A short crossover story based around the OC Universe --
This is how Reka and Naoyuki met and kinda got used to each other.
When I first met him, he was curled up on a park bench with his face buried in bruised arms.
-- -- --
He’s like the me back then. I could sense it immediately. I didn’t ask how he got hurt or who had hurt him – I had an inkling, though deep down, I really hoped I was wrong. “Hey...” I reached out my hand, and the boy threw his arms up as a guard and drew away from me with a yelp.
I backed off and looked around. The place was deserted; but that was kind of the point. I had stumbled across this park looking for a secluded spot to teleport back to the A.R.E. My bosses would be ticked at me if I got back late, but I just couldn’t leave the kid alone and looking so vulnerable, especially when it was getting dark. I slowly took a seat beside him on the bench. After a moment, I asked, “Is there anything I can do for you?” and waited for him to answer.
If he could’ve run from me, he probably would have. He was shaking and wouldn’t say a word. I took care not to try to touch him again. “Do you live close by?” I asked. He still wouldn’t answer. Hmm… I hope I don’t sound like some kind of creep, asking that…
I shivered. It was getting even colder. Wait… I blinked in surprise. This kid isn’t even wearing a coat. The light blue hoodie he had on couldn’t have been very warm. He needed to get home. I sighed a puff of warm air and unzipped my coat. Once I had it off, I set it down between us. “Here. Wear it until you’re ready to go home.”
The kid’s arms finally came away from his face when he turned toward me, his wet green eyes darting from me to the coat and back again. With an uneasy glance, he pushed himself from the bench and hurried away.
Did I scare him off? I chuckled a bit. “Well, then, guess I can head back.” I got up and put my coat back on. From the corner of my eye, I caught sight of the kid again. He’d stopped about ten feet away to turn back and look at me. But when he saw me look back at him, he ran away for real.
-- -- --
I went back there for the next couple days and didn’t see the kid again. With a bit of relief, I hoped that my initial suspicions were wrong, and I was worried over nothing.
It didn’t take long for my friends to catch on to my frequent disappearances.
-- -- --
“You’ve been hard to track down lately! What have you been up to?” I hid the bag of snacks I had bought for that boy behind my back, but not fast enough. Kita smiled mischievously. “Don’t tell me you’re sneaking out with a girl,” she teased.
“As if,” I refuted her instantly.
“Then, why won’t you tell us where you’ve been?” Kita pressed.
Really, now? “I have places I’d rather go by myself, you know.”
Kita jumped on me and grabbed me in a noogie. “You gonna eat all those sweets by yourself? Come on, Reka, spill it, already!!”
My patience finally ran out. “All right, let go, and I’ll tell you!” Kita finally let me go, and I moved my mussed-up crimson hair out of my eyes. “When we split up on our mission the other day, I met a little boy.”
“What’s that? You made a friend?!” Kita blurted out.
Oh, for crying out loud, I’ll never hear the end of this one…! I felt my face redden and tried to hide it. “Get out of my face, woman!” I snapped.
“Oh, come on, don’t leave us hanging! You’ve gotta tell us what happened now!” Kita bounced around like a six-year-old on a sugar-high. Sometimes I could swear she was an elementary-school kid trapped in a teenager’s body – and it was times like this that her excitability was a huge pain in the butt.
“Reka, the Seekers were already really mad when you came in late that day.” Toki, who was smiling only a second ago while she was watching Kita try to wrench an answer out of me, now had a frown on her face. “They’re not going to like that you’re using your Key without authorization to go and see that boy.”
The Key-Seekers were our bosses. They were like an uppity bunch of bureaucrats who loved to dig into all of your business. But they didn’t actually hold any real governmental power, even though they loved to flaunt what power they did have as if they owned the world. In short, they were not my favorite people. “Who I go to see is none of their business,” I muttered.
“When you’re using a Key, it is,” Toki warned me.
I knew she was only trying to help me; but it still irritated me that she was taking the Seekers’ side. I tried not to let it show. “Yeah, I guess you’re right,” I grudgingly replied. “I’ll be more careful.”
-- -- --
I went back to check up again when we were assigned to that location for a follow-up mission a few days later.
-- -- --
It was so cold that evening, it had started to snow. The park was empty, save for some exercise nut on a jogging path a ways away. Then I spotted someone in a blue jacket on a covered part of the jungle gym. I got closer just to make sure it was him.
Yup. There he was. As cold as it was, the kid again had no coat. I climbed up on the jungle gym, and he looked up at me. His eyes widened – he recognized me. And I saw how beat-up he was. His face was red and swollen, and what was visible of his small hands was much the same. The bruises looked fresh. It was past the likely time for them to have been inflicted by a schoolyard bully. As I thought, this could only be… I frowned.
I reached into my coat pocket and revealed the bag of snacks. “You hungry?” I held the snacks out to him, but tried not to invade his space. After an awkward pause, the kid nodded silently. I handed him the snacks. I had to squish uncomfortably to fit in the child-sized structure, and working my way out of my coat was no easy task. This time, I draped the coat over his shoulders as he munched quietly. I dug around in my pockets for the band-aids I had on hand. “Is it okay if I put these on your bruises?” I asked him. He looked at me and then at the band-aids in my hand and nodded again, albeit uneasily. I gently stuck a couple of them on his face and then gave him some space again.
The boy gingerly held the bag of snacks, which was still about half-full, back out to me and stared at me questioningly. “That’s okay,” I said with a smile, “they’re for you.” He blinked at me for a moment, and then started eating again. I huddled up and gripped my arms for warmth.
“W-What’s your name?” I asked him. He put down the bag and started signing to me, but stopped when he realized I didn’t understand. He really can’t speak? I blinked in surprise. “I’m sorry,” I apologized. I started chattering as the cold got to me more and more. “I—I d-didn’t know…”
The kid threw my coat at me and took off without any warning whatsoever.
-- -- --
“I think I made him mad.”
“You sure made Toki plenty mad when we found you sitting in the cold with your coat half-off,” Kita pointed out. She and Toki were standing at my bedside in the Key-Seekers’ infirmary. “Idiot. You know you and the cold don’t get along.”
Toki’s brow furrowed with anger at the mention of the incident. “What were you thinking?!” she cried in exasperation.
“He didn’t have a coat -- ”
“You’re always worrying over other people so much! Why don’t you ever take care of yourself?!” Toki’s eyes started to water over. “Do you know how much you made us worry?!”
I’d gone and done it now. I hated to see her cry. “S-Sorry…”
“You’d better be, you jerk!” Kita blurted out. “If you’re really sorry, then stay under that blanket ‘til we say you can get up!” She jabbed her index finger toward the blanket that I was buried under for emphasis.
“Yes, ma’am,” I saluted jokingly, and Kita stomped out of the room.
“We’re going to have to at least tell Takeshi, you know,” Toki said. “Have you explained any of this to him?”
Takeshi was unofficially our team’s leader. So he would be the main one under pressure from the Key-Seekers if I couldn’t perform on the job. “No, I haven’t told Takeshi anything,” I admitted.
Toki frowned. “You said you would be careful. And now you’ve gotten yourself into this mess. The Seekers are starting to ask questions, you know. What are we supposed to tell them? Takeshi will get in trouble, too, if they find out.” She paused. “Are you still going to keep trying to contact that boy?”
I knew that she was right. I didn’t mean to cause trouble for everyone. But… “I’m sorry. I just can’t leave him alone.”
Toki sighed in surrender. “You’re so stubborn, Reka,” she complained. “At least take a spare coat or something with you next time, okay?” She, too, finally turned to leave.
-- -- --
I didn’t see the boy again for a while, so I started to return less frequently, in order to keep the Seekers off my team’s case. I started to think that maybe I’d pushed too hard and scared him off for good. It was when I was about to give up on meeting him again that I finally ran across him once more.
-- -- --
He was sprawled across the snow-spotted park bench, looking worse than the last time – not just because of the beating he’d taken, either. He looked pale. I touched his forehead without thinking. I pulled back my hand, expecting him to freak out. But he just looked at me. I draped a blanket over him – as Toki had suggested, I’d brought one, expecting the kid to be coat-less. But I didn’t expect this. I wished I had a phone. I was afraid to take him anywhere – What if I got mistaken for a kidnaper? “I’m getting help.”
I turned to take off and felt something tug at my coat. I turned around, surprised. The boy was holding onto me. He let go awkwardly. “Why?” So, he could talk. His voice was so soft, I could barely hear him.
I was so stunned that he was speaking to me that I only just registered what he was saying. “Wh-What do you mean, ‘why’?” I blurted out, and he flinched a little in fear. “You have a fever!”
“You d-don’t even know me,” he stammered unsteadily, “but… you keep…helping me…”
I sank down to his level and just smiled sympathetically at him. “Can I tell you a secret?” He nodded but didn’t speak again. “I used to run away from home a lot. Because my dad would hit me.” The boy’s eyes widened. But there was understanding – not shock – in his expression. His arms curled up defensively – a reflex you learn when you’re hit often. “You remind me of myself back then.”
The kid looked down awkwardly. It seemed like he might cry. I patted his head a little, out of habit, and pulled back quickly. “I can understand if you don’t want to go back home yet. But I’ve gotta get you some help for that fever. So just sit tight, okay?”
As I got up again and turned to leave, the boy jumped up from the bench and held me back. Shaking his head, he pleaded, “No – No doctors.”
I frowned. “You don’t want anyone asking questions,” I surmised. He nodded in response. I sighed. I understood how he felt, but… What should I do, then?
The boy’s shaky hands gripped onto me as he staggered a little. “Hey…” I offered my hand, and when he took it, I sat him back on the bench. “Is there somewhere nearby where I could get medicine?” I asked him. “Like a corner drug store?” He nodded. I wanted to get him out of the cold. Hesitantly, I asked, “Would you mind coming with me to show me the way?” He slowly nodded again.
“Put up your hood,” I told him, and he did. “Is it okay for me to pick you up?” I expected some resistance there, but after a pause, he nodded once more. “Okay. Up we go…” I hoisted him up and carefully adjusted my hold on him. The kid was so little. He felt like he could break if I held too tight, and I was acutely conscious of his flinches when I accidentally held somewhere he was hurt.
When the boy finally seemed to be comfortable, I started off. He pointed which direction to go each time I reached a street corner, and about a dozen turns, some ten minutes later, we reached a pharmacy.
“Now, let’s see… Children’s medicine, children’s medicine…” I scanned the signs above each aisle as I walked. “Here we go.” I went down the aisle and searched the shelves. The announcement came over the intercom that the store was closing soon. I put the boy down to reach for one of the medicines. I felt him grip my pant leg. One of the few other people left in the store was coming down our aisle, and the kid hid behind me as he passed by. I had to chuckle a little. He trusts me enough to hide behind me, huh? I finished checking out the labels on the fever medicine in my hand and decided it was a good one to go with. I gave it to the kid and picked him back up.
“Want to grab a snack on our way out?” I asked him. His stomach growled right on cue, and his face turned bright red. “I take that as a ‘yes’,” I laughed. I carried him past the snack stand on the way to the register and let him pick up a little pack of rice crackers.
The kid buried his face in my shoulder when I reached the register and put the crackers and the medicine on the counter. The cashier stared at us for a minute, and I froze stiff, dreading the moment she would start asking questions. She avoided my eyes, scanned the items and hurried me out with a quick “Goodnight”. I finally released my bated breath, relieved that she hadn’t said anything. It occurred to me only then that she probably thought I was some kind of delinquent – my long, red hair and the family mark on my forehead kind of stood out in a bad way here. Whatever. We made it, I thought to myself as I left the store.
I shivered as I stepped back into the cold and looked around for some place where we could get warm and I could give the kid his medicine. I noticed then that he wasn’t moving around very much. “Hey, kid…”
“Naoyuki,” the boy mumbled, his voice muffled, as his face was still buried in my coat.
I blinked down at him questioningly, and he lifted his swollen hand to point to himself. “Oh, your name is Naoyuki?” I asked him. It took him a minute to nod slowly – it seemed like he was dozing off.
He pointed at me a second later. “I’m Reka,” I replied. “Nice to finally make your acquaintance formally,” I added with a chuckle.
“Reka…” he repeated. A second later, he was snoring softly. The poor kid must’ve been exhausted, from both his beating and the fever.
What kind of monster do you have to be to hurt a sick kid? I scowled in disgust at the thought that I would have to take him home – back to the place and the persecutor he’d run away from. But what else can I do? I can’t think of anywhere I can take him and give him this medicine without looking really suspicious – I shouldn’t really be taking him anywhere else, anyway.
I wound up walking right back to the park. It was still empty, thanks to all the snow. I put the kid down on the bench and wrapped him in my blanket. “Naoyuki.” He woke at hearing his name. “Here.” I gave him the crackers. He took them and nibbled away at them as I opened up the medicine and measured it out in the cup that came with the bottle. As soon as he was done eating, I handed him the medicine. But before he even started to drink it…
“What are you doing to my baby?!!” The next thing I knew, I was getting clobbered with a heavy bag and hitting the ground. A lady stood over me, wearing a rather threatening glare.
“Ow—Hey!!—Ma’am!” I braced myself as she continued to hit me with her handbag.
The lady finally stepped away from me to face Naoyuki. That’s his mom? I could see the resemblance. She had the same light complexion, long, dark hair and green eyes.
The young woman seemed confused as she took note of the blanket I had given to Naoyuki and looked closely at the medicine cup in his hand. She looked back at me and picked up the medicine bottle I’d dropped, turning it over in her hands to examine the label. “Children’s fever reducer?” She blinked at me questioningly. “Have you been looking after him?”
“More or less…” I replied sheepishly, rubbing at my face.
“Oh, my… You’re just a child, yourself,” Naoyuki’s mom commented as she took her first hard look at me. She helped me back to my feet. “I’m sorry. Thank you for helping my boy.” She bowed slightly to me.
“Don’t mention it.” I bowed back.
Naoyuki’s mom let him drink the medicine and returned the cup and the bottle to me. I opened my mouth to refuse, but she shushed me. “You paid for this, didn’t you?” Though I’d bought it for Naoyuki anyway, I decided I could hold onto it for another occasion and accepted it with a nod. She gently lifted her son up from the bench.
Naoyuki looked over at me and signed something. His mother blinked in surprise. “He says, ‘Thank you’ —if I’m remembering right…” she told me. “It’s unusual for him to take to someone like this.” She just stared at me for a minute, then asked, “Would you like to come over, Um…?”
“Reka,” I answered. “Reka Norikawa.”
“I’m Aya Kondo. And this is Naoyuki.” She smiled at me. “Please allow me to thank you for finding him…”
I spun around as I heard someone call my name – it sounded like Kita’s voice. Toki’s call followed. Aw, man, those two followed me? As the street lights flickered to life overhead, I realized how late it was. “Sorry, I’ll have to pass,” I finally answered Naoyuki’s mom. “My friends are waiting on me.”
“Another time, then,” Mrs. Kondo replied.
I nodded and waved ‘goodbye’ to them both. Naoyuki waved back, and I thought I heard him softly call, “Goodbye” as I turned and hurried away.
“Reka!!!” I heard the girls’ calls more clearly, and it sounded like they were right nearby, when Kita was suddenly skidding to a stop and bowling me over. Kita blinked at me as I glared up at her in irritation. “Found him!” Kita called to Toki, who was just emerging from around a cluster of trees a few feet away.
“Get offa me, woman!” I snapped. Kita jumped up and pulled me to my feet.
“There you are!” Toki exclaimed breathlessly. “We’ve been… looking all over for you!”
“Where’s your secret date?” Kita teased me.
“Already left,” I answered her.
She stuck out her lower lip and pouted, “Aw, you’re no fun.”
“You met that boy again?” Toki asked me.
“Yup,” I replied. “I just wanted to check up on him.”
“‘Check up’?” Toki repeated. “Is everything okay?”
I smiled awkwardly. “I’ll introduce you to him next time,” I promised. “Let’s go.”
-- -- --
That “next time” would come sooner rather than later.