Dance Of The Delicate

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BlackDuke
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Hanako Route, Part 1: The Perks Of Choosing A Wallflower

Post by BlackDuke » Fri Jun 30, 2017 9:55 am

As I walked down the hallway, I felt my resolution grow stronger with each step. I owed much to Shizune and Misha welcoming me, and being with Emi and Rin was fun, but the time I had spent with Lilly and Hanako had been something else. It sounded strange, but they had touched me in a way the others – or anyone before – had not.

I slowed down as I approached the classroom the girls used for their lunchtimes, hoping I would not find it empty. Then I remembered I had been at the men's room for about five minutes, which should have given both girls ample time to arrive before me. Hearing their voices through the slightly open door, I exhaled slowly and entered the room.

I found Hanako laying out some dishes on a table; she swerved around quickly on hearing me enter, but relaxed immediately as she recognizing me. Looking over to the small sink, I also saw Lilly, who had stopped pouring hot water into the porcelain teapot to find out the identity of the intruder.

Hisao
“It's just me, Lilly. I hope I didn't scare either of you, but I felt like spending my lunchtime with you today. Do you mind if I join you?”

Lilly
“Of course not, Hisao. The tea will need a few more minutes, I think; Hanako and I have just arrived here since we were both detained. Hanako needed to speak to a teacher and I had to sort out more complaints from my classmates about the school dance.”

Hisao
“Actually, that's what I wanted to talk about with you. After talking about the dance with you on Wednesday, I've been thinking, and I have a question to ask Hanako.”

I exhaled deeply and moved closer to the table, putting my lunchbox down and laying my hand on the back of an empty chair. Hanako's gaze followed me closely, but she looked down when I turned to face her directly.

Hisao
“I remember you saying that Mutou wanted you to attend the dance although you believe it won't be fun, right? Do you still feel the same way about it?”

Hanako
“Ehm... well, I saw how sad Naomi looked after she learned she couldn't participate... and maybe... it won't be so bad, but... there's still the requirement to pair up with somebody, and nobody's going to ask me...”

Hisao
“I don't think that's true. In fact, I'd be very happy if you'd agree to go to the dance with me, Hanako.”

Before I had a chance to see Hanako's reaction, there was a sudden clattering sound. As I looked over at Lilly, I saw that the spoon she had used to measure the tea had fallen to the ground and Lilly stood rooted to the spot with a dazed look. I turned back to Hanako and saw that she was staring at me with an incredulous expression on her face.

Hisao
“Uhm... girls? Is everything okay with you? Did I say or do something wrong?”

After a moment, Lilly snapped out of her stupor and bent down clumsily to retrieve the fallen spoon. Hanako gazed at her friend, but then her head darted up with a force that threw back the hair in front of her scarred face. As I found myself wondering if I had ever actually seen her right eye before, she started to speak hesitantly.

Hanako
“Do you really... mean that, Hisao? You... genuinely want to... go to the dance with me?”

Hisao
“Yes, I'd really like to take you to the dance... and since I'm not a particular good dancer, it would be great if you'd also accompany me to the Saturday prep classes the principal's staging. How about it?”

Hanako's face lit up happily as she heard my confirmation, then she realized that her hair was no longer covering her scars and flung it back into place with a shy smirk. I went over to Lilly and helped her clean up the spilled tea leaves; as I slowly brushed the loose leaves on a empty sheet, I heard her whisper to me.

Lilly
“Thank you so much, Hisao. I hoped you might decide to ask her, but since I knew you are also good friends with several other girls, I feared you might prefer one of them. Please be careful with Hanako – and try not to hurt her.”

Hisao
“Don't worry, I'll do my best to make this a good time for both of us. But aren't you sad that I didn't ask you, Lilly? You're still without a partner, aren't you?”

Lilly
“Yes, I am – but I will probably find someone sooner or later, and my social circle is much bigger than Hanako's. Anyway, you took a great load off my back, and I am very grateful for that. Now let us have some tea and eat lunch; I am starving.”


When Hanako and I returned to our classroom, one or two students looked up, but since my association with her and Lilly was common knowledge by now, seeing us together was no big deal. Hanako left my side after giving me a small smile, then she proceeded to her seat and I went to my chair – only to be stopped by a smiling Misha.

Misha
“Hi Hicchan! Say, have you thought about choosing a dance partner by now?”

Hisao
“Hmm... well yes, I have, but I don't want to spoil the surprise. Let me just say that you and Shizune don't need to wait for my invitation, okay? I'm sorry, but...”

Misha
“Oh, don't worry about it, Hicchan! Shicchan actually found out that there are more girls than boys permitted to attend the dance, so she asked the teacher to let us to go with each other, and he agreed. Isn't that great?”

Hisao
“Yes, I'm genuinely happy for you two, Misha. So I don't have to feel bad about not asking either of you?”

Misha vividly shook her head, but our conversation was cut short by the entrance of our literature teacher. As everyone stopped talking and took out their notebooks, I turned once again and caught Hanako looking at me with a subdued smile on her face.


Saturday morning came around much too early for me. I had lain awake for over two hours during the night, pondering the prospect of stepping on a dance floor with Hanako on my arm – or hidden behind me, which was more likely. Several of my classmates also seemed tired, and Mutou had to raise his voice as he went through the daily roll call.

Mutou
“Good morning, students. Since today's the first preparatory class for the school dance, you were all asked to find a dance partner until today. I'll hand out some cards now and you'll please write in your name, your class and the name of your partner. If you haven't found a partner yet, please write in 'No Partner'. Any questions... yes, Kapur?”

Molly
“What is going to happen to those who don't find a partner until the dance?”

Mutou
“The principal will inform all of you later today at the beginning of the preparatory class, which will take place in the auditorium at two o'clock. Now please fill out the cards.”

The stack of cards was passed through the rows; as it got to me, I took one and passed the rest along. Then I quickly wrote down 'Hanako Ikezawa, 3-3' in the lower half of the card, covered it with my notebook and added my own name and class at the top. Misha peeked at my card with a curious gaze, but I smiled at her and shook my head.


After our usual morning lessons, I went to the cafeteria with most of my classmates; just like after the assembly, the huge room was overflowing with chattering students. Seeing two familiar faces in one of the lunch queues, I approached and addressed them.

Hisao
“Hello, Emi, hello Rin. Everything's ready for the dance practice?”

Rin
“The dance? Oh yes, it's today, isn't it? I almost forgot until yesterday when the blind boy asked me...”

Hisao
“So both of you did find partners? I wanted to check back with you on Friday to tell you I had already asked somebody else, but I couldn't find you...”

Emi
“Well, even though a certain someone jilted both of us, a lot of other boys were braver than you; I'll go with the track club captain and Rin was asked by a fellow member from the art club. So who is going to be your partner, Hisao?”

Hisao
“Well, it's supposed to be a surprise, but you'll find out soon...”


After eating a rather bland meal of soup and noodles, I went to the auditorium along with the other students. Instead of the orderly rows of chairs from the assembly, we faced a large space with a smaller, roped-off area at the far side of the room. The wall speakers played instrumental music, and I saw the principal standing next to a small podium.

I searched the room for Hanako and finally found her standing next to Lilly, both talking quietly with each other. Since Shizune and Misha had come in directly after me, I decided not to join Hanako yet and leaned against the wall, waiting for the class to begin.

Some minutes later, the music from the speakers faded out, which made the general buzz from the students also quiet down considerably. Then the principal ascended the podium and, after making sure everyone else was quiet, started to speak into her microphone.

Principal
“I believe we can begin now. Welcome to the first preparatory class for our school dance and a good day to all of you. As your teachers have told me, most of you found a partner for the dance; those who have not done that yet will please go to the small gym with Mr. Nomiya now. Once there, he will tell you what will happen next.”

The auditorium became busy once again when about two dozen students started walking towards the exit, where a slightly pot-bellied teacher awaited them. As I watched the sad display, I was surprised to see Lilly leaving the room also, with Hanako looking sadly after her departing friend. The principal cleared her throat to regain our attention.

Principal
“Okay, there should only be students with partners left. Now for those who are not with their partner yet, please unite with them now; the girls stay where they are and the boys go to find their partner. When you are ready, we can begin the practice.”

As the boys around me started to look for their partners, I craned my head to check if Hanako had moved from her place. When I found her exactly where she had been before, I moved through the crowd and held out my hand as I reached her. She seemed uncertain for a moment, but then she took it and followed me to the dance floor.


Once everyone had found their dance partner and the couples including sensory-impaired students had moved to the smaller area, two teachers ascended the podium, facing each other. Then the male teacher took the microphone and told us that they would display a dance movement which we were to imitate then, starting with easy motions.

As Hanako and I positioned ourselves on the dance floor, I noticed the couple next to me – Emi and Haruhiko Suzimiya, who captained the track and field team – staring at us. A sudden twitch of Hanako's hand in mine told me she had also detected it. I reached for her hand and patted it slowly to soothe her, which made Emi chuckle.

Emi
“Well, I must say you weren't lying about the surprise, Hisao. But at least I can say now that Rin and I were rejected for a good cause. Congratulations, you two!”

Emi's rejoicing tone made Hanako look down, and I felt her moving slightly behind me to avoid the other girl's eyes. If I wanted this to be a fun time for her, I needed to counter Emi's unflattering assessment – for Hanako's sake as well as for my own.

Hisao
“Thanks for the compliment, Emi. As I recall, you had a problem with turning movements earlier this week, right? So you better turn off that attitude and turn to the display up there, or you'll turn up with screwed legs on Monday, alright?”

Hearing my serious reply, Emi smirked apologetically and turned back to Haruhiko who, as a member of our class, knew about Hanako's timid character. As he left with Emi, he gave me a respectful nod at my choice, to which I responded with an grateful smile.


As the two teachers demonstrated the basic dance movements one by one, we tried to copy their actions, with me slowly leading Hanako by our connected hands. In spite of my earlier fears, she did not seem to mind our physical contact much, but I was conscious of the scarred tissue of Hanako's right hand beneath my fingers.

The practice progressed slowly, but Hanako's behaviour remained mercurial and she still seemed to suffer from Emi's flippant remark. Whenever she thought someone else was looking, her face became uncertain and her movements awkward. This forced me to keep watching her actions closely, since she was liable to lose focus anytime.


After about an hour, I decided to try to boost Hanako's confidence by showing her that most other students were also struggling with the unfamiliar task. I used a pause in the demonstration to lightly pull her to the side; when she looked at me doubtfully, I laid my hand on her arm and motioned to the students practising at the separate area.

Hisao
“Let's take a break for a while and watch how the others are. Are you thirsty, Hanako?”

Hanako
“Not exactly... but won't we miss what the teachers are showing us? Or... don't you want to continue dancing with me? I know I'm... not good at it, but...”

Hisao
“No, that's not the reason at all; in fact you're doing rather well for the first time. I just felt that watching the others might help us. Let's see how Lilly's doing, shall we?”

We walked over to the edge of the smaller floor, where Ms. Miyagi from Lilly's class was teaching those couples which included blind or deaf persons. I immediately saw Lilly, who danced with a plain second-year boy and pointed her out to Hanako. As we looked closer, we saw that most couples moved only slowly and haltingly – just as I had hoped.

Hisao
“See, they have the same problems we did. After all, this is a school for special students, so there are almost no trained dancers among us. We all must learn how to do this, and there's no shame if we're struggling. Look, even Lilly and her partner are tripping around awkwardly, and you know how gracefully she moves normally.”

Hanako
“Well... she's moving around in an unfamiliar place, and there are other people doing the same in her direct vicinity. Maybe the music is also interfering with her hearing, and her partner's not very sure on his feet, either... but I get your point, Hisao.”

As I smiled at her, I silently admitted my comparison was rather unfair – those were the blind and deaf students, after all, and Lilly's partner was visibly struggling with the task of moving in harmony with her. His only asset was that he was at least taller than her; a shorter boy might have looked pathetic next to Lilly's own considerable height.

Luckily, Hanako did not question my dubious choice of reference persons; she just looked at Lilly and her partner for a while in silence. I offered to get us drinks from a table near the entrance, but she preferred to accompany me. So we got two full cups of soda and, after finishing them, went back to our old place on the floor.


When the dance practice was finally over, I breathed a sigh of relief. Hanako had improved slightly after my improvised motivation attempt, but there had still been times when she had suddenly stopped moving for fear of being watched by somebody. When the principal dismissed us, she left immediately without even waiting for Lilly.

Knowing Lilly would be deeply troubled by this, I lagged around until I saw her coming out of the auditorium; I flinched as I spotted the weary look on her face. I pondered leaving her alone for tonight, but then I collected my resolve and called out to her.

Lilly
“Hisao? I am surprised you're still here. Is Hanako with you?”

Hisao
“No, she's not – and that's why I'm still here. Do you have to be somewhere else now, or can I talk to you for a minute?”

Lilly
“For you, I have as much time as you need, Hisao – especially if it is about Hanako. What has happened?”


As we walked across the grounds, I told her about how Hanako and I had experienced the day: Emi's quip, Hanako's insecurities and my crude attempt to lift her spirits by watching other couples. Lilly grimaced slightly as I confessed that we had watched her dance with her partner from the sidelines, but when I finished talking, her expression was sad.

Lilly
“Oh my. I better check on her before I go back to my own room. But you said that, most of the time, Hanako seemed to be doing okay, right? That is actually better than I feared, to be honest. Maybe this dance idea does have its advantages...”

Hisao
“Well, it's hard to say for sure. She followed the directions just like I did, and she seemed to be comfortable with the necessary physical contact too, but beneath the brittle layer of confidence, she was a bundle of raw nerves. I wonder how she might handle the next Saturdays, let alone the actual dance.”

Lilly
“I see what you mean. There must be a way to boost her self-confidence somehow... ah, I know! Tell me, do you have any plans for tomorrow afternoon, Hisao?

Hisao
“No, nothing except some schoolwork I can also do in the morning or the evening...”

Lilly
“Then how about I invite Hanako and you to the Shanghai for tea tomorrow? It is a cosy place she knows well, and she cannot close herself up in her room like she usually does. And if you are there too, it will disperse her fears you might have been frustrated with her performance today.”

Hisao
“Great idea! So you'll bring Hanako and I'll meet you outside the main entrance at... let's see, three o'clock? That should be sufficient to walk down the hill in a leisurely pace and still get a table at the Shanghai, right?”

Lilly agreed to my suggestion, and after a few more minutes of talking about the Sunday trip, we parted ways. I slowly walked back to the dorm and tried to get a head start on my schoolwork, but my thoughts kept straying from the task and hand, returning again and again to the quiet girl with the haunted face behind the long black veil of hair.


Waking up early again, I used the Sunday morning to finally get my schoolwork out of the way and ate a light lunch in my room afterwards. At ten to three, I grabbed my jacket and left to meet the girls. On the way, I noticed my reclusive neighbour dragging a large box through the hallway, but he seemed to busy to notice me.

Once I arrived at the main entrance, I leaned against the cool wall next to the gates and closed my eyes, enjoying the warmth of the sun. After about a minute, my daydream was interrupted by the unmistakable sound of Lilly's cane on the flagstones. As I opened my eyes again, I saw her and Hanako approaching me, both wearing their uniforms.

Hisao
“Hello Hanako, Lilly. How are you today?”

Lilly
“Fine, thank you – although I can still feel the after-effects of the dancing. But that is not surprising; I think most of the students might have to cope with tired muscles after yesterday's strain. Were you okay with it, Hisao?”

Hisao
“I felt a bit sore this morning, but I'm better now. Luckily, my partner was easy to dance with and didn't tire me out too much... oh, and I hope I returned that favour.”

Hanako's face flushed slightly at my words, but she quickly nodded to answer my implicit question and then grasped Lilly's hand to help her with the upcoming walk. Lilly smiled as she felt Hanako's hand on hers and started walking, with me joining her other side.


The walk towards the small town was mostly quiet; with Lilly walking between Hanako and me, I had no chance to observe Hanako's face or address the dance again. Only after we had reached the Shanghai and settled in our favourite booth, the conversation continued thanks to Yuuko, who took our orders and then inquired about the dance practice.

Yuuko
“It must've been quite the spectacle, seeing all the students dancing with each other and having a great time... oh my God, I'm sorry, Lilly! But I hope you three really did have fun last night, right? Or didn't you...”

Lilly
“It is okay, Yuuko, do not fret about it. For me, it was rather nice, and while my partner was a bit shy, I am sure he will get over it until the real dance. As for Hisao and Hanako, they did actually dance with each other...”

Yuuko
“Really?! That's great, guys! Let me just fetch your drinks and then you can tell me about it in detail! Oops, I should've thought about my duties earlier, shouldn't I? I'll be back in a moment, so don't run away!”

Yuuko hastened back behind the counter in a flurry to prepare our drinks, and I looked at my companions. Lilly's head was still turned in Yuuko's direction, while Hanako's face was hard to read; she seemed to be in thought, but her pose also betrayed slight frustration about her friend's easy admission of our partnership. I decided to help her out.

Hisao
“May I be candid with you, Lilly? I like Yuuko, but I don't think hitting her with the news about us being dance partners was the right idea to allay her jumpiness.”

Lilly looked confused, but then she understood the message behind my light scolding and turned to Hanako with a remorseful expression on her face.

Lilly
“I am really sorry, Hanako. I had no idea you two want to keep this a secret from Yuuko, so I just answered her question. I did not want to put you in the spotlight.”

Hisao
“It's alright, Lilly; there's nothing to be ashamed of, after all. I had a lot of fun yesterday, and while none of us was perfect, we still have two more afternoons to improve before the dance. I do look forward to our next prep class, and I'm sure it'll be fun.”

Lilly's brow creased almost imperceptibly, and I began wondering if I had overdone it by sounding too enthusiastic, but Hanako gave me a tiny smile and finally spoke.

Hanako
“I... also had fun yesterday, Hisao. I know I'm not a great dancer or a very social person, but doing this with you was... really nice. So if you're... looking forward to next Saturday, I think I am too. And judging by how he looked at her, Lilly's partner probably anticipates the... chance to dance with her again... don't you think?”

I burst out laughing at seeing Lilly's awkward expression; it was probably the first time I had seen Hanako crack a joke at her best friend's expense. After a moment, Lilly started chuckling too, which elicited the same reaction from Hanako. When Yuuko returned with our orders some minutes later, we were still wiping our eyes in merriment.


On our way back up the hill, I felt relieved at the apparent success of Lilly's plan. Hanako had kept up her good mood throughout our stay at the Shanghai, even braving Yuuko's interrogation about us dancing together, and was now supporting Lilly some steps ahead of me. Nevertheless, her self-confidence seemed still brittle and delicate.

When we reached the school gates, the sun was already at the edge of the eastern sky, and the jagged shadows of the trees on the road looked like the scars on Hanako's hand and face. We proceeded across the grounds and said goodbye in front of the girl's dorm: as the girls walked off, Lilly turned once and gave me a quick smile.

Watching the departing girls, I once again wondered about their close bond, on which I had intruded only weeks ago. Lilly had done a great job to aid Hanako with the torments of her past all the time, but there were obviously ways that Lilly could not tread. Was I capable, and willing, to go down these ways for Hanako... and with her?
Last edited by BlackDuke on Sat May 23, 2020 10:43 am, edited 2 times in total.

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BlackDuke
Posts: 36
Joined: Sat Apr 16, 2016 10:41 am

Hanako Route, Part 2: The Ballroom Bully

Post by BlackDuke » Fri Jun 30, 2017 10:06 am

I had originally been told to check in with the head nurse on Monday morning for another check-up, but on Friday, he had sent me a note to come by later in the week unless I had some actual complaints. Since I felt remarkably good after the successful tea-time with the girls, I had some breakfast in my room and then left for class.

I found the halls abuzz with gossip about how some students had behaved at the dance, but none of it involved Hanako and me. Hanako was her usual quiet self during classes, but she did not appear overly nervous or worried, which I took as a good sign.

I decided to leave Hanako and Lilly alone during lunch break, knowing that my presence would stir up the topic of the dance again, and just ate my pre-packed meal on a bench outside. Knowing that Emi would expect me at the track early tomorrow, I went to bed early after doing some of my homework assignments and packing my school bag.


As I arrived at the track at Tuesday morning, Emi was just finishing her warm-up lap and called out happily when she saw me. I waved back to her as I bent down and re-tied my shoes, then I started jogging also. Once again, the stillness of the almost-empty track and the regular beat of my feet felt good and cleared my still-tired mind.

After four laps, I stopped jogging and continued in a slow trot to cool off. Emi joined me when I was halfway around the track, and we walked on for the rest of the lap before I completely stopped moving and turned to address her.

Hisao
“Listen, Emi... I still wanted to talk with you about the practice on Saturday. I'm sorry if I sounded a bit harsh, but...

Emi
“It's okay, Hisao – I know my comment to Hanako was out of line with. I do know she's a fragile person, and Haru already gave me hell right afterwards. My teasing got the better of me, but your comeback was actually rather witty, if I may say so...”

Hisao
“Oh, thank you. Then everything's settled about that – and you know I'd never really hit a girl, right?”

Emi
“Well, you'd have to catch me before you can kick me, and you'd never do so unless you'd hide my prosthetics first.”

She gave me a cocky smile, which I returned before looking at my watch. When I saw how late it was, I waved goodbye to Emi and went back to the dorm. Getting a light breakfast and a quick shower there, I grabbed my bag and went off to class.


The morning flew by fast; I spent my lunchtime with Misha and Shizune, eating my lunch box while they shared some treats from the depths of Shizune's desk. Apparently, both girls had enjoyed the first dance class, although Misha admitted they had received some strange looks from some students for dancing with each other.

When we returned to the classroom, Hanako was standing next to my desk, gazing out of the window. I motioned to Misha and Shizune to hang back and approached her slowly; on hearing my footsteps, Hanako turned around and gave me a tiny smile.

Hanako
“Hello Hisao. I wanted to ask if you'd... like to join me for lunch again tomorrow. Lilly will be busy doing some things for her class... and I still owe you a chess rematch from last week... So do you have... anything planned, or are you free?”

Hisao
“I don't have anything, and I'll gladly accept your invitation. Do you already have food, or shall I bring some for us? I could make enough for two people and treat you if you want – but only if you think you can digest my cooking, of course...”

Hanako
“Hmm, I've never sampled your food yet, but... it's probably delicious... if it's okay, I'd like to find out tomorrow. But in exchange, you'll... let me make the tea, okay?”

I chuckled as I nodded, being rewarded with another smile from her. As she walked back to her own desk, I caught the eyes of the two girls still standing some feet behind me; Shizune gave me an amused gaze and Misha grinned broadly.


That night, I thought about what kind of dish I ought to make for tomorrow's lunchtime with Hanako. I could feed myself with what I had learned over the years, but cooking for another person was something else entirely – even if it was Hanako, who was much too shy and polite to rebuke me even if she did not like what I made.

After much contemplation and a thorough check of my food supplies, I finally decided to make a light Chinese curry dish with rice. I could not see Hanako as a fan of spicy food, but I would bring the spices separately in case my estimate was wrong. I also had some grapes I could present as a dessert and as a surprise for Hanako.

Lying in bed later, I wondered whether I had put too much thought into the whole idea. Of course, Hanako would be happy with whatever I made, and it was just a school lunch with a friend anyway. Still, it was my first time to cook for a girl – a girl I liked to spend time with, whom I had danced with, and who trusted me...


Thanks to my preparations, I managed to prepare the curry dish and the rice without any problems on Wednesday morning. I had set my alarm to the time I normally got up to run with Emi, which had seemed prudent. But after packing up everything, I was surprised to see I still had ample time before classes began.

While I was still musing about whether to go to class early or pass by the unused room to deposit the food there, I heard a loud knocking at my door. Opening it slowly, I found the strange student from across the hallway directly in front of the door. Squinting up at me through his thick glasses, he started speaking with a raspy voice.

Kenji
“Hi, man. I'm in a pickle right now, and I need a favour from a brother, so can you help me out? Seeing you're the only other guy in this hall, you just have to do it! I saw you before with those two stumpies, but didn't want to cramp your style then. Oh, the name's Kenji Setou, by the way. So how about it?”

Hisao
“Uhmm... I'm Hisao Nakai, nice to meet you, Kenji. So what exactly is the favour you need from me? I'm on the way to class right now, but if I can help you...”

Kenji
“Great! You see, I need to post this letter, but I can't entrust it to the staff around here; they might just let it 'disappear' like they do so often. I heard you sometimes go down to the town, so you could deliver it safely to the post office on your next trip.”

He reached into his closed jacket and extracted a thick letter with some difficulty, which he could have avoided by not buttoning up the jacket before walking the few feet to my room. The letter also looked as if he had made the envelope himself from used cardboard and a large amount of adhesive tape, so I hesitated to accept it.

Hisao
“I know I'm only a new arrival here, but I don't see why you can't let the staff take care of your letter. You could also leave it at the student council – or I can give it to them if you want; the president and her... colleague are both classmates of mine...”

Before I could reflect about Misha's correct title as a council member, Kenji's eyes grew big and he quickly withdrew his letter. Stowing it back into his jacket, he scanned both ends of the hallway for something and, after making sure we were indeed alone, he bent forward and whispered to me in a hushed voice.

Kenji
“Don't make fun of me like that, man! Even if you've only been here for a few weeks, you should know you got to steer clear of these scheming megalomaniacs. Anyway, you know you should never depend on a female for anything, dude. That's why I appreciated seeing you cook for yourself; these days, a man's got to be self-sufficient to survive.”

Hisao
“Listen, Kenji... I need to go to class now, and since I don't know when I'll go to the town next, maybe it's better if you take care of delivering the letter yourself. And you'll have to go to class also, right? Oh, if you're in Class 3-2, please say hello to Lilly Satou from me, will you? I'd really appreciate it.”

Kenji
“Whoa, that's cold! You can't just refuse because of a puny reason like going to class; I rarely go there myself and feel much better for it. And even if I did go to class, I wouldn't associate with that foreign tart Satou... hey!”

Kenji stopped rambling as I clamped my hand on his left arm. I could almost cope with his weirdness and maybe laugh at his paranoia, but he had managed to insult five friends of mine in only three minutes, and I needed to get away from him before my mood could sink even further. Tightening my grip on his thin biceps, I spoke sternly.

Hisao
“Suit yourself, Kenji. But I need to go to class now, and if you don't, you've got the time to go to town yourself and deliver that letter, right? Oh, and another thing: if you want a favour from me, insulting my friends is the wrong way to go. Don't do it again. Ever.”

Ignoring Kenji's disgruntled face, I went back into my room to fetch my bag and the food from the table. As I returned to the door, Kenji had vanished into his own room again and I could only hear the clicking of numerous locks behind the dark door. I sighed and locked my own door, deciding to actively avoid Kenji from now on as I walked off.


After leaving the food in a small cupboard in the unused classroom, I proceeded to class, where I was one of the first arrivals. I spent the remaining time reading a library book I needed to give back soon, trying to block out the memory of talking with Kenji, but my mind kept coming back to the strange encounter with him.

The morning lessons crawled by especially slow, which taxed my mood even further and made me respond curtly to Misha's antics during our group work in Economics. Shizune gave me a stern gaze, but since I did not explain myself, she let the matter drop. When the lunch bell finally rang, I grabbed my bag and almost shot out of the room.

At the empty classroom, I quickly prepared the chess board and set the table for lunch; as Hanako entered some minutes later, I was already busy distributing the contents of my plastic containers on two plates. Hanako started making tea, and soon we sat in front of steaming teacups and our full plates, eating with gusto while playing chess.

Hanako
“Mmm... that's great. I didn't know you could cook so well, Hisao. If I tell Lilly about this, she'll... probably ask you to cook it again so she can get some too... and maybe you can show me how to make this... if it's not too much work, of course...”

Hisao
“It's a rather simple meal, but if you really want to know the recipe, I'll be happy to tell you. And I'm really glad you like it, Hanako... pawn to d3, by the way.”

Hanako
“Let's see... my rook could take your pawn, but then you could take it with your knight, so... bishop to f5. Uhm... can I ask you something, Hisao? I... I don't mean to pry, but... you looked rather grim and downcast this morning... Are you better now?”

Hisao
“Grim and downcast... oh yeah, sure. It's okay, Hanako, I just had a run-in with some guy at the dorm this morning which tore at my nerves, and it took me a while to stomach it. Do you want some more of the curry or shall I take care of the rest?”

Hanako
“Hmm, just a little more, if it's okay... after all, I need some strength for the practice on Saturday. Maybe... we can eat our lunch here again with Lilly before it starts...”

As I scraped the rest of the food on our plates and we dug in again, I felt very pleased with myself. If Hanako was addressing the practice on her own, it surely meant she felt better about the idea of dancing with me in front of others. Now all I needed was a way to preserve her good mood through the next practice, and things would be fine.


The remaining two days before the second practice session felt rather unremarkable. The corridors were buzzing with rumours about the dance, and I saw Shizune lecturing several first-graders through Misha. Later, Misha told me that the students had been organizing bets on which dance pairings would end up as true couples...

On Thursday, I had another good morning run with Emi, who did not mention the topic of the dance – at least not until the end. After congratulating me on going at a faster pace than Tuesday, she added that Hanako could really consider herself lucky. Before I could react, she raced off chuckling, while I dragged my sweaty body back to the dorm.

After taking a quick shower, I went to the infirmary for the check-up I had postponed on Monday. Luckily, the head nurse's examination of me turned out to be much shorter than our initial session, and since I had followed his command to exercise, I was sent off after only fifteen minutes with a reminder to keep taking my meds regularly.

Lilly came by our class during a break to talk to Hanako and to ask me if I wanted to join their usual shopping tour to the village on Friday. Since I intended to get my homework out of the way earlier than usual, I declined her question as well as her friendly offer to take care of my shopping along with their own.

Except for a surprise test in history – not one of my strongest subjects to begin with – Friday's lessons went by quickly. When Mutou told us to work in groups, Hanako came over on her own accord to join me and the council girls; they seemed surprised to see her, but soon we settled into a quiet and productive discussion about the topic.


After a dull Saturday morning, during which everyone around – students, teachers and even the cafeteria staff – seemed to be focused on conserving all their energy for the upcoming dance practice, the carillon outside finally liberated us from our boredom. On my way out, I flashed a smile towards Hanako, to which she responded in kind.

We reunited one hour later in the auditorium, which had been left or re-organized in its dancing design. With no need to restate last week's long-winded preliminaries, we soon started the actual dancing, which began with a repetition of stuff we had covered during the later part of the first practice and allowed us to get into it easily.

As the time progressed, I was delighted to see that Hanako's attitude towards dancing with me in public had visibly improved; she seemed less concerned about being watched and concentrated on following my lead. This raised my own confidence in turn and – as I noticed while glancing at those around us – ranked us among the better dancers.

Hanako
“We're not doing that bad... do we, Hisao? I'm still not sure about everything I do, but... it feels much better than last time. Are you okay or... do you want to have a break?”

Hisao
“Personally, I think we're doing great today, and I'm proud of you, Hanako – but now that you mention it, I could use a break to go to the bathroom. How about you go over to the refreshment tables and I'll join you there in a minute, okay?”

Hanako
“Yes, that sounds good... we could also go over to the other area and have a look at how Lilly's doing... and maybe she'll also want to have a drink. I'll see you there.”


Returning from the bathroom, I saw Hanako standing with the back to me at one of the refreshment tables. As I moved towards her, I saw she was pouring two cups of soda for us, slightly bumping into another student while putting back the now-empty bottle.

Hanako
“Oh sorry, I didn't see you standing there! Do you... want me to pour a cup for you also, while... I'm at it? It's no problem, really...”

Listening to Hanako's quick save, I smiled like a proud father – but then I recognized the person Hanako had bumped into, and my face fell at the sight of Kenji Setou's features. Rooted to the spot in shock, I followed their conversation.

Kenji
“No way, I prefer to pour my own cup... and I only drink from sealed bottles anyway, for personal reasons. Who are you, by the way? You don't seem familiar to me.”

Hanako
“Oops, you're right... I'm... Hanako Ikezawa from Class 3-3... you know, Mutou's class?”

Kenji
“Oh, that nerdy teacher... wait a moment, Ikezawa? You're that scarred recluse our class rep Satou's always worrying about, right? From all the stories, I always thought you were some freshman girl she'd taken pity on... I didn't think you'd come here alone.”

Hanako looked at Kenji with her eyes large and hands trembling, petrified by his offensive words for a moment. Then one of the cups she was holding spilled some of its contents due to her shaking hands; the feeling of the cold liquid on her skin seemed to draw her mind back to the present situation.

Hanako
“Well, Lilly Satou's a very good friend of mine... and I know she keeps worrying about me, but... And I'm not here alone, you see... my partner's just gone out for a moment, but he should come back any second... I hope... Maybe you know him, his name's Hisao Nakai...”

Kenji
“Yeah, the guy lives in my dorm corridor. We talked this week, but he's a strange one. I thought he had style when I saw him going off to a picnic with that cute track-star girl. Might've known he's one of those bleeding hearts doing stupid things like asking out a blemished wallflower instead... maybe he thought he could score with you easier...”

If Hanako had appeared thunderstruck before, her face was now far beyond any way to describe it except 'annihilated'. The cups in her hands dropped to the floor, followed by the rest of her shaking physique. As the people close to Hanako noticed her collapse, my stupor finally broke and I rushed forward to the table while Kenji slunk away.


Reaching Hanako a second later, I frantically searched my pockets for a handkerchief but found none as I bent down to her clumsily. Hanako was sprawled down on the floor like a marionette whose strings had been cut; only her eyes were gazing around frenziedly. I laid a hand on her shoulder, trying to find the right words to soothe her.

Hisao
“Hanako, I'm here... do you hear me, Hanako? It's alright, Kenji's just a mean idiot... shall I go and get Lilly, Hanako? Hanako, are you...”

My weak attempt at consolation was cut off abruptly, as Hanako – who was whimpering quietly by now – fixed her eyes on my face and stared at me aghast. Before I or anyone else could react, she suddenly jumped up and rushed towards the exit, pushing past the people in her way in her mad struggle to leave the scene.

As my eyes followed my fleeing partner, my mind was in a whirl. A part of me cried out to race after Hanako and catch her before she might hurt herself, but another, calmer part preferred to locate Lilly and the nurses, who might be more capable to help Hanako than I was. Yet another voice deep within me wanted to find Kenji and tear him apart.


It only took me a second to decide: I had brought Hanako into this situation, and I had to find her now. Lilly and the professionals might be helpful later, but now I needed to take care of her myself. As I started running towards the exit, many people looked at me, but I paid them no heed as I raced out, frantically looking around for Hanako.

Due to the prep class, there were only few people in the hall, but fortunately, I saw Akio Hayashi from my class, who had not been allowed to participate in the dance by the head nurse. Akio stared at me as I rushed towards him, but as I called out Hanako's name, he nodded and pointed towards the stairs to the upper levels.

While I ran up the stairs, taking three steps at each leap, I went through Hanako's most likely destinations. Our classroom was probably locked, so my best bet were the unused second floor classroom we used for our lunches or the library. That was, unless Hanako was heading for the roof... I accelerated my pace in horror.


Luckily, my worst fears turned out to be wrong; as I entered the second floor hallway and rushed for the last door, I heard a quiet whimpering from the room behind it. Entering it quickly, I found Hanako cowering in the far corner, sobbing audibly into the sleeves of her uniform blouse. I cautiously approached her, trying to avoid sudden noises.

When I had reached a point two meters away from her, she noticed my presence for the first time and slowly raised her head. The expression in her misty eyes was empty, but to me it felt worse than any shock or fear I had ever seen on her before. As I willed myself to look straight into her tear-streaked face, she recognized me – and cried out.

Hanako
“Go.. away and... and leave me alone... please! I... I don't want to... to speak to you... or to anyone else now, so... so go away, Hisao! Just... leave!”

Hisao
“Are you really sure about it, Hanako? I'm so sorry about this, and Kenji was wrong about everything... You're my friend, Hanako, you know that... and I don't want to leave you here alone in the dark, abandoned building...”

While I kept trying to soothe her in a calm voice that belied my inner turmoil, I was slowly retreating towards the entrance to give her more space – and also to block the only exit in case she might try to dash away again. But whatever desperate energy had fuelled her muscles before, it had gone, leaving back the bare shell of Hanako Ikezawa.

As the seconds ticked by on the wall clock above me, I finally realized that nothing I said or did could reach the wailing girl before me right now. The only thing I could do for her now was to get professional help quickly; Hanako did not look like she would move on her own accord anytime soon. Admitting defeat, I sighed and addressed her again.

Hisao
“I'm going to go find Lilly and the nurses for you, Hanako. Just stay here and don't leave before they come, okay?”

Hanako failed to show any reaction to my feeble words, so I turned away with a lurching feeling in my gut and left the room. After closing the door to give Hanako more privacy, I breathed in deeply before I ran off towards the main hall and the auditorium.


As I arrived at the lobby, the practice was still in full swing; luckily, I saw Mutou standing near the entrance with Miki Miura. He immediately broke off his small-talk with her as he saw me approaching and waved me over; by the look on his face, he had already noticed the absence of two of his students.

Mutou
“There you are, Nakai! Where have you been – and where's Ikezawa? Miura just told me she ran off suddenly and you chased after her... so what happened?”

Hisao
“I'm sorry for the disruption, sir. There was an altercation with another student and she ran off, and while I found her hiding in a classroom, she's beyond whatever help I can give her. I believe we should find her best friend and someone from the nursing staff; maybe they can do better in this situation. Can you help me?”

Mutou
“Of course, Nakai! Let me see... Ikezawa's best friend – that's the tall blonde girl Satou who often comes to our classroom for her, right? I've seen her at the refreshment table a few minutes ago, so hopefully she's still there. How about I'll fetch the head nurse and you go find Satou, okay?”

I nodded and continued into the auditorium, glad that Mutou had caught on so quickly for once – and that he had refrained from offering to go see to Hanako himself. Looking out for Lilly's characteristic blonde hair, I soon found her on a bench near to the refreshment area, having a drink with her partner. As I called out, she lifted her head.

Lilly
“Hisao? What are you doing here... is something wrong with Hanako? I thought I heard a commotion near the entrance before, but nobody said anything and...”

Hisao
“Yes, there is something wrong with Hanako... and I'm afraid it's rather serious. She's not hurt physically, but she's so rattled I couldn't get through to her at all, so I promised her to get you. It's best if you could come with me right now; I'll fill you in about the details on our way.”

Lilly
“Of course I am coming with you, Hisao! I'm sorry, Shiraki; it's been a nice evening and I'm looking forward to next Saturday, but right now I need to leave immediately. Do you think we should tell the teachers about this, Hisao?”

Hisao
“I already took care of that, Lilly. I ran into Mutou outside, and he's just getting the head nurse to come with us... ah, there he is! Let's go; goodnight Shiraki.”

The lanky second-year boy who had been assigned as Lilly's partner looked at me with a dubious face, but his wounded pride at having her snatched away would have to wait until Hanako's plight was resolved. I took hold of Lilly's arm, slowly guiding her off the dance floor and towards the head nurse, who stood at the exit with Mutou.


Once outside, Lilly stopped for a moment to inhale the fresh air and to clear her mind for the upcoming problem. Sighing audibly, she finally took hold of my arm again, clutching it tighter than before in anticipation of the bad news she was about to hear from me. The head nurse followed behind us, also craning his head to listen to me.

Lilly
“Now we are out of there, please tell me everything, Hisao. What happened to Hanako, and why did she run off exactly? I understand you already told your teacher about it?”

Hisao
“Well, I didn't tell Mutou why it happened, only that something happened – and you'll find out why only too soon. You know Kenji Setou, who's my neighbour in the dormitory and also a classmate of yours, right?”

Lilly
“Yes, he is... and while I care for all my classmates and try to treat them equally, Kenji is... one of the harder cases, to tell you the truth. Why do you ask?”

Hisao
“He and Hanako stumbled into each other during our break, and he... uttered some very offensive presumptions that shook Hanako to the core. She ran off to the second-floor room we use for lunch, and I followed her. Unfortunately, some of Kenji's awful jibes were about my attitude towards her, so she reacted badly to my presence.”

Lilly
“Oh my! I know Kenji is a mean piece of work, especially when he is into one of his rants, but I am still horrified he would put down someone else through nasty words – not even Hanako, who is more skittish than most other people. What did he say exactly?”

Hisao
“Well, he managed to hit her weakest points, like your motivation to care for her and her dependency on you. He also assumed I asked her to be my dance partner because of... well, degraded motives. Furthermore, he called her a 'scarred recluse'... and a 'blemished wallflower'...”

I broke off as Lilly's hand clenched my arm like a vice; her normally friendly face twisted into a pained grimace. The head nurse coughed quietly behind us, which made Lilly aware of her actions; she hastily drew back her hand and smoothed my crumpled sleeve before she latched on to me again.

Lilly
“I am so sorry, Hisao! But about Kenji... on Monday, I shall have Miyagi on his case about that, and she just cannot let this... this pass. Just imagine what might have happened if you had not been there to find and console her!”

Hisao
“It might sound harsh, but I already did imagine that as I raced after her into the school building, desperately hoping she didn't know about the unlocked door to the roof... But before you think about Kenji's punishment, you better ask Hanako what she wants. After all, she'd have to give evidence against him if he was reported.”

Lilly
“Well, we can talk it over with her soon. Now, once we're there, you should go in first and start talking with her again; I will wait and see if...”

Hisao
“I hate to say this, but that's not a good idea, Lilly. I already did my best to help Hanako before and only succeeded in aggrieving her further. You know her better than I do, so if anyone can help her out of her anguish, it's you. Do everything you can, but if that's also futile, it might be better to leave Hanako to your care tonight, sir.”

Lilly looked shocked at my sombre estimate while the head nurse nodded at me, his face grim in anticipation of the task ahead. At the stairwell leading to the first floor I stayed back, wishing them luck before going back to my dorm room.

That night, I struggled to fall asleep. Every time I closed my eyes and willed my mind to finally settle down, the memory of Hanako surfaced again: crouching in the darkness of the empty classroom, cowering from my approach with fear in her eyes.
Last edited by BlackDuke on Sat May 23, 2020 10:47 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Mirage_GSM
Posts: 6059
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Location: Germany

Re: Dance Of The Delicate

Post by Mirage_GSM » Fri Jun 30, 2017 11:29 am

Here's the first part of one of my 'character routes' - sorry it took so long :wink: I'll try to post the first parts of the other girl's routes also soon, so stand by for more - and tell me how you feel about it
Okay... Not sure why you would do it that way. I certainly prefer reading a route in one go and then moving on to the next instead of reading five chapters 1 then five chapters 2 etc. That is if I understood you correctly and that's what you planned...
All the more since a) all routes will have similar themes so all chapters 1 will probably be a bit similar as well and b) with a long update schedule the readers will have trouble keeping straight what happened in which route.
If I wanted this to be a fun time for her, I needed to counter Emi's unflattering assessment –
Why "unflattering"? I'd think of it as a compliment...
EDIT: Okay I see how you meant her to mean it now... That's really quite nasty and out of character for Emi.
After all, this is a school for special students, so there are almost no trained dancers among us.
After all this is a school in Japan, so there are probably no trained dancers at all among them...
Following her casual comment, I stretched out my hand and grabbed a spot right above the knot of her left sleeve, feeling the tip of her bony arm beneath the fabric. Grabbing it cautiously, I looked at Rin's face and saw an impish smile on it, which motivated me to do the same with her right arm and move her body slightly through our connection.
I agree that grabbing onto the sleeves was a spectracularly bad idea - something the teacher should have told them immediately - but... have you ever danced yourself? Hisao's right hand is supposed to go on Rin's shoulderblade, so her lack of a left arm is hardly a problem in the first place...

All in all two decent chapters (if you disregard the Script style dialogue - however, your Rin is much too normal compared to her personality in the VN.
Emi > Misha > Hanako > Lilly > Rin > Shizune

My collected KS-Fan Fictions: Mirage's Myths
griffon8 wrote:Kosher, just because sex is your answer to everything doesn't mean that sex is the answer to everything.
Sore wa himitsu desu.

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Oddball
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Re: Dance Of The Delicate

Post by Oddball » Fri Jun 30, 2017 2:56 pm

There's a few problems that seemed to jump out at me here.

Hanako and Rin both spoke far too normally. Rin never used any strange metaphors nor did her thoughts ramble into divergent tangents. All in all, her dialogue felt remarkably clear. Likewise Hanako seemed to say what she was thinking without problems. She didn't even stutter in a situation where I'd expect her to be a nervous wreck that could barley string a few words together.

Also Lilly's mention that her social circle is much bigger than Hanako's felt like an insensitive jab that was quite out of character for her.

I also feel the school is handling the partners thing wrong. Not only do you have to hand in your paper saying who your partner is so they can approve it, but if you don't have one, they single you out in a somewhat embarrassing way. Just having the students show up and then telling them to come to the dance floor with their partner would work far better. That allows for people to pair off themselves at the last minute without any further embarrassment, and for those still having trouble, the teachers could politely suggest and encourage the remaining students to partner off without having to separate them.

I really don't expect Hanako to handle the whole "Now for those of you who can't get a date, we need you to step over here with the other losers," very well.

And lastly, this one is very minor. I can see how it would work for some people, but to me, I don't see Shizune wanting to partner with Misha. My take on her is that if nobody actually asked her out, she'd rather make up some excuse about how she has to help run the event as part of the student council.
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BlackDuke
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Hanako Route, Part 3: Shattered Spirit

Post by BlackDuke » Sat May 23, 2020 10:50 am

On Sunday, I awoke much too early for my taste, rolling around in bed in confusion until I became aware of my surroundings. Seeing the bright sunshine filter through my thin grey curtains, my spirits soared up for a moment – but then I remembered the events of last night, and my mood plunged at the thought of how Hanako might be now.

After a quick shower and a breakfast assembled from assorted packages, I left my room and walked over to the girls' dorm, the question how – and if – I would find Hanako there foremost in my mind. As I entered the hall, some girls noticed me and started whispering between them; then I saw Miki approach me from the staircase.

Miki
“Morning, Hisao. If I'm not completely wrong, you've come to see Hanako, right? Sadly, she's not in here right now and I don't believe she came back at all last night...”

Hisao
“Damn... I really hoped she might've bounced back after that... do you know where I can find her, Miki? You do know what happened, don't you?”

Instead of speaking, Miki looked down at her feet, which all but answered my question. I groaned audibly, which elicited another round of whispering from the girls behind me, but Miki silenced them with a fierce glare before addressing me again.

Miki
“Since I was with Mutou when you came to him yesterday, I caught most of what you told him; most of the other girls just caught snippets like Hanako running off or Lilly coming back after curfew. As to your question about where to find Hanako, you might ask at the infirmary, but I'm not sure... Anyway, good luck – I think you both need it.”

I thanked Miki and left the dorm again with more hushed murmurs behind me. While I was less than happy about the gossiping girls, right now it was of minor importance. Maybe Miki would straighten them out for me.


After a swift march across the compound that turned some more heads my way, I arrived at the auxiliary building that housed the school's medical facilities. As I entered it, two people were just leaving the elevator together; to my surprise, I recognized Lilly and the head nurse. Looking around, he saw me and called me over to them.

Nurse
“Good morning, Nakai. You do look quite healthy today, so I guess you're here because of your friend Ikezawa, right? I'm afraid you can't see her right now...”

Hisao
“So she's really still here... please tell me how she is, sir! I know she reacted badly when I went after her last night, but...”

Nurse
“I know what you did, Nakai, and I do believe it was very commendable. However, Ikezawa is still very fragile and her psychiatrist believes it might be better for her to be secluded from her normal surroundings for another day or two. Even Satou here wasn't allowed to go near her, but I told her everything we know; perhaps she can fill you in.”

Lilly had followed our exchange with a worried expression and looked like she needed to unburden herself to me about Hanako, so I quickly nodded at his suggestion. After saying goodbye to the head nurse, we left the building and stepped out into the morning sun.

Hisao
“Hmm, let's see... the grounds are pretty popular today because of the nice weather, so how about we go to the empty classroom to talk...”

Lilly
“Sorry, Hisao... but after last night, I really do not want to go there now. I keep some tea and a hotplate in my room, so if you want, we can talk there in peace.”

For a moment, I pondered the idea of inviting her to my own room, but the possibility of meeting Kenji in the corridor was too scary to consider this seriously. Also, I was slightly curious about Lilly's room, so I agreed to her plan and we went back to the girl's dorm.


Once inside her room, Lilly quietly busied herself with making tea, while I sat down at the low table in the centre of the sparsely-furnished room. Finally she placed two cups and a box of cookies in front of me before she sat down too. After composing herself for a moment, she finally broke the silence.

Lilly
“You heard from the nurse that Hanako is still under close supervision, so I do not think she will return to the dorm or even to class until Wednesday. I believe she got some pills to help her sleep, which was probably necessary considering... considering the state she was in when we got to her last night...”

Seeing Lilly hesitate and swallow deeply, I impulsively leaned over and touched her hand; she twitched in surprise, but then she managed a weak smile at me. After emptying her tea cup in a single swift gulp, she continued with her story.

Lilly
“Thank you, Hisao. About last night... according to the nurse, Hanako was huddled limply in a corner of the room, sobbing to herself when we found her. I sat down and talked to her some feet away, but after fifteen minutes without any reaction from her, the nurse called a doctor who gave her a sedative. Then they took her away.”

Hisao
“Oh my. But you do know Hanako since you both started here, right? I heard she's been even more withdrawn before you two met; has it ever been as bad as this time?”

Lilly
“Not as long as I know her, I am afraid. She seldom speaks about her life before Yamaku, so I do not know much about that... but the nurse said all we can do now is wait and hope that Hanako snaps out of her trauma herself. He will try to talk with her again tomorrow, and I urged them to get me for anything new. If there is, I will call you at once.”

Hisao
“Thank you, Lilly. I just hope she'll get over Kenji's words; I really believe she enjoyed the dance and the time we spent together... and I also did, to be honest. You actually were right about that when we talked that time she left earlier...”

As the sun slowly moved outside the window, we kept making small-talk while sipping tea, both of us in a silent agreement not to leave the other alone with their thoughts about our absent friend. I finally left several hours later and spent the rest of the day doing my homework for the following week before getting to bed early.


The next two days went by slowly and agonizingly as Lilly and I waited for Hanako to come out of her catatonic state. For the first time, I fully realized how my parents and friends must have worried about me right after my heart attack, when I was still in intensive care floating on medications, without being allowed to receive visitors.

Ironically, part of my frustration was caused by the well-meaning attempts of the people around me to lift my spirits. Before homeroom on Monday, Mutou actually took me aside and apologized for not officially informing the class about Hanako's state; he said that it would only fuel the rumours about her breakdown further.

Of course, with two days having passed since the incident and the grapevine running fast, many students had heard about Hanako's collapse or had noticed her absence, so despite Mutou's silence, several people came up to me later and asked about her. Finally, Shizune took pity on me and made Misha stand up to announce the state of things.

Misha
“Listen everyone! Some of you have inquired about Hanako's whereabouts earlier – both to the class representative and to Hisao here, who's her dance partner. Right now, she's in the ward at the nurse's building, and that's all we know for now. Please do refrain from asking further questions and let's all hope she gets well soon, okay?”

Misha's lilting voice and her perpetual cheery expression clashed with the seriousness of her announcement, but as she sat down, I felt grateful to both her and Shizune for their compassion with me. Leaning over to Misha, I silently patted her arm and smiled to show my appreciation, receiving a sympathetic look from both girls in response.


Later, I had lunch with Lilly – on a bench outside, since she still shirked to visit the scene of Hanako's collapse. I told her about my classmates' reactions and Misha's resolution of the matter, which made Lilly gasp in surprise first; then she sighed in melancholy.

Lilly
“Hanako often told me that she felt ignored by her classmates, but if they do notice her absence and inquire about her like this, maybe it is not as bad as she thinks. Once she is back with us, we should tell her this to boost her confidence...”

Hisao
“Yes, we should... and let's hope that time comes soon. Did you get any questions about Hanako from your classmates? People do know you're her best friend, right?”

Lilly
“Not really; the only person who asked about Hanako was Daisuke Moriya, and it seems he only found out because his dancing partner saw and told him. Most of my classmates do not know Hanako or literally did not 'see' how she collapsed and ran off on Saturday, so I am, well... better off than you in this regard, Hisao.”

Hisao
“Well, I'd gladly go around telling everyone on campus about Hanako's situation, as long as I could tell them something positive, but waiting for news like this really is a strain... still, it's all we can do right now, I suppose...”

Since Lilly could not deny my pessimistic assessment of the situation, we spent the rest of the lunch break mostly in silence; as the bell rang for classes again, we parted from each other in a sad mood and returned to our respective classes.


Tuesday was not much better than the day before. Although I faced no further questions from my classmates after Misha's speech, I could not concentrate on the lessons. Every time I heard someone walk past in the corridor, I expected the door to open for a nurse sent to bring me to Hanako, who would be back to her best...

With Lilly at a class representatives meeting at lunch break, I went to the cafeteria trying to divert my thoughts over a beefsteak, but a dark brown stain on the table that looked like the burn on Hanako's hand made me push away my plate. Then I heard my name being called out and looked up to see Emi and Rin approach me.

Emi
“Hello Hisao! You look like you could need some company, so we thought we should come over and entertain you with stories of our newest physical and artistic exploits. Also, you completely forgot our morning run today and I had to run all alone by myself, so you owe me something now! How about...”

Hisao
“I'm sorry, Emi – both about my failure to appear at the track and about my expression – but I don't feel like company right now, even if it's you two. You heard about Hanako and what happened on Saturday, didn't you?”

Rin
“Well, she ran off after talking to this unfriendly boy, so I asked Daisuke to find out more because I was curious. She was almost as fast as Emi, now that I think about it. What did the unfriendly boy say to her?”

Hisao
“I know what he said, but I'd prefer not to repeat it, since it was some cruel stuff which really hurt Hanako. Lilly and I are worried about her, since she's still at the ward over at the nurses' building and we haven't seen her since Saturday night.”

Rin
“Well, if you manage to see her, tell her to concentrate on her good traits and to forget about what stupid people like that boy might say about her. Oh, and tell her I think she looked rather happy when she was dancing with you before.”

Surprised by Rin's candid piece of advice, and even more by her observation of Hanako's face while dancing with me, I failed to come up with a suitable response and was left with my mouth open. Emi started chuckling at my flummoxed expression, which broke me out of my trance and back to the scene in front of me.

Hisao
“I will certainly do so as soon as I get the chance, Rin – and thank you for your words, I really mean it. This goes for you too, Emi; I'll try to remember our Thursday run, okay?”

Emi gave me a big smile while Rin just cocked her head, but I felt they both appreciated my heartfelt thanks. As they left for the exit, I turned my attention back to the meal in front of me and, after covering the stain on the table with my tray, dug in with a sudden appetite until my plate was completely empty.


When I exited the school building after the last lesson, I saw the head nurse leaving the girls' dorm, so I quickly stopped and called out to him. Seeing me, he hesitated for one second, but then he waved me over with a friendly gesture. As we sat down on a bench, he held up his hand again, this time to forestall my inevitable question.

Nurse
“I know what you're going to ask me, Nakai. Your friend Ikezawa is improving slowly, and I hope we can send her back to her room tomorrow. However, if we decide to do so, she should still abstain from class for the rest of the week, and even you and Satou should tread carefully around her.”

Hisao
“Of course, sir! Did you already inform Lilly... I mean, Satou about this, or should I go and tell her? I believe she'd want to know as soon as...”

Nurse
“I'm just returning from her room, and she was as glad about the news as you are now. In fact, she intended to go to Ikezawa's room immediately to prepare it for her return, and I promised her to send up one of the housekeepers to help her with it.”

I almost offered to go help her myself straight away, but the thought of Hanako hearing that I had dug through her personal things and maybe also her clothes made me decide against it. Thanking the nurse for his pains, I continued on to my room to drop off my bag and walk down to the village for my weekly shopping.


Despite the nurse having cautioned me that Hanako's discharge was not certain, I found myself looking out of the window all through Wednesday morning. Shizune being Shizune, she quickly noticed my absent-mindedness and voiced her disapproval through Misha, but after I promised to have lunch with them, they left me alone.

When the lunch bell rang, I grabbed my things, intending to leave and meet the two girls who had gone ahead to the council room. Before I could rise from my seat, Mutou came into the room, heading straight for me. As he bent down to me to speak without other students overhearing us, he looked surprisingly earnest for once. Oh my...

Mutou
“Sorry to spoil your lunch break, Nakai, but I've just been at the infirmary and Ikezawa will have to stay there one more day. The head nurse asked me to convey this to you and also inform Satou about it. Maybe you could save me some trouble and find her for me; the nurse wants her to come and get Ikezawa tomorrow at 10am, okay?”

Hisao
“That's sad to hear, but... thank you for coming by to inform me, sir. Of course I'll go and tell Lilly, but in return you might save me some trouble by letting the two student council girls know I won't be able to have lunch with them today. Oh, and I'd like to be there too when Hanako's discharged tomorrow; is it okay with you?”

Mutou smirked and nodded as he straightened his body again, then he turned and left the classroom. I sighed as I said farewell to the prospects of a quiet lunch and stood up to go find Lilly. Whatever reason the medical staff had to detain Hanako another night, it had better be worth it for all the worries it caused her and her friends.

It took me a while to find Lilly in the throng of students at the hall and give her the news about the extension of Hanako's stay. She took the news better than I had thought, and even managed a small smile when I offered to accompany her. After we agreed to meet in front of the nurses' building at 9:50, we went our separate ways.


With the uncertain outcome of seeing Hanako again ahead of me, I actually enjoyed the morning run with Emi, since it gave me the chance to clear my head. After doing five laps and the usual cool-down walk with Emi, I took a long shower and read a book in my room until 9:45; then I grabbed my jacket and left to meet Lilly.

When the door of the small hospital ward finally opened to reveal Hanako, I stayed back to gauge her reaction. At first glance, she looked normal; maybe the shadows under her eyes were a bit darker than before and her shoulders more hunched, but otherwise, she seemed okay to me. Lilly smiled as she stood up and opened her arms wide.

Lilly
“Hanako? Thank heaven you are finally with us again! I missed you so much these past days, and the same goes for Hisao; we both took time off from school to welcome you back and perhaps help you a bit with getting into things again... Hanako?”

Lilly's smile lost some of its strength as she realized that Hanako was not going to come running into her embrace like she had expected. Instead, Hanako seemed rooted to her position at the door, eyeing both of us with a wary look that reminded me of a cornered animal. After some seconds, she started speaking in a quiet voice.

Hanako
“Lilly... Hisao... are you here because you were... concerned about me? If you want, I... I can stay here for... some more time and... get better; you don't have to be worried if I... if I'm in here, so if you want me to...”

Hisao
“No way, Hanako! We want you to be with us, because you're our friend and we hated the idea of you being alone at the ward. All our classmates asked where you were, and they wanted me to tell you to come back soon! How about I take your bag and you say hello to Lilly; then we can go to your room and talk about what to do next?”

My over-enthusiastic tone sounded quite corny to me, but it did the trick: Hanako finally stepped forward to Lilly, who immediately wrapped her in a fierce embrace, and I moved past them to get Hanako's bag from the day nurse. When Lilly let go of her friend after a while, I also gave Hanako a quick hug and we left the building together.


Back at Lilly's dorm room, we were welcomed by the smell of fresh tea; Lilly had evidently planned ahead and made it before she had left to meet me. Hanako sat down hesitantly, shuffling around before she found a posture she was comfortable with, then she looked up to us with a gaze that betrayed her still-present uncertainty.

Hanako
“Thank you for... coming to get me, you two... but is it really okay for both of you to miss classes because of me? I could've... stayed in there until the weekend... or I could've just gone back to my room by myself... after all, I was by myself long enough...”

Lilly
“It is really okay, Hanako, do not worry. We both missed you terribly, and like Hisao said, it was hard to know that you were alone over there. Now let us have some tea together and maybe some of those cookies Akira brought me last time she was here, shall we?”

Hanako nodded slowly, allowing Lilly to fill up her teacup and we settled into the familiar routine of our teatime. Lilly and I tried making small-talk while skirting around the topic of last Saturday, but Hanako barely participated in it. After the second round of tea, she grabbed her bag from the floor and got up, looking at us apologetically.

Hanako
“I'm sorry Lilly, but I'd... like to go back to my own room and... maybe try getting some sleep... At the ward, there were always some lights on and I... I couldn't sleep, so I kept thinking about everything... and now I'm so tired, I just want to sleep... I'm really sorry, but maybe I'll come by later again... Goodbye, Hisao... see you later...”

With this, she turned and left the room; as the door swung shut again, we could hear the sounds of her key and her door creaking open across the corridor. Lilly waited for a few seconds to make sure Hanako would not return, then she sighed loudly and clutched the napkin she had used earlier to clutch the handle of the hot teapot.

Lilly
“She still sounded terribly subdued and anxious to me. I hoped that she might snap back quicker, considering how much the time she spent with you had helped her, but now I fear she is back to where she was when I first met her over a year ago. And did you hear that bit about the lights being on constantly; this almost sounded like...”

Listening to Lilly, I racked my brain about how to release Hanako from the anguish Kenji's malice had caused her – and then an idea began to form in my mind. It was pretty drastic, and certainly not without serious risks – both to Hanako and myself – but it felt worth thinking seriously about it, once I got back to my own room...

Hisao
“...yeah, I know what you mean Lilly, you don't need to spell it out if you don't want. Let's hope some sleep in her own familiar bed might help her a bit. Are you going to stay here and have an eye... sorry, I meant, will you look... well, you know what I mean, do you?”

Lilly
“Yes, of course I will. I do not think she will go out again today, and I made sure she could find a few snacks and some drinks in her room that I bought yesterday and left there. So you want to return to your room also, Hisao?”

Hisao
“I just had an idea how to help Hanako, and there's some things I need to take care of if I want to do it properly. Misha told me that the dorms have club rooms you can book for small gatherings and such, and I'd thought we might have lunch at one of them tomorrow. It'd be just you, me and Hanako, and I'd provide the food.”

Lilly
“This sounds like a good plan... Hanako will probably not attend class tomorrow anyway, and neither will she want to cook for herself. Do you want me to prepare something for the meal? I could make a salad or a soup, although I would have to go shopping first...”

Hisao
“That's not really necessary, Lilly. I'll make a reservation with the housekeepers and use the morning to prepare everything. You just make sure to care for Hanako and bring her to the small club room at the boys' dorm tomorrow at about 1:00. I'll call you on your cell phone if there's any problem, but I believe everything should work smoothly.”

Lilly appeared curious, but after some more talking and her promising that she would call me in case she needed my help with Hanako, I returned to my own room to further work out my plan – not only the part about the lunch and its preparations, but also the other thing I intended to do in order to get her out of her slump...

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BlackDuke
Posts: 36
Joined: Sat Apr 16, 2016 10:41 am

Hanako Route, Part 4: Slaying Dragons

Post by BlackDuke » Sat May 23, 2020 10:51 am

On Friday morning, I woke to the sound of my alarm clock, which I had set to get enough time for my plans. Since I would spend enough time in the hallway kitchen later to fulfil my promise to provide lunch for three people and did not want to spend even more to make breakfast for myself, I ate at the cafeteria after taking my morning pills.

When I finally got up from the table again and returned my empty tray, I felt sufficiently prepared for the next thing on my 'to do'-list. The large wall clock showed almost 9:00, which meant that the person I intended to visit would probably be up already, but still in his room. And the corridors would be all but empty, exactly as I needed it.

As I strode up the stairs and into the hallway, I felt my conscience screaming within me to reconsider this. I could still enter my own room and pour all my energy into making a good lunch to lift Hanako's spirits. If I proceeded, I risked everything I had: the respect of those around me, my future at Yamaku and my own self-esteem.

Then the memory of Hanako whimpering on the floor rose up in my mind again, and I felt a white-hot anger burn within me that blanked out all other considerations. Looking up, I realized I had reached my destination; I exhaled slowly and knocked sharply. Following the clicking of several locks, the door opened and revealed the person I had come for.

Kenji
“Who's this... it's Nakai, right? Listen, I'm in the middle of something, so...”

Hisao
“Then let me be succinct. Remember Saturday during the dance? Your offensive quips to Hanako Ikezawa about Lilly's relationship to her and about my own motives to choose her as my dance partner? She took it really hard, and you owe her one hell of an apology! So if you've got any decency left, you better...”

During my rant, Kenji squinted past me to make out if there were other people present, then he scoffed and interrupted me with an arrogant scowl.

Kenji
“Bah, nonsense! If that chick's not capable to stomach the truth, that's her problem and not mine. And besides, a true man never apologizes to a weak and cringing girl...”

Before Kenji could continue, I pushed the door wide open with my right foot and seized his jacket lapels with both hands. Luckily, nobody else was nearby to watch us, and Kenji himself was stunned speechless as I pulled him into the corridor with all the force I could muster. I slapped him hard across his face once before dragging him to the bathroom.


In the bathroom, Kenji shook himself free for a second, but I yanked him forward by his collar before sinking my right fist into his stomach. As he went into a cough, I shoved him into the next shower stall while kicking away his legs at the same time. Landing roughly on the tiled floor, he stared at me incredulously.

Kenji
“Whoa man... cough! What on earth d'you think you're doing, this hurts! I'm gonna...”

Hisao
“You'll shut up and listen to me right now, Kenji. Maybe I haven't impressed my case on you sufficiently yet, but you're going to apologize to Hanako for the damage your words did to her – today. I hoped I wouldn't have to resort to violence, but if I'll have to beat the necessary sense into you, then I'm going to do just that – for her.”

Kenji carefully adjusted his position on the floor and straightened his glasses, looking up to me with a horrified expression on his face. So far, everything had worked out thanks to my surprise attack, but I had to really imprint my rightful anger on him and shock him into permanent subservience, or there would be awful repercussions later.

Kenji
“They turned you, didn't they? I knew they were out to get me, so I'd never have opened my door for one of them... But I should've expected they might use a turncoat...”

I had no clear idea who 'they' were or if Kenji was just rambling to gain time to think, but I obviously needed to reinforce my point. Seeing that his left arm pointed towards me, I moved forward and deliberately stepped on his hand while seizing some of his hair in my left hand. As he cringed in pain, I pulled back his head and looked in his eyes.

Hisao
“You'll come to the small club room in the girls' dorm at 1:15 to see Hanako, Lilly and me. You'll be contrite and remorseful, apologize to Hanako for the dreadful things you said to her before, and humbly beg for her forgiveness. Then you'll leave again and never, I repeat NEVER, insult her or anyone else again like that. Are we clear?”

Kenji
“Maybe I spoke without thinking, and maybe I hit a sore spot with her and you too... But you just assaulted and manhandled me, dude! Once the faculty gets word of this, you're so deep in shit you'll wish... OW, ow, ow... man, you're mental!”

His last words resulted from my back-and-forth slap of his face with my flat right hand, which knocked his glasses askew. To accommodate for his bad eyesight, I dragged him up by the collar of his shirt until his scared face was less than two inches away from mine; as I spoke, I could see his skin flush at the spots where I had hit him before.

Hisao
“If you breathe just one word to the faculty or anyone else, I'll have Lilly, the girls of the student council, all our classmates, our homeroom teachers, the principal, the nurses and Hanako's therapist on your case. And I can assure you: before they're halfway done with you, you'll wish you had rather just chewed and swallowed your own glasses.”

Hisao
“Now get up from the floor and go to the nurse. Tell him you stumbled across an object in your room and hit your face on your chair or something like that. But before you go, I want your solemn promise you'll do as I told you, or I'll really start hurting you right here, where the walls can be cleaned easily afterwards. Now what will it be?”

Kenji coughed again and slowly felt his aching cheek with one hand, but then he nodded slowly. I extended my hand to pull him up and slapped him on the back as he stumbled out awkwardly, the seat of his pants looking dark. As I cooled my throbbing hand in the sink, I idly mused whether the stall had been wet or if Kenji had soiled himself in fear.

Back in my room, I collapsed on my bed. While my heartbeat calmed down, my conscience was screaming louder than before. I had attacked a smaller, partly-blind boy and beat him into submission, threatening worse pain should he refuse to prostrate himself before us. Nobody would associate with me anymore if they knew – but it had been necessary.


I spent most of the remaining time in the hallway kitchen, preparing the promised lunch for the girls and me. I also kept glimpsing out into the corridor for Kenji to return from the infirmary, although I had no idea how to react if he came back with a teacher. After a while, Kenji returned alone and locked himself up in his room quickly.

Luckily, the many years of cooking for myself had not only given me enough skills to make a decent meal for three people in a small kitchen, but also the routine to have everything ready at exactly the right time, which was at 12:50. Filling the steaming food into two big plastic containers, I locked up my room and carried my meal downstairs.


In the empty club room, I quickly laid the table and arranged my food in the large bowl I had brought along together with the necessary utensils. Just when I was almost finished with my work, I heard a quiet knock on the door and called out an invitation; as the door opened, Lilly and Hanako came in slowly, both wearing their school uniforms.

As the girls said hello and slid into their seats, I glimpsed at Hanako's face; she looked better than the day before, with the uncertain look mostly gone from her eyes. At any rate, she was here, which gave me hope that there had been some kind of improvement in her condition since she had shirked from welcoming us yesterday.

Hisao
“Here's your portion, Hanako. I hope you slept well and feel better now; I do know that it can take a while to adopt to normality again after you've been in hospital or anything like that for a few days. I made enough for everyone to get a second helping if you like it, so dig in. If you want to add any spices, they're over there.”

Lilly
“Thank you again for inviting us, Hisao. I cannot see what you prepared for us, but I must say it smells very good. Hanako told me about the meal you made for her last week, and I confess I was rather jealous to hear I missed out on it. If this tastes as good as it smells, you might want to consider doing this as a career.”

Hisao
“Well, don't start praising me before you actually taste it, Lilly. I had more time now, so I tried something a bit more sophisticated; please tell me if it's not to your taste. I also brought some drinks from the machine in the hallway, since this meal doesn't go with tea very well. Here's one for you, Hanako... Hanako?”

Hanako tore her gaze away from the pictures on the wall and actually managed to give me a tiny smile; I smiled back as I gave her a can of juice and placed another one into Lilly's hand. As we started eating and both girls praised my meal, I smirked quietly. Part one of my plan had worked... and now everything depended on Kenji.


Ten minutes later, Lilly suddenly straightened in her chair; since I heard a creak from the corridor, I did the same, tensing as the door opened slowly. Once it was completely ajar, it revealed Kenji in his usual garb, looking very hesitant and slightly fearful as he closed the door again. Next to me, I heard Hanako gasp and spill some food onto the table.

Seeing Hanako's fright, Kenji's indecisiveness and Lilly's confusion about the intrusion – she obviously had not recognized Kenji yet – I suddenly felt like a stage director looking at a carefully arranged scene still lacking the dialogue. All the players were present, but someone still needed to trigger the action – and that someone had to be me.

Hisao
“Oh, hi Kenji. What do you want? I don't believe we're particularly eager to see you after what you did at the practice Saturday. So why are you disturbing our lunch now?”

Lilly gasped in horror at hearing Kenji's name and Hanako unconsciously moved away from her former attacker with her chair, but Kenji stayed silent for several more seconds until I noisily drew back my own chair and feigned standing up. Kenji twitched slightly, clearing his throat before managing to speak with a quiet voice.

Kenji
“It's... well, I'm sorry to disturb you, and it won't take long, but... I've come to apologize for what I said and did to Ikezawa last week. It was... rude and cruel, and... I don't know what came over me, but it... it won't happen again, I promise. There are no excuses for... for what I said, but... I hope you'll eventually be able to forget my words, Ikezawa.”

Lilly
“Do you really mean this, Kenji – or are you just anxious to avoid the consequences you will face from the faculty? I have known you for over two years now, and this is not your usual tone. I normally tend to expect the best of other people, but...

Her angry response was cut off by the sudden sound of Hanako's chair toppling over, and for a second I feared she had gone down with it – but then I saw her stand up straight and stride over to the surprised Kenji. As my eyes followed her, my heart seemed frozen in my chest, while Lilly desperately craned her head to listen.

Hanako stopped directly in front of Kenji, and I noticed that her slender frame seemed to shake slightly while the bespectacled boy stood petrified to the spot. After staring at Kenji for a second, she gently lifted up his glasses with her left hand – and then slapped him fiercely across his face twice with her other, blemished hand.

Hanako
“That's how your quip about Lilly struck me – and this is how I felt when you said these things about Hisao's... motivation towards me! I've got wonderful friends who know and like me, and while I... can't forget your words, I know you're wrong! I won't report you to the faculty because you're... simply not worth it. So GET OUT and leave us alone!”

Finishing her rebuke, Hanako roughly placed Kenji's spectacles back on his nose before looking at him with hard eyes and a calm bearing. As Kenji turned and scrambled through the door, I mused that, while both were about the same height, Hanako had appeared to tower over the pathetic imp who had previously reduced her to tears.


With Kenji's steps receding down the empty corridor, I expected Hanako to turn around to us again, but she stayed motionless for at least another minute, her eyes on the open door. Finally, her shoulders slumped and she heaved a deep sigh, which broke our stupor too; Lilly almost threw over the table as she darted up towards Hanako.

Lilly
“Hanako, that was... I do not have words for it, really! I was so shocked when I recognized Kenji's name, and even as he started to apologize, I was still afraid about you, but then... did you really slap him around while scolding him, or did my ears deceive me?”

Lilly rambled on as she hugged Hanako from behind, but the other girl failed to react to her friend's overflowing emotions; instead she kept looking down at her right palm, which looked slightly red from hitting Kenji. I also rose from my chair, walking towards the girls; as I reached Hanako, I impulsively took her hand in mine and pressed it lightly.

Hisao
“Congratulations, Hanako – that was amazing! I believe you made a great step, and you're probably rid of that wimp forever. You can be proud of yourself; I surely know I am.”

Hanako suddenly tightened her grip on my hand, pulling me closer with surprising vigour while doing the same to the astonished Lilly. Before I could react, Hanako's arms coiled around our backs and squeezed us tightly against her body. After the tension of the past days, being wrapped in Hanako's embrace felt very comfortable.


After an indeterminable amount of time, Hanako finally withdrew her arms and we parted from each other, all of us slightly out of breath. Hanako smiled awkwardly as she drew up her fallen chair to place it against the table again, and I glimpsed at Lilly to see that she had turned away from us, dabbing at her cloudy eyes with a handkerchief.

Hanako
“Thank you so much, Lilly and Hisao... I think I needed that. Shall we continue eating your delicious meal now, Hisao? It's really tasty... and since this is now the second time you're treating me, you must... allow me to cook something for you and Lilly soon, okay?”

Hisao
“I'd really appreciate that, Hanako. I hope it hasn't gone cold in the meantime, but if you want me to, I could go and reheat it while you wait here...”

Lilly
“No chance, Hisao; even if it is not as hot as it was before, I am positive it will still taste marvellous. At any rate, I am still hungry, so let us sit down and finish it. Oh, and about Hanako's offer to cook for us; what do you think about lunch at my room on Sunday?”

Hanako and I both agreed to Lilly's idea as we joined her at the table, and soon we were busy devouring the lukewarm remainder of my concoction. Afterwards, we stayed at the room for another hour, chatting about this and that with our bellies full and a warm glow spreading through my heart at the sight of Hanako's quiet smiles.


Waking up the next morning, I habitually got out of bed and grabbed my clothes from the chair, but then I realized that it was Saturday – the day of the third practice session for the dance. To my own surprise, I had not wasted a single thought about this for several days, my mind being occupied with Hanako and my attempts to help her.

As I left my room to go to class, I reflected on the day ahead of me. Hanako would not be at class today, and after what had happened last Saturday, I could not expect her to appear at today's practice either. Going there by myself sounded rather depressing, but maybe Mutou would allow me to skip it; I resolved to ask him later.


The morning lessons passed by without any remarkable features; our teachers seemed to anticipate the afternoon practice as much as most of my classmates did and most of the time was spent with easy group work. I teamed up with Misha and Shizune like usual, so the exercises got done nicely despite my lack of motivation.

When the bell heralded the end of this week's classes, I left the classroom and headed for the hall. Once there, I spotted Mutou's lanky figure at the main exit; he stopped as he saw me and we moved to an unoccupied corner to talk.

Mutou
“Can I help you with something, Nakai? It was good to see you back in class this morning, by the way – even though Ikezawa was still absent after her time in the ward...”

Hisao
“That's exactly why I came to you, sir. Since she wasn't in class, I don't think she'll be at the practice, which leaves me without a dancing partner and makes my going there futile. So unless you intend to set me up with some girl whose partner got sick since last week, I'd like to abstain from practice today. Is this okay with you?”

Mutou
“Hmm... apart from that incident last week, you and Ikezawa both seemed to have fun at the other sessions, right? So unless you truly believe she won't come around until next week, I'd prefer to keep the door open for you two. You already saw Ikezawa after she was discharged, right? Do you think she feels better than she did before?”

I leant against the wall as I pondered his question. Granted, Hanako had been still timid and fearful when we had collected her on Thursday, but after our lunch and her decisive actions against Kenji, I dared to hope she could overcome not only his insults, but also the other demons of her past. Looking at Mutou again, I nodded slowly.

Mutou
“That's great to hear, Nakai! So, unless you do have other commitments, I'd like you to come and watch your fellow students while they dance – and maybe you could also help out at the refreshment tables if you're there anyway...”

I drew a face as the teacher managed a slightly apologetic smile at me. Being roped into the job of soda dispenser was not what I had in mind when I came to ask him, and by the look on Mutou's face, he knew that very well. Then again, watching all the others dance without making a fool of myself might be fun, so I nodded again.

Mutou
“Thank you, Nakai; I really appreciate this. Just come to the auditorium like before, and if you should feel like contributing, just report to the people in charge of catering, okay? I got to go now, sorry; see you later.”

I looked after Mutou as he strode in the direction of the teacher's lounge, then I took up my school bag and walked towards the exit, intending to get a good lunch at my room and make the best of the remaining day. Maybe there would be snacks at the practice.


When I entered the auditorium at about 2:30, the practice was already in full swing. The instructing teachers stood on their podium repeating something I remembered, and the couples on the dance floor tried to copy them more or less precisely. From my place at the edge of the room, it looked quite entertaining, to say the least.

I spent more than an hour watching the practice, walking around to get a better view of the people farther away from the entrance and also checking out the smaller area of the sensory-deprived students for a while. Spotting Mutou on the podium, I remembered his request and reluctantly directed my steps to the refreshment area.

Pouring soda into glasses arranged into long orderly rows turned out to be an easy and rewarding task; seeing the gratitude on the sweaty faces made me feel really satisfied. After the first wave of thirsty students had been braved, I sat down and closed my eyes, but then I felt someone gently touch my hand and heard a quiet voice next to me.

Girl
“You're looking rather... lonesome sitting here on your own, Hisao. Wouldn't you prefer to be out there dancing like the other students... maybe with me?”

I stifled a groan on hearing what had to be either a younger student with a crush on me or somebody trying to pull my leg; Emi or Miki came to mind at once. From the corner of my eye, I saw long silky dark hair and was just about to tell Miki to beat it as my gaze fell on the girl's hand lying on mine – and the scars running across its back.


Looking up in amazement, I saw Hanako standing in front of me, fighting to hold back her grin at catching me out. Since I failed to reply immediately, her mirth finally surfaced in a badly suppressed chuckle I had never seen her make before. It looked really cute on her, though I highly doubted that she was actually aware of it.

Hisao
“I'm sorry Hanako, I didn't expect you to be here and just closed my eyes for a moment after handing out drinks for the others. But about your question... if you're willing to, I'd love to dance with you, especially since you seem to be in a good mood.”

After hoisting my body up from the chair while holding on to Hanako's hand, we went over to the main dance floor. As we found a gap between other couples and started dancing, several students noticed us; Emi and Haruhiko whispered to each other and Miki almost stumbled over her partner's feet as she stared at Hanako in surprise.

During the next minutes, I silently prayed for Hanako to stay ignorant of the reactions to her sudden reappearance. In the past, she had become skittish and tense if she knew she was being watched by others, but today she moved fluently and with a quiet smile on her face. Therefore, I dropped my worries and concentrated on my own movements.


When Hanako suddenly stopped dancing and stepped back from me after a while, I froze in surprise, then looked around me to find out what was wrong. Seeing nothing out of the ordinary, I turned back to Hanako with a very puzzled expression that caused her to start chuckling once again; then she pointed to the clock on the wall.

Hanako
“Maybe we should take a break for once, Hisao... we've been here for over an hour... and even during the time the instructors were changed out a while ago. I'm thirsty, and you might want a drink too, since you were handing them out so diligently earlier before I... well, lured you away to dance with me. I could also... use some fresh air.”

Looking at my watch, I realized that Hanako was correct; my sense of time felt like it had been put on hold while we had been dancing, but in fact, about seventy minutes had gone by since we had started. We left the dance floor and each grabbed a cup of soda before we went outside; on our way, we passed Mutou who smiled as he saw us.


Compared to the thick atmosphere in the auditorium, the air outside was pleasantly cool and fresh; I breathed in deeply and headed for a nearby bench before I felt Hanako's arm holding me back. I gave her another puzzled look, but she gently pulled me onwards until we arrived at a bench behind a tree that was invisible from the main entrance.

Still baffled about Hanako's resolution, I put my cup on the bench, intending to sit down there – but before I could do so, Hanako abruptly closed the distance between us and enveloped me in a fierce hug that almost toppled me over. Trying to reclaim my footing, I suddenly felt her hair brush over my face – and then her lips on mine.

Fully shell-shocked now, I tried to control the rush of jumbled thoughts by concentrating on the taste of Hanako's thin lips – omurice, lemon soda and something else I could not discern. As her lips receded again after what felt like an eternity to me, Hanako moved her mouth to my ear, and I strained to hear her quiet whisper.

Hanako
“I know Kenji didn't just... happen to pass by and have an epiphany about his cruel words from Saturday. I don't know how... you managed it, Hisao, but I... I do want you to know this. Whatever you... did to him... and however much you might've... broken school rules, you did it for me... and I love you for that, really.”

Emphasizing her words, she tightened her embrace around my body again; I responded by
enfolding her in my arms. A sudden impulse caused me to kiss her on her forehead, and I felt her strength wane slightly at the unfamiliar sensation. We stood like this for several more minutes before we released each other and sat down.

Hisao
“Well... this came rather unexpected for me, although I'm very happy you decided to do it, Hanako. I said so before, but I truly missed you after you ran away and I also felt... kind of guilty for not being able to prevent it, if you know what I mean. However, you seem to be over it now – although I could go and put the hurt on Kenji again if you wish.”

Hanako
“Thank you, Hisao, but I... don't want you to. Especially since you might not get away with it this time... Let's just enjoy the fresh air for a while before going back, and... maybe we could use the privacy we have here to... continue what we just did, if you want to...”

Instead of answering, I wrapped my arm around Hanako's shoulders and leant over to kiss her on the cheek; in response, she snuggled against my side and sighed quietly. Whatever life had in store for me once we returned to the others, right now I felt better than I had in a long time with Hanako's soft and warm body next to me.


Eventually we both returned inside, where no one seemed to have noticed our prolonged absence. I found myself silently grateful for Lilly's blindness and blushed, but after what had happened last time, she would have followed us outside immediately if she had been able to see us leaving together... so for once, thank God for her affliction.

Inside, the practice was in its final stage, with many students sitting at the refreshment tables or lounging around at the sides, watching those still dancing. Hanako took my hand and steered me towards the smaller area; when we came closer, I saw Lilly and her dance partner Shiraki among those moving slowly to Miyagi's instructions.

After about ten more minutes, which Hanako and I spent by silently watching the scene, the PA system crackled to life once again. The remaining dancers stopped moving as the voice of the principal started drifting through the air.

Principal
“I believe it is time to conclude our third dance practice now. Hopefully, all of you had a great time and are now eagerly anticipating the big dance next Saturday afternoon! Have a nice Sunday of rest and recreation now, and feel free to have another refreshing drink on your way out. Good night, everyone!”

As Hanako tightened her hold on my arm and gently moved me to the side. I experienced a moment of confusion until I realized that we were standing in the way of the departing dancers, many of them blind. After most of them had moved past us, we saw Lilly saying goodbye to Shiraki; when he turned away and left, Hanako called out to her.

Hanako
“Lilly? Uhmm... Hisao and I are over here; do you want to walk back with us?”

Lilly
“Ah, hello Hanako – and Hisao too, of course! It is nice of you to wait for me; I was just thinking about whether you might still be here. How was your practice?”

Hisao
“Well, we certainly got better at it. Since you don't seem to be surprised to find Hanako here, I guess she told you about her plan to come? I was actually supposed to be handing out drinks to the other students – at least that's what Mutou wanted me to...”

Looking at me, Hanako managed to produce a slightly apologetic smile which turned into a giggle after a second. Lilly also chuckled merrily; she probably imagined my plight at the refreshment table before Hanako had come to liberate me from it.

Lilly
“Oh my! Still, I am sure there were enough staff members to cover for you, and most of our fellow students were probably capable of pouring their drinks themselves. And yes, I did know about Hanako's intent to come today. How do you feel now, Hanako?”

Hanako thought for a moment, then she shot me an almost mischievous look and pressed my arm affectionately once more. For the second time in less than an hour, I found myself being very grateful for Lilly's blindness; no sighted person could have failed to notice the amused sparks in Hanako's violet eyes and the blush creeping on my own face.

Hanako
“Well, we danced together most of the time... and we had a nice break outside... so I'm quite happy at the moment. If we'll manage to remember and repeat everything we did today next week at the dance, I'm actually... really looking forward to it, Lilly.”

Hisao
“You truly did great, Hanako – and after today, I can't wait for next Saturday either. By the way, we watched you dancing with Shiraki just now; you both looked good together, if I may say so. At any rate, he seems to have gotten over his initial awe towards you.”

Lilly
“Yes, he certainly has... and thank you for your appraisal, Hisao. But if I am not mistaken, most people seem to have left already. Shall we retire also?”


I left the girls after accompanying the back to their dormitory and promising Hanako to come over to have lunch with them the next day. Back in my room, I dropped on my bed with the intent to have a nap; but while my body felt like a wet towel, my mind was going a mile a second with the events of the last few days – and especially of today.

When the memory of Hanako kissing me resurfaced for the umpteenth time, I levered my tired body up to a sitting position in order to at least take my evening pills. Placing the empty water glass on the desk, I suddenly imagined a framed photo of a smiling Hanako standing there and laid down again with a warm feeling in my stomach.

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BlackDuke
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Hanako Route, Part 5: Going Public

Post by BlackDuke » Sat May 23, 2020 10:55 am

After doing my laundry on Sunday morning, I walked the short way to the girl's dormitory and entered. Ascending the main stairwell, I saw several girls from my class who nodded at me; only Shizune gave me a wary look as I passed her on my way up, but without Misha to voice her curiosity, she was unable to stop and question me.

When I arrived in front of Lilly's room, its door was slightly ajar and an enticing smell was emanating from the small kitchen next to it. Before I could knock to make my presence known, Hanako appeared from the kitchen and silently motioned at me to come in. Inside, she pressed my hand with her own and pointed to Lilly's door.

Hanako
“I... wanted to catch you before we go in there, Hisao. I didn't tell her about us having... well, you know... done what we did outside yesterday, because it... seemed too early to voice it. But now, I... I want you to know that I... still feel like I told you before, not only because of... Friday, but because... because you are really special to me...”

Her anxious whispering broke off as I gently pulled her towards me by her kitchen-gloved hand and planted a kiss on her left cheek. After drawing back to make her aware of the significance of my next move, I gently moved her hair aside and leant in again to kiss her right cheek. The scarred tissue felt warm on my lips as Hanako went rigid in surprise.

Hisao
“I love you too, Hanako... for what you are, and what I've found you to be: a beautiful and intelligent woman who is much more than what others might see at first glance. I'm proud to say so, and I'm honoured that you chose me; both as your dance partner and for your confession just now. And if you're comfortable with telling Lilly, I'm too.”

Hanako's body stayed rigid as she processed my response, but then she leant forward to kiss me squarely on the mouth. Drawing back from me after several seconds, she looked happier than I had ever seen it before; even the scarred parts of her face were beaming with joy, and her hand in mine seemed to glow even through the padded glove.

Hanako
“Thank you so much, Hisao. Uhmm... maybe we should go; the soup should be fine now... and the other things were ready a minute before you came. And while I'll be sad to... let go of your hand, you might help me bring in all the dishes... okay?”


A minute later, I entered Lilly's room carrying a large bowl of green salad and the curry bread Hanako had baked earlier. Lilly was already sitting at the low table in the middle of the room; she raised her head and smirked at me as I gently placed down the bowl in a free spot and laid the warm loaf in a basket next to it.

Lilly
“Hello, Hisao. Sorry I am just lazing around here instead of helping, but Hanako made it very clear she wanted to prepare the whole meal on her own. Mmmh... this smells really scrumptious! Oh, please sit down too – are you comfortable with the place next to the door or do you want to settle somewhere else?”

Hisao
“I'm pretty comfortable with my place, thank you. However, I should first go find out if there's anything else to be brought in... oh, Hanako, there you are. Do you need me to get something else from the kitchen?”

Putting down the bowl with the main course, Hanako smirked at me, then her gaze went across the laid table before she straightened again and shook her head.

Hanako
“No, that should be everything, I think... let's see: bread, salad, main course... oh, I still need to get the rice! Just stay here, it'll only be a second... please help yourself to the soda, if you want... I'll be back right now!”

As Hanako hurried out again, I saw Lilly smile happily at her friend's energetic behaviour and also chuckled slightly. Following Hanako's suggestion, I took one of the soda bottles standing near the wall and filled our glasses from it. Lilly nodded gratefully as I placed a glass next to her hand, then she sighed contentedly.

Lilly
“Being with friends, about to have a good meal and the whole afternoon before you... this feels exactly how a Sunday should, right? We really are blessed to have all this, especially considering how bleak things did appear only a week ago...”

Hisao
“Yes, she has really bounced back faster than we could've ever hoped, right? I've already told her, but she can really proud of herself with how she stood up to that jerk – and if she can hold on to that determination, I don't think she'll ever need to worry about this whole sad episode again... and we'll be there for her, won't we?”

Just as Lilly wanted to answer, Hanako returned again, this time carrying a steaming bowl of rice. After placing it next to her own seat, she sat down also and smiled at us shyly.

Hanako
“So... we can begin now... Please help yourself to everything and tuck in... I hope I didn't mess up the recipe, but it... looks like it did on the photos I saw on the net...”

Lilly
“I am sure it will be delicious, Hanako. But before we eat, I would like to propose a toast – even though this is just lemon soda instead of something more appropriate. So thank you for treating us today, Hanako, and thank you for sharing this with us, Hisao. To our friendship!”

When I raised my glass in response to Lilly's toast, Hanako relaxed slightly and followed suit with her own glass. After we all drank a sip, Hanako started distributing the rice to our plates, followed by the concoction she had brought in first.


Half an hour and two servings of Hanako's delicious meal later, we finally pushed back our plates and sighed in happy unison. Seeing the girls' glasses were empty, I poured another round of drinks, which earned me grateful smiles from both of them. Lilly sat up straight and daintily wiped her mouth with a napkin before she spoke.

Lilly
“That was really great, Hanako – and I hope you will cook for us like this again soon, if I may be so bold. Although if I keep eating your food and maybe also Hisao's for a longer time, I might need to put in a request for a larger uniform...”

Hisao
“Same here, Hanako. If word of your skills gets around, you might end up being forced to take over the cafeteria. So we better keep quiet about this and enjoy it in silence, even though it's selfish of me to say so. At any rate, thank you very much for the meal.”

Hanako
“Oh, please stop... it was just a simple recipe I found on a website, and I believe what you made for us last Friday tasted much better than this, Hisao... but thank you both. In fact, I'd like to propose another toast... to Lilly, the best friend a lonely girl like me could ever have hoped for... and to Hisao, my white knight. I love you both so much.”

Lilly
“Aaaw, that is sweet of you, Hanako... even though your lyrical appreciation of Hisao does sound slightly strange, if I may say so – unless there is something you did not tell me...”

Looking over to Hanako, I caught her hesitant expression and reached over to her, laying my hand on hers. Hanako gave me a grateful smile before taking a deep breath and gazing over to Lilly, whose glass was still raised in response to her friend's toast.

Hanako
“Actually, there is something, Lilly. I heard you talking earlier about how I... bounced back from what happened, and... it was all due to Hisao, who stepped in and helped me... in a great way... so yes, he's been my dragon-slayer and now I... I'll be his lady.”

Lilly's face seemed confused for a blink as she worked out the implications of Hanako's metaphor, then it lit up happily. Putting down her glass roughly, she stood up and opened her arms towards Hanako, who also rose from her place to embrace Lilly. I stood up also and watched the two friends for a moment, filled with bliss from Hanako's words.

Finally Hanako and Lilly released each other, both slightly dewy-eyed. As Hanako slunk in her place at the table again, she stretched out her hands towards me, but before I could reciprocate her gesture, Lilly stepped towards me and embraced me also. After a few moments and a last strong hug, she drew back and looked at me.

Lilly
“I am so glad about this, Hisao. Thank you for everything you did for Hanako, and I hope you two will find true happiness together. Please take care of each other.”

Hanako beamed at hearing Lilly's blessing, then she looked down shyly and wiped her face with a napkin in an attempt to cover her emotions. I noticed that Lilly was still standing and realized that she expected me to say something, so I obliged.

Hisao
“Thank you, Lilly. I promise you I'll do everything in my powers to be a good boyfriend to Hanako, and I'll never let her down. Now there's still some food left, but I'm afraid I just can't eat any more. How about Hanako and I clear off the dishes to the kitchen while you make us some tea, Lilly?”

Lilly smiled to show her agreement and proceeded to the buffet that held her hot-plate and the other things needed to make tea. When Hanako and I had finished returning the dishes and leftovers to the kitchen, we were greeted by steaming cups of fresh tea and sat down again, whiling away the rest of the afternoon with tea and banter.


On Monday morning, I woke up feeling slightly bloated from having eaten too much, but a cup of barley tea and the morning air streaming in through the open window restored me sufficiently. As I left my room, I made a mental note to teach Hanako some lighter meals or at least not to let her prepare such feasts for us too often.

With the dance practices now behind us and the actual dance looming ahead, it felt like most students were rather unwilling to focus on the lessons. Unfortunately, our History and English teachers – my two most problematic subjects – reacted by increasing their lecture speed, going into full oral exam mode to bring us back on track.

After I failed to answer correctly to yet another question about the Meiji Era, I fell back into my seat. Misha looked over to me, but her concern turned to surprise when I just shrugged. For me, the only person in the classroom of any real interest today was the girl sitting in the third row, back to class after missing an entire week of classes.

Seeing Hanako in her usual place when I had come in that morning had been enough to make my day already – but the happy smile I had received from her as she had looked up from her book had turned the contents of my stomach into butterflies. Proceeding to my own seat instead of going over to kiss her had been quite a feat of willpower.

Finally, the lunch bell rang to deliver us from the zeal of our teachers: I actually saw Taro Arai behind me wipe some sweat off his beefy neck as he stood up. I gathered my things, then looked for Hanako and found her talking with Naomi, the blonde girl sitting next to her. Approaching them, I caught Hanako's reply to something Naomi had said.

Hanako
“...actually it's not that hard, Naomi. You just need to remember he's obsessed with the inner reforms of the Meiji-tenno and the... way they incorporated the former samurai at the imperial court. If you read enough about this and write it down in your test, I... think you should be on the safe side.”

Naomi
“Are you sure, Hanako? I mean, I always get the feeling that he's especially hard on me because I'm running the newspaper club! But the school paper doesn't involve a history section, so why should I know more about this than anybody else? After all, it's not like he's teaching current affairs...”

Hanako
“Shh, it's okay, Naomi... tell you what, there's a good book in the library about the help Meiji enlisted from... France and Prussia to build up his army. Just ask Yuuko about it, I believe the title was... oh, hello Hisao! Are you on your way to have lunch?”

Naomi looked up from her notebook, her expression puzzled at Hanako's confident tone as well as her sudden change of topic. I greeted her with a quick nod and held up a hand to signal Hanako I would wait until they were done – but I had apparently underestimated Hanako's desire to be alone with me.

Hanako
“Anyway, just ask Yuuko like I said, and you'll be fine... so do you already have something to eat, Hisao? I made a bigger lunchbox this morning, and I'll be delighted to share with you... do you think anybody's on the roof right now? Otherwise we could go up there to sit in the sun and eat there... so let's go find out. See you later, Naomi!”

Feeling Hanako's arm on mine, I smiled and followed her. As we passed through the door, I turned back to give an apologetic look to Naomi, whose face was scrunched in confusion as she stared after us, her pen still hovering in her hand.


The lunchtime on the roof – which was thankfully devoid of other students – was really pleasant, especially since the elevated position gave us the chance to kiss without fear of being seen. When Hanako's lunchbox was finally empty, she leant back and sighed with a content smile before shuffling closer to me on our bench.

Hanako
“That was great, don't you think? I actually... don't want to go back to class after this. Do you think Mutou would mind it if we... both played truant to stay here? The sun up here's marvellous, and I'd love to have a nap... right here on the bench, with you...”

Hisao
“It sounds really tempting, Hanako... but we better return to class now before Mutou or Shizune start looking for us. I don't believe you want either of us finding us, snuggled up on the bench together, do you? Besides, the wood feels too hard to sleep on...”

Hanako chuckled at the thought and leant over to kiss me on the cheek, then she sighed and closed the lunchbox with an audible click. Rising up from the bench, she held out her hand for me; after I grabbed it and hoisted my body up, we left the roof again.


After the excellent lunchtime, the rest of the classes flew by in no time. During Mutou's class, Hanako raised her hand to answer one of his questions, which baffled the teacher so much it took him several seconds to call her up. When she also delivered the correct response, he actually dropped against the edge of his desk before smiling at her.

Since the tougher-than-usual approach of our morning teachers had also invoked lots of homework, Hanako and I had already agreed during lunchtime not to hang out together after classes. Lilly had told me yesterday that she would be busy with her duties as class representative today, so I walked back to my room and started working.


Later that evening, I was lying on my bed with a good book Hanako had recommended to me and some snacks, having earned it by vanquishing everything my teachers had thrown at me earlier today. My leisure was suddenly interrupted by a probing knock at my door; when I got up and opened, I found Lilly there, looking surprisingly hesitant.

Hisao
“Good evening, Lilly! Do come in, please... oh, just wait a second, there are some things on the floor I need to put away first. I'm sorry, but I wasn't expecting visitors – say, isn't there a rule against girls visiting boys in their dorm rooms after hours?”

Lilly
“That is right, and since I had to ask to locate your room, the manager knows I am here, which means I cannot stay long. Luckily your hallway seemed deserted, so we probably will not be overheard, but I would still prefer to enter your room and to have the door closed behind me. Are you finished with clearing the floor?”

With my shoes now under the bed and my dirty laundry bunched together on the pillow, I slowly led Lilly into the room and then closed the door. As soon as she heard the sound of the latch clicking, Lilly stopped and leaned against the wall, breathing in deeply like a person about to face a hard obstacle that has to be overcome.

Lilly
“Thank you, Hisao. I am really sorry to disturb you this late, but after our time together yesterday, there was something I needed to ask you. Then I came to class this morning and learned something else there that makes it imperative for us to talk now.”

Hisao
“Well, I'm all ears, Lilly. But... this isn't about Hanako having a relapse, is it? Because she was in such high spirits during classes today...”

Lilly
“No, Hanako is fine; she came by earlier and told me about her day. Actually I had to wait until she was asleep so she would not notice me sneaking out to see you. But it is about her, in a way. Let me start by saying again how glad I am that you two are together now; even if I cannot 'see' Hanako, I can feel how happy she is with you. However...”

Hisao
“Now you're actually making me worry, Lilly. Does Hanako have some kind of condition or malady that makes it impossible for us to be together? Wait... you're not about to... give me a lecture on contraception or anything like that, are you?”

Lilly
“What? Oh no, of course not! No, the thing is... this morning Kenji Setou did call in sick after suffering a bad fall in his room – at least that is what we were told at homeroom. Later, Miyagi also told me he asked for permission to move out of the dorm and inquired if he could leave the school for... 'personal reasons'.”

Hisao
“He really did? His fall must've happened while I was out, then... but I never hear anything from him anyway. Mind you, I won't miss him after what he said to Hanako, even though he retracted his insults last Friday and she did get her revenge on him...”

Lilly smirked at the memory of Hanako striking Kenji, but then her milky eyes adopted a serious frown that caused me to sit down like a child expecting to be scolded.

Lilly
“Personally, I do not believe Kenji really fell down, or that Hanako's slaps inflicted enough damage to fool a physician into thinking that he did. But yesterday Hanako called you her dragon-slayer, right? I hate to ask this, since you are very dear to her and to me too, but could you... please tell me what kind of 'dragon' you fought for her?”

Hisao
“I believe you already know what I did, Lilly – and I'm deeply ashamed about it. The only thing I could state in my defence is that it worked out exactly like I hoped it would, but that's no excuse for what I did. Hanako guessed it, and you heard how she feels about it, but I highly doubt that the faculty would see things her way, if they ever found out.”

Lilly
“Thank you for your honesty, Hisao – and I agree with you about what will happen should Kenji decide to report you. So let me make one thing absolutely clear. There is only one reason for me to keep quiet about this.”

Lilly
“For over a year, I did everything I could to help Hanako fight her demons... and yet, she still remained the shyest girl in Yamaku. I would never tell her this, but more than once, I felt like I was fighting something I could never vanquish.

Lilly
“I almost despaired when she shied away even from me at times, and I think I still do not know all that haunts her. Sometimes I feared Hanako might graduate from Yamaku only to vanish in a home for trauma victims afterwards.”

I silently watched Lilly as she spoke with a sad expression on her face, her unseeing eyes half-closed while reliving her sad memories of Hanako's troubled past. Exhaling deeply to clear her mind from them, she straightened her posture and focused on me.

Lilly
“But then you appeared, and you somehow managed to strike a cord within Hanako that I never found. Then you asked her out to the dance, and to my surprise, she accepted. And now you have risked your future as well as your health for Hanako, and won her love. For all this, I would let you get away with murder – as long as you stay true to her.”

Hisao
“Thank you Lilly... both for your honest words and the trust you place in me. I really love Hanako, and I want to stay by her side for as long as she'll have me. I know there might be problems ahead for both of us, but we'll face them together – and if that alone won't be enough to vanquish them, we'll trust you to watch over us, Lilly.”

For the first time since she had come, Lilly's face relaxed and after a second, she started chuckling quietly at my quip. When she stopped chuckling, she sighed like someone who had finally managed to shed a great load, then she turned to me again.

Lilly
“And I will be happy to help you, Hisao. Thank you for everything you did and are willing to do for Hanako, and I do mean everything. Still, you ran a great risk last week and it could yet blow up in your face. So please do not quote me if worse should come to worst... but I hope you managed to silence that dragon permanently.”


Lilly's words were still ringing in my ears as I walked to class the next morning after my run with Emi. Inside the school building, I found Hanako standing at the foot of the main ramp, clearly waiting for me. I quickly nodded towards an empty side corridor and then proceeded into it; after about a minute, Hanako joined me there.

Hisao
“Good morning, Hanako. Sorry I didn't go straight towards you, but I wasn't sure if you intended to come flying into my arms when I saw you standing there. And don't get me wrong, I'd have loved it – but not so much if it happened in full view of dozens of other students. You're not angry at me now, are you?”

Doing my best to put on a remorseful face, I held out both hands and grasped Hanako's hands in mine. Hanako looked down on them in thought, but then she suddenly clutched my hands tightly and pulled me towards her, using my astonishment to kiss me straight on the lips. As she released me again, she giggled at my surprised face.

Hanako
“Okay, you're forgiven, Hisao. To be honest, I... I was considering what you just said, but I'd also prefer to keep this secret from the others... at least a bit longer. After all, I've been here longer than you and... I certainly don't want Shizune to crack down on us like she did on the last couple that was born in our class.”

Hisao
“Did she really? And who, may I ask, were the unlucky love-birds – or did she succeed in getting them thrown out of Yamaku for defying the sacred school rules?”

Hanako
“No, she didn't... but there's a reason why Natsume and Lezard are now sitting almost at opposite ends of the classroom – instead of next to each other like they did all through second grade. So we better go to class now and maintain proper decorum... at least as long as we're in the company of others.”

Throwing a quick glance down the still-abandoned corridor, she swiftly kissed me on the left cheek once more before carefully smoothing her blouse and straightening her black bow. I smiled at her girlish act and imitated adjusting my tie in harmony with her, then we both left the corridor and continued towards the third floor.


As the morning progressed, two things became evident to me. The first one was that the lessons today were much less stressful than on Monday, since the excitement about the last dance practice had faded and everybody seemed to be alert – including Hanako, who baffled our Literature teacher with another correct and voluntarily given answer.

While I silently rejoiced in this, the second development was less obvious. Entering with Hanako this morning, I had caught one or two curious looks, and some of our classmates had congregated during the smaller breaks, but that was nothing special. It took me until the end of the morning lessons to finally realize what was awry.

The sound of the lunch bell found me in the middle of writing down something, so I spent another minute finishing my notes. Looking up, I saw Hanako approach me – and all eyes in the eerily quiet room were on her. When Naomi shirked away from my gaze, I knew she had seen through us yesterday – and she had obviously spread the news.

Seeing my pained face, Hanako hesitated in her approach and turned her head – only to find the curious eyes of a dozen people behind and Misha's slick grin directly in front of her. Her bag dropped to the floor and her eyes grew large as she realized what was going on. Between us, Misha began chuckling at the weird scene – and I darted up.

Before my brain could start to seriously think about my options, I was already past Misha and just in time to catch Hanako before her knees could give away. For a few seconds, I held her body in my arms without feeling any strength in it, but then she reciprocated my embrace and I felt her exhaling quietly close to me.

Gently setting Hanako down on Shizune's unoccupied desk, I held her while pondering my next actions. Just as I was preparing to release Hanako and then turn around to face the gawking mob, I heard something I had not expected at all: clapping. Peering past Hanako's head, I saw several people applaud us, with the rest joining them slowly.

Miki
“Yeah, way to go, Hisao! And of course congratulations to you too, Hanako – well done!”

Haruhiko
“Yes, great work, both of you! But don't let Shizune see you like this, hugging each other tightly on her desk, or she'll... oh, bother!”

I never learned what Shizune might do to us in Haru's opinion, because he was staring at the entrance – and at the exact person he had just talked about. Shizune looked around the room and at our exuberant classmates, then her eyes settled on Hanako and me, still on her desk. Seeing Misha nod at her, she finally smirked and clapped her hands too.

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BlackDuke
Posts: 36
Joined: Sat Apr 16, 2016 10:41 am

Hanako Route, Part 6: Under Arrest

Post by BlackDuke » Sat May 23, 2020 10:56 am

Ten minutes later, Hanako and I finally managed to escape from the room after enduring lots of additional praise from our classmates. Hanako had only slowly surfaced from my embrace and then stared at the smirking Shizune as if the class rep's inability to speak had suddenly spread to her, which had caused much laughter from the others.

Walking towards the empty classroom to eat with Lilly, I thought about our classmates' positive reaction and good-natured taunting. Hanako kept silent until we arrived at our destination, and as soon as the door closed behind us, she silently sat down. Dropping my bag, I approached her and lightly touched her shoulder.

Hisao
“Okay, that was something I never could've imagined – especially after what you told me about Shizune cracking down on other couples in the past! Are you okay, Hanako?”

Hanako
“I'm fine, but... when I approached you and saw your face, I thought for a second... that you wanted me to leave you alone... and then I turned and saw everybody stare at me... and my legs suddenly turned into jelly. I'm so sorry for doubting you, Hisao, but....”

Her words were cut off as I hugged her and then lifted her body up from the table in the air, holding her up for several moments while looking deep into her wide eyes. Putting her down again gently, I bent forward and gave her a deep kiss, to which she responded after some hesitation. As I drew back, I softly stroked her scarred cheek.

Hisao
“You're being silly, Hanako. I told you I love you, and I was ready to face down our entire class over it just now if their reaction hadn't turned out to be so amazingly positive. You are my girlfriend, and I'll never shirk away from showing it. And while I'm not proud of it and never will be – you know what I did for you last week.”

Hanako nodded slowly and wiped her face with the sleeve of her blouse – and then she suddenly started laughing until her whole body shook from it. Seeing my confusion, she grabbed my hand and pressed it while wiping her eyes again with her sleeve.

Hanako
“Sorry to creep you out, Hisao... but I suddenly remembered Shizune's smirking face as we left the room. She looked like... like someone whose elaborate plan had worked out exactly as planned! And she really did tell us that she was... happy to see us together, or didn't she? Please... tell me my eyes and ears didn't deceive me!”

Hisao
“Actually Misha told us... but for once, I'm quite sure she faithfully translated Shizune's gestures instead of softening her friend's fervent temper. And if all our classmates are okay with us, I don't think Mutou or anybody else here will take offence about it.”

Hanako
“Well, he did see us leaving together last Saturday and... I never thought I'd ever say this, but he actually smirked just like Shizune did now. I... I know he's been worrying about me ever since he became our homeroom teacher last year... so he'll probably be glad too.”

Before I could answer her, the door opened noisily and Lilly came in, looking stressed and slightly out of breath. Hanako leaped forward to welcome her and to take her bag, and I drew back her usual chair so she could sit down. After Lilly had settled in the chair, she opened her bag to draw out a water bottle and took a deep gulp from it.

Lilly
“Aaah! Sorry I am late, you two – but there was some unforeseen complication in class, so I had to talk with Miyagi afterwards, and there might be a huge problem...”

Hanako
“It's okay, Lilly. Just take a minute to calm down... and then I'll make tea for us. Besides, we have great news that'll lift your mood again! Our classmates found out about... Hisao and me, and for a moment, it looked really bad... but it turned out everybody was happy for us – and even Shizune was appreciative! Can you imagine that?”

Lilly's mouth opened in surprise, and she seemed to be on the verge of a quick answer, then she closed her mouth again and smiled in Hanako's direction. But her smile looked forced as she straightened on her chair and sighed deeply.

Lilly
“That is truly great, Hanako, and I am really happy your fellow students are so tolerant about you two. However, I have bad news – very bad news. Miyagi just came to tell me that Kenji is intent on leaving the school immediately... and when she asked him why, he told her what really happened to him on Friday.”

Hanako cried out in horror, and I felt her clutch my arm as a jumble of thoughts flashed through my mind. If the faculty knew about how I had thrashed Kenji, I could just as well start packing right now... how would I explain this to my parents... I would have to leave Hanako... Hanako... who was just now demanding further information from Lilly.

Hanako
“...and did Kenji say anything about me slapping him when he came to... well, apologize to me last week? It's not fair if Hisao's the only guilty one, he only attacked Kenji because that imbecile... publicly insulted me! People saw it, among them Mutou, so in my opinion, they just can't sack Hisao for what he did...”

Lilly
“Please calm down, Hanako. I understand that you are angry and shocked, but we have to wait and see what the faculty will do. Miyagi only said that Kenji told her what happened to him, and I did not ask her about the details to hide the fact that I already knew about it. I do hope Hisao gets the chance to state his case, but it will not be easy.”

Hisao
“I know, Lilly – and thank you for telling us, by the way. I hoped we might avoid this, but now that Kenji has talked, I've got to face the consequences of my actions. Will you two stand by me if the principal really decides to press charges?”

Hanako answered my question by hugging me fiercely and holding her embrace around my body until I laid my hand on her head and patted it soothingly. Lilly also smiled at me as she adjusted her position on the chair and took another sip from her water bottle.

Lilly
“Due to the school's special character, most disciplinary actions here only involve minor offences, and you could also plead Kenji's prior sin against Hanako. On the other hand, you only acted six days later, so the principal can see it as a clear case of assault. With the dance coming up, she might decide to wait – or to settle it quickly.”


Lilly's guess about the principal's options came true quicker than I had thought. Hanako and I had left Lilly when the lunch break ended, our return to class being accompanied by a few whistles and smiles from our classmates. Before Hanako separated from me to go to her place, she pressed my hand tightly and smiled at me to cheer me up.

About ten minutes into our geography class, the classroom door opened in the middle of Arao's attempt to coax us into participation. As she stopped her lecture to look for the source of the interruption, Mutou entered the room and nodded to her.

Mutou
“Sorry to barge in like this, Midori, but I need to speak with Nakai right now. Nakai, would you accompany me outside, please? That is, if you can spare him, Midori.”

Arao
“Oh yes, sure, Akio. Ehm... Nakai, could you please leave with Mr. Mutou? Do come back when you're finished... I hope it's nothing serious, is it?”

Mutou
“I'm afraid he will have to be excused for the rest of the day, Midori. Please collect your things and meet me outside in a minute, Nakai.”

Feeling the eyes of my classmates on me, I quickly stuffed my notepad and pens into my bag and then nodded to Arao as I walked towards the door. Before I opened it, I threw a quick gaze across the room at the anxious-looking Hanako in the last row.


Once outside, I followed Mutou through the corridor until he stopped in front of a door and unlocked it. As he opened it, I saw a small room that looked like a smaller version of the nurse's office: an infirmary bed, a desk with a phone and two chairs. Mutou took one of the chairs and motioned at me to sit on the other one as he started speaking.

Mutou
“Listen, Nakai. There has been a complaint by another student who said you assaulted and threatened him last Friday. The principal has therefore decided to hold a disciplinary hearing against you on Thursday afternoon. Until then, you are suspended from class and confined to your room unless you need medical help. Do you have any questions?”

Hisao
“Well, yes. May I ask if you really believe I assaulted somebody, Sir? After all, I'm a heart patient and not allowed to overexert myself in any way, so it's unlikely that...”

My voice died in my throat as Mutou dropped his previous formal expression and gave me a fierce glare I never would have expected to see on him. Seeing my shocked expression, he leant forward and looked at me intently, his eyes boring into mine.

Mutou
“Don't give me that, Nakai. I know you did assault that boy – despite your condition and the dangers it meant for yourself. What I want to know is why you did it. Now I'm going to ask you just one thing, and I strongly advise you to answer me honestly. Did you do it because of what happened to Ikezawa at the second practice?”

Hisao
“Yes, sir. You saw yourself how she ran away back then, and it was because that boy had insulted her in the most horrible way. I waited for her to return from the ward, but when I saw how devastated she still was, I went and forced her assailant to apologize to her. So I'm guilty as charged, and I have no right to remain at Yamaku any longer.”

For the second time in one minute, Mutou astounded me with his expression: smirking in an almost whimsical way, he leant back in his chair. After flexing his fingers in thought, he exhaled audibly and murmured something, then he addressed me again.

Mutou
“That's what the principal might believe, but I'm not so sure. At least I want you to know that, in my eyes, you did a very bad thing for very good reasons – and seeing Ikezawa in class the last days, your plan seems to have worked. Thus I'll try to help you with this as much as I can. Is there anything I can do for you before you return to your room?”

Hisao
“Yes, sir. Could you please tell me how this hearing is supposed to proceed and who will be there to judge me? I've never faced anything like this before, so I'm anxious to know everything I can so I'll be prepared.”

Mutou leant back in his chair and regarded me for a while, then he took a notepad from the desk behind him, quickly sketched a few things on it and handed it to me.

Mutou
“Well, six members of the faculty, one of which is the principal herself, will act as judges. The class representatives of the third-year classes may also be there as observers. You'll hear the charges against you and are allowed to defend yourself. If there are witnesses for or against you, they may also speak out.”

Mutou
“Once this is done, the faculty members will discuss what they heard and then cast their votes. The majority is either four votes or three if it includes the principal's, whose vote is a tie-breaking one. I regret to tell you that the penalty for what you did is immediate expulsion from this school – although I hope it won't come to it. Anything else?”

Hisao
“Ehm... thank you for your words, sir. Maybe you could allow Ikezawa and also her friend Satou to visit me in my room later to talk about this. I don't want Hanako to think I'll be thrown out of Yamaku because of her... and perhaps you could also postpone calling my parents until after the verdict, if that's possible...”

Mutou
“I'm sure I can manage to arrange that, Nakai – and I believe it's very honourable of you to think about how Ikezawa feels about this. Normally, a student under suspension is still expected to do his homework, but I don't think it's appropriate in your situation. Would you like to get some books from the library on the way back?”


Back in my room, I threw my bag on my desk and then dropped down on the chair next to it, my head spinning with thoughts. Instead of escorting me back to the dorm as he was supposed to, Mutou had left me in front of the library after saying that he trusted me to find my way back from there. Apparently he really was on my side.

For the next hour, I tried to read one of the library books without any success. A pesky voice in the back of my head told me I could just as well start packing now and save time later once my expulsion was definite. Well, at least I had not invested time and money in decorating my room with pictures or memorabilia from home...

Shaking my head to get rid of this gloomy thought, I moved to the window to look at the sunny quad outside – and suddenly felt that I wanted to stay at Yamaku. I had only been here for less than six weeks, but despite my failure to decorate my room, I felt at home here, and I had found great friends. So I would need to give my all to earn it.


Later that day, I lay on my bed, pondering how on earth I could make the teachers forgive me, when my door opened with a crash. I jumped up in shock as Hanako darted into the room, throwing her arms around me while burying her head against my shoulder. Behind her, Lilly carefully entered, feeling her way in against the wall.

Lilly
“Hisao? You are in here, right... oh, I hear Hanako has already found you. Hanako, I know how happy you probably are to see Hisao – but try to think about his condition before you hurt him. Are there any obstacles or can I sit down somewhere?”

Hisao
“Yes, my swivel chair is two meters in front of you, Lilly... oof, be careful, Hanako! Thank you both for coming, by the way. Did Mutou tell you about the situation? I asked him to let you visit me, and he said he'd arrange it... oh, did you bring food with you?”

Hearing my last remark, Hanako reluctantly released her tight hold on me and took up a large plastic bag she had dropped right before hugging me. As she lifted it, I could hear the rattling of several soda cans and the rustling of pre-packed food.

Hanako
“Yes, we stopped by at the vending machines before we came... but that's not important right now! Misha said you'd face trial in two days, so there's no time to lose if we want to find a way to keep them from expelling you! Mutou seems sympathetic, but we'll have to persuade the other judges too, whoever they will be! I already asked Shizune...”

I interrupted Hanako's tirade – the longest I had ever heard her speak without pauses or hesitation – by taking her hand and making her sit down next to me on the bed. Lilly had settled on my swivel chair in the meantime and now leant forward to listen to us.

Hisao
“Please calm down, Hanako. Right now I'm just happy to see both of you, and it's been a busy day for all of us. How about we talk about everything while we eat?”


Once everybody had received a sandwich and a can of soda from Hanako's bag, I told the girls about my conversation with Mutou and his surprising tolerance of my motives. Lilly and Hanako knew already how disciplinary actions were done at Yamaku, so I could omit those details, but both expressed their surprise at the teacher's words.

Lilly
“I always knew that Mutou has a big heart, and you seem to be his best student, but it is astounding that he wants to help you when he knows you really did assault Kenji. He must really care about you... and about Hanako too, come to think about it. Still, your chances of avoiding expulsion are slim, Hisao. Do your parents already know?”

Hisao
“I asked Mutou not to call them yet, and he agreed, so I'll cross that bridge if I get to it. There's no use worrying them in advance, and they cannot help me with this anyway. Did Kenji at least keep Hanako out of this when he reported me? Oh, and you said you asked Shizune about this, Hanako... did you really do that, and what did she... well, say?”

Hanako
“Kenji only ratted you out – he probably didn't want anyone to know I slapped him. About Shizune, of course we spoke through Misha... but I'll meet them in the council room first thing tomorrow to ask for help and advice. And I'm going to speak in your defence at the hearing and... tell them... how Kenji vilified me, and what he said...”

A sudden metallic noise made Hanako stop talking; I peered past her and saw Lilly squirm on my well-worn swivel chair, her expression looking pained at her friend's words. Hanako laid down her half-eaten sandwich to also look at Lilly, who sighed loudly.

Lilly
“I am still not sure this is the right approach, Hanako... the teachers might think that you asked Hisao to avenge you, and it is certainly risky to attack Kenji in that way... you see, Hisao, Mutou said Kenji will not be there himself to give evidence against you. And just think about the rumours among the students if you do that...”

To my surprise, Hanako shuffled over towards Lilly and took the blind girl's hands with her own, pressing them lightly before withdrawing back to her place next to me again.

Hanako
“Maybe you're right, Lilly... but if it helps Hisao, I don't care about any rumours! He saved me, and now it's my turn to save him, don't you think? Besides... many people saw me run off at the dance practice, and today our entire class saw how close we are! Let the whole school know that Hisao did it for me, as long as he can stay here... with me...”

The last two words were spoken quietly, as if Hanako had spoken them to herself; maybe she had spent her whole energy on the preceding outburst. As she looked down and took a sip from her soda can, I softly embraced her in a silent gesture of affection.

Lilly
“I understand you, Hanako, and you know I want to save Hisao from expulsion as much as you do. But even with you, me as Kenji's class rep and the student council on his side, do you really think the principal will simply let him off with a warning? After all, even if she is just one of six judges, she is the one who has to answer to the trustees...”

Hanako
“Then we must persuade her and the others that Kenji... had it coming. With his attitude, he must've caused problems before, at his previous schools or right here at Yamaku. He's going to leave the school anyway, and we must find as much against him as possible... if it only serves to clear Hisao! So what can we do besides involving the council?”

Hisao
“Hmm... we might try finding the students who must've overheard his words to you at the practice, and I wouldn't put it past Shizune to have a file about potential troublemakers – but even if she does, she might not let us use it. What do you think, Lilly?”

Lilly did not respond at first, and for a moment I almost thought that she was unwilling to answer me, but then she sighed once more and faced us with sudden resolve.

Lilly
“Actually, there really were some incidents involving him, but since Kenji was not expelled over them, I do not know if dredging them back up might be of much use. Trying to find witnesses for his slurs against Hanako is probably the best road to take here, and that is what I will do tomorrow by asking around for witnesses.”

Hanako
“I'll speak to Shizune and Misha again, and hopefully they'll help us... Hey, I could also ask them if we can rope in other people from our class; maybe we could collect statements from them about how well you've assimilated despite arriving in the middle of things... we will manage to get you out of this, Hisao, I promise you!”

Hanako looked at me, her face beaming with energy and optimism as I watched her with a mixture of amusement and astonishment. Behind her, Lilly appeared flabbergasted about the fervour her normally timid friend was suddenly displaying.

Hisao
“Thank you very much, both of you. Then I'll fully rely on your efforts to raise whatever help you can. I don't know if you'll be allowed to visit me again before the hearing, so if you can't make it, don't worry, okay? Now let's eat the rest of the food, shall we?”

The girls left ten minutes later after more promises to support me on Thursday. As Lilly vanished around the corner, Hanako suddenly darted back to me and kissed me quickly before turning back to follow her friend. I stared after her in awe, the feeling of her lips on mine resonating through my entire body.


Being suspended from class meant I could sleep as long as I wanted, but on Wednesday I awoke right on time like usually. Taking a nice long shower, I mused about the fact that, with Kenji gone, I only had to share the corridor with two other boys, neither of whom seemed to use our kitchen much. Talk about unplanned side-effects...

I idled the morning away by reading and cleaning my room. Due to the meal with Hanako and Lilly, I had skipped my usual Sunday cleaning, and I probably would not have time to do so next Sunday: either I would be too exhausted from the Saturday dance, or I would already be gone from Yamaku by then if the hearing on Thursday went bad.

Finishing my cleaning routine a few minutes after the lunch bell rang out across the quad, I opened a window to let in some fresh air and sat down on my bed again. A low sound in my stomach reminded me that I normally ate lunch at this time, and I wondered what to do about this – but then I heard a knock on my door and rose to answer it.

Opening the door, I found Mutou standing in front of it, his posture slightly awkward like someone about to intrude on a stranger to ask for directions. Seeing me, he gave me a lopsided smile and held up a tightly wrapped bundle that smelled like food.

Mutou
“Hello Nakai, I hope I'm not disturbing you. Yesterday I had forgotten to say that you are of course allowed to use the corridor kitchen during your suspension, and I wasn't sure you had enough supplies... so I thought we could have lunch together while we talk about tomorrow. It's only from the cafeteria, but at least it's the rare stuff...”

Hisao
“Thank you sir; I was just pondering what to do about lunch, so I really appreciate this. I just cleaned my room however, so unless you don't mind the chemical smell, we might be better off eating in the kitchen. That's where my dishes are anyway.”


Sitting in the small kitchen with Mutou, I quickly finished off the veal cutlet sandwich the teacher had brought for me while he savoured his own sandwich. Finally, Mutou swallowed the last bite and straightened in his chair, his gaze fixed on my face.

Mutou
“You know, it's a pity we're in this situation, Nakai. You've only been here at Yamaku for a couple of weeks, but you've fit in so well, it feels like you've been here forever. You're also the best science student I've had for years, if not the best one ever. And this might all be for naught just because you thrashed another student.”

Hisao
“Believe me, nobody feels worse about this than me, sir – well, maybe Setou does, now I think about it. You know why I did it, but I'm well aware that most people here won't see things my way. To be honest, I was quite astonished when you voiced your understanding yesterday, but I know I can't expect you to openly do so at the hearing.”

Mutou
“Well, like I said, I'd hate to lose you because of this – but your actions against Setou obviously constitute a severe transgression of the school code punishable by immediate expulsion. Still, you might try to convey your remorse about what you did to the judges tomorrow, plead for clemency and hope for the best.”

Hisao
“I see. Well, thank you for coming by, and also for the food. I'm surprised you managed to get two veal cutlet sandwiches; Mi... Mikado told me once it was nearly impossible to get just one normally as they were always sold out seconds after the cafeteria opened.”

Mutou
“Hmm... teachers can get first pick on cafeteria goods, although I'd appreciate it if you didn't tell anybody. I'd hate to cause additional unrest right now with the student body already riled up... But I'm afraid I'll have to get back to the school building now, Nakai. I'll make sure you'll get lunch again tomorrow and escort you to the hearing.”

I stood up and cleared away the plates while Mutou threw the wrappings into the trash, then we both left the kitchen. As we arrived in front of my room and Mutou prepared to proceed towards the staircase, I recalled what he had just said a minute ago.

Hisao
“Ehm... I've got one more question, sir. You just said something about the student body being riled up... did something bad happen after I got suspended yesterday?”

Mutou
“Did I really? Oh, I was just referring to the fact that your friends are busy canvassing for you around here, and people listen to them – especially to Ikezawa. So just sit tight and prepare your arguments for the hearing – and know that the principal won't get rid of you as easily as she might've thought yesterday.”

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BlackDuke
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Hanako Route, Part 7: Lady Of The Court

Post by BlackDuke » Sat May 23, 2020 11:00 am

Mutou's kind words and his remark about Hanako's efforts served to keep up my spirits for the rest of the day, which I mostly spent reading. As the dusk crawled in across the school grounds outside, I ate some leftover stew to go with my meds and then decided to go to bed early. Whatever awaited me, I could sure use a good sleep.

After waking up on Thursday morning, I went through my usual routines. In the shower, I realized that I had missed my run with Emi today, only to chide myself at the thought. If the story about my deed was all over school, Emi probably knew better than to expect me at the track – but I still could have used the distraction.

The morning crept by in a slow pace as I tried to put together a strategy for the hearing. Despite my confident words to Hanako and Lilly on Tuesday, I secretly doubted that my actions against Kenji would be condoned by a jury of faculty members, so my search for arguments to persuade them otherwise kept going in unproductive circles.


As the lunch bell rang outside, I straightened my stiff body on the swivel chair and gazed at the meagre list of ideas it had taken me all morning to come up with. Wiping my brow, I decided to take a break and go wash my face in the bathroom. I also had to consider my lunch options, since I would need energy for the hearing.

I was still drying my wet face with a towel when I heard the sound of footsteps outside in the corridor. If it was Mutou coming by with food again, I could skip the cooking, but the steps sounded too light for the tall teacher. As I opened the door and peeked outside, I saw Hanako standing in front of my room, carrying a large package.

Hisao
“Hanako?! What are you doing here... aren't you supposed to be in class now? Oh, wait, I did hear the lunch bell before I left my room, but it still means you must've dashed here in less than three minutes... you did go to class today, didn't you?”

Hanako had dropped her burden on hearing my voice behind her, and her face brightened as soon as she saw me. As I finished my slightly convoluted question, she smirked at me and bent down to pick up her package again.

Hanako
“Hi, Hisao. Don't worry, I was in class, but Mutou said I could leave earlier. This morning, he said he promised you lunch and asked if I could take care of that... and then he told me to take my time. Do you want us to eat in the kitchen, or do you prefer your room? I don't mind if it's not tidy, by the way...”

Hisao
“Hmm... I ate with Mutou in the kitchen yesterday, since the idea of having lunch with him in my room seemed a bit weird – but I can't pass on the chance to welcome my girlfriend there in the middle of the day, to be honest. So let's go in, okay?”


Inside my room, Hanako unwrapped her package to reveal a bag of rolls, a pre-packed tin of soy sauce and two plastic containers with green salad. After distributing the food on two plates, she sat down on the swivel chair while I took my plate and moved over to the bed. For several minutes, we ate in silence before Hanako finally spoke again.

Hanako
“I'm sorry Lilly and I weren't able to visit you yesterday, Hisao... I know you told us not to worry, but it must've been hard for you to be alone up here the whole day, thinking about the hearing and wondering about your fate... I'm not much of a girlfriend if I can't manage to come by and see you in this situation... am I?”

Hisao
“From what Mutou said yesterday, you have been slaving away to convince everyone that I deserve a second chance, and he also said you were doing a great job. So in my opinion, you're the very best kind of girlfriend – and besides, you're here now, aren't you? My only real worry is that all of your good work might be for naught in the end...”

Hanako
“Don't say this, Hisao! What you did, you did for me, and I'm glad if I can repay you for it at least a bit by... by trying to get you off the hook. So please don't lose hope and go to the hearing with confidence! I believe we've got some good arguments, and we will do our best to convince the principal that... you've earned the right to stay here!”

Sensing the willpower in Hanako's words, I set down my plate and bent forward to take her hands in mine. Voicing my doubts would be hard, especially considering the trust she placed in me, but since this might be the last time I could speak with Hanako alone, I had to tell her what had been going through my head the whole morning.

Hisao
“Hanako... please don't take this the wrong way. I'm both proud and grateful of what you and Lilly are doing for me, and if I had to decide again, I would take care of Kenji before he could ever hurt you... but despite all our hopes, I still fear the odds might be against me. So what will happen if I really am expelled today?”

Hanako looked at me silently, her expression hard to read. Seeing that I was not going to say anything else, she drew back her hands from mine and stood up – only to kick off her shoes, slide on my lap and embrace me fiercely. As I shuffled my position to deal with the sudden weight on my legs, she whispered in my ear.

Hanako
“If you really are expelled, you'll have to leave Yamaku... and if that's the case, I'll go with you, wherever you go... if you want me to. I know I said so before, Hisao, but I really love you... and I couldn't stand losing you again, even if I have to part from Yamaku and... from Lilly also... but she'd probably understand. So this is my answer to you, Hisao.”

For a moment, I imagined myself and Hanako facing my parents in our home, telling them about my expulsion and asking them to accommodate both of us. It was a romantic idea, but I could never do this to her – or to my hard-working parents. Whatever happened to me after today, I knew in my heart that I could not accept Hanako's offer.

Hisao
“I love you and want to be with you too, Hanako, but I don't think leaving Yamaku with me would be the right thing for you. Listen, if I really do get expelled, I'll apply for a place at the high school in the nearby city, so we'll still be close to each other... and it would only be for less than a year anyway, right? Do you think you could wait for me?”

Instead of answering, Hanako just nodded and then snuggled closer to my body, her head resting on my shoulder and my arm wrapped around her slim waist. We sat like this for an indeterminable amount of time until Hanako stirred to look at my alarm clock. Seeing the time, she gasped and quickly got up from my lap to find her shoes.

Hanako
“I'm so sorry, Hisao, but... I ought to go back now, it's almost time for classes and I don't want to abuse Mutou's kindness... although I'd much rather stay here with you like this... I promise I'll be at the hearing later, so we'll see each other there, okay?”

After giving me a kiss on my cheek, Hanako left my room and I heard her steps clattering down the corridor. I reluctantly cleared away the packaging of the food she had brought with her and then moved to the window to look out; doing so, I saw her crossing the quad in a quick and confident-looking stride before she vanished behind the trees.

Dropping down on my swivel chair that still felt warm from Hanako's presence, I exhaled slowly and deliberately. Her offer to sacrifice her own prospects in order to follow me if I had to leave Yamaku had shaken me more than I had shown to her, and for the first time I realized that Hanako might actually be the stronger person in our relationship.

Forcing myself to return to the disjointed mess of arguments I had written down during the morning, I drew up the notepad and went to work. To my own surprise, my mind felt clearer and more resolute than before Hanako's visit: clearly her confidence in me and in my chances at the hearing had fuelled my own optimism.


At a quarter past five, Mutou finally came to bring me to the hearing. Although we exited the dormitory through the back door and the teacher set a quick pace across the quad, I saw several students from my class, who gave me encouraging smiles. Mutou caught my gaze and smiled stiffly before urging me on towards the auxiliary building.

Inside the building, we continued to a corridor at the third floor. After passing a number of closed office doors, Mutou stopped in front of another, larger door. Behind it, I heard several people talking with each other and tried to discern familiar voices amongst them; then I realized Mutou was looking at me with a serious expression.

Mutou
“Alright, this is it, Nakai. Just act naturally and answer the questions you're asked – and apart from that, keep a cool head and follow your instincts. I'll try to do as much as I can for you in there, but remember you need to persuade a majority of us to stay here. Take the chair in the centre and get up when you're addressed, okay?”

Knocking on the door, he waited for an answer from inside that came almost immediately, then he opened it and motioned me to go ahead. I took a deep breath and exhaled slowly, then stepped through the door into the room to face the court.


The first thing to catch my eye inside the room were several adults sitting at a long table to my right: looking closer, I recognized Lilly's homeroom teacher Miyagi, the head nurse, Arao and the principal. Mutou sat down too, taking a chair between Arao and the white-haired art teacher I had seen at the first dance. So these were my judges.

As I proceeded to a single chair waiting for me in the centre of the room, I saw another row of chairs at the side, packed with students. Shizune and Misha I had expected to be there, and I was glad to see that Lilly had accompanied Hanako, but then my eyes fell on Emi and Rin sitting next to a tall boy unknown to me. Why were they here?

Principal
“Good evening, Mr. Nakai. I understand you have been told you were accused of violent behaviour against another student. This hearing will establish whether these charges are true and give you the opportunity to state your own view of the matter. Have you been informed already what will happen if you are found guilty of the charges?”

Hisao
“Ehm... yes, I have, Ma'am. As I understand it, I would be expelled from Yamaku Academy, effective immediately.”

Principal
“That is correct. Because of the seriousness of the charges, the representatives of the third-year classes have asked to attend as observers today. Ms. Ikezawa requested to be here to speak in your favour, and she named Ms. Ibarazaki from class 3-4 as an important character witness. Are you okay with this, Mr. Nakai?”

The principal's question almost went right past me as my brain struggled to decipher her previous statement. The tall boy was probably here representing his class, just like Lilly and Shizune were, but if Emi was here as a witness, was Rin actually their class rep? And why had Hanako brought Emi... and what could Emi contribute to this matter?

Hisao
“Oh, do forgive me... yes, I'm okay with everyone's presence, Ma'am. In fact, I'm happy to have so many of my friends here with me, and I hope that I'll be able to spend much more time with them here at Yamaku.”

Hanako beamed at me from her seat, and Shizune smirked as Misha translated my words to her, but the principal pursed her lips at my declaration. The white-haired teacher also shot me a nasty glare before he passed a folded sheet of paper to the principal. After unfolding it, she read off its contents in a stark, matter-of-fact voice.

Principal
“Two days ago, Mr. Kenji Setou from class 3-2 filed a complaint against Mr. Nakai here. According to Mr. Setou, Mr. Nakai came to his room last Friday to threaten him – and when Mr. Setou did not submit to his demands, Mr. Nakai started punching and kicking him until his victim was cowering on the floor, severely weakened and injured.”

Principal
“Afraid of additional harm, Mr. Setou then barricaded himself in his room for the entire weekend. On Monday morning, he called in sick and inquired whether he might move to another room; later, he expressed his desire to leave the school completely. When asked about his reasons, he hesitated, but finally described Mr. Nakai's assault on him.”

Lowering the sheet again, the principal's gaze swerved around the room before her eyes came to rest on me. For a moment, I felt like a loathsome creature that had been caught defiling something pure, and my hopes of staying at Yamaku plummeted. I dared not to look back at the spectators, afraid I might see the same disgust in their eyes.

Principal
“Following his description of the purported incident, Mr. Setou was examined by one of the school's physicians and the head of the school nursing staff. They found a number of bruises that sustained his story. Therefore, it was decided to stage a hearing to give you a chance to answer to the aforementioned charges. Mr. Nakai?”

Feeling all eyes in the room on me, I slowly rose from my chair and took a deep breath to compose myself. I only had one shot at this, and I knew very well I was guilty as charged – but apparently Kenji had preferred not to mention how he had drawn my ire in the first place. So the only way for me to stay was to tell them what he did to Hanako...

Hisao
“Thank you, Ma'am. First of all, I need to say that there is some truth in what Setou said. While I did not intend so when I went to his room last Friday, I did end up attacking him in a sudden burst of anger and hostility I'm still deeply ashamed of. I'm not a violent person, and I've never physically assaulted anybody before in my life.”

Mutou
“That's what we would like to believe, Nakai. In fact, the files we got from your previous schools called you a solid if unremarkable student who never stood out much. You never faced any kind of disciplinary action before, so the crucial question probably is: why did you suddenly march up to confront Setou and ended up manhandling him?”

Behind me, somebody chuckled slightly at the words “solid if unremarkable”; it sounded like Emi. I stifled a groan at the unflattering characterization, but then I saw the principal glower at Mutou – and I realized he had spoken up against protocol to give me a chance to mention Kenji's verbal aggression against Hanako.

Hisao
“There is indeed a reason for this, sir. At the second practice class for the school dance almost two weeks ago, he insulted my dance partner and friend, Hanako Ikezawa, without any provocation from her. While I hesitate to repeat his exact wording, I can assure you it was so abhorrent that she ran off in terror afterwards and never came back.”

The principal frowned at my words, then looked over to Mutou and the nurse, who both nodded with serious faces to confirm my statement. As her gaze went back to me, she noticed something and looked at the spectators at the far end of the room.

Principal
“Even if what you just said is true – and my colleagues here seem to believe it is – I still wonder why you didn't report this to a teacher and instead waited almost a week to seek out Setou yourself. But since Ms. Ikezawa is present here today at her own wish, maybe she can elaborate further? You don't have to speak if you don't want to, girl.”

Hanako flinched slightly on being addressed, but when Lilly pressed her hand to calm her down, she straightened herself and made a step forward. I caught her eyes and gave her a warm smile, which she reciprocated before she started speaking.

Hanako
“Thank you, Ma'am... but I want to tell you what happened. Back then, that boy... he said that my friends only associated with me out of pity, and that Hisao here only... chose me as his partner because he... hoped to have sex with me. It's wrong, of course... but I was so shocked I ran off and needed days to overcome my trauma. ”

As Hanako stopped to take a breath, the principal bent down to the nurse next to her and whispered something; the startled face she made at his reply told me she apparently had not known about Hanako's stay in the ward. Deciding to use her momentary loss of control over the proceedings, I took over the narration from Hanako.

Hisao
“I decided not to report Setou before asking my friend what she wanted, but she was in isolation for several days, where I could not visit her. I also hoped that the culprit might feel remorse for what he said. When Hanako finally came back, she was still subdued and withdrawn, so I thought it might help her if Setou apologized for his words.”

Hisao
“On Friday, I went to his room to plead with him. However, he rudely brushed my request off, insulted Hanako further – and I snapped. After I pummelled him, he did as I wanted and apologized to Hanako, who was completely unaware about his reason to suddenly do so. If I may add one more thing: she quickly recovered from her trauma afterwards.”

The principal looked over to Mutou, who nodded once more to confirm that Hanako had indeed changed visibly during the last days. Silently pondering her options for a moment, she finally addressed the still-standing Hanako in a slightly patronizing tone.

Principal
“I do regret the unfortunate episode that happened to you, my girl, and I'm happy to hear that you got over it – but still, the situation remains the same. Mr. Nakai has confirmed that he did assault Mr. Setou, even if if was in return for his vicious insults against you. So unless there's anything that has not been said yet, we'll have to...”

Hanako
“Sorry to interrupt you, Ma'am, but there's indeed one more thing to be said... Why was Kenji Setou still attending Yamaku until this Monday although he'd already... committed several clear offences against the school rules before – at least two of them serious enough to... to have him expelled on the spot?”


The effect of Hanako's words on the principal was remarkable: her condescending smirk turned into slight irritation for being interrupted, only to be wiped away by a look of pure shock and incredulity. As she fought to regain her composure, I saw how the other judges exchanged glances, then she straightened herself and spoke again.

Principal
“Ms. Ikezawa, you're not the person on trial here, and as I just said, I do sympathize with you after how Mr. Setou insulted you. However, I'm not willing to tolerate any unfounded accusations against him in this hearing, unless you can back them up with proof.”

Cringing at the edge in the principal's voice, I quickly turned around to see its effect on my normally timid girlfriend. To my surprise, Hanako's face did not flinch until the end of the tirade – and then the corners of her mouth curled up slightly. As she took an open folder from Lilly sitting behind her, her voice sounded steady and strong.

Hanako
“According to the files of the student council, Setou received his first warning just two weeks into his first year after... voicing his opposition to be taught by female teachers on account of their gender. One month later, he was caught smuggling a case of liquor into the dorm... with the intention to sell the contents to other students.”

Hanako
“After the second infringement, your predecessor summoned Setou's father, who made a deal: Setou was suspended for a week, but the alcohol smuggling was kept out of his file. Although his... misogyny became less obvious, he remained a salty student his classmates found difficult to approach, and unwilling to even consider getting closer to anyone.”

Turned around in my seat, I watched Hanako's delivery with my mouth open. For once, all eyes in the room were on her, and she seemed to be okay with it. Behind me, I heard the other judges whispering to each other. Finally, the principal loudly banged her knuckle on the desk in front of her to quieten down her colleagues.

Principal
“Calm down, everybody! Now, Ms. Ikezawa, I'm not going to comment on decisions made by my predecessor, or on the content of files supposed to be strictly confidential. But even if things did happen like you just said, neither of these incidents was bad enough to expel a student from this school, so unless there's something else...”

Hanako
“I'll come to that in a moment, Ma'am. As I was saying... Setou proved to be a problem case very quickly, but it was not until the last term of his first year that he did some real damage. His class had received a transfer student recently blinded in an accident and still hoping to regain his eyesight someday. Setou... told him he knew of a way to do so.”

Hanako
“Apparently Setou offered the other student some kind of potion he had concocted and told him it would cure their blindness. After drinking it, the other student... collapsed on his way back to his room and was brought to a hospital, where he was diagnosed with a severe case of poisoning and had to spend weeks in intensive care.”

Miyagi
“Oh my god! Ehm... I mean, that's terrible, Ikezawa. But if what you just said is the truth, then what happened to Setou? I'm sorry, but I never heard anything about it before, and I've only been his homeroom teacher since last year.”

Nomiya
“It's okay, Yuuna. What Ikezawa failed to mention is that Setou drank from his mixture himself and, while being less affected by it than his classmate, he developed a stomach-ache and missed two weeks of school. Therefore, it was seen as a case of adolescent mischief gone awry, and Setou was not held responsible for it.”

Principal
“Thank you, Mr. Nomiya. It was one of my very first actions as newly-installed principal, so I still remember it clearly. Sadly, the injured student decided not to remain at Yamaku after he was released from hospital, and returned to his home town. But as Mr. Nomiya said, after a thorough investigation the faculty did not blame Setou for the incident.”

Hanako
“According to what I heard, one of the staff doctors believed Setou had... watered down his own drink while giving his friend the undiluted stuff. As Setou threw away the rest of the mixture before calling in sick, the doctor was unable to prove his theory. In the end, the different effects were attributed to the weak condition of the other student.”

Nomiya
“I don't know where you heard that, Ikezawa – but that's just hearsay. In any case, Setou was put on probation for the rest of the term. When the school started again, Setou's father informed us that his son had shown remorse over his actions and promised not to step out of line again. Therefore, we agreed to end his probation.”

Bolstered by the art teacher's statements, the principal exhaled audibly to show that she considered the matter of Kenji's past mischiefs closed for good. Before she could speak again, however, Hanako held up her hand to signal that she had more to say.

Hanako
“I'm well aware of this agreement, sir... and Setou indeed stuck to his word for the major part of the second year – mostly. According to student council members present today, Setou accused them of, and I quote, 'doing the enemy's work for her' after they spoke in support of the principal's plan to reorganize the distribution of the student mail.”

Her last words were almost drowned out by a trademark chortling from the back bench: to Misha, Kenji's insults had probably been hilariously funny. The principal looked miffed at the idea to be referred to as 'the enemy', but she collected herself after a moment and focused on Hanako, who continued speaking as Misha quieted down.

Hanako
“While the student council members deemed this incident too small to report, something else happened a month later that's... more relevant to today's case. A shy girl that Setou knew from his home town became popular after joining the track team and finding friends there. For whatever strange reason, Setou started to zero in on her like a shark.”

A metallic noise rang through the room; as I turned around once more, I saw that Emi had abandoned her previous slouching posture to sit upright, her running springs producing the strange sound I heard. Wait... if the girl in question had been on the track team, then Emi must have known her, so maybe that was her reason for being here today...

Hanako
“Over several weeks, Setou kept hounding that girl, harassing her through insults, small acts of brutality and telling nasty tales about her to other students. Just... like with me, he showed a twisted gift to hit the girl's weakest points and insecurities. In the end, she decided to leave the track team, hoping to be left alone by Setou by doing so.”

Hanako
“Naturally, the team leaders wanted to know why their newest talent suddenly wanted to quit... and after some hesitation, she told them about Setou's bullying. I believe the rest of the story might better be told by another person who's also present today and wants to speak on behalf of Hisao Nakai. Emi... would you please continue?”

Another metallic scraping was heard as Emi stood up and straightened to her full height of about five feet. As Hanako sat down on her chair, I turned back to the judges to see the effects of Hanako's surprise. The nurse smirked while the female teachers seemed wary of what might happen now, and Nomiya was frowning heavily.

Emi
“Thank you, Hanako! Ehm... so, like she just said, the poor girl told us she'd been hassled for weeks by that mean boy. She didn't want to report him, so me and a friend decided to seek Setou out, hoping we might convince him to lay off the bullying. But he sneered in our face and insulted us as well as her... so I blew up and kicked him in the groin.”

Nomiya
“Thank you, Ibarazaki. As most of the people present today are well aware what happened then, let me cut it short: Setou was hospitalized, you divulged his misdeeds towards your teammate and in the end, you lost your slot as captain of the track team. Now could you please enlighten us why you're bringing that up here and now?”

Emi
“Well, I thought it might be obvious, sir. Just like Hanako here, my teammate was bullied by Kenji Setou, just like my friend Hisao, I went to talk it out with him, and... just like I did when he stood before me unrepentant, Hisao also snapped and resorted to violence when words were obviously of no use against that... that...”

Hanako quickly shot up again to interrupt Emi's tirade and to cut off her anger-fuelled recollections before they would land her into hot water with the teachers.

Hanako
“Anyway... according to the school rules, Setou should have been expelled then and there for bullying, with or without his previous infractions taken into account. But he got one more chance because of his injury... and because his father threatened bloody murder and legal action if his son was punished. In the end, the school... caved in, if I may say so.”

Hanako
“After that, Setou's attendance that had already been spotty decreased even more until he stayed in his dorm room most of the time. Since this also reduced the chance of him raising further trouble, this might've been considered beneficial for all parties... until two weeks ago, when he suddenly... lashed out against me at the dance practice.”


When Hanako had finished her narration and sat down again, the room fell eerily quiet for at least half a minute: both the students behind me and the faculty members in front of me seemed too occupied with their thoughts to voice them in any way. Finally, it was the principal who got up and, looking around the assembly, spoke out.

Principal
“I understand that your friends have said what they came here to say, Mr. Nakai. Do you or anyone else here have anything to add to it before the jury members will withdraw to start discussing the case... yes, Ms. Hakamichi, what is it?”

To my surprise, Shizune had risen up from her seat and was now signalling animatedly to Misha sitting next to her. As the signalling went on, Misha held up one hand to slow the speed of Shizune's gestures and stood also to face the faculty members.

Misha
“Shi... I mean, the student council president wants to add that despite his belated arrival, Hisao Nakai assimilated to this school remarkably quick and made many friends already – in his own class and beyond it. Therefore, his classmates and the representatives of the third-year classes are asking you to be... merciful in your verdict.”

While Misha was talking, Shizune drew out two sheets of paper and stepped forward to the judges' table. From the corner of my eye, I saw that they both bore a short text and several signatures below it. As Shizune laid them down in front of the principal, I saw her eyes sparkle combatively at the sitting teachers.

Principal
“Ehm... very well. That concludes the hearing; would everybody except the jury members please leave the room for a moment? Mr. Nakai, you may also leave. You're free to talk with your friends now, but please stay nearby so we can continue without delay once the verdict has been agreed on.”

As the other students rose from their seats and walked out, I slowly stood up also and stretched my slightly cramped legs. Moving towards the exit, I glimpsed Mutou giving me an awkward smile half hidden from his colleagues by his raised hand.

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BlackDuke
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Hanako Route, Part 8: The Spoils Of Victory

Post by BlackDuke » Sat May 23, 2020 11:02 am

The door to the meeting room had barely closed behind me when I heard Hanako cry out my name. Turning around, I spotted her running towards me with her arms wide open, and just managed to spread out my own arms in time to catch Hanako in a quick embrace. As I did so, I heard several people starting to laugh behind her.

Emi
“Pffft! Say, Hanako... you know that it's forbidden to run in the corridors, don't you? And I heard that Hisao's particularly vulnerable to sudden body checks...”

Rin
“That's rich, coming from you of all people, Emi. But you might want to scout her for the track team: Hanako might be able to outrun even you if Hisao's waiting at the finish line for her. Nice catch, however... you guys did practice that before, didn't you?”

Rin's strange idea about how Hanako and I spent our 'couple time' elicited another wave of laughter behind us, and I felt Hanako also giggle against my chest. Releasing her from my grasp gently, I looked at the merry group of students assembled around us and felt like a tremendous load had just been lifted from my shoulders.

Hisao
“You guys... there's so much I'd like to say to each of you, but for now, just... thanks for everything you did for Hanako and me. She already told me that she had managed to find evidence to support me when she came to visit yesterday, but... I assume she's had some help from the student council. Thank you both, Shizune and Misha.”

Misha
“Well, like I always say: knowledge is power! Uhm, actually that's Shicchan's view, but it is really me saying it, so... it just happens that our files provided information about Kenji's previous violations. And while Shicchan and I collected the signatures for the petitions, it was initially Hanako's and Lilly's plan to do so, and it was a really great idea!”

Next to me, Hanako slightly fidgeted on hearing even Misha (and Shizune) praise her like this, so I patted her on the head to reassure her. Seeing Lilly lean against the wall with a quiet smile, I stepped forward and took her hand, pressing it slightly. Lilly blushed at the sudden contact, but then she smiled and pressed my hand back in response.

Lilly
“We just thought that having other students pledge their support for you would be the best tool against the school's accusations. I thought we might have to talk some of your classmates into doing it, but they all agreed to sign right after hearing that you were in danger of being expelled for defending Hanako's honour against a malicious bully.”

Hisao
“I shudder to think how they'll welcome me tomorrow morning – that is, if I'm allowed to stay here after all. But having all the class reps attend the hearing and also pledge their support might just save my hide. Oh, by the way... I was wondering before, but, Emi... is Rin actually the elected representative of your class?”

Emi produced a slightly pained smile at my question, then she gazed at Rin looking out of a nearby window and at the council girls busy signalling to each other. Finally, she moved up closer to me with a very conspiratorial expression on her face.

Emi
“Actually, she's just the deputy. Our real class rep's friendly, reliable, nice... and he had a vicious fight with Shizune during our first year. He wanted to step down after that, but we decided to keep him and send someone else to the rep meetings. Nominating Rin was our way to get back at Shizune, but please don't tell her. You too, Lilly!”

Her final remark was aimed at Lilly, who appeared to have severe problems to contain her mirth at Emi's revelation. As the delegate of her own class, she had probably experienced a fair number of meetings thrown off balance by Rin's unique ideas or skittish attention levels. Eventually, Lilly calmed down.

Lilly
“I am sorry, Emi... but you just solved a conundrum which has haunted me ever since the day I heard Misha announce that Rin was to replace that other boy. Rin actually speaks out regularly during the meetings, but her contributions are not very helpful most of the time. I always wondered why she was there, so thanks for clearing out that.”

Emi
“Anyway, with Rin signing the second petition as representative of our class, three of the four third-year classes were on board. And Yusuke Konno from 3-1 signed immediately as Misha told him that Shizune would look kindly on him for doing so. I never knew it before, but he does seem to have a thing for strong, silent women. Poor fool.”

Lilly suppressed another chuckle at Emi's quip, then she gently dragged the other girl off to the side. Emi looked perplexed for a moment, but then she followed Lilly to the bench where Rin was still daydreaming. With the council girls busy conversing and Yusuke gone off somewhere, I turned to Hanako still standing next to me in silence.

Hisao
“You haven't said a single word at all since we've come out here, Hanako. What you said and did in there was... the bravest thing I've ever seen in my life, really. Without that, I'd be off packing my things already for sure, but now I do believe I have a real chance. So if I'm allowed to stay at Yamaku, it's only thanks to you and...

Hanako took a step towards me and gently laid a finger on my mouth to cut me off, then she embraced me again and pressed her head against my collarbone. I wrapped my arms around her in turn and we just kept standing there together, locked in a silent embrace with my hand occasionally caressing her silky hair.


After what felt like a lifetime but – as the wall clock told me – had only been about ten minutes, the door to the conference room opened and the head nurse emerged. I heard him call out and looked up to see that the others had gathered close to the staircase to talk, giving Hanako and me some peace before the verdict.

Nurse
“Sorry it took so long, but we finally reached a decision. I've been sent out to find you, so everyone please come back in for the verdict. Uhm... Ikezawa, I'm afraid it's kind of important, so you'll have to let go of Nakai for a moment, if you don't mind?”

As Hanako reluctantly separated from me, I saw she was blushing fiercely in reaction to the nurse's jibe. Thankfully, the other students just filed past us without any comments and the nurse joined them. Hanako moved too, but I quickly took her by the wrist to pull her close and gave her a quick kiss on the lips before we walked in together.


With everyone back at their assigned places, the principal stood up and took a while to gaze around the room in silence. Finally focusing on me standing upright in the middle of the room, she nodded as if to reassure herself about the next step and then spoke.

Principal
“Before announcing the verdict, I want to reiterate some crucial points. This school can only work if the rules laid down by its administration are followed by everyone, without exception. Mr. Nakai committed a serious violation of these rules by assaulting another student, and while he is repentant now, he certainly acted remorseless before.”

Principal
“On the other hand, Ms. Ikezawa told us that Mr. Nakai's victim had cruelly insulted her earlier and had a history of misconduct while being here. On behalf of Yamaku Academy, I wish to apologize to Ms. Ikezawa that this deplorable incident was even possible and that the culprit remained unpunished by the faculty afterwards.”

To my surprise, she bowed her head to Hanako behind me, who gasped in astonishment; she obviously had not expected that. Since Hanako did not answer right away, Rin nudged her with one arm stump to elicit a response from her, and Hanako hastily nodded to show that she appreciated the conciliatory gesture.

Principal
“Also, the fact that Mr. Nakai's entire class has signed a plea of clemency for him counts in his favour as a strong proof that he has been successfully integrated into Yamaku. So, the judges had to decide what weighed higher: Mr. Nakai's clear violation of school rules, or the high level of acclaim he gained from his peers.”

The principal paused to look at the sheet on front of her to confirm she would announce the correct decision, which fuelled my anxiety even further. Behind me, I heard one girl suck in her breath in suspense, but my own apprehension kept me from turning around to see who it was. Finally, the principal looked up again and focused on me.

Principal
“After much deliberation, this commission has decided to accept Mr. Nakai's apology for his misconduct and to issue a severe warning to him, which will be taken into account if he should commit any other infractions against the school rules during his remaining time here. However, the majority of the judges believe that he shall not be expelled...”

As the crucial words sank in, I inadvertently dropped back on my chair in relief, ignoring the joyful noises of my friends behind me which drowned out the rest of the principal's sentence. For a while, I just stared at the ceiling to collect my thoughts and calm down my spiking heartbeat until I realized that the principal was repeating her words.

Principal
“...not be expelled from Yamaku Academy and may continue to attend for the rest of the school year. I do not share this view myself, but I do accept my colleagues' decision. You are free to leave now, Mr. Nakai... but remember you are expected to appear in class as usual tomorrow morning. The session is closed, all students please leave.”


Once again, I was the last student to exit the room. Knowing I could remain at Yamaku, I felt like walking on clouds after three days of living with the constant fear of inglorious banishment. Still, I knew that only Hanako's miraculous defence and the bold support of my fellow students had managed to get me off the hook.

To my surprise, the corridor outside was empty except for Hanako standing several feet away, with her back and head leaning against the wall. As I approached her, she turned and gave me a shy, self-conscious smile that made my heart ache with affection.

Hanako
“Ah, there you are... Lilly and the others said they would leave for their rooms, since it's already six-thirty, and they needed to eat dinner and do their homework... but I'm almost certain they just wanted to give us some time alone, which feels a bit embarrassing...”

Hisao
“Well, in that case I say 'bless their thoughtful little hearts' and thank you for staying to wait for me. And since I've been allowed to stay at Yamaku, I can finally say what I tried to tell you during the break... it's all thanks to you, Hanako. You told Lilly on Tuesday it was your turn to save me now, and you came through amazingly.”

Seeing Hanako's eyes were already moist, I stopped trying to find appropriate words for her heroism and just embraced her fiercely, her tear-streaked face tight against my neck. We probably could have stood like this for ages, but after a while, the door opened again and I heard Mutou's amused voice behind us.

Mutou
“I'm really sorry for interrupting you two, Nakai... but you might want to leave now. Don't tell anyone I said so, but there are better places for what you're doing than here. Oh, and Ikezawa... you can be really proud of yourself. See you both tomorrow!”

As our teacher continued his way towards the exit, we stared at each other: Hanako was looking down awkwardly and my face felt also flushed at Mutou's good-natured comment. Wiping some sweat from my forehead, I eventually chuckled and smiled at Hanako.

Hisao
“He's right, you know. You were truly marvellous today – but we should leave now before the principal comes out. And although there's nothing I'd like more than to spend more time with you, the next two days will be strenuous, so let's call it a day, okay?”

Hanako nodded wordlessly with her face still red from embarrassment, then she took my hand in hers and we left the auxiliary building to walk back to the dorms. Savouring the walk across the quad together with Hanako, I finally kissed her goodnight in front of the girl's dorm and stayed put to look after her until she had vanished behind its doors.


Although my elation over the hearing's good outcome was still persisting, I approached my classroom with a certain sense of dread the next morning. Just as I reached the door and reached for the knob, I felt a light punch from behind and turned to see Emi standing there with a big grin that looked vaguely menacing to me.

Emi
“Hello Hisao! You know that, now that your name's been cleared, I expect you to honour our agreement about the morning runs, okay? So unless you go and beat up somebody else to get yourself suspended again, be at the track on Tuesday morning like usual!”

Hisao
“In that case, I'll try extra hard not to become violent again, Emi... but right now I'll have to face my classmates and thank them for their support. So see you later, and say hello to Rin for me, okay?”

The small girl nodded happily and bounded off towards her own classroom as I breathed in deeply and opened the door in front of me. Luckily, most of my classmates were not yet present; as I quickly shuffled to my own place, I waved at those already sitting at their desks and received several smiles and raised thumbs in response.


About fifteen minutes later – which felt like an hour as every new arrival approached me to welcome me back in class – Mutou finally arrived and immediately started the roll-call. After reminding us that, despite the upcoming dance, we were still to take today's and tomorrow's classes seriously, he looked at me and smiled.

Mutou
“I believe that you all noticed that Nakai is back with us after his recent suspension. He will stay with us, and I hope to see him graduate with everyone else next spring. Do you wish to say anything to your classmates, Nakai?”

Rising from my chair to face the class, I was reminded of my first day at Yamaku and the pitiful introduction I had produced then. Seeing Hanako smile at me from her seat in the back row, that episode felt like years ago. I nodded at Mutou to thank him for calling me up and then bowed deeply towards my classmates.

Hisao
“When I came here, being appreciated by my new class wasn't really one of my priorities. But after seeing how you reacted to Hanako and me, and learning you all signed a plea to the principal to be lenient with me even in spite of what I did, I'm deeply grateful to each and everyone of you. Thank you so much, my dear friends.”

Everybody started to applaud loudly, including the smiling Mutou and Hanako, whose face was slightly crimson from the memory of the incident on Monday. As the applause died down again, Mutou closed his folder and prepared to leave. I sat down again with a sigh, but then Haruhiko came over and bent down to address me.

Haru
“Say, Hisao... from what I heard this morning, you were acquitted by four votes against two. You've got any ideas about who was on your side and who wasn't?”

Hisao
“That's a good question... actually, I'm quite sure I got Mutou's support, and the principal said she voted against me. But apart from that, I don't really have a clue... eh, sir?”

I broke off my musing as I noticed the tall figure of our class teacher looming up behind Haru, who quickly turned around in surprise. Mutou studied us for a moment in his usual detached way before he produced a slight smirk. Pointedly looking out of the window at the bright summer day outside, he then spoke quietly, as if to himself.

Mutou
“I don't know if you've ever considered joining the art club, Nakai... but you shouldn't try that right now, since Mr. Nomiya believes there's no place at Yamaku for you. Does this answer your question? Oh, I think I must go now; see you later, boys.”

As the teacher finally grabbed his bag from his desk and exited the room, Haru looked at me and we both started laughing. So Nomiya had also wanted to throw me out, just like the principal – but the other two third-year homeroom teachers and the head nurse had joined Mutou in giving me another chance at Yamaku Academy.


After the warm reception by my classmates, the morning lessons flew by like nothing. As the lunch bell rang out, I prepared to leave the room with Hanako – only to be waylaid by Miki and two of her friends. Looking around the room, I saw most of the other students grin and gather around us as Hanako looked surprised at the sudden hold-up.

Miki
“Hold it, Hisao. Considering the whole class signed that list and welcomed you back like a long-lost relative today, you really owe us. Me and the others were curious how you plan to make amends for this, starting right now. Any ideas in particular?”

The amused glint in their eyes told me that the pushy display was probably an act agreed on in advance. Still, Miki was right about me owing them for their support, so I decided to play along – at least until I found out how far they were willing to go.

Hisao
“Hmm, let me see... While I haven't completely contemplated my options in this matter, I would be more than happy to treat all of you to some cake from the bakery in town as a small token of my gratitude. Would this meet your approval, guys?”

Miki
“Sounds good for starters, but we can buy our own cake whenever we want... How about helping the less academically-inclined among us with stuff repetition before the end-of-terms, so Mutou's wish to see all of us graduate next spring will really come true? After all, you're the best student in his subjects, so it should be easy for you.”

Hisao
“Well, that's probably another good idea, although I can't guarantee anything. But if I can help you with some extra sessions after classes or on weekends to review the stuff that Mutou sets for the exams, I'm game...”

Hanako
“Wait, Hisao... I mean, I'm also deeply grateful to everyone here for supporting us... but don't let them completely monopolize your free time! You still need to have some time to spend only with... me, even though the exams are coming up soon...”

Her passionate entreaty to assert her privileges as my girlfriend broke off abruptly and Hanako blushed deeply as Miki and the other girls stared at her open-mouthed. Laying a hand on Hanako's shoulder, I smiled to them and nodded to show I agreed with her: while I would gladly help my classmates, my girlfriend had first pick on my spare time.

Suzu
“I see... in that case, we'll probably find a solution how to profit from Hisao's knowledge without intruding on his private time with Hanako. But right now, we shouldn't waste too much of our lunch time, so unless there's anything else, let's go, folks.”

The gathering of students around us broke up at her words; some people mumbled their agreement with Suzu's words while others just left quietly. Miki seemed to frown at her friend for letting me off easily, but then she shrugged and smiled at me. Feeling Hanako's hand in mine, I grabbed my bag with my other hand and we left together.


Back in my room that evening, I immediately turned to the huge homework backlog that had been amassed during my suspension. While I had been away, Shizune and Misha had collected all assignments for me, only to dump them on me en bloc today. I was dubious whether to be touched or irked by their display of proper procedure.

As I struggled with an assignment on English past tenses, I remembered Hanako's face when she had saved me from falling for our classmates' attempt to guilt-trip me earlier. Well, if she could stand up to them proudly and defend me, I could scarcely betray her by failing at English, could I? Just you wait, you nasty past tenses...


Just as expected, the hallways and corridors were abuzz with talk about the dance when I made my way towards the classroom on Saturday morning. I was silently grateful for this, since it meant that the story of my offence and trial was all but ignored by the grapevine; in quieter times, it would have dominated the school gossip for weeks.

During his morning lessons, Mutou did his best to interest us in the fascinating topic of ribonucleic acids, but not even Shizune and Misha were really paying attention to him. In the end, he just gave us an assignment to work on and dropped into his chair, hiding his resigned face behind a book taken from the bowels of his desk.

With science over, the last hurdle to take was Arao's geography lessons. Judging by her tired face, she had apparently spent all her energy vainly trying to rouse her own class, so we received another assignment and reconvened in the same groups like before. The council girls, Hanako and I silently went to work on the questions.

Five minutes before the lunch bell was supposed to ring, Arao suddenly got up from her seat and left the room with her bag. Before we could rise or also start packing, Mutou entered through the still-open door and waved his hands to silence our chattering.

Mutou
“Simmer down, people! Now as you all know, tonight is the night of the school dance, so unless you're involved in the final preparations or not permitted to attend it because of medical reasons, please appear at the auditorium at 5:30 pm – in your school uniforms, as you know. So use the afternoon to prepare and... have fun later.”


Leaving the classroom after packing up my stuff, I found Hanako waiting for me outside in the corridor. As we walked down the main stairs to the exit in a throng of senior and junior students, I took her hand in mine and held it, which earned me a small smile and a soft gaze from behind the long black hair covering half of Hanako's face.

Hisao
“Oh, Hanako... Mutou just said we're supposed to attend the dance in our uniforms, and some people were groaning as he did so. I never heard anything different, so was there ever any doubt about this?”

Hanako
“Yes, there actually was a group of juniors who sent a letter to the principal on Tuesday asking to let us... attend the dance in our own clothes. I didn't tell you because... well, it wasn't sure you'd still be here today, you know... but on Thursday morning, the homeroom teachers announced that we'd have to wear school uniforms to the dance.”

Hisao
“Ah, I see. I expected nothing else after the principal declared this as a school event we have to participate in. Still, it's a pity; I'd have been delighted to see you in a nice dress tonight, but I guess I'll have to wait. Maybe we could have a date in the forest, or go to a restaurant somewhere in town...”

I broke off, seeing that Hanako was squirming at my words and quickly pressed her hand to calm her down. Maybe it had not been such a good idea to openly flirt with her right here in a crowd of students, but I meant what I said: while I was looking forward to the dance tonight, I also really wanted to have a proper date with her soon.

Hanako
“Um... I don't think I've got a dress that would've been... suitable to dance in tonight, so I'm not sad about having to go in my uniform. But I'm... sure those who wanted to make an impression tonight, will find a way... even if they've got to be in uniform. As for going on a date with you... I'd love to, but... let's talk about this after the dance, okay?”


I left Hanako in front of the girls' dormitory after promising to meet her there later. As she entered, I saw Naomi and Natsume from our class come up and felt a short burst of pity for both of them – they would not be at the dance for medical reasons. As I walked away, I hoped they would not drag Hanako's mood down.

Unlocking the door to my room, I was about to discard my bag and then make some lunch for myself in the kitchen, but then I saw an envelope lying on the floor. Ripping its flap open and reading the letter within, I felt a surge of guilt at having forgotten them. But now, there was much I had to tell... and most of it good news.

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BlackDuke
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Hanako Route, Part 9: One Dance Down, Many To Go

Post by BlackDuke » Sat May 23, 2020 11:05 am

After getting some of the week's homework out of the way, I took a shower, musing idly whether I might get a new neighbour now Kenji was gone. Well, I would probably notice it if the housing department intended to put someone else in there – after all, they would have to take out the additional lock and the wall padding Kenji had installed.


As intended, I arrived at the girls' dormitory five minutes early in a new uniform with all the works: shoes polished, tie straight, and I was even wearing my blazer. Gazing around, I saw several other boys standing nearby waiting for their partners and chuckled quietly; even though Yamaku was 'special', this scene was almost ridiculously normal.

During the next minutes, I kept waiting as more and more girls appeared from the doors of the dormitory. Emi came skipping out of the building and ran over to Haru, while Rin just filed past me with an absent expression. Other girls gestured or called out to their respective partners, or headed directly for the main building with their friends.

Watching my schoolmates happily socializing felt surprisingly good, especially after I had been on the brink of expulsion only two days before. The fact that several girls – and a few boys – had found ways to individualize their uniforms with pins, buttonhole flowers or other accessories was rather fun to see, so I lost sight of the doors...

Hanako
“Hello, Hisao... sorry I'm late, but getting ready took longer than I thought, and... Naomi insisted on doing this right, so here I am finally...”

Hearing Hanako next to me, I turned – and froze in shock. Her long black hair, the shield that always hid the scarred half of her face from the world, was now wrapped back into a ponytail and fastened with a hairpin. Her entire face was visible, but the scarring looked less pronounced today – and then I saw it: Hanako was wearing make-up.

Hanako
“Um... I hope you like this, Hisao... it wasn't really my idea, but when Natsume and Naomi offered to help me prepare for the dance, I couldn't refuse... so what do you think?”

Fighting to shake off the paralysis that had gripped my entire body, I exhaled slowly and then shut my mouth with an effort, my eyes still glued to the beautiful woman in front of me. When my limbs were finally willing to respond to commands again, I moved forward to wrap Hanako in my arms and planted a kiss on her still-hesitant face.

Hisao
“You look absolutely stunning, my love. I already knew how pretty you are and how lucky I should count myself to be your boyfriend, but I was still blown away by the sudden sight of your full splendour. Remind me to thank Naomi and Natsume for their wonderful work later, but first... let's go to the dance and have fun, shall we?”

I withdrew from Hanako to see she was blushing furiously beneath her make-up. Looking up at my face, held my gaze for a moment and then started giggling at my passionate words, her blush slowly fading as I also began to chuckle. We both laughed together for a while, then Hanako took my hand and we went on our way.


The place in front of the main entrance was already crowded with dozens of students as Hanako and I arrived. Shizune was standing nearby with Misha; on seeing us, she prodded her friend's arm to gain her attention and then pointed towards us, signalling something to her. Misha smiled and approached us to deliver her message.

Misha
“Wow, you look really cute tonight, Hanako! You're a lucky guy, Hicchan... but after all the troubles you had, you both earned yourself a good time! Uhm... that's also what Shicchan wanted me to tell you, at least the second part... oh my, it looks like the doors are about to open! I better get back to Shicchan, so have fun, you two!”

Misha broke off and ran back to Shizune as the waiting crowd began to react to the big doors being opened. For a moment, it looked like there might be a run for the entrance, but then several teachers emerged from it and I recognized Nomiya among them.

Nomiya
“Calm down, students! Now, everybody please find his or her partner and then queue up together, so we can check who's already here and who's still missing! Don't start pushing each other, there's enough room inside for all of you!”

There was some more confusion as some students drifted around to find their partners or called out for them, but eventually, the crowd transformed into a long line stretching from the entrance into the grounds. Hanako and I joined the procession, and after a few minutes, we passed the entrance check and went into the building.


Stepping inside the auditorium hand-in-hand with Hanako, I saw that the large room had once again been transformed. The podium was completely gone to have more space for the dancing couples, while the refreshment area had been enlarged and was guarded by about a dozen staff members. But the main change were the decorations.

Instead of the usual bare walls, there were colourful banners and floral garlands adorning the wall fixtures, while the tables strewn around the edges of the room were decorated with fresh flowers and small electric candles. Next to me, Hanako stared around the room with big eyes, and I saw a happy smile forming on her features.

Moving further inside the room to let the people behind us enter too, I spotted Lilly and her partner Shiraki at one of the tables and pointed them out to Hanako. As expected, she immediately headed towards them, calling out to Lilly when she got closer.

Lilly
“Ah, good to know you are here, Hanako! I guess Hisao is with you too, right?”

Hisao
“Yeah, I'm here. Hello Lilly, and nice to see you again, Shiraki. Do you mind if we sit down with you for a minute? I don't think it'll start for at least another ten minutes, judging by the number of people still waiting behind us when we came in.”

Shiraki
“You're probably right, Nakai... whoa, Ikezawa, you look really different today! Eh, I mean... you're looking nice with that new hairstyle, if I may say so... No offence to you, Lilly, you also do look splendid, as always! I mean...”

Lilly chuckled at the awkwardness of her younger dance partner and held up her hand to calm him down. As the boy exhaled, she spoke in her usual gentle manner.

Lilly
“It is okay, Kenta – complimenting a woman on her looks while in the company of another woman is not wrong as long as the two are friends. So you did take up the offer of your classmates to help you with your preparations for tonight, Hanako? I am glad you did.”

Hisao
“As am I, Lilly. Hanako truly looks beautiful tonight, and I'm deeply touched that she made this kind of effort for me. I saw several girls look differently from the way they normally do, and there are even a few guys who visibly spruced up their appearance. Yamaku might be a special school, but its students are still teenagers wanting to shine.”

Hanako had coloured at Shiraki's outburst and my subsequent praise of her, but calmed down again as more and more people filed into the auditorium. We sat down next to Lilly and Shiraki, spending the next ten minutes by watching the crowd for familiar faces and telling Lilly about the couples including her classmates.


Eventually, the stream of couples entering through the main doors trickled down and then stopped. About a minute later the principal's voice rang out from the decorated speakers above us; apparently she had somehow received the message that all people supposed to participate were inside now or had been accounted for.

Principal
“Good evening, students! Thank you for coming and welcome to Yamaku Academy's first school-wide dance! I know that you have all practised hard for this during the last three Saturdays, and you can be proud of yourselves – each and every one of you! Now there are only two things left for me to say: take care and... have fun tonight!”

Many students began to applaud, but their clapping was quickly drowned out by the first tones of loud music coming from the PA system. As the people around us headed for the free area in the centre, I felt Hanako's hand tremble in my own and smiled at her.

Hisao
“Hmm, we better start moving too before all the good spots are taken, don't you think? See you later, Lilly and Shiraki, and like the principal said: have fun!”

Leaving Lilly and Shiraki behind, I steered Hanako into the crowd until we arrived almost in the middle of the fray. I breathed in deeply and gazed at my companion, whose starry eyes were sparkling brighter than the stage lights on the ceiling above us. Answering her broad smile with my own, I took both her hands in mine and started moving.


As Hanako and I danced together in blissful happiness and also surprising harmony, I felt a strange serenity flowing through me. In the end, the principal had been right about her plan to have a school dance: despite the initial problems, the mandatory pairings and the many students not here tonight because of their health... this was a success.

Looking around us, I spotted Emi moving in less-than-perfect sync with Haru and grinned at them, getting a strained smile from Emi and a nod from Haru in response. I wondered how Rin fared with her blind partner, or the two council girls dancing with each other, but then I felt Hanako press my hand and saw her smirk at me playfully.

Hanako
“I think your thoughts are straying, Hisao – you almost stepped on my foot just now. You wouldn't happen to be thinking about... other girls, would you?”

Hisao
“Eh... actually, I was wondering how our friends and classmates were doing, and it messed up my concentration a bit. But I really shouldn't worry about them, since they're probably jealous of me for having such a wonderful and light-footed partner...”

I half-expected Hanako to frown at me for replying to her statement with such obvious flattery, but she just giggled and then drew me closer to put a kiss on my mouth. When I surfaced from it again, she shot me a surprisingly coy look.

Hanako
“Well... just concentrate from now on, okay? Then everyone will see how light-footed and wonderful we can be together, and they'll be envious of us both. How about it?”

Seeing the amused sparks in Hanako's eyes, I nodded with a smile and laid my arm around her waist. As a new piece of music started to emit from the speakers, we began dancing again, focused on each other and oblivious to the other students around us.


As the evening slowly drew to a close, we left the dancing area for another refreshment break. Remembering the letter I had received earlier today, I grabbed two cups of soda and motioned to Hanako to follow me. After we found an unused bench outside and sat down, Hanako took a large gulp from her cup and leant back with a sigh.

Hanako
“Haaah... going outside for a drink was a good idea, Hisao. I never realized while we were dancing, but now I'm not moving them any more, my feet feel like lead. I'll probably need most of tomorrow recovering from this... Oh, by the way, Hisao. How are you doing with... your heart and everything?”

Hisao
“Don't worry, Hanako – my heart's feeling okay, although I could need a fresh pair of legs as much as you do. But I wanted to ask you something, while we're at it. You see, I got a letter earlier and I was wondering if you had any plans for tomorrow yet...”

Hanako listened to me silently as I told her more. After I had finished, she looked at me and nodded slowly, the corners of her mouth curling up in a smile as she saw my happy face.

Hisao
“Thank you very much, Hanako – I know that it's a bit abrupt, and I'm sorry for that, but I'm really overjoyed that you're willing to go along with my idea. Now, we should return to the auditorium soon... that is, unless you need some more time to rest your feet.”

To my surprise, Hanako did not answer, but instead bent forward to unlatch the straps on her shoes. After kicking them off, she swung her legs onto the bench so her stockinged feet came to rest in my lap. Looking up to me, she giggled shyly.

Hanako
“Well, they do feel pretty heavy, but I've... heard a good foot massage can work wonders after a strenuous workout. So you might want to try that, unless you'd prefer to... carry me back to the dorms, which might cause quite a fuss among our peers...”

Hisao
“It probably would, especially after most of the school knows about our relationship now – but if you wanted me to, I'd be happy to oblige. It's the least I could do for you after you swayed the teachers into letting me stay. You once called me your dragon-slayer, but I feel that your deed was much more heroic than mine.”

Despite the waning light of the evening, I saw Hanako blush at my statement and felt her legs tense up on mine. To diffuse the sudden silence, I grabbed her feet and started to massage them slowly, which elicited a quiet moan from her. After continuing my work for a few minutes, Hanako took a deep breath and spoke again.

Hanako
“Maybe you did not slay a dragon for me, Hisao... but you gave me the power to stand up to the monster that had wounded me, which was as heroic as any princely deed I've ever heard of. And even if there might be no monsters for you to fight right now, I... do want you to keep standing with me from now on, okay?”

Seeing her pleading face, I coiled my right arm around Hanako's back to draw her closer to me and then used both my arms to lift her on my lap completely. As she snuggled into my embrace, I heard her utter a content sigh that mirrored my own feelings.


Leaving the dormitory late the next morning with a picnic basket I had prepared before, I headed off towards the main entrance. The school grounds were full of students relaxing on the lawn or going to and fro between the buildings. Several people saw me and called out as I passed them, and I answered in kind or just waved back.

After a short walk, I reached the visitors' parking lot, which was mostly empty, sporting only half a dozen cars with local plates and a large SUV from Aomori. The car I had come for was nowhere to be seen, so I sat down on a bench to wait. The bright sun felt warm on my light shirt, matching the happy feeling in my heart.

About ten minutes later, I heard a car and peered towards the entryway, where a slightly-worn Peugeot had entered the lot and was now edging into a free slot. After a moment, its doors opened to reveal a man and a woman in their mid-thirties, both looking rather weary after their long drive. I waved and called out to them.

Hisao
“Hey, Mom, Dad. I'm over here! Thanks for coming!”

Seeing me, my mother immediately ran over to me and embraced me – only to shirk back after a second with a very guilty look on her face. Behind her, my father had also stopped in his tracks and was now looking at me hesitantly. I suppressed a sigh and drew my Mom in for a strong hug, which seemed to surprise her.

Hisao
“It's okay, Mom. I'm still a bit sensitive to sudden shocks, but I've improved a lot since I came here – both physically and mentally. So there's no need to treat me like porcelain, okay? I'm really happy to see you, and there's so much I need to tell you!”

Seeing my genuine happiness, my mother smiled and pressed me against her gently once more before releasing me. I stepped over to face Dad, who also embraced me before he laid his hand on my shoulder and regarded me intently.

Mr. Nakai
“We're also happy to see you've gotten better, son – and it's a joy to see you smile like that again, after you were so down all the time when you were in hospital... To be frank, when we brought you here, Mom and I were really anxious you might not fit in here, with all those disabled kids – um, I'm sorry if that sounds rude, you know.”

Mrs. Nakai
“Tohru! Um... what Dad means is this, Hicchan: we know that going to Yamaku wasn't your choice, but we still hoped it might grow on you after a while. We wanted to give you some space and thus decided not to embarrass or bug you by calling every other day. Still, we wanted to visit you again, but there was no time...”

Mr. Nakai
“You have to understand, Hisao. We both had to work extra hours to make up the time we had missed during winter, so this is our first free weekend since we brought you here six weeks ago. Mom was worried because we'd heard so little from you, so we decided to come visit you today. We're not spoiling any of your plans, do we?”

Hisao
“You're very welcome, Dad – and I'm actually rather ashamed I haven't contacted you for weeks either. I've been busy adapting to school again, and a lot of other things happened too, but I still could've found the time to write or give you a call. So like I said, there's a lot I need to tell you, but I'd rather do so somewhere else. Let's go, shall we?”


Retrieving my picnic basket from the bench I had sat on, I took my parents along a minor footpath that ran next to the brick wall and led to a small seating area hidden behind a tall hedge. Knowing that the person we had come to meet was already there, I turned to my parents and held up my hand to stop them.

Hisao
“Before we continue, there's something I need to tell you. Coming to Yamaku wasn't easy for me, and even after I got used to it, I almost had to leave again because of something I'll have to explain later. But I'm deeply grateful you sent me here, for I've rediscovered that there are many things worth living and fighting for.”

Hisao
“When I came here, making new friends wasn't really on my mind, but as I settled into the rhythm of the school, I met many wonderful people who helped and inspired me. My class has welcomed me, and I've even made friends with people from other third-year classes. I really hope I'll be able to introduce all of them to you one day.”

Mrs. Nakai
“That's great to hear, Hicchan – and I'm so happy you found new friends here. Of course we'd be delighted to meet them, whoever they are.”

Hisao
“However, there's one girl who's become much more to me. She was shy and withdrawn at first, but as I got to know her better, I found her to be the gentlest and bravest person I've ever met. She's here at Yamaku because she suffered a terrible accident years ago, and the first thing you'll notice are her scars – but she's much more than that.”

Mr. Nakai
“Don't worry about that, son. Your Mom and I know you're a good judge of character, so we'd really like to meet this remarkable girl – especially since you seem to have formed a closer bond with her than mere friendship.”

Hisao
“Thanks Dad... and I was hoping you'd both react like that. Therefore, I've asked her to meet us today after I got your letter, and she should be waiting behind that hedge.”

I stepped forward, motioning my parents to follow after me around the end of the hedge to the paved square behind it – and Hanako. She was wearing a modest but cute dress borrowed from Naomi, and her hair was tied back again. I quickly kissed her and saw her smirk shyly at my parents, who smiled back after a second of surprise.

Hisao
“Thanks for coming here, Hanako. I'm so glad you could make it. Please let me introduce my parents, Tooru and Shiori Nakai, who have come from Chiba to visit me. Mom, Dad – this is Hanako Ikezawa... the woman I love.”

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