A loud, metallic bang.
A long, violent rattle.
The sound of several kicks landing on a door.
“Argh! I can’t believe this is happening!”
While all of this was going on I stood quietly behind the bend of the stairs leading up to the roof access door and was massaging my temples in exasperation. I mean... I wasn’t expecting much in the first place, but the sight before me was just sad.
I was well out of sight, but I held my breath for a moment as the princess looked over at my direction. After she decided I wasn’t coming yet she began angrily stomping up and down in front of the door again like an enraged bull.
I suppose I better explain how the current situation came about, right? Well... there actually isn’t much to elaborate on; the situation kind of speaks for itself. But then again...
“Open, open, open!”
The princess began kicking the door again and for a moment I couldn’t decide what to groan about; her display of uncalled violence upon inanimate objects or her strange need to speak out all her thoughts aloud. I decided to go with the former, as I realized I have already been baffled by her monologing when I first came to the stairs. For a while, I even thought she might have noticed me and was putting up a show, but the longer I observed her, the less likely that sounded.
Still, at this rate something would get broken (either the door or her feet), and I was too tired to deal with either of those on top of all my problems, so I took a deep breath, steeled my nerves, stuck my hands into my pockets and began walking up the stairs as casually as I could manage.
Unexpectedly, I got no reaction. She just kept kicking the door like I wasn’t even there. How rude.
“K-hm!” I loudly cleared my throat and she finally stopped her first degree battery and assault upon the poor entrance. She didn’t say anything though, just froze mid-motion.
The silence stretched for a while until I got tired of waiting and cleared my throat again and spoke.
“I’m sorry to bring bad news, but you cannot go up there.”
“And why is that?” She hissed back at me over her shoulder.
“Because... it’s locked?” I stated the obvious.
“It’s your doing, isn’t it?”
“What’s my doing?”
“The door!” She pointed at it, then me, then at the door again as if she couldn’t decide who to accuse.
“… So let me see if I got this straight: You think that I somehow not only found out that you wanted to ask me to come here, even though I never had any chances to find your letter, but I had somehow got here before you, even though you left the classroom before me, rushed up here, somehow locked the door, and then ran away and hid for no reason whatsoever?”
“If you put it like that…” She wavered for a moment, but then she whipped her hand to the back and pointed at the door. “But then how do you explain that!?”
“That’s always closed.”
“Don’t take me for a fool! The girl already took me up here today!”
“The girl...? Ah, you mean Angie?” I was actually a little surprised by this. I thought she asked to meet me on the roof because that was the stereotypical thing to do, but apparently she did so because it was a place she already knew. “Yeah, they only open the door during lunch break.”
“Oh.” Color me damned, she actually looked crestfallen for a second.
“Don’t worry about it. You just transferred, you couldn’t have known.”
“H-H-How dare you!? I don’t need your comforting!”
It was at this point that the princess, nostrils flaring and shaking her fist, began teetering on the edge of the steps. If I had time to do so, I would have facepalmed. I wasn’t surprised though. I mean, what else was I supposed to expect in this situation? The whole 'pretty girl falls onto hapless guy on the stairs and he accidentally cups a feel for comedic effect' thing was old as dirt and was so obviously telegraphed it was almost painful.
However, since I was expecting it, I already made my preparations. By the time she began to lose her balance I was already moving, dashing up the steps two at a time. Her eyes widened in shock and she flailed her hands defensively which, surprise-surprise, only made her tip over completely.
She didn’t fall though. With one last leap I reached her, ducked under her arms, grabbed her by the waist and raised her off her feet before she could gather momentum. She let out a surprisingly cute squeak and froze in what I presumed was shock, her feet ineffectually dangling in the air under her.
She was... Well, I wouldn’t say she was heavy per se, but she was heavier than I expected. Even more surprisingly, I had no problem holding her up. I saw myself in the mirror, I knew I had some muscle, but seeing it in action was something else.
Speaking of muscle, she was also harder than I expected. Girls were supposed to be soft, right? Not her, apparently. Maybe I just wasn’t grabbing the right place (nor did I have any inclination to do so at the moment), but her side and stomach felt as hard as a pumped tire. Maybe she was working out?
Anyways, while I was pondering these kinds of things she just kept staring at me without moving a muscle. It felt pretty awkward, so I decided to put her down. First I needed better footing though, so I stepped up to the top of the staircase and gently placed her onto her feet, making sure she wasn’t about to tumble down again.
“You...” Still looking like a mannequin set in an awkward pose, the princess gave me a look halfway between fury and wonder, so... Furnder?
“Me?” I prodded her after she refused to continue for a minute.
“... caught me.”
I nodded with a smile.
“I’m in awe of your astute skills of observation.”
I made sure to give her a sour look long enough for her to realize how displeased I was with the absurdity of her question, but she just kept gazing at me furnderingly. Or is it furnderously? Coming up with new words is hard work.
The point is, I raised my hand and swiftly flicked her right in the middle of the forehead. She let out another cutesy sound and clasped her hands over the point of impact, finally breaking her out of the mannequin routine.
“Would you please start using proper sentences?”
“You hit me!” She yelled at me from only a couple dozen centimeters away.
“That’s a start, though I expected something more elaborate. B minus.”
“You. Hit. Me!” She yelled each word separately for emphasis.
“Aaaaand here you go, slipping back to sentence fragments. Bad form princess, bad form.”
The word had the desired effect, as she immediately cringed and jumped away from me. Thankfully it was in the direction of the locked door, so I didn’t have to dive after her for another rescue.
Once at a distance, her glare returned to its original, pure hostility and she raised the familiar accusatory finger in my direction.
“Stop saying that!”
“Why? Should I call you your highness instead?”
“No! Stop trying to blow my cover!”
“... What?” For a good five seconds we both stared at each other in silence. “So, you want to say you are actually...?”
“Argh!” The princess suddenly screamed and held her head in her hands. “I wasn’t supposed to say that! You! This was your plan all along!”
“Whoa, hold on a moment. I can’t follow your logic.”
“Who sent you! Why do you...!”
“Stop,” I told her flatly as I raised a hand, fingers posed ready to flick. She immediately shut up and raised her hands to cover her forehead. “Good.”
I groaned and tried to digest the information while also stopping the girl from flying off the handle. Despite my best efforts, I sighed again. I was doing that a lot these days.
“Okay, from the beginning. What are you accusing me of?”
She seemed uncertain, but answered nevertheless.
“You were sent here to provoke me and get in my way.”
“How should I know?”
“And you are a princess.”
“You already know the answer to that.”
“Oh-kay... Let me see if I got this straight.” I rubbed the bridge of my nose and began. “So you are accusing me of being sent here by someone to provoke you into revealing your identity, which would be bad for some reason, and the avenue I chose to do so was at the door leading to the roof, where we were all alone and you only revealed something we are allegedly all aware of. Is that the gist of it?”
Her glare slowly dissolved as she began thinking, and after a few seconds she began shaking her head.
“It sounds silly. You must be really bad at your job.”
This time she had no chance to defend herself as I flicked her right between the brows.
“Awawa! You hit me again! You hit me twice now! No one hits me! Not even my father hits me!”
“Do I look like I care?”
She honest to goodness growled at me and stomped her feet.
“Fine, what do you want from me?”
That gave me a pause.
“What do 'I' want from 'you'? Weren’t you the one who called me out here?”
“Then why do you keep getting in my way?!”
“When did I ever get in your way? All I was ever doing was trying not to get involved. YOU are the one who always came after me!”
“Because you were interfering! You didn’t even let me talk to him!”
“Who? Wait, you are talking about Joshua again, aren’t you? Just why would you...?”
I could hear my voice trail off as the waters of recognition slowly seeped into my conscious thoughts, followed by a veritable dam-breaking flood of implications. For a moment I staggered and had to place my hand against the wall to retain my balance.
“Oh my god...”
“What?” The princess looked slightly unnerved at my sudden outburst, but she kept glaring defiantly anyway.
“OH. MY. GOD!”
This time the volume made her jump back with another 'Gyafuuun!', or some similarly cutesy yelp. Either way, I wasn’t listening, nor did I care. My latest revelation blew away so many of my preconceived notions that I couldn’t spare the brainpower.
The princess was not aimed at me. From the very beginning she was after Joshua... Which meant that the guy had three girls pinning after him. That not only blew apart the initial love triangle I was expecting, but it also completely changed the genre of this setting!
This wasn’t just a rom-com narrative… This was a harem-comedy!
That might not sound like that big of a difference, but it suddenly put a ton of details into different light. For the most obvious example, it meant that I wasn’t the 'protagonist'! It was Josh all along! That fact alone turned half of my observations on their heads!
“I should have noticed sooner. It should have been obvious the moment you insisted on inviting Josh in particular.” I looked up from my musings and found the princess staring at me with wide eyes, her face pale but her ears bright red, an impressive feat of contrasting emotional responses. “So you are after him, huh?”
After a moment of hesitation she nodded, her lips curling up to an almost vicious smile.
“The cat’s out of the bag. I guess I have no choice but to...”
“Well, good luck, I guess.” I told her, cutting her off as I began walking down the stairs. “I guess you are going to need it, with all the competition.”
“What? What do you mean?” I couldn’t see her expression, but her voice sounded a little panicky.
“No time, you will see it yourself.” I turned my torso to glance and wave over my shoulder at her and in a moment I could practically feel the blood escaping my face.
“Wait!” She yelled as she reached after me... and magnificently managed to miss the top step in the process and began teetering on the edge.