Author's Note: This is a bit early, but I had the idea in my head, so why not? This is a one-shot for Valentine's, but I might update it with a second story for White Day. Enjoy!
Senpai Noticed Me
Menacing. With every step, I sank further down into the depths of fear and despair. Try as I might, I simply could not think of a single way to escape from this situation unscathed.
"Inaba-kun, happy Valentine's! Here's my gift."
Nakahara Naomi. High school third-year. Outstanding grades in every subject. Skilled with a number of musical instruments. Perfect beauty, or as perfect as it is possible to be for a real, live female who doesn't apply any make-up. Student council president. A hard worker in every sense of the phrase. Without a doubt, the school's idol. However, I think it wouldn't be wrong for me to say that her luck is extremely bad.
Inaba Hiro. High school second-year. Good at the languages and math, but science is his weak point. His looks aren't necessarily bad, but nothing to write home about. Likes to wear headphones. A fairly antisocial persona who's highly interested in the various forms of media that are produced in Japan. That is to say, in less veiled terms, an otaku who spends most of his time on anime, manga, light novels, visual novels, and every other type of product in that field. There is a term known as 'illusory superiority' where a person overestimates himself, and I should be careful not to fall into that trap.
Also, just one more thing that I should say about myself.
I am a tremendously lucky person. Or rather, I usually am. The current situation that I was in defies that convention utterly.
Normally, a person like myself would hardly get a chance to interact with Nakahara-senpai. It's not that she's stand-offish, or arrogant, or even cold. She's fairly friendly, always returns greetings, and is always willing to help lost students. Our social circles are simply too different. Nakahara-senpai spends most of her time working with the student council, or otherwise hanging out with her few close friends. As for myself, I prefer to accompany my close companions such as Meme-sama from Love Multiply, or Shoko-chan from Dokidoki Remembrance. Having the voice of a loli in an adult woman's body, Meme-sama really is too amazing...but I digress.
What really matters is that but for a chance coincidence, Nakahara-senpai would have never been anything more than the student council president to me, and I would have never ended up in the current situation that I'm in now. Receiving chocolate from such a perfect girl was surely the dream of many boys around the country, and I would normally consider it a lucky event as well. However, it was not without its drawbacks.
"Giving chocolate to me, you must have gone crazy. What are you thinking, riajuu?"
I raised an eyebrow and gave her my best look of scorn, but she seemed completely unaffected.
Normally, I wouldn't have referred to Nakahara-senpai in such a way. Even if I'm absolutely interested in otaku matters, I don't possess any hatred or dislike for those who live a different lifestyle from myself. Everyone is free to live how they want and choose their own interests. However, it was absolutely vital, if I may use the word, for me to employ every method I had at my disposal if I wished to stay alive.
She placed a finger on her lips and tilted her head to the right, blushing slightly. Even I had to admit that it was such an attractive sight that there was no way for any guy to tear his eyes away from it. "I'm definitely not thinking that I've just given you honmei chocolate and I'm definitely not hoping that you will sincerely accept my honest feelings. And I'm not hoping that you'll find my handmade chocolate tasty, either."
I stared at the wrapped chocolate that I was holding. She had stuffed it into my hands earlier. I sure had to give her some credit. She had chosen to give it to me in the classroom, a place that I could not escape from, and a place that would place me in full sight of a great number of people. I had never before met an assassin, but I was sure that even a professional hitman would bow down in respect in light of her careful planning. She was definitely serious about killing me. Without a doubt.
However, it would be foolish to expect me to go down without a fight.
"Hear that, guys? She didn't think this was honmei chocolate. Think about it. Why would it be? Nakahara-senpai is just giving me a chocolate out of obligation because I've helped her in the past. That's all. There is definitely no way whatsoever that she would be interested in a pathetic guy like myself who is completely disinterested in the third, and even first, dimension."
Frankly speaking, talking about myself in such a way hurt, but it couldn't be helped. I would take any kind of drastic measure if it meant that I could hold on to my life. I still had to complete that Level 1 challenge for Eternal Ethereal IX!
"Unwrap the chocolate."
I looked around wildly, but the rest of my classmates avoided my gaze. I was unable to discover who had said it. Completely. But what did it matter? It was clear that I had no choice in the matter. I could only carry on and march to my death. Perhaps this was what the members of the Light Brigade felt like when they charged at fortified Russian gunners.
No, I mustn't give up hope! There will always be light at the end of the tunnel!
With trembling hands, I undid the cute ribbon that she had used to wrap the gift, and took out the chocolate from the box.
It was normal brown chocolate, made in the shape of a heart, much like many other chocolates that were made for Valentine's. So far, so good. It's not like this was something unexpected. On the contrary, it would have been rude for me to think that Nakahara-senpai would have made a chocolate that didn't meet such standards. She was a capable girl, after all.
There were a couple of sentences inscribed upon the chocolate as well. I read them cheerfully. It probably read something like 'Happy Valentine's Day'.
'I like you. Please go out with me.'
It appeared. The light at the end of the tunnel had been snuffed out, and now a giant rock was rolling down after I had unwittingly activated a trap. To be honest, I had known from the start that it was going to be like that. But! Even then! I still had to cling on to the faintest shred of hope! The alternative was far too cruel!
"InabaInabaInabaInabaInabaIna baInabaInabaInabaInabaINABAI NABAINABAINABAINABAINABAINAB AINABA!"
I'm going to be killed.
Around me, as one body, my classmates rose from their seats. They were each in varying states of frenzy, but the universal bloodlust exuded from every pore of their body was unmistakable. Bloodshot pupils and hands curved into the shape of claws were prevalent. Male, female, gender didn't matter. I had always thought of girls who received chocolates from other girls as an interesting gag and nothing more, but Nakahara-senpai completely dispelled this notion of mine. In other words, they truly existed. Girls who actually got chocolates from other girls on Valentine's Day. Nakahara-senpai was my proof. It therefore only follows logically that my classmates of both genders would be out for my blood - I hardly need to say this, but Nakahara-senpai had never given anyone else honmei chocolate before.
And thus, this end result. For once, I had been betrayed by my overwhelming good fortune. Or perhaps it would have been better to think of this as a result of having too much good fortune for my own good.
"...Did you like my chocolate, Inaba-kun?"
Nakahara-senpai walked up to me with her arms behind her back, leaning over shyly. She was so talented that she excelled even in an extremely specific field like provoking others into causing my death. All around me, my classmates sped further down the highway to hell. Or more accurately, they sped further down the highway to bring me to hell.
Faced with such a dire situation, I only had one option. Be it Sleeping Dragon or the Joestars, countless great men in history have employed this most final of strategems. Run awa-
"I'd also appreciate it if you could give me an answer now, Inaba-kun."
Impossible. That was how it was from the start. I shouldn't have even dreamed of resisting. It was, in a word, futile.
They say that if you can't beat them, arrange for them to be beaten, but I wasn't that foolish. The gulf in ability between Nakahara-senpai and myself was now clear. Such an action would never succeed. In which case, as much as I hated to do so, I could only concede to her. Surrender.
"Not here, Nakahara-senpai. Everyone's watching."
At the very least, if we spoke in a more private area, I could harbor some hopes of retaining my life. It was better than certain death.
She smiled at me and extended her hand.
"Sure, Inaba-kun. Let's go."
"Where should we go, Inaba-kun?"
Nakahara-senpai asked that while holding onto my hand with an iron grip and a smile on her face. I had tried various methods of regaining possession of my own limb, but I was sadly unable to overpower her or slide my hand out of her grasp. She had simply pre-empted my attempts at every turn. It was almost as though she could read my mind.
"Where? Well, we could just go to the roofto - "
No. Not the rooftop. Normally, that would be okay, but today was Valentine's, after all. I didn't need to head up there to know what it would be like. While it would be fitting, I had no intention of speaking to Nakahara-senpai in a place like that. It would be equivalent to signing my own death warrant.
"How about behind the school build - "
Nope. Not there either. That was a terrible idea. Every place I thought of was simply taking me one step closer towards oblivion. Truly, Valentine's Day was scary. Even the most innocent locations could be warped and twisted into inescapable death traps on this day.
"If you can't think of anywhere, then I have a suggestion, Inaba-kun."
I had a very bad feeling about this, but it could hardly hurt to at least hear her out.
"What is it?"
"The gym storeroom! There definitely won't be anyone there."
"...Er. There might be some people there who are engaging in certain activities. You never know."
"If there are any such people there, then it is my duty as the student council president to stop them and remove them from the room anyway. It's against the school rules, after all."
Of course, I neglected to mention the possibility of Nakahara-senpai and I engaging in those same kind of activities. Just to make it clear, I have no intention whatsoever of doing anything like that. However, we both knew that the other party was well aware of it, and actually I was quite certain that this was the reason she even brought up such a provocative location in the first place, and I didn't want to give her the wrong idea. Absolutely not.
"...Which part of that is against the rules?"
"Using the gym storeroom without permission."
"In that case, aren't you suggesting that we do something that's against the rules yourself?! Even though you're the student council president?!"
"If we're discovered, I will take all responsibility for my own actions."
Nakahara-senpai placed her clenched fist against her chest, ruffling her necktie in the process, with a supremely confident expression. Was it really okay to have a student council president who was so willing to break the rules? Then again, a normal student like myself had no place questioning the appointment of an individual as talented as her.
"After all, that's what you taught me, Inaba-kun."
I raised my head, surprised, and gave her a careful look. She was smiling, but her gaze did not meet mine. Instead, she looked off to her right, into the distance, as though seeing something that wasn't really there.
So that was it, after all.
I closed my eyes and thought back to the events of a year ago for a moment.
"It's about my responsibility to myself."
It was just as I thought.
"Fine. Let's go, then."
Hoping to take advantage of a lapse in her concentration, I tried one last time to wriggle out of her grasp, but her grip was still as firm as ever.
"What are you trying to do by bringing an innocent young girl here, Inaba-kun?"
Nakahara-senpai sighed and rested her head against her clasped hands, while I backed off rapidly until I collided into a metal box containing a number of basketballs. The gym storeroom had been empty after all. Unexpectedly, however, right after we had entered the room, she had taken out a key and locked the door. In other words, she must have anticipated every single development right up till now and taken the key to this room beforehand.
Truly, a most frightening woman.
"In the first place, you're older than me, Nakahara-senpai, and secondly, I wasn't the person who locked the door to this room!"
"So my age is a concern after all, huh..."
Nakahara-senpai, who had simply ignored a matter of grave importance such as 'I was actually the one who had locked the door and not Inaba', pouted at me.
"No, not in that way! I was just rebutting what you said earlier!"
Her expression cleared up and brightened immediately, just like the sun emerging from behind a dark cloud.
"So it's fine even if I'm older than you, Inaba-kun?"
Ah, it's impossible. There was no way to beat her. I thought that I had understood this fact earlier, but I was very much mistaken. If I had to make a comparison, she had only been in the first Super Saiyan form earlier. There were still two more forms to go before her full power would be truly revealed.
Chuckling at the thought of Nakahara-senpai yelling at the top of her voice with spiky, golden hair, I was brought rudely back to reality when she shoved her face right in front of my own.
"What's so funny?"
Oops. She was frowning, and it didn't look like she was being facetious this time.
"No, I just thought of something funny. I wasn't laughing at you."
Needless to say, she was unconvinced. I'd better change the topic before things get any worse.
"Yes, really." I looked at the box of chocolate that I still held in my hand, sighing, and held it up. "Let's talk about this instead."
"I just want an answer from you, Inaba-kun."
An immediate, earnest response. Compared to her earlier manner, I could tell that Nakahara-senpai was serious now. In some ways, it was incredibly disconcerting. It was close to the expression that she had worn up till a year ago. Focused, set eyes that were so intense that they somehow managed to have the opposite effect of lifelessness, as though they belonged to a robot rather than a real, live human. However, I looked deeper, past all of that, and found it. The spark of humanity. She was, in own her way, properly looking at me, just like she had a year ago.
I can't deny that it's my fault. For the past year, I had never once been able to give her a proper answer. Even earlier, when she had entered my classroom, my first thought had been to escape, rather than bringing things to a proper resolution.
"If you had given me giri chocolate, I would have accepted it for sure. I would have accepted it happily."
Ah, not good. Even now, I was still running away.
"So does that mean...?"
Nakahara-senpai bit her lip and her eyes shifted down. It was a very minute movement, but I didn't miss it. And because I didn't miss it...
No, I can't run away any more. Even if I had no intention of being a nice person, I owed it to the earnest girl before me to give her a proper reply.
'I don't want to decide yet.'
No, that wasn't quite right. That wasn't what I actually felt, and in any case it would still have been incredibly unfair for me to answer her in such a way.
"I don't want to date you."
Again, false. Definitely. I did want to.
'I want to date you."
Incorrect. Without a doubt. There was a part of me that wanted to do that, but there was another part of me, just as significant, that did not.
'I like you.'
That's right. That was right, but it wasn't something that I could say.
"I appreciate your feelings, but you don't truly like me, senpai."
That was what I said.
I might be a responsible person, but I had already said so earlier, didn't I? 'I had no intention of being a nice person.' Even if the truth hurts, that's how it is. If I wanted to give her a real answer, there was no avoiding this.
"That's not true."
Without any doubt in her mind, Nakahara-senpai rejected my statement. Well, of course she would say that -
"And don't think that I'm just saying that. My feelings are real."
Mm. She was right. I made a mistake there. Even if I didn't agree with her, I couldn't just dismiss what she said so simply.
"Fine. Let's talk about it. Why do you like me, senpai?"
"Do you believe so strongly in it, Inaba-kun? That love must have a reason?"
"Yes, I do."
No hesitation. After all, that was what I believed in.
"Even if love can exist without a reason, a relationship can't."
Both sides have to understand each other, and both sides had to love each other. I was convinced that this was the basis of a relationship, and I was just as convinced that I didn't understand Nakahara-senpai. What kind of 'me' did she see? How did she think? I felt like I couldn't really understand that.
"Even if that's true, I still don't see a problem."
"Because you have a reason for loving me?"
I couldn't understand it.
"A year ago."
Despite my prompt, there was no reply from her. At least, there was no verbal reply. She nodded and continued fixing her gaze on me. Unwavering, unmoving, untiring. As though she could do so until time ended, and even then, maybe she would carry on.
Up until now, we had looked through the eyes of the boy, Inaba Hiro. Unfortunately, we will not use the viewpoint of the girl, Nakahara Naomi. It would be unfair to either party if we were to observe this past incident through their points of view. Therefore, let us assume the role of a third party, an observer watching over the scene, even if none had actually been present during the event itself.
Hiro stepped through the open gates. At this time of the evening, the campus was virtually empty, but thankfully security had yet to lock up for the night. Even so, he should hurry. There was no telling when they would do so, and he did not want to be stuck in campus.
The school building itself was but a hop and a skip away from the main gates. Pushing open the double doors, Hiro walked in. Surprisingly, he was not the only person in the building. A beautiful, tall girl with long, dark hair was descending down the stairs. Nakahara Naomi, the student council president. She was well-known by every student in the school, and Hiro was no exception.
"Good evening, president."
The boy smiled at her, and she returned it customarily. Since she had not addressed him by name, she probably did not know it. The boy did not find that at all strange. After all, they studied at the same school and nothing more. They had no further connection.
"What are you doing here so late? Taking your Valentine's Day chocolates, perhaps?"
"Oh, no. I'm not the kind of person who gets chocolates." Hiro scratched the back of his head. "I left some of my books in the classroom. I need them to do my homework, so I came back to get them."
"No, it's simply my own fault. Speaking of which, you're here late as well, president."
Naomi pulled the strap of her bag further up her shoulder. "I had some work to do for the student council. It happens."
"Well, at least you're done with that, right? You can enjoy your free time now," Hiro replied, grinning.
"Ah...Actually, I have to head for some music classes right now."
She spoke with an unwavering expression. Neutral. She looked neither happy nor sad. A person with no emotions...you couldn't really call a being like that a human.
"I see. Are they fun?"
Hiro watched her.
"You're not smiling, president. You must be tired."
Naomi touched her cheek with two fingers, blinking. "Perhaps," she eventually admitted.
"You should rest more and work less, then."
Studies, the student council, music, friends, and family. She shook her head, while thinking about such matters. "Unfortunately, I can't."
Hiro fingered with the headphones that he was wearing on his neck. "Is it that you can't, or that you don't want to do that, president? There is a difference, after all."
"...I don't want to do that."
"Hmm...You don't sound very happy though, president. If you want to, you can...talk to someone else about it."
The two students stared at each other in silence. The boy was waiting for a response. The girl was simply too perplexed.
"...Isn't it normal to say 'you can talk to me'?" Naomi said, after she had gotten over her initial confusion.
"That's true," he admitted with a shrug. "But I know almost nothing about you, president. Even if you consulted me, I can hardly give you any good advice. It would make more sense if you asked someone who actually knows what your problems are."
Naomi chuckled. "Perhaps. Not the romantic sort, are you?"
"A supremely confident person once said that he 'kept Science for life'. Romanticism is fine in manga, anime, games, and a million other things - but I draw the border when it comes to life itself."
"Mmm. I might have taken you up on your advice, but sadly, I don't think there's anyone that really knows what I'm thinking and how I feel."
Instead of responding, Hiro waited. What should he say to that? He didn't know. He did not have the slightest idea, and so he made the wisest decision - to do nothing.
"What's your name? I'm sorry that I didn't know."
"It's okay, president. You can't be expected to remember the name of every student in this school. I'm Inaba Hiro, first year."
"Well then, Inaba-kun. It seems like we're on friendly terms now, so please call me Nakahara."
Naomi took a deep breath before continuing. "Since it seems that no one else can help me, maybe you're the right person for the job."
"How? I don't even know where to begin, Nakahara-senpai."
"That's fine. Just answer a question for me. Is it strange to hate doing something that you like?"
"Well, when you phrase it like that, it sounds strange. But, I don't really think it's strange at all. Even now, I'm experiencing a feeling like that, even though I can't say that it's on a scale as great or serious as yours."
"Is that so?"
"Yep. I'm trying to beat Eternal Ethereal VII without using any material now. It's so difficult, I hate myself for it. Ah, you probably don't know what that is, but just think of it as playing a game on a self-imposed highest difficulty setting. A challenge. Anyway, I hate it, but if I didn't enjoy it, I wouldn't keep playing it. Uh, was the example too weird for you, senpai?"
Hiro blinked, and for once, sounded unsure of himself. He knew that Naomi was hardly the type of person who would be interested in playing games. Unfortunately, as someone who spent most of his time immersed in such matters, he could think of no other analogy to draw.
"I can't say I understood it completely, but it did get the message across. But in the end, you keep playing because overall, you enjoy it more than you hate it. Isn't that so?"
"That's not quite right, senpai. It's because it doesn't matter even if I hate it. Even if I hate it, I still made the decision to do this myself. I knew what I was getting into. There's no reason for me to quit just because of that. It's about my responsibility to myself."
"...Responsibility to yourself?"
Hiro paused for a moment. He decided to take a chance. "I don't know just what kind of problems you're facing, senpai, but if you choose, if you insist, to do something even though you don't enjoy it, then you must think the same way. What you feel about it doesn't matter. You just have to ignore it. Because it's something that's that important to you."
Naomi closed her eyes, as though in deep thought.
"...I see...I see. Thank you for talking to me about this."
The student council president opened her eyes a sliver, and smiled at Hiro.
"See you tomorrow, Inaba-kun."
"Wha-?" Hiro stared at her dumbly before managing to say, "Oh! No, it was nothing. Same to you, senpai. See you tomorrow."
Of course, that was but the first meeting between the two. There were still an entire year's worth of events that followed. But nonetheless, that was the start of everything. And there's quite a lot of truth in the idea that the beginning shapes everything that comes after it.
To Inaba Hiro, that meeting was but coincidence, pure chance. Even if it had been any other person, the result would have been the same. That was what he thought. Anyone would have been able to do the same thing as him. That was not what Nakahara Naomi thought, but in truth, what both of them thought had very little actual bearing on the matter. Inaba Hiro, and not anyone else, had been there that day.
Well, that's enough reminiscing for now. Back to the present.
"You're mistaken, Inaba-kun. I don't love you because of what happened a year ago."
Nakahara-senpai looked much like she did a year ago, and that was a very important detail. It meant that she was just similar, and not exactly like the person that I had met a year ago. She had, in her own way, changed over the past year, and there was no one more aware of it than myself.
"...What do you mean?"
"I love you because of who you are. It's true that I realized that because of what happened last year, but you're fine with that, aren't you?"
"Yes, I am, but why?"
"Mmm...Before that, don't you think you're being unfair, Inaba-kun? You've continuously questioned me, and never once told me about what you felt. Do you like me, or don't you?"
What she said was true. I didn't want her to know. It sounds extremely silly, but I was sure, right from the start, that any relationship between us could have never worked out. We were too different, too far apart. In which case, why encourage her? That was the opposite of what I wanted to do. But now, it was a little different. If I could believe in her, then everything was fine. And I truly did want to. Love leads a person to do things like that, you know?
"...I like you. This might be strange, but...You trusted me and talked to me normally. For an antisocial person like myself that's not good at interacting with others, that's more than enough."
There. I said it, and I couldn't take it back now. I had said that Nakahara-senpai had no good reason for liking me, but perhaps the same rang equally true for myself. Maybe that was another reason why I had been so reluctant to accept her.
"Then that's fine, isn't it? I'm okay with that. Do you know why I fell in love with you, Inaba-kun? It's because you're stronger than anyone than I know. You're far, far stronger than I am. And you keep proving that every time I reach out to you. I don't know of anyone else who can stand by his convictions in such a determined way and never complain about it."
She leaned over, on her hands and knees, and stared right into my eyes.
"Is that good enough for you?"
Her eyes had been lifeless, dead, neutral, focused, and finally, even alive. Over the past year, she had changed. Had I, perhaps unknowingly, changed too? No, it wasn't right to say something like that. At the very least, one thing had changed. I came another step closer to understanding the girl known as 'Nakahara Naomi'.
In much the same way that I loved her for accepting me, she loved me because of my strength. It was not something that I had ever considered, and therefore not something that I could have ever understood. But things were different now.
What kind of 'me' did she see? Just what was the 'Inaba Hiro' that she was seeing looked like?
I began to feel like I could get a glimpse of that.
I looked down at the chocolate that I was still holding on to. That, too, was another glimpse into her world.
How should I answer her? Well, that was a foolish question. I didn't really have a choice.
"Perhaps it is," I admitted.
I took a bite out of the chocolate. And, just like that, I moved another step closer to her.