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Like a Red String of Fate

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09/10

The classroom was gray, devoid of color, dull and uninteresting. It was only fitting Hajime was stuck in here, he supposed. All these things could be said about him, too.

The teacher at the front was talking about some words and phrases in English, but his voice was so monotone and bored, it was hard to concentrate on it for longer than twenty seconds. It was obvious he didn’t like his job. Or maybe it wasn’t the job, but the place that bothered the adult.

Who could blame him? Getting a job at the prestigious Hope’s Peak Academy only to be assigned to teach the Reserve Course and its students that had been too dumb to pass the entrance exam into the Main Course certainly wasn’t anyone’s dream job.

No one wanted to be here. Not the students, not the teachers.

The only reason no one transferred or quit their job was because having the name Hope’s Peak Academy, even in association with the Reserve Course, printed on your job application practically guaranteed you’ll be hired. And the pay for the people currently working here was probably above the average amount of money you could earn from teaching alone.

However, just because success was guaranteed didn’t make him feel any better about his situation.

He could still remember the hours he spent cooped up in his room, study guides and text books opened and scattered all over his desk, the small table in front of his couch, on the couch itself, and the floor. It was the most he had ever studied for an exam in his life, he felt as if his head had been about to explode.

Yet, in the end, he didn’t make it. He had been one point short on passing the required amount of points needed to enter Hope’s Peak’s Main Course. All the studying he had done ultimately meant nothing, and now he was stuck in this depressing, colorless classroom filled with gloomy faces.

You would think after one and a half year, he would’ve gotten over his disappointment, but no. Not him. He wasn’t sure he could ever get over it.

His mother was proud of him, he knew that, and it was genuine, but it still felt like pity to him. Thinking about his current family situation wouldn’t brighten his mood, not one bit, so he quickly ran away from that train of thought. He should probably stop thinking all together and listen to his teacher’s explanations on the English language.

His notes were pretty much nonexistent today as well. Not that there was any real time left to expand them. The bell should be ringing in about ten minutes and then he could leave, get away from this dull environment that remined him too much of himself.

He tried focusing on his teacher’s voice, but found himself getting bored far too quickly. Watching the student next to him sleep while using his arms as a pillow was a lot more entertaining.

The guy – Souda – was a hobby mechanic. He had told him that the very first day they met, without Hajime actually wanting to obtain that information. Because of his hobby, Souda’s arms, hands, and hair were covered in grease most of the time. Now, it was getting all over his face, too.

It was funny, because that had been the first concern Hajime had brought up after hearing about Souda’s hobby. He was told it never happened, but seeing how this wasn’t the first time Souda opted for sleeping in class rather than listening, Hajime doubted that statement.

The shrill tone of a bell rang throughout the building, signaling the end of class. The teacher stopped talking in the middle of his sentence, waving at the students to leave the room, and stuffed his things into his bag before bolting out the door.

“I’m awake!” Souda’s head snapped up, his gaze flickering around the room in disorientation.

Hajime ignored him. He needed to get away from this oppressing atmosphere. Throwing the things on his desk inside his bag without a care, he stood up, sliding his chair perfectly against the small table, and took wide steps in the direction of the classroom’s backdoor.

“Hey, Hinata! Wait up!” Souda’s voice called after him.

Hajime fought back a groan of frustration. Souda really couldn’t read a person’s mood, could he? Or take a hint. He had been all friendly and buddy-buddy with Hajime since the first day of their first year, and he couldn’t stand it.

He didn’t need any “friends” that had cool hobbies and a personality. He’d seem even more like some blank slate of nothingness next to them. But, apparently, Souda took his cold behavior as a sign to continue whatever he was doing.

And Hajime didn’t want to be rude and tell him to leave him alone. The guy already stood out like a sore thump with his pink hair and sharp teeth. Hajime supposed he could at least let him pretend to have a friend.

Though, it was a pain.

He stopped right in front of the door, turning around on the spot to watch Souda frantically clearing his desk of his things, getting even more grease on his books and pencils as there already was. It was a pitiful sight, but there was no way he was helping with that.

Once he was done, Souda jumped up from his chair, not bothering to slide it closer to the desk, and walked over to Hajime with a big grin on his face, “Hey, did you think about going to the car exhibition I told you about last week?”

“I did.” – he didn’t, but there wasn’t much thinking needed to come to a decision – “But no, thanks. I’m not really a car enthusiast.”

“You ain’t gotta be an enthusiast to appreciate some motors!” Souda said with a voice entirely too loud for Hajime’s liking. They were only attracting unwanted attention.

He sighed, “There are exams coming up, Souda.”

“Uh, yeah. In, like, October. It’s still over a month until we have to take them.”

One month and three days to be exact, but Souda didn’t need to know how peculiar he was about keeping track of the time they had left to study.

“So? You know Hope’s Peak’s exams are above the average difficulty. Even in the Reserve Course. I don’t want to be held back a year just because I didn’t take my education seriously.” With that, he turned around, deeming this conversation as finished.

Before his hand could reach the sliding door, it shot open, forcefully colliding with the frame. It revealed a blonde girl with a baby face standing outside their classroom.

“Move,” she pushed Hajime to the side with the same strength she must’ve used on the sliding door, knocking his head against the wall in the process. For a moment, he thought he lost consciousness, but in hindsight, that was probably just wishful thinking.

The classroom that had still been filled with quiet murmurs and conversations fell silent at the blonde girl’s entry. It made Souda’s high shriek even more noticeable. She didn’t give any reaction to that, nor did she spare Hajime a second glance or an apology, and went straight for a desk at the back of the room next to a window.

Said desk was still occupied by another girl with gray hair and red eyes. Hajime hadn’t talked to her since she transferred over from the Main Course nor did she make any attempts to start up a conversation with any of her classmates. He did know her name was Pekoyama, though, and that she was the one who asked the school for the transfer, for whatever reason.

The thought that someone would willingly give up their place in the Main Course, when he had worked so hard to make it only to end up failing miserably, made him feel nauseous, so he ignored her presence as much as he could.

“Peko-chan,” Baby Face slammed her hand on Pekoyama’s desk. It made Hajime flinch at the sudden noise, but Pekoyama remained perfectly still. She merely tilted her head to acknowledge the other girl in front of her, who now had a smirk plastered on her face. “It’s the eighth school day since the second term started. Nothing happened. You promised,” she said in a sweet tone that was entirely fake.

“I do recall making a promise with these conditions,” Pekoyama sighed more than spoke. She silently stood up, not even the chair made a sound as it scratched over the floor, and hung a normal bag and a sword bag over her shoulder. “We can go wherever you wish, Natsumi-sam—”

Baby Face punched her on the arm, interrupting the honorific Pekoyama wanted to add to her name. “How. Many. Times. Until you. Understand, Peko-chan?” she punched again for every punctuation, “It’s Natsumi. Na-tsu-mi.”

Pekoyama didn’t seem to mind the punches. In fact, she looked more flustered than anything else. “U-understood,” despite her stutter, she composed herself fairly quickly.

Baby Face’s face lit up, a little too brightly, “Great! Then let’s get out of this classroom already. It just reeks of broken dreams and desperate attempts to run after good-for-nothing wanna-be-photographer friends.”

“Excuse me?!” a dark-haired girl, who was standing at the room’s front door, spun around to glare at Baby Face.

“Oh, Satou, I didn’t see you there.”

This was the moment Hajime decided it was time for him to leave. This just screamed danger, and he really didn’t want to get involved any more than he already had. His head still hurt from its collision with the wall.

So, he blocked out Satou’s angry screams and left the classroom, walking down the hallway. His left hand traveled up to the back of his head, feeling a bump starting to form.

“Are you okay?” Souda’s voice was right next to his ear, sounding more scared than worried.

“Yeah, fine.” Hajime dropped his hand. At least, it was something different from his usual boring routine days. Though he would have preferred it to be less harmful.

“Oh, good! Then we won’t have a problem. What a relief,” there was Souda’s usual big grin and too loud voice. Hajime let go of an internal sigh.

“I already said I’m not going with you to this exhibition.”

“C’mon, man.” Souda gave him a shove against his shoulder, “Live a little! Life has more to it than studies or whatever.”

Hajime’s sigh made its way out of his mind into the open and he quickened his pace.

It might be true that someone like Souda had a chance at making his life a success without having to worry about school. From what he gathered from Souda’s stories about his mechanic hobby, he owned his skills partially to his father who already worked in the field. He could introduce him as soon as he left high school, and boom. Souda had a job he’ll probably love for the rest of his life.

It wasn’t that easy for Hajime. He didn’t know what he wanted to do after school, and he didn’t have any hobbies that could help him with making his decision. Getting good grades to increase his chances of being hired by a big company was all he could do at the moment.

His mother worked as a waitress at a restaurant, but Hajime had to get more out of his life than just running from table to table and taking orders. Asking his mother for a recommendation to her boss wasn’t an option.

His stepfather – Kamukura Kazuki – wasn’t any better. He was a…something. He forgot. Or never asked. Or payed attention. It could be any of those. He didn’t care.

Souda was still walking beside him, chatting about some TV show Hajime had no clue about, as they walked out of the Reserve Course building on the far West side of Hope’s Peak Academy’s school grounds.

Without meaning to, his eyes drifted over to the Main Course building in the North. Trees were blocking his view of the first and second floor, but he could see anything else of the tall towering school. The sight made a bitter feeling settle in his stomach.

Despite that, it took a lot of effort to tear his gaze away from it and on the path ahead.

“What’s with the scary face, Hinata?” Souda asked, apparently confused. “Don’t tell me you’re actually a fan of that creepy character!” he answered his own question with a gasp.

Hajime had no idea who he was referring to, so he just shrugged, hoping it’d be enough for Souda. He continued to go on a rant about how unnerving said character was, but Hajime ignored him.

He was glad he had to get on a train in order to go home. Souda lived in the opposite direction, so Hajime didn’t need to listen to him much longer. Well, he wasn’t listening in the first place, but even background noise could become annoying over time.

Having to take the train could be a pain, though, especially since most high schools ended at the same time. Hope’s Peak was no exception. The Reserve Course, anyway. The Main Course students had two more hours of school every day, so he wasn’t worried about running into—

“Hajime.”

A cold, indifferent voice cut through his thoughts and his legs stopped moving. Of course, the moment he thought of him, he magically showed up. He almost rolled his eyes. Next to him, Souda had fallen silent.

“What are you doing here, Izuru?” Hajime asked as he turned around to see his stepbrother walking in his direction. “Your class shouldn’t be over yet.”

“There had been a medical emergency, so the remaining lessons were cancelled,” Izuru explained, sounding as bored as usual. Hajime hated that tone.

“Medical emergency?” Souda’s hands flew up to pull the gray cap on his head down as if to shield his eyes, “Did someone die?”

Izuru’s calculating gaze flickered over to Souda, the smallest hint of a frown visible on his face. He came to a halt in front of them, tucking some long strands that had fallen out of his ponytail behind his ear.

“It seemed to be only a seizure, possible heatstroke. It is quite warm for September,” he said it in such a professional tone, you’d think he was one of the doctors who came to help. Knowing Izuru, Hajime wouldn’t be surprised if he examined whoever collapsed, too, if he had been around.

“It was one of your classmates?” he asked, just to make sure.

“Yes.” Izuru’s tone made it clear he wouldn’t give out any more information, but that was all Hajime had wanted to know. Izuru had been able to show how much of a genius he was yet again. It made Hajime sick, even though he knew it wasn’t Izuru’s fault. He was just born that way.

“A-anyway, i-it’s getting late, don’t you think?” Souda stuttered out, obviously avoiding looking at Izuru. “I’ll see ya tomorrow, Hinata!” and with that, Souda ran off. Not that Hajime complained.

“You’re intimidating him, you know?” he said to Izuru, looking after Souda until he disappeared around a corner. He was a surprisingly fast runner when he wanted to. He couldn’t blame him.

Izuru’s bright red eyes in combination with his long brown-almost-black hair and the motionless mask he seemed to always wear on his face were all a factor in his level of intimidation. When Hajime had first met him, back when he was still in middle school, he hadn’t been able to look at him directly for several months.

Izuru didn’t give a comment. He started to walk in the direction of the school gate and Hajime quickly followed him to walk at his side, so he wouldn’t have to stare at his back.

Neither of them said anything on their way to the train station.

The silence wasn’t comfortable, though. Not to Hajime, at least. It made the air around him feel as if it was trying to suffocate him.

Whenever he was in Izuru’s presence, he felt judged for his boringness, for his lack of character, for his lack of intellect, for his ordinary appearance, for his average grades, for everything he was and wasn’t. It made him realize just how much of a forgettable existence he was all over again.

There were only two ways to get into Hope’s Peak Academy’s Main Course. Either you pass the entrance exam with a minimum of 95 points and you get to study at Hope’s Peak for free, or you pay a large sum of money every month.

The latter option was only for society’s rich people, of course. The Reserve Course still required an entrance fee after you passed the exam with a minimum of 65 points, but it was only once for every school year, and far less than what you would have to pay for the Main Course in total.

Izuru made it into the Main Course because he was a natural genius. His score from the entrance exam had been 100 – every last point, a new record in Hope’s Peak’s history. And Hajime envied him for it. Every time he saw him, he was reminded of that, of his failures and of his disappointment.

Sadly, given that they were stepbrothers, he saw him more often than he’d like.

At the station, they didn’t have to wait long for their train to arrive.

It was packed with people, but Hajime didn’t let it bother him. In fact, he could use it to his advantage to get away from Izuru’s presence. If there was one thing he was good at, it was his ability to completely disappear in a large crowd. He didn’t stand out, after all.

The ride went the same as usual. And with that, Hajime meant nothing happened. The usual, boring routine. He could apply that line to his entire life.

It was just one big routine that would continue forever and ever. He was nothing special now, and he never will be. He’ll always be just another face in the crowd.

That’s what his entire existence was about. Being overlooked, being forgotten. Being swallowed up by a mass of people, not unlike one was swallowed up in a full train car.

He didn’t want to think like this, but it happened every time he couldn’t keep himself occupied. It wasn’t even true. He knew his mother would never forget him, she would notice if he disappeared… He hoped that was the case, anyway.

Though, with another son like Izuru, even if it wasn’t by blood, Hajime just couldn’t be sure. He felt so mediocre next to…anyone that wasn’t him, really.

He could feel the scowl spreading over his face as he stared at nothing in particular outside the train’s window. The air started to feel heavy again, filling up his lungs and refusing to let new air take its place. It was worse than usual, somehow.

He couldn’t get out of the train fast enough when they reached his stop.

“You look pale.”

Hajime flinched at the sound of Izuru’s voice. He was right beside him, staring at him with nothing on his face despite his words. Not even the tiniest bit of concern was there. Just nothing. Hajime wanted to throw up.

“I’m fine,” he forced the words out of his mouth. He knew Izuru could see through lies without having to look twice, but what he didn’t admit couldn’t be discussed.

Hajime’s steps were quick as he walked out the train station’s exit into the quiet neighborhood he had lived in for as long as he could remember. He could hear Izuru’s footsteps behind him, but he didn’t stop, continuing down the road without him.

Their house was in the middle of the street, a two-story house with a more modern built. Although, the door was just a wooden sliding door behind a small front gate and stone fence.

Hajime pulled his key out of his pocket, opening the gate and approaching the front door. He left it open for Izuru when he entered the house, pulling his shoes off and placing them on the stone floor in front of the small wooden step that marked the beginning of the house’s interior.

“I’m home!” he halfheartedly called out as he stepped fully inside, knowing his mother had a late evening shift on Wednesdays. He heard the sound of the sliding door shut close behind him and added, “Izuru’s with me!”

He flinched as the sound of something heavy falling down onto the floor could be heard from the direction of the kitchen, followed by some not-so-friendly muttered words that sounded suspiciously like his mother. Hajime raised one eyebrow, glancing over to Izuru who had stopped halfway of taking his shoes off to return his gaze with a frown.

Even though she worked at a restaurant, Hajime’s mother was a disaster in the kitchen. Most of the time, Izuru was the one who did the cooking in this household, or Izuru’s father whenever he was early enough back from work.

Without a word, Hajime walked through the hall and into the kitchen. It was small, with no place to put a dining table, but the big living room made up for the lack of space here.

The kitchen counter was full of various sized pots and pans, as if someone randomly pulled them out of the cabinets and didn’t remember where which one was supposed to go after finding the right one. Some kitchen knives were lying around, too. And eggshells, as well as other ingredients – or whatever was left of them.

His mother was kneeling on the floor in front of a broken mixer, picking up any screws that had fallen out. Her brown hair was pulled back into a bun, but it already started to become loose, some strands falling over her face.

“Mom, what are you doing?” Hajime asked, a flat expression on his face. He could feel Izuru’s presence creeping up behind him, probably looking over his shoulder at the mess that the kitchen had become.

“Trying to make dinner,” she said with a huff, some of her hair flying out of her face as she did so.

“And why, exactly, did you decide to repeat that mistake?” Hajime asked, letting Izuru past him through the door so he could start cleaning up the kitchen.

“Kazuki called earlier,” she was smiling warmly at the mention of her current husband. “He got a promotion at work today, so I wanted to cook for him as a celebration.”

Hajime could sense a familiar ill feeling settling in the pit of his stomach. His stepfather had been promoted, which was supposed to make him happy, but all it did was show him how successful the people around him were, yet again. While he was absolutely nothing.

Oblivious to her son’s increasing hate for himself, his mother stood up, putting the screws in her hand inside the plastic container Izuru handed over to her.

“I know I should’ve waited for Izuru-kun to come home, but I got tired of waiting, so…” she admitted with a sheepish look on her face. Chuckling nervously, she added, “I’m sorry for the mess, by the way.”

Izuru shook his head, taking the eggshells and throwing them in the trash. “It is fine,” his tone was indifferent, “Father would be grateful for the gesture alone.”

“That’s sweet, but I still want to do it,” her expression was determined.

Hajime knew once she had set her mind on something, it was near impossible to stop her. Izuru had already figured that out as well, simply nodding after staring at her for a moment.

“Let me help, then,” he said.

“Yes, please!” his mother clapped her hands together in front of her chest, being her usual over enthusiastic self.

Hajime watched as Izuru continued to clean up the kitchen with his mother hovering around him, waiting for any instructions. He swallowed down the bitter feeling inside him – the feeling of insignificance – and walked back inside the hallway, up the stairs to the second floor, and disappeared into his room.

Once the door was closed behind him, he let his school bag fall down to the floor. Leaning against the door, he let go of a heavy sigh.

Normally, since today was a school night, he would do his homework right now. After that, he would study until dinner was ready, then eat dinner, take a shower, and go to bed. It was his routine ever since his second year in middle school.

He didn’t know if he could do it today, though.

He had been reminded of Izuru’s intelligence, Kazuki, his stepfather, made a new breakthrough at whatever he was working as, his mother’s bright personality overshadowed his own non-existent one, that Baby Face from school showed him his lack of presence, and he realized an easily scared and way too carefree guy like Souda had better chances at a successful future than he would ever have.

This must be one of the worst days in his entire life so far. Definitely not the worst, but close.

Hajime pushed himself away from the door, walked over to his bed in the corner, and pulled his phone out of his pocket. The first thing he always did upon arriving at home was to turn the signal tones on his phone back on from silent mode.

The only ones who had his number were his current family members, so he wasn’t expecting it to inform him of any new messages, but it was sort of a habit he developed over the years.

He fell down onto his bed’s mattress with a dull thud, dropping his phone next to his head for no reason. He stared up at the white empty ceiling, contemplating what he could do right now.

He didn’t want to go back down to his mother and Izuru, so watching TV was out of the question. There wasn’t anything of interest to him, anyway. His mind was too focused on his past failures, eliminating studying as a possible option as well.

He didn’t have any hobbies he could pursue at a time like this, so what was there left to do? Watch silly cat videos online and essentially wasting his time? No, thanks.

Hajime sighed again, closing his eyes.

This wasn’t the first time he felt like this, certainly not. That didn’t make it easier on him, though. It was still a crushing feeling, seemingly taking away any kind of hope for the future he had somehow still left.

It was pathetic. Withering in self-loathing wouldn’t get him anywhere. He should just get over it, accept the reality of him never becoming someone special, and be done with it. That way, he wouldn’t have to think about it so much anymore.

With a determined huff, he pushed himself into an upright position.

He knew this determination was only temporary, and once he was faced with another inevitable failure, everything would start all over again, but he had to pretend right now. For the sake of his sanity.

He went over to his school bag, pulled out his homework, and set down at his desk.

If he let himself time with this, he could avoid the extra studying before dinner. It wasn’t something he actually wanted to do, but his mind wouldn’t let him do anything else today.

So, he did just that.

Unfortunately, he was done before Kazuki came home. After going through his work for the third time to proof it for any mistakes, he decided to take his shower now rather than after dinner. A small change in his routine wouldn’t be so bad, even if it didn’t change much.

He grabbed some more comfortable clothes than the uniform he was still wearing and left his room. He could hear Izuru and his mother downstairs, talking about how to properly cut some vegetables or whatever. It sounded like his mother had fun.

Hajime shook his head as if he could shake the thought out of his mind.

Just because he didn’t really feel as if Izuru and Kazuki were his family, didn’t mean his mother felt the same way. Or any of the other two. Kazuki probably saw them as a family given that he insisted on Hajime at least using his given name, but Izuru…

Well, there’s no way Hajime could figure out his thoughts on the matter. He didn’t want to think about this right now, though.

Ignoring his mother’s enthusiastic voice, he entered the second floor’s bathroom. Aside from the usual things you found in a bathroom, it only had a shower instead of a bathtub, unlike the one on the first floor.

Hajime had always preferred a shower over a bath. The longer he had to sit still in one place without anything to do, the easier it was for his thoughts to stray into a rather dark corner of his mind.

The cold water that was continuously falling down on him made him want to hurry, so his thoughts weren’t able to catch up to him. He was glad that method still seemed to work, even on a day like this.

He took some time getting dry after he was done. He left a towel to hang over his shoulders after he finished and put on the clothes he brought from his room earlier. Throwing his uniform into the laundry bin, he still had a spare one in his closet, he left the bathroom.

Hajime froze when he found Izuru leaning against the wall next to the door, his eyes focused on some invisible point in front of him and arms crossed over his chest. Unsure of what to do, Hajime cleared his throat. Izuru’s gaze snapped over to him at once.

“Oh, you are done,” the way he phrased it, it would be normal for the statement to have a surprised undertone, but as it was typical for Izuru there was absolutely nothing. Nothing at all. “Dinner is also done. Come downstairs.”

Something heavy dropped into his stomach, tossing around and making him feel sick. There was a lump starting to form in his throat. Before it could prevent him from talking, he blurted out the first excuse that came to mind.

“I’m not hungry.” He was hungry. Very hungry to be honest, a result of barely eating any lunch and passing the majority of it off to Souda. He could only hope his stomach wouldn’t decide to stick to the old cliché and start rumbling.

Izuru stared at him. He didn’t blink, and it made Hajime want to run away and hide, but he stood his ground. He knew lying to Izuru didn’t work, but maybe he would let it slide if he made it clear he really didn’t want to go down there and listen to stories about people who were so much more successful than he could only ever dream to be.

It was only seconds, but it felt as if hours had passed for Izuru to give him a reaction, “Your mother’s food is edible this time.”

Not the reaction Hajime wanted.

“That has nothing to do with it,” he said, suppressing an annoyed groan. “I just don’t feel like eating anything right now.”

“Is something the matter?” Izuru asked with his usual emotionless tone, no noticeable concern or desire to support him in his voice. Hajime hated that tone, especially in combination with words that would sound so much more comforting coming from someone who actually cared.

“You know, Izuru… For being such a genius, you really don’t know how to communicate with other people,” he said, not bothering to keep the hostile tone out of his voice.

There was no reaction. No shift in Izuru’s expression, no reply to his accusation.

Hajime had enough. He walked past Izuru, surprised he didn’t stop him, and disappeared into his room with the intention of not leaving it again for the rest of the day. Though he still didn’t know what he was supposed to do with the free time he had now.

He ended up watching stupid videos on his phone. A waste of time, but there was no way he could study and it was still too early to go to sleep.

After video number one-hundred or so was over, his stomach did start to rumble, so Hajime decided to sneak downstairs into the kitchen and take whatever he could find. Even though it was bound to be something unhealthy.

He ended up grabbing a bag of chips and some water. However, as soon as he walked out of the kitchen to return to his room, he noticed the living room door staying ajar. He could hear voices coming from the other side.

It was his mother’s voice, unbelieving and excited at the same time. “Are you sure this is the right number? They didn’t write a zero too much?”

“No, it’s the right amount,” Kazuki’s voice answered. He sounded amused, probably by his wife’s reaction. “Though, with all the bills to pay, we’re still in the average category of society. But now, I’m earning enough to take care of all four of us without you having to work as well.”

“There’s no way I’m going to stop working,” she said with mock indignation. “I’d have nothing to do anymore if I did that!”

“Don’t worry, I know you love your job.”

There was some silence after that, and Hajime knew he should stop eavesdropping, but his body felt too heavy to move, his muscles having gone rigid.

Kazuki really was so much more successful than he could ever be. He’d surely never earn enough money from one job to care for a family of four. His mother was so much more amazing than him, too. She didn’t want to just rely on Kazuki and leave everything entirely to him, despite having the option.

He must look so boring and forgettable next to them.

“Speaking of my job…” Hajime’s attention snapped back to the conversation taking place in the living room. “I should be on my way now if I don’t want to be late. Can’t leave my coworkers hanging!” she exclaimed energetically, the sound of her voice coming closer to the door by the second.

Hajime panicked, bolting up the stairs as silently and quickly as he could. He hoped his mother didn’t catch a glimpse of him. He wouldn’t know how to explain his reaction if she did. His body was still stiff, too.

“What are you running away from?”

Hajime flinched strong enough to lose his grip on the bag of chips. He whipped his head up, looking down the second floor’s hallway, to see Izuru standing in front of his own room, hand on the door’s handle.

Heaving a sigh, Hajime forced his body to relax, “God, don’t startle me like that.” He picked the chips up from the floor, making sure he didn’t accidentally drop any water, either.

“I am not a God,” Izuru said, staring at Hajime with another emotionless expression. It made a frown appear on Hajime’s face.

Was…was that supposed to be a joke? No, this was Izuru. He wouldn’t joke.

“Could’ve fooled me,” he mumbled, irritated. Even if it was a joke, he wasn’t in the mood for that.

Hajime didn’t wait to see if Izuru had heard him nor did he reply with anything else. He left him standing at his door, entered his own room, and sighed. He was doing that fairly often today.

He glanced over to his school bag lying on top of his desk. Studying was still not an option, was it? No, definitely not. After yet another sigh, Hajime reluctantly went back to his bed where he abandoned his phone.

The next few hours were spend watching more videos, eating chips, and trying very hard not to think about anything specific for longer than five seconds. He couldn’t help but feel guilty about how much time he was wasting, though.

Once the time on his clock was nearing 10p.m., Hajime stopped and decided he should go to sleep. He left his phone on the small table in front of his couch, it’s usual place, and went to the bathroom to brush his teeth.

Thankfully, no one else was going to sleep just yet. His mother was still at work, anyway, and Kazuki always waited for her.

He was quick, not wanting to risk running into Izuru again. Or worse, Kazuki. He could only hope he’d actually manage to fall asleep, but maybe going to sleep a little earlier wasn’t that bad for his body.

As he stepped back into his room, his phone made a signal sound. Confused, Hajime glanced over at its position on the small table. He narrowed his eyes when he noticed the little light on his phone indicating an unread text message had turned on.

It must be some automatic message from his phone service. If it didn’t seem like anything important, he just deleted those right away.

Without thinking much, he sat down and opened the message, intending to simply skim over the text, but once he realized the number was too long to be one of those automatic messages, he stopped to stare at the number sequence.

It was almost the same as his own, just one or two changed digits. And the message itself seemed more than a little weird to him. Not exactly worrying, but weird nonetheless.

[This number is not saved in your contact list] (21:51) > During the three times a single day is divided into – morning, noon, and evening – the human body needs to consume one meal.

Hajime didn’t know how he should react to that. If he had a mirror in his room, he was sure the expression his reflection would be wearing was one of utter confusion.

Maybe this was a case of the other person getting the wrong number? But wouldn’t this be the first message they send to their true recipient? That was a strange first message. It sounded more like a note to oneself, now that he thought about it.

Well, whatever it was supposed to be, it wasn’t for him.

His finger hovered over the small bar at the bottom of the screen to write a reply, but another incoming message made him halt.

[This number is not saved in your contact list] (21:53) > Which is inaccurate. If you’re dividing a single day into time terms, then dawn, daytime, afternoon, dusk, nighttime, and midnight should be counted as well.

Hajime couldn’t hold back a snorting sound from escaping him. Shaking his head with an involuntary smile on his lips, he typed out a reply.

(21:53) >> Uh… Sorry but I think you might have the wrong number.

[This number is not saved in your contact list] (21:54) > Oh, my apologies. I intended to send this message to myself, but something must have gone wrong. I am sorry if I have inconvenienced you in any way.

So, it really was a note. A strange note, but he shouldn’t judge. He did raise an eyebrow at the overly formal tone the message conveyed to him, though.

(21:55) >> No problem, it happens.

His eyes skimmed nervously over the screen. He was hesitating. It was probably not a good idea to continue talking to a stranger, but the second message was already typed out and send before he could stop himself.

(21:55) >> Though is it even possible to send a message to yourself?

[This number is not saved in your contact list] (21:56) > I don’t know! Haha.

Hajime stared at the text. The politeness was gone so suddenly, it caught him off-guard.

What was he supposed to say to that? Should he even answer? Or just leave it at that? Wasn’t chatting with a stranger like this dangerous, anyway?

Before he could answer any of these questions, his phone made another sound.

[This number is not saved in your contact list] (21:57) > I realize it is strange of me to ask, and I do hope you can forgive me should this may seem presumptuous of me, but if you don’t mind, could you tell me who you are?

Now they were polite again? Somehow, Hajime felt as if he’d get a headache from simply talking to this person.

Besides, were they really expecting him to answer that question truthfully? He wasn’t stupid. He knew he couldn’t trust a person he never saw and only talked to for a few minutes. They were dangerous, after all. He shouldn’t have send that second text.

(21:58) >> I’m just a nobody. You can forget about me.

[This number is not saved in your contact list] (21:58) > I’m afraid I can’t do that.

[This number is not saved in your contact list] (21:59) > Not yet, anyway.

Hajime furrowed his brow. He was getting a bad feeling. Could he still get out of this? He already sort of initiated a conversation once. And he didn’t know that person, so—

Wait. He didn’t know them. Of course, he just had to not answer. Simple.

He didn’t notice he was holding his breath until the air was flowing out of him in the form of a relieved sigh. He put his phone on the table, screen down, and stood up.

While Hajime was changing into the clothes he usually slept in, the phone signaled another message, but he forced himself to ignore it.

The same way he ignored the other three times his phone made a sound during the night, seemingly perfectly timed to yank him back from the brink of finally falling asleep. Sadly, he couldn’t turn it to silent or his alarm wouldn’t ring in the morning.

It was aggravating, but he knew it was the right thing to do. Talking to strangers over the phone wasn’t recommended. He wouldn’t want to know what his mother would think if she knew he exchanged more than one text with them already.

Despite that, he felt a guilty feeling settle in the pit of his stomach whenever his eyes caught the soft glow of his phone’s light in the darkness of the room. There was a different feeling, too, but he didn’t dwell on it.

Hajime was too afraid of what that feeling might be.


Unbeknownst to him, in a hospital not too far from his home, a boy was sitting in a white and sterile room, staring at the screen of his phone, and contemplating whether the luck of accidentally texting a complete stranger was good or bad.

Chapter Text

09/11

[This number is not saved in your contact list] (Yesterday – 22:02) > Once I know if this is good or bad luck, I can leave you alone if you want.

[This number is not saved in your contact list] (Yesterday – 22:48) > I know it can’t be pleasant to talk to someone like me, but are you still there?

[This number is not saved in your contact list] (Yesterday – 23:51) > Maybe you went to sleep… It is rather late, I suppose.

[This number is not saved in your contact list] (00:37) > Good night, Nobody!

Hajime was staring at the messages, specifically the Nobody at the end. He knew that was how he answered the who are you question, it was right there in the messages above, but it still stung being addressed with it.

He didn’t know what possessed him to open these texts on the way to school, maybe because the atmosphere in the train was as oppressing as usual, but that certainly didn’t help his mood. It hurt and it wouldn’t go away and he was staring at it for five minutes already, what was he doing?

Why did he care? Why was he bothered by it? Why was he reading this?! With an indignant huff, he forcefully pushed his phone into his pocket.

This was stupid. So incredibly stupid.

He clasped his hands together in his lap, preventing them from grabbing for his phone again, and directed his gaze – well, more like an intense stare – at the seat across from him. It was occupied, but whatever. He was more staring through them instead of at them.

“Hajime?” Izuru was sitting next to him, but Hajime didn’t move as he spoke up. “You are scaring her.”

Scaring who? …Oh. Across from him sat a girl in a middle school uniform. She was squirming in her seat, nervously fidgeting with her skirts hem. Now he felt awkward.

Hajime averted his eyes. He wasn’t looking at Izuru, but he mumbled out a response with gritted teeth, “I didn’t mean—”

His phone was buzzing.

Why was it buzzing? It was supposed to be silent not buzzing! Did he press the wrong option when he left the house? Why was he getting another message, anyway? This wasn’t supposed to happen when he stopped writing back last night!

“Are you all right?” Izuru asked. And, wow, look at that, there was actually a minimalistic hint of worry in his tone. Hajime would be happy if he hadn’t been busy screaming on the inside.

“I am fine—”

Why did his voice crack?!

“—We’re almost at our stop, Izuru. Doesn’t it seem longer than usual? Well, I think that, any— Okay, we’re here, let’s go.”

Hajime was practically bolting out of the train onto the concrete. His whole body felt stiff and tense. He tried to ignore it, though.

While he walked along the sidewalk, he forced deep breaths through his nose, hoping it would calm down the panicked beating of his heart. He could feel Izuru staring at his back. It made him quicken his pace.

When they reached Hope’s Peak Academy’s school gate, Hajime went directly for the path to the Reserve Course, not even sparing Izuru another glance or a word of goodbye. This day was already stressing him out. Hopefully it wouldn’t get worse.

His phone buzzed again.

Hajime flinched, freezing in place. He hurriedly pulled the phone out of his pocket.

He was staring at the 2 New Message(s) notification a little too long for his liking, but once he managed to set his phone on silent and let it vanish from his sight again, he felt a wave of relief wash over him.

This was better. He could pretend this was just another day in his normal everyday life without any potentially dangerous strangers sending him messages on his phone. It was simply another routine day with nothing…new. Nothing…at all.

Trying to shake off the heavy feeling that was pressing down on his chest, Hajime continued his way to the Reserve Course building. Every time he could feel the phone in his pocket against his leg it seemed to burn, but he clenched his hands into fists and willed them to stay at his sides.

It was harder than he’d like to admit.

The hallways and the classroom were as grey as ever when he entered. Souda was already there, impossible to miss. Some other students sat at their tables, too, but Hajime didn’t pay any attention to them. Who in the Reserve Course really was worth any attention, anyway?

“Yo, Hinata,” Souda noticed him as he was walking over to his desk. His voice was sleepy, and so was his posture, but he still managed to give him an energetic wave with his hand. “Actually beat you here for once.”

“Congratulations,” Hajime said flatly, sitting down next to him.

“Here, I have something for you,” Souda used one hand to shuffle around in his bag, oblivious to the sheer shock on Hajime’s face.

Souda slammed a small piece of paper on his desk with a grin that was a little too confident. Hajime didn’t want to look at it. Whatever it was, it was giving him a bad feeling.

He knew he couldn’t ignore it, though. Not with Souda staring at him with big excited eyes.

Slowly, Hajime took the paper. When he turned it around, he saw a logo, a date, and the picture of a car. It was an entrance ticket. Hajime wanted to tear it in half. Instead, he forced a single word out of his mouth, “Why.”

“The sooner the better!” Souda didn’t let himself get discouraged by the weak response to his gift. If he even noticed it, that is. “I was afraid it might be sold out if I wait too long, so I went ahead and bought two,” he proudly waved his own ticket in front of his face.

Hajime took another look at the date that was printed on it, furrowing his brow. “It’s not until next month, how could you think it’d be sold out by then? It’s on the second, too. That’s a week day. Besides,” he gave Souda an unimpressed look, “I thought I made it clear that I don’t want to go.”

“Well, I figured, now that you have a ticket…” his eyes were franticly roaming around the room.

Ah, so that’s it. Souda had spent money for him, therefore it would be rude to decline.

Hajime’s head collided with his desk. It was an attempt to stop himself from groaning, but he wasn’t sure if it actually helped. He extended the hand with the ticket in Souda’s vague direction.

“I don’t want to go,” despite his voice being muffled, the annoyed tone was impossible to miss. He hoped Souda would just take the ticket and finally leave him alone. He could go with his father or something.

“But it’s going to be so exciting, Hinata! Just wait until you can get a look at all these different engines up close,” he didn’t need to see it to know that Souda’s eyes were sparkling.

Hajime let his hand fall down at the side of his table. He slightly lifted his head before letting it collide with the desk’s surface again.

Why was he putting up with this? What did he do to deserve this? He didn’t want to go to some exhibition he had never heard of before. Couldn’t he just continue his life like normal? With nothing ever happening and every day being as boring as the last?

…who was he kidding? He didn’t want that. But looking at some stupid cars wasn’t exactly his definition of excitement, either. Granted, he didn’t know what actually was exciting to him, but…

An image flashed through his mind.

It was the image of his phone, displaying text messages from a number similar to his own, but still different. Messages from a number that hadn’t meant on sending these messages to him, but didn’t seem to be against talking to him despite not knowing who he was.

That’s right… They didn’t know him. Didn’t know his disappointments, didn’t know his failures. They didn’t know anything about him. And he didn’t know anything about them. It was completely new, a break in his routine. Something different, something excit

His head was hitting his desk again. And again. And again.

He couldn’t think like this. He didn’t know them, which meant they could very well be dangerous people. But…what if they’re not?

The answer was another hit to his head. He started to feel a little dizzy, but whatever.

“Uh… Hi-hinata?” Souda’s voice brought him back out of his thoughts, “You okay there?”

“Sure,” he groaned out, not lifting his head.

A beat passed and he sat up in one quick motion. He grabbed his bag, throwing the ticket inside without a care if it would get damaged. Best case scenario, it would turn invalid. And if it didn’t, well, Souda was downright glowing next to him when he saw Hajime accepting the gift, so at least one of them was happy.

He was still hyper aware of the phone in his pocket, feeling its shape burning through the cloth into his skin, but he pressed his lips into a thin line and busied his hands by getting out his notebook and pencil.

He didn’t need excitement from possible danger. He wasn’t that kind of person. He didn’t need it. His life was fine the way it was.

Hajime repeated these thoughts throughout homeroom and the first period.

As the day went on, nothing unusual happened. The lessons were tedious and the classroom was grey. His mind stopped reminding him of the unread messages on his phone.

By the time lunch break came around, he didn’t feel stressed anymore. The anxious uneasiness that followed him since the moment he woke up was pushed into the back of his mind, and thankfully decided to stay there.

When he realized he forgot his lunch this morning, the feeling wanted to crawl back, but he distracted himself by following Souda down the hallways to buy something to eat from the store.

The Reserve Course building had a small store on the first floor if you didn’t bring your own lunch. Unlike the Main Course, where they had a dining hall with fully arranged meals over in the dormitory building.

The dormitory was for the students that decided to stay at the Academy for the three years they would be spending here – only an available option to Main Course students, of course, but it allowed students from all across the country to study here if they’re smart enough.

Hajime shook his head, trying to get rid of the small voice in his mind that always compared the Main and Reserve Course with each other. It was only normal for more gifted people to be treated in a better way, no use thinking about it.

He and Souda were back in their classroom. He had eaten half of his bread, then proceeded to give the rest to Souda. Mostly to keep him from striking up a conversation.

Now, he was going through his notes to pass the remaining time. He had more than yesterday, most of them written so hastily he couldn’t read his own handwriting. Maybe he had been trying to focus on class a little too much? His brain felt tired, too.

“Hey, Hinata.” Hajime’s head snapped up to look at Souda. He was shuffling for something in his bag again. A grin was splitting his face once he retreated his hand, holding…a phone.

Hajime’s eyes went wide.

“Give me your number,” Souda demanded, completely oblivious to Hajime’s increasing heart rate.

He could feel anxiety and panic fill every part of his body as he remembered his own phone, trapped in the small space of his pocket. Much to his dismay, he also felt guilt at the thought of ignoring someone’s texts.

There was a different feeling, too, that made his skin prickle and urged him on to take his phone, to respond to those texts, to break out of his routine. He didn’t want to give that feeling a name.

“Why should I?” he forced out after a few seconds of staring blankly at Souda’s phone, glad his voice sounded at least somewhat normal. “We see each other almost every day at school. You don’t need my number.”

“It’s for the exhibition. C’mon, I’ll give you mine, too.” Souda didn’t back down, extending his free hand, a signal for Hajime to give him his phone so he could give him his own number.

Hajime’s stomach churned at the thought of touching his own phone, unlocking the screen, seeing the 2 New Message(s) notification. No way. There’s no way he could look at it and not open these messages.

He desperately racked his brain for an excuse, “The exhibition is on a weekday, what would you need my number for? Aren’t we going after school?”

“It’s a big building, I don’t want to get lost again,” he said it as if it was self-explanatory. Actually, it was, but the again part really wasn’t necessary.

“What if you’re just going to send me weird pictures or call me in the middle of the night? No, thanks,” he tried to make it sound like a polite declination, but he wasn’t sure if he succeeded.

“Hey, I’m not the kind of guy to do that!” Souda actually appeared to be hurt by his words, but he was avoiding looking into his eyes, too. Hajime raised his eyebrow.

Souda was squirming in his chair, fidgeting with his phone, and casting a nervous glance to the other students in the classroom who weren’t paying attention to them. He weakly said, “I can promise to only use it on the day of the exhibition?”

Well, that was at least something. Hajime wasn’t going to be able to make him abandon the idea completely, he supposed. Keeping himself from sighing in defeat, he hesitantly reached for his phone.

It was simple. He just had to unlock the screen, go to his contacts, and let Souda type out his number. The messages weren’t important, they didn’t need his attention. Not now, not ever.

Holding his breath in an attempt to steel himself, Hajime pulled the phone out of his pocket. With a feeling of impending doom, he pressed the button to turn on the screen. What greeted him was the sight of a simple, innocent notification.

4 New Message(s). All from the same number. A surge of something he didn’t want to name coursed through his body. With a start, he stood up from his chair.

“Uh, e-excuse me for a moment,” Hajime tripped over the words the same way he was tripping out of the room, eyes never leaving the screen of his phone.

He tried to make his way to the restroom as quickly as possible while still dodging any students on their way back to their classrooms. He could feel his heart beat accelerate again, because of the same feeling he didn’t want to name.

There was one thought floating in his mind. Whoever this person was, they send him two other texts, despite being ignored for more than half a day. While he had been trying so hard to forget he ever had a connection to them in the first place.

Hajime reached the restroom. The first thing he did was check if anyone else was inside, though he didn’t know why that was his first reflex. It wasn’t as if he was breaking any rules or something.

After making sure he was alone, he stopped in front of one of the sinks and took a deep breath. With one hand – the one that wasn’t holding his phone – he scooped up some water and splashed it in his face. It calmed him down a little, at least.

He couldn’t continue like this. It had to stop. He would never be able to look at his phone again if he didn’t bring an end to this right now.

If they weren’t going to stop on their own, he just had to make it clear to them he wanted absolutely nothing to do with them.

Trying to keep his nerves low, he looked at his phone. It still displayed its notification and, with the intention of bringing these stressed feelings to an end for good, he opened the text messages.

[This number is not saved in your contact list] (07:38) > Good morning, Nobody! I know there are plenty of people anyone would rather talk to, but I hope you can tolerate me a little bit.

Well, ignoring someone like this was usually a sign for not being able to tolerate that person. And yet, they still continued writing him. Although, they didn’t seem to think very much about themselves.

Hajime hated the heavy feeling that started to settle in his chest at the thought. It didn’t help his already fragile resolve.

[This number is not saved in your contact list] (07:51) > Do you think one piece of toast qualifies as breakfast?

That sounded…worrying. Hajime’s eyes narrowed at the implication of the message. He shook his head and forced his worry at the back of his mind. A stranger’s health wasn’t any of his concern.

[This number is not saved in your contact list] (12:35) > You should eat your lunch, even if you aren’t hungry. It’s essential if you want to stay healthy for as long as you can.

[This number is not saved in your contact list] (12:36) > That’s what they all tell me, anyway. They were already wrong about the terms a day is divided into. Don’t know if I can trust them.

That made Hajime stifle a laugh, turning it into a snort. It didn’t sound any better than the breakfast message, but the wording was amusing. Though he was still worried. Which he shouldn’t be.

He placed his phone on the small counter below the mirrors on the wall and tried to will away the uneasy feeling in his gut that was, for some reason, trying to tell him he was making a mistake. He tightly shut his eyes close and smacked his hands against his cheeks a few times.

With a determined huff, he almost lunged for his phone, typed out a message, and send it without giving himself time to think over his decision one more time.

(13:24) >> Stop messaging me.

He stared at it for a moment, unblinking, before letting go of the air he had unconsciously been holding in. It came rushing back into his lungs not a second later, together with a cold shiver running down his spine and turning his muscles rigid.

There was a new text staring back at him from his phone’s screen, seemingly mocking him.

[This number is not saved in your contact list] (13:24) > Oh, a response! What an honor to be given attention.

Immediately, the guilt at ignoring another person settled in, messing with the confidence in his decision. Not that he had any real confidence to begin with.

His mind was racing, raising one question after the other. Should he write anything back? Try to explain himself somehow? To justify his actions? Why did he even feel the need to justify anything? Wasn’t it common sense to be wary of someone you never met?

But they didn’t seem to have anything against the idea of talking to him, so why was he hesitating so much? Because this was the first time something in his life was different from all those stereotypes? Because it was something entirely unknown to him?

He tried taking deep breaths, hoping it’d calm down his panicking heart. It took him a few moments to realize he had gotten a second message while he was having his internal crisis.

[This number is not saved in your contact list] (13:25) > Sadly, I can’t accept your request. My apologies.

Hajime’s grip on his phone tightened.

No. No matter what, this could not continue. It was wrong, he shouldn’t be talking to them. Whatever the prickling on his skin or the boiling feelings in his stomach tried to tell him, his common sense was telling him to not indulge in this.

Not wasting any time with second guessing himself, Hajime started to type.

(13:28) >> I’m ignoring you for a reason. Get the hint.

He forcefully shoved away the regret that was crawling up on his conscience when he pressed the button to send the message. He couldn’t take it back, anyway. It was for the better.

Having said that, his body refused to move. His legs were rooted in place, his hand still tightly holding on to his phone, and his eyes didn’t leave the screen.

He was anxious. Scared of the possible reply to his rudeness. Which was stupid, because why should he care about the opinion of a person he never met, and most likely never will? It was so, so stupid.

An involuntary gasp escaped him as a new text appeared at the bottom of the screen.

[This number is not saved in your contact list] (13:29) > That’s fine. I’m not writing you for the sake of talking to you. Besides, it’d be weird if you didn’t ignore me.

[This number is not saved in your contact list] (13:29) > I mean, everyone else does!

That was a sad thing to say. It wasn’t any of his business, but he still felt bad hearing it.

Though, wasn’t this proof it was better to stay away from this person? Or did they simply have a huge bullying problem? It could be both.

Hajime’s mind raised several question marks at the first message, too. If they didn’t want to talk to him, then…what were they doing? Their words and actions were clearly contradictory.

And if that is truly the case, then what did he get so worked up about? He could just ignore them, let them write some more messages to him, and that’s it? They didn’t want a response? Nothing? That’s…all?

His mind went fuzzy. He didn’t know what to think, what to do.

The sound of a bell brought him back into reality. Lunch break was over. He was standing in the restroom instead of sitting at his desk in the classroom.

Despite that realization, he still stood there a moment longer before shoving his phone into his pocket and blocking out his confused thoughts and jumbled feelings.

He ran down the hallway, hoping no one who cared would see him, and only came to a halt in front of his classroom’s door to catch his breath. He could hear chatter from the other side, so the teacher thankfully wasn’t there yet.

Hajime still checked before entering and tried to be as sneaky as possible while walking over to his desk. He has never been late to class before, and he definitely didn’t want to start now. Even if no one of importance would notice.

Of course, Souda noticed, but he didn’t care about that one. He wouldn’t tell anyone. Probably.

“What took so long?” Souda asked in a hushed voice once Hajime sat down in his chair.

He only shook his head as if to dodge the question.

Luckily, their teacher decided to enter the classroom at that exact point, so Souda had to leave him alone.

While Hajime had to actively try to stay concentrated the first half of the day, now his mind was just blank. It wasn’t picking up on the teacher’s words, but it wasn’t trying to direct his attention to the phone pressing against his leg in his pocket, either.

He couldn’t tell if this was better or worse. To be honest, it made him feel as if he just spent hours making a big fuss out of something when he didn’t need to. And that only made one other thing come to mind.

He was so incredibly stupid.

It was the only thought that stayed in the blankness that was his head for the entirety of the remaining time until the final bell rang through the school building. Even then, as the students around him started to pack away their things, Hajime could only sit there and stare at the notebook on his desk.

He felt so lost. Drained, even. Everything around him was so gray, so dull, so boring. He was the same. Forgettable and ordinary, normal and insignificant.

His life was so meaningless, he couldn’t even tell where all these depressing thoughts had come from. Nothing exciting would ever happen in his life that could lead to such a realization, now, would it? It was all just in his head. His imagination.

Maybe he should call it wishful thinking. How stupid.

Something heavy fell onto his shoulder, shaking him. Slowly, Souda’s voice started to register in his mind, frantically calling out his name.

Hajime blinked. Once, twice. He gradually became more aware of his surroundings again. Aside from him, still sitting in his chair, and Souda, standing next to him, the classroom was empty.

“Hey, man, you’re not being possessed or something, are you?” Souda didn’t let go of his shoulder, but he did take a step back, “Because that’s seriously not cool, you hear me?”

Hajime turned his head to see right into Souda’s scared face. He must’ve been out of it for quite some time, or almost no time at all. With how easy it was to scare Souda, he really couldn’t tell.

“Yeah, yeah. I’m fine,” he said with a sigh, brushed off Souda’s hand, and finally put the things on his desk into his bag.

“You sure? Looked like you…broke,” Souda mumbled. He was putting a hand up against the back of his head, avoiding Hajime’s stare. “Was there bad news or…something?”

Hajime raised an eyebrow.

“I-I don’t mean to pry or anything,” he chuckled nervously. “It’s just…you ran out of the room after looking at your phone, so I thought…”

Oh, that’s where he’s coming from. Hajime felt his expression turn cold. He tightly grabbed onto his bag as he stood up and slung it over his shoulder.

“You’re right. You shouldn’t pry into other people’s business,” he said through gritted teeth.

Without sparing Souda another glance, he walked past him and left the classroom. He felt a little bad, but not enough to turn back and apologize.

Would it make any difference if he did? He doubted it.

His mind continued to be blank for his entire way home. That way he didn’t think about his generic appearance and how easily he vanished in a crowd, at least. He almost missed his station and walked past his own house, though.

On Thursdays, the house was empty. Izuru was still at school, his mother at work, and Kazuki was doing whatever. He still didn’t care.

He wasn’t sure if he should welcome or hate the silence he was greeted with when he entered.

He supposed he could try to follow his routine, but could he actually concentrate on it? He didn’t know.

Regardless, he went up to his room to drop off his bag and get rid of his uniform. He laid his phone on the small table, like always, but didn’t turn on the screen. He knew he couldn’t ignore it forever, and once he was changed, he did sit down and held it in his hand again, but his body froze up before he could do anything else. His gaze was stuck on the black screen in front of him.

What…to do?

There could be new messages. Hours had passed since the last one, after all. Should he read them? Ignore them? Read and then ignore them?

A feeling started to make its way through his numb muscles. Could he give it a name? Or would that be dangerous? He knew it was anticipation. Not the same feeling from last night or what he felt in the morning, but still not the safest thing to feel in such a situation.

Not to mention how he would feel like a complete idiot if he actually lit up the screen and no new messages were send to him.

Whatever the case, he should at least turn his signal sounds back on, right? It’s what he always did, after all. This situation shouldn’t change anything about that.

He swallowed down his hesitancy and pressed the button to turn on the screen.

3 New Message(s). His heart made a small jump, but he teared his eyes away from the notification and focused on changing his phone’s settings first. With that done, though, he couldn’t think of any more excuses.

It was fine. He could admit that he was curious and he also didn’t have to answer. They weren’t after a conversation with him, so it didn’t matter. It was fine, and once he read the messages, he could concentrate on more important things.

Nodding firmly as a way of encouraging himself, Hajime opened the new texts.

[This number is not saved in your contact list] (15:31) > There’s a crow outside my window. It’s staring at me.

[This number is not saved in your contact list] (15:34) > Did you know crows can remember the face of a person who upset them? They’re petty creatures.

[This number is not saved in your contact list] (15:42) > It flew away after I stared back at it. I win!

It had nothing to do with their previous messages. Hajime didn’t know if he should be glad or disappointed.

The texts were so random, he had no idea what they wanted to accomplish by writing him such a thing. Even if they said they didn’t need a response, what was the purpose of sending these messages if not to pass the time with some friendly conversation?

He couldn’t think of any other reason. But that contradicted with what they said earlier. This person was confusing him more and more. He couldn’t study if he was confused like this.

Was it okay to ask? To demand a better explanation for what they were doing? Once he understood, maybe he could finally let it go. Was it worth a try?

Hajime glanced over to the bag abandoned on his desk. It was no use. He wouldn’t be able to focus until this was cleared up.

Sighing and taking a deep breath right after, he mentally prepared himself. He wasn’t sure whether it actually worked, but it was a nice thought.

He took a second to think of a good way to start the conversation before his finger touched the blank bar at the bottom of the screen and he started to type.

(16:20) >> The first message you send me yesterday was an accident, right?

He held his breath, staring at the screen, and hoping he didn’t have to wait long. The sooner he got this out of the way the better.

Despite trying to stay calm, he still jumped a little when he received a reply not a minute later.

[This number is not saved in your contact list] (16:21) > It sure was!

(16:22) >> And now you’re writing me intentionally, but you’re not expecting any replies?

[This number is not saved in your contact list] (16:22) > Yes.

Alright. Short answer, but he supposed that was enough.

He hesitated before typing out his next question.

(16:24) >> Then why are you continuing?

[This number is not saved in your contact list] (16:24) > Didn’t I already say this?

[This number is not saved in your contact list] (16:25) > I don’t know whether this accident was good or bad luck, so I can’t forget this ever happened.

[This number is not saved in your contact list] (16:26) > Oh! Once I know though, I won’t write you anymore if you don’t want me to, of course.

Hajime furrowed his brow at the texts. He didn’t get it. What did good luck and bad luck have to do with this situation? Also, shouldn’t it be obvious?

(16:27) >> Isn’t sending a message to the wrong number bad luck?

[This number is not saved in your contact list] (16:27) > Oh, Nobody… You truly are naïve…

…what? What was that supposed to mean?

Hajime could only sigh. This didn’t help at all. Now he was even more confused. It was a bad idea to try and talk to them.

He turned off the screen and put the phone away on the small table in front of him.

So, it truly didn’t matter if he ignored them or not. He was irrelevant in whatever it was they were trying to figure out. Well, he should be glad about that, right? He didn’t need to talk to some potential stranger anymore.

Not that anyone had forced him to do it in the first place. That was all his own stupid brain’s doing.

Anyway, he could relax now. He didn’t understand, but it was still confirmation. In a way, at least.

Categorizing these thoughts as ‘comforting’ in his head, Hajime walked over to his desk and got started on his homework. He shoved any remaining thoughts about the wrong number in the back of his head and quickly fell into a familiar routine of going through each problem on the papers.

At one point, he heard his mother entering the house, meaning Izuru should be back too, but it didn’t affect his concentration. The signal sounds coming from his phone, however, did. And it was a little annoying.

He should be over that. Yet, he catched himself trying to solve a problem he already did for the fourth time. There was something turning in his stomach again, but it wasn’t unpleasant. It made him nervous.

The feelings from this morning still didn’t vanish. They were a little calmer, though. Maybe because he knew now there was no threat at all coming from the person on the other end of that phone number. They weren’t expecting anything from him.

Of course, that didn’t mean he should finally give that feeling a name. It was still dangerous.

But…

He would be lying if he said it wasn’t tempting. It was different, after all. Maybe it could even be fun. There was no way for him to know. But it was wrong. The safest option was to just ignore it and continue his life like usual.

It wasn’t really what he wanted, though. That much was obvious, and he felt as if he should at least acknowledge that.

After he was finally done with his homework, he skipped his extra studying and left his room, ignoring the sound coming from his phone.

Downstairs, he immediately noticed a nice smell coming from the kitchen. It was definitely Izuru’s cooking. He could hear humming from the living room, too. Must be his mother.

Hajime went for the living room.

His mother was indeed there with her back to him, taking four plates and bowls out of the cabinet at the wall. He quickly glanced to the area with their big couch and television, but no one was there. Kazuki wasn’t home yet, then.

“Oh, Hajime.” At his mother’s voice, he snapped his head back to look at her. She was standing by the table now, putting down the plates.

“You came just at the right time!” She smiled brightly, pointing to the cabinet behind her, “Could you get four glasses from the top shelve, please?”

“Sure,” he shrugged. His mother was shorter than him, so these tasks were usually assigned to him. He had no problem reaching the shelve and taking out the right glasses.

“Thanks,” she reached up to ruffle his hair affectionately. Hajime pulled away after a few seconds, ignoring her pout.

“You’re welcome,” he said, absentmindedly. He stared at the fourth set of plates on the table by the chair that was always occupied by Kazuki. Hajime contemplated it before asking, “Is Kazuki-san going to be home on time with dinner?”

“Probably not, but just to be safe,” her tone was optimistic. Something Hajime definitely didn’t get from her. He couldn’t even remember the last time he looked at a situation truly optimistically.

Hajime only gave a nod as confirmation he heard her. He was unsure of what he should do now, but seeing as the table was still missing chopsticks, he supposed he could get those from one of the drawers in the cabinet. If his mother was setting the table, it shouldn’t be long until dinner was ready, after all.

He turned around, hand already on the drawer’s handle, when his mother said, “So, anything exciting happening today?”

She always asked that. Right before or during dinner. Usually, Hajime didn’t have anything to answer that question with, but today it made him freeze in his tracks. Of course, it didn’t go unnoticed.

“Oh! There was something?” she clapped her hands together. Hajime couldn’t see her, but he was sure her face had lit up with curiosity. She wasn’t a nosy mother or anything, but she did enjoy harmless gossip from time to time. That’s why she was asking that same question every day.

“Uh, not…really,” his tone was way too unconvincing.

“I don’t believe you,” she said in a singsong voice.

He could feel an arm being slung over his shoulder and a glance to his left revealed his mother’s smirking face. He knew she had to stand on her tiptoes to properly get her arm over his shoulder, though, so it kind of ruined the image.

“Come on, Hajime,” she playfully nudged against his side, “You can trust your old lady. Give me some details.”

“Mom…” he drew out the syllable, trying to shrug her off.

There was silence while she regarded him with an intense stare. Hajime avoided her eyes, focusing on getting the chopsticks instead. As he moved, her arm slowly slid off his shoulder and she took a step back. When he glanced back at his mother, she was wearing a soft, apologetic smile.

“I’m sorry, I won’t pry if you don’t want to tell me.” Her smile widened slightly, crossing the line to looking amused. “But, you have to understand, it’s been a while since you last reacted to that question. I couldn’t help myself!”

She let out a small giggle at that. Hajime could only roll his eyes. He huffed and turned to the table, putting down a pair of chopsticks next to each plate.

“Even if there is something” – which there definitely wasn’t – “I’m sure it’d be none of your business,” he said, but his tone was lighthearted throughout the second part.

“That’s right,” his mother tilted her head up to the ceiling, tapping against her cheek with her index finger. “You’re in that age now, huh.”

Hajime frowned at her, but she simply giggled again. He decided it was best to leave her be.

He was done with the chopsticks. Not knowing what to do next, he stared at the table and traced his fingers over the wooden surface.

“Just…you know,” his mother spoke up again. He snapped his head up, only to find he staring at the ring on her finger. “If you ever feel like something exciting could come out of a normally simple situation…don’t just let that chance slip through your fingers, alright?”

Hajime paused his finger’s movement.

The phone lying in his room upstairs flashed through his mind. The feelings he had over it throughout the day were still somewhere in the back of his mind. He couldn’t tell if it was “simple”, but—

“But maybe you’re still too young for that kind of advice,” his mother interrupted his thoughts, hiding a mischievous smile behind her hand. She must’ve noticed he was seriously contemplating her words for a moment.

Hajime huffed, ignoring the heat flaring up in his cheeks.

Izuru entered the room with some food in his hands, sparing Hajime of any more of his mother’s antics and teasing. She didn’t mention anything about it during dinner, opting for questioning Izuru instead. Apparently, she didn’t have the chance to do so yet.

Hajime ignored their talk while he was eating. He was busy thinking about what to do with the wrong number insisting on messaging his phone. He knew it wasn’t what his mother meant. But still.

There was no denying that it would guarantee a difference in his normal day to day live. At least for the first few days. Maybe even more, depending on how things would go. He couldn’t predict what they would be talking about.

He didn’t have to give out any personal information, either. If things felt as if they got too dangerous, he could just change the topic or make something up.

Of course, the same was true for the person on the other end of that line, but did it matter? It could still be interesting. It could be fun. He could learn things about another person without having to look at them. They couldn’t see him, either.

They didn’t know what a disappointment he was. They didn’t know. And because they didn’t know, and had no way of finding out, they couldn’t go. Couldn’t leave him like—

The sound of a chair scrapping against the floorboards interrupted the ongoing conversation.

Hajime registered his mother’s confused expression out of his peripheral vision, but he only hastily gathered the leftovers of his dinner.

Mumbling a quick “Thanks for the meal, I’ll eat the rest for lunch tomorrow” he exited the living room. He practically threw his leftovers into the fridge in the kitchen and run up the stairs.

His skin was prickling, his pulse rising. There was something boiling in his stomach, a warm feeling that he tried to ignore during the majority of today. He wanted to give it a name.

He made sure his room’s door was closed before sitting down on his couch and taking his phone. 5 New Message(s). All from the same number again.

This time though, he ignored them and wasted no time in typing out a text of his own.

He tried not to think about what exactly he was writing. When he was done, he sent it without another thought.

(20:02) >> I get that you don’t need me to reply to any of your texts for you to find out if this is good luck or bad luck or whatever. But if I wanted to, I could reply? That’s okay?

Now, he had to wait. It was weird. The other times he talked to them, he didn’t have to wait longer than a few seconds for a reply to come to his phone. They were taking their time with this one, though.

Needless to say, it didn’t help him to calm down. His hand with the phone was shaking slightly and he had to remind himself to breathe properly, not too fast and not too slow.

He jumped on the spot, despite being in a sitting position, when his phone gave its signal for a new message.

[This number is not saved in your contact list] (20:21) > Sure! It doesn’t matter to me. You can do whatever you want, it won’t change the results. In fact, it might even be of help!

[This number is not saved in your contact list] (20:22) > Ah, but please don’t talk to me because I said that! Someone like me doesn’t deserve help with anything.

Hajime frowned, but decided not to say anything to that. He didn’t feel like he was close enough to them to talk about delicate subjects like that. He wouldn’t even know how to approach it.

Instead, it was time he asked a more important question.

(20:23) >> Who are you?

[This number is not saved in your contact list] (20:24) > Isn’t it rude to ask such a question after not answering it properly yourself? Though, I do suppose you would need something to call me by…

Hajime wasn’t expecting a serious reply, but that sure stung. Thankfully, he received another message before he could think of a good reply.

[This number is not saved in your contact list] (20:24) > I guess you could say, I am Luck.

(20:25) >> I’m calling you Lucky, then.

Hajime stared. He wrote that on a whim. Why did he write that? That was a stupid name, nothing creative about it at all. Of course, his stupid brain couldn’t come up with something better—

[This number is not saved in your contact list] (20:25) > Sounds like a dog name, woof woof!!

Silence.

Then, Hajime’s room was filled with his own laughter. He tried to stifle it, but a grin was still stuck on his lips and his body shook as he saved the number under the name Lucky in his phone’s contact list.

He took some deep breaths before thinking of what to write.

(20:26) >> Don’t like it? Too bad, it’s saved now.

Lucky (20:27) > Oh no, I love dogs! It’s a fitting name for me, too. But putting that aside.

Lucky (20:27) > I hope we will get along, Nobody!

Unlike this morning, there was no sting hurting his insides at being addressed with that name. If there was, it was entirely overshadowed by the sheer excitement burning right beneath his skin.

It was a good feeling.

(20:28) >> Same to you, Lucky.


In the same hospital not too far from his home, the same boy was sitting in the same bed, staring at the same phone’s screen, and whispered the word “lucky” to himself.

He still couldn’t tell.

Chapter Text

09/12

The classroom was grey, devoid of color, dull and uninteresting. The teacher at the front was giving an explanation on Japan’s actions during the first World War. The students were either listening attentively, scribbling notes into their books, or staring into space.

Hajime didn’t pay attention to any of it.

His focus was entirely on the phone he held beneath his desk, just so that the teacher wouldn’t notice and he could still read and write messages. It was the fourth period of the day, right before lunch. The only notes he had were some tips on solving certain math problems from first period.

Near the end of second period, his phone had started buzzing. It was Lucky – in more ways than one because English really wasn’t one of his favorite subjects – and since then Hajime had been talking on his phone with a person he had never met.

Though, he did learn some new things about them that way.

He was currently waiting for Lucky to return and reply to his latest text, so naturally he used that time to read over their conversation again instead of listening. Like any normal person would do.

Lucky (09:59) > I honestly thought everything from yesterday was just a dream, but no.

Lucky (10:00) > Surprise, surprise! Someone is actually bored enough in their life to decide to waste their precious time by talking to me!

Lucky (10:00) > I don’t understand you, Nobody.

(10:01) >> And I don’t understand how you are able to write right now.

Lucky (10:01) > I have a phone, your number, a texting option, both hands…

(10:02) >> Not what I meant.

(10:03) >> Don’t you have school? Or are you in collage?

Lucky (10:04) > Judging by that question, it appears you are still in school then, right? If that’s the case, there is no reason for you to doubt my ability to write. You’re doing the same thing!

(10:06) >> Fine. You win this time.

Lucky (10:06) > Wow, lucky me!

Lucky (10:07) > To answer your question though. I’m a high school student. But I’m not attending class right now.

(10:07) >> You’re skipping?

Lucky (10:08) > Not voluntarily.

Lucky (10:08) > Anyway. It’s your turn!

(10:09) >> For what?

Lucky (10:09) > You’re a student. High school? Middle school?

Lucky (10:10) > Or could you be in elementary school?!

(10:10) >> I am not some little kid!

Lucky (10:10) > Guess not.

(10:11) >> I’m the same as you. High school.

Lucky (10:11) > Which high school?

(10:11) >> I’m not going to tell you that.

Lucky (10:12) > Haha, of course not!

(10:15) >> What did you mean by “not voluntarily”?

Lucky (10:16) > It means I’m not voluntarily skipping school.

(10:16) >> That’s what I expected.

Lucky (10:17) > You’re asking a question that you already know the answer to? Are you really that bored?

(10:18) >> Well, unlike you, I’m actually sitting in class right now.

Lucky (10:18) > What subject?

(10:18) >> English.

Lucky (10:19) > Oooh, not interested or too difficult?

(10:19) >> Don’t think I’ll ever need it.

Lucky (10:20) > True. If you’re not planning on leaving the country or getting a job with international relations, there is a fairly low percentage of it ever being of use to you.

Lucky (10:20) > It’s a different story if you want to read books that haven’t been translated, though!

(10:21) >> So, you can English?

Lucky (10:21) > I read a lot.

(10:23) >> You don’t give any clear responses when asked directly, do you?

Lucky (10:24) > Have to keep your interest somehow!

Lucky (10:25) > Since there isn’t much of interest about someone like me in the first place, I have to keep up the image of the mysterious person inside your phone if I don’t want to scare you away.

(10:26) >> Isn’t a “mysterious person inside your phone” scarier than whatever you seem to think of yourself?

Lucky (10:26) > Oh, Nobody… You truly are naïve…

Lucky (10:26) > Woah, déjà vu!

Hajime almost snorted as he read that text again.

It didn’t get any better from then on. They were having some meaningless conversation with no real sense after that. Sadly, he didn’t get any more information about Lucky, but at least it distracted him from the gloomy atmosphere of the classroom.

Until about twenty minutes ago.

Lucky (12:08) > My doctor is here. I have to listen to some more inaccurate advice. Have fun in the rest of your history lesson!

(12:10) >> Yeah, I’ll have fun reading through our history.

He had first wanted to write something about that doctor part, but ultimately decided against it. It wasn’t his place to ask. He knew he wouldn’t get a real answer anyway.

They had talked for two hours, yet he felt as if the only things he found out about Lucky was that they were in high school, read a lot, had a bad opinion about themselves, and a doctor who gave them advice on their eating habits. It wasn’t what he would call much, but it was something. If it was true, that is.

Chairs were scrapping against the floor, the sound disturbing his thoughts.

His eyes flickered over to the time in the upper right corner of his phone’s screen. 12:31, in other words, lunch break. Lucky still wasn’t back.

Hajime ignored the sting of disappointment in his chest.

While he was eating his lunch – yesterday’s leftover – the things around him seemed to be more dull than usual. Despite Souda sitting right next to him and talking about something that happened yesterday when he was stopping by at his father’s workplace.

Lucky didn’t send a message before the end of lunch break, so Hajime turned his phone from buzzing to silent. He already missed more than half of the lessons during the first half of the day, he couldn’t let that happen again if he wanted to be prepared for the exams coming up in October.

When he put away his empty lunch box, he stopped.

It was empty. That wasn’t unusual. He never ate everything, he didn’t have much of an appetite in this oppressing atmosphere, but he never let anything go to waste either.

That’s what Souda was for. He was good for something that way. But did he give Souda anything from his lunch today?

Hajime shrugged and didn’t think about it again.

09/13

Saturdays were used to study, Sundays were used as a break to give himself a reason for sleeping in. That’s how Hajime’s weekend routine looked like.

The only other things he ever did were wasting away his time with silly videos on the internet, enduring his mother’s antics – mostly consisting of things they did as a whole “family” – or going to the convenience store a few streets away for the sake of being outside.

In short, as usual, nothing worth of any real mention was happening on his weekends. Based on how his life had been so far, at least.

This Saturday, Hajime’s room was silent as he sat at his desk and wrote down what he still knew about the human body from memory. He’d later compare it to his class notes and then go over the pages in their biology book covering the subject one more time.

Although, he couldn’t deny that his head slowly started to hurt. He had been sitting here ever since noon.

He glanced over to his right. His phone was lying next to his arm.

It wasn’t at it’s usual place on the small table, and he honestly always thought it would only distract him from studying when having it so close, but he didn’t want it to be out of his reach. It kind of felt as if he wasn’t alone in his room.

He did feel a little stupid about it, though. He had told Lucky he would be studying now and had to concentrate, so Lucky simply wrote they wouldn’t dare to disturb Nobody’s focus with messages from someone like me

Lucky’s words, not his. He low-key regretted ever telling them about that.

Giving the words on the paper in front of him a long look, Hajime slowly reached for his phone.

09/14

Lucky (14:45) > I hate dust.

Lucky (14:45) > It appears out of nowhere, is stuck on every surface it can find, and has no use whatsoever.

Lucky (14:46) > I was only gone for four days.

Lucky (14:46) > Four days!

Lucky (14:46) > And I can already clean the whole room again.

Lucky (14:47) > How despair-inducing.

(14:47) >> What are you talking about?

Lucky (14:47) > Good thing I like cleaning!

Lucky (14:48) > You won’t get me this time, despair…

Lucky (14:48) > Not this time…

(14:49) >> Lucky likes to ramble nonsense. Noted.

(14:49) >> By the way, who likes cleaning?

Lucky (14:50) > It’s one of the rare things I’m actually good at!

(14:50) >> That’s

(14:50) >> Wow

09/15

Souda made some indefinable sound as he let his head fall against his desk after the final bell rang throughout the building. Hajime ignored him.

Students were leaving the classroom, others stayed and talked to their friends.

Hajime was skimming through the notes he made today. They were organized and readable, most of the time. He wasn’t sure it was everything that had been relevant, but he could work with that. This week was off to a good start.

He closed his notebook with an audible thud. He stuffed it away in his bag and stood up, sliding his chair perfectly against the desk as usual.

“Hey, Hinata, don’t you think they’re giving us way too much homework? It’s only Monday!” Souda complaint, his head tilted to the side to stare up at him.

Hajime, who had been about to pull his phone out of his pocket, stopped and looked at Souda with a small frown. It didn’t seem like he was joking.

“What do you mean too much? This is Hope’s Peak Academy, what did you expect?” he used the same tone he always had when talking to Souda. Slightly annoyed, exasperated, and tired. Basically, everything he felt whenever Souda kept him from leaving the Reserve Course building as soon as possible.

“I get that, but…” Souda’s lips were stretched into a grin, but it looked nervous. He pushed himself up into a proper position. “There should be some limits or something. We can hardly enjoy our youth with all this stuff forced onto us.”

“Forced?” Hajime’s frown deepened, his eyes turned cold, “Hope’s Peak is known for its high educational standards. You come here to be successful, not to waste away your time. You should’ve known that when you decided to enter the entrance exam.”

“Y-you ain’t gotta be so defensive about it!” Souda jumped up from his chair, pointing an accusing finger at Hajime. “I get that grades are important, but don’t you take this too serious, man?”

A cold shiver ran down Hajime’s back before he was hit by a wave of nausea.

He remembered the state of his room weeks before the entrance exam. He remembered how hard he tried, only to fail. Didn’t the fact that he failed to get into the Main Course show he wasn’t taking his education serious enough?

He gritted his teeth, his hands clenching into fists. He kept the emotions burning in his stomach from boiling over. It wouldn’t get him anywhere. Complaining wasn’t any better than throwing some kind of tantrum. He was above that.

“You think?” he only barely managed to get the words out, but they sounded steady. No quivering or voice cracking.

“Yeah, you need to relax,” Souda’s expression changed to a wide grin again. He was giving him a thumps-up, too. “Like, we have the cars about a week before exams, but we could go to—”

“No, thanks.” He already had to endure the car exhibition. That was more than enough. Not to mention, Souda just reminded him of the exams that were coming up. He had to study.

Hajime pressed his lips in a thin line and passed Souda with quick steps. He had to get out. Away from this dull place were the only color you could find was Souda’s pink hair.

“Oh, hey, w-wait for me!” Souda called after him, panicked, but Hajime was already out of the classroom’s door and did not intend to stay in this building a second longer.

On his way from the school to the train station, he felt the buzzing of his phone in his pocket.

He didn’t read the message until he was home again, but the knowledge it was there made breathing the heavy air in the train a little bit easier.

09/16

(07:27) >> Why do so many people use the train in the morning?

Lucky (07:27) > They all have important places to be, Nobody.

(07:27) >> So do I.

(07:28) >> But I’ll die of suffocation before I can reach my destination.

Lucky (07:28) > Which is more important?

Lucky (07:28) > The appointments of hundreds of people who have to think about their future…

Lucky (07:28) > Or a single Nobody?

(07:29) >> Now you’re just making me depressed.

Lucky (07:30) > Why don’t you walk next time? Exercise is supposed to be a good thing, right?

(07:30) >> It already takes half an hour by train.

Lucky (07:30) > Bike?

(07:31) >> Don’t have one.

Lucky (07:31) > Hmm…

(07:31) >> What arw yi

Lucky (07:31) > …?

(07:32) >> That old man pushed me!

Lucky (07:33) > How scandalous.

(07:33) >> It was his elbow! In my back!

(07:33) >> I hate trains.

Lucky (07:34) > Push back!

(07:34) >> What

Lucky (07:35) > Are you really going to let yourself get pushed around?

Lucky (07:35) > Is that what you want?

(07:35) >> Uh

Lucky (07:36) > You have a place in this train car as well! You just have to make it known to that old guy!

Lucky (07:36) > Fight back against the elder’s oppression! Like a true Nobody!

(07:37) >> What are you talking about?

Lucky (07:37) > Your revenge!

Lucky (07:37) > If you don’t want to be crushed, crush the others first!

(07:38) >> …

(07:38) >> Alright.

 

Lucky (07:42) > So…

Lucky (07:44) > Did you do it?

 

(07:50) >> I hate you.

Lucky (07:51) > Took you long enough.

09/17

Hajime picked up another piece of meat with his chopsticks. It was dinner and he sat at the table together with his mother, Izuru, and Kazuki. The whole “family” in one place.

Usually, he wouldn’t listen to the conversation currently taking place unless he heard his name, but today, he was in a good mood. Which was a rarity given how late it was.

So, he wasn’t busy mulling over dark thoughts while chewing on his food and could actually pay attention. He didn’t have anything to add to the conversation, and he was constantly staring at the food in front of him instead of looking at the person that was talking, but it was something.

“I’m so jealous of your cooking, Izuru-kun,” his mother said. He could hear the pout in her voice. “I’m jealous of anyone who can cook. If I’m trying to do it alone, it just turns out burnt or still frozen.”

“The fried rice from last week was good,” Kazuki said, but he didn’t sound too convincing.

“That’s only because Izuru-kun helped me.” Hajime could tell she was still pouting, but her voice had a rather chipper undertone as she continued, “But it’s to be expected. Izuru-kun cooks almost as good as Hanamura-san from work!”

“It is not that good,” Izuru rejected the compliment with his usual coldness.

Hajime rolled his eyes. This was Izuru, everything he did was perfect. Even compared to someone who was cooking for a living. And yet, he just had to act humble.

Surprisingly, it didn’t put that much of a damper on his mood than he would expect. Not that he was complaining. It was good to not feel the usual unbearable pressure he always felt in Izuru’s presence for a change.

“Well, it’s definitely better than mine,” for some reason, his mother sounded proud of that fact. “After all, Hajime doesn’t drop the plate when he’s carrying your cooking.”

“Mom, that was one time.” Hajime’s eyes rolled again, but it was out of fondness over his mother’s ridiculousness. The lighthearted tone in his voice signalized the same.

He remembered that incident, back when it was just the two of them living in this house and Kazuki was simply the guy his mother had been going out with more than a few times lately. He didn’t even know Izuru existed back then.

His mother had decided to cook that evening, despite knowing she was horrible at it. When Hajime had wanted to carry the food over to the living room, he didn’t expect the plates to be as heavy as they were and dropped them.

It was an accident, but he would be lying if he said he wasn’t glad about not having to eat whatever that had been supposed to be.

“It still happened,” his mother pouted again. Hajime could only lightly shake his head with a small smile he didn’t feel like suppressing this time. He was still staring at his food, though. “Speaking of Hajime,” she continued, voice sounding as if she was smirking now. “Anything new to report today?”

Hajime’s movements came to a halt, his hand with the chopsticks and his food in midair. For the first time since he sat down, he glanced over to his mother.

Just as he was expecting, he was greeted by a smirk. However, she was entirely clueless whether there actually was anything he could talk about or not, that much he could see from her eyes. They only held innocent curiosity within them, no certain knowledge.

To be honest, though, there was something that immediately came to his mind in association with that question. The reason why his mood was still on a rather bright side instead of having been dimmed and turned miserable.

At fault was the message he received this morning, as well as the ones that came over the course of the day. He could remember some of them almost word by word.

Lucky (06:59) > Good morning, Nobody! Today is a very special day, you know! A one-week anniversary of you tolerating someone like me… I have to celebrate this, all right? Right!

Lucky (07:32) > You know, the further this day progresses, I should go over all the data I have collected so far! As a memento of our time together. I’ll start right now!

Lucky (07:33) > #1: Nobody doesn’t like trains, but they willingly boarded the one they are currently stuck on. “It takes too long to walk” they say, trying to justify their horrible fate.

Lucky (09:47) > #2: Nobody is in high school. They question how someone can text during class when they should be listening to the teacher but proceeds to do the same. Maybe they’re a hypocrite?

Lucky (11:32) > #3: Nobody doesn’t have much use for English. They don’t get the appeal of English books. I’m offended.

Lucky (15:35) > #4: Now that school’s over, Nobody will be spending the rest of the day studying. What a diligent student they are, despite their earlier hypocrisy! And for some reason, they’re still talking to me while doing so…

Lucky (18:01) > #5: Nobody is impressed by the weirdest things. What’s wrong with wanting to have a clean room?

Lucky (19:16) > #6: Nobody doesn’t understand my luck. But that’s okay.

All of these messages had made him smile. As well as the conversations that started because of them. It already felt like something familiar, yet still somewhat foreign and generally different.

Maybe because texting a stranger over your phone wasn’t something you would normally do.

But Hajime wasn’t complaining. After all, just the memory of these messages on his phone made the corner of his mouth tug upwards involuntarily. He let it stay like that.

“Hmm…” he made a contemplative sound, as if he was debating whether to answer his mother’s question or not. He already had an answer, though. He turned his gaze back down onto the remains of his food. Not losing his smile, he said in a light tone, “No, I guess not.”

“Sounds suspicious,” his mother said.

Hajime only shook his head before he went back to eating. He could feel an intense stare to the left of his head, but he ignored it. That was the direction of Izuru’s seat, and he really didn’t care what he thought of his demeanor.

He was still in a rather good mood, and he would prefer it to stay that way.

09/18

(17:45) >> You know… You listed all that “data” you have on me yesterday, but did any of that really help with figuring out what kind of luck this is or whatever?

Lucky (17:45) > Interesting question.

Lucky (17:47) > To be honest, no. I’m no closer to finding that out than I was the night I sent the first message, and nothing else has happened since then. I’m sorry.

(17:47) >> Why are you apologizing?

Lucky (17:48) > The longer it takes me, the longer you will have to bear with me! It’s despairing, I’m sure.

(17:51) >> I don’t really mind, honestly.

(17:51) >> Actually, it’s kinda fun.

Lucky (17:51) > Hm

Lucky (17:53) > I find that hard to believe.

Hajime bit on his bottom lip, staring at the black symbols on his phone’s screen.

Uncertainty was clawing at the back of his mind. He still didn’t feel like he could approach the topic of Lucky’s continuous self-deprecation.

Sighing, Hajime typed out the only response he could think of that would end the conversation.

(17:55) >> Believe what you want.

09/19

When Souda rushed out of the classroom this Friday – “Dad promised me to let me work on his old car today, gotta go! See ya on Monday, Hinata!” – Hajime felt relief wash away the stiffness in his shoulders and let his muscles relax a little.

Today had been…not the best of days.

His conversations with Lucky had gone back to normal after yesterday’s short tense atmosphere, but he couldn’t get rid of that uneasy feeling in the pit of his stomach. As a result, his attention in class had left a lot to be desired.

At least he wouldn’t have to tolerate Souda’s usual rambling on his way to the school gate. There were no new messages on his phone, so Hajime put it away in his pocket and left the classroom.

The hallways of the Reserve Course building were as grey as ever, the lighting dim, and the faces around him filled with exhaustion and defeat. It was way too silent for a high school as well.

Maybe that’s why the loud voices coming from the entrance hall sounded that much more unsettling than they normally would have. Though, admittedly, they sounded rather angry to Hajime. As if someone was currently having an argument.

He didn’t think much about it, blocking the words out and not letting his brain make any sense of them. As soon as he turned around the last corner, though, and had a clear view of the area in front of the entrance, he stopped.

That blonde Baby Face from last week, the one that pushed him out of the way with enough force to introduce the back of his head to the wall, was standing a few feet away from him, a huge grin on her face and one hand on her hip. He wasn’t close enough to see the finer tones in her expression, but it was easy to recognize the condescending look on her face.

That Satou girl from his class was on the receiving end of that stare, her hands clenched into fists at her sides and shaking with obvious anger. Or disgust, maybe? Hajime wasn’t sure.

“I don’t recall that ever being any of your business, Kuzuryuu-san,” Satou’s exasperated tone carried all the way over to Hajime. The irritation she put into the honorific didn’t go unnoticed.

“It’s been my business from the moment I wanted it to be.” Baby Face, or rather Kuzuryuu, didn’t lose her grin, “It’s your fault for still holding a grudge.”

Hajime didn’t want to get involved in this. The entrance hall was entirely vacant of any other students, and he should get away as soon as possible as well.

Slowly, so as not to draw any attention, he started to walk in the direction of the huge door, keeping close to the wall. His eyes kept glancing over to the two girls as if to make sure he hadn’t been spotted, though the hall was big enough for him not to get too close to them.

My fault? Grudge? Aren’t you talking about yourself right now?” Satou said, her voice increasing in volume.

“Really? But you’re the one who’s still talking to me instead of finally picking up your dirty stuff and leaving,” Kuzuryuu pointed at the floor, but didn’t take her eyes off Satou.

Hajime, however, only now noticed the scattered books and pencils littering the entrance floor. There was a schoolbag lying around, too. Kuzuryuu still had hers hanging over her shoulder, but Satou didn’t hold one.

“You’re the one not stepping off my notebook,” Satou replied in a low voice. Hajime almost missed it.

He stopped in the middle of his way, directing his gaze down to Kuzuryuu’s feet with a furrowed brow. She really was standing on a notebook with one foot, shifting her weight onto it.

Could this be considered bullying? Hajime’s frown turned into an almost-scowl, though his eyes never left the notebook. Who knew what would happen if he started glaring at Kuzuryuu.

“Oh, you need that?” Kuzuryuu twisted her foot, the sound of wrinkling paper filling the air.

Flicking her ankle, she sent it sliding across the floor, away from both her and Satou. It came to a halt near Hajime. Neither of the girls paid any attention to it.

Kuzuryuu continued, her tone mocking, “I guess you would, since unlike Miss Wanna-be-photographer, you’re actually as dumb as you look.”

“You…! You’re not any better!” Satou’s voice was filled with anger, “And stop calling her that!” She raised her hands and took a quick step forward.

Before he could react in any way, Hajime saw something grey in his peripheral vision flash past him.

It happened in the blink of an eye. One moment, he saw Satou ready to lunge toward Kuzuryuu, the next she was falling backwards onto the floor. It wasn’t Kuzuryuu who kicked her, though. She didn’t move a muscle.

Pekoyama stood between them, one hand tightly gripping the bag that, as he could see now, was carrying a bamboo sword, and the other holding onto the sword’s hilt. It looked like a fighting position. The sword wasn’t drawn yet, at least.

Hajime was frozen in place. He could only stare, his mouth almost falling open but he clenched his teeth together in time.

He didn’t hear anyone walking down the hallway. When did Pekoyama come here? Why was she carrying a bamboo sword, anyway? He noticed the sword bag some time ago, but he never really questioned it.

…Come to think of it, why didn’t he question it?

“I could’ve handled that myself, Peko-chan,” Kuzuryuu was the first to speak up, completely calm despite the situation. If Hajime’s eyes didn’t fail him, she was actually pouting.

Pekoyama stood perfectly still, but a few second later, her posture crumbled. She seemed flustered, even stuttered a little, “I— I’m sorry. Natsumi. I know that, of course.”

“Well, it’s fine.” Kuzuryuu shrugged, “At least, she’s shutting up now.”

Satou glared at her, but she didn’t make any moves to stand up.

“Come on, Peko-chan, let’s go.” Kuzuryuu tucked at Pekoyama’s sleeve, dragging her a little to the side. Pekoyama only nodded in response, letting go of her bamboo sword’s hilt.

Without sparing Satou another glance, or noticing Hajime still standing near the wall, Kuzuryuu and Pekoyama left the building. Once the door shut close behind them, Hajime let go of the air that he had unconsciously trapped inside.

He noticed Satou picking up the nearest pencils and books. She mumbled something to herself, but Hajime couldn’t make it out from his position. She was scowling, too, twisting her face into something filled with irritation and anger.

He would rather not approach her in that state.

But could he just leave? He already didn’t do anything before, just stood there and let it all play out in front of him. Somehow, he felt as if that was a wrong thing to do, even though he didn’t know either of them aside from being in the same class as Satou. He could tell that probably had been some form of bullying, though. And he just stood there.

He felt awful for that, but, really, he just didn’t want any attention. Not from someone who could get so angry at another person, they would charge at them. Not from someone who could insult people they didn’t like without a second thought.

They both had confidence and Hajime was a coward. A blank, boring coward. Or did he just not care? No, that would be worse.

“What are you looking at?” Satou’s voice cut through the silence in the hall.

He flinched, realizing he had been staring at Satou picking up her stuff the whole time. He quickly moved his head to stare at the floor.

“I-uh…” he didn’t know what to say. He should’ve just gone on ahead. This was none of his business, anyway.

Satou gave an annoyed huff. “Typical,” she muttered loud enough for him to hear, “Mahiru was right, most boys are just a huge disappointment.”

Hajime’s blood froze. His mind was blank, or maybe it went haywire. Something ugly was turning in his stomach, making him feel ill. The air started to get heavy, suffocating him, pressing air out of his lungs.

Disappointment.

The word echoed in his head, repeating over and over. Satou was saying something else, but Hajime couldn’t hear it. It was white noise to him.

He knew it was rude, but he couldn’t stand there any longer. With hasty steps he left the building, leaving Satou behind kneeling on the floor of the entrance hall.

Outside, he forced fresh air into his lungs, trying to get it past the lump in his throat. His mind tried to go back to the sound of that word echoing in the empty hall. He shook his head, desperate to lose the thought.

He needed a distraction. Something, anything, that couldn’t remind him of his failures, his miserable self.

A sharp inhale of air made it past his struggles and into his lungs, freezing his body in place. Hurriedly, he reached for his phone with shaking hands and numb fingers and typed out the first thing that came to mind.

(15:39) >> Girls are scary.

Lucky (15:39) > Aha!

Lucky (15:40) > So, what you are telling me with this, is that our little Nobody here…

Lucky (15:40) > Is actually a Mister Nobody!

Lucky (15:41) > Or not good with other people.

Lucky (15:41) > Since you being a boy was the first thing to come to my mind, though, it appears to be the first possibility.

Lucky (15:42) > I see, I see… Thank you for confirming my suspicions!

(15:42) >> What kind of shaky confirmation even is that?

Lucky (15:43) > I am lucky!

Lucky (15:43) > Or good at guessing games.

Lucky (15:44) > Or both, I guess.

Hajime felt as if the word ‘luck’ held a different meaning for Lucky than it did for him. He had no clue what Lucky could think of it as, but, surprisingly, that didn’t bother him at all. They said themselves it was okay if he didn’t understand it.

Maybe he could play some sort of guessing game with Lucky? It seemed like a decent enough way to kill some time.

The air around him felt just a little bit lighter as he made his way to the train station.

09/20

When Hajime entered the living room to take a break from his Saturday studying, he didn’t expect to find his mother sitting by the small table they would change into a kotatsu during winter, staring intensely at some cards laid out in front of her.

He looked at her for a moment before, against his better judgment, approaching the table. “Is that your new inexplicable obsession?” he asked.

His mother blinked at the cards. She lifted her head with a small frown and a pout, “That’s not very nice, Hajime.”

“But you don’t deny it.” He sat down at the tableside to her right, “So, what’s it this time?”

She simply raised her arm and pointed at the TV at the wall directly across from where she was sitting. It was muted, but he could identify the image of the screen as some sort of interview at a late-night show. His mother must have recorded it, then.

A caption at the bottom read The Different Forms of Divinations something, something. He didn’t bother to read the rest. He raised an eyebrow and looked back to his mother, “Fortune telling?”

She only gave one big enthusiastic nod, her eyes already glued to the cards again. They were all face down, a dark blue pattern on their backs. They were neatly laid out, probably as a part of whatever it was his mother was trying to find out.

“Why?” he asked in a flat tone.

“Hmm,” his mother let her hand hover over the cards, as if she was trying to remember which one to flip over first. Her response was more mumbled than said, “I thought it could be interesting, even if it doesn’t come true… And it’s fun to try out new things from time to time.”

New things? For what, to break routines? Well, that’s what he would expect from his mother. She never went with a single hobby for too long, her curious nature wouldn’t allow that. At least she had a hobby.

He sighed, “Whatever you say… But you have no idea what you’re doing, do you?”

“I don’t need to,” she determinedly picked up one of the cards and flipped it over.

It was upside down, the picture of a tall tower printed onto it. A lighting was striking into the building, seemingly coming from the ground instead of the sky, effectively destroying and crumbling the tower’s walls. At the top were letters, probably spelling something out in English, but Hajime definitely couldn’t read it while it was upside down.

“Is that…something bad?” he glanced over at his mother. She was blankly staring at the card, blinking a few times, before smiling brightly.

“No idea! But that’s what makes it interesting, right?” she exclaimed happily.

“Really…?”

“Yep!” she leaned back, far enough to lay her head on the couch cushions behind her. “I just won’t go into tall buildings for a while.”

“Right…” he didn’t think that had anything to do with it, but whatever.

Hajime’s eyes traveled back to the cards. He never really gave things like fortune telling much thought. His fortune probably wouldn’t look too great, anyway.

He wasn’t surprised his mother would pick up on that stuff, though. She would use good predictions to motivate herself and bad ones to take better care of herself or the people around here. He could picture that clearly.

The image was so full of personality and strength. Hajime felt a sting in his chest.

“You want to try?” his mother interrupted his thoughts. She was sitting upright again, smiling a little bit softer. Hajime gave her a skeptical look.

“I really don’t think it works like that,” he said, but reached for a card, anyway. When he turned it around, he was face to face with another picture. This time, it wasn’t on its head.

The image showed a man standing between two women and a cupid floating above them. The letters were at the bottom of the card, allowing him to read them this time. All it said was THE LOVERS, though. He frowned at it.

Next to him, his mother was leaning over to get a better look at the card. Her eyes went wide once she read the letters.

“Ooh, ZA RABUASU,” she said, in English, with horrible pronunciation. Not that he could pronounce it any better.

“Do you know what it means?” Hajime asked, not expecting a positive answer.

“I will soon,” she practically leaped to her left, stretching out her arm to reach something lying on the floor. When she sat back up again, she was holding a small book in her hand, “With this!”

“You bought a book with that?”

“Yes,” she flung it open, skimming through a few pages, before lingering on one a little bit longer. Hajime watched as her face scrunched up with concentration, her eyes rapidly moving up and down.

He glanced back at the card in his hand. He had no idea what to make of it. From the name, he would think it had something to do with his love life, but there wasn’t really anything happening. Besides, studying was his priority, he had no time for crushes or dating.

But, then again, fortune telling wasn’t really a clear-cut thing, was it? This was done completely wrong, anyway. It won’t mean anything.

His mother shut the book close with a loud thud, bringing Hajime’s attention back to her. She closed her eyes and nodded to herself, mumbling, “I see, yes… Very interesting, really…”

“What did it say,” he asked in a flat tone. It wasn’t really a question. More like a bored response following social cues.

“Basically, the card is less about love and more about choices,” his mother begun to explain, probably reciting what she read only a minute ago. “You will find something or someone that you will fall in love with so to speak, could be anything, but it puts your affection against your common sense and you’ll have to make a choice. That situation could already be here, too, it doesn’t necessarily have to be in the future.”

“Wow, how exciting.” It was a sarcastic remark. It was supposed to be a sarcastic remark. But the word ‘exciting’ made him rethink that at the last second.

He thought of the phone lying innocently on the table in his room upstairs. His common sense had been rebelling against the idea of writing Lucky quite a bit, though that might be an understatement. He had panic attacks over it, after all.

But that whole situation was more like a thrill of excitement, not falling in love. It didn’t sound like what the card symbolized in that aspect. Still…

His mother was looking at him, waiting for him to say something. She must’ve noticed how he was pondering over the meaning of the card.

“…It could be anything?” he asked hesitantly, just to make sure.

She seemed happy to be able to go into more detail, her face lighting up. “Yeah! Like, for example, uh…” she was looking around the room, tapping her index finger against her cheek.

“Uh…oh!” She clapped her hands together, turning back to facing Hajime with sparkling eyes, “Like, you found a new brand of chocolates, and it feels like a second you the moment you lay eyes on it, and you’re basically falling in love with it. But it’s the expensive kind, so naturally you have to resist the temptation according to common sense, because you’re not rich. But you can still choose to buy it anyway, of course! Or not, I guess.”

Hajime blinked at her. Once, twice. His expression fell, turning unamused. “Really? Something that insignificant?”

“That doesn’t matter,” she pouted, crossing her arms in front of her chest. “It can be incredibly small, big, or even completely life-changing, but the important part is the decision you make. The card tells you that you have a choice. That’s all.”

“This wasn’t even done correctly,” he sighed. At least, he could say it really didn’t have anything to do with Lucky. With a shake of his head, he stood up and walked over to the door. “Well, whatever. Have fun with your cards.”

“Hajime!” His hand was already on the doorknob when his mother called out to him. He looked at her over his shoulder, only slightly turning his body around.

His mother was staring at him, motionless in her position. Her usual smile wasn’t on her face, though her expression wasn’t cold, either. It was more vulnerable and lost in thought, cautious. Hajime knew that look. Whatever she would say next, he won’t like it.

She took a deep breath and clasped her hands together in her lap, giving him a small but unsure smile. “You know that whatever choices you may have, I want you to choose whichever option you feel is the best one for yourself, all right?”

Hajime didn’t answer. This wasn’t the first time she told him that. But her wording was different now. Something churned inside his stomach, making him feel sick.

His mother continued, her words becoming faster, “And it doesn’t matter what your decision is in the end, you know? It doesn’t matter if it’s planned out or spontaneous.”

Hajime narrowed his eyes, his grip on the doorknob tightening. He definitely didn’t like where this was going. There was a lump forming in his throat.

“And it’s okay if it doesn’t work out the way you wanted it. I won’t love you any less—”

“Stop,” he forced the word out, pushing it up his throat and out in the open. It sounded harsher to his ears than he intended, but he couldn’t take it back.

He swallowed, trying to get rid of what was blocking his vocal cords. It didn’t help much, but he pushed the words out anyway, “Mom. We talked about this.”

He wasn’t sure what was visible in his expression. Ideally, it would be nothing, but he couldn’t be sure without a mirror or anything else to see his reflection in.

His mother was holding eye contact with him for a few more seconds before dropping her head, looking at her hands that were still resting in her lap. Hajime could see a smile stretch over her lips, but it looked forced, cracked at the edges.

“I know,” she said in a quiet voice. “I’m sorry.”

Hajime didn’t respond. Whether she was sorry or not didn’t matter. The image of a closing door was back in his mind, leaving him with a gaping hole in his chest.

He left the living room without another word, closing the door behind him, and going back up to the second floor, to his room. His phone’s light was on, indicating a message. He stuffed it underneath the pillow on his bed.

He had to study.

09/21

Hajime couldn’t sleep. He knew it was probably way after midnight already, but that didn’t make him fall asleep any faster. Today was a Sunday, at least.

Heaving a sigh into his dark silent room, he turned around to lie on his other side. He couldn’t really see it, but he roughly knew where his phone was positioned on his small table, so he stared at it.

After he had ignored it, he had studied for a few hours. Or tried to. It didn’t go quite well and after the sixteenth mistake, he gave up and replied to the message on his phone.

He had managed to forget all about what his mother said while he was talking to Lucky, but the moment he laid the phone out of his hand it slowly started to crawl its way back into the front of his mind.

And now, here he was, unable to fall asleep nor get his mind off of the things that were said. He sighed again, low-key hoping it would wear his body down, somehow, but knowing fully well it didn’t work that way.

He needed to do something. He couldn’t lie around doing nothing anymore.

Hajime threw back his blanket and sat up. The window was closed, but the air in his room still felt a little bit chilly with just his shirt and boxers on.

He walked over to his table and grabbed the phone, sitting down on the couch. He pulled his legs up and used one arm to hold them against his chest, almost curling into a ball. With his free hand he unlocked his phone, wincing a little at the sudden bright light, and went to Lucky’s contact information.

(01:42) >> Are you awake?

He wasn’t expecting a reply, but one could always hope, right?

While he waited, he rocked slightly back and forth. He went back up through his and Lucky’s conversations, but didn’t really read anything. He was scrolling so fast, it became blurry. The brightness of the screen didn’t sting his eyes anymore, at least.

After some time, he started to feel cold. He walked back over to his bed and pulled the blanket around his shoulders, sitting down with his legs crossed and leaning with his back against the wall.

He stared at the message he wrote fifteen minutes ago, sighing.

(01:57) >> Guess that’s a no.

He half-heartedly threw his phone away. It only landed a few centimeters in front of him on the mattress, though. He wrapped the blanket closer around himself, staring ahead into the darkness of his room.

A streetlight from outside casted the shadows of tree branches across his walls. It was only visible if you stared long enough at it, but what else was he supposed to do? Aside from sleeping, of course.

Whenever he got like this, though, the only way to fall asleep was to wait for exhaustion to drag his mind into unconsciousness. His thoughts and fears would prevent him from falling asleep any sooner than that.

The good thing about it was that his brain was too tired to conjure up some dream or nightmare, but he would still like to sleep at night instead of the early morning. Too bad he had no choice.

His gaze slowly dropped down to his phone again, an idea forming in his head.

He had never talked about any of this. He was by far no expert on these psychological things, but that’s what people always said, right? Everything would be so much easier if you just get it out of your system…or something like that.

They also said, sometimes it was easier to talk to someone you barely knew as opposed to someone who knew you like the back of their own hand. And, in this case, he wouldn’t even have to look at them while talking.

They couldn’t even respond right away, or interrupt him, because they were sleeping. Once he was done, he could just write one last message in which he said they could ignore everything he wrote, he just needed to get it out there, and they would hopefully never mention it again.

Hajime reached for his phone with a shaking hand. He stared at the blank line at the bottom of the screen, watching that black line blink in and out of existence.

He took a deep breath and swallowed down the air before typing.

(02:04) >> I hope you won’t mind if I write you anyway.

He started writing several follow-ups but erased most of his tries after the first two words. His hands were still shaking. He was nervous for some reason, even though he was alone. In his room as well as on his phone.

(02:06) >> I already told you how I always study every day, right?

(02:07) >> Well… That’s because I don’t have anything else to do.

(02:07) >> I don’t have any hobbies or interests…

(02:08) >> I’m not in any clubs, either.

Hope’s Peak didn’t have clubs in the first place, seeing as it was primarily focused on its students’ education and nothing else. But even if there were any clubs, Hajime couldn’t see himself entering one.

(02:09) >> I don’t have any special accomplishments I could talk about.

(02:09) >> I’m not a very interesting person.

(02:10) >> When others would go out and have fun with their friends, being stupid teenagers together, I shut myself away in my room and study for hours non-stop.

(02:10) >> Nothing fun about that.

He leaned back, letting his hands drop down onto his lap. He tapped his finger against the case of his phone, thinking about how to phrase what he wanted to say.

The image of his mother sitting at the small table in the living room, staring at these cards that were supposed to tell you about the future, came to his mind. His hands’ grip unconsciously tightened.

(02:13) >> My mother grew up out in the country.

(02:14) >> They didn’t have much there, so she had to look for something to kill her time with every single day. If she wasn’t helping out her parents at the moment.

(02:15) >> But trying something new out of the blue is perfectly normal for her thanks to that.

(02:16) >> To be honest, I don’t know if I admire that attitude or find it frustrating.

(02:16) >> She’s practically up for anything, and that makes her interesting.

(02:17) >> But I’m not.

(02:17) >> I’m nothing like her, even though I’m her son.

(02:17) >> Why?

(02:18) >> Because I don’t do anything but study all day?

(02:18) >> But I can’t stop.

Hajime’s thumps were typing so fast, he didn’t even take a second to think about what exactly he was writing. He had never said any of this, had never allowed himself to admit it.

And now he couldn’t stop typing message after message.

(02:19) >> I haven’t achieved anything yet.

(02:19) >> I can’t be proud of myself.

(02:19) >> I can’t be confident.

(02:20) >> I’m nothing.

(02:20) >> How can my life be worth anything when all I do is disappoint?

(02:21) >> If I try to do something different like her

(02:21) >> Something new

(02:21) >> Will that change?

(02:22) >> What if I find a hobby? Could I enjoy myself more?

(02:22) >> But if I don’t study, my grades will drop.

(02:23) >> And then I will only disappoint again and again and again and what if there’s nothing I’m good at? Nothing I could be proud of?

(02:24) >> Then my grades would drop and I still wouldn’t have done anything with my life.

(02:24) >> I don’t want to stop studying. I don’t know what happens if I do.

(02:25) >> But I’ve been studying for so long and I’m still a disappointment.

(02:25) >> Does it even make a difference what I do?

(02:26) >> What can I do?

(02:26) >> Do I even have a choice?

(02:27) >> I don’t know.

Lucky (02:27) > Not to be rude, but I think you need to calm down.

Hajime dropped his phone.

He stared at it in pure shock, his eyes wide. His breathing was heavy, labored. He was panting. His heart was beating fast against his ribcage. He felt dizzy.

When did that happen?

He held his breath for a second before inhaling deeply, trying to regulate his breathing. It worked quickly, thankfully. His heart was calming down again, too.

He sat there in silence for a little bit longer before slowly taking his phone back into his hand. Lucky’s message was staring back at him. He took his time in writing a new message, reading over it at least three times before sending.

(02:31) >> Sorry. Did I wake you up?

Lucky (02:32) > Yes, but I was having a nightmare anyway.

…Oh. Hajime let out a sigh of relief. He didn’t disturb someone’s peaceful sleep. That made him feel slightly better, at least.

Lucky (02:33) > So, correct me if I’m wrong, but…

Lucky (02:33) > Could it be that you’re afraid of new things? Of change or the unknown?

The message caught him off-guard.

Did this mean Lucky wanted to continue this conversation? They wanted to listen to him? No, that was probably overthinking it. Should he even answer that?

If he was honest, he already felt a little bit more at ease after saying all of that stuff. It had been like unorganized rambling, though. Maybe talking about it more calmly would help even more. Calling that thought tempting would be an understatement.

Lucky (02:35) > Ah, you don’t have to answer, of course! You can just ignore me if you don’t want to talk about something so private with a piece of trash like me.

Hajime automatically narrowed his eyes. That sentence was even worse than usual. He didn’t like it, and he didn’t agree. Nodding to himself he made a decision.

(02:35) >> No, it’s fine. Just. Give me a moment.

Lucky (02:35) > Oh! Of course! I’ll be waiting, take your time!

That sounded oddly supportive. A small smile ghosted over his lips, the slight irritation at Lucky’s self-deprecation already disappearing again. He leaned back and stared up at his room’s ceiling.

Was he afraid of the unknown? Well, considering his reaction to the prospect of adding Lucky’s presence to his routine, that might very well be the case. But was that why everything he did day after day was studying?

It wasn’t why he started it, he knew that much. The fear could be a side effect, for lack of a better word. If he tried something new, he could get distracted by it and that would get him only bad results. His work over the past years would be for nothing if that happened. He didn’t know what would happen if he stopped now and, maybe, he really was afraid of that.

That, and…he would have to admit his mother had been right. But he had to do this, he had to study, he had to take his education seriously. She didn’t understand that back then and she didn’t understand it now.

Hajime looked back down at his phone.

(02:41) >> You’re partially right and partially wrong.

Lucky (02:42) > I see. We’re similar, then.

Similar? Lucky was afraid of the unknown? Well, partially. Apparently. …Probably? Hajime wasn’t sure.

Lucky (02:42) > Ignoring the fact that you don’t want anything changed, are you happy with how things are for you right now?

(02:43) >> Is this a therapy session?

Lucky (02:43) > It’s my attempt at trying to understand you, if you don’t mind.

He had to read that again in order for his brain to make sense of it. He had never thought anyone would ever think of him as interesting enough as to actually wanting to get to know him. Understand him even. He felt kind of flattered.

He made sure to think his answer completely through before sending it.

(02:45) >> To be honest, I don’t know. No feels like the right answer, but I can’t really do anything about it. I don’t want to. It’s complicated, I guess.

(02:46) >> Sorry, that’s not a very good answer…

Lucky (02:46) > Humans are complicated, so it’s fine. I didn’t think you’d admit any of that, though! Guess you’re good for some surprises after all.

(02:47) >> You’re surprising, too. I didn’t expect you to know how to hold a therapy session.

Lucky (02:47) > Oh, I just read a lot!

(02:47) >> That’s not an answer.

Hajime snorted and shook his head in amusement. Whatever Lucky had been reading, it must’ve been a good book. He actually started to feel a little bit better. He could almost say he was relaxed.

He didn’t get a solution for anything, but it was still good to change his thoughts into words. Lucky wasn’t trying to give him some half-baked advice, too, didn’t make any promises of things getting better or something like that when they couldn’t predict the future.

Nothing was solved, but his heart felt lighter anyway. He could think about everything in more detail in the morning, when his brain wasn’t tired and exhausted.

(02:49) >> Thank you, by the way.

Lucky (02:49) > Huh? For what?

(02:50) >> Talking to me, I guess. This actually helped.

Lucky (02:50) > Hmm…

Lucky (02:51) > It’s up to you what you make of it, though. But…

Lucky (02:52) > Nobody, you truly are a nobody. Aren’t you?

(02:52) >> What’s that supposed to mean?

Lucky (02:53) > You said there is nothing special about you. No hobbies, no interests, probably no friends, no accomplishments.

(02:53) >> Well, yes. It’s true I’m not a genius or anything.

That was Izuru’s role.

Lucky (02:54) > So you live a normal life? Nothing extraordinary is happening to you? It’s quiet?

(02:55) >> Uh… I guess? If you don’t count talking to a stranger you never met over the phone because they accidentally send a message to the wrong number as extraordinary, then yes.

Hajime was confused. Where were they going with this? His life really wasn’t anything to talk about. It was boring if you looked at all the other people out there who actually accomplished something.

Lucky (02:56) > I envy you.

(02:56) >> What? Why?

Lucky (02:57) > Not just you. Everyone.

Lucky (02:58) > It doesn’t matter if you have a hobby or not. Doesn’t matter if you’re a genius or not. Doesn’t matter if you have a bright future ahead of you or not. Doesn’t matter if you’re rich or not. Doesn’t matter if you’re average, doesn’t matter if you’re boring.

Lucky (02:59) > I envy them all. Every single one.

Lucky (03:00) > Because a piece of garbage like myself can’t even hope to ever be any of that. I don’t deserve to be normal.

Hajime didn’t know what to say. All he could do was stare at the screen, at the black characters spelling out Lucky’s messages. He wanted to say something, he felt worry claw at his chest, but what could he possibly say to that?

He really didn’t think his life was something to be desired. He already admitted that he wasn’t really happy with it, right? So, why did they envy him for it?

Why were they using the word envy, anyway? Shouldn’t it be jealousy? Or was a normal life something Lucky couldn’t have? That seemed strange to him.

He wanted to ask what they meant, but was it really his place to ask something like that? Sure, he trusted them with some of his fears, but they didn’t have to do the same.

Before he could come up with a good reaction, he received another message. It was quickly followed by others. They were piling up and Hajime’s worry increased with every new text, every word that appeared on the screen.

Lucky (03:02) > Huh

Lucky (03:02) > I never admit that

Lucky (03:03) > Huh huh huh huh huh

Lucky (03:03) > Why

Lucky (03:04) > Why did i

Lucky (03:04) > Admit that

Lucky (03:04) > Why did

(03:05) >> Um…

Lucky (03:05) > I

(03:05) >> I don’t know how to say this, but…

Lucky (03:05) > Admit

(03:06) >> Isn’t it because you don’t know me?

(03:06) >> You only know me through your phone.

(03:07) >> I don’t know you personally, so I can’t judge you.

The messages stopped.

Hajime wanted to panic, but he knew there was nothing he could do. His only way to communicate with Lucky was over the phone like this. If they put it away, turned it off, ignored it, Hajime had no way of getting in contact with them.

Still, he was worried. He was no expert, but that sounded like Lucky was having a panic attack. He could only hope they would manage to calm down.

But even though he wanted to help, he probably shouldn’t mention any of what they just said the next time they talked if that was their reaction. He wouldn’t know how to start that conversation, anyway.

Doing nothing was frustrating, though.

(03:13) >> …are you okay?

That was probably the safest thing he could say right now. Hopefully there would be an answer once he woke up in the morning.

He stifled a yawn. Deciding he could really use some sleep, he straightened out his blanket and laid back down underneath it. Instead of putting his phone in its usual place on the table, though, he put it next to his head on the pillow.

Just in case.


A thirty-minute train ride away, in Hope’s Peak Academy’s dormitory, a boy was sitting in his room, his arms slung around his body and shaking violently.

“Good luck…” His voice murmured words into a room that was so silent it was deafening.

“Bad luck…” Everything repeated over and over and over again, with no end in sight.

“…Which is it?

Chapter Text

09/21

When Hajime woke up, he was half lying on his phone.

As soon as he realized the light was on, he shot up into a sitting position, fully awake, and fumbled with his phone, dropping it a few times before finally managing to open the new messages.

Lucky (04:32) > I’m fine.

Lucky (04:33) > Ignore everything I said.

Lucky (04:35) > Please.

Hajime slowly breathed out the air he was holding in. He had expected they wouldn’t want to talk about what they had admitted last night, not after that reaction. He had mixed feelings about it, but he didn’t want to force them into a conversation, either.

He hoped Lucky told him the truth and really was fine. All he could do was believe them.

09/22

The sound of a school bell on a Monday afternoon was always followed by sighs of relief from the students inside the building. Even more so in a dull and oppressing place like Hope’s Peak Academy’s Reserve Course.

Hajime took his time in putting his things away, making sure the inside of his bag was at least somewhat organized. Souda was sleeping at the desk next to him, as he had been doing since a little after lunch break ended. He ignored him.

He was about to stand up from his seat when someone stopped in front of his desk. It took him a second to register the girls uniform, and another to look up only to see Satou, her arms crossed in front of her chest and expression blank. She was staring at him.

“Uhm… Can I help you?” he asked after she simply stood there, completely silent. It was a little unnerving, to be honest.

“I didn’t know we are in the same class,” she said.

Hajime wasn’t surprised. Someone as boring and ordinary as him didn’t stick out. It was no wonder she overlooked him.

He didn’t understand why she was bringing that up, though. Because he ignored how she had been bullied by Kuzuryuu? They were classmates, but he didn’t help her? Did she want to make him feel guilty about it? Because he already did, he didn’t need her to remind him of that.

“Small world,” he shrugged and avoided looking into her eyes. When she didn’t say anything in return, he stood up and slung his bag over his shoulder, turning away from her.

“Wait,” there was a tug at his sleeve and he was looking at Satou again. Her eyes flickered from left to right for a moment before staring into his own. “I’m sorry for snapping at you last Friday.”

His brain took a second to register the meaning of the words. He slowly moved his arm away from Satou’s grip, freeing his sleeve from in between her fingers. She let him, resuming to cross her arms again and looking at him expectantly.

When he opened his mouth to say something the only sound coming out was a confused, “Huh?”

“You know, after Kuzuryuu stormed off,” she spat out the name with obvious disgust in her voice. “I was too annoyed to deal with anything.”

“It’s fine,” he said, still confused. He didn’t do anything to help when he saw her getting bullied, after all. It was only normal she would be rude to him in return.

He was uncomfortable looking at Satou’s stern expression, so he stared at Souda drooling on his desk instead. He shifted his weight from one foot to the other when the feeling of her stare wasn’t leaving him, “So…is that all?”

It took a moment for Satou to give him a response, her tone having the same level of confusion as his own, “What do you mean?”

“Is that all you wanted to say to me? Because I have to catch my train,” he added an excuse as to not come across as rude.

“But—Don’t you have questions?” Satou stammered out.

Hajime frowned, his confusion growing. He glanced away from Souda back to her, seeing nothing but surprise on her face. He hesitated before saying, “Why would I have questions? It’s none of my business, is it?”

He felt guilty for just staying at the sidelines and watching, yes. But whatever was going on between Satou and Kuzuryuu didn’t have anything to do with him. He doubted Satou would actually want to talk about it with him. She wasn’t wrong when she called him a disappointment.

“Well, no, it isn’t, but…”

Hajime could tell she was searching for the right words, getting flustered and uncomfortable in the process.

“I—I thought I would have to make that clear to you, not that…you wouldn’t even ask,” her voice was getting lower and lower the more she said. She was staring down at the desk between them, seemingly embarrassed.

Hajime didn’t know if he should feel insulted by that admission or not. He wasn’t interacting with any of his classmates, anyway. Aside from Souda, but he didn’t care what he thought of him.

So, he simply shrugged. “If that’s all you wanted to say, can I go now?”

“Uh,” Satou’s head snapped up, “Yeah. Of course.” She was staring at him incomprehensibly before turning around and walking away, mumbling something to herself.

He didn’t waste any time in getting out of the classroom, Souda could wake up at any second, and made his way to the train station. He forgot about the whole thing a few hours later.

09/23

Hajime wondered if he could ever truly get used to Izuru’s presence. Or the silence that enveloped them every time they were the only ones in a room. The sound of rushing water and the occasional scrap of metal against the sink was all that could be heard in the small kitchen.

Izuru was cleaning anything he had used to cook with that didn’t have any room in the dishwasher, while Hajime was standing next to him, cloth in hand, and tried to dry everything that was handed to him the best he could. His mother was usually the one to help Izuru, but she took up an extra shift at her workplace for a co-worker who called in sick today.

Now, he was stuck with the person that never failed to make him feel miserable about himself. Even the plates seemed to be cleaner whenever Izuru cleaned them by hand. And washing plates didn’t have anything to do with intelligence.

Or was he just imagining that? That wouldn’t make him feel any better, though.

Hajime’s eyes moved to the side while he was still halfheartedly drying the kitchen knife in his hands. Izuru was focused on scrubbing clean the pot in the sink, staring at the water with absolutely nothing on his face as usual.

Neither of them was trying to start a conversation and Hajime wasn’t sure if he was glad about that or if the continuing silence made him more and more uncomfortable with every passing second. Izuru had asked him for the help, and Hajime didn’t want to decline when he was already the one with the least work in the household, but he didn’t know if he could endure this any longer.

Suppressing a defeated sigh, he continued to stare at Izuru while absentmindedly rubbing the cloth in his hand along the kitchen knife’s blade, completely lost in thought.

The silence was broken with a bored, “Why are you staring at me?”

Hajime flinched, losing his grip on both the knife and cloth. He could feel a sharp pain in the palm of his hand, but Izuru’s blood red eyes suddenly staring back at him shoved that feeling at the back of his mind. His throat was closing up.

He turned his head, forcing his eyes to stay on Izuru’s red ones even though it made him feel as if he was analyzing every single thing about him. With a, hopefully, convincing and indifferent tone he said, “Shouldn’t you be more careful with all that hair?”

Hajime could see it in his peripheral vision, how almost-black strands of hair were falling dangerously close to the water and dish soap in the sink. He didn’t really care, but it made a good excuse.

Izuru was staring at him for a moment longer before his eyes flickered over to Hajime’s hands.

“You are bleeding,” there was no emotion in his voice. It was simply a statement about an observation he made. It made Hajime feel sicker than any amount of blood probably ever will.

He looked down at his hands, the pain in his left palm becoming more noticeable to his senses at the sight. The cut seemed to be more long than deep, but it was still a bright red and burned on his skin. He scowled at it.

From the corner of his eye, he could see Izuru reaching out with his hand. Hajime reflexively took a step to the side and held his hand out of his reach.

“What are you doing?” he asked, irritation clear in his voice. His scowl moved over to Izuru and he was met with a pair of cold red eyes again. He had to fight off the urge to lower his gaze.

There was no immediate reaction. He couldn’t tell what made Izuru stay silent, and he wasn’t sure if he wanted to know.

“I can clean it for you,” Izuru said.

“I can do that myself,” he snapped back.

He was staring at him, long enough for the silence in the kitchen to become heavy again, before slowly walking backwards toward the door. Izuru wasn’t stopping him, thankfully.

Once he was in the hallway, he turned around to find his way to the bathroom. The feeling of Izuru’s eyes staring at his back followed him, even though he knew perfectly well he was out of his sight.

There was something about Izuru’s stares that never felt to unnerve him, to make him feel insecure about the smallest things. It was stupid, and he hated the feeling, but if he started avoiding looking at his eyes he would just feel even more pathetic for being so weak.

In the bathroom, Hajime let cold water run over his hand, the feeling cooling down his skin and numbing the pain. The cut wasn’t as red anymore, too. More of a light pink color, but it would heal. He probably shouldn’t use his hand too much, though. So, no studying today, since he was left-handed.

He sighed and, rather reluctantly, went back into the hallway.

He could still hear running water from the kitchen, but he didn’t want to go back in there. He didn’t use a band aid or any bandages for the cut, and he didn’t like the possibility of Izuru looking at him as if he couldn’t take care of a small thing like that on his own. His hand was useless right now and they had been almost done, anyway.

He silently took the stairs to the second floor and disappeared into his room.

Grabbing his phone lying next to the still open book on his desk he let himself fall down onto his bed, opened Lucky’s contact with one hand, and started typing the first thing that came to his mind to get some form of distraction.

(20:27) >> Why is it sometimes so difficult to look into someone’s eyes while talking to them?

If there was one thing he was absolutely sure about Lucky, it was that they knew a lot of random trivia. They knew all that from simply reading a lot of books…or so they said every time he asked.

Maybe they were a walking encyclopedia of useless things. The thought made him snort in amusement, already bringing a smile to his lips despite there being no answer yet.

Lucky (20:30) > Some people refer to your eyes as mirrors to your soul. You wouldn’t want people staring into your soul, now would you, Nobody?

(20:30) >> And that’s one more random thing you know. For some reason. How do you even get all that knowledge?

Lucky (20:31) > Haha, I just read a lot!

Hajime’s smile turned into a quiet chuckle, accompanied by a mischievous glint in his eyes.

(20:31) >> You know, I’m starting to think you just like saying that.

Lucky (20:31) > Oh no, that’s not it! It’s more like…

(20:31) >> Your answer to everything?

Lucky (20:32) > My answer to eve

Lucky (20:32) > You stole my punchline!!

He was unable to hold back his laughter.

09/24

Hajime really didn’t like dinner on Wednesdays most of the time. It was the one day of the week on which almost certainly every member of the “family” was present – not counting the weekend, of course.

He didn’t want to listen to whatever Kazuki was talking about, so instead he thought about the conversations he had with Lucky over the last few days. There hadn’t been anything special, but it still made him feel a little bit better than having to listen to someone’s success at work.

“—got a call from a client who had a problem with—”

That didn’t mean he could block out Kazuki’s voice completely, though. Some of his words made it into Hajime’s ears and they ended up mixing with his thoughts regardless of his efforts. So, he did his best to get his mind back to where he wanted it to be.

“—but he told her the wrong number, so she couldn’t find the right documents—”

Whenever he heard the words ‘wrong’ and ‘number’ in one sentence, Hajime thought back to the day he received Lucky’s very first message. The note they wrote to themselves and his increasing panic that followed afterwards.

“—back a few minutes later, but she was still getting error messages, so she—”

Though, he couldn’t deny he was sort of glad Lucky had been the one on the end of that number sequence and not some other random guy. He doubted he could have the same conversations with someone else.

“—help. We tried looking through—”

It still was something new every day, too. Some things could even make him laugh. Of course, there were still moments when he was worried about Lucky, especially every time they started talking down on themselves again, but he was generally having a good time and it seemed like Lucky was the same.

“—couldn’t find anything and went to Munakata-san to discuss—”

He couldn’t help but smile involuntarily at the thought. He wasn’t trying to suppress it once he noticed, recalling the last time Lucky had made him laugh after Hajime supposedly “stole their punchline”. He could recite the whole thing perfectly.

“—didn’t understand, so I explained how it was—”

“Your answer to everything?” he said with a smirk…and then his face twisted into shock. His chopsticks fell out of his hand onto his half-eaten plate with a loud clatter as everything went silent.

Hajime could only stare down on the food in front of him with wide eyes. He didn’t mean to say that out loud. He was just going through the conversation in his head again and—he slipped up.

He could feel his heartbeat panicking, picking up in speed and sending too much blood to his head. No one was saying anything. The room was frozen in an awkward silence and all he wanted to do was be swallowed up in a deep hole in the ground, please.

Kazuki cleared his throat. Hajime’s head snapped up, his mouth hastily blurting out the first words he could think of.

“It was a joke!” his eyes flickered around the room, never staying on one person for too long. “I-I didn’t mean to insult you or something like that…”

He didn’t even know what Kazuki had said before he interrupted him. That thought didn’t make him feel any less tense, though. He could only hope it wasn’t anything too bad.

“A miracle! I can’t remember the last time Hajime made a joke!” his mother exclaimed with a big grin on her face. Hajime blinked at her a few times before he felt his posture slowly starting to relax.

“Ha. Ha. Very funny,” he said. With sarcasm, of course.

A chuckle made him look over to Kazuki, who was hiding his mouth with one hand, “If I am boring you, you can just say so, Hajime.”

“Ah—N-no, that’s not… I-It’s fine,” he finished with an awkward laugh.

He picked up his chopsticks and began to eat again. He felt Izuru’s stare boring into the side of his head for the rest of the dinner, but didn’t think about it for too long.

09/25

“Yo, Hinata!”

Hajime suppressed a tired sigh from escaping him. He was walking down the school’s hallway when Souda caught up to him, walking at his side at a matching pace. It was still early in the morning and he already had to deal with this.

“Good morning, Souda,” he kept his gaze in front of him, dodging some students.

He was mentally preparing himself to listen to whatever nonsense Souda would start talking about until the start of homeroom, but nothing came. Hajime furrowed his brow in confusion.

Surprisingly enough, Souda didn’t say anything until they entered the classroom. And even then, he waited for both them to sit down and get their things out of their bags before raising his voice again.

“So… I thought about some things,” he crossed his arms on top of the desk and leaned slightly over in Hajime’s direction.

“Okay…?” He hesitated, “Should I be worried?”

“Huh? N-no, just…wanted to ask for your opinion on something,” Souda put a hand behind his head, trying to be nonchalant but failing miserably.

Hajime stared at him. He wasn’t sure what expression he made, but it seemed to make Souda uncomfortable. He closed his eyes and sighed, “What is it?”

“Uh, well, you see…” he suddenly clammed his mouth shut, brought his arms in front of him, and slowly started nodding to himself. When he turned to face Hajime again, his eyes were sparkling with – probably faked – excitement, “Hope’s Peak really does take studying seriously, doesn’t it?”

“…Huh?”

“I-I mean…it even ignores public holidays!” His enthusiasm falters a little, ”That…is why we don’t get these days off…right? …Hehe.”

“…Yes…?” Hajime was getting more and more confused, “Souda, this is your second year and you’re just noticing this now?”

“Yeah, yeah, well…I guess it never really hit me before, huh?” he added another awkward laugh. “So, uh…what do you think about that?”

“About not getting certain days off?” Souda nodded furiously. Hajime shrugged, “I don’t really care. We still have regular school holidays. And Golden Week.”

“But that’s—” Souda started but cut himself off. He panicked for a second, his eyes flickering around the room. Not looking at Hajime, he stammered out, “W-why…do you think that is?”

This was getting weird. Not that Souda had never been weird before, but this. This was…different.

Had he been too harsh on him the other day? When they were talking about the amount of homework they got? Maybe, but what did that matter? Hajime sighed, deciding not to read too much into this. It was Souda, after all.

“You never read the school’s website, did you? A lot of the questions you ask me are answered there,” he said.

“Oh! Really?” Souda perked up a little at that, “So, what did it say?”

He couldn’t look it up himself? Or did he just want to have a conversation with him? Hajime doubted Souda was actually interested in any of this. He’d just start complaining once he was done with the explanation.

Hajime could list all the things that were different about Hope’s Peak Academy and normal high schools from the top of his head, but he also knew the differences between the Main and Reserve Course and talking about changes in educational procedures would make him think about that again.

But Souda was looking at him with desperate eyes, signaling him he probably wouldn’t let this go for a long time, and Hajime supposed he didn’t have anything better to do anyway.

Aside from talking to Lucky before their teacher arrived, maybe.

No, not maybe. Definitely. Talking to Lucky was always the better option than dealing with whatever his miserable life was throwing at him, he already established that.

Yet, he couldn’t simply wipe out his phone and straight up ignore Souda. He wasn’t the friendliest guy in the world, but he didn’t want to be rude, either. He didn’t have to go into detail.

Almost letting out a resigned sigh, he turned to stare at the surface of his desk. He could easily imagine the website in front of him, the black symbols giving detailed explanations of Hope’s Peak Academy’s ideas and ideals.

“Basically, learning as much as you possibly can is the only reason this school exists. Its concept is based on the goal of raising children with a promising future filled with hope for the many ways humanity can advance with their intelligence,” he said it as if he was reading off a script, his voice monotone and bored.

In fact, it almost was one to one recited from the first page that turned up when loading the website. He had spent a lot of time reading that sentence over and over, imagining himself as one of the people who would be a promising addition to Hope’s Peak’s student body and – whenever he allowed himself to be selfish – a new hope for humanity.

It hurt thinking about the failure he turned out to be instead. He really was stupid. He had an entire day ahead of him and it was already ruined by these thoughts.

Hajime waited a moment before glancing over at Souda. His expression was…rather blank. He didn’t get it. Hajime could only sigh.

“What’s with the sudden interest, anyway? You don’t really care about this stuff,” he said before Souda could ask for any clarifications.

“Huh? Oh. You think?” he forced another awkward laugh, putting his hands behind his head. “It’s nothing, man. Just curious. Seriously!”

Souda was trying too hard to seem carefree. Even Hajime could tell.

He shouldn’t continue with this conversation. He opened his notebook and pretended to read over yesterday’s notes, pulling out his phone from his pocket beneath the table.

A smile slipped onto his lips as he saw the 2 New Message(s) notification.

Maybe the day wasn’t entirely ruined, after all.

09/26

Hajime bowed his head slightly once he was standing outside the faculty office again. Satou did the same beside him before she closed the door, separating them from the teachers at their desks inside.

“Sorry for dragging you into this, Hinata,” she sighed and started to walk back to their classroom. “Pekoyama was supposed to help, but that bitch showed up and…well, you know the rest.”

His face scrunched up at the word she used for Kuzuryuu, but he decided he shouldn’t comment on it. He settled for the socially expected answer instead, “It’s fine, don’t mention it.”

It was his fault for staying behind in the classroom for longer than he should have, anyway.

He had been a little too engrossed in the conversation he had with Lucky near the end of the last period that he completely lost his sense of awareness to what was happening around him. He was surprised Souda hadn’t tried to speak with him after the bell rang and just left without him.

He only realized what time it was when Satou and Kuzuryuu got into another fight and the other students fled out the room. And after Kuzuryuu pulled Pekoyama along by her sleeve, the girl barely managing to grab her bags, he and Satou had been the only ones left.

“Besides,” he added out loud before he could stop himself, “I owe you.”

“What? Owe me?” Satou stopped in the middle of the hallway, staring at him with a mixture of shock and confusion.

Hajime stopped as well, but he couldn’t look at her. His eyes stared at the grey wall behind her instead, his embarrassment partially visible on his face – at least, he hoped it was only partially.

“Ah, well, since I…uh,” he was desperately searching for the right words, “…ignored the whole thing in the entrance hall…and all.”

“You feel bad for that?” Satou’s eyebrows flew up to hide behind her bangs.

“I mean…sort of?” He wasn’t constantly thinking about it and blaming himself, but whenever he noticed Satou in class or in the hallway, he remembered how cowardly he stood on the sidelines and watched another person getting bullied.

Though, it seemed like she wasn’t the type to let herself get pushed around easily, so he probably would’ve only been in her way if he had actually tried to do something. Maybe he dodged a bullet back then.

“But you don’t know me,” her surprise melted back into confusion. “Of course, you’re not going to interfere there.”

“I know, but…” they were classmates. He felt like that should mean something.

“Listen, I know her since middle school. I can handle her,” she started walking again. “I only really got angry when she mentioned Mahiru, anyway. I don’t think you could’ve stopped me after that, so it was probably a good thing Pekoyama showed up when she did.”

Hajime could only nod, though Satou couldn’t see it while he was walking behind her.

“But…she wasn’t wrong,” Satou added after a moment of silence.

If Hajime wasn’t mistaken, her voice was lower than usual, hesitant maybe.

“Mahiru is a lot smarter than I am. That’s why I’m stuck in this depressing thing,” she gestured to the walls around them, “while Mahiru can enjoy herself in the Main Course. It’s kind of a sore spot, I guess.”

A sharp pain stung his insides at the mention of the Main Course. So, this Mahiru person was one of the people privileged enough to be part of it. And not through money, too. She was intelligent.

Hajime could feel the jealousy rising inside him. He wanted to swallow it down, drown it out by happier things, but it was already too late. He didn’t really have anything happy to distract himself with, anyway.

Satou continued, not waiting for any sort of reaction from him. “To be honest, though, I wonder what Kuzuryuu is doing here. Her family should be rich enough, after all,” she huffed at the last part.

Why was she telling him this? He didn’t want to talk about people who could get into the Main Course, money or otherwise. They were all superior to him.

“Who cares?” he spit out the words, his hands clenching into fists.

Satou didn’t react immediately. He could feel her eyes on him, but he refused to look up from the floor, staring at it with unneeded intensity. They didn’t stop walking.

“…You’re right,” she said eventually. “It doesn’t matter. I can still eat lunch with Mahiru, too, so it’s all good!” Satou’s tone completely lost its previous hesitancy.

That comment wasn’t any better to Hajime. Satou and this Mahiru were obviously good friends, something he never really had. But it was fine, so he shoved the thought away. He didn’t need one more person to overshadow him.

Thankfully, they reached their classroom shortly after and he wouldn’t have to stay in this oppressing building for much longer.

He immediately went over to his desk, made sure everything was still inside his bag, and slung its strap over his shoulder. He pulled out his phone and turned on the screen, checking for messages.

Lucky (15:47) > Aren’t nobodies supposed to not stand out? You should be alright.

Lucky (15:55) > Or…not. Huh.

Lucky (15:56) > I hope you’re still alive, at least!

Hajime couldn’t help but chuckle quietly to himself. When Lucky had sent that first message, it had already been too late and Satou made him carry the other half of the stack of papers to the faculty office.

It was true he wouldn’t stand out in a full room, but there had been no one left aside from him after Kuzuryuu dragged Pekoyama away. He had been kept out of the fight at least, and that’s what he initially worried about when he wrote Lucky.

He was busy thinking about a good response when someone tapped on his shoulder. When he looked up, he was met with Satou’s dark eyes. She was looking at him strangely for a moment, but it vanished when she put on a neutral smile.

“I never thanked you for helping me carry that stuff, so thank you.” She took a step back, raised her hand, and waved at him, “See you on Monday, Hinata.”

Satou didn’t wait for a response from him and simply walked over to the door. Hajime stared after her with confusion written all over his face. He didn’t expect any thanks, much less a goodbye like this.

That was weird.

09/27

(15:02) >> I’m bored, help.

Lucky (15:03) > What’s this? No Saturday studying?

(15:03) >> I already did that.

Lucky (15:04) > But it’s still afternoon…

(15:07) >> Well, I thought I could just study during one half of the day and do something else for the other half…

(15:08) >> But I have absolutely nothing to do.

Lucky (15:08) > Nobody, are you changing your routine?

(15:09) >> It’s not a big deal, is it?

Lucky (15:11) > I guess not…

(15:12) >> So, can you help me?

Lucky (15:12) > I doubt talking to me could be of much interest.

(15:12) >> That’s not true.

Lucky (15:13) > But if you really want the opinion of someone like me, I’m always reading when I get bored!

(15:13) >> I’m not going to read some English book.

Lucky (15:14) > So you still won’t recognize their charm. What a disappointment.

Lucky (15:14) > I have other books I could recommend to you, though.

(15:15) >> What kind of books?

Lucky (15:15) > Novels, mostly.

Lucky (15:16) > I also know some good non-fiction books, interesting encyclopedias, or books on different researches.

Lucky (15:16) > I think there are some biographies lying around, too.

(15:17) >> You

(15:18) >> Really do read a lot.

Lucky (15:18) > Were you doubting me?

(15:18) >> No

(15:20) >> So… what kind of novels?

09/28

The lighting in Hajime’s room was terrible if you wanted to read a book. So, he was sitting in the living room instead. In fact, he was sitting here almost as soon as he woke up today.

He had been sitting here for the entirety of yesterday’s afternoon, too. Right after he went outside and bought one of the books Lucky recommended to him because he really didn’t know what else he should do. And reading wasn’t that bad of an idea.

He only picked one from the list Lucky gave him, but it was a good book and he was already half way done. Maybe he shouldn’t have continued to read for most of yesterday’s evening if he wanted to get something out of it for a little bit longer. But it was too late for that now.

He could buy another one once he was finished with it.

Hajime was currently positioned on the couch, the open book in hand. He had his legs up and close to his chest, but with enough space for the book in between.

He knew Izuru was quietly sitting at the table, probably working on his homework, but Hajime ignored his presence. Thankfully, the book was a big help with that.

Whenever something happened that caught him off guard, he would reach for the phone lying on the kotatsu and share his thoughts with Lucky. He knew that, at some point, they had picked up the book themselves and were reading simultaneously with him. Their exchanges between chapters were always interesting, too.

Somehow, it made the whole thing even better.

He was having fun. As if he was simply hanging out with a friend and enjoyed their time together, even though they didn’t do anything special. Just reading. It was calming in a way, and exciting at the same time. He didn’t have anything to compare it to.

His mind registered the sound of someone entering the room, but he didn’t look up.

The book’s narration shifted into a feeling of panic – a dead body had been discovered – and this time the protagonist was fast enough to catch a glimpse of the culprit, initiating a chase scene. Hajime could feel his muscles tense, even though he was only sitting on a couch, reading a book.

There were voices in the living room, but once again he ignored them…until he heard his name, that is.

“And what are you doing, Hajime?” It was Kazuki’s voice.

Hajime frowned, but didn’t take his gaze away from the words written on the page. The protagonist had catched up with the culprit and was trying to get him to talk, but something didn’t feel right. As if he was overlooking something very important.

“Hajime?”

His grip on the book tightened. He felt irritation flaring up inside him as Kazuki’s voice interrupted him again. He mumbled out a response, trying to keep his voice as calm as possible, still not looking up.

“I’m reading, can’t you tell?” he felt like his efforts at maintaining a polite tone didn’t work quite right. It was Kazuki’s fault for trying to make conversation with him while he was occupied.

“What are you reading?” He didn’t get the hint.

He didn’t get the hint! Who was he? Souda? Hajime was frustrated now. He refused to take his eyes away from the words written in front of him, though. He kept reading, even while talking, not caring anymore whether he was rude or not.

“Don’t you realize people with books don’t want to be to be disturbed?”

“Ah, of course,” he let an embarrassed laugh resound inside the room. It would have been fine if he stopped there. But, much to Hajime’s dismay, he still didn’t get it, even though it was said out right. “It seems like a rather interesting book, so I—”

“Shh,” the hissing sound Hajime made to shut him up turned completely illegible as he finished reading the paragraph. He practically lunged for his phone, almost falling off the couch, and typed out messages with rapid speed.

(16:49) >> Waitwait wait

(16:49) >> That servant guy has something do with this?

(16:50) >> But he was a nice guy!

(16:50) >> And I still don’t know his name

Lucky (16:50) > Nobody is being naïve again!

Lucky (16:51) > You can’t judge a person by their cover, you know?

(16:51) >> It’s “book”.

Lucky (16:51) > Doesn’t help your case.

“You keep switching to your phone rather often. It can not be proficient for your progression,” Izuru’s words were cold.

Hajime’s thumb stopped moving, hovering over the keyboard on the screen. Slowly, he looked up to notice Izuru staring at him with his unnerving red eyes. Again, there was absolutely nothing on his face. Hajime couldn’t read him at all.

But something was off. At least, more than usual when it came to Izuru.

Did he always make snarky comments like that? He couldn’t remember any, and that would definitely be staying in his long-term memory. Well, he didn’t have to be polite when answering that, did he?

“For your information,” he turned his gaze back onto his phone’s screen, away from Izuru, “I’m writing my friend my reactions, since they recommended the book to me.”

He wasn’t sure if he could really call Lucky a friend, but they were probably past the “acquaintance” stage, so it should be okay. He finished the message he had been writing before Izuru spoke up and sent it.

(16:53) >> Does that mean you weren’t surprised when you first got to that scene?

Something fell to the floor. Hajime heard the impact. It wasn’t very heavy. A pencil, maybe?

When he glanced to the side, he did see a pencil rolling across the floorboards. He blinked at it before his eyes shifted up, back to Izuru. And once he did, he felt the urge to pinch himself to make sure he wasn’t dreaming. Or hallucinating.

He could tell at a glance that Izuru’s body was stiff, one hand still in the position to hold a pencil, though it was empty now. His mouth was a thin line, as always, but his eyes… They were wide open. So wide, it was almost comical. There was no better word than shock to describe his expression.

This was the first time Hajime saw actual pure emotion on Izuru’s face.

And his voice was filled with disbelief and confusion as well, instead of its usual composed, cold, indifferent tone. To the point where the word he forced out sounded more insulting than anything else.

“…Friend?” The emphasis Izuru put on that one word didn’t help. Hajime narrowed his eyes at him. He really didn’t have to be polite after that one.

“Wow, what kind of tone is that?” He rolled his eyes, “Excuse me for having a social life.”

Even though said social life was only present through his phone. Whatever.

Hajime looked at the screen again, just in time to see a new message appear.

Lucky (16:55) > Hmm. To an extent, I suppose? There were a lot of hints dropped early on, and the fact that you don’t know his name is suspicious either way.

(16:55) >> Well, yeah…

Lucky (16:55) > Oh, but the chapter isn’t finished yet! What are you doing, talking to me?

He couldn’t help but chuckle a little at that. He noticed Kazuki and Izuru’s voices in the background, but they were talking quietly. He could ignore them.

Hajime leaned back and resumed to read, letting himself forget about everything else.

09/29

Izuru was freaking him out. That in itself wasn’t anything new, of course.

But, today, it was worse.

There was the usual feeling of being judged when he was in his presence, but that was not what was unsettling Hajime so much. It was the feeling of someone’s eyes constantly staring at him that accompanied it this time.

It already started in the morning when he came downstairs, dressed in his school uniform, still a little bit tired, and sat down at the table for breakfast. As soon as he started eating, he felt Izuru’s eyes seemingly boring a hole into the side of his head.

He didn’t think much about it and simply tried to ignore it the best he could, which wasn’t that difficult since he had practice in trying to ignore Izuru, but it still low-key bugged him after some time.

When he was done and went back upstairs to get his bag, he felt Izuru’s eyes following him. Even though he could clearly hear his mother still talking to him. He tried to shrug it off.

On their way to the train station together, Hajime was walking in front of Izuru. He was never walking behind him, because staring at his back felt as if he was being left behind. Normally, he would just be aware someone was following him and that was it.

Today, however, that awareness was accompanied by someone staring intensely at the back of his head. It made him self-conscious about every step he made.

The unexpected attention started to make his head spin and his mind panic. Which could only ever result in negative thoughts.

By the time they were in the train, being forced to stand next to each other for thirty whole minutes, Hajime’s mind was overflowing with all the things he felt when Izuru was nearby. In this case, right at his side and still staring at him, which really didn’t help.

He felt judged again, and it was followed by guilt and regret.

Hajime didn’t study at all yesterday. He was too absorbed in the book he read together with Lucky that he completely forgot about the time. And he hated himself for it.

He just wanted a simple change. Something not too boring and mundane, to maybe cheer himself up a little, and he let himself get carried away instead. He let himself get distracted, lost his focus, and gave in.

No wonder he was a disappointment.

Children were supposed to study, to learn, to achieve something worthy of praise. It was what’s expected. It didn’t matter if he wanted that, he had to. He had to.

Because he didn’t want another closing door.

He knew all that. He knew it.

He forgot about it, anyway.

Izuru wouldn’t have forgotten. He was a genius, after all. He could control himself. He was so much better than Hajime. Even with his lack of emotions, he was better.

Life had already favored Izuru with so much more than what it ever gave to Hajime, and it hurt.

It hurt living in the same house as him. It hurt watching him follow the path to Hope’s Peak’s Main Course building. It hurt seeing his name at the top after every exam. It hurt having to consider him “family”. It hurt knowing he existed.

Hajime felt sick. These red eyes weren’t leaving him. At this point, he wouldn’t be surprised if they followed him into his dreams tonight, turning everything into a nightmare.

He hoped that wouldn’t happen. He really, really hoped it wouldn’t. But there was nothing he could do, was there? He had to endure it, somehow. Even if air was continuously squeezed out of his lungs, and not because of the many train passengers.

When he felt his phone buzz in his pocket, he didn’t reach for it. He felt too heavy to move.

He’d be lying if he said he didn’t feel at least a little reassured to know there was someone who wanted to talk to him, though.

09/30

Lucky (21:48) > I have a question for you.

Lucky (21:48) > If you don’t mind, of course!

(21:50) >> Sure, shoot.

Lucky (21:50) > Peng

(21:50) >> ……

Lucky (21:51) > Hahaha…

Lucky (21:51) > I’m sorry, I couldn’t resist…

(21:52) >> Your question?

Lucky (21:52) > Right.

Lucky (21:53) > Nobody…

Lucky (21:54) > Do you see any meaning in our conversations?

(21:54) >> Meaning?

Lucky (21:55) > Is there a point in us talking to each other?

(21:56) >> You wanted to know if it was good or bad luck, right?

Lucky (21:56) > Well, yes…

(21:57) >> …But…?

Lucky (21:58) > It’s been so long and I still don’t know…

Lucky (21:58) > It’s frightening.

(21:58) >> Why?

Lucky (22:00) > Forget that.

Lucky (22:00) > More importantly:

Lucky (22:01) > Why do you still put up with me? Isn’t it tiring? There’s nothing for you to gain from this.

(22:04) >> Do I need to gain something?

Lucky (22:05) > I don’t understand what you mean.

(22:06) >> What if I’m just having fun when talking to you?

Lucky (22:07) > I don’t…

(22:09) >> Lucky, I get that you probably won’t believe me when I say this, we’ve talked long enough for me to figure out you don’t have the best opinion of yourself, but I really enjoy the stupid things we talk about.

(22:10) >> Or the serious things for that matter.

(22:12) >> I don’t know if there’s any actual reason behind everything, but that’s how it is.

Lucky (22:14) > Why?

(22:14) >> I don’t know.

Lucky (22:16) > I’m not bothering you for selfishly wanting to continue this until I get my answer?

Lucky (22:16) > Don’t you have better things to do?

(22:17) >> I probably do…

Lucky (22:17) > Then why are you wasting your time on someone worthless?

(22:18) >> Because I’m having fun. I’m being selfish, too.

(22:19) >> Talking to you is really refreshing, you know?

Lucky (22:21) > No, I don’t know.

(22:21) >> Of course not…

(22:27) >> Hey.

(22:27) >> If you do figure out if it was good or bad luck, what are you going to do?

Lucky (22:28) > Stop bothering you, obviously.

(22:28) >> You’re not a bother.

(22:29) >> In fact, I wouldn’t mind if this continued even after you know. If possible.

Lucky (22:30) > How can you think that?

(22:31) >> I already told you that I don’t want things changed, but I don’t know if I’m really happy like this.

(22:31) >> But this small change isn’t so bad.

(22:32) >> Though, instead of changing something, it’s more like something’s been added to my life. I guess.

Lucky (22:35) > I really don’t understand you.

(22:35) >> And I don’t understand you.

Lucky (22:36) > Yet you’re still talking to me and I fail to get your point.

(22:36) >> Maybe it’s easier to accept it if you just think of me as your friend.

Lucky (22:36) > Friend

Lucky (22:36) > ?

(22:38) >> Yeah. And you are my friend.

Lucky (22:40) > Do you really think that?

(22:41) >> Well, we have been talking for almost a whole month every single day. It must mean something.

Lucky (22:41) > That is

(22:44) >> Maybe you can see meaning in our conversations if we’re friends and you won’t have to ask these questions anymore.

(22:45) >> Are you okay with that?

Lucky (23:07) > Yes.

Hajime didn’t think it through when he wrote it, but seeing that one word – that small, little Yes – on his phone’s screen, despite the time it took for Lucky to reply, made a warm feeling start to bubble in his chest.

He couldn’t quite pinpoint it, but he was certain it had been a while since he last felt like this.


In Hope’s Peak Academy’s dormitory, a boy was sitting in his room, staring out the window and up into the dark night sky. One hand was clutching a phone to his chest, unsure of how to process the messages that had been sent to him.

Despite that, he couldn’t help but think…maybe – just maybe – it was good luck after all.

Chapter Text

10/01

“Soo… Hinata.”

Hearing Souda stretch out the o’s while slowly turning towards him in his chair made Hajime want to flee this scene immediately. There was nothing good for him coming out of this, again, was there?

“You remember what tomorrow is?” Souda asked.

“Thursday,” he answered reflexively. He really couldn’t think of anything else, though.

“…Yeah, but,” Souda looked uncomfortable. He rooked back and forth in his seat, glancing around the classroom. School was over for the day, so only a few other students remained inside. “Anything…else?”

Hajime was forgetting something, wasn’t he? He furrowed his brow and tried to remember, but nothing came to mind. His conversations with Souda weren’t exactly interesting or great to remember. Especially the ones that reminded him of his failures all over again.

So, with a little hesitation, he said, “No…?”

“Man, seriously?” Souda groaned out, gripping his head with one hand. A second later, he looked depressed and mumbled to himself, “I didn’t think you’d forget about it…”

Hajime’s confusion was growing steadily, “Forget about what?”

“The car exhibition, of course!”

“…Oh.” Hajime really did forget about that. Didn’t Souda even buy him a ticket for it?

Where…was that ticket…? It’s true, he didn’t want to go, but if he lost the ticket, Souda would have lost money because of him. And he had no idea how expensive that was.

With a cold sweat running down his neck, Hajime grabbed his bag and rummaged through it. He could remember throwing the ticket in there, so it must still be inside, right?

“Uh, Hinata?”

Hajime had begun to pull books out of his bag and put them back down on his desk so he could get a proper look at the bag’s bottom. Even though losing the ticket would be a great excuse not to go, he would feel horrible for making another person waste their money on him.

“He-hey, what are you doing?”

Souda’s words were ignored.

A moment later, a sigh of relief made its way out of Hajime’s mouth. In the depths and darkness of the inside of his bag, he spotted a small paper.

When he retrieved it and brought into proper light, he got the confirmation that it was indeed the ticket for the car exhibition tomorrow afternoon. It was a little wrinkled, but still readable enough.

“Oh!” Souda was suddenly standing next to him, looking over his shoulder and sounding relieved. “You still have it! Good, I heard it’s sold out now,” he gave him a thumps-up accompanied by a wide sharp-toothed grin.

“Right…” he put the ticket down on the desk and started packing his bag again.

With a sigh, he continued, “Souda, I really don’t want to be mean, but this whole thing is…kinda…not my thing?” He tried to give Souda an apologetic smile as he stood up once he was done and held the ticket out for him to take, but it probably turned out more awkward and forced than anything else.

“That doesn’t matter. I’m sure it can become your thing in no time!” Souda nodded enthusiastically, looking oddly proud of himself.

“No, I’m not interested. You can have it back,” he said in a firm voice, losing his fake smile.

The outstretched hand with the ticket didn’t drop, though, and Souda actually seemed to finally get that Hajime was serious. He stopped grinning, staring down at the ticket in Hajime’s hand as if he had no idea what to do with it.

They remained like that for longer than he would’ve liked. He was growing impatient with every passing second. It didn’t help that he couldn’t read Souda’s expression at all while he was looking down like that.

“What’s that?”

Hajime almost flinched as a third person’s hand shot into his field of view from his left, grabbed the ticket, and retreated again. His head snapped over to the person who approached them. Satou stood in front of his desk, reading the print on the small paper.

“A car exhibition?” She looked up, meeting Hajime’s eyes with her own curious ones, “Are you a stereotypical kind of guy?”

Hajime could feel his chest instantly constricting at that question. While he didn’t care about cars, he couldn’t deny he was the uninteresting, normal type of person. The one that would mix with the background, failing to catch anyone’s attention or to leave some sort of impression on someone else.

Fighting the string that was laced around his throat too tightly, he said, “That’s not import—”

“Hey, there’s nothing stereotypical about being a guy who likes cars!” Souda cut him off, protesting loudly. He even raised a fist up high into the air, though it didn’t make him look threatening in the slightest. The hurt was too obvious on his face.

“Yeah, yeah,” Satou waved him off. “Anyway,” she flipped the ticket over and back again, contemplating, “you’re going to this?”

“Yes!” Souda said before Hajime could open his mouth. “We already planned it for a very long time.”

Satou didn’t look convinced. She raised an eyebrow at Souda while waving the ticket from left to right next to her head, “Is this supposed to be a fun activity?”

“Of course, it is! You just don’t get it,” there was a harsh look in his eyes as he met Satou’s gaze. Suddenly, the atmosphere around them turned tense.

Hajime had to keep a sigh from escaping him. He really wanted to get out of this room, now.

“Who are you, anyway?” Souda asked. Without waiting for a response, he turned to Hajime and added, “Do you know her?”

“Uh—”

“I guess you could say that. We’re just classmates, though,” Satou shrugged. Hajime felt his confusion growing in the back of his mind, slowly taking over his thought process. She continued, looking back and forth between him and Souda, “So, are you two hanging out tomorrow?”

“Yes!”

“No.”

Following their words was a moment of silence.

Hajime stared at Souda with the most serious expression he could muster, while simultaneously fighting the urge to turn away as soon as their eyes met. Souda looked surprisingly serious as well, despite his rather enthusiastic “yes” a second ago.

“Uh…”

From the corner of his eye, he could see Satou looking back and forth between him and Souda a few more times before her gaze stayed on him. He could swear there was something akin to calculating in her eyes, but before he could read too much into it, it was gone.

“Well then,” she said after a deep breath. A beat passed and she was gripping Hajime’s left hand, taking him by surprise. She was pushing the ticket into his palm, closing his fingers over it with a strength he wouldn’t have expected from her, and gave him a bright smile. “Have fun, Hinata!”

“Wha—”

Before any word of protest could fully leave his mouth, she rushed out of the classroom. He stared after her, mouth half open and stuck in its motion, the words stuck in his throat.

“So, uhm…” Souda seemed just as confused if his lost expression was anything to go by, “What was that?”

Hajime sighed, “It doesn’t matter.” He looked down at the paper that was back in his hand and fought the urge to crumble it, to throw it into the nearest trash can he could find. He extended his hand in Souda’s direction once again, but didn’t look up, “Just take this thing and—”

“See you tomorrow, Hinata!”

“Huh? Wait—Souda!”

Hajime tried to reach for him, but his hand touched only empty air. By the time he lifted his gaze, all he could see was a flash of Souda’s pink hair before he disappeared into the hallway.

He could only stand there, frozen in shock. His brain was unable to process the events fast enough, and Souda was a fast runner when he wanted to, so he was definitely gone by now. And Hajime still had the ticket.

He was not getting out of this one, was he? Sure, he could try tomorrow, too, but if Souda didn’t have anyone else to go with by then, the money would still be wasted.

Hajime heaved a heavy sigh, reluctantly accepting his defeat. He pulled his phone out of his pocket, going to his messages and typed out a new text to send to Lucky.

(15:39) >> Were you ever in a situation where you didn’t want to participate in something, but there was no way you could decline or get out through a different way?

Lucky (15:40) > …

Lucky (15:40) > That’s…

Lucky (15:41) > Hahaha… I guess you could say that…?

(15:41) >> What’s with that uncertain response?

Lucky (15:41) > I’m not sure if you can call it a “participation”, but…

Lucky (15:42) > I didn’t want to have anything to do with it, yeah.

(15:42) >> What was it?

Lucky (15:43) > Several things.

In other words, they weren’t going to tell him. It only made Hajime more curious, but he knew he shouldn’t pry if Lucky didn’t want to tell him anything about it.

Still, he couldn’t help but wonder what happened. Maybe it was something similar to his situation? Lucky could have some advice if that’s the case, so he should move the conversation in that direction.

At least, that was the excuse he used to continue their talk instead of going to the train station, which he should actually be doing right now. But whatever.

(15:44) >> Alright… Well, I’m talking about a classmate. He won’t leave me alone for some reason and now I’ll have to spend most of tomorrow’s afternoon in his presence.

Lucky (15:44) > Oh! That reminds me of a more harmless thing that happened!

Both of Hajime’s eyebrows shot up as he read that. It made him slightly nervous, to be honest. He wasn’t sure if he still wanted to know what Lucky had been thinking about at first.

Sometimes, he really wondered what kind of person was on the other end of that wireless connection. But then again, he supposed it didn’t really matter. For all he knew, they could live all the way at the other end of Japan, or even further away than that.

Hajime’s thoughts were interrupted by a new message.

Lucky (15:44) > You still want to hear it?

(15:45) >> Sure.

He sat back down at his desk and waited for Lucky’s answer.

Lucky (15:45) > Hmm, where to start…

Lucky (15:46) > At the beginning of this school year, a transfer student was assigned to my class. She lived overseas before and she has some…rather questionable obsessions, I guess.

(15:46) >> Such as…?

Hajime almost didn’t want to ask.

Lucky (15:47) > Well, for one, I know she has a vast knowledge on old Japanese medical dramas. Don’t know if that’s really questionable, though. It could just be her taste in drama, I suppose.

Alright. That wasn’t too bad. Based on their first description, he expected something more difficult to comprehend.

If he had to guess what she forced Lucky to do, then it was probably to watch some of these dramas with her. He didn’t know a lot about that kind of thing, but if the acting wasn’t terrible, it couldn’t have been that—

Lucky (15:47) > She’s also a serial killer enthusiast.

—bad, wait, what.

Hajime had to read that again. It still spelled out the same thing, no matter how many times he went over the sentence. A simple error and misspelling on Lucky’s part didn’t seem very likely, though.

He wasn’t sure how to react to that, but thankfully they didn’t need a response to continue. Or to increase his shock and lack of understanding even further.

Lucky (15:48) > And then, there are the blood rituals and ghost communication and paranormal activities and all that stuff. Basically, she loves the occult.

Lucky (15:48) > I read about it!

He almost laughed at the last message. Almost. If his brain would’ve been able to keep up.

Now, he really didn’t want to ask. But he was already so far into the story, and he had no idea how to change the subject, so he typed, albeit very slowly and hesitant, a very important question.

(15:49) >> So…what were you forced to participate in?

Lucky (15:50) > She wanted to try using a spirit board, to talk to one of her ancestors, and the best way to do it is with two people.

Hajime wasn’t an easily scared person. That’s what he would like to think of himself, anyway.

Nonetheless, the idea of being able to communicate with the dead, with people that should be resting for who knows how long, wasn’t a very pleasant thought. If Souda would’ve wanted to try that instead of visiting an exhibition, he might would’ve run away even if it meant someone’s money was wasted.

In fact, couldn’t Lucky have done that?

He didn’t know the first thing about spirit boards or whatever, but if it wasn’t some kind of spirit medium show, the only money spent would be for the board, right?

(15:51) >> If that’s the case, how were you forced into participating? You could’ve always just dropped out without having to feel guilty about.

Lucky (15:51) > There’s no way I could have done that, Nobody!

Lucky (15:51) > The fact alone that she considered me worthy enough to be present when she would be talking to her ancestor is an honor to me! I couldn’t have possibly declined!

So, their self-hatred was what forced them to participate.

Hajime wasn’t sure if he should laugh or feel sorry for them. He might even start to seriously worry about their mental health. This much hatred for yourself couldn’t be good.

Maybe…he could finally address that now. It hasn’t been a full day since they official became friends, but just letting it slide again didn’t feel right.

He wasn’t naïve enough to think he could help Lucky if they did indeed have some mental issues, despite the numerous times Lucky had called him that, but he could remember how relieved he felt that one night when he allowed himself to talk about his insecurities.

Should he ask? Could he approach the subject? Or would he be prying too much? That was probably it, wasn’t it? He shouldn’t do it, after all. He wasn’t a good person to confide in, anyway. He wasn’t even sure if his own mental health was intact or not.

With a resigned sigh, he scratched that idea, pushing it back into the depths of his mind. He was about to search for a good response when another message popped up on the screen.

It made him halt, starting an entirely different train of thought.

Lucky (15:52) > Besides, she had already asked others before me, but they all declined and thought stuff like that was creepy or not even worth a try. Stupid delusions, you know?

Lucky (15:52) > To be honest, I’m not very fond of the idea of talking to the dead myself, but it was something important to her based on how many people she asked, so I agreed and she looked really happy.

Lucky (15:53) > And even though absolutely nothing happened the night we tried it out, she was still happy at the fact that she could do it together with someone else. Despite my obvious discomfort, haha.

Lucky (15:53) > I didn’t like it, but she did and that’s all that really mattered in that situation. And that is why I don’t regret it or anything like that.

Hajime didn’t know what to do other than stupidly blink at the words displayed in front of him.

His eyes flew over the messages, reading them again and again. The words were repeated in his brain, echoing in his mind. They begun falling together, overlapping each other, and he didn’t know if they still made any sense, but one thing was suddenly very clear to him.

Lucky went along with the whole thing purely for the sake of their classmate. They put their classmate’s wishes over their own comfort, simply because there had been no one else to fulfill the role.

Was it admirable? Or stupid? Hajime couldn’t decide. However, there was one thing he was absolutely certain of.

(15:54) >> You’re kind, Lucky.

Lucky (15:54) > Kind? You think so?

(15:54) >> Yeah. Definitely.

There was no doubt that Lucky had to be a kind person in order to endure that for someone else with nothing to gain for themselves.

Hajime, on the other hand, had only thought about how much he would be bored, how much his time would be wasted, by going to this car exhibition.

He wasn’t the least bit interested in cars. He didn’t even know if he wanted to get his driver license once he was old enough. So, naturally, he couldn’t see any point in going to an exhibition of said thing.

But that…wasn’t the case for Souda. He was looking forward to it. Obviously, since his whole hobby revolved around machines and motors and getting a lot of grease all over you. And he wanted Hajime to go with him.

He didn’t know why, but he also didn’t know why Souda had chosen him of all people to act all friendly and buddy-buddy with, so…did it matter?

In the end, it was clear he wasn’t getting out of the event tomorrow. He was sure he wouldn’t enjoy it, but did that mean he couldn’t at least make sure Souda had a somewhat good time? The same as Lucky tried their best to help their classmate?

It would at least allow him to not see the day as entirely wasted.

He would have to make sure he studied a little bit longer the next few days after that, though. Especially with exams starting on the thirteenth this month.

His phone buzzed in his hand.

Lucky (15:55) > Well… I suppose I’ll take it as a compliment…

Lucky (15:56) > Thank you.

Hajime felt his lips automatically move to form a smile when he read the texts. He felt like he should be the one thanking Lucky, not the other way around.

Either way, something in his chest felt lighter thanks to them.

He stood up from his desk, made sure he had all of his things, and finally exited the classroom as the last person to leave. He couldn’t say he was looking forward to tomorrow, but maybe it wouldn’t be that bad.

10/02

It was bad. The way to the building in which the exhibition was held, anyway.

For the most part, he wasn’t even sure if they were on the right way. He had to rely entirely on Souda for that one. Not a very comforting fact. He denied it whenever he asked, but Hajime was sure he nearly got them lost several times now.

By the time they made it to the building, he already felt utterly exhausted.

“Well. Here we are!” Souda proclaimed triumphantly, stretching his arms out in a wide gesture in front of the big glass entrance doors.

Actually, the first floor’s walls were all made of glass windows. Hajime could see some cars being displayed and people walking around, but he guessed the more “interesting” parts of the exhibition must be hidden from view.

“I told you I knew where we were going!” Souda turned to him with a proud grin.

“Sure,” he rolled his eyes. “I’m just going to pretend I didn’t notice when we walked around the same block three times.”

Souda’s grin faltered a little, “A-anyway. We’re here now, so that stuff totally doesn’t matter!”

Hajime had to repress a sigh, “Let’s just go inside.” Without waiting for a response, he started walking towards the entrance, Souda quickly following him.

Upon entering, they were directed to a sort of reception desk to show their tickets and to leave their bags in a locker. Hajime made sure his phone and money were in his school uniform’s pockets before doing so.

Once that was done, Hajime’s eyes caught sight of a small pamphlet rack next to the reception desk with information about the exhibition. He stared at it for a moment, not really contemplating but acknowledging its existence.

He reached out and grabbed one of them, opening it to see some pictures of cars and, apparently, a list and times of events on all the days the exhibition was open. It kind of made him feel glad Souda only bought tickets for one day and not all of them.

“You want one of that?”

Speaking of Souda, he was standing next to him, looking over his shoulder. Hajime took a step away, glancing over just to see a smug grin on his face.

“Are you finally starting to get interested?” he asked, tone matching his grin. If Hajime’s eyes weren’t failing him, he even wiggled with his eyebrows for a second.

He was tempted to say how far that assumption was from the truth, but he wasn’t here to constantly complain or bring Souda’s mood down. Quite the opposite actually, though he got the feeling he wasn’t very good at making others happy. He should’ve asked Lucky for some tips or something.

He settled for a simple shrug and the mumbled words, “Might as well know what’s going on.”

“You could’ve just asked me. There’s a reason I chose this day of the exhibit.” He paused after that, closing his eyes as if he was deep in thought. They shot open as he brought his fists in front of him, his voice turning into the loud, attention grabbing thing Hajime disliked so much.

“They have some expansive new models and replicas of some old cars on the first floor and in the basement. The second floor has motorcycles and on the third, you can take a closer look at the motors and wiring inside a car! But the hall doesn’t open until seven.”

Looking unimpressed, Hajime turned to a huge clock above the entrance. It was just a little past five in the afternoon. He almost dropped the pamphlet, “We’re way to early! Did we really have to come here right after school?”

“Ah, but we already missed the event where you can try assembling a motor yourself. I really wanted to go there,” Souda’s shoulders slumped a little. “It’s not clear if they do that next year, too. Man, it’s all those stupid trains fault!”

“Pretty sure the trains don’t have anything to do with that,” Hajime commented more to himself, glancing to the side.

“Well then, Hinata.” Hajime snapped his gaze back up to come face to face with another one of Souda’s grins, “Where do you want to start?”

He stared at him blankly, “…Me?”

“Sure! We already missed what I wanted to do the most, so you get to decide first. You can look for stuff in there if you want more options,” he pointed at the pamphlet Hajime was still holding.

“Uhm,” he looked down, his eyes scanning over the words printed on the paper.

There were hall numbers next to exhibition names and a short description of their theme. Somehow, even with descriptions, he was at a loss. He couldn’t even tell what brand a car belonged to, not to mention recognize the brand’s logo. That’s how much he didn’t have an interest in this sort of thing.

Why should he choose, anyway?

He shot an unsure glance back up at Souda without moving his head. He was looking at him expectantly. That didn’t help. Hajime’s eyes quickly darted back to the pamphlet.

He knew he had wanted to follow Lucky’s example and try to make the best out of the situation for Souda’s sake, but that was proving to be difficult. Lucky seemed to be naturally kind, but he, apparently, wasn’t as good at it.

But if Souda wanted him to decide the first thing they checked out, he had to make sure it was something Souda would like, right? Personally, he won’t enjoy it either way, after all.

The only thing he could do was pick something at random, though. He didn’t know Souda nearly enough to know anything more specific than that he liked cars and motors, and maybe engines? Did he mention them before? Hajime just didn’t know.

Taking a deep breath, he suggested the first thing written on the pamphlet that caught his eye.

“Let’s just…go to one of these, uh, old car replica exhibits?” he couldn’t help but make it a question, accompanying it with a shaky smile. Hopefully it looked only half as fake as he felt it was.

He had no idea if what he picked was actually going to be interesting for Souda, but, well, he didn’t really have any other options than guessing and hoping for a slightly-less-than-worst outcome.

Souda nodded happily, “Good choice. Now, follow me!”

With that, he marched off. Hajime let out a tiny relived sigh as he followed him close behind. It didn’t seem to be a bad choice, at least.

When it came to the location of exhibits, Souda’s sense of direction was suddenly on a high enough accuracy level that it was almost frightening. They stayed in the exhibit Hajime picked for quite some time, though soon enough they started to walk around a little more without a specific goal in mind.

As they walked past rooms and through big halls, squeezed through some rather large crowds and avoided a scary looking biker guy with a weird haircut, Souda was rambling about a variety of different facts and tips about cars or machines in general, always fitting or in some way relating to the exhibition they were closest to.

Hajime was only half listening to what he was saying, though.

Souda’s rambling reminded him of how Lucky would always tell him those random, but ultimately useless, little pieces of trivia. The thought made him smile, but it also made him want to talk to them. He knew it was rude to suddenly pull out your phone when someone was talking to you, though.

Still, it was hard to resist. Especially when at that exact moment, he felt his phone buzz in his pocket.

“Oh, hey! Can we take a closer look at that one?” Souda interrupted his thoughts, stopping Hajime by grabbing his shoulder, and pointed at a car near the corner of the hall they were currently in. A small crowd was around it.

Hajime couldn’t see anything special about it. He wasn’t a fan of crowds, but if Souda wanted to go there, he could hardly object. This wasn’t for his own enjoyment, after all.

So, he nodded with a simple “Sure” and let Souda take the lead. He almost sprinted over to it, Hajime nearly losing sight of him multiple times.

He was always tempted to look away on purpose, to reach for his phone just when Souda’s figure was about to disappear in the sea of humans around them, but he pulled through. Barely.

He sighed inwardly. He shouldn’t have thoughts like that when he was trying to make this a good day for Souda. He really wasn’t good at this.

When they arrived at the car, Souda somehow managing to find a way through the crowd to get a look at it from the front row, Hajime felt his phone buzzing once again. It was getting increasingly harder to ignore.

Well, one glance at Souda told him he was occupied. He was staring at the car, smiling brightly. Maybe his eyes were sparkling, too. He wouldn’t notice if Hajime checked his phone for a moment. Not right away, anyway.

Before he could think the better of it, his phone was out of his pocket and the screen unlocked within seconds.

Lucky (18:31) > … I fell asleep on my homework…

Lucky (18:39) > Just so you know, I’m blaming you for that, Nobody!

Hajime had to bite on his lip to stop an amused smile from sneaking onto his face.

(18:41) >> Really? We didn’t stay up for that long last night.

Lucky (18:41) > Ahem.

Lucky (18:42) > According to my chat log, the last message had been sent at precisely two hours, forty-nine minutes, and thirty-six seconds after midnight.

(18:42) >> Control freak.

Lucky (18:43) > Thank you, I’m doing my best!

He could only shake his head at that, still amused.

(18:44) >> If that’s too late for you, how come you’re the one who sent that last message after having already said you were going to sleep?

Lucky (18:44) > You said good night! It’s rude not to answer with the same!

(18:45) >> That answer came half an hour later.

Lucky (18:45) > … Ugh.

Hajime almost laughed, but he pressed a hand against his mouth just in time to stifle the sound. People would think he was weird if he suddenly started laughing in the middle of a crowd, looking at some stupid car.

His shoulders were still obviously shaking from the suppressed laughter, though.

“Hey, Hinata, what time is it?” Souda asked next to him.

Immediately, Hajime was calm again, no trace of amusement or a smile on his expression as he glanced up at Souda from the corner of his eye. He dropped his hand and looked at the time on the top right of his phone’s screen.

“Forty-five minutes past six,” he read out loud in a bored voice.

“The hall’s opening soon, then.” Souda was silent for a moment, “Let’s go there now!”

Hajime only made some sort of affirmative humming sound as Souda started walking, talking about something presumably related to cars. He followed him out of the big crowd and once there were a little less people around them, he looked back down at his phone, keeping his gaze locked onto it.

He could see Souda’s shoes from his peripheral vision in front of him and they were walking at a reasonable pace, so he had no problems following him while typing a new text.

(18:46) >> Why did it take you so long to answer, anyway? You didn’t have to.

Lucky (18:46) > As I said, it’s rude not to.

Lucky (18:46) > And I was probably overthinking things. It’s a habit.

(18:47) >> Overthink what?

Hajime furrowed his brow in concentration. He tried to think about what was possibly there to overthink by a good night message, but he was drawing a blank.

Lucky didn’t respond straight away this time. It wasn’t any form of rare occurrence, but even with a halt in their conversation, Hajime didn’t put his phone away. It was nagging at his mind too much.

He paid more attention to were they were actually going, though, since they were climbing up some stairs right now, but as soon as his phone buzzed again, he stopped in the middle of the stairway, his surroundings – and Souda – completely forgotten.

Lucky (18:50) > Say, Nobody…

Lucky (18:51) > Did anything unlucky happen to you recently? Something with terrible results?

Hajime stared at the message, starting to walk up the stairs again with slow and small steps while he was trying to think of something to answer. Nothing was immediately coming to mind.

He thought for a second about the fact that he had to spend the rest of his day after school at this car exhibition that didn’t interest him in the slightest, but he felt like that didn’t quite match the terrible results aspect of their question.

He was missing out on opportunities to study because of it, but that still didn’t feel terrible enough. He could make up for it in the next few days, hopefully, and prepare for the upcoming exams.

In the end, he decided to answer Lucky with another question.

(18:52) >> How long ago is “recently?”

Lucky (18:53) > Since the first time you called me your friend.

(18:53) >> That was only two days ago!

Lucky (18:54) > That’s more than enough time for someone to suddenly die out of nowhere if you ask me.

Hajime froze in the middle of a hallway. He didn’t think Lucky was talking about that kind of terrible. That definitely didn’t happen. How did they even come up with something like that?

It took his brain a second to form an acceptable response.

(18:55) >> Everything’s fine, nothing happened. Why would you think that?

While waiting for a reply, he stared intently at the screen, the black symbols starting to blend into each other because of the bright light against his eyes. His body was perfectly still until a strong force against his left shoulder caused his upper body to jerk forward.

“Outta the way, kid,” a loud voice commanded instead of apologizing for running into him. It was that same weird-haircut-biker-guy he and Souda had tried to avoid at one point of the day.

Luckily, he didn’t stay and just kept going after the path was cleared for him. It was still rude, though.

Hajime composed himself quickly, rubbing his shoulder. He looked at the guy’s back for a moment before shaking his head and scanning over the rest of the area.

The only floors he had been on so far were all rather open. One floor was divided into different halls, but the only thing that marked the change in hall was a big sign displaying a number and exhibition name and a rope with the only open space to walk through being next to the sign, no walls or anything.

This floor, however, was a little more closed off. He was standing in a long hallway, a few doors at either side with room numbers or STAFF ONLY signs. It made him wonder if he was even allowed to be here, but Souda definitely lead him up here, so…

Speaking of Souda, where was he? Hajime couldn’t see a single speck of pink hair anywhere.

Slowly but surely, he could feel the dread rising. He had no idea where in the building he was and there was no clue as for where Souda was, either. And he had no way of contacting him.

He really shouldn’t have looked at his phone.

What should he do? He couldn’t just stand around here, could he?

Lucky still didn’t write anything back yet, too, so there was nothing to kill time with. Sure, he could write another text, but their current conversation seemed like something important, he didn’t want to suddenly change the topic.

Maybe he could search for whatever exhibition Souda wanted to go to? But he didn’t know what it was. Did he mention that? If he did, Hajime couldn’t remember.

“Excuse me?”

Hajime flinched at the unknown voice behind him. He didn’t hear anyone coming this way. He spun around, a little too fast, and was met with the sight of a blonde girl with blue eyes wearing Hope’s Peak Academy’s school uniform. The Main Course one.

He could feel his blood drain from his face, a familiar feeling twisting and turning around in his stomach. Of all people that could have approached him on an event like this, it was a Main Course student. Of course.

He tried to swallow down the forming lump in his throat, measuring his voice to sound carefully neutral, “Yes?”

The girl clasped her hands together, her expression turning slightly troubled, “I am terribly sorry to bother you, but would you happen to know the way to the rooftop café?”

He started at her, unblinking and confused, “…Rooftop café?”

“Yes!” Her face suddenly lit up, “I have heard it sells an incredibly tasty strawberry shortcake, so I came to try it out!”

Just to eat a cake, she bought a ticket for this exhibition? Not because of any cars? Wasn’t that a waste of money, in some way? You could easily get a strawberry shortcake in the next best bakery.

Besides, was there really a café in here? If so, he could just wait there for the building to near its closing time for the day and meet up with Souda by the entrance later. That didn’t sound too bad, though he felt a little selfish for abandoning Souda like that after deciding to make him enjoy this day.

But, rationally thinking, he would probably have more fun without Hajime around to bring the mood down with his boringness, anyway. He already established he wasn’t very good at providing a decent source of entertainment. He wasn’t Lucky, after all.

Hajime felt as if Lucky could make anything interesting or enjoyable.

Maybe he could help out this girl, at least. That way, he would be able to say he achieved something today. He would have to look at the Main Course uniform if he did that, but her presence wasn’t nearly as crushing and intimidating as Izuru’s, so he could handle it if he kept his thoughts focused on something entirely different.

Though, he had no idea where this café was. Probably on the rooftop, but how to get there?

“Uhm,” he tried to think of a good way to phrase his sentence. “I’m sorry, I don’t know.”

“Is that so?” Her shoulders dropped and she averted her gaze to the floor, “That is too bad.”

“I wouldn’t mind helping you look for it, though,” he added, probably speaking a little too hasty.

“Really?”

Hajime nodded. A smile spread over her lips, bringing a sort of sparkling to her eyes.

“Thank you very much! Such a gesture would be highly appreciated,” her expression turned bashful, “It is a little embarrassing to admit, but this floor’s layout is confusing me greatly.”

“No problem,” he didn’t even know how he got here. “So, uh,” he looked up and down the hallway before turning in the direction he had been going in before Biker Guy ran into him, “Let’s start by looking that way.”

“Certainly!” The girl clapped her hands together.

Hajime finally put his phone back in his pocket, ignoring the pang of disappointment at the realization that Lucky still didn’t write anything back, and started walking. He could hear the girl’s footsteps following him.

Silence started to envelope them, but before it could turn awkward, the girl spoke up again, her voice coming from close behind him, “Oh! I forgot to introduce myself!”

He continued walking, turning around a corner, but it didn’t seem to bother her in the slightest. She continued talking as if they were still facing each other.

Her voice carried something close to authority, though he couldn’t explain why, “My name is Sonia Nevermind, nice to meet you.”

“Nevermind? Are you a foreigner?” True, she didn’t really match the typical Japanese image, but he didn’t want to assume things.

“Sonia is fine,” her tone was light, “And yes, I came to Japan to study here for a year.”

Oh, did he say that out loud? Luckily, there was no one to witness the sliver of embarrassment that flashed over his face.

“And what is your name?” Sonia’s voice brought him back to their, mostly one-sided, conversation.

He didn’t want to give his name to a Main Course student. It felt as if he was revealing a weak spot, making himself vulnerable. They would never find his name in association with the Main Course, after all. Only ever so far below them.

But not to answer that question was rude, and on top of that, Sonia had already given him hers. It was only natural to do the same.

Swallowing another lump, he muttered more than said, “Hinata Hajime.”

“Then, Hinata-san! I hope we will get along,” Sonia said in a delighted tone of voice, finishing with a short giggle.

“Uh, yeah. Sure,” Hajime answered awkwardly. He wasn’t good at small talk. Or…any talk. That was probably why their walk through the hallways felt as if it was going on for hours.

Sonia was doing most of the talking, though he stopped listening as soon as he realized the topic was about something that happened to her at school. He didn’t want to hear that.

At one point, he felt his phone buzz.

No one was writing him other than Lucky, and even if their conversation had previously taken a rather heavy turn, he couldn’t help but let the warm feeling that was spreading from his chest wash over him at the thought of being able to talk to them again as soon as he could get a hold of his phone.

It made ignoring Sonia’s talk a lot easier, and, luckily, they found a staircase leading to the upper floor fairly quickly after that.

“Oh! Is this it?” Sonia came to a halt next to him. Before he could answer with anything, her surprise melted away, turning into bright enthusiasm. She held up her fist, grabbing her arm with her other hand. “Very well, then. Let us continue forth, Hinata-san!”

She almost dashed at the stairs, climbing it in a speed that was way faster than what any other person would use but somehow carried the same feeling of authority Hajime got from her introduction.

He stared at her back for a moment, but quickly averted his gaze to the ground beneath his feet as he followed her. It wasn’t as bad as whenever he had to follow Izuru, at least.

Upon reaching the top of the staircase, they found themselves in another hallway. This time, however, there was a clear sign directing them to the rooftop café.

While following the directions, Hajime thought about what kind of person would come up with such a ridiculously confusing layout for an exhibition building. Or who would open a café on the rooftop of said building of all places. There should definitely be better choices.

“Ah—We have reached it!” Sonia’s happy voice pulled him out of his thoughts once more.

There was no door to open, just an open space in the wall to serve as the entrance to the café. It was literally on the rooftop, outside the hall. The walls and ceiling were made of huge glass windows, probably to be able to keep the café open even if it was raining.

Excluding the people that looked like waiters, not a lot of people were there, but certainly enough to fill about half of the available seats and chairs around the tables scattered across the roof. At the side, near the wall that connected to the hallway, a small case displayed various cakes.

Hajime couldn’t get a very good look at it, though.

“Well then.” Sonia turned to him with a sweet smile gracing her lips, “Shall we sit down?”

“What—Why?” the words were out before he could stop himself.

He felt his eyes going wide as well as he started at Sonia. He didn’t want to have to listen to any more stories from the Main Course, and he couldn’t check his phone while Sonia was with him.

“It is as thanks, of course. You helped me find this place, so the least I can do is repay the favor,” her voice and face turned completely serious for some reason.

Hajime averted his gaze to the side, “Uhm, that’s really nice and all, but…you don’t have to. I didn’t do anything—”

“Unacceptable!” He flinched a little at the loud interruption, his eyes snapping back to her and his muscles turning rigid. Sonia didn’t lower her voice one bit as she continued, “Hinata-san, let me buy you cake as a token of my thanks!”

He didn’t know what happened, but he found himself unable to say anything other than yes. He’d rather have Kusamochi as thanks instead of cake, though.

They sat down right next to one of the glass windows, giving them a perfect view of the street below. They were high enough for the people down there to turn into small little dots of color.

A waitress came over to them quickly, Sonia ordering for the both of them, and while she was busy with that, he could sneak a quick glance onto his phone.

Lucky (19:31) > I was just wondering. Don’t worry about it.

Hajime frowned. He couldn’t say he didn’t expect that reply. It meant Lucky didn’t want to talk about it any further, which wasn’t that rare of an occurrence, even if they were the one to bring the conversation to that point in the first place.

Maybe they didn’t think much before talking? But they could certainly realize whenever they overstepped their own boundaries and made themselves uncomfortable. It always took some time for them to write back in those cases, though.

He wondered if Lucky would just continue talking if they could have a spoken conversation instead of text messages, despite them not liking the topic. That thought made him worry a little, but he knew he couldn’t bring it up.

He was too much of a coward for that, afraid of triggering something or making it worse. He had no idea what to do in that situation. Panicking probably wasn’t very recommended, but it was his most likely reaction.

Maybe someday he could get them to open up.

“So, Hinata-san…”

His head snapped up and he hastily stuffed the phone back into his pocket. Sonia was smiling at him, either not having noticed he completely ignored her presence or simply not caring about it.

“Can I ask you why you decided to visit this place?” She tilted her head slightly to the side, “I do not mean to be rude, but you don’t strike me as particularly interested in the exhibition.”

They were continuing the small talk, of course. And this time, he had to participate in it to some degree. Well, he supposed just sitting there, awkwardly avoiding eye contact, and filling the space between them with silence wouldn’t be his preferred choice, anyway, but still.

At least it wasn’t about something involving Hope’s Peak.

But he didn’t like talking about himself, either. And if he said he was here because of a classmate dragging him along, that would be weird, wouldn’t it? He should be with said classmate and not sitting in this café.

“I’m, uh…” he tried thinking of a good enough excuse. Nothing came to mind, so he simply went with a reverse question. He stared at the table while he spoke, “W-what about you? It’s a bit hard to believe you only came to eat cake.”

“I am not surprised. Truthfully, I bought a ticket by accident,” her smile turned embarrassed at that. It soon vanished with a clap of her hands and her eyes began to sparkle, “I actually wanted to buy one for the occult event they are having after the current exhibition is over.”

Hajime blinked at her stupidly, “Occult?”

“Yes!” Sonia leaned forward in her chair, bracing her upper body on the table with her hands, “I heard they will help you get in contact with a spirit during one of their special events! And real occult photos will be exhibited!”

“…Huh?”

“It is amazing how many different events this building can hold! You would never find such a thing in my home land. It is a shame,” while her last words were spoken in a normal volume again, her excitement was still clear.

Hajime didn’t know what to say to this. Apparently, occult stuff was more popular than he thought.

Luckily, before his silence could stretch on for too long, the waitress came back with their cakes. Sonia immediately scooped up a huge piece out of the slice in front of her with her fork.

He took a small bite as well. It wasn’t as great as Kusamochi, but not too bad. Definitely better than his mother’s miserable attempts in the past. Less burnt, too, by which he meant, not burnt at all. It was sort of fluffy, actually.

Sadly, the cake wasn’t enough to distract Sonia forever and she soon resumed to try and make small talk. It wasn’t annoying or irritating or anything, but Hajime didn’t feel exactly comfortable with it.

At least her question was something easy to answer, “Have you gone to previous events taking place here, Hinata-san?”

“I, uh, didn’t know there are any other events, to be honest,” he said, poking the cake with his fork instead of eating it.

“Really?” Sonia seemed genuinely surprised by that, “This building was built for the sake of holding various events. It was the only reason its construction was even approved by the city’s mayor. I have read about it online.”

“Oh…” That was the first time he heard of this. He supposed it would explain the layout of the building, since different events needed different kinds of rooms, and why someone would decide to open a café on the roof.

He and Sonia both fell silent after that. There was the sound of their forks scrapping against their plates, but no one said a word. It couldn’t have lasted long, yet it was enough to make Hajime feel anxious again and he was the one to break the silence, probably for the first time.

“Uhm… Have you been to any other events, then?” This was an acceptable question, right? Sonia looked happy upon being asked that, so it should be okay.

“Not yet, sadly,” she made a small pause, letting a smile slip onto her face again, “but aside from the occult one, I want to go to a photo gallery in March next year. Koizumi-san will—Ah, forgive me, she is a classmate of mine. Koizumi-san will submit some of her own photos as well.”

A photo gallery with photos from one of Sonia’s classmates? A Main Course student who was interested in photography? “Koizumi…Mahiru?”

He only realized he had asked the last question out loud when an excited sort of squeal could be heard from the person sitting across from him.

“Yes, have you heard of her?” she asked, her body leaning forward again.

This time, Hajime couldn’t stop the reflex of leaning back, his back being pressed against the back of the chair, “Uhm, yeah, I…guess?”

“That is wonderful news! I am sure she will be delighted to hear!”

…wait. If Koizumi was the same person as Satou’s friend Mahiru, that would mean he and Sonia were in the same year, right? Which also meant…Sonia was Izuru’s classmate.

Hajime knew the Main Course of Hope’s Peak only had one class per year, because of the difficulty to get into said Course. Obviously, the number of students would be less than the average in that case.

He had never met any of Izuru’s classmates before.

Somehow, it made an uneasy feeling crawl its way into his chest. It was pressing air out of his lungs, slowly but surely. He had to get away from here before Sonia’s classmates could grow into their main conversation topic.

His phone buzzed. Relief washed over him, paired with the same warm feeling he always got at the prospect of being able to talk to Lucky. Sure, the message could’ve been from someone else, too, but he didn’t want to think about that possibility.

Either way, he could use this to escape as soon as possible, and he wouldn’t even have to pretend.

Taking a big piece of his cake and putting it into his mouth, he put down his fork and held up his hand with its palm towards Sonia to signal her to stay silent for a second. He was chewing quickly as he pulled his phone out of his pocket with his other hand, turning on the screen.

It was one new message from Lucky. Instead of opening it right away, though he really, really wanted to, he glanced at the time. It was a little past eight now. That should be late enough. Now, for the more difficult part…

“I’m sorry, but,” he looked up, his hand dropping back down and taking his fork, “It’s getting late and I need to leave soon, so I hope you don’t mind if I hurry a bit.”

He took another big piece of cake and stuffed it into his mouth. Even if he wanted to run away, it was wrong to waste someone else’s money, after all. He felt a little bad, Sonia seemed like a nice person, but she had too many connections to things that never failed to make him feel miserable and insignificant.

“Oh! Of course not. You are right, after all,” she glanced outside the glass surrounding the rooftop. The sun had nearly vanished and the sky was turning dark. Sonia was facing him again with an apologetic smile, “It will not be long until the building closes as well. I am sorry if you had still wanted to take a look at something.”

“It’s fine,” he shook his head. “I still have enough time if I’m fast enough.”

“That is a relief to hear. However, we should both not take too long,” she resumed eating her own cake with enthusiasm, though the pieces she took were noticeably smaller than Hajime’s.

There was a little bit of conversation between them, but nothing worth remembering, so Hajime blocked most of the information out. He was busy eating the cake as fast as he could, anyway. Luckily, the slice wasn’t that big.

When he finished, he stood up from his chair, thanked Sonia for buying him the dessert, and walked away, out of the café, and back onto the previous floor. He wandered around a bit, trying to find either Souda or a way downstairs, and ended up encountering the stairs first. He almost jumped over some steps but could control himself in time.

Once he reached the first floor again, he navigated over to a wall, making sure he got a good look on the stairs as well as the exit so he wouldn’t miss Souda leaving, and pulled his phone out once more.

He already felt the pressure Sonia’s presence had left him with evaporating before he even opened the message. Seeing Lucky’s name in front of it was enough.

Lucky (20:08) > I wonder if I finally scared Nobody away with this…

(20:23) >> That’s not gonna happen.

Lucky (20:24) > Nobody! You’re alive!

(20:25) >> …I can’t tell if you’re saying that to be funny or if it’s genuine.

Lucky (20:25) > Well, that makes two of us.

An amused snort escaped him and he had already forgotten about the time he had spent with a Main Course student today. That really was only possible when he talked to Lucky.

They fell back into their usual back and forth after that, no trace of the earlier heavy atmosphere remaining. That was why he liked talking to them so much. It was fun and Hajime could forget about his insecurities for a little while.

He completely forgot about the time, too. So, when there was suddenly a voice booming through the building, coming out of speakers on the walls and the ceiling, telling visitors the closing time was approaching, he momentarily didn’t remember where he was.

His head snapped up and his eyes darted around the people walking past him to get their stuff from one of the reception desks. It was then that he caught a glimpse of bright pink hair as well and he quickly put his phone away to follow the pink mob to one of the desks, coming to a halt next to Souda just as he told the employee his name to get his bag from one of the lockers in the back.

“Hey,” he said to get Souda’s attention.

“Uwah!” He jumped to the side, his expression distorted in shock. It looked a little ridiculous, if Hajime was being honest. Souda didn’t regain his composure, but the next time he opened his mouth, it wasn’t a scream but words that escaped him, “You’re still here?”

Hajime furrowed his brow, “Uh, yes?”

“Oh,” he straightened his posture and didn’t say anything more.

The employee came back with Souda’s bag and asked for Hajime’s name. While she was gone again, he and Souda stood silently next to each other. He felt awkward. Maybe he should apologize? He did look at his phone instead of watching where Souda was going, after all.

Considering how he had wanted to make this a fun day for Souda, to be as kind of a person as Lucky was, he felt even guiltier about that. He really was miserable at being kind.

“I thought you already went home.” Hajime flinched as he was yanked out of his thoughts. Souda had been faster in breaking their silence. That, paired with the accusation, didn’t help his conscience.

“Uhm, yeah… I, uh,” he couldn’t find the right words. “Didn’t mean to…disappear like that,” it sounded like a bad excuse. He stared at the desk’s surface, unable to look at Souda.

He wasn’t looking at him either, though. Hajime couldn’t feel any eyes on him, so that calmed him down. Only slightly, but it was something.

The employee came back with his bag.

Just as Hajime accepted it, Souda’s voice reached his ears again, “It’s fine.”

For a moment, he thought he imagined it. It wasn’t Souda’s usual loud tone, but more…subdued sounding. Maybe hesitant, too, if his ears weren’t completely failing him right now.

“…Huh?” His gaze flickered over to him, confusion written all over his face.

He didn’t get any answers, though. Souda didn’t even look at him as he turned around and walked out of the building. Hajime followed him, but he kept his distance. He had no idea what was happening.

Was Souda mad at him? But he didn’t seem angry or anything. He wasn’t happy, either, which meant he didn’t achieve his goal. It was more like he got the opposite result. Well, that was what he got for trying to imitate Lucky.

Contrary to how this played out on their way to the exhibition, they found their way back to the train station without much trouble. They had to wait for the next train, though.

While Hajime was standing awkwardly around in the middle of the platform, Souda walked over to a row of seats nearby and sat down with a heavy sigh. He put a hand up to his head and ruffled his hair. Well, he would have if he wouldn’t wear his usual grey hat, of course. The motion was the same.

There weren’t many other people at the station, not surprising seeing as it was almost nine at night. Hajime could see a small family in the distance and an old man sitting at another row of seats.

When he looked in the other direction, he could see a young woman standing near the train tracks, looking at something on her phone. He was tempted to pull out his own phone again, too. He had no idea what to say to Souda, anyway. It would just get awkward.

“So, how was it?” Apparently, Hajime was the only one thinking that. He turned his head, but rather stared straight ahead at the opposite platform instead of Souda.

A middle-aged guy seemed to have fallen asleep on one of the seats, a black briefcase lying abandoned on the seat beside him. He was wearing a suit, but by the looks of things he didn’t know how to tie a tie.

“What do you mean?” he answered Souda with a question, continuing to observe the guy on the other platform. He spotted an empty glass bottle lying on the ground in front of him and narrowed his eyes at it, frowning.

“Well, uh.” Souda paused for a few seconds, “Did you have fun today…?”

Hajime almost scoffed. He didn’t come here for his own entertainment in the first place, and now the whole day was wasted. He shouldn’t have tried to make someone else happy with his presence when he could’ve spent that time studying instead. He didn’t want to end up like the guy on the other platform, after all.

Deciding it would only make things worse if he lied to Souda, who knew what other things he would invite him to if he said yes, he decided to be honest, “Not really, no.”

“…Yeah, I thought so,” Souda let out another sigh. The next time he spoke, his voice had recovered its usual loud enthusiasm, “But don’t worry! I’m not gonna give up yet!”

“Give up what?” Hajime’s frown deepened. He had the sinking feeling he wouldn’t like where this was going.

“To find something we can do together, obviously!” Souda said with confidence. And Hajime’s feeling proved to be right. He didn’t like this.

“Why?” he finally teared his eyes away from the passed-out guy and turned to Souda, frown still visible on his face. If Souda would see it was a different story, though.

“Because we’re friends,” he was looking at him as if that was common knowledge.

“No, we’re not,” his response was a reflex rather than a thought-out answer. It was kind of blunt, too.

Hajime cringed inwardly, but, well, he couldn’t take it back and it wasn’t like he didn’t mean it. He supposed he had to tell Souda this sooner or later, anyway, seeing as he wasn’t going to understand it any other way. He couldn’t take a hint, after all.

“Ah, but that’s where you’re wrong, Hinata.” Souda nodded to himself as he crossed his arms in front of his chest, grinning from ear to ear, “I’ve already made my choice, so it’s decided.”

“…I’m pretty sure that’s not how friendship works,” he didn’t want a friend like Souda. Other than him, Souda had a personality, a hobby, a future, a father…

He didn’t want to be friends with someone like that. It would only hurt.

“W-well…” Souda faltered for a second, but recovered quickly, sounding proud of himself, “Maybe, but that’s not gonna stop me. After all, you’re a pretty cool guy, Hinata.”

Hajime’s mouth fell open. He stared at Souda, confused and shocked. It took him a moment to get a single word out without messing up its pronunciation and turning it into some sort of unrecognizable gibberish, “Cool?

He wasn’t cool. No way. He was a failure, a disappointment. He gave Souda the cold shoulder ever since the day they met, in their first year of high school when his incompetence to get into the Main Course had plagued his mind the most.

Souda had no idea what he was talking about. That was all.

“Yup. I’ve had one and a half year to observe you, and I’m certain now,” he leaned back in his seat, putting his arms behind his head as if he was completely relaxed.

Hajime, in contrast, wasn’t relaxed at all. He was confused. Very much so. He couldn’t recall a single cool thing he did since the start of high school. There were more uncool things coming to mind.

Why was this important, anyway? What did it have to do with them being, supposedly, friends?

“What—What makes you think that?” he almost let his panic show in his voice, but he could catch himself. He only hoped Souda didn’t notice. That would be embarrassing.

“Huh? Isn’t it obvious?” Souda asked, surprised.

He started explaining immediately after Hajime answered him with a shake of his head, “Uhm, well, for one, you don’t stand out much. You’re not overly friendly and stuff, either. You’re just some guy who has problems having fun, so I’m here to help!” He beamed at him when he finished the last statement.

“…Oh. That’s what you meant,” Hajime mumbled more than said.

Souda did think he was cool, but…in a cold kind of way. Also, was that part about him not standing out much really necessary? He knew that better than anyone, he didn’t need a reminder.

He doubted his definition of fun would ever match up with Souda’s, too. Meaning, there would be no fun for him involved.

“But, uh, y’know,” Souda continued, “You say we aren’t, but don’t we already do stuff that friends normally do together?”

Hajime’s frown returned, “For example?”

“Example? Uh…” He crossed his arms again, glancing up at the dark sky that was visible between the platform ceilings. He didn’t think for long, but his gaze stayed looked at the same place throughout the entire time he was speaking, “We greet each other in the morning, …”

“That’s being polite.”

“…and say ‘see you tomorrow’ after school, …”

“I never said that.”

“…and tell each other what we did on weekends or our plans for the rest of the day, …”

“Again, you’re the only one doing that.”

“…and eat lunch together, …”

“That’s—Okay, I can’t deny that one.”

“…and we went to a car exhibition to find something we can enjoy together!”

Hajime pressed his lips into a thin line. While the last statement wasn’t true the way Souda phrased it, he didn’t have any form of rebuttal against it. He hadn’t wanted to come here, but he did anyway to let Souda do something together with someone else for his sake.

He supposed friends could do that, but not necessarily. It was just an act of kindness inspired by Lucky’s example. Even if he couldn’t go through with it until the end.

But that wasn’t the point right now.

“I still don’t think that makes us friends,” he said after letting Souda’s last words cling out.

“Really? That’s weird, I do think we’re friends,” he closed his eyes, letting a brief silence settle down between them. “Wonder what’s different.”

Hajime let that thought wander through his mind, searching for an answer. It probably was just Souda’s wishful thinking and nothing more, for whatever reason he would wish for that.

The announcement of a train arriving echoed through the almost empty station. Souda stood up from his seat, stretching his arms above his head and trying to stifle a yawn. He didn’t succeed.

They both walked closer to the safety line on the ground, looking down the rails at the fast-approaching train.

From the corner of his eye, Hajime noticed the guy on the other platform wake up. Or rather, someone woke him up by patting his shoulder.

It was another middle-aged man in casual clothes. He sat down next to the other, saying something, and pulled a can of – most likely, but he couldn’t really tell from the distance – beer out of the plastic bag he had with him. The suit guy stared at the other man uncomprehendingly. His body didn’t move, as if he was frozen in place.

A gust of wind flew by Hajime’s face as the train entered the station. The image of the two men on the other side was distorted by the train’s windows and the bad lighting.

Yet, he could make out their body’s outlines, see the suit guy’s shoulders shake as a loud laugh bubbled out of his throat. Hajime couldn’t hear it clearly over the train’s noise, but he was certain it was there. They disappeared whenever a window was replaced with metal, but the sight of the two man both holding a can of beer in their hand and nudging their cans against each other in a friendly cheer, was burnt into his mind.

“Friendship is a mutual thing,” he found himself saying without meaning to, but he didn’t stop. “You can’t call something friendship if you’re the only one contributing to it.”

“Hmm,” Souda hummed next to him, “then you just need to open up a little more.” The train came to a halt, the doors sliding open. They stepped inside, Souda continuing to talk, “Though, can’t see how that would really change anything.”

“It would change things,” he frowned.

“Oh yeah?” Souda glanced over at him before flopping down onto the seat closest to the door, “Like what?”

“Like…” Hajime tried to think of something. He racked his brain for an acceptable answer, but there was nothing. Total silence. His frown deepened.

The doors closed and the train slowly started moving. Hajime slowly sat down in the same row as Souda but left an empty seat between them. The train car they were in was empty. He could see the woman with her phone from the station through the small window between cars, but that was it. They were alone.

Hajime stared at the floor in silence. His mind continued to search for the difference it would make if he started thinking of Souda as a friend, what it would change.

He would have to do what Souda did, right? If he saw them as friends, then that must mean Souda did things that were part of a friendship, right? If Hajime started doing the same things, that would definitely be a change.

For example, he would start greeting Souda in the morning, that would be different. Though, he already did that to be polite. He didn’t need to use any other words if he was greeting a friend, so maybe that didn’t really count.

Alright, next.

He would have to say goodbye or see you after school. He wasn’t doing that right now. But those were just a few words, hardly a big deal. There had to be something better.

Souda was telling him about his hobbies or what he did on the weekend and all that. Hajime didn’t do that. Well, there wasn’t really anything to tell. All he did was studying, and talking to Lucky, but Souda probably figured out the former already. So that meant, everything he could say about that point was already said.

Aside from that, the only thing left that had to do with school was eating lunch. They already did that. Souda was generally holding a conversation with himself during that time, so if they were really friends, Hajime would have to say something back. But maybe it was enough if he actually started listening?

Hajime shook his head, his frown not disappearing.

If they were friends, they would hang out together, right? He couldn’t do that. He had things to do, and he wasn’t interested in going much outside, anyway. Today was supposed to be a one-time-only thing.

Still, Souda didn’t need them to hang out to think of him as friend. So, what was different for them? What made them friends and what didn’t at the same time? Hajime never had real friends, so he wouldn’t know.

But he had Lucky now. They were his friend. Definitely. They couldn’t hang out together, for obvious reasons, but they were friends.

They greeted each other in the morning and Hajime even wished them a good night. Not out of a reflex to be polite, but simply because he wanted to. They were talking to each other all day long, telling the other random things that happened or they were about to do.

There really wasn’t that much of a difference between that and what he and Souda were doing.

Did that mean they were friends? Was he friends with Souda? Did he have a friend this whole time and didn’t realize it? How was that even possible?

As if to answer his questions, his brain produced an image, a memory, of a text he had written and sent himself just two days ago.

(22:36) >> Maybe it’s easier to accept it if you just think of me as your friend.

Lucky had difficulties accepting someone wanting to spent their time talking to them. Hajime told them to think of him as a friend, since friends didn’t have to think about stuff like that. They were friends, after all.

He wasn’t sure if it really made anything easier for Lucky, but they did say yes to being friends with him. But being friends, associating that word to their relationship, didn’t change anything in terms of how they treated each other. It was more like, they grew closer through that, more connected. But on the surface, nothing changed, nothing happened.

Hajime couldn’t understand why Souda would want to spent his time with him. He told him they were friends in his eyes, but probably only because he wanted them to be. In contrast, Hajime only every thought of him as an annoyance.

The way Souda immediately started acting all friendly with him on their first day of high school had annoyed him to no end. Back then, they had two desks right next to each other as well. Everything in his line of sight was grey, but there was that one irritating speck of pink in the corner of his eye.

He didn’t eat a lot of lunch during his first year, his frustration and disappointment making him lose his appetite, but there was always that guy with shark teeth chewing on one thing or another, talking to him about the car or motorbike he recently messed around with.

There was a bright, shining personality sitting next to him, day after day, sticking out in a classroom that was filled with gloomy faces and dull gazes, and it had hurt to look at the one person who didn’t seem to be affect by the depression around him.

If Hajime stopped thinking of these things as annoying, but rather a friend at his side, then…

It wouldn’t stop him from hurting, though.

Just because there was something colorful beside him didn’t make him any less ordinary, forgettable, easy to overlook. They would be looking at Souda, not at him. It wouldn’t make him any less of a failure, a disappointment.

But…it was already there.

Everything that was part of a friendship…was already there. He managed to live with it so far. And no one said he had to enjoy Souda’s company. He would just stop considering him a nuisance. That’s all. That…couldn’t hurt anyone, right?

If he thought it wouldn’t hurt him, would that work the same way as what he had told Lucky? Would he stop hurting if he thought that, the same way Lucky was supposed to be able to stop questioning his actions?

No, that was wishful thinking. It couldn’t be that easy.

“Oh, it’s my stop!”

Hajime flinched, his head snapping up to see Souda frantically pushing something back into his pocket and jumping out of his seat. Before he could stop himself, he had already called out to him, “Wait!”

Souda stopped with one foot still in the train and the other one out on the platform. He gave Hajime a confused look, who could only stare back at him, his mouth remaining open and frozen in its movement.

“Uh,” he felt embarrassment take over his thoughts, “I, uh…” He didn’t know what to do, didn't know what he had wanted to do when stopping Souda from leaving before he could figure anything out.

He had to make a choice, quickly.

Hajime couldn’t look directly at Souda, so he settled for an ad poster just above his shoulder. He hesitantly raised his hand, slowly waving it from side to side. He felt an unsure smile tugging at the corner of his lips. His voice was quiet, but still audible in the silence of the night, “I’ll, uh, s-see you…tomorrow?”

Souda’s stare was piercing through him, but he did his best not to let his expression falter for a moment. It felt as if an eternity had passed when it was only seconds until Souda raised his own hand, giving Hajime a big toothed grin and the words “See ya!” before fully stepping out the train.

The doors closed immediately.

Hajime let go of the breath he had been holding in, his hand and smile dropping. He wasn’t sure if he made the right decision, but it was the first step in one direction.

And even if he ended up only feeling more miserable about himself when being around Souda, as an actual friend, he still had Lucky. He could feel better when talking to them, cheer up when seeing their contact name on his screen.

It would be okay. As long as he had Lucky, it was okay.

Feeling as if a weight had been lifted from his shoulders, he pulled out his phone from his pocket. There were no new messages, but he had something to tell them, so it worked in his favor.

He smiled to himself, a stable smile this time, as his fingers flew across the digital keyboard with ease.

(21:49) >> I think… I just made a friend. In a way. It’s weird.

(21:50) >> But not in a bad way.


In Hope’s Peak Academy’s dormitory, a boy was sitting in his room, staring blankly at the messages that had been sent to him. He slowly put down his phone and turned off the screen.

The irrelevant friend the protagonist will slowly forget about after meeting the actual main cast of the story, that was the role assigned to him.

“Ah,” he smiled. “What bad luck.”

Chapter Text

10/03

Hajime stood in front of the door to the classroom. He was hesitant to go inside. Not because he was late, and the teacher could get mad or anything, but because Souda could already be there, and he had no idea how to react to that.

Of course, there was still a lot of time left before homeroom started, and Souda was usually not the early type, but that wasn’t always the case. Hajime wasn’t ready for that possibility, yet. Though, he knew he had to face Souda at some point today.

It was just…he wasn’t sure how he was supposed to act around him after yesterday.

Sure, he didn’t directly say they were friends, but he did it indirectly. For all the times Souda had failed to read a situation or the mood, Hajime had the distinct feeling that, this time, he was perfectly aware of the implications of that goodbye.

Not that those implications were wrong.

He had time to think about it on the rest of the way to his home, and even after that since his thoughts had been swirling around too much in his head, keeping his mind active and awake. Lucky had decided to go to bed early, too, after they talked for a little bit, so he didn’t have anything to distract himself with.

At least it allowed him to conclude that, yes, he was okay with this. He could try. After all, nothing really had to change, right? Everything could just be the same as usual and the only difference was his mindset and outlook on the situation.

It shouldn’t be that hard.

So why could he still not bring himself to open the door? He had to enter sooner or later. Not to mention, it would become awkward once more students from his class would start showing up. Sure, the room had two doors, but it would still be weird for someone to block one of them like that.

Concentrating on that thought, Hajime raised his hand to finally step inside the room, but before he could even touch the door, the weight of an arm being slung around his shoulder made him freeze.

“Yo, Hinata!” Souda’s loud voice was booming into his ear, “How are ya, soul friend?”

Hajime grimaced, a result of Souda’s volume and his closeness, and repeated with a frown, “Soul friend…? What…?”

“Come on, Hinata!” He swayed slightly from side to side, not lifting his arm from Hajime’s shoulder and as a result dragging him with him, “You said it yesterday, right? I mean, I didn’t get it until my mom asked me about my day, but—”

“I never said we are soul friends,” whatever that was supposed to be.

“But you think we’re friends, right? Right?” The swaying continued.

“Well, y-yeah, I guess,” he was starting to feel embarrassed by this, “But don’t push it. Also, personal space, please.” With that, he took a step to the side and got rid of Souda’s arm in the process.

He looked a little disappointed, but that expression vanished quickly. He still gave Hajime a pat on the back, though, as he opened the door and stepped through.

Hajime followed him awkwardly.

Inside was the same, grey classroom as always. Only a handful of students was already there, sitting at their desks with their phones in hand or open textbooks in front of them. The atmosphere was heavy as well as the silence. Nobody said a word.

It made the sound of Souda dropping his bag onto his desk and pulling his chair out, scrapping its legs over the floor, seem even louder to Hajime’s ears. He was a lot quieter when he did the same thing.

Instead of simply sitting down like Souda did, however, he remained standing next to his chair, unsure of what to do next.

Of course, he could just follow his normal routine. Sit down, get out his notebook or phone, and wait until it was time for homeroom. And if Souda had anything he wanted to talk about with him, he would’ve done so by now.

He knew that, technically, nothing had to change, but he still felt as if it was wrong to simply ignore Souda the same way he did before. They were…friends now, after all. Only, Hajime probably wasn’t any good at that whole friend thing.

What were the things Souda listed of yesterday at the station again? Maybe he could start by following that. The first thing he said was about greeting each other in the morning, right?

“Something wrong?” Souda stared up at him, visibly confused.

He only noticed that somewhere in the back of his mind, though. His brain was more focused on the fact that Souda greeted him today, as always, but Hajime hadn’t returned anything even remotely resembling a greeting.

But they were friends, so he should greet him, right? If he was already probably never going to have something to talk to him about, then he should at least make sure to greet him, right?

That seemed like a logical conclusion to him.

So, naturally, the words were out before he could second-guess himself, “Good morning, Souda.”

Souda’s eyes quickly flew from left to right, as if he was looking for hidden cameras or something, before stopping on Hajime again, “Uhm…mornin’?”

Why was that a question? Now he felt awkward.

Hajime turned away from Souda to escape his stare, though he could still feel it on him. He finally sat down and tried to follow his usual routine, doing his best to ignore the urge to bury his head in his arms and hide the embarrassment that was most likely all too visible on his face.

He shouldn’t have said that. He definitely shouldn’t have said that.

Being a friend was difficult.

10/04

Hajime felt a little exhausted by the time dinner was ready.

When he had realized what day it was, he decided to spent the whole Saturday going through his studying routine, reviewing old classes, and reading parts of his textbooks. He was planning on doing the same thing tomorrow, too.

The second term’s midterm exams were starting on the thirteenth and ending on the sixteenth, lasting for four days in total, and Hajime couldn’t afford to lose any more time. He had to prepare.

That was why he didn’t pay any real attention to what he was eating. It didn’t matter as long as he could eat it quickly. He wanted to go over the last few notes he had one more time before having to go to bed.

Only his mother and Izuru were sitting with him at the table. Kazuki was probably still at work for whatever reason, but Hajime didn’t ask. He wasn’t complaining.

“That reminds me,” his mother started after a few minutes of them eating in silence. “Hajime, you never told me where you went last Thursday. You came home really late, right?”

Immediately, Hajime could feel Izuru’s eyes on him. His mother’s tone hadn’t been accusing or anything, merely curious, but Izuru’s stare made him feel as if he was being interrogated, anyway.

He tried his best to ignore it and to keep his own eyes on his food instead of glancing over to Izuru when he answered, “I told you I didn’t know how long it would take, didn’t I?”

“But where were you?” she was smirking now. It was obvious she wouldn’t let him escape that easily. He had never been out that late at night, after all. It was bound to be linked to something interesting in his mother’s eyes.

He wasn’t sure if he should be honest, though.

Izuru was present and he still didn’t forget his last reaction to Hajime saying he had a friend. He didn’t know if he wanted a repeat of that. Those red eyes were already boring holes into him again, he didn’t want to give Izuru more reasons to stare at him.

It was freaking him out and he couldn’t concentrate on eating while that was going on.

He was losing time by getting caught up in his thoughts like this, though. He had to bring this conversation to an end as soon as possible, so he should just answer her question honestly and be done with it. He didn’t really have a choice, anyway.

“A classmate invited me to an exhibition,” he said, in his best ‘final statement’ tone of voice and without looking at anyone, before putting several different small cut vegetables in his mouth and chewing quickly.

“Hmm, an exhibition with a classmate, huh?” his mother tilted her head slightly. Hajime couldn’t tell what she was thinking, and a quick glance at her expression didn’t help, either. He got the distinct feeling she wouldn’t let the subject drop that easily, though, and he was right. “Did you have fun?”

“I guess,” he shrugged.

The feeling of Izuru’s stare became worse, and when Hajime shot a glance in his direction, he noticed that he had narrowed his eyes at him. There was an actual change in Izuru’s expression, but it was the bad kind of change. Hajime just wanted him to stop.

He tried to ignore it again by eating a large amount of rice at once, but it was even more tasteless than usual. His stomach started to churn, too, making him feel sick.

And, of course, on top of that, his mother wasn’t done.

“I’m glad. It’s a good thing when you can do something with others together and enjoy yourself,” her tone was lighthearted, yet her words made Hajime feel cold.

He stopped chewing, letting the hand that was holding his chopsticks slowly drop down onto the table. After he swallowed down the remains of the rice in his mouth, he raised his head to look at his mother properly, but she avoided his eyes and turned to Izuru instead.

She was smiling, but her voice sounded strained, “You agree with me, right, Izuru-kun?”

Was she—

The feeling of Izuru’s eyes on him disappeared, but it didn’t bring any relief to Hajime. He kept his own gaze firmly on his mother, staring at her blankly.

Next to him, Izuru slowly started to speak, “I… I am not sure I…can say something to that…”

Hajime almost didn’t notice the hesitation in his voice, but he couldn’t be bothered by that right now, anyway. He didn’t miss the way his mother’s expression faltered at Izuru’s lack of cooperation.

She regained her composure quickly, though, “Well, either way, the most important thing is that you have fun with what you’re doing. Regardless of whether you’re doing it alone or with others, even if it doesn’t have any true purpose, right?”

He could see Izuru nodding slowly in the corner of his eye.

Hajime furrowed his brow. That sentence basically confirmed his suspicions. She was doing it again.

He pressed his lips together in a thin line, gritting his teeth. At once, his appetite was gone, and he just wanted to get out of this room and back to his textbooks. He was wasting time.

He let go of his chopsticks and, without a warning, stood up from his chair. “Thanks for the meal. I’m done. Goodnight,” he turned around, not sparing his mother another glance, and walked towards the door with quick steps. To his surprise, Izuru’s eyes weren’t following him, but he certainly wasn’t missing his attention.

He had already passed through the doorframe and reached the hallway, his hand still on the door’s handle, when she spoke up again. “Wait, Hajime, can I just—” her mouth fell shut the moment he looked at her over his shoulder.

They were staring at each other briefly. He wasn’t sure what his face looked like, but his mother’s features grew more and more troubled with every passing second.

Eventually, her resolve broke and she turned her gaze away from him, a cracked smile on her lips. “…I’m—”

He closed the door before she could finish, cutting off whatever she wanted to say, though he already knew it was an apology. He didn’t want to hear it, she didn’t even truly mean it. And if she did, then she wasn’t apologizing for what she said. It was the same cycle every time.

He went up the stairs to the second floor, trying to forget the sadness on her face.

10/05

Lucky (15:39) > So…what are you doing today after studying?

(15:41) >> What do you mean?

Lucky (15:41) > Well, last week you asked me for things to do during the latter half of the day and we started reading together.

Lucky (15:42) > There are still two chapters left!

(15:46) >> I don’t have time for that.

Lucky (15:46) > Ah, I see.

Lucky (15:47) > Alright then.

Lucky (15:49) > Well, I suppose that’s to be expected.

Lucky (15:51) > There is no doubt you have more important things to do than to tolerate trash like me. I don’t blame you at all!

Lucky (15:53) > How foolish of me to think it would be a regular occurrence in the first place.

Lucky (15:53) > I apologize for even assuming something like that.

(15:58) >> It’s fine, don’t worry about it.

Lucky (15:58) > Oh, really?

Lucky (16:00) > It’s still hard to believe…

Lucky (16:01) > But you said I should just accept what you say, right?

Lucky (16:03) > Because…we’re friends?

Lucky (16:06) > Or…

Lucky (16:08) > Perhaps I got it wrong…?

Lucky (16:13) > I am sorry for misunderstanding you, Nobody.

(16:19) >> No, you’re right, we’re friends, but…

(16:20) >> Sorry, I’m busy. I’ll talk to you later.

It was with great reluctance and a heavy feeling pressing down onto his chest that Hajime finally pressed the button to turn off his phone.

He had been fretting over the action for longer than he would’ve liked, and he needed to catch up on the time he had lost because of that. As much as he wanted to talk to Lucky right now, or even to pull out that novel and continue reading with them, he couldn’t let himself fall behind more than he already had.

10/06

The moment the school bell signaled the time for lunch break, Hajime pulled out his English textbook from his bag and looked for the right page about the subject in his notebook.

English was one of his weaknesses, so he had to make sure he truly understood—

“Woah, woah, wait a sec. That’s not lunch,” Souda interrupted his thoughts, pointing at the textbook on Hajime’s desk. “We don’t even need that today, do we?” He panicked, “Oh God, please don’t tell me we need that today!”

“We don’t,” Hajime simply answered, going back to his notes. Next to him, Souda let out a relieved sigh. It was quite after that, and Hajime appreciated it, but it didn’t last for long.

“Wait, why do you have it with you, then?” Souda asked, confused. Hajime rolled his eyes. He was pretty sure there was only one real use for school textbooks.

“I’m studying. Exams are starting next week,” he knew Souda wasn’t taking the exams seriously, but he should at least be able to remember on what days they were taken on.

“Huh? You didn’t do that for the first term exams, though…” Souda said, a frown growing on his face the longer he thought about it. “Did you do it last year?”

Hajime felt as if he had been caught doing something illegal. He actually didn’t use the lunch break to study before, he always had enough time for that at home.

But, recently, he had spent a lot of that time talking with Lucky about entirely unrelated things instead. Not to mention that he couldn’t do anything at all on the day he went to that exhibition with Souda. He had to catch up with the necessary materials somehow, and this was the only solution he could think of. Lunch wasn’t that important, anyway.

He had found the page in his notebook about last weeks English classes, grabbed a pen and an empty sheet of paper, and started to try and translate some of the sentences in his textbook. He could feel Souda’s eyes on him as he wrote them down. It was distracting.

“I know you don’t care about exams, but I do. So, just,” he made some halfhearted gesture with his free hand in Souda’s direction without raising his head. “Eat your lunch or whatever, okay?”

Unfortunately, Souda didn’t listen, “What about you? No eating?”

“Don’t worry about it,” he tried to brush it off.

Even if he wanted to eat right now, he couldn’t. He had to leave his lunch box at home or otherwise there wouldn’t have been enough space in his bag for the extra books he took with him. It was probably a stupid thing to do, but whatever. He could eat once school was over.

“Man, you can’t just not eat,” Souda sounded exasperated for some reason. “I think I get the whole exams-are-important-thing now—kinda—but you still gotta—”

“Souda. I’m fine,” Hajime gave him a stern look, but it didn’t last for long. He hurried to stare back at the English letters again, trying to make sense of them.

“…Alright,” he made a pause, that Hajime didn’t bother to decipher, before adding, “I’m gonna…go to the store. Real quick.” It was followed by a chair scrapping against the floor and footsteps leaving the classroom.

Souda going to the school store to get his lunch wasn’t any kind of rare occurrence, so Hajime didn’t think anything of it. He was simply thankful for the moment of quiet he got until Souda was back. He really did want to try and be friends with him, but getting a good score on his exams was higher on his priority list right now.

He could try the whole friendship thing after those four days were over. When he wasn’t so desperate to finally achieve something for a few days. Before their finals at the end of the year would start to creep up on them.

But for now, he simply couldn’t be a friend.

Hajime actually managed to translate three whole sentences before Souda came back. He didn’t look up from his notes, but it was easy enough to identify his loud footsteps in the nearly silent classroom. They were coming awfully close, though.

He ignored it, trying to keep his focus on what he was supposed to do. He did a pretty good job at that, actually…until there was suddenly a loaf of bread wrapped in a small transparent plastic bag dropped on his open textbook.

Souda was standing next to him, he could see it from the corner of his eye, but he rather stared at the bread as if it personally offended him in some way before breaking the silence, “What is that?”

“Melon bread!” That answer was way too enthusiastic.

“I can see that,” he glanced over at Souda only to find him grinning from ear to ear. “What’s it doing there?”

“Huh? I bought it for you,” he gave Hajime a look that made him feel as if he should’ve known that without being told. He stepped back to sit at his desk, taking a huge bite out of his own bread when sitting down.

“Why?” Hajime narrowed his eyes at him, “I already told you I’m not going to eat. I have to study for—”

“You can do both with that.”

“…Huh?”

“Well, it’s just bread, right?” When Hajime continued to stare at him uncomprehendingly, Souda explained with a shrug, “Hold it in one hand while writing with the other. My mom actually came up with that, because I forgot to eat while working on a project in middle school.”

Hajime blinked once, twice. Slowly, he turned his head to stare at the food lying innocently on top of his textbook. He was kind of hungry, he had to admit.

He reached for the plastic bag the bread was wrapped in, opening it a little to tear off a small portion. He could still hold his pencil in one hand and occasionally take a bite of the bread when he was thinking. It was the perfect solution, and Souda came up with it for him.

Well, Souda’s mother did, but he still remembered it and thought it could be helpful to Hajime. He even bought him the bread. Did that mean Souda cared about his well-being?

There was no way Hajime could tell, but he couldn’t deny that it was a nice thought nonetheless.

“Thank you, Souda,” he probably mumbled that more than said. He wasn’t looking away from the bread in his hand, either, unable to look at the person these words were directed at.

Souda was a good friend, while Hajime had no idea how to handle studying and having a friend at the same time. He felt embarrassed by that fact, and a little guilty, too. He probably wouldn’t have thought of a solution like that if their roles were reversed. He was a terrible friend.

“No problem, man,” Souda snapped him out of his thoughts, apparently having heard his quiet thank you. He was giving him another wide grin accompanied by a thumps-up, “We’re soul friends, after all.”

“I’m not so sure about that,” Hajime said before he could stop himself. He still didn’t know what ‘soul friend’ was even supposed to mean, but their friendship definitely didn’t reach that stage yet. Souda was seriously pushing it.

But, just a few days ago, it probably would’ve been more annoying to him than it was right now. He was glad about that.

10/07

Since Souda paid for both their lunch yesterday, Hajime felt like it was his turn today. The school store wasn’t far from their classroom, too, so he wasn’t losing a lot of time by going there. Though, the amount of people wanting to buy something wasn’t exactly low, but he managed to be quick.

On his way back, he saw Satou leaning against a wall a few meters away from their classroom, lightly chewing on a macaron in her hand while doing something on her phone. The sight confused him a little.

Without thinking about it, Hajime stopped in front of her and asked, “You’re not eating with Koizumi today?”

Satou’s head snapped up. Recognition flashed over her features before making room for surprise, “You know Mahiru’s last name?”

“Uh…” Right, he got that from Sonia not Satou. He knew too many people whose name started with an S. Instead of explaining to her what happened, though, he simply went for a much shorter, but convenient, explanation, “My stepbrother is in the same class with her.”

“Ah, got it,” she threw the remains of her macaron into her mouth, pulling a new one out of her pocket after swallowing it. “To answer your question,” she looked down at her phone again, speaking in an absentminded tone, “Mahiru always takes the extra lessons for the Main Course students to prepare for the upcoming exams, so she’s busy doing that right now. Until exams are over.”

Extra lessons? To prepare for the exams? Hajime didn’t know that was an option. Well, to the Main Course, anyway. The Reserve Course wasn’t important enough, of course.

So, apparently, there were differences in the Courses that weren’t known to the public. He wasn’t sure what to feel about that. His body decided on nausea.

“Hey, what’s with all that bread?” Satou brought his attention back to reality, pointing at the three bags of bread in his hands, “Are you going to eat all that by yourself?”

“Two are for Souda,” he said automatically.

“That pink hair guy?”

He nodded blankly before remembering Satou’s interaction with Souda last Wednesday. How she essentially forced Hajime to go to that car exhibition by pushing the ticket back into his hand, running off immediately after.

He frowned, “What was that all about last week, anyway?”

“What? What do you mean?”

“The whole ticket thing.”

“Oh, that!” she perked up for a second, then turning completely still. Her face was blank as she stared at him, unmoving. Slowly, an awkward chuckle came out of her throat, “You…can just forget about that. Yeah? Okay?”

His frown deepened, but he decided not to push for an answer. It didn’t really matter, after all.

What did matter, though, was the time he was wasting by standing here and talking to Satou. He still wanted to go over some kanji before lunch break would end.

So, in an indifferent tone, he said “Sure” and started to walk towards their classroom. Or rather, he wanted to.

“Oh, wait!”

But Satou’s voice stopped him, making him glance back over his shoulder. She had pushed herself away from the wall, standing upright in the middle of the hallway. Hajime gave her a questioning look to signal her he was listening.

“Do you mind if I join you guys?” there was no hesitation in her voice. It gave him the feeling she wouldn’t accept anything other than yes as an answer.

Which was unfortunate, because Hajime would prefer to be able to concentrate on studying, instead of having one more person sitting next to him. But, then again, if Souda and Satou were talking with each other, he might not have to actively participate in a conversation.

Blocking out their voices from his ears shouldn’t be all that difficult, he had practice from all those dinner talks he ignored. Satou wasn’t that bad of a person, either. She was okay, he supposed.

Even if having her there would turn out to be even more distracting than having only Souda with him, he wasn’t going to get that much done in the time remaining, anyway. Souda might have more fun, too, if there was someone else to talk to while Hajime was doing his own thing.

All in all, it probably wouldn’t matter that much. It could just be a one-time thing. No need to repeat it tomorrow, and no obligation to, either.

So, Hajime simply shrugged and said, “Do what you want.”

And that, she did.

Souda had been protesting at first, but after Satou apologized for referring to guys who are interested in cars as stereotypical, he was completely fine with her presence. Hajime wasn’t sure if that was a good thing.

Regardless, Satou turned out to be a welcome addition instead of an unwanted distraction.

In contrast to Souda, she could actually help him with one kanji or two, and the fit Souda threw after being called useless by her was…sort of amusing. It ended up being a rather enjoyable lunch break to Hajime. He wouldn’t mind if tomorrow could be the same.

Though, he did feel as if something was missing. Or, more accurately, someone.

His phone had been in his pocket the whole time, turned to silent, and he had caught himself more than once to being close to pulling it out and writing Lucky a message.

However, he couldn’t write them anything until his train ride home. And even then, as soon as he was back in his room, he had to focus on studying instead of talking to someone.

10/08

“When did the Battle of Midway during the second World War take place?” Hajime asked out loud during lunch break, trying to remember the precise date.

Souda and Satou were sitting next to him, Satou having borrowed the chair of the person in front of Souda’s desk, since Hajime’s own desk had no space left for her to place her lunch anywhere.

The two of them had been talking about something, probably a TV show if Hajime heard correctly, before he had interrupted Souda’s argument. Now they were both silently staring at him. He couldn’t see the expression on their faces, though, since he was still looking down at his notebook.

“Uh…July 1914?” Souda said, apparently not very confident in his answer.

Hajime raised his head just to be able to frown at him, “That was the start of the first World War.”

“…Oh,” he started picking dejectedly at the bread in his hands, sulking slightly. “Man, I’m not good with history crap. Couldn’t you have picked something easier for today?”

“Is there anything you actually are good at?” Satou smirked at him.

“I’m very good with machines, y’know?!” Souda protested loudly.

“Yeah…” she stretched out the syllable, “I was thinking more, like, actual school subjects?”

“…Physics?”

Hajime wondered if Souda realized saying his words with a questioning tone at the end didn’t help to mask his lack of confidence. Well, even if he did say it differently, his body language would probably still betray his uncertainty, anyway.

“Since you asked, what are you good at?” Souda threw the question back to Satou. Instead of smirking, he was more defensive about it, though.

“That’s easy! I’m, uh… Hm,” she crossed her arms in front of her chest, deep in thought. “…Japanese, maybe?”

“See?!” It looked like Souda almost sprung out of his chair in victory, “You have no idea about history crap, either!”

“So, in conclusion,” Hajime spoke up before Satou could defend herself, “neither of you is of any help. Got it.”

“Wait, wait, wait,” Satou gestured wildly with her hands as he was about to go back to his notes. “Give me one chance to get it right!”

For a moment, nothing happened.

Souda mumbled something incomprehensible under his breath and Hajime simply looked at her with a raised eyebrow. She was staring back at him, meeting his gaze, unblinking and determined – in other words, completely serious.

“Alright.” Hajime let his eyebrow fall back into its default position, trying his best to keep his face as motionless as possible, “Let’s hear it.”

Satou took a deep breath before closing her eyes. She held up her index finger as an indication for him to wait for an answer, while she was probably trying to remember what they went over in recent history lessons. She didn’t move a muscle.

In a flash, she was sitting perfectly upright, her eyes meeting Hajime’s again. Her voice was strong and filled with certainty as her guess made its way out into the open, “August 6th 1945.”

It was quiet. Not counting their other classmates’ conversation currently happening in another corner of the room, of course.

Hajime let a few seconds tick by, slowly closing his eyes to appear as if he was thinking – and to make the situation feel more dramatic than it actually was, which would be not dramatic at all. He nodded his head before opening his eyes again.

Satou was still staring at him, unblinking, and so was Souda as he could see from the corner of his eye.

After a deep breath of his own to stall the answer even further, he said, in the most calm and serious voice he could muster, “That was Hiroshima.”

“Dammit.”

“Ha!”

Souda was grinning from ear to ear, triumphantly pointing his finger at Satou. She pouted but tried to cover it up by stuffing two macarons at once into her mouth. Apparently, she liked those things.

Shaking his head with an amused puff of air, Hajime circled the event on the list in his notebook to look it up later in case he still didn’t remember until then. Blocking out Souda’s victory speech and Satou’s halfhearted defenses, he proceeded to move on to the next thing on his list with a small subconscious smile on his lips.

10/09

His hand was a traitor, though his mind was probably to blame as well. And so were Souda and Satou. And whoever came up with rock-paper-scissors.

Who did come up with that game, anyway? Was there even an answer to that?

Well, it didn’t matter.

Fact was, he lost and now he had to buy drinks for everyone from one of the vending machines out in the massive courtyard of Hope’s Peak Academy during lunch break, when he could have used that time to solve some more math problems. At least he got the money from those two.

Still, he should’ve just said no when Souda asked him if he was thirsty. But, sadly, it was too late for that now. He let out a heavy sigh, resigning himself to his poor life choices.

There was no one around when Hajime reached the spot with the most vending machines. It was closer to the Reserve Course building, probably because it had the cheaper stuff, but it was accessible to students from both courses.

It didn’t seem like there were any Main Course students close by, though. He was glad about that. He could just be quick about the whole thing and get back to the classroom without having to think any unpleasant thoughts.

Stepping closer, Hajime checked which one of the machines had the right drinks. Souda wanted something with probably way too much sugar than what could be considered healthy and Satou just wanted some tea. Hajime was going for the same as her.

He had the can for Souda in his hand and was about to press the button for Satou’s tea when he felt it. The sharp gaze of someone’s eyes piercing through the back of his head, freezing the blood in his veins, and stopping his hand to hover in the distance between him and the machine’s button.

He didn’t need to look over his shoulder to know Izuru was standing there, staring at him in the same way he always did nowadays, but he turned around to confirm his suspicions anyway.

Neither of them said a word. As usual, Izuru’s expression was like a mask. Not a single muscle moved or flinched. It was as unnerving as ever. Hajime hated it.

Maybe he would go away if he just ignored him.

It was a stupid thought, and Hajime didn’t think it would actually work, but if there was one good thing about the Reserve and Main Course being separated, it was the fact that Izuru couldn’t follow him back into the building. Which meant, the faster he got his own and Satou’s drinks, the sooner he could get away from Izuru.

Feeling a wave of relief rushing through him at that realization, he practically spun back around to face the vending machine and slammed the button for Satou’s tea. He mentally winced at the loud bang that resounded in the silent courtyard from the impact.

Izuru didn’t react. At least not in a way that was audible to Hajime, though he doubted he actually flinched or moved at all from the sudden noise. Not with that stone mask on his face. Actually, his entire body was made of stone.

Hajime’s eyes narrowed as he put the last remaining coins into the machine and selected his own drink. He grabbed it with force, immediately stepping away as soon as all three cans were safely in his arms.

He didn’t spare even a single glance in Izuru’s direction, turning to the path that led to the Reserve Course building, and beginning to walk with big, wide steps. His body was in flight mode.

“What do you plan to do with so many drinks?”

Hajime stopped dead in his tracks, holding his breath in an attempt to calm down. It wasn’t working.

Izuru had started a conversation with that cold, indifferent tone of his and Hajime couldn’t just walk away from that. He would seem so incredibly weak if he did, weaker than he already was right now.

He felt sick, but he tried to keep his thoughts in check.

The conversation didn’t have to be long. It was just a simple question that was asked, the answer wouldn’t bring any more. Hopefully. If he said it with a strong enough voice, maybe Izuru would refrain from dragging it out.

He desperately clung to that possibility as he turned around, keeping his expression carefully neutral. It still felt like Izuru could see right through him as soon as their eyes met, though.

Hajime didn’t even try to get rid of the lump that was forming in his throat when he spoke, even if it limited his voice’s volume. At least his tone didn’t waver, “They’re for some classmates.”

He gave it a few seconds. A few seconds that he would remain standing there, trying to be as unreadable as Izuru always was, before he would leave without another word.

But like so often, Izuru didn’t let him. He spoke up again, asking another question, “Classmates…?”

Hajime felt his brow furrow in annoyance.

First, he questioned his ability to become friends with someone, in a rather rude way no less, and now he couldn’t accept that Hajime got along with his classmates? Or whatever that strange tone was supposed to mean. He didn’t care. But it certainly didn’t make him feel any better.

Considering that, it was no surprise his words were laced with some amount of hostility the next time he opened his mouth, “Yes, do you have a problem with that?”

He didn’t really want that question to be answered, in case it wasn’t obvious.

Izuru didn’t react. Well, at first. It didn’t take very long before he turned his head with an abrupt motion, no longer staring at Hajime but at something off to his left side instead. When Hajime risked a glance in that direction, though, he couldn’t spot anything of particular significance.

“No… I do not,” Izuru’s words were more comparable to a murmur than something said in a conversation that was held within a short distance.

Hajime almost missed it. In fact, he wasn’t even sure if he heard him correctly.

There was a weird undertone accompanying Izuru’s voice. It made him sound oddly vulnerable. It was so out of place, Hajime didn’t have one speck of doubt it was his imagination playing tricks on him.

It must be because of that staring-wistfully-into-the-distance-while-remenescining-about-your-traumatic-past trope or whatever you wanted to call it. After all, Izuru’s face was as unmoving as ever. Not a flash of emotion dancing across his features to be found.

It seemed strangely disconnecting to Hajime, though. Off putting. As if something wasn’t right about this scene, yet he couldn’t decide if it was the image or the tone. He had never felt anything like that before.

It made him want to run away.

So he did, focusing his thoughts on the math problems he still wanted to solve before the end of lunch break as his quick steps brought him closer and closer to the Reserve Course building.

For once, he wasn’t worried about not being able to concentrate after that encounter with his genius stepbrother. He knew Souda and Satou could make his mood a little bit better again once he was back in their classroom, after all.

And on the way home, he could talk to Lucky to prevent his thoughts from going into that one particular dark direction. They never did when he was talking to them.

This time, he wouldn’t let himself get so easily discouraged by Izuru’s existence. There was a difference in his life now.

There was more color every now and then. Like Souda’s pink hair for example. Or Satou’s violet eyes. Even the trees surrounding the Reserve Course seemed to be greener than before.

Hajime could do this.

Surely.

…Maybe.

10/10

Izuru wasn’t staring at him anymore.

He didn’t know whether to feel relieved or unsettled by that. It could also be that he was just confused at the sudden lack of attention. There were no red eyes boring into his skull anymore, after all.

Still, he wasn’t complaining.

Sure, he had wondered what caused the change, but he had been able to eat his dinner yesterday and now his breakfast in peace, and the air inside the train on his way to school wasn’t too oppressing, either. Just the usual amount of heaviness, the one he was used to.

So, really, it was a welcome change.

It would have been perfectly fine if everything just went back to how things were before, too.

Except, it didn’t and, the further the day progressed, something was telling Hajime more and more Izuru was ignoring him. Not outright, but more through the way he was carrying himself around him. It was as if he just stopped acknowledging his presence. And that was irritating him.

There was no reason why anyone would ignore him. In fact, it was more likely they were unintentionally doing so. But Izuru knew he was there. They lived in the same house, had the same way to school, and so on.

The difference was, one of them was naturally smart, therefore didn’t have to worry about a single thing in his life, and the other one was easily replaceable, a truth he was reminded of every time he saw him. In other words, Hajime was the one suffering from the many occasions they crossed paths with each other, not the other way around.

Yet, apparently, Izuru decided he wasn’t even worth acknowledging anymore. Hajime had lost even that tiny little bit of significance that had been left.

It was irritating. And frustrating. And he didn’t know what to think. What to do. How to react to that.

So, he simply tried to not think about it. If he just carried on, continued as if nothing happened, he should be fine. He had other things to focus on, anyway.

It wasn’t easy, but he had to manage somehow. At least until the exams were over.

He would be fine.

Definitely.

…Hopefully.

10/11

He didn’t even last longer than a day and already he was losing focus because of the confusion Izuru had caused. It was stupid to try and continue anyway. He needed a better distraction than something as foolish as his own wishful thinking.

He took a deep breath, standing up from his desk, and sat down on the small couch in his room, drawing his legs up and close to his chest, phone in hand. He didn’t have a conversation topic, but just the act of writing a message to Lucky was a sort of comfort to him.

(16:38) >> Are you free right now?

Lucky (16:38) > Yes, why?

(16:38) >> Can I talk to you for a bit? I need to calm down.

Lucky (16:39) > Of course! You don’t need to ask for permission, you know?

Lucky (16:39) > Though I thought you would be busy today, too.

Hajime winced a little at that. He was aware that his desperate behavior had caused their conversations to be rather short and, well, one-sided, too. He was planning to find a way how he could make it up to them after exams were over and he could relax a bit, though.

Lucky was still his friend, after all.

(16:40) >> Yeah… To be honest, I wanted to study again, but I have trouble concentrating right now.

(16:41) >> Sorry for not writing you very often the last few days.

Lucky (16:42) > Oh, don’t apologize for that! It’s perfectly understandable.

(16:43) >> If you say so.

(16:44) >> Still, I’m sorry.

(16:45) >> Once exams are over, let’s finish that book together or something.

Lucky (16:45) > Don’t force yourself, Nobody.

(16:45) >> Force myself?

Lucky (16:48) > Anyway, are you sure you want to spent your time with me of all people?

Hajime raised an eyebrow at the question.

(16:49) >> Are you doubting my words again?

Lucky (16:51) > No, that’s not it…

Lucky (16:52) > It’s obvious by now that you talk to me because you want to. You wouldn’t have lasted so long if that wasn’t the case.

(16:52) >> Then why are you questioning me?

Lucky (16:52) > But that won’t stop you from forgetting me.

He took a moment to stare at the text, read over the words a few more times. They didn’t change. He furrowed his brow. This was another case of Lucky being entirely too self-deprecating again, wasn’t it?

(16:53) >> What do you mean?

Lucky (16:53) > I mean…it would only be natural for you to forget about me.

Lucky (16:53) > It has to happen sooner or later.

He didn’t like were this was going, but he didn’t know how to change the subject, either. He wasn’t even sure if he should. It couldn’t be good for Lucky’s mental health if they never talked about it, after all.

Probably, anyway. He was no expert, and he didn’t know the first thing about how stuff like that worked. Still, he wanted to help them if he could…

(16:54) >> What makes you think that?

Lucky (16:54) > Because everyone forgets or leaves me behind. It’s simply the natural order of things, I suppose. But I don’t deserve any company anyway, of course.

Lucky (16:55) > So, if you were to forget and leave, I would understand. There are other people in your life, right? They’re far more important than my unworthy self, Nobody!

That was…sad. Did they really think Hajime could just forget all the conversations they had?

Forget about the first person he trusted with his worries that one night? Forget the one that ultimately was the only reason he managed to accept Souda as a friend? Forget the messages that made him laugh whenever he read over them again? Forget the only source of comfort he had?

Did they really think those things were easy to forget? Because they “didn’t deserve” company? Because they couldn’t believe they were an important presence in someone else’s life?

Did they hate themselves that much?

…Fine.

If that was the case, Hajime was going to prove them wrong.

(16:57) >> If you think saying this will keep me away, then it’s doing quite the opposite.

Lucky (16:58) > …What do you mean?

(16:58) >> You’re my friend, Lucky. I won’t just leave you all of a sudden.

(16:58) >> I don’t want to.

Lucky (16:59) > …

Hajime had an idea. He couldn’t help but smile as he typed.

(16:59) >> By the way, do you remember?

Lucky (17:00) > Remember what?

A warm, fluttering feeling started to blossom in his chest, spreading throughout his whole body, as he typed out his next message. His heart made a small jump as he touched the send button.

(17:01) >> It’s been exactly one month since I decided to just accept you as a new part of my life instead of ignoring your existence, and I don’t regret it. Happy One-Month-Anniversary, Lucky!

His heart continued to jump up and down in his chest, unable to calm. But, despite that, he didn’t feel nervous or panicked at all. His smile still wouldn’t fade, either. He felt relieved for some reason. Maybe because he simply needed to say this at least once.

He didn’t regret it.

Even with all the stress it caused him, how paranoid he was in the beginning, scared even of the person who wouldn’t stop messaging his phone and continuing to interrupt his normal everyday life…he didn’t regret it.

If he wouldn’t have given in to this feeling of excitement, who knew how he would be doing right now? He would be drowning himself in his textbooks and notes, and only listen to the dark whispers in his mind that kept telling him how insignificant and miserable he was.

He wouldn’t have anyone who could calm him down, distract him from his worries, let him relax and take a moment to breathe. Lucky was the only one who could do all of these things, and they weren’t even aware of it.

This conversation alone made him completely forget about Izuru and his recent behavior, and it wasn’t even a particularly funny conversation. It was more serious than anything else, really.

The sound of his phone receiving a new message pulled him out of his thoughts.

Lucky (17:05) > You’re right… You really tolerated me for a whole month…

Hajime rolled his eyes, though he didn’t feel annoyed. Lucky was a good person. They simply couldn’t see it. Not yet, at least.

However, before he could respond, another message was sent.

Lucky (17:05) > And yet, I still can’t say for sure what kind of luck this is…

(17:06) >> Does that matter?

He felt silly for asking, but he didn’t understand their heavy fixation on luck in the first place, so naturally he wouldn’t know. But he wanted to know, he really did, so that he could have a chance to understand.

Lucky was probably just going to call him naïve again instead of answering the question, though.

Lucky (17:07) > It does. You have no idea how much.

He blinked at the text, taken by surprise. It ebbed away quickly, though, since that was also an obvious response and not any less cryptic than the usual. He sighed. Still, only a second later, a smile was back on his lips again.

No matter what Lucky might think, personally, Hajime thought it was good luck.

His life was changing, it stopped being the same normal everyday life one month ago, but he wasn’t scared of this change. Though he most likely wouldn’t have wanted anything to do with it if someone had told him about this earlier.

But now…

Now, he was glad it happened. He was glad Lucky found a way into his life.


The boy sitting inside his assigned room at Hope’s Peak Academy’s dormitory didn’t understand.

He was supposed to be forgotten, to experience the bad luck of being replaced after having been blessed with the good luck of finding someone who saw him as a friend.

But if that wasn’t happening…what else was his luck planning for him? What was it going to take this time? Or…was there not any good luck in this situation in the first place?

He couldn’t tell. He couldn’t tell anymore. He couldn’t understand his own luck anymore. He couldn’t predict it anymore.

There was…no control.

What a scary thought.

Chapter Text

10/12

Hajime stretched his arms above his head as he leaned back in his chair. A yawn followed soon after. One quick glance at the clock in his room told him it was already past ten at night. He had been going over all his notes for the two subjects that would start the exam period tomorrow, making sure everything was fresh in his mind.

He closed his notebook with a quiet thud and stuffed it back into his school bag. He could feel his eyelids wanting to fall close, but lazily rubbed against them with one hand before starting to clean his desk and putting out the textbooks for the subjects that would come up in the exams the day after tomorrow. That way, he could immediately start looking it over as soon as he was back home.

He felt rather confident about the exams, though. Probably the most he had ever felt over the last few years. His mind was calm and not screaming at him to go over every last sentence in the books again. He didn’t know why, but the change was welcomed. It allowed him to breathe easy and, despite the amount of time he had spent doing things completely unrelated to studying, he wasn’t too worried about tomorrow.

Standing up from his chair, he stretched his arms over his head again. He had already been in the bathroom after dinner, so he only needed to change into the shirt he always slept in and he was ready to go to bed. He still reached for his phone one last time, kneeling down in front of the small table instead of sitting on the couch. He didn’t plan for the conversation to take too long, anyway. He was tired, after all.

(22:17) >> Your exams are starting tomorrow, too, right?

Lucky (22:17) > Wow, you actually remembered such a small detail!

Hajime rolled his eyes but smiled.

(22:18) >> They’re starting on the same day, how am I supposed to forget that?

Lucky (22:18) > Oh, that’s right… I forgot…

He could only shake his head. Lucky could remember who knew how many useless facts and random trivia, but they couldn’t remember something as simple as that. Their memory didn’t seem to be something to rely on, though at the same time it was probably better than most people’s. A weird contradiction, but…strangely endearing, too, if he was honest.

Lucky (22:19) > So, why are you asking?

(22:19) >> I wanted to wish you good luck.

Typed out and on the screen that message seemed kind of stupid. It sounded better in his head. He could feel blood streaming into his ears. His fingers flew across the keyboard, writing texts he failed to think through before sending them.

(22:20) >> Or “do your best” or something.

(22:20) >> I don’t know.

(22:20) >> That was dumb.

(22:21) >> Forget it.

There was heat pooling in his cheeks, most likely changing their color to a shade of red. He wasn’t someone who easily started blushing out of embarrassment, but something about this situation wouldn’t let his heart calm down. It continued to pump more and more blood into his veins, letting it flow upwards into his head and ears.

It didn’t help when it took Lucky a little bit longer to reply. In fact, if he wasn’t mistaken, he started to feel nervous on top of it. He tried to calm down by taking deep breaths, but the air got stuck in his throat as a new message popped up on the screen.

Lucky (22:24) > Is it okay if I don’t forget it?

He furrowed his brow, letting go of the held back air with a small huff. He didn’t understand the question.

(22:25) >> I can’t really prevent you from remembering, can I?

Lucky (22:25) > Well, no, but…

But what? He had a feeling he knew the answer to that. It was an answer he didn’t like, but he supposed it would make sense if that was Lucky’s reasoning for asking such a question. Though, it didn’t really make sense. Maybe for them it did, but not to him.

(22:26) >> But you think you’re not deserving of someone saying that to you? Is that it?

Lucky (22:26) > …

That was as good as a Yes in Hajime’s book. He couldn’t be sure whether he truly understood the full extent of their thoughts on the matter, but he could assume he was fairly close by that reaction.

He sighed, still frowning. He could feel his face cooling off, at least, his heart calming down. He shouldn’t have backed out of what he said like that. He did mean it, after all. He wanted Lucky to be aware of that, too.

Blocking out the little fragments of embarrassment that lingered in the back of his mind, he started to type.

(22:27) >> Alright, I’ll say it again. And this time, I don’t want you to forget it.

He smiled when he sent the next text.

(22:27) >> Good luck with your exams, Lucky.

It was still kind of embarrassing, though. Thankfully, there wasn’t any evidence for that on his face this time. Not that anyone would’ve been able to see it.

He didn’t expect Lucky to reply. He was contemplating whether he should wish them good night, but he wouldn’t mind if their conversation was over with that, so he turned off the screen and put the phone back down onto the table.

It made a signal sound the moment he had half pushed himself back up into a standing position. He remained frozen in place until the sound filled the room a second time soon after and he flopped back down onto the floor, quickly grabbing his phone and opening his chat with Lucky.

Lucky (22:30) > Thank you, I guess…

Lucky (22:31) > You really don’t want my luck, but…do your best, too, Nobody.

Seeing that message made a small smile slip onto Hajime’s face. There was no way to tell if Lucky actually accepted his words or not, but it was something, and the second text left a reassuring feeling in his chest. That was an even better end for their conversation.

(22:31) >> I will, thank you. Good night.

Lucky (22:31) > Good night!

With the smile still grazing his lips, he put down his phone a second time. He wasn’t interrupted again as he stood up and took the few steps over to his bed while stifling another yawn that was threatening to leave his mouth. He really was tired after the amounts of studying he had done over the last week. Hopefully it would pay off tomorrow.

He turned off the lights and laid down on the mattress. His mind was surprisingly calm, even when he closed his eyes and the silence in his room left him completely alone with his thoughts. The only image that appeared behind his closed eyelids was Lucky’s messages.

After some time, it shifted to the memories of the lunch breaks he had used to study, with Souda and Satou sitting at the table beside him. Even though that image was related to the efforts he put into his studies, it didn’t make him think of all the mistakes he could make during tomorrow’s exams like it was usually the case.

He fell asleep soon after, holding on to the feeling of confidence. He tried to ignore the dark thought in the back of his mind that told him it was false, reckless, wishful thinking.

10/13

The exams at Hope’s Peak Academy were at a higher level in terms of difficulty when compared to any other high school. However, the way they worked and how the tests were taken wasn’t any different. There wasn’t much of a difference between the Main and Reserve Course, either, though the Main Course would get a little more questions.

The exams were scheduled over the course of four days, two different subjects on one day – eight subjects in total, from early morning until a little after noon, which meant Hajime had to go home together with Izuru if he wasn’t fast enough to catch an earlier train.

Aside from Thursday, since it was the last exams day and the Main Course had to spent two more hours working on them. Apparently, the very last exam was difficult enough to require a total amount of four hours to finish it. At least there was a lunch break in-between and the school was closed for both courses on the following Friday.

Now wasn’t the time to think about the end of the week, though.

The atmosphere in the classroom was tense as the only sounds to be heard were the scratches of pens against paper or the occasional quiet mumbling from one of the students if they had difficulties finding the right answer. Hajime tried to not let it affect him too much, though he wasn’t sure if he succeeded.

One hour had already passed since they begun with the first exam of the day. In other words, only one more hour remained to answer all the questions. Hajime couldn’t allow himself to skip even a single one of them, no matter how long he was stuck.

He had been calm for the first few questions, but slowly and surely, he lost more and more of the confidence he had in his answers. His memory started to be a little more cloudy and fuzzy, too. Gradually, his anxiety increased and his body turned into a panicked state.

This always happened during an exam. Even if he was perfectly calm at the beginning—or confident, though that was a rare occurrence—it would only ever spiral downward from there. Nothing he could do about that.

The pressure and stress of not wanting to disappoint anyone or being below anyone yet again were crushing him under their weight.

And this time, he really wanted to do his best. Lucky had told him to, after all. He said he would, too. He couldn’t go back on his own word, especially not on a word that he gave to Lucky. He clung to that thought, trying to use it as motivation, but it wasn’t long until his mind started to twist and warp it into something terrifying.

What if his best wasn’t good enough? What if his best would only bring the same result as usual? What if his best was still a disappointment?

The fears that were clawing their way into his mind made his hand that was gripping his pen shake with uncertainty. He wanted to go back to the previous questions and check his answers, but he didn’t have time for that. There was still one and a half pages left and less than an hour of remaining time.

But even that reminder didn’t manage to rid his brain of his anxiety’s clutches. His confidence from last night wouldn’t come back. Instead, he got a panicked heartbeat and a mind that was racing with thoughts but devoid of any answers. Hajime knew his resolve was falling apart, just like any other time, and he was unable to stop it.

These four days would end in disappointment, too.

10/14

The second day of exams was over. It didn’t go any better than the first one.

Hajime was exhausted, drained, simply tired. He didn’t get much sleep last night, and his worries from yesterday only grew stronger the longer he had to sit in this stuffy classroom. He knew it wouldn’t change a thing about the unpleasant thoughts that were swirling in his mind, but at least he could leave now. If he could find enough energy in himself to stand up and go home, that is.

But he already wasted too much time by sitting around, so he most likely would have to take the same train as Izuru if he left now, and he didn’t think he could handle that. He’d have to take a later train, then.

“Hello? Hinata?” Souda’s voice made its way into his brain, bringing him out of his unmoving state. He slowly turned his head up to look at Souda who was standing next to his own desk, a frown on his face. It deepened when their eyes met, “You don’t look so good. You alright, man?”

He must be talking about the bags under his eyes. So, they still didn’t disappear. Hajime lifted a hand to lazily rub against one of his eyes, trying to make it seem more awake.

“I’m fine. Just tired,” he mumbled after he was done and pushed his body up with his hands on his desk. He grabbed his bag and slung it over his shoulder. It was lighter than usual with all his books at home.

He scanned over the other remaining students in the classroom and noticed that Satou was missing. Most likely, she went ahead to meet up with Koizumi or something. It was what she did yesterday, too, so that was no surprise.

Hajime slid his chair back against his desk and turned to walk past Souda out of the room. He was careful to not go too fast, though.

“You know,” Souda was quick to walk beside him. His frown was gone and he was wearing his usual grin instead, “Maybe we should go somewhere else before—”

“No, thanks. There’s no time for that,” Hajime kept his gaze locked on the hallway in front of him.

The shape of his phone in his pocket, pressing up against his leg, served as a reminder of what he had to do. And that was study, go over everything again and again and again, making sure he actually understood what all these notes and books were trying to teach him by tomorrow. If he didn’t want to disappoint anyone, that was what he had to do.

“But…” Souda didn’t understand that, apparently. “Don’t you think you need to relax a bit?”

Hajime narrowed his eyes, “I can’t.”

“Why?”

“The exams aren’t over yet,” he thought that much was obvious.

“I mean…yeah, sure.” Souda was silent after that. He probably ran out of things to say. Hajime decided to leave it at that.

Not long after the end of that conversation, they reached the front entrance and exited the building. The weather had already started to cool down a little, but it wasn’t cold enough for jackets to be considered something necessary. Hajime couldn’t see Izuru anywhere nearby, so he hopefully managed to avoid him completely.

“Can I ask you something?” Souda had stopped walking.

Hajime only noticed it after he had taken another few steps forward, but he came to a halt and turned around as soon as the question properly registered in his head. The look Souda was giving him was serious.

However, that didn’t mean anything in Souda’s case. His priorities didn’t exactly match up with his own. Hajime didn’t like the thought of wasting his precious time with a presumably pointless conversation, but the longer he stalled out his ride with the train, the more likely it was for Izuru to be already gone. That was a tempting thought and this was a reasonable excuse.

After all, he should at least listen to what Souda had to say. They were friends. That was what friends did, right? Even if he didn’t much care for it.

Hajime walked a few steps back, coming to a stop in front of Souda so he could talk at a normal volume. He was careful to not let his lack of interest slip into his voice, trying to make it sound neutral, “What is it?”

“Well, uh,” Souda didn’t meet his eyes. He let his gaze roam around the area instead, while he was trying to form a sentence. “I kinda asked this before, but…why do you make such a big deal out of this stuff?”

Hajime frowned, “Big deal? You mean studying?”

“Yeah!” He was grinning again, seemingly proud of himself for some reason. He stopped choosing his words carefully and simply spoke without a second thought, “Like, at first I thought maybe you can have fun with it if you have the right mindset, but that didn’t really work out, so I gave up on that pretty quickly, but there’s gotta be a reason for you to be so obsessed with it, right? So, what is it?”

Wasn’t it obvious? Hajime rolled his eyes, “We’re students, that’s all we’re supposed to do.”

Souda’s face twisted into a grimace, “You really think so?”

“It doesn’t matter if I think so or not,” he couldn’t stop his voice from adopting a rather bitter tone. He never truly thought about these words. He knew those were people’s expectations, so he had to follow. There was no point in thinking about it.

In an attempt to get his neutral voice back, Hajime added, “If you slack off in school, you’ll just have problems later on.”

“Eh, maybe, but, I mean, not necessarily…” Souda scratched his cheek while he was thinking. His expression contorted again into a face of disbelief as he continued, “I guess it’s just weird to me how someone can spend that much time cramped up in a room and hurting their brain, like…” He searched for a suitable comparison, but gave up quickly by asking, “Is that all you want from your life?”

Hajime flinched. He almost took a step back, to get more distance between him and Souda so he could pretend he didn’t hear that. He felt backed into a corner, even though that most likely wasn’t Souda’s intention.

He didn’t want to think about that. He had to somehow dodge the question. He shook his head and averted his gaze to the side, unable to look at Souda any longer, “Isn’t everyone’s reason for coming to Hope’s Peak Academy because they simply want to succeed?”

There. That was a reasonable thing to want out of your life, right? It was a typical thing to say for any student at this school, too. No one would question it.

In his peripheral vision, he saw Souda shrug, “I dunno. I’m basically just here cuz my mom told me to apply.”

Hajime’s breath got caught in his throat for the fraction of a second. An unwanted thought tried to use the opening to slip into his mind, but he managed to catch and bury it again under the illusion of a promise that was never made to him.

Souda didn’t give him time to get his other thoughts back in order, though. He probably didn’t even notice the panic that had flashed across Hajime’s face.

His voice was as easy-going as ever as he said, “But does that mean you wanted to apply here yourself? Man, I can’t relate. I never thought about what high school I want to graduate from. Could’ve just stopped after middle school, too.”

Did that guy not have any ambitions? Granted, he was fortune enough to have a family member who could introduce him to the field of work he actually wanted to work in, so maybe it wasn’t that much of a problem. But Hajime supposed he wasn’t one to talk. He didn’t even know what he wanted to do after he graduated.

He shook his head in order to clear his thoughts. “Anyway,” he steeled himself and met Souda’s gaze again. “To answer your question, yes, it was me who decided to take the entrance exam.”

“Huh. Really?” Souda looked confused, as if it was hard to believe, “Your parents didn’t suggest it or something?”

“No, my mother was against it,” he spoke without thinking, throwing the words out into the open with a lack of care he couldn’t believe managed to slip past the walls he built around himself.

The moment he realized what he had said was the moment his blood froze in his veins, his lungs stopped accepting air, and his throat was blocked by a heavy lump of regret that he couldn’t seem to swallow. He didn’t mean to say that, to admit it.

Because now that it was said out loud, his mind started to think about the reason why his mother had wanted him to overthink his decision so much, and the only reason he could come up with was because she knew. She knew why he choose this high school out of all his options and why he was so desperate to get good grades, better scores.

And all that was, again, something he didn’t want to think about.

Souda was staring at him with wide eyes. Not comically wide, only minimally wide, but it was wide enough to be noticeable. He was obviously confused, even slightly hesitating to say something, “Uh, then…why did you—”

“I have to catch my train, you know?” the words were falling out of his mouth, somehow managing to squeeze through his still constricted throat. “So, if that was all you wanted to ask, I’ll be going now.”

He turned around and started to walk away, not waiting for any kind of response. It didn’t take long for Souda to catch up to him again, though.

“I still don’t think I totally get your reasons,” he said, maintaining his rare serious tone. “But…whatever, I guess. I’ll figure it out, just you wait!”

Hajime would rather he didn’t, but he wasn’t going to say that. Instead, he let the relief he felt from Souda dropping the subject lighten the weight that was squishing his insides. He could lower his guard a little, stepping away from the edge he had been standing on. That act of relaxing brought some questions of his own into his mind, though.

With the main gate coming closer and closer, giving him an opportunity to simply run if this turned out to be a bad decision, he asked, “Why are you so interested in that, anyway?”

He never wondered about it before, even though these instances of Souda asking him about Hope’s Peak Academy’s system or what Hajime did in his free time had already occurred a number of times. He felt like he should’ve asked the meaning behind this sooner, but for some reason he couldn’t remember ever being suspicious of it or wanting an explanation for Souda’s behavior.

“I’m not sure I’d call it interested, honestly.” Souda made a humming sound as he took a moment to think, “I’m just trying to figure ya out, y’know? But unlike you, I don’t really care about educational crap or school in general, so it’s more difficult than I thought it’d be.”

Hajime wasn’t sure what he should think of that. Something about what Souda said didn’t feel right to him, but he couldn’t pin point it and since his mind didn’t supply him with any kind of reaction, simply continuing to be a blank void of nothingness, he settled for accepting that statement at face value and leaving it at that. He’d probably forget about it in a few minutes, anyway.

They passed through Hope’s Peak’s main gate and were now standing on the wide sidewalk along a small, not too busy street. From here, Hajime had to turn left in order to get to the nearest train station. Souda had to go in the opposite direction.

“Well,” almost naturally, Hajime raised his hand to give Souda a small wave. “See you tomorrow, Souda.”

Over the duration of last week, he had gotten used to saying goodbye to Souda, and because of certain events Satou as well, without feeling awkward about it. He was weirdly proud of that accomplishment.

“Yup, see ya!” Souda’s greetings and farewells still sounded much more energetic and sincere than Hajime’s, though, but he did mean it. He just couldn’t project that into his voice very well. Souda didn’t seem to mind, at least. Or he didn’t notice, which was the more likely possibility.

Either way, Hajime didn’t want to stand around at the gate for too long. He turned his back to Souda and started walking. He wasn’t stopped or called after, which meant he was now completely alone with his thoughts. And Lucky, but he didn’t like to type while he walked, so that had to wait until he was at the station.

He was trying to go over the material that would probably be necessary to know in tomorrow’s exams in preparation for later, but the nagging feeling and doubt at Souda’s words right before they parted ways wouldn’t leave him alone. The closer he came to the station, the more the feeling seemed to grow. It slowly begun to annoy him.

As always whenever a thought refused to leave him alone, his mind wanted to take it apart and search for the cause, not stopping until he could say with certainty he understood even the smallest detail about it.

However, there wasn’t really anything potentially confusing about Souda’s words. He was pretty clear with them, actually. Hajime had no idea what he could possibly gain from “figuring him out”, but maybe he simply wanted to get to know him better? There wasn’t much to know about him, though.

He already knew Souda didn’t care for school, so there wasn’t anything wrong with that, either. It was only natural to have difficulties at wrapping your head around the idea of others studying for hours on end if you weren’t genuinely interested in improving yourself, after all.

Hajime himself still struggled with that. It was why he had to force his attention on the teacher in class or read his textbooks from cover to back and from back to cover again. Most students were able to keep up with just two or three hours of studying a day, sometimes they maybe even only needed one hour, but that was still not enough for Hajime.

His brain was fickle when it came to that, like a broken filter. Some things occasionally stuck with him, but most of it wasn’t captured in his memory and disappeared again in a vast darkness, impossible to reach. Until he revised everything, to make sure it was stored in his long-term memory.

Perhaps it would be easier if he could actually bring himself to care about the things you were taught in school, but he wasn’t made for that kind of thing. He knew that.

He also knew that it still was what society expected of him, what he had to do if he wanted everything to go back to how things were before he entered middle school, so he kept doing it anyway.

He had no guarantee if it would work, but it was the only thing he had been able to think of at the time that managed to push him back up from the ground again. Even if he was suffering under the pressure, and he lost himself more and more somewhere in-between the lines of his notes, he had to keep going.

Of course, if he could’ve been born with the same genius brain that had been gifted to Izuru, everything would be much easier.

In fact, he wouldn’t even be in this situation. He wouldn’t have to force knowledge into his brain the way he did now, even though he didn’t care for such knowledge one tiny little bit. If he could’ve just been smart from the very beginning, his father wouldn’t have left. Of that, he was certain.

However, that wasn’t the case, and so there was only a single thing he could do.

If he could fulfill society’s expectations, his life wouldn’t end up being wasted. And if he could turn out to be a promising member of society, the kind of hope that Hope’s Peak Academy was said to create, surely his father would come back.

The reason he started all of this wasn’t because he cared about his grades or school in general. It was something entirely different. It was also something impossible. Anything he did now was already too late.

The unwanted thought conveying that—the reality he tried to bury earlier under the pretense of wanted success—managed to slip into his conscience, slowly and silently. It slung itself around his throat, cutting off his breath.

It wasn’t the only thing to be cut off. His denial was no longer a possible escape. He had to admit it once the truth had completely entered his mind.

His reason for studying? For torturing his brain? For locking himself away in his room? For forgetting who he was? For turning into a blank slate with no dreams, no hobbies, no friends, no personality, no self?

There wasn’t one. It stopped existing a few years ago.

But by then, there was nothing of him left. There had been no way out, no way to reverse the change, and now he was nothing. Absolutely nothing. Not even the lie he told himself—the lie of a reason to continue what he was doing—couldn’t save him anymore.

The safe place he had crafted for himself was crumbling, being ripped apart at the seams, and all he could do was stand still and watch it happen.

Everything caught up with him, despite his efforts to escape this inevitability. One thing fell after another, creating a sudden chain reaction, with no starting point of the disaster to be found in the middle of the chaos.

He let his mind, his thoughts, wreak havoc on his brain, on his mental state, while he continued walking, alternating the movement of his left and right foot.

There was no turmoil in his body, no agitated feelings flooding his system. He couldn’t tell if he was simply calm or if he didn’t care. Either option wasn’t any good.

He reached the train station just as his thoughts were gradually coming to a halt. There was still some time left before his train would be arriving, so he stood on the platform, motionless, staring blankly at the train tracks in front of him.

The look in his eyes was probably as empty as his head after another minute or so had passed. The only remaining thoughts were filled with the fears that had developed over the past four years. His fears of being a failure, a disappointment, a replaceable human that no one would miss should he disappear.

In a weird way, the feeling of his worries weighing on his chest, his lungs, his heart, was comforting him.

He didn’t have a goal anymore, but he still had his fears. As long as he made sure to never disappoint anyone again, despite the disappointment that he was, there was still a reason for him to exist, to do what he did for the past four years.

He clung to that thought—these fears, desperately, as if his life depended on it. Maybe it actually did.

10/15

He didn’t manage to avoid Izuru today. He was still ignoring him, so at least he didn’t have to deal with those piercing red eyes. It didn’t make the air in the train any easier to breathe, but it was something.

During the train ride, Hajime refused to think. He kept his mind busy by counting the number of people inside the train, then who many of these were carrying bags, then anyone with a blue piece of clothing, and so on.

Eventually, the train stopped at his destination and he rushed outside as fast as he could squeeze his body through the crowd of people. He knew Izuru was following close behind but that was better than having him walking at the front.

They didn’t exchange any words during the rest of the way, though they hadn’t talked before either, and thankfully reached their house quickly. Or maybe Hajime’s steps were just bigger than usual.

He knew his mother was at home since it was a Wednesday, but he instead of simply ringing the bell, he pulled out his key and unlocked the small front gate. He was hoping to avoid a confrontation with her that way. He hadn’t been able to look at her at all yesterday, nor to say a single thing throughout the whole afternoon and evening, and he was afraid she might have noticed something was wrong.

Walking up to the front door, he opened it as quietly as he could manage, blocking out the feeling of Izuru’s presence behind his back. No doubt he thought he was being weird, but Hajime tried not to care.

Once inside, he rushed to take off his shoes. The moment he looked up, though, he was greeted with the sight of his mother standing in the open door to the living room, looking at him with soft eyes and a small worried smile. Hajime’s blood froze in his veins, his body turning rigid.

“Welcome back, Hajime. Izuru-kun,” she threw an acknowledging glance and a nod over Hajime’s shoulder at the mention of Izuru’s name, but her eyes were back on him in a flash. Hajime felt a chill when he stared back, although her gaze wasn’t cold in the slightest.

He avoided looking at her by directing his eyes to the floor and to the side, preventing even the smallest glimpse of her to reach his vision. He still felt her stare on him, of course, but it made it easier to bring the words he wanted to say into the open, even if they were more mumbled than spoken, “Do you want something?”

“What makes you say that?” her voice was light but knowing. Maybe a little concerned, too.

Hajime answered with silence. He heard Izuru shuffling his feet behind him but didn’t bother to think anything into it. He wouldn’t be able to figure him out, anyway.

When it became apparent that he wouldn’t say anything else, his mother let out a deep sigh. She sounded tired all of a sudden, “Listen, Hajime, I know it’s a difficult subject for you, but… Only one more time, I want to talk about—”

“No! There’s nothing more to say! Just—Stop, will you?” That came out louder than he had wanted it to, but he couldn’t hold back the panic that was flaring up inside him. It was probably laced with a little too much desperation as well. He was glad he couldn’t see his mother’s reaction.

“I won’t stop until you stop,” her voice wasn’t loud, but still strong, carrying nothing but worry and maybe a tiny bit anxiousness. It was enough to make Hajime’s ears ring as if she had let out a scream instead.

He was almost inclined to ask what he was supposed to stop, but he was sure he already knew the answer. And as with most things that were currently affecting his life, he didn’t want to hear it. As long as it didn’t sneak into his thoughts or was outright said, he could pretend it wasn’t there, didn’t exist, had nothing to do with him.

“…Fine,” his grip on his bag’s straps tightened while his free hand curled into a fist, his nails digging into his skin. “I have no idea what you mean, but fine. Whatever. Excuse me.”

He stepped forward, walking towards the stairs to the second floor, hoping his mother wouldn’t try to reach out for him when he passed her. She didn’t. It almost made him let go of a relived sigh, feeling his body starting to relax again before he even reached the first step.

In hindsight, he probably shouldn’t have let his guard down so quickly. He had one foot on the stairs, the other still on the hallway’s floorboards, when he was forced to stop dead in his tracks by his mother’s voice.

“I’m not like him, Hajime, you know that,” she was still quiet, but her words were rushed. The crack in her composure was obvious.

He should make her stop, but his mind was racing too much to come up with anything to say or do, and his body refused to move, frozen in place once more. It felt like a repeat of yesterday, one that came so much sooner than he would’ve liked.

“I don’t care about your grades, or—or what school you graduate from,” his mother continued, unaware of the effect her words had on him. “It’s alright if you care about that, but do you? Is it important to you?”

Hajime had a passing thought about how this conversation—if it could be called that—was taking place right in front of Izuru, but he had no time to consider it further.

His mother’s words settled into the forefront of his mind, demanding his attention. He refused to give them any, though, to think about them and properly recognize their meaning. She had already told him that years ago, so it was nothing new and he didn’t need to make a point of remembering it or seriously considering her words. He had it under control. It was fine.

It was fine. He started telling himself that in his mind, over and over, like a mantra, as if he was trying to overpower the volume of his mother’s voice with his thoughts. It was fine.

“It’s your decision what you want to do, whatever it is, okay?” She continued, mercilessly, “I don’t want you to do things that you yourself don’t want to do. And you know that, right?”

It was a question, but he wasn’t sure if she wanted an answer.

“Hajime, please talk to me.”

As if he needed to say anything if she could read his thoughts.

Even if she wanted him to say something, he didn’t know what to say. Honestly, Hajime had enough of this. His mother had brought up this topic so many times, trying to keep track of the number started to feel exhausting. He was tired.

Something inside him was boiling over, releasing a sort of anger that was burning hot and shivering cold at the same time, making him want to slam doors closed behind him and simultaneously to just collapse on the spot and never move again.

He said the feeling was anger, but it was really just a desperate need for an excuse. But he was Hinata Hajime, so naturally he only managed to come up with the most pathetic and predictable excuse ever—that was probably overused, too. He could at least aim for a half-way believable delivery.

Ignoring the heavy thumping of his heart, telling him this was a bad idea, he angled his body in a way that allowed him to look at his mother without having to strain his neck, while keeping his foot positioned on the stairs. Het met her pleading brown eyes with his own, fighting the urge to look away immediately.

“Well, what if I just want to do this? To study? Ever thought of that?” His voice’s volume was at a normal level, though his tone was probably a little harsher than usual.

He didn’t mean for it to be, but it was getting more and more difficult to keep his emotions locked away, and maybe he should just give up and let them run free. But he was afraid of the consequences, so he kept trying to keep them at a low level. It started to hurt, though, somehow, as if his organs were being crushed.

His mother didn’t let herself get intimidated, despite the obvious cracks in her determined expression, “Of course I have, and it’s okay if you care about your grades, but—”

“But what? If it’s okay, then stop talking about it! Stop bringing it up!”

Something snapped and Hajime felt the words tumble out of his mouth without his consent, sounding angry or panicked or scared or all three of these things at once.

“It’s my decision! Isn’t it? You say you want me to do what I decided, so—just—stop talking like you don’t accept that decision! It’s none of your business!”

It pained him, yelling at his mother. It really did. He knew she wasn’t doing anything wrong. Or maybe she did. Probably not, though. He didn’t know.

She wasn’t saying anything. She was giving him this blank but knowing look, and it occurred to him that maybe she was hurting, too. Guilt was flooding him, threatening to trap him in its current. She didn’t seem mad at least, but she stayed silent. It made it worse.

Izuru wasn’t saying anything, either. He just stood there, awkwardly, in the middle of the entrance. Hajime saw it from the corner of his eye.

More seconds passed and all he wanted to do was run away, leave this scene, forget all about it and pretend it never happened. He slowly teared his eyes away from his mother back onto the stairs he wanted to climb. He still kind of lingered in place, though, hesitating for some unknown reason.

He took one step, one stair, and his mother spoke again, “For whom did you decide to do this?”

Her question was like a small pebble stone being thrown against a window. It created a single small crack, but that crack grew quickly until the glass resembled a spider web and the view of the outside was distorted beyond recognition.

“Is it for yourself?” One more crack. “Or someone else?” And the window broke.

Hajime felt as if glass splinter were shoved down his throat. He couldn’t breathe, he couldn’t speak, and when he tried his vision went dark for the fraction of a second. His body was shaking, trembling, but felt too stiff to move.

There was a hand gentle gripping his shoulder and a shock went through him, releasing his muscles from their frozen state. Reflexively pushing away the hand, he broke into a sprint up the stairs, ignoring the cry of his name in his mother’s voice.

The second he entered his room, he slammed the door shut behind him and let his body fall against it with all its weight. His school bag slid off his arm, reaching the floor with a loud thud, and Hajime more or less followed it, his legs refusing to hold him up any longer.

The air inside his room was stuffy, probably because of the closed window, but at least he could breathe a little now that he was alone. He nerves were still on high alert, though. Especially with his mother’s last question, the one he ran away from, still ringing in his ears.

He pulled his phone out of his pocket with trembling fingers, switching its settings from silent to sounds like he always did. With a sinking heart, he noticed the lack of new messages, the lack of a distraction. And just like that, even the smallest hope of escaping his thoughts was taken away from him.

He had no clue for whom he was doing all of this. He was scared of failing, of not achieving anything, that much was true—but why was he scared of that?

He never cared about his grades, personally. Sitting in class, listening to teachers—it was a pain and the majority of subjects didn’t interest him in the slightest. In elementary school and at the start of his first year in middle school he had always been slightly below the average, but not low enough to be considered dumb by the other kids, and that was all he had been afraid of back then.

It was more than obvious by now that his mother didn’t care about his achievements in school, either. It wouldn’t be wrong to say that Hajime could never disappoint her, even if he tried. He knew he didn’t need to be scared of failing her.

But other than his mother, there was no one else whose opinion mattered to him enough to make him push himself like that, for whom he would study all day long.

There was his father, of course, but he didn’t hear a word from him in four years. He probably didn’t spend a single second thinking about him. Maybe he even found a new family, like Hajime’s mother did. The thought made his heart ache, but it was an undeniable possibility.

He couldn’t just say he was doing it for society, either. Until he could make a name for himself, society didn’t care. He wasn’t oblivious to the large number of student suicides or deaths from overworking in Japan. No one cared whether he was a disappointment or not.

In the end, there was no reason for him to continue.

Really, even his fear of failure didn’t have any reason to exist. In a way, it also meant Hajime didn’t have a reason to exist. The last four years that led to the life he had right now were entirely based on these fears, after all. Without them, all that was left of him was an absolute nothingness.

It was the same realization he had yesterday, yet it felt so much worse. Maybe because he truly didn’t have any sort of excuse to overlook the truth anymore.

Surprisingly though, his body had stopped trembling. It was still, unmoving, like his mind but unlike his emotions. The door he was leaning against was pressing into his back, but he didn’t feel he had the energy to stand up. His hands were lying in his lap, barely holding onto his phone.

Everything was silent. As if time had stopped, though that was only the feeling he got from it. He could still hear the ticking of the clock on his wall, after all. And if time was frozen, the message sound from his phone wouldn’t be able to echo through the room, either.

…His phone?

Hajime blinked, ending his staring contest with space. Awareness slowly came back to his mind as well as his strength.

His phone signaled a second message and the loose grip he had on it tightened instantly. He felt his heartbeat jump all the way up into his throat. He looked down to unlock the screen, finding his way to his chat with Lucky with practiced ease.

The first message was a picture. Hajime’s eyes went wide, though they quickly shrunk again after he realized it was only depicting a small plant—a green clover. A four-leaved one, to be precise.

It grew on the side of a cobblestone path, hidden beneath a few bushes. Lucky probably had to crouch down to make the picture. How they noticed the clover growing there, though, Hajime had no idea. The bushes should have made a decent job at hiding it.

His eyes drifted to the bottom of the screen, reading the second message that had been sent.

Lucky (13:44) > My luck is rotten to the core, good luck charms like that can’t save it anymore. But you might need this, so here you go!

Hajime frowned. Four-leaved clovers didn’t work that way, right? If there was even any merit to what people said, anyway. And, wait, did clover even grow during this time of the year? Also, Lucky’s weird fixation on luck was back again, and he still didn’t understand.

There were a couple of questions he wanted to ask right now, but he settled for the most trivial of them all. Obviously.

(13:47) >> Why would I need a good luck charm?

Lucky (13:48) > For exams?

A strangled gasp escaped him. He felt lightheaded, the world spinning around him before falling back into place abruptly. His mind was buzzing with thoughts fighting over his attention. He didn’t even try to sort them out.

His fingers started to tremble again as he converted his thoughts into words, writing them down in form of message after message.

(13:50) >> I don’t think luck is going to help much here.

(13:50) >> It’s too late now.

(13:51) >> Everything is ruined.

He was only partially aware of his thump tapping the send button every now and then. Honestly, he didn’t care about what he was writing, or if Lucky could read it. He just didn’t care.

(13:51) >> Everything I did

(13:51) >> Tried to do

(13:51) >> Meaningless.

(13:52) >> I don’t even know why I tried so hard.

(13:52) >> I should have just given up from the start.

Lucky (13:52) > Um…

(13:52) >> What was the meaning in dragging this out for so long?

(13:53) >> It’s the same conclusion either way.

Lucky (13:53) > …Nobody?

(13:53) >> Seriously, I’ve just been wasting my time with nothing.

(13:53) >> There never was any way of saving this.

(13:53) >> What a joke.

He couldn’t stop an empty laugh from bursting out of his throat—though it kinda got stuck halfway, leaving him wheezing for air and doubling over onto the floor as his body tried to laugh and breathe and cough at the same time. His hands were clutching his phone, holding it with so much strength he wouldn’t be surprised if it suddenly broke in half.

And despite his uncomfortable position, the bad condition of his body, he continued to type.

(13:54) >> I’m so useless.

(13:54) >> So irrelevant

(13:54) >> Why did this happen

(13:54) >> Everything was fine

Lucky (13:54) > This is a dumb question, but are you okay?

(13:55) >> So why am

He lost his grip on his phone. It fell to the floor with a loud clatter of its case, Hajime’s body falling over to the side soon after. He lied there, motionless, staring at his phone lying next to his head.

“I don’t know,” he whispered to himself, aware that Lucky couldn’t hear his answer, but he didn’t stop. “I don’t know. I—don’t know.”

He was trembling again, shaking, shivering. His whole body was, violently, but his whispers continued, only broken by a few desperate gasps for air, “I don’t—don’t know. I don’t kn—know. I don’t—know. I—”

His voice was interrupted by his phone.

He held his breath, the words stopping to fall out of his mouth. He almost didn’t want to reach for it, but just lying there on his room’s floor was his only other option and, to be honest, he didn’t want it to become his only option. He didn’t have the energy to sit up, though, so he moved to turn his phone on its side to read what Lucky had written.

However, his limbs were reacting slowly to the signals his brain was sending them, and by the time he had a clear view of the phone’s screen, the number of unread messages was three.

Lucky (13:57) > I’m going to take this silence as a No, then.

Lucky (13:58) > Anyway. I might not know what happened exactly, but if I had to make a guess, I’d say some unfortunate events took place, and with one thing leading to another, your life was ruined.

Hajime flinched at the accuracy of that guess.

If he hadn’t listened to what Souda wanted to ask yesterday, reality wouldn’t have found a way into his conscience, his mother wouldn’t have a reason to ask him that question, and he wouldn’t be lying here, on the floor of his own room, with no strength left in him.

If only he wouldn’t have spaced out after the exam was over. If only he had ignored Souda like he did before. If only he hadn’t felt an obligation to listen to him.

If only he hadn’t started considering him a friend, this never would have happened.

A shiver ran through Hajime as the thought truly hit him. It was filled with such negativity and bitterness, he felt sick to the stomach for a good second or two. It might be true that this could have been avoided that way, but he didn’t want to regret calling Souda his friend.

If he did that, he’d have to regret befriending Lucky as well. His connection to them was why he managed to open up to Souda in the first place, after all. He didn’t want that. It was like proving their words of hatred aimed at themselves as right, and he couldn’t allow that.

How he found the energy to keep holding onto that resolve, he didn’t know, but it grounded him and the mess that was his head. He kept lying on the floor, though, finally reading the last of Lucky’s messages.

Lucky (13:58) > I don’t expect you to accept my apology, but for all it’s worth, I’m truly sorry.

Hajime had to read the text again to understand the words. Even then, he wasn’t sure if Lucky was really saying what he thought they were saying. It didn’t make much sense to him, but he supposed it was easier if he just asked.

It was a little difficult to write while lying on his side. He still didn’t make a move to change that, though, even if it decreased his writing speed.

(14:04) >> Why are you apologizing?

Lucky (14:05) > It’s okay to blame me. No need to forgive me, either.

His brow furrowed in confusion. Was he missing something? Whatever it was, he was getting a bad feeling from this.

(14:06) >> What are you talking about?

Lucky (14:07) > I know you called me your friend multiple times, but you really don’t need to hold back. I’m used to people blaming me for the wrongs that happened in their lives, and they’re right! So it’s okay, Nobody. I understand.

…What?

Hajime could only stare blankly at the screen, trying to wrap his head around the concept of being blamed for ruining someone else’s life.

He didn’t even feel that way about Lucky. Maybe their influence on him was partially responsible, but it was still Hajime himself who ultimately decided not to ignore Souda. It was also Hajime who had gotten careless with his thoughts and didn’t pay attention in what direction they had been headed. And it was his mother’s question that destroyed the last thing upholding his resolve.

It really wasn’t Lucky’s fault at all, but they were pushing all the blame on themselves, because apparently that was a normal thing to happen to them? Hajime felt something inside his chest twist harshly at the thought.

If anyone had to be blamed for this situation, it was him.

(14:10) >> I’m not blaming you for this, Lucky. This has nothing to do with you.

Lucky (14:11) > You don’t mean that.

(14:11) >> I do.

He wondered if this was why Lucky grew to hate themselves so much. It was only understandable if they got told they ruined someone’s life so many times, they simply got used to it. That thought hurt just like the other one.

He quickly wrote a new message before Lucky could.

(14:12) >> It’s the truth.

Lucky (14:12) > Huh?

(14:12) >> Please believe me.

That sounded kind of desperate, but he really didn’t want them to put more unfounded blame on their shoulders.

Lucky (14:13) > …

(14:14) >> It’s my own fault and I don’t want you to somehow suffer for it. Do you get that?

Hajime waited, but there was no answer.

He didn’t know what else to say, so he didn’t say anything. He dropped the hand holding his phone onto the floor, his head and upper body slowly rolling over, his eyes staring at the ceiling. He didn’t know what else he was supposed to do now.

The silence in the room was like a weight on his chest, thick and heavy, preventing him from even attempting to sit up.

After a while, he started to feel an odd sense of weightlessness. Maybe because he didn’t feel the need to do anything anymore, to live up to someone’s expectations. He always thought a feeling like that would be comparable to freedom or happiness—no, bliss. But right now, he could only feel emptiness inside him, holding him in a tight grip, pulling him into a bottomless pit.

He knew there was a word for this feeling.

His phone made a sound, yanking him out of his thoughts and leaving him breathless for a second. His arm felt too heavy to move, so he turned his head to look at the screen. It was Lucky.

Lucky (14:19) > You truly do not blame me? You’re being sincere?

(14:20) >> Yes. Please don’t blame yourself.

Lucky (14:20) > Why? Because I’m a friend to you?

(14:20) >> Yes.

Lucky (14:21) > Hm…

Hajime couldn’t tell if they believed him. He didn’t really know why it was so important to him, either. It wouldn’t change the situation in the slightest, no matter who blamed who for what. Still, the thought of Lucky carrying a blame that didn’t belong to them made him sick. It wasn’t right.

Another message arrived, quickly followed by a second one. And a third.

Lucky (14:22) > It seems you still have enough hope left to care…

Lucky (14:22) > If you were fully consumed by despair, you wouldn’t care much about anything anymore, after all.

Lucky (14:22) > I’m glad.

Hajime stared at the texts. He wasn’t sure he understood what they were saying, but at least it wasn’t about someone’s blame anymore. He wondered if he could ask for an explanation, but maybe he should just focus on their last message and move on.

(14:23) >> What is there to be glad about?

Lucky (14:23) > Isn’t it obvious? There’s still a chance for you to get back on the right path.

(14:23) >> It’s “track”.

And that was an automatic response. He only realized he typed it after he tapped the send button. It made their conversation almost feel completely normal again, as if it was just another day of him and Lucky going through their usual back and forth. It warmed his heart but hurt at the same time.

Lucky (14:24) > Same thing.

Lucky (14:24) > Anyway, Nobody! Do you think you could tell me what happened?

Lucky (14:25) > If you don’t want to go into detail, the gist of it is fine too.

Was he confused by that sudden change of topic? Maybe, but not really. Actually, it didn’t come as a surprise. It wasn’t unusual for Lucky to do something like that.

The real question was if he should tell them anything.

Telling them would mean he had to think over everything again and put it into proper words. It could bring a whole new wave of pain. He was admitting to someone else how meaningless his actions had been, after all.

But that also meant he could possibly get a clearer picture on it, one that wasn’t all over the place and stirring up a mess inside his brain. Like on that night last month, when his mother’s words echoing in his ears didn’t let him sleep. Talking to Lucky had helped him back then.

Hajime had jokingly called it a therapy session. It was fine if he wanted a second one, right? It seemed like they were offering.

Slowly, he turned over on his side again, giving both his thumps access to the phone’s screen so he could write a little faster. He paused several times, erased a sentence, tried to think of a fitting word, started over again, until he could deem the message as okay. It was long but okay.

Taking a deep breath to reassure himself, he tapped send.

(14:34) >> I already knew this for some time, but I refused to admit it. I wanted things to stay the same, always. Because if something changed again, I would lose something again. That’s what I thought, at least. I didn’t lose anything when “meeting” you, and I didn’t lose anything when I decided to actually become friends with my classmate, and I’m actually glad both these things happened, so I know now that change isn’t an indication for loss. But if the loss comes before you accept the change, that’s a different story. You see, my parents are divorced. It was my fault. My mother moved on, but I couldn’t. I tried my best to get my father back, but whatever I did, I wasn’t good enough, so I kept trying, and when my mother remarried a few years later that was all I ever did anymore so I kept doing it. I ignored that it was pointless. But I can’t do that anymore. It’s meaningless and I know that. I have nothing to do anymore. I am nothing. And that’s all.

It was exhausting, waiting for an answer. He knew reading his message would take them some time, and thinking of a reply, too, but still. It was low-key nerve wrecking and he wished it would be over already.

Funnily enough, the moment his phone signaled a new text, he almost didn’t want to read it. He knew that wasn’t an option, though.

Lucky (14:36) > I see. You lost sight of what was keeping you going. Though that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s gone, you know?

(14:36) >> What do you mean?

Lucky (14:37) > It’s simple. If you focus on what you lost, you can’t go on. But if you focus on what you still have, you can draw strength from that.

What he still had… What did he still have?

His mind immediately supplied him with Lucky’s name, but he didn’t know what to do with that. He supposed he still had Souda, too, and maybe Satou—just maybe. He didn’t know what she thought of him, after all. He didn’t want to assume anything simply because she spent a few lunch breaks with him and Souda while Koizumi didn’t have any time.

He wondered if he still had his mother. Probably, but he wasn’t comfortable thinking about it. The memory of what happened earlier made his heart ache. It wasn’t exactly helping this situation any.

To be honest, he didn’t know how any of that could help him. He wasn’t close to Souda or Satou and Lucky was just words on a screen. It didn’t change the fact that he was useless, that he couldn’t achieve anything, that he was a failure and a disappointment.

(14:38) >> I’m sorry, but I don’t think that works…

Lucky (14:38) > Are you sure? Are there no remains of what has been driving you after the remarriage?

He had no idea were Lucky was going with this nor if he should play along with it. Wasn’t this going in a rather negative direction? Then again, he doubted he could get any lower than this, so might as well.

So, he tried to search for an answer to Lucky’s question.

After his mother married Kazuki… That was about a little more than a year and a half ago, pretty close to Hope’s Peak Academy’s entrance exams. He didn’t think he had the right to object to it, so he just kinda let it happen.

He stopped telling himself he was doing this for his father after that, since he couldn’t acknowledge it anymore without having to accept the fact that it was impossible now. So, what did he use as a substitute?

The same thing he tried to use yesterday. His fears of failure, of disappointment. He still didn’t want to fail or disappoint anyone, but there was nothing to fail and no one to disappoint, was there? His fears were unfounded.

(14:40) >> I guess my fears are still there, but I don’t see how that is supposed to give me strength.

Lucky (14:40) > What are you afraid of, if you don’t mind me asking?

Should Hajime tell them that? He hesitated for all but two seconds before his fingers moved quickly over the screen. He already came this far, he couldn’t back out now.

(14:41) >> To fail. To disappoint.

Lucky (14:41) > Fail at what?

He didn’t know. He didn’t know. If he failed any exams, no one would care. What was there left to fail at? Memorizing? Taking notes? Reading? Writing? Counting? Tying shoelaces? Eating? Breathing? Living?

…Oh.

(14:41) >> At live, I guess…

Lucky (14:42) > Alright. Disappoint who?

That was the question, wasn’t it? Who cared about his life? His mother?

He couldn’t imagine Souda would care much. He doubted there was anything Izuru cared about, and Hajime was the one who didn’t care about Kazuki, so none of that would work.

Before he could further think about it, a new message interrupted his thoughts.

Lucky (14:42) > Well, I ask who, but if you’re afraid of failing at live, then there’s really only one person you could ever truly disappoint. And that’s yourself.

Lucky (14:42) > I know for a fact that you still have the capacity to care, Nobody. The only question remaining is what you care about.

It was as if all air had been punched out of him. He felt lightheaded. That was such a simple conclusion to come to. He couldn’t say anything against that statement, either. Did that mean Lucky was right? Was it really that easy?

Lucky (14:43) > So, you better hurry up and find your answer to that! It will be a new, even brighter hope! You can do it!

He…could?

It was silent during the moments it took for his brain to process Lucky’s words. As if it was caught in form of stasis between understanding them and not being able to make any sense of it.

When was the last time Hajime did anything truly for himself? For his well-being? When did he stop to care about himself? If he would have continued like this, if he wouldn’t have been forced to acknowledge the change that happened around him, would this have ended in self-destruction?

This time, instead of being deprived of air, it rushed into him with a sharp gasp. His eyes stung. Blinking quickly to get rid of the feeling, Hajime willed himself to regulate his breathing. His heart was beating wildly in his chest.

The grip he had on his phone strengthened. He accidentally pressed the button to turn off the screen, but he was too overwhelmed to really care about that.

His body wanted to curl into a ball, but he refused, forcing his arms to lift his upper body off the floor instead. He managed to move his legs, too, turning them so he could support himself with his knees. With the hand that wasn’t still clutching his phone, he put his weight on the small table in his room to slowly push himself back up into a standing position.

The room was spinning for a second, but that feeling ebbed away quickly. It was then that he realized how stuffy the air inside his room actually was. He really should open up the window for a bit.

Making that his current objective, he started walking over to the window above his bed.

It was strange, but the more steps he took forward, the more he felt as if he was leaving something behind. It wasn’t a bad feeling, though. It was freeing, in a way, and the weight of his phone in his hand only amplified that feeling.

When he opened the window and let fresh air replace the old one inside his room, Hajime couldn’t help but take a deep breath, pressing his phone to his chest, close to his heart.

This felt like a new start. Well, not entirely. There were still some old things left, like Souda and maybe Satou. And Lucky. He wasn’t on his own. There were other people that he could depend on, if only a little. It was reassuring, at the very least.

He figured he had to get used to having nothing specific to work towards for a while, but maybe he would be able to find something in time. Something that he wanted to do for himself and not someone else.

When his mother was talking about how she wanted him to make decisions for himself, this must’ve been what she meant. Hajime felt the urge to apologize for his outburst earlier, but he wanted to focus on other things first.

Sitting down on his bed, his back against the windowsill, he unlocked his phone screen. His chat with Lucky was still open, so all he had to do was type out his message. It sounded a little formal to him, something he rarely was, but it also sounded sincerer than the short version.

When he tapped the send button and the text appeared above that blank white bar, Hajime felt warmth pooling in his chest, bringing the tiniest of smiles to his lips.

(14:56) >> Thank you very much.


In Hope’s Peak Academy’s courtyard, a boy sat at a fountain on a bench in the cold autumn breeze. He was staring at a message on his phone, holding his breath. His of kindness deprived heart was squeezing painfully as a gentle warmth enveloped it, like the spring with cherry blossoms in full bloom.

“I don’t deserve your thanks,” he said to no one in particular. “No matter what you say, it was still my fault.”

The boy held a four-leaved clover in one hand, twirling it between his fingers. If he twirled it fast enough, it almost looked like a circle. A circle made of luck. He couldn’t tell who it would pick next. Himself or the one behind that string of numbers on his phone. He didn’t want it to be the other one. It was his curse, and his alone.

The hand holding the clover clenched into a fist. He had to do something about his luck. Before it could reach anyone other than himself. Before it could reach that clueless nobody. Even if it was the last thing he did.

Chapter Text

10/16

It was Thursday and the midterm exams were officially over since about fifteen minutes.

Despite everything that happened yesterday or—no, because of everything that happened yesterday, Hajime had tried to work through the questions to the best of his abilities. It could’ve been worse, honestly.

He didn’t manage to answer all of them, and he had panicked over that for a moment, but once the time was up, the teacher had the papers, and he could leave the classroom, he could breathe easy again. He had a good feeling about the answers that he did manage to write, and that was a first, so he was doing fine.

He didn’t have to worry about running into Izuru, either, since the Main Course still had two more hours of exams after a thirty-minutes lunch break and they weren’t allowed to leave the building thanks to that.

Izuru’s presence was still something unpleasant to Hajime, and he wasn’t sure whether that could change any time soon. He simply reminded him of too many things he didn’t have—even if he accepted the loss or nonexistence of these things, the thought was still capable of hurting him. There was also the fact that he could never tell what he was thinking, but that was a different story.

Well, anyway, he shouldn’t be thinking about Izuru right now. Not when Satou was suddenly throwing a can from the vending machine at him. It almost hit his head if he didn’t place both hands in front of his face in time.

“Oh, nice catch!” Satou smirked at him, and he couldn’t tell if she was being sarcastic or not. While he did manage to get a hold of the can before it fell to the ground, the image couldn’t have been very graceful.

“Next time, give me a warning,” he shot her an unamused glare, but her smirk only seemed to grow, so he let it slide and lowered his gaze on the can that was now in his hands. It was green tea. He shrugged and opened the lid.

Leaning against the back of the bench he was sitting on, he took a small sip. It was cold, and so was the weather, but it severed as a good way to calm down the last remaining nerves from the exams, so he took another sip without complaining.

Of course, Souda had a different opinion. The moment Satou handed him his drink, he grimaced and looked at the can as if it personally offended him, “Why did you take the cold stuff?”

“The other machine was out of order,” Satou said, her tone indifferent. She sat down at the other end of the bench, opening her can with a huff.

The space between her and Hajime was occupied by Souda’s feet and legs. He was sitting on top of the bench’s back for whatever reason. Hajime doubted it was very comfortable, and there was the threat of falling into the fountain behind them, too, but Souda didn’t let himself be talked out of it, so if anything happened, Hajime could at least say he told him so.

“You can’t celebrate the end of exams with cold drinks in autumn!” Souda continued.

Hajime gave him a quick side glance, debating whether he should get involved in this argument. He supposed he had nothing to lose here, so he said, “It’s not that cold. And your body heat will warm it up eventually, anyway.”

“Whose side are you on?” Souda fixed him with narrowed eyes and a frown, looking betrayed. Hajime winced inwardly.

“Quit complaining and drink. I spent money on this,” Satou ended the conversation with a smack to Souda’s leg.

The amount of force she put into it was probably a little too much. Souda was flailing wildly with his arms for a second, trying to escape the earth’s gravity, before doubling over and resting his arms on his knees to recover from the sudden imbalance.

“Hey! That hurts, you know?” He glared at her, though it didn’t look very intimidating. She only gave a shrug in response. He rubbed a hand over the spot on his leg she had hit, wincing lightly. “This is gonna bruise, I just know it,” he was more grumbling than speaking, but it was still understandable.

Satou rolled her eyes, “It’s not my fault you’re weak.”

There was more grumbling from Souda, quieter this time. He suddenly leaned closer to Hajime, asking in a normal conversation volume, “Why did we decide to hang out with her again?”

“Because she offered?” Hajime looked at him questioningly. He basically just went along with whatever the two of them were talking about after the exams, which was how he ended up sitting on this bench instead of being on his way home.

“Yeah, but she did more or less ignore us for the last three days,” he was sneaking side glances at Satou as if she wasn’t sitting less than a meter away from him. She also definitely heard him.

She let out a sigh mixed with an annoyed kind of huff, her posture slumping a little. After a small sip from her tea she said, “Monday was the birthday of a friend of mine and Mahiru from the Main Course, and we all met up immediately after the exams to celebrate. I didn’t have time to talk to you guys.”

“And the other two days?” Souda abandoned all pretense, sitting up straight again and slightly turning to face her, “What about them?”

“W-well, those were, uh,” she made a pause, tapping the nail of her index finger continuously against the can in her hand. A faint pink dusted her cheeks as she let go of another huff, “Yeah, okay, I just wanted to meet up with Mahiru as soon as possible. She’s my best friend, it’s not a big deal.”

“The big deal here is that you didn’t say more than a few words to us on these days, but the moment that Mahiru chick is unavailable, you come running back here,” he made some wild gestures as he was talking, ending it with his arms crossed in front of his chest and a suspicious frown aimed at her. “Guess I can’t trust you, huh?”

“What?” Satou’s own brow furrowed while she was sitting up a little bit straighter. She seemed about ready to smack Souda again, “It’s not like that! Those three days are just the only days when school ends at the same time for the Main and Reserve Course. There’s no way I’m not taking advantage of that!”

“Then all four of us could’ve just left the school together,” his voice was surprisingly firm, and so was his stare.

Hajime started to feel like he should stop this conversation before it could get out of hand in any way, but he had no idea what to say, so he kept quiet, silently taking a sip of tea from his can every other second. He was glad he sat at the edge of the bench instead of the middle.

After a moment of silence, Satou’s posture slumped again with a sigh that could’ve easily been replaced with the words I’m so done with this. Instead, however, she said, “Look, I get that I shouldn’t have acted as if you guys were, like—I don’t know—an emergency option, or something. Sorry. Can we change the subject now?”

Souda huffed and untangled his arms. Finally opening his drink, he muttered, “You don’t sound very sorry.”

Hajime frowned as he heard that. He glanced at Satou, unsure of what kind of reaction to expect from her. Anger was probably the most likely, or indifference. She didn’t seem to be the type to ignore comments like that, judging from her interactions with Kuzuryuu that he witnessed.

However, she didn’t say anything and simply narrowed her eyes at the ground, her lips tightly pressed together. If Hajime wasn’t imagining things, her cheeks were slowly turning red. For some reason, he felt sorry for her.

One glance at Souda was enough to tell him he was oblivious to Satou’s reaction. After taking one big gulp from his drink, he stared at it with a disgruntled face. He opened his mouth to say something else, but Hajime cut him off before he could do more than inhale the necessary air.

“Souda, I think you should stop now,” he hoped his tone was pacifying enough to not give Souda any more reasons to be angry. He didn’t want to start a fight, after all.

Seeing as he threw Hajime a partially disbelieving partially annoyed look, though, his hopes seemed to be in vain, “Are you taking her side again?”

“No,” denying that sounded ridiculous even to his own ears, “but she apologized, you’re just being petty for dragging this out.”

“Wha—You think I’m the one who’s—”

Souda cut himself off as Satou suddenly jumped up from her place on the bench. She turned around to face them so fast, Hajime was surprised she didn’t appear to be dizzy. Her face was scrunched up in irritation, but it didn’t seem to be directed at either of them.

“Okay. You know what? It’s okay, fine. As I said, I get it, and I get that you’re angry at me, too,” she sent a pointed look to Souda at that, “and maybe I didn’t sound sincere, but I’m really sorry about it, alright? I just… Can’t we talk about some more pleasant things? Please?”

Hajime didn’t know what to do other than to glance back and forth between her and Souda as they stared at each other in silence. Personally, he didn’t hold it against Satou—it was hardly a thing worth mentioning in his opinion—but Souda thought differently for whatever reason.

Or maybe he was simply in a bad mood because the exams didn’t go very well for him. Though, on second thought, he made it pretty clear to Hajime that he didn’t care about grades, so maybe that didn’t have anything to do with it.

Shrugging to himself and averting his eyes to take a sip from his drink, Hajime gave up on figuring it out. It wasn’t important.

Next to him, he heard Souda fidgeting with his uniform, then with his can, and then he spoke in a muffled nervous voice, “Y-yeah, okay. Let—Let’s…forget about it.”

There was no immediate reaction, just awkward silence. An equally awkward nod was given by Satou but no words followed, and after another few seconds, she simply sat back down on the bench and drank her tea. Souda was still kind of fidgeting in his place.

Hajime started wondering if they would stop him if he just stood up and tried to leave. He wanted to escape this weirdly tense atmosphere. It almost gave him the same feeling he had when taking an exam, despite being outside.

“So, uhm…” Satou broke the silence, though only for a moment. She was tapping against her can again, letting the metallic sound fill the space between them.

Eventually, Souda accompanied the sound by tapping his foot on the bench. He was probably just getting impatient by the lack of a follow-up from Satou, though. At least, that was Hajime’s guess. It didn’t sound like good enough of a rhythm to be considered an attempt at creating background music.

His theory was proven when Souda said, in a very questioning tone, “Yeah…?”

“Uh…hey!” Satou’s face lit up slightly, relief obvious in her voice. “Are you guys free tomorrow?”

“Huh?” Souda threw her a weird look, quickly turning his head to Hajime. He only shrugged—which seemed to be the only thing he was still capable of doing—and took, once again, a sip from his can. Shortly after, Souda answered for them both with a huff, “Well, I guess… Why?”

“The school is closed tomorrow, right? Because this was an exams week and all,” she looked at Hajime when asking that question. He simply nodded, prompting her to continue, “Well, why don’t we go do something together, then? It would be more of an end-of-exams-celebration than just sitting here and drinking cold tea.”

“Oh, great idea!” Souda’s voice and posture immediately perked up. Hajime wanted to laugh at how easily his mood seemed to be able to change.

However, his mind was too busy thinking about Satou’s words. It didn’t sound any different from the numerous times that Souda had tried to invite Hajime to hang out with him, and he had refused all these invitations without a second thought, but things were different now. At least, they should be.

The thought of hanging out with his classmates—his friends, he supposed—still caused his stomach to churn uncomfortably. It wasn’t what he was used to. The mere idea was a waste of time to him for so long, he couldn’t stop the thought from entering his mind this time as well.

He didn’t want to think like that, though. It clearly wasn’t a waste of time to Souda and Satou, so it was a normal thing to do, right? He only wished he had any previous experiences to compare it to.

“So, it’s decided?” Satou cut through his thoughts, giving both him and Souda expectant looks.

Her choice of words made Hajime panic, another uncomfortable thought coming to mind, “W-wait, what are we even going to do?”

Souda immediately followed up his question with a shrug, “I dunno. We could just walk around the city. There aren’t any big things happening right now, right?”

“Don’t think so,” Satou’s tone was filled with confidence, but she still pulled out her phone from her bag. If Hajime had to guess, she was probably looking up information about events taking place in their city. Judging by her bored expression, she didn’t seem to find anything, though.

To Hajime’s surprise, Souda picked up on that as well. He scratched the back of his head with one hand, letting go of a quiet resigned sigh, “Eh, whatever. Just walking around sounds good, too, yeah?”

“It’s fine by me,” Satou didn’t put away her phone. She was tapping on the screen a few more times before looking up, straight at Hajime. He could feel Souda’s gaze on him at the same time.

Looking back and forth between them, Hajime noticed they were both wearing expressions filled with some sort of anticipation. They clearly wanted him to state his opinion on the whole thing, but their stares made him feel a little more than slightly on edge. As if the whole thing was a test that he couldn’t afford to fail, but one that he was certainly expected to fail at the same time.

Needless to say, he didn’t like that feeling. He wanted to ignore it, to just say what he was thinking, but was that okay? Would they mind if he did? He felt stupid for considering that possibility, it wasn’t something he would’ve thought much about before, after all, but he really didn’t want to somehow mess this up after everything that happened yesterday.

Avoiding their eyes, Hajime’s gaze traveled to the can in his hand. Specifically, he was looking at the tea that was still inside and visible through the small hole. He lightly swung the can around in his hand, watching waves of tea crash against the walls of its cage. The motion sort of reminded him of the ocean. A very green one, though. And when he thought of green, he thought of the picture of the four-leaved clover Lucky had sent him—the one that was now set as his phone’s lock-screen.

With Lucky, he never had to worry about these things. Every word, every interaction, just felt freer than with anyone else. Sometimes, it was weird to him. Sometimes, it seemed like the most logical thing in the world. It would be nice if everything could be like that.

Not stopping the small movement of his hand nor lifting his eyes from the can’s contents, he made a choice and said, “I’m not sure this will work without a plan, but it’s better than standing around, I guess.”

Silence.

“So…does that mean,” Satou hesitated, “you agree to come?”

“Well, sure. Why not?” Was that not what she had wanted to hear? His throat felt dry all of a sudden. Hajime stopped swinging his can to take a sip out of it.

“Really?!” Souda was suddenly invading his personal space with wide eyes, bending down his upper body from his higher position. Hajime flinched, almost jumping up from the bench, reflexively leaning away from Souda as far as he could.

“Y-yes?” he didn’t mean to stutter, or for that to come out as a question, but it did anyway. “Should I not?”

It didn’t look like Souda heard his question. His eyes began to sparkle before his upper body was upright again in the blink of an eye, his hands clenched to fists in excitement. “Awesome! I thought for sure you’d be too much of a stick-in-the-mud again and say no,” he was grinning from ear to ear.

Hajime wanted to be offended, but he knew he couldn’t blame Souda for thinking that. So, he had to settle for a single disgruntled huff and the grumbled words, “Well, what else am I going to do on a free Friday?”

“Exactly. Good thinking, Hinata,” he reached out and gave Hajime a pat on the head. It was probably because his head was easier to reach than his shoulder at the moment, but it sparked a feeling of irritation inside him. The simple action of pushing Souda into the fountain behind them started to have a certain appeal to him, if he was being honest.

Satou hummed in agreement to Souda, eyes directed at her phone again. “Then it’s settled. I’m going to ask Mahiru if she wants to come, too,” after these words escaped her, she froze. Her gaze snapped up and she blurted out, “If that’s okay, of course!”

Before Souda could say anything, Hajime gave her a quick nod and the words “Sure, do what you want” without thinking about it. A moment later, Souda agreed with an indifferent shrug.

Satou visibly relaxed, going back to doing something on her phone. Hajime used that silence to finish his drink. He honestly had no idea to what he just agreed to, but he supposed it was best not to overthink it.

It was certainly something new to him—hanging out with people he actually considered his friends, and because he wanted to not because he was forced into a situation where he couldn’t decline anymore—it was so different from his usual everyday life, it almost felt a little jarring. As if this wasn’t reality, but something shockingly similar to it.

It was such a small thing, yet it had this much of an effect on him.

“Hey, can I have your number?” Hajime almost missed Satou’s voice. He had to blink a few times to get his thoughts back into the here and now, noticing the phone Satou was holding in front of his face. “I’ll text you where and when to meet after I talked to Mahiru.”

“…Oh. Right,” he didn’t think of that. Taking her phone, Hajime scanned over what was visible on the screen. She was in the middle of adding a new contact, his name was already written at the top—just his last name, though. Did Satou even know his given name?

As if she could read his thoughts, she said, “Just the number’s enough.”

Not looking at her, he nodded and started typing out his phone number. When he was done, he paused, staring at the string of numbers on the screen.

Ever since he started talking to Lucky, his phone number had slowly become something more and more precious to him. He didn’t want to give it to someone else, though he knew feeling like that was probably a stupid thing. Those were just numbers, after all. He was being ridiculous, wasn’t he?

Quickly shaking his head to get rid of his hesitation, he tapped Save and handed the phone back to Satou. She looked over the contact data for a second before creating another new one and handing it to Souda with the words, “You too.”

It didn’t take longer than a few seconds for Souda to type his number and give the phone back to Satou. Compared to that, Hajime felt as if it had taken him minutes, and it only served in making him feel more stupid about himself. He pushed those feelings away, hiding them somewhere out of reach of his thoughts.

“I sent you two a message, so you know who I am,” Satou was still typing something, but finished shortly after saying that. She put her phone back into her bag and brought the can in her other hand to her lips, swallowing a big gulp of her tea.

Souda immediately checked his own phone, having that big grin on his face again. The one that showed off his shark-like teeth. He made a few taps on the phone’s screen before putting it away again. Shortly after, he started snickering to himself.

Hajime narrowed his eyes at him in confusion, “Why are you laughing?”

“Huh?” Souda abruptly stopped, staring at Hajime as if he didn’t realize what he had been doing until he mentioned it. “Oh, uh, haha, no reason!” He put his hands behind his head in a gesture of faked nonchalance, swinging back and forth with his upper body, “I’m just excited for tomorrow, that’s a—woah!”

Hajime should’ve seen it coming, yet it still took him by surprise.

Souda disappeared from his position on top of the back of the bench. One blink and he was gone. Well, not entirely. His legs were still registered by Hajime’s eyes, suspended in midair along with his feet, but these, too, vanished from his sight too quickly.

The next thing he noticed was a loud splashing sound, like a heavy rock being thrown into a pool of water. His brain had just enough time to question what could’ve caused such a sound in the middle of a courtyard, but the unasked question was answered the moment he felt small drops of cool water hit the back of his neck.

He practically leaped off the bench, seeing Satou doing the same from the corner of his eye, and spun around to look at the fountain as soon as he deemed himself as far away enough. It was just in time for him to see Souda sitting up, his clothes and hair and everything completely soaked, hitting his chest with his fist while he was coughing violently.

Hajime could only stare at him. He wanted to ask if he was okay, if he hit his head when falling, if he could still breathe with all the water that was probably in his lungs now and that he was trying to get out—or maybe he should help him get out of the fountain without slipping, but all he managed to do was stand there and watch. Satou was doing the same thing, which was a small comfort at least.

Once Souda’s coughing calmed down a little and he cleared his throat a few times, Hajime felt his muscles able to move again. He was relaxing from the shock, though his eyes stayed locked on Souda, observing his every move.

The moment Souda looked up and met his gaze, he took a hold of the opportunity and said, in the most deadpan tone he could muster, “I told you so.”

Souda looked at him with furrowed eyebrows and confused eyes, almost like he still didn’t realize what exactly happened. His mouth was hanging open, as if his jaw had come loose somehow. His wet hair was clinging to the sides of his head and his uniform was partially sticking to his skin.

All in all, it was a rather funny image.

A loud laugh filled the silent courtyard, bursting out of Satou.

She almost doubled over, holding her stomach and tightly shutting her eyes close. It startled Souda, who flinched and, upon the sudden jolt of his body, splashed even more water on him. That uncomprehending look didn’t vanish and Hajime had to hold back an amused chuckle, turning it into a snort that didn’t really cover up the original sound.

Seeing the way Souda slowly began to grasp the situation as his expression morphed into something filled with horror, and Satou’s laughter only continued to resound throughout Hope’s Peak Academy’s courtyard, Hajime felt how a tense feeling he didn’t even realize was there gradually slipped away from him. It was lifted from his shoulders and his chest, giving his lungs more room to breathe.

Another chuckle wanted to bubble out of his throat. He let it, even allowing it to evolve into a small laugh of his own, accompanying Satou’s and creating a duet. Souda’s loud and panicked voice should’ve been a disturbance in the harmony, but it was only a quiet background noise to Hajime’s ears, adding to the peaceful atmosphere.

He should probably pay attention to what was being said, but the sparkling water in the fountain was a beautiful blue color in the midday sun. Hajime couldn’t tear his eyes away from it.

Eventually though, he did actually help Souda out of the fountain.

He couldn’t help him with his soaking clothes, but he could at least lend him a hand in confirming that nothing of too much value had been completely destroyed or broken by the water. Satou helped with that, too.

Since Souda was really cold now, and the weather didn’t help, they didn’t continue to stay at Hope’s Peak Academy for very long. They parted ways at the main gate, with Satou reminding both of them that she was going to write them some time later in the day.

Hajime responded with a vague hum of agreement and was off to the train station after that. While he was walking, he couldn’t help but think about the whole situation he was in now.

Tomorrow, he wouldn’t be at home for the whole day, sitting in his room and reading through math formula or kanji. He had plans for tomorrow—actual plans that involved other people that weren’t his mother or, on some occasions, Izuru and Kazuki as a “family”.

And, now that he was seriously thinking about it, he noticed that if Koizumi agreed, too, he would be hanging out with a Main Course student, a classmate from Izuru.

The thought really shouldn’t bother him anymore, but it did. He couldn’t help it. Thinking about the things that would have and wouldn’t have happened if only he could be considered one of them still hurt.

He had accepted that it didn’t matter what he did, yet completely letting go of the possibilities was a difficult thing to do. At the very least, he didn’t feel like having Koizumi tagging along would ruin the day. It was a small step in the right direction, he supposed.

And if it did turn out to be pure torture to him, maybe he could sneak away and spent the rest of the day talking to Lucky. That didn’t sound like a bad alternative.

When Hajime reached the train station, he didn’t have to wait.

Since it was still early afternoon, the number of people inside the train was slightly less than usual, though that was a welcomed fact. Most of them were students, obviously. He overheard some talking about their last exams, but he refrained from eavesdropping.

The conversation made him think about something, though.

He pulled his phone out of his pocket. He almost dropped it when he saw the message from an unknown number but remembered Satou’s words before it could escape his grip. It was set to silent since the moment he left the house today, so he completely forgot that Satou sent him a text earlier to let him know her number. All she wrote in that text was her last name, though.

Hajime quickly saved the number and switched over to Lucky’s contact. He wasn’t sure if this was a topic he could talk about without falling into his previous views, but if it was Lucky, he felt like he was going to be okay.

(13:17) >> How did your exams go?

Despite telling himself it was fine, waiting for a response was still somewhat nerve-wrecking.

It wasn’t Lucky’s possible answer that made him restless and caused him to fiddle with his phone, but the possibility of them giving the same question back to him. He didn’t think he did bad on these last two tests, but it was probably below what had become his standard over the years.

The results weren’t that important to him personally, he was fine as long as he was good enough to not be held back a year—he didn’t want to be stuck in school forever, after all, even if he didn’t know what he wanted to do after that—but not caring about his placement on the board once the results would be out at the end of next week was now a foreign thing to him.

He couldn’t help but still worry at least a little bit about his performance in the exam, and that made an anxious feeling crawl right beneath the skin of his chest.

He didn’t think about these things yesterday, but he had Lucky to talk to and to keep his thoughts in check after he had mostly recovered from his breakdown. As soon as they replied, he wouldn’t spend another second thinking about it—he was sure of that.

However, the train ride continued without his phone receiving any new messages.

Once he was outside again, standing on the platform of the station close to his home, Hajime stared down at his phone with a frown. He knew it had reception—he was in the middle of a city—and his message had been delivered, too, yet there was no reply.

Was there something wrong with his question? But there were other people talking about it, using the exams as a conversation topic. He knew that if Lucky didn’t want to talk about something, they would tell him.

Were they busy somehow? That seemed unlikely. They were never busy after school. Apparently, no one wanted to spent any more time than they had to in the same room as them.

That was according to Lucky’s words, of course. Hajime didn’t want to believe that, though he had no way of refuting it whenever they mention something along those lines. Strangely enough, he couldn't tell whether they were suffering from it or not. Maybe they were just so used to it, it didn’t matter to them anymore, but that thought wasn’t a pleasant one to Hajime.

Though, speaking of things that he didn’t want to believe, he wondered if Lucky was ignoring him right now. But, if so, what did he do to make them act like that? He was racking his brain for an answer, but he couldn’t come up with anything.

Maybe something happened to them? He didn’t like that thought. He really didn’t like it.

The air around him was getting heavier and heavier, filling his lungs and closing them off, pressing onto his chest until he didn’t think he could breathe anymore. He had to leave this place.

His grip on his phone tightened. Walking away from the rails and out of the train station, he kept it in his hand instead of putting it away inside his pocket. Even when he reached his house, he kept his hold on it and tried to unlock the doors with his free hand.

No one was home. Izuru was at Hope’s Peak, Kazuki at work, and his mother had a shift at the restaurant she worked at. He was alone and there was still no reply to his message. It made him feel restless.

He didn’t know why, and it honestly seemed pretty ridiculous to him. This wasn’t the first time he had to wait a little for an answer from Lucky. It wasn’t something to get so worked up about.

As soon as Hajime was inside his room, he let himself fall down onto his couch and took a deep breath.

He was staring at the desk that was standing opposite of him against the wall. He narrowed his eyes at the chair in front of it. Normally, that would be the first place for him to sit down instead of the couch, taking out his notebook and textbooks, and he would spend the afternoon studying, not doing anything else.

Well, maybe he should say previously rather than normally. He was done with that, after all. He had no reason to do it anymore and he was fine with that. It was just—what else was he supposed to do right now?

He could finish the book he had been reading with Lucky. The two last chapters were still unknown to him, since he didn’t give himself any free time right before and during the exam days.

Because the lighting in his room didn’t allow him to sit comfortably while reading, the only place in the house where he could read was the living room. However, that was also the room his mother used the most, so he didn’t have the courage to go their yesterday after their argument. Now, she wasn’t there, though, obviously.

But if he was going to read now, he couldn’t do it together with Lucky. If that was the case, he didn’t really feel up to it. He supposed he could try and write them another message, but he didn’t want to annoy them or anything.

For a brief second, he thought about texting Satou—he did have her number now—but that idea was immediately dismissed. He wasn’t sure whether there were any invisible lines he could cross when it came to messaging someone’s phone. He wouldn’t know what to write, anyway. His small talk skills were still nonexistent.

With a defeated sigh, Hajime fully laid down on the couch’s cushions and faced the ceiling. Not doing anything wasn’t exactly what he wanted to do, but what else was there? He didn’t have any hobbies that he could pursue right now or something.

If his teachers—his old and current ones—knew he was just lying around in his room, doing absolute nothing, they would probably scold him and tell him to use the time he had in this world to make himself useful for other people.

Wasting time wasn’t useful. Some hobbies probably weren’t either, according to them, but at least the people who had a hobby were developing themselves or…something. He wasn’t sure where he had wanted to go with that thought. It didn’t matter.

Hajime let go of another sigh. He brought his phone up to his face, turning its sounds on, and proceeded to spent his time on the internet. It was better than to simply lie there and stare into space, he supposed.

He was doing that for more than an hour, and the more time passed, the more he questioned if this was really okay. Sometimes, his eyes would flicker over at his desk, his gaze stuck on the textbooks lying there. It made an uneasy feeling twist around inside his stomach.

He managed to ignore it and direct his eyes back to his phone each time it happened, but he noticed how it started to be more and more difficult to do so. Studying just seemed to have more of a purpose than…whatever he was doing right now.

At the same time, though, the thought of sitting at his desk again, going through the notes he made in class, was draining him. He didn’t want to do it, but he probably should, but it wasn’t important to anyone around him and certainly not himself, so why bother with it? Still…

The feeling in the pit of his stomach grew heavier. He couldn’t stop himself when his gaze drifted over to his desk once more.

He was still lying with his back on the couch, holding his phone right above his face with one hand. The sudden messaging sound startled him, making him lose his grip on it, and it fell against his cheek with a quiet smack.

Once he realized what happened, he sat up in a flash, fumbling for his phone with shaking hands and an erratically beating heart. Said heart made a jump when he saw who messaged him. His head was spinning as he hurried to open the text.

Lucky (15:23) > The same as usual, I guess. …Is it okay to ask you the same question?

Hajime was slightly taken aback by that, though he didn’t need to think about his answer. One more glance to his desk was all that he needed.

(15:24) >> Honestly, no, please don’t.

Lucky (15:24) > Alright, then I think I’ll be going with…

Lucky (15:25) > Congratulations on surviving the exams, Nobody!

(15:25) >> Thanks. Congrats to you, too, Lucky.

Lucky (15:25) > You’re too kind!

He was smiling at his phone. The dark feeling in his stomach was replaced by warmth, accompanied by a light flutter in his chest. He felt himself relax, even though he never noticed his body had been in a tense state this whole time.

Lucky just had that effect on him. They could calm him down, ground him, when he didn’t even know something was wrong. It amazed him in a way, and he wanted to know why it was like that, but if he started thinking about it and questioned it, these effects might vanish.

He was afraid of that, so he refused to risk it. He simply wanted to be grateful for it—whatever it was.

Either way, now that Lucky had finally answered him, maybe they could continue with that book together? Hajime did want to finish it, and possibly begin another one from the list of recommendations Lucky had given him—although, he’d have to go buy that first.

(15:26) >> Are you busy right now?

Lucky (15:27) > I don’t think you can call it “being busy”, so I guess I’m free. Why?

That was a vague answer. But Hajime wasn’t going to pry—even though he really wanted to know what that meant.

(15:27) >> Well, I was just wondering if we could finally finish that book, but if you have something to do, then you should focus on that, so I guess another time.

Somehow, he felt embarrassed enough for asking to add that but and to take back his own offer in the same sentence. Which was really stupid, because he didn’t want to go back to doing essentially nothing, but what was done was done.

He was about to drop his phone on the small table in front of his couch with a frustrated huff directed at himself when it received a new message.

Lucky (15:28) > Oh, no, it’s not that important! I can always read with you!

The fluttering in his chest grew stronger. Yet, instead of accepting their words without question, he had to confirm it was really okay.

(15:28) >> Are you sure? I can wait.

Lucky (15:28) > But I can’t. And I’m alone right now anyway.

(15:29) >> Alright. Let’s read, then.

Hajime grabbed the book in question and quickly went downstairs, just in time to see the front door being opened and Izuru standing on the other side. His body froze momentarily as their eyes met, but he pushed the feeling away and entered the living room without a word.

Izuru didn’t say anything, either, and he didn’t follow him. In fact, he never entered the living room in the time that Hajime was reading. Of course, he wasn’t complaining.

Any stray thoughts that he might have had about it were swallowed up and drowned out by the words written on white pages, and the occasional message to Lucky. Hajime felt like the two of them were hanging out again. It gave him a reassuring feeling, as if everything was going to be fine, even if he didn’t quite know what to do with his life for now.

A few hours had passed before he realized it.

He was still sitting on the couch in the living room, the finished book lying closed on top of his lap. He was talking to Lucky about the ending—or, rather, he tried to. The initial confusion and bafflement were still twisting his brain around like it was a soaking sponge. He should’ve seen some of these plot twists coming, but he didn’t and this was the result.

His rambling texts were interrupted, though, as a notification popped up on the top of the screen, telling him Satou had sent him a message.

For a second, he was confused. His mind recovered quickly from its sudden halt and started spinning, making him nervous. He completely forgot about the whole let’s-hang-out-tomorrow thing that he agreed to.

It was fine, though, he told himself. It wasn’t like he was going to be alone with anyone, so he wouldn’t have to carry any conversations. He could just leave everything to the people that had experience and go along with it.

And, again, he could always go away and talk to Lucky in any worst-case scenarios.

He took a sharp, but deep, calming breath. It still took him a moment longer to open the text, though, and by the time he managed to calm down his nerves, the number of messages was two.

Satou (17:06) > I’ll send you a location for the meeting spot in a moment but be there at one tomorrow afternoon.

Satou (17:07) > Also, take some money with you.

Those were simple enough instructions. He could work with that. Though, hopefully he wasn’t going to be the only one paying for something.

On a side note, though, should he reply to this? Give Satou some sort of confirmation? And, wait, she didn’t tell him if Mahiru was coming too or not. He had to know that.

However, before he could get his thoughts in order to form an acceptable reply, Satou already sent him a screenshot of a map. It was zoomed in on a well-known pedestrian zone only fifteen minutes from his house by train.

There was a red arrow—probably drawn by Satou—pointing at a café in one of the smaller streets. Hajime had never been there, but he supposed cafés weren’t that bad of a meeting spot. Especially with autumn starting to cool down the weather. Hopefully it wasn’t going to be crowded, though.

Now, where was he?

Right—trying to come up with a suitable reply. But, yet again, Satou didn’t give him enough time to think and sent one more message.

Satou (17:09) > Oh, also also, a friend from Mahiru’s class overheard us talking and decided to tag along. Don’t worry, she’s nice. Hope you don’t mind.

…A friend? From Koizumi’s class? The Main Course? A Main Course student he didn’t know, tagging along? Actually, the Main Course part didn’t even matter that much—he didn’t know that person! Or her, apparently. He couldn’t hang out with her if he had no clue who she was.

Granted, he never met Koizumi, either, but at least he had a name for her. And he knew she liked photography, so that could probably count as knowing something about her.

Still, the prospect of hanging out with not just one but two Main Course students that he barely knew, despite not having been able to completely bury his negative feelings toward said course, made him nervous. The feeling was crawling over his skin like a bug, causing his heart to thump unsteadily inside his chest.

But, wait. He wouldn’t have to look at their uniforms. There would be absolutely no indication as to which school they were from—both Koizumi and whoever the other one was.

As long as he didn’t think about it, everything would be fine, right? It had to be.

“Oh, Hajime, you’re here?”

He flinched at the voice, dropping his phone. It fell onto the closed book with a thud. His head turned around so fast, it made him dizzy for a second and dragged half of his body with it, pressing it against the couch’s back. In the doorframe to the living room—not quite inside, but not in the hallway either—stood his mother.

She was smiling, but it lacked her usual cheerfulness. She had her hands clasped together in a tight grip, and her eyes were looking at a point just above his shoulder, not meeting his gaze even as she spoke, “I thought you’d be in your room.”

At the sound of her soft but cautious voice, Hajime felt his nervousness being replaced by a wave of guilt. He knew his own gaze was drifting away from her, suddenly finding the wood of the door to be more interesting.

He knew he should apologize for yesterday, yet the words that left his mouth were forming a different sentence without his permission, “I can go away if you want. I’m done here, anyway.”

“Ah, no,” she shook her head furiously. “No, it’s fine. I’m a little tired from work, you know? Maybe I’ll just take a nap until dinner or something,” she chuckled but there was no humor in it.

Hajime wanted to say something, but his muscles refused to cooperate. They kept his mouth shut tight, his lips pressed together. Well, maybe it was better that way. Otherwise, he might say another thing he didn’t mean to say.

“See you later, Hajime,” his mother broke their silence, her voice ringing painfully in his ears. She still didn’t look at him as she gave him a small wave and pretended to yawn. She turned her back to him, ready to leave and ignore the things that were still unsaid.

In a fit of panic, he called out to her, “Uh, mom?”

“Yes?”

She quickly looked over her shoulder, finally meeting Hajime’s gaze. The attention was paralyzing him, pushing a lump into his throat. He swallowed, trying to get rid of it, but it stayed locked in place. His mother’s eyes were filled with anticipation—or an equally strong emotion, he wasn’t sure—screaming at him to say something, and Hajime forced out whatever words were easiest to speak.

“I—I just, uh—I’ll be out tomorrow.” This wasn’t what he wanted to say. He continued as if it was, “Don’t know when I’ll be back, so—So don’t wait for me. I mean, for dinner. Yeah.”

He ended with an awkward nod, turning away from his mother to stare at his hands. They were lying on top of the book in his lap, desperately holding on to each other in an attempt to keep them from trembling. It didn’t really work.

The silence was deafening to him, but when his mother spoke—still soft and tired and dejected but also a tad relieved and with the smallest hint of a smile in her voice—it was as if the volume had been turned to max, “Alright. Have fun.”

He couldn’t say anything to that. The lump in his throat grew bigger, not even allowing the tiniest of sounds to pass. Only after he heard the door shut close and his mother’s footsteps on the stairs, it started to devolve into the nothingness it came from.

Hajime took a deep breath—in and out. It was fine. He could apologize another time. He was definitely going to.

He told himself that, but his hands didn’t stop shaking. Frowning at them, he slowly got them to calm down, taking his phone without the threat of suddenly dropping it again.

After that encounter, though, he didn’t want to worry about what to write as a reply to Satou. He needed to actually calm down, not force himself to. Rambling about his inability to predict plot twists and his confusion when being confronted with them seemed like a good way to do that.

To be honest, though…he really just wanted to talk to Lucky.


In Hope’s Peak Academy’s dormitory, a boy was sitting on the floor of his room, his back leaning against the bed. He knew not using any available furniture wasn’t a form of bad luck to hold for very long. Sooner or later it would want to claim more, bring him greater misery.

He had to create this misery himself if he wanted others to be safe from harm. Though, he didn’t have a guarantee his luck would decide to play along with him. He would have to wait and see.

But before he could do that, he had to come up with things that brought him greater pain than the happiness he felt at hearing his phone’s messaging sound. It was for the safety of a face he wouldn’t be able to distinguish in a crowd, unable to recognize even if his eyes were staring right at it.

It would be easiest to just forget, to stop talking to the one in possession of the only number in his contact list. The only number that still worked, at least. Maybe he should destroy his phone while he was at it.

Yet, when a new message arrived and sound was filling the silent room for nothing more than a second, he felt his heart ache and cry, protesting against the idea of losing this nobody in any kind of way—through luck or through his own hand.

As the boy reached for his phone, he smiled. “It’s fine,” he said, his tone cheerful and optimistic, “I’ll find a way.”

He wasn’t sure whether he believed his words.

Chapter Text

10/17

Hajime was about twenty-five minutes early when he arrived at the café. He felt a little stupid for it. He didn’t want to appear to be overeager about this or anything, but the moment he woke up at six in the morning—hours before his alarm would ring—and couldn’t fall back asleep, he knew this was going to be a long day.

At least he could wait inside a warm building instead of having to stay outside in the cold. The café had a number of teas as well, so drinking one was helping a little to calm down his nerves.

It was a small place with a small counter that displayed the menu at the front and a small area with seats and tables behind it. If you wanted to order something, you had to do so before sitting down, right after entering. A single employee was standing behind the counter.

There were only three customers inside—including Hajime. The other two were probably out on a date if the secretive-but-still-pretty-obvious glances over coffee cups, the happy giggles, and the blushing were any reliable indicators. He decided to ignore them.

Figuring he could talk to Lucky until the others would eventually arrive, he reached for the phone in his pocket only to feel it buzz the moment he touched it. A smile immediately formed on his lips, a fluttery feeling bubbling inside his chest. His thump was practically flying over the screen as he hurried to open the message.

Lucky (12:40) > I hope you don’t mind me asking, but do you have any plans for today?

Hajime’s posture deflated a little. The text sounded as if Lucky wanted to do something with him. He didn’t want to say no to them, but that wasn’t an option. He already had plans that would probably take up a good portion of the rest of his day.

He wasn’t sure whether he should tell them he was hanging out with some friends or classmates or whatever, though. He couldn’t predict their reaction to it, and something made him sort of anxious about what their response would be, but he didn’t want to lie to them, either.

Simply not answering was an option he refused. He wanted to talk to them right now, after all. If he was careful in phrasing his message, they hopefully wouldn’t take it the wrong way.

(12:41) >> I was actually kinda invited to hang out with some people from school, I guess? And I figured it’s better than spending the free day at home, so I accepted.

Lucky (12:42) > Oh? What’s this? Instead of being dragged into something he doesn’t like, Nobody willingly goes along with it?

(12:42) >> Well, yeah. There’s not much for me to do now. I don’t even know what I like doing, aside from talking to you. I can at least try and see how this goes.

Lucky (12:43) > Hmm, I guess that’s true. Still…

Lucky (12:43) > It’s only been about two days since your world has crumpled and you’re already working on giving it a new and brighter scenery. How admirable!

Was that a compliment? Hajime wasn’t sure, but he felt his cheeks turning red, anyway. He didn’t think of it as such a great accomplishment, seeing as he was more nervous about this thing than being able to relax and look forward to the day. He wished he could be more confident about this.

Besides, he wouldn’t be here at all if it weren’t for Lucky. First, their presence allowed him to accept Souda as a friend—which led to Satou possibly being one as well—and then, they helped him stand up again when he was literally lying on the floor, unable to find the strength to continue on his own.

In Hajime’s opinion, Lucky was the one who really did something admirable. He was thankful towards them. He wasn’t going to say that, though. Not now, in the middle of the day. Better wait until he could blame that sentimental stuff on late night melancholy.

Or wait for when he was feeling particularly vulnerable and had to get these words out of his system, but that wasn’t a very likely possibility at the moment. Which was kind of a good thing, too, he supposed, in its own way.

However, if he got the feeling Lucky needed to hear it, he would probably say it in a heartbeat. It’d still be embarrassing, though.

(12:44) >> I don’t know if I would call that admirable…

Lucky (12:44) > Oh, it is!

Lucky (12:44) > But you’re right, I’d prefer the term hopeful, too.

(12:45) >> Alright, go ahead and put words in my mouth.

Despite saying that, Hajime couldn’t help but smile, lightly shaking his head. Both these actions stopped when a new message arrived and he had to pause for a moment.

Lucky (12:45) > Could you tell me what you’re all planning to do together, if you don’t mind?

This was a sudden change of subject. He would’ve expected to get at least some kind of reaction to his words, but it looked more like they had been completely ignored. It left a small sting inside his chest. He supposed he could answer that, though.

(12:46) >> We didn’t really decide on anything… I guess we’re just going to look around or something?

Lucky (12:46) > I see… That doesn’t sound too dangerous.

Hajime raised an eyebrow. What did they expect they were going to do? Before he could ask, more texts were piling up on his phone’s screen.

Lucky (12:46) > But if you’re crossing any streets, be sure to watch for any fast cars or trucks! They could run you over.

Lucky (12:47) > Don’t try to eat anything potentially poisonous!

Lucky (12:47) > Stay far away from any suspicious looking people!

Lucky (12:47) > And don’t eat while walking!

Lucky (12:48) > You could trip and end up choking to death!

He blinked stupidly at the messages, overwhelmed by the amount of worry they were showing for a simple thing as walking around town. Lucky really didn’t need to tell him all that.

(12:48) >> Um, I think you’re worrying a little bit too much…?

Lucky (12:48) > Too much, huh? Yeah, I guess you’d think that…

Lucky (12:49) > Haha, sorry if I made you uncomfortable…

Hajime frowned. He wasn’t uncomfortable or anything—a bit unsettled maybe—but he was more concerned with where Lucky got all these ideas from. They just casually mentioned death, too. Should he be worried about them? Or ask if anything happened?

He contemplated it, but shook his head in the end. If Lucky didn’t decide to explain themselves, then he shouldn’t pry. Even if he wanted to understand what caused this reaction.

(12:49) >> It’ll be fine, don’t worry.

Lucky (12:49) > If you say so, but…

Lucky (12:50) > Please tell me right away if anything bad happens.

He wanted to ask why.

“Huh, so you really are the type to show up early.”

He flinched, dropping his phone onto the table he was sitting at. Thankfully, it was a short fall, so nothing was damaged. He quickly checked the time before shoving it inside his pocket, lamenting over the fact he had to wait until later to ask for clarification on Lucky’s request, and looked up to see Satou standing in front of him.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Hajime narrowed his eyes at her.

“Oh, nothing much,” she shrugged. With a smirk, she sat down across from him, “It’s not like it’s a bad thing, you know? It’ll earn you a few points in Mahiru’s book.”

He wasn’t sure what to think of that—or what to say for that matter. Satou wasn’t elaborating on her statement, opting for staring at the table and tracing her finger along the lines on the wood. Hajime felt his nervousness creeping up behind him again. He had been alone with Satou before, but that was only ever at school. It was weird to see her without her uniform.

Since an awkward silence started to slowly settle in between them, he rushed to say the first thing he could think of, “Is that why you’re early, then?”

“What? No!” Her gaze snapped up at once, looking at Hajime with wide eyes, “I don’t need to get on her good side!”

“A-alright, got it,” he tried to give her an apologetic smile, but it felt more like a grimace on his face. The volume of her voice surprised him.

He wanted to ask if that meant he had to get on Koizumi’s good side, but her face was turning a light shade of red and her stare on the surface of the table seemed to intensify, her eyebrows knitted close together.

He gave up on initiating any small talk. If he could accidentally make her angry like that, awkwardly staring off to the side and fidgeting with his hands was the much safer option. Though, it made him low-key uncomfortable. If only his small talk abilities were better than this.

The sound of quiet laughter was suddenly filling the café. Hajime flinched, his movements coming to a hold as he shot a glare over to the couple sitting at the other table. They were looking at some pictures on a phone, oblivious to the fact they had startled him.

“Are you nervous?”

Hajime’s body froze, his eyes flickering over to Satou. She was giving him a look, her eyes shielded by the dark strands of her fringe. For a second, he thought she was mocking him, but her tone was more curious than judgmental or uncomprehending.

“I’m…not nervous,” he said, straightening his posture. Regardless of her intentions, denying it was still easier than admitting it.

“It’s okay if you are. Just saying,” she shrugged and glanced over to the side, avoiding his eyes. After a moment of silence, Hajime resumed his fidgeting, his shoulders slumping a little. His head perked up again when his ears caught Satou muttering to herself, “Took me awhile, too.”

He wasn’t supposed to hear that, was he? Either way, he decided not to comment. He didn’t have to, since the employee from the counter came over and gave Satou a cup of probably just a simple coffee—Hajime was by far no expert on this—and a tiny plate with a few colorful macarons.

It reminded him that he still had a half empty cup of tea standing around, which created the perfect excuse for not starting a new conversation when Satou had paid and the employee left them alone again.

Drinking his tea, he watched as Satou took a pink macaron and threw it inside her mouth, immediately taking a sip from her own cup afterwards. When she noticed his gaze on her, she raised an eyebrow and pointed at the plate, “Want one?”

“Uh…” Was that how she interpreted his stare? It wasn’t that bad of a possible conversation, though. He gave a halfhearted shrug, his gaze dropping down onto the macarons, “I don’t know, I don’t think I’ve tried any before.”

He felt Satou’s gaze on him sharpen, piercing directly through his head. She wordlessly pushed the plate closer to him, making it clear he wasn’t going to leave this building without eating at least one of them. Her hand retreated, but her eyes stayed on him, burning a hole into his skull.

Hajime didn’t dare look up as he took a green colored macaron and hesitantly bit into it. It almost crumpled in his hand. He panicked, quickly throwing the rest of the confection into his mouth as well, causing his cheeks to puff out slightly—like a hamster’s.

Satou let out a snort, one hand racing up to hide her mouth, but he already knew she was laughing at him. He shot her an unamused glare while he tried to chew on the bigger parts and swallow the smaller ones to get more room in his mouth again. At least he wasn’t choking on it.

At once, Lucky’s message came to the forefront of his mind. The one about Hajime possibly choking to death. He pushed the thought away, but a frown still decided to stay on his face.

“Oh, come on, I wasn’t laughing at you. Your face was just funny,” lifting her hand from her mouth, Satou propped her head up on her palm, using her elbow to support the weight on top of the table. She wasn’t smiling or anything, but the gleam of amusement didn’t vanish from her eyes.

She thought he was frowning because of her laughter. Hajime wasn’t going to correct her. He got rid of the last bits of macaron in his mouth and said, “What else where you doing? You can’t laugh with me if I’m not laughing.”

“…Huh, good point,” she wasn’t even trying to talk herself out of this.

He rolled his eyes but dropped the subject. It wasn’t worth fighting over—not when his nerves were starting to make him feel more and more on edge with each passing second. He clasped both hands firmly around his tea cup, staring into the remains of the light brownish liquid. He should’ve chosen green tea.

“You know, I was surprised you actually agreed to hang out together yesterday,” Satou broke the silence that had been falling over them again, her voice quiet but nonchalant. It sounded a little strained to his ears, though. “Considering how adamant you were about getting rid of that ticket Souda gave you that one time, I thought you’d try to say no.”

Hajime blinked at his tea as if it could tell him why she was suddenly bringing that up, out of nowhere, his nerves temporarily forgotten. When it didn’t provide him with any answers, he lifted his gaze and blinked at Satou instead. The moment he caught her eye, she glanced down at her coffee. The hand that wasn’t holding her head was tapping against her cup, the sound of her nail hitting the porcelain forming a steady rhythm.

“I get that you—eh, no. I mean, I—ugh, dammit,” she stopped herself, shifting in her seat. She took another macaron and started chewing on it, still avoiding Hajime’s gaze. The look on her face seemed frustrated, her eyes narrowed and lips pressed together. The tapping continued.

“Is something wrong?” Hajime couldn’t see where she wanted to go with this. He wasn’t sure whether he actually wanted to talk about this—whatever this was about—but it wouldn’t hurt to get some clarity.

“No…” The tapping stopped only for Satou to let out a sigh, “No, it’s fine. Just—Forget it. I—I’m so bad at this.” She shook her head, sinking a little bit into her chair as she did.

“…Okay?” He didn’t know what to say. Satou didn’t react, simply taking a sip from her cup of coffee, falling back into their previous silence along with him.

The quietness of the café—if you could ignore that giggling couple over there—made his forgotten nerves resurface again. He wanted to reach inside his pocket, pull out his phone, talk to Lucky, but that would be a rude thing to do while he was sitting here with Satou.

What time was it now, anyway? When were the others finally going to arrive?

As if on cue, he heard the door to the café open. His muscles froze, his hands around the tea cup tightening their grip. He might had even accidentally held his breath. This was more nerve-wrecking than he thought it would be.

Footsteps were approaching their table, but Hajime couldn’t look up. Satou’s voice was calling out to someone, but her exact words were lost to the void that was his mind. The tone of her voice was really happy, though. If he had to guess, he would say it was Koizumi that entered.

After all the times that Satou had mentioned her, he couldn’t deny that he was at least a little curious as to what kind of person she was. Not curious enough to make him overlook the fact that she was a Main Course student—one that managed to get in through their score in the entrance exam alone at that—but still curious. She shouldn’t be wearing her uniform, though, so that fact didn’t have to matter right now.

In the end, he couldn’t just ignore her for the entirety of the day. He knew that perfectly well. He took in a deep breath, as subtle as he possibly could, and let his gaze slowly wander up without moving his head too much or abruptly.

There was a camera hanging from Koizumi’s shoulder, a big digital camera. He didn’t know much about cameras, but it looked expensive. The next thing that stood out to him was her short hair. It was red—a rather bright color, too. She wasn’t looking at him, seemingly focusing only on Satou for now. It gave Hajime more time to prepare what to say to her, so he wasn’t complaining.

He supposed an introduction was the most logical thing to do, but how could he approach that subject? He couldn’t say anything while Koizumi and Satou were still talking with each other, right? He should wait.

Hajime felt awkward staring at Koizumi while remaining silent, though. He shifted his gaze a little so that he was looking past her head and at the person that was standing behind her—and that Hajime didn’t notice earlier, but really, he should have. His body froze once more, but he wasn’t sure whether he should panic or not.

“Oh my, Hinata-san?” Sonia, the same girl he met at the car exhibition, tilted her head to side, regarding him with a surprised look on her face. Satou and Koizumi’s conversation stopped, the former looking back and forth between him and Sonia in confusion.

At the same time, Koizumi was staring at Sonia with something akin to shock in her expression. It was evident in the tone of her voice, too, “Sonia-chan, you know each other?”

“But of course!” Sonia’s eyes lit up. She clapped her hands together in front of her chest, though only the tips of her fingers were actually touching, “Hinata-san is the one I met at the exhibition. He knows your photos, Koizumi-san!”

Oh god. He forgot about that. Hajime felt a cold shiver run down his spine. He really hoped this wouldn’t develop into anything bad, like Koizumi asking him what pictures of hers were his favorite or something. He didn’t even know if he should have any access to them in the first place.

“Huh, really?” Koizumi looked impressed for some reason. Her gaze wandered over to him, probably for the first time since she and Sonia entered. After a weird pause that almost stretched into an uncomfortable length, she gave him a polite smile and said, “Well, I guess I don’t have to, but I’ll introduce myself anyway. I’m Koizumi Mahiru. Nice to meet you.”

“Uh…I’m Hinata Hajime,” he felt awkward whenever he had to say his own name. Introductions in general were always so awkward and stiff. “It’s…nice to meet you, too.”

Koizumi nodded and turned the chair from one of the tables nearby around, pushing it closer to the one where he and Satou were sitting. Sonia soon followed her example. Speaking of Satou, though, she was throwing him a very suspicious look.

Thankfully she wasn’t saying anything, and if she had planned to do so right now, then Sonia beat her to it. She folded her hands over the table’s surface, sitting up straight, her back aligning perfectly with the back of her chair. It painted an almost regal image in Hajime’s mind.

Her voice carried the same authority he had noticed back when they had been walking through the exhibition building together, “Before it slips my mind, I want to apologize for being late. Please forgive me, Satou-san, Hinata-san.”

Satou’s eyes let go of Hajime to frown down at her wrist. She pulled back her sleeve to reveal a wristwatch. Hajime couldn’t see the numbers clearly from his position, but the clock’s hands didn’t seem to be far away from the number one, their meeting time.

“You’re not late,” Satou confirmed, looking up to raise an eyebrow at Sonia.

“In my country, it is considered rude to not appear at a meeting spot thirteen minutes before the agreed time,” her voice was serious, her face stern. It was a little intimidating, if Hajime was being honest.

More importantly than that, though, what country did Sonia come from? Did she tell him that at the exhibition? He couldn’t remember. Granted, he didn’t remember much from their encounter, let alone their conversation topics.

“I already said it’s fine, Sonia-chan.” Koizumi continued to smile, but it seemed a little worried at the edges, “We arrived together, right on time, so there’s nothing to worry about.”

“Well…all right. You are correct. This is another country, after all. I suppose I am still suffering from culture shock,” her posture slumped, an expression of dejection on her face.

“Come on, Sonia. If anyone’s going to be late, it’s Souda,” Satou gave a carefree shrug. She didn’t sound surprised, and Hajime was inclined to agree. He felt a little bad for Souda, though. Satou gestured to the plate in front of her with a smile, “So anyway, does someone want a macaron?”

“Yes,” Koizumi leaned over and picked up a blue one. When she bit into it, it didn’t fall apart like Hajime’s earlier. He felt betrayed. “Thank you, Satou-chan.”

Last name? Did he hear that correctly? He thought Satou and Koizumi were on a first name basis—at least, Satou was calling her Mahiru without any honorifics. Was Koizumi not allowed to do the same? That seemed…weird to him. But it wasn’t any of his business.

“Oh! Yes, thank you very much, Satou-san.” Sonia took one, too, but before eating it, she added, “I have wanted to try a Japanese macaron for quite some time!”

“Come to think of it,” Koizumi brought her free hand up to her chin, “where did macarons come from?”

“France?” Satou more asked than answered.

After that, the conversation shifted to French confectionaries and the like. Some of the things the girls were talking about sounded vaguely familiar to Hajime, but there were also names of sweets he never heard of before.

He wasn’t participating in the conversation, but he was more than fine with simply listening to them talk, even though he wasn’t particularly interested in the topic. He leaned back in his chair, his hands gradually letting go of the tea cup and lying down next to it on the table. He wasn’t the center of attention and that allowed his nerves to finally calm down properly.

He was surprised how many foreign sounding words they knew, though he felt like he shouldn’t be too surprised in Sonia’s case. She was a foreigner, and her Japanese was already not that bad, who knew if she could speak any other languages. He wasn’t sure if their pronunciation was any good, though.

If Izuru was here, he’d probably know before they even finished saying the word.

Hajime frowned and shook his head, trying to get rid of that last thought. Now wasn’t the time—or ever. He should think about more pleasant things. Like whether or not Lucky knew a lot about French sweets, or sweets in general. They knew plenty of unexpected things, after all.

He wanted to take out his phone and ask. The idea was so tempting, he couldn’t stop his hand from twitching, filled with the wish to reach for the only way of communication he had with Lucky.

Sonia was currently talking about some kind of sour sweet from her country, explaining the ingredients it was made with, but Hajime wasn’t really listening anymore. His mind was busy wondering what it would be like if Lucky could sit next to him right now.

The image was a little distorted and incomplete, since he didn’t know what they actually looked like—or sounded like, or anything relating to their appearance, really—but the thought of having them with him, close to him, made a strange fluttery feeling grow inside his stomach.

He wanted to know if they would contribute to the conversation with their seemingly endless amount of knowledge or if they would keep to themselves and, maybe, only let Hajime hear any of these random things, telling him in a quiet voice so no one else would hear it.

Would they lean over to him if they did that? Subtly or easily noticed? Would they be called out for it if someone did notice? Hajime didn’t think he’d mind that possibility, to be honest. It made his heart jump inside his chest, pounding against his ribcage.

He felt the corners of his lips wanting to form a smile, and he didn’t manage to hold it back without lightly biting the inside of his cheek while firmly pressing his lips together.

“Hinata-san, would you like some as well?”

“Huh?” Hajime’s mind was yanked back into reality by the sound of his name, his almost smile replaced by a look of disorientation. He lost track of the conversation. He couldn’t even be sure whether the topic was still the same as it was the moment he spaced out.

Sonia was looking at him with a friendly smile on her face, most likely waiting for a response to her words. His mind couldn’t recall what these words were exactly, though. It was a question, right? A question about…what?

Hajime felt a rising panic grip onto his heart. If they realized he hadn’t been listening to them, would they be mad at him? He was about to mess up this whole hanging out thing, wasn’t he? He should’ve listened and not ignored the conversation for the sake of daydreaming.

Sonia tilted her head slightly after he continued to silently stare at her with wide eyes. Her smile stayed on her lips, but it failed to ease the tension in his body.

“Hinata, did you not listen to us?” Koizumi’s firm voice made him glance over to her. He wished he didn’t, though. She had crossed her arms in front of her chest, and that combined with the accusation present in both her words and her stare didn’t help his already guilty conscience.

He desperately tried to find the right words to say. Excuses didn’t seem appropriate—if they were ever—but he couldn’t think of anything plausible, anyway. Maybe he should just apologize and ask if Sonia could repeat her question, “Uh, I-I’m sorry—”

“Oh, you’re all here already?” Hajime’s voice was overshadowed by a much louder one, coming from the person walking towards their table.

It was Souda. Wearing a yellow jumpsuit of all things. It was fitting for a mechanic, he supposed—and if his eyes weren’t playing any tricks on him, he could even see a line of dried oil staining the clothes—but they weren’t here to take cars apart or anything.

Aside from the jumpsuit, he was also wearing a big, wide grin on his face, “What perfect timing!”

“Timing?” Satou raised an eyebrow at him, “You’re twenty minutes late.”

In Hajime’s case, Souda’s timing wasn’t really all that bad. Though the entire situation could have probably been avoided if he had arrived just a little bit sooner.

“Eh, who cares?” Souda shrugged as he came to a halt next to their table. He didn’t take a chair and sat down, remaining in a standing position in the middle of the café. He put his hands behind his head, “So, where are we gonna go first?”

“Before that, shouldn’t you introduce yourself?” Koizumi’s tone of voice was still as firm as when she accused Hajime of ignoring the conversation. Maybe it was even a little bit colder this time—he could just be imagining that, though. At least her gaze was now piercing through Souda instead of him.

His carefree face twisted into a confused frown, “Introduce—Satou didn’t do it?”

“No? That’s your job,” Satou looked up at him in such a nonchalant way, it was clear she was actually looking down on him.

Souda let out an exasperated sigh. He looked disappointed for some reason, lifting one hand to scratch his cheek with his index finger, “Souda Kazuichi. Yo.”

Koizumi’s disapproval at Souda’s half-assed introduction was immediately apparent in the scowl on her face. Satou seemed equally disapproving, but she either didn’t let it show very much or was already expecting this outcome.

Hajime wasn’t sure whether to be amused or worried about the atmosphere in this group. He was a little bit of both. The only one who appeared to not be affected by any of it was Sonia. She looked more excited than anything else, to be honest.

She clasped her hands together, lying them down on top of her lap. Her expression was serious, and so was her voice despite the words that were said with it, “Yo, ma name’s Sonia Nevermind. Nice to meet ya!”

“Sonia-chan?!” Koizumi stared at her with shock written all over her face.

Satou had the same reaction at first, but quickly hid her mouth behind her hand, so Hajime assumed she was now laughing about it. He had to stop himself from doing the same, actually. He thought Souda wouldn’t hold back his laughter, though, but when he glanced over at him, he was frozen in place, staring at Sonia with wide eyes and an open mouth.

After a moment’s silence, the sound of Sonia’s soft giggles drew Hajime’s attention back to her. She was also holding a hand in front of her mouth, but it didn’t look like she was doing it to hide the smile on her lips, “I’ve always wanted to try using this kind of hip speech!”

“Uh, S-sonia-chan…t-that’s not—” Koizumi cut herself off, pausing for a second before vigorously shaking her head, “A-anyway, it doesn’t matter.”

She turned her gaze back to Souda, her expression slightly less intimidating than before but still enough to make Hajime nervous despite not being the one she was looking at, “I’m Koizumi Mahiru, and if you don’t want to seem like an unreliable guy, you better do something about your attitude.”

Hajime felt his body freeze for the fraction of a second. The words weren’t directed at him, but they made him uncomfortable nonetheless. With his slip-up from earlier, they had might as well been meant as a warning to him, too.

“Yeah, yeah. So, what’re we gonna do now?” Unlike Hajime, Souda seemed to be completely unfazed by Koizumi, putting the same big grin from when he entered the café back onto his face.

Koizumi let out a huff, but didn’t say anything, keeping her arms in their locked position. She did take another macaron, though, and ate the whole thing in one go, temporarily puffing out one cheek to get enough room for it, when Satou subtly nudged the plate in her direction.

“You said you did not really have anything planned yet, right, Satou-san?” Sonia asked.

“No, we thought we’d decide on the spot or something. We could always just walk around the area,” she answered with a shrug.

Hajime wondered if this was really going to be okay without a plan. They didn’t even leave their meeting spot and he already felt as if he had done something wrong. Who knew what was going to happen from here on out.

He tried to stay calm by taking another sip from his cup of tea, only to realize the cup was empty. Scowling at it briefly, he put it back down and directed his attention back to the others.

Sonia had pressed her index finger against her lip in thought, “Hmm. If that is the case, why does not everyone suggest a place to start at and whoever’s suggestion is agreeable for everyone will be our first stop?”

“But what are we going to do after that?” Hajime frowned as the question slipped out of his mouth into the open.

“We can decide that afterwards, can we not?” Sonia gave him a wide, encouraging smile.

“I agree with, Sonia-san!” Souda shouted out, making Hajime flinch at the volume. Keeping his big grin intact, he quickly added in a more indoor appropriate tone, “It’s okay if I call you Sonia-san, right?”

“I agree as well,” Koizumi interjected before Sonia could answer Souda’s question. “What about you, Satou-chan?”

Satou gave another shrug as answer, but she smiled when she ate the last pink macaron. Her action was followed by silence, and Hajime only realized they were waiting for him to state his own opinion when Koizumi and Sonia both looked at him—the first with decreasing patience and the latter with a kind smile.

Feeling himself slowly start to panic, he mumbled out a quick, “It’s better than nothing, I guess.”

“Great!” Sonia happily clapped her hands together, though her expression turned sheepish a second later, “However, I have not been in this part of the city before, so I hope you do not mind if I will not suggest anything.”

“It’s fine, I don’t really have anything, either,” Satou said. “I’m pretty much okay with almost anything. You, Mahiru?”

“I do have somewhere I want to go, but…” Koizumi shifted slightly in her chair, crossing her arms again. This time, it seemed to be more in thought rather than out of disappointment at someone, thankfully. A moment later, she put an apologetic smile on her face, “I don’t think it’d be enjoyable for the rest of this group, so I think I’ll pass as well.”

Satou frowned, “Don’t say—”

“Let’s go to a mechanical parts shop!”

“—that, what.” Satou turned to Souda, “I veto that suggestion.”

“Huh? Why?” Most likely in an attempt to seem intimidating, he propped both his closed fists on his hips, completing the image with a glare at Satou. Maybe it was the fact that it was Souda doing this, but it certainly didn’t have the wanted effect on Hajime, and he doubted it worked on anyone else at the table. “It’s one of the best stores in this area!”

“Yeah, if you like to be surrounded by junk,” Satou said with a roll of her eyes.

Souda opened his mouth to argue, but Koizumi beat him to it, “Since none of us have any or good suggestions so far, let’s hear where Hinata wants to go, and if it’s reasonable, we can go just start with that.”

Hajime froze, his stomach starting to churn in an uncomfortable way and threatening to make him sick. Koizumi’s eyes were boring a hole into his head, telling him he only had one shot at this.

Sonia and Satou both looked at him with something more akin to anticipation, and Souda was beaming as if he was certain Hajime would suggest the same thing as him—for whatever reason he would think that.

Hajime wondered if it was too late to run out of the café and spend the rest of the day lying around in his room while talking to Lucky, but the answer was probably a yes.

He had no idea where he wanted to go. This wasn’t his first time coming to this part of the city, he did know the location of some of the shops around here, but he was never here to hang out with someone before. This situation overwhelmed him a little.

In a best-case scenario, he would be able to suggest something that everyone would like. He knew that was basically impossible, though, especially since he couldn’t say he actually knew everyone’s likes and dislikes. He barely knew anything about these people, to be honest.

Would it be fine if he just said what he personally would like to do? He wasn’t sure what that was, either, though. He usually was doing something inside his room, at home not out in the city, and alone on top of that.

Well, if he was talking to Lucky, then he wasn’t entirely alone he supposed. But he couldn’t hang out with them somewhere in the city, either. Even if they could, Hajime wouldn’t know what to do. Would Lucky know?

Judging by what he knew about them so far, two things they enjoyed were cleaning and reading.

Hajime doubted cleaning things would be a good thing to do when hanging out, but reading was alright. He and Lucky had already done that by reading—more or less—together, and it had been nice. If they could actually hang out together, a library wouldn’t be that bad—though they couldn’t really talk inside, so maybe not.

He knew there was a small park nearby with cheery blossom trees. They could go there and read under the shade of one, sitting side by side and leaning against each other. Too bad that wouldn’t work right now with autumn stealing all the trees’ leaves and the higher temperatures, though, but it was sort of a nice image. It made his heart flutter in his chest again.

“Hey, Hinata!” A jolt rushed through him, making him slightly jump inside his chair at Souda’s sudden loud voice. He must have noticed, because he continued in a normal volume, “Were you spacing out on us?”

“I was listening,” it was an automatic response. If the others said anything while he had apparently spaced out, he’d have no clue to what it was. That statement was dangerous. He quickly added, “I was just thinking about where to go.”

Satou raised an eyebrow, “You were smiling like an idiot.”

He did? That was…embarrassing. Why did he smile? When? As much as he wanted an answer to that, he knew it had to wait. He couldn’t get lost in his thoughts again.

Shoving his questions aside, he racked his brain for something to say, “Um, anyway, I—I thought we could…maybe go to a—a bookstore?”

It was the first thing to pop up inside his head. Thinking about it, it wasn’t that bad of an idea. He still needed to buy some new books Lucky recommended to him now that he was done with the first one, after all. There was no immediate protest from the others, either, so maybe he was safe.

Koizumi was the first to speak, “Huh, that’s a rather normal suggestion.”

Hajime tried to not take her comment the wrong way, to not think of his averageness. It still left him with a tiny little sting. It didn’t linger, though, so he counted that as a success.

“I am all right with this idea. I have wanted to add some Japanese books to my collection for some time, actually,” Sonia said, her friendly smile still grazing her lips.

“I’m fine with it as long as you guys are,” Satou agreed as well, drinking from her coffee and making the last macaron on her plate disappear into her stomach.

“I guess it’s not a bad choice,” Souda just shrugged, not meeting anyone’s eyes. Hajime was surprised how agreeable he was, despite books probably not being on the list of things he enjoyed every now and then. Although, he knew he shouldn’t assume things.

“Good, then let’s go,” Koizumi stood up from her chair, turning it back around to the table it actually belonged to. “We’ve been sitting around long enough.”

Hajime didn’t comment, but he had to agree with her.

They left the café, Koizumi and Satou taking the lead of the group with Sonia following close behind and Souda and Hajime being the last in line. He felt a little weird going through these streets in a somewhat big group. He was used to walking around alone—excluding his shared way to school with Izuru, of course.

Aside from them, there were only a handful of other people walking around the same area. None of them were giving the group any strange looks, most not even sparing them a glance, and Hajime wasn’t sure why he worried about that enough to pay attention to it in the first place.

“Hey,” Souda leaned slightly over to him while continuing to walk, talking to him in a hushed voice, “You’re not gonna go there to buy study stuff, right?”

Hajime glanced over at Souda, who was regarding him with a cautious look in his eyes, before focusing on the way ahead again. He didn’t understand where that question came from, but he wasn’t going to ask, “No, just some novels. If I can find them.”

“You’re into books now?” Souda sounded surprised, but also relived for some reason. He was smiling brightly when he said, “Well, that’s good. For a second there, I thought you were going to ruin the day.”

Hajime frowned, giving Souda an offended look, but he was already facing away from him. He wasn’t going to protest, though. Only a few days ago, he might have actually wanted to go to a bookstore just to buy something study related. Getting a new book that he could read with Lucky was much more enjoyable.

“Oh, yes, I had almost forgotten!” Sonia suddenly spun around, walking backwards so she could look at Hajime, “Hinata-san, you did not answer me before, but would you like some of my country’s sweets as well?”

Was that what she was asking earlier? It sounded like that. He had missed the explanation of what the sweets in her country were like, though. He wasn’t sure if he should just accept without knowing a single thing about them. On the other hand, he didn’t want to be rude or anything, and he did ignore their conversation.

“Uh, well, if you don’t mind, alright. Sure,” he shrugged.

“Excellent! I shall remember that for when I go visit during the winter break,” Sonia nodded to herself, satisfied with his answer. She turned her back to him again and Hajime didn’t participate in any other conversations for the rest of the way to the bookstore.

The store was laid out over two floors, with the first floor covering anything that wasn’t fictional and with the basement holding anything else. Hajime went immediately down the stairs to the basement while the others decided to look around the non-fiction sections first.

He was a little glad they didn’t insist on staying together the whole time, since that allowed him a quiet moment by himself—and he could concentrate on finding the books he wanted without having to ignore anyone again.

He pulled out his phone and opened his chat log with Lucky. They didn’t send him any new messages, but Hajime was only on his phone to find the message with their book recommendations, anyway.

As he was going through his and Lucky’s conversations, trying to find that one message from more than a week ago, Hajime realized for the first time how much they actually talked to each other. It took multiple swipes with his thump just to get through the messages of a single day.

He had enjoyed all these conversations, though. The ones that were filled with their random chit-chat or jokes, at least. But even the serious ones left an impression on him that made them feel important and just another part of their relationship.

His mind recalled Lucky’s text right when Satou arrived back at the café. He still wanted to ask why Lucky wanted him to tell them whenever something bad happened, or generally why they were concerning themselves over it. He doubted they would give him a clear answer, though.

Hajime found the text with the book recommendations. He took a screenshot of it in order to find it easier the next time and quickly scrolled back down to Lucky’s latest message. He stared at it for a moment before deciding it wouldn’t hurt to ask.

(14:10) >> I mean, I can do that, but… can you tell me why?

Without waiting for a response, he went to his screenshots to read the title of one of the books and started looking around the shelves of the store. He had to remember that he wasn’t alone here, and sooner or later the others would probably want to move on to a different store. There was no time to anxiously stare at his phone and wait for a new text—though that didn’t stop him from holding onto it with a tight grip.

He found one of the books on the list fairly quickly, and after reading the summary on the back he decided it was worth a try. He still wanted to search for at least one more, though. Even if he liked the first one, already having something to follow it up with after finishing wasn’t a bad idea.

As he was walking through rows of bookshelves, looking at all the different titles and images on the front covers, Hajime started to wonder which of these books were still unknown to Lucky.

It was more than clear by now that they had a significant collection, but even Lucky couldn’t be in possession of every single book lying around in this store. Would they be happy—or excited—to find a book they didn’t know about before? Would their face light up like a child’s on their birthday?

Hajime really wanted to know what their face would look like with that kind of expression. He couldn’t help but feel as if it’d be cute, even though the image in his head was nothing more than a distorted void. He didn’t want to start imagining what Lucky looked like, though. That was a dangerous train of thought.

He would get curious and would want to meet them, but he knew that wasn’t possible. Not only did they not know where the other one lived, but meeting up with someone he had never met before, and only got in contact with thanks to an accidental message sent to his phone, was far from the safest idea he ever had. He wasn’t sure he wanted to know their reaction to him, either.

Not to mention that he had absolutely no guarantee anything Lucky told him was the truth, and that fact scared him a little.

That didn’t mean he didn’t trust them, though. He did trust them with a lot of things, but actually meeting them just wasn’t one of those. Still, if he could, he would definitely want to hang out with them like he did with Souda and the others right now.

He didn’t want to meet them, but he wanted to hang out with them. He got the feeling his thoughts had begun to turn into a weird contradictory mess.

He decided to stop thinking about it. He didn’t need to tell anyone about his wish to hang out with a—more or less—stranger. He could just keep all of that inside his head and it wouldn’t become a reality.

Hajime found another one of the books on Lucky’s list. After reading the summary on the back, he took both the books he had found and went back up to the first floor.

It was easy to spot Souda—thanks to his hair and his clothes now. He was standing in a section of the store that appeared to be focusing on modern technology. Hajime couldn’t see the others anywhere nearby, though. Maybe they went downstairs and he missed them?

When he took a step forward in Souda’s direction to ask him, he felt the buzzing of his phone that he was still clutching in his hand, causing him to halt his movements immediately. He almost dropped the books as he hurried to unlock his phone.

Lucky (14:28) > It’s a safety precaution, you could say.

Hajime stared at the screen, clueless. He felt as if that wasn’t an answer to his question.

(14:29) >> What do you mean by that?

Lucky (14:29) > It’ll help me determine how much time I have left to act, so I would appreciate your cooperation.

He was sure there where question marks floating above his head right now. He wanted to understand where they were coming from—or, rather, what they were talking about in the first place, but his questions only brought him more questions instead of answers.

(14:30) >> I already said it’s fine by me, but could you explain why exactly you need me to do this?

This time, he did simply stare at his phone, waiting for Lucky’s reply—which would finally be able to clear some things up for him. At least, he hoped it would.

“Hinata! Perfect,” Souda’s voice made Hajime’s head snap up. He was approaching him with a book in each hand, shoving them in Hajime’s face once he came to stop in front of him. “Which one?”

Hajime stared at the pictures on the front cover—one was of what looked like a room full of data servers or networks or whatever, and the other one was depicting the inside of a spaceship. The title of both books was simply a bunch of complicated sounding words that he wasn’t even sure he was reading correctly. He was pretty sure that one kanji in the middle of the first books title was one he had never seen before.

“Uhm…” his gaze flickered back and forth between them until he eventually concluded this choice didn’t matter much. Keeping his phone inside his hand, he pointed at the one showing the server room, “This one?”

Souda’s face twisted into a grimace when he took a look at Hajime’s choice, “But that’s more for programmers and stuff…and the other one has spaceships…”

Why did he even ask him? Hajime rolled his eyes as he moved his finger to point at the other book, “That one, then.”

Souda gave the other book a scrutinizing look, narrowed eyes and furrowed brows and all. As if he was suspicious of it. As if he was suspecting it to suddenly come to life and bite his hand off.

“I would love to take that, but…” he turned his eyes back to the first book, “they seem to go over some really important stuff here…”

Hajime wanted to groan in frustration, “Why don’t you just buy both?”

“I don’t have that much money!” Souda protested, his expression filled with irritation before it turned depressed. It quickly brightened up again, though, Souda’s eyes sparkling as they looked at Hajime. He opened his mouth to say something, already inhaling the air he needed to form his words, and—

“I’m not lending you any money,” Hajime beat him to it.

“How’d you know I was gonna—” Souda was frozen for the fraction of a second, “I-I mean, uh, ahaha…”

Hajime had to hold in a sigh. He shook his head at Souda and walked away, in the direction of the register near the entrance. He heard Souda’s footsteps following him after a few seconds, but he didn’t wait for him.

As soon as he reached the register, he placed the two books on top of the counter and let the tired looking guy standing behind it scan in the prizes. Hajime put his phone back inside his pocket to get out his wallet.

“Come on, Hinata,” Souda was fidgeting beside him, shifting from one foot to the other while he was whining at him. “It’s just a thousand yen, I don’t need any more than that. And I’ll owe you one!”

“Yeah, you’ll owe me a thousand yen,” he heard Souda make a defeated noise, shortly followed by the sound of feet being dragged over the floor. A glance at Souda showed him he was practically sulking as he was making his way back to the bookshelves.

The guy behind the counter brought Hajime’s attention back on him by asking if he wanted a bag for his books, and Hajime answered with a yes. After the books were packed inside a plastic bag and Hajime paid for them, he noticed the girls coming up from the basement in the corner of his eye.

Sonia was carrying five different books at once, while Koizumi only had a single one. Satou’s hands were empty. Hajime took his plastic bag and stepped away from the counter, giving Sonia room to put down her books.

“Thank you, Hinata-san,” she smiled at him before focusing her attention on the cashier guy.

“I hope they won’t be too heavy to carry for you, Sonia-chan,” Koizumi said, eyeing the stack of books with a wary look.

“I will be fine. My arm muscles will be thankful for the workout,” she proudly lifted both her arms up into the air, her hands balled to fists.

“If you’re sure,” Koizumi’s smile still seemed a little uneasy, but she dropped the subject. Instead, to Hajime’s surprise, she turned to him, “What did you get?”

He didn’t want to say the wrong thing, though he wasn’t sure whether there was anything wrong to say, since she simply asked him what book he was planning to read. He still felt as if he should choose his words carefully.

“Just two novels that were recommended to me,” he paused, wondering if it was okay to return the question. Koizumi’s gaze wasn’t leaving him, so he took that as a sign to go on, “What about you?”

She held up the book, showing him the cover. It was the picture of a statue illuminated by the red of the evening sun on a cloudless sky. “It’s a photo book,” Koizumi explained, “I’m using it to draw inspiration from, though I think I’ll always prefer people to be in my photos.”

“I see,” he didn’t know what else to say to that. He shifted a little, turning his eyes to the street outside the store’s window. His phone buzzed inside his pocket. His body stiffened, his hand practically flying towards the pocket with his phone.

“Say cheese!”

Someone was gripping his shoulders, yanking his upper body to the side. His balance was gone, one arm outstretched and flailing to keep himself from falling over. He heard a clicking sound, white filling his vision for less than a second before it was gone again, revealing Koizumi standing in front of him, the book clamed under her arm and camera in hand.

The pressure on his shoulders vanished, giving him the opportunity to find his balance again. One look to the side told him it was Satou that had caught him off-guard. She was smirking at him.

“Yep, that’s a dumb-looking face right there,” Koizumi exclaimed, looking at the backside of her camera with a smile.

“Dumb-looking…?” Hajime shot a glare at Satou, “Give me a warning before you do that.”

“I did, you were just too slow,” her smirk seemed to grow. However, it melted into a small smile as she walked back up at Koizumi’s side, “Let me see it, Mahiru.”

Koizumi held the camera out for Satou to see, but she didn’t let go of it, “It’s one of my best shots of you so far. Kinda sad it’s not as candid as my other photos, though.”

Satou nodded a few times, giving one firm final nod before saying, “Hinata’s face makes up for it.”

“Wow, thanks, I feel honored,” he said in a deadpan tone. Koizumi gave him a look, but he didn’t have the confidence to decipher it this time. He turned away from the girls, pulling out his phone to check the new message. It was Lucky. Of course, it was.

Lucky (14:47) > It’s okay if you don’t understand. Don’t worry about it. Please enjoy your day, Nobody.

Hajime frowned at the text. This was still not an answer to his question. They were trying to bring an end to the subject, to avoid it. Something was clearly bothering them, and he really wanted to help in whatever way he could.

He was frustrated by their silence, but he knew he shouldn’t force them to tell him something they didn’t want to talk about. Just because Hajime felt like he could tell them about some of his struggles didn’t mean they felt the same way—although that thought hurt a little.

With a quiet sigh so as to not let the others notice, he begun to type.

(14:50) >> Alright. If you say it’s fine, I’ll drop it.

He paused, unsure whether what he wanted to say next was appropriate or not given his previous message. He knew he shouldn’t push it, but the whole situation made him worry—and if it wouldn’t be an answer to what he wanted to know the most, it would still be an answer.

In any case, he had to try.

(14:51) >> Can you at least tell me why you don’t want to talk about it?

If it was as simple as Lucky wasn’t sure if they could trust him with their problems, or if talking about it made them uncomfortable, that was fine, too. But something told him he had to know. He wanted to understand them.

“I can carry that for you, Sonia-san!”

Souda’s loud voice made his head snap up and his focus fall back onto the others. Sonia had presumably finished paying for her books and was now holding them with both hands in a heavy-looking plastic bag. Souda reached out with one hand to grab it, but Sonia quickly made a step back.

“Oh no, it is quite all right,” she gave him a reassuring smile and a small dismissing wave of her hand.

“But it looks so heavy,” he sounded disappointed.

“If she says it’s alright, then it is,” the gaze Koizumi directed at Souda was clearly a warning to drop the subject and give up. “And if you don’t want anything, we’re finished here.”

Without waiting for any kind of response, Koizumi took the bag lying on the counter and walked out of the bookstore, followed by Satou who—upon meeting Hajime’s eye—only shrugged.

“Shall we?” Sonia asked, though the answer was obvious.

Slumping his shoulders, Souda mumbled something inaudible, but exited the building without complains. Sonia followed, and after a quick glance at his phone to make sure Lucky hadn’t replied yet, Hajime hesitantly followed as well.

“So, where to next?” Satou asked once they were all outside.

Souda’s expression brightened up a little, “Can we now go to a parts—”

“Let’s go to that new store Mahiru wants to take a look at!” Satou interrupted him with a bright smile on her face, turning to Koizumi.

“What? I never said where I want to go,” she looked flustered.

“Then I’ll guess. Hmm,” Satou tapped her index finger against her cheek in thought, looking up into the sky. It was obvious she was only pretending to think. “How about…that new photography-centric shop that opened recently in this area?”

Koizumi’s face was motionless as she stared at Satou, “How did you know about that?”

“I have my phone with me,” she said as if it was self-explanatory, giving Koizumi a knowing smile.

A few seconds later, Koizumi turned her head away, directing her gaze to the ground. Her cheeks flushed pink as she hurried to say, “Well, obviously I’d want to go there, but as I said, I don’t think the others would enjoy it much. It wouldn’t make any sense to go there in that case.”

Was she embarrassed to suggest something she would like? Hajime wasn’t sure how to interpret her reaction otherwise.

“I would not mind going there,” Sonia smiled at Koizumi. She waited a moment before turning to Hajime and Souda, “What about you two?”

“I’m fine with it,” Hajime said before Souda had the chance to voice any objections. He thought for sure he was going to insist on going to that parts store. Although, when he looked at him, he seemed more contemplative rather than opposed to it.

“Do you know what kinda stuff they’re selling?” he asked after a moment’s pause.

“I don’t know. That’s why I want to check it out. Or did you find anything?” Koizumi directed the question at Satou. She only got a shrug in response. Koizumi narrowed her eyes, “You don’t want to tell me.”

“It would take the fun out of going there,” Satou tried to defend herself, but she wasn’t able to keep her smirk in check. Turning away from Koizumi and to the others, she added, “So, how about we just go ahead and find out?”

“I believe that to be a wonderful idea,” Sonia said, and Hajime agreed with a silent nod. Souda followed his example, though there was some indifferent mumbling accompanying his nod.

“W-well, if everyone agrees, then…” Koizumi trailed off, avoiding their faces, but she seemed happy with this result.

She and Satou once again took over the lead of their group, Sonia and Souda following close behind. At first, Hajime was walking side by side with them, but he gradually let himself fall back a bit as the girls started a new conversation about photography or something. He didn’t really listen.

He pulled out his phone, checking if he missed any new messages, but there was nothing. His heart felt heavy as he read over his last text again. It was true that Lucky didn’t always reply immediately—especially if they didn’t like the topic—but the fear of having overstepped their boundaries somehow was bigger than usual. He couldn’t quite fathom why, though.

Something was nagging at the back of his head since the moment he sent that question. Their lack of response didn’t help much. Sending yet another message was probably not a good idea, though. Maybe they were just busy and he was worrying over nothing.

He wanted to let out a sigh, but he wouldn’t know how to explain it if any of the others noticed. It looked like he had to shove his worries aside for now. Hopefully Lucky would send an answer once he was alone again, when he could focus entirely on them.

Hajime let his phone vanish inside his pocket, ignoring the uneasy feeling that was churning in his stomach. He caught up with Souda and Sonia, walking side by side with them again.

They were all still talking about some photography technic, though Souda wasn’t contributing to the conversation. Hajime only partially managed to listen to it. His thoughts were still centered around Lucky, despite his efforts to temporarily forget about the issue.

Thankfully it got a little better once they reached the shop. From the outside, it didn’t look like anything special, but the inside was a bit more eye-catching.

The walls were lined with pictures of landmarks, nature, animals, people—it looked like all these pictures had been used in place of wallpaper. Hajime wondered who took them all, if it was a single person or multiple people.

In the middle of the room, there were small tables with different camera models. A small line of shelves along the wall presented some photo books following various themes, and there was even a sign pointing to the door of a room in the back which seemed to serve as a darkroom that customers could use at request.

A young woman sitting at a low counter welcomed them inside the store with a bright smile. She informed them that the darkroom was currently in use, but they were free to look around.

The first one to react was, surprisingly enough, Souda. He immediately walked over to the small tables. No one paid attention to him, though. Koizumi was admiring the photos on the wall, Satou following her as they walked along the walls together. Sonia rushed over to one of the photo book sections. It was about abandoned buildings if Hajime’s eyes weren’t failing him, not that it mattered.

He had no idea what to do. Looking at pictures seemed to be the only possibility in here, but he felt awkward standing around by himself like this. Which was weird since he had been alone in the bookstore as well, but he didn’t know this place and that made a difference for some reason.

Maybe he just had to get used to his new surroundings. If he had a distraction, that should be easier, although Lucky was currently unavailable. He lamented that fact briefly before considering his remaining options.

Since he wanted to know what was up with Souda, anyway, Hajime decided to walk up to him.

Souda was looking at the writing on the box of an expensive digital camera. It was pretty obvious he wouldn’t be able to afford that. The look he was giving the box, though, was rather intense and interested. Hajime hoped it was okay to start a conversation, “What are you doing?”

Souda only spared so much as a glance at him before answering, “Checking out the equipment on this thing. There’s some pretty high-quality stuff in there.”

“I didn’t know you were interested in cameras,” if he was honest, Hajime always thought cars were the only thing Souda actually cared about.

Apparently, he wasn’t quite wrong about that, though, given Souda’s next words, “I’m not, I just wanna take it apart! Maybe I can find a way to modify it a bit, too.”

His eyes were sparkling as he said that. Hajime didn’t know what to say, and he started to regret having initiated a conversation. He still wasn’t any good at those, unsurprisingly.

“Modify?” Koizumi stood beside him, making him flinch. He didn’t notice she and Satou had walked over. She was ignoring him, though, focusing on Souda with curiosity in her eyes, “In what way?”

“Huh? Uh…” Souda scratched the back of his head, giving the box of the camera he still held in his other hand a calculating look, “Well, for this one, I could probably increase the zoom range or something. Doing something with the self-timer doesn’t seem impossible, either.”

Koizumi seemed speechless. She was staring at Souda with wide eyes. When she found her voice again, her tone was disbelieving, “You can do that?”

“Sure,” he threw the word out in the open with no care. He realized it less than a second later, his body turning rigid, “I-I mean. I never actually got to tamper with a camera before, but…hypothetically speaking, I should be able to…do that.”

Koizumi’s expression looked speechless again. She wasn’t saying anything, and when the silence continued to stretch, Hajime started to feel awkward just standing there. Souda didn’t seem very comfortable with this, either. He was shifting from one foot to another, fidgeting with his clothes.

Satou was the one to break the silence, holding up a photo book that had been lying on a shelf nearby, “Hey, Mahiru, isn’t this one of your mother’s works?”

The speed with which Koizumi turned around to get a look at what Satou was holding made Hajime feel dizzy just by seeing her do it. She was standing next to Satou in only a few steps, taking the photo book and opening it on a random page—anything else forgotten. It was almost as if her conversation with Souda didn’t even happen.

When Hajime looked at Souda, he caught him letting out a small relieved sigh. He placed the box with the camera back on the small table and took a step back.

Upon noticing Hajime’s stare, he promptly came closer and leaned into him so as not to let anyone else hear what he had to say, “I’m not the only one that’s scared of Koizumi, right?”

“Um,” Hajime glanced at Koizumi and Satou—both too absorbed in the photo book section to pay attention to them. He considered whether to say the truth, though there wasn’t any real reason to lie, either, “She’s a bit intimidating, I guess. But Izuru can be worse.”

“Don’t remind me!” It was spoken in a hushed, panicked whisper. Souda’s eyes were flying around the shop as if Izuru could pop out behind one of the shelves or the counter at any second. Nothing happened, though, and after he took a deep breath, he said, “Man, and I thought Satou was already difficult enough. At least Sonia-san’s nice, though.”

Hajime frowned, but didn’t say anything. He wasn’t sure what to say to that, anyway. He gave Souda a vague nod in response when he gave him a strange look to make him stop, but it didn’t really mean anything. His stare wouldn’t leave, though.

“Something wrong?” Hajime had the feeling he didn’t want to ask.

“Just out of curiosity…” Souda made a gesture with his hand that seemed to serve in prompting himself to continue—or he was searching for the right words, but Hajime didn’t think that fit very well, “Do you and Sonia-san know each other?”

“Not really,” he shrugged. “I only met her once two weeks ago or so. What makes you think that?”

“Oh, just, uh, haha.” Souda laughed awkwardly, stepping away from Hajime and rubbing a hand over his neck as he said, “You seemed familiar is all. But if you don’t know her, it’s all good.”

Hajime didn’t need to be a genius to figure out there was a bit more to it than that. He didn’t think it was any of his business, though, and frankly, he didn’t want to get involved. He gave Souda another noncommittal nod and took a wide—and especially obvious—look around the shop before slowly walking away from him in the direction of one of the many photo book shelves.

Once he was standing in front of it, however, he felt a little lost. He checked his phone, just to make sure, but Lucky still hadn’t answered him. His chest felt heavy and constricted. He pushed the feeling aside the same way he pushed his phone back into his pocket.

He wanted to think about more lighthearted things. Like, for example…he knew Lucky had a lot of books, but did they have any photo books? They should at least have some family albums or something. Everyone had.

He wondered if they liked having their picture taken. Considering Lucky’s hate for themselves, they might fell into the category of people who didn’t like to be captured on camera. Personally, Hajime didn’t mind it much, though he preferred to be asked for permission first.

Either way, Lucky could still like to look at pictures in general. The topic never came up in any of their conversations, so Hajime didn’t know their thoughts on the subject.

While he was looking at some of the cover images for different kinds of photo books, he wondered what kind of photos Lucky would like. Landscapes or cityscapes? Nature inspired or more futuristic looking? Day or night time? Maybe they liked photos of the universe or the stars rather than of the things you could find on earth.

He could ask them. Although, for what purpose? He wouldn’t be able to do anything with that information. He couldn’t even use it to find a present for their birthday or something. That fact disappointed him a little.

Still, he was curious now. If Lucky had a favorite photographer, maybe they could at least discuss their pictures together. That wouldn’t be such a bad use of his time, if he was honest.

Hajime smiled as he walked along the shelves, reading the names of photo books and photographers. Nothing really stood out to him nor did any names sound familiar, but one discovery from the corner of his eye made him stop dead in his tracks.

The cover image of the photo book wasn’t anything special, and the name of the collection was more or less standard as well, but the name of the photographer—the “author” of the book—was Koizumi Mahiru.

Hajime stared at the name. He looked around, his eyes darting across the room. They came to a halt on Koizumi, watching as she was still talking to Satou about something in the photo book she held in her hand. This felt surreal.

He turned back to read her name on the book cover again. It could be a different Koizumi Mahiru, but it was a fact that she wasn’t entirely unknown in the photography business as proven by Sonia’s lack of suspicion when he slipped up back at the car exhibition.

Should he take a look at it? It might be useful if the whole thing at the exhibition was ever going to be brought up again. And he was kinda curious. Koizumi was just a high school student like himself, yet she already published something like this.

It made him a little envious, too, but he shoved that aside. It was her hobby if Hajime wasn’t mistaken. She would, of course, try to make a job out of it as soon as she could.

In the end, he figured it wouldn’t hurt anyone if he looked inside. It was part of the store’s inventory, after all. He took one of the copies lying on top of the stack and opened it on a random page.

He was greeted with the sight of a bunch of smiling faces. He turned a few pages, skimming over the pictures. All of them—without exception—were depicting at least one smile on the face of a teenager in a middle school uniform.

It was probably safe to assume that Koizumi took all these during her time in middle school. The people depicted in them must have been her classmates. He could even recognize Satou in some of them. Her hair was a little shorter, but it was definitely her.

The very last picture of the book was a shot of Satou and Koizumi standing together in front of the school gate. They weren’t doing anything, just talking to each other with smiles on their faces. Ironically enough, Koizumi’s hair was a bit longer compared to what it looked like right now.

“Wow, that brings back memories!” Satou was suddenly standing at his side, peering at the open photo book in his hands.

He almost took a step to the side, but noticed Koizumi standing there just in time and stopped himself. He didn’t want to know how she would react if he crashed into her.

“You’re right,” Koizumi agreed with Satou’s words, a nostalgic smile on her lips. “It’s been a while since the last time I looked at these.”

Satou lifted her hand and rested a finger on top of the last page, “That’s the one Ako took without permission, right? I remember how red your face was when you noticed her.”

“Of course, she used my camera without asking. I was angry,” Koizumi’s cheeks turned a light shade of pink as she said that.

Satou raised an eyebrow, a clearly mischievous look on her face, “Really? I personally think you were embarrassed to be the one captured in a photo for a change.”

Koizumi didn’t try to refute it, though her cheeks stayed pink. Instead, she furiously flipped the pages back to a page around the middle, showing students during the preparations for their school festival, and pointed at a photo in the upper left corner, “Do I need to remind you of the Snow White dress?”

Satou’s face turned pale. She quickly slammed her hand on top of the picture. Hajime almost dropped the book thanks to the impact. The resulting jolt made Satou pause. She looked up at him as if she only now noticed he was standing there. Her eyes quickly darted from left to right, avoiding his gaze, “You didn’t see it, did you?”

“No, I didn’t,” he wasn’t lying. Satou still gave him a suspicious stare, and Koizumi didn’t seem convinced, either. He figured the best course of action would be an immediate change of topic. He turned to Koizumi and, in the most interested and curious sounding voice he could muster, he asked, “So, you took these photos?”

“Well, yeah. Jeez, did you not read the cover?” She rolled her eyes, putting her hands on her hips in a clear display of annoyance. It was quickly replaced by a much softer expression, though, as she turned to look at the other copies lying on top of the shelve, “I’m surprised they have it in stock when this shop is so new. It didn’t sell very well compared to my first one.”

So, she had at least two photo books released so far. That answered how he could have known about Koizumi before meeting her, at least.

“It’s a shame, really,” Satou took the open book from Hajime’s hands, slowly turning one page after the other. She smiled as her eyes wandered over the pictures, her mind visibly recalling events from the past aligning with the images. “They all look so happy in these shots.”

“It can’t be helped. It was just an experiment, anyway,” Koizumi’s tone of voice appeared to be nonchalant, supported by the casual shrug of her shoulders. She took one of the copies of her photo book, turning the pages in rapid succession, mumbling absentmindedly, “The safest thing to do would be to simply stick with architecture for the next one, too.”

“That’s stupid.” A loud thud resounded in the space around them as Satou shut close the book with more force than necessary. She gave Koizumi an accusing stare alongside her next words, “That’s not why you want to take pictures.”

Koizumi choose to stay silent. She shut the book, tracing its spine with the tip of her fingers as she was staring at the picture on the cover. Hajime only really looked at it now, but it was a photo of the entire class in front of a classroom’s chalk board. Koizumi herself wasn’t in the picture, though.

Hajime turned his eyes back to the remaining copies lying on the shelve. He didn’t see the entire photo book, and he couldn’t say he spent a lot of time examining each and every picture in precise detail, but they were good photos. Maybe not very extraordinary, but he didn’t think that was the point.

The purpose of this photo book was simply to capture the simplicity of middle school life and the student’s joy of spending their days together as a unit…or something like that. That was his speculation, at least.

Earlier, Koizumi said she preferred taking pictures of people, right? Did she really plan to change that if this book didn’t sell well? Hajime got the impression that was a sad decision to make in that case, and wouldn’t it make taking pictures less enjoyable for her that way?

Satou seemed to agree, too, based on her protest just now. She was glaring daggers at Koizumi, though the latter pretended not to notice. There was tension in the air, and Hajime didn’t like it.

Before he could stop himself, he grabbed one of the copies of Koizumi’s photo book and said, “I’ll buy one.”

“What?” Koizumi’s head snapped up, her expression dumbfounded, “You don’t need to do that for my sake.”

“I’m not.” Actually, he kind of was. If she had the chance to do what she wanted to in her life, she should take it. Throwing it away like that was stupid, just like Satou said. He couldn’t deny the jealousy he felt at the thought, but this wasn’t about him. Photography had nothing to do with him.

So, yes, he was doing this for Koizumi in a way. He would do this for anyone who was stupid enough to fail to realize what gift they had been given. He wasn’t going to admit that, though. It already sounded embarrassing enough inside his head.

He still felt as if he had to give Koizumi a reason for why he would want to buy this, though.

“I just think they’re good photos,” at least it wasn’t hard to come up with something, and he didn’t even have to lie—not that he actually had an eye for any greater differences than whether or not the image was blurry.

“Good photos, huh?” Koizumi’s eyes turned cold, boring a hole into him. With a huff, she said, “That’s such a half-assed comment. It sounds insincere.”

Well, that could’ve gone better. Maybe he could try and salvage the situation. Maybe.

“N-no, that’s not it,” he knew he was panicking a little, and that was probably the first sign telling him to simply shut his mouth and stop talking, but Koizumi’s stare made him too afraid of falling silent to even attempt to stop.

He hastily opened the photo book in his hands, looking at the one photo that perfectly lined both pages—it was depicting the whole class at a hanami picnic—and said the first thing to enter his mind, whether he was embarrassed by it or not. He was going to regret this.

“They might all be simple pictures, but they’re so full of…easiness? Does that make sense?” He shot a hesitant glance at Koizumi. Her eyes weren’t cold anymore, but still skeptical.

He hurried to continue, looking back at the hanami picture, “It’s peaceful. Everyone smiles and gets along. I…I don’t know how to put it, but it feels like all the moments captured in these photos are important. And I don’t even know these people.”

He had probably said enough at this point, but as his eyes travelled over each student sitting on the large blanket beneath the cherry blossoms and surrounded by lunch boxes, a smile on everyone’s face—some bigger, some smaller, but all most definitely happy at this exact moment of time when the picture was taken—Hajime found it more and more difficult to keep his thoughts to himself.

“It’s just—just…they all look happy. Positive. Not worried about a thing. They’re spending their school days having fun and I—” his voice cracked, turning his words into a whisper, “—I missed it.”

Hajime felt breathless, as if all air had been punched out of his lungs.

He never considered the things he missed out on because he was too busy studying, too busy running after his father’s attention, to spent his time anywhere other than alone inside his room. The picture of Satou and Koizumi’s former middle school class that was slowly burning itself into his mind, made that clear to him.

They could both probably still recall most—if not all—names from their classmates. Hajime couldn’t even remember a single one. Even his classmates’ faces were a total blur inside his head. He never spent any more time than necessary with them, after all.

He didn’t make any happy memories in middle school that could’ve been captured on camera and printed inside a book like this. Looking at these happy, smiling faces was hurting him, yet he couldn’t turn away.

It was so different than the reality he was living during that time, it felt nearly surreal to him—almost as if a harmonic picture like this was just a dream instead of something that actually took place. It could’ve happened to him if only he had allowed it—a scenario, a peaceful scene, like that.

Although, one think did come to mind when thinking about hanami. A day when he was only nine or eight years old. He and his parents had gone to the nearby park together with some family friends to watch the blooming cheery blossoms.

He could remember that day perfectly. That was the very first time his father had made Kusamochi from scratch. They had all been for Hajime. Every single one.

That day had been a happy one, but the memory made his heart ache.

Hajime forcefully shut the photo book to snap himself out of it, making a small gust of wind collide directly with his face. It caused his eyes to sting, but he blinked rapidly to get rid of the feeling.

The inside of the shop was silent to his ears, even though he was aware of the conversation between Souda and Sonia taking place a few shelves over. None of their words would register. It sounded so far away, and as if they were speaking a language he wasn’t familiar with.

Only when Koizumi started speaking next to him, her voice quiet but confident, his ears seemed to function normally again, “Yeah, that’s it. That was actually a good comment.”

Hajime held his breath, waiting for her to add something—maybe something concerning the sudden crack in his voice—but Koizumi was silent. He glanced over at her, only to find out she wasn’t even looking at him. She had turned her head away from him, hiding her face.

He slowly let go of the air he held inside, assuming her silence meant she wouldn’t bring it up. He didn’t want to stand there in silence, either, though. As his gaze turned back at the photo book in his hands, he more mumbled than said, “I’m not sure it makes much sense, though.”

“It does. I know what you mean,” Satou brought his attention over to her. She was smiling at him, talking in a proud tone of voice, “Mahiru’s pictures always make you feel like you’re a part of the moment she captured. I love looking at them.”

After a moment’s silence, Koizumi turned her head, revealing pink stained cheeks. Her smile was bashful, “Thank you, Satou-chan. I still have to work a bit on my technique, though.”

“Of course, you do,” she rolled her eyes, but the action spoke of fondness rather than annoyance. Her expression shifted and, without missing a beat, she asked, “Say, Hinata, are you hungry?”

He wasn’t going to question the sudden change of topic. Lunch had probably been a few hours ago at this point—not that he had actually eaten enough for it to qualify as lunch. He had been too nervous for that.

The answer he gave Satou was a shrug and the words, “A bit, I guess.”

“Earlier, I saw a crepe stand through the window a little down this street, so I was wondering…” Satou trailed off, but Hajime could easily fill in the blanks.

He nodded, “Alright. Let’s go there, then.”

“Perfect! I’ll tell the others,” Satou beamed at him, practically skipping over to Souda and Sonia.

She tapped on Souda’s shoulder to get his attention, causing him to let out a surprised scream. Hajime couldn’t hold back an amused snort, feeling the corner of his lip tug upwards.

“Are you still going to buy that?” Koizumi’s voice cut through his thoughts. She was giving him a cautious look. He had no doubt this question came as a response to his reaction earlier.

He looked at the photo book. Satou’s description of what she felt when looking at Koizumi’s pictures echoed in his head, and he couldn’t help but agree with her. He didn’t give himself the chance to experience his days in middle school to the fullest, but maybe he could still do it through these photos.

When he thought about it, what was depicted in this book, wasn’t he doing that right now? He was spending time together with classmates, like they all did back then. Something like what was shown in these pictures—that was what he wanted to experience. This was a reminder.

His grip on the book tightened, “Yes, actually. I think I will buy that.”

The sound of a camera shutter reached his ears. Koizumi took down her camera, presumably looking at the picture she just took, “Yep, that’s a good expression.”

His eyes went wide, “Did I smile?”

Koizumi’s head snapped up in surprise, her mouth hanging open. She composed herself quickly, turning her eyes back to the camera, “Yes, you didn’t notice?”

Obviously, he didn’t. He won’t say that, though, not after that remark.

Still, Hajime felt warmth spreading through his body at the confirmation. He wasn’t sure why, but it comforted him in a way. He didn’t really have any words for it. The only word that sounded accurate enough was better. He felt better. And that was all.

The feeling didn’t leave him for the rest of the day, settled somewhere deep inside his chest. He got lost in that feeling and soon it was the only thing he could say he clearly remembered after they ate the crepes Satou had wanted.

That didn’t mean he hadn’t enjoyed the day, though. He did. He definitely did. But time flew by without his notice. He knew they had walked around some more, gone to some more different stores—they even granted Souda’s wish of going to that mechanical parts shop thing, although they didn’t stay there for very long—and he knew he had laughed with the others at some point.

It was a good day.

But something was missing. And Hajime knew exactly what it was. The entire time, his phone didn’t buzz once. He even checked it a few times, but nothing. Lucky wasn’t there.

It didn’t make the warmth inside his chest disappear, thankfully, but it did make him worry.

That was why, when the sun started to set and everyone agreed it was time to them to part ways and go home, Hajime didn’t follow them to the train station. Instead, he went back to the café where they had all met up this afternoon.

It was empty now, and it would close soon, but he preferred to talk here rather than on a train. Also, if he went home now, there was the likely possibility of his mother wanting to press him for information on his day, and he wasn’t patient enough to wait until she left him alone.

He ordered tea again, green tea this time so the color could remind him of the four-leaved clover, and sat down at the same table as in the afternoon. He lied his phone on top of the table, screen unlocked and his chat with Lucky opened.

It was obvious he shouldn’t have asked that question. Taking a sip from his tea, he thought about possible ways to start this conversation, but the only thing he could really do at this point was apologize and take back the question.

He sighed, but there wasn’t anything to be done about it. He had to respect Lucky’s boundaries. The warmth from the time with the others was still buzzing just beneath his skin. He let it comfort him as he took his phone and started to type.

(19:30) >> I’m sorry, Lucky.

To be honest, while it did catch him off-guard, he wasn’t too surprised their response was instantaneous.

Lucky (19:30) > For what are you apologizing? There’s no reason for you to feel sorry, Nobody.

Of course, according to them there wasn’t.

(19:31) >> There is. I shouldn’t have insisted on you telling me something that you were clearly uncomfortable with. I don’t want to lose my connection to you to something like this, so I’m sorry and I won’t ask again.

It was a little embarrassing for him to actually send that message. His heart was beating rapidly, pumping too much blood inside his head—or his cheeks, to be precise. It didn’t help that Lucky’s answer wasn’t nearly as immediate this time.

He took a couple of sips from his tea, trying to calm down his frantic heartbeat. It didn’t help much. Once their reply arrived, he still wasn’t feeling prepared enough—prepared for what, who knew—but ignoring them on purpose was one of the things he didn’t ever want to do in his life.

Lucky (19:33) > Too kind… Too considerate for someone like me…

(19:33) >> Stop saying that. It’s not true.

Lucky (19:34) > You know, I actually thought about just telling you what you want to know.

Hajime’s eyes went wide, his jaw feeling loose, and air stuck in his throat. He was holding his breath. This was an unexpected topic change, and he was unsure of how to reply, but Lucky freed him from that burden when they continued to send text after text, finally explaining at least something.

Lucky (19:34) > But I really think I can’t.

Lucky (19:34) > Not anymore.

Lucky (19:35) > If you had asked me for specifics earlier, I might wouldn’t have cared whether you knew or not. I would’ve just thought “you’ll be gone soon, anyway” no matter in what way.

Lucky (19:35) > And I would’ve been fine with that. I really would have.

Lucky (19:36) > But now, you’re still here and I…I don’t know.

Lucky (19:36) > I’m confused?

Lucky (19:37) > I don’t think I don’t care anymore.

Lucky (19:37) > I do care whether you’re talking to me or not.

Lucky (19:37) > But I shouldn’t. It’s dangerous.

Lucky (19:38) > And, this is so selfish, but I’m afraid if I tell you the truth you’ll be scared, too. You could run away, leave me alone, despite saying you won’t so many times, and I just

Lucky (19:38) > Don’t

Lucky (19:38) > Know.

Hajime’s head was spinning, overflowing with Lucky’s words. He didn’t expect them to take over the chat like that. He wasn’t even if sure if he should interrupt them and calm them down or let them say what they felt the need to get out of their system.

Before he could reach an answer to his next course of action, though, Lucky’s messages continued.

Lucky (19:39) > I don’t even know

Lucky (19:39) > Why I’m telling you any of this.

Lucky (19:40) > You’re just words on my phone screen, but maybe that’s what makes it so easy to say things I would never dare to speak out loud.

Lucky (19:40) > I just

Lucky (19:41) > I’m sorry for filling the chat like this.

A quiet laugh managed to burst out of his mouth, though only for a moment.

Their onslaught in form of text messages had stopped, allowing Hajime to collect his thoughts. He didn’t want to think about their words for too long, though. Not right now, at least. He got the feeling he couldn’t waste any time at the moment.

(19:41) >> Don’t worry about that. Just say what you need to say.

Lucky (19:43) > No, I think I’m fine now.

Hajime couldn’t tell if they only said that to stop the topic from continuing or if they actually meant it and were doing alright again. If he asked them now, though, wouldn’t it all just repeat again?

He took another sip from his tea and wondered what to do.

This would be easier if he was talking to Lucky directly instead of over text messages. He wouldn't need to say anything. He could simply offer them comfort by sitting next to them or something. Maybe he could hold their hand, or give them a hug, or just be close to them.

Hajime’s face felt as if he had opened a recently used oven, the lingering heat washing over him in waves. Being close to Lucky was an embarrassing thought, not to mention stupid and impossible. He didn’t even know if they were okay with physical contact.

He himself wasn’t that fond of it. Why did he even imagine that?

Before he could find an answer, his phone received a new message.

Lucky (19:44) > You didn’t write me anything concerning bad things happening. Does that mean everything went fine?

Hajime blinked at the question, but didn’t think much about it.

(19:44) >> Yeah, that’s right.

Lucky (19:44) > That’s good to hear.

He wanted to know why. The desire to know their reason for saying that was overtaking his thoughts, but he pushed it back, refusing to let it drive his actions.

He could just try and tell them he wouldn’t stop talking to them because of whatever they were afraid to say, but maybe that would only have the opposite effect. He should leave this topic alone for now.

(19:45) >> I hope your day was nice, too.

Lucky (19:45) > So you got along with your schoolmates? Tell me about it!

Lucky (19:45) > Doesn’t have to be specifics, of course.

Hajime was confused for a moment, but the warmth he felt over the course of the afternoon while hanging out with the others—maybe he could call them friends—took over his thoughts.

A glance at his tea revealed the cup was still half full. He could tell Lucky a bit of what they did together until he was done, he supposed. He wasn’t going to mention any names or reenact conversations, but he could talk about some things.

Hajime smiled as he started to type out his texts, overwhelmed by that better feeling the more events he recalled. He wished Lucky could’ve been there, too.


The boy in Hope’s Peak Academy’s dormitory was lying on the floor of his room. The heart inside his chest was beating faster and faster with each new message arriving on his phone.

He didn’t know why it was beating so fast, jumping up and down in an unsteady rhythm. It confused him. There was only so much that he could blame on the edge he had been standing on for the past few days, and the fast beating didn’t fill him with dread. It was too warm for that, too gentle, too unknown.

The boy remembered the books he’d read. He remembered the feelings some novels had described to him and that he could never really wrap his head around. The lack of comparison always made it difficult for him to connect with the characters on an emotional level.

Was he experiencing it right now? Because of a faceless nobody that was nothing more than nothingness inside his head? Why couldn’t he move on from it? Even though he knew how dangerous it was to keep this up? Had he been starving for someone’s kindness this much?

He paused, “Starve…?”

Slowly, an idea was forming inside the boy’s head. No, it was more of a realization than an idea. It was so perfect, he couldn’t believe it took him this long to figure it out.

In one swift jolting motion, he sat up.

One hand was clutching his phone, pressing it to his chest. He could feel the obnoxious beating of his heart, cursing it and wishing it would never stop. His free hand was pressed against his face, gripping his hair. His upper body doubled over as he laughed and breathed and coughed at the same time.

He didn’t have the strength to stand up.

Chapter Text

10/18

Hajime sat at the small table in the living room. No one had replaced it with the kotatsu yet, but he knew that it was only a matter of time until it would be switched. Right now, though, it was still warm enough inside without having to create any extra heat.

Hajime was the only one at home. His mother, Izuru, and Kazuki were all eating dinner out at a restaurant. There wasn’t really any occasion for it, which was why Hajime had managed to stay at home instead, eating instant noodles because he couldn’t make anything more complicated.

The reason he wanted to stay behind was—well, for one part, he already knew he would only feel uncomfortable and anxious the whole time, and the other part was…he wanted to take a better look at the pictures in Koizumi’s photo book. He had been too tired to do it yesterday.

He would’ve looked at it earlier today, if only he had felt confident enough. Being the only one at home gave him a boost of courage, and now he was sitting here, slowly turning one page after the other, knowing he was going to be greeted with at least one smile each and every time.

That knowledge was a comfort on his mind. It was like a promise that everyday would be a good day.

In case that much positivity was going to overwhelm him, though—like it did back at the store—he had placed his phone right next to the open photo book. As if Lucky was sitting next to him, in the best way they could.

An hour had passed since he started looking through the book. At some point, he realized he had started smiling, too—just like the people captured with Koizumi’s camera.

Admittedly, it was a little weird. Seeing glimpses of what used to be the daily life of people whose names he didn’t even know. Well, he knew Satou and Koizumi, but that was just two students out of thirty-something. It was nothing in comparison.

Still, that didn’t stop him from turning the pages of the book, taking in every single picture on every single page the best he could, letting the smiles that were radiating with positivity infect him with a feeling of ease and weightlessness as well, and after a while, he completely forgot about it.

When he was about halfway through the book, he took a deep breath and closed it. He didn’t want to immediately look at everything on a single day. It probably didn’t make any sense, but he got the feeling it would be better to take his time with this. It would be the most effective that way.

He was about to stand up and leave the living room, when his gaze found its way to the phone that was lying untouched next to the book on the table.

In the end, he didn’t need Lucky as a distraction, which was probably a good thing, but now it had been hours since they last exchanged messages. The thought didn’t sit very well with him, so he quickly took the phone in his hand and opened their chat.

He didn’t really know what to write, but the moment he glanced over at the photo book one more time, he remembered the question that had been flying around his head yesterday in the photography shop. There wasn’t much to gain from asking, but he supposed it wouldn’t hurt anyone.

(19:39) >> Here’s a random question but do you like looking at photographs?

No immediate response. That was fine. Lucky could be busy. It was pretty late, too. The sun had already set and disappeared behind the horizon. Still, that left him with absolutely nothing to do.

Hajime sighed and put his elbow on the table’s surface to place his chin in his hand and let his fingers rest against his cheek. With his free hand, he laid the phone back onto the table and begun lazily spinning it around in a circle as he waited for a reply.

If Lucky didn’t answer in the next ten minutes or so, he would just go to bed early or something. Tomorrow was Sunday, but whatever. Sleep wasn’t a bad thing.

As he waited, his mind started to wander back to the pictures in Koizumi’s photo book.

He was a little amazed how she actually managed to only capture smiling faces. She and Satou both had been surrounded by that atmosphere for the entirety of their middle school life. And they had this photo book to always remind themselves of that time.

Hajime wondered if any of the old family albums they had were filled with the same carefree smiles and endless positivity. It had been a while since he last looked through one of them, he could barely remember any of the pictures.

He let his eyes wander, over to the small cabinet their television was standing on. If his mother hadn’t placed them somewhere else without telling him, the only two albums they had made over the years should still be in there.

Glancing down at his phone that was as silent as before, and glancing back up at the cabinet, he concluded that he might as well have a look. Just to see the easiness of those days again.

He didn’t stand up, it wasn’t worth it the short distance. Instead, he slid across the floor on his knees toward the cabinet. Looking inside, both the family albums he remembered where still there, untouched.

Taking one of them out into the open, he couldn’t keep his hands from shaking. He wasn’t sure why. Maybe it was the knowledge that on various pages of this book, he would be able to see his father’s face again—after a whole four years—even if it was only through a picture.

And while he did want to see his father again in any way he could, that same thought made him hesitate in opening this album right now. He didn’t know how he would react. At the same time, he wanted to remember how things had been back then, relive it through the photos that were taken.

At least for a little bit. He could stop as soon as he started to feel like it was too much. No one was forcing him to do this. And if he had a breakdown, well, he was the only one at home. It was okay.

Steeling himself with a deep breath, Hajime opened the album on a random page.

What he was greeted with wasn’t a smile. It was the face of his four-year-old self, sitting on a beach, staring at the camera with furrowed brows and a generally disapproving expression.

His cheeks were puffed out as if he was pouting, but then he noticed the sand corns sticking to the corners of his mouth, and Hajime remembered the story his father had once told him when they were looking through this album together one time and had gotten to this particular page.

Apparently, for some unknown reason that he most definitely couldn’t remember, little Hajime had gotten hungry during a vacation they spent at the sea, and since his mother took so long to get his food, he decided the sand beneath his tiny feet would have to do for now.

And as stubborn as he was, he refused to spit it out afterwards. His father did eventually convince him to, but not until after he took a picture of that wonderful moment. Hajime was ninety-eight percent sure he just wanted to embarrass him with it—which succeeded if he remembered correctly.

The memory stung a little, he didn’t need to elaborate on the why for that one, but it still managed to pull up the corner of his mouth just a tiny little bit.

He turned the page, being greeted by more photos from that same vacation. It was followed by pictures of a trip to the amusement park and some other simple and random moments in the live of Hajime, his mother, and his father together.

Seeing, and sometimes even remembering, how easy everything had been back then was crushing his heart in an icy grip while, at the same time, bringing a warmth to his chest that gave him the reassurance of closure in a way. This was a moment of necessary pain.

These days had long passed. There was no going back to them. But he was doing alright. Things weren’t all that bad anymore. He would be lying if he said he didn’t miss his father’s presence, but there were new people in his life now. He was fine.

Hajime continued skimming through the pages, past his first day at school, a few birthdays and new-years, that one hanami with his father’s self-made Kusamochi, when his page turning was interrupted by the sound of his phone receiving a new message.

His head snapped up, making a sharp turn in the direction of the small table where his phone was lying. Clutching the open album to his chest, he slid back across the floor toward the table.

The contact name displayed on the phone’s screen was, just as he had hoped it would be, Lucky. He felt a smile gain control over his face, almost big enough to hurt his cheeks, as he put down the album on the table and opened the message with a few quick movements of his finger.

Lucky (19:56) > Well, I don’t really have any to look at.

A wave of disappointment hit him, though he had no idea why. He wouldn’t be able to do anything with that information, anyway, even if it would’ve been a yes. So, it didn’t really matter.

Still, he was disappointed. Enough so that he simply continued asking instead of accepting Lucky’s answer. He thought it was stupid, but he also couldn’t stop himself.

(19:57) >> I’m not talking about any fancy photo books. It can be any kind of photo.

(19:57) >> Like… your family doesn’t make photo albums or something?

Lucky (19:58) > I don’t think my parents had any time for that.

“Oh,” the sound slipped past his lips as his smile faded.

Hajime deflated a little, his shoulders slumping. Now he felt bad for even having started this conversation. This seemed like a possibly sore subject and he probably shouldn’t pry any more than he already did.

He didn’t know what to say, though, and he didn’t want to answer them with awkward silence. So, he just went with a statement rather than a question for clarification and left it up to Lucky to decide how much they wanted to tell him. It should be fine as long as they didn’t think Hajime was forcing them to talk about it.

(19:59) >> Sounds like they’re the busy kind of person.

Lucky (19:59) > I guess so.

That was more or less a different way of saying ‘forget about it’ if Hajime was interpreting it correctly. He didn’t expect anything else. Lucky didn’t like talking about themselves, and he knew that.

He was about to try and find a way to change the topic when a new message caught him off-guard. Not only with its timing but also with its contents.

Lucky (20:00) > But even if they did make one, it would’ve burned in the fire, anyway.

There were so many questions instantly flying around inside his mind that Hajime was afraid his head would not be able to contain all of them. Yet, he didn’t know how to ask any of them, or even if it would be okay to ask. This could be one of the cases where Lucky simply blurted something out that they, in actuality, never wanted to talk about if they could help it. It happened from time to time.

It was safer not to ask any questions. Hajime didn’t really know how to feel about that, but it was the only conclusion he managed to come to. Although, he could still try…

Before he could stop himself, the message was sent.

(20:02) >> I’m not going to ask what you’re talking about, but if there’s anything you need to get off your chest, you do know that you can tell me anything and I won’t tell a single soul, alright?

He really hoped that didn’t sound too pushy. It was fine if Lucky didn’t take him up on the offer, but Hajime felt like this was the sort of thing a friend should say. At the very least, it was better than saying nothing.

Which was exactly what Lucky was doing. Saying nothing. Again, that was fine—it was sort of a confirmation to Hajime’s suspicion—but it didn’t really help his mind to calm down.

He sighed, placing his phone back on top of the table. His eyes drifted over to the still open photo album, the delighted face of a younger version of himself staring back at him while holding up the stuffed goldfish he won at one of the summer festivals they used to visit every year.

Hajime smiled at the memory of the victory. Both his parents had looked so proud in that moment, though that was only through the eyes of a kid. They were probably just happy he finally won something after trying at nearly every stall.

He remembered how ecstatic he was when he continued to walk around the festival while explaining to the fish everything they came across. There were some photos of that on the following pages.

Before he even realized what exactly he was doing, he was going over the pictures again, turning page after page inside the album, and losing his sense of time to the memories he slowly started to relive. It was still a little painful to see these depictions of the happy past, but he was fine.

The quiet bubble of calm that enveloped him and the entire living room as he was looking at photo after photo was shattered by the sound of the door opening and his mother’s surprised voice saying, “Hajime, you’re down here?”

With a flinch coursing through his body, the feeling of being caught creeping up his spine, he slammed the photo album shut, a very audible thud resounding in the room.

He sat up straight, his eyes darting over to the door where his mother was standing, still half outside in the hallway, one hand on the handle. Hajime felt his heart jumping up into his throat and deciding to stay there, essentially forming a lump that he was unable to swallow.

A thousand words were storming in his head, but he didn’t get any of them out, his lips pressed together in a thin line that wouldn’t budge. The still vivid image of the pictures he was just looking at didn’t help, either. Even though she was smiling at him, his mother didn’t look as happy as she did in the photos. He wasn’t sure how much he could trust his perception of these things, though.

“I was wondering why the lights were on,” she yanked him out of his thoughts, her voice sounding lighthearted but having a certain urgency to it. “I’ll leave you alone, then. Don’t stay up too late, though, okay?”

She was turning away from him, ready to leave the room, and all Hajime could think about were the words he tried to say for the past few days—the apology he still owed her. He wanted to apologize, he really did, but he didn’t know how to start. Maybe by preventing her from leaving right now.

“Can I talk to you for a second?” The words hastily tumbled out of his mouth, unfiltered and most definitely not thought-out. He had no clue where to go from there, but his mother stopped, at least.

She looked back at him, caught off-guard and uncertain. He couldn’t meet her gaze, so he focused on a point of the doorframe’s wood that was a bit darker than the rest instead.

The longer it took for his mother to give him any form of reaction, the more he started to become anxious about it. He subconsciously begun rocking back and forth with his upper body, his eyes leaving the spot on the doorframe in favor of darting aimlessly around the room.

Regret at even trying to start this conversation was slowly clouding his mind with more and more unpleasant thoughts, up to the point where he couldn’t hold them back anymore and blurted out a quick, “But, uh, n-never mind. It’s probably not important.”

After the half-second it took for him to realize what he just said, he wanted to slap himself across the face. He was avoiding the topic for no good reason. Even though he actually did want to talk about it.

It seemed like he was still kind of a mess, even with the progress he made in the last few days. It was frustrating to say the least, yet he couldn’t bring himself to do anything against it.

As he felt his brows drawing together in a frown, his gaze narrowed in on the small table in front of him—more specifically, the now closed family album lying on top of it. Any moment now, his mother would leave him alone and he was no closer to apologizing than before.

“Well, now I have to know what’s up,” his mother’s voice pierced through the silence. The door was closed with a thud, followed by audible footsteps coming towards him.

Hajime remained frozen in place, his gaze locked on the photo album. He had been so sure he had missed his chance, again, and now he wasn’t mentally prepared for this.

He didn’t have the courage to look up, but he could see his mother’s figure sitting down across from him out of the corner of his eyes. Silence filled the room, unsaid words piling up on top of each other. He could feel his mother’s gaze, not actively staring at him, but passing over him every now and then while she was most likely scanning the table to see what he had been doing.

He didn’t know what to say, even though he was the one who called out to her. He felt pathetic for it, but no words to explain himself would come to him.

He glanced over at his phone every few seconds, unsure whether he wanted Lucky to write him right now or not. He knew they couldn’t save him, but maybe it would help to know they were there with him. As things were, however, they didn’t even know about the situation.

After a solid minute or so of complete silence had passed, a hand reached out and came into Hajime’s view. He fought back the impulse to jerk away from it, even managing to repress a flinch, though the hand wasn’t reaching for him. Its goal was the family album in front of him.

He was scared to move, so he didn’t. Even when he heard the sound of flipping pages as his mother most likely randomly opened the album, he stared down at the wooden table, stiff as a statue.

Time continued to pass in silence until his mother’s soft chuckle broke through it. “Ah, that brings back memories,” she said to herself, a smile in her voice. Hajime glanced up enough to see the page she was looking at.

It was from his second year in elementary school—more specifically, the sports day event where he got picked as one of the runners in the final race. His team actually won the race, though it wasn’t enough to bring them an overall victory, and Hajime had kinda messed up in the beginning, too. In the picture, however, it looked like he was enjoying himself as he ran around the field. He couldn’t remember whether he did enjoy it or not, though. Probably not, but who knows.

His mother turned the page, and what greeted her was the image of a little Hajime sitting on his father’s shoulders on the way home after the day had finished. Hajime remembered being exhausted, almost falling asleep then and there, and it was visible in the picture.

Little Hajime’s head was lying on top of his father’s, using his hair as a temporary pillow. His eyes were closed and his arms hung uselessly at the sides of his father’s head. Still, if Hajime wasn’t mistaken, there was a tiny smile on his younger self’s lips. And on his father’s as well.

Seeing that once again hurt a little, but not in a bad way. It was still more hurting in a necessary way, if that made any sense. He hesitated, but Hajime wanted to know what his mother’s reaction to the picture was. Slowly, he moved his eyes further up, along with his head once it was needed, until he could see her expression just at the edge of his vision.

She looked…contemplative. Lost in thought. There wasn’t really much to read on her face. It was empty, though he wasn’t sure if that was the right word for it. Hajime realized for the first time that he didn’t know his mother’s thoughts on the situation with his father. They never talked about it.

Maybe they should. Just once, to get it out there. Thanks to Lucky, Hajime knew now how much it helped to simply talk about something, even if only for the sake of having talked about it.

Taking a deep breath of air, gathering up his courage, he asked, “Do you…miss him?”

It wasn’t anything more than a whisper, but his mother clearly heard him judging by the way her features turned cold and rigid. He almost looked away, but the desire to observe her every move was stronger than his fear of having said the wrong thing. It helped that she wasn’t looking at him.

A moment passed before there was the faintest sound of a barely audible sigh as his mother’s face softened a little, though she looked in no way calm or at ease. Troubled would probably be the right word to describe it.

She put her elbow on top of the table for support, resting her hand against her cheek. With every silent second that passed, her brows seemed to furrow more and more. The corner of her mouth twitched to form a smile with no happiness behind.

When she finally spoke, eyes still downcast, her voice sounded distressed and unapproving of the words she placed into the open space between them, “I can’t deny it. Sometimes, I do.”

Lifting he hand and elbow off the table, she leaned back, straightening her back. The smile fell from her lips, leaving only the frown behind as she stared down at the picture of Hajime’s father—her former husband.

“But I really shouldn’t,” her voice was stronger now, more certain. “Not because it’s unfair to Kazuki or anything, I know it’s the same for him and that’s okay…but because he ran away rather than to try and find a solution for his problems with you.”

There was a cold shiver running down his spine as his mother basically confirmed what he had been suspecting this whole time. Since he never got the chance to directly ask his father why he left, there had never been a way for him to truly understand his decision. But this explained it, of course.

Hajime took a deep breath through his nose, but kept the air inside. Even when he opened his mouth, he held onto it, making his voice sound oddly strained as a result, “So, it really is my fault? He only left because of me?”

The silence that followed was all he needed.

He finally let go of the air inside his lungs. The room felt a lot colder than it did a moment ago, and Hajime instinctively shrunk a little in on himself, pressing his hands together and pinned against his upper body. His gaze fell from his mother’s frozen expression to the table, his vision blurry.

There was an annoying ringing in his ears, even drowning out his own thoughts. He felt his hands shaking, shortly followed by his arms, his legs, his whole body.

He lost control over his mouth, too, words tumbling out of it in rushed hoarse whispers, “Did he finally have enough of my constant failing? My inability to succeed at anything?”

“That’s—Hajime—”

His voice was shaking, but gaining in strength, turning the whispers into something clearer, louder, but still carrying a sense of urgency, rushing to enter the open space inside the room, “Did I disappoint him too many times? Was I not good enough? Did he grow tired of me? Or did he just—just—” hate me.

He couldn’t say it. The words were standing there, at the tip of his tongue, but they refused to take the jump. His whole body froze up, pausing in its shaking movement.

If it was one of Hajime’s many mistakes that drove his father away, he could live with that, probably, but if these mistakes caused his father to outright resent him, to the point where he couldn’t stand seeing him every day and living in the same house as him…

Hajime wasn’t sure what he would do if that was the case. He didn’t want to even consider it.

While he sat there, silent and unmoving, he slowly felt his body relax and the ringing in his ears subside, allowing his thoughts to be heard again.

That was also when a certain realization began to dawn on him.

His mother was in the same room as him. She witnessed everything, heard everything—and she was still there, right now, sitting across from him, silent, not saying a single word. Panic started to rise up again, but he tried his best to keep it inside this time. His gaze was still locked onto the table, and that made it a little easier.

Still, he was so stupid. How could he even forget about that in the first place? He felt ashamed of himself. If only the ground could open up beneath him and swallow him whole.

However, since that was never going to happen, no matter how long he waited for it, he simply opted for leaning forward until his head softly collided with the table’s surface, his eyes tightly shut. He was so tired. Giving in to the pull of earth’s gravity was allowing him to rest a bit, too.

He could feel his mother’s gaze on him, and it honestly made it a little harder to breathe. He tried to conceal it, hoping she wouldn’t notice. She didn’t seem to react, though who knew what was going on inside her head right now. Actually, he really didn’t want to know.

He didn’t want her to talk, didn’t want to hear her thoughts on it. He wished she would just stand up and leave him here, drowning in his own misery, even though he was the one who asked her to stay earlier. How pathetic.

Here he had the perfect opportunity to tell her what he was trying to say for the past three days, but instead he had a mental breakdown in front of her after starting the conversation with the question that ultimately led to it.

Not to mention how he had tried so hard over the last four years to not let her see the pain he was silently dealing with. And now, one single moment ruined everything. Although, that wasn’t something entirely new, he supposed, considering recent events.

His mother’s voice cut through the silence, making him flinch despite knowing it was coming, “Hajime…” Her voice was small, unsteady, hesitant, “you never disappointed anyone.”

She didn’t sound convincing, and even if she did, Hajime knew it wasn’t true. Leaving his father’s unknown reasons aside, he did disappoint his mother most definitely. He didn’t even need to think about it, it was that obvious to him.

Still, he wondered if he should just accept her words. Just leave it at that and never attempt to bring it up ever again. It was an option he could choose if he wanted to.

But that was the thing. Did he want to?

The answer didn’t immediately come to him. He knew nothing would ever get better if he didn’t talk back to her, but, at the same time, finding the courage to confront it in the open was…difficult. He felt like it didn’t have to be, though. Maybe because this stuff was always much easier when Lucky was involved.

But that just meant he found it easier to confide in a stranger—as wrong as it felt to call them that—rather than his own mother, which was ridiculous if he was being honest. He should stop being such a coward. Even if he couldn’t find the strength to look at her, he should at least start talking.

With that thought in mind, he readied himself for the coming conversation.

“No…that’s wrong,” he didn’t say it with any strength behind it or the desire to refute an argument. It sounded more tired than anything else. Leaning his head to the side a little so his voice wouldn’t be muffled by the table, he added in the same quiet tone, “I disappointed you.”

There was no immediate response. He wasn’t sure if that meant she agreed, or if she was trying to figure out what conversation between them could have made him think that way. It didn’t matter. He didn’t have the strength to wait out the silence for a reaction.

His tone and volume didn’t change as he continued, “You told me, so many times, to do what I want…to think about my own goals…instead of what—what someone else wanted from me…”

He couldn’t bring himself to specify his father in that last part. It wasn’t a problem per se, his mother would know whom he meant anyway, but he couldn’t help feeling like he lost somehow. As if there was some form of progress he should’ve made, but didn’t.

Before he could dwell on it, he swallowed the feeling, desperate to prevent the silence from closing in on them, “You were only trying to help me, but instead of realizing that, I was annoyed by it… I refused to listen to you, didn’t want to hear any of it…and I…I shouldn’t have done that.”

He couldn’t stop himself from reflexively taking in a sharp breath as he finished the sentence. He wasn’t quite sure why, though when his mother still didn’t give him any verbal signs of wanting to say something, he let go of the air he was holding in and quickly continued.

If he was previously hesitating to speak, now the words couldn’t get fast enough out of his mouth, “Because you were right—of course, you were—and I think I knew that, somewhere, in the back of my head, but I still didn’t listen. I didn’t think about what I wanted, like you told me to. I just yelled at you, and shut you out, and—and I’m—Mom, I’m sorry—”

No, I—”

The interruption was so sudden and desperate, the jerk that went through Hajime’s body was enough to make him sit up straight, staring right into the panicked face of his mother. She was staring at him, mouth opened with the rest of the sentence that she started, eyes wide and shifting.

Why was she panicking?

The question that entered his mind was like a bucket of cold water being emptied above his head. He didn’t get it. There was no reason for her to panic. He was apologizing to her, something he should’ve done a long, long time ago, so what kind of reaction was that?

Did she not accept his apology? Why? Was it his fault? Something about what he said?

His mind was spinning and racing and running around in circles, until he saw her expression shift in the smallest of ways, her restless eyes settling on him, though not quite meeting his gaze, and his thoughts came to a grinding halt.

“I’m the one who should apologize.”

It was a whisper. A pathetic little sound, really. Said with a voice that carried an unknown amount of sadness underneath. The same kind that was visible the longer he looked into her eyes. And Hajime wasn’t sure he understood, his head slowly tipping over to the side in question.

At the motion, his mother took a sharp breath through her teeth. She was readying herself to elaborate, and Hajime was glad she got the message without him having to speak. He didn’t know if he could right now.

“Well, for—for starters,” her voice was soft and nervous, the corner of her mouth twitching at the stutter. She let out a sigh, took another breath, and raised her voice again, slower this time, “I never noticed I was putting so much stress on you by continuing to bring it up.”

She was talking about all those one-sided conversations they had. Hajime’s mind immediately went on a search for a counterargument, but it came back empty-handed. He couldn’t deny it. It was true that, on the days his mother had tried to make him think about his actions, his mood had always hit rock bottom once he managed to get away from her and never seemed to lift back up again.

“And now that you put it like that,” she paused to let out an empty laugh she didn’t seem to be able to hold back, “I was being hypocritical, too. Saying stuff like I want you to do what you want, but at the same time I was questioning everything you did. That’s…well…”

She closed her eyes, shook her head a little. Her posture crumbled, just a bit, but her shoulders were obviously giving in to earth’s gravity, her head being dragged along as well. Her lips were tucked upwards in a bitter smile, half hidden behind the brown strands of hair falling over her face.

If he hadn’t been watching her so intently, he might’ve missed the tiny words falling out of her mouth, hushed and anxious, and laced with a suffocating kind of helplessness, “…but I didn’t know what else to do. I’m sorry, Hajime.”

Hajime had been taller than her ever since he was fourteen, but the way she carried herself, interacted with him and the people around her, the seemingly endless amount of confidence and personality that was radiating even from her eyes alone—he had never thought of her as small.

Except, right now, she looked incredibly small to him. Or maybe the world was just too big.

He wondered if he should say something. If the silence now hanging between them again was a sign for him to open up his mouth and speak. But his tongue felt too heavy, and he wasn’t sure it would move even if he tried.

It was making him nervous, though. Lowering his gaze to the hands that were lying in his lap, he started picking at his nails just to give his fingers something to do. His mother shifted, the rustling of her clothes giving her away without him having to see.

A quick glance revealed she had placed her elbows on the table, hands pressed against her face. For a panicked second, he thought she was crying, but the small breaths she took in the silence sounded regular and composed enough to make him drop the thought. Now she simply looked exhausted.

He really should say something, shouldn’t he? At least he should tell her he accepted her apology or something along those lines. And he really did, he didn’t think he would’ve ever realized what he was doing if she hadn’t kept on speaking to him about it. Or tried to, anyway. It would’ve been so much easier to not think about it if she hadn’t, after all.

“I’m—” he didn’t make it any further than that because his tongue really was too heavy to move. It was almost astounding how much it refused to cooperate. But he really had to say this.

Not giving it much thought, he closed his mouth and bit his tongue. The pain made him hiss, his mother’s head shooting up in alarm at the sound. Their eyes met for the first time since this conversation really started. Hajime held her gaze, using the momentum of his opened mouth to get the words out, ignoring the pain as he moved his tongue, “I’m not mad at you for that. I—I needed it, p-probably.” He quickly shook his head, “No, definitely. Yeah.”

The volume of his voice wasn’t very loud, and his tone was most likely not really on the stronger side, either, but as long as his mother didn’t think he was lying to her, he supposed it was all good. The fact that he managed to uphold eye contact hopefully squashed any doubts she might have over his words and the way they were said.

She let go of a sigh she had been holding in, her lips twitching in the barest of movement, wanting to form a smile but seeming unable to make it reach her eyes. Still, she looked a bit more relaxed than before.

“Thank you,” even her voice sounded small now. Hajime didn’t like it. It must’ve been visible on his face, because his mother quickly averted her gaze, face disappearing behind her hands again. “You know,” she started, voice shaking, “I never—I never knew you were blaming yourself.”

Hajime paused, unsure of what she was referring to. Until it clicked and—oh. They weren’t talking about their conversations anymore. Alright. He took a big swig of air—it didn’t really help—and ignored the nails digging into the palms of his hands as he clenched them into fists. It was fine. He could do this. He could talk about his father without having a mental breakdown, sure.

…who was he kidding? He couldn’t do this. “I—uh—” He wondered if nails could leave scars. “Could we not—” speak about this, but he couldn’t even say that. Because if he did, wouldn’t he be doing the exact same thing that got him in this situation in the first place?

He had to stop running away from these conversations. He had to stop trying to keep everything the same as always, even though it really wasn’t. Was this what they called living in the past?

His gaze drifted away from his mother’s still hidden face, down towards his hands, watching them intently as his fingers relaxed to make sure they were doing what his brain told them to. He laid them, palms down, on top of his tights, hoping to prevent his fingers from curling up again that way. Once he was sure they would stay there for at least a little while, he looked back up, momentarily thankful his mother’s eyes remained obscured despite his sudden and probably way too long pause.

He didn’t bother with a deep breath of preparation or to ready his nerves. He was pretty sure nothing could ready him for this, so he let his words be directed by his auto-pilot, shutting off his proper thought system, and hoped his voice was loud and clear enough to reach behind the metaphorical barrier his mother had put up.

“I mean…what else am I supposed to think?” He was a little surprised when his voice actually sounded somewhat steady, but he didn’t waste any time to internally congratulate himself for that. “All I know is that you got into a fight, the house was silent for a few days, and then dad was just—” he had to swallow before he was able to finish the sentence, “—gone.”

He didn’t mean for it to sound as accusatory as it did. But neither of his parents ever thought of giving his thirteen-year-old self a proper explanation. Then again, he never asked, either, his brain apparently content with making up its own conclusions. He still wasn’t convinced they were wrong, though, so calling them conclusions might not be the right word to use.

His mother let out a deep sigh, letting the sound dissipate into silence before lowering her hands onto the top of the table. She seemed better composed, not quite as small as a moment ago, yet her gaze was downcast even as she spoke to him, “You’re right, we didn’t talk to you about it.”

Hajime wasn’t the best at deciphering the undertones in someone’s voice, occasionally he might catch on to something, but that was rarely the case—and he wasn’t even sure how accurate these cases were when it came to the more complex side of emotions. But there was definitely something buried between the spaces of her words.

“It was a lot of things,” she said. “Some small, some big, but they couldn’t really be blamed on anyone. If anything, it was Hinata-san’s fault for not communicating properly.” The last sentence was said with a sense of hurry, and Hajime didn’t know how to feel about her using his father’s last name—honorific and everything. It still sounded so wrong to him.

The silence, too, even though it didn’t make a single sound, felt like it was something wrong to hear—to listen to.

When it became clear his mother wouldn’t add anything more to her statement, Hajime started considering whether he should ask for specifics. He wanted to know more than the vague explanation his mother gave him. Yet he didn’t know if he was ready to hear any of it.

That could be why she decided to stick to a vague form of it, after all. She saw his breakdown just a few minutes ago. She was probably worried about how he would react to that if any of it actually had to do with him, and Hajime was sure at the very least something did—had to—even if she said otherwise. If that was the case, it might really be better to just wait.

But even so, he didn’t know if he could ever find the courage to start this conversation again at a later time. He didn’t know if he would ever be okay hearing about the specifics of it all. Maybe this was the only chance he would get, even if it could end up hurting him rather than helping.

“Hey, Hajime?” Ah, he waited too long. He wanted to ignore it, but he couldn’t deny the relief that flooded through him as the choice was taken from him.

His mother was finally meeting his gaze with her own again, a tired smile on her lips. She was resting her chin on the palm of her hand, using the table for support. With her other hand, she pushed the still open photo album towards Hajime, the picture of him and his father immediately catching his eye as he looked down at it.

“Do you miss him?” she threw his question from earlier back at him, and Hajime didn’t need to think about his answer.

“I do,” he didn’t know if he should, though. It felt like he was wrong for feeling like this, but at the same time, he couldn’t imagine being neutral, or even glad, over his father’s absence from his live.

He missed him. He really did. Despite the hurt or the fear or all these days that he had spent caught up in an ever-repeating cycle until a certain string of numbers appeared on his phone. He still missed him, and that fact was perhaps the most painful of them all.

“Me, too,” his mother’s quiet admission sounded as if she agreed with his thoughts, somehow. She seemed a little bit taller again, a little bit brighter, more composed and the way she was supposed to be. She let out a sigh, closing her eyes, and quietly mumbled a second, “Me, too.”

Hajime waited to see if she had anything else to add, but her eyes stayed closed and her lips sealed. The tired but weirdly relived smile she was carrying on them didn’t vanish, either.

He didn’t know what to do now, in this not quite awkward but far from comfortable silence, and he half considered simply standing up and leaving the room. He felt tired, borderline exhausted, and he was sure it was visible with just one look at his face. Going to sleep early didn’t sound like a bad idea.

Slowly, he closed the open family album in front of him, involuntarily burning the image of his father into his brain while he was at it. The thud sound it made when the cover collapsed on the memory-filled pages was drowned out by his phone telling him he received a new message.

It startled him enough to make his heart start jumping frantically inside his chest, almost lodging itself in his throat. He didn’t hesitate when taking his phone into his hand, hoping that, if he willed it enough, it would be a message from Lucky—and it was. He didn’t feel tired anymore.

Lucky (20:34) > Thank you for saying that. I don’t really have anything of importance to say, but I’ll think about it.

So, they chose to avoid talking about themselves once again. Well, it wasn’t like he didn’t except that reply. Maybe they really just needed to think about it, though. Hajime decided to trust that thought.

(20:35) >> Well, either way, I’ll always be right here.

Lucky (20:35) > I appreciate it.

Realizing that this was probably the best answer he would get for now, Hajime felt the corner of his lip tug up into a half-smile. Thinking that, maybe they still had to adjust to having someone to talk to instead of always needing to deal with things on their own, he decided to give them time.

It was still a rather foreign concept to him, too, after all. Although, that was most likely an understatement. He still had no clue how to deal with it, other than to occasionally scream out his thoughts into a chat log for a stranger to read. But, well, it helped him so far.

When his phone made another sound, and he was brought back into reality, his eyes absorbed the message, taking in the characters with an attentiveness he wasn’t used to, but didn’t have a mind to question.

Lucky (20:36) > I’m a bit tired today, so I’ll be going to sleep. Good night, Nobody!

His smile turned from a shaky half-hearted thing into a truly open, finished one. Sure, this meant he couldn’t talk with them anymore today, but the message made him happy, anyway. He didn’t feel like he needed a reason for that, either. Lucky in general seemed to make him happy, and he wasn’t going to think too much about it. It might ruin the feeling if he did.

(20:36) >> Okay. Good night, Lucky.

And then, because he couldn’t stop to think about it, he sent another one.

(20:36) >> Sleep well.

Hajime froze.

He stared at the text, wondering if he really was the one who wrote it. According to the chat, he did. But he couldn’t find a reason as to why he would do such a thing. He never wrote anything like this, neither did Lucky, so what was he doing? And why was he so embarrassed by it?

He could feel the uncomfortable heat rising in his body, blood rushing into his head and ears, and his stomach turning into an intricate mess of tangled up knots…or something. He didn’t even know how to accurately describe it. It wasn’t exactly bad, but he still wished the ceiling would suddenly collapse and bury him alive. Or for a wild bear to break into their house and eat him. Or for a meteorite to crash through the window and hit him in the head. Anything to end his suffering.

No, wait, wasn’t this what Lucky was always afraid of? Yeah, he was retracting that wish, thank you. Guess he was staying alive for a little while longer, then.

“Is that a friend of yours?” asked his mother in the most innocent and light-hearted tone that it sounded almost smug, while not making any attempts at hiding the obvious smile in her voice.

And Hajime remembered, for the second time today, that his mother was in the same room. Because he forgot about that. For a few short minutes. Again. If only he could turn invisible.

“Uh, y-yes. That was a—friend,” he was mumbling profusely, almost stumbling over the last word.

It was oddly warm inside the living room. His grip on his phone tightened, his fingers tracing along the case, his eyes staying locked on the now black screen. He didn’t like this awkward tension, and he didn’t even know where it was coming from.

Since he wasn’t looking at his mother, the only reaction he could pick up on was the long and drawn out hm sound she was making. It was going on long enough for him to add annoyed to the list of things he was currently feeling, and when she paused to take a breath only to continue a second later, he gave in to the urge to make her stop.

He narrowed his eyes, making sure to imbue his gaze only with his annoyance and nothing else—the fact that his face thankfully didn’t feel like it was burning anymore definitely helped—and looked up to meet her gaze with a more said than asked, “What?”

The humming stopped. His mother’s face was blank, her eyes staring back at him without blinking. Until a genuinely relived smile sneaked onto her lips. The words it accompanied sounded light and joking, “I’m just glad to know you didn’t lie to me about finally making some friends.”

He couldn’t hold back the puff of air leaving his lungs in a fake-offended huff. Perhaps it was the familiarity of his mother’s usual tone of voice that brought some form of comfort to him, but he was unable to be actually mad about her words. It didn’t stop him from playing along, though.

With a roll of his eyes and his personal brand of sarcasm, he said, “Good to know you still have faith in me.”

“Oh, but I really, really do!”

Before Hajime could shoot anything back at her, she was already standing. She was closing the distance between them within seconds, falling to her knees next to him, circling her arms around his shoulders and midsection, pulling him against her chest, tucking his head under her chin, and whispered a gentle “I’m so proud of you, Hajime” into his ear.

He forgot how to breathe. He relearned it when his mother’s arms around him tightened, proving that he wasn’t hallucinating. It had been so long since someone hugged him, he forgot what it was like. He had been too busy with keeping his distance to remember the feeling.

His eyes were stinging like the traitors they were. He tried blinking rapidly, but it only made it worse. Shoving away the panic building up inside him, he shut his eyes with as much force as he could and turned his head slightly to make sure they were hidden from his mother’s view, pressing closer against her as a result.

He could feel the sound of her chuckle, the warmth she radiated. As if on autopilot, his own arms snug around her, his whole body twisting to adjust to the position until he was half lying in her lap, but honestly? He didn’t mind. He missed this, having someone else’s arms to hold and support him.

And similar to the realization he had when looking at Koizumi’s photos for the first time, he wanted to make up for it by fully embracing it now. This felt right—this felt better. He didn’t want to lose any of it ever again.

He was going to be more honest with his mother. He would take his new-found friendships seriously and try to preserve them. He could find something that he wanted to do in the now and the future, because he wanted to find these things. And it was all going to be fine.

It would take time, but that was fine, too. After all, he was finally moving forward.


In Hope’s Peak Academy’s dormitory, a boy was sitting alone inside the cafeteria, hating himself for his avoidance and his lie. His glass was half-empty and his plate would not be finished.

There was no one he could talk to, no one he could turn to, there never was and never will. He knew that, he knew that, he knew that.

Why did it sound wrong?

Chapter Text

10/19

Lucky (11:48) > People used to dream in black and white before color television was a thing.

(11:49) >> Why are you telling me this?

Lucky (11:49) > Think about it.

Hajime stopped walking when he reached the only street that he had to cross on the way from the convenience store back to the house. The lights were red. He sighed, surprised it wasn’t visible in the cold air, and raised his shoulders in a weak attempt to keep the autumn wind away from his neck. He was regretting his decision to go out in a hoodie instead of a proper jacket.

(11:49) >> I’d rather not.

Lucky (11:50) > Is someone watching our dreams as if it’s an entertainment show?

(11:50) >> Oh no

Lucky (11:50) > Do you think your dreams would be popular?

The light turned green and Hajime took a moment to consider the question as he crossed the street.

He could barely remember any of his dreams once he woke up. Sometimes, he wasn’t even sure he was actually capable of dreaming. The rare recollection he had of one was always hazy and felt more similar to the kind of dreams you’d have when suffering from a high fever.

Perhaps this uncertainty was what made the thought of other people knowing what was going on inside his dreams that unsettling. Rationally thinking, though, Lucky’s theory was impossible. They were just making conversation by bringing up an unrealistic hypothetical. That was all.

(11:52) >> I don’t think there’s anything interesting happening in my dreams.

(11:53) >> Unless someone wants to watch something with no consistency whatsoever.

Lucky (11:53) > I think that could be fun from time to time, though it probably wouldn’t make for a very successful show…

(11:54) >> What about your dreams? Think they’d be a hit?

Lucky (11:54) > They’re a little too repetitive in my opinion.

(11:55) >> So, what you’re saying is, they were so popular, the channel keeps rebroadcasting them because of amazing viewer responses.

Lucky (11:56) > Oh…

Lucky (11:56) > I didn’t think of that…

He felt a smile graze his lips as an amused huff escaped him. He could go along with this.

(11:57) >> Guess you’re more in demand than the weird stuff my brain comes up with.

Lucky (11:57) > But why are they repeating the program rather than filming something new?

(11:58) >> Low budget?

Lucky (11:58) > I wish I could buy different dreams.

(11:59) >> Have you checked the library?

Lucky (11:59) > Hm… you know what…

Lucky (12:00) > Maybe I should read a book about that.

(12:00) >> What, you haven’t already? That’s a first.

Lucky (12:01) > Silence. I’m on my way to correct this grave oversight.

Hajime rolled his eyes, but the smile was still present on his face.

(12:01) >> Have fun.

Not expecting Lucky to write him for the next two hours or so, he turned off the screen and put his phone inside the pocket of his hoodie. He didn’t let go of it, though, mostly because the inside of his pocket was warmer than the outside. He willed his legs to walk a little bit faster, intending to get home as soon as possible.

However, now that his distraction had abandoned him as fast as it had appeared, the weight of the plastic bag from the convenience store in his other hand was brought back to the forefront of his mind, and he felt the well-known signs of anxiety rise inside his stomach.

He wanted to run away and hide, to never return to his house and face the awkwardness he knew was waiting for him thanks to his mistake of acting before thinking simply because why not. It gave him something to do, at least, so he wasn’t exactly complaining about it.

Still, he wished he had thought more about the consequences of this situation.

Once he reached the small gate along the stone fence, he had to stop and stare at it for a moment before finding the courage to dug out his keys and step through to the front door. Taking a deep breath in a fruitless effort to shove away the anxiousness, he opened that door, too.

Stepping inside the house, he was immediately greeted with a wave of pleasantly warm air and the smell of cooking meat. He tried to ignore the water in his mouth and the hunger pangs in his stomach. He couldn’t show any weakness right now.

Closing the front door and taking off his shoes as quietly as possible, Hajime gave himself a silent pep talk in his mind before approaching the currently ajar kitchen door. His hand reached for the door handle, only to be flung away by the force of the rest of his body turning too fast in the other direction toward the living room door, pushing it open without a moment’s pause.

He walked over to their dinner table, hating the way his cheeks burned with embarrassment. At least no one saw that. He pulled out the store’s receipt and the change he got and put it on the table in front of the chair that Kazuki usually sat at. Whenever he was home in time for dinner, that is.

With that out of the way, however, the only thing left to do was go to the kitchen. Hajime winced inwardly at the thought. But he knew he couldn’t run away from this.

Squaring his shoulders, he walked back inside the hallway, squashing the urge to stop in front of the kitchen door and instead pushing it fully open with a simple and as nonchalantly as possible, “I’m back.”

Kazuki had his back turned to him, busy with the frying pan on top of the stove. He threw a glance and easy smile over his shoulder to acknowledge Hajime’s presence before focusing his gaze on the cooking meat again.

“Welcome back.” He pointed over to the empty counter space next to the stove, “You can just put the things there for now, I’ll take care of it.”

Hajime did as he was told, hoping his stepfather was too busy looking after the food to notice how stiff and awkward his movements were. He would never understand why he agreed when Kazuki asked him for help. Or why he asked Hajime in the first place.

Probably because his mother was involved. Today was her day off, she was out with some friends from work, she deserved not having to go shopping for groceries once she came back—especially after their talk yesterday. Guess he and Kazuki shared that thought. Also, he admittedly had nothing better to do, so might as well be useful in some way.

While he was making sure none of the things inside the bag would topple over and fall to the floor once he released his hold on them, he mumbled, “I put the change on the table, by the way.”

He could feel Kazuki’s eyes on him—not burning, not cold—just the sensation of having someone’s attention. It was far from a pleasant feeling, but it didn’t make him feel sick to the stomach, either. He should count that as an improvement.

Satisfied with the current balance of the shopping bag, Hajime stepped away from the counter. The things inside only crumbled a little bit, most likely an apple rolling off the bottle vinegar or something. Nothing fell out of the bag or on the floor, so that was good enough.

“Thank you, Hajime,” Kazuki’s voice was as calm and collected as ever.

Stealing a glance up at his face, he also looked the part. The easy smile was still in place, too. It painted an image of formal politeness, the kind that was expected when interacting with a superior at your job or an upperclassman in school, and Hajime could practically taste the bile in his throat.

He wanted to run away.

“Yeah, whatever,” he punctuated the words with an indifferent huff of air through his nose.

Stuffing both his hands inside the front pocket of his hoodie, he turned on his heels and started walking back to the door. The inside of his chest was squirming with unease, telling him that something about this situation was wrong. Very wrong.

He didn’t know if it was because of Kazuki or himself.

His steps came to a halt when he reached the inside of the door frame, taking him by surprise. He didn’t mean to stop, yet his legs refused to continue. The feeling in his chest said there was still something he had to do, something he had to say—even if he wasn’t sure what that was.

He still wanted to run away, but he didn’t think he should.

Hajime turned around on the spot, his eyes focusing in on the back that Kazuki had turned to him again. His stepfather was taller than him, but his shoulders weren’t any broader. They were squared and hunched, shrinking in on him. Now more than ever it seemed.

Maybe he should be a bit friendlier or—or something.

“I mean,” he said, clearing his throat a little to get Kazuki’s attention once more. It worked. Hajime couldn’t meet his eyes, so he just glanced over to the side with a shrug. “You’re welcome, I guess.”

His left hand’s fingers snug around the phone inside his pocket, holding it in a tight grip as if it was the only thing capable of keeping him from drowning in the endless sea of uncertainty that was brewing in his chest. He hoped that had been the right thing to say.

The following silence was nearly deafening to Hajime. Not to mention more nerve-wrecking than he would like to admit. It certainly didn’t help in his efforts to not second guess himself. At least it wasn’t bad enough for him to start fidgeting in place.

“I see,” Kazuki’s voice was accompanied by a quiet laugh that he had no way of deciphering. In a weirdly exaggerated tone, although he had no idea what was being exaggerated, Kazuki added, “That’s good to know, then.”

There was a lump lodged inside his throat. All Hajime could do in response was give Kazuki a rather stiff nod, still looking to the side and unable to look anywhere else. Clearing his throat only helped for a little bit, but it was enough to get some words out, “Anyway, that’s it.”

He turned around, thankful his legs seemed to be working again, and finally left the kitchen for good, closing the door behind him. He couldn’t prevent a relieved sigh from escaping him. The heavy feeling in his chest was lifted a little, too.

The grip Hajime had on his phone was as strong as ever, though.

He waited another few seconds to make sure he properly recovered from that interaction before starting to walk up the stairs to the second floor. Now that he was inside a warm building, his hoodie would suffocate him with its slowly accumulating heat. He needed a change of clothes.

He was halfway up when his phone buzzed, still clutched in his hand inside the pocket. It took him by surprise. So much so, he almost tripped and fell, but restored his balance in time.

He didn’t expect Lucky to text him again so soon, though he wasn’t complaining. His heart was thumping wildly in his chest as he pulled out the phone. It was chasing away the last remains of his earlier uneasiness, changing it into some sort of electrified anticipation that was running wild underneath his skin.

He turned on the screen to see the notice for a new message staring back at him, together with the sender’s contact name—and Hajime did a double take. The characters displayed didn’t read Lucky, like he expected them to.

Satou.

That was the name currently glaring at him through the glass of the screen. His heart stopped in shock, losing the momentum of its last jump, and quickly falling back into its usual—and much steadier—rhythmic beating against his ribcage.

“Huh? What?” The disbelieving sounds coming out of his mouth were nothing more than nearly inaudible confused murmurs repeating themselves over and over, “Satou? Why? What? Huh?”

He tried thinking of a reason for why she would write him, but he was drawing a complete blank. His thoughts were too jumbled up to make any sense of them. He was flooded with so much apprehension, he couldn’t even read the part of her message that was visible below her name in the notification. His phone wasn’t helping by buzzing a second time and adding a neat little (2 Messages) behind Satou’s name. The number changed to three, accompanied by another buzz, and then it turned into a four shortly after.

Needless to say, Hajime panicked. And as panicked people do, he hurriedly tapped at the screen to get the texts to open. Only to freeze up once he managed to do so. Not because the messages were saying anything bad, but rather because he didn’t have the mental capacity to process this was actually happening.

Satou (12:19) > Mahiru just told me you actually bought her photo book?

Satou (12:20) > Hellooooo?

Satou (12:21) > Hinata??

Satou (12:21) > Emergency???

(12:21) >> What…?

Hajime was impressed with himself for being able to write in his current state of utter confusion.

Satou (12:22) > Did you buy it or not?

(12:22) >> I did, but what’s the emergency?

Satou (12:22) > Hinata, listen.

Satou (12:23) > This is very important. My credibility is on the line here.

He could feel a cold sweat rolling down his neck. He knew she was probably exaggerating, but one could never be too sure. This could also be some kind of joke, and since he wasn’t really accustomed to Satou’s brand of humor yet, he had no idea how to respond to that.

(12:23) >> … I’m listening.

Satou (12:24) > Whatever you do with that photo book, do not, and I repeat, DO NOT look at the photos of the school festival.

Satou (12:24) > Are we clear?

Good for her he didn’t reach that part yet, then.

Hajime blinked at the screen, feeling his panic slowly ebb away. His mind was clearing up a little, too, allowing his thoughts to get through to him again. Though, the confusion itself still remained. But he did have two options to choose from, now that his brain was working properly.

One, accept Satou’s demand without question—although he wasn’t sure he would actually bother to remember it, especially since school festivals weren’t something that he had ever truly experienced in middle school. He had done his job when it came to the preparations of course, but he didn’t go to school on the days of the actual event. He didn’t go to the one Hope’s Peak had held last year, either. Mainly because the Main Course students were the ones in charge of the festival and the Reserve Course students were volunteer helpers at their beck and call. He couldn’t handle that last year.

Option number two for dealing with his current situation was to ask for specifics before deciding anything. Alternatively, he could try to figure out Satou’s reason for this on his own. He leaned more toward the alternative if he was being honest. He was expecting her to be of the uncooperative type, as bad as that might sound. And he knew his curiosity would not disappear until he knew.

It was already bad enough that Lucky never told him anything about their reasons to do or say certain things, he didn’t need that with Satou as well. Not if he could help it.

So, the alternative option number two it was.

Thinking back to the day before yesterday, when they all were in Koizumi’s store of choice, Hajime tried to remember the conversation he had in there with the two girls. They were specifically talking about the photo book, after all, there had be some sort of clue to this.

Satou’s messages made it clear this was something about her, so he could probably rule out anything that had to do with his attempts at explaining to Koizumi why her pictures were, in fact, really amazing shots. At least, he hoped it had nothing to do with that part of the conversation. It would be too embarrassing if it actually did.

It had to be something that happened earlier than that. Right after they came over to him maybe, when they were talking about the photo on the open page. Or a little after that? Where did that conversation lead to again? Didn’t he almost drop the book at some point, too? Satou had slammed her hand on top of it to hide a picture of her, right?

…oh, he got it.

(12:27) >> Is this about that Snow White dress?

Satou (12:27) > Did you look at it?!

(12:27) >> No, but how should I know when it’s coming up?

Satou (12:28) > i dunno

Satou (12:28) > Just don’t look at it!!

Hajime couldn’t hold back a sigh of frustration. To think he was panicking when he saw Satou’s name on the screen. There was no need to worry about anything with her. It almost looked like she was panicking herself right now. This did bring another question to his attention, though.

After writing it out, he didn’t think twice about tapping the send button.

(12:29) >> If you hate the picture that much, why did you allow Koizumi to use it?

He regretted it almost immediately. He wasn’t that close to Satou, he didn’t know what kind of things were okay for him to ask at this point and what wasn’t. Frankly, this was none of his business. He found out the reason for her request, he didn’t need to know anything more about it.

He didn’t want her to accuse him of being nosy.

(12:29) >> No wait

(12:29) >> Forget about it

He was so bad at this friendship thing. He had no idea how he was supposed to talk to her. Were they even friends? He still couldn’t tell. What he could tell was that he was starting to panic again. And Satou’s response didn’t make it any better.

Satou (12:30) > ughhhhhh… too late

Satou (12:30) > i don’t need to be reminded of that

Satou (12:31) > worst decision of my life i swear

…okay, maybe he didn’t need to panic after all. Not much, at least. Although, considering how he didn’t know what to say to that, maybe he should start with the full-on panicking again. Would it be fine if he just wrote whatever reached the forefront of his mind first?

(12:31) >> My condolences.

Satou (12:32) > ………

Yeah, maybe he could only do that sort of thing with Lucky. On the bright sight, though, he got rid of his panic completely. However, it was replaced with the feeling of something akin to dread. He stopped breathing.

Satou (12:32) > Skip the damn picture.

(12:33) >> Got it.

Hajime released the air he was holding in with a quiet huff of relief. He hoped this would mark the end of the conversation. Otherwise, he might accidentally end up saying something that made Satou angry, and he really didn’t want that to happen.

He remembered the scene he witnessed about a month ago or so, when he saw Satou nearly getting into a fight with that blonde baby face girl—Kuzuryuu, was it? It has been a while since he last saw her around. It was probably for the best.

Putting her aside, though, that was the first time he had ever interacted with Satou—even if it was only briefly and probably not something you could really call an interaction, considering he didn’t do anything—but the memory send a shiver down his spine. It wasn’t one of his proudest moments, that’s for sure.

Backing out of his chat log with Satou, his gaze got caught on Lucky’s contact name. He paused, but opened his chat with them anyway. It almost felt like a necessity, as if he had to text them at least once whenever he opened his contact list. It wouldn’t feel right if he didn’t.

At the back of his mind, he realized he was still standing in the middle of the stairs, essentially blocking them, and allowed his legs to continue his ascend to the second floor while his main focus lied on typing out a message to send.

(12:34) >> I think I said this before, but I’ll say it again: Girls are scary.

He switched his phone’s message setting from vibration back to sound, as he always did when he was home, and turned off the screen. He still wasn’t expecting them to reply, not if they were busy reading or still searching for a suitable book about dreams.

However, before his hand could even move towards his pocket, its familiar message sound reached his ears, bringing him to a complete stand still for the second time in under an hour. At least he was past the stairs and in the upper hallway now.

Lucky was more important than getting to the safety of his room, though.

Lucky (12:35) > Nobody… I didn’t think I’d ever have to say this, but I am disappointed in you.

“Wha—” he couldn’t finish the word before his throat abruptly closed off the air supply. His eyes were painfully wide, panicked, shaking. It was cold. The blood froze in his veins, his fingers turned numb. All color must’ve drained from his face.

His heart was caught in an iron grip, squeezed between cool fingers, to be crushed at any moment. He couldn’t look away from the screen, from the end of Lucky’s sentence. He didn’t even know why they would say that, yet it hurt just as much as being impaled by a spear probably would.

How could he have ever thought he was anything more than—

Lucky (12:35) > To think you would date multiple girls at once. Honestly, Nobody. That’s the worst.

At once, the coldness changed into unbearable heat. His face was on fire, his ears were burning, and the grip on his heart melted away as it forced the blood inside his veins to move with such speed, he felt lightheaded. He wasn’t sure if he was angry at the accusation or embarrassed for his own poor wording that could make Lucky think something like that.

He didn’t want Lucky to think he was dating someone, be it one person or multiple didn’t matter. And maybe that thought was enough to push his feelings more toward the embarrassment side of the spectrum. It sounded like…like…

He didn’t know what that sounded like. It didn’t matter, he was still panicking, and he should really do something to clear up this misunderstanding.

His thumb was shaking as it tapped against the screen, creating several typos one after the other. It slowed him down so much, it was frustrating. His words were all jumbled and barely decipherable and there was no way he could send Lucky any of these attempts at formulating a correct sentence. He deleted and typed and deleted and typed, but he was too much of a mess for anything to come out right.

His efforts were interrupted. By a new text. From Lucky.

Lucky (12:36) > Just kidding!

Hajime blinked. Again, needing to do a double take. It turned into a triple take. The message’s contents slowly started to make sense to him. He felt his shoulders drooping slightly as the tension left his body. He went back to a normal temperature, too, although he was still embarrassed.

He was an idiot for overreacting like that. Twice in a row, too. He should do something about this. If only he knew what—or how for that matter. All he could do right now was let out a deep sigh that turned into a quiet self-deprecating laugh. The corner of his mouth pulled up into a lopsided smile that, surprisingly, had less deprecation and more fondness to show as Hajime gently shook his head.

His thumb was much steadier now as he typed out a response.

(12:37) >> Don’t mess with me like that… You know that’s not what I meant.

Lucky (12:37) > Do I?

(12:37) >> Lucky…

Lucky (12:38) > Hmm… Is Nobody mad at me now, I wonder?

Hajime couldn’t help but roll his eyes. That little question mark wasn’t fooling him. Any question that Lucky worded in this way usually meant they had already come to their own conclusion about it and would most likely not accept nor believe any words against it.

Not that they would admit to it. It was just how Hajime had learned to interpret these messages. Their avoidance of a real answer whenever he pressed them on it was telling enough, though. He was on the right track.

Still, he found himself unable to be annoyed by it. He got the feeling he wasn’t one to talk when it came to this sort of thing, and that realization made sense to him even if he was afraid that wasn’t something he should relate to. He wanted to work on it, though.

He only hoped Lucky could learn to trust his words one day. That was why he didn’t stop answering these fake questions they were asking him with more honesty than he probably should.

(12:38) >> Don’t be ridiculous.

(12:38) >> I don’t think I could ever be actually mad at you.

It only hit him after he sent the message, but he really did think that way. He really thought it was impossible for him to get angry at Lucky. They were too important to him, so the last thing he wanted to do was to scare them away somehow. They already hated themselves enough as it was, he didn’t need to give them any more reasons to fuel that hatred.

Hajime waited a full ten seconds for a reply, and since nothing new popped up on his screen, he was certain Lucky wasn’t going to answer any time soon. Which was fine, he knew they had already been doing something when he initiated this conversation, after all, so it was only natural if they wanted to continue with that. It was difficult to distract them when they set their mind out to do something.

He sighed one more time, pocketing his phone while trying to keep the half-smile from earlier in place. He was doing an okay job at it. The knowledge that Lucky would most likely write him again as soon as they found out some new stuff about dreams helped a little. He could look forward to that.

Bringing his thoughts to the question of what he was supposed to do with his free time, Hajime moved and looked up in order to find the door to his room—only to be met with a pair of red eyes, staring right at him, from the other end of the hallway.

He froze halfway through the first step. It made it look like he flinched at the sight of Izuru, which was generally his first reaction to him, but he always tried to conceal it the best he could. This time, however, he was painfully obvious and he would like to punch himself for that. Or not. It would hurt if he did. He opted for simply staring back for now.

Izuru didn’t say anything.

He didn’t try to avoid Hajime’s gaze, either. It was almost like he didn’t even notice he was just caught staring. There was no change—not even so much as a twitch—in his expression. It was as unnerving as always.

And yet, Hajime found he had very little reaction beyond that concerning the stone-like mask Izuru was wearing. He didn’t feel intimidated or scared by him. There was no urge to run away and hide. He could look at Izuru without feeling like a miserable good-for-nothing loser.

The thought gave a small boost to his confidence.

However, the longer he held eye contact with Izuru, the faster that little bit of confidence seemed to disappear again. He didn’t seem to be blinking, no matter how many seconds passed by, nor did it look like he was acknowledging Hajime’s presence—as if, at some point, he started staring through him instead of at him, and it was giving Hajime the creeps.

There was something behind those red eyes, lurking just beneath the surface. Hajime was unable to recognize it. It was shifting back and forth too much, hiding behind layers of carefully calculated gazes. It wasn’t hostile, but it wasn’t very friendly, either, as far as he could tell.

Slowly, as if he was trying to escape a dangerous animal that would be set off by too fast movements, Hajime made one step after the other in the direction of his room’s door, never breaking eye contact with Izuru. It was when he stood next to the door, hand gripping the handle and about to push it down, that Izuru finally blinked.

There was a moment’s pause, so quiet Hajime was sure he would be able to hear the clattering of a hairpin hitting the ground if he had any to drop. Izuru might did, with that near Rapunzel-level hair of his. No sound was to be heard, though.

Aside from the small intake of breath Izuru made, getting ready to say something.

Hajime couldn’t take it. He pushed down the door handle, practically throwing himself at the door to get it to open as fast as possible, and almost fell into his room. He had enough strength to keep a hold of the handle, swinging his upper body around and his back against the door once he was inside to close it as quickly as he opened it. He celebrated his successful retreat with a heavy sigh.

It definitely wasn’t one of his proudest moments, but he didn’t think he could deal with Izuru quite yet. In time, maybe. He didn’t need to get along with him, but being able to tolerate his presence indefinitely didn’t sound half bad.

Well, someday. Perhaps.

10/20

With midterm exams done and dealt with, the atmosphere at school was a little bit lighter again—as light as it could be in the ever-depressing Reserve Course. All that really meant was people didn’t look like walking corpses anymore. Until the tests would come back graded at the end of the week.

Hajime wasn’t too worried about them. They probably could’ve been better, but there was nothing he could do about it now. As long as he didn’t outright fail them, he figured he should be fine. Besides, there were other things that required his attention. Or rather, other people.

He didn’t know what to expect after Friday. If there would be any changes in Souda and Satou’s demeanor or anything now that they hung out together outside of school. He didn’t know if he was supposed to act any different, either.

After thinking about it over and over on the train, once he actually arrived and stood in front of the door to their classroom, he decided to not bother with any plans or carefully picked out words. Essentially, what he was going to do, was to wing it. To the best of his abilities.

Although, he would try to hold back a bit around Satou. He didn’t want a repeat of that text conversation while having to look at her face. He was already hoping she wouldn’t bring it up.

If worst came to worst, and neither Satou nor Souda wanted to exchange a single word with him ever again, he could always pull out his phone and talk to Lucky. At least with them, he felt like there was no wrong answer he could give.

But before that, he would try. Try to keep these friendships alive, because it was yet another thing that he missed out on for so many years. And he would be lying if he said he didn’t enjoy their company whenever he wasn’t busy overthinking it.

Steeling himself by taking a deep breath while knowing he was not ready for this at all, and maybe never will be, he entered the classroom.

The first thing he noticed upon stepping inside was Souda’s absence, the lack of pink color in the room immediately sticking out to him. It made sense, though, considering classes wouldn’t start for the next twenty minutes. The same could not be said about Satou.

She was already there, but instead of sitting at her own desk near the middle of the room, she was sitting on top of Souda’s, her feet planted firmly on the chair in front of it. She was busy staring at her phone with a bored expression. It didn’t look like she noticed him yet.

Hajime made sure his brain was aware of his semi-plan to act casual and made his way over to his desk—the one conveniently placed to the left of Souda’s. He had to pass by in front of Satou in order to get there, which he suspected was why she was sitting there in the first place.

He aimed to play it cool, though, to follow the guidelines he established previously. So, the first thing he had to do was greet her. Wish her a good morning, be friendly about it. He could totally do that—easy. But first, he had to get closer to her position.

He took a step forward, quickly following it up by using his other leg for a second one. He alternated between his two feet in a steady rhythm, the movement allowing him to approach his desk. He kept his eyes on Satou while he did so, and once he was halfway there, she looked up to meet his gaze.

She gave him a small wave with her hand that Hajime was unable to return due to his arms feeling as if they were particularly affected by gravity today. At least he managed a nod of acknowledgment by the time he reached his desk and dumped his bag on top of it with a quiet thud.

It hardly counted as a proper greeting, though. He should do better than that. His eyes flickered away from Satou, to the other students in the classroom who weren’t paying any attention to them, back to Satou, the ceiling, Satou, down at his bag, the windows to his left, and Satou again.

His nerves were sitting right at the edge, turned on high alert. He didn’t want this to be awkward, he really didn’t want it to. He had to say something. Even if he didn’t know what, anything would surely help him out at this point. It would prompt Satou to say something back, and that would start up a conversation, because that’s how it worked, and that would at the very least fill this silence between them.

He still needed to greet her.

Hajime croaked out the most eloquent, polite, and thought-out greeting to have ever been said aloud, “Hey.”

“Hi,” Satou followed his example perfectly. She turned around so that her legs were now dangling off to the side of Souda’s desk. She was looking at him with sharp eyes, as if she was on the lookout for something. It was a little intimidating if he was being honest.

It didn’t help that he was just awkwardly standing there. He wasn’t sure if he should sit down or not, since Satou would be in a much higher position if he did, and he didn’t want to crane his neck when talking to her—although, they weren’t doing much talking, anyway. He could copy Satou and sit on his desk, but that position could potentially direct too much attention on him than he was comfortable with. A true dilemma.

After another few seconds of silence, he resolved to opening his bag and fidgeting with the stuff inside, taking out his notebook with slow and sluggish movements to draw out the time it took him as much as possible.

He laid it on his desk and was about to take out a pencil as well, when Satou spoke up, apparently unable to deduce what she wanted to know by just watching him alone, “Did you look at it?”

Hajime’s shoulders dropped, his hands falling uselessly on top of the desk, one of which still inside his bag. He could only barely stop himself from rolling his eyes, opting to stare blankly ahead instead. If she really didn’t want him to see her dressed up as Snow White, she should stop bringing it up.

“No, I did not,” he said, internally cringing at the exasperation that snuck into his voice. He glanced over at her, keeping his tone deliberately neutral this time, “Why do you keep asking?”

Because—” she stopped abruptly, any other words stuck in her throat, her mouth hanging open as if she didn’t know what she wanted to say in the first place. She closed it with a huff, crossing her arms in front of her chest. “Just—Don’t do it.”

He couldn’t stop the sigh that escaped him. Luckily, she didn’t acknowledge it. Thinking there was no way this conversation would pick up again after that, he sat down on his chair, putting his chin in his hand while leaning on his elbow for support. The following seconds were ticking by painfully slow, and just as Hajime got used to the tense air, he was caught by surprise, his head jerking to the side as Satou spoke up again.

Ugh, fine,” she groaned out with an undertone that was filled with annoyance, although that wasn’t all to it. “I’m the one who didn’t object to the photo when I had the chance, so now I have to live with it,” she paused, looking at him contemplatively before turning her head to the side. “Doesn’t mean I like it,” she mumbled more to herself.

“I won’t talk about it, if that makes you feel any better,” Hajime said with a shrug. “It’s not like I’m running around, shoving it in people’s faces.”

“Hm…yeah, I guess,” Satou made an effort to appear nonchalant about it, but the relief was easily recognizable in her voice. It turned much sharper, though, when her eyes fell back onto him after another brief pause, “I trust you, then.”

The thundering footsteps rushing towards them didn’t give him any time to form an answer to that. Souda came to a sliding halt gripping the edges of his desk to keep his balance. He didn’t look amused in the slightest as he asked Satou with a pointed glare, “What are you doing on my desk?”

“Sitting,” she said as if it was self-explanatory, her tone switching back to its previous nonchalance.

“Get off,” Souda ordered. Hajime was honestly a little surprised he didn’t shove her, but he guessed that meant Souda wasn’t as aggressive as his sharp teeth would make him think.

Satou shrugged and jumped off the desk, unbothered by his bluntness. Souda pulled out his chair, let his weight fall onto it, and slumped on the desk face down with a groan. Satou raised an eyebrow at him, “You okay there?”

“’m tired,” was the muffled response she got. She shook her head at him in disappointment. Souda grumbled some more things to himself before folding his arms to create a makeshift pillow, turning his head to the side to look at Hajime. Another, this time more audible grumble, “Mornin’, Hinata.”

“Good morning,” he replied automatically. And because he didn’t want a repeat from earlier, he added, albeit hesitantly, “When did you go to sleep last night?”

“Who knows, who cares…” Souda didn’t bother trying to stifle the yawn that escaped his mouth, not caring about the face he was making as a result, “I’m too tired, man…”

“You wanna know a simple trick against sleepiness?” Satou smirked as Souda’s head shot up to look at her expectantly and with his full attention, already more awake than a second ago, “Try going to bed at a reasonable hour.”

Souda’s face distorted into a grimace of betrayal. “Thanks for nothing,” his head fell back onto his arm pillow. Obviously annoyed at her, he mumbled just loud enough to be audible from his position, “Are you going to ignore us again, too? Since Koizumi’s available for lunch?”

Hajime frowned at the accusation. He thought they went over this already. He didn’t want to stand beside an argument again, but thankfully Satou seemed to not be in the mood to make a big thing out of it. Her only response was a roll with her eyes and a sarcastic, “And here I was considering to invite you guys to eat with us, but I guess it’s not my style to invite my friends to something.”

A beat of silence passed.

“Oh,” was the only sound coming from the pink bush lying on the desk. Another moment later, “I guess that’s fine.”

Satou let out a dramatic sigh, “You should stop making assumptions like that.” Souda ignored her.

She turned her attention to Hajime, her violet eyes meeting his own. He couldn’t stop his body from flinching, even though he wasn’t sure why it would feel the need to do that in the first place. There was no reason to be scared of Satou or anything.

Just now, she called him a friend, right?

“Are you coming, too?” she asked, oblivious to the anxiety, relief, uncertainty, and whatever else that was too small for him to put a name to flooding his system, rendering his capability to think completely useless.

There was also something not quite as mind-numbing under all of that, though. Something anchoring him to reality, enveloping him in a calm warmth that was spreading from the center of his chest. It brought a smile to his lips, on par with the ones found in Koizumi’s photo book.

“Sure,” he said, voice lighter than it has ever been inside the oppressing Reserve Course classroom.

10/21

“Our homeroom teacher gave us the dates for the school festival this morning,” Koizumi announced halfway through their lunch break.

They were all sitting in Hope’s Peak Academy’s courtyard, at a wooden table with wooden benches around it, somewhere along the edge of the school’s grounds, in an open space surrounded by trees that obscured them from anyone walking past. There were two more tables with benches affixed to them, although unoccupied at the moment.

Hajime didn’t know this place existed until Satou led them here yesterday. It was closer to the Main Course building, so that might be why he never discovered it. He made sure to avoid most of the courtyard’s area near the Main Course—until recently, at least.

He was sitting next to Souda on one side, directly across from Koizumi who shared her side of the table with Satou to her left. Aside from the chirping of a few birds, it was quiet around them. The cold autumn air was a bit more tolerable today. It was a peaceful scene.

Although, he wasn’t too thrilled to hear about the festival. It was more of a Main Course festival than a school festival, after all, and he supposed a part of him still felt bitter about that difference in treatment. Contrary to Satou and Souda who both perked up at Koizumi’s mention of it.

“Oh, yeah?” Satou asked in response after stuffing a cream puff into her mouth. Koizumi gave her a disapproving look, which Satou met with a grin. She did swallow her food before continuing, though, “When’s it gonna be?”

“Next month on the 8th and 9th, if I remember correctly. They’re both weekend days,” Koizumi said.

“Finally, something to look forward to!” Souda’s face was adorned by his usual ear to ear grin, nearly spilling over with optimism and anticipation, “Last year’s festival was kind of a bummer. Hopefully you guys do some more exciting stuff this time.”

“I doubt it,” Hajime had said the words faster than his mind could catch up to them. Not that he didn’t mean it, of course. But Souda clearly disapproved judging by the glare he was throwing in his direction.

“How do you know? You didn’t even go last year,” he crossed his arms in front of his chest, straightening out his back to appear taller. Hajime already knew he had Souda beat in terms of height, though. The intimidation tactic didn’t work, even if his teeth were actually sharp.

“I know what it’s about, though,” he pocked the half-eaten food inside his lunch box with his chopsticks, trying to come up with the best way to phrase this to make it understandable for someone like Souda.

Koizumi was faster than him, “You know how festivals are a good opportunity to check out a school before you decide to apply to it? Especially when it’s about the high school you’ll graduate from?”

Souda blinked at her uncomprehendingly before giving her a slow nod. Satou snorted at him, “You have no idea how important reputation is, do you?”

“Shut up,” it was clear he was trying to hide his anger but was doing a very poor job at it. “As if you care about reputation with the way you—”

Anyway,” Hajime interrupted before the incoming argument could even start. He ignored Souda’s offended stare and turned to Koizumi when he said, “I believe you guys are supposed to make informative exhibits and stuff like that, right?”

“Yeah, basically,” Koizumi confirmed with a dismissive wave of her hand. “We’re all expected to individually showcase the expanse of our knowledge or whatever. It sounds a bit too pretentious for me, to be honest,” she glanced to the side in a way that Hajime could only describe as bashful.

“Do you already know what you’re gonna do?” Satou asked with poorly hidden excitement, thankfully not acknowledging Souda’s unfinished sentence in the slightest.

“I have…an idea, yes,” she said, folding her hands together on top of the table, a look of uncertainty crossing her features. “I’ll probably have to discuss it with Yukizome-sensei, though. I wouldn’t be surprised if what I want to do is a bit too…well, it’s not really related to knowledge and all that.”

“So? What is it?” Satou’s tone switched to a conspiratorial whisper, still loud enough for Hajime to hear. She leaned in closer to Koizumi, not letting her avoid the question with vague answers. She was grinning from ear to ear.

Koizumi’s gaze was fixated on her linked hands as she was fidgeting with them ever so slightly, not even glancing over in Satou’s direction. She looked nervous for some reason, unsure of herself. It was different from the Koizumi Hajime was almost used to seeing by now. But, then again, this was only the third time he had met her in person. Maybe she was shyer than he initially thought.

As if she could read his thoughts, Koizumi’s eyes jumped up to meet his own with a sharp glare that was filled with a kind of intensity he didn’t want to fuel any further. He barely managed to stop a flinch from coursing through his body. His head turned to the side in a rather jerky movement, trying to get away from her piercing gaze without being too obvious about his discomfort.

Now he was staring down the narrow cobblestoned path winding through the trees that surrounded them. The only way to confirm the position of Koizumi’s eyes were the cold beats of sweat running down his neck. She really was intimidating. But so was Satou.

Actually, everyone in his life was intimidating, one way or the other. Except for, maybe, Lucky. Although, he probably shouldn’t underestimate them.

The pressure of Koizumi’s eyes left him. The silence hanging over their little group was broken seconds later by her voice muttering the words, “I’ll tell you later.”

“I’ll hold you to that,” Satou sounded satisfied with that answer.

“The hell?” Souda, not so much.

Hajime held in a resigned sigh. He should say something before Souda started complaining. He was about to face them all again, but from the corner of his eye, he noticed movement between the leaves and trunks of the trees, and his eyes followed every glimpse of fabric as a figure made its way down the path, towards them. Hajime felt his body beginning to freeze up.

Souda’s voice in the background was muted to his ears, as if they were filled with water, drowned out by his attention lying somewhere else, yet he still heard his every word, “Why can’t we know it too? If you’re gonna end up doing it, we’ll see it anywa—”

“Excuse me?”

Souda’s mouth immediately fell shut at the sound of Sonia’s voice. Hajime couldn’t see it, but he heard the clacking of his teeth, followed by a gust of wind breaking against his side as Souda undoubtedly spun his upper body around fast enough to give himself whiplash.

“Sonia-san! How wonderful to—” his words cut off abruptly with a high-pitched yelp coming from his own throat. He must’ve noticed the person standing behind Sonia, the one that Hajime couldn’t turn away from because the color red was boring into him, meeting his gaze unblinkingly. Souda’s tone was close to hysteric, “Sonia-san, what are you doing with that guy?!”

Izuru didn’t react, although something shifted behind his eyes, ever so slightly. Hajime didn’t look away from him, but at the edges of his vision, he saw Sonia throw him and Souda a surprised glance.

“Oh, Hinata-san and Souda-san are here, too. I am sorry, I did not see you,” she actually sounded apologetic, despite her choice of words. “I suppose my mind was too fixated on having found Koizumi-san.”

“Something wrong?” Koizumi’s question wasn’t unlike a sigh of relief.

“I would not call it wrong, but…” Sonia paused. She turned to Izuru, but he didn’t finish the sentence for her. He might had not even noticed that she looked over to him for help. She didn’t call him out on it. “Kamukura-san was asked to look for Komaeda-san, so I am helping. Have you seen him?”

Hajime blinked.

“He’s not in the cafeteria?” Koizumi asked, receiving a shake of Sonia’s head in response. She made a contemplative humming noise before adding, “I don’t think I’ve seen him outside of class today, sorry. Have you checked the dorms?”

Sonia gave a nod.

Hey! More importantly,” Souda jumped up from the bench, the panic practically radiating off his body. “Who’s this Komaeda guy? And why are you helping looking for him, Sonia-san?”

Hajime felt the stinging of a needle at the back of his head as his mind was trying to remember something that had already left his memory.

Satou muttered something under her breath, but if anyone reacted to it, it wasn’t verbally so Hajime had no idea. He was still staring at Izuru—even if he had lost their staring contest, he would not be the first to turn away.

“Komaeda-san is a member of our class,” Sonia answered in a pleasant tone. She must have been oblivious to Souda’s stress levels rising. “As for why I am assisting in the search for him, I believe I am still owing him a favor.”

The back of Hajime’s head was still stinging.

Souda’s gasp was comical, but no one laughed. Koizumi’s voice carried a hint of amusement, though, “I think he said often enough that you don’t owe him anything, Sonia-chan.”

“And I have told him every time that will not do,” her tone was way too demanding to even think about voicing any kind of disagreement.

“We’re done here,” Izuru’s cold voice came out of nowhere, even though Hajime saw his lips moving, forming the words. They sounded heavy, filled with an underlying tension that even he managed to pick up on. It felt wrong to him, disconnected from reality.

His voice wasn’t supposed to show emotion.

Izuru’s back was turned to them before anyone could react. By the time Sonia was calling after him and trying to catch up, he had already disappeared behind the trees.

“What’s his problem?” Satou asked a few seconds later.

Koizumi sighed in obvious frustration, “If only I knew that.”

The remaining minutes of their lunch break were swallowed by a drowned-out mess of bits and pieces from conversations that Hajime only half listened to. His mind was too distracted, both by Izuru’s behavior in the last few days and the nagging feeling that wouldn’t leave him alone ever since he heard the name Komaeda. It sounded familiar, and he couldn’t figure out why for the rest of the day.

Until he booted up his laptop that night and visited Hope’s Peak Academy’s website for the first time since he started talking to Lucky.

He scrolled all the way down to the list of students that had been accepted into the Main Course the previous school year. It showed their first and last names and their final score from the entrance exams.

Of course, there was Kamukura Izuru with his record-breaking total of 100 points, but the name Hajime was searching for was just a little further down the list. And once he found it again, he remembered why that name had stood out to him so much.

Komaeda Nagito’s final score was 99. A new record for Hope’s Peak’s entrance exams if it weren’t for Izuru applying in the same year.

Hajime felt nothing but disgust towards that guy.

Yet—somewhere in the furthest, tiniest, darkest corner of his mind—he wondered if Komaeda could understand. If he felt the same frustration at Izuru as him.

And that thought made his heart pound faster.

10/22

Lucky (17:47) > You mean, like a rival character?

(17:48) >> I wouldn’t call it a rival… Just someone who never fails to frustrate you no matter what they’re doing. And their presence alone is enough to make you remember all your failures.

(17:49) >> Do you have someone like that?

Lucky (17:49) > Other than myself?

(17:50) >> Yes! Why would you even think that is an option?

Lucky (17:52) > …I’m sorry, Nobody, but I don’t think I can sympathize with you on that front. There’s no one like that for me.

(17:53) >> That’s fine…

(17:54) >> Can I ask you something in relation to that, then?

Lucky (17:54) > Of course, ask away.

(17:56) >> Do you think I’m pathetic for feeling like that?

Lucky (17:57) > No, I don’t.

(17:57) >> Thanks…

Lucky (17:58) > You know, I might not understand being frustrated like that at someone else,

Lucky (17:58) > But I do understand being reminded of past mistakes on a regular basis.

(17:59) >> I don’t know if that’s supposed to make me feel better or if I should worry about you.

Lucky (18:00) > Shouldn’t I be worried about you, too, if that’s the case?

(18:00) >> Oh, you’re right…

(18:01) >> But I do think it’s not as bad as it used to be.

(18:01) >> I’m not quite there yet, but I am getting there eventually.

Lucky (18:02) > I’m glad to hear that.

Lucky (18:03) > I’m making sure nothing bad happens to you on my end as well, so you don’t have to worry about anything!

(18:04) >> Um… how do you mean that?

Lucky (18:04) > My luck won’t reach you, Nobody.

Lucky (18:05) > I won’t let it go too far from me.

Lucky (18:05) > I’ve already made it this far,

Lucky (18:06) > So I’m not stopping now.

Lucky (18:06) > Trust me.

Lucky (18:06) > It’ll be fine.

Lucky (18:07) > Totally fine.

Lucky (18:07) > Haha

(18:10) >> Lucky, are you okay?

The door to Hajime’s room flew open, crashing against the closet standing behind it. Seconds later, it was closed with such force, the resounding bang could be heard through the entire house.

Hajime, who had been sitting on his bed, leaning against the windowsill, dropped his phone on the mattress when he lost his grip on it from the surprise and shock coursing through him.

All sound vanished, drowned out by the blinding red piercing his eyes, as he saw Izuru, out of breath, standing inside his room with his back against the door, meeting his gaze head-on, staring him down the same way all of Hajime’s mistakes had been doing for so long.


The boy in Hope’s Peak Academy’s dormitory was lying on the floor of his room.

Everything hurt and there was a knock on his door.

Chapter Text

10/22

Hajime had no words to fill the silence in his room.

Well, calling it silence wasn’t quite right. There was Izuru’s heavy breathing, although he wasn’t actually heaving any air. Just breathing pretty fast through his nose as if he just ran all the way from the train station over to the house. Maybe he did, because his school bag was still hanging from his shoulder, ready to fall off at any moment. His long hair looked pretty beat up from the wind, too.

Still, none of these things changed the fact that Hajime had no words to say. Because Kamukura Izuru was inside his room and he had absolutely no clue what was going on nor how to react to it. This had never happened before and he was not prepared.

So, naturally, the only course of action he knew to take was silence. That was what he and Izuru always ended up in. Staring at each other, observing, and making the least sound possible.

Except, there was usually an escape route to take in situations like this. But, right now, Hajime was trapped inside his own room with no way out. Because Izuru forced his way inside with no forewarning or notice, and now that he thought about it, Hajime realized how rude that was.

“Have you never heard of knocking?”

It slipped out before he could stop himself. He blamed it on the fight or flight mode his body seemed to have entered. As he had already noticed, though, flight wasn’t an option this time around.

Izuru only stared. He blinked, his red eyes flickering over to the side, away from Hajime’s gaze. If it were literally anyone else, Hajime would think he was embarrassed. He watched as Izuru closed his eyes, took a deep breath, and abruptly turned around. He grabbed the door handle, pushed it down, exited, and closed the door behind him.

Hajime had no words to fill the silence in his room.

He sat cross-legged on top of his bed in front of the window, staring at the wooden door across from him. Izuru had disappeared. The sun was setting, though the streetlights weren’t turned on yet. A bird was chirping outside, a car rolling by in front of the house.

The artificial light coming from the lamp hanging from the ceiling illuminated the interior and gave the furniture a certain glow. There was the big closet, standing right next to the door. The small two-seater couch just far enough away from it, so the doors wouldn’t be blocked when opened. The small table in front of the couch, the work desk with its chair directly across and against the stark white wall.

It was weird, because it all looked the same as always.

Hajime felt lost, confused by his own room’s interior. Maybe he finally broke and started hallucinating. Maybe he went insane at some point over the course of the last few days. He wouldn’t be surprised, to be honest.

What did surprise him was the sudden knock on his door. It yanked him out of his trance, brought him back into the reality in which Kamukura Izuru would never be present inside his room for any reason. It wouldn’t make sense, after all. That was not a thing that could happen, because they both had nothing to say to each other—ever. Period. And that was how it should be.

There was a second knock and Hajime flinched, “Uh—y-yes?”

After a moment’s pause, the door opened, revealing a teenager his age with long dark brown-almost-black hair done up in a ponytail, two loose strands framing the face on both sides with a third strand falling over the forehead and right between a pair of piercing red eyes. He was wearing Hope’s Peak Academy’s Main Course uniform, paired with the school’s official bag hanging from his shoulder.

Hajime knew that guy. He wordlessly watched as Izuru stepped inside the room, closing the door behind him with a soft thud. He didn’t even know where to begin to describe how wrong and unnatural this was. It was sort of ridiculous, too, he almost wanted to laugh.

But, once again, he had no words to fill the silence in his room.

He felt lightheaded, the air inside his lungs close to suffocating him. He had enough of this—whatever this was—so he narrowed his eyes, not bothering to find a pleasant tone of voice, and asked, “What do you want?”

Izuru noticeably swallowed as he considered his answer. Although, Hajime could only guess that was what was going through his head, causing the silence to be dragged out into another nearly uncomfortable length.

“Hajime—”

The quiet was broken, shattering to pieces with a sound that rivaled the breaking of glass. Hajime held his breath, anticipation coursing through him like electricity, the desire to run away so strong, he considered jumping out the window. He felt as if he would randomly combust at any second.

“—how are you?”

Hajime made a strange sound halfway between a confused laugh and an indignant huff. He fell asleep earlier. That must be what was going on.

“I’m fine?” he didn’t mean for it to end with a question mark. He debated for a spilt second whether he should return the question, but it didn’t really matter how a figment of his imagination was doing. Even if it was real, he didn’t trust it.

Izuru moved his head to simulate the common notion of an affirmative nod, although it was stiff and Hajime had no idea what he was trying to tell him with it. “Yes” sounded like a weird response, and Izuru seemed to have noticed that, too.

“That’s—” his red eyes darted from left to right and back at Hajime, “—nice.”

Ridiculous. Just, ridiculous. A deep frown—half annoyed, half confused—decided to join Hajime’s narrowed eyes, “You didn’t answer my question.”

“Right, I—” Izuru cleared his throat, “I suppose not.” He reached up to tug a strand of hair behind his ear, directing his gaze to the floor. After a moment’s pause, he added, “I don’t want anything.”

Hajime rolled his eyes, “Sure. Why are you in my room then?”

Izuru blinked, looking up at him with wide eyes that seemed to mock his intelligence, especially when paired with the words, “You let me in.”

“I—”

Hajime didn’t know what to say to that. In hindsight, it was clear the one that had knocked on his door was Izuru, but he had been, and still was, kind of reeling from the events of the last few minutes. Izuru’s non-answers didn’t really answer anything, either. Trying to get information out of this guy was frustrating to no end.

Hajime shook his head in a poor attempt to make sense of all this, “I-I did, yeah. But—why did you want to come in my room?”

“To speak with you,” Izuru said it so nonchalantly, Hajime felt stupid for not figuring it out. But then he realized how nonsensical of an idea that was and his pride recovered a little.

“O-kay…?” he made sure to draw out the syllables just long enough to signal Izuru he wanted him to explain his actions in more detail. Unfortunately, he didn’t get the hint. So, Hajime followed it up with a pointed look and a gesture with his open hand. It got Izuru to speak, but he changed the topic.

“I apologize for forgetting to knock earlier,” he said, no discernable sincerity in his voice. Hajime would think someone with Izuru’s brains would be a better liar than this. It was almost pitiful.

He let out a frustrated groan, leaning forward in his cross-legged position, his elbows on the sides of his knees for support, and buried his face in his hands. This was seriously going nowhere, and he still couldn’t figure out what kind of joke this was.

“Hajime?”

Why couldn’t this be over already? He sighed, speaking a little louder from behind his hands, “It’s fine. Just, what do you want to talk about?”

The following silence made it difficult for Hajime to keep his eyes hidden, but he resisted the urge to look up. There was nothing to see on Izuru’s face, anyway. Hearing his dead voice was more than enough, and even that he would rather not have to listen to under any circumstances.

“I did not—I…” Izuru, for lack of a better term, was stuttering. Some weird equivalent to it at least, because there was no way Izuru of all people would ever lose his composure like that. Although, he did sound oddly embarrassed, as much as he was capable of it. “I didn’t think about that.”

Whatever this was, Hajime was so done with it. He took a deep breath to calm his growing irritation, closing his eyes before slowly bringing both his hands together in front of his face, palm meeting palm as if he was praying. Maybe he was, to whatever God was out there, to free him from this torture. Nothing happened.

“So, let me get this straight,” he started, opening his eyes in the smallest way possible. “You,” he moved his hands to let his fingertips point at Izuru, “barged into my room without permission, didn’t say anything to me, total silence, yet you claim you wanted to talk to me, but you don’t know what you want to talk about. Is that right?”

“…yes,” it was a quiet admission. Izuru glanced to the side, shifting his weight as if he was feeling uncomfortable, though his expression was devoid of any emotions to express.

“Great. Glad we could clear that up,” Hajime leaned to the side, putting his chin in the palm of his right hand, using his knee for support. His eyes stayed trained on Izuru while his free hand began searching for his phone by slowly sliding over his bed’s mattress. “Can you leave me alone now?”

More shifting instead of an answer and Hajime didn’t like that.

He just spent half an hour trying to explain his feelings of resentment for the boy in front of him to Lucky. It was all too fresh in his mind for him to be dealing with this right now. He needed time to calm down, to stash these feelings away again, into a corner of his mind he now tried to only visit rarely if he could help it.

Besides, this was his room. He was supposed to be safe in here. There was no space for Izuru inside this room. He had to leave. Now.

“I can’t do that,” Izuru finally responded. His voice’s volume was normal, but the words carried a certain finality. Hajime had to stop himself from gritting his teeth.

“Get out,” he was surprised how controlled his voice sounded.

“No.”

“Then talk, dammit!”

Izuru merely blinked at Hajime’s raised voice. He didn’t flinch in surprise, or grimaced at the loud volume that must’ve been echoing in his ears. All he did was blink. And Hajime was downright angry now—furious, even. He was done with this conversation that didn’t seem to go anywhere, he was done with whatever game Izuru was playing here.

He wanted his quiet room back, the only place where he felt at home inside this house.

Izuru was disturbing it.

Hajime was walking towards him before he had even realized he stood up. He gripped Izuru’s shoulders tightly, using all of his strength to drag him over to the small couch and pushed him down to sit on it. He remained standing, crossing his arms in front of his chest, looking down at Izuru with a glare that hopefully was finally enough to make him talk now that Hajime had the upper hand in this.

However, silence still controlled the air around them for what must have been the longest twenty seconds of his life. Thankfully it was broken before it got too uncomfortable.

“For a little over a month now…” Izuru’s voice was quiet, careful, calculating. He paused to take a deep breath through his nose before continuing, “…you’ve been acting weird.”

Hajime felt his eyebrows involuntarily shoot up, his eyes going wide for the fraction of a second. His face scrunched up in confusion a moment later, “What do you mean?”

“As if you don’t know that,” Izuru shook his head, avoiding to look directly at Hajime. Both of his hands were clenched into fists, although one was still holding onto the strap of his school bag in the first place. “Aren’t you doing it intentionally?”

Hajime didn’t know if he should be more confused or offended, “Why would I want to come off as weird?”

“That’s not what I said,” Izuru corrected him. With a quick move of his head, he let his eyes zero in on Hajime’s again, piercing directly into his mind. There was something burning behind them, flickering back and forth between the flame of a candle and what just might have been an inferno.

Hajime unconsciously took a step back.

“You’re not being weird, you’re acting weird,” Izuru’s voice was as cold as ice.

“I—I don’t—” he didn’t know what to say. Izuru had always been intimidating in his own way, but this was entirely different. Something new. He was almost a hundred percent sure he didn’t like it. He closed his eyes briefly, managing to calm down a little after having the image of Izuru’s stare disappear behind the darkness of his eyelids. His voice was calmer than he thought it’d be when he said, “Sorry, but you’re not making any sense.”

“You—” Izuru cut himself off.

Hajime could hear the sharp inhale of breath he made before silence enveloped them once more. It took him a minute before he allowed his eyes to open, but he didn’t dare look back at Izuru. His gaze was locked on the floor beneath his feet, instead.

“Alright,” Izuru sounded the same he always did. Neutral, noncommittal, detached. There was no temperature to his voice. “I will summarize it for you, then.”

Hajime’s tongue felt like lead inside his mouth. He couldn’t move it, couldn’t talk. His mind was racing with so many questions, but none stayed long enough for him to figure out what they were asking. He didn’t have the strength to stop Izuru or to interrupt him once he started talking.

“For as long as I have known you, the things you did every day were the same,” he said. “You went to school in the morning, came home in the afternoon, and then disappeared inside your room for the next hours.”

Hajime would like to know what he was getting at with this, but he still couldn’t bring himself to speak. The floorboards looked really interesting today, too, apparently.

Izuru continued, “I have to admit, since we entered high school, I don’t know what you’re doing while I’m still at school, but it felt safe to assume there weren’t any changes in your daily activities. I never saw you downstairs when I came home, after all, and even when Hitomi-san was home during the afternoon, she didn’t seem to have a chance to ask you about your day until dinner.”

Hearing how he had lived his life not even two months ago from someone else’s perspective like this was kind of sickening if he was being honest. He was behind all that stuff now, there was no more reason to think about it. There was no reason for Izuru to bring it up.

Hajime didn’t realize his hands were shaking until one of them automatically reached for the phone that was usually in his pocket, only to find it empty at the moment.

“You didn’t talk much, you didn’t do much. You didn’t go out for longer than half an hour, and even then, you wouldn’t leave the house outside of going to school unless it was the weekend. You didn’t interact with the people around you, treated them with silence or indifference instead.”

He didn’t want to listen to this. He really wanted to talk to Lucky right now. He couldn’t deny anything that Izuru was saying, though he desperately wished he could.

“And that’s all you ever did.” Izuru paused, but not nearly long enough, “That’s the kind of person you are. That’s you. But for some reason, you aren’t doing most of these things anymore. So, you either forgot who you are or decided to pretend to be someone different.”

It stung to hear that, but it shouldn’t have. Hajime never cared about Izuru’s opinion of him. It was irrelevant. What did he know about the things he went through over the last few weeks? Nothing. He had no right to talk. Izuru didn’t know him at all. Even if these words had applied to him previously, he didn’t want them to be a description of himself any longer. This was real, he wasn’t pretending. He didn’t forget anything. Rather, he found something. Or, even more accurately, someone else found him.

An image flashed through his mind for a brief second. It was the memory of a dull evening after an even duller day. It had been on the 10th of September when his phone had received a new message from an unknown number.

After that—maybe even in the same exact moment—everything changed, and he wasn’t going back.

Steeling his resolve, Hajime clenched his teeth together. The floor had lost his interest. His eyes travelled up, higher and higher, until they met another pair dyed in fading red. Ironically enough, this was all he needed to free his tongue from being tied down, and even more ironic were the words he made it say, “You’re wrong, Izuru.”

“…wrong?” Something flashed in Izuru’s eyes, twisted his features, but it was gone before Hajime could even attempt to identify it. His best guess was on disbelieve, though. This must’ve been the first time someone told Izuru he made a mistake, after all.

“Yes, wrong.” Hajime felt a sudden rush from having the upper hand in the conversation again, “I have no clue what made you decide to bring all of this up, by the way. It’s true that these things were all I ever did in the past, but that doesn’t mean I’m not capable of changing that.”

There it was again, the flicker of something on Izuru’s face. It was gone as quickly as it appeared. His gaze turned unfocused, clouded by uncertainty—maybe even panic. “But—”

“And for the record,” Hajime paused to give his interruption a more dramatic effect, “it’s none of your business.”

It is!” Izuru’s voice had never been as loud as in that moment. It made Hajime flinch, almost made him regret his words, but he stood by them. So did Izuru, who had sprung up from the couch at his declaration. Now, they were on the same eye level again. When Izuru continued, his volume was considerably lowered, though still loud for his standards, “I can’t predict you anymore…!”

There was something…desperate in the way he said it. Hajime didn’t want to believe his ears, but he heard it and he couldn’t pretend to not have noticed. It was weird, being able to hear emotion in Izuru’s voice. It wasn’t much, but it was there.

Despite that, his face’s features were as blank as ever. It made Hajime feel disconnected from his words, as if they hadn’t been said in the first place and he was simply imagining it. He knew his mind could never conjure up the sound of Izuru’s barely-emotion-filled voice, though.

That was why he only slightly hesitated before gracing Izuru’s words with a response, “That doesn’t sound like such a bad thing to me.” Why would he want to be predictable, anyway? This wasn’t a very compelling argument at all. “Actually, I prefer it this way.”

His statement hung in the open air between them. He did his best to maintain eye contact with Izuru, and he succeeded for the most part. He did blink every now and then. He made sure his expression showed nothing but conviction to make up for it.

“…you don’t get it.” The words were nothing more than a fragile whisper with no undertones beneath it.

Izuru’s shoulders visibly relaxed, although Hajime only now noticed how they had been shaking earlier. He didn’t give off the impression of being relieved, though. His face wasn’t guarded, but it wasn’t exactly open, either. The right word for it might have been empty. The same could be said about his eyes, too. It was kind of scaring Hajime.

Before he could find a good response, Izuru was already talking again. “You’re not supposed to be like this,” he was still whispering, staring ahead with unmoving eyes, and Hajime wasn’t sure if he was looking at or through him. The speed in which he was talking was steadily increasing, too. “You’re not supposed to suddenly have friends, or to get along with my classmates, or—”

“Hold on! What makes you think you have any right to decide that?” Hajime wasn’t going to listen to any more of this. He should’ve kicked Izuru out of his room instead of demanding an explanation for his behavior. This was no explanation at all. He didn’t need to hear this nonsense. “And what’s the point of you telling me all this, anyway? I don’t care what you think of me!”

There was a distinct pause before Izuru continued in the same fast and quiet tone of voice as before, “This isn’t about my opinion of you, it’s—”

Izuru blinked. His red eyes temporarily glazed over with something akin to realization. His mouth hung open, but no sound was coming out of it. The silence inside the room was so sudden, Hajime wouldn’t be surprised if his ears spontaneously decided to stop working.

He realized that was not the case when Izuru inhaled sharply, took a step back, and rather unceremoniously fell back down onto the couch. He was sitting perfectly upright, though. He raised a hand to hide one half of his face, mumbling in a hesitant but empty voice, “…what…am I doing?”

Hajime almost scoffed at the question. He was the one who deserved an answer to that. He shrugged, though he wasn’t sure if Izuru could see it, “I don’t know. You tell me.”

Izuru slowly began to shake his head as he was seemingly going through their whole conversation again in his mind. His other hand joined the first one, while his posture slumped forward a little. Now, all Hajime could see was the crown of his head. His mouth must’ve been relatively free, though, since he could still understand his continued mumblings, “This isn’t what I wanted to say at all…”

“Yeah, right,” he wasn’t going to believe that so easily. Although, he had to admit, it was hard to think Izuru was lying in his current state. He didn’t sound particularly emotional or anything, far from it, but Hajime couldn’t shake the sneaking suspicion that this was probably the most vulnerable Izuru had ever be in front of another person, weirdly enough. It took some of the spite out of Hajime’s voice, “So, what exactly are you doing here, then?”

“I—” There was a long pause before Izuru seemed to actually comprehend the question. “I don’t know…”

Hajime sighed, “That again—”

“I just—” Izuru interrupted him, but cut-off immediately afterwards. Hajime was about to continue anyway when he saw the way Izuru’s shoulders turned stiff, and that was enough to make him pause. “…I wanted to have a conversation.”

He must’ve heard that wrong, “A what?”

“A talk. To converse. A usually informal exchange between two or more—”

“I know what a conversation is!” He wasn’t that stupid. “But I don’t get what you mean by that.”

With a jolt of his head, Izuru stared directly at him. His eyes were clear, his features neutral. The vulnerability he seemed to have disappeared in a puff of metaphorical smoke. His voice sounded nearly deadpan to Hajime’s ears, “A conversation is a conversation.”

He was getting irritated again, “Aren’t we having one right now?”

Izuru looked to his left and right, like you would do before crossing the street, before his gaze landed back on Hajime, “This is an argument.”

What this was, was the longest exchange they ever had.

“Yeah, okay, whatever,” if Hajime hadn’t known any better, he would’ve thought that was supposed to be a joke. Although, how could he be so sure of that? He didn’t really know Izuru. Which still didn’t mean his assumptions were entirely incorrect, mind you. “Are you only here to get on my nerves?”

Izuru didn’t move—or did he flinch in the barest of ways, so that Hajime was left wondering if he only imagined it? His earlier sureness was replaced with the beginnings of uncertainty taking root inside his chest. He didn’t like this feeling. He wished he could rip it out and stomp all over it.

Izuru wasn’t helping with his neither sarcastic nor offended nor anything tone of voice, “No, did I give you that impression?”

Hajime couldn’t answer that. He was unsure where his question had even come from. His mind felt muddled, his memory hazy, as he tried to recall if Izuru behaved in such a way. The last few minutes of their back and forth would suggest so, but…that didn’t sit quite right with him. The uncertainty started carving a hole into his chest.

“Uhm,” Hajime shifted his weight from one foot to the other, his gaze wandering over to the window. The sky was a dark shade of blue outside, the sun having completely vanished by now. He knew he had to say something, even if he wasn’t convinced by it. He hoped his voice wouldn’t give it away, at least. “Your little tangent just now certainly made me think so.”

He didn’t get an immediate reply to that, and since he wasn’t observing Izuru’s every movement anymore, all he could do was stand awkwardly in the middle of his own room. He crossed his arms in front of his chest, feeling a little less weird when they weren’t uselessly hanging at his sides.

Hours must have passed during the minute of silence leading up to Izuru’s next words, “About that…could you please forget I ever said anything?”

“Huh?” Hajime didn’t expect that. It took him by surprise, causing his brain to stop processing his thoughts. His head automatically adjusted itself to look at Izuru again, only to find him avoiding his gaze. He couldn’t make any sense of this, “Why?”

“I wasn’t thinking. I shouldn’t have said it, and I never meant to, anyway. That’s all,” Izuru reached for one of the strands of hair that weren’t restricted by his ponytail and started fidgeting with it. Or whatever was Izuru’s equivalent to fidgeting. There was barely any movement at all. Maybe he was just holding onto it. Hajime couldn’t tell, but there were more important things to address than Izuru’s strange ticks.

“Not thinking? What kind of excuse is that?” It was a ridiculous one for someone who could probably solve the world’s most difficult math equation in the blink of an eye. Hajime always thought Izuru was the type to choose his words carefully, calculating them the same as one would do with numbers. “I don’t believe it.”

Nothing about Izuru’s posture changed, though he did take a deep breath before saying, “I have to admit, it doesn’t…happen much. I can’t recall many moments where I have lost focus. Sleep might be the only occasion where my mind is free of thought.”

Hajime’s face scrunched up into a grimace. He knew what constant overthinking was like, but he also knew how to turn off his brain and give it a break every now and then. Before he could think it over, he asked, “Doesn’t that stress you out?”

It took a moment for Izuru to answer, “No… I have never thought about what it would be like without constant thinking. But I don’t mind it. It keeps me busy.”

Hajime changed his grimace into a frown, “That’s supposed to be a good thing?”

“Of course,” Izuru looked at him with wide eyes, making him feel like an idiot for asking. “If I can’t even think, I’d have nothing to do. It’d be boring.”

“…okay, fine.” Hajime couldn’t imagine how that would be anything but draining, but maybe it was a genius thing or something. He wouldn’t know, he wasn’t one. “If that’s how you want to spend your free time, I’m not going to stop you.”

“Would you mind telling me how you are spending yours, then?” Izuru asked for some unfathomable reason, completely neutral and with no hints of sarcasm to be detected. Hajime wasn’t sure if he should take the question seriously.

But Izuru was giving him this expectant look, and it wasn’t like this was an expectation he would never be able to live up to, so might as well just go for it. Besides, he didn’t want to overthink Izuru’s possible intentions and make assumptions about them again. He already made that mistake today. He didn’t need a repeat of that.

“I, uh, I’m not doing much, either, to be honest.” After what he had just said, admitting his own lack of free time activities was close to being one of the most embarrassing things he ever did. There was no way he could leave it at that, “But I guess I’m…reading a lot, lately.”

“Those books you keep reading in the living room?” Izuru asked and he nodded. “Were they all recommendations?”

“Yeah, pretty much,” he shrugged. He didn’t want to make a big deal out of it. It belonged to him and Lucky alone, and it’ll stay that way. He had to stir the conversation away from it, “I’m also talking to my friends, if you want to count that. Or I’m hanging out with them, occasionally. It’s sort of a new thing, though, but…uh, e-everything is.”

He was rambling, wasn’t he?

Hajime awkwardly shifted his weight from one foot to the other. He started feeling kind of exposed, standing in the middle of the room like that. After a quick glance around, he walked over to his desk chair and sat down sideways so he’d be able to keep his eyes on Izuru while still sitting comfortably. One arm was on top of the back of the chair and the other on the desk itself. Izuru followed his every move with an attentive gaze.

For a brief moment as they stared at each other, the air around them grew tense. Surprisingly, it didn’t bother him. Hajime knew the tension wasn’t coming from him. Izuru looked like he wanted to say something, but couldn’t find the right words for it, so Hajime decided to wait.

It didn’t take too long before Izuru quietly asked, “Why?”

“Why what?” Hajime didn’t immediately realize his voice was more curious than irritated, even though he had been going for the latter.

There was another moment of quiet in which Izuru seemed to hesitate, as strange as such a sight might be, but the previous tension evaporated when he elaborated, and if Hajime hadn’t had his doubts before, he definitely didn’t know what to think now, “Why do you have friends?”

Hajime couldn’t do anything against his mouth’s decision to open halfway, despite him having nothing to say. This sounded like something Izuru could have said in his rant earlier, or whatever that was. Did he think Hajime was only using them? He narrowed his eyes, “What do you mean, why?”

“Maybe why isn’t the right word to use,” Izuru hurried to say, and while it was said noticeably quicker, he didn’t sound panicked or nervous at all. “How might be more accurate.”

How did he have friends? That didn’t sound much better to Hajime. But if Izuru’s goal really wasn’t to get on his nerves, to make fun of him, or to invalidate the change he made—if he just didn’t know what words were appropriate to use because he didn’t bother to think about these things before, if he was the same as him in that regard, if he could trust him—then the real question he wanted to ask could easily be something along the lines of…

“How do you befriend someone?”

“That—” Izuru’s eyes flickered over to the side. The hand that was still holding onto the loose strand of hair clenched into a fist. The words coming out of his mouth sounded as if he was choking on them, “I’m asking you that.”

For a moment, Hajime had no idea what he was talking about. Until he realized he had spoken aloud. He blinked, several times, putting Izuru’s words on repeat in his head. Very eloquently, he said, “Huh?”

Was that his imagination or was the skin on Izuru’s face a shade darker than usual? Regardless, he didn’t have the mental capacity to think about it. His mind was busy.

After the initial shock, he almost let out a confused laugh, but he managed to catch it in time. It still ended up coming out as a weird mixture of a chuckle, a puff of air, and an intelligent uh sound. In an instant, Izuru’s gaze was back on him, boring through his own eyes, staring right into his very soul.

Hajime flinched, immediately scrambling for something—anything—to say, “Uh, okay. I-I mean, that’s not a bad question or anything. I’m asking myself the same thing, too!”

The barest of frowns made itself visible on Izuru’s face, “But you have friends.”

“I—Yes, I do, but, um.” How could he say this without making a fool of himself? “I don’t really…know how? It just kinda…happened.”

It really only happened because Souda had already tried to befriend him for over a year and a half, and because Lucky’s constant presence gave him a boost in confidence. All Hajime had done was acknowledge Souda’s attempts and start to actively respond to them. He already had the opportunity, so he only needed to embrace it.

His friendship with Satou was also more born out of circumstance than anything else. The same was true for Koizumi, whom he only met because Satou knew her, if he could count her as one of his friends, that is. He never heard her call him one, so he didn’t really know.

“I don’t think there’s any real strategy to finding friends,” he felt inclined to say after Izuru stayed quiet. “So, I don’t really know what you want me to tell you.”

Izuru didn’t seem to know that, either. The intensity of his glare lessened a bit, but it was still there. “Don’t you have some tips or something, at least?”

“Tips? Uh…” Hajime tried to think of some sort of advice he could give, but nothing came to mind. However, Izuru was giving him this expectant look again, and he would be damned if he didn’t come up with something as fast as possible.

He wasn’t even sure why that had such a big effect on him, but if Izuru—clearly the smarter one of them—thought Hajime could actually answer the questions that he didn’t manage to answer himself, then Hajime wasn’t going to protest or make him think otherwise. He might never have that look directed at him ever again, after all.

Now that he seriously thought about it, he remembered his conversation with Souda on the day of the car exhibition while they waited for their train back. The one about why Souda thought they were friends. He didn’t know if it was any good in terms of advice, but it was something.

“Well,” he cleared his throat, “you could start by wishing someone a good morning every day. Same goes for saying ‘see you tomorrow’ after school, or something similar, I don’t know. But it might be best to just focus on one person in the beginning? Makes it easier to…form a bond.”

Did that make sense? He didn’t know.

“Hmm, I see,” Izuru raised his hand to his chin in thought. “By repeating the same gesture over and over again, it will eventually become something familiar to the subject, thus creating a sense of familiarity and expectation.”

“Uh…right…” Great. Now Hajime felt like a creep. “Maybe don’t make this sound like manipulation tactics, please?”

“…that wasn’t my intention,” Izuru’s posture straightened slightly, his hand falling back onto his lap. “Could you tell me if a specific type of person would be ideal for this?”

So much for not making it sound like manipulation. Hajime sincerely hoped this was just a case of Izuru being overly analytical about this. He still took some time to think the question over, as well as the answer he wanted to give, “I guess…someone who seems approachable? Open to new friendships, maybe?”

After he said it, he realized it was basically the opposite of what Souda had done, and while he had called it a pain a month ago, now he was glad Souda decided to stick with him anyway. But he wasn’t going to say that. He figured it would be better for everyone involved if they wanted to be friends with each other from the very beginning.

He could see Izuru think, turning over Hajime’s words in his head as if they were study material for an upcoming exam. It didn’t seem to stick with him, though. And he wasn’t used to that, because he sounded almost embarrassed when he asked, “How can you tell someone fits the criteria?”

“Um,” how indeed. He was far from an expert when it came to getting an accurate read on other people, as today’s events had made clear to him once more. Hajime had no other choice but to make it up.

“Well, if they greet you back, that’s a good start,” unless they were just being polite, “or if they try to get along with you,” though the polite thing still applied. “Uh, what else…”

What generally made people want to talk to someone? In the end, that was what made them approachable, after all, right? Somehow, he got the feeling these questions would all be wasted on Izuru. He had to do this on his own. If only he could ask Lucky about it.

The mention of Lucky’s name inside his head made him remember the messages he got before Izuru stormed into his room and his throat constricted, closing itself off with the fast beating of his heart. He hoped they were doing alright.

Hajime cleared his throat, “Maybe someone who, I don’t know, smiles a lot? I mean, smiles tend to make you feel at ease, right? So, you know. Might make it easier to start a longer conversation.”

“Anything else?” Izuru asked, without much hesitation. Apparently, this still wasn’t enough for him. Hajime was running out of things to say.

“It would be good if they don’t look uncomfortable in your presence,” he noticed the hints of irritation in his voice a little too late. That came out harsher than what he intended it to be. He quickly added the first thing that popped up inside his head, trying to do damage control, “Or you could try to find someone with the same interests as you. It’ll make for some good conversation starters, probably.”

Izuru was contemplating it, likely trying to match Hajime’s descriptions to someone he knew from school. Hajime let him think, silently thanking him for not immediately asking for more again.

Although, now that he had a moment to himself, he started to wonder why he was telling Izuru all of this stuff in the first place. Just because he asked him? To be honest, as ridiculous as it sounded, Hajime couldn’t think of any other reason than that.

He tore his eyes away from Izuru’s face, down at his lap where, at some point, his hands had started fidgeting. He made them stop by glaring at them, folding them together to prevent any other nervous ticks from being carried out without his consent.

“Thank you, Hajime,” the sound of Izuru’s dead voice—though that might be an exaggeration, he couldn’t be too sure anymore—brought him back to reality. “I appreciate your advice.”

“Was it any good?” he asked, but wanted to take it back immediately after. There had literally been no time for Izuru to test it out and he was already curious about the results. It wasn’t even any of his business if Izuru made some friends in the following days.

“Yes, I do believe so,” Izuru said anyway. “It managed to give me a new perspective on things, and I do think someone in my class would be ideal for a test run.”

He was talking like it was some science project. Well, that was better than manipulation, at least, Hajime had to give him that. His mouth was moving before he could stop it, “Glad to hear.”

He didn’t mean it, but he also wasn’t being sarcastic. His brain felt fuzzy.

Izuru stood up, taking a moment to survey the room and to adjust the grip on his school bag. “I should leave,” he paused, hesitated, Hajime wasn’t sure, before adding, “Dinner doesn’t make itself.”

All he could do in response was nod. Izuru didn’t seem to mind. He walked over to the door, put his hand on the handle, opening it. He took one step outside the door, but stopped and turned back around to face Hajime.

“I’m sorry if I disturbed you in any way,” he said.

“N-no, it’s okay,” his muscles felt frozen in place. “You didn’t, it’s fine.”

Hajime couldn’t hear himself clearly. He wasn’t even sure if he really said these words, especially since they weren’t true. They tumbled out of his mouth before he could approve of them, but he felt like a third person watching a scene play out in front of him instead of being a part of it, anyway.

The corner of Izuru’s mouth twitched, but if up or down, Hajime wasn’t fast enough to notice. Izuru stood still for a moment longer, staring at Hajime with wide eyes. He abruptly turned around, his long hair swaying behind him. “Good,” was all he said before stepping out and closing the door behind him.

Hajime let go of a deep sigh, feeling as if his lungs’ air capacity had been restricted until the moment Izuru left his room. He pushed against the desk to his right, making his chair roll over to the left, using his feet to navigate backwards. Once the chair was parallel to his bed, he fell back first on his mattress, staring up at the ceiling.

He didn’t know what to think.

Just now, he had a perfectly normal conversation with Izuru, hadn’t he? Despite his views on Izuru’s intelligence, despite the outburst Izuru had earlier. A normal conversation where one person asked another for advice about a topic that they didn’t have much experience on, but wanted to gain some.

And here Hajime had thought Izuru wanted to taunt him for his lack in academic achievements or something. That possibility sounded almost laughable to him now. He shouldn’t have made assumptions like that. He didn’t know Izuru at all, so he shouldn’t assume he knew his intentions better than Izuru himself. Maybe, if he hadn’t provoked him like that, Izuru wouldn’t even have felt the need to call the change he made over the last month an act.

He didn’t know what would make him think like that, but Izuru very obviously had his own share of problems which Hajime didn’t know the first thing about. Just like Izuru didn’t know anything about his problems.

Hajime should stop seeing everything he did as a personal threat to him.

Sighing once more, he stretched his arms out over the bed, blindly searching for his phone while keeping his eyes locked on the ceiling. He found it lying near the edge at the bottom of the mattress. He had to sit up a bit to get it, but immediately flopped back down once it was within his grasp.

His current lock screen image greeted him when he turned on the screen. It still was the picture of the four-leaved clover Lucky had sent him on the day where everything had finally fallen apart and he allowed himself to move on from it.

He wondered if he ever really did move on, though, if he ever really changed. Was there any way of confirming it? Nothing that he could think of, at least.

Echoes of Izuru’s words repeated in his mind.

Uncertainty swirled around inside his chest, creating a whirlpool that didn’t waste any time in consuming his lungs and heart, filling them both with ice cold, close to freezing water.

Out of habit, or perhaps instinct at this point, he unlocked his phone. His chat with Lucky was still open. Their last few texts were glaring at him through the bright screen. He never got a reply to his own most recent message in the time he spoke with Izuru.

Hajime’s heart froze over.

He took a deep breath, holding the air inside his cooling lungs for a moment before breathing it out again. His breath didn’t come out in the form of a small fog cloud, like he half expected it to. His hands were shaking.

(18:55) >> Lucky?

(18:57) >> Are you there?


He came to consciousness to the feeling of his phone buzzing inside his pocket.

He didn’t know where he was.

He couldn’t see. His vision was dark, black, nonexistent. He couldn’t move. His limbs were heavy, and so were his eyelids. He was lying on something soft, though that didn’t feel right to him. The surface he was lying on wasn’t stationary. His body lightly swung from side to side, up and down, in irregular intervals, but it was never strong enough to outright jostle him.

He couldn’t speak.

A sharp scent filled the air around him. It smelled familiar, but it was still unpleasant. He could hear voices. They were hushed, muted—his ears couldn’t tell the difference. Someone was touching his shoulder, keeping his upper body in place while the rest of him slid a little to the right.

Faintly, in the back of his mind, he registered pain. His brain was too muddled to locate it. He could feel his consciousness slowly slipping away.

His phone buzzed.

The last thought he had was a silent apology.

Chapter Text

10/23

Hajime wasn’t paying any attention to the teacher standing at the front of the classroom. He had tried to listen to what was being said, he really did, but after some time, he just couldn’t. His ability to focus was pretty much nonexistent today, and it was no mystery to him as for the reason why.

He hadn’t heard anything from Lucky since yesterday, right before Izuru stormed inside his room. To say it was worrying would be an understatement. Not only had their last few messages been rather cryptic, their words gave Hajime the distinct feeling that something was going horribly wrong.

He managed to put that worry aside for the rest of the evening after all his texts had gone unanswered, but when he woke up today and there was neither a response to his good night message from the previous day, nor Lucky’s usual sweet good morning text, he could no longer pretend that nothing was wrong.

The problem was, he had no idea what was going on. He couldn’t ask, since Lucky still hadn’t answered him, and he didn’t want to assume anything, because he was all too familiar with his brain’s pessimistic tendencies.

So, he worried about it, while consciously keeping the amount of thoughts dedicated to the situation to a bare minimum. In other words, he was feeling on edge.

It was no wonder he couldn’t concentrate on class.

But to be fair, he wasn’t even trying anymore at this point. He had taken out his phone and was currently rereading some of his conversations with Lucky to make himself feel better. It worked, partially. It increased his want to have an actual conversation with them, too.

There was a hole carved through his chest, hollowing out the inside of his ribcage with every old text his eyes decided to land on. It was completely emptied out by the time he reached the very bottom of their chat once more, the left side of the screen devoid of messages.

In the background, he heard the teacher raise her voice, but Hajime didn’t bother to pick up on anything she was saying. He wasn’t sure what subject they were discussing, he lost track of time at some point, but he was sure her explanations wouldn’t make any sense to him either way.

He wondered if he would understand it if Lucky was the one explaining it to him. They knew some random stuff, maybe they were good with normal school material, too?

(11:49) >> I can’t believe I never thought of asking you to help me study.

Hajime waited for a reply with bated breath. No one answered him. Usually, a message like that would initiate a quick back-and-forth between the two of them, arguing over pros and cons and what-ifs that didn’t lead anywhere, but never failed to make Hajime smile or ignite a warm feeling inside his chest, running through the veins underneath his skin.

Instead, right now, a looming shadow stood behind him, looking over his shoulder at the unchanging image on the phone’s screen. His chest was cold, his heart and blood coated in a thin layer of ice, and he was biting the inside of his lip.

He wished he could do something to not feel so helpless, but his only connection to Lucky was through this one number. He had no other way of checking up on them.

Hajime held back a defeated sigh, not wanting to draw attention to himself during class. He knew he should put his phone away, too, but what if Lucky finally replied the moment he did? He couldn’t risk it. He kept the phone in his hand, never taking his eyes off it.

(11:56) >> Not that that really matters anymore, I guess.

(11:57) >> Would be a little late at this point, anyway.

He sent a few more texts in order to do something, essentially talking about nothing, but none of them were answered. It hurt, not seeing someone else’s words pop up on the left side of the screen whenever he paused, but he didn’t stop.

The possibility this was annoying Lucky more than it did anything else entered his head from time to time, but he knew they had trouble believing someone would want them around, so he at least wanted them to know he was thinking about them. Even if that notion sounded incredibly embarrassing when put into words. He hoped he’d never have to explain his actions.

Hajime didn’t notice how absorbed he had become in his own little world until a hand slammed down onto his desk with a loud bang, followed by a high-pitched shriek that sounded suspiciously like Souda. It startled him so much, he almost dropped his phone. For half a second, he thought it was the teacher, but when he looked up, the one standing in front of his desk was none other than Satou, fixing him with a stern glare and an angry scowl on her face.

“Look at me when I’m talking to you,” she said.

“Um, sorry,” he mumbled, confused. But then his ears picked up on all the chattering around him, and his brain concluded that lunch break must’ve started without him realizing.

Standing next to him was Souda, looking spooked and worried at the same time. His eyes darted back and forth between Hajime and Satou, finally settling on the former after Satou shot him a pointed glare. His voice wavered a little as a result, “A-anyway, man, a-are you okay?”

Hajime didn’t know how to answer that. He didn’t think he was, not really, but he also didn’t think he could explain the situation without having to admit he had been texting a stranger for over a month, and that didn’t sound like something acceptable to do.

Besides, Souda and Satou couldn’t help him with this. There was no point in talking to them.

“I was just lost in thought, don’t worry about it,” he said. He cleared his desk of his things, but kept his phone in his hand, and stood up, hoping to redirect the conversation away from him with the words, “Let’s go. We shouldn’t leave Koizumi waiting, right?”

“I was just saying that, but you just kept staring at your phone,” Satou sounded exasperated. She seemed especially irritated today, but he didn’t have the mental capacity to question it right now.

He walked towards the door, eyes on the floor, relieved to hear two sets of footsteps behind him without a moment’s hesitation. He hoped that meant the subject was officially dropped.

He was about to open the sliding door at the back of the classroom when a shock went through him, starting from his hand and going all the way up to his ears, blocking all incoming sound from being processed. The source of the shock was easy to determine. His phone had buzzed.

Hajime froze on the spot. He scrambled to unlock his phone, to see who had messaged him, even though he knew there was only one person who ever did, and he felt hope welling up inside him—

The contact name read Kamukura Izuru.

Hajime’s heart stopped as the world tilted on its axis. There were only so many abnormalities in his life that he could handle before he started thinking he somehow ended up in a parallel universe. Or everyone around him had plotted some sort of elaborate prank on him.

Both scenarios were utterly nonsensical.

He opened the message.

Kamukura Izuru (12:34) > Can I talk to you?

His first impulsive idea for a response was Never, but he wasn’t going to write that.

Before he could even start to think of a more appropriate reply, however, he felt a set of hands against his back, pushing him forward and through the now open door. Next to the side of his head, he heard Souda’s voice hiss into his ear, “Dude, do you want to make her angry?”

Hajime didn’t need to turn around to know that Satou’s stare was currently burning a hole through the back of his head, the feeling of it alone was more than enough. She really was in a bad mood today.

He let Souda push him a little further down the hallway, putting his phone into his pocket as he did, having already wiped the memory of Izuru’s text from his mind. He made a quick step to the side to break away from Souda’s touch. Satou caught up with them, immediately filling the gap between him and Souda the moment he created it.

They took up more space in the hallway than they probably should, walking side by side like that, but since the lunch break had barely started, most people were headed in the same direction, anyway.

Before going to the entrance, they picked up some food from the store on the first floor. The whole time, they didn’t talk to each other. Satou seemed lost in her own thoughts, Souda most likely was too scared to make her angry by saying something she’ll consider dumb, and Hajime had a hard time thinking about anything other than Lucky.

It bothered him, Lucky’s silence. On a level where he started to feel more and more on edge with every passing second in which his phone didn’t buzz from a new incoming message. He didn’t want to dwell on their unresponsiveness. It’d only end up giving him more anxiety on top of everything else that he was still struggling with.

For example, he had no idea how to preserve these friendships he somehow managed to make. Certainly not by essentially ignoring their existence. But that was what all three of them were doing right now, and it made Hajime’s skin crawl.

Hopefully, once they met up with Koizumi, she’d be able to lighten the mood a little. Although, the impression he had of her wasn’t very promising in that regard.

During their short walk from the school store to the entrance doors, not a single word was uttered.

Hajime felt as if he was suffocating. He needed a distraction from this tense atmosphere. He wished he could talk to Lucky, they never failed to help him breathe easy again, after all. But that wasn’t an option right now, as much as he wanted to deny it.

He had trouble coming up with any other distraction plans, but he didn’t need to fret over it for long. The solution presented itself the moment he stepped out of the Reserve Course building and onto the cobblestoned pathway leading through Hope’s Peak Academy’s courtyard.

Off to the side, but within immediate sight of anyone leaving the building, stood Izuru, eyes trained on the entrance like a hawk searching for its prey. Hajime froze mid-step the moment he saw him, and not a second later, Izuru’s gaze landed on him in turn.

“Oh, no,” the words slipped out of Hajime’s mouth like they were an afterthought. He had already resigned himself to the fact that he missed his chance to escape—if he even had one in the first place, given how Izuru wasted no time in walking towards them.

Beside him, Souda let out some sort of undignified squeak once he realized why Hajime had stopped moving. He took two steps back, his hands flying up to grab at his beanie as if it was a lifeline. Or maybe he considered pulling it down over his eyes—out of sight, out of mind and all that.

Contrary to him, Satou stayed perfectly calm, though she was visibly confused. But that came to no surprise. She furrowed her brow, giving Izuru a suspicious look while leaning over to Hajime, and asked quietly under her breath, “You know this guy?”

“Something like that,” he muttered back, doing his best to keep his expression as neutral as possible. He couldn’t say he knew Izuru, that’d be a lie. Yesterday proofed it, and today as well.

Izuru didn’t show any signs of slowing down, even as he came closer and closer to their little group. Once Hajime was within reach, he grabbed his wrist and started walking off to the side of the building, keeping his speed without so much as a small twitch of his muscles despite now dragging the weight of another body behind him.

“H-hey! What the—” Hajime’s confusion prevented him from making a decision about whether he should walk with Izuru or bury his feet into the ground, and as a result, he lost his balance and all he could do was stumble awkwardly along.

He heard another one of Souda’s scared-and-confused shrieks, followed by Satou’s voice, though the words were swallowed by the growing whispers and murmurs from the other students around them. It was far from a common occurrence to see a Main Course student at the Reserve Course building, and they were probably making a scene thanks to Hajime’s outburst.

He only hoped this wouldn’t result in any strange rumors being spread around the school.

Izuru dragged him all the way to the back of the building, near the incinerator, hidden from view by some of the trees standing around. He stopped walking, let go of Hajime’s wrist, and spun around to face him in one fluid motion. Hajime felt his muscles lock in place the moment their eyes met.

Nevertheless, while gritting his teeth, he forced his jaw and tongue to work, irritation clear in his voice, “What was that for?”

Izuru blinked once, averted his gaze off to the side, and said in a toneless tone, “You didn’t answer my message.”

Hajime frowned. There was no way Izuru could’ve made it over to the Reserve Course between the time Hajime received that text and now, and it didn’t look like he ran. Which could only mean, the message had been sent as an afterthought. Even if he had replied and said no, Izuru would’ve been there to catch him the moment he would leave the building. He didn’t know how to feel about that.

“Fine, whatever,” he sighed and rolled his eyes, “What is it?”

Izuru’s gaze shifted down toward the ground, one hand coming up to hold one of the strands of hair framing his face. He wasn’t fidgeting with it. Rather, he was holding onto it. It took a few more seconds, almost enough for them to accumulate into a minute, before Izuru mumbled, “I couldn’t do it.”

Hajime waited for him to elaborate, and groaned in frustration when he didn’t. “Izuru, if you want to talk to me,” he said, “you need to talk, alright?”

Izuru nodded, slowly, as if he didn’t understand the concept and was trying to process it. Or he was hesitating. It sounded unlikely, but it was a possibility. It certainly seemed like he was steeling himself for some sort of bad reaction, judging by the way he took a deep breath and held the air inside his lungs, slightly puffing out his chest as a result.

“I couldn’t do what you told me to,” he mumbled, eventually. “I—I couldn’t wish someone a good morning.”

Hajime didn’t know what to do with that information. His eyes darted around, at the bushes and the trees, searching for hidden cameras, but he didn’t find any at a first glance. He cleared his throat, feeling uncomfortable, “Why not?”

“You told me to greet a specific type of person,” Izuru’s tone was flat, but somewhat hurried, “and there is someone in my class that fits your description, but he didn’t come to school today.”

Hajime never thought he’d ever seriously consider the possibility of Izuru being, at least slightly, dense. “I don’t see the problem,” he said, exasperated, “I know there’s more than one person in your class, you couldn’t have talked to someone else?”

Izuru’s features twisted into something that could almost be considered shame, maybe, if you stared at it long enough. He was still avoiding eye contact, “None of them fit the characteristics you gave me yesterday.”

In order to not let out another frustrated groan, Hajime converted the sound into a nondescript snort at the last second. His so-called “advice” had, admittedly, not been the best. Probably. Maybe he should’ve made it clear that he had no idea what he was talking about when he said it.

He sighed.

“Listen, those were just examples. Like, um,” Hajime was racking his brain for a good analogy that he could be sure Izuru would understand without fail, “like, a—a recipe? You don’t have to follow it perfectly.”

There was a noticeable moment of stunned silence. Izuru slowly looked up, met Hajime’s gaze, and tilted his head to the side, eyes a fraction wider than usual. “I don’t?” he asked, the barest hint of disbelieve in his voice.

Hajime blinked at him. “Well, yeah,” he shrugged, “You can mess up a little with the measurements, or something, and it’ll still taste alright in the end.”

At least, he remembered his father once telling him something along those lines. He didn’t know if it was true, though, or if he had only said it out of pity after seeing how Hajime had struggled to get the scale to display the exact amount of the ingredients as the recipe had listed.

He had still been in elementary school back then, a much brighter time in his life, although he’d already started to keep more to himself than some of the other children in his class. The pressure hadn’t fully hit him until the start of middle school. And it all went quickly downhill from there.

“But if you don’t follow the instructions of the recipe,” Izuru’s sharp voice cut through his thoughts, “there’s no guaranteed it’ll even be eatable.”

Izuru’s posture seemed a little bit straighter compared to how he looked a moment ago. He let go of the strand of hair, clutching his hand into a fist at his side instead. His eyes weren’t wide anymore, either. They were narrowed, silently telling Hajime not to try and argue.

Hajime frowned. He felt like Izuru missed the point, and that was enough to make him want to explain his thought process. Even if his recipe analogy sounded more and more stupid the longer it was dragged out.

“I didn’t say you should just outright ignore it,” he didn’t bother to hide the impatience in his voice. “All I meant was, it doesn’t matter if everything fits the description perfectly. As long as the basics are there, the rest is whatever.”

Izuru gave him a look he couldn’t decipher, but it was sharp and pointed and defensive. It gave Hajime the impression that Izuru, instead of simply offering up a counterargument, wanted to give him a whole list of things he was wrong about.

“Then, what am I supposed to do now?” Izuru ended up saying, and Hajime allowed himself a small sigh of relief. That feeling dissipated the moment he realized Izuru was, again, asking him for advice on something he didn’t know the first thing about—and was looking rather expectantly at him, too.

“I—I don’t know,” he said, shifting a little in place. “Go back and just talk to someone else?”

“But it isn’t morning anymore,” Izuru said, “I can’t greet them.”

It took Hajime a moment to realize he was being serious. He had enough. He wanted to exit this conversation, now. He let his annoyance take control, allowing it to fully seep into his tone of voice, leaving it in charge of choosing his next words.

“So what? It’s lunch break!” He spread out his arms, a simple shrug wouldn’t have the same dramatic effect, and let them fall back to his sides, “Just ask if you can sit with them to eat or something. It’s not that hard.”

He knew he was being hypocritical by saying that, seeing how he would not be able to eat together with any of his classmates if neither Souda or Satou weren’t there with him, but that didn’t stop him. It was an easy solution to come up with, regardless of whether the execution could be called the same.

When Izuru didn’t immediately give him any sort of reaction, Hajime decided he wasn’t going to wait for one. Souda and Satou were probably wondering what took him so long, the former maybe even thinking Izuru had killed him. He wouldn’t put it past Souda.

“If that’s all, I’m going back,” he turned around and started walking. Neither a voice nor the sounds of footsteps were following him, and Hajime slowly felt his irritation dissipating the further away from Izuru he got.

It rose back up again when the front of the Reserve Course building came into view and he saw his friends in mid-conversation with two familiar girls. Well, to be fair, one of them was talking, the other stood silently a few steps away and only watched the scene unfold in front of her.

Kuzuryuu, the blonde baby face Hajime had yet to see during a moment where she wasn’t being rude or outright bullying someone, had her hands firmly placed on her hips, her attention sorely focused on Satou.

The other girl, standing far enough away to not be considered involved, but close enough to intervene at any moment, was his, Souda, and Satou’s classmate, Pekoyama—the former Main Course student.

It would seem if you had to deal with one of them, you’d deal with the other as well.

Although, Pekoyama did look rather detached from the situation, as if she didn’t even care. The way her red eyes were focused in a straight line, how her features were still and unmoving, reminded Hajime a lot of Izuru, and the thought only fueled his rising irritation.

His speed increased without him ordering his legs to walk faster, and he caught the tail end of a sentence as he approached.

“—isn’t going to change things,” Kuzuryuu said, her words clearly directed at Satou.

 “I didn’t think it would,” Satou did not sound even the least bit intimidated. Hajime wouldn’t expect anything less from her.

Behind her, Souda was, for lack of a better term, cowering in fear. He was still standing, but his posture was far from straight. His shoulders were hunched up, making it difficult for Hajime to see his expression from this distance.

Still, it was easy to discern that, if Pekoyama looked ready to join the unfolding situation, then Souda looked as if he was about to run away at any second.

“I’m just letting you now, it’s kind of pathetic,” Kuzuryuu said, her tone lost somewhere between disgust and pity. Her eyes caught Hajime’s movement, her gaze meeting his for a split second. “And here comes the other one,” she huffed, “I don’t need to see this. Let’s go, Peko-chan.”

Pekoyama was silent, but when Kuzuryuu started walking away, in the direction of the Main Course building, she followed with no hesitation. Satou stared after them, and Souda let out a big sigh of relief, although his tense posture stayed the same.

As soon as Hajime was close enough to be heard by Satou without having to shout, he furrowed his brow and asked, “What did she want?”

“Nothing important,” her response came immediately. She paused before tearing her eyes away from Kuzuryuu and Pekoyama to look over at Hajime, “What did that guy want from you?”

The moment her question was out in the open, all his thoughts evaporated into thin air. His head was a void, static. He opened his mouth to answer, not knowing what he wanted to say, but he said the words as if there was nothing else to say about it, “It’s like you said. Nothing important.”

He wasn’t sure how true that answer was. To Izuru, it was probably anything but nothing, and Hajime didn’t know how to handle that. It was different from the Izuru he’d gotten used to, the one he had learned to ignore and silently resent. He always thought they had near to nothing in common and there would never be a reason to doubt that.

His fingers itched for a way to organize his thoughts, and the only way he knew how to do that was with his phone in his hands, someone else’s words on the screen, and the attention of a stranger. But two of these things were beyond his control, and the current chances didn’t seem to be in his favor.

“Anyway, we should go,” he said, with the intention of finishing the conversation, putting any remaining thoughts about Izuru aside.

Satou nodded and began walking in the direction of their usual spot. Hajime was about to follow her after throwing a quick glance to Souda, but now that he was closer, he could see what he hadn’t from a distance, and it made him pause.

Souda’s jaw was set, his lips pressed together in a thin line, brow furrowed, and gaze turned towards the ground. He appeared so lost in thought, stuck in a little corner of his brain, he probably didn’t hear a single thing they said.

“Souda?” Hajime tried to get his attention. He got him to flinch, his head snapping up in surprise. He blinked at Hajime as if he wasn’t supposed to be here. Hajime decided it didn’t matter, “We’re going. Are you coming?”

“Oh,” there was a pause that Souda used to locate Satou with his eyes before his muscles visibly relaxed, and he mumbled absentmindedly, “Yeah, sure.” His gaze returned to the ground, it stayed there even after he started walking, and he followed Satou with hanging shoulders.

Now, Hajime’s people skills were far from great. He knew that and he would never try to claim otherwise. But he also wasn’t an idiot. It was obvious that something was wrong—something was bothering Souda.

And that was weird, because nothing ever seemed to bother Souda. Hajime did know that wasn’t quite true, he had seen him uncharacteristically quiet before, but it never lasted for long. This time, it felt different. He couldn’t say why, or for what reason exactly, but it carried a weight he wasn’t expecting from a guy like Souda. It just didn’t fit to him.

However, it was clear to Hajime he couldn’t address it. He didn’t know how, and he didn’t think it was any of his business. Unless Souda talked to him first, he wouldn’t mention it. There was no need to, after all, and he didn’t want Souda to think he was trying to pry.

Even if it left him with an uneasy feeling brewing in the pit of his stomach, as he wordlessly started following his two friends to the place where Koizumi was undoubtedly already waiting for them, he pushed the feeling away and told himself everything was fine.

When he fell into step beside Souda, he ignored the pair of eyes he felt staring at his back, knowing if he turned around to look, he’d find their color to be red.

10/24

The first thing Hajime did upon class being declared over for today, was to pull out his phone and sent a message to Lucky.

(15:30) >> I got my exam scores back.

He had wanted to tell them that the moment he saw them, but decided to wait until it was actually appropriate to take out his phone again. In case Lucky would finally answer any of his previous messages until then.

They didn’t, just like yesterday, but that didn’t stop him from continuing to write text after text. Their chat looked less like a chat between two people and more like he was talking to himself, making notes throughout his day that held little to no meaning.

He didn’t know whether Lucky read them or not, but while it hurt to not get a reply, it would hurt even more to stop writing them altogether. He didn’t accept this silence, at least not without an explanation, and this was the only thing he could do until Lucky would give him one.

Their disappearance affected him more than he would like to admit, especially since they had only been gone for a day and a half so far. Though, looking back on all the things they said to him, he didn’t think it was something they believed possible.

And that was one more reason to continue.

(15:30) >> I think I did alright.

Hajime looked up from his phone to take another glance at the paper lying in front of him on his desk, displaying his total score as well as his scores for each individual subject.

A more detailed report of his second midterm exams would be sent home to his mother—Hope’s Peak Academy’s way of showing parents what a good investment their private school was for their child, or so Hajime figured—but he never really cared about the details of his grades.

If his overall wasn’t good enough, details hardly mattered. Now even less so. And said overall was the same as always, meaning, barely above average, but that was okay. It really was, because he knew no one would berate him for it. No one ever had, except for Hajime himself.

Besides, there were two subjects he had actually improved a bit in. Both of their exams had been on the last day, and he got the feeling it was no coincidence. That was the first day he had gone to school with a new mindset, after all.

“Man, those scores are way better than mine,” Souda’s impressed voice spoke from behind, no doubt looking over Hajime’s shoulder at the paper. “Not a single one’s below seventy.”

Hajime held back a comment about how his highest score was still only an eighty—three out of the eight scores were just a straight seventy, too, nothing more and nothing less—and stowed the paper inside his bag with a shrug, “It’s average.”

“I guess, but look at this!” Souda shoved his own report card in Hajime’s face. His head jerked back on reflex, making him crane his neck uncomfortably. He had to stay that way in order to read the numbers printed on the paper.

The first thing he noticed was that Souda’s scores in both Biology and History were bad. Really bad. He outright failed them, to be exact. Neither score was below thirty, but he would need at least double that for a passing grade. He wasn’t even close.

Hajime felt his face contort into a pained grimace. These numbers hurt to look at. Especially when compared to the kind of scores Souda managed to get in Math and Physics—nearly a full score in both. It made sense, given how Souda wanted to get a job as a mechanic in the future, but in this case, it only served to highlight his lack of understanding in anything that didn’t have to do with it.

Hajime was a little jealous. Whether because of Souda’s higher scores, or the fact that he had a hobby that he could use to boost his own interest in certain school subjects, he didn’t know. But he wanted it, too.

He swallowed his disgust at his own feelings and looked up at Souda, face deliberately unimpressed, and said, “Why am I not surprised?”

Souda sighed, slumping his shoulders as his outstretched arm fell back to his side. In defeat, he mumbled, “Mom’s not gonna be happy about this…ah—hey!”

Satou ignored his protest as she took the paper from his hand and gave it a glance. Her brows went up to hide behind her bangs, “Wow, you can say that again. I’m almost impressed.” With a smirk, she handed the report card back to Souda, “How’d you get admitted to this school again?”

He answered with an indignant huff, puffing out his chest, “Obviously, it’s because I actually tried back then.”

“Uh-huh,” Satou crossed her arms, regarding him with an openly skeptical look. “I feel like that was just pure luck if you ask me.”

“Well, no one did,” Souda narrowed his eyes at her.

Hajime shook his head, a small smile tugging on his lips at their banter. He decided to let them be, bringing his attention back to the still open chat on his phone.

(15:32) >> I didn’t fail, so I’ll take it.

(15:32) >> It’s still a little weird not to be disappointed in myself, though.

(15:33) >> I mean, it’s not like I want to be, but it used to just consume me anyway or whatever, you know?

(15:33) >> …I’m not making any sense, huh.

(15:34) >> Anyway, I hope you’re satisfied with your results, too.

(15:34) >> Or, well, I don’t actually know if you have them back already but whatever.

“Hinata, you’re gonna come, too?”

Hajime blinked at the mention of his last name, cutting through the fog that had begun to settle around his mind, obscuring the sights and sounds of his surroundings. It was like waking up, except he had never fallen asleep in the first place.

He looked up to find Souda and Satou staring at him expectantly, waiting for an answer to a question he had failed to register. He opened his mouth to ask what they were talking about, and to apologize for ignoring the conversation, but all that came out in his clueless stupor was a confused, “Huh?”

Souda’s expression crumbled into a mildly offended frown, “What, ya didn’t listen?”

“Um, no, sorry,” Hajime felt awkward. Since he was the only one still sitting at his desk, it felt as if Souda was looking down on him in more than just a literal sense. He quickly cleared his desk of his things and stood up, trying to cover up his hurried movements by asking, “What were you saying?”

“Souda and I are going to search for a good diner to hang out at,” Satou explained rather matter-of-factly. There was something in the way she said that that made him wonder if he missed more than just a simple proposal to eat together somewhere. “Are you coming with us?”

Hajime paused. He wanted to say yes.

It was exactly the kind of thing he missed out on in middle school, and even his first year of high school flew by without much interaction between him and others his age outside of school. He’d have no idea what to do once they’d actually arrive at a diner, but he was sure he could figure it out once Souda and Satou set an example for him.

He easily found the right words to voice his agreement, yet the weight of the phone he was still holding in his hand made him hesitate. If, by chance, Lucky finally answered him while he was out with his friends, he wouldn’t be able to give them his full attention. He couldn’t let that happen.

Hajime’s grip on his phone tightened, “No, I don’t think I have time for that today. I’m sorry—”

“It’s cool,” Souda interrupted, “See ya on Monday, then.”

He turned his back to Hajime and started walking towards the door. Satou quickly followed him, but not without giving Hajime a smile in form of a poorly disguised frown and a small wave in place of a proper goodbye.

Before they fully left the classroom, Hajime caught sight of the stiff line in Souda’s shoulders and the hand at Satou’s side that she had clenched into a fist. His chest felt heavy with the knowledge of having potentially made a mistake.

Still, he didn’t go after them. He said he wouldn’t be joining them, and he had to stand by his decision. He only hoped he wouldn’t come to regret it more than he already did.

His phone was silent throughout the rest of the day.

10/25

It was raining outside. If Hajime had paid attention, he’d know the sound of raindrops hitting the windows had been audible for hours now. But he didn’t, and for good reason.

When the rain had started this afternoon, he had been busy doing his homework. Once he was done, he had cleaned his room. And the moment he finished with that, he’d asked his mother if it was okay for him to go ahead and clean the living room, too.

Right now, in the early hours of the evening, he was done setting up the kotatsu in front of the couch. Just to see if it still worked.

“And?” his mother asked.

She was sitting on the couch, an open book in her lap. She had been watching him work after he refused her offer to help. Or she had been reading and occasionally looked up to see what he was doing, but Hajime, as with the rain, hadn’t paid any attention to her.

“It works,” he said, more absentmindedly than anything else.

The heater under the table began to warm him up, its warmth spreading from his legs through his entire body. It was relaxing after doing nothing but clean for most of the day. He sighed and laid his head on top of his crossed arms on the table’s surface, his exhaustion finally catching up to him.

His gaze wandered over to his mother and, in an attempt to fill the silence, he asked, “What are you reading?”

Instead of answering, she grinned and held up the book to show him the cover. It was the book about fortune telling she had bought over a month ago together with that set of cards. Hajime was surprised to see it, considering how fast his mother tended to change her hobbies.

He sat up a little, more attentive now that she successfully captured his attention, though he was still more or less slumped over the table. He didn’t try to mask the bewilderment in his voice as he asked, “You’re still into that?”

“I even think I got better lately,” she sounded proud for some reason. There was an unmistakable sparkling in her eyes as she said, “I could try to read your fortune right now. What do you think?”

“No, thanks,” he didn’t need to think about it. It wasn’t something he believed in, and especially not if his mother was the one to try and interpret the future. He doubted it was an activity that someone could actually get better at, too.

He let his head flop down onto his arms again, his earlier interest in making any kind of conversation already disappearing. He wanted to sleep, and while his mind was clouded by the drowsiness created by a lack thereof, he knew it wouldn’t come to him the same way it didn’t the night before.

He was about to drift off into whatever semblance of sleep he could get, when his ears picked up on his mother’s soft voice, speaking in much the same tentative tone she had used when they had talked about his father for the first time in years, “Hajime, are you okay?”

He opened his eyes, only now noticing they had fallen shut at some point, and gave his mother a confused look. Instead of asking for clarification, he said, in the most deadpan tone of voice he could muster, “I’m tired.”

“That’s not what I meant,” she chuckled, mistaking his dismissiveness for nothing more than sings of his exhaustion. “I’m just wondering what caused you to clean not only your own room, but the living room as well, without me having to give you an incentive. You’ve never done something like this.”

She sounded amused, but Hajime could hear the carefully veiled cracks in her voice. She was worried, that much was safe to assume. He felt a pang of guilt stab through his chest at the realization.

He remembered his decision—his promise to himself, to be more honest with his mother, and it killed his defensive retort before the words could reach his tongue. He turned his head to lie on the other side of his face, now looking at the television instead of his mother.

“I don’t want to think,” he mumbled, hoping—praying—she wouldn’t ask him to explain why.

He didn’t want to tell her about Lucky—he couldn’t imagine she’d be thrilled to hear her son had been talking to a stranger for over a month, and on top of that, he’d gotten so attached to them, their absence was putting him in a constant state of unrest.

He couldn’t tell her about Souda and Satou, either, because the whole point of occupying his mind with distracting tasks the whole day was to not think about the possible meaning behind what happened yesterday. Talking about it would have the complete opposite effect.

His mother only hummed and let the room fall silent. He allowed his eyes to fall shut. He began to doze off, but his mother’s voice startled him awake again.

“Is this about your grades?”

Hajime didn’t have the energy to flinch, nor to tell her she was wrong. Out of all the things going on, that was the least of his worries right now. Still, that didn’t mean he was okay with the topic being brought up.

She must’ve taken his silence for confirmation, because he heard her stand up from the couch, and moments later, there was a hand carding slowly through his hair. Hajime pressed his face deeper into the safety of his arms. She didn’t say anything more and he was grateful for it.

The feeling of his mother’s fingertips against his scalp was soothing enough to clear his mind of any lingering negative thoughts, and the previous night’s hours of tossing and turning finally caught up to him in a way that was impossible to escape from.


Hinata Hajime was already asleep, his mother still sitting by his side, reading her book as her hand rested on his head, when the living room door was opened and, after a few painful seconds in which red eyes gazed upon the sight of a mother with her child, the door closed again with a soft thud as it hit against its frame.