A/N: So I decided to post this story under a new installment rather than "Story 2" of my Nagatoro time series. I wanted this one to be a lot more dramatic as opposed to my first story, so separating it seemed like the smarter thing to do.
I'm not particularly sure if I'll continue this story either, as it kind of clashes with my personal storytelling preference, but this prompt seemed too good to pass up.
Let me know what you guys think though! Thanks!
Also, would like to thank artist NiksonCrazy69 for giving me permission to use their art. Please check them out on Reddit and Pixiv!
Pixiv: www . pixiv en / users / 53384269 (Without spaces)
I've… never really liked labels. Even harmless ones.
Why people willingly adopted them... I'll never know.
They're meant to classify you, to brand you, prohibiting any deviation that contrasts against it.
You must fit that label, no matter what.
...For me, they've never been positive. Even if I knew they weren't true, I still found myself clinging to them.
And I hated it.
I hated that I started thinking of myself that way. Hated that others started thinking of me that way.
Hated that I became that way.
...I guess... it didn't matter. I preferred being alone anyways.
At least, that's what I told myself. To enjoy my solitude because I no longer possessed the energy to develop my social skills.
It was pointless to make friends.
Every time I tried, I was branded with those negative labels. Continuously mocked for the things I found interesting...
And after a while… that became my self-image. Became a part of me.
I no longer sought to change that, embracing it as I convinced myself that was who I am.
Who I'll always be.
Eventually, the idea of isolating myself became more and more enticing; it'd at least keep me away from the whispers.
And since I knew I was going to be alone, I… found new hobbies.
Hobbies that I can grow into interests, then passions. I would make my own happiness with these, subduing the negative thoughts that often plagued my mind.
The isolation my branders issued me, I now constructed to be my haven.
The very island I was exiled to, became my paradise.
My branders intended that, however; that I'd isolate myself, that I'd view my self-imposed isolation as a utopia, because what better way to seclude an outcast if the outcast already likes their seclusion?
They achieved their goal, my removal from mainstream society, and I found my new interests.
It was a win-win…
My branders are no longer content with my form of exile…
And I... why?
They got what they wanted, right? Why wasn't it enough?
I hadn't disturbed anyone since then…
I… didn't do anything wrong this time… right?
"Don't you ever get angry, Senpai?"
Well… it's not that I don't…
Am I really worth getting angry over?
His stencil had been pressed against his easel for several minutes now, fingers unsteady as he struggled to create the mental image of his subject.
The still life sat there, motionless, patiently waiting for its illustrator.
But no progress was being made.
His trembling hand had only produced indiscriminate scribbles that were nigh comparable to his physical design, a painful indicator that his current action was pointless.
The injuries on his arms and back proved to have longer lasting consequences than he thought, and the one thing he wanted to do now was distract himself from them.
To draw away the pain radiating through his body... but he couldn't even do that.
"How's a creep like you so friendly with those girls, anyway?"
"You really thought we'd let you embarrass us like that and walk away?"
They caught him off-guard; waiting for him outside the art room was a malicious tactic indeed, but what happened next was pure evil.
Though, he couldn't remember all the details. After the first strike, he only recalled tumbling into a stack of chairs, his mind defaulting to his survival instinct afterwards.
He didn't need to remember though, the lacerations and gashes on his body served as a stark reminder of what transpired.
The only immediate regret he had was that it happened here, in what was supposed to be his safe haven.
The art room had adopted several monikers in its time: oasis, love nest, etc, none of them eliciting any negative emotions really.
That was by his design, he'd never allow his new haven to be tarnished, to be subjected to the same fate he suffered in years past.
But, this incident proved otherwise.
It forced him to realize, his self-promises were nothing but delusions.
Visions of grandeur that deluded him into thinking he could ever bring them to fruition.
Those labels were right all along.
Now, he had nothing.
The very place he regarded as his haven, now a place of vulnerability, a place of anguish, no longer offering the meditative peace he sought after his classes.
It was ruined. All the months of work he put into constructing this room into his preference, destroyed in one instance.
A part of him refused to acknowledge that, however.
Refused to acknowledge it could be destroyed that quickly. That nothing was left.
So, he kept sketching, hoping that if it could be destroyed in one day, surely it could be brought back in the same.
He'd draw until the room was reset, even if he lost consciousness in the process.
His mind wavered in and out of focus as his eyelids grew heavier. Cramps soon afflicting his arms and shoulders that rendered his artistic prowess useless.
Yet, there he was, trying to outline the curvature of a lamp, orange, and sunflower. He postured his arms in such a way to prevent his blood from coloring the canvas.
A sliding door could be heard within the room.
"SENPAI!" Nagatoro rushed in with a new kitty phone case, shoving it in his face as his hand stayed pressed against his easel.
"Check out the new phone case I picked up! Cute, right? It even says 'gross' if I hit this button!" She demonstrated as she explained, causing her to laugh.
"And if you pull its tail, it will… also…"
The first year paused, noticing that his attention hadn't shifted at all since she came into the room. She moved closer to him, further noticing his canvas was covered in scribbles. His hand's unsteady movements amateurishly outlined the still, yet he kept going.
Turning to view his face, his lips quivered while tears and blood streamed down his chin.
The swollen eye, and bruises on his cheeks a deep purplish-red as Nagatoro's eyes widened.
She became quiet, noticing the various cuts and lacerations along his torso as well.
"Who did this to you… Senpai?" She asked softly.
He gave no response, just the sounds of stencil on canvas as the scribbles continued.
She placed her hand over his sketching hand, only to find that he struggled against her.
Please, just let me draw… N-Nagatoro.
"Senpai." She called quietly, finally eliciting a response from him.
He lowered his hand and turned to her.
She stared back, eyes brimming with an indescribable emotion that only seemed to demand an answer.
"I… don't remember their faces…" He responded quietly, looking down with a somber smile.
"You… don't have to worry about me… Nagatoro."
"Who did this to you, Senpai." She repeated, this time in the form of a command rather than an inquiry.
He shook his head weakly, only for her to place her hand on his cheek, guiding his eyes to meet her own.
The aura she was emitting only grew, and a certain pressure could be felt in the art room.
He gazed into his junior's eyes with his own quivering ones, if only for a moment, before turning away.
"I just want to forget… this won't happen again."
"How do you know that. Did they tell you that?"
"Ah… well no… but… I've dealt with this before."
She gritted her teeth instinctively but tried to hide her anger in front of Naoto, though, unsuccessfully.
"C'mon." Nagatoro positioned herself underneath Senpai's arm, which caused him to slightly wince in pain.
"We're going to the nurses offi-"
"No!" He shouted as he backed away suddenly, turning his face to hide his expression.
"... No… I don't want to burden anyone else."
Nagatoro looked at him with disbelief as he faltered a bit in his escape, a clear sign that he was in much more pain than he let on.
"You're hurt, Senpai. We need to go." She protested as he bit his bottom lip.
She reached out her hand to him before he slapped it away, surprising her.
"…And w-why do you care…?"
His voice dropped to a weak snarl as he kept his eyes averted. Nagatoro's mouth went slack at his query, fists clenching as she stared at him with incredulity.
"W-what do you mean? You're hurt!"
He wasn't sure why he remembered what they said until now, but the pain that resurfaced from it felt far worse than the physical injuries he was enduring in this moment.
"T-They told me…" His voice wavered as he tried to reiterate the assailants' words, steeling his heart for the pain they'd inevitably bring once said out loud.
"That I needed to leave y-you alone… that's why t-they did this…" He finished, finally meeting her stare with his own. This time, his eyes contained a look of betrayal.
Her lips quivered at his gaze; tears welling in her eyes as she bit down to stop her teeth from clattering. She was at a loss, a million questions popped into her head but none of them seemed distinctive. Her emotions flurried as she slightly convulsed in her confusion.
This was too unexpected, too sudden. Her mind working overtime as she did the one thing that came natural for her.
She tried to reach for him.
"Senpai… I…" She weakly muttered, slowly walking towards him as he backed away from her.
"P-Please, Nagatoro, just… l-leave me alone."
He limped to the couch and sat, letting the light shine off his glasses to obscure his features.
A feeling of guilt suffocated her as she finally gave way to her tears.
How did this happen? Why had Senpai's bullies scapegoated her as the mastermind? The more she pondered, the angrier she became.
Whoever did this… she wasn't sure what the consequence would be, but she'd save that for when the time came.
"I never told anyone that you needed to leave me alone." She finally stated, walking closer to him as he held his hand up in a 'stop' motion.
"Y-You did though…"
"When?!" Her anger flared louder than she intended.
He maintained his downward stare as he recalled what happened right before the school festival.
"Y-You called me a creepy stalker in front of those g-girls…"
A distinct gulp came from her throat as she remembered that event, astonished at the far-reaching consequences that one statement incurred.
This was never her intention, but in hindsight, she realized this should've been a likely repercussion.
Given their social status, Hayase Nagatoro was ranked among the most popular girls at the school, even though she was only in her first year.
Naturally, any news regarding her circulated fast among the student body, regardless of its validity. Rumors and truths alike spread like wildfire, so the news that Nagatoro had a stalker reached every student's ear within just a couple days.
Additionally, Nagatoro's disposition when talking about Senpai to her friends didn't help in quelling that rumor. She adamantly refused any romantic interest in Naoto, relegating him to 'her toy'.
Her heart sank further, the ripple effect of her actions and reputation caused this, and Naoto arrived at the same conclusion she did.
"I… never wanted this to happen… Senpai... I didn't think…" She couldn't formulate any words as he continued staring at the ground.
He was broken, battered to the point where most of his energy was used just to stay awake.
He couldn't hear what she was saying at this point anyways, a ringing in his ears prevented any sound from reaching him. The only thing he could do now was lay on the long side of the couch and rest his head.
Nagatoro watched quietly, moving closer to him as he closed his eyes. She wasn't sure what he thought of her, but she did know he felt betrayed. After all, it was the result of her action he was beaten like this.
She slid a chair over to him, sitting as she observed his breathing. It was ragged, panting as he struggled to inhale due to the injuries on his chest.
Hayase slowly moved to the couch, readjusting his position to alleviate his exertion, if only a little.
Naoto was now fast asleep, exhausted from the mental and physical torment he endured by his assailants.
The blanket he kept in the art room now laid upon him; Hayase sat on the stool to watch him.
They attacked him here. She thought, noticing the disorganized still life components in the corner, as well as the knocked over seats that must've fallen in Senpai's attempt to run. All his stencils were broken, and his palette ruined.
She peered at the bruises that adorned his forearms, noting just how many there were.
She knew Naoto was frail, but… this assault was just too brutal.
He didn't even bother leaving as well… Just sketching away like he normally does.
It was that single action that hurt her more than anything. Naoto had no one, nothing he could rely on except the one hobby that brought him peace. He couldn't rely on her because of what they said to him, couldn't send for her because he no longer trusted her.
She couldn't articulate the pain that swelled in her chest at that.
The feeling of helplessness never set in for Nagatoro, however, she would tear down this whole school if she had to. Her anger demanded those measures.
"I'll find who did this, Senpai." Nagatoro swore as she stood up from her seat. She turned for the door before glancing at Naoto one last time; she'll need to have someone watch him to ensure he's protected here at the very least.
She left, devising a plan to find the assailants.
A/N: That's it for now! I know it's pretty short compared to the rest of my stories, but the rest of the chapters (should I still be motivated) will probably be around 6K-8K words long.
Thanks for the feedback in advance!