It had been a day and a half since Diana had last spoken to Akko. Precisely speaking, it had been thirty-six hours and thirty-four minutes—Diana had been diligent in noting the time at which she had apprehended Akko attempting to steal from the school's pantry yet again. They had exchanged greetings since then, but that hardly counted as a proper conversation. She did the same with teachers. She wanted to talk to Akko.
Diana fiddled with the food on her plate as she gazed across the length of the cafeteria to Akko's table. The energetic girl was shovelling food into her mouth, occasionally stopping to speak animatedly with Lotte and Sucy with her mouth still full. It was shockingly impolite, utterly unbefitting of a student of Luna Nova Academy. So why then did Diana wish so desperately that she were the one Akko was speaking to?
Would it be peculiar if she walked over to Akko's table and struck up a conversation with her? She had no pretext for doing so. It would be rude to interrupt Akko when she was eating and already speaking with her other friends (though it would be nice if she were to do those activities separately). Diana didn't want to make a nuisance of herself, but she didn't want to wait until after classes or, Nine Olde Witches forbid, until tomorrow to talk to Akko...
"She's definitely pining," Hannah said.
"Like an evergreen," Barbara agreed.
Diana's fork scraped against her plate in an ear-grating screech. "Pardon?"
"We were talking about Avery," Hannah said. "She's totally yearning for Amanda."
"It's totally obvious," Barbara said. "The way she's mooning over that delinquent is almost as bad as Hannah."
"Hey! I do no such thing!"
Diana tuned out the sound of her roommate's squabbles to reflect on her own thoughts. She was not pining , nor was she yearning or mooning . That was ridiculous. Admittedly, she was fond of Akko, and her feelings bordered onto that of an infatuation , but whatever she felt for Akko was easily reined in and in no way affected her behaviour. She wasn't some lovesick fool, and she certainly wasn't pouting over not getting to talk to Akko as often as she'd like.
But if that were the case, then why had she been afraid that Hannah and Barbara were talking about her?
Diana pinched the bridge of her nose. She was being foolish. If she wanted Akko's attention, she would simply strike up a conversation with her. There was no point in lingering on those feelings and doing nothing about them.
She quickly finished her lunch and stood up from the table. "If you'll excuse me, girls, I have something I need to attend to." After making a quick detour to put her dirty dishes in their proper place, she made a beeline for the Red Team's table. As she approached, she could hear them talking.
"What do you mean we had homework for Magical Linguistics?" Akko shouted.
"Finnelan said it three times," Sucy said. "Looks like you're going to get detention again."
"Um, you can copy off mine," Lotte offered. "But this is the last time, okay?"
"Lotte! You're a life-saver!" Akko threw her arms around her bespectacled friend.
Diana, only two tables away from them, stopped dead in her tracks. Her heart thudded painfully in her chest, almost jumping out of her throat. Tendrils of envy snaked around her body and squeezed tightly—just the way that Akko's arms never did.
She turned around and went back to her own table, hoping that Akko hadn't seen her aborted walk to her table. Hannah and Barbara seemed surprised that she had returned so soon, but one look at her troubled expression was enough to deter questioning.
In all her life Diana had never met anyone as openly affectionate as Akko. Hannah and Barbara were at times just as brazen, but only with each other. Akko was clingy with everyone. Everyone except Diana, it seemed.
As pitiful as she felt for admitting so, it bothered her. It wasn't as if the two of them weren't friends—Akko had insisted upon it. However, Akko still considered her a rival of sorts. Perhaps that explained the gulf between how she acted toward Diana and how she treated her other friends. Ordinarily Diana disliked those who had no regard for the personal space of others, but now she found herself wanting Akko to invade hers.
Akko could very well hug whomever she liked, but that didn't mean Diana didn't feel left out. She had to mentally berate herself after she caught herself keeping a mental tally of how many times she saw Akko hugging someone who wasn't her. Honestly, she ought to be ashamed of herself. She couldn't ask Akko that she be treated as special among her friends, but she found it agonizing that she was being set apart from the others.
She watched despondently as Akko left the cafeteria with her friends. The object of her affections turned around just inside the door and the two of them made eye contact. Akko flashed one of her adorable, goofy grins and waved. Diana looked away in embarrassment, as if she'd been caught doing something disreputable. By the time she recovered enough to look up again, Akko was gone, and she felt all the worse for it.
That settled it. Diana Cavendish was, indeed, pining.
Just because Diana acknowledged her own feelings and that she was, in fact, yearning for attention from Akko didn't mean she had any idea what to do about it. Would it seem needy of her if she asked Akko to spend more time with her? Would she be bothering her by asking for a hug? After all, surely Akko had a reason for never hugging her. Was it possible that the two of them weren't as close as Diana thought? The idea was unbearable.
Unsure of what to do, Diana limited herself to unproductive pining. She wanted to be closer to Akko, but the prospect of even physically closing the distance between them was daunting. She kept Akko at arm's length, even as she felt the pain of not being at her side as others were. On one occasion when her crush invited her to join them, Diana stiffly made an excuse to be elsewhere and cursed herself the second she was out of the room. Her feelings were making a complete fool out of her, and she didn't know what to do about it.
Diana hid in her room as much as possible, justifying her cowardice by catching up on some extra-curricular reading. After three days she had accumulated a stack of library books which she only dared to return under the cover of night, lest she unexpectedly run into Akko. She slipped over to the library just before curfew and placed the books on the desk where they belonged. When she turned around, she saw the library's only visitor sitting at one of the tables.
"Akko?" Her voice ratcheted up an octave. "What are you doing here so late?"
Akko grinned. "I'm doodling goatees and devil horns on the witches in the textbooks."
Diana blinked. "I'm going to get Professor Finnelan."
"I'm kidding!" Akko yelped. "I was reading this doorstop about magical theory." She slapped the heavy tome. "I didn't understand something in today's assignment. Um, I still don't, but I'm trying!"
"How diligent of you." Diana felt a powerful urge to sit down with Akko and explain the topic in intimate detail, perhaps feigning exhaustion so she would have an excuse to rest her head on Akko's shoulder... Diana came to her senses. "Make sure you return to your dorm room before curfew." She turned to leave the library before her feelings got the better of her.
"Diana!" The shout was followed by the scraping of a chair against the floor.
"Akko, please. We're in a library. Could you keep your voice—" A pair of arms circled Diana's waist and she shrieked from sheer surprise.
"Keep your voice down," Akko murmured against her shoulder. "We're in a library."
Diana should've been offended that Akko of all people was telling her to be quiet, but her brain had stopped working. "Wh-why are you hugging me?"
"You looked sad! You've been moping for days!"
"I have not been 'moping', nor have I ever 'moped.'"
"Nuh-uh! You look miserable like someone stole your Magical History notes." Akko hugged her tighter. "Tell me what's wrong!"
How could Diana possibly verbalize her thoughts under these circumstances? Admitting her feelings, the source of her dismay, could have unpredictable consequences—she didn't know how Akko would receive them, given the distance Diana perceived between them. She settled on the simpler, incomplete truth. "Why haven't you hugged me before now?"
"Eh? Well, I noticed that you aren't really touchy-feely with anyone, not even Hannah and Barbara, and sometimes you get all wigged out when I get really close to you, so I figured you didn't like hugs." Akko paused. "Uh, should I let go?"
"Most certainly not."
"So that's how it is," Akko giggled. "You were jelly because I wasn't giving you any hugs!"
"I—that's not—" Diana was thankful that Akko couldn't see her face from this angle. "We need to return to our respective dorm rooms imminently."
"Awww, somebody's shy!" Akko gave her another squeeze. "Wait, I have to put my book away. Don't leave without me!" She let go of Diana to take care of her business.
Diana smoothed out her unruffled uniform and willed her face to cool down. By the time Akko made it over to her at the library's entrance, she had recovered her composure. "Shall we?"
Akko walked unusually close to Diana as they made their way through the hallways. "Y'know, if you needed a hug, you could've just asked for one."
"I didn't need a hug." True enough; she wanted a hug, which was much more difficult for her to admit.
"Don't be silly. Everybody needs a hug sometimes. If you don't get enough skinship, your body gets depressed. That's science!" Akko reached over and grabbed Diana's hand. "If you need some love, don't hesitate to ask!"
Diana turned away so that her hair would shield her from view. She gave Akko's hand a gentle squeeze. "I'll keep that in mind."