Originally written for the 2006 Yuletide rare fandoms challenge and for/dedicated to Romana03. Not my characters, Azumi's.

I. Tentacles

Yomi didn't generally think of karaoke as something girls like herself did. That was for, well, the other kind of girls, the kinds who swapped cutesy booth photos of themselves surrounded with bunnies and flowers, who wore short skirts without worrying about their legs, the kind of girls who... had boyfriends.

Yomi didn't have a boyfriend, she had Tomo, and sometimes that was a depressing thought. She'd pointed out to Tomo on numerous occasions that any boy would have difficulty asking a girl out when he had to get at her through an obnoxious octopus that Yomi was apparently in love with, until finally she'd crack and attempt to part Tomo's loud mouth from the rest of her body. Somehow, in the aggressive joy of the struggle, it didn't matter quite so much that she could feel the clinging tentacles winding even closer around her.

Tomo was like that. Or Yomi was; it didn't always seem to matter in which direction the blame lay. It was bad enough that Yomi was developing an affection for octopi. She could no longer even eat tako-yaki without a guilty feeling.

Whatever Yomi thought of the gulf between herself and habitual karaoke users, there seemed a reasonable chance that Christmas karaoke would become a tradition in their group. Yomi believed that if you did anything, you practiced until you were as good as you could possibly be. It worked for exams; there was no reason the same principle couldn't hold for singing.

Besides, she really, really loved singing.

She cast a dirty look at her companion. "I didn't ask you to come, you know." She knew it was useless. Wherever went, Tomo would somehow turn up in the same place. It was fate, or something like that. She could sooner fight off a killer octopus than expect to actually go somewhere and have fun without Tomo bobbing up. It had been that way since Yomi had been a small child and she had grown so accustomed to it that she glumly thought it would be the same when she was eighty.

"Someone had to come to administer first aid to the victims."

"Ha, ha. Besides, the booth is soundproofed."

"Yes, but what if it cracks under the strain?" Tomo began knocking on the walls. "You know, at certain frequencies walls can shatter. Oh, no, I can see a crack here! I need to warn the people in the next booth to run and hide!" She bounded onto one of the benches and bobbed up and down with mock anxiety.

"That's glass, stupid. And only with pure tones."

"The city is saved! Your singing is just purely awful!"

"Shut up! And knock that off," Yomi warned, noticing that Tomo had forgotten the anxiety and was bouncing up and down with greater vigour as she enjoyed the sensation. "You can't jump on the seat here - we'll get thrown out! What are you, a six year old? Get down!"

"How's anyone going to hear me? Idiot. They're protected from the horrors of your voice." Tomo began to bound higher, defiantly, her legs bending sharply at the knee with each movement as she pushed herself towards the ceiling.

"Cut it out! Stupid..." Yomi lunged for her friend, arms coming tightly around her waist. The two teetered for a moment before Tomo fell on top of the other girl, bringing her crashing heavily against the door. They collapsed together in a spluttering heap, Tomo's foot tangled in Yomi's skirt, as the door fell open.

Yomi took a moment to regain her bearings. When the neon stars and dashes interfering with her vision cleared a little, she pushed off Tomo, who was rubbing her head and whimpering, and prepared to deliver righteous wrath "You -"

"Idiot!" a voice from the next booth finished, its door swinging open a little.

Yomi listened wide-eyed for a moment, and then hauled Tomo, by the waist, back inside the booth.

"Ow! What're you trying to- "

"Sssh!" Yomi signaled frantically, her attention on the voices. She pulled the door nearly closed, and leaned against it, listening with all her might.

"No wonder you can't get a boyfriend, sin-singing like that."

"Shut up! Like men are lining up for you!"

"Hey, it's Yukari and Nyamo!" Tomo whispered, her eyes brightening with interest. "Maybe we should go say -"

"No! Shut up!" Yomi spat in an undertone, gesturing wildly at Tomo to keep it down. For a wonder, her friend obeyed.

"Yeah, well, maybe I don't care, anyway. Maybe I'll just go ahead and get married."

"Your arranged marriage. Riiight."

"Well, maybe I should. I don't want to spend the rest of my life getting drunk and doing karaoke with you every Christmas."

"Maybe y'should. Hey, what's wrong with kara... kara... karaoke, anyway? Apart from the fact that you can't sing. Nyaaaaaamo can't sing, she nyaaaas like a cat..." Miss Tanaziki sounded, Yomi figured, considerably more drunk than Miss Kurosawa.

"Are those two ever apart? They don't even seem to enjoy it!" Yomi whispered, mostly under her breath. She turned on Tomo suddenly, the words hissing through her teeth, almost inaudible but sharp as a whip for all that. "Do you ever worry that this is our future?"

"What? Nah. Those two are such losers, they're stuck together for ever, because no one else will have them." Miraculously, Tomo was also speaking at a barely audible volume, apparently having decided not to give the game away... yet. Yomi didn't trust her not to break into cheery song at any moment. She always did score higher at karaoke than Yomi.

"Yeah, right." Yomi didn't bother to repress a glum sigh. "Nothing like us." "

"Nah, you and me, we're fate. Why do you care, anyway?"

"It's just depressing." Yomi struggled to turn her attention back to the conversation. She was aware of Tomo next to her, eavesdropping just as hard, and was aware of a slight twinge of guilt. But then, she knew that while she wasn't a living monster like Tomo, she wasn't entirely nice, either. To small helpless things like Chiyo, maybe. But she was no angel.

"What's stopping you from just tellin' your mother okay, go 'head and arrange it? Get married. Better'n men in bars. Octopuses." Miss Tanaziki's monologue was an inebriated ramble, and oddly enough Miss Kurosawa was making no attempt to interrupt. "Never liked that, didja? Marriage gotta be better'n better'n..." She trailed to a halt, then started with renewed vigour. "So what's the problem?"

"I - nothing. No reason at all." There was a silence. "Unless..."

"Unless what? You can do what you like."

"Yeah. Hey, Yukari? Do you even remember why I said I'd never get married?"

There was the sound of movement. "Hey, Nyamo, I'm bored with this. Let's blow this... this... thing. Place. Mushy conversation, boring. Wanna go?"

"Sure. Um, Yukari?"


There was no apparent response, at least not verbally. After a while Yomi determined that the conversation was, somehow, finished. Maybe Miss Tanaziki had passed out. If she could only look, she would know... Burning curiosity seized her, and she carefully rationalised it. The teachers probably saw enough of their students anyway, so it was best to discreetly leave, and if it so happened that the way out led them past the other booth, she could hardly be blamed. Responsible and polite, that was Yomi. She grabbed Tomo's elbow and hauled her out.


"Shut up!"

As they walked past, she cast a quick glance into the next booth, and felt heat rise prickling up her neck. She could feel, without looking, Tomo's mouth shape to form "Whoah!" She shushed her sharply as she pulled her past and to the exit.

As they came out into the crisp air, Tomo's face split in a grin. The fairy lights out for Christmas made it seem even more wicked than her wont, illumined in changing lights of red, green and yellow. Demonic.

"Worried we'll end up just like them, huh?" She flung one of her scarily flexible arms, the arms Yomi would be prepared to onswear were either mutiply jointed or tentacled, around the other girl's neck and ground her knuckles into her skull.

"Shut up, idiot!" Yomi struggled to free herself.

Tomo waited until Yomi had failed to throw her off, then relaxed her grip, her arm coming more gently around Yomi's neck, affectionately and almost tenderly. Yomi was almost used to this, the roughness melting unexpectedly into casual contact that was somehow not entirely casual but entirely right. Now, cheeks aflame with personal humiliation and more sympathetic embarrassment for her oblivious teachers, she wanted to remove the contact, but didn't quite know how.

"Depressing?" Tomo asked, challengingly. She was leaning into Yomi's face, the way she was almost clinging bringing her eyes very close to Yomi's, and Yomi could see herself reflected back, changing colour as the lights flickered.

"Yeah. Depressing," Yomi said, the corner of her mouth was lifting into a smile almost despite herself. After all, she never refused a challenge, at least not from Tomo.

They moved off down the street together, giving their teachers space to leave without being embarrassed, and somehow Tomo's arm remained around Yomi's neck, and Yomi's arm crept around Tomo's waist. It was easier to balance that way, that was all, and maybe being enfolded in the embrace of an octopus was not the worst thing in the world.

No one could be entirely depressed at Christmas.