Winning

All characters are property of ADV Films/AEsir Holdings and their subsidiaries.

The shot rang out and suddenly everything was rushing forward. Trees blurred into masses of brown and green and the only thing in her vision was the track ahead. Red asphalt and white lines stretching out ahead of her as her feet pounded the pavement, her legs pumping like fleshy pistons as she drove herself forward. She felt a grin spread across her face as the wind whipped her hair out behind her like a raven curtain, her brow furrowing in effort and the imminent taste of victory.

'All mah trainin' has been for this moment!' She thought as her breath came in easy, measured gulps, just like she'd practiced. 'I'm gonna do it this time! I'm gonna win this!' She felt sweat trickle down her forehead and spring up on her neck as she kept time in her head, each step a beat. 'One an' two an' one an' two an' one…' Every night after school, she'd spent her free time between homework and dinner training. She'd been taking laps at school when no-one was watching, then running up and down the hill near her home after school was out.

The first turn of the track was coming up, and as she sped around it the inertia of the turn made her head spin but she pushed through it. She internally cheered herself on, knowing that spinning in circles with those weights had definitely helped with her inner-ear problems. Her field of vision was so laser focused that the only thing in her sights was the track ahead. She felt her legs begin to tremble with exhaustion but she reached down inside, knowing this was her one chance to prove herself among her friends and peers. She couldn't be last anymore, not after what she'd gone though, not after the blood and sweat and tears she'd put into her training!

The last turn of the track was in sight and gritting her teeth, she powered on, somehow finding an extra burst of speed. The wind in her ears made her head buzz and her stomach felt like it was doing backflips but she just knew she had this in the bag. The curve defeated, she saw the finish line hanging in the air, held between two faceless people on the sidelines. Her body was stressed to the limit and her lungs burned, her veins pumping acid as she forced herself to keep going. Just this once, just for a moment, she'd get it together and win.

As she saw the line draw closer and closer, her vision started to fade, going hazy around the edges as she gasped in breath. Her head felt thick and hot, but her body pushed on, determined to win even if it meant her death. The tape fell away from waiting hands and as her eyes closed and she felt herself fading from the world, she smiled serenely.

'Ah've done it… I finally won… Ah did it…'

She slowly blinked her eyes open, a cool rag across her face. She lifted her hands and pulled it from her face, squinting against the bright sunlight. She looked around and saw her friends kneeling beside her. The surprisingly young, red-haired high school girl was the first to react.

"Ah! Osaka! You're awake!" Her eyes sparkled momentarily as she clapped her hands. Then she frowned, reaching out to help her sit up, her expression concerned. "Are you feeling alright? You passed out!" The very tall, serious looking girl extended a can of juice to the young girl, who passed it over.

"Y-yeah, ah guess so…" Osaka said, taking the wet rag off of her head to set it in her lap and took the juice, taking a deep drink of it. Suddenly, a horrible thought crossed her mind and she choked on the juice, coughing it up, her friends coming to her aid, the short-haired enthusiastic girl smacking her roughly on her back.

"Don't die on us yet!" She chided as she continued to smack her far longer than necessary.

"Ow, ow, ow, ow! T-tomo!" Osaka cried, wincing with each strike. "T-that's enough!"

"Leave her alone Tomo!" A brown haired girl wearing glasses snapped, giving her a pop on the back of the head

"Are you alright, Osaka?" The serious girl asked as she stood and offered her a hand to help her stand up.

Standing, Ayamu Kasuga, better known as Osaka to her friends, nodded. "Y-yeah, but I just gotta know! I won right? Sakaki, I won the race didn't I?" She asked the tall black haired girl furiously, tears shining in her eyes as she clenched her fists.

A soft smile crossed Sakaki's lips as she nodded. "You did, you did very well." She replied, picking up a folded length of ribbon. "I thought you might want to keep the finish line."

Her eyes sparkling with joy and her heart swelling with victory, the tears fell. Not of frustration, but of sheer bliss as she clutched the ribbon. "Oh, thank you! Ah knew ah could do it!" She jumped up and down on the spot, laughing happily as her happy tears fell. She turned and wrapped her arms around the short red-haired girl, giggling. "Oh Chio-chan, Ah know it must be hard to loose, but you ran well too! Ah'm just so glad Ah could finally win against you!"

Chio Mihama just giggled as well, hugging her back. "I'm so proud of you Osaka, you finally got it together!" The pair split with a grin, and Osaka released her to spin in a circle holding her hard-won prize above her head, laughing as she got dizzy and stumbled off to the side. She regained her balance and grinned to her gathered friends before running off to enjoy her victory.

Running very, very slowly.

The bespectacled girl, Koyomi Mizuhara, adjusted her glasses and coughed into her hand, waiting until Osaka was out of earshot to speak. "So… we don't ever tell her that she passed out before she got to the finish line, right?" The group nodded and turned to walk away in the opposite direction. "Not even you, Tomo." She added sternly.

Tomo waved the comment away, smirking playfully. "Come on, would I really…?"

As one the girls rounded on her. "YES!"

Tomo raised her hands, backing away. "Okay, okay! I won't!"

The four continued walking away from the racetrack, Chio-chan turned to Sakaki, smiling up at her. "Thanks for catching her before she hit the pavement… It'd be kind of hard to explain away a big scrape like that."