Chapter 3:

対処 Deal

Head Games with Hyouka

Yuji did not anticipate the toll that prolonged sleep deprivation would take on him.

For the next several nights, he was plagued by that horrifying dream. While being asphyxiated by a twisted version of Hyouka Morikawa, the boy would jolt awake, panicked and covered in sweat, feeling as if his heart would tear through his chest.

He felt trapped- not only when he was asleep, but during his waking hours as well.

The recurring nightmare only made Yuji more uneasy around the albino girl, her proximity to his own desk feeling like a taunt. Whenever she so much as turned her head in his direction, his blood ran cold. Her long white hair stared threateningly at him like a curtain of pale vipers, preventing him from focusing on anything else.

Was she aware of what she was doing?

Hyouka’s infuriatingly inexpressive face revealed very little whenever he accidentally caught her eye, so he was never certain, spending the school day in perpetual anxiety. Yuji was now always the last one in the classroom, as well as the first one out the door, much to his teachers’ irritation.

When he was later reprimanded in the hallway, he felt a surge of contempt for the girl.

It was all her fault.

His dark undereye circles only intensified with each passing day, and his pounding headache never fully disappeared either. Despite their impulsive adventures, even spending time with his friends failed to take his mind off things for long.

It was as if he had been cursed. He felt like he was going mad.

Yuji rubbed his temples, sharply inhaling as pain rushed through his head. He stood in line at the small bakery near the school, just wanting something to help him through the rest of the day. Unfortunately, it seemed like many people shared the same sentiment that Friday afternoon, as the line had grown long, sluggishly crawling forward. The boy tiredly glared down at his phone, a defined crease apparent between his furrowed brows.

The bakery’s door swung open, a soft chime ringing throughout the establishment. His head throbbing at the sound, Yuji’s eyes instinctively wandered to the source.

They landed on a certain girl he had been avoiding.

“M-Morikawa!” He blurted out.

Hyouka froze for a moment, her eyes narrowing in resentment.

Tanihara.” She warily approached the line, her tone cold and uninviting.

A chill crept up Yuji’s spine, repressed fury slowly bubbling up in his throat like bile.

He hated her.

The sudden thought caught him further off guard, almost distracting him from his anger.

But he understood why he loathed her.

Before him stood the girl whose likeness had haunted his dreams for the past four nights; the girl who left him on edge and struggling to function all week. She was the one who was responsible for his suffering. If not for her, he’d have been able to live without a care in the world, just as he had done before.

Hyouka Morikawa was ruining his life. She had cursed him. There was no other explanation for this.

Yuji swallowed roughly, his Adam’s apple bobbing in his throat as he attempted to stay calm. If she was indeed capable of what he feared she had done, then he needed to be cautious.


“What do you want?” Her ruby eyes were piercing as she glared back at him, not even pretending to be friendly.

“Uh...were you planning on getting anything?” He quickly averted his gaze, rubbing the back of his neck.

“Why else would I be here? Certainly not to run into you.”

“Y-Yeah, I guess so...” The boy muttered.

Silence befell the two. Yuji's heart felt ready to explode.

“...Here, lemme buy you something.” A crooked, shaky grin spread across his face. “M-My treat...”

Hyouka arched a brow, utterly perplexed by his uncharacteristic behavior. However, it seemed she was too practical to deny the offer.

“Fine. I want a slice of strawberry shortcake.” Spinning on her heel, she walked away.

“S-Sure thing.” He agreed, watching as she took a seat at a small table.

The line did not feel as if it were growing any shorter. In fact, time seemed to pass slowly and painfully.

Eventually, Yuji found himself at the counter, a smiling older woman standing behind it.

“What would you like, dear?” Her soothing, gentle voice felt more comforting than it usually would have.

“A slice of strawberry shortcake...” He held up a canned coffee drink. “And this.”

“Coming right up. Your total is ¥389.”

“Thanks.” Yuji moved to the side, leaving the money in the small tray on the counter. The employee slid the plate towards him, and he accepted it numbly, walking away.

He approached the table Hyouka was seated at, resisting the urge to thrust the cake at her. Instead, he quietly set it down, sitting in front of her and cracking open his coffee.

“Why are you sitting with me?” She took the dessert, giving him a sharp look.

“...Can we talk?” He hesitantly met her eyes.

Hyouka studied him, clearly suspicious of his behavior. She had never seen him act so meekly before- it almost felt like the set-up for some sort of ridiculous prank.

“What’s there to talk about? I’d hardly say we’re on cordial terms.” She said icily, picking up her fork.

“...You’ve changed a lot, y’know.” Yuji mused. “It’s like you’re a different person.”

“I suppose so.” Hyouka didn’t look convinced by the small talk he was trying to make. “I wish I could say the same about you.”

He felt a pang of awkwardness, averting his gaze. Stalling wasn’t going to do him any favors, apparently. Her tone indicated a combination of boredom and disdain.

Taking a deep breath, he decided to just rip the bandage off- he couldn’t wait anymore.

“Lately, I’ve been thinking about how things were like back in middle school...”

That seemed to catch her attention. Her eyes seemed to widen.

“What about it?” The girl folded her arms over her chest, eyes narrowing again. “Are you trying to provoke me? Stir up unpleasant memories?”

“N-No! I just...wanna make amends for what happened...”

Her gaze drifted to the slice of cake before her.

“Do you honestly think that you can just buy my forgiveness- so easily- after everything you did?” Her lip curled. “You’re pathetic. There's clearly something you’re after.”

“No, that’s not it!” Yuji insisted.

“Oh really?” She arched a brow, twirling her fork.

“I swear!”

“Then enlighten me.”

“I made a lot of mistakes a long time ago...can you forgive me?” The boy leaned forward.


Yuji jumped back, staring at the girl’s clenched fist. She had stabbed through her shortcake, the metal prongs of the fork striking the plate hard enough to dent it. Her gaze pierced his very soul.

“You did not just make mistakes.” Hyouka levelled herself with him, her eyes glinting coldly. “You went out of your way to torment me for three years straight. Tell me, does that deserve forgiveness?”

“I-I’m really sorry for what I did...!” Yuji apologized, desperately bowing his head. “Please...I’ll do anything to redeem myself!”

“Anything?” Hyouka leaned back in her chair like a feudal lord, regarding him haughtily. “Why are you so desperate for my forgiveness?”

The boy finally fell silent, hesitating. His heart raced.

What was he supposed to say? That he was cursed? Having nightmares about her? Baselessly accusing Hyouka of witchcraft would make him look like a child, or worse- an idiot. He was certain she would laugh in his face, and he’d be left to suffer the consequences- and who knew what that would mean for him?

No, he couldn’t allow that...

“Well? I’m waiting for an answer.” She stared at him pointedly, eating her dessert. “Is it guilt? Are you afraid that karma will catch up to you?”

“I just...wanna fix what I messed up...” Yuji muttered, hanging his head.

He felt utterly pathetic. He might as well just lie on the floor and grovel at this rate.


Hyouka stared at him for a moment, before softly exhaling.

“Fine. I’ll give you a chance to redeem yourself- on one condition.”

“Really?!” Yuji straightened up, relief washing over him. She nodded in response.

How merciful Hyouka was- now she had him on the edge of his seat.

He took a deep breath, trying to calm down.

“Okay, what is it?”

“You are to become my loyal servant.”

“Huh?!” He gripped his can so tightly it crinkled.

“Didn’t you hear me?” She seemed unfazed, impatiently tapping her fingernails on the table. “You’ll be my servant- my dog. You’ll obey my requests, and if you do so sufficiently, then I suppose I may forgive you.”

Yuji gawked at her, his mouth hanging open.

Hyouka stared back, her expression devoid of humor. If she had been joking, she certainly wasn’t very good at it.

Between being an errand boy and being plagued by vivid nightmares, which was worse?

Yuji sighed, knowing the answer. If he were to be haunted by her again, he’d surely snap.

“I-If that’s what it takes, then fine!” He swallowed his pride. “I’ll be”

“Good.” Hyouka set down her fork, having finished her cake. “Give me your phone then.”

Yuji grumbled as he pulled the device out of his pocket, shoving it into her hand. He knocked back his can of coffee as if it were something stronger, quickly emptying it.

“There.” She soon offered it back to him. “I’ll be contacting you- I already have requests in mind.”

He took his phone back, scowling at this. Looking down, he noticed that she had used it to send a message to what was supposedly her own phone number.

[I look forward to serving you, Master.]

His eyes flared in indignation.

“Hey, what the-?!”

“Take my dish up to the counter, mongrel.”

The sudden command took him by surprise, his jaw dropping. The girl merely waited, standing her ground.

Sighing, Yuji stood up, reluctantly picking up the plate and returning it to where used dishes went, throwing out his coffee can on the way. When he looked back at her, Hyouka seemed pleased by his obedience, rising from her seat and approaching him.

“Thank you for the food.” Hyouka bowed to the employees, the bell jingling as she opened the door to leave the establishment. She glanced over her shoulder to see if he was following.

“Thanks...” Yuji mumbled, keeping his head down as he joined her outside.

“Well, mongrel,” She mused, looking up at him. “It seems you can follow directions after all. What a pleasant surprise.”

“Uh huh...” He shoved his hands into his pockets, avoiding her eyes.

She turned to leave, peering over her shoulder with a faint smirk.

“Enjoy your weekend. I’ll see you on Monday, dog.

With that, Hyouka gracefully walked away, her Mary Janes softly tapping against the concrete. For a while, Yuji silently stood rooted to the ground, watching until she disappeared around the corner.

Snapping out of it, he shook his head, muttering a few curses under his breath and deciding to turn in early for the night.

He was just so, so tired.

The walk home wasn’t as laborious as it had felt recently, as though his shoulders were no longer so heavily weighed down. The overcast sky did not feel quite so oppressive either, and he welcomed the lightly drizzling rain as he shut the front door- perhaps it would lull him to sleep.

After brushing his teeth and throwing his uniform into the corner of his room, Yuji collapsed into bed, all his remaining energy vanishing the instant he closed his eyes. As he faded into unconsciousness, part of him expected to “wake up” in that locker, with light dimly shining through those grated lines, just as the dream always went.

But he didn’t.

Instead, when he finally stirred, his growling stomach waking him up for a late-night meal, Yuji couldn’t recall anything after his head hit the pillow.

Sitting up in bed, he quickly pinched his arm- hard. He felt it as clear as day, and was sure that he was truly awake. There was no disturbing dream that loomed over his head.

Not anymore.

Yuji could’ve cried, right then and there. Regardless of whether it was due to the lifting of a curse or not, he didn’t care.

He was just glad to finally be free.