Author's note: I began writing this story after my second time watching Genshiken in an anime club. (I believe every anime club is required by law to show this series at least once). I've enjoyed the dynamic between Madarame and Saki since their first major encounter, when Madarame passionately defends the 2-D complex, and this chapter has been sitting on my hard drive, unfinished, for some time now. I say "chapter" advisedly; as with my other one-shots, I will eventually expand this into a multi-chapter tale. In the meantime, please enjoy my take on my favorite unlikely couple from the Society for the Study of Modern Visual Culture.
Incidentally, this story is based on the manga, which is quite a bit longer than the anime, and has some differences in plot and character development. If you liked the latter, you'll love the former. Also, Japanese names are given in the traditional Japanese order, with the family ("last") name first and the given ("first") name last. Finally, the story begins three months after Saki and the other students in her class graduate, which is to say three months after the end of the final chapter of the first series. Hence, Genshiken Nidaime and the characters it introduces are not relevant here, though I may (or may not) use elements of its development of established characters.
Disclaimer: Genshiken was created by Kio Shimoku and was published in Afternoon Magazine, with an English version by Del Ray. The anime was created by Genco, and Media Blasters is responsible for the official English version. No copyright infringement is intended or should be inferred.
She's not going to be there.
Madarame Harunobu walked the familiar way to the clubroom.
There's no reason for her to be there.
It was fifteen months after his graduation.
And three months after hers.
In spite of his resolve to stop visiting the Genshiken, something would not let him stay away.
Something? Someone, idiot. Or are you going to keep hiding the truth even from yourself? Anyway, even if she were there, what would you do? You had your chance to confess to her, and you let it pass. Congratulations - Madarame is an honorable man. How does it feel?
After the initial elation of thanking Kasukabe-san, and being thanked by her, it felt terrible. If only he had told her the truth... even a little hint would have sufficed.
Besides, even if she is there, Kohsaka will probably be with her.
Even as he thought that, Madarame knew it was unlikely. However much Kohsaka might be enjoying his work, it had consumed nearly all his free time. Apart from graduation and the "fuck like rabbits" incident, Madarame could not remember the last time he had seen or heard of Kousaka spending time with his girlfriend - or should that be alleged girlfriend? He pondered that phrase a moment, and smiled. That alleged made him feel warm.
But she's not going to be there.
He didn't care. He wasn't looking for a guarantee – just a chance.
He opened the Genshiken door, and there she sat in her usual chair: Kasukabe Saki-san, in an attractive light-green sweater-vest, smelling faintly of her favorite perfume. Madarame knew it was French, and that it smelled of apple blossoms, but he could not recall the name to save his life. Though the table blocked his view of anything below her waist, he would bet his last yen that she was wearing one of her sensible yet tantalizing skirts, and either strappy heels, or high-heeled boots. No cigarettes – he was pleased to see that hadn't changed. Best of all, she was reading a manga, one he had not seen her read before. If Madarame were given to sentimental outbursts, he might have wept for joy at how much of an otaku Kasukabe-san had become – which wasn't much, especially by Genshiken standards, but he'd take what he could get. In that spirit, he smiled as she looked up in surprise.
"Madarame? I thought you said you weren't going to show anymore."
"What's that they say about old habits?" He took a seat to her left, at the head of the table. She shrugged noncommittally, and went back to reading. Madarame pulled out his boxed lunch, salmon, rice, and dried seaweed with soy sauce, and began eating. "So, Kohsaka's not here again today?"
Kasukabe-san arched an eyebrow at him. "Unlike some people, he can't walk ten minutes and show up here."
"Touché." Madarame took another bite of his lunch. "Still, it seems like he's been working nonstop lately, except for graduation. Has he made any time for you?"
"What makes you think it's any of your business?" she asked flatly, not looking at him.
Madarame flinched at that, but decided not to be discouraged. "As a former Genshiken president, I feel a personal responsibility to do what I can to ensure the happiness of the Society's alumni."
She snorted. "Right. What's the real reason? You want to know if our relationship resembles a porn game?"
He winced. Madarame knew she didn't really think so badly of him, at least not anymore, but it still hurt to hear her say that. "I'm concerned about you."
"The ambassador from Planet Otaku is concerned about me? Oh, that is rich." She sighed and put down her manga. "It's just..." She seemed unsure how to proceed, but Madarame figured it was best to let her sort her thoughts out. After all, it was no easy problem he had raised. "I thought it was bad when he railed me from behind while watching that damn anime." She chuckled sardonically. "I hadn't seen anything yet. Even before he got paid to make porn games, Kohsaka would play them while I was around. I know he's going to play them, no matter what, and he says that playing his games and having a girlfriend are two totally different things... but I'm not sure I buy it." She rubbed her eyes, exhausted. Madarame remained silent, and she looked at him in frustration. "Well, come on! You've always got something to say about these weird otaku fetishes! Can you justify playing porn games while your girlfriend is looking over your shoulder?"
He remained silent a moment more, then said, quietly, "No. I couldn't do that. I couldn't justify anyone else doing it, either." Kasukabe-san looked shocked; apparently, this was the last thing she had expected to hear him say. Not surprising, considering how... vocal Madarame had been in defending the 2-D complex, back when Kasukabe-san had her first encounter with "these weird otaku fetishes." Madarame grimaced as he remembered how Kasukabe-san, on that occasion, called him an animal out of sheer horror, and the grimace served him equally well as his mind returned to the present. "May I be harshly honest here?" Kasukabe-san paused, then nodded slowly. "Generally speaking, I think the way he treats you is reprehensible."
"Oh, come on!" She looked shocked, appalled, and more incredulous than Madarame had feared.
"'Come on'? What about that time he left you behind to wait for that midnight release with us? What about the first time you tried to share in his gaming interest, and he didn't have the common courtesy to go easy on you? What about the time he didn't even ask you about cross-dressing in front of thousands of otaku to help sell our doujinshi?" Madarame clenched his fists as he thought about how humiliating any one of those incidents must have been for Kasukabe-san - but to have her alleged boyfriend perpetrate all three of them? "Then there's the whole porn games thing, and the way he's been ignoring you. I swear, if he weren't so consistently clueless, I'd think he was just faking it to see how far along he could string you."
Kasukabe-san's face had changed. She now wore the death glare with which Madarame was all too familiar. He braced himself for the inevitable punch, but it didn't come. Instead, she grabbed him by the collar and shoved him against the doujinshi locker. Her teeth were clenched so tightly that for a moment, Madarame actually feared they might crack. "Take. That. Back."
He looked her straight in the eyes without blinking. "I said what I meant, and I meant what I said. If you don't want me to be harshly honest, don't give me permission." He was hurting her - even a fool like him could see it. But he would not, could not, take back his words. Kasukabe-san needed to see the truth, even if it devastated her.
Or both of them.
"Take it back! He's not like that! He's not!" Now came the punch, and it was the worst he'd ever felt from her. Kuchiki-kun might have felt something like it during one of his many instances of pissing her off, but for Madarame, it was a revelation. Not until then did he know just how deeply he had hurt her. That knowledge hurt so much that, for a moment, he didn't even feel the punch itself.
For a moment. He had only been injured like this once before: the time he slipped and fell on his hand at ComiFest. Kasukabe-san was truly furious, and as he forced his eyes open, he fully expected to see her looming over him, ready to deliver another world-ender. He was shocked to see her standing in the opposite corner of the room with her back to him and her arms wrapped around herself defensively. He could just make out her mumbling: "He's not like that... he's not..."
Madarame gave himself a moment to clear his head, and gingerly tested his cheek with his tongue, wincing in pain. That would swell nastily, and no mistake, but he'd have time to worry about it later. He walked over to Kasukabe-san and put his hand on her shoulder, bracing for another punch, or at least a slap. However, not only did she not swing at him, she didn't even pull away, which surprised him. He thought she wouldn't want to have anything to do with him.
This is your moment, Madarame! Wipe away the tears of the grieving heroine with all of your compassion to take your first step toward Kasukabe Saki's True Ending! (Golden Version – now with extra H-scenes)!
A momentary thrill raced through Madarame, followed by a spasm of self-disgust so strong it almost made him retch. He wasn't a porn game hero, Kasukabe-san wasn't a porn game heroine, and this wasn't an event flag. A woman he cared about was in serious pain, for which he was partly responsible. He crushed his otaku thoughts and focused on her.
"Maybe he's not," Madarame said, squeezing her shoulder in what he hoped was a comforting manner. She still wasn't punching him, so that was progress. "Maybe I'm wrong about him. After all, like I said, his obliviousness is too consistent for me to seriously believe it's an act. I have to wonder, though... other than the looks and the grooming, what do you see in him? I really don't understand that." She sniffled, and then remained silent so long Madarame thought she wasn't going to answer him at all. Finally, she spoke, softly enough that Madarame had to lean in to hear her.
"When I first met Kohsaka, back in elementary school, he was so... sweet. While other boys were showing affection by teasing, he was perfectly polite to everyone. He even let me rub his head whenever I wanted to. I used to love the feel of his hair as it grew back." She laughed sadly. "Most of all, though, he was always... sincere. I didn't really appreciate it then, but now, after more false friends than I care to remember, I can't value it highly enough. It's one of the most charming things I've seen in him the past four years." She paused, and when she continued, her voice wavered even through her attempt to keep it even. "Charming enough that I let myself believe he wasn't really oblivious - that he just didn't care what other people thought of him." Her voice began to crack. "Like you said, though... it's too consistent to be anything but real." And Kasukabe Saki-san, the Genshiken's designated tsukkomi, whose poise was nearly unflappable, began to cry, deep, gasping sobs that almost doubled her over. She reached back, took Madarame's hand from her shoulder, and gripped it tightly, as though to reassure herself of his presence. She cried without pause for almost five minutes, and Madarame, not really sure what to do with himself, held onto her hand with one of his, while the other hung cold and clammy at his side. "Could there really not be anything more to him now than his hobbies?" she asked after calming down a bit. "Could a person like that even exist, let alone survive?"
"I don't know." He stayed quiet for a while, and let her finish crying herself out. "I do know one thing, however." He gathered his courage, then proceeded: "You can do better." Her grip on his hand tightened.
"Can I?" she asked quietly. "The day before yesterday, I told Kohsaka I really wasn't happy with our relationship – mostly because I felt neglected. You know what he did?" Madarame couldn't begin to guess – Kohsaka had always been a puzzle at best, and a walking mass of contradictions at worst – so he merely shook his head. "He went completely silent for a minute, then looked at me with the most serious expression I've ever seen on him. It was almost like... like he was a different person." Madarame nodded; Kohsaka without a silly grin would scarcely look like Kohsaka. "Then he said, 'I want you to be happy, Saki-chan.' Then, after another silent pause, he said, 'I have to go to work now.' And he left. Without another word, he left." She turned to face Madarame, her makeup smeared and streaked with tears, and it was all he could do not to wipe away the mess with his handkerchief.
Bad Madarame! No dating sim clichés!
"What am I supposed to say to that?" she continued. "Did he really think that telling me 'I want you to be happy' would be enough to fix things? Is he really that clueless about relationships?" Kasukabe-san clenched her hands into fists and pounded the wall. "God damn those stupid porn games!"
"Hey, it's not their fault." She looked at him, and the mixture of pleading and fury in her eyes made it nearly impossible to resist the urge to take her in his arms and reassure her that everything would turn out for the best. However, she also looked... annoyed? Inquisitive? In any case, Madarame thought it best to elaborate; if Kasukabe-san was going to be annoyed at him, he'd prefer it to be for something more than a misunderstanding. "I mean, look at me," he said with a self-deprecating smile. "I'm the one who doesn't own a single piece of normal porn, remember? And yet I'm still here for you." He tactfully omitted his earlier lapses into video-game thinking. Nonetheless, he could see the wheels turning in her head, and gulped as he realized his mistake an instant before she grinned crookedly.
"What about those S&M videos I saw in your desk? Those were normal porn – well, compared to what usually gets you excited, anyway."
The smile ran away from his face, and he sputtered, "W-Well, you see, there's a perfectly reasonable explanation for that!" Kasukabe-san raised an eyebrow skeptically, and as Madarame scoured his mind, he realized something unpleasant: no explanation sounded as reasonable as the truth, or at least a part of it. He sighed. "To be honest, I never even glanced at those after I ordered them. I knew, based on your actions when the club met in the other members' rooms, that you would probably explore my room. In case you did, I wanted something that would make you think I was interested in more than just 2-D."
For a moment, Kasukabe-san looked as though she didn't know how to respond to that. Then she did something that took Madarame completely by surprise: she laughed. Not in a derisive way. A way that banished the tension and was grateful to see it gone. He took the hint, and joined her.
"I should've known," she said between laughs, wiping away a tear of joy. "Doesn't matter if she's a childhood friend or a porn star; how could you possibly be attracted to someone real?"
This is your moment, idiot. Tell her.
Madarame hesitated, but only for a moment. He knew that if he blew his chance now, he really would not get another one. "Well... believe it or not, I am attracted to someone real." Her laughter stopped cold – for a moment, and then she resumed laughing as hard as ever. "It's not a joke, Kasukabe-san." This time her laugh tapered off gradually, and she looked at him expectantly. He blushed and looked away. "And not just attracted. I'm... head over heels for her." He dared to look back at her, and was relieved to see she wasn't about to laugh. In fact, she was beaming, and the beauty of her smile made Madarame completely forget the tears and the streaked makeup. For him, they might as well have vanished completely.
"That's great! Who is she? Do I know her?"
Madarame swallowed. "Yeah... you know her pretty well."
Kasukabe-san's face clouded over. "It's not another Genshiken member, is it? You know they're both taken."
"No, no, it's not Ohno-san or Ogiue-san!" He waved one hand and rubbed the other on the back of his neck as he laughed nervously. Inside, he was churning. How much longer could he dance around the point?
"Well, who, then? I can't think of any other women you and I both know!" she insisted, grabbing his tie.
Madarame gulped. It was now or never. "It's... it's you."
There - all you can do now is see how it turns out.
He expected her to freeze in place, or punch him again, or something. Instead, she slowly released his tie and stood back, smiling wryly. She pulled out her own handkerchief and began, very calmly, to clean her face.
"So, you've finally said it."
"You... you knew?!" Madarame grasped for a more eloquent response, but couldn't find one, so he settled for the only words that came to mind.
"Otaku or not, when a guy's in love and can't bring himself to say it, the signs are universal." She paused to let that sink in. Had she really just compared him to all the other guys who had ever loved her without being able to confess their feelings? And if so, was that a good thing or a bad thing for him? "So, when did it happen?" she asked, seeing that her words had left their mark. Madarame focused his whirling mind, setting aside the questions that he could not answer at the moment. Once that was done, he didn't even have to think about the answer to her question.
"The first time was about a year after you joined. We were sitting in the club room, just the two of us, and I tried to wipe away something on your face. You... didn't take it well." Kasukabe-san nodded, but didn't say anything, and Madarame decided he'd better lay another card on the table. "I spent much of that time fidgeting, because you made me feel nervous like no other woman ever has. However, it wasn't until later that I realized I had completely fallen for you." She looked inquisitively at him. Most of the mess on her face had been cleared away, but she was evidently more interested in hearing what he had to say than in cleaning the rest. From a woman so concerned about appearance even in the company of an otaku like him, that was no mean thing, and Madarame felt a swell of pride at having pulled her attention away from making herself more presentable. "It was... when you cosplayed."
She turned a deeper red than he'd ever seen her, far deeper than the light blush she was wearing. "I should've known." Her voice was little more than a whisper.
"No, no! That's not it at all! There was..." Madarame paused. He knew what he felt, but damn if he knew how to say it, so he took a deep breath to calm himself before continuing in a much more even tone. "There was something about you that I didn't see until then. It was clear from the start that you wouldn't take any nonsense from the other club members. But the day of the cosplay contest, when you stopped that guy with the hidden camera, I realized you wouldn't let anyone offend you. You were strong, you were proud... you were regal." He paused. Kasukabe-san was staring at him, open-mouthed, and before Madarame's courage could fail him, he took her hand in both of his and rushed on, the words spilling out before he could even think about them. "In that moment, I knew I loved you more than I ever loved anyone."
"Does that include anime characters?" she asked, only half-sarcastically, and he grimaced in pain as he looked down, his head turned halfway to the right.
"Do you even have to ask?" he said, just barely above a whisper.
"How do you know it wasn't just the character you fell for?" she retorted, and he sighed.
"Honestly... that's what I thought at first. But then I started thinking about something Ohno-san said about cosplaying." He raised his head to find Kasukabe-san raising a skeptical eyebrow, and Madarame hurried on to forestall a negative reply from her. "She said that cosplaying can bring out sides of yourself that you never would have realized otherwise. In other words, I wasn't falling for the President; I was falling for the President part of you. We occasionally saw that part in Genshiken - especially when you saved the club twice, in spite of all your protests that you wanted it to fail - but most of the time you wielded the paper fan, and that was all. Even though you didn't want to cosplay, dressing as the President allowed that part of you to shine forth in all its glory, and it was... it was..." His voice trailed off, and he looked away again. "...the most beautiful sight I've ever seen," he finished, blushing furiously. "Of course, I never said anything, because you and Kohsaka were so happy together."
"Or at least that's how it seemed," Kasukabe-san added.
"Yeah." He removed his hands from hers and, not knowing what else to do, slipped them awkwardly into his pockets. "That's how it seemed."
"So why did you say something now?" she asked.
Madarame shrugged. "I don't have much to lose, do I? I don't have too many club meetings left in me, one way or another. If you don't like what I've told you, at least we won't run into each other for much longer. But, if you do..." He trailed off. He'd confessed to her, but it hadn't provided the relief he'd hoped for.
"What do you want me to say?" Kasukabe asked quietly. The smile was gone from her face, and what replaced it was neither a smirk, nor scorn, nor disgust. Any one of those, Madarame could handle; he'd learned long ago how to deal with those, especially from girls he liked, and couldn't remember a time before they'd been a part of his life. Indeed, they were a major reason why he'd given up on real-life romantic relationships altogether, investing himself entirely in anime, manga, and video game characters. But the look on Kasukabe-san's face, though he was used to seeing it from the people he referred to as "normals," was something he had never encountered from a girl he liked.
It was pity. And it cut so deeply that, for the second time in one day, it took a moment for Madarame to realize he'd been wounded.
"No, it's okay."
What was that pounding noise?
"You don't need to explain."
It couldn't be his heart – it would've exploded, racing like that.
"I shouldn't have said anything."
His voice was ragged. Was it because his breath was speeding up?
"I'll be going now."
His vision blurred wetly. He blinked. It didn't get better.
"Please enjoy the rest of your day."
He grabbed three times for the doorknob before he could hold it firmly enough to open the door. How ridiculous. If he weren't so clumsy, he could've been gone already, and spared Kasukabe-san any more unnecessary trouble. But she was speaking his name, with what sounded like real concern.
Of course it's real. How could she not be concerned for a pathetic otaku animal?
Her voice carried down the hall as he ran, though it couldn't drown out the other voice that echoed in his mind. He must have left the door hanging open when he fled the clubroom.
That's all you are. That's all you'll ever be.
He ran. He couldn't see where he was going, and it didn't matter. People called out to him as he passed, some with puzzlement, some with concern, some with anger as they dove out of his way, but none with words that he could understand. Finally he collapsed face-first to the ground, gasping for breath. There was grass beneath him, soft and cool, but it did nothing to comfort him, or to silence the only voice that still made sense. It was the voice of self-loathing, with which Madarame was intimately familiar... and as the tears began to flow, he realized it had become indistinguishable from his own voice.
She's better off without me.
Author's note: After spending the last few years with no idea how to finish this chapter, I gave it a relatively dark ending to reflect the near-total extinguishing, as of Chapter 79 of the manga, of my hopes for any sort of canonical Madarame x Saki pairing. (Of course, the darkness of the ending also has deep roots in Madarame's character as I have conceived it). However, I agree with Hegel and Aristotle that, other things being equal, a happy ending is preferable to an unhappy one, and I write about characters because I love them and want them to be happy. Why, then, split up the canonical Kohsaka x Saki pairing, since the two of them are evidently quite happy with each other? My answer, paraphrasing Shakespeare's Brutus, is not that I love Kohsaka less, but that I love Madarame more. It is merely a truism to remark that people who read or watch Genshiken are more likely to identify with Madarame than with Kohsaka, and to permanently deny Madarame the happiness he has so long sought seems too cruel to me.
That said, this will not be a Kohsaka-bashing story. I have never believed that the unfavored member of a canonical pairing must be denigrated in order to promote an author's preferred pairing, and if I had to single out one criticism of several Madarame x Saki stories that I have read as the most important, it is that Kohsaka is characterized, to put it bluntly, as a total jerk. In fact, he is anything but, and his sensitivity to Saki's feelings (when it really counts, anyway) is a major reason why they've stayed together so long. (To be clear, Madarame's harsh critique of Kohsaka's behavior does not represent my own opinion, at least not without qualification). Why, then, did Kohsaka show so little concern about keeping his relationship with Saki intact? The answer to that question is one of the ways I plan to keep the readers' interest after having let the cat out of the bag about happy endings. But whatever reasons you may have for reading this story, I hope you will enjoy it as much as I will.