He was staring again, wasn't he?
She bet he was staring at her legs. Her horrible, unfortunate legs. Her face scrunched up in embarrassment, and her hands tightened around the mop.
Oh, the shame! These legs of hers were the downfall for nearly every romantic encounter, every possible romantic attraction! It would take a miracle for her to grow out of them. They seem like they were permanently attached.
No matter how much she worked, they seemed to just be a part of her. No matter what she did, guys never wanted to focus on her skills or her cute face, but instead are always distracted by her painfully apparent ankles! She’d bet her ankles that these legs of hers would be the deal breaker for this possible romance, too!
Not that she thought Hanako-kun was shallow like that, but he does tend to make cruel jokes...
Instead of a charming, caring gentleman, she was bonded to a crude, cryptic apparatus. Instead of falling for a tall, sexy prince, her heart thumped hard and loud for a perverted, secretive spirit. She couldn’t understand why, though.
Him, of all people. She liked him!
He could be real childish sometimes, which definitely isn't cute at all. And his hair is so choppy and messy, which also isn't cute at all. And sometimes he's too possessive or protective or flirty, which makes her confused and sometimes angry and sometimes overly expectant, and is absolutely not cute at all!
And yet, in the rare cases where Hanako displays some weird, off-the-charts cuteness, she just couldn’t help but capture every detail.
And to her surprise, it seemed like those cases were becoming less and less rare. He was actually really…
She mopped with little attention, mind drifting off to try and imagine a hot prince sweeping her away from here and breaking her spiritual bond with Hanako. She tried to feel ecstatic about being loved by her type.
However, the thought made her stomach twist in an awful way. Where these thoughts once brought joy to her, now only seem to bring disdain. She couldn't imagine trying to be severed from Hanako, not when they've already been through so much together. She couldn’t see herself being strongly attached to someone else that wasn’t him.
I want you to keep on living…
Her face flushed. He really, really cared about her, didn't he? Even when he tried to convince himself and others otherwise, he just couldn't help it.
It's been a week or so after the whole "being trapped in a canvas from No. 4" incident. It seemed like Hanako became even more clingy, and she often caught him staring at her as if he didn't care that she could see him. He was still his usual self, overall, but something about him… was odd, or… more intense? Each touch seemed to heat up her face and tingle her skin, and his voice was much more pleasing to her ears. His eyes always looked at her, as if he wanted something…
Does he… she gulped, hands shaking slightly, want me?
Her mind went straight to the gutter at that point, making her whole body instantly heat up. She shook her head furiously and mopped like a madwoman. There was no way Hanako liked her like she liked him! He probably saw her as a dear friend, a surrogate sibling, a close cousin!
Her stomach twisted again, disliking the notion that Hanako might not return her affection. She relented on her insistent refusal.
...What if Hanako-kun does like me?
A fluttery feeling passed through her, carrying sweet relief and sparkling hope.
She sighed, bumping her forehead on the mop stick. She felt so defenseless against her own emotions.
This whole internal conflict began because of his staring and her insecurity.
Ahh. She had a solution. Maybe she should just chop some parts of her legs off and make radish soup…
A defeated aura washed over her. She mopped slowly and sadly.
One way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, right?
A pressure grasped at her legs. A coldness tickled the skin of her calves. She looked down, and had to lean over a bit more until she saw Hanako peeking from behind her legs. He smiled at her, the curve full of mirth. Her hair that was cascading down filtered only some of the sunlight, showing his glowing eyes of amusement.
"...What do you think you're doing, Hanako-kun?"
"Hmm, well, I've been watching my assistant fluster and freak out for the last ten minutes," his grin widened at the sight of her mortification, "and I thought I would see what's been eating her up."
Her face scrunched up. "Nothing is eating me up! I'm fine."
"Nothing~ hmm?" squish squish. She squeaked, unable to move, "Hanako-kun, stop squishing my legs!"
"I'm just appreciating your crops."
He rubbed his cheek against her leg, and she grimaced. "Oh, you mean my unlikable radish legs…"
He was probably just making fun of her… again.
He giggled, then tilted his head and aligned his mouth. With his pearly whites revealing themselves, they quickly surrounded her right leg. She squealed again at the sensation that came soon after.
"H-H-Hanako-kun!!" her face bloomed, eyes swirling, "W-What—?!"
He caressed her leg gently, right next to where he just bit her.
"Sorry~ I couldn't help myself." He pinched her leg, making her squeal again. "It just looked so delicious~"
She blushed hard, and whacked his head, where he emitted a small ‘ow.’
"S-Stop that! This sort of teasing isn’t funny!"
He rose up in his typical ghost pose and looked at her, thoughtfulness in his expression. She stared back at him with her hands pressing down on her skirt.
“Don’t make fun of me like that, Hanako-kun,” she gathered her skirt up into her trembling fists, “I know my legs are ugly.”
Oh, no. She felt her eyes welling up. The tears threatened to spill.
Crying in front of the person you like? Over a joke? She willed herself to maintain her already unstable composure, Don’t do it, Yashiro Nene!
Her head was suddenly swimming, her vision disoriented, the wind knocked out of her chest. Her eyes soon focused onto the apparition right in front of her. The wall on her back was nonexistent to her at that moment, and the clatter of the mop hitting the floor didn't register in her mind. She only felt like she was on fire from head to toe. Hanako’s boyishly handsome face was way too close to her. His left arm was trapping her against the wall, and his right hand was firmly palming her neck. His thumb brushing under her ear was about to make her melt on the spot.
Her pounding heart nearly drowned out her meek voice. "H-Hanako-kun?"
He grazed his lips against her ear, sending chills down her spine.
"I’m sorry, Yashiro.” He whispered in her ear, heavily apologetic. She let out a little ‘eep.’ “I wasn’t trying to make fun of you.”
His tender caresses were nothing but faint pressure on her skin, yet they still made her head foggy.
"I just… don’t know how to act around you."
"What do you mean, Hanako-kun…?" she shuddered, trying to ignore the excitement jumping in her chest. He shifted his shoulders slightly, his voice tinted with chagrin, “I’ve never… done this before. And being alone with you… I just...”
A silence passed between the two of them. It seemed like it lasted ages, with her heart beating against his still one. She wondered if he was going to release her anytime soon and play off this whole thing as a joke. Then she could do her usually routine like getting mad, tearing up, blushing a lot, and hitting him for harassing and bewildering her. A small part of her wondered if he was going to dive in further, fueling her growing anticipation.
She couldn't see his face, but his overwhelming presence smothered her. He caressed a lock of her hair, before pulling away slowly. His hands rested on her cheeks, and she hoped he didn't somehow burn himself from the heat that radiated off of them. She found herself staring into those large, amber eyes, encapsulating every part of her being.
W-What is happening? Why is he staring so hard?
His eyes darted a bit lower, and her breath caught in her throat.
Kiss… her lips opened slightly, he's going… to kiss… me…?
He seemed to be staring intently at her lips now, and the hands on her face tensed up noticeably. There was conflict dancing behind clear desire in his round eyes, and she inwardly shivered at the sight of him being so… needy.
She slowly closed her eyes. Her mind was racing to the point where she just couldn't think of anything anymore. His small, hesitant voice broke through.
She opened her eyes again. "Huh?"
"Can…" a heavy blush adorned his cheeks, lessening his prior intensity and increasing his boyish cuteness, "Can I really…?"
His eyes gazed at the floor, occasionally glancing up at her for her awaited approval. Her mind was too fuzzed to even understand what was happening at the moment. But in her heart, she couldn't deny the pounding affection she held for the spirit in front of her. He is her boss, yes, but also her savior in many situations. He is her precious friend, who has shown to only her his softest, most vulnerable thoughts and feelings. Didn't that make her special to him? Her heart fluttered at the idea, and before she could reel in her bursting fondness and abrupt courage, she nodded in agreement.
His eyes lit up, like stars in the night sky, and somehow an even brighter blush found way to his face. His surprised countenance melted swiftly into a doting smile. With his hands comfortably cupping her heated face, he pressed his forehead against hers. They closed their eyes and relished the feeling of being close to one another, finally coming to an understanding.
At that moment, she realized that there was nothing to deny how they genuinely felt toward each other, and that there was everything before this that had built up to this moment. She knew him well enough that he wouldn't want to kiss her for no reason. He would tease her and sexually harass her often, but the raw emotion present in his actions right now were entirely different. The revelation hit her like a punch to the gut.
Hanako-kun likes me.
His hands grabbed hers in a careful manner, lifting them up to his chest. He pulled back slightly to stare into her ruby eyes, before his own eyes slid shut once more. Slowly, ever so slowly, he began to lean in. His head tilted slightly, and his mouth opened just a bit. Her jumpy heart was clawing its way up her throat, and she felt her lightheadedness drive away all rational thought.
This is it, this is it!!
We’re in the bathroom, though!! A part of her reminded. This is gonna make for an awkward memory!
A couple of louder voices hissed, Shut up!! We’re about to have our first kiss!!
Squeezing her eyes shut, she mustered all of her might and pressed forward—
“Ouch!” Hanako yelped, holding his forehead with his hands. His behind was abruptly met with the floor.
Her mind went quiet, until all the voices conjoined into one.
Her hands covered her mouth in horror. The throbbing pain in her skull was nothing compared to the absolute humiliation of ruining her first kiss.
“H-Hanako-kun…” she stammered with quivering lips. A million words wanted to spill out from her mouth, half of them being some sort of apology, and the other half wanting to ask him if he was okay.
The sentence tumbled out from her tongue, “Are you really sorry?!”
The puzzled look on Hanako’s face made her want lightning to strike her down then and there.
No, wait! She wanted to scream, That’s not what I meant!!
She tried again, “I’m so hurt?!”
His petrified expression had her punching and kicking and stabbing herself inwardly.
“Are you hurt?” is what I wanted to ask.
“I’m so sorry!” is what I wanted to say.
Kill me, now, please.
She zipped her mouth and forced her eyes shut, before rushing past him. He reached his hand out to her, but only managed to graze his fingertips on her wrist. She slammed the door open and ran out—
Her throbbing head hit something warm and hard. The person she ran into stumbled back, but held their ground.
“Ah! Senpai, are you okay?”
Kou checked over his upperclassman friend for any damage, but he only saw the redness of her face.
“I-I’m fine!” she waved her hands frantically, “No worries! Gotta go. Sorry, Kou-kun!”
Kou watched Nene run hurriedly down the hall, disappearing around the corner. He turned back to the inside of the bathroom, where Hanako was still inhabiting a cold seat on the floor, staring at the doorway. He marched over to the ghost and said accusingly, “What did you do to Senpai now?!”
Kou waved his hand in front of Hanako’s face, who seemed to be in a deep trance. He placed his hands on his hips and furrowed his eyebrows.
What has gotten into them?
“...Kid.” Hanako finally voiced, “I think my heart stopped.”
Kou was past befuddled at this point. “Hah? But you’re dead, of course it stopped.”
He didn’t understand him, and that was fine with Hanako. Because nothing could topple this feeling, the feeling of having your love requited. He never thought he would see the day this would occur. He never believed that she would ever take notice of him and his unspoken emotions, given her bad taste in men and her desperation for her type of guy. But he wanted her to, he wanted her to notice him.
I don’t… hate him.
I like him.
The person I like isn’t here.
Since the fake world incident, he now saw a very real, possible chance with Yashiro. She said it herself, to him, that she liked Hanako-kun.
He was Hanako-kun!!
Of course, he thought, maybe it was platonic. But with how relentless she was with making him escape with her, with trying to return to the real world because he wasn’t in the fake utopia one, made it hard to believe.
She may very well like him just as much as he liked her, which was hard to compare, because he liked her a lot.
He shot up from the floor, fixing his hat and his uniform. He had to chase after her. Ack! He should’ve chased after her the moment she fled. But there was so much to process, he was frozen by sheer disbelief. What a fool he was, for he could have been sharing a long-awaited kiss with his beloved by now.
He patted Kou’s head, who had been silently wondering to himself during Hanako’s reflection. Kou swatted his hand away and scowled, “Where are you going? What is happening? Can you please tell me?!”
“After Yashiro, of course,” Hanako paused, “but don’t disturb us. We’re going to be busy~”
“H-Huh?!” Kou recoiled, blushing at the innuendo, “Busy with what?! Hey!!”
The giggling ghost floated away fast, leaving the young man alone. Kou grumbled to himself, “That dirty rotten perv…”
Kou knew how much Hanako cared about Yashiro, so he definitely didn’t think he would hurt her in any way. Hanako would probably hurt himself ten times over for who knows how long before he would harm Yashiro. But that didn’t mean Hanako couldn’t get carried away with his greedy, ghost hands and persuade Yashiro’s kind, hopelessly romantic heart into doing naughty things!
“Oh, no!” Kou’s grip on his raiteijou stiffened, “I can’t let him do that to cute, innocent Senpai!”
Turning on his heel, he began his chase after them.
A girl sat by her lonesome atop the school’s highest roof. She tucked her folded legs into her chest, burying her face into her knees. Someone could look up at the sky and see steam rising above the school, wondering if there was some sort of leak. Instead, it was just her, face hot and head steaming and body sweaty.
"I'm so gross!" she whined, "Everything happened so quickly, I had no time to prepare…"
Nene used to imagine going on her first date with a tall, handsome boy, where they'd both be dressed in nice clothes and wearing good-smelling perfumes. Then they would enjoy a romantic evening by watching a movie, eating at a nice restaurant, taking a walk in the park, then sharing a gentle first kiss under the moonlight! Yet she was just about to have her first kiss in the girls' bathroom.
Her face continued burning. Even if she liked Hanako, it did little to erase her romantic fantasies. She would've wanted them to at least been on a date. But with so much happening in their lives, it was hard to come to terms with her feelings, let alone think up a good date with Hanako if they could only go around the school.
Nene sighed as she stared outward. The sun was going to set soon. She'd been in the school for too long.
She was surprised that Kou was still here, too, since part of her believed that he was tired and had gone home. He hadn't met up with them at the usual time, so she presumed he had been busy with some class or club or older brother of his. He must've thought something weird was going on between her and Hanako, though…
Just a human girl and a ghost boy silently revealing their feelings to each other in the girls' bathroom after school, no big deal.
And yet, the thought made her heart pump with joy, and a small smile broke through.
As embarrassed as she is with "Round One" being a miserable failure, she was quite confident there'd be a "Round Two."
And maybe a "Round Three," "Round Four," "Round Five"...
A pair of hands grabbed her shoulders from behind, making her jolt from shock.
"I~ found~ you~"
He whispered in her ear. She endured the rush of warmth that flooded her head and turned around. Hanako grinned at her, before perching on the spot beside her.
"Yashiro," he eyed her with amusement, but asked sincerely, "is your head okay?"
She nodded quickly. He breathed a sigh of relief, "That's good, because I really thought that you were going to knock yourself out."
She couldn't quite put her finger on it, but he seemed a lot more assured than before. Inwardly, she clenched her fists and nodded her head in determination. She was reassured, too. She liked Hanako, and he liked her, so there was no reason to be timid about it!
He looked forward to the setting sun, almost pouty. Almost, he would promise. "You should've let me initiate it. We could've kissed by now."
A few chuckles escapes her mouth, before she was full-out laughing. She held her stomach as tears sprung in her eyes.
He couldn't help but stare.
And then he frowned.
"Why are you laughing?"
"B-Because," she wiped her eyes, "you're just… really cute, Hanako-kun!"
She looked over at him, in which his big blush from before had come back for vengeance. He pulled his hat downward and glared at her.
"I-I'm not cute."
He pinched her cheek, making her whine. "You're cute!"
Her blush renewed, and her heart jumped, but she didn't let her embarrassment take over so easily.
"But Hanako-kun, my ugly radish legs aren't cute…"
Okay, so maybe she couldn't stop her insecurity from taking over. It was her first time outwardly flirting with her crush, give her a break.
He nearly rolled his eyes, but instead, went ahead and grabbed one of her legs. She squealed, "H-Hey!"
"This," he pointed at her leg with his free hand, before giving her a thumbs up, "is good."
"Good?" she puffed her cheeks, "But you always make fun of my legs!"
"I was just teasing you…"
"Your teasing isn't very funny."
"I can't help it sometimes!" he defended, "I told you I don't know how to…!"
He waved his hands around, forming odd gestures.
She leaned in expectantly, "To…?"
"To…" he bit his cheek, "to not insult you."
She clenched her fist threateningly. He held his hands up in surrender.
"Are you saying that I'm easy to insult?"
"No," he looked up, "well, maybe. But that's not what I meant! I meant that it's hard for me to be straightforward with people, especially you!"
She looked at him suspiciously, "Are you sure about that? You're pretty vulgar."
"Yashiro~" he murmured, "I'm not that bad."
She gave him another deadpan look. He clutched his heart. "Ouch."
"But why?" she scooted closer to him, "Why are you always so roundabout with me?"
"Why else?" he brought himself closer, too.
His hand landed on top of hers, and since he wasn't pulling away, she could say that it was intentional. The rhythm of her heart escalated again, and she looked up to gaze into his own observant eyes.
The sun had set long ago, rendering the sky dark, yet not empty. The stars shone above them, twinkling in interest at the couple below.
Ignoring their circumstances, their problems, their enemies, their fates, they decided to focus on each other. Just for a moment, they chose to cherish this chance before it slipped away.
Is he going to confess? For real, this time??
"I…" his hand held hers tighter, "I like your radish legs!"
Her eyebrows strung together, "Eh?"
"But that's not all…" he moved his other hand to cup her face, brushing her bottom lip, "I like a lot of things about you."
She blushed, and opened her mouth, yet couldn't say a word.
"I like you, Yashiro."
She erupted into a hot mess, and her eyes glistened with affection. Although before she could reply, he swooped down quickly and planted his lips onto hers.
Her free hand caught him by the shoulder as their eyes slid close. She was blooming like a ripening tomato while he continued to push into her. His lips molded against hers, capturing her mouth and stealing each breath. Their intertwined hands never let go, and she half-recognized the coldness of the roof on her back.
Hanako-kun is kissing me!! I'm kissing Hanako… kun… ack…
She nudged his shoulder with her hand, but he seemed very indulged in the kiss. With a hard push, she managed to peel him off as she inhaled deeply. With her heavily breathing, they stared at each other once more with red faces. His hooded eyes then trailed down her messy clothes, before coming back up to inspect her pink lips. He brushed his finger over the bottom part of her lip again.
She grabbed the hand on her face and looked to the side, using the hand to shield half of her face.
"Hanako-kun, you idiot! I-I still need to breathe…"
She realized that the world appeared sideways, then looked up at the apparition trapping her.
"Am I laying down?"
He snorted, before smiling cheekily, "Yes~"
His form was outlined by the glow of the moon, and his grin outshone all the stars. She felt her breath disappear again, though this time, not from passionate kissing. Speaking of which…
She flushed, "Hanako-kun, a first kiss should be gentle!"
"Sorry~" he sang, absolutely void of regret, "I was just trying to make your lips swollen."
Her eyes widened, "W-What??"
"Mhmm~ though," he leaned close to her face, "seems that I need to try again."
Yashiro returned home later that evening with a scarf wrapped around the lower half of her face that she definitely didn't have with her this morning. Also, it was a warm spring night, nearly the beginning of summer. Her parents didn't get to ask about it, nor question why she was a bit late to come home. She only ran into her room, shut the door, and screamed ecstatically into her pillow. Her parents looked at each other and smiled proudly.
"She finally did it."
"Maybe we can ask her about it tomorrow."
The next day…
"Are you okay?"
The girl in question waved her hand dismissively. “Yes, Aoi-chan. I’m perfectly fine.”
She could barely focus on her best friend with Hanako-kun draping himself over her. His arms were wrapped around her neck as he rested his chin on top of her head. She could only imagine his face, since he radiated incredible comfort and horrible smugness.
Aoi only smiled worriedly. “Ahh, but your face seems really red, so I thought you might be coming down with something…”
Nene froze, “Oh, umm, must be the weather!”
Aoi leaned closer to her, making Nene look away. “There’s also something wrong with your lips… They’re kinda swollen.”
Hanako giggled above her. Nene pretended to bring her hand up bashfully to her neck, but actually pinched Hanako’s arm—hard. She ignored his puppy-dog whimper and proceeded to change the subject away from her.
“Good morning, Minamoto-senpai!”
There was an increase of chatter around Nene and Aoi, before a shadow fell over the two girls. Minamoto Teru’s kind smile could fool anyone, but Nene felt a chill travel down her back. To other people, it would seem that Teru was smiling gracefully down at Nene, but the girl herself could see him glaring daggers at the apparition on top of her. Hanako held onto her tighter, staring back at Teru’s icy eyes.
“Good morning, Yashiro-san,” he spoke in that dazzling manner he usually does, “could you accompany me to the Student Council’s room?”
Aoi nudged her best friend and sent her a discreet thumbs up. Nene only responded with an awkward smile.
When the three of them were now traveling alone, Nene spoke up hesitantly, “So, um, Minamoto-senpai, what do you need me for?”
He sighed. “Not you, in particular, but the apparition attached to you.”
Nene looked up at Hanako, in which he looked down at her, both of them staring in confusion. She poked his cheek, “What did you do?”
“Yashiro~” he buried himself in her neck, "I didn’t do anything~”
“Oh, you didn’t?” Teru opened the door to the Student Council’s room. Lo and behold, it was Kou on the couch, knocked out with a huge bump sprouting out of his head. In the corner of the room was Hanako’s hakujoudai, trapped by a lightning cage.
Recognition passed through Hanako’s face.
“‘Ohhh’?” Teru’s smile became malicious, “What do you mean ‘ohhh’?”
“Kou-kun!” Nene dashed over to the unconscious boy, checking over his head. She whipped her angry stare over to the apparition, “Hanako-kun, did you do this?”
Hanako placed his index finger on his chin and looked up pensively.
“...Yes, I did.”
“Well, he was gonna interrupt us,” Hanako pouted, “so I just wanted him to leave us alone for a bit.”
“So you knocked him out?!”
“I didn’t mean to hit him so hard!” the ghost boy threaded his fingers together, “At least I put him in the nurse’s office so he could sleep comfortably.”
Nene stared at him in disbelief, where he only looked at her innocently. “Will you forgive me?”
The girl sighed and blushed a bit, then turned back to Kou, “Really, Hanako-kun…”
She said frankly, “I’m not the one you have to ask for forgiveness from.”
Hanako felt a menacing presence rise above him. He slowly turned around and saw Teru’s glinting, sadistic eyes as he pulled out his spirit blade.
She only sighed.