My Life as a Complete Social Recluse Has Come to an Abrupt End.
Inside, the house was unsurprisingly normal. A standard front area that led off to a kitchen/dining area/living room on the side. The walls were mostly bare, only a few paintings and pictures were hung up. There was a large bookshelf in the corner of the room filled with books, knickknacks and a vine plant on top that trailed down the side.
There was also a television set up in an entertainment cabinet. But to Minato’s dismay, though totally expected, no gaming system could be found within.
The house was warm in comparison to the chill of the night air outside. His feet were finally warming up again, much in thanks to receiving a pair of home slippers at the door. Still, they were not his own, but instead a spare pair for guests.
Which he was. A guest that is.
He was not in his home. He was not sitting at his own table nor sipping on fresh, hot tea from his favorite cup. Not solely because his favorite cup was dirty but also, because he was not in his peaceful home, dammit! Instead, he was sitting at a bland dining room table and across from him was… a female.
It was not Sato-chan, that deceiving witch, who just happened to be sitting next to him currently, but a new woman. The owner of the home they were all sitting in and his new host on his supposed rehabilitation, as well. He still wasn’t convinced it was real and occasionally pinched himself to see if he was dreaming. But each time the painful reality set in.
The girl who sat opposite him had offered everyone a cup of tea before seating herself. Now, they all sat across from each other in awkward silence.
With Minato’s body poised in his normal slouch, he studied her. She appeared to be roughly the same age as him, maybe slightly younger. She did dress fairly casually, but it was not uncommon for women his age to dress that way. Then again, what did he know? He hadn’t kept up with women’s fashion, like, ever.
She sat there silently with the same, warm smile on her face that she had when she greeted him at the door only earlier.
Sato-chan should learn how to smile right from her, he thought quietly to himself.
I seriously need to stop calling her that in my own head. He quickly took a sip of his tea to get the awful taste of what he had thought out of his mouth.
A cough brought Minato back to reality as Sato-chan produced a familiar looking file. She opened its contents and pulled out her glasses once again. After steadying her glasses, she cleared her throat once more.
“Mariko Takeda,” she began to read in a loud voice. At the sound of her name being called, Takeda-san stiffened up, even her bow perked up as well.
Minato choked on his tea. No way. She isn’t going to do what I think she is going-
“Age: 23. Sex: Female. Height: 155 cm. Weight: 54 kg. Three measurements from the top down are-”
Minato almost felt his heart stop as he knew exactly the embarrassment of having his personal information read out in front of him, but also he knew for a fact that no woman wanted that information read out in front of a guy. Especially some guy she just met.
“Sato-chan!” He interjected as quickly as he could, “Maybe this isn’t a good way to introduce someone to me?”
“Saki-chan,” was her only reply in an almost cutesy, little voice and her begging smile returning.
“I have decided I will solely answer you when you call me Saki-chan.” She had removed her glasses and tilted her head, greatly emphasizing her pouty face.
“Whatever… Saki-chan… Stop, please.” Minato sighed with heavy defeat. He watched as her cheeks grew bright red and her smile grew from ear to ear. But at least, she was silent now.
“Of course, Minato-kun,” she almost squealed with joy.
Rolling his eyes, he turned to look at the woman, Mariko Takeda, across from him. Her head was tilted low, and her bangs covered her eyes. Her shoulders were quivering ever so slightly and, though it was impossible to see, Minato knew she was blushing crazily. Sadly enough, her bow was drooping down as if it was ready to cry as well. He wanted to apologize as quickly as possible, but a soft sound cut him off.
“You two seem really close…”
“Um, sorry?” Minato tried to respond as gently as he could, struggling immensely, in order to not disturb her more, “I didn’t quite catch that.”
With a sudden surge of energy, Takeda-san raised her head and looked deep into his eyes, with tears peeking out from the corners. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Minato.”
Minato froze. She seemed to have forgotten the honorifics. It also didn’t sound anything like what she had muttered the first time. But, the one thing that caused him to stop and stare was her eyes.
They were soft and curved, looking so young and energetic. They softly reflected the light from the fixture above, but there was no mistaking it.
Her eyes shone brightly, but not in a color Minato had ever seen before. Other than in anime, which this most certainly was not. Her eyes were ever so slightly gray in comparison to freshly fallen snow.
“That’s right.” Saki-chan chimed in, having regained her composure, “Gray eyes. Very rare, but very real. So, rare, it’s almost beautiful, wouldn’t you agree, Minato-kun?”
Minato hadn’t taken his eyes off Takeda-san yet, but she had. Casting her eyes to the corner, she began to blush again while fidgeting with her hands in her lap.
He felt his cheeks start to burn.
There was no denying it. This specimen of a woman sitting just an arm’s reach away from him could only be described by the word “beautiful”. Her luscious hair, her soft skin of porcelain, her gently curving figure, her glossy, sulky, pink lips, her rounded, cherry cheeks, her dazzling, bright eyes. All beautiful.
But that doesn’t matter, Minato reminded himself. Shaking his head to clear dangerous thoughts from closing in.
She was a woman. In more general terms, a person and something that didn’t matter to him.
She was probably conniving and manipulative, like most beautiful women. Using their feminine wiles to seduce men to do their bidding. Remorseless.
And being a normal person otherwise, she almost certainly had stepped on whoever she had to in order to better meet her own desires, no regard for anyone or anything in her path. Pathetic.
Crossing his arms and turning up his nose, he scoffed at the thought. “Beautiful? No, she is just a person like everyone else. Quit putting unnecessary labels on everything.”
There was a deafening silence in the room, as Minato smiled as inwardly as possible, hoping no one saw exactly how happy he was with himself at this moment. Not only did he say what he really felt, but also he probably broke her fragile, little ego. He almost pitied her.
“Do… Do you really think that I am not… above average?” Her head tilted down,with her pink bow following it lower, allowing her bangs to cover her eyes once again as her voice became nearly silent as well.
Poor girl, she’s breaking.
He watched as she began to shake all over as a timid, little animal caught in some headlights would. Her bow quivered above her, as well. It was almost sad. But like her, he was going to have no remorse as well. She should be used to this, right?
“Beauty is skin deep, correct?” He hoped his response had cut her deep, and he would be sent away. Maybe back to his apartment? No chance, but he still hoped so.
“Seriously?” Saki-chan asked, clearly taken aback. “You don’t find her attractive at all?”
“She may be the standard definition of ‘attractive’,” he made the quotation marks in the air as he spoke, “but I just met her, and she seems completely normal to me.”
He cut his eyes to Saki-chan, glaring at her to, in his hopes, drive home the point that he didn’t care about Takeda-san, didn’t like his situation, and wanted out of there. Now.
After a tense moment, Saki-chan breathed a heavy sigh in frustration and placed a palm on her cheek. She seemed to have grasped his message loud and clear. “Well, this is unfortunate.”
Minato shrugged his shoulders with a smug smile on his face he could no longer hide. “Guess you will have to send me back to my apartment.”
“Oh no, that will not do.”
Yet again, his ears must be playing a trick on him. What was with her voice was that it always sounded as if she was telling him he was incapable of having his way no matter how hard he tried?
“What do you mean… Saki-chan…?” he added in an attempt to reason with her.
She replied with a blank, silent look, studying his twitching face in confusion.
“What do you mean, Minato-chan?”
Why did she always change her use of honorifics with him at the worst possible times?
“I mean, what do you mean by ‘that won’t do’?” He asked with a faltering voice, fearing the worst. “Are you saying that I can’t-”
Saki-chan cut him off, with eyes focused fiercely.
“I am saying if you don’t find her attractive enough to want to live with her, then your only other choice is to go straight to jail, Minato-chan.”
His heart stopped.
“What!?” Minato quickly rose to his feet, slamming his palms onto the table with enough force to have all the dishes clatter. “What do you mean I’ll go to jail? What does me finding her attractive or not have to do with this? And quit using the wrong honorifics with me!”
She continued to stare blankly at him before her eyes flashed brightly, and she clapped her hands near her cheek.
“Let me guess,” Minato cut her off before she could speak and sank slowly into his seat with a tired slouch, “you forgot to explain something to me again.”
Saki-chan’s smile grew in a way that told him he was correct. “Right as always, Minato-chan.”
Minato had enjoyed being right for as long as he was alive, but this time, he had hoped he was wrong for once.
“As I told you early, we are enacting a new protocol in order to coax Withdrawals into being more reasonable. That idea has been dubbed the “Romantic-Comedy Route” by myself. I was given the idea by a few of the Withdrawals in our custody.
“Many of them had mentioned how they had wished it was as it was in their anime they are so excited over. Ones’ where the main character found himself living with a house full of women, and each of those beautiful women fell in love with him.”
Minato had no idea where she was going with this, and honestly, he didn’t want to hear more. A house full of women, though nice to most men, was something he wanted to never happen to him.
“After watching a few of the series they had named, I noticed something that I doubted they had noticed themselves. The main character had changed in personality in most of the series and had become more open to the world around them.
“After bringing this up with my superiors, they agreed that this was a worthwhile venture and gave me the OK to experiment with this tactic. And, Minato Kinoshita,” she stood up and pointed dead between his eyes triumphantly, “you are one of the first guinea pigs.”
Minato felt his jaw hanging open. He tried to move it, to make it look like he was talking, but no words came out for the longest time. “S-so, wh-what are you s-saying?”
Her devious smile returned in full force as she leaned in to look at his eyes more closely. “What real man doesn’t want a beautiful woman to fall from the sky and land in his lap?”
Minato thought about raising his hand to reply, but didn’t in fear of losing it.
“So, if you don’t find her attractive enough to live with her, then I will have no choice but to send you to jail where you will undergo torture- I mean, training in order to break you of your unlawful ways until I get around to finishing the paperwork-uh, I mean, just regular finish the paperwork to get you a new, even more beautiful young lady to live with.”
I heard every single word you took back! And you weren’t even trying with that last one…
“You can’t treat this as if it was some sort of anime,” Minato argued back with full force. He knew words weren’t going to be enough to get through to Saki-chan, but he had to try something, “this is real life and that is scripted, you can’t expect this to be anything the same.”
Saki-chan had reclined into her seat for a moment and quickly returned a reply as swiftly as Minato had voiced his complaint.
“Well, I guess you will just have to get cozy in jail while we work on a new plan for you, yes?”
“I-I don’t want-”
“This is your other option, Minato-chan.” Saki-chan’s eyes narrowed. Normally there was a playful nature to how she gazed upon him, like how a cat would to its prey while playing with it. But this time there was no joy in her eyes, but rather a warning behind them.
Minato could feel his world shattering around him. Those words drove deep into him, and his breath caught in his throat. I am stuck, he thought with a terrified look spreading across his eyes. I can’t escape. My simple, peaceful life is… over?
“B-but I-” he searched for words, for anything to cling onto for dear life, so he retained any semblance of his former life.
“We will do it!” Minato’s voice was halted by another voice, greatly overpowering his slipping words. He turned to the source of these strong words and saw Takeda-san standing up now leaning over the table. Chest slowly swaying to a halt from her rapid movements.
Her cheeks were still a bright shade of red, but her eyes were shining with a new flame of passion. She had placed a hand over her chest and pressed it in to show the conviction in her own words.Her bow was high and full of vigor.
But it wasn’t her words that caused Minato to halt his arguments, but rather her actions. Most importantly, it was her hand. Not the one on her chest, but instead it was the other hand that had somehow found its way onto one of his fists on the table and gripped it tightly, comfortingly.
Her silver eyes continued to sparkle with an enthusiasm that was trying desperately to reassure Minato, who was obviously terrified of the conversation.
“What?” Both Minato and Saki-chan asked in unison, who then both looked at each other in astonishment. It appeared that neither of them expected Takeda-san to speak up, let alone commit without being brought into the conversation, specifically.
“Are you sure, Takeda-san?” Saki-chan asked, with a look somewhere between worried and confused.
Without any hesitation, Takeda-san readily nodded with sheer attitude and unwavering confidence.
“Yes, I am very sure!”
Saki-chan didn’t seem to appreciate that response as she struggled to keep a smile on her face, a brow twitching on its own giving away that she truly wasn’t feeling it.
“You do realize what’s at stake here, right? I don’t believe I had told you all the details while we were talking earlier on the phone. I mean, if he is unwilling-”
Damn her and her unwillingness to share the important information the first time around!
“What do you mean ‘at stake’?” Minato interjected over Saki-chan’s questioning, as he pulled his hand covertly away from Takeda-san, “What’s going to happen?”
Placing an index finger to her chin, she tilted her head downward in contemplation. Minato was sitting on the edge of his chair as he waited for her answer. Now was not the time for her faltering on information sharing, because this seemed extremely important to his future.
“Well,” she started reluctantly at first, though picking up steam as she continued to speak, “as stated before, there won’t be a need to be so heavily monitored if you choose to stay here with Takeda-san. But there are a few… requirements in order to stay in this peaceful environment for the duration of your internment. First, is to be respectful to Takeda-san. If she feels that you aren’t treating her well, or even accuses you of sexual harassment, well… to put it in terms I know you will understand, the show’s over.”
Minato was feeling insulted by how she had worded her final response, but it did make everything she said clear for probably the first time in the short time they had met. Though he wouldn’t have an utter removal of privacy, like he would in prison, while living with Takeda-san. But, he had only a single chance at getting everything right. One misstep, a tiny mistake and this visual novel would be over. No save points, no restarts.
But, it wouldn’t be that hard, would it?
As long as he keeps his mouth shut, as long as he keeps his cool, as long as he stays as far away from Takeda-san as possible without being suspicious, he could continue playing their game. Just have to play within the rules long enough until they felt they had won, and then he would be the one to have won and be home free.
“Alright,” Minato answered with arms crossed over his chest, “what are my other conditions?”
“You don’t have to worry about them quite yet,” Saki-chan shut him out with a simple flick of her wrist, turning up her head and looking away. Minato could feel a vein bulging almost to the point of bursting on his forehead from her blunt rejection of his concerns.
“But as for Takeda-san,” Saki-chan turned her attention solely onto the homeowner, as she folded her fingers together and used them to prop her head up on the table, “she will have to report to me on a regular basis on your general behavior. She will have to be respectful and friendly to you as well. And most importantly, she will have to try and make you as happy and comfortable as possible. If she succeeds, then you will both have all your monetary needs covered in full by the government.”
Takeda-san’s gray eyes grew wide as she breathed nervously for a brief moment. The tips of her bow seemingly twitched in excitement.
Seriously, is that thing alive? Minato wondered to himself.
Then, with unbelievable speed, she regained her determined composure and nodded furiously in agreement. “I promise I will.”
Minato was trying his hardest to keep his entire face from contorting into an intense look of madness over what he was hearing.
Who was she? What was she doing? Where was this coming from? Why was she so willing to bring him into her home?
Wasn’t she just a person? Wasn’t he a stranger to her? Wouldn’t it be easier on her to toss him aside and not have to worry about him? Why was she going so far out of her way for him, especially since there was so much she would be risking?
Wait, what is ‘at stake’?
“But what happens if she doesn’t follow through?” Minato asked, a little withheld as his eyes danced between Saki-chan and Mariko-san, sizing up both of their reactions.
Takeda-san’s reaction was the first and most obvious. Her eyes grew wide with that realization and shot downward with incredible speed as her face began to glow bright pink as her bow. As she slowly sunk back into her chair, she clearly hadn’t thought too far ahead and was embarrassed over it.
Saki-chan, on the other hand, had not reacted, or at least not as grandly as Takeda-san had. Instead, she just slanted her eyes towards Minato and curved the corners of her lips ever so slightly upward.
“She will suffer a similar punishment.”
Her voice was ruthless in Minato’s ears. For agreeing to watch over him, if he were to go back to his old ways and fail their rehabilitation program, then she would be sent to jail along with him. That was pretty extreme, even for his distrust of the general public, and Takeda-san specifically.
“I don’t know, this seems kind of-” Minato attempted to dissuade both women from the idea of anyone having to go to jail for any reason. But was quickly cut off.
“We will do it.” Takeda-san exclaimed, rising from her seat once again and placing her palm back over her chest. Her gray eyes glowing with a stronger fire than ever.
Minato’s ears were starting to fail him. Was it everyone, females, or just the two in this room he was mishearing today?
“Are you sure?” Saki-chan cut over Minato again. This time her voice was steady and decisive, a clear attempt to measure Takeda-san’s resolve.
With no hesitation, she nodded her head once, as resolute eyes stared back into Saki-chan’s firm gaze.
Minato wasn’t buying it, though. She was so concerned about the way she looked earlier, and had almost shattered to pieces in front of him when he had insulted her looks.
Now she was standing there, eyes fixed with the intent to be his housemate and “helpfully” watch over him? Things weren’t adding up.
She had to be only doing this for some better gains. Some sort of reward had to be coming her way that he didn’t know about. Was she getting a deal with Saki-chan that she hadn’t shared between the three of them? Was it the free money from the government?
Probably the case.
“Aren’t you just-” he had begun to insinuate her of the dishonesty in her actions, but she had nearly jumped across the table at him as he spoke.
As she moved, she kicked over her chair and pushed the tea cups aside, nearly spilling all of them, as she stole Minato’s hands into hers faster than his weary self was able to register.
She gripped his mitts more tightly this time than she had previously. Clearly, she had learned her lesson from last time, as he was unable to pry his hands from her clenched grip, while her bow bounced up and down excitedly.
How was she this strong anyway?
Her eyes were burning into his as he was unable to look away from her silvery eyes. No matter how hard he tried to cringe from her gaze, he knew his face was growing darker and darker red.
It was from her contact. He had never liked people touching him, and this was way more contact in a single day than he had ever wanted in his life.
“Have faith in me, Minato,” she said with a warm voice, that did, somehow, warm him inside, “I have faith in you.”
Minato was unable to respond in the slightest. Her actions, her words, her glinting, silver eyes had prevented him from saying one thing against her.
“Great!” Saki-chan’s happy voice pierced the silence between them. Minato had almost forgotten she was there for a moment. “Then it’s settled. I will have your belongings shipped here in the next few days,” she gave a loud clap of approval that sounded the end of the conversation.
“No! Wait! I didn’t-” Minato desperately tried to call out to Saki-chan as she walked away, but she had already collected all of her files and finished her last sip of tea before making her way to the door. What made things harder for him to stop her was Takeda-san’s iron grip holding him in place.
He struggled to break free, but couldn’t budge an inch away from her.
Seriously, how strong is she?
“Have fun,” there was a final call from the front doorway before Saki-chan slammed it shut. Then it quickly reopened, “Oh, and be gentle on her, Minato! It will be her first time.”
A second had barely passed from the time the door had slammed shut its final time and the sound of the engine of the limo revving and the squealing of its tires as it shot through the empty suburban street late in the night.
At that moment, it finally set into Minato.
My life as a complete social recluse has come to an abrupt end…
Minato had stood still for what felt like an eternity. The lone sound he was capable of hearing was his heart beating away in his chest. Then, his feet moved on their own.
He ran as hard as he could through the dining room to the front hallway to find the front door was shut like he knew it would be. Saki-chan had left and there was no further arguing to be had.
Minato was stuck with no more chances at a good ending for him.
As this realization finally came crashing down around Minato, another force came crashing into his side.
The initial impact was softer than he had expected, but still held enough power behind it to knock him completely over. As he landed flat on his back, the light object landed on him, pressing on him ever so slightly.
Groaning, he struggled to regain his shaken senses from his fall. With his vision finally in focus, Minato tensed up tightly as he realized what had crashed into him.
A soft body with luscious curves pressed down on his person, uncomfortably so to Minato.
Mariko Takeda moaned softly and pressed her face into Minato’s chest, trying to catch her senses as well. Using her arms as props, she raised her body slowly off of his.
Well, at least he managed to breathe a little easier now. That was until…
Holding her body over him and brushing her hair out of her face with her spare hand, the front of her blouse had become a bit… disheveled. Her neckline had dropped lower on her shoulders, revealing what lay hidden beneath. There was a lush valley surrounded by mythical, snowy mountains, whose peaks were obscured by the neckline of Takeda-san’s blouse.
Minato felt the entirety of his blood rush from his face and his head heat up at the same time. Once again, his breath had been caught in his throat.
Stumbling as quickly as possible, Minato scurried backwards on all four until his head collided with the wall behind him. His head was ringing, and his chest refused to let him breathe steadily. His heart beating each breath out of him.
“Are you alright?”
Minato winced his eyes open in pain to see Takeda-san moving slowly towards him, also on all four. One hand was outstretched, angled in a way to hold him, with a look of concern in her face.
Only as the tips of her fingers were on his cheek, his knees rocketed him upward so fast that he nearly jumped out of his socks.
Takeda-san’s silvery eyes went wide with surprise and fell backwards with a tender moan, catching herself with her arms behind her. Moving her legs in weird angles, she tried to steady herself.
Minato’s body grew rigid and tense as his eyes furiously darted about the figure laying on the ground before him. His breath grew heavy and rapid once a patch of cotton-white fabric came into view from between Takeda-san’s legs. He almost felt fire spreading across his face and over his eyes.
“Ow. Ow, ow, ow,” Takeda-san struggled to regain her composure, but quickly changed her focus once she made eye contact with him. “Oh, Minato! Are you alright? You look sick. Do you need to lay down?”
Half kneeling on the ground before him, Takeda-san’s arms reached out to grab Minato’s fingers, which were pressed tight against the wall behind him, fingers desperately scratching their way towards some sort of freedom.
In a sudden whirlwind of movements, Minato turned his whole body, facing his back to her as he stood as stiff as a statue with his head turned up towards the ceiling, eyes clenched tight.
“Wh-whi… whi…” he sputtered hopelessly as he was unable to form proper syllables while his face was burning red like an inferno.
“Huh? ‘Why’?” Takeda-san hesitated and wondered, “Why what?”
“N-No!” Minato blurted out a response in desperation, “White! I see white!”
“White!?” Takeda-san raised slightly from her slouch and started to reach for Minato again, grabbing a hold of the lower fabric of his blue hoodie as a jolt raced up his body, shaking her hand slightly. “Are you going blind? Is that why you are seeing white?” Tears started to stream over her cheeks and she began to sniffle.
Evidently, Mariko jumps to an extreme conclusion pretty quickly.
“Huh?” she questioned, feeling lost by his actions.
“Y-your sk-skirt!” he finally forced out with his utmost might. “I can see white! So, fix your skirt! Please!”
Takeda-san’s eyes fluttered rapidly, blinking the tears away, as she tried to process the words that were almost incoherently flowing out of his mouth. With curious brows raised, she glanced down at her skirt, like he had attempted to say. Apparently, in the earlier collisions, something had ruffled the hem of her skirt a little and a small hint of white fabric was barely visible from underneath the upturned blue material.
Though Minato couldn’t see her reaction clearly as his vision was averted, he guessed by the yelps she was making that Takeda-san had finally come to understand his warning. He heard her stifle a squeal of embarrassment amongst the sounds of furiously ruffling fabric. Once there was silence again, Minato hesitantly turned his head to the side to see if she was decent again to look at.
She was kneeling now, but this time in a formal fashion, with palms on her knees, pulling on the hem of her skirt. With fidgeting legs, she mumbled and moaned quietly to herself as she kept her eyes focused on anywhere but Minato. Even her pink bow on the top of her head seemed to droop with embarrassment. With cheeks flushed bright red, she mumbled louder.
“Y-you… you didn’t… see anything… right?”
What? Minato thought with all of his mental prowess and a brow raised in confusion, I clearly saw everything. What is she-?
Then, it clicked.
“Umm, no.” he lied blatantly, rubbing a finger over his temple nervously, trying to soothe a growing headache.
Takeda-san’s eyes narrowed and focused on him and gave a soft huff.
Does she not believe me? Am I doing something wrong?
Maybe if he was more convincing that was the only thought that crossed his mind. So, he gave a soft smile and laughed playfully while holding the back of his neck with one of his hands.
Or at least he hoped it was convincing. He hadn’t laughed for someone else in so long and was super nervous that his laugh sounded shaky and hollow even in his ears.
He had also always been told that his smiles could scare little children, causing him to smile even less on a daily basis.
Her eyes narrowed further, with brows knitted tightly. Her bow had become pointed like dog’s ears, ready for the attack.
Beads of sweat rolled down his face. Her shimmering gray eyes were boring holes into his. What was she thinking? Is it possible to consider this sexual harassment? Was he doomed already?
He struggled to keep smiling and yet avoiding eye contact. His whole body began to tremble from his rigidness.
Then, there was a soft sound.
Minato glanced at Takeda-san with a worried expression to see her eyes closed tightly. Her fingers were delicately placed against her lips, trying to keep from laughing.
Minato felt his whole body become limp as he slumped against the wall for balance. He sighed heavily. Flag: Cleared.
“I am glad everything is fine with you, Minato.” she was able to say through her little giggle fit, “I was worried that things might be awkward here for you at first, but you seemed to have already adjusted just fine.”
Now, it was Minato’s turn to give her an irritated look.
There were many things wrong with what she had said.
First, it was extremely awkward. He had just met her, being forced to live with her indefinitely. Plus, she was going around tackling him and flipping her skirt up at him.
She even had the audacity to ask him to denounce what he had witnessed when it was clearly her fault.
Second, she seemed to be concerned with him. Who does that anyway? She was trying to seem nice to keep him happy, so she continued receiving funds from the government, right? So why keep up the charade of her caring about his well-being and health like she had? All of it was infuriating.
Lastly, she had called him by his given name. No honorifics. Who did she think she was? They had merely met earlier, and she was trying to play it off as if they had been friends for years.
“What is your problem!?”
Takeda-san went tense as her giggling was cut short. Her eyes softened to a gleam of sadness.
“Wh-what do you mean, Minato?”
“Stop calling me that!” he shouted, with fist clenched to his side. Takeda-san looked scared as her shiny eyes began to tremble and her mouth left agape.
With desperate attempts to calm his nerves before walking out and right into jail, he spoke with as muted furious words as he may.
“Why did you tackle me like that? What were you thinking?”
Takeda-san’s gaze went vacant and tilted her head slowly to the side. Minato could almost see a solid question mark rise above her head.
Minato grunted in exasperation. “Yes, you tackled me, then you were on top of me with your…”
He cut his words short as his memories of the previous events made his heart beat fast.
Takeda-san tilted her head to the other side and hummed as she mulled over his words. “Tackled? Oh!”
Her gray eyes lit up, and she patted a balled hand onto her open palm, a sign she had put the pieces together.
A nervous look seeped over her face as she averted her eyes from him and tried to hide her face with her fingers spread across her cheeks. I was holding your hand,” she tried to explain with her voice barely reaching his ears from how soft she spoke.
Though she tried to hide it with her fingers, a warm smile spread over her blushing cheeks. Her full cheeks pressed into her eyes, squinting them shut.
Minato’s heart continued to race faster, threatening a heart attack.
Is-Is this what they call a Moe-Attack?
But Takeda-san cut off his thoughts with her words.
“Yeah, remember? I was holding your hand, trying to reassure you that everything was going to be alright between you and me. And then you-you…” She pressed her palms on her cheeks and began to squirm on her knees. “You squeezed my hand.”
She began to blush more deeply and squeaked to herself.
Minato was left in a daze, unable to understand her words and looked at his open palm in disbelief.
Then, he clenched it.
“But what does that have to do with you tackling me like that?”
“Oh, umm…” She began to fidget with her fingers about her knees, and she continued to avoid eye contact. “I was so happy that you were holding my hand like that, but you… then you took off running… still holding onto me. You ran so fast, and I was unable to keep up. When you stopped, I tripped and ended up on top of you.”
Takeda-san’s cheeks flushed a new shade of red, and her bow began to flick up and down randomly.
The whole picture came together in Minato’s mind. He had his hand held captive by Takeda-san at the same time he chased after Saki from leaving. She must not have let go and got pulled along by him.
With his chin on one of his palms, he nodded thoughtfully. “I see. So, it was both of our faults. I guess everything is forgiven then, right?”
Takeda-san nodded in response, even more joyfully than before. “Absolutely, Minato! No need for us to be upset with each other.”
There was his name again…
“Takeda-san.” Minato leveled his voice, “Please, stop calling me that. We have just met, and it’s informal and improper to be calling each other by our given names. So, have some respect for me and call me Kinoshita-san.”
Takeda-san’s face faded from a bright glow to a dull whimper. “But…” she sniffled, but then a light flashed behind her eyes, as if she recalled something. “You are in my household now, correct?”
Minato was shocked by her words. “Um, yes?”
“Then you will follow my rules, correct?”
Damn, is that what she has been holding back until now?
“I-uh-I mean…” Minato was at a loss for words.
“And since I make the rules, Minato,” Takeda-san stood triumphantly with her arms crossed over her chest and a confident smile taking over her once happy one, “I say you must call me Mari. No honorifics. Just Mari.”
“Mari?” Minato questioned with doubt in his voice. “What?”
“Yes, it takes up so much time saying all of those syllables,” she explained, wagging her finger like a teacher explaining simple math to him, “So let’s cut it simple. I am to be called Mari, Minato. I will pick a nickname for you later.”
“Please don’t.” Minato cut in with a wave of his hand in front of him.
“This is my first rule in this house, and you must follow it.” Mari smiled, leaning in close.
Minato craned his neck back away from her approach. His vision was locked on her silvery moons for eyes.
He didn’t quite understand what she was trying to say, but he did get what she was leaving unsaid. If he didn’t follow her rules, she would send him away to jail.
He was cornered yet again. She was using her unwarranted authority to make him do what she wanted. Why are people always like this?
But… Why were friendly names her first rule?
Wouldn’t it make more sense for her to make him do her household chores for him, use him like a slave or something? What was she trying to gain by being friendly?
Better to play along for now…
“Fine.” He sighed in defeat, “Mari, it is.”
So, he would follow her rules.
Mari was clearly pleased with herself as she stood taller and more confident than she had previously. Minato only rolled his eyes at the situation and yawned deeply.
It had been a long day. No sleep previously followed by a home invasion leading to an arrest plus many annoying events later and there he was standing in Mari’s foyer, about ready to pass out.
“Oh no,” Mari gasped at his yawn, “are you tired? Do you need any help getting to bed?”
Minato stretched and rubbed his tired eyes. I’m not a baby…
“I’m just tired,” he cut her off and slouched against the wall behind him, “It’s been a long day, and I’m hoping to sleep the rest of them off. Where’s a place for me to sleep?”
Mari blinked a few times. She stood there motionless, taking in his words very slowly.
“Your room will be upstairs. Next to mine. But…”
“Perfect.” That was just what Minato needed to hear. It was still well within his abilities to navigate his way from there.
A warm feeling started to stir in him. What was it? Happiness? Home? Peace? Possibly.
He would go into that room. He would tuck himself into whatever bed was in there. He would sleep peacefully. He would wake up back in his apartment. His game will have autosaved.
Or at least, he could dream.
It wasn’t likely he would get off so easy, even in a fantasy of his own making. But, he could sleep.
Maybe he would fall asleep and dream until all this passed? Live in a far off, distant land, where he could have solitude as he wished for?
Or maybe he would sleep and pretend to be sick, even end up in the hospital if he was believable? He had never tried acting before, but maybe he could pull it off?
Also, not likely.
Man, it sucks being such a realist…
With a sigh that turned into a deep yawn, Minato began to ascend the staircase that started at the front of the foyer.
“Good night, Takeda-san. Pleasant dreams.”
A few steps up, and Minato was halted in his tracks. With intense pain rebounding in his head, he tightened his eyelids together and prayed his situation away.
A strange prickling feeling started growing on his fingers gripping the banister. Turning slowly, he opened his eyes only halfway to see what was happening at the foot of the stairs.
Mari was there with a focus gaze unrelenting on him. Her eyes shimmered like a moon’s reflection in a pond. She bit her lip, holding her words back, unable to say what she wanted right out.
Her hand squeezed the top of Minato's, balancing him on the banister.
His heart skipped a beat. Without any hesitation, he pulled his whole arm out from under her grip and pressed it tight against his body. He glanced back at her and narrowed his eyes.
What was with her, always touching him? Did she think she was able to go up to anyone, any random stranger, and hold their hand without their permission?
“What is it?” he finally said, his words dripping with bitterness.
Mari continued to nibble at her lip, on occasion she would open her mouth to say something, but just as quickly would stop and resume working on her lip.
“Well? What is it?”
Finally, she spoke, softly, but clearly enough for him to hear. “Minato, please, call me Mari.”
Is that everything she wanted?
Minato wanted to argue, to desperately set her straight, and tell her that wasn’t going to happen. That he wasn’t going to call her that, and she wasn’t going to be so friendly with him. And most importantly, that they weren’t ever going to be friends.
But, a strong yawn refocused the bigger issues before him.
“Fine, Mari. I apologize.”
He turned on his heels and began treading up the stairs once again, waving a sign of farewell for the night.
“No, wait! Please!”
Not even a full step higher, and Minato was stopped once again.
He turned around with a long, exaggerated sigh forced out of his chest. “What is it now? I am tired and want to go to sleep.”
“You can’t. I … I mean you…” she continued to struggle with her words but spoke quickly and with conviction.
Minato shoved his fists into his pockets and stared down at Mari with a defiant stare. She wouldn’t be able to keep him from sleeping, especially late at night, could she? Was that in her power, without getting either of them into more trouble?
Time to find out.
“I can’t just sleep, can I?” Minato raised his voice louder.
“No…” Mari answered, voiced quieting further, and she put up a hand over her mouth defensively. “It’s only…”
“It’s what?” he cut her off, leaning over the stairs as she leaned back, wincing.
“You don’t have any clothes to sleep in, do you?”
Mari’s words broke into Minato’s head harshly, destroying the last energy he had. He blinked as the realization came to him. He currently didn’t have clothes to sleep in, or any other clothes besides the ones he was wearing.
But it wouldn’t be the first time he slept in normal clothes. He had done it quite often in recent years. It wasn’t that uncomfortable. He’d handle it.
“Uh, this is all I have.” He began pulling on the bottom of his hoodie and brushing the wrinkles out of his sweat pants legs. “I think I will be fine like this.”
“No, they are dirty. It wouldn’t be right for you to sleep like this.”
That was one of the last things that Minato had expected to hear in general.
Glancing down, again, at his clothes, he saw he still had stains on them from previous meals.
Plus, Mari did seem like the person to keep things pretty neat, as from the quick and limited tour of her home left no trace of a mess anywhere. She probably didn’t want dirt or crumbs to fall off him and into her clean sheets. A pretty fair request, Minato agreed.
“Alright, what do you suggest?” Minato placed his fists into the pockets of his hoodie again, just in case Mari was feeling hands-y still, “Do you have pajamas or something I’d be able to wear.”
Mari’s eyes grew wide and then dimmed as she looked away slightly, “No, not really.”
“So, now what?” Minato grumbled and slouched against the railing of the stairs, “Do you want me to sleep naked or something?”
Mari’s face flashed a deeper red than Minato had ever seen before.
“N-no… How could you suggest something so-?”
“Well, if that’s the case…” Minato cut Mari off in hopes of getting to his new room and shutting the literal door on this conversation.
But he, too, was cut off quite quickly.
Minato stopped and took in the simple word and tossed it around in his head. It was so simple of a word that in this context was so unfathomable for him to comprehend.
A bath? How would that solve anything? Minato halved his eyes in disbelief.
“Yeah, you can take a bath!” Mari had the pearly light shining in her eyes once more, as she raised a finger up to explain the facts, “While you are bathing and getting squeaky clean, I will wash your clothes in the washing machine. I have a spare bathrobe you can wait in while your clothes dry. It’s perfect.”
With the triumph of her supposedly clever idea, Mari clapped her palms, which bore a frighteningly similar appearance to someone else also known for bad ideas.
“Yeah, not happening,”
Minato turned one last time to head to sleep, but didn’t make it far.
One step and a grip on his sleeve left him unable to move. This grip was strong, decisive, and unrelenting.
“No, it is not an option.”
Those were words he wished would disappear off the face of the Earth.