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“Let’s try that again one more time, shall we?” Maki rolled her eyes as Nico glared daggers at Nozomi. Long after they’d graduated, μs found themselves reunited for another live, this one titled WILD STARS. At first, Maki had been thrilled at the chance to perform again, as well as see the other members for the first time in a while, but it hadn’t taken long before she remembered how unpleasant trying to balance studying with practice could be.

Still, even then she was glad. μs remained friends, but they’d gone different directions in life after their group had more or less disbanded. Maki in particular was the odd one out, burying herself in her dream to become a doctor. Once she’d graduated, it became less and less common for her to see any of the members of μs even once a week. When Nico told her they were reforming to do a special concert, she realized just how much she’d missed all of them.

“Why are we trying it again? Are you trying to kill me, Nozomi? Has your jealousy over my talent and beauty finally pushed you over the edge?!” Nico accused, pointing a finger at Nozomi dramatically. Nozomi, for her part, just treated Nico to her usual cryptic smile.

“Niccochi, how could you think such a thing? I just think you should run it through once without the voice.”

For some reason, this non sequitur caused Nico to freeze in her tracks, and when she spoke again she sounded nervous. “...I-I have no idea what you’re talking about. What, do you mean I shouldn’t sing? Just practice the dancing?”

Nozomi’s smile widened, and Maki was reminded of a cat batting at a trapped mouse. “Why, no, Niccochi, I mean you should stop pretending you’re still in highschool.”

Nico looked about ready to strangle Nozomi.

“What on earth are you two talking about?” Maki asked, holding her temples. As much fun as it was to watch Nico get put in her place, even if she didn’t know why, she had plenty of reading she needed to do, and it would be good if she could manage to fit some sleep in at some point. Yes, she was glad to see μs again, but that didn’t make her coursework magically go away. “I have to get back to studying, if we’re going through it again can we just do it so I can leave?”

Nozomi’s eyes twinkled and Maki had the terrible feeling that she’d just become a key piece in a master plan. It was an unfortunately common feeling when dealing with Nozomi.

“Why yes, Maki. We can leave right after Niccochi does a proper run through. Come on, Niccochi, don’t keep Maki waiting.” Nozomi looked unaccountably smug, and Maki was slightly uneasy. It was never safe to not know what Nozomi was up to when she got like this.

Nico opened her mouth to say something, and then closed it and stalked over to the boombox, fuming. “Fine. I’ll do my solo part, is that enough for you?”

Nozomi nodded, accepting Nico’s feeble attempt to salvage some kind of compromise. “That’s the most important part to practice, after all.”

“Oh shut up. ‘Practice’... like I’m going to do this for the live…” Nico was muttering to herself as she got into position, but as soon as the music started, she easily spun into her pose and her face was suddenly bright and smiling again. It never ceased to be impressive just how good Nico was at playing the cheery idol.

The second Nico opened her mouth, Maki instantly understood what she’d been missing in the earlier conversation.

Nico’s singing voice had always been sugary sweet and high pitched, even more so than her normal voice. Nico’s voice hadn’t seemed to have changed in the years since they’d last performed together, but it must have been an act. Because Nico’s voice right now was very different.

It wasn’t gravelly. That was the first thing that hit Maki, since she was used to deep voices sounding scratchy, and rumbling. Nico’s voice, however, was still clear and melodious. But it was definitely deeper, and lower. Whereas before it was like crystalized sugar, sharp and sweet and thin, now it was like warm cocoa, soothing and thick and smooth.

Maki had always preferred hot chocolate to hard candy.

As Nico continued, Maki found herself enraptured, unable to drag her attention away. No doubt Nozomi was even now watching the two of them, taking note of Maki’s interest, but Maki couldn’t help it. This was a totally new side of Nico, one that Maki had never even suspected might exist, and it was a side she liked.

Unfortunately, the solo didn’t last forever. Soon, much sooner than Maki would have wanted, the music came to an end, and Nico posed one last time before breaking character and letting a frown return to her face.

“You know, this voice isn’t actually any easier to sing in.” Nico’s voice was still deep, and Maki found that it was definitely still appealing even when she was just speaking neutrally. “My normal voice is just as natural.”

Nozomi rolled her eyes and didn’t bother to say anything.

“So if you’ve had your fun-” to Maki’s immense disappointment, Nico’s voice was back to “normal”, high and piercing. “-then let’s go, already.”

“Were you serious about not doing the live like that?” Maki found herself blurting out.

Nico and Nozomi both turned to her, their faces very different. Nico’s expression was confused, obviously, clearly unsure why Maki would even ask. There was a hint of suspicion in her eyes as well that Maki felt was very unwarranted. It wasn’t as if she had a history of helping Nozomi with her schemes. Nozomi, on the other hand, looked like she’d just received a dozen birthdays’ worth of presents all at once. The look of sheer glee on her face would be almost cute if there wasn’t a distinctly nefarious overture to it. This, surely, was the face of a woman up to no good, and Maki had a sinking feeling that she’d added another target to today’s list.

“Yes, Niccochi, why not do the live with your real voice?” Nozomi practically purred, delighted at the chance to needle Nico more, and, Maki suspected, soon the chance to needle her as well. It seemed very unlikely that Nozomi was going to let Maki live down her obvious interest any time soon.

“Okay, first off, it is not my ‘real’ voice any more than my normal voice is.” Nico said, earning a skeptical look from Nozomi. “And second off, because we’re singing idol music? We’re idols, Nozomi. None of our music is written for for anything lower than a soprano. My normal singing voice is what I’ve been an idol with for years.”

“Oh? And how many more years do you imagine that will be if you destroy your throat putting on a voice all the time?”

“I am not ‘putting on a voice’, Nozomi, this is how I sound.” Nico was getting more and more impatient, but Nozomi showed no signs of giving up, flashing another smile.

“Then why is that whenever you get drunk or tired you stop talking in your high voice?”

Nico scowled at her. “Why is it that whenever you get drunk you get all weepy and tell me about how I’m your best friend?”

“T-that’s different and you know it!” Nozomi squeaked, flushing. Clearly she wasn’t expecting this to get turned around on her. Still, though, both of these things were news to Maki.

“Do you two get drunk together that often?” Maki asked, and Nico and Nozomi turned to her, startled, as if they’d forgotten she was there. Maybe they actually had.

“Not that often, but Niccochi is my best~ friend~ after all~” Nozomi cooed, trapping Nico in a hug that she struggled to get out of.

Maki felt an irrational pang of jealousy. Nozomi had been Nico’s friend longer than Maki, of course, and they shared an apartment, so of course they’d be close. And it wasn’t as if Maki had offered to go out drinking with Nico- on the contrary, she’d complained to Nico about people in her classes spending too much time drinking and not enough time studying.

But even still, she felt jealous. And the casual contact the two of them shared so easily didn’t do anything to help.

“Hmph. You’re still such a child, Nico.” she said haughtily, lashing out. “Just accept that your voice is getting deeper. Quit trying to hide it.”

Nico managed to extract herself from Nozomi’s arms and stalked over to Maki.

“Listen, you.” she growled, her accusing finger now aimed at Maki. “I’m not hiding anything! Just because my range has increased downwards doesn’t mean this doesn’t count as my voice anymore.”

“You really are going to hurt your voice if you keep forcing it, Nico.” Maki said. She tried to sound aloof and condescending, but judging by Nico’s expression she’d failed to hide how worried she was. That, more than anything else, was what seemed to get to Nico.

“...” Nico hesitated, shooting a glance at Nozomi and debating whether to say anything. Finally, she seemed to come to a decision and let out a sigh.

“What if it ruins my career?” Nico’s voice was back to deep, but it was small and scared, in a way Maki hadn’t heard before. “People don’t come to idol music looking for older women or people who sound like older women, you know? If I stop doing the voice I’ve been doing… what if that’s it? What if no one wants to hear my now that my voice isn’t cute anymore?”

Nozomi opened her mouth to say something, but Maki beat her to it. “I like your voice, Nico.”

Nico looked at her with doubt in her eyes. “What?” she asked, clearly not believing her.

“I… I think your deeper voice is nice.” Maki was feeling awkward under Nico’s gaze, so of course Nozomi stepped in to make it far worse.

“Oh, you can trust her, Niccochi.” Nozomi said, her eyes glittering. “She was practically drooling when you were doing that solo earlier.”

“I was not!” Maki protested, turning red. Nozomi, of course, didn’t stop there. “So don’t worry, Nico, I’m sure there’ll be lots of girls who find it just as hot as Maki.”

“I never said I found it hot!” Maki yelped. “I just said I liked it! It sounds good!”

Now Nico’s gaze was on her again, but it was very different. Whereas before it was doubtful, now it was contemplative with an undertone Maki couldn’t quite decipher.

“...Well. Thanks for saying so, anyway.” she said. Her voice was high again, and she turned to leave. “Come on, Nozomi, I know you said you’d meet Eli after practice.” she called over her shoulder as she walked towards the door.

Nozomi, clearly disappointed by Nico’s muted reaction, sighed and followed after her, winking at Maki. “Don’t worry Maki, I’ll get you a recording next time she’s drunk~.”

Maki frowned at her and turned to collect her things, including the player. Which apparently she was taking home tonight, since Nico and Nozomi hadn’t bothered to grab it...


 

Maki was already thinking of her studies again by the time she left the building, so when a voice came from the shadows she jumped and nearly dropped everything she was carrying.

“Was she right?”

Turning to the source of the voice, Maki saw Nico waiting in the entryway, looking serious. Still using what Maki was starting to internally call her “sugar” voice.

“Nico! Why are you hiding here to ambush me? Is this some kind of prank?” Maki growled, putting down her bag. “And why did you leave me to clean up the practice materials?”

Nico looked regretful for a split second. “I needed to get rid of Nozomi.” she said, shrugging. Making an apologetic face, she clasped her hands in front of her and spoke in a fake sad voice “Oh, Nozomi! I just realized I forgot something! I’ll go back and grab it, you meet Eli. I’ll see you next time!”

Dropping the act again, she held out a hand. “I’ll take the stuff back with me now that she’s gone,if you want.”

Maki handed over the bag, and waited for Nico to explain herself. When no explanation was forthcoming, she prompted Nico to speak. “Why did you need to get rid of Nozomi?”

Nico looked into her eyes and Maki saw the same odd look in them as she’d seen before. Some emotion she couldn’t quite read, mixed with an analyzing look that seemed like she was trying to read Maki’s mind.

“...Was Nozomi right?” she asked again, and her voice was low again, sending a tingle up Maki’s spine with how intense it was.

“R-right about what?” Maki said, her voice catching a little at first.

Nico took a step forward, and Maki took a step back, finding her back against the wall suddenly. Nico leaned close, her eyes still searching and fierce.

“Do you think this voice…” Nico hesitated for a split second, and then continued “...my voice… is hot?”

Maki was speechless. She’d had some vague theories about why Nico would want to talk to her alone, but she’d never considered it could be to ask something like this. Her and Nico had always had… something between them. According to some μs fans, that something was “unquenchable lust”, but Maki had never really seen it. Given how often her and Nico fought, she’d assumed it was just the weird vibe of liking to be around someone you should really hate.

But… at the same time, was Nozomi really wrong? Nico’s voice was different, but Maki definitely liked the difference. She’d never considered that she might be attracted to Nico, but… the idea didn’t seem ridiculous, all of a sudden.

“Hmph.” Maki said, managing to keep her cool a little, even with how close Nico was. “How am I supposed to tell that? I like idol music, Nico, but it’s not exactly sexy.”

Nico paused, and then there was a glittering in her eye that reminded Maki uncomfortably of Nozomi. That was never a good sign.

“You know, Maki, that’s true.” she said, mischievously. “Obviously, what I need to do is to give you a more… useful point of reference.”

Maki gulped. That sounded distinctly ominous if she was any judge, and given how long she’d known Nozomi, she should be an excellent judge of ominous statements.

“So what could I say that would be… hot, Maki?” Nico’s voice didn’t get lower, exactly, but Nico was purposefully reveling in its new texture now, speaking slowly and softly. “Maybe just speaking normally would be enough.” Maki was starting to strongly suspect it would be.

“Oh, but you’re much too greedy for that, aren’t you?” Nico practically purred, watching Maki’s attempts to keep a straight face intently. “Maybe I should tell you alllll about what I’ve wanted to do to you since we were in highschool. Alllll the things I’ve thought about since then… when I was alone… at night… and nak-”

“OKAY, YES, I DO.” Maki shouted, cutting Nico off in panic. She was bright red now, and pinned to the wall completely as Nico smirked up at her. God, who got pressed up against a wall by someone shorter than them? It was ridiculous.

Nico paused for a moment, seemingly caught off guard by Maki’s admission. That was just like Nico, projecting utter confidence and then surprised when she didn’t fail. Well, fine. If Nico was going to falter, then Maki just had to pick up the slack, didn’t she?

“I think your new voice is wonderful, and… yes, hot.” she said, clenching her fists at her side and ignoring the burning in her cheeks. “So what? What’s it matter to you, Nico?” she said challengingly, crossing her arms and staring into Nico’s eyes.

“You know, I wasn’t just bluffing with what I said earlier.” Nico said, meeting Maki’s gaze unflinchingly. “There really are a lot of things I’ve wanted to do to you since highschool. And I really have thought about you a lot.” Her cheeks turned slightly pink. “Including at night.”

“Why didn’t you ever say anything?” Maki asked, and Nico snorted.

“Mama Yazawa didn’t raise an idiot, Maki.You weren’t interested, there was no reason to make things weird in μs.”

“I never even considered it, Nico. Maybe I would have if you’d gotten up the courage to say anything.”

Nico glared. “It wasn’t about courage, it was about common sense!”

“Ha! As if you have any of that.” Maki scoffed, gesturing at her. “Look at what you’re doing right now. Was this one of the things you’ve wanted to do?”

Nico laughed. “Actually, yes.” she admitted. “But in my fantasies you usually were a little more seduced than this.”

Maki rolled her eyes . “If you thought this was going to seduce me it really was a fantasy.”

“Lots of people are into this kabedon stuff, Maki.” Nico said, frowning.

“Maybe if you were a foot taller…”

“Hey!”

Maki opened her mouth and then paused. If she said the next words that had come to mind, it might lead somewhere. Now was the time to consider if that “somewhere” was a place she wanted to go.

It really was something she’d never even considered. But the more she thought about it, the more appealing the concept was. The idea of being able to selfishly keep Nico for herself was a tempting one. And being closer with Nico… well, she didn’t have to think too hard about if she wanted that. Nico’s smile, Nico’s warmth, even Nico’s paradoxical combination of arrogance and insecurity…

“So was kissing me on that list too?”