Chapter 12:

仲間 Company

Head Games with Hyouka

“Dude, we’re so fucked.”

“Speak for yourself, Moriyama.” Yuji protested, scowling at him.

“Don’t act like you’re not in the same boat as us!”

The four boys loitered around the second-floor vending machines, as they often did during lunch breaks. Bags of half-eaten snacks and partially empty bottles lay by where they crouched.

“Well, it’s not like we’re gonna be able to turn our grades around anytime soon, so why try?” Ueno yawned, stretching his arms above his head. “Who cares?”

Ryuhei frowned at this, shaking his head.

“C’mon guys- I hate studying just as much as the next guy, but we can’t just throw in the towel. We’ve got a week and a half until final exams.” He tried to give an upbeat grin. “How hard can it be?”

“Easy for you to say!” Moriyama complained, rolling his eyes. “You’ve got a cute girlfriend to help you study!”

“Yeah, talk about having motivation...” Ueno slumped back.

“We could have a group study session?” The tawny-haired boy offered.

“Ryu, we’d get nothing done.” Yuji countered. “We’d be studying for like five minutes, then end up playing video games or some shit for like two hours.”

“What if we had people who could keep us focused?”

“Who? Like Tanihara’s alpha bitch Morikawa?” Ueno drawled, a smirk on his face.

Yuji reddened, hurling his empty water bottle at him.

“Sh-Shut the hell up, asshole!”

“You called?” An icy voice suddenly spoke up from behind the group.

They turned to find the pint-sized tyrant herself, arms crossed firmly over her chest.

“What are you doing here? Stalker!” Moriyama jeered. Hyouka rolled her eyes.

“I was returning from the bathroom, and I heard you loud-mouths. Don’t flatter yourself.”

“Anyways, Morikawa-san!” Ryuhei interrupted.


“You’re a good student, right?”

“I rank twenty-second in our grade.” She stated.

“Really?! That’s perfect!” Ryuhei jumped to his feet in excitement. ”Morikawa-san, will you tutor us?”

“Us?!” The three others looked appalled.

“Why would I do that?” Hyouka asked coolly. ”I fail to see what I stand to gain.”

“Exams are coming up, and we could really use the help in prepping for that.” He grinned down at her.

The girl scowled slightly.

“You think I’d agree out of the goodness of my heart?”

“God, you bitch!” Moriyama stuck his tongue out like a petulant child. Hyouka ignored him.

“Anyway, don’t you think expecting me to tutor all four of you at once is a lot to ask for?”

“Don’t worry, you won’t have to!” Ryuhei insisted. ”I was gonna get Natsumi-chan to help us out too!”

“Natsumi?” Her eyes widened almost imperceptibly.

“Yeah, my girlfriend! Remember her?”

Of course Hyouka remembered- it was impossible to forget such a lively, flashy-looking girl. Though it had been quite a while since, she could recall the unfamiliar sincerity and kindness Natsumi had shown her that afternoon. Just being in her presence had made her feel relaxed- which was odd for someone she had only just met.

Natsumi was simply a breath of fresh air- someone she wanted to get closer to and befriend, despite the lack of interactions between them for a long time.

However, this was a much-appreciated opportunity to see her again.

“Fine.” She lifted her chin haughtily. “Are we studying today?”

“Sounds good to me!” Ryuhei agreed, turning to the three others. ”You’d all better come too.”

“Yeah, yeah...“ Yuji ran a hand through his hair.

“I guess we don’t really have any other plans.” Ueno muttered. “Whatever, I’ll be there.”

“Ugh, fine...but only because the rest of you are going!” Moriyama huffed.

“We’ll meet outside the school at around four o’clock.” Hyouka turned, beginning to walk away. “I’ll host today’s session. Don’t be late.”

With that, the albino girl left to return to her classroom, disappearing as she turned the corner.


The low, melodic Westminster chime of the school bell was a relieving sound. It not only ended the daily cleaning period, but the school day itself. Hyouka glanced at the wall clock.

3:45 pm.

“Mongrel, it’s time to go.” The girl spoke up, carrying her broom to the back of the classroom- they had both been assigned sweeping duty that day.

“I’m coming.” Yuji grumbled, bringing over his own broom and shoving it inside the tall narrow locker. “God, today’s gonna suck...”

“Stop sulking. We’re helping you.”

He scoffed, gripping his bag.

“Whatever. Hurry up.”

Rolling her eyes, Hyouka shouldered her own schoolbag, leading the way downstairs. The two stopped at the getabako to swap their shoes, before waiting for their study group to congregate. Other students came and left the area, having their own after-school duties to attend to. Minutes passed.

“Hyouka-chan!” A bubbly female voice chirped, causing the albino girl to look over. Clinging to Ryuhei’s arm as he walked was Natsumi Maizono.

Before she could even react, a tan pair of arms threw themselves around Hyouka's shoulders, charm bracelets and bangles loudly jangling in her ear. In the embrace, she became rather aware of the strong, peachy sweetness of her perfume.

“Wow, it’s been a while! How are ya, Hyouka-chan?” Natsumi beamed, grasping the girl’s shoulders.

“Maizono-san.” She spoke calmly, the corners of her lips faintly twitching upwards. “I’m alright. How about you?”

“Great! We’ve gotta catch up!”

Hyouka hadn’t noticed the arrival of the other two boys until she heard their voices.

“Damn, she actually can smile.“ Ueno mused with a smirk.

“What the hell?” Moriyama gawked. “No way!”

“Oh, it’s just you.” The petite girl turned towards them, giving an icy glare.

“Just you?!”

Hyouka scoffed.

“It looks like everyone’s here, so follow me." She began walking away. "We’ll be studying at my house today.” Natsumi cheerily linked arms with the girl, her steps bouncy. Aside from stiffening slightly, Hyouka didn’t seem to mind much.

The boys watched them walk ahead, in varying degrees of shock.

“Huh?! Are they suddenly best friends or something?!” Yuji made an incredulous expression, pointing at the pair.

“You jealous, Tanihara?” Ueno taunted.

“No! Don’t be stupid!”

“It’s hella weird though!” Moriyama insisted. ”How’s she so chill with her already?! Have they secretly been hanging out this whole time?”

“My Natsumi-chan can get on anyone’s good side.” Ryuhei chuckled, a fond smile on his face.

“Or maybe she has supernatural powers.”

“Supernatural?!” Yuji blurted out.

“Are you coming?” Hyouka’s irritated voice called out to them, the girls having stopped by the gate.

“Yeah, yeah, chill out!” He waved his hand dismissively.

The boys were left with little choice but to pick up the pace and follow them.

As Hyouka listened to Natsumi’s lively chatter, occasionally making her own attempts at conversation, time seemed to stand still. Hyouka’s grandmother’s house wasn‘t far from Inukami High School, but it felt like the distance was growing in the increasing summer heat. Thankfully, it wasn’t nearly as hot as that day that had incapacitated the albino girl.

“We’re here.” She stated, striding up to the traditional style home. The small pond in the front yard looked invitingly cool. Ueno seemed tempted as he stared at the water.

Honestly, she herself wouldn't mind taking a dip, but that would disturb the koi fish who resided inside, so she decided against it.

Hyouka stepped up onto the porch, taking out her key to unlock the door and let the group inside. A cool wave of air swept over them as they entered the house, kicking off shoes and sighing in relief.

“Please excuse us.” Natsumi spoke into the dimly illuminated hallway.

“Sorry for the intrusion!” Ryuhei echoed.

“Darling Hyouka?” A voice came from a nearby room. Within a moment, an elderly albino woman emerged, a mildly surprised expression on her face. She had never seen her granddaughter accompanied by so many others before.

“Hello, Grandmother.”

“Why, who do we have here?” Her aged, garnet irises scanned the group of teenagers, taking in their obvious contrast to their host.

“Nice to meet ya, Morikawa-san! I’m Natsumi Maizono!” The blonde girl bowed politely, manicured hands clasped together.

“Ryuhei Tachibana, ma’am!”

“I’m Shoyo Moriyama.”

“Hisashi Ueno.”

“It’s wonderful to meet all of Hyouka-chan's friends!” The woman smiled, before turning to greet the only boy she recognized from before. “And I remember you, Yuji-kun! How are you?”

“G-Good...” He mumbled, rubbing the back of his neck. He wasn’t quite certain why he felt so awkward. Maybe it was because it was only his second time inside the home.

“Anyway, I brought them here for a study session.” Hyouka elaborated. “Exams are around the corner, after all.”

“I see.” Grandmother smiled softly. “I’ll leave you be- if you need anything, I’ll be upstairs.”

“Thank you very much.” After the two exchanged polite bows, the girl led the others further into the house, to the living room.

Through the translucent paper of the shoji doors, sunlight shone. In the corner was a TV, and the kitchen was the next room over. Atop the tatami mat floor sat a long, low wooden table- perfect for the group to study at.

“Your granny is so nice, Morikawa-san!” Ryuhei commented, sitting down.

“Thank you.”

“Yeah, so what the hell happened with you?” Ueno chimed in.

“Be quiet.” She sharply glared up at him.

Natsumi cleared her throat to get their attention.

“Let’s get started!” The upbeat girl chirped, plopping down at the table and unzipping her bag, which was decorated with countless cute keychains.

“Right.” Hyouka sat in seiza next to the other girl. ”Have a seat and take out your notes.”

“Ugh...” Yuji groaned out, reluctantly dropping his bag and sitting down next to her. The others found their places at the table, with Moriyama directly across from Hyouka. Ueno sat next to him and in front of Natsumi. Ryuhei was at her side.

Notebooks and pencil cases were pulled out and tossed on top of the table. Moriyama lazily slouched back.

“We’re guests, right? Go get us some soda or something.”

“Do you think I'm your maid now?” Hyouka gave him a dirty look. “Go drink tap water.”

“You suck as a host!” He complained.

“So!” Natsumi tried to change the subject, smiling up at them. ”What classes are ya having trouble with?”

Hesitant silence filled the room.

“Show us your recent tests.” Hyouka commanded.

Ryuhei was the first to volunteer, opening his folder.

“Fine...” Grumbling, the others followed his example. There was the soft rustling of papers being taken out.

With the mock-tests in front of her, the expression Hyouka made conveyed the most emotion Yuji had ever seen from her. With widening, intense eyes and furrowed brows, her lips formed a firm line.

“Have any of you even held a pencil recently?” She asked.


“Now, Hyouka-chan!” Natsumi placed a hand on her shoulder. “I’m sure they’re doing their best! Let’s not be too hard on them!”

“No- I know for a fact that he doesn’t pay attention in class 90 percent of the time.” Her eyes narrowed at Yuji. “What do you have to say for yourself, mongrel?”

“It’s so boring! Gimme a break!” He argued.

“As for you two...” Hyouka turned to Ueno and Moriyama. “I’ve never seen so many red pen marks in my life. I’m surprised you even know how to write your own names.”

“Wanna say that again?!” The latter jumped to his feet, glaring down at her.

“Sit down before you end up with a pencil in your eye.” She threatened.

Ueno huffed, reaching up to yank Moriyama back down. Ryuhei quietly tapped his fingers, looking as if he was lost in thought, though his girlfriend was quick to snap him out of it.

“Ryu-chan, I know you’re doing your best!” Natsumi piped up, reaching over to stroke his hair. “Your scores are getting better! Our study dates have been paying off!”

“You think so?” He grinned a bit lopsidedly.

“Of course!” She insisted, an affectionate smile playing on her lips.

“Anyway.” Hyouka spoke up again, now holding a large paper fan in her hand. “Let’s get started.”

“Where did you even get that?!” Yuji questioned.

“I made it, just in case I have to gently persuade someone to do their work.”

“Ugh, whatever...” He huffed, flipping open his notebook.

“Our time until exams is limited, so let’s focus on what you're clueless about. I’m best at math, history, and Japanese literature.”

“My best subjects are English, social studies, and science, so I can definitely help with that!” Natsumi announced.

“Maizono-san, you’re a first-year, right?” Hyouka looked up at her. “Do you know our material well enough for that?”

“I’m in advanced classes, so it should be okay!”


“Yup! My class rank is number five!”

The albino girl’s eyes widened at this. She had never pegged Natsumi as a genius- she didn't fit the image whatsoever. Flashy blonde girls usually were associated with a general air of ditziness and superficiality- but that was just a stereotype.

After all, there’s more than what meets the eye.

“That’s amazing.” Hyouka mused.

“Right?” Ryuhei piped up. “My Natsumi-chan is such a smarty!”

“Aw, Ryu-chan!” The girl leaned over to peck his cheek.

“People in love make me sick...” Ueno muttered enviously, looking the opposite way.

“Oi, Hyouka.” Yuji turned to her. “Teach me how to do this kinda equation.”

“This is easy. You don’t know how to do it?”

“Obviously! That’s why I asked!”

“Fine.” She sighed. “You'd better pay attention this time.”

Hyouka began to explain the process of solving it, making sure to go at a moderate pace as to not confuse nor bore him to death. After walking Yuji through one of the problems, she gave him one to do on his own, watching.

He stared down at the numbers on the page, gnawing on his eraser before attempting to write it out the way she demonstrated.

“Hey, look.” A minute later, he had an answer. “Is this it?”

Hyouka’s eyes scanned his work.

“What do you know- it seems you can do it if taught properly. Why don’t you practice a few more?”

“Sure.” He moved on to the next one.

Her gaze drifted to the two boys sitting across from her, finally bothering to take a good look at them and take note of their appearances.

It seemed they were no longer just background characters in her life.

Ueno was long-legged and the tallest of the group, with Hyouka’s head not even reaching his shoulder when she stood near him. His dyed blond hair was quite long, pulled back into a ponytail at the nape of his neck, with loose pieces framing his jaw. His eyes were narrow and sharp, the irises so dark they appeared almost black. A slit in his left eyebrow was one of his most distinctive features.

Moriyama was much smaller, though just slightly taller than Natsumi and shorter than Yuji. His dark brown hair was short and a tad bit on the messy side, with a stubborn cowlick at the top of his head. His large, wild brown eyes were reminiscent of a feral cat’s, and his eyebrows were a bit short and thick. With his tongue stuck out as he scrolled on his phone, a small silver stud sat in the center of it.

A flash of white struck his wrist.

“Ow! What the hell?!” Moriyama's phone almost slipped from his grip. “Did you really just smack me with your fan?!” He glared up at Hyouka.

“Maizono-san is trying to teach you, and here you are goofing off.” She gripped the harisen. “Give her your undivided attention.”

“Sorry, he probably got bored! I’m not the best at explaining things!” Natsumi bowed her head.

“Don’t apologize for his insolence. Your teaching style is fine.”

“Yeah, you’re really great at this, Natsumi-chan!” Ryuhei insisted. “C’mon Moriyama, she’s trying to help you!”

“I’m getting tired...” Ueno yawned, resting his chin on his hand.

“Don’t give up yet! We still have plenty to go through!” Natsumi waved her hand in front of his face.

As Hyouka turned back to Yuji to check his progress on the problems she had assigned him, he seemed to have solved them all correctly. She felt a sense of pride in her teaching ability.

“Good boy.” She reached up to pet his head.

“Hey!” The boy instantly reddened.

“What? I’m praising you. Is that a problem?”

“D-Don’t treat me like a literal dog!” He protested, his cheeks on fire.

“Fine.” Hyouka rolled her eyes, retracting her hand. “You did well with this. We’ll move on to something else if you understand what to do now.”


As the afternoon faded into evening, a fair amount of material was reviewed in the span of just a few hours. The setting sun provided a warm orange glow through the paper of the shoji doors, the wooden lattice frame casting a gridded shadow across the living room.

“We can wrap things up for today.” Hyouka announced, checking the time. “It’s already a quarter past seven.”

“Finally...” Ueno sighed, putting his head down.

“Wow, time flies!” Natsumi giggled, beginning to put away her color-coded notes. “We’re gonna do this again tomorrow, right?”

“That’s the plan.” Ryuhei leaned back. “So, who’s hosting next session?”

“I can host for the rest of the week.” The albino girl replied. “There’s enough space in here, and it’s quiet enough. I don’t think my grandmother will mind.”

“Sounds good. Let’s hit the road!” He began packing up his schoolbag again.

“Can we stop somewhere to eat first? I’m starving!” Yuji put a hand to his stomach.

“Yeah, same...” Moriyama groaned.

As if summoned by those words, Grandmother appeared.

“Would you like to stay for dinner?”


“Guys, we shouldn’t overstay our welcome!” Ryuhei insisted, though his stomach betrayed him, rumbling loudly. Natsumi giggled at this.

“See? You’re hungry too!”

“...Well, actually...”

“Don’t worry, dear. It would be no trouble at all.” The elderly woman smiled in amusement. “It’s always nice to have guests over for dinner. It shouldn’t take too long.”

“I’ll help, Grandmother.” Hyouka got to her feet, joining her in the kitchen.

“Thank you.”

As they got to work preparing the meal, she glanced over her shoulder. The sight of everyone sitting around the table was unfamiliar to her, though she didn’t necessarily dislike it. in fact, she was surprised to find that she had enjoyed their company.

Was this what having friends felt like?

“So, what’s on the menu?” Yuji asked.

A faint smile tugged at her lips.

“You’ll see.”