:: Blast into the Past ::
Chapter 2 : Brave



Natsumi is smiles and giggles as she runs through the hallway in the upstairs of her family home. In her hand is Cho; a bean-bag butterfly doll her grandmother had given to her the Christmas before last. Her Sobo (grandmother) had brought it home specifically for her only granddaughter from their last trip to Japan. Natsumi had always loved it - ever since the very first time she had opened it on Christmas morning. She thinks it's because the doll sort of looks like her; short auburn hair and dark, thin eyes. Her skin was light and the stitched smile on the doll was just as wide and sweet as Natsumi's usually was. Also, she had butterfly wings.

The little girl was obsessed with butterflies; ever since Ulrich had taken her out when she was younger and they'd caught a caterpillar and she was able to watch it turn into the most beautiful monarch butterfly she'd ever seen. Her father had named the insect 'Kitten', saying that since he won't let his daughter have an actual feline, this was the closest she would get. Unfortunately, less than a week after Kitten had hatched from his cocoon he started to act lethargic, and Yumi told Natsumi that she had to release her beloved pet back into the wild to save its life.

Shortly after she watched with teary eyes as Kitten flew away, her grandmother had given her Cho, and Natsumi relished in the fact that she didn't ever have to let her favorite dolly go.

She runs past her open bedroom door and stops abruptly; her little socked feet skidding against the polished hard-wood floors of the Stern's upstairs hallway. Sunlight peaks through her pink window blinds and shines directly onto her bed. She runs into her room, Cho gripped tightly in her little hands, and leaps with a running start and kind laughter onto her big, comfy bed with the My Little Pony bedspread. As much as she loves having her very own room now, despite being the happiest three and a half year old on the entire planet when Ulrich and Yumi had presented her with a big girl bed and told her that she wouldn't be sleeping with them in their room anymore,... Natsumi has had a pretty rough time sleeping by herself on most nights.

A year and a half before, a newly four year old Natsumi had been diagnosed with Sleep-Onset Anxiety by her doctor, which was a result of the little girl falling through a thin sheet of ice and nearly drowned in one of her classmates pools at a birthday party. The trauma of the situation was enough to not allow the small child to fall asleep for nearly an entire week before Yumi and Ulrich finally took her in to see a specialist. Though neither parent was happy that their four year old daughter was on sleeping pills - regardless of how much of a low dosage it was - it was still nice to sleep an entire night and not worrying about waking up to a crying daughter, or how easy it was to notice how the dark bags under her eyes started to go away and how rested she looked when they checked in on her and saw her sleeping soundly in the middle of the night.

The pills were all that the young parents had, and they were okay for a month or two, but Ulrich set out to find another method. And eventually, he had.

Ulrich took to the internet to research for another solution. Surprisingly to him, there were forums and chat rooms with other parents who were going through the same thing. Apparently it wasn't that uncommon that such a traumatic experience would jolt a small child into having terrible night terrors and eventually earning no desire to sleep at all. On their first trial run without the pills, everything had started out the same: Ulrich would pour Natsumi a warm glass of milk and help her into her big girl bed,... but instead of giving her the pill to rinse down with the milk, he had told her that instead, he was going to tell her a little story. She was a little worried about it, honestly, since she was just finally comfortable with sleeping with no lights on again. Natsumi was worried that as soon as her father had shut the lights off and left, she would start to see those monsters again and hyperventilate - a lot like she had the day she was falling under the ice.

The little girl pulls up her blanket and lays down flat in the bed. She lightly nibbles at her bottom lip. "Can I pick out the story?"

"I actually already have a story in mind," Ulrich says as he kneels down at Natsumi's bedside. "... And it's not in a book, either. It's all in my head... And, uh... For right now, let's not tell mommy about it, okay?"

The little one furrows her dark eyebrows. "Is there a princess in this story?"

"Mm, not quite. But there are wolves in it? And giant crabs?" Ulrich hums before clicking his tongue. "Oh, wait - unless you count your Aunt Aelita as a princess?"

"I sure do, Daddy, since I know you call Aunt Aelita princess sometimes," She smiles; it kind of makes Ulrich smile, too. Although it was more Odd's nickname for their pink-topped friend, the German father liked to keep up with the tradition. It was one of their better ones. "... And I love wolves, too; Uncle Hiroki says he's going to take me to see them at the zoo the next time he comes to see me! Their like big doggies, Daddy - they're so cute!"

"Yeah, they kind of lose their cuteness when they've got you backed up to the edge of a cliff and you get sick just looking down," Ulrich shudders at the memory of it all. Vertigo has followed him his whole life, but that particular day was one of the worst cases he's ever had - although he might be a little biased about it, being chewed on by a pack of wolves will do that to a guy.

"Alright, well... We'll have to start from the very beginning, it'll never make sense otherwise," Ulrich smiles and licks his lips; aware that this could all take quite a while. His past was a mouthful, that much he was sure of. "It all started when my father; your grandfather, decided I needed better schooling, and he sent me to Kadic Academy. It was.." The young father shrugs, "... Boring. I kept to myself and didn't have any friends. Well, not until Odd transferred and became my roommate. Even then, we hated each other at first..."

"That's the boy whose picture you keep on the piano, daddy? The one with the purple in his hair?"

The German father hesitates; his tongue goes dry and his next breath feels very shallow in his lungs. Ulrich can't help but feel ashamed that his own daughter hardly knows anything about Odd. Because it hurts too much to talk about, Ulrich never really mentions him. And with everything that's been going on with Natsumi, he's hardly even had time to think about his late best friend.

"Yeah, Nats, that's him," Ulrich shoots her a small grin. Ulrich and Yumi have both made other friends throughout their years together; rather it be from High School or around their neighborhood... Yumi goes and enjoys weekly lunches with some of the other mothers with children in Natsumi's class, and Ulrich has been known to come home late after stopping and having a drink or two with some of the guys from work. They still have fun, they still have social lives, but... Other friends have never filled the void. They never have Odd's energy, and they don't have his "knock-out" jokes. They don't have his loyalty, or the way he always knew when one of his friends needed him.

Just hearing Natsumi mention his name makes the German father swear that he can almost hear his late friends full laughter, or smell the... (unique?) way his feet smelt before Ulrich would smack him with a pillow and make him take a shower.

Ulrich grins, his eyes wandering aimlessly in happy remembrance. "... He's going to come up a lot in our bedtime stories."

"Look, I'm not in the office right now, okay? It's Sunday. I'm with my family today," Ulrich grumbles into his cell phone. He lets his head fall back grudgingly against the back of the computer chair in his home office and pinches the bridge of his nose.

"Ulrich, you need to learn how to take some responsibility and how to make tough decisions. I need you to read over your reports today; they're not at all acceptable." It's not the first - definitely not the last - time Ulrich's father has called him on his sons only day off to force him into talking about work.

After dropping out from Kadic Academy in his senior year, Ulrich was forced to move back home with his parents for a little while, which brought about the "opportunity" to work with his father in a family owned business. It was Packaging and Delivering; like an off-brand FedEx or UPS. It was doing very well, though; Ulrich's father had just opened his sixth shop across the country. Ulrich had worked under his father for two years before he moved back to Paris to be with Yumi. Together, they rented a small apartment and Ulrich was working two shotty jobs at once to try and keep their place and their heads afloat.

It wasn't until they were officially engaged did Ulrich go back and ask his father for another job. The only stipulation on Ulrich's part was that it had to be the shop in Paris; he wasn't about to leave Yumi again, and plus, Paris was his home. The biggest stipulation on his father's end, was for Ulrich to be the manager of the Paris shop. Despite the money being better than just good and the title making him feel rather important, Ulrich quickly realized that working under his father's rule was close in comparison to that of a living hell. That's what Ulrich gets, after all, for not being the big soccer star that his father had always wanted him to be.

"I've read over last week's reports - last night, well past my shift, because I knew I was two percent over on payroll and you'd be calling me today to yell about it," The young father gripes. "I know about the problems, okay? I have ideas to fix them and I will call you about them first thing tomorrow morning."

"Blast it, Ulrich, can you please take some responsibility for the opportunity's that I've practically handed to you? I thought that after you had begged me for your job back, you'd at least try to not screw it up this time."

Ulrich bites the inside of his lip and takes a slow, deep breath through his nose. "I am taking responsibility."

"No, if you really wanted to take some responsibility for your lazy actions last week, you'd be in the office fixing it right now. I allowed it when you told me you wanted to quit High School and didn't want to go to college so you could work and earn a living early on, but where are the results, Ulrich? I sure haven't seen any from you yet."

"The results are me being in the same damn office for five years and raising it from fifteen grand a week, to thirty-five. I went over two percent on payroll, dad... I'll just be under two percent this week; it's not that big of a deal," the young man tries to calm himself, but his hands are starting to shake and he's finding it hard to not raise his voice.

"It's all just so simple, isn't it, Ulrich?" The older man hisses. "Well, I'm just glad that your mother isn't here to see her only son be so selfish."

"Can we, just... Can we not do this today?" Ulrich snaps back; slamming a hand against his desk. He hears the ice cubes in his cup of iced tea clash against the cold glass from the clatter. It was his father's go-to effort to make Ulrich upset - to bring up his late mother. For her sake, Ulrich calms himself down. "Look, okay, I was at the office late last night, and while I was away Natsumi had another nightmare... Yumi told me it was bad. S-she said she was crying, so... I just really want to spend today with her and with Yumi."

There's a terrible silence between the father and son that makes Ulrich's stomach turn.

"Fine. You'll be hearing from me tomorrow morning, then," His father grumbles. His voice softens slightly, "Are you taking my granddaughter to the specialist to fix her again?"

"N-no, she's been really good for such a long time, we're hoping last night was just a slip up," Ulrich is a little surprised that his father cared enough to actually ask him about Natsumi. The younger man knows very well that his father loves his only granddaughter; it's just he very seldom vocalizes his concern for her like this. He tries to hold down the disgust, however, about his father's wording and referring to his daughter as being broken. "It's probably just from my long hours. I usually read her to sleep, so I think since I haven't been, she's sort of-"

"Very well. I will call you tomorrow morning, then. No excuses next time."

Just after, Ulrich is hit with the dial tone. It feels much louder than usual, now; like a drum banging against his ear. He doesn't know if it's a glitch in his phone or his furious heartbeat pounding against his rib cage. Either way, he resists the urge to throw his phone against the wall with all of the strength he has, and how he wouldn't begin to deny how satisfying it would feel to imagine the mobile device was his father as it shatters and falls to the floor.

He holds back mainly because he can feel Yumi's presence; standing in the doorway of his home office. She had of course seen the caller ID, earlier, while the couple was still cleaning the dishes in the kitchen just after breakfast. His wife is definitely quite aware of how conversations were to usually turn between her husband and his own stubborn father, so naturally she would have followed not-so-closely up the stairs to make sure things didn't get out of hand. And in Ulrich's defense, they didn't get too bad... Though, Yumi probably would have interrupted if she could have only heard the comment the older father had made about Ulrich's deceased mother.

The German man hears the door to his office creak a little thanks to the rusty old hinges as Yumi pushes it open just far enough so that she can enter the room. She's not very sure she should say anything yet; she's almost sure she already knows how he feels without a word spoken between them. She was too far away to hear what Ulrich's father had said exactly, but with her husband having to explain Natsumi's situation from the night before and suddenly being cut off, she's rightfully assuming that he's sulking because of his father's lack of care in regards to his family.

Ulrich doesn't flinch when Yumi rests her tender hands on either of her husband's shoulders. The fabric of his t-shirt is thin, therefore he can feel the warmth of her touch through it.

"What did he say this time?" She asks; her grip tightening repeatedly on his shoulders for a weak shoulder-rub. She notices immediately how tense his shoulders are, and frowns, watching her husband mindlessly fiddle with his cell phone.

He sighs, finally, leaning back into her touch. "... No one really knows how emotionless and cold my father is quite like I do, but it doesn't make it sting any less to realize time and time again how little he actually cares."

Her grip on his shoulders grow noticeably tighter. She should definitely be used to this by now; Ulrich being let down and disappointed by how little his father shows concern towards him, but she knows how much it effects him, and every time he calls it's just as bad as the time before. It never gets any easier for Ulrich to fathom why his father doesn't seem to like him.

"You don't need him, Ulrich. He's just an income now, okay? If you need comfort from your family, Nats and I are here for you; always. You know that."

Ulrich tips his head back to look up at his wife. He weakly grins, "Thanks. And I know; I do... But Natsumi is almost five and a half now, and he's seen her a total of what - Eight times? That's less than twice a year, she hardly knows him at all,... And the worst part?" The young father tilts his head back down and away from Yumi. He runs calloused fingers down his tired face, "... He only lives four hours away from here! That's not very far for someone to visit their only granddaughter less than twice a year."

"You're right," Yumi nods. One of her hands moves from his shoulder and threads through his dark brown, shaggy hair. She mentally reminds herself to bug him later about how he needs a haircut. "He's never been a good father, or a grandfather,... but if anything, you've learned from his mistakes. There is no part of you that is afraid to show your little girl just how much you care about her. Natsumi knows how much you love her. You're a fantastic father, Ulrich, so if you can take anything from the way you were raised, take that."

He turns slightly in his swivel computer chair to face her; a real smile on his face. "Why do you always try to make me sound so good?"

"Because I like to brag about how great my husband is," She laughs; stepping forward and crawling into his lap. Loose arms wrap around his neck securely, and her legs bend and tuck under Ulrich's thigh. She snuggles her face into the crevice between his neck and shoulder. "You're not your dad, Ulrich. You're a much better person than he is and we don't need him in our family when we've got you."

Ulrich lets his chin rest on top of her head and wraps his arms around her to make sure she doesn't fall from his lap. "I've got everything right here," He says.

"Don't ever forget it, Ulrich Stern," Yumi nuzzles against his neck.

Ulrich closes his eyes and tightens his grip around her. "I never could."

Natsumi lays on her back over the covers on her bed; Cho propped up against her arm. Her chest rises and falls calmly as she starts to doze off for a much needed afternoon nap. She's surprised, however, and sits up to look across the room from her bed to see and hear a sparking coming from the outlet next to her big closet door. She's seen sparks come from the outlets before - just a few weeks ago when Yumi had plugged a new lamp in downstairs; it had done the same thing, and she can even remember her father's remark about how it's just an old house, and things like that happen in old houses.

The big difference, though, is how there is a black smoke pouring out of the outlet, now. Natsumi dips her toes onto the floor curiously to stand up on her feet. She takes a hesitant step forwards, but springs back suddenly when another spark pops out from inside the outlet.

She tells herself, it's just an old house, over and over again as she fearfully crosses her arms tightly against her chest. The black smoke is still pouring out and seems to be forming some sort of shape - like a ghost, almost, with a red weirdly shaped eye forming up at the top of it.

"Mommy!" Natsumi calls when the outlet pops for a third time. She bites her bottom lip, and whimpers, "M-mommy, I need you!"

The smoke makes a strange muffled watery sound. She imagines it's what a monster would sound like, and so that's what this must be. It reminds her of some of the stories her father had told her over the last few months; of a creature who had repeatedly tried to hunt her parents down to hurt them. He had once, probably without meaning to, let it slip what the symbol the monster used usually looked like.

Three circles, the last one having three prongs on the bottom, and one sticking out from the top.

... A lot like the one she was looking at.

"Mommy - there's a monster in my room!" Natsumi calls again when she notices how her previous call for help has brought about no results. She desperately tries to remember the name of the monster that her father had told her about. She takes a deep breath, and hollers as the smoke stops from emitting through the outlet, and starts to levitate like a fog cloud towards her tiny figure. "Momma! I think it's - It's XANA!"

She hears it, then - it sounds like cattle running through the hallway as both Ulrich and Yumi race to their only daughters room; the both of them appearing in the doorway within seconds since, thank god, Ulrich's office and Natsumi's bedroom were so close together.

Ulrich is absolutely horrified to see the blob of darkness floating towards his daughter. He hears Yumi shriek Natsumi's name in panic as she stands beside him; her hands both gripping his upper arm almost painfully. She's shaking, he can feel it, "U-Ulrich,- It's-It's-"

"I know," Ulrich glances back at her for just a second , not missing the terror filling up in her eyes. When he looks back to his little girl she's cornered; back against the wall with her arms sprawled out, fingertips touching the cold light pink walls. And, wow, she's trembling. Tears are streaming down her face and he can hear her little high pitched whimpers as the black fog grows closer to her. The young father grips his fists tight at his side. He repeats, "I know."

He rushes forward, then, twisting past XANA's dark cloud and hooking an arm around his little girl. Ulrich crashes against the window after stopping abruptly and losing his balance for a moment. He hears the blinds bend and crackle against his weight but doesn't look up until he hears Natsumi scream - The fog was so close he could touch it; swears he can almost taste it in his mouth. He knows, however, that XANA can't control him; he's been virtualized before already,... But Natsumi, she was very vulnerable to it, and so he hugs her against his chest a little tighter and grits forward.

Ulrich can't help but think that he'd made his way around the fog a little too easily. In fact, he's already made it back to the doorway with Yumi in just a few seconds - letting his daughter slip into his wife's very eager arms as he slams the tall oak door shut behind him. His hand lingers on the doorknob as he takes several deep breaths and watches as Yumi embraces their daughter like she'd almost just lost her forever.

It's a minute or two later when he finally gets the guts to open the door again to check the room - of course, the black fog is gone. If it weren't for the broken shades against the windows, Ulrich could swear it were never there at all.

Yumi stares out of the bay window from the inside of her home. She's watching Natsumi like a hawk - her little girl is doing cartwheels in the grass outside while she waits for Jeremie and Aelita to finally pull up into their driveway. The young parents were already expecting them to arrive that afternoon, but after the incident in Natsumi's room a few hours ago, Ulrich had called anyway to fill them in on what had happened. Aelita didn't really believe it and insisted that maybe her friends were simply seeing things, while Jeremie - Jeremie just said they would be there soon.

The raven haired woman crosses her arms against her chest; her hands still shaking since their reunion with XANA. It's been twelve years since their last Lyoko call - twelve years since Odd was killed. It's a lot to wrap her head around, and she was already stressing, so when Ulrich walks back into the living room with a cup of coffee in his hand -

She doesn't turn around. "... How did she know who XANA was?"

Ulrich's eyebrows furrow a little and he looks down to his socked feet against the shag carpeting. He knew that this conversation was inevitable the moment Natsumi had calmed herself down and asked Yumi if she needed to go to Lyoko to deactivate a tower.

"It - it may have come up in a few of our bedtime stories," He shrugs and brings an arm up to rub the back of his neck a little anxiously. He sighs into his coffee mug. "... Maybe it came up in -... in most of our bedtime stories?"

Ulrich looks up in time to see Yumi shake her head, and hears her breath out a deep but collected sigh. She doesn't even have to scold him for the young husband to know that there is some serious tension between them right now. He reaches to set his cup of coffee on the end table next to him, and steps forward, to be shoulder-to-shoulder with his wife.

"Yumi, I -"

"No, we agreed,- before Natsumi was even born, that we wouldn't tell her about Lyoko or XANA," Yumi looks at him, finally; anger being very apparent in her forest green eyes. She shakes her head bitterly, "- so, how much does she actually know?"

Ulrich doesn't flinch. "... All of it,"

"Of course she does," She rolls her eyes and takes another quick peek at Natsumi outside. "- I find it awfully convenient that when I was there for the stories, Lyoko didn't come up once."

Ulrich bites his lip, "I didn't want to hide it from you - I was just... afraid of how you'd react?"

"Doesn't that tell you something?!" Yumi yells; a little unbelieving of how dense he could be sometimes. "You found a way to get our daughter off of sleeping pills, Ulrich - and that way was telling her horrifically violent stories about a psychotic computer virus who tried to kill us?"

Yumi's eyes trail away from her husband and she runs an agitated hand through her long dark hair. "- I mean, come on; we ourselves were trying to forget our own past - when we weren't almost freezing to death, we were being chased by bees or birds or running from our possessed teachers! ... How is a five year old girl who already can't sleep at night supposed to deal with knowing that evil is real?"

Ulrich had already been aware that Yumi was going to be extremely angry over this, but what he wasn't expecting were the tears falling from her eyes when she blinked.

"But s-she liked them, and... and they worked, you know they've been working," He tries. It's obvious he's in the wrong here - but he wants some kind of credit; he did get Nats off of the pills.

"Jeez, Ulrich - of course she liked them, she's five years old," She sniffles. "Let's be real, here... You could have made up a stupid story about a princess kissing a frog prince and it would have worked. You didn't need to take this route, and you definitely didn't need to do it behind my back."

Ulrich shakes his head a little worried and looks down briefly before looking back up and into Yumi's eyes, "I'm sorry, Yumi - I didn't mean to make you cry," He brings his hand up to rest against Yumi's cheek; his thumb wiping a tear away for her, "please don't cry, I know I'm an idiot, okay? I'll try my best to - to think more, okay?"

Yumi's glare grows soft and she turns her head away from his touch. "You're not an idiot," she sighs. She can't help but feel like maybe she should have realized what was going on sooner; months ago, even, when Natsumi first started knowing things about Odd and Kiwi and referred to her skateboard as an overboard.

"I'm just - I'm upset, Ulrich - you hid something so important from me and It feels a lot like I've been lied to," She lets her eyes wonder past him; where she notices the blue SUV pull up and into their driveway. She steps back from Ulrich to get a better look, and can't help but smile when she sees Aelita get out from the passenger side of the car and little Natsumi tackling the Lyoko princess with the biggest bear hug her tiny arms can manage.

She can't believe it's been more than a year since she's seen her best friends.

Ulrich turns and is happy to see them, too, but turns back to Yumi after just a moment. "... I'm really sorry, Yumi,"

"I know," She nods to him. She has to look away fast, however, because sometimes his guilty hazel eyes were a little too much for her to refuse. Yumi looks down to her wrist watch and knows that she has to slip away. "But we'll have to talk later, Ulrich - I have an appointment that I just can't cancel."

"An appoin-? For what? You're going back to work?" Ulrich is a little surprised.

Yumi would sometimes tutor Japanese at the Kadic High School, but had quit about a year ago when Natsumi had her accident and Ulrich got a raise at his job. The couple had talked briefly about her maybe going back into it after their daughter had started the first grade, but that was months away; Natsumi was still only halfway through her year of Kindergarten.

She avoids him and jogs to the kitchen for her coat, and shrugs it on, "I might have been thinking about it."

"Yumi-" Ulrich knows that her lack of telling him probably has something to do with the stories.

"Just take care of Natsumi, okay?" She grabs her car keys off from the counter top and strolls past Ulrich in the living room and towards the front door. "I'm going to go say goodbye to her real quick before I go."

Her husband nods and watches in silence while Yumi zips up her jacket. "You'll keep me posted, won't you?"

"Of course," He agrees with no hesitation. He also can't help but notice how she walks past him with no kiss goodbye. When he sees her hand touch the doorknob to the front door, he moves, "Yumi,... I love you."

She peeks back over her shoulder; to give him a small smile. "I love you, too, Ulrich."

She closes the door softly after that and Ulrich looks to watch her retreat as he stares out from the bay window. She kneels down to give her daughter a tight and loving embrace, followed by a couple of quick hugs to both Jeremie and Aelita as well.

On top of having a big fight with Yumi,... Ulrich just can't believe that in less than an hour, he's going to be standing on Lyoko terrain again.

"Okay, Ulrich - you know the drill,"

Ulrich stiffens when he hears Jeremie's voice echo throughout the scanner room. He had been lost in his thoughts for a moment - thinking back to the last time he'd been to the virtual world; just a couple of days before they'd lost Odd forever. It hurts. It hurts a lot - but what hurts worse is turning to see his five year old daughter staring at the scanner up and down with hard, sincere eyes. She's very afraid.

He had argued with Jeremie about finding another way to keep his daughter safe from XANA, but ultimately, he knew what was coming. The only way to keep her out of the evil computer virus' grip was to send her to Lyoko - just once.

"Hey, Nats," He gives her a warm smile; his hand gently gripping her shoulder tenderly. "It's going to be okay."

She turns to face him with wobbly, frightened eyes. "I'm - I'm scared, daddy,"

"I know... And that's normal, I was - I was scared, too," He admits with a half shrug. He remembers - a long time ago, telling William that he wasn't afraid to be virtualized. Odd was the one who had called him out on it. "... But you're going to be okay, Nats," He gives her a little tug from the shoulder; and she giggles, "I'm going to be there to take care of you; the whole time. I promise."

She gives him a pouty nod. "Y-you pinky swear?"

"Of course I do," he grins, holding out his pinky. " - I pinky swear that I won't let you get hurt. Ever."

Natsumi twists her small little pinky finger around his, and after just a moment, she leaps forward to instead wrap her arms tightly around her father's neck. He hugs her back, too, and whispers into her ear, "I'll be there for you, baby girl. The whole time. I promise you."

"... That was lovely, guys, really," Jeremie's amused voice is echoing throughout the scanner room again. Ulrich pulls his daughter away at arm's length, and smiles. "- But I think we should get this show on the road already."

Ulrich winks at his five year old. "You ready?"

The little one nods; hazelnut bangs falling into her face when she does. Her father is quick to brush them behind her ear.

"- You're first, Ulrich. I already have your profile in the system, and besides that, the super computer was never officially turned off so it's possible XANA's monsters are still frittering around." Jeremie says.

"Alright, I'll take the honors," Ulrich stands and steps forward into the very scanner that Natsumi had been afraid of. "Remember, Nats-" He says before the doors close. "-be brave. I love you."

"I love you, Daddy," She watches with wide eyes as the scanner doors slam shut and loud noises fill the room. She covers her ears with her hands and whispers to herself, 'be brave, be brave', - especially when the doors open back up and her father is nowhere to be found.

"Okay, Natsumi - it's your turn now; just step inside and I'll do the rest," Jeremie says calmly over the intercom.

The five year old nods, takes a deep breath and steps inside of the tall golden scanner. She's been known to have slight panic attacks after her incident with the icy pool, and she sort of feels one coming on when the doors slam shut behind her and she becomes very aware that there's no going back after this.

"Be brave," she whispers, "... be brave."




- Chapter 2 -
Completely revamped! ;)