Happy New Year everyone!

And what better gift than a new chapter of Strange Lovers? A few things but I don't have the money for them so you will have to accept the chapter.

For real though, sorry for taking such a long time without updating this. I've been doing other things and also wanted to try writing other things, but I have never abandoned a story and I'm not planning to start with this one.

So relax and enjoy the chapter!

This one is dedicated to Luke, thanks for your support!

This chapter was edited by LadyRedHeart

Timeline

6-1-3-2-4-5-7


Makoto shifted his weight from one leg to another in an attempt to fight the stiffness growing in his lower limbs. He had arrived five minutes earlier like usual, preferring to wait a bit than to be late. But the boy decided that next time he would wait in a place with seats. The sun was starting to go down past the horizon and soon the temperature would go down with it.

"You are early."

Makoto perked up and turned towards the voice. "Better early than late, and I can say the same to you." His words may sound aggressive but the joking tone took the edge off of them.

The taller ahoge bearer seemed to pick it up because he gave Makoto a small smile. It wasn't strange seeing them talking inside the school but it was the first time Hajime and Makoto hung outside of the walls of the academy, so what could bring the two of them to be there so late in the day? The answer was a simple one: They were on a date.

No, not between them, although many would love to see the two boys holding hands and kissing. They were on a group date and the boys were waiting for the rest of the group to arrive.

"Seems that great minds think alike, but alas I have been bested at being the first."

A somewhat haughty voice called from behind and the ahoge duo turned around to greet the third member of the male group. Before them stood a round teen wearing a jacket and a long tie. Hajime appreciated that part of his style, a pair of round glasses to make up for his poor vision shielded his beady eyes. Hifumi Yamada was striking a pose with his hands resting on his hips and chest jutting in pride, although his ragged breathing and red face worked against him.

He probably ran here, afraid to be late.

"Glad you could make it but you may want to sit a bit."

Hifumi gladly took Makoto's suggestion and let his body rest on the edge of the fountain that decorated the park, the artist extracted a handkerchief with the image of a pudgy anime girl from one of his pockets and took the time to clean his face from any drops of sweat that his impromptu race may have produced.

Hajime took the chance to lean closer and whisper something to Makoto. "If he is bringing an anime body pillow as his date, I'm leaving."

"C'mon, don't be like that..." The Luckster was doing his best to support his classmate, but deep down he had the same fear.

Hifumi was someone whose love for 2D was leaps above the rest, a fact that he was more than proud to declare to anyone who asked. So one can imagine Makoto and Hajime's surprise when he suggested a group date with the three of them and their girlfriends.

"Now that we are talking about, who is your... companion?"

Hajime's eyes widened and he straightened his posture, his brain worked hard in response but Hajime's mouth wasn't willing to cooperate. The universe decided to lend a hand by making the girls appear just in time, the three of them walking towards them. The brunettes didn't recognize the third one.

"Sorry for making you wait! Had to drag Mahiru half the way." Akane Owari beamed with her classic smile. Her clothes were the ones she usually wore, but to be fair, so was everyone's else. The gymnast didn't lose time to give her boyfriend a hug and a kiss at the top of the head, his cheeks now red.

"Don't say it like that! I was just... taking my time." The red-head fought down a pout and looked at Hajime. Her camera was nowhere to be seen but her hair had a different feeling as if it was more silky than usual. Her eyes landed on Hajime's. "Hello..."

Hajime had to take a second to remember how to speak. "Hello, you look great."

"Hmph, you know my opinion of words like 'great' or ' amazing'." It wasn't a good one, and yet, she couldn't help but feel happy at the compliment.

The mysterious girl observed from a distance but when all the eyes landed on her she walked closer. She was a tall girl with wavy cerulean hair that reached her knees, and a pair of teal eyes observed the group behind rimless glasses. She was wearing a combo of dark blue clothes, a blazer over a white blouse, and a knee-length pleated skirt.

The girl, whose favorite color has to be blue, gave them a polite bow before speaking. "I'm Tsumugi Shirogane. A pleasure to meet you all."

Now rested, Hifumi left his seat behind to join the group. His hand finding Tsumugi's, she smiled and returned the gesture. Makoto and Hajime slowly turned to each other and the younger boy chuckled at the sight of Hajime's bulging eyes, the small laugh helping Makoto hide his own surprise.

"We talked a bit while walking here," Mahiru said. "She is a lovely girl."

"You bet!" The compliment wasn't directed to him but Hifumi's chest swelled with pride, his hand softly squeezing Tsumugi's.

"Oh my, a plain girl like me doesn't deserve such compliments." Her free hand rested on her cheek, the girl not knowing how to deal with said words, instead giving them a troubled smile.

Once Hajime shook away the shock, he introduced himself, and Makoto followed suit. After some more talking the group of six teens began to walk around the city, the sight of the buildings' lights pushing back against the darkness of the night. It sounded more poetic than it looked but it was a nice change of pace from the overfamiliar sights of the academy.

"It's nice to stretch the legs and walk a bit but where are we going?" Akane asked out of curiosity, content enough with walking with the group, hands behind her head.

"We are almost there, just have to turn this corner."

The blue-haired beauty chirped in a happy tone, excited for the reveal of their mysterious destination. A corner later, the group of six were looking at a row of stairs that led to a black door below street level. The pink neon lights on it formed the word Vallhalla and gave the dark hallway an eerie feeling.

"Is this the place?" The photographer thought Tsumugi seemed like a nice and polite girl based on their limited interaction, now she wondered if that was a front and was luring them to have their organs harvested.

"I can feel the nostalgia in the air, let's go inside! You are going to love it." She was already walking down the stairs before anyone could ask her about what this place was.

Hifumi followed behind, not nervous in the slightest. Hajime let out a sigh and went down too, if this was some kind of underground anime convention he would be pissed. Behind him, Mahiru was having similar thoughts but fought the urge of grabbing the hem of the boy's shirt as they descended. The last pair looked at each other and nodded before following suit, Akane wasn't afraid of whatever this place was supposed to be but she brought Makoto closer to her with an arm. Just to be safe.

They weren't expecting to find a shady, but cozy, bar past the door. LED lights illuminated the underground local with a warm light, a few empty tables and chairs were lined along the wall and ready to use, just like the billiard table and darts at the other side.

"Welcome to Vallhalla. What can I... Tsumugi?" A woman observed the group from behind a counter with a hint of surprise on her cold face. She exuded an aura of professionalism and her hair was stylish in two cute pigtails.

The girl with the glasses broke from the group with a smile. "I wasn't expecting you to remember me. Glad to see you again, Jill."

"My memory isn't so bad that I would forget about you but a visit from time to time won't hurt." The woman looked past her and nodded to the group. "Your friends I assume."

"I'm sorry, I couldn't find any time with so many events and school." Tsumugi sighed and raised a hand to her cheek but her expression brightened right after that as she turned to the rest. "We just met today but I hope so. Everyone, this is Jill, the bartender of this place."

Mahiru took that chance to step closer, her eyes roaming through the many bright-colored bottles of liquor behind the bartender, her expression a bit nervous. "My name is Mahiru, it is a pleasure to meet you. Don't want to sound ungrateful but are you sure we can be here? None of us are old enough to drink."

Jill thought about it for a second but in the end, she nodded, pigtails bouncing a bit. "Technically you can't but we have non-alcoholic drinks too and you are Tsumugi's friend. Surely my boss won't mind."

With their fears eased the group ordered their drinks and sat around one of the empty tables in the bar, each one of them enjoying their drinks.

Makoto and Hifumi ordered their sodas, the artist drinking the diet version. His love for it was borderline obsessive while Makoto simply liked carbonated drinks.

Hajime was all smiles after learning that they had his favorite drink, 100% natural orange juice, an odd choice for a bar but the talentless boy's mood was too high to care about it.

Mahiru hid her amusement at seeing Hajime's so happy at such a childish thing behind her cup of green tea. She didn't agree with Ibuki's statement about the boy's level of cuteness. Not like she would say that out loud anyway.

A plain glass of water was Tsumugi's choice of beverage. The blue-haired beauty was content with the company the other students provided.

The gymnast of the group was the only one who went out of her comfort zone today wanting to pick something new. Not like Akane knew much about drinks anyway so she asked Jill for 'something tasty' the bartender gave the girl a troubled expression but nodded all the same. A sparkly, deep blue drink rested in a tall glass in front of Akane, along with an orange slice for some extra flavor. Everyone leaned closer until they were at the edge of their seats, curious for the reaction and opinion of the gymnast about the drink.

Akane lifted the glass to her lips and took a long sip, her eyes widened. "This is pretty good! Tastes like fruits and stuff, here take a sip."

The girl shoved the colorful drink into her boyfriend's hands with a bit too much energy, the contest almost spilled over him but the lucky boy managed to drink it before any accident occurred. His tongue detected the sweet, fruity tang of the drink and Makoto understood the girl's reaction. "Wow, it is! Should have gotten one for myself, let me have another small sip."

"Nope, this is mine~" Akane took the glass back from his hand but stuck her tongue out at the boy, teasing him a little.

"C'mon, you eat from my plate all the time!"

"My, first an indirect kiss and now a lover's quarrel? Mr. Naegi sure has advanced quite a bit on their romance route." Hifumi rubbed his portentous chin while observing the couple playfully fight over the drink, the artist was already planning similar scenarios for his work.

"Thanks again for showing us this place, Tsumugi." Mahiru turned away from the sappy display, wanting to give those two some privacy instead of ogling them like Hifumi. Although, she was sure that Tsumugi was writing something on a napkin. "Um... If I may ask, how do you know this place? You don't look like the type to frequent bars."

"And you would be right to think that way." The napkin was discreetly put inside her skirt pocket. "You see, I needed money for my props so I started searching for a job to get some extra money. That's when I met the owner of the bar and she offered me a job as a bartender, I was fairly popular but couldn't hold a candle to Jill."

Hajime raised an eyebrow as he enjoyed his orange juice, Tsumugi wasn't bad looking but the boy couldn't imagine her being one to attract attention, though he didn't say it out loud. "Did you need money so bad?"

"Yeah, I'm afraid cosplay isn't a cheap hobby."

"Cosplay? Is that tasty?" Akane tilted her head in confusion and chewed the slice of fruit in her mouth. All while side-hugging a pouty Lucktser with an arm.

"Please, allow me to explain!" A spark of passion shone in the girl's eyes as she pushed her glasses up. "Cosplay, also called Costume Play, is the activity in which people wear costumes, accessories, and even makeup to dress and act like their favorites characters. Said people are called Cosplayers"

At Tsumugi's explanation, Akane recalled seeing people weirdly dressed in the street a few times. Were those cosplayers? "So that's what it is. Sounds kinda cool"

"But that's not all!"

"I-it isn't?"

"True cosplay is not something so shallow!" The girl with the blue mane stood from her seat, light reflected from her glasses, hiding her eyes. "Dressing and acting like the character won't cut it, you have to think like the character! What would they say in this situation? How would they react? What are their likes and dislikes? In other words, you have to become the character!"

Tsumugi ended her inspiring speech by spreading her arms as if she was expecting a round of applause. But the only thing that was heard was her slightly ragged breathing, as the others were too shocked or confused to make a sound.

"Tsumugi, you are doing it again." To his credit, Hifumi didn't seem to react too much to what just happened. His hand softly patting the girl's back. "Forgive her, she is very passionate about her craft."

Tsumugi snapped back to reality and sat down, a faint blush adorning her face. Her more placid side was back in control. "Sorry..."

Makoto was the next one to recover enough to speak. "Wouldn't your talent be...?"

The girl finished her glass of water before giving the boy a response, her embarrassment back to manageable levels. "Yes, the school scouted me as the Ultimate Cosplayer but if I'm being honest, I prefer creating the cosplays to wear them. Lately, more and more people began to cosplay simply because it's popular or to gain money; they have no love for the characters!"

Hajime decided to intervene before Tsumugi went on another nerd rant about cosplay. "So you decided to take matters into your own hands and started cosplaying yourself."

"Ah, yeah." The girl caught herself but there was a bit of sadness in her smile. "Guess my standards can be too high sometimes, some even accused me of being elitist."

"Hmph, a bunch of normies they are. It just means that you love cosplay the most." Hifumi's hand came to rest on Tsumugi's, the round boy trying to cheer up his date.

It must have worked because the girl gifted the manga artist a smile. "You are always so sweet."

Hifumi reacted by blushing and scratching the back of his neck. Hajime took the chance to lean towards Makoto and whisper. "Since when did Hifumi have game?" The answer he got was a shrug but both ahoge boys were happy for his newfound happiness.

The date was going great. After a few more drinks the students conversed with each other lively.

"My sister loves that show, but she always complains about how the second season cut corners with the animation."

"She has a good eye then, that studio hasn't been doing well lately but its fandom is very active."

"She also says how a future manga artist has to notice those things, even if she reads more than she draws."

"Ah, a future comrade in the fine arts. I will be happy to review Ms. Naegi's first work if she is willing to show it."

"Heh, I'm sure Komaru will be honored."

"You know there are other drinks, right Hajime?"

"I-I just like orange juice, nothing wrong with that."

"Jeez, no need to be so defensive. A boy like you should be able to accept a little teasing."

"Hm... say, your hair..."

"Ah, w-what about it?"

"It's different from usual... It looks good on you."

"T-thank you... It's nothing too complicated..."

"We were almost late because she spent too much time doing her hair."

"Akane, shut up! L-learn to read the room!"

"Hahahaha!"

"Excuse me for a minute, I need to use the restroom." Tsumugi stood, her hands straightening her long skirt.

"Me too, let's go Akane."

Said girl was entangled in an Arm Wrestle session with Makoto, who was red in the face and using all of his strength. Akane looked back at Mahiru with a relaxed expression, not a sign of effort on her face. "I'm fine, don't need to go."

That response caused Mahiru to frown, the redhead's hand clasping around the gymnast's arm. "That doesn't matter, let's go."

"Hey! Stop it, don't pull!" That distraction was what Makoto needed, gathering all of his strength the boy pushed Akane's hand onto the table. Winning against the stronger girl, shock all over her face. "That doesn't count!"

"It totally does!" The boy roared and pumped his fist in the air as if he just won a boxing match. "I'm the Arm Wrestling champion!"

"The hell you are! I want a rematch!" Were Akane's last words before disappearing into the bathroom, Mahiru and Tsumugi dragging the feisty girl by the arms.

"So it's true that girls always go to the bathroom together, the legends didn't lie." By legends, Hifumi meant pop culture rumors.

"You know she is gonna break your arm later, don't you?" Hajime said before taking another sip of his drink, not surprised at all by Akane's competitive nature.

That statement was like a bucket of icy water doused over Makoto's enthusiasm. His left hand instinctively going to rub his right elbow.

With half of the group temporarily gone, a comfortable silence took hold of the bar, the boys killed time by playing with their phones or finishing the last drops of liquid in their glasses. That changed when Hifumi asked something to the other two, his voice shaky and nervous.

"W-what do you guys think?"

Makoto and Hajime shared a confused glance but it was the youngest of the two who asked. "Um, about what, exactly?"

"About Tsumugi!" The artist grabbed his Princess Piggles handkerchief and wiped his brow with it. Was he nervous about what they might think about her?

"She seems like a nice girl. Although I have never seen someone use the word 'plain' more than hers." Said the compulsive juice drinker.

"And you two share lots of things, no doubt you like her and she likes you back." Makoto's words were more light and optimistic, or was the smile what made them feel like that?

"But isn't that strange?" Hifumi suddenly interrupted.

The smile of the Luckster flattered as confusion began to set in, Makoto had a bad feeling about his friend's words. "What are you saying?"

"No matter what she says about herself, Tsumugi is an amazing girl. Smart, talented, and beautiful. While I am..." Hifumi struggled to find the correct words to say. No, he knew them already but found them too hurtful to say. "Let's just say people like me don't get to be a protagonist, much less get the girl at the end."

"Hifumi..." Makoto wanted nothing more than to dismiss the boy's fears and reassure him that it wasn't the case but it was clear Hifumi wasn't done.

At his side, Hajime listened to the artist with a sympathetic look. Maybe he judged him too harshly, he will make sure to apologize about that later.

"Sometimes I fear she is with me because of something else. Maybe to get me to help with her work or to use me in some other way." His head hung low and the boy clenched his fist hard enough to turn his knuckles white. "And then I feel like shit because she isn't that type of girl, but that doesn't change the fear I feel. Even when I should be happy..."

This time the silence that surrounded the table was like a thick heavy fog that made it hard to talk. They didn't expect the aloof and nerdy boy to suddenly display his deepest insecurities bare to them.

What can someone say to that?

"I understand how you feel."

"Huh?" The manga artist looked back up to see Hajime staring at him with a solemn expression, he wasn't expecting those words from him.

"Our situations aren't the same but I know how it feels to be below the person you like." The boy wasn't being completely truthful with them, his lack of talent put him below everyone else in the Main Course, or that's what he believed. "Being in the Reserve Course already puts me in a bad spot with many. I can take it but what if Mahiru gets to suffer because of me? She can do much better than some talentless nobody..."

Hajime's first intention was to connect with Hifumi and show that he wasn't alone but now they were having a two-man pity-party. Not the wished result nor a welcomed one.

A timid hand raised to gather their attention, the shortest of the three shifting on his seat. "I... also understand..."

"..."

"..."

"W-why are you looking at me like that?" Makoto couldn't decide what hurt more, their dismissive eyes, or the way they sighed after looking away.

"We didn't want to be rude Mr. Naegi knowing you and how happy Ms. Owari and you act all the time..." The only thing stopping Hifumi from calling the two a couple of normies was his friendship with the Luckster. That and Akane getting mad at him.

"How rude! I also have my sad days, if you must know."

"Hajime raised an eyebrow at the statement. "Do you now?"

Makoto made an effort to calm down to open up to the other boys who did the same tonight. "A few weeks ago Komaeda and I had a conversation. He was..." Makoto stopped to try and find the correct words.

"An asshole." Hajime found them pretty quickly, an advantage of knowing the hope fanatic.

Makoto gave him a nervous chuckle but didn't contradict the description of his senpai. "Anyway, he told me that a mere Lucky Student wasn't worthy of being with an Ultimate, much less romantically."

"Tsk, yeah that sounds like him." Hajime chipped in.

"I told him off, saying that such things shouldn't matter to anyone and that if you aren't satisfied with yourself then work to improve until you are." After saying that his voice adopted a less happy tone, he began to scratch his cheek like every time he was nervous. "But Akane is so amazing and full of energy that it's hard not to feel like she isn't out of my reach on a bad day..."

Hifumi and Hajime listened to him with the same respect he showed, digesting that even someone so upbeat could feel down in the slumps sometimes. It was humanizing, in a way, but didn't improve the mood much.

"I don't think we should get caught in those kinds of feelings, in my opinion at least." Once again, Makoto caught the boys' attention while looking more hopeful already. Did he have a switch somewhere on his body that let him change moods like that? "Because all those feelings of inadequacy and self-loathing aren't real. I may sound arrogant but... I deserve to be loved and so do you! All of us have good things and thinking that the girls' feelings must be wrong is an insult to them."

Makoto was now on his feet and whatever got into him made his words feel powerful and full of emotion. Maybe a drop of alcohol slipped in his drink, or maybe he was an emotional teen. Whatever the case, it worked.

Hifumi raised from his seat with his eyes blazing and fist clenched over his chest. "Y-yeah! I'm not that bad myself, I have skills, a fanbase, and great taste in manga and anime."

Hajime got to his feet next to him, although he did it more calmly there was a glint in his eyes. "If Mahiru heard me whine like this she would let me have it. She is smart and has good taste... so I will believe in her."

The three boys looked at each other and nodded, it was faint but a strong bond was formed today. A brotherhood that broke the heavy chains of doubt and self-pity and filled their hearts with an empowering feeling of confidence. They raised their glasses and toasted to themselves and how awesome they were, even when their glasses were completely empty.

"Cheers!"

The whole display was observed by a stone-faced bartender who wondered if she truly slipped them some alcohol by accident.

/-/

Tsumugi was washing her hands after finishing her business, humming some theme song while at it. The photographer played around with her hair, looking at the mirror to make sure everything was perfect, and yes, she wanted to impress a certain Reserve Course student even if she wouldn't admit it. She also just finished explaining to her classmates why girls went to the bathroom together. Akane still thought it was a dumb thing but went along, the girl currently resting against one of the walls.

"Say, how did you and Hifumi meet?" Mahiru had been dying to ask since they entered the bar but held herself as to not be seen as the gossip type. However, the curiosity had gnawed on her self-control long enough for the girl to give in.

Tsumugi didn't seem to mind the question but took a moment to dry her soggy hands. "We are both members of the Manga/Anime club in the academy with me being the newest member. I was quite nervous at first but Hifumi was always there to calm me down and even taught me how to improve my drawing skills." She blushed and little and raised her right hand to her chest, her left softly caressing it. "From there we began to talk more about many things, not only cosplay and manga. One day I asked if he wanted to date and he said yes. Heh, a bit of a plain history, isn't it?"

"You asked him first?" Mahiru gasped at the revelation, clearly not expecting such a thing from the cosplayer.

"Hm? Is there something wrong with it?"

"You know... the boy should be the first to ask those kinds of things." Mahiru couldn't quite understand why she felt the need to defend her point of view in front of the girls.

"I also asked Makoto first, you know?" Akane promptly pointed out, still chuckling at the memory of the boy's flushed expression and subsequent kissing session.

"Y-yeah but..."

Smelling the blood in the water, Tsumugi took the chance to make a question to the mumbling red-head, her eyes bright and focused. "Did Hajime ask you?"

Most of the blood on Mahiru's body rushed to her head at such speeds that the girl felt dizzy. A critical impact aimed at her weak spot, such a dirty move by the cosplayer. "W-we aren't... I m-mean, not like that... We aren't a couple!"

The girl managed to stammer out but the other two weren't convinced, still, Tsumugi played along.

"Only friends then? What a shame, you will make a great pair."

"Y-you think so?" She took the bait, hook, and sinker. "... If I have to say it, we are more than friends but less than l-lovers. You know?"

Akane opened her mouth to say something but closed it again, whatever she was about to say the gymnast kept it to herself and leaned back against the wall with a troubled expression.

"Ah, yes of course." The girl with the glasses struck a thinking pose. Her hand over her lips as she muttered to herself. "I had the feeling she was a tsundere, but for Mahiru to be such high-level... at least she isn't the violent archetype..." Mentally, she wished Hajime the best of luck.

"Don't you want to know how me and Makoto got together? I don't mind telling." Akane missed the way Mahiru's whole body tensed and how drops of cold sweat appeared on the girl's brow.

"It's alright, Hifumi told me all the details. It's quite a beautiful and fluffy story, I definitely ship you two together!" The girl had a soft blush on her face and a small trickle of drool fell from her mouth.

"What? You want to put us in a boat or something?"

While Tsumugi tried to explain to Akane the dark and chaotic world of shipping, Mahiru tried to steady her breathing. She and Miaya made great progress towards repressing the traumatic memories but Mahiru came close to a relapse just now.

Once ready, they walked outside to find the boys toasting with empty glasses and cheering themselves like idiots. A confused Mahiru was the one who asked what they were doing. The three stooges flinched and turned meek in their presence.

"I'm glad you are having fun together but be mindful of others while doing so, okay?" Mahiru stated while adopting her famous scolding pose. Leaning forward while resting her hands on her hips.

The girl with the glasses took a glance at her clock before announcing that they should be going back already or they would be in trouble with security. All of them would prefer not to deal with the large man with anger issues and the right to punch teenagers so they agreed to leave now.

All except...

"You!" Akane pointed at her boyfriend with a glare. "Come here! Is rematch time!"

Makoto's reaction was to try to hide his arms behind his back and turn pale. "Have mercy!"

/-/

After a very short arm wrestling match and saying their goodbyes to the bartender, the three couples walked together towards Hope's Peak. The streets were brightly illuminated which made their way back safe to traverse; a shame that the luminous contamination hid the stars though.

Coldness infected the air in the absence of sunlight and Tsumugi's weakness of it made the girl shiver even with the protection of her blazer. She would have to brave the cold winds by herself until reaching the school, or so she thought. A warm, big blanket was draped across the cosplayer's shoulders acting like a shield against the chilly hair, she turned around to see the bigger boy scratching his nose and looking to the side in embarrassment.

"My resistance to cold is pretty high so you can have some of my equipment if you want."

It wasn't a blanket but Hifumi's jacket which was able to cover Tsumugi thanks to its large size. The manga artist prayed to all the gods for his jacket not to smell bad or Tsumugi to laugh at the sappy attempt to swoon her. The boy flinched a bit when the girl took his hand, a soft smile on her lips and a blush on her cheeks.

"How chivalrous of you... Thanks."

All of Hifumi's worries melted and a blush of his own claimed his face. "Of course! I'm happy to help!"

Akane crossed her arms under her chest and scoffed. Not because of the two teens being mushy with each other, that she could understand. But Akane was wearing way fewer clothes than Tsumugi and she barely felt the cold; that girl needed to toughen up. The gymnast turned around to ask for Makoto's opinion but her words died in her mouth when she did so.

The Luckster's eyes were wide in surprise and his body stiff like a deer caught in front of the headlights of a car. His black jacket not around his body but in his hands, frozen in mid-air close to the girl.

It all clicked in her head and the biggest grin took hold of her lips, the girl leaning closer to the shorter boy. "And what were you about to do with that, hm?"

"I-I just... you see... it was just... what I mean is..." Makoto's brain was going into overdrive but his mouth couldn't keep up and spurted gibberish.

"Yes? What are you so nervous about?" She took a step forward and invaded his personal space. Her words were dripping with pure smugness. She couldn't help it, he was so cute like that!

"Never mind!" The Luckster screamed and put the jacket back on with haste, "Idiot! What were you thinking? You aren't a suave Cassanova or anything like that!" His mental beating kept going for a bit more before the girl of his heart pulled his body into a tight hug. "A-Akane?"

The tanned girl hummed happily with her eyes closed, their bodies softly swayed the whole time. "You are warm like always, I love it and I love you."

The boy's face surely felt warm at the moment but pure joy broke through embarrassment in the form of a bright smile. Their warmth mixing into one. "I love you too."

Another heartwarming and tooth-rotting moment was witnessed by the talentless boy, and even if he admitted they were nice it wasn't Hajime's style to be so sappy. Just when that thought formed in his mind a jolt of electricity struck him and he shivered, his instinct told him that something was wrong. Sure enough, the boy found his date looking straight at him.

Mahiru didn't utter a word or mane a disappointed face but there was something in her eyes, a feeling of longing that forced Hajime to say something. "Is not really that cold, is it? I'm wearing a shirt with short sleeves and I'm fine."

"Hm? Oh for sure..."

That was a lame excuse... Great now she is definitely disappointed in him, he had to fix it somehow. What if...

While Mahiru was walking in front of him, Hajime pulled his tie up his head... and wrapped it around the girl's neck like some kind of thin scarf.

Her expression was one of surprise and confusion. "What is this?"

"I thought you may be cold but I had nothing to cover you so I... used my tie as a scarf..." Heaves it sounded even dumber out loud. He wanted to jump into a garbage dumpster and be carried away to start a new life in the Junkyard.

"... Heh."

"Hm?"

"Hehehe! You are always so serious and stiff, so of course, you would do something clumsy like this! Hahahaha."

"Who are you calling clumsy?!" The boy should be mad, being laughed at wasn't something Hajime appreciated, but there was something about the girl's laugh that made him smile.

Maybe Mahiru was doing it a bit too much, or maybe she was distracting herself from Hajime's scent around herself. Nevertheless, the two teens were now walking a bit closer than before.

/-/

The first thing Tsumugi did in her room was to let her body crash on the bed. It had been a delightful but exhausting date and the girl was more of an indoors person, but doing different things is vital to keep the creative mind working and healthy. The memory of the parting of the couples for the night curved her lips into a smile.

The most bold pair said goodbye with an affectionate kiss on the lips while their opposites settled on an awkward but very adorable hug. Tsmugi herself received an unexpected but welcomed kiss on the cheek that she happily returned in kind.

She even got an extra.

Sliding a hand into her skirt pocket the girl retrieved a napkin from the bar. The paper cloth was full of scribbles that Tsumugi wrote without no one noticing; those were notes about the moments the couples did something fluffy or romantic.

Makoto and Akane sharing a drink.

Mahiru taking a quick and secret picture of Hajime's smile.

Hifumi offering his jacket was there too.

And many, many more. Some may consider such behavior creepy but Tsumugi couldn't help herself! When something ship worthy was happening in front of her eyes she had to document it for academic purposes, and this in her hand was primer material.

The cosplayer changed into a more comfortable outfit, an oversized white shirt and blue sweatpants, styled her long hair into a ponytail, and sat in front of her computer. She was ready for work.

Tsumugi wasn't a plagiarist; such laziness was a disservice to any work of fiction but there was nothing wrong with taking inspiration from outside sources. She just needed to change the names out of respect and a few events to make the story more dramatic and engaging. Maybe put some angst here and there to enhance the fluff.

The light of the monitor reflected on the glasses and hid her eyes as she typed at great speed.

"Yes, they will love this~"

Omake 1:

Mahiru: Hi girls, making sure our contact info is correct.

Akane: Never been in a chat group, looks cool!

Mahiru: Happy to hear that. Is Tsumugi busy?

Tsumugi: I'm here! Sorry, was working on something.

Akane: This late? Is it one of those cosplay things?

Tsumugi: Nope, I was writing something...

Mahiru: You can write too?

Tsumugi: Don't let my talent fool you, I have a few skills under my belt.

Akane: But you don't wear a belt.

Mahiru: ...

Tsumugi: I can write, apply makeup, I'm learning how to draw and can sew better than many! And talking about that... Will you girls be interested in my services?

Akane: Yeah, cosplaying isn't my thing. Already put too many weird costumes in old works.

Mahiru: I'll pass too, sorry.

Tsumugi: Oh but I can do much more than cosplay. My dakimakuras receive great reviews.

Mahiru: D-dakimakuras!?

Akane: You keep using weird words, trying to mess with me or something?

Tsumugi: No no no, I would never do such a thing. See, dakimakuras refer to body pillows with a picture of a character on the pillowcase, but if you give me a picture of your boyfriends I could work with it. That way you could hug them on a lonely night.

Akane: The hell? Why would I want that? If I want to hug Makoto I go and hug him.

Tsumugi: Understandable, is not for anyone. What about you, Mahiru?

Mahiru: M-me?

Tsumugi: I suspect you have many great pictures of Hajime, you can choose your favorite.

Mahiru: I have pictures of everyone in my class!

Tsumugi: But isn't Hajime from the Reserve Course?

Mahiru: That's it... I don't... Akane, say something!

...

...

Mahiru: Akane?

Tsumugi: I think she went to hug Makoto like she said... what an honest girl she is.

Mahiru: More like impulsive...

Tsumugi: Back to the topic we were discussing, I can offer you a friend's discount.

[Mahiru left the chat]

Omake 2:

Tsumugi felt infinite relief upon learning that Hope's Peak did possess a club dedicated to manga and anime, an oasis in a desert of normies. Extravagant and mostly friendly, but normies nonetheless. However, a bit of fear was stuck on her like a pesky bone in her throat.

She didn't want to freak out the members by being too passionate like she did in her old club. That's why the girl would be more calm and tame this time around, as if she wasn't plain enough... The girl took a deep breath and knocked on the door.

When a large boy with glasses and a curious hair spike introduced himself as the Alpha and the Omega of manga, Tsumugi smiled.

She was home.


And that's a wrap.

Yeah, that's right the one writing this whole story wasn't The Overlord of Ice but me, Tsumugi Shirogane!

Now, I know this chapter isn't focused on our main couple but the other two. That's because I wanted to develop some of the side pairings a bit while introducing a new one. Did I do a good job?

This was Tsumugi's introduction so I had to put some references in the chapter, most of you recognized Jill, the bartender, and the bar Valhalla. Both of them are references to the game Va-11 Hall-A, a great game that you should check out.

And with this, I promise you more updates and wish you all a happy 2021.