Chapter 24:

I said I’m not falling.

Light of my darkest eve

“Hm? Didn’t I tell you that I pretty much use everyone?”
“Ah- right, I guess I’m asking the wrong question.”
We step into the lift and Hanji hits the ground floor button. As the doors close, I rethink what I’m trying to ask.

“I guess… what I’m trying to ask is… are you gonna get rid of me? Once I no longer serve a purpose to you? Are you only keeping me around until you decide you’ve gotten your use out of me?”

This time she doesn’t answer right away, seemingly not really having a response off the top of her head. As we wave to Yuuko and head out the front door, she starts speaking again.

“Well… in a way, I suppose so. But that won’t happen any time soon, at least. My initial reason for hanging out with you was just because I was interested in your condition, but I actually do really enjoy your company. I guess, what I’m trying to say is that I consider you a friend, and I don’t have any intention of throwing that away.”

“I-I see. Friends, right.”

Saki was her friend, but she still didn’t mind the collateral damage of their relationship. On the surface, what she’s saying is reassuring, but I can’t say it feels like any more than empty words.

It’s likely too personal of a question to ask, but I want to hear from her exactly what happened between the two of them.

“Do you… mind if I ask you a question about the past?”
“What happened between you and Saki?”

She shoots me a sideward glance, her expression souring a little. I guess she doesn’t really like to recall it either.

“Where’d you hear about that?”
“I guessed. Then I asked Yosuke.”
“Well, it was just a case of two people wanting different things that got blown out of proportion. She wanted a place in my heart, I wanted her placed between my legs. When I realised she was catching feelings I broke it off, but she got really angry and we ended up in a screaming match. Eventually we made up, but I stopped having sexual relationships with my closer friends after that. The drama it caused just wasn’t worth it.”

Sounds like Yosuke’s explanation was pretty much right. Although the ‘stopped having sexual relationships with friends’ thing is a little reassuring. I may not be Saki or Makoto, but I think she and I are close enough that I would qualify for that label at this point. That at least means that all of this hasn’t just been an elaborate attempt to get my pants off.

“Has there been a particular reason you’ve been asking me on dates so often? It seemed random on Wednesday, and each passing day has only made me more confused.” I ask the other major question on my mind. What reason could she have for making so much effort to keep me around?
“Hmm… to get to know you better I guess?”
“Is that really all there is to it?”
“Kinda. Like I said, I really do enjoy your company. I wanna keep you around, and I figure the best way to do that is to know you better. Plus, flirting with you is fun. You give some great reactions.”

…assuming I can believe what she says, this is probably the best answer I could ask for. Nothing romantic, and also nothing completely facetious. Selfish, but selfish in a way that doesn’t lead me to either get hurt or abandoned.

This conversation seals the deal. Hanji and I are friends. Nothing more, nothing less. The ‘dates’ are just a nice way to hang out and get to know each other better. That’s the complete extent of our relationship, and I’m happy with it.

“Ooh, wanna stop in the old arcade before we go to the cafe?”
“There’s an arcade here?”
“Yeah, real retro place. Used to come here with Koto but he got mad at how hard I always kicked his ass and refused to come with me anymore.”
“I mean, sure, I’m game.”

There’s no feelings between us more than friendship. I like her as a friend and nothing more, and that’s the way it should be.

“Yo, the picture booth is still here! Let’s take some photos, I love these things.”
“Never been in one before, I don’t really like getting my picture taken. But I’ll make an exception this time.”
“Sweet, less go, less go.”

Developing feelings for someone completely foreign to the idea of love would be stupid, and I’m not stupid. I would never do that.

“Copy my poses, I’m a god at taking good photos.”

“You’re the boss, I’ll follow your lead.”

Yes, I’m not an idiot. I’m not falling in love with Hanji.

“What should we do for the next pose, Hanji?”
“Kiss me-”

The second she says it, before I’ve even had time to think, I lean in and let my lips meet hers. She briefly kisses me back, before pulling away with a giggle and a grin. Putting the tips off of her fingers to her mouth, she gives me a mischievous smile that’s cute enough to sell the world for.

“Y’know, if you’d let me finish I was gonna say ‘on the cheek.’ Were you really that eager to get another taste of my lips? How naughty of you, Taro.”

Yes, I’m not falling for Hanji. I’ve already fallen. I’ve fallen hard. I’m in love with her.

Oh fuck. I’m in love with Hanji.

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