Shattered Memories

Chapter Four:

Komachi rings the doorbell of the house, knowing with a petulant guilt that she already regrets it- that her heart and her head are screaming at the inexplicable grip on her arm that dragged her to this house, in this place, above any other. The footsteps that she took to bring her here seemed too fluid to be a part of the same person that, as she walked, could hardly comprehend her surroundings. All of them, the park that she fled from in the wake of Haruno's phone call, the train that she clambered on to bring her here, were engulfed in the fortified, poisonous loss that she could still hear being whispered into her ear by the Yukinoshita sister. Haruno hurt her so easily, without even lifting a finger. The wounds that have failed to become scars are gaping open, all across her skin like chasms in the earth, and it took her no effort at all to break the delusion that they had healed. Point them out and Komachi can only remind herself of how much the wounds, the memories, the grief, continue to impale her.

No one answers the sound of the bell, or maybe they don't hear her, or maybe they don't care, so she rings it agan patiently, waits, taps her foot. She looks over her shoulder at the street. The dictatorial layout of the houses, the systematic lines of the lower-end cars, choke out a familiar refrain, a discordant recognition within her. This street, and another just like it close by, holds a past imprint of herself. This morsel of a suburb in Chiba can never be her home again. Her mind will shatter in two if she is forced to do more than visit this place ever again. She and Hachiman lived here. She and Hachiman lost their father here. He, in his attendance at Sobu High, lost a part of himself here. She lost a part of him too, and now, as she can no longer pretend that the misplacing of a child's toy or a ring of car keys is the same kind of loss she is experiencing, Komachi has come back to her childhood's home. As if she might catch a sight of her brother cycling to Sobu High, or net some of his rare laughter mid-flight and take it back to Shuya's apartment, watch it flutter like a firefly whose universe has been limited to a jar, keep it on her bedside and never set it free.

The house they lived in couldn't remain so after their father's funeral. An awful ingratitude in Komachi allowed her to forget that her parents had loved each other just as deeply as they loved their children. The death of their father in the crash had left a puncture in their mother's chest, and the air that seeped out had slowly asphyxiated her. That grief swelled and combusted in the air, filling every room of their house, the street, anything that reminded their mother and themselves of the person that they'd lost. But they couldn't leave, not with their mother's local job being the only source of their income, and Komachi and Hachiman both being educated at Sobu High. So, they persisted in this place until both of them had graduated and moved onto university. At the arrival of this self-sufficiency, their mother put the house on the market and moved out of residential Chiba, closer to the country, putting distance between herself and any semblance of the life that, with her husband, had long since started to rot and waste away.

Komachi still visited her mother often; Hachiman, on the other hand, had ceased almost all contact with her. He would lie and claim otherwise, but Komachi saw painstakingly the lines of resentment on his face when the subject of their mother's absence came up: he had always unfairly doubted his parents commitment to them, and her leaving was a cutting enabler of his suspicions. Komachi knew better, but found no way to reassure him, prove to him that the truth he was perceiving was wrong. As usual, she thought bitterly.

And, as the days pressed forward, she saw his isolation deepening, and saw a day when, like their mother, Hachiman would leave her behind too. The responsibility for that, in the warped mess of Komachi's heart, would fall on her. She would be guilty for letting him think that he could destroy their connection, forget it and suppress it like all his other failings.

Only an hour after receiving the phone call from the police that relayed the news, unthinking of the years, the irresolute depth of affection it would erase, Komachi had insisted that she be the one to tell their last surviving parent. The police, over the phone, had offered to make the call for her, but her subconscious anticipated the sense of responsbility, burrowing into her innards, for the death that she had no way of averting. It seemed morbidly appropriate that she should be the one to do it; for the months before he left her, Komachi had been the final weedling link, trying in vain to keep the fractious parts of their family united, even as that link rusted unapologetically. She called her mother, she cried, they cried together, and then they hung up the phone, leaving themselves to a more personal stream of tears.

"If I were to sacrifice the truth entirely, then it would be for you."

This is my fault... somehow, I know this is my fault...

A surge of panic. She rings the bell a third time, and then resorts to knocking, frantic, frantic.

"Taishi-kun? Kawasa-"

The door swings open, revealing the person who, in the absence of another, her heart had identified as a place she could hide hersef from Yukinoshita Haruno's intrusions, or Shuya's immediate dismissal of the letter and her doubts, or the letter itself, all at once. Kawasaki Taishi has a disconcerting face- not down to ugliness or any such physical ailment, but by its apparent inability to age. Save for the lengthened hair, and the clearing of the once spotty complexion, the youthful boyishness of his face has stood firm, an undisturbed treasure of their adolescence, and all the easy evenings and schooldays that had once embodied. That, the pale blue hair, the stunned concern on his face, for her, that she desperately needs right now, all strike her simultaneously, weakening her knees.

"Komachi-chan! What-"

She gives in and steps over the threshold to Taishi's house, and into his arms. He gasps, steps back, withdrawing from the contact, but the fear paralysing her limbs alerts him to the miserable need of his friend, perhaps the closest he has, and he intuitively accepts her. Komachi leans against him, enshrining herself in the fleeting ministration.

He leads her inside.


Komachi can't expel the thought. This is not the first time she's been inside Taishi's house, though it is markedly the first time in months, and the alterations, the inescapable changes of the new velvet cushions or the presence of new photographs of Taishi and Kawasaki on the side table, enforces her lack of belonging. The fact that this is only another place where she could never belong. The truth rebounds off the beige wallpaper like the echoes of long-ago emitted screams.

Her eyes flitter to the photographs in question- one of them, a plaintive ode to a brother and sister's relationship in a narrow black frame, their smiling faces pressed together in order to squeeze into the lens of what was probably just an iPhone camera. The last time she was here, Taishi had been in a relationship, and next to one of those photographs was a newer picture of her and that girl, the girl older than him who had looked at her friend with the greedy want of someone intent on recapturing their youth. That photograph, that dismal failure at a lasting romance, is gone, seemingly forgotten and thankfully so, but the pictures of Taishi and his sister stand together like a veracious promise that will never be thrown away.

That kind of relationship, between siblings, can never be replaced.

Taishi had taken her to the couch, let her sit down and, without having to say a word, returned with, on a tray, a pot of green tea with two small mugs. It's the way she likes it. He's remembered. Why has he remembered it so perfectly? Or at least it was the way she likes it, as in his patient silence, waiting for her to confide in him in her own time, Komachi hasn't touched it, and permitted things to turn lukewarm. The sensation of tepid immobility rises in the tea's fading steam and informs her indifferently that she is sitting still, has been sitting still for months, while the rest of the world raced on around her. Very few people are willing to sit with her, share in that hopelessness- Shuya, her mother should they visit each other, and Taishi.

He's wearing simple jeans and a T-shirt, one emblazoned with a light novel series that she's seen before. That, or it's just designed to look like one she's seen before. Attached to the T-shirt is a sadistic reminder that her brother probably read it once, which Komachi takes as another cue to submerge herself in the free, uninhibited sympathy on Taishi's face. She looks for a conversation starter. She's grasping for an apology before they've even spoken, or something towards that, for imposing on him. For neglecting their friendship except for when she needs it. Isn't that how it's been since Sobu High? Taishi is her bestfriend, her number one, but only when Shuya or Hachiman aren't there.

"... Where's your sister? Is she home?" she begins falteringly.

Taishi is surprised that his sister is the first thing Komachi focuses on. She can see that, but he cossets her anyway. "Yeah. She's just upstairs."

"Does she... does she know I'm here? I should say hello-"

"No no no," he cuts over her reassuringly, "don't feel the need. She's probably just taking a break. I'm sure she'll come down and say hi in a bit."

"How are things going with her? Uh, w- with both of you."

He smiles. "Onee-san's doing well. She's still holding down the receptionist job that she had when we last spoke. You remember that?" Komachi nodded and he continued. "I'm really proud of her. Keeping to time schedules and working regular hours... it really helps Onee-san, I think. Keeps her grounded. It reminds me of how she used to hold down two or three jobs at a time back in high school, y'know..."

His expression grows wistful, which only makes another contribution to the aimless regret sat like traffic congestion on her chest. I'm not the only one whose lost a sibling. Schadenfreude is a disfigured, unattractive kind of solace, and she loathes that Taishi's own difficulties with his sister feeds the voice of begrudging jealousy in her- you might still have your sister, but not all of her is there- or that it would be a solace to her at all. Hayama's death distorted everything its thorn-like fingers came into contact with, and every person at that party, not just Hachiman. Komachi was concerned enough with her brother and spared no time for Kawasaki Saki, whose absence from school begun with a day, and then became a week, and then weeks upon weeks. When she did return, her voice had all but disappeared, speaking to no one, and the mess of her uniform was only another manifestation of the deformed soulessness in her eyes.

Taishi would later tell her what affliction meant she was in no state to study for her final exams, that they passed her by and with them all sight of a scholarship and the future Saki had once mapped out for herself- self-loathing. Trips to the psychiatrist, pushing the whole of their family to within an inch of disrepair, might have reduced it to the post traumatic stress of a violent incident, or that and a hundred different aggravating factors, but Taishi told Komachi that he thought, at the heart of it, his sister couldn't handle the fact that Hayama's death had shattered the mirage of the person that she thought she was. Kawasaki Saki, he thought, had seen something, or done something, or perhaps not seen or done something, and it had brought that widely feared place of no return, the inescapable hole within a person, far too close to her orbit.

Komachi can't help but think Hachiman fell within that hole too. For Saki, it had become too much to bury away, but perhaps Hachiman, who never understood the limits of his feelings, had just kept falling and falling. Saki had Taishi. She had her parents to try and hoist her back to normality. And now, after years of trying, Saki's life appears to be starting all over again.

Hachiman had Komachi, and his did not.

"Komachi?"

She jolts back, and sees that Taishi has been talking. She dips her head.

"Sorry, um... what were you saying?"

"I was just asking if you remembered when I asked the Service Club for help with my sister? And how they found out she was working a night job in a bar." He laughs fondly.

"That was... certainly a long time ago, Taishi-kun."

"The Service Club... god. I can't believe something as ridiculous as that club even existed! You're not still in contact with... uh... sorry that's, um... that's really insensitive of me-"

"It's fine. But no. For obvious reasons." She replies tightly.

"... Sorry Komachi-chan. It's just because Onee-san and I, we... nevermind. I thought it was funny at the time, but, uh... sorry again."

Komachi decides not to say anything this time. Taishi is quick to apologise, especially to people he cares about. The more times, the more the person means to him. And Taishi's company alone forgives his capacity to say the wrong thing, no matter how irrepressibly good his intentions are.

Onee-san and I, we... nevermind.

And she won't say anything about that comment, either. That's something Yukinoshita Haruno would do. Or her brother. Question things. They wouldn't know what to do if something was true. They could only comprehend something if it was false.

Komachi doesn't want to be the person who questions. She truly doesn't.

"... Komachi-chan, you... I don't want to rush you, but it's clear you're not here to talk about my sister."

She laughs uncomfortably. "Really? That's a remarkable piece of insight."

Isn't that something Hachiman would say? Aren't I only supposed to be thinking of the good?

"Komachi-chan..."

She reaches forward and picks up the mug of green tea, tasting it. It is as cold as a tombstone.

"I..." Now that I'm here, I don't know if I want to tell you.

"... Sorry. I get just wanting to be near someone. We don't need to talk-"

"I just... Taishi-kun. I really thought... I really, genuinely thought that I'd turned a corner. I thought things would be different from now on. I guess I was... naive to think that my life would begin to resemble being alive again. I never thought that I'd forget about him... I never thought that. But I thought things would get easier, and if anything it just gets fucking..."

Komachi puts the mug back down and shivers. For some reason, she drank all of it anyway.

"I understand. It sounds patronising and false, but in this example I- I actually do understand, Komachi-chan. With Onee-san, she... well, the person in that body, she just wasn't the same person I'd grown up with. A person with depression, they... well, from my experience I'd say they're hardly a person at all. Not in a cruel way. They're just not the same anymore. And deep down, they know it too, and knowing that the person you used to be is so... so not there... that only makes it worse."

Komachi laughs, not knowing what else to do. "Thanks for being there for me, Taishi-kun. I'm never going to be the same person again. Very reassuring."

"... I wouldn't ask for Onee-san to be like she was. Sometimes, when she's at her lowest, I think that I wish that party had never happened, but Saki... the new Saki, faults and all, is Kawasaki Saki too. They're no less deserving of that name than the old Kawasaki Saki. And you... you're still Hikigaya Komachi. I know it, and you know it."

"... Shuya definitely wouldn't say that. He'd just tell me of the stupid rules we made... Always think of the good, always keep moving on." Forget about the letter, she whispers privately.

"Shuya's advice is good too."

The quiet, neither alarming nor familial, sits back down on the couches next to them like an old, dusty memoire you should have thrown out long ago. Through the curtains, the humourless grey of the sky asserts itself, but Komachi feels the urge to laugh again, and this time properly. She's never heard Taishi sound so insincere. Or, on the other hand, she has: whenever Chikashi Shuya is involved. Komachi can read people, has always been able to read people- a Hikigaya family trait- and Taishi is a good friend precisely because his thoughts and feelings are never foreign to her. His thoughts and feelings to Shuya. His thoughts and feelings, very much of the opposite kind, to her. He doesn't hide them, not really, because he too is aware that she can see through him, that she has reluctantly acknowledged them since they first met.

The only thing about them that Komachi can't read, that remains foreign to her, is why he hasn't outgrown them. Why, if anything, the feelings have matured.

Questions. Questioning. She doesn't want to be that.

"... I'm sorry, Taishi-kun. It always has to be about me, doesn't it... How are your parents?"

"They're good... I know... Well, they still struggle with it. That things haven't turned out how they expected. Your mother is like that as well, isn't she, and... Onee-san is Onee-san, she relies on me, I haven't got the time to hold down a proper job like Shuya, both of us are still living at home... We aren't exactly high boasts, are we?"

There again. Like Shuya. The note of resentment. Komachi hears that the note is stronger than usual, that the tone of his voice changed completely at the slightest mention of his name, that the reaction is far more noticeable than it used to be.

"Shuya's doing great, in case you wanted to know."

"He always is."

Komachi pushes her fingers together. "Taishi-kun... I shouldn't be here, I really shouldn't, but please don't make this about him. I came not to think about him anway-"

"Why? What's he said this time? Or what hasn't he said-"

"Or, Taishi-kun, or, about anything else either. I just wanted to be with my friend."

The final word, that resounding statement that she hadn't even realised the significance of before it left her lips, leaves Taishi biting his own.

"You still think this about..."

"What? What do I think this is about, Taishi-kun-"

"You still think I don't like him because... what, I have high-school crush on you? I'm sorry, but that's what you think, isn't it?"

She leans back, wishing the conversation would abandon her and never return. "I'm n- not saying th-"

"It isn't that. Whatever you think I fe... Whatever you think about me, you need to know that, like you said, I'm your friend. I want what's best for you."

"What does that mean?"

"... Well... I'm sorry, but..." The indignance, the bravado, falters. "I'm... I'm sorry, but I can't help see a pattern..."

"What pattern?"

"... How many times have you needed to come for my help? Or anyone's help, because... because of something he's done wron-"

"I did not come because of Shuya, Taishi-kun. You know the person I'm here because of-"

"Isn't a friend supposed to say what they think needs to be said? Even if it falls on deaf ears-"

"Then say it properly. Say what's wrong with him. Maybe I'm blindly in love him, maybe I accept that and can't see him properly through my rose-tinted fucking glasses. Please Taishi-kun, enlighten the stupid, emotional woman with your friendship."

"... You hated nothing more than when your brother pushed you away. I've... Onee-san does this too. She lashes out when I'm trying to help her."

"..."

"... I'm... I'm sorry, but could you please try to listen? I know that you're... that you're together-"

"-I'm in love with him, Tais-"

"-I know, just... just let me say it. This isn't to do with me. This is about me being your... your friend."

"..." Komachi, childishly, out of cowardice, whatever word she can find to describe it, doesn't look at him. The letter, Shuya, Haruno, and Taishi, all saying things, things she doesn't want to hear. Truths and falsehoods she doesn't want to be held in the balance. She wants them to be separate, and black and white.

"Shuya, he... It's perfectly possible to be in... to be together with someone, and want to be together with someone, even if... they keep making the same mistakes. And... hurting you."

"..."

"But at some point, you... you have to draw the line, Komachi. You don't... you don't seem to me the most important person in Chikashi Shuya's life. There's one person who matters to him, and that's... I'm sorry-"

"Stop saying fucking sorry."

"..."

"Would I be the most important person in your life, Taishi-kun? Is that what you're saying-"

"-no, I-"

"You don't know. You, my brother, none of you tried. You don't know him, and you don't love him, and he doesn't love you. He might not say the right thing, he might not always be there for me, but most of the time he is, and you don't know him. Name one time he's done me wrong, truly done me wrong, and-"

She stops abruptly. He... he just opened his mouth. He was about to say something. Taishi has pulled himself back, and retreated into his seat, clamped his mouth shut, but Komachi has always been able to read him.

"... You were going to say something."

"..."

"... What were you going to say?"

"... I'm sorry, Komachi-chan. This wasn't fair of me-"

"No. No it wasn't. But now you've told me what you really think, and you were going to say more, so say it. Make it even less fai-"

The final droplets of strength in her voice evaporates, and it becomes a choke. She covers her eyes with her palms. "I'm... I'm not going to cry in front of you, Taishi-kun."

She stands up and hauls herself over to the door, opens it, and steps back into the hallway of their house. It looks so much like ours. It looks so much like our fucking house. Taishi shouts a name to her, a name that should definitively be hers, Hikigaya Komachi, but it has never once sounded like that. Like a garbled nothing of incoherence in a language unlike her own, each syllable as alien as the next. She ignores Taishi's call again and moves further away, towards the staircase but then past it and into the extension they got while she was at university, one of the only differences between this house and their own.

The temperature was colder in this room whenever Komachi visited- they would keep the door closed, but it had a way of resisting the central heating so completely that you immediately wanted to leave. She wants to leave the house entirely, but the sight of the street, the cars, and the prospect of returning to Shuya's crushing, punitive apartment is even more catastrophically unlikeable. The seat nearest her is pulled forward and she collapses into it, looking lifelessly at the table, beautified by an empty jug of water, a partly torn newspaper, a glass half empty.

"Komachi, I... I'm..."

He's standing outside the room. Komachi doesn't move from the seat.

"I shouldn't be saying things like that. I'm sorry."

"... Just... just let me be alone. For a bit. I'll leave you alone after that, I promise."

"No, you don't... you don't need to leave. Not if you don't want."

She chooses not to reply, if only to makes things a little easier. After a moment, he sighs loudly and walks back through the hallway, presumably back into the front room.

Komachi waits until she can't hear his footsteps any longer, and then scrounges in her jacket pocket, feels the rough edges of paper and pulls the letter out, as if she were an addict and this was her nicotine. She lays it out on the table, brushes her fingers across it, trembling with the knowledge of her brother's blackened words scratched across the whiteness.

She reads it again.

"And so, I write now in the hope that one day, you will be able to see that you meant far more to me than I could ever hope to express."

Me too, Hachiman.

I miss you. I miss you so much. Yours sincerely, Hikigaya Komachi. My letter isn't as long or cryptic as yours, but it means more, right?

Once the words have run their course in her head, she leans forward and rests her cheek against the paper. Her head lies sideways on the table, her brother's words glide over her pale face, her eyes slash subtle woundings into the wall. Then, breathing the letter and its meaning in, she lifts her head again and puts it back into her pocket. That's the closest you'll ever be to him again.

I'm thinking of Hachiman, not Shuya. Taishi nearly told me... something. He nearly told me something about Shuya, and I can hardly bring myself to care. I should go back and ask him, ask him what he was going to sa-

The proposition in her head breaks away as her eyes catch sight of the half-torn newspaper. It's open on a specific page in the middle- it's a local paper, The Chiba Nippo. The article on the left side of the double spread projects an image of a courthouse, the building so many walk past in the centre of Chiba, with two people stepping out of the huge glass doors, their barely focused faces brimming with the austere self-control one would expect after a trial. The story can't be that important, the trial not that infamous, because Komachi definitely hasn't heard of it and it wasn't deemed worthy enough for the front page, but evidently Taishi or Kawasaki had seen the necessity of reading it.

And one of the faces in the image, through all the judicial frankness, cannot hide its superficial beauty, nor the fact that Hikigaya Komachi recognises it. She pulls the page closer, squints and doublechecks. She isn't mistaken.

It... really is her. Yukinoshita Yukino.

She moves her attention from the photograph to the article. The headline read:

"Deadlocked Case Rumbles On". A legal dispute over the rights of the proposed new apartment complex between two, prominent local building firms is still ongoing. The case was brought to court over five months ago, and the uncertainty over the verdict seems to be brought about by the fervour of combative defence lawyer Yukinoshita Yukino, whose sustained efforts, amidst several new pieces of evidence, have kept the trial-

Komachi forces herself to stop reading, knowing full well it will only encourage the myriad of questions already beginning to form at the edges of her mind. The meanings she can read it into it, to Yukinoshita Yukino's presence in Chiba, that she never knew, that she arrived here two months before Hachiman's death, that her sister is the one who brought the letter in the firs-

"You're not still in contact with, uh... It's just that Onee-san and I, we... nevermind." Taishi said that. Those were two more things that just fucking slipped out. Is thi-

Violently, she grabs the newspaper, looks again at the spitting picture of Yukinoshita Yukino, the new recurring figure of her brother's youth that just happens to be stampeding back into her head, her every waking moment. She tears it down the middle and drops it back onto the table, and her fingers latch onto the edges of it like talons. I don't want this. I don't want my brother's riddles or Haruno's games or Taishi's feelings or Shuya's ignorance. I just want...

"Komachi? Are you doing alright in ther-"

Taishi's question is answered for him as she lifts herself up, the sadness avalanching into defiance, and pulls open the closed the door. He steps back in surprise, seeing the fissure of emotions in her eyes.

"... I'm sorry-"

"I said stop saying sorry. Just tell me what... just tell me what you were going to say."

He winces. "... About Shuy-"

"Yes about Shuya, what else would it be about?!"

"... I... I wasn't thinking straight. I thought it was important, but... believe me, you don't need to hear that right now."

Komachi grabs her hair in frustration. "And when will I need to hear about it, Taishi-kun? When will that be?"

"It doesn't matter. Sometimes, it's more important to be happy than to be right."

"..." The words catch her cold. Kawasaki Taishi, in all his life, has never once sounded like her brother, but that was the truest antithesis. There couldn't be anything said that her brother would disagree with more. But he compromised that philosophy in his letter, for the one person he claimed he cared about.

"You are a better person than me, Hikigaya Komachi. You deserve happiness. If there is any justice in the world, you will get both."

"Sometimes, it's more important to be happy than to be right..." she murmurs, repeating what she heard only seconds before.

"Komachi? What did you say?"

She meets her friend's eyes. "... You're probably right. I don't want to hear what... what you think about Shuya, or what anyone thinks is right, or the truth. And I wouldn't know to believe you or not, even if you would tell me. Shuya would just tell me something different. You know what that means, Taishi-kun?" You know what that means, Onii-chan?

"..." He only looks at her, stunned.

"... It means I have to find out for myself."

Without letting herself hesitate, for Komachi knows intuitively that thinking twice will only break the distant chord of purpose she has latched onto, she shifts past Taishi and over to the front door. Upon reaching it, her fingers curl and twist at the handle, revealing the street and the authoritarian cars still stood outside, barricading her from the five-letter word her brother dedicated so much of his life to for a reason that is probably impossible to unravel.

"Komachi, what are you-"

"Thank you for the tea, Taishi-kun. And for being a friend. I... I know it doesn't seem like it, but you've helped me. You really have."

"W- wait, I don't understan-"

The cold air wraps around her again at the click of the door. The end of his sentence is muffled, but Komachi doesn't bother waiting, throwing herself through the small gate of their house and back onto the pavement.

She tilts her head back and breathes in the musty scent of exhaust fumes, and alongside that, a past dream, or nightmare, of herself and her brother.

Onii-chan... We are similar in so many ways, but I could never do what you did. There are things I care about except what you were searching for. Genuine, truth, right- whatever load of crap you labelled it as in your head. And I'm not going to justify how... how selfish it is that you want me to do the same.

There are other things I care about. I... I care about being happy too. Sometimes, being happy is more important than being right. Sometimes, being right is more important than being happy. But you're wrong if you think that they can't be the same thing. I know that they can. I believe it.

I have questions. Some of them are mine, some of the ones you've left for me, but... I will try, Onii-chan. I'll try to answer them. I promise. I'll try to answer them all the same. But there's one... there's one question...

I need to know that this isn't my fault.

If I don't get the answer I want, then I'll have to live with that.