Chapter 11:

the halfway point

A Study on the Stand-In Love Interest


Orion didn’t think that the first time he’d have a girl crash over at his place, he’d wake up groggily with her head resting against his chest, proceed to push her off in shock and horror, and then get violently beaten up for the poor treatment of a lady in the early morning.

Well, maybe things went a little less dramatically than that.

After pulling herself to her feet, Halie did try to throw a punch at him while still half-asleep. After smacking her fist into the bedframe, she probably realized she didn’t actually want to hurt Orion Magnaolia’s precious face. So she settled for grabbing his arm and twisting it behind his back. Ow, ow, ow, he’d rather just take the punch and be done with it.

“You’re lucky you have Orion’s face,” she said threateningly. “You’d dare push me off the bed? I slept with you!”

“What the hell, don’t say such misleading things!”

It was too early in the morning for her antics. And it was way too early to consolidate the fact that none of the events from yesterday had been a dream. He woke up as Orion Magnaolia, horrible bedhair and handsome face and all. That meant he was still stuck in this bizarre otome game world. That meant he really did get hit by a truck and was sent here permanently, like this was the afterlife or something.

Orion was still reprocessing all that, his bleary gaze finding the takeout containers sitting on the table in the other room—until he was blinded for a moment when Halie threw a pillow in his face.

“Hey, hey, this is where you beg me to take you back!”

“Affection levels have increased to 35%.”

What kind of a ridiculous fantasy—

“It’s too early in the morning for this,” Orion groaned, burying his face into the pillow to muffle the sound of Halie squealing and lamenting she didn’t have her phone to capture this moment.

-

Arkose didn’t have food shortages, but it had a severe water shortage, which meant the bathing situation was grim. Orion Magnaolia had saved up several containers of water but Halie went through more than three-fourths of them since she’d called dibs on showering first. She’d said something dramatic about his last memento before his departure from this world, so Orion had thought she’d use that memento more sparingly…

He felt like he’d accumulated a decade of grime when he peeled off the layers of his raincoat, belts, gloves, waterproof shirt, and a waterproof undershirt—ah, that explained why he felt so gross and sweaty under all that. How he managed to fall asleep in that state, he had no idea. Exhaustion did wonders for one’s standards, huh.

That was probably why they’d willingly shared a bed without thinking twice.

Even Halie had been so normal about sleeping next to each other (until this morning, at least), that Orion didn’t even consider the implications. He wasn’t thinking about it at all, actually, until he was scrubbing the dried sweat and clay dust and unspeakable horrors from his skin with a damp washcloth.

Putting aside the direct connotations of sleeping together—he stank. He was real lucky he had Magnaolia's pretty boy face, otherwise he'd definitely have been forced to sleep on the floor in the kitchen. Hell, if he was in Halie’s position, he’d have made himself sleep outside, at least fifty feet away.

When he was finished with his sorry excuse of a shower, he found Halie drying her hair in the kitchen, wearing an oversized coat she’d found in the closet. She didn’t do up any of the belts so they were hanging loose off her torso, and Magnaolia's jacket was several sizes too big for her. Her brown hair was slightly frizzy and curling up at the ends as she ran her fingers through it. She was craning her neck at her reflection in the mirror, making faces.

"How shitty do I look?" she asked as Orion approached. "Actually, don't answer that."

She looked fine, actually. Nice, even. But he couldn't say that.

"Like always," he said instead, and she turned her head to stick her tongue out at him before going back to drying her hair.

“Affection levels have increased to 37%.”

Orion dragged the single chair across the kitchen floor and sat down. All this time, he must've been running on pure adrenaline. Something in his knees ached—did Magnaolia have arthritis or something? He was pretty sure Halie would have his head if he asked her that.

“So when are we heading out?” he asked instead, carefully massaging his knee with his knuckles. The fresh pair of waterproof pants were baggier than the ones he’d woken up in, and they fit much more comfortably on him. Halie had looked scandalized when he’d grabbed a change of clothes from the closet, saying something about him disrespecting Magnaolia’s character design. But hey, whatever was in his closet was his own shit, right? Blame the otome game makers for drawing him in the same outfit all the time when he clearly had an extensive wardrobe.

“We’re not leaving until I’m presentable,” Halie said distractedly, running a hand through her bangs and tilting her head to get a better angle in the makeshift mirror. She had her tongue sticking out like she was concentrating or something, as she twisted a lock of hair around her finger.

It was kind of cute, which pissed him off.

“Affection levels have increased to 55%.”

He was so startled he nearly fell off his chair. Since when did affection levels increase that much all at once? That had to be a mistake.

“Affection levels are currently at 55%. There is no mistake.”

The Entity had remained vastly silent since their encounter with Aries at the town hall, save for these updates, that Orion had nearly forgotten that it had some flavour of sentience. At the very least, it had an attitude. That was both terrible and comforting at the same time.

Orion watched Halie more carefully—blatant staring, really, since she was so focused on her reflection in the window that she didn’t notice. It didn’t feel like much had changed compared to when her affection levels were in the single digits. She was still radiant, even with her hair mussed, sporting a jacket so big on her that it looked a little silly.

“So how long are you going to take?” Orion asked, forcibly tearing his gaze away. “You look fine.”

“Ha,” she scoffed. “Easy for you to say when you’ve got his face. I was hotter before I died, I’ll have you know.”

“And how is that relevant to anything?”

“Well, were you hot, huh?” she asked challengingly. “Didn’t think so.”

She was being competitive for no reason, so he just shrugged and let her win.

“Ha, I knew it,” she crowed. “You must’ve been ugly. Everyone’s ugly compared to my best boy though, so don’t you worry. I forgive you.”

“Why the hell do you always insist on choosing violence—”

“So you’re not curious about me at all? About who I was, about all the pre-isekai shit that you just sort of forget about when you’ve lived in the new world long enough?”

He was a little curious, maybe, in the back of his mind and stuffed between the three hundred other things he had to worry about first. That was the problem. There was so much to worry about already.

“We’ve literally been here for like, a day,” Orion said flatly. “That’s how long we’ve known each other for.”

“So? Some folks get hitched in that amount of time.”

He took back what he said about how things hadn’t really changed between them. It seemed that Halie had gotten too comfortable around him now. There was nothing to indicate that she liked him romantically, and at 55% no less—unless he was just barely scratching the surface at the halfway point toward falling in love.

Steward McOy
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minatika
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Dhamas Tri (dmz)
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kazesenken
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