Head Games with Hyouka
Malls had always intrigued Hyouka. With familiar stores and an infinite number of items to entice customers, to her, they felt the same regardless of location. They were static, frozen in time, with their florescent lights and laminated floors. All that changed were the people that populated them.
Hyouka sat poised on a bench, her purse resting in her lap as she watched those who wandered between shops, waiting. Yuji would supposedly be meeting her there, as per her request.
Despite the unexpectedly intimate conversation they had shared on Monday, there hardly seemed to be an awkward sentiment between the albino girl and her servant. Things had progressed as they normally did, without tense silence nor uncomfortable eye contact. Together, they had even managed to complete a project of a quality that was at least satisfactory.
Monday’s heavy downpour had been a rather impactful opening act to the beginning of the week, but it hadn't lasted long. Not a drop of rain had fallen from the sky since that day. Instead, that Thursday afternoon had been sunny and cloudless.
Most would celebrate the pleasant weather. Hyouka was just glad that the mall shielded her from its shining rays.
The sound of encroaching footsteps caught her attention. As she glanced over, she was met with the sight of Yuji. He lifted his hand in casual acknowledgement.
“You’re late, mongrel.” Hyouka remarked, rising to her feet and smoothing out her skirt.
Yuji glanced at his watch, only to find that it was exactly 6 PM.
“What do you mean?! I’m here on time!” He jabbed a finger at the dial, his eye twitching in annoyance.
“I’ve always wanted to say that.” The girl smirked faintly, but quickly recomposed herself once more.
He rolled his eyes.
“What are we even doing here anyway?”
“We’re at a mall, mongrel. Obviously, we’re here to shop- there's a lot of stores having sales today.”
“Seriously? Why didn’t you ask Natsumi or your mom to come with you instead?” Yuji scowled. “I’m not really the shopping type.”
Hyouka fell momentarily silent. It lasted just a few seconds, though it felt much longer to her.
Though the week was coming to an end, she hadn’t made any progress in befriending Natsumi. In fact, she continued to stubbornly insist that attempting to would all be in vain. She hadn’t seen her since the day they ate kishimen together. Inviting her to the mall would seem out of the blue.
Hyouka’s mother as well- even away from Kyoto- was busy managing her ochaya. There was rarely a moment when they were able to share leisure time. A rather practical and minimalistic woman, she was hardly someone who enjoyed spending hours shopping.
The girl gave him a sharp look.
“That’s none of your concern.” She finally spoke again, began to walk away, peering over her shoulder at him. “Come on, mongrel, let’s go.”
“Whatever...” Yuji scoffed, running a hand through his hair as he reluctantly trailed behind her. Stuffing his hands into his pocket, he let out a soft sigh.
Hopefully, she didn’t expect him to contribute to her shopping funds.
“Let’s go in here.” Hyouka stopped in front of a boutique, its sign reading Juliette in flowy pink script.
Yuji couldn’t help but wince at the sight. However, after receiving an icy glare, he defeatedly followed Hyouka inside.
With soft classical music and the subtle aroma of flowers wafting through the air, Yuji instantly felt as if he were trespassing. French-style furniture decorated the boutique, befitting of the fashion it catered to. The employees were almost like living dolls, modeling the lolita dresses they sold.
“Bienvenue!” The girl closest to the door greeted, smiling at Hyouka. “Is there anything you’re looking for today, chérie?”
“Nothing in particular, I’m just hoping to find something that catches my eye.” She smiled politely, approaching a rack of dresses.
“Feel free to ask questions!”
Yuji stiffly followed Hyouka, looking as if his tail was quite literally tucked between his legs.
“What’s the matter, mongrel?” She asked, calmly leafing through the frilly garments.
“I feel like a bull in a china shop.” He grumbled.
“Why don’t you have a seat? I’ll come get you when I’m done.”
“Fine...” Yuji trudged over to a couch that looked too expensive to sit on, slouching in it. He closed his eyes, getting comfortable. They’d probably be in there for a while.
After combing through several racks of dresses, Hyouka had found one that appealed to her especially. The girl glanced over at where Yuji had gone to sit, eyes narrowing slightly. He looked half asleep.
Slightly annoyed by this, she slipped a hanger off the metal bar, approaching the boy and shaking his shoulder. Yuji rubbed his eyes, yawning.
“I’m going to try this on now. Come with me.”
“Why do I have to?” He complained.
“Be quiet. Just come.” She ordered, dragging him to the back of the store. He grudgingly followed, leaning his head back.
“Just hurry up...” Yuji groaned.
“Dogs shouldn’t bark at their masters.” Hyouka retorted, stepping inside a changing stall and pulling the curtain shut.
“Yeah yeah, whatever you say, master.” His tone was mocking as he crossed his arms over his chest, leaning against the wall.
She rolled her eyes. As she undressed, she considered hurling one of those heavy-looking lamps at him. However, they were likely rather expensive, so she decided against it.
Hyouka soon pulled back the curtain, stepping out in the new dress.
It was a light blue color, with a skirt that reached mid-calf. There were a few pleats in it, with two thin white stripes at the hem and four buttons at the waistband, a bow tied in the back. The top of the dress resembled a seifuku, with short, slightly puffed sleeves, a white sailor collar, and a neat white bow.
It sat on her petite frame perfectly. The boutique was like a dollhouse, and she was now one of its inhabitants.
“What do you think, mongrel?”
“You’re asking me for fashion advice?” He scoffed, turning towards her. The face he made was something Hyouka had never quite seen before.
His eyes widened at first, his irises practically microscopic against his scleras. Then they narrowed, squinting at her. His lips had parted slightly, before curling in what looked like a cross between a grimace and a sneer. He quickly turned again, his shoulders drawing up stiffly.
Hyouka was confused and definitely offended by his bizarre reaction, even hurt. She glared up at him.
“What was that all about? It’s just a regular dress...”
The boy kept his eyes glued to the wall, refusing to face her again. It was as if he couldn’t bear to look.
“Whatever.” Hyouka scoffed, turning and gripping the curtain. “I suppose I’ll put it back then.”
A hand suddenly latched onto her arm. The girl stiffened, glancing back at him.
“Y-You should get it...” Yuji mumbled, his eyes practically burning holes into the ground from how hard he was glaring at it. Red dusted his cheeks. “Sorry...it looked g-good...”
“Is that really what you think?” She stared back, brows furrowed slightly.
He nodded meekly, letting go of her.
“Alright then.” Hyouka sighed, stepping into the stall and pulling the curtain shut once more.
Yuji quickly shuffled away, leaving the girl to change back into her own attire. He ducked behind a table of small hats, clamping a hand over his burning face and groaning in embarrassment.
“Why did I do that?! What’s wrong with me?!” He inwardly scolded himself, gritting his teeth. The boutique employees pretended not to see him, their eyes looking anywhere else.
Taking a deep breath, Yuji straightened up again, going back to find her. He didn’t have to look far, as Hyouka stood by the checkout counter, the dress draped over her arm. She raised a brow at the sight of him coming out of hiding.
“...Were you looking for something?” She asked, looking up at him as he approached her.
Yuji shook his head, cramming his hands into his pockets.
“N-Nah, not really.” He quickly changed the subject. “So...where to next?”
“Hmm...I want to look at shoes at Bi-Ashi.” She replied, paying for the dress. The clerk carefully packaged and slipped it into a bag, which Hyouka dangled in front of Yuji. He nodded, wordlessly taking it.
With that, they were off to visit the next store. The albino girl led the way, her henchman following not far behind. Bi-Ashi was a stark contrast to what Juliette was. It was very modern and minimalistic looking, with neutral-colored walls and rather futuristic geometric-shaped furniture. The music that played was much more energetic, with a steady beat.
Now that Yuji was in a store selling wares that appealed to him, he went off on his own, the pair splitting up and going their separate ways.
Well, at least he wouldn’t be complaining or falling asleep.
As Hyouka made her way down the aisles, a certain pair of heels caught her eye from the top shelf. They were white and glossy, shining beneath the florescent lights. A simple white bow adorned the ankle straps.
She had to try them on. They were just too cute not to.
They’d match her new dress perfectly.
Glancing around, she hoped to find a stepladder, but it seemed there were none nearby- at least none that were unoccupied. Peering down the surrounding aisles, Yuji was nowhere to be found either.
Huffing, she stared up at the shoes with frustration. They were so close, yet so far. She’d need to retrieve them a different way.
Grabbing onto the edge of the shelf and testing her weight, Hyouka stepped up, beginning to climb it. She was careful not to slip, her eyes narrowed in intense concentration. Just as she was about to grab a shoebox that held her size, she was startled by the sound of someone shouting.
“What the hell do you think you’re doing?!”
A large pair of hands seized her waist, yanking her off the shelf. Hyouka squirmed and thrashed in their grip until her own feet touched the floor.
“Jeez, calm down! It’s just me!”
She whirled around, only to confirm that it was indeed Yuji.
Of course it was him. Who else would manhandle her like that?
“Why were you climbing that shelf like a monkey?! You could’ve fallen!”
Her nose wrinkled at the comparison.
“I wanted to try on a pair of those shoes.” She pointed at them. “There weren’t any spare ladders around, so I decided it would be faster this way.”
“Why didn’t you just ask for help?” Yuji sighed, shaking his head and reaching up to grab a shoebox. “Here.”
“Don’t yell at me, you dog.” Hyouka’s eyes narrowed as she took it from his hands. “For once, you weren’t there when I needed you.”
“Jeez, you’re so ungrateful...” The boy muttered. “Just find me and ask, dammit!”
“I don’t see why you’re complaining. You got to pick me up.” Hyouka slipped off her shoes, pushing them towards Yuji.
“Why would I wanna do that?” He blinked, holding them for her.
“Because I’m so cute.” She replied, gripping his arm for support as she stepped into the heels.
“Yeah, okay, sure.” Yuji scoffed, watching her straighten up again. The shoes had made Hyouka significantly taller, though the top of her head was only at his eye level.
What a shame.
“Hmph.” The girl let go of him, turning and strutting away. However, the shoes were either too large or too tall, causing her to trip. Her surroundings were a rushed blur as she fell forward.
Before she could hit the ground, Yuji’s hand shot forward, catching her by the arm. He tugged her back up, helping her to steady herself.
“I told you that you could’ve fallen!” He told her off. “Jeez, you're such a damn klutz...”
Hyouka was stunned for a few seconds, her eyes wide as she stared up at him. However, she quickly regained her composure despite her still-racing heart.
“Shut your mouth, mongrel.”
“Stop tripping over everything and maybe I will.” He retorted.
“Stupid shoes...” Hyouka scoffed as she stepped on his foot, pulling out of his grip. He felt as if he had been stabbed with an icepick.
“Ouch! What the hell?!” Yuji hopped back, sending her a nasty glare.
“Oops, my bad.” Her tone was monotonous and anything thing but apologetic as she slipped off the high heels, putting them back in the box. Her gaze drifted to the shelves to find a different pair. Maybe a smaller size would be easier to walk in. She was just about to speak, but Yuji beat her to it.
“It’s no wonder you have no friends.” He snarled, walking away.
Hyouka’s eyes widened, feeling a sharp stab at her chest as she watched his retreating back, frozen. He didn’t bother looking back as he stalked off.
He was right, though. She was alone.
But what about Yuji?
He was just there out of obligation, wasn’t he?
His familiar words left a tightness in her chest, heart pounding as she recalled the aftermath of that rumor that he had spread in seventh grade- a warning for others to stay away from her, lest they be cursed. She could recall how he had taunted her for always being alone, while at the same time being responsible for driving her peers away.
It was utterly cruel.
Though tears blurred her vision, Hyouka set her jaw, determined not to break down in public. She clenched her fists, inhaling sharply before walking out of the store, abandoning the shoebox on the ground.
She’d never let him see her cry ever again.
Yuji eventually became tired of looking through sneakers, sighing softly as he stuffed his hands into his pockets. Nothing had really caught his eye- at least, nothing that he could afford. Besides, he was starting to get hungry.
Stepping back from the shelf, he went to find Hyouka again, not thinking much of what he had last said to her. He headed back to the aisle he had left her in, stopping in his tracks.
She wasn’t there.
However, the shoebox still was. Rolling his eyes, he closed the lid, stuffing it back on the shelf and going down the next aisle to see if she was there instead.
No such luck.
Furrowing his brows, he walked a bit faster, checking each of them. Even after practically searching the entire shoe store, Hyouka was nowhere to be found. This annoyed Yuji, causing him to tug his phone out of his pocket to text her.
[Where the hell did you go????]
The boy sat down on a bench, bouncing his leg as he quietly awaited her reply, the Juliette bag still hanging from his arm. Minutes passed, and he still had no response. In fact, it looked as if she hadn’t even read it.
Grumbling to himself, he sent another message.
[Did you run off??]
He received the same outcome- even after waiting, she had yet to open the text.
Yuji gnawed on his lower lip, bouncing his leg faster as his stomach dropped. For some reason, this made him rather anxious- had she really been that bothered by that snarky comment he had impulsively blurted out? Her spoiled brat attitude had finally pushed him to snap back.
Even so, he was starting to worry about her absence.
[Are you okay?]
Cursing to himself under his breath, Yuji got up, hurrying out of the store to go find her. He couldn’t just sit around and wait anymore.
Stepping out into the plaza, it felt significantly more crowded than he remembered. People bustled around, shopping bags swinging from their arms, families and friends sharing benches, and shop employees announcing sales to those who passed by, trying to entice them into making a purchase.
The chaos was overwhelming. To find such a petite girl- even with her striking white hair- would not be an easy feat.
“H-Hyouka!” He called out her name, his voice quickly drowned out by the madness.
Gripping the shopping bag in his hand, he bit his lip, before beginning his search for her.
After fleeing from the shoe store, Hyouka had vanished into the crowds, keeping her head down as she walked briskly, her shoulders tense. Trying to ignore the curious stares in her direction, she managed to duck into a restroom to hide in while she pulled herself together.
The girl pressed her shoulders against the wall, squeezing her eyes shut as she took deep, shaky breaths, trying to repress the trembling of her clenched fists.
She soon stepped forward, gripping onto the sink, staring at her reflection in the mirror before her. Tears had pooled her eyes, threatening to spill down her flushed cheeks. In fact, her whole face seemed to have reddened, a stark contrast to the pale strands of hair that framed it. Her nose felt like it was about to start running.
Hyouka furiously rubbed her eyes with the back of her hand, reaching into her purse to grab her handkerchief. As she did, she noticed her bag vibrating against her hip, her phone’s screen lighting up.
[Three unread messages from Stupid Mutt]
[Two missed calls from Stupid Mutt]
She tried to pretend she hadn’t seen the notifications, retrieving the pink cloth and using it to dab away the evidence of her vulnerability.
Trying to make herself look more presentable, the redness of her face slowly faded as more time passed. She ignored her now more-frequently vibrating phone, busying herself by fixing her hair.
The door swung open as two women entered the bathroom, quietly murmuring to each other.
“What’s that thuggish-looking boy yelling about?”
“It sounds as if he’s on the prowl for someone.”
The girl froze. Could Yuji really be looking for her?
A familiar voice rang out as clear as day, answering her question.
She stiffened, eyes wide.
Yuji was unmistakably calling out to her from nearby.
“Hyouka!” His voice came again.
“What..?” She breathed out, shocked.
The two women noticed the girl’s alarmed reaction, glancing at her. However, they didn’t seem to realize that she was his target.
“Watch out for that loud-mouthed delinquent. He’s sure to cause trouble.” One warned.
Hyouka nodded numbly, staying rooted to her spot.
She wasn’t afraid of Yuji, nor necessarily of having to face him again. Instead, she feared that once she stepped out in front of him, her ice queen act would melt, leaving behind that timid, pathetic girl from years ago.
But she couldn’t just run away anymore. She had to go back.
Sighing deeply, she smoothed out her skirt before finally opening the door and exiting the restroom. She glanced around for the boy, instantly spotting him. Yuji seemed to be in the midst of a heated conversation with a mall security guard. Though most people tried to avoid intervening, others stuck around to watch.
“Like I told you, I’m looking for someone!” Yuji growled, his eyes narrowed. “She’s about this tall, and she has-!” He happened to glance in her direction, his jaw dropping. “There you are!”
Before Hyouka could even attempt to dodge him, he went barreling towards her, his arms firmly caging her against his chest.
“Oh, my...baby!” Yuji forced out. “I was totally worried about you!”
She went rigid in his embrace. His acting was atrocious.
“Play along!” He hissed in her ear, an urgent expression on his face.
Huffing quietly, she wrapped her arms around his midsection, hugging back as the security guard came over to continue his questioning. He turned to the albino girl.
“Do you know this kid?” He stared them down, looking utterly done with his job.
“Yes, he’s with me!” Hyouka chirped, plastering a sweet smile on her face. However, if she was to be dragged into this mess, she was going to do it her way. “I apologize for the trouble he’s caused you! I’ll be sure to keep him on a leash next time!”
Yuji scowled lightly at this but didn’t argue.
“Sorry about that...sir.” He grumbled, resting his chin on Hyouka’s shoulder and looking away.
The man stared down at the pair for a moment, his eyes studying them. Hyouka gently rubbed Yuji’s back as an afterthought, trying to play the role of a loving partner.
“Alright, fine.” With a defeated sigh, the security guard turned to walk away, muttering something about “kids these days.” The curious bystanders finally began to disperse as well.
Yuji waited a few more moments, making sure the coast was clear before releasing the girl and jumping away. Hyouka instantly dropped her fake smile, all too happy to oblige, stepping back and dusting his germs off her clothes.
“Please never audition for anything- ever.” She deadpanned.
Yuji gave her an offended glare.
“Hey, excuse me for being under pressure! That guy was interrogating me like I was on some lame crime show!”
Hyouka rolled her eyes. Now that Yuji was spared, she spun on her heel, ready to leave. The boy seemed to realize this.
She stopped, looking back at him with a blank expression.
“...I’m sorry for earlier.” He mumbled. “I shouldn’t have said that. It was a dick move.”
“You should be sorry. That crossed a line.” Her voice was laced with venom. “Did you really think you could say something like that and get away with it?”
“No...” He muttered, staring at his shoes.
“Were you trying to mock me?”
He shook his head.
“Then what were you trying to do?” She asked dangerously.
“I was just...angry that you don’t appreciate anything I do for you- at all!” He brought a hand to his head, running it through his hair.
“Oh?” Hyouka crossed her arms. “How do you expect me to show it? By kneeling? Kissing your shoes?”
“I dunno, maybe just thank me?!” Yuji gave her an incredulous look before sighing. “Listen, I’m here because you asked me to be. I just...I just want some recognition for what I do for you...”
“Why?” She looked away. “Do you actually even care about me, or do you just see me as an opportunity to clear your conscience?”
“I do now!” He confessed, his foxlike eyes piercing into hers. “It started out that way, but it’s not like that anymore!”
Hyouka seized the front of his shirt, pulling him to her level as her eyes narrowed.
“Hyouka Morikawa.” He shot back, his hand curling around her wrist.
“You’re a reckless, insensitive, and cowardly dog.” Hyouka spat.
“And you’re a bratty, selfish, cold-hearted tyrant.”
“Even so..." Her grip tightened. "...I'm glad to always have you at my side."
Yuji's eyes slightly widened, but he firmly set his jaw, his hand clasped around hers.
"...Me too. I'm not going anywhere."
Hyouka regarded him momentarily, before letting go of his shirt and instead taking his arm.
“Come with me.”
“We’re getting ice cream.” She glanced away, pulling him towards the shop by the food court. “...It’s my thanks to you.”
“Y-You’re actually thanking me?!” Yuji gawked, remembering his hunger. “What for?”
“For coming with me today. I also apologize for stepping on your foot.” She looked back at him, her face lightly flushed. “Don’t make me change my mind, dog.”
With that, she led the way.
Upon reaching the small ice cream parlor, they joined the line in front of the counter. Yuji awkwardly stood behind Hyouka, feeling out of place amongst the pastel colors and sugary sweet decorations.
He didn’t even realize it was their turn to order until the girl tugged on his arm.
“What flavor do you want?”
“Uh...mint chocolate.” He replied.
“One strawberry and one mint chocolate sundae, please.” Hyouka reached into her purse to pay. Being treated to something by the girl felt odd, but Yuji wouldn’t complain about it.
After being presented with their small sundae glasses, the pair made their way to the topping station. Bowls sat in rows, filled with sprinkles, candies, nuts, and small pieces of assorted fruits.
“Have you been here before?” Hyouka calmly asked, sprinkling crushed cookie pieces over her ice cream.
“Not that often, but yeah. Why?” Yuji set down the ladle for hot fudge sauce.
“You seemed rather uneasy being here.”
“It’s just...this place looks like a fairy threw up in it...” He rubbed the back of his neck. “I don’t really belong somewhere like this. If someone in our class saw me, they’d probably think weirdly of me.”
“I thought you didn’t care about what people thought.” The girl remarked, looking up at him. "It's just ice cream."
“I don’t!” He grimaced, averting his gaze. “But I mean, it goes against the impression people have of me! I have a reputation to uphold, y'know!”
“Aren’t those your friends over there?” Hyouka asked without looking. Yuji jumped, whirling around.
“I was only kidding.” The corners of her lips twitched imperceptibly.
“Hyouka, you-!” He brandished a fist.
“I didn’t realize we were on a first-name basis, mongrel.” She meticulously placed a sliced strawberry on the peak of her sundae. “You were calling me that earlier, too.”
His eyes widened. He hadn’t even noticed.
“Oh, my bad, I didn’t-”
Hyouka held up a hand to silence him.
“It’s fine. I suppose you’ve finally earned that right...Yuji.” She picked up her sundae glass, strutting off to a small round table and taking a seat. The boy stood there for a moment, stunned, before grabbing his own dessert and sitting across from her. She rested her chin on her hand, regarding him calmly.
Even as Yuji began shoveling ice cream into his mouth, she was sure that the tips of his ears had turned red.
Hyouka found that endearing.