Infinite Beginnings

A Scarlet Week


Houki sat on her bed, back against the headboard, and stared out the window of her new bedroom watching the rain patter and flow against the glass. A bright flash from outside invaded her room briefly, lighting up the dim space, and was soon followed by a heavy rumbling of thunder. Her room was bare save for a wooden dresser, a bed, and the two nightstands that flanked it. On one nightstand was a lamp, the only light on in the room. Beside it was a simple electronic alarm clock and it reminded her of how late it was. What few possessions she brought were still stuffed into the duffel bag in the closet that she was currently living out of.

She hugged her knees to her chest, glancing down at her dormant cellphone. Tabane hadn't returned yet, and Houki was at first pissed, but she eventually started to worry. What if something had happened to her?

The thought had crossed her mind to call her, or to at least even text her, but she was still mad at her for what she had done to, in Houki's eyes, ruin her life. Not as mad as she was initially, but still mad. She still had not forgiven her for inventing those stupid machines that have torn them away from their home, and more importantly torn Houki away from Ichika. She looked at her phone again, half-expecting Tabane to suddenly call and tell her how she had not minded the time and realized how late it was. That she was coming back and not to worry. But that didn't happen.

Houki began to wonder if it was because of the awful way she had treated her older sister the first night of their relocation. She tightened her hold on her legs, squeezing them to her chest as she thought about that night and all of the terrible things she had said. A torrent of spiteful and hateful words were unleashed that night, things that she didn't really mean but she knew would hurt her sister.

Tabane took it all calmly. Not once did she lash back in anger. She didn't even shed a tear. In fact, she didn't say a single word throughout the whole thing. The only indication of her feeling miserable was the simple fact that she didn't do anything while she took the verbal abuse from her little sister. Tabane Shinonono, the young woman who seemingly was powered by her own nuclear power plant, was still and silent as the grave for one night. There was no smiling from her that night. Her eyes didn't have their normal vibrancy. And at the end of it all, once Houki had exhausted herself and vented her disproportionate anger, Tabane had hugged her and held her until she fell asleep.

A flash of lightning brightened the room again, breaking her out of her thoughts. Yawning as the rumble of thunder followed, she turned the lamp off and slipped under the covers, feeling so very tired.

Looking back on that night, Houki wished she could take those hurtful words back.

-xxxxxx-

"Where are you going big sis?" Ichika asked, suddenly worried as he walked into his sister's room and found Chifuyu packing the next morning.

He had wanted to talk to her about those awesome robotic suit thingies that he saw on the television the previous night, but that was immediately forgotten as thoughts of being abandoned again crossed his mind.

While Ihicka had not understood it at the time, when their parents left them he at least knew that something really bad had happened. And Chifuyu had explained in simple and gentle terms that their parents were leaving for a long time, and that they would have to take care of each other from then on. There were already tears in his eyes as his imagination ran wild with the idea that she was leaving him too and he began to wonder what he did wrong. Maybe he could still convince her to stay and he could make things right again if only he could determine what wrong he committed to make her leave.

"Ichika," she said his name sternly as she realized what he must have been thinking, "I'll only be gone for a few days. I just need to take care of a few things, but after that I'll be right back, okay?"

"O-Only a few days?" he looked at her meekly, wiping away the extra moisture that had accumulated around his eyes.

She nodded, crossing the distance between them and hugging him, which he returned tightly. She ruffled his hair. "Did you really think I was going to leave you?"

"Maybe a little bit.." he replied honestly, closing his eyes as they continued to hug each other.

"Well listen, Ichika, okay? I won't leave you. You and I... we're family. We're the only family we have left, so we have to stick together like we've always done. So I would never ever leave you. Ever. Never forget that," she told him as she broke the hug and knelt down to look him square in the eyes. "Now stop with this crying nonsense. You do know boys aren't supposed to cry, right?" She lightly pinched his cheek.

He nodded slowly, his mouth twitching into a small smile as he wiped away the tears.

"That's it! Be strong, Ichika. Always be strong." Satisfied, Chifuyu returned to her packing. "I can't leave you here alone since I'll be gone for a while, so I'll be dropping you off at the Gotanda residence. You remember the Gotandas, right?"

Ichika thought for a moment, trying to recall who they were. He remembered them vaguely, but he was really little back when he first met them and he had not seen them for some time now. There were two kids that he could recall, Dan and Ran, and the strongest memory he had of them was that the whole family had scarlet red hair. That was about it. His response was short, "I think so."

"Well, if you remember I used to work at the Gotanda Eatery when we... when we were still trying to make ends meet... Well, anyway Miss Gotanda was always so nice to us and so I called her up and asked again if she might help us out. She was of course more than willing. Ichika, You better behave when you're there. Got it?"

"Yes, big sis. I promise!" he assured her, smiling again.

"Good. Now go ahead and pack what you'll need for the week. We'll leave in an hour." She ruffled his hair, turned him around, and pushed him gently towards the door.

-xxxxxx-

The Gotandas lived in a two-story cream-colored building that was divided between the restaurant on the first floor and their home right above it on the second floor. Standing tall right outside was a big green light-up sign that read, "Gotanda Eatery."

"This is the place," Chifuyu declared as she parked her car right out front.

Ichika let himself out of the car, taking a good look at his temporary home and shouldering his backpack. His older sister took a gym bag out from the trunk and started walking to the front entrance, Ichika following behind her. A small folding sign next to the front door listed the menu of the restaurant, and Ichika suddenly felt hungry.

Chifuyu slid the front door open and walked into the cozy restaurant, the smell of food hung in the air and Ichika breathed it in and got even hungrier. There were eight tables spaced out evenly, with only one table occupied by a family of three. Farther back past the tables was counter that stretched about three-quarters of the width of the room, with the last quarter taken up by a hallway. Behind the counter, the kitchen was clearly visible with one employee not cleaning some pots and pans. A second employee, a woman, walked over to them. Both employees had the signature Gotanda shade of red hair.

"Chifuyu!" greeted the red-headed woman with a big smile. She looked older up close, with a few wrinkles and line visible on her face.

"Miss Gotanda!" Chifuyu put down the gym bag and the two of them embraced. When they broke apart, Chifuyu said, "This is my little brother, Ichika."

The older woman turned to Ichika continued to smile, her eyes squinting a little in genuine happiness. "Oh, I remember you little one. Though you're not so little anymore."

Ichika bowed his head, "Thank you for letting me stay here," he said to her, just as Chifuyu had told him to do earlier before they had even left the house.

"Of course, dear. You are welcome anytime," replied Miss Gotanda. She sounded very sincere. "Are you hungry?"

"Yes!" Ichika said quickly, before realizing he had practically yelled his response.

"Ichika!" Chifuyu said in dismay, but Miss Gotanda merely chuckled, a twinkle in her eyes.

"I should've guessed. He's a hungry, growing boy, just like my little Dan," the redhead said, amused. "How about you, Chifuyu? Care to stay for a meal?"

"I actually need to go already," said Chifuyu apologetically, "But thank you."

Miss Gotanda inclined her head, then her gaze went to Ichika. "Give me one moment and I'll get you some food, okay?"

Ichika nodded and watched as the older woman went to the occupied table to continue serving them.

Chifuyu knelt down then and took hold of Ichika by the shoulders, her dark brown eyes meeting his own. "Now Ichika, you listen to Miss Gotanda and you stay out of trouble, you hear me?"

He nodded. "Only if you stay out of trouble too!" he said with a small smile.

She ruffled his hair and gave him a nod of her own. "Okay. It's a deal."

He beamed at her.

Miss Gotanda finally returned to them with a plate full of steaming rice and fish, and Ichika's eyes went wide, mouth instantly watering. "Here you go, Ichika," she said as she put down the plate and a set of chopsticks on a nearby table.

The little boy immediately sat down and started to attack the food, the two women watching him with open amusement.

Chifuyu then turned serious and glanced at the Gotanda matron, "Thank you again for taking care of him while I'm away, Miss Gotanda. If anything comes up, please let me know. You can reach me through my cellphone." She looked back at the feasting Ichika, his plate almost empty. "I'll try and get back as soon as possible. " With that said she bowed her head respectfully and then walked out of the restaurant.

-xxxxxx-

"And this is Dan's room, but you'll be sharing it with him," said Miss Gotanda as she opened the door and ushered him inside, placing Ichika's gym bag full of clothes and other necessities off to the side. The hallway on the first floor led to the restrooms and ended in a staircase that went up to the living quarters on the second floor.

Ichika walked in and looked around the modest room, noting that there was a TV across from the bed. An air mattress was already set up next to it on the floor.

"Dan! Wake up, honey. Ichika is here," the redheaded older woman squeezed by the small space between the air mattress and the bed, reaching for a lump of blankets that Ichika didn't realize was hiding someone.

"Okay... Okay... I'm up..." grumbled the sleepy voice of the boy underneath the covers.

Finding an edge that she could grab, Miss Gotanda pulled on it to reveal a skinny young boy with flaming red hair in his pajamas. He was rubbing his eyes, blinking rapidly, when he sat up and stretched. His mouth opened into a large yawn.

"Alright, well I need to get downstairs and continue working. You boys should get reacquainted," she said, heading for the door.

Once she was gone, Dan lay back down on the bed with his hands tucked behind his head. His brown eyes looked at Ichika with interest, and the dark-haired boy couldn't help but feel a little uncomfortable.

"So, Ichika. It's been a while," Dan finally spoke.

"Yeah, I guess so." Ichika wasn't sure what else to say.

"Well. That's fine. You're here now, and my mom says you'll be staying with us for at least several days. So we'll definitely be hanging out a lot, especially since school is cancelled," Dan said, "Speaking of school, I don't see you around much."

Ichika shrugged. "I don't stick around school longer than necessary."

"Why not?"

"No reason to."

Dan grinned. "Well, now that we're going to be best friends, you have to hang out with me after school."

"Best friends?"

"Yep. I can already tell that we'll get along great!"

Ichika nodded, smiling, "Sounds good to me." He looked around the room. "So, what do we do now?"

Dan thought for a moment and then his face lit up. "Ever play a fighting video game called Tekken?"

Ichika frowned. "I don't play much video games," he admitted, somewhat embarrassed. Between his sister's kendo training, his schoolwork, and his chores, he hardly had time to play games. Not to mention he didn't even have a gaming console.

The smile on Dan's face grew even wider and he got out of bed, firing up his game console and turning on the small TV in his room. "Then I guess I'll show you what you've been missing."

-xxxxxx-

"What! How the heck did you do that combo?" Ichika exclaimed in disbelief after losing for the fifteenth time. "I haven't won a single game!"

They were both sitting on the hardwood floor in front of the TV, game controllers in hand. It had been fascinating for Ichika to watch as the gaming console powered up and Dan inserted this disk that apparently had all the game data on it. Dan explained what the buttons on the controllers did as the game was loading. Then it was pretty simple to grasp the actual basics of the game, with buttons corresponding to certain attacks, and the attacks depended on which combinations of buttons he pressed. But mastering the more advanced techniques was definitely more challenging, and it didn't help at all that Dan never let up in every match even though he was clearly far superior.

Losing so many times was becoming rather frustrating for Ichika, but even Dan admitted that by the fifteenth game he was already getting a decent hang of it since he was lasting longer than previous matches.

Dan laughed, adjusting his long red hair. "I've been playing a lot longer than you, Ichika. You shouldn't be so upset. It took me a while to get the hang of it too. Are you at least having fun?"

"Of course!" Ichika gave him a determined look and said, "Listen up Dan: I'm going to beat you at least once before my stay here is over. Mark my words!"

"You can try," Dan replied with a smile.

Just then, a redheaded young girl stopped in the doorway. "Hey bro. I'm going downstairs to get some food, you want anyth-" she didn't finish as her eyes went wide at the sight of Ichika. "Who is that?" she pointed at him.

Ichika waved happily at her. "Hey, Ran! Remember me?"

"It's Ichika," Dan explained.

"Oh. H-Hi Ichika!" she said in a small voice, her hands going behind her as she rocked back and forth between her tiptoes and her heels. "Is he uh... visiting for the day?"

Dan gave her a strange look. "Weren't you listening when mom said that he was going to stay with us for several days?"

"You mean, he's going to live here for a few days?" Ran repeated quickly, blinking in surprise.

Dan shook his head and looked at Ichika apologetically. "Please forgive my little sister. Sometimes she's a little slow."

WHACK.

"Ow!"

Ran had walked into the room and smacked her older brother upside the head, her face contorted from anger and irritation. Then just as quickly as she had hit him she stormed out, fists clenched and teeth grinding.

"Man..." Dan said as he rubbed the side of his head that she had hit. "You know, for a little girl she hits pretty damn hard, let me tell you."

Ichika shook his head as he thought of his own sister Chifuyu and all the times she smacked him around, whether practicing kendo or outside the dojo. Dan had no idea what the term 'hit pretty damn hard' really meant.

"So, how the heck did you figure out all those advanced combinations?" asked the dark-haired boy, getting back to the subject of games.

Dan opened the small cabinet that the TV was resting upon and pulled out the game case. On the inside front cover of the case he pulled out a small booklet and handed it to Ichika, who looked at it curiously and opened it up.

"That, my friend, is a combination manual," he explained.

And what a manual it was. It appeared that it had every single combination for every character in the game. There were combinations and moves that he never would've come up with either, and that fascinated him. These video games were really awesome in his mind, and he began to wonder how he had lived his life so far without playing a single one.

"This is so useful! Did this come with the game?" asked Ichika, flipping through the pages quickly.

Dan shook his head slowly, looking thoughtful. "Yeah, but not really. I got the special edition copy of the game, which comes with the free combo package manual. If you bought the normal version it wouldn't have come with the game and you would've had to order it online if you really wanted it."

"Nice. Mind if I read it then? I'll need to study up and figure out how all those more advanced combos work."

"Yeah, sure. That's why I brought it out after all," replied Dan. He put a hand on his stomach and frowned. "You wanna eat something? I just realized I haven't eaten anything today."

Ichika shrugged as he looked outside, noting that the sky was perfectly clear and blue. "Your mom already gave me some food earlier, but I could join you and munch on a little something." He didn't feel too full to eat again, but he also knew that he shouldn't eat a lot this time around or he might explode, or worse puke.

"Best part about living over your family's restaurant is how good the food is all the time. And there's always a lot of it too!" said Dan as he stood up and stretched, still in his pajamas.

"Aren't you going to change?" asked Ichika as he also got to his feet.

"Meh. It'll be fine," replied the redhead with a grin, "Now c'mon, let's eat!"

They proceeded downstairs, where Dan went straight into the kitchen after telling Ichika to take a seat at one of the empty tables. He emerged about a minute later, scratching the back of his head as he sat down empty-handed across from Ichika.

"What happened?" asked the dark-haired boy.

"My sister's cooking something up for us," replied Dan in a tone that suggested he wasn't exactly sure why she was doing it.

"Oh wow, she knows how to cook already?" Ichika was impressed since Ran was a year younger than them and he and Dan were only nine.

"Hey, I know how to cook too you know. That's what you get living on top of a restaurant that's owned and run by your family," replied the boy with the scarlet hair as he leaned back in his seat.

Ran's voice spoke up from behind Dan, startling him. "My brother may know how to cook, but that doesn't mean he can cook well." In her hands were two plates full of food - rice, some vegetables, and a brownish meat that looked like beef.

Even though he had eaten only a couple of hours ago, Ichika could not help but feel hungry as the delicious scent of the food presented to him wafted into his nostrils.

"Wow, is this what I think it is?" Dan said as he leaned forward and eyed his plate greedily. Then he looked up questioningly at his younger sister, one eyebrow raised. "Wait a minute, why did you cook your special beef dish?" Then his eyes slowly traveled over to Ichika, who was already eating, and a light bulb flashed in his head. "Ahhhh... I get it! You like Ich- oof~!"

Ran had smacked him in the face, throwing him back and tipping his chair over so that he fell into a heap on the floor with a loud thud.

Several customers turned to look at the spectacle, regarding the children for a moment with interest before going back to their meals. Even Ichika stood up, surprised and looking concernedly over to Dan, who was just getting up with a groan.

"You okay, Dan? What happened?" asked Ichika, looking between the two siblings.

"I'm fine! I'm fine! Heh..." he said sheepishly, "Just a little accident, that's all."

"Learn to keep your mouth shut next time, you idiot," Ran huffed, crossing her arms in front of her chest and staring down at her older brother as he replaced his chair and sat back down.

Ichika sat back down but couldn't bring himself to eat anymore, suddenly feeling full.

Ran seemed to notice and she did her best to hide her look of worry. "Uh... Ichika? Are you... What's wrong with the food? Do you not like it?"

Dan didn't wisely didn't interject a comment, continuing to eat and enjoy his food in silence.

Ichika raised his hands towards her, "Oh! No, no! I like it. It's really good, Ran. I'm just... I already ate earlier and I'm feeling really full now."

"So you do like it?" she asked, a smile widening on her small face.

Ichika nodded, giving her a thumbs up. "I love it!" Then he frowned a little, "Though this is making me kinda thirsty."

"I'll get you some water right away!" she squeaked and ran back into the kitchen.

Dan snorted and shook his head.

"Hey Dan," Ichika caught the redhead's attention.

Chewing on a mouthful of food, Dan let out an "Mmmm?" in response.

"Did you see or hear about that flying super robot thingy?"

Dan swallowed his food and nodded, his eyes alight with excitement that matched Ichika's own. "Of course! It was all over the news! That was so cool. And kinda scary too, if you think about it, I mean how many missiles were heading for Japan? But then that robot came and kicked ass! I think they were calling it the White Knight or something? That's an alright name, I guess, but I'd go for something like White Megadeath 3000 or the White Apocalypse."

Ichika laughed and they talked about it some more.

-xxxxxx-

A few days later, Ichika was hunched over outside and out of breath. Sweat covered his body and wiping away some from his forehead only made it marginally better, the humidity really making it feel like he was in a sauna.

"Hey, Ichika! You tired already?" Ran giggled as she ran around him, scarlet hair flowing behind her as she moved.

Ichika shook his head and said with a grin, "No way!" He chased after her, willing his tired legs to move. He had promised Ran that he would play tag with her at the nearby park today, but that was before he realized how hot and humid it was. And also how much energy the younger girl really had.

Even though he was a nine-year old with an abundance of energy of his own, Ichika was already feeling tired whereas Ran seemed to gain even more energy.

Still, he kept his word. As his sister Chifuyu had taught him over and over again, "Your word is your bond, Ichika. If you give someone your word, you better not break it."

She kept looking over her shoulder at him as she ran, giggling every now and then as he struggled to keep up.

"Come on, slowpoke!" she taunted happily as she turned off the path and ran in between some trees and through a bush. "Ahhh!"

"What the-!" exclaimed a clearly male voice.

"Ah! My knee!" said another male voice, with more annoyance than pain.

Ichika heard her sudden cry and some angry male voices and immediately redoubled his efforts to reach her, emerging on the other side and barely managing to avoid hitting someone who was standing on another path that was beyond the bushes.

"Watch out kid!" one of them said, shoving him as Ichika passed within a few inches of hitting the person.

Ichika stumbled but caught himself and turned to observe the sight before him.

There were three boys, all taller and bigger than him, though no more than sixteen years old by the look of them. Ran was on her butt on the ground next to one of the boys and she looked surprised and more than a little scared of the older trio.

"Well lookie here," sneered the boy who was standing over Ran. He was taller than the rest by about two inches, and he had this air of superiority about him. "You nearly broke my knee," he stated, reaching down to rub his left knee and then swinging his lower leg back and forth a little to test the joint. "Don't you know that I'm a star high school soccer player?"

"I-I'm sorry! It w-was an accident, I swear," Ran said as she shuffled away, intimidated by the bigger boy.

The tall one shook his head and looked to his companions, all of them with smug looks. "You hear that boys? She's sorry." His friends' ensuing laughs sounded forced to Ichika.

"P-please forgive me!" Ran said as she slowly got to her feet.

Shaking his head, the tall boy sighed. "Alright. I'll forgive you."

Ran bowed her head respectfully to him.

"But, just in case I don't play well because of you running into my knee like that, and to make sure no one else gets hurt, we're going to have to break one of your knees," the tall boy said menacingly, "Sorry." He added the apology with sarcasm.

"W-What?" Ran said, taking a step back.

"Run away, Ran!" yelled Ichika, clenching his fists at his sides.

She heard him and turned to bolt away, but the tall boy closed the gap between them with one long step and grabbed her by her left wrist, jerking her back towards him. He backhanded her and she let out a cry of pain as she fell, tears streaming down her cheeks as she began to sob.

"Oh, don't cry yet. We haven't even gotten to the best part," said the tall boy as he knelt down and patted her left knee, eyeing it with interest.

"What do you think you're doing? You're sick! You're... You're terrible people! Get away from her!" Ichika raged, knuckles turned white from the tightness of his fists. He ran towards them but one of the boys grabbed him and shoved him back roughly.

The tall boy glanced over to him and motioned with his head, "Take care of the loudmouth, will you?" His two friends nodded and turned to the smaller boy with eager smiles.

Ichika glared at them as he got to his feet. He had to save Ran. He had to fight. Even though he was smaller and most likely weaker than these terrible bullies, he had to fight them off. He had to try.

One of the boys tried to kick him, but Ichika was able to move back and dodge it.

"RRRRAGGHHH!" he yelled defiantly as he rushed at the closer of the two boys. When the boy moved to punch him he ducked and tackled his the bigger kid around the midsection, his momentum throwing the boy back and he landed on top of him. Ichika began to hit the boy in the face with his fists, blood suddenly emerging from one of the boy's nostrils.

Rough hands grabbed him then and he squirmed, trying to break free. He leaned his head forward and bit into the thumb of one of the other boys' hands, eliciting a cry of pain and causing the boy to let go. He turned, ducking another punch and elbowing the boy in the gut before punching him in the chest. The boy staggered back in surprise, but Ichika had not hit him hard enough to really hurt him and it showed as he simply rubbed the spots he was hit at and eyed him with fury.

"N-No! Please! P-Please don't do it!" Ran pleaded weakly, bawling her eyes out as the tall soccer player raised stood and raised his leg.

He snorted and then brought his foot down hard on her left knee.

"AH!" yelled Ran, clutching at her knee in pain.

The tall boy cocked his head. "You're tougher than you look. But I'd say one more good kick should do your knee in nicely," he said. This time he tested his left knee again before raising that up.

"NO!" Ichika bellowed as he ran around one of the tall boy's companions, barely escaping an outstretched arm trying to grab him, and jumped towards the soccer player. His small body slammed into the tall boy's side, sending them into a crumpled heap on the ground.

"You little brat!" the tall boy said through gritted teeth as he got to his feet, touching his hand up to his temple where a fresh cut was bleeding out profusely, the red liquid trickling down his cheek and the edge of his jaw.

Dazed from the hit, Ichika groaned and tried to get up, and then was roughly brought to his feet by two sets of hands grabbing him by the arms. He struggled, but they held him tightly. So tightly in fact that it hurt, and he grimaced as his arms protested to him.

"This is going to hurt. A lot," the tall boy spat as he rammed a knee into Ichika's midsection, and he would have fallen to his knees had he not been held up by the two companions of the soccer boy. He kneed him again, Ichika whimpering in pain, his own eyes and cheeks now wet with tears. He felt something give in his side at the second hit, pain shooting in the area like a hot lance driving through him.

The tall kid then punched him all over a few times, and it was all that Ichika could do to stay conscious as the rest of his body simply went limp, too weak and in pain to do much of anything.

Then the tall kid stepped back, looking at him with smug satisfaction, before he turned so that he was facing sideways and looking at Ichika from over his left shoulder. "I hope this teaches you a lesson," the tall boy said and then he stepped towards him and twisted, raising his right foot. It connected with Ichika's face and whipped his head around as the two boys let go of him, the little boy sprawling into the dirt as darkness consumed his thoughts.

-xxxxxx-

When Ichika awoke, the first thing he felt was soreness. His entire body ached and his head throbbed with pain. Underneath him he felt firm cushions and a pillow that cradled his head. A distant beeping sound echoed at a constant rate. Beep. Then a pause. Beep. Another pause. Beep. It continued like that for a while as he slowly regained his senses. He tried to open his eyes and managed to open his right one, his left eye barely moving. His vision was fuzzy, but he tried to look around by turning his head.

The room he was in was all white, with bright overhead lights that actually hurt his eyes for a few seconds before they got used to it.

"About time you woke up. I thought my little brother would be stronger than that," said the familiar voice of his older sister, her attempt at admonishing him thwarted by the concern and worry evident in her voice.

He tried to speak but there a dryness in his throat, the friction of his vocal chords causing him to cough.

"Easy there, Ichika," she said in a softer tone.

A glass of water was suddenly pressed gently to his lips, and he sipped at it eagerly, coughing slightly and spilling a little on himself.

Chifuyu dabbed the spilled water with a paper towel.

"Thanks..." he managed to whisper.

She smiled ever so slightly and then sighed. "What did I tell you about getting into trouble?"

"Ran...?" he asked.

"She's fine. You saved her from getting hurt, though I'm not sure if I approve of the way you did it, taking on three bigger boys like that. Still, I admire the bravery you displayed. Stupid and foolish, but brave," she said with a grin.

"How?"

"One of the park police officers stumbled upon you just as you had been kicked in the face. Suffice it to say, the three boys hightailed it out of there," she explained. "Now get some more rest, Ichika. I want you out of here as soon as possible. Okay?" She lightly ran a hand through his hair as he nodded and closed his eyes, mumbling a "Yes big sis" before drifting off into sleep.


Author's notes: Thanks for the early reviews! I'm using both the light novels and the anime as guides, but this will be a different plot. One that hopefully you will find enjoyable. As always, feedback is appreciated. :)