The following day, Mahiru arrived at the house, looking a little apprehensive.
She was nervous about going to the house of the opposite gender on a holiday…not. Mahiru was earnest in wishing that she got to play games, and she could not contain her excitement.
It was said this was her first time playing video games, and in this sense, one might call her a Princess oblivious to the ways of the world.
“I shall begin making lunch then.”
“Nn, cook the eggs a little more please.”
Even though the customer was being extra demanding, her mood was not dampened as she hurriedly put on the apron, hurried to the kitchen, and began preparations for lunch. Surely she was in a really good mood.
He felt a little ashamed to know she was really looking forward to this, itchy even.
（Well, she’s just looking forward to playing games.）
Definitely not that she was looking forward to playing games together with him.
So he gave a wry smile as he stared at the swaying ponytail.
“…How do I control this?”
After lunch, they sat on the sofa before the TV, staring at the screen.
He tried asking her what games she wanted to play, but once he knew she had no idea of the genres, he had no choice but to choose a nationally famous 2D game, and handed her the controller…as expected, she was flailing all over, not knowing what to do.
“Erm well, first if you want to move, use this stick, and use this button to jump…”
That Mahiru was usually so poised, yet at this point, she was looking back and forth at the TV and the controller in confusion, controlling it, and Amane found it extremely rehabilitating for some reason.
She was not used to playing games, but it was the first time he saw someone play so casually.
After seeing her unable to evade the enemy’s attacks a few times and die, he realized that even the Angel herself had things she was bad at.
“…I cannot win.”
“You didn’t beat an enemy, let alone clear a stage.”
“You are noisy.”
“Well, just get used to it. It’s all muscle memory.”
Everything’s a challenge, once she heard those words, Mahiru got down to playing the game again.
He felt a little encouraged seeing Mahiru challenge an entertaining game with such a serious face, and showed a smile.
However, she always lost to the first enemy, and once he saw that she never progressed, he started to feel uneasy, rather than bemused.
She looked towards him.
Muuuu, he could hear the sound effect from her face, but he probably was thinking too much.
“Ahh see, this is how you do it.”
If they stopped here, her motivation would be drained, so he put his hands on the controller she was holding, demonstrating to her.
Amane himself had cleared this game a few times, and easily cleared the areas she had difficulty clearing.
In fact, she was really terrible at this, and even an ordinary person would not be stuck here…but he kept silent on this.
“Look, this enemy moves random at the same speed, but once you see it speed up towards your character, just time here and jump…”
He operated the controller, nearly covering her little hands as he made some explanation, demonstrating to her.
On the screen, the character did as Amane explained, and evaded the enemy.
It was not some amazing move, but it was a new experience for Mahiru who kept failing, “Woah.” so she blurted.
The eyes ornamented by her long eyebrows widened, her expression cheerful.
As he was controlling at such a close distance to her, he discovered that her lower eyelashes were really long, and smiled a little as he saw how elated she was.
He looked down at her nice sidelong face, and she might have noticed his stare, for she turned her eyes towards him.
He had leaned over to her before this, wanting to reach the controller in her hands, so they were closer than he imagined. Their elbows were already touching, and they were so close, he could sense her breathing through his skin. Thus, her warmth and sweet scent reached him.
Once he noticed that his hands were about to wrap around hers, he hurriedly pulled his body back, and only then did she seem to realize, blinking a few times, her eyes starting to daze.
“It…It is fine. I should be the one saying sorry.”
Once he noticed her face starting to turn red, he felt regret.
She did not like body contact, and no matter how familiar the two of them were, she might feel displeased about having her hands touched.
She appeared to be a little bashful, but she did not seem repulsed.
“I’m really sorry.”
“Erm, I really do not mind, you know?”
“You don’t hate it?”
“…It shocked me, but not that I hate it. You are not someone I do not know after all.”
It appeared the magnanimous Angel had forgiven his insolence.
Since she decided to let bygones be bygones, he felt relieved, and they played the game again.
This time, he decided to let Mahiru play on her own, and looked towards the screen…only to see her die again. At that moment, he was seriously wondering how he should improve her gaming skills.
The result was that she managed to stumble past the first stage, and he decided not to play this game.
It was deflating for a complete novice to keep dying, so he intended for her to try a different game to reduce stress.
“Mahiru, you’re tilting your body.”
They decided to play a racing game, common in the real world…and Mahiru tilted her body.
This game was not controlled by gyro forces, and the controller itself had no gyro sensor.
There was no need for her to tilt her body…but it might be a subconscious act as she tilted left and right while holding the controller.
She was focused on the game, and did not answer.
Unlike the previous game, this game seemed easier to pick up, for people these days appeared to have fewer chances of riding a car. Her skills were terrible, but at the very least, she could play.
She swayed her body with a really serious look, trying her best to move the car.
（She’s really cute.）
It was strangely cute to see Mahiru rolling around like humpty dumpty, and the serious look on her face as she struggled to play the game with all her might added to that.
Once there was a large curb, Mahiru naturally tilted her body greatly.
Pomf, once she landed on Amane’s thighs, the latter struggled not to laugh.
“…Actually, you don’t have to turn your body about, you know?”
“I-I am not doing this on purpose.”
“Yep, I know that, but you were tilting.”
He tried his best to stop his lips from shaking, and lifted her up.
But it was to be expected, given how fluffy and light she was. One reason was that she was petite, but her body was so slender, he felt it could snap at any moment, and he hesitated over whether he should touch her.
Mahiru, lifted up by Amane, was shivering out of shame with her cheeks red.
She truly was adorable like a little animal, and he finally ended up bursting out laughing.
“Are you taking me for a fool?”
“No no no, I just want to smile.”
“So you are taking me for a fool.”
“Do you think I will take a serious person as a fool?”
“I do not think so…”
“See? I just find you cute.”
“…The cute you refer to surely refers to how you want to smile at an adorable child.”
She appeared to be pouting as she said this, and might be really unhappy if he overdid it, so he decided to stop expressing his thoughts at this point.
It was fine for him not to show what he was thinking on his face, so he quietly thought.
She looked a little displeased, and when he smiled at her, she turned aside with a hmph.
There were few situations where the Angel nearly kicked up a fuss, but once she got back to gaming, she discarded all these thoughts and reverted to looking serious again.
She was starting to get used to the game, after stumbling around in the beginning, and finally could play a little, catching up to the pace.
It was because it was a different game from the one she played at first, a game of controlling a car.
She often crashed out of the course or into the wall, but she could drive the car forward.
He was worried that Mahiru, being bad at games, would have driven off in the opposite direction, but she was doing better than expected, and he felt relieved.
So he split the screen in half, joining in the game, but the subconscious gestures she did left him a little uncomfortable.
She naturally tilted her body about, sometimes putting her head near his elbow, and then turning aside, repeating over and over again.
And whenever that happened, a nice smell would be scented, leaving him unable to remain calm.
Well, they were still racing at the lowest difficulty, so he was winning the entire time.
“…How are you so fast?”
“Got used to it.”
After playing a few times, he memorized the track, and the turns were easier. Even when the opponents were trying to obstruct, he could adjust his camera angles or the obstacles to stop them.
He showed a wry smile while Mahiru looked incredulous, before switching back to single player mode.
Considering her lack of experience, he felt she should practice more on a large screen. It was better for her to race against the CPU than to race him and lose confidence.
Luckily, she was still motivated, and kept staring at the monitor intently even in single player mode
If she kept this up, she should be able to deal with the CPU players, somehow.
He was relieved to see that her status as a hard work applied on games too, and snickered away. It seemed Mahiru had realized this too, as she slapped him on the thigh a few times.
The humorous reaction had him chortling, and so she frowned, muttering “Amane-kun no baka”.
After at least two hours of struggling.
Mahiru stared intently at the glowing words indicating she was first, and looked towards Amane proudly.
After a long battle against the TV, she won the glorious first place.
After countless experiences, she kept standing on the race tracks despite coming in last several times, slowly improved her rankings, and finally won. Surely she was really moved.
I finally did it, so the proud expression on her face, and Amane earnestly applauded her.
“That’s great. I saw your hard work.”
She was happy to be praised, and looked bashful, her usual expression softening a little.
It was not a simple smile, but one filled with utter elation. It was so unimaginably sweet compared to the usual aloofness she showed.
Recently, her aloof face would show an expression befitting a girl her age, but on this day, this expression was more fitting than usual, and was totally adorable.
It was an innocent, pure smile, eroding away at Amane’s sanity, and the desire to pat her on the head arose.
His mind unwittingly ordered his arm as it went along with the impulse to pat her like a kitten…before he hurriedly retracted the hand he unwittingly raised.
“What is it?”
“Ah nothing. Just think that you played too much.”
“Have I improved?”
“Yep yep. A lot better than when you first started.”
“Thank you very much. I enjoyed myself, and started working hard.”
Fufu, so Mahiru chuckled, but Amane could not continue to look at her as he tried to disguise his motive, taking out a little box from a basket in a cupboard.
“Here’s your reward for coming in first.”
“Eh, erm, there is no need for that.”
“If you don’t want a reward, just take it that you got it from a certain fat white bearded grandpa.”
Yes, it was the Christmas present he had forgotten to give the previous day.
It was difficult for him to choose a present, given how close her birthday was to Christmas, but he so happened to fancy an item, and did not suffer as much as he did for her birthday.
Once she heard the words Christmas present, it appeared she was reminded that it was Christmas as she blinked away a few times, before cautiously receiving the item.
You can open it now, so he said, and she cautiously unpacked the item.
（Well, it’s not a big deal.）
She opened the box, and slowly retrieved a leather key case.
She would be troubled if he gave her an expensive item, so he did not choose a branded item, merely an item with a simple design, befitting Mahiru.
It was a simple item engraved with flowers and vines, one designed to be suitable for daily use. He was unfamiliar with flowers, and did not know what was engraved, but once he saw the fine shapes, he felt it would fit Mahiru, and chose it.
“Well, I gave you an extra key. You don’t have to use this though.”
“No, I will gracious use this. You have keener eyesight than I expected, Amane-kun.”
“What do you mean, expected.”
“You normally wear a sweatshirt and jerseys, so I thought you have some problems with your fashion sense.”
“I don’t have any other practical clothing.”
After all, he never got a chance to show himself being dressed up, and he would avoid doing so given how much of a hassle it was. Thus, the only modes he had been in were in school uniform, and in the warm house.
Thus, he might have given her a horrid impression of his fashion sense, but it would not be erased, for it really was terrible.
“…You look handsome when you tidy up a little. You did that back when you were in middle school, Amane-kun.”
“Mom forced me to…wait, how did you know?”
“Shihoko-san sent me a photo, saying『he looks like this when he dolls up a little』…”
There was a moment when he was forced to wear outdoor clothing because of his mom’s work. He never expected her to leak the photo, and quietly harbored loads of complaints towards her.
“…That dress up doesn’t suit me.”
“Is that so? I think you are just avoiding other people’s stares and hiding your eyes behind your bangs, Amane-kun, but your face is relatively handsome…”
Her little hand extended towards Amane’s face.
Her white palm lifted his bangs, and touched his forehead, his vision made wider than before.
It had been a while since his vision was so vast, except when entering the bath. His eyes looked towards Mahiru, who looked a little shocked.
He felt it was not something worth being shocked about, and while not particularly handsome, he had an ordinary face. He was thus incredulous as to why Mahiru was staring at him.
“Nothing. I just find your eyes livelier than before.”
Months ago, Mahiru said that his eyes looked dead, and while it really was rude, he could not deny that. At this point, she was staring up at Amane.
There was no way he was becoming any handsome the more she stared, but she continued to stare at Amane silently.
He was abashed to be stared at by someone of the opposite gender, especially a really pretty girl.
However, he was not one to take his punishment alone, and as payback, he grabbed some of the sidelong hair on her cheek, showing her pretty face.
While he was apprehensive about touching her, since she touched his hair without thinking, he should be fine. After all, he was just touching her head, and he hoped he was safe.
（But seriously, she’s really a beauty.）
Looking at her once again, he was amazed by how beautiful Mahiru was.
She might be far prettier than the pretty ladies in the magazines scattered around his house, more attractive even.
After all, photos could not be trusted.
They merely captured moments, and could be enhanced. One could publish it as it was, beautify it, or even falsify it.
At this point, Mahiru’s beauty and cuteness was undoctored.
As he continued to stare at this pretty face he would not get tired of, her eyes started to blur.
Why so? So he wondered, but she removed her hand from his hair, and looked down.
She fidgeted about, looking very uncomfortable. She put her controller down, and lifted the cushion next to her.
“Erm. Well…yes. I too have a Christmas present for you.”
Before he could ask what was going on, Mahiru took out a wrapped item from the bag she covered by the side.
“I shall prepare, dinner then.”
“Eh? A-ah okay…?”
So she said, and hurried to stand up. Faced with this overly rapid development, he was at a loss.
After dinner, Amane washed the dishes, and returned to the living room, finding Mahiru to be a little anxious.
While she had been used to sitting next to him recently, she was being restless. Even during dinner, she was averting his eyes.
Mahiru had no awareness of him till this point. After recalling what happened, he sensed that it was because she bought him a present. He too was restless when he gave Mahiru the teddy bear. Perhaps she was wondering what his reaction would be.
“Speaking about this, can I open it now?”
He lifted her present from the low table, and she stammered a little, but she nodded.
I guess she is really nervous about giving a present, so he concluded, and unraveled the ribbon.
It was not really heavy, and he could feel it was made of cloth, but he never expected it to be a cloth with a monotone, zigzag pattern.
What is this, so he wondered as he spread it out, and understood its purpose.
The soft, smooth item was one to be wrapped around the neck for warmth.
“…You do not care about your appearance, Amane-kun, and you always look cold.”
“Very practical indeed. Feels great to touch too.”
“The touch is important, since you will be using this often.”
She probably was right, since the quality of her items were all good. She would not scrimp just to save some pennies, and preferred to buy something of higher quality, to be used for a longer time. Whatever she chose would be good.
He touched it, and found it nice to touch. It was silky smooth, fine even for those with skin allergies, and surely would feel good.
He was impressed by how Mahiru chose something befitting her quality as he looked towards her, who was staring back tensely, and shook the muffler.
“Can I wear this?”
“I have given it to you, Amane-kun. Do put it on.”
Upon hearing that subtle answer, he showed a wry smile as he accepted her goodwill, putting the muffler around his neck.
Because of how thin the neck skin was, he could sense the the fabric. It was soft, would not irritate the skin, allowed airflow, and kept him warm, in turn warming his cheeks.
The effects were not easily experienced indoors, but he should be able to feel warm if he wore it outdoors.
“Yep, it’s really warm.”
Amane showed a kind smile, and Mahiru seemed relieved as she too smiled.
Recently, Mahiru had been showing various kinds of smiles, and he inadvertently stared at her pretty smile.
（…Looking at her now, she’s really an Angel.）
Not that the smile she showed at school was unlike an Angel’s, but that the earnest smiles looked a lot more mesmerizing.
“Wh-what is it?”
She seemed to have noticed him staring at her, her eyes fluctuating as she looked back at him.
“No, it feels like your expression is a lot softer than when we first met.”
“…Is that so?”
I have never realized this, so she seemingly implied as she widened her eyes, patting her face. He smiled.
“Yeah, more like you’re a lot more harsher before, not cute,”
“Sorry for not being cute.”
“Don’t be angry…well, I think you’re a lot better than before. Like, you have such a cute smile, it’s a pity.”
He already knew Mahiru was an extraordinary beauty, but the difference in expression would give a different impression.
The Angel’s smile at school was merely to be viewed, a fragile, untouchable beauty to it.
The cold expression Amane first saw from her was the most unapproachable, thornful beauty.
At this point, she was showing a gentle, innocent smile befitting her face, one that would garner the urge to touch, to dote upon.
Once he thought of the little changes that came with them becoming closer, Amane felt something itchy crawling up his chest, onto his cheeks.
“I’m glad that you’re now able to smile naturally like this, and get used to it…what are you doing?”
Before he knew it, he was blocked by an object.
While he was talking, for some reason, Mahiru took the loose muffler on his neck and lifted it to his eyes, not pulling it down. He really was confused as to why she was doing this, his curiosity still unchecked.
Luckily, she merely lifted the muffler and not tighten it, so he was not suffering. However, the warm breath left him a little hot.
“…Please do not say anymore.”
As his eyes were blocked for no reason, Amane grabbed the hand holding up the muffler, and pulled it down. Then, he started to see the flax color in his widening vision.
Looking up frown, her body was quivering, her cheeks flushed from the inside.
While she was not completely beetroot, there was a fiery red on her. Once she saw Amane, her cheeks got redder.
Why is that──so he wondered, and there was only one reason he could think of.
“…Are you embarrassed?”
In apparent confirmation of Amane’s words, Mahiru turned her face aside. She’s still so harsh here, so he thought, and burst out laughing.
“I shall go out for some fresh air.” so she muttered, and went over to the veranda.
He looked at the window, and found snowflakes falling just like they did the previous day, but she did not mind as she went out.
The cold air drifted towards Amane.
The window was closed, cordoning off the outside air, but the cold air remaining in the air would have left one shivering if he had not been prepared.
Nevertheless, Mahiru went to the veranda, and Amane sighed.
It was one thing for her to be embarrassed and run away, but she should wear something warmth. The clothes she wore were more fashion-like, either for indoor purposes, or to be accompanied with a jacket. Surely her petite body would be shivering all over.
Goodness me, so he cussed, and took the blanket hanging on the sofa.
The snow continued to fall, and it was suicidal for her to stay outside for so long while dressed so little.
Amane put on a coat as he went to the veranda, putting the blanket on Mahiru’s shoulders. The latter then turned her head around abruptly.
“You can go out and catch some fresh air, but don’t catch a cold”
“…Those were my words, no?”
It appeared she had cooled down somewhat, and replied with her usual expression and demeanour. However, there was a tantrum in her reply.
She was hinting back at the first conversation they had.
“Hmm…well, I didn’t take a proper warm bath, and was careless there.”
“Do warm your body properly the next time you are drenched. I would have dropped you into the bathtub if it were up to me.”
“Are you my mom?”
As Mahiru would say things reminiscent of his mom, he chuckled as he recalled their encounter.
It happened when autumn was turning cold, probably mid October. It was colder than at his hometown, so he got carless, and never expected himself to lie on a bed in a feverish state just because he was soaked.
Then again, the most unexpected was having Mahiru take care of him.
“…Speaking of which, it’s been two months since that conversation.”
“Yes it is. Your house was really dirty back then, Amane-kunの…no, these are not good memories, but memories nevertheless.”
“Shut up. We cleaned up now, haven’t we?”
“To whose credit is that?”
“Thanks to you, Master Mahiru. I want to kowtow in thanks.”
“I told you not to, seriously.”
It would be unbelievable in the past to think that they could make such little jokes. Little time passed, and it was relatively recent, but various things happened over the past two months, and time seemed to have passed by quickly.
They went silent, and the surrounding silence beckoned.
The snow started the previous day, and stopped for a moment. At this point, they continued to flutter in the skies, coating the surrounding houses in white.
There were few cars buzzing around, for it was the residential area, and also Christmas. He could hear a few Christmas songs from some other houses, but nothing too buzzing reached them.
Haa, so Mahiru let out a breath of white air, and that sounded louder than them.
“…It just feels strange for some reason.”
Breaking this short silence was Mahiru;s voice.
“At first, I was wondering what kind of person you are.”
“Well, I guess you were wondering that, Mahiru. I shoved the umbrella to you, so it’s no wonder you’re suspicious…and now?”
“…I do not know. Maybe you are just someone who needs to be taken care of.”
“You’re not wrong.”
She did not give a clear answer, and turned aside. He smiled towards her, and leaned on the veranda handrail.
“…I too never thought that we would be on such good terms to eat together. Actually, I thought you’re just to be watched and marveled. Didn’t think that we would get involved.”
“So you admitted so, even though I already knew.”
This is why I trust you, she quipped, and he shook, smiling.
He knew that it was because he had no interest in Mahiru that she accepted him. Vice versa.
“But well, I think it is great to know each other for so long. My living habits have improved, I get to eat delicious food, and it’s easy getting along with you.”
“…Is that so.”
“I’m really grateful for the past two months. Thank you.”
There was no pretense in this thanksgiving.
It was thanks to Mahiru that he improved his living standards, and thoroughly enjoyed every mealtime. Furthermore, she would never hold back, and he was at ease taking to her. It became a daily enjoyment.
When he occasionally teased her, her reaction was cute, and he would not get tired of that.
（She’s been smiling more often recently.）
He just had a thought that she was showing more emotions, and piqued at his urge to dote. Of course, he could not do that, but he felt healed just by seeing that.
Once she heard his words, Mahiru widened her eyes, and then lowered them
One had to wonder if her cheeks were red either because of the cold, or embarrassment.
“Same here, thank you very much.”
“But I never did anything.”
One might say Amane had been taken care of by Mahiru the entire time, but she slowly shook her head, denying that notion.
“…I am grateful to you, Amane-kun, in ways you do not know.”
“Hmm…but well, thanking each other sure feels like the end of the year. Well, we’re going into the end of year mood tomorrow, so it’s not that weird.”
For some reason, the two of them began thanking each other. There were 6 days until the New Year, close enough.
Once she heard the words end of year, she blinked her eyes, and smiled earnestly.
“Fufu, yes…it is a little early, but please take care of me again in the coming year.”
“…Ahh, please do the same next year.”
Once he heard this request he could not live up to, he nodded, and smiled just as she did. “It is getting cold out here. We should return.” Mahiru said, and turned around to open the window leading to the living room.
The cold air led to her ears starting to turn red, so it was better for Amane too to return indoors before he caught a cold.
（…I guess I do like such a lifestyle after all.）
And that was why his heart felt so warm.
He followed her into the room, staring at the swaying flax color, and his lips curled.
It appeared that henceforth, he would continue to get along with the Angel next door.