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Don’t miss the intermission at the end~Only my friends and I are annoying towards Mashiro
It was Friday. The day of Mashiro's welcoming party.
First period, second period, third period, fourth period, lunch break—At each critical point, I once more tried talking to Mashiro. Yet her heart remained as cold as ice, and I was promptly shot down every time.
And finally, when classes had ended—
Immediately after homeroom ended, I looked over at Mashiro, but she hurriedly packed up her things and dashed out of the classroom. It was quite the scheme to run away before I could talk to her, but whatever.
"How go the preparations?"
As I spoke, I turned around to be greeted by the sight of a grinning Ozu. He was in the middle of taking out his laptop.
"The preparations are going smoothly. Though I must say that this producer right here is a very shady person. He forced me to create that crazy setup in a single week."
"Didn't you manage to finish it just yesterday, you genius tech guy?"
"Yes, but it cost me some of my precious sleep… Yawn…"
"I'll definitely pay you back for this. Just help me out for now, please."
Nodding in response, I took out my smartphone and booted up LINE in order to make an announcement.
"Operation PT, start. Deploy."
Iroha, Ozu, and Sumire gave their confirmation. In response, I stood up and chased after Mashiro. After running down the hallway and jumping down the stairs, I finally caught a glimpse of her at the entrance of the building.
"…! W-What do you want? Chasing after Mashiro like this…"
"I have some business with you."
"Mashiro already told you that she won't be attending the drinking party."
"So you remembered that it was today. That means that you have at least a slight amount of interest in it, right?"
"S-Sophistry! Even though she wanted to forget, Mashiro wasn't able to because she was constantly asked throughout the entire week."
"I guess you're right about that… Well, don't worry. It's pointless to hold it anyway if you don't come of your own volition. I'm not going to drag you there by force or anything."
"Yeah, I wouldn't lie to you."
"That still sounds dubious… And if you didn't come in order to convince Mashiro, why did you chase after her?"
"I'm not here to talk about the drinking party. I just wanted to walk home with you."
She glared at me with upturned eyes like a wary cat.
Ahhh, she totally doesn't trust me at all. Well, given how things have gone up until now, that's not really surprising.
"We live in the same building, so there shouldn't be any problem if I tag along, right?"
Surely she'll bite with an invitation so simple. Though this might be a bit too high of a hurdle for someone that I've hardly exchanged any words with, this isn't as drastic as the invitation to the drinking party. She could see it as broadening her horizons a bit. If she denies this invitation, that means that she can’t stand being within a meter of me. There's no way in the world that she'll shoot me down here—
After changing into her outdoor shoes, Mashiro dashed away into the distance.
"—Seriously? She hates me that much?"
I was shocked.
Well, if you think about it, I've only done things that would make her hate me. Even still, it was still quite the shock. If this were a rom-com, things like this should clear up on their own, right?
…Nah, that's not happening. Unlike Ozu, I don't have that kind of ability at all. All the girls around me just hate my guts. There aren't any girls around me who would invite me to dates out of nowhere. I don't have any sort of natural charisma like that.
So I'll achieve the results I want with my own hands, by my own effort. That is how I—Ooboshi Akiteru—do things.
"You won't get away from me! I'll definitely go home with you, Mashiroooooo!!!"
"Haah… Haah… W-Why are you still chasing Mashiro?!"
"Aren't you being a bit too self-conscious?! I'm just heading home normally!"
"Even so, there should be no reason for you to be sprinting after Mashiro like this… right?!"
Mashiro and I were holding our conversation while running. Though we had started out at a fast speed, her speed had started lagging and she was getting out of breath. This wasn't particularly surprising. After all, she had been a shut-in up until last week. She stood little chance of escaping from me, since I had been training daily. But when I reached out and was about to catch her, my hand only grabbed the air in front of me.
"Change… of… route…!" Mashiro veered into an alley.
In response, I hit the emergency brakes.
"You just said 'Wait', right?! Liar. You really are chasing Mashiro!"
"What's wrong with chasing other people?! Are you an idiot?!"
"So you're finally admitting it?!" Mashiro dashed into an even smaller alley.
While saying that, she pushed over some boxes that had been neatly stacked against one side, trying to throw them into my path to slow me down. They had probably been set there by some restaurant on the other side. Dodging them while scaring off a black cat, I kept running and keeping Mashiro in sight.
"Why… are you… so concerned about Mashiro? E-Even if Mashiro doesn't go, Aki will have fun. She can't just enter… an already established group…!"
"Then… if you don't become a friend of ours, where exactly are you planning to fit in?"
"Have you talked to anyone other than me in this past week? Of the 24 people in our class, how many have you talked to?"
"S-Stop… Don't… say… any… more…!"
Even I knew that I was being an asshole by asking something like that. From Sunday to Friday, from morning to night, this entire week I've been constantly chasing after her. Since I'd watched her more than anyone else, I already knew the answer to my question: Zero people. Of course, I didn't posit this cruel question to her because I wanted to hurt her or anything.
"Was this really what you wanted to achieve after transferring? It wasn't, right?!"
"………! That's… not…!"
"It's true that what happened at the family restaurant was my fault, and if that's the problem, I'll apologise as much as you want me to. I'll go down on my knees and do whatever you want. I'll treat you to sweets as much as you want. I don't need you to forgive me, and I don't care if you continue to hate me, but please—"
Putting as much emotion as I could into it, I called out to her.
"—I know you want to have fun! Don't lie to your own feelings!!!"
"………?!" She visibly twitched.
But instead of stopping, she continued to run, shaking her head. In the meantime, we had emerged from the alley into a wide street. While we were crossing that, the driver coming towards us was barely able to stop. He honked his horn at us while yelling something like "Pay more attention, you damned kids!", but I only responded with a simple apology. I was busy staring at Mashio, who trying to climb a river bank. That was her fatal mistake, and it showed that she didn't have the energy to think clearly anymore.
"Now I've got you!"
She lost her balance, and I managed to catch up with her. However, misfortune abruptly assaulted both of us.
Mashiro's energy was cut like a string, and I crashed right into her. There was no way that the body of a girl with a small stature like hers could endure the full impact of a growing male high school student like me.
After crashing into each other, we both fell over and rolled down the riverbank.
Even more unfortunately, our final destination was the river. Fortunately, it was rather shallow. Thanks to that, we were in no danger of drowning. Even still, this was the worst possible outcome.
"Puwaaaa! S-Shit, this better not be any industrial wastewater!" Spitting out the water inside my mouth, I cursed.
Shortly after, Mashiro sat up and let out a disgusted voice.
"Uuu… Mashiro is soaked…"
"Are you okay, Mashi… ro?!"
"Eh? What's wrong A… ki…"
Though she was confused at first by my sudden outburst, she immediately realized why. Of course, it was a natural result of falling into the river. Her school uniform was absolutely soaked, and it was clinging to her skin. Droplets of water were forming around her modest chest, her thighs, her socks, and even the tips of her hair strands. It was like seeing the snow thaw in the morning… Well, I tried to describe it as best as I could, but this was the very first thought that crossed my mind:
I'm sorry that it wasn't something you could put into a classical poem. But it's the truth. There was also the fact that I had let my guard down after that. Typically, I would think rationally in these kinds of situations, but I couldn't stop myself from blurting it out. That's just how charming and mysterious Mashiro's drenched appearance looked. Honestly, I couldn't help but be entranced by her.
"… ~~~ — …!!!"
Mashiro went red up to the nape of her neck, and her lips started shaking.
"What… What… are you looking at…? Pervert…!"
"S-Sorry! It was so erotic that I was entranced!"
"That's too honest!"
I bluntly blurted it out. Can you blame me? There are limits to being able to keep my mouth shut.
With water dripping off of her, Mashiro stood up while trying to cover her body.
However, her legs were still shaky from all of the running…
Just as Mashiro was about to fall over, I grabbed her. Our bodies were drenched and sticking to each other, and our faces were equally close.
Though this situation would surely make anyone's heart skip a beat, I wasn't about to make the same mistake twice, so I hurriedly looked away.
"Tell me when you can stand on your own. I don't plan on holding you like this forever."
Though I was looking away and couldn't see her expression, I could feel the tension inside Mashiro's body disappear as she calmly remained in my arms. She started getting her legs under her and slowly tried to regain her posture.
"It's okay now…"
"I see. Don't fall over again, okay?"
With that, the two of us walked towards the riverbank, only for us to fall again when we arrived at the path.
"Today really is the worst," I grumbled.
"That's what Mashiro should be saying."
"Don't you think so, too? With these matching clothes, we totally look like a couple."
That would have been a natural response to seeing our clothes. I wasn't joking when I said these words.
Mashiro's icy expression melted.
"Ahahahaha, what's up with that? Are you an idiot? This is the first time I've seen such a horrible-looking couple."
"It may be a message from the gods saying that it totally fits a fake couple like us."
"Those gods can just die."
"That's pretty harsh, isn't it? Maybe if you prayed to them a bit more, they might actually show you some goodwill?"
"Mashiro doesn't think that's likely. There's no way that they would suddenly like her if they hated her up until yesterday," She replied.
Somehow, Mashiro's appearance looked small, like a child cowering in the corner of her room after being scolded by her parents.
"You're not completely wrong about that, but… Hey, why are you so stubborn?"
Normally, she should be lonely.
She went so far as to beg her parents to allow her to change schools, but even so, she hasn't make a single friend. But she still keeps up a façade of being happy and satisfied with her current life… I won't allow it. I refuse to be insensitive enough to ignore her. That's why I'll keep pushing her. It might hurt her, but I won't show any mercy. Because I want to talk with the real Mashiro, who's hiding behind that façade.
"…Aki really is weird. He bothers Mashiro this much. So weird."
"How perceptive. Though I may hide it in the classroom, I'm a weird guy."
"You don't really hide it in the classroom, either… But I understand. Aki is weird like this. That's why the others are also…"
By "the others," does she mean the other members of the "5th Floor Alliance?"
But before I could ask her why she was bringing them up, Mashiro continued.
"Sorry… Aki didn't do anything wrong. Mashiro… doesn't hate Aki. So please don't start hating Mashiro."
"I never said that I hated you… Though I really thought that you hated me," I hesitantly answered Mashiro's tearful plea.
I knew that there were some circumstances weighing her down that she didn't want to talk about. And even if I had to be annoying in order to get closer to her, I wouldn't try to dig into her past for no reason. However, Mashiro is right now trying her hardest to put it into words. She's trying to come out of her shell.
"Um… you see… Mashiro… is scared."
"She's scared that she won't be able to fit in with Aki's friends. That she'll lose her presence, and not be seen by anyone else, and then… in that moment… even Aki wouldn't be able to see Mashiro anymore… It sounds weird, right? But—"
"No, it's not weird at all."
In response to Mashiro's earnest words, I affirmed her feelings.
That's right. Her words weren't weird at all, nor were they nonsensical.
"I've been gathering a lot of attention due to the fake boyfriend act, so it might not seem this way, but I don't really have any presence in the classroom either. I know better than anyone how you feel."
"N-No way… Aki also…?" Mashiro stared at me with wide eyes.
"Though it's not like they're bullying me or anything. I don't have any special talents, my grades aren't particularly exceptional, and I'm not all that handsome. I'm just a normal guy, a guy who you could find anywhere. A mediocre person. That's me."
"T-That's not true. After all, Aki is the leader of the '5th Floor Alliance'—"
"Ah, you know that name?"
I'd told her that the people living on the floor would participate in the welcoming party, but did I ever tell her that name?
"Ah… Uhm… My father… told me…"
"Ahhh, right. You're Oji-san's daughter, after all. Of course you'd know."
President Tsukinomori has this relaxed, seductive attitude around him, and he's a very doting parent. Who cares about confidentiality anyway, right? Well, it's not like we'd agreed on anything like that to begin with.
"Y-You made that crazy-good game, right? Even though you're only in high school, you're making so much money—"
"No, we're splitting the money, and it's not as much as you think it is. Most of it is going towards the production of the next game, anway. It's not as profitable as you might think."
"Even so, you're the leader of the team and you're creating your own game… Boys and girls, young and old… a lot of people are playing it. Mashio thinks… that's amazing. It makes sense that you're so popular in school."
"No, something like that wouldn't make you popular, and our classmates don't even know about it."
Mashiro's eyebrows clearly twitched.
"Why haven't you told them…? Is it so that they won't make fun of you…?"
"No, that's not it," I immediately replied to Mashiro's question. "I don't want to get lost in the moment because I'm getting fawned over."
"Eh…? So you don't want to be praised by everyone else…?"
"Of course I want to. I'm human, after all."
There's a side of me who wants to be acknowledged. After all, it can feel rather lonely to have absolutely no presence. However—
"Being a braggart would only rob me of the time that I need to keep working. That would decrease my work efficiency. That's just the conclusion I arrived at."
When Mashiro heard my words, she simply stared at me for a while. But, finally—
"…You're so weird."
She showed me the biggest smile I'd seen from her yet.
"You're really not coming?"
We made our way home, still drenched, leaving little droplets of water along the way like Hansel and Gretel. When we arrived in the lobby of the condominium, I asked Mashiro to the party one more time. In response, she gently shook her head.
"…Sorry. Mashiro is happy that you invited her, but…"
"They're all good people. There's no way that they would ostracise you at all."
"Mashiro knows. But it's a problem of her feelings."
"Well, if you're being that adamant about it, then I can only give up."
We arrived at the elevator. Once we started riding up, total silence fell.
In the end, I couldn't convince Mashiro. Apparently, her heart was wrapped in total darkness even more than I had imagined, and she was easily frightened by anyone who had the possibility of becoming comrades or friends. Of course I wouldn't be able to warm up her heart in just those few days after our reunion.
Falling into the river, voicing our feelings directly to one another, laughing together…
For her to still close her heart off after all of that, I couldn't even fathom how deeply she must be hurting. That's why, even though it didn't sit right with me at all, I had no other choice but to give up—
When we arrived at the 5th floor, Mashiro started walking away with her back turned to me. I laughed.
"Next week, let's act normal at school, okay?"
Hearing her muttering like a small child, I watched her back as it grew more distant. She walked towards room 501, the furthest back in the hallway, the room right next to mine. After a while, I also started walking through the long hallway, when I suddenly heard a voice.
"Ah? …Did Mashiro forget to lock it?"
Mashiro was holding the doorknob in hand, tilting her head in confusion.
"Ah, well… the door wasn't locked. But Mashiro is sure that she definitely locked it."
"—Could it be a thief?"
"M-Mashiro doesn't know. But—"
She looked at me with a gaze filled with worry. She was living alone for the first time, in this room that she had just moved into, and the door was unlocked. What if she didn't forget to lock it…? What if a robber was currently rummaging around inside her house?
"…Let's go check. I'll come with you."
In order to protect Mashiro from the worst-case scenario, I got in front of her, opened the door, and took a step inside the pitch-black room. Taking off my shoes, I went deeper inside, the two of us sticking close to one another.
Total silence greeted us, and there was no sign human presence at all. Only the sound of our own footsteps could be heard.
I could feel the sweat running down my cheek as I took hesitant steps forward. At the same time, I felt Mashiro tightly gripping to the sleeve of my uniform.
We arrived at the door that connected to the living room. Without saying anything, I turned towards Mashiro. Gulping once, she nodded. I grabbed the doorknob and threw it open—!
—While simultaneously pushing Mashiro's back.
"Like I said, I will give up on forcing you. I will respect your decision—"
Having been suddenly pushed into the living room, Mashiro turned around, perplexed.
"—As if I would stop there, idiot," I grinned, like a villain of an anime who had just defeated the protagonist.
Bang! Bang bang!
What Mashiro heard shortly afterwards weren't shots, however. After all, falling down on top of Mashiro's head were several colorful paper strips.
"Welcome to the 5th floor!!!"
'Mashiro-chan's welcoming party'—
Read the horizontal banner hanging on the wall in the far back of the living room. The table was filled with tea and alcohol, glasses filled with juice, delivered food, and Iroha's tasty homemade vegetable curry. And standing around that table were Iroha, Ozu, and Sumire, all with party crackers in their hands.
That's right. Mashiro and I had been walking home like Hansel and Gretel, but—
Our destination was the witch's house. What an unfortunate Gretel, to be lured to the witch's house by Hansel, whom she trusted the most.
"…W-What is this about?"
"I told you that today is Mashiro's welcoming party, right?"
"That's… not what Mashiro meant… Why did you break into Mashiro's home. In… truders…!"
"Yeah, intruding really isn't good. I tell that to Iroha every time she barges into my home."
"But you're wrong about one thing. We're not intruders at all. This is my house."
"What? Mashiro doesn't understand. This is Mashiro's home."
"Did you check the name plate?"
"Mashiro doesn't have one yet. She just moved here."
"That's why it was so easy to deceive you. I just had to remove my own as well."
"B-But, Mashiro definitely…"
"You should understand if you look around the entrance and the living room. Do you remember seeing this room before?"
"That should be enough to convince you, I suppose."
"…But, how…? Mashiro should have opened the door to her own room."
Since she still wasn't used to these new surroundings, she would need something like a landmark. Therefore,
"Mashiro, you only remember that your room is at the far end of the hallway."
"Remember or not, it's the truth… What are you saying?"
"I'm saying that your room isn't the furthest back in the hallway."
Her face had a look of ridicule, as if she had no idea what I was talking about. Of course, that much made sense.
"You'll understand when you see it."
Saying that, I took Mashiro with me out into the hallway again. Right next to the door, at the end of the hallway, there was a wall, however you looked at it. Still unable to understand what I was hinting at, Mashiro only looked at me in confusion. In response to that, I wordlessly touched the 'wall'. When I did, the scenery shimmered, as if drops of water were hitting the surface of the wall.
Mashiro raised her voice in surprise.
"It's a white screen. We projected the wall onto it, and it worked perfectly as an illusion. "
"Y-You're right. Mashiro can see the equipment now."
"By the way, the reason why I was chasing you after school was so that you wouldn't go home just yet."
"…That's how much you were planning ahead?"
"Yeah. I always have to be 2-3 steps ahead, or things never work out."
If Mashiro had said yes in response to my invitation after school, then we wouldn't have needed the white screen. But if she tried to run away, I had to prevent her from getting home quickly. I had to give enough time for Ozu and the others to put up the screen.
"Really. Aki's requests are always so over the top, and so sudden as well. He really is working me to the bone."
"And that's exactly why you are my friend, because I could ask you for something as ridiculous as this."
Joining us in the hallway was Ozu, who was wearing a bitter smile on his face. This was the person responsible for everything technology-related in the "5th Floor Alliance," the genius programmer OZ. Real name: Kohinata Ozuma. Thanks to him, we had managed to create this realistic-looking illusion.
"Operation PT (Picture Trap) was a success, it seems."
"Mashiro… doesn't understand this one bit."
Now Mashiro, who had been spacing out for a while, finally opened her mouth again, with her arms shaking.
"Why… Why would you go this far just to get Mashiro to join your drinking party?"
"You'll understand once you join in. You'll understand that these aren't the kind of people who will leave you all alone."
Mashiro's field of view is too narrow. She's built up fake walls so tall that she can't see around her anymore. When she was holed up in her room, she was the only resident of her world. And in order to pull her out from there, we forcefully intruded upon her.
"B-But… even if you suddenly tell Mashiro to become friends with them, that's… troublesome, or something…"
"What are you saying, Mashiro-paisen~…? Wait, you're completely soaked?!"
Iroha came running from the living room to hug Mashiro from behind, only to jump back when she realized that Mashiro's uniform was still wet.
"Aki-senpai… Did you violate her so much that she got drenched like this…?"
"I didn't, idiot. Look, I'm also drenched."
"I mean… if you did a good job, then it's surely possible—"
"Hey, you damned girl. You have the damn nerve learn about something like that when I look away?" Mashiro grumbled.
As always, she wasn't cute at all, and was throwing vugular words all over the place.
"Ahaha~ There's no way I would stay innocent forever~ And n-y-w-y-s, Mashiro-san has one big misunderstanding!"
She pointed directly at Mashiro.
"We four aren't friends or anything!"
When Iroha's words reached Mashiro's ears, Mashiro couldn't contain her shock.
"Ahh, rather, everyone except for Aki-senpai and Onii-chan. Or rather, a match-up as lovers would be even more delish for me as a little sister!"
"I know!! It's so delish! This harmony of hardcore sadistic ideal man and prince is the best!!!" Sumire said, poking her head out of the door.
"Don't join the conversation at a time like this. Get lost, you shitty teacher."
"Awwww, so cold."
"And you stink! Are you drunk already? At least wait for Mashiro to arrive first!"
"It's your fault for leaving me alone in a room filled with alcohol."
How about you learn some self-restraint? Well, it's not like there's even the smallest shred of rational thinking in her.
"W-Wait…! You say that you're not friends, but you seem so close!"
"Um. From my point of view, Senpai is just Onii-chan's friend, Onii-chan is Onii-chan, and Sumire-chan-sensei is the Onii-chan's homeroom teacher—That's all pretty different from friendship, right?"
"Right. From my point of view, Ozu is a friend of mine, Iroha is my friend's little sister, and this good-for-nothing teacher is some kind of living creature."
"Aren't you a being bit too cruel to me?!"
"Now now. Well, that's how it is~"
When Iroha pushed Sumire back inside, she let out a tearful shout. Iroha ignored her and continued.
"We're neighbours, so we might as well get together!—is what happened, really."
"A relationship like that… is that even possible? Is it because you are game creators?"
"Of course. And you knew about that, huh?" Iroha said, while making eye contact with me.
I made a face that said Oh, I forgot to tell you~?
"Well~ That's definitely a big part of it, but it's not like it's a necessary condition or anything. And also, since I'm not even a part of the creator team, I would be disqualified if that were the case~"
"Now that you mention it…"
"That's why there's no condition or anything for you to be a part of this group. This group isn't about being something like friends, family, lovers, or anything like that. It's more like a guild, or something lax like that. Because we have such low manpower on our own, Aki-senpai came up with the idea in order to—Gufu?!"
"Ah, that's as far as you'll go. You talk way too much."
Since Iroha was about to blurt out the founding story of the "5th Floor Alliance," I forcefully shut her up with my hand. It's not like it's that big of a deal, and it's not really all that interesting either. There shouldn't be any reason to tell it to Mashiro in more detail.
"Well, that's how it is. You can just join, Mashiro, and keep your relationship as 'The fake boyfriend's friend' and 'The fake boyfriend's friend's little sister' with the others. The '5th Floor Alliance' doesn't have any responsibilities like normal friends have with each other. Though there's one person who doesn't live here: Makigai Namako-sensei, but there are certain reasons why he can't participate. Not that you really have to care about that, though."
When the name "Makigai Namako" came up, Mashiro looked devastated. Since she knows all about the "5th Floor Alliance," that name surely sounds familiar to her as well. Maybe also because he's the most well-known person among all of the members. And even though he's not here with us, we can still work flawlessly, so that says everything you need to know about our relationship.
"Are you satisfied?"
"…Really, Mashiro is an idiot to be tricked by these people," She muttered to herself.
Yes, there's nothing I can say to that. I'm well aware of our deception.
"But it's not so bad, right?"
"Yeah… Thank you," Mashiro responded, slightly displeased, but still with pink-colored cheeks.
Since we couldn't stay in our drenched clothes forever, both of us took a shower.
…In our own homes of course, okay?
Having finished, I changed into casual clothes and waited for Mashiro at the entrance. When she arrived, I brought her into the living room.
—No one's here?
They're not doing what I think they're doing, right?
"Huh? Nobody's here."
"It seems like from here on out, it'll be the grown-up's world."
"Oh yeah, this is Mashiro's first time, isn't it…? Well, I'll teach you if you don't understand anything."
"H-Hey, wait. Isn't this developing a bit too quickly?"
"You don't have to be afraid; you'll get used to it soon. Come on, let's go."
I pulled Mashiro along with a bit of brute force. It doesn't matter if she resists. I won't let her run away again.
You'll start feeling good soon enough, so don't worry! Kekekekeke!
"N-No… Aki is one thing, but an orgy is…!"
While she was whispering to herself with a teary voice, I opened the door to the room in the back, not paying any attention to her muttering.
"Ah, Aki. We've already started."
"Senpai is here!!! A three-way really is lacking~!"
"Ahahahahaha, Irohchan, phrasing phrasing! You mean 3P! A 3P!"
"Just say sanma, it sounds way better. Ah, Sumire-senpai, that's ron! 1200!"
(TLC: Sanma is the three player variant of mahjong. There will be mahjong references. I will try my best to make it understandable, but don't expect too much, since I have absolutely no clue how mahjong works. Apologies.)
Seeing the situation inside the room, Mashiro was at a loss for words. Though I didn't know what she was expecting, it probably wasn't this. Well, it's not like I don't understand, since this isn't something that a normal family would do.
Ozu, Iroha and Sumire were all sitting around a square table—
—A completely self-moving mahjong-table.
"We eat food, drink alcohol and juice, and start a match."
"Hurry and sit down already~ The real thing will start when we have four people~"
"You want to try, Mashiro?"
"U-Uhm… M-Mashiro has never played any mahjong except for online…"
"The people who say that are always exceptionally good at it, right?"
"True~~~It feels like you're only pretending to be a beginner~!"
"I don't care who's stronger: Ozumkun or I. My hadakatanki is the strongest!" Sumire proudly puffed out her chest.
But she's really weak! She just received a fatal hit, but she's still speaking so arrogantly! Well, as long as she's having fun, I don't care who actually wins.
I forced Mashiro to sit down, and she looked at me, eyes filled with fear.
"M-Mashiro isn't good with gambling…"
"It's okay. We're not betting at all. The landlord prohibited that."
"The only thing we're betting is our pride! Or something like that!"
"Yeah, yeah Irohsan really knows how things are supposed to be handled here! Mashiro-san, you can just be the pinch hitter for Aki-senpai~ Today will be the day that I win!"
"What are you deciding on your own…? Well, it's not like I care, though."
You're the one who's fixated on winning, after all.
"Let's just try one game. In gambling games like these, you can gain insight into everyone's true character."
"Uhm… Mashiro will try."
Though she seemed to not be fully satisfied, Mashiro was caught up in the flow and swept along.
Like that, what was originally intended to be a welcoming party for Mashiro turned into a mahjong competition instead. That being said, we used rather loose mahjong rules, so it became more of a self-introduction round of sorts. Such as introducing everyone's names, special skills, favorite foods—
The conversation started harmlessly without any obstacles, and morphed into an intense debate about Mashiro's favourite late-night anime. Slowly but steady, Mashiro also learned more about the others, as the density of information intensified.
By the way, Ozu had the advantage throughout the whole game because of his efficient calculations. Maybe it was because she was nervous being around new people, but Mashiro's points soon approached zero because of careless mistakes. Though the rules weren't exactly harsh in my home, it was still a precarious situation for her.
"Hee hee, Senpai's pinch hitter Mashiro-san is all over the place~ Now if I can only bring down Onii-chan, I will have my complete victory! As a reward, can I do perverted things with Senpai? —Ahahaha! I'm just kidding. Did you think I was serious? What a shame!"
"Ugh… there's nothing of shame there."
"Now now, you're playing the strong guy, hmm? I already know that this Virgin-senpai over here is all about my breasts, you know?"
"WIll you focus on the game already? It's Mashiro's oya turn."
"I'm not scared at all though~"
"Hey. Iroha… chan?"
Suddenly, Mashiro raised her voice.
"Oh? What is it?"
"Irohchan and Aki… are you really not going out?"
"No, we're totally lovey-dovey."
"Just kidding!!! Were you surprised? You totally were, right?!"
Mashiro was totally being overwhelmed by Iroha's high energy.
"If you let down your guard just a tiny bit, this girl will immediately use any chance to annoy the hell out of you, so be careful."
"Really, you're making me sound like such a bad person~ Don't worry, I won't be as annoying as I am towards Senpai~"
"Why don't you keep it down towards me as well?"
"Impossible~! It's Irohsan's reason for living, after all!"
"What kind of bothersome reason is that…?"
"Hm? What's wrong, Mashiro?"
Mashiro continued to quietly watch our exchange. And it looked like she was pouting for some reason.
"You two seem unexpectedly close."
"Oh? Are you jealous, perchance?"
"…N-No, that's not true!"
"Hmmm, that's suspicious. You call yourself a fake girlfriend, but are you actually…?"
So that's where you swallow your breath? What's with that serious reaction? …Y-You… don't tell me?
"T-That's not it. As if Mashiro would like a pervert such as Aki."
"Uwaaa, so sharp~ That's the same as Senpai's attitude towards me!"
"Eh… what? Why are you looking at me like that?"
"The same attitude… So basically, Aki's feelings towards Irohchan are also…?"
"Mhm? Ahh, my feelings for her are probably similar to how you feel towards me."
The part where you hate me so much that you keep telling me to go die.
After my response, Mashiro kept quiet. Iroha for her part only looked at Mashiro with suggestive eyes and said "Hmmm, so that's how it is~"
Though I don't exactly know what's happening, I know that this will no doubt end in a bothersome way.
Iroha and Mashiro. Both of them had mysterious gazes as they looked at each other—
"………………………Ron," Mashiro quietly but confidently declared.
(TLC: Win on discard… or something)
"Thirteen orphans. 48000."
(TLC: winning hand containing one of each terminal and honor tile plus one extra copy of any of them)
"It's a shame. Mashiro stole the win."
"Ehhhh, a direct yakuman hit. You really got her with that?"
(TLC: win worth 32000 points [or, if dealer, 48000 points])
"Nooo, my perfect win streak…"
Iroha paid with her chips, on the verge of tears, while Mashiro let out a small giggle, gleefully accepting them.
But, there was something weird about that play just now. Iroha looked like she had the upper hand there, but she lost that advantage, which led to her loss.
Did something interrupt her concentration?
It was around the time the clock struck midnight. Mashiro's welcoming party had finished, and the various guests had returned to their rooms. My room was a complete mess.
"They eat and play all they want, only to leave as soon they're satisfied… They're a group of bandits, these guys."
Well, I was the one who invited them here. Ozu was the only one who had stayed to help me clean up, but I didn't want to torture him anymore after all that he had done for operation PT. Since Mashiro was just a guest, she was excused, but I won't forgive Iroha and Sumire. Though it's not like I expected anything from them to begin with.
Anyways, I'm glad that our operation was a success. With this, Mashiro's heart should've opened up quite a bit. With this, her future student life will surely change for the better—
Yeah, I guess there's no need to beat around the bush.
—I did a great favor to President Tsukinomori.
I'm neither a hero, nor a good person in general. I just chose the best outcome for the members of the "5th Floor Alliance." It's was just a win-win situation.
That's why I was so aggressive like that. I knew very well that, if my method had failed, I might've added another scar to Mashiro's heart indefinitely. But I didn't hesitate. I really am the lowest of the low.
A person without a heart.
When I was younger, I was told these words.
In grade school, at a football tournament, when I never passed to a student who clearly sucked at football, I was scolded by a teacher, who told me to pay attention to other people's feelings. Really, I had only acted the way that I thought would give us the highest chance of winning the tournament, but that turned out to be quite the cold decision on my part. After that, that kid said the following:
"I was really glad that nobody passed to me."
After all, that kid never wanted to participate in the first place. He didn't want to disappoint anyone and end up as a laughingstock. But everyone other than him treated me like the bad guy. In retrospect, I can understand their criticism.
I was lacking the perspective that there might be hurt or lonely people. In order to achieve the results that I want, I disregard the feelings of other people…
That was why they called me "A person without a heart." I don't know when it started. Before I even had realized it, I had come to accept it as truth. But it doesn't matter anymore. I won't waver. That's the kind of person I am now. Though there might be people who suffer from me choosing the most efficient path—
At the same time, I want to think that I've managed to save certain people.
I was almost done cleaning up, and was just sweeping the floor when I heard someone knocking. For some reason, it sounded like they were tapping on the window of my balcony. Only someone from this floor would knock on the window this late at night, I thought.
Growing tired of the constant knocking, I went to the window and unlocked it. I quickly opened it and whacked the person standing there with the broom in my hand in the same motion.
A startled shriek rang out. The person in question sank to the floor, holding her head in pain—
"What are you doing to your adorable kouhai?!"
"Oh, it's just Iroha."
"You totally knew that it would be me, right?!"
"That's not true. I was only about 95% sure."
"Just make it 100%! We all know that it was 100%!" My friend's little sister yelled out, still holding her forehead.
Even though it's midnight, she's the same noisy person as always.
"Mugu~! How cruel to do that without even knowing who it was!"
"The only intruder who would dare to do this is Iroha. Of course I have every right to hit you."
"…Senpai, are you the kind of person who will use domestic violence in the future?"
"Don't worry, I have no plans to make you domestic. Also, don't just climb onto my balcony like that."
"That's the best route to take so that my parents don't spot me."
"If the landlord spots you, they'll definitely get mad at you either way. So what do you want?"
"Well, I was thinking that I wanted to talk to Senpai~"
"Then you could've just stayed here earlier without going home."
"I didn't want to help clean up. So I waited for a bit. I hoped that you'd have finished up by now."
I didn't even bother saying anything, since I had gotten used to this sort of thing from her.
"Is it something serious?"
"A tiny bit."
"…Then I guess I can listen."
Turning her back to me, she rested her elbows on the guard rail. After putting my sandals on, I followed suit and lined up next to her. Since summer had only just begun, the wind at night was still a bit chilly on the skin. I took a quick glance at Iroha and saw that she was wearing something like a thin jacket over her pyjamas. Looking closer, she was rubbing her hands together, probably to warm them up. What kind of business does she have that would drive her to climb over to my balcony this late at night?
While I was wondering about it, Iroha put a hand on her cheek and turned around to look at me.
"Good work on Mashiro-paisen's case. It seems to have had quite the impact, huh?"
"…Well, I can't complain about the results, I guess."
"Since you're so tired, I might be willing to heal you a little bit. Do you want to touch my breasts?"
"You'll probably just laugh at me and say 'That was a lie~' again, so I'll just decline up-front."
"Though the part about my breasts was a joke, I was planning on coming to cheer you up, you know."
"As if I could trust you. I won't be fooled."
"Well, whatever floats your boat~"
Pouting, she poked at the back of my hand with her finger.
"It's been a while since I've seen Senpai like that."
"I'm sorry for being such a meddlesome bastard."
"Nobody was bad-mouthing you, you know. There's no need to be so antagonistic."
Puffing out her cheeks, she directed her gaze at the Kohinata household balcony.
"Mashiro-senpai is your cousin, right?"
"Ahh, yeah. And also the daughter of a very important client."
"Were you only acting kind so that you would get the results you wanted?"
"I wouldn't do something so drastic for anything besides that," I affirmed.
The decision to integrate Mashiro into the "5th Floor Alliance" was only for my own good. I never once had any insolent feelings of wanting to save her. It was nothing more than a way to benefit me and my comrades. So, of course if would make sense for people to call me "Cold" and "A person without a heart"—
"Senpai really is kind~"
That's why I of all people knew that those meddling words from my Kouhai were the furthest from the truth.
"Well, if I wasn't so kind, you would be murdered right here and now by me, and used as bait in the woods for some stray dogs."
"Heeey, we're having a serious discussion here."
I forgot that I was having a serious talk for once. Not to mention with Iroha. But since she's in the right here, I have to apologize.
"Senpai really is kind. After all—"
She paused for a moment, and lowered her voice so that nobody except me would be able to hear it.
"You took me in as one of your comrades, all the while hiding the fact that I contribute my voice to '5th Floor Alliance' for their games."
Yes. The only way we managed to get 1.000.000 downloads for such a small indie game was because we had a professionally-written scenario, charming character designs, an efficient and addictive core gameplay loop, and of course—
Excellent voices for the characters.
There was a voice for every character, yet the credits did not mention any voice actors or actresses. While her identity is kept a secret, Iroha shines through with a charming voice and an incredible vocal range, allowing her to voice over 20 characters differently. Even online there are countless rumours. There are those who speculate that she's a famous voice actress who just wants her name to stay hidden, and others who believe that she's actually just an amateur with an immense amount of talent.
None of them would ever believe—
That the voices of both the male and female characters were actually voiced by this amateur highschool girl right here, Kohinata Iroha!
"'The holder of the seven prismatic color voices,' or something like that…"
I remembered back when it was just the two—or rather, three—of us recording. We were stuck inside a narrow studio together with a sound engineer that we could trust, dumbfounded by Iroha's multi-faceted acting.
"—You definitely are the person with that vocal talent, you genius."
"You'd better not get ahead of yourself, though."
"Ehhh? I'm the type of person who works harder when I'm praised, though~"
"I don't want to hear any complaints. Work harder. Really."
After all, this talent she has was something that she gained on her own. While just having free and gleeful fun, she was able to perform voice acting on this level. I'm nothing more than a parasite who feeds off of her talent.
"Don't be so cold~ The only reason I'm here is thanks to Senpai," Iroha said, voice full of gratitude.
"Senpai, your filter is way too strong. The only people who see my real character are you and the other people from the '5th Floor Alliance.'"
"Ahhh, in front of other people, you always act so gracefully, yeah."
"It's like this when I'm at home."
"…Are you sure you don't want to be more upfront with your friends?"
"I mean, if I do, they'll find out about me being a voice actress~" Iroha said in a light tone.
But, the content of her words was nothing like her tone.
"Our parents are completely against jobs in the show biz. We don't even own a TV, so the only way to watch anime and such is online."
"And they never told you the reason for that, right? Why they hate it so much?"
"Not at all. I think that Mama's old job might be connected to it. But no matter how much I try to dig into her past, I can't find anything~"
I knew that the Kohinata household had some difficult circumstances. Maybe that was related to why Ozu ended up as a shut-in when he was in middle school—
Iroha doesn't have freedom of choice, but instead has to walk down a path sought out for her. That's why, I—
I was starting to hope that the trapped bird, feathers drenched in the seven colours, would one day soar through the wide sky.
Therefore, keeping Iroha's activities under wraps is a must. Of course, Iroha isn't a member of our LINE group. Even her older brother Ozu thinks that we're this close only because she's his little sister.
"Onii-chan, Sumire-chan-sensei, and even myself—we all have family circumstances that don't allow us to do what we want to do, and Senpai is the one trying to free us from these shackles."
"Though only through the power of banknotes."
"In this society guided by capitalism, that's not a problem at all~!"
Yes, stories like these are far too common. People are forced by their family and parents, because of family reasons, to give up on their dreams, even though they surely aren't lacking in talent. In order to pull people out from this deep swamp, the "5th Floor Alliance" was born.
As if I would let anyone ridicule their dreams. All of them hold incredible talent compared to me, and they have the nerve to let it go to waste. That's why my goal is to use them to achieve the best outcomes for everyone. Since I'm not able to become a story's protagonist, a super-programmer, an author, or a super-popular illustrator, I will make their talents my own.
—How I brought them all together like this is a story of the past. It's a part of my dark past, filled with emotions and actions that I would rather forget right now. So whenever the conversation starts heading in that direction, I always try to stop her with something like "Stop it already with that story", but… Kohinata Iroha is still my friend's annoying little sister.
"I won't stop, no matter how often you tell me to. After all, I'm eternally grateful to Senpai."
On top of being annoying, she won't let me forget about the past.
"I keep telling you, that was just—"
"You only took the most efficient means to achieve the most desirable result, right?"
"…Yeah, you're right. So there's no need for you to be thankful for anything."
"But, because of that, I'm here, and as happy as I can be. Irohsan thinks that you should take responsibility and accept my gratitude."
"…So that's why you came here? To warn me?"
Making a circle with both her hands, her white teeth showed as she grinned.
"…Really, what a troublesome Kouhai."
"I'm Senpai's kouhai after all. You probably told yourself that you used this welcoming party for Mashiro-senpai only for your own good or something, just so that you wouldn't have to give in and feel like a good person."
"Guilty as charged… but really what's wrong with that?"
Thinking like that only makes me feel depressed. Thinking that I did something for someone else gives me the creeps.
Probably knowing that, Iroha separated her hands from the guard rail.
"It's totally fine? But, just like it's fine for Senpai to be wrapped up in his self-loathing aura, I have the same right to try to pull him out of there~"
"So I'll admit it. Even if Senpai himself won't, I know that Senpai is a good person," Iroha said as she tightly embraced me from behind.
It's the same feeling as the no-bra incident. Maybe she's not wearing anything beneath those pyjamas. But that doesn't matter at all.
This warmth, transmitted through her hug, I felt like accepting it all, and I was assaulted by the feeling that my heart of stone was actually starting to shatter.
—Ahhh, I've really been straining myself to much.
Then and there was the first time I had realized it.
The reunion with my cousin Mashiro and our stiff relationship, the ridiculous stipulation from Oji-san to become her fake boyfriend, and the plan to save this shut-in girl. Every single thing required so much mental energy that both my body and heart had grown tired.
"……I'm being healed."
"Ehehe, I'm gonna take that affectionate response, thank you very much~"
Her breath was hitting my back. Was it just my imagination, or was it really that warm?
Both of us stood there in silence. It was a rather miraculous atmosphere. Though I had been rather conscious of the soft feeling hitting my back, that wasn't the case anymore. Rather than that… thump, thump—I could clearly feel Iroha's and my heartbeats, mixing up to become one, and for some reason, it didn't feel that bad.
And finally, Iroha whispered.
"As your kouhai, I wish that you'd be a bit more honest… It's lonely after all."
"Being 'a friend's little sister' is indeed a comfortable distance. But wouldn't it be even more wonderful to be 'friends'? Like this, we can show each other our honest feelings without needing to be embarrassed, and we can stand on even ground."
"…You're feeling worried that we're not closer? Do you hate our current relationship?"
"Of course I would get worried. I mean, even our school years are—"
In the middle of her sentence, she swallowed her breath.
"There's no need to sweat the small details! Anyways, Senpai's menial character is annoying, so Irohsan wants you to change it!" She even had the nerve to speak ill about me.
But there might be some truth behind her words. Other than with Ozu, I had always kept a certain distance between myself and the other members of the '5th Floor Alliance.' I thought that if I got any closer than necessary, our performance would suffer.
That's just how much I don't trust myself. That's also why becoming friends with Ozu was so important. Clearing up Ozu's shut-in status and arriving at the desired outcome was only possible by becoming friends with him. Aside from that, keeping anyone as close as a friend was too much for me.
But now that Tsukinomori Mashiro had joined in, our relationships would surely start to change. Although it was by the order of Oji-san, we had become fake lovers, and though it was purely fake, Mashiro had seen what it meant to become closer in relationships with other people. That thin connection of hers with Iroha and Sumire will surely grow thicker with time.
This gap, like a bomb, had to be defused as fast as possible. Iroha's words just now were a clear sign of that.
To the person behind my back, I asked a question.
"…What is it?"
This is not to express any goodwill. At the very least, we can act as "normal friends." Luckily, tomorrow is Saturday—which means there's no school.
"Tomorrow, should we go shopping together?"
"Fue?! An invitation for a date? From this unsociable Senpai?!"
"Don't diss me from this distance, you idiot," I responded before continuing, enjoying the return to the light-hearted atmosphere. "Let's invite everyone else too. Instead of this 'friend's little sister' relationship, let's try this 'friends' thing you were talking about."
[Murasaski Shikibu-sensei]: And what should we do about AKI's invitation?
[OZ]: I won't go, you know.
[Murasaki Shikibu-sensei]: It figures~
[OZ]: As if I would be so unsophisticated as to intrude upon their wonderful date event tomorrow.
[Murasaki Shikibu-sensei]: I know! Being torn between your friend's little sister and your fake girlfriend is a wonderful rom-com event! Another man wouldn't fit in there at all!
[OZ]: Just what I would expect from Sensei. Your deep knowledge concerning rom-coms written for boys really is deep.
[Murasaki Shikibu-sensei]: I guess~ Now I just have to leave it to the youngsters, and keep drawing my Onee X Shota in the midst of the battlefield! Ahh, the industry is also moving towards Onee X Shota! What a time to be alive!
[OZ]: Ahahaha, I guess I will waste my time watching Y-Tube. It seems that AKI's and Iroha's relationship is moving forward perfectly on its own~.Intermission: Iroha’s feelings
I hate quietness. And even more than that, silence. Taking a shower and enjoying the noise of the water covering my head is very calming to me.
I was standing in front of the full-body mirror, looking at the reflection of my naked body. Objectively speaking, I have pretty good symmetry, a healthy bust and butt… It's all plenty good enough to attract the opposite sex. I'm quite the beauty, aren't I?
My face also looks outstanding, with bright, large eyes, paired with puffy, voluptuous lips. Comparable to a high-performance doll from overseas. My point is, you could only find around ten people who could match my beauty.
…Just kidding~ I just wanted to brag a bit.
But, this is how I, a cute girl like this, and a handsome man like Onii-chan were born. You can probably guess that our parents aren't exactly your run-of-the-mill people, either. That's why I think that they used to be in the showbiz. But something bad happened, which is why they banned my brother and I from the industry—or so I think.
As you might've already realized, I'm super good at reading the atmosphere. Even when I was only a small child, I could always read the mood of our parents, and through reading the mood in class, I became an honor student. It's only when I'm together with Senpai that I don't have to focus on that at all, and I can just be as annoying as I want—
That's why I sometimes behave like a spoiled child. Sorry, Senpai. But it's also your fault.
When I was just barely in grade school, I was always secretly watching anime on my smartphone since I wasn't allowed to watch TV. I acted out several made-up roles in my own performances for fun. In fact, I had so much fun that before I'd realized it, I had become really good at acting, which made me really happy.
Maybe I should start aiming to be a professional, I thought, and when I read the atmosphere and realized that my mother would hate it if I went into showbiz, he gallantly appeared in front of me and reached out with his hand towards me.
"Don't read the mood."
"Don't waste your talent in your precious lifetime because of other people. That's idiotic."
With those words, he showed me a brand new world.
—And ever since then, Senpai has always been my beloved.
The first person I never had to be wary around. The first person around whom I could let myself go. Maybe I'm always a bother because of my annoying actions, but that's his punishment for making me fall head-over-heels for him and not realizing it.
Ahh, just thinking about it makes me angry.
'Tomorrow, should we go shopping together?'
Even though I totally expected him to invite me on a date.
'Let's also invite the others'—he said! What's up with that?!!!
—Well, that's just like Senpai, though.
—And, even though it was a completely platonic invitation, my heart wouldn't stop pounding… Really, I'm such an idiot. I even took a shower in the morning, because I couldn't keep myself from getting my hopes up! Better safe than sorry.
After all, both Onii-chan, who probably has better things to do than go out shopping, and Sumire-chan-sensei, who surely wouldn't bother watching over her students on a weekend, will decline Senpai's offer, I'm sure.
But, that person is different. That rival, who suddenly made her entrance as his fake girlfriend.
Unlike me, she's in the same year as him.
Unlike me, she's in the same classroom as him.
Unlike me, she's not just a friend's little sister, but she has an even closer relationship.
Every single thing is more profitable for her…! She'll definitely come tomorrow. I just know that Mashiro-senpai likes Senpai! And the most frustrating thing is that she's so unreasonably cute!
I polish my body after the bath, style my hair, put on some fragrance, but I still don't have the confidence that I can beat her. I cannot lose or let my guard down. Though we're both residents of the fifth floor, this is this, and that is that.
Me vs. Senpai… ah, that's on hold right now.
Today, it's Me vs. Mashiro-senpai!
"Uuuuuuuuuu— I won't lose———!"