Chapter 18:

溺死 Drowned

Head Games with Hyouka

"You're fuckin' losers." Moriyama glared at them. "All they wanted to do was have a good time, and then you assholes came creeping on them!"

"And you put your hands on them- how low can you get?" Ueno looked disgusted.

Yuji shook his head, slinging an arm over Hyouka's shoulder.

"...You guys really haven't changed at all." He turned around, starting to lead the group back to their beach spot. "C'mon."

They had only taken a few steps away from the trio when Sakamoto and Komori burst into laughter.

"Wait, wait..." The blond said between snorts. "You're with her? You and Morikawa are a thing now?"

"How the mighty have fallen- you used to be so cool, Tanihara! What happened to you?" Sakamoto jeered. "Did you get soft when you moved away?"

Yuji stopped in his tracks, glaring back at them.

"She and I are friends now- not that it's any of your damn business!"

That only sent them further into hysterics, roaring with laughter.

"For real?!" Komori could barely breathe now, grabbing Matsuzaki's shoulder for support. "I never thought I'd hear you say that!"

"Yeah, after everything that happened in middle school? You moved past that? Seriously?!"

Hyouka's heart dropped, and she felt Yuji go rigid, dread spreading across his face. She gripped his arm, trying to get him to just keep walking, but it was as if he had been paralyzed. Everyone else looked confused.

"What's wrong, Yu?" Ryuhei's voice held a hint of concern.

"Yuji-kun?" Natsumi asked tentatively.

"You look like you're about to be sick, Tanihara..." Even Moriyama couldn't help but look worried.

"Oh?" Sakamoto grinned, a malicious glint in his eye. "Wait, does this mean you never told them?"

"Never told us wh-?" Moriyama shook his head, changing his mind. "Actually, keep it to yourself, you smarmy bastard!"

"Yeah, fuck off." Ueno added, putting a hand on Yuji's shoulder. "Dude, c'mon- let's go."

"Wow, can't believe you kept all your friends in the dark like that." Komori sneered. "They really have no clue what you did to h-"

"Shut up!" Hyouka shouted, whirling around to glare at them. "Keep your mouths shut!" She let go of Yuji's arm, her knuckles gone white from how tightly her fists were balled.

"Hyouka, stop!" Yuji grabbed her arm, but she shook him off, irises blazing with a fury he had never seen before.

"This has nothing to do with the two of you anymore!" She screamed. "So mind your own business!"

"Nothing to do with us?!" Sakamoto laughed in her face. "What are you talking about? We were best friends and never left his side- especially when we were bullying you!"

Hyouka felt as if she had been struck through the lung, all the wind knocked out of her, the wrath that had crept up her throat now pouring from a gaping hole in her chest.

The beach was silent now, everyone looking between Hyouka, the two boys, and Yuji.

"Oh, sorry- guess that's probably a fucked up way to put it." Komori cut in, mocking her. "Let me rephrase that- when we helped him ruin your life."

"Shut up...!" She tried to glare at them, though her vision was blurred by hot tears.

"Leave her alone!" Natsumi snapped, her jaw clenched. "Haven't you hurt her enough?!"

"Maybe you should ask Tanihara- he was always the one who decided when we were done!"

All eyes had settled on Yuji, who had covered his mouth and clutched at his chest, looking as if he was about to be sick. He seemed to sway, stumbling forward.

"St-Stop it!" Hyouka cried out, clamping her hands over her ears.

"Poor little Morikawa-chan~" Sakamoto simpered. "I guess paint washes away better than memories do~"

"Dude, no one else gets your reference!" Komori pretended to scold him, snickering.

"My bad." He cleared his throat. "Here, lemme spell it out for you!"

Like a tidal wade, dread washed over her.


It was almost the end of ninth grade, in art class.

An ink brush in hand, Hyouka sat quietly at a table towards the back of the room- one that she was the lone inhabitant of. Pushing her glasses up the bridge of her nose, she glanced around the lively studio.

It was full of colorful artwork, paintings of all types displayed on the walls, as well as works made with oil pastel and graphite. The area behind her, however, was the hub of the studio, with counters and cabinets covered in large bottles of paint, cups of brushes, markers, and colored pencils. Someone was always at the sink, rinsing dried residue off their palettes or wetting a rag to clean up a spill. No one spared a glance in her direction as they passed.

But of all the things to look at, Hyouka's eyes were drawn to the other tables.

On all sides, they were full of students, borrowed chairs squeezed between gaps so that friends could work next to each other, gossiping and showing off their progress. They smiled, laughing.

But Hyouka hadn't always had a table to herself- during the beginning of seventh grade, the rest of the art room hadn't seemed so crowded- it was more cozy than anything. The space had been shared by a small group of soft-spoken students, working on their pieces in comfortable silence, with the occasional quiet compliment or soft giggle.

Kotaro. Miki. Aihime. Rima.

They had been the only friends she'd made in those three years, but they were long gone. They sat scattered across the room and kept to themselves, only listening to the chatter around them as they did their work in silence.

Hyouka couldn't blame them for it. Even if they weren't gullible enough to fall for the rumors, being around her would only paint a target on their backs.

Shaking her head and letting out a sigh, she turned to look out the window- at the blooming cherry blossoms. The buds had opened up earlier than usual, so the teacher- who had just stepped out of the room for just a moment- had asked them to include them in their final assignment.

Dipping her brush into the diluted red ink, she carefully began to capture the pink petals on her paper, holding her breath as she flicked the bristles just so.



Looking up from the hand that had knocked on her table, she wasn't surprised to find Yuji Tanihara standing there- though she was slightly startled.

Sighing softly, Hyouka set down her brush.

"...Yes?" Her voice was quiet, as not to disturb anyone around her.

"Can you believe we're about to graduate?" The boy sat on the edge of the table, that awful grin on his face. "It feels like it was just yesterday when we met."

Hyouka inwardly grimaced, averting her gaze.

"It's kinda sad though, leaving this dump behind." Yuji mused, glancing around. "I mean, just think of all the good times we had!"

His foxlike gold eyes met hers, glinting in amused malice, but she forced herself to stare down at her lap, tightly gripping the fabric of her skirt.

"Jeez, don't look so glum!" Yuji leaned over, tapping on her forehead. "I know it's hard saying goodbye, and we'll probably never see each other again after all this- which is why I got you a parting gift!"

"...A gift?" Hyouka blinked, anxiously scratching at a plaster on her knee.

"Yeah, y'know, just something to show my appreciation for you!" He hopped off the edge of the table- nearly spilling Hyouka's ink palette in the process, which she hurried to stop- digging into his pockets. "Since you made middle school so fun for me, I thought I'd get you a little something to help you fit in better in high school!"

Hyouka stared at him, her unease growing as she watched Yuji search his pockets, before giving up with a huff.

"Ugh, I must've left it in the classroom- I'll go get it!" He headed for the door, but suddenly glanced over his shoulder, his eyes widening. "Morikawa- look out!"

Gasping, she turned to see what he was pointing at. Counters- the same counters she had always seen, but with two pairs of shoes on top of them. Her eyes shooting up, there stood Komori and Sakamoto, dumping a bucket on her. It hit her like a ton of bricks, knocking her forward.


Cold. Viscous. Chemical-scented.

Everything went black, a horrible bitter taste in her mouth, a foul scent in her nose.

Hyouka slammed into the table, knocking over her palette of ink, her glasses flying off her face. Suddenly, she could see again- or rather, the dark curtain had been lifted, her vision blurry.

On the floor before her lay her fallen glasses, the lenses covered in a black goop. The tape that held the bridge together had torn, leaving them broken in half- as they had been for months. The table, her artwork, the floor around her, and even other nearby students- they had all been caught in the crossfire, splattered in that dark substance.

The room had fallen into horror-stricken silence, gawking at her as she tried to sit up in her chair, coughing and gagging as she tried to get whatever it was out of her mouth, out of her nose. A thick liquid dripped from her head and down her face, landing on her black-covered skirt.

Paint. It was black paint.

She couldn't stop trembling, staring down at her stained hands as if it was blood that covered them. Tears pooled in her eyes, threatening to overflow.

Behind her, three boys burst into laughter- roaring, howling, screaming in hysteria.

Hyouka whirled around to look at them, only able to make out the distorted shape of their silhouettes as they jumped off the counter, their guffaws filling the room. The ringleader- Yuji- had to lean against the door for support, his head thrown back as he laughed at her.

She buried her face in her hands, crying and clawing at it in anguish and feeling as if she was drowning, tears and black dye becoming one as they streamed down her cheeks.

Things would never change- she was always to be someone's miserable little punching bag, all hope for the future dashed before her eyes, crushed under the malicious ways of reality.

A door was thrown open, and she heard it rattle in his frame.

"What on Earth is going on-?" The art teacher's voice boomed, cut off by a gasp. "Morikawa-san? What happened to you?!"

She couldn't stand to be there for a second longer.

A sob tumbling from her lips, she bolted from her chair and went crashing to the floor, tripping over the table leg. Her hands and knees slammed against the ground, and she heard the boys' laughter only get louder.


Hyouka shook her head furiously, picking herself off the now black-stained floor, dashing for the exit, where a still-laughing Yuji stood by. As she got closer and closer, his laugh died and his eyes widened, face turning into one of shocked disgust.

"Ew! Get away from me!"

She grabbed his shoulders, shoving him out of her way and into a counter, slamming the door as she fled.

"Morikawa-san!" The art teacher called after her.

A trail of gooey, black sludge followed the girl as she ran and ran and ran until she had made it through the open doorway of a bathroom, panting through her sobs, her stained hands clinging to the edge of a sink for support. Her heart pounded and throbbed, feeling as if it was being stomped on, torn apart, and about to explode all at once.

Trying to catch her breath and push down her tears, she let go of the sink, leaving behind tainted black handprints as she staggered backwards, looking up at her blurred reflection in the mirror.

Her face was smeared with paint, dripping from her forehead in long, crooked streams, with a distorted outline of where her glasses had been. Huge, thick globs of black goo covered her hair, sitting on top of her odango buns, which had previously been a stark white color, oozing down her head and continuing to splatter her shoulders, where the white fabric of her seifuku now resembled the scene of an oil spill, covered in huge, dark, sticky stains. Her hands looked gloved, the paint that covered them smeared up her arms. No part of her body had been spared from the substance- it was everywhere.

There was so much paint.

Hyouka couldn't help but scream out, the cry echoing throughout the empty bathroom as she collapsed, falling to the ground- shaking, sobbing, dying from the inside out.

As she faintly heard the footsteps of someone running through the corridor, she only curled up tighter in a vain attempt to protect herself. In that moment, she felt that her life was over.

And it had been three boys who had ended it.


She felt like she was about to die.

Chest aching, heaving, it felt as if the old wounds that Hyouka had spent the past three years hiding and secretly nursing had been torn open again, those careful stitches she had sewn now ripped open and leaving new, agonizing holes in their wake. Her whole body- it had gone numb- but her innards felt as if they were on fire, her chest burning and constricting until she felt she couldn't breathe, her heart pounding so fast she thought she was having a heart attack.

Hyouka's legs collapsed under her, and she sank to her knees in the sand with her face clutched in her hands, liquid pooling between her fingers as she finally broke down sobbing, curling into herself as the tears finally escaped.

"...And that was the parting gift we helped Tanihara organize before graduation!" Sakamoto finished, eyes flickering with mirth as he looked down at the girl, whose shoulders shook with silent sobs. "Morikawa-chan remembers it too!"

Against her will, she remembered that day in horrible vivid detail- their cruel, humiliating final act of torment was bad enough, but the aftermath was just as excruciating.

She remembered the art teacher running into the bathroom and finding her in a sludgy heap on the ground, bawling her eyes out as she tried to make herself small enough to disappear. The woman had tried to help her clean the tears and paint from her face, but there was just so much and it was such a difficult task, for even when the substance was wiped away, the dark dye remained on her skin.

She remembered being taken to the girl's shower room, standing under the water for a long time and watching the tile become covered in black goo, going down the drain. She scrubbed her skin until it had turned pink, trying to rid herself of what had just happened. She had to shampoo her hair three times to get her fingers to come out clean when she combed them through her hair.

She remembered wrapping herself in a towel, still feeling awful as she padded across the tile floor, and catching a glimpse of her reflection in a mirror. She gasped and cried out so loudly that the art teacher thought she was dying, rushing into the room, before gasping herself.

She remembered being escorted to the headmaster's office in her gym uniform, her head lowered as if to hide the hideous black and grey blotches that erratically stained her hair, unable to have been washed out. Students stared at her, whispering to one another as she trudged past them, tears returning to her eyes. She remembered sitting blindly in front of the man, her head lowered as she waited for her mother to pick her up, the woman gasping when she saw what had been done to her. She remembered the headmaster's deep bow.

She remembered the silent drive home, feeling guilty for troubling her mother on her day off. When they had made it home, they spent the afternoon looking up ways to remove color from hair, but the results were scarcely noticeable. Upon her mother suggesting that she dye her whole head to cover the stains, she burst into tears again. She remembered the look of shock on her father's face when he came home from work, even with her blurred vision.

She remembered sitting in the school gymnasium on graduation day amongst her peers, her head hung. Though dressed in her clean spare uniform and wearing a brand-new pair of glasses, all she felt was shame- for there was no disguising what had happened to her. Even when she started high school, the stains in her hair would be a reminder of that, until they finally faded into obscurity or were cut out.

It all came back to her- that whole awful experience.

Hyouka felt the memories hit her like a tsunami, gasping for air as she let out loud, heart-wrenching sobs. Tears streamed down her face and into her palms, her chest heaving and shoulders quivering. Her friends' shock hung in the air like water on a humid day, eyes wide and mouths agape- they had never before seen her display such despair and agony before.

"You're such a good storyteller, Sakamoto- I really felt like I was there." Matsuzaki remarked, an amused smirk on his face.

"Leave her alone, you sick bastards!" Ryuhei shouted, Natsumi dashing to the girl's side.

"You're gonna be okay, Hyouka-chan, I-I'm here for you- we all are." She tried to comfort her, rubbing her arms as she slowly pulled her into a standing position, knees shaking. "W-We're gonna get you out of here."

"We really were crazy back then..." Komori shook his head with a sadistic grin, reminiscing on the past as he turned to the other perpetrator. "Right, Tanihara?"

"Shut up!" Moriyama snapped. "You're the assholes who threw shit on her!"

"We may have carried out the plan, but that whole schtick was his idea." Sakamoto sneered in his direction. "He was usually the schemer, we just helped put things into action."

"Bullshit! He'd never do that!"

"Then why don't you ask him? Oh- looks like he can't talk right now."

Yuji had gone into a catatonic state, his golden eyes wide and glazed over, processing nothing and everything at the same time. Hunched over as if he were ill, his shoulders were tensed and drawn up high, his chest rising and falling shallowly, nearly imperceptibly.

"Yu!" Ryuhei grabbed him by the arms, shaking him. "Don't listen to them! Snap out of it already!"

"We only got busted that one time." Sakamoto mused. "The only reason we really got in trouble is because of property damage- because a bunch of people got paint on their uniform, and those fuckers were expensive."

"Yeah, all our families got hit with the bill after that." Komori said scornfully.

"Tanihara!" Ueno started pounding on his back, trying to jolt him back to his senses.

"Say something, Yu!" Ryuhei shook him harder, eyes burning with fervor. "Tell them you didn't-!"

"I DID!" He shouted.

Yuji's words seemed to echo, hanging in the air as his friends gawked at him, eyes wide and mouths agape.

"What...?" Ryuhei breathed, his grip on his quivering shoulders weakening.

"What they're saying is true!" He balled his hands into fists. "We bullied Hyouka- I bullied her!"

Hyouka stared up at him in disbelief, heart pummeling her ribs as she heard him utter those words. Natsumi's grip on her arms slackened, looking as if a carpet had just been pulled out from under her.

"I spent the entirety of middle school making her life a living hell..." He confessed, his face contorting into a grimace. "She did nothing to cross me, but I was a fucking selfish brat who decided to push her around just because I was hurting! I wanted to make my pain someone else's problem- but she didn't deserve any of that! I treated her like shit for no reason, and if I could undo it all, I would in a heartbeat!"

Hyouka was paralyzed as he lifted his head to meet her eyes, his own brimming with tears of regret. She felt winded, lips parted in shock.

"But I've been trying to be a better person!" He insisted, gripping at his chest. "I haven't gone out of my way to bother anyone in years! I don't like to hurt people anymore! I never thought I'd see her again, so I tried to repress my guilt, but then she moved to Nagoya, and I started having nightmares! I've spent the last four months trying to make things up to Hyouka- for the awful shit I did to her! At first, I just did it to feel better about what a piece of shit I was- but it's more than that now! I genuinely want to earn her forgiveness so she doesn't have to hurt anymore!"

"Yuji..." Hyouka breathed, tears threatening to return.

"D-Don't look at me like that, please...I'm sorry!" He sniffled, furiously wiping his eyes. "I-I don't wanna make you cry ever again..!"

The others were awestruck by the rawness of his voice, gaping at them in silence.

It was then broken by the sound of condescending applause.

"Aww!" Komori mused. "What a heart-breaking performance!"

"How sweet." Matsuzaki jeered. "Maybe you've got a shot on the big screen."

"Shut the fuck up!" He snarled.

"You don't scare me when you've got tears in your eyes, you punk bitch."

"Tanihara, you said that we haven't changed at all, but do you have any room to talk?" Sakamoto jeered. "Do you think making some new friends and trying to be less of a dick clears your name?"

"Obviously I haven't fixed everything, but I'm doing a better job than you two!"

"We're suppose to believe that you're different now just 'cause you said so?" Komori scoffed. "Get real- you can't erase the past! No matter how you try to make it up to her, you'll always see what we did to her every time you look her in the eye!"

Hyouka clenched her jaw, feeling a sudden rush to her head and taking deep, shaky breaths. Her lips formed a line that got tighter and tighter, like a rubber band ready to snap.

"That's not- you're just-!" Yuji stammered, his face ashen.

"Actually, yeah, maybe you have changed!" Sakamoto interrupted, sneering at him. "I used to think you were really badass and cool, but you're just pathetic now."

"If anything, you just lowered yourself to her level!"

Hyouka had heard enough.

Wrenching her arm out of Natsumi's grip, she stalked up to the boys who had terrorized her, her pulse rushing in her ears.

"Hyouka-chan! Stop!" Natsumi gasped.

But she didn't, tears of fury streaming down her face as she glared up at them, looking ready to spit nails.

"Lowered to my level?! You're both pathetic!" She seethed, fists balled up so tightly that her nails made crescent marks in her palms. "Look at you- instead of enjoying your vacation, you're reliving the glory days of when you peaked in junior high! How miserable must your lives be?! Grow up!"

"We're the miserable ones?!" Komori laughed in her face, Sakamoto trying to shove her back. "You're the one bawling your eyes out over things that happened years ago! You couldn't even handle us bringing up one incident! You want us to really give you something to cry over?!"

"I'm not scared of your empty threats!" She snapped, her voice volatile. "Only idiots would try something in public!"

"Don't provoke them!" Natsumi screamed.

"Morikawa! Get back!"

Sakamoto snatched her by the ponytail, violently yanking her forward. Her eyes widened and she yelled out in pain, feeling the sting in her scalp.

"Woah woah woah!" Moriyama shouted, and she heard the pounding of feet on the sand as the others ran towards them.

"Get your fucking hands off me!" Hyouka shouted, bashing her fists against his chest, harder and harder and harder.


Her blows only seemed to make him angrier, his fist tightening around her hair and forcing her towards the ground, the burn in her scalp only getting stronger.


"Let go of her, you scumbag!"

She dug her knees into the sand, gritting her teeth and growling as she clawed at his wrist, sinking her nails into his skin and trying to pry his fingers off.

A hand swung in her peripheral vision, but before she could lower her arms to block it, it collided with the side of her face.

The sound of the slap echoed, and the sting rippled across her jaw, turning into a throbbing burn. Sakamoto let go of her hair, and she went tumbling into the sand, clutching her cheek.


"How's that for something to cry over, you mad bitch?!" He shouted.

"Mad bitch?! I'll show you a mad bitch!" Hyouka screamed as she lunged at him, slamming her knee right into his groin.

"Aughhhh!" He let out a guttural yell of pain, clutching it as he fell to his knees, doubling over. "Fuck! Fucking shit!"

"What's wrong, Sakamoto?!" Hyouka jeered down at him, fire burning in her eyes. "You're pathetic! Can you not handle someone who hits back?!" She spat right in his face.

"You fucking psycho!" Komori recovered from the shock of her outburst just as she looked up, his arm winding back as he charged at her.

But someone was there to stop him, and the two of them went tumbling to the ground, landing in the sand.

"Yuji!" Hyouka gasped.

"Don't you ever try to put your fucking hands on her again!" Yuji shouted in Komori's face, thrashing him by the shoulders, teeth bared and pupils shrinking. "I'll fucking ki-!"

In a flash, Matsuzaki had put him in a chokehold, yanking him back as he coughed and retched, clawing at his arms.

"Yu!" Ryuhei hollered, running into the fight and tackling the rugby player- all three of them went down.

"Ryu-chan!" Natsumi screamed in horror, her hands flying to cover her mouth. "Oh my god!"

Komori jumped to his feet, and Sakamoto had finally found the strength to get back up, gritting his teeth as he stood. Sucking up the pain, the two of them sprinted over to help Matsuzaki, and all hell broke loose.

"Oh fuck!" yelled Moriyama, eyes widening. "Ueno!"

"On it!"

They too joined the brawl, and then it was just Hyouka and Natsumi on the sidelines, frozen as everything only escalated.

"Oh god, what do we do?!" Natsumi shrieked, her eyes like saucers.

"I-I don't know..!"

"We have to do something! They'll kill each other!"

"Um- um!" Hyouka looked around wildly, but the stretch of beach they were on was isolated- not even a life guard was in the vicinity. "There's no one here! Should we call the police?"

"I don't know- what if they arrest everyone here!?"

"R-Right..." She took a shaky breath.

"I-I'll go look for help! There's gotta be someone!" Natsumi began to run away. "I'll come as fast as I can- make sure they don't kill each other!"

"A-Alright!" Hyouka stammered, praying for help to be close by as she turned back to the brawl, her heart racing.

It was then that she was faced with the over-glamorized, truly ugly side of juvenile delinquency- the violence.

The sounds were awful- fists striking skin, growling, grunts and shouts of pain, and even the horrible crack of something. Through the tangle of swinging limbs and thrashing bodies, their faces were gnarled masks of fury and fightlust- squinted eyes, teeth bared like wild animals, brows set and furrowed densely. Sand and sweat flew through the air, and soon, the scent of iron joined.

Hyouka felt frozen, rooted to the ground as her stomach twisted and churned. It was sickening- the most horrid thing she had ever seen- but she could not tear her eyes away, for they darted to every corner of the fight. Snarling and spitting, Moriyama and Komori were locked in battle, blood pouring from the former's lip and the latter's nose, splattering their faces and knuckles. Ueno had Sakamoto on the ground, both their hair a tangled, sweaty mess as they swung blows at each other. Ryuhei- he had just gotten up from next to Ueno- he was running now, over to the other side of the fight, where two figures had tumbled down the dune.

"Yu!" Ryuhei shouted, sprinting over, and Hyouka gasped, finding the strength in her legs to run after him.

Covered in wet sand, Yuji and Matsuzaki were right by the water, the rugby player having a round, bleeding outline on his shoulder, Yuji's mouth and teeth stained red- but he was losing. He was on his back, mouth agape and eyes rolling back in his head. Two brawny hands were wrapped around his throat, strangling him. He tried to kick him back, pry his fingers off, escape his grip- but his strength was rapidly plummeting.

"Get off him, you fucking bastard!" Ryuhei hollered, slamming his knee into Matsuzaki's ribs, again and again- but he was resilient and bore the pain, continuing to wring Yuji's throat, his face turning from red to blue.

Hyouka's eyes darted around like mad- trying to think of something- anything- she could do to help. Her ears were filled by heavy breathing and sounds of pain and aggression, the air reeking of sweat and blood.

But then her gaze landed on something next to the crumbled remains of her sandcastle.

The girl sprinted over to it, grabbing the bucket's handle- still full of water- and lugging it over to the site of the brutal beatdown, moving as fast as she could.

"Tachibana- get out of the way!"

Wide-eyed, he sprung back- and with all the force she could muster, she slammed the heavy bucket into the side of Matsuzaki's head, water sloshing over and onto them.

Eyes bugging out and jaw dropping at the impact, he was stunned, lurching over. Ryuhei was ready, pouncing on the burly boy and knocking him back, slamming into the ground and throwing fistfuls of sand into his face. Yuji wheezed and coughed, gasping for air.

Then came the high-pitched wail of a siren in the distance, and Matsuzaki bolted up, shoving him off.

Had Natsumi changed her mind?

"Fuck! Someone called the cops!" He glared daggers at Hyouka as he wiped the sand from his eyes, who only held a sandcastle pail in her hands. "That fucking bimbo!"

"Don't call her that!" She hurled the rest of the water at him, chucking the pail for good measure.

"Let's get out of here- c'mon!" Sakamoto kicked Ueno off, bolting towards the line of hotels. Matsuzaki jumped to his feet and took off sprinting, Komori stumbling after his friends as they fled the scene.

"Yeah, that's right, you'd better run!" Moriyama shouted at their retreating backs. "Fuckin' with my crew!"

"Ugh, fuck...!" Ueno groaned, clutching his stomach. "That motherfucker...!"

"Yuji!" Hyouka dropped to the boy's side and grabbed his shoulders, hovering over him. On his throat, the bruised outline of fingers was already beginning to appear, and his left cheek and eye were badly swollen. But he could breath now, though he was panting, and he looked up at her- as well as he could.

"Yu!" Ryuhei scrambled over. "Thank god! Dude- c'mon! The cops are coming! We gotta get out of here- fast!"

"Cops?!" The siren had gotten louder, and he tried to sit up too fast, hissing. "Shit...!"

"Morikawa, grab his arm- I've got his other one!" Ryuhei pulled it over his shoulder, kneeling and ready to stand.

Hyouka quickly grabbed his wrist- but then Yuji let out a yowl of pain, and she dropped it, jumping back.

"Oh fuck!" Moriyama and Ueno rushed over. "Is your hand broken?!"

"N-No! Maybe- I dunno!" He ground his teeth, brows furrowing as he grimaced. "Ugh!...Dammit!"

"Oh god! Oh my god!" Hyouka heard Natsumi's voice, the girl dashing over- but unexpectedly, she was alone- there was not an officer in sight. "Are you guys okay?!"

"Yeah, those pussies ran off when they heard the sirens!" Moriyama laughed as Natsumi joined them. "But, uh- maybe we should start running before the cops show up!?"


"Didn't you call the police?" Hyouka looked up at her.

"Huh? No, I told you I wouldn't- and my phone's all the way back there!"

Just as she was about to panic, the siren grew quieter, as if it was getting further away, and then it faded from earshot.

"It...was something unrelated, then..."

"Talk about a lucky coincidence!" Ryuhei let out a sigh of relief, slowly helping Yuji stand. "But what do we do?"

Beaten and battered, they all stood there dumbfounded- what should they do?

"...Maybe we should find a hospital..." said Hyouka, trying to calm down.

"Hell no!" Moriyama shook his head, wiping at his split lip. "Who knows how far that could be? And we could be waiting there for hours! We'd be stranded here!"

"Oh shit, what time is it?" Yuji groaned. "Did we miss our train?"

"Uhh-" Ryuhei looked up at the sky, which was slowly darkening, the sun sinking below the horizon. "Probably close to seven- we've got maybe an hour or two."

"Okay, so we have some time to get patched up!" Natsumi interrupted. "Thank god- we won't be able to get on the train covered in blood!"

"We're not even that bloody!" Ueno protested, plugging his nose, though the red had already dripped all the way down his chest.

"You look like you walked off the set of an action movie!"

"That's badass!"

"Listen!" Natsumi scolded. "Now is not the time!"

"Do you think a convenience store could work?" Hyouka asked hesitantly. "...I think that might be the best we can do, considering our location."

"We probably passed one on our way over here." Yuji muttered. "With all these hotels, there's gotta be one somewhere."

"It's worth a shot- they're selling almost anything these days." Natsumi bit her lip, looking around. "Hyouka-chan, let's try to get everyone's stuff together- guys, meet us over there as soon as you can, but don't push yourselves!"

"Alright, I'm coming."

The two girls ran off to where Hyouka's beach umbrella still stood, surrounded by everyone's other belongings. Throwing their clothes on over their swimsuits, they quickly began packing up camp- rolling up beach towels- and tossing all the shirts and sandals into one big pile. Pulling the pole from where it was planted in the ground, Hyouka shut the umbrella canopy, tying it shut.

"Hyouka-chan, are you okay?" Natsumi asked quietly, but then her voice exploded in volume, and she bowed her head. "I really hope they didn't hurt you any more! I'm so sorry I left you there- I wasn't thinking- I was just worried that someone would die if I didn't find help, but I couldn't even do that!"

"No, please don't apologize- I'm alright." She insisted, covering her sore cheek. "They didn't put their hands on you, did they?"

"No...thank god." The blonde shook her head, biting her lip. "I think I'm the only one who came out unscathed..."

"Well, that's good." Hyouka mused, pulling her tote over her shoulder- as well as two backpacks. "Because we have a lot of things to carry."

"That's true." Natsumi cracked a smile, slinging the other bags over her arm as the four boys finally limped over. "Alright, get dressed- we're leaving!"

"If any of you need it, you can try using this as a walking stick." Hyouka offered up her beach umbrella.

Pulling on shirts and stuffing their feet into shoes, the group slowly left Chidorigahama beach, trudging through the streets. It seemed almost miraculous that the heat had died down since the afternoon, the air significantly cooler. Passing resorts and restaurants, the trip felt even longer than it had earlier- only emphasized by the slower speed at which they could move. Low groans and huffs fell from their lips, sandals scuffing against the sidewalk as they ambled along. By the time they had been walking for fifteen minutes, Hyouka's arms were sore and the station was nowhere in sight.

But there was a Minute Mart, its florescent lights shining brightly through the windows.

"Thank god..." Yuji sighed, slumping against the wooden bench outside, the others flopping down next to him.

"Hang tight, we'll be right back!" Natsumi said, dropping their bags nearby as she opened the door. Laying her umbrella down, Hyouka followed her inside the store.

"Welcome to Minute Mart." A college-age girl greeted from behind the counter, looking up from a magazine. "Is there anything I can help you find?"

"Do you have first-aid supplies?" Natsumi looked around anxiously. "Our friends got hurt and they're waiting outside."

"Should I call you an ambulance?!" Her eyes widened.

"No, no!" Natsumi shook her head. "It's nothing too major! We just need bandages, gauze- stuff like that."

"Down that aisle, with the toiletries." The girl pointed.

"Maybe water, too..." Hyouka murmured, walking past Natsumi, who had started tossing things into a plastic basket, grabbing a few bottles and cold cans of soda.

"Do you think we're missing anything?" Natsumi asked her as they carried everything to the register.

"I don't think so- we'll come back if we need more." She replied, grabbing some napkins as the employee scanned their items as quickly as possible, putting them into a plastic bag.

"Thank you so much!" They bowed their heads.

Once outside, the girls were quick to survey the damage. Along with a spattering of bruises on their bodies, the boys had all sustained facial injuries. Though they had seemed to have mostly clotted, Ueno was sporting a bloody nose, and so was Ryuhei, Moriyama had a split lip and a black eye, but Yuji was the worst off- one eye was almost swollen shut, his knuckles the most bruised and bloody of them all, and his left hand already starting to swell.

"Where do we begin?" Hyouka stared at them, then at Natsumi. "I've never done first aid for these types of injuries before."

"Oh, joy..." mumbled Ueno.

"We'll have to improvise- this is just a temporary solution." The girl decided, digging through the bag. "I grabbed bandages, ointment, gauze, medical tape, plasters, some handkerchiefs..."

"Here, for the blood..." Hyouka averted her eyes, offering them a stack of napkins as she and Natsumi sanitized their hands, trying to figure out a plan.

"Taking care of any cuts should be the priority...bruises don't need any special attention, and then there's his hand..."

"Dude, did you see how I slugged that blond punk in the nose?" Moriyama was reliving the fight, pressing a cold soda can to his eye. "It started gushing blood immediately!"

"You talkin' about Ueno?" Yuji taunted, doing the same.

"Very funny." Ueno shot him a look. "But what about how I got that one guy on the ground? You see that?"


"Exactly- I got him there fast. He didn't stand a chance."

"And what about how Tanihara tackled that dude at the beginning of the fight?" Moriyama turned to him, slapping his shoulder. "And you bit the fuck out of that huge one! That was fucking badass!"

"Thanks, man." Yuji grinned sheepishly, grimacing at the same time.

"Yeah, especially when he immediately pulled you off his friend and put you in a chokehold." Ueno jeered.

"Oh, screw you." He huffed back. "You wish you had these balls of steel!"

"Speaking of balls..." Ryuhei snorted, as Natsumi used a damp handkerchief to clean his split knuckles. "Did you guys see the nutshot Morikawa gave that prick? That was badass."

"Oh yeah, that was brutal, Hyouka-chan! I didn't know you had that in you!"

"I considered headbutting him instead of kneeing him." Hyouka admitted. "But I didn't want to get that close to his crotch."

"And when their giant friend was strangling Yu, she clobbered him in the head with a bucket! It was like a scene out of an anime- you had to see it!"

"Jeez- you're hardcore!" Moriyama praised. "And then you spat in someone's face- like holy shit! Remind me to never piss you off again!"

"I decided to take a leaf out of Yuji's book- I once saw him do that."

"Atta girl!" Yuji grinned crookedly, offering her his less-injured fist. Smiling softly, Hyouka bumped it.

In the distance, began the first explosions of the fireworks show.


The rest of the evening was a blur.

Now covered in bandages and plasters, and wiped clean of blood, the group popped back into the Minute Mart- much to the alarm of the lone employee working that shift- purchasing snacks as Natsumi and Hyouka thanked her again and apologized for the trouble.

Occasional bursts of color decorated the sky as they continued the rest of their walk to Utsumi Station, filling the air with the faint scent of gunpowder. Their path was illuminated by a few sparse light posts, but as they made it inside the small, old building, it was almost completely empty, with even fewer people than there had been before.

"It's like a ghost town in here..." Ryuhei mused, glancing around as they climbed up a flight of stairs. "I wonder if it's haunted."

"Don't say that, Ryu!" Yuji shouted, glaring furiously at him.

"Sorry, I'm just messing with ya!" He nudged his fist into his cheek.

"That was a weak-ass punch! I expected better from you!"

"Here, lemme try again!" Ryuhei hit him harder this time.

"Ow, jeez! Ugh! This place gives me the creeps..."

At nightfall, there was truly a more eerie feeling to the rural beach town, the train platform isolated as they stepped onto it, cicadas chirping. The streets were practically dead, only the occasional car driving past, and from what Hyouka could see, most of the windows were dark. By the time the boxy red and white train opened its doors to them, only a handful of people had joined them, leaving the compartment mostly empty.

Settling in a row next to one another, they dropped their luggage by their feet and shut their eyes, slumping against the vinyl cushions. On either side of Natsumi and Ryuhei- whose heads were resting atop one another's, getting comfortable for the long ride- Moriyama and Ueno were both too exhausted to make a snide remark, opting to nap instead. Yuji had done the same, his earbuds in, and the longer Hyouka looked at his badly battered face- at everyone's injuries- the more it weighed on her conscience.

It wasn't fair.

The girl brought her knees to her chest, burying her face in them. Today had marked a lot of firsts for her- her first time traveling long distance with friends, her first time going to the beach, her first time showing the world what she looked like in a bikini.

It was the first time she had gone so far out of her comfort zone.

She bit her lip, hugging her legs as tears pricked her eyes.

It marked her first time getting slapped in the face. Her first time seeing a huge fist fight. Her first time purposely hurting someone. Her first time tending to other's wounded bodies.

Hyouka wasn't sure what was more upsetting- the fact that her old tormentors had such an effect on her years later, ripping and peeling away every layer of her carefully composed exterior in front of everyone- or that she and Yuji's shared past had been revealed so crudely, showing a side of both of them that were now impossible to just brush off.


Uncurling herself and wiping her eyes before anyone else could glance over, she reached for her phone, switching it on.

Her notification wall was full of messages that had been sent since the last time she checked it, nearly all of them from Grandmother.

[I hope you're enjoying your trip! Have you taken any more pictures yet?]

[I'm not sure what you're eating there, but there's enough dinner for you at home!]

[Heard you're still at the beach...hope you're having fun and staying safe! ヽ(⌐■_■)ノ♪♬] Her father's text interrupted.

[Is it going well?]

[You must be having a lot of fun! I can't wait to hear all about it!]

[Will you be heading back soon?]

And then, the most recent one.

[Let me know when your train is almost at the station...I'll be coming to pick you up.]

Hyouka's hand flew to her marred cheek, panic overtaking her mind- her grandmother would rightfully freak out when she saw it- how could she hide what had happened?

[Alright, I will.]

Even as their train pulled into Nagoya Station, she still didn't have a foolproof solution. The others yawning and groaning as they rubbed the sleep from their eyes, Hyouka let down her hair and pulled up the hood of her sweatshirt, hoping it would be enough to disguise it- surely Grandmother wouldn't have any reason to inspect her face, right?

"Ugh, I'm beat..." Moriyama stretched, cracking his back as they stepped onto the train platform.

"You sure are." Ueno taunted.

"Oh, shut it!" He scowled up at him. "You look just as busted as I do!"

"...Let's go home..." Natsumi mumbled sleepily, still leaning against Ryuhei's shoulder as she clung to his arm like a koala.

"Good idea, Natsu-chan." He reached over to ruffle her hair, heading for the stairs. "C'mon, you guys!" He called over his shoulder.

"Comin'..." Yuji murmured, tugging the buds from his ears as he followed them.

"We'll probably have to take a taxi, huh?" asked Moriyama.

While still a hundred times busier than Utsumi Station had been, Nagoya Station was significantly less lively at this hour. Late in the evening, jetlagged passengers were coming in from the nearby airport, sluggishly dragging their luggage behind them. Exhausted salarymen were still getting off work, the bags under their eyes dark and defined as they ambled along. Even the station employees were starting to show that they'd rather be home.

"We might be waiting a while..." Ueno mused.


The group exited the Meitetsu Line gates, limping and shuffling as they dragged themselves through the station and past other tired-looking commuters until they had made it to the Sakuradori side of the center concourse.

"Woo, we made it..." Ryuhei yawned, covering his mouth as he looked around. "Hey, Morikawa, isn't that your granny over there?"

"Where?!" Hyouka's eyes darted around, her heart pounding as she readjusted her hood.

"Right there!" He pointed to someone standing under the golden clock tower, waving at her. "Hey, Morikawa-san!"

Dressed in a light blue tracksuit, Grandmother pushed up her glasses and looked up at him with a warm, friendly smile as she approached the group.

"Ah, Tachibana-kun, wasn't it?" She greeted them, walking over to exchange pleasantries. "It's nice to see all of you again! I hope you had a wonderful tr-"

The woman's voice died in her throat as she got closer, and her ruby eyes widened. Hyouka stiffened, her chest constricting.

"What on Earth happened to you...?" Grandmother gasped, taking in the sight of their battered appearances. "You're all banged up! Were you attacked?!"

"Please, Grandmother, let's go home." Hyouka lowered her head, staring at her sandals.

"Now wait just a second-"


"Hyouka-chan, are you hur-"

"Grandmother, please."

The stunned woman stared at her granddaughter as she began to walk away, heading for the doors that lead outside. Her plea hung in the air as the others averted their eyes, self-consciously turning away.

"Hyouka-chan, wait! Where are you going?" She called as the girl began to walk faster, taking a step in her direction.

"Morikawa-san." Yuji spoke up, his voice quiet.

Grandmother whirled around to look at him, confused and worried as he lowered his head, bowing deeply.

"...I'm so sorry."

Bewildered by his sudden apology, the elderly woman stared at him in silence, before hurrying after her granddaughter.

The doors banged shut behind Hyouka, and then, once again, the tears came. It wasn't fair- nothing was fair, it never was.

It just wasn't fair.