Chapter 1:


Rascal Does Not Dream of a Christmas Bond

A strange sound forced Sakuta’s eyes open. It was the sound of an alarm clock, but not the one he was used to. Slowly, he started to register his surroundings. It wasn’t his room, nor was it familiar to him. The clock displayed the time and date: 6:30 am on the 16th of December. Trying to get a better picture of the environment, Sakuta attempted to sit up, only to be pulled back, as if his hand was bound to something.
Now he looked around to the other side of the bed for the first time and realized where the only source of familiarity, a certain scent, came from.
“Good morning”, he said in his usual, emotionless tone, after quickly moving into something that he thought was a relaxed pose. Not the easiest feat with one hand bound to another human.
Next to him, just about to wake up, laid Mai Sakurajima, just opening her eyes. As soon as she spotted her boyfriend lying next to her, her face went through shock, confusion, and even a hint of anger, before she managed to set up her calm facade. “I’m calling the police”, she shot back, trying to reach her cell phone on the bedside table next to her.
“Mai, wait!” Their hands still bound together, she managed to separate hers a few centimeters but then got pulled back, landing on Sakuta’s lap with the back of her head. “On second thought”, he continued with a small grin on his face, “that isn’t too bad”
Annoyed, Mai glared up into Sakuta’s eyes, much to his delight. “And what have you done to our hands? Is this a manifestation of your perverted fantasies?”
“My fantasies of you go way beyond this. It must be my infinite love for you that made this happen”
With her free hand, Mai grabbed up towards Sakuta’s cheek to pinch it between her fingers.
“Ow ow ow, I have no idea how this happened”, came the response, after he took a moment to enjoy the touch of her soft fingers, painful as it might be.
Letting out a sigh, Mai laid back on the rascal’s lap again. After some time in silence had passed, she asked: “And what should we do now? It’s not like we can go to school like this”
“Hm? Oh, you’re right”. Mai’s voice pulled Sakuta out of his thoughts; he stopped staring at the clock as his eyes snapped back towards his girlfriend.
“Is everything alright?”
“Yes, don’t worry. I’m just amazed by your scent.” Sakuta didn’t like the sincerity in her voice. He didn’t want to make Mai worried.
Not convinced by his distraction, Mai did nothing more than let out another sigh, before – more carefully this time – sitting up.
“Come on”, she said, “We still need to get up”
“At your command, Miss General”, he answered, saluting with his free hand.
Both of them were so used to encountering the adolescence syndrome by now that there was no shock anymore, only mild surprise.Bookmark here

“Don’t you dare peek”, said Mai. The next thing Sakuta heard, with his eyes fixed on the wall, was the slight rustling of his girlfriend’s pajamas being taken off. That thought alone - Mai standing right next to him, wearing less and less clothes without him being allowed to look - was the hardest challenge he had yet to face. Nothing could even come close to this temptation. Nothing, except maybe one thing. As soon as those grim memories started to crawl up in Sakuta’s mind, he shook his head violently to drive them away.
“Is everything alright?” The rustling of clothes had stopped - nothing was done to break the short silence before he had an answer to Mai’s question.
“I was just struck by the thought of you being naked right next to me”
“Is that so?”, Sakuta could practically hear her raised eyebrows, “Then you surely want to see for yourself?”
Already turning his head while he asked: “I’m allowed to?!” just to slap his own cheek against Mai’s flat palm.
“Of course not, Pervert”
“Good thing I can already see your shoulder. A sight to behold” Sakuta’s eyes hurt from trying to turn further than they were naturally supposed to, but what he saw truly was worth it. A small glimpse of her stretched arm followed by her shoulder and just a bit of her collarbone.
Struck by embarrassment, Mai almost jumped back, Sakuta could feel the pull in his right hand. “Too bad, I would’ve loved to accidentally fall over you because of our situation”, he proclaimed, with a voice that made the smirk on his face audible.
“Sh-Shut it already!” came the flustered reply. Gentler this time, Sakuta felt the pull in his right hand as Mai started moving towards the shower.
The nature of the phenomenon thankfully allowed for a bit of separation. Through careful testing, the two found out that they could move their hands about five centimeters apart from another, as if incorporeal rubber bands bound them together. Thanks to that, they were able to change clothes and close the door of the shower between them.
Sakuta had his hand resting on the frosted glass every now and then seeing a glimpse of Mai’s silhouette through it.
“You can’t see through the glass, can you?”, came the soft voice from inside the shower, still a bit flustered.
“Would a beautiful girl like you be bothered if a younger guy would look at her silhouette?”
“O-Of course not!”, came the even more flustered reply.
Just the tone of Mai’s voice, the embarrassed but still soft sound of it, made Sakuta’s fears seem a bit less urgent. Maybe, just maybe, this syndrome could have a good side too.Bookmark here

Putting clean clothes back on seemed to be even more of a challenge than taking them off. Without the room between their hands, it would have been impossible to do so. But both managed to change after several near accidents, and nothing but a bit of frustration came from changing clothes, partly because nothing noteworthy happened.
The next stop was the kitchen for making breakfast. Now that both of them were fully clothed again, they could walk and stand next to each other just fine, which made the preparation of breakfast less frustrating and more fun. Sakuta’s mood brightened up even more, even forgetting the nightmares for a second that had been haunting him lately.
After a while, they managed to produce a decent breakfast, despite not having planned to eat at Mai’s place.
There were some slices of toast together with a bit of butter and chocolate cream. All stemming from an advertisement Mai did a while ago. The company must have hoped that their western style breakfast would be a success when paired with a celebrity like her. While Sakuta had his doubts, the bread and cream tasted good, especially with Mai in sight sitting in arm’s reach across the table. But it remained foreign to him.
“And what do we do next?”, asked Mai between two bites, “Any idea where the syndrome came from?”
“So you think it’s the adolescence syndrome?”
“What else could it be?”
Sakuta noticed the casual tone in her voice, it even sounded a bit too casual. Her skills as an actress were impressive but she couldn’t fool him. Mai was testing him as to whether he was really telling the truth when he said he didn’t know what this syndrome was about. He felt the same slight sting in his chest he felt when he answered the question earlier, but he wouldn’t change his answer.
“I don’t think we can go to school like this- although the opportunity to show the entire town how close we are is tempting” Sakuta jeered, suppressing his smile as he saw how Mai’s eyes gave him an irritated glare for that comment. He continued: “Let’s see if it gets better during the day and then call Futaba after school.”
There was no reason for him to involve Mai further. He would manage to solve this case like he did with every other before. For the first time in years, he regretted not having a smartphone. But in this situation, he couldn’t even give Futaba precise information without letting Mai know and unnecessarily worrying her.
“Anyways”, said Mai, with a small grin appearing on her lips, “since we can’t go to school, we can spend the additional time studying for the college entrance exams. I didn’t take time off work for nothing, after all”
“Couldn’t we relax for a bit? Since we need to get over the shock of our new condition and all that!” There was a hint of panic in Sakuta’s voice. Not only was learning not something he would usually spend his day on, but he had also already anticipated a calm day full of closeness to Mai.
“Is going to the same college as me not enough of a motivator? How about... if you can get a better grade on the entrance exam than me, I might buy a new outfit...”
Saktua could almost see the words floating in the air, the sound of them still in his ears. On autopilot, his brain began to scan through every special outfit he’s ever seen in his life, every piece more extravagant and daring than the last.
A new fire burned in his eyes as he went into the bargain fully knowing that it could be a trap. “Deal”, he answered.Bookmark here

With the new-found motivation, they cleaned the table, washed the dishes and prepared everything for studying through the day. Futaba wouldn’t bring the schoolwork before late afternoon, at a time when she would have time to leave the laboratory. So the two of them would have several hours dedicated to learning, only pausing for a short break to do some grocery shopping. His new goal in mind, Sakuta achieved feats of schoolwork that he never thought would be possible. Even Mai seemed impressed, maybe even a bit worried that he could pull off the impossible.
The sun was already close to the horizon when the doorbell rang, and Futaba interrupted them. She was still wearing her lab coat as if it became her second skin now that she too was busy studying for the entrance exams. But Sakuta’s head was too full with the stuff he read and calculated to make any form of snarky comment so Mai just guided her to the living room, dragging Sakuta with her.
“Thank you for coming over on such a short notice”, started Mai, opening the conversation.
“As Azusagawa’s friend, it’s my duty to take care of whatever he messes up” Futaba stated, her voice remaining in its usual calm tone, and without a trace of sarcasm.
“Don't just decide that it's my fault!”
Futaba ignored Sakuta’s protest and continued: “Could you show me how exactly the syndrome works this time?”
Mai and Sakuta raised their hands, right and left, and got them as far apart from each other as possible. The invisible ropes gave about a hand wide of room before snapping their hands back together like a rubber band would.
“We are kinda stuck together, like our hands are bound by an invisible, disembodied rubber band”
“I can see that much myself”, snapped Futaba back at Sakuta, “more importantly, how and why did it become that way?”
With a side glare towards Sakuta, Mai said: “We don’t know what exactly caused it. All we know is that he just appeared in my bed last night, and that his hand was already bound to mine when we woke up.”
For a short while, nothing moved nor made a sound while Futaba stared at the hands in front of her. Sakuta could practically see the little clockworks in her head turning while she tried to come to a conclusion. Finally, she said: “It could be a form of quantum entanglement. You two are so important to each other, so intensely linked, that the thought of being apart caused the syndrome”
“But that is ridiculous... Wait. Sakuta, is it because the entrance exams?”
“Why do you assume I am the cause?”
“That’s simple. If it wasn’t your rascal brain that transported you into your girlfriend’s bed, you must be the cause. And apart from that, Mai is way too mature now to still develop the syndrome. You, on the other hand, are still a full-blown rascal in his puberty years. So, do you have any idea what could’ve caused the syndrome?”
Sakuta dodged her intense glare. “No, I don’t have any idea.”
She knew that he was lying. With some luck, he could hide it from Mai, but not from Futaba. She knew him for long enough to be able to spot when he wasn’t being honest.
“Then just call me if something comes to mind again, okay?” Towards Mai she added: “Thank you for having me, and I’m sorry that you have to spend more time than necessary with my good-for-n.”
Mai’s smile was so perfect, not even Sakuta could be sure whether it was the smile of a professional or just honest. “Don’t worry. At least I can get him to study correctly like this.”
Futaba returned the smile and let Mai and Sakuta escort her to the door.
“Thanks again for coming over”, managed Sakuta to say, just before the door closed. The worries from the morning were back again and even worse than before.Bookmark here

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