Because with each answer, a little bit of his heart pours out, or so he thinks.
He's unhooking the key from the board, busy words written before he's off. A last-ditch effort for some peace and quiet and a little less because his sister had asked him to do it. He doesn't think much of it, more of a motion to a cause; doesn't realize it's a stone kicked into the pond.
Ripples quick to form and his last-ditch effort for peace and quiet becomes a solemn goodbye to it.
They meet a little too suddenly. She's a whirlwind of too much all at once and Houtarou realizes within minutes he's suffocating, fast, and he barely has time to catch his breath. She's an anomaly he can't figure out from first glance and it irks him.
She's too wide eyes, gentle voice with a severe disregard for personal space. She's sun on a rainy day, she's- Chitanda, Chitanda Eru, with a soft breath and too much twilight sun in her amethyst eyes.
She's everything he doesn't want and finds that the peace he had so wistfully yearned for was now lost.
"I'm curious …"
As it always begins and Houtarou wonders if she's got the whole world between her eyes, on the tips of her fingers and at the very edge of her tongue whenever she's glancing his way with those wide, curious, damning eyes.
He wonders because somehow when those curious eyes capture him, hands gripping like a vice at his attention; he loses balance too easily.
Gravity ceases to exist, and he's thrown into the rotation that is Chitanda's wonderment. Circling into her orbit; pulled, tugged, enraptured and he's left to fend off her curiosity by his will.
The problem there: Oreki Houtarou never had much will to begin with.
He chalks it up as infatuation. As a manifestation of strong teenage hormones that are only amplified whenever she's near. Sure, hormones. That was normal – he was, after all, a teenage boy. It was about time that he had those thoughts.
But were those really just hormones?
And like a moth to a flame, Kami-sama sends him his answer in the form of a summer night and eyes imagining exposed skin, lots of it.
"This doesn't appear to have mixed bathing."
Her words have a handle on his mind and it's healthy and right and of course, infatuation does things to people -
Chitanda just a few feet away, hidden behind the fence and a thin towel. Chitanda in nothing, fingers tugging dark strands behind her ears. Chitanda's milk-white skin, exposed for the world to see but only allowing the water to hug her. Chitanda getting wet.
And he's sure that the warmth of the water is getting to him because he's feeling dizzy and something's rising, and he sure as hell hopes it isn't his heartbeat.
He knows it's her before she speaks – there's just something in her mannerisms that has him knowing and he isn't sure how he feels about it. Then he feels a hand on his cheek and she's much too close and he's all red ears and frantic imagery that are descending far too quickly south.
With bated breath, his excuses spill from his lips and he turns away because now he's sure it isn't just his heartbeat rising.
All these thoughts fill his mind and for the better half of the night, he's relieved because, perhaps he was right – it was just infatuation.
Mayaka asks him one day, and he's not gripping straws for an answer.
"She's not someone I can just ignore, which is why it's a hassle."
Instead, his own voice betrays him, and he answers a little too quickly with a reply that sounds much too practiced for his liking. He wonders if Mayaka thinks it too but instead she's just as quickly denouncing the conversation and handing over payment for the flour and the question is lost in her laughter.
Yet, her words are forever stuck in his mind: why couldn't he just ignore her?
He doesn't know when it changes, when her piercing eyes aren't just something he expects but welcomes. And perhaps infatuation isn't all there is to the story. It's a question Chitanda doesn't ask him this time and of his own volition, it turns the gears of his mind more than he thought it would. He doesn't know but like most things in his life, he tries not to dwell on it too much.
"You're special to me!"
They shatter him and his world and the perfect, little conclusion he had tied to his own self-pursuing mystery. Something in him stirs and he has half the mind to smother the words that make it so because no, if this was just infatuation her words shouldn't have this type of effect on him.
If it was just infatuation, his heart shouldn't have skipped a beat.
If it was just infatuation, Houtarou shouldn't be holding out hope for more.
(If it was just infatuation, her white bikini should have been the only thing running through his mind and unfortunately for him, it's not.)
The day she asks him is the day he dreads the most because he doesn't know what to say. He hides behind his novel and pretends he doesn't hear her – goes on like the world hasn't stopped and he's not at all affected by the magnetic pull she has on him and his eyes. But soon they're voluntarily sliding up - damn that magnetic pull - and he can't stop himself from drowning in deep violet and curiosity.
She repeats her question with another blinding smile and expectantly looks his way, "Why do you answer my questions?" His breath hitches because is that uncertainty in her voice or was he just imagining the nerves eating away between the lines of her question of questions.
So, the answer comes, as nonchalant as he could force himself to be:
"I answer your questions," he starts with a leisurely breath, "because I'm also curious."
And he wonders if it sounds too much like I love you.
But as April comes, finally, he sees her beneath cherry blossoms and a red umbrella and his feelings in the daylight and he can't help the confusion that lurks in his mind, had it always been this way?
Cherry blossoms suit her, the small town life suits her. And he's left wondering if he fits into that small town life, with the cherry blossoms that suit her and the questions budding at the tip of her tongue. There's a startle in him as he tries to make himself fit, the words captured at a moment's notice but he imagines it and if he says it there's no going back and he's thinking far too much, far too quickly, much to his dismay and his relatively energy-saving personality and he stops himself before the words reach fruition.
"It's a bit chilly, isn't it?" are what come out instead.
Because that's the thing about feelings, sometimes they can creep up on you; and sometimes they go unrequited, unasked for but somehow, she answers him without him ever having to really ask.
"No, it's spring, already." She says in reply and this time he's the one gaping at her in wonderment.