Thanks for looking out for my goofs, xellos540. You're always on top of your KamiNomi facts.

Also, thanks for the great reception. It's great to be back - your reviews all warmed my heart.

Connection 29: Freedom Lost, Perfection Gained

Tuesday - Evening (Days left until the Track Meet Deadline: 3)

"Do you like me?" said Kanon, her arms at her side as she squirmed under Keima's gaze. Her pure white skin took a flushed tone as the candlelight bounced off of it, giving her curves a softer touch. She knew she stunned him – she wanted to stun him – but she couldn't help but wait with bated breath at his response.

As Keima fought the natural urge to bring his line of sight below Kanon's collarbones, his mind raced.

The God of Conquests was far from stupid. He wasn't a dense harem protagonist like in many of the games he's played in the past. He knew Kanon was offering her first time in exchange for his own. She wanted that security, that little piece of him that would remain hers forever. Of course, ignoring his id, Keima had no interest in doing the deed with anyone.

His desire to ignore the beckoning of the flesh aside, his hands were tied. First of all, rejecting Kanon after she's laid everything bare would deal a critical hit to her already middling self-esteem, sending her spiraling towards a Bad End. Second, even if the Otoshigami lacked that kind of foresight, the blackmail was enough of a motivator in and of itself. Keima had no reason to believe that Okada wouldn't simply leak the image with Kanon's face censored, exposing Keima's "sexual assault" to the world.

However, giving into Kanon was not the correct play either. Kanon's love points – Keima shuddered at the thought of having to use such a term to describe a Real woman – were already reaching an unreasonable level. Kanon was already difficult to predict. If her attraction caused her to act even more irrationally, Keima may not be able to put up any countermeasures.

Also, deep in his heart, he knew he wouldn't be able to face the other girls afterwards.

Kanon presented two options: to sleep with the idol or to reject her advances. Both outcomes would lead to Bad Ends.

If they were both bad, then the Capturing God would just have to create a third option. The first step in the plan was the worst one – physical contact. He had to give her at least some of what she wanted, but if he initiated it, he could keep it to a level that he could handle.

Keima walked closer. While he could see her skin flush even more, he didn't see her back up, not even an inch. As the gap between the two closed, the base desires found in any pubescent boy made themselves known to the God of Conquests. The slenderness of her neck, the depth of her eyes, the sweetness of her scent – things Keima normally wouldn't have paid any attention to came to the forefront of his mind. He had to make sure not to get caught up in Kanon's pace. If he did, it was game over for both of them.

Once the proximity between the two was closed, Keima wrapped his arms around Kanon's shoulders, pulling her into an embrace. While this pressed Kanon's chest against his, his uniform was thick enough to prevent Keima from feeling much aside from a great warmth, and his view was now free of any of Kanon's parts as long as he didn't look down. A soft groan left her lips as Keima placed his hand on the back of her head and guided her chin into the crook of his neck.

As her arms circled his waist, Keima started step two.

"Kanon," Keima said, his tone measured as her hands roamed his back, "you're the prettiest, most brilliant girl I know, but are you sure you want to do this with me? You don't even love me."

He could feel her hands stop their exploration. "I love you. You're the only one I trust enough to give myself to, Keima."

"I know, and I'm forever grateful," Keima tightened his embrace, "but we've only known each other for three weeks at most. Don't you think we're going too fast?"

He felt Kanon pull away, and he loosened his grasp to allow her to, just enough to be able to see her expression. Her face held a set frown, her lips pursed in consternation.

"I am sure that you're the only one for me, surer than I've been about anything else." Her frown grew into a small smile. "I can't imagine doing this with anyone but you, Keima... but alright, I should give you time to think about us.."

"Thanks for understanding." Their faces were close. Keima could see his own reflection in her eyes. He could feel her breath on his lips.

"However," Kanon said, "you'll be making it up to me. You see, we've known each other for eighteen days. We'll be having our monthsary very, very soon."

Keima had no clue. With all the chaos, he had his dates mixed up. "Right."

"When that time arrives, I will be getting what I desire, no matter what."

Kanon tightened her embrace once more, kissing him. It started at a measured pace at first, like she was prodding his defenses as she gathered her courage. First, she brushed her lips against his. Then, she gave a quick peck to the corner of his mouth. Slowly but surely, she grew bolder, her pressure increasing from gentle contact to full on lip lock. She leaned forward, her hold on him growing more and more unyielding. Keima groaned, less from pleasure and more from frustration, as Kanon tipped the two of them over, Keima landing softly on the carpeted floor. There she continued her attack, and Keima's flush grew two-fold as she slipped her tongue in. His vision grew hazy as he felt his soul leave his body.

Kanon pulled away to rest her forehead against his. Keima struggled to keep his eyes on hers - he had taken far too much physical contact from her. He was at his limit, going by his ragged breath and his slumped shoulders.

"Our first kiss didn't go exactly as I planned," Kanon murmured, her voice growing hoarse with passion, "but it tasted as sweet as I'd hoped it would. My dearest, please continue to take care of me."

Our first kiss. Keima didn't bother correcting her.

After far too long, Keima made it to the elevator, and after letting out a deep sigh of relief, he pressed the button to take him to the ground floor. Finally alone, he could gather himself. To start, he pulled out his smartphone's camera in order to check his appearance. Going home late didn't faze Mari in the slightest, but if he walked through the door with a big red kiss mark on his cheek, he'd have to answer very uncomfortable questions. Fortunately, there was no evidence of lip-locking. His hair looked tousled, and his uniform looked disheveled, but as long as he adjusted the telltale signs like his cravat or his cuffs, Mari wouldn't notice anything wrong. The main issue, Keima soon realized after exiting the elevator, was that the scent of lavender clung onto him and his clothes. Gamers weren't known for their flower-scented establishments, so he'd be noticed immediately. He had to get rid of the smell somehow.

He checked the time. A little past eight thirty. He groaned. She had been kissing him for the better part of an hour. Kanon had grown to become a huge thorn in Keima's side. That stupid proposal she did with the ring less than a week ago was a dead giveaway, but he had been too lax. He should have kept a better eye on Kanon's propin- no, love points.

His phone vibrated, bringing him out of his despair filled stupor. Keima flinched, breaking out in a cold sweat. As he fished for his phone, he swore that if what he had received was yet another message from Kanon, he'd just ignore it and go straight home, consequences be damned.

Tsukiyo: "I can't get the true end. Hanagawa is asking for four flowers, but I only have two."

Attached to the message were a few pictures of the game. Tsukiyo apparently couldn't figure out how to take a screenshot using the PFP, so she had simply took a photo of the PFP screen using her phone. Keima couldn't help but smile. Moving from status quo breaking yanderes to games lifted a burden off Keima's shoulders, and he was eager to help a budding gamer.

Plus, he had to stay out of the house long enough for the lavender to wear off. Kill two birds with one stone.

Keima: "It depends on who you romanced first. Kind of hard to explain via LINE. Can we meet up somewhere?"

A few seconds later, he received a reply.

Tsukiyo: "Sure, Mother's going to be home late again anyway."

While he felt bad for her situation, he couldn't help but keep his grin. She was starting to open up. For once in recent memory, the Ending was coming together nicely. In fact, he felt so good that he felt like splurging a little bit. Mari would often talk about the other cafes in Maijima City, so Keima knew where all the interesting cafes would be. Now, what cafe would Tsukiyo not hate? Maid cafes were not easy to come by in Mai-High, and he was fairly certain Tsukiyo would sock him right in the gut if he were to bring her to one. A pet cafe would be a safer choice, but he didn't know her parameters that well, and unlike video game characters, he couldn't just look up her allergies on the internet. Then again...

Keima: "Are you allergic to pets?"

Tsukiyo: "No, but Luna doesn't like animals. Had her dress torn by some stupid dog when we passed through a park. Why?"

Keima: "Nothing."

Well, that was out of the question. Keima looked at the game CG Tsukiyo sent, hoping it would give him some inspiration. The game's lead character designer had lent her talents to that award-winning Spider-Man movie, so of course the characters looked great. The backdrops they were set against looked stellar as well, as if plucked from fine art.


Keima looked up the address of the cafe he had in mind, sent it to the blonde, and set off.

The two were at the cafe. It was a cafe like many others, with a warm, comforting ambiance accented by the strong scent of fresh coffee beans. Keima hoped the coffee scent would replace the lavender by the time their conversation was over.

Inside his mug sat a little leaf drawn in milk on the surface of the coffee. That's what made the cafe stand out. As long as the design wasn't too complex, they'd draw it. From the amount of patrons in the establishment, he supposed the gimmick was appealing enough.

It was particularly effective on Tsukiyo. Inside hers was a crescent moon along with a few dots as stars, and the girl had a hard time taking her gaze off of it. "It's cute, isn't it, Luna."

The doll said nothing.

As if it replied, Tsukiyo continued, "Yeah, I think so too."

Finally taking a sip of his brew, Keima said, "So, what is your issue?"

The two talked shop. Keima explained that the locations of the four flowers depends on the order in which she played the routes, and he used this as an excuse to have her gush about the game.

"I couldn't help but feel bad for Hanagawa when the dude with the bald head ripped her love letter into shreds in front of her," Tsukiyo said, turning her head to Luna. "It plucked at your heartstrings too, correct?"

The doll said nothing.

Tsukiyo chuckled. "How unsurprising. You've always had a steady heart. That temperance makes you what you are, Luna."

"How great is this," Keima said. "Just a few days ago, you had no desire to play these games, and you're now appreciating the beauty of it."

Tsukiyo grew a flush. "Fine, it may not come close to basking in the moon's beauty, but I have to admit that the game was breathtaking."

"Especially Yokkyun."

"Yes, indeed," Tsukiyo giggled. She composed herself once she saw Keima smiling at her. "It has its own little perfections."

"Just like a lot of other things," Keima said. He pointed at the cup in front of Tsukiyo. It sat untouched, its moon and stars still intact. "For example, the barista's perfect artistic rendition of the celestial body you hold so dear. You can't even bring yourself to drink from your cup because of it."

Tsukiyo's white complexion turned a deep shade of red. She immediately picked up the cup, gave it one last glance, and gulped it all down. Once she finished, she wiped the coffee off of her lips, but the blush remained. "A-are you insinuating something?"

"I'm just saying that you can find these kinds of 'little perfections' in many things. You can still devote yourself to the moon, but it's wise to open yourself to other forms of perfection."

Tsukiyo pursed her lips, her eyes drifting to her purse with the PFP in it. "Just like you and your games, hmm?"

As Tsukiyo ordered another cup of coffee – no drawing this time – Ayumi and the rest of the girls were brought to Keima's mind. He supposed his horizons were broadened a smidgen as well. It didn't sit well with him, as if he was slowly being led astray from his destined path by Real's shenanigans, and he sympathized with Tsukiyo's musings better. Still, what comforted him was that at the end of the day, saving 2D heroines in his games was what kept him going, and he was sure that wouldn't change.

"I suppose so, Tsukiyo."

"Thinking about it," the blonde started, stirring her new cup of coffee, "perhaps I can expand my horizons-"

"That's great-"

"-to inanimate objects." Tsukiyo tapped her teaspoon against the rim of the mug. "They have the capacity to attain true beauty. I suppose animals can do so too. Non-sentient beings, really."

Great. Just as he had her open up, she shut her doors and bolted it shut. "What do you mean?"

"I know your reputation. I'm not a gormless nincompoop, after all. I've done my research," Tsukiyo said, and Keima froze. "What do they call you? An 'Otamegane'. A creepy virgin. A cockroach."

For some reason, that last remark hurt Keima the most, though the slight pang in his heart failed to show on his face. "What are you trying to say?"

"Most humans are hopeless. They do not contain these 'little perfections' that you and I seek out. They stay out of your way at best, and at worst, they hurt you dearly. Like my stupid parents."

He already knew about the divorce, but he couldn't help but let out a grunt of discomfort. "If that's your mindset, I'm surprised you're still talking to me."

"You are the only exception I've found, and I doubt there are very many of you in Maijima, let alone in our year level." Tsukiyo drew a long sip from her mug. "Those buffoons."

Keima could see her point. While there were certainly people in school that had less than the average amount of friends, Keima's 'creepiness' was so infamous, it was known throughout school, and Tsukiyo's disposition caused her to have a doll as a friend and a carpet as a barrier to keep out strangers. They were far from common.

Still, Keima could not give up. He was so close. Tsukiyo's main issue was that humans that weren't like them could not possibly seek the little perfections that she and Keima could. That just meant that he had to show her a more socially adjusted person that did have perfection in their blood.

And after but a moment of thinking, Keima knew just who to call.

Wednesday - Lunchtime (Days Until the Track Meet Deadline: 2)

The moment the bell that signalled lunch period rang, Keima's eyes darted to the empty desk nearby. Ayumi. If he had looked around, he could have seen two other pairs of eyes look towards the same direction. What those two girls didn't know was that the desk would remain empty for only one more day if Keima's pieces all came together.

Quickly, he made his way to 2-A. He knew Tsukiyo was in no hurry to leave since she had two or three hours of content left before the final credits roll, but he needed to bring her to a certain someone. This someone had to be in senior high with a decent reputation and had an easy-to-see perfection.

A handful of girls came to mind.

Even though Keima had enough Kanon exposure to last him a long while, a live performance of Love Call would easily dazzle the blonde girl. Because Kanon had become so unpredictable, he couldn't risk having her interact with anyone, so that was a non-starter.

The second girl was Ayumi. She would have been perfect for the task because of her running prowess, but she was unavailable for obvious reasons. No need to increase her sentence.

Fortunately, he knew one other girl whose talent was awe inspiring, and after picking up Tsukiyo, he'd bring the moon enthusiast to her.

He made his way to 2-A, and he was about to enter and ask someone for Tsukiyo before he laid eyes on Mio and Yui.

The two were talking, and while Keima couldn't hear them, but judging by the cold frown on Mio's face and the disheartened one on Yui's, the aristocrat wasn't succeeding at bringing the pigtailed girl back into the fold.

Yeah, as much as Keima didn't want to leave this aristocracy arc unfinished, he really didn't want to deal with it at the moment, so he spun on his heel and left, pulling out his phone and shooting Tsukiyo a message.

Keima: "Meet me at the Women's Martial Arts dojo ASAP"

Once the bell rang to signal the start of the lunch period, Tsukiyo leaned back, rubbing her eyes a bit as she relished in the victory she reached before class started that morning. Remembering the final CG with all the characters cheerfully standing atop a sunlit meadow with their hands linked, her smile grew, her chest growing warm as a sense of accomplishment washed over her. She definitely couldn't deny it any longer-playing games was something she could enjoy. Well, the great ones, at least. Tsukiyo still had heavy doubts that many (or even most) games could hold up so beautifully. It was a good thing Keima had so much experience, so she could just mooch game recommendations off him.

Speaking of which...

Her phone rattled on her desk and the screen lit up. Checking her device, she saw a message. Last week, she never would have thought she'd be in correspondence with some dork she met in school by chance to play video games, and that those video games could even rival the grandeur of her beloved moon. Looking at Luna sitting under her desk with guilt in her heart, she added that the moon won out without a doubt, but she had to admit she was still on a post-game high.

She shook away her thoughts as she read the message.

Keima: "Meet me at the Women's Martial Arts dojo ASAP."

...Where was that? She felt rather embarrassed with herself. She had been going to Mai-High for one and a half years, and she still had no idea where the various dojos were located. As someone who only had an eye for beauty, the small blonde had zero interest in that kind of thing, and during PE, she'd just follow her classmates, zoning out all the while. It simply didn't deserve to be remembered, and now she was paying for it. Would Keima tease her for such a thing? For some reason, she didn't want to disappoint him, even though the opinions of the masses were beneath her.

Tsukiyo looked around for a quick solution. Considering her classmates' normally insufferable desire to get along with her, she knew that if she were to ask them for directions, they were less likely to ridicule her and more likely to simply be happy to hear from her. However, that chance was non-zero, so Tsukiyo had to pick someone that wasn't judgmental.

Amidst her search, Tsukiyo's eyes fell onto Mio Aoyama. As she watched the girl argue with another classmate of theirs, Tsukiyo couldn't help but remember Aoyama. She remembered the time she watched her mother draft up the design for a dress commissioned by the Aoyamas, and Tsukiyo couldn't help but wonder if that dress ever ended up in the pig tailed girl's dresser. Normally, she'd get irrationally angry whenever her mother entered her thoughts, but she couldn't help but get a sense of nostalgia. Those were simpler times, when Mama and Papa still loved each other. Her heart ached as she recalled the gentle chuckles her father would let out as he gave ridiculous suggestions while looking over her mother's designs, and the snarky replies her mother would shoot to him in return.

Those memories were in a past long gone, but not forgotten.

Maybe she could ask the girl for help. She didn't have many friends either judging from her limited observation, so if she did end up making fun of Tsukiyo, it wouldn't become a trend.

Here goes nothing.

Tsukiyo stood, picked up Luna, and made her way to Mio and Yui, if she recalled the name correctly. The argument grew silent as they noticed the platinum blond approach seemingly out of the blue. She said, "Excuse me, Aoyama, but I'd like to ask you something. Follow me."

"Uh, sure, lead the way," Mio said, shooting Yui a smile and a wave as she followed Tsukiyo's footsteps. The two blondes walked just outside the classroom so no one could hear them.

Tsukiyo's cheeks flushed a bit. "I need to go to the women's martial art's dojo, and I'm not quite sure where that is."

"Oh, I see," Mio said. Tsukiyo could hear some surprise in her tone, but Mio didn't say anything. "If you don't mind me asking, Kujou, but is this because of Keima?"

Tsukiyo's eyes widened. "How did you-"

"He's a friend of mine. He mentioned you once or twice."

"What did he say?" The feeling of dread grew in the pit of Tsukiyo's stomach. If he had told anyone else about the weird perfection-sharing relationship they had, Tsukiyo would die of embarrassment.

"Nothing really, he just asked if I knew you," Mio said. "Now, let's go."

The girl clutching Luna to her chest still had questions, but she decided to save them for later as the two made their way to the dojo.

Mio had some questions as well. Just what was the relationship between the blonde and Keima? He had asked Mio about the girl only last Sunday, and now, they were already this close. Maybe she was part of the reason why Keima had to quit his job. Mio was tempted to ask, but if she did, it might spoil whatever plan the bespectacled boy had concocted. She resolved to ask him about it – he had yet to collect his paycheck, after all. Once he did, she'd make him cough up everything.

The pair ended up in front of the dojo doors thanks to the directory located in the lobby of the athletics building. Tsukiyo turned around and said, "Thank you for bringing me here."

"No problem. Honestly, I think you did me a favor too. Yui means well, but it's rather tiring to argue with her all the time," Mio said, looking out the window as she toyed with her hair clip. "I'll see you in class, Tsukiyo. Say 'hi' to Keima for me."

Tsukiyo shot her a nod as she pushed open the doors to the dojo. Instantly, she was hit with the pungent smell of sweat. She pulled against the hem of her collar to let out a bit of the heat that was building up as she surveyed the room. It was fairly big, large enough to support multiple spars at the same time. She could only wince as she watched one girl twist another girl into a pretzel with a guttural war-cry. It was too rough for her taste. Now, where was the boy who called her to the dojo in the first place?

Near the back of the dojo next to what seemed to be the changing area and the cooler was Keima, amicably talking to the girl in the black belt in front of him as he sat behind his little desk. It looked like they just swiped it from an empty classroom – Tsukiyo wouldn't put misuse of school property past these brutes (even if the blonde was guilty of similar crimes) – and it served as Keima's little work area as he filled out the requisite paperwork. Tsukiyo put a finger to her chin and wondered if she could get Keima to do the Astronomy club's paperwork for her-

Wait, just when did she trust that nerd to do anything for her? Working for the Astronomy club was sacred since it was a service for the moon; the Astronomy fanatic couldn't just let anyone do it, even if it was just banal paperwork. Tsukiyo couldn't push back the idea though. On some level, it made sense to have him by her side.

Pushing that aside, Tsukiyo said, "Keima, what did you want from me?"

"Ah, Tsukiyo," Keima said, "sorry for not noticing you earlier. It's hard to hear the door slide open when-"

Suddenly, a loud "pop" was heard. The three students currently not engaged in any fighting turned their heads to see a girl who had her foot trapped inside a punching bag her kick had punctured.

"-when that stuff happens," Keima finished, reaching into the desk to pull out what appeared to be an order form. Last time Tsukiyo used one of those was to order the telescope that Keima's clumsiness had broken previously. "The club budget is disappearing fast, Kusunoki. Please exercise caution, or else you won't be able to take everyone to your next tournament."

"Duly noted," the woman Tsukiyo assumed was Kusunoki said. She turned to face Tsukiyo, and she had to admit, the girl was tall. She had to crane her neck up to meet her eyes. "It's nice to meet you, Kujou. Keima said you wanted to watch me perform my katas."

Tsukiyo glanced at Keima. He looked at her back and gave a subtle nod as he filled in the forms. "Yes, I'd like that very much."

"Alright, I hope my humble performance pleases you."

Kusunoki took a few steps back, and since her underclassmen were occupied with patching up the punching bag, she had all the space needed to perform her intricate movements. Her movements, Tsukiyo determined, were flawless. Not a single calorie was wasted as she willed her body into different forms. One moment, she'd gracefully crouch into a low kick and get back up in one fluid motion. The next, she'd twist her torso and let out a punch that pushed against the air hard enough to blow Tsukiyo's hair back a bit.

It was a sight to behold.

"So how was it?" Keima asked, chomping down on stale melon bread.

Tsukiyo hummed a bit as she bit down on her own cut of melon bread. While they didn't have enough time to grab anything really filling from the cafeteria, the two were able to drop by the bread stall and snag a couple of leftover buns – perfect for eating on the rooftop where they met.

"The kata?"


"I have to admit," Tsukiyo said, "her movements were exquisite."

"And you've seen all her underclassmen, right? They're all gunning for that perfection for themselves."

Tsukiyo shuddered a bit. She recalled the cries of agony as the girls had their guts bashed in and their joints contorted like balloon animals. If it took that much spirit to achieve that kind of perfection, Tsukiyo was glad her interests dwelled in the heavens above.

"What point are you trying to make?"

Keima balled up the bread wrapper and lobbed it towards the trash bin that was a few feet away from them. He missed. "Maybe you should expose the others to the perfections of the moon too."

Tsukiyo looked away, her eyes resting on the doll separating her and Keima on the bench. "I doubt anyone would appreciate the moon's glory."

"You managed to teach me," Keima said.

He stood up to throw away the wrapper properly.

"You're a unique case."

"I doubt it. Kusunoki was dealing with something similar at the time," Keima said. "She had closed the door to her dojo from other people, but nowadays, it seems her love for the sport has deepened because she has people to teach."

Tsukiyo closed her eyes. She could see Kusunoki's confident smile, the one she had on as she performed her katas. "I don't want to get let down by others again, Keima."

"That's a fair sentiment to have," Keima said, walking back to the bench. "As we've discussed before, Real people are stupid."


"Never mind that." She saw him shake his head. "People hurt each other all the time, but to have a hand in bringing people closer to perfection is worth it."

"Is it, really? What makes you say that?"

"Dealing with Real people is tiring." Keima slumped back into the bench. "Moving around takes time, energy, and resources. Some people end up being even worse than you expected. Hmph. All I want to do is play my games in peace. However, I can't say I regret anything, at the end of the day."

Tsukiyo picked up Luna and swapped places with her. Now, she was sitting right next to Keima, face to face. If it hadn't been for his experiences with all the girls, he may have blushed. "Can you guarantee this?"

If she expected him to flinch away, she'd be disappointed. "Without a doubt."

"Luna isn't very fond of this idea, in all honesty," Tsukiyo's voice grew softer, "but I'll place my faith in you, Keima. Take responsibility."

"I will."

Wednesday - After School

Day five of her suspension. Day five of hasty note taking based off lecture notes provided by teachers annoyed that they had to do extra work for a delinquent. Day five of sorting files and moving school equipment. Day five of not hanging out with her friends during class. Day five of not practicing the sport she loved. Day five of not walking home with him.

Ayumi huffed. It was pretty tough, but she had to admit she was getting used to the routine. Report to the faculty room in the morning, camp out in Nikaidou-sensei's cubicle for the morning to do paperwork for the teachers, find a secluded spot to eat her bento, return to read through the lesson plans for the day and answer problem sets, clock out, and walk home.

Ayumi chuckled to herself as she encircled her final answer on her math problem set. To think that her prison for most of the day was the same place where she and Keima first truly met. She looked back on that day fondly – she had covered for him, he tutored her. They had gone off on a rather awkward foot, what with all the 'Otamegane' and 'Real woman' words being thrown around, but Keima really did help her out in a pinch. He saved her chance to compete for the school by raising her grades.

She squandered that chance in return. That put a little damper on her spirits.

Sometimes, while she ran a couple of documents onto the scanner for handouts, she'd fantasize about the bespectacled boy bursting into the faculty room with some harebrained scheme to get her out of her suspension. Then she'd shake her head at her flights of fancy.

Ayumi stood up, placed her worksheet onto the math teacher's desk, and walked back. She'd go home, but she had to wait for Nikaidou-sensei to confirm that the girl did all that was assigned to her before she could do so. With nothing better to do, she whipped out her phone. It was well past dismissal time – six in the evening, to be exact – so the teachers would be lax with the no-phone use rule, even regarding suspended students.

She hopped into the LINE chat she had with her two goofballs Miyako and Chihiro. Usually, there'd be nothing of import – just casual chatting. She'd typically get a lot of "ne, isn't this guy hot" messages from Chihiro alongside pics of said guy for Miyako's evaluation, but those died down after the infamous bet that Ayumi was still a bit peeved about.

Today was a different case.

Chihiro: "Ayumi do you play an instrument"

How curious. While Ayumi loved Chihiro with all her heart, she couldn't help but describe her bosom buddy as pretty basic. Her three favorite things were handsome men, girl's magazines, and pork buns, after all. Now that Chihiro was showing signs of a budding hobby, Ayumi couldn't help but be filled with a burning desire to support her beloved friend.

Ayumi: "i know basic guitar chords but that's it, what's up?"

As the little ellipses showed up that meant Chihiro was replying, Nikaidou-sensei showed up. Ayumi put her phone away, ready for another debriefing from her homeroom teacher.

The stern teacher normally had a frown on at all times, and that frown only deepened after Ayumi landed herself into the suspension squad. However, right now, she had on a gentle smile. Ayumi didn't know whether to feel relieved or more on edge.

"Takahara, your coach wants to have a word with you," Nikaidou-sensei said. "Bring your stuff with you; you can go home right after your business is over."

"Y-yes, Nikaidou-sensei. See you tomorrow."

Stunned, Ayumi quickly packed up her things and shuffled out of the faculty office, anxiety weighing down on her more than her actual possessions as she walked towards her old haunt. The last time she talked to her coach was when she was chewed out for assaulting a peer of hers no matter how justified it may have been. Just what did her coach want?

Eventually, she made it. What surprised her was that the field was empty. Normally it would be this late in the day, but since the track meet was so close, she expected the practice to end at around eight o' clock. Ayumi saw no signs of her fellow runners anywhere.

"Coach," Ayumi called out, gulping down the nervousness in her throat, "you called."

"Ayumi, long time no see," the ponytailed woman said, a small grin on her face. "I'll cut to the chase. Suit up and run a lap for me."

"B-but I-"

"For old times' sake."

A lot of Ayumi's insecurities started to crop up. She was out of practice so her form might be awful. She wasn't keeping up with the diet, so she may have gained extra pounds. "Yes, Ma'am, but my clothes-"

"Still have your spare change of clothes," her coach said, tossing a light drawstring bag Ayumi's way. "Now lace up, you ain't jogging in a skirt and flats."

"Yes, Ma'am," Ayumi said, jogging off to the changing area.

As Ayumi slid out of her Mai-High uniform and into her pink tee and track shorts, she felt like she was putting on a second pair of skin. Mai-High's PE uniform just felt natural on her, and she felt the strength in her legs return just by wearing it. Her energy spiked more as she tied her hair back. She realized it looked rather silly to tie back hair that was as short as hers, but it gave her a sense of empowerment: like nothing could hold her back, not even her own hair.

Ayumi jogged back, and she swore her coach's smile grew a bit. "When do you want me to start?"

Her coach reached into her jacket pocket and fished out an old beat up stopwatch. "Whenever you're ready."

Ayumi walked up to the outermost lane and waited behind its starting line. She looked around. It was a simple four hundred meter sprint, and since she specialized in hurdling the same distance, she should be comfortable covering that much ground quickly. Still, she was rusty. She hadn't pushed herself in almost a week, and she didn't count her daily jog to school as ample practice.

She pushed those thoughts out of her head and got into starting form.




She pushed off the ground and ran as fast as she could.

Her chest hurt from heaving oxygen into her system. Her legs felt like lead from pumping up and down. Sweat ran down her face and into her eyes, making it hard to even make out when to make the singular turn.

None of these came to mind. All she could feel was the wind rushing against her face and the joyous howl it made as she flew by.

By the end of the four hundred meter dash, Ayumi was hunched over, out of breath, but she couldn't erase the smile off her face. Her coach slowly walked up to her, clapping. "Just over fifty five seconds. Seems like you still got it."

"T-thanks, coach," Ayumi said, straightening her back so she could face her mentor. "But I don't understand why you made me run that lap."

She felt a hand on her shoulder. The other hand offered her a sports drink. "Consider it a final evaluation. I heard your suspension was lifted a mere hour ago. Had to check if you still had what it takes to compete this Saturday."

"But how?" Ayumi asked, taking the drink being offered.

"Seems like you got friends in high places. The student council president herself wrote up an appeal case for you, and it seems your good behavior along with a request from Sena and her friends made for a compelling case."

Upon hearing 'Sena', Ayumi's post-workout high fell a bit. Even though the girl had verbally harassed Ayumi for months, she didn't deserve to get her face bashed in. Ayumi had to thank her for overlooking the 2-B girl's lack of temperance.

There was another mystery to solve.

The student council president? She doubted that the president would take time out of her day to draft a well-written defense, but who else had the power to sway the teachers handling her case aside from someone like that? Why did this student council president even decide to help Ayumi out? Chihiro and Miyako had zero connections to the student council, so who convinced the president to come to Ayumi's aid?

With little thought, Ayumi came to the correct conclusion. 'It has to be that dork.'

Keima always bailed her out. From the tutoring to the ribbon to the bet to now, he had the solution to her problems. For all the "I care not for the citizens of Reality" posturing he had, he sure cared about her. That was the only way she could describe it. Care. Her chest, already heated from the workout, grew even hotter, the fires of her embarrassment stoked.

He cared about her. She cared about him.

What did that make the two of them?

She shook her head. She didn't want to jump to conclusions. She had to talk to him immediately. "Thanks coach. Is there anything else you need? There's someone else I need to thank."

"Just remember – I want to see you here at five in the morning. Make sure to have a heavy breakfast as well."

"Will do! Thank you so much for letting me back on the team."

Ayumi would have simply bolted out of Mai-High in search for the bespectacled boy, but she wanted to look at least somewhat respectable for their official reunion as a free woman. She changed as fast as possible. Making sure her ribbon was fixed and her things were in order, she left, aiming to leave the campus. She had her phone out as she passed through the south exit, fully intent on calling up the gamer.

Instead, she saw Keima ahead of her next to a woman Ayumi had never seen before in her life. From behind, she couldn't make out much, but every cell in the runner's body screamed "Student Council President!"

As always, that called for some good ol' fashioned stalking.

Sena is the name I gave to the girl who Ayumi assaulted. The head senpai is Rise, and Sena's co-crony is Anzu. (Ch 19)

The student council prez debuted in Ch 20, so if you want a refresher on what she's like, you can check it out there. If the names of the other student council members interest you, please take a look at Ch 17.

Part of me wants to give these chars more development, since at the moment, none of them are particularly memorable. I had to look up the names of the other members in my notes to remember who they were.

The other part doesn't want to give OCs too much screen time since we're all here for our beloved KamiNomi characters.

We'll see which way the wind blows, I suppose.