A/N: An update after almost a year… I have no excuse. I apologize for the delay. Anyways, this entry has nothing to do with Valentines, being a multi-chapter story. I just got the urge to complete this chapter, which was doable because practically 90% of it is left in tact since May last year.

There are more background characters showing up. I did my best to describe them (through Ichigo's eyes of course), so feel free to dig through your memories or rewatch some episodes to see who they are, lawl. Reminders this is an Ichigo-centric story.

Disclaimer: I don't own K-ON

Thanks to ghikiJ for beta


0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0

Step(2a) Regular Milk

0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0

Third year is quite harsh.

Ichigo never worries much about academic matters but she completely agrees with Eri's thoughts on school work. The amount of research for potential career choices and exam preps is staggering. As the Wakaouji heiress, she has been preparing for the entrance exam for the only university fitting for someone of her status. However, she hears that it is notoriously difficult to get accepted into Todai and she would not have any free time at all this year if she wants to enter that university.

Well, it isn't as if she has any other commitments other than her club. She has no choice but to do everything she can to ensure that she does not bring shame upon her family name. Besides, she can just make the vice president of the Baton Club do most of the work. The younger girl is very obedient, and Ichigo likes that. One stare and she does her bidding, just like that. The auburn-haired girl does not understand what people mean by 'kids these days'. The younger generation is still pretty respectful of their elders, in her opinion.

Now that the club matter is taken care of, she can fully focus on studying to keep her mind occupied. Well, she will certainly miss watching a rather enjoyable anime series about a band formed by a group of high school girls. It is a pity, true, but she decides that her classmates are entertaining enough to make up for this tragic loss.

Class 3-2 is definitely the liveliest one in Sakuragaoka. Ichigo usually stays at her seat and stares off into space without really thinking about anything. The moment she sits down, all the conversations automatically drifts into her ear. That is when her photographic memory kicks in, so she is able to remember every little thing no matter how irrelevant the information is.

For example, Nojima Chika and Matsumoto Mifuyu seem to be more than just best friends. The chirpy brunette with short twin pigtails is another cheery person whose presence Ichigo easily tolerates due to her long-term exposure to girls like Eri and Mika. Mifuyu-san, nicknamed the 'Onee-sama' of the class, complements Chika-san with her serious, responsible attitude, similar to how Nodoka-san balances the randomness of Yui-san.

Anyways, Ichigo is not one to judge people, and the rest of the class doesn't seem to mind or notice either. True, it is something worth pondering about when she is bored, but most of the time she just absorbs gossip like a sponge thanks to Iida Keiko. The short-haired girl is notable for wearing black clips to keep her bangs back from both sides of her face, possibly so they don't get in the way during her basketball matches. Together with Nakajima Nobuyo and Oota Ushio, the three form the best information center.

Through them, Ichigo is able to remember all of her classmates' names and a few trivial facts about all of them, without needing to really talk to any of them either. She likes how this works, that she doesn't need to put effort to get to know these people.

No, Ichigo is not a lazy person. She merely exhausts all her energy in dealing with her friends, the Volleyball Trio. Thanks to Eri and Mika, no one calls her by her last name. The auburn-haired girl used to be uncomfortable with strangers calling her by her first name yet, due to an incident in first-year, she is not against this idea anymore. When she first met Eri, the hyper girl constantly teased her about her last name 'Wakaouji'. It literally means young prince…

She sighs deeply and rubs her temple when she is sure no one is looking. She does not want to reminisce about it. In conclusion to that episode, she snapped and gave them permission to call her by her first name. Because of Eri spreading this little story, classmates call her by her first name and ask her to do the same to them.

Ichigo sighs again. She does not remember how she became with friends those girls, seeing how nerve-grating Eri and Mika are. However, they are very entertaining as well. Really, it is fun to watch Akane get mad and punish the other two.

Speaking of punishments, Ichigo tries to appear as nonchalant as possible when she hears a loud thump behind her. Really, when will thick, dense Tainaka understand that it is detrimental to anger Mio-san? And no matter how amusing it is to listen to them, the black-haired girl should realize that all those punches are not helping the tawny-haired girl's intelligence level.

"Stop putting weird things in my desk!"

"Tch, you're no fun… oh my god what's that on your shoulder?"

"What! Where? What is it?"

"Haha gotcha!"

Thunk.

"OW OW OW!"

Ichigo leans forward so her bangs would obscure the amusement in her eyes. Hmm, Mio-san kicked Tainaka on the shin this time. The black-haired girl appears to calm down after the omnipresent peacemaker's intervention. After Tsumugi-san and Mio-san left the classroom, Tainaka hops away to another group of people standing near the blackboard. Moments later, the tawny-haired girl seems to recover from her injury already, judging from the way she makes exaggerated kicking motions.

The president of the baton club continues to stare. Everyone has their cliques, yet two people seem to weave through the social barriers with extreme ease. Yui-san gets along with everybody just by being herself, hailing laughter and melting people with her bright smiles. The puppy warms up to everyone in such a natural way that Ichigo can't help but accept her presence. If she were another girl, she would have tried patting the brunette's head.

But she is Wakaouji Ichigo, so instead, she simply allows the charming girl to call her 'Ichigo-chan' without sending glares after her.

Tainaka, on the other hand, is definitely not a cute puppy. She is like this really loud yellow parrot that migrates from group to group. Unlike Yui-san who blends in smoothly, Tainaka slices through conversations without any reservations. How rude.

However, no one seems to mind. Combined with her sunny grin and energetic voice, the tawny-haired girl is quite popular amongst her classmates. Her silly antics always bring laughter and even chortles out of unlikely people, such as the quiet Takahashi Fuuko. Also, Tainaka is not embarrassed by any teasing comments. She takes everything in a stride and gets a few laughs out of it herself too.

Perhaps that is the reason she and Mika get along so well. Whenever Tainaka comes over here (which is quite often considering Ichigo sits in front of Mio-san), she would always try to talk to her. The self-esteemed president of baton club always ignores the president of light music club though. Soon after, Tainaka would get distracted by Mika or Eri, much to Ichigo's relief.

Out of all the members of keionbu, the drummer is the one Ichigo learns about the most. It isn't because she wants to know, but it's because her friends talk about the tawny-haired girl a lot. Apparently, Tainaka is a pretty good spotter in volleyball and is a fairly fast runner. Mika persistently asks her to join their team but the headband girl turns down the offer each time with a light laugh.

Ichigo rolls her eyes. Mika should just give up. Then again, Tainaka seems perfect to join the volleyball team. She is the sporty type anyways, always carrying that excessive energy and looking for opportunities to increase the volume of the classroom.

Like now.

Why isn't break time over yet? Wakaouji Ichigo is not in a good mood today. How she despises letting her hair down, but she misplaced her hair ties and she just could not find any spares. Her neck feels strange with the extra weight and her ire is prickled further with all the noise caused by that loud, irritating forehead girl –

"Oi, stop sleeping, Yui! Do you know how hard it is to wake you up? I really don't want to bring actual cakes next time it happens!"

Ichigo's annoyance subsides temporarily as she glances over to the corner. Last time, after class ended, the Light Music Club tried to wake up their guitarist by saying there were cakes. It was amusing to see Yui-san fall for the bait only to drop back to dreamland when there were no delicious delicacies in sight.

"But Ricchan, I'm hungry~" The brunette slumps on her table and grips Tainaka's sleeve.

"Why are you asking me? I don't have food!" The tawny-haired girl half-heartedly tugs at the offending hand.

"Ricchaaaannnnnnnnnnnn~" The neglected puppy rubs her cheek against Tainaka's arm. The headband girl quickly pulls her arm away with an exasperated groan.

"Fine fine, I'll find something."

Ichigo quickly averts her gaze and focuses on the extremely difficult task of untangling her curly hair. She sighs quietly and vows to steal Akane or Eri's hair ties. It shouldn't be that hard. Distract the former with some gossip about Eri and distract the other one with some volleyball facts and it'll be fine.

"What, no croissants today, Ichigo?"

The auburn-haired girl freezes and slowly looks up to find Tainaka standing in front of her with that utterly infuriating grin. The headband girl's words finally register in her brain and Ichigo inwardly thanks years of training to retain a neutral expression.

"Excuse me?"

"Croissants! Ichigo-chan, can I please have one? Please please please?"

Her temple is pounding fiercely. Her hair is a mess and now she has a craving for such snack. Wakaouji Ichigo is not amused.

"Oi, control yourself, Private! Have some restraint!"

"Ricchan is mean!" Yui-san trudges back to her seat with a hurt expression that makes Ichigo feel guilty for some reason. Wait, when did she even get over here?

"Anyways, I take it you don't have any snacks or something then?"

"No," the auburn-haired girl glares at the drummer, hoping she will get the message and leave her alone.

"That's too bad. Oh well. Hey, what's with your hair though, really? What happened to those cute pigtails?"

Ichigo looks down and resumes her task of untangling her tresses, though she isn't quite sure why. Hearing no reply, Tainaka shrugs and walks away.

"Geez, I don't get people with long hair. They look pretty without doing anything to it."

Great. Now she's annoyed, hungry, and confused about whether to steal those hair ties or not. Or kick Tainaka like Mio-san did earlier. The last option sounds quite appealing.

"Does that mean I should let my bangs down? But it'd feel so weird! Ne ne, what do you think, Ricchan? Am I pretty?"

"…what difference would that make?"

"Meanie! Then you let down your bangs!"

"Sure, only if you wear my headband~"

"Leave my forehead alone! Bad Ricchan!"

"Be proud of it, come on!"

"Iyaaaaaaaa~!"

Ichigo fights the urge to go out of the classroom to check that she is indeed in 3-2. They are seniors. This kind of childish behavior is unacceptable.

"We can hear you both down the hallway. Quiet down!"

The auburn-haired girl rubs her temples in relief. Only Mio-san can calm down the Comedy Duo. And the ever-kind Kotobuki heiress offers some cookies to the excited puppy. Good, the noise drops down to a reasonable level. Now she just needs to endure the hunger until lunch break.

She licks her lips and looks over at the corner again. Tsumugi-san is handing out madeleine to her friends. How lucky they are. A small crease forms between Ichigo's eyebrows as her stomach growls. It's all Tainaka's fault. Look at her, chomping on those delicate snacks like they are some cheap cookies. What a waste.

Hmm, Mio-san and Tsumugi-san wear their hair down, don't they? Is it because of what Tainaka said? No, probably not. Yui-san uses those yellow clips and the second-year Nakano-san ties her hair in two pigtails.

Yes, she's just overthinking things.

"Ichigo-chan, would you like some cookies?"

The auburn-haired girl politely nods at the smiling blonde and accepts the offered snack. As she bites into the soft madeleine, she realizes that she actually exchanged words with Tainaka.

So much for her ignore-the-forehead-girl streak.

"I'm glad you finally spoke to Ricchan~"

Ichigo blinks at the Kotobuki heiress.

Wait, she just entered the room, how did she know?

Her affable smile now has a knowing, mysterious quality to it, and there are strange glitters in those blue eyes too. The auburn-haired girl resists the urge to squirm in discomfort.

"A little," she says coolly.

"It's still something, ne?" Tsumugi-san's voice is teasingly mirthful, but her gentle expression tells Ichigo that she is not making fun of her at all. What is her motive then?

Giggling, she holds up the box of madeleine invitingly once more and, after a moment's hesitation, the Wakaouji heiress takes another piece.

Kotobuki Tsumugi is not to be underestimated, the auburn-haired girl decided as she thoughtfully nibbles on the snack.

Yes, if this godly snack truly reflects the blonde's power of insight, then Ichigo must be wary and stay distant –

She keeps her face blank and takes a third cookie from the container.


At last, today is the day Ichigo has been waiting for.

The seniors' graduation trip to Kyoto.

No, she is not giggling in delight. Such unbecoming behavior is for children. She merely has temporal facial muscle contraction, that's all.

Still, out of precaution, she lowers her head and shifts her body so her expression is hidden from the other students. She idly fiddles with her cellphone as they wait for the train to arrive. Once the uncontrollable spasms recede, she glances over at the groups every now and then, nodding to herself in approval at some of the groups she sees. The division of the class dynamics is pretty balanced … for the most part.

"Eri, please tell me you didn't drink Coke for breakfast."

"Hehehehe~I didn't~"

The rational black-haired girl frowns exasperatedly as the brunette continues to blink innocently at her best friend.

Ichigo is very glad she does not have to deal with the Coca Cola addict. She absolutely refuses to be in the same group as the Volleyball Trio for many reasons, one being how obsessed Eri is about Buddhist statues. The Wakaouji heiress does not want to climb countless stairs to visit all the temples and shrines in Kyoto. She also prefers to have a quiet, peaceful time to enjoy the unique atmosphere offered by this ancient city, which definitely can't be realized if she were to be surrounded by the Trio.

So in the end, Eri and Akane formed their group with Chika-san and Mifuyu-san. Ichigo thinks the double-date formation sounds reasonable, and Mifuyu-san would definitely keep the brunette in line when necessary. Mika, on the other hand, joined with Sano Keiko, Kinoshita Shizuka and Chima Shizuru.

Ichigo would have joined Shizuka-san's group if Mika weren't in it already, for the other three girls have calm demeanors that agree with her personality. However, the hyper volleyball star recently became MMO buddies with the ever so cheerful Keiko-san, and the two would not stop discussing about strategies and lots of other terms the auburn-haired girl doesn't understand. She can only hope that Shizuru-san and Shizuka-san have enough patience to deal with HyperMode Mika.

After pocketing her cellphone, Ichigo closes her eyes and begins to reminisce.

With the Volleyball Trio out of the way, what choice did the Baton Club President have left? She really wants to be in Shizuka-san's group because the quiet girl is one of the few people shorter than herself…no, she mustn't think like that. She recalled frowning imperceptibly as she scoured corners of the classroom for groups that have yet to form and almost choked at what she discovered.

She vividly remembers the first thought that flashed in her mind - Oh great, the keionbu is staying together! Why didn't Nodoka-san stay with her puppy? Now Yui-san and that damn parrot will ruin my trip!

Ichigo opens her eyes and frantically searches for the said band members. She is quite wary of those ticking bombs, because she could see that even Tsumugi-san is assimilated by the Comedy Duo's energetic flair. Mio-san is admirably handling them by her lonesome self, but Ichigo knows it won't be long before the others get to her too. Well, they seem to be behaving well so far. They're loud but at least the noise is within acceptable range, considering it's the keionbu.

The arrival of the train interrupts her musing, which she welcomes whole-heartedly as exhilaration bubbles in her chest. She keeps up her neutral façade and walks stiffly towards her designated seat to wait for her group members. Both Sunahara Yoshimi and Sasaki Youko are serene girls (as long as Youko-san's not around Mio-san, that is), and Tachibana Himeko seems to understand people's personal space. Therefore, Ichigo is quite pleased with her choice overall. If everything goes to expectation, this trip should be as undisruptive as she hopes.

"Ichigo-san, where do you want to sit?" Yoshimi-san asks politely as she comes to stand beside the shorter girl.

"Window seat," Ichigo replies immediately.

"Pardon?"

"Window seat."

Ichigo tries not to scowl. What's so unusual about her request? She wants to see the pretty sky and those sparkly rivers and the amazing Fuji-san. She has never ridden on a train before, since a chauffeur usually drives her to places. The Wakaouji heiress is quite excited about this trip mainly because of this, though she fears that her giddy restlessness might be attracting too much attention. In order to tone it down, she must acquire the window seat. Yes, this appears to be the best explanation for her uncharacteristic behavior, instead of that appalling reason about wanting to see certain sights. Really, what was she thinking?

However, before she could move, Youko-san walks past her and sits down at the window seat with an amiable smile. Her eyes sparkle brightly as she mutters something about taking beautiful background photos for editing in the next Akiyama Mio Fanclub issue.

Ichigo twitches.

"You can have my seat if you want," Yoshimi-san is about to stand up from the other window seat but the auburn-haired girl quickly declines.

"Thank you, but it is fine."

She fights down the urge to throw a tantrum like a child and glances between the two remaining seats. She weighs her options carefully using the available knowledge she has. Himeko-san and Yoshimi-san seem to be close friends so they probably want to sit together, leaving her with just one choice.

Ichigo's eyes narrow marginally. Should she just confront Youko-san for the window seat? No, she would get an earful of how amazing Mio-san is…for the entire train ride. She will have to stay low key.

"Well-played. The victory is yours for now."

"…huh?"

The self-esteemed president of the Baton Club feels the much-rumored urge to face-palm. Did she just say that aloud?

"Never mind, it is nothing," she sighs in resignation and meekly takes the aisle seat.

It will be fine though. She will just have claim her spot on their way back. She will occupy her thoughts with the wonderful game of mahjong while the train goes through tunnels.

Out of the corner of her eyes, she notices Nodoka-san playing poker with her group and behind her, Nobuyo-san's group is gossiping as usual. Ichigo takes a deep breath and tunes out her surroundings to enter her gaming mode-

"Ichigo-san, are you texting your boyfriend?"

The auburn-haired girl winces and almost selects the wrong tile. She slowly turns her head and blinks at Youko-san's wide, curious eyes. She strengthens the blankness of her stare, hoping to convey her unspoken message.

"O-oh, you're not, sorry."

Nodding, Ichigo shifts her attention back to the screen. Her glare never fails her. Now, where was she? Oh yes, she was going for Seven Pairs, so hopefully she would be able to draw the desired tile next-

"Girlfriend then?"

Her finger twitches. Glare lv.5 should do the trick this time.

Youko-san covers her mouth in shock. "Harem? I-I didn't expect that from you, Ichigo-san!"

The cellphone drops onto her lap.

What did this infuriating fangirl just say?

"Oh, you're playing mahjong."

Ichigo blocks out Youko-san's profuse apologies and turns to regard Himeko-san, waiting for her groupmate to speak more. The Tachibana heiress merely smiles, "We could play together sometimes."

The auburn-haired girl considers the idea. She could wipe the floor with these online players anytime but truthfully, she has never played in real life. It would be quite interesting, she decides. After she nods silently to accept the offer, she picks up the phone and is dismayed to discover that her battery is almost used up. What else can she do now?

"Fuji-san! It's Fuji-san! Yui, hurry, look!"

Of course it's the parrot. Judging from the crunching sound of plastic bags, consequent exclamations and sharp reprimands from the keionbu's corner, Ichigo quickly deduces the chronology of the events.

Yui-san must have dropped some snack, making them yelp, and the scolding came from Mio-san.

"Ara, Yui-chan, you dropped the candies."

"Oopsie~?"

"Mou, can't you guys stay still?"

Ichigo twirls one of her pigtails in silent elation at guessing correctly. She amazes herself sometimes. Just out of curiosity, she glances over at the window. Mount Fuji is a magnificent to behold indeed, and it would be an even more stunning view if that loud Tainaka can just shush.

She considers asking Mio-san if the drummer has an off-button, but she quickly drops the idea. If there is one, it must be broken already from overuse. The poor bassist must have pondered about this same question long ago since they are childhood friends.

Annoyed, Ichigo glares at the red battery symbol flashing on the screen of her cellphone. Mahjong is the only thing that can help her block that damnable parrot's chatters! She stuffs the accursed electronic into her bag before she chucks it in a fit of rage.

Really, it is improper for an heiress to express her anger so crudely.

"Here, perhaps you'd like to read this?"

Nodding gratefully, she accepts Himeko-san's book and flips through the pages in fascination. It has many tips about mahjong, mostly for advanced players.

"If you'll excuse me for saying this, but you do not look like someone who would enjoy playing this type of game, Ichigo-san."

"Neither do you," the auburn-haired girl instinctively knows her groupmate to be one such expert player.

The kogal's lips curve slightly. "I don't?"

Ichigo quickly goes through her data bank and realizes that she does not have much information on Tachibana Himeko. There are many praises about her, such as her calm personality, her exceptional grades and aptitude for sports, especially softball. However, nothing personal about her is known other than the fact she enjoys reading poetry.

Perhaps this graduation trip can rectify that?

"Well then, we'll just have to find out won't we?"

The subtle challenge in her tone makes Ichigo tilt her head haughtily.

"I look forward to it."


A/N: still short (very short compared to Spectre...)...

Needless to say, the next entry is the Kyoto trip vr. strawberry. (when will that be up?)

Notes on some anime-only background characters:

Sunahara Yoshimi - a quiet girl with short indigo hair, who wears the long skirt. She's the person sitting beside Himeko during the Kyoto trip.

Sasaki Youko - one of Mio fanclub members, usually quiet and gentle. Knows Yui since first year.

Kinoshita Shizuru - petite girl with short sandy brown hair and long bangs that almost covers her left eye. (the girl who went with Mugi to borrow the Rosetta stone)

Matsumoto Mifuyu - a reliable girl with long black hair. (the stage manager for RomeoJuliet play)

Nojima Chika - a cheerful brunette with short twin pigtails.