The Heroes of Sakakino

Chapter 10 Personal Space

Isn't it a date? (~de geso)

The Ohara Sweets Shop and Cafe across the street from Sakakino was a lively retreat of relaxation for students to frequent on their Saturdays after school before beginning their weekend. Students on their work shifts busted tables, prepared drinks and managed transactions at the registers. Here and there, the occasional conversation would pick up between a waitress and friends from school.

The cafe itself was colorful in its own odd nature, peppy ads in bright greens and pinks were posted over backdrops of subtle, yet fitting brown shades. Upon entering through the main door, one would be greeted by a large line of students at the order counters, the various smells of ground and roasted coffee beans, and a rather energetic girl in a maid outfit to greet them. However, stepping to the right would bring one to a large seating area of patrons.

Roughly in the center of the room sat a straight, long booth that stretched nearly the whole length of the room, with light, predictably coffee brown cushioning for seating on both sides. On both sides as well, square tables were planted into the floor with exact spacing to seat two people so they could face the booth, four tables for each side. More students sat within this booth and joining seats, but near an empty table stood Kotonoha and Eiichi, while they pondered at it and discussed amongst themselves.

"So which do you think it should be? Girls on this side, guys on this side? Or should we go guy-girl, guy-girl?" Eiichi skipped his finger between the empty spaces.

"Well, it's their first time meeting here. I think we should have them facing each other, so girls-guys," Kotonoha gestured with a vertical hand.

"Okay, but I was thinking it might be better for them to be seated next to each other, so to initiate that contact."

"Mm-mm," she shook her head, "they need to be facing so they can talk and be able to see each other. If they're just sitting next to each other, it will be uncomfortable."

He pulled up one of the chairs, "There you go again, schooling me on how to be a good host."

She slid into the booth across from him, "It's just being practical."

"Here are your drinks," a young waitress with brown hair tied in loops approached the table and began setting them down while Kotonoha and Eiichi arranged them, "This one is your black coffee, this is the coffee with extra creamer and whip, and two springtime special lattes."

Her voice was cheery enough, but to make things a little dank, Eiichi could tell she recognized them, and the connections that made in her head were not in an uplifting pattern.

She tucked the tray under her arms, still with that patronizing smile, "Can I interest you in any of our delicious pastries or cakes?"

"Thank you, but that will be all," Kotonoha said.

The waitress bowed and left them to their conversation.

Eiichi hooked his arm over the back of his chair, and had been looking long after she left, "Do you recognize her?"

"She goes to our school. I don't believe I remember her all that well."

Eiichi continued to stare.

"What's wrong?" Koto leaned forward.

"It's sad," he returned to her, taking the cover all the way off of his cup, "it just seems no matter where I go, there's always someone that's been involved…"

"It's hard not to. I don't think that will go away until you graduate."

"One more reason for me to be happy I am…"

While he blew on his drink, she watched him with a concerned smile.

"So, is that what she ordered?" Kotonoha asked, looking at the other springtime latte.

"Yeah, she let me know through her text. I was a bit surprised, I kind of took her for more of the robust type, being a basketball player."

"Girls have their vices too. The season is over now, so it makes sense for her to want to splurge."

"Yes, I can see that," he eyed the similar drink and then flitted up to her.

"Hey, we don't do this enough, and the year is almost over, so it's fine if I have one too," her complacent defense.

"Oh it's fine," he grinned, "I just haven't had much of a chance to pick at you lately."

She smiled with a subtle shake of the head, "You're always analyzing, give yourself a break."

"Hard not to, but I guess I could try."

"And she wanted to come here?"

"She told me about it, so I thought it would be the best place for them to meet."

"That's very thoughtful of you, but I'm not so sure about not letting either know there's going to be company. I felt rather guilty sending that text message."

"Oh, it should be fine. They can't blame us for trying, right?"


Kotonoha looked around and found a small table placed in the room with extra drink covers, straws and condiments on it. She stood, paced over to it and grabbed an extra straw.

When she made it back to the booth, she placed the straw into her drink on Eiichi's side and pushed it closer to him.

"Give it a try."

Eiichi lifted his head and calmly looked about the room.

"You can't be getting self-conscious now," she said.

"That's not it, it's just when they get here, they're going to have a laugh riot at this cliche."

"Let them. I think you'll like it, it's mint and white chocolate."

He grumbled mildly before leaning forward and placing his lips on the straw. Smirking, she joined him.

After a while, he smirked back and lifted his head, "It's good, but I know what you're doing."

"Mhm~, don't you think it's a good priming measure?"

He smiled, "I do. You're quite the sly psych."

She smiled back, and as if by perfect timing—

"Well, look at the lovely couple!"

Kotonoha and Eiichi's heads turned to see none other than Chie standing and grinning from the end of the booth, along with a few other students looking in the same direction at her outburst.

Clad in her school uniform like everyone else, her hair was still tied back in a ponytail as if she had just left basketball practice.

She approached the booth, gym bag slung over one shoulder, "Sharing a drink in such a populated place, you two really are getting cozy," and as they had planned, Eiichi could taste the notable undertones of envy in her output.

Seeing that her drink had been placed next to Kotonoha, Chie respectfully took her assigned seat.

"Did you just get back from practice?" Eiichi asked.

"Just cleaning out my locker," she patted the bag, "All that's left is ending ceremonies now." She turned to Kotonoha, "Katsura-san, it's great to finally get to meet you, Eiichi has told me so much," the bubbly Chie smiled politely with a gentle nod.

"And you as well Ashikaga-san, the pleasure is all mine," Koto returned. "Eiichi told me all about you and the time he's been spending with you and your brother. He and I have actually been friends for most of this year."

Eiichi picked up that Chie, unwary of Kotonoha's updated knowledge, and other certain events, wanted to avoid that particular topic.

"Oh that's so kind of Yuuki to not mention me," her smirk remained with stoic sarcasm.

"I am sorry, but no, he never did mention that he had a sister. We only spoke periodically while he was working."

"Oh no, no need to apologize on his behalf Katsura-san," Chie waved a hand, "That's just how he is. He's always been forgetful. I guess I'm just there as a pleasant reminder to him," she took a sip from her drink. "It's nice to have some backup now. With this many people working together, we shouldn't have too much trouble. Since you're friends with Yuuki, and Eiichi seems to have his fingers in every pie now," with a casual disapproving look, "we should be able to come up with something very interesting."

"Hey, it's not my fault he had all his attention on me for a while there," Eiichi droned.

"It seems that Eiichi and Yuuki have come to an understanding now," Kotonoha chimed in, "There shouldn't be anymore conflict between the two of them."

"That's good at least, I was curious about what all the noise between you two was about," not certain whether to bring up some of the info Eiichi had relayed previously. "So before we get started, I want to ask, who else will be joining us?" Chie's eyes had cast over the fourth drink in front of her.

"Another person I talked to about what's going on," Eiichi figured he'd take the hit for this.

"You do understand the rules behind something like this, right?" Chie gave him a mildly skeptical look. "You don't exactly go around telling everyone and their second cousin that you're bringing two friends together."

Eiichi hunched down in his seat a little, sipping his coffee at an angle.

"He's very well versed in matters like this," Kotonoha inserted, "He's actually been doing it for a long time and I'm rather surprised he hasn't thought about starting a business."

Chie remained skeptical, resting her chin on curled fingers, "Oh, an older guy is he? Would he have anything to do with you two being so successful?"

"Oh, um, m-maybe. I can't really speak for him…" Kotonoha stammered before placing her hands in her lap.

Eiichi hunched lower, sipping his coffee, when their lifesaver approached the table.

"Hey everyone, sorry it took me so long, I had more shopping to do," Torio appeared and hung a light hooded sweater on the back of the chair in front of Chie, "Have to get that stuff done earlier in the day while the place is still restocked."

With it being a Saturday, his casual business attire no longer fit his tallish frame. Instead, jeans, a t-shirt and open front collared shirt with the sleeves rolled up to the elbows were his choice on this spring afternoon.

Eiichi stood immediately, "Hey Torio. Uh, Chie, this is my older brother Torio."

Like on a heart monitor, both Torio and Chie's outputs spiked from the unwitting introduction, as they both laid eyes on each other. Mutual sudden attraction raised, even for Torio, who had never seen any aforementioned images of Chie.

Though Torio now knew his entire reasoning for being called to this particular place at such an uncanny time, his output made no effort to hide it from him manipulating little brother, and merely smoothed itself out, taking in the engagement with poise.

"Ashikaga Chie, am I correct? It's nice to meet you," tipping his head.

Chie nearly stumbled to get out of the booth, "U-um, yes! Me as well. I mean you, to meet you I mean," and now she was beating herself up, which left Eiichi suffering under the blowback.

"Of course," Torio looked to Eiichi and Kotonoha, "Thank you two for ordering. Excuse me a moment," Torio stepped over to the supply table.

Chie took her seat and began staring blankly at Eiichi, who squirmed in his place, hand to the side of his head while pretending to have found something very interesting with his coffee.

After returning, Torio took his seat and began stirring the whipped cream into his drink.

He took a sip, "So I understand this has to do with two of your friends, right? Ashikaga-san, one is your younger brother?"

"Please, call me Chie…" realizing what she just said with more self-deprecation, making Eiichi curl up again. She tried to cover, "A-And his name is Yuuki. I don't want there to be any confusion."

"Sure, and the other is a kouhai of yours?"

"Kitsuregawa Roka," like she was answering game show questions.

"Eiichi has given me all the details up to now. It seems they're having some difficulty. This was your idea to put them together?"

"Uh, yes…actually the connection was unavoidable. They had already met, though not in the most ideal fashion…" once they got to talking, Eiichi noticed Chie's output gradually began to smooth out as well, though it felt odd to her, speaking so openly about such a subject. She had rested her chin in her hand as before.

Torio smiled, "Yeah, he told me about that as well."

Chie smiled back, "They can both be rather clumsy, which only gave me more incentive to give it a try."

"That's incentive enough, if you ask me. They've both seen the package without the wrapping, so why not give it a go?"

"That's what I said!" and then Chie stopped. "You know, it's interesting. When Eiichi messaged me, he only mentioned Katsura-san would be joining us."

Mimicking her, Torio moved an inquisitive hand to his chin, "Me as well. I thought it was interesting that Kotonoha suggested we meet here, especially while school was just getting out. She said it was because she and Eiichi were running into trouble with this, but she never mentioned we would have company…"


The two heads rotated in Eiichi's direction.

"W-wait, why are you two staring at me like that?"

Chie looked to Torio and smiled, her voice turning back to its bubbly tone, "Excuse me a moment."

"By all means."

She got up and stepped quickly over to Eiichi's end, tucking a hand under his arm. Eiichi looked up in his distress.

"Katsura-san, may I borrow him for a few minutes?" her bright, pseudo smirk still visible.

"Of course!" Kotonoha tipped her head and returned the smile.

Suddenly Eiichi felt a crushing pressure on his inner arm as Chie tugged him out of his seat.

"Hey-hey-hey!" Eiichi's feet clamored to regain their footing.

Looking back at his lost place of refuge, he could see Koto, still with her pleasant smile, a single hand bye-bye brushing through the air at him, 'I'll bring flowers to your funeral my love.'

"Ow! Ow! Dammit!"

Other students watched, amused, as the Basketball Star continued to pull the clamoring and griping Hero of Sakakino all the way around the booth and to a turn that led to the bathrooms and employee break room.

"Ah! Jeez!"

They disappeared behind the corner and Chie released him.

Eiichi massaged his bicep, "Has anyone told you, you have a crazy firm grip?"

"Basketball. Judo." Chie spouted, hands on her hips, no longer false, bubbly Chie. She pointed, "Who is that guy Eiichi-why are you and Katsura trying to get us to talk-why does he know so much about me-why is he looking at me funny-and why is he sitting across from me?"

Eiichi removed his hand, hoping she didn't pull something, "Well, to answer two of those, he's my brother, remember? And we didn't have to try so much with getting you to talk."

"I know what you're doing, and I have to say, talk about amateur hour."

"Well hey, we got you guys here, didn't we?" this was damage control, Eiichi knew there was no talking himself out of this one.

"I can understand you telling Katsura-san about what we're doing here, and I'm all good with having her on board, but what're you doing setting me up like this? I looked like a total ditz back there!" trying to keep her voice down.

"Well I can tell you he already doesn't think that."

"Why, what more did you tell him!?" she edged forward, more excited than angry.

"Nothin', nothin', just chill," he raised his hands. "Sheesh, why is it people who'd rather mess with other's love lives don't like being messed with themselves?"

"Match making with a partner doesn't mean you set up your partner. He probably thinks I'm too easy now because you didn't warn me ahead of time."

"He pretty much knows as much about you as you know about him. Listen, we invited him to join us because he does know a lot about this stuff and he could be a big help."

"He looks like he knows way more than I have to offer. We're setting up my brother and a friend of mine, not starting a dating service. Talk about overkill, this is probably just petty high school junk to him. What is he, thirty?"

Eiichi looked at her blankly, "He's twenty-three and you're overcompensating. It would also explain why you keep messing with your hair that way…"

Chie's hand darted from her bangs. She had already undone her ponytail, loosing her brownish red locks.

"And why you keep casting glances at him when you think he's not looking…"

"I didn't have time to touch up, since you called me over right after school, moron!"

"You heard him, he just got back from shopping. He doesn't normally look that way, usually it's all coat n' collar with him."

Chie's inner workings mused at this, conjuring an image of his brother that made Eiichi want to pour dish cleaner into his eyes. Could've done without that, suddenly shock therapy didn't sound so bad.

Eiichi continued, "I know I'm treading where I shouldn't—"

"I think we've already established that."

"—but, looks are not a major concern with him. We're just here to hash things out, that's all. I can guarantee, Koto and I aren't going to be slipping you guys notes or making any suggestions."

"Right…" and then Chie stopped a moment. "Eiichi, I thought I would mention, Yuuki has been pretty down lately. Would you know anything about that?"

Eiichi had been wondering when this would come up, "Yeah, I would…I got him to confess to Kotonoha."

Chie's eyes popped open, "That's…interesting. First, why? And second, how?"

"Well you guessed right, he does have an infatuation with her. That day he tried to fight me, I got him to talk it out. And it was then that I decided to help him with it."

"By having him confess to your girl?" she nodded out the words, dumbfounded.

"Yes. I figured it was the best way. It was…the healthiest way. He needed help, so I gave him the best opportunity I could. I know it's not going to happen overnight, but I hope that as he's coming down from it, we can get Roka in front of him, get them more acquainted, and then he should start to brighten up."

"Eiichi, that is…" Chie gaped as she shook her head and stared at the ceiling. Then she cast her gaze on the obscure, raucous looking young man standing in the passageway before her, "You are something else…there is…something wild about you. Most guys couldn't stand the thought of doing something like that…"

He gave a little fanged half-smile, "I can't guarantee it will work completely, but at least he's in the healing process now."

"I thought you were a chill guy before, but wow…I gotta' say, I'm impressed. Kotonoha is one lucky girl. I can only dream of finding a guy that's that trusting."

"A-Are you sure, cause he's sitting right out there…" Eiichi pointed behind himself.

"No. Don't. You're ruining it!" Chie wagged a finger.

"You might even learn a few things. Think of him as a senpai."

"Eiichi…" she growled. He seemed to really have a knack for pissing off the Ashikaga family.

"Trust me, with him around, things are going to go a lot smoother."

"I guess you can only be speaking from experience."

"Gee, how long have we been talking here?" checking his invisible wrist watch. "They're probably wondering where we went off to," Eiichi turned abruptly and began walking back with Chie's fiery eyes on him the entire way.

At the table, Chie consciously rounded Torio to get back to her place.

'Back from the dead?' Koto was looking at him. 'Would it be time to move to the second part of the plan?'

Eiichi watched to see if Chie was looking and then made a swiping motion across his throat before taking his seat. Kotonoha responded by sipping at her drink while crumpling a napkin and concealing it in the pocket of her skirt to throw away later.

"Alright grifters," Eiichi started up, "meeting is now in session."

"Oh no," Chie intercepted, "you're not calling it that."

"It's just a name. Come on, we're kinda' like Ocean's Eleven."

"Eiichi, grifter sounds a little strong, even as a joke," Koto added meagerly.

"We're not bamboozling them…not really…" Chie said.

Torio sat by silently.

"Okay, fine. Why are girls always concerned with the naming of things…"

"You'll learn one day little brother," Torio patted his shoulder.

Chie stood, "Since it was my idea, and since we're all here for the same reasons, more or less, we're going to call it whatever I say we should call it."

"And that would be…" Eiichi asked.

"…It's still pending, since we're being so short notice with everything now," a flashing glance at Eiichi, "However, I would suggest we get everyone's inputs and experiences up to this point. Katsura-san, Kuzoka-san—"

"Please, call me Torio," he smoothed, "Since you already know my brother."

"Yes Chie, and you can call me Kotonoha as well," Koto smiled.

"Oh-um, okay…" For a brief moment, Chie's voice became soft and high while she tried to hide her smile, fixated on Torio, not hearing a word from her neighbor.

'No, that's okay, I'm just sitting here…' Koto's output sulked.

Eiichi tapped a finger on the table at her, causing Koto to look at him. With a light smile, his eyes moved to Chie and then back to her, causing her to relax and reply with a curve of her lips.

He mouthed to her, "Mission accomplished…"

Chie recovered and then it was back to business, "Ahem, it will probably just be me and Eiichi talking for a while. I'm sorry if any of this seems new to the both of you, since he has a knack for keeping people in the dark. Anyways, after that, we can start with the brainstorming. So, what have we got?"

That Monday, as planned, Kotonoha, Eiichi and Yuuki all met on the rooftop for lunch. Kotonoha had been concerned about Yuuki's output being on the fritz and had a pre-luncheon talk with Eiichi. Though she had been intent on him remaining present for the gathering, she allowed him as many 'bathroom trips' as he needed if things were getting too intense.

Eiichi had wondered if insisting Yuuki have lunch with them, forcing him to be around her, had been the best idea for Yuuki's wellbeing. Kotonoha simply stated that Eiichi had spent enough time with him and that it was her turn to do the same. Her hopes had been that Yuuki becoming more familiar with her would help to ease things over time. He was their friend now, she said it was time for them to be the kind, hospitable friends she knew they were.

They sat along the bench, side by side, Yuuki sitting far enough away so he could face his attentive couple. Kotonoha sat between him and Eiichi, the two rotated enough to make equal exchange with him. Though conversation had been the key, most hopeful function of the meeting, there wasn't much.

Yuuki, in his melancholy daze of latent accomplishment and jarring defeat, with the added chilled wariness of the object of his affections sitting just inches from him, only spoke to greet them and to kindly accept the offering of food from the basket of bentos Kotonoha had lovingly prepared.

In the process of making their lunch the night before, Eiichi had stood by, offering suggestions to make the lunch extra special. He even went to the extent of texting Yuuki and asking him what he liked to eat, but Yuuki's courteous response had been for them to prepare whatever they wanted. When Yuuki got depressed, he really got depressed, not on a Kotonoha level, but pretty close.

Three little birds skipped about on the pad in front of Yuuki. They chirped amongst themselves while he gazed at them distantly.

Eiichi leaned forward a little to talk to Yuuki, his hand on the backrest behind Kotonoha, "So has Chie said anything to you recently?"

At first, Yuuki didn't look like he would respond, and then he muttered, "About what…"

"Anything to do with apologizing to Roka?"

Yuuki was silent.

"I know Roka seems to jump the gun sometimes, but like I told you before, she talked with me. She's very sorry about what happened, but she doesn't know how to make it up to you."

Yuuki shifted the sandwich in his hand, with only two bites in it, "I don't wanna' talk to her right now…"

Eiichi had already finished eating and taken out his ecig. Through his headache, he carefully considered what he was about to say, "She really wants to be friends with you, and is pretty broken up about it."

"If that's true, she has a funny way of showing it…"

Kotonoha set her sandwich down to chime in, "Yuuki, Eiichi introduced Roka to me a few days ago and I thought she was wonderful, but she did seem very sad."

Eiichi picked up that Yuuki didn't want to believe this, but because it was coming from Kotonoha, believing was his default reaction.

"Yuuki, what do you want to do?"

Yuuki sighed, not bothering to take another bite of his sandwich.

Kotonoha watched him, and then began picking a small handful of sesame seeds from the spread. She handed some to him. He looked at them a moment, not knowing what to do, and then Kotonoha tossed her collection out near the birds. They scurried and fluttered before returning to peck. Yuuki looked back at the seeds in his hand.

His mouth curved up in a half contented smile before he tossed the seeds. The three at their fill and then fluttered away.

Eiichi had been watching. He turned to Yuuki again, "Nah, you're gonna' apologize," and then pocketed his ecig, getting up from his spot.

Yuuki had a whole weekend to be depressed, it was time for him to start acting.

He moaned, "Can't we just stay up here…forever…"

Eiichi noticed Yuuki had been really taking in the safeness and solitude of the roof.

He picked up Yuuki's arm and grunted while tugging lightly, "C'mon…c'mon…upsy-daisy…"

"No, I don't wanna'…" Yuuki let his head hang back.

"You'll feel a lot better, Yuuki," Kotonoha said.

Yuuki allowed himself to be pulled up out of his place. He staggered and began shuffling toward the access door next to Eiichi.

"Don't worry, everything's gonna' be fine," Eiichi patted his back.

"Bring him back in one piece," Kotonoha called.

Eiichi began to wonder on the way down if they would even be able to find their quarry, the rare and elusive twin-tail tiger, in her natural habitat. He'd known Roka now for a week at least, and he still knew nothing about where to find her during lunch.

He took out his cell phone: 'Roka, I'm coming down to the first floor with someone. He's got something he wants to say to you.'

There was no response, and when they stepped out from the staircase, there was no Roka, not even near the cafeteria.

"Maybe she's talking with some friends and missed me. C'mon, let's look around."

Eiichi started, but had to back up and pull Yuuki along by the coat sleeve. Once they got going he was able to move on his own.

"Now, our feisty purple haired friend's got to be around here somewhere…"

They were headed toward a corner when she stepped out form the other side.

"Roka. Roka?"

Roka shut her eyes and continued past the two. Disappointment and anger painted her output. She did see Yuuki was with him, right?

Eiichi began to follow, but had to tow Yuuki again by the fabric of his shoulder.

Yuuki was suddenly feeling nervous and only wanting not to go through with things more. Today was an emotionally unstable party. All aboard the self-loathing express, but for Eiichi's case, it was, 'welcome to the pain train.'

He managed to catch up to her, "Alright, so what's eating you?"

"I'm not talking to you!" her face tensed and she picked up her pace, gripping her tote strap.

Eiichi sped up, hoping his dead weight wouldn't trip him up, "And why the hell not?"

She rounded a corner.

"You lied to me, you said you'd talk to Yuuki and instead, you got into a fight with him!" damn word spreads fast around here.

"No I didn't! Why does everyone think it was an actual fight!?" what was it with her and being on limited information?

"You told me to keep my cool, when you can't even keep your own!"

"Roka-Roka, stop! L—ook Roka~, I have him right here."

This did make her stop, turning an about face and planting one foot down, grimacing at Eiichi.

"I didn't fight him. He tried to fight me, but I didn't touch him," without breaking eye contact, Eiichi pulled on Yuuki's shoulder until he was standing right next to him. "I told you I'd bring him to you."

Technically Eiichi had said he would 'straighten him out', and though Yuuki had no obvious physical damage, he looked pretty worse for wear.

Her eyes darted to Yuuki's sad, spectacled face, still staring at the floor. So endeared by his suffering, she resisted her strong urges to nurture him with a tight, nuzzling hug, and looked back at Eiichi.

"Yeah right! Ashikaga-san wouldn't do that!"

"Appearances Roka, if you don't believe me, just ask him yourself."

She looked back at Yuuki again, "I thought you two were having problems."

Eiichi wrapped a chummy arm around Yuuki's slumped shoulders, "Nah! We're good now! See? Tell her Yuuki!"

"He makes me do things…"

Surely Yuuki had meant to say more. A bright red line traveled up from the bottom of Roka's neck, over her gaping mouth and eyes, and to the ridge of her hairline, leaving a rouge plateau of carnal fantasy, and more personal images that made Eiichi remove his arm, refraining from touching Yuuki, likely for the rest of his natural life.

"P-Pervert!" Roka did another about face.

"You could have finished that sentence," Eiichi hissed.

"Can I go back to the roof now…"

Why didn't he think to bring Koto with him? They just left her up there all by her lonesome again, and if she had been here, he wouldn't be dealing with this junk right now. Truthfully, it was only supposed to take a few minutes, and Yuuki needed another good shove to get things going. It was likely bringing her with could have made Roka feel overwhelmed. However, it could have also been a showing of Koto's support. This is when he desperately considered texting her for backup — 'Koto, I got a 288 and a 135 in progress by the lunch hall, I need another black n' white down here.'

Eiichi left Yuuki parked and rushed after her, "No-wait-wait! Roka! Wait!"

"Stay away from me!"

"Please, hear him out!"

If Eiichi tried to stop her now, it would only make things worse. She'd probably scream at him and cause a scene.

Roka was picking up her pace again, almost at a run.


Both Roka and Eiichi turned. Yuuki had come out of his melancholy, just for a moment, just so he could call out to her. He returned to his slumped stance, but began pacing toward them. He stepped around Eiichi and approached Roka, his eyes still to the floor and only occasionally glancing up at her when he spoke.

"Eiichi didn't do anything wrong. There was no fight. It was an attempt on my part to defame him…"

Roka no longer tried to avoid them, and gawked at Yuuki, "Ashikaga-san, why would you try to do that?"

"Eiichi only tried to do what was right. I did it because…because I…"

"You two really shouldn't talk here," Eiichi checked his phone. "We were eating lunch on the roof earlier, I think that would be the best place for this."

Roka turned, "You guys eat lunch on the roof!?"

"Yeah, there's a butler n' everything. We may have a little less than fifteen minutes left, so if you guys hurry, you can make with the chit-chat."

Roka stayed herself, uncertain, "I don't know, I was going to—"

"Roka," Eiichi stopped her, "If this is important to you, whatever you were doing can wait."

"I-I guess…"

Roka and Yuuki walked ahead of Eiichi, with him tailing behind them. Getting them to the roof should help them to clear things, especially with Koto around.

Eiichi breathed a sigh of relief. That was a close one, 'Nice save Yuuki. You really stepped up.'

"Eiichi!" a voice called to him.

He turned to see Otome rushing up. Roka and Yuuki, none the wiser, had continued on without him.

She approached him and stood cordially, with her hands clasped together, playing with her fingers, "I've kind of been looking for you. I…I wanted to talk to you about some things," when she began speaking, her eyes stared straight back at his, only looking away to blink bashfully, "I don't know if you have time now, but I can wait until after school if you'll come. I've been doing a lot of thinking, and I think we kind of got off on the wrong foot. I haven't forgotten about what happened last year, and I really want to apologi—"

Eiichi didn't bother staying for the rest, he turned and kept walking.

She tried to follow, "Eiichi! Wait! Why're you—"

"Stay away from me," he turned and pointed, his narrowed eyes glaring back from behind the gesture.

Otome took a step back, looking frightened, "But—"

"No!" he lowered his arm and continued on his way.

While leaving her behind, he took his phone out: 'I'm returning with Yuuki. Roka will be joining us, but we have a problem. Otome is up to something. I'll explain when I get there.'

On his way back up, Eiichi made hurried steps and looked a few times to make sure Otome had not followed him. Upon making it, he pushed the access door open to find the three talking amongst themselves, Yuuki standing off to the side, being the least vocal. When they saw him come out, he motioned for Yuuki to step over and left Kotonoha to console Roka.

Yuuki shuffled over to him.

"So what's with the hesitation? We got her up here. Have you said anything yet?"

"I don't know, it feels strange doing it in front of Kotonoha…" Yuuki ran a hand through his hair.

"Well I don't mean to rush you, but unless you and her are okay with skipping class, you better say something now."

"What do I tell her?"

"Well, she pretty much knows, so you might as well tell her everything. Except that one thing, maybe leave that out. But ask yourself why you feel conflicted by telling her?"

"Why I'm conflicted?"

"You were afraid to apologize for a reason."

"Yeah, because she hates me."

"That's not what Koto said, remember? The things is—Ah, you'll understand in time. Go on, get over there," it was about time for Yuuki to start figuring things out on his own.

Eiichi walked Yuuki over to the girls. When they saw, Kotonoha touched Roka's shoulder and whispered something to her before walking toward the guys.

Eiichi backed away and began surveying the two, when as Kotonoha had been approaching him, she laid a hand on his shoulder, "Come on, leave this to them."

"Oh, right," realizing how unwelcome his presence would be, he turned and joined her back to the roof access door.

They decided to stay at the top of the flight and have their own private discussion.

"So what's this about Otome?" Kotonoha asked.

Eiichi shut the door and stepped over to the space by the rail with her.

"I don't know what exactly is going on, but I ran into her in the hall and she was saying she wanted to apologize for the situation last year. Only I picked up that wasn't her true intention."

Kotonoha cradled a hand of curled fingers to her chin, "That's strange, why would she lie about that?"

"Beats the hell outta' me, but she was getting pretty vengeful, and…"

"What is it?"

"Well, you know how I told you before that she was attracted to me?"

Kotonoha nodded casually.

"Well, I was still getting that from her, but…it's hard to explain. Before, there were genuine emotions involved; affection, sadness, excitement, that whole list."

"Gee, could your head get any bigger?" Kotonoha said blandly.

Eiichi took a momentary sigh before continuing, "But this time…it was all gone. It's like I was just some thing to her. She wasn't even looking at me like a person. Everything I got from her was strictly superficial…"

Kotonoha kept silent, patiently observing her lover through keen, empathetic eyes in his dilemma.

Eiichi shook his head, "I don't know what to do from here…"

"Eiichi, I think you're just going to have to avoid her. We only have a few weeks left, so you can get through that. I'll keep an eye out and let you know if I notice anything. She's been getting rather irritable lately, so that might explain some things."

"I just…" he smoothed a hand down the side of his face, curving the fingers over his mouth, and positioned it to his chin to speak, "I wanted to help her, Koto…She was just coming around, and I thought if I could talk with her…The more I saw her, the more it just started to bother me…And now I think I'm too late…"

Kotonoha reached out and stroked his arm.

The roof access door burst open, thankfully with not enough force to hit Kotonoha, and Roka came running through, attacking the stairs at a quick pace.

"Roka!" Kotonoha called out to her.

Halfway down the flight, she stopped to look up at them. Eiichi had only a few seconds to pick up vapors of panic in her output when she passed by, but her face was stern. She continued down the stairs as quick as her legs could carry her without tripping.

Eiichi touched Kotonoha's shoulder, "Yuuki…"

They rushed out the door to find him sitting on both knees on the roof pad.

Once they got to him, Kotonoha leaned over his shoulder and placed a hand on it, while Eiichi knelt in front of him.

"What happened!?"

"Yuuki, are you alright?"

Yuuki didn't look at them, and merely gazed catatonic at the pad.

Eiichi stretched his hands forward and shook Yuuki by the arms, "Yuuki! Speak to me! What did she say!?" Yuuki's head just bobbed up and down in front of him, knocking his glasses off center.

"Yuuki, what's wrong?" Kotonoha pleaded.

It took Eiichi a minute to realize this, but he was not in any pain from Yuuki's output, even though Yuuki looked like he was in mental agony.

Yuuki blinked at the pad, "She…" he raised his head, looking at Eiichi distantly through his crooked specs, "She…She kissed me…"

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