I have been a writing machine lately. Two updates? In a week? Madness.

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I was nursing a drinking headache while my sister dragged me out for a day on the town. She had me carrying bags and didn't want money so I knew she was up to something. I just didn't know what or particularly care. I was out with my little sister and nothing could bring me down. Not even the slight alcohol headache I had. Not the bugs in my eyes. Not the voices of old masters. Nothing.

Or so I thought. My sister led me to a train station and low and behold was Hiratsuka Sensei.

"Now then… let's hear why you didn't pick up my calls – Hikigaya Hachiman."

"Oh? You know… our connection was unstable." She really did seem quite livid. "Do you come after your boyfriend the way you're coming after me?" I asked. "Because its a little creepy and way too forward. Guys need space." She hit me in the stomach. I bent over from the force of it and coughed. "Ah. What I meant to say was-" I gasped and panted. "What I meant to say was you're very pretty and some lovely boy will snap you up one day. Quite the lucky man. Really." I meant it too.

"I wasn't expecting a decent excuse anyway."

Then don't ask for one. You bitch. I take it back. It would be some cursed boy who snapped up Hiratsuka sensei. Poor soul.

"What? I'm just happy you didn't get wrapped up in some accident. After what happened to you before, I was a little worried."

"I should like to get run over again. Please, hit me with your car. I'd hardly leave a dent."

"Big brother…" My little sister trailed off. "Don't go to a dark place."

Fine. Fine. I liked the dark places though. They were comforting and oh so sweet. It was just me and my thoughts down there and we got along great. I mean… so my thoughts were trying to kill me. But hey so was I. So we had a lot in common. It was a good thing. Me, my thoughts, and I.

"I'm going to go to an even darker place if you trick me again and start conspiring behind my back, dear little sister." I addressed her with a half-hearted glare. I couldn't stay mad at her. I loved her too much. She was too adorable and she held me the fuck together.

"Hikki! You're late."

When I turned around, Yui was holding a convenience store bag, which was chock‐full to the brim. She wore a vivid pink sun visor, along with a short‐sleeved T‐shirt and short shorts that pretty much screamed 'I have a wardrobe deficiency.' It was an outfit that existed solely for the sake of summer. These days, not even elementary schoolers wore half‐sleeved shirts and shorts.

Not that I would really know. I wore jeans and a v-neck all the time so what the fuck did I understand about fashion? Not a lot.

Yukinoshita was standing in Yuigahama's shadow, as if hiding in it. A shadow which conspired to shuffle in on itself. She was wearing jeans for once to match her stand‐up collar shirt. Although it didn't expose much skin, her neat and orderly appearance did evoke a sense of coolness. I could really go for an ice cold coffee. Something sweet and cool. I wiped the sweat from my brow as I gazed at the two girls.

"What are you doing here?" I asked.

"Why, you ask? Club activities, of course," Yuigahama said nonchalantly. "I came after I asked Komachi‐chan."

"You fucking ensnared me. I call foul play. This is fucking bullshit."

"Stop swearing!" Hiratsuka sensei punched me in the gut again.

"Fucking ouch." I muttered just to be a prick.

They used my brotherly love and drew me out and strung me along. Komachi you traitorous little bitch. I sighed again. I really just straight up could not stay mad at her though. It was a serious problem.

Speaking of Komachi, she launched into a cheerful and enthusiastic greeting as soon as she spotted the two girls. "Yui‐san! Yahallo!"

"Yahallo, Komachi‐chan!" Yui greeted back.

Was that greeting the latest trend or something? Stop it. I'm losing brain cells here.

"Yukino‐san! Yahallo!"

"Ya…" Yukinoshita was about to respond in turn, but she seemed to catch herself just in time. "Good afternoon, Komachi‐san." Her face was turning bright red faster than you could blink. Don't try to hide behind Yui out of embarrassment. I already heard you.

I fucking rolled my eyes. Hard.

Komachi pipped up and gripped Yui's hand tightly. "I'm so happy you invited me too!"

"You should thank Yukinon," Yuigahama chirped. "I got a call from Yukinon too, but it looks like Sensei was the one who wanted to invite you, Komachi‐chan."

Hmph. So in other words, the order went like this: Hiratsuka‐sensei ‐ Yukinoshita ‐ Yuigahama ‐ Komachi ‐ Me.

When she heard that, Komachi leaped at Yukinoshita with a tackle hug. "So that's how it happened! Thank you ever so much! I love you, Yukino‐san!" she declared with utter frankness.

Yukinoshita flinched for a moment at this primal open display of affection. She turned her face away from Komachi's and coughed primly. "…er, that is… I was of the opinion that someone was necessary to keep an eye on that thing."

Why hello? Yes? My name is 'that thing.'

"That's why my actions aren't particularly worth mentioning," Yukinoshita said after another pause. "You appreciated me precisely because that's how you normally are." Yukinoshita blushed. When they saw that, Yuigahama and Komachi grinned adoringly at her. Give me a fucking break.

I was deadass the only person here not clinging to Yukinoshita's every word. I didn't need her looking out for me. I'd muddle through on my own just fine. I'd probably kill myself at some point, but that was between me and God. Capital 'g' God.

Yukinoshita smiled sweetly. I felt like it had been quite a long time since I had last seen her smile like that. "Calling Komachi‐san was the right decision after all. Good luck handling that thing."

"Honestly, I can't wait to offload him to someone else, though!" I was being abandoned by my own little sister. In an effort to distract myself from the tears threatening to gush out of me, I looked up. Ouch, the blazing sun stung a little.

I called out to Hiratsuka‐sensei. "It's hot, so can we please get this over with?"

"Not so fast. The last person's coming now."

Right then, someone was descending the station steps and coming towards us. When I saw how he searched his surroundings like a lost puppy, I understood who it was in a flash.

Before I knew it, I was raising my hand. That caused him to notice me and run in my direction. "Hachiman!" Even as he was panting, Totsuka reserved a bright, cheery smile for me. That smile could light up my whole miserable fucking life.

He was more shining and brilliant than the midsummer sun. But he had smiled at people other than me… when I thought of that, my chest tightened in pain. Something got caught in my throat, furthering my agony. The wounds in my heart were festering.

Komachi, who had been standing beside me, sprang into motion. "Yahallo, Totsuka‐san!" she greeted him.

"Oh. Yahallo!" Damn, that was cute. We should make that the latest trend.

"So you were invited too, Saika?"

"Yep, 'cos there weren't enough helpers. But… I wonder if I'm allowed to go?"

"Of course you are!" I declared. Hang on, if we were just going to Chiba, that wasn't something to get so worried about. Still, Hiratsuka‐sensei had the good sense to invite Totsuka. G'job. And with that, everyone was here.

"Now then, let's get going," Hiratsuka‐sensei said to us all.

We were poised to climb into the minivan. When we opened the door, there were seven seats: the driver's seat, the passenger seat, three seats in the back and two in the middle.

"Yukinon, let's snack on sweets."

"Aren't those meant to be eaten after we arrive?"

It seemed Yuigahama and Yukinoshita already planned to sit together. Which meant that… Oho. In other words, I would be sandwiched between Totsuka and Komachi. Score.

"Hikigaya, you're in the passenger seat," said Hiratsuka‐sensei.

"Huh? Wait, why?!" I kicked and fought as I was being dragged along.

Hiratsuka‐sensei covered her bright red face with one hand. "D‐don't get the wrong idea! I‐it's not as if I want to sit next to you or anything!"

Okay? Don't start acting all cute on me now sensei. I'll get the wrong idea.

"It's only because the passenger seat has the highest death rate!" she went on.

"Oh. Well. Score. I guess."

"You're awful. I was just joking. It's a long drive and I'd rather not get bored during it, you know? Say what you will but a conversation with you is fun, Hikigaya."

I felt some conversational whiplash there. I bobbed my head, not really sure what to think.

When she smiled at me so calmly and gently, I lost all capacity to resist. When I sat down on the passenger seat obediently, Hiratsuka‐sensei nodded in satisfaction.

Once we had confirmed that everyone was inside the car, Sensei and I tightened our seatbelts. Then Hiratsuka‐sensei turned on the ignition and stepped on the accelerator. The minivan started moving away from the familiar local station. If we were going to Chiba, then there was no time to waste getting out onto National Route 14 from here.

But for some reason, the car Hiratsuka‐sensei was driving was headed towards the interchange. The car navigator could only be pointed towards the highway.

"Um, aren't we going to Chiba…?" I asked. Hiratsuka‐sensei grinned.

"Let me ask you instead. Since when were you under the impression that we were going to Chiba Station…?"

"Er, it has nothing to do with impressions. Usually, when you say you're going to Chiba, you mean Chiba Station‐"

"You expected Chiba Station? Too bad! It was Chiba Village!"

"Why are you hyping it up so much…?"

People who aren't so good at social interactions would still interact with others from time to time, but when it's been such a long while, the anticipation would skyrocket for some reason. This was a textbook example of how looking back the next day made you fall into self‐hatred, perhaps because of the passage of time. I hoped Hiratsuka‐sensei wouldn't fall into depression tomorrow.

But anyway, so we were going to Chiba Village, huh…? I'd heard of it before… I wondered what it was like.

"So you managed to drag me out of my hole. I hope you don't break your arm patting yourself on the back." I informed Hiratsuka-sensei.

"Oh I am proud. Not of that, no. But of you. You really do love your little sister," she grinned back at me like a shark. I flinched.

"I do. Yes. She's the reason I haven't ended reality yet."

"Yet?"

"Yet. I make little to no promises. Sensei you need to understand that I'm fucking miserable."

"You really have a bad habit of swearing."

"That's what you took from that?" I wondered. I let my confusion show.

"Swearing is so unattractive."

"I was always unattractive. Mind your fucking business." She laughed at that but smacked me gently on the chest.

"You have a lot going for you Hikigaya."

"Not really," I disagreed.

"You're pretty funny and you honestly aren't bad looking. You're probably the smartest person I know."

"My brains fuck my days, though. Don't start telling me I'm handsome. I'll get the wrong idea, sensei."

"You aren't bad looking though. You honestly aren't. Yeah the eyes are rough but apart from that there's really nothing wrong with the way you look. You're clean. You're smart. You're funny."

"Is that all it takes?"

"Well I wish my ex was clean, smart, and funny. We might still be together if that was the case."

"You need a husband, sensei." Somebody please marry this woman! She said nothing in what I took to be slight agreement. I sighed, feeling bad. If only I was older. "You know sensei, some lucky guy is going to snag you at some point."

"You really think so?" She looked small for a moment. I stared. Her personality was so large it was hard to think of her as small but in that moment she was.

"I do. If only I was older. You're sweet sensei. You seem to really care. I bet when I kill myself you'll be sad."

She glanced at me. "Do you have to talk like that?"

"A little?" I phrased it like a question. "Lest you forget. If I were older and bolder I'd ask you out, sensei. You're beautiful. You're a good person."

"Now who's being reductionist. Its my turn to ask you, is that all it takes?"

"For me." I bobbed my head. "There's more to it than that. I think there's a lot of luck involved in relationships. Or friendships. Or just people in general. But I think that might be everything. Even math requires a certain intuition and being in the right place at the right time to make discoveries. Inventions. Whichever." Was math discovered or invented? Did it really matter? I wasn't sure.

"So I'm just unlucky is what you're saying…"

"Hey, me too. I have some friends now but I didn't use to."

"Like Yukinoshita?"

"Yukinoshita and I aren't friends." I denied. "She said so herself."

"God you're dumb. How can somebody as smart as you be so dumb," she shot back.

"No clue," I agreed. "But what am I dumb for this time?"

"Yukinoshita is looking out for you. She cares about your dumbass."

"She shouldn't. That's a mistake…" I trailed off. I felt slow and big and dumb. I didn't like it. People getting close to me made my skin crawl a little. With Yui it had been tentative and slow but it had happened. I cared for her. She cared for me. She was my friend. I wasn't truly sure what to make of all that. I wasn't cut out for it and it was just going to be one more sad person when I hung myself or overdosed or shot myself. I wasn't picky. Imagine being an American. And you can just go buy a gun and off yourself in style. Imagine.

"Yeah well, its her's to make," sensei shrugged. I looked away and gazed out at the road.

"I don't like it," I confessed. It sounded petulant to my ears.

"We don't get to choose who does and doesn't care for us."

"Woah sensei, that sounded wise. Your age is showing." She smacked me again.

"I'm not that old," she rolled her eyes at me. "I've just picked up a thing or two. Tell me, would having some proofs to your name really make you happy?"

"Well, no. But nothing else would either."

"Really? Nothing?"

"Don't think so. I'm pretty miserable. I like spending time with my little sister but I hallucinate pain and graphic images. I hear voices in my head, sensei. If John Nash were a baguette I'd be a pretzel."

"Have you ever hallucinated a whole person? Like Doctor Nash?"

"Not that I know of?" I let the words drip from my lips. "That's where I live, sensei. That's the kind of screwed up I am. It's permanent. It's bad. You have your whole life ahead of you really. I joke about you being old but that's because I can barely imagine living another couple of years. In my head I can't see it going down that way. Maybe something changes. Maybe I wake up one day."

"But you don't think so…" she trailed off softly.

"I could solve the biggest problems in mathematics and physics and I'd still be out of my mind."

"Maybe you have to be out of your mind to solve those things."

"Maybe," I agreed. "If normal people could do it they'd have done it. It definitely takes something special. But do I have that something special or am I just messed up in the head? It would be pretty arrogant of me to think I could do this and that and the other thing just because there's ants in my eyes. More than likely I'm just messed up. The things I want to do in physics make Einstein look like a joke. I'm good. I'm good. But that good? That's another question."

"That's a lot of pressure to put on yourself."

"Pressure makes diamonds."

"That only applies to coal. You're just suffering."

"Suffering is what I do best. I'm a natural at suffering."

"What about friends and family?"

"I'm here, aren't I? Saika and Yui and… and Yukinoshita, I guess. I'm here. I'm in your club. I'm giving it a try. If nothing else it's been an experiment."

"But what do you do everyday? It's vacation."

"What do you do everyday, sensei?" I shot back. "I discovered a fractal in the sofa couch problem I can maybe publish and I have a thought experiment into the many worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics I can probably do something with. What do you get up to?"

"I have work…"

"It's vacation. How about a boyfriend? Go to bars? Let somebody pick you up?"

"Men aren't really like that anymore. I don't know where men even are. Besides, getting wasted doesn't play nice with me."

"Samesies," I bobbed my head in mild agreement. "It's the hikikomori life for me."

"You even say it by name… would you go to bars and pick up women?"

"Please. As if I'd be so bold. I can barely hang on to my youth as it is."

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-WG