"I think you should just rest for today, Iona."
"No buts!" Planting her hands firmly on her hips, a rather stern expression set itself on Hikawa Maria's face. "You have a fever, Iona. There's no way that I can allow you to attend class in such a state."
Letting out a slight huff, Hikawa Iona nevertheless knew better than to protest against her older sister- if she said no, she meant it. Still, to think that she would have gone and done something as foolish as catch a cold... she couldn't help but feel ashamed. For a warrior who had protected the peace of the world... what a shameful act!
She'd been foolish, and for that, it was only fair that she end up missing school. At the very least, nothing important was supposed to happen today, so she wouldn't miss much. Letting out a short sigh, Iona pulled the covers up a bit closer to her face, averting her eyes from those of her older sister's.
"Alright, oneechan. You win." Iona told her. "I'll do what you say."
"Good." Maria said, nodding her head. "I'll contact the school for you. Do you want me to call your friends?"
"No, you don't need to." Iona said. "I can't trouble them with my own foolishness."
"I wouldn't call catching a cold foolish, Iona." Maria said lightly, before he let out a faint sigh. Well, her little sister was always like that, so she imagined that nothing that she said to her could convince her otherwise. Stubborn, this one was.
Well, they were siblings, so that was a trait that they shared. And because they were siblings, it was just as easy to tell when she wasn't being completely honest. She might say that, but she was pretty sure that inside, she really wanted her friends to come over and visit, but just didn't want to trouble them.
That way of hers, where she could be unexpectedly shy about the most unexpected things, was a rather cute part of her. What kind of older sister would she be if she didn't respect her cute little sister's wishes? Her real wishes, that was.
"Alright, Iona." Maria said, folding her hands behind her back, giving her little sister a smile. "I won't call your friends."
But well... she hadn't said anything about not calling their parents.
"I heard that you a cold, Iona, so this Aino Megumi came rushing right over to see you!"
She had wondered what the commotion at the door was- she should have known it would be Megumi. Letting out a faint sigh, realizing that her sister must have done something rather sneaky, Iona merely lowered her blankets, responding to Megumi's bright smile with the best that she could manage at the moment.
Leave it to Megumi to be cheerful even when visiting the sick- and first thing in the morning, too. She couldn't say that she disliked it, exactly- after all, when Megumi was cheerful, it was hard not to feel the same way, even when her head was woozy with fever. That was the sort of strange power that she possessed, something that had nothing to do with the fact that she could transform into a Precure.
"Even so, you didn't have to come all this way out here to see me, Megumi." Iona told her, turning her head as Megumi sat herself down by her bed. "You were on your way to school, weren't you?"
"Yeah. I was just about to leave when mom got your sister's call." Megumi said, unwitting to the fact that she was giving her exactly the answer that she had been seeking. "I would have brought Seiji with me, but he's helping out with the basketball team today, and left early for morning practice."
"He's busy as always, I see." Iona observed. "But you really shouldn't stay too long. What if you catch my cold?"
"It's fine, it's fine, it's super fine~!" Megumi reassured her, pounding on her chest- a bit too hard, judging from the cough that she ended up forcing from herself. Giving her something of a sheepish smile, she merely let out a loud laugh. "That one doesn't count."
"Anyways, there's no way that I wouldn't come to visit you, Iona!" Megumi told her. "We're friends, right? Going to see you friends when they're sick is part of friendship is all about! Especially when you've saved the world together!"
"I think we owe that last part mostly to you, Megumi." Iona admitted. "In the end, we only ended up getting captured, so it doesn't really feel as if we did much."
"That's not true at all!" Megumi said, shaking her head. "Even I'm just one person. Without everyone's strength, I don't think I could have won. I'm sure that if you were in my place, you would have been able to save everyone as well, Iona."
"I wonder about that." Iona said, closing her eyes, before shaking her head. Going so far as to reach out and save the one who had been the cause of all of this... she didn't know if that was something that she could honestly do. "No, you might be right. But even world saviors need to attend class, so you should really get going, Megumi. You don't want to be late, do you?"
"Ah, that's right!" Springing to her feet, Megumi cast a bright smile down towards her. "Then, feel better, Iona! If you need anything, you can just call me right up and I'll come running right away!"
"I'll be sure to keep that in mind, Megumi. Thank you."
It was the aroma of something delicious that roused her from her slumber. She didn't know when it was that she had drifted off, but it had apparently been long enough for her stomach to protest, letting out a loud rumble. Or perhaps that was simply because of the enticing aroma that almost seemed to be dancing on the air- either way, she now found herself quite aware that she was starving.
"Ah, sorry, did I wake you?"
Ah, now that she thought about it, there was something almost familiar to that scent... and to that voice as well. Cracking her eyes open, Iona turned her gaze upwards. Just as she thought-
"No, it's fine Yuko, you didn't wake me." Iona said, shaking her head, wondering when it was that she had gotten here. "My stomach did, though."
"In that case, I came at just the right time." With a bright smile on her face, Omori Yuko carefully set down what she was holding. "Can you sit up? I made you some rice porridge."
"Yes, I think so." Iona said, slowly nodding her head. It only took a small bit of effort- both the medicine that she had taken earlier, and the rest that she had gotten both seemed to have worked wonders. "But you didn't have to go out of your way to do this, Yuko. I could have at the very least heated something up for myself."
"No way~!" Wagging a finger as if she were scolding her, Yuko's smile didn't falter. Taking a bowl in one hand, she lifted up the top of the cooking dish with her other, setting it aside for the moment. With practiced ease that suggested she was used to this sort of thing, she scooped some out for her. "When you're sick, there's nothing better than rice porridge to make you feel better."
"Do you do this sort of thing often?" Iona asked, gratefully accepting the bowl from her.
"You could say that." Yuko told her. "Both Megumi-chan and Sagara can be a bit stubborn when they're sick, so I usually end up helping their mothers look after them. Of course, they both do the same thing for me, especially on days when the shop is busy."
"I see." Iona said. "But I'm surprised. I didn't think school was already over."
"Over?" Yuko blinked, titling her head. "It's not over. Right now it's lunch break."
"Eh?" Blinking, Iona nearly dropped her spoon- but thankfully, even if her own reflexes were shot because of her fever, it would seem that Yuko's were as good as ever, catching it before it fell to the floor. "Then, what are you doing here? You didn't have to come out all this way just to make me rice porridge!"
"Of course I did." Yuko said, nodding her head. "It isn't as if your family's dojo is that far away from the school, either. It's no trouble at all."
"But what about your lunch?" Iona asked. "At this rate, you won't get a chance to eat."
"Iona-chan, you're the sick one right now, you shouldn't be worrying about others!" Yuko's scolding tone was light, and though offset by the smile on her face, somehow still managed to be no less strict. "I'll just pick something up to eat on the way back. It's been awhile since I've had bread for lunch, so I'm almost looking forward to it a bit."
"Is that really the sort of thing someone who wrote a love song about rice should say?" Iona asked.
"It's good to try other things every once in awhile." Yuko told her, nodding her head. "Then, eat up. It's best while it's still hot!"
"...then, I will." Still frowning a little, wondering if it really was alright to indulge like this, Iona came to the conclusion that since it had already been made, it would be even ruder to refuse her. With that in mind, she carefully took her first bite, making sure to blow on it a little to cool it off some more first.
As expected of Yuko, it was delicious. She would be far too embarrassed to say anything like it out loud, but it didn't change the fact that she felt as if she could almost taste the care that had been put into the dish, filled with Yuko's wish for her friend's quick recovery.
"Well?" Yuko asked. "How is it?"
"Yeah." Nodding her head, Iona took another bite, savoring each grain of rice. "It's delicious. Thank you, Yuko."
"Ta-da~! It wasn't easy, but I managed to pick up a slice of limited edition cheesecake for you, Iona!"
"And one for yourself I see, Hime." Iona couldn't help but note, a somewhat fond smile on her face as her gaze flickered downwards to the cake box by her legs, still unopened. "I had completely forgotten those went on sale today."
"Well of course! You could get two slices per person, so I couldn't waste it!" Puffing out her chest a little, Shirayuki Hime beamed from ear to ear in pride- before her expression faltered a little, becoming more sheepish. "But well, I actually only barely made it. The line cut off right behind me. If I hadn't rushed there right after school let out, I would have missed it for sure!"
"Well you still would have been able to get cheesecake even if you missed it." Iona pointed out. "It's not as if the limited edition is the only kind that shop sells. They'd go out of business."
"But it wouldn't be special!" Hime protested, puffing out her cheeks once again. "The point of lining up in the first place is to get something special!"
"Yes, yes, I suppose that's true." Nodding her head, Iona couldn't help but smile. "But I'm surprised that you were willing to sacrifice one of your precious cheesecakes for me. I thought for sure you would have eaten them both by yourself."
"Well, the temptation was there." Hime admitted, her gaze only briefly flickering away from that of her friend's. "But when I thought of poor Iona, lying sick in bed, I knew that I had to resist!"
"Well, thanks." Iona said. "Then, since you're here, why don't we eat them together?"
"Yes!" Nodding her head, Hime picked up her own box. "I was waiting for you to say that, Iona~! By eating something sweet, you'll get back your energy tenfold!"
"No wonder you're always so energetic then, Hime." Iona said, her smile only growing. It was strange to think that they would be like this now- it had only been a year ago when she had resented the girl from the bottom of her heart. In hindsight, it had been foolish of her- she couldn't see past her own suffering to notice that she wasn't the only one in pain.
That they had been able to put it all behind them, and become such close friends... sometimes it still felt like a dream, really. In a way, all of it did- it had never been on purpose, but before she realized it, she had found herself living a life without any close friends.
And now she was surrounded by them, all of them going out of their way to see her when she was sick. This must really be what happiness felt like.
"Then, let's eat, Hime. Since you went through so much trouble to get them, I'm sure they'll be delicious."
"Yo, Hikawa. How are you feeling?"
"I was wondering when you'd show up, Sagara." Taking one glance at his clothes, Iona merely cast him a slightly amused smile. "Compared to this morning, much better. But I don't think I'm quite ready to spar with you just yet."
Turning a bright shade of red, his cheeks now matching the usual color of his hoodie, Sagara Seiji sheepishly cast a glance down at his own clothes. "Ah, no, that's not why I'm dressed like this."
"I know." Iona said. "I think if I tried to bring myself to practice right now, grandfather would just drag me straight back to bed. And if he didn't, oneechan would."
"I'm pretty sure you're right." Placing his hands on his hips, Seiji tilted his head. "I heard from everyone else that they already came to see you. Sorry about that- it must have been a pain to keep waking up over and over again."
"It sure was." Closing her eyes, Iona crossed her arms in front of her chest, doing her best impression of a rather strict expression. "Honestly, I couldn't get in a wink of sleep thanks to those girls. And here you are, doing exactly the same."
"You say that, but I think you enjoyed it." Seiji noted. "Though I don't think you were the only one. When I passed by her earlier, Maria-san had quite the pleased expression on her face."
"I'd imagine, since all of this is oneechan's fault." Iona said, dropping her hands from in front of her chest. "But as usual, there's no fooling you, Sagara. I'm still worried that they'll catch my cold, though."
"Well, if that happens, we can go visit them together." Seiji told her. "I don't think those girls would hold it against you, not when they chose to come visit you on their own."
"If you put it like that, the one who might come down with a cold is you, Sagara." Iona couldn't help but note, her shoulders slumping a little bit. Ever since the final battle, things had seemed a bit awkward between the four of them and Seiji- but slowly, things were getting back to normal.
It was better that way.
Frankly, there was something that she still needed to speak to him about- but today wasn't that day.
"When you put it that way, it almost sounds as if that's what'll happen, Hikawa." Seiji noted. "Don't curse me like that."
"You brought it on yourself~!" The tone of her voice was light, teasing, really. "But if you do catch a cold, I'll come visit you, Sagara. Try not to, though."
"I'll give it my best shot." Nodding his head, Seiji glanced back towards the door. "Then, I'll be heading back to practice. Since you're not around, your grandfather is using me as an example for the newcomers today."
"Thanks for your hard work as always."
"I thought I told you not to call them, oneechan." Iona's tone was sharp- but there was no real fire behind it, and Maria knew that much.
"I didn't. I called their parents." Maria told her, clasping her hands behind her back, a rather playful expression on her face. "You didn't say anything about that."
"Geez." Letting out a long sigh, Iona shook her head. Leave it to her older sister to do something like this- and yet, she couldn't find it in herself to be the least bit angry. After all, in some ways, it almost felt as if this is what she had wanted- but had been too afraid to actually reach out and try for.
How silly of her.
Really. Perhaps the truly foolish thing wasn't the fact that she had caught a cold, but the fact that she had underestimated just how much her friends cared for her.