Head Games with Hyouka
Hyouka’s heart raced in her chest as she stalked the halls of Inukami High School, her footsteps thudding against the linoleum floor. Her composure was reminiscent of an oyabun, causing other students to make an effort to avoid her path, despite her petite stature.
Her jaw was set firmly as she approached the vending machines of the second floor, where a familiar trio loitered, squatting yanki style and talking in rather loud voices.
“Mongrel.” She uttered sharply.
“Huh?” Yuji glanced over his shoulder, seeing Hyouka standing behind him, a wrapped bento box in each hand.
“I made too much lunch by accident, so you can have the extras.” Her face was rather serious for such a mundane situation, eyes almost glaring down at him. “You’d better help me eat it.”
His eyes widened at this.
“Sure.” Yuji looked slightly confused by the intense expression on her face, straightening up to his full height. He hadn’t remembered to bring anything to eat that day, so he definitely wouldn’t object, especially since they had gym class later.
“Hey, what about us?” Ueno huffed. “Where’s our food?”
“Yeah, what’s up with this favoritism bullshit?” Moriyama scowled.
“I only feed my own dog, not his stray friends.” Hyouka coldly replied, handing Yuji one of the bentos and grabbing his arm. “If you want lunch, then I expect you to open your wallets.”
“Well, see ya later.” Yuji bid them goodbye, lifting his free hand to wave, before being tugged back towards their shared classroom. “Hey, slow down!”
“It’s not my fault you can’t keep up.” The girl glanced up at him with indifference.
“What’s up with you?!” He asked as they rounded the corner, disappearing from sight.
“Why are you barking at me so loudly?”
Yuji scoffed, their voices slowly fading from earshot.
“I can’t believe Tanihara’s ditching us for that Morikawa girl again.” Ueno sourly watched them leave, eyes narrowing. “First Tachibana decides to eat lunch with his girlfriend, and now he runs off?”
“I mean, it’s for free food.” Moriyama shook his head, his brown hair unruly. “Can’t say I’m surprised. I’d ditch too.”
“Yeah, me too probably. But they have such a weird relationship...”
“I know right?! He's like a dog on a leash! Why does he let her boss him around?!”
“Who knows?” Ueno smirked slyly. “Maybe that’s his kink.”
“Dude!” Moriyama snickered at the suggestion, slapping his knee.
Inside Class 2-3, it was noticeably busy even as some students left for club duties. Desks were pushed together to form several large makeshift tables, a loud hum of chatter in the air.
Hyouka let go of Yuji’s arm as they entered, calmly striding over to her own seat. The boy followed, taking the desk in front of hers and scooting it closer. He turned the chair around, sitting down in it.
“Thanks for the food.”
She hummed, unwrapping the handkerchief around her bento.
The boy quickly followed her lead, unwrapping the one he had been given and removing the lid. His eyes widened and his mouth watered at the sight.
The small plastic box was filled to the brim with food. Inside the main compartment sat three large rice balls, each wrapped in a strip of seaweed. There was a healthy helping of baked chicken karaage, with two rolled omelets nestled next to it, and spicy edamame. A small serving of yam cake was on the side.
Yuji immediately dug into the meal as Hyouka calmly watched him inhale it.
“Do you like my cooking?”
He nodded furiously, the amount of food stuffed in his mouth preventing him from even speaking.
“You eat so messily, dog. I thought I trained you better.” She rolled her eyes, leaning over and grabbing his chin. Her fingers were icy as she wiped the sides of his mouth with her handkerchief.
His eyes bugged out and he made a strangled sound in the back of his throat, roughly swallowing and pulling away.
“I-I’m not a little k-kid!” He managed to say through a coughing fit, cheeks reddening.
The girl looked mildly repulsed.
“Even children have better table manners than you.” Her red eyes bore into his. “You need to be taught thoroughly.”
“Sh-Shut up Hyouka!” His face was on fire and he felt as if the entire classroom was staring right at him- an embarrassing thought.
Grumbling to himself, he continued to shovel food into his mouth so he could soon make his escape from their judging eyes.
The girl averted her gaze.
“I still have leftovers...if you want more tomorrow, that is.” She said softly.
“Really?” Yuji uncharacteristically perked up, as if forgetting how disgruntled he had just been. “Thanks, I can’t wait!”
She nodded, quietly eating the contents of her own bento box. It didn’t take much longer for the boy to finish his, wiping his lips on the back on his hand.
“That was really good, thanks again.” He shoved the desk back into its original position, fixing the chair.
Hyouka nodded again, busying herself with her lunch.
“You good?” His small irises stared down at her.
“Don’t you have friends waiting for you?” She dismissively waved a hand, looking up at him. “I’m fine. Run along now, mongrel.”
"Oh, right. Yeah, I guess I’ll see you later then.” He put his empty bento box back on her desk, heading out.
The door slid shut behind him. Hyouka let out a soft sigh.
She had lied.
In truth, she hadn’t accidentally made too large of a lunch. It was all rather intentional. Each evening, she and her grandmother spent time in the kitchen together cooking for the following day.
“Grandmother, I’d like to make a bento for someone.” Hyouka had quietly said as they retrieved the ingredients from the refrigerator.
“Oh, of course.” The elderly woman had smiled, ruby eyes glinting curiously. “What’s the occasion?”
“....I just want to.”
“Say, Tanihara, how long have you been going out with Morikawa-san?”
“Huh?!” Yuji’s neck almost cracked as he turned to look at the boy next to him, pupils shrinking in shock. He felt as if the whole locker room was paying close attention to this interaction.
“Never would’ve guessed that you two would become an item!”
“I mean, they’re always together, so it was bound to happen sooner or later.” Another boy countered.
“W-Wait a damn second!” Yuji hollered, his brows furrowed in confusion. “Where the hell did you get that idea?!”
“It’s pretty obvious- you guys are practically glued to each other’s side.”
“Yeah, and didn’t she make you a bento? Must be pretty serious already!”
“Damn, you’re so lucky!” Souda whined. “I wish I had a girlfriend who’d do that for me...”
“Cut that out! You’ve got it all wrong!” Yuji insisted, brandishing a fist. “Jeez, you’re gossiping like a group of middle-aged housewives!”
“What’s not to get? Seems pretty cut and dry to me.”
“Yeah, definitely. If you’re embarrassed, just say so.”
“No!” His cheeks burned. “It’s just a stupid bento! What about it?! She made too much food, so I got the rest! End of story!”
“Is that really the best excuse you can come up with?” A few of them snickered quietly. “That’s hilarious!”
“I swear, that’s what she told me!” The boy argued, changing into his gym uniform.
“What about how she was touching your face? Plenty of the class saw that, y’know.”
“With her own handkerchief!”
“And delicate hands!” Souda added.
Yuji’s cheeks felt like they were on fire after realizing that several people did indeed witness that event. He was ready to lock himself in his gym locker for the rest of the week.
“Dammit, i-it's not like that! I had sauce by my mouth, so she got it off for me!”
“That’s still a pretty intimate thing to do with Morikawa-san- she's never that close to anybody!” There were some mutters of agreement following that statement.
Yuji had heard enough, slamming his locker shut.
“We’re not dating, you morons! Get it through your thick skulls already! We’re just friends!” The word felt unfamiliar on his tongue as soon as it left his mouth, but he was already storming out of the locker room, leaving a crowd of dumbfounded, half-naked boys in his wake.
Upon stepping outside, the heat hit him like a slap in the face. The other students who were already there were fanning themselves, beads of sweat dotting their skin. Yuji huffed softly, tugging at the collar of his t-shirt as more of his classmates trailed out of the locker rooms to join the group.
Followed by a small group of other girls, Hyouka was one of the last ones to come outside.
Unlike the t-shirts and shorts everyone else had donned, she was wearing her winter gym uniform- a red track jacket and matching pants. Her long white hair was swept up into a single ponytail in a futile attempt to stay cool despite the aggressive temperature.
“Why’s she dressed like that in this weather?” He heard someone whisper to their friend, and he had the same question. There was no way she hadn’t been aware of the weather. It was even hot that morning.
“Alright class!” The gym teacher, Shimada, spoke up. He was a large, somewhat imposing man, with tanned skin, impressive muscles, and close-cropped hair. “Today, unfortunately, the gymnasium is having its AC repaired!”
Weakened groans filled the air.
“So we’re stuck outside in this heat?!” Someone complained.
“It must be a new record high temperature!” Another person joined in.
“Now now, I’m not a monster!” The man declared with a grin. “I won’t make you scale Nagoya Castle with weights strapped to your backs! But it’s important to stay active, so I’m only making you do four laps around the track!”
“Only?! Shimada-sensei, that’s practically a mile!”
“We’re gonna die of heatstroke out here!”
“Can’t we just sit out this once?”
“No buts! Start running!” He pointed at it with conviction. “Whoever finishes first gets to enjoy the AC in my office!”
That seemed to be enough to motivate a handful of students to sprint towards the track, the rest of Class 2-3 trudging behind them with sallow expressions, reluctantly joining the race.
“Jeez...no wonder everyone says he’s ex-military...”
“Talk about brutal...”
“Why couldn’t our school have a pool?”
Hyouka, surprisingly enough, was one of the few people who were actually putting their all into running. She was ready to do practically anything to get out of the blistering heat early and sit in a cool room until the end of the day, as sweat trickled down her forehead.
The heat really was extreme, the sun mercilessly beating down on their backs. Within the first 20 minutes, most of the students had to pause their laps to drink water and take a break. Even Yuji realized that achieving Shimada’s ultimatum was futile, panting as he sat on the ground, trying to catch his breath.
“Dude, what lap are you on?”
“Only three.” He sighed.
“I can’t believe those three have been running this whole time...” Someone muttered defeatedly.
“Well, Yamamura and Takagi are both on the track team.”
“Yeah, but how’s Morikawa-san keeping up with them? I’ve never seen her try this hard in gym before!”
Yuji’s head shot up at the sound of Hyouka’s name, his eyes searching the track for her. She wasn’t hard to spot, her bright red tracksuit sticking out like a sore thumb amongst those dressed in seasonally appropriate attire.
Though she looked exhausted, she was still going, head lowered from the sun as she staggered forward. The two boys from the track team were ahead of her, yet she persisted.
“Wow, Tanihara.” Someone elbowed him, wiggling their eyebrows. “What do you think about that?”
“Obviously it’s impressive!” He huffed, waving them off. “Don’t-”
He was cut off by a loud thump.
Hyouka had tripped, scrapping her hands against the track as other students hurried past her. The ground was burning hot against her stinging palms as she slowly pushed herself to stand again, breathing heavily. As she begun to push herself forward, her body swayed.
“Is she gonna be okay?” A different classmate whispered.
“I dunno, I think she might pass out.”
The albino cursed herself and whoever had passed her, feeling humiliated to have fallen flat on her face right in front of the whole class. Clenching her jaw, she tried to ignore the throbbing of her headache. Her vision was coming in and out of focus, and her clothes only contributed to the overwhelming heat enveloping her.
Stumbling forward, she barely caught herself this time.
The finish line was so close, yet so far. She couldn’t give up now, even if there were others ahead. She just had to catch up to them.
But it was all in vain.
Hyouka finally collapsed, just as she faintly heard the high-pitched blow of a whistle. A weak groan fell from her lips as she tried to get up again, but failed to find the strength, her eyes closing.
Yuji felt his heart drop to his stomach as he jumped to his feet, eyes wide.
“Oh my god!”
“She really passed out!”
There was a deafening pounding of footsteps as people hurried to see what was going on. The gym teacher was the first one to her side, crouching down and carefully turning her over. The girl's face was flushed a bright red, almost rivaling her tracksuit. Her lips parted as she panted, her chest shallowly rising and falling.
Through her eyelashes and darkening vision, Hyouka could barely make out the silhouettes of people standing above her. She slowly moved a hand to shield her eyes from the sun, grimacing.
“She’s still conscious.” Shimada looked up at his students, his expression now stony and serious. “I can’t leave the rest of you out here alone, so I need someone to bring her to the nurse before her condition worsens.”
There was only a brief moment of hesitation.
“I’ll take her!” Yuji blurted out, crouching down next to the gym teacher.
“Get there fast, but don’t jostle her around too much.” Shimada instructed.
“I know!” The boy carefully hooked his arm behind Hyouka’s knees, hoisting her up. She was rather light in his grip as she slumped against his chest, dropping her hand from her face.
Their classmates stepped out of his way as he hurried towards the main building of the school, his heart pounding with adrenaline, helping him to push back the soreness of his own legs. Glancing down at her red, strained face only made his chest tighten in worry.
Yuji reached the nurse’s office sooner than he expected, the obstacle of carrying a girl in his arms slowing him down somewhat. With his hands being too full to open the door, he kicked it.
The door slid open, revealing a slightly annoyed-looking woman. However, her expression dropped at the sight of Hyouka in his arms.
“Put her down there, I’ll take a look.” Nurse Ishikawa stepped back to let Yuji inside, pointing to a vacant cot.
Yuji did as instructed, gently laying her down on the small bed, standing above her. The woman quickly moved to her side, instantly taking note of her brightly flushed skin and still rapid breathing.
“What happened in gym class?” She asked, taking Hyouka’s temperature, noticing their uniforms.
“We were running the track and she ended up collapsing!” Yuji’s brows had knitted together.
“In this weather?!” She shook her head, sighing in annoyance. “I’ll need to speak to Shimada-san about this...she's 102 degrees.”
“102?!” His eyes bugged out.
“She has pretty extreme heat exhaustion.” The nurse identified, pointing to her desk. “I keep water bottles under there. Grab me a few.”
“G-Got it!” He jumped, hurrying to do as she said. “Is she gonna be okay?!”
“She didn’t hit her head, did she?”
“I don’t think so...”
“She should be fine. We just need to get her cooled down. Pour those bottles into that bucket and soak some of those towels in it.”
The nurse slowly guided Hyouka into a sitting position, unscrewing the lid and putting a water bottle in her hands. The girl wordlessly brought it to her lips, her red eyes half-lidded and hazy.
“What’s your name and class?” Nurse Ishikawa asked her.
“Hyouka Morikawa...Class 2-3.” She mumbled.
“Morikawa-san, why were you running laps dressed like this?” The nurse gestured to her tracksuit. “It’s the hottest day we’ve had this year so far. Don’t you have your summer gym uniform?”
Her gaze dropped to her lap.
“I’m albino, so I burn really easily in the sun...sometimes, sunscreen isn’t enough.”
“Were you taking breaks from running? Drinking water?”
She shook her head, eyes cast downwards as her vision slowly cleared again.
“It’s necessary to take precautions so this doesn’t happen again. I’m sure you gave everyone a scare, not to mention that you could’ve come down with heatstroke, which is much more serious.”
“Uh...I think the towels are ready.” Yuji spoke up, wringing the excess water out of one.
“Alright, good.” The nurse turned towards him. “Bring her belongings here, including her school uniform. We need to get Morikawa-san out of these clothes so she can cool down faster.”
“A-Alright.” The boy quickly left the room, disappearing down the corridor, the door slamming shut behind him.
Nurse Ishikawa pulled the curtains closed around Hyouka’s bed to help her undress.
The girl lay back against the cot in her undergarments, the damp towels placed over her body and cooling her skin. A few pillows beneath her legs elevated them above heart level.
It didn’t seem to take long for Yuji to return, her bag slung over his shoulder and her uniform tucked under his arm. He was breathing a bit heavily as he opened the door. He seemed to have run back.
Hyouka turned her head slightly, watching their shadows move from the other side of the white curtain.
“Thank you very much.” Nurse Ishikawa accepted Hyouka’s belongings from him, setting them on a bedside table. “She’ll be cooling down and resting up for the rest of the day, so you’re free to go back to class.”
“Man, do I have to?” He seemed to wipe the sweat from his forehead. “It’s so hot out there!”
The nurse handed him a water bottle, shaking her head.
“You’ll need to go back to change and grab your own things regardless. The school day is nearly over. Run along now.” She waved him off.
“Ugh, fine...” The boy turned to face where Hyouka lay. “I’ll be back later though, so don’t go anywhere, got it?!”
“Whatever you say.” She mumbled, shutting her eyes again.
With that, Yuji was gone, leaving her to regain her energy.
Hyouka’s stay in the infirmary was quiet and uneventful. Nurse Ishikawa wasn’t the type to talk her ear off and stuck to doing paperwork, which she greatly appreciated.
However, Hyouka was less than pleased when she was told that a guardian would have to be called and informed about her unfortunate incident. She dreaded the idea of her parents overreacting to the news, as if she were on the brink of death.
Luckily, her grandmother didn’t freak out too severely when told of her heat exhaustion.
“I really am alright, Grandmother.” She let the phone rest against her cheek. “Honestly, I feel much better than I did earlier.”
“Could you please have a friend walk you home today? I’d feel better knowing that if you felt faint, there’d be someone to help you.”
Hyouka grimaced. Such a request made her feel pitiful.
The call ended soon after that, leaving her to spend the rest of her stay lounging around. Outside the nurse’s office, she could hear students participating in the daily cleaning period, their casual chatter muffled by the walls.
Though she doubted that they were her classmates, it reminded her of how people were sure to gossip about what had happened that day, causing her to scowl up at the ceiling. It was enough of a blow to her ego to nearly pass out in front of her entire gym class while running the track in an attempt to win air conditioning privileges.
It was humiliating, in fact.
The idea that over two dozen people had seen her sprawled out on the ground, red-faced and panting like an animal and probably stinking of sweat was horrifying indeed. That was all without the added bonus of Yuji hauling her to the infirmary like some sort of tragic damsel in distress.
If only he had dropped her on her head on the way there and accidentally killed her. At least it would have spared her remaining dignity.
Hyouka was then forced to remember what else had happened earlier that afternoon- the bento incident.
In the locker room, she was practically interrogated by her classmates about her alleged “relationship” with Yuji, complete with plenty of giggles and exchanged glances.
All she had meant by that bento was that she was grateful for what he had done for her- even if she didn’t tell him to his face and claimed she just wanted to dispose of her leftovers. It hadn’t even dawned on her that their peers would see it as a romantic gesture. Maybe she shouldn’t have offered to give him another one the following day.
He had seemed really pleased with it though...
As the final bell rang throughout the school, Hyouka decided it was time to get ready to leave. Removing the damp towels from her body, she slowly sat up and begun putting her uniform back on. Combing out the tangles in her hair, she tied it up in her usual style, slipping her school shoes back on her feet.
“Are you feeling well enough, Morikawa-san?” Nurse Ishikawa glanced towards her. “Any dizziness? Any problems with your vision?”
“I’m alright. I feel fine.” The albino girl assured her as she stood up, bowing. “Thank you very much for helping me today.”
“Certainly. Take care of yourself next time.” She dipped her own head in a bow. “I’ll have a word with Shimada-san about how he conducts his classes on days like these. I don’t plan on letting something like this happen again.”
“Very well. Goodbye, Ishikawa-sensei.” Hyouka shouldered her bag, stepping out into the corridor.
Outside the infirmary, the halls were alive with students. Some loitered around to chat, while others retrieved their shoes from the getabako and left. Club members were heading to their clubrooms, some carrying sports equipment cases.
The girl walked towards her own locker, avoiding the eyes of whoever happened to glance her way. She stepped back into her Mary Janes, slipping her uwabaki back inside and shutting the small door. She had just turned to head outside when she heard a voice.
“There you are!”
Whirling around, she found Yuji there in his school uniform, a finger accusingly pointing at her.
“You were trying to leave without me, weren’t you!? I told you not to go anywhere!”
“I wasn’t aware that I had to follow my own dog’s orders.” She retorted.
“Oh, shut up!” The boy was quick to stuff his feet into his own sneakers, slamming the locker door shut. “I’m walking you home!”
“No, you’re not.”
“I’m not gonna let you just pass out in the middle of the street, Hyouka!”
“I’ve recovered considerably.”
“I don’t care! I’m coming with you!” Yuji huffed.
Hyouka glared at him for a moment, before holding her bag out to him.
“Fine.” She scoffed. “But we’re stopping for ice cream first, you dog.”
“Fine! Let’s go!” He barked back, snatching the straps from her hand and stalking away. Rolling her eyes, Hyouka trailed behind him.
Despite her annoyance at him, it touched her to know that Yuji wanted to ensure she got home okay.
To Yuji’s surprise, instead of stopping by a convenience store to buy a couple of ice cream bars, Hyouka instead took him towards the mall.
“Are we really going to that shop? This is so out of our way!”
Hyouka glanced up at him with little expression.
“You’re free to run along if it bothers you that much.” She replied plainly.
“No, it’s fine...” He muttered, running a hand through his hair as they walked along the busy street.
Eventually, they were at the mall, with Sweetness Ice Cream Shoppe coming into view. It appeared the same as it had last time, with large, saccharine decorations and glacé pastel walls. The sickly cuteness was overwhelming yet entrancing.
This time, instead of sundaes, the pair ordered small ice cream cups, sitting at a booth to eat them. With the summer heat clinging to them, it didn't take long for them to finish.
“How did you like it, mongrel?” Hyouka's chin rested upon her hand, garnet eyes regarding him calmly.
“I-It’s good...” Yuji mumbled, his gaze downcast.
“Why are you acting so shy?” She inquired, twirling her spoon.
“Does it fluster you that much to be in this ice cream parlor?” Hyouka seemed unfazed. ”We’ve come here before. It’s not that serious.”
“Last time we were here, I told you how weird it’d be if someone saw me!”
“Aren’t those your friends over there?”
“I’m not falling for that again!” The boy shot her a dirty look. Hyouka rolled her eyes at this.
“I’m being serious.” She glanced out the window. Yuji uneasily followed her gaze.
In an instant, his heart dropped to his stomach and his eyes bugged out.
Outside the ice cream parlor stood Ueno, Moriyama, and even Ryuhei. The latter was grinning and waving as if nothing were out of the ordinary, but the former two looked like they were struggling to suppress the urge to burst out laughing. Moriyama had his cellphone out, aimed at them.
Hyouka scowled, her gaze murderous. Heat rushed to Yuji’s cheeks as he looked away, his heart rapidly palpitating in embarrassment.
Before he knew it, the trio had made their way inside the establishment, striding up to their table.
“Hey Yu! Didn’t think we’d run into you here!” Ryuhei greeted earnestly, his large blue eyes glinting with mirth. “Oh, and you too, Morikawa-san! I heard about what happened in gym- are you alright?”
“Hello.” Hyouka replied curtly, a sour expression on her face. It seemed the news had spread. “Yes, I’m fine...”
“H-Hey..!” Yuji stammered, pressing a hand to his burning face. “Wh-What’s up?”
“Oh, we came to check out that new karaoke place!”
“Yeah, we were gonna ask you if you wanted to join us.” Ueno remarked, the trace of a smirk on his face. “But it looks like you’re kinda busy, huh?”
“I’ll say.” chimed in Moriyama. “Are you guys on a date? You two seem to be all anyone’s been talking about today! The new hot topic!”
“For real.” Ueno chuckled softly.
It seemed Hyouka’s incident wasn’t the only thing people were discussing after all.
“No! Are you guys seriously believing that shit?!” Yuji made a face that was a cross between horror and annoyance. “Gimme a break! It’s all a stupid misunderstanding!”
“Anyways, about karaoke.” Ryuhei graciously changed the subject to spare him. “Did you wanna tag along with us? They’ve got a 25% off deal for a two hour session!”
Yuji’s eyes flitted between his friends, and then landed on Hyouka. He wasn’t normally one to pass up on a good deal when going out, but would it really be alright to abandon her after he had been so insistent on taking her home?
The albino girl stared back at him, her expression difficult to decipher.
“I gotta bring her home first.” He replied, nodding in Hyouka’s direction. “I’ll swing right back here though, so make sure you guys lemme know what room you’re in!”
“Aw, okay! See ya in a bit then, Yu!” Ryuhei lifted a hand in a relaxed waved, grinning back at him. “C’mon, you two.”
“See ya later, Tanihara.” Ueno and Moriyama bid their goodbyes as well, following the other boy out of the ice cream parlor. As they finally left, Yuji let out a half sigh, half groan, burying his face in his arms.
“You could’ve gone with them, mongrel.” Hyouka spoke up, lightly flicking the top of his head with her thumb and index finger.
“Yeah, I know.” His voice was slightly muffled, before he lifted his head again. “But I’ll be coming back right after I drop you off, so it’s whatever. I gotta blow off steam anyway, so...”
“Whatever you say.” She replied, gazing at him. The corners of her lips were slightly downturned, and her scarlet irises held an uncharacteristic glint of apprehension.
Yuji couldn’t help but stare back. He didn’t say anything though, feeling the need to avert his eyes.
“Are you ready to go?” Hyouka spoke up again, grabbing her empty ice cream cup and spoon from the table.
“Sure.” He agreed quickly, getting to his feet and grabbing his own utensils.
The duo left the ice cream shop after discarding their cups, heading out of the mall’s plaza. It wasn’t as busy that day, but there were still plenty of people bustling around, from parents with small children to other teenagers hanging out. There was a noticeable buzz of chatter and footsteps throughout the shopping center.
However, upon making their exit, a growing silence hung throughout the air as they walked together. It remained that way for a long time, until they were roughly five blocks away from their destination.
“So, what was the deal with you earlier?” Yuji spoke up, glancing down at Hyouka.
“What do you mean?”
“You were acting weird about me taking you home. It’s not like I haven’t done it before, y’know.”
“It really wasn’t necessary.” She replied coolly. “Like I said, I’ve recovered considerably. I could make it just fine on my own.”
Yuji stopped dead in his tracks.
“Do you think I’m that stupid?” He muttered.
“I know it’s not just that, Hyouka!” His gold eyes flared in annoyance. “There’s obviously more on your mind! You’ve been dead silent ever since we left!”
“I could say the same about you. Don’t jump to conclusions, mongrel.” She stopped as well, facing ahead. “Does it even really matter? I thought you would’ve been glad to be let off your leash for once.”
“Are you kidding me?! You practically almost died in gym today! I’m not gonna let you go by yourself! What if you had a weird side-effect and passed out alone?! How would your grandma feel if you didn’t come home tonight?!”
That seemed to strike a nerve.
“Don’t you dare bring her into this.” Hyouka said venomously, glaring back at him.
“Are you gonna say I’m wrong?! I know I’m not! Just let me fucking help you! I’m always doing that anyways, so what’s got your panties in a twist now?!”
“This is different!” The girl snapped, her voice louder than its usual stoic tone.
“Haven’t you noticed how people are talking about us now? Even your less-than-observant friends picked up on that.”
“What the hell are you talking about?”
“The rumors, you stupid mutt.” Hyouka sneered at him. “Everyone is gossiping about us. They think we’re a couple because we’re always together. The gym incident certainly didn’t do us any favors.”
“Are you seriously upset about that?!” Yuji gave her an incredulous look. “You literally passed out! Am I not supposed to take you to the nurse?! Stop being so ungrateful!”
“This isn’t just about me! What about your reputation?!”
His eyes widened- not only by her shocking outburst of emotion, but by what she had said.
“What does this have to do with me?!”
“You’re the one who cares oh-so-much about what impression people have of you! Your own reputation is affected by people thinking we’re together- always walking with me, ditching your friends for me, getting ice cream with me, even eating my stupid bento!”
“So what?!” Yuji clenched his jaw, fists balling up.
“How can you say so what?! I’m trying to do what’s best for you- for once!”
“How do you know what’s best for me?!
She was quickly interrupted.
“You know what?! I don’t give a shit about what people say about us!” He shook his head. “I like eating at that stupid fairy-looking ice cream shop with you! I still hang out with the guys when I’m free! But we’re friends too, you dumbass!”
Hyouka felt her heart skip a beat, her lips parting in shock.
She wasn’t ready to back down just yet, though.
“Aren’t you forgetting that everyone else thinks we’re more than just friends?” The word felt unnatural on her tongue. “I gave you a bento! Even if it doesn’t matter to you, other people have the wrong-”
“It does matter to me!” Yuji cut her off, glaring at the ground. “It...It made me really happy! Ever since I lost my mom, no one’s ever made one for me!”
Hyouka stiffened. She hadn’t thought of that.
“So like, I don’t care what people think it means!” The boy furiously wiped at his eye, staring straight at her. “Like I said, we’re friends! That means I gotta help you out when you need it- like now!”
“Don’t patronize me. I don’t need your pity.” The words came out like second nature. She hadn’t even realized she spoke them until she saw Yuji’s face harden. Turning to walk away, she instantly felt the his hot palm snatch her wrist, gripping it almost painfully.
“I’m not! God, just stop being so damn stubborn, Hyouka!”
"You’re one to talk.“ She haughtily retorted, jaw set firmly. “Let go of me, mongrel.”
“Listen to me!” His eyes flared as he spun her to face him. “You’re still recovering, and I already said that I don’t care about the rumors! So what the hell are you so afraid of accepting help for?!”
“That’s none of your business, you dog.” The girl tried to pull her arm away, tenaciously refusing to meet his gaze.
Yuji was beyond pissed at this point.
Their bags fell to the ground as he lunged forward, seizing Hyouka’s other wrist and gripping her firmly, eyes burning with anger and irritation.
“Hey!” The girl's heart raced at his sudden roughness, his hands like large shackles against her wrists. Being so close and unable to turn away, she had little choice but to look up at him.
It was then that Hyouka realized how frightening Yuji could appear.
His eyes were intense, those golden sanpaku irises like small dots on his scleras. The way his brows furrowed left a harsh crease between them. With his teeth bared, she could see the points of his prominent canines. In the glow of the setting sun, she felt like a small white rabbit trapped beneath a wild fox.
However, she wouldn’t let on what she was thinking.
Hyouka put on a mask of apathy, silently staring up at him as her heart anxiously pounded.
“So you’re all for having me do favors for you until you actually need help?!” His grip tightened as he shook his head. “Make it make sense, Hyouka!”
“So what? It’s worked out for me just fine so far.” She countered.
“You’re always being too damn prideful! Gimme a break already!”
“Why are you getting so bent out of shape over this?” Hyouka stared up at him. “It shouldn’t matter to you.”
“Because you pushed yourself to the limit, and I-!” Yuji seemed to stop himself from finishing his thought.
“And you what?”
Yuji shook his head, mumbling something under his breath as he released her wrists.
“Out with it already.” Hyouka’s crimson gaze didn’t waver.
“I care about you, okay?! A master looks to their dog for help, right?!” Yuji spat, looking away with reddening cheeks. “So rely on me! I’m not gonna think worse of you for it!”
The girl was momentarily stunned by his declaration, before lightly smirking.
“You’ve really committed to the role, haven’t you?”
“Shut up, I’m only saying this because it’s the only way to get through to you!”
“Could it be that you like being subservient to me?” She teased, amused by his reaction.
“N-No, that’s not what this is about!” He insisted, stalking away. ”Jeez, you’re such a pain in the ass!”
Hyouka chuckled softly, following him towards her grandmother’s neighborhood.
Though she’d never tell him to his face, she found his rough, yet sincere words endearing.
“Whatever you say...Yuji.”