Full summary:

The first time Nico showed up at her house, Eli was completely unprepared. The second time Nico showed up, Eli was surprised. By the fourth time Eli found herself expecting the doorbell to ring, and by the fifth she realized that she was looking forward to seeing the other girl. But it wasn't until their eighth outing that Eli finally decided to ask why: why Nico had started spending time with her, why she was trying so hard to come up with places to go, and why Eli herself wanted so badly for their meetings to never end.

1: Arcade

The first time Nico showed up at her house, Eli was completely unprepared.

"We're going out," the girl stated the second the door opened. "So put your coat on and let's go."

Eli paused, frowning. Had she made plans with Nico? She didn't think so. No, she definitely hadn't. Saturday was her work day, after all. Occasionally she would make plans for Sunday, but never Saturday. And with Nico? Despite them both being third years, Eli wouldn't consider them close. The only time they really talked was during practice, or when Nozomi pulled the two of them together. So why had Nico shown up, by herself, without any warning? Was there something she was missing?

"Why?" Eli finally responded, trying to put her thoughts into words.

Nico just gave her a confused look. "What kind of question is that? It's the middle of January, that's why. I know you're from Russia where it probably snows in the summer or something, but I'm pretty sure you still need a coat. Seriously, what kind of answer are you even looking for?"

"It doesn't snow in the summer. But that's not what I meant. I was asking why we're going out. I don't remember making plans."

"What, you don't remember?" Nico huffed, crossing her arms. "I would have thought that the former student council president would remember something she talked about one day ago."

Eli paled. "Well, I mean—"

"I'm kidding," Nico said flatly, rolling her eyes. "Jeez, you're so gullible. We didn't make any plans. I just felt like stopping by and hanging out. Is that a problem? Besides, I doubt you were busy. Your social life is worse than mine, after all. You were probably just sitting in your room, working on next month's homework or something."

"I don't go that far ahead," Eli protested. "I was only working on the assignments for next week."

"Wait, seriously? You were actually getting ahead on work?"

Eli was just self-aware enough to blush. "There's nothing wrong with getting a head start on things," she mumbled.

Nico groaned. "I can't believe you. It's a good thing I came over! You're going to overwork yourself, you know? But don't worry, the ever-thoughtful Nico-Nii is here to the rescue! So come on, let's get going already!"

She turned around and started walking towards the stairs, refusing to listen to any more protests. She had waited long enough. It was cold outside, after all, and the sooner they got moving the sooner she would warm up. Eli sighed, slipping her shoes on and grabbing her coat before hurrying to catch up with the shorter girl. It didn't seem like she any choice but to follow.

"Where are we going, anyways?"

"The arcade."

"The arcade?"

"What, do you have a better idea?"

"I suppose not…"

"That's what I thought."

They walked in silence after at, each occupied with their own thoughts. Eli shivered lightly at a gust of wind, pulling her coat tighter. It was a cold day: snow was piled up on the edges of the streets, and the cloudy sky told of more to come. The sidewalks were empty, everyone choosing to stay inside where it was warm. That had been Eli's plan, too. Spend the day curled up under the blanket with a mug of hot chocolate while doing homework. It would have been a nice, relaxing Saturday.

She sighed silently, glancing over at Nico. It didn't look like she was enjoying the cold any more than Eli was. Her shoulders were hunched up, hands buried deep in her coat pockets. A small frown was on her face, and Eli wondered what she was thinking. She sighed again, looking around at the buildings they passed.

This… wasn't how she had wanted her Saturday to go.

But she might as well get over that and make the most of it. They were already half way to the arcade, so there was no sense in going back home. And besides, Nico must have had a good reason to invite her out, even if she didn't know what it was. Eli didn't want to disappoint her. Despite how troublesome the other girl could be – Eli distinctly remembered the whole 'backup dancer' fiasco – they were still friends, and Eli did care for her. She owed it to Nico to at least try and enjoy the outing.

"How do you think the competition is going to go?" she finally asked.

"Huh?" Nico glanced up, only to find that Eli was looking away from her. "You mean Love Live?"

"Yeah."

"I'm not worried about it," Nico stated confidently. Eli turned to her in surprise.

"Really?"

"Why should I be? I'm Super Idol Nico-Nii, remember? I'm going to be the Number One idol in the world! And I guess the rest of you aren't too bad, either."

"I appreciate the vote of confidence."

"So there's nothing to worry about," Nico continued, ignoring the muttered comment. "We have two and a half months left to practice. And yeah, we'll be going up against some tough groups, but we're a pretty tough group ourselves, you know! We beat A-RISE, after all."

"I'm still not quite sure how we beat them," Eli admitted. "They have so much more experience than us."

"It doesn't matter how we beat them. We did, and that's that. Now we just have to go beat everyone else."

Eli shook her head and gave a small smile. Nico's optimism – or was it stubbornness?- was always strangely comforting. "I suppose you're right."

"I'm always right!"

Eli hummed in assent as they fell back into silence. Nico watched her out of the corner of her eye. She really wasn't very good at this, was she? Here she was, trying to be a good friend and spend time with Eli, and she couldn't even think of something to say. She squeezed her hands into fists, trying to get rid of the frustration growing inside her. Maybe this was a mistake, showing up at Eli's house out of the blue and taking her to the arcade. Did Eli even like arcades? Knowing her, she's probably never even been to one. Nico frowned. Why didn't she think of that beforehand? This was an awful idea. They should probably just stop now and promise never to speak of this awkward attempt at hanging out ever again.

No. You're seeing this through to the end, Nico, she berated herself. When have you ever given up this easily? Come on, there must be something you can talk about! You're going to an arcade. Talk about that!

Nico dug her hands deeper into her pockets and took a deep breath.

"So. What kind of arcade games do you like?" She took a quick glance at Eli, trying to judge the girl's reaction. Eli's expression changed from surprised to thoughtful. That was good, right?

"I don't think I've ever been to an arcade before, actually. The idea never interested me very much."

Nico cursed under her breath. This was definitely, definitely a bad idea.

"Ah!" Eli realized her mistake when she saw Nico's frown return, and she scrambled to fix it. "I'm not saying that I don't want to go, though! I'm, uh, I'm looking forward to it, actually! It'll be something new, and it's always good to try new things, right?"

"If you didn't want to go to an arcade, you should have just said so at the beginning."

"That's not—"

"That is what you're saying. It's fine. I don't care. It was a dumb idea to begin with."

Nico glared at the ground. Stupid, stupid, stupid. Of course she doesn't like arcades, why would she? They probably seem childish to her. I should have come up with something more sophisticated, like a museum. It would have been boring as hell, but at least Eli wouldn't hate it. I can't believe I messed up this badly, and on the first time, too.

Eli bit her lip, trying to come up with a solution. Nico looked really mad; she was practically stomping as they walked, and she refused to look up. That wasn't what Eli meant to happen. She really wasn't opposed to going to an arcade, after all. It was true that she had never wanted to before, but it wasn't like she hated the place. But how to explain that to Nico? Eli doubted that anything she said would be taken the right way. Nico would just think she was coming up with an excuse. She needed to distract her first.

"What's your favorite game?"

"What?" Nico looked up, startled. She had been expecting a lot of things – an apology, an excuse, a 'good riddance' – but that question was not one of them.

"You've been to the arcade plenty of times before, right? I'm sure there are games you're really good at."

"Of course I'm good at the games! Who do you think you're talking to?" Nico glared at her, and Eli gave herself a mental pat on the back. The best way to distract Nico was to get her to talk about herself, and it seemed to have worked this time.

"Right, right, I'm sorry for forgetting. Which ones are your favorites, then?"

"Hmph." Nico crossed her arms in annoyance, but her shoulders had relaxed slightly. Eli's plan was working, it seemed. She just had to hope that her last step would be enough to fix her earlier mistake.

"If I had to pick," Nico continued. "I'd have to say karaoke and ddr. I'm practically unbeatable at those." She smiled smugly, ignoring the memory of the younger members in Muse scoring better than her all those months ago. It had been an off day, she told herself. There's no chance they'd ever beat her now.

Eli took a deep breath, knowing that she might regret her next words but needing to say them anyways. "I bet I could beat you."

Nico stopped dead, her mouth falling open. "You? You've never even been to an arcade before, and you think you can beat me?"

"There's only one way to find out, isn't there?" Eli stopped walking and looked behind her, watching as Nico narrowed her eyes and gritted her teeth.

"Oh, it is on."

Nico marched forward, determined now to go to the arcade. I don't even care if Eli hates the arcade, she decided, no one challenges me like that and gets away with it.

Eli smiled as she followed. She was definitely going to regret this, that was sure. But Nico didn't seem upset anymore, so she still considered it a victory. Probably the only victory she was going to get today. What kind of game is 'ddr' anyways?

They made it to the arcade a few minutes later. Nico strode straight to the back of the building, heading for the ddr machines. Eli trailed behind slowly, eyes wide as she looked around. There were people everywhere; clustered around the crane games, playing video games, and sitting at the tables eating food from the snack bar. It was incredibly noisy. People were talking and shouting and cheering their friends on. Eli could barely make sense of it all.

She paused for a moment as she passed by an air hockey table. Two girls were battling it out as spectators watched with excitement. The clink of the puck hitting the sides of table was almost mesmerizing, and Eli found herself standing still, following the movement of the disc as it slid back and forth across the table.

"There you are!"

Eli jumped as Nico grabbed her arm. She blinked at her for a moment, still half in a trance, before realizing that she had forgotten to follow the other girl.

Nico rolled her eyes in annoyance. "I look away for two seconds and you go and disappear on me. It's just air hockey; it's not that exciting, I promise. Come on, ddr is over here."

Eli just nodded as Nico dragged her through the crowd. "I didn't realize there would be so many people here," she finally managed to say when they came to a stop.

"It's a bit more crowded than usual, but it is a Saturday. There's always a bunch of people here on the weekend."

"Don't they have work to do?"

"What's with you and work? They probably do it all Sunday night, like normal high school students. But let's stop talking about work; that's boring stuff. Have you ever played this before?"

Eli shook her head slowly, looking warily at the machine in front of her. It was a lot quieter in this part of the building, so they had the entire game to themselves. That was probably a good thing, Eli figured, since they wouldn't have to wait for their turn. But it also meant that there wasn't anyone that she could watch in order to get a grasp on how to play. It looked like some sort of dancing game? The screen showed a pattern of arrows rising to the top before disappearing. Did they correspond to the arrows on the ground? That would make sense, but Eli didn't know what to do with them.

"Well, that's about what I figured. You're the one who challenged me, so really you don't deserve an explanation. It's your own fault for picking a game you don't know about it. But, since I'm feeling generous today, I'll tell you the basics."

Nico quickly went over the idea of the game. Eli listened carefully, trying to picture what it would be like. It didn't seem too complicated, but she was pretty sure that she would change her mind after playing it.

"…and that's all there is too it!" Nico finished. She stepped up onto one of the pads and started touching the screen, scrolling through a list of songs. "Here! We'll start with an easy one. You ready?"

"I think so," Eli said, moving to stand on the center of her pad. She looked over at Nico's screen and read the song title. Well, at least it was one she actually knew. Hopefully that would help her a bit.

"Prepare to be beat!" Nico grinned in excitement as she started the game.

Eli stared hard at the screen, tuning out the music and waiting for the first arrows to appear. She was already resigned to the fact that she was going to lose, but she wasn't going to go down without a fight. After being rewarded with a few 'goods' and 'greats' as she timed her steps correctly, Eli began to relax slightly. This wasn't so hard. The next sequence of arrows came slowly, and Eli took the chance to glance over at Nico. She nearly tripped over her own feet at what she saw.

Nico danced easily on her pad, eyes bright and a wide smile on her lips as her screen flashed the word 'perfect' over and over again.

I didn't realize there was a higher score than 'great', Eli thought faintly. She shook herself out of her daze and concentrated on her own screen. The song wasn't even half-over; there was plenty of time for her to catch up. Her pace increased as she started to get the timing down. Out of the corner of her eye she watched Nico, emulating the girl's posture and technique.

Nico was keeping watch on Eli, too. She watched as Eli's score improved and continued to rise steadily. She's definitely got the right idea, Nico decided. Not that it matters. She's still years behind me. I almost feel bad for beating her so easily. Nico smirked at the thought. Like I would ever do that. She's the one who asked for this, after all.

The song ended moments later, both girls coming to a halt. The scores came up a second later with an A for Nico and a B for Eli. Nico fist pumped the air.

"What'd I tell you? No one can beat the great Nico-Nii! I'm best there is!"

"I'm impressed." Eli smiled as Nico's expression froze.

"… are you being sarcastic?" Nico's eyes were narrowed as she tried to figure out Eli's intentions. Eli lost. Why wasn't she upset? Was she joking?

"Not at all," Eli said. "You clearly knew what you were doing. The only reason I scored so well was because I copied your method. It's much better than what I tried to do at first."

"Er, well, of course!" Nico tried to cover her stutter by crossing her arms and nodding. "I've been practicing for years! Of course I'd know the best technique! You should consider yourself lucky that you have such a great teacher."

"I do."

Nico froze again at the sincere statement, and Eli decided to give her a break. For all her arrogance, Nico really wasn't very good at accepting compliments, was she? It was sort of endearing, now that Eli thought about it.

"Let's play again."

"Huh? Again?"

Eli nodded. "Yeah. That was an easy song, right? Now that I've got the idea down, I want to try a harder one. I may not be able to beat you today, but I'll have a shot if I practice."

"I'd like to see you coming here on your own," Nico said while scrolling through the song choices again. "You'd probably get distracted by the crane machines and spend three hours staring at them. And we can't let you do that, right? You have work to do, after all."

Nico emphasized the word, and Eli rolled her eyes at the mocking tone.

"Yeah, yeah, I get it. I work too much. You can stop saying it now."

"Are you kidding me!? The idea of you putting off work to go to an arcade is hilarious. No way am I going to stop."

"Just pick a song already."

"Wow, someone's impatient to lose again." Nico smirked as Eli narrowed her eyes, stepping back onto the center of her pad and starting the song.

They played until they were both out of breath and exhausted. Panting, they collapsed onto the chairs nearby. Nico fanned herself with her hand, grimacing as she felt sweat drip her neck. Eli gave her a tired smile. In the end, her endurance had won out. Her score had increased with each game until she was almost on par with Nico. All it took was a little extra stamina to put her on top.

"It seems you're not so unbeatable after all," she said.

"Beginner's luck."

Eli gave her an incredulous look. "Beginner's luck? We played for an hour! I don't think you can call me a beginner anymore."

"I'll call you whatever you want. Ugh. Why'd we even play for that long? That was almost as bad as a practice session. I'm wiped out."

"It was a lot of exercise. But it was fun, too. I never thought I'd enjoy something like that." Eli gave a bright smile. "Thank you for taking me here and teaching me."

Nico opened and closed her mouth wordlessly, stunned into silence by Eli's smile. Why does she have to be so goddamn pretty, it's so not fair. She turned away, feeling her cheeks heat up. "It- it was nothing. I was just being a good friend! Yeah, that's all it was!"

Nico stood up suddenly, her body tense. Eli stared at her in confusion, eyebrows furrowed. Did I say something strange? Her entire demeanor seems to have changed…

"…Nico?"

"Were there any other games you wanted to play? You don't seem like the video game type, and I don't feel like spending a bunch of money to play the ticket games, but we could see if the air hockey table is open. Or we could leave. I'm sure you had other stuff to do today that I interrupted. It's up to you."

Nico said the entire thing in a flat voice, staring straight ahead at the ddr machines. Eli frowned. She stood up and placed a hand on Nico's shoulder, quickly removing it when the girl flinched.

"Are you okay, Nico? You're acting strange. Did I say something wrong?"

"No, no, you're fine." Nico shook herself and took a deep breath. "So. What do you want to do?"

Nico offered a small smile. Eli wasn't convinced that everything was okay, but she let it drop. She didn't know what else to say, anyways.

"Let's try the air hockey table. We're here, so we might as well see if we can use it."

Nico nodded and led the way to the other area of the arcade. The noise returned as they entered the busier section, but Eli didn't get distracted this time. Her entire attention was focused on Nico, who was still walking a bit stiffly. What did I say right before she stood up? Something about practice, right? Is she concerned about something going on in Muse? No… that doesn't seem right.

"Looks like we're out of luck."

"Hmm?" Eli looked up and saw the crowd hanging around the air hockey table. "Oh. Well, that's okay."

"You sure? I bet a bunch of people here are fans of us, we could probably make them move."

"I think that's an abuse of power, Nico."

"Well, duh. What's the point in being famous if you can't push people around every so often?"

Eli just shook her head, smiling. "Still. I think we should pass. It looks like it's snowing outside, so we should probably head home before it gets worse."

Nico turned and looked out the windows. The snow was falling steadily; big white clumps that stuck to the glass panes and coated the street.

"I guess you're right. Let's head out then."

They maneuvered through the clusters of people and stepped outside into the cold. Nico shivered, zipping her coat all the way up to her neck.

"I hate winter," she grumbled.

Eli laughed as they started walking. "It's just a little snow."

" 'Just a little snow'. The problem is that there's snow in the first place! It'd be so much nicer if it could just be summer all year round. You wouldn't have to worry about the cold or the snow or coats or any of that stuff. Just shorts and bathing suits!"

"I've always found the summers to be a little too hot—"

"You would."

"—but I understand where you're coming from," Eli finished, rolling her eyes. "I enjoy winter, but it's nice to not have to worry about all the extra layers."

Nico just grunted in acknowledgement. They walked in a comfortable silence for a while, too tired from their ddr competition to talk and relaxed enough that they didn't feel the need to. The street corner where they went their separate ways came up faster than they expected, and they lingered at the edge of the road for a few minutes.

"Well," Eli finally said. "I suppose we should part ways. Thank you again for taking me out."

"Yeah. No problem. I'll see you on Monday."

"Mmm." Eli nodded and crossed the street, lifting a hand in farewell. Nico waved back, watching her go. She dropped her hand after a moment, standing still in the snow. Another beat passed before she turned away and started to head home, trying to ignore how much colder the air felt without Eli next to her.

"Jeez," she muttered to herself. "Get a hold of yourself, Nico. You only spent a couple hours with her; it's too early to be this sappy."

Still, she couldn't help but smile as she started to think of a place to take Eli to next Saturday.