Chapter 10:
Rough Greetings

Izumi swam pleasantly in a sea of dreams. Nightmares had plagued her all night long, but at last she had found the Nirvana of blissful rest. She sat on a grassy hilltop, lounging beneath the cool shade of a cherry tree raining blossoms, Hiroto by her side. Her cheeks turned as pink as the falling petals as he closed the distance between them. Closer, closer came his lips.

"Oy, Akira, stay out of the kitchen!" he shouted all of a sudden.

Izumi twitched in her sleep and rolled over.

She was now nestled in the sands of a sunset beach. Marveling at the brilliant inferno of the sun sinking beneath the waves, she soon let all thoughts of the scenery float away in favor of becoming lost in absently brushing at the hair of the dream-Hiroto, who was spooned comfortably up against her body.

Her dream-self screamed when Akira's head popped out of the sand right beside them.

"But you've done breakfast for a week straight, and today's my day to do it!"

Rolling violently and pressing a pillow over her ear, Izumi struggled to maintain the dreamscape, now envisioning herself and Hiroto staring down at the night lights of Paris from atop the Eiffel Tower.

"It's a matter of survival, Akira." Dream-Hiroto mirrored the real Hiroto's angry words.

Akira in a parachute drifted past Izumi and Hiroto's balcony while the dreamer buried her dream face within her hands.

"Say that again," the Ainu girl demanded.

"You can't cook worth crap, and if I want to live then I have to cook."

"Oh-ho! Sounds like you really wanna go at it, Alchemist."

Izumi didn't even remember getting out of bed, she just found herself standing at the top of the stairs shouting, "Will you idiots shut up? Some of us are trying to sleep!"

Minutes later, the three sat gathered at the kitchen table, each picking at a bowl of reheated soba noodles. Still in their night clothes, the radio blaring obnoxious music from some American band that Izumi had never heard of, every one of them seemed to already be exhausted.

"Ah, compromise," Akira sighed, her face artificially lit by a wide, sarcastic grin. "Isn't it wonderful?"

"Yeah, wonderful," Hiroto answered sullenly.

Izumi said nothing, busy as she was trying to keep her food down. Soba noodles weren't amongst her favorite foods at the best of times, and the taste about these made her curious as to how long they had been in the refrigerator. Another lurch of her stomach caused her to decide that she didn't want to know.

"Heard anything about my mom?" Izumi asked, not without a fair quantity of trepidation.

"No," Hiroto answered at once, keeping his eyes carefully fixed upon his bowl. "'Fraid not. You could try calling Sensei, though."

Izumi nodded gratefully as she stabbed at her noodles.

"I'd like to go back to my house and pick up a few things," she said a moment later, pushing her bowl aside, her stomach demanding that she yield the fight.

"Sure," the other nodded, seemingly unaffected by the horrid noodles. "You'll definitely be wanting some of your own clothes…," he motioned first towards the overlarge dress shirt and cinched-up shorts that Izumi wore, then to Akira in her baggy white undershirt and boy shorts, "…instead of having to rely on Akira and her tomboy-chic."

Akira paused a moment to glare at the alchemist, but then went back to bobbing her head to the awful music. She must really like that song, Izumi decided.

"And there's something else I want to do today, too."

"To see your mom?" Hiroto guessed. "That shouldn't be a problem."

Izumi wondered about the hesitancy with which these words came, but she didn't comment.

"Yes, if possible," she said, though only half-truthfully. The thought of facing her mother after what she had done to her was enough to make the girl's protesting gut to grow as cold and empty as the Antarctic. "But also, Yukari-chan called me last night and suggested that we and Kiko-chan go and hang out today."

Hiroto spat out a mouthful of soba. Izumi flinching in disgust as the grayish noodles flew into the air. Akira, meanwhile, watched the scene unfold with silent fascination, her head still bobbing slightly to the grunge music in the background.

"Not a chance, Izumi-chan."

"And why not?" came the retort.

"Because you're a target right now, and it's my job to protect you," he answered harshly, placing his hands against the table's edges as he rose to his feet.

"Who says that I need protection?" Izumi demanded as she imitated his movements.

"I do," Hiroto replied at once, "and if Sensei were here she'd agree with me. You're a mahousen, Izumi-chan, a source of nearly limitless power. There are a lot people after you right now, and worse still you can't control any of that power. So until you've learned how to do that, we can't risk taking you to any sort of public place. You're not going."

"Oh, shut up, Hiroto. You've never won an argument against me before, what makes you think that you can do it now? And what do I have to be worried about? If those people from yesterday show up I'll have you and Akira-chan to look after me."

"Please don't drag me into your lover's spat," Akira said dryly as she slurped out of her bowl.

"Shut up!" the two high schoolers roared.

"You should be worried, Izumi-chan," Hiroto resumed, "I'm good, but Anya, Adolph and Margareta aren't the only ones out there, and certainly not the worst. Plus, I'd also have to protect Takahashi-san and Suzumiya-san as well. And the only reason why we haven't had to deal with anything since yesterday is because of the aura-hiding barrier around my house."

"So what you're saying is that you're the only good mage around and that there are hoards of bad guys hiding behind every corner, is that it?" demanded Izumi, standing straight and putting her hands on her hips.

"I'm just saying that it can't hurt to be too cautious."

Her bowl emptied, Akira was now leaning back ponderously on her chair with her hands folded behind her silver hair as she watched.

Hiroto slammed his hands upon the table top, causing everything atop it to shiver.

"Damn it, Izumi. You're not going, and that's final!"

"Hey, Izumi-chan, over here," Yukari called, standing beneath the town square's tall, pole mounted clock and waving enthusiastically over the crowd.

The other girl turned at once upon hearing her name and began to push through the wall of people, closely shadowed by two others.

"Oh, Senpuu-san's here too," Kiko observed, raising herself up on the tips of her toes. "And that other guy, that's probably his housemate."

"I like his hair," Yukari said, with a smile.

"Yukari-chan, Kiko-chan, good morning," Izumi greeted her friends cheerfully as she finally burst out from amongst the crowd. She was dressed in a white blouse with a knee-length red skirt, blue jacket and tennis shoes.

"I think it's probably afternoon by now," Yukari corrected with a light giggle, smoothing out a crease in her floral patterned sun dress.

"Good to know you're alright, Izumi-chan," said Kiko, her hands resting on her jean clad hips, "Yukari-chan was sure that you'd been kidnapped or something."

Yukari giggled sheepishly.

Now turning her attention to Hiroto, Kiko couldn't help but give a soft sigh as she ran a hand through her indigo hair. Though not entirely surprised by it, she was curious as to why Izumi had brought him along, but was even more baffled by his outfit: A black t-shirt with a stylized gold sun emblazoned over the heart, a pair of heavy looking shoes, black jeans, his red shoulder satchel, and over it all a long tailed tan coat made of what appeared to be denim. In contrast Izumi's second companion seemed comparatively normal, dressed in blue jeans, black tennis shoes, a light blue t-shirt and a matching jacket. However, that comparative normalness only extended to his clothes, as his hair was spiky and blue and carried bokken in his belt.

"Are you two supposed to be cosplaying for something?" Kiko asked with an upraised eyebrow.

"Not exactly," Hiroto answered, his demeanor striking Kiko as distant and on edge. His eyes were constantly roaming, as if he were searching for something, and his whole body was tense.

"Um, Izumi-chan?" Yukari asked, a small blush spreading across her face, "Aren't you going to introduce us to your friend?"

"Oh, I almost forgot," laughed Izumi, banging her forehead with the bottom of her palm, "How rude of me." Grabbing the blue haired boy's hand, she tugged him forward and declared, "Kiko-chan, Yukari-chan, this is Hiroto-kun's housemate, Koizumi Akira-chan. Akira-chan, this is Takahashi Yukari-chan and Suzumiya Kiko-chan."

"Nice to meet you," Akira mumbled nervously as he bowed.

"It's a pleasure to meet you," Yukari bowed in return, smiling with all the sunshine in her being. "We rarely get to meet any of Senpuu-san's friends. I hope that we can be friends, too, Akira-kun."

Kiko's opened her mouth to greet the newcomer as well but her words died on her lips at the reaction of the others. Izumi's face clouded and grew worried, her eyes locked on Akira with a look of concern. Hiroto smirked and made a sound like smothered laughter, covering his mouth with his hand as he did so. Akira's reaction was the strangest of all, his entire body twitched as if he had stuck a wet finger into an electrical socket.

Yukari blinked hard in surprise.

"I- I'm sorry, did I say something wrong?"

"N-no, nothing," Akira answered as he looked forlornly into the distance, his slight accent thicker than it had been a moment before. "It's nothing. Nothing at all."

"So, um, I understand that you're staying at Senpuu-san's house," Yukari stammered, breaking the dark pall that had so suddenly befallen the group.

"That's right," answered Akira, turning to face Yukari as he spoke.

"Where are you from?"

"Northern Hokkaido. I'm here on family business, and since I knew Hiroto-kun from when I was little he and his mom agreed to let me stay with him for a little while."

"Oh, wow."

"Oh, really?" Kiko said with a sligh smile, "Interesting. So, do your parents know about where you're staying at while you're down here?"

"N-no, not exactly."

Kiko's smile turned positively devious, knowing that the time had come to let loose with a humor-bomb.

"Well, isn't this a risqué situation we have here?" Kiko said, stroking her chin thoughtfully. "An emotionally distraught highschool girl forced to take up shelter with her beloved childhood friend, who also happens to have a mysterious, handsome young man from up north. Now that sounds scandalously moe, wouldn't you say, Yukari-chan? I wonder what these two have been doing to this poor girl."

"Oh, my!" Yukari crooned, holding her hands up to her face and blushing brilliantly. "What a situation to be in. I'm…kinda jealous, Izumi-chan. I had no idea…"

Once more, the reactions to Kiko's joke were not at all what she was expecting. While both Izumi and Hiroto were also blushing, they were also shooting each other sidelong glances and shaking their heads. As for Akira…

"You making fun of me?" Akira demanded, grabbing a fistful of Kiko's pink t-shirt and pulling the taller girl down closer to the blue haired one's face.

"Watch where you're grabbing there, buddy," growled Kiko, grabbing a fistful of the other's hair.

"I asked if you were making fun of me," Akira snarled back, grounding his nose into hers.

"No more so than Izumi-chan and Senpuu-san."

"Listen here, Balloon Chest," he said, his icy blue eyes diminishing into dangerous slits, "Just because I hate girl's clothes and like to keep my hair short doesn't make me like that, got it?"

"What are you talking about?" Kiko demanded, shrugging off Yukari and Izumi's attempts to pull her and Akira apart and totally oblivious to the stares that were coming at them from every side.

"Oh, don't pretend with me," snarled Akira, "You know what I mean. Do you want to know something else? I hate girls like you, with your huge racks and inflated egos."

"I get it now," Kiko declared, her eyes lighting up with angry realization and putting a bone crushing grip on Akira's shoulder. "You're one of those prudes who think having big boobs is indecent and that I should be ashamed of what God gave me. I bet you're gay too, or at the very least you love flatties."

"Kiko-chan!" Yukari yelped with indignation, still trying in vain to pull her friend away.

"Oh, now you've gone and done it!" roared Akira.

"Hiroto-kun, help me out here before they kill each other," called Izumi.

"Why?" Hiroto replied, covering his mouth with one hand as he struggled not to laugh. "Those two are always giving me crap, so why shouldn't they get turned on someone equally irritating?"

"Oh for heaven's sake, Hiroto," Izumi scowled at him before turning back to her quarreling friends and shouting, "Akira-chan, she didn't realize it. Kiko-chan, Akira-chan isn't a guy, she's a girl."


At once, both Kiko and Yukari froze.

Pulling back, the indigo haired girl looked her antagonist over carefully, then released Akira's hair and shoulder to give the other a squeeze. Her face a burning red, Akira let go of Kiko's shirt and recoiled several paces, wrapping her arms protectively about herself.

"Huh, so she is," Kiko said, waving off Yukari's attempts to scold her. "So Senpuu-kun, what are you doing with a first year junior high school student living in your house?"

Akira drew her bokken.

"I'll murder you, you brainless, balloon chested bimbo!" she roared, kicking wildly about with her arms locked safely within Hiroto's grip.

"Okay, okay. That's enough of that, Akira-kun," he said, his voice dry in spite of the large grin still on his face.

"Fry her, Hiroto-kun," she demanded.

"Hey! Senpuu Hiroto!" a deep voice called, and all at once the crowd began to disperse.

"U-Ushio…," whispered Izumi, looking up.

"Uh-oh," gasped Yukari.

"Oh, no," groaned Hiroto.

An enormous boy with Herculean muscles stepped out from the crowd, a pair of dark haired cronies flanking him on either side. His long trench coat swishing about his ankles, Hanino Ushio, captain of the wrestling team, gave his knuckles a loud crack as he sneered down at the group.

"Senpuu Hiroto," he said, "I've been looking for you."

To Be Continued…

Author's Note: Another one where not much happens, but I needed to start getting everyone gathered together and to make up for the lack of action I decided to stuff it full of comedy. Ah, two chapters in one week. This has been a very productive Spring Break.

Referring to Akira by a masculine pronoun in the third scene was not a typo. I did this on purpose since it was from Kiko's point of view, and as such information was limited to the extent of what she knew.

I probably won't be able to work on this story for a little while, since this month is my last one for classes, and on top of schoolwork I plan on working on some other works that I've been neglecting of late. But rest assured, I'll work on it when I can, and it'll be very much worth the wait. Expect a huge battle scene, lots of explosions, and some more Margareta scheming.