“Huh? Onoda-kun, what are you doing?”

As the situation settled in her head, Fuyu hurriedly covered her cheek as a hint of panic occupied her face. She blinked a few times, trying to make sense of the situation. Then she started squirming to get out of my embrace.

My hold voluntarily loosened a little, just enough to give her freedom of movement. Moreover, she’s squirming not because she’s repulsed by what I did. It was nothing but an unconscious reflex by her for having been put in a situation that she was least expecting. As seconds gradually passed, Fuyu gradually settled down as she pressed her back against my chest.

I know. From our previous interactions, I used to keep my hands off of her as much as possible. That’s why suddenly embracing her like this threw her off as she had no idea what to do or what was going to happen next. Or at least, she expected that our previous closeness was already in dangerous territory and it wouldn’t go past that.

I broke that expectation...

“I’m hugging you.”

Without thinking too much, I gave her a straight answer.

Fuyu raised her gaze to meet my eyes as conflict visibly appeared in her expression. It drew a line on her forehead that slowly creased. Possibly, she’s once again attempting to wrap her head around this situation. Hearing that answer, however, threw her on another loop of confusion as her eyes seemingly spun as dizziness consumed her.

I used a hand to fix the fringes of her hair and wipe away the bit of sweat forming on that part.

Almost like magic, my touch put her spinning thoughts to a halt as she refocused her eyes on me.

Of course, Fuyu was still trying to interpret what I meant by this but on top of all that, her similarly repressed desire started leaking out. As for whether it would break like a dam or not, it’s still up to the intensity of that emotion.

At the moment, it’s only enough for her to calm down and look at our situation properly.

A few seconds later, I lowered my hand and placed it on top of hers, slotting my fingers through the gaps to hold it intimately. With this, she’s already free to move away if she so wishes. She’s not locked in my embrace anymore.

“This... Isn’t this bad? Onoda-kun, we cannot do this.”

As her eyes dropped on the new connection made by our hands, Fuyu stuttered as her voice of reason answered for her.

Of course, this was bad in a normal context. Unfortunately, neither I nor my relationship with Akane was normal.

“Mhm. This is bad. But Yuuki-san, I’m only following my honest feelings at the moment. And that is to keep you close to me like this... If this makes you uncomfortable then I’ll release you right away.”

Fuyu intently listened to that answer. At every word I dropped, Fuyu’s hand covered by mine trembled slightly. And as my fingers gradually filled her palm, the girl’s body temperature started to rise.

The girl then gulped down to clear her throat and meet my gaze again. Conflict remained on her face but a crimson streak started contesting it for supremacy. Furthermore, her heartbeat which was already racing to begin with started settling down in a somewhat pleasant rhythm. She’s neither hurried nor panicked anymore.

Thankfully, the fact that there was no other soul around us prevented her from immediately springing up to her feet and getting away from me. At the moment, she’s weighing her own thoughts. Whether it aligned with mine or not, only Fuyu could answer it.

“... Onoda-kun, help me. Help me understand why I’m not uncomfortable with this.” Fuyu’s voice was clear. However, at the same time, it sounded like she wanted me to give her a push to accept this situation and to also be as honest as me.

“If I tell you, will you still consider it as your own answer, Yuuki-san? I did say that you’re free to think what you will about this. If you ended up hating me, it meant I stepped over the line. But if not, it can either mean that we’re on the same page or you’re simply tolerating my audacity.”

That’s how it is. As I couldn’t be so sure of what was really going on in her head, I could only consider those possibilities. In the end, everything would be decided by Fuyu herself. And as much as possible, I didn’t want to influence her choice.

Fuyu’s body shuddered once more and slowly, she twisted her body to properly look at me. Her hand clasped by me twitched a little, squeezing my fingers slotted into the gaps.

As her breathing gradually hastened, the girl leaned her head on my right shoulder while her eyes intently inspected my face.

That lasted for a few minutes.

When she finally opened her mouth, Fuyu copied what I did. She placed her hand on top of mine.

As she started speaking, her hand slowly but surely grasped it tight, pushing that hand settled on her navel to further tighten my grip around her body.

“You’re right. I have to be honest with myself. Onoda-kun, I’m not uncomfortable and I don’t think I can hate you for this... As much as I am going to hate myself for admitting this, I also love being this close to you too...” She then paused for a moment before giving a bitter and almost defeated smile, “... But I cannot do this to Akane.”

Mhm. She’s being as honest as she could be. And that concern for Akane was something I’d seen coming from a mile away.

No matter how we looked at this, in her head or in a normal sense, we were already betraying her best friend even if we hadn’t done anything extreme yet and this was just her desire to be close to me, in the emotional and physical sense, it’s already considered a betrayal.

So what am I to do here? Convince her that it’s fine?

Obviously not as it would ruin everything. More importantly, it would ruin what makes Fuyu who she is.

Ugh. In other words, I would be ruining her if I went down that path.

No. I already ruined a lot of things. How is comforting her for the loss in their match turned into this? I’m such an idiot for losing it.

Unfortunately, I have to decide right here and now. And as always, it all comes down to this...

“I love Akane, Yuuki-san. That will never change no matter what.”

Yep. There’s no need to mince words there...

I checked on her reaction and surprisingly enough, Fuyu probably expected that as well. She closed her eyes and silently accepted it. She’s not disappointed but in fact, she knew that’s how I was going to answer.

Nonetheless, even if that’s the case, Fuyu whose feet were still grounded to the societal norm wouldn’t be able to fully understand me, the same way I was unable to understand her.

“I see... What does this mean then? Why did you say you love being this close to me? Why did you embrace me? If you’re going to cheat on Akane, I have to start distancing myself from you, Onoda-kun... L-let’s forget this happened.”

Yep. She’s not seeking an answer to those questions as they’re already answered from what happened. No amount of explanation can justify this.

And obviously, her resolution was also within my expectations. A guy like me will never be able to surmount her friendship with Akane. This girl would rather shelve what she’s feeling than betray her closest friend.

“What if I say no?” After deliberating for a while, that’s what my mouth produced. A question defying what she just suggested.

“... You’re making it difficult. But it’s your choice too, Onoda-kun. I don’t need to convince you.”

Upon saying that, Fuyu lowered her gaze. She didn’t move away from me and maintained our closeness. Unfortunately, she already made that decision. As soon as we stepped away from this place, she’d put everything that happened here behind her.

“You’re right. My objection doesn’t matter because, in the end, we’ll both choose for ourselves. Then, Yuuki-san, since we’re going to leave this behind here, allow me to express more of my honesty to you.”

Fuyu didn’t answer me verbally but her head moved, indicating her agreement.

A second later, the girl relaxed her body. Her grip on my hand tightened before she moved my arms to once again enclose her in my embrace. As a response, I followed through her movements and lowered my head, burying my face in her lush hair. Slowly, I settled down on the side of her neck, inhaling her wonderful scent.

Since this could be the first and the last time I could hold her this close, I didn’t want to waste this chance. Most likely, Fuyu was thinking the same thing.