I do not own School Rumble nor Midori no Hibi. They belong to Jin Kobayashi and Kazurou Inoue, respectively.


CHAPTER 06 – SCHOOL STARTS

Monday had finally arrived. And along, the so-dreaded school time.

At least to Kyousuke Imadori. Riding to Yagami High, the blond playboy was doing the best he could to balance himself on his bicycle. After all, trying to keep your balance while holding on only one handlebar was harder than imagined. It didn't help either that he was quite sleep-deprived.

"Imadori-san, we need to hurry. We're going to miss the first lesson." Ichijou pressed on, hidden inside his jacket pocket. She was dressed in a pink leotard with white gloves. Granted, the outfit of one of Imadori's Doujibiron action figures, which luckily seemed to fit her perfectly. For practical reasons, the mask was left out.

The boy sighed in annoyance. Was his new companion going to nag like that all the time?

"Cut me some slack, Ichi-san," he whined, his voice a bit weary. "I didn't get any shut-eye last night."

That wasn't unexpected though. He had spent the rest of the previous day attempting to wrap his mind around this entire thing. Not to mention it was difficult to sleep while forcibly sharing a bed with someone you weren't that close to. Okay, it was just good, old Ichi-san he was talking about. Still, the strangeness of the situation kept him up all the night.

In addition, there was the not-less-awkward bath time. Showering with only one arm was tough enough, and even more considering that the two had to keep their eyes averted from each other.

In the end, the preparation for school which should have taken only twenty minutes, lasted for more than an hour.

"Imadori-san," Ichijou muttered, drawing his attention. "Do you think it'll be okay?"

He looked down at her. She was clearly worried. Who wouldn't, knowing the implications if they were ever smoked out?

"Beats me," he simply said. "I hope so."

Even the normally-overconfident Imadori couldn't give much reassurance this time. He was not looking forward to today's class either.


Ichijou house

In the small kitchen of the house, Midori and Seiji were eating breakfast with Mrs. Ichijou. Kousuke had already left earlier to school.

"So," Natsumi started. "You're going to Karen's school? You think you'll find something up there?"

Midori hummed a yes. "We're going to talk to a few friends of hers. And maybe take a look at her wrestling club. Who knows, it might point me in the right direction, if we shared the same exposure to something."

That, of course, was a lie she and Seiji had previously agreed upon it. The actual reason to go to Yagami High was to find this 'Blue' guy and verify if his right hand had anything 'odd' about it. But Natsumi didn't need to know about it. Not for now, at least.

Midori was gradually becoming better at lying, even if she didn't seem to notice it.

"But, Midori-chan," the older woman retorted. "Don't you and Seiji-kun have school yourselves today? Is it okay for you to simply skip classes?"

"Don't worry about it, Aunt Natsumi," she waved dismissively. "I'm doing great in my classes. If it's only one day, I can catch up with them later. Besides, helping Karen is more important."

However, she couldn't say it for sure regarding her boyfriend. She was aware that Seiji was already struggling to maintain his college scholarship and missing classes wasn't going to help him at all.

"Seiji-kun, I think you should have gone back though," the green-haired girl advised, toward the young man. "Won't it be troubling if you just skip classes like this?"

"Not at all," he casually replied, with a mouthful of omelet. "I have an absence limit, but it's okay if it's only for a day. Besides, there aren't many lectures scheduled for today anyway."

He sounded too casual, and Midori suspected Seiji was not giving it enough importance. He did need to study to keep up his grades and, even if helping a family member was important, she didn't want him to lose his scholarship because he got dragged into her family's problems.

Unknown to her, these indeed weren't the sole reasons that made Seiji stay. If Midori would stay at her aunt's house the whole time, he wouldn't have minded as much. She would be safe and, with clear conscience, he could have then returned to his house. But now that she was going to visit the local high school, there was no way in hell he'd let her out of his sight. Being a former delinquent, he knew far too well that those places were full of ravenous male predators.

"Oh, I can't thank you enough for your help," Mrs. Ichijou smiled, giving the couple a grateful bow. "I really appreciate what you're doing for Karen."

"Why, don't mind it, Auntie," Midori returned the courtesy. "We're happy to help."

"Do you want me to take you up to the school?" the older woman offered.

"No need for that. Kousuke gave us all the information we need."

With that, Natsumi politely wished them luck and proceeded to do the house chores while the young couple prepared to depart.


Yagami High School, classroom 2-C

The bell for the end of the first lesson had just rung. Amidst the crowd of students that followed, two girls approached an empty desk, having noticed its owner hadn't showed up for the day... again.

"Ichijou hasn't come today again." One of them sighed. She bore long dark-brown hair that stretched down to her waist.

"She's probably still sick." The other pointed out in a sad voice. This girl wore eye-glasses and had her black hair tied in two pigtail braids.

Her companion didn't answer. Megumi Sagano and Tsumugi Yuuki really missed their friend, Karen Ichijou.

"How long has it been now?" Sagano inquired, her tone somber.

"She stopped coming on Thursday, so I'd say about five days." Yuuki replied, matching her tone.

It did seem longer from when they had first learned of Ichijou's condition through her mother. According to the doctors, their friend had fallen into some sort of deep sleep; a coma, so to speak. During the following days, they had been going up to Ichijou's after school, trying to help the doctors figure out what had happened.

Nothing had come up though. No matter how much they racked their brains, they couldn't find a single reason for her current situation. No serious accident, no bump on her head, no major trauma, no nothing. In fact, just on the day before her coma, she had seemed perfectly healthy. A little depressed maybe (although they didn't know why), but nothing that could have caused... this.

The only day they hadn't visited her was on Sunday. Apparently, Mrs. Ichijou was expecting a family relative and the two girls didn't wish to intrude.

"You think," Sagano wondered. "We should have gone on Sunday too? Don't know, maybe we could have helped this family relative sort it out."

Yuuki just shook her head. "I'm not sure if we would have been of much aid. Even the doctors couldn't do much after all."

Then some moments of silence ensued, as the two girls gazed at the empty desk with saddened eyes.

"Hey, guys." A familiar female voice called out from behind.

The twosome turned around to see who it was. A tall, busty girl with shoulder-length navy-blue hair approached them.

"Hi there, Suou-san." Sagano greeted back, while Yuuki waved in reply.

"What's up with Ichijou?" Suou asked with a tint of concern. "She hasn't been showing up lately. Is she ill or something?"

Sagano and Yuuki then realized that most of the class would have noticed by now that Ichijou had been absent for awhile. Only they, however, had been told what had happened, as Mrs. Ichijou didn't want to make a fuss out of her family affairs.

They pondered over it for a second and then concluded it wouldn't be much of an issue if Mikoto Suou learned of it. She was a reliable classmate and appeared to be on good terms with Ichijou. She wouldn't tell anyone, except maybe her closer friends, but they would keep it a secret (okay, they weren't so sure about Tenma, but even so, they'd just have to ask Suou to make it clear to her dim-witted friend).

Sagano decided to be the one to shoot the bullet. "She's ill, indeed. The doctors said it's some sort of induced coma."

Suou's eyes widened at the revelation. "Induced coma!?" she exclaimed, shocked. When the other students turned to stare at her, she lowered her tone. "What caused it?"

Yuuki shook her head. "They don't know, and that's the problem. All we've been told to do is wait until something changes about her condition."

The taller girl was astounded by the news. Out of all the people, Ichijou had fallen victim to an unknown disease? Suou was very aware of how strong the green-headed was and to think she had been taken down by a disease sounded impossible to her. Part of her was in utter disbelief.

Nevertheless, she still felt sympathetic for her classmate. "I see. Poor Ichijou. Maybe I'll drop by hers later to see how she's doing."

"Suou-san, can you please keep it a secret?" the bespectacled girl pleaded. "Her mother doesn't want a show out of it."

"Don't worry. My lips are sealed," Suou assured them. Then she noticed something else: all day, nobody had lunged at her, trying to fondle her 'assets'. It was when she glanced at another likewise empty desk in the same row. "Now that I think about it, Imadori-kun hasn't shown up today either."

Ichijou's friends scowled at hearing that name. "Don't mention that pervert!" the brown-haired girl harshly commented.

A similar mood could be seen on Yuuki too. "That insensitive jerk! I bet he hasn't even noticed that Ichijou's been missing."

It was unexplainable, yet deep inside the two girls' minds, they had a feeling that Imadori was somehow to blame for Ichijou's state. It was common knowledge in 2-C that Ichijou nourished a big crush on the blond guy, although it seemed to be unrequited. They didn't say any of those thoughts aloud though, naturally.

Call it coincidence or irony, but the moment those words left their mouths, the spoken devil appeared right at the classroom door.

"Sorry I'm late." Imadori quickly announced as he entered and headed straight to his desk. His right hand was tucked into his pocket.

"Imadori-kun!" shouted an authoritative guy with short hair and eye-glasses. "You're awfully late! What's your explanation for missing the first lesson?"

The blond boy groaned weakly at the annoying class 2-C's representative. Gee, Hanai could be such a pain in the ass sometimes.

"Sorry, dude," he almost whispered, discreetly showing his heavily bandaged right hand. "Got my hand hurt and took longer than usual to prepare myself."

"WHAAAT!?" Hanai yelled, exaggerating and being unnecessarily dramatic. "What have you done to get yourself hurt like that? As 2-C's representative, it's my duty to oversee the physical integrity of my fellow classmates and make sure no harm befall them!"

As the class representative continued on with his rambling, Imadori held down the urge to tell him to shut it. He had expected to keep his 'injury' under discretion, talking about it only if somebody asked. But now with Hanai screaming it out loud, by now, everyone in the class would be aware of it.

Before anyone asked though, the bell for the next lesson rang, forcing all the students back to their desks.

The blond boy breathed a sigh of relief when Tani-sensei arrived in the room (never thought he'd actually be happy to see the boring teacher). Some of the students sat next to him were eyeing his bandages, a few murmuring about 'too-much-exercise-in-the-bathroom', but at least for now, nobody would pry into his situation directly. And, as an extra, he thankfully sat with the classroom wall to his right, so it'd be harder for any of the others to spot Ichijou.

He didn't seem to notice though the glare of two of Ichijou's friends from the other side of the room, who were nowhere near sympathetic for his hand.

'Serves him right!'


Outside Yagami High School, a few hours later

Out in the small square in front of Yagami High, Midori and Seiji had been sitting on the park bench for awhile. They were drinking warm canned coffee that Seiji had purchased minutes earlier.

"I don't know why we're still waiting here," Seiji complained, a bit bored of sitting out there. "We could have just gone to his classroom, dragged him out, and checked on his hand."

"Don't, Seiji-kun!" defended Midori. "This is not our school, so we can't simply barge into his classroom. The most polite thing to do is wait until lunchtime."

"Yeah, yeah." He waved dismissively, not wanting to get into an argument with his girlfriend.

"You remember the plan, right?" she reminded him. "We don't know his name yet, so let me do the talking. They'll probably trust me more, since I'm Karen's cousin."

"Sure, sure, whatever." He complied, turning back to his coffee. His mind, however, was focused on her attitude rather than the plan.

Interesting how things had developed after all those years. Midori doing the talking; that was an initiative that Seiji had never expected her to take. Since the day they had started dating, she seemed to have become more confident and social. From what he had been told by her mother and Kouta, Midori used to have difficulties to talk even with her own classmates in Ogurabashi.

Still, this new attitude made her more beautiful in his eyes than ever. Gradually, she was becoming more and more like 'miniature' Midori. He had once heard somewhere that girls only blossomed to their full potential when they were loved. It made him question: was it possible that he was the one responsible for her change, just as she was for his?

"Seiji-kun," she coyly whispered, interrupting his musing. "Do you think Karen will be on this 'Blue' guy's arm? Just as I've been once on yours?"

"Maybe. That's what we came for." He plainly shrugged, not elaborating more.

Midori pried further though. "But what if she's... you know, happy with her condition?" Her voice was shy, as if she was saying something wrong. "What if she doesn't want to leave him?"

'Just as I didn't with Seiji-kun.' She mentally completed.

The blond man tightened his lips. He wasn't really willing to talk about it, but he knew it would eventually pop up. That revelation was probably weighing heavily on her mind, just as guilt was still dwelling within his. Even so, he couldn't come up with a satisfactory answer to his girlfriend's question.

Fortunately for him, he didn't have to, as the school bell suddenly rang, announcing the end of the morning period.

"It's time. Come on." He beckoned, as they both stood up from the bench and headed towards the building.


Yagami High School, classroom 2-C

The bell couldn't have rung soon enough to Imadori. No matter how unsuspecting the class appeared to be, the fear of being discovered constantly plagued his mind. He was simply a ball of nerves.

This entire sense of paranoia was new to him. Normally as a laid-back guy (many times to the point of carelessness), he wasn't used to bearing with such an important secret. He wasn't the type to care about a whole lot of things, but he did care about his reputation (as if the playboy fame was something to keep up with). If anyone found out about his hand, he would forever be labeled as some sort of freakish mutation. Absolutely no girl would want to go out with him after that. Not to mention that the scientists and reporters would never let him live it down. His tranquil, carefree life would be over then.

Not a millisecond after the class had finished bowing to Tani-sensei, he immediately picked up his bag and strode out of the classroom. He didn't want to give his colleagues a chance to inquire about his hand. Luckily for him, today's afternoon period was reserved for club activities, thus he didn't have to stay if he wasn't part of any.

He walked in a fast pace through the school hallways, trying not to run, as it would cause any passing teacher to stop and scold him. Heading toward the exit, he took an alternative route than the main hallway in order not to stumble upon anyone he knew. His priority was to get out of there while drawing as minimal attention as possible.

Therefore, he didn't cross paths with a couple heading in the opposite direction.

.

Some of the students in 2-C looked quite bewildered at Imadori's behavior today. And not only his friends, to whom he had barely spoken a word before rushing out of the classroom.

Even a few of his not-so-close classmates were left confused. Suou, in particular, found it odd how that pervert was acting surprisingly quiet today and hadn't attempted to grope her at any time.

'Maybe he just had a bellyache.' She presumed, half-joking, half-serious. That reminded her that she needed to visit the washroom before lunch with her friends.

She excused herself and headed to the door. The instant she left the classroom however, the tall girl almost bumped into a couple right outside. First thing noticed were their civilian clothes, so these people weren't likely Yagami students.

Although what really caught her off-guard was that the woman of the couple looked remarkably familiar to her.

.

"Class 2-C." Midori read out the door label. "It's here, Seiji-kun. Karen's classroom."

"Good, let's get in then." He said, reaching for the knob.

Before he could though, the door was opened and from inside came out a tall, blue-haired woman. She stopped short, nearly bumping into them. Then, without apparent reason, she began staring at Midori in shock.

.

"I-Ichijou?" Suou stammered, eyeing the green-haired girl in confusion.

"Eh!?" Midori muttered in return, uncomfortable with the taller girl's gaze. "N-No, my name's Midori."

Then it registered in Suou's mind. The girl before her looked very alike Ichijou, including her sweet tone of voice, yet there were a few subtle differences. Her hair was a lighter shade of green and her eyes were blue, instead of Ichijou's lead gray. This one's face shape looked a bit wider too.

As comprehension finally sank in, Suou ceased her staring and relaxed. "Sorry, sorry. My bad," she laughed, rubbing the back of her neck. "I mistook you for someone else. A friend of mine named Ichijou."

"Karen Ichijou?" Midori inquired in a hopeful tone. "You're a friend of Karen?"

"Uh, yeah," Suou replied, awkwardly. She and Ichijou weren't exactly close, but she did care for the cute wrestler. "Why? You know her?"

"I'm her cousin, Midori Kasugano. Pleased to meet you," she politely bowed. She then gestured to the blond young man behind her. "And this is my boyfriend, Seiji Sawamura."

Suou's eyes widened again in surprise. This girl was a family relative of Ichijou? Why, considering how much they resembled each other, it shouldn't have come out as a surprise. She recomposed herself before greeting back.

"Pleasure's mine. I'm Mikoto Suou," she bowed in return. "If you want to see your cousin, unfortunately she didn't come today."

Midori shook her head slightly. "No, no. We came to see another person actually. Karen's boyfriend... you know, blond hair, kind of messy... half-dropped eyelids... I forgot his name, but it started with 'I-'..."

Of course, she knew that 'Blue' guy wasn't her cousin's boyfriend. Nonetheless, it would have sounded suspicious if they had just started asking questions about a random classmate, whose name they didn't even know. So she gave on only his general appearance and hoped it would be enough to pass.

Suou, on her side, raised an eyebrow in doubt. By 'boyfriend', they couldn't possibly be talking of Imadori, could they? Would Ichijou have really referred to that pervert as her boyfriend?

"Well," she began. "I know a guy in the class that matches this description, but I can't say for sure if he's her boyfriend. His name is Kyousuke Imadori."

'Kyousuke Imadori.' Midori memorized. Now she and Seiji had a name to narrow the search with.

"Yes, that's the name," Midori feigned recognition. "Can you please call to him?"

The blue-headed displayed an apologetic expression. "Hmm sorry, you're out of luck today. He just left the moment the bell rang. If you're fast, perhaps you can reach him." She finished, pointing at the main entrance's direction.

'Oh, no!' the green-headed girl mentally snapped. She turned to her boyfriend. "Seiji-kun, we should go..." she halted at seeing the dazed look on his eyes. A tinge of anger boiled inside of her once she realized that the young man was staring right below Suou's neckline, so she spoke a little louder this time. "Seiji-kun!"

Pulled out of his trance, he instantly replied. "Oh, sure. Let's go!"

The couple thanked the blue-haired woman for the information and rushed toward the exit afterwards.

.

Unbeknown to them, at the end of the hallway where they were talking, a male student with long, stretched-up blond hair seemed particularly shocked with the sight of the outsider couple.

"That guy..." the figure mumbled. "I'm sure I've seen him somewhere before."


Oh, well. What did you think? Please review and let me hear your thoughts.