The park Amane and Mahiru first met at was along the road home.
Amane’s apartment was more suited for fewer people, and might have difficulty hosting a family; there were few children in his apartment block, and it seemed the other apartments had the same situation.
Thus, the little park not too far away looked a little forlorn.
It was an empty place the children would not come to play at──and it was there that he spotted Mahiru, supposedly on her way home.
“What are you doing here?”
Mahiru was seated still on the bench, and narrowed her eyes once she spotted Amane.
Unlike the last time, they knew each other, and Amane had ease talking to her, but her answer was terse. She did not seem wary, but rather, it seemed she was unable to say something.
“If it’s nothing, don’t just sit there looking helpless. What happened?”
“…It is nothing…”
While curious about how she appeared to be in a crisis, the latter did not say her reason.
There was a non-verbal agreement that they would not get involved outside their apartments, but once he saw how troubled she was, he could not help but talk to her.
Mahiru might have hoped for him not to be a busybody.
It’s fine if she doesn’t want to say this, so he thought as he stared at her stiffened face, only to notice a few white strands on her blazer, fur in fact.
“You got fur on your uniform. Did you pay around with a dog or cat or something?”
“Not at all. I just saved a cat that was unable to climb down a tree.”
“This old cliche…ahh, I get it.”
“Sit there, don’t move.”
Once he heard her words, he understood why she would be sitting on the bench. He made a long sigh, and left for a moment.
Mahiru would definitely remain at that place.
Or rather, she could not move at all.
She was always acting tough for strange reasons, so he sighed as he went to the nearest drugstore, buying a damp cloth and bandage. He then went over to the convenience store, and purchased ice for coffee. He returned to Mahiru and found her at the same place.
“Shiina, remove your tights.”
He said, and Mahiru made an utterly frosty reply,
“No, don’t make such a sound…look, just cover with my blazer and remove your tights. Cool down the painful area and stick the wet cloth on it.”
He shook the grocery bag in his hand, indicating that he had no fetish of seeing her remove her tights, but her face clearly froze.
“…How do you know?”
“You removed one loafer, there’s a slight difference in size of your ankles, and you don’t want to stand up. It’s so cliche how you twisted your ankle while saving a cat.”
“You talk too much.”
“Yes yes, now remove your tights. Stretch your leg out.”
It was obvious, but she never expected to be noticed, and grimaced away.
She however covered the the blazer over her knees, probably intending to do as told.
And so Amane turned away from Mahiru, took the cup of ice from the convenience store, and poured water into it.
He sealed the opening, preventing water from leaking out, and took a towel from his bag, making an ice pack on the spot before he slowly turned around.
As told, Mahiru removed her tights, showing her bare legs.
Bare before him were the taut, soft, curvy legs devoid of useless fat, along with the unnatural swelling of the ankle.
“Looks like it’s not too bad, but it’ll worsen if you move too much. Let’s ice the injury for the time being. You may find it a little cold. Once it’s not so painful, I’ll apply the cloth on you. Just rest.”
“…Thank you very much.”
“Next time, just be honest and ask. I’m not helping you because I want you to owe me a favor.”
Amane himself was hoping to deal with a matter or two, hoping to at least repay some of the favors she showered him with.
Mahiru put her leg on the bench, and cooled her ankle. She did not show a change in facial reaction, but she did not refuse Amane’s intent, and merely sat still.
“Is the pain subsiding?”
“…A little better.”
“I’ll get you a wet cloth…don’t get angry at me thinking I’m a pervert or stalker now?”
“I will not say that to one I owe gratitude to.”
Amane once again emphasized that he had no impure thoughts as he knelt down to Mahiro’s position, wrapping the damp cloth over Mahiru’s red swelling ankle.
He asked how much pain she was in, and she said she could stand up and walk, but she remained seated to prevent the injury from worsening. At the very least, it was still a minor injury.
Once he sealed the damp cloth with the tape he bought, Amane found Mahiru looking down at him.
“You are unexpectedly useful here.”
“Well, I can treat some injuries here and there. Cooking’s impossible though.”
He shrugged in a joking manner, and she too giggled back.
All this while, she had maintained a stiff look. It would be great if she could relax at this point.
Seeing her a little relaxed, Amane was relieved, and took out a pair of jersey pants from his bag.
“Don’t give me that look. Your legs are exposed, and you can’t wear your tights when there’s a damp cloth. I haven’t worn this. Relax.”
A large bundle of tape was wrapped around her ankle, and it would be difficult for her to wear her tights, let alone unnatural. Thus, it would be better if she wore his pants, to shield against the cold and exposed upskirt.
Once she realized he did not mean anything else, she took his pants obediently.
Mahiru wore the pants, and Amane took back the blazer he had lent her. He removed the parka he was wearing, and handed it over to her.
“Here, wear this.”
“You want others to see me carrying you?”
He could not let an injured person walk back alone. Also, he had intended to do so right from the beginning.
After all, they were to return to the same please, and it would be efficient to carry her back, let alone good for her injury.
“Ah sorry, you mind carrying my bag? I can’t carry my bag if I carry you?”
“Is there no option to not carry me?”
“Say, you twisted your ankle, so just do as I say. It’s one thing when there’s no one around, but since I’m here, just make use of my good legs.”
“What? You want me to carry you on my arms? Carry your horizontally?”
“Do you really have the strength to carry me home?”
“Are you underestimating me? …Well, I don’t have confidence about that.”
Carrying Mahiru horizontally was one thing, but it would be taxing for him to carry her back to the apartment. It would garner too much attention, and better not to do so.
He knew Mahiru was making a little joke, and did not get angry just because he was belittled. He chuckled, seeing that she should be fine given how she was in the mood for such a joke.
“Look, once you’re done, put on the hood and the bag. Also, I’ll carry your bag once I lift you up. I can’t do that right now.”
“It’s fine. As a guy, I’m not so shameless as to leave an injured person behind and go home.”
He knelt down, turning his back on her, and she cautiously shifted her body onto him.
Even through the parka and so many garments, Mahiru’s body was so soft and delicate.
Once he was sure her hands were latching onto him tightly and not strangling him, he slowly stood up, lifting her along.
As expected, she was really light.
While she had always nagged at him about this and that, her body was so petite, one would worry if she ate well. It was probably because she herself had a petite figure to begin with.
He could sense a faint sweet scent, and as she continued to latch onto him firmly, he was starting to be overwhelmed with anxiety, but he did his best to remain steadfast as he went home.
The act of carrying a person back would attract lots of stares, but luckily for them, Mahiru’s face was hidden and lowered, and they did not attract much attention.
“Alright, we’re here.”
They arrived at the entrance of Mahiru’s house, and as he had intended to only go this far, he heartily walked away.
Since she was able to support herself off the wall and stand up right, her injury probably was not bad. Luckily, the following day would be their day off, so a few days rest should be sufficient for her to recover and walk properly again.
“You don’t have to worry about my dinner today, so just rest well. How about you live on some supplements too?”
“No need. I do have some leftovers.”
“That’s good. Bye then.”
Thank goodness he did not have to worry about her dinner. Also, it was great that she could walk on her own.
Amane saw Mahiru go to her entrance and open the door, and he too frisked for his key.
He looked towards her as she spoke to him. She was clinging onto her bag firmly, timidly looking up at him.
The slightly faltering eyes left him a little skeptical. Her eyes wandered around, looking a little awkward, but it seemed she made up her mind as she stared intently at Amane.
“…Thank you very much for today. You really helped me out.”
“Ahh it’s fine. I just did what I wanted to. Take care of yourself.”
Amane himself would be troubled to be too concerned about Mahiru, so he merely brushed the matter aside. He saw her lower her head towards him, and unlocked his door.
Then, he remembered his parka and pants were still with her, but after thinking that she might return in a few days, he entered his apartment without looking back.
“What, you’re now the energetic type who likes to wear shorts all year round?”
Amane was feeling a little melancholic during Monday’s gym class. He was bad at that, and in this freezing weather, all he could do was wear a pair of jersey pants.
Such jerseys were commonplace in this season, but everything beneath Amane’s knees were exposed, and stood out amongst them.
“Not at all. I just forgot.”
“You’re an idiot.”
He never met Mahiru over the weekend, and did not reclaim his pants from her, thus the situation. But he could not say this to Itsuki, and merely said he forgot.
He could take being laughed at, but when Itsuki gleefully slapped him on the back, he retaliated.
Itsuki groaned like usual, and Amane merely sighed as he looked aside.
They were at the grounds doing the high school, but the girls were at the same area, having their own classes, so they could spot the girls around. There were more people around, for there were two classes attending leesons together.
They were having a track meet or something, appeared to be waiting, so they were looking towards the boys.
“Do your best, Kadowaki-kun!!”
Typically, the boys and girls would have separate classes, but the girls’ presence had the boys riled up…the girls were looking towards the famous handsome boy, Amane’s classmate Yuuta Kadowaki.
Amane never really talked to him, but he knew Yuuta was really popular, good at greats, and was the ace of the track team. Also, he was really popular with the girls.
Amane felt that yeah, maybe the Heavens would bless a few talents here and there, but the other boys did not take it well, a few of them scowling away.
“Ohh ohh, Yuuta’s still as popular as usual.”
“You’re not curious.”
“We don’t really have anything going on. Even as classmates, we don’t talk. Anything’s fine.”
Amane felt that Kadowaki was not a threat, and since they had nothing going on, he would care less about the latter.
He understood he was in the minority, and he would not get as jealous as the other boys in his class.
No matter how perfect Yuuta might appear, he felt there was no point in feeling jealous.
“You don’t really have much envy there, Amane.”
“What, you want me to go, gosh I’m so jealous of his popularity?”
“That’s not your character.”
Amane gave a snickering Itsuki a bored look, and looked towards a smiling Yuuta, still basked in the cheers of the girls.
To the boys, he had an ideal body, a sweet looking face, and truly resembled a prince. In fact, his nickname was the prince, because there was no obvious flaw to him on first glance.
He waved his hand in the face of their passionate eyes and shrill voices, and Amane thought to himself that Yuuta was truly a socialite.
“Well, he’s really popular.”
“Of course. It’s no wonder the guys are jealous.”
“Haha. But the girls are really energeticー”
Itsuki himself had no interest in the other girls because he doted on his girlfriend Chitose dearly. He spoke as though it had nothing to do with him.
Chitose herself seemed to have no interest in Yuuta, and Itsuki probably had no thoughts about that either.
（This school has way too many embarrassing nicknames like Prince and Angel.）
Speaking of the Angel Mahiru, he wondered if she was resting well.
It appeared she did not leave her house on the weekend, and probably rested quietly. He did not know how her injury was.
It so happened that they were having gym class with Mahiru’s, so Amane scanned around, and spotted the outstanding, beautiful girl in a corner of the grounds, despite her being amongst the crowd.
She did not change into her gym clothes, and was not among those attending the lessons. She was probably just watching.
So she sat there quietly, watching, and garnered the stares of quite a few boys.
Those they were far apart, Amane and Mahiru’s eyes met, and he awkwardly looked aside, while she showed a faint smile on her lips.
And because the smile was directed at Amane, or rather, the group of boys, “Was she smiling me?” “Of course it’s me!” everyone else just exploded.
“This is a good chance. I must show my good points to Shiina-san.”
“Can’t have the Prince steal the show.”
A simple smile caused such zealous reactions, and one had to wonder if they were amazing, or mere simpletons.
Itsuki echoed the same sentiments, and Amane chuckled.
“Well, this affects our grades, so let’s do our best here.”
“What, are you working hard after seeing the Angel too, Amane?”
“No, I said I don’t have interest in her.”
“Well, of course, you don’t have interest after all.”
My girlfriend’s great right? As Itsuki began to boast about his girlfriend again, “Yes yes.” Amane brushed him off as he gave a wry smile in Mahiru’s direction.
“Thank you very much for the previous day. Here, the parka and pants you lent me.”
That day, Mahiru delivered dinner in the tupperware as usual, along with a bag.
He could see something within the bag, probably the parka and jersey pants he lent her the previous Friday. It seemed she had folded them neatly.
“Hm, how’s your injury?”
“It does not hurt anymore, but I cannot exercise much before I heal completely.”
“That’s fine. I remember you were sitting by the sidelines during gym class, right?”
Mahiru was watching them during gym class, as a precaution, which should be the right thing. She did not seem to be in pain, but she was a little mindful of that ankle, so it probably was not healed completely.
A wise decision, so he nodded, and then he recalled the smile back then.
“But well, I guess the Angel’s really popular. One smile got all the boys enthusiastic.”
“I told you not to call me that…I too was troubled. Was it something worth being that happy about?”
“Well that’s what happens when a beauty smiles at them. Didn’t you see the girls squealing when Kadowaki waved at them?”
“…Kadowaki…ahh, that really popular one?”
Mahiru looked disinterested, or rather, she had no interest at. She could not remember him, and only recalled him after Amane’s explanation.
He was no Angel, but Yuuta was a relatively famous boy in school, so it was surprising that she did not know just from hearing his name.
“You don’t have any interest in him?”
“No. We are in different classes, and there is not much chance to get along.”
“Hmmm? But the other girls look interested in him, saying that he’s cool.”
“He is good looking after all. I have not spoken to him, and never got involved with him. He does not matter to me.”
“You’re pretty blase about this.”
“If people can fall for each other just because of looks, how have you not fallen for me?”
“Oh, so now you realize how cute you are.”
But what Mahiru said was true.
A good appearance was a reason to harbor feelings for another, but not so much to like. Having agreed that, he had to admit Mahiru was a pretty girl, though he was a little surprised that she had some self awareness of that.
“There is always a commotion around me, and I will know even if I do not want to. Objectively, my looks are passable, and I have not been neglecting it.”
Mahiru said as a matter of fact, not showing any arrogance.
In fact, she probably did everything she could to maintain her beauty.
Her face itself was pretty, but she was not satisfied with just that.
Her hair appeared to have a halo befitting her moniker as the Angel, her skin was perfect and unblemished. She was always doing housework, but her hands did not coarsen because of that, and she did trim her nails. She had a nice body, and that was not something attainable within a single day.
“You’re right, what you just flatly said is the truth, and I’m not uncomfortable with that. So, you’re not embarrassed to be praised?”
“If others praise me too much, I will find it annoying.”
“A beauty sure has her troubles.”
“And the rewards that come with that, so it is not all bad.”
“You’re making it sound like someone else’s business…”
“What? Is it better for me to answer “that is not the case” with a bashful look?”
“No, I know it feels really awkward for you personally.”
“I guess so. I do also feel it is pointless to put up such a facade to you.”
He would feel gaudy if Mahiru was to correct her bluntness, and would feel some goosebumps if she treated him as she did to others at school. He hoped for her to remain as she was.
Habit sure is scary. If she acted like the Angel at school here, he would find it surreal.
The Mahiru Amane knew of was the one present before him, not the one at school.
Both of them concluded it was for the better, so Amane looked towards the tupperware brought towards him.
It was a larger portion than usual, containing several dishes. It was more an early-bird bento box than mere leftovers at this point.
“Quite a lot today.”
“You took care of me after all.”
“Didn’t I tell you that you don’t have to worry about that…ooh, there’s croquette.”
One should never underestimate the croquette.
It was often sold as a side dish, and commonly sold, but it was tedious for one to make it, and infamously known for being the most tedious homecooked dish to make.
One had to steam the potatoes, fry it, add ingredients like beef and onions, shape it, cool it, apply coating and deep fry it…it was a bunch of ordinary, yet tedious steps.
Amane, who could not cook, saw how much of a hassle when his mother made it, and swore to himself that he would never cook it.
“I just fried the frozen stuff together however.”
“So you made fried chicken too?”
The only fried food Amane ate while living alone were the side dishes from the shops, and he was really grateful to receive handmade ones.
If he were any greedier, he would have asked to eat it when it was fresh and crispy, together with rice.
“…I do want to eat something freshly made though.”
Out of hygienic concerns, she would cool the food before putting them into the tupperware, and he had to reheat it before eating. An oven could replicate the crispiness, but it was inferior to the taste fresh out of the pan.
Of course, that too would be delicious, but the best would be if he could eat it fresh out of the pan.
He merely blurted out his own wish without any other intent, but he might have been a little too loud, for Mahiru frowned.
“You want me to enter your house?”
“I didn’t say that. You shared food with me, and it’ll be too much if I ask you to do that.”
To shake off all suspicion, he shrugged and denied so. Mahiru put her palm under her chin, looking down.
She seemed to be thinking of something, and did not look at Amane in the eyes.
“If we each pay half the ingredients cost, I can consider cooking for you at your house.”
Mahiru finally said so, and the vigor in her eyes left Amane’s mouth widened.
It was merely a joke, or a notion he accidentally blurted, but he was taken aback by how she seriously considered and agreed to it.
Typically, would anyone cook in the house of a boy she was not well acquainted with?
Even if that was more efficient, he was still of the opposite gender, and they were not on close terms. Logically, she would be feeling uneasy.
“I agree to sharing half of it, but it’s more like I’ll get too much from you, so I’m more than fine with that…won’t you find it dangerous?”
“If you do anything, I will crush it. Physically. Irreversibly.”
“Woahh, you scare me.”
“After all, even if I do not do so, you will not do anything risky. You do understand my position at school, no?”
“If I do anything to you, I’ll be dead meat.”
There was a vast difference in popularity between Amane and Mahiru, the latter a weak girl at that. If Mahiru said that Amane did something to her, there was no doubt Amane would never step into the school again.
He knew the results of social death, and would not do anything. After all, he was no fool, not one without restraint.
Or rather, he himself had no such intent.
“You do not seem interested in people like me.”
The conclusion, coupled with the serious face, had him giving a wry smile.
“What if I say you’re my type?”
“You would have talked incessantly, and I would pull my distance from you.”
“So I guess you recognize that.”
“Well, I do know you are a safe person for now.”
“Thanks for the compliment.”
I guess that’s fine, so he thought, but he really had no intention to do anything to Mahiru, so he did not deny it.
Naturally, he would seize upon this opportunity for dinner fresh off the pan. While amassing the title of harmless boy, he also gained the privilege to eat together with her.