“Amane, your nose is noisy.”
The following day, it was Amane who caught a cold.
Complaining was his classmate, and more notably, bad friend Itsuki Akazawa complained about Amane, who wanted to snort back, only to fail.
Instead, he was sniveling while trying to breathe through the nose, causing a watery sound.
He was feeling utterly unwell, and his head had been reeling in pain, either because his nose was blocked, or that the cold was causing it.
He had taken some medication he bought, but he ended up like this, unable to suppress his symptoms at all.
Ahhh, his face contorted as his nose met the tissue again. Itsuki in particular looked more dumbfounded than worried.
“Weren’t you feeling fine yesterday?”
“Got caught in the rain.”
“You alright? You didn’t bring an umbrella yesterday?”
“…Lent it to someone.”
Naturally, he could not say that he lent it to Mahiru from the same school, so he could only keep his words vague and brush it off.
On a side note, he found Mahiru at school looking fine and energetic. It was laughable for him, especially when he was the one who handed the umbrella to her.
But he truly deserved this, for he did not take a hot bath thereafter.
“But seriously, lending an umbrella when the rain’s so heavy? Aren’t you too good a person?”
“Not like I got a choice. I just lent it to someone else.”
“Who did you lend to for you to even risk catching a cold?”
“…A kid who got lost?”
Well, it was better than saying someone with a kid-like body, but in fact, she was in the same year as he.
（……Ahh, I see. She had the look of a lost kid.）
Only when he said it did he realize what it was.
Back then, Mahiru’s expression was that of a lost kid seeking her parents.
Itsuki knew nothing of Amane’s feelings, the latter thinking of Mahiru, and giggled teasingly.
“Well, I don’t know who you lent the umbrella to, but you just wiped your body and left it at there, right? That’s why you caught a cold.”
“…How do you know?”
“Anyone can tell how little you care about yourself just by looking at your house.”
That’s why you caught a cold, you idiot. Once he was told off, Amane had to remain quiet.
As Itsuki said, Amane would not actually care about his own situation.
To be precise, he was bad at cleaning up, and his room was in a mess. He usually ate bentos and supplements from the convenience stores outside.
And you say you’re living alone, so Itsuki stared puzzledly.
To Itsuki, it was no wonder Amane caught a cold when his lifestyle was overly lax.
“Hurry home and rest already. We have a weekend coming up. Get well soon.”
“Will be nice if you have a girlfriend who can take care of you.”
“You’re noisy. And you have a girlfriend. Shut up.”
Itsuki smiled proudly, and Amane reached his hand for the tissue box with much annoyance.
Time passed, and Amane’s health worsened.
The cold symptoms he had were headache and runny nose, but then they were accompanied with sore throat and fatigue, dominating his body. After school, he looked forward as he hurried home, but the cold was worse than he thought, his steps extremely heavy.
Despite that, he managed to make it to the entrance of the apartments, dragging his heavy feet into the elevator, and leaned his body onto the wall.
Haa, he found himself breathing more erratic than before, hotter.
He managed to endure it at school somehow, but he might have relaxed a little as he was about to reach home, and his body felt unbearable.
He was usually fine with the elevator’s lack of gravity, but it became a pain to him.
Nevertheless, he was about to reach home.
The elevator stopped at his level, and he slowly alighted, dragging his feet over, only to freeze.
Before his eyes was a girl with flax-colored hair, one he had assumed he would never talk to again.
Her adorable appearance was effervescent, her skin looking fine.
Anyone would have assumed she was the one who caught the cold, but in fact, she was still fine. Perhaps it was because she usually took care of herself well that there was such a huge difference between them.
Mahiru’s hands were holding the neatly folded umbrella he had shoved to her the previous day.
He told her she did not need to return it, but she did.
“…You don’t have to return it.”
“But I should return what I have borrowed…?”
Her words trailed off, for she saw Amane’s face.
“Erm. Are you, running a fever…?”
“…That has nothing to do with you, right?”
She appeared at the worst timing possible, so Amane frowned.
To put it extremely, it did not matter whether the umbrella was returned.
But it was not a good moment for them to meet at this point. She was wise, and could easily determine the reason why Amane caught a cold.
“But it is because I borrowed the umbrella…”
“That’s just what I did. Has nothing to do with this.”
“It does. I was there, so you caught a cold.”
“It’s nothing. You don’t have to worry.”
Amane did not want others to worry just because he did something for self-satisfaction.
But it appeared Mahiru would not leave him be with just a few words. Her pretty face was clearly showing worry.
“…That’s enough. See you.”
Amane was uncomfortable to be questioned, so he decided to escape her questions and worry.
Stumbling, he received the umbrella, and reached into his pocket for the key…well, he was fine till this point.
The moment Amane opened his door with much difficulty, he suddenly lost strength.
He might have relaxed, for as he was finally about to enter his house, his body stumbled into the railing behind.
Uh oh, so he thought, but the railing on the corridor was really sturdy, and would not break from just a little impact. It was sufficiently tall, and there was no way he could have fallen outside. It would hurt a little crashing into it, but that was to be expected…and so he braced himself.
But his arm was suddenly tugged at, and he managed to stabilize himself.
“…I cannot leave you be at all.”
The soft voice entered his somewhat faint consciousness.
“I shall return the favor.”
His head was feeling fuzzy, probably because it was all heated, and he could not comprehend her words.
For before he could, Mahiru dragged Amane’s limp body, and opened his door.
“I am going in. Please forgive me, but I have to.”
The quiet voice demanded no refusal.
Amane, affected by the cold, let himself be dragged without resistance; it was the first time he was brought home by a girl his age.
While he did not have a girlfriend to care for his sickly self, it appeared there was an angel doing so instead.
It was only much later that he regretted letting her in, his burning heat causing him to realize too late the situation of his own house; or rather, when he saw reality before him.
Amane lived in a 1SLDK apartment.
A vast living room, a bedroom, and a storeroom, truly it was an extravagant space for a person living alone. His parents were sufficiently well off, and after considering security and transport convenience, he decided to stay here.
His parents were the ones who demanded that he stay here, and he was fine with that as he was the one who asked to live alone. Nevertheless, he felt there was no need to spend so much. He really could not live in such a massive apartment alone.
Leaving that aside, despite living alone, he was a boy who was bad at cleaning up.
Needless to say, the living room, and even the bedroom were in a mess.
“This is really unsightly.”
The angel, or rather, the savior, did not mince her words at Amane despite having such an adorable appearance.
It was really horrible, and Amane had nothing to say. If he knew someone else was coming in, he would have moved a few things, but it was too late for that.
Mahiru’s bright lips let out a sigh, but she did not return back, and instead moved Amane into the bedroom.
On the way there, both of them nearly tripped over. Amane himself was painfully aware that as the one who made the apartment so messy, it would be bad if he did not clean up for real.
“I shall leave for the moment. Do change before I return. That should be fine, no?”
“…You’re coming back?”
“I cannot sleep well if I leave a sick person on the bed.”
Amane had similar thoughts when he saw Mahiru being drenched, and he had nothing to say about that.
Once Mahiru left the room, he obediently did as told, changing into his home clothes.
“It is so messy with no place to step on…how does he live with this anyway…”
He heard a perturbed mutter while changing, and felt really apologetic.
Once he changed, he laid down, and seemed to have fallen asleep. After he opened his heavy eyelids with much effort, the first thing he saw was the flax-colored hair.
Looking above the hair, he found Mahiru standing there, looking at him; it seemed to be no dream.
“…What time is it now?”
“7pm. You slept a few hours.”
Mahiru tersely answered, and as Amane sat up, she handed over a cup of isotonic drink.
Feeling gracious, he brought the cup to his mouth, and could finally look around.
He found himself feeling a little better, probably because of the nap.
And then, he noticed his head was a little cold. He touched it, and felt something cloth-like on his fingertips, though a little hard.
There was a cooling sheet pasted on him, one his house would not have. Having noticed that, he lifted his head towards Mahiru, “I brought it from my house.” who simply responded.
His house had neither a cooling sheet nor an isotonic drink. It appeared she brought the drink here.
“…Thanks for bringing it here.”
The aloof answer had his grimacing.
It was likely she took care for him out of guilt, and not that she wanted to talk to Amane. In any case, it was impossible to talk intimately when she was in the house of a boy she had just met.
“Anyway, I brought the medicine on the table. It is best not to consume with an empty stomach. Do you have any appetite?”
“I see. I made some porridge, so please have that.”
“…Eh, you made that, Shiina?”
“Who else? I shall eat it if you do not want to.”
“No no, I’ll eat it. Please let me.”
He never expected her to care for him, and even make porridge. He was a little flustered.
To be honest, Mahiru’s cooking skill was unknown to him, but he never heard rumors of her failing home economics class, so it was probably not too bad.
Amane immediately lowered his head, asking to eat it, and Mahiru stared at him blankly, but she nodded as she handed over the thermometer on the side table.
“I shall bring it over. Do measure your temperature.”
He did as she said, unbuttoning his shirt, and took the thermometer. At that moment, Mahiru looked away.
“Please do so when I am not in this room.”
She sounded a little frenetic, and looking over, her face was a little red.
Amane found it strange, since boys did not need to hide their chests, unlike girls. Perhaps Mahiru had no resistance against the color of skin, for she hastily looked aside the moment he unbuttoned his shirt.
Her white face was dyed with a little color of rose, her face still looking aside as she shivered. One had to wonder if it was just him, but Mahiru’s ears too were red, showing how embarrassed she was.
（…Ahh, I’m starting to see why the guys around her say she’s so cute.）
Amane too felt that Mahiru was a beautiful girl, but nothing more. There was no doubt she was pretty and cute, but that was all to him.
She was beautiful like a created piece of work. The impression she gave was similar to that of an art piece.
But at this point, Mahiru was showing some embarrassment, making her look a little more human, and strangely adorable.
“…Hurry and take out the porridge.”
“I-I will without you telling me.”
Their relationship was not close enough for him to plainly state how cute she was, and she would have found him weird, so he swallowed his thoughts.
Once he said that disinterestedly, Mahiru teetered out of the room.
She was a little slow, probably faltering, or because the room was too messy. It was likely to be the latter.
As he watched her leave in a daze, Amane let out a little sigh, wondering how it ended up this way.
（…Well, I guess it’s the sense of responsibility and guilt.）
A girl typically would not enter the house of an unfamiliar boy just to take care of hime. It would be bad if she was attacked.
Yet Mahiru did so despite the risk, so it seemed she was feeling really guilty. Amane clearly showed no interest in her too, and this might be cause for her relief.
In any case, there should be no doubt that Mahiru started taking care of him because there was no other way.
“…I brought it here.”
While Amane had such thoughts in his slightly feverish head, Mahiru knocked on the door tentatively.
It seemed she did not enter immediately, worried that he was not dressed fully. He then remembered that he loosened his clothes to measure his temperature.
“I’m not done measuring yet.”
“I meant that you should measure your temperature when I am not in…”
“Sorry, I spaced out.”
He apologized, tucked the thermometer under his armpit, and soon heard a dull electronic sound.
Hiii, he took it out, and it showed 38.3°C. Not bad enough to be hospitalized for, but it was relatively high.
Amane wore his clothes properly, “Come in.” and told Mahiru who had not entered. She cautiously entered with a tray.
She was obvious relieved, for he had finally put on his clothes.
“38.3°C. I’ll get better with some medicine and sleep.”
“…The medicine sold in shops mostly deal with the symptoms, not the virus itself. Do rest well and work on your immune system.”
Despite being reproached, Amane knew that Mahiru was simply showing her concern, and felt an itch in his heart.
Goodness, so she sighed as she placed the claypot and the tray on the side table, opening the lid.
It contained porridge with plum. The porridge was thin, considering the burden on his stomach, and there was lots of water, a ratio of 7:1 water and rice.
Plum was added not for flavor, it seemed, but because it was said to be good for colds.
There was no steam oozing, but there was warmth, which showed that it was not made moments ago, but deliberately cooled thereafter.
While Amane stared at the porridge, Mahiru ignored him as she served the porridge in a bowl. The plum bits were gently scattered within, the seeds carefully removed, the red flesh faintly blended into the white.
“Here. It probably is not hot anymore.”
“Nn, thank you.”
He received it, took a scoop with the spoon, and stared at it. Mahiru was surprised to see his gesture.
“…What, do you want me to feed you? I am not providing such service.”
“Nobody’s saying that…no, I’m just thinking that you know how to cook.”
“Anyone living alone should be capable of doing so.”
For Amane who had never been able to live a proper life alone, those words really hurt.
“Fujimiya-san, before you cook, do clean up your room.”
It appeared Mahiru had somewhat known what Amane was thinking as she proceeded with another jab. He muttered away, trying to pass off this matter as he brought the spoonful of porridge to his mouth.
The sticky porridge spread in his mouth, along with the original taste of rice and little salt.
But the sourness and saltiness of the dried plums were really mellow, bringing a fine balance.
Amane did not really like salty dried plums, but he did like the slight sweetness in this mild sourness. If he were healthy, he would have put the dried plums onto white rice, making chazuke.
“Thank you for that. But anyone could have made the porridge without much difference.”
Mahiru answered with a blank face, a little smile appearing.
It was different from the smile he could occasionally see at school. It was a smile of relief, and he subconsciously stared at her.
“No, it’s nothing.”
The kind smile soon vanished after a single moment, and he found it a pity.
So he thought, but Amane did not say anything as he tried to brush it off, eating the porridge in little scoops.
“…Anyway, please rest for today, and do drink lots of water. Use this to wipe your sweat. I have prepared a basin of water; please soak the towel, squeeze it dry, and wipe it.”
After dinner, Mahiru quickly brought another packet of isotonic drink, a washing basin, a towel, a spare cooling sheet, and placed them on the side table.
After all, she should not be staying in a stranger’s house, especially one of the opposite gender; Amane too would have felt awkward, so he accepted her actions.
And as Amane stared, Mahiru checked if she had omitted something.
（…For someone doing it out of her sense of duty, she sure is thorough.）
It was harsh for him to say so, but Mahiru was serious and thorough in whatever she did, leaving him with a wry smile as he started getting used to her.
（Well, we won’t get involved with each other after this. Thanks for the care though.）
It was unlikely he would have any involvement with her. After all, she was just taking care of him this once.
And since they would not interact again in the future, he would use this opportunity to ask something he was curious about.
The medicine might have been taking effect, for he was starting to feel a little tired, but the fever seemed to have subsided a little. His thoughts were clearer as compared to before he slept.
“Well, can I ask you something?”
“What is it?”
Once everything was set, Mahiru looked over to him,
“Why were you on the swing in the rain? Had a quarrel with your boyfriend?”
He was still curious about the previous day’s incident, which ended up with him being cared for by her.
Mahiru was on the swing, soaked in the rain; why was she there?
Having seen her give the expression of a lost kid, Amane was concerned, and forced his umbrella onto her.
But he did not understand why she gave such an expression.
She appeared to be waiting for someone, so he wondered if she had a quarrel with her boyfriend or something, but Mahiru looked towards him, dumbfounded.
“My apologies, but I have no boyfriend, and I have no intention to.”
“On the contrary, why do you think I have one?”
“Since you’re so popular, I thought you would have one or two at least.”
Amane, being able to talk to her like this, felt she was a more resolute, yet popular, ordinary girl. It did not seem the case to those around him though.
She was an adorable, innocent, obedient and humble pretty girl, a petite, yet defined body. She looked ephemeral enough that anyone would have the urge to protect her, and her style was such that she was a boy’s ideal.
She was the top ranking student for the year, adept at sports, and as he just learnt, great at gcooking. Surely she would be popular.
He had seen others actually flirting with her, and knew that a few of his classmates had considerable interest in her.
She was spoilt for choice, and he could not imagine her not dating at all.
He used the term, one or two at least, as he meant, but upon saying that, Mahiru’s face was contorted.
“Not at all. I do not think I am one without restraint to be dating a few males at once. Absolutely not.”
Her eyes turned cold as she flatly denied it, and Amane immediately realized he stepped on a land mine.
For a moment, he felt a chill, but it was probably due to the cold. For some reason, it seemed the room turned frosty.
“Sorry, this isn’t what I mean. My apologies.”
“…No, I might have been a little heated myself.”
But the moment he lowered his head, the cold atmosphere dispersed.
Rather than say that she was feeling heated, it seemed the room was cold like a snowstorm, but he dared not to mention this.
“Anyway, that was not the reason. I just wanted to calm my head a little…I caused you worries, and you caught a cold. My bad.”
“It’s fine. I’m just being a busybody. Actually, I don’t want you to feel guilty just because I was being a busybody. Anyway, this is where we stop getting involved, Shiina.”
As expected, Mahiru was taking care of Amane out of guilt, and once she heard his eyes, she blinked and stared at Amane incredulously.
Was she that disturbed by him saying they would stop getting involved?
“Of course, since there’s nothing common between us. You’re the angel, the pretty genius girl who’s top of our year, and I don’t want to get carried away. Did you think I’m feeling fortunate for having you owe me a favor?
Mahiru awkwardly averted her eyes, I guess so, so Amane betrayed a wry smile.
She however probably was not thinking too much, for that probably happened before.
Selling favors to a pretty girl and getting involved in a relationship might have been a passable method.
But it seemed Mahiru had quite a few experiences of that, and it was no wonder she was so wary on that rainy day. Since she was so defensive, he could not blame her for that.
“Well, it’s troublesome to you, getting involved with guys you don’t like.”
“I guess so.”
“Of course, isn’t it?”
He was a little bemused to hear her confirmation.
She, famous as the obedient honor student of an angel, had her own likes, dislikes and troubles, which made him a little familial with her.
It appeared Mahiru might have accidentally let slip, for she glared at Amane, who baited her into saying so, with a little resentment.
This was the biggest proof thus far that Mahiru was a person with emotions.
“It’s fine though? Well, I’m relieved to see that an angel has troubles just like a human.”
“…Please do not call me that.”
It seemed she was bashful about being called an angel, for she continued to show a peeved look.
Amane laughed once again, having found it similarly amusing.
“Well, it’s not like it’s anything urgent. I don’t have a reason to pester you.”
So he said, and Mahiru widened her eyes in shock, showing a wry smile herself.
Amane recalled Mahiru bowing seriously and returning to her apartment as he laid on the bed, looking up at the ceiling.
The medicine was effective, but he was worn out. Once he relaxed, it seemed the sleepiness would strike.
He closed his eyes, recalling the events that transpired.
Nobody would have believed him if he said he was cared for by an angel (vicious), and it was nothing worth talking about.
What happened on this day would be a secret only to Amane and Mahiru.
Secret, his heart tickled just using this term, even though he decided so because he found it a hassle to mention.
The next day onward, they would revert to being unfamiliar strangers.
So Amane convinced himself as his consciousness slowly faded.