Head Games with Hyouka
It seemed that Friday night had not just been a fluke.
As if his prayers had been answered, Yuji’s weekend continued to remain nightmare-free as he finally managed to get caught up on sleep. Though his exhaustion was not so easily remedied by just a few nights of decent rest, at least he was functioning well enough to go out with friends, painting the town red. With them, he hadn’t a care in the world, laughing openly and feeling like himself again.
In fact, he had nearly forgotten all about that absurd arrangement he had made.
That is, until he stepped through the school gates.
No longer as sleep-deprived by the time Monday came around, he began to come to his senses and remember what had happened in that café just a few days earlier.
“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.”
Just what kind of deal had he gotten himself into? No sane nor stable person would’ve agreed to such conditions- he hardly stood to gain anything besides “forgiveness-” and even that wasn’t guaranteed.
It seemed he’d been conned by the ice queen herself.
Sighing, Yuji kept his head down as he swapped out his shoes in the getabako, praying to whatever deity was listening that Hyouka would forget about Friday.
However, he swore he heard faint footsteps behind him- light and graceful.
Glancing over his shoulder, there stood that girl, poised like a black widow.
He tried not to have a heart attack on the spot.
“...Sup?” He muttered warily, shutting his locker.
“Good morning. You’re going to class now, aren’t you?” Hyouka asked coolly.
“I guess so. Why?”
“What a coincidence- so am I.” She slid her school bag off her shoulder, dangling it by its straps in front of him. "Carry this for me then.”
“Huh?! Why should I?” Yuji protested, scowling down at her.
Hyouka gave him a sharp look.
“I’m your master now. Are you so stupid that you’ve forgotten already? This is hardly my most demanding task for you.”
Grunting, the boy averted his gaze, reluctantly plucking the bag from her small hand.
Satisfied, Hyouka spun on her heel, beginning to walk towards the staircase at the end of the corridor. He watched with a sullen expression, standing rooted to the ground.
“Aren’t you coming?” She glanced over her shoulder, a hint of amusement around her lips.
Huffing, Yuji begrudgingly marched after the girl, upstairs to their classroom on the third story. Hyouka had arrived first, standing expectantly outside the closed door.
“Well?” He paused, standing next to her. “What are you waiting for?”
“Open the door.”
“Are you fucking kidding me?!” He gave her an incredulous look. “Are you that helpless?!”
“Don’t you have manners?” Hyouka asked coolly, studying her fingernails.
“You’re such a bitch...!” Seething, Yuji threw the sliding door open so hard that it rattled in its frame. All heads snapped towards him, the other students bewildered by his outburst.
“...And you’re such a brute.” She retorted, glaring as she slipped past him, walking to her desk. The boy had no choice but to follow her, as his own seat was directly behind hers- a circumstance that was becoming more and more unfortunate by the day.
Sitting behind her while suffering from those nightmares was bad enough, but now he had to while answering her every beck and call? This sucked.
He was snapped from his brooding thoughts when he nearly barreled into the girl, who had stopped in front of her desk.
“Watch where you’re going.”
“Shut up!” He snarled.
Rolling her eyes, Hyouka wordlessly held out her pale hand, palm expectant. Annoyed to have been carrying it in the first place, Yuji shoved the bag at her without so much as a second thought.
“It seems I don’t even need to command you each time.” She accepted it, lifting her chin haughtily. “You learn new tricks rather quickly, you dog.”
“You-! Shut up!” He seethed, furiously glaring down at the girl. Storming out of the classroom, other students practically leaped out of the way to avoid his rage.
Was he really so easily controlled?
He set his jaw and balled up his fists as he thundered down the stairs, his knuckles turning white.
It pissed him off to no end that he even had to consider it- and in that moment, Yuji made a rebellious vow to never do anything not asked of him. If Hyouka wanted his servitude, then she’d better be prepared to put up with resistance.
That’d show her.
However, the girl had yet another demand for him to fulfill by lunchtime.
The bell had rung, and students were only just beginning to get up from their seats, scooting their own desks together or leaving the classroom to eat elsewhere.
Yuji had been planning his escape ever since he had sat down for class- he could see himself dashing through the door, taking the stairs two at a time, and seeking refuge with his friends by the vending machines.
However, it seemed she already knew what he was thinking.
“Buy me a loaf of yakisoba bread, mongrel.” Hyouka turned towards him, as calm as ever.
The room dropped in volume. Nearby classmates seemed to gawk at them. Yuji felt ready to pop an artery.
“Wh-What the hell is wrong with you?!” He barked out, heat stinging his cheeks. “Why should I?!”
“I’d like to try this school’s recipe, but it seems to sell out rather quickly.” Hyouka replied nonchalantly. “I’m sure you can run fast enough to get one for me.”
“You already have lunch!” He jabbed a finger at the bento box atop her desk.
“What of it?” She inquired, unbothered. “Off you go now.” She turned with a careless wave of her hand.
“You...!” Yuji sprung up from his desk, just itching to pick her up and toss her out the window.
“Is there a problem, Tanihara-kun?” A voice interrupted.
Watching from the doorframe was Nikaido, eyes warningly flashing behind his glasses.
“...No sir...” The boy grumbled, lowering his head.
“Thought so.” The teacher kept walking, heading towards the faculty room.
Murmurs began to spread across the classroom, as students stole glances between each other.
“What’s going on between Morikawa-san and Tanihara?”
“Did you hear what she called him? It’s like he’s her pet...”
“He looked ready to hit her...scary...”
With a frustrated sigh, Yuji sent a fierce glare in Hyouka’s direction- who was silently staring up at him with those piercing red eyes.
“It’s easier to obey.” He imagined her saying. “You wouldn’t want to make a scene, would you?”
Gritting his teeth, he stomped off to buy that cursed bread she had demanded- it seemed a new nightmare was already taking over his life.
And her name was Hyouka Morikawa.
“Jeez, Tanihara, what’s gotten into you lately? You’ve been acting like that Morikawa girl’s personal bitch all week.”
“Shut up, Ueno!” Yuji aimed a kick at his friend’s leg.
“More like her slave!” Moriyama jeered, crouched on the ground.
“You shut up too!”
It was now Wednesday- and to Yuji’s outrage- most of the school had seemed to catch on to his questionable relationship with the infamous ice queen. Yuji’s friends proved to be little help, unable to resist teasing him about it as they loitered in a convenience store parking lot.
“Is she really not your girlfriend?” Ueno pushed his bleached hair out of his face, not even trying to hide his smirk.
“Ew! No way in hell am I dating her- she’s awful! Gimme a break!”
“So you’re just being an ass-kisser for no reason?” He snickered. “What a loser.”
“I’m gonna kick your ass into a different prefecture...” Yuji grumbled, hurling his empty soda bottle at him. Ueno dodged it.
“By the way, where’s Tachibana?”
“Ryu?” Yuji huffed. “He’s with his girlfriend- where else?”
“Should’ve known. Careful, Tanihara, or you’ll be ditching us for a girl too!”
“Not a damn chance!”
“It’s too bad...” Moriyama lamented, leaning against a parking post. “That albino chick- she’s kinda cute or whatever, but she’s such a frigid bitch. I tried talking to her once, and she completely ignored me!”
“Yeah, what’s her deal? Why do you even let her push you around like that, Tanihara? Put her in her place!”
“You think I haven't tried already?”
“What, does she have blackmail on you or something?” Ueno snorted.
Oh, if only he knew.
“Something like that.” The boy scoffed bitterly.
“Man, you’re trapped.”
“Tell me about it, she’s such a fucking pain!” He griped, kicking at a pebble in frustration.
“Speak of the devil, isn’t that her?” Moriyama pointed across the street. Yuji followed his gaze.
It was indeed Hyouka Morikawa- the pint-sized tyrant herself- seemingly unaware that she was being badmouthed. She was alone and walking in the opposite direction, her back to them.
“Ugh, yeah. That’s her alright.” Yuji glared at the girl.
“Pretty hard to miss, huh?” Moriyama snorted. “She looks like a ghost- you could probably see her in a pitch-black room.”
She looked especially ghostly now, with her long white hair blowing in the wind, and her silent, graceful, almost weightless strides.
But a low, clear whistle echoed from nearby, and she faltered.
“Got a minute?”
“C’mon, no need to look so shy!”
A group of stocky-looking boys leisurely approached Hyouka, dressed in a different school’s uniform and carrying gym bags. They towered over her imposingly, and even in the distance, Yuji found their expressions unsavory.
Hyouka seemed to stiffen, lowering her head and walking more briskly, as if hoping to just slip by. However, the group of boys quickly converged on the sidewalk, blocking her path.
“Hey, what are you trying to run off for?” They called out, walking closer and closer. For each step they took towards her, she took two steps back, her body language standoffish.
“Looks like it’s not just you who has business with her.” Ueno taunted, elbowing his side.
“Shh, I can’t hear what they’re sayin’...” Yuji squinted, as if that would make their words more audible. Out of morbid curiosity, he continued to watch.
After all, the new Hyouka was anything but passive.
Though he was too far away to make out their conversation, their cocky expressions gave him a good idea what sort of things were being said to her.
“Why don’t you hang with us~?”
The boy closest to her- the one who had been the first to approach- boldly leaned down to her level, twirling a lock of long white hair around his finger with a smirk.
But it was gone in an instant.
With the poise of a panther, Hyouka lunged forward and backhanded him with enough force to send him stumbling, wide-eyed and open-mouthed. His lackeys stared in shock, bewildered and unsure of what to do.
Yuji and his friends gawked at the spectacle, before bursting into uncontrollable laughter.
“Damn!” Moriyama roared, clamping a hand over his mouth. “She didn’t even hesitate!”
“If you piss her off, that’s gonna be you, Tanihara!” Ueno wheezed out, pounding Yuji’s shoulder, who was doubled over and struggling to catch his breath from how hard he was laughing.
It filled him with a strange joy to see someone else on the receiving end of Hyouka’s wrath- after putting up with her demands, he felt no guilt for laughing at someone stupid enough to provoke her.
Wiping an amused tear from his eye, Yuji forced himself to straighten up, an ache in his ribs as he glanced across the street.
His laugh died in his throat.
The group of boys seemed oblivious to the fact that there were plenty of potential witnesses, or perhaps they didn't care- but their eyes were locked on Hyouka, the tension undeniable.
The one who had been slapped straightened up with blazing eyes, teeth bared and his lip curled into a mask of fury. A small, bright red handprint was already developing on his cheek.
“Oh shit!” Moriyama blurted out.
Hyouka seemed to be thinking the same thing, as she quickly moved to get away.
She didn’t get very far, though.
The second she turned, his hand shot out. It snatched a fistful of her hair and yanked her back.
Hyouka yelped at this, grimacing in pain as she resisted- but the other boy was much stronger than her. She went completely rigid, that cold expression of hers shattering, only to be replaced by an emotion he hadn’t seen her express in years- fear.
Yuji had seen enough. Without a second thought, he stalked away from his friends.
“Huh? What’re ya doing?”
“Where the hell are you going, Tanihara?”
Their questions went in one ear and out the other. He kept walking, his pace quickening. Barely checking for cars as he crossed the street, Yuji was running by the time he reached them.
“The hell do you think you’re doing?!”
The boys instinctively turned to glare at the source of the shout, annoyed to have been interrupted. Hyouka’s eyes widened at the sight of him, the girl taking advantage of the distraction to pry the fingers from her hair, quickly escaping the leader’s grasp.
“Huh?” One of them sneered. “What’s it to you, punk? This is none of your business.”
“Yeah, we’re just having a little chat.” Another chimed in.
“Don’t you fucking touch her! You’re just asking for a broken nose!” Yuji’s eyes flared as he took a protective stance in front of the girl.
“Bold words for someone outnumbered and scrawny like you.” The group snorted at him. “All bark and no bite!”
“Is she your girlfriend, fox-eyes?” The leader drawled, leering down at him. “You’d better teach her how to behave, before she finds herself starting more trouble.”
“You’re the fuckers who came creeping on her!” Yuji snarled, seizing him by the collar.
“Think you're so big and bad, huh?” He taunted, a cocky smirk spreading across his face. “Maybe you’re the one who needs to be taught a lesson!”
Hyouka pulled on the back of his sweater, and he instinctively glanced back at her wide-eyed face- a desperate, silent plea.
The instant he turned back, a fist slammed into his face.
He heard her gasp, and then he felt it.
It erupted across his jaw, practically rattling his teeth.
“Fuck!” Dazed, Yuji stumbled back and let go of the leader's shirt, clutching his throbbing cheek.
“How's the punch of a rugby player taste, huh?” The boys laughed at him. “There's more where that came from!”
“You piece of-!” He lunged at them, only to get shoved back and barely keep his balance.
“Punk- you don't stand a chance against four of us.” They taunted. “You'd better start running home to your mommy-”
Yuji spat in his face.
“Ew!” The leader reeled in disgust, wiping it away with his sleeve. “You're fucking dead!”
Yuji lunged first, but he felt resistance. Hyouka was trying to hold him back, fingers clutching his uniform.
“Hey, what’re you thugs doing?!” A shopkeeper shouted from the doorway of her store, her cell phone on full display. “If you don't cut that out, I’ll call the police!”
The boys- including Yuji- froze, caught red-handed.
“And I recognize your uniforms!” The older woman added. “I’ll be sure to contact your schools!”
“Damn! That old bat...!” One of the boys cursed. “We’d better scram!”
The leader scowled, glaring down at Hyouka.
“You’re lucky this jackass was here to take hits for you- otherwise, you wouldn't stay looking so pretty. And you-” He turned to Yuji. “Next time, you're in for more than just a punch.”
Making sure to bump shoulders with him as they left, the rugby players crossed to the other side of the street, and quickly disappeared amongst other pedestrians.
“Get a grip already.” He sneered at them, putting his arm around the girl’s shoulder and pulling her against his side as he began to walk away. Hyouka was silent as they crossed the street, returning to the parking lot where Yuji’s friends stood, watching.
Moriyama had his phone out, aimed at them.
“Are you seriously filming right now?! Cut it out!” He let go of Hyouka and lunged at him, trying to wrestle it away. The boys were locked in a brief tussle, before Moriyama shoved his phone into his pocket, covering it with his hands.
“Stop! Don’t be such a buzzkill, Tanihara!”
“Damn, they got you good, huh?” Ueno remarked, prodding his swollen cheek.
“Ow! The hell’s wrong with you?!” He swatted his hand away.
“Here, take this.” Ueno tossed a cold can of soda to him. “Fresh out the vending machine.”
“You’ll look even worse than you usually do if you don’t put something cold on it.” Moriyama chimed in.
“Thanks a lot...” Yuji grumbled, reluctantly pressing the can to his cheek.
“We'll leave her to you, or whatever. See ya later.”
“Later.” Ueno also bid him goodbye, walking away with Moriyama in tow. The pair were already murmuring to one another, but their words were indecipherable.
Yuji waited until his friends were out of sight, before turning back to the girl.
Hyouka nodded slightly, crimson irises locked on the ground. Her face looked even paler than usual, drained of what color she initially had and frozen into a numb mask. Her long white hair was noticeably tangled where it had been grabbed, and one of her red ribbon bows was coming loose.
He swore her hands were still quivering- almost imperceptibly.
“Hey, those pricks won’t bother ya again! You’re fine!” Yuji tried to reassure her, silently cursing himself for not checking on her sooner.
Hyouka took a deep breath, her face hardening as she tried to recompose herself.
“...You helped me...Why?”
“I-I just had to, okay?” Yuji huffed out. “It’s not like I could just stand by and watch! What kinda scumbag would do that? That guy grabbed you like it was nothing!”
Though he realized he didn’t have any room to talk.
Hyouka fell silent again, glancing away as she reached up to comb her fingers through her tangled hair, retying her left ribbon.
The boy didn’t know what to do now, glancing between her, the cars in the street, and the posters in the convenience store windows. Turning his head, he spat onto the pavement.
It was tinted pink.
Sighing, Yuji reached over and placed his hand atop the girl’s head in what he hoped was a comforting way, looking down at her.
“C’mon, I'll walk you home.”
Hyouka looked surprised by the offer, staring up at him.
For a moment, she hesitated.
“...Alright.” She finally agreed, brushing past him and walking away, beginning to head in the direction of her grandmother’s house.
Shoving his hand back into his pocket and keeping the can against his cheek, Yuji silently followed her.
After what she had just endured, he imagined his presence was preferable to the anxiety of being ambushed again.
But he wouldn’t let anything happen.
The walk to Grandmother’s house remained quiet, their footsteps and the ambient sounds of nearby traffic being what obstructed total silence.
Hyouka almost wished that Yuji had been more of a talker as he wordlessly trailed behind her, for then she would have a distraction from the unpleasant thoughts buzzing around her head. However, she could not bring herself to start a conversation either. Perhaps it was better that way- his voice had the potential to stir up memories she would rather forget.
The stinging of her scalp from pulled hair had not been an unfamiliar feeling in middle school, after all. It was the very hallmark of the torment she endured.
They reached the home more quickly than she realized, approaching the front door.
Shaking her head as she tried to repress the thought, Hyouka rang the doorbell, alerting the household of her presence.
An elderly white-haired woman came to the door, opening it with a smile.
“There you are, dear Hyouka!”
“Hello, Grandmother.” A soft, relieved smile appeared on her face for the first time that day. The sight of her brought instant comfort, akin to being wrapped in a warm blanket after being outside on a cold winter night.
When she was with Grandmother, she knew she was safe.
“Oh! Who’s this young man?” She tilted her head, looking over Hyouka’s shoulder.
“I’m Yuji Tanihara...” He muttered with a slight bow of his head.
“Are you alright? What happened to your cheek?” The woman frowned, concern apparent in her ruby irises.
“I, uh...got hit in the face.” He kept the bruise covered with the soda can.
“Oh, you poor thing! Please do come in, Yuji-kun! It’s important to treat injuries before they worsen!”
“N-Nah, I should probably get going.” He shook his head, eyes glued to the ground.
“It would be no trouble at all!”
“You sure?” Yuji glanced between the woman and her granddaughter with uncertainty.
Averting her eyes, Hyouka didn’t protest, merely stepping inside and removing her shoes. She silently walked further into the house.
“Of course, dear! Come inside, I’ll make tea!” She smiled kindly, moving back to make room for him.
“Thanks...” He mumbled, as he entered the large traditional-style home, glancing around as he kicked off his sneakers. Next to Hyouka’s small, dainty Mary Janes, his own shoes looked huge.
“Certainly!” She replied cheerfully, leading him through the house. “And thank you very much for bringing home my darling Hyouka.”
Hyouka was already in the living room, behind a low table and seated in perfect seiza, as if it were second-nature. Yuji sat down in front of her, opting for a more casual position with one knee up to his chest.
Grandmother disappeared into the kitchen to prepare the aforementioned tea, yukata softly swishing as she moved.
“Here.” The girl presented Yuji with an ice pack and small ointment tube. “It’s arnica gel. It should reduce bruising.”
She knew from experience, after all.
“Really?” He scanned the label, before unscrewing the cap and rubbing the gel all over his sore cheek. “Thanks, then.”
“You’re welcome.” Hyouka replied nonchalantly, studying the boy before her.
Physically, Yuji Tanihara was nearly unrecognizable as the boy who had antagonized her in junior high. His features had lost much of their childish roundness, becoming longer and more angular instead, and he had grown taller- significantly larger than Hyouka, but only of an average boy’s height. Though he was still slim, his shoulders were broader.
Back then, his black hair had been quite unkempt, with short bangs that left much of his forehead exposed. It was longer now, swept back with a large tuft of hair falling between his eyes. His eyebrows were short, tapered at the end, and arched, much like a j-rocker's. A few piercings now adorned his ears- one in his right cartilage and two in his left lobe.
But his eyes had stayed the same.
“You still have that vulgar-looking face of yours, mongrel.” Hyouka regarded him coolly.
“Yeah, I know.” Yuji averted his gaze, feeling out of place in her home.
“It truly was a shock that you came to my aid.”
“I just happened to be in the right place at the right time, I guess.”
“I’m glad for that.” She mused. “It’s honestly rather unnerving, to be ogled like some sort of circus freak. No matter where I go- even to a new city, there always seems to be someone who can’t help themselves from touching my hair.”
“Really?” He pressed the ice pack to his cheek, which was growing sore.
“Oh yes.” Hyouka said humorlessly. “Feeling as if I’m under a microscope isn’t something I particularly enjoy, so I find myself going out in public less and less- not that I often go out in the first place.”
“Is it that bad at school?”
“Worse, actually.” She scoffed softly. “There’s always a group of boys who think I’m wearing a wig, so they’ll yank on my hair, realize it’s attached to my scalp, and then avoid me like I was the one who crossed a line. In the locker room, other girls will beg to braid my hair, and when I refuse to let them, they act so offended- as if I’d told them to jump off a bridge. During lunch or even o-soji, people hound me. Are you really an albino? Has your hair always been white? Why don’t you just dye your hair black if questions bother you so much? What entitles them to disregard my boundaries?”
Yuji looked almost bewildered by her impassioned rant, staring back at her, and she quickly realized that she had unleashed her annoyances on him. Warmth rushed to her face.
“I don’t know why I’m telling you this.” Hyouka shook her head, embarrassed to have been rambling- to her former bully, no less. “Disregard what I said.”
“Maybe I can keep them away from you.” He proposed, meeting her gaze. “If I’m there, those creeps won’t think about putting their hands on you, right?”
“Do you think that would really deter them?”
“If they tried anything, I’d make ‘em think twice about doing it again.”
“Oh? Are you promoting yourself to guard dog? In the condition you’re in?”
“Shut up before I change my mind.”
“I’m only kidding.” She moved her hand towards him, pinky extended. “Do you promise?”
“Yeah, sure, whatever...” Embarrassed by this seemingly childish gesture, Yuji reached over, reluctantly hooking his finger with hers. It was much tinier than his- maybe half the size of his thumb.
“Pinky swear, whoever lies will be made to swallow a thousand needles.” Hyouka recited.
“Do you have to be so morbid?!” He instantly recoiled, glaring at her.
“What? Don’t you know the vow?” The girl stared back.
“Yeah, and it’s creepy for no reason.”
“Do those things frighten you?” Hyouka smirked.
“I’ve brought your tea!” Grandmother announced, rescuing Yuji from the girl’s teasing. She gracefully approached the table with a rattan tea tray, setting it down in front of them. The aroma was reminiscent of dried seaweed, though there was a hint of fruitiness to it.
“Gyokuro?” Hyouka inquired.
“I thought it would be nice to serve our guest a more exquisite tea, since we host so rarely.” Grandmother sat in seiza next to her.
“This is as much of a treat to me as it is to you.” Hyouka wryly said to him, the corners of her lips twitching upwards.
“I hope you enjoy it, Yuji-kun.” The older woman gave him a warm smile, pouring a cup and handing it to him.
“Thanks.” He accepted it, warily eyeing the liquid.
Hyouka supposed that Yuji wasn’t much of a fan of tea, watching as he took a cautious sip.
“It tastes expensive.”
Grandmother began to softly chuckle at the comment, covering her mouth with her hand.
Even Hyouka was amused by this, though she instead took a sip of tea to camouflage her reaction, lips hidden behind her cup.
“I’m glad you think so, Yuji-kun.” The older woman replied. “Have as much as you’d like.”
As she had afternoon tea with Grandmother, Hyouka found her woes gradually melting away, and for the time being, it did not bother her that Yuji was in her vicinity. She would simply overlook his presence in her living room.
After what he had done for her in her time of need, she realized that his vulgar mouth and his headstrong attitude would prove useful after all.
Perhaps she could get used to this arrangement.