This was, Nozomi considered, no one’s fault but her own.
Her and Nico were, and had been for years, playing what could best be described as a game of chicken with their relationship.
Nozomi was in love with Nico. She’d come to terms with that quite some time ago, the first time she’d felt a pang of jealousy over Nico’s friendship with the rest of μ’s. It wasn’t that she was upset about Nico fitting in- she was genuinely happy that Nico had joined, and that she got along with the other members- when she wasn’t getting in fights with Maki, anyway. But that first time that Nozomi had seen Nico grinning at the other members, she’d realized that now she might no longer be the person that Nico was closest to in the school, and her heart had ached at the thought.
So yes, she was in love with Nico. But it seemed highly unlikely the feeling was mutual. Confessing and being rejected would cause too much tension in the group, and it would put a rift in their relationship that Nozomi wasn’t sure that she could bear. So what she should have done was just act normally. Pretend she wasn’t in love. It was only a year until they graduated, for goodness sake. Surely she could keep things bottled up until then, and then once she graduated, it wouldn’t be such a big deal to ask Nico out. Until she was safely out of Otonokizaka and μ’s was over, she’d have to settle for just being friends.
But Nozomi was hopelessly greedy. Little by little, she’d tried to take more. First, she’d made hugging Nico a regular thing, playing it off as a playful little joke. Nico had grumbled, but hadn’t seemed to much mind. When Nozomi escalated to hand-holding, though, Nico had protested.
“What?” Nozomi had asked innocently. “Is there some problem with two friends holding hands?”
Nico had glared at her, and in that moment, the competition had been born.
“Well, I guess you won’t mind if we do it on the way home from school then, will you?” Nico had challenged.
Through the end of the year, past the disbandment of μ’s, and into their college years, the game went on. Nico insisted it was “totally normal for two friends to go to the same college”, and so they did. Nozomi had retorted with how sensible it was for them to live together if they were going to the same school, and they’d done that too. Day after day, month after month, new things were thrown in as they both dared the other to back down. Wearing a single scarf together during winter. Huddling under one umbrella on rainy days. Nozomi pulling Nico into her coat with her. Nico making cutesy lunches for Nozomi.
It was shamefully wonderful.
Nozomi felt a little bad, but she couldn’t bring herself to stop. She was intoxicated by it. She was always afraid every time she upped the ante, the risk of everything falling apart ever present, but she couldn’t resist the temptation of stealing another intimacy. Even if they weren’t dating, their closeness was like a drug to Nozomi, taking the edge off of her bottomless Nico withdrawal.
But this time, she was afraid that the game was finally up.
“I’m waiting!” Nico called, and Nozomi heard the sound of running water and closed her eyes in silent prayer.
It wasn’t even Nozomi who’d tipped the delicate balance over the edge. She’d just suggested that they could dry each other’s hair after a bath. It wasn’t even unreasonable for real normal. And then all of a sudden, Nico had come out with a bombshell.
“You know,” she said casually, as if it was just as normal as Nozomi’s suggestion. “We could save time if we just bathed together.”
Nozomi’s heart had started beating so fast that she was worried Nico could hear it from across the room, her smug grin daring Nozomi to say something.
“It would save water, too,” Nico said, twisting the knife with sadistic relish. “What do you say? We’re close enough friends for that, right?”
Nozomi hadn’t had any choice. Struggling not to blush, she’d agreed, and now here she was, standing outside the bathroom, about to take all her clothes off in front of the girl she was in love with.
Oh god, what the hell had she been thinking? This had to be karmic retribution. As punishment for how much joy she’d gotten from this sinful play, the ending was going to be be that much more dramatic of a disaster.
Taking a deep breath, she opened the door and stepped into the bathroom.
Nico glanced up from quickly filling bathtub at her. “About time,” she said. “What, did you forget your rubber duck or something?”
Nozomi snapped her fingers. “Ah, I did! I’m sorry, Nico, you’ll just have to go without it tonight.”
Nico glared at her. “Screw you,” she grumbled as she stood up… and started unbuttoning her shirt. Nozomi’s heart caught in her throat, and she was sure her eyes must be bugging out of her head as Nico finished with the buttons and shrugged her shirt off her shoulders.
How had she forgotten that Nico was going to be naked too? She’d been so wrapped up in worrying about herself that she’d somehow forgotten the other half of it.
“Uh, are you gonna get undressed or not?” Nico asked, raising an eyebrow as she unzipped her skirt.
“R-R-Right,” Nozomi stammered, reaching up to undo her own shirt’s buttons. Her hands were shaking so badly that she fumbled with it longer than she should, barely even able to get the buttons open. She could feel Nico’s eyes on her and she was sure her face was red by now, but Nico wasn’t saying anything. Nozomi wasn’t sure if she was grateful for that or if it just made things worse.
Finally, she managed to get off her shirt and then fumbled more with the button on her pants. She must look like a complete idiot, a thought that only served only make her even more nervous. Eventually though, she was down to just her underwear.
Unfortunately, she knew that wasn’t where it stopped. Taking another deep breath to steel herself, she reached behind her and undid her bra, letting it fall to the ground and pulling down her panties before finally allowing herself to look up at Nico.
Nico’s arms were crossed, feigned indifference on her face, but her eyes were locked on Nozomi, taking her in head to toe. Nozomi tucked her hands behind her back on instinct, feeling like she was being inspected. Her heart thudded in her chest as she tried and failed not to look over Nico as well.
It was unbearable. Looking at Nico standing so matter of factly in front of her, hair cascading over her shoulders and not a stitch of clothing on her, it was all Nozomi could do not to drool. Her libido overruled her fear, and she swallowed and opened her mouth, which felt impossibly dry,
“You know,” she said, her voice sounding hoarse and unfamiliar to her ears. “Since… since we’re such close friends…”
“Yeah?” Nico asked, her voice sounding just as strange as Nozomi’s.
“Maybe… maybe we…” Nozomi was stepping forward now, and Nico stepped forward as well, the two of them pulled together by some irresistible force that neither of them was even trying to fight.
“Yeah,” Nico rasped, her breathing shallow.
“Maybe we should… should...” Nozomi murmured, and then she was leaning down, and Nico’s hands were grasping the back of her head, and their mouths were crashing against each other, kissing hungrily, passionately, greedily. Then they were breaking away, and their hands were all over each other, grasping and desperate, and then kissing again, and then their mouths started joining their hands...
Nozomi wasn’t sure how much later it was when they finally stopped, lying side by side on the floor. Exhausted, bodies slick with more than just sweat, they were both utterly spent. The bath had gone cold a long time ago. Which was a shame, because they could probably really use a bath right now.
“So,” Nico said. “Do friends usually do that?”
Nozomi paused, considering the question.
It was an out, plain and simple. How long Nico had known, Nozomi wasn’t entirely sure. What mattered was Nico had figured out the game… but she was willing to pretend she hadn’t. To let Nozomi keep taking pieces of a relationship, without risking that last rejection.
It almost seemed silly that she was still afraid. They’d just fucked each other’s brains out, and she was still worried about Nico not wanting to be in a relationship with her?
But… Nico hadn’t offered anything else except that out. She hadn’t asked Nozomi to date her. She hadn’t said she loved Nozomi. She’d extended the chance to stay “friends”, although perhaps “sex friends” or “fuckbuddies” would be more appropriate, and left it at that. Rejection loomed as large as ever. But…
“...Girlfriends do,” Nozomi said quietly. Speaking so softly that she wasn’t even sure if Nico would hear. Half hoping she wouldn’t, terrified of what saying it out loud meant. “Quite a lot.”
Nico was quiet for a moment. Nozomi’s terror intensified. She’d finally done it. She’d taken a wrong step and fallen off the tightrope, and her friendship with Nico was going to end up a greasy stain on the circus floor.
“That sounds alright,” Nico finally said. She was trying to sound nonchalant, but her voice gave her away. “Girlfriends, then?”
Nozomi’s heart soared. It was lucky that she was too tired to move, or she probably would have done something that went completely against the affected casual attitude that Nico was trying so hard to maintain. Instead, she just nodded and reached out, taking Nico’s hand. “Sure,” she said. “Girlfriends it is.”
They stayed like that for a while, lying together with their hands intertwined and staring at the ceiling. Finally, Nico spoke up again.
“You know,” she said. “Since we’re girlfriends and everything, we’re probably close enough to sleep in the same bed without pyjamas, right?”
Nozomi smiled and closed her eyes. Round two of the game had begun.
And she couldn’t be happier.