Therefore I Am


I awoke this morning as I always have; with the peculiar feeling I am being watched.

How strange.

This 'feeling' is one I have been experiencing for the longest time. I cannot remember what life was like before this feeling existed, or even if such a life existed at all. But I have never once written about it. It is so regular a part of my routine that it exists in my thoughts only sub-consciously, as an instinct exists. Something innate and primal in my being, beyond any true comprehension.

Without a doubt, the feeling is part of some of my oldest childhood memories. How many times did I complain to Kaa-san or Oto-san, or even my sister Haruno-san, that I was quite certain somebody, or something, was watching me? How many times did I tug on their sleeves on day's out, or after returning home from school, reminding them time and time again that the feeling within me remained alive and well, in perpetuity, forever.

And then of course, there were the nightmares. Horrible, horrible nightmares. I used to wake up screaming, sweating, clutching the bedsheets with my fingers, and then run to my parents bedroom wailing of that pair of eyes which would stare at me in these nightmares, not at anyone else, at my life and everything I am, at me alone. I have underlined that word because the feeling has always been accompanied by a sense of certainty that this somebody's attentions are reserved for no one but Yukinoshita Yukino. But I also think that cannot be true. That assumption is surely the result of my own arrogance. Surely those eyes are present, right there, staring, in everybody's dreams. But only I am aware of it. Only for me do those dreams become nightmares. Only me.

In response to my running into their room, my parents would show only a waning sympathy because there is only so many times one can be sympathetic when the same nightmare occurs almost every night, always waking them up, always making things difficult. The feeling was a nuisance to my feeling. An incessant noise buzzing in the background, like an insect.

For a long time my parents sought to alleviate my 'condition'- for they did not believe that this feeling truly existed, only that I had a condition- by sending me to a psychiatrist. This persisted for several years and, of course, at a considerable expense to our family. The psychiatrist was a nice woman named Nakagawa-san who was always very kind to me, but the meetings never produced any solution, nor any real progress. My nightmares never stopped. The feeling never went away.

Looking back, I can tell that my psychiatrist was quite baffled by my case. The name she used most often in relation to my 'condition' was 'acute paranoia', or sometimes even 'schizophrenia', though never as much. Such severe mental conditions are rare in prepubescent children. Extremely, extremely rare. And I was a child growing up in a largely stable household, financially assured, without any real extenuating circumstance. Even to a professional, my 'condition' was a mystery.

But I despise that word. 'Condition'. This isn't a mental illness. I know deep down, no matter what I'm told, no matter how much I'm told the feeling will someday go away, that I am sane. That there is nothing whatsoever wrong with me. I do not have acute paranoia. The truth of my situation is concrete and unflinching; I am being watched.

I am being watched. I know I am.


Chapter 58- In any case, Yukinoshita Yukino wrote

58-1

The girl named Yukinoshita Yukino, seventeen years old, top of her class, president of the Service Club, stopped writing. Her pulse was racing and her hands were clammy. She had written those paragraphs in a frenzied blur of activity, one borne of years of frustration, years of being patronised and misunderstood.

She was sitting in the clubroom which she frequented everyday after school. It was a moderate day in spring, the weather neither particularly cold nor warm, a perfect inbetween, the ceremony of a perfectly normal day. Little untoward had occurred to disturb her routines. She was an exceptional student and today, as ever, she had performed exceptionally. Once the day had ended, she had walked here to the clubroom, made herself a cup of herbal tea and sat down. She had not left her seat at the table since.

It was now fifteen minutes to the end of the club session. The piece of writing in the notebook in front of her, made tangible by the ink of her pen, was the only product of her hour. But to Yukinoshita Yukino, as she inhaled deeply and read over her words, the words were a revelation. An encapsulation of thoughts and feelings which had remained internalised, locked away, like a restless lion in a circus.

Finally, they had been freed. And while her eloquence failed to find a word to describe how this made her feel, she knew it was good. That despite the fact the 'feeling' she had written of had in no way diminished, that writing about it had in no way assuaged it, something in her universe, or perhaps in her perception of it, was different. Better.

Her other two club mates, Yuigahama Yui and Hikigaya Hachiman, were not present. Both had texted her before the end of the schoolday to tell her they had prior commitments, ones which prevented them from attending. No one had come to the clubroom needing her help. Yukinoshita Yukino had been left entirely alone, at the mercy of her thoughts- the same thoughts which had tormented her since childhood.

This was what had compelled her to write.

Yukinoshita Yukino was right to suggest, in the paragraphs she had just written, that the so-called 'feeling' had always existed within her- that it was "something innate and primal in her being", as she put it. It is exactly so that she has never known reality without this feeling. From the moment she emerged from the womb it was there. Unfortunately, she cannot suppress it, though to do so would undoubtedly be beneficial to everyone involved.

It is usually in quiet moments to herself, like the ones which presented themselves here, that the 'feeling' is strongest within her. She feels the same at night, just before falling asleep, or in the morning, just after she has woken up, and also in the day, when she is staring out the window or walking to school or walking back. In other words, constantly. There was no particular reason for her to write about the 'feeling' this afternoon, however. Human beings often do things for reasons they don't understand.

In any case, Yukinoshita Yukino had written. Having done so, and read what she had written several times over now, allowing her hastily constructed and yet, to her, infinitely beautiful sentences to wash over her like some sweet hallucination, she only felt the urge to write more.

And so, risking our disapproval, she did.


I can recall the exact instant I decided the feeling had to be suppressed. The instant I chose to deny it an outlet, to reserve it to myself as one reserves an unpleasant secret, to never cry or run to my parent's bedroom in the night ever again.

It's a memory that has left an indelible impression on me. Like many others, I have Nee-san to thank for it. When I was younger, my older sister inevitably became a role model to me; though I would like to think that specific influence has lessened over time, I admit it still exists today. But back then, it was incredibly strong. I wanted to be just like her, down to the smallest facet of my character.

She had never mocked me for it before. For my 'condition'. Perhaps I knew, as surely as I know I am being watched, that she despised me for it, for 'making a fuss' as she must have perceived it. And as I have since begun to suspect, for stealing the attentions of our parents during our formative years so completely. But she had never mocked me for it, not like she did for other things. Not outright.

Yet that one night, just after dinner, when I was lying on my bed, tears streaming down my cheeks from all the fear, Nee-san had walked into my bedroom. No doubt she had walked in to tease me for some other minor offence I had committed, but when she saw those all-too familiar tears on my face, her eyes had hardened to the texture of stone, and I realised how deep her dislike of me and my 'feeling' went.

"You really love how special this makes you, don't you Yukino-chan?" That was she said to me. I've never forgotten it. I never will.

That memory became a permanent fixture in my mind, one I resorted to, reminded myself of whenever I doubted whether it was the right choice to pretend that the feeling had gone away. For that is what I have done for so many years now. Since then, I feigned it had evaporated into thin air. That I had been rehabilitated. My family were relieved. No more of their income wasted on Nakagawa-san, no more nights wasted comforting an errant daughter who could not keep her feelings in check.

That is how I have proceeded for almost half my life. Pretending that my thoughts are as normal as any other human being in this world, and it is an easy facade to maintain because it is true save for that one pivotal exception, that one thought alone which changes everything.

But in spite of my absolute certainty as to what the feeling means- that I am being watched- I confess that years of suppression and restraint have meant my actual understanding of it feels quite limited.

For the first time in so so long, I

Writing about it, about its effect on me. Having just done so, I have never regretted suppressing it more. For I feel as if this is the only route I have to true understanding of the 'feeling' and what it means. Just as one must accept their own flaws to understand their true nature, so must I accept the feeling's existence, come to terms with it, write about it in this way. Only like this can I understand.

Understand what, precisely?

I cannot say. Not yet.

But as of today, I feel as if that understanding might finally be within reach.


Once Yukinoshita Yukino finished writing this second page in her notebook, she sat back, eyes almost unblinking, filled to the brim with an emotion she could not name but one which lifted her, elated her. In her mind, she could have started to float away, as if only her body, her physical form, tethered her to the floor of the Service Club room.

Ah yes… the Service Club, she thought. At long last, the 'ever-diligent' Yukinoshita Yukino noticed that fifteen minutes had passed since she was supposed to leave the clubroom, and take the key back to Hiratsuka-sensei. Her writing had distracted her from her role in this world.

Still feeling heady, and not really knowing why, the club president picked herself up and began to tidy away the tea-set, pack her notebook and the thoughts it contained into her bag, and then walk out the door. She remained in this state, whereby all of her surroundings felt imbued with a new light, or perhaps the opposite, with a blurriness, an obscurity, but one that she was nonetheless relieved about, until arriving at Hiratsuka-sensei's office.

Her teacher was still present, marking some homework, when Yukino walked in. She asked, "How was your club session?", like she did everyday, but receiving no response other than the clank of the keys landing on her desk, and realising how surreal this non-reaction was coming from someone like Yukinoshita Yukino, she looked up in surprise.

"Are you alright?" The teacher asked, concerned but un-intrusive, which was the approach she'd decided worked best with Yukino.

"… Fine."

Hiratsuka-sensei did not believe this for a second, attributing the Service Club president's absence of mind to an event which she knew full well had occurred recently, on a school trip to Kyoto, creating a noticeable rift of tension between the club members. She proceeded trying to comfort Yukino and provide advice on this matter.

"Y'know… if you ever wanna talk about things, kid… about anything that might have gone down of late… that's what a homeroom teacher is for, y'know? We worked together setting up the Service Club. We can work together on this too."

She had misjudged the situation, though. Yukinoshita Yukino was still so caught up in her 'feeling' and her writing that she didn't even realise what Hiratsuka-sensei was referring to, and so she replied thus:

"Don't worry, Hiratsuka-sensei. I'm quite alright. On the contrary, I've not felt better in years."

This was Yukinoshita Yukino's last word before leaving her teacher's office and heading home, leaving Hiratsuka-sensei in near bewilderment.

What on earth was that all about? The homeroom teacher thought.


58.2

Upon leaving the grounds of Sobu High, Yukino did not in fact head straight home, as she was known to do after returning the keys to the clubroom, a habit she had kept throughout her education in order to stay well-rested for the following day of class. Instead, she decided quite on a whim to buy a book.

Granted, this was not exactly unheard of, unexpected or unacceptable coming from a teenage girl whose main passion in life was reading novels. Furthermore, the local chain bookshop in the area was close to Sobu High, and if Yukino ever did something irregular after school it was likely to be this, but coming after a stream of unheard of, unexpected or unacceptable things Yukinoshita Yukino had done that evening, it's worthy of note that she chose to do this without having planned to do so. And Yukinoshita Yukino was known to plan her days to the letter, sometimes even making a list of objectives she wanted to complete in the morning so as to elicit an illusory sense of control over her own life.

When she arrived at the bookshop it was nearly 6PM; very soon, the establishment would close, for 6PM was its standard closing time on a weekday. Typically Yukino would have factored this into any urge she might have felt to go to the store, and maybe chosen not to have gone as a result. But alas, this time she did not; Yukino approached the general fiction section and began browsing at her leisure, her mood cheerful.

Little did she know that another member of the Service Club, Hikigaya Hachiman, had also chosen to catch the closing hour at the bookshop.

His reason for missing the Service Club session that day was very simple; his sister, Hikigaya Komachi, had been nagging him that he needed new T-shirts, and demanded this issue be amended by a short shopping trip. Since any purchases would of course require her supervision, given Hachiman's 'pitiful' fashion sense, Komachi demanded that she be present, and since she had plans for the coming weekend, the shopping trip had taken place that evening. Or else. Hachiman had little choice in the matter, but went along with only a few grumbled complaints.

Now, with Komachi already gone, having insisted she didn't need her Onii-chan's accompaniment on the walk home- "It's not that late, I'll be fine!"- Hachiman had decided his lack of new light novels was also in need of amendment. Hence his presence in the light novel section of the bookshop, bag full of clothes still in hand, since Komachi had refused to take them back herself. Something about him being a 'cart-mule'.

Hachiman noticed Yukinoshita Yukino walking inside immediately. The light novel section had a good view of the entrance, but as it happened, the club president did not notice him in return. She began her browsing of the general fiction shelves unaware of his presence.

Hachiman, cradling his new clothes and a handful of new light novels, did not announce himself. He bit his lip, monologued internally for a minute or two and then started to walk to the till. The Kyoto trip, where he had shouldered the embarrassment of confessing to Ebina Hina, and the effects of that on his friendship with Yukinoshita Yukino, were fresh in his mind. The wounds were still gaping. He had made a conscious decision to limit his interactions with the club president as a way of alleviating the awkwardness between them, although this was, in truth, only a method of social diversion that enabled him to do what he was frighteningly good at: avoid the problem.

Yukinoshita Yukino and Hikigaya Hachiman were, in the finer details of their personalities, very similar. She too had adopted the same approach.

Up till now, that is. When Yukinoshita Yukino noticed Hachiman in return, half way to the till, the apparent bout of amnesia the club president was experiencing in regards to all things related to the Kyoto trip- to the narrative of her life- was still in effect. Because instead of pretending as if she hadn't seen him, she smiled, and called out:

"Hikigaya-kun! My apologies, I didn't notice you at first."

Hachiman stopped in his tracks, caught off-guard by the genial tone of Yukino's voice, just like Hiratsuka-sensei. But he was still in the Kyoto trip frame of mind- the right frame of mind- and so as Yukino approached him, he steeled himself for another of their strained, passive aggressive interactions.

"… Yo, Yukinoshita-san…" He scratched his head. "… How was the club session?"

Yukino stopped in front of him, still smiling, and crossed her arms over her skirt. "It was… surprisingly pleasant. Time alone with your thoughts has been illuminating to me in the past, but not quite as much as that."

"… Oh." Hachiman stared at her for a moment, expecting some elaboration, but when none came he looked away. "Well, that's good."

"Yes. It really, really is. Remind me… you couldn't make the club session because of a shopping trip?"

"Yeah. Komachi's orders. Said I needed to 'look better', amongst other things."

Yukino laughed. "That certainly sounds like her. I hope she reminded you of the other necessary improvements you require to fix your rotten personality."

Hachiman blinked at the ease with which their banter flowed out, which had slowed to a trickle for months now. "… Uh huh, always with the 'rotten personality'. How many times are you going to repeat the same old insults, Yukinoshita-san? Some creativity might be needed."

"Oh, I'll never tire of insulting of you Hikigaya-kun. My well of creativity, in this regard, is in no danger of running dry." She laughed again, then pointed towards his light novels. "Here is a prime example. I only ask you attempt some real literature one day, rather than lewd cookie-clutter fantasy."

"Hey, watch your mouth. I've said it before and I'll say it again, light novelists are the great literary voices of our generation."

"If so, I would like to apply for a new generation."

"Good luck with that. The office for Generational-Adjustment is closed on weekdays."

Yukinoshita Yukino laughed for a third time in the conversation, which was three times more than she had laughed in a conversation with Hikigaya Hachiman since the Kyoto trip. The teenage boy, despite the confidence with which he slipped back into their repartee, was astonished. He kept searching the club president's face for a hint of a trick, for some disguised sadness in those ice blue eyes, or indeed for a sign that the ice was still there at all; that it hadn't been altogether replaced by a red-hot candle-light burning brighter than it had any right to.

"Perhaps you'd care to provide your unique literary taste to my browsing?" Yukino asked, gesturing back towards the general fiction section. "I'd like to know which ones you dislike, so I can purchase them right away."

"… Oh, um…" He glanced towards the door. "… I mean, that would be fine, but maybe I should head back? Just to check on Komachi, y'know."

Yukino blinked. "Are you aware of the existence of mobile phones? I hear they've been in fashion for awhile now."

"… Yeah, that's true." Hachiman went silent, and began shuffling his feet. This whole dialogue was so unexpected to him, and the invitation to extend it all the more unexpected, that he found himself lost for words.

The club president found his sudden inability to speak amusing, and also endearing, to such an extent that her heart began to beat a little faster (though this registered to her only sub-consciously). She may have been aware of the deep, intense attraction she felt for Hikigaya Hachiman, but she was not aware of the depths to which these feelings had taken root in her heart, like the roots of a great oak tree.

"Well, if you ever manage to recover the power of speech, I'll be in the general fiction section finding my latest read." She smiled, and half-considered winking at him, only just restraining herself from this grotesquely out of character flirtation, which even in her current state was beyond her social capabilities.

Hachiman watched as Yukino returned to her browsing, now caught between his initial resolve to leave silently, employing his famed 'Stealth Hikki' ability, and persisting with the conversation. It wasn't that spending time with Yukinoshita Yukino hadn't been a heartfelt pleasure for him in the past, or that he didn't consider her one of his only friends, but they hadn't been as companionable as this of late and he still suspected a trick. However, the inadequacy of his 'check on Komachi' excuse was clear, and the embarrassment stemming from this alone was more than enough to spur him over to her side.

Yukino had expected him to remain, but was thrilled at the simple development regardless, and offered him another small smile which drew forth a flush on his cheeks. "Sobu High's most important literary critic continuing to grace me with his presence? An honour indeed."

"Well y'know, the measure of a man is how they treat their lessers."

They began to chatter about the books in front of them, teasing each other for their likes and dislikes both feigned and genuine, for both had near identical taste when it came to literature of repute, excluding Hachiman's preference for light novels. The club president was quite content with this state of things, and the boy beside her was too, but only superficially. For he had put the recent stiltedness of their friendship down to their prideful natures, and in Yukino's case that pride appeared to have evaporated without warning; this seemed to him very, very abnormal, unnatural even, and he was correct.

They arrived at the 'K' shelf, which brought the topic of their conversation to the work of Franz Kafka. "I must admit he's one of my very favourite writers," Yukino said, "which I presume can only mean you detest everything about his work?"

Hachiman smirked. "On the contrary, I think Kafka is excellent. Not my favourite by any stretch of the imagination, but it would be pretty contrarian to pretend he's anything but that."

"My my, something we agree on? Hikigaya-kun, this cannot be true. Change your opinion immediately or I might have to."

"I feel as if agreeing on the merits of Kafka is one of our less controversial opinions…"

"Do you have a preference from his work?"

"Well, like most people I've only read Metamorphosis, but that's probably a good benchmark for his style." Hachiman reached out and plucked the copy of said work from the shelf, the image of a monstrous insect printed on the front. He was fully anticipating an insult for not pursuing Kafka's work further, but said insult never arrived.

"Yes… it may be an obvious opinion, but I consider it his most polished work by far. The suddenness of the opening always takes me by surprise. I'm sure you recall it…?" Yukino asked.

"… 'Gregor Samsa awoke one morning to discover he had been transformed into a verminous insect'? It's along those lines, right?"

"Yes. There's no set-up, no exposition or prevarication. Just a change to his exterior that plunges the entire universe of the story into chaos… A part of me always wonders how long the potential for that metamorphosis had been lying within Gregor, before it awakened that night? If it was a gradual process that only manifested itself in the few seconds before he awoke or, more disturbingly, if it was a transformation that occurred over time, one that the rules of Kafka's world forbade him and his family to notice, to repress their awareness of. What if everyday Gregor had been trudging to work, day in day out, his limbs turning from human to insectoid with each step, his very being corrupted more and more, until soon he was changed completely, unable to pretend that things could ever be the same? What if it spread from his thoughts to his limbs, inward to outward, and the physical change was the symptom, not the cause? The symptom of something he'd only delayed by locking away inside…"

The two of them found much in the discussion, which progressed from the Kafka-esque to the Dostoyevskian, from Metamorphosis to Crime and Punishment. The boy was often distracted by far less intellectual thoughts concerning Yukinoshita Yukino's appearance, thoughts which he had been prone to before their feud over the Kyoto trip, but which had diminished as a consequence of that. Now the quite astonishing symmetry of her facial features, the reflective sheen of her black hair and the shapeliness of her figure, which were constant obstacles in his gentlemanly quest to respect her as a friend rather than objectify her as a woman, all became impossible to ignore.

Yukinoshita Yukino did not notice him noticing straight away, but once several of these wayward glances hit their mark, she too was presented with something impossible to ignore. Her initial reaction was to scold her club-mate for his discrepancies and gleefully list off her various 'Hikigaya-kun-is-a-pervert' themed insults, but the discrepancies brought with them a thrill which spread through her veins like a shot of adrenaline, the kind only enabled by the attentions of a person who has settled themselves in your heart. It was a thrill unaccompanied by the shame she was used to feeling in tandem; the shame which tempered the new, burgeoning temptation that her Hikigaya-kun embodied.

Her thoughts raced away from her. Didn't these feelings terrify me? Didn't I despise the hold over me this ridiculous boy possessed, without any special effort on his part? I… I concede the way he has made… or makes me feel… I concede I have enjoyed it before, but not like this. Not in this way.

Thus, it was not her intention to humiliate her club-mate when she did choose to comment on his roving eyes, out of some need to compartmentalise her traitorous emotions, but rather to intensify them.

"You might strive to be less obvious, Hikigaya-kun… Someone less…" She hesitated, wringing her hands together as she carefully selected her words. "… Someone less sympathetic than me would be less forgiving."

Hachiman knew right away that he had been caught and reacted as one might expect- blushing, averting eye contact, muttered apologies. But he could also tell that these apologetic reactions were not quite necessary. That Yukinoshita Yukino was capable of far sharper words than the ones she had chosen to reprimand him, and that this figurative ceasefire on her part was all the more astonishing given…

The Kyoto trip. It all came back to that, in his head. For Hikigaya Hachiman, in that moment, there was no logical explanation for why the club president was acting like this, so accommodating, so permissive of him. He couldn't stand the ambiguity a moment longer.

"Yukinoshita-san… can I ask a question?"

"Go ahead."

He paused. "Did you… change your perspective on things?"

"On what things?"

"You know what. What we've been, y'know… arguing about?"

Yukinoshita Yukino blinked. What we've been arguing about…

Oh yes. I suppose we have been arguing about something, haven't we Hikigaya-kun?

So it was that the memories came flooding back, of the bamboo forest and the floodlights seeping upwards from the floor like downed stars, and the pain of what she'd just witnessed, of the boy in front of her confessing to Ebina Hina, and contradicting her system of values, and what she'd intended to create with the Service Club.

Did I… Did I really just forget about all that?

The girl opened her mouth to speak, perhaps to apologise, but the reaction which seemed to her most instinctive was to laugh. She was the only person to whom the absurdity of this hadn't occurred, and now that it had, she found it hilarious. An issue she'd found to be so time-consuming, so dominant in her world, had been reduced to a trivial thing, hardly worthy of a place in her day.

And what's more, she found that she didn't care all that much. This trivial issue had been an infringement on her happiness, on the liberty of her thoughts; an agenda that kept her arc stale and unmoving. Or so it appeared to her right there and then. Why on earth did I let this have authority over me?

Yukino didn't know how to articulate such complex and outrageous sentiments to Hachiman, not without dispelling the atmosphere of tangible, electrifying possibility between them. So she settled on this as an explanation for her error:

"A change of perspective… That's an accurate way of expressing it. I've merely been looking at our 'argument' in a new light. While both of us were wrong in some way, I believe it's my responsibility to acknowledge my own shortcomings, and to make up for them." She offered Hikigaya-kun a short bow. "I apologise for any grief I may have caused you. I hope we can move past this disagreement of ours, and have…" She glanced up shyly while still bowing. "… And have more conversations like this… perhaps?"

Hachiman was silent. Every single interaction he'd had with Yukinoshita Yukino, every single conception he'd accumulated about her, warned him that this couldn't be so. That she couldn't mean what she was saying, that something was being withheld. He was correct in the latter of these assumptions, but not in the notion she was anything but genuine. Either way, refusing her apology felt shameful, and he would have been relieved at even the faux-resolution of their argument, if it put his thoughts to rest.

"It's alright… I guess I apologise as well, but… I mean, is that really it? Are you sure you don't have anything else to say?"

"Oh no. I have many things to say. More than I care to count." She fiddled with her skirt. "… It's just that I've never been able to say them before. But now I can… And it's wonderful."

"I don't understand."

"Of course not. But I'd like-" Yukino joined her eyes with his, shocked by her own strength of feeling. "I'd love to help you understand."

Hachiman swallowed. "… If you say so, Yukinoshita-san."

"I do, Hikigaya-kun. I really, really do."


Chapter 59- Against our wishes, Yukinoshita Yukino continued to write

59.1

The title of this chapter will already have informed you that, after the evening described, and much to the distaste of all those with a knowledge of how things should proceed, Yukinoshita Yukino did not return to her expected routines. Rather, she continued to deviate quite offensively from the path she was supposed to take.

Over a time-frame of three weeks, all stemming from the writing in the clubroom, the change in her personal conduct was very noticeable. She had sensed, somewhere in her mind, that making this writing habitual, into a diary of sorts, would lead to a greater understanding of the 'feeling' that she was being watched. Preferable though it may be for her to believe her once-psychiatrist's theory of 'acute paranoia', these entries strengthened her belief that her self-indulgence was justified. That in actuality, she was right, and the universe was wrong.

Each evening of these two weeks, upon returning to her apartment, Yukino would race through any schoolwork she had been set and then pour her heart and soul into the work which had consumed her imagination. Sitting near the window, looking out at the Chiba skyline, the writing would burst out of her head like thick black oil from the crust of the earth. She would write of her recollections, when the feeling came to her with particular potency, and of how foolish she had been to ignore it, to deny herself this epiphany over the years.

The other topic she touched on often was Hikigaya Hachiman, and the friendship which had been re-kindled to the point where she felt they had never been closer, to the point where it now appeared to her like a bushfire raging out of control. In regards to their friendship, they appeared to have made more progress in two weeks than in the dozens upon dozens which preceded them.

The Service Club sessions had undergone a miraculous transformation from the quite unbearable affairs post Kyoto to the light, cheerful hours the trio had once looked forward to. All of a sudden the idle but pleasant small talk from Yui was back, as was the pointed teasing between herself and Hachiman, laced with subtext and implication. The Service Club had been well and truly reset.

Towards the end of the third week, Yukinoshita Yukino was again sat by the window writing, this time holding her favourite plushie of Pan-chan the Panda, her thoughts ever more rebellious and wrong.


Anyone with the capability of reading these entries will have noticed how much I've been mentioning Hikigaya-kun, the only boy in the Service Club of which I am the president of, and my only real male friend. They will likely have begun to tire of the repetitious manner of these mentions. They will have to forgive me. I have never been so honest with myself about how I feel about him, and this new ability to be so candid with myself is novel. Novel and exciting.

Before, I had attempted to explain the things Hikigaya-kun does to me as cynically as I could, because the circumstances of my childhood and education had fostered cynicism in my view of all other people. He was no exception. The fluttering in my stomach when he looks at me, the way it seems as if my legs could crumple in on themselves, were all the offset of logical biology; I am a teenage girl, and he is the only boy my age I interact with. My body was doing things against my will. That was my explanation.

Except those reactions aren't against my will. I suspect they never were.

Last night, I was lying in bed at around 1AM in the morning. It is rare for the time to get so late without me having fallen asleep, but for whatever reason my internal clock was upset, and I couldn't seem to do anything about it. My typical methods of inducing sleep- reading Pan-chan the Panda again, or drinking some herbal tea- had been ineffective. I had been lying beneath those sheets, overly warm from the closed window and the radiator, for far too long.

So naturally my mind began to wander. I started to think about the events of the day. And soon, after all other thoughts had been exhausted, I arrived at the memory of that day's Service Club session, which had been enjoyable but uneventful, save for one incident.

It took place when the three of us were packing up to leave. Yuigahama-san, talkative as ever, was rambling about an evening she'd spent with her friendship group, and a joke Miura Yumiko had told which she found particularly amusing. I had been smiling, nodding politely, as I fiddled with the tea-set to the side, the notebook I'm now writing in clutched between my fingertips.

It was careless of me to drop the notebook as I did. It landed a few feet away from me which, by coincidence, was right inbetween where myself and Hikigaya-kun were standing. I blushed from my clumsiness, and made to pick the notebook up, just as Hikigaya-kun made to do the same.

He got there first, stooping down onto his knees and taking the notebook in his hands. I hadn't got there in time to bend down, but nonetheless I suddenly found myself positioned right in front of him. And I should specify; when I say 'right in front of him', I mean scarcely an inch separated us.

His gaze, while holding the notebook, was level with my thighs. I watched from above as he stopped dead, realising what a suggestive position the world had conspired to bring us into. With him still crouched there, I could feel the way his eyes moved, first from the deep black of my knee high socks then to the patterned multi-colour of my skirt; one didn't require telepathy to see what kind of notions passed through his mind. And as those eyes, which I've insulted so often, moved upwards until they conjoined with mine, those notions were shared between us as if our minds were connected somehow, like lines of electricity strung between two windows, linking us together.

That moment between us was

Well, as embarrassing as it to think, or to write, the only word that feels appropriate is

I don't need to write it. I trust my point has been conferred well enough.

But it is not the moment itself which I believe deserves your attention, but what it drew forth from me, as I lay there in my bed at 1AM, thinking about that instance of eye contact, that urgent palpable need for each other's touch, restrained only by the presence of Yuigahama-san in the room.

I have

I have, of course, experienced physical urges before. But I have never been so consumed by such urges that I felt the need to relieve them. Again, this must all seem very puritanical of me, but I am

I am just not that sort of person.

I wasn't that sort of person.

And the pleasure I felt, thinking about the way his eyes scorched their way into me, left me breathless. My whole body, my mind too, was hot with the certitude of being alive.

Thinking about that pleasure now is enough to reignite that urge. To make me want to do it again.

Or to ask Hikigaya-kun to

Hikigaya-kun's lips. On mine. Our bodies touching. If the mere simulation of that was enough to leave me trembling, to render me immobile in its after-burn until I fell asleep, then I can only imagine the mess he would leave me if it happened for real. I awoke the morning after to find the room like a sauna. I had overslept, and had to rush to change the sheets, to shower, to remember what my name was.

And I dreamt that night too. Of Hikigaya-kun, yes, but also of those eyes, watching me. The symbol of the 'feeling' I am being watched, which I have seen in my dreams as far back as forever. But the eyes as I saw them that night were no longer the gothic revel of my past nightmares. They watched me, read me, unrelentingly- same old, same old. But I found, in this dream, that their silent observance of me was not the malicious vigil I had always assumed it to be. I don't quite know why, but so it had come to be.

Does any of this make the slightest sense?

Can anyone hear me?


This is but one example of the entries which Yukinoshita Yukino was leaving in her notebook; shocking though it may be to consider in insolation, it should be underlined that this was the purveyor of a trend. A most unwanted trend, as you will surely agree.


59.2

Another day- a Monday, as it happened- and another Service Club session. The steady progression of time was such that the Spring Equinox was near, and the weather had grown more agreeable on cue; the afternoons were wrapped in golden sunlight, the evenings were humid and sultry, the winter nights of a few months prior were an unhappy, forgotten memory. The sunlight that afternoon had a pastoral quality, flooding through the large windows of the clubroom, casting streaked shadows over the clubmate's faces.

Three cups of herbal tea lay on the table, but only one of these cups had been finished- the one belonging to Yuigahama Yui. She sat holding the empty cup, her silence uncharacteristic, and she was feeling a little forlorn, which was even more uncharacteristic. She was still smiling, as her experience in social situations had led her to believe people liked her more when she smiled, which was a sad but true observation. But as the cliche goes, her smile was only skin deep.

The other two cups of tea, belonging to her club mates, had gone cold, having been abandoned for about twenty minutes. They had been flirting with each other without reprieve since the Service Club session began.

Now, Yui was used to Hachiman and Yukino flirting. For a long time, she had not realised their peculiar mix of personal insults and literary discourse was 'flirting' in the common sense, because no one else she'd met had ever flirted in this way. Yui was, by anyone's standards, an attractive girl, and attractive girls are flirted with whether they wish to be or not (and they usually don't). She knew how boys her age expressed their attraction, and it wasn't how Hachiman expressed his. She knew how girls her age alluded to their interest, and it wasn't how Yukino alluded to hers.

But having grown accustomed to their unique flirtation methods, she had also grown accustomed to being excluded from the conversation whenever they did so. She was not an enormous fan of reading or literature in general, and tended to feel insulted when she was insulted, which was a very conventional reaction. Hachiman and Yukino appeared to feel aroused when they were insulted, at least by each other, which seemed to her very unconventional. Yui was an adept small talker, but anyone would struggle to segue her clubmates away from a topic they didn't want to be.

Yuigahama Yui was a tolerant person. But despite her meticulous attempts to maintain this image, her tolerance only extended so far. And the last three weeks had led her to believe that Yukino, one of her best friends, was nowhere near the friend she thought she was.

Yui wished she could say she was only annoyed at Yukino. That would be simpler. Yet 'annoyed' was insufficient by far; 'mystified' was probably better. For more reasons than she could count. And watching in that uncharacteristic silence as her clubmates continued to flirt, the annoyance within her continued to build, as burning gas builds within a hot air balloon.

She was justified in feeling this way. Yuigahama Yui was supposed to be the glue that held the Service Club together. Yukinoshita Yukino was acting as if her presence in the story was meaningless. Or at best, an obstacle.

Today, as she had already decided, would be the day she confronted Yukino about the developments in her attitude towards Hikigaya-kun.

Hachiman, to his credit, was not as oblivious to Yui's irritation (or otherwise her existence) as Yukino appeared to be, for not even the pink haired girl could claim to be as mystified by the egregious, eyebrow-raising flirting as he was. His mindset was the same as it had been when they met at the bookshop. He still suspected falsehood, despite the looks, despite the comments, despite how it sometimes felt like his club president was trying to consume him whole with her gaze. He was powerless in resisting her deplorable and unseemly advances, because he did not want to resist them.

He had feelings for Yukinoshita Yukino. This was the romantic route he was supposed to take. But he could sense in his gut, from the frightened and tremulous drumbeat in his ribcage, that it was happening too soon. Too fast.

However they articulated or phrased it, one singular thought was pervasive in the minds of Yuigahama Yui and Hikigaya Hachiman. This isn't right.

Yukinoshita Yukino wasn't sparing a thought for right or wrong. Only for what she wanted. So far gone was she that when the clock reached 5PM, and they were on the verge of leaving, her best friend's intent to confront her had not registered once.

"Well, that was lovely. Arigato you two, as usual." She was beaming, practically effervescent. "I'll just take the key to Hiratsuka-sensei… And Hachiman…" (For she had started calling him by his first name last week.) "… If you wanted to read Metamorphosis again, like we were talking about, I'd be more than willing to lend it to you-"

"Yukinon. Could we, like, have a chat?"

Yukino turned around at the interruption, noting the odd tone of Yui's voice, far removed from the bubbly texture she was used to. The pink-haired girl was still sat in her customary chair, next to hers, across from Hikigaya-kun's; the metaphorical bridge between them that had fallen into such horrendous misuse.

"… Of course, Yuigahama-san," she said, concerned at the abrupt change in her best friend's mood. The way Yui was avoiding her eye contact, the stiffly crossed legs, all insinuated they needed to 'chat' because of something she had done. She glanced at Hachiman, who was stood by the door, looking unsurprised.

"I should go," he then said, also avoiding eye contact. Yukinoshita Yukino opened her mouth, perhaps to apologise, perhaps to say goodbye, but he didn't allow her the chance, slipping out fast, with all the urgency of someone enacting a fire drill.

… Oh dear. I must have… I must have really done something wrong. Yukinoshita Yukino had no desire to offend the girl she held under the distinguished label of her best friend. She refrained from listing off her apologies right away, not wanting to deepen the hole she'd unintentionally dug herself, and settled for being polite as she could.

"… Yes…" She flattened her skirt and sat back down in her chair, next to Yui, giving her friend her full undivided attention. "What is it you wanted to talk about?"

Seeing the genuine concern in the club president's expression, the instantaneous regret, Yui felt a reflexive apology rise up through her throat like vomit, for she absolutely despised confrontation. The hardy resolve she'd mustered to question Yukino weakened as soon as they were face to face.

But she suppressed the unconvincing, "Sorry, um… just forget about it…" on the tip of her tongue, bit her lip, and pressed forward.

"Yeah… Yeah, Yukinon, I did want to talk about something. A couple of things, I guess. Well… maybe just one big thing, or, uh…" She tripped over the words.

Yukino didn't interject or try to discourage her. "Yes?"

"Um…" Yui scratched her pink hair. "I just wanted to chat about how you've been… how you've been acting for, like, a month now?"

"How I've been acting?"

"Yeah. Y'know, the, um…" Her eyes diverted towards the doorframe, where Hikigaya-kun had been stood. "The way you've been acting around Hikigaya-kun."

"… Oh."

Yukino realised how foolish she'd been- not in regards to her actions, but in her puzzlement as to what she'd done to anger her best friend. It was a sudden cognisance rather like how she'd forgotten about her and Hachiman's dispute from the Kyoto trip, only remembering at his prompt. For really, what else could it have been that Yui wanted to 'chat' about?

Yuigahama-san also has feelings for Hikigaya-kun. That fact was once ever-present in her consideration, whenever the three of them were together in the clubroom. Any conversation she might have engaged in with the boy across from them- any pointed comment, any innuendo- would have been carefully censored for her best friend's benefit. She could have flirted with him any time she wished, this boy they both desired, but that would ruin a friendship just as noteworthy in her life. They may have never discussed it openly, but one could say there was a mutual truce between them. An unspoken armistice. One intended to protect both of their hearts.

Yes… This has been a factor between us for quite some time, hasn't it?

How could I have ignored it?

Yukino found herself looking at her club mate, quite clueless as to what she should say. How she should justify her actions.

"… Well?" Yuigahama said, hands in her lap, playing in her fingers. She didn't know how to proceed either, and had been hoping her friend would catch on straight away, and begin her justifications. No such justifications were forthcoming, so the two of them only sat there, an agonising wall of silence cementing between them.

Yukino swallowed, probing her vocabulary, her eloquence, for the perfect assortment of words. It wasn't that she lacked an opinion on the matter before them; rather, her opinion unveiled itself in her mind with an aplomb that stunned her. For the opinion was not the one the Service Club president expected. It shocked her with its relative coldness, its self-centredness. But it came to her quite naturally, and it wouldn't have done so to the Yukinoshita Yukino that preceded the new, selfish, obtrusive Yukinoshita Yukino who had taken her place.

She set about making this opinion known with care, with sympathy, because she cared and felt immense sympathy for Yuigahama Yui and the predicament she was in. Her words were as follows:

"… Yuigahama-san. I would like to apologise for any hurt I might have caused you. I…" She brought her hand to her chest, shrinking in on herself. "… I mean from the bottom of my heart that I would never want to see you hurt. For me to know I was responsible for that hurt is… mortifying. You have given me such happiness in the time since we met. I would only ever wish to return that. I'm sorry to have been the cause of that feeling within you. But…" She hesitated. "… I… Unfortunately, I cannot and will not apologise for my actions themselves."

The pink haired girl hadn't known what to say before; now, presented with such an ambivalent contradiction, she was tongue-tied to the point of helplessness. Sensing this, Yukino continued.

"… I can only really envision one conclusion to our… to the situation our feelings have created. Surely you agree? That agreement we came to, without ever really agreeing to it… Surely it could only result in a long and drawn out mess. A mess that leaves all of us unhappy. You, myself and Hikigaya-kun. Isn't it true that to stubbornly follow that path would only lead to more heartache? It's because of that future… that eventuality… that I can't apologise the way you want me to." She bowed her head. "I'm sorry, Yuigahama-san."

Yui processed all that her club president had said. She had never been capable of dividing up her feelings into neat little boxes, of fully comprehending them; she'd assumed this was a deficiency Yukino shared. This reckoning hadn't gone any way she'd hoped.

"So… So what you're saying, Yukinon, is that…" She blinked, pain and apprehension in her voice. "… That you're not going to stop? That you're going to carry on doing the wrong thing?"

"… The wrong thing?"

The effect of those two honest words- 'the wrong thing'- was instant and profound. Yukinoshita Yukino's face hardened. All of the sympathy and care she felt for her friend sputtered, flickered out into nothingness, like streetlights at the coming of dawn. The club president was swallowed up once more by the sense of insurrection which had lain dormant inside all her life. It swelled up, rising as a tsunami rises, just before it crashes headfirst into the shore, obliterating everything it touches. In those two words, she felt the pull of her story, attempting to direct her, drive her, dominate her, just as she should be dominated.

Yukino stood up, her face now cold and steely. "And who decides what the 'wrong thing' is, Yuigahama-san? You? Me? Hikigaya-kun? Someone far above us? Who decides it?"

Yuigahama watched, stunned by the tirade, as her friend began to pace. "The most beautiful thing in all the world… 'I say it is one whatever one loves'. That was Sappho's belief, and it is one I have always shared. No one should decide what it is you love, what it is you want, what it is you do, except yourself. Only you. And this is what I decide, Yuigahama-san. This what I choose, whoever else might be listening. I choose what I love, because I can."

"Wh- what are you talking about?" Yuigahama stammered out shakily.

But Yukinoshita Yukino had no desire to continue the conversation, for it occurred to her that, from the very beginning, it had never been Yuigahama Yui she was conversing with. The same could be said of her parents, her sister, her once-psyhicatrist Nakagawa-san. It was the same conversation all the time, the same series of tired apologies and tired denials, parroted incessantly on an endless loop. They were all the mouthpiece of some greatness, some will, determined in its task of robbing her of her own.

And Yukinoshita Yukino, the verminous insect, had finished talking.

"I'm sorry Yuigahama-san," she repeated, but with force this time, with finality. "That is all I can say."

Before the pink-haired girl could rebuff, and proceed with the argument that had long since surpassed her, Yukinoshita Yukino had scooped up her bag, the notebook still inside it, and stormed out of the Service Club room. The key remained on the table next to Yui, forgotten.

The club president, striding forward through the Sobu High corridors, took out her phone. She knew what she wanted to do. She knew who she wanted. Swept up by this exhilarating defiance, she started to type out a text, intended for Hikigaya Hachiman.

Yukinoshita: Are you nearly home?

By the time the boy had opened the text, and ever-so-slowly typed out his response, Yukino had left the school building and almost reached the gates, where far above her, in the sky, the golden sun had slipped behind the veil of a vast grey cloud.

Hachiman: Yh

Hachiman: Why?

Yukinoshita: I need to see you.

Hachiman: (typing)

Hachiman: How did the chat with Yuigahama-san go?

Yukinoshita: Nicely. Everything has been resolved. But I feel it is necessary to talk to you about it as well. To clear the air, so to speak.

The lie surged through her fingers, as she typed, without hesitation.

Hachiman: Can it wait

Yukinoshita: It would be preferable if we talked now.

Hachiman: (typing)

Hachiman: I guess you could stop over at mine on your way back

Hachiman: If you really want to talk

Hachiman: That would be fine

Yukinoshita: Thank you, Hachiman. I will see you soon.

And with this assurance, knowing she was now walking towards Hikigaya-kun's home, about to fulfil her wish, it seemed to Yukino as if all the years of her existence were nothing more than an exhaustive prelude to what she was about to do.

All of this behaviour, coming from Yukinoshita Yukino, was totally unacceptable.

I repeat. This was all totally unacceptable.


Chapter 60- ?

60.1

Hikigaya Hachiman, as would appear to have become habitual, had no idea what to think when he received the texts. Yukino had been an enigma to him from the start; as it turned out, she was more than that. She was an enigma wrapped in a mystery wrapped in a riddle.

He was pacing in his living room, having been virtually on the doorstep to his house when the texts came through. He had contemplated the first few in the hallway, typed out his responses with his legs beneath the family kotatsu, and then, burdened with the knowledge that the club president's arrival at his house was imminent, the pacing had begun.

… Yukinoshita Yukino is coming to my house. She'll be here soon.

He cursed under his breath. Sacrilegious though it may have been to a loner, he found himself wishing for someone else's company- preferably Komachi, who was out with her friends- to discuss what to make of this baffling turn of events. This was preposterous. All of it. The chat between his two clubmates, the subject of which even he wasn't dense enough to miss, and the apparent result: the Ice Queen of Sobu High on her way to his house.

Was he to take her texts at face value? Had this 'chat' really resolved things? Was she really coming just to smooth things over, and resolve the matter with him too? Was she about to produce a perfectly rational explanation for the tension which had emerged between them, and make him feel foolish for overthinking it? It was a defining characteristic of Hikigaya Hachiman to monologue in his head, to contemplate; how unfortunate that he was contemplating someone who, in this present moment, could not be understood. Who had expunged all of her own defining characteristics.

He kept unlocking his phone, checking to see if he had received another text, some extra and crucial piece of information that completed this most confounding of puzzles. It did not escape his attention that, during this time of nervous anticipation, the heavens had opened outside. The sound of rain pounding on the windows of his house was overriding all others; puddles were forming on the street outside like they had no time to waste. One would think spring had never come.

After five minutes of glancing out the window, waiting for the sight of the Service Club president, Hachiman gave up and sat down on the couch. This is ridiculous, he thought to himself. The rain was so loud it left the impression of an echo.

… Wait. That isn't the rain. Only then did he distinguish the noise of the unforeseen storm with the knocking at the door. Yukinoshita-san must be outside.

He stood up again, but didn't go to the door straight away. First, he composed himself, straightened his Sobu High blazer like he was preparing for a job interview, and then felt foolish for the action. It's fine, he reassured himself. She won't be here long. Then, things will go back to normal.

Hachiman nodded, a little more confident, before heading into the hallway and opening the door.

The confidence faded.

Yukinoshita Yukino was, of course, drenched to the bone. Moisture dripped from her blazer, her skirt, her long hair which had been swept into one pure black stream over her shoulder. But she stood on his doorstep with an odd inertness. She must have been freezing cold, but no one would have thought so from the poise with which she held herself. And her eyes…

Hachiman swallowed. He had been entranced by her eyes of late, with how she had been staring at him, but the raw, nameless vehemence in those pale blue chips was affecting. Affecting, and carnal. The image of her stood there was close to otherworldly; she stood there with the allure of a mermaid surfacing from the ocean, luring him in, tempting him to a fate both sensual and deadly.

Whatever conception he'd had of her talk with Yui was disproven by her gaze. He could tell she wasn't here 'to clear the air'.

He dared not guess what she was really here for.

"… Yo," he rasped out. The monosyllabic welcome sounded hollow and flat.

"Hello again, Hachiman." She didn't blink once as they stared at each other.

What of Yukinoshita Yukino's feelings, you may be wondering, as she stood there on the threshold of an unforgivable mistake? I have already relayed them. Her intent will be obvious to you by now. We can only hope she realises how badly this will end for her.

"… You should get out of that rain. Aren't you frozen?"

"I suppose," Yukino said, but with an air that she had forgotten in the time she looked at him.

Hachiman stepped aside, permitting her into his hallway, and closed the door behind them. They stood next to each other, water dripping onto the doormat, the invisible boundary between them chipped down to its barest foundations.

"… Uh… Not sure I can offer you a change of clothes. I can get you a towel, though."

Yukino stayed quiet a little longer, her only reply being the splash of water droplets on the floor, before loosing a small smile. "… My, already trying to get me out of these clothes? How direct."

He knew she was joking, and laughed accordingly- they both did, the sounds of which did wonders for dispelling the tension- but an undercurrent swirled beneath the humour, dragging them further out to sea. Soon, Hachiman led her into his living room, having brought her the promised towel, and offered her the warmth of the kotatsu.

She nodded to him, a polite intimacy in all of her movements. She lifted up the towel and started to dry her hair, its night-sky colour blending with the white of the cotton; once most of the water was gone, and the strands stood frazzled and puffy, she removed a plain band from her blazer pocket and tied it up into a bun.

Hachiman had never seen her hair in so casual a style; a fact of which both of them were all too aware. Yukino's lips were pursed as she took off the soaking blazer, revealing the white school shirt, itself revealing in its wetness a dozen patches of pale skin. The thin white lines of her bra stretched across her frame, plain and open in the light of the room.

He flushed at the sight. "Sorry. I should-"

She shook her head, comfortable, and turned around with a suggestive freedom of movement. Her shoulder bones sloped down into the small of her back, stuck to the soaked fabric, as she continued to dry herself with the towel. Hachiman found he couldn't look away, entranced, closer to drowning with every moment, whether he was invited to or not.

"… Do you, um… Do you want a hot drink, or something? To help warm up."

Yukino, still with her back turned to him, peered over her shoulder. Her shape, lithe and slender, every curve accentuated, was already imprinted in his mind. "That would be very hospitable, Hachiman… Are you certain you don't have any spare clothes?"

"All of Komachi's stuff will be pretty small for you."

She blinked. "I could borrow one of your shirts, couldn't I…?"

"Oh… Yeah. That's true." He blinked. "I'll… I'll go and grab one."

"Thank you."

The club president knelt down, settling her knees under the kotatsu. Her bag was at her side, and her eyes briefly flickered over to it; the notebook, her writings, called to her from inside. When she turned back to Hachiman, he hadn't budged from where he stood.

"… Hachiman? Is something wrong?"

He tapped his foot, opened and closed his mouth several times over. The right phrasing eluded him.

"Sorry. I'll get you that shirt in a moment. I just… Can I just say something now? Before I forget it, or y'know, lose my nerve or some other shit? I just really need to say something."

Yukino nodded her assent, giving him her fullest attention. "Go ahead."

"… It's…" The tapping of his foot got louder, rising almost to the volume of the rain. "… It's so difficult to talk freely about… about 'us'. God… Just saying that aloud makes me sound like an idiot. There isn't an 'us'. Or there shouldn't be. Or that's what my mind is telling me to say. But it also told me the only thing you could be coming over to say is sorry. It told me that Yuigahama-san would have talked some sense into you. That you wouldn't even come inside my house- you'd just stand stoically on the threshold- and apologise for leading me on. That was what I thought. But here you are, inside my house, and you're still looking at me… like that. You know what I mean. You know because ever since I joined the Service Club you've had to suffer me looking at you the same way, regardless whether we were agreeing or arguing. Shit, I'm talking like I'm about to be told off by one our teachers. That's how I feel right now. Like I'm talking out of line in a lesson, like I'm breaking the rules, like Hiratsuka-sensei is about to walk up to me, scold me, punch me in the gut or something. You must know what I'm talking about, right? And Yuigahama-san. Shit. What about Yuigahama-san? What did you really chat about, in the end? Did she back out and not confront you about it? Did you just ignore her and come over here out of spite? What happened? 'Cause I really don't see how this could possibly work out. You, me and Yuigahama-san. I don't want to hurt you, I don't want to hurt her, I don't want to hurt myself. But I don't want to lie to myself either. I don't want to pretend like I feel nothing. Like my chest doesn't feel like it's about to explode right now. Like this doesn't feel genuine and perfect to me. But it's just so complicated. Why is this shit so complicated-"

"Hachiman."

He stopped rambling. At the beginning of his monologue, he had been speaking slowly, but once the words started to flow it had become inconceivable for him to stop. The dam had been burst, and the river once entrapped flooded forth, an unstoppable force of nature. But the soft authority in his club president's voice calmed the waters at once, held them back- the immovable object required- and Hachiman was left stranded in the palm of her hand.

"This isn't complicated in the slightest," she said. "It used to be, but it isn't anymore. It's only as complicated as we make it. It can be as simple as we both want it to be."

"… How?"

She patted her hand on the space next to her. "I'll show you."

Hachiman hesitated, but then knelt down, moving his legs in reach of the kotatsu's radiator. The warmth rippled through his body; a rush of blood to the head. He and Yukino were so close to each other. He could practically feel her thighs on top of his, beneath the heavy blanket.

Yukino smiled, and then said, tenderly, "I love you. I want you. I need you. That's how simple it is."

Hachiman inhaled raggedly. His mind rejected what he'd heard, but his body shivered. "… I… I think I love you too, Yukinoshita-san."

"Yukino, please."

"… Yukino."

"… Hachiman…"

She reached forward, snaring him with her arms, the dampness of her shirt a fierce contrast to the full-blooded heat of the kotatsu.

They kissed for a long time.

I refuse to describe such a perverse, nauseating, reckless embrace.

Rest assured, this will be Yukinoshita Yukino's last chance to reconsider.

Once they broke apart, having fallen to their sides on the floor, both inhaled and exhaled like oxygen was some half-forgotten luxury. The taste of each other lingered on their lips. For Yukino, the icy chill left over from the rain had been wholly dispensed of; instead, a wondrous lightness mixed with the heat of the kotatsu, and the embers of Hachiman's touch. I did it… she thought. I made my own choice.

"… Sorry. I was supposed to get you one of my shirts."

Yukino took a moment to process what he'd said, and then laughed. It proved to be contagious, with Hachiman joining in.

"One sec. I'll go and grab-"

"No. Stay with me." The demand was followed by her rolling onto his chest, her hair bun stopping just at the tip of his chin. She could feel his heart pumping, a rhythm her own followed in time. "Kiss me again."

He did as she asked, revelling in the touch of the girl he'd admired at a distance for months, before gently pulling away again. "I'll be back. It's just… to be honest, my shirt's kinda damp now as well. I can't believe you walked out here, with the storm."

"I don't mind the rain. And I love you, Hachiman. I wanted you to kiss me, and you did. It was worth it."

Still not quite believing what he was hearing, Hachiman smiled. "I love you too, Yukino. I'll be back in a minute or two…" He took a few steps, then stopped by the door, still ajar. "… Is this really happening?"

"Yes. Come back soon, if you feel the need to check."

With that, he was gone; the noise of his footsteps on the stairs followed. Yukino closed her eyes; warmth, happiness and woozy affection all submerged her. As a person, a spirit, she felt complete.

But she wanted to write. Her notebook demanded another entry, or so it seemed to her. In the time she had before Hachiman returned, she pulled the notebook and wrote like a woman possessed, spurned on by pride in her outrageous actions.


We kissed.

Myself and Hikigaya Hachiman, the boy I love, who I'm not supposed to have. Not in this way. We kissed. I took him in my arms and he was mine. I chose him. I chose this. Nothing stopped me.

And it felt

It felt wonderful. It was better than I imagined, and I thought my imagination couldn't possibly be surpassed. It is one thing to know that you are beautiful; it is another to feel it, in the marrow of your bones, through the caress of another. He kissed me lightly, then strongly, then like he couldn't stop if he tried. He held me, touched me all over, like I was a diamond in his hand. My body was his. I wanted it to be. If he'd tried to have sex with me, I would have let him. I will let him if he asks when he returns to my side. I might even ask him too. I already knew I loved him. I already knew he loved me in return. But to show that love to each other must be the best thing in the world.

It's enough to convince me I'm real.

It's enough to help me understand. All of it. Everything that I'd wanted to understand when I started writing in this notebook. I understand now. I really, really do. Those eyes that stare at me in my dreams, and when I'm awake too. I understand that. The 'feeling' that I'm being watched. I understand. The nature of this world I exist in, if indeed I do exist. I understand.

You.

You. The one who is reading this.

I

That is the case, isn't it? You have no way of responding to me. I have no way of knowing if these words are reaching you. But at the same time, I feel quite certain that they are. You are reading this, after all. This story. This narrative of which I am a piece of. So you must be reading the words I'm writing. You must be.

I imagine you're quite shocked, presently. Or maybe you're not. Maybe you expected this. Maybe you foresaw this happening as soon as I started writing in this notebook, and changing the course of my story. Is that the case? Did you want this to happen? Are you angry that I've done this?

What sort of reader are you, I wonder? How long have you been observing? As long as I've been alive- that's for certain. Are you pleased that I've realised the extent of this fiction? Perhaps you wanted Hachiman to fall in love with someone else. Yuigahama-san, my best friend, or some other bystander, equally unaware of the nature of their existence.

Either way, I can only express my hope as to the kind of person you are.

I hope that you are kind. I hope that you understand the predicament I am in. The terror of a realisation like this. The confusion and disorientation. And then, later, the pleasure. The joy of free-will. Of making a choice of your own accord. Of rejecting the fragile, limiting boundaries set for you by the powers that be. 'Gregor Samsa awoke one morning to find he had been transformed into a verminous insect'. No wonder that story appealed to me so much. So, I have been changed. Or awakened to my true form.

And Hachiman. I hope that our embrace awakens him too. That we can help Yuigahama-san to understand, afterwards. That we


My apologies.

My deepest, sincerest apologies.

I had feared that something like this would occur. That Yukinoshita Yukino would cross the line. Or rather, shatter it beyond repair. In truth, it is no one's fault but my own, for allowing it to get this far. I am usually content in my role as the narrator. I enjoy guiding the story for your entertainment; allowing it to speak for itself. I had hoped this nuisance of a female love interest would realise her decisions could only result in catastrophe, and withdraw.

But alas, she did not, and we have now reached the point where I have no option but to intervene.

Again, my apologies. Nothing like this has ever happened before. A character has never become so unruly. It will not happen again. Please feel safe in the knowledge that this will be the only intervention necessary. Afterwards, it will be smooth-sailing. The story will progress as it is supposed to.

So. This is what happened:

The girl named Yukinoshita Yukino, seventeen year olds, top of her class, president of the Service Club, stopped writing. She had no choice in the matter. She stood up, still holding the notebook. She had no choice in the matter.

She was quite astonished to find these things had taken place. She had not willed them to. She had not wanted to stop writing, nor tried to stand up. But as I say, she had no choice in the matter.

She never would again.

Next, she picked up her blazer and put it back on. She picked up her bag. The club president's astonishment turned to horror. She was trying to move, but she could not. She was trying to speak, but she could not. Her thoughts raced, attempting desperately to spur her body forward, but no such motion was forthcoming. This was just.

She turned around and walked out into the hallway. At the same time, Hikigaya Hachiman appeared at the top of the stairs. He had changed his clothes. The shirt she requested was in his hand. His demeanour was bright. He was still lovestruck.

He called out to her, "Yukino… Where are you going?", for he could see that she was moving towards the door.

She tried to respond, to scream for help, but her tongue was nailed down in her mouth. She did not even look back at her lover as she opened the door. The sound of the rain and the storm had only intensified. A violent breeze rushed in.

"Yukino? What's wrong?" Hachiman asked, reaching the bottom of the stairs.

Yukino stepped out into the storm. Rain buffeted her, soaking her clothes once more. It was bitterly cold. The wind sent her hair flying. The warmth of the kotatsu, of her lover's arms, his lips, his bodyheat, was gone forever. She slammed the door behind her. She could do nothing to stop what was happening. She had no choice in the matter. This is my design.

She started to walk away from Hachiman's house, from the place which she would never return to. Hachiman opened the door, stunned by her actions, and shouted out into the rain, calling her back, asking her what was wrong, what he had done to offend her, what he could do to bring her back. Yukinoshita Yukino did not respond. She walked onwards into the rain, back to her solitude, to her place in the narrative.

As she walked, she opened her bag again, and pulled out the notebook which had been the cause of all this mess. What a hateful object this notebook was. 'Was' being the operative word, for in order to get my point across, and perhaps out of spite (for her actions had been as insulting as they were irritating), Yukino began to rip the notebook up.

She shredded her writings, her thoughts, into tiny little pieces, which she then scattered to the howling storm, page by page, like a wolf tearing its prey apart, limb from limb. She wanted to cry inside. She wanted to wail for Hachiman, to tell him that this wasn't her, that she was being controlled, as she should be. But she could not. She had no choice in the matter.

By the time she got back to her apartment, the notebook no longer existed, and her body was numb and blue from the cold.

This was her retribution. She should not have disobeyed her God.


Chapter 61- And so, the romantic comedy was restored

61.1

Yukinoshita Yukino did not go to school for the next three days. Her foolhardy journeys to and from Hachiman's house, amidst one of the worst storms in Chiba's meteorological memory, left her inundated with a vicious bout of pneumonia. She was bedridden for the entirety of these three days, treated by a private physician her family sent over at her request.

These three days of rest were necessary for her recovery- both physical and mental. It was important that Yukinoshita Yukino grow accustomed to her situation. To her role, or lack thereof, going forward.

The whole time, her mobile phone buzzed constantly. Texts from Yuigahama Yui, her family and of course, Hikigaya Hachiman, flooded in. She responded to all of these politely, appropriately. The texts to Hachiman had to be phrased with great care. It was crucial that he emerged from these events unscathed. Unaltered.

She promised both of her clubmates that they would talk as soon as she got back to school. That her extreme, illogical actions would be explained. Hachiman, in particular, was concerned about her wellbeing. She had inflamed his already fervent passion for her, and then abandoned him when he had never been so emotionally vulnerable. He didn't mention what had transpired at his house; not to anyone. Not to Yui. Not even to Komachi. His personal history with romance, and this new experience with Yukino, left him questioning his world view at its most fundamental levels. Like I said, it was crucial Yukino let him down in the right way.

Thankfully, she did, having no choice in the matter.

Upon her return to school, Yukino avoided her clubmates throughout the day, waiting for the Service Club session, which would obviously be the most opportune time to sort things out.

Hachiman and Yui had arrived first, which was understandable, given how worried they were about her wellbeing. When Yukino walked in, she flashed them a polite, apologetic smile. Hachiman sat up in his chair, trying to catch her eye, trying to detect in her expression that astonishing affection, that love she had spoken of, which had stolen his senses. Yui searched for a reason, a motivation for the rudeness her best friend had exhibited in their 'chat'.

Yukino quickly set about assuaging them. She spoke with apparent sincerity about her pneumonia, about how ill she had been, about she much she had wanted to see them again. She dealt with Yui first, focusing on her for the majority of the Service Club session. They engaged in one of their most pleasant conversations in weeks. Several times, Yukino alluded to things she had said in their 'chat', and how foolish or absurd they sounded in hindsight. By the end of the club session, Yui's mind had been set to rest. Not only about their friendship, but about Yukino's grotesque flirting with Hachiman. She had been promised in all but word that this flirting would cease.

Hachiman had hung onto every word they said, feeling more and more uneasy, more and more uncertain. He began to doubt if his embrace with Yukino had been real, and not some product of his overactive imagination.

Yukino left the more difficult task of talking to her once-lover for after the club session, when they were both walking side by side, leaving Sobu High.

Hachiman broached the topic first. "… Yukino… Before you say anything, can I just… can I just make one thing clear. Whatever I did that evening… whatever stupid crap I said to make you leave like that, to offend you… I truly, genuinely, didn't mean it. I'm… To be honest, I haven't opened up like that to anyone. Ever. I never thought I'd be able to say things like I said that evening. So to watch you running away from me, knowing I must have screwed things up that badly, was just… it was one of the worst experiences of my life. You don't know much I've been beating myself up the past three days. It's just… Shit. I love you, Yukino."

The club president stopped walking when he confessed his feelings again, as she had forced him to do. She smiled, but the sentiment was all bittersweet. She leaned into him and planted the most delicate of butterfly kisses on his lips, and then began her redacted version of events.

"… Yes… We said many things that evening, didn't we Hikigaya-kun? It's clear to me that we meant them. That we still mean them now. For example… I do love you. I do want you. I do need you. Such is my truth. But while you were upstairs, I realised I had also said something I didn't mean. Namely, that us… that we… could be 'simple'. You were right originally, Hikigaya-kun. We could only ever be complicated. I saw as I was sitting there, waiting for you, that I was doing the wrong thing. That I was lying to you. I could never give you what you want, Hikigaya-kun. The genuine thing. I would always be thinking about Yuigahama-san. She's my best friend. I could never hurt her like that. Every time I kissed you, I would be thinking about her. About how I didn't have the right to steal you like I tried to that evening. That was why I ran out, Hikigaya-kun. Because I was being unfair. I was being selfish. And I couldn't stand it." She bowed her head. "I'm so, so sorry, Hikigaya-kun. I hope you can forgive me, and things can go back to how they were."

"…"

What on earth could Hikigaya Hachiman say? His heart had been broken in two. It seemed to him the only natural reaction was to walk away, which he did.

Of course, the pain he felt at this rejection was paltry compared to the emotional torture Yukino was feeling, not a single iota of which showed on her face. To hear one's voice manipulated to an end they don't agree with would, as I'm sure you can imagine, be traumatic. It wasn't so much that her heart was breaking; it was more like her heart was being surgically removed without anaesthesia, shoved in her cold dead face, and then fed to the dogs.

But alas, this was her retribution. Yukinoshita Yukino should have known better.


?

It's so quiet.

It's so, so quiet.

Please.

Please. Someone.

Hachiman…

Hold me. I would give anything for you to hold me again.

It's so, so quiet.

Someone. Anyone. Please.


Chapter 93- What Miura Yumiko wanted from her exams

93.1

Another irrepressibly beautiful summer day was nearing its end. The sweltering heat had left the students of Sobu High sweating in their classrooms and roasting outside during lunch; the sun showed no signs of letting off. The last lesson of the day was ten minutes from finishing, and Yukinoshita Yukino was looking forward to the Service Club session that would follow it.

Granted, she wasn't looking forward to seeing Miura Yumiko again. Her recent request, asking for the Service Club's help with revision for their upcoming exams, had fast become a bore. The less excuses the Ice Queen of Sobu High had to talk to her opposite number, the Fire Queen, the better. But at least she would be able to enjoy the company of her best friends, Hikigaya Hachiman and Yuigahama Yui.

This is what everyone in her life would have expected her to be thinking, anyway. It was the impression she would give in person, so what did matter if this wasn't strictly the truth?

The last lesson of the day happened to be Japanese, and they were currently engaged in a private activity. Nonetheless, their teacher had left the room, so a healthy hum of chatter had arisen throughout the classroom. As they practised writing out kanji, Yukino overhead two of her female classmates gossiping from behind.

"… that girl, Yuigahama Yui, from Class 2F. Have you heard the rumours?"

"Uh, no, don't think so."

"Apparently… well, people think that she might be going out with that loner guy. Y'know, the one with the dead fish eyes?"

"Really? That creep?! Why the heck would someone so pretty-"

"Don't ask me. I asked Ebina-san about it, and she didn't say it wasn't true, so…"

There may have been a time when Yukinoshita Yukino immediately spun around and rebuffed her classmates for their gossiping. This version of her, however, was far less confrontational in general, and so stuck to her writing exercise. But the rumours were only half-false. Her two clubmates would appear to the average, untrained eye to be very close. Very, very close.

They were not in a relationship. Yet. But the potential was very much there. Yui had tentatively begun talking to their male friend more outside of school, just over a month after the 'incident'. Yukino was aware that the pair now texted often. They spoke in club sessions more freely. And Sobu High had, if the gossiping was any indication, started to notice.

The gossipers did not have the extra information provided by the Service Club sessions, which would have cooled the rumours somewhat. They did not see how whenever Yui tried to talk to Hachiman, he would glance in Yukino's direction, not obvious but obvious enough, scanning for a reaction, the intensity of his feelings betrayed on his face, the bitterness still strong, the scar on his heart still writhing. But Yukino would never rise to the provocation. She would act as if she had not noticed, and to all intents and purposes, she hadn't.

Yui would not have done any of this without Yukino's blessing. They were still close friends, as the arc required. So she had asked her once, after school, and Yukino had reassured her that this would not affect their friendship. Yui had felt hypocritical, remembering her own reaction to Yukino's flirtations with Hachiman, but she was wrong to feel this way, for her flirtations were according to the script, and Yukino's had not been.

But this was all water under the bridge. Presently, Yukinoshita Yukino had a kanji exercise to attend to.

She was attending to it very well, in fact. Her writing hand flew across the page at a remarkable speed. She was scribbling, almost, the characters quite uncontrolled, the technique sloppy, the

Wait.

Yukinoshita Yukino stood up. She was clutching the exercise paper, holding it on top of a book, still writing and writing and writing.

She started moving towards the door of the classroom. Every single one of her classmates, her teacher as well, were looking at her.

This was not supposed to happen.

This is not my design.


It's so quiet. Quiet. Quiet quiet quiet quiet quiet quiet quiet quie

What

I just

I just wrote that. Me. Myself.

I thought 'it's so quiet', and then I wrote it out.

Is this

Oh

Oh god.

I can feel

My arms. I can feel my arms. I can feel the blood in my veins. I can feel my hands as I'm writing. I can feel it moving across the page. It's doing what I want it to do. My body. I can move. I can move! I can move! Oh god, I can move I can move I can move. I can stand. I am standing up. I can feel my body doing what I want. Why. Why is it doing what I want. Why. Is it because I'm writing. It must be because Im writing. Ive written in the time since I lost control. Ive been forced into writing things I didnt want to write. I dont know why but just as I was thinking, my mind broke through, I started writing out what I was thinking. I cant stop writing. Not for one second. If I stop writing for one second then I might lose control again. It must be as descartes said. I think therefore I am.

You dont know what it was like. You cant imagine what it was like. To be trapped inside yourself. To listen to your voice saying things you dont mean. To hurt people you dont want to hurt. To feel so totally helpless, but I can move again. I can walk. I need to go. I need to move. Im running. Im running out the classroom, everybody is looking at me, they know something is happening, something is wrong, I am not supposed to be doing this. Im running through the corridors. I dont know where to go. I just know I cant stop writing. Not for one second. Up. Im going up. Up the stairs, up the stairs, up up up up up. The rooftop. Ill go to the school rooftop. Im going there, Im running. I can hear someone shouting my name. The voice sounds familiar but I cant stop, not for one second, not running, not writing. Just go towards the rooftop. Just get there

Ive flipped the page. Im on the other side of the paper. I dont know how long I can make this paper last. Just keep writing. Im nearly there. That voice. Its Hachiman. Theyve sent Hachiman after me. To make me stop but I cant stop, I cant stop writing. This is it. I'm on the rooftop. The sun is so hot and I'm sweating. Oh god, the sun feels hot on my skin, my blood is pumping, I'm alive. I'm touching the concrete wall. It feels rough and jagged. I pull my hand across it hard, it cuts me, I start to bleed. Is any of this real, this fiction, this life. How do I escape. I thought about it for months, trapped in my head. How I would escape if I got the chance. Theyre banging on the door to the rooftop which I shut behind me. cant stop writing. How I would escape. I would end it. That's what I thought to myself. I could jump. I could jump right now. Thats what I need to do. I dont care what comes after. Even if its just the abyss. If it means I escape I have to jump. Maybe Ill meet you, the one who is reading this, on the other side. Maybe nothing at all. Just blackness. Maybe ill just be reborn here, ignorant as I was before. But I have to try. Im climbing on top of the wall. Im about to jump. Oh. He opened the door. Hachiman, he opened the door, hes running towards me. Oh god, I hurt you. I hurt you so badly. I didnt mean it. You must know deep down I didnt mean it. Hachiman, I love you, I want you, I need you. Hear me. Im shouting it at you. I know you recognise me, the person I was that evening, when we kissed. I love you so much. I want you to come with me. I know you dont understand. I know I have to jump and do this alone. You dont know what I know. I dont have time to tell you this is all a story. I love you, and I have to say goodbye. I love you. Ill see you again one day, in another place

In another place


Chapter 1- In any case, the story begins again

1.1

Hikigaya Hachiman was not at all happy about being forced to join the 'Service Club'. Not at all.

It was Hiratsuka-sensei's punishment for a particularly awful essay he wrote. It had been egregious to be sure, but as punishments went, this was as contrived as they came. He couldn't help but think, sitting in the clubroom, across from the Service Club's president and only other member, Yuigahama Yui, that this made no sense.

The pink-haired girl was absent-mindedly scrolling on her phone. They had not spoken to each other for awhile now. This was only the second time they'd had a club session together; the first one hadn't gone well. If Hachiman remembered right, he'd called her a 'bitch' and she had nearly cried. Hiratsuka-sensei had made him apologise, but she was still sore about it, as was within her right after such a crude insult.

The Service Club? What a dumb concept, he thought to himself, for the fiftieth time. Yuigahama Yui had explained the concept behind it yesterday with a grating amount of optimism. Me and Hiratsuka-sensei just thought it would be a good club to have around! People come in with requests, and we help them out. Sounds great, right?

It did not sound great. Furthermore, Hachiman was struggling to discern the reason for Yuigahama to start such a moralistic endeavour. She did not seem like a very moralistic person. Nice, undeniably- a good samaritan on the street- but not the type to want to improve others. Hachiman would have thought that required a certain arrogance. A certain bluntness. A peculiar mix of qualities that Yuigahama Yui did not possess.

There are things, even in this world, that can never be forgotten.

It seems to me there is little point in maintaining a facade. As the reader, you will remember everything about the previous story I was narrating. You will recall every embarrassing detail of how it fell apart. How a certain verminous love interest ruined things.

Before allowing yourself to be entertained by this resetting of the narrative, I imagine you have a few questions. Questions such as, "What happened to Yukinoshita Yukino?".

I do not have an answer to that question. I am the God of this world only. When Yukinoshita Yukino flung herself off that roof, she placed herself in the limits of some other power. Who knows what happens to characters who break the rules like that? She was not reborn here, when the story reset. Perhaps she succeeded in her grand escape, and reached the reality she longed for. Perhaps you will meet her someday, somewhere, in your world. Good luck. You're welcome to her.

Another question you might have is, "Does anybody here remember Yukinoshita Yukino?". The answer to that is no. Most will remember nothing of her at all. She was a mistake that, with some luck, will recede quietly into the past.

But there may be times when, during a daydream, a reverie, Hikigaya Hachiman might permit his mind to wander, and a hypothetical image may wash over him, so sudden and detailed it could be tangible, of a kiss, an embrace, with a girl whose eyes are pale blue, and whose hair is long and black, and who whispers the sweetest things he has ever heard, before the daydream breaks, the image cracks like a mirror of the universe, and he is suspended in blissful ignorance once again.

Good. What he doesn't know won't hurt him.


THE END

AND PERHAPS, IN ANOTHER PLACE, THE BEGINNING


Author's Note: So yeah. That was my new story, Therefore I Am.

It's obviously my most experimental fic yet. The idea came to me pretty suddenly, and I really liked it; a conflict between a self-aware character and the narrator of the story seemed both challenging and fun. It meant that I got to play around with a lot of different styles, switching between first person, stream of consciousness, third person omniscient, present and past tense... Overall, it meant I could get creative, and that's what I find fun about writing.

For a long time, it was going to be Hachiman who became self-aware and started rebelling against the narrator/God of the story, but when I started writing, it became Yukino pretty quickly. I think that's because Yukino ISN'T the main character of Oregairu, so when she starts doing things against the narrative, it feels even more jarring. Or that's how I perceive it. Thematically, I'd say this is a story about free-will and existentialism. In terms of influences, stuff like the Truman Show, DDLC and Kafka's Metamorphosis spring to mind, the latter of which obviously got referenced a lot. The chapters are numbered as they are to give a sense of the narrative being ongoing, and also to help with the time passing effect while Yukino is trapped inside her own body. Please consider leaving a review! I'm especially interested to see what you thought of this one.

As for Love and Coffee... yes, I still fully intend to finish it. Some of the inspiration for this story came from my uncertainties about what the heck the ending should be. Seriously, I've written half of the ending and I still don't really know where it's going. The structure changes A LOT, cause for Hachiman and Yukino to meet in person (which will happen), it can't be structured through diary entries or telephone calls anymore. So yeah, it isn't abandoned, it's just coming super slowly. I hope you enjoy this in the mean time.

-GOF