The shrill, annoying voice of the school bell shrieked a painful call, signaling the end of an uneventful school day. For many of the students, it was a link to the outside world. The loud, obnoxious sound that cut their bonds to their classrooms and let them run free for the rest of the day. Such a sound is unpleasant, however, if one has just managed to fall asleep from the boredom induced by an everyday classroom lecture. This was my case; the bell was worse than my alarm clock at home, as it were a thousand times louder, and the screech it emitted a thousand times more painful to my head.
I yawned and brushed my golden curls back with a sweep of my hand. The classroom was almost empty, save for Amu, who was oh-so-kindly waiting for me, and Yaya, who was shrieking some nonsense about candy, only adding to my already-developing headache.
Amu approached me as I gathered my books and stuffed them sloppily into my bag. "Rima-chan," she said quietly, her soft voice barely audible in comparison to Yaya's deafening howls. "Tadase-kun said that there's a Guardian meeting today."
I sighed in exasperation; I had been hoping to go home and take a nap, but I couldn't skip out on the meeting. So, after managing to calm Yaya down, our trio headed to the Royal Garden.
Tadase was waiting for us, and I was a bit surprised that he was alone. Where was his loyal subject, the Jack? Although I asked myself this, I knew that in no way was Fujisaki Nagihiko our King's "loyal servant." He'd made that perfectly clear upon joining the Guardians, much to Tadase's dismay. But I still wondered why he wasn't there.
"Hi, Amu-chan, Mashiro-san, Yaya-chan," Tadase still addressed me formally, though I wasn't sure why. Maybe, I thought with a spark of hope, he was afraid of me. Probably not, I decided, since I was about as intimidating as a sleepy kitten—or so I had been told by a certain purple-haired idiot, who had still not shown up.
"H-Hi, Tadase-kun," Amu stammered, her face going red. I did a mental eye-roll. I didn't quite understand how Amu could fawn over Tadase. Everything about him, to me at least, screamed "I'm an easy target, come steal my lunch-money."
Tadase smiled, and I tried not to gag as the imaginary sparkles proceeded to swirl around him, and Amu's knees went weak. I really couldn't stand lovesick fools, but such was Amu, my best friend. It was at times like this that I questioned my own sanity.
Yaya's sudden question interrupted my thoughts. "Where's Nagi? Isn't he with you?" She asked this, although it was obvious that the cross-dresser wasn't with Tadase. Yes, I said sarcastically to myself. He's right there. He's just invisible.
Amu shook her head and looked at Yaya. "Nagihiko-kun stayed home sick today. I heard he has a really bad fever." This was news to me, as I hadn't heard anything about it.
"Why does no one tell me these things?" I questioned, and looked up at Amu through my golden bangs, attempting to look irritated.
Amu suddenly looked amused. "Rima," she said, trying not to laugh. "He's in our class. How did you not notice that he wasn't there?" Though I wouldn't admit it, I was wondering the same thing. No wonder the day had been so peaceful and relaxed—Purple-head hadn't been there to make my life a living hell. I felt a little bad for thinking that way, especially because he was home sick.
Before I could stop myself, I tugged on Amu's sleeve. She looked down at me, and I whispered, just loud enough for her to hear, "Is he okay…?"
This seemed to amuse her to no end, and I was fairly certain I knew why. "I'm sure he's fine, Rima-chan," she assured me, "but why are you suddenly so worried about him?" The smirk that played on her lips was evil, and I vaguely thought that she could easily pass for Ikuto's younger sister.
"Rima-tan likes Nagi!!" Yaya's irritating screech startled me, since Amu hadn't returned the courtesy of whispering.
"I don't," I said bluntly, trying to keep a blush from settling on my cheeks. I really didn't like Purple-head; I was simply worried about our duties as the Guardians. If Fujisaki wasn't here, the paperwork was going to pile up…
Amu laughed and shot another devious—and quite Ikuto-like—smirk my way. "Admit it, Rima. You two fight like crazy, and he's always teasing you. It's love."
"Besides!!" Yaya chimed in, much too loudly for anyone's comfort level. "If a boy and a girl tease each other and argue, it means they like each other!!" She then giggled in a way that should be illegal—it was just that obnoxious.
"Alright," I said, and I paused just long enough to make them thing they'd won—that I'd confessed, and then continued by turning to Tadase. "Hotori, I guess Amu-chan doesn't like you after all."
"Huh?!" Amu and Tadase both made shocked sounds, and then while Tadase stood there, motionless, Amu flew into some kind of psychotic chibi rage. "Rima!! What do you mean?! Why did you say that?!" Her face was bright red, from embarrassment as well as lack of air—her quickly spouted questions followed one after another so quickly that I was almost positive she wasn't breathing.
After she calmed down a bit and sucked some air into her oxygen-deprived lungs, I simply stated, "You and Hotori don't tease each other. So that must mean you don't like each other, if what Yaya says is true. Prove me wrong." I was good at playing mind-games, especially with Amu. It was just too easy to fluster her—if you told her that "gullible" was written in the sky, she would undoubtedly look up.
Amu knew she wasn't going to win this round, so she gave up—a wise decision on her part. After being reassured multiple times by Amu, Tadase cleared his throat. "We can't have a real Guardian meeting if we're missing one of our members," he pointed out. "So we'll postpone it until Fujisaki-kun returns to school." Though he put it this way, I was convinced that he was afraid of being the only male, alone in a room with three girls.
Both my parents were too busy to come get me that day, and after countless reassurances that I would be careful, keep my cell phone on, and take all necessary precautions, they had agreed to let me walk home by myself. So after saying goodbye to my friends, I quickly went back to the classroom to retrieve my bag. Nikaidou-sensei was still at his desk, grading papers.
I grabbed my bag and slung it over my shoulder, and was nearly to the door when his voice rang out in the empty classroom. "Mashiro-san."
I stopped and turned to him, observing his messy mop of red hair. "Yes, Sensei?" I was a bit worried that I might've done something wrong, and I only hoped that he hadn't caught me sleeping in class.
Instead of scolding me, he held out a folder with a couple of worksheets inside. When I looked at him questioningly, he smiled. "On your way home, would you please take this to Fujisaki Nagihiko? He's out sick, and it would be best if he didn't fall behind. I stared up at him for a moment; why me? Why, of all people, did he have to pick me to take Purple-head his schoolwork? But I couldn't argue, so I took the folder from him and tucked it securely under my arm.
"Thank you, Mashiro-san," he said, and smiled. I nodded before walking quickly out of the room. I made my way out of the school, trying to remember where Fujisaki lived in the first place.
After wandering around for a few minutes, I finally remembered where it was that I was supposed to be going. Once I had headed in the right direction, the house wasn't hard to find—impossible to miss was more like it. Had Nikaidou told me to take the folder to the Fujisaki house, or the Fujisaki mansion? Either way, I figured out that no matter how you described it—house, mansion, estate—the place was downright huge.
I timidly knocked on the door, and the impact of my tiny fist against the wood hardly made a sound, so I was sure that whoever was inside didn't hear it. Nonetheless, I waited a few moments, and when no one came to the door, I reached up and rang the doorbell. The sound echoed throughout the interior of the building, and several seconds later a tall, slim, beautiful woman answered.
Her dark violet hair was tied back in a neat bun, and she wore a pretty kimono with elegant patterns traced across the fabric. Though she appeared gentle and kind, the air of authority about her was unmistakable, and I bowed respectfully. "Mashiro Rima," I said quietly, introducing myself politely. "I've come to bring Nagihiko his school work…"
"Please, rise." The woman's voice was sweet and elegant, and I straightened up slowly and looked up at her. She smiled and opened the door, leading me inside. "I'll let Nagihiko know you're here." With that, she disappeared up a staircase to my left.
There was no doubt in my mind that the woman was Nagihiko's mother—there was a strong family resemblance. I removed my shoes and set them aside. Clutching the folder to my chest, I stood by the door and waited.
Today, so far, had not been a good day. I would venture as far as to say it was one of my worst. I had woken up that morning feeling downright ill. My head hurt, my throat hurt, basically my entire body hurt. And, to top it all off, I had the worst fever I'd ever experienced in my life. I'd been sick before, but this was a new record.
I'd been feeling a bit under the weather a day or so before, but I didn't like missing school. So I'd decided to tough it out and go anyway. Today was different—I couldn't have gotten out of bed if I'd tried, and I had no plans of trying after the death-threat my mother had put over my head. So basically I was left with nothing to do whatsoever but wallow in my own self-pity.
A knock on my door made me look up from my place among the heavy blankets on my bed. "Who is it?" I tried to call, but the attempt at any sort of speech ended in a fit of coughing.
My mother opened my door and smiled at me. "Nagihiko, you have a visitor," she said, and I sighed. It was, most likely, Hotori with my school work.
"Blonde?" I inquired, though the word burned my throat like a lit match. She nodded and I closed my eyes. "Send them up…"
She nodded and disappeared from the doorway. Several moments later I heard a light staccato of footsteps in the hall, which stopped at my door. I still had not opened my eyes, and I sighed heavily. Directing my scratchy-sounding voice toward the person at my door, I made an effort to speak clearly. "Sorry you have to see me like this," I rasped, each word clawing at my throat. "I really appreciate you bringing—"
I stopped speaking when I heard a small, shocked gasp. The voice sounded familiar, but it definitely wasn't Hotori's. It was too feminine—though some people I knew would definitely argue that Tadase sounded like a girl anyway. Confused, I wondered who else would bother coming out to see me—it had to be one of the Guardians, because only Hotori knew that I was out sick, and I figured that he must've told the others.
All of the other Guardians, the Joker, the Ace, and the Queen, were girls. This explained the feminine voice of the character still standing in my doorway—but it also meant that there was a girl in my room. This shouldn't have bothered me, as I'd had a girl or two over when I was still posing as Nadeshiko. Amu had been one of them. Even having a girl over when I wasn't pretending to be one was not necessarily a bad thing—but it would have been a lot less awkward if I was actually wearing a shirt.
A slight blush crept across my cheeks, but I was fairly sure it wouldn't be visible, as my face was already flushed from the fever. Quickly, I tried to figure out who could be at my door. I would have to be someone in my class, since they were here with my school work—that eliminated Yaya. The Ace chair wasn't even in the same grade as the rest of the Guardians.
Amu was the one that—out of who was left—would be the most likely to come visit. She knew where I lived, for one thing, and we were pretty good friends. But somehow, in the pit of my stomach, I knew it wasn't her. The voice didn't match. The voice that interrupted my thoughts with a quiet, "Nagihiko…?"
I knew that voice. It was familiar, but alien to me, as I'd never heard the person speak—not to me, at least—without yelling. Nor had she ever addressed me by using my first name. We were rivals, or, that's how she viewed out relationship. There was no legitimate reason that she should be standing outside my door. The petite little blonde—the Queen chair of the Guardians.
With a strength that came from adrenaline and disbelief rather than physical wellbeing—which had currently abandoned me—I sat bolt upright in bed. The blankets that had previously lain on top of me fell forward, exposing my bare chest—I didn't notice. I was too busy staring at the girl holding my school work in her hands, who was also staring back at me.
Her eyes widened, and a bright blush flashed across her face. She spun around, turning her back to me and letting out a little squeak of embarrassment. "Put a shirt on!!" she screeched, and I started to laugh.
"Would you be so kind as to toss me one?" I asked, still laughing. "There should be one in the second drawer there," I pointed to a simple chest of drawers near where she was standing, and after a moment's hesitance, she shuffled over to it. After searching for a few seconds, she tossed a plain white t-shirt over her shoulder, still not turning around. I was only glad that I could catch better than she could throw. "Thank you," I said, and pulled the light shirt over my head. "You can turn around now."
She did so, and promptly glared at me. Her big, hazel eyes were narrowed in annoyance, and a trace of the earlier blush still lingered on her cheeks. "Fujisaki's a pervert…" she muttered to herself, just loudly enough for me to hear.
"I am not," I defended myself, amused at her obvious embarrassment. "Most guys don't wear a shirt to sleep in. Besides, Rima, you're the one who walked in—" I cut myself off with a bad coughing fit, which left me dizzy and breathless. I flopped back onto the pillow and closed my eyes, waiting for the vertigo to pass and my breath to return.
"A-are you okay…?" Rima's voice was right next to me now, and it sounded anxious. I managed to nod, and weakly held up one finger, asking for a moment to recover.
Standing beside his bed, I couldn't help worrying. Nagihiko really did look ill; there were dark, bruise-like circles under his eyes, and his face was flushed bright red from the fever. Beads of sweat covered his face and neck, and his breathing was unsteady.
If Amu could see me now, standing at his bedside, like a mother hen, I would never hear the end of it. But I decided that something so trivial didn't really matter at the moment. I was more worried about Nagihiko. I vaguely thought that worrying about him didn't make sense at all; we were rivals. I hated him—it was just that simple. But the sight of him lying there, weak and sick as he was, bothered me a great deal.
I reached out my hand and pressed it gently to his burning forehead, resisting the urge to pull it back immediately. The little bit of physical energy that he'd expended was energy that he didn't have in the first place. I was pretty sure that exhausting himself was what had caused his fever to spike, and I felt a spark of annoyance—for someone that acted so smart all the time, he didn't even know how to rest when he was sick.
Taking my hand away from his forehead, I left the room and—after a moment or so of wandering like a lost child—managed to find the washroom. I found a clean cloth and ran it under some cool water before wringing it out so that it wasn't soaking wet. After retracing my steps so I didn't get lost in the huge house, I was able to find the stairs again.
Upon reentering his room, I found that Nagihiko still hadn't moved an inch. Worried, I approached his bed and looked down at him—his bangs had fallen down into his eyes, and he looked peaceful and calm. It took me a second to realize that he had fallen asleep. I couldn't help the little smile that crossed my lips. He looked so innocent, even though when he was awake, he was anything but. I brushed his deep violet bangs to the side and laid the cool cloth on his forehead to bring down the fever.
I figured that until he woke up, I could work on my homework and get it out of the way. Digging through my unorganized—and to be honest, downright messy—bag, I located the folder and flipped through it, pulling out a math worksheet. After several more minutes of searching, I managed to find a pencil that wasn't broken, and made a mental note to clean out my bag later.
Conveniently, there was a desk in his room, near the window. So I sat down and started wracking my brain, trying to figure out the mess of numbers and symbols on the bothersome piece of paper. Math always bored me to sleep—it was the class I'd dozed off in this afternoon—and homework was no exception. I was on the fourth problem when my eyelids began to feel heavy, and I was just starting the sixth when my head began to nod. I never finished problem seven.
When I woke up, the first thing I noticed was that my room was utterly silent. The only sound I could hear was that of my own breathing, and that was quiet in the first place. My first thought was that Rima had gone home—I had no idea why that thought saddened me, and I figured that my fever was making me delusional.
Upon thinking of the fever, I immediately noticed that I wasn't sweating as much; my body wasn't burning as unbearably hot as it had been earlier. In fact, it had started to cool down, and that feeling compared to the misery of an hour ago was a great relief.
Wondering exactly what it was that was helping to combat the fever's effect on my body, my hand reached up automatically to my forehead, which seemed to be the source of the cool feeling. My fingers met with a cool, damp cloth, and I smiled to myself, wondering who might have put it there.
Lying flat on my back made it too difficult to breathe. I fixed my pillow and laid back at an angle in which I could see around my room, but not so upright that the cloth wouldn't stay in place on my forehead. It was then that I noticed Rima. She hadn't gone home, as I'd thought she had—instead she was lying with her head down on my desk, a pencil clasped in her small fist.
Thinking that she might just be taking a break from her homework, I called out, though the effort of speaking burned my throat. "Rima-chan?" After several seconds with no reply, I found that she'd fallen asleep. I let out a soft laugh and wondered to myself if it had been math homework that she'd been doing—she always found it difficult to stay awake when numbers were involved.
She looked so small and fragile when she was sleeping. Her soft golden curls had settled around her pale face, and I thought to myself that she looked like a resting angel. That was too poetic, even for me, and the irony in the comparison between Rima and an angel made it almost impossible to resist laughing. At least, when she was awake. A better description would've been something like "demon-spawn" or "chibi devil." But the hatred that usually emanated from her tiny body had changed to pure innocence, and now was the one time that I could honestly say that she reminded me of an angel.
I didn't want to wake her up, for fear of reawakening the little fireball that enjoyed nothing more than to hurl insults at me. So I was perfectly content with watching her sleep, although I knew that if she ever found out about it, I'd be labeled a creeper for the rest of my life.
Sadly, the privilege of being in Rima's presence without her yelling at me or trying to inflict some sort of bodily harm was short-lived. The shrill ringing of her cell phone startled the tiny blonde awake, and she clumsily fumbled for the source of the sound.
Finally, after the fourth ring, she flipped the phone open in frustration and held it to her ear. "Hello?" The annoyed inquiry came out as a harsh whisper, and I wondered idly if she was trying to be quiet, so as not to wake me up. Half a second passed before she said, still whispering, "No, Mama. I'm not home." There was suddenly a shout from the phone, and Rima held it away from her ear, waiting for the voice to quiet down. When she was able to speak again, she sounded exasperated. "No, Mama, I'm fine. I'm at my friend's house." I was unable to tell what her mother was saying to her, but her voice was calmer now, reassured of her daughter's safety. "Yes, Mama, I'll call you before I head home," there was a short pause, then, "Okay Mama. I love you, too. Bye…" She flipped the phone shut and sighed in annoyance.
"So I'm your friend now, am I?" I questioned nonchalantly from the bed, and she jumped. It was probably a bad idea to tease her, especially after she'd just woken up, but the opportunity was too good to pass up—especially after all her claims of "hating" me.
Startled by the unexpected question, she spun around and shot a glare at me that made me completely rethink the statement, "if looks could kill…" Although she was fuming, I wasn't intimidated in the least—she made an excited puppy look dangerous. "You were eavesdropping!!" She accused, and I shook my head.
"No, I just happened to be listening in on your private conversations," I said, smirking. This was very amusing to me, and very irritating to her, which made it better for me.
"That's what 'eavesdropping' means!" Rima was not a happy little girl at this moment, and I wondered if I was developing a masochistic streak—because any smart human being would not continue to taunt her. At least, they wouldn't if they valued their lives. I preferred to think of myself as intelligent, but as far as Rima was concerned, I lacked any amount of common sense whatsoever.
"I know that," I replied, the smirk still plastered on my face. "I just like annoying you." It was obvious that I was just playing with her, but she always got overly-annoyed, even when I was just joking around.
She glared, and unlike mine, which were full of humor, he eyes showed nothing but anger. "You're such a jerk, Fujisaki!" she snarled, trying to make her voice sound as angry as her eyes looked, but failing miserably. I doubted that it was possible to make the mewl of a kitten sound like the roar of a lion, but she could try.
"Now, now, Rima-chan," I said, trying to keep the obvious laughter from showing in my voice. "Why do you feel like you have to use my last name? You called me 'Nagihiko' earlier, and besides, we're friends now, remember?" I probably should've just let it go and stopped annoying her while I still had my life, but I was having too much fun. An instant later, I regretted it.
"No!" she shouted, and I flinched. "We're not friends! I can't stand you! I only came over today because Nikaidou asked me to bring your homework! I don't even know why I bothered staying! I hate you!" She stopped and caught her breath, her little shoulders heaving up and down in rage.
The thick silence that followed dragged on for what seemed like an eternity while my face stayed frozen in complete shock. I couldn't explain why my heart suddenly felt like it'd been torn in two—why I felt so… rejected. How many times had Rima said those things to me? I'd become immune to them, or so I'd thought. So why were her harsh words affecting me so strongly now? I wasn't sure. Maybe it was because this time, she had actually said that she hated me—and it hurt. Our relationship had never been what anyone would call "close," but I didn't hate her. And, up until now, I'd managed to find some kind of hope that let me think that—truthfully—her dislike of me wasn't really that strong. But that hope had deserted me now—it just didn't exist anymore. I had always wanted to get along with Rima, but every time I tried to be nice, she ended up getting angry—she got angry with me for everything.
I felt hot tears begin to sting at my eyes, and I swiped at them with the back of my hand, feeling foolish. Boys weren't supposed to cry. But holding it back hurt, and as the small sobs caught in my throat and a few of the tears found their way down my cheeks, I wondered if this was what it felt like to truly be hated.
I hadn't meant to lose my temper like that. Nagihiko hadn't deserved the angry words I'd so easily thrown his way—but I couldn't help it. He always irritated me so much, and no matter what, I felt like I could never win. I hadn't looked up at him yet—I didn't want to. No matter how many insults I used, or how many times I yelled at him, I didn't really hate him. But that was what I had said—and after that, he'd said nothing. Nagihiko was usually able to come up with some kind of retort to the venomous words I threw at him, but this time he had remained silent.
I was secretly afraid that he was angry at me. I knew that I'd gone too far, but my pride didn't want to let me apologize. I wanted to simply run from the room—I was afraid to face him, afraid of what he would say, or what he wouldn't say. What if he hated me now, as I had said I'd hated him?
I decided that not knowing if he would ever forgive me was worse than finding out now. I raised my head, but before I could open my mouth to say anything, Nagihiko started to cough. This was worse than the last spell he'd had earlier that afternoon—he could barely breathe, and his face was flushed, showing that his fever had decided to show itself again.
I was frightened, and I didn't know what to do. I wanted to help him, but I couldn't move. Suddenly the loud, painful coughing ceased and he fell back onto the pillows, his eyes shut.
Forcing my legs to move, I ran over to the bed. He was unconscious, and when I touched his bright red cheek, it was so hot that I thought it might burn my hand. Suddenly everything was crystal clear to me, and the only thing that mattered at that moment was making sure that he would be okay.
I grabbed the cloth I had used earlier, which had fallen from his forehead when he'd started coughing, and ran out of the room. My short legs were unable to carry me as fast as I would've liked, but I was able to find the washroom more quickly than last time, and after about five minutes, I was back in his bedroom.
Standing by his bedside, I began to stroke the newly-dampened cloth over his face and neck, trying to cool him down. It seemed to help a little bit, but not as much as I'd hoped it would. I noticed that, aside from the beads of sweat from the fever, his cheeks were also wet with tears. I felt horrible—I'd upset him to the point that his illness had worsened even more, and I knew that if anything happened to him because of that, I'd never forgive myself. Desperate, I yanked his white t-shirt off, tossed it to the floor, and started running the cool cloth over his shoulders and chest. This produced better results, to my relief, and after a few moments I bolted downstairs to rewet the cloth.
After about twenty minutes of my continuously trying to soothe his overheated body, Nagihiko started to stir—and even then, I didn't let up on my efforts to bring the fever down to a manageable degree.
When I woke up, I did not open my eyes. I didn't remember passing out in the first place, and I was a little bit worried that if I tried to move, I might do it again. So I remained motionless, lying there with my eyes closed, trying to remember what had happened.
A moment later it started to come back to me—my fight with Rima. I tried to block out the details; I knew that if I started thinking about the things she'd said, I would get worked up again. Getting upset the way I had was what had caused me to pass out to begin with. I remembered my fever spiking, and that I'd gone into another coughing fit—the details after that point were fuzzy, and I figured that was because I hadn't been getting much air due to the coughing.
Thinking about this made me realize that, for someone who'd just fainted because of a fever, my body didn't feel very hot. I was a little warm, but I'd expected it to be much worse. The longer I lay there, the more the fever seemed to let up—this was vexing. After a few more seconds, I realized that—like the first time—there was something that seemed to be cooling me down. What was different was that this time, the source of the relief was moving—across my chest, up to my shoulders, across my face and forehead, then back down to my chest, which I now noticed was bare.
This alone was enough to make me open my eyes, and when I looked down, I saw the cloth that had been on my forehead earlier. What caught my attention was the small hand that was moving it across my chest. Startled, I looked up at the petite little blonde who was working so hard to make sure I was alright—but I didn't understand why.
When Rima reached up to wipe the cloth across my face again, she noticed that I was awake—and immediately began to blush. "Um… Your fever got worse… And you passed out… And… Uh…" I was unsure whether she was trying to come up with an excuse for taking off my shirt, or an excuse for taking care of me altogether.
Praying that she didn't bite my head off, I decided to take a risk. Reaching up with one hand, I playfully ruffled her hair and said in a hoarse whisper, "Admit it, Rima-chan. You just wanted to see me shirtless, didn't you?"
As I expected, she forcefully denied my claim, shaking her head while her golden curls bounced around. "No!! That's not it at all! I was just—"
I cut her off, gazing up at her seriously, making the best attempt I could to keep the sadness out of my eyes. "Rima… Why are you taking care of me…?" It made absolutely no sense—after all those things she'd said, after she'd told me that she hated me. Wasn't she contradicting herself by doing this?
She was silent for a moment, her hazel eyes thoughtful as if she couldn't come up with a real answer. She then let out a gusty sigh that I thought was much too big for the little girl it came from. A second later she looked sincerely down at me, and then rested her tiny hand on top of my much larger one. "Because…" She seemed to have an answer, but then she stopped, as it if had escaped her mind. Several more seconds passed, and in that time, she didn't take her hand away from mind. Suddenly she said, in a soft voice, "Because, even if you do get on my nerves, even if sometimes, you annoy me to the point that I think I'll go insane…" she paused for a second and let out another much-too-big sigh before continuing. "I really don't hate you, Nagihiko…" Then she did something that I thought I'd never get to see in my life—Rima, the chibi devil, smiled at me.
The dominant part of my brain decided immediately that this couldn't be happening—that my fever was much higher than I thought and that I must be delusional. Just to check, I looked up at her and widened my brown eyes in an innocent "puppy-dog" look. "Promise?" I asked quietly, hamming it up just a bit—I couldn't help it; I was raised to act.
She rolled her eyes a little, and I resisted the urge to laugh so as not to break my façade. "Promise," she agreed, and smiled again. I smiled back.
"Y'know…" I said hesitantly, deciding that it would be safe to tease her just a little more. I propped myself up on my elbows, bringing my face almost perfectly level with hers—she was just that short. "In the Fujisaki family, we seal a promise with a kiss," I put on a flirtatious smirk, holding back the laughter threatening to tumble out.
Rima's reaction was perfect; she staggered backward, blushing furiously, and exclaimed, "No way! I don't want to catch the plague!" I just fell back onto the pillows, my entire body trembling with laughter while she stood there, blushing like a little tomato.
For the second time, her cell phone rang shrilly from where she had left it on my desk. Shooting a final, red-faced glare at me, she crossed the room to retrieve the device and flipped it open. "Hello, Mama," she said, and I guessed that she'd taken a quick glance at the caller-ID before answering. Several seconds passed before she answered a question that I hadn't been able to hear. "Yes, I'm still here."
Suddenly a look of confusion crossed the little blonde's face. "But why? I don't want to trouble them." The confused look lasted only a few seconds, as her mother explained something to her briefly—it was replaced by a little bit of irritation, but that was hardly noticeable beneath the sudden disappointment that colored her expression. "Oh, you do…? But what about Papa?" Another short pause, then an exasperated sigh from Rima. "I'll ask… Alright, I'll call you back soon…" She snapped the phone shut and flopped down in the chair at my desk, curling into a tight ball and resting her forehead on her knees. I heard her mutter something unintelligible, but it was obvious that she was upset.
"Rima-chan?" I asked, but she didn't look up. "Is something wrong?" It was a stupid question, but I figured the simple inquiry would be the easiest way to interrogate the stubborn girl.
She slowly uncurled herself and looked at me, resting her chin on her knees. "Mama has to work really late tonight… She doesn't want me staying at the house by myself, and Papa's out of town…" She shut her eyes and let out another of those gigantic sighs, and I wondered how in the world she could suck so much air into that tiny body and blow it all out in one big puff. "She wanted to know if I was still at my friend's house—and wanted me to ask if I could spend the night…"
I listened to her, and I was able to sympathize. My mother was busy most of the time, even though she was usually home. I never saw much of my father anyway, but I understood how lonely Rima must feel sometimes. Suddenly Rima flipped open her cell phone and started scrolling through a list of numbers. "What are you doing?" I asked, and she looked up at me.
"I have to find somewhere to stay tonight, so I'm going to call Amu. I've stayed there a few times before—I just hope it's okay on such short notice…" She really sounded worried.
"Rima," I stared at her like she was missing something completely obvious, which she was. The urge to ask her if she was having a blonde moment was hard to resist, but I figured that this wouldn't be the best time.
After staring back at me with a questioning gaze that said, "Why are you looking at me like I'm a total idiot," something seemed to click inside her head. Her eyes widened, and she started blushing again. "N-No! There's n-no way! I'm not spending the n-night here!" She held her hands out in front of her as it trying to fend off an enemy, and I raised an eyebrow.
"And why not?" I asked simply. "My mother wouldn't have a problem with it, we have a guest-room, and it'd be better than trekking all the way to Amu's house. It'd be dark by the time you got there anyway. There's no reason you can't stay here for the night."
I knew what her reply was going to be before it even came out of her mouth. "You're a boy! My mother would throw a fit!" She seemed to be trying her hardest to get out if it, which amused me to no end.
Once again, I stared at her like she was looking for something that was right in front of her. This time, she didn't comprehend, so I rolled my eyes and held out my hand. "Toss me your phone."
"Why?" she inquired, and I sighed. She was so stubborn, it was next to impossible to get her to do anything without some kind of argument.
"Just do it…" After a moment or two of hesitation, she chucked the cell phone in my general direction, but her aim was as terrible as it had been when she'd tossed me my shirt earlier—which I still hadn't put back on. Luckily, I managed to snag the phone before it made an impact with the lamp next to my bed.
"Nice catch…" she mumbled, and I smirked at her.
I flipped open her cell phone and scrolled through the alphabetical list of numbers until I found the one labeled "Mama." I held back a little laugh at that, and then dialed.
The phone rang three times before a woman's voice answered. "What did they say?" It took great willpower to hold back the smart-alecky remark that one was supposed to say "hello" when they answered the phone.
I coughed once and managed to speak clearly despite my sore throat. "Mrs. Mashiro?" I asked in a high, distinctly feminine voice. "This is Fujisaki Nadeshiko, Rima-chan's friend." Rima's jaw dropped and she stared at me from the other side of the room—she never had gotten used to the fact that I could talk and act like a girl if a pleased. "I wanted to let you know that I've talked with my mother, and she has no objections to Rima spending the night with us. I can assure you that she will be perfectly safe here." I let out a little giggle to complete my act, and Rima's eye twitched.
"Thank you so much," her mother said on the other line. "I'm glad that Rima has a few nice girlfriends to turn to. You're sure it's not too much trouble?"
I smiled, and I could imagine the sparkles floating around me as they did when Tadase was trying to get someone to do what he wanted. "Or course not," I assured her, and I could practically feel the relief emanating from her through the phone.
"Thanks again," she said, her voice expressing some of that relief as well as obvious gratitude.
"Anytime," I said, and flipped the phone shut. I looked up at Rima, who was still staring at me as if I'd gone completely insane. "Well, Rima-chan," I said, still speaking in a high pitch. "Looks like you're stuck with me."
"Why are you still in Nadeshiko-mode?" she questioned, and I let out another girly giggle before letting my voice drop several octaves and return to normal.
"I couldn't resist," I said, and started to laugh. She glared at me again, and I wondered if she was mentally scarred for life because of my little performance.
"Have you no shame?" Her voice was full of scorn, but her cheeks were red. I smirked at her. I was enjoying the little game that had developed, and I laughed at the thought that it was unlike for either of us to win.
This was not going to end well. The fact that I was even in Nagihiko's house was unreal to me from the start—like some kind of dream, or rather, nightmare. And now, through some twisted, sick turn of events, I was being forced to stay there for the night. Idly, I wondered what Amu would say if—God forbid—she happened to walk into the room at this very second. I decided that I didn't want to know.
I let out a defeated sigh, and suddenly Nagihiko asked, "How the heck do you do that?"
I blinked, not knowing what he meant. All I had done was sigh. I probably should've been able to come up with some sharp retort, but I was still dumbfounded by the fact that I'd be staying at his house. Besides that, his question had caught me off guard. So the most intelligent response I could come up with was a little, "Huh?"
He rolled his eyes, which made me want to smack him—I thought that if I put enough strength behind it, I might be able to hurt him a little. But he was sick, so I decided I'd save that for the next time he ticked me off. "Those enormous sighs; how do you manage to suck in so much air?"
One more thing about Nagihiko that bugs me: He asks weird questions. But now that he'd brought it up, I realized that I wasn't sure myself. I figured that it was because of yelling at him so much—if someone's constantly shouting, they need a rather large lung capacity. "I guess it's your fault," I accused, keeping my voice innocent. "You're always irking me, so I tend to yell a lot."
"Really?" he asked sarcastically. "I hadn't noticed. I always thought that annoying little voice was all in my head."
I glared. "Are you suddenly schizophrenic?" He shrugged, and I sighed.
"There you go again," he pointed out, and I hoped that he wouldn't make some kind of remark every time I sighed for the rest of my life.
Suddenly something hit me. I quickly glanced out the window, and my heart sank as I saw that there was hardly any daylight left. "Darn it!" I wailed, startling Nagihiko. "I have to go home!"
He blinked in shock. "Rima, I told you that you were staying here! We already talked to your mom, and—"
I didn't let him finish. "You idiot, do you expect me to sleep in my uniform?" I was irritated, and sounded harsher than I'd meant to, but Nagihiko had to be the densest person on the face of the earth. For someone who had lived as a girl for so long, he really didn't understand females at all—it was ironic, but true.
He laughed, and then looked at me. "Rima, we have a lot of girl's clothing here—trust me, I would know. I think we'll be able to find something for you to sleep in." Now I felt stupid. The purple-headed nuisance was always a step ahead of me. "Although," he said, studying me closely, "whatever you wear, it'll probably be a little too big, seeing as you're the size of an average seven-year-old."
"Fujisaki, I swear, if you pass out again, I'm not going to help you." In response to my threat, he only laughed. Trying to come up with an insult, I spat out the first thing that came to mind. "You're sick!"
"That's why I stayed home today, dummy," he said. "Are you having a blonde moment?"
I had no idea how he always managed to come up with a comeback so quickly, but it irked me. "Shut up! That's not what I meant!!"
He just laughed again. "I know that, too." One day, I was going to get him back. All the insults that I'd put up with, every bit of teasing that I'd gone through—someday, that idiot was going to get what he deserved.
A knock on the door startled me and I jumped, letting out a little squeak. I turned around in time to see Nagihiko's bedroom door open, and a little old lady shuffle in. She was carrying a tray with several riceballs, and she smiled at me. Turning her attention to Nagihiko, she crooned, "Young Master, I've brought you and your friend something to eat." I had to hold back a giggle at what she'd called him. "Young Bastard" was more like it, I thought.
"Thank you," Nagihiko smiled gratefully. Trying to be respectful, I bowed and also thanked her. She nodded and shuffled out of the room.
There was a dead silence in the room for a minute or so, and then I burst into a fit of hysterical giggles.
Nagihiko rolled his eyes. "You laugh at weird things," he observed, picking up a riceball from the tray. "Do you really find it that funny?"
I coughed, and the giggles finally stopped—at least enough that I was able to speak. "It was just… Unexpected." Yes, that was a good word for it. Completely unexpected, and quite hilarious. "And yes," another little giggle escaped. "It was very funny."
Nagihiko laughed and pushed the tray of riceballs toward me. I picked one up and realized that I was practically starving. I finished it in record time and picked up a second, and Nagihiko laughed. "Shut up…" I muttered around the riceball. "I hardly had any lunch."
While still watching Rima, I managed to force down one riceball. I wasn't hungry—I hadn't been all day. I just didn't want to eat. So I was content watching the little blonde instead. Despite how fast she ate, she was very dainty about it. After the third riceball, she seemed to be finished, and I laughed, earning a glare from the chibi devil.
Suddenly she looked up at me. "You really should eat more," she advised. "You'll never get better if you don't." This surprised me a little, but I shrugged.
"I'm not hungry," I said slowly, feeling like a little kid whose mother was trying to force him to eat his vegetables. "Really…"
She glared at me, and I automatically picked up another riceball. I figured that I could eat one more, as long as it meant I'd escape bodily harm. Thankfully, Rima seemed satisfied with the second riceball, and didn't try to force me to eat a third, for which I was grateful.
I looked at the clock above my bed, shocked by how late it had gotten already. It was dark out, with only a few stars to accompany the lonely half moon in the sky. I looked back at Rima just in time to see her mouth widen in a huge yawn. "Tired?" I asked, though the yawn had answered the question before it was asked.
She nodded and I pointed to a chest of drawers on the side of the room opposite the one she'd retrieved my shirt from earlier. "You should be able to find something in there." I only hoped that there was something that would fit her.
Rima nodded and began to search through the drawers, occasionally taking something out, and then putting it back. After a little while, she picked something up that was a light cream color. "Maybe this will fit…" she said, mostly to herself. She stood up and padded out of my room.
I was starting to feel better—by now, the fever had completely disappeared and my throat wasn't as sore. I figured I'd take a quick shower before bed.
The cream-colored nightgown I'd found—surprisingly enough—fit me rather well. It was a little too long, coming almost all the way down to my feet, but I figured that if I was careful, I wouldn't trip.
I really was tired; I'd gotten up early to go to school, and it was later now than the time I usually went to bed at home. So I gathered my uniform, folded it neatly and made my way back up the stairs.
Nagihiko was sitting on his bed, brushing out his long, silky violet hair—which was now dripping wet. This guy gave a whole new meaning to the concept of a "two-minute shower." Leaning against the doorframe, I called in a nonchalant voice, "You're supposed to dry your hair before you brush it, stupid." He jumped, which gave me the sweet satisfaction of knowing that I'd startled him.
Rolling his eyes, he toweled off his hair for what I hoped was the second time—if he didn't dry his hair when he got out of the shower, no wonder he'd caught a cold. He'd changed clothes too—a light blue shirt and a pair of gray sweats. I made a mental note that Nagihiko liked casual sleepwear, and laughed.
He proceeded to brush his hair out for the second time, while I watched. "Lucky," I muttered, and he looked up, confused. "You're lucky—your hair is easy to take care of. Not like mine. Do you know how hard it is to get a brush through this mess?" I asked, indicating my mop of golden curls.
Nagihiko laughed. "Maybe you should try straightening it." Suddenly he frowned, as if he didn't like that idea. "You know what? Forget I said that—I like your hair."
I shrugged. "Doesn't matter. I've tried straightening it before anyways—it didn't work. I have demon-spawn hair." This earned another chuckle from him, and I could've sworn he was going to make some kind of remark about "demon-spawn hair for the demon-spawn." But he didn't, which surprised me.
"That color looks good on you," he observed, gesturing toward the nightgown I was wearing. "I'm glad you found something that fit… Sort of." He added the last part as an afterthought, and I rolled my eyes.
I was going to make some kind of smart-alecky comeback, but a huge yawn interrupted me. He smiled and pointed at the wall. "The guest room's right next door to mine," he said, and laughed. "Don't worry," he added, "I don't snore."
I knuckled my eyes like a sleepy child and muttered, "G'night, Nagihiko..." before turning around to leave the room. When he called my name, I turned back around and looked up. "Heh…?"
Nagihiko stood up from his place on the bed and crossed the room to where I was standing. My eyes were half closed, and I was afraid that I was going to fall asleep right there and fall over. My eyes opened fully when Nagihiko wrapped me in a tight hug. My instinct was to try to get away, or to at least smack him. But I couldn't move. So what did I do? I hugged him back. I blamed my being tired and already half-asleep. The hug lasted for a long time—at least two minutes or so. Finally, he whispered, "Goodnight, Rima-chan," and let go.
I must've been more tired that I thought, because I smiled at him and said, "Goodnight, Nagi," before turning and heading to the guest room. I folded up my uniform and laid it neatly at the foot of the bed before crawling under the covers. I snuggled beneath the comforter and laid my head on the soft plush pillow; I was asleep within seconds.
I didn't really know what possessed me to hug Rima like that, but I was glad that I'd done it. It had been worth the risk of a black eye or severe head trauma. She'd actually hugged me back, to start with, rather than just standing there—or worse, trying to beat me half to death. And for the first time in my life—or hers—she'd called me by my nickname. That made me happy; maybe things were changing. Maybe we could go from being bitter rivals to good friends. Maybe. Hopefully. Those were my last thoughts for the night, and I fell asleep smiling.
My first thought when I woke up was in the form of a question: Why is my bed so soft? After blinking several times, I realized that I wasn't even in my room. Then I remembered the day before, and was able to figure out that I was still at Nagihiko's house. I would've said that I was a slow thinker in the mornings—Nagihiko would've said I was a blonde.
I yawned, grabbed my uniform off the bed and headed downstairs to change, hoping that I wouldn't fall down them, as I was still at least half-asleep. I managed to change into my uniform, and by the time I got back upstairs, I was mostly awake. Nagihiko was already up—and he looked much better. "You're not sick anymore?" I asked, walking into his bedroom.
He shook his head, his violet hair flicking back and forth. "I feel a lot better, actually." He smiled then, and I wondered why.
"That's good," and I meant it. Even if he did annoy me, I didn't like seeing him sick. He watched while I packed the homework I'd been doing the day before into a folder, which I then shoved into my bag.
A sudden laugh from behind me made me look over my shoulder. "Rima-chan?" Nagihiko had a fairly-innocent, and altogether-curious look on his face. "Incidentally, was that math homework you were doing yesterday?"
I blinked, and then nodded. "How could you tell?"
I didn't understand the outburst of laughter that followed until he calmed down. Taking a deep breath, he grinned and said, "Because you fell asleep!"
The logic was undeniable—I couldn't stay awake during math to save my life. So I couldn't help but join in his laughter. After a few moments we both managed to catch our breath. I wondered when it had gotten so easy to be around Nagihiko.
"Hey Nagihiko?" I asked, and suddenly he sighed. Why did he look so disappointed all of a sudden? "What's wrong?"
He shook his head. "It's nothing," he said, and smiled—the smile was false.
I looked sincerely up at him. "Tell me." It wasn't a request.
He hesitated for a few seconds, and then looked at me. "Last night, you called me Nagi… But now you've gone back to using my full name…" Something so simple? It didn't make sense to me, but I knew how to fix it.
"Alright then, Nagi," I said, and smiled. He smiled back.
Suddenly he looked down at the nightgown that was still draped over my arm. "By the way, that's yours now." I blinked and looked at him questioningly. "No, really. It fits you well enough, and there's no way it'd fit me." He suddenly laughed and added, "Besides, I really do like guys' clothing better."
I opened my mouth to say something, but my phone beeped from where I'd left it on his desk the day before. Retrieving it, I flipped it open and read the text message from my mother: I'm on my way, be there in five. Love Mom.
Nagihiko looked at me, and I smiled. "Mama's on her way to come get me. Thank you for letting me stay over—I really appreciate it." After a second, I added, "I had fun."
Nagihiko laughed. "I should be thanking you for taking care of me," he said. "I'm a hundred percent better now—if you hadn't shown up, I might've been dead by now." He smirked, and I laughed.
"Alright, then we're even. I took care of you, and you gave me a place to stay."
He held out his hand. "Deal," he said, and I grabbed his hand and shook it.
My phone beeped again, and this time the text message said: I'm waiting out front. Don't forget your school bag!
"That's my mom," I said, and suddenly Nagihiko looked upset.
"Rima," he said quietly. "Does this have to end? Are we going to go back to fighting at school? Constantly arguing like we used to?"
I looked up at him, and he really seemed concerned. "No," I decided firmly, and he smiled.
"Rima?" He asked, and I tilted my head. "Will you come over again sometime?"
It was my turn to smile. I nodded once, and then thought for a second. "I promise," I said, then I stretched up on my toes and pecked him on the lips, sealing the promise between us. I giggled while he stood there dumbstruck, then I waved, ran downstairs, and out to the car where my mother was waiting for me.