Author's Note: My second attempt at a long Minami-ke story, this time with a different focus. You might notice that the first chapter here is a direct tie in with my first such story. This wasn't planned initially, but I realized that it would make for a good start. I do intend for this to be a direct sequel. The title comes from an episode title I particularly liked.

Update: 12/22/10 So I accidentally deleted a couple of lines in the middle… (also, more thematic consistency)


One day, on a forest trail near one of Yoshino's country villas...

Makoto recoiled from the collision, rubbing his face painfully.

"Ow!"

"Damn it, Mako-chan!" Touma complained. "Can't you walk without stepping all over other people's feet? I'm the one who should be saying 'Ow'!"

"I'm sorry, I'm sorry," he apologized, bowing up and down.

Their flashlights shone like beacons in front of them, their light cones saccading back and forth like the insects they illuminated. The lights gave the bare branches of the trees around them a ghostly pallor, but at least kept them from painfully colliding into anything.

"Why are you following Touma so closely, anyway?" asked Chiaki.

"Well, er, this—are you sure this forest is safe?" Makoto asked. "What if there are wolves or something?"

Wolves were secretly one of his great fears.

Damn it, Makoto, Touma thought. You have got to be the girliest guy I—no, wait, that goes without saying.

Her preoccupation delayed her reaction to Chiaki's sudden about-face.

Touma pulled back, barely avoiding a collision. Mako-chan, however, rammed into Touma's shoulder, though their thick jackets blunted the impact somewhat.

"Don't stop like that!" said Touma, complaining to Chiaki this time.

"Sorry," Chiaki responded perfunctorily, shining her light in Makoto's face, mind clearly not focused on her apology.

"Anyway," she continued. "You heard Yoshino! This place is perfectly safe. Stop being so cowardly! Give Touma some space. If you can't handle it, then just cling onto her shoulder so you won't run into her."

Mako-chan was about to take that latter piece of advice, but then Touma gave him a look that said, "Seriously?"

"I really recommend you don't, though," Chiaki said, less harsh. "You need to learn to be a little more assertive. And daring."

At this, he summoned what male pride he had left and fell back a few paces.

Chiaki still thought he was a sempai so meek that she actually had standing to try and reform him. A sempai! And all his previous attempts to dissuade her of the notion had, in one way or another, actually strengthened it.

He sighed. It was just something he lived with now.

The dead leaves and branches under their feet crackled as they walked.

"Well, mission accomplished, I guess," commented Chiaki, a long moment later.

"What do you mean?" asked Touma.

"Well, if we had gone with the rest of them to those hot spring baths, you would have been forced to join us on the girls' side, and your cover would have been blown with Fujioka. That's the real reason we're out here, right?"

"Ah, well, yes," Touma responded. She had somehow forgotten the real purpose of their trip.

"So like I said, mission accomplished. Though I wonder..."

She dragged out the sentence, waiting for Touma to indicate that she was paying attention.

"Yes?" Touma asked. "Wonder what?"

"Is it really a good idea to keep him in the dark like this? He's going to find out someday. I really don't think you can keep this up. I mean, he might be learning the truth from Natsuki as we speak."

"I hadn't thought of that," Touma said, genuinely thoughtful and surprised. "That bastard better not be—"

"Don't dodge the point!" Chiaki insisted. "Why is this so important to you anyway?"

Touma looked at Chiaki, then looked pointedly away. There was something deeply unsettling about the whole situation.

"It...it just is. I can't explain it. Besides, aren't you the one who put me up to this?"

Chiaki didn't respond, looking suddenly pensive.

Touma navigated carefully around a mildly treacherous part of the trail, avoiding. Why was it so important to her? She didn't even know what she would do if he ever found out.

And for Chiaki herself to ask…

"I wonder why it matters so much…" Chiaki sighed, looking pensive, as if she was no longer even talking to Touma.

"I told you—" Touma began.

"No, nevermind." Chiaki responded, shaking her head.

Touma watched her as she gathered her thoughts.

"Anyway," Chiaki added, straightening her posture. "Makoto has been following you home a lot lately."

Chiaki stopped, looking uncomfortable.

Touma grimaced, and opened her mouth to speak, but too late.

"It couldn't possibly be that you two..." Chiaki said, swaying a little as she walked. "Could it? Isn't it kind of early? I don't know if I would really approve…"

Chiaki was being strangely diffident. It was out of character for her—but Touma had bigger problems at the moment.

She noticed him following me? Damn it! And I thought we were being discreet!

Touma bought herself some time to think by making a big show of climbing up a minor gradient in the trail, keeping her eyes fixed on the muddy ground.

Just over one month ago, Makoto's mother had finally caught him in the act of changing into his Mako-chan outfit. What was worse, his by then extensive collection of female clothing had been exposed in plain sight, due to him carelessly leaving the box open right next to him.

Capitalizing on his mother's reluctance to see the truth, Makoto had improvised a complicated explanation involving a school project, some sort of dare, and spare hairclips.

Oh, yes, and he had also implied that the clothes were borrowed from a "special friend" of his—he had decided he needed to bolster his male credentials to further show the impossibility of him being a cross-dresser.

When she demanded corroboration, he was really in a fix. After all, he couldn't ask Chiaki or Yoshino, and Uchida might just take it too seriously, which left...Touma.

Backing up his story had been a rather...interesting experience.

In addition, in order to prevent any future such incidents, all clothing belonging to "Mako-chan" was now stored at her house, which had the added bonus of being usable to deflect Natsuki's constant assertions that she was too boyish. Her brothers got home relatively late, so it all worked out.

Unfortunately, it seemed Chiaki had noticed his frequent trips to her house.

Makoto seriously owed her. She was still deciding how to make him pay her back. But for now, it looked like his situation would be the gift that just kept on giving.

Stepping over a fallen branch, she also wondered why Mako-chan hadn't started spluttering or trying to change the subject. Maybe he just hadn't heard.

She cleared her throat. She had successfully thought through how to deal with this.

"Actually, no. Nothing of the sort. We've just decided to help each other on our studying, that's all."

She stopped.

"Uchida shows up every once in a while too," she added, defensively, too late.

"I see," Chiaki, the expression of relief flashing across her face replaced by an expression of hurt.

"Why would you do that?" she asked. "Why not just ask me? I helped you guys get into that school, after all. I'd be glad to."

"Ah, well," Touma said, backtracking in the face of Chiaki's unusual behavior. "We just didn't want to keep being such a burden on you."

"You don't have to worry about it..."

Suddenly, Touma's flashlight started flickering, briefly giving the trees in front of them a staccato lighting effect, before going out entirely and imbuing the darkness with a newfound strength.

"I guess Yoshino was right," Touma commented, annoyed, banging the head of the flashlight into the palm of her hand. This thing really was running out of batteries. I should have just let her change it."

She considered the dead device in her hand.

"Hey Mako-chan, toss me the spares!" She said loudly, directing her voice toward the "girl" behind them.

No one answered.

Touma abruptly realized that two flashlight beams were all they had seen for quite a while.

"Mako-chan?" Chiaki asked, worried.

They turned around.

He was nowhere to be seen.


Well, it's quite a fine fix you've gotten yourself into this time, Mako-chan.

I need to stop calling myself that...

He had slipped off the trail, sliding soundlessly down a mud gulley, still wet from recent rains. He had yelled, startled, too late, but he realized now that he hadn't heard them say anything back.

How could they not have heard me?

"Hey, c'mon guys, it's not funny! I'm stuck here!"

No response.

He really was stuck there. He was at the bottom of a small, steep ravine with sides coated in slippery mud. He couldn't head back up, only down the hill—and that seemed riskier than just staying there.

It didn't help that he seemed to have sprained his ankle, making each step an agony once he had managed to get back up.

He leaned against a short tree and yelled again:

"Touma? Chiaki? Anyone?"

He looked forlornly at his flashlight, lightbulb shattered in the fall. At least he had managed to hold onto it, for what little good that did him.

If it were working, I could wave it to attract attention, or at the very least see what's around me.

He sighed and sat back down into the mud, too uncaring and in too much pain to remain standing. His jeans—nice and feminine to match the rest of his outfit—were ruined already, so it didn't matter. The cold was starting to bite into him, despite his thick jacket.

This is serious! I don't want to die of exposure! Or wolves...

Alright. He would keep yelling for a while longer, and if he still didn't see any help, he would start heading downhill and pray to successfully reach one of the farmers in the valley below.

They must have noticed by now! Right?

"Hey! Anyone there? I'm stuck down here! My flashlight is out!

Something rustled behind him. He turned rapidly, but couldn't see into the bushes at all.

Alright, he told himself, hand on head, get a grip. There are no wolves out here. It was probably just a rabbit or something I startled.

"Mako-chan!"

Chiaki's voice, coming as it did from above him, seemed at that moment roughly akin to the voice of an angel.

"Down here! Down here! My flashlight is broken!" he yelled, only his ankle keeping him from jumping up and down and waving his arms.

The harsh glare of a flashlight shone into Makoto's eyes, temporarily blinding him, and when he saw finally through it, to Chiaki and Touma looking down at him, a halo of light surrounding them, the angelic effect became even more pronounced.

He held up his left hand to block the light a little.

"You baka-yaro! How the hell did you fall down there? Do you know how worried we were? Baka-yaro! Making us come get you..."

As he watched in horror, she stepped downward, apparently not aware what kind of surface she was stepping onto.

"Wait, Chiaki!" He and Touma yelled simultaneously, Touma automatically reaching forward to grab Chiaki's fur-hooded collar and pull her back.

It was a mistake. Touma pulled too hard, toppling her backward just as her feet reached the ground—causing said feet to slide and immediately fly upward.

"Shit—" began Touma.

Chiaki slipped uncontrollably down the surface, yelling just as Makoto had. She let go of the flashlight, which spun into the air and landed behind her. Touma, who should have let go, instead clung on, trying to keep Chiaki up, and lost her balance, following Chiaki downward.

Acting instinctively, Makoto ran forward, for a moment oblivious to the pain in his ankle, preparing to catch them—

The impact sent him immediately into the ground, his rear painfully absorbing the shock. His ankle screamed obscenities at him.

For a moment, he was too stunned to react.

It was Touma who propped herself up first, getting off of Chiaki's back while grabbing her stomach where it had slammed into Chiaki, grimacing.

"Damn it..."

There was an instant, only an instant, when, realizing that his face had planted itself perfectly into the middle of Chiaki's chest, her legs kneeling on his arms, Makoto almost overreacted and shoved her away.

Instead, he drew on over a year of experience as "Mako-chan" and held himself back, waiting for her to push herself up and stand. As she did so, he noted trivially that her knees were skinned.

He couldn't suppress a blush, but fortunately, in the now almost total darkness, Chiaki couldn't see it.

They looked at each other for a while, saying nothing. Touma and Chiaki tried various things to get back up, which Makoto just watched, knowing from painful experience that nothing would work. Touma disappeared into some bushes, but before they could call her back, she returned on her own.

"Well, Chiaki, that was pretty stupid," said Touma, finally, breaking the silence, wiping her hands on her pants.

"Says you!" Chiaki responded indignantly. "If you hadn't pulled me—"

"Whatever," Touma said, waving her hand dismissively. "Let's not argue about that. Let's focus on the situation at hand."

She began tallying on her fingers, pausing to shake off some of the mud on her shoe.

"One. We seem to have slid down into some sort of strange ravine. The wall we slid down is slippery with mud and doesn't seem to have any sort of branches we can climb up on. Is that right, Mako-chan?"

"Climbing back up is the first thing I tried," he responded. "I fell. Three times. I gave up."

"Two. That way-" Touma turned to her right and pointed. "It goes uphill, but it bends away from the trail, doesn't it?"

"I tried that too, once I realized you guys hadn't noticed." Makoto said, moderately peeved that Touma was so easily using logic to dismiss lines of action as untenable. He had learned all that the hard way, of course.

"I turned around when I realized," he finished.

"What kind of idiotic place is this, anyway? Ravines don't just carve themselves in hillsides for no reason! I demand an accounting!" Chiaki said to no one in particular, waving a fist that would probably have planted itself into Kana by default, had she been here.

"Well," said Touma. "It's not really a ravine. I'm pretty sure we could climb the other side if we had any idea where that went. It's more like we slid into the gap between two hills on the mountainside."

"I still say it's stupid. Just think of the topography—"

"Guys!" Makoto insisted, breaking up the argument that threatened to sidetrack them.

They turned to look at Makoto.

"Right," Touma said, getting her explanation back on track. "And now that we've lost Chiaki's flashlight up there—"

She pointed up the gully with her thumb.

"—we don't even have a single flashlight among the three of us. Great work, guys."

"No we haven't!" Chiaki countered, loud out of habit. "Mako-chan has spare batter—Oh."

Touma had held up her flashlight, whose lightbulb was just as shattered as Makoto's. Chiaki suitably stopped talking.

"You didn't hear it break while we were falling? I dug it out from those bushes. Well, anyway, no flashlights for us."

Touma peered upward.

"Luckily, the moon is almost full, so we can somewhat see, but if we went under those trees, it wouldn't be enough to not get lost."

She fell silent, and again they stood there. Makoto scratched at something behind his ear and Chiaki tried to get some of the mud out of her hair, now that it was drier. Touma rearranged her jacket, tightening it against the cold.

"It's just like a closed room situation, isn't it?" said Touma, smiling grimly. "No way out. We're stuck. At least your flashlight up there should make it obvious where we are to anyone looking. It's probably even still working and on."

"There's no murdered body here, baka-yaro."

"We're not stuck, Touma."

Again they turned to look at him. He wasn't usually an active participant in these conversations.

"Down this mountain there's a farming village. If we head straight downhill, we should be able to reach it. We're on the east side, after all. That's the side we drove up. All we need to do is find someone's apple orchard—"

"Not a good idea," interrupted Chiaki. "We'll have to pass through those trees to get there. We won't be able to see at all! Think about what could happen!"

"Look," she continued. "The best thing to do when you get lost like this is to just hunker down and wait for them to come looking for us. They'll have to notice eventually. Until then, we just stay here, near that flashlight, and pay attention to anything that sounds like people approaching. I read this on the Internet."Touma snorted.

"That's not exactly reliable. I don't feel satisfied just standing around doing nothing. At least if we walked, it would help with the cold. And tell me, even if they found us here, how exactly would they pull us up?"

"We'd figure something out!" Chiaki insisted. "How were we going to get Mako-chan out of here?"

"We didn't even get a chance to think about it, thanks to you!"

"What did you just say?" Chiaki responded testily.

"Guys, come on—" Makoto tried to interject.

"We wouldn't even be here if it weren't for you!" Touma snapped at him.

Makoto recoiled at that.

"Hey, come on. That's not fair," said Chiaki. "It's not her fault."

"I know, I know. I'm sorry."

They avoided each others' gazes

"I think we should try walking downhill. It might be better for all of us. Burn off some energy," Chiaki conceded a while later, diplomatically.

"You sure?"

"Yeah."

Touma thought for a moment.

"Let's go then."

Makoto grimaced.

"Hold on, guys."

Again they looked at him.

"I'm sorry. I don't know how I forgot. My ankle...I don't think I can walk that far. Maybe we should just stay here."

He clutched his ankle as way of explanation. Touma and Chiaki glanced at each other.

"You really are a baka-yaro, aren't you? Come on, I'll help you walk."

He looked up, into Chiaki's eyes, which looked quite serious.

"Let me do it," Touma said. "I'm the strongest one here, so it's only natural."

Touma walked over and let him lean on her right shoulder, giving him the support he needed to walk without limping in pain. He tried to ignore the fact that what Touma said about her being stronger than him was entirely true.

They walked off into the trees.


"You sure you're okay? You said you couldn't walk earlier," asked Touma.

"Yeah, but I think it's better now," Makoto said, rubbing the foot in question. "I just sprained it falling and then getting landed on. I think it's alright now."

Touma thought about that.

"Alright, let's see it, then." Touma ordered, a moment later.

Makoto shifted away from Touma and shook his ankle, flexing it and suppressed a cringe. It still hurt, though not nearly as much as it had before.

I guess it was just a sprain after all.

Still, he would ordinarily rather have had some support, even now that they'd found a trail to follow after stumbling blindly through what felt like miles of trees and tangled brush. They only knew it went downhill, but it had to go somewhere.

The real reason he wanted to walk on his own was that he was feeling increasingly uncomfortable having his arm around Touma. She was entirely unselfconscious, but the same was not true for him.

He also felt bad about putting so much weight on her.

He took a few experimental steps forward, and found that by distributing his weight in a certain way, he could walk with only a little pain.

Touma nodded sagely.

"I guess you're okay. I was getting tired of carrying you anyway."

She flexed her shoulder.

"Geez, your arm is heavy," she said mildly, by way of final comment.

She flexed her shoulder.

In truth, they were all tired, but now that they had decided to walk, it was imperative they reach something other than more forest, so they couldn't afford to rest.

In front of them, the moonlight from the gap above them illuminated Chiaki, who was walking slowly onwards, not even pausing to look back.

"You'd think she could wait a little," commented Touma.

They hurried forward, Makoto dragging his foot just a little. They caught up with Chiaki rather quickly, and it was not long before she was the one lagging behind.

"Oy, Chiaki!" Touma yelled.

Chiaki looked up, startled, and shook her head to clear it.

"Oh, sorry."

She jogged forward.

"What's with you? This isn't like you." Touma asked.

"No, nothing," Chiaki said, waving off the question.

"Are you tired?" Touma asked. "We could…"

Touma gestured with her hand toward one of the trees.

"No, I'm just..."

She didn't finish the sentence. Watching her, Makoto realized that she had gone back into her trance, staring into the darkness. He lapsed into silence; it always disturbed him to see Chiaki like that.

"Come on, let's take a break," Touma insisted, shaking her lightly. "We'll have to sit against these trees, but it should be fine."

"I guess..." she consented.

They sat in the dirt around tree at the edge of the trail. Most of the mud had been shaken off their clothes, and the darkness hid how scruffy they looked.

Makoto scratched behind his ear. It wasn't summer, but something had decided to bite him anyway.

Instead he found water.

"Oh no. This is not happening," Touma said despairingly. "It is not starting to rain."

But of course, sniffing the air, she realized she had been smelling the rain in the air for a long time now.

Another droplet hit the hand she had stuck out to sample the air. Then several more. The branches above her started making tapping sounds.

"Well, f—"

Next to her, Chiaki mumbled something, cutting her short.

Touma turned to look at her. She was talking to herself, something Touma had never seen before.

"Did you say something, Chiaki? Are—are you okay?"

Again Chiaki seemed to stir from a trance.

"No, no I didn't. I didn't say anything at all."

She wore a strange expression, guilty yet at the same time very worried. She almost looked haunted by something

Makoto wanted to say something, but...

The rain was gone, Touma suddenly realized. Even the smell had vanished, as if it had been an illusion all along.

I've never seen a winter storm just stop like that.

"At least it's not hot, right guys?" Makoto suddenly said, unable to bear the atmosphere.

"Not funny, Mako-chan," Touma responded, looking at him askance.

"Sorry," he apologized, after a moment.

…he didn't dare say too much.

"Mako-chan, you sound a little hoarse," Touma commented. "I'm just saying."

His voice, which he was finding he had to consciously elevate now, had slipped.

"Ah, thanks," he said, correcting the error.

"Look!" said Chiaki suddenly, pointing upwards.

They did, startled by her change in demeanor.

"I don't see anything, Chiaki. What are you pointing at?" asked Touma, peering upward at the trees.

"The stars," Chiaki said. "You can't see anything like it in the city. They're so bright. It…it reminds me of…"

She stopped talking, wearing a puzzled expression.

"I...I guess," Touma agreed insincerely, confused. "Yeah, they're really nice."

What was with Chiaki today? It was probably just the stress of being lost out here...

At her side, Makoto looked like he desperately wanted to say something, but didn't know what.

Weren't there clouds in the sky just a moment ago? Touma thought.

She looked back down at Chiaki, who was staring into the middle distance.

She's searching for something, Touma decided.

"The last time I did something like this," Chiaki said, trying again, "was…was when—Agh!"

A bright flashlight beam hit her between the eyes, startling them all, then moved to cover the other two.

"S—someone's here! Hey!" Touma jumped up and yelled. The other two followed suit immediately afterward.

A man walked over from the direction they had been going, having just rounded a turn. He wore a heavy hooded jacket, making it nigh-impossible to see his face in the darkness. He advanced on them silently, keeping the flashlight fixed on them.

Makoto clutched Touma's shoulder, and felt her tense up also. Was this guy really here to help them? What if—

"What are children like you doing out here at a time like this?" he intoned solemnly, interrupting any panicky thoughts they might be having.

"We—we got lost," answered Chiaki, not quite squeezing the shakiness out of her voice.

"We're trying to find our way down to one of the farms at the bottom of the hill," added Touma.

"Really?" The man asked, sounding almost skeptical. "I can see that you are lost."

The tall man pulled off his hood so they could see him. The moonlight gave his features, peering down upon them, an eerie glow. Chiaki squinted to see him.

"You're nowhere near the bottom of the hill," he explained. "Very near the summit, actually."

"What? How is that possible? We've only been heading downhill—" started Makoto, but Chiaki put a hand out to stop him.

"It's very easy to get lost in this place," the man said, seeming to recite a speech out of memory. "Up seems down. Left seems right. I should know. It took me two days of non-stop hiking to figure this place out."

Who are you? Touma wanted to ask, but held her tongue to avoid being rude.

"Anyway," the man continued. "You want to go down to the farms? I can show you—"

"Actually, we're from the mansion at the top of the hill," interrupted Chiaki. "We were only going downhill because we thought that way we'd know exactly where we'd be going. Or so we thought. If you know where it is, could you guide us?"

"You—you're from the mansion?" He sounded shocked.

"Yes," Chiaki confirmed, without elaboration. She tilted her head at his strange reaction.

They're with Haruka! the man thought. But that means these are her friends and—and one of them might even be one of her kids!

They were far too old to be like the kids he imagined Haruka to have, but his mind was already hard at work, distorting reality to fit his preconceptions.

This is my chance! If I save one of her kids—

He walked triumphantly into the atrium of the expansive mansion. Clinging to his legs were three small children, who shyly walked out from behind him. Surrounding him was a crowd of servants and wealthily-attired people. Hayami stared at him from the background but he pretended not to notice.

Suddenly he saw Haruka, whose worried expression erupted in pure joy when she saw the children under his arms.

"Haruka, I believe these are yours."

Both Haruka and the children ran forward, embracing midway on the floor that was so polished their images could be seen in it. In the background was the sound of a wooden stick hitting the ground.

Haruka was wearing a sparkling red strapless dress that looked magnificent under the chandelier light.

Finally, she got up and thanked him. They looked in each other's eyes...

"Hey! HEY!"

The boy was shaking his arm.

"Ah!" he awoke with a start.

The kid jumped back.

"Ah, sorry. It's just that you weren't responding...and, uh..."

The boy wasn't looking at him.

"Please stop taking off your shirt!" yelled the girl clinging to the boy's shoulder.

"Oh yes, yeah. Of course."

He needed to stop doing that.

"I was just feeling a bit warm..."

"Kimochi Warui..." the one with the weird hair whispered to herself. He was used to it by now.

"Anyway, yes. I will lead you to the correct path."

Hayami was right, of course. He couldn't let himself be seen here. That would be improper. But she was wrong to say he couldn't follow after overhearing her talk about the trip. Of course he had to follow and watch over Haruka. He had once flown to San Francisco to follow her. He would do whatever it took. It had been difficult escaping from Maki and Atsuko when they spotted him at the train station and tried to tackle him. It had been harrowing camping out here in the wilderness and getting lost. But it was always, always worth it.

They walked in silence, or so he assumed. He wasn't really paying attention to what they were saying.

Halfway there, they found a lit flashlight lying on the trail, which they explained was theirs.

Good. I won't have to give them mine.

When they finally reached a point where the trail branched, he pointed them on the correct path, refused to give his name, and then walked down the other path, back to his tent.

Best to keep watching her from afar.


"Who the hell was that?" said Makoto.

"Who cares?" said Touma. "Best to be rid of him. He seems like a pervert."

"Well, we do owe him quite a bit for getting us back, and he seems so familiar..." said Chiaki.

Touma looked at her askance.

"You know someone like him?"

Chiaki looked surprised by the guilt by association Touma was implying.

"Uh, no," Chiaki said. "I must be mistaken..."

They kept chatting, but Makoto stopped listening, falling behind again.

So. Another experience was over.

He sighed.

As Mako-chan, he had discovered a side of Chiaki different than the one that always punched him, kicked him, and otherwise abused him. She was the one who had first stepped off to try and save him, however foolish that was. She was the one who defended him against Touma and offered to help him walk. She even invested effort, however misguided, to try and help him overcome his "shyness". In short, she was kind, in a way he had never seen as Makoto.

And somewhere under all of that was someone who hurt, someone who needed him. He wanted to believe that. He had reason to believe that.

He looked up.

"I'm sorry about being so weird today," Chiaki said, far ahead. "It's just been a long day…"

"No, it's okay," Touma said, shaking her head. "And I'm sorry for getting so mad all day."

Makoto shook his head and looked back down to return to his own thoughts.

It had only stoked the clumsy attraction he felt, the one that was constantly rejected by Chiaki's rejection and domineering attitude towards him. Kindness was, after all, what he wanted, the reason he had fallen into the crush with Haruka that put him into the shameful position he was in today.

It gave him hope.

Now that he finally had time to think, it bit into him again. What was it about Chiaki?

Haruka smiled at him, but it wasn't for him. That was part of the problem, he had realized. But it wasn't all of it.

It was when she had stared up at the sky, looking briefly so sad. That was what got him.

And as he was painfully aware of, she was physically starting to resemble Haruka more and more.

He just wanted her to stop hating him.

The only way he had discovered was to become Mako-chan, but it was meaningless.

That's right. She doesn't even know who I am.


Author's Note: My first attempt at a Hosaka fantasy. I don't think it's possible to do his fantasies justice, but I tried. I also considered having Maki "capture" Hosaka right after he left the three of them, but decided that having Maki stalk Hosaka that far to keep him away from Haruka was implausible, no matter how awesome it seemed. Note that I had no qualms about making Hosaka stalk Haruka that far. What a glorious bastard.