I'm still not used to this.
I wake up to find myself in World A(kane). Akane was still wearing the red ribbon, even in her sleep. She's snoring loudly and it looks like she's pulled the blanket completely to her side of the bed.
Yep, this must be her.
"No, stop! You're embarrassing me!" as she let out a small moan.
Just what could she be dreaming about…?
Suddenly she flips around and slaps me hard.
"Wha… I-I'm sorry Kazuki!"
Akane shot up like a rocket and scooted over to my side. My cheek still stung from her blow, but with the face she was putting on I could hardly stay mad.
"C'mon, come here idiot!"
She rubs her thumb on my cheek, trying to reduce the swelling she caused. All of a sudden the pain was gone, but I pretended it still hurt just so that she would do it a little longer.
"Oh!" Akane let go of my face and quickly snapped back to her usual self.
"Tell me! How did it go with Yuki-san? Was your seduction a success?"
I wish she wouldn't call it a "seduction"… I explain to her everything that had happened yesterday: finding her at "The Purrfect Café" and Yuki-san basically threatening to kill me, Daisuke, Kaneko-san; especially me.
Did I mention Yuki-san wants to kill me?
"Wow, I had no idea you'd be so bad at this. I bet I could seduce myself!" she declared smugly. The image of these two meeting one another and hitting it off instantly has me sweating, but I can't let her know that.
"Well, since I can't just bring you along, do you have any other tips? What should I do Akane? I don't know how I can recover from this."
Akane was stumped too. I don't think she planned for the mission to be this disastrous.
"Maybe you should acknowledge why you visited her. After all, I would be pretty creeped out if stalkers came to my workplace."
Aside from the stalker part, she had a point. I should at least mention my intentions to Yuki-san. There was something that was troubling her whenever I saw her in school, and I was just concerned about her.
Maybe her troubles are connected to her job?
My train of thought is interrupted by the unmistakable loud rumbling of a stomach. I look to Akane and can see her face is flushed red with embarrassment. I guess I'll have to ask her after breakfast.
We were both sitting at the usual spot in World A(kane) at school. It was lunch time, and this time I made the box lunch. Although they weren't nearly as elegant or delicious as Akane's, they were made with effort and love, which I'm aware is no substitute for proper seasoning. Now would be a good time to ask Akane about why she would still work at the café.
"Well, it's a long story to be honest." Akane stopped eating her enormous bento specially made for her large appetite and looked down at the ground, a pained look in her eyes. Slowly, she began to open up to me.
"I worked there because I needed the money. Badly. My father has always been too nice to people. Whenever anyone needed help, he would always say yes. Whether it was money or favors, or anything really, he would do it. I admired that aspect of him, but at the same time I hated his warped sense of responsibility. Of course, people weren't always as nice and giving as he was. People like our relatives and his so-called friends took advantage of his generosity. My mother took my brother and left when I was still very young. Unfortunately, they died in a car accident soon after. I was too young to remember anything, and to be honest, I didn't want to. It was just too painful…" I moved closer to Akane and laid my hand over hers. She started to squeeze firmly, trying to keep her composure.
"My father was ruined. He had no family, no money. He started to borrow a lot just to keep us going. A few years ago, he got really sick. Now he's in the hospital, with all of this debt, and the bills are piling up. He didn't always get the money from the best places, so loan sharks started to come around and demand the money from me. I had no choice, I had to start working, or else they might decide to kill us. I'm sorry I didn't tell you earlier, but I just didn't want you to see how messed up things really are with me. I just feel like I can really trust you with this, with everything, the way you've treated me. Your mother and father asked me about my situation, and they offered to help take care of everything, even though I'm a complete stranger! I'm truly grateful for you and your family Kazuki-kun. This is the first time I've ever really felt like I was part of a family…" she turned to me and buried her face in my chest, still holding my hand. I had no idea what to do; nothing like this has ever happened to me. I could feel her begin to cry softly, and all I knew in that moment was that I wanted her to be happy.
"Hey, Akane, please…please don't cry. It'll all be OK."
Akane looked up at me, smiling through her tears.
"I'm sorry for worrying you Kazuki, but… I'm not sad. I'm just so happy that I could finally share everything with you. I'm just thankful that for the first time in my life, I finally feel safe. I know everything's going to be OK, because you're here with me now." She stopped crying and laid her head on my shoulder, relieved of the weight that she had been carrying with her.
How on Earth did I get so lucky to be this girl's hero? No matter what, I can never fail her, no matter what universe she might be in.
I can't stop myself from trying to reassure her. "All right Akane! With your help, I will make Yuki-san smile again!" She sits up and smiles at me, and I jump up from my seat. Here goes nothing.
"TRANSFORM!" I shout, as I pose. I continue to posture and flex as Akane falls into a fit of laughter. I don't care if anyone can see me, because as long as I'm making Akane happy, I know I can do no wrong.
It's after school now. Akane and I arrive at the classroom that Kaneko-san and I use for our tutoring sessions, and we stop at the door. Akane has to go home to help my mother with the grocery shopping, so we say our goodbyes here.
"Don't stay too late, Kaz…" she said, shooting an icy glare through the open door as she turned to leave. It was eerily reminiscent of the way that Yuki-san looked at me when she took my order at the maid cafe...
I turn to see a blushing Kaneko-san standing in the doorway. I can't tell if she's scared, embarrassed, or angry, but she certainly doesn't look well. She notices me staring at her and jolts back to life from her frozen state.
"Your girlfriend isn't jealous, is she…?" she asks, a strangely devious smile crept across her face for a second, but was quickly wiped away as she hurried to the entrance.
Kaneko-san peered out of the doorway, making sure that Akane wasn't spying on the two of us. She let out a huge sigh of relief once she was convinced that Akane had left.
"Alright, let's continue from where we left off last time." I say, trying to get things on track so that I could be sure to make it home on time. I know that she didn't mention it, but I'm sure there are consequences for disappointing Akane.
Kaneko-san and I got to work, making progress at a fairly decent rate. I would think she would have mentioned something about the Maid Café by now, but she hasn't even stopped working for a second.
"Wha… why are you looking at me like that?" she screamed, blushing.
Oh, crap, I need to stop doing this when I'm thinking.
"I'm not, I swear!" I say, as she looks back down at her book in a huff. She stops blushing after a while and I could almost swear I see a smile on her face again. Maybe she really loves studying now?
I guess that since this world's Akane doesn't work at the café, it would explain why Kaneko-san and Daisuke never mentioned it; those airheads would never shut up about seeing the Ice Witch in her domain, let alone my own girlfriend working at one. The whole incident never happened in this world.
It seems like the three rules Akane had drawn up were open to interpretation. It may be more confusing to handle, but I'm still thankful there's at least one universe where these two haven't seen Akane in that outfit.
I decide to stop putting so much thought into it and go back to studying English and Math, all the while guiding Kaneko-san through her work. Before we knew it, the sun had nearly completely fallen out of the sky. I throw my arms back and stretch out, yawning.
"You made great progress today, Kaneko-san." I say, packing up my things. She looked up at me with tired eyes and told me she wanted to stay back to finish the last of her work.
"Go on ahead Kazuki, I wouldn't want to make that girlfriend of yours worry." she said, no longer smiling much at all. We really did quite a lot today, and I'm proud of her for being responsible enough to stay back and finish. I thank her and start to head out.
"Hey… Kazuki?" I pause in the doorway and turn to Kaneko-san.
"What do you look for in a girlfriend?"
I must be hearing things.
I literally had a girlfriend appear in my dreams somehow, but that's not really what she's asking me. Why do I like Akane? I can't seem to find the words to explain it to her, but I have to try to answer her, before she gets angry with me for not being any help.
"Uh…I'm not sure really." Kaneko-san stood up and headed towards me. She stopped at the wall by the doorway and leaned against it, looking up at me.
When Akane looks at me like this, my heart races, and I know that I want to be with her, but with Kaneko-san this close, looking to me for help, I don't understand what I'm feeling. I know I want to help, but I don't know why my heart is racing now. Maybe I really don't understand the question. Maybe I really don't have any idea why I love Akane.
"Then what do you see in Yuki-san?"
I laugh it off, because in my head I see the world in her. Kaneko-san stays silent, looking at me expectantly. She's being completely serious. I think about her question a bit more.
Just what was it that set Akane from everyone else?
"I think what I like about Akane is she likes me for who I am."
Kaneko-san was still silent.
"Before that though, before she liked you back, what made you want to be with her?" Kaneko-san was really making me think here, but why?
I think back to when I had first seen her. The entire school was abuzz with talk of her dismissive attitude and incredible skill in both class and athletic activities. Everyone was interested to know more, but scared of her because of how she carried herself. I can only remember feeling that there had to be more to it. There had to be a reason that she was like that, there had to be something underneath. Suddenly, I remembered our conversation from lunch and knew exactly what it was that drew me to her.
"I know it sounds crazy, but whenever I saw her, I felt like she needed somebody to help her. She seemed so lonely, even though she never seemed to mind being alone. I just wanted her to never have to feel that way." I smiled at Kaneko-san, satisfied with my answer. I was almost shocked to see that at first, she looked like she was about to cry. Before I could even try to comfort her, she began to smile.
"I see… that's really just like you, isn't it?" she said, as she walked back to her desk. "I should probably head home too Kazuki-kun. It's getting late after all."
I wish I knew why she had asked me all of these questions. Kaneko-san stood in front of the window, watching the sun set over the horizon. The warm gleam of the setting sun faded softly into her blonde hair, the ponytail running down her back bathed in an ethereal glow. She seemed almost like an angel, trapped in a tracksuit. The sun disappeared in the distance, and suddenly it was almost too dark to see her at all.
It doesn't matter why she asked those things; as long as I know she wants me to help, I know that I want to. She packed up her things and we walked home together. I wouldn't be much of a hero of justice if I allowed a young girl to walk home alone at night!
"Welcome home Kazuki!"
It was my mother and Akane, who was wearing my old beat-up hero themed apron I had laying around from when I was a child. The aroma of their cooking filled the whole house. I wasn't hungry on the way home, but suddenly my stomach can't stop growling.
"Dig in!" they said, as they laid everything out for me.
It was like winning the lottery! Every dish I've tried so far from Akane and mother was better than the last. If I'm not careful, I'm going to end up gaining a bunch of weight with Akane living here. Akane decides to shower before dinner, so I can't actually eat just yet.
Being her boyfriend and all, it wouldn't be weird to take a look, right?
Even my mother was encouraging us to "do something", in that strange maternal way that makes all young men a bit uncomfortable. Who cares about it being weird that I have my mother's blessing? I'm not going to let it bother me for now, as I sneak up to the bathroom door.
My imagination runs wild with images of Akane behind the door, covered in soap and water, her long hair struggling to cover the more intimate parts of the scene. I think back to what I could see of her body at the cafe, especially the sneak peek those outfits show just above the chest. I wonder, just inches below, what does it all look like? All of the lewd thoughts disappear in a harrowing flash as I hear the unmistakable "click" of the bathroom door being locked.
"Not today, pervert!" shouts Akane, in a rather serious tone. Nevertheless, I can hear her giggling underneath her breath, no doubt at the blue nature of my mission's failure.
She's right though! A hero of justice would never peek at the heroine while she was bathing! Probably. At least, that's what I'll tell myself.
"Kazuki? Are you still out there?" I can hear Akane clearly through the door above the sound of the running water.
"What is it?"
"I'm just curious, why do you spend so much time with Mary-chan?"
Now they're both asking me more questions than I can really handle? At least this one isn't that hard to answer.
"No reason, really. I'm just her tutor, that's about it."
I brace for impact as I pray that Akane doesn't transform into Yuki-san and throttle me.
"Ok!" she says, after a long pause. I get the feeling that if I could see her face, I would be much less convinced that she meant it.
Akane goes back to her showering, humming the Masked Avenger theme song.
"FEEL THE POWER YEAHHHHHH!"
Her rendition of the song is absolutely horrible with that off-key voice of hers. Of all the things she excels at, singing is most definitely not one of them.
My perfect woman, and yet she's tone deaf!
So far, that's the first fault that I've noticed. Well, aside from the fact that I know she's capable of looking as if she's about to actually kill me, based off of my encounters with her in World B.
After what seemed to be eternity, Akane leaves the bathroom, wrapped head to toe in towels, and I'm left alone in the bathroom to take care of myself.
I'm lying in the bathtub thinking about everything that's happened today, and how I could maybe use it to help me in World B.
How can I save Yuki-san? Maybe Kaneko in World B won't act so strangely, since I'm not dating Yuki there just yet.
Next thing I know, I'm in my bed again with Akane in her black cat pajamas; she even had an adorable hoodie.
The fact that I'm actually getting used to this makes me happier than I could possibly have imagined.
I told Akane my plan for tomorrow. I would go back to the café with (unsolicited) help from Daisuke and Kaneko-san, and help Yuki-san by getting her to open up.
"That's a terrible approach, y'know. I'd never fall for it. But…but it may just work for you, Kazuki-kun! Haha…"
Akane was right, though; I would be going in there blind again. After what was essentially a death threat, no less.
"Wait! I got it! There's a way for me to save Yuki-san!"
Akane lit up.
"What? Tell me!"
Being a hero of justice, I couldn't just reveal my finishing move just yet.
"You'll find out tomorrow. Well, Yuki-san will. So I guess I'll tell you in two days, when I'm back" Akane pouted.
"Fine, don't tell me. Good night, idiot!" she pouted, as she turned over to her side of the bed and pulled her cat hoodie up.
"You too Akane…"
I know that my plan is desperate. A Hail Mary even. There just isn't any other way I can think of, with my options limited so heavily by Yuki-san's hatred of me. She'll just have to forgive me later, when she sees things the way that Akane does now.