Disclaimer: The characters used in the following story are the property of Kiyohiko Azuma. I seek no profit with the publication of this story.

Author's Note: The yuri fan in me was screaming to write something in response to the Koiwai/Asagi vibes scattered throughout the balloon festival chapters. That being said, this story focuses on a relationship between two women. If such a relationship is something you disapprove of then please don't bother to read this story; your inevitable flames are not welcome.

This story it best viewed with the story width set to 1/2; it still looks like a story at that width. (Okay, you can go 3/4, but full page makes my story look so puny!)

Italics indicate thoughts.

Torako and Heights

They seem to get along.

A heavy sigh escaped her lips as a frown settled on a certain young woman's face.

Well.

Torako groaned as she plopped down on the cliff overlooking the open field where festival workers were preparing for the approaching hot air balloons. With a practiced ease she set down her bag and withdrew a cigarette, lit it, and then took a long, relaxing drag. Flopping onto her back with a hand behind her head and the cigarette cradled between her lips, she watched for a moment as the smoke drifted up into the sky. Then, with her other hand gripping her camera, she closed her eyes and sighed again.

Too well.

"I never realized you were afraid of heights, Torako." The familiar voice came from above her, accompanied by a shadow over her face. With a grunt Torako opened her eyes to find Asagi leaning over her with a teasing smile.

"I'm not," she answered defensively, lifting her camera and snapping a picture of her accuser. It came as no surprise when Asagi sat down beside her, the other girl tucking some stray hairs behind her ears. With another audible sigh Torako took a drag on her cigarette.

"Then why didn't you come on the balloon with us?" Asagi asked, her eyes focused on the activities below.

"Too many people," Torako grunted. "I figured I would stay on the ground and shoot some pictures."

"I don't believe you," Asagi countered with a challenging smile. "You could have taken some wonderful shots from above."

"I didn't want to intrude."

"Intrude?" Asagi repeated in confusion. Torako's answer had been unnecessarily curt.

Torako shrugged and exhaled a small cloud of smoke. "You all had a nice family vibe going; I didn't want to interrupt it."

Hearing the reply, Asagi hung her head with a grim smile. "I see what this is about."

"Huh? What's there to see?"

"Torako," Asagi began, casting Torako a disapproving glance for her feigned ignorance. "You're obviously bothered by something. I apologize for not telling you sooner that the others would be joining us. Ena heard about our plans from my mother and asked if she could go and I couldn't help but to say yes. Yotsuba-chan happened to be there so I invited her, too. I didn't think you'd mind; I know how much you adore her." Torako opened her mouth to protest, but Asagi silenced her with a finger and a knowing smile as she continued. "Koiwai-san is here because he doesn't trust Yotsuba-chan to stay safe with us. And who can blame him, after what happened the last time she was placed in our care. A simple bike ride to the neighborhood market and she returned battered and bruised."

Torako sat up with a small frown as she remembered the event. While Yotsuba had indeed had a bit of trouble that day, trouble which had ended with tears, Torako had still managed to capture some great photos. Glancing at the camera in her hands the budding photographer's frown disappeared. She had captured some great shots today, too. The vibrant young girl proved to be a wonderful photography subject.

"That's what's bothering you, isn't it?" Asagi continued as she scooted closer to the now sitting Torako. "Koiwai-san being here."

Torako didn't answer. Instead she took yet another drag on the cigarette, its contents helping to keep her calm.

"Come on, Torako; enough with the cool act. You only fool Yotsuba-chan with those cigarettes."

Torako glanced over and met Asagi's stubborn, disapproving gaze. Realizing that there was no escaping the conversation, she stubbed out her cigarette and sighed in resignation. "I don't have a problem with Koiwai-san being here," Torako asserted. "He's easy to converse with, and I can tell he loves that little ball of energy. He's a nice man, even if he was acting like a typical guy by trying too hard to impress you."

Asagi couldn't help but to laugh. "Way to outshine a man, Torako. Who knew you were so skilled with a bamboo dragonfly? Although..."

"Although?"

"I think he was trying to regain Yotsuba-chan's respect more than my admiration."

Torako gave a small, arrogant smile. "I can't help it if his daughter thinks I'm cool. I never went out of my way to impress her; she decided it on her own."

Asagi smiled and gave Torako a light punch. "That's what I like so much about Yotsuba-chan. She's a child; while she can be easily fooled by your cigarettes, at the same time her innocence allows her to see things for what they really are."

"I suppose that's true."

"Unlike you."

"Huh?" Torako stared at Asagi now, confusion evident on her face as a result of her companion's sudden attitude change. Asagi stood and stared down at Torako with her hands on her hips and a stern, disappointed gaze.

"If you're not upset with Koiwai-san being here then that means you're upset with me, that you can't trust me, and I'll not stand for that. Again, I'm sorry I didn't tell you the others were coming. And if you thought you saw something growing between him and me, I assure you, there was nothing there. There never will be."

"A-Asagi," Torako began, stuttering as she stood to meet the other woman eye to eye. "I'm not- I- I didn't-"

"Let's not forget who first confessed to whom." Asagi crossed her arms, the look on her face warning Torako that she was not amused.

"Never," Torako replied, her voice suddenly calm and serious. Her eyes softened as she hesitantly brought her hand up to rest it on Asagi's shoulder. "Asagi, I remind myself every day that you chasing after me and telling me how you felt was not an event of my imagination. Though, I'll admit, I had never considered having any romantic feelings for you until you confessed to me, and I had to think things over for a long time." Torako cast a small, shy smile at the woman before her, sliding her touch from Asagi's shoulder to her arm as she felt a heavy blush adorn her cheeks. "It's just… I'm still trying to get used to 'us'."

"Torako..." Asagi's voice trailed off, her face a testimony of pleasant surprise. She was quickly brought back to reality by the harsh flash of a camera. "I think that's one of the few times you've ever told me how you feel," she said, blinking as her teasing smile returned.

"I'm a person of few words."

"Again with the cool act, huh?" Asagi questioned, reaching out to grasp Torako's hand. Before she could, though, she froze when they both heard a familiar voice.

"Tora!" Torako and Asagi turned to find Yotsuba bounding up the small hill, Ena quick on her heels. "Tora!"

"Ugh," Torako grunted, running a hand through her hair in frustration. "That child has too much energy for my tastes." Next to her Asagi smiled in amusement.

"Tora, here!" Yotsuba exclaimed, thrusting a piece of paper at Torako. The tall woman stared down at the paper, dumbfounded.

"Umm... what is this?" she managed to ask.

"Aww, how cute!" Asagi squealed from her side. "Yotsuba-chan drew you a picture, Torako."

"I can see that."

Asagi's punch was stronger this time and Torako was soon rubbing the pain from her arm.

Ignorant of the situation, Yotsuba smiled proudly at Torako. "It's you, Tora! It's you with Asagi!"

"Yotsuba-chan's wanted to give that to you for a while now, Torako-san," Ena explained.

"Jumbo really wants to meet you," Yotsuba said excitedly, her eyes growing wide as her arms moved wildly to help emphasize her point. "When he saw my picture he asked who you were and I told him that you're always with Asagi. And whenever I mention doing something with you and Asagi he always asks who Tora is." As she continued, Yotsuba's brow wrinkled in annoyance. "I keep telling him, though, Tora is Tora."

"Jumbo-san really likes Asagi-neechan, too," Ena added with a smile she no doubt learned from the older sister she was teasing. Asagi blushed at the revelation, though her red cheeks were accompanied by a mischievous smile.

"See?" she whispered in Torako's ear with a soft giggle, having discerned the true relation between the two separate testimonies. With a slender finger Asagi pointed at the drawing in the other woman's hands. "Yotsuba-chan's an innocent child; she has no societal or moral blinders that prevent her from seeing things for what they really are. I ought to thank her," she said, her voice just a bit quieter, a bit huskier. Her breath tickled Torako's ear teasingly. "Because of her, you now have a jealous rival."

"Tora, what's wrong?" Yotsuba asked as she looked up at the tall girl with her head tilted in curiosity. "Why did your face get bright red like that?"

"Yotsuba!" Three of the four girls turned to find Koiwai at the bottom of the hill waving his arms, beckoning for the smallest among them to come down.

"Torako says thank you for the picture. Go on, now," Asagi said, patting Yotsuba's head. "You too, Ena; it looks like he's bought some candy."

Watching as the two girls raced down the hill laughing, an act which resulted in Yotsuba falling down and tumbling the last third of the distance, Torako couldn't help but to let a small smile grace her lips as she recovered from her stupor.

"What are you smiling about?" Asagi asked teasingly. Seeing the three at the hill's bottom turn and walk away she quickly captured Torako's hand in her own.

"It's nothing," Torako said, shaking the smile from her face. Asagi raised a brow curiously but did not ask any further questions. "I have some photos I think you'll like," Torako offered as a change of subject, grabbing her bag and leading Asagi down the hill. "There are some great shots of you and Yotsuba-chan together."

"You have to show me," Asagi said, grabbing for the camera.

"Later," Torako answered, moving the camera out of the other woman's reach. Smirking at Asagi's pout, Torako released her hand after a light squeeze and skillfully retrieved another cigarette.

"I suppose I can wait," Asagi huffed, crossing her arms in exaggeration and then dropping them a few seconds later with a proud smile. "I already know they'll be wonderful. Your photos always are." There were a few moments of pleasant silence between them and then: "Torako, where are we going? The racing balloons are arriving over there," Asagi said, indicating the area behind them.

"The balloon rides are up this way, right?" Torako asked, nodding to the area up the road before them. "Our original intention for today was to spend some time alone, so we ought to do so. And, like you said, I can probably get some great shots from the air. Besides…" Trying to sound unfazed, her voice betrayed a hint of nervousness.

"Besides?"

Torako hung her head, hoping to hide her face as she mumbled her answer. "I need to prove that I'm not afraid of heights."

"I knew it!"


End notes: When I think about this pairing, I firmly believe that Asagi would be the first to make a move.

I'm not too confident about this story; I change something every time I read it. It wasn't doing any good just sitting on my computer, though, so I finally gave up and posted it. (It's been a few months since I wrote the original.) Reviews and constructive criticism are welcome but not necessary. This was intended as a one-shot and will remain as such.

Thank you for reading,

Hitori Bocchi