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Stranded

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In the middle of nowhere, dark, stormy eyes glared at fierce, yellow ones.

"This is completely your fault," came a haughty, male voice. The owner of that voice brushed long blue bangs out of his face as he stalked forward majestically, face pinched... or well, "majestically" was what he was aiming for, but his cape would not stop getting caught on stray branches. Stupid branches.

"My fault? You're the one who didn't want to go through the vines, Aoi-chama," quipped a crisp, female voice. The owner of this second voice blended in with the trees with her green hair and long, green socks. She loved being outdoors and would have felt right at home if not for the whining guy before her.

"It's Aoi-sama, not chama!"

"Yeah, yeah, Aoi-tama."

"It's Aoi-sama!" he gritted out.

They continued arguing, neither willing to let the argument drop despite being stranded on the far side of a mountain with no one else for company. Aoi's cape had seen much better days, and Midorin had had much better days than this one.

All in all, both were quite miserable and wished they were anywhere but here.


It all started with Tobi.

Of course all adventures started with Tobi, though none of our currently stranded characters considered their current predicament much of an adventure except for Tobi.

When Tobi returned from his latest adventure, Mikan immediately pounced on him, almost unable to contain her excitement. She had waited for this moment for days!

"Hmm?" Tobi peeled the little girl off of him and set her down on the ground. "What's up, Mikan-tan?" he asked, not entirely sure why Mikan was practically bouncing on her feet, slippers almost slipping off. She had a look on her face that said, "I know something that you don't~."

"Guess what?" she asked in a singsong.

Tobi vaguely saw people out of the corner of his eye. Was that Akai-san behind the tree? That red hair was unmistakable. Tobi scratched his cheek, unsure why everyone was hiding.

"What?" he asked, deciding to give in to Mikan's whims.

She beamed at him. "It's your birthday today! Happy birthday!"

"Oh, that's right! It's my birthday today!" he exclaimed in realization. He had completely forgotten about it!

At this, everyone jumped out from where they had been hiding to wish him happy birthday, eliciting a wide grin from Tobi.

The day would have ended just fine if they had continued to celebrate in a normal manner, but someone had opened their big mouth to ask Tobi, "What would you like for your birthday?" The intention was nice and everything, but it wasn't like they could truly grant Tobi his wish...

Tobi had of course immediately replied with, "An adventure!"

He had always wanted to go on an adventure with everyone!

Well, it wasn't like they could turn him down now, could they?


That was how they had all gotten onto a hot air balloon together, one built by Gin-sensei. It had been fun and all, with many smiles shared over Mikan and Kou's exuberance and awe when they lifted off the ground, and the scenery was truly breathtaking, but then events took a turn for the worse.

"Is that a crow?" asked Gin. He pushed his glasses up to get a better look, silver hair tousled by the wind.

Akai quickly covered his ear, the one he wore his earring on, causing Murasaki to cover her face with her fan to keep herself from laughing inelegantly. Crows seemed to have a thing for Akai's shiny earrings.

"A crow!" exclaimed Tobi. He eagerly leaned out of their little basket to get a better look. He loved birds of all kinds.

Behind him, Aoi frowned. He gripped the sides of the basket.

"Motion sickness?" asked Midorin. She leaned against the side, enjoying the cool breeze.

Aoi snorted but didn't deign to answer her. His face was much paler than usual.

Only Tobi noticed the crow acting strangely. He had been happily watching the crow fly by when it circled back and landed on top of their multi-colored hot air balloon, head tilted to the side.

"I wonder what it's doing..." Tobi murmured to himself.

The crow then started walking across the balloon, sharp claws sinking into the material.

Pop!

Fshhhhhhhhhhhhhh...

That was the unmistakable sound of air leaking out of their balloon.

"Oops," said Gin. "I thought the material I used for constructing this balloon would be sturdy enough. I did not consider that we would be under avian attack, hm. I'll need to update my notes about this."

"Gin-sensei!" everyone screamed.

They fell.


Thankfully, Gin had stocked the hot-air balloon with parachutes, so each one of them had been able to jump to safety when their balloon began plummeting. However, they all landed in different places.

When Midorin finally got herself out of the tangled mess that was her parachute, she found that she was very much alone. She gave up on lugging the parachute back with her and decided to start looking for everyone.

"Mikan-tan!" she called out. "Akai-san! Kou-kun? Anyone around?"

No one answered.

"Murasaki-dono? Gin-sensei? Tobi-han?"

Mouth turning downwards, she brushed the dirt off her shorts and jacket and started walking. Anything was better than doing nothing.


Groaning, Aoi turned over, arms splayed across the ground. He had landed hard.

He unzipped his right boot to take a look at his ankle. Swollen, like he thought. Gingerly, he tried moving his foot, immediately wincing when he rolled his foot slightly to the right.

When he heard someone's voice calling out, he quickly put his boot back on. Just in time too, for not a moment later, a head of green came into view.

Did it have to be her?

He pulled himself up, forcing a mask of indifference onto his face so that he would not give away his pain.


That was how they had come to be stranded on this mountain together with no one else in sight. Midorin tugged at the yellow bandanna around her neck, sweat dripping down the side of her face. The sun was beating down on them, and they'd been walking and walking for hours, long enough for even their arguments to die down, tired as they were. Midorin's voice had become hoarse from calling out everyone's names over and over. It was very likely that everyone had landed in a completely different area than the two of them.

Still feeling the heat, she took her jacket off and swung it across her shoulders. She glanced at her companion, wondering how he hadn't toppled over from the heat. He was in so many layers, what with his long jacket and his cape, complete with his long trousers.

Aoi cupped his ears.

"Do you hear something?" asked Midorin eagerly, throat hurting from talking.

"Water," he answered.

Midorin couldn't help but feel somewhat disappointed by his answer. She was parched, yes, but she'd thought that maybe he'd heard one of the others.

Aoi merely gave her a look, his face downright ghastly -- what the heck was he angry about? -- before he verged off their original path to wherever this water was. He hadn't even asked her if she wanted to make the side trip!

Still, she followed him. Water did sound good.


As they walked, the sound of rushing water grew louder and louder.

"Sounds like a river," Midorin commented. Next to her, Aoi nodded.

The problem was, the river was at the bottom of a steep cliff. Midorin looked left and right but did not see a way to get down to the river.

Frowning, Aoi turned abruptly to leave, but as he did so, he gasped in pain, foot twisting. As if in slow motion, he wobbled and fell backwards.

"Aoi!" Midorin shouted in shock.

Dimly, Aoi registered that she hadn't added the sama after his name yet again. Why did she always do that? It irked him so much.

Midorin leapt forward to catch him, one hand grasping his as she threw her other hand back to grab the branch of the tree behind her. However, instead of successfully grabbing the branch, she grabbed air.

For the second time in the day, they fell. Aoi twisted and hugged Midorin to his chest so that the branches around them wouldn't scratch her and cause her injury.


Midorin grimaced as she looked down at Aoi's swollen ankle.

"Why didn't you mention this earlier?"

This had been the reason for his mood, though his behavior hadn't been too different from usual. Still, he had been a bit shorter with his words than usual. No doubt it was the pain that had gotten to him.

He refused to meet her eyes, turning his head to look off to the side. All she could see now was his eye-patch, which of course revealed none of his emotions.

Ugh, him and his pride.

Sometimes, she really wanted to yank that black eye-patch of his off so that she could actually see the emotion he must be displaying, so that he couldn't hide like this. She took a deep breath. No, she had to restrain herself. He was just being stupid like always, and that ankle of his looked painful.

As she made her way over to the river, she untied the bandanna from her neck. After washing the piece of cloth and wringing it dry, she came back to where Aoi sat next to the boulder.

"Give me your leg," she demanded.

"..."

"Come on already! This is no time to be prideful!"

She made a grab for his foot. He was being worse than Kou-kun!

Scowling, Aoi moved his leg forward.

Midorin rolled her eyes and tied the bandanna around his ankle.

There, that wasn't so bad, was it?

After she finished, Aoi looked down at the yellow bandanna that was now wrapped around his foot. It stood out terribly against all the blue he wore.

"...thanks," he said quietly, his cheeks dabbled with pink.

"Think nothing of it, Aoi. We're friends, aren't we?"

And that was why she would never call him Aoi-sama. The others might play along with Aoi's whims, but not Midorin. They were friends and equals. Friends called each other by their first names, and that was how Midorin wanted things to be.


He rested his chin on his hand and watched Midorin take her platform shoes off. Next, she rolled her long green socks off, revealing long, slender legs before she toed the water and stepped into it. Aoi didn't understand how she could feel so at ease out here in the wild where so much was out of their control, but there she was, carefree and enjoying herself.

Finding this river had paid off. She had been losing her voice. This should help. He watched her cup her hands, bringing the water to her lips. She drank thirstily, gulping down the water. He watched the water trickle down her chin, dripping down her bare neck. It was so strange seeing her without her usual bandanna. That bandanna was now around his ankle.

He stared at the yellow bandanna on his foot.

When Midorin came back from the river this time, her feet bare, she brought along a large leaf that she used to carry water over.

"Here, have some water," she said, leaf held out in front of her.

Greedily, he drank.

Aoi looked up to see satisfaction coming across Midorin's face.

Did she...like taking care of him?


They built a fire, hoping the smoke would alert their companions about their whereabouts. When Aoi tried to get up, he merely took one step before collapsing. Midorin yelled at him for even attempting to get up. He was only going to make his injuries worse.

Aoi told her to go on by herself, but there was no way she could leave him behind. When she offered to carry him, he flatly refused her.

"You're too short for that," he said.

"I’m not short!" she exclaimed immediately.

Without her platform shoes, she was a good few inches shorter than usual. But it wasn't like she was going to go barefoot when they continued on! She was only barefoot at the moment because she had wanted to dip her feet into the river.

In any case, since Midorin refused to leave without Aoi and Aoi refused to let her carry him -- he truly did not think she could -- they remained stationary. They had water, so they would not become dehydrated, though they had nothing to stave off their hunger.

Night fell. The temperature fell as well. Midorin wrapped her jacket around her and tried to edge closer to the fire. Next to her, Aoi silently added more twigs to the fire.

When Midorin fell asleep, Aoi unhooked his cape and draped it across Midorin. She snuggled into his tattered cape.

Friends, she had said.

But, what if he wanted more than that?


"They're over here!"

Startled awake, Midorin's eyes flew open. She was greeted by bright daylight, and she had something heavy draped over her.

She looked down. Oh, it was Aoi's blue cape. Why did she have Aoi's cape...?

"They've found us," Aoi said tiredly.

Midorin turned her head and saw him. Aoi. Without his cape and his long jacket, he looked underdressed. It looked like he had used his own jacket as a blanket while he'd given his cape to her.

Was it her imagination, or did his expression look softer this morning? Ah, it must be because he wasn't wearing his usual frown...

"Aoi-sama! Midorin!" Gin exclaimed. He had a beeping device in his hand. Murasaki followed behind him. "See, Murasaki-dono? I told you my tracker would work!"

"Tracker...?" Midorin questioned. She did not like the sound of that.

"Yes, yes, this is what led us to you!" Gin happily held up the device he had in his hand. It looked like a ladybug. "I implanted a bug in Aoi's eye-patch and another one in your leaf necklace in case something like this ever happened."

He then rattled off about all the other bugs he had implanted. Akai's was in his earring, Mikan's in her orange necklace, Kou's in his cap, Murasaki's in the flower on her waist, Tobi's in his belt, and Gin's (his own) in his chains.

"Gin, that's a breach of privacy!" Midorin exclaimed.

"Exactly right?" Murasaki said, her voice disapproving, but none of them could refute the fact that Gin's device was useful in cases like this one. "You should have asked us first."

To their right, Aoi was about to take his eye-patch off after hearing Gin's alarming declaration.

When Midorin saw this, her eyes widened. She stared in rapt fascination.

Aoi's hand paused. He glanced at her, eyebrow raised before he dropped his hand and looked away.

Darn, he had been so close to removing his eye-patch!


Now that there were four of them, Gin and Midorin supported Aoi as Murasaki used the ladybug to find the others. Midorin had Aoi's cape draped over her arms, holding it for him. It was much too warm for Aoi to be wearing his cape.

"Thanks Aoi," Midorin said. "For letting me borrow your cape."

Aoi felt resigned to the fact that she would never call him Aoi-sama. What a stubborn woman.

Still, he liked being thanked, so he graced her with a rare smile.


When they finally found everyone thanks to Gin's device, Tobi hugged each of them and thanked them for the amazing adventure. Apparently, he had been stranded with Kou-kun, and the two of them had a grand time chasing snakes. Well, Tobi had a grand time while Kou did his utmost to run away from the wiggling snakes.

"Let's do it again sometime!" Tobi exclaimed.

Akai blanched. Murasaki shook her head in exasperation. Mikan clapped her hands. Gin declared he would invent an even better mode of transportation.

Aoi and Midorin shared a look, her neck bare of her bandanna and his back bare of his cape.

Perhaps the experience hadn't been all too bad.

Together, everyone headed home.