I do not own the rights to nor am I in any way affiliated with Azumanga Daioh.

Cold Nights

A small desk lamp cast vague shadows on the blue walls of the room, one of which twitched slightly as its owner continued to write into a notebook. Yomi stopped work on a trigonometry problem to chew on her pencil eraser thoughtfully. Her attention was drawn away from homework as her radio went silent, signaling the end of the evening music block and the start of her favorite radio show.

There was a soft static click and the room was filled by a man's charming voice, "Good evening to all our listeners out there, I'm Tanaka Nakuro, but you can call me Naku."

The man's female counterpart cut in energetically now, "And I'm Ogino Michiru, and you can call me Micchii!"

The two voices spoke simultaneously, "We welcome you to Naku and Micchii's The Young Heartthrob Talk Show!"

A rap on her window followed by the sound of someone trying to force it open against the lock drew Yomi's attention away. She went to the window and drew back the navy blue curtains, feeling her heart jump before she'd even seen Tomo. As expected, the petite brunette was standing outside the window in pajamas and a housecoat, grinning widely.

Unlocking and sliding the window open, Yomi shivered as the cold January night rushed in. With a grimace, she beckoned Tomo in, who barely gave her enough time to make way before barreling through the window, beginning to do a little dance to warm herself.

The window was shut again, the curtains drawn over it to hide the bleak snowless winter night away. The room beginning to warm again now, Yomi rounded on Tomo, spouting more harshly than she'd intended, "What do you want?" Their usual game of Tomo being annoying and Yomi being annoyed was beginning.

Still dancing about and rubbing her arms, Tomo's insufferable Cheshire grin remained, "Just wanted to come in. Why'd you start locking your window?" Having satisfied her cold extremities she took a seat on the edge of the bed.

Shrugging off the question, Yomi went back to her desk, dropping heavily into her chair and taking up her pencil once more, "I'm not going to keep you company." She couldn't count the times she'd said that to Tomo on nights like these. The sheer number of times Tomo appeared in the dead of night made her wonder how she ever got any homework done. Yet she enjoyed it, having someone there to keep her company. Regardless of the obnoxious comments and interruptions, she liked Tomo's presence.

The Young Heartthrob Talk Show played on quietly, sans any snide comments about its listeners from Tomo. It suddenly became apparent to Yomi that the scratching of her pencil and the talk show were the only sounds that punctuated the room. A chill ran up her spine, something wasn't right. She turned and looked towards her bed, surprised to find Tomo still sitting still and hugging herself, looking oddly small and fragile all of a sudden.

"Tomo?" she called quietly, the other girl snapping her head up in surprise, her brow knitted morosely. Getting to her feet, Yomi walked over and flicked the overhead light on, bathing them and the room in the diffused glow given off by the frosted light cover above. She jumped in surprise upon seeing how flushed Tomo's face looked and how red her nose and ears were in contrast, "Jesus, Tomo, how long were you outside!"

"Not too long…" Tomo chuckled lowly, that turning into a cough, "My parents were fighting again, and I thought they'd stop, so I went to wait on the porch. But they didn't…." She shivered more out of the surprise of touch than cold as Yomi draped a blanket from the closet around her shoulders.

"I'll make you some tea, I know your throat has to be sore. Just lay down and rest for now," Yomi said as she left the room. She hadn't expected Tomo to come over tonight. When Tomo came over on Sunday it was usually on her own accord, rather than fleeing her parent's bickering. Her parents never fought this early in the week; that would start about Thursday and end Saturday. It'd been that way for years.

Yomi found her mother sitting at the kitchen counter with her laptop, typing away busily. Their old blue and white speckled kettle was already simmering on the stove. Retrieving a mug from the cupboard, Yomi took a deep breath as she feigned keeping her attention on fixing the tea, "Uh, Tomo came over. I think she may stay the night."

Her mother didn't look up from the laptop, "That's fine. Just don't stay up too late. The futon's in the closet in my room." She, like the rest of the near neighborhood had heard Tomo's parents fighting, yelling at one another, many times before. And like the rest, she politely ignored it and did them one better by silently offering Tomo a place to stay in the mean time.

Back in the bedroom Tomo had complied with Yomi's orders reluctantly and was curled up on the bed, having situated the blanket to her liking. It hadn't felt so cold outside when she had first left. It had to have been the walk over that chilled her so deeply, she thought. She should've just come straight to Yomi's, rather than hanging around to listen from the porch. She usually did when her parents fought, ever since she'd met Yomi it seemed. It beat trying to turn the radio in her room or the TV in the living room up high enough to be heard over them, and at least they usually ignored her sneaking out, as opposed to suddenly focusing their anger on her for being too loud.

The sound of the door opening drew Tomo away from her thoughts. She sat up, keeping the blanket around her shoulders, as Yomi came to sit beside her offering up a still steaming mug of green tea. Tomo blew on it before taking a sip, sighing as it soothed her burning throat.

Sitting anxiously on the edge of the bed, Yomi watched her friend drain the cup of tea, then taking the empty mug and setting it on the nightstand by the bed. She still watched concernedly as Tomo drew her knees up to her chest, finally saying, "You're going to catch pneumonia if you keep running around in the cold in just your pajamas."

Tomo kept her eyes on her knees, still staying quiet. She fully expected this lecture, she thought, Yomi was always looking out for her, bandaging her up when she fell, yelling at her to keep her in line. They were good friends like that. Or Yomi was a good friend like that, at least. Always going out of her way to help, despite feigning apathy. Tomo felt something tighten inside of her.

"What possessed you to stay out there that long? What the hell were you doing?" Yomi hadn't meant for her temper or voice to rise, but it always did when Tomo did something crazy. The last thing Yomi had expected in response was a sob as Tomo buried her face in her knees. "W-Wha—Tomo?"

Her body tensing, Tomo moved her arms up so they enclosed her face, beginning to sob uncontrollably.

Not knowing what to do, Yomi wrapped her arms around Tomo's shaking form, drawing her into a close hug. She felt her chest tighten as she listened to Tomo's muffled sobs, at a loss for what to do. Yomi had never needed to comfort Tomo over anything more serious than a snack machine gypping her.

It felt weird being in this position; they didn't have a close physical relationship at all, and this was totally alien. The only time they made physical contact was when Yomi was smacking Tomo for acting up, or the few times Tomo made the dire mistake of pinching, goosing, or grabbing Yomi jokingly. Yet it was warm and comforting.

Yomi maintained the hug, still feeling the uneasy knot in her stomach as her imagination supplied disturbing explanations for Tomo's sudden breakdown. The sobs weren't stopping, and she couldn't think of anything particularly soothing to say, finally coming out with, "It's not that bad, Tomo, they always argue, and you've never done this before…." She thought for a moment, then adding, "Around me, at least." The uneasy feeling worsened.

Managing to compose herself for the moment, Tomo lifted her face away from her knees enough to spout, "They don't fight like this, they're supposed to just argue over something stupid and be over it the next morning. But they're arguing all the time!" She choked, burying her face in Yomi's shoulder this time, her words coming in shaking gasps now, "I eavesdropped on their bickering from the porch, and they're talking about getting a divorce!"

Yomi felt her throat tighten, the d-word dredging up the few memories she had of her father before her mother left him. She began to rub Tomo's back idly, partially relieved that it wasn't worse. "It's not the end of the world, you'll get through it. Your parents still love you, Tomo."

There was another flurry of sobs, and Tomo's strained voice, "No they don't, they constantly use me against each other in their stupid fights! I can hear them, my dad telling my mom how her daughter failed a test, and my mom yelling at my dad about how his daughter isn't going to do anything with her life. They don't care, no one cares about a spaz like me!"

Frowning, Yomi opened her mouth a few times, trying to piece together the words she wanted, and failing miserably. She finally pushed the first ones she'd thought of out, "I care."

A somehow haughty sounding laugh came in response from the region of her shoulder. She'd never heard Tomo laugh like that before. "I know you just barely tolerate me for whatever stupid reason," Tomo's voice still sounded strained, about to crack any second, "Everyone does, because of how I act, and I can't blame them." She felt Yomi's hands release her, moving to her shoulders to hold her firmly and push her back to arm's length.

"I do care about you, Tomo. We've been friends since elementary, I-I love you, I mean, we're best friends…"

Tomo's gaze came up to meet Yomi's. She was surprised to see the look of sincere worry in Yomi's eyes, and utter frankness with her emotions she so often hid, almost always trying to appear reserved and logical, unlike Tomo who wore her emotions on her sleeve. Quietly, Tomo said, "You really do…love me?"

Her cheeks reddening, Yomi quickly broke the gaze, looking across the room to her desk, "I-I guess, I mean, not in a weird way, just…" she broke off as Tomo's fingers pressed against her cheek, guiding her face back towards Tomo's. She swallowed hard, feeling an all too familiar twinge in her belly as she looked into Tomo's eyes. She began to protest again, to pull away, hundreds of excuses and reasons to get away running through her head. Her brain screeched to a halt as Tomo's lips met hers. Despite how short-lived the kiss was, it seemed to last an eternity, leaving them both breathless as they reluctantly parted.

Their eyes met again after the kiss, Tomo's holding a look of sheepish embarrassment, Yomi's a look of sheer surprise.

"You…" Yomi's lips kept moving as she tried to find her voice, "That…We…"

Tomo smiled meekly, "You do like me in a…weird way, don't you?"

Pulling away from the loose embrace, Yomi turned to look at the floor, crossing her arms, "You weren't supposed to find out… I-It's my problem to deal with."

Yomi startled at Tomo's arms draping around her shoulders, Tomo's body pressed against her back. "It's okay if you like girls."

Yomi lowered her head, removing her glasses with one hand, covering her eyes with the other as she felt a few tears attempt to form, "How did you…did you just guess?" She felt Tomo's arm release her and weight shift behind her as Tomo sat back.

"I overheard you trying to comfort Kaorin over her crush with Sakaki. You said you understood how it felt, and, well, I didn't think you had a crush on any boys, and it didn't seem to, you know, be of much help if you meant you had a crush on a boy anyway…." She leaned forward, placing her hands on Yomi's back and beginning to rub softly. "I didn't think that meant anything at first, but then I started noticing that you dog-ear the pages in your magazines that have girls on them. Especially ones with that model, what's her name, Yui…"

"Kuriyama…Yui Kuriyama…" Yomi repeated quietly out of reflex, her cheeks reddening as she added, "She looks a little like you…" She could feel Tomo's grin burn into the back of her neck.

"Really?" For a moment Tomo's voice sounded very much back to normal, "well, I am sexy enough to be a model!" Yomi's shoulders slumping further brought Tomo back down to Earth, an odd feeling of regret coursing through her. "Guess that makes sense now…"

"Was that…all you had to go on?" Yomi was beginning to wonder if Tomo really could make it as a detective for Interpol if she was that perceptive.

"Well…There was one more thing. I was looking for some throat drops one night while you were in the bathroom, and I rifled through the drawer of your nightstand." Yomi's shoulders tensed under her hands again, the taller girl looking reflexively to the drawer not a foot from her knees. Swallowing hard, Tomo whispered a small apology before continuing, "I found the pictures of me you kept…. The one with me in my gym shorts at the Athletics Festival and the one of me in my two-piece at Chiyo's summerhouse last year…"

Yomi could feel her face glowing red, covering it with her hands shamefully.

"S'okay," Tomo whispered once more, leaning in to hug herself to Yomi's back, "It's sort of flattering that you think I look that good…"

After a several quiet minutes, Yomi sat up and turned, Tomo releasing her and sitting back. Their gazes met, Tomo saying in a meek voice, "Does this mean we're girlfriends?"

There was an awkward moment of silence, the two staring into each other's eyes. Yomi finally broke it, trying to shrug nonchalantly and saying, "I guess it does" in her normal mildly disinterested voice. She smiled slightly, leaning in and pressing a quick kiss onto Tomo's lips, causing them both to blush brightly.

Yomi removed her glasses, setting them on the night table, both then silently laying down together, embracing each other loosely. Yomi settled into a comfortable position, and Tomi moved herself up to rest her head in the crook of Yomi's neck. Smiling to herself, Tomo felt her worries and problems melt way, the coldness replaced by a blissful warmth as she fell asleep in Yomi's arms.