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If there was one thing Chie absolutely did not want to spend her time doing over the school break, it was sitting around in some stupid uptight inn with a bunch of boring grown-ups.

She pouted more blatantly and pitifully than she had in all of her 6 years as her mom attempted to force a comb through her short, unruly hair. Finally managing to struggle out of the ever-cumbersome maternal grip of doom, she stamped her little foot and huffed. "I don't wanna go to a dumb inn! I'm staying home!" Sighing, her mother started to launch into her spiel once again: no, Chie was too young to stay home by herself, this was a family vacation and she'd better behave nicely - Chie was so frustrated she wanted to scream. This was her school break! She should be playing outside with her friends, not behaving nicely! She solemnly vowed to herself not to talk to her mom and dad the whole way there, and maybe even the whole vacation. Stupid inn. Stupid grown-ups.

The inn experience immediately proved to be just as mind-numbingly boring as Chie had predicted. Her mom and the inn manager exchanged police niceties in that signature way that moms do, and her dad checked over the paperwork, which would probably take, Chie guessed, about one million hours to complete. She sighed, forlorn - didn't her parents realize how much fun she could be having right now? Defeated, she flopped herself onto the ground and leaned against her dad's leg. She was about to tug at the cuff of his pants and ask how much longer this horrible ordeal would take when she happened to catch a shy pair of eyes peeping from behind the counter.

Noticing Chie's curious stare, the inn manager laughed and collected the owner of the shy eyes - a kid who looked to be about her age. This perked Chie up immediately, of course - this was a potential playmate they were talking about! Maybe this miserable vacation would take a turn for the better after all. "This is my son, Yukiko," the manager explained proudly. "He's going to take over this inn when he grows up." The kid looked down bashfully, letting a lock of silky hair fall from behind a blushing ear.

Chie wasted no time in grabbing the kid's hand and pulling as she headed straight for the door. "Mom, me and Yukiko are going to play outside!" Not bothering to wait for a response, she flitted into a small garden situated outside, new friend in tow.

Reclining in the pleasantly warm grass, free at last, Chie grinned at her quiet companion. "I'm Chie. What game should we play?" Yukiko fidgeted with the hem of an impeccably clean shirt and knelt carefully next to her, avoiding a patch of dirt Chie had failed to notice. "Um...I think we should play 'house.'"

Chie made a small noise of approval and nodded, satisfied with this choice. "I'll be the mom, and you can be the -"

"Um, actually...I'd like to be the mom..." Yukiko's gaze met Chie's shyly. "I'm a girl, too."

"Hmm..." Chie considered this for a moment. "I know! We can both be the mom!" Proud of herself for thinking of such a clever solution, Chie grabbed her new friend's hands, a huge grin spreading across her face and revealing gaps from lost teeth. "And this is our baby," she declared matter-of-factly, plucking a little flower from the ground and holding it out for the other girl to see.

"That's...our baby?" Yukiko's hand flew to cover her mouth as she began to tremble slightly. At first, Chie thought she may have offended her in some way - she felt her heart skip a beat with panic - but after a moment she realized that Yukiko was shaking with laughter, not sobs. Soft giggles soon became wild guffaws and snorts, and Yukiko held her stomach as she convulsed with laughter and tears beaded at her eyes. "That's not a baby! It's a flower!"

Chie had begun to laugh too - she'd never heard any laughter in her life that was as contagious as Yukiko's. When Chie's mother walked into the front garden to summon her daughter back inside, she was greeted with two small forms lying on the ground together, panting for breath but still breaking out into new bursts of giggles on occasion.

Chapter Text

At this point, Chie was pretty much convinced that algebra was invented specifically to torture her.

Propping her exhausted head in her hands and staring solemnly at the nonsensical jumbles of letters and numbers strewn across her papers, she reached the conclusion that middle school must be prison, or maybe hell. Prison in hell, or something.

She was just about to admit defeat and collapse into bed when she was startled by the buzzing of her phone on her desk. Puzzled, Chie glanced at the caller ID - Yukiko's home phone. It was unusual for her best friend to use her home line rather than her cell, especially at this hour, but Chie answered nonetheless.

"Hello? Chie, dear?" She wasn't expecting to hear the frantic voice of Yukiko's mother, and it took her by surprise for a moment.

"It's me, Ms. Amagi," Chie said, wrapping an arm around her knees and pulling them closer to her. "Is something wrong?"

"Is Yukiko with you this evening? Did she tell you where she was going? I...I got angry, I didn't mean to lose my temper, I really didn't, I just...I'm so worried, I don't know where she could have gone, and..." Ms. Amagi's voice had started to break, and she sounded close to tears. Chie felt her blood run cold with every word. Yukiko wasn't with her, and she hadn't said anything about going anywhere tonight.

"I'm so sorry, I really don't know where she is..." Chie bit her lip, feeling herself grow more worried with every passing second.

"I'm...I'm going to call the police. Stay where you are, Chie, dear, I don't know what I'd do if something happened to you, too."

"Alright. Lemme know if you hear anything." Chie waited a moment for the call to end before she snatched up an old grey sweatshirt, pulled it ungracefully over her head, and tugged a pair of sneakers onto her feet without bothering to tie the laces. As if she was just going to sit around idly while Yukiko was missing somewhere; Ms. Amagi was a sweet lady, but she was kidding herself if she thought Chie would heed her advice.

The cold air sliced at Chie's exposed skin the moment she stepped outside; of course she would forget to change out of her pajama shorts into real pants, damn it. Her flashlight beam barely penetrating the cloudy, rainy mist, she took off at a run toward the flood plain. Yukiko had told her once that the quiet water and solitude there made her feel at peace. Of course, that was no guarantee that her best friend would be there, but Chie needed to start searching somewhere.

She shouted the other girl's name until her throat grated and her voice cracked. Finally reaching the flood plain, she jogged off the glistening asphalt into the grass before yelping in alarm as her feet slid on the slicker-than-expected blades and her rear slammed into the wet earth. Chie slowly checked her palms: muddy, scratched, but not bleeding badly enough to call for worry. "Oh, awesome, Chie," she muttered sarcastically to herself, pushing herself back upright and wiping her hands on her already-muddy sweatshirt with negligible success. "How are you gonna help anyone when all you can manage to do is fall on your ass?"

Her anxiety growing exponentially as she paced along the waterside, Chie was about to abandon the flood plain in favor of a new spot to search when a dark, huddled figure caught her eye.

"Yukiko!" Relief dripping from her voice, Chie sprinted toward the unresponsive mass. She knelt beside the other girl, whose face was partially obstructed by a sheet of soaked hair. She was curled around a small mass and her shoulders trembled with quiet sobs. Chie placed a gentle hand on her friend's back, leaning down to get a better look at her face - when a wet little nose, followed by a puff of white fur and shining black eyes peeped out from Yukiko's arms.

"Who's this?" Chie moved to sit cross-legged facing Yukiko and rubbed the puppy's tiny forehead. Yukiko sniffled, wiping her nose clumsily on her sleeve before speaking.

"I found him hiding outside my house. He didn't have a collar or anything, and he's so little, I knew he wouldn't survive if I left him...so I hid him in my room, but when my mom found out, she screamed at me and told me that an innkeeper couldn't have smelly animals running around...she's so cruel." Yukiko had calmed down a bit, now looking at her friend with swollen, red-tinged eyes. Chie made a soft, sympathetic sound, scooting closer to Yukiko so that their forms shielded the puppy from the rain. The three of them sat like that for what seemed like hours, just trying to keep each other as warm as possible.

"I just...I don't know what to do. I'm so worried about him. Who's going to take care of him if I don't? He's so tiny..." Yukiko's voice trembled as she hugged the warm bundle of fur closer to her chest.

"I could take him in." The words had left Chie's mouth before she had even really thought about them. "You could come visit him whenever you wanted, and I'm sure my parents won't mind too m- whoa!"

Yukiko had grabbed on to Chie and clung to her with all the strength her thin frame could muster, relief apparent in every aspect of the motion. "Thank you so much, Chie. You're a wonderful friend."

When the two muddy girls peeled apart from each other, Chie pretended to wipe the rain off her face with her sleeve to hide the embarrassing blush forming across her cheeks. Standing up and holding out a hand to Yukiko, she grinned down at her best friend and the puppy. "Let's go home, alright?"

Yukiko sniffled one more time and smiled back. "Alright."

Chapter Text

The third day Yukiko refused to eat lunch at school, Chie was too worried to avoid the subject any longer.

"Not hungry again, huh?" Chie tried to keep her tome lighthearted and casual, but she couldn't keep her concern as reigned in as she would have liked.

Yukiko sighed, tucking a strand of silky hair behind her ear. "I'm just...I'm too nervous to eat with those boys staring at me." Her dark eyes flitted surreptitiously toward a group of four guys sitting at a nearby table. Three of them seemed to be encouraging one nervous-looking one to approach her; he clutched a small note in his sweaty hands.

Chie rested her hand on Yukiko's pale one. "You shouldn't let those clowns keep you from eating lunch, silly! Do you want a granola bar?" Rustling through the organized chaos of her bag for a moment, Chie eventually produced the snack in question and held it out to her friend.

"No, thanks..." Yukiko offered distractedly, discreetly glancing back at the group of boys again.

Before Chie could respond, the bell rang to end their lunch period and Yukiko stood up, straightening the hem of her uniform jacket. The girls exchanged goodbyes and headed to their respective classes as usual, but on her way out, Chie made sure to get a good look at Yukiko's little admirer.

It was surprisingly easy to find the guy again after the last class of the day; he was a first-year, like Chie, and the front of their high school offered a pretty clear view of all the students exiting. When she spotted him in the crowd, she immediately grabbed firmly into his arm and forced a smile with a sickly-sweet, "Can I talk to you for a second?" Pulling her reluctant companion along with an icy grip like a vice, Chie led him to a somewhat secluded area around the side of the building.

Before the kid could even finish asking what Chie wanted, he was interrupted by her fist connecting solidly with his nose.

A rush of adrenaline to her head dulled the sounds around her - the yells of a nearby teacher, the moans of the kid at her feet as he gripped his bloody nose, the gasps and whispers of clusters of shocked students - but you could be sure that the satisfying crack of her knuckles across the boy's nose was still reverberating crystal clear in her mind.

At this point, pretty much every student  leaving Yasogami High had focused their attention on Chie, and she finally began to feel the hundreds of gazes burning into her; it was all kind of surreal, she thought. For a few seconds - or maybe a few hours, or years - Chie stood in the grass, dazedly watching the kid's blood ruin her left sneaker. She only snapped back to reality when a familiar voice called out her name.

"Chie!" Yukiko had pushed her way to the front of the crowd, finally squeezing through a group of spectating girls to reach her. "What's going on here?"

There were about a million things Chie wanted to say: I'm worried about you, I want you to be happy, I just got jealous, I want to protect you, this guy was making you uncomfortable, I'm confused, I think I might be in love with you - but, whoa, her thoughts took a turn she didn't want or need to deal with right now, and in the midst of all the confusion, she didn't end up saying anything.

For a few seconds, Yukiko just stared back; first at Chie, then at the boy on the ground, then back at Chie again. Her fists clenched as she dug her nails into her palms and began to tremble.

"Do you think I can't take care of myself? Is that it?" Yukiko's voice shook with a cold, quiet kind of fury that struck Chie like a physical blow. "You're not my bodyguard, Chie. You're not my babysitter. I don't need you to look after me. I'm not helpless." She spat the last word as her frigid gaze drilled into Chie's eyes. "I don't need you."

Before Chie could react, Yukiko had turned on her heel and stormed away in the opposite direction. Chie watched as Yukiko's pointedly calm brisk walk became an unsteady run; she watched as her best friend left her standing in the grass with some kid's blood and snot on her hand and the world came screeching to a halt, falling apart around her.

It wasn't like Chie wasn't used to having people angry with her - quite the opposite, actually. In fact, her parents were furious when they found out their daughter had been suspended for five days for physically assaulting another student. She'd been chewed out by dozens of coaches over the years and dozens more teachers. Hell, she'd even had plenty of peers get angry with her.

But she didn't recall ever feeling like someone had ripped out her insides and left her hollow, empty body to rot.

The first two days of her suspension, Chie didn't even leave her bed, let alone her room. She cried for a while, but that quickly grew old and exhausting, so instead she opted to bury her face into her pillow and tried not to think about anything. Her little dog made a few halfhearted attempts to cheer her up and get her attention, but petting him just made her think of Yukiko, which she quickly discovered to be a very bad idea.

On the night of the second day, Chie was woken up by that stupid overgrown tree tapping at her window. Pulling her pillow over her ears, she made a practically herculean effort to stay as asleep as possible; when that failed miserably, she grumpily threw on a t-shirt and skulked over to the windowsill to move the offending branch away from the glass. However, upon opening the curtains, instead of the anticipated dumbass branch, she was greeted by a somewhat distressed familiar face.

Sliding the window open in a stupor of disbelief, Chie stared down blankly at Yukiko, who was clinging to the tree trunk like her life depended on it. Her dark hair was tied into some sad attempt at a bun, and flyaway strands whipped around in all directions as the wind further aggravated the chaos. She craned her neck upward to look at Chie sheepishly. "Can you help me up?"

Putting her emotional turmoil in check, Chie grabbed the other girl's arms and hoisted her ungracefully through her window, sending both of them tumbling across her carpet. They lay awkwardly for a few moments before Chie heard the rustling of Yukiko's jacket as she straightened herself.

"Chie, I..." Yukiko bit her lip anxiously and fixed her gaze on one of Chie's dragon-themed posters. "Those things I said...I didn't mean them. I was horrible. I'm-" She took a rattling breath and covered her face with her hands. "I'm so sorry, I-"

Cutting her sentence short, Yukiko leaned into Chie's impromptu shaky hug, wrapping her own arms around the other girl's warm middle. Chie was so relieved to see Yukiko, so happy that the other girl didn't hate her forever and wanted to see her again, that she was sure she could have stayed like this forever, just the two of them, in her dimly lit room with their dog licking her toes and a slight chill coming in from the still-open window.

"No, I'm the one who should apologize," Chie murmured, combing her fingers through Yukiko's soft locks after discarding the hair tie that had been holding her halfhazard bun in place. "I shouldn't have done what I did. I just...I got worried, and..." Chie tried to ignore the redness spreading across her face. "I got jealous, too."

Yukiko just hummed thoughtfully into her shoulder before lifting her face a little. "Chie?"

"Mm?"

"I love you so much."

Chie's mind reeled as all her emotions simultaneously condensed into a single, massive point and exploded into an uncontrollable cosmic storm. She felt her stomach do flips and her heart accelerate to the point that she thought it might beat right out of her chest. Her grip on Yukiko's back tightened, and she couldn't stop an involuntary smile from making its way across her face. "I love you, too."

She felt Yukiko's torso slowly expand and contract as she sighed. "Geez...I'm never going to get all these leaves out of my hair, am I?"

Chie didn't know if it was the absurdity of the statement, her own breathless exhilaration upon finding out that her best friend was just as madly in love with her as she was, or just the fact that it was such a Yukiko thing to say, but something about that comment made Chie burst into a fit of giggles. Yukiko, ever-susceptible to random bouts of laughter as usual, quickly caught the bug and gave a snort of laughter herself - soon, both girls were clutching their stomachs and nearly in tears. They laughed so hard that sometimes no noise even came out and they simply convulsed with the occasional gasp for air.

And in the midst of this strange, awkward, beautiful bacchanalia, Chie knew that they would be okay.

Chapter Text

How her girlfriend managed to convince her to watch a horror movie, Chie would never understand.

She hated horror movies with a passion few others could claim. Ghosts, zombies, possessed dolls - you name it, she couldn't stand it. But in the end, Yukiko's big, pleading eyes and her infectious excitement won her over, and that was how she ended up wide awake at three in the morning, clinging to Yukiko's arm like a lifeline.

"I didn't really think it was that scary," the dark-haired girl mused. "The effects were way too cheesy. Real blood doesn't splatter like that; it kind of spurts-"

"Okay, okay, okay okay okay!" Chie squeezed her eyes shut and clapped her hands over her ears. "It's over now! We don't ever need to talk about it again!"

Yukiko chuckled softly. "I'm sorry, Chie. I forget how jumpy you can get about these things."

Chie groaned. The things she put up with for love. "Aw, shut up, you jerk."

Shifting closer to Chie on the cushion of the corner couch, Yukiko planted a soft, lingering kiss on her pouting girlfriend's cheek before pulling back and just looking her over for a while. "You're so pretty, Chie."

"Flattery won't get you anywhere, you temptress."

"I'm serious! You're beautiful." Yukiko's eyes came to rest on her bare chest. "Those are so nice, too."

Chie blushed, embarrassed at the attention. All either of them were wearing were panties - their bras and Yukiko's breastforms lay strewn about the room somewhere. She'd always thought her boobs were kind of awkward-looking; her nipples were weird, and there were stretch marks and freckles all over. But the way Yukiko looked at her, you'd think she was a goddess delicately carved from marble, with careful attention poured into every intricate detail.

"Hey, you're pretty gorgeous yourself." Chie looked over her girlfriend's slim figure, her smooth porcelain skin, her soft, subtle curves and elegant collarbone, accentuated by her flowing, glossy hair - how Chie ended up dating such a stunningly beautiful girl was beyond her. Yukiko smiled at her, and a whole flock of birds took flight in her stomach.

"Can we just sleep on the couch tonight? I'm...kind of too scared to move." Chie scratched the back of her head sheepishly. Yukiko made a soft, affirming sound, holding Chie close. Some arbitrary program droned on quietly as the light of the television illuminated the two sleepy figures huddled together on the couch.

Chie felt the warmth of the other girl's gentle breath on her forehead and the slight weight of their dog on her leg, and in that private, comfortable little universe of her own, she felt like she must be the luckiest girl in the world.