"Hm?" Standing on a box she had found along the wall, Chiyo paused mid-reach, her arm raised above her. "Ah, Nozaki-kun! Did you need me for something?"
Nozaki reached into his uniform jacket, pulling out the camera he always had on hand. "Can I take a picture of you right now?"
"Eh? Ahh! Again with the boxes!?" He nodded so easily, she could only slouch her shoulders in defeat. "Honestly, Nozaki-kun... I thought you had given up on them..." She turned her attention back to her task, standing on the tips of her toes as she tried to see onto the shelf for what she was looking for.
She heard a couple clicks of the camera and sighed, though she smiled in spite of herself. A moment later, things became darker when he stood right beside her. "Actually, I was thinking of doing a catch scene. The heroine slips, and the hero catches her. Being so close, their hearts start racing..."
"I'm not going to fall for research!" she yelped in protest, blushing at the idea of falling into his arms. That, and the realization that even standing on that box, he was still taller than her by nearly a full head.
"Of course not, Sakura." He watched as she continued searching, oblivious to her face turning a deep shade of red at his apparent concern for her. "I might sprain my drawing hand."
She banged her forehead against the cabinet in frustration. Looking back on the shelf with renewed purpose, she found the bucket of paint and took half a step back, "Nozaki-kun, I- ahh!" As she put her weight on her back foot, the box caved in with the additional weight of the paint can.
Falling back, her pulse sounded loud in her ears with the rush of blood, and her breath came in short gasps. Tilting her head up, her nose brushed against Nozaki's jaw, making her already shallow breathing stop for a moment, leaving her feeling dizzy. He looked down at her and his hold tightened for just a moment, his expression quickly shifting back to neutral. It happened so fast, she wasn't sure if she had just imagined the look of fear and panic breaking his usual calm.
"Sakura. Are you alright?"
"Ah, y-yeah! Thank you, Nozaki-kun..."
He nodded and settled her to stand on her own, scratching thoughtfully at his cheek. "Ah. Well. I need to get back and start storyboarding for the next chapter. Will you be coming over when you're done with your club duties?"
"Mmhmm! I don't think we'll be too much longer, either!"
"Alright. I'll see you then."
Watching him go with a wavering smile, she held onto her hard-won paint can and trembled. Her ankle hurt! Trying to laugh it off to herself, alone in that room, she steeled herself and carefully made her way back to the art club room. With all the supplies for their next project gathered, that was all they had left to do for that day, and they said their goodbyes. Chiyo lingered for a little while, wanting to avoid any questions about how slow she walked. She was grateful that she already had plans to go to Nozaki's apartment, sparing her the long walk home and giving her some downtime to rest her ankle. Even switching out her shoes was painful, and she leaned against the shoe lockers for a moment before starting the careful walk to his place.
She didn't say anything about her ankle, but she could feel his eyes on her as she slowly made her way to the table and settled in to finish up the beta on the last few pages of his most recent chapter. Sitting on her legs, the ache in her ankle only became more and more distracting, making her work slow going as she shifted near constantly. The sun had just set when Nozaki put down his pencil and turned to her, "Sakura."
"Huh? Ah, yeah, Nozaki-kun?"
"Are you alright?"
He looked so intent and serious, she couldn't even try to play it off anymore. Laughing nervously, she rubbed at the back of her head, "Ah, well, actually... When the box buckled under me, my foot must have slipped in as I fell. I think I twisted my ankle..."
He got up immediately and came around the table, kneeling in front of her. "Let me see." Blushing at the very thought, she tried to stammer out an objection, her actions going against her words as she turned toward him and stretched out the injured leg. Her face was a bright red as his fingertips brushed over her leg, his skin rough and callused from his trade. He took her tall sock off with care, easing it over her ankle, though she hardly noticed how gentle he was being, distracted as she was by just the touch.
She came back to herself when he stood suddenly, and she watched as he left the room for his kitchen. He came back with an ice pack and instructions to keep it on the ankle, then rose again to dig into a closet. Sighing quietly to herself, she smiled ruefully, trying to make herself comfortable. He set a medical kit nearby, meeting her gaze, "After you've iced it for a bit, I'll wrap it."
"Thank you for the care, Nozaki-kun."
"Mm. Will you have trouble walking home?"
"Ah. It, it does hurt, a lot more than I expected it to."
"Perhaps you should spend the night, then."
He said it so easily! "Th-This isn't some manga with absentee parents! Th-There's no way I'd get permission to spend the night alone with a boy!"
"Ah. I suppose you're right. Then, why don't we ask Miyako-san?"
Fidgeting, she thought it over and sighed when she realized he was right. It would be a lot better than walking home on her injury, and the walk to school in the morning would be a lot shorter. And she could spend the entire walk with Nozaki! "Ah, a-alright. At least, tomorrow is, the last day before the weekend. After that, I can take it easy, and heal."
"That's right. Stay here and keep icing it. I'll go ask Miyako-san if you can spend the night with her."
"Thank you, Nozaki-kun." Smiling shyly to him, she watched as he left and sighed to herself. Turning her attention back to the beta, she tried to get comfortable enough to work on it, but whatever she did either hurt her ankle or was too uncomfortable on her back and shoulders. She resigned herself to just finishing up the panel she had left off on before laying back and closing her eyes. It was too bad, really, that she wouldn't be able to stay with him. All she really wanted was to find out what kind of pajamas he wore, and to maybe spend the night talking. Whenever the boys had a sleepover, they always seemed to get up to something fun and exciting, however silly it may be, and she wanted a chance at that.
Tilting her head back when she heard the door open, she smiled as he stepped back in. "Unfortunately, Miyako-san has an early morning appointment, so she can't tonight. She sends her apologies and well-wishes, and also this," he lifted his hand, a keychain dangling from it.
When she got a better look at it, it was impossible to be disappointed at all with such a cute gift. The charm was that of the tanuki kigurumi mascot character that looked just like Nozaki, and she laughed cheerfully when he handed it to her. "Oh well. Thank you for asking, Nozaki-kun."
"Mm. I was thinking, since it would be impossible for you to stay here, and you shouldn't stress your ankle so much, perhaps I should carry you home."
She bolted straight up at that, waving her hands around frantically, "Th-There's no way I could ask you to do something like that, Nozaki-kun!"
He started wrapping up her ankle, and he paused in the work to look up at her seriously. "But it's romantic, isn't it?"
"Uhhh, w-well, yes, it, it is..." She held her breath, staring at him, waiting desperately to hear what he might say next.
"Then, I think Suzuki will probably carry Mamiko in the next chapter." Of course. She drooped at that, berating herself for getting her hopes up when she really ought to have known better. "But, it's always best to see just how feasible it actually is."
"R-Right... It's just, research, for your manga."
He finished wrapping her ankle up and stood with his supplies so that he could put everything away. "Do you have any objections?"
"No... I guess not."
He frowned at how sad she seemed, but he couldn't quite guess at what the reason was. Remembering when they had tried the double-bike, she had insisted on helping, feeling too guilty when she wasn't pedaling at all. With the medical kit put away and the ice pack back in the freezer, he came back out and knelt beside her. "It's alright, Sakura. There's still plenty of time until this chapter is due, so if you still wish to help, I can keep it aside."
"That's," she stopped herself, shaking her head faintly and changing what she was saying, "...great. Hopefully, my ankle will heal quickly, so I can help again."
He nodded resolutely, standing up and finding a bag to put her shoes and sock in. "You shouldn't wear your shoe if it can be helped. Since I'll be carrying you, there won't be any need."
Gathering up her things, he settled her easily on his back and they left his apartment. They drew a few looks as he walked down the street with her clinging to his back, her with only one sock on and her face buried against his shoulder. As embarassed as she was, it was nice, in a way. She wished that it could have been for different reasons, but for a pleasant change of pace, things actually worked out as well as it had sounded. He was certainly large and strong enough, and her tiny and light enough that he could carry her to her house with little issue. They didn't say anything during the whole walk.
When they arrived at her home, she clumsily reached for her keys, handing them to Nozaki so that he could unlock the door. He set her down just inside, and she called out that she was back before looking up at him with a grateful smile. "Thank you for bringing me home, Nozaki-kun."
"Mm. Take care, Sakura. Hopefully I'll see you in school tomorrow, but don't force it."
"I won't, I promise. Good night."