Head Games with Hyouka
It surprised Hyouka just how quickly a week could pass.
Usually, she drifted through life, with little habitual variation. Sometimes, there'd be something to interrupt her routine of mundane days, and she’d be given something to ponder for a while.
But her time spent with that group of friends felt different somehow.
Each day after school, they’d arrive at her home, sitting around the table with drinks and papers lying around them. In the summer breeze, a windchime would make a beautiful melody as Grandmother kindly brought them something to eat, a smile in her warm red eyes.
Hyouka almost wished it would never end.
However, exams soon followed. For a few days, school was nothing but a challenge of multiple-choice questions and short essay responses. She could recall briefly glancing over her shoulder during her math exam and seeing Yuji’s intense face of focus.
Exams were over as soon as they came. The day they ended, the group had decided to go out to eat in celebration of their efforts, bringing her with them.
Hyouka had enjoyed her kishimen greatly- for some reason, it tasted even better in their company.
The following two days were blissfully uneventful, a pleasant break from the stress of testing.
Surely the third would follow the same pattern.
It was July 19th- just one more day until that month of freedom finally came.
Yuji and Hyouka walked in comfortable silence, the others having their own plans and prior commitments to attend to. Ryuhei and Moriyama both had family obligations, Natsumi had planned to go to karaoke with her other friends, and Ueno simply wanted to sleep.
However, Hyouka didn’t mind. It would be nice to spend time with Yuji one-on-one, just like how things had been before.
She paused, glancing up.
The summer sky, which earlier had been a bright blue, had darkened considerably. Deep grey clouds obscured the sun, and a thick humidity hung in the air. Neither of them had brought an umbrella, as this change in weather had seemingly come from nowhere.
“We might get rained on.” Hyouka mused, staring up at the overcast sky.
“No kidding.” Yuji inhaled deeply. “I smell it coming.”
“It seems your canine senses are kicking in, mongrel.”
“Oh, shut up.” The boy scoffed.
A faint, amused smile played on her lips as she walked ahead of him, leading the way.
“Let’s hurry home- I don’t want to get wet.”
“Yeah, yeah. I’m coming.” He picked up the pace, following the petite girl.
They were only about two blocks away when thunder began to roll out- starting as a soft rumble in the distance.
However, Hyouka flinched almost imperceptibly. Yuji swore he had imagined it.
They were nearly at her grandmother’s house now. As small, erratic droplets came from the sky, they brought with them a much louder crack of thunder.
“Shit, it’s about to start pouring!” He grabbed the girl’s much smaller hand and tugged her along, his warm fingers a contrast to her icy skin.
In front of the house, her increasingly paling face caught Yuji off guard.
“...It’s nothing.” Hyouka insisted, fishing her keys out as the rain came down harder. Another rumble caused her to jump and nearly drop them, but she unlocked and threw open the door, hurrying inside. Yuji quickly followed her into the genkan, dropping his bag and kicking off his shoes.
Other than a few raindrops, the two were left untouched.
“Hyouka, are you...scared of thunder?” He asked, staring down at her.
“No, why would I be?” She maintained a cold, steady tone as she removed her Mary Janes, but a suppressed anxiousness laced her voice. The house was seemingly empty and nearly pitch black.
“You’re acting kinda-”
The thunder boomed once again, louder this time.
Hyouka’s bag fell to the floor as she took off running into the darkness.
“Hyouka!” Even Yuji couldn’t help but jump, watching her vanish down the corridor. He faintly heard the sound of sliding doors as her frantically thudding footsteps became more distant.
A soft thud came- she had probably tripped over something.
Hesitantly, he shut the front door, feeling for a light switch on the wall, turning it on to illuminate the hallway. Walking deeper into the house, he approached the living room, where the fusama doors had been flung open.
Yuji entered, glancing around and searching for any sign of her. Dull grey light shone through the wax-coated washi paper of the shoji doors, an eeriness occupying the air as rain pelted the home from outside. It seemed almost empty, until his gaze drifted to the table in the center of the room. A small ghostly figure lay tightly curled up underneath.
“Ah!” He yelled, jumping back as it stiffened.
Yuji paused, before mentally kicking himself- it was obviously Hyouka.
“H-Hey...” He flicked on another light switch, approaching her. “You can come out- the thunder’s not gonna hurt you.”
“Don’t talk down to me, mongrel...” Hyouka muttered, hugging her knees. She felt embarrassed to be seen in such a pitiful state, her cheeks stinging.
“I’m not!” The boy protested, sitting down in front of the table. “Are you okay? It sounded like you fell.”
“I’m alright...” She mumbled.
“Do you...want to hold onto me..?” He asked in a rather awkward tone, unsure of how to handle such a situation. He had never seen this side of her before.
Hyouka silently uncurled herself and partially came out, laying on her stomach as she stared up at him.
“It’s okay...” Yuji attempted an uncharacteristic smile.
Her gaze dropped as she buried her face in her arms- it felt more intimidating than comforting. He sighed in defeat, dropping the expression.
“Hyouka, you can’t just hide under the table all day!”
“This is how I normally deal with thunderstorms.” She said quietly, her voice muffled.
“But I’m with you now, so c’mon!” Yuji persisted.
“Why are you trying to coax me out?” The girl kept her head down. “Are you making fun of me?”
“No, I’m not! Jeez!” He huffed. “If you want me to leave you alone, then fine.” He moved to scoot back.
“Don’t go!” Hyouka gasped, a panicked look in her eyes as she clung to his wrist.
Yuji froze, staring down at her.
“You want me to stay?”
She nodded numbly, her grip tightening.
“O-Okay then...” He stayed put, watching her. “If that’s what you want, I’ll be here...”
Hyouka crawled closer, trembling slightly. Her pale arms wrapped around his waist as she buried her face in his stomach. Yuji stiffened. Her behavior reminded her of what his own cat was like during storms.
Kaiya had been adopted as a stray and had likely experienced plenty of bad weather- as a small animal and without the luxury of being safe inside a warm home. Whenever she hid under Yuji’s bed, there was sure to be a storm. But as long as someone was nearby, she’d meow pitifully and curl up to their side for comfort.
It was fortunate that Yuma had the day off and would be there to look after her.
Hesitating, he reached out to gently pet the girl’s head, as if she were a large white cat. Her hair felt smooth and silky beneath his fingertips- softer than he had expected.
“You’re alright...everything’s fi-”
An earsplitting crack of thunder shook the house, plunging them into sudden darkness.
Yuji sat there, stunned. Hyouka gasped, quivering as she clung to his waist even more tightly.
“H-Hey, everything’s f-fine!” He gripped her shoulders, trying to calm her down. “It’s just a power outage!”
“Wh-What?” She opened her eyes and lifted her head slightly, only to see the dull, barely visible grey sky shining in from outside.
“Do you have flashlights or some shit?”
“I...I don’t know where they are...” She breathed.
A blackout had never occurred during Hyouka's stay at her grandmother’s home, so she had never learned where such items were kept. On top of that, the darkness posed a greater challenge- it'd make them even harder to look for.
“Well, we can’t just sit here in the dark forever.” He mused. “We should open something.”
“There’s just shoji in here. If you opened them, it would just let the rain in.”
“Right...” He realized that the house’s traditional architecture posed an obstacle. “Is there anywhere with curtains we can pull back?”
“The bedrooms have them...”
“Do you wanna go there?”
Hyouka hesitated. The openness of the living room made her feel exposed, vulnerable, and small, but it felt less personal. The idea of having Yuji in her bedroom- or anyone for that matter- was foreign.
However, it wasn’t the time to worry about something so trivial.
“Alright...” She murmured into his shirt, reluctantly releasing him and sitting back on her haunches. ”Be careful on the stairs...”
“Yeah, I will.” Yuji got to his feet. As he crouched down to her level with outstretched hands, she recoiled, a confused and skeptical expression on her face.
“What are you doing?”
“Picking you up.” Thunder rumbled outside. ”You didn’t look ready to let go. Do you want me to?”
Turning her face away, Hyouka wrapped her cold arms around his neck. Yuji was a bit taken aback by this, his eyes widening, though he grabbed her waist and stood up, lifting the petite girl in the process. Her legs coiled around his middle as he used one hand to feel for the wall to guide him through the house.
It was surprising how warm Yuji felt as Hyouka clung to his body, her face buried in the crook of his neck as he cautiously climbed the staircase, his warm arm that wrapped around her midsection ensuring that he wouldn’t drop her.
But surely that was only due to her nervousness from the storm and pitch black, empty house.
The boy readjusted his grip as he stepped onto the landing of the second floor, looking around and trying to make out which room belonged to her. He couldn't be sure.
Hyouka paused, trying to mentally map out the floor plan in the darkness.
“...It’s on the left, two rooms down.”
Yuji followed her directions and slowly walked down the hall, stopping when his fingers brushed against the second doorknob. Turning it, he entered the room.
Light dimly peeked through her slightly ajar curtains, casting an eerie glow across her otherwise cozy-looking bedroom. The interior was neat, with uncluttered floors and a bed that was already made. Her bookshelf was organized and dustless, the objects on her desk minimal. In a small nook sat a quaint rocking chair, surrounded by a small collection of stuffed animals and dolls.
It was almost exactly what he expected, though seeing it first-hand surprised him.
“I’m gonna put you down, okay?”
Yuji shuffled towards the bed, his hands gently holding her waist. The girl released her hold, allowing him to place her down. She watched the boy approach her window, pulling back the pale blue curtains to let a bit more light inside.
Hyouka wrapped a blanket around her own body, feeling cold again. Perhaps it was due to the absence of his touch.
“How's that?” Yuji asked, sitting next to her on the edge of the bed.
“Better.” She hugged her knees to her chest, resting her chin atop them. "Thank you..."
She was quiet, the rain being the only thing interrupting the silence.
He sighed and leaned back, folding his arms behind his head before speaking up.
“Do you feel any better being in here with me?”
“I’m glad I’m not alone...” She said softly, her crimson irises looking rather enigmatic in the dim light.
“Good...” Yuji mumbled, gazing up at her curiously. Her somewhat vague answers seemed to be the norm when it came to questions like that. He couldn't say they surprised him.
With the storm gradually calming over time, the pitter-pattering of raindrops on the window became relaxing and rhythmic. Maybe it was due to the sound, or perhaps the subdued light in the room, but drowsiness seemed to wash over the pair.
Yuji was already beginning to doze off, lips parted slightly as his chest slowly rose and fell. Hyouka studied him for a moment, quietly laying down next to him and curling up into a ball. Her back merely brushed against his side, though she still felt the heat radiating from his body.
She pulled the blanket tighter around herself, her eyelashes fluttering shut. It was his comforting warmth that caused her to finally drift off.
When the rain ceased, maybe he would stay- just for a little while longer.