Chapter 66


House rules playing turned out to be great fun once Ran grasped what the phrase actually meant. She got to try all the toys Ayame and Naoto had brought, they laughed harder than she had laughed in months, and they even had to sing a chorus with three random people (one each, as ordered by the hyperactive boy) while waving flags and doing a cool salute.

When Ran and Ayame gave up, exhausted, they sat down on the grass to watch Naoto play tag with the other kids that had assembled around them, attracted by the pile of toys and the sound of laughter.

“Where does he get all that energy, Ayame-chan?”

“No idea, but he’s so much fun to play with!” Ayame replied, in a very upbeat tone.

“Really now,” Ran said, laughing, “what a silly question it was, it runs in the family!”

“Ah, Ran-san!” Ayame exclaimed, blushing considerably.

“No, no, I really like the energy,” Ran giggled, “she really brightens my day.”

For a moment, Ayame looked as if she was engulfed by a rainbow beam that had been flung down from the heavens, but the moment was broken when there was a crash in the distance and the voice of Naoto crying rose over it.

“Naoto!” Ayame cried out, getting up and taking off at full speed so fast Ran thought she had left an afterimage in place.

There was a bit of a stir among the children, and it looked like the game of tag had come to an end, with kids going and adults coming to pick them up. Ran saw Ayame run for her little brother, then kneel besides him and, after a bit of talking, kiss his knee and help him stand up. There was a bruise on the knee, and Naoto looked like he was about to cry again.

Ah, he’s still a small kid after all.

“Come on, let’s have some food Naoto-kun,” Ran said when they arrived, “you’ll forget about that scratch really fast!”

“It doesn’t hurt!” Naoto said, wiping his eyes with his sleeve, “I’m not a crybaby.”

“Of course you aren’t!” Ayame said, shaking his hand she was holding in a reassuring squeeze, “and when you grow up, you’ll be the one to defend me! Ne?”

“Uh-huh!” Naoto nodded, and smiled.

Ran had the distinct feeling she was in the middle of a familiar exchange between those two. Thinking it better not to intrude, she took the picnic basket and started getting the spread out over the grey blanket Ayame had brought, while Naoto went to collect all the toys that were spread all over the park.

“It must be fun, having a little brother,” Ran said.

“Yes!” Ayame replied, with a big smile on her face, “it is! But you know… Kids are so cruel. Well, some kids. Those who make another cry just because they can.”

Ran looked at Ayame, who had turned to Naoto and was looking at him zipping around the park picking things up. She looked like she was speaking from experience, and there was a flare of anger in her eyes as she worked her brain.


“Ah! Sorry, Ran-san! Hehehe,” she laughed softly, scratching the back of her head. “You know, mom says I shouldn’t coddle him too much, he’ll grow up to be a cool big boy like dad. But I can’t help it, he’s my cute little brother, eh-hehehe.”

“I see,” Ran replied, looking at the smiling Ayame, “and when he grows up he won’t need his big sister to come to the rescue!”

“Hahaha, of course! I look forward to it, too!” She grinned.

“Must be nice,” Ran said, looking at Naoto and speaking in a wistful tone.

“Ah, does Ran-san want siblings? A cute little brother maybe? You can’t have mine!”

“Hahaha, really, I wouldn’t try to steal him!” Ran laughed. “But yeah, it’d have been nice. Mom wanted more children too, but she couldn’t…”

“Oh, I’m sorry Ran-san.”

“Nu-huh,” Ran shook her head, “it’s okay. Mom had it very difficult with me, so it was better for her not to try again. But you know, even if it was so hard for her, she did have me,” Ran finished, with a big smile on her face.

The spread Ayame had prepared was almost as impressive as the toy variety she had packet in that seemingly bottomless basket, and Naoto proved to be as adept and enthusiastic at eating it as he was at running around at full speed. Barely five minutes after he was finished, he was asleep with his head on Ayame’s lap.

“So he only has two positions, on and off,” Ran commented as she munched on a bread roll.

“Tee-hee, yes,” Ayame said, and then switched to telepathic thoughts for Ran, “I’m sorry Ran-san, I wanted to be just the two of us today.”

“Nu-huh,” Ran shook her head, and spoke softly not to wake the boy up, “it’s okay, it’s been fun.”

A few minutes later Ran had finished clearing up the picnic, and she laid down on the blanket with her head next to Ayame. Without prompt, she started scratching Ran’s head.

“Hehe, nyaaah,” Ran said in a feline tone, making Ayame giggle. “You know, I always thought this place was too boring, and really wished something important would happen… and now I miss the quiet days like this.”

“Of course! That’s what happens every time, isn’t it?”

With Naoto napping, and Ran nearly so, things went quiet for a while. Ayame didn’t mind, and felt that it was a great way to spend a day off. She couldn’t even remember what she had been talking about with Ran ten minutes before, it was all no more important than sound made just to fill the silence. After a while, things took a slightly more interesting turn.

“Oh, Onee-sama!” Ayame exclaimed, “ooooi!”

Ran sat up in a bit of a half-sleepy daze, and saw a young woman walking towards them, waving. She looked a lot like Ayame, though with long brown hair, and with a less mischievous air about her. Ran rubbed her eyes, stood up, and prepared to greet her.

“Ara, Naoto-kun is asleep,” she said, “and you must be Shimizu-san.”

“Yes!” Ayame replied, “Ran-san, this is my older sister, Momoe.”

“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Ojima-san.”

“Ne, how did it go?” Ayame asked. “You left in such a hurry.”

“Ah, yes, it went very well, thankfully,” Momoe replied. “There was an accident at one of the dome repair sites,” she explained to Ran, “so I was called in help at the hospital.”

“Oh, you’re a doctor!”

“Ah, nothing that important,” Momoe smiled, “I am merely a nurse. We have been quite busy lately, I hope things will be okay,” she added, in a wistful voice.

“We’ll be fine!” Ayame replied, full of energy, and accidentally making Naoto stir in his sleep, “ah!”

“Now, now, I am sure we will.”

“We still have some food, Onee-sama,” Ayame offered.

“Hmmm… Nee…. sama…” Naoto mumbled, opening his eyes.

“Ah, Naoto-kun is awake?” Momoe said. “Good morning.”

“I wasn’t… sleepy…” the boy replied, sitting up and rubbing his eyes.

“Of course not. Want to come home with Onee-san?” she said, “that way Ayame-chan and Shimizu-san can go back to their date.”

“Okay,” he mumbled, getting up to his feet helped by Ayame, and taking Momoe’s hand.

“Have fun, Ayame-chan, Shimizu-san. It’s been nice to meet you.”

“Ah!” Ran replied, bowing, “it has been a pleasure to meet you, Ojima-san!”

“Bye bye, Onee-sama!” Ayame called, waving at her as she walked away.

“Wow, that’s your older sister then,” Ran said, looking at them walking off.

“Yup!” Ayame replied, with a big beaming smile, “but you know, her fiancé-”

A loud explosion interrupted her explanation, and absolutely everyone looked up at the dome. It felt like time had slowed down as they looked at debris fall from the hole that had just been blasted on the dome. Three large humanoid figures were falling through, and landed with a crash atop one of the buildings near the park.

Ran reached for her magical branch without even thinking, and her stomach felt like it had suddenly frozen when she remembered she had left it home. She stood in place, both her and Ayame, not able to do anything while destruction rained from the Dome.

Right where Momoe and Naoto had been walking.


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