It was lunch period on campus and the UQ members that were undercover at the prestigious school were lucky and able to beat the rush and grab a small table. Once again Karin somehow grabbed one of the coveted premier lunches, a secret she still refused to reveal to the rest of the group. It was a spicy curry today and looked delicious. Everyone else at the table was stuck with simple red bean buns.
"We need to be making more progress," Karin complained as she stirred her meal. "Our first big lead and the two of you turn tail after only taking care of one overgrown arachnid."
"Is she ever pleased with anything," Santa whispered under his breath as he leaned closely toward Touta.
"Heh, not that I've seen really," Touta admitted with a small chuckle.
"And you two," Karin chided as she slammed a fist on the table. "Stop whispering! If you have something to say announce it to the table."
"Yes ma'am. Sorry ma'am," Santa quickly said as he straightened in his seat.
"There's just a lot to explore Karin-sempai," Kuroumaru explained. "It's going to just take some time."
"I'll go with you guys next time," Santa said. "My phasing abilities might come in handy with all those tunnels. Plus, I want to be a part of the action if we happen to come across anything else."
"That would be great," Touta exclaimed happily as he slapped Santa on the shoulder playfully. "We could really use the help. More the merrier!"
"Kurou-kun," came a cheerful tone behind the group as a pair of feminine arms wrapped around Kuroumaru's neck.
"Chloe-sempai," Kuroumaru said as he glanced up to see her with Reika standing close by.
"Mind if we sit with you," Reika asked. "All the other tables are gone."
Kuroumaru paused as he glanced at Karin who was giving him a disapproving glare.
"Of course you guys can sit with us," Touta answered for him. "You must be a part of the band Kuroumaru was telling me about. I've been wanting to meet you girls."
"Aww," Chloe sang as she rocked Kuroumaru in her arms playfully. "You talk about me with your friends? How cute."
"You two are awfully friendly," Santa muttered with an embarrassed blush. He never was comfortable with public displays of affection.
"That's just how Chloe is," Reika laughed as she squeezed in between Kuroumaru and Ikku.
"I will always make room for pretty girls like yourselves," Ikku said with a charming smile as he slid to the side. "How about you Chloe? Plenty of room over here next to me."
"Uh... no," Chloe deadpanned as she shooed him away with a wave of her hand. "Just... no."
"Hah," Touta laughed. "And the Casanova is rejected!"
Ikku looked dejected for a short moment before he shrugged off his defeat. "Well, you win some and loose some. At least Reika knows that I don't bite, right Reika?"
"Sure," Reika said as she opened her bento, completely ignoring Ikku's advances.
"Which instruments do you play," Touta asked with interest.
"I play the makeup and hair while Reika plays the needle and thread," Chloe laughed as she pushed her weight against Kuroumaru, leaning on him.
"Though we are technically part of the band we're not the musicians," Reika explained. "We're makeup and wardrobe."
"Makeup... and wardrobe," Touta repeated back.
"Hey, Style and image is just as equally important as talent so we're pretty important," Chloe defended.
"Speaking of which, hey Kuroumaru," Reika said, "After school we're having a fitting for everyone's outfits. Do you mind sticking around? I'd love to have a boy's opinion."
"Okay," Kuroumaru replied as he silently pulled his hair away from Chloe, who had been twirling it in her fingers. He wasn't really a boy but whatever. "I can spare a little bit of time after school."
"Excellent! We're all meeting you know where. It won't take long, I promise."
"Chloe," came another approaching voice. "Get off Kuroumaru-kun before you throw out his back..."
"Ugh," Chloe moaned as her face faltered, not even needing to turn around to know who was addressing her. "Hitomi..."
Karin sighed in annoyance as yet another pair of girls interrupted her meeting.
"If you're so worried about Kurou-kun's well being you should consider wearing a bag over your head so you won't blind him by your hideous appearance."
"Oh stop it you two," Holly chided with a roll of her green eyes before stepping between Touta and Kuroumaru and sitting directly on the table.
"Uh," Touta said in confusion as he scooted a little towards Santa to make room for Holly's dangling legs.
Ikku patted the empty space beside him. "There's another seat over here."
"We're good," Hitomi replied as she sat on the table to the other free side of Kuroumaru between Reika. "Ugh, what are you eating," she asked as she eyed his red bead bun.
"This is all I could manage to get. I don't mind though."
"Here," Holly said as she opened her lunch box. "You can share lunch with Hitomi and me. We were feeling nostalgic this morning so we made hamburgers and fries in our dorm room . I hope you like American food," she added in a singsong voice.
"I've actually never tried this before," Kuroumaru admitted as he took the half of the hamburger offered by Holly.
Hitomi gasped in horror and eyed Kuroumaru sorrowfully. "How could you never have tried a hamburger before? They're the best thing ever."
"Yeah Kuroumaru," Reika asked. "It's not like we don't have them everywhere here in Japan too."
"I wasn't allowed to have fast food growing so I just never had the chance to try one yet."
"Well, we're rectifying that tragedy right now, eat up," Hitomi exclaimed as she anxiously watched to see how Kuroumaru liked her favorite food.
Kuroumaru eyed the hamburger a bit suspiciously before taking a bite. He felt a little self-conscious having Holly and Hitomi watching him so intently while he chewed. It also didn't help having Chloe still hanging on him. She was going to let go on her own soon, right?
"Well," Holly asked.
"I like it," Kuroumaru said with a polite smile. Though he internally thought that it was just okay but it seemed really important that he approved of it for some reason for their sake.
"Yes," Hitomi and Holly cheered as they high fived each other as if they've won some competition.
"Americans," Chloe sighed with a shake of her head.
Reika sighed over dramatically, playfully mocking Chloe. "Germans..."
Hitomi, the one of obvious Japanese heritage, then loudly sighed and leaned against Holly and shook her head. "Japanese..."
Kuroumaru didn't really get the joke as the four girls began to laugh together. It must of been an inside joke or something because he really didn't get what was so funny. The laughter immediately died down the moment Hitomi began to cough violently.
"You okay," Kuroumaru asked with concern. "That doesn't sound too good."
"I'm fine," Hitomi said between coughs and grabbed her water bottle. "My throats been bothering me lately."
"Oh no," Reika said. "You're not getting sick are you? The performance is soon."
"I'll be fine," Hitomi reassured as she pulled out a plastic bottle with some sort of concoction in it . "My mom told me how to make a home remedy to make sure my throat stays clear and healthy. I mix a bit with my water. Chug it down and I'm clear for a good while. It tastes like vomit but it really works."
Holly shuddered as Hitomi made her mix. "I tried some of it earlier... It really does taste like vomit."
"Just close your eyes. Take a deep breath and..." Hitomi began to drink from her water bottle quickly until it was almost halfway empty before lowering down and grimacing. "Oh god... it's so gross!"
"Wait," Chloe laughed as she activated her video camera app. "Do it again. I need to record that ugly face you just made."
Kuroumaru sighed as he became caught in the middle of a shouting match between the two girls. Something he realized as a common occurrence between them that didn't look like would end soon. He glanced toward Touta, who was watching with a frown, and noticed that everyone but him was gone.
"Where did everyone go?"
"Karin said the meeting was ruined and left right after Hitomi and Holly arrived. Ikku ran off after a couple of girls that he knew liked him and Santa said it was too noisy so he left just a little while ago."
"O-oh. I'm sor- ack!"
Kuroumaru almost fell back in his seat as Hitomi lunged at him trying to get to Chloe who pulled on his shoulders while dunking behind him. Chloe yanked Kuroumaru around as she desperately tried to keep him between her and the angry Hitomi.
"Damn it Chloe. Stop using Kuroumaru as a shield!"
"No, you're trying to hit me!"
"Guys stop it," Kuroumaru pleaded as he was yanked around.
Thankfully he was saved by the bell and the fight deescalated as the girls rushed to close their things so they could race off to their next class. They all shouted their goodbyes as they ran off in different directions and faded into the hectic mob of students. Kuroumaru sighed as Touta walked up next to him.
"Well that looked exhausting," Touta laughed. "So those are the people you've been hanging around with?"
"Most of them."
"They all, uh, really seem to be fond of you... I thought it was just Doki."
"What are you talking about Touta-kun?"
"N-nothing," Touta said dismissively. "Come on, we're going to be late if we hand out here any longer."
Hitomi huffed and puffed as she pathetically ran around the track field in poor running posture. Looking ahead she could see a few of the other slower students not too far ahead of her. She hated running. She always started off averagely enough but she couldn't keep pace, especially when she tried to keep up with the rabbit speed that Holly had.
"On your left," Holly shouted as she passed her with quick speed. She didn't even look winded yet!
"Dang it," Hitomi shouted. She hated when other people started to gain laps on her.
When Hitomi finally finished her required lap she walked over to where the other students were resting. She cleared her throat a few times, feeling the annoying crud starting to build up again. She found her open gym bag lying by the wall and bent over to grab it. Next to her bag she found the bottle lying on the grass nearby.
"Oops, when did you fall out," Hitomi questioned as she picked up her medicine then grabbed her water bottle from her bag.
She opened the lid to her water bottle and after pouring in a fair amount of her remedy she sealed it again. After a few good shakes of the bottle to ensure it was well mixed with she opened it again and took a steady breath before she began to drink the foul tasting remedy. As she did many times before she closed her eyes and brought the drink to her lips and tilted her head back as she began to quickly chug down the liquid. Her eyes suddenly popped open as she dropped the drink to the ground, spilling the water everywhere.
"What's wrong Hitomi," a male student asked with a grin. "Water go down the wrong pipe?"
Holly, who was just finishing another lap, saw her struggling friend and immediately jogged over.
"Are you okay," Holly asked gently as she quickly made her way over to her best friend and patted her on the back who now was squinting back tears as she continued to cough.
Hitomi suddenly fell to the ground, convulsing. All the surrounding students and teachers rushed around the two girls.
"Hitomi," Holly yelled frantically as she fell to her knees and placed her hands on Hitomi's arm.
The coughing continued until blood and foam began to spurt from her mouth.
"Hitomi! Hitomi," Holly shouted again frantically, tears pouring from her eyes. She looked up to her classmates who were watching in frozen horror. "Someone call an ambulance!"
Kuroumaru worked diligently as he worked the equations that were written on the board. He had already gone over this during his homeschooling so he was having no difficulty solving them. After confident he was making good progress he took the opportunity to glance over at Touta who was in was seated next to him. He couldn't help but smile as he watched Touta's brow furrow in confusion as he tried to work through the equations. By the amount written on his paper he was stuck on the third or the fourth one. He really couldn't be to blame though, Kuroumaru thought. He did miss a good deal of schooling where he would have gone over the fundamentals after turning immortal. All considering he had caught up rather quickly and at least he had an eternity to get it down packed.
When Touta turned toward him Kuroumaru felt some heat rise to his cheeks as he realized he was just caught staring. Touta didn't seem to mind though and just gave him a quick, cheery smile. Kuroumaru returned his smile before turning back to his schoolwork. He felt his face get hotter as he tried to calm his racing heart, embarrassed that he got that way from just a simple smile from his best friend.
The silence of the classroom was abruptly startled by the door swinging open and Reika rushing in, obviously winded. Kuroumaru stood from his desk and shot Doki a quick glance, who was seated on the back row. Doki looked at Kuroumaru in confusion before turning back to Reika who was taking quick ragged breaths.
"Reika-sempai... What's wrong," Kuroumaru asked with a worried expression.
"It's Hitomi. There was an accident. We need to go to the hospital!"
"Hitomi? What happened?"
"I don't know but it's bad and we need to go now!"
Doki rushed beside Kuroumaru, looking very worried.
"We're coming," Kuroumaru said as he and Doki quickly followed behind Reika who ran out the door, not caring about the halting orders the teacher was giving them.
The group quickly made it to the nearest emergency hospital where Hitomi was taken. Once in waiting rooms they found the rest of the band members, save Holly, waiting anxiously together.
Yuna was quietly slumped in a chair, staring off into space in the general direction of a few potted plants. Next to her sat Chloe who was nervously flipping through the pages of one of her fashion magazines while allowing a frowning Ayumi to lean against her. Ayumi glanced up from her seat and when she noticed the others she rushed over and threw her arms around Reika.
"What took you guys so long," Ayumi cried out.
"I'm sorry," Reika replied as she stroked the younger girl's hair. "I had trouble finding their classroom... Where's Holly?"
"She's with Hitomi's parents talking with the doctor," Chloe answered. "They were able to dilute the poison in her and she's stabilized but... it burned her insides up..."
"P-poison," Doki asked shakily. "What do you mean poison?"
"Somehow some sort of cleaner got mixed in the with that crap she's been drinking... and," Chloe ended, tailing off and sighing.
"Oh god," Reika said with uneasy breaths. "What do we do?"
"We be there for her and for Holly," Kuroumaru said. "That's all we can really do. Poor Holly, I'm sure she's worried sick."
"She cried the entire time Hitomi was in surgery... She looked so frightened," Yumi said quietly.
About that time they spotted Holly walking behind an older couple who Kuroumaru assumed were Hitomi's parents. The couple turned to Holly and exchanged a few words before embracing tightly. The couple then continued down the hallway while Holly stayed rooted in place.
"Holly," Ayumi called out as everyone made their way to her. "What's happening?"
Holly took a deep breath and rubbed her red, swollen eyes. "They have Hitomi sedated in ICU. They think they were able to save her stomach but it has to be monitored consistently to make sure it doesn't rupture. Umm... Her esophagus is... not good. She has a breathing tune and they're going to have to put in a feeding tube in as well while it heals but it's... It's not," Holly paused before deciding to move on. "Her mouth is burned around the edges a bit and it's probably going to leave a scar. She's going to hate that..."
"Where are her parents going," Doki asked.
"Oh, they're just running home to grab some things and are coming right back to spend the night. I'm going to wait here with Hitomi while they're away. Uh... I talked to the doctor. She said as long as we were quiet I can take a few of you at a time to go see her."
"Yes," Reika said. "I want to see her."
"Me too," Ayumi agreed.
"Okay, Kuroumaru, do you want to come too?"
"All right, follow me."
They group silently followed Holly as she walked down the sterile hallway past other rooms with other severely hurt patients. She stopped in front of a door and turned to hold a finger in front of her lips to signal them to keep quiet before slowly opening the door and entering. Silently they all entered as well, paranoid of making any noise that might disrupt their sleeping friend.
Hitomi was definitely not in good shape, Kuroumaru acknowledged. She had a number of tubes and wires hooked up to her while she laid unconscious on the hospital bed. The sound of artificial breathing filled the room making everything eerily surreal.
Holly walked over to the side of Hitomi's bed before leaning over to give her friend a soft peck on the forehead before sitting down and placing a hand over Hitomi's. Everyone stood around awkwardly not really knowing what they should be doing.
After a bit they decided that it was time to rotate out to give the other girls a chance to see Hitomi. Kuroumaru waited, filling the time with small talk, while the other's took their turn and soon everyone was sitting again in the waiting room.
Holly sighed as she sank into one of the seats. "This had to happen right before the concert. It's all Hitomi has been thinking about and now she won't be able to do it. That's going to devastate her when she wakes up."
"There will be other performing opportunities, right" Doki tried to reason. "Once she's better we'll just schedule another festival or... something."
Holly sighed and buried her face in her arms. "Hitomi isn't going to be able to sing anymore... Period. The doctor's say her speaking again will even take a lot of therapy in itself. There's just too much damage."
"D-does this mean our band's gone," Ayumi asked with a downcast expression. "It's over?"
"No," Holly exclaimed loudly. "Hitomi would not want this. Black Sheep was her dream. She would want us to perform."
"But how can we if we don't have a singer," Doki asked.
"Could you sing her part Holly-sempai," Kuroumaru asked curiously.
Holly thought for herself for a moment. "I honestly don't have the voice for it. I couldn't do it justice. I can carry a tune but I honestly just don't have the best sounding voice. How about you Yuna? You sound pretty good."
"My voice cracks on high notes..."
Holly scratched her head in frustration. "Reika, Chloe. Can either one of you sing?"
"Noooope," Chloe quickly replied.
"You don't even want to hear me hum," Reika sheepishly admitted.
"Maybe this is hopeless then... I really wanted to do this for Hitomi."
"We'll think of something," Kuroumaru said as he placed a reassuring hand on Holly's shoulder. "We still have a week to work it out... Which sounds like a scary short amount of time but I have faith something will turn up."
"Thanks Kuroumaru," Holly said. Taking a deep breath she looked over the band. "We will still meet up for practice tomorrow. I'll sing, but Yuna, you need to help me sing the chorus as back up. We can still do this."
Everyone seemed to look a bit more resolved and at ease about performing without their lead singer. Holly was still apprehensive about everything but she was determined to make this work. She would make this work. For Hitomi.
It was well past midnight in the girls dormitory but after the events of the day Holly was having a hard time falling asleep. It didn't help that the empty bed across her room made it feel especially empty. Holly spent a good deal of the evening at the hospital, even after everyone else went home. She wanted to stay the night with her host parents but they begged her to go back to the dorms and try to rest. It took much convincing but after promising to call if anything happened they finally convinced her to try and get some rest. She rolled over for the umpteenth time as she tried to focus on sleep but it just wouldn't come with her stomach twisting up in knots like it was doing.
Finally she was finally beginning to doze off when she felt a message coming through on her magic app. Panic filled her as she was worried that something had happened at the hospital. She sat up quickly and lifted her had to check the message but was confused to find that it was a video message. Even stranger was that it was a message sent from Hitomi's number. But the nurses had taken her magic app off and her parents would just use theirs... Holly began to play the video and found that it was a candid recording of Kuroumaru setting up their equipment the day they had found the underground cavern.
What really got her attention was that he was singing her song. And it was good. Shocking good actually. He had a beautiful tone and had no problems on the few high parts that the song had. The wheels in her head began to turn. The song was meant to be sung by a girl but he sounded pretty feminine and he looked feminine as well, in her opinion. What she was thinking was outrageous though. There's no way that he'd ever go for it... But it was worth a shot, right?
She supposed that she would find out tomorrow during club time. After replaying the video a few times Holly laid back down and began to plan things out in her head. What she was planning was crazy but would definitely be worth a shot.