Tai didn't even know when he'd fallen asleep, but he was slowly coming to. He was practically smothering himself by lying face-down into his pillow, his suitcase left in the corner of the room forgotten. Outside the bedroom's window, darkness had fallen and the lights of other apartments shone through it.
If it was so late, did he really need to bother waking up?
He could easily fall back to sleep, but there was something that urged him to pull himself off of the bed and to his feet.
'She said Kari's in… dorm two, I think…' he drowsily recounted to himself in the dark of the room, wondering where the light switch was. 'It's gotta be by the door…'
He found it, as he thought, by the door, pressing it. The light entered his eyes like an unwanted guest or invader, and it took him a few seconds to welcome it. Then he thought of something.
'Did I lock the door?' his thoughts spurned him to groggily leave the room into the dark living area, struggling to find his way to the door, though he eventually got there. 'Let's see… there it is.'
Once again, the light switch was not his best friend, but he adjusted even quicker that time and tested the doorknob. It was locked.
Did Yuri lock it, or was there some sort of mechanism to locking it?
There was a lock under the knob for a key, and he recalled another one on the outside. He quickly grasped the meaning of it – it was an electrical lock, but his key was needed to disable it either side.
But then that was the problem – what key?
Since he was locked inside, he would need to get advice. The phone he'd been given would have one for maintenance, wouldn't it?
It was a slim hope, but he was too tired to think straight. He retrieved the phone from his pocket and turned it on. A message appeared.
You have (2) outstanding messages.
Hoping that it was Yuri telling him how to escape, he pressed 'open', bring the messages to the forefront.
'From Yuri Tachibana,
Hey chibi, just wanted to tell you the key's on the counter. Kinda slipped my mind you'd wanna leave. Whoops :P'
Tai knew better – she probably expected that he'd been awake for however many hours he was asleep, panicking about being locked in his new home. A worthy try, but no, it hadn't worked.
He moved on to the second message.
'From Kari Kamiya,'
Tai stopped reading there. His heart seemed to come to a standstill at the sight of the name.
'Tai, I just heard! Ms Ohno said that you had an accident fighting a bully! I hope you're okay, but since you're coming here, why not come to my place? My friends and I are waiting.
I've missed you.'
Tai felt warm inside at the message, even though she'd been told a lie, but this feeling abated just as quickly as it came – the message was three hours old. 'Oh dear' didn't do justice what he was thinking at that moment.
In a hasty panic, he grabbed the key from the counter, unlocked the door and locked it again outside, shoving the key and phone into his pocket. His first time anywhere near his sister in over a year and he fell asleep?
Shame and disgrace ran through him as quickly as he ran to the elevator, impatiently prodding the call button until it finally came. Rushing inside, he pressed the button for the ground floor and fidgeted until he got to the bottom floor at last, running at his fullest capability through the doors before they were fully open.
Yuri had indicated dorm two during the hurried tour, so he had a fresh memory of the return journey through the streets. But there was also some curfew, and judging by the dark he would say he had missed it. If he was caught before he'd even started he would be in a heap of trouble, so he ran, mindful of his surroundings all the way to dorm two.
Once inside, he headed over to the help desk, a tired-looking woman peering over her magazine at him behind the counter.
'Can I help you?'
'Yeah, I'm looking for my sister, Kari,' Tai said very fast. 'Do you know which room it is?'
'Well, yes, but the curfew has been on for an hour…'
'Please – look it up if you want, my name's Tai.'
At that, she lowered the magazine and looked at him attentively.
'I see – the headmistress said you might come here,' she said. 'Room #417. Don't make a habit out of this, Mr Kamiya. Curfew is important. Tell the small mob of kids up there the same.'
'Oh… I… thanks?' Tai headed off to the elevator, leaving the woman to her magazine. 'When'd I get so popular?'
On the fourth floor, his eyes scanned the plaques: #415, #416 - #417!
Slowly, he knocked on the door, some definite mutterings coming from inside. Scarily, they all stopped at the sound he had made. Either that or they were all whispering.
Then the door opened.
'H-hi…' Tai smiled as best he could at his sister. At least, he thought it was his sister – she had grown and changed in his absence. 'Uh… Kari?'
Before he knew it, she had clamped her arms around him in a tight hug. His knees quaked underneath him. When had she ever been so strong?
'Tai! You're here!' she gleefully shouted, tightening her grip of him. 'You're actually here!'
'N-nice to s-see you too…' Tai squeaked as the air was being squeezed out of him. 'P-please let go… you're breaking my back…'
'Oh!' she recoiled and released him. 'Sorry Tai!'
'No, it's all good,' Tai lied, nursing his aching back. 'When'd you get the strength of a bear anyway, Kari? What happened to the crybaby I knew?' he smiled at her blush, 'C'mon, you know I'm kidding. I've missed you too, Kari.'
'Oh… that's… well, that…' she slowed, he enthusiasm mixed with something else, 'It doesn't matter! You're here!'
'Yeah I – KNOW!' Tai squeaked again like a stress toy as his sister crushed him with her hug. 'KARI, I'M HAPPY TO SEE YOU, BUT PLEASE DON'T BREAK ME IN HALF! I ONLY JUST GOT HERE!'
But this time she didn't release. Tai wondered if he would pass out or die first as a blonde boy came into sight behind her.
'Is this your brother, Kari?' he asked her gently.
'Yes, he's here!' she said into Tai's chest, looking up only to add sourly, 'Finally.'
'I'm sorry!' Tai felt his consciousness fading as though he were in some comedy. 'I was locked in my room – the key wasn't easy to find!'
'Oh, that?' the blonde laughed. 'That's a trick the tour guides play when you annoy them. Let me guess, it was Yuri, right?'
'Yeah…' Tai's spirit almost left him with this one word. 'K-Kari… c-can't… breathe…'
Tai felt foam at his mouth, his head bobbing back lifelessly in his sister's grip. He didn't understand it, but he could almost hear the comical sound of an anime character almost dying. It had always made him laugh, but this wasn't funny.
'Hey, I think he's coming to!'
'Kari, you can't do this. What did we tell you about learning your limits?'
'I-I'm sorry… I was just…'
'We're not mad, Kari. You're too cute to be mad at. Can't make any promises about Kamiya Sr here though…'
'I don't believe it, he's healing already! Look, he's waking up!'
Tai's head pounded with a sudden rush of blood, waking him from what he had feared a wakeless slumber. Colours swam before him, but soon settled on many faces looking down on him. One was Kari's, but the others were a mystery, eyeing him like some museum piece.
'K-Kari…' his throat was dry.
'Don't… don't do that again… if it's about the bear-thing, I'm sorry…'
'Oh, n-no!' his sister's face took on several shades of red in a few short seconds. 'I loved the bear! Really!'
'She goes to bed with it,' a girl with long lavender hair and thick glasses smirked. 'I wondered who finally got lucky, but her own brother… scandalous.'
'No, it's not like that Yolei!'
'Sure it's not,' the girl sung while Tai tried to sit up on the couch he was lying on. 'Sorry about that… Kari's not the gentle type. I think your dad fell to that one first, so don't feel too bad.'
'What?' she smiled. 'Fair warnings are needed for this sort of thing!'
'Ugh…' Tai felt like he had a severe case of seasickness, his head filled with fog and confusion. 'My head's killing me…'
'Your blood is beginning to flow normally again now that you're not being crushed,' a kid with short red hair said. 'I'm amazed, you're dad needed to go to the nurse's office but you're healing all by yourself.'
'Apparently it's what I do,' Tai drawled, hating that his headache wouldn't go away faster. 'So, who're you guys?'
'Yolei,' the lavender-haired girl smiled. 'It's nice to meet you.'
'My name is Izzy. Depending on your class, we might have the same lessons.'
'Same here – name's Matt by the way,' a blonde kid with his arm around a red-haired girl said. 'This is Sora.'
'Thanks for letting me say 'hi', Matt.'
'It's fine. Anyway, it's nice to meet you, Tai.'
'Davis – Yuri said you'll be with us on the soccer team. That right TK?'
'Yeah,' the blonde kid from earlier said. 'I'm Matt's brother, by the way.'
Tai stared around at the faces, feeling the same sense of déjà vu he'd gotten with Megumi and Yuri. But these faces were far easier to place.
'Didn't… didn't I go to summer camp with some of you?'
'Yeah! You remember that?' TK sounded ecstatic at the news. 'Those were great times, weren't they? Too bad that we all came here… I was sad that I couldn't go to the camp anymore, but since we're all here now-'
'All?' Tai definitely remembered two more faces. 'What about Joe and Mimi? You're telling me they're here too?'
'Yeah,' TK's smile slackened a little. 'Joe's always got student council stuff though and Mimi is… well, she's Mimi…' he shrugged, 'Can't say much more than that…'
'When we heard you were coming, we thought of having a big reunion,' Sora told him, looking to Matt sadly. 'But… well, Joe's always busy with something, but Mimi's changed. She came here before me, but she's always been different. She's kinda bossy.'
'I've heard,' Tai adjusted so that he was sat naturally on the couch, nursing his head. 'Wasn't she always a bit of a pain, though? She hated getting dirty and she hated me for that one time I kicked the ball into a tree…'
'Sorry – how does that-?'
'It bounced back and hit her in the face,' he surmised, rousing a chuckle from the boy called Davis.
'Oh – that explains it, then,' Sora said. 'She seemed kinda angry when I asked. Guess I know why.'
'But seriously, I didn't think I'd see any of you – but you're all here?' Tai raised an eyebrow. 'That's nuts.'
'Why question what's right in front of you?' Matt input wisely. 'Think about it, it doesn't really matter now, it's happened. Try and be happy. Kari always said that you looked forward to camp and now we're going to be in school together.'
'I guess,' Tai accepted, his headache easing up slightly. 'I – um… I'm not gonna have Mimi in class, am I?'
'That depends on your class,' Izzy told him. 'Class III, Class II and Class I. Davis and Minori are the only ones in Class I, the rest of us are Class II.'
'Don't tell him,' Davis growled, folding his arms childishly. 'Last thing I need's Kari's brother making fun of me at soccer practice with TK.'
'Why would I do that?'
'Because Davis's fiancée will start asking you what Davis would like for his birthday and stuff like that,' TK snickered.
'You have a fiancée?'
'I…' Davis faltered under Tai's judgemental look. 'I didn't choose her, alright? My mom and dad did! That's all! I'm still a free man!'
'Not according to her,' Matt joined in. 'She asked me to be a witness to your wedding once.'
'When you were asleep,' Matt shrugged. 'I told her I didn't want to see your sty and she left it at that. Besides, she worked out that for it to be legal you need to sign it while you're awake.'
'It's not my fault!' Davis yelled in embarrassment, hurting Tai's ears. 'If I knew what her power was I wouldn't have to avoid her! D'you know what it's like to tell someone who can blow you up you're not interested?'
'Not really,' Matt said, looking elsewhere.
'You should feel my pain! Jun's still doing it to you too, right?'
The blonde flinched, looking as though he had been mortally wounded. His girlfriend, Sora, went on to whisper encouragement to him, telling him it was okay. He'd gone white as a sheet of paper. Poor guy. Tai could see terror in his eyes.
'So – Kari!' Tai looked back to his sister, his happiness mixed with caution of another hug. 'I'm gonna hug you now. Don't try and break my back, okay?'
'Okay,' she nodded glumly, accepting as he wrapped his arms around her. It was baffling and humbling for him to know now that she had gone through a growth spurt. He could tell she was taller, and in a way it made him proud as could be.
But the second he felt pressure, he pulled away, looking at her with a genuine smile.
'I've missed you. Mom and dad never told me about you being here, so… how've you been?'
'Great!' she chirped, sitting next to him. 'I made a lot of friends! They all knew my surname, so they came to me!'
'Really?' he looked around the group, 'Thanks, guys… really, I've been worried since Kari's a dope but-'
'What? I'm not the one who walked into a tree!' Tai chuckled with the others, his sister turning an angry red.
'I was five and you said that trees didn't hurt!' she argued. 'You didn't even say that you were sorry!'
'With what mom did to me, I didn't need to,' Tai shuddered at the memory of that picnic in the park. 'I thought I was toast…'
'Oh, come on Tai…'
'I'm serious!' Tai could tell that the chuckling group of friends didn't buy it. 'It's like she could lift a truck if she wanted! She's way stronger than dad…'
'That's the sort of thing you see in anime,' Matt said. 'Though dad never messed with mom… maybe it's true that women are scary…'
'Excuse me?' Sora, Yolei and Kari all echoed the female argument.
'N-nothing!' Matt yelped, essentially proving his point in defeat. 'Anyway, we've been sat up here for three hours waiting to surprise you. I thought you'd ditched but… getting locked inside is pretty lame, man.'
'Shut up, pretty-boy,' Tai snapped jokingly, remembering the name he'd stuck Matt with at summer camp. 'But yeah, I see what you mean… guess we'd better do this tomorrow now…'
'What are you talking about?' he said. 'Curfew's on, so we have to stay here now. Anyone outside goes to the student council.'
'And that means Mimi,' Sora informed, 'she's the treasurer, so she's the one who handles funding for clubs. Get on her bad side and you'll have to do soccer with water balloons or something.'
Tai didn't doubt it, 'I did break her nose by accident… I wouldn't put it past her, I mean, she kinda got blood on her favourite dress…'
'That might be one reason,' Sora wagged a finger at him, 'I say you should apologise to her. At least then she won't hate you as much.'
'C'mon, it was when I was ten and she was nine – that's six to seven years right there! Nobody holds a grudge that long!'
'Mimi does,' Izzy stated flatly.
Tai deadpanned at the redhead, 'Always a ray of sunshine, aren't you?'
'I haven't changed that much, so why should Mimi?'
'Yeah but Izzy, at camp you could play soccer once we stole your computer!' Tai pointed out. 'Mimi tried but she was bad! I always got the feeling she thought I was bullying her…'
'Well, no offence, but you were kind of a jerk,' Sora said humorously to the group, drawing a laugh at his expense.
'Whatever. So, what're we doing if we can't go outside?'
'You can always call shotgun on the floor,' Davis said to him, smirking. 'Yolei's like a bull – she's ugly and she takes up a lot of space.'
'Hey!' Yolei punched Davis in the arm. 'Not in front of the new guy!'
'Shut up and go back to the council, would you?' Davis groaned, rubbing his arm and glaring. 'You can stalk Ken there and I can have the couch to sleep on. Win-win.'
'Davis, shut up!'
'Fine!' Yolei spat, pulling a phone from her skirt pocket and dialling a number. 'At least I know what building I'm in you jerk!'
'Building you're-?' Davis blanched, 'Wait… no way…'
'What's going on?' Tai looked to his beaming sister, feeling like he had been dropped into the cast of some TV show while Yolei whispered into the receiver. 'Kari? TK? Anybody wanna fill me in?'
'Trust me, it's better to watch,' TK's voice was challenged by silent guffawing at his friend's dismay.
What was going on?
Yolei snapped her phone shut and gave a triumphant look at Davis, who had the likeness of a deer caught in headlights. His disposition, too, changed.
'What've you done?' he demanded weakly.
'Nothing much,' Yolei said, a sharp rapping on the door following. 'But it could maybe be something.'
Tai had no idea what was going on. By the looks of his sister and her friends, tantamount to some devious collusion, he guessed they knew. Kari dutifully went to answer the door, a key entering a lock sounding out with a strange kinship to a death's knell. He could hear Davis making funny panicked noises as the door opened out-of-sight.
'Hi Minori!' Kari sounded gleeful. 'Hm? Oh, Davis is over there.'
'Kari, please don't-!'
Tai couldn't believe his eyes – what looked like a serpentine of thin silver flashed before him, wrapping around Davis's wrist. It was handcuff, linked to a long chain.
'Minori, please don't!'
But Davis's pleas fell on deaf ears as he was pulled along the floor, writhing and struggling against some unseen force. Tai was scared to so much as move while everyone else smiled as though it were the most natural thing they'd ever seen. After closing the door, Kari came back with a warm look on her face.
'W-what was that?' Tai was trembling from the sight – part of him found it funny, but the other part didn't. 'What'd you do?'
'It's his own fault,' Yolei stuck her nose into the air, looking victorious. 'Minori's a friend of mine. Davis should know better than to mess with his fiancée's friend.'
'Yeah… well…' Tai tried to calm himself down from what he had just seen. 'S-so… where has Minori taken him?'
'To her room.'
'Lair,' Matt coughed.
'Dungeon,' TK translated.
'Well of souls,' the Cody kid added emotionlessly.
'Come on guys, she's not that bad.'
'Yolei, she just dragged our friend away with a chain,' Izzy gave her a look. 'How does that make her "not bad"? The denotations of 'kidnap' are still the same, aren't they?'
'Izzy, not now! Davis was making fun of me!'
'So you threw him to the devil herself?' Matt laughed.
'It was a bit of an overreaction,' Sora noted, laughing with her apparent boyfriend.
'Tai, you have to believe me,' Kari said with a snicker, 'Minori makes every day funny. You would like her, I know you would!'
'You both stood up to bullies before coming here!' his sister smiled innocently, something he couldn't manage to reciprocate. 'What's the matter?'
'Oh… I – uh… well, I'm tired. Everything's weird now.'
'You should sleep then,' Kari said gently, pointing at the door to a bedroom in offering, 'do you want to sleep on the bed?'
'No,' he said firmly. 'I'll sleep on the floor if there's a curfew. It's my fault I got locked in my own place anyway. I called Yuri ugly.'
Kari's smile turned into a frown, 'Tai, you shouldn't do that!'
'She kicked me in the knee!' Tai complained. 'And she's started calling me 'chibi' because of it!'
'It pretty much means 'short-stuff',' TK elucidated.
'But Tai's not short…' she cocked her head to the side, seeming genuinely confused.
An odd quirk, but Tai couldn't help but smile at the familiar innocence his sister always showed, regardless of where she was or who she was stood in front.
Tai ruffled her short hair, smirking.
'I think we'll leave it to your imagination, Kari,' he said, amused. 'But for now we'd better get some shut-eye. School's tomorrow, right?'
'Well, it is Monday,' Matt added.
'Didn't ask you, pretty-boy,' Tai snapped back, bringing everyone to laughter. 'Still, we'd best get some shut eye…'