Disclaimer: I don't own any Azumanga Daioh characters.

Note: Gee, and to think that it only took me over a year to pick this story back up. I know that I said I'd wait until I finished 'Control' to continue this one, but this comes specifically for Tobunshi and others who sent me some good motivational emails. And Sayu-chan, that Kaorin is not obsessive is your opinion, and your opinion is worth no more than mine. If you don't like this story, please do whatever you have to do to avoid reading it.


Chapter 5

For several days after her embarrassing behavior on the track, Kaorin spent the majority of her time concentrating on Kagura. She did this partly to learn more about Kagura, but also used it as a distraction against the jokes that were beginning to circulate about her. Aside from Sakaki, Kagura was probably the best female athlete in the school, and now Kaorin had become known only as the girl who had been crazy enough to pose a serious challenge against her. As Yomi had predicted, she was now in line with Tomo.

Being a punch line was as bad as she had thought it would be. Mostly she could just hear students giggling as she walked by, and there were a few curious individuals who asked her what had really happened. However, there were those more obnoxious students like Tomo who derived great pleasure in rubbing the incident in her face. Above all others, Tomo was the one who would, always in a loud voice, challenge Kaorin to every kind of competition under the sun, and then laugh when Kaorin walked quickly away. Tomo was a special case though, for she shined the spotlight on Kaorin mostly to divert the negative attention away from herself. Because of this treatment, Kaorin was more determined than ever to figure out how to change this reputation and gain a more positive one like Kagura's.

Kaorin followed Kagura almost everywhere, always from safe distance, and took notes of her daily schedule. It required a lot of time and planning on Kaorin's part, for she had to do everything without being noticed. As far as she could tell though, Kagura wasn't very observant. Her attention span seemed much like Osaka's in that she had to put forth an effort to concentrate on one thing at a time.

Weekday mornings for Kagura were almost always the same. If she woke up in time, she walked to school with Sakaki who, Kaorin noticed, would wait every morning at the same intersection to see if she would show. She would only wait until a certain time before heading on to school, and then unfailingly Kagura would come racing down the street about fifteen minutes later. Kaorin too ran late on these days, even later than Kagura because she didn't want them entering Ms. Yukari's classroom at the same time.

Since the school swim team did not hold practice, girls were expected to continue their training on their own time. Kagura went running three days a week, and on Tuesdays and Thursdays she went to an indoor pool at a local university to swim laps. After these daily exercise sessions, she would either go home, or meet up with Sakaki somewhere.

For two weeks Kaorin kept the athlete under close observation until finally she concluded that observation was simply not enough. She had to become friendly with Kagura and learn about her as a friend would, not as an anthropologist would. No amount of study could bring the real thing into perspective.

Aside from the fact that Kaorin despised Kagura, the problem with befriending Kagura was being able to do it without seeming conspicuous. She didn't want to draw even more attention to herself, and that's exactly what would happen if one day she simply plopped herself down with Kagura during lunch or PE. Immediately everyone would assume that she was up to another dead-end challenge, and the taunting and giggling would rage back into full swing.

Up until now, the circle of girls that comprised Kagura's group of friends, that being Sakaki, Yomi, Tomo, Osaka, and Chiyo, had been only peripheral to Kaorin's own circle, which was pretty much Chihiro and a couple of girls from Ms. Kurosawa's class. If she was going to get close to Kagura, she would have to make a gentle shift from one group to another.

She decided to start this shift with Osaka. Despite her peculiar nature, Osaka wasn't standoffish, and she was unwisely open to all advances that seemed in the slightest bit friendly. It was during lunch one day that Kaorin approached her.

"Hey," she said and set her bento on the desk beside Osaka's.

Osaka turned and looked up with a grin. Her forearms were flat on her desk, and between them sat her bento, still unopened. "Hey," she replied.

"Would you mind if I sat here?"

"Sure, go ahead."

Kaorin sat down sideways in the chair and crossed one knee over the other. "I just couldn't help but notice the score you got on that test Yukari handed back."

Osaka frowned and removed the lid from her bento. Inside, the bento was divided in two with rice on one side and fried vegetables on the other. "Oh, yeah. I could've sworn that I studied for that particular test, but I guess I didn't."

"Don't worry about it. I didn't do so well on it either," Kaorin said truthfully. Spending so much time on Kagura left time for little else. "It seemed a lot harder than her other tests."

"I think it's because of what she said the other day."

"What'd she say?"

"About that video game. The one she had been looking forward to, and then she bought it and said that it was one of the dumbest things that she'd ever seen."

"You really think?"

"I know," Osaka said in an ominous voice. She frowned and leaned towards Kaorin with a serious look on her face. "I was there when she said it."

Kaorin paused, waiting for something else. When Osaka said nothing more, she forced a smile and started on her own bento. "I see. So are you into video games?"

The conversation was the first of many that took place before, during, and sometimes after school. It wasn't hard to win Osaka's interests simply by staying quiet and letting her do most of the talking. A lot of the time Kaorin had no idea what the girl was talking about, but she simply smiled and nodded as though whatever Osaka had to say was as interesting as any of the variety shows on TV. It was only difficult when Kaorin herself would be asked a question to which she had to form an answer that would keep her in Osaka's interest.

"Didn't you ever wonder why they made gummy bears?" Osaka asked her one day in the middle of a volley ball game.

Kaorin blinked but then nodded quickly. "All the time. I mean…Why not gummy raccoons?"

Osaka smiled, watching the volley ball rise in an arc towards their side of the court. "Yeah, because I never thought that bears were a real popular animal. I think they'd sell a lot more if they made something like gummy cats, but then people hunt bears in real life and they don't hunt cats, so maybe they made gummy bears in the hopes that people would eat the gummy bears instead of hunting real ones."

"Exactly," Kaorin replied through another forced grin. She continued to look at Osaka, but her attention turned to her peripheral view in which she could see Sakaki by the basketball court just a few yards away.

In about three weeks' time, Kaorin had situated herself comfortably with Osaka on the outer ring of Kagura's circle and no one thought twice about her being there. Being a new friend of Osaka's allowed her the opportunity to speak more freely with Kagura and Sakaki than she ever had before, even though these opportunities were still uncommon. In the mornings, Kagura was usually late to class, and Sakaki was still socially unapproachable in Kaorin's mind. During lunch, Kagura usually ate with Tomo or sometimes Sakaki, and Sakaki seemed to prefer Chiyo's company. Still, there were times after school when the entire group would get together to discuss test scores, weekend plans, or any other random things that might have been going on in their lives. It was at these times that Kaorin could ask questions and make jokes and tell stories of past events, all without freezing or becoming overly anxious as she previously would have been prone to do.

The only one who really noticed Kaorin's subtle change in behavior was Chihiro, and even then she said nothing of it. She had known Kaorin for a long time, and she and Kaorin were very much alike. She didn't have a problem with Kaorin seeking to expand her social circle, though she was a bit hurt that Kaorin seemed to be doing more trading than expanding. Kaorin's participation in the astronomy club had dropped dramatically, and she declined nearly half of all Chihiro's invitations to go out and do something. They still studied together and made the occasional outing, and during these times Chihiro couldn't really sense anything different about her friend. Kaorin was still the same considerate and politely-spoken Kaorin, even if there were a few video game and swimming magazines scattered about her room, and even if she had suddenly taken an interest in monster movies and the Olympics. Somehow though, Chihiro couldn't shake the feeling that something wasn't right. There was nothing wrong with change, though change taking place in a short amount of time and in the general direction of something was a bit suspicious.

Kaorin wasn't the only one exhibiting odd behavior. As the tryouts for the national swim team neared, Kagura's behavior also began to change. She spent even less time on her homework and more out on the track and in the pool. She cut her meals in half, not because of a conscious effort, but simply because she wasn't very hungry. Every time she thought of the upcoming competition, her stomach would tie itself into a knot and she would get the feeling that she hadn't been training nearly enough. Occasionally these thoughts would come in the middle of the night, and five minutes later she would be out of her bed and into her running gear.

By the time the tryouts were one month away, Kagura's sleep pattern had been thrown completely off and she seemed more distant from her friends than ever before. Not even Sakaki saw as much of her as she normally did. Because of Kagura's increasing inability to make it to school on time, Sakaki walked to school by herself, and she almost always found herself alone when she walked home as well. After school, Kagura could hardly pause long enough to say 'good bye' before rushing off to wherever she planned to train that afternoon, and later in the evening Sakaki would only receive a brief text message of apology and a promise that it wouldn't happen again.

For the most part, Sakaki tried to be patient. She knew how much the tryouts meant to Kagura, and she didn't want to come across as the needy girlfriend who got in the way. She still got to spend time with Kagura on the weekends, though it was obvious every time that Kagura's mind was on the tryouts and not on her. Kagura's distance was putting a definite strain on their relationship, but the thing that bothered Sakaki the most was that Kagura hardly seemed to notice. If she did notice, she wasn't doing very much to try and change it. It was almost as though they had gone back to being good friends at best.

Finally, Sakaki had had enough. On Monday morning when the tryouts were a mere two weeks away, she didn't even bother to wait for Kagura. She headed on to school as normal, and she didn't even look up when Kagura eventually did stumble into the classroom. During lunch, she ate with Chiyo without a single glance cast in Kagura's direction, and during PE she made it a point to stay as far away from Kagura as possible, which meant spending most of the time on the volley ball courts. When school was over, she was the first one out of the classroom, and she walked home at a faster pace than normal. As she sat at her desk that evening, her phone buzzed, not unexpectedly, with a new text message. She looked at the phone and then, against her better judgment, sighed and picked it up.

'Sorry again. Pool was closed yesterday for cleaning. Had to make up time.'

She read the message twice with a deepening frown. No questions about whether she was all right, or any mention of the fact that she had ignored Kagura all day. She scoffed and tossed the phone onto her bed.

This routine continued for three days before Kagura finally seemed to notice that something was a little off. Sakaki received the usual apologetic text message, but it was then followed with another.

'Hey. You there?'

Laying in her bed with the phone held above her, Sakaki contemplated returning the message, but then decided against it. It had taken Kagura three whole days to even acknowledge the possibility that something might be wrong, and now if she wanted a response then she was going to have to work for one.

A few minutes passed before she received another message.

'I'm sorry I've been so busy.'

And a few minutes later:

'Talk to me?'

Several more minutes passed with no further message. Sakaki sighed tucked the phone under her pillow. Perhaps tomorrow morning Kagura would actually be there to walk to school with her and then they could get this problem sorted out. She didn't want to be angry at Kagura, but she also wasn't going to let Kagura get away with such seeming disregard for her.

She was startled when her phone rang. The vibration shook through her pillow and instantly her eyes shot open. She slipped the phone back out and checked the number, not surprised to see Kagura's name flashing on the screen. She turned the phone off and let it drop to the floor. Whatever Kagura had to say, she could say in person. Phone calls were a confrontation cop-out, a guilty party's luxury that Sakaki wasn't going to allow her girlfriend. She felt bad, but not as bad as she felt when she thought of how Kagura seemed to have forgotten their entire relationship in the shadow of the swim team tryouts. She closed her eyes and eventually drifted off.

Later she was awoken by a strange dream in which she had been sitting on a park bench next to a tabby cat. The cat had been mewling about something in its own language, and in her dream Sakaki had been able to understand him perfectly. The cat had then turned and opened its mouth to mewl directly at her, but instead of a common mew, it emitted a strange noise that sounded much like two hard objects tapping once together.

"I'm sorry," she had said to the cat. "Could you say that again?"

But the cat had instead hopped down from the bench, and the sound it made upon landing was the same tapping sound as before.

Sakaki peered her eyes open. Her bedside clock showed 11:37PM, and her room was completely silent. She shifted onto her other side and dragged down one of her stuffed cats to hug against her chest. She closed her eyes and started to drift back off, but was then awoken by the same tapping sound from her dream. She came more awake and lifted up on an elbow to glance around. She didn't need to wait very long before the tapping repeated itself. It was coming from the window on the other side of the room.

Concealing a yawn, she tossed the blankets back and got up to go to the window. Her first thought was that earlier she hadn't closed the window tightly enough and that wind blowing through the opening was causing the blinds to hit against the glass. It had happened before, so she was surprised when she heard the tapping again and the blinds didn't move.

She came to the window and set her hand against the glass, pushing it to see if it was loose anywhere. She then looked through the glass and frowned when she spotted the problem.

Kagura stood at the base of the large tree in the garden. She was dressed in her running gear with her hands tucked into the pockets of her jacket. She shifted her weight from one foot to the other and then back again, looking at Sakaki like a puppy that had been left out in the cold.

Sakaki sighed and thought about closing the blinds, but ultimately decided not to. At least from this position she was distant from Kagura and that made it easier for her to stay angry, or at least look like it. She knew from past experience that Kagura had sneaky ways of getting out of the dog house, and this time she wasn't going to be soft. Kagura was looking more pathetic at that moment than she had ever seen her, and it was almost humorous. Almost. She unlatched the window and slid it open and then folded her arms on the sill.

"Throwing things at my window?" she inquired with an arch of her eyebrow.

"I know it's cheesy, but you weren't answering your phone," Kagura replied softly.

Sakaki sighed. "And I guess now you're going to serenade me with a song that's so ridiculous that it ends up being romantic, and that I'm going to laugh and forget all about what you've done? Or maybe you'd like me to come down there so that I can scream and cry and eventually end up in your arms with the demand that we never fight again?"

"No," Kagura said, casting her gaze to the ground. Sakaki was a sweet girl, but it wasn't difficult for her to look like an ice queen when she wanted to. "I just wanted to apologize."

"And this couldn't have waited until morning? It's almost midnight, you know."

"I know, but I was just in the neighborhood and-"

"And you came here now because in the morning you're going to sleep as late as possible and end up late for class again, and then you're going to be so tired all day that you're hardly going to speak a word to anyone, even me. And then you're going to rush off to get in as many laps as possible, because everyone knows that you've hardly done any training at all whatsoever, and then when you get around to it, you're going to squeeze in enough time to send me a text message saying that you're sorry."

Kagura hung her head, unable to think of a reply. It was true that she had been so absorbed with the upcoming tryouts that she had pushed everything else aside, even things that she should not have.

"I'm sorry," she muttered again. She had no excuse beyond her inability to balance priorities.

Sakaki watched her girlfriend and felt her expression soften. She rested her fist to her cheek and sighed. "You've got to stop this."

"You know I can't."

"You're going to run yourself into the ground before the tryouts even get here. It's not good to obsess over stuff like that."

"I know, but I can't help it. I've been looking forward to this for years, and now that I'm finally old enough...Just the thought of not making the team, watching some other girl place better than me…"

"I've placed better than you plenty of times."

Kagura smirked. "That's different. You were born with athletic talent. The rest of us mortals actually have to make an effort."

"So you're saying that you don't mind it when I beat you because I beat everyone?"

"Exactly."

"So what if I tried out for the swim team and beat you? Would you resent me or would you be proud of me?"

"Sakaki…" Kagura frowned.

"Sorry."

They both knew how much Kagura would have loved to have even one half of Sakaki's athletic ability. They joked about it, but it had never really mattered because their competitions had always been for fun. Being on the national swim team was not a matter of fun for Kagura, but a matter of personal necessity. It was the ultimate goal of her youth, and for Sakaki to go in and take it from her would have been nothing but vindictive and mean. Sakaki would have submitted to physical mutilation before doing such a thing.

Silence settled between them before Kagura turned to go. "I'll let you get back to sleep."

Sakaki watched her and then straightened and rested her hands to the sill. "Kagura," she called softly, not wishing to leave the conversation on a sour note.

Kagura paused and looked over her shoulder.

Sakaki hesitated, trying to think of something to say. Even when they were on perfect terms, they didn't often get the chance to speak about relationship matters. Phone calls and notes were definitely out of the question because of the chance of a third party interruption, particularly Kagura's parents.

"I love you very much," she said, "and I don't like to see you like this. I know that you have to keep in shape, but just promise me that you'll at least start sleeping again."

Kagura's grin widened mischievously. She opened her mouth to say something, but was cut off by Sakaki who lifted her hand.

"I said 'sleeping'. Sleeping means that you close your eyes and don't engage in anything physical until you wake up."

"Aww." Kagura kicked a pebble and pretended to sulk.

Sakaki chuckled and moved to close the window. "Have a good night. Be careful," she said.

Kagura faced the window and held her arms out in an innocent manner. "Who says we can't sleep together? We've done it before, right?"

Sakaki smirked and rolled her eyes. "Goodnight, Kagura." She shut the window and drew the blinds closed.

Kagura snapped her fingers and turned to make her way back onto the street. She had treated Sakaki poorly over the past few weeks, but she would make it up to her somehow. Even if she had to buy her all of the cat memorabilia in Tokyo and deliver it on hand and knee every day through barbed wire and broken glass, she would do it. She tried to think of something else in her life that meant more to her, but so far Sakaki was the best thing that had happened to her. That included all of the competitions that she had ever won. While winning was nice, a trophy couldn't express affection, and a reputation couldn't go for walks or make jokes or look absolutely amazing in a skirt or a pair of jeans.

A dumb smile spread itself on her face as she started jogging. Yes, she would make up with Sakaki. She would make up so well that Sakaki would forget that they had ever fought in the first place.

Sakaki and Kagura weren't the only ones who had been at odds that evening. Twelve blocks away, Kaorin was at that moment pacing the length of her room. She had been up all night studying all of the material that she had neglected for the past two weeks. Chihiro was standing in the doorway, her bookbag in her hand and a stern look on her face.

"Kaorin, I'm just worried about you is all," she said sharply.

"What's there to worry about?" Kaorin retorted, throwing her hands up. "Is there something about Osaka that you don't like?"

Kaorin had asked Chihiro over to study, and Chihiro had been more than happy to comply. She had been wanting to speak with Kaorin for a while, but all of her attempts had been quickly shot down. Kaorin always seemed busy these days. She was either rushing off somewhere, or she was nowhere to be seen at all.

Kaorin had only invited Chihiro over because of Ms. Yukari's test tomorrow. She couldn't remember the last time she had studied, and she needed someone who took good notes in class. Her first thought was to ask Osaka, but studying with Osaka would have been like wading through cream in search of milk. Chihiro had been her best option, and she was sorely regretting her decision.

Things had started off just fine, but as the studying drew to a close and topics of conversation turned to other matters, Chihiro had inevitably asked the one loaded question that Kaorin had been dreading.

"Are you all right?" she had ventured carefully.

"Of course," Kaorin had replied with a quick smile, though a small bead of sweat formed at her temple. "The superlatives were giving the most trouble, but I think I got it now."

"You know what I mean."

The tempers and voices had escalated from there.

Chihiro sighed at Kaorin's accusation. "It's not Osaka. I just wish you'd tell me what's going on. You've been acting weird ever since, well...That day with Kagura."

Kaorin stopped and fixed the other girl with a cold glare. "Please don't bring that up." She went about cleaning up the books and notepads and pencils that they had been using. She arranged them on the table in the center of the floor and then picked up of her own bookbag to pack for the next day.

Chihiro frowned. "What are you doing? I just want to know."

"It's none of your- I mean, it's nothing!"

"Nothing?" Chihiro dropped her bag and went over to Kaorin's bed. "Then what's this? And this?" she demanded, reaching under the bed and dragging out the two latest issues of Sports Pro magazine. "You've never been into sports, and I just think that it's a little odd that you would all of a sudden just jump into them."

"I didn't jump into anything. I just wanted to try something new."

"Like becoming the laughing stock of the entire school?"

Kaorin whirled to face the girl, her hands balled tightly. "I told you not to bring that up!"

"I can't help it if it's true." Chihiro dropped the magazines on the bed and motioned to her friend. "Look at yourself, Kaorin. You're not an athlete. You're as small as I am and you can't convince me that you care anything about sports."

"Stop trying to tell me about myself," Kaorin nearly shouted. She felt herself on the verge of tears because everything that Chihiro said was true. She wasn't an athlete, and no matter how much she tried, she couldn't make herself care one way or the other about which sports drink or vitamin supplement was best.

"But it is true, isn't it?"

"Just get out."

Chihiro frowned and eyed the girl. "I'll go, but this isn't over. You're up to something and I'll tell you right now that I don't like it, whatever it is."

Kaorin made no reply. She kept her back to Chihiro and listened to the sound of the door shutting, and then Chihiro's footsteps as they descended the stairs.


.Note: Hm...I'm pretty sure that the next chapter is going to contain adult content. I reserve the right to take this chapter down and edit it as necessary.

Note2: I don't know if it's going to show up, but the computers here are doing something weird to my apostrophes. Sorry if it might look strange.