Mahiru remained strange the following day.
Or rather, she was not as depressed as she was the previous day, not appearing to be in agony as she wa the previous day, just a little stiff, as though wary.
She was merely seated on the living room sofa, but there seemed to be a tense atmosphere surrounding her.
Nevertheless, she was not ostracizing Amane; it would be more appropriate to say that she was focusing all her attention on Amane.
Whenever he tried looking at her, she would shiver and cling firmly onto the cushion. When he turned aside, he would look into the reflection on the smartphone, and find her staring at him.
Why was she so interested in him-so he wondered, and concluded that it was because of the previous day’s events.
（…Is she feeling awkward?）
She, usually stout-hearted, fawned to him the previous day. Thinking back about it, even though it was an attempt to console her, embracing a female might cause problems. She leaned onto him because she really was at a loss, and might have regretted her actions once she recovered.
They had been experiencing some small moments of skinship recently, and it was the first time she boldly leaned onto him. It was understandable why she was flustered thereafter.
（It looks like I’m not hated at least.）
If she hated Amane, she would not be here, let alone sit beside him.
He tried reaching his hand towards Mahiru, and she obviously faltered. It appeared she was really concerned.
“…Do I move away from here?”
“N-no, I do not mean this.”
He suggested this, for it might be better to keep their distance and wait for her to calm down. However, Mahiru hastily shook her head.
“Ac-actually, this…I showed you something unsightly, and embarrassed. I cried so hard…”
It appeared she was completely embarrassed about crying, and wanted to bury her head in the sand.
He gave her ice to cover her eyes, and ensured they were not swollen. However, the fact remained that she cried, and this was the part she was ashamed about.
“Well, I really don’t mind.”
“But I do. It is the shame of a lifetime to show others my crying face.”
“You say that now…seriously, I say it’s because you always keep things to yourself that it just exploded out, you idiot.”
Mahiru appeared to be doing what she did best, acting tough, so Amane sighed and reached his hand for her cheeks.
Before she reacted overly, he grabbed her cheeks and tugged at them, only feeling a really moist, smooth, fluffy sensation.
This left Mahiru panicking, the sudden contact causing her eyes to look startled; they got sharper as they stared right back at him.
“Wh-whad ba yu dooing?”
“If you don’t let it all out, you’re going to explode one day. Fawn away all you want, that’s fine. You can vent it out on me if you don’t mind; you want to cry, you can hide here, I’ll pretend not to notice. Learn how to rely on others now. ”
Having let her emotions explode the previous day, it seemed Mahiru would keep her emotions to herself once again. He pinched her fluffy cheeks as a scolding, a punishment.
Amane could take it if she said she would not rely on him because he was unreliable; otherwise, he hoped she would rely on him, to fawn to him. If he could be a pillar of support to the hopeless Mahiru, that would be great.
“You were nodding away yesterday, and now you’re backtracking? You can rely on me. You’re not alone.”
She blankly repeated those words. He patted her head, and nodded.
“I’m your neighbor. If you give us a holler, Chitose and Itsuki will drop by. Mom and dad too. You have so many people who think of you as important.”
Mahiru lamented that she was unwanted, but that was in the past. The present was different.
There were many who would love to help Mahiru out. He should let her know that so many people viewed her as important.
Mahiru was silent upon hearing Amane’s words, and she timidly lifted her head, giving him an affirming look.
“…You too, Amane-kun?”
“Amane-kun, am I really important to you…?”
These words left Amane momentarily breathless. He scratched his cheek, saying,
“You’re asking that…we’ve been living together for so long. Of course you’re important to me.”
If she was not important to him, why would he do such a thing?
Even Amane himself felt he was not a person of much emotion. He would not exert too much effort to others, except to those close to him, let alone dedicate himself. If there were people he cared about, he would surely reach a helping hand out to them.
Mahiru had long passed the threshold of important people to him.
Her delicate body was filled with too much bitterness and burden. He hoped to ease her suffering a little, to share the burden, to let her smile peacefully, to make her happy—and to bring the happiness to others.
Mahiru slowly repeated Amane’s words, embraced the cushion, and buried her face into it. She was clearly embarrassed by the upfront affirmation, it seemed.
However, it seemed Amane would be the one feeling embarrassed; he felt shame rising up after having realized so much, and blatantly declaring how she was important to him.
（…I don’t think Mahiru thinks of it this way though.）
It would be troublesome if this was to happen, and he hated the idea that he would be sneaking in on her in her moment of weakness. Furthermore, if she realized it, it would get awkward for them.
Luckily, it seemed Mahiru had not noticed Amane’s frustration as she slowly lifted her head from the cushion, looking towards him.
“E-erm, can you, please turn back?”
“J-just do it…”
He was confused as to why she wanted him to turn his back on her, but he did so obediently.
He sat cross legged on the sofa, only to feel warmth on his back, along with a soft feeling.
Those alone left him frozen, but then, the slender arms were wrapped around his belly, leaving hi completely dumbfounded.
He knew what the situation was. Mahiru was clinging onto his back, or to be precise, embracing him. If she had done so from the front, it would have exceeded Amane’s acceptable limits, his mind and body would have completely frozen over
He felt his heart pounding faster than ever as he eked his voice, and she leaned onto his back, gently throbbing about.
“…Erm, thank you very much, for yesterday. I want to thank you properly, once again.”
It seemed he wanted to thank him, and force him not to look back so that he could see her face.
“…I really, really received lots from you, Amane-kun.”
“I-I didn’t do anything special.”
“It might not be important to you, Amane-kun, but they are to be…really, thank you very much.”
“…Thank goodness you are next to me, Amane-kun. I alone would not be able to endure it.”
Perhaps it was Mahiru’s way of fawning towards him.
Mahiru had no one else to rely on, and he was extra glad that she would rely on him. He wrapped his palm upon the hands laid upon his belly, indicating that she was not alone. Mahiru’s body then clearly quivered.
Perhaps he was getting too cocky, so he hastily removed his hand. “N-no, I was just shocked…” Mahiru explained, but her voice was a little vague, probably because her face was buried into his back. Her hands moved, seeking Amane’s.
He was relieved that he was not hated. Once again, he held Mahiru’s hand, and this time, she grabbed it.
Amane too shook in shock, and her face started rubbing on his back for some strange reason.
“…Did you not say that you will catch me?”
“I-if you don’t mind me.”
“Why do you think I will let others in? I will only let you do this, Amane-kun. Only to you.”
He froze once again after hearing such cute, appealing words. Once she was done, she slammed her head into his back, embarrassed from understanding what she had just said.
Despite that, Mahiru did not let go, and showed how much she started Amane, which left him so embarrassed, he wanted to scratch at his own chest. It was Amane, rather than the headbutting Mahiru, who was more embarrassed.
Mahiru rubbed her forehead upon the back, rolling about for quite a while before she calmed down, and grabbed Amane’s hand once again.
“…An-anyway, it is a promise…please look at me. A-and please do not look elsewhere.”
“O-oh. But I can’t see you.”
“I will be angry if you see me now.”
“That’s really unreasonable…don’t worry, I can’t see you.”
He knew Mahiru was hiding her own embarrassment, and obliged. If he turned to look at her, she might headbutt him like before, and it was best to leave her be.
After all, Amane too did not want his face to be seen.
（…How can I not like such a person?）
He held Mahiru’s hands in one, the other hand covering his face as he exhaled slightly.
“It is the new semester soon.”
A few days after Mahiru cried.
She was back to normal, sitting next to Amane and reading the textbooks, only to mutter as she seemingly thought of something.
She was not second guessing as she did the day after she cried, and remained natural, not peeking at him from time to time.
But ever since he knew of Mahiru’s family situation, the gap between them might have shrunk. They were reading the textbooks together; back then, the gap was two, three fists length, and at this point, they could feel each other’s warmth.
To be honest, there was a sweet fragrance lingering in the air, warmth that could be felt up close, and something soft touching occasionally; the posture was rather close.
“Yeah, a new semester right after this weekend. And we have to change classes? It’s depressing.”
“I can’t socialize with others. I don’t have any guy friends other than Itsuki.”
“Is that something to be boasted proudly…?”
“You’re mistaken. I can still talk, at least. It’s just that everyone’s an acquaintance to me.”
Mahiru looked a little dumbfounded, but Amane was not completely anti-social. He could talk with others, and go with the flow of the conversation.
However, establishing a good relationship was a different matter. Amane knew he had a gloomy personality, his tone and expression were not good, and he did not make many friends.
Nevertheless, he was fine with being alone. Not that he could do anything if he split from Itsuki. He was fine spending the year like that.
“…Amane-kun, you really do not take the initiative, huh?”
“Amane-kun, you are such a good person, it is a pity that only Akazawa-san and Chitose-san know that. Those that do not interact with you do not know of your charm. You should first settle the standoffish vibe you have”
It is a pity that everyone does not know, so she whispered as she lifted his bangs. Feeling awkward, he averted his eyes in embarrassment.
“…I don’t care about getting along with most of them. I only need a few close friends.”
“Why do you think so?”
“Why, you ask…”
Was there any doubt as to why?
（—I’m scared of being betrayed, like I did before.）
Amane was in this situation because he had a thought, he only needed to gather those he fully trusted around him.
“…But that’s fine. I have you next to me.”
“N-no, I don’t mean just you. That includes Itsuki and Chitose. I’m happy to have them around too. I don’t like too much commotion around me after all.”
He nearly caused a big misunderstanding. Actually, it was not a misunderstanding, but it would be better to have Mahiru assume it was one.
After Amane hastily corrected himself, Mahiru looked towards him with relief and worry. Her face was flushed. She might have nearly misunderstood him, it seemed.
“…Am I also reliable to you, Amane-kun?”
“You’re the main stay, in various ways.”
“So you say, but it is mostly about your lifestyle.”
Goodness, she chided, but her voice remained gentle.
You are a hopeless person; such was the expression she shot at him. He felt conflicted, and scratched his cheek.
“Anyway, what do you think about changing classes? Are you looking forward to it?”
He seized the opportunity to redirect the topic back. Mahiru blinked hard a few times, and curled her lips.
“I am looking forward to changing classes.”
“Well, no matter which class they throw you into, you should be able to get along well.”
“Do you think this is what I am looking forward to?”
Even if she could get along with anyone, it did not mean that Mahiru would be looking forward to it. Given her personality, while she could handle everything, she would be suffering unspeakably within. It would be great if she could be accompanied with someone she bonded deeply with.
Perhaps Chitose, who knew what the real Mahiru was like, could be that classmate. Perhaps that was what Mahiru was looking forward to.
“Amane-kun, do you know why I am looking forward to changing classes?”
His heart jolted once he saw her somewhat perky smile. He covered his mouth with his hand, pondering.
“…Because there’s a chance you’ll be in the same class as Chitose?”
“That is one reason, but you are right…Amane-kun no baka.”
She suddenly chided him cutely, but he knew she was not being serious.
However, she sounded as though she was pouting a little, so he coaxed her by ruffling her hair without messing it. “This is how”, her little grumbling voice eked out.
“…You are so devious, Amane-kun.”
“You do not have to know…remember this when the new semester starts.”
She said something unnerving at the very end, and leaned onto Amane. The latter suppressed his suddenly racing heartbeat from her.
（…What is Mahiru intending to do?）
It seemed Mahiru might do something, given what she said. Amane had a premonition that there might be something happening in the opening ceremony the following week, and could only pray for a peaceful new semester.