Luna Nova, Akko noted, was creepy at night. With the lights off, the setting sun freely filled in from the tall windows and casted wicked orange rays across the hallways; and once it set completely beneath the horizon, the moon illuminated the school in slim silver beams. Dust filtering through the air became visible under the moon's light, and the beams liked to hit spiderwebs stowed away in corners and above door frames that the young witch would much rather pretend didn't exist. Curfew wasn't for another hour, but professors and students had cast the lamps and lanterns off post-supper, when mostly everyone had retired to their rooms to study or relax.
But as Akko peeled open the door to the library, careful to stop the hulking mass before it could begin creaking, she caught the glow of a candle tucked a few aisles of bookshelves back. There was no more than one student Akko could think of who would be here.
Her steps were light, tired eyes trailing the rows of books that loomed high around her. When the sound of paper being crumpled reached Akko's ears, her eyebrows furrowed, because there was no more than one student who would be here, stored away in the library, working til the wax had melted to a puddle and the flame had snuffed itself out—
And that student wouldn't ball up paper. That student wouldn't chuck it to the ground in a rare display of unfiltered frustration, and that student certainly wouldn't sigh through her teeth and scratch at the back of her head with the capped end of her pen. She was far too proud to normally leave such childishly immature and probably unconscious antics on show for her classmates to see.
But Akko bore witness to the whole mess of emotions that that student—a one Diana Cavendish—undeniably would not want anyone to see. Diana was far too engrossed in her work to notice Akko—definitely far too engrossed—for when she next lifted the pen to prod at her skull, it was with the uncapped end. Her eyes darted, from her stack of paper as she scribbled a note down, to a book trapped under her left hand, pointer finger poised atop a line of cursive writing.
So while Diana most certainly didn't notice Akko, Akko noticed... well, her.
There were deep blemishes of purple beneath her eyes, and next to her, the flame of the candle wobbled as the last of its wax came precariously close to being used up. That was typical of Diana, to work until the lack of light prevented her from continuing; but tonight, it sent an odd shadow across her face as she stared down the sheet of paper in front of her. One half was cast in darkness while the other was aglow with an orange that exaggerated the exhaustion playing with her features.
Diana suddenly scratched off a line of her notes, pen digging furiously at the paper, and then she dropped the instrument atop the table. Her eyes were squinted from a combination of trying to read in the poor lighting and her just barely capped vexation. They burned, and she raised her hands to rub at them, just as a yawn attempted to draw itself from her lungs.
She was still dressed in their uniform, and she hadn't even removed the buttoned jacket they had needed for their last class of the day, so Akko hoped Diana hadn't skipped dinner. Hannah and Barbara had also been missing, but those two were clearly not occupied with the same... whatever as was Diana.
"Diana?" Akko questioned, voice small. She certainly didn't want to scare the blonde witch, but she still managed to do just that. Diana jumped in her seat, and her eyes instantly jolted open to meet Akko's own.
"Oh," Diana sighed in recognition, and she ran a hand through her hair. It was a tick of hers, Akko had come to realize, whether from nerves or relief or anything else that lied on the spectrum between those two emotions (which, in retrospect, was a rather large spectrum). "Akko, I didn't hear you come in. Is there something you need?"
"You missed dinner, so..." so Akko may have been a tad worried. And by the slow way Diana blinked, as if trying to digest the meaning of her words, Akko mentally scratched out that "a tad" part because she very well ought to be worried if Diana were unable to put two and two together. Akko directed her thoughts elsewhere when it became clear Diana didn't intend to finish Akko's line of thinking for her. "Anyway, what're you doing in here, Diana?"
This time she blinked rapidly, once, then twice, distilling her cloudy mind before answering. "A few of the professors needed a hand with research." And then Diana sighed, pinching the bridge of her nose. "I have made little progress over the last three days. It's rather maddening, honestly."
"What's this you're reading?" Akko questioned, just as Diana leaned back into her chair, dragging a book along with her. She shuffled to Diana's side and poked her nose into the pages of the text, but she found herself staring at some diagram, a circle labeled with notes, or, at least, what the brunette thought were notes. The words were in some old, foreign language, one Akko had never laid her eyes on before.
"This is a transmutation circle. They can help bolster magical powers, but most of them have been lost over time due to the declining use of the language they were originally written in. Professor Finnelan speculates that this one in particular could help with medicinal magic; and considering my family's heritage, she thought it best that I attempt to translate it," Diana explained.
"But can you even read this?" Akko didn't doubt Diana's abilities. No, she had always known Diana was a great witch; but it was only recently that she had come to understand that even Diana didn't have an unlimited vat of knowledge. It was still mind-boggling how someone could cram that much information into their brain, but Diana's expertise definitely wasn't limitless.
"Unfortunately I cannot. I have attempted to locate translation keys, but most of them are only partially complete, or they are riddled with inaccuracies."
Akko pulled back, rocking on the heels of her feet. Her mind was already fried from a day of classes and homework, and it wasn't as if she could help Diana with translating those nonsensical markings; she couldn't make heads or tails of a single character on that page, let alone what the picture itself might have been good for.
She watched Diana read in silence for a moment before blue eyes flickered up to meet hers.
"You're welcome to join me. My notes from today's lectures are at the end of the table, so feel free to look through those," Diana explained, pointing down to the opposite side of the table where a few unopened notebooks sat.
And then Diana's attention returned to the book in her hands, eyes flickering across the page. Akko stood there a moment longer. With no inclination that Diana was even aware she hadn't yet moved, Akko plopped herself into the chair beside Diana, dragged the pristine notes in front of her, and began studying.
...For a good, solid five minutes, at least. Astronomy and Magic Linguistics could only hold her attention for so long. She could reread the same sentence three times and comprehend it no better the fourth time.
It was far more entertaining just watching Diana. Her brows were furrowed, and she bit her lip, pen still in her grasp. But when recognition flashed across her features, when Diana finally managed to grasp at something, she would bend over her paper and furiously jot down a line of words, any semblance of the composed Cavendish be forgotten; she was on a roll, and she didn't plan to lose whatever tidbit she had managed to decipher. She seemed to be pulled into an entirely different world with the level of concentration she exhibited.
Akko didn't think she had ever seen someone work as hard as Diana, nor had she ever seen someone take such pride in her work, nor had she ever seen someone so thoroughly invested to the point that she—for the second time—scratched at the back of her head with the uncapped end of her pen. If Diana hadn't noticed that—which she hadn't—then Akko didn't have to worry about Diana noticing how non-discreetly she had been staring at the prodigy.
And while it might have been a good idea to warn Diana of that little habit of hers, Akko didn't want to interrupt her. She was alternating between the book and her notes, so she must have gotten another bit figured out or something.
Akko turned back to the notebook in an attempt to study; but as she had already noted, her brain was fried—mushed, even, straight up puree. Try number five on the same line made no difference in her comprehension. If anything, she felt more lost.
She considered asking Diana for help because she was always able to word it juuuuust right for Akko to understand, but Diana was similarly just as stumped once again on her own work, and as she read, she tapped her pointer finger on the table two times.
A beat of rest.
Was that another tick? Akko grew curious—right as Diana stopped making the noise.
She pouted, resting her chin in her hand, elbow propped on the table.
Akko was bored.
And done with studying, regardless of how pretty Diana's handwriting was. Anymore and she was bound to start doodling on these perfectly pristine notes (which, from past experience, Akko knew Diana would not appreciate).
Her crimson eyes glided over to the window, rimmed in ice and highlighted in the same orange glow that framed Diana's face.
Something caught her attention, and she blinked, wondering if her eyes were playing tricks on her.
But they certainly weren't because—
"What?" Diana jolted.
"It's snowing, Diana!" Akko exclaimed. She jumped to her feet, chair scraping against the linoleum as she pushed it out, and pointed her finger at the window where, just beyond the glass frame, specks of white floated downward.
Diana sighed, composing herself. "I hope you do not intend to play in it. Curfew is in less than an hour, Akko."
Regardless, Akko grabbed for Diana's hand, dragging the girl to her feet in her excitement. Diana bumped her knee against the underside of the table, shushing her rebuttals for the moment, and her pen and books went jumping.
"Come on, come on!"
"Akko, hold on—"
"No way, Diana! You're stuck anyway, so what would it hurt to play out in the snow for a bit?"
What was Akko supposed to do? Leave Diana to ground apart her frustrations in resigned silence while she retreated back to her room for an extra hour of sleep? Absolutely not, especially with it snowing outside. The whole thing was ridiculous because Diana really shouldn't have expected Akko to not go out; and, honestly, did she actually not think that Akko would drag someone along with her?
So Akko tugged Diana with her, boots clicking against the floor in her mad dash to get outside. She pushed on against every bit of Diana's reluctance until they had broken out the doors to the courtyard, and then the blonde witch grew suddenly quiet.
A hush engulfed them as soon as the doors shut, and the only sound that filled the silent void was of their feet pounding furiously into the snow-laden grass. They pushed further and further away from Luna Nova and away from the view of the tall, crystalline windows and the glow of a handful of fire sprites wandering about the halls. Akko finally halted once their lungs were frozen over from the chilled air and their cheeks had been painted a rosy red from the blood rushing to the surface. Their shoes squelched in the powdery fluff that they stood atop, and Diana nearly trampled over Akko at the sudden halt.
They had reached an area encircled by trees, with evergreens painted white and pine cones littered about their feet. Diana stood in muted awe. She hadn't had a "last time" for this... this... this what? There was a feeling of emptiness, of everything, herself included, feeling small in comparison to this breathtaking view. That wasn't even to mention, she couldn't recall the last time a hand had been clasped over hers, tugging her along for this sole purpose of... of nothingness, like she was a child who needed leading. That was a thought she pushed to the back of her mind; it didn't take much effort, not with the sight around her.
Her jaw fell slack, and a breathy exhale produced a fog from her lips.
"This is beautiful..." she mumbled, eyes drawn to the peaks of the trees. She stepped back an inch, as if in a daze, boot scuffing against the snow. Her eyes glided from one tree to the next, then towards the sky above.
Diana couldn't tell apart the stars from the snow with how slowly the specks made their descent; and for all she knew, they were one in the same. She reached upwards for one and found that this speck of white was, in fact, snow, for it landed on the tip of her finger.
She was yanked out of her reverie as a ball of snow collided with her chest. She could only sigh and brush off the offending powder.
The moment was gone, as perfect as it has been.
"Akko, what are you doing?"
The brunette stuck her tongue out, blowing a raspberry at the heiress. "Bet you can't hit me, Diana."
"I know what you said, Akko, but I have no desire to—"
Diana's words were cut off by a snowball smacking her in the face, and she managed to lose her footing outright, feet pulling up from beneath her and sending her butt onto the cushioned ground.
Once she managed to drag a hand across her face, frozen finger tips biting at her already-frosty cheeks, she was met with a hand extended out towards her. She trailed her eyes upward, rubbing at her cheeks and the bits of snow still clinging to her skin.
Akko was bent over her, and there may have been some genuine regret playing with her features.
"Sorry, Diana, I didn't—"
And just like her classmate, Akko was cut off, Diana flinging a scooped clump of snow straight at her face. She was left with a mouthful of the frigid powder, and she spluttered, reeling backwards as she coughed and gagged on both the snow and the realization that Diana had just returned fire.
She hastily pawed at her face and made weird bleugh noises as she tried to rid her mouth of the powder, but she choked at the sound of—of laughter?
Akko blinked open her eyes.
Diana was—she was laughing. Her face was lit up with the largest smile Akko had ever seen adorn her face. All she could do was stare, mind going entirely blank as snow dribbled from her chin. She wasn't certain what exactly had sent Diana into a fit of giggles—whether it be her own attack on the brunette or Akko's over-dramatic antics—but she wouldn't question it.
She really couldn't question it because her brain was stuck in some kind of rut, silenced and surprised and unable to register Diana collecting another mass of snow.
This time Diana bunched it up between her palms into a ball before staring Akko dead in the eyes. Akko was a second shy of realizing what her fate would be, and the realization hit her the same moment Diana's snowball collided with her face.
And when Diana's laughter hit Akko's ears again, a smile of her own upturned her lips. Akko shook her head, and flakes of powdery ice flew off of her. She took up a stance, legs stationed shoulder-width apart and finger pointed at the blonde's nose.
"This is war, Diana Cavendish!" Her tone certainly lacked in intimidation with her ever-present smile, but honestly, Akko wasn't going for intimidation in the least.
She hastily bent to collect a mass of snow; but it was all for naught, as when she looked up, Diana was already scrambling to her feet, toes digging into the slippery ice. The frantic retreat all nearly sent her face-first back into the snow—and Akko's projectile still managed to miss by a mile. Diana, however, had chucked a third snowball at the brunette, and it hit her square in the face.
Akko's face stung as the cold, once again, permeated her skin, but just as she wiped the remaining pieces from her cheeks, Diana was already chucking another ball of snow at her. She managed to dodge, but Diana wasn't even looking to see if she had hit her target.
She was bent into the snow, and the skin of her knees had turned a bright red from hiding away in the cold. The hem of her uniform was a bit of a wet mess, too, but she was balling another snowball between her palms, undeterred and admittedly uncaring about the mess she had brought upon herself.
But what caught Akko's attention, what inflamed her chest in a sudden surge of—of child-like glee, was the look on Diana's face.
Her eyes were wide in delight, mouth curved upward and a stream of breathy fog trailing from her lips as she huffed out the remaining pieces of laughter still rattling around in her chest. She was far too engrossed in the snow she was rolling between her hands (a different kind of engrossed than what Akko had bore witness to earlier that night in the library), and Diana didn't catch the sound of boots crunching into snow.
By the time the blonde witch turned around, legs straightening as she made to stand and arm reeled back to launch her perfectly rounded snowball at her troublesome friend, Akko was a mere foot from her, and she clearly she had no intention of stopping.
Diana choked on a yelp. "A-Akko, what—
And then Akko was colliding with Diana, arms closing around her neck as they went toppling back into the snow.
They landed with a dulled thud while the snow squelched beneath them, Akko right on top of the pair and giggling at her stunt. Despite the surprise, despite the cold and wetness seeping into her back, Diana laughed, wholeheartedly laughed, lungs heaving and breathes stuttering to keep up with these bubbles of joy that wouldn't cease and that she was rather unaccustomed to producing in the first place. She wheezed and made ugly non-Cavendish-like sounds over the cold that permeated her lungs, but she couldn't stop.
And it took Akko a moment too late to realize that Diana had a hand free from the suffocatingly-tight hug and that her fingers were curling into the snow. Blue eyes met Akko's crimson ones for but a moment before Diana was crushing that handful of snow into her face.
And Akko found that she didn't care.
It was freezing beyond comprehension, but that complaint was quickly distilled by the feeling of Diana's fingers agitating the droopy mess further into her cheek and the sound of her laughter—Since when did Diana laugh? Let alone like this?—still piling out of that toothy smile plastered on her face.
"You should laugh more," Akko spoke, suddenly, teeth chattering as snow dribbled down her cheek.
And maybe Akko should have expected it, but Diana blinked, and then flushed, deeper than the red already coloring her face from the cold biting at their skin. She produced some kind of choking sound as if she were swallowing down the giggles that were still bubbling up her throat.
"I do not see what kind of point you are trying to make." (Diana did, really, but this wasn't exactly a topic she wanted to breach right now.)
Akko hummed a moment, as though undeterred by the less-than-appealing response. And then, "Then you should smile more, Diana."
There was a breath of pause, and then Diana felt this suddenly overbearing sensation of being tragically out of place. By this point, it was undoubtedly past curfew, and it was absolutely freezing outside—yet she was lying in a pile of snow with Akko. And of course it was Akko. Who else would it be? Because Akko was apparently the only person capable of drawing Diana away from her studies and who could make her feel so comfortably out of character, at least until she came to that jarring realization that this wasn't Diana Cavendish.
Diana wanted this. Diana... Diana wanted this—Diana wanted this—but this wasn't something she was accustomed to. No, and all at once everything was pressing down on her chest and withholding the air before she could even attempt to breathe it in—or maybe that was just Akko choking her to death, or all the outrageous laughter.
Either way her heart was beating up a conniption, fitfully enough that she could hear the very pounding in her ears.
She didn't know how to focus her attention; Diana could tell herself all day long that she wanted this, but it wouldn't quiet the pestering little notion that this closeness and this affection were not things she needed before, not things she wanted before, not things she had ever had long enough to grow accustomed to.
(Maybe she had wanted them, at least once that she could recall, and that had been following Akko's performance at the Samhain Festival. The root of something had been planted in her chest at the sight of Akko hugging her teammates, like there was nothing more commonplace to do. Whatever that root was—desire? jealousy?—it had stung. But now that she had that? Now that she was on the receiving end of that affection? She didn't know what to do with it, and she didn't know how to push down this sudden want to grab hold of it before it slipped right through her fingers. She needed to let go because this abundance of these unfamiliar emotions was leaving her mind in an utter disarray, but her fingers were frigid and frozen and hard to bend, so maybe if she clasped onto it, she wouldn't even have to think about maintaining that hold because the cold would do it for her.)
She swallowed thickly and funneled her attention onto Akko's comment before her thoughts could get further out of her control.
"I do not see a problem with my lack of smiles."
It sounded strange on her tongue.
She knew she didn't smile often, but she also knew it was not a matter that needed amending. There was snow buried under her nails, and her finger tips were bright red; snow stuck to Diana's lashes, and Akko's nose was dotted red from the chill, but that all just made her feel more not herself.
But Akko squirmed closer, and for the brief moment that the brunette witch left Diana's side, she craved to pull her back—although whether that was because the cold suddenly rushed to fill that space or for another reason entirely, Diana wasn't sure.
This whole.... whatever this was, was jarring, and while definitely not unwelcomed, Diana couldn't recall a time when she had lost track of everything but the numbness of her fingers and the ever-falling snow and Akko, who was staring up at her with such a profound interest and that blindingly sincere smile of hers that Diana could forgo every last ounce of the Cavendish stodgy that had been drilled into her for years.
That was a mouthful, but Diana's thoughts were colliding with one another, and if something didn't stop them for her, they were bound to—
"When was the last time you did something like this?"
Diana furrowed her eyebrows.
She couldn't answer that question.
Her mind had run up upon a blank slate. Which was probably good, all things considered, but it wasn't merely drilled with holes of forgotten information, of junk labeled unimportant and filed away into some irretrievable recess of her mind to make room for the countless spells and ancient languages she had taken upon herself to learn. No, her mind was a blank slate because that information had never existed to begin with.
"I don't..." Her breath came out in a puff of warmth against the frigid air, and she licked her lips. The uncharacteristically patient smile that adorned Akko's face unnerved her—and it further unnerved her that she could be unnerved to begin with. "I don't believe I ever have."
Her nose was running from the cold, and she had never heard the childishly lame expression "Well you better catch it!" because such language had always been beneath the Cavendish name.
However, Akko certainly wasn't beneath her.
In fact, Akko was suddenly quite literally above her, face hanging precariously close to Diana's own, enough so that their noses were nearly touching. There was a look of pure horror etched across her features (just markedly dulled by the fact she sniffled from the cold).
"No making snowmen or having snowball fights? What about water gun fights or building sand castles?"
Was this how Akko felt? Unable to meet the expectations demanded of her because of some pre-determined path that, prior to just over a year ago, excluded all things magic? It certainly hadn't been because of a personal disregard for the topic; Akko loved magic more than just about anything—but she hadn't been born a witch, and that pre-set path made certain... things all the more difficult to achieve and understand.
And that was certainly how Diana felt at that moment because snowmen and sand castles were childish and frivolous but still things absent during Diana's own childhood that made her ignorant in a way she didn't like.
The answer was barely past her lips before Akko was grabbing her wrists and dragging Diana up to her feet.
"That needs to be fixed!" Akko declared, just as she threaded her fingers between Diana's.
Her hand was warm, Diana noticed, and that made no sense because Akko had been making snowballs just as she had, and Diana's own fingers were numb and bright red and shivering along with the rest of her body.
"You need to eat ice cream in the snow and then drink hot chocolate with marshmallows inside by the fire, all wrapped up in a nice warm blanket."
That sounded nice, but it was undoubtedly past curfew, and Diana had left a mess in the library that she needed to clean before heading off to bed. There was no time for cocoa, not to mention Akko would have to raid the kitchen and poach the items from the supply, which Diana would most certainly not condone.
Diana sat, just as Akko had instructed, in front of a fireplace in some lounge on one of Luna Nova's upper floors. Akko had secured a large blanket from some chest stashed in a storage room; and as she plopped Diana down on the floor in front of the couch (which Diana had questioned, but Akko had insisted, "It's part of the experience!"), the brunette had wrapped the corners of the beige blanket around Diana's shoulders.
But once Akko slid the doors closed behind her, the silence in the small space was unfathomably loud.
With a sigh, Diana pulled her knees up to her chest and buried her nose into the folds of the blanket.
It smelled lightly of moth balls, but there was something else that told her this blanket didn't stay locked in that chest. It was used—frequently, if only for the fact it was free of wrinkles.
Diana wasn't sure how long she remained like that, but the cold was receding ever so slightly from the tips of her fingers and toes, and her eyelids grew heavy under the comfortable heat of the fire.
Her socks were drenched from the snow, but she hadn't thought to grab a spare pair—a spare anything—from her room before Akko had dragged her up a few extra flights of stairs. A trickle of melted snow ran down her cheek, and she shivered lightly; but then all at once everything dropped straight off some mental cliff. Her thoughts collapsed into a silent bundle of nothing, absolutely nothing, and—
She blinked, momentarily left in a stupor. She hadn't felt sleep claim her, but its residual tendrils were still tugging lightly on her consciousness, as if to tell her she truly had fallen under.
Akko stood in front of her. There was a mug in each hand and a smile on her face. She chuckled lightly.
"I couldn't find ice cream, so I got some whipped cream, instead."
The brunette witch offered up one of the mugs of hot cocoa, the one with a pile of the white sugary fluff stacked high above the rim, and Diana took it between both her hands.
"Thank you, Akko."
"No problem! Just don't hog the covers!" And then Akko was tugging the the top flap of the blanket off Diana's little cocoon, just enough to shimmy herself beside the other witch and wrap the blanket around her own shoulder.
Immediately Akko brought the rim of her mug to her lips and sipped on the chocolaty goodness. She let out a soft moan of delight as the liquid warmed her up. Leaning in closer to Diana, she took a second sip.
She was staring.
"Try it, it's good!" Akko supplied in place of Diana's silence.
But when Diana looked down at her mug, there was certainly no cocoa to be seen.
"Akko, I'm afraid you didn't give me any hot chocolate."
All that could be seen was a mountain of whipped cream. The warmed mug was a welcomed relief to her numbed fingers, at the very least.
"Sorry, I didn't think about that," Akko admitted, laughing, and from her mug she pulled out a spoon. She scooped up a wad of the cream and dumped it into her own mug, a light plop sounding at the impact, then returned for a second that she popped straight into her mouth.
"Try it now," Akko spoke over her mouthful of pure sugar.
Diana stared down into the mug and into the small crevice Akko had made. It was just large enough for her to see the cocoa beneath the ridiculous amount of whipped cream that Akko had topped over her drink.
She lifted the mug to her lips and sipped.
Something bumped against her lips, and that was when she realized Akko had gone and drowned half a bag of miniature marshmallows into her drink.
"How is it?" Akko asked, interrupting her thoughts.
She leaned in, excited for Diana's response.
"It's... good," Diana answered, running her tongue along the roof of her mouth.
Akko snorted. "'Good?'"
No, not just good. It warmed her up, from the inside out, and despite the unnatural amount of sugar Akko had managed to dump into this one cup, Diana wanted to savor the drink. It was—It was special, homey, even, despite being unable locate any time in her memory that had anything to do with the beverage.
Diana took a second sip.
"So, 'good,' as in 'I really don't like it, but I don't want to hurt your feelings,' or 'good,' as in 'I really like it, but I'm Diana Cavendish, and I cannot possibly admit to liking something like this?'" Akko teased, a snooty inflection to her voice.
Diana looked down at the cup between her hands. The whipped cream was melting.
What a dilemma. She couldn't savor the drink, or else the melting treats would dilute the chocolate into something so much more sugary, but drink it too quickly, and she would have none left much too soon for her liking.
"There is too much cream, and there are too many marshmallows," Diana settled with.
"...I like it."
Akko blinked, maybe in surprise, maybe in disbelief, Diana wasn't sure.
But then, "Really?!"
And Akko jumped on her confirmation. "I can make more! Some of the kitchen staff really likes me, so I'm sure they wouldn't mind."
As much as Diana wanted to diffuse that kind of thinking (because even if the kitchen staff didn't mind, Diana could think of a few professors who certainly would mind), she... couldn't bring herself to say anything.
Diana was already looking forward to another cup of hot chocolate, and she wasn't even finished with this one.
"You know," Akko spoke up. She was looking down into her own mug, twirling the spoon in circles and poking at some of the marshmallows that floated at the top. "I used to drink this all the time with my parents whenever it snowed. It was sorta like a family tradition, but I haven't really been keeping up with that stuff since coming to Luna Nova."
Akko could recall a few things here and there, like her pickled plums (which nobody really took to, anyway), but there wasn't anything substantial. At least nothing like this, that actually managed to evoke warm, fuzzy memories, those of her parents and curling up under a blanket with them on either side of her as they sipped on cups of hot cocoa.
This... had probably been the best tradition to share with Diana, in retrospect.
The whole... parents thing, though. Maybe she shouldn't have mentioned hers, considering Diana's own, or her lack of any, and—
"I'm glad you shared this tradition with me."
Akko turned her head towards Diana. Her lips sat parted as she watched Diana stare into her mug.
There had been a lot of that between the two of them, looking down at the hot chocolate as opposed to one another.
That wasn't necessarily a bad thing, though. Diana's words still brought a smile to Akko's face.
She curled up closer next to Diana as her friend took a another sip.
"I'm really glad, too, Diana."
When they had finished with their drinks, Akko had relented about the whole "sitting on the floor" thing, and the two shimmied up onto the couch behind them.
Their cups had been left on the floor. Akko had chugged every last drop of hot chocolate and then set to fish around with her spoon to retrieve all the tiny marshmallows that had found home at the bottom of her mug. The bottom of Diana's own mug was lined with melted marshmallows and whipped cream because she couldn't tolerate as much sweetness as with what Akko had loaded her drink.
She loved it, if she were honest, but she was not like Akko, who more than likely shoveled sugary confections down her throat on a daily basis (or would have, if Luna Nova ever decided to stock anything but potatoes). Diana's taste buds turned bitter to sweets in such excessive amounts.
"Hey Diana?" Akko began, just as her head came to rest atop Diana's shoulder.
"Hmm..?" Diana hummed. She could taste chocolate on her tongue; and she had to admit, it did not bother her that it was not the familiar mint of toothpaste as sleep gently clawed at the edge of her consciousness.
"So you've never built a snowman?" And Akko was looking back up her at, curiosity lighting her eyes in the most innocently sincere of ways.
A pause. Something momentarily flashed across Akko's crimson eyes.
"Do you want to?"
"Build a snowman?" Diana clarified, covering her mouth just as a yawn escaped her lips.
Her eyelids felt heavy, and the warmth between her and Akko was compelling her all the more fervently towards slumber, more so than the fire that continued to crackle a few feet in front of them.
"I would not be against it."
"You know you want to," Akko egged. She tugged lightly on Diana's sleeve. "We can do this again tomorrow!"
"Oh? You expect me to break curfew again?"
"Professor Finnelan loves you too much to punish you."
"I detest your implication that Professor Finnelan plays favorites."
"I wouldn't blame her."
Confusion playing across her face, Diana furrowed her brows. "What?"
"Professor Finnelan. For playing favorites."
That hadn't exactly answered her question, but Akko plowed on through, as if further explanation weren't needed.
"So tomorrow night, when we build a snowman—"
"Akko—" Diana cut her off with a halfhearted sigh.
"Okay, okay, I learned patience," Akko giggled lightly. "Mayenab Dysheebudo and all that. So if you don't want to build one tomorrow night, I can wait. But you gotta build one at some point!"
Diana fidgeted with the edge of their blanket, running her fingers across the soft material. It felt... secure, as odd as that sounded. She couldn't recall the last time she had engaged in something so trivial as this, yet there was a burning nostalgia lining her emotions and desires, driving her to want more of this, all of this—frostbite and potential detention and whatever else this came with.
"Akko?" she began, tentatively.
Diana found the covers a bit easier to stare at—which was strange because she had never had a problem with maintaining eye contact before.
"When we do build this snowman..." Her eyes flickered from Akko to the mug on the floor. There was a dried rung of chocolate an inch or two beneath the mug's lip and a melted goop of cream at the bottom; and despite finding the thought of consuming more of that bitter sugar exceptionally vile, she craved more of it. "Considering I have never built one before, you do understand that it will more than likely turn out rather... unsightly."
Yes, it was much easier to stare at the mug, or the covers. Even the floor. They were all much easier than meeting Akko's eyes. It was undoubtedly childish, but she was also the one who had never made a snowman before, so how childish could Diana really be?
There was a lapse in their conversation, and it unsettled her. It wasn't like Akko to hesitate. She jumped headfirst into everything and blurted out the first words that came to the tip of her tongue.
Akko decided, as she uncoiled herself from the blanket—slowly, dragging out her knees to prop herself up—that that moment of hesitation was a moment wasted. And as she wrapped her arms around Diana and buried her head under the other girl's chin, and as she tightened her hold even further: she decided that that moment of hesitation was definitely a moment wasted. She was so much warmer like this.
"It'll be fine. Even if it's ugly—which I expect." And Akko had the utter audacity to laugh. Diana could feel her cheeks tinge red in embarrassment. "It's just..."
And there, Akko's tone changed.
It wasn't... a pronounced difference, and Diana couldn't truly put a name on it, but she still detected it.
And the shift in her tone was because Akko wanted to ask Diana the last time she had been hugged.
Akko was a huggy person; and at the tense set of Diana's shoulders—hunched up and all—Akko suddenly wanted to know the last time arms had held Diana, the last time Diana had felt the comfort of another person flush against her. That was such a wonderfully loving feeling that Akko had the joy of experiencing more than once a day, so she wanted to know how long Diana had gone without it. Of course, if she had tried to voice that, it would have come out in much fewer, less eloquent words.
She settled on something a little more vague.
"I've never seen you that happy, Diana."
Her voice was soft.
"You were happy—right?"
This time, it was Diana who laughed, softly, and the tension in her shoulders evaporated, letting her melt into the embrace. Her chin came to rest atop the crown of Akko's brunette head.
Akko had recalled on more than one occasion the jumbled mess of limbs that she and her friends had become after they took down Croix's hijacked machine—minus her blonde friend, that is. She hadn't been a part of that rather painful but loving pile of friends, but she had certainly been stepped a foot or two closer.
So Akko could only guess that Diana had wanted to be a part of that dog-pile, and it was a strange but welcomed though because despite her family motto, Diana was not an overtly, physically affectionate person.
And Diana was already slipping out of that rigid exterior, that perfect, studious student and Cavendish heiress persona all on her own—but Akko wanted to drag that affection straight out of Diana.
Maybe she should have hugged Diana when they had been standing on the Shooting Star, situated right up in that vast expanse of isolation.
But it was okay—now, at least. She had no reason to ponder on the "what ifs" when she was fixing them right now.
A smile tugged the corners of Akko's mouth upwards, and her hold on Diana tightened. "Good."
A sweet sigh escaped Akko's lips, and she was more than content to remain how she was.
For Diana, the final tendrils of cold were finally releasing their hold, and a shudder ran through her spine. She suddenly felt so much warmer, with just Akko there. It was... pleasant. More than pleasant, truly, but nothing in her vast supply of words seemed adequate enough to describe the sensation that was filling her with this comfortable warmth and this unbearably perfect contentedness.
Diana returned the embrace, and she let her eyes slip closed.
"Your fingers are still cold," Akko joked.
Her hair was ruffled as Diana breathed out some mix between a sigh and a laugh, and that... whatever that was, was definitely on Akko's top ten list of best things ever—behind Shiny Chariot, of course. Diana hugs were on there, too, without a doubt, because as of right now, Akko never wanted to move. And maybe even face-fulls of snow, as long as it got Diana smiling. Akko's list probably needed to expand from a top ten to a top twenty if she wanted to fit everything on it; but for now, she let those thoughts drift into the back of her mind.
She wanted to focus on this because, well, she was with Diana, and how often could Akko say that she got to do something like this with her?
Not often enough, that's how often.
But the hold around Akko was loosening.
She peered up, as well as she could under Diana's chin, but she wasn't met with blue pools returning her confused gaze.
No, because Diana had fallen asleep, and if Akko were quiet enough, she could just hear each of Diana's soft exhales. Her head had come to rest on the back of the couch, and one of her feet had slipped over the edge. It was probably subconscious, but the sight caused Akko to yawn, right along the same time Diana tugged on the back of her shirt and pulled her legs up, dragging herself an inch closer to Akko.
Diana's fingers were still cold against her back, but it mattered little, really, because it couldn't have taken but another minute or two before sleep claimed Akko just as silently as it had Diana.
And two days later, they did build a snowman, which was hands down the worst one Akko had ever seen.
But there was that air of joy to Diana, face lit up in delight at their snowy creation. When Diana finally deemed it finished, Akko was nothing short of a bundle of giggles, wrapping her arms around Diana's neck and twirling about because she had gotten Diana Cavendish to make her first ever snowman. And, yeah, it was pretty "unsightly," as Diana had put it, but it was a start—and Akko had every intention of making more.
She didn't know where "building snowmen with Diana" fit on that list of hers, but it was definitely up there.