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A Single Red Leaf

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A pair of soft feet hang just above a set of three, golden pedals. They move back and forth when she swings her legs, and she smiles with bright, strawberry eyes at the path of keys before her. Black, white, and reflective, like a subtle mirror. She can see what she looks like, but it doesn’t matter yet. All she really cares about now is whether she can play the wobbly song once without messing up.

The sun filters in through the laced window, and Corrin, small and eager for anything, smiles an honest smile. She loves the piano.

 

-

 

In fact, Corrin loves a lot of things. She loves her father, who sits next to her on the piano bench while she tries her best. He reminds her of a porcupine, and it’s no wonder why, what with his impossible hairstyle. Regardless of prickly appearances, though, he’s a warm man, and she loves him all the same. He’s a walking boulder near the sunrise, and she knows that nothing, not even death, could ever topple his spirit.

The thing about her father, though, is that he reminds her of her brother. Once more, it’s the hair. She doesn’t know it yet, but in the future, she’ll be glad she didn’t inherit the auburn sea-urchin look. But, her brother. She loves her brother, too, even though he’s far away right now. Even though she’s only seen him in pictures and can’t quite remember what he looks like.

Again, she smiles. He’ll be back soon, along with everyone else.

 

-

 

Around the other girl, Corrin has always felt like a heap of boundless energy. With soft locks in her hands, she tries to keep still, biting her lip as she weaves one blue tidal wave over another. Azura sits patiently, her delicate hands clasped gently in her lap.

“I thought my hair was long.” Corrin says, casual. She’s nine, now. “But yours is even longer.” she finishes, and the path of her voice falters a bit. With the sound, Azura changes the way she sits, pulling her feet out from underneath herself. Corrin knows she’s been caught.

It takes a while for the blue-haired girl to say anything, though, and so Corrin is left to agonize for quite a while. When the braid is finished, Azura finally turns, a small and somehow fond smile lifting her young features.

“You can talk to me.” says the soft-spoken girl, and Corrin doesn’t know why, but she feels guilty. Azura is an avid reader of people, and Corrin is no exception.

“Huh?” she tries, regardless, to derail the conversation. Azura’s expression stays serene, but lessens in vivacity.

“You’re excited about something.” is the clarification. Corrin lets her hands fall onto the carpet, and she fills her mouth with air.

“I told you already.”

“You did, but I can tell that you want to say more.”

Corrin releases the air she had gathered. Often, she finds herself wondering about Azura. A cousin, but one who’s a best friend beyond family. She’s physically weak and has difficulty speaking to strangers (both of which are the polar opposite of Corrin), but she’s here, around in this lifetime, and the young girl with the red eyes thinks she’s encountered something fragile.

“But you’ve heard it already.” Corrin insists. She draws her knees to her chest, and feels a rush of blood fill her cheeks.

A small puff of air escapes the blue-haired girl, and Corrin thinks that that may have been a laugh.

“They tell me, too. They’re excited to be back. I’d like to hear your side as well.” she says. Corrin tries to will away the further reddening of her face. To be back, they say, but Corrin has only met the youngest of them in pictures, and only retains the vaguest memories of her older brother and sister.

“How come they talk to you and not me?” Corrin says, attempting to derail the conversation in a manner that may or may not be intentional. She doesn’t know whether it’s acceptable to be so excited about a bunch of new houseguests who just so happen to be her siblings and mother, and so she doesn’t know whether or not she should be embarrassed for it. In a sense, she knows Azura won’t mind either way, but it’s as if Corrin doesn’t want to reveal such a side to the other, ethereal girl.

Azura’s response is a simple shrug and a soft smile. She looks different with her hair pulled into a braid, but not in a bad way. Simple, but still her. It doesn’t occur to Corrin that she’s never seen Azura as simple before. Rather, she’s always been intricate.

Corrin waits for any sort of audible response, but it’s evident after a moment that she won’t get one. She knows she shouldn’t be surprised, but she hates that the spotlight falls to her, anyhow.

“I’m just really excited.” she says, quiet. “That’s really all there is to it. I have a whole family I’ve never met before.”

Azura’s smile grows, but she doesn’t say anything. Corrin feels like it’s her duty to fill their time together with conversation. The companionable quiet gives her too much time to think.

“But, I dunno.” she breathes out a laugh. “Maybe we won’t get along at all. Maybe the younger ones will hate me.”

“I think you’re a hard person not to love.” Azura says. She reaches behind herself, bringing the long braid over her shoulders and playing idly with it. It unravels a bit at the end, as there hadn’t been any hair adornments nearby, but Corrin can tell she doesn’t mind.

 

-

 

With the sun’s light streaming over her body, Corrin is peaceful in the morning. Her platinum hair serves as a vanity for the summer glint, and on her young face rests a small, cat-like smile. She breathes deeply, asleep, holding the covers tighter around herself.

Out her window bellows a bird, and she shifts, just in the slightest bit. Having stayed awake until the first hours of the new day, she refuses to let such a thing disturb her sleep.

But, unfortunately, Corrin is not all-powerful. While she can control whether a small, morning tweet rouses her from sleep, she has no authority over the screeches of tires or the shattering of glass.

Her eyes peel open just as the clamor makes way to her ears, and in a moment she’s sitting up, befuddled. It’s twice that she blinks, adjusting herself to the rather sudden morning, before she gets to her knees, discarding the covers, and peeks through the window at the side of her bed.

Squinting from the sun, she peers toward the street below, getting the urge to sneeze thanks to the gathering of dust near the window. Corrin rubs at her nose with her wrist, before her eyes widen, and her arm drops to her side in shock.

That’s right. Today is the day. Something inside her wells up, and she stumbles off her bed, clutching her hands together. Today is the day that her siblings come back from Valla, and there has been a head-on collision of two moving vans, right in front of her house.

Feeling uneasy on her feet, Corrin contemplates rushing downstairs to see what, exactly, is going on, before she bites her lip and stays still. She’s afraid. With an outward breath, she slowly creeps forward, crawling atop her bed once more. A pair of fingers part the windowblinds, and she peers through, feeling the air in her throat catch.

There they are, just like in the pictures. Her mother, her brothers, and her sisters. She’d be elated, if it weren’t for the fact that they were currently arguing heatedly with another cluster of people, supposedly from the other vehicle involved in the crash.

Regardless, they’re unharmed. Corrin moves away from the window, furrowing her brows in a slight way. Despite her young age, she’s quite sure it’s not very normal for two vehicles to collide head-on in a neighborhood.

Thoroughly confused, she sets about changing into everyday clothes.

 

-

 

Opening the front door with both hands reveals a familiar bright morning, along with an unfamiliar bickering of voices. Her father is already standing on the porch a little ways away, his hand atop his head in an expression of what she can only guess is exasperation.

Hesitant, she toes her way outside, feet bare.

“Father?”

The man in question turns, regarding Corrin with a perplexed look muddling his features. As if brought back to reality, he blinks the daze away, quickly commanding that Corrin stay where she is. In response she nods, but she doesn’t think he registers this, as he’s already jogging into the street and toward the commotion.

Despite being told to stay, she does creep forward, just a bit, at least enough to catch wind of the conversation.

“We truly are sorry.” a mature voice rings out, sounding tired. A teenage boy, with wheat-colored hair and a group of three younger, tearful children behind him. Corrin watches her brother, on the other side of the metaphorical warzone, folding his arms and peering at the boy who had spoken without a shred of amusement. To make matters worse, a small girl with a pair of twintails atop her head begins to hiccup, tears in her eyes. The boy who had apologized glances to her worriedly, before looking back at Corrin’s brother. If memory serves correctly, she believes his name is Ryoma… no, of course it is.

Corrin stands idly as her father approaches the scene, standing between his family and another one. Ryoma’s stern expression falters, and he steps aside for his father.

Sumeragi looks from Ryoma, then, to the other group of people. His eyes rove to the two collided vehicles, and Corrin feels an inherent sense of amused fear. She’s always found her father’s antics quite funny.

Sumeragi seems to trip over his words for a moment, before outright barking, “ How?

Corrin decides to sit on the lawn, curious, but smart enough to not get close. People begin to peer out their windows and open their front doors, evidently hearing the crash. Corrin watches as each of her siblings seem to notice the extra attention, and they all, in tandem, turn a glare toward the other group of people. Her mother, too, albeit with a complete lack of anger.

The blonde who had apologized grimaces, opening his mouth to speak.

“My father, he didn’t know--”

“Enough!”

The entire neighborhood seems to quiet, then, and the blonde boy mirrors Ryoma’s actions, stepping aside for another, greater figure.

Once more, Corrin blinks. She doesn’t think she’s seen anyone with gray skin before. Nevertheless, there stands an aging man with an immaculate, oddly-shaped beard and, against all odds, gray skin.

“Since when is it lawful to drive on the left side of the road?” bellows the gray-skinned man, looking enraged in every right.

The blonde boy to his side pales and covers his face with a hand. Sumeragi stands still for a moment, his eyebrows arching comically as the seconds pass.

“Since you set foot in Hoshido.” he says, even.

There’s a tense silence, afterward. That is, until police sirens are within hearing distance.

 

-

 

Corrin hefts the small boxes, while her parents and older siblings carry the bigger ones. Her fingers slip a little on the burdened cardboard, and she huffs, using the best of her stamina to keep the thing in her grip. To Sakura’s room, she had been told, the farthest room from the stairs. Even though the box is quite small, Corrin feels as though she’s about to drop it. She supposes it’s because she doesn’t have much experience with lifting of any sort, but still, it makes her feel a little pathetic.

She’s just about to take a break and rest on the floor when a hand swoops to her rescue from above, lifting the box out of her grip with ease. Corrin stumbles a bit before she looks up, catching a pair of red eyes much like her own.

Hinoka looks at her for a moment, and Corrin supposes it’s out of worry. Then, the older girl grins an amiable grin, and Corrin feels warm.

“Where’s this heading?” Hinoka asks. Corrin starts, realizing she had been staring at her sister’s bright red hair.

“Sakura’s room.” she replies, and Hinoka nods, continuing on.

Corrin thinks to herself that after this day is over, she’ll sleep for a week. She turns, making her way through the hall and descending the stairs once more.

The front yard is still a battlefield. Cautious, Corrin sets foot onto the porch, heading toward the ruined moving van to fetch more boxes. Just as she’s thinking about how she’ll have to pick something lighter this time, she glances to the right, where the other wrecked vehicle lies.

Vaguely she remembers the look of mortification on her father’s face after he had learned that the family who had ruined their morning was moving in next door on the same day. Out of habit, she had giggled, just a bit. Sometimes, her father is so funny. She couldn’t understand why he had been so upset over the matter.

After all, the only opinion Corrin had over the issue arose when, after the conflict, the girl with the twintails had looked her way in the middle of a shushed sob. Corrin had let herself smile, and the little girl had stared, awestruck, in her direction. Then, the grin was returned tenfold, and Corrin was faced with the brightest, most carefree beam she had ever seen.

It may be naive to assume as much, but Corrin doesn’t think that people rotten to the core are capable of smiling like that.

 

-

 

As the sun recedes over the horizon, Corrin is bathed in the familiar, damp scent of rice. The back door of her house is open, but the screen is shut so that no bugs will be able to trespass. She sits at the table, her feet high above the ground, and she stares at her mother’s back as she works in the kitchen.

Slowly, Corrin’s mouth cracks into a yawn, and with it her eyes crinkle shut. There’s a constant buzzing outside, that of summer in Hoshido. It’s familiar, and she’s relaxed. She opens her eyes and meets another pair, this one a set of amber. Startled, she blinks the sleep away.

Her younger brother stands at the other side of the room now, face set into a stubborn frown. A waft of steam passes over Corrin’s shoulder from the kitchen. She opens her mouth, prepared to speak, then shuts it when Takumi’s face doesn’t change in the slightest.

He turns, then, supposedly continuing on his path upstairs. Puzzled, Corrin allows her eyes to follow him until he’s gone.

“I wouldn’t worry, Sister.”

Corrin cranes her head back and to the right, finding Ryoma behind her. He smiles in the way that big brothers do, knowing, and Corrin is reminded of Hinoka in the hallway earlier that day. She feels warm.

“Takumi looks at everyone like that.” Ryoma clarifies, voice a little quieter. He sits next to her, then, and the warmth Corrin had felt is replaced with a sensation of being small. It occurs to her that she has no idea how much older Ryoma is than her, and then she realizes that she hasn’t a clue as to the rest of her siblings’ ages, either.

“How was Valla?” she blurts, and asks herself where the question had come from in the first place.

Ryoma pauses, perhaps in thought. Corrin waits, clasping her hands on top of her knees. Another cloud of steam wafts through the room.

“It was very green.” he says. “Every building was crawling with vines and there were no fields, only trees and tiny clearings.”

Corrin nods. She remembers Valla, filled with art made of stone and bright, bright blue skies.

“It’s surprising...” she says, thinking through her words. “How different it is from Hoshido, I mean. They’re both supposed to, uh, they both have trees, but Hoshido is really flat.” Corrin finishes, deflating. That was meant to sound a lot more intelligent than it had.

“A lot less green and a lot more sun.” Ryoma nods. Just from his voice, Corrin thinks he’s still smiling. She’s glad he doesn’t say anything about the way she had tripped over her words.

 

-

 

Over time, Corrin abandons her previous anxiety and decides to stop fighting with herself over what words she’s going to say. In the end, she tells herself to say what needs to be said, when it needs to be said. This is how she is normally, anyhow, and she realizes quite abruptly that making a good impression on her siblings would prove useless.

They would know her, through thick and thin.

It’s this vow of honesty that shakes her one particular morning, days after her family had re-joined itself.

“Do you think the locks are faulty?”

“They work just fine after I lock them.”

Corrin listens to the conversation between her mother and father as she sits on the floor next to Sakura, watching her color in between the lines of a coloring page.

“Are you sure?”

“I’m sure.”

Sakura’s hand slips and she moves a bit outside the lines. With a quiet, breathy sound, she holds the crayon just above the paper. Corrin looks up, her eyes falling upon the locks in question. Every morning, they had been found unlocked.

“Maybe someone’s breaking into our house at night.” she says, idle. Her parents pause, thinking. Then, they look to her, eyes rather wide.

At this exact moment, there’s a knock at the door. Sakura looks up, her eyes meeting Corrin’s before they travel to the source of the sound. Corrin looks, too, before standing and padding over to the door. Her parents are back to discussing the locks, this time in a much more ardent fashion.

She opens the door, noting the fact that, yes, it is unlocked. Lost in thought, she glares at the lock for a moment. That is, before she’s being battered with something quite harmless but quite obnoxious.

Corrin makes a disgruntled sound, backing away from the door and blinking several times as a flurry of papers are thrown toward her face. She sputters, swatting at them and blinking the shock away, before regarding the people in front of her with vexation.

“That’s why you need a ninja.” says a young but guttural voice. Corrin opens her mouth, feeling her face twist in annoyance, before she shuts it out of confusion.

“What?” she blurts, incredulous, looking the boy before her up and down. He’s dressed in all black and the bottom half of his face is covered completely by a scarf, which is strange, considering the fact that Corrin is sweating under just the blanket of her hair.

“If you had a ninja, they would have protected you from those ninja stars.” the boy growls.

“Shuriken.” says a second voice. Corrin notices another boy behind the first one, standing stiff like a board.

“Shuriken.” the first boy corrects himself. “We’ve noticed some shadows around your house, and wanted to let you know that we’re here to help.”

Honestly, Corrin can’t find words. She’s still stuck on the fact that there’s a surplus of origami ninja stars at her feet.

The first boy, the one with the red hair, pulls another slip of paper from his pocket, this one rectangular. He holds it out to Corrin.

An awkward pause, in which Corrin makes no move to take the paper, and the boy in the scarf holds it in the air as if expecting her to.

What? ” Corrin blurts. The second boy shuts his eyes, and the first one furrows his eyebrows. He shakes the paper in his hand.

“This is our contact information. Let us know if you need our help.” says scarf-boy, dropping the paper into the mess of origami shuriken and turning on his heel. Corrin stands there, gaping like a fish and watching the boy retreat. His scarf drags on the ground when he walks, and it’s only now that Corrin realizes the other boy hasn’t left yet.

“... Sorry.” he says, lamely, before following after his companion.

They walk a leisurely pace, and Corrin watches the two boys until they’re out of sight. She closes her mouth, filling it with air, and frowns underneath the summer sun. Was that a prank? Corrin doesn’t think she knows them from school, so she wouldn’t think so, but…

Kneeling to the floor, her fingers brush the lone unfolded slip of paper. She eyes it, and discerns that it’s simply a ripped piece of lined stationery, with a scratchy email address written on it in green pen.

“That was weird.”

Corrin turns at the voice, finding Takumi standing at an equal height to hers. She stands, taller than him once more. He sips at a juice box noisily. She stares at him, too, because she can’t really comprehend anything at the moment.

“What?” her younger brother snaps, before snatching one of the ninja stars and running off.

From somewhere outside, a bird caws. Corrin jumps, peering over her shoulder and out into the evening light.