Below you is something that was originally supposed to be a ficlet (except it's 10 times that size) and turned out to be a rather big one-shot. It's a humor/romance with Kusunoki as the heroine. The whole story is dedicated for ZelgadisGW as a (muuuch delayed) present for his name-day.
Just for clarification: this one-shot is standalone story and has nothing to do with my regular plot- and timeline of "The World Not Only God Knows".
As usual with me, I tried to make everyone in-character, while also staying true to the original manga storyline as much as possible, although I had to simplify or omit some things, because this one-shot is long enough as it is.
I might do more one-shots in the future (I have plans for at least 5 more girls), but it will have to wait a lot. After all, I'm trying to focus on "The World Kanon Only Knows" and I wouldn't want to delay progress on it more than I already have.
P.S. In-story reference brought to you by the "It's not like I like you" song. :P
(* * *)
The student council's president finally finished her speech, marking the end of the graduation ceremony. Kusunoki Kasuga, her graduation diploma in hand, got up with the rest of her classmates and proceeded outside of the auditorium. Part of her was filled with pride and sense of accomplishment, but other, more hidden side of her felt something akin to regret.
Graduating from high school meant leaving adolescence behind and embracing adulthood. It wasn't as if Kusunoki feared the responsibilities of a grown-up, but high school life was specific and very different from the world of martial arts she was dedicated to.
Especially the last year had been special to her. It had been then when Kusunoki had grown as a person. She had been able to embrace her feminine side that she had been suppressing for years and had reached the higher level of strength. Now, she was stronger than ever – strong enough to let her fondness of cute and weak things out, while still being able to become the successor to her family dojo.
The thing was that her family dojo situated on a mountain slope was a place made for the sole purpose of mastering, teaching and practicing martial arts techniques. Kusunoki didn't mind living there, but it was certainly not a place to enjoy cute things simply because of the lack of aforementioned things.
The look of the place? Traditional Japanese-looking, but austere.
Her disciples? A bunch of bruisers, who were anything but cute.
The only cute thing about the dojo was Kusunoki's cat and a few flowers the girl had used to brighten the place.
The school was different though. It was full of colors, laughs and dozens of cute school girls in cute clothes. Observing her classmates and other students was certainly entertaining, but observation was all Kusunoki could do.
Because making friends was difficult when you were strict, formal, tall, imposing, socially awkward terror of the delinquents…
Thus, Kusunoki was admired by her peers and was often relied upon, but that's it. She was on good enough terms with her classmates, but she wasn't close with anyone.
And now she was no longer a high school student, meaning she'd probably never see her classmates again. This filled her with a sense of loneliness. Was she destined to spent her life alone in that dojo of hers? And now when she had finally realized that she wasn't a man and that there was more to life than martial arts?
Maybe becoming more feminine wasn't such a good idea after all… it had awakened… feelings inside of her… new and confusing feelings. And with those feelings came needs, desires and a sense of emptiness. If she could fill that emptiness it would be nice, but if she couldn't, then her life would just become miserable…
A voice brought her out of her thoughts.
The martial artist turned around in total disbelief, but it was true. Standing behind her was her very own supposed-to-be-in-America sister Hinoki Kasuga, fancy clothes,makeup and all.
"Aneue?" Kusunoki blinked. "What are you doing here?"
"Attending my little sister's high school graduation ceremony, what else?" the older Kasuga sister replied.
"When did you get back? What about your work?" Kusunoki asked. "No, before that, how long are you going to stay?"
"For a week or two. Now," Hinoki put her arm over Kusunoki's shoulder, "how about we talk about this after a drink. Let's celebrate my little sister graduating!"
"I'm not even nineteen! I can't drink alcohol yet!" Kusunoki objected.
"Details, details," Hinoki waved her sister's opinion aside as she dragged her in the direction of a nearby pub. "Let's party!"
(* * *)
Thankfully, the personnel of the pub refused to serve alcohol to Kusunoki, so Hinoki ended as the only one drinking, while catching up with her sister. And recalling embarrassing stories from their youth. And the more drunk Hinoki was, the more embarrassing the stories became.
Kusunoki could only sigh – having a brazen, flashy and over-confident sister as Hinoki wasn't easy. On the other hand, Kusunoki thought as she watched her sister ramble, it was good to have her back even if for a little while.
Well, it became less fun when some guys tried to join them and Kusunoki didn't know what irritated her more – the guys being drunk idiots that could offer a woman nothing besides harsh language and a one-night stand or the fact that they seemed to be more interested in Hinoki rather than Kusunoki.
Why would they be more interested in her sister? Was it because of the off-putting aura of seriousness and threat that seemed to follow Kusunoki? Was it because of her sister being more… endowed? But Kusunoki herself wasn't that different when it came to body proportions… right? Or maybe it was the way Hinoki dressed and talked that attracted men? With her bleached hair she certainly looked more… promiscuous of the two of them.
Yup, it was perfectly logical for men to act like that. It had happened before, the last time when Hinoki was in Japan. Back when he had rejoined the dojo…
Needless to say, when they got back to the dojo, Hinoki went straight to sleep, sprawled shamelessly on her mattress, while Kusunoki had to take care of the dojo and when evening came she found herself lying on her own mattress, looking absent-mindedly at her plain, uninteresting ceiling.
(* * *)
Kusunoki was having a very good dream. And it felt so real. She could literally feel the delicate caress over her skin…
Her eyes shot open, only to see that it was her own cat who woke her up and was currently purring, rubbing its fluffy body against Kusunoki's arm.
The girl got up with a groan. It was three days after her graduation and Kusunoki wasn't at her best. I mean, her martial arts practice was going well and she went to train every time her mind was clouded, which was quite often. Not to mention that Hinoki certainly liked to interfere at the weirdest of times.
Like yesterday, she had discreetly swapped all of Kusunoki's panties with T-backs… again.
(* * *)
"Oh, Kusunoki it's good you're up!" Hinoki said when she entered the main room of the dojo.
"I have been up for hours," the younger Kasuga replied, "it's you who slept in."
"I'm on a leave of absence, so it's fineeee!" Hinoki yawned. Kusunoki had half a mind to berate her sister for her outfit, which was a nightgown, but after those three days she had given up.
"Oh, riiight," Hinoki said as if remembering something and left the room for a minute before going back, holding some sort of pamphlet and offering it to Kusunoki, "here."
"If this is another 'advertisement' poster project with me in a swimsuit…" Kusunoki started in a threatening voice.
"No, it's something much better," Hinoki responded, giving her sister a wink.
Kusunoki was full of bad feelings when she took the sheet of paper and started to read it. Her hunch was quickly proven true.
"What is this!?" she hollered after several seconds, her hands shaking.
"Huh?" Hinoki seemed puzzled. "What are you talking about? It's clearly says what it is on the top," the older sister tapped the corresponding part on the sheet, "it's blind date service application."
"For me?" Kusunoki asked, hoping that she had misunderstood.
"Of course," Hinoki replied with a smile, "it's been half a year since I was here last time and you still don't have a boyfriend. We have to do something about that."
"I don't need and don't have time for a boyfriend!" Kusunoki said, trying to be calm. Surely, Hinoki will listen to reason and see how absurd this was. "Think about my responsibilities! Think of the dojo! Just because you ditched it doesn't mean I'll do the same!"
"How rude," Hinoki pouted, looking actually offended, "dojo is exactly one of the things I have been thinking about when I came up with this!"
"You might be a good leader of the dojo," Hinoki started, "but you have to think about more distant future too!"
"What do you mean, aneue?"
"Someday you'll have to pass the dojo to someone else," Hinoki pointed out, "and to do that you need an offspring and for that you need a man."
Kusunoki was speechless. Up to this point she had been mostly concerned with whether she'd be able to properly inherit the dojo and lead it herself… but Hinoki was kinda right there…
"D-don't say it as if the only purpose of a relationship was to have offspring!" the brown-haired girl shouted, stepping closer. "Besides, I'm too young to be a mother!"
"Relax, I'm not telling you to have a kid any time soon!" Hinoki waved her hands in front of her to calm her sister down, "I know a relationship is about love too," she raised he finger and smiled, "that's why you need to search for a proper candidate! You know, a guy who you'd love and who'd love you back and make you happy!"
Kusunoki stopped dead in her tracks. Someone who she'd love? Real genuine I-would-die-for-you man-to-woman love was something foreign to her. But when talking about crushes, she couldn't help her thoughts from jumping to him...
"A-and do you think this'll help me achieve that, aneue?" Kusunoki regained her composure, waving the blind dating pamphlet in front of her sister. "Meeting random guys like that?"
"But of course!" Hinoki smiled, seeing that her sister calmed down. "And it's not random. You state your preferences and the system suggests partners based on that and from those partners you choose the ones you'd like to meet."
"So how do I state my preferences and choose someone…"
"Relax!" Hinoki shot her a reassuring smile. "I've already made that choice for you."
"WHAT!?" Kusunoki hollered.
"Yup!" the light-haired woman smiled brightly. "Everything is already arranged. The pamphlet you're holding there has all information about the time and venue… and this is happening in a few hours, so you have to prepare, so go take a bath. And don't forget to dress nicely, first impression is essential, you know?" Hinoki paused for a second, thinking about something, not noticing or not caring about Kusunoki's face turning into a dangerous shade of red. "Oh, and put on some nice underwear as well… you need to be prepared for all scenarios."
"I'm absolutely not doing that!" Kusunoki's raged boiled over, but Hinoki only sighed.
"Fine… I didn't want to do it, but you're forcing my hand," the older Kasuga closed her eyes and when she opened them, they were full of confidence and authority.
(* * *)
As she was sitting by the table, wearing a dress she was sure she had never seen in her life before Hinoki handed it to her and pretended to be looking at the menu, Kusunoki made a resolution.
Before inheriting the dojo and mastering more martial art techniques she needed to learn how to ignore that dreadful countdown.
She discreetly peeked out from behind her menu, but if she hoped the situation changed then she was proven wrong – the guy sitting across the table was still there. Well, he wasn't the ugliest guy Kusunoki had seen, but he was shorter than her but at least half a foot. He was certainly weak-looking and certainly he wasn't cute.
And Hinoki said she had chosen this guy for her? Was this some kind of a sick joke?
If there was any positive about this situation is that Kusunoki got a confidence boost concerning her looks – she could feel the guy's stare on her all this time. He certainly liked what he was seeing.
Well, let him look, because looking is all he's going to get, Kusunoki thought, as she sent the guy the coldest glare she could muster, the one normally reserved for enemies and boards she wanted to snap.
The guy had enough intelligence to get the message and enough decency (or self-preservation) to discreetly leave on his own. Kusunoki had half the mind to leave after that as well, but the dreadful countdown continued to sound persistently in her head, so she decided to stay and try to survive through her next "date"…
Seriously, who's idea was it to hold blind dates in a restaurant like this? Were the rest of the people here also on a date? Well, at least she didn't have to pay for the food, she thought as she grabbed the menu again and hid behind it.
Maybe the next guy won't come at all?
Her hope was squashed, however, when she heard someone take a seat in front of her. Kusunoki waited for the guy to say something or at least clear his throat, but nothing like that happened. Realizing it wasn't very warrior-like to cower behind a sheet of paper, Kusunoki lowered the menu and faced her predicament. However, nothing prepared her for what she saw.
Both teens continued to look at each other for a short moment, before their mouth opened at the same time.
"What are you doing here?"
Kusunoki immediately looked to the side in panic. What was he doing here? What kind of a stupid question was that? What was the chance that he was just in the vicinity on his own? But the thought of him using the blind date service was ridiculous as well. Wasn't he an avid gamer? Then again… he had been lusting after Hinoki back then...
The thought made Kusunoki surprisingly angry… and the reason was simple.
While she might not be able to admit it to anyone... the truth was that she had some… feelings for this particular boy…
She couldn't really explain why she felt that way about him.
I mean, it was true that during the last year she had changed and… embraced her feminine side, so it was logical that she would be drawn to things normal girls her age desired and experienced. And it was true she was attracted to cute things and that included men. It was also true she knew Katsuragi…
...but why it had to be him? I mean why him and not her male classmates, as few as they were? Why not her disciples? Well, her disciples were an unruly bunch. They were not weak, but somehow they weren't appealing to her at all, mostly just annoying her with their antics. And her classmates… well, they were weak and not in a cute way – they were obviously scared of her. Why would she even consider them as dating material?
Katsuragi was somewhat different though. Yes, he was weak physically, certainly not a strongman… but he wasn't all that scrawny. He was nearly as tall as she was… No! That was half a year ago, now something told her that he might be even taller than her. And while he could take better care of his hair (which was surprisingly looking rather well at the moment), he wasn't all that bad looking. Actually, he was quite attractive and handsome in that odd lean-and-nice-face kinda way. Was it called bishōnen?
However, while he might be weak physically, he wasn't weak mentally.
She could remember it as if it had happened yesterday – that strange pressure when he had first asked to join her club. And his fiery gaze that hold such strength and determination. Katsuragi was certainly a man of passion and someone who knew the hardships of mastering a skill… even if that skill was something as ridiculous to her as playing games…
So, all-in-all, Katsuragi wasn't as weak as one could think… and he was certainly cute… but none of that… none of his physical or mental properties or personality justified what Kusunoki felt for him.
She refused to call it love, but she couldn't deny that it was a deep attraction she could not explain. In some way, he was really the only guy she would consider for a blind date like this…
To make matter worse, some time ago Hinoki had used that damned countdown and had made Kusunoki go to Katsuragi's house (which turned out to be a café) to confess to him.
It had been a very weird experience – an older girl coming with a bouquet of flowers to the house of a guy her own sister had kissed not to long ago. And, Kusunoki kinda messed up the confession. In the end, she had knocked Katsuragi out (as gently as possible and still felt guilty to this day) before telling that she liked him to his unconscious body, handing the flowers to his clueless little sister who appeared outside and walking away.
Kusunoki was praying that Katsuragi never knew what really happened on that day, confession and her hitting him included and even that didn't make facing him any easier.
Gah! Why it had to be him she had feelings for? And why it had to be him who was here right now? Come to think of it… hadn't he called her by her first name just now? Wasn't he addressing her as "captain" and "family head" before?
Why would he that? She was his senpai, after all! This familiarity… c-could it mean he viewed her as someone close to him?
"Let's get to the bottom of this, shall we?" Katsuragi pushed up his glasses, before pulling out a familiar pamphlet. "I take it you're here for the same reason I am?"
"That's correct," Kusunoki confirmed before she could bite her tongue. Even to her that sounded way too stiff… Great job, Kusunoki! "Though this is certainly an unexpected coincidence," she added, desperate to say something.
"I don't believe in coincidences like that. Not even in the real," Keima told her, "how about we compare the partner description we've been given?" he suggested.
Kusunoki didn't know why would he want to do that. She wasn't certain she wanted to do that either, but complied nonetheless.
"Let's see," she brought out her own pamphlet, suddenly nervous under his attentive gaze, "umm… a charming and very intelligent brown-haired young man. Passionate and efficient. A perfectionist with a brilliant mind, but also an idealist with a romantic soul. A hero looking for his heroine. Has a charming younger sister."
Katsuragi turned red at hearing this description and he immediately jumped a few levels up on Kusunoki's private list of cutest thing ever, fighting over the first place with teddy bears and Kusunoki's cat when his stomach was scratched. Kusunoki had to stifle a giggle at that.
The description was kinda weird, but it fitted Katsuragi perfectly, even though Kusunoki was certain he wasn't that great. Not that she doubted his intelligence or ability to devote himself to a task and do it efficiently (a notion she shared with him), but after Kusunoki had become more social, she had started to hear the rumors about the infamous "otamega". He was supposed to be a near-blind no-good creepy nerd and first-class NEET material… however Kusunoki's personal experience with the boy contradicted that rumors at least to some extent.
She personally witnessed the boy doing physical exercises and performing katas in her dojo. Of course the boy wasn't karate champion material, but he certainly wasn't perverted creepy weakling the rumors made him to be.
"Somehow I don't think you have written this yourself," she inferred from his troubled expression, before her own facial features turned serious, "you're not here from your own volition, right?"
Of course he wasn't, Kusunoki chided herself, why would a computer geek like him be interested in an old-fashioned martial arts girl like me?
"Well," Katsuragi started, looking away, "it seems my mother have noticed some… changes in me lately and insisted I get a girlfriend," the way he said 'insisted' sounded as if his mother threatened him or something, "and then she somehow came across this pamphlet."
"And your mother tried to…", Kusunoki searched for the least formal phrasing of 'dating' she know, "hook you up with some girls?"
"Not some girls. One girl," Katsuragi interrupted as he brought his own pamphlet to eye level and cleared his throat.
"An old-fashioned, graceful and elegant lady with killer body and boobs of steel," he started reading in calm, monotonous voice, "demure, yet brave. Strong and independent, but in need of man in her life who would mend her lonely heart. Owner of traditional family business. Likes cats. Has a charming older sister. Definitely a wife material."
By the time he was done reading Kusunoki's face was the color of her winter school uniform.
"I-I didn't write that," the martial artist exclaimed, drawing several glances to their table, while cursing the author of that description.
Hinoki, you damn traitor!
"I know," Katsuragi said calmly, "it was Hinoki's doing, right?" Kusunoki slowly nodded. "Well, as embarrassing as it is, it's not like it's far from the truth, is it?"
Kusunoki didn't reply, busy thinking.
How did Hinoki manage to arrange that? Because it was obvious to Kusunoki that this was no coincidence. She was ready to bet that Hinoki was the one who somehow sent the dating service advertisement to Katsuragi's mother. Hell, she might even have contacted Mrs. Katsuragi directly and the two women could actually plan this in order to bring the two teens together.
Kusunoki wasn't sure why Mrs. Katsuragi would want her son to date a "lady with boobs of steel", but Kusunoki certainly understood Hinoki's intention. After all, her dear sister said she liked both Kusunoki and Keima, so she wouldn't mind if they were to marry. Of course, Hinoki had been mostly joking back then… but only mostly.
Kusunoki was brought out of her stupor by Katsuragi's voice.
"Excuse me?" she asked.
"I asked If you were hungry," Katsuragi replied, looking up from his menu, "we might as well order something, don't you think?"
"Y-yeah," Kusunoki grabbed her menu as well.
One of the waiters, seeing that the pair was seated for several minutes now and looked into their menus, decided that they were past the first stage and approached their table.
"May I take your orders?"
Keima nodded and the waiter turned to Kusunoki. "What would it be for you, miss?"
The martial artist cursed internally, she was planning to let Keima order first and then choose something based on what he had chosen. Why "ladies first" had to work at the worst of times?
"I'll get some tonkatsu," Kusunoki said finally.
"Tempura for me," Keima ordered for himself and also ordered something to drink.
"Disappointed there are no hard-baked rice crackers on the menu?" Keima asked after waiter had left, seeing Kusunoki's uncertain expression.
"No, it's not that," Kusunoki replied. However, Katsuragi's comment did make her think about something.
He knew what her favorite snack was. It was obvious, since she had made him prepare rice crackers when he was her disciple (or rather "male manager"), but it was him who came up with the hard-baked version of it and Kusunoki could bet her own sister didn't know of her preferences. She wasn't sure her disciples knew.
Come to think of it, in certain aspects Katsuragi might know more of her than anyone else. He didn't annoy her as her disciples. He didn't make fun of her as her sister. He wasn't afraid to talk to her like her peers and the rest of her juniors. He had kinda helped her reconcile with Hinoki.
On the other hand, Kusunoki knew next to nothing about it.
"What's your favorite snack?" she shot in the dark.
Keima raised his eyebrow in confusion.
"I-I mean, you have to have something. Pocky? Apples? Chocolate? Cookies? Sweets?"
"I dislike sweet things," Keima replied, "I guess anything else is fine. Games are what's keep me revitalized anyway. Well… mostly."
Kusunoki nodded her head slowly, but she was far from satisfied. Wasn't the point of dates like this to actually get to know the other person? Obviously the two of them weren't a match made in heaven, but there was no harm in asking?
C'mon, Kusunoki, you have faced men and situations far more frightening and difficult than this, she told herself. Just talk. What he likes, what is his family like or any smalltalk. Even the last time Hinoki pranked her would do. Just talk.
"So no ice cream either?" she asked, not sure why she even did that.
"I'm not particularly fond of ice cream," Katsuragi responded after a moment, looking less composed for some reason and Kusunoki couldn't help but smile.
Fufufu… he was so cute when he was embarrassed… was she also this cute when Hinoki was embarrassing her? In that case she totally understood why aneue liked to embarrass her so much.
"What about your hobbies?" she asked, trying to sate her thirst for knowledge. Katsuragi looked at her incredulously.
"You know my hobby is dating sim games, right, senpai?"
"I'm no longer your senpai," the martial artist interjected, "and 'Kusunoki' is fine… but I'll call you 'Keima' in return."
"Fine," Keima shrugged before he started explaining to her what was great about his games. He didn't understand why she had asked him that. He didn't understand why she was looking at him with those strange half-lidded eyes… he would've thought she was bored or tired if her eyes weren't strangely attentive. And why was she playing with her hair like that
Unbeknown to him, he started to get into his explanation not noticing that it made Kusunoki smile a bit.
He was such a nerd… and he was so cute when he was acting like that. Was it her or was he really more attractive when he was talking about his hobby passionately like that? It felt less like a hobby and more like a way of living.
She couldn't help but wonder how would it feel if he were to talk about her with that look on his face?
Her thoughts were interrupted when their food arrived and the next few minutes were spent in silence as they ate. However, for some reason Kusunoki felt nervous. It was as if there was some pressure she had normally felt only during occasions like tournaments. The pressure people felt when they were being assessed. In this case it felt as if Keima was assessing her as a dating candidate. They boy seemed focused on his own food, but Kusunoki was certain he was observing her, making her fret about the simplest of things.
Should she comment on the food or should she stay quiet?
Were her table manners okay?
Should she act more formal or more casual when eating?
The food was too… delicate for her tastes, but it was certainly cutely arranged. However, they eventually ate all of it and they were back to conversing (hopefully Keima laughing at something funny she said)… or at least they should be. Instead of it there was silence.
"I'm sorry. I'm not a great conversationalist," Keima looked a bit away, "at least not when I don't have conversation choices."
"No, I'm the one who should apologize," Kusunoki said quickly, "I don't have much experience talking with men and I'm not the easiest person to talk to… but I guess you know that already…"
"I guess…" Keima said. He remembered all too well her violent actions and disdain for the weak. She had changed though. "Still, the way you are now is a far cry from when I first saw you."
"R-really?" Kusunoki asked, flustered. Did he just... compliment her?
As if on cue the woman by the next table giggled in response to whatever her date said and started to talk. Quite loudly.
"How about we get out of here?" Keima apparently agreed with her.
"You read my mind…"
(* * *)
Wai Wai road was a rather specific place. Of course, it had a shop for a martial artist like Kusunoki and she had been here when she went out with her disciples. And some shop windows were certainly as cute as she remembered. In other words, Kusunoki have been here before, but certainly not with Keima.
So what was this sensation she was feeling? Why did it feel so familiar? Why did her stomach seemed to churn up whenever she looked at Keima?
"So is there anywhere you'd want to go?" Keima asked.
Kusunoki bit her lip. Was there any place she could go with Keima? The sports shop was out of the question. She would look like a girl who had no interest or life outside of martial arts!
Wait, there was one place.
"Over there," Kusunoki pointed to a shop in one of the side streets.
"A pet-shop?" Keima noticed.
"Yeah," Kusunoki said, "I wanted to buy food for my cat."
(* * *)
Ten minutes later they walked out of the shop, with Kusunoki carrying a bag with cat food inside. However, the bag was not everything that had changed in those ten minutes, as Kusunoki was now talking vividly, describing all the misdemeanor and cute moments she had witnessed with her pet cat.
"...and when one of the guys petted him the wrong way, he pounced on him in an instant. You should see it: a 6-foot tall bulky guy running away from a cat with scratch marks all over his face," she recounted happily. "Oh, and this one time where I found my cat, sleeping in a sink of all places. I don't know how he can sleep there, but he was looking sooo cute with his body all curled up in a small soft, fluffy ball…"
She continued to talk excitedly, while Keima continued to observe her. He couldn't be sure how permanent her change was. How did she behave when in her dojo? He didn't know. What he knew was that now, here, in that dress she looked and acted completely different than he remember.
While he was certain that she still could kick ass in combat and perform martial arts katas with deadly precision and efficiency, she was now acting more casual and naturally. Gone was the rigidness in her movements or the seriousness in her gaze, traded for smiles and giggles, which sounded positively girly.
Even her manner of speech was different.
"Oops," Kusunoki covered her mouth, "excuse me for my babble," she turned to him, looking nervous for a moment, "soo… where do you want to go now?"
Keima didn't reply immediately. He have already bought his games for now, so he hadn't any need to go to his regular game shop. He very much doubted Kusunoki would approve anyway.
"Anywhere is fine," he responded lamely. In the games the most obvious date route would be to let girl choose or choose something she would obviously like, but without up-to-date info on Kusunoki, Keima was lost on where she'd like to go. Would suggesting a sports shop would be a good or bad flag? And which one of those flag should he raise anyway?
"There has to be some place you'd want to go," Kusunoki said determinedly, looking around, "how about there?"
Keima looked up only to see her pointing to an arcade. The very same they had visited the last time they had been on a date. But Kusunoki couldn't know this.
"But you don't like games," he objected, trying to see the flag more clearly.
"I'm sure there has to be some game that fits both of us! Come on!" Kusunoki exclaimed as she grabbed his hand and dragged him in the direction of the arcade.
Please, everything but that "hammer the lobster" game, Keima thought as he crossed the threshold. He knew how that one would end.
"How about this?" Kusunoki approached one of the tables.
"Air hockey?" Keima asked.
"Why not?" Kusunoki asked back, already putting money into the device. "Come on! I challenge you to a match!"
Of course, God of Conquest couldn't walk past a challenge like that, no matter how dangerous it was.
Kusunoki's movement were fast and the strength of some of them was enough to send the puck out of the table, however, Keima steadily dominated the game. He was waiting for Kusunoki's rage to boil over, however...
"Wow, you are great at this," the martial artist said after a particular even exchange that lasted half a minute, "how often do you play this?"
"I don't play air hockey at all?" Keima said slowly, not sure why did it come out as a question. Kusunoki didn't seem to mind however.
"Hey, what's this?" she said, pointing to some even less electronic device.
It was table football, a game that was harder to play with just two people. Fortunately, there were two boys, who were all eager to play against them.
Of course, Kusunoki's experience with such a game was zero and she had trouble with the controls again, mostly sending the ball randomly over the field whenever her figures "kicked" the ball, but compensated for it with her sharp senses and fast reflexes.
What chances had two little boys against the God of Conquests and Mai-High Sapphire Princess?
"That was an outstanding victory!" Kusunoki said as she high-fived Keima.
"Yeah," Keima replied, confused. Winning with children like that was… well… child's play. Then how come it was fun?
Ten minutes later they walked out of the arcade. Kusunoki's bag was now holding not only cat food, but also a teddy bear Keima had won in the crane game, though he didn't have the slightest clue how it happened.
Unbeknown to him, Kusunoki had a similar problem. She certainly was having fun, but couldn't figure out why. I mean, part of her thought it was fairly obvious why she was reacting that way to him, but the other part was flabbergasted as to why the reaction was so strong.
She barely knew the guy after all and she had only seen him for two periods in her life, both barely lasting a week.
So what was this trickery? What kind of spell he had cast on her?
Her brain was unable to come up with an answer. However, reason wasn't all she had to rely upon.
Kusunoki wasn't the best person when it came to logical thinking or figuring people out with reason. However, she was a martial artist and in martial arts there was no time for thinking. There was only practice and practice had but one purpose: to hone the body until the movements sunk into her very bones, in order for the body to be able to react instinctively in combat.
Instinct and reflex were a necessity for a warrior – they were what allowed Kusunoki to read her opponents and deliver finishing blows before her enemy could. A warrior's sixth sense of sorts.
Moreover, as a woman (a late bloomer but still) she had what all women had – a woman's intuition.
She couldn't really name the thing she felt for Keima Katsuragi and she couldn't logically explain why was it so strong… She knew that he was a nerd and pretty infamous at that… But she also knew what her warrior's instinct and woman's intuition were telling her. And right now they were telling her the same thing her heart was.
They were telling her to make Keima Katsuragi hers.
Right there an then she made an oath. Till the end of this date she will use all of her skills to make Keima fall in love with her or at least agree to another date. She was obviously aware that her "game" was all but non-existent and her reaching her goal during this date was extremely unlikely.
But no matter. She knew where he lived, so even if she failed with this, she could always just try again… Maybe she could meet his family and make them support her, especially since it was a café, so she'd have an excuse to visit...
Maybe she could talk to his classmates and learn more about him...
Or maybe she should swallow her pride and ask Hinoki for advice, no matter how mortifying it would be?
Anyway, she would use this opportunity while it lasted…
Calm down, Kusunoki told herself, you have faced men weighting twice as much as you do in combat... You can do this… There's nothing to be afraid of here. Just be subtle and don't pry to much and ask him. About his family, his dreams, his future.
And his e-mail and phone number.
Yeah… she definitely needed to get those.
(* * *)
Keima was a little surprised when Kusunoki asked for the exchange of contact information. And while there was no typical afterschool event, Keima did complete his second year of highschool recently. Besides, afterschool events only applied to school settings anyway…
And they were on a date, so it shouldn't be all that surprising, but it was, especially when Kusunoki followed with a barrage of questions, some of which were particularly odd, all things considering.
His favorite color. Favorite season. Whether he was a morning person. Things like that.
Unfortunately, Keima's answers to most of those were boring or disappointing at best, at least in his own opinion. He hadn't really thought much about his future beyond the M-funds. Well, he wasn't especially happy with the perspective of a job, but he thought it wouldn't be that problematic to find something that'd suit him either. He wasn't that close with his own family. Even his hobbies were all in the "disgusting otamega" category, as he only recently got more interest with the real and it wasn't much.
He wasn't worried about his answers or him seeming uninteresting though. He was who he was and he wasn't changing much in the near future. And he wasn't about to lie to Kusunoki. No, he was done pretending to be someone he was not.
Even more surprising was that Kusunoki didn't look peeved or even disappointed. Actually, she was looking pleased, even if it was "with herself" kind of pleased.
Keima didn't let any of this show, however, and he proceeded with questions of his own.
Some of his queries made Kusunoki visibly nervous, apparently she was more concerned with her lack of social life or interesting traits. In particular, she didn't seem too happy when she told Keima that she was going to inherit her family dojo and teach martial arts as profession, though he didn't know why. Shouldn't she be proud of such achievement? Was she worried that she was going to be a family head only because Hinoki had once refused to be one?
However, she did have several answers that were not bad at all.
(* * *)
The sky was only beginning to turn orange when Keima noticed that Kusunoki didn't answer his last question, her eyes fixed on something in front of her. Keima looked over there and had to stop himself from cringing.
Kusunoki was looking at an ice cream stall and Keima had a good idea why, even if Kusunoki herself didn't understand it fully. It was pretty obvious she wanted to buy one though.
"Should we buy ice cream?" he asked as good manners and flags commanded, silently praying that it was far too early for Kusunoki to even consider doing licking the cone together. She once said that "no sane person would ever do it", right?"
"But you said you're not fond of ice cream," Kusunoki reminded him.
"It's fine," he told her.
"Really?" he expression lit up as if she were a ten year old girl on a festival with her parents (and, in a way, it was exactly like that), before she grabbed his hand and walked towards the stall.
Fortunately, they have ended up with separate cones, though Kusunoki seemed flustered by the fact that Keima paid for both of them.
They continued walking, though Kusunoki had no idea where they were heading. She had also completely forgot about her bag with the cat food and teddy bear and checked to see if it was still there. It was. However, by doing so, she noticed something else.
They were still holding hands.
At this realization, Kusunoki's entire body grew hot and she increased the speed at which she was consuming her ice cream, afraid that it will melt form the heat.
"Is something wrong?" Keima asked, although he knew the reason for her behavior.
"N-no… e-everything's fine," Kusunoki answered, the color of her face matching that of the sky.
(* * *)
"Should we head to your house?" Keima asked over an hour later.
They were currently sitting on the swings in the Night Public Park and the sun's disk had all but disappeared beyond the horizon.
Kusunoki chose this place herself, obviously drawn to the places from when he had conquered her. However, her not remembering the true way the conquest happened was also obvious by now.
If she didn't have her memories, then what could had drawn her here? Well, to Keima the answer to that question was obvious as well.
"W-what?" Kusunoki responded back in panic. He wanted to come to her house? Was he implying what she thought he was?
"It's getting late," Keima told her, "and while I know you're capable of taking care of herself, it's normal for the boy to walk the girl home at the end of the date."
To his surprise Kusunoki didn't reply with a smile. Actually, she didn't reply at all, instead she hung hear head down, as if depressed. Real world or not, this was not a reaction Keima was expecting.
"What's wrong?" he asked.
"Nothing's wrong," she lied as she stood up, "let's go."
Kusunoki started to walk, but stopped when she felt a tug on her arm. She turned around and, sure enough, Keima was grabbing her arm.
"Let go!" she barked the same way she issued orders to her disciples. But Keima was not her disciple.
"No," he replied calmly and confidently.
Kusunoki blinked, trying to remember the last time someone objected her like that, but nothing came to mind. Her classmates, disciples or even teachers. Everyone except Hinoki obeyed her.
"I said let go!" she jerked her hand away. Keima did stagger forward, but he didn't let go, surprising her again.
"Just tell me what's wrong," he said, his eyes boring into hers. It was of course impossible for his gaze to make her knees weak… so why was it happening?
Ugh… who did he think he was? Who did he think she was? She was the master of the Kasuga-Style Life and Death Technique and she could kick his butt even in this dress! And she was going to show him why!
She launched a punch at him, but all she managed was to graze his cheek… because he dodged her punch. Granted, she didn't punch at full speed, but it was still astonishing. Even more astonishing was what followed, as Keima performed a motion she recognized and caught her.
He actually had caught her into a martial arts hold and bent one of her arms.
Of course, she could break out of a hold of a weak person like him, no matter what kind of lever he used, but the shock have thrown her into inaction.
"This," she said, her voice full of pure respect, "who taught you how to do this?"
"Games," Keima said simply and Kusunoki's stomach did a somersault when she saw his smile.
Not only that, but her brain just now officially joined her heart, instinct and women's intuition, telling her how capable in martial arts her and Keima children would be.
That dangerous thought was interrupted, when Keima let go of her and stepped back
"Now, could you tell me what's wrong?" he asked softly after a moment
Kusunoki was quiet for a moment, but now that her reason had betrayed her as well she could no longer hold it.
"I like you," she told him.
"What?" Keima asked, dumbfounded. Did she think he didn't know that?
"I LIKE YOU!" she shouted, her scream filling the evening air. "I mean I've liked you for some time now."
"...and that makes you upset?" Keima asked, following the only route that seemed to make sense here.
"NO!" Kusunoki yelled. "I-I mean, at first it was very disturbing, especially since you clearly preferred aneue… but I got to the terms with it, actually…" she hesitated for a moment, "I have confessed to you before."
Keima was about to comment about this aneue thing, but this last information was news to him.
"You have what?" he asked. "When?"
"Back then when I have come to your house with the flowers… Aneue made me do this… but what I said back then was honest… And it only grew stronger since then!"
"What you said back then?" Keima repeated. "You knocked me out!"
To his surprise Kusunoki blushed and it was visible in half-light.
"Because I didn't want you to hear me!" she explained.
"Okay, let's leave that for now," Keima put his hand in front of him to stop her from talking. "I still don't understand why are you upset. Did I do something wrong? Did you don't like this date?"
"No!" she shouted. "I liked it very much! I haven't had that much fun in ages!"
"Then what's the problem?" he asked louder, his patience growing thin.
"The problem is you don't like me back, idiot!" she shouted, shutting him up.
"I know it… I knew it from the beginning," Kusunoki said when she had calmed down. "I'm thankful that you went along with me today, even if you were forced into this blind dating thing… I know I'm just a big, scary girl who lives in the mountains in a house from the past century who is not good with anything outside of martial arts! I know you are not interested in someone like me!"
"So please," she resumed after a moment, "don't act so nice and don't give me false hope!" with that she looked up at him… only to see his palm planted smack in the middle of his face.
"You're not too bright, are you?" he lowered his hand.
"Listen," he raised his finger. "I'm a very efficient man. I don't like wasting time or putting more effort into things than required. Unnecessary things are unnecessary. You of all people should be able to understand this, right?"
"Y-yes," she confirmed.
"This also applies to dating," he continued, "now I agreed to this because my mother pestered me about this… and I know it's good manners to get to the end of the date... but did you seriously think I'd waste a second with a girl if I determined I wouldn't want to date her in the end?"
"Wait, you mean-"
"In other words," he interrupted her, "if I thought you were uninteresting we'd not walk out of that restaurant together."
There was a long silence.
"B-but," Kusunoki tried to make sense out of it, "but you didn't want to continue this date!" she accused, crossing her arms over her chest.
"When did I say that?" Keima copied her movement.
"You just said that you walk the girl home at the end of the date! You wanted to end this date!"
Keima rolled his eyes. "Seriously, if you continue to speak like that you'll lose all the points you've accumulated today!"
"I've said that because it's late already and we have to end this date," he explained calmly. "Don't you think our families would be worried if we came back this late?"
Well, it wasn't exactly true in this case, Keima thought, as he remembered one of the things Mari said to him before he left the house – that she and Eri could spend sleep in a hotel if Keima needed the house for the night.
Ugh… not thinking about that.
"Wait… so you… you like me?" Kusunoki asked and here it was again – that warm balloon of air that was slowly expanding in her chest and stomach and, Kusunoki was certain of it, it was filled with butterflies.
"Well, you are certainly a real girl unlike my game heroines and a gamer and martial artist is a very rare pattern in games," Keima closed his eyes for a moment before opening them, "but you certainly accumulated enough points to earn a second date."
Kusunoki's lungs relaxed when the martial arts girl resumed her breathing.
"So while I cannot say I like you as you like me right now, I'm certainly more fond of you than many other women… and I'd be fond of you even without the 'killer body' part."
"You think I'm attractive?" Kusunoki reiterated, just to make sure she didn't misunderstand something.
Keima sighed. "Don't you have mirrors in your dojo?" he joked. "Or did you happen to miss all the looks half of the male population of our school were throwing your way for the past three years?"
It was both the weirdest and the best compliment she had ever heard.
"So, did you have fun with me today?" she asked.
"Yes, much more than I expected when it comes to the real," he paused for a moment, his face becoming more than a little red, "and I actually considered closing this date with a kiss if you'd want it."
There was another silence during which Kusunoki's face grew hotter until its color matched Keima's.
And then she remembered the oath she had made earlier today
"I want it," she said, embarrassment, shyness and pride be damned.
Keima sighed. Perhaps neither of them was completely ready and fine with this, but both of them were defined by their passions, determination and, most important of all, the pride and honor that made them refuse to go back on anything.
And because of that Keima walked up to Kusunoki, his arms embracing her. Kusunoki's arms immediately shot up as well, wrapping themselves around his neck. This was feeling very familiar, as if they've been there before.
And so felt his lips on hers.
(* * *)
Two hours later Hinoki went to the kitchen and opened the fridge. It was pretty late for eating snacks, but Hinoki was a big woman, in height, body proportions and ambitions, so she needed to eat a lot as well.
She had just found something, when she heard the sound of the main door being unlocked. Come to think of it, the older Kasuga had almost forgotten about this entire blind date business. Moreover, she had predicted that Kusunoki would ditch (and possibly mutilate) her date and would be punishing tree trunks in the forest, too embarrassed and shamed to come home immediately. With that being said, Hinoki had hoped that Kusunoki would blew off some steam and would be no more than a little peeved when she arrived in the dojo.
However, when Hinoki looked out of the kitchen, she saw something rather different.
It was Kusunoki alright… but was it really Kusunoki? The older woman didn't remember when she had last seen her younger sister looking so relaxed and… happy.
"Kusunoki?" Hinoki asked and her sister's eyes focused on her as if she'd only noticed her just now. "How did your date go?"
Kusunoki didn't respond immediately. Instead she walked up to Hinoki… before embracing her in a big and rib-crushing hug.
"Thank you very much, aneue."
Hinoki could only blink and watch as Kusunoki released her and proceeded to walk towards her bedroom. At this moment Kusunoki's cat went out of the bedroom, holding in its mouth a bra or rather what was left of it – an odd parody of a dog destroying its master's shoes. However, Kusunoki didn't seem to mind. She only crouched down and stroked her pet with a smile for a few seconds before walking into her bedroom and closing the door.
The cat would've said "what the hell just happened!?" if only it could talk. Instead it looked at Hinoki, comically tilting its head as if in question.
"Don't ask me, kitty," Hinoki shook her head, "I'm as lost as you are."