I never thought I'd have to revise a story to this extent. I feel ashamed, but at least the Exeter Project is now significantly improved.
Having decided to purge his filthy room before even dreaming of residing in it last night, Church finally finished doing just that early the next morning. He had targeted all of the mold the atrocious room housed with his concentrated lasers, and by now Church was only willing to fall back onto his sandpaper sheet bed, tired as all hell. He still wore his suit, since he had been up all night attempting to purify his room of all the uncleanliness it housed. Somehow, despite his efforts, the room looked as desolate and dirty as it had before he had began, if not more so. He had recently discovered that termites were chewing their way through his wooden bed-frame, and he had been too tired to deal with them.
All things considered, he was content to sleep in his armor for now, and was just about to doze off peacefully when fate unkindly informed him of another, much less welcome idea.
"Wake up, buttercup!"
Church tumbled out of bed as Chifuyu practically kicked down his rotten door and bellowed at him like a drill sergeant. "It's time for breakfast and it is not optional! Report to the mess hall immediately!"
Church clawed his way back on top of his bed, dazed and confused, yet perfectly capable of voicing his incredulity. "You came up to the one hundred and fortieth floor to tell me that?! It's only 6 A.M.!"
Despite herself, Chifuyu smiled devilishly, though it was slight. She made a show of being strict for someone's own good, but she did honestly enjoy the looks of horror sometimes. "I know, but since you refused to fix that wall like you were supposed to, I'm punishing you like this instead. So get going!"
Church inwardly groaned as he watched the commanding woman leave, and Cerberus felt the need to pipe up in his head. As you humans say, the early bird gets the worm.
Oh my God Cerberus, just shut the fuck up.
Wearily trudging into the 'mess hall', which was actually a very nice cafeteria, Church noticed the presence of a few other early risers. A trio of girls sat at a table on the right, one of them wearing some strange pajamas that reminded him of Pikachu or that one fox Digimon thing (Despite being down here, this girl was in fact sleeping).
Scanning the rest of the room, he spotted a few other people of interest. Dunois and her secret boyfriend Orimura were here as well, though only the blonde seemed to be enjoying herself. Orimura looked like he would have rather been sleeping, just as Church would have. Ignoring the two of them, Church scanned the room with tired eyes, ignoring the many flirtatious or interested looks he was getting from different girls, until he spotted the most dangerous living thing within a hundred miles of his current position.
Bodewig, clearly an early riser herself (Not surprising considering her ex-soldier background), sat at a table on the opposite side of the room all by her lonesome. She was currently leveling a death glare at Church that could have probably incinerated his God damn soul if he remained under her scrutiny for too long. Why she was sitting by herself instead of with Orimura was beyond his concern at the moment, but if he took the time to analyze the situation, Church probably would have noticed that she seemed irritable about the situation between said boy and Charlotte.
Ignorant of any of that, Church quickly looked around the rest of the room for any means of salvation from a painful and grisly death, and he noticed the top of a brown-haired girl's head in one of the booths to his left. Not caring what she might think of it, Church sidled over to the table and sat down across from her, hoping that Bodewig would be less likely to murder him if he had someone else to witness the crime.
Before he even identified the girl he now shared this table with, Church glanced over at Bodewig to see if his plan had worked. Luckily, she didn't seem to be getting ready to slaughter him, but the thoughts he imagined running through her head were quite... disturbing.
"Y'know, when you said you'd see me around, I didn't think you meant this soon."
Recognizing the voice of the one person he actually liked in this school so far., Church turned to face his new breakfast companion. Of course, he was also shocked to see her at all.
"Rinin? Shouldn't you be in the infirmary? There's absolutely no way you've recovered already."
The girl across from him, both her arms and her head wrapped in bandages (or in a sling, in the case of her more severely injured right arm), and covered in healing cuts and bruises, cocked an eyebrow at him. "Oh really? Did you figure that out all by yourself?"
Church frowned at the vitriolic retort. "Hey, I was just worried. Besides, what am I supposed to think? You are out of the infirmary after all, and only a day after nearly dying for crying out loud."
Seeing that she was hardly in the right here, Rinin sighed. "Yeah, you're right... sorry, I'm just... my whole body hurts, and I'm really kinda depressed right now. Guess I was just taking it out on you."
Nodding knowingly, Church tried to mentally recall what level medical technology was currently at. Even so, he couldn't see how it would be possible for Rin's serious injuries to be healed by now. "It's alright, no hard feelings. But back to my first question, why on earth are you out here? You've got a broken right arm, a few broken ribs, some cracked ones, and you're covered in cuts and bruises. On top of all that, you got all these injuries yesterday. Something about all of that doesn't add up."
The Chinese girl nodded and glared at nothing in particular. "Well, I should be in bed, but some experimental numbing agent is being tested on me since I'm so readily available, as Chifuyu-Sensei put it, and the nurses told me to at least come here and get breakfast since I was hurting too much to sleep as it was, provided that I didn't collapse out of pain or anything."
Church looked at his table companion incredulously. "They're using you for a guinea pig while you're in this state? We're talking about bruised and broken bones here, there's no way you should be doing anything other than resting! Seriously: it's only been one fucking day. There is no way this could be good for you. Or even legal for that matter..."
Agreeing completely but unable to do anything about it, Rinin nodded. "Well apparently, Chifuyu-Sensei came by right as I was complaining about the pain, and according to her, if I have enough energy to whine, I have enough energy to get breakfast myself. She also said it would be knocking out two birds with one stone, hence the numbing agent experiment thing. As for whether or not this is legal... who the hell knows?"
"But is it even working? I mean, you are here, but are you actually feeling alright?"
Rinin grimaced as she tried to move her left arm a bit, since it was not immobilized like her right one. Having avoided breaking anything in that arm, unless she could move it, but the severe bruising was painful even with the medication she was on. After reaching it to her plate and back she said, "Well enough, I guess. Relatively speaking I guess it's actually working really well, but I'd still rather not move at all..."
Church noted the full plate of food in front of Rinin, and concluded that her motivation to remain still was pretty intense. "Are you going to eat that?"
Clearly hungry, Rinin eyed the plate the plate of Chinese food tiredly. "Well I'd like to, but it really hurts too much to move..."
Feeling bad for the girl, Church looked around the cafeteria and found no nurses anywhere nearby (Which was appalling, considering such an injured person was here).
He turned back to face Rinin, who was staring longingly at her food, yet unwilling to make the necessary motions to put it into her mouth. Church swallowed before saying something he hadn't ever planned on uttering in his life. Hopefully he didn't come off as a weirdo.
"You know Rinin, if you're really that hungry, and you hurt that much... I could feed your breakfast to you."
Initially flustered by the suggestion, Rin then gave him a peculiar look. "I... don't think that's a good idea..."
Of course, Church knew why she thought so. Besides him being a near complete stranger, this was clearly something she only looked forward to Orimura doing for her. But still, she really needed to eat something after going through all the trouble of being here in such bad shape, so Church decided to change the rules a bit to get her to accept his proposition.
"We can make it an exchange of favors."
"And just what is that supposed to mean?"
Certain that this would work, Church continued with confidence. "You could use my help, and I'd like to learn a little more about your culture. We can trade."
Rinin frowned for a moment, intent on resisting further, but as her stomach grumbled, she quickly relented. "F-fine... but that's all this is: favors! Speaking of which, do you even know how to use chopsticks?"
Smiling, Church gathered up the wooden utensils in his hands. "I do. Years of eating at Panda Express have honed my wicked skills."
Hardly able to keep a straight face with a comment like that, Rinin gave a little bark of derisive laughter. "You can't be serious! That garbage is not Chinese food. I bet if you tried my sweet and sour pork, you'd never go back to that crap quality trash again."
Seeing an opportunity, Church smiled at the girl as charmingly as he could manage. "I don't suppose that's an invitation...?"
Caught off guard by the question at first, Rin eventually smiled back. It almost felt like she was being flirted with, and while she would have preferred it to be Ichika a million times over, she also knew that Ichika would never, ever talk to her like this. He didn't have the wits about him to even know how to flirt really. That being the case, it was a change of pace, even if it was coming from the wrong guy.
"Well, maybe I'll think about it."
Glad to have gotten such a response out of a cute girl, Church's smile widened just a bit. He had not had a meaningful conversation with a girl in a long time, since he had spent so long in training for Exeter. As he poked the chopsticks he wielded with the skills of Mr. Miyagi into the sticky white rice with green leaves wrapped around them, he asked his first curiosity-fueled question. "So what is this particular dish called?"
As hungry as she was, Rinin waited until she had taken her first bite before actually answering. On Church's side of things, he found himself rather struck with the way this girl's lips wrapped around the food he was offering her. He felt a little ashamed for being so easily flustered, but he had been unable to interact with too many women throughout the last few years, so perhaps his resilience would need time to develop...
Either way, Rinin swallowed her food so she could answer the question Church had posed without being entirely rude. "Zongzi. It's made of sticky rice and wrapped in bamboo or reed leaves."
"Do you eat it often?"
"For breakfast, yeah. It's a really common choice in Jiaxing."
Offering her another mouth-full, Church waited until she swallowed again before asking her a more personal question. "Would Jiaxing be your hometown?"
Rinin seemed averse to sharing anything personal at first, but she knew it was a harmless and even normal question to be asked, especially in a school with so much racial diversity.
"Yeah. Jiaxing is in the Zhejiang Province. It's on the eastern coast."
Eager to keep the conversation going lest it come to an awkward standstill, Church wracked his brain for something relevant to the topic. "Hmm... isn't the provincial capital of the Zhejiang Province Hangzhou?"
Cocking a surprised eyebrow at him, Rin actually seemed impressed by this piece of knowledge. "You actually know about provincial capitals? That's pretty impressive: most foreigners don't know anything about them, especially westerners..."
Since it was a roundabout form of praise, Church tried to shrug it off modestly. He had always been very interested in other cultures, especially since the introduction of Infinite Stratos ten years ago had brought the world closer together than ever before.
Seeing that he wasn't going to immediately ask another question, Rin decided to pose one of her own. "Say, why are you down here so early anyway? You look like you haven't slept forever as it is."
Assuming that she was referring to the dark bags under his eyes, Church grumbled to himself mentally. Forever may have been a bit of an exaggeration, but he certainly hadn't slept in over eighteen hours. He certainly hadn't gotten any last night. "What are you talking about? I though breakfast was at six? Though now that you've mentioned it, shouldn't there be way more students here right now if that's true...?"
Rin directed a slightly pitiable look at the boy across from her as she revealed the truth. "Breakfast is at eight, actually. The cafeteria is open even now for students who are early-risers, but officially breakfast is at eight. Who told you it was at six?"
With this piece of news revealed, Church struggled to restrain himself as his grip nearly snapped Rin's chopsticks in two. You mean to tell me that I could have at least slept for two hours? Chifuyu Orimura, you demon...
Before Church could give Rin an answer, and more importantly before he could accidentally break her eating utensils, a shadow passed over the two conversationalists. Both Church and Rinin turned to face the newcomer, who was none other than yet another Representative Candidate.
Church immediately recognized the waist length blonde hair and azure colored eyes that only England's Representative possessed (Besides that, she was the only student around in a full-length dress). The young British 'lady' eyed both of the table's occupants coldly, but said nothing.
After a few moments of silence, Rinin spoke to the girl that had interrupted her breakfast and the conversation she reluctantly admitted to enjoying. "What do you want, Cecilia?"
Alcott humphed disdainfully. "Do I need to want anything? I can stand wherever I please!"
Not at all up to these antics in her current state, Rinin rolled her eyes. "Well could you kindly stand anywhere but there? Your presence is increasing my suffering."
"Shut up, Rin. You're just too ashamed to admit that you're glad I came to rescue you from this pervert!"
Unsure of why he was suddenly the topic of conversation, Church's response was more shock than anything else. "P-pervert?!"
Cecilia jabbed a finger at him accusingly. "Don't think I've forgotten what you did to Rin! Not that I care about her personally, but what you do to one girl you'll do to all of them! Especially to someone as beautiful and attractive as me!"
Both Church and Rinin looked at the self-glorifying blonde in front of them and inwardly sighed. It was much too early in the morning for this kind of thing. Fortunately, another girl, with long dark hair of roughly equal length to Alcott's, grabbed Cecilia by the ear and began to pull her away.
"Leave them alone, Cecilia. If anything you should be glad that she's spending time with someone besides Ichika. One less rival, right? Not that Rin offered much competition in the first place..."
Rin angrily shouted through Cecilia's protests at the girl dragging her away. "What did you say Houki?! Don't think that just because you're tall and well-endowed and a good housekeeper and... all that..."
Rinin sunk down into her seat as she realized how much the odds were stacked against her. She grumbled to herself incoherently as she dwelt on it, letting proverbial storm clouds accumulate over her small frame in droves.
Looking back and forth between the two girls, Church wondered how deep their rivalry over Orimura went. Of course there was no way to know, so he turned back to find Rinin mournfully staring at her breakfast, apparently having lost her appetite in her misery.
Church thought of ways he could comfort her, but most of them would have required awkward comments that may or may not be accepted by the girl as compliments. He decided to settle for the safest thing he could think to say. Hopefully she would just accept his honesty and not think he was trying to make a move on her.
"If it makes you feel any better Rinin, I uh... think that you're more attractive than she is."
Rin didn't even lift her face from the table, but instead replied accusingly. "You liar... men always prefer girls with large boobs. And I can't compete with Houki or Cecilia. Hell, I'm not even in the same league as Charlotte! Son of a bitch..."
Church sighed, wrongly accused of the common stereotype that men only cared about looks. Not that he didn't care, but he still valued personality too. "Well, looks aren't everything you know. Personality is a big part of a successful relationship with someone as well. And besides... although most men do prefer larger... um... 'assets', girls of a different caliber like yourself have a certain appeal as well."
Realizing that this all sounded very awkward, Church blushed as he said that last part, mentally comparing the sizes of the girls he had met so far. Sure, large was nice... but honestly Church would have been happy with any of them, so to hell with preferences. He was surprised that Cerberus had stayed quiet for the duration of the morning, especially considering all of the interaction going on.
Pulling himself away from his own thoughts, Church returned his attention to Rinin, but much to his dismay, she was staring at him judgmentally. Afraid that he had offended her, Church scrambled to find some way to salvage the conversation, when Rinin burst out laughing. At a loss for words, Church said nothing.
"Girls of a different caliber?' That's got to be the most polite way of referring to it that I've ever heard... well I guess it's better than being blunt about it, huh?"
Glad to see that the situation had gone better than expected, Church grinned at her. "Heh, yeah... and hey, look on the bright side: Bodewig's even worse off than you are..."
Rinin laughed again, apparently amused by the notion. She didn't exactly like having her size pointed out (in fact she absolutely hated it), but at least this guy wasn't doing so in a negative light.
As for him, Church found both her laugh and her smile to be rather adorable. "Yeah, I bet if Laura cut her hair shorter, everyone would take her for a guy..."
The two acquaintances shared a laugh at the thought of it, but it was soon cut short by the feeling of a malicious gaze resting on them from afar. Church turned to face the last place he had seen Laura, only to find her a few tables closer, staring at he and his companion with a disturbing amount of menace.
Oh shit, she's closing in!
Rinin seemed to notice the approaching danger as well. "Uh... m-maybe we should leave..."
Church nodded in agreement, and helped his fellow comrade in escaping Bodewig's rapidly approaching doom. They both escaped into the hallway leading to the infirmary, and sped as quickly as possible, considering Rinin's condition, away from an untimely demise.
Upon finally reaching the door to the infirmary, Church left Rinin to sleep her way through the rest of the day. But upon finding that the nurse on duty was absent at the moment, Church had to help the injured girl into her bed as well, careful to avoid bumping her sensitive arms, torso, or practically anything. At least her legs had miraculously escaped serious injury, even if they were all scraped and bruised as well.
Once done with that, Church turned to leave before he outstayed his welcome, but Rinin's voice stopped him short. "Hey, hold on a minute."
Now on at least relatively good terms with the girl and probably beyond the level of complete stranger, Church turned to face her with a smile on his face. "Yeah?"
"You can uh, just call me Rin now. I think our relationship is at a level where that's fine."
Church resisted the urge to put more sarcasm in his words than necessary. "Glad to know I'm on the same level as practically everyone else..."
Not incredibly pleased with his response, Rin rolled her eyes at him. "Well if you're going to act so ungrateful, maybe I should withdraw my next offer while I have the chance."
His curiosity piqued by the mention of a second offer, Church simply cocked an eyebrow at the girl. "And what would that be?"
Clearly dialed in on how eager Church was to hear this, Rin smirked at him. "Since you even dared to compare a fast food chain to real Chinese cuisine, I'm gonna make you that dish I told you about, so you'll know what real Chinese food tastes like and never speak such terrible heresy ever again."
A bit flustered at the thought of a girl cooking for him, even if it was only to prove a point, Church stuttered out his response. "R-really? Thanks... um... when?"
Rin gave him an look of mockery, although the smile it was accompanied with let Church know it was sarcastic. "Well not now, of course. I can barely move on pain medication, much less cook. Give me a week or so. Maybe until Saturday? That's only five days away."
While he truly wondered if Rin's wounds could possibly be healed by then, Church nodded with satisfaction. "I see. Well, I look forward to your masterful culinary work, Chef Rinin. But for now, I think you need to rest. I've never seen anyone look as tired as you do right now."
"I would agree with you, but you look pretty awful yourself."
Knowing that she was probably right about that, Church could only shrug in reply as he watched his conversational partner lean into her pillow and close her eyes, leaving him one final piece of advice before she drifted off to sleep. "Keep an eye out for Laura out there..."
Church didn't know if the petite Chinese girl had meant that as a joke or not, but she had already dozed off, so he couldn't ask her. With no other reason to stay now, he turned to leave the infirmary, but bumped into someone at the exit. Fortunately, the person in question was only two inches shorter than he was, so it couldn't have been Bodewig with a dangerous weapon to maul him with.
Maybe it's the nurse? He thought hopefully.
He raised his eyes to meet the face of a stern Chifuyu. She pushed him back a few feet, and handed him some sort of toolkit.
Church looked at the clunky thing with dismay. "What's this for?"
"That is for the gaping whole in the Academy's gym wall."
Not at all glad to hear that, Church looked up at her. "I thought I got a consolation punishment by waking up at six? After all, breakfast is actually at eight, isn't it?"
"You did, but you seemed to be enjoying yourself with Miss Huang, so I can't really call it punishment, now can I? Anyway, if you don't fix it within a week, I'll inform Bodewig of your location at all times of the day."
"How did you eve know-"
Chifuyu leaned in close and made the eeriest face possible. "I know everything that goes on around here. You can't hide anything from me."
Church decided to say nothing, and merely walked away from the nightmare he knew would haunt him later. As Chifuyu watched him go, she thought of how entertaining it would be to let Laura know about Church anyway. That's what he deserved for shrugging off his duty to fix the wall in the first place.
Minor dialogue shift can sometimes make a huge difference...