Summary: Valentine's Day - a day of love, pink and chocolates. In the spirit of the coming holiday, Hiratsuka-sensei gives her Modern Japanese periods an assignment: write a love letter. So naturally, Hikigaya writes a love letter to the person he loves the most.
Yahari Ore no Seishun Love Come wa Machigatteiru
oO oOoOo Oo
In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. Then he made other stuff too. After a while, came Adam and Eve.
To higher beings, our fickle relationships are afterthoughts. In a universe, ever expanding and more chaotic with each passing moment, we humans concern ourselves narcissistically within our own little realm of problems. The Arrow of Entropy does not stop moving forward. Every moment in the future is filled ever more madness and ever more insanity.
The Second Law of Thermodynamics states that the entropy of the universe is always increasing. The universe wants randomness. It wants chaos. It wants disorder… It's a natural law. Yukinoshita taught me that, when she would glimpse over and see me struggling in science. She'd brush her hair over her ear and point out every single mistake I'd make with my significant figures or my units. It was a moment from a long bygone era, as far back as the Big Bang. It was those moments, that I really hated. They were the moments I really missed. They were the moments I didn't want to believe meant more than it actually was. Maybe I owed her. Maybe I slowly but surely I began to fall in lo-
I hate to admit I feel that way.
I don't deserve to feel this way…
I just want to see her smile again.
Hayama lent me a suit, dry-cleaned and wrapped in plastic. "It doesn't fit your style, but it'll have to do," he said.
His weak attempts at offending me lost a lot of effect with the small bandages patching his face. My face wasn't much better. The bruises stung and whatever ointment Ebina put on wasn't having much effect. She did her best to play up the attentive nurse archetype but Ebina just ended up getting bored and leaving me to do it. Also I screamed a lot when she was putting on ointment over my cuts and bruises. That probably played a small part in her taking off her nurse's hat and chucking it out the window.
Looking into a mirror, I was reminded of a monkey or a penguin - neither of which were my spirit animal. Checking the buttons, the black suit and tie really seemed strange on me. I don't think I've dressed up this much since months ago when Yuigahama, Yukinoshita, and I found Black Lace working part time at that bar.
That… that was a good memory.
A knock came on the door, which startled me. I coughed a 'come-in'. My host and benefactor entered.
Hayama smiled at me.
"Looking sharp. You ready?"
"Yeah," I nodded. I looked back at myself in the mirror.
"Let's review the plan with everyone then."
The Hayama Mansion was big. It was big enough to have a sitting room, a viewing room, and a drawing room. Why do rich people need so many empty rooms with sofas and televisions? What is it with rich people and needing all this space? Don't they have to pay the maids extra to dust all these vases?
"My parents have been staying at the Yukinoshita mansion preparing for the party," he explained as we walked down a corridor. "If you're wondering why it's so empty."
"I was actually wondering why your house is so big," I admitted. "Does your family really need this huge place?"
Hayama chuckled. "My parents like to show off their wealth. Nothing says wealthy like wasted space. Here we are," he said opening a large oak door at the end of a hallway door.
It was a conference room with a round table and comfy looking office chairs, the kind with wheels on the bottom and armrests. The wall was lined with windows, revealing the gardens surrounding the mansion and the afternoon sun.
Miura and Ebina were already seated and waiting. Miura's gaze was averted from mine. Ebina waved a hand.
"Finally," Miura, who was still gracing the wall with eye contact, scoffed. "We've been waiting forever, ya know?"
"It's only been a few minutes," Ebina reprimanded softly. "You look good Hikigaya," she said throwing me a thumbs up and a wink.
I returned both, slowly. It was awkward. I cringed inside. Miura gave me a look of disgust. Ebina laughed. Hayama smiled in silence.
"It seems we're still waiting for one more person."
A bell sounded over the intercom.
"It seems the last person has arrived." Hayama didn't move.
"Aren't you going to have the butler let her in?" I joked.
"They were given the week off," Hayama answered. Figures he actually did have a butler. "The Yukinoshita staff have been taking care of the place and I'm here to watch the house." Place? House? Don't you mean mansion?
"Shouldn't you get the door then?"
Hayama looked at me, the way a devious childhood friend (female) would look at a childhood friend (male) to butter him up for a serious and costly favor. Oi oi, just because we tasted each other's blood doesn't mean we're brothers now.
"Hikigaya-kun, could you please get the door?"
"But it's your house-"
"Hikigaya-kun," Hayama repeated. "Could you please get the door?"
I got out the room and made my way down the stairs. Who knew Hayama could get so serious over getting a door? Maybe it was a feng shui thing and it was poor manners for a host to answer his own door? What sense did that make? If a door and a hallway aligned in a certain way to appease fortune and ancestors? Then again, feng shui makes no real sense anyways.
As I approached the gate, I realized who it was.
It's not like that pillar she was hiding behind was doing her much good, anyway.
"I can see you."
"Oh. Um. Wow!" Isshiki shifted away from the pillar. She tried her best to look chipper. "Didn't… didn't expect to see you here… senpai."
I could see slight swelling around her nose. That must be from when I… I see. The thoughts flooded back to me. It seems that guilt is the one constant my body will always remember how to feel. That, and-
"You're in on the plan?"
Isshiki nodded slightly.
We both stood there silently, both not really making any effort to pursue further conversation or interaction. A cold wind blew between us. Autumn was nearly here.
The springtime of our youth was gone.
Then the intercom by the gate crackled. "Hikitani-kun." Hayato's dry voice came through the speaker. "We're on a tight schedule."
Then you should have gotten your butler to do this and save me from having all of these cliché shoujo manga moments!
"Well, you heard him." I beckoned towards her with my hand outstretched. "Come on."
Isshiki looked at my hand and jumped away as if it was emitting a forcefield. "What are you doing? Could it be that you were just trying to hit on me? I'm sorry, I just got rejected the other day. I'm still healing," she said, ending with a deep bow.
"Don't force yourself," I said, turning around. "Just follow me."
It took a while before I heard her footsteps follow. Her movements were very quiet, like a cat who had lost her way or a fox wary of a treat.
I don't know why I said it. It wouldn't even begin to account for what I did that day. And yet, I guess it just felt right to say.
There was a long lull before a voice that slightly cracked made itself heard.
"Senpai… at least make this easy for me, you know?"
oO oOoOo Oo
"As far as anyone knows, the party tonight is simply a family gathering. But because Yukinoshita's father is in the Diet, there is the political networking aspect. The true purpose of tonight's party is to reveal the union of Hayama and Yukinoshita. Our parents made it clear the marriage will go through only if we both agree."
"So why don't you just disagree yourself?" I asked.
Hayama sighed then gave a weak smile. "Because if I disagree with my father but Yukinoshita remains committed… then my father will not respect my wishes. I imagine Yukinoshita's situation is identical to mine. She's terrified of saying no but I will say yes. We both fear that this ends up causing discord between both our families."
"I still think it's stupid, Hayato." Miura had her arms crossed. "If you don't want to do it then you shouldn't! Screw your father."
"Things aren't that simple."
"Yumiko." Hayama's smile was bitter. "Sometimes it's hard to say no to your parents. They want what's best for us, and sometimes we disagree on what that is. And I am a weak person. I'm not strong like you. I'm not strong enough to defy my family."
"The plan is to get Yukinoshita and Hikigaya-kun together," Hayama continued. "If Hikigaya-kun can convince her not to partake in this sham marriage… then we can both talk our families down from it and the party ends without the engagement announcement. This saves face for both our families." Hayama chuckled softly. "The rumor mill is flying at full speed though."
"I still think the plan puts a lot of faith in my ability to convince Yukinoshita to change her mind," I pointed out.
"I'm not expecting you to convince her. I'm expecting you to woo her."
"Woo her…?" Who uses such dated terminology nowadays?
Hayama simply smiled. "You'll know what to say when you see her."
Gee, thanks. This wasn't much a plan.
He paused. "I hope," he muttered afterwards. He grinned like he cracked the funniest joke in the world.
"Gee, thanks," I said sarcastically, this time out loud. If Hayama was a blogger, his website should be toilet themed.
"It's okay," Hayama assured. "Heroes don't need plans!" he said flashing a thumbs up and a not-so reassuring smile.
Miura swooned. Ebina clapped. Isshiki looked like she was hearing Hayama wax Nobel Prize poetry.
I felt a knot in my stomach. That was the kind of dorky line you'd expect out of a lame JRPG character. God, I hoped hundreds of people fell off a bridge and died in whatever stupid game would use that cheesy line.
"So what are you going to be doing?" I asked.
"I'm going to sneak Hikigaya-kun into the party. Ebina, Miura. The two of you know my parents so you keep an eye on them. If they're not glad handing or distracted then you'll go run interference. Talk to them and stall them. I'll do the same for Yukinoshita's parents." Hayama looked off the side. "Though to be fair, Uncle does likes to run his mouth anyways…"
"Uncle…?" I asked.
Hayama's eyes lit up. "Oh sorry. Force of habit. Yukinoshita's father."
The room was silent for a while.
"Um… what will I be doing?" Isshiki squeaked from the far end of the conference table.
"Find Yukinoshita," said Hayato. "She'll probably be waiting in a room or something. She hates these kinds of parties. But if you do find her, she's probably being paraded by her mom. Then you figure out a way to get her alone and away from everyone else."
The girls nodded and left.
"You sure know how to organize a half-assed plan."
Hayama shrugged. "It's a terrible plan."
"Exactly. There's no guarantee Yukinoshita will be alone, and if she's even willing to talk to me. Even after that, her parents know me and probably their entire security detail knows to kick my ass. I'm not exactly their favorite person to be around."
Hayama looked at me. "Is that really all?"
I looked at the ground. "The last few times Yukinoshita and I talked we haven't left on friendly terms."
"Really? That's it? That's all you're worried about?"
"Yes. Your entire plan hinges on me being able to con-"
"You can do it."
"-vince her." Oh, nevermind. You're not even listening to me.
He placed a hand on my shoulder.
"You'll know what to say when you see her, Hikigaya-kun," Hayama said with a nod and a punchable smile. "I hope," he added under his breath.
oO oOoOo Oo
"You know, it's not nice to keep a girl in suspense."
"Isn't there a saying 'time makes the heart grow fonder'?"
"I'm pretty sure that's 'distance', not 'time'. But I guess time also works. Nostalgia is a thing ya know?" Ebina turned around and looked out into the afternoon sky, embracing the chilly air. "But girls aren't pieces in a game. We've got bite." She chomped at me. "I never really talked to Yukinoshita… but whatever you're doing, you better treat her right, ya hear? Or else I'll never forgive you!"
"R-right," I replied. The distance between was too close.
"A prince has to look dashing when he saves the damsel," she spoke while straightening my tie. "Every girl has those kinds of innocent thoughts, from time to time." Her thin fingers brushed against my jacket. "Everyone gets lost sometimes and all it takes is the wrong person in the right place to make all the difference."
"Are you calling me a 'wrong person?' I asked. Ebina shook her head.
"You're the 'worst person' actually. But sometimes the dosage of medicine must be strengthened to achieve the cure for the headache." Ebina patted my chest and stepped back to admire her work. "Yosh! Perfect! You look like a billion bucks."
"It's mostly the suit."
"Well in more RPGs you have to wear the right equipment for the job so it'll do." Ebina then leaned close to my ear. "And if things don't work out tonight, just remember there's this rotten girl waiting for a prince too."
Ebina then stepped back, her evening dress flowing in the wind, and ran off to join Miura.
oO oOoOo Oo
The plan to get into the party was simple. Hayama was going in a limousine his family owned. He would get me into the trunk of said limousine. Given the low chance of me suffocating in there, I could wait it out until Hayama comes to get me when the coast is clear. It was simple. The simplest plans have the least chance of failing.
Helping myself into the trunk, I had a small pillow to rest my head under and a few ice packs scattered about to prevent overheating. Hayama looked over me. I must have looked like I was in a coffin going to my grave.
"You comfortable? Want a magazine? Something to drink?" For a guy who made such a big deal about getting me into the trunk without his driver noticing, he was taking his sweet time with the chitchat.
Gritting my teeth, I resisted the urge to tell Hayama to take his foot up his perfect teeth. Even in his sincere concern for my wellbeing, without an ounce of sarcasm, he still came off annoying.
"I'm good," I said with a forced smile. I even threw in a thumbs up.
The trunk closed and the world became darkness.
I suspected that Hayama told his driver to take the bumpiest path to Yukinoshita's home because my entire body was sore from being constantly thrown up and down. The irritation was still preferable to a family road trip. Komachi would either be spending the entire time taking shaky cellphone pictures of landmarks from the backseat or poking me or sleeping on my shoulder or stealing my fried pork pieces from the rest station boxed lunches I had to get out of the car to buy.
What kind of man can refuse a cute girl, especially if that cute girl is his little sister? Cute girls are the death of men. That has been generally true of history. Kawaii kills.
Mad young lads seek the thrill of finding a cute girlfriend in school. This pursuit of romance, usually by joining some ultra-popular sport like soccer or baseball and going through life like it's a sports shounen results in some people thinking of their high school days as the highpoint of their lives.
These people will look fondly back at high school, maybe having a flashback while they're doing their nonsensical day labor as a noname salary slave for a company that'll lay them off in a few years and hire a fresh batch of younger and better trained employees.
They will look fondly back at it, thinking that this was a simpler time. They think to themselves that if they had just practiced more or studied more or joined a club or the student council they'd have a rosy high school life to be proud of. That way, when they're locked in their cubicle cages, they can tell themselves 'Tehehe. That was worth it!'
But what about the people without that?
What about the people who didn't find the ambition or romance or spark to make their lives rosy. What if a person was forced into a lifestyle outside of their choice?
High school wouldn't be the highpoint of their lives. High school would just be a thing to do and get over with.
Maybe people are just holding themselves back.
It's alluring to just be mediocre. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, but nothing lost. It's easy to be average or be crap and think the world is against you.
What good are these showerthoughts inside a car trunk anyways?
The limo had stopped some time ago. There were long pauses. Sometimes footsteps would walk by, heels clicking onto the concrete. Other times there'd be chatter to break up the monotony. Hayama was supposed to come get me.
Eventually I decided I had enough of being a kidnap victim and pulled the emergency trunk latch.
Coming out, I was in an underground parking lot.
Finding some stairs, I walked up and realized I was in the mansion. Outside, there was a garden party.
It was my second going around in the mansion. I imagined Yukinoshita would be in her room, waiting for the garden party to announce her arrival.
Everyone was in the midst of mingling. There was the clatter of champagne flutes and conversation. Every so often there's the air would be punctuated by a laugh from a probably badly rehashed joke or unfunny anecdote. I zipped through the crowd, playing my part of a loner guest. The servants weaved in and out as well, carrying trays of drinks and hor d'oeuvres. I took a few bites of some colorful cheese-meat-cracker thing when offered. It was free after all.
As I munched the treat, not sure if I enjoyed the mixture of cream cheese and cold cut of pork with salted flakes in my mouth, I overheard a man.
"-this isn't Yukinoshita's style. It's probably his wife's idea."
It was a portly man. He was speaking to a couple of similar well-off elderly. They all had drinks in their hands. The only time they acknowledged anyone outside their circle was when a servant passed by with an interesting treat on their tray.
"They're calling this a campaign rally… but you see I've heard a different take! This isn't a campaign rally at all," said a woman who looked like she had too many surgeries to restore her to a more youthful form. She looked like a bit like Frieza, of the Super variety.
The conversation caught my interest. Utilizing my mastery of blending in, I slowly stepped closer. The area was slightly crowded, so being so close wouldn't be that suspicious.
"Oh really? How could it not be a campaign rally?" asked a portly gentleman in a suit too tight for his girth. "Yukinoshita needs all the help he can get if he wants to keep his seat!"
"Oh please," the woman said. "When did Yukinoshita ever have difficulty retaining his seat?"
"I suppose that's true," the portly man replied. "If not a campaign rally, then what is it?"
The woman leaned closer towards her small crowd of listeners. "Supposedly, they're going to use this to announce Yukino-chan's engagement! Can you believe it?"
"Yukino?" Another man shook his head. He was dressed like an old fashion daimyo in a gray yukata. "That's the younger daughter isn't it? I can't say I approve of the younger sibling marrying before the elder one."
"What old fashion thinking!" the woman exclaimed. "Supposedly Yukino-chan is marrying Hayama Hayato."
"The lawyer's son? A worthy match." The portly man nodded approvingly.
"Yes, yes," the woman agreed excitedly. "But the most exciting part is that supposedly the two have been in love since childhood. Can you believe it? A pair of childhood friends turned lovers. Ah! That's the sort of thing that's definitely going to excite the housewives to rush to the polls."
I stepped away.
I didn't want to hear anymore.
I wasn't sure what disgusted me more. The reality of the situation and how distorted the rumors became. It was like everyone became a critic and thought their interpretation of the events were the correct and proper way to assess canon. Or if it was how Yukinoshita's life and future was being used as nothing more than a political tool.
I had to stop this. I walked towards the mansion doorway, thinking to myself how I would distract the guard on duty when-
"What a surprise, Hikigaya-kun~"
-I was caught.
Cold eyes fell upon me like a tigress catching a delicious prey. She wore a soft dress of blue that looked like the color of snow in the moonlight. Her slender skin just as perfectly pale. With a lick of her lips, she deemed me worthy of her attention and, terrifyingly, her playful amusement in feigning affection.
"I was expecting you. Although I had imagined you'd be here with Gahama-san."
"Yuigahama was occupied," I lied. I truthfully had no idea where Yuigahama was.
"Ara, really?" Haruno-san paused, placing a fingertip on her grin. "So are you here to steal Yukino-chan away from us?"
"Does she really want this whole thing… or is it because she can't refuse her mother?"
Haruno-san ignored my reply, and shrugged. "What daughter doesn't love her mother? What mother doesn't want her daughter to be greater than she ever was?"
"A really bad one?"
"You got that right. Hand," Haruno-san commanded. She laid out her hand, hand-side up and looked at me expectantly. She was treating me like a dog, as if I were some beast at her beck and command.
Not sure what to do, I placed my hands on hers.
"Ha!" Haruno-san giggled. "You're so obedient, Hikigaya-kun! You'd make a wonderful partner." She smiled softly before her hand closed on mine like a venus flytrap. "Come. You'll escort me." She leaned closely to me, her lips nearly to my skin. I felt her breath on my ear. "Otherwise you'll never find a way past the guards and into the mansion you've been eyeing."
"This seems awfully familiar," I noted.
Haruno-san ignored me as she waved off the guards stationed at the door and guided me within the mansion.
"Really? Ah~ That's right. That one get-together. Well, that was a tryst. But I suppose two trysts make an affair." She pulled me along the halls. "Wouldn't you agree?"
"I don't see how it's an affair if both of us are single."
"You sure about that?"
"Y-you have a boyfriend?" I can't imagine what poor fool could tolerate this mess of a woman. Haruno-san laughed like she just heard from the most profound joke this side of the galaxy.
"So then why-?"
We stopped before a great oak door.
"We're here," Haruno-san said politely. She knocked a few times. "I've brought him…" Haruno-san said opening the towering door before affectionately saying. "Papa."
"Dead-Eyes-kun! Good to see you again!" Not. "Can I get you something to drink perhaps?"
"N-no. I'm fine."
"So! What brings you to my humble home?"
The old man's generosity and hospitality was overwhelming. It was like I was breathing in an ocean of spiritual pressure or killing intent. Perhaps that was part of his strategy to unnerve his opponents. The man was a career politician after all.
"I'm just here to party." My teeth grinded against each other. It was a forced attempt at being lively and enthused. 'Fake it til you make it' is the common saying. But even a squirrel could tell I was as fake as a wet-green sock posing as a fish.
"Grand! Just grand! Having a jolly time? We got a band that came in all the way from Sendai. Can you believe it? Sendai!" Mr. Yukinoshita clasped his hands together in excitement. "Have you tried our appetizers?"
Oh god, don't tell me he believed me.
"No. I'm full. Thanks."
He smiled, seemingly convinced that his guest was entertained and fed. Or unconvinced.
Most likely, he didn't care.
"Are you going to let this farce continue?"
"Whatever do you mean, boy?"
"Does Yukinoshita really want this?"
"Do you have a special someone?"
"A special someone?"
"Like a girlfriend."
"Then you wouldn't understand," he said. "You wouldn't know what it's like make difficult choices between what's best and what will bring them momentary happiness. The Yukinoshita family is caught in a trap. But I'm a bit outnumbered and my hands are tied."
"Then why don't you change them?"
He gave me a toothful smile.
"Family's complicated. Maybe you'll understand when you have a family of your own." Yuki-dad folded his hands. "Then again, maybe you'll end up marrying a cardboard cutout of those anime-girls you kids today seemed so obsessed with. Why, just the other day my PR advisor suggested I endorse some of those shows. Can you imagine that? An anime that promotes Chiba unabashedly?"
"Did you sign it off?"
"Hell no," he smiled.
Yukinoshita's father pulled an elaborate case from an unseen desk drawer. He pulled out a thick cigar.
"Don't tell my wife. I told her I quit. Then again, she probably knows. She just tells people I quit. Women are like that," he chuckled as he began fumbling with a lighter. "Ohhh my nerves," he said shaking his hands and cracking his knuckles.
"What do you have to be nervous about? You're not the one getting engaged."
He eyed me, a fat cigar stuck between his teeth. "I'm not? Ha!" Finally a spark of red lit from the cigar's tip. "I forget that sometimes. I mean, I'm only giving away my youngest and precious little daughter." He took a drag. "Well, maybe it's for the best. Or not. Who knows?" He then eyed Haruno-san. "When are you getting hitched, Haru-Haru?"
Haruno-san simply smiled back, as if used to being called that like a pet name. "I've got someone in mind." I could feel her cold eyes leering at me. Stop looking at me.
"Ohhh… that's nice. I don't want to meet him," he said crossing his arms. Haruno-san chuckled. "Haru-Haru, Would you be a dear and check on Yukino? I fear she may have the jitters."
"Of course father." Haruno-san bowed politely before excusing herself. "I'll be near if you need me," she said before closing door.
Now I was alone with… this guy.
"Is this what's really best for Yukinoshita?"
He eyed me curiously.
"Funny how you're not on first name basis with her."
"We're not that close."
"Are you really?"
"I don't know what she thinks."
He smiled. "That's true. That's a scary thing about people. You never know what others are thinking. They might think you're the best in the world and would die for you. Others would stab you in the back or through the heart without a second thought."
"And you're the sort to use his daughter for political gain."
He blinked. "Oh so you've heard that rumor?" He chuckled, taking another puff of his cigar.
"Shouldn't she marry who she wants?"
"Ah. Youth," he said in a melancholy tone. "The things people do thinking about such idealistic things. Love. Life. Liberty. Happiness. What a load of bull."
"What are you-"
"Do you think you're good enough for my daughter?" he asked.
I'm not, I reflectively thought.
The question startled me as the implications dawned on me. He wanted to know if I was interested in his daugh-
"No," I answered truthfully, cutting that train of thought off.
"Hm. Good answer," he laughed as smoke began filling the room. "Hayato-kun comes from good breeding. He has a future set and waiting for him in law or politics. He has family connections, wealth, and handsome as hell to boot." He winked his eyes at me. "I don't swim that side of the river but even I admit he's quite the catch."
"But she doesn't want to marry him-"
"Again with the idealism!" Something in this man's eyes flashed dangerously like a madman screaming 'I dare you!'. "When you're thirty-five, fat, balding and realizing you've accomplished nothing in life as some salaryman working his tailbone off on no overtime pay for corporate bosses and boardrooms full of shareholders who doesn't give two craps about you, maybe then you'll realize that these petty ideas you have about 'happiness' aren't worth a damn."
"But in the future she'll-"
"I'm securing her future," he cut me off with a smile.
"But she doesn't want this…" I began retreating, feeling my arguments fail against his ice cold logic. Of course, I reminded myself, this was the man who raised a pair of frozen princesses and married an ice queen himself. Naturally he must be the coldest one of all.
The vigor in his face seemed to disappear. "I think you misunderstand greatly, Not-So-Bright-kun," he said with a long puff. Tapping off the ashes, he left the smoking cigar onto his ash tray. "I think you are forgetting one very important fact of life~"
"What kind of father doesn't want his daughter to be happy?" He said with a bright, sad smile.
He stood up and walked me to the door. He opened it for me. His face read 'get out'. There was nothing I could say to change his mind. He's not the sort that values words, being a master manipulator of them.
Before closing the door, he offered a suggestion:
"Why don't you try finding happiness somewhere else, whatever-your-name-was-kun?"
oO oOoOo Oo
The night air gave me no solace. Yukinoshita's father had allowed me to stay and enjoy myself. Perhaps it was out of kindness or maybe he simply didn't see me as a threat. Or maybe he knew the risks and thought I was harmless after personally assessing me.
Maybe he thought it was an insult.
Maybe he thought it was a gift.
Maybe he thought it was cruel to see Yukinoshita become engaged. Or maybe he thought it was a polite gesture to have a frien- I mean, just someone she knows from her club be present for the event.
Were Yukinoshita and I even friends? Were we ever friends?
Did our relationship exist one moment but vanished again if one cared to look?
Perhaps being an antisocial, misanthrope was the simpler course in life.
The party had begun kicking up. There were hundreds of people wandering the gardens with glasses of drink and picking off snacks from waiters carrying serving trays. The men wore black suits and the women wore gaudy dresses in shiny colors. Drunk uncles told stories everyone must have heard a dozen times before. The dolled up aunties gossiped amongst each other about their children and husbands. The children were dressed up too and sat around waiting for something to do.
Everyone was lost in their own world.
I wandered amongst them, not hungry or thirsty. To the casual observer I would probably look out of place. Some guy with dead-eyes who looked like a nothing worth talking to.
"Caught you again~"
Then everything changed when the Haruno nation attacked.
"Didn't I ever tell you? Affairs are a Yukinoshita Haruno specialty…" She breathed heavily over me, our breath mingling in the musty closet. Somehow, she had ended up dragging me here. There was a jacket sleeve slapping my cheek and Haruno-san pressing against me. The thinness of her dress did not leave much to the imagination as soft and warm sensations were creeping against my skin.
This was the second time tonight the woman had caught me but this time Haruno was less of a tigress and more of a temptress. She pinned me, her lips poised to strike. I recalled a documentary about a type of spider that hide underneath a trap door and awaited prey as it passed by before pulling them. I was like a poor bug caught in her lair.
Then a bluish light came on.
A phone had fallen to the floor, the light coming from it. It was a view some may kill for, but I was not interested it. Haruno-san looked slightly disheveled, the straps of her light dress were loose on her shoulders.
Her skin looked soft with a gentle glean of sweat.
"You know blue light can cause eye strain?" I asked. The blue light accentuated the faint blush on her cheeks.
"Do you really like my sister more than me?" Her breath washed over me on full blast. She smelled of flowery perfume and cheap alcohol.
"I wouldn't put it that way."
"Then how would you put it? You find her more attractive than this old lady here with you? Must I purrr to get your affections?" Her hands were pressing against my back, my ribs, my sides. She had planted her lips so close to my neck, you'd mistake her for a vampire. She whispered softly, "Hikigaya-kun… I want your blood…"
Then she bit me.
Then came a fit of giggles. "You taste pretty good," she said licking her lips.
"You've got quite the fetish."
"You know the story of Adam and Eve? The first two humans?" She was utterly ignoring me. "It's really romantic. Eve was tempted by the Snake to bite the Forbidden Fruit and realized her sin. Adam bit the Fruit as well to join her. But did you know that before Eve there was another woman?"
"Never heard of her."
"There was a woman named Lilith… the first woman. A temptress who bore devils." Haruno's eyes gleamed in the dim light. "Between the simple minded younger sister like Eve or the tempting and beautifully ravishing older sister like Lilith - is that really a difficult choice?"
"We always have a choice."
Haruno-san laughed at my reply. Her minty breath washed over me. It was making me feel very uncomfortably warm, especially with the relentless assault of her softness on my chest.
"You're right. God's greatest gift to man was choice. Free will. Man can choose to follow the good and righteous path in God's light or wander into the dark abyss. Like a petulant child, Man cried for freedom, and received it. Pray tell me what choice shall you make?"
I looked at her eyes, leveled to mine.
"I'll make the choice when it comes."
"Oho! A man who lives by instinct. That's not an unattractive quality in a youngster, ya know?"
"I have to get going…"
Haruno-san smiled. "'Twas a fun game, Hikigaya-kun," she murmured. "But every game has to have an ending, ne? Thanks for playing." She planted a chaste kiss on my cheek. "Here's your reward."
"Not that much of a reward," I growled behind flushed cheeks.
"Oh? We can do the adult stuff later," she said with a wink.
"Sometimes the teasing from you goes way out of line," I said walking out of the closet and into the hallway. "But… thanks."
Looking back at Haruno-san, she was left sprawled against the closet wall. The hem of jackets and coats bloated her eyes but left her smile. Her hair was slightly disheveled. She licked her lips.
"Glad to be of service," she said before I closed the door on her.
'I hope I didn't lock the closet by accident.' I thought I heard a loud banging-on-a-wooden-door sound as I walked away but I ignored it. There were more important things to focus on.
oO oOoOo Oo
In the courtyard, there was a stage set up on the far side. Before them were a series of tables, filled with seated guests and waiters zigzagging between delivering plates of food.
Ding! Ding! Ding!
Someone was doing that annoying glass tapping thing to get people's attention.
"Excuse me everyone. I apologize for interrupting the merriment but my husband and I have something important to announce." Yukinoshita's mom was pretty, like an antique Japanese painting. In a soft colored kimono, she seemed overly pleased with herself.
"Yes." Yukinoshita's father smiled beside her. "It is a wonderful occasion that all of you have gathered here."
Yukinoshita's parents were up on stage. But Yukinoshita wasn't up with them. From the tone, they were definitely preparing to introduce her… so I had to go find her.
I circled around, looking for a way to get backstage.
When I arrived, there was no security. All the guards appeared to be posted at the entrances. Just my luck they'd choose to be lax with security. I guess none of the guest would be comfortable with guards hovering over them while they're enjoying their grilled duck liver or something.
But there, just past this room, I could see her. Poised and perfect like a mannequin on display, waiting for her turn to take a spotlight that she didn't want. Before I could take a step, someone blocked my way.
"You want to talk to her, don't you?"
Yuigahama Yui stood before me. She wore a pink dress that was embroidered with a flower pattern, her bare shoulders covered by a white cardigan.
"Yuigahama…" I stopped moving. "How did-?" Then it struck me. Hayama. She knew I was coming.
Yuigahama stood there, sad in her defiance.
It was simple, like the sort of thing a modest girl would wear so it wouldn't overshadow someone else. She looked like the picture-perfect model of a best friend - beautiful but demure - like a wallflower. Then the thought struck me… She was Yukinoshita's shield. She was her honor guard - a guest of high rank - waiting in the back supporting her friend.
Yuigahama looked like a maid of honor…
She knew the events that were to unfold. She knew the momentous occasion was about to occur. She must have known for a while…
How long did she know?
Yuigahama paid little attention to me and carried on looking behind her. "Yukinon is beautiful. She has pale skin, a slim figure, and long black hair. She's smart and everyone admires her." Yuigahama giggled. "She would tell me of all the love letters she gets. She even gets letters from like, female underclassman. She's even got letters from colleges and businesses offering scholarships and jobs after university. She has a bright future ahead of her, you know?"
I couldn't muster the words to refute her.
Yuigahama turned her head towards me. "Who wouldn't want a wife like that?" She said with sad, teary eyes.
"I need to speak to her."
She ignored me. She closed her eyes and hummed to herself. A merry tune in a minor key.
"You're hurt," I said. It was a stupidly obvious thing to point out.
Yuigahama opened her eyes and turned to look behind her again. She seemed to be captivated by Yukinoshita, as if she were an alluring painting."What are you going to say to her?" She asked innocently. "Are you going to say something dreamy and romantic? Like a pure white knight riding gallantly to save the damsel in distress?"
"I'm not a knight."
Yuigahama nodded sadly in agreement. "No you're not. You're Hikki… Hikigaya Hachiman. I guess that's all you'll ever be."
How many times have the three of us done this dance? The first act ended, but the second act loops. It has looped so many times that we've forgotten where the third act begins. How long will we keep this up? This charade that all we will ever be is a club that acts in service of others? How many lies will we tell ourselves as tea is poured and we chat about nonsensical things, idyllically believing that we act in the interest of others despite the fact that we can't even help ourselves?
How many more times will Yukinoshita Yukino bear the cross that comes with her name?
How many more times will Yuigahama Yui pretend that the happiness of those she calls "friend" matters more than the happiness of the one she calls "self"?
How many more times will Hikigaya Hachiman, in his quest to find what is genuine, settle for the falsities that keep him safe from feeling that familiar pain again?
How many more times will we dance in this second act?
It's enough. It has to be enough. It will have to be enough.
The cycle ends here.
The girl in front of me stilled. She turned to face me, her eyes widening.
"Yui," I repeated. "I'm sorry." And with that, I bowed deeply to the ground.
I'm sorry that this is the person who saved your dog. I'm sorry that this is the person you deemed perfect to call "friend". I'm sorry that this is the person who gave you empty promises in hopes of never fulfilling them. I'm sorry that this is the person who shattered a heart and your chocolate too. I'm sorry that this is the person who destroys those around him to hide the fact that he himself was destroyed long ago.
I'm sorry that I'm not Hikki.
I'm sorry that I'm just Hikigaya Hachiman.
I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I'm so, so, sorry.
"I've always wanted…" I heard Yui say softly from above. "Just once… maybe one day… for someone to save me, you know?" I looked up to see Yui looking at me, tears falling from her face. She wiped them away. "But I guess it's not too bad to watch my best friend in the world be saved."
If the circumstances were changed, would I still have acted the same? Would Hikigaya Hachiman still abide the decisions that he's made? Maybe, had the journey been different… maybe if I had taken another route… maybe I-
"I'm not saving her," I muttered. "I just don't want this stupid farce to go on."
Yui smiled. "Then like, you better hurry…
And so Yuigahama Yui stepped aside, allowing Hikigaya Hachiman to enter backstage.
oO oOoOo Oo
There was Yukinoshita Yukino, as flawless as porcelain. She stood on the stage, quietly waiting while her parents continued to speak.
It was annoying, in a way. She had makeup on, and looked just like a doll. Tie a few strings to her, and she'd resemble a puppet. Dance for me, Yukinoshita Yukino, the world would cry. Dance!
"And now," called Yukinoshita's mother. "I welcome my daughter to come forward."
Yukinoshita's feet began to inch forward. Further and further she moved away from me.
"Hikigaya-kun. Help me some day, okay?"
I rushed onto the stage and grabbed Yukinoshita's hand and immediately took flight. She lost her balance as I pulled her off the stage. I caught her. Her eyes met mine. There was a look of confusion, fear, and, maybe it's just my imagination, a bit of relief.
But there was little time.
"Come with me!"
Yukinoshita broke from my grasp. She clutched her hands over her heart.
"What? Where are you taking me?"
I could barely hear Yukinoshita from all the screaming coming from her mother.
Then her father raised hand. The crowd fell silent sans his weeping wife. His presence commanded attention.
"Haha! You think you can steal my daughter away!?" His eyes looked alive, as if he had found a worthy challenger. This isn't how a guy who's daughter is about to be abducted should be! "If you want to take my daughter… Just try! Try! Men," Yukinoshita's father growled to his men in black suits. "Get the scoundrel!" he shouted to his guards. He raised his hand in a dramatic gesture as if he were holding a war fan issuing a command. He looked the part of some period drama; a furious daimyo catching a greasy haired ronin attempting to abduct his precious daughter-princess.
Just what time period did this man come from!?
Once again, I took Yukinoshita's hand into my own and pulled her away.
We ran through a gap in the crowd. We ran through servants and rich people all dolled up. All eyes were on us. My hand gripped Yukinoshita's tighter and she returned it.
As the circle of security guards tightened around us, I saw a flash of hope.
Ebina and Miura both tackled a security guard. I looked at them for an instant, the word "Go!" was on their lips. Yukinoshita reacted on instinct. She pulled me ahead and lept over the tangle of bodies.
"Thank you!" I shouted back, not sure what else to say.
"Now's not the time for that," Yukinoshita snapped as another wild guard appeared.
"Stop Young Miss! I don't want to hurt you but-"
The guard tripped over and fell on his face. Isshiki withdrew her leg and gave a small 'tee hee!' while knocking herself on her head. Her gaze met mine and her expression changed. She gave me a small, sad nod.
"You little-!" The guard struggled back to his feet and staggered back towards us. "This won't stop me!"
The guard was then tackled by Hayama Hayato.
We ran past the pair as they wrestled on the floor. Hayama took a moment to flash me a white grin of reassurance. Even when he's on the ground with a muscle-bound oaf the guy still has the nerve to look majestic.
And we ran. We kept running.
We ran through the hedge groves and past the lanterns posted around the house to guide the wayward guests.
Finally, we came across a staircase.
"Here," Yukinoshita said just as a swarm of guards managed to catch up with us.
Then, came the pink defender.
Yui blocked the entrance at the foot of the staircase.
"Run!" she shouted as the guards swarmed her.
And as we passed by her, I thought I heard Yukinoshita's quiet, breathless voice murmur, "You have always been… Don't forget that."
We ran up the stairs. "Is the exit this way?" I shouted. Yukinoshita didn't even acknowledge me. Her thin hand was guiding me. Perhaps there was a way…
… we ended up on a balcony.
The stars had begun peeking out. The railings were a smooth stone, flat enough to support a few drinks should people choose to relax here. A few empty vases were placed along the railing. A reflection pool was below us. A sea of stars floated gently, unaware of the cruel reality of their latest observers.
Yukinoshita's hand tightened with mine.
This was a dead end.
"Figures I shouldn't have let you lead us," I said with a sigh.
"I thought you knew I had a bad sense of direction…" Yukinoshita scowled. She crossed her arms and looked at the chaos below.
"What kind of idiot gets lost in her own home!?"
"I haven't been home in a while… and I mostly stayed to my room. The mansion itself is rather large…" she mumbled in her defense. "Plus it's dark…"
If the situation before was dire, it was now a clusterf-
"There you are!"
The swarm of guards piled. Several dinner guests were also there, mainly to see the spectacle unravel.
Then, like the Red Sea, the crowd parted for a pair of arrivals.
Yukinoshita's father stood there, his arms crossed in a victorious pose. Beside him was his wife, a look of mortification made her face paler than it already was.
"Yu-Yukino! Don't do anything foolish!" her mother pleaded.
"Haha! Try to steal my daughter away!? I thought you weren't the brightest… but to think you were this stupid!"
"Stay back!" I shouted. I took a foot onto the balcony rails. Thankfully it was flat and concrete, capable of supporting my weight. I pulled Yukinoshita up with me. Below us was the starry sky reflected in the pool. "Stay back!" I grabbed a nearby vase with another hand and swung it at the approaching security guards.
"He's a madman!" Some idiot was screaming her head off. "He's going to kill Yukino-chan!"
The murmurs and the crowd circled around. They were like vultures to a carcass, eager to see a spectacle but terrified to be the gladiator in the arena. Among them I could see the eyes of the man who could encase the world in ice if he so chose to don the persona he was born with. As he met my gaze, his question from that time sprung into my mind again.
"Who are you to my daughter?" his eyes asked.
"Guards! Don't do anything rash! I don't want my daughter hurt!" Yukinoshita's mother, usually full of poise and control, looked at me in fury. The guards halted their advance, content to maintain a semi-circle.
"Hikigaya-kun," Yukinoshita whispered as she edged behind me.. It was the smart move. The guards wanted Yukinoshita and if she was out in front they'd grab her then tackle me and snap my back in two. "Do you even have a plan?"
"How upset would you be if I said 'no'?"
"It would be expected from you," she answered casually. Yukinoshita pinched the bridge of her nose, as if stifling a headache. "Although this is quite the predicament."
Even in the face of madness, this woman finds time to chop me at the knees.
"Is now a bad time to hear out my request?" The vase still in my hands were swinging wildly as the ever growing circle of security guards closing in on us.
"It is. But go on."
Looking into her eyes, Yukinoshita returned my gaze. The request was ridiculously stupid. There was no course in any reality where the fates would align in a manner where she'd agree. It was impossible. I felt her soft hand in mine. I wanted this. Did she- Would she- The doubts came flooding into me like a dam broke and a gigantic tidal wave took the strength out of my knees.
There, under so many stars, with a loud voice I made my proposal.
"Yukinoshita Yukino, will you marry me?"
She blinked at me.
A loud gasp resounded from the crowd. For an instant, silence fell upon them.
In moments of insanity, people resort to stupidity.
If one didn't have any pride, did they have any self-worth?
Then came her answer.
It was such a simple response, like a fact of the universe that she seemed almost annoyed that she had to agree to it. She said it so casually, so nonchalantly. It was almost funny. The pure innocence of her response was not in proportion to the magnitude that I was asking. She accepted my proposal the same way she would have responded if I had asked if she wanted sugar and milk in her coffee.
She blinked at my silence. The screams of the world were on mute.
But she had accepted. That was enough for me.
I gave her a smile. She smiled back.
Embracing her with all my might, I gave one last glance to the crowd that had followed us up to balcony. I met the eyes of that man once more.
So that's what his genuine smile looks like.
Turning my eyes downward to the reflection pool before me, I reassured myself that it was deep enough, insanity be damned. Then, finally my eyes fell to Yukinoshita Yukino who had buried her face in my chest.
This girl hates my methods.
This girl trusts me with all of her heart.
I can't disappoint.
"Hold me tight," I whispered as the guards began advancing. Her slender arms tightened around my torso. My arms tightened around hers. Adrenaline and years of individual physical education had finally paid off as I lifted her up to the railing.
She was light, as light as the snow and the wind and the stars.
"W-what… are you doing?"
"People would call this a leap of faith."
"Literally?" She said in disbelief. Our eyes locked for a moment. I asked her a second question.
"Do you trust me?"
Yukino breathed in for a moment.
The universe stopped.
"With my life."
There was no more hesitation from either of us.
Her hand touched my chest like a sigh. There was shouting and screams from the growing crowd of spectators. The security guards were coordinating a plan.
But they were too late.
With a light step, we were off. There was nothing between us and the Earth but air and screams. We were a part of the Heavens now.
Yukinoshita and I jumped into the pool reflecting the stars.
oO oOoOo Oo
Next Chapter: And so, They Spend a Night on the Galactic Railroad