Six: Yukinoshita Yukino Was Right As Expected

That was not the end of the affair.

You know, Hayama was as good as his word. He did try to call me back later, but I never answered him.

You see, I went for a walk.

It's something people do when it's stopped snowing but the snow remains glistening on the roadside. I imagine it's very pretty to look at. There were children outside attempting to make snowmen out of what was left of the snow. Their exuberant high-pitched shouts filled the air, but they never quite reached my ears. Or at least, it was as if that noise came from a far, distant place.

I was supposed to be going to work now. It was that time of the day. I supposed I could still make it now if I hurried. It seemed like a good idea in an abstract sort of way.

I stopped at a nearby park. Good to take a detour. There was a swing there. I walked over to it and sat down on the seat.

Out of all the playground equipment out there, the swing must surely be the best. But this is only if you can push yourself. If someone else needs to push you, it defeats the purpose. Take this from the master of the "push yourself on the swing" school. You don't have to talk to anyone and no adult can accuse you of not playing. You're essentially killing two birds with one stone. Whoever invented the swing, I give you a medal.

I began to swing myself at a leisurely pace. To and fro. To and fro. There were children tumbling around in the snow and getting their socks and shoes wet. I pitied them.

When I was a child, I never bothered with any of that sort of stuff, as you can imagine. After a day at the park, my clothes were always in impeccable shape. Despite being a poor runner, I was always the best at playing tag. Nobody ever managed to get me it. That was because nobody ever realised I was in the game to begin with. Truly, my ninja skills were mature even as a child.

Those certainly were the days.

As I swung myself, the swing made a hesitant-sounding squeak, perhaps because I was too heavy for it now.

I looked at those children and I thought: I wonder when they will realise that growing older is nothing but a pain.

Kids, your lives will turn to shit. You won't end up with the job you want, not in this economy. There's no such thing as a hero of justice in this world. No, the hero of justice is more likely to betray you than anything and you'll do fuck all to help her. Why? Because you're just a cog in the system. People don't really understand each other. They're just precious little snowflakes that melt away as soon as you touch them. Kids, you'll never find happiness in this world, not as long as everyone else is still breathing.

It's not even that everyone in this world is a complete asshole (although there are many assholes in this world). Oh no, it's not even that. It's because people are kind - and then you end up caring and you can't do anything for them because you're just a stupid piece of shit. That's right, a stupid piece of shit. I wonder if you kids will realise that's all you'll ever amount to.

Oh yes, keep laughing and playing in the snow without a care in the world. But that snow's going to melt soon and you'll be left with nothing but cold wetness on your hands. Nothing in this world is fair, kids. You'll never understand the suffering of others even when you suffer yourself. You'll never realise what she went through. You're just going to sit there on your arse on a swing. She's probably lying dead in a ditch right now and you didn't do a goddamn thing to help her. Kids, you're all just so full of shit. When will you ever grow the fuck up? So what if you can write deep-sounding words on a paper? What the fuck does that do for society - for anyone?

You know, kids, even I wanted to fall in love with somebody too. But here I am, cold and shivering on this seat and I don't think anyone gives a shit. I pretty much commit fucking adultery. That's me. My god, if you knew what a pathetic life I lead, you'd throw stones at me. But I know you kids wouldn't do that. I bet your parents brought you up well.

I just wanted to talk to her, don't you see…? It didn't matter what we did together. Shit, I'm sorry. I'm so, so sorry. This is what happens when a loner starts interacting with people - that's why we're loners in the first place. You shouldn't be like me, kids. Do what I say, not what I do.

You know, you should try to be like Hayama or Yuigahama or something. Or maybe like my little sister. I bet you could play with her kid when it's born. But please don't leave that kid out of your games. I mean, shit, I wouldn't wish that fate on anybody.

I wish people never had to be alone.

I bet you kids just don't understand. I bet you think I'm some creepy old guy, even though I'm not even thirty yet. Yeah, just keep playing on the road like that. Don't look at me. Forget about me. No wait, don't play on the road. You're going to slip and fall. Look, you just did. I can't swing in peace anymore because of you kids getting on my nerves. And oh jesus fucking christ theres a car coming and oh my god i have to do something i


i have to

What followed was a blur. I only came to my senses hours later to the smell of disinfectant.

I knew at once I was in a hospital room. The last time I'd been in a hospital was when my father had his stroke, but I hadn't slept in a hospital bed myself for over ten years - not since my first day of high school.

My right leg as strung up in a cast. I'd been anaesthetised, but I knew right away that my limb was broken.

There was a TV hanging over my bed, but I could not be bothered reaching for the remote on the bedside table to turn on the channels. I simply lay on my back, staring listlessly at the white ceiling and wondering what the hell had just happened.

I did have a vivid memory of pushing a young girl out of the way and losing my footing on the wet, slippery road as a car came hurtling towards us. Good thing the driver had been taking it slowly because of the weather conditions or I might have died.

The thought left me feeling ridiculously light-headed.

I was already itching to get off my backside and go home already, but I decided to stay put. Not that I had a choice either way. Presently, a nurse walked into the room and asked me how I was doing. I said, "Fine." Then she left, probably to do other things.

I wondered if that little girl was doing all right.

As soon as that thought ran through my head, the door opened and the nurse was back, accompanied by the little girl in question. She was with her mother.

I stared. There was something strangely familiar about the mother, although I couldn't put my finger on it for the moment.

"Excuse me, Hikigaya-san," said the little girl, interrupting my train of thought. She wore her hair in pigtails and wore blue overalls, evidently quite the tomboy. "Th-thank you for saving my life."

She sounded like she was reciting words her mother had taught her. Blushing bright red, she brought out something from behind her back - a bouquet of flowers.

What a sweet gesture. That was probably the mother's doing as well.

She was a stern-faced woman, though admittedly a beautiful one. She seemed about my age, although it's hard to tell with women. Her long, sleek hair had gone prematurely grey, though her face was still youthful. Something about her reminded me of dry ice.

Turning my attention back to the daughter, I accepted the flowers with a weak smile - I mean, what else are you supposed to do? It wasn't like I had a use for flowers or anything. She'd have been better off buying me something edible or at least a copy of Weekly Shonen Jump.

But still…

A lump formed in my throat.

"I didn't really do anything," I mumbled.

Anyone would have done what I did. So what I had achieved was no particular kindness, nor was it worthy of gratitude - unless, of course, you measured kindness by how much inconvenience it caused the person doing the deed. In that case, I was pretty much Mother Teresa. Or perhaps Nelson Mandela. They should make me the President of South Africa.

"You really haven't changed," said the mother as she looked at me.

"Huh?" I responded dumbly. Did this woman know me or something? Well, she did look familiar.

She definitely wasn't anyone I knew from work, though.

I found myself unable to meet her straight gaze. As my eyes slid to the side, I noticed the black lace on the window curtains. And then it clicked.

"You're the black lace girl."

"Oh my," said the nurse. The black lace girl - that is, the mother of the child I had just rescued - scowled at me with irritation.

Probably not the most appropriate thing to say in front of a kid, I realised.

"Er, sorry," I mumbled. I still wasn't good at looking people in the eyes as I spoke to them, especially after I had just embarrassed myself. "Kawasaki… was it?"

Kawasaki Saki. I'd forgotten about her. If I recalled correctly, she didn't come to the class reunion. She was a standoffish girl who generally kept to herself. But it didn't surprise me at all that she had started a family.

"That's right," said Kawasaki as she looked me down. Then she said curtly, "I'm glad you're not hurt too much."

"A broken limb here and there never stops anyone," I answered flippantly.

It was actually a little bit strange. I felt better now, after being hit by a car, then I did before the accident. It had cleared my head somehow. Maybe I'm secretly a masochist.

"I see," said Kawasaki. Curiously enough, I could see a small smile on her lips. "I owe you one." Then she corrected herself. "No, I owe you two."

"What are you talking about?" I gazed at her blankly.

"You helped me out in high school. I got a scholarship because of your suggestion. It was a small thing, but it improved my relationship with my brother. I'm grateful for that too."

"But that was all so long ago," I insisted. "Who really cares now?"

Kawasaki looked at me sternly, as if I were being a naughty child. Yeek, no wonder her daughter was so well-disciplined and not fidgeting.

"Perhaps you may think so," Kawasaki said coolly, "but I never forget favours."

There was something refreshing about Kawasaki's directness. That part of her hadn't changed after all these years either.

And I was glad for it.

"You don't have to do anything for me," I heard myself say. "What you've done just now was enough."

"What I did just now?" It was Kawasaki's turn to be puzzled.

"You acknowledged my existence."

"What a funny thing to be happy over." Kawasaki sighed. She was evidently still baffled.

Of course she would be. She'd been surrounded by loved ones her whole life. She'd never known anything different.

Speaking of loved ones…

The nurse cleared her throat. "Your sister's also here to see you," she informed me. "Shall I call her in?"

"Yeah," I said, finding the energy now to sit up properly in my bed. "Please do."

Predictably, my sister was all over me and gushing with concern.

The irony was not lost on her that this was not the first time I'd been hospitalised after getting hit by a car. First I'd been trying to save a dog and now someone's kid. What next?

Maybe I should become a superhero.

Kawasaki did stay for a while to chat with my sister, but it was clear that the two of them did not have much in common. At any rate, they stopped talking about me and my health very quickly in the piece. In fact, it ended up with Kawasaki lecturing Komachi on tips to handle pregnancy. It was like I wasn't even in the room.

So much for having my good deeds acknowledged, I suppose.

But when the time came for Kawasaki to leave, she faced me directly and came right up to my bed.

(Whoa, what was with these married women…?)

"If you ever need anything," she said solemnly, "just call."

And she slipped a piece of paper with her phone number scribbled on it in my hand.

I couldn't bring myself to speak, so I just nodded. Satisfied, Kawasaki nodded curtly and turned to leave, summoning her daughter at her heels.

"By the way," she said, her back turned to me, "have you heard from Yukinoshita?"


All of a sudden, the good humour fizzled out of me, as if I had been hit with a sucker punch.

"No," I said with difficulty.

"I see," said Kawasaki shortly. "I would have liked to thank her. I was wrong about her."

"W-wrong about what?"

"About the Service Club. I thought it was Yukinoshita's way of condescending others. But it was a good thing in the end."

And with that, Kawasaki left, leaving me alone with my sister. The nurse had gone to check up on the other patients, so it was just Komachi and I.

For a moment, neither of us said anything.

"It's funny how you keep meeting up with all these old high school people, Bro," Komachi remarked.

"It's a small world, all right."

It was an accident like this that had tied me to Yuigahama and Yukinoshita in the first place.

I must have been frowning, because Komachi leaned towards me suddenly and flicked me lightly on the forehead.

"Bro, you're an idiot," she said with mild exasperation. "I don't know why you keep doubting if you're a good person."

"You'd be wrong there. I think I am an excellent person. Loners are truly exemplary citizens."

"Yes, yes, spare me your convoluted logic." Komachi sighed, before breaking out into a smile again. "But it looks like you're back to your ordinary self, at least."

I still couldn't tell her about Yukinoshita, but for now this was enough. Komachi sat by my bed and held my hand. When we were kids, I was the one taking care of Komachi when she was sick, but now it was the other way around.

Outside, evening was fast approaching. Eventually, I fell asleep and dreamed of my high school days.

The Service Club room. A soft breeze came in through the open window of the fourth floor of the special building. Yuigahama was busy playing with her phone, humming a cheesy pop tune to herself, while Yukinoshita sat by the window and read a paperback novel serenely. Her long black hair moved with the breeze, and as the sun set in the distance, an orange light bathed the room with a warm glow.

On most days, the Service Club didn't actually help people. We spent our times like this, keeping each other company during those long afternoons after school was over.

You'd forgive me if I thought that none of this was romantic in the slightest at the time. Of course it wasn't romantic. We talked a whole load of crap to each other. Yukinoshita would snap her book shut and insult me in her smug, self-satisfied way while I bitched right back at her. And Yuigahama would try to calm us both down, but it was obvious she always sided with Yukinoshita about everything.

And Zaimokuza would occasionally walk in and turn everyone off with his obnoxious chuuni behaviour. And Totsuka was cute.

And… and…

I woke up. It was dark now and the curtains were shut. Komachi was gone now.

This wasn't the Service Club room. It was just a hospital room somewhere in Chiba, far from home. Just like that, the illusion of a rose-coloured high school vanished in the face of reality.

But I wasn't alone in the room.

A familiar man dressed in a suit sat by my bed looking at me. This one wasn't an old high school acquaintance.

"You…!" I spluttered, half-angrily, half-wearily.

Satou Satoshi smiled at me.

"How are you doing, Hikigaya-san?" he asked.

I scowled.

"What do you think?" I asked back at him.

"You do seem to be in a miserable state," he remarked as his eyes lingered on my leg. "But isn't that because of your own doing?"

"Well, yeah," I admitted. Talking to this guy was exhausting. I had no idea what he was getting at.

"It seems like you're not such a bad guy," Satou Satoshi said.

Somehow, when he said it, it sounded like an insult. I grumbled. "So what are you doing here? Aren't visiting hours over?"

He glanced at the clock. "No, there's still ten minutes left. So I'll keep this quick."

He cleared his throat. I watched him, waiting for him to just get on with it already.

"Yukino-san has returned," he said.

My heard let out a single loud thump.

"Are you serious?" I whispered.

"Yes, it seems she had been taking a long trip incognito. She returned home a few hours ago, it seems. Would you like to meet her?"

I turned this all over in my mind. It took me a while before I could speak.

"No," I said finally. "I'd only… cause a burden to her."

It was my own selfishness that had caused her to disappear in the first place.

"They all say that," said Satou Satoshi, "but they all end up meeting with their lovers again anyway. Some people just can't keep their hands to themselves."

"You're trying very hard to make me hate you, aren't you?"

Something about the way he spoke reminded me of someone. Something about the way he did things…

But it was hard to think about that when all I could see in my mind's eye was Yukinoshita, safe and alive.

"Well, in any case," Satou Satoshi said, "you're not off the hook yet. I'm going to keep track of you a while longer, just in case you do try to pull some funny business."

"Do all detectives talk to their targets like this?" It was like he was trying to deter me from speaking to Yukinoshita - not that I planned to speak to her in the first place.

"No," Satou Satoshi responded cheerfully. "But this is what my client has asked for."

"I see." I lay back down on my bed. I didn't really care too much. I was just glad Yukinoshita was back home.

The detective watched me for a while, a wry smile on his lips.

"One more thing," he added. "Yukinoshita Haruno is buried at Yahashira Cemetery."

After that, the time was up. A nurse came into the room, asking for him to leave. He did so promptly, bowing as he left.

I rested easy in the hospital and complied with whatever the nurses told me to do. The good thing about it was that I got off work for a couple of days. The bad thing was that there was nothing to do in the hospital whatsoever. I watched a bit of daytime television to pass the time, but it was mind-numbingly boring for the most part. The Tokusatsu reruns are great, but I could care less about the cooking shows.

I might say all that, but it wasn't really that bad. I didn't have to share a room with anyone and the room itself was quiet save for the hum of the air conditioner. I was left alone to my thoughts and that suited me just fine.

They let me out a week later, although naturally I still had to wear crutches. Those things are an absolute pain the way they dig into you. You can never quite get comfortable with them no matter how much you readjust your position. It's absolutely exhausting to walk any distance in them. Good thing I'm an energy conserver and I never walk much distance even on the best of days.

Even so, after all those days in the hospital I felt kind of restless. I'd gotten a load off my mind with the whole Yukinoshita business, but something still left me unsatisfied. The world outside was cold and chilly and somewhere along the line, it had left me behind.

Well, it was getting onto Christmas, so perhaps that explained it. It was the season of love confessions and doki doki moments. Not really any of my business, of course. But it was one of those times you could really see the difference between loners and riajuu, and that definitely cast a weight in the air.

There's something remarkably stupid about Christmas in Japan. Isn't it supposed to be a religious holiday in other countries? What was it about, the birth of Santa Claus or something…? At any rate, it certainly wasn't about having kinky sex in sleazy love hotels.

While all of that nonsense was going on, my life had returned to normal. I was determined never to enter a love hotel again, which was an easy promise to keep. I could put the whole affair with Yukinoshita out of mind and I was happier that way. Women are far more trouble than they're worth.

There was only one thing left to do now.

I hobbled over to the station and got on the train to Shin-Yahashira station.

When you're on crutches, people are surprisingly nice to you. It was a packed train, but the people shuffled aside to make way for me and a high school girl offered me her seat.

That's the nicest a high school girl has ever been to me, by the way.

The train trip passed by all too quickly. Soon, I was at Shin-Yahashira Station, hobbling my way around confusedly. I wasn't used to this part of Chiba and the station's layout had changed a lot since the last time I had been here. Fortunately, a kindly high school boy told me where the exit was.

That's the nicest a high school boy has ever been to me, by the way.

Soon, I was out in the open air, hobbling over to the cemetery. It wasn't all that far to walk, but a kindly man offered me a lift in his car. I was starting to get tired and evening was fast approaching by now, so I accepted the offer, although ordinarily I would simply have stammered a refusal.

And so, through no effort of my own, I ended up at Yahashira Cemetery.

There were groups of people walking around (it was a big cemetery, after all) but overall, it was an empty, open space that was populated with more dead people than living ones. Most of the tombstones were wholly unremarkable to look at, but there were a few large ones that were decorated extravagantly. Probably belonged to all the rich bastards.

There was no doubt in my mind that Haruno's grave would be extravagant too, and sure enough it wasn't hard to find the graves belonging to the Yukinoshita family. They owned a whole subsection of the cemetery. In fact, I probably wouldn't be far off in saying they had important shares in the business.

Haruno's grave had evidently been visited recently, because when I found it, there were pale purple flowers still fresh in the little clay pot beside the tombstone. I don't know much about flowers, but somehow I knew they were camellias.

Not only were the flowers fresh, but there was also a visitor there right now. A woman was kneeling by the gravestone, her head bowed and her hands clapped together in prayer. The scene transfixed me like an illusion or a scene from a painting. It was if she would still be kneeling there even after the world ended. I recognised her at once.

I gulped. My intention, right then and there, was to walk away and leave her to it. I would never be able to understand this woman's grief. It would be presumptuous of me, as a loner, to sit beside another person in their intensely private moment.

And besides, this was the last person I wanted to involve myself with right now.

I tried to back away, but my crutches slipped, causing a slight scraping sound against the stone path. That was enough for the woman's attention to turn my way.

"Hikigaya-kun," she uttered in surprise, her eyes widening.

No escape now. "Y-yo," I stuttered, trying (and failing) to greet her casually.

The surprise was soon gone from her eyes, replaced by a knowing look of melancholy. "So you found out, I see…" Yukinoshita Yukino said softly.

I knew I could only offer half-baked sympathy, but that didn't stop me from mumbling, "I'm sorry."

"Don't be sorry," Yukinoshita said. "I'm the one who should be sorry."

"Where did you go?" I couldn't stop myself from asking.

I think a part of me must have hoped to find Yukinoshita here, because now that I was talking to her and I could see for myself that she really was all right after all, a warm glow spread across my chest. I couldn't contain it, despite the chilliness in the air.

"I needed to think," Yukinoshita replied. She turned her gaze back to the grave, where there hung a photo of Haruno grinning from ear to ear. "I needed time alone to think about what I would do next."

"And you found your answer?"

"Yes," Yukinoshita said firmly.

There was resolve in her eyes, something I hadn't seen in ten years.

"I see," I said curtly, wrenching my gaze away. "I'm glad."

We were silent then, gazing at Haruno's image together. From the date written on her tombstone, she had died when she was twenty-three. Yukinoshita Yukino was currently older than her older sister.

"It must have been hard for you," I said, "living the lie your sister led."

"It was a lot of responsibility."

I wonder how Yukinoshita might have turned out if Haruno never died. A foolish question to consider, but, well, she had handled the school festival in a way Haruno never managed. But alone and suddenly faced with family pressure…

Well, even the great Yukinoshita Yukino would crack, I imagine.

There was no doubt, after all, that she had sincerely loved her sister.

Otherwise, none of her actions made sense.

"So in the end, you did outdo your sister." I laughed softly and bitterly.

Technically, Yukinoshita had never lied to me, it seemed.

Even so…

"I'm sorry," Yukinoshita said once again. "I should never have approached you from the beginning."

For the first time, she faced me squarely, the front of her body in full view. It had been months since I had last seen her and I hadn't noticed how much she had changed. Only now, for the first time, did I realise.

"Y-you…!" I gasped. Yukinoshita smiled sadly. "So you've been pigging out on a lot of snacks while you were alone," I went on.

It was the worst possible thing I could have said. Yukinoshita did not hit me, but her eyes blazed with cold fury. She completely crushed me.

"Er, sorry," I backpedalled. "That was a joke."

"And a poor one at that," Yukinoshita said scornfully.

At the same time, I couldn't take my eyes away from the bulge in Yukinoshita's stomach. It wasn't too large yet, but it was noticeable, especially given Yukinoshita's otherwise slender frame.

"Did you know you were pregnant when you were meeting up with me?" I asked, my voice trembling.

Yukinoshita nodded without hesitation.

"In fact, you could say it was that knowledge that led me to do something I would otherwise never have considered…"

Right. Ordinarily, Yukinoshita was no cheater. She played things fair and square by her own absolutist standards.

But her loyalty to her sister could only carry her so far. The life growing inside of her - was that, too, a burden she had willingly taken on for the sake of something greater?

In that case, it wasn't really her child, but Haruno's.

So then the only time Yukinoshita had ever considered sleeping with me was when she was pregnant in a marriage she was determined not to leave.

There was something deeply fucked up about all of this.

"Anyone would have done the trick, you know," I said, because that was the only thing I could say.

"I wanted it to have meaning. I wanted…" Yukinoshita trailed off, frowning. A look of confused agony came over her face. "What did I want, I wonder…?"

And although she had said she had come to a decision, for that brief moment I could see her hesitation showing through.

In that moment, I think, I could have pulled her into my arms and she would not have resisted. And I could have taken her to a love hotel and taken off her clothes and plunged myself inside of her, and she would have wrapped her arms around my neck and moaned softly as our bodies pressed together.

For the briefest of moments, I entertained the thought of coming inside her while she was pregnant with another man's child.

I blinked and shook my head.


No, I couldn't do that to Yukinoshita or her marriage, even if… even if…

("They all say that, but they all end up meeting with their lovers again anyway.")

I swallowed. "Whatever," I said, a little roughly. "It's past now."

It wasn't like I could do anything with a broken leg, anyway. Right?

"Indeed," said Yukinoshita, and I knew the two of us would never come remotely close to sleeping with each other ever again.

After all, even back then, we were unable to go through with it.

"So now what are you going to do?" I asked her.

A small smile came upon Yukinoshita's lips. This time, her smile was not sad. "This time, I will make everything right."

She took a deep breath. The fire in her eyes grew.

"I will end everything with my own hands."

I could see she meant it too. This was more like the Yukinoshita I remembered.

And it was because Yukinoshita was like this that our high school love comedy had turned out wrong as expected.

I smiled.

Yukinoshita, I suppose you'll never know it, but that's what I've always loved about you.