Head Games with Hyouka
Raindrops pelted the top of Hyouka’s umbrella as she walked to school the following Monday morning, trickling down the thin metal prongs. The canopy was a bright red, speckled with a pattern of white polka dots, looking more like something a younger girl would use.
The new school week had brought a few differences to the familiar environment.
It was June first, which marked the seasonal uniform change for schools across the nation. The students of Inukami High School could finally retire their cardigans and long-sleeved button ups to the back of their closets.
It was too bad that rain made Hyouka feel chilly, though she was grateful that it hadn’t become sunny yet. She wouldn’t have to worry about sunburns for a while.
The girl entered the school, lightly shaking the water off her umbrella before closing it and stowing it away in an empty umbrella box. She approached her locker, changing into her school shoes and placing her Mary Janes inside.
“Oh, look who it is, Tanihara!” A male voice jeered.
Hyouka looked up to see Moriyama elbowing Yuji, the group of boys having just arrived at the getabako. Like other male students, they wore short-sleeved white button-ups, but left open. Underneath were brightly colored t-shirts with graphics Hyouka couldn’t make much sense of.
“What has the dog dragged in this time?” She coldly retorted, eyes narrowing.
“Y’know, she’s talking to you.” Ueno smirked. “Gonna keep her waiting?”
Yuji turned towards the girl, his expression odd and not quite decipherable. His brows were furrowed as his lips pressed together in a grimace. He met her gaze for the briefest of seconds, before his small, golden irises darted away.
Hyouka blinked, suddenly feeling rather self-conscious herself. She brought up a hand to run it through her hair and smoothed out her skirt.
After having that twisted nightmare over the weekend, she was already apprehensive about facing Yuji, but why was he the one behaving so oddly? What was his problem?
Well, two could play at that game.
Scoffing, Hyouka spun on her heel, leaving the delinquent trio to loiter by the shoe lockers. She couldn’t be bothered to put up with their snide remarks and jeering looks.
As she passed the first-year classrooms, she remembered her plan to find Natsumi.
The girl stopped in her tracks.
Should she even be looking for her? Last Friday was just a coincidence, after all. But it had been so fun...
Hyouka kept walking, gripping the strap of her bag.
“Natsumi doesn’t want to be friends. She was just trying to be nice.” She told herself, almost believing it. She needed a reason to not seek her out.
Friendship was an unfamiliar thing to Hyouka. Her peers had never been fond of her, no matter where she had gone to school, whether it be due to her condition or due to her unpleasant personality.
As the girl headed upstairs to Class 2-3, she was certain of one thing.
She just didn’t want to end up disappointed.
The late bell had rung just a moment before Yuji had finally entered the classroom, heads turning to stare back at him. Hyouka’s crimson irises bored into him. His narrowed eyes dropped to the ground as he trudged toward his desk, putting his head down without a word.
Yuji had waited until the last possible moment to arrive at class. He felt awkward, doubtful of himself. After a weekend of questioning himself and the truth of his alliance with Hyouka, he wasn’t going to rush facing her again.
He heard Nikaido’s quiet, disapproving sigh, but the man decided to go forward with today’s instruction, rather than lecture him on the importance of arriving on time.
The teacher cleared his throat.
“Today, you will be starting a project on historical Japanese novelists.” Nikaido announced, turning to write key points on the board. “It will be an analysis of the themes in their work, as well as the techniques they utilize to convey their message.”
From the back of the classroom, Yuji let out a hushed groan. Hyouka couldn’t resist the urge to roll her eyes at him.
“You’ll be working in pairs.” Nikaido elaborated, reaching for something behind his podium.
“We get to choose our partner, right?”
“No. They’ll be assigned to you by chance.” He set down a bowl, filled with thin strips of paper. “I’ll pull two names at a time. It’s less tedious that way.”
Yuji groaned again, but this time, he wasn’t the only one displeased by the new assignment. Mumbled complaints began to fill the classroom.
“You’ll be assigned an author as well.” Nikaido retrieved a second bowl, also filled with paper strips. “I don’t want there to be groups who can’t agree on their subject. I also don’t want to be stuck grading ten projects on Junichiro Tanizaki.”
With that, the teacher began pulling names, writing down the group members and their author on his clipboard. Yuji closed his eyes, tuning out his voice until he finally heard his own name.
“Tanihara-kun and Morikawa-san.” Nikaido read, before selecting a strip from the second bowl. “You’ll be doing your project on Osamu Dazai.”
Yuji grunted in acknowledgment, slumped over his desk. He was left conflicted over the matter. He didn’t really have any friends in his class, so Hyouka was at least a familiar presence. As a partner, she was preferable over some kid whose name he hadn’t even bothered to learn.
Or was she?
To put it lightly, things had been less than pleasant before class had started. On both sides, their interactions now seemed strained, uncomfortable even. After drowning in his own thoughts, he was reluctant to see Hyouka again, but he hadn’t expected her to act so cold.
What was her problem?
As if sensing his thoughts, Hyouka glanced over her shoulder at him, her face as expressionless as a noh mask as she met his eyes. Yuji scowled back, before glaring out the window. Hyouka turned to face forward once again.
Maybe this project would be worse than he had thought after all.
At the end of the day, Hyouka and Yuji found themselves in the school library, leafing through its literature selection. Fortunately, most of Dazai’s works were offered, some even having multiple copies.
When class had ended, Hyouka strode right up to the boy's desk, giving him a pointed look.
“Come with me, mongrel.” She had said, pulling her bag over her shoulder and heading for the door.
Yuji had followed her without protest. Perhaps it was just instinct.
Or maybe he had just wanted things to return to normal.
“Wouldn’t it be easier just to look him up online?” Yuji finally muttered, his arms laden with a growing pile of books.
Hyouka glared at him sharply.
“Are you stupid? Articles won’t cut it.” Her finger traced the spine of another novel, before pulling it off the shelf and adding it to the stack. “Nikaido-sensei even told us that we’d need the books for reference.”
The rest of the library could attest to that. Several of their classmates populated the environment, searching the bookshelves and flipping through pages.
“Are you trying to make more work for us? I’m not reading all of these.” Yuji huffed.
“If I’m going to be stuck working with you, I’d rather not be an idiot by association.” The girl retorted. “You can fail on your own, but I refuse to be dragged down with you.”
He rolled his eyes.
“Whatever. Are we done here?”
“Fine.” Hyouka stepped away from the bookshelf, leading Yuji to the checkout desk. The librarian- a small, quaint-looking woman- scanned their books without a word. Hyouka slipped them into her bag, bowing her head.
“Thank you very much.”
With that, the duo left the library. As all classes had ended, they were now free to leave. The walk to the shoe lockers was silent, with Hyouka leading the way.
Surprisingly though, Hyouka didn’t thrust her bag into Yuji’s hands, despite the several books that weighed it down further. However, he definitely wouldn’t complain.
Swapping out her uwabaki for Mary Janes, she closed the small metal door. Yuji stuffed his feet back into his blue high-top sneakers, his hands jammed into his pockets.
While it had been lightly raining that morning, it had grown significantly harder over the course of the day. Students hunkered down beneath their umbrellas, moving slowly as to not splash themselves as water pelted the ground.
Hyouka approached the umbrella boxes at the very front of the school’s entrance, scanning the slots for hers. It was hard to miss, with its vivid red color and cutesy pattern. However, no matter how many times she searched, her umbrella didn’t appear.
“It’s...gone.” She said, stunned.
“Damn, that sucks.” Yuji remarked, an amused tone in his voice. “Somebody who didn’t have one probably stole it.”
It seemed he had regained his usual cocky attitude.
With that, the boy reached for the slot where he had left his own umbrella, which turned out to be empty. His hand hovered above it, frozen.
“Wait, mine’s gone too!” Yuji's eyes darted around to see if he had left it elsewhere, but to no avail. The boy’s eyes widened, before narrowing again.
It had likely been “borrowed” as well.
“Son of a bitch...!”
“Serves you right.” Hyouka replied haughtily. “Next time, maybe don’t be so unsympathetic, you dog.”
“Like you’re one to talk!” Yuji huffed out in annoyance, running a hand through his hair. “This sucks...ugh...”
“I suppose we’ll have to just deal with it.” Hyouka stared out into the rain, as if trying to calculate how soaked she’d get if she hurried home.
Yuji gripped his bag, hesitating before turning towards the girl.
“C’mon. My place is closer to than yours. Let’s go.”
Hyouka gave a curt nod, reaching up to take his arm.
With that, they stepped out into the rain, which came down in cold, rapid streams. Yuji ducked his head, quickly pulling Hyouka along, who hugged her bag to her chest in an attempt to keep it dry.
By the time they reached Yuji’s apartment, their clothes were rather thoroughly soaked. Hyouka would never forgive whoever had stolen her umbrella, shivering as she was blasted by air upon being let inside by Yuji.
The boy dropped his bag to the floor, kicking off his sneakers.
“Stay here, I’m grabbing towels!”
He disappeared deeper into the house, leaving Hyouka alone in the doorway.
She stood there for a moment, stepping out of her shoes. Her socks hadn’t been spared by the water either, uncomfortably wet. She quickly pulled them off as well, glancing around.
The apartment was dim, as Yuji hadn’t thought to turn on a light. Hyouka couldn’t make out much, other than the vague shape of furniture and the fact that it was quiet.
Something fuzzy came to brush against her ankle, causing the girl to jump, startled. At her feet, she found a large calico.
The cat was a striking blend of black, orange, and white, its head tilted and ears pointed towards her. Its round eyes were odd though- one was a brilliant blue, the other a deep gold.
“Oh, looks like Kaiya found you.” Yuji flipped on a light switch, handing Hyouka a towel, one wrapped around his now-bare shoulders. She noted the faint definition of muscle under his skin.
Hyouka quickly averted her eyes from his exposed torso and wrapped the towel around herself, not wanting to ogle him.
“So you have a cat.” She plainly remarked, setting down her bag. “I was almost expecting a dog.”
“Oh, shut up.” Yuji scoffed.
Hyouka ignored him, crouching in front of the feline with outstretched fingers.
“She’s beautiful...” She said softly as Kaiya brushed up against her hand, purring. Yuji watched, looking down at the two.
They were both odd-looking, yet fascinating in their own way.
“Yeah...” He cleared his throat. “Anyways...if you wanna take a shower, go ahead. We can throw your stuff in the dryer.”
“I don’t have spare clothes, though.” Hyouka pointed out.
“Oh, right...” Yuji realized, staring at her small frame. His regular clothes would definitely be huge on her. “I’ll see if I can find something for you to put on. The bathroom’s down the hall.”
“Alright then.” The girl got to her feet, heading deeper into the home. She shut the bathroom door behind her, glancing at her reflection in the mirror above the sink.
Her cold, wet uniform plastered against her skin, the thin white fabric of her shirt nearly made transparent from the amount of water it had endured, almost revealing what she wore underneath. The red ribbons in her hair hung pathetically amongst the flattened white strands that draped around her face, which was flushed from the coldness of the rain.
Hyouka turned away, setting the towel on the counter and undressing, leaving her discarded uniform outside the door. After messing with the shower’s knobs, the water eventually came out hot enough for her. Hyouka hopped in to warm up, sighing in relief.
She had finished and wrapped herself in a towel when a knock came at the bathroom door.
The door opened slightly, allowing just Yuji’s arm to snake through the gap. Gripped in his hand was a blue track jacket and a pair of gym shorts. Something about the sight of them sparked an odd sense of deja-vu.
“Here, put these on. These are the smallest things I’ve got.”
“They’ll do.” Hyouka decided, reaching forward to take the garments. Yuji quickly retracted his arm and closed the door again.
Drying herself off, the girl began to get dressed. The clothes seemed rather familiar, but she couldn’t quite put her finger on it at first. Looking a bit closer at the logo on the chest, her eyes widened as it dawned on her.
It was unmistakably the male gym uniform of their old junior high.
When she put them on, the clothes fit decently, but were still noticeably loose. Back then, Yuji had still been larger than she was now. The sleeves partially covered her hands, and the shorts nearly reached her knees.
But why did he still have these clothes? Did they mean something to him?
Shaking her head, Hyouka exited the bathroom, stepping out into the hallway. He had probably just forgotten to get rid of the old uniform.
She found Yuji in the living room, sat at the kotatsu table and watching something on TV. He nonchalantly glanced up at her, having changed into a t-shirt and a pair of sweatpants. His hair, which had been mussed by the rain, was no longer swept back, instead falling around his face.
“Oh good...they fit.” The boy remarked through a mouthful of chips. Apparently, he didn't think much of her attire.
“More or less.” Hyouka replied, retrieving her bag from by the doorway. Unzipping it, she was relieved to find that its contents had been spared from the downpour of rain, the library books especially.
She sat down across from Yuji, laying the novels out on the table.
“Come on mongrel, it’s time to get to work.”
“Are you bossing me around in my own house?!” He protested. “Gimme a break!”
“We don’t have all week. Don’t be such a child.” Hyouka gave him a sharp look, opening the novel titled Flowers of Buffoonery.
Yuji huffed, wiping the salt off his fingers and reluctantly grabbing No Longer Human from the pile.
“Did we have to get Dazai?” The boy complained. “He just word-vomits all over the page like he’s trying to reach a word count! Get to the point already!”
“Maybe you just don’t understand classic literature.” Hyouka rolled her eyes.
“Can you blame me?! His stuff is so damn depressing and morbid! It gives me the creeps!”
“Just shut up and start reading.” She ordered. Yuji let out a defeated groan, giving in and flipping open the book.
Silence befell the apartment, aside from the low hum of the dryer from nearby and the turning of pages.
“I’m tired of this!” Yuji finally snapped, flopping backwards onto the floor with a thud. “Can we be done yet?!”
Hyouka let out a sigh, rubbing her temples in annoyance.
“I suppose we can take a break for now.” She leaned back slightly, watching Kaiya come to lay down next to Yuji. His eyes were closed as his hand moved to stroke her fur. The cat purred softly, leaning into him. A faint smile played on Yuji's lips.
He looked almost innocent in a restful state like that.
Hyouka turned away, letting her gaze wander the simple expanse of the home. Off-white walls, a dark wood floor, and unassuming furniture. Various papers cluttered the kitchen counter, and the couch sported a few pillows.
She glanced toward something that sat on a small table in the corner- she hadn’t noticed it at first. It was a rectangular wooden box, or rather a cabinet. Its doors were partially shut, obscuring its contents from sight.
Hyouka stood up from the kotatsu table to get a closer look. On the table sat a small vase of white lilies and an incense burner. Within the cabinet were three photographs- two of an elderly couple, and in the center was a younger woman.
Her smooth black hair fell around her shoulders, a calm smile on her face. Her eyes were soft and a rounded-almond shape, with light brown irises.
This was the Tanihara family shrine.
“What're you doing?” Yuji mumbled. He was still sprawled out on the floor, an arm behind his head as he watched her.
“I’m paying my respects.” She calmly replied, kneeling in front of the butsudan. “Who are they?”
“Those are my grandparents...and that’s my mom...”
Hyouka’s eyes widened imperceptibly as she glanced back at him.
“Yeah, she died when I was twelve- right before middle school.” Yuji rolled onto his side.
“What a shame.” Hyouka said softly, suddenly feeling the need to face forward again. “I'm sorry you lost her so young.”
“It’s fine. It was years ago.” He grumbled, resting his head against his arm. “Back then though...I guess I took it pretty hard. I needed a distraction from how I felt, so I became a little shit.”
Hyouka fell silent. Yuji let out a dry, bitter laugh.
“Obviously, you...know all about that.” He swallowed, his Adam’s apple bobbing in his throat. He hesitated before speaking again. “I was a pretty awful kid- troublemaking, bratty, just out of control.”
“That’s just the tip of the iceberg.” Hyouka replied humorlessly. “You were the worst. You...”
There were memories of what he had done that she couldn’t even begin to describe. She didn’t want to think about it, especially there. She refused to put herself in such a vulnerable position in the home of the boy who had tormented her for years.
Yuji stared up at her for a long, silent moment.
“I’m sorry...” He finally said.
“For?” Hyouka felt her heart skip a beat, starting to pound in her chest.
“Taking my feelings out on you.” Yuji averted his gaze. “I...I thought if I made someone suffer more than me, that it’d make me feel better. Then I chose you as my punching bag.”
“I was the perfect target.” The girl clenched her fists, her nails forming crescent moon indents in her palms. “I was alone, emotionally weak, and couldn’t put up a fight.”
“Yeah...you were the person easiest to hurt.”
“You’re a damn coward.” Hyouka spat, her tone venomous.
Yuji ran a hand through his hair, closing his eyes.
“I know. I didn’t want to pick on someone my own size.” He confessed. “I was a bully- plain and simple.”
Hyouka turned around, her brows furrowed as she stared at him. This was the boy who broke her down throughout all of junior high. It was his fault she had become so miserable.
But he was also her only companion, her closest confidant who wasn’t a member of her own family. He had brought her into his modest home, lent her his own clothes, and gave her a spot at his kotatsu table. He had spoken of his late mother, and even apologized for his displaced aggression.
Her garnet eyes drifted to Kaiya, who stared up at her from next to Yuji. Her mismatched gaze stared back curiously, her tail lightly flicking back and forth.
Hyouka’s face softened her gaze dropped, returning to the table and grabbing her bag.
“Let’s wrap things up for tonight...”
Though his past treatment of her was not so easily redeemed by a month’s worth of servitude, Hyouka didn’t know how to feel. Conflicted emotions like resentment and relief clouded her thoughts.
All she knew is that she wanted Yuji to remain at her side.
Yuji knew he would.