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

Note: Feh...whatever. The summer house is just a convenient metaphor.


Vitamin C

Kagura and Tomo sat slouched and giggling on opposite sides of the couch in Chiyo's summer home. Both of them were dressed for bed, each wearing a T-shirt and a pair of boxers, and Kagura wearing a pair of bright orange socks.

On the floor in front of them, Yomi laid on her back with her hands folded on her stomach. She was dressed in a pair of pajama bottoms and Tomo's 'Wild' shirt. Her lips were parted and she stared at the ceiling as though a very interesting movie were playing on it.

At the table beside Yomi, Nyamo and Yukari sat across from each other with their right hands clamped together. They looked as though they were ready to arm wrestle, but they were laughing too hard to do much else. Chiyo and Sakaki had departed from this scene two hours earlier and not much had changed since.

Seven years had passed since the girls and their preferred teachers had made that first trip to Chiyo's summer home. Every summer since then they had made a tradition of coming to the house for one week, no matter where they might have been or what might have been going on in their personal lives. Ever since Nyamo's initial intoxication, the house meant an escape from ordinary routines and the chance (or excuse) to do things that they otherwise never would have dreamed of doing, or that they wanted to do but couldn't.

All of the girls but Kagura and Tomo were in their last year of college. Tomo had dropped out two years prior and was in the middle of training to become a police officer. Kagura had made it through one semester of college before her performance in the pool had won her an unusual amount of acclaim. She had gone professional and quickly earned the attention of big names like Pocari Sweat and CC Lemon. She was now four years away from retirement and ranked number six on Japan's list of millionaires under thirty. Yomi was in the middle of an internship at a medical institution in Hiroshima. Yukari had stopped teaching when she had gotten married three years ago. She rarely ever spoke of her husband and sometimes seemed to forget that she was married at all. Nyamo had also stopped teaching after Kagura's rise to fame had consequently brought herds of sponsors, representatives, and parents to her own front door. The school had requested her resignation after the harassment on school grounds became too much for their security to deal with. Having no real other skills beyond sports, she had opted to become a private swim teacher. At first she had boasted a waiting list of over two hundred people. In an attempt to cut this number she had increased her rates, and now at ten thousand yen per lesson, she had twenty active students that she each taught three times a week, and seventy-five on hold. Sakaki currently resided in Fukushima where she was taking prerequisite classes for vet school. A chance encounter with a photographer at a coffee shop had landed her a modeling job for a swimsuit magazine. She made more than enough to support herself, and though the editor of the magazine had begged her to renew her contract after she finished school, she had politely declined. Chiyo had early on decided that America was not the place for her. She had returned and gotten into Tokyo University where she studied anthropology and literature. Presently she was between boyfriends, her last one having broken up with her because of her seniority complex.

Tomo rolled her head to look at Kagura.

"You're right," she droned in reply to something that had been said half an hour ago.

Kagura continued to stare ahead. "Huh?"

"I said yeah."

"What?"

"I said that."

"Said what?"

"You're right."

"I told you."

"I forgot what you said."

Kagura burst with laughter and fell sideways onto the center cushion. "You're such a bitch."

At Kagura's outburst, Tomo laughed until her face turned bright red. She fell onto the other girl and then rolled off the couch to lay beside Yomi. Yomi remained unaffected by the antics. Her brow was furrowed like a physicist who was one step away from solving a mathematical problem that had been plaguing her for years. Tomo curled up on her side and buried her face into the rug. She laughed until she couldn't breathe, and that made the situation all the more hilarious.

Whatever Yukari and Nyamo had been doing (and it was doubtful that they themselves knew), they were unable to maintain it by the time Tomo began gasping for breath. They tried to contain their mirth, but within a moment they too were laughing to the point of physical weakness. Yukari slumped forward and laughed so hard that she didn't make a sound. Nyamo pointed at Yukari and tried to say something, but instead she fell back and clutched her arms around herself.

This continued for twenty minutes before silence settled back into the room. When she was finally able to, Nyamo sat up and leaned back against the couch. Yukari crawled over to her and laid her head in her lap, still giggling softly.

"Hey, where'd Osaka go?" Tomo asked and lifted up on her hands.

"She's outside," Yomi replied, closing her eyes.

"The Hell's she doing out there?"

"I don't know. You know how she is."

"Probably contemplating her existence again," Kagura said with a yawn. She stretched out on the couch and flopped an arm over her eyes.

"Again? Dammit! Who keeps inviting her here anyway?"

"I'd like to know the same about you," Yomi muttered.

Tomo stumbled up and went to the balcony doors. "I'm tired of her crap. Hey, Osaka!" She threw the doors open and leaned out.

Osaka stood on the balcony with her arms at her sides. She too was dressed for bed in her favorite pair of pajama bottoms and matching top, the one with a giant orange spiral in the center of it. Her hair had grown a few inches and was back in a pony tail, and perched on her nose was a pair of gold-framed glasses. A year ago she had suffered a small concussion when she had gotten hit by a car, and she had needed the glasses ever since.

After high school, Osaka had gone on to a college just outside of Tokyo. She had majored in philosophy for a year before dropping it and picking up linguistics instead. She had gone through two boyfriends before deciding that they really weren't such a big deal, and now she mostly spent her days in search of something greater than herself, much to the annoyance of those who wished to know her better.

She turned when Tomo called her.

"What is it?" she replied softly.

"You bother me! Get in here!" Tomo snapped and disappeared inside.

Osaka blinked. She took one last glance at the ocean and then followed the other girl, making sure to lock the door behind her. She then scanned the others in the room. Yomi was climbing onto the couch to sit beside Kagura who was drawing pictures in the air with her index finger. Nyamo was sifting her fingers through Yukari's hair, and Yukari seemed to be napping peacefully.

"Sit down," Tomo barked and pointed at the table as she went upstairs.

Osaka seated herself at the table and folded her hands in her lap. She didn't like it when Tomo ordered her around, but she knew that she would never be able to stand up to her. Tomo's bully-like behavior had only gotten worse with time, and that she was becoming a police officer was no real comfort to anyone who knew her. Osaka had learned her lesson two summers ago when she had denied a demand of Tomo's with a simple 'no'. Without warning, Tomo had punched her across the face and simply repeated the demand.

"What'd I do?" she asked.

"Don't pay any attention to her," Yomi said.

"You killed my buzz," Tomo shouted from one of the upper rooms. "It's always you and your 'why are we here' and 'why this' and 'why that' bullshit. Moron!"

"You're the moron. Leave her alone," Yomi shouted back. She stretched her arms up and yawned.

"You be quiet," Tomo snapped. A few moments later she stomped back down the stairs. She was holding what looked like a milk carton in her hand and attempting to poke a straw through the hole in the top. "Didn't you ever pay attention to those programs in school? This is about principles and everyone knows that friends don't let friends let friends who let friends let friends."

Yomi arched an eyebrow and looked at Nyamo. She expected her to say something about Tomo's behavior, but Nyamo seemed too busy gazing at Yukari.

Osaka frowned. "I wasn't bothering anyone. Thinking is just a pastime of mine, like daydreaming. There's nothing wrong with it."

"There is something wrong with it," Tomo retorted, "and I'm going to tell you why." She stormed to the girl and knelt behind her. She placed the carton on the table and then put her hands to the sides of Osaka's head. "I know all about the questions you've been asking. You mull them over and over until you get a headache, and then you go complain to somebody about how you couldn't get the answer and how you don't think that an answer exists and blah blah blah..."

"Yeah, but I wasn't the first one to-"

"It's a waste! The thing is, I've had the answers all along. I never said anything because I wanted to wait until you figured it out for yourself. Now I see that's not going to happen and I'm tired of being the only one around here who knows." She glanced at Yukari and Nyamo. "Or maybe I'm not the only one."

"But there is no answer."

"Shut up, my little Osakan larvae. It's easy. Everything that you've ever wanted to know has to do with the concept of reality. What is real? It's a simple problem, and there's a simple solution. You've just been viewing it from within the wrong plane."

"But I-"

"Shhh..." Tomo's expression turned calm and she pulled Osaka's hair from its ponytail. "Don't talk. Don't say another word or I swear to everything sacred in this world that I will make pain with your head. What you're going to do now is listen."

Feeling a reminiscent throb in her right cheek, Osaka only nodded.

"I'll tell you," Tomo whispered, resting her chin to the girl's shoulder. "I frequently come and go between this experience and the one you've been searching for. I could go there now if I wanted to, but I'm saving it for you." She grabbed the carton from the table and held the straw to Osaka's mouth. "Close your eyes and drink this."

Osaka looked at Nyamo and then to Kagura and Yomi. Yomi only shrugged and motioned for her to go ahead. It was unwise to rile Tomo when she was being like this, and the carton was probably just full of salt water or some other vile concoction.

Osaka did as she was told, closing her eyes and taking the straw between her lips. Yomi looked on and when Osaka didn't recoil with the urge to vomit, she frowned and sat forward.

"Hey, what'd you do," she asked.

Tomo ignored the question. When the carton was empty, she set it back on the table and then wrapped her arms loosely around Osaka's neck.

"Good," she murmured. "Now count backwards slowly. Forget numbers. There aren't any where you'll be going. Start with blue and work you way to black."

"Colors? You can't count colors."

"It's that way of thinking that's kept you a prisoner." She removed Osaka's glasses to cover her eyes with her hands. "Imagine that you've been blind your entire life. Think about those colors, the ones you experience. Not the ones you see. Blue is what happens on a hot day when you run cold water over your hands. Then there's a peach color that only comes once every Sunday morning, but only if you're just waking up at 9AM and realizing that you don't have school or work. Contrary to popular belief, red is what you feel when you discover a new song that you really love, and olive is what happens when you buy the album and find out that all the other songs suck. Beige is being the last one to take a bath and having to sit in lukewarm water. Pastel yellow is remembering something pleasant from your childhood that you hadn't thought of in a long time."

Osaka started to say something, but suddenly the blood rushed to the back of her head as though she were falling. Her mind began to swim and she dropped her chin in an attempt to alleviate the sensation.

"Hey," she uttered, absently clutching Tomo's wrists.

Tomo grinned and motioned for her to lay back. "Purple is my favorite. It's voicing an opinion and having others agree with it."

"What about white?" Osaka asked, her whole body beginning to feel as though it were made of led.

"I've never experienced it, but you can always tell the ones who have. It's everything that anyone could want, even if they've never wanted anything at all. It's like-"

Osaka opened her eyes and looked at Tomo. Tomo was saying something and she got the feeling that it might have been important. She tried to discern the words, but Tomo seemed to be talking slower and slower. Her voice deepened and drifted in and out. Eventually the only thing Osaka could make out was deep 'rorrrrrrorrrrrorrr' sound, almost like the grinding of a machine. Strange though it was, she began to understand the noise perfectly.

"Why didn't you say that earlier," she laughed and pushed into a sitting position. She stumbled up and touched her index finger to the middle of her forehead, then dragged the finger down to the center of her chest to create an invisible seam. Her skin peeled away from the seam until she could push it down like folds of wet leather. It dropped to the floor like a sack and she casually kicked it away. She should have realized this a long time ago. She had seen cartoon characters do this sort of thing all the time.

Being free of her skin was not enough. She grabbed handfuls of her innards and pulled them out, reaching up under her ribcage to grab her heart and lungs. She flung them all away and then proceeded to tug at her muscles. She heard the meat splat against the floor and watched as her blood drained freely from disconnected veins. She didn't stop until she was nothing but a skeleton with eyes, and then one at a time she began to pick at her bones. The last thing to go was her skull. She shook her head until her eyes broke from their sockets and then shifted away.

"I won't be needing you anymore," she said and crushed the eyes with what was left of her mind. When she looked around, she saw and felt nothing but emptiness. It was so disorienting that she was afraid to move. "I'm so used to having senses. I don't know how to see."

A sparkly black glob then approached her. It spoke to her in a series of pleasant hums and offered up what looked like two glass balls.

"What's this?" she asked and leaned to the spheres.

The glob hummed and adorned her with the spheres. She felt a slight pressure, and when she lifted up she could see everything in wonderful meshes of color. The colors took on forms that seemed vaguely familiar to her, though she was sure that she had never seen them before in her life.

"So this is reality...This is emptiness," she whispered. If her arms had still been there, she would have reached them out in an attempt to touch that which had never existed before.

From somewhere in the void there came a noise of music. The music had no sound in this realm, and Osaka decided that it was one of the most beautiful things that she had ever heard because she knew that she was not hearing anything at all. "This is what nothing sounds like...feels like." She couldn't detect the void with senses that she no longer possessed, so she used what was left of her energy to curl herself around it. She gripped the music and held it at the very forefront of her experience. "I'm holding music. Music can't be held, but now I'm something that can't hold music. If I can't hold the music and there's no music to be held anyways, what color is it? I've never felt this before." She rubbed herself with the silent melody and felt herself falling again.

After a time, she felt the urge to move. To take even one step would have been absolutely impossible. She couldn't fathom the concept of motion in this place. It was emptiness, and in emptiness there was no forward or backward. She was everywhere, and everywhere was with her all at once. The trick was not to move, but to collect the colors and appropriate them in different situations.

"I've got to feel..."

Her attempt at this landed her at the bottom of a bowl of rainbow medley. There were several more black globs standing around and swaying back and forth. One wisped by her and she knew that she had seen it before.

"Hey, wait," she called to it. "Can you help me?" She had no voice. Though she shouted, her every word emitted as only a dull groan that sounded very far away. She tried screaming, but the louder she screamed, the softer she sounded.

The blob eventually stopped and huddled down. It looked pleasant enough, humming every now and then to something that Osaka couldn't perceive.

Osaka forced herself to materialize at the blob. "I know you," she shouted, now unable to hear herself. She melted with the blob in an act that in her worldly body she would have called recognition and greeting. At once she felt herself falling in love with this new world of colors. This world was something empty and pure. It was so complex, and yet more simple than anything she had ever known before. She understood her position in this place and the position of others in relation to her. There was no such thing as oneself, and no such thing as separate experiences. All was one, and one was now her.

Outside of Osaka's experience, Tomo and the others looked on at the scene that continued to play out before them. Sakaki sat at the table while Osaka, naked and wearing a snorkel and a pair of swim goggles, stood behind her and pawed at her head like a cat.

"Sakaki! I can touch Sakaki!" Osaka cried.

Sakaki sat still and looked at the others with a silent plea for help. She was afraid to move lest Osaka get too excited and attack.

Yomi looked at Tomo. "What did you give her?"

Tomo scratched her head and checked the label of the carton. The label depicted an orange cat with a spout in the middle of its chest.

"Orange juice," she replied.

Yomo arched an eyebrow. "Orange juice?"

"Uh huh."

The girls watched as Osaka fell to the floor and started to writhe. She was drooling and gripping sporadically at the air.

"So what's orange then?"

"Uh..."


Note:
Say yes to orange juice.