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Aight—let's go! Happy New Year!!

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Happy New Year!!

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Right, Happy New Year.

This is the first time the former Master Course mentor and trainee group are seeing each other after entering the New Year.

At Mikaze-senpai's greeting, Syo-kun pitches forward.

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C'mon, Ai! Since it's the new year, you should be more energetic, you hear?

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Even if you say that, this is just how I usually am. If I were suddenly in high spirits as soon as the new year started, that would be scary right?

Syo-kun answers with a wry smile that yes, it would be scary.
Haruka Nanami We haven't seen Shinomiya-san and Syo-kun since the Christmas Live.
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That's right~! Since all four of us are gathered here, let's have some fun!!

After the successful Christmas Live, I was spending the winter vacation at my parents' house when I received a text from Syo-kun.

It was an invitation to the first shrine visit of the year.

We decided to visit the shrine near our agency together with Shinomiya-san for New Year's.

At the end of the text he added: “We'll also try to invite Ai.”

The shrine, which Syo-kun chose specifically, is located within the grounds of Saotome Academy. As such, ordinary people don't go there, which means that we can take our time.

Syo-kun and Shinomiya-san also said that they want Mikaze-senpai to relax for a bit, since he went through a lot at the end of last year.

Haruka Nanami The year just started, but I'm so glad we were able to align our schedules!
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And also, look at that kimono!! A long-sleeved one for the new year!! It really boosts the mood!!

Syo-kun pushes my back and I take a step forward in Senpai's direction.
Haruka Nanami Ah, yes! There just happened to be a long-sleeved kimono at my parents' house.
I came dressed up in a long-sleeved kimono today.

Mikaze-senpai eyes me with a curious hum.

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It looks very difficult to move in, are you alright?

Haruka Nanami Yes, well, as long as you know the trick to it, it's alright. Still, I can't walk very quickly....
I'm not used to wearing a kimono and traditional sandals, so I'm not able to move very well....
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Are you alright? Shall I hold you by the hand?

Haruka Nanami No, I'm fine—hya?!
—Is what I try to say, but just as it looks like I'm about to fall, Mikaze-senpai supports me by smoothly taking my hand.
Haruka Nanami T… Thank you very much....
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That's dangerous…. At this rate, I won't be able to take my eyes off of you! If you knew that it'd be hard to move in, then why did you decide to wear a kimono today?

Haruka Nanami Uh, w-well....
SELECT THE PHRASE! 美風先輩がいらっしゃるので (Because Mikaze-senpai is here…)
Haruka Nanami They may just be clothes, but if they could help Mikaze-senpai feel even a bit of the New Year's spirit then....
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You did it for me?

Mikaze-senpai blanks out for a moment, then takes a long look at my outfit.
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I see—it's not bad. It's nice to be dressed up to the nines. You also look more mature than usual. How peculiar.

Haruka Nanami Eh—! T-thank you very much....
Receiving a compliment suddenly takes me by surprise. Senpai saying these things....
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That said, since you aren't used to walking in that, we can't make any progress which is quite troubling. Come on, let's go.

Mikaze-senpai takes my hand once again and starts walking.
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If you're careless, you will trip again.... There's a step right in front of you, so be careful. Over there is mud, so don't step into it.

Mikaze-senpai quickly urges me to mind my footing, taking my hand as we walk.

Somehow, Mikaze-senpai is like a big brother today.

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Whoa Ai, that's bold. Truly, like a real robot I guess....

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Ai-chan, that's not fair! I wanted to hold hands as well!!

I turn bright red as I hear Syo-kun's and Shinomiya-san's voices behind me.
SELECT THE PHRASE! お正月なので (Because it's New Year's)
Haruka Nanami Because it's New Year's, I thought it would be good to wear something festive....
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I see. The first shrine visit of the new year is a Japanese custom. That's why it's indeed logical to dress in traditional Japanese clothing....

Haruka Nanami Does it suit me?
”It's not bad,” he mumbles. Since I'm not used to walking in these clothes, he lends me his hand all the way to the shrine.
SELECT THE PHRASE! 何となく…… (I just did...)
Haruka Nanami As for the reason, I… I just did.
I'm embarrassed because I did my best putting this kimono on and coming here, so I dodge the question.
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You mean to tell me that you wore such a troublesome outfit because you “just happened to”? You sure are something else....

Mikaze-senpai tilts his head.

I should have been honest after all....

Just as I'm growing accustomed to the unfamiliar kimono, we arrive at the main shrine.

Without delay, we prepare to pray together, but....

center x200px Syo! Natsuki! Stop!!
We want to pay homage, but when he sees us move on our own, Mikaze-senpai calls out to us.
center x200px Hm? Whoa!? Ai, what's gotten into you all of a sudden??
With his full strength, Mikaze-senpai pulls Syo-kun back by his collar and Shinomiya-san by his arm.
center x200px Ahh! Our monetary offerings....
As Senpai keeps pulling the two of them, he turns to face me.
center x200px Yes, you too! Everyone, gather in front of the shrine gate for a moment!
We find ourselves right back where we started as we assemble in front of the shrine gate.

Mikaze-senpai looks at us with a serious expression, then opens his mouth.

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Listen. Because you guys said that you wanted to attend the first shrine visit of the year, I actually researched and studied the common method of offering prayers in advance.

Really now, you invited me but can't even do it properly yourselves?

Haruka Nanami Yes… I'm sorry.
center x200px The basics of offering prayers at the shrine is two bows, two claps, and a third bow. First, you pass under the shrine gate and purify both of your hands in the water provided for hand washing. At the main shrine, you ring the bell and only after that do you put your monetary offerings in!
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Um, you pass under the shrine gate and....

Haruka Nanami Ah! The water is over there!
Awkwardly, we start moving.

Mikaze-senpai observes the  situation with crossed arms like a demonic sergeant​.

And like that, we finally reach the offering box​.
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Now, keeping your back straight, bend your upper body deeply at a right angle and bow twice.… Like this. Got it?

Haruka Nanami Right angle.… Perhaps like this?
I bow and lift my head, to which Mikaze-senpai nods and says that it's good.

Syo-kun is putting what he heard into practice next to me, but....

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Not like that, Syo! Don't hunch your back, bring it down to a ninety degree angle! Right, now hold it there!

Mikaze-senpai shouts words of encouragement.
Haruka Nanami That's it, Syo-kun! Keep fighting!
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Uh… this… is pretty hard on your back....

Syo-kun groans painfully.
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Did you all do it properly? Next, we will clap our hands two times. Now, on my count!

We all line up next to each other and clap our hands.
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Then we press both hands together in prayer​. Here, you say your name and address and... recite your wish.

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Hello~ Nice to meet you, I am Natsuki Shinomiya.

Suddenly, Shinomiya-san faces the main shrine and starts a conversation.
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You don't have to say it out loud.

Still, we hear mumbling as he recites his wish.

Syo-kun carefully wishes for something as well.

Haruka Nanami A wish, huh....
I cast a fleeting glance to my side, where Senpai is standing silently with his eyes closed.

I wonder what he’s wishing for…. Is it related to work perhaps?

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Mm… did you all wish for something?

Mikaze-senpai carefully opens his eyes and looks my way.
Haruka Nanami Y-yes! Senpai… what did you wish for?
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That's a secret. To begin with, I am a robot, so I wonder if the gods would listen to the wish of someone who isn't even human?

Senpai looks up at the main shrine.
Haruka Nanami B-but of course they would! As long as you wholeheartedly wish for it, they will surely listen!
Senpai smiles at my words.
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Wholeheartedly… hm? I wanted to do it my way, but I wonder if my words managed to reach them properly.

While Shinomiya-san and Syo-kun continue to pray, Mikaze-senpai and I both look up at the sky.
Once we are done making our wishes, we bow two times just as Senpai taught us.
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Yeah yeah, at a right angle, I know. Um… was it like this?

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No. It's still at eighty-five degrees! Straighten your back properly!

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So stingy!! You can let five degrees pass!

Our visit ends noisily, and we return to the shrine gate once more.
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Ahh… somehow I'm really tired.… Feels like I went through hell....

Haruka Nanami But Mikaze-senpai researched everything so diligently. Doesn't that mean that he was actually looking forward to it quite a lot?
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Oh? Ai-chan, what is it?

Looking over, I see Mikaze-senpai staring at the place that sells fortunes.
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What's that? Ai, are you interested in fortunes? Aight, then let's do it!!

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Eh? I never said that I was interested....

Syo-kun pulls Mikaze-senpai along and runs to the place selling fortunes.
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Okay, here I go! Come to me, great fortune, great fortune​…. Go—! Uh… “small fortune”?

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Ah, mine was average fortune. It says: “You will find what you lost.” Maybe my Piyo-chan keyholder, which I lost during spring cleaning, will appear again?

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Right. No wait, isn't it usually the other way around? How do you lose something during spring cleaning? And, what about you?

Syo-kun looks at me.
Haruka Nanami Um… I got....

Ah—! Great fortune​, it's great fortune​!!

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Whoa, amazing!!

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That's great! Victory at the Song Festival will surely be yours!!

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Why? What's your evidence? Can you trust what is written on that paper to that extent?

Mikaze-senpai says this as if truly thinking of us as strange for getting so excited.
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No, no, there is none. But still, no need to be a killjoy~

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That's right! Because it's a test of luck. Here Ai-chan, you try and pull one as well!

Shinomiya-san hands the box of fortunes to Mikaze-senpai.
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Well… if that's the case. I will try it just this once, though....

And just like that, Mikaze-senpai pulls out a fortune.
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There you go.

Mikaze-senpai shows us the fortune he pulled.
Haruka Nanami What—!?
He unfolds the fortune paper, and the words “catastrophic misfortune” leap out at us in bold, black letters.

It comes as such a shock that no one says a word, and the grounds of the shrine fall completely silent.

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Catastrophic misfortune…. Which means it's even worse than bad, right?

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Oof.... Terrible luck, right at the start of the new year....

Syo-kun gulps in a state of disbelief.
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Ai-chan… you poor thing....

Ahh, what should I do?

Mikaze-senpai is frozen in place, holding his fortune.

It must be quite the shock. I have to do something to console him....

SELECT THE PHRASE! 大凶はレアです! (Catastrophic fortune is rare!)
There's no other way. We have to overcome this confidently!
Haruka Nanami Mikaze-senpai! The number of catastrophic fortunes in the box is really low! It's like a rare card, so to speak!
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Eh?! What's come over you all of a sudden?

I try to evoke Senpai's usual speech style in order to convince him as best as possible.
Haruka Nanami Because you pulled the lowest-rank fortune, you can only get better ones from now on. I think you can call this a conversely good result. Probably.
Shinomiya-san and Syo-kun clap their hands, expressing their awe and going "Ooh…" in response.

Mikaze-senpai lifts his eyes up from the fortune and looks at me again.

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Oh? That's a pretty rational explanation coming from you. Thinking of it that way it can actually be seen as a good thing.

Mikaze-senpai says that, seemingly satisfied with his fortune.

Thank goodness. It seems like I was able to convince him.

SELECT THE PHRASE! 南西は縁起が良いそうです (They say it is a good omen in the southwest)
Haruka Nanami But it seems that in the southwest, it is a good omen!
I say as I peer at the fortune.
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Southwest… Like the southern islands?

Haruka Nanami The southern islands! That sounds good!
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But we don't have time to go there for vacation. How about at least taking the southern route from the studio to the office?

Mikaze-senpai starts thinking of various routes to the office.

He seems to be giving it a lot of thought.

SELECT THE PHRASE! おみくじなんて迷信です (Fortunes are just superstition)
Haruka Nanami Fortunes are just superstition!
I answer with all my might.
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Hold on, should you really be saying that at a shrine?

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But earlier you were so delighted when you pulled great fortune​.

Haruka Nanami Ugh, that's right, but… it's just superstition.
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That is not at all persuasive....

Mikaze-senpai says while gazing at me.

I might have said something unnecessary.

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Well, don't worry about it too much. It's just a test of luck!

Mikaze-senpai looks at his terrible fortune for a moment, then turns on his heel.
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Give me a minute. I will test it by pulling another one.

Haruka Nanami Wha—Senpai?!
As we stand there dumbfounded, Mikaze-senpai vigorously rattles the fortune box one more time.
Haruka Nanami Mikaze-senpai, how did it go?
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… Catastrophic misfortune.

Once again, Mikaze-senpai unfolds the fortune and the bold, black letters saying “catastrophic misfortune” jump out.
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Whaaaat?! For real?

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Ah, you're right. Ai-chan, you really are amazing~

Not just once, but twice! Senpai is incredible​.

Mikaze-senpai carefully refolds the paper and goes back to the stall once again.

Haruka Nanami Um, Mikaze-senpai…?
He turns around at my call and nods as if to tell me that this time will be alright.

After that, Senpai keeps pulling new fortunes, but frighteningly, they all come back as "catastrophic misfortune."

The people at the stall also watch over each of his moves.

Even the grandmother at the charm shop starts cheering for him desperately.

In the end, even priests come and start praying....

With great difficulty, he finally pulls “future fortune,” at which the people at the shrine begin to clap for him.

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Future fortune, huh? Well, this is fine.

Mikaze-senpai turns while waving around the fortune he just pulled.
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No, now that you have something more valuable than catastrophic misfortune, take it home carefully.

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Is that so? I guess I don't need these anymore, then....

He says that and is about to throw the catastrophic misfortunes into the bin when I rush to stop him.
Haruka Nanami Don't do that! You take them and like this… you tie them to the branch of a shrine tree!
I take one of Mikaze-senpai's catastrophic misfortunes, folding it lengthwise into a narrow strip before tying it to the branch of a nearby tree.
Haruka Nanami This way, the gods will take away your bad luck.
“Is that so?” Mikaze-senpai mumbles. With his slender fingers, he skillfully folds the fortunes and ties them to the branch of the tree in succession.

Once we finish tying them all up, we look up at the tree anew.

Haruka Nanami It looks a bit like white flower blossoms, right?
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I see them as bird feathers.

Leaving behind the fortune trees that could basically be seen as an art display...

… we take a break after buying amazake from one of the stalls.

Surprisingly, Mikaze-senpai also says that he wants to give it a try.

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Mh… this has a peculiar taste.... It's different from what I expected. That, and it's pulpy.

Mikaze-senpai gives the amazake cup a piercing stare.
Haruka Nanami But it does warm you up.
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Yes, that's true. It's getting warm around my chest. It feels good.

Maybe because he’s taken a liking to it, Senpai takes another long sip of the amazake.
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So, how is the preparation for the Song Festival going? Are you about to start meeting up to discuss it?

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Mm, I was thinking about starting once the new year began. That's fine, right?

Haruka Nanami Y-yes! Gladly!
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Ai's solo song, huh…. If it's Ai, he can sing anything. So what kind of song do you intend to make?

Haruka Nanami Well....
I give Mikaze-senpai—seated next to me—a sidelong glance​.
SELECT THE PHRASE! バラード (Ballad)
Haruka Nanami In order to show off his beautiful singing voice... maybe a gentle ballad....
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Ooh… a ballad, huh.... That is certainly different from his current image. I'd be interested in seeing that.

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You're right. Ai-chan is always cute, but I would also love to see Ai-chan's mature side!

Ah, it looks like the two of them are showing some interest.
Haruka Nanami Since it’s Mikaze-senpai, I think the techno genre would fit him perfectly....
In fact, a lot of his songs seem to be of the digital kind.
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I mean, yeah, it fits his style perfectly. But, well... that's no different to his current releases.

Haruka Nanami That's… true....
It's not like continuing the same pattern is forbidden, but if possible, I really would like to show a new side of Mikaze-senpai.
Haruka Nanami Um, how about rock?
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Hmm, surely Ai-chan could sing rock really well, but....

“Perhaps it doesn't fit him that well.” Shinomiya-san tilts his head.
Haruka Nanami Maybe it evokes a stronger image of Kurosaki-senpai.
“That's probably it,” Shinomiya-san agrees, nodding.
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How about you, Ai? Don't you have a kind of song you'd like to sing?

Syo-kun turns and asks Mikaze-senpai, who's been quiet so far.
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Right, I.... A love song… maybe?

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L-love song!? You—?! Love… love is…!

Syo-kun stands up from his spot and stares at Mikaze-senpai with wide eyes.
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Syo, you're overreacting. Is something wrong…? It's nothing to be so surprised about.

Mikaze-senpai mumbles with a bashful look, putting the amazake to his lips.

“No, it's not wrong, but…” Syo-kun says, shaking his head.

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Whoa! A love song sung in Ai-chan's beautiful voice will surely be wonderful! The love song of an angel....

Shinomiya-san sounds ecstatic.
Haruka Nanami Even so, why all of a sudden a l-love song?
For some reason, I feel embarrassed and my voice cracks.
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Mhh. I mean, hit songs are mostly about love, right?

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Now that you mention it, that's true....

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Yeah. So in order to become a top idol, it's necessary to perform a love song and this could be a good opportunity.

That, and love is one of the most complicated human feelings. I want to study it.

He says this with a serious expression.

I see… while we have "emotions" and experience them so naturally, Mikaze-senpai has to study each of them one by one.

The feeling of “liking” is also unknown to him.

But if we can combine Senpai's technical ability with feelings of love, then the song will surely become one that can move people's hearts.

A song that can deliver Mikaze-senpai's feelings....

Haruka Nanami I understand. I will do my best!
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Mikaze-senpai agrees, looking slightly pleased.
After we finish at the shrine, we talk about our plans for the coming year while walking together.
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That reminds me, we will perform in the hidden talents contest at the agency's upcoming New Year's party.

Haruka Nanami Eh, your hidden… talents?
Shinomiya-san and Syo-kun nod.

Every January, a party is held at Shining Agency to celebrate the new year.

It's a private gathering. That said, the reserved location is a grand one, and also where the hidden talent contest takes place every year.

Up until now, I haven’t met the conditions required for an invitation so I couldn't attend previously. But this year, it looks like I’ll be able to attend.

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And so we were told to participate as a Master Course team this year.

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Yeah! My fingers are itching to get started!

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It's not like it'll be broadcast on TV, but Shiny still said to take it seriously.... Really, how troublesome.

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But if you win, you might receive a luxurious prize! Last year, I heard it was a statue of the president made of pure gold!

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Yikes, I don't know if I'd want that or not....

But there also seems to be a penalty game for the last place. Anyway, I really don't wanna lose at a contest!! If we're doing it anyways, let's aim to win!!

The hidden talents of those three, huh.... I wonder what they will do.
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We have to plan it carefully. First, we have to put Syo's reflexes to good use....

Despite calling it troublesome, Senpai looks like he’s enjoying himself.

On the way back, we brainstorm ideas for the hidden talents contest.

Once I debut, we won't be able to spend as much time together like this.

That's why Shinomiya-san and Syo-kun also seem really happy today.

It would be nice to visit the shrine as a group again next year.

Several days later, the New Year's party of the Shining Agency commences.

When all the idols of the agency are gathered in one hall, it's as gorgeous as the rumors say.

Reiji Kotobuki Kouhai-chan~ Happy New Yearo!! Guess who!!
Everything before me turns dark as someone covers my eyes from behind.
Haruka Nanami Ah—?!
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It becomes bright again and when I look behind me, I see Kurosaki-senpai and Camus-senpai dressed in kimono.

Kotobuki-senpai also appears from a dancing lion.

Haruka Nanami H-happy New Year! Thank you for all your help last year. I see that everyone is wearing a kimono today!!
Reiji Kotobuki That's right, you don't see this everyday~ Does it suit us?
Haruka Nanami Yes, perfectly so!
They aren't called idols for nothing!
Ai Mikaze Reiji came here as a lion dancer, so he quickly made us put them on.
From what I'm told, it seems like Kotobuki-senpai, who came as a lion dancer, seized Mikaze-senpai without a moment's delay and made him wear the kimono.

“That's what dubious people do,” Mikaze-senpai adds with a sigh​.

It seems that there was a notification from the agency today, mentioning that all male idols have to appear in a kimono.

Haruka Nanami Did you dress yourself in the kimono on your own, Mikaze-senpai?
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Uh-huh. After I saw you wear a kimono to the shrine visit, I decided to give it a try and installed some data detailing how to wear one. I also tried to put this on by myself. Did I do well?

Mikaze-senpai shows me by spreading his arms.
Haruka Nanami Yes! It's very beautiful! Senpai, you really can do everything!
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I wonder. I did put it on, but in the case of the long-sleeved kimono you wore, that structure was more complex, so I would have no choice but to test it out a few times.

Haruka Nanami Test it?
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Yeah, when that time comes, I might need you as my guinea pig​.

Haruka Nanami Guinea pig?!
Senpai seems to be slightly amused by my surprised reaction.
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Well now....

When Mikaze-senpai turns around, he suddenly lifts up the lion which Kotobuki-senpai had been holding.
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Aaah!! My little dancing lion!

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A good adult doesn’t play around all the time.

Mikaze-senpai takes the lion with a terse “that’s enough” and promptly goes to put it away.

“Boo you,” Kotobuki-senpai makes a sullen face.

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Ai-Ai was polite while we were getting dressed up, but once it came to fastening the obi, he turned merciless. The new year's just started, but he's already told us off a lot.

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Despite Mikaze's appearance, he can be quite forceful.

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If I don't loosen the obi a little, it'll be hard to eat.

As we talk about such things, I hear a voice from behind me.
Person A Ah! It's Ai-chan! It's rare for him to come to an event like this, and in a kimono, at that!
Mikaze-senpai, who is going to put the lion away, is surrounded by female idols in the blink of an eye.
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Uh-huh. It's a special occasion, after all. But I'm not really used to the kimono, so walking is kind of hard....

Ah… that's the kind of expression Mikaze-senpai uses in his idol mode.
Person B Ahaha, it's like that~ Ah, I know! Let's take a picture together~ Normally, we don't really see each other, so—
Mikaze-senpai glances at me for a brief moment before his awkward expression turns back into a smiling face.
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… I see. Sure! Isn't this like having two beautiful flowers next to me?

Person A Stop it~ You're always such a smooth-talker. Hey, could you take the picture for us?
Haruka Nanami Ah—yes!
At their beckoning, I hurry over.
Haruka Nanami I'm going to take it now. Say cheese!!
Female B Thank you~ Hey Ai-chan, shall we go to the sweets buffet over there?
center x200px Uhh, sure. I don't mind.
After taking some pictures, Mikaze-senpai is dragged along to the buffet corner.
Haruka Nanami Hah, Senpai sure is popular....
Up ahead, even more people surround him.

The crowd grows bigger. I watch Senpai, who engages in friendly conversation with everyone.

Senpai is an idol.

It's not the first time I've seen something like this, and yet....

Why… do I feel a sting in my chest…?

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Haruka Nanami Ah!!
Suddenly, Kotobuki-senpai jumps out right beside me.
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Haha—! He's surrounded again, huh. That was to be expected. The mysterious idol, the center of attention even at parties…. What's up? You're spacing out.

Haruka Nanami N-no… it's nothing.
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It may be “nothing,” even though I noticed you staring pretty jealously~?

Haruka Nanami N-no I wasn’t!
I quickly cover my cheeks.
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You know, Ai-Ai is pretty popular~ He is collected as well as smart.

Haruka Nanami I-is that so?
Kotobuki-senpai nods in agreement.
center x200px And it's not just some rumor either. My, it's so unfair~ So those are the kind of things that catch your eye?
Kotobuki-senpai flashes a carefree smile and points at the crowd.

“Catch your eye?” I have to suppress my heart, which is about to answer “yes” without thinking.

Haruka Nanami No, I mean… Senpai is an idol, and I'm simply his partner.
My answer causes Kotobuki-senpai to smile bitterly.
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… You are a firm person, aren't you, Kouhai-chan?

Haruka Nanami Kotobuki-senpai…?
Person B Yo, Kotobuki. I see you're still unpopular?
A passing man bops Kotobuki-senpai on the head.
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Shock! Hey, what's up with that greeting? It's been a long time, but aren't you being a little harsh? Hey, you! Wait up!

Kotobuki-senpai and the other person disappear into the crowd.

When I lift my head, I see Mikaze-senpai is still caught in the middle of a ring of people.

The moment I feel like Senpai is looking in my direction, I quickly avert my gaze.

Senpai is an idol, so I should be happy about his popularity, and yet....

I feel a little bit sad because I've been very close to him these past few days.

But… maybe I'm just getting myself worked up over nothing.

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A lot of YOU have cooome! Today is a free and easy gathering! Make it flashy! Well then, well then~ Cheers!!

The New Year's party starts to get lively​ at the president's toast.

Once the time to show their hidden talents comes, idols of the agency will perform their acts one after another.

Everyone seems busy preparing their challenging act.

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Let's make this year merry and bright! Guys, are you ready?

Hyuga-sensei appears, accompanied by selected members of Shining Agency for his show of hidden talents.
Men Yes, Boss!
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Good, let's get started!

At Hyuga-sensei's signal, champagne glasses are stacked up on the table one by one.

And at last....

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A Happy New Year! This year as well I wish for the Shining Agency to flourish more and more!! Ha!!

Hyuga-sensei leaps to the top of the stacked champagne glasses and pours golden champagne from a magnum bottle.

In the blink of an eye, a golden champagne tower has taken shape on the table.

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With this, victory is mine again this year!

Hyuga-sensei flips the bottle, beaming with a fabulous smile.

As expected from our agency's director. He's an expert at hidden talents. The venue is filled with applause.

Gradually, the other performances end, and finally it's time for Mikaze-senpai's team.

The stage goes dark and heroic music resounds.

A sense of tension builds.

Eventually, Shinomiya-san appears on stage and grabs the microphone.

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Good kids~ Gooood eeevening! Are you having fun~?

The audience is dismayed by Shinomiya-san's laid-back emcee presentation.
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Hey, Natsuki! Do you even understand what's going on?

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You need to cut to the chase!

The teachers, whose turn has already ended, watch the stage intently.
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That's Shinomiya's team for you. There's no telling what will happen.

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That's right! Either way, we have to stay alert.

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Hm? I can't hear you~? Right, altogether now! Gooood eeevening!!

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Gooood eeeveniiing!!

The president's high-spirited voice echoes through the venue.
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Alright~ Thank you very much everyone~ Welcome to our performance today~!

We will proceed to show you our artistic skills now~ You all are good kids, so absolutely do not try this at home, 'kaaay?

The moment he says that, roof tiles are carried onto the stage.
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I'm gonna kick things off. Alright, watch this! Haaaaa!

Syo-kun puts his spirit into it and breaks a stack of ten roof tiles all at once with his bare hand.

As he moves sideways, more stacks are lined up before him and he continues breaking them in order.

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Hah! Hah! Hiyah! Haaawww! Here comes the last one~!

In front of the last stack, he unleashes a blow with all of his might as he jumps and does a somersault.
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See! How's that!

The audience resounds with applause for Syo-kun, who has successfully broken all of the roof tiles with his strength.
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Hmm, not bad. Seems like body-based performances like these are your forte, Syo.

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Well, I have been doing it ever since I was a kid after all! Aight! Thank you very much!!

Syo-kun takes on an earnest pose and bows.
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Alright~ That was splendid, Syo-chan~ Next up is my turn. I will use these!

Shinomiya-san takes out three balls.

And then he throws them up in order.

Could this be....

Haruka Nanami Could it be… juggling?
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Calling it “cascade juggling” might be more accurate. But, that aside… it's quite basic.

Although the circulating speed of the balls is quite fast, Shinomiya-san's just juggling with a smile on his face.

Just as the venue begins feeling uneasy, Mikaze-senpai starts moving and brings along a big box from the wing of the stage.

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Natsuki, I'm about to begin. Here!

Mikaze-senpai suddenly puts his hand into the box and then throws something.
Haruka Nanami That's—!?
I shout out impulsively and Kurosaki-senpai, who stands next to me, opens his eyes wide.
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It's konjac!

Shinomiya-san receives the thrown konjac, adding it into the rotation of balls he’s juggling
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Let's keep it going~! Heads up, Natsuki!

Syo-kun and Mikaze-senpai take turns as they put their hands into the box and throw whatever they pick out.

A frying pan.

A bicycle saddle.

A bluefin tuna.

A wireless keyboard.

A chick.

Things without any logical connection blend together as they're juggled.

Ah, just now, the chick landed on his head.

Applause stirs the venue.

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Last one! Make sure to catch it. Heave, ho!

Mikaze-senpai throws a concrete block​.
Haruka Nanami Shinomiya-san, watch out!!
Shinomiya-san manages to catch it properly with his right hand, but maybe due to it being slightly too heavy, his posture is thrown off balance.

However, he immediately regains his stance.

Grand applause erupts from the venue.

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Everyone, are you enjoying it so far~?

Shinomiya-san asks, all while his hands move at high speed and continue to juggle.

There is frantic agreement from within the venue.

The juggling finishes and Shinomiya-san bows when, at last, Mikaze-senpai's turn comes up next.

A long iron rod and a big plate are carried onto the stage.

Which means....

With a sweet smile, Mikaze-senpai easily lifts the long and heavy-looking iron rod.

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That's right, I am the last one. I will perform gigantic plate-spinning.

He places the huge plate on top of the iron rod and begins spinning it round and round.

The gigantic plate is easily spun by Mikaze-senpai's hands.

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Alright! Now, I will place a ball on top of the plate. Natsuki, throw the ball over here.

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Huh? I just used it.... Ball, ball.... Where are you~?

Shinomiya-san frantically looks for the ball.
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Ah, well if it isn't there… Syo works, too. Come, hop on up.

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'Kay, I'll hop on—wait....

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What?! Me?! Nononono, no way. Not happening!!

Syo-kun vigorously​ draws back​.
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Syo! Don't you want to win?! Wasn't it you who said that if we're doing it, we should aim for victory? At this rate, we won't be able to win against Ryuya and the others!

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No, this is a physical issue now!

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Geez, guess I have no choice. Natsuki, throw Syo! It's fine, I will catch him with the plate.

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Alright, here goes!

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Hey—you! How come you are only quick at times like these?! Let! Me! Gooo!!

Not listening to his pleas, Shinomiya-san lightly lifts Syo-kun up and pitches him on top of the spinning plate.
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Syo-kun lies flat as he frantically clings onto the plate.
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As expected! Very skillful, Syo. Your reflexes​ are undeniable. Alright, now keep it like that!

With Syo-kun on top, the plate gets spun round and round all while keeping exquisite balance.

Enthusiastic cheers hail from the venue.

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Aah, the world… is spinning… huh...? Somehow my body feels like it's… floating…?

That's when we realize that the rotation is so fast that the plate separates from the rod and begins to lift off.

Mikaze-senpai looks up.

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Ah, I might have overdone it a bit with the spinning....

In the end, the big plate sways and—due to the centrifugal force—achieves lift-off.
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Aah! Syo-chan!!

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Syo-kun's voice is inaudible as the plate flies wide just like a boomerang.

The audience grows raucous  and the guests begin to run out of the venue, scrambling over each other.

Syo-kun shows off his fearsome physical ability and jumps down to the floor, leaving the plate dancing in the air.

The plate draws an arc and heads in my direction.

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Watch out! Run! …! Ngh, I have to…!

Mikaze-senpai quickly leaves the stage and reaches me at the last moment. As he pulls my hand, we collapse to the ground.
Haruka Nanami Senpai!
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It's fine, just lie down!

The plate tracks over us and mows everything down....

Lastly, it makes a direct hit on the gigantic Shining Saotome statue, which had been gracing the venue.

And so the plate cleaves right through the statue and easily blows away its upper body.

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The president's shout echoes through the venue.

In the midst of the now-ruined venue, everyone's gazes fall next to me. They are directed at Mikaze-senpai.

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Hah.... That was close.... Are you alright?

Haruka Nanami Y-yes....
Senpai slowly gets up and pops his neck.
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It wasn't supposed to go like this.... Maybe my calculations were wrong. Give me a second, I'm looking up what to do in this situation.

Mikaze-senpai spends a moment in thought after saying this.
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I'm so sowwy, evewyone.... I just wanted evewyone to have fun... but it somehow ended up wike this....

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You little devil....

Meanwhile, Syo-kun, who had fallen on the ground, gets back up and mumbles under his breath.

Afterwards, the hidden talents contest is somehow able to continue.

Mikaze-senpai's team comes in last place, but thanks to Senpai's persuasion​ they manage to get away with just a promise to clean up the mess they made.

The remains of the winning prize, which was the Shining statue, are handed over to Hyuga-sensei.

As I leave, I wait for Mikaze-senpai at the exit.

I offered to help with cleaning up, but the president said that it was a "penalty for Mr. Mikaze's team” before driving me out.

Now that I've calmed down, I have to thank him properly for saving me back then.

Mikaze-senpai comes through the exit by himself.

Haruka Nanami Ah, Senpai! Thanks for your hard work. Er, I wanted to thank you for saving me earlier.
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Something like that is no big deal. So, have you been waiting here this whole time?

Haruka Nanami Yes, I had to thank you. The hidden talents contest… it somehow ended up becoming a big mess.
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According to my calculations, it should have gone well… but irregularities are unavoidable. We should be happy that no one was injured.

Afterwards, Mikaze-senpai mentions that he had to apologize to Syo-kun.

Even after everything that happened, Syo-kun said: “When I'm working with you, nothing will surprise me from this point on, so don't worry.”

As expected of Syo-kun. He is strong.

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Speaking of irregularities… Natsuki practiced thoroughly before the performance, and yet his emcee lines ended up being ad-libbed.

Haruka Nanami Is that so? Hehehe, but he still went through with it. That is very much like Shinomiya-san.
Mikaze-senpai smiles bitterly, saying, “Maybe it would have been better if I had done it instead,” and then he looks at me.
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… Hey. There is one thing I want to ask.

Haruka Nanami What is it?
Mikaze-senpai pauses for a moment, then opens his mouth.
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Earlier, before the New Year's party started, what were you talking about with Reiji?

When I talked with Kotobuki-senpai....

I wonder if he means the time when he was surrounded by those female idols.

Haruka Nanami So you saw us, Senpai? You always kept talking with the others, so surely—
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—I saw. Rather, you keep getting into trouble, so I constantly try to keep tabs on your location. It's always like this.

Haruka Nanami Ah, is that how you were able to save me from the plate that came flying at me earlier?
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W-well… I guess so. So? What did you talk about with Reiji? You seemed pretty close.

Haruka Nanami Um, about that....
The subject of the conversation we had makes me hesitant to answer him.
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… Is it something that you cannot tell me?

Mikaze-senpai confronts me with suspicious eyes.
Haruka Nanami The conversation was nothing you have to be concerned about, Senpai. It was… just small talk.
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Hmm, I see....

He looks down at his steps while walking.
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I remember a strange heart fluctuation​ at that time.

Mikaze-senpai says in a few words.
Haruka Nanami … Heart fluctuation?
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Yeah, I think it was an “emotion” I had never felt before up until that point.

It wasn't exactly happiness or sadness, but rather it seemed to be a mix of many feelings…. It was complex and hard to describe.

Right now, I still don't really know what meaning that heart fluctuation holds.

Mikaze-senpai kicks a small stone in his path as he says so.
Once I return to the agency's dorm, I head straight to the piano.

Senpai told me with a few words that I didn't have to mind what he had told me, and went home.

Senpai is a robot. That fact won't change.

But it seems that many emotions have started to sprout within the heart inside his body, which confuses him.

On the night of the Christmas Live, Senpai said that he understood the feeling called “fun.”

Once he is able to define emotions, he may be able to grow even faster.

Haruka Nanami A love song, huh....
I mumble to myself and let my fingers run over the piano.

Senpai is strong and strict, and yet somehow fragile....

Various expressions of Mikaze-senpai's appear in my mind.

His serious face when he's working, the face he makes when he is angry with me, and his surprised expression.

The way his eyes light up when he sees something new or unusual. His smile, like that of a young child, that appears on his face sometimes.

As I visualize each one, a melody from within my heart starts to overflow.

The person I call “Mikaze-senpai” has taken root within my heart.

I sit at my piano for a while, creating a melody while thinking of him.

Several days have passed since then. Filming has resumed for the movie in which Mikaze-senpai is acting.

Today, they're retaking the scene from the end of last year, which they weren't able to shoot due to what happened.

In order to produce the background music, they’re allowing me to observe the scene of the take.

When the filming ends, I have plans with Mikaze-senpai to have a briefing session concerning the song for the Song Festival.

Haruka Nanami Oh—! It's already starting....
I stayed up until dawn to prepare a demo song, so I arrived at the location late and filming is already underway.
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I see…. So you already have someone dear to you.

Dressed as the mermaid prince, Mikaze-senpai shows a wistful expression.

Today's shoot is especially long, with most of it being Senpai's solo scenes.

Right now, they are filming the scene in which the prince finds out that the heroine, now an adult, has a lover.

The prince, who has given up his voice to the sea witch in exchange for human legs...

… finally meets the heroine, but can't tell her the feelings he has hidden deep inside his heart.

Especially when the heroine already has a lover....

Mikaze-senpai looks down silently. A tear slowly traces down his cheek in a straight line.

Director Alright, cut! That was good just now, Mikaze-kun.
Mikaze-senpai quickly wipes away his tear and suddenly lowers his head.
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Alright, thank you very much. But… I wonder if it would be good to have another shot with a little less emotion in it?

“Shall we do another single take then?” The director and Mikaze-senpai discuss between themselves as I watch from a distance.

Now that I'm aware of Senpai's circumstances, I feel as though I know very well how hard he works.

He is a robot, so expressing “emotions” that he doesn't have must take an immense amount of effort.

In order to complete the unfinished scenes, the filming proceeds at a rapid pace.

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Ugh… as expected, today... might have been difficult.

As soon as the shoot for the movie finishes, we return to Senpai's room, where he slumps over his desk.

We are supposed to be having a briefing session for the Song Festival, but seeing Senpai like this is really rare.

Haruka Nanami Um, you seem tired. Maybe we should hold the briefing another day....
The second he hears my words, Mikaze-senpai suddenly straightens up.
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Nuh-uh, no chance. I have to make sure you are working on the song properly.

Haruka Nanami O-of course, I'm making it just as I promised. If I weren't, then… you would get really angry at me, Senpai.
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That's right! … I've been looking forward to hearing your song all day long, you see.

Haruka Nanami Huh? That means....
When I intend to ask him about what he said, Senpai staggers again and slumps back down on the desk.
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Ugh, but this is bad. My head is so hot.... It's probably because I thought about emotions so much during the shooting.

This happens occasionally.
Haruka Nanami Um, if it's so bad, I think you should probably lie down!
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It's fine. If I stay like this for a bit, I will return to normal. My body itself is doing regular maintenance, so it shouldn't be a problem.

I don't think whether I lie down or not will particularly change anything.

Haruka Nanami It does! I believe if you lie down and rest properly, it will also have an effect on your mood!
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A mood isn't something that I need to… Wha?! Hey, what are you doing?

I pull Senpai and lead him to the sofa.

He gets a bit sullen as he tumbles onto the sofa, his head landing heavily on the cushion.

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Hmm, as expected, I don't think that anything has changed....

I take out one of the cooling sheets I always use and slap it on Senpai's forehead.
Haruka Nanami That should help for the time being. Next, please make sure not to think a lot. Just allow yourself to space out for a while.
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Space out?

Haruka Nanami I mean, even if your body doesn't feel tired, the same can't be said for your mind. Your mind is part of your body after all. That is why you should space out and allow yourself to rest.
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So spacing out without thinking? That's hard. I don't know if I'll be able to do it well, but… I got it.... Thank you.

After saying that, Mikaze-senpai puts his hand on his forehead and narrows his eyes.

I then turn on my laptop containing the demo track, which had been on the meeting table.

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Hey, what kind of song did you make?

As expected, he seems curious about the song and so he asks.
Haruka Nanami Um, just as you had hoped, I was thinking of a love song.

I also considered your melodic preferences and a lot of other things. But just as I thought, your charm is your voice, so I made use of that in a simple form.

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… Can I listen to it like this?

Senpai closes his eyes slightly as he lays his head on the cushion.
Haruka Nanami Yes, of course.
I play the song that I made.
SONG: "Winter Blossom" (S Rank)
When the song ends, Senpai slowly opens his eyes.
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Mm. It's beautiful. Fleeting but shining. Is this… the image that you have of me?

Haruka Nanami Yes! I made it while thinking a lot about you.
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Hehe, what's with that? It's a bit embarrassing....

Haruka Nanami Ah! I'm sorry for saying something so weird all of a sudden!
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But I might be happy. A song just for me, made with my image in mind, huh? It'll be nice if I can sing it well.

Senpai closes his eyes once again and mutters those few words.
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It really is just as you said, a simple but very beautiful song. If I had to compare it, then yeah.... It's like snow.

Haruka Nanami Like… snow?
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Mh-hm. After being born into this world, it was the first thing I thought to myself was “beautiful”.... That's why it's like snow.

Haruka Nanami Wow… I am honored that you would compare it to something so beautiful.
Senpai opens his eyes slowly and continues to look up at the ceiling.
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It's not just that snow is white and beautiful....

You can feel the strength from the fallen snow piled up on the ground. But on the other hand, its ephemerality, which comes from it seeming to melt away at a simple touch, has a lonely feeling too.

I think it's because I knew it wasn't just pretty that I became attached to it all the more.

I also felt those various qualities from the song you made. Surely, it is also the case for that which you call “love.”

Haruka Nanami Like… love?
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Yes. When I'm acting for the movie, I think of the mermaid prince's feelings as my own, so I feel like I've started to grasp this thing called love a little bit better.

I want to understand his feelings more for the next shoot. Surely, it'll help me when I come to sing your song too.

Afterwards, Senpai continues to give me advice for the song. Time passes by faster than usual, even though he takes some breaks from time to time.

I don't want him to push himself too much, but I am happy when he gives me his proactive opinions.

Haruka Nanami We managed to review all of the parts. Thank you very much. With this, I will rework it one more time.
As we discuss the song and go through the points that need adjustment, it ends up getting pretty late.

I quickly start to get ready to return home.

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Hey, are you free this Thursday?

We find ourselves at the studio's entrance, and just when I'm about to leave, Mikaze-senpai speaks up as if he'd just remembered something.
Haruka Nanami Pardon? You mean me? I guess so....
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The aquarium, was it? You mentioned it before. It was modeled after the sea, correct? Since it could be a good reference for the movie, I want to go there with you.

SELECT THE PHRASE! それはいいですね (That is great)
Haruka Nanami Oh! The aquarium? Sounds good! Surely it'll be fun!
So Senpai *was* interested. I let my voice express my delight.
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Is the aquarium a fun place? I was curious and tried to look various things up, but it's simply a place where creatures of the sea are being exhibited, right?

If you wanted to see them, then a video or picture should be just as good....

Senpai becomes thoughtful.
Haruka Nanami That is true, but seeing their size and textures, or seeing them move in real life, is different, I believe.
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I see.... Then, would you come with me and guide me around? Show me the fun side of it!

Haruka Nanami Of course! Leave it to me, please!
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Okay, I'm looking forward to it.

Senpai laughs with delight.
SELECT THE PHRASE! ぞれってデートですか? (Is this a date?)
Haruka Nanami Is it… a date?
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Oh, when a man and a woman go together you can also call it that, huh? I wasn't really thinking about that....

I simply saw you as a reliable person to accompany me. I thought if we were to go together, it would probably be fun....

Haruka Nanami I-I see....
Senpai says that in a calm tone, but why are my cheeks heating up…?

Senpai says that in a calm tone, but why are my cheeks heating up…?

SELECT THE PHRASE! わたしも一緒にですか? (Together with me?)
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I've always been curious.... If you say that you don't want to go together, I'll go there by myself.

Senpai seems lonely as he lowers his head.
Haruka Nanami O-of course not! I would love to accompany you!
Senpai looks delighted at my hurried reply.
And so we meet at the park on the promised day.
Haruka Nanami This really is a date, after all....
Senpai didn't say it outright, but thinking about it like that, I can't help but grow nervous somehow.

Just the two of us.

Since I'm his partner, being alone with him isn't unusual, and yet…

… As I start to become aware of it, I suddenly get embarrassed.

Haruka Nanami I wonder how Senpai feels about me....
Ai Mikaze … What's this about me?
I turn around, and standing there with his head tilted is Mikaze-senpai.
Haruka Nanami Ah! S-Senpai! Thanks for your hard work!
I lift my face and greet him in a hurry.

Ahh… I've ended up greeting him as I usually do....

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We're meeting in private today, so you don't have to be so formal.

In contrast to my nervousness, I can see that Senpai is in a good mood. Could that be because of his excitement for something new that awaits him?
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Come on, let's go. You are the guide today! So first we have to buy tickets, I believe?

Haruka Nanami T-that's right!
I take Senpai along and head for the entrance of the aquarium.

During weekdays, there are fewer people at the aquarium, and since the lighting indoors is darker…

… we can enter without standing out, even an idol like Senpai.

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Oh! It really is full of water tanks. Interesting…. Where should we start looking?

Senpai's eyes light up with excitement.

The building is divided into several floors. I open the map and call out to Senpai.

Haruka Nanami Let's see. There's not only fish here, but also a lot of other sea creatures. Where do you want to start looking, Senpai?
He stands next to me while peeking at the map with his head tilted.
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Hm, since it's my first time, I don't really know. Where do you want to start? Any recommendations?

Haruka Nanami Recommendations? Then....
SELECT THE PHRASE! 世界の海コーナー (Seas of the World)
Starting with a normal place seems like a good idea.

I guide Senpai to the floor with the tanks closest to the entrance.

Pacific Ocean, Indian Ocean, Caribbean Sea. Fish connected to each of these seas are swimming inside.

We patiently look around each of the tanks one at a time.

Of these, the one that particularly catches our eye is the tropical sea tank.

Haruka Nanami It's different from the sea in the north. The further you go south, the more colorful the fish get.
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Hey, this one kind of looks like you.

Crouching in front of the tank, Senpai looks up at me while pointing to a small fish.
Haruka Nanami That's me?
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Uh-huh. It's been hiding amongst the coral this whole time. It's orange so… it's probably the one called Ocellaris clownfish​.

It's just like you were when we met for the first time. Hey, come out. Come on~

Senpai pokes at the glass tank.
Haruka Nanami In that case, you are probably that one, Senpai.
I point to a blue fish which is swimming calmly.
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Do I flutter like that? Well then, that especially-big yellow one is Natsuki. Syo is… that small one.

Haruka Nanami Hey now, if you say something like that Syo-kun will get angry, you know?
After that, we continue going around and looking for fish that resemble people from our agency.
SELECT THE PHRASE! 海の動物コーナー (Animals of the Sea Exhibit)
At the Animals of the Sea Exhibit, the penguins are being fed.

We both look at the penguins all standing in a line.

Haruka Nanami Aw… so cute. There are even baby penguins!
Senpai, who is next to me, is eagerly paying attention to the penguins swallowing whole fishes.

After they finish eating, the penguins go into the water one after another.

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Oh! They are swimming. No, they are flying in the water? Which one would it be…?

As if to follow after the penguins, Senpai scurries in front of their tank.

The movement isn't very much like Senpai's at all, so a laugh slips out of me.

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Ngh.... Why are you laughing?

He notices and turns around, his hand still on the glass tank.
Haruka Nanami Fufu, I'm sorry. It's just that penguins can swim, but in the end, aren't they birds?
I ask as I, too, follow after the swimming penguins.

Senpai takes a moment to think.

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Even though penguins can't fly, they still belong to the family of birds. By the way, dolphins are mammals and their only difference from whales is their size. Also, red king crabs aren't really crabs, but instead closer to hermit crabs.

Haruka Nanami I see....
As always, Mikaze-senpai is well-informed.

While listening to Mikaze-senpai's lecture, I look around at the sea creatures.

Even though it's my duty to guide him, I end up being guided instead. But it's fun since we're like a teacher and his student.

SELECT THE PHRASE! 触れ合いコーナー (Touch Pool)
There is a floor in the center of the building in which they recreated an artificial shoal.

They call it the “Touch Pool.” Apparently, it's a place where one can actually touch real sea creatures.

It's a popular place for children. We mingle with the screaming children and Senpai sets his foot on the shoal.

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Ah—a starfish…. It's the one from the jelly.

Senpai touches the starfish without hesitation.
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Whoa, what's this…? It's flabby....

Senpai holds up the starfish and shows it to me.
Haruka Nanami Ah—!
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Why are you so surprised? Wasn't this the one inside of that jelly? I remember you called it “cute.”

With the starfish in his hand, he slowly starts approaching me.
Haruka Nanami It's different when it's real—! B-but it's cute when you are looking at it from a distance....
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I don't really get what you are thinking but… hehe…. That reaction is somewhat interesting.

Haruka Nanami Please don't make such a mischievous face!
From then on, Senpai continues to pick things up from the shoal just to show them to me and enjoy my reaction.

Sob… he's totally playing with me.

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Hey, look there. The ray is swimming upside down.

Whenever Mikaze-senpai finds something interesting, he'll pull my hand firmly.

Hermit crabs, jellyfish, deep sea fish. He tells me that he has data about them, but this is his first time actually seeing them.

Everything seems fresh and new in his eyes.

I hope that he'll always enjoy looking at new things like these.

At that moment, I see a glittering, blue tunnel just ahead of us.

Haruka Nanami Ah, please follow me this way!
This time, it is me who pulls Mikaze-senpai by the hand.

Even though Senpai is surprised, he still follows after me.

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The underwater tunnel runs under one of the tanks.

Together, we look up at the tank from below.

Haruka Nanami Look! I can see the dolphin's belly!
Senpai is also looking up at the animals with great interest.
Ai Mikaze Amazing.... It's really as if we're at the bottom of the sea....
We stand still within this shining, blue sea.

Light is falling in from above the tank and the scales of the fish, as well as the flickering waves, sparkle and shine.

Ai Mikaze I wonder if the mermaid prince lived in a place like this?
Haruka Nanami He probably did.
A swarm of multicolored fish passes over our heads.
Ai Mikaze His feelings for her must have been so strong, to make him want to leave such a beautiful and peaceful place.
Going from a mermaid to a human, he was no longer able to return to the sea. Still....
Haruka Nanami Still, I'm sure that the prince was happy! Since he was able to like someone to such an extent.
Ai Mikaze Even though he is the one who gets hurt for liking her?
Haruka Nanami But he still had those feelings of affection. That alone must have been happiness for the prince.
Ai Mikaze Happiness, hm.... So that's how it was....
Mikaze-senpai nods in understanding.

He then bumps his forehead on the glass and peers inside.

Ai Mikaze At first I didn't get it at all, but lately I've come to understand those emotions, little by little.

Now, I might even understand the feeling of “liking” someone....

Surely, to care for someone is not just to feel joy. Rather, other feelings like sadness and pain are also mixed together to form a single emotion. That's what it means to "like" someone.

It's really complex, and I still can't quite organize it myself, but....

I think that right now, a feeling like that probably exists even within me.

Senpai lifts his forehead away from the glass and faces me head on.
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Do you also have these kinds of feelings right now?

Haruka Nanami I… do have those feelings.
I answer, at which Mikaze-senpai looks into my eyes.
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You also have someone you hold dear?

I return his gaze and nod.
SELECT THE PHRASE! わかりません…… (I don't know…)
Haruka Nanami I don't know....
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You don't know your own feelings?

Senpai sounds somewhat lonely as he laughs, and I feel my heart sink.
SELECT THE PHRASE! ありません…… (I don't…)
Haruka Nanami No, I don't… at the moment.
I lower my gaze.

I want to tell the truth, but I can't.

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I see. So that means I have a chance.

Mikaze-senpai mutters to himself.
I finally realized it thanks to Senpai's words.

I… have feelings for him.

But I don't have enough courage to tell him that.

Haruka Nanami I still don't know myself.... But someday, I'm sure I'll be able to properly say it out loud.
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I understand. When the time comes, tell me about it.

Senpai nods slowly and then smiles.
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We should get going. Somehow, I feel like I'll be able to perform well as the mermaid prince now.

I owe it all to you, so thank you.

Haruka Nanami Whoa… what an amazing view.
As we leave the aquarium, the sky outside is lit by the sunset.

The setting sun is shaking on the ocean's distant reflection.

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Even the ocean is deep red. Hey, looks like we can get down to the beach from over there. Let's take a look.

Mikaze-senpai runs to the top of the hill and beckons me closer.
Haruka Nanami Huh?! Senpai, I thought you didn't like the ocean....
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It's fine. I saw a lot of good aspects of the ocean today, so I no longer dislike it. Let's go!

Drawn to his hand, I run up the hill, heading towards the red ocean dyed by the setting sun.
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We made it! Hah, following the aquarium, we ended up coming out to the real sea.

Senpai gazes at the ocean with satisfaction.
Haruka Nanami Senpai… you're… fast....
On this empty beach, only the quiet sound of waves echoes around us.
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Hey, do you have the song with you today?

Haruka Nanami The one for the Song Festival? I have it on an MP3 player, but I haven't finished making the adjustments yet.
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That's fine. I really want to sing it right now. I guess I'm in the mood to sing.

Senpai beams gently.

“In the mood to sing.” That's something he rarely says for himself.

Haruka Nanami Understood. Please give me a second.
I take out the player and connect it to a small speaker.

The piano introduction starts to play.

Haruka Nanami Can you hear it?
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Yes.... Thank you.

Senpai faces the sea and takes a deep breath.

His voice echoes as if it's overlapping with the sound of the ocean waves.

The song doesn't have lyrics yet, so he sings “lalala” instead.

The ocean at dusk and a clear voice.

I close my eyes, listening to his comforting voice, which blends in with the sound of the waves.

I  want to listen to this voice carefully, I think—but then....

Suddenly, the singing stops.

Haruka Nanami Ah.... Was it difficult to sing, perhaps?
This is the first time he's sung today. Maybe that's just how it is.

But even with songs he's seeing for the first time, he usually sings them without hesitation, so this was another rare occurrence.

Haruka Nanami Should I play it one more time from the beginning? Or do you—
I stand up.
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I watch as Senpai's back jerks and he loses his balance.

He tumbles over, and his knees drop onto the sand.

Haruka Nanami Senpai?!
The moment I rush over, I grab onto his arm.
Haruka Nanami —!!
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Stop that song right now!!

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No.... Don't touch my heart!!

Haruka Nanami Mikaze-senpai—?! What's wrong?
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Mikaze.... No, that's not me… AineKisaragiAine....


Senpai's expression distorts.

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Stop… stop it…! I didn't want to feel any emotions anymore. And yet, inside my heart… something is stirring, it's all a mess....

He grabs onto my wrists as he speaks.
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I'm begging you… don't move my heart any more. Don't sing that song. I don't want to think or feel anything!

His grip tightens.
Haruka Nanami Stop—! Ugh, it hurts…!
I try to shake free from his hands, but he doesn't let up, continuing to squeeze my wrists tightly.

I'm scared....

Suddenly, fear starts to fill my heart.

Haruka Nanami … Please… stop....

Help me… Mikaze-senpai!

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Senpai's body shakes as if he’s surprised, and the force on my wrists fades.

It's as if a thread of some kind has been snapped, and his whole body has gone limp....

He collapses onto my shoulder.

Ai Mikaze … Uh… gh....?
Senpai staggers upright and lets out small groans, so I support him with trembling hands.
Haruka Nanami ....
Senpai lifts his face and looks into my eyes…

… and then slowly opens his mouth.

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… What… happened?

What did I… do?

Senpai has come back to his senses, but doesn't remember anything.
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