The Dystrophic Perplexment [Icicle x Senpie]

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  1. Niko did not appreciate the thought that the teacher was so eager to have them be the first to present. He sighed as he started turning to walk towards the front of the class. Upon hearing the girl's voice again, he quickly turned around to face her, his expression comparable to that of a kitten preparing to be killed. He nodded after recognizing what her words meant, then hastily followed her up to the stage, standing a foot or so behind and to the right of her. After scanning the class room for threats, he started to get nervous about all of the space which he could not see, namely behind the chairs and doors, but comforted himself with the thought that he would be safe in this building, for the time being.

    After the girl finished introducing herself, and before she could muster a single word or gesture, Niko stepped forwards and, with false confidence, proposed, "indeed I am! I had the pleasure of learning a brush technique from Natsume. The way she described it, the user must..." He continued to succinctly detail the implications of her lesson, with mostly positive details, and one misconception which she didn't adequately resolve. After about a minute of his talking, he retreated once again, transitioning the attention of their position back to Natsume with a quick, "...and lots of hand gestures. Back to you."

    As he expected, Natsume's summary of his lesson was similarly impressive, mostly because she had some degree of presence on the stage, whereas he merely read his thoughts to the audience with some degree of inflection. Once they were done, the class had applauded for their minor accomplishment, and the teacher was done with her few comments, Niko hastily returned to his seat and awaited the end of class with impatience.

    Immediately after the bell rang, Niko slung his backpack over his back while hopping onto the backrest of his seat, then bounded towards the door and, within seconds, shot down the staircase and left the building. He narrowly avoided knocking over a small girl with glasses as he threw open the doors, a girl who immediately shouted protest, but received no reaction from the boy, who was already a classroom's width away from her. He didn't stop for anyone or anything as he went back through the campus and over to the dorm building. After entering the structure, he shot up the stairs and over to his room. Upon checking his paper once more, he opened the door with his key card and locked it behind him, deadbolt and all.


    A few hours later, at dinner time, Niko nervously left his dorm building, no longer wearing a backpack, and quickly made his way towards the cafeteria. He noticed a few people trying to get his attention along the way, but he merely avoided and outran them. Once he reached the cafeteria, he was horrified to note that the line was terribly long. Instead of hoping to blend in or hide, he exited the cafeteria, sprinted around to lose his pursuers, then walked back to the cafeteria as inconspicuously as he possibly could. Of course, being a very interesting figure without a uniform, he stuck out like a sore thumb and was soon gathering the attention of the same pursuers once again as he waited in the significantly shortened line.

    He apologized to the girl who screamed at him many times, perhaps because he didn't hear her protest that he was forgiven over the thousands of other noises around him. Once he was through the line and gathering food in the cafeteria, he finally felt relative peace again. Upon collecting as much food as his tray would hold without threat of breaking, he walked into the food-eating area and, once again, found the emptiest space which he could find and began happily eating away at his food.
    #1 Icicle, Sep 23, 2015
    Last edited by a moderator: Feb 29, 2016
  2. Natsume watched patiently as her classmate gave his own little speech about what she'd "taught" him. Thoughts about who he was and what he was doing last night ran through her mind during her current leisure time, though she hid this from being observed on the outside. She needn't pointlessly worry the teacher or make the boy before her even more terrified of her than he already seemed to be. It wasn't like she had anything to go on anyway. It was too dark out last night to really make anything out, so the liquid she saw on that pipe could've been anything. She could envision herself letting out a laugh at such optimistic thinking. Like there would be any reason for him to run if it was something else. There were too many factors for it to be as simple as that. With a mental shake of the head, she pushed these thoughts to the back of her mind, where they would stay until she could properly ask him about all of it - granted he doesn't simply run away again. For now, all she could hope to do was earn his trust.

    It wouldn't be long before the class's attention was returned to her. She smiled at Niko a bit nervously, as this would be the part where they both bow. She shrugged it off though and went with the flow as well as she could. "And that concludes our presentation. Thank you for listening." A bow was given with a slight glance over towards Niko, hoping he would understand to do the same. A quiet round of applause was given, followed by questions from the teacher which were swiftly answered on Natsume's part.

    Once they'd both returned to their seats, Natsume towards the front and Niko all the way in the back. After class ended, Niko was out of the classroom and gone before Natsume could try to speak to him. All she could see as evidence of him being gone was a girl yelling towards him on his way through the hallway - a first year. She helped the young girl up and apologized for the male, but she didn't seem to be having any of that. She seemed to be speaking under the breath, but all Natsume could make out were some mumbles. Mysterious as he was, Natsume still hoped this girl wouldn't start trouble with their newest peer.

    The door to Natsume's bedroom closed behind her as she pulled her phone out. It was almost time for dinner to be served at the cafeteria. She normally ate at home, but she felt like it would be best if she checked on Niko. It was his first day, after all, and it wouldn't do for him to get involved in some troubling matters already. After giving a short "see you later" to her parents, she made her way out towards the cafeteria, which was located near the dorm Niko was supposed to be occupying.

    It was only a short walk from her house to the dorm, as both were located relatively close to the school. She identified herself to the dorm guard and then made her way towards the cafeteria. Dinnertime was already here, and she could only hope that Niko decided to attend. Entering the cafeteria, she scanned the line in hopes that she would spot him, but she didn't have any luck. Knowing him, he'd either show up and sit by his lonesome or stay at the dorm altogether. Sure enough, Niko was seated alone. This time, however, he seemed to be enjoying himself contently, rather than being in what seemed to be a frantic state of panic.

    Natsume headed towards the line, making up her mind to eat dinner here. She decided against going up to him though, as it didn't seem like a decision that would help make her seem less "suspicious". They had plenty of school ahead of them, so she'd simply talk to him during one of their classes tomorrow, if he decided to show up. For now, she'd simply take up a seat next to one of her friends and enjoy her lunch, just as Niko was.

    ~Tuesday, December 16, 2014 - Morning~

    Natsumi let out a yawn and looked up towards the sky. She hadn't gotten as much sleep as she usually did last night. Most of it was spent thinking of recent events. It was a bit silly to her that Niko would still be plaguing her mind. Then again, one doesn't simply forget experiences such as the encounter she had with him two days ago. Maybe if she tried to focus on other things, the problem that was her curiosity would slowly fade away. It wasn't like what he was doing that night was any of her business, was it?

    Upon reaching the school, Natsumi looked over her schedule once more. Physical education, how could she forget. First though, she had to eat breakfast. Natsumi made her way to the cafeteria building, where she was greeted by two of her friends, Naomi and Sarah. It truly was a diverse school.

    "Wow, you look really tired, Natsumi. Stay up all night thinking about something? A boy, perhaps?" Naomi joked with the girl, nudging her shoulder. Natsumi blushed a bit at the thought, but shook it off.

    "No, no. It's nothing like that. Just general curiosity. It's hard to attend a school like this and not have a very curious mind, right?" Even hearing her response, Naomi continued to nudge Natsumi all the way to the line for breakfast, with Sarah giggling to herself at the sight.

    "You can be such a child sometimes, Naomi. Not that that's a bad thing. We all need to be able to retain that part of ourselves," Sarah finally spoke, sounding even more refined than Natsumi. Naomi gave her a sort of puzzling look, as if she didn't really understand what Sarah meant, even though she did.

    "Well, yeah, but ya don't need ta be so serious about it. Let's just have fun and relax. The year is still young, after all." While Naomi and Sarah talked back and forth about school, Natsumi took this opportunity to scan the cafeteria for Niko. He wasn't anywhere that she could see. Of course. It was only to be expected that he'd run late on his second day. If anything else, she'd see him in one of the classes they shared. Potential for seeing him and desire to actually speak to him were two different things though.

    After eating her breakfast and chatting with her friends with no sign of Niko, Natsumi made her way to the gym and changed into her PE outfit. Today was dodgeball day, something Natsumi prided herself in thanks to her flexibility. As always, the class was divided into a blue side and a red side. She was placed on the red side, as usual. The balls were placed in the middle and the whistle blown, signaling the start of the game.
  3. Niko gorged himself with food as a multitude of other students stared, almost enthralled, in the sheer quantities of material being stuffed into his body. Five pizza slices, two hamburgers, two bowls of assorted vegitables and another two full of fruits, some soup which Niko couldn't recognize, but which tasted like bacon, a bowl of various types of pasta with meat sauce, and a pile of bread and bagel pieces amounted for most of the biomass which was mounted on his food tray. "Is he a competative eater?" "Even competitive eaters couldn't eat like that." The voices around Niko made him feel greatly self-conscious while devouring his mountain of food, as if they thought he was putting on a show. Unfortunately, with the quantity of food which Niko had on his tray, it took him fifteen minutes to devour it all, even with his superb food-eating technique. Upon consuming the final bagel piece on the tray, leaving nothing but plates, bowls and silverware, he casually wiped off the debris from his face as a group of people applauded behind his back.

    Despite the massive feast, Niko's rather slim chest did not seem to bulge outwards as much as the law of conservation of mass might suggest that it should. In fact, once Niko placed his tray and empty dishes on the dishwasher station, he walked over to the desert section and took a piece of cake and some chocolate frozen yogurt from the dispenser and walked back over to his seat. He noticed that many of the people around his seat were staring at him before he even arrived, so he determined that, to avoid their gazes, he would sit elsewhere. With a rather nervous expression, Niko turned left sharply before arriving at the table which he previously sat at, and made his way over to the far corner of the room. The eating area was still rather packed, however it appeared that people were not streaming in as quickly any more, for closing time was steadily approaching and most people were already at the door when dinner hour started.

    As Niko found yet another seat of relative solitude, he decided to look out a nearby window while consuming his food. Something he saw reminded him about his thought from earlier that very day. [I’ll have to be careful to sit in a more discreet area tomorrow…and take a more normal amount of food.] Something about these words sounded irrelevant now. I have already wound up attracting more attention than I know what to do with. I suppose being discrete really isn't my specialty. He looked down at his empty bowl of frozen yogurt, feeling a rather intense pain from an undefined region of his head as he stared at its emptiness. It's....cold. He sighed as he continued staring out the window and waiting for the roof of his mouth to warm up again. He felt that something about this university was surreal, that there was good reason to be paranoid, but he hadn't discovered a single piece of evidence about the place to support this feeling thus far in his experience.

    After giving himself a few more moments to complete his train of thought, Niko once again placed the property of the cafeteria on the dishwasher station counter and, now feeling satisfied with the amount of food he had consumed, Niko left the cafeteria. He still felt the eyes of the students from before following his back as he left, so he picked up the pace as he retreated back to his dorm building. Once he arrived at his dorm room, he went about moving thing around in his room to make it as comfortable, defensible and efficient as he could. Upon completing the first section of his room with the desk and the bed, he moved on to the closet. Within the closet were three sets of the same uniform: three grey jackets, three button-down white shirts, and three sets of grey slacks. There were also a few strange red bands placed on the floor along with a few metal clip things, all of which perplexed Niko and left him wondering what purpose they served. Were they wrist bands? No, too big. Were they meant to be worn on the leg? Impossible, the pant leg width was much greater. Niko's only clue was his vague memory of the other people's uniforms, especially that blonde-haired female from earlier - they all had colored bands on their upper arms. Niko still felt that the bands would look out of place on his upper arm, but compared with the rest of the clothing of the uniform, it wasn't that difficult to surmise.

    Upon placing the rest of his extra clothing in the closet and organizing it to a level of perfection never thought to be attainable by man, Niko closed the closet and made his way over to the bathroom. The bathroom was rather simple and small, with a doored-off shower, a toilet, and a sink-area, complete with storage areas underneath and a rather large mirror above. There was no adequate place to place bars of soap or liquid soap dispensers, but Niko supposed that that fact made the sink easier to clean. After briefly organizing what few supplies were located in the bathroom already and washing his hands to test out the sink, he walked back over to his bed and flopped down. This is far better than that noisy apartment..... He thought, trying to stay positive. Still, something about the room, no, the entire campus was making him feel on-edge. No matter how many times he checked for bugs and other observation/surveillance equipment in the room, he still felt like he was being watched. I guess it's time to get used to this feeling... he thought, staring up at the white ceiling. It took him awhile, but eventually, he decided to start working on the homework prescribed on the sheet of paper he found on his desk earlier upon his arrival.

    After enough time, the 3rd day dawned.

    -Dawn of the 3rd Day - Tuesday, December 16-

    Niko awoke at 5:20am feeling refreshed and ready. He went through his morning routine of checking for assassins or other things worth being paranoid about, then brushed his teeth, washed his face, showered lazily, and changed into his new uniform. Despite being a size too large for him, Niko still felt more restricted in the uniform than he did in his favorite outfit. It had fewer pockets to store equipment and technology in, what little he did store in the uniform was easily observable due to the trim lines of the clothing, and Niko was absolutely sure that the armband on his arm was going to get caught on something before the day was done. Nonetheless, once Niko gathered the stuff he needed for the first half of the day into his backpack, he set out to the cafeteria.

    Niko was surprised to find that the cafeteria was not open at 6:00 am. In fact, it was not going to open for another half hour. This forced the white-haired boy to walk around campus and try to bide his time while avoiding as many people as possible. Niko was used to far more people being around at this time of day, however it appeared that the few students who were awake at this hour were very busy, and were either rushing around or were writing/painting/taking pictures of stuff like their lives depended on it. The vibe of his surroundings made Niko feel as if he was missing out on something or was just generally being lazy. However, as soon as one person started walking up to him as if he wanted to talk, Niko quickly turned tail and speed-walked away.

    Finally, at 6:30, Niko rushed back over to the cafeteria. The doors didn't open for another few minutes, which made Niko curse his luck as well as the lazy cafeteria attendants. Nevertheless, Niko soon gained access to his meal, and hastily devoured the piles of biomass with a blissful lack of company. Once he was done with his meal, Niko walked over to the building where his first class was held within - Physical Education. Niko's preconceptions of this class involved running from bears or practicing martial arts or even skirmishing with other students for training. In fact, Niko was curious just to see what kind of arena this class would be held in at a campus such as the one which he stood in. If they have to keep fences up, surely they must be protecting the outside world from something gruesome and intolerably violent. He was blissfully ignorant of the actual circumstances of the class, which he soon discovered upon arriving at the gym.

    Upon entering into the gym building, he was greeted by a group of adults behind a counter. "Welcome! You must be the new kid, Niko!" spoke one of the older men in the group of adults. Niko stared at the man while holding the left strap of his backpack, utterly silent as his expression of surprise shot across his face. The room was filled with weaponry, such as heavy-looking maces and poles, however all of the devices had weights on both sides, and appeared to range in sizes, despite the smallest being the most practical. Niko didn't bother responding to the man, as he was certain that he would continue with what he wanted to say if given the time, so Niko continued looking around at his surroundings. Merchandise, posters, television sets, strange rubber bands, odd devices with screens and levers and bars and cusions, and much, much more awaited from beyond a set of glass panes. Far from his view, Niko could see a different set of glass panes, in which a blank room was stationed. Sure enough, the man continued to speak soon after Niko looked away and started eyeing the room, although all four of the adults were somewhat surprised by the boy's lack of response. "You're here for my Physical Education class, aren't you?" the man asked, offering a pleasant smile to Niko before heading around the counter and over to where Niko stood.

    This time, having finished his surface-level observations of his surroundings, Niko nodded in agreement with the man before him. The man had an unsettling beard and a disheveled hairstyle which gave Niko the initial impression that he was the beast master or trainer of the opponents which he and the rest of the class would be facing, however his friendly smile and lack of harmful intent simultaneously shot down this impression while also unnerving Niko. The height of the man and the bulk of his physique had precisely the same effect as his smile. The man chuckled as Niko remained silent, staring up at him as if calculating whether or not to run, then commented, "Class doesn't start for another half hour. You're quite early! How about I guide you over to the locker room so you can get changed?" Niko continued to stare at the man, however this time, he was actually in shock. " Wh-What is that" Niko asked, his voice leaving his mouth with an unintended lack of composure as his heart desperately tried to escape through his throat.

    The man shot a look of surprise to Niko, as if the question had sounded suspicious to him, and Niko's heart nearly stopped. Oh I hope that didn't sound suspicious. The man chuckled after a few seconds, then started walking away from the counter, further into the building. "It's a room full of lockers, where you get changed. You could also call it a changing room. Your locker number is 73. The showers start ice cold and remain that way for the first 20 seconds no matter how high you turn the heat up. When you're done changing, go through the door on the far end of the room and you'll enter the gym. Go ahead and get used to the layout however you want. Class starts at 8." Niko felt somewhat overwhelmed by the amount of foreign information which the man was telling him at this juncture, however, once the man opened the door to the men's locker room, he suddenly understood what the man was talking about. "Thanks" Niko murmured, bowing slightly to the man before entering the room.

    The locker room smelled like steam and soap and, to a lesser extent, sweat. As Niko wandered around, he noticed a large number of benches, metal storage units, showers, and bathroom stalls. There were sinks as well, which made this entire room feel more like an extra-large bathroom, and there was even a super-hot room with heated rocks in the middle. Niko found his locker, number 73, after a few minutes and decided to open it to see what was within. He was surprised to find another set of clothes within this "locker", a set which was far less massive and which appeared more similar to his favorite outfit. Niko hastily changed into this set of clothes, as he was already annoyed with the standard uniform's ruggedness, and attempted a few acrobatic maneuvers with the benches to see how it compared to his other outfit. What Niko discovered was that it was extremely conducive to movement, however it had no storage space at all, meaning that Niko would be unable to keep his extra headset battery with him when he walked into the gym. Seeing as the class only lasted one hour, Niko was not very worried about this.

    As he was previously instructed, Niko walked out into the gym and wandered around to grow accustomed to the new room. It was empty. The floors were constructed with a cheaply waxed and varnished white oak, and the walls were partially covered in cushions, suggesting that this room was built more for the safety of its inhabitants than for their training thereof. The room was, nonetheless, extremely large, and had multiple pieces of equipment built into the ceiling and higher up along the walls, along with a multitude of lines and dots and other markings on the floor. Niko spent a few minutes walking around to discern what the meaning of the markings was, but could not figure it out. As Niko explored, he discovered that a few racks of strange rubber balls were positioned at regular intervals along the walls of the room. Upon picking one up, Niko immediately found that it was too soft and easily compressible to be considered a weapon, and was probably meant for skirmishing or boxing. Niko quickly threw a few towards the other wall to test the dynamics of the new tool, and found that they were best used after being condensed into their minimum size so that the air resistance acting against their movement was reduced maximally.

    Niko continued playing around with the dodgeballs for awhile, eventually reaching the point at which the balls would bounce off of the wall and return all the way back to him. Then, Niko noticed the clock on one of the walls far from the locker room entrance doors. 7:50. People would begin entering the room at any moment. Niko hastily collected the balls which he had already thrown, which were now dispersed throughout the room, and returned them to their storage units. By the time the first person entered the room, a girl whom Niko did not recognize, Niko was leaning against the wall and relaxing as he awaited the start of whatever awaited him that morning.

    More and more people streamed out of the locker rooms, mostly in groups, and with growing frequency as the clock steadily grew closer and closer to 8:00. Even the teacher arrived in the room after awhile, although he was dressed in the same clothes which he had been wearing behind the counter earlier that morning. Once the class began, Niko gathered with everyone else, although he still remained at least an arm's reach away from the nearest person, and awaited the teacher's instructions. After a brief "good morning" introduction from the teacher, the class was split into two groups based solely on luck of the draw, and which were identified by arbitrary colors. Niko was selected for the blue team, as the red team apparently had "too many people". Before long, the teacher announced the rules of engagement for the training session, namely that being hit by one of the balls would be detrimental for one's team, but that catching a ball would be beneficial for one's team. The teacher also determined that, for some reason, aiming for the head was to be avoided, despite it being the most optimal target for a marksman beside the center of mass.

    After Niko identified all of the rules into his mind and readied himself for the engagement, he walked to the back wall of the blue side, eyeing his competition. The teams were not very large, perhaps only 10-14 people per team, but the number of balls along the middle line of the room was far fewer- perhaps only 7. Niko was determined to get at least three so that his team could more optimally avoid casualties. Once the game began, Niko launched himself off of the wall and sprinted for the middle line. He easily arrived there first and nimbly shifted along the mid-court line as he swooped up a few of the dodgeballs. He managed to get three, as he predicted, before the next in line was swooped up by the next fastest person, so he decided to quickly rush back to the wall so that he could begin lobbing his munitions. Once he tapped the wall, he ran back towards the center line so that he would have the most optimal distance from his targets. Instantly upon arriving at the line, he threw his first condensed dodgeball at the nearest person, aiming for the cap of their knee. The ball made a whistling sound as it flew, carrying with it enough kinetic energy to make a shocking "THWACK" sound as it connected with the person's knee. The unfortunate boy who was the target of Niko's first strike instantly collapsed to the ground as his knee flew forwards, the combined shock of being hit, jolted, and reflexed shifting his weight backwards and causing him to fall.

    As this was happenning, Niko grabbed the other dodgeball from the crook of his arm and started condensing both of the last two dodgeballs at the same time. The boy on the ground was still cursing as Niko started aiming at his next target - a black-haired girl with a ball who was about to reach the back wall of her side. Niko launched the ball at the girl's center of mass with the same whistle and "THWACK" sound, however, this time it sent the girl flying forwards, and the ball was sent back to its sender, arriving shortly at Niko's feet.

    These first two exchanges happened in the course of five seconds, resulting in an adequate amount of shock from the few people who were paying any attention to the game thus far. Niko used his left arm to throw yet another ball towards a boy at the far end of the other side of the room, who had successfully reached the wall and now appeared to be planning an assault on him. "THWACK." The boy made a quick sound of shock as his right shoulder, which was connected to the arm which held the ball, was hit by a dodgeball. The boy dropped the ball he was holding and stepped backwards a few times in shock, unable to comprehend how he was already targetted and hit with a dodgeball.

    The ball which hit that boy did not roll all the way back to the side which Niko was on, however it was close enough to the mid-court line that anyone could reach out and grab it, so Niko was satisfied with the result. He bent down and picked up the dodgeball which was at his feet, which had bounced off of the black-haired girl's back, and he re-condensed it as he considered whom his next most optimal target would be. There were two present aggressors in his vision, so Niko surmised that he would have to target one or the other, then adopt a defensive approach until he was re-armed. The opponents forces were significantly reduced as a result of Niko's primary onslaught, but they were now fixated on Niko primarily as a target, which put him in a position of danger. In the corner of his eye, Niko noticed the aggressor whom he was not primarily focusing on begin to set up a throw, so Niko launched his dodgeball at that target - a brown-haired boy who was rather bulky compared to some of the other members of his team. "THWACK" This time, the ball landed even more harshly on the man's lower chest. However, the ball which Niko threw did not roll back as far as he hoped it would, probably because the boy had forgotten to steel himself before taking the hit, and had left his abdominal muscles soft.

    The man immediately collapsed to the floor and gasped for air, as if he had been punched in the chest, and Niko hastily took a few steps back. A few of his team mates were just now starting to move forwards from the back wall, and the other aggressor was hesitating despite having the optimal opportunity to assault Niko. Niko heard a few mumbles of surprise and shock from the people around him, as if something incredible had happened, but he was too busy anticipating the enemy movements and planning his next assault. Niko stood around halfway between the back wall and the mid-court line, awaiting an opportunity to renew his assault as his eyes shifted from one opponent to the next. After a second, Niko finally recognized one of the opponents - it was the blonde-haired girl from the other day! Niko decided in a fleeting thought that he'd target her last as a sign of mercy, then continued scanning the opposition for opportunities. Then, he felt a hand on his shoulder from behind.

    Niko quickly turned around, surprise covering his face, and he stared at the person who had touched him. It was a man who was even skinnier than he was, and who held a dodgeball in his available hand. "Go get 'em." The boy said, offering the ball to Niko. Niko nodded, slightly suspicious that the boy would be offering his chance to improve his skill to another, then accepted the dodgeball and turned around to see another dodgeball flying straight towards him. Niko used his empty left hand to catch the ball, crushing the material so that it couldn't escape his grasp on the rebound as he interposed his hand between the ball and his hip. He then looked over to see the aggressor from earlier, a somewhat petite, brown-haired girl, and almost instantly sent the ball back over to her. Because he wasn't able to condense the ball this time, it landed with less impact than he had anticipated, however the girl was complaining, "Oh my gosh, stop it already! You caught the ball! Stop rubbing it in!" But Niko's surprise was registered more thoroughly by the fact that his teammates were now assaulting the opposing team. Two of the balls which were thrown hit the ground before even making it to opposing players, suggesting that his teammates had weak arms, but one managed to hit an opposing member. Unfortunately, said member caught the ball before it reached the ground, causing the first casualty on his team.

    Niko frowned, somewhat angered by the fact that the enemy team now had more munitions than his own team did, but was consoled by the fact that the enemy team was halved by this point. He was once again in the position in which he had to choose between getting revenge on the aggressor who caught his team member's dodgeball and assaulting one of the other two aggressors on the enemy team who presented more of a present threat. He ultimately determined to assault one of the male aggressors, seeing a prime opportunity as he looked over to one of his fellow team members and was thusly distracted. "THWACK" The boy was hit on the side of his chest, meaning that Niko had missed his mark. The ball, however, flew off of the boy and hit the girl whom he was standing beside, then bounced down and hit the ground. Niko retreated after this, realizing that his team would sustain heavy casualties, and quickly said, "retreat and adopt defensive tactics!" Although it appeared that he was talking to himself, because the rest of the team was busy soaking in their present advantage and rushing towards the mid-court line. Only those who appeared weak remained by the back wall, including the guy who gave Niko his own dodgeball and two others.

    Of course, the enemy team took this grand opportunity to make a resurgence, launching balls at Niko's team members, none of whom were able to catch even a single dodgeball. Niko hastily rushed forwards after the enemy's assault and grabbed one of the dodgeballs which didn't roll all the way back to the enemy team's side of the room, but his own forces were nearly reduced by a quarter as a result of the onslaught. Niko's team hastily rushed back to the back wall to reduce their casualties, realizing that they didn't have the advantage, and Niko took a few steps forwards to increase his threat for the enemy team. One person from the other team, a guy, threw a ball towards one of Niko's team mates simultaneously with another person from his team, thus two balls shot towards one of the girls who was next to Niko. Niko recognized this tactic and dropped his dodgeball, then launched himself towards said team mate, interjecting himself between the two munitions and the girl. However, instead of getting out as a result of being hit, Niko stopped the momentum of the two dodgeballs as they hit his body by the time he had stopped moving, thus meeting the criteria for "catching" the dodgeballs. Already, the opposing team was nearly finished, and his team was still mostly in play.

    However, after Niko's fantastic action, one of his teammates picked up the dodgeball which he had dropped and lobbed it over to the enemy team, where one of their members promptly caught it. The enemy team then launched a simultaneous assault on Niko's team once again, leaving Niko barely any time to react as they threw balls at the teammates who were furthest from him. Niko was happy to see that one of his teammates was competent enough to catch one of the dodgeballs, however he was promptly hit by a second dodgeball and was forced to leave the play area. There are only a few left...hopefully we can take them out before losing too many more members. Niko thought this as he condensed the two dodgeballs which he held, however, as he threw one of the dodgeballs, he noted that the opposing team member was able to anticipate the flight path of the dodgeball and, with a desperate leap, escaped from being hit. Niko mentally applauded this opposing team member with a growing expression of glee as he threw the other dodgeball at the person, who was now resting on the ground. The person, a girl with reddish-brown hair, arched her back and raised her body with her arms and legs at the perfect opportunity, barely escaping the flight path of the ball once again. She then launched herself upwards by pressing on her hands, finally resting in an upright, standing position.

    The game continued on for a few more minutes, mostly with Niko's team members getting hit by the red-haired girl and Niko being unable to find any more munitions due to his rather lacking team members using the dodgeballs inadequately at every opportunity. Niko nearly got hit by the red-haired girl on two opportunities, however his keen senses gave him plenty of time for his reflexes to kick in once he heard the whistle of the ball heading towards himself. Eventually, the game whittled down to just him and two other of his team members against the red-haired girl and Natsume. The opposing team had all of the dodgeballs, thus Niko and his other two companions were behind the half-way point of their own side of the room, awaiting for the opponents to attempt an assault.
  4. Natsume stood to the back even at the sound of the whistle. She wasn't fearing for being hit, but rather knew that it was best to wait until everyone else was tired out. Waiting for the opposing team to show signs of weariness was an easy way to assure victory. Much to her surprise though, the male from yesterday was on the opposing team. He was the first one to grab up not one or two, but three dodge balls. Before anyone could really react, Niko threw one of them, hitting someone in the kneecap hard enough to make it audible throughout the entire gymnasium. He was quick to follow through, and before they knew it, three of their teammates were already out. Natsume was impressed, but she still stayed towards the back, relatively out of sight. If the male wanted to go crazy with his assault, let him. His stamina would only run out all the more quickly.

    Her teammates weren't getting any hits in because the rest of Niko's teammates were staying in the back. By the time Niko had knocked out four of her own, they just started to leave the back wall and try to lend to the assault. After some time, their eyes eventually met. Natsume was unsure of whether or not she was going to be his next attempted target. She was unarmed, but she could easily catch if it thrown the right way, or dodge if he threw with too much force for her to handle. A sigh of relief left her after his attention was taken away from her. Her teammates finally seemed to decide it was time to make a move. Upon meeting the assault of the opposing team, one of them managed to catch one of the dodge balls thrown their way.

    Thanks to their efforts, they managed to take out four or five of the opposing team members. It was about seven to ten now, but the other team retreated back to the wall before they could take too many more casualties. Shockingly, the male was able to stop a double assault on one of his teammates - something no one in the class had ever seen before. Natsume was becoming a bit worried, but fatigue was finally beginning to show. His teammates weren't exceptional at the game, and their only truly good player was showing signs of getting tired. All she had to do now was wait a while longer, hoping that her teammates could whittle down their numbers bit more before finishing them off.

    The game eventually came down to just Natsume, Kiara (one of Natume's friends and a member of the gymnasts' club) against Niko and two of his teammates, a male and a female. Her team had all of the balls, and she knew it would be no hard matter for them to get rid of their opposition. With seven balls between the two of them, Natsume could launch two at the male to Niko's right, Kiara could launch two at the female to his left, and if he tried to make any move towards stopping either assault, Natsume would be quick to follow through with another ball while Kiara focused on the others. Natsume turned towards her left and smiled at Kiara, who smiled back and nodded.

    Natsume scooped up two balls, as did Kiara, and they began their assault just as planned. As Natsume had predicted, Niko hurried to prevent the girl on his team from being hit. Much to her surprise though, instead of getting in the way of the ball, he simply tackled her and shifted his weight so she'd land on top instead of hitting the floor. The other male was easily ousted, but Niko and the female now had four balls while Natsume and Kiara only had three. It was all up to their dodging skills. It didn't seem like either team wanted to take any initiative. If one team attempted an assault and missed, it would be all over for them...

    Without giving any warning, Kiara picked up one of their remaining balls and threw it at tremendous speed towards Niko. It only took a moment for Natsume to recognize this tactic. Without giving a moment's hesitation, Natsume took their remaining balls and launched one at the girl. With two balls of his own, Niko threw one at the ball Kiara had thrown, hitting it lightly enough that neither ball crossed back over the midline. His other ball was used to deflect the first one Natsume threw. His teammate would've made it out fine if she blocked the second ball with her own, but she tried to follow Niko's example and deflect it by throwing it. She threw it too high and the balls barely missed each other. Natsume's dodge ball hit her, and she was out of play. The ball rolled back over, and Natsume picked it up, the ball she caught from the girl just a moment ago in her right hand.

    Niko had five of the balls now, but as was made evident, he could manage what seemed to be three at the most. Natsume threw a ball to Kiara, who caught it and waited for what Natsume wanted to do. If they missed, Niko would be able to make a full assault against them. The male only picked up two of the munitions on his side, perhaps to make sure he could still dodge effectively. It was a standoff between the three of them. None of them seemed to be giving an inch, no one wanting to miss their chance to out someone. Natsume still had plenty of energy, but Kiara was beginning to show a little tiredness. She was the one that led the team's earlier assault, so it was to be expected.

    After much waiting, Natsume finally made a move. If they were going to win against him, they'd have to use more than the simple hit and run tactics. Natsume condensed the ball in her hand and pulled her arm back. After it seemed like she caught Niko's attention, she swung her arm forward, but the ball never left her hand. Instinctively, Niko threw a ball at what he suspected was a threat, only to be caught by surprise when the supposed threat never arrived. Kiara quickly followed through and launched her ball at Niko with incredible speed once more, and Natsume did the same. Once her ball was gone, she picked up the one Niko had thrown earlier and threw it as fast as she could. Surely this would be enough. It wasn't.

    Niko threw his remaining ball at the one Kiara just threw and launched himself into the air with a jump. He predicted correctly that Natsume's ploy would be to aim for his feet while he reached for another ball. The second ball arrived just in his path, which Natsume was hoping for. Niko managed to catch the ball and launch it at an unsuspecting Kiara though. The girl was out, and Natsume was the only one left, only one ball on her side. Niko looked at the girl, and for the first time, it seemed as though he was genuinely smiling. That was right. Even though they were both trying so hard to win, it was fun. Even though she knew little about him, she was happy that he could at least have that experience.

    No matter how good she was, and no matter how tired Niko was, she knew that any further attempt at winning would only result at a tiresome back and forth match. They were both easily capable of dodging anything the other threw. Natsume chuckled a bit to herself. It was true what they said about dodge ball for two people being impossible. Natsume walked over to her last remaining ball and lifted it over her head. She smiled at her opponent and then dropped the ball, which hit her lightly on the head. "You win," she proclaimed to the male, who was in great shock at her action of making herself out.

    "That's not really within the rules, but if you want to opt out, I won't go against it. That's it then. Team Blue is the winner!" Niko's teammates broke into cheer, and Natsume's teammates did the same. Even though they'd "lost", none of them had ever seen such an intense game of dodge ball. After giving them a moment, the coach told everyone to calm down and go get change. Natsume and Kiara talked over the game while they got changed before going their separate ways to their classes. Knowing that she shared her next class with Niko, Natsume hurried to attempt to join him as he walked. Hopefully after their experience in the gym, he'd be less likely to run away...
  5. After a short standoff, Niko noticed that the two members of the other team had a quick exchange, as if they had made a plan of attack, so Niko quickly motioned for the other two members of his team to come closer. "As soon as the first one hits the ground or the walls, run for it and use it as a shield. Don't try to catch anything." Niko said these few words without showing any audible sign of exhaustion, then continued his regular breathing pace as he commented, "Spread out." The other two members of his team agreed and moved to the far sides of the court, closer to the walls, and watched the two opponents carefully. With all their munitions, they'll surely target me so that they have an easy time routing the rest of this team. He thought, watching the eyes of his opponents to get a hint about their intentions. To his surprise, they were only staring down his team mates. They're dividing their firepower? Niko wondered, shocked, but if they do that, they'll surely why?...

    After a few brief moments of anticipation, Natsume launched the first ball at the guy on his team. The guy didn't appear particularly athletic, but his fight or flight mechanism allowed him to get out of the way in time. The instant the guy came to his senses, he started running back towards the dodgeball, leaving himself completely exposed for Natsume's follow-up attack. Niko, however, was not running towards the male at this moment, as the female member of his team was in greater need of assistance. Once the red-haired girl from the other team launched her first munition at Niko's teammate, she tripped and fell, leaving herself somewhat injured and defenseless. Niko rushed over as quickly as he could, picking up the dodgeball on his way over to her, and barely made it in time to interpose the dodgeball between her exposed backside and the ball which the red-haired girl had so mercilessly thrown her way. The ball shot off of the dodgeball Niko held in his hand and up into the air. Once it made it's return trip, Niko easily caught it, then handed it to the girl, whom was hastily trying to get back to her feet. Niko's catch didn't count because the ball had bounced off of a surface prior to him catching it, however he now had four munitions on his side, and was fully capable of a return assault.

    Unfortunately, the boy on Niko's team was ousted. Whether this was due to Niko's command or the boy's own incompetence was unknowable, but Niko certainly felt guilty for the casualty. This time, Niko tried to talk with his teammate instead of just giving an order and hoping they would obey. "Are you good at throwing?" She shook her head. Of course, both of us know that you are bad at dodging,... "How about picking up dodgeballs?" She paused, but nodded. "Then stick behind me and hand me dodgeballs when I reach towards you, alright?" She was slightly hesitant at his suggestion, but decided that it was better than being a target, and moved much closer to the wall, making sure to stay between him and the two enemy team members. Before they could even reach the other side, where the two other dodgeballs were located, the red-haired girl suddenly broke away from Natsume and ran towards the mid-court line on the far side of the court. Niko immediately recognized that this put threat on his teammate, so he ran closer to the girl who, thoroughly confused, was just trying to position herself to a spot where she could hand him a dodgeball.

    The red-haired girl threw the dodgeball at Niko before reaching her destination, but due to Niko's positioning, its only possible purpose was to distract him from Natsume, who was now starting to move to the other side of the court to put even more threat on Niko's partner. Niko casually blocked the ball which the red-haired girl threw, because her throw wasn't that strong due to her lateral momentum, but Natsume's attack was surprisingly threatening. The girl held up her dodgeball in an attempt to block, as Niko suggested, but due to her overcompensation for her weak grip, she was holding the dodgeball with both hands. The dodgeball which Natsume threw hit the girl's fingers, and even though she initially tried to act as if nothing had happened, the teacher called her out, much to her annoyance. She muttered something under her breath as she left, but Niko offered her no apology as she walked over to the "out players" area.

    Niko managed to stop the dodgeball which hit the girl from rolling over to the other side, then he casually went about gathering all of the dodgeballs into the center of his side of the field. Because Niko now had six dodgeballs on his side, and the opponents only had two, Niko was starting to plan out an assault to get the red-haired girl out. For the most part, his tactic wasn't complicated - all he needed to do was anticipate her movement three steps ahead of her. The only issue was that, now that he did not have a partner, he would be unable to rapidly deploy three dodgeballs to enact a tactic like this - thus he needed to complicate the situation for the second step instead of using a third dodgeball. Niko picked up his second dodgeball after a few seconds of thought, then started to condense the one in his left hand. Natsume sprinted towards him and tried to juke Niko out by making the throwing action, causing Niko to retort by holding up his left hand. The other girl threw a dodgeball at him after that, most likely trying to take advantage of how Natsume distracted him, but all Niko had to do was move his dodgeball slightly to the left and the ball which the girl threw was deflected. Natsume, however, made her most devastating attack of the day immediately after this.

    Continuing with the motion from her fake-out, she smoothly threw the ball towards Niko's hip. Due to Niko's preparation for an assault, he was already leaning forwards, and her attack occurred while he was deflecting her teammate's attack - a surprisingly perfect simultaneous strike. In order to get out of the way of this attack, Niko had to thrust his pelvis forwards, throwing himself off balance completely. Had the other team had another munition prepared for assault, Niko would be in a precarious position, however, as the situation was, Niko was perfectly safe because they were out of dodgeballs. Niko fell to the floor, more in order to give the other team the sense that their assault accomplished something, then he hastily picked up one of the dodgeballs from the small pile he made on the ground nearby. Then, he began his tactic.

    Niko exclusively targetted the red-haired girl, throwing the condensed ball which he had prepared. The red-haired girl managed to dodge it despire being tired, however, Niko then did something more unsuspected. With one huge step, he bounded towards the pile of dodgeballs and kicked them straight towards her. While they weren't kicked hard enough to actually make it over to her, as that would allow her to catch them and make him lose, they were close enough to obscure her vision, allowing for the second step to be met. Finally, Niko threw the dodgeball, anticipating an opening within a few of the other dodgeballs. His munition flew through the cloud of slow-moving projectiles and, with a rather sound "THUNK," the red-haired girl was out, having been hit on the hand. Niko grinned slightly after seeing the girl walk over to the "out people" section, however his eyes were not focused on the girl so much as the dodgeball which she let go of as she went. Once Natsume was the only opponent left in the room, Niko walked over to one of the two remaining dodgeballs on his side of the room, picked it up, and looked over to Natsume to see what she would do. Much to his surprise, Natsume simply gave up. Niko could not sense any emotion of hopelessness or despair from her, in fact, she was chuckling and smiling while doing so, which sent chills up Niko's spine despite her innocence. Once the teacher had agreed that the match was, indeed, over, Niko looked over at the clock. 8:38 It hadn't even been an hour since they started the match, but Niko felt satisfied with the result.

    The team which Niko was on all congratulated him, although Niko felt more intimidated by the fact that so many people were gathering around him than they might have intended him to feel. After Niko had changed, casually brushing aside any compliments or attempts to make conversation by his peers, he escaped from the gym and started heading over to the building which his chemistry class was held in. Unfortunately, as it seemed at the time, Niko found himself followed by a quickly-approaching Natsume shortly after exiting the locker room. Niko tried to step up the pace in order to get further away from her, but she managed to match his pace without too much effort. Today, unlike yesterday, Niko realized that it was hopeless to try and escape from this girl, because she had adequate physical capabilities, and happened to have the same classes as he did, thus he would be utterly unable to escape from her. However, he still retained his quick pace as he made his way over to the chemistry building, occasionally peeking over his shoulder to see if she was still there with an expression of curiosity moreso than fear. This continued all the way to the next building because neither of them spoke up along the way there. Once Niko got inside the building, he took a seat in one of the rows closer to the back of the room. Niko was fully prepared for class having read the textbook the previous evening, so he sat down and looked around, trying not to meet the gaze of Natsume, but nonetheless making note of her, along with anyone else who appeared suspicious.
  6. After gym class was done and over with, Natsume followed Niko along to their next class. She could easily tell from the way he carried himself that he was still dead set on avoiding her as best he could. It wasn't something she minded so much, but she figured it wouldn't be bad for her to at least try to keep an eye on the boy. Chances were better than not that, through continued interaction, he would come to not mind her so much as he did now. All she could do now, however, was hope that he would open up someday.

    Both Natsume and Niko continued along the path towards their class, neither of them speaking even upon reaching their destination. As expected, Niko hurriedly made his way towards the back of the classroom, but making sure not to sit all the way in the back, so as to not draw attention from the teacher, she guessed. Natsume respected his desire to be alone for the time being, and took up her usual seat near the front of the class. The girl prided herself in getting good grades in this class just like the others. She didn't know how intellectual Niko was on the current subject, but he was a new student nonetheless. It would be a bit weird coming from her, but sitting near the front and asking any questions she'd imagine the boy might have would be an easy way for her to gain some of his trust, she presumed.

    The teacher, Mr. Trough, entered the room shortly after they did. He had scruffy, gray hair and glasses that made him look like one of those professors that was always busy with their own work - a typical chemist. "Alright, class. I hope that everyone read the textbook last night, because we'll be blazing through today's assignment. I'd like to remind everyone that we do have a test tomorrow, so it is pertinent that you have ample time to finish your studying. Once we finish today's in-class assignment, the rest of the period is to be treated as a study hall.

    Natsume was glad that the assignment wouldn't run so long this time. She didn't have anyone she was particularly friendly with in this class, so perhaps she could use the time to- "Natsume," a voice spoke up, breaking Natsume out of her thoughts.

    "Yes?" she responded, trying to send as attentively as she could.

    "Seeing as how you have such high esteem in this class, I think it would be fitting for you to be the one to work with our newest student, Niko. That shouldn't be a problem, correct?" The teacher was looking at her in a manner of seriousness, but it wasn't to say that Natsume was one who needed a stern talking-to. Mr. Trough always had a serious expression; it was something that would probably throw new students off a bit, if not, in the least, intimidate them.

    Natsume nodded in response. "Yes, sir." Natsume didn't look towards Niko, even at the mention of his name, as she didn't desire to cause him any needless alarm. Mr. Trough looked towards Niko, who was now giving the front of the class his full attention, probably so he could see anything suspicious and make a run for it if need be.

    "That will be alright with you, won't it, Niko?" Mr. Trough asked, eyeing him with the same expression he always bore.
  7. As Natsume entered the classroom, Niko's first impression of the teacher was that he was the type who thought he had better things to do than to teach a course. After hearing his plan for the day, Niko grinned briefly, as if amused by how easy it was to read the professor's personality based on his expression. Soon after this, however, the noises of the other classmates around him caused him to revert to his standard nervousness and paranoia, quickly looking this way and that, careful not to look anyone in the eye as he investigated the sounds around him. Before too long, he calmed down, but right as he did, he heard the teacher say his name and immediately focused on the teacher. He tried to access the memories he must've formed by hearing the teacher's words, but they were blocked out by his own inattentiveness, so he returned the teacher's question to him with a blank stare for a few seconds.

    Right before he felt that the situation was starting to become awkward, Niko cleared his throat and shakily responded, "Uhh, y-yes sir." The response seemed general enough, so he stood behind it resolutely as he continued staring at the teacher. The teacher seemed convinced enough, so Niko was relieved to see that no one around him seemed surprised or off-set by his response. Once Natsume rose from her seat and started walking over to him, however, Niko was shocked for a few seconds, wondering what she was doing, but before long he realized that this had to be related to what the teacher was talking about, and decided to go along with it so that he wouldn't look indecisive, or worse, so that he wouldn't attract more attention.

    As she sat next to him once again, Niko fixed his eyes resolutely on the teacher, deciding that, with a person sitting as close to him as she was, he wouldn't be able to get away with looking around without her noticing. He tensed up slightly, thinking up a situation in which he'd simply look to his right with her peripheral vision to see her staring right at him. The thought sent chills down his spine, and completely eliminated any urge he had to further investigate the noises caused by other students around him. For now, focusing on the class assignment was good enough.

    Throughout the rest of the class, whenever he spoke to Natsume, he made sure not to make eye-contact, instead focusing on something else to seem busy. He was so absorbed in what he was doing that he didn't bother to look at other people in the class. Even while reading the assignment, he seemed to withdraw into himself a little. Whether it was because he wanted to focus more on the task, because he was tired from dodgeball, or because he felt awkward was indeterminable: what was easy to tell, however, was that he wasn't bothered by what was going on around him so much as he chose to ignore it unless it had some value or importance.

    Niko breezed through the preparation for the lab exercise without communicating much with Natsume, given that she seemed to grasp all the subtle aspects of setting up, cleaning, and mixing the necessary equipment and components. After taking a minute to set up his notebook rather thoroughly, he clicked his wristwatch over to the timer setting and said, "Alright, I'm ready." Over the next few minutes, he went through the activity which the teacher asked them to do as if he had already done it twenty times, correcting Natsume on the rare occasion that she forgot a significant figure or some other minor detail which the professor may have been watching for.

    By the time the lab was done, Niko had efficiently scrawled out a few notes into his lab notebook, and was among the first in the class to finish. He then helped Natsume clean up the materials, mentally reciting the boring safety features which were listed in the syllabus of the class as he poured some chemicals down the sink and placed other solid components into a chemical disposal unit below the table. Once the table was thoroughly cleaned, Niko started to silently analyze the data he recorded in his lab notebook. Before long, he had recorded all of the information he needed into his notebook. He then swiftly closed it and placed it into his backpack, then took out his calculus textbook and started reading one of the later chapters of the textbook, one with a suitably mind-numbing number of greek letters and other odd symbols.

    By the time class ended, Niko had read through many pages of the textbook, at least a chapter. He quickly packed up his backpack and made his way over to Calculus in much the same way that he made his way to Chemistry. He moved quickly, and looked around himself often to see if Natsume was still nearby, but he didn't specifically try to avoid her since he knew it was futile. Niko chose to sit near the back of calculus much like he did in Chemistry, and so that class passed by fairly quickly as well. Niko yawned as class ended this time, rubbing his eyes before packing up. He then stood up and made his way over to the cafeteria in the usual quick and paranoid fashion.
  8. Natsume found that working with Niko on the chemistry assignment was much easier than she'd imagined. Wherever he'd come from before he came to study here, he obviously had no trouble in chemical sciences. He even pointed out a few mistakes that she'd overlooked while trying to focus on what all needed to be done. One thing she noticed about the boy by this time was that he was a quick worker. Not so quick that he worked ineffeciently, but quite the opposite. He was smooth in his work, but rather than calm the girl, it only made her that much more curious about him.

    It wasn't long before the pair was finished with their assignment. Natsume didn't need to worry herself much regarding the cleanup, as Niko hurriedly performed all that needed to be done with pinpoint accuracy. Given a little free time as a result of this reprieve, Natsume decided to look over the notes she'd taken during the class, knowing that questions revolving around the assignment and its results would show up on later tests and quizzes. The teacher only stopped by their table once and looked at their recorded results. The only acknowledgement he gave of a job well done was a slight nod and an ever so slight smile. It wasn't so much that he cared, but more that he was glad he didn't have to be bothered with aiding them, like some of the less intelligent members of the class so often needed. Once everyone was finished, the class ended, and the pair made their "separate ways" without so much as a word.

    They'd both be heading to the same class, but Calculus wasn't anything that there'd be any sort of pairing up for, so she didn't concern herself much with Niko or her other classmates. She knew a fellow student council member in this particular class anyway, so most of her time was spent conversing and working on the handout that the teacher distributed. Natsume resolved herself to the fact that, for the rest of the day, it would be best to leave the male to his own business. There was little reason for her to interact with him outside of class right now, and previous attempts seemed to only make him distance himself further from her. She still stole in occasional glance, but played it off well enough to seem as though she was only making a general observation of the class, and not so much focusing on anyone in particular.

    Once the class was over, the day went about as normally as any other. Natsume ate a meal with her friends, as she always did, while the boy ate copious amounts of food by his lonesome. It only drew her to wonder how he ate outside of school that produced such an appetite. She reminded herself that it needn't be any of concern. After all, her biggest intrigue was in that which she saw the first night she encountered him, running through the rain with a pipe in hand.

    The girl shook her head fervently. She was losing herself to her thoughts again. She was not immune to the high curiosity that could easily overtake someone who'd experienced such a thing. One of her biggest flaws was being unable to suppress such a curiosity very easily. There was nothing going for it though. People do not always change so easily, and she was no exception. She worked hard on keeping her attention on the friends before her rather than the boy several paces away. And thus, her day went on.
  9. As per usual, Niko gathered together an enormous amount of food for lunch and devoured it at record speed. A few people walked over to him and asked him about how he managed to eat so much on a daily basis, being as small as he is. In response he stared at them, frightened by the number of people around him. He barely managed to get out a response as he looked from person to person. The second someone started to suspect that something was wrong, and stepped in to help him, he quickly weaved his way through the lunchroom and over to the exit with a pained expression. He left the lunchroom, haven eaten more food than three regular students could stomach, and barged out with intense urgency. As a result, the students who tried socializing with him laughed it off, commenting about how he must've had to use the bathroom before returning to their seats.

    Niko ran back to the dorm building for the rest of the lunch period, then went to his remaining classes. He was attentive, if drowsy, in his classes, and seemed to already know a lot about the subjects taught in Art, English and Teaching classes. At the end of the day, he hurried back to his dorm, waited for dinner, took his usual gigantic helping of food, and returned to his dorm, never to be seen again for the rest of the day.

    -Dawn of the 4th Day- Wednesday, December 17th

    On the 4th Day, Niko exited his dorm building at around 7:25am wearing a hoodie, loose jeans, and a crutch. He had various wrappings of gauze covering his hands, arms, legs, head and neck, and had more below the layers of clothing which he was hiding behind. At breakfast, he ate a standard portion of food, and the hand he used to hold his silverware was shaking and fumbling the whole time, slowing down his usual eating pace. Once he finished eating, he limped over to the gymn building, collected the sympathy of the gymn teacher, and sat in the corner of the room at around 7:55 as he awaited the start of class, leaning his crutch against the wall.

    As he sat, he carefully rested his back against the wall and gritted his teeth, as if in pain. He sat ramrod straight with his legs straight out, and clasped his hands so that his elbows could dangle at his sides without touching the wall. He then started to look around with a deadened look in his eye. He caught the attention of one of the other students, and before he could look away, she was already grinning and walking over to him. "Hey! You're Niko the transfer student, right?" she asked, stopping a good 15 feet away from him.

    Niko shifted uncomfortably as the girl spoke, as if feeling her eyes, but did not respond verbally. This only strengthened her resolve. "What happened to you? Yesterday you were the epitome of health, and today you look like..." she paused, realizing that she ought to choose her words carefully, then gave up and finished her sentence with, " something happened to you. Are you okay?" She then crouched, hoping that she'd be less imposing that way.

    Niko realized by now that she was going out of her way to hear something for him, and determined that answering her would only lead to conversation. However, as he looked her way, he noticed that other people were watching as well. If I don't answer, I'll attract even more attention. He sighed, mustering as much courage as he could get, and, after clearing his throat a few times, he responded in the most pathetically wimpy and blatantly false way a human could possibly muster, "I...fell down the stairs...of my dorm..." He then winced a bit, realizing that no one in the world would ever believe such an obvious lie, and sheepishly averted his gaze from her, his face starting to flush red from embarrassment. He didn't have any casts, just gauze, so it was obvious that he hadn't received a bludgeoning wound - his gauze either covered scrapes, or cuts.

    The girl giggled a little after hearing his response, clearly amused. She then nodded and, with a bright and innocent smile, she said, "Well, I hope you get better soon!" Her expression then narrowed into a sort of confident, competative grin as she continued, "...because, next time, I'll get you back for sure!" She then stood, turned, and confidently walked over to a group of girls. Niko stared at her as she walked off, then smiled a little as he looked down at his hands in thought. However, he winced a second later and he reached one of his hands over to his back as if to quell the pain he felt.
  10. The rest of the day was nothing exciting. After lunch, Natsume went about attending the rest of her classes. These were nothing incredibly special either. Other than the Art class, everything else was more just a follow-up from what they'd learned yesterday. Natsume remembered during the latter half of her Teaching class that she had some errands she needed to run before she could head home and enjoy the upcoming meal with her family. She took what notes she could and then, once class was over, made her way to the store.

    While on her way towards the store, she saw a group of people she'd never seen before pacing around the dorm. They'd occasionally stop to chatter amongst themselves, but what they were saying exactly was beyond earshot of her. She pondered approaching them, but she didn't want to risk a dangerous situation. She was rather alone right now, and she would have little means of defending herself if they decided to try something. So instead, she merely turned away. Once she was out of their sights, she pulled out her phone and dialed the number for campus security. "Yes, there's a group of suspicious people near the dorm. I've never seen them before, and I don't know if they're going to cause any trouble... Mhm... Alright, thanks!"

    Natsume closed her phone and made her way into the nearby grocery store, purchasing the butter and the other various food items her parents had asked her to obtain. Once her shopping was done, she decided to check the dorm one time. Much to her relief, it seemed that the group from before had dispersed. Whether they'd settled their business and left, or if the security made them leave, she didn't know, but she was happy to see them gone. They mustn't have caused much trouble here if there wasn't a bunch of hullabaloo. One last check was all she took before making her way home.

    -Dawn of the 4th Day- Wednesday, December 17th

    The 4th day started just as any other usually did. Natsume readied herself for the school day, ate her breakfast, and headed out. At school, things were a little bit different from usual. The biggest noticeable difference was that Niko was limping to class with a crutch. Natsume was unsure of what happened, but decided that he was probably in a mood where he'd desire to be left alone. As expected, the coach excused Niko from participating in the various exercises they were engaging in that day, and so the male sat off to the side for most of the class period. The only time he interacted with anyone was when one of their classmates went over to ask the boy if he was alright.

    According to the boy's reaction, he wasn't in any serious pain. Obviously if he had been, he probably would've skipped out on school. Then again, with how he carried himself, Natsume could assume that the boy didn't skip because it would draw even more attention to him the next day. It was going through all of these scenarios that Natsume realized something. That group of people from yesterday... It couldn't have been that they... Natsume wondered. It was a bit strange that there was a suspicious group outside last night, and then Niko suddenly coming in with a crutch. She didn't know how severe his wounds were, but it was obvious that, if he and the group outside from last night had squabbled, they only meant to frighten him. Surely he couldn't have gotten away from such a group...

    Natsume found herself caught up in her now habitual head shaking. She couldn't know for sure that Niko and them had even met. After all, Niko was known to eat at the cafeteria before returning to the dorms, and she called security as soon as she'd spotted them. The more she thought about it, the more unsure she was. She figured the best solution would be to ask the boy, but she wasn't currently in any position that would warrant him feeling obligated to tell her the truth. Nevertheless, it was worth a try. If they had injured Niko, she had no way of knowing that they wouldn't do the same to other students.

    With this settled, she waited until class ended before confronting Niko, who, luckily for her, couldn't retreat from her with his injuries. She didn't want to seem excessively overbearing, so she started with the obvious, simple questions. "Those injuries... Are you alright? I know my friend came over and asked, but I did notice you wince a few times. Did you get it properly patched up?"
  11. Throughout PE class, Niko shifted between watching people just long enough so that he couldn't be considered staring and zoning out, deep in thought. Various people in class waved over at him anyway, as if to cheer him up, but each of these subtle interactions caused him to panic and withdraw into himself. Once PE class was over and done with, Niko took a deep breath and, trying his best not to bend the joints in his legs or alter the arch of his back, he rose to his feet and grabbed his crutch. He then made his way through the locker room, merely taking the time within to ensure that his bandages were still fresh and correctly applied.

    On the way out of the gymn building, Niko quickly realized that he was being followed out the door. He didn't bother turning his head to see who it was, as he was already able to recognize the Natsume girl's footsteps by ear. Instead of reacting to her, he acted as if he hadn't noticed her up until she walked up beside him and started talking to him. His first reaction to her voice was dismay. Once again, these stupid injuries are causing me a great deal of trouble. He nodded gratefully at the girl as she asked if he was alright, but remained silent, internally hoping that she'd do the same. After her next bit of dialogue, he cleared his throat and, at the same time, his crutch shot a pebble which it landed on out from under it. The unexpected impact of the crutch hitting the ground surprised him, and it felt like it re-opened one of his wounds.

    But, at least for the moment, he poorly attempted to act as if nothing had happened. "Uhh,....yeah. J-just fine..." He said this while offering her a quick glance, but quickly decided to focus on the ground ahead so that he wouldn't experience any more pebbles. He internally debated with himself - about whether or not she'd pry further if he left his response as vague and curt as that. Based on how she was still next to him, he decided that reassuring her a bit more would reduce the number of things she'd have to talk to him about, so he cleared his throat once again and mumbled, "I've been certified in first aid for the last five's not nearly as bad as I make it seem,...limping as I am..." This time, he didn't bother looking over at her as he continued limping along. After he was done with his short line of dialogue, he looked ahead to see how far he was from the Chemistry building.

    Looks like this is going to be a long day, he thought, grimacing as he realized that he wasn't even a quarter of the way there.
  12. Natsume listened to the boy and watched his mannerisms as they walked along. Whether it was normal or out of him trying to hide something, all she could really not was his usual shyness. As far as what he told her, he was relatively alright. Thinking about her situation now, Natsume almost stopped where she stood upon realizing what she was doing. She was entangling herself with someone that was obviously into some messy business. The memory of seeing him run by her in that alley only a few days before had alluded her on account of her trying to move on, but now came back in an attempt to be connected to what could've possibly happened to the boy yesterday. Even more worrisome was the fact that, if she dove deeper, she might become embroiled in whatever mess Niko was currently caught up in.

    If I show him that I know something, he obviously wouldn't leave me be, right? Not if knowing put me in danger... It was a gamble, but Natsume figured it was the best shot she had. If she was ever going to ask him about the other night, and with good reason, it would be now, at a time in which she could play asking off as seeing through his ruse. "Say, Niko..." Natsume started, suddenly unsure of whether she wanted to ask anything or hurriedly change the subject to their next class. "Whatever happened to you yesterday..." Natsume felt her heart begin to pound faster. She had no way of knowing how he'd react, but, at the very least, he wasn't in any position to try and attack her or run away.

    "It doesn't have anything to do with-" Natsume started, only to be cut off by one of her friends rushing up behind her and embracing her in a hug. She winced at the sudden surprise.

    "Natsume, Natsume~ Whatcha doing?" The girl that had suddenly grabbed her waist was a bit shorter than she was. Ironically, however, her height was misleading. This girl wore an orange sleeve, signifying that she was one year above Natsume and Niko. "Heading off to class with your friend here?" The girl turned her attention towards Niko, who was at this point trying to reorient himself with the situation, though his befuddlement between what Natsume was about to ask and the sudden appearance of yet another new face was easily evident.

    "Y-yeah," Natsume answered as calmly as she could. "I'm guessing the same for you, Cici?" Natsume was a bit troubled that the most optimal chance she had at finding anything out was snatched away, and now Niko would be expecting it. She could only blame herself for not waiting until there weren't any potential interruptions, but then, what chance to be alone with Niko would ever show itself?

    "Yep, yep!~ We're all students here after all!" Cici was as chipper as ever, and even Natsume had trouble keeping up with her when it was just the two of them. "So there, Natsume's classmate. You look like a new face. How'd your booboos happen? It's no fun to come to school with booboos like that." The girl frowned at Niko in a manner that expressed both pity and disappointment.
  13. It wasn't long before Natsume started talking to him once again. Niko was more-or-less attentive to what she had to say, but his ears were picking up the sound of another approaching creature. His eyes were firmly fixed on the ground in front of him, and he stayed that way since he didn't want to trip, but he could feel his body stiffen a little in anticipation as the sound of the approaching creature got louder. Natsume was interrupted by the creature as it pounced on her, but Niko was relieved to hear that the creature was just another girl - one which was slightly shorter than Natsume.

    As Niko listened to her, he immediately felt that something was off about her cheerfulness. No one could be that cheerful... he thought, although he was concerned that he might be invalid in making that judgement after what had happened the previous night. Once he heard her name, he practiced saying it under his breath to ensure that he wouldn't forget it. "Cici...Cici.........Cici..." he mouthed, avoiding yet another misplaced pebble on the sidewalk. After hearing the girl address him specifically, he stopped so that he'd be able to focus on what she was saying. Despite focusing, however, her words seemed strange enough to him to be categorized as a foreign language. Something about my injuries, I suppose. After thinking that he had deciphered her words, he cleared his throat, swallowing the dislodged blood which resulted from the action, and nervously responded, "I...fell down some stairs..."

    Just like in the gym, he was certain that no one would believe him. But the cons of lying were better than the cons of telling the truth in his eyes, so he decided not to correct himself. Besides, having not turned to look at either of the girls, they couldn't see the giveaway body gestures on his face which indicated his lie, so he supposed that perhaps they would believe him. After a second's pause, he cleared his throat once more and continued, "exams are coming up, so I can't afford to miss class days. Besides, it's not as bad as it looks." He was able to calm down slightly as he became honest once again. But as he spoke, this time, he felt that the eyes of the Cici girl were re-opening his wounds from afar and he wriggled uncomfortably for a split second after leaning on his crutch once again.
  14. "Exams, huh...?" Cici pondered, as though she completely forgot they were coming up. Her finger was on her chin as if she was deep in thought."Aha! That's right! Winter break is up soon, and then we have exams once we get back. School will be letting out for break in two days, so you definitely shouldn't miss what's left of your classes!" The girl held herself proudly as if she had just had a EUREKA moment.

    "Yeah, so we should really get going to our classes," Natsume butted in, hoping to move things along. She didn't much like seeming so pushy, but they did have to hurry to class, and Natsume was still a bit upset that she blew her opportunity. "The teacher is going to be covering a lot of material that you probably missed between switching schools, so it's important that you get there on time." This time her attention was directed towards Niko, who seemed all too eager to leave behind this new person who'd suddenly rushed into his acquaintance.

    Cici nodded. "Yep, yep.~ I shouldn't bother you two anymore. I have classes of my own to get to, ya know." And with this, Cici saw the two off with a wave. Natsume let out a sigh as soon as the girl's back was turned and turned to see that Niko was already making his way towards the building.

    "Let me get that for you," Natsume called out. She rushed over to the building to open the door for Niko, but someone else opened the door before she could get to it. It was none other than their Chemistry teacher. Mr. Trough didn't seem shocked to see both of them right on the other side of the door, and wasted no time carrying out his task.

    "Ah, Niko. So it is true about your injuries. Truly a shame. Anyway, I'm glad I was able to catch you on your way to class. Saved you a lot of trouble I did. Apparently there was a ruckus last night by the dorms. Knowing that the dorms are your place of residence, and that you just so happened to come to school with injuries the day after the ruckus was reported, the president of the school, Mr. Hideyoshi, has requested that you see him in his office." The teacher turned his attention towards Natsume, that same serious expression still plastered on his face. "And you too, young Hideyoshi. You are the one that reported seeing a mysterious group outside of the dorms, correct? Your father believes that whatever you two may know would be helpful in determining who these ruffians were exactly... Don't worry about the assignment. I've prepared these two sheets for you to study from once you get home. On your way now."

    Mr. Trough handed both of them a small packet of paper filled with all sorts of information they were supposedly going to review in class, and then vanished back into the building before they could ask him anything. So security didn't chase them off then? That means that... Natsume looked at Niko, who now seemed a bit distraught, but also like he was trying to keep his composure together. Of course he'd be worried. With the amount of distance he'd shown her in the past few days, being called in like this so early into his new school had to be a troubling experience. It couldn't be helped though. The more that went on, the more Natsume felt like the boy was trying to escape from something. And whatever that something was, it seemed to have been catching up with him.

    "I don't think there's any way around it..." Natsume told the boy, knowing that he'd be off running by now if it weren't for his injuries. She was worried he might try to get away regardless. "There's nothing to worry about though. My father is a good man, and he'll understand if your answers to any of his questions are a bit reserved..." The female looked Niko over for any sign of acknowledgement, but she couldn't determine whether or not her words meant anything.
  15. Niko continued wobbling along as he listened to Cici's seemingly thoughtless initial reply. Once she started talking about a break, Niko groaned. Exams after only five days of coursework? What a horrendous system. However, as he reached for the door, he heard Natsume call out that she'd get it, but more importantly, his mind was distracted by the sound of footsteps on the other side of the door. He stepped back so that the door wouldn't swing into him, then watched as the Chemistry teacher walked through the door intently looking between Niko and Natsume. He listened as the teacher explained what he wanted the two of them to do, but frowned at the inconvenience.

    After being handed the packet of paper which he had prepared for the two of them, Niko casually shoved it into an opening of his backpack and, turning, started walking over to the administrative office building. Another Long Walk... His expression turned to hesitation as he looked down at his legs. He was really looking forward to sitting at a desk and not re-opening wounds. But, since the alternative was far worse, he decided to continue on his way.

    As Natsume started talking, he was reminded of her presence. He had almost forgotten about her in his own self-reflection, despite her loud, irregular footsteps and the fact that the teacher explicitly spoke to her for at least thirty seconds. He didn't bother turning to look at her as she spoke, as his neck was connected to his injured back, but he nonetheless paid fairly good attention to her. He sensed some sort of pity in her voice, and decided that, if anything, responding would worsen the situation. So he decided to stay quiet as he continued stumbling along.

    He continued going along in silence for the whole two minutes that it took to reach the administrative office. Once he arrived there, Natsume once again seemed more than eager to open the door for him, so he offered an attempt at a courteous smile and entered the building ahead of her. After looking around for a few seconds, as if trying to identify the room which they were supposed to go to, he looked behind himself, over at Natsume, and asked, "Do you know where we're supposed to go?" He was slightly embarrassed to ask, although his timidness was more a result of looking over at her again and realizing that she was watching him than the embarrassment of being unaware of the layout of the campus.
  16. Natsume smiled at Niko's question. It wasn't much, but he didn't seem to hesitate to ask her, even though she knew he preferred to avoid her and pretty much anyone else whenever possible. Maybe this was a step towards him trusting her more. Or maybe not. Whichever way she reasoned it, he could've easily kept quiet and just followed her. She'd have led the way whether he asked her or not. Could he have known that and asked anyway, or was his pain just distracting him from thinking as efficiently as he usually did?

    "Certainly. It's at the head of the building, right now this hall. That way it's a straight shot to the main office as soon as you enter the building. My father likes being accessible to people." Natsume began leading the way down the hall, but she felt a bit embarrassed at how much she was talking about her father. It was an excuse to talk more, but excuses only worked well if the other person couldn't tell they were excuses. Niko was probably seeing right through her. The girl sort of mentally sighed to herself and just continued walking, thinking it would be best to not push her luck.

    Natsume opened the door to her father's office once they were at the end of the hall, allowing Niko to step in first. Her father motioned for him to sit, but the boy seemed a bit reluctant to at first. Of course, the young male wouldn't be able to get away even if something bad did happen. His injury wouldn't allow it. Natsume came into the room after him and took a seat.

    "Thanks for coming, Niko, Natsume. I'm sure Mr. Trough already informed you of why you're here. Firstly, I apologize for your injuries. I'm not sure whether they took place on or off the campus, but I should feel guilty if your injuries took place while on our grounds. I know that you've been staying at the dorms..." Mr. Hideyoshi paused for a moment before continuing, giving Niko a moment to finish assuring him that it was nothing to be worried about. "That being said, I've been wondering if maybe your injuries have something to do with the ruckus that was raised last night. From what you told us, Natsume, there was a suspicious group of individuals loitering around the dorms where you, Niko, currently take residence. Is it possible that you could've gotten into a scuffle with them? I want you to know that you won't get in trouble if you were. As far as we all know so far, nothing bad came out of it but your own injuries. Unfortunately, we weren't able to catch those that were loitering that night. Basically, my request is that you can tell us anything you know about them and why they may have targeted you, if it's true that you were involved with them last night."
  17. Niko looked away from her as she responded, standing still in the middle of the hallway. Just knowing the location they were headed to was enough for him -- he couldn't pay attention to her other words. His timidness struck like a dagger the longer he looked at her, so he turned away from her so that his heart would stop racing. He tried to act as if he was looking around so that he could distract himself from the feeling of her eyes on his back until she passed by him and started leading the way. After that, he scratched the back of his head with his one free arm, careful to avoid the bandages, and followed about 6 feet behind her. He was trying to stay directly behind her so that it'd be inconvenient for her to turn around to face him -- after all, something about the situation was putting him on edge. Any little thing he could do to manage his timidness felt like it helped. All the same, he still didn't like the fact that he had to wander around with her -- especially not to whatever room they were headed to now.

    Niko barely kept himself together as they reached the room. He wiped some sweat from his brow when she wasn't looking, then stepped past her and into the room. There was a middle-aged man in the room sitting behind the desk, a guy whom Niko identified as the reason he was in this situation. When the person motioned for him to take a seat, he felt an obligation to do so, so he hesitantly wobbled over and very carefully sat himself down. He winced a bit as he rested his back against the chair - despite the cushion, the pressure on his bandages still hurt -- and he rested his crutch between the armchair and his leg. After that, he looked up at the chairman with a shaken look and awaited his fate.

    As the man started speaking, Niko felt slightly relieved. At least he didn't seem to be threatening or hostile. But the guy's professionalism was even better than Natsume's. The feeling of being watched that Niko got from him was even worse than the one he got from Natsume. He managed to stay visibly calm on the outside by biting on his thumbnail, but his internals were screaming for him to leave. Niko didn't bother speaking up when the guy mentioned his injury. He did peek a glance over to Natsume, curious as to whether or not she, too, was injured. He didn't see any bandages or visible injuries on her person, so he supposed she might've hidden it under her clothes if she did have an injury.

    Either way, the guy paused for a few seconds at some point after expressing his interest in whether or not Niko was alright. Niko didn't make a full response to this comment either -- he was certain that if he did, his voice would crack and he'd bring more attention to himself. Instead, Niko merely shook his head and said, "it's fine..." in as genuine a manner as he could manage without overexerting his pitiful social faculties. As the guy continued, something about the situation changed for Niko. The guy was blabbering on about a group of people the previous night, and as he did, Niko miraculously started to calm down. Good, it's better than I expected. Once the guy finished his explanation and asked for information, Niko quietly, but firmly, declared, "I neither saw, nor know anything about, any group like the one you described. I don't know anyone around here since I only moved in recently."

    He paused for a second, then, to save time, explained, "...and, I-I definitely didn't get into any kinda fight. I bandaged myself up since I fell down the stairs of my dorm building last night." It was the same blatant lie he told earlier, but it sounded slightly more convincing this time. "It's just a few scrapes and bruises, so there's no point in making it a bigger deal than it's worth." With this said, he started shifting his weight forward, as if to get up. He didn't want to be the one to ask to leave, but he definitely gave the impression that he had nothing left to say.
  18. Mr. Hideyoshi sighed at Niko's response, along with his eagerness to leave. "I know you're a new student here, Niko, but it would've been nice if we could've talked more. Unfortunately, you don't know what you don't know. There's nothing we can do to alleviate that. You can go on ahead if you'd like. I still need to talk to Natsume. Thank you for your time though, and I hope that you recover from your injuries soon." The man and her daughter gave Niko their farewells, and the boy was out of the room in a flash, even though he was injured. It was obvious that he was uncomfortable with the situation.

    "You wanted me to stay behind, father?" Natsume took a seat, whereas she had been standing until this very moment. She looked at her father intently. The male opened one of the drawers on his desk and pulled out a tape.

    "This is the recording we have for last night. I'd like to say there's something on it, but there isn't. If Niko was involved with whatever happened last night, the only people who would seem to know would be whoever was around and Niko himself. I don't like to believe the boy would lie to me, but his behaviors of suspicion are obvious to my eyes."

    "So then you think he was involved? Or you're uncertain?" Natsume tried to choose her words carefully. Having this type of conversation only brought up memories of what happened only a few days ago. She didn't want to bring up what she saw, partly because she wasn't sure of what she saw, and partly because it might cause unnecessary problems.

    "I would like to believe that a group of people loitering about near the dorms and one of my new students getting injured in such a manner on the same night isn't such a coincidence. I'm not the type to act on such assumptions though. You already know that about me."

    Natsume nodded. It was true that her father was much like her in that regard. Her father seemed a little perplexed by the whole ordeal, but she knew her father wouldn't let it get in the way of his work.

    "I'd like you to keep an eye out for him for now. Don't actively pursue him though. He seems very astute, despite the frazzled nature he displayed when he came in here. I could tell he always knew where you were, even though you didn't move." Mr. Hideyoshi replaced the tape and closed the drawer. Natsume stood up, knowing that he was just about done speaking to her.

    "I can manage that, father. And don't worry. I know to be careful. Most of my classes are with him anyway, so it won't be that hard to watch out for him." Natsume gave her father a reassuring smile, which he returned. His face quickly regained a serious expression though, as he gave his finishing remarks.

    "I appreciate this. If he ever seems to come upon anymore injuries, please come tell me right away. This may have just been a coincidence, but I doubt someone like him is accident prone... Or perhaps he is, and I'm just overthinking things... Either way, be careful, Natsume."

    Natsume responded with another nod and then prepared to leave for lunch. She had an excuse to be keeping an eye on Niko now, but it seemed her father's wishes for her to not actively engage in speaking to him. If he was attacked, it might be dangerous to hang around him too closely. Natsume shook her head as she approached the lunchroom. Cici was there and cheerfully greeted her.

    "Natsume, Natsume~! How was your class? Did you learn a lot?" Natsume smiled and shrugged. She figured it would be best to not let the cheerful girl now that she hadn't attended. It wasn't anything she needed to be bothered with anyway.

    "No, not really, haha... Just a review."

    "Hm, hm! I see, Natsume!" The young girl took to looking about, surprised to not find the boy with the crutch with her. "You aren't helping your friend with his walking? I thought that you'd help him throughout the day. That's the type of person our student council president is anyway!" Cici looked at her with a discerning look, and the taller female tried her best to look away.

    Natsume rubbed her head, feeling a bit nervous. "Well, he went on ahead. He seemed in a hurry and I didn't want to disturb him, so..." Natsume looked back to where Cici should've been, only to find that she already rushed into the lunchroom. She was standing next to Niko in the line, probably bothering him about who knows what. Apparently the head start he got on Natsume wasn't enough to save him from being bothered by the younger female. 'Sorry, Niko...' Natsume thought to herself while letting out a sigh.

    Cici rushed forward to where Niko was. "Stranger, stranger!" she exclaimed, still not knowing Niko's name. "I see you went ahead of Natsume. That's no good. It's alright to accept help, especially when you have booboos like that." The young girl pointed at the male's injuries. Niko's discomfort with the situation was dreadfully visible, but Cici was the one girl that wouldn't be able to catch a clue. "I can help you if she won't. So how was class?" Cici smiled at the boy as she made her way through the line.
  19. Immediately after hearing the words, "You can go on ahead if you'd like." Niko rose from the chair on his crutch and hastily hobbled out of the room. He closed the door behind him and made off toward the entrance, trying to stick as close to the left wall as he could so that he'd avoid people walking through the middle of the hallway. He felt a pit in his stomach. So he wants to talk more....I better be careful. It was already bad enough that the Natsume girl and her friend were involved, but now the faculty was starting to work its way into his life as well. I'll try and focus on my schoolwork to take my mind off of things...


    Niko reached the lunchroom without much issue. He was relatively surprised to see a bulky guy holding the door open for him. He nodded to the guy in thanks and hobbled through the door, reaching into his pocket to find his student ID card. He went through the usual process of scanning the card and walking over to one of the lines to get some lunch food, then started wondering how he'd spend his time later that day. He almost didn't notice the familiar footsteps of a certain overly energetic girl as his mind contemplated the most efficient way to study for Chemistry, but the girl's incessant exclamations were too loud to miss. His body tensed up in anticipation as he waited for the girl to pass him by, hoping dearly that he wasn't going to catch even more attention that day.

    Unfortunately, his hopes were crushed as the girl walked right up beside him and started eagerly making comment after comment. He smiled sheepishly over at her, rubbing the one uninjured section of his right arm as he awkwardly waited for her to stop talking. When she did, having asked a question as her last comment, Niko took a breath, as if to answer, but was interrupted by the lunch lady. "Waddaya want?" she asked, her voice low and crackly. Niko flinched slightly, as if fearing that she'd throw something at him, but quickly looked over at her and announced that he'd like five hamburger patties and four slices of combo pizza. The lunch lady went about getting the request filled out as Niko turned back to "Cici," as Natsume called her, then commented, "Uhh, h-hi there, C-Cici, was it?...I'm Niko...Niko Shinjumaya..."

    He continued to stare awkwardly at her for a few seconds, unable to put his thoughts together. Something about her energy made him want to curl up in a ball and hide, as if she was the sun and was burning his skin away. However, as the pain from awkwardness grew stronger, he was able to suppress this feeling and continue, "I'm fine on my own...really...and, class was..." he tried to think up a convincing lie, following the line of thought that if I tell her I went to the office of Natsume's dad, she'll have even more ammunition, so he instead commented, "...fine, I guess..." It was probably the most unconvincing line he had ever spoken in his entire life. He blushed as he turned away from her and reached out to accept the two plates of food that the lunch lady offered him.

    As Cici continued talking to him, he moved along the lunch line and piled tons of random foodstuffs onto his two plates. By the time he reached the end of the line, he had at least two inches of food piled onto each. He looked around, trying to find a spot to sit where it'd be harder for her to talk to him, but he couldn't find any such spot. After all, the tables were positioned and designed so that socializing was easier. Curse those campus planners, Niko thought, setting his food down at a small, square table with four chairs. He then went off to get two glasses of soda from the fountain drink machine, and even got a few cups of soft serve, trying his best to respond to Cici's chattering without any sign of rudeness or impatience. Then he finally sat down at the table and prepared himself to eat.
  20. Cici followed Niko along in the line as they both retrieved their requested food items and headed towards a table. The young girl was happy to finally know the male's name. "Niko, huh? I think that's a really cute name. You sound like you come from somewhere overseas. I'm from Russia, but that's not important, is it, Niko?" The girl rambled on like this for quite some time, and Niko probably wasn't making any sense of it all.

    Natsume was sitting a ways away, and tossed a glance over at the two every so often. She had to fight back chuckling a bit at the poor boy's situation. She knew firsthand how shy Niko could be, even though she'd only known him for a few days. He was a complete contrast to Cici. It made her glad to see him not running away though. Sure he was injured, but he could easily get away from the girl if he wanted to. She was energetic, but she wasn't the type to follow someone incessantly. Was this really someone she thought could've possibly killed someone? Natsume found herself instinctively shaking her head. It became sort of a habit whenever she began to dwell on that night. There was too much she didn't know, so there was naturally no excuse for her to brood on it and make assumptions.

    "So, Niko~ Are you good friends with Natsume? I've only seen you two together once, but it looks like the two of you were walking together to class. Hm, hm?" Cici nudged the boy a bit, as if to imply something. She was surprised that Niko didn't quite get what she was hinting at. She was still oblivious to his social ineptness. According to what she could gather, the two of them were "okay" with each other. "Well, what about us, Niko? Do you think that Niko and Cici could be friends?" She gave the boy a sincere look, that seemed to almost tempt him into not saying no.

    Before he could be given the chance to answer, the bell for lunch period's end rang, and the boy was quick to make his retreat, giving only a curt wave as a farewell. Cici waved him away, only with an added "nice to meet you!" attached to it. Natsume approached Cici and asked her what the two of them talked about while they ate. Cici gave a sort of smirk and nudged Natsume. "Why are you worried about what Cici and Niko talked about, Natsume Natsume~?"

    Natsume sighed. "It's nothing like that, I promise you, Cici. I was just wondering if the two of you had a good conversation." The girl before her shrugged her shoulders and began walking.

    "I talked the most, but he was a good listener! I asked him if we'd be able to be friends, but the bell rang before he could answer. I'll just ask him next time though, so no worries!" Cici walked along with a proud smile on her face. She was always happy to socialize, even if the other person didn't want to. Natsume smiled too.

    "I'm glad the two of you seemed to have gotten along. I think it would be good for him to make friends. You're probably the best to do that, since it'll happen whether he wants it to or not."

    "Hey, what's that supposed to mean?" Cici lightly pounded Natsume with her fists, while the older girl laughed her way to class.

    Natsume walked into the art classroom and retrieved her piece, before setting it down on a canvas and awaiting instructions from the teacher. Niko was already here, and he had apparently already started to resume his painting. It wasn't really necessary to wait for the teacher when they already had their assignment. Natsume picked up her brush and resumed her own piece. Hers was a painting of a road. It was outlined in such a way that it was impossible to tell where it ended. A painting without a destination, always continuing into the sunset. There were birds flying above a nearby tree, and there was only a solitary car on the road. It was impossible to tell how many people were in the car, but that was the mystery of the painting. Who was in the car? Where was it going? They were unanswerable questions, but in just that way, no answer that was given could be wrong.

    While she was painting, she managed to catch a glimpse of what the person nearest to her was painting. It was a painting of two birds. One was injured - it had a broken wing. From the white color, she assumed it was a dove. The other one appeared to be a crow, and it was bringing the fallen dove what seemed to be food. Other than the two birds and the food, the sheet was completely blank. It was simple in appearance, but not so in meaning. Normally crows were viewed as birds that fended for themselves, so it was shocking to see what helping a dove, a bird most often used to represent the opposite of the crow.

    The person, a male, whom the painting belonged to turned and saw Natsume looking at his art, and smiled. "Nothing much, is it? I think it represents a lot though, don't you think?"

    Natsume was taken aback by the male's sudden notice of her, but she remembered that his name was Ben. "Yeah. I think there's a lot of depth to it."

    Ben nodded. "The way the crow helps the dove. It would seem an ironic situation, yet it's something we can all see. Sometimes it's the person that's presumed to be the bad guy that ends up helping the 'hero', isn't it?" Natsume smiled at this insight. Ben was right. Situations like that could be seen in popular series on TV. She wasn't so sure about real life though. It wasn't anything she ever witnessed or experienced. "Maybe such a situation will happen to you someday, student council president."

    Natsume looked on in a sort of daze. "Maybe... But I do try to take care of myself. I wouldn't want to needlessly be a burden to others."

    "Who can decide what is needlessly burdening?" Ben asked her, before returning to his painting. He clearly meant to leave her with this thought. Natsume brewed on this thought for the remainder of class.
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