This is the final fic I needed to write as a prize for the Mami/Kyouko contest I hosted earlier this year on deviantArt. This piece is for ownage4u91, who won the multiple entries award. Her request originally wasn't meant to fit into the timeline I've had going for these two, but it worked far too well in the end. This story takes place just after Return. Two weeks, to be exact. Enjoy.

The door shut behind her, none too gently. However, Kyouko was too busy to be bothered by such trivialities as consideration for nearby neighbors. She knelt by the front door, fumbling with the laces on her boots. She'd just recently bought them with the last bit of cash she'd saved; her other pair had worn thin. Breaking in the boots was proving to be harder than she had thought. They were still far too stiff for her tastes. Kyouko pulled the last knot free and kicked both boots to the side of the door, watching them fall haphazardly over each other.

Kyouko stretched and yawned, heading for the bedroom that had been deemed hers. She passed the kitchen table, nodding to Mami, who sat drinking tea. She pushed open the door to her room, maneuvering over piles of discarded clothing, and an overflowing trash can. She rarely cleaned up after herself, caring only to when she ran out of something to wear or she needed more space. She fell onto the unmade bed, curling into a ball. It had been a night, but it had been worth it. She grinned to herself, finding sleep quickly.

Meanwhile, Mami stared into space, lost in thought. It had been two weeks since Kyouko had returned to Mitakihara. She had been elated, eager to have Kyouko back home. She had remembered their friendship years ago, and how close they'd been before Kyouko had lost everything. After that, like dominoes, everything had fallen and she'd struggled to cope. Kyouko's return back then seemed like a sign to fix what had fallen, but their relationship had been tense and strained.

And then Kyouko had disappeared again.

So when she had gotten that first postcard, she'd tried not to show how much she had missed her friend. She'd tried not to show her loneliness, or the fear inside. Scaring Kyouko was the last thing she had wanted. She feared that Kyouko would easily cut off contact again, and unlike those long ago days, there would be no finding her. All she would be able to do would be to hope for a postcard or a phone call.

As it was now, Kyouko often disappeared without saying so. She'd wake in the middle of the night to hear the door closing, and Kyouko would be gone until sometime the next day. Sometimes she simply said she was heading out and not to wait up for her. Some nights, Mami had laid awake, waiting. She had wondered if Kyouko would return, if she was fighting demons, or if she had gotten into some kind of trouble and needed help. Worry led to an overactive imagination, and more than a few sleepless nights. Tea was her attempt to calm her nerves and find some semblance of peace.

Mami placed the teacup upon the white saucer and slowly stood. She tiptoed quietly down the hallway, listening carefully for any signs that Kyouko was still awake. The door to her room was slightly ajar and she cautiously peeked inside, letting her eyes adjust to the dim light. The curtains were closed, but cracks of sunlight slipped through. She crept softly into the room carefully maneuvering around the haphazard piles.

Kyouko was sprawled over the bed, forgoing the comforter. She slept dangerously close to the edge; one wrong turn and she'd find herself crashing to the floor. One arm hung off the bed, the other covering her chest. Mami's eyes darted about the room, noting the clutter and overflowing trash. She bent over, picking up a discarded tank top. Her eyes searched for a basket of some kind to collect the clothing in. The clothes could all be washed and dried and the trash taken out. The room would be spotless the next time Kyouko saw it.

Sighing, Mami realized she would be out of line. It wasn't her place to clean up after Kyouko, nor force her to follow a set of rules. Not yet, at least. She turned and walked back toward the kitchen. She should be honest with Kyouko, but she was far too afraid to speak up. Her fear controlled any rational action. She didn't want a day to come where Kyouko never returned. She also didn't want to hear the words "leave" and "train station" tumble from Kyouko's lips.

If she wasn't careful, her thoughts would cause her to create things that weren't there and read too much into things. In times like these, she cooked treats to take her mind off things she shouldn't ponder. She began mentally considering recipes, trying to find one that both appealed her, and that she had the required ingredients for already.

Sometime later, Mami hummed to herself as she guided the mixer around the bowl. She'd decided to start with a simple yellow cake and move from there. Her eyes watched the clock, mentally counting down the time until she could move on to the next step.

"Mami?" called a voice from behind her.

Startled, she lost her grip on the mixer and it splattered batter every which way. Frantically, Mami tried to grab it, but it slipped through her fingers each time, continuously throwing batter every which way. She finally grabbed the stubborn device, and quickly switched the mixer off. Her eyes surveyed the kitchen, and the mess she had created. She mentally berated herself for her carelessness. "I'm such a fool," she murmured to herself, looking for something to clean up with.

Behind her, the oven dinged, letting her know that it had warmed to the proper temperature. Mami looked into her bowl, which was half as full as before. Suddenly, she didn't feel like making cake anymore. She turned around, meaning to turn off the oven, but stepped in batter. Her foot slid out from underneath her, and she lost her balance, landing hard on the floor. It was the final straw, so to speak. All the little frustrations were too much to handle. Something inside her simply broke. She couldn't stop the tears that started to fall.

Kyouko had watched the entire scene in awe, unable to speak. She hadn't meant to scare Mami. "You okay?" she asked. How had things gotten so messy so quickly?

Mami shook her head, crying harder. She reached out blindly to push herself off the floor, but her hand settled in cake mix and slid. She felt like an idiot, blubbering in front of Kyouko, knowing that she was scaring her more and more. Kyouko would be gone before morning. All she had to do was wait for Mami to fall asleep that night… Her stomach twisted itself into knots of fear, picturing the scene she'd find with the rising sun.

Reaching down, Kyouko took her hand and pulled Mami to her feet. She was shocked when Mami fell against her chest, resting her head on Kyouko's shoulder. Kyouko had no idea what she was supposed to do. Awkwardly, she began to pat Mami's back. "It'll… be okay… uh… yeah. It's okay, Mami." She felt foolish. Was she doing it right?

Her words only made Mami cry harder. It wasn't exactly what she'd thought would happen. Maybe Mami needed to rest. She guided the older girl to the couch and helped her to lay down. As Kyouko turned to leave, she felt a tug on her sleeve.

"Don't go… please. Don't leave me," whispered Mami. She gripped Kyouko's sleeve tightly, her knuckles turning white.

Something in Mami's voice prompted Kyouko to sit with her on the couch. "I'm not going anywhere," she stated. Her eyes darted from Mami to her own lap, where she'd placed her hands. She had no idea what to do from here. What did Mami want her to do? She wasn't any good at comforting. She'd shown that moments ago.

A hint of a smile crossed Mami's lips before disappearing again. Her eyes were red-rimmed and her face was puffy. "Can you… rub my back again? Like before?" She spoke softly, an edge of child-like hope in her voice.

If it would keep Mami from crying, she would do so. Kyouko had rarely seen Mami upset, but never like this. She felt silly, but placed her hand upon Mami's back and rubbed slow circles. She recalled her mother doing the same for her when she was upset as a child. Kyouko would lie on her bed and her mother would sing softly for her, a hymn from the family book. Kyouko would always fall asleep. Strange that the memory would surface now. She tried to recall the name of the hymn or the lyrics, but both were lost to days long past.

Kyouko looked down at Mami, deciding to share the memory, but Mami's eyes were closed, her chest rising and falling evenly. She had fallen asleep. Her task done, she rose and covered Mami with a blanket before leaving the room. There were other things that she needed to accomplish. Mami didn't need her here anymore.

Mami awoke with a start, startled from a dream that was quickly fading. She blinked, noticing that the sun was going down. How long had she been asleep? She sat up, rubbing at her face, which was sore. It was then that the memory of the afternoon replayed itself over in her mind. She sighed. Her actions very well could have scared Kyouko away. The idea made her miserable, and she felt the knots form in her stomach again.

"Kyouko?" she called, but received no answer. "Kyouko, are you here?" Still no reply. She glanced into Kyouko's room, but found everything tidied up. The bed had been made, the trash gathered, and clothes gone. It was as though the room was waiting for its next occupant. Mami felt sick to her stomach. Could she blame the younger girl?

She made her way toward kitchen, intent on starting dinner. She paused a few steps later, remembering that the kitchen would still be a mess from the mixer earlier. Since time had passed, the mess would have dried and would be difficult to clean off of the surfaces. That is, if she could find every splatter of batter. The batter itself would have to be thrown out. Dinner would have to wait. She braced herself for the task ahead.

When Mami entered the kitchen, however, she found that it was spotless. Am I dreaming? She wondered. She remembered how batter had covered every open surface. The kitchen now was spotless. Mami inspected the countertops, the floor, and the utensils. They were all clean, not a speck of batter to be found. Had she dreamed the whole incident?

Her eyes were drawn to a folded white piece of paper. She recognized the stationary as her own—little yellow flowers decorating the edges of the paper. She unfolded it and began to read.

I cleaned up the mess from earlier. I'm sorry. I'll be back tonight.

Kyouko hadn't signed her name to the note, but there wasn't a need. The note said more than Kyouko let on. Relief washed over Mami as the knots in her stomach disappeared. She smiled and reached for her recipe book, intent on showing her gratitude in ways her words could not.

The door to her apartment slammed behind her and she jumped. She spun around, daring to hope that it was truly Kyouko. Moments later, a grinning head peeked into the kitchen. "Put down the cookbook, Mami. I've got something better than that!" As quickly as she'd appeared, she disappeared.

Mami's eyes widened as she entered the living room and saw the coffee table. She found bags of fast food, and a box from the nearby bakery. "Kyouko… why… what?" Mami was stunned.

"I know ya don't like fast food often, but today's been a rough day, right? So it's okay to eat junk. Besides, I picked up a special yellow cake from the bakery. You were making that earlier, weren't you?"

"I… I was." Mami took a seat beside Kyouko, who was emptying each bag and placing food on the table. "You didn't have to do all of this though, Kyouko."

"I wanted to though." She passed Mami a wrapped sandwich. "You needed something good after all you've done. So this is my thanks." She bit into her own sandwich, a large burger.

Slowly Mami unwrapped her sandwich, trying to hide the large smile on her face. She knew she needed to stop overthinking every action. As she raised the burger to her lips, she made a promise to herself. She would simply be herself, and try not to overreact. Otherwise, she might miss moments like this one.