Disclaimer: The usual - no one here belongs to me. The Azumanga Daioh characters are the creation of Azuma Kiyohiko, and I have absolutely NO control whatsoever over the things they get up to. As usual, ALL Patents, Trademarks and Copyrights are acknowledged. Thank you.

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"The Sun Also Sets In The East"

by

A Gentleman Of Leisure.

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1.

Sitting alone in her First Class seat, Chiyo leaned her head against the Japan Air Lines jumbo jet's window, and with blurred vision watched Tokyo tilt over and sink below her, as the plane climbed steeply away from Narita Airport, turning gradually across the bay, rapidly gaining height as it flew across the huge expanse of the city, headed towards the northwest. Somewhere down there in the seemingly endless suburbs was her home, her parents, all her friends, her old schools, with her old teachers - everything she had known all of her whole life, except for that one previous year away in the United States.

Her eyes stung with tears, which rolled down her cheeks uncontrollably, and she groped for a tissue, found the packet that Osaka had pressed into her hand as she hugged her for the last time in the middle of Terminal 2's Check-In Hall, and blotted her face.

She couldn't understand why she was so upset. She was a big girl now, she told herself; she'd been away from home before, and it wasn't as if she wouldn't know anyone where she was going. She wasn't going into permanent exile after all, so why the tears? She shook her head.

There was a soft chime, followed by the announcement that everyone could unfasten their safety belts. A stewardess paused at the end of the row where she sat alone to enquire if the little girl was feeling all right. Chiyo forced a faint smile, nodded, and said she was fine thank you, bowed politely, and then turned away to look out of the window again so as to hide her face.

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2.

"Where is she?" asked Osaka.

"That looks like her, over there," Yomi said. "And that's Sakaki with her, isn't it?"

"Come on then," said Kagura impatiently.

"Wait," said the fourth person quietly. "Give them a minute or two," and she grabbed the belt of Kagura's coat firmly, to hold her back from dashing eagerly across the open space.

"Well, you're the last person I ever thought I would hear saying that!" said Yomi.

"Training must be having some effect," said Tomo calmly. "Anyway I'm in uniform; I can't be seen allowing wild behaviour in here!"

The other three looked at the erstwhile wild one briefly with a certain amount of surprise, and then all turned back to the far more engrossing scene before them.

Somehow, for the briefest period of time, the middle of the Check-In Hall was clear of people going to and fro, and there in the very centre of the vast open space they could see just two people - two young women - one tall, with luxurious black hair that reached right down to the back of her knees, and one small, with reddish-brown pigtails. The two were standing face to face, not speaking, just looking at each other, holding hands. As they watched, the smaller one went on tiptoe and reached up to the other's face, drawing her down and gently kissing her. The tall girl slipped her arms round the smaller, and lifted her right off the floor. The two of them then stood there, ignoring anyone and everyone around them, kissing as if they were somehow totally invisible to the rest of the world.

The four others stood and waited patiently, if a little surprised.

"If they don't stop soon they're going to run out of air," said Osaka thoughtfully, after a couple of minutes watching this. "Unless Chiyo's got miniature oxygen cylinders hidden in her pigtails."

"If we don't go over soon there won't be time to say goodbye to her," Kagura said, more practically.

"So, forward slowly we go then," Tomo said. "Give them a decent chance to see us coming. Don't want to embarrass them, do we?"

Yomi's eyebrows shot up. She gazed at her friend and shook her head. Something had definitely been happening to Tomo over the last few weeks, something that had apparently changed her. The very first chance she got she'd have to give her the old uppercut and knock her on her butt so as to be able to question her. A sensible Tomo Takino was distinctly unnerving! But for now... Well, OK. It could wait. What she could see happening right there in front of her was far more interesting!

"Just at this moment I don't think anything in the whole world could embarrass them," Kagura said. "Bloody good thing Kaorin isn't here!"

The others nodded. No disagreement there.

"Come on then," said Osaka. "I want to find out what's been happening here!"

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3.

Chiyo reluctantly opened her eyes with a sigh. The stewardess was leaning across the empty seat next to her, asking her something. Dinner? Chiyo nodded - sure, why not? She didn't actually feel hungry. She would rather have closed her eyes again - the dream she'd been having was fading - all she could remember was a pair of gentle grey-blue eyes looking at her. She knew whose they were of course.

She turned away to look out of the window once more, to hide the tears that threatened to start all over again.

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4.

"So, what do you make of that, then?" said Tomo as they watched Sakaki's train depart for the north, taking her back to veterinary college.

"I'm not surprised," said Osaka mildly. "I told you they were holding hands when we left the restaurant that last time, didn't I?"

"Did you? I don't remember," said Yomi crossly. She was looking at Tomo, who was still behaving uncharacteristically, pretending to be a sober and sensible young traffic police officer. She couldn't make it out. Things today were positively conspiring to be disconcerting. The last thing she needed was another friend behaving in an unexpected manner - Sakaki and Chiyo she could at least understand.

The two had become as close friends by the end of high school the year before as any two girls of such widely differing backgrounds possibly could. Being away from one another for a whole year must have somehow brought things into sharp focus for them, and so - this!

Yomi was annoyed with herself. She prided herself on being a normally observant young woman, yet it wasn't as if she couldn't have seen it coming, just that she simply hadn't spotted it! And now this nonsense with Tomo. She growled to herself. Just wait till she got the girl on her own, later!

"I must admit I'm surprised," said Kagura. "She never used to be that way inclined, so far as I know. After all, there was Kaorin panting over her round every corner at school, yet she never even noticed."

"Really?" said Tomo. "I thought everybody knew. I think I spotted it by the end of our first semester."

"Everyone did except Sakaki, and Chiyo, apparently. Chiyo was too young to see it of course, but I had to tell Sakaki myself just a few months ago. Did you know she had absolutely no idea?"

The others looked at Kagura with surprised interest.

"Really? Well, don't just leave it there, girl. How come? Tell all - don't spare the details!"

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5.

Chihiro Inoue woke yet again in the middle of the night to the sound of her flatmate, Kaorin Aida, huddled on her own futon over on the other side of the room they shared, grinding her teeth and quietly muttering something in her sleep. She leaned on her elbow looking across at her friend in the semi-darkness, listening as one word was repeated over and over - a word she recognised with a sinking feeling.

"Sakaki!"

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END

17 - 20/7/2008.