A Good Day (Part 1)

Yuuki Rito walked to school with his fingers twiddling behind his back. They were twiddling because he would see her soon and because if he didn't twiddle he'd instead run down street yelling, "I'm a big chicken! Cook me!" His friends would never let him live that down, and in addition would bring up every dumb act he had ever done to top up their lovingly prepared humble pie dish, which they would just as lovingly force-feed down his throat. More importantly, the young woman constantly in his thoughts might think he hadn't matured at all. -I am cool. I am confident. I am calm-, he told himself. In the meanwhile his fingers continued their furious struggle for dominance with no clear winner in sight.

He heard her before he saw her. "Ri...Ri...Risa-chan! We're just friends, we would never do that!", Sairenji Haruna exclaimed to one of her friends. They were about to turn the corner and run into Yuuki. -I will not jump in the bushes- he firmly commanded himself, pinching his thumb, -I will not jump in the bushes, they have thorns- an unpleasant memory, that. In the meanwhile Momioka Risa continued to tease her friend mercilessly, "Ahh, but he's been following you around like a little lost dog. Don't you normally take cute widdle doggies in?" "Oh stop it already. You're the one who dragooned him into helping our club in the first place. Naturally he wouldn't follow you around."

As they turned the corner he saw them. "Speak of the devil! The doggy has come to give you your morning kiss." The tall, light-haired tease pushed Haruna forward. Her pale face surrounded by jet black hair glowed in Rito's mind eye, and now it was turning red as she caught sight of him. Red was a lovely color, too. "Yuu...Yuuki-kun! I was just...she was just...that is Risa was..." "Being her usual self?" he answered with a faint smile. "Yes" she answered, calming down and revealing the gentle expression he loved the most, "I shouldn't let her get to me." Sairenji had always handled teasing by giving the tease the desired reaction, so that he(or this time she) would move on.

Yuuki Rito had his own ways of dealing with Momioka Risa. "Oy Risa-chan, which is it? Am I a devil or am I a dog? Or is it a devil dog?" He had often had fun watching her brow crease in puzzlement as she did now. "Huh?" She answered, for she rarely remembered a word once it left her mouth. Sawada Mio, short with hair kept in opposing tails, laughed: "Give it up, Rito-kun. Risa will never get your jokes" and earned herself a glare from the aforementioned party, who answered "Of course I wouldn't get his random comments. It's creepy!" "That's just it. It's not random, because he's picking at your own words!" "Huh? What did I say?" "Exactly! That's why it's so funny!" "Exactly?! I'll give you exactly you ticklish little imp!" "Eek! Stop!"

Yuuki took Sairenji's hand and walked away from the two giant kindergarteners. "Rito-san?" she asked. He answered, "If they have an audience, we'll be there 'til the bell rings. They'll follow soon, I think." "That is so." -I'm in heaven. My hand didn't freeze to my side, and she didn't pull away. Now this would be just perfect if only my other hand would stop making like a panicked eel- If Haruna saw the panicked eel act, she was too nice to say.
"Oy, Rito! You're supposed to tell her properly before you start holding hands" At this latest jibe she finally remembered to pull her hand away. -Ahhh. 'Twas nice while it lasted though-.

He finally remembered why he had met up with her in the first place: "Oh. Speaking of which, there was something I was planning on telling you. Or to be precise, asking you." Sairenji immediately looked down and mumbled, "I'm sure you'll find someone better soon." All these years Yuuki thought himself a coward for not being able to confess. He recently realized this had been a blessing in disguise. "Focus." he told her. "Oh, sorry, what were you going to ask?" "A clinic I work at needs more volunteers."

"Ummm..." she uncertainly responded. -talk fast now- "Ohit'snothardyoujusthaftamakepatientswelcomeandta ke theirformswhenthey' ' 'dsetthemat easeinnotime...oopssorry." -smooth work motormouth- Rito paused to catch his breath. Fortunately his effort worked anyway. Laughing she answered, "I don't know about doing a better job...I certainly can't beat your enthusiasm." "Don't... try..." he panted, "mixed...results..." Thankfully, they soon stopped at a crosswalk, waiting for the light to change.

Sairenji watched the cars by. "I have to walk Maron, and my sister always has chores for me." -don't talk fast now- "It won't be far... It's at the school... run by Mikado-sensei... won't give you many hours." "Is a regular clinic allowed on school grounds?" she interrupted, surprised. Rito shrugged and answered, "She asked the principal. He said yes." "Oh", she said curtly. "Given how his usual antics are ignored the clinic isn't likely to attract attention." "That is so" -time we get back on topic- "Anyway, I usually let our two dogs run free on the grounds. Samurai keeps Stinker in line, and your Maron won't be a problem. There's even a shed with food and water, if they need it..."

She turned to look at him in astonishment, "That's amazing! As expected of Yuuki-kun." His mind reeled. -what's this, out of the blue?- Words spilled out of his mouth, "What? Oh, nononono. It'sjustthatstinkertearsupthehouseor gardenwhenwe'reawaysoIhadtothinkofsomething. Samurai'shappiernowanyway. Yikesdiditagain." "Do I sign a form?" Haruna asked. -be still, my beating tongue- Rito reprimanded himself and said aloud: "Erm, no, that's not necessary. We'll just stop by the clinic before class and work out a schedule. It won't hurt Momioka-san and Sawada-san to prepare the tennis court for once." This last was spoken loudly.

"No fair you two," Mio told them, "ditching work so you can get married." "Yeah" Risa chimed in, "You're supposed to elope and tell me all about it later... Aw nuts, we missed the light."

Part 2

As expected, Yuuki Rito was accosted upon entering the school by his friends: Monkey, Cheesehead, and Prissy(not what their mothers called them, but Yuuki wasn't anyone's mother). "Oy, Chickenlegs!" they shouted at him, "Whatcha doing here so early? As fast as you are, you can afford to sleep in!" "That's my line!" Rito replied in kind, "You'd sleep in even when you can't afford to!" Without turning his head he whispered to Sairenji: "Go on ahead. I already told Mikado-Sensei you might be coming." She quickly replied, "Later" and hastily made a beeline toward the shoe-rack, keeping a generous distance between herself and the incoming guys. Risa and Mio stayed around to watch. They knew what would soon happen.

The gang immediately settled into a 4-way brawl in which the goal was to butt-slap each other the most times(though none of them actually kept score). A girl passing by whispered(quite loudly) to her friend, "Those guys...are they...you know...?" to which the friend tersely replied, "No, they're just ordinary dumb boys. Walk on."

"Oy guys!" Risa interrupted them with wickedness in her eyes, "Can anyone join in, or are you sexist?" "We're not sexist!" Monkey protested with a dignified voice, puffing his chest, "This is just between us men!" -Did Saruyama commit that irony on purpose?- Yuuki privately wondered. Cheesehead topped Monkey by adding: "Yeah, what he said. And you'd just be a girl and lie and get us sent to the Principal's office." Everyone in the room stared at him in utter astonishment except for a certain impious girl who was on the floor in a fit of helpless laughter.

"Kenji-kun..." Yuuki slowly corrected his friend, "Did you forget that we are in the high school now? We don't have Fujimura-san anymore." "Ah, sorry." the big guy answered, turning red, "They keep telling me at the office that they're the various members of the Disciplinary Squad, and that they don't keep changing the principals every week." "Though perhaps they should...change principals, I mean" Yokohama(Prissy to his friends, given his obsession with his hair) interjected. He was too cool to speak often, so he was often ignored... as he was now. "Dude" Monkey said to Cheesehead. "It's only been a month since school started. What have you been doing?" -Never underestimate a face's ability to change colors- Yuuki thought, as his friend's face turned from red to purple. "It's not my fault!" The big guy protested, "Girl's keep asking me to lift stuff for them, and I keep entering their club rooms when...when it's awkward" he finished awkwardly. Realizing he was only shoving his foot deeper into his mouth, Cheesehead brought up his hands and forced the aforesaid mouth shut. Mio redoubled her attempts to pass out from laughter.

Chickenlegs decided that now would be a good time to rescue his friend. "Speaking of the Disciplinary Committee and failed principals, I'd better check on ours real quick." This produced the reflexive groan from Saruyama. "Not again. Why don't you leave it to them and kick the ball with us? That way we can all do the things we each enjoy." Yuuki answered his friend, "The principal is a morning person, and most of those on the Squad are not." Monkey smiled and suggested, "Why don't you join them, then? An insider would be a great help whenever we're in a jam." "You've just answered your own question. They wouldn't accept someone who associates with suspicious people like you." "We're not suspicious. We are de-i-licious." came the reflexive joke. "Besides..." Yuuki continued, pausing to make sure he wasn't overheard(everyone was watching Momioka, who was busy slapping Sawada back into coherency), "...there's someone I want to protect." Monkey, Cheesehead, and Prissy all nodded in agreement at this. Girls, like ribbing one another, was sacred to men.

The latter met Yuuki's back as he walked away. "Remember to kiss the princess after you've slain the dragon, or your name's Chickenlips." "I think girls like flowers. Try flowers. With honeybees" "Hurry up and get rejected already. It only hurts a lot."

Part 3

Kotegawa Yui was both part of the disciplinary committee and a morning person, and since she also took her job seriously she was in a hallway busy chewing out a pear-shaped balding man(who did not look disheartened in the least), and a sullen second-year girl with short, curly hair who wasn't even looking at Kotegawa. "Not only is your uniform non-regulation," she reprimanded the her, "but the shirt is too tight and the skirt is too short. We have had quite enough trouble with indecent behavior from the boys, and we girls shouldn't encourage them even in the slightest!" "Don't blame me!" the girl protested, "Our class rep insisted that we dress up like this in protest of something. Our entire class and several others are like this." "Tenjouin-san does not own the school" the kouhai retorted. "She could easily if she wanted to" the sempai retorted back. "That has nothing to do with anything" Kotegawa shook her head, causing her long mane of black hair to temporarily defy gravity, "I will speak to her royal highness later." She now turned her flaming eyes toward the middle-aged man, "Principal-sama, how could you allow such a violation of school rules to take place on your watch?!"

His pleasant smile never changed, "My dear student, your dedication to this school is admirable, and I wish more students had your fire, but might we continue this discussion in my office? We would be less...disruptive there." "Very. Well. Let's. Go." Kotegawa's voice said pleasantly. Her face, however, said something different: -When we get there I'm going to set your ears on fire- Her feet immediately set course.

The principal took the opportunity to murmur to the second-year, "Wait 'til I distract her, then go ahead and go to your class." The girl nodded in response, immediately relieved, not minding in the least if the others took each other out. He moved quickly(for his frame) and strode ahead of the DC officer. "This way my dear, it's a slight shortcut." Kotegawa nodded, her expression softening." -Maybe I won't have to scold them so much after all- They quickly turned a corner up some stairs. "My office being on the top floor helps keep me in shape." The older man joked amiably, "That and the fact that I do make my rounds across the entire school. When I first came here I thought to make a difference, too, but experience has taught me that less is more when it comes to leading; so now I just walk around and enjoying the sight of my student's growth, offering the occasional guidance. If my girls were dressing like that to attract boyfriends, then I might need to intervene. But for a protest for one day? I would just become the villain if I tried to stop it."

There was no compromise in the officer's response, "Boys become unruly at the slightest excuse, and there are many ways to protest without being shameless. Asking them to make their voice heard another way is perfectly reasonable." The principal maintained his pleasant tone, "If they were asked, then yes, they would; but no girl I've met likes being told her clothing is indecent, even when she's wearing a thong. If you're not careful you'll turn a day-long event into a month long protest. Just take it easy this one time and see if I'm wrong. It'll all blow over." -It seems like they need a thorough scolding after all- "Youth need the devil constantly beaten out of them," She retorted, "if they are to become proper members of society." For the first time the Principal's amiable expression slipped, becoming sad. "Treat anyone like a criminal long enough, and he'll become a criminal. My former wife taught me that."

Yui had no idea how to respond to this, and remained silent. Then the older man's smile touched his face again, "Oh don't think too much about it. We've all had our ups and downs. I think it helps my students to know that I'm human, too." They went up the rest of the steps swiftly in silence, and by the time they reached the top, Yui was breathing hard. "Good thing my office is so close to the stairs." The Principal noted, and deftly unlocked the door gesturing with his other hand, "Come in and take a seat. Take a minute to catch your breath. Care for some tea?" She shook her head in response, but immediately sat down, only to become startled when she heard the click of the door being locked behind her.

This turned to alarm as Kotegawa noticed for the first time that the other girl was gone. "Where is the other student?" she demanded. He sat down leisurely in his recliner before answering,"Oh, I told her to go on to class. She already knows our opinions on the matter, so there was no point in making her miss her lesson. I expect this meeting will drag on for a bit." The first-year swiftly rose only to find that the door was locked. "Oh sorry, but that door is old fashioned and can only be opened and shut with my key." He patted his pocket. "I firmly believe that private discussions with my students should remain private. Gossip can be quite troublesome, after all." "Open. The. Door." Kotegawa firmly commanded. "But my dear student, we just arrived. Weren't you keen on discussing the protest?" "I'm not your 'dear', and I'll report to the committee first. We can discuss the matter then."

"Really?", the unconcerned Principal leaned back in his chair and set his feet on his desk, "Even so, you may as well sit down. I'm not a reckless young man anymore, and after those stairs a few moments of rest does wonders." She remained standing, and the flames were back in her eyes. "My, my, how scary. How am I to relax with you standing over me with a glower on your face? Come, come; sit down and lighten up a little." He beckoned with his hand, smiling all the while. Yui's face flushed to match the flame in her eyes. She picked up a gaudy paperweight off the desk and started brandishing it. "You...you...pig! This is harassment! I'll report you to the authorities! Release me at once!"

The principal's smile grew just a bit wider, and turned his laptop around so that Kotegawa could see herself. She recoiled at her own angry visage. He continued, "I make it a point now not to be alone with a student, especially a female one, without a camera as a witness." He clicked something, and Yui saw a replay of herself threatening a very harmless-looking older man with a heavy blunt object, and wondered if she had somehow swallowed the object, given the weight she now felt in her gut. The weight increased with his next words: "I know why you weren't accepted into your school of choice. I believe the students also know what happened in your previous school. They have their own ways of fact-finding, and you've really been in the spotlight lately due to your...energy. Now please sit down. Your dedication is admirable, but we really need to discuss how to use that energy more wisely."

"I...I haven't done anything wrong!" Yui protested, not meeting his gaze. "That doesn't matter, as far as public opinion is concerned" the principal answered. He dropped his smile long enough to sigh. "I was once a firebrand myself, wanting to make a difference, respected by the community and my students. One scandal later, and it vanished like smoke." She continued to protest: "That was your doing! I... never..." "You're naive" he calmly interrupted. "You can look it up yourself. The news eventually admitted I was innocent, after they had already profited from it. If even adults love to gossip, true or not, do you think that girl you scolded just now will restrain herself from telling everyone that you're alone with me in my office right now?" "But...but...ridiculous!" "Of course it's ridiculous, that's why it's fun...if you're not the victim. We will be talked about even though everyone knows it's ridiculous. Of course, if I came out with a bump on my head and you with your clothes in disarray, perhaps even torn, then that will make the gossip all the more delicious for them." Kotegawa's insides went cold. "You wouldn't dare." She fixed his eyes in her stare. "Naturally I wouldn't", the principal easily said, "but if you had started attacking me with that admittedly silly looking desk ornament, and I tried to defend myself, who knows what would've happened." "That's ridiculous." "So you say, but you still haven't returned the object to my desk."

She stared at him suspiciously for a moment, but he was still sitting there, relaxed, so she placed the paperweight back down. The Principal continued, "well, I suppose that's all I wanted to talk with you about. You have a bit of a temper, but you can control it. I will ask you to be more mindful of how others might see your actions. I'm sure you'd be an exemplary officer if you did." He lowered his feet onto the floor and stood. Yui immediately snatched up the weight again. The principal continued his disarming smile, "The door is behind you, if you want me to unlock it. Of course, you are more than welcome to stay and talk." "As if" she replied as she moved aside, watching him like a hawk as he moved forward and fumbled with the key ring, "How careless of me, I have the order all wrong now. This one's to the broom closet...Would you mind putting that down and stop frowning like that? It's a bit distracting." Kotegawa's frown deepened.

The principal lowered the key-chain along with his gaze, and stopped smiling, "Stop that, please. You remind me of my wife...before she left." "Eh?" she stopped frowning and widened her eyes in surprise. He continued "The more she scolded me, the more I knew she wanted my attention." She tried to back out through the wall, failed, and exclaimed, "What!? I never!" He turned to look at her, "Oh, it's nothing to be embarrassed about. You're at that age, and you're the type who wants to rescue guys, just like she was. It's quite noble, in fact, as long as you don't quit part-way." He took a step toward her. Kotegawa swung at him feebly, and the principal caught her arm easily, holding it. He continued his monologue, "She ran off when that scandal broke out, and is too proud to admit her mistake when it fell flat. She now keeps secrets for a man who keeps two women. I couldn't... bear to see the same happening to you." She remained still, not knowing how to respond, as he slowly drew closer. "You really do remind me of my first love..."

There were suddenly several raps on the door. Yui jumped away, her face flushed from confusion and anger. For the first time this morning the Principal looked annoyed, "That guy. He couldn't have picked a worse time...Yuuki Rito! I'm in the middle of an important meeting! Come again later!" A boy's voice answered, "Is that so, Kotekawa-san? Should I leave?" The mispronunciation of her name snapped the first-year out of her daze. "It's Kotegawa, and no, don't bother! I was about to leave, but this...this man can't find his key." "Oh, if that's all, then I'll just open this simple lock in a jiffy." There was a sound from the door-knob. The stout man firmly grabbed it and put his weight against the door, saying, "Picking locks is a violation of school rules, young man." "Guess I'd better report to the Principal's office then", Yuuki responded.

"SLAM" A knife-tip appeared through the door, a mere centimeter from the older man's nose, panicking him into moving as a blur to the safety of his desk. There was a clatter of metal hitting the floor. The door clicked and opened, and Kotegawa saw an unimpressive boy wearing a first-year uniform with a serious case of bed-head. He yanked his knife out of the door and said, "Well, I'm at your office now. Care to scold me?" The principal did so...weakly, "Bringing a knife to school...vandalism...and threatening me. I could report you to the police, you know." The disciplinary officer was not impressed by the pale principal's sudden interest in rules. "Go ahead." The unkempt boy answered, amused, "I'm sure the police could use the laugh. If that's all, I'll go now." Yui started a bit when he casually walked forward and took her hand. -I let my guard down. Never again- she thought.

He lead her toward the door, stooping to pick something off the ground. "Later, then." he called out to the man still crouching on his desk, and shut the door. He took the principal's keys and locked the door, leaving the key in the lock. "Wait, you're..." She protested. "Someone will let him out before lunch ends." Rito answered. "I will, if no one else does. We do this when he's out of line. He has a toilet, snacks, and a laptop, so he'll be perfectly fine." "You should call the police" Kotegawa sternly answered now that she was mentally back in balance, "and not engage in such barbaric behavior." "The head of police, the mayor, and many other offices in the city are run by the same family, which our beloved principal is part of. What do you expect they'll do?" The boy answered calmly, guiding her back down the stairs.

They turned and she realized that they were heading back to the DC's office. "But...it's not proper." Yui finished lamely, not wanting to insult her savior. "No, it's not." the boy replied, "but it's not proper for me to do nothing, either. Anyway, he's not so bad, considering this is Disaster High." She narrowed her eyes and replied: "You're defending him? After his...shameless behavior...toward me?" Yuuki flinched at her tone, but answered anyway. "No, but in all his years the worst he's known for is cheezy come-on lines followed by unwanted attention for the next few weeks. He's stuck here: cut off from his family, who'd rather forget him if they can, so he knows his limits. If we push for a new principal, we could easily end up with worse. So we keep him, and let the Disciplinary Committee keep order. Judging from your performance, the DC is in no danger of dropping the ball."

"Is that so?" Kotegawa replied, looking for something wrong in this statement. She was still upset and needed to discipline someone. "Then you won't object if I don't drop the ball on your slovenly appearance? Especially your hair?" "Aw, nuts" Rito replied. -I'd much rather be someplace else right now-.

Part 4

Dr. Mikado's sweet face and hour-glass figure always made Haruna uneasy, but as always the older woman's business-like manner set the first year girl at ease immediately. "Oh? He mentioned that you might be stopping by." She immediately introduced her to the forms and reception area. "Just make the clients sit down and offer refreshments and a form. The drink dispenser is on the left, the snack dispenser on the right. They're numbered, and the clients will usually know what number they want. You do NOT want to know what's in those dispensers, as different foreigners have different ideas of what's good to eat. He did tell you we treat strange foreigners here?" "Ahm, he mentioned something like that" Haruna was too polite to bring up the word "extralegal". "Hmmm... well that's all except to test your nerves." the doctor stated "Ahm, yes?" Haruna kept her voice from squeaking. She felt that she was already losing the test before it had begun. "Oh, you won't have a problem most evenings. My clients are usually well-mannered, but once in a while they come with various... conditions and growths. Sometimes even injuries, if there's an emergency. Some will also will be wearing masks or wearing their native clothing. Since you're friends with the terrible two, you ought to be fine." "I...hope to meet your expectations"

Mikado-Sensei drummed her fingers on her desk. "Why don't I show you Yuuki-san's work? Has he told about it?" The girl replied "He only told me what you just told me now." Mikado-Sensei smiled "Good. Then he knows when to keep his tongue. I thought he would" "Ahm... Yes?" Haruna had no idea how to respond to this. The doctor rose from her seat and smiled, "Don't worry, I only mean Doctor-Client privacy, and that some of our medicines are best not discussed lightly, to prevent abuse." She went over to a wall blocked by a curtain, continuing her discourse, "Yuuki's been growing various cultures for me. It's a discipline that requires patience, so I haven't used it much, but your friend seems to have a knack for it." "He's always been good with plants and animals" Haruna offered, relaxing. -It's just some slimey, smelly goo. I've had worse dumped down my back in grade school-. Then without further ado the doctor opened the curtain part-way, revealing a body floating in giant, transparent cylinder.

Sairenji fled screaming from the clinic.

She ran straight into Yuuki, who had been relieved to be walking away from a scolding and anxious to get back to her side. Haruna stared at him blankly for a moment before recognizing him. When she did, the frightened girl proceeded to beat him repeatedly on his chest, wailing: "Why? Why? Why?" Rito was momentarily stunned by this behavior coming from one normally so peaceful, "Haruna-san, what's..." then he realized that there was only one thing that could startle her so.

He called her name repeatedly, and grabbed her shoulders, shaking her gently as he dared, 'til she had calmed down enough that she looked at him and asked a final time, "Why?" "Because living flesh and blood cannot haunt you. I don't know if the procedure I have in mind will work, but if she can be revived at all, I figured it to be worth a shot." They didn't move or say anything for a long time.

"Oy! What a view! I was just kidding this morning about you two eloping. I didn't think you'd take it so seriously!" Yuuki turned without letting go so that he could make eye-contact with Momioka. "She saw something in the clinic which came from the abandoned apartments." He told her. "Eh, something romantic?" Sawada began, "Go on, tell u..." but was interrupted by Risa's hand on her shoulder. Mio looked at her in surprise, but she simply shook her head and said, "Later".

Momioka turned back to them and said, "Let's get you two out of the hallway. Let's see, yes, this door is unlocked. Go on right ahead. I'll guard the door." Rito led Sairenji to the aforementioned door and opened it. The screams of startled girls met him, so he closed it with a quick apology. He then glared at Momioka. "Er... I was sure they'd be in the other room." she answered apologetically. Sawada attempted a verbal evasion. "I've been wondering this for a while, but why do we use the classrooms to change in?" "Because the boys keep sticking cameras in the locker rooms" -I do not like where this conversation is headed- Rito thought and so he said aloud, "Can we discuss this later? Next time just check the room by yourself." Risa responded, "Umm... I'm pretty sure that they'd prefer you walking in on them." Mio chimed in, "We're not welcome anymore. We keep telling them that a growing waist-line is a good thing but they won't believe us."

Yuuki sighed, and proceeded to the next door.

Part 5

Yuuki sighed as he hurried back from Mikado's office so that he could "enjoy" lunch out in the field. More likely, his friends would enjoy heckling him again over what had happened this morning. "Hey Chickenlegs," Cheesehead had told him, "You were supposed to confess and get dumped. You failed." "Don't be so hard on him" Monkey had spoken ironically in his defense, "Normally when a guy walks in on girls changing clothes he becomes an instant total jerk and enemy of all women. It's not Rito's fault that they called him a 'considerate jerk' and let him off the hook. Why, he even walked in on a half-dozen groups, and they still forgave him anyway. It was half a dozen times... wasn't it Yuuki-san?" The beet-red target of their inquiry answered(lest an "argument" break out as to the exact number) "7 times. Then I went into the restroom." He deliberately avoided the pronoun "we" for the sake of the then pale Sairenji. "The girl's restroom, wasn't it?" his annoying friend had pressed. "So I've been told." Yuuki reluctantly replied, to which they heckled him about paying attention to which restroom was which. "I know you were all flustered at the time, but that's really no excuse now, is it? Why, you've even managed to top Cheesehead, which is really saying something, isn't it?" "Yeah what he said"

Then Prissy had said something, which was, for once, not ignored, "Wasn't he helping some poor girl? Wasn't that the reason he was forgiven?" "Oh yeah, I heard something about that, too. Some girl from the tennis club wasn't she? Momioka, do you know anything about it?" The slim Sairenji had then tried to make herself even smaller. Risa had ignored the inquiry, stood up and entwined her arm with Rito's, gazed wondrously into his eyes, and spoke thusly to him: "Don't you mind them, my sweet-pea. They're just jealous. I think you're simply wonderful the way you don't suppress your...(she eyed him up and down at this juncture) youthful energy. Not everyone has the courage to be themselves." He was fairly certain that his blush had turned crimson at her attention, though lacking a mirror, he couldn't be sure.

The classroom had lost interest in the festivities at this time. "Isn't Momioka in the tennis club?" a boy asked. "Well duh" The girl next to him answered. "This is so like her." "So Yuuki-kun is her victim this week." "I'm glad it's him and not me." Cheesehead made an attempt to keep the teasing up, "Oy, Rito, you two-timer! I thought you liked..." but he was kicked by both Monkey and Prissy, so he finished lamely, "urk...someone else." Risa's gaze remained undimmed. "Ohhh... do you have a girl you like? I don't mind," she started wagging her finger at this point, "No. Not, In. The. Least." He had then taken advantage of the break she had given him to say, "I've got to speak to the nurse" and started out the door. On his heels had come the jibe, "Mikado-Sensei too? Chickenlegs...you dog!" and they started a yowling which Rito supposed was intended to sound like a pack of hounds, but instead more resembled the screeching of owls. Honekawa-Sensei, who was hard of hearing and never knew what his students were talking about, then asked if the heater needed to be fixed again.

Again, Rito sighed. Maybe he should skip lunch...but if he did that, then he wouldn't have the stamina to walk the dogs in the afternoon.

He quickly turned a corner and ran into someone. He reflexively caught the other person's shoulders and kept them both from falling. Yuuki apologized instantly, "Oh sorry, I was..." She didn't give him a chance to apologize: "Yuuki Rito-san! What do you think you're doing?!" Kotegawa Yui demanded. -Aw, nuts. Not her again- "Like I was saying, I wasn't paying attention..." "Not that...this!" and with her hand she held up a slip of paper while, with her eyes she held his. -Am I supposed to be looking at her, or the paper?- He glanced at the paper, not wanting to engage in a staring contest with Kotegawa, which would undoubtedly outlast what remained of the lunch period. "You are in my thoughts. Let's meet up after classes" was written on it, in addition to a number of cutesy doodles. -Oh, that- "That's to keep the principal from harassing you. I didn't know if you would have a friend cover for you, and that even if you already did, two would be better than one."

The fiery girl snorted, "And just HOW is the principal going to be discouraged by a letter he'll never see?" Her eyes dared Yuuki to answer. He did, "He routinely checks the lockers of the girls he stalks" his eyebrows drew together in puzzlement, "did you not know that?" She stared at him suspiciously, "No one has ever reported such a thing" Kotegawa stated. "To the disciplinary committee?" Yuuki replied, "Why would they? Rumor has it that this is the quickest way of ridding the principal, and as you can easily imagine, girls want to be rid of him as quickly as possible."

They continued to glare at one another for a space, before he finally said, "I have to finish lunch" and he tried to walk away. She blocked his path "You should join the Committee. You wouldn't have to rely on such...shameless tactics then." she told him. "That would take me away from where I'm needed, so sorry." he answered, and went on his way. He didn't hear her murmer, "Coward, just say it directly, so I can reject you directly."

Rito sighed a third time, wondering if the committee member had him in her sights for reformation. He started up the stairs, turned, and then...

"Oy, Rito-kun!" He was suddenly glomped. Trying to maintain balance, his right hand grabbed the railing. Rito's left hand found Risa's back, not that she needed any help clinging to him. "Rito-kun, Darling, you don't need to be so reserved in where you grab me." Time to change the subject quickly: "Hello Momioka. Why don't you let me grab my lunch." -that was not the smartest thing I could have said just now- He could feel his ears turning red already -I guess no one can get used to this girl so easily- Her eyes, only inches away, sparkled with glee. "I'm already one step ahead of you, Darling!" she cheerfully reported, "Our lunches are on the rooftop. But if you want to go back to class like this..." she leaned forward to whisper in his ear, "I wouldn't mind playing there, either."

Rito completely believed that Risa would be all too happy to make a scene in the classroom again, and carried her to the rooftop. He didn't try to dislodge her for very good reasons. Momioka never gave up on her practical jokes easily and would fight him if he tried to peel her off. Fighting a tall, athletic girl on the stairs was NOT A GOOD IDEA. Tussling with her at any place was not a good idea anyway, Yuuki knew from experience, since she fought dirty. Last time he managed to "win" by pinning her to the ground(with him on top), and she reacted by giving him all sorts of unsolicited advice...very loudly. He did not hear the end of that for months. So Rito climbed the stairs with Risa wrapped around him like a towel, hoping that she would lower her guard at the top. Watching for this opportunity, he opened the doors to the roof and stepped through.

"Welcome!" Mio greeted them cheerfully, "You make a cute couple. Are you practicing for your wedding?" Haruna said not a word, but was picking at her lunch. Rito glared at Risa. She grinned at him broadly and said, "Gotcha!" Evidently she had not forgotten about this morning. She finally got down and joined the other two. "Oh, you can stop glaring so, it was just a joke. You can come sit in my lap by way of apology." She patted her thigh in emphasis. He declined her offer, but instead sat down on the opposite side between Mio and Haruna. The latter was still picking at her food.

Momioka noticed this, too, and being the one who could get away with being insensitive, asked aloud, "What did Mikado-Sensei have to say?" Yuuki began to answer: "She said that Sairenji..." "I'm so sorry." The aforementioned interrupted softly as she bowed to him(on her knees) in apology. "You did this for my sake, but I ruined it." "Err... no need to be so formal, Sairenji" Momioka replied, "We're all friends here, right?" But she continued to bow. Sawada's eyes went wide at the prostrate girl and looked to the other two for answers. None was forthcoming: Risa was too flustered, not knowing how to deal with serious behavior. Rito's eyes were fixed on Haruna. He decided on a normal, friendly tone in his reply,

It's all right, Haruna-san", he replied, "You didn't ruin anything. Mikado-san wants to see you again this afternoon. I've already removed the stuff back to the old apartment. We were meaning to do that anyway, since the clinic was getting crowded anyway, as you may have noticed." She lifted her head fractionally, and Yuuki, who had casually leaned back, could just barely see that the poor girl was not quite keeping tears from welling up. "But I...in front of her..." she answered. "Doctor Mikado has worked in triage and in war-zones before, so she's seen the affects of shock. She's seen worse, and with that experience in mind, she still wants to see you this afternoon. You can trust her judgment."

Mikado had been surprised, however, when Yuuki explained that Haruna had been terrified by the owner of the floating body 2 years past. "But Murasame-chan is garrulous to the point of being annoying. How can anyone be afraid of her?" "Erm, but she can be... enthusiastic." he had responded, "and Oshizu was very enthusiastic to make Sairenji-san's acquaintance." "Even so..." Mikado had answered doubtfully. Rito had then pressed his argument, "Anyone would be startled when the contents of their room suddenly turn end over end with no warning." "Perhaps, but not anyone can assist in my clinic." "Feeling ashamed, our friendly ghost tried to apologize via the mirror", he had continued on, "forgetting that she was out of practice in making a coherent image. The result was an apparition even she admitted was ghastly. Even more ashamed, Oshizu-chan tried all the harder to make it up to her...for several weeks afterward." The Doctor had allowed her mature eyes to widen at this, and a smile to touch her generous lips. Mikado had then replied "Oh my. That would be quite troublesome, wouldn't it?"

She had then allowed the smile to touch her eyes, which were looking at him in a way that had made Yuuki uncomfortable. He had then continued, "Erm... Very much so. Haruna did not know what to make of it, and feared that she was going crazy. Even so, she sought help, and has mostly recovered from that experience. What happened this morning surprised her, but she's already fine. Honestly, I was surprised, too. You told me you weren't going to touch my stuff, as a matter of professional pride." The woman had not responded immediately to this challenge, but allowed a silence to stretch out between them as she appeared deep in thought. She had then started absent-mindedly playing with the front of her...whatever it was she was wearing on top. It looked like a daring night-dress cut short to make a shirt. He had then checked himself. -Idiot- Yuuki scolded himself -Quit checking out your boss. Keep your eyes on the ball, not her b...you know what- . The mature woman had then finally decided to respond(since the young man was done making a fool of himself anyway): "Well, then, if she's still up to it, tell her to come in this afternoon. If she comes, she passes the courage test, but don't tell her that. " He had answered with something cool like, "Erm...Yes! I mean no! Erm...Good! I'll just go and tell her, then. Erm...See you later!" and then also coolly fled like a panicked deer. He had been well away when Mikado-Sensei stopped playing with her shirt and said aloud, "Seems like I still got it. I wonder what the problem is, then?"

Presently, Sawada lost to impatience and said, "No problems here. It's not like I mind being kept in the dark or anything. No, just continue to ignore me and keep having this special moment between the three of you. I'll just go and find some new friends, you know, the kind that doesn't keep secrets." Momioka was happy to have something to do: "Good-bye then!(slaps her on the back) Don't let the door hit your rear on the way out!(Tries to slap her there, but fails), "It's no problem, really, you'll just miss out, that's all." Mio took the bait, and said "Miss out on what?" "Oh nothing. Just the curse of the old school building." She responded. "Everyone knows about that!" "Then you really won't be missing anything, now, will you?"

The frustrated girl turned to Yuuki. "Does the curse have anything to do with this, or is Risa-chan yanking my chain again?" "Erm...both." He looked to Sairenji, who actually pouted (in a cute way of course, at least in his eyes), and stated, "Oh don't be silly, I'm fine already. Quit treating me like a kid." "Oh, sorry." "It's all right. Just stop." "That's the Haruna-chan I know." She blushed. Mio mimed a gag. Risa looked like she was deciding which bit of unsolicited advice would be the most embarrassing to give. Yuuki turned to the mime and said, "Did you know that a few years back, the old school was renovated a bit, but construction halted due to safety concerns?" "Oh, yeah. That's the official, boring story. What really happened was..."

He interrupted Sawada to say. "It's close to time. Did you want to spend the rest of lunch telling ghost stories, or did you want to hear what happened to Sairenji?" She looked at her cell-phone. "Oh yeah it's almost time." She turned to Sairenji, "So, what did happen?" Haruna did not meet her gaze. Rito answered for her, "The old building was being renovated into an apartment, and the west wing was in business while the rest was being worked on. The Sairenji's rented a room there and personally witnessed some of the ghost's shenanigans." Risa interrupted him, "It was so fun! I stayed over whenever I could! There was blood on the walls, floating objects, and weird messages being left, and nothing ever stayed on film. Then there was this one time we got a flying lesson..." Rito took the opportunity to scarf down his lunch. Naturally the she-imp interrupted him, "Oh, before I forget, what was stuff from there doing in the clinic anyway? Is our little Rito-kun learning the pleasures of grave-robbing?" He stopped eating long enough to answer, "Sensei bought the rights of the building. She's expanding her practice and needs the space. I helped move stuff back and forth."

"Che. How boring. Com'n Rito-kun, spill: what exactly are you hiding that scared Haruna-chi so?" Rito-kun, however, decided to finish scarfing down his lunch. Momioka tried to snatch it away, but he suddenly stood up. He then dodged from side to side as she lunged after him, all the while stuffing food down his throat without choking... a skill that he had developed with long practice. Finally he let her have the lunch box. Risa looked surprised for the moment it took for her to realize that the box was empty. Yuuki told her, "Thanks for volunteering to wash my box. I really appreciate it!" "Appreciate this!", came her classy response as she threw the box at him and lunged for his middle. Expecting this, Rito deftly twisted aside, caught the box with one hand, and twisted Risa's arm behind her back with the other. "Oy! Showing off by beating a girl, Rito-kun?" She carefully struggled against his grip (she knew what a sprain felt like). He answered her, "Why don't we tell your Mom how girly you think you are?", then yelled over the rooftop, "Momioka-san! Your daughter's up here. She has something she wants to tell you!"

"What! Already!" Risa exclaimed, "She usually doesn't show up until after class. Let me go. Let me go. Let me go!" and tried to stomp on his toes in emphasis. He finally released her, and she promptly disappeared down the stairwell. Sawada looked down over the side, and said, "There is an older woman down there, but she doesn't look anything like Momioka-san." "Really?" Rito said innocently, "I must've been too distracted to see her clearly." "She's going to kill you, you know."Sawada stated cheerfully. Haruna interjected, "If Rito-kun and Risa-chan were going to kill one another, it would have happened long before now. They like each other too much." "Uhm...sure. If you say so", came Mio's doubtful reply. "I do say so." came the confident response.

Part 6

After classes Yuuki carried a burden to the improvised dog kennel. "I need you to run these supplies to the persons on the list." Mikado-Sensei had told him "But..." he protested. "I can oversee Sairenji-san by myself." "But..." he glanced at Momioka and Sawada. "I'll shoo them out if they get too out of hand." "But..." he glanced at a ruddy man wearing a hooded coat. "Don't worry, he's a friend." "But..." Yuuki finally scowled down at the case. Mikado smiled at him "It's not my fault you're good at deliveries. You're the one who keeps running everywhere." "My perfect health is going to kill me" Rito had complained. Presently Stinker was doing her level best to bark her head off. -what a complete not-surprise- However, as he came closer to the old building, he also detected Samurai's warning growl. -She's here- He shifted his burden to his back and stepped into the holey shed where he kept the dogs in order to confirm his suspicion.

"Hello, Murasame-san." Yuuki spoke into the cool air. A soft blue light filled the shed as a chill caused the hairs on the back of his neck to stand up. The canines suddenly became quiet, as he saw a girl stand up. Her neat hair and dress kimono, combined with her simple, friendly smile, Murasame Shizu looked a bit like a traditional doll, albeit a doll with two glowing orbs atop her shoulders which shimmered like water. "I'm surprised you can stand to be in here."

"I told you to call me Shizu" she scolded, "and they're not so bad when they can't come near." Nevertheless, she inched away from the wire screen that held the canines at bay. Yuuki had made that screen to keep them from the part of the shed where he stored the dog food, not to keep Samurai and Stinker penned. They could easily escape through a hole in the shed. Where Oshizu's spirit was standing was actually one of the few places in the old building that the dogs couldn't get to. The repaired rooms were canine-free, of course, but the ghost girl shied away from the parts that were currently used by the living. She was still deeply embarrassed by the events of two years ago. Her reason for being in the shed became immediately clear when Oshizu inquired, "So how did Haruna fare...sorry, I mean Sairenji-san."

"It's fine to call her Haruna-san, she won't mind" Yuuki gently corrected her -Haruna will mind other matters, but not that-, then he told her about his day: "She didn't flinch at all when Mikado-Sensei introduced her to Girpy and he decided to shake her hand with his tentacle. Girpy immediately came to regret his mischief when Risa-chan and Mio-san insisted on shaking it as well and they both wound up spurting blood all over him..." She interrupted him, astral eyes going wide "What!? No! It can't be! Say it isn't real!" The innards of the shed began to tremble. Samurai fled the coop, with Stinker quickly following. "Whoa, calm down, Oshizu-chan. The blood was fake. They're safe. I've told you what pranksters those two are." Yuuki patted her on her astral head with his free left hand. It immediately froze. "Really? I'm so glad." She immediately regained her prior composure and interest to ask, "So what happened next?" He shook the icicles off and answered, then the terrible two immediately regretted their mischief because, just then, Momioka-san showed up, looking for her daughter. After we reassured her and the panicking Girpy that the blood was fake, the enraged mother dragged Risa and Mio out the door by their ears. Sawada kept protesting, 'I'm not your daughter. I'm not your daughter.' To which Momioka-san replied, 'You might as well be.'"

Murasame laughed heartfully, and the room became decidedly less cool. "I sure look forward to the day I can meet them face to face." She looked him in the eye as she said this. Rito fidgeted under her hopeful gaze. "I'm grateful for you're trust" he replied, "and I ask for your patience." She looked down. "Of course. Forgive this maiden's impatience." "It's fine. I'd better go." "Oh won't you stay a few minutes?" "Not when your minute can last a day. If I don't stop by in the evening, I'll see you in the morning." "In the morning" she echoed, and vanished from sight. -I have no idea how long before her new body stabilizes, I wonder if I'm giving her false hope- Now his insides felt cold, and he sighed from deep in his heart.

Part 7

The canine greeting committee that met Rito outside would not allow him to remain depressed. Samurai promptly demanded a belly rub. Stinker tried licking his face as he squatted down to comply, but wanted to run around in circles at the same time, so her attempts failed. After giving them attention for a few minutes he cheerfully called them to order and started to run. They didn't need leashes, as an invisible leash bonded them.

Yuuki Mikan saw the two dogs before she saw her brother and promptly hid behind a tree. It was the best she could do on short notice, but she knew her attempt to hide would fail. Before she was sniffed out, Mikan's two friends each grabbed one of her arms, dragged her out behind the tree with grins on their faces, and yelled, "Rito-oniisan! Over here!" "Traitors" she grumbled at them. Mikan didn't resist as her brother picked her up easily and kissed her on the cheek, but she did protest, "Brother, stop it, you're embarrassing me." "That's what family's for" Rito grinned at her, "besides, how can I resist being affectionate toward my one and only little sister?" "Stop, already, which era where you were born in?" "I think it was when dinosaurs ruled the earth. I'll get dad to tell you how we hunted T-Rexes when I was knee high." He put her down. As she dusted off his cooties, she calmly replied, "Don't you dare. He'll make a serialization of it."

Mikan's two friends wasted no time: "My turn! Kiss me!" "No it's my turn, it was your turn last time!" "Liar! It was not!" -Weren't these two supposed to have graduated from kindergarten already?- Stinker tried kissing both of them, interrupting their squabble temporarily. "Doggy breath! Gross!" -Well done, you annoying pooch- Outwardly Rito said, "Why don't you get your own brothers to kiss you?" Predictably the answer was: "Ewww, no, my brother's grosser than doggy germs" and "My brother's too cool to hang out with his sister." "Doesn't that make me gross and uncool?" he replied. "No, that makes you cooler" one of them answered. -Nothing beats 5th-grade logic- "If you say so, I'm not going to argue about it" and he promptly picked them both up and kissed them on the cheek at the same time. Back on the ground, the two girls wasted no time: "He kissed me first." "Did not." "Fine, he kissed you first. That means I'm first next time." "Are not."

The brother glanced at his sister. "I thought you weren't in favor of having immature friends." "They only act like this around you. Your stupidity is infectious"she retorted. "All the more reason for me to hang out with stupid people then. They won't notice any infection." "Whatever you say, bozo brother. Or maybe I should call you freak, instead, for touching their rears" "Huh? I couldn't use their armpits to lift both of them, and anyway they're just kids." "They're in 5th grade already, and gossip constantly about crushes" "So? I've known four-year old girls who've already decided who they're going to marry." "All the more reason for you to be cautious." "Of these two? Even if they do make wedding plans for me in my absence they'd never agree on who'd the bride would be." "You're too careless, brother. Have you thought of what would happen if a police officer saw you, or their parents?" "Yes, yes I have: my dear sister and my dear friends will gladly dress up as ninjas and break me out of jail. we will then form an evil organization that will take over the world and remove the age restriction on marriage."

Mikan stared at Rito a moment before replying: "That WOULD be evil. Notwithstanding, be serious. Where would your little sister be if my brother was arrested." "Not having to worry about surprise hugs in public?" he responded. "Baka-Brother!" she retorted. "Relax, my precocious sister, this district is like a small town, with everyone knowing everyone. Even Momioka-chan doesn't have a police record... yet." However, she didn't relax at this, but answered, "Momioka-chan has Momioka-san. The police know better than to mess with those two. You only have me, with the rest of the family is scattered." Rito raised an eyebrow at this, "Did someone actually complain?" "Well...no" "Then don't borrow trouble", he patted her head, "Thank you, though." Mikan wasn't quite mollified by this, though: "Trouble might happen." To this, her brother replied: "And maybe we'll be invaded by space aliens tonight."

He turned to the other two girls. They had forgotten their original argument and were somehow discussing whether Yosho or Yoshi (the male romantic interest of two different magical girl shows) was cuter. He thought first of interrupting their argument by saying Potato-Head-san was the cutest, thought better of it and kept his mouth closed, then he scooped up Mikan and started running. The dogs quickly picked up that cue and ran ahead. 'Twas not long before he heard the protest: "Hey! Get back here!"

His sister made the following comment: "Now you're touching my rear." "I didn't want you feeling left out," her brother was able to respond, since he wasn't yet winded. "Whatever, Baka-Brother" she replied.

After seeing all three of the girls home, Yuuki quickly departed to make the deliveries. He had to pass near the school again. He made a slight detour around it, wanting to avoid Murasame.

Part 8

"Oy...! Rito!" -aw, nuts, she escaped from her mom- He was soon jogging side by side with Risa, who immediately glanced over her shoulder after waving at him in greeting. "Shouldn't... you be... in club?" he asked. She panted in answer, "I'll be...caught there." "Won't she...let go...for club?" "Known mother...how long?" "I have...errands." "No prob." "You're still... bloody." "Cool." She continued tagging along, even while glancing over her shoulder. Her cell-phone squawked something which others mistakenly called music, and she brought it out without slowing down even a bit. Rito glanced at the text message. "You...ditched...Mio?" he panted. She shrugged, "No choice... Make up... later." "She's not...happy... right now" he pointed out. "Said I'll...make up!" Risa protested.

They caught their breaths in front of a small house. "What's the...deal?" she queried. "Delivery... prescriptions." he managed to reply. "I'll say hello... Should be fun" she offered. "He's cranky" he warned. She grinned at him. "Even better", and she strode right up to the front door. Yuuki imagined a few worst-case scenarios, and quickly followed her. The door opened before Momioka knocked, and she was met by what looked like a cross between a toddler and a cabbage-patch doll aiming a toy space gun at her heart. He said tersely, "I know him . Who're you?" Rito spared a glance at Momioka's eyes. They had, as they too often did, an evil gleam. -not good- "I'm the Pink Ranger Gigi of the Power Rangers. Nice to meet you," she proffered her hand, "That's a nice gun there. Can I have it?"

The cabbage-patch alien backed away from her hand nervously. "Stay away from me!" he squeaked, his aim wobbling. The wobbling grew worse and his eyes grew wide as he looked at her uniform. "Is...is that blood?" "Oh this?" Risa grinned evilly as she plucked at her red-stained shirt, "I killed some baddies on the way here and carelessly ripped one apart with my bare hands. It's unfortunate, but now I'll have to clean myself off." Yuuki began to sweat as the blasters aim was now all over the hemisphere, only to stare in horror as the devil girl deftly took the ray gun from his hand and pointed it straight at the little alien's head. -donotpresstrigger donotpresstriggerdonotpresst riggerdonotpresstrigger...- She continued her villainous monologue: "now, why don't you be a good boy and go run screaming to your momma and poppa?" He turned immediately to comply, but his assailant had no mercy and aimed at his turned back and pulled the trigger. Her companion jarred her elbow, so the glowing beam, instead of hitting the diminutive target, hit the upper wall...and went straight through...taking out a good part of the ceiling and roof as well.

The cabbage patch alien fell to the ground and fainted dead away. Risa looked at what used to be the ceiling with her mouth open. Rito did several things. First he snatched the ray-gun out out of the hand of his dazzled partner-in-crime, and switched it to a safer setting. Second, he purse-snatched the senseless alien dwarf and liberated a few diamonds from it. Then he activated the case(biometrically) and a green cylinder with a descriptive symbol popped out. He left it in Grouchy the dwarf's hand. Finally Yuuki grabbed Momioka by the hand and sprinted until they were several blocks away.

"What...was that?" His who-needs-an-enemy-when-you-have-me friend finally managed to ask. -Erm, where do I begin?- He spoke: "That wasn't a child wearing a mask. That was, and presumably still is, a space alien, and that was a real space gun you snatched from his hand. It's made to look like a cheap toy so that the local, normal police don't try to confiscate them. They typically have two settings: stun, and kill. Yours seems to have a third setting: overkill; which is dumb for a small blaster with a limited battery life; there's probably not much juice left in it. Our Groucho the faint-hearted is a fugitive of some galactic power or other, and hasn't taken too well to life life on the run, so he refuses to leave his house. Mikado-Sensei has volunteered me to run medicines and food to him and others like him. Most of her patients see her at the clinic, fortunately, but the few who order out are wackoes and painful to deal with. Did you get all that?" "No" she promptly answered, grinning, "Can I have my space gun back? Pink Power Ranger Gigi can't make her debut without it." Yuuki groaned; -at least she's feeling better-.

Momioka insisted on tagging along thereafter, so he reluctantly handed the gun back to her. -hopefully she won't figure out how to reconfigure the settings until after we get back to the clinic- Then Rito noticed something other than fake blood on her shirt. He pointed this out and said,"The second reason Overkill is dumb for small blaster is that the backwash will hit you. Your uniform is charcoal. Are you all right?" "Yeah, I think so" she responded readily, touching the blackened area on the top of her overshirt, and then asked "Why is it called backwash when it hit the front?" He refrained from wincing and answered, "Because it comes from the back end of the blaster." "How dirty-minded", Momioka replied, trying to rub the soot out, "I think that frontwash would make much more sense...Oh." The charcoal crumbled between her fingers -how is something that is suppose to do minimal damage to organics do that to something made of plant fibers? Is it the lack of water?-

She smiled, "Oh well, it's a loss, anyway", and Risa tore the blackened part of her over-shirt off. Lacking the crumbly support, the buttons of the shirt underneath fell off. Upon further probing on her part, the undershirt was still intact, but... "It looks ugly" she noted critically, and separated it so that it was folded underneath the overshirt, revealing quite a bit of her bosom and exposing a bit of her bra. She struck a pose, aiming her blaster at the sky, and said(while winking at Rito), "Super sexy ranger Gigi go!" -preferably somewhere else- Out loud Yuuki said, "I'll be sure to recommend you when a director wants to lose ratings fast." "How mean. I thought it was rather cool." "Who knows? Maybe someone will be cheap enough to produce, 'Magical Girls Gone Wild, and you will make your debut there." She wrinkled her face in a scowl, "I think that may have been meaner." She promptly gave him an uncomfortable one-armed hug around his neck and declared, "I don't want to go public anyway. I would never mess with anyone's head unless he's a friend." -lucky me-

Fortunately, he already had a diversion ready. "You look sunburned" Yuuki commented while bringing out a small can of aloe, "I'm glad you're feeling all right, but this might help." Risa looked, down, as if noticing this for the first time, and said, "You're right, this won't leave a tan, will it?" Then her face showed that she had thought of new mischief already, and her mouth quickly confirmed this by saying sweetly: "Rito-darling, I have no idea how to use that(the aloe), why don't you apply it for me?" Saying this, she spread the new opening in her shirt even wider, exposing one of her shoulders in the process.

However, in doing so, she used both her hands, releasing her friend, who quickly used the opportunity to distance himself a few meters. He tossed her the aloe cylinder. The impious girl grew annoyed and said, "Oh don't be silly, you know I don't know how to use this, it's alien, right?" "It's a local design, actually", Rito answered his fiendish friend without looking directly at her, "You just press your thumb against one end, and aloe comes out the other." "C'mon Rito, you know me. I'm seriously not going to get it unless you show me. We're old friends, right? There's no need to be so shy." "We are old friends, and I do know you, well enough to know you'll tell everyone about it in a weird way?" "So? No one will believe me, anyway." -that's actually a good point- "C'mon Rito, I can't help but mess with, well, everyone, but I still don't want my skin to fall off or whatever. You've always been serious when things get serious, so don't be a drag now." Her friend scratched his head and finally replied, "Oh...all right." He stepped forward, took the cylinder and applied a line of the cream from clavicle to clavicle, "I suppose I'll be the one giving you a closer examination back in the clinic anyway, since Mikado-Sensei will be busy." She move her face closer to his and answered, "Eh, really, a closer examination, you say? I'll be looking forward to it." Yuuki responded coldly, "That should be enough start out with, apply it yourself. Your skin can fall off for all I care." "Whoa, calm down Rito-kun, it's just a joke, don't stop there." Silence met her. "C'mon, you know I can't even apply sun-block correctly. I'm sorry, so please?"

Surprisingly, the rest of the deliveries were relatively uneventful, and it was likely due to Momioka's earlier blunder. The next house had the diamond payment left out at the gate, hidden in an envelope with a note that said, "Here's what we agreed upon. Leave the medicine here." "That's odd" Rito observed, "Usually they try to haggle down the price, and I have to threaten to leave with the medicine to keep them from taking too much of my time." "Eh? Sounds interesting" Risa said normally (she never stayed upset for long), and rang out the intercom, "Oy in there! Are you sure you don't want to negotiate? You could at least come out and say hello!" A gutteral voice answered, "No, we are busy. Leave medicine. Take diamonds and your enforcer and go!" "Enforcer?!" she started tittering, "Am I a yakuza, now?" Yuuki smiled and said to his laughing friend, "I wonder how they got that impression? All you did was try to shoot the last guy in the back, and disintegrate his roof." "Yeah, but it was his gun, I didn't know it was real." "Looks like they don't want to take their chances with you. Well, I guess this confirms my suspicion that our most difficult clients conspire together. I wasn't sure before." Momioka-chan suddenly had serious on her face(which surprised and scared her longtime friend)"By the way, Rito, thank you for stopping me. I don't know what I would have done if I had actually offed that guy." "Maybe you would stop and actually become a serious person." "No way!" The next house did the same thing, only they made the mistake of using the Universal Translator instead of asking someone who knew the local language, so their note read, "This is a gift, so have a love baby by the drugs." A red-faced Rito was left to explain to Risa, who would not stop laughing(and crying, and sitting as she was unable to stand), that the Murtoph avians' use of the word "leave" was highly flexible. Again, relatively uneventful.

The walk back to the clinic had even less incidents, other than two minor ones. Firstly, Risa wanted to know what kind of cut she could expect for her work. "Diamonds are a girls best friend, after all." "But you can't play mind games on diamonds." "True, so I guess they're second best friends." "Most cultures like to negotiate and haggle, so keep that in mind when you ask Mikado-Sensei for payment." "So she's an alien, too? Cool. Don't be stingy, Yuuki-kun, can't you pay me out of your own cut?" "I'm not paid with diamonds, instead, I have access to certain medical equipment, so I suppose I will be be paying you when I...double-check that you're alright. You can also make appointments later if anything comes up." "It'll be a date then." The boy reflexively rolled his eyes toward heaven at this. Secondly, Momioka wondered out loud about using the blaster to deal with her still-angry mother. "That might work once, assuming it still works, and then she'll confiscate it." "Arggh, you're right. Isn't there some way of dealing with her?" "You could try acting like a good girl for a week" he replied helpfully, "her head might explode wondering what you were up to." She grimaced, "My head would explode first." "Oh, by the way, when you negotiate with Sensei, make sure she checks out and recharges the gun as part of the deal" -that should take care of the third setting-

Upon returning, Yuuki talked Momioka-san into witholding Momioka-chan's scolding until they had returned home. Nevertheless, the petite mother still asked "Do I want to know how she did that to her uniform?"(Yuuki already knew from experience that "no, you don't" was not a valid answer) "Erm, she mistook a dwarf for a child and grabbed something out of his hand which she thought a toy, but wasn't a toy." "Something?" the compactly built Momioka-san asked quietly. She didn't need volume to be intimidating. "Erm, it might have been a cooking utensil. For all I know, it might have been used as an iron. I'm a guy, so I don't know about appliances. It was burning hot, whatever it was." She then became acquiesant and let her daughter be examined without further comment, except for when Momioka complained, "This isn't nearly so fun as I expected. Mothers sure ruin everything." To this, the mother curtly replied, "Check-ups aren't supposed to be fun. It's the rule of the universe." Mikado-Sensei agreed with her. Sawada(bribed by Yuuki with candy) came over and made conversation(and made up) with Momioka, making the check-up more bearable for all parties around.

Part 9

After they left, the boy heaved a sigh of relief, and pleasantly chatted with Haruna, who agreed to take a break then. After mentioning an edited version of his adventure with Risa (which still left his beloved's face red and saying, "She did THAT, that's so like her!"), he contented himself with listening to her voice(a rare treat) as she described her experiences so far. "Mikado-Sensei is so amazing, the way she sets everyone at ease and still comes across as professional. She even assured me by saying that I have good bed-side manner, too, though I'm sure I have much to learn. The patients I've met so far are very friendly and polite. The only trouble I had was with Girpy, who nearly jumped out of his skin when I asked him to sit down. I think he was afraid of me because I know Risa-san and Mio-san. He warmed up a bit when I didn't do anything mean, but he never removed his trench-coat." She became pensive when she said that last, and asked, "Would...it be polite to ask?" Yuuki answered calmly(since he was in the state of Nirvana), "It's not a big deal, it's just that way his people are proud of a certain look which most outsiders find startling, so he compromises with the Sensei by wearing that trench-coat. Don't ask him to take it off, and if you see something odd, don't freak out. If he sees you as an easy target, he'll avenge himself on you for what Risa and Mio have done to him, which would only encourage those two to make things worse. I'm glad you're doing well; the work here is rewarding if one is up to doing it."

She nodded cheerfully at this "It's very rewarding, and I'll watch out for pranks here as well. Looks like tricksters are common to every culture. Oh, and I learned something interesting about Mikado-Sensei, and she has no problem with everyone knowing about it, that she has love problems, too. She was putting Girpy on the spot when he was still afraid of me, which I thought mean, but tricksters are often treated like that so I didn't say anything, and she asked why men were avoiding her. I guess he's the go-to guy for gossip just like our two friends are at school, they are amazingly alike. Anyway, Girpy finally answered and it sounded like some cultural rule I couldn't quite understand, something about staying at the lord's house?" He nodded with a bit of energy and answered, "When a prominent official invites a beautiful women into one of his homes, it usually means she's off limits to everyone else, for obvious reasons. Our boss paid for the old building and her house with her own money, and she has a low opinion of the principal and his family, but she still acquired those buildings from them and customs are customs. So that's what she was doing earlier."

"Oh, did she do something, if you don't mind my asking?" Sairenji inquired politely, yet with signs of interest. Rito turned pink, and thought -I would mind, but I'd rather die than admit it- then he answered carefully, "Nothing much. She just flirted with a guy right in front of me." -Actually the guy was me- Haruna covered her mouth and became pink as well, "Oh that would be embarrassing. As expected of Sensei, she found a man so quickly. Who is he?" Now the flustered boy turned red, but still managed to avoid hyperspeak, "Erm, I'm pretty sure the guy would rather remain anonymous." "Oh, of course. Sorry for asking." "It's not a big deal, she didn't seem serious, anyway." Haruna frowned, "Sounds like something my older sister would do. Are you sure?" Yuuki shrugged, "If I'm wrong, we'll probably find out in a few days." -in which case I'll be buying a single one way trip to Hong Kong; there's no way I'm bringing a woman nearly twice my age home to meet my sister-

Yuuki decided to change the subject, and looked at the time on his cell-phone. "Let's be getting back to work. I still have to walk Maron." "Oh you don't have to." Sairenji made no move to get up. "It's on my way, and I have a few other things to do before dinner. Would you care to join us?" "Wouldn't I be a bother." "No, I'm sure Mikan would love to have the company, and she always cooks extra since I'm a guy and Dad sometimes shows up." "I have plans with my sister tonight. Thank you, though." "Another time then", Rito said reluctantly, "I'll come back in an hour or so with Maron." "Is that really fine with you?" she asked. "Of course." The girl finally stood up to say, "See you later, then." She folded her hands behind her and wasn't making eye contact. "Erm, yes, see you soon" Yuuki replied, but made no immediate movement to leave. They stood like that for a moment, until Mikado-Sensei snorted in amusement and shooed him out of the clinic.

Part 10

-Ugh, I have that next, don't I- he thought. He procrastinated a bit by checking on the canines, who were resting in the nearby shack. Samurai had covered 3x the distance her owner had, and Stinker(who was now comatose) had run at least 10x the distance. After giving them a pat, Yuuki was out of excuses and entered the school again. He found Kotegawa in the committee room, writing up a report. She immediately took notice of his entrance and demanded, "What are you doing here?" He replied, "Erm...I was going to walk you home?" "I'm quite old enough to walk by myself." "So you are, but it's against my principles to let the principal near a girl alone, even if she is an officer." She seemed to have trouble finding anything wrong with this statement, so she merely said, "Whatever. Do as you wish." Another committee officer whispered to him, "Good Luck." "With what?" Yuuki asked suspiciously. The officer grinned and answered, "With living to see another sunset, of course." "Thank you so very much." "Don't mention it" "I won't"

They made it out to the gates with no incident. The principal had walked swiftly away when he caught sight of them at a distance. Outside of the gate, Kotegawa spoke up, "I should write you up for knocking a hole in the door. Even if the principal is shameless, that was going too far." Luckily, Yuuki had an answer for this, "You'd better not. The door has probably been replaced by now. If you write a report, you'll cause confusion and lose credibility." "You're kidding me! Surely it would take months to order such a high quality door!" she scoffed. "No, really," he assured her, "those doors were originally part of a set for some apartments the principal was renovating, only his former wife hated them and he had to set them in storage. At least that's what I overheard him telling another girl who was trying to scratch her way free. So I figured it was okay to wreck the door." "How shameless!" Rito decided not to ask whether she meant him or the principal.

Yui's next words surprised him. "I'm sorry," she murmered, "I know you're trying to help." He nodded wordlessly. She continued, "I'm just...what is wrong with this school?" Yuuki shrugged, "Disaster High has become a dumping ground for the city and its neighbors..." He was interrupted with an acidic, "So I'm trash?" He replied calmly, "Everyone has their circumstances. I've heard you were falsely accused at your previous school, and that the faculty were more interested in handling the matter quickly than in justice being done." Kotegawa looked surprised, "You...heard that?" The boy looked at the sky, "Well...gossips like to assume the worst about others, but anyone who even gave even half thought to those rumors thought it sounded trumped-up." "Really" she answered, and turned her face away and down so that her thick mane covered her face. He heard a few sniffles, so Rito sniffed the air loudly a few times and observed aloud, "Spring is heavy in the air this year, and not in a good way. The pollen sure is unbelievable. Would you like to borrow my handkerchief? My sister just washed it Sunday, and I don't really use it, anyway." "If it's fine with you." Yui murmered. The boy took the carefully wrapped out of his shirt pocket and offered it to her. The girl managed to take it without looking in his direction. Yuuki prayed: -with just a little luck, we'll make it to her house without even one more word coming out of her mouth-

The prayer seemed to come through, and she remained quiet all the way to the Kotegawa residence. Then she demanded, "How did you know where I live? Have you been investigating me?" The girl was thinking -just admit it already and confess-. The boy was thinking -Aw, nuts. I prayed for too little again-. He responded, "Erm, no, I just figured you'd return home after leaving the dorms." Kotegawa reiterated, "How. Did. You. Know. Where. I. Live?" Yuuki was confused; "Huh? Have you forgotten?" he answered, "I used to climb up that tree all the time with your brother when we were younger." She blinked in surprise and did not respond. -I guess she did forget. She must've thought I was hitting on her or something. I'm glad that's all cleared up now- Rito thought, -maybe now would be a good time to say "sayonara"-.

Before he could react, though, a voice delayed his retreat, "Looking good there, Yui! Mom and I were worried that you'd never bring home a guy." -I see that Yuu still enjoys getting on his younger sister's nerves- Yui recovered instantly at this familiar teasing and responded, "How shameless! As if I would ever do that with a guy!" "Oh?" her brother answered while waggling his eyebrows, "In that case did you buy yourself a new hanky? I didn't think you were interested in men's styles, little sister." She promptly hid Rito's handkerchief behind her back and retorted, "I couldn't help it! Mine was used and they were out of stock at the store!" "Urm...you can keep that for now if you want" Yuuki murmured to her. "Thanks" she murmured back. "Uh huh. Sure." Yuu looked at them knowingly, "Even so, you still look like long-time lovers with that secret communication you did just now." "What!?" his younger sister turned an instant beet-red at this outrageous statement, but the older brother wasn't finished, "Ho there, Rito-kun! I'm glad to see that Operation Make-Up was a success. Mother's got the marriage documents ready, so why don't you come on in? Mother's been looking forward to having grandkids for a while now." Yui's face wasn't the only one that was beet-red now, and these faces now faced eachother as she turned to look accusitorially at him and said, "You...You...You...You...You...!", to which he responded: "Nonononononononono!Yourbrother'sjustbeingyourbrot her never..." -Aw nuts, I'm too late. She's going to blow-

In the next moment, Yuuki was reminded of why he and Yuu had spent so much time on that tree. When Yui erupted, she quivered in rage; only, her body and eyes were deadly still, but her splendid mane of velvet-black hair did her quivering for her. Yuuki, sitting on a tree branch a dozen feet above the ground, pondered this aloud: "I've been wondering this for a while now, but is her hair alive?" Yuu, sitting on a nearby branch, answered, "I dunno. I don't want to be any closer than necessary when she's like this. Looks like I hit a nerve. Rito-kun, buddy, I have grave news: my sister's quite taken with you." He answered, "Yuu-san, I think you've already carried your joke too far as is. That wasn't funny, and I'm being delayed." "Now don't be like that, bro, you're the only chance my sister has of not becoming an old maid. As her older brother, it's my duty to look after her." "Uh huh, sure. What did I just tell you about carrying a joke too far?" "I'm serious. Now go fulfill your duties as her future boyfriend and calm her down." "How self-serving of you." "C'mon Yuuki-kun, I'll only rile her up even more if I go down now." He sighed at this and agreed, saying: "Okay, fine." "Really? You're a lifesaver." "I have one slight modification to make to your plan, though." Saying this, the would-be sacrificial goat rose up and gave Yuu a kick, knocking him off his perch. Fortunately for him, several branches and a rose-bush cushioned his fall. Unfortunately for him his sister added insult to injury by burning his ears off without using a single curse word. Then to add even more insult and injury, the siblings' mom came out and lightly scolded her son for ruining her roses while yanking out the thorns with what must be (in Yuu's opinion) an industrial sized wrench. Rito escaped in the confusion, before Kotegawa Okusan realized he was there and tried to invite him to dinner.

Part 11

-What shoe is about to drop now?- the boy wondered, but the next hour was calm. He stopped by the house to set out some food for the cats: a calico that had more-or-less taken permanent residence, and a black cat that often stopped by. The family didn't bother to name them since the cats wouldn't answer to them anyway. Mikan didn't want him anywhere near her. "You stink," she told her brother matter of factly, "don't hug me until after you've bathed." "How cold." he answered good-humoredly, "Are you going through a phase? You've protested twice in less than an hour." She answered "No, you just stink, and I hate when Miho and Eri act like idiots, even if they think it's funny." Sairenji Akiho, Haruna's older sister, was a bit distracted when she came to the door so she didn't try to talk his ear off as he prepped Maron for a walk, though she was amused when she learned that her sister had used her as an excuse to avoid a dinner invite. "That girl has gotten worse about not wanting to impose on anyone." On the way back to school he kept Maron on a leash. He wasn't especially hyper, but he kept wanting to give chase and forgot about oncoming traffic. Upon returning to the school he let Maron go so that all the dogs could freely sniff eachother's rears, while Yuuki took this rare opportunity to do some schoolwork outside of school time. His sister constantly scolded him about it but he figured that working 30 hours a week without pay was ridiculous as it was. So the hour ended with the young man idly noting the time and lazily rising to his feet. -if Haruna is too busy to wrap up her shift now, then Mikado-Sensei will welcome my help and not shoo me away again-

Again, no shoe dropped when he walked with Haruna and the tired dogs back to her sister's place, but managed to continue their conversation. "...So when I brought up what you said she did, she said, 'That's not flirting, that's more a reflex.' I admire Mikado-Sensei for her work, but she's not the person I expected her to be. I must have sounded silly going on and on about her earlier." "You weren't going on and on" he told her cheerfully(relieved that Mikado hadn't named names), "You were excited about work and about your employer, and that's a good thing that not every one has. And now that you know Mikado-san a little better, you can develop a real, working relationship. At least, I don't consider idolization a real relationship." "You're sounding more like a grown-up now" she responded softly. "Thanks...I think" Rito joked. "It was a compliment" Haruna spoke more firmly, "You've changed from the boy who squirted milk from his ears when I was too shy to speak to anyone." "Not so much." he laughed at this memory, "I was desperate back then to make friends after a few years of keeping to myself, and I figured that if being outrageous worked for Risa-san, I might try it. Now I find that I'm desperate again to become close to you. After a month back together you still seem rather hesitant." A shop owner Yuuki knew spotted him and gave him the V sign, which he returned. The vendor also wished him luck and told him to "go for it", which Yuuki did not return.

The girl's turned rosy at the boy's admission(or the vendor's unsolicited advice), and looked down. "Twould be shameful to impose on you further after you went so far during...the haunting." Rito responded, "If we are talking about debts owed, won't you just be more in my debt by being cold to this old friend? If I seem to be running up ahead, it's not because I want to leave anyone behind. I'm just doing what boys naturally do when we want to see what's ahead. The tortoise beat the hare in that one story. Sooner or later I'll tire or become vexed, and then I'll be needing help, especially from you. No offense to the others, but the Terrible Two and the Three Stooges aren't reliable at...well...a lot of things." Haruna didn't respond to this immediately, so he joked: "Complete silence, eh? I must really be in trouble now." "Oh no," she responded, "I was just thinking of that time in 8th grade when you ran like a hare and won the inter-class competition for us." "I suppose a hare has its uses, at times; which is good for me since I don't want to be useless in life." "You won't be. I'm sure of it." Haruna asserted. "Is that woman's intuition?" he asked. "Maybe" she answered. "That's good to know. My father is following his dreams now, but I wonder about him sometimes."

They rounded the final corner and started up the stairs. Rito remembered something: "Oh, I should warn you that Akiho-san is going to tease you about turning down my invitation. Sorry, but it came up after I said, 'have fun eating cake!'." Thus saying he managed to catch another cute expression of hers as she said, "Oh, poo." He accompanied her and Marron to the door(he told Samurai to sit and tied Stinker up to the railing), where she said, "See you soon." "Don't you mean 'see you tomorrow'?" "Ahm...sure." "The invitation is still open if you want." "No, Sister will only tease me more if I do that. Maybe next time." After opening the door, Yuuki distracted Akiho with 15 minutes of conversation while Haruna had a chance to retreat to her room. The topic quickly turned to the difference between Camel Brown and Dune Tan (or was it Camel Tan and Dune Brown?), which seemed to be about two different make-up colors, though for all Rito knew she was talking about facial cream and purse colors all at once. Thankfully a neighbor approaced a quarter of an hour later and Stinker started barking up a storm, giving the unfortunate boy a perfect excuse to run away with his tail between his legs(figuratively speaking, of course). Akiho then proceeded to her sister's room, only to find the door closed and the music turned up. Not a problem, since the elder sister could easily make herself heard over these barriers.

He finally arrived home, looking forward to dinner and family time. Also a hug, but Mikan persisted: "Bath First." The cats weren't quite so finicky. The calico gave him the customary sniff-over and then allowed him the honor of petting her a few minutes before stalking off to resume her all-important job of sleeping. At this point the Black Cat finished her sushi and was ready to settle down on Rito's lap. He asked about his sister's day while petting the biological lap warmer. "Fine. I only had to correct the teacher twice. What about you? You gave quite the sigh coming in. Was it a bad a day?" "Amazingly, no. With all the near-disasters and busy-ness today I once would have called this a bad day, but since the disasters were averted and I am now closer to my friends, one in particular, I have to admit that today was a great day." "Oh? Which friend?" "I'll tell you more about it over supper. The cat just jumped off, so I'll go take that bath you've been so insistent on for some reason." "Someone has to remind you that you weren't born in a barn." Mikan retorted.

The bathwater was finally at the right temperature, and Rito slipped in, having already rinsed off, and let the thoughts and stress of the day wash away. -The One I wanted to be closer to is opening up. The One I didn't plan on seeing ever again is speaking to me, but she doesn't want to kill me, so that's cool. I kept those two primary trouble-makers, Risa and the Principal, mostly out of trouble(minus one hole in the roof, but that worked out in the end). The ghost is waiting patiently, and Mikado-Sensei's work is flourishing. Yes...today is a good day-

Then the bathtub exploded.