To Subaru, the feeling of waking up was rather similar to the sensation of raising his head out of water. Rays of sunshine assailed his pupils the moment his eyelids parted, causing him to grimace as he rubbed his eyes. He was rather good at waking up, once his eyes opened his consciousness would soon follow.
“Ah, you’re awake?”
A voice directly overhead. As Subaru turned to face it, his body still on the ground, he realized that his head was resting on something rather soft.
“Don’t try to move just yet. Your head was hurt, so it’s not safe.”
The voice worrying about him was gentle, and the sensation under his head was one of supreme bliss. Subaru thought back to what had happened before he lost consciousness and concluded that he was currently experiencing one of the greatest boons a man could receive.
―Holy crap, that beauty’s giving me a lap pillow?!
Taking advantage of this divine blessing, Subaru started to toss and turn, enjoying the feel of her thighs to his heart’s content.
His circular motions brought delightful sensations to his cheeks, his face wrapped in a fluffy―
―Man, pretty girls are a lot hairier than I thought.
“Glad to see you’re up. (Falsetto)”
Subaru played the straight man as he looked up, now fully lucid, he could properly see what was before him. In his inverted line of sight was the face of an absurdly huge cat. Its expression was excessively ingratiating as it formed what seemed to be a smile.
“I decided to be considerate and offer you some comfort until you woke up. (Falsetto)”
“First of all, quit doing that terrible falsetto.”
Having ended up up in the absurd situation of receiving a lap pillow from a human-sized cat, that was Subaru’s only request. He then went back to enjoying the furry sensation since it was so generously provided.
“Fluffy… So fluffy. Just what in the world have you gone and created, God?”
“Oh dear, it seems it was well worth it for me to change size if it brings you that much joy. Right?”
The giant cat shyly scratched its head and winked as if seeking agreement. In the direction of its gaze, at the entrance to the alley, a girl stood with her arms crossed in displeasure. She was the girl who had been burned into his eyes and memory before he lost consciousness.
.”So basically, you’re that tiny kitty from before?”
“Fufufu, its freely changing size makes it great for transport. It also brightens your day with humorous chitchat. A cat for everyone, goes great with your lifestyle! For more details please contact the spirit association.”
It nimbly snapped its fingers and started a sales pitch. The contents weren’t really relevant, but Subaru understood that was probably how it acted.
“So you ended up staying here until I woke up…”
“Don’t get it twisted. I had some questions for you, so I had no choice but to stay. If that weren’t the case, I would have just left you here. Definitely. Just so we’re clear on that.”
When it was emphasized that much, even Subaru couldn’t really say much in response. She spoke in a fierce tone, as if pressing him. Considering his level 1 communication ability that was even worse when it came to the opposite sex, all Subaru could do was nod.
“And that goes for me healing you and letting you enjoy Puck’s lap too. All of it was for my own benefit, so I’ll have you repay me now.”
“You’re putting on quite the act, but it ultimately wraps around to being a regular request, doesn’t it?”
What goes around comes around, taken to the extreme. But in response to his answer, the girl shook her head with a stern expression.
“That’s not it, I’m making a demand here. ― Now, you probably know who stole my insignia, right?”
Subaru nervously accepted her condition, and she for some reason lowered her voice and asked him this.
Subaru couldn’t help but tilt his head at this. He had a really strong feeling that he’d heard this exact question before he lost consciousness.
“Did I hit my head really hard while I was very briefly unconscious?”
“You were out for at least five minutes, but as far as I know nothing of the sort happened.”
“Then could it be deja vu? Maybe I’ve awakened some hidden power that lets me experience the immediate future?”
Perhaps he should call his ability “Come back yesterday”.[T/N: Literally “come back the day before yesterday”, basically Japanese slang for telling someone to get lost.]
It could be rather useful to come up with the right answer to a question. Perhaps it’d even be possible to prepare for tough questions on tests. His dream started spiraling out of control.
“Ah, I was a shut-in!”
“Quit ignoring me and calm down already, would you? Now, answer me.”
“Uhh… I have to say… I don’t really know.”
The so-called insignia was probably something like those badges people like lawyers, prosecutors, members of the defense force etc. had to prove their identity.
Unfortunately, Subaru had no memory whatsoever of seeing such a thing in the hour or so he was here.
Back home, he had a veritable mountain of toy badges he’d collected as a child. But he didn’t know how to return there, and he’d probably get smashed by her ice if he tried offering her one.
Consequently, his answer couldn’t possibly meet her expectations. But the girl simply nodded, not disappointed in the slightest.
“I see. That’s that, then. But I did learn that you don’t know anything, so that shall suffice as compensation for healing you.”
Her logic regarding her total loss would have shocked the sleaziest swindler. Leaving a dumbfounded Subaru behind, she loudly clapped her hands together as if she’d completely gotten over it.
“I’ll be going then. Sorry, but I’m in a hurry. Your injuries are almost gone, and those guys probably won’t come after you again considering how scared they were, but wandering into deserted alleys alone at a time like this is basically suicide. Ah, I’m not worried or anything, I’m just warning you. I won’t have a reason to save you if this happens again, so you’d better not expect anything.”
Her mouth moved rapidly as she spoke at length, and perhaps interpreting Subaru’s silence as agreement, she seemed satisfied as she turned away.
Her long, silver hair swayed with her movements and even in that gloomy alley it had a fairy tale-like luster to it.
Subaru’s support suddenly disappeared and he hastily stopped his fall. When he turned around, the cat’s giant body was nowhere to be found, having returned to the palm-sized form he’d originally seen. Floating through the air like a balloon, it turned toward the girl.
“Sorry about that. She just can’t be upfront about such things, this daughter of mine. Don’t think her strange for it.”
Saying this in a jovial tone, the cat gently landed on her shoulder. She patted its back as if to confirm this, after which it disappeared into her hair.
Subaru’s eyes followed her dashing form as she walked away, and he thought intently about what the cat had said to him.
―The real motivation behind her words and actions.
It seemed she had been robbed of something really important to her, and she was pursuing the culprit. She then saw a stranger being assaulted, and stopped to help him despite this.
On top of that, she even wasted her time healing him and watched over him until he woke up, and then repeated her earlier question and deemed that sufficient compensation so he wouldn’t feel indebted to her.
It was far beyond the level where you could say she wasn’t upfront about things. It was the first time in his life he’d seen someone so absurdly considerate.
From her perspective, there was absolutely nothing to gain from interacting with him. On top of losing her target, she spent precious time healing him. Considering this, it could be said that she’d actually sustained a great loss here. She had every right to criticize him, and he would accept all of it.
But in the end, she didn’t do that, nor did she ask for an apology. Why? According to her, it was because saving him was all part of her self-serving plan.
“Living like that, you’re going to lose everything.”
He stood up with those words and patted his dirt-covered jersey. The filth made his well-used jersey stand out, but it had sustained no real damage. And most importantly, all the pain from his beating was completely gone. He rotated his shoulders and stretched his legs as he confirmed his condition, once again realizing just how absurd magic was.
And also how abnormal the girl was, having done this much for him and demanding next to nothing in return.
“―Hey, wait up!”
As she looked around at the spot where the alley connected to the main street, a voice called out from behind her. Smoothing down her hair with her hand, she seemed annoyed as she turned around.
“What? We’ve already said everything we needed to say, so we no longer have anything to do with each other. We’re merely strangers whose paths intersected for a moment.”
“Don’t say such heart-rending things! And even if you intended to end things, I think it’s far from over.”
Her eyes were cold as he approached as if clinging to her. Some part of him thought this scene was very much like a boy pursuing a girl who’d given him the cold shoulder, but he pressed on, spreading his arms to block her path.
“That thing’s important to you, right? Let me help you find it.”
“But you don’t…”
“It’s true that I haven’t a clue as to the culprit’s name, background or fetishes, but I at least know what she looks like! A pretty girl with a snaggletooth and striking blonde hair! She was shorter than you and flatter too, and maybe two or three years younger, but I was like really―?!”
It was a bad habit of his to become tense and speak at extreme speed when he was at his wits’ end, a habit that was clearly on display at this very moment. Frankly, even he himself was repulsed by this.
―There was too much unnecessary crap like chests and fetishes. And using words like ‘pretty girl’ and ‘really’, just who am I supposed to be? I gave up on English in my first year of middle school.[T/N: Subaru has bits of English strewn about his speech.]
In his first year of middle school, he’d gotten rid of his English textbook in the middle of summer break and he’d sworn off using loan words ever since, enacting a personal policy of national isolation.
So how on Earth could he just litter his speech with English―
It seemed as though Subaru was about to embark on a journey of self-reflection, full of strain and regret. His back was soaked with cold sweat. His arms were in a dreadful state due to the sweat from his palms and armpits. He was besieged by heart palpitations, breathlessness, dizziness, anemia, nasal congestion and migraines as he stood there.
He’d driven himself into a corner, and what saved him was,
“―You’re a strange guy.”
The girl’s voice, her finger on her lip as she slightly tilted her head, as though looking at some exotic animal. She stared at him as if appraising him and then,
“Let me just say this, I can’t offer you anything in return. I’m completely broke.”
“It was all stolen, you see.”
“Relax, I’m basically broke as well.”
“There’s nothing reassuring about that, though.”
Consciously ignoring the intermittent interjections, Subaru vigorously struck his chest.
“And I don’t need a reward or anything. I just want to thank you.”
“I haven’t done anything to deserve your thanks, you already repaid me for the healing.”
She remained stubborn to the very end.
Her obstinate attitude made Subaru smile bitterly as he continued, “If so,”
“I’m helping you for my own sake too. My objective is, yeah, that. I wanna do some good deeds!”
“That’s right, if you do a whole lot of them, you get to go to heaven when you die. It’s basically my dream life, lazing about all you want, living as self-indulgently as you please, and it’s like it’s just waiting for me. That’s why you have to let me help you.”
He didn’t really understand what he was saying himself, but he said what he wanted to. He looked as though he’d just accomplished some great task, but the girl seemed rather pensive. However, the cat on her shoulder started poking her cheek with its paw.
“I’m not sensing any malice, wouldn’t it be best to take him up on his offer? You don’t have any leads, and you can hardly search the whole capital.”
“Your stubbornness is definitely cute, but it’d be foolish to lose sight of your objective because of it. I don’t want to think of my own daughter as a fool.”
The cat shrugged its shoulders as it provoked her, causing her to raise her eyebrow. The next several seconds were filled with strangely erotic ‘Ahh’s, ‘Uhn’s and ‘But’s, but in the end,
“―I really can’t give you anything, you know.”
Saying this, she took his outstretched hand.