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Author's note: This is the second-last chapter of this fic. Thank you for all your kind words and support. As this journey comes to its end, I want to say, this isn't the last you'll see of me. There's another Oregairu fic that I have planned, and I'll tell you more about that in the next AN. I do hope you'll give that a chance too.

Chapter 18- Summer Camp Finale: Saving the Golden Prince

Hayato's POV:

It's nearly time for the test of courage event that's supposed to be the last event for this camp. A way to end it on a good note, if you will. And normally, that would be the case. These kinds of activities are quite popular. But on this occasion, it doesn't really serve as the high point of these few days. After all, it's a little hard to top a 1 vs. 30 arm wrestling gauntlet, where the 1 wins. I shook my head. He truly was an anomaly. Nothing he did made any sense, obeyed any of the laws of the world. It was as if he was somehow exempt from logic, free from all limitations. A kind of rogue existence, almost an outsider in this world, who came and went where he pleased, and did what he wanted. As much as I hate to admit it, I can see why a life like that might be enjoyable. No wonder he loves it. Yet, his is not the

only perspective. To him, it's no doubt fun to casually walk through all written and unwritten rules, unaffected. To the rest of us... I shook my head again. The thing about Hikigaya was that he was able to effortlessly change the people around him. Often, a single meeting or action was all it took to change a way of life that might have been built over years. Were all those years worth so little? Were all the things that shaped those people so insignificant, that he was able to make people move past them so easily?

I should have been happy about it. Despite his nature, he had done good. Yuigahama, who only sought to appease others, had learned to stand up for herself, and go against Miura and her other friends if she needed to. And then... there was Yukino. My face burns with shame whenever I think about it. After all... I was the one responsible for how she became, wasn't I? It had happened long ago, in elementary school. At the time, I was a frequent visitor to the Yukinoshita household. Since the parents were busy talking business, I would end up being told to spend time with the two Yukinoshita daughters instead. Haruno was a little older than us, so she acted as a kind of caretaker. As for Yukino, well, we became close. We were around each other a lot, so it wasn't unusual. We were both children, and there was no reason for us not to get along. And then, we ended up transferring to the same school. We were even put in the same section. Naturally, two people who were friends outside of school would be friends inside it too, right? It's such an obvious concept. After all, friendship is friendship, regardless of where you are, isn't it? If only it had been that simple. I'd never had many friends before that. Until that point, I'd been home-schooled anyway, and since I lived on the family estate, I didn't really get to socialize with any neighbourhood kids. Yukino was nice in her own way. The me back then simply didn't know enough or have enough experience in life to see that that's more than enough. No, all I saw was someone who followed her elder sister around, an obedient and ideal daughter. At school, I met all kinds of people. People who had the same interests I did. People who introduced me to things Yukino probably didn't even know about.

It's a shallow reason, isn't it?

But at the time, it was new and wonderful to me.

What exactly were video games? Or manga? People got into fights in playgrounds? There was something called a prank? Above all, I liked the fact that there were people who didn't have the thousands of restrictions my parents had put on me. Kids at school were free to speak as they pleased, about whatever they wanted.

And... I wanted that freedom.

For those few hours when I was at school, I could be free too, with people who didn't place the same expectations on me that my parents did.

Of course, I still had to maintain certain standards. My parents would hear about it if I got in trouble. And teachers expected much from the son of the Hayama family. But I was still freer than I had ever been at home, or with the Yukinoshita's.

I relished that. School was fun, in ways home wasn't, and never could be. I enjoyed spending time with these people who were so new to me. And for whatever reason, people liked me too. For the child that I was back then, that was all that mattered.

It soon became known that Yukino and I knew each other. Well, it's not as if she ever made any effort to hide it. She had none of the issues I did, and no specific reason to be someone else in front of others. As a matter of fact, Yukino was rather well liked by people as well, at least in the beginning. Her looks and abilities were both incredible, and for kids, that's half the battle. Unfortunately, she wasn't the type that could win the other half. Unlike me, Yukino stuck to what she was taught at home. That's not to say she was a puppet. Far from it. It was just that she found no reason to change herself to fit in. She was perfectly innocent and unaware of the way the world worked, and to her, the values instilled in her by her parents, and what she saw in her sister, were things to look up and aspire to.

The problem arose once more and more people became aware that we knew each other. As I've said, we were all children at the time. I doubt any of us, girls or boys, even knew what the idea of "liking each other" meant. But we all wanted friends. And we were all possessive, jealous. And I soon realized something. People liked me too much. Many of the girls in my class were bullying Yukino because they thought we might like each other. I had no idea how to react to that, what to do. I saw Yukino as a childhood friend, nothing more, and I do not think her feelings were any different. In hindsight, it should have been easy to explain that. Maybe if I'd just been honest and said all this out loud, things would have gone another way. Or maybe they wouldn't. Who can say?

I saw how Yukino was being treated.

Whether my efforts bore fruit or not, I could have stood by her.

I doubt anyone would have gone against me if I directly told them to stop.

I could even have simply informed a teacher.

But I did neither of those things.

No, I was scared.

Scared to lose the place I had gained.

My place of freedom, which only existed with the people I knew at school. I didn't want to lose that.

And so, I did what I shouldn't have done.

And I ignored her.

I turned a blind eye to what was happening.

Looking back, do I remember what Yukino's betrayed face looked like?

Something that's been broken can never be put back together again.

Things were never the same again.

Yukino never cried or shouted or screamed. That would have been beneath her, at least to do in front of me. She simply changed. As we entered middle school, we continued to meet occasionally due to our family's connections. And we even spoke. But the distance that had come up was not one that could be crossed. Haruno was different, of course. She hated me for what I had done, but she was never one to allow her emotions to drive her decisions. So she continued to treat me the same. Only, it was clear now that she was mocking me with every kind word. And I couldn't do anything about it. I had earned it.

And so, a Yukino whose faith in herself and others had been broken, made her way into Soubu High, where she became known as an unapproachable Ice Queen.

Until she met someone who changed the world with his merest whims.

Five years. No, longer. The Ice Queen was the result of all the time we spent together. Everything we were then, everything the people we knew in elementary and middle school meant to us.

And Hikigaya had reduced it all to nothing, in just a few months.

I should have been happy.

A friend should be happy for someone who's moved on and conquered their sorrow, right?

But I couldn't stand it.

And more than anything, I couldn't stand him.

I shook my head. This was pointless to think about. Every last bit of it. They'd both made their choice. What could I even do about it?

What could I do?

The Hayama name. The Hayama name. Ever since I was a child, I was told it meant everything.

Wasn't Yukino told the same thing about the Yukinoshita name?

Yet, Hikigaya could be touched by neither of our families.

Haruno was reluctant to say, but given the circumstances, she decided to reveal the truth.

Hikigaya was protected by Agito Ryuken, of all people? Any attempt to use money or connections to harm him would be met with instant and absolute destruction. There was a reason the Agito's were feared and respected, a reason they had survived and thrived so long. It was because no one who had gone up against them had survived. Indeed, there wasn't even anyone left to avenge those vanquished foes. That was how thorough the Agito clan was. And even among them, Ryuken was said to be exceptional.

It burned me to think about. But Hikigaya would always be free.

And more than likely, he would always use that freedom to help people, and in the process, tear apart their bonds to the past like they were nothing.

I decided to get up and go for a walk. I was getting crazy sitting in this house alone. It was late afternoon, so there was quite a bit of time left for the final event. Maybe I should go and see how the others are getting on. They seemed pretty eager to dress up for it.

Yui's POV:

I'm not really into cosplay a lot. Mainly because I haven't really tried it, ever. Well, today's the first time then. The costumes we have to pick from here are a little limited. I have a feeling Hikki would refuse to take part because everything here is too generic. Ah well. Some of them still look good. I'm not exactly sure what the leather outfit I picked is even supposed to be. Is it possible to play a monster without knowing what that monster does?

Probably not. But if I growl and raise my hands and stumble around a bit, it should do the trick. Maybe.

Looking around, I see that Yukinon's put on her outfit too.

She's easily recognizable as a yuki onna. Wait, is that because the costume is good, or because the role fits her character?!

Best not to say that out loud though. (1)

Elsewhere, I spot Hina chan. She's not dressing up. I think she's more into designing costumes than wearing them. She seems a little relieved about something too. I wonder if it has anything to do with what I heard earlier. Tobecchi was planning to ask her out, but then it seems he decided not to do so. Had she heard about that too?

A little further away, I can see Yumiko chan in costume too. I think that monster is called a flame spirit. Wait, I can't tell if it's because of the outfit or just the way she is!

Best not to say that out loud though. (2)

I look in the mirror and check my reflection. I wonder what Hikki's going to think?

Hikki.

Every few days, he likes doing something impossible.

He had to do at least one crazy thing during this camp.

And he did.

From here on, moving forward, I wonder what other crazy things await?

The door to the room suddenly opened. The one who'd arrived was Hayato. But to my surprise, he didn't look like his normal self at all. Something was very off.

"Hayato, a little help here?"

Pretty much right away, Yumiko chan tries to get his attention.

Hayato looks at her, but it's obvious he isn't really seeing her. He silently walks over to her, but his mind is elsewhere.

For the rest of the afternoon, he remains in the room with us, but he is oddly quiet.

Something was off.

Shizuka's POV:

I finished packing up. We'd be leaving early the next morning, and I'd probably be too tired to do this after all the running around the event might require. I checked one final time, and saw that everything was either in the duffel bag I'd brought, or ready to be picked up in the morning.

Satisfied, I was about to go out, when someone knocked on the door.

"Come in," I said.

The one who entered was the last person I expected to see.

"Hikigaya?"

"Evening, Sensei."

"Did you want something?"

"I just wanted to say thanks. I didn't say it earlier, but I wanted to say it now. Thanks for giving me the chance to see my best friend one last time."

I smiled.

"You're welcome. A teacher's supposed to look after their students, after all."

For a while, neither of us said anything.

Then, Hikigaya spoke.

"I understand why you turned me down now. I'm sorry I put you in a weird position. A 27 year old teacher can't go out with a 17 year old student."

Yes, Hikigaya was perceptive. And he was mature too, able to see his mistakes.

"That's why, I think I'm ready to move on. Thank you for being a good teacher, Sensei."

"Thank you for being a good student. And for proving that I wasn't wrong in what I did, in trying to help others."

I paused a little.

There was no harm in telling him what I was planning on doing.

"To be honest, this camp is my last gig for the school. Once we get back, I'm planning on handing in my resignation."
His eyes widened in surprise.

"Sensei?"

I looked out the window. The sun had set, and the night sky was beautiful.

"I've spent around 10 years trying to help people. Sometimes I succeeded. Sometimes I failed. I don't regret what I did. But I missed out on a lot of things because of it. I guess I want to finally try living for myself."

Huh. Now that I thought about it, wasn't that basically identical to the completed version of Kazuya and Hikigaya's hedonism?

Hikigaya probably realized this too.

"I see. What will you do next?"

"Well, changing careers isn't easy. But I'm thinking of trying out for a few editorial positions. I do have the qualifications."

"You're going to be approving drafts for shounen jump chapters?"

"More likely for light novels, but it's similar, isn't it?"

A comfortable silence followed.

"Well, I guess this is goodbye then?" he asked.

That made sense. Hikigaya hadn't ridden on the bus with the rest of us on our way here, so he'd probably be going back by himself too.

"Yeah," I replied. "Live well, Hikigaya."

Was this becoming a sad goodbye?

No.

Any goodbye between two people who care about each other is sad by definition.

But if there was something I'd learnt over the past few months, human beings can overcome sadness and sorrow.

From here on out, both of us would be moving on, into the future.

Iroha's POV:

Man, it's been a boring summer holiday so far. I should have been hanging out with my friends back in town. Instead, I'm out here, helping out my cousins. They own and run this resort, and right now, the guests are a bunch of students of various ages who are here for summer camp.

They're supposed to leave tomorrow though, and that's a relief, because that'll mean I'll be free to go home too.

Somehow, I was able to make it through this camp.

And somehow, a lot of things happened, without me seeing any of it.

First night, a lot of men in black suits came around. Underworld clan members. Then came a medical van and EMTs. And apparently, some student walked out of the resort in the middle of the night? Oh, and the next day, some guy beat 30 other guys at arm wrestling.

I mean, I understand that camp tends to generate exaggerated stories, but aren't you supposed to wait till camp ends to start spreading those tales?

I shook my head.

Whatever.

Let's just get this test of courage over with.

So thinking, I walked along.

My job was to check up on the high school volunteers who were basically organizing the event and playing the role of the "monsters" that the elementary schoolers were supposed to get past on their way to the top.

The area was dim, but it did have lights. We'd placed them at intervals. Place needed to be spooky, but not actually dangerous.

As I followed the trail of lights, I heard heated voices coming from the distance, and decided to go see what was happening. I had a flashlight, and I decided to be cautious, trying not to be seen. When I reached the clearing, I saw that a group of people had gathered in a ring.

Oh yeah, we'd rigged this clearing with a lot of lights. It was basically a place to mimic a "checkpoint" from a video game.

But why were all the people gathered here high schoolers?

I decided to push my way through the crowd, and saw that in the middle of the impromptu ring, two boys stood facing each other.

"... going to settle this right here, Hikigaya."

Whoa. Seems I'd dropped in on something intense.

"What brought this on, Hayama?"

The two couldn't be any more different.

One of them looked pretty much the ideal guy. Tall, good looking, athletic, carrying some kind of natural charisma.

The other was well built, had sharp features, and had a tough guy look. His smile had the kind of confidence you'd only see in people who've been through stuff.

"We never finished our fight, remember? Also, there's no particular reason. I just can't stand you."

The tough guy smiled.

"So you have got some fighting spirit after all. Sure, let's do this."

There wasn't any need for more words.

I'd never really seen a proper fight in person before.

But looking at the two of them, I knew right away. They were going to do this. They both had their own reasons, and those were enough.

Both of them took up fighting stances. I didn't know much about martial arts, though I'd seen a few fights on TV before. The blond looked like a grappler, his feet wide, hips low, while his bad boy opponent looked more like a striker, his hands up high and his stance slightly narrower.

They were both cautious, neither of them charging in. Instead, they approached each other with caution. There wasn't much space to retreat either, because of the people surrounding them.

"Kick his ass, Hayato!" shouted a blonde girl from the crowd.

To my complete surprise, a dark-haired girl who was, until a moment ago, looking like the picture of perfect etiquette, shouted out.

"Don't lose, H- Hachiman!"

And just like that, the crowd got fired up, their cheers splitting the night.

Support was evenly divided for the two fighters.

I felt goosebumps.

A fight between two high schoolers in the middle of the woods, with an audience of around fifteen people or so… had all the electricity of a world title bout.

Forget the "test of courage".

This is how you end a summer camp.

Soundtrack: Downfall- Trust Company

As the cheers exploded, they both charged in.

The dark-haired bad boy struck out with a forward kick.

As if seeing that move coming, his opponent grabbed the leg and swept the other, causing him to fall to the ground.

Instead of pressing the advantage, however, he backed away, allowing his opponent to get to his feet.

"You didn't think the same move would work twice, did you, Hikigaya?"

"Actually, that one was payback. I got in a surprise attack against you last time, remember?"

The boy who'd normally be every girl's dream narrowed his eyes. His bad boy opponent seemed unfazed by the aggression coming off him though.

Once more, they both charged in.

This time, it was actually the blond who struck first, going for a punch. The dark-haired boy moved his head to the side, avoiding the blow, while simultaneously throwing out a punch of his own, which knocked into his opponent's guard, causing him to take a step back.

Without giving him a second's reprieve, he closed the distance, going low as he did so. His next blow was a gut punch that landed clean, and the blond's mouth opened as the breath was knocked out of him. Managing to stay in his senses, he tried to counter with a knee, but it was blocked with both hands. Right after, a brutal right hook followed, causing the handsome boy to reel.

His opponent was in stance, both hands up, one knee slightly raised.

"Challenging me to an exchange of blows? Big mistake."

His stance changed.

He now had his front arm hanging low, while he bounced lightly on his feet.

Bleach OST: Storm Center

Next to me, I heard gasps of awe.

Someone cried out.

"That's… a hitman stance!"

"What's a hitman stance?" I asked.

"You'll see. But… how is he even going to use it against Hayato? He has the reach disadvantage."

I looked on, enthralled, having no idea what was coming next.

And then, I couldn't believe what I saw.

Or rather, what I didn't see.

The boy moved. It was just a flicker. My eyes couldn't catch what had happened.

And then his blond opponent reeled backwards again, as if he'd been hit in the face.

My eyes widened.

"No way."

More gasps of awe from the crowd.

More flickers of movement, punctuated by the beefy sound of a fist smashing into a face.

What speed!

Indeed, it would have been impossible for me to understand what was happening if I'd just seen it once. But as he performed the technique again and again, my eyes somewhat adjusted.

He was stepping forward into range, striking out his lowered front arm, almost like a whiplash, and back away again.

With speed like that, it didn't matter that he was at a slight reach disadvantage.

The blond boy's face was cut open on one cheek, and he was bleeding from his lips as well.

But he was grinning.

"The flicker jab technique, combined with a quick step-in and retreat. And against a taller opponent too. Well done, Hikigaya. You're quite a striker. No, that's an understatement. You might be the best high school level striker I've ever seen."

"Save the praise."

And once more, he charged in.

But after having taken so many hits from that technique, the one called Hayama saw it coming.

Bleach OST: Fiesta De Guerra

As the hitman charged in, Hayama went low, and wrapped his arms around his legs.

With a crash that shook the ground, both of them fell, with Hayama on top.

And suddenly, the situation had inverted.

A sprinter is fast on land.

But in the water, what matters is if you can swim.

The one called Hikigaya was far and away the better striker.

But Hayama was the better grappler, and on the ground, the advantage was his.

Hikigaya struggled to throw him off, but Hayama climbed higher up his body, managing to posture up on top of his chest.

Almost right away, he threw down a punch at Hikigaya, and it landed clean on his face.

"I'll admit, Hikigaya. That strength is superhuman. But wrestlers train against stronger opponents all the time."

By shifting his weight appropriately, using leverage, and preventing movements, Hayama had trapped Hikigaya underneath. All he could do now was cover up to block the punches that were being rained down on him.

Within seconds, his face was looking no better than Hayama's.

"What's the matter, Hikigaya? That smart mouth finally run out of words?"

The situation was starting to get scary.

I couldn't think of a way for him to get out of this.

And no one was going forward to stop this either.

Would this really continue till he was pounded into unconsciousness?

And then I heard something else.

Laughter.

Soundtrack: Let Me Hear- Fear, and Loathing in Las Vegas

"Did ya think I was gonna beg you to stop? With weak hits like that, you could keep going for twenty years and still not knock me out. Sheesh, everything about you is half-assed."

He was… mocking him from the bottom, while guarding his punches?

My jaw dropped open.

Is… is he actually insane?

For the second time that night, I felt goosebumps.

I'd started out rooting for the handsome guy who seemed to be taking on the class thug.

And now, I was seeing the one I thought was a thug, looking defeat in the face and mocking it.

Hayama roared in rage.

"HIKIGAYA!"

As he reared back to punch him in the face again, Hikigaya pushed his thighs, and bucked his hips, causing Hayama to lose his posture for a moment.

That moment was all he needed.

He threw him off, and got to his feet.

Hayama looked furious.

"He baited him," said the guy next to me who'd pointed out the hitman stance earlier.

"How?"

"He pissed him off deliberately, making him go for a bigger swing on that punch. When he pulled his arm back for it, he wasn't ready for Hikigaya to grapple back. That created the opening he needed to push him backwards and then throw him off."

My eyes widened.

It hadn't been insanity at all.

Hikigaya had always been in control.

Even when he seemed to be losing.

And that's when it struck me.

The invincible smile on his face had never disappeared.

And I couldn't help but say it out loud.

"What a badass."

Hayama had well and truly lost his patience now. And he'd lost his best chance at finishing the fight too. But he didn't care.

Once more, he rushed in, this time attacking with a speed and ferocity he hadn't shown before. Several times, he struck out with kicks.

But Hikigaya guarded everything, before shoving Hayama back.

"Nothing… nothing about this is right!" roared Hayama. "Why? Why is it that you must always win? How is it that you do as you please? That you do what you want, while the rest of us remain chained down?!"

Hikigaya laughed.

"You allow yourself to be chained, my dude. Being genuine is a choice, and so is not being genuine."

"DON'T FUCK WITH ME!"

Hayama launched himself forward in a wild dash, but he met a foot to the chest, which knocked him down to the ground.

"What do you know. The same move does work twice."

Even as he pushed himself up, Hayama's eyes widened.

"Damn it. Damn it all! Why? Why must you be so strong?"

Was he… close to tears?

Hikigaya was smiling, but it wasn't a cruel smile. If anything, he didn't seem to have any ill will towards Hayama at all.

"Strength is a choice. It's about holding on and fighting like hell for what's important. You've been making sacrifices all this time, haven't you? Trying to make your friends happy. Trying to please everyone. But in doing so, you were just giving up on being truly close to anyone. You never risked being close, never listened to your own heart. No wonder you have no true strength."

Hayama's mouth opened.

The crowd had gone completely silent now.

And my jaw dropped open.

Standing above Hikigaya, I was sure I could see someone else, someone who wasn't part of the crowd.

He was a tall, lean guy, with blond hair.

I rubbed my eyes. Was I seeing things?

The guy was smiling.

It was the same invincible smile that Hikigaya wore, a smile of genuine happiness.

And I heard him speak, though no one else did.

"You've become a badass at last."

And then, that mysterious boy turned to face me of all people.

"From here, I guess you're next in line for the legacy. Good luck, kid."

Before I could reply, he disappeared.

I blinked, looked around, trying to see him, but he was gone. Somehow, I knew he had returned, to where he had come from.

I turned my attention back to the fight, knowing now that I was seeing something special.

Oregairu OST: Everyday World

Hachiman's POV:

"All this time, you've been struggling, haven't you? I don't even know you. But I know enough. 'Everyone's Hayama Hayato'. The perfect guy, the perfect son. You're sick and fucking tired of carrying that weight everywhere. It's twisted you."

"D-don't talk like you fucking know me!"

I took up a proper Muay Thai stance.

"Hey, Hayama. I'm going to get serious now. What you have now is the culmination of all those lies, aren't they? The lies the world has forced you to carry. Bring it on. Bring on the 'hero' Hayama Hayato. I'll crush him, and free you."

His eyes widened.

I dashed in.

As I approached, instead of striking out with a jab, I launched a low roundhouse kick that slammed into his thigh.

Hayama's wrestling is impressive, but he wasn't conditioned to take kicks to the leg.

He flinched, and I slipped in a jab.

Taking a step backwards, he raised his guard high, and I slammed in another low kick.

This time, his leg buckled.

With weak footing, one's guard is weak too.

As he was recovering, I switched my stance, bringing the left leg to the rear to give it more range of motion.

Twisting, I brought power from my hips as I swung my arm back to counterbalance the leg.

I delivered the left leg roundhouse kick with the full range of motion, high.

Hayama had his hands up, but it didn't matter.

He wasn't in any condition to stop this kick.

My shin connected with the side of his head, and he flew off his feet, landing on the ground.

The fight over, I finally relaxed. The exhaustion had caught up with me, and I was breathing a little hard as I walked over to him.

He lay on his back.

"I… lost."

"Put up a good fight though."

"You were holding back in the beginning."

"Maybe I wanted to make you lower your guard."

For a moment, he simply stared at me.

And then he laughed.

For the first time, I was hearing him laugh freely, without a care in the world.

"You really break every rule and expectation. I concede. You won fair and square here. I never stood a chance anyway. The guy who abandons people, against the guy who sticks by them to the end. There was no way I'd win."

I smiled slightly.

"That's not true. You did stand by your friends, Hayama. You fought for them back when we clashed the first time, remember?"

His eyes widened.

"Look, I don't know your past. But the you who exists now… it's obvious your friends matter to you. It's time to stop living in the past. It's okay. It's okay to make mistakes. It's okay to be close to people. And it's okay to follow your heart."

"Hikigaya…"

"From here on, I'm done with all this fighting. I'm moving on, and I'm going to live my best life. You should too.

It's time… we both graduate from this."