"Why do they always ruin everything?!"
Houki kicked at the multitude of wildflowers that covered a section of the fourth-floor garden. The area was home to different patches holding a variety of flora, vegetables, and other greenery useful for the school's kitchens, scenery, and other things.
Houki stepped up to the upper ledge of the garden and looked over the side toward the ocean. Moonlight cast a bright white sheen over the pitch black water, small waves kicking up in the distance.
"All I wanted was to enjoy one of my favorite things with my favorite person..." Houki whispered, holding back tears. "Why does everything have to turn into a damn dating game? They don't even love him like I do!"
Suddenly, the young lady turned to face her left, having heard footsteps. There stood Ichika, a small breeze blowing his deep blue locks just below his brow.
"Hey there," he said, coming closer. "Why did you run off so fast?"
Houki sighed and closed her eyes. "It was just getting crowded in there. Thought I could use some fresh air."
"What's up?" Ichika asked, stepping beside her. "Why did you turn the silent treatment off and on?"
"Weren't you listening?" Houki snapped. "It was crowded, and I wanted to appreciate the movie in peace."
"I gotcha." Ichika leaned over and picked a tall white wildflower from the garden. He reached over and put it behind the girl's left ear. She looked at him in surprise.
"These always made you feel better when you were down when we were kids," Ichika said cheerfully. "That and hitting me over the head with your kendo stick."
Houki chuckled and looked toward the water. "Yup. I remember so much from back then, before the academy."
"Yeah, good times. And so much more to come!" Ichika added.
"But..." Houki said.
Houki's tone turned a bit somber. "Look, Ichika. I know I've been a pain sometimes over the past year or so, and I'm sorry for that. I give you a hard time so you can shape up and survive here, but also because I miss us doing things...together."
Ichika nodded and spoke in a serious tone as well. "Hey, I don't make it easy for anyone. Not knowing much about the IS initially, and all these crazy escapades with our friends. But I'm glad you're helping me out. Thank you. It'll all pay off when we graduate and go out into the world."
"The world," Houki said. "I'd so love to see more of it, especially from the air in Akatsubaki."
"Same here, with Byakushiki."
Both teens looked off toward the moonlit ocean, then to the sky.
"Why don't we go now?" Ichika said.
Houki raised her eyebrow. "What?"
"Go see the world," Ichika replied, grinning.
"Yeah, good luck leaving here in an IS right now," Houki said, folding her arms. "We aren't cleared to leave the area except in emergencies."
"Well, then let's go as far as we can for now. I promise I won't drop you. Do you trust me?"
Houki was taken aback by her childhood friend's words.
"Is he...? No..."
"What did you say?"
"Do you trust me?"
"Yes..." she said in confusion. "What do you mean drop?"
In that instant, Ichika snapped into a battle stance, bright light enveloping him. Within seconds, he was encased in Byakushiki's white armor. Ichika then took Houki by the hand and lifted off into the air.
Houki screamed as the two took to the sky, high above the clouds.
"I won't drop you! Just relax!" Ichika said loudly as they started flying parallel to the sea.
Houki quieted down and took in the scenery as the jettisoned away from the IS Academy. Given the chance to take in the environment from up high and not in a training or combat situation, she was amazed at the clouds, the glittering stars, and the waves below.
"This is just amazing!" she yelled as they descended to get close to the water. Both Ichika and Houki ran their free hands across the waves, creating powerful streams behind them.
The duo took to the sky again, flying a couple of miles to the beachside where they had their freshman holiday, gliding over the towering cliffs and the foliage atop them.
"How about we do some fancy flying?" Ichika proposed, preparing to halt in his tracks in midair.
"You bet!" Houki said.
"Grab on!" Ichika instructed as he brought the propulsion of the IS to a slow hover. He wrapped the female pilot up in his arms and sped off high once more. They traveled to a nearby wooded area, performing spins and loops over the towering oak trees. The two then flew across the open ocean again, performing barrel rolls and helix twists as they ascended above the clouds.
Both Ichika and Houki couldn't help but hoop and holler, laughing as they went along. They looked at each other with the most elated and warmest of expressions, rocketing higher than they had been in a while.
In time, they swept back to the fourth-floor garden, touching down in the same wildflower patch.
"Ichika... I don't know how to thank you," Houki said as she steadied herself from their adventure. "That was the most fun I've had in a while."
"What are childhood friends for, Houki?" Ichika said, deactivating his suit. "I knew that would cheer you up."
Both teens smiled at each other as the gentle wind blew the plants about, flowers, bushes, and young trees dancing about in the gust.
"Right," Houki remarked. She brushed some hair out of her eyes, and Ichika did the same. "It'll be awesome when we can go even further."
Both of them looked up to the stars again, Houki moving closer to Ichika.
"Yeah," Ichika said. "All of us out in the open world. I'm sure I can beat Laura's ignition boost then with my new mode."
Houki exhaled in a hint of frustration. "Still the same old dense Ichika."
Ichika turned to face Houki and laughed. "Maybe not that dense," he said.
"Huh?" Houki uttered.
Ichika took his right hand and gripped Houki's left. He looked her straight in her eyes, a strange new look on his face, almost like that one he had during the movie. Almost automatically, the two moved closer and closer toward each other until they brought their lips together with a tender kiss.
It only lasted a couple of seconds, Ichika and Houki slowly breaking away from each other. Both of them were beaming.
"Some things change, I guess," Houki nearly stammered, unable to stop smiling.
"Some things," Ichika acknowledged. "I love you, and that has never changed. Not after all of these years."
The boy leaned over to embrace Houki, and the girl flung herself into his arms, gripping him softly, yet with a firm hold.
"I love you too," Houki said. No tears this time.
A loud rustling sound interrupted the couple's reverie. Ichika and Houki turned to see Chifuyu and Ms. Yamada standing by a bush on the other side of the garden. Cecilia, Charl, Rin, and Laura came from behind the bush.
"Uh oh..." Ichika groaned.
"Let's see," Chifuyu started. "Breaking curfew, operating an IS outside of approved school zones and designated supervision, leaving school grounds without approval..."
"Oh have some mercy this time, Mentor!" Laura said, her tone oddly chipper.
"Yes, please!" Cecilia added, her words interrupted by tears of joy. "This is the most beautiful love story I've ever seen!"
"Oh, pipe down, Miss Priss," Rin ordered.
"Certainly worthy of a motion picture," Charl said, her voice ripe with approval. Ms. Yamada giggled with the same happiness.
"I guess they'll be okay with this," Houki said, holding Ichika's hand. Ichika nodded.
"You know, the ramifications for your indiscretions are usually very severe, including intense physical training, suspension, and possible expulsion," Chifuyu stated. "But I have something more fitting in mind."
At that moment, the four IS pilots-in-training activated their IS units, readying their armaments.
"Anyway," Cecilia said, clearing away her eyes and readying Blue Tears. "It seems Ichika has been playing us this whole time! Feeding us and taking us out on dates when he's had a girlfriend!"
"Wait, what? You gotta be kidding me!" Ichika cried.
"Totally the opposite of a gentleman," Charl added, grinning mischievously.
"Enough talk, let's get him!" Rin yelled. The four began to advance on him.
"Oh boy, not again..." Ichika said, preparing to get out of dodge.
Houki squeezed Ichika's hand. "Some things never change."
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