Flag 2.2 Cooling Down
The next day dark clouds had covered the sky of Maijima and as rain pelted the window of 2-B two figures could be seen in the near empty room. Ayumi was obviously mad at Keima after yesterday’s events. She didn’t even open her eyes as Keima walked up to her. He sat down in his chair and placed books on her desk with a loud thump.
“You ready to work today?” he said coldly. To this Ayumi reacted.
“Hey why are you taking that tone with me? I should be the angry one since what you said to me yesterday!!” She stared at him with angered eyes, making an angry face to match, which was sort of cute in its own little way.
“Oh I’m sorry, let me rephrase that. Are you ready to study please?” the sarcasm could be heard even to the dimwitted Ayumi.
“What’s the deal Otamega, you wanna get hit again? I guess yesterday you cried all night not being able to talk to your e-girlfriend since you left you game console here!” Ayumi had a smirk on her face, thinking this was clever. To this Keima thought only that he had built up enough tension to make the payload he had effective. He looked only at the screen of his PFP and spoke with a very calm, almost sinister tone.
“Actually, I was able to get my PFP back yesterday… by they way I’m glad your mouth is as fast as your legs were yesterday, I hope your reading skills can keep up.” It took a moment for Ayumi to figure out what he was implying, but when she grasped it, it felt like she had been hit hard in the stomach. A boom of thunder could be heard in the background.
“W-what?” She said, stunned. Her face felt hot and her mind was swimming. Keima stopped clicking commands and looked up at Ayumi with piercing eyes. The looks sent a chill through Ayumi.
“I saw you running Ayumi; you aren’t actually injured at all. So that begs the question… why? You say you didn’t cheat, any yet you faked your own injury to get out of today’s meet…”
“I… I… No… It’s not…” Ayumi could not think straight, everything was starting go out of focus. Only Keima was in focus right now, with his eyes staring into hers. She could hear her blood flowing in her ears, her heart racing, her breath increasing. The whole room was spinning out of control, the rain seemed to fade away and Kiema’s voice began to echo and fade in her mind.
Keima grabbed Ayumi by her shoulders, holding on tightly, which snapped Ayumi back into reality. She was full of too many confusing emotions at once; she was close to breaking again.
“Takahara, talk to me! Tell me the truth; what is going on?” With this Ayumi completely broke down.
“I CAN’T DO IT! There are too many expectations, too many people looking towards me! All I can feel is the pressure from everyone around me!” She was bawling with every word. Keima felt really uncomfortable all of a sudden, but in order to keep on the route he persevered. “I used to love running! It was what I was good at! It was difficult, but enjoyed it! Now, I can’t get my time to go up I feel like everyone will be disappointed by me! I want to live up to their expectations, but I CAN’T! There are just too many people… to many expectations… to many…”
Ayumi was now full only crying. Keima now understood what was going on and how to continue from here on out to help this person. But first, he needed to comfort this girl. He grabbed Ayumi and pulled her close, which was a complete shock to Ayumi. She struggled to get free, but after a few moments she relaxed and let it all out. The stood there in an embrace, Ayumi silently crying into Keima’s shoulder as he thought about what steps he would need to take from here on out.
Shortly afterward, when she had calmed down, there was a moment of silence where the two were still in an embrace. Ayumi couldn’t help but think of how warm Keima was and blushed at the thought. But almost as quickly as she had thought that, the warmth was gone as Keima released her and sat down at his seat, legs and arms crossed and eyes shut.
“… Very well, I will not tell anyone about your ‘injury.’” Then he looked up at her with his powerful stare. “BUT! There are some things you must do in return. First of all, you need to be much more serious when we study together.”
Ayumi was a little taken back at how to the point he was and a little offended. Was this the whole reason he was doing this? Did his pervert do all this on purpose to blackmail her?
“And secondly, starting tomorrow until next week, you will allow me to coach you in running every night until the next meet.” Ayumi was shocked at this.
“Wait… what?! What good will that do? The most important meet was today and I missed out on that!” Keima corrected the position of his glasses.
“Have you seen the weather? It will be rescheduled, and if my information is correct the rain date is a week from today. Therefore we have a week to do this.” She looked uncomfortable now, most likely the idea of working with the Otamegane was very weird to her. Plus he and seen her with her emotions on full blast. Keima decided to take a page out of Nikaido-Sensei’s playbook. “Listen, this is your best shot. You can either take my help or I can tell everyone about your injury and how you cried in my arms.”
Ayumi’s face turned red and her eyes filled with rage as she stared him down. Neither side gave an inch in the battle, but in the end a mere mortal can not face a god. Ayumi sighed in defeat.
“Fine, I’ll do it, but this doesn’t mean you’ve convinced me to participate in the meet. No matter what you do, there is no way I will be able to increase my time especially since you are by no means an athlete.” Ayumi sat down and looked at the clock. There was still a lot of time until today’s lesson was over. Ayumi put her hands behind her head and blushed a little thinking about how Keima had held her all of a sudden and now was offering to help her. “Well Otamega, teach me something then.”
Keima pulled out a notebook. Ayumi knew, much like everyone else, that Keima never took notes… well at least not about class. He then handed her the notebook and looked at her.
“Now we can make some progress.” Ayumi looked to the cover of the note book and read under the name label “AYUMI TAKAHARA.” Inside were clearly written and annotated notes about the class, the current reading assignments, page references, examples and even note about future sections to study for the tests. Ayumi was surprised; the whole thing was specifically crafted to be readable for her and was written from Keima’s memory entirely. And the way it was written… she could understand what was going on.
“How did you..?”
“How do you think I get perfect papers?”
“No I mean, I can understand what’s going on… how did you make it so easy to understand?”
“… I had to deal with a similar character… in a game…” he said the second part quieter than the first, but Ayumi still picked up on it. She smiled a little as she flipped through the pages. Keima cleared his throat and then picked up a teaching edition of a text book and began lecturing her about useful information. “Now first of all, if we look back in history at the first poets of Japan we can infer…”
The next day, after lessons, Keima waited out on the track for Ayumi. He looked up at the sky to be greeted by the moon, which lit up the track below. He had been waiting for 20 minutes for Ayumi and although he was playing a new game on his PFP the cold chill of night was in no way helping him in his conquest. Finally, he heard footsteps from behind.
“Finally, it took you long enough.”
“Sorry, I had trouble changing in the dark…” she laughed nervously. Keima told her to go through her normal routine and then do 200 meter hurdles. Ayumi ran a mile to warm up and then proceeded to stretch before lining up. Keima mentally noted her running style, and compared it to some of the other runners he had seen (in games of course). When she was ready, Keima started her and she took off like a rocket. Too many, Ayumi’s raw speed would be impressive, but Keima just watched silently as she raised her legs over and over jumping the hurdles. When she returned she was sweating profusely.
“What’d… you… think..?” She panted out looking to Keima. When she saw he was playing his PFP she got very angry. What was the point in doing that if he wasn’t even watching?
“Hmm... do it again.” He commanded.
“What?” And he had the audacity to tell her to do it again? Why did he offer to help her train if he was just going to ignore her?
“Just do it.” She was going to argue, but gave up on the notion figuring there was no point. And so she lined up and ran the course again. And again. And again. Keima never looked at her, just played his PFP.
“Hey, I though you were gonna help me! If you’re just gonna make me do drills over and over, I might as well do it by myself!” Keima just nodded and told her to do it again. This continued for two more tries, but by now Ayumi had stopped caring about what Keima was thinking and just let off all her aggression on the track. When Ayumi finished the second time she was so tired. This time though she was taken by surprise when she found Keima standing at the ending with a bottle of water and a towel.
“Good job, you got faster by .5 seconds that time.” He was actually looking at her this time. She took cautiously took the towel and water.
“... How did I improve? I’ve been doing the same thing a usually do and you did nothing.”
“Exactly.” He said with an ‘of course you did’ tone. Ayumi was perplexed and, being the obvious girl she was, Keima picked up on this very quickly and explained. “There are two reasons why you have been doing poorly lately. Today I got rid of the first problem; you were getting crushed under the expectations The Real set on you. Therefore, by making you uncaring in how you preformed today you were less self-conscious and therefore preformed better.”
“You said you felt pressured to do better by your team. Even when you trained on your own you only thought about the team’s expectations. But here, you only ran because I told you to, and then when you saw I didn’t care there was no pressure on you.” He took her hand and helped her up. “Basically you had the runner’s version of ‘stage fright.’”
As Ayumi was being pulled up by Keima, she thought. She now knew why he had ignored her was shock by how much thought he put into this. He actually listened to her problems and tried to help her for real. Of all the times she saw him as callous and cold, this was the first time she had seem him so caring for anyone. And what more, it was for her. She got a little red in the face thinking about it, but shook it off.
“Anyway, it’s late. Let’s clean up and go home.” said Keima letting go of her hand. Ayumi quickly agreed, maybe a little too quickly and ran to change. Keima didn’t see it, but she held the hand he and grasped in the other, feeling its warmth. That concluded the first day of training.
“Hey, hey Katsuragi,” said Ayumi. “What does this mean?”
Without looking away from his screen Katsuragi spoke.
“It’s a line that speaks of how the princess pretended to be injured in order to avoid marrying her best friend. Kind of like what you did with track. Honestly, I can’t figure out how you of all people wouldn’t understand that.”
“Honestly Katsuragi… bringing that up again...” She said pouting a little. Keima just continued to tap away, which peeved Ayumi. “You know, you’ll get bigger glasses from staring at a small screen all day.”
Unfazed, Keima kept playing. Smiling sinisterly, Ayumi grabbed the PFP from him.
“HEY!” Said Keima, but Ayumi held it out of reach.
“Nope! You can have it back after class. Now help me understand this… this…”
“… Stanza…?” Keima said, filling in the blank. He sighed as he looked at the page. “Honestly… how did you make it this far?”
Ayumi just smiled as she received a lecture from the game-obsessed boy.
Ayumi finished another repetition. She was completely out of breath, and fell to the floor. She was going to lie down, but she was then her face was covered with a towel. She followed the trajectory back to Keima’s hand.
“You were slower that time by .27 seconds.”
“Really? I thought I did better…” she said taking a sip of water. Ayumi sprung back up. “OKAY~! Once more.”
She was going to the starting line when Keima said something to her.
“Try staring on you other foot. You usually land on the same foot, but your lunge pattern is not right for that foot. If you start with the other foot, you should be able to make your landings flow into a faster run.” Ayumi paused for a minute then smiled and nodded.
“Alright Katsuragi-Sensei.” And with that she tried again. She was .47 seconds faster.
Class was as dull as ever for both Keima and Ayumi. When the lunch bell rang everyone cleared out, except our secret training buddies. Ayumi noticed Keima wasn’t leaving and so she approached him. She grabbed his eyes from behind, which made him squeal like a girl.
“GAHH! TAKAHARA! I CAN’T SEE MY GAAAAAMMMMEEE!!” he pleaded for her to let go. This game had an auto-text scroll so he could not afford to miss a second.
“Hmmm… I don’t like that name…” if Keima could see her face he would notice the red cheeks forming on her face. “C-call me Ayumi…”
“FINE FINE!! AYUMI! AYUMI!”
“See? Was that so hard?” She let go with a smile. She looked to see if Keima had a bento he was going to eat, but she found none. “Hey, aren’t you gonna eat?”
“Don’t need to, my games are enough.” Keima replied in his usual monotone voice. Ayumi sighed and stared at him.
“Really? That bad for you, you know? I’ll go buy both of us some Yakisoba Pan! I be right back, don’t move!” She ran for the door, but instead of heading into the hall she ran straight into her three seniors. There were two followers and one very large and imposing girl in the middle. The middle one did not talk, but Keima knew from prior data that she was the captain of the track team.
“Hey Ayumi, how’s the leg?” Jeered one of them.
“It’s… it’s getting better… I might be able to be at the meet this week…”
“Why would we want YOU there?” Said the other.
“Yeah, you should just quit while you’re injured. Just stay down.” And with that they pushed Ayumi to the floor. The thud of a human and a crutch both hitting the floor could be heard echoing through the room. Ayumi felt the pain of the impact rush through her body.
“Just leave Ayumi. A cheater like you never belonged on our track team.” The two talkative ones walked away, but the tall upperclassmen just stared at her with an unreadable expression. She was not someone you wanted to play poker with. And with that the seniors left. Ayumi was still on the floor, recovering from their words. Keima could see her resolve slipping so he went to help her get up. He grabbed her hand and pulled her to a standing position. He could she her embarrassment, and for some reason he felt embarrass too.
“Thank you…” There was a pause. Keima was about to say something when Ayumi cut him off. “I… I’ll go get the Yakisoba!”
She got on her crutches quickly and fumbled out of the room. Keima was once again left in the room alone, but for the first time some reason it bothered him. Usually he would just return to his game, but now it felt like something was wrong, something was missing, something that his games could not fix.
“…Must be my stomach. If only my body in The Real didn’t need resources to survive…” and with that he dismissed the feeling and went back to conquering the sprinter in his game.
“That was better...” commented Keima to Ayumi as she finished another drill. She shimmered as the sweat on her brow reflected the moonlight. “Let’s try to one more time.”
“Alright, I’ll show you I can do better Katsuragi-Sensei!” She smiled jokingly making a bicep-flexing pose. Ever since Katsuragi had been pushing her to be better she had started having fun trying to get faster. Plus, she always knew she was doing better when he looked up at her. She would try her hardest every time to see those eyes staring back at her, as if they were saying that she had done well, confirming her achievements. And even if she didn’t improve Keima would tell her how to improve her form.
She was surprised how knowledgeable he was about running, yet he was the slowest runner in there class. Maybe he studied all about running just for her? The thought made her heart race in a way different to when she was running, and she enjoyed the feeling.
“Let’s take a break. Here, I got some water for you.”
Ayumi graciously accepted the drink, quickly gulping it down, refueling her body of precious liquids. There was silence as Ayumi caught her breath and Keima played his game. Ayumi’s mind drifted and began to think about what Keima said to her the first time they practiced.
“Hmm…” he acknowledged to her question.
“You said I had two problems that I needed to overcome to get better. What was the second?” Keima put his PFP down for a second and looked up at the moon. The light seemed to bathe him in a glow giving him a godly atmosphere which made Ayumi for the first time noticed how attractive he actually was.
“The second thing… well, that would be a reason to continue. You currently have no drive because you have nothing that keeps you going. We need to find you something to can believe in. it can be a dream, a goal or even a person you want to see you succeed, just something that drives you to do better. It’s a common plot device in sports-related dating-sims.” Ayumi chose to ignore the last sentence.
“Someone I want to see me improve…” Ayumi blushed and looked down at her feet. “I think I have someone like that…”
Ayumi sat in silence as Keima continued to play is PFP. Even though he was ignoring her, she felt at ease here with him. She felt that she had gotten closer to Keima and started to maybe even… Before she could finish the thought Keima suddenly stood up.
“That’s enough for today; I need to go home to switch games.” Ayumi sighed as Keima delivered another one of his usual game-related lines. And yet, she wasn’t annoyed by it at all, well at least not as much. They both got up and began to pack, when Ayumi turned to Keima.
“Hey Katsuragi, for tomorrow’s lesson let’s go somewhere else to study.” Keima turned around in surprise.
“Well, it’s really boring sitting in school all day, so I thought a change of venues might be better!” Keima just stared at her in disbelief. This seemed highly-impractical.
“If we were to do this we would need to walk all they way to the location then, all the way back to the school. This route will only add time to reaching any sort of practical ending for this scenario.” Ayumi gave an annoyed stare to Keima in response.
“It’s not that far from here, and supposedly it has good ramen and not a lot of people go there so people won’t see us if your worried about that.” Seeing that Keima was still seemed unable to accept the idea, Ayumi turned away from him and pouted a little. “Plus, if we don’t go, I might not want to study anymore.”
“What?! Hey, don’t and any unnecessary plot-choices!” What was she trying to pull? Keima wanted to interact with The Real as little as possible, but this would add more work for him and less time to play games. He pondered the choices, but ended up going with Ayumi’s idea since it was the only choice that would allow for her to stop needing his help in less time. “… Fine.”
He was angry, but Ayumi was smiling at her victory. Keima rolled his eyes and went back to playing his PFP as Ayumi followed him to the school’s gym.
The next day Keima waited for Ayumi on the roof. Ayumi said she would be late due to some things she needed to do before leaving so Keima was left all alone to his games for an extra 30 minutes. After a while Ayumi did show up, but something was off; she didn’t look like he usual self.
“Hey are you alright Ayumi?” Keima could see her beginning to forcing a smile on her face.
“Of course!” She said in a chipper tone. “C’mon, let go already!”
And with that she dragged Keima to the restaurant by his hand as she ran at full speed out of the school. He was flung into many walls in the process so by the time they got out to the street he was already regretting agreeing to such an event. When they both finally arrived at the ramen shop Keima was surprised at how small it was. Compared to other shops this one seemed to fade into the background.
“Uemoto-ya..? This place looks a little run down…” Keima said in a speculative tone.
“Trust me, this place may not look like much, but it has some of the best ramen… so I’ve heard.” Not waiting of a response Ayumi pulled Keima inside and pushed him into a seat. When the waitress came about Ayumi ordered two ramen for the both of them while Keima got the study material out. When the food came Keima eyed it with a bit of displeasure. To him it seemed to plain, how could it be good at all?
“You won’t know until you try Keima!” And with that Ayumi dug in. Keima’s disgust shifted from his food to Ayumi’s eating habits. It was like she was a human vacuum; where did she put it all? He sighed as he pinched a few of the noodles and warily moved his chop sticks into his mouth. But what greeted him was not disgust; no, it was quite the opposite.
“This is actually decent…” He thought he caught the server wearing a proud expression on her face as she walked back to the kitchen. After finishing their food the pair started to begin studying the material that Ayumi needed to know. However, today Ayumi wasn’t as motivated to learn; she kept drifting off and would pretend to shake it off happily when Keima scolded her. Something was wrong. Keima was worried that if it continued this way it would affect the ending. Even so, he had no information to use at this point and probing would only yield fruitless responses so he would continue to turn a blind eye to it all.
So he chose to remain ignorant. He had to bide his time until he got some sort of lead.
“Time.” Said Keima as Ayumi passed the line. “Your getting slower.”
“Sorry, I guess I at too much!” Ayumi laughed, patting the back of her head. Keima knew she was faking it. Whatever happened to Ayumi was not good; it was only making getting to the ending harder. Keima looked down at her feet and saw she was not wearing her usual spikes, in fact they were not spikes at all; they were normal running shoes.
“Where are your spikes?”
“Oh… um! I’m getting them repaired so… yeah.” Keima wondered what happened and why she was so defensive. This really was worrying since the race was in two days. He decided to see if she was ready to rejoin the team.
“The meet is in two days. Are you going to participate?” Ayumi looked down at her feet, and then snapped back up with a forced smile.
“Y-you know, I think I might need to train more before the race…” She ran to the starting line and Keima watched her. This was not good.