Chapter 3:

Why the Hell are You Here, Housemate!?

My Life as a Complete Social Recluse Has Come to an Abrupt End.


PWIP!

In the humid air of the washroom, beads of collected steam streamed down the plastic faucet and fell into the bathtub.

“How did my life get to this point?” Minato grumbled and adjusted the warm towel over his brow and forehead.

One minute, he was meandering his way up the staircase, the next, he was hoisted up in the air, then locked into the bathroom with the water already filling the tub.

“And what woman of her size is that inhumanly strong?”

Sighing heavily, he lowered himself deeper into the hot water to relax as much as possible with his mind swirling. He was taken by surprise when Mari had snatched him up, but there should have been no way for a girl of her stature to be able to take him off his feet and throw him, physically through the air, into a bathroom. With a locked door and no other options, Minato begrudgingly stripped down and settled into getting cleaned.

While Minato was washing himself, he couldn’t slow down his thoughts as they darted about. The basic one that kept cropping up was a matter of the probability to survive this ordeal. There were a few obstacles in his way.

One was the government. Especially Saki-chan, who he needed to stop using that honorific in his own mind to reference. It was up to her final vote whether he was “reformed” or not. He could try faking his way out of this mess, but he knew she was more perceptive than that. She had carefully planned out his capture, confinement, and finally, finding the perfect warden to keep a close eye on him. He was trapped.

She had placed him deep in a dungeon with no party, no potions, no armor or weapons, and standing right in front of the final boss. If he attacked he was done for, and if the boss, Mari, decided to go on the offensive, he would be wiped out. He had no extra lives and all heart containers were empty. His last save file had already been corrupted as well.

But, if there was another option than to fight, he may survive long enough to see the end. Other ways to beat the game would be to sidestep the boss entirely and go straight for the princess. But the problem was how to go about around this staggering boss. Was hiding away until she left an option? Not likely, she was especially told to stay with him, at almost all times.

He could trick her to go elsewhere or maybe to leave. It probably wouldn’t be that hard if he put his mind to it. Mari had proven herself to be a bit on the ditsy side already. The difficulty that lay after that was getting caught again. Saki-chan had made it clear that if he didn’t get shipshape, he would be shipped out to a restructuring jail. And that wasn’t an option.

To Minato’s knowledge, there weren’t any other options for him to get around such a complication. This final conclusion filled him with misery as he sunk deeper into the hot waters of the tub. As the steam rose, he hoped it would percolate a better plan of action. But in the end, the only words that kept creeping to the forefront of his mind were, “What is with her?”

Mariko Takeda.

She was an enigma that continued to puzzle Minato’s mind as he searched for a solution. Unfortunately, she was the jigsaw piece that would never fit for him.

Not only was she stronger than he took her for, but her actions made seemingly no sense to him. She had a sweet and sensitive side, even though she had been put in charge of reforming him. Conventional logic would lead him to believe that it would be better to set him in a confined space with an overpowering drill sergeant to whip him “into shape”.

However, she had taken a vastly different approach. She had been a bit aggressive by latching on to him as often as she could, which infuriated Minato beyond his limits, but she never hurt him physically nor mentally. Though he wanted to refute that point, with his best efforts, he couldn’t find an argument that didn’t make him sound like a spoiled brat.

Another frustrated sigh escaped his gritted teeth. Nothing was making sense.

Mari had every reason to be the hard-lined taskmaster he had expected. It was a very effective model that was proven to work by the military, as every soldier would follow their commanding officer’s orders or be reprimanded. In Minato’s case, to be changed from a supposed “derelict member of society” to a “functioning human”, this should be the most applicable course of action to get this done efficiently.

It would also be quite profitable to Mari as well. Though being an overseeing disciplinarian for Minato would be beneficial in his reformation, it would not be an event that would take place overnight. The process would be a long and arduous one. And the longer the progression took, the more money would be subsidized for her by the government. As long as she milked it, she could live comfortably without having to lift a finger.

So why wouldn’t she take the easy route? Minato racked his brain in utter frustration.

Why had she seemed so determined to accept him into her house? Why had she been so open and friendly with him? What did she hope to accomplish by being so jolly constantly around him?

Nothing made sense to him.

There seemed to be no inherent benefits to this strategy. She’d easily coast along by doing the bare minimum, but there she was just outside the locked door of the steaming bathroom, washing his clothes for him. She was going far out of her way to make him as comfortable, in her mind, as possible. It felt stifling to Minato.

Not only was he an adult capable of taking care of himself, but also he had been doing so for quite some time. Longer than he felt one should, but he survived just fine on his own so far. He hadn’t had many health concerns, and had made it perfectly fine with his lifestyle.

Damn anyone who thought differently!

Minato felt his thoughts heating up inside him to a higher degree as his body went into hyper-drive, pumping blood and endorphins through his body at an incredible pace. So much so that he could feel the waters he was soaking in cooling down in comparison.

Glancing around, the steam did seem to have dissipated quite faster than he had anticipated.

Maybe it’s about time I got out? Minato thought to himself as he removed the wet rag from his head and readied himself to leave the bath.

CLINK! LATCH!

Minato’s heart stopped dead. His grip on the edges of the tub tightened so much it almost went through the plastic material. There was a noise, and it filled him with dread.

It was the sound of a lock. Not being locked, not being tested, but being unlocked. There weren’t many options as to who was on the other side of the door, but no matter what, Minato was in a very compromising situation.

His body went rigid and tense as another noise followed the door unlocking, the handle clicking as it unlatched from its frame. Minato felt his breath catch in his chest as the door on the opposite wall began to open. With acute senses heightened by his adrenaline pumping, hiss vision focused intensely on the figure that walked through into the still steaming washroom.

In a sea of shining, white lights, a vision of sensuous beauty entered. First to emerge into focus from the disorientating lights were waves upon waves of polished-obsidian black hair, which curled down the figure.

Next, came the shape of the body, steadily pulled into focus. Hourglass was a little cliché, but was the perfect analogy to the frame of the body that sauntered into the bathing room on slender feet.

Seeing the supple curves of her physique, and the fullness of the body proportions, Minato felt his heartbeat echoing out of his body as his vision blurred around the edges, pulling focus solely onto the angelic, voluptuous magnificence moving before him.

With a long sigh, the beautiful woman spoke with a voice that was the sweetest of honey to the ear.

“Wow, today was such a long day! It’s great to finally relax in the bath.”

From head to toe, one by one, each muscle in Minato’s body stiffened as he watched Mari adjust the thin, bleached towel that she held loosely in front of her chest that hung down to just over her upper thighs.

PWIP!

“Hm…?”

At that moment, for only the briefest of seconds, Mari opened her silver eyes and swept them over the room, studying the scene before her. Minato understood things were slowly coming together in her mind as her face transformed gradually from that of mild confusion, to the blushing of embarrassment, to the reddening of terror at her sudden realization.

With yet another stifle squealed in such a high pitch frequency, so high that Minato felt his ears ring from it, Mari did her best to cover her body so he could not see any further.

“Minato! What are you still doing here!?”

Minato felt his jaw fall agape, but no matter how hard he tried, he could not bring himself to make a coherent sound.

Though his vision racked about, focusing briefly on more skin than he had ever expected to see in his life, one thing was barely visible in the misty air. Mari’s face was a mad red with embarrassment, but her eyes were rung ever so softly with tears. Tears that tore at his humanity.

Coming to his senses, Minato quickly averted his sight to the ceiling. Covertly, he moved to cover himself from too much embarrassment.

“Sorry! I guess I was lost in thought… and therefore, taking too long?”

Minato kept a firm composure and tried to sound as earnest as possible, hoping she would leave without insinuating sexual harassment. Though, it would be hard to prove that he had planned this in the first place. Why would he wait in a tub, that he was thrown into without any warning, hoping to see someone else naked. The very thought process bewildered his mind, but in his limited exposure to adult females, he knew it was something many people were willing to believe. Internet reports of strange sexual harassment cases were very widespread, and incredibly disgusting to read.

Thus, his case wasn’t out of the realm of possibility, but clearly that wasn’t his intent.

Though the subject is no laughing matter, Minato felt as though he was slowly becoming a punch line. And the comedian that was setting up the joke wasn’t Mari, who currently was struggling to keep her purity covered whilst backing away slowly, but rather that of the devil woman, Saki Sato.

He saw the minute details of her plan more clearly. There was no reason for him to be at any sort of “reform house” like this, if the best option for him to be “rehabilitated” would be a sort of “training camp”. Instead, this was just a way to defame his character before he is forced into his “personal-improvement” jailhouse.

She was going to break him from the inside out and then build him up into the “perfect citizen”.

The trap had been laid and, clumsy to nature, Minato had walked right into it.

Inwardly, he was swearing at himself, but he couldn’t let it show on the outside. A small hope was burning inside him. If he took control of the situation, he could turn this around in his favor. He needed to keep his hand up and play his cards right.

The first move will have to be to build a little trust with her. He had already laid the groundwork with his opening defense. Hoping that this will go well, he can then slowly talk her into a circle; back around that she was the one that was committing the sexual harassment here. Not that he wanted to be looked at or doing the looking, Minato just wanted to get back to his old life.

The sooner, the better.

All that would matter is how Mari would respond. If she lashes out, he’d tell her how things were. Ultimately, she barged in on him. If she went and cried about it, he could easily respond in the same fashion. Though male molestation victims were a rarity, and not a role he was desiring to play, he’d pretend if it meant he could escape this hell.

So, how will you respond? Minato sneered inwardly and waited with a modestly embarrassed smile on his face.

“Oh! My bad…” Mari laughed awkwardly and began making large steps towards the exit door. “I should have known you were still in here since your clothes were still drying. I guess it has been a long day and I seem to have made a mistake. Oops.”

Minato nearly lost his grip and footing in the tub and came to an almost splashing fall into the bath waters. Yet again, Mari was able to come up with a response that he was unable to anticipate.

Was she being sincere? Was she going to take the blame for this one? Really? These thoughts exploded in his head as he sought to keep what little was left of his composure.

“Minato, are you okay?”

“Mari, cover yourself!”

“Huh? EEP!”

As Minato flailed around in the tub, Mari rushed over to help him, flinging her towel to the side for a brief moment, which caused him to nearly have a seizure.

Between the spray of water and the fading, but still present, steam of the bathroom, Minato could only make out shapes and colors, but that was enough to make his blood rush at neck-breaking speeds.

“Just get out!” Minato finally sputtered.

“EEE! Right!”

Without having to even look, he heard hurried footfalls and a door slamming shut. Finally, Minato sat in the tub and caught his breath. He tried desperately to calm his nerves.

“What the hell was that all about?” he asked aloud to the empty room. As he rubbed his temples to ease the tension of a mounting headache, Minato wondered if his staying here was more harmful to his physical health than his mental health. Perhaps stocking up on headache medicine would be a good idea.

Once his breathing finally came under control, Minato slowly opened his eyes. The steam had almost completely dissipated, and his vision was unobstructed. But the bath water was not as clear as before. There was a misty haze of a faint red cloud spreading out in every direction in the waters right in front of him.

PWIP!

A drop of red liquid fell into the bath and mixed into the fading smoke. A drop of blood.

Am I hurt?

Alarmed by another red drop falling into the water, Minato’s hand rushed up to check his face. On his fingers was smeared blood, still fresh. A stream of blood was flowing from his nose and down into the waters below.

“A nosebleed? Seriously?” Minato reprimanded himself in pure disgust. “I see a girl naked and I get a nosebleed? How unbelievably cliché can my body possibly be!?”

Minato groaned in repulsion to himself as he hit himself on top of the head. A fitting punishment for his pathetic nature.

But was that really that unexpected of his biology? He had been put into an unanticipated high state of arousal. A male’s anatomy, when given such stimulation, normal response was to send endorphins rushing throughout the body. The best way to do this in a timely fashion was to get the heart beating faster, pumping the blood at a higher rate. A bloody nose from a similar situation was not unthinkable in such a humid environment.

Another reaction was also a given, but Minato was doing his best to suppress this one by holding it down with the wet rag.

Breathing an enraged sigh, Minato’s thoughts hung on one name in particular.

Takeda.

What was her game? Had she done this on purpose? Was there anything to gain from her being naked in front of him?

Why couldn’t he figure her out?

Normally, he had people pegged down in a moment. There wasn’t much to a person, and most wore their thoughts outwardly like their clothes. No matter how hard people tried to be as inconspicuous and cryptic in their actions, the simple knowledge that all people were self-centered and devious made every single movement seem way too obvious.

But now Mariko had taken every bit of conventional wisdom Minato had accumulated over the years and tossed them right out the bathroom window.

Nothing was making any sense, and that infuriated Minato to no end.

Defeated, Minato hung his head in shame.

Giving it his all, he was unable to get her out of his head. Having only met her that day kept her fresh in his mind, but having her walk in on him naked was the most tangible image that continuously flashed in his mind.

One thought kept reappearing in the back of his mind, and no matter how hard he struggled to suppress it, he couldn’t help but agree with it:

… Her chest is bigger than I thought…

KNOCK-KNOCK!

“Hey… Minato? Are you OK there?”

In utter terror, Minato’s hands slammed down harder make certain he was completely covered this time. Eyes locked on the door handle, he prayed fervently that she wouldn’t dare open it even the slightest crack again. But it laid still. In return, he lessened his hold on himself, preventing a case of being bent out of shape. Literally and figuratively.

“Yeah. Yeah.” Minato replied with a wave of his hand to Mari, who was incapable of seeing his movements, “I’m fine. Thanks.”

“Oh, thank goodness!” Mari responded with an air of relief evident in her voice. There was a moment where both sat still in silence.

“Hey, Minato?”

“Yes?” Minato was starting to get exasperated with her persistence.

“I was just wondering if I… have I upset you at all?”

Words had never made less sense to him before.

In a silent groan of fatigue from playing games with her, Minato searched for the right answer to this riddle. He could see his possible answers flash up like a conversation tree in a visual novel before him. Some options were obvious; others were a bit extreme. But his goal wasn’t the best ending in a romance game, but rather for his “true ending”. The ending that got him back to his peaceful life.

“No, it’s good. Don’t worry about it.”

It didn’t take him much thought to come up with that answer. It was a simple choice that left many doors still open in case of emergency use later. Minato was a quick adapter to quick-time events, and this was the safest route to take.

“Alright. Good.” Minato could hear the joy in her voice as she continued to speak with only the slightest of wavering and sniffling, “I thought that maybe I was a horrible housemate or something and had already hurt you in some way. You’re sure you are not mad at me?”

Why isn’t this conversation ending?

Sorting through his options one more time, he responded with his best attempt at ending this exchange as quickly as possible.

“Mari.”

Minato faintly heard a sound. He instantly knew what made that sound. Mari had attempted to speak further, but his beginning to answer had caused her to seize up as her voice got caught in her throat.

“It’s fine. Everything is just fine. Don’t worry about it.”

Silence.

For several moments, there was no sound. Minato sat there for a moment in sheer trepidation, hoping he hadn’t made the wrong choice and had now set himself down the worst possible path.

Crap… I’m getting a bad ending for sure…

Seconds passed in slow motion as Minato began to become drenched in a cold sweat. His heart echoed loudly in the empty bathroom. He put a high bet on this one and would lose it all if he failed his charisma check

That was, until there was a soft din of a sound. At first, Minato thought that he hadn’t heard it, but it quickly grew in volume until he knew what he was definitely hearing.

A laugh. Not a roaring one, but a gentle one, being subdued, but truly heartfelt. Minato couldn’t tell what Mari’s true intentions were with her sudden giggle fit.

Is… Is she laughing at me?

“Heh, heh. I guess you are right.”

She continued to laugh softly, irritating Minato further.

Of course, I am right, he thought in a huff, I am always right.

Second Flag: Cleared

“Alright,” there was a creaking noise coming from the floorboards outside the door. Minato guessed Mari had stood and began to move away from the door as her voice began to grow quieter, “I trust you, Minato. Enjoy your bath. Heh, heh...”

As the squeaking of the floorboards faded to silence, Minato finally let out a hesitant sigh of relief. Almost sinking too far into the tub waters, he definitely felt his internal rhythms slowly return to normal.

He had sat in the bath waters to the point that it had begun to chill. Figuring that it was time to get out, he began to rise out of the waters once more. Though, once he caught sight of a still tense muscle on his body, Minato slammed his whole body back in the bathtub.

Maybe I need to take a cold shower first…

***

Minato laid on his back with his hands behind his head, staring at the ceiling fan as it slowly spun around. His eyelids felt heavy, but no matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t keep them shut to fall asleep.

It had been several hours since he had gotten his clothes from the dryer and shown to his room by Mari, who was clearly still frazzled by the earlier events. She did her best to avoid eye contact with him, let alone look in his general direction.

“Here’s your room. Make yourself comfortable,” she had said whilst presenting the spare room to him, desperately moving in clearly uncomfortable ways to sidestep looking directly at him, face still red.

“And if you need me,” she began as she quickly escaped the room, running all the way, “Don’t be afraid to knock on my door!” Peaking her back in for a moment, she added, “Please, do knock first, I beg you,” then disappearing down the hall again.

Minato hadn’t seen where she had disappeared to as he got to the doorway, and just sighed with a lack of care.

The room was quite spacious. Enough room for him to spread out on the floor and not touch his bed or the dresser or the desk in the corner. At least the carpet in the center of the floor was soft on his feet.

With the lights out and only the slightest sliver of moonlight pouring through the window, Minato only barely made out the walls on the opposite sides of him.

Minato rolled over to his side and tried as hard as he could to keep his eyes shut long enough to fall asleep. But despite his best efforts, he failed to do so and rolled onto his back again.

He was glad that he had his clothes back, since he had always had a hard time sleeping without them. He needed at least some sort of shirt and pants on, even in the heat of summer, to be comfortable. And now he was thankful to be in them to relax in bed.

But it still wasn’t enough to allow him to fall asleep.

He grunted to himself in frustration that faded into a yawn.

Why can’t I sleep?

The question kept being tossed around inside his head, but he knew the answer, and it was a simple one. It wasn’t his bed.

For many years, he had become accustomed to sleeping in his quaintly old futon on the floor and doing it for hours on end. Though his irregular sleep schedule might have a lot to do with it as well, he could tell that his bed was the easiest way to lull him to sleep.

There was no way that such a large and firm bed was possible to recreate the sensation he got in his bed at home. Another desire, he realized, was making him miss his little apartment.

He had already kicked the comforter from the bed in an attempt to become cozier, but now he was a little chilled without it. He could have turned off the fan, but that would require him getting up, crossing the room, hitting the switch and then returning to where he started. That was too much effort already calculated into it.

And so, above, the fan hummed softly to him. And that in itself was another thing irritating him.

It’s too quiet.

He had lived so long in the city that it was hard for him to live without its ambient noises. Though his walls had worked hard to keep noises to a minimum, they would yield to the onslaught of the droning roar of passing cars, people with night lives passing and being exuberantly loud, and other such inconveniences of urban life. But now without them, Minato found it hard to unwind and rest.

It had been many years, but when he was young he had lived in a suburban environment very much like this one.

I hate it out here, his thoughts drifted aimlessly, I never wanted to come back…

Gritting his teeth, he cursed at his memories and himself for recalling them.

But no matter how valiant his efforts seemed to be, it was futile. He was in a nice house in a nice neighborhood. And it was all starting to drain him faster the more he thought about it. And yet, it still wasn’t enough to put him to sleep.

As if he could no longer think of anything else, his thoughts drifted back to Mari. Despite his best efforts, he was unable to figure her out. Each of her actions confounded him and constantly set him into a state of hysteria over them.

Mari. What is your game?

He permitted his attention to linger on her, but only faintly. Maybe if he didn’t overthink things, he could come up with a simple pattern.

Mentally, he made a checklist of her traits that seemed out of place.

She was kind, sincere, passionate, ditsy, strong, confident, but easily misled by her trust. All of these were common for every woman, but she wasn’t putting on a façade with them to mask her true motives, but rather it was honestly her.

There is no way anyone would allow themselves to be this open-faced in society anymore…

Was it possible for someone to be this naïve about the world and people that they would willingly open themselves up to anyone and everyone? There was no way that was the case.

Is she possibly being that unaware?

Unintentionally, Minato was focusing more seriously on Mari than he had wanted. She was slowly taking over his thoughts, by her actions and words, destroying every bit of logic he had.

Then a short memory flashed in his mind’s eye. One of a beautiful, young woman, scantily clad with her soft flesh exposed. Minato felt his face go hot, and his body responded violently.

Practically throwing himself out of the bed, Minato paced hurriedly from one side to the other in a frantic attempt to calm himself.

This wasn’t working, though. His mind darted about from one scenario to another. She had stripped for him, or at least his imagination had planted that thought in his head, and he hysterically fought against it. Losing the battle at every turn. Fantasy after fantasy twisted inside his mind.

Rolling around on the ground, trying frantically to shun the visualizations from his eyes, he wailed in substantial agony.

“Waaaaaa- “

“-Aaaaaah!”

Minato’s cry was cut off suddenly by another louder whine. It was so overpowering that he had frozen still on his stomach and clamped his mouth shut with his hands. His eyes dashed around the dark, empty room, trying anxiously to find the source of the shriek.

But it had since gone silent throughout the house, and Minato was left alone with his fears.

W-was that a… ghost? Is this place haunted?

“AAAAAaaaaAAAAHH!”

Minato’s quandaries were abruptly answered by another squealing, triggering him to dash backwards to the bed frame.

“It-it’s coming from the hallway.” With intense trepidation, Minato swallowed hard and staggered to his feet, moving hesitantly towards the door. Carefully letting out a loud creak, he opened the bedroom door to peer out.

The hallway laid still and silent for the longest time, but then there was a quiet sound of something rustling further down the hall. Despising his curious nature, Minato tiptoed down the hallway closer to the source of the sound.

At the end of the hall on the other side of the staircase, a door was opened half way. Inside the room came the near rhythmic sloshing of fabric rustling.

Cautiously, Minato pushed the door all the way and looked in, “H-hello?”, his voice shaking.

“UuuuWwwaaaaaahhh!”

A voice on the far side of the room responded in a breathy, squeaking tone. Surrounded in a mass of blankets, a body was tossing around occasionally on top of the bed. Biting his lip and swallowing back his apprehension, Minato crossed the room to understand what was going on.

Minato could only surmise that there was something in the bed, but the question of what went beyond his realm of expertise.

A possession? A Demon? … Or a ghost?

Before he realized what he was doing, Minato’s hand was reaching out to remove the covers from what lay beneath them. But as quickly as his hand had stretched out to them, the covers flung into the air, causing Minato to fall back in terror.

Seconds passed in frozen moments as the blanket flopped to the floor, leaving Minato shaking to catch his breath and still his heart.

From atop the bed came a raspy, cadenced breathing. Timidly, Minato approached the sound once more with his index fingers pressed together in the shape of a cross in front of him. In the darkness of the night, he supposed that there was a body on the bed, but nothing more.

Slowly, the clouds outside the window parted, letting the moonlight fill the room with pale light. Amongst the sheets was a contorted body splayed out with limbs at odd angles.

The body was dressed in a sheer pink nightgown with matching pajama bottoms, wrinkled and clothing her figure. Even with an arm lazily draped over her face and her hair an absolute mess on her pillow, Minato recognized her immediately.

“Mari… ko…?”

For a brief moment, Minato was surprised to see her, but then he remembered that he was in her house, and most likely now in her room. It was too dark to confirm it by looking around, but the sleeping Mari on the bed before him was enough to verify that he was.

“Mmm,” Mari’s lips parted, and sluggish words spilled forth, “yeah… I do love… pineapple…” Between her words were hums that were part moan, part snore.

“Lovely,” Minato sneered into the air, feeling at ease knowing it wasn’t something paranormal he was dealing with, “Absolutely lovely. Beautiful, really.” She had first shown herself to be a woman of good standing and well upbringing by dressing well, keeping herself and her house well organized and clean. But here she was laying haphazardly on her bed in a disheveled array with drool dripping down her chin.

Seeing her like this confused Minato at first, such a broad change from how she presented herself earlier, but now he found it almost comical. He was barely able to keep himself from laughing, not wanting to wake her.

It would be really hard to explain why I am in her room while she is sleeping.

He did chuckle to himself quietly, but not enough to disturb her. But another thought did cross his mind, causing him to feel a bit nauseous in response.

Why am I here?

It wasn’t a question of why he was in her room. It was a question of why he was there in the first place. Not of why he was placed in that house, he had already accepted that. But why was he still playing along in this twisted game he was forced to play.

He gritted his teeth and balled his fist in silent rage. But Mari tossing once more quickly diverted his thoughts. Her body nearly hurled itself into the air as it turned towards Minato.

The abruptness of her movement practically made his heart stop.

She laid still and silent as her chest rose and fell with each breath. At this angle, the light falling on her gave her skin a soft glow. With her shapely body and absolutely gorgeous face, in the moonlight, she was a vision of radiant beauty.

Minato believed he was having a heart attack. He grabbed his chest as his heart beat went out of control. His breathing following suit.

But every bit of those strong emotions swirling in his chest ceased instantly with Mari’s next movement. Her hair had fallen over her face, tickling her nose and covering her eyes. One of her hands moved over her face to brush the hair away from her face, but it was all in vain, as it fell right back into place.

Each one of his emotions and insecurities subsided instantly as he saw her helplessly swat the hair out of her face. There was a warm feeling, one he was incapable of naming, growing in his chest, overcoming all other moods in him. Minato didn’t like not knowing what it was, but it caused his hand to move once more.

Reaching out to her face, he carefully parted her hair from her face with the bare minimal amount of contact between them that he could.

As soon as her subconscious realized the annoyance was gone, her hand settled to her side again and her face softened to a sweet smile. The smile was so sweet, that Minato felt his face contort. Not sure of what kind of face it was, made his brows furrowed in bewilderment.

Inadvertently, Minato began to do something he was unaware of at first. His hand, which remained still above her, and seemingly of its own accord, lowered down to her cheek and caressed it gingerly. The body heat from her cheek on his fingers sent a strange sensation through his arm to his heart, which began to flutter. He felt the warmth of her body grow on his cheeks.

He had no idea how long he had been doing it, but he was powerless to pull his arm away fast enough.

Suddenly, Mari’s eyelids began to flutter. Groggily moaning as she strained to focus her eyes in the narrow beam of moonlight.

Blinking around, she tried to take in her surroundings as she rose up on her arms. She knew someone had been in her room. She felt his or her presence in the room still lingering, but no one was there. Touching her cheek, she could feel the sensation of someone else’s fingertips on her skin still.

This disorientated her for a moment, but she accepted it as just a hazy memory from a dream. Smiling constantly, she relished the feeling. She was unable to put her finger on it, but the touch on her cheek filled her with compassion and tenderness. She held her hand to her cheek in an attempt to hold whoever hand it was she had been dreaming about.

But then another feeling washed over her.

Jumping to her feet, she went to her door, which stayed about half cracked like she had left it, and rushed out to the hallway.

At the end of the hall was a door that was shut tight. Turning the knob silently so as to not wake the occupant inside. Peeking her head inside, she could not distinguish much in the darkness, but a soft breathing in her ears let her know that Minato was asleep.

Carefully, she crept her way to the side of his bed. Sprawled out on top of the sheets, Minato slept with an amusing scowl on his face. Mari stifled a giggle.

“He is so peaceful when he is sleeping,” she whispered to herself above him, as she ran her fingers through his hair. He, in turn, swatted his hand to shoo away her touch, but never came in contact with her.

Mari smiled lovingly, like a mother would to her child, back at him.

“Sleep well, Minato.”

Yoshino
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