going to be able to go to school or be here this year, because her family wasn't going to be able to pa-- no, wasn't going to pay for her rent and tuition this year. She had a fight with her family and that's what they decided to do.”

"Oh, that's awful!” Yuno yelped, and Miyako nodded a fervent agreement.

"Yeah, they had no right... there was no good reason...” Sae compressed her lips into a thin, pale line, and Yuno didn't think she'd ever seen her friend this angry before, "But I don't think I should be telling you about that. The point is, they weren't going to pay. Now, this whole thing is kinda... sort of my fault too, in a way, so I thought I would surprise her. I went ahead and paid for her rent, and the first half of her tuition--”

"Sae-san! How could you ask your family to pay that much more!” Yuno interrupted again, but Sae just looked perplexed, then started laughing.

"Who said anything about my family, Yuno-san? But that's besides the point, let me go ahead and finish this for now. I paid that for her, and then I invited her over to talk about it. I asked her, 'How would you feel if I said I was able to pay your way this year?' but she reacted very badly. She was furious with me, even though she thought it was just an idea of mine. I think it's just because she felt like she would be taking advantage, but it's not like I can think of anything I'd rather do with that money than make sure she can be with m--” Sae blushed a deep red, "That is, I think she's being foolish about the whole thing. She got so upset that I didn't dare tell her that I had already gone through with it, so after you all left I called Landlady to tell her for me. It took quite a bit of asking, but I think she likes me. I still haven't found a good way to tell her about the tuition...”

"So that's why she was so upset,” Yuno mused, then Miyako spoke up, all traces of the fashionable detective gone.

"But where did you get the money to pay for all that, Sae-san?”

"Oh, right. Well, you two know that I write novels...” She flushed a little more, and pushed her glasses up the bridge of her nose, "I had a little savings stored up from all my sales, about six-hundred thousand yen,” she paused to hear the two gasps and observe the two awed expressions, "Hey, that did take me the better part of three years to save up, and I haven't been touching it. But the thing is, it looks like... well, my latest volume was really popular, I guess- don't know why, I didn't think it was so great- and that jumped up to about one million, eight-hundred thousand yen during the last few months.” She paused again to regard dropped jaws, "That's still not quite enough to cover all of Hiro-san's rent and tuition, not to mention living expenses, but they'll keep selling, right? It's enough for until next semester, anyway.” There was a pregnant pause.

"Hey, I was able to say all of that with a pretty straight face, do you think you could put your jaws back in place now?” Sae said peevishly, blushing again.

"Wow, Sae-san, I had no idea you were that popular! I guess some people have tastes like that,” Miyako mused, eliciting an outraged yelp from Sae.

"What's that supposed to mean?”

"She didn't mean anything!” Yuno hastily reassured her, "It's just a little bit of a shock. We had no idea you were making so much off of your work!”

"Well... I mean, it's not that much, it did take me four years to make it all. I wouldn't have been able to live off of my writing at all.”

"Yeah, I guess... but that clears a few things up. Now we know why you were so sad and Hiro was so upset--”

"I don't think she's thinking completely clearly, either, Yuno. The fight with her parents hurt her more than she's admitting, I think,” Sae interrupted her, "I hope that if I give her some time, she won't mind so much and we'll be able to talk about it,” Sae appeared thoughtful, "It's already done, you know. She might be able to get most of the tuition back for me, but I would refuse to take it back, and the lease already stops her there. It's not very nice, I know, but she doesn't need to give up her life just because her mom and dad....” Sae trailed off, and they saw that angry tightening around her eyes again.

"I'm sure she will, Sae-san,” Yuno said encouragingly, "That was really nice of you to do for her, I can still hardly believe you didn't spend all that money on anything else!” Sae looked embarrassed at Yuno's praise. Then they all heard a loud banging on the door. Before Sae could call out to the person, however, the door opened and she let herself in. Locks of her bubblegum pink hair had gone astray from her ties and lashed about like a living thing, and her eyes flashed venomously. She stalked into the room, and Sae drew back almost unconsciously from her.

"You!” Hiro yelled, pointing one accusatory finger to the dismayed girl leaning into her desk. She strode quickly forward, "You...”

Chapter 3

"Didn't I tell you no!? I believe I said--quite clearly--that I wasn't going to make you support me!”

"But, Hir--" Sae started, turning her chair around and standing up.

"Why do you have to be so stubborn!? Why are you being so thick-headed about this!? It was my stupid choice to tell them, it's not your responsibility!" The force of Hiro's voice sat Sae back down.


"That's not fair, Sae, why did you have to go behind my back like that?" She was right up to Sae, and towered over the wincing girl. Yuno and Miyako could only stand there, wondering if they should say anything, or do anything, or maybe just try to slip out unnoticed; Hiro didn't seem to acknowledge that they were there. As they watched and considered, though, Hiro seemed to deflate. Suddenly, two big, shining tears welled up in the corner of her eyes.

"That's just mean, Sae. Why do you have to be so insufferably... why did my parents have to... oh! Why do I have to love you so much?" She threw her arms around the thoroughly surprised tomboy and plopped down onto her lap, burying her face in her shoulder. Yuno and Miyako couldn't tell if the muffled words spoken into Sae's shoulder were apologies or insults, but whichever they were Sae didn't seem to mind. All three girls breathed a sigh of relief, especially Sae. Miyako smiled at Yuno, as if to say she knew everything would be fine right from the beginning, and took a step towards their friends. She stopped in mid-stride when Hiro looked up, however. She gazed into Sae's face with a peculiar half-lidded gaze, and Sae turned a little red--again--glasses slipping down the bridge of her nose. Then before Yuno or Miyako could even begin to speculate what was going on, Hiro moved forward and they were kissing, long and deep and urgently. Hiro's hand raised to tangle it in Sae's short, dark hair, while Sae's hands... managed to go down to somewhere somewhat less appropriate.

"Wow! Light pink panties for Hiro-san? Miyako observed, as usual nothing shaking her for too long. Yuno, meanwhile, blushed and covered her eyes with her hands.

"Kyaaaaaaaaaaa!" Yuno yelped. Hiro seemed to finally realize they were there, and Sae seemed to remember they were there. The two froze and turned their faces to the two witnesses, Miyako looking on somewhat curiously, and Yuno with scrunched eyes covered by hands still.

"Oh... um, sorry, Yuno-san."

Yuno thought that was a sign that it was safe enough to look again. She quickly changed her mind., whimpering and pointing towards Sae's lap. Sae quickly realized she still had Hiro's skirt pushed up, and more embarrassingly, her fingers had slipped under the hem of Hiro's panties. She withdrew them swiftly, and both girls parted with sheepish chuckles, standing up.

"Okay, Yuno-san, I promise it's decent now,"Hiro said softly. She peeked again, and confirmed that the two were now standing side-by-side and were not engaged in anything she shouldn't be seeing. Hiro and Sae didn't look as though they really knew what to say now, and Yuno had a rather strong suspicion that this is not how they wanted their friends to find out about their relationship. Yuno's mind was similarly blank of suggestions. Miyako, though she didn't know what might be good to say either, said something anyway.

"Oh! So Sae-san really is a--”

"No!" The two older girls shouted simultaneously, Sae looked as though she had less polite things to follow that up with, but Hiro placed a calming hand on her shoulder and talked instead.

"No, Miya-san, not at all. I can guarantee you that Sae is a girl through and through, and so am I. We just happen to love each other anyway.”

"But that's not as fun..." Miyako pouted, "There's no deep dark secrets and hidden histories involved there," But Miyako's eyes smiled past her pasted-on frown.

"No, none at all," Hiro said happily, "Just me and the most wonderful girl in the whole world," She looked towards Sae, and they shared one of the most tender looks Yuno could recall seeing from people in high school, and she was almost afraid they had forgotten everything else in the room again.

"Now, Yuno," Sae said, letting her know that wasn't the case, "I know this has to be a little bit of a shock, but this isn't really that unusual, you know, I mean, there are lots of girls who--”

"No, no, Sae-san, it's not that," Yuno interjected, "I'm just surprised, is all, and I didn't think, you know, that you should be doing all of those sorts of things with people watching.”

"Well I guess that's true,"Sae admitted.

"I do wonder a little bit why you thought you had to keep it a secret that you were girlfriend and, um, girlfriend. And... and... what's going on!? You were just so mad, and then you were kissing, and now... I don't understand at all!”

"So... you don't have a problem with us, with two...?" Hiro left the question hanging.

"Of course not! You two are happy, and that's all that matters. I'm just hurt that you two thought you had to keep secrets and worried me and Miya-chan so much, and we still don't know all about what everybody was so angry and upset about," this seemed to remind Hiro that she had, in fact, been quite upset a minute ago. She frowned a little, though with none of the hot anger she had displayed previously, and turned to Sae.

"That still wasn't fair, Sae-san. I told you that you shouldn't.”

"What's fair?" Sae blushed, and her voice dropped to a quiet level, "I can't think of anybody fairer than you, Hiro, so you're wrong. Don't tell me you think it's better for us to be separated than--”

"Don't be ridiculous, Sae,"Hiro admonished, "But I don't want you to spend so much money on just me. I mean, rent is a lot of money.”

"Don't forget about the tuition." Miyako supplied helpfully.

"Tuition?" Hiro exclaimed, voice rising an octave and a few decibels. Sae shot Miyako a look of pure venom, which went entirely unnoticed or uncared for by the blond smiling girl.

"Well, I kind of did them both before I knew you weren't going to be thrilled with the idea, it was supposed to be like a gift...”

"A... a gift?" Hiro looked as though she were struggling to stay upset, but just couldn't manage it any longer, not against her lover, not for that kind of reason.

"Yep. I couldn't bear the thought of a year without you here, and I thought you would be happy...”

"Oh, but I am happy, really!" Hiro hastily assured her, turning one-hundred eighty degrees in the blink of an eye, "I mean... I guess there's nothing I can do to reverse it, and if you really, really wanted me with you so much... then I am happy, Sae. Thank you," Sae glowed, and became suddenly more agreeable to Hiro's point of view.

"I guess I really should have talked to you about it first and all, though.”

"I would have just said no. But yes, you're right. Don't do it again." Yuno didn't think that such a soft, cheery voice could have such a hard edge, but she had been wrong. It looked like everything was okay between those two again in any case, so Yuno felt much better. Struck with the realization that they were all still standing, and Hiro and Sae weren't making any moves to invite them in or become more comfortable as they usually did, Yuno flushed again.

"Ah, ahem. Well then, I think that Miya-chan and I need to go unpack now, right Miya-chan?" Miya looked at her perplexedly.

"No, I don't think so Yuno-chi. I only have my bac-omph!" Yuno's elbow had a little more force behind it than she had really meant, a nervous energy adding a touch more power.

"Then I need your help, Miya-chan. I think we need to go ahead and take our leave from Sae-san and Hiro-san for just a little while. I hope you don't mind our running out so soon," Yuno bowed jerkily to them both. Sae, linking her hands behind her head, laughed a little, and Hiro chuckled as well.

"No, that's very all right, Yuno," Hiro answered, "We understand that you still need time to make yourself at home. I think I'll try to prepare something so that we can all have supper together later, though.”

"That sounds great, Hiro-san, I've been thinking about having one of your meals ever since we left!" Miyako firmly spoke her approval of this plan.

"Oh? Don't your parents cook?”

"Mm-hmm, and they make great food, but I like yours too."

"Thank-you, Miya-chan."

"Uh... no problem, Hiro-san." Miyako said, moving across the floor under a flushing Yuno's desperate pulling, "I guess I'll be back later, although I don't seem to be operating under my own power right now.”

"Let's go, Miya-chan!”

Miyako let herself be guided out the door, still densely unaware of exactly why Yuno found it so important to go right this very second. Hiro and Sae watched the girls leave in amusement, turning back to one another after the door had clicked shut. After a long silence, Hiro offered first speech.

"I think that I maybe overreacted a little bit."

"A little bit," Sae agreed, "Still, we're okay now, right?”

"We'll always be okay, Sae.”

"I guess this turned out pretty good anyway, then. Um... how much did the Landlady end up finding out?" Sae inquired, and Hiro looked embarrassed.

"Most of everything. It's really hard to hide anything from her. I think she just directly and specifically asked me more things than I actually had to tell her.”

"Don't worry about it. I just wanted to know. We don't have to keep 'us' a secret any more, you know. I mean, your parents know, I don't think that too many people could do worse than that--oh, wait, I'm sorry," Sae bit her lip, immediately regretting her words. Hiro looked troubled again, but only for a few moments.

"Now, don't worry about it, Sae. It's not like we were planning on keeping our relationship a secret forever. They were going to find out, and it was my choice to tell them when I did, remember?”

"If you say you're okay with that for now, okay then. At least we have Yuno and Miyako. They seemed to take everything in stride. They probably would have been less shocked if, you know, we had just told them before, instead of getting into a fight and then, um, making up from a fight in front of them.”

"Probably. Yuno is such a good girl, and Miya-chan.... is Miya-chan. I suspected they wouldn't be that disturbed by anything," Hiro tapped her chin, "In fact, hmm... you think they might have worked it out for themselves last year? Like when I got that love letter, and you were just soooo jealous? That, and I don't think you were ever really able to convince anybody about all the boyfriends you'd had before, either. But that's okay, I like that my Sae isn't a good liar. It lets me know that she really, really means it when she says--”

"I love you."

Hiro smiled, then turned around and grabbed Sae by the shoulders. In a display of forcefulness that she rarely, if ever, displayed in public, Hiro san pushed Sae back down onto her chair and climbed into her lap.

"Yuno-san is a good kid. Do you think she really knew that we preferred to be alone right now, and why?”

"I think so. We weren't exactly discreet, and she looked fairly desperate when she was pushing Miya-san out the door."

"Good. I would hate to think that she went through all of that for no good reason. Now where were we?" Hiro purred, nuzzling Sae's neck. Sae reached up and placed her hand on Hiro's cheek, picking the girl's face up and drawing it close.

"I remember being somewhere over here,"she said, bringing their lips together again, "And here,"she spoke out of the side of her busy lips, moving her hands back into their previous position. Sae felt Hiro's lips tighten under her own in a smile, and Hiro moved her hands down and slid them under Sae's shirt. Sae encouraged this move, kissing more fervently as they started to tangle themselves in that passionate way only lovers could.


"So what's the hurry, Yuno-chi?" Miyako asked Yuno once they were safely in Yuno's apartment.

"Well, er, Miya-chan, I think that they really would like some time alone to themselves now. They probably have plenty to talk about, you know.”

"Oh, they needed to talk? I thought that as soon as we left they were just going to--" Miyako began earnestly.


"What? I mean, they are--

"Well, yes! But it's not nice to go out and say it like that. And if you knew, why were you playing dumb and taking so long to get out of there?”

"Because it was fun to watch them shuffle their feet and look so cute. Well, that and I wondered if they might lose it and start up again before we left."

"Miya-chan, don't you have any shame?”

"I don't think so, what fun is that?" Yuno sighed, sitting down at her table in defeat.

"Hey, Yuno-chi, you know we still didn't get any answers about why Sae-san even had to go and pay for Hiro-san you know." Miyako observed.

"You're right! But, um, we can ask them later. Hiro-san said we would be invited over later," Yuno spied her luggage still sitting by the door, and got back up. She took a box off the top--a small one, that just contained her smaller or more fragile things--and carried it back to the table. Miyako looked on, and came curiously to the table to see what she was up to. Yuno pulled out her little brass alarm clock and set it back on it's customary spot on her bedside table, then moved to the bathroom and emptied out her rubber duck, bath salts, and a few soaps and creams and shampoos. She walked back to the table, then, and set the box down, peering intensely around the room.

"What's up, Yuno-chi?”

"I'm trying to decide if I want the rest of this stuff like I had it before," Yuno pulled out several little bottles of makeup items, lipsticks and nail polishes and mascaras, which Miyako found odd considering that Yuno hardly seemed to ever wear any of it, along with a medium-sized square bottle of perfume, imprinted with a large red heart.

"Hey, I remember this stuff. I never did get to ask you, why do you have it all? I've never seen you use any. I think I remember that nice perfume from the festival last year, but I know I've never seen you with any makeup," Yuno smiled a cute little smile.

"I don't, but the set was a gift from Grandma when I started high school, so I keep it around to remind me of her. The perfume was a Christmas present from Mom a couple of years ago, I just don't use much of it. Hmm... I think there works,"she started arranging the little bottles onto a table to the side of the room.

"Ah, I see. Yuno-chi is a good kid,"Miyako nodded approvingly, then looked down into the box, "Oh, and what are these?" Miyako pulled out three framed pictures, but these weren't photographs. The first was a painting of an orange vase, the second an unfocused and blurry--but interestingly dynamic--painting of three people, and the last, oddest of all, was a glossy sheet of paper decorated with... various warning labels. Yuno smiled fondly at them, taking up the last first.

"This one I got for my birthday a few years ago. It was the week before my birthday, and we had a really tough math test coming up. I had stayed up late to study, and fell asleep at my desk. I kinda forgot to set my alarm and overslept. I was late for school, and was trying to run there and study from my book at the same time." She winced at the memory, and Miyako started grinning, "I ran right past the warning sign and between the roadblocks, and almost fell into a manhole, but one of the workers caught me first. Then I got to school and rushed past a 'wet floor' sign, fell down, and broke my arm.”


"So I ended up telling the whole story to my mother and father when I was in the hospital later that day, and when my birthday came around they got me that, because they said if I saw them often enough, maybe I would be more careful and the wouldn't 'lose their precious daughter'. They were laughing the whole time, so I don't know how serious they were, but still," Yuno hugged the frame to her, then carefully put it up on the shelf where it was before. Thinking that it did look good up there, she took up the other two and placed them where they had resided last year as well.

"What about those other two?" Miyako asked.

"The vase is something I made in middle school for art class, and what made the teacher tell my parents that they should consider an art curriculum for me. The second one, with the fuzzy people, was from this 'aptitude test' that Mom and Dad wanted me to take. They told us to paint whatever we felt like, and I didn't know what to do, but I was sitting by the window. I looked outside from the third floor and saw three people a little ways down the road getting their picture taken. I couldn't really see them too well, but that image stayed in my mind and I tried to paint them. They said it was good for 'capturing the spirit and emotion without painstaking attention to detail.'" Yuno removed the picture from the frame and turned it around so Miyako could see the hasty script displaying that across the back.”

"Wow, that's great, Yuno-chi."

"I think they might say stuff like that about a lot of things, but it still made me feel good, so I kept it.”

"Most people have photographs and stuff to remind them of their family, but you have pretty unique things.”

"So do you, Miya-chan. Like your inflatable pool," Yuno giggled, and so did Miyako.

"Yeah, I guess that does remind me of my parents a little bit. Come to think of it... All the sketchbooks and art supplies I have now they got me as a present for getting accepted here and getting a little scholarship for being an honor student before, so every time I do school work and doodle I think of them a little bit.”

"I think it's good to be able to think of people you love whenever you're doing your work, Miya-chan, I'm sure it shows through.”

"You think? Hey, I wonder what comes through in Sae-san's and Hiro-san's work, then?" Yuno was about to admonish Miyako for saying something indecent and embarrassing, but this time Miyako didn't look as though she meant that teasingly or anything, but instead looked really genuinely curious, and that open display of curiosity wormed its way into Yuno's mind as well.

"Well, they say a lot of great art is inspired by love, don't they?" Yuno said, and Miyako nodded.

"Mm. I wonder if Sae-san is able to use any of it when she practices for illustrating her own stories, she sure has enough places for a little love to get displayed, eh, Yuno-chi?" Yuno laughed a little.

"I guess so, Miya-chan. Maybe she can use that a little bit, but I wonder about Hiro-san. You know, I don't think I've ever seen any of Hiro's projects. I think she takes an art class, though, why else would she be attending our school if she wasn't?”

"Oooh, oooh, maybe she got a special acceptance because she was so good at making 'special' art, you know, Yuno-chi.”

"'Special art', Miya-chan? What do you mean.”

"I mean, 'speeeecial' art, you know?" When Yuno still looked at her blankly, Miyako stood up and went to whisper in here ear.

"Miya-chan! I don't think Hiro-san would be drawing or painting those kinds of things!”

"Oh, you think she's a sculptor then? I wonder how long it takes to chisel out some of those details...”

"Miya-chan!" Yuno pounded her little fists on Miyako's shoulder in protest.

"Hey, hey, okay. I'll stop, Yuno-chi," Miyako caught Yuno's wrists with her hands. They held one another's eyes for a moment, and Yuno again felt her stomach do a somersault, going up to poke around in an airy mind then screaming down for a fiery landing that warmed her to her toes. It was just like when Miya was talking about reading her mind. Yuno blushed, she certainly hoped Miyako couldn't really do that, because Yuno had been thinking a little too much about what Hiro may or may not have been sculpting. Come to think of it, Miyako had said that Yuno was happy to see her and wanted to buy her lunch, and in the end, the first was true, and the second had come true...

"Um, Yuno-chi, did you want something, or can I have my hands back now?"

"Wha? But you..." Yuno stopped, looking curiously at her hands, fingers linked with Miyako.

"I let go of your hands about right after I grabbed them, but then you did this. Why is Yuno-chi holding my hands?" Miyako asked curiously, a bright smile on her face. Yuno blushed and let go.

"I, ah, I don't know, Miya-chan. I just, um... I don't know. I didn't mean to, sorry," Yuno finished a little lamely. Miyako raised an eyebrow.

"For what?”

"Um... for.... nothing.”

"You're sorry for nothing?”

"It's just, I didn't mean that I was 'sorry', it's just that..." Yuno wasn't sure why she had said that, but really, did Miyako have to focus on it so much?

"Okay, Yuno-chi, have your secret little thoughts. I thought you were a good kid, but I wonder if I would still think that if I really could read your mind," A smile and a wink told her that Miyako was only joking, but Yuno felt far more embarrassed about how close she thought Miyako had come to the truth, rather than because she was being teased.

"Never mind, Miya-chan!"Yuno scurried over to what remained of her things and started unpacking them as well. Out came her lamp and bath towels, clothes and uniforms were hung in the closet, and folders put in her bedside table. Miyako looked on as Yuno emptied most of what made the room hers from that little pile of boxes. Miyako thought that was kind of interesting, that most of everything in any of their rooms didn't really look like it was theirs until they parked their possessions on them. The shelf and bedside table and everything weren't really Yuno's, but when they had pictures and things on them, she immediately started thinking of them as "Yuno-chi's"shelf, and everything else. Miyako didn't know that it really mattered to anything, but she found the realization interesting. Yuno sat back down at the table when she was finished with a little puff of breath, pleased with herself at having the room back to looking like home. Miyako looked sidelong at her, recent experiences sparking a sudden curiosity.

"Say, Yuno-chi, you remember back at the end of the year when Hiro-san had gotten that love letter?" Miyako asked innocently enough.

"Mm-hmm. Yeah. Oh! Remember how grumpy Sae-san got then. I guess we know why now, I never would have thought that she would be the jealous type.”

"Yeah, that time." Miyako rushed along, with just a nod to acknowledge what Yuno had said, "Remember when we were all talking about various kinda romantic things or encounters--" Miyako stopped herself for a moment, "Hah! We knew Sae-san hadn't had all the boyfriends she said she had, but anyway--you had talked about your Dad?”

"Mm-hmm, I kind of remember that. What brought this up, Miya-chan?”

"So then, you've never had any kind of experience with boys?" Miyako asked bluntly. Yuno blinked.

"Um... no," she answered, embarrassed.

"I just thought that you'd never really said so, and nobody had really asked you before. I mean, I didn't think so, but..." Miyako shook her head, frowning, and Yuno suddenly took her usually silly friend very seriously

"Miya-chan, why are you being so serious all of a sudden?”

"No reason, Yuno-chi,"Miyako assured her, smiling as if in proof, "But I wanted to ask, then, if you had ever thoug--" Yuno's phone suddenly chimed loudly.

"Oh, hold on Miya-chan,"she looked at her phone, then typed out a message, sent it, and put it away, then she turned back to Miyako, "that was Hiro-san, she said she cooked early and invited us over to eat. We can go in a second, though, what was it you wanted to say?”

"Um... I forgot, Yuno-chi!" Miyako smiled with a high, chittering laugh that came out a little artificial, sounding unusual in Miyako's throat, "The thought of Hiro-san's cooking drove it right out of my mind!" She said, for the first time lying about an excuse that was often valid. Her question wasn't that important, why did she want to ask Yuno anyway?

"Oh, Miya-chan. Well, maybe you'll remember later, let's go ahead and go over.”

Chapter 4

"Hello, Hiro-san, Sae-san!"

"Hi honey, I'm home!”

"Hey guys, you better come have some of Hiro's miso and steamed meat buns before we finish them all,"at the sound of the latter, Miyako's eyes flew wide open and she ran into the room.

"But I thought they didn't sell those at this time of year!"

"I made them, silly,"Hiro smiled at her, "Just because I knew you liked them so much.”

"Thanks! I love you, Hiro-san!" Miyako took two great exaggerated steps towards her with her arms open wide, then stopped stock-still and looked at Sae.

"I'm not going to die, am I?”

Sae gritted her teeth, "Not unless you keep that up, Miyako!”

"Then you won't mind if I give her a--”


Miyako flopped to the floor, "Okay, so does this mean I can join in? I noticed you two seemed to like sitting.”

"Miyako, I think that's plenty enough!" Sae looked as though she may have been approaching a crimson color yet undiscovered by humanity. Yuno hid a small grin and sat down at the table, listening to their back-and-forth. Miyako always seemed to have a knack for taking things so un-seriously that nobody could have felt awkward even if they had wanted to. Yuno thought that she was perhaps laying it on a little thick today, but it seemed to be working.

"How long are you going to bug us about that? Can't people forget themselves once in a while without being reminded of it every day!?”

"It hasn't been a day yet, Sae-san, that was only an hour or two ago. Say, how long did it take you to cook, Hiro-san?”

"That's a quick subject change, Miya-chan. Not too long, we took a trip down to the store and I was able to prepare everything in about forty-five minutes.”

"Oh, I see. So then the time it took you to--”

"Subject change my foot, Hiro! She's still got her mind--”

"What? I thought it would be useful to know how long it takes for those kinds of things, knowledge is power and everything.”

"What kind of power could you get from that!?”

"The ways of the force are mysterious indeed, Sae.”

"Now what nonsense are you spouting?”

"Is there any seasoning you like for your soup, Yuno-san?" Hiro offered cordially, looking fondly over at the bickering friends, "Isn't it nice of Miya-chan to set Sae's mind at ease like that?”

"No, thank you. But you thought so too, Hiro-san?”

"Of course. Things wouldn't be the same without Miya-chan talking like she does, and Sae talking back like she does. Miya-chan is letting her know that there's no secrets, and no reasons for them, between friends.”

"It's true," Yuno said simply, "And this soup is delicious.”

"Thank you.”

"Isn't it a little heavy for you this time of year, though?" Hiro looked at her, wincing.

"No, no, Hiro-san! You look great, no diet necessary, but I'm just not used to you making food like this.”

"Well... I didn't really eat the past couple of days, I was getting hungry. I thought it would be okay if it was like that..." Hiro explained self-consciously.

"Oh. Hiro-san, what happened? You still look bothered about something, even though you and Sae-san made up. And why didn't you have rent or tuition this year?" Hiro twirled a loose lock of hair around her finger, and hung her head.

"Like we said, no secrets among friends," Hiro took a deep breath, and looked back up. "It's my parents, Yuno. No no, they're okay!" Hiro quickly filled in, seeing the look of shock on Yuno's face, "It's just that..." Hiro looked as though she were having trouble continuing.

"They're on the conservative side," Sae spoke up. Unnoticed to Yuno and Hiro, she and Miyako had stopped their banter and turned to listen to the more serious conversation, "And they have pretty traditional views on gender roles and marriage,"she let that sink in for Yuno and Miyako.

"Even so, I knew I needed to tell them that I... wasn't going to be bringing home a husband. They knew Sae, and liked her even though she didn't quite fit in to their mold of a proper young lady. Probably because you were always so courteous and polite, Sae," Hiro smiled at her, "So I thought that maybe if it was her, my parents would be able to accept it. But they didn't," Yuno and Miyako had twin looks of dawning realization on their faces, the pieces clicking into place. Sae continued again for Hiro, seeing that she didn't want to relive the experience more than she had to.

"So they said she wasn't going back to 'that school', and definitely wouldn't be coming back to the apartments where I was." Hiro nodded at her in thanks, but picked up her face, putting on a brave expression.

"I was just able to convince them to let me come pick up my things without their escort--I told them I was going to be saying goodbye, which wasn't really a lie when I said it--and I think you two know everything after that," Hiro faced Sae again, a hopeful expression on her face, "Really, I think if they just have some time to think about it, my parents will calm down, Sae. Really.”

"I'm sure they will, I think so too." Sae replied comfortingly, and laid a hand atop Hiro's. Yuno thought she looked hesitant, and not so convinced. The small girl struggled to think of a new subject to bring up away from this uncomfortable area.

"Hiro-san, now that you're going to be going to school after all, don't you need to go register for what classes you're going to take?”

"No, I already took care of that months ago. I though I was going to have to go let the school know I wasn't attending today, but now that my tuition is paid it's just like any other year.”

"Oh, I see," Yuno nodded.

"What classes do you take anyway?" Miyako popped in.

"Me?" Hiro placed a hand demurely to her breast, "Nothing fancy, just the regular classes and a third year general arts class. Why do you ask, Miya-chan?”

"I thought you might be taking a sculpting class.”

"Sculpting? Why on earth would you think I'm a sculptor?"

"Oh, Miya-chan, hahaha," Yuno interrupted quickly, shooting her a pleading look to not say any more, then she faced Hiro, "We were just... um, talking about what kind of art you might do here, Hiro-san, and she somehow became convinced that you must be a sculptor.”

"No such luck, Miya-chan." Hiro answered, "I'm not specially talented at any kind of art like you three are.”

"Oh no, Hiro-san, I'm not that good at all."

"Hey, Hiro, I don't have any special talent.”

"I'm specially talented? Neat!"

-The three girls, sans Miyako, protested, but Hiro just smiled.

"No, you're paintings are lovely, Yuno. Sae, you're getting much better with your drawing, I bet you'll be good enough to start illustrating your own works soon, and Miya-chan... I'm not sure what you do, exactly, but I bet your mind looks like an abstract piece of art."

Miyako nodded her head sagely, "Curses, Hiro-san, you stumbled onto my secret. On the outside known to the world: Miyako," she gestured grandiosely, posing with her chest thrust out and hands on her hips. Then she tilted her head to the side and twisted her mouth grotesquely, crossed her eyes, and pulled her nose and one eyelid to the sides with her hands, "And on the inside: Miya:picasso, eccentric genius!" She turned to Yuno and puckered at her with sucked-in fishy lips until the other girl covered her eyes.

"Yaaah! Stop with that face, Miya-chan, please," Sae and Hiro started laughing, and Miyako resorted her features and joined them. After a moment, Yuno did as well.

"So why are you here, Hiro-san, if you aren't focusing on being some kind of artist?”

"Right now the only other thing I could think of is interior design or culinary school, but those cost a lot more money to go to than just an art-focused private secondary school. I can still work on a sense of artsy-ness that will go well if I decide I still want to do something like that, and I don't have to make any expensive choices yet.”

"From what she told me," Said said, addressing Yuno and Miyako, "She had to talk pretty fast so her parents would let her come here."

"That too," Hiro agreed, "When I was looking at schools, I was, um, already pretty sure that I didn't quite share all their views, and didn't really look forward to going to one of the schools they wanted me to go too. I ended up talking a lot about how since this school was in a smaller town, it wouldn't have any 'urban youth corruption', and other such things, along with bringing up that it was cheaper than their schools, too.”

"Wow," Yuno said, eyes dreamy, "It's sort of funny, now that I think of it, but Hiro-san is a rebel in her family," They all thought about that, the demure and proper ladylike Hiro: a rebellious teen. This sent everybody, even Hiro, into another fit of giggles.

"Can I ride your motorcycle later, Hiro-san?" Miyako asked grinning.

"Sorry, but I have a cause, so I don't need a motorcycle," Hiro answered with a straight face. Sae and Yuno looked blank, but Miyako—who, like Hiro, had happened to see that movie—laughed.

"What's that got to do with anything?" Sae asked.

"Nothing really." Hiro answered, "There's just an old American movie called 'Rebel Without A Cause' that's something of a classic, and it featured a violent young man with a motorcycle." They might not have seen the movie, but Sae and Yuno had heard enough similar things about biker gangs to grin at trying to plug Hiro into those positions. Yuno recalled something Hiro had said earlier, and spoke to Sae.

"Hiro-san said you were getting good with your illustrations, Sae-san, but I just wondered something. If you have to write the story and do the art, won't that make it impossible to meet your deadlines?

"Nah. One of the reasons I'm so stressed out by deadlines right now is because my co-creator can't even start drawing until they get my manuscript, so whenever I'm late I'm taking time from somebody else. I think it's only for this series that I really have to worry about my deadlines. I could probably work out a better schedule with somebody, and get some more respect from an editor, after I get established in the business.”

"Wouldn't that be nice for you, Sae?" Hiro smiled warmly at her, and Sae nodded.

"It sure would," Yuno agreed, "So when do you think you'll feel confident enough in your work to start illustrating yourself?”

"Soon, Yuno, soon. Did you hear about the new third-year art teacher?" Yuno and Miyako shook their heads.

"According to what I've heard, he used to want to be a mangaka, but ended up favoring teaching instead. There are rumors that he still draws doujinshi under a pen name. I made sure to transfer to his class when I heard he was hired, and I bet he can help me loads.”

"Lucky!" Miyako congratulated her good fortune.

"Say, Yuno, Miya-chan, what about you two? Sae already has a future in her novels, and I've said what I still have thoughts for. What kinds of things do you want to do when you get out of school?"

"Not a clue," Miyako said simply, and all three others felt bad when they weren't at all surprised with that answer.

"And you, Yuno?”

"Um... I don't really know. I really like painting, but I don't know if I'm very good, and I've heard it's hard to make a career as just a painter.”

"I don't think that's true," Hiro spoke up, "Maybe not selling pieces that you paint on your own, but you could maybe do okay with commissions.”


"Yeah," Sae added, "You know, book covers or portraits or murals, things like that. You could still find time to try and sell your own pieces as well. You should probably have some kind of backup plan just in case, though, or a little career to get you through hard times," Sae sounded just like a guiding older sister, as she often managed to, "Do you have any idea what else you might like to do?”

"Ah... I'm not sure. Could I just be a secretary or something like that? Oh, but I'm not too terribly organized, and I can be forgetful...”

"How about a teacher?" Miyako suggested, "Like Miss Yoshinoya."

Everybody fell silent, and they all found themselves imagining Yuno dancing about at the front of a classroom in some form of either adorably cute or embarrassingly revealing outfit.

"Or at least a teacher, you don't have to be too much like her," Hiro amended the suggestion, "In fact, I really could see you as an elementary school teacher, Yuno, you seem like you would be good with children.”

"Of course she does, she's best friends with Miyako over there," Sae jerked her thumb over at the beaming girl.

"Eternally youthful," Miyako replied with absolutely no hint of having been offended, "So I never end up a grouchy grandpa like Sae-san."

"Hey, I act plenty young, and... wait, what do you mean by 'grandpa?'”

"Oh, is Hiro-san the grandpa then?”

"We can both be grandmas!”

"I can tell, grouchy grouchy.”

"H-e-e-e-y now, young whipper-snappers, quit yappin' and carrin' on now." Three startled sets of eyes came to rest on Hiro-san, who had just done a remarkably passable impersonation of a crotchety old man.

"I'll be the grandfather, Sae, you can knit the socks and bake everybody cookies, I'll just take it easy in my chair and yell at the television," Hiro smiled.

"Hmm, maybe we could both be grandpa's then," Sae muttered loudly.

"You think that might confuse the grandchildren?" Yuno mused.

"Nah, you know how kids are these days," Sae said, then caught herself, "Jeez, I do make a good grandpa.”

"Miyako Picasso is right again!”


Yuno's long exhale echoed audibly in her bathroom. She started her bathwater running, and when it was full selected a deep, leafy green bath salt, feeling that it was a nice, spring-like color that made her think of growth and life. Immersing herself to the ears, she lay back and allowed her head to gently float on the surface of the bathwater. Like always, she valued this time for relaxation and thought. Today had been hectic, but here she was at the end of it, and everything was almost like it used to be. If anything, her friends seemed even closer now; she now knew exactly how close Sae and Hiro were, and they weren't keeping it a secret any long, which made Yuno feel as though they'd all taken a small step to a closer friendship. She let her mind drift through the day... seeing Miyako so early from getting off the train, running into Sae and Hiro like a car into a train wreck, piecing together everything... the morning wasn't fun, at least not most of it. Miyako had certainly done as much as she could to keep Yuno's spirits up. She felt warmer and safer with that thought, knowing that Miyako was right next door, somebody who cared about her that much. That brought to mind their conversation from before dinner with Sae and Hiro. Had Miyako held that thought? Yuno would have to ask about that.

Boys... that's what Miyako had asked her about. Yuno remembered Sae's long objections to speculation about her romantic history. According to her she had been gunning to single-handedly break every heart in the school, and had just about succeeded. It wasn't a big surprise that they hadn't believed her, a slightly bigger surprise was learning why Sae had always objected so strenuously. Sae must have known what Hiro's parents were like, so did she just express her profound interest in boys out of an act she had to put on for Hiro's parents? Yuno giggled. Their cool, collected friend could be awfully excitable sometimes, and those times usually coincided with Hiro being involved. Yuno sighed, wondering if she might ever make somebody lose their composure, if somebody might feel that way about her some day.

Romance. Surely it would come to her eventually. Her friends all told her she was cute, and she wasn't even out of high school yet, so she didn't need to think about it too much. But still, sometimes that fairytale love-at-first-sight, whirlwind romance seemed to be less and less of a possibility. She would stay confident and hopeful, though! It would happen, she would come face to face with somebody, and something would pass between them, and she would get butterflies in her tummy and feel all funny and warm inside. She would always smile when she saw them, and they would always smile back, and no matter what was going on, they would be happy together.

Hmm. But was she sure she would know it when it came? In the stories, the characters never really seemed to know at first, they would feel all funny, and maybe even sometimes they would ask themselves, "Is this love?”, but a lot of times too they would end up not knowing about it or trying to convince themselves that it wasn't love, and while that could make for a good story, Yuno didn't want that to happen to her. Was there any time she could think of that she might have felt something like that, even a little bit, so she would recognize the feeling when it was for real? She thought deeply, trying to think of any time, with anybody, she might have felt anything like the passing or the tummy or the warmth...

"Yuno-chi!"A voice echoed in her mind. What was that? Yuno frowned... she supposed, yes, with Miyako. Today when she had met Miyako and been with her in person for the first time in a few months, hadn't she felt something peculiar? When her friend had looked so deeply into her eyes, or when she had held her after they'd seen their friends so upset and angry and Yuno had broken down, or later when in a friendly little scuffle Miyako had grabbed her arms; hadn't she felt oddly lightheaded, and her tummy had done flips and felt weird, and she felt so warm and content inside... wasn't that odd? What a coincidence. Maybe love felt something like that. Probably a good deal bigger, though, she thought. Yes, well now she thought she had an idea of the feelings, all she had to do was wait for somebody to come along and make her feel like that, and that would be the person for her.

"Yuno-chi? Yoo-hoo, helloooo, Yuno-chi?" Yuno's eyes fluttered open, the resonant voice floating through her memory. Or, was it? She lifter her head clear of the surface, and listened for what she thought might be Miyako calling her. Instead of another call, the bathroom door slid open and she was there.

"M-Miya-chan!" Yuno yelped, covering up with her hands out of reflex, pulse jumping though this wasn't the first time Miyako had just popped in during her bath, "What's the matter?”

"I think I lost my number three pencil, do you have an extra?”

"Sure, it's, um... it's in my bedside table, in a little box in the drawer."

"Thanks, Yuno-chi,"she left, and Yuno heard her rummaging and then leaving.

"I'll return it tomorrow. I just felt like sketching tonight, can't sleep," Miyako called over her shoulder before she left. Yuno breathed deeply, sinking back in the water and trying to slow her heartrate, going back to her previous thoughts. Yeah, it sure would be nice when somebody came along who would make her pulse race, and her insides do flips, and warm her heart. She couldn't wait.

She finished her bath and dressed in pajamas. Setting her alarm, she climbed into bed and slid under the covers. Unlike Miyako, the day had exhausted her, and she fell right asleep. She had vague, ethereal dreams. She was laying somewhere, but couldn't quite see. It felt like there was somebody next to her, and it felt like the most important thing in the world to look at them, but she wouldn't turn around. She started fidgeting, wanting to look but not looking, but then the world started to come into view. The soft, subdued light of a golden-amber sun shone down on her as she lay on a carpet of fine, fine yellow grass, smelling of flowers. A stream gurgled along above her head, out of sight. She swore that there was something worth hearing in that sound, but once again found it hard to focus on it anyway. Above her a light, gusting breeze blew over, cleaner than any air she had ever breathed, and as it caressed her cheeks she felt the odd compulsion to touch it back, but it was only wind. Despite her odd, uneasy and unfulfillable desires, the sun was warm, and the breeze gentle, and the brook lulled her senses with its music, and she was content.

Chapter 5

Miyako flipped shut her sketchbook with a sharp snap, sighing. Her stomach and elbows ached dully from laying on the hard wooden floor for hours, drawing. The night was still, and the others were all asleep, but she just didn't feel tired. This time last year, all she was was tired; that had been a terrible cold to start the year with. Even though she was an idiot, she thought fondly.

She sat up cross-legged, hugging her book against her chest. For no reason other than to be moving, she rocked restlessly back and forth, then lay her sketchbook down across her knees. Reaching up and taking out her ponytail tie, she shook her head and allowing her hair to fall loose. Miyako grabbed a comb from a paint brush jar on her long, cluttered table and started carefully working through the day's tangles. Her eyes caught the pencils she'd left laying on the floor, and she picked them up now before she forgot and lost them or stepped on them. Setting her comb to the side, she picked up her pencil case and put her number one and two pencil in, but kept the number three out. This one was Yuno's. Miyako felt a little silly for borrowing a pencil for simple sketching to pass the time, but she'd wanted to give it a little more effort than her other casual projects. The varying shades and reflectiveness's of different pencils added a dimension to her drawings that she couldn't get with just one, and she was happy with how they had turned out tonight. The pencil twirled in her nimble fingers and around her hand. As energetic as she was, she'd become fairly good at pen and pencil twirling over the years. She set it on the bridge of her nose, and looked up, trying to keep it balanced. When she grew bored with that, she tossed it into the air and caught it, again and again until she missed and it clattered to the floor, rolling away.

After she'd gotten up and retrieved the pencil, she just set it on her table and left it alone. Still feeling wide-awake, she stripped down to her underwear and pulled on a short pair of shorts and a loose t-shirt, her equivalent of pajamas. She turned out the light and lay down in her bed, staring at the ceiling. This was one year, then, since she'd met the girl who'd become her best friend. The memory caused a smile to stretch across her features in the dark. Miyako was always one to make accurate, if not particularly good, first impressions, and her first words with Yuno had been a query regarding soba noodles for her new neighbor. However it had worked out, they had become fast friends almost instantly; they hadn't even noticed it happen. Impulsively, Miyako stood up and walked to her sink, turning the knob. Water splashed out, swirling down the drain. Of course, that was exactly what should happen, as she had paid her water bill this year. Sae and Hiro had both reminded her of it last month on the phone, while she was still with her parents back home. Yuno was always so nice that she didn't seem to consider the possibility that Miyako might need to be told those sorts of obvious things. Yuno was just like that.

She continued to stare at the ceiling, completely wide awake, with her whirring brain almost taunting her with its activity, as if to say that she shouldn't expect sleep anytime soon. Miyako was aware that most people wrote her off fairly quickly as a ditz, or immature, or childish. She also knew they were entirely correct when they supposed that she was ditzy, immature, or childish, but writing her off as nothing but those wasn't right at all. That was probably the nicest things about having the friends she did. Sae and Hiro and Yuno, they could all look past her eccentric behaviors--no, that wasn't it. They could look at her eccentric behaviors, and see the rather eccentric girl behind them, and loved her anyway.

Miyako considered, and concluded that she had probably regressed a bit after she had moved here. Maturity-wise, that is. There was something about being accepted so wholly by her friends, and something about being in this art school—a school that managed to look upon her foibles and see creativity--that had let her fly more freely than her stuffy primary school had. Especially around Yuno. That was a slight difference in her friends. Hiro and Sae would calmly accept her behavior, sometimes adding a touch of amusement or a hint of irritation, but little else. It was Yuno who gave her most of her motivation. Miyako felt no reason to restrict her imagination or actions around her best friend. If Miyako were to try and pinpoint the reason for that, it was probably because of Yuno's cute little smile. How could she possibly consider limiting a part of herself that made Yuno smile? There was only one thing that could make her turn away from trying to make Yuno smile, and that was the occasional incident wherein it became more practical to make her friend blush, also quite cute. Yuno was good at that cute thing.

That Yuno was good at the cute thing worked out quite nicely, because Miyako appeared to be good at the making her smile and blush thing. Of course, neither were all that difficult. Miyako smiled at some of her more recent memories. She was fairly certain that her knowledge of the, ahem, facts of life was no more extensive than Yuno's, but Yuno's naivety came into play when she got so embarrassed about having those referred to, while Miyako remained very comfortable with the entire idea. After all, everybody wanted somebody, or at least some body, at some time, and Miyako didn't see anything embarrassing about that. Not in theory, at least. It was like earlier that day, during Sae and Hiro's little display. Yuno had been highly embarrassed, flaming scarlet in the kind of blush that Miyako wished she could bring about on demand, while Miyako had just felt... well, she wasn't sure exactly what she had felt. A little surprised, for sure, that her two friends had had that kind of relationship and had kept it secret for so long. Then she felt happy for them, of course, they were her friends. But underneath that was something else. It was a little ache, only ache wasn't the right word. More a little emptiness that lay somewhere in the bottom of her chest. A little feeling, really, that she usually wasn't aware of. It tended to be known on nights like this. She would lay awake and alone with only her thoughts for company, and feel that sense of restlessness that told her that there was something that she should be doing or something she needed, and not doing or getting whatever it was left her feeling aimless and unfulfilled. She was a little consoled by the knowledge that the feeling always faded by morning, like clockwork, though she wished she knew what it was that she was not quite getting. A long breath of air whistled restlessly through her lips, then blinked and realized that she'd been standing there with the water running for a few minutes while lost in thought. She turned it off with a peculiar pang. Last year when she had forgotten to pay her water bill, Yuno had allowed her to use her bath. Looks like that wouldn't be happening this year, which was almost a shame, that had been a fun early memory to make.

Miyako yawned, and stopped in the middle of it, surprised. Somehow fatigue had caught up with her as she slowed down to muse, she noted gratefully. It was already deep into the early hours Monday morning, but at least she wouldn't be losing all her sleep. That would be an awful way to start school; she already had problems staying awake in class anyway. Laying down, she was slightly perturbed when her mind drifted once again towards that little spot of absence in her chest. It always seemed to call attention to itself in times like now, she thought, when she stopped thinking about anything else. She suddenly wondered if Yuno ever felt like this, maybe she would know what to do...

She drifted off easily in the middle of her thoughts, sprawled out on the top of her bed.



"Miya-chan? Miya-chan, are you up yet?"

--Yes, she was almost up, Miyako thought irritably, she'd been climbing this mountain for a few weeks now, battling hunger and the elements. In fact, she would have fallen off four times already, if she hadn't been able to fly. What did they think she'd been doing, that she wouldn't be almost to the top yet?--

"Hey, Miyako, it's time to go!"

--Time to go? What was she talking about? They'd already left the bank with the loot, now they needed to get away from the cops. If only that blasted cloud would stop trying to eat them, they'd be out of reach of the police and their terrifying trained attack sofas--

"We're coming in, Miya-chan."

--No! Don't come in, you'll be sucked into the time warp and forced to eat robot fingers for the rest of your life! There must be some way to undo the spilled soda... ah, but now there was an earthquake!--

"Yo, Miyako, up and atom!" Sae yelled as she shook the dead asleep Miyako's shoulder, in what amounted to a futile attempt to wake her. She stopped, and looked helplessly to Hiro and Yuno.

--The earthquake had finally settled. Her heart was pounding, and it was pitch black. She'd fallen safely inside of a tepee, however, and rescue would probably be on the way, she'd listen carefully for the elephants trumpeting. For now, however, she needed to find some provisions... ah, what was this?--

"Why's she chewing on her pillow?" Hiro wondered aloud. Yuno shrugged, then decided to give a shot at waking their sleeping friend. She sat on the edge of the bed and grabbed Miyako's shoulders, giving her a little shake, then leaning over and loudly talking into her ear, "Miya-chan, you need to wake up, it's time for school!"

--What's this? There was somebody else trapped with her. Miyako sighed, the poor soul shouldn't have taken the taxi. But the girl, Miyako thought she should know her name, grabbed her by the shoulders and started talking to her. She couldn't understand what she was saying, but thought the girl was probably scared, so she did the best thing she knew of for that situation, and gave her a big hug--

"Gyah! Miya-chan!" Yuno yelped as Miyako suddenly reached up and pulled her down, hugging her like a teddy bear around her shoulders. Miyako was fairly athletic, and her grip was sound, so all Yuno could do was kick her feet against the mattress as she was held in place next to her friend, cheek to cheek. To her chagrin, Sae and Hiro started snickering.

--The girl seemed less afraid, but still agitated. The unseen figure in the dark raised her face and nuzzled their cheeks together. Miyako breathed in sharply, suddenly becoming more aware of the body she felt against her own. She wasn't sure what she was feeling, but suddenly it seemed only too natural to lean over, and...--

"M-Miya-chan?" Yuno stopped struggling and inquired nervously as the blonde's breathing changed from the deep, heavy rhythm of sleep. Yuno twisted her neck to see Miyako's face, which she found easily, so close to her own. Also close to her were Miyako's lips. In fact, they were so close that. Eyes wide, Yuno took a long, surprised few seconds to realize that she was experiencing her first kiss. Sae and Hiro looked on, at first too surprised to move.

"Mi--" Yuno, after a moment's hesitation started to object, but Miyako's mouth opened slightly and swallowed her protests. Yuno felt something lightly tickling her closed lips, and wondered dazedly what it was, for some reason suddenly thinking that it would be a good idea to open her own lips. Before she could do so, she felt another pair of hands on her, pulling her away. Yuno felt suddenly, irrationally irritated; she was about to find out what that soft touch on her lips was, couldn't they have waited for a second? Sae grabbed her shoulders and pulled while Hiro forced Miyako's arms open. The whole process yanked Miyako into a sitting position, where she sat, eyes coming half-open.

"Miyako, have you no shame?" Sae shouted at her.

"Eh, wha?" Miyako answered sleepily. Sae roughly took Miyako and shook her a bit.

"Wake up, damn it, stop dreaming!"

Yuno watched all of this with detached interest, her fingertips resting lightly on her lips, a light flush high in her cheeks.

"Yuno? Yuno-san?" Hiro asked her, and Yuno slowly looked over.

"Hmmm?" Yuno managed dreamily, and Hiro frowned.

"Sae, I think she's in shock!"

"Who, Miyako?" Sae asked, watching as Miyako finally seemed to be becoming aware of her surroundings, blinking and appearing alert, though confused by all of the chaos in her room just after waking up.

"Hey everybody, what's going on? What's wrong with Yuno-chi?"

"What's wrong with her? You are!" Miyako frowned, giving this serious consideration, then brightened with a look of discovery.

"Oh! I think I was having naughty dream," Miyako said casually, confirming either that she was still sleepy enough to not think about what she was saying, or that she really did have a deficiency of shame, "Did I sing something weird that shocked her?"

"Sing something, sing something?" Sae said incredulously, "No, you--"


Miyako stepped out of her room to meet the three girls who had been waiting outside while she changed. Sae was tapping her foot impatiently, Hiro had a calming hand laid upon her arm, and Yuno appeared to be off in her own world. They all turned to see Miyako, still smoothing out her skirt and sleeves. She made brief eye contact with Yuno, and they both looked away. As it turned out, Miyako had some small amount of shame, or at least the ability to feel abashed.

"G'morning, everybody, thanks for getting me up," Miyako said with a nervous little smile. Sae rolled her eyes, Hiro smiled slightly, and Yuno even looked her way and smiled reassuringly. With that, the tension went out of the foursome and all was forgiven.

"Let's make like General MacArthur, troops!" Miyako stated firmly, then jutted her chin forward in a frown and marched forward, arms swinging exaggeratedly.

"What are you doing, Miya-chan?" Yuno inquired.

"I shall return!" Was Miyako's only answer as she continued her odd strut. Looking confused, Yuno followed, and Hiro explained that part of the history of the American general and the Philippines as they walked to the school across the street. By odd coincidence they met the first-year art teacher, Miss Yoshinoya, just inside the doors. That they met her in the school wasn't so much unusual, what was had to do with her choice of dress for today: the uniform of a four-star general, including sunglasses and riding crop. Miyako stopped and dropped her act in favor of a long stare at this newest costume.

"Hi, everybody. It's so good to see all of your faces again," Yoshinoya greeted them warmly.

"What's with that outfit today, Yoshi?" Sae asked her.

"Oh, this?" Yoshinoya said, pretending to be taken aback by the question, "To be honest, I'm going to be teaching a couple of second-year art classes this year. I hear that second-years are absolute monsters, I was hoping I could look a little intimidating."

"Um... but Miss Yoshinoya, we're second years," Yuno said, tilting her head quizically.

"Why, so you are! Please, don't be too harsh with me, I've never taught students like you before."

"But we were just in your class last year."

"Well that was last year, wasn't it?" Yoshinoya said cheerfully.

"But, why are you teaching second-year classes this year, anyway?" Hiro asked politely.

"One of the art instructors resigned, and the only qualified replacement found only had first-year experience too. I don't know why, but the Principal told me that he and I would split first and second years between us."

"Even though he scolds you a lot, he must see that you're a really good, nice teacher." Yuno encouraged her.

"Thank you for saying so, Yuno-san," Yoshinoya smiled sweetly, "I think I'll be glad to have you in class for another year."

"You mean that I'm in your class?"

"Mm-hmm, and Miyako-san too. I don't have any new second-years, I was given all groups that I had last year."

"Wow, that should make things easier for you."

"I think so too. It'll be different, usually I have only new faces every year."

"So why are you so worried?"

"Worried? I am?"

"The outfit...?"

"Oh, this," she looked down at herself, "Oh my, yes! I'm still worried. Of course. See you all later," Yoshinoya walked quickly away. Watching her go, Sae sighed and frowned.

"Why couldn't she she just admit that she wanted to dress up?"

"Miya-chan, we're going to have Miss Yoshinoya again!" Yuno said happily, taking Miyako's hand excitedly. Miyako's face sported a wide grin too, at this happy news.

"Phew! I was afraid I would get some stuffy mothball teacher that would try to silence the great Miyako-Picasso!" They both seemed to realize simultaneously that this was as close a contact as they'd had since this morning, and both thought that they didn't really mind, but also both thought that the other might, and that they should let go. So they both did, breaking eye contact and blushing lightly. All might have been forgiven, but things might be awkward for a day or so... or at least each hoped it would only be that long.

Miyako thought the whole thing was highly unfair. Of all the times her dreaming could have turned weird, it had to be when Yuno was there, and that close? She didn't remember what had happened in reality, but she remembered her dream well enough, and what Sae had told her seemed to match up pretty well. But really, verybody thought it was a little odd that she could sing in her sleep, but they got over that, could they just overlook the fact that she could sleep-kiss too? Seemed perfectly reasonable to her.

Chapter 6

"Okay, everyone, settle down," Yoshinoya chided them cheerfully, crack! The sharp snap of her new riding crop on her desk made for quick compliance. Yoshinoya appeared to realize that she was smiling far too cheerfully for a hard-bitten military officer, and tried to arrange her face into some measure of severity. She failed, to a chorus of giggles and general amusement from the rest of the class. Crack! Again she slapped the desk, giving up on a serious expression.

"It's so nice to see all of your faces again!" Crack! The students winced at the sound. Unconsciously, they found themselves sitting straighter in their desks, carrying themselves in such a way as to appear the textbook example of perfect classroom behavior. They weren't sure if they were actually doing something wrong, but they didn't want her flailing about all day with her new toy. Crack!

Yoshinoya didn't seem to notice her students flinching every time, it didn't sound so loud to her under her padded helmet, "Now, I usually like to start off the year with a nice, simple drawing assignment. It's such a nice day, too, but because I don't want the principal to see me, why don't we find some nice motif in here?" Her eyes roamed over the room, and she swished her crop around negligently.

"I've got it! Why you all pair up and use a partner as a model? That's easy. If there's an odd number of people in the class, of if there's any groups that just prefer, I'm completely willing to pose for you," there were an even number, and when all the milling around was done they all preferred to sketch a classmate. It wasn't so much that they didn't like their teacher, or didn't think she would make a good model, it was just that she was fond enough of posing that she wouldn't stay still long enough for a proper sketch. Combine that with general unwillingness to present the teacher with a bad sketch of herself, and it was a rare occasion when anybody took her up on her frequent offers of modeling. Yuno and Miyako had, of course, immediately turned to one another when Yoshinoya had explained the nature of their assignment. Then, unusually, they had both looked away. Miyako smiled tentatively at her.

"Yuno-chi, partners?"

Yuno looked relieved, "Of course." They opened their desks to gather their materials. Yuno took out her new sketchbook for this year and flipped the cover open to its fresh first page. She was glad to see that Miyako had gotten a new sketchbook as well, but then she noticed that Miyako also flipped over the first page, and Yuno saw a drawing on the back, though it was hidden under the back of the pad before she could make it out.

"Miya-chan, what were you sketching that other night?" Yuno asked curiously, trying to break some residual awkwardness. Miyako looked at her for a moment, wide-eyed, and quickly flipped another page over to completely obscure whatever it was.

"Nothing, nothing. I'm a little embarrassed and don't want to show it." Yuno blinked. Miyako, embarrassed? "So, we need to take turns at this," Miyako continued quickly, "Would you like to go first, or would it be better if I--"

"No, I'll go ahead and go first." Yuno said quickly. Sketching was relaxing, and it kept her eyes moving and busy. If she was the model she wouldn't have much more to do than to sit there, be still, and watch Miyako work. So she picked up her pencil and held it before her, trying to get a good sense of depth and perspective on her motif. Target locked on, she thought involuntarily, as she couldn't help but do now. But then she frowned. Her perspective was fine, but there was something amiss with her subject.

"Miya-chan, what's wrong, why do you look so sad?"

"Sad? I do?" Miyako said, genuinely surprised, "I... I suppose I am, a little bit," she'd been watching Yuno, and she looked so jumpy and preoccupied, even the smiles she directed at Miyako put atop a layer of distraction, and Miyako was certain it was all her fault. She felt a little hurt; it was just one little mishap. Did Yuno think that Miyako was trying to do those sorts of things to her all of the time now? Normally, if she thought that somebody had a misunderstanding about her, Miyako would have no trouble at all swiftly talking to them and trying to correct that mistake. There was just one problem with that, this time, and that was Miyako's memory. In all reality, there was absolutely no reason whatsoever to even think that Yuno was the girl from her dream. Conversely, though, there was no reason to assume she wasn't . How that troubling little possibility had snuck into her head at all, she didn't know, but she couldn't seem to get rid of it. The problem with that thought was there was a good reason for Yuno to not be the girl, and that was because she was her best friend, and she just wanted her to be a best friend, she didn't... she didn't feel...

That was as far as she'd been getting with this particular train of thought lately. The same reason she couldn't smile and pretend like everything was normal, or why she couldn't reassure Yuno on this score, was the same reason she couldn't continue that train of thought: she was a bad liar. She could tease and joke with a perfectly straight face, all in good fun, but this obviously was far out of that realm. Miyako of course really, really liked Yuno as her best friend; she loved her sweet, innocent, sometimes clumsy little counterpart. Being a friend had been so nice and fun that she'd never had time to consider that she might not only want to be a friend. Explaining that didn't sound like fun, but Miyako decided that even barring a real explanation, she could still try to talk to Yuno.

"Yuno-chi, are you made at me?" Miyako asks suddenly, "Because you know, this morning, I didn't really mean..." Miyako still, somehow, tried to say that anyway, to set her friends mind at east. She wa still a terrible liar, though.

"What? Mad at you?" Yuno asks in return, her turn to be surprised now, "No, not at all!" Why would Miyako think she was upset at her? Yuno just wanted to know why Miyako looked so sad, had she sounded harsh when she asked? Did she seem like she was upset since this morning? Yuno wasn't sure what she was, but it sure wasn't angry. She could reassure Miyako on that account, and also, what else had Miyako had just said? That hesitant tone of voice, reference to this morning, the unfinished thought... what Miyako "didn't" was pretty clear, even to the chronically naïve Yuno. Yuno thought vaguely that she should be happy about that, Miyako "didn't." Now that she knew for sure, there was no reason for her to think about the incident. No reason to think about her first kiss. She was probably being silly, anyway. A first kiss was supposed to leave a girl dazed and confused, that's what she'd been told, so it must be that it didn't matter who it was. That was it. That would explain the butterflies in her stomach and the unfamiliarity of her own thoughts. That would surely explain the sinking sensation in the pit of her stomach at Miyako's assurance. Of course it did.

"Oh, so you didn't--I mean, why would I be mad at you, Miya-chan?" Yuno tried her best to smile. Miyako saw that she had to try, and wasn't very reassured.

"Okay, Yuno-chi. Go ahead," she said anyway. Yuno picked up her pencil again, and used the incongruously somber Miyako as her model.


"Okay, everybody, please come present me with your work. You can come up in pairs for criticisms." Yoshinoya called out when they had about fifteen minutes left in the period. Miyako's eyes moved from their patrol between Yuno and her sketchpad, and she noted a par of finished students moving up already.

"I think you have some time to finish, Miya-chan, sorry for taking so long," Yuno apologized, though she really hadn't taken that long at all, and Miyako was about to complete hers in about the same amount of time. Miyako nodded tersely, completely caught up in her work in a way that she didn't often feel. She felt a bit inspired by Yuno, who had achieved a similarly serious expression when she had taken her turn. Miyako felt she should try and be so conscientious of her own efforts. So she tried to get just perfect the line of her lips and the curve of the mouth, to show in some way with the light marks of dull gray the brightness of Yuno's eyes and the softness of her hair; to lay out the gentle lines of her cheeks and jaw, the attractively neat angles of her brow and nose, all in such a way as to somehow convey who Yuno was and what she meant to the person who had put her to paper.

All to soon, it seemed, she wanted to look at her model one more time, to see if there was anything at all she might be able to do, but her model was gone. Yuno was standing beside her, laying a hand on her shoulder, and telling her that they needed to go give Yoshinoya in their papers, all of the other students had done so and gone. Miyako shook her head, shaking clear the odd daze that comes from concentrating on something very hard for quite a time. She jumped up, and they walked to the front desk together.

"My, you two, you looked as though you were really trying your very best on this assignment. Let me see how you did," Miyako extended her paper, but it met Yuno's in the air. They both retracted, halfway extended, made gestures of invitation with their hands, and finally Yoshinoya gently reached out and grabbed them both. Yuno and Miyako waited expectantly.

"Oh my, you two seem to have gotten much better since I had you in class last year, and you were two of my better students anyway," she praised, looking down at the papers speculatively. She turned to both of them.

"These are such very nice sketches, Yuno-san, Miyako-san. You really gave them everything you had, for someone close to you, and that love really comes through when someone looks at this," she turned the papers over, and Yuno and Miyako both gave a start, they'd not gotten to see the other's drawings yet. They were incredibly different, but both breathtaking for what they were. Yuno's work spoke of the world and the way the heart saw it, Miyako's work spoke of the heart and the way it was seen in the world. While Yuno had used a very accurate, realistic style to show her feelings, Miyako used her feelings and a strange, mind-bending style to depict the realities of the world that couldn't be seen. Yuno's representation of Miyako was gorgeous in both its reality and imagination. There on Miyako's face was a carefree, lopsided grin that she knew she loved to wear, but that she hadn't been just now. Everything else about the picture, though, appeared frighteningly lifelike compared to the time that had been put into it. You could almost count the hairs in the bangs that lay across her forehead. It spoke of the reality of the Miyako in front of her, and the wish for a Miyako that she had known, juxtaposed into a single lovely piece. But while one could see so clearly how Yuno saw the world in her sketch, one could see how Miyako thought about the world in her own. There in the depicted Yuno's features was something that seemed to suggest to the viewer the warmth her cheeks, the softness of her hair, the sweetness of her voice. But just as easy to feel somewhere in the paper was distracted tilt to her head, the wistful turn to her lips, and the hint of melancholy hidden behind eyes that somehow seemed to shine with life from the paper.

Yoshinoya looked a them speculatively, "Obviously, you two are getting high marks for today's lesson, and I know to expect good things from you this year. Might I ask to hold onto these sketches?"

"Well, actually-"


Yoshinoya smiled, and wordlessly placed them back on the desk next to their owner, then got up and headed to the door. They grabbed their sketches and went back to put up their things, then walked to the door. Yoshinoya was still there and holding it open for them.

"Have a good day, you two. Oh,and Yuno-san: Miyako-san probably has good reason for not smiling right now, she'll smile like that again when she works through it. And Miyako-san: Don't worry so much, you two are very good friends, and I'm sure Yuno-san would tell you if she was upset with you. Even so, if you two are worried about these things, you should find some time to talk about them together and stop being such wet blankets about the whole business."

They blinked at her. Yoshinoya had, on occasion, bestowed some gem of wisdom to her students in an uncommon display of intuition and maturity, but it still came as a surprise every time from the person they were just as accustomed to see whining about her parents or speaking with a trembling lip after getting scolded by the principal. They looked at one another, a little sheepish at how awkward they'd been behaving.

That's it, Miyako thought to herself: after school today she would go to the Beri mart, buy herself some ice cream, and give her mind a thorough inspection. That was a task she never took lightly, and rarely ever took at all.

Hiro, Yuno thought, after school today she would go talk to her older classmate, who would surely be able to help her with her questions, and who she could trust with what she had to say. Sae would be good too, but she felt like Hiro would be more gentle in her reaction.

Nodding a simultaneous affirmative that neither noticed in the other, they headed out to lunch and the rest of their day.

Chapter 7

[Author's notes:

Note for those who read the first posting of this before I took it down- Sorry for the delay, but somebody pointed out some canonical conflict, so I took the chapter down, watched all of Hidamari Sketch again in chronological order, and fixed it so there wasn't any conflict, at least not by my interpretation.

It's not much, but I wanted to explain the discrepencies if you read it earlier.


The rest of the school day passed much more pleasantly for Yuno and Miyako, their teacher's words fresh in their mind throughout. Yuno stopped worrying about her world becoming a little more mixed up, and Miyako stopped worrying about Yuno worrying, and without either of them worrying about things that didn't need to be worried about, they had a distinctly less worrisome first day back at school, at least right up until they walked out.

Yuno loosed along, low moan of discontent, "That's something you're not supposed see in the summer," she said, looking at the gray, overcast sky. It had been clear the last time she'd seen outside, but at some point afterward a low cloud bank had come to blanket the sky clear to the horizon.

"Don't worry, Yuno-chi, it's probably just a silly summer shower that will be gone in an hour."

"Hey you two, wait up!" Their two older friends followed them out of the building and joined them.

"Sae-san, Hiro-san, how did your first day go?" Yuno asked the beaming pair.

"Fantastic!" Sae started, "All of my classes are great. I'm only taking the academic classes that I need to graduate, so it doesn't look like those are going to be really hard, but my writing and art courses are perfect. They're serious and challenging, and the teachers actually manage to treat you like you know what you're doing."

"I'm doing well too, Yuno-san," Hiro added afterwards, "I've finally stopped thinking about it, and decided to take a culinary arts class this year. I'm looking forward to trying some new things in my kitchen, I hope you'll help me decide if I'm doing it right."

"For the sake of Hiro-san, I would go miles out of my way," Miyako pledged her future assistance.

"How about you two?" Sae asked.

"It feels a lot like last year, actually," Yuno grinned, "Especially with Yoshinoya teaching us again. Math is still math and history is still history, but I still have hopes for this year being even better than last."

"So, did Miss Yoshinoya take you out somewhere for a sketching assignment like usual?"

"Not today, she said she didn't want the Principal to see her."

"Right, right, not with that military get-up. I wonder if she'll ever mellow out on those things, it would make the Principal go easier on her," Sae shook her head.

"What did you do today, then?" Hiro spoke up.

"We still did sketches," Miyako said, "Just in the classroom. I got to draw Yuno-chi."

Yuno nodded, "And I did Miya-chan."

"Can I see, or did she keep them?"

Yuno and Miyako pulled out their sketch pads and handed them to Sae. She handed one to Hiro and they flipped them open.

"Hey, this is really good," Sae said, loosing a low whistle as she looked over Yuno's pad, "That's Miyako for sure, I swear she's gonna jump right out at me, and probably fall over," Miyako stuck her tongue out at the grinning Sae, then turned to Hiro.

"Well? How about mine?" She asked eagerly. Hiro chewed a lip.

"Why do you have two of them, Miya-chan? And full-body sketches?" Miyako looked blank for a moment, then brightened.

"Oh, no! Turn a couple of pages over," she instructed. Yuno looked over at Miyako sharply. So the sketches from the other night had been sketches of her? But would Miyako really be that embarrassed about having sketched Yuno? Unless... imagination running away with her, Yuno started thinking of ample reasons why Miyako wouldn't want to show her the sketches. She firmly clamped down on them, though, thinking that Hiro probably would have exhibited more of a reaction in that case. A light intake of breath from Hiro told them that she'd come to the real sketch.

"These are really, really good." Hiro echoed, looking between them both, "Setting a new standard for yourselves this early in the year?"

"No, no, it's nothing like that." Yuno said, waving a hand at Hiro abashed. Unseen by Yuno and Miyako, their friends shared a concerned glance. Yuno kept an apprehensive eye fixed on the sky. She didn't like rain much, too often it seemed as though the quality of her day would go downhill with the quality of the weather. That, certainly, was the last thing she needed to happen now.

Then the downpour came.

First a few lonesome drops, that Yuno only noticed from the spots that appeared on the pavement, then sheets and sheets of wet coursed down from the clouds, instantly blanketing them and their clothes in moisture. Yuno was suddenly very thankful for her school bag's glossy waterproof finish as she hoisted it above her head to keep off the rain. She and the others broke into a light jog across the street. Miyako was in front of her, and Yuno noticed with chagrin that her backpack was cloth; moreover, it didn't look at all in good repair. Yuno kept pace with her friend and used her own pack to shield Miyako's instead of herself until they'd reached the safety of the apartment overhangs. Yuno had her eyes closed to ward off the rainwater, so she didn't notice when Miyako stopped, accidentally hitting her in the back of the head with her pack. Miyako turned back to her, took in the situation at a glance and flashed a quirky grin in thanks. Then Miyako shook her head, scattering rainwater everywhere, to the dismay of Hiro and Sae and amusement of Yuno.

"Thanks, Yuno-chi, I'd have hated for my pad and things to get wet. Didn't do much for you, though." Miyako ruffled Yuno's wet hair. They looked at one another for a moment, then laughed freely at the sight of one another's bedraggled appearance.

"Um, Hiro, I think they're okay after all," Sae whispered as she observed them.

"Goodness knows I thought they were being silly earlier, they must have gotten over it," Hiro agreed.

The pairs separated at the stairs, Sae and Hiro going to their respective rooms while Yuno and Miyako headed up.

"See you later, Miya-chan," Yuno waved as she left Miyako by her door. Yuno walked in and closed her door, then leaned back against it, counting to thirty.

Outside, Miyako opened her door and slung her pack in, then closed it and went downstairs. She was already soaked, and it wasn't a cold rain, so she reasoned there wasn't anything keeping her from going to the supermarket right now. Coming off the last step down, she saw Sae leaving her room as well, though she had found the time to fetch an umbrella.

"Miyako?" Sae asked, "What are you up too?"

"I was going to the Berry Mart, I have a need for ice-cream."

"Since when do you have money for something like that?" Sae asked, a little bluntly, but truthfully. Also on her mind were the times that she'd covered one of Miyako's cravings, which could have played a part in her bluntness. Miyako wasn't the type to take offense, so answered without rancor.

"I saw fit to deem this an serious matter and dip into my emergency funds. Although, if you're really worried, you could always treat me?"


"Well then, I'll be on my way."


"No, Sae-san, I'm Miyako."

"No, you..." Sae took a patient breath, "Yuno, behind you."

"Oh!" Miyako turned around.

"Hey, Yuno-chi!"

"Miya-chan?" Yuno started out of her thoughts, she hadn't been paying attention and only now noticed the two girls at the bottom of the stairs.

"So where are you headed, Yuno?" Sae asked her.

"Um... um... the supermarket!" Yuno covered lamely. Sae shook her head.

"You've been hanging out with Miyako too much, don't tell me you were planning on going without an umbrella too?"

"Oh!" Yuno yelped, "I'll go get it... but, I just remembered, I have homework to do, bye!" She vanished back to the above path and presumably to her room.

"We had homework...?" Miyako mumbled to herself, "It can wait," she decided. She started to march off into the rain which still came down in moderate amounts, though lessened significantly since that initial deluge. She was stopped by an irritated grab at her shoulder.

"Oh no you don't, I don't want to have to deal with you getting a cold or something. Under the umbrella." Sae commanded, "I'm heading over to the market too, we'll go together."

"Aye-aye, captain."

Yuno peeked out of her water-streaked window, and saw them leaving. She walked thankfully outside again, this time making it to Hiro's door without incident.

"Hello? Please, do come in!" Yuno heard from the other side of the sunny yellow door after she'd knocked, and she opened it gratefully.

"Yes, Yuno, is there something I can do for you?" Hiro asked politely from her table, where she sat reading a book. She picked up a thin bookmark with a light periwinkle tassel and set it to the pages before closing it and motioning for Yuno to come sit and join her. Yuno nodded mutely and took the invitation, sitting down across from her friend. She couldn't quite form what words she needed to start, but Hiro, watching her sit wordlessly, took that need away from her.

"I was expecting you to come some time today, just not quite so early."

"Eh? You were expecting me?"

"Yes, Yuno, you can be that easy to read. Especially when you're nice enough to put yourself down on paper like that," Hiro explained with a kind smile, "Something is troubling you, so of course I would be expecting you, as your upperclassman and your friend. What can I do for you?"

Yuno still squirmed, not knowing how to bring up what she really wanted to talk about, so instead focused on the first thing that caught her eye, "What's that you're reading, Hiro-san?" Hiro looked surprised, then slightly embarrassed.

"This? It's, er, it's the first story Sae got published, it's always been one of my favorites."

"Oh?" Yuno replied inquiringly, her curiosity sparked.

"Mm-hmm. I didn't even know about her work back then, you know how secretive she tries to be about her writing. Even though we'd been friends for so long." Hiro looked thoughtful. "We had both just moved into the Hidamari apartments for our first year of school," Hiro smiled and flushed, "I was afraid that she had become upset with me, because suddenly I hardly ever saw her or talked with her, even during school."

"I can't believe Sae-san didn't tell you why, you must have been worried."

"A little bit, yes. But I learned about her writing later, and you already know about all that. It's not a very interesting sto--"

"No, Hiro-san! There's more to tell, I can feel it," Yuno always liked a good story. It rather sounded like Hiro had a reason for this book being her favorite.

"Well, if you really want to hear it, okay. One day soon I noticed she wasn't in the classes that we shared, and I got more worried about her. All the times I had tried to go to her apartment before, it had been dark, and she hadn't answered. I had just assumed she wasn't there, even when I was sure she was. But this day I went over and found her... well, you've seen how she gets if she runs into a deadline before she's ready." Yuno nodded, Sae could forget to sleep, eat, go to school... which only worked for so long.

"She was so exhausted, she'd been working for twenty-four hours straight by then. It wasn't hard to convince her that she needed to get some rest, and while she slept I could help but take a little peek at what she was doing. That's how I learned about her writing and pen name. I felt bad for her, all alone with a task like that, so I took the liberty of straightening up her room and having a meal ready for when she woke up. At first she wasn't too happy, because she felt that she had 'wasted' time by sleeping, and was horribly embarrassed that I'd found out about her novel, but I hushed her and fed her, and that seemed to make her feel better; especially when I said I liked her writing. I think that's about when we started getting especially close. Every day after school she would go back to work, while I would keep her company and make her meals so that she could spend time on her book and still be able to eat. Honestly, she's so hopeless."

"How sweet!" Yuno interrupted, then clamped a hand over her mouth, "Sorry, but that's a really nice story."

"I do like to remember it."

"So you like this book because it reminds you of that time?"

"Mm-hmm. She was still new at her job, then, and she didn't get quite so serious about it. There was the eating and sleeping thing, but back then she never got as stressed and irritable as she can now. I think she's told me before that it's a lot easier to start a story than end one, maybe that's why she gets so grumpy nowadays."

"That could be it," Yuno agreed.

"I sure am glad she wasn't always like that, though, or who knows how things might have worked out."

"What do you mean?"

"You know how you have to tiptoe around her during deadline time?" Yuno nodded.

"I didn't have to do that before. I would stay in her apartment the whole time, doing laundry and dishes and cooking, whatever I could to help her out, and she wouldn't mind."

"That sure doesn't sound like Sae-san from now."

"No, but she'll be finishing this serialization soon, perhaps we'll get to see her like that again before long."

"That would probably make things nicer for you, Hiro-san."

"It would. Now, wait, didn't you have a problem you needed help with?"

"It can wait, I have to hear this, you said something about 'how things might have worked out'?"

"Fine, fine," Hiro relented, it was sort of nice to talk about anyway, "It was a few of months into that first year by then. Even though I knew about her work and wanted to help, she wouldn't let me read through her manuscripts, she was too shy. I kept up with her writing when it was released, though. She would always blush whenever I talked about anything in her novels, which I found--and still find, she still does it after all--absolutely adorable, the way she'd fiddle with her glasses and be so modest. But anyway, we'd continued the system we had from before when it would get close to deadline, me almost moving in with her for those few days, and a certain fortunate misunderstanding happened while I was over there on one of them."

"You probably don't know, but sometimes Sae likes to read her lines out loud, to see how they sound in real life, to make sure she likes them. Used to be that she didn't have anybody around to overhear, so she got into the habit of doing that. The first few times confused me, because I didn't know that she wasn't talking to me, but later I learned to take it in stride. I tried not to point out when she did it, either, because she would always get so self-conscious and all out of her stride," Hiro started giggling now, uncontrollably, and it took her a minute to regain her composure while Yuno sat fidgeting.

"Ah, but moving on. Unknown to me, she'd hit a writer's block, and decided to do what you might call the writer's equivalent of 'doodling'. You remember that story she was working on near the end of last year? The Nanami and Kensuke one?"


"According to her, this was when the idea for that particular story first started taking shape. It took her a long time to actually write it. So she had switched from her regular story to this one, and the first scene she had in her mind was the confession part. You know that Sae prefers to write from personal experience, so even though she wrote it out, she thought it didn't sound correct. To try and figure out what was wrong with it, she read it out loud."

"Oh no, Sae-san. She must have been so embarrassed!"

"Something like that," Hiro replied, a dreamy smile on her face. "I was in the kitchen, preparing something for her dinner, when I overheard her talking. I had learned not to pay attention to everything that she said aloud, but she didn't have a confession in the story she was working on then. I thought she was confessing to me." Yuno gasped, and Hiro laughed, "So when she was done, I was blushing to my toes, just staring at the pot of water I was trying to boil. I didn't know what to say, and I said so, 'Sae-san, I don't know what to say, this is all so sudden. But if it's you Sae, I could...,' I got that far before she just turned around and started blurting out apologies and explanations, and I had no idea what she was so distressed about. It didn't matter, though, by the time we sat down and everything was sorted out, it was like she had confessed anyway, because she knew what my answer would have been. She actually told me that she really did like me, and wanted to confess, but couldn't bring herself to it. She was trying to express herself in writing then."

"That's so romantic, Hiro-san," Yuno said, all caught up in the story.

"You think so? I always thought it was a little awkward and silly, but it's nice of you to say so. Oh, and she didn't think the confession in the story sounded wrong after that. Now it was a personal experience."

"Yes, about that," Yuno started in earnest, sensing a path to her original concern, "When she said it, how did you know how to answer? How did you know you were in love?"

"I hadn't really known it until then. I don't know how I didn't know, I had all the usual symptoms, but hadn't admitted it to myself until she came out and asked me like that. I guess being in love with your best friend isn't something you tend to consider that often. I think I was lucky to find out as soon as I did."

"So you didn't know for sure before," Yuno said dejectedly. Hiro raised an eyebrow at her sudden change of mood.

"Yuno-san, you don't mean to say--do you think you might be in love?"

"Maybe," Yuno replied evasively. Hiro turned very serious.

"Have you been, ah, 'seeing' this person at all?"

"Sort of."

"How long?"

"About a year now."

"That long! Yuno, you've been hiding someone from us, I didn't even suspect," Hiro grinned at her, "Okay, could it be love, then? Hmm... how does this person make you feel?"

"Er... you mean like," Yuno paused for thought, "Well, I'm always happier when they're around, and all those other usual things, you know. All warm and tingly and light-headed, like I just want float away."

"You've been seeing each other for a year," Hiro repeated thoughtfully, and a scary thought struck her, "Yuno, don't tell me that you, that is, have you, you know....?"

"What? No! I mean... just that first kiss."

"You're first kiss! So, how was it?" Hiro asked, somewhat relieved that it had only gone that far, it was hard not to feel like a protective older sister for Yuno.

"Ah, different than I thought it would be."

"How different?"

"Well, I wasn't expecting it, you saw, and she was asleep," Hiro looked blank for the span of a few heartbeats.

"You, you mean. Yuno, are you talking about Miya-chan?"

Yuno nodded wordlessly.

"Oh! Oh, ooooooohhhh." Hiro said a few times, drawing the last out wonderingly, "So, what you wanted to know whether you really felt about her that way! But, Yuno, isn't this a little fast? You know you probably shouldn't really consider that a first kiss--"

"I know, Hiro-san. But, just like that wasn't really meant to be a confession from Sae-san but it made you think about it anyway," Yuno trailed off, letting Hiro make the implied connection.

"I see. Not a real kiss, but it made you think about it? There is one big difference though, Yuno."


"With Sae and I, we both talked about our feelings after the not-real confession. You and Miya-chan didn't do that. So, if you think you might feel this way, you're going to have to tell her."

"But I couldn't do that!"

"Why not, Yuno? You'll never know if you don't try."

"But what if she says no--that's besides the point. I mean, of course she would say no! I don't even know why I'm thinking like this, she's my best friend!"


"So what?"

"Exactly, so what? Sae's my best friend now. Why can't you be in love with Miya-chan and be her best friend? I think it would be pretty silly for the person you love not to be your best friend too."

"Well, but, this is different..."

"Yuno-san, honestly," Hiro looked sternly at her, deciding that a heavier hand was needed in this case, "Haven't you read any romance stories with best friends? Don't they always go through this, 'oh no they're my best friend! That can't be it'?"

"Yeah, but usually it's with a boy and a girl, not two girls, I thought it might work different..." Hiro sighed, tapping a finger to her temple.

"No, Yuno, it's not really that different. Love is love, after all, boy or girl or girl or boy. I mean, there are the really obvious differences, but trust me, those don't really matter that much," Yuno blushed, and Hiro continued, "So yes, this is the same. Don't let yourself go through that silly little phase. I think I'm nearly as surprised as you apparently are--Miya-chan, really?--but this part I do know: you're not going to feel right until you talk to her about it."

"Are you sure?"

"Yes, Yuno, I'm sure," she said firmly, "Like you said, you're best friends anyway. If she says no, you two can still be best friends. If she says yes... well, I'll let you find out those things for yourself. But if you don't say anything, you'll always wonder what might have happened if you had. That's not fun to do."

"No," Yuno agreed fervently, and bowed her head.

"But how do I just come out and talk to her about it?" Yuno pleaded for more advice.

"That's something else you'll have to figure out for yourself. You know how this works, the plan you get from a friend wouldn't work out anyway."

Yuno groaned.

"Now now, cheer up. Doesn't it feel nice being in love?"

Yuno groaned again, and she laid her head on the table.



Miyako ran and jumped through the puddles in the road while Sae looked on, chuckling at her exuberance. She folded up her umbrella, which hadn't come in very handy. Just a few minutes into their walk the rain had slackened to next to nothing, quickly as it had started. She walked with the closed umbrella swinging at her side, hanging back a little bit from Miyako. Her clothes had just started to dry out, she didn't want to get sprayed. Like she probably would have if she had been closer, when Miyako took a flying leap feet-first into a large, filled pothole. Miyako stood, leaning over, in the miniature cascade she had created, staring at the ground for a few seconds.

"You're a lot better at keeping up with me."

"Better than who?"

"Yuno-chi. It's probably because you have longer legs."

"I guess."

The walked, or walked and jumped, a little further. On one landing, Miyako spun to face Sae.

"Hey, Sae-san. About this morning, that didn't really count, did it?"

"Count as what?"

"A first kiss. I mean, I was asleep. You can't have a first kiss when somebody is asleep, can you?"

"Depends on how literal you want to be about that. You were most certainly locking lips together, and I must say that it looked remarkably like a kiss. But what's with this now? I thought you'd forgotten about that already."

"I dunno. It's important to me, for some reason. I thought I should find out if that counted as a kiss," she looked sidelong at Sae, "And I thought you would be an authority on the subject."

Sae flushed scarlet, but didn't argue back, "Maybe I am. So what, you don't want to think that your first kiss went to Yuno? Fine. I'm going to say... that it depends on who you were dreaming about--must have been a fun dream, from the looks of it. The kiss counted if you were dreaming about Yuno, it didn't if you weren't. Therefore, it doesn't count."

"That sounds very well thought out, Sae-san, very logical," Miyako praised, and Sae grinned.

"However, I have found the key flaw in your line of reasoning!"

"Oh? I have to hear this."

"You had quite an important assumption in there. The thing is, who I was dreaming about maaaaaaaaay have been--"

"Miyako, I'm not in the mood for your gags right now."

"What? Wait, no, I'm being serious!"

"You, serious?"

"As serious as your romance scenes."

"Now wait, what's that supposed to mean?"

"I mean really serious this time! Are you saying you don't take your own writing seriously?"

"Of course I do! But this--so you want me to believe that you've suddenly stumbled upon secret feelings of love for Yuno, sometime this morning?"

"That makes it sound a little silly, Sae-san," Miyako pouted.

"That's the idea."

"But you're making assumptions again."


"I wouldn't say that I stumbled upon them sometime this morning. They were more like... that really fancy painting that you buy to put in your living room, because you think it looks kind of nice, but then you forget about it for a long time because now it's just part of the room you see every day, but then one day you're bored and you take a closer look at it and think, 'wow, I'm glad I got this when I saw it! I thought it just looked nice, but this is really very deep and pleasant' and you start to notice all the little details for the first time."

There was a long pause.

"Yeah, it's something like that," Miyako stated again unecessarily.

"So... Yuno's friendship is the 'nice-looking painting', and then you just accepted that for what it was, but now you've taken a closer look, and suddenly you've realized that you feel a little more than friendship?" Sae hoped she was getting Miyako's analogy right.

"Right. I just hadn't been paying attention. I do that a lot. I can be a little forgetful, and I had other things to do, you know."

"Like jumping in puddles?"

"Exactly, like jumping in puddles," Miyako nodded sagely, "And I thought that would be hard for somebody else to understand. I underestimated you, Sae-san."

"Miyako," Sae sighed in frustration, "Well now. So you really believe all this? You're sure you're remembering right?" Sae couldn't think of much else to say right now.

"Well, I think so. It was dark in my dream--there'd been an earthquake you know--so I didn't get a good look at her, but she was short, and I certainly think she could have been Yuno-chi."

"Are you even sure she was a she?"


"Well, you're not sure who it was, though. What do you think when you try to match her up with Yuno?"

"Actually, I think," Sae stared, astonished. Was Miyako blushing? Seriously? She couldn't believe it, but there it was, "I usually think that I would like to try that again some time, when I'm not asleep."

"Really now? How interesting. Any more details?" Sae asked, a little viciously, though in mostly good humour. It wasn't often that she ever thought she would be able to tease Miyako, but that blush had suggested she might get away with it.

"Sae-san, you're a pervert!"

"What?! No, I'm not, I just," Miyako grinned at her. Teasing attempt failed. Sae shook her head.

"Never mind. Well now, I guess there's only one thing left for you to do."

"What's that? Oh, wait, I get behind her and you push?"

Sae blinked at her, then stared hard at her unblinkingly cheery face. She thought it must have been at least a full minute later before Miyako finally cracked.

"Okay, fine. I guess she should be awake, too. So what do I need to do now, Miss Sae? Or should I call you Mrs. Hiro? You should probably clear that up at some point."



"Shut up for a moment."

"Aye-aye, ma'am."

"Right. What you're going to need to do, of course, is confess."

"Oh, is that all? I was expecting something complicated." Miyako wiped her brow with exaggerated relief.

"W-what?" Sae spluttered, "What do you mean, 'is that all?'"

"Well, I was just exp--"

"Never mind! Have you even thought about what happens if she says no, or how to go about it, or anything?"

"Should I?" Miyako looked innocently at her.

"Um... I guess you don't technically have to," Sae admitted. Fretting usually didn't do anybody any good, and it's not like planning had helped Sae out at all in that crucial step.

"Then what's the problem?"

"You're hopeless, Miyako. Don't you have a romantic bone in your body?"

"My bones are at least fifty percent romantic. Then there's fifty percent Doberman, fifty percent Cocker Spaniel, fifty percent Dalmatian, and fifty percent GUTS!" Miyako grinned broadly and ran off again, jumping through puddles once more in the direction of the super market.

"What the heck does that even mean?!" Sae called after her, but she received no answer.

Chapter 8

"Thank you, Hiro-san," Yuno opened the door to let herself outside after a short session of shoulder patting and there-there-ing.

"Good luck, Yuno-san," Hiro called after her. Yuno closed the door, and Hiro took her book back up, opening where she had been and laying her bookmark back down on the table. She paused, and tapped her lip with a thumb, wondering if perhaps she should have been more understanding of Yuno's perceived predicament. No, she just couldn't. Hiro was one-hundred percent sure that whatever the outcome of Yuno's confession, those two would still be friends, so fretting was pointless. Of course this was undoubtedly a big event for Yuno, falling in love for the first time, but Hiro thought that, compared to when it happened to her, it seemed a lot simpler from the outside looking in. Rather as one tends to become frustrated with oblivious characters in stories and wishes they would "just say something already!" Her eyes scanned the page until she found her spot, and her last thought before delving back into the story was that she couldn't wait for Sae to hear about this.

Yuno stood outside and wavered between going to her room, and running down Miyako on her way to the store. She tried to imagine that, running there as fast as she could, Sae and Miyako hearing her coming and turning around, standing there with her hands on her knees, trying to catch her breath. What would she do about Sae? It wasn't that she wanted to keep anything a secret from Sae, but confessing in front of somebody else? That would be way too embarrassing! Or, she thought it would be. Come to think of it, she didn't know how embarrassing it would be for Sae to overhear, because Yuno didn't yet have any idea what would be overheard; that is, what she would be saying. Room then, she decides, but stops again. She turns around and knocks on Hiro's door once more.

"Yes?" Comes the faint response. Yuno sticks her head through the doorway.

"Why do I have to do this today?"

"Who said anything about it having to be today?" Yuno paused.

"Wait, didn't you say--"

"No, Yuno, I don't believe so. I can't imagine why you would want to wait, however."

"Okay, thanks. Bye again." Yuno closes the door. Today it is then, she thinks as she takes the stairs up to her room. How did one go about this confessing thing again? She wondered. Her small collection of manga came to mind, and decided to do some research first.


"That will be three hundred twenty-five yen, please," Miyako regretfully dug out the required fund from her pocket and dropped them on the counter, looking as though each one was made of blood from her veins.

"Here you are... goodbye, my monetary friends."

"T-thank you," The teller said, taken aback as his customer walked away looking physically ill.

"Don't mind her," Sae rolled her eyes as she stepped up to the counter, "In just a moment she'll--"

"Ice-cream! Hurry up, Sae-san."

The teller looked over sharply to see the results of Miyako's mood switch, then shook his head.

"Whatever. That'll be five hundred eighty-five yen, please," He said to her, bagging the small strawberry cake she had purchased.

"What's that you've got?" Miyako tried to peer into Sae's bag as they left through the automatic doors and back into the damp, gray air outside.

"It's a cake, what's it look like?"

"I see. Personally, I prefer ice-cream for whenever I have a problem or need to do some serious thinking."

"You do serious thinking?" Sae chided, "Also, this isn't for me, it's for Hiro. Her favorite."

"Strawberry, then," Miyako confirmed, "Hey, what's it like?"

"Strawberry cake? I know you've had some before."

"No, I mean having your wife send you out to do the shopping."

"Wait, wait, it's not like that!" Sae hastily denied, "I just thought I'd go out and get her some, you know.... just because," A light rosy tint touched her cheeks.

"Oh, I get it now. Sae-san, you like your girls plump," Miyako grinned and skipped ahead.

"Get back here, you!" Sae yelled after a fatal moment's slack-jawed surprise, running after Miyako. Sae might have been a little faster and more athletic, but between Miyako's head start and having to be careful with the cake it was a futile effort.

Miyako arrived back at the apartments, puffing from the run over, but smiling. That had been an informative trip to the supermarket. Sae hadn't found too much amiss with her current theory of having fallen for Yuno, and that was good enough for her. She even knew what she had to do now. Confession time!

She paused at the foot of the stairs. How did you do that again? Confession. It sounded like it should be simple. You could confess to a crime by saying you did it, no frills. So, shouldn't you be able to confess love the same way. Just go up to Yuno and let her know. She mulled over the scenario. For some reason, she couldn't help but think of it ending with Yuno blushing to her toes, and stammering out some sort of refusal. Sure, it sounded simple, but that wasn't exactly the result Miyako was going for. She took the stairs slowly. What else was there to do?

Secret rendezvous notes? Yuno thought.

Secret rendezvous notes? Miyako thought.


Message in a lunch box? Yuno read, but remembered that they usually ate the cafeteria food. Plus, the girl who was trying that in the book wasn't planning on sitting and eating with that boy when he found the note, while the four of them usually ate lunch together.


Save her from something, and get nobly hurt in the process? Miyako thought, she was sure she'd seen that on television before. Yuno would ask her why she did something so stupid, and Miyako would say, lying hurt on the ground... wait, what was there to save Yuno from? Miyako didn't want to just wait for something to come along.


Yuno kept flipping through her mangas. There just wasn't anything really helpful here. In most of these the person who was getting confessed to was already in love with the confessor, who didn't know about it. That wasn't like her situation at all. Wasn't there anything about somebody who fell in love because of a really good confession? Yuno couldn't seem to find any. She wracked her brain for anything she'd ever heard about this situation. Suddenly, she heard Miyako's voice float through her mind, "Do your best! As long as you have love, gender won't be an obstacle at all!"

Well, that wasn't very helpful at all. Yuno wasn't really concerned about them both being girls. There were plenty of confessions between opposite genders, and they didn't all work; there were plenty of other reasons that Miyako could just not return her feelings. Disheartened by her lack of supportive research material, Yuno slumped over her table.

Miyako stopped as she passed Yuno's door. She had been planning on thinking more about her confession while going through the better part of a pint of ice-cream, but a fine idea struck her. She knocked on the door.

"Y-yes?" She heard Yuno's voice, sounding a little distracted, "Come in, please!" Miyako opened the door.

"Wow, Yuno-chi, are you trying to see how many manga you can read at the same time?" She asked, looking at all of the opened books lying on Yuno's table.

"Uh, no, Miya-chan," Yuno said, and didn't offer any further explanation.

"I came to see if you might like some ice-cream," Miyako declared, presenting the cup, "It's cookie dough."

"My favorite!" Yuno said gleefully, "I'd be very happy if you shared with me, Miya-chan. I'll go get some spoons."

"Just get one, we can pass it back and forth. Less dishes for you."

"Sure thing," Yuno agreed before she thought of the implications. When she came back with the utensil, Miyako was idly flipping through one of the books.

"Thanks," Miyako took the spoon and started to open the pint carton, still fixing her eyes on the book she had been handling. She dug the spoon in and scooped out a bite, putting it in her mouth. She stayed that way, appearing to be thinking about something intensely, then pulled the spoon out between her lips, getting every bit of ice-cream from it. She stuck it back in the frozen dessert and passed it over to Yuno. Yuno carved out a small bit of her own.

"Say, Yuno-chi, can you help me out with something? If you were going to, how would you go about confessing to somebody?"


"Wait, what?! Yuno came by here while I was out and..." Sae lapsed into a stunned silence.

"Yes. Why, Sae, what's the matter with that? You know they'll be okay, however Yuno's confession turns out, I thought you would be happy to hear about it."

"Oh, I am!" Sae responded, then she started laughing, and laughing, and laughing.

"Sae," Hiro started reprovingly, "I thought this was a little amusing too, and I had my share of giggles, but don't you think that's a bit much?"

"S-sorry, Hiro. It's just that, well, if only Yuno-san had waited ten minutes before coming to see you!"

"Now what's that supposed to mean?"

"Miyako went with me to the store, and we had a talk just like you and Yuno-san. And when I say 'just like', I mean 'just like'. You just said Yuno-san was worried about how Miyako felt about her, and I know the answer." Sae quickly related hers and Miyako's conversation, skipping over a few parts that Hiro didn't really need to hear about.

"Oh my, Yuno-san's twisting herself in a knot over nothing, then, isn't she?"

"Appears so. Now, you told Yuno-san that she was going to have to confess. I told Miyako that she was going to have to confess. Five hundred yen says Miyako beats her to it?"

"Sae," Hiro said, pretending to be shocked, "I'll take that bet. Miya-chan might not be so worried about confessing, but she can also be lazy. I think Yuno-san takes the initiative. All goes well, I'll owe you five hundred less yen."

"Just don't forget, you have the rest of forever to work at that debt," Sae said, deciding to play along rather than argue with Hiro about that subject again, "And there's no hurry at all."


Yuno almost dropped the spoon in her surprise.

"Confessing what?" She asked first, hoping that perhaps Miyako was referring to something else. Her friend picked up the book she had been flipping through and gestured with it.

"Like in here, confessing to somebody you like that you like them."

"I don't know how you would do that!"

"That's okay, I was just wondering what you think you would do."

"What's with this all of a sudden?" Yuno asked with a nervous giggle, finally starting back in on the ice-cream. "Are you planning on confessing to somebody soon?"

"Er, yes, actually," Miyako said a trifle self-consciously. This time, Yuno did drop the spoon. It clattered on the table top, and Miyako reached out to grab it.

"Ha, caught it on the first bounce. How many points is that, Yu... Yuno-chi?"

Yuno clamped her teeth over her lip, shoulders shaking slightly, holding sudden tears back in. That just wasn't fair. How did she not know that Miyako was already in love with somebody? It wasn't fair, Yuno had finally found out this about herself, and was working out a confession, but Miyako was already in love.

"Yuno-chi, what's the matter?"

"N-nothing, Miya-chan," Yuno said, sniffling slightly and forcing herself to smile, "G-got something in my eye."

Miyako raised an eyebrow at her. "Yuno-chi," she frowned, "Didn't we just talk recently about friends keeping secrets from one another? But now you're doing that."

Yuno frowned back, "I'm not the only one. Why didn't you tell me that you were in love with somebody?"

"That wasn't a secret, I just didn't know about it until today," Yuno choked on that a bit. This had to be the worst timing ever, "So I wasn't keeping a secret, I... was going to tell you soon, actually. But first, you tell me what's wrong, because I don't see anything in either of your eyes."

"I can't tell you, Miya-chan. I just can't," Yuno started losing her internal battle, and a few tears snuck loose. This wasn't right, she just found out about how she really felt today, there was no reason for her to be crying about getting rejected this soon, "Please, could I just have a little bit of time alone right now?" Yuno buried her face in her hands, trying to hold back as much as she could until Miyako left.

"Sorry, but that does not compute," Miyako made her way around the table, "You can tell me anything, Yuno-chi, I thought we knew that. Best friends, right?" Yuno abandoned her hands in favor of Miyako's warm shoulder.

"No, Miya-chan, just leave me alone for a little bit." Yuno said anyway, contradicting her own actions.

"Okay, I'll just sit here and hug you and let you be alone until you're ready to talk," Miyako wrapped her arms around her and laid her cheek atop Yuno's head.

"It doesn't matter anymore! There's nothing to tell now," Yuno sobbed, though now she had two handfuls of the front of Miyako's shirt and didn't look as though she were letting go any time soon.

"Well then it doesn't matter if you go ahead and tell me then, now does it?" Miyako said simply, not moving from where she was. She didn't buy Yuno's arguments for a moment. Yuno quieted down, though she kept her face against Miyako's shoulder for a long while.

Miyako felt her move, and lifted her cheek so she could look at Yuno and hear what she said.

"It's you! You said you had someone you want to confess to."

Miyako nodded. "That upsets you by itself?"

"No, it's just that I have somebody I want to confess to as well," Yuno explained quietly, then used her handholds to pull herself back into Miyako. Miyako thought that was just as well, so Yuno wouldn't see her smile falter. She could hardly fathom why that made Yuno so upset, but she didn't care now, either. Miyako was far more concerned with the sinking feeling

"That's... that's good, Yuno-chi," Miyako forced out. She hadn't even gotten the chance to confess, but this hurt plenty anyway. Broken hearts were called that for a reason, Miyako concluded, that was the best description she could think of for the lump in her throat and the pain in her chest. "Who is the lucky person?"

"I don't know if lucky is the right word."

"What word would you use, then? I think whoever has Yuno-chi like them has to be one of the luckiest people in the world."

"Not if they already like somebody else," Yuno cried, breathing in gasps again, but she controlled herself, "The person I was going to confess to... is you, Miya-chan."

Fixing things was absolutely wonderful, Miyako decided. It was very nearly worth getting her heart broken, just to feel it mend itself. She embraced Yuno fiercely.

"Whew. That sure makes my job today easier. Thanks," Miyako pulled away from Yuno, who looked up at her, tears frozen momentarily in favor of a puzzled expression. Miyako curled her fingers under Yuno's chin and tilted her face up.

Yuno's eyes widened, then closed. This couldn't be real. It couldn't be. She was dreaming, like Miyako had been. She was probably kissing her table top in real life right now, she'd fallen asleep reading mangas. But it certainly was hard to imagine wood being this soft, or this warm. She also didn't think that she bought furniture polish that smelled like Miyako. Lastly, she was sure that whenever you actually thought something was a dream, it usually turned out that it wasn't. Yuno lunged forward, throwing herself into the kiss once she had decided it was real. Miyako caught her without breaking their lips, wrapping her arms around Yuno once more, while Yuno wrapped her arms around her, and they held each one another tightly together. It might have been seconds or hours later, but they broke away.

"Did we confess then, Yuno-chi?" Miyako asked, curling and uncurling her fingers against Yuno's back in a short, light caress.

"I think so?" Yuno answered.

"Does it really matter now?"

"I'm pretty sure it doesn't."

"Is that enough talking for now, then?"

"I think I prefer kissing more right now," Yuno admitted.

"I was just thinking that same thing."

They didn't do much else for the next few hours, though they found that there were other fun places to use this kissing thing, just a little farther down. Yuno discovered that she had a very sensitive neck and shoulders, and Miyako took full advantage of it, both of them having moved over to the comfort of Yuno's bed. They were just in the middle of taking full enjoyment in this discovery when there was a knock at the door. Yuno looked over at the door, back at a disappointed looking Miyako, and tried to placate her with one more firm kiss on the lips and a slow smile before she jumped up and went to sit at the table, yelling,

"Come in!" As she did so. Miyako had just sat down at the table as well when the door opened to admit Sae and Hiro.

"Oh, Miyako's here too?" Sae noted, brows raising. Hiro and Sae only made it a few steps into the room before they stopped stock-still, and started shaking.

"Sae-san?" Yuno asked.

"Hiro-san?" Miyako raised an eyebrow questioningly.

They started laughing, unable to contain themselves.

"What, what is it?" Yuno said, bewildered. Sae and Hiro fell silent, looked at one another, then burst into more chuckles, walking into the room and sitting down at the table.

"So... you two have just been sitting here for a few hours, with a bunch of scattered manga, watching ice-cream melt?" Sae pointed to the forgotten carton on the table from before, which had achieved the consistency of snow-slush on a well worn path.

"Um, well, that is..." Yuno started, flushing.

"No, no, Sae," Hiro interrupted her, "They must have forgotten the ice-cream when the vacuum cleaner ran up Yuno's shirt and she had to fight it off."

Yuno exchanged a blank look with Miyako, whose eyes traveled down slightly and widened. Then she, too, was joining Sae and Hiro in their laughter, and Yuno felt good and well alone and lost. Miyako leaned over to her.

"Um, Yuno... I think I was a little too energetic. Your collar--" Yuno felt, and the neck of her shirt was stretched out from Miyako trying to get access to more skin without removing it first, "And, there's this," Miyako reached out with a finger and circled a very obvious mark left on Yuno's neck. Yuno immediately flushed and tucked her chin down, looking to her onlooking friends like a turtle trying to withdraw its neck.

"Looks like Miyako wasn't so lazy as you thought, Hiro." Sae winked, "I say it looks like I won the bet."

"Bet?" Yuno and Miyako asked simultaneously. Sae and Hiro looked slightly uncomfortable. Sae started to explain first.

"Well, Miyako, after I had told you to confess to Yuno--"

"Wait a minute." Yuno interrupted and turned to Miyako, "You... oh right, your confession! You mean it was for me?"

"You didn't know by now?"

"I forgot you even said anything like that! We were busy with other things."

It took a few minutes and four voices speaking in spontaneous turn, but the whole story was finally made known to both Yuno and Miyako, along with the specifics of the little bet.

"But you didn't win, then, Sae-san." Miyako said thoughtfully, "Yuno confessed first."

"No, Miya-chan. I said that I had wanted to confess, that's not the same. I would say that your kiss was the real confession."

"Nah, saying that you wanted to confess is too the same. You went first, Hiro-san wins."

"Hey, hey, forget it," Sae laughed, "It's not that important."

Miyako and Yuno looked at one another and smiled. "You're right, Sae-san, it's not that important," Miyako slung an arm around Yuno's shoulders and hugged her close, but then her eyes fell once more on the half-melted ice-cream.

"But that's a tragedy!" She cried, letting go of Yuno and slumping dejectedly on the table, "My poor ice-cream. My poor three hundred eighty-five yen."

Hiro reached over and took up the container. "Wait, Miya-chan. It's still salvageable. It doesn't quite work to re-freeze it, but I think I could make a few nice cookie dough milkshakes with this."

"Cookie dough milkshakes?" Yuno said aloud, unsure what she thought of that. Miyako wasn't so concerned.

"Hooray! Hiro-san saves the day and the ice-cream!" She nuzzled her forehead on the top of Yuno's head playfully.

"Say Hiro, they sure seem to have gotten the hang of this fairly quickly," Sae noted objectively.

"It is Miya-chan," Hiro said simply, by way of explanation.

"It's Yuno too," Sae added, "It takes two," she stood and offered a hand to Hiro, "Why don't I take you to go fix up that idea of yours, and we can leave them alone for just a few more minutes," she directed her voice to the smiling pair, lost in one another's company.

"Hey--yes, you two, there, with the canoodling and such," They turned to her, "You've got ten minutes. If Hiro is going through the trouble of making something, you two can manage to come over to her apartment to get it. Try and get done what you need to by then."

"We'll be there, Sae-san," Miyako guaranteed, "After all, we have the rest of the night to get done anything we can't fit in."

"Oh no you don't," Sae said warningly, "I can't sit idly by while a couple of students lose sleep on a school night, what kind of upperclassman would I be in that case?"

"Miss Deadline is one to talk," Miyako grumbled to Yuno, who giggled. Sae furrowed her brows, but Hiro grabbed her hand and dragged her away.

"Later, Sae, your words are falling on deaf ears right now," Hiro chimed as she pulled Sae out of the apartment, "Besides, what would you say if I mentioned that I didn't mind losing my sleep tonight?" Hiro asked archly. Sae backtracked hurriedly.

"Wait a sec. Hold on, Hiro. that's an entirely different matter."

"Oh? How so?"

Sae floundered, unable to come up with any words.

"I see," Hiro smiled, and walked away towards her own apartment with Sae following, flushing.

"Say, Yuno-chi, isn't there a little more to this girlfriend thing?" Miyako asked between kisses. Yuno turned her head on her pillow, looking thoughtful.

"Mm-hmm. Why do you ask, Miya-chan, are you tired of kisses already?" Yuno reached over to scatter a few across Miyako's face.

"Not a chance," she answered with a straight face.

"Then we can worry about those other things later."

"Sounds good to me," Miyako nodded, continuing where she had left off. After a few seconds, however, Yuno put a hand on Miyako's cheek, drawing their faces apart.

"No, that's wrong," she said, "There is one thing that I think we need to worry about now."

"What's that?"

"I didn't really say it before, I just realized. I love you, Miya-chan."

Miyako smiled tenderly, "I love you too, Yuno-chi."

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