"I decided to split this story into two parts, the second of which will be published in a couple of days"- GenericOregairuFan, July 22nd 2021

As you can see, I'm a man of my word.

Three months ago

Yui calls me mere moments after the text I sent her delivers. I'm sitting on the metro, watching the twilight cityscape pass me by as the train briefly ascends above ground before descending again; the view of buildings and streetlights at night is immediately snuffed out by a dark tunnel wall.

The carriage is only half full and very quiet, most people tapping on their phone screens or reading a book, others already nodding off after a long day at work. My phone ringtone, the song Ito, the song of our marriage, echoes out and disturbs the half-asleep passenger next to me from his doze. I apologise, but his eyes are already closing again.

I answer the phone despite usually preferring to wait until after I've left a train or bus to answer- something about talking on public transport bothers me. It must be quite urgent for my wife to call so quickly after my text. I run over said text in my mind, wondering if I'd mistyped or phrased something in the wrong way.

Hachiman: Really sorry, won't be coming back until late tonight. Editor caught me as I was leaving and asked if I could replace Takuma-kun at a media event- he's called in sick. X

I can't see anything unreasonable in that. I'm very much telling the truth, and we didn't have any plans for tonight as far as I know, so perhaps it's just a chore I've forgotten. Whichever it is, I answer the call:

Hachiman: Hey, Yui…?

Yui: … Hey, Hikki.

Hachiman: Is everything alright?

Yui: … Yeah, yeah. Everything's fine! It's just…

Hachiman: Well, if there was ever a sure fire way to tell me the opposite, that was it.

Yui: (laughs) Yeah, I suppose you're right.

There is a pause over the line, where I feel several pairs of eyes on the train settling on me, almost subconsciously.

Hachiman: You can tell me if something's wrong. You know that, Yui.

Yui: … So could you, Hikki. If something was wrong, you could tell me.

Hachiman: Well, replacing Takuma-kun isn't really my idea of a fun evening. I'd much rather be at home with you.

Yui: Yes, um… What's the media event, Hikki?

Hachiman: I dunno, really. Takuma-kun's one of the political columnists, so something along those lines. I just got handed an address and a set of questions to ask.

I take out the sheet of paper my editor had smuggled hastily into my fingertips; they appear to be questions geared towards a misconduct of some kind. Some local official has had an affair, or so it seems. I think I recall seeing this item on the news a couple of nights ago. It's nothing more than a dull work obligation.

I repeat some of the questions to her and she makes a few noncommittal responses. Her tone is still rather put out.

Hachiman: … You didn't have something planned tonight, did you?

I can imagine the expression on her face when her response comes.

Yui: No… not exactly.

Hachiman: Again, that's a sure fire way to tell me the opposite. What did you have planned?

Yui doesn't respond for something like ten seconds. Then, in a dramatic change of tone, her voice becomes silky smooth and teasing.

Yui: Oh, no! I definitely didn't have anything planned, ha ha… Nothing involving candles, or anything like that.

I'm not sure how to respond. The change from the awkwardness, from an air I would have called suspicious were she not my wife whom I tell everything, is uneven. And utterly transparent. I know she wants to lighten the mood, to prove to me she isn't too disappointed I'll be staying out late.

I know this, and I let her take the phone-call where she wants.

Hachiman: … Candles, huh?

Yui: Yeah. Really, really nice ones… The kind you get in those nice, fuzzy Valentines movies.

Hachiman: And what would be the point of these, exactly? Society progressed past candles awhile ago.

Yui: Hikki! I don't think either you or society has progressed that far…

I smile in spite of myself, in spite of how compromising this all feels.

Hachiman: Well, I dunno how late this work thing's gonna last. Maybe those candles will still be burning when I get back?

Yui: Yeah. I think they might be.

It's already late. I know full well that the 'work-thing' is certainly going to last too long; Yui will be asleep by the time I return, and disappointed, and she's aware of that too. It's all part of that dance of promises, fake and true, that make love sustainable.

Yui: … So… See you later, Hikki?

Hachiman: Yeah, see you later.

Yui: … I love you.

Hachiman: Yeah, love you too-

Yui: So, so much.

I inhale.

Hachiman: I love you too, Yui. You're my everything.

Yui: And you're mine, Hikki.

Hachiman: Yeah.

The train lurches over an old section of track; I nearly drop my phone on the ground, as soon as the word 'yeah' passes my lips.

We hang up after a few more sentimental 'good nights' and 'I love yous'. This is exactly how most of our phone calls end, but as of late, I've found you can often judge how well a conversation has gone by the amount of 'I love you's' required. Paradoxically, the shorter they are the stronger they seem to be. The more it needs to be said, the more it needs to be affirmed.

This thought summons an unnatural, disturbing wave of anger. It arrives in me very suddenly, like a kettle boiling over without having pressed the switch. I find myself clenching the phone in my hand, almost shaking.

I can't say I don't find this offensive. This tendency my wife's developed of late. It wasn't there before.

Or… Or maybe it was? Maybe she's always been this keen to know where I've been, or where I'm going? Maybe I just haven't noticed it as much until recently. Or alternatively, I'm losing my mind.

I inhale. The feeling subsides, freezes over with such speed, like a suspect fleeing the scene of the crime. There's no point getting angry over something so trivial in the scale of things. Like I said, it's just a strange little tendency. Love, and marriage in particular, is full of those strange little tendencies. Yui has them, I have them, and you tolerate- no, you embrace- every single one. It should enrich you, not anger you.

So that's it. I let it enrich me. I concentrate on the evening I have to get out of the way, that most definitely isn't going to enrich me, and and think about how comfortable it will be to climb into bed when I get back home, to feel that breathy warmth throughout the bedroom, the subtle smells you only notice with the passing of years. And of course Yui right there beside me, as she always is.

No doubt she'll stir when I get into the bed, half asleep, mumble something, pull me into her arms and into my own tired, comfortable dreams.

But until then, inane local politics. Where is this place I'm heading again? I check the note. It's in the hall of an upmarket hotel, the kind of schmooze-fest location I'd expect of an event like this. The Shine Hotel, it's called. I'm on the right train line, and will be there in half an hour.

I slip my headphones back into my phone and listen to mine and Yui's song again, Ito. I am the horizontal thread, you are the vertical thread…

I realise while approaching the Shine Hotel, when I'm little more than a block away in fact, that the hotel is close to Yukinoshita Yukino's apartment.

The thought is waved along quickly, because I've learnt in the months since meeting my wife's friend that such thoughts will only annoy, anger or confuse. Often they will do all three simultaneously. Nonetheless, it's true that the hotel is probably within walking distance of her apartment. Not that that there's any connection.

The sun set hours ago, and the light pollution seeping up from the Chiba skyline has left the night sky like it usually is: grey, cloudy, robbed of its ornamental stars. I'm reminded, while walking down the street, of a trip Yui and I took to the countryside just outside the city. That must have been two years ago. We got drunk on the way back from a restaurant and ended up stargazing in a field that may or may not have been private land. Wow… That makes two years since I last saw a star.

This hotel really is close to her apartment.

I straighten my tie, just as the sign reading 'The Shine Hotel' comes into focus. Two potted trees stand on either side of the huge automatic glass doors, and two men in smart red jackets wait beneath the overhang of the entrance. Occasionally they step forward and open the door of one of the ranks of long black cars and taxis pulling up to the hotel. All of them are dressed in dresses and suits which I notice, as I walk up, are in considerably better condition than mine.

This is the kind of atmosphere I anticipated. It's a gathering for people involved in local politics, one of whom I will supposedly be interviewing. Well, from the looks of things, it will be a pretty unofficial interview. The guy's just had a minor scandal; he wouldn't have agreed to it without assurances-


It's just struck me how likely it is that…

My mood sours even more. I should've just told my editor I was busy.

Reluctantly, almost trudging my feet, I step up to one of the men in red jackets. They glance at me up and down, profiling. "Is something the matter, sir?"

"I'm a guest at the event tonight," I deadpan, not in the frame of mind to be talked down to. "Don't be too shocked."

"… My apologies, sir. Can I have your name?"

"Takuma-kun," I say, giving him the name of the man I'm replacing.

"Ah. You're here to talk to Nishimura-san, yes? You're here from the paper…?"

I nod and he leads me into the reception area, after another apologetic bow. Most of the other suited, preening guests are being funnelled to the right, where a dimly lit room awaits that for some reason emits the indulgent, greedy, coveting atmosphere of a Las Vegas casino. I too am gestured inside after my invitation is double and tripled checked.

Despite the dim lighting, apparent even from outside, the room within seems to glisten, partly from the two large glass chandeliers hanging like bicameral gods from the ceiling. Each one is crafted from dozens of glass beads, suspended in place; one might think they were suspended in time too, from they way they hang there. The smooth rose-coloured carpet matches the red velvet jackets of the staff, several of whom move up and down a long wooden bar like mechanic drones, brewing fancy cocktails, pouring out vintage wines. A layer of chatter and restrained laughter, the tiresome kind, envelops the air.

I catch the man who led me in just before he returns to the entrance. "You wouldn't know if Nishimura-san is already here…?" I'd like to get this over with as quickly as possible.

"I don't believe so, sir. You'll catch him when he arrives, I'm sure."

And with that, I'm left alone to the party full of rich guests I don't know, unable to leave until this sordid interviewee walks in. This has all the makings of a memorable evening. I walk towards the bar, deciding I may as well get a drink; the imagined scent of the candles Yui had promised tantalises my senses. 'What a decision you made to come!' It seems to say.

A minute or two goes by before I get to the front of the bar. I replace a man with hair so slicked and cared for it may as well be slathered with grease. The staff who takes my order is a young woman who, understandably, looks even more fed up than I am.

"What would you like sir?"

I glance at the barricade of expensive liquors and wine bottles behind her, my mind going blank. "… You choose. Something strong."

She nods and soon returns with a cocktail I don't recognise. All I know is that after a single sip, the light reflecting from the chandeliers above has lost some of its intensity. I take another sip, still sat at the bar, and decide this will be my base of operations until Nishimura-san shows up.

From the bar, I am permitted an all encompassing view of the event. The mystery concoction in my hands starts to disappear, drink by drink, as I scan the room for a sight of the man I want to see. And the woman I don't.

Thankfully, those identifying features, the waist length black hair, the ivory skin tone, remain absent from the venue. There are several guests with pieces of the woman whose presence continues to be forced upon me. The one who served me had eyes the right shade of blue. A lady who just walked passed had the right paleness of complexion. But as of yet, I've no seen no one who unifies those composite elements into a single, recognisable, irritating whole.

Yukinoshita Yukino really is irritating, I tell myself. And given her family's significant role in Chiba's local politics, I'll be lucky not to run into her tonight. The last time I had to suffer her was three weeks and two days ago, at my birthday party.

I'd honestly forgotten my birthday was coming up until my wife mentioned it, while we were out shopping. We had set aside time for a trip to the mall; she'd wanted to buy some new clothes, and most of our kitchen crockery was in need of replacing. It had turned into a whole day trip, rather the 'there and back' affair we'd planned. You know how disruptive work can be to a relationship; all of a sudden, two months have vanished into air and not once have you been out, had a proper conversation, felt your partner's lips on yours.

We were walking into the mall, Yui twittering away about a TV show she was watching, me offering the odd comment here and there, when quietly, quickly, she had slipped her hand into mine.

It's a game of sorts we like to play. Yui is the type to adore public displays of affection; I am the opposite, believe it or not. When we first started dating, I still harboured the resentment of a once loner forced to watch such displays from the outside looking in, convinced I was being mocked. Thus, I always pulled away when Yui tried to hold my hand outdoors, prompting many a pout and inquiry as to the supposedly everlasting nature of my love.

Years later, and I've realised the churlishness of that perspective, but I still pull away when she reaches out, to tease her more than anything. She'll moan, list off her well-rehearsed complaints, and then link our arms together, which I suppose is the compromise we've found. But just after we entered the mall, and she joined our hands, hers so much smaller and warmer than mine, I didn't pull away. I didn't bother to tease her.

She looked at me with surprise, and a message was transmitted between us, through our eye contact and the interlocking of our fingers, that today was for us. All of it.

Her expression visibly melted and the wattage of her smile surged out of control. "Hikki…! You really do love me, don't you?"

"If you say so," I said, but my cynicism was unconvincing.

My wife started to pull me round the mall, her favourite shops, at a relaxing pace. For Yui, buying clothes is no laughing matter; rather, it becomes a task of Herculean proportions, each new store an odyssey, each new outfit tried on a labour of the epics. She deliberates at length on every detail, asking questions both genuine and rhetorical as she frets over her reflection in the mirror, rejecting possible clothes on obscure whims and expecting essay-length opinions from me on every item.

From anyone else, this would leave me comatose with boredom, but from Yui it contrives to be immensely endearing. Witchcraft, to be sure.

We stopped for half an hour or so in a cafe, refreshing with caffeine before returning to the shops. In one of them, we must have been there for an hour, or just under; I stood outside the changing rooms, waiting for my wife to emerge in the multitude of different shirts she'd pulled out from the hangers.

One of them, I remember clearly, was a sunny shade of yellow that seemed to fit her very well. In my humble, uneducated opinion. "Well? What do you think?" Yui had asked, appearing from behind the curtain with a twirl.

"It looks goo-"

"Out of ten. And don't say a thousand, Hikki!" She put her hands on her hips, glaring at me without much menace. "It isn't helpful or funny, y'know."

I shrugged. "… Eight then? I've said it before and I'll say it again, you'd be better asking literally anyone else."

"But you're the one who'll see these things the most! If we both like it, then… well, that's just better."

"See them. Not wear them." I smirked. "Can't say 'yellow like the sun' is really my colour aesthetic."

"Of course not Hikki. You only work in blacks, browns and blues," she said distractedly, already on the verge of re-entering the changing room.

When Yui once again opened the curtain with the inevitability of a long running play- the costume this time a dark green- I'd prepared my next line to tease her.

"What about this on-"

"We're gonna have to stop by the opticians after this trip, Yui."

She looked at me in confusion, mouth still open having been interrupted. "Why?"

"Sorry. I was just blinded by your beauty," I said, flat and monotone. The tone didn't last too long though, as once my wife unleashed her biggest and more unimpressed pout of that day, I couldn't help but chuckle.

"You're such a nuisance, Hikki."

"I mean, you're gonna ignore my input anyway. The only input I have is that you look fantastic."

She thought for a moment. "… Alright. I think I like the last two best. So, Hikki: the yellow or the green?"

"At last, an ultimatum…" I scratched my chin with mock consideration. "The yellow."

A smile. "That's all you needed to say."

We started queuing to buy the outfit in question. A loud, bothersome family were arguing with the shop hands, holding up the line; in the mean time, Yui conspicuously linked our hands again. She sighed a little, the happiness I'd wanted to bring forth written all over her face, when I went one step further and wrapped my arm around her waist. Her unmissable once-pink hair bore the similarly unmissable smell of light lemon shampoo; the kind I'd complimented once, and which Yui has obliged me by using ever since.

"… What would you like, by the way?"

I glanced at her questioningly. "What would I like?"

"Y'know. For the big day." She soon realised my ignorance wasn't feigned, and slapped me on the arm. "Don't tell me you forgot about your own birthday?! It's on the weekend!"

"… Uh-"

"Stupid Hikki! You haven't even thought about it, have you?"

"As we established mere moments ago, no. Not in the slightest."

"So this means you won't have any presents in mind…" She frowned. "Gah… You're so difficult to buy for, Hikki. It's easier when you ask for something."

"Perhaps. But it's easier for me when you buy something as a surprise. And given that it's my birthday, surely the world must assuage to my wishes?"

"Or just you're long suffering and, like, way too good for you wife."

"Yeah. Or her."

Yui looked me up and down. "I mean… I'd be lying if I said I hadn't come up with some ideas, in case you forgot. But still, be more aware of things, Hikki!"

I kissed her lightly on the cheek. "Don't worry, I'm hyper aware of all the important things. You're the-"

"-Best birthday present I could ever have, yes yes." She sounded a little frustrated, but I could see the light flush on her face. "Wow… you're pulling out all the old lines today, aren't you?"

"For your ears only, Yui-"

"I miss stuff like this," she said, interrupting me with an unexpected bluntness, and then squeezing my hand. "We should do this more often."

"… Of course, Yui."

There was a pause as we moved up in the queue. "… I'd, uh, also thought about inviting a couple of people over on the day? Don't worry though, it wouldn't be many. I know you like smaller parties. But it could be nice, y'know? We didn't do much for your birthday last year."

"We went on that daytrip to Hakone…? That was very nice indeed, if I recall."

"Yeah, but that was just us. It might be nice to celebrate with others, right?"

I shrugged. "Guess it wouldn't be a problem. Just as long as there's not fifty people there."

The obnoxious family were finally ushered out of the shop by the stressed, red-faced shop assistants, and the line started to move at a reasonable pace. Yui started listing off names for possible invites to this 'small gathering', which included all the usual suspects; a train of conversation that took us right up to the till.

"… Oh!" Yui said this with the air of having remembered something important. She hesitated, clutching the yellow outfit we'd chosen closer to her chest, before continuing. "… Would it be okay if we invited Yukinon as well?"

"You want to invite Yukinoshita-san?"

She blinked. "Yes. Would, ah… would that be okay?"

"Any particular reason why?"

Yui didn't get to respond immediately; we'd reached the front of the queue. Even after having bought the product of our longwinded toils and left the shop, she didn't offer an explanation right away. Only when we'd nearly left the mall did I prompt her to carry on.

"… So, you wanted to invite Yukinoshita-san?"

"Oh. Yeah." Her hand was still in mine. "Well, we were at a tearoom the other day, just catching up, y'know? And I started talking about how your birthday was coming up and I didn't have many ideas for your gift. Well, Yukinon's the best, so she helped me with brainstorming. We talked about it so much, we ended up leaving the tearoom and looking through some shops. We browsed for awhile, and she came up with some really, really good ideas. I think you would have loved a lot of them. Anyway, when we were saying goodbye, I said 'thanks for helping me out so much', and I, um… I sort've invited her to this party thing. Yukinon said yes. I, uh… well, I think she might have cancelled something just so she could come along. I got that impression on the phone, yesterday. So yeah, that's the reason why… ha ha."

All of this came out with scarcely a breath inbetween. It didn't shock me at all that my wife had planned this gathering, at least partially, before introducing me to the idea- that made sense. Yui has a tendency to be scatterbrained, but her organisational skills have improved a lot as she's gotten older. But I can't say I didn't feel a little too accounted for. I've made my feelings on 'Yukinon' clear before; the albeit harsh word I used was 'bitch', I believe.

I made sure not to let go of my wife's hand.

"… That's fine. She can come."

"You're sure?"

"Yeah, it's fine."

In the time it took to get back home, wherein we didn't talk as much as before, and she eventually let go of my hand herself, it seemed to me that 'yes' or 'no' would both have been wrong.

The day of the party arrived with little fanfare. It's hard to conceive of that time in our childhoods when a birthday kept us up all night from excitement. It really is just any other day; an excuse we collectively manufactured as a society to make us feel special once a year.

But the morning was nice; I woke up well after dawn, sun rays bleeding through our bedroom curtains, to the soft sensation of Yui's lips on my cheek. I groaned and rubbed sleep from my eyes as she laid a trail of butterfly kisses which ended on my lips.

"Happy birthday Hikki," was her wake-up call.

"Morning," I grumbled, sleepily. My arm snuck its way under my wife's back, coming to rest on her bare hip, subsequently pulling her onto my chest. She beamed. "… How long have you been awake?"

"Just a minute or two…" She sighed, her tangled brown hair tickling my chin. "… Is there anything you want for breakfast?"

I smirked through my tiredness, unable to resist the response of, "You" which passed my lips.

"I knew you'd say that," Yui said, but seemed to take my stupid joke seriously, moving herself further up my chest until our lips were together again. The closeness and familiar curves of her body woke me up all the more, and I returned her kiss gently, my hands moving from place to place before settling on the small of her back, beneath her nightshirt. If birthdays are a manufactured excuse for us to feel special, then I'm glad my wife is in on the conspiracy.

But I could still feel it. That shift I've felt when we're so close to each other it's like we've been sculpted as one- when I can't tell where Hikigaya Hachiman begins and Hikigaya Yui ends. The change is sometimes hard to detect, like the rumblings of tectonic plates far beneath the earth, but it's there. We both know it's there. We're holding each other tighter.

We were in bed until midday; only when Yui couldn't delay getting the apartment ready any longer did she extract herself from me, despite much protestation. In a flash she was dressed, in the very same yellow top she had bought on our shopping trip, and her hair was brushed, her make-up applied.

When I'd found the will to get up, shoving on some jeans and a button up shirt, the apartment was almost ready for the 'party'. Bowls of snacks were full, drink glasses were out, easy-listening music warbled quietly in the background.

"When did you tell people to arrive again?"

"At 1!" Yui replied, sounding stressed as she rushed about. I helped her with as much of the preparations as she'd allow. It was 12:40 when I emerged from our bedroom, which only gave us twenty minutes.

Soon, the buzzer to our apartment sounded, indicating the first guest. Yui gestured with a squeal that I should be the one to open the door. I smiled at her enthusiasm. The buzzer sounded a second time before I got there.

"Afternoon-" I began to say, but the words turned into a grunt as the person I was greeting unceremoniously flung themselves at me, snaring their arms around my shoulders. Granted, the force of the impact wasn't too great, but it was enough to make me stumble back.

"Onii-chan! No happy birthday for you!"

My eyebrow lifted as she continued to hang from me like an ape from a tree. "… 'No happy birthday?' Isn't that a little rude, Komachi?"

"It's for your own good!" She wailed. "Twenty five is far, far too old. I command you, as the best sister in the whole world, to stop ageing at once!"

"Your wish is my command." I plonked my sister back on her feet, but she didn't let go of me right away. Her watery blue eyes were full of affection.

"Just joking. Happy birthday, Onii-chan."

"I know, I know."

We hugged. It felt good to see her again so soon; that is to say, we had a catch up only last week, but with my job at the paper and hers as a secretary in Tokyo, our schedules are rarely open at the same time. As siblings, we grew accustomed to talking every single day after school, and almost every single day at Chiba University too. Old habits die hard, familial ones especially.

"Am I the first guest here?"

"Yeah, just me and Yui at the moment. She's in the other room."

"Yahallo, Komachi-chan!" My wife called from around the wall.

"Yahallo!" My sister called back, grinning at the now years out of fashion greeting. Again, old habits die hard.

"So, you still managed to find some time for your Onii-chan's birthday?"

"Of course. You haven't fallen that far down my social priority list." She nudged my shoulder. "You missed a deadline just so you could come to mine, remember?"

"Yeah. Don't think this party's going to be quite as extravagant as that one, though."

"What, no karaoke? No nice restaurant afterwards?"


She frowned jokingly. "Well done, Onii-chan. I've only been here a minute and I already regret coming."

The guests arrived in a trickle. There was just over ten of us- small numbers, as I'd specified- and all of them were people we knew well. My sister was there from my family, obviously, although it's a shame my parents couldn't come. They'd promised to take me out somewhere at a later date. There were our friends from Chiba University, and even one or two from back in Sobu High.

Zaimokuza, who'd lost even more weight than last time, looked tired but somehow rejuvenated. It's been a long time since his chuunibyou phase, yet upon asking, he reported his aspirations of being a light novelist were alive and well. One of his new manuscripts was supposedly close to publication.

"I've heard that one before," I told him.

"Hey! Have a little faith, will you? This one has some literary merit." He scratched his head. "I think…?"

"Well, email it over if you want and I'll give it a read. What's the deal this time?"

"It's a slice of life about a happily married couple, actually…"

Yukinoshita-san was there too.

I didn't talk to her. I didn't even look at her, really.

She was the third guest to arrive; she seems to take punctuality seriously. I didn't open the door for her. Yui did. I heard her say, "Yukinon! Thanks so much for coming!", and I didn't hear the response because I happened to move into the kitchen at the exact moment she walked in.

She had dressed up for the occasion. They were a rich person's clothes. She wore an obnoxiously elegant white leather jacket with eleven buttons running up to its collar, which hid her neckline. She also wore a dark, navy blue skirt with very small but noticeable white stripes that curved out when they reached the bottom hem. At first I thought her legs and thighs were bare but her leggings proved to be skin colour. Her hair was very silky. It looked freshly washed and diligently combed. Yui complimented her perfume at one point. It was a nice, recognisable brand. She came in wearing a pair of reading glasses for some reason, which I hadn't known she needed, before soon taking them off.

I didn't even look at her, really. She was always on the other side of the room.

At one point, it seemed like she was on the verge of walking up to me, at around 2PM. We still hadn't spoken to each other, in the hour she'd been in our apartment. Yui had momentarily left her side, and of course, Yukinoshita-san didn't know anyone but us as at the party. That combined with our aforementioned lack of a proper greeting must have compelled her to walk up to me, but my conversation with Zaimokuza tailed off at the same time, and I headed into the kitchen without saying hello.

Yui was in the kitchen when I entered, pouring herself a glass of wine.

"I'll have another as well, Yui."

"Sure!" She handed me my refilled glass. "You enjoying the party?"


"It's so nice to see everyone again! It's kinda like we're back at university, right Hikki?"


When the two of us re-emerged I encountered a sight I never thought I'd see: Yukinoshita Yukino and Hikigaya Komachi talking. It was quite logical, in truth. My sister is the sociable kind of person, rather like Yui, and seeing someone she didn't know at a party for only the closest people in my life would have surprised her. She takes a keen interest in all things concerning Yours Truly. That, and the fact Yukinoshita-san had been standing on her own, would all have encouraged her to make introductions.

Yui started another conversation which I engaged in only absently, unable to resist eavesdropping on my sister and Yukinoshita-san.

"-how do you know Onii-chan, by the way?"

"I know Hikigaya-kun through Yuigahama-san. We're quite close."

"… What, you and Onii-chan?"

"O- oh, no. Excuse me. I meant Yuigahama-san."

"Huh… Well, that's nice! I'm glad Onii-chan's so much better at making friends now!"

"Yes. Friends."

"He was hopeless back in high-school, y'know."

"That… doesn't surprise me in the slightest. I concede that was an issue we probably shared."

"Really? But you're so beautiful!"

Yukinoshita-san probably blushed at this comment. "… You're very flattering, Hikigaya-san."

"Oh, Komachi please."

"And so very-"

"Different to Onii-chan, right?" My sister laughed. "Everybody says the same thing at first!"

"That also doesn't surprise me. I can't imagine Hikigaya-kun ever making a comment like that."

"Oh I dunno, Yukinoshita-san. He probably just kept the thought to himself."

"… Ah… I see."

I zoned out of their conversation around then, giving Yui my full undivided attention. It was just idle chit chat. The kind that doesn't interest me.

Eventually, it came to the part of the traditional birthday party that, contrary to popular opinion, I've always disliked. Sitting down in an indulgent circle and receiving presents and cards might spoil you rotten, but as someone used to avoiding the limelight, I've never known what to say. I have an astonishing gift for saying the wrong thing in this situation. Either my 'thank yous' play out with an unintentional note of insincerity, or they sound too theatrical, too melodramatic.

So I groaned audibly, producing some laughs, when Yui announced, "Okay! I think it's just about time we hand out some presents!"

I was ushered over to our couch in the living room and seated in the middle, everyone following suit. The layout of our living room is such that, other than the couch (which only fits three or four), there aren't many places to sit. Most plonked themselves cross-legged on the floor. Komachi was sat across from me, peering over the table. Zaimokuza was nearby, looking faintly uncomfortable. My wife claimed her spot on my left, sliding her hands into my lap and leaving a delicate peck on my cheek. A pile of offerings of all shapes and sizes, clad in bright and colourful wrapping paper, had accumulated on the table.

Yukinoshita-san was the last to find a spot. She glanced around the group in front of her, appearing lost. Then, she turned to myself and Yui. As it happened, the most obvious and convenient place to sit was next to me, on my right. The space was quite small. Practically speaking, she would be wedged between the arm of the couch and… well, me.

She checked multiple times if there was a space around the table she had missed, and then awkwardly perched herself on the arm. It didn't look very comfortable, and there were immediate complaints.

"You don't have to sit there if you don't want to, Yukinoshita-san," Komachi said. "There's a spot next to Onii-chan."

"Oh… So there is," Yukinoshita-san said.


"Is it alright if I sit there, Hikigaya-kun?"

"… Course."

After a brief and completely unnecessary hesitation, Yukinoshita-san sat down next to me. Having not spoken for the first few hours of the party, we were suddenly thrown together; joined at the hip, to all intents and purposes. It wasn't very dignified. Her white leather jacket was glacier cold against my shirt, even if she herself, and the places our sides touched each other, were warm. She kept her hands on her navy blue skirt, rigid and unmoving. Some of her free-flowing black hair splashed onto my shoulder and back. I could smell the light, understated perfume my wife had complimented earlier. Jasmine.

"… Well, go on then," Yui urged, from my left side, hands still firmly in my lap. "Start opening!"

"If I must."

"It's your birthday, Hikki. Of course you must."

With some reluctance, I obliged. The wrapping paper my closest friends and family had put so much effort into was slowly torn apart, forming multicolour mounds on the floor, as each present revealed itself. There were miscellaneous clothes, DVDs, bottles of alcohol and even a small piece of art: a landscape of Chiba from atop a balcony. I thanked all of them in turn, trying my best to redeem previous mistakes.

Komachi's present was lovely. A framed picture of a day trip me, Yui and her had taken to Tokyo Disneyland while at Chiba University. I shifted self-consciously, trying to establish some personal space between myself and Yukinoshita-san, as Yui swooned at the picture.

"Awww… Look at us! We're so young and ridiculous!" She giggled, squeezing my hands.

"No change there then."

"Look at your hair, Hikki… It used to be so long."

Chuckles rippled round the people from Chiba University in the room, who remembered that particularly embarrassing stage of my life. I could feel Yukinoshita-san's eyes on the picture; she was covering her mouth with the back of her hand, hiding a polite smile.

I shifted again. So did she. I was finding it difficult to focus on the presents; it would have been much better if she'd sat on the arm of the couch.

"My turn now!" My wife exclaimed, the excitement in her voice peaking again. She reached over to the table and grabbed one of the largest presents there. I'd suspected this one was hers; I don't why, but something about the bright pink wrapping paper and the card emblazoned with a love heart gave it away. She dropped it in my lap.

"Thank you," I said. The package felt soft. It was obviously some piece of clothing.

"You haven't even opened it yet!"

"Alright, alright…"

I tore the oh-so-Yui wrapping paper away, strand by strand, ribbon by ribbon, until the present lay in front of me. It was a brand new coat, and a nice one at that. The colour was a light brown, and despite its gossamer-like weight was lined with fur of some description on the inside. I'd needed a new coat for awhile now. My last one had an enormous hole in the bottom pocket, which Yui knew well.

"Try it on, Hikki!"


I stood up, my thighs brushing against both Yui and Yukinoshita-san as I did, and slipped on the coat. It felt like a warm embrace, and fit me perfectly. Safe, comforting and practical.

"Do you like it, Hikki?"

"I love it."

Her smile was overpowering. "I guess buying a surprise present isn't too bad…"

I sat back down again, ignoring the contact on both sides this time. Yui swiftly took hold of my hans again, squeezing them like something relied upon it.

Eventually only one present remained on the table. I looked around at our guests, waiting for someone to take responsibility for it.

"Who's present is that one?" Yui asked.

"… It's mine."

Yukinoshita-san's breathy voice took me by surprise, and not because it resonated from so close. I glanced sideways at her. For whatever reason, it hadn't even occurred to me that my wife's friend would buy a present.

"You bought one?"

Komachi laughed out loud. "Of course she did! That's how birthdays work, Onii-chan."

Yukinoshita-san didn't laugh along, or pass some barbed comment about my stupidity, which seemed to me expected. She merely sat there, not quite meeting my gaze, her fingers still immobile in her lap, as if moving them would bring about some catastrophic punishment.

I realised I'd been looking at her a heartbeat too long, coughed, and reached over for the present. In the momentary awkwardness, my wife had reached over for the present at the same time. She was the first one there, picking up Yukinoshita-san's present and then, slowly, handing it over to me.

"Here you go, Hikki," she said, her tone neutral.


I knew from the size and shape of the present that it had to be a book, but a large one, and heavy. A hardback for sure. The wrapping paper was a deep dark blue, like the ocean during a storm. It had small, textured bumps over the top; apparently, even wrapping paper can be fancy. There was no card. I opened the present with care.

Ah. I suppose that makes sense.

The book which lay in my hands was Tolstoy's Anna Karenina. But it wasn't any old copy; this was from a well-known series of collectible hardback editions, which only printed classic novels. You often see them at bookshops, sold for about eight thousand yen, on a lucky day.

I couldn't help but notice the superficial beauty of its cover. The binding was smooth and strong, and the same rich blue colour as the wrapping paper. The pages were fresh with that incomparable 'new book' smell, and felt gorgeous to touch. The cover itself was an etching of two silhouetted figures in 19th century dress- the eponymous Anna and the other half of her scandalous affair, Count Vronsky- dancing a sensual waltz.

You know what they say about the covers of books.

There were some approving murmurs. Zaimokuza, who I knew to have gotten into realist literature on his course at university, craned his neck to get a better look.

Komachi's eyes were wide. "Wow… That's one of the nicest presents I've ever seen! How much did it cost?"

"…" Yukinoshita-san didn't respond right away. Her knees were held closely together. She seemed desperately embarrassed. "… It… It really didn't cost as much as it looks… Five thousand yen."

I stared at the gorgeous book in my lap, unsure of what to say.

Eventually, I decided a joke was best. "… You really didn't have to, Yukinoshita-san. I'm sure your family have a different standard, but us lower classes aren't so fussy."

There was a splash of laughter. Yukinoshita-san seemed to shrink in on herself, wringing her fingers together. Some of the jet-black waterfall of her hair fell down her face.

"… I apologise. I… We… We discussed Anna Karenina that one time, Hikigaya-kun, if you recall…? It's one of my favourite novels, and I… Well, I only thought it's the kind of book that benefits from multiple readings. You said it didn't agree with you initially, but circumstance is often just as important to your experience with a book as the actual prose. I just…"

Her voice quietened. I'd never heard her sound so timid.

"… I just thought you would like it. That is all. My mistake-"

"It's fine, Yukinon."

Yui's voice echoed out from my left side. She was smiling… understandingly? Well, she was smiling. That much I could say. Her tone just about matched her expression.

"You don't need to apologise. Like Komachi-chan said, it's a really, really nice present. Hikki, tell her how nice it is."

"…" My eyes flickered from the book, and the etching of the doomed Russian affair on its cover, to my wife.

"Go on, Hikki. Tell Yukinon how nice her present is."

"… It's… It's obviously a lovely present. You were right to think I'd like it. Even if it's far from my favourite novel, the book itself is… beautiful. So thank you, Yukinoshita-san." I tapped the cover with my finger uncomfortably, just on the hem of Anna's dress. "… But like I said, you didn't have to go so far. This is way too much."

"…" Yukinoshita-san hesitated. "You're welcome, Hikigaya-kun… I could still return it, if you'd prefer-"

"Don't be silly," Yui cut in. She picked up the book and opened it, flicking through the elegantly bound pages without reading a single, solitary word. "Just look at this! If Hikki doesn't have it, I will."

"Get in line," Zaimokuza said. There was a second burst of laughter. Yui joined in, stealing a sip from her wine glass, before handing me back the book. As she did, our hands brushed on the cover, and our eyes met. She was still smiling.

"Who would turn down something so beautiful?" My wife murmured.


After that, the party returned to its state beforehand, all of us milling around the apartment, talking and drinking. It was mostly an afternoon occasion, and as the clock trundled towards evening, guests started to take their leave. As numbers thinned, the conversations grew quieter, more intimate. I remained on the couch, mostly. As Yui, Yukinoshita-san and the others moved around, I kept my seat.

All the presents lay on the table, as if they were watching me. Komachi's picture from Disneyland. The coat. The book. Yui came over regularly to offer me drinks, to run her hands through my hair, but we didn't say much. Her friend became as much a feature of the background as she had been before. More so, in all honesty.

I had hoped Yukinoshita-san would, for my birthday, find a way to be less insufferable. From her, I could have asked for no better present.

But you can't always get what you want. I know that as well as anyone.

Komachi joined me on the couch, at one point. We caught up on the limited developments in the week since we last spoke, slipping into the same old jokes, the same old banter.

"… So… Twenty five years old! I hope that sounds as horrifying to you as it does to me."

I chuckled. "It's a shock to be sure. The midlife crisis is fast approaching."

"Oh no. It's the same for me!" Komachi shuddered. "Onii-chan, I'm old! Don't you realise how disgusting that is?"

"You're as old Methuselah, for sure."

"And just think: for a whole six of those years, you've been with Yui! It's getting to the point when I can't imagine you without her."

"… Neither can I," I said honestly. My eyes fell on the light brown coat she bought me, and then the bright pink wrapping paper on the floor that once housed it.

"I mean, wow… Six years. You know me, Onii-chan. I've never even managed six months."

"And a good thing too. Report to me immediately once you do, so I can ward the evil bastard off."

"Like an evil spirit, right?" She stuck out her tongue. "Stupid sis-con."

I chuckled again, but Komachi's sheepish grin turned serious after a moment. "Seriously though, Onii-chan… I'm super, super proud of you."

"For what?"

"For making things work with Yui."

"Yeah, yeah-"

"No, I mean it! I really mean it! You wanna know something stupid?"


"I, uh…" The sheepish grin was back. "When you two first started going out, I kinda didn't think it would last. Stupid, right?"

"… What do you mean?"

"Well, you and Yui aren't the most similar people in the world. Not by a longshot! At a first glance, anyway. And I must've thought you two were just too different to make it work. That you'd both want different things when push came to shove. How wrong was I, huh? Turns out, love isn't all about, like, an immediate connection or anything like that. It isn't about having the same interests or the same sort've personality-"

"No. It definitely isn't."

My interruption surprised Komachi. I could see that. I could see that her mouth was still open, that what she'd said was a heartfelt compliment, the kind I should take at face value. I could see all of that. And I kept talking.

"Love is about hard-work. It isn't about starry eyed idealism. You only get that sort of love in K-dramas. K-dramas and stupid novels."

My sister blinked. "… Yeah. That's what I was saying, Onii-chan."


"Sorry if I said something wron-"

"No. I was just agreeing with you, Komachi."

"Right… Well, yeah. Anyway. I was just trying to say I'm proud of you, Onii-chan. Of you and Yui. Seeing you two together… It's just reassuring, I suppose? Like no matter what arsehole I end up having to dump, you two are always gonna be there, keeping it together, making things work. Six years… That's a long time."

"It is." I laughed. "Six years and counting. What's the rest of my life?"

"…" Komachi blinked again. "… Are you alright, Onii-chan?"

"Why wouldn't I be?"

"I dunno…? Did the party not go as you expected?"

"Actually, it went exactly how I expected."

Our talk returned to normal, to the banter and the jokes, soon after. Komachi is one of the few unchanging things in my life. Her and my wife. The two constants.

The party was over soon afterwards. Komachi was the last to leave, about half an hour after Yukinoshita-san. I didn't say goodbye to the latter face to face, as I hadn't spoken to her since opening my presents. She's Yui's friend anyway, not mine.

My wife called out to me just as said friend was on the threshold of our apartment. "Hikki! Yukinon's going now."

"Okay. Thanks for coming," I grunted, from my spot on the couch.

"And thank you again for Hikki's present," Yui said. "It's... perfect."

I didn't catch 'Yukinons' reply. As far as I'm concerned, her reply was the closing of the door.

So. That was the last time I had to suffer Yukinoshita Yukino. At my birthday party.

She's a nuisance. My wife has a chequered taste in friends. I haven't liked many of them over the years. Miura Yumiko is mostly intolerable. The friends she made at Chiba University who I like were at my party; the others were not. Yukinoshita Yukino might be the worst of them, though. The jewel of the 'friends-I-don't-like' crown.

And I really will be lucky not to run into her tonight.

… When the hell is this Nishimura guy gonna get here?

The impatient thought wakes me from the onslaught of memories that had conquered me. The unknown cocktail I'd requested from the exhausted bartender hit my bloodstream long ago; they've already collected the empty glass. The relentless glinting from the glass chandeliers overhead is starting to hurt my eyes.

I look back at the venue. It's fuller now; more black suits, more colourful dresses, are occupying the rose-coloured carpets. My thoughts distracted me for a good while. I'm not sure how long. Perhaps my interviewee arrived when I wasn't looking?

I decide a second drink won't hurt too much. The bartender nods when I ask for another of the sam-

"Takuma-kun, isn't it?"

I turn around at the female voice from behind me at the bar, and find myself face to face with Yukinoshita Yukino.

Only it isn't.

AN: So here it is. The lesser spotted second part of Pink and Blue. But the observant readers among you will probably have noticed the story isn't finished yet. I've written more than this, but the update was getting pretty hefty, and I decided it would be best to divide the story into three parts of equal length rather two horrendously imbalanced ones.

It's been odd going from the most abstract story I've ever written, Therefore I Am, into this, one of the most realistic and detail heavy. But it's also been rewarding! I'm liking Pink and Blue more and more with every word I write. It's hard to believe I originally planned this as a short 2000 word one-shot. Honestly, Yui has never before felt like such an interesting, nuanced character to me. In most of my stories, she's just a foil for Hachiman and Yukino, but here she's so much more front and centre. Getting to properly explore her has been fun and surprising at every turn. I love when characters surprise you while writing, saying things you hadn't actually planned to say.

They'll probably be more updates coming, both on this and L and C. It's summer for me now, and having not written anything but uni work for months, the proverbial shackles are off. I'm a pretty sporadic writer but I have way too many ideas right now. Hope you enjoyed this new chapter of Pink and Blue; please consider leaving a review!