Epilogue: Reluctantly, Hikigaya Hachiman Returns To His Original Path
New Year's. It was that time of the year that isn't so bad for loners, comparatively speaking. You spend the time with family anyway. It's a whole load of bother going down to the shrine to pray when you're still on crutches, though.
Komachi hung around my house the whole time like a bad smell, treating me like an invalid - which, admittedly, I was. She made me soup and followed me around everywhere, and it got a bit annoying after a while. But I suppose I didn't really mind all that much. There are worse little sisters out there than Komachi, I must admit.
"I don't know why you come around so much," I grumbled when she waltzed into my house for the third time that day. "Don't you have a husband to attend to?"
"Bro, you have a really skewed idea of how women function in society these days if you think that's all we do with our time."
"I get it now," I said smugly. "You must have gotten sick of him. You must have realised that I was right and you were wrong all along." I never had approved of Komachi's choice of husband. That being said, I would not have approved of anyone, so it was best if he did not take it personally.
"No. That's really not it at all." Komachi let out a long-suffering sigh. An unspoken question seemed to linger in the air: "Why am I related to this guy again?" I did my best to ignore the subtext.
I looked at Komachi as she busied herself dusting my room. It was quite thoughtful of her, really, especially since I was in no condition to do the cleaning. In particular, my eyes drifted to her stomach. Still no sign of a baby bump, I see.
But Komachi was most certainly pregnant. Her child would be born sometime next year.
That day did not seem as far away today as it had seemed yesterday.
"You don't have to push yourself since you're pregnant, you know," I said.
"Ha! Weren't you the one telling me to get over myself a few weeks ago?"
"Well, yeah, but…"
"I really am fine, Bro," Komachi assured me with a smile. "You don't have to blame yourself for getting injured."
You don't have to blame yourself.
Nice words that nobody ever listened to.
But really, it was probably for the best that Komachi minded her own business. That was probably what she would end up doing when her child was born anyway. There was no way she could spare this much time for me with a kid on her hands. Her life would inevitably change. No, her life was already changing.
"You want something?" Komachi asked, turning around.
For a moment, I did not say anything. I imagined my pregnant sister with long, flowing black hair and a pale, sculpted face, frozen in time.
Then I said, "Have you ever thought of motherhood as a burden?"
"Huh? Why should I?"
"No reason," I said, looking away. "I just… wanted to know how you felt about something I'll never experience."
Komachi looked at me. Her eyes crinkled with a smile.
"What's the point of me explaining, then? You should use your imagination more."
And with that, she turned around and went back to her cleaning, humming a cheerful tune. As musically inept as Komachi was, she knew all my favourite songs.
That was my little sister for you. My closest stranger.
Later on that day, we went down to the local shrine together to celebrate the New Year. The air was chilly and the grass was wet with dew, but the sun was out and the sky was bluer than it had been in weeks. No trace of snow in Chiba today, of course.
It had been quite a while since I had last been outside for any substantial length of time. In my mind's eye, the world outside was still basked in orange. Everything as far as the eye could see was built over the bodies of the long dead. But that tranquil scene had passed forever, and right now the world was filled with chatter.
Old people, young people, families, couples - they all gathered without fail at the shrine every year. It was almost amazing in a way that so many people with such little in common could gather in a single place like this, for the blessings of a god they didn't really believe in.
What was even more amazing was how everyone I passed was smiling. Or perhaps it wasn't really so amazing, considering the occasion. In this world, Komachi was not the only ray of sunshine.
I would meet another one soon enough.
She was waiting by the steps of the shrine, dressed in loose pants and a sweater. In her younger days, she might have worn a kimono for the occasion, but today there were no other girls to fit in with and no boys to impress.
"Hey, I've been waiting for you two," Yuigahama said with a little wave.
At the year's end, it was only natural that Yuigahama Yui would come back to Chiba.
Yuigahama was one of the first people to learn about my accident. Komachi called her and they had a long talk about it. It seemed Yuigahama had plenty of good things to say about me, although I was not inclined to hear them.
Today, she looked at my right leg and a smile came over her face as she walked up to me. "I'm really proud of you, Hikki," she whispered, "for what you did."
Nothing kills conversation easier than compliments, no matter how sincerely Yuigahama might have meant them. I was tongue-tied for a very long moment.
I remembered our last conversation and marveled over how she still had the energy to see me. A part of me didn't want to see her. Another part of me wanted to see her desperately.
But after a moment, a sense of calm settled over me.
This is how it is, the thought ran through my mind.
We spent the next half hour catching up. As you would expect, Komachi directed most of the conversation. She talked cheerfully about this and that. Her talking had a way of washing over you. But Yuigahama kept up animatedly.
"My gosh, to think you're having a baby, Komachi-chan!" she gushed. "It's so weird, too! I meant, it only feels like yesterday when you were a cute middle schooler."
My little sister was cute? Heh, I suppose she was.
These days, Komachi retained a girlish look about her. Even though she was twenty-five she could have passed for twenty. If she were trying to buy alcohol, she would have to show her ID. She would probably still look good in a uniform, too…
I slapped my cheeks firmly.
It seemed I had lost track of the conversation for a moment there.
"What about you, Yui-san?" Komachi was saying blithely. "Have you ever thought about having a child?"
"I'd have to get married first!" Yuigahama insisted, laughing. "And, well, that doesn't seem very likely right now…"
Her smile twitched.
"Hm? But you're so pretty, Yui-san! You could snag a husband easily. I mean, I know some prime candidates," said Komachi, staring at me.
Give me a break.
Yuigahama laughed sheepishly. "It's not that! I'm back with my boyfriend, after all."
"Huh? Really?" I said, speaking up for the first time.
"Yeah, the guy I went to Australia with, remember?"
I could vaguely recall something like that.
Yuigahama had never spoken about her ex-boyfriend at all, but somehow I could imagine the trouble she had.
"You don't want to get married to your boyfriend one day?" Komachi asked, looking more than a little disappointed.
"I don't know," said Yuigahama. "He was having such a hard time and I was the one who couldn't handle it. That's why we broke up in the first place."
A look of distinct unease came over his face as she spoke - and not to mention guilt.
"So why are you back with him?" I asked bluntly.
"I don't know," Yuigahama said again. And she honestly did seem baffled. "I thought I could try to be a better person this time. He's on medication now, so that helps."
"Is he sick?" Komachi asked concernedly.
"Not his body," said Yuigahama. "But anyway." She shook her head and clapped her hands together. "Shall we go buy our fortunes now?"
Paper fortunes are a waste of time, but Komachi was really into that sort of thing. Predictably enough, she latched onto the opportunity. Or maybe she just wanted an excuse not to talk about something she so plainly did not understand. As we walked along, I glanced at Yuigahama.
I wondered what sort of struggles she must have led in her adult life, so far removed from our common experiences.
I wondered how she could still smile so brightly after all that.
But perhaps that wasn't such a mystery.
My fortune was, predictably, a load of rot. You're most likely to get good luck, so when you think about it from a statistical perspective, you're luckier if you get bad luck. But in my bad luck, I've only ever gotten good luck. Truly, paper fortunes are a scientific paradox, unsolvable by man.
Not to mention those things are mainly for the amusement of children anyway. Komachi got one for the sake of her unborn child and started wailing uncontrollably.
"Bro! This is a tragedy! I got super bad luck! I-is my baby doomed?!"
"How lucky," I said. "Your baby is already ahead of me in life."
"I'm going to get another one!" Komachi announced dramatically, before rushing back into the line.
I shrugged. "Whatever."
"I don't understand your logic," Yuigahama said with a sigh. She seemed happy over getting good luck. "Oh my goodness, is that Hiratsuka-sensei?!" she exclaimed suddenly.
Paper fortunes really were popular among children, like I said. But here was an adult taking it way too seriously. She was scowling at the fortune she had received and was reaching out for another one. I recognised her at once from her long hair and curvaceous body.
It was no surprise coming across someone from my old high school around here. This shrine was in the vicinity of Soubu high school. A couple of years back, I spotted the loud-mouthed guy from my class praying at the shrine. Although our eyes met, he did not recognise me and I pretended not to recognise him. Such is life.
But there was no pretending I didn't know Hiratsuka-sensei when she noticed me and waved cheerfully in my direction. This was not going to end well.
My old high school teacher was ten years my senior and, honestly, that seemed more obvious now than it did back then. As she came closer, I could see the early formation of wrinkles on her face. But that didn't really matter. Everything else about her gave off an impression of inexhaustible youth. Except for the cigarette she had in her mouth. So she still hadn't kicked that habit, huh?
"Hello, Hikigaya, Yuigahama," she said, taking out the cigarette and puffing out the smoke. "What a coincidence to see two of my old students here."
"I know, right?" said Yuigahama. "Gosh, I'm really happy right now."
"Likewise," said Hiratsuka-sensei with a wry smile. "Good to see you two are well."
"How've you been doing these days? Gosh, it's been so long," Yuigahama gushed.
"Well, about that…" Hiratsuka-sensei began, when suddenly I heard a man's voice call out "Shizuka!" behind her. That was Hiratsuka-sensei's first name.
Yuigahama and I looked at each other dumbly. Could it be…?
"This is my husband," Hiratsuka-sensei announced proudly, like a kid bragging about all the bugs he had collected.
I couldn't believe it. Sensei had actually succeeded in getting married. What? Who was the sucker?
But an even bigger twist was to come. As soon as the husband came into view, I recognised him immediately.
"You…!" I gasped in shock and horror.
He smiled and waved at me.
It was Satou Satoshi.
"What? You know this guy?" Yuigahama said confusedly.
"It's a long story," I said numbly. Then I turned to Satou Satoshi. "What are you doing here?"
Instead of answering me, Satou Satoshi elbowed Sensei. "Isn't he a riot?"
"I know," said Sensei with a smile. "I taught this boy."
I stared at the two of them, my mouth agape. The pieces were slowly starting to fall into place.
It was true that Yukinoshita's husband had not sent any detectives after me. He had admitted to that himself. In that case, who had sent Satou Satoshi? Was he even really a detective in the first place?
As I was staring, Sensei's husband introduced himself to Yuigahama. "I'm Satou Satoshi, a professional actor. You might recognise me from the Pocari Sweat commercials," he said with a jovial wink.
"Not at all!" Yuigahama said. "You look completely different!"
An actor, huh…?
His manner certainly was completely different from how he had been when he was "investigating" me. It was like he had put on a different face with exactly the same facial features.
I noticed Hiratsuka-sensei peering straight at me. Then she said suddenly, "Hikigaya, come with me."
It was that same authoritative tone she had always used as my teacher. Being with her had never made me want to act like a good student, but today I followed her without a word as if I was spellbound. We left Yuigahama with Satou Satoshi, who nodded in understanding.
Hiratsuka-sensei led me to a relatively secluded area underneath the shade of a sparse, leafless tree.
"I imagine you're surprised," she said with a chuckle.
"Am I ever? Why'd you send that guy after me? And hang on, how'd you even meet him in the first place?" The questions came pouring out of my mouth like a broken dam.
Hiratsuka-sensei's eyes clouded over as she answered in a faraway tone. "We met at the Shonen Jump Festa…"
"Why am I not surprised…?" I remembered Satou Satoshi's cringe-worthy business card and shuddered.
"Anyway," said Hiratsuka-sensei, coughing. "You haven't changed very much at all, Hikigaya."
"Neither have you, Sensei. I mean, disregarding my surprise that you actually managed to marry someone at all, I can't say that yo- ooooof!" Sensei punched me in the stomach. "Hey, I'm an invalid here!"
"I think you'll survive," said Sensei as she blew her right fist. "All right. Now to business. Hikigaya, I know as well as you do what happened to Yukinoshita."
It honestly felt weird to be talking about Yukinoshita with Sensei, as if we were resuming a conversation that we had been having only yesterday. Only it wasn't like that at all. Ten years had passed.
The fact that we could talk this way now was proof that Yukinoshita and I had been failures. Sensei had to be disappointed with us.
But she didn't look disappointed, only remorseful.
"A lot of things changed after Haruno passed away. I was unable to reach out to Yukinoshita. And then, when she did her disappearing act, I wondered if you had something to do with it. It was just a wild guess…"
"So? Why didn't you tell me about it directly?"
"Because I wanted to give you a taste of your own medicine," she said.
Out of all the possible reasons, she chose that?
"Hikigaya, having someone tell you that what you were doing was wrong… did that honestly make you feel better?"
Sensei's eyes were tender, as if she already knew the answer.
In that case, there was no point telling her. But I decided to humour her anyway.
"In a way, it did make me feel better. But it also made things worse."
When I thought about how Satou Satoshi had nudged me towards Yukinoshita, even as he affirmed our flaws, I had to admit that Hiratsuka-sensei was right. It was a taste of my own medicine.
It was something I could have done if I was not involved.
My fists clenched at my side. "Just knowing things… doesn't make them right."
"I'm glad you understand that now," Hiratsuka-sensei said softly.
I looked up at her face. All these years and I still needed these lessons. How pathetic.
But Hiratsuka-sensei's eyes were only full of kindness.
"Hikigaya, you're still learning. You're still my student."
This was closer to Hiratsuka-sensei's way of doing things. But whether that was the right way or not, I could not say.
All I could think of was how deeply Yukinoshita and I had disappointed her by refusing to change, all those years ago.
I hated myself for knowing what was wrong with me, but not knowing how to fix it. What, then, was the point of knowing? Of being honest? If it led to nowhere in the end, then perhaps it would have been better to embrace a happy lie from the beginning.
But it was too late for that now.
"I guess…" I swallowed. "I…"
But before I could muster out any more words, Hiratsuka-sensei did something that took me off-guard. It knocked the air out of my chest far more than her punch did.
She embraced me in a hug.
It was so, so warm. I don't think I could have moved, even if I was not crippled.
"Hikigaya…" I felt her warm breath in my ears. "Even if it is impossible to truly change, you must always continue to try."
I closed my eyes and leaned against her, breathing out slowly to match the rate of my steady heartbeat.
After what felt like several lifetimes, we broke apart. There was nothing else that needed to be said. Hiratsuka-sensei and I made our way back to the shrine, where everyone was waiting for us. There, we were greeted with ready smiles.
After that, the day passed uneventfully, and eventually, we decided to go home. That's how New Year's always goes. Komachi wanted to spend time with her husband, so she left early. That left Yuigahama alone with me.
She came back to my house for a cup of tea. She talked a lot about how nice it was to see Hiratsuka-sensei again and what a funny man her husband was, but I could only grunt noncommittally in reply.
After Yuigahama was gone, my life would be back to its monotonous daily rituals. A part of me would have liked the peace and quietude, but another part of me no longer felt satisfied. Perhaps it would never be satisfied again, or was that too much to ask of myself?
"Yuigahama, I'm sorry," I said.
My apology did not connect with what Yuigahama had just said, so she just looked at me, puzzled. "What for?"
"For not telling you about me and Yukinoshita."
"Oh, that." Yuigahama smiled softly as she sipped on the warm tea I prepared for her. It was the least I could have done for her. "Don't worry. I know about that now."
She smiled the same way she had when we had first encountered each other again. She smiled to assure me, not to assure herself.
Like me, Yuigahama kept things to herself. She pretended not to know about things when she did, perhaps to protect herself and others. But I think she mostly did it out of kindness this time. I could believe in that.
Now, though, we could talk openly about the elephant in the room.
"She called me the other day, you know?" Yuigahama said quietly. "She told me about everything that happened. I find it so hard to believe…"
So Yukinoshita really hadn't been kidding about admitting to her mistakes.
"She told you that because she still trusts you," I said.
But she doesn't trust me.
I left those words unsaid, but we both felt their brunt directly. I could even feel my face form a wince in reaction.
As for Yuigahama, she was looking at me with sympathetic eyes.
No, not sympathetic, I thought suddenly. Those were eyes that said, "I understand."
It wasn't quite as insulting.
"Say, what exactly did Yukinoshita tell you?" I asked, changing the subject anyway.
Even if it was just second-hand information, I wanted to know anyway. Polite curiosity, you could call it.
As we were speaking, the sky was clouding over, although the air inside the house didn't really get any noticeably chillier. Yuigahama was sitting close to the window, and as the sky changed, her eyes looked just a little bit duller.
"She said she's doing fine. But she also said, 'I probably shouldn't talk too much about this with you.'"
"She said, 'I'll end up thinking about the past too much.' Hikki, do you really think that's such a bad thing?"
"I don't know," I said frankly. It felt like the two of us had been saying that a lot lately. "But I don't think her decision was wrong."
"When you're nothing but a burden or temptation in someone else's life, the sensible thing for them to do is get rid of you."
"I wouldn't want to be thought of as a burden," Yuigahama said, her face falling.
I agreed with her. Nobody wants to be a burden. Loners especially. Perhaps that's why they're loners.
"But Hikki, do you really think you were a burden to Yukinon? Did it really have to turn out that way?"
"I don't know," I said yet again. "I don't know, Yuigahama."
Maybe if we had never gotten off on the wrong foot, this would never have happened.
Looking back, though, I was glad the whole thing had never escalated further. I don't think either of us would have been able to stand it.
Was that something to be thankful or resentful over, I wonder?
Shaking my head, I said to Yuigahama, "It wasn't as serious as you're probably thinking."
She blinked. "Huh? What do you mean?"
"We never even kissed," I said, and as soon as I uttered those words, I felt myself get a little indignant.
But that seemed to cheer Yuigahama up. "How like the two of you," she laughed.
I couldn't help it. I laughed too.
During the span of that laughter, everything about the situation changed colour completely. The whole affair felt unbelievably stupid in hindsight. Not to mention lightweight.
I couldn't even believe that it had even happened at all. I don't think I've ever laughed so hard in my life.
"Do you ever want to see Yukinon again? What would you say to her?" Yuigahama asked once the laughter had subsided.
That made me stop and think. The laughter died away in my throat.
Say if those feelings I had for Yukinoshita (whatever they happened to be) were genuine, and say if the feelings she had for me were genuine as well. Where did that put us? Did they even really mean anything in the end?
I'm sure they did. Even now, I can still remember the cool, late afternoon breeze in the Service Club room and the wry smile on Yukinoshita's calm face as she turned the pages of a literary novel. I hated high school, but those quiet moments weren't so bad. I'm sure a part of me wished it all could have lasted forever.
So many pointless things meant so much to me in spite of (no, because of) myself.
And when I thought of it like that, perhaps I did feel a little wistful, even if Yukinoshita regarded me as a burden, even if the path she chose was a lonely and winding road, even if she was wrong in her righteousness.
I'm sure that, more than anyone, Yukinoshita believed in a bright, shining future, built upon the foundations of yesterday's sins. Right up until the end of the affair, I would have told you I did not believe in such a thing.
But now… I could see Yukinoshita's face in my mind's eye. Though by all rights I should have hated her for throwing me aside and saying nothing to me, I could not muster any anger or resentment. As it turned out, I had forgiven Yukinoshita for her hypocrisy years ago.
So I turned back to Yuigahama and looked the ghost of our past in her bright, twinkling eyes. They were the callous reminder of what could have been. I could not bring myself to hate that either.
After the end of the affair, it was the closest thing I could ever come to something genuine. It was the sort of thing that doesn't really happen to anyone, but feels so true that it might as well be. As soon as I spun those feelings into words, it would no longer be true.
And I said in my heart, "If I could see her again, I would tell her that I love her. And that really would be the end of it."
I know that happiness is a fairytale that doesn't exist
I know all too well (I know all too well)
But you know
That's where I want to go…
Hi there, this is Frog-kun. You might not know this, but I translated volumes 2 and 3 of the Oregairu light novel for Nano Desu. You can find the links on Baka-Tsuki.
Writing a fanfiction for Oregairu was an interesting experience because of my close familiarity with the source material. I used a different writing style here than for my translations not only because I wanted to convey my vision of these characters as adults, but also because faithfulness is not such a rigid concept in fanfiction. Egoistically, I wanted this story to reflect my soul as a writer, not Wataru Watari's.
As much as this story was inspired by Oregairu, I think it draws equally from life and the literature that resonates with me. The title comes from The End of the Affair (1951) by Graham Greene. I heartily recommend you read that novel if you ever get the chance.
In chapter 5, Yukino tells Hachiman about the story of Tsubaki-hime. That is the Japanese translation of La Dame aux camellias (1848) by Alexandre Dumas, fils. The story is better known as the opera La Traviata, or for its English title The Lady of the Camellias.
I also feel I should give special mention to A Folklore for My Generation: A Pre-history of Late-stage Capitalism (1989), a short story by Haruki Murakami. The story of unfulfilled love and lost souls moved me deeply, and I think you can see shades of that story's plot in this one.
In any case, thank you for reading this story to the end! I suspect it was not an easy story to read. In many ways, it was a difficult one to write. Thank you especially to those anonymous readers of mine who encouraged me to publish this story in the first place. Without you, this story would still have been sitting in my drafts folder, never to see the light of day.
(The lyrics quoted at the end are from the Oregairu OP, by the way.)