“Senpai, you’re such a pervert,” Nagatoro says to you as she walks right on the edge of the sidewalk, spreading out her arms for balance as she takes another step. The sunshine playing over her skin makes it look like she’s illuminated from the inside, and for a second you wish you had your sketchbook so you could draw her. Then what she said sinks in, and the blood rushes to your face, making it feel even hotter than the mid afternoon sun was already making it.
Damn it! Why do I still respond like that? She’s called me a pervert a million times already! “What did I do this time that makes me a pervert? I haven’t even said anything.” You hunch over a little bit more as you walk, hoping to shade your face, but your glasses slide down on your sweaty nose and you immediately straighten and push them back onto your nose. You haven’t broken a pair of glasses since you were seven and you aren’t about to start now, no matter how much Nagatoro makes fun of you.
“You think I haven’t seen how you’ve been staring at my legs? Pervert Senpai.” She cackles, then takes a little hop across a crack in the sidewalk. “Maybe one of these days I’m going to get tired of how gross you are and stop hanging out with you, and then you won’t get to stare at my legs anymore! In fact, you won’t get to stare at any part of me at all. That’d serve you right.” Nagatoro turns her head slightly to look at you, a smile lighting up her big brown eyes in a way that makes it look like the fires of hell are dancing in them. You look away, hoping she doesn’t see how red your face is.
I wasn’t staring at your legs, I just see how you keep almost falling into the street and I think that might be dangerous, is how the sentence you start formulating in your head is supposed to go. Unfortunately, all you manage to get out is “I” before your own vocal cords choke you, leaving the rest of the words to die in your throat while Nagatoro takes the opportunity to steamroll right over you.
“Oh? Is Senpai going to try to defend himself?” She’s fully looking at you now, her head turned sideways as she keeps walking forwards. “No use even if you are going to try, since we both already know I’m right.”
“N-no,” you manage to stutter. “No, absolutely not, I just…”
“Juuuuuust?” Nagatoro stops and turns to face you completely, her heels hanging out over the edge of the sidewalk into empty air. Her grin has taken on a predatory quality, helped along by how sharp her teeth are— you have a sudden flashback to her pushing you down and trying to bite your neck, which turns your blush up to eleven. Damn it, damn it! Your heart beats in your ears as she leans in even further towards you.
“U-um, I was, I was just trying to… make sure you wouldn’t fall. I do-on’t want you to get hurt.” You freeze when the words come out, then jerk your face away, pushing your glasses up again automatically and taking deep breaths to try and calm down. Silently you curse yourself for being so… so… as Nagatoro would put it, so Senpai. She’s going to eat you alive for this.
Only she doesn’t, and when you finally glance back at Nagatoro you see that a tinge of red has crept into her cheeks. “O-oh,” she says. Her eyes are wider than usual, and the smile has dropped off her face, replaced by a strange, almost blank expression. “Oh,” she repeats. Then her brow furrows, and she straightens up abruptly. “Oh?” Nagatoro says again, and you’re almost relieved to hear the teasing tone back in her voice. “You think that I would ever fall off of something? Me? Wow, Senpai, you must be delusional as well as gross!” Nagatoro gives you a smirk, speaking louder now— some asshole with a loud motor must be coming up the street, and the noise is almost drowning her out. “It’s possible you’re thinking of yourself, though! I can totally see you being pathetic enough to fall off of this—“ she gestures widely, her arms spreading out in an arc.
You see the moment she starts to fall like it’s been frozen in time— Nagatoro, face halfway between superiority and realization, hair fluttering out behind her as she overbalances and begins to topple into the street. The red car behind her with the jackass behind the wheel, going too fast to be able to stop. You’re not sure whether you yell Nagatoro’s name out loud or just scream it in your head, but it doesn’t matter because your body is already in motion towards her. You grab her arm and haul her back with all of your meager might, and time speeds up again. Nagatoro’s tiny body flies into you with more force than you expected, and you stumble and overbalance and fall flat on your back, pulling her down with you as the red car whizzes by. It doesn’t stop for a second— you doubt the driver even noticed.
The impact from hitting the ground takes a second to recover from, and when you do recover you realize that Nagatoro is lying on top of you, unmoving, and you’re still gripping her arm as tightly as you can. The realization hits you almost as hard as the car would have hit her, and you jerk bolt-upright and let go of her. She doesn’t move, staying slumped against you; you can feel her shaking. It’s weird to see Nagatoro look so fragile.
“Sorry,” you manage to get out. “I didn’t mean to—“ What? To help her not get hit by a car? To see her like this afterwards? “I didn’t mean to,” you finish lamely. You can hear your heart again, thumping a million miles an hour.
There’s no response for a long second, and Nagatoro doesn’t stir. Then, just when you’re about to panic about the lack of response, she looks up at you. “You saved my life.” She’s gone ashen, the blood draining from her face and leaving it with a sickly gray undertone, but she takes a deep breath and pushes herself up away from you. Not standing, just sitting up a bit more, blinking her huge brown eyes. “S-so,” she says, making an attempt at her token mocking tone, “did you pull me down like this on purpose? You wanted me pressed right up against you?” The words seem empty, though, and when she’s done saying them Nagatoro hesitates before leaning back against you— you don’t know if it’s for comfort or because she physically can’t sit up for more than a few seconds. You’re starting to get a little worried. Is it shock? Is she in shock? When do people go into shock? I need to get her somewhere she can rest.
Somewhere she can rest. You run a quick mental checklist, then have a realization: the only place even remotely close that fits the description of “safe place for Nagatoro to recover” is your house. She’ll have a field day with that! you think, feeling a little nauseated as you remember that your parents still have pictures of your childhood on the walls. You really don’t want to explain who the little girl in them is, and even if she doesn’t ask about that, it’s certain that Nagatoro’s going to find something else to make fun of you for. But she’s still lying against you, shivering like she’s freezing to death in the middle of May, and you know that you’re just going to have to deal with it. Slowly you maneuver yourself into a position where you can stand and pull Nagatoro to her feet, and you do, wrapping your arm around her for support. “Come on.”
“Where are we going?” she asks, her voice still carrying an empty, vague tone. She doesn’t try and pull away from you, and you try desperately to ignore the fact that she’s warm and soft and she smells nice— what kind of creep even notices things like that at a time like this? So you push your feelings away, trying to concentrate through the blood rushing in your ears.
“My house. It’s not far, and you can rest there. Um, I mean, if you want.”
“Your house?” Nagatoro asks, some of the bite coming back into her voice even though she’s still leaning on you. “Senpai, you were almost cool back there, and now you’re taking me to your house? Did you think that I’d be so overcome with gratitude that I’d offer my body to you or something?”
“It’s not like that!” Your face is burning, cheeks so hot you could try an egg on them. “Y-you’re right, this is a mistake, let’s just turn around.” You let go of Nagatoro and turn to go back the way you came, but she sways and you barely manage to grab her before she can fall.
The two of you stand there for a second, breathing heavily. Your arms are semi-tightly wrapped around her, and as soon as you realize this the beating of your heart goes into overdrive— you’re sure she can hear it, her head’s so close to your chest. Nagatoro slowly raises her head, her eyes meeting yours, and your heartbeat kicks it up a notch further. “Senpai?” she asks.
“Maybe we should head towards your house.”
“I thought you didn’t want to,” you start, but she cuts you off.
“I never said that! And when a girl says she wants to go to your house you don’t question it, even a virgin like you should know that! And besides...” Nagatoro hesitates, then turns her head away and mumbles something that you can’t hear.
You blink. “What?”
Nagatoro clears her throat. “I think I twisted my ankle.”
It takes a little bit to get to your house, and you’re both sweating when you get there, warm from exertion and the sun. Supporting Nagatoro is harder than you expected; she looks as light as a feather, but she’s mainly composed of compact muscle, and while you can tell she’s trying to help propel the two of you along she keeps accidentally slowing you down (or at least, you think it’s an accident). But finally you manage to open the door and let yourself and Nagatoro into the cool, air-conditioned interior of your home.
It’s still dark inside; your parents won’t be home for hours, which is a relief. You flick the lights on, then lead Nagatoro into the living room and help her down onto the couch. For a second her hands linger on you, and you blush, willing yourself not to flinch away. Then she pulls back, settling on the couch with her twisted ankle propped up and looking around. “Wow, Senpai, this isn’t at all where I expected you to live.”
“What were you expecting?” you ask, knowing that’s what she wants you to ask. She’s about to bully you some more, but if you don’t ask she’ll sulk, and when Nagatoro sulks it’s like the whole world gets a tiny bit darker.
“Oh, I’m not sure. A garbage dump? Though I haven’t seen your room yet, so maybe it is one!”
You open your mouth to answer, then look away, unable to meet her eyes. A garbage dump’s a little much… but it is true that I haven’t cleaned it in a while, and I don’t like opening the windows so it’s really stuffy in there. Oh, god, what if she goes in?
Nagatoro laughs, and you turn back to see her giving you that feline smile again. “Don’t worry, Senpai. I won’t be going in there… yet.” She props herself up on her elbows, still looking around the room, and you cringe and wait for the inevitable, which proceeds to happen promptly. Nagatoro’s eyes almost immediately land on the top of the bookshelf.
There’s a framed photo there, still sitting out even though you’ve begged your parents to take it down. It’s a picture of you when you were eight years old— professional photography, in a studio, which you had hated but been forced to endure. You remember that your parents had wanted to get some good pictures of you, because before that all of the pictures they had before were of such poor quality that determining what they were was almost impossible. In the photo you’re lying on the floor with some stuffed animals around you, wearing a poofy lavender dress and a huge, fake smile. It’s still clearly you, despite how you’ve changed; the glasses are the same and so is the hair, which by then you’d started insisting be cut short. It’s enough to be completely obvious when you look at it, and you cringe and shut your eyes, waiting for Nagatoro to make you explain.
After a moment you open them again, watching her out of the corner of your eye, trying to gauge her reaction. She opens her mouth like she’s about to say something, then closes it and returns to oh-so-casually looking around. You relax your tense muscles, unclenching your fists and your jaw and letting out the breath you were holding. Thank god. You swallow, then turn back to Nagatoro. “Do you want me to get a cold pack for your ankle?”
“No, it’s okay. It doesn’t hurt that much anymore,” Nagatoro says. She sits up, moving over so that she’s not lying lengthwise on the couch and is instead sitting normally on it, then pats the couch next to her. “Are you going to sit or not, Senpai?”
You weigh the options briefly in your mind. Option one: sit next to Nagatoro, at which point she will at some point (either accidentally or on purpose or accidentally-on-purpose) be touching you, or you will (completely accidentally) be touching her and the part of your mind that makes coherent thoughts will desert you and make you a prime bullying target. Option two: don’t sit down and remain standing, even though your legs are screaming from exhaustion and the sweat is still drying on your brow and you kind of really want to flop down like a rag doll onto the couch. Option three: die, possibly? (That one gets slightly less consideration than the others, but only slightly.) And all the while Nagatoro just keeps looking at you, the slight curl of her lips indicating that this is a challenge.
You swallow hard, then look away, breaking the stare. “Actua-ally,” you say, “I, uh, I’m okay standing.”
The corners of Nagatoro’s mouth turn ever so slightly downwards, but you jerk your eyes away from her lips almost too fast to really see it, replacing it with staring at her raised eyebrow. Nagatoro pushes herself up with a smooth motion, getting to her feet without wincing— either her ankle really is feeling better, or she’s doing a good job of hiding her pain from you. “Then I’ll stand too, Senpai,” she says. She looks around the room again, then puts her hand to her mouth in an exaggerated yawn. “You know, I take back what I said about you not belonging in this house. It’s exactly like you in every way that matters.” Nagatoro takes two steps forwards towards you, then leans in, standing on her tiptoes to look you directly in the eye. She’s close enough that you can feel her breath on your chin, and part of you wants to reach out and stroke the side of her face. You take a deep, nervous breath and hide your hands behind you so you don’t do anything on impulse, but you can feel your face burning again. Why do I keep reacting like this?!
Nagatoro leans in closer, and closer, and then finally leans past your face entirely to whisper in your ear. “Do you want to hear how this house is like you, Senpai?”
“N—“ you start, but she cuts you off. Her lips brush your earlobe, and you feel a tingle that runs down to your toes and then back up.
“The big similarity between the two of you is that… you’re both so boring!” You jump back as she shouts in your ear, swearing as she laughs at you. “Seriously, were your parents both having an affair with the color beige? That’s the only way I can imagine you would turn out looking like a matching set with these walls!”
You frown at her, rubbing your ear. “I’m not beige,” you mutter, but you know it’s a lame comeback.
You’re trying very hard to avoid looking at Nagatoro, which means you miss the fact that she’s moved around behind you until a series of loose-armed slaps rain down on your back and shoulders. “Senpai,” she says, drawing out the word in her mouth, “you might not be beige in form, but your true heart and soul? Definitely beige! You’re so utterly normal, it’s like if vanilla ice cream was a man!” The slapping stops, and Nagatoro’s voice drops, sounding fake-thoughtful. “Or maybe you’re not. I mean, I've seen some of the things you look at in private! So maybe you’re less vanilla than I thought....”
You flash a glance over your shoulder, knowing your face is back to being flushed. You can feel new drops of sweat forming on your forehead even with the air-conditioning. “I—” you start, but she pretends not to hear you and keeps talking.
“I know how we’ll solve this dilemma,” Nagatoro says, and the look on her face now is downright terrifying. You gulp down air, trying to keep yourself from hyperventilating. She takes a step back and gives you a big smile. “I’m going to go to your room and find your porn collection!” And then she’s off down the hallway, darting away from you quicker than you can catch her.
You curse, then start running after her. You have exactly one advantage against her, which is that you know which room yours is, and you pass her right as she’s glancing at the second-to-last room in the hallway. You skid to a stop outside of your door, barring it with your body as you pant from the exertion. “N-no,” you say, in-between heavy breaths. “I— I won’t let you in!” Part of your brain is screaming about how incredibly suspicious this looks, but it’s bad enough having Nagatoro come across your fanservice-y mangas at school, much less letting her have access to your whole collection. You cannot let her in—
Unless, of course, she just shoves you aside. Which she does.
You careen into the opposite wall of the hallway, and your glasses go flying. By the time you pick them up, Nagatoro is opening the door, and you wince, preparing yourself for whatever comes next.
Nagatoro slams open the door to your room with characteristic force, hard enough that you pray silently that she hasn’t knocked a hole in the drywall. She stands in your doorway for a second, looking around your room, and you realize as you watch over her shoulder that it might be more of a mess than you had thought. There are cups and glasses stacked on every clear surface, of which there are admittedly not that many; your books are strewn everywhere, your bed is unmade, and you have a pile of dirty clothing in the corner. The only really clean space is in front of the TV, where you usually sit when you play video games. You’re almost glad you can’t see Nagatoro’s face right now.
After an agonizing moment, Nagatoro looks back over her shoulder at you. Her face is solemn, but you catch a gleam in the depths of her eyes. “Poor Senpai,” she coos at you, fluttering her eyelashes as she inches further into your room. As much as you try to command your body to move and stop her, you’re frozen in place, staring at her. “Your room is so messy! I know I said you were gross enough that I thought you’d live in a dump earlier, but I didn’t really mean it. Even I didn’t think you’d be incompetent enough to not clean your living space. It’s pathetic, really!” A smile begins to creep across Nagatoro’s face as she moves forwards a little more, now fully through the threshold. “Since Senpai is so pathetic, then maybe I should take pity on him for once. After all, obviously what you need is a little bit of help, and you did save my life today. So, Senpai, I’m going to clean your room for you!” With that she walks into the room purposefully, and your eyes widen in confusion.
Nagatoro stops at your bed and starts pulling off the sheets, and you stop slightly behind her and stare at her. “Why are you doing this?” you ask, the panic in your voice evident even to you. "Just-- just why?"
Nagatoro pauses, then turns to look at you. “It’s like I said: you stopped me from getting hit by a car, Senpai. It’s the least I can do to do this for you.” She sounds… oddly sincere for a moment before she realizes it, and her cheeks turn red, her mouth going into a slightly forced smirk. “I mean, I’m doing it because I want to find out what kind of dirty, lewd things you keep in here! That’s all!” She turns away from you immediately and goes back to stripping your bed, leaving you staring at the back of her head.
“Nagatoro…” She glances back at you over her shoulder, but even the look in her eyes doesn’t quite manage to shut you up. “You don’t have to,” you say, your voice sounding weak and wobbly even to you.
The words are like lighting a fire under her. Nagatoro spins around entirely to face you and slams her hand into your chest, pushing you back against the opposite wall. She steps close to you again, so close that you can feel the heat radiating off her as she glares up at you. “I do have to, Senpai. So shut up and let me clean your room, alright? I can’t just let myself be in debt to you.”
You try to speak, but the words won’t come out of your mouth, and a thought flashes across your mind. An idea, really. An interpretation.
Almost, but not quite, a flash of insight.
She moves as if to take her hand off your chest, and you interrupt, your voice squeaking awkwardly. “Y-you...”
Nagatoro turns back to you, and you start to panic, your heart jumping against your rib cage. You feel like you’re on fire under her gaze. “Never mind,” you stutter. “I— I won’t stop you.”
“Good. Now sit down and let me do the work.” A grin begins to creep across her face, and she moves her hand off of your chest before reaching out and ruffling your hair. “And don’t try to stop me from finding your porn stash, pervert-Senpai!” Then she moves back away, and you swallow hard. You can still feel her phantom fingers running over your scalp.
“Nagatoro,” you whisper, feeling her name roll off your tongue. She doesn’t give any indication that she's listening to you, but at the moment you don't mind. You don’t want her to hear your feelings in your voice.