Every day on his way home, Amane passed the park where he and Mahiru had properly

met for the first time.

The building where Amane lived was less of a family-use apartment complex and more

aimed at single people and couples, so there were few children around, and the

surrounding apartment buildings were much the same.

Tucked away and out of sight, the little park close to Amanes building was often

deserted. It was in that little park devoid of children, Amane saw Mahiru for the

second time.

”What are you doing in a place like this? ” he asked.

”…Nothing. ” Mahiru was sitting on a bench with straight posture and didn budge at

all even after she recognized Amane and looked him over.

In contrast to the first time the two had met there, this time they were already

acquainted and were on speaking terms. That had made it easier for Amane to call to

Mahiru, but the girls voice had still been stiff when she answered. It didn seem like

Mahiru was on guard, as she had been during their first encounter. This was something

different. Amane could tell that Mahiru was being careful not to let something show

on her face.

”Come on, if it was nothing, you wouldn be sitting here making that face. Did

something happen? ” Amane inquired.

”…Not really… ” Mahiru looked, as she had before when she was on the swing in the

rainstorm, like she was lost and didn know what to do. Seeing her like that worried

Amane, but Mahiru didn seem keen to speak on the matter.

Though he was bound by their tacit promise not to interact outside their apartments,

Amane hadn been able to help calling out to Mahiru when hed seen her all alone in

the park again. Mahiru, for her part, probably did not much want to talk to him; her

expression was stiff and blank.

Amane thought it was fine if the girl wasn feeling up to talking, when he noticed that

there were a number of white hairs stuck to her blazer. ”You have some hair stuck to

your uniform; were you playing with a dog or a cat? ” he asked.

”I wasn playing. I just helped a cat that was stranded up a tree get back down, ” Mahiru


”What a total cliche … Ah, I get it now. ”

”Hmm? ”

”Wait right there. Don you dare move. ”

Amane had finally realized just why Mahiru was sitting there alone on the bench. He

sighed and dashed off. He was certain that Mahiru would do as he had asked and

would not go anywhere. Actually, it would have been more appropriate to say that she

couldn go anywhere.

Muttering to himself about how Mahiru chose the strangest times to act tough, Amane

bought a compress and medical tape from the neighborhood drugstore, along with a

cup of ice normally used for iced coffee from a convenience store. When Amane at last

returned to the park, he found Mahiru sitting on the bench, just as hed expected. She

hadn so much as shifted.

”Shiina, take off your tights. ”

”Huh? ”

He gave a direct order, and she answered in an extremely cold voice.

”Yeah, I know its kind of sudden… Look, Ill put my blazer over you and turn around,

so take the tights off. We need to ice the injury and put a compress on it. ”

As expected, Mahiru was none too happy at being ordered to take off her tights, so by

way of explanation, Amane waved the bag full of medical supplies.

Mahirus face understandably tightened. ”…How did you know? ”

”You had one of your loafers off, and that ankle seemed slightly swollen. Plus, you didn

try to stand up. It really is a total cliche to sprain your ankle while rescuing a cat. ”

”Oh, be quiet. ”

”Yeah, yeah. Now, take off your tights and give me your foot. ”

It was something anyone would have known just from looking, but Mahiru was making

a sour face, perhaps because she hadn expected him to notice that she was hurt.

Obediently, Mahiru accepted Amanes blazer and put it over her knees, so it seemed

like she was going to listen to what he was saying.

Amane turned his back to Mahiru, put the ice from the cup he had bought at the

convenience store into a plastic bag, and poured water over it.

After he tied the top shut so it wouldn spill out, he wrapped it loosely in a hand towel

that he kept in his backpack, making an impromptu ice pack. Then he turned around


Mahiru had done as he had asked and removed her tights, exposing her bare legs. They

were slender and smooth—and looked soft even as she tensed up. The unnatural

swelling around her ankle was evident.

”Well, its not that badly swollen, but it could get worse if you move it too much. First

of all, this is going to be cold, but lets ice it for a bit. Once the pain goes away a little,

Ill put a compress on, so take it easy, ” Amane explained.

”…Thank you. ”

”From now on, just ask for my help. Its not like youll owe me or anything. ”

If anything, its the opposite—I want to pay you back in some small way for everything

youve done for me, so Id appreciate if you would let me solve one or two problems for you.

Mahiru sported her usual expression. Still, she didn argue with Amane and quietly

let him ice her ankle while her leg was propped up on the bench.

”Has the pain gotten any better? ” Amane asked after a moment.

”…Yeah, a bit, ” Mahiru replied.

”All right, Im putting the compress on, so… don get mad at me for being a perv or a

groper or something, okay? ”

”I wouldn say something so rude to the person helping me. ”

”Good to hear. ”

Stressing that he had absolutely no untoward thoughts, Amane squatted down next to

Mahirus leg and stuck a compress on her swollen, red ankle.

When Amane initially asked about the level of pain, it sounded like the sort of thing

where Mahiru could still stand and walk, but moving risked agitating the sprain

further, so she was better off sitting here quietly. As long as she stayed off it, it would

probably remain a minor injury.

Amane had just finished sticking on the compress and was securing it with medical

tape when he noticed Mahiru staring intently down at him.

e surprisingly skillful with that, ” she commented.

”Well, I can do first aid. Still can cook, though. ” Amane shrugged, acting a little silly,

and Mahiru let out a small laugh. He was glad to see her taut expression relax some,

even if it was only a tiny bit. Reassured by Mahirus slightly softened attitude, Amane

pulled the pants of his gym uniform from his backpack.

”Here, ” he said, handing them to Mahiru.

”What? ” she asked.

”Don make that face at me; I don like it. Anyway, your legs are exposed, right? And

its not like you can put your tights back on with the compress stuck to you. Relax, I

haven worn them. ”

It would be bad to let her put her tights back on over her swollen ankle, especially now

that it had medical tape wrapped around it. Since it looked so painful, Amane figured

Mahiru could wear his gym pants, both as protection from the cold and to stop anyone

from seeing her underwear.

Mahiru seemed to understand that he was just trying to be considerate, and so she

slipped the pants on.

Amane snatched up his blazer and handed Mahiru the parka hed been wearing.

”Here, wear this, ” he told her.

”Wait, but why? ”

”Do you want to be seen being carried? ”

Letting Mahiru walk on her ankle was a bad idea. Amane had been planning to bring

her home from the start. They were both headed to the same place, after all.

”Oh, sorry, but could you put my backpack on? ” Amane asked. ”I can carry you on my

back if Im wearing it, obviously. ”

”Is there an option where you don carry me? ”

”Look here, your ankle is twisted, so you need to rest it. No ones around, and Ive got

perfectly good legs, so please put them to use. ”

”Your legs? ”

”What, youd prefer my arms? Would you rather I support you from the side? ”

”Are you even strong enough to carry me all that way? ”

”Are you making fun of me?… Well, Im actually not that confident. ”

Amane knew he could support Mahiru if she leaned on him, but honestly, it would be

quite difficult to fully carry her all the way back to the apartment complex. Whats

more, it would be sure to attract a lot of attention, which Amane preferred to avoid.

He knew that Mahiru had been poking fun when shed brought up his strength, so he

smiled, glad she was feeling well enough to crack jokes like that.

”Look, if you
e game, put the hood up and wear my backpack. After you get on my back,

take your own bag, too, while you
e at it. I won be able to hold it if Im supporting

you, ” Amane instructed.

”…Sorry, ” Mahiru muttered.

”Im telling you: Its fine. It wouldn be very manly of me to leave an injured person

behind and go home—or to make you walk. ”

Amane crouched down and turned away from her, and Mahiru timidly leaned onto

Amanes back.

Mahiru was wearing Amanes parka, so she had on even more clothes than normal,

but even so, he could feel her body pressed against him, slim and willowy.

After confirming that Mahirus arms were secured around his neck without choking

him, Amane stood up slowly, carrying the injured girl on his back.

I knew it; shes so light, Amane thought. He wondered if he should be the one worrying

about her diet instead of the other way around. It was more likely that she was just

naturally petite, though; that was probably all it was.

Mahiru smelled slightly sweet, and though Amane could tell all sorts of things about

how anxious she was feeling based on how tightly she clung to him, he headed for

home without showing it.

A few people did stare at the sight of a guy carrying someone on his back, but Mahiru

had completely covered her face with the hood of his parka, so Amane wasn too

worried about what little attention was being paid to them.

”All right, here we are. ” Amane carried Mahiru as far as her front door, then let her

down and quickly turned to leave without interfering any further.

Since Mahiru could get around on her own while leaning on a wall, Amane guessed

that her injury was probably not all that serious. Thankfully, it was Friday, so Mahiru

had plenty of time to rest her ankle and get back on her feet with no problems.

”I don need dinner tonight, so you should rest. If you like, I could bring you some

nutritional supplements, ” Amane offered.

”Im fine. I have some stuff prepared, ” Mahiru answered.

”Thats good. See ya. ”

That was the most important thing: that food wouldn be a problem. It was essential

that Mahiru be able to keep still and rest. Amane watched her open the lock on her

front door, and he, too, took out his apartment key.

”…Um, ” started Mahiru.

”Hmm? ”

When Amane heard the girls voice and turned around, he saw that she was looking

up at him timidly, clutching her bag to her chest. She looked somewhat troubled, but

as he tilted his head in confusion, she seemed to regain her resolve and looked straight

into his eyes.

”…Thank you for what you did today. You really saved me, ” Mahiru admitted.

”Its fine, really. I just did it because I wanted to. Take care. ” Embarrassed by the notion

of Mahiru fretting over his help, Amane quickly dismissed the thought from his mind.

After Mahiru gave him a quick nod, Amane turned to unlock his own door. It was only

then that Amane realized that Mahiru was still wearing his parka and athletic pants,

but he was sure she would return them another day, so he slipped into his apartment

without saying anything.

”Damn, dude, you so healthy that you wear shorts year-round now? ”

Amanes melancholy in Mondays gym class had less to do with his lack of athletic

talent and more to do with the fact that he was wearing knee-length jersey shorts

during an unpleasantly cold season. Everyone else had already switched to their

winter gym uniforms, but Amane stood out from all the rest, his legs bare below the


”As if. I just forgot my pants. ”

”Idiot. ”

”Shut up. ”

Amane hadn seen Mahiru over the weekend, and she still had his gym pants, but he

couldn tell Itsuki that, so there was nothing to do but say that he forgot. He had

resigned himself to the inevitable mockery, though when Itsuki slapped his back,

cackling with laughter, Amane still found it in himself to slap him back.

Amane let out a soft sigh as he watched Itsuki groan quietly. Then his gaze shifted. At

the moment, the boys were practicing their high jumps, and the girls were using the

other side of the field. Whats more, since two classes of students were using the field

at once, it was fairly crowded.

The girls were practicing different track-and-field events, so between taking turns, the

girls had plenty of time to watch Amanes class.

”Do your best, Kadowaki! ”

Usually, the boys and girls took gym class in different places on campus; with the girls

present, the boys were getting all worked up. The girls, on the other hand, all spent

their time watching Amanes most popular classmate, the handsome Yuuta Kadowaki.

Amane had never really talked to him before, but he was nice to everyone and was a

great student, and on top of that, he was the ace of the track club despite being only a

first-year. Everyone knew he was popular with the girls. Amane figured Yuuta must

have won some kind of karmic lottery. A lot of the other boys didn care for him as

much, and there were always a lot of sulky looks when he was around.

”Oh wow, looks like Yuutas as popular as always, ” Itsuki observed.

”Looks that way, ” Amane answered dully.

”You don seem too interested, ” Itsuki prodded.

”Well, its not like we
e friends or anything; weve barely ever spoken. So why should

I care? ”

It wasn as though Yuuta was mean or ever messed with Amane. They had nothing to

do with each other, so Amane honestly did not care. He knew that he was in the

minority there, but he couldn bring himself to envy Yuuta the same way all the other

boys did. More specifically, Amane knew that Yuuta was so far out of his league that

envying him was pointless.

”Typical Amane. What, you don get jealous now? ” Itsuki asked.

”Oh, should I be like Wow, Im sooo jealous of his populaaarity, huh? ” Amane mocked.

”That was pretty good. ” Itsuki guffawed.

Amane looked over at Yuuta, who was wearing a brilliant smile and basking in

feminine adoration. Even Amane had to admit that Yuutas athletic body and

handsome face made him look just like a prince. In fact, some girls had taken to calling

him that.

Yuuta rewarded the girls passionate gazes and shrill voices with another radiant

smile and waved back at them. He really knew how to cultivate a following.

”Well, he sure is popular, no arguing with that, ” admitted Itsuki.

”I know. The other guys can contain their jealousy, ” Amane said.

”Ha-ha. But the girls are real energetic, too. ” Itsuki only had eyes for his girlfriend,

Chitose. He had no interest in other girls, so he saw the Yuuta issue as everyone elses

problem. Chitose wasn the least bit interested in Yuuta, so Itsuki probably didn

spend much energy thinking about him.

Weve got a prince and an angel… This school has a lot of people with cringey nicknames.

Come to think of it, I wonder if Mahiru the angel ended up getting enough rest. Amane

hadn seen her leave her apartment over the weekend. It was good she was resting

comfortably, but he still wondered about the state of her injury.

Amane stealthily scanned the field with his eyes. His class was sharing the field with

Mahirus, so she shouldve been there. Without too much effort, Amane spotted her.

Even in a crowd, the angel was easy to pick out. She hadn changed into gym clothes

and wasn practicing with the rest of her class. Evidently, she was sitting out today.

Amane was sure that he was not the only boy staring at Mahiru, who sat there looking

small and quiet. Though they were far away from each other, their eyes met suddenly,

and when Amane shifted his gaze around awkwardly, he saw a small smile pass over

Mahirus lips. Since she was looking toward Amane, that meant she was also looking

toward the rest of the boys. Each of Amanes classmates took the smile for their own,

nearly inciting a riot.

”Did she just smile at me?! ”

”No way; must be me! ”

”This is our chance! Weve gotta impress her! ”

”The prince is hogging the spotlight. ”

To think that Mahiru could cause such excitement with just one meager smile… Amane

didn know whether it was because she was that amazing or because the boys were

all that simple.

”…Buncha morons, ” Itsuki muttered. Hed apparently been thinking the same thing.

Amane chuckled. ”Well, if we don wanna fail gym class, wed better get moving, too. ”

”Whats that, Amane? The angels heavenly gaze got you all riled up, too? ”

”No, nothing like that. I told you, Im not interested. ”

”Well, guess Ill drop it, then. Since you don care and all. ”

Itsuki seemed like he was about to start boasting about how great girlfriends are,

likely citing his own personal experience, but Amane was quick to brush him off.

”Yeah, yeah, ” he said. He spared one more glance in Mahirus direction and smiled


”Thank you for what you did the other day. Heres your parka and sweatpants back. ”

That evening, when Mahiru brought him his portion of dinner, she was carrying a

paper bag in addition to the plastic container. Amane could see at a glance that the

parka and pants he had loaned her a few days ago were folded neatly in the bag.

”Mm. Hows the ankle? ” he asked.

”The pain is already mostly gone. Ive decided not to do any exercise until its completely

healed, ” Mahiru replied.

”Thats for the best. Looks like you
e sitting out gym class, too. ”

”Yeah. ”

Mahiru had decided to play it safe and not participate in gym, and Amane figured it

was probably the right thing to do. Her ankle didn look like it was hurting her

anymore, but she still slightly favored that leg when she walked, indicating that it was

not yet entirely healed.

As Amane was nodding at the girls sensible decision, he thought back on the days

gym class and smiled suddenly. ”You know, you
e really amazing, Miss Angel. With a

single smile, all the boys were practically bursting with excitement. ”

”I told you to stop calling me that… And its not as if I like that kind of attention. It

really bothers me, you know, ” Mahiru said.

”Well, who wouldn get fired up when a beautiful person looks at them? You know,

the girls started shrieking today, too, when Kadowaki waved at them. ”

”…Kadowaki… oh, that super-popular guy? ” Mahiru didn seem to be too interested in

the prince. Actually, it seemed like she didn even recognize his name. Amane had to

describe him a bit before Mahiru realized who he was talking about.

Yuuta wasn as popular as the angel, but he was a fairly well-known boy in their grade,

so Amane was surprised that she didn know who he was.

e not interested in him? ” Amane asked.

”Not particularly. We
e in different classes, and weve never really spoken, ” Mahiru


”Hmm. The other girls go bananas for him, though. They can get enough of the cool

dude. ”

”Well, he does have a handsome face. But we don talk; we don have any connection.

So I don really care. ”

e so candid about things like that, ” Amane observed.

”Well, if looks are so important, don you think its strange that you don like me? ”

asked Mahiru.

”Oh, so you do realize how beautiful you are? ”

Mahiru was quite right in what she said. Beauty could be the spark that ignited greater

affections, but it was rarely the sole source of love. Amane agreed with that, just as he

agreed that Mahiru was very pretty. It was certainly a surprise to hear her say that

herself, though.

”I know that, objectively speaking, Im considered very attractive, and I do work hard

to maintain my appearance. Its only natural. Given how often people make a big deal

about my looks, I can tell what they think of me even if I don want to know. ” Mahiru

didn seem to be boasting in the least.

She was certainly being honest about how much effort she spent on her appearance.

Mahiru had always had a good-looking face, but clearly she was not content to coast

by on natural good looks. Her hair was like a radiant halo, befitting her angelic

nickname, and the luster of her skin was also always perfect, without a single blemish.

Her hands didn get chapped, even when she was doing housework, and even her

fingernails were beautifully polished. The gentle curves of her body spoke to a wellbalanced figure that had likely taken some effort to cultivate.

”Im going to say something straight up, so don get mad at me…, ” Amane began, ”but…

you don seem to be embarrassed by all this praise. ”

”Id get annoyed before Id get embarrassed if someone wouldn stop flattering me, ”

Mahiru answered curtly.

”Guess being beautiful has its own struggles. ”

”Still, beauty does have its advantages, so I suppose I shouldn complain. ”

”You say that like you wouldn know… ”

”What? Would you rather I bashfully say Oh, no, thats not true!? ”

”No, as someone who knows what you
e really like, that would be weird. ”

”Exactly. Honestly, I don see the point in putting on an act like that in front of you. ”

”Glad to hear it. ”

Mahiru had only recently dropped her public persona around Amane, so if she

changed back now… Amane could feel goosebumps prickling at the thought of facing

the distant angel he saw at school rather than the girl he was gradually getting to


In the end, things between the two of them remained as they were.

Amane looked at the food container hed been handed. There was actually more food

than usual. The container was packed with several side dishes, each one a large

portion. Rather than leftovers, it was more like Amane had been handed a fancy boxed


”Todays quite the smorgasbord, ” he said.

”Because you took such good care of me, ” Mahiru replied.

”I told you not to worry about that… Oh, there are croquettes in here! ” Amane could

never say no to croquettes.

Croquettes were frequently sold a la carte but could be a big pain to make yourself. As

such, you could consider them the pinnacle of home cooking. After steaming potatoes,

mashing them, stirring in saute ed beef, onions, and more, and then forming the

patties, you had to completely chill them, then add batter and fry them. It was a very

involved process. Even Amane, who rarely cooked anything, had watched his mother

make croquettes and had decided never to make them himself because they were such

a pain.

”Well, I had them already made and chilling, so I only had to fry them, ” Mahiru


”Is that why theres fried chicken, too? ” asked Amane.

”Thats right. ”

Living alone, Amane didn get to eat a lot of fried dishes, so he was grateful for the

handmade food. Of course, they were best when they were freshly made, while the

coating was still nice and crispy, served with hot rice.

”…Sometime, Id like to try them straight out of the oil, ” Amane muttered.

Mahiru had packed the fried chicken into the container after letting it cool, perhaps

for hygienic reasons. So no matter what, Amane would need to warm the food back

up. Though fried foods could be restored to a crispy texture via a toaster oven, it still

wasn the same as eating the stuff fresh. Amane had no doubts that Mahirus cooking

would still be delicious, of course, but it would probably be even better right from the


Amane hadn meant to whisper what he had been thinking; his desire had simply

leaked from his lips. Unfortunately, hed said it loud enough that Mahiru raised her

eyebrows a little.

”Are you inviting me over? ” she asked.

”Thats not what Im saying at all! Its already too presumptuous of me to share your

meals. ” Amane hadn meant it that way at all, and he shrugged and vehemently denied


Mahiru brought a hand to her mouth and directed her gaze downward. She seemed to

be mulling something over and did not make eye contact with Amane.

”…Your share, ” she finally said.

”Huh? ”

”Let me cook at your place, and we can consider that as part of paying for your share

of the food expenses. ”

Mahirus sudden proposition left Amanes mouth hanging open in shock.

The accidental mention about eating the fried foods fresh had been more of a sardonic

wish than anything else. That Mahiru had actually considered and agreed to it left

Amane completely bewildered.

Normally, who would think of going into the home of some boy they didn know all

that well to cook dinner? Maybe it would be more efficient to cook at his place rather

than bring the food over after, but he was a member of the opposite sex, and it wasn

like they were close friends. Wouldn doing that make Mahiru uneasy?

”You definitely don need to do that; Ive already received way more than I could ask

for, way more than I deserve… Aren you worried about your safety? ”

”If you try anything, Ill crush you. Hard. No mercy. ”

”Ack, you
e scary! I felt a chill. ”

”Well, I don suppose it will come to that. You already know what the risks are, and

Ive decided you won do anything. You know how popular I am at school, right? ”

”Even supposing I did try something, itd be the end of me. ”

Mahiru was vastly more popular than Amane, and on top of that, everyone saw her as

this delicate girl, so if word got around that Amane had so much as thought about

doing anything inappropriate to her, he was sure hed never be able to set foot on

school grounds again. Amane was not so foolish or so unprincipled as to try something

knowing that it would mean, at best, social ruin. He wasn interested anyway.

”Besides…, ” Mahiru added.

”Besides? ” Amane asked, urging her to continue.

e not even the right type for someone like me, ” Mahiru asserted with a straight

face, then suddenly smiled.

”And what if I was your type? ” Amane pressed.

”First of all, I believe you were the one who insisted on talking to me. And then wanted

nothing to do with me. ”

”And that won you over? ” Amane asked.

”I mean, it told me that you
e harmless enough, ” Mahiru explained.

”Uh, thanks, I guess. ”

Whether that was a good thing or not, Amane couldn deny it was true. After all, he

had never had any intention of doing anything with Mahiru in the first place. One thing

was certain, however: Amane was not going to pass up the chance to enjoy a freshly

made meal. He accepted the title of harmless guy and gained the privilege of sharing


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