Hellping

[Hikaru V1] Chapter 1 – Aren’t you already dead?

Uwaa…why are they all girls ?

Koremitsu Akagi surveyed the funeral, dumbfounded.

The combination of a high-class blazer and a black shirt composed the uniform of Koremitsu’s school, Heian Academy. There were also other uniforms at Heian like a one-piece, sailor uniforms, vests, bolero jackets with ribbons – so many that it was shocking, the girls attending were wearing all kinds of distinct outfits.

But that was not all there was to see for Koremitsu.

There was a female university student in her own stylish black attire present, screaming grievously.

“Hikaru! Hikaru!”

A sorrowful woman stood alongside the student, carrying an air of scholarship about her secretarial appearance, and she covered her face with a handkerchief as her shoulders quivered uncontrollably. Behind the woman stood an opulent lady awash in tears, her eyes fixing the ground. Together in the crowd was a young girl who seemed to be a primary school student, and she was no exception with eyes swollen red, filled in tears.

Koremitsu used the school’s bulletin board to check the funeral’s date beforehand. However, he soon regretted coming along at all.

Among the weeping girls stood a high schooler with messy red hair, his back bent, glowering sharp eyes and a frown, making him look an obtrusive sight to be seen.

Those attending the funeral would occasionally glance suspiciously at Koremitsu Akagi.

Even the fellow girls of Heian Academy uniform were alarmed, wondering why the infamous freshman was in attendance.

In spite of their discomfort, none of them dared to ask why he had come. They bit their lips and pretended to look at something asquint, averting their eyes uncomfortably to walk away.

Even if anyone were to ask Koremitsu the obvious, he himself couldn’t supply an answer.

Really, why must I come to the funeral of this bastard who lived such an abundant life, when I never even talked to him much?

Hikaru Mikado’s portrait was placed above some white sandalwood incense at the front of the hall, the space filled with mourners.

Hikaru’s corpse lay among the crowd like an angel, with a smile on his face and adornment from tulips, lilies, and carnations.

He had a slender face, the nose delicate and lips plump; his skin was an immaculate white and each of his irises possessed a crystalline transparency. These qualities lent themselves to an effeminate purity and sweetness in Hikaru Mikado’s resting body.

When they first met, Koremitsu wondered why a girl would be wearing a boy’s uniform at school.

This was thought only before Koremitsu learned that this very affable boy with unique voice was known to others as the ‘Imperial Prince’ of the school.

He was not simply the school’s ‘Prince’, but its ‘Imperial Prince’, a title befitting the elegance of ‘Lord Hikaru’ much better. Female middle school graduates and newly-enrolled high schoolers were chatting dreamily about Hikaru Mikado in this vein, and that was how Koremitsu learned of Hikaru’s place in Heian.

All the same, he was extremely popular, and many girls even started liking him when he was a student in the affiliated kindergarten.

Even in this school full of rich peers, his family background and wealth were considered outstanding. Despite this, he showed the same abundant affections and tenderness to every last girl.

“As expected, that guy is some handsome dude I have no affinity with whatsoever.”

That was what Koremitsu thought before meeting Hikaru.

But, for some reason, Hikaru Mikado called out to Koremitsu with a grin when they met for the first time.

“There is something I want to ask you.”

Koremitsu felt there was something wrong with Hikaru’s statement back then.

He came to question whether he heard things wrongly after Koremitsu was told of Hikaru’s death before those words made sense to him.

It was said that Hikaru drowned in a flood caused by heavy rain while staying at a resort in Shinshu, during the Golden Week.

Even though they had merely exchanged a few words, the fact that Hikaru died at the young age of 15 was a huge shock to Koremitsu, making him aware once again of how life was not permanent – how fleeting it was. He recalled his father’s death, and felt bitter in his heart.

Koremitsu harboured such complicated, incomprehensible feelings as he went to Hikaru’s funeral under the soft rains.

Koremitsu sat on the pipe chairs indoors with forlorn expression, vacantly staring at the funeral leader surrounded by women’s anguished sobbing.

Hikaru was a beautiful child.

 

He was such a kind child.
 

He really had such a refreshing smile.

 

His voice was so nice.
 

And he had such delicate fingers – like a gifted artist’s.

 

He was a little stubborn, but I can’t bring myself to hate him for it.
 

He was scared of loneliness, but that made him adorable.

 

He was a child who looked like he could carry all the happiness in the world.
 

He was a child who seemed to be enveloped by light.

Everyone present was mourning and weeping for this young man and his premature death.

The funerary songs of remembrance fell upon Koremitsu’s ears.

He really understood too little about this deceased person, and it was difficult for Koremitsu to understand the mourners’ feelings.

 

He was awash in waves of sadness, annoyance, guilt, and unease.

At this moment, he noticed a woman sitting in a seat reserved for relatives.

She appeared young.

She was probably in her early twenties or so.

Her body was so frail-looking that she seemed like a flower about to snap at any time, and she was neither wearing a one-piece nor black kimono. Her hair was tied back.

The moment she entered Koremitsu’s vision, he held his breath from the sheer impact of what he saw.

Mikado…?

At that moment, he had the wrong impression that Hikaru Mikado himself was sitting before him.

She bore a shocking resemblance to Hikaru.

Her smooth, silky hair looked golden under the light; she had milky white skin, a subtle yet elegant nose, lips like petals and a slender neck.

Is she Hikaru’s older sister…?

The woman slowly smiled.

Those tears continued rolling down her delicate face, but the ends of her lips curled up a little.

It was a tranquil, pleasing smile.

Hers was a smile that did not fit a funeral scene. Koremitsu stood in front of the sandalwood incense, his nostrils heavy with its smell, and he gazed at her half-mesmerized.

Why…is she smiling?

She’s smiling so beautifully, so—happily.

Why, at his funeral…?

This woman who looked like Hikaru’s sister showed a smile that lasted for such a brief moment it felt like an illusion.

Koremitsu was so rapt by the display that he was beginning to space out. Before he could, a sharp voice in the crowd interrupted his thoughts.

“HE IS JUST A DAMN IDIOT!”

Startled, he glanced over in direction of the voice.

A girl wearing Heian Academy uniform was standing in front of Hikaru’s mourning post.

Her long, black hair was left behind her head, tied with black ribbon. She gave off a childish vibe, looking quite the refined princess. As she clenched her fists she could not help but shudder, her large eyes almost appeared to emit an aura of furious contempt as she angrily stared at Hikaru’s smiling portrait.

She let out scathing words from her trembling lips.

“YOU ARE REALLY AN IDIOT FOR DROWNING IN A RIVER LIKE THAT! THAT IS SO EMBARRASSING! I THOUGHT YOU WOULD BE STABBED TO DEATH BY A WOMAN! IT’S BECAUSE YOU’RE TOO MUCH OF A PLAYBOY THAT KARMA STRUCK BACK!”

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“Do not do this, Aoi.”

Instantaneously, a taller girl wearing the same uniform walked over. She grabbed her by the shoulder, clearly wanting to take her outside.

Prompted by the suggestive hand, “Aoi” lifted her head to see Hikaru’s portrait again.

The side of her pallid, stiff face caused Koremitsu’s heart to skip a beat.

It was a face mixed with anger, anguish and bitterness. A dangerous expression—

The young girl howled in disdain.

“YOU LIAR!”

Koremitsu felt like his heart was stabbed by a sharp spear.

In fact, he even felt a sharp pang to his heart.

(Whoa there…what kind of carnage is this?)

The place fell silent for a moment to regain its relative clamor moments later.

Folks started murmuring about what had just happened to one another.

Liar—

Koremitsu’s mind was still thinking about her begrudging tone and her angry, yet pained expression.

Liar.

Liar.

Mikado’s innocent face was right before her, but what could still have caused him to be told off like that?

“Liar.” The word painfully lashed echos in Koremitsu’s ears.

Even though Hikaru was dead, she continued to vent her frustration on him. Exactly what kind of relationship did she have with him?

Exactly what kind of lie did Hikaru tell?

Well…it has nothing to do with me anyway…

The prayer recital started, and the place became thick in solemn atmosphere.

The woman who looked so very similar to Hikaru, still sitting in the chair designated for family members, kept her head lowered.

The girl with the black ribbon who had been lambasting Hikaru started to fade away from Koremitsu’s mind.

When it was his turn to offer incense, he held onto the sandalwood, closed his eyes and lowered his head.

What exactly did he mean when he said ‘There’s something I want to ask of you’?

However, there was a question that he just couldn’t get his mind off of.

Of course, it was impossible for Hikaru’s corpse in the coffin to give any answers.

Once the funeral ended, Koremitsu left. It was still raining outside – the weather dark and humid.

It’s so troublesome to carry an umbrella around…

He trod through wet ground as he walked out.

—Mr. Akagi.

For a moment, Koremitsu thought he heard someone call his name.

He stopped in his tracks and looked back.

…Maybe I’m just hearing things.

There were two girls in school uniform behind him (the ones who demanded the funeral’s attention moments ago), their shoulders cringing, their bodies shivering as they sunk in the soppy ground.

Koremitsu felt an acute bitterness at their spectacle, and arching his back he continued away with a step.

Why is it that such a vulgar person had to visit Mr. Hikaru’s funeral?

Hearing the disapproving murmur of the girls behind him at the funeral, Koremitsu clicked his tongue.

♢ ♢ ♢
There were people in this world who were easily misunderstood.

The fifteen years of misfortune Koremitsu Akagi suffered was primarily due to his appearance.

He looked like he was brooding all the time, his eyes were often lowered and held an air of arrogance and derision, the mouth curled downward with unhappiness.

He had a stiff face that hinted of nothing amicable. His appearance was ominous – a sharp complexion, an arched spine, his scraggy body, and unkempt red-brown hair made him appear as though a complete delinquent should.

He replayed the host of misunderstandings he had experienced growing up.

When he was in kindergarten, students were scared of Koremitsu’s savage expression and would back away from him in any social exchange. During his entrance ceremony in primary school, the girl sitting beside Koremitsu suddenly broke into wailing, and the other children nearby started to cry as well after noticing her, causing a raucous uproar of tearful children.

As things turned out, Koremitsu was accused of bullying the girl, and the mothers would teach their children not to play with him. Consequentially, Koremitsu lived a lonely life.

During middle school, Koremitsu got tangled with some upperclassmen hanging around empty lots on the school compound. In the process of getting away from them, he inadvertently earned himself the monikers of ‘The King of Fighting’, ‘The King of Delinquents,’ and similar designations. With these names, he came to be viewed as a dangerous person. Koremitsu resultantly could not make a single friend in middle school.

And then, there was that unforgettable graduation ceremony.

While his classmates cried to one another as they parted ways, Koremitsu was isolated by them, an outcast left alone among the wilting sakura trees. There he thought to himself, “I can’t let this continue.”

Once Koremitsu entered high school, he made it his priority to forge new friendships to avoid the scornful pain of being called ‘Red Devil’, ‘The Man of Disaster’, ‘The Savage-looking, Wild Dog’, and other things.

That was what he decided.

However, on the day before the high school entrance ceremony, Koremitsu got hit by a truck at an intersection with lots of traffic, and abruptly found himself hospitalized for a month to recuperate.

After the accident, Koremitsu’s aunt, who was also his guardian, went into a frenzy.

“Why do you get involved in one trouble after another! It was a miracle that you managed to pass the exam of a prestigious private school locally, and yet you ruin it by excusing yourself from the ceremony for the hospital? Even primary schoolers don’t get run over on crosswalks!”

And went on a furious display.

Koremitsu would finally be released from grim life in a hospital bed, and the time had come for that eventful day where he could come to his new school for the first time.

He had a crutch tucked under his right armpit, his left hand in a cast, and his head wrapped in bandages as he walked down the long courtyard corridor.

“Damn it…where the heck is the staff room?”

He wanted to ask for directions, but everyone frantically parted aside at his sight, and before realizing it, Koremitsu had come upon a place devoid of that great mass of humanity in the halls.

It was a large courtyard, where beautiful trees were neatly arranged, stones of all shapes and sizes bedighted the verdant landscape, and even sparkling bodies of water were found throughout.

Heian Academy was school of remarkable fame that offered an integrated program of enrollment from its affiliated kindergarten to the university, and its dignitaries spent great sums of wealth specifically creating the courtyard.

During the previous winter, he came to Heian school for an entrance exam, and was simply astounded by the school’s cleanliness and courtyard. He thought that since he could enter such a prestigious school, he would not have to face those upperclassmen who would go crazy without warning and pull out the knives from their modified uniforms, and that he could look forward to getting along with his classmates.

However, people were sure to keep their distance from him when Koremitsu entered this new school for the first time, and even ended up lost.

Damn it…everyone’s judging each other based on looks.

They’re saying my parents got me into this school through Mafia connections – that I fought some sort of delinquent army from another school and nearly killed them all, and that I was hospitalized as a result.

Hey, I can hear your insults! If you want to badmouth me like that, do it somewhere I can’t hear it, okay!? I deserve to be treated with the bare minimum of manners, do you hear me!?

Sulkily, he proceeded down the corridor, his crutch sounding a tap with each start forward to accentuate his gait.

There seemed to be someone standing in the shadow of a pillar in front of him.

The person was simply standing there, and looked like he was simply leaning on the pillar. He was wearing a blazer and slacks—is he a guy?

The morning sunlight that shone into the atrium lit this soft hair, radiating a golden brilliance from his profile.

Why was such a person standing at this place so early in the morning?

Anyway, Koremitsu felt saved by the sight of this lone figure.

He wanted to approach them to ask where the office was, but they turned toward Koremitsu before he could start.

Huh? A girl?

The person had a softly delicate face, and therewith confusion struck Koremitsu. He wondered why a girl should be wearing a boy’s uniform

No, wait, that’s a guy– right?

Their clear eyes narrowed, and a warm smile splayed across their remarkably amiable countenance. The person’s fine lips started to move.

“Mr. Akagi.”

They let out a sweet voice.

Their voice almost held an allurement, as it reached the ears softly and gently, almost feeling like it had penetrated the very core of his essence. Koremitsu instantaneously froze.

“You’re the first year, Mr. Koremitsu Akagi. This is the first time you’re stepping into the school, right?”

“…How do you know my name?”

Koremitsu eyed the boy warily. Hikaru continued without a hint of dishonesty.

“Any freshmen like yourself would become the talk around here. It is said that you fought against a delinquent army, beat ten opponents to near death, became the 27th gang leader and the legendary ‘King of the Delinquents’. It’s also said that the injuries you sustained were marks of honor from battle, right?”

There was no one who dared to approach Koremitsu and talk, let alone someone who did not fear him, facing him head on and exposing a blissful smile.

That was why Koremitsu felt somewhat puzzled instead of upset over being called a gang leader here.

For some reason, the boy felt he could really talk with someone called a gang leader so nonchalantly…

For someone who looked like a girl, he sure has guts, huh? Or is he just slow? Or is he planning something?

Koremitsu told Hikaru the truth – that his face of a rebel’s was something he was born with, that the injuries were a result of him being knocked down by a truck, that there were really no gang leaders around, and that he was not a delinquent.

“Then why did you block the truck with your body?”

He met the earnest question sidelong.

“…A coincidence.”

“That makes quite the coincidence!”

“It can’t be helped. It was just that – coincidental.”

“Hmm, but I do not think a truck like that is something you could run into accidentally.”

“…”

He really did not want to talk about the incident.

To Koremitsu, who was not used to having others talk to him, the way this boy spoke to him so naturally caused him to feel butterflies in his stomach.

The manner in which the boy looked back at him was like he was staring at a rare animal on exhibition, and it felt repulsive.

“…Where’s the staff room?”

Koremitsu curtly inquired this original intent of starting conversation with the boy to end the butterflies presently aflutter in his gut; but the other person did not seem to mind.

“Head straight down, and at the end, turn left, go up the stairs, and onto the second level.”

And he even guided Koremitsu.

“Oh, I see.”

The sound of the pine crutch clattered again, and as they were to pass by each other inside, Koremitsu had his name called again.

“Mr. Akagi, I forgot my Classics textbook today. Can you please lend me yours?”

Huh?

Koremitsu stopped thinking for a moment.

”Why ask me to lend a textbook all of a sudden?”

Koremitsu turned around, and saw the other person staring right at him with his clear eyes.

“…Our class doesn’t have Classics today.”

He answered as he tried to guess the other person’s intention.

“Eh, that is a pity.”

He mused, giving off a meaningful smile,

“Then, I’ll come over to your class to borrow your textbook then, Mr. Akagi. There’s something I want to ask of you, too.”

”Something you want to ask of me? What is it?”

It escalated from a simple request for borrowing a textbook to a request of personal favor, and this suspicious segue caused Koremitsu to frown.

“I am Hikaru Mikado of Class 1. See you next time.”

He waved his arm widely and walked off to the courtyard.

The image of that dazzling smile, a smile he thought brilliant as the sun, etched itself deeply into Koremitsu’s mind.

“Kyah! Lord Hikaru!” “Good morning, Master Hikaru!” the girls’ jubilant yells could be heard from the other side of a forest.

Koremitsu could only look stunned as he listened to the screams fade in the distance.

That was one week ago.

A week later, Koremitsu, who had his cast and crutch removed, saw the girls crying and wailing as he entered school, and heard the news that “‘Lord Hikaru’ has died.”

♢ ♢ ♢
In the end, Mikado never borrowed the textbook from me, and we only managed to talk once.

The road was dark, and the rain caused Koremitsu’s vision to blur on his walk home.

He had been thinking about Hikaru’s situation ever since the moment he left the funeral parlor.

There’s nothing I can do…

Their sole meeting left a huge impact on Koremitsu, and the events of the funeral added to this experience.

Still, Koremitsu understood practically nothing about the person named Hikaru Mikado. Koremitsu still found himself thoroughly captivated by his casual attitude, his equally earnest demeanor and smile; it all remained an enigma.

What kind of person was Hikaru like, in reality?

If that guy didn’t die, if he’s still alive…will he really come over to borrow my textbook?

He will open the classroom door forcefully, give a radiant smile,

“Mr. Akagi! I forgot my textbook!”

And it’ll be in a cheery tone, I guess?

This scene flashed through his mind in an instant, and his very core seared with a grating sensation. Perhaps this was the little sadness he had for the life of a 15 year old who had his life ended.

The downpour grew stronger.

The wooden home his grandfather built was located away from city center, a place functioning as a calligraphy house. By the time he got back, his messy red hair was sticking on his eyelids and ears.

He opened the main entrance, and in the doorway his aunt Koharu stood, holding some coarse salt.

“Koremitsu, turn your back around!”

She ordered him sternly.

Koharu would normally dress herself up in a jersey with rolled up sleeves and hem, her hair neatly tied behind her head with grace. A divorcée, she had returned home to work on an internet marketplace business on the computer. At this point, she, Koremitsu and his grandfather were the only people living together.

He followed what she said and turned around, and soon after, the sound of salt being sprinkled on him rang.

(Isn’t this too much salt for purification? Are you trying to marinate me with salt?!)

But even though he thought so, he chose to remain silent in light of the fact that the highest seat of authority in the household was gradually transferring from his grandfather over to his uncle, he chose to remain silent.

“Alright, turn around again.”

He turned around, and a large helping of salt was sprinkled on his legs. His thoroughly wet clothes were littered with salt grains.

“The water in the bath is boiled. Go in a wash. Once you’re done, have dinner, and don’t dily-daly around.”

She spoke with masculine tone.

Suddenly, there was a snicker from behind.

“Mr. Akagi ‘s sister really seems to be a violent and interesting. And she looks just like you.”

(Un?)

At that moment, he stopped in his tracks.

What is it?

He thought he heard some unfamiliar voice here….

No, I probably misheard.

Koremitsu thought that he was tired as he was not used to attending funerals. Taking the towel Koharu handed over, he put it over his head and went on towards the bathroom.

After a soak in the bath, his body would feel relieved, and his mind refreshed.

He took off his blazer, undid the buttons of the damp and uncomfortable shirt , and took off his chaps.

The moment he opened the glass door of the bathroom, he heard that sweet voice ring again.

“Heh – you look rather lean, but those muscles make you look much different from myself. As expected of the king of the delinquents.”

I’m not a delinquent.

No, before arguing back, who was the person talking to him just now?

His grandfather’s voice was not this young, and this voice was too mild to be Koharu’s.

“If I strip myself naked now, most of them will say that I’m pretty, look like a girl and have white silky skin or something. That really hurts my pride as a man here.”

The voice seemed to be taunting him as its charming lure fell upon Koremitsu’s ears. This sweet voice seemed oddly similar to the voice of the boy he heard when they met on the corridor.

However, that boy should have died several days ago; Koremitsu did attend the funeral earlier that day, and even burned incense.

“Your arms are rather lean too, but they sure look firm. That’s my ideal size there.”

Can a hallucination actually last this long here?

The voice felt so clear too, as if it was coming down from just above his head—

Incidentally, Koremitsu shifted his head to that direction, and in the next moment, screamed.

“UWWAAAHHH!!?”

How!? That boy with an angelic face – dressed in school uniform! Hikaru Mikado!

At the ceiling of the bathroom! Surrounded by steam!

He was floating in the air!

“Uh, huh? Are you able to see me here, Mr. Akagi?”

With the possibility realized, Hikaru’s levitating body let out a cheer.

His hair, which looked golden with light partially filtered through its locks, lifted by a stray breeze as it and swayed atop Hikaru’s small head.

Koremitsu grabbed the edge of the bathtub, his mouth still agape – his chin looked like it was going to fall to the ground. Hikaru reflexively widened his eyes peering down upon him. Hikaru’s vaporous figure seemed just like an angel’s, descended onto the Earth before Koremitsu. If he swapped his uniform for a bathrobe, the scintillating radiance could be to blindening effect.

Koremitsu met Hikaru’s eyes, panting in conflict with the incredulity of it all.

“Are — aren’t you already dead…?”

With no delay, his aunt Koharu slid open the glass panel and yelled into the bathhouse.

“What is it, Koremitsu!? Did you fall and hit your head? Don’t tell me you have to be hospitalized again!”

In her right hand was the kitchen knife, manifestly because she was halfway through with the preparation of dinner.

“Ko-Koharu…there…”

Koremitsu shuddered as he pointed to the ceiling.

There was an effeminate specter in uniform floating before them. It was unknown if Hikaru was naturally genteel or if he went out of his way to treat girls so kindly, as he showed a smile for Koharu.

If she were a girl in her teens, she would have melted like a soft-serve. Her voice was yet somehow fraught with a tone suggestive of murderous intent as she derided Koremitsu for his commotion.

“Hah!? Did a cockroach stick on you? You’re not a girl. Don’t yap around like that because of such a small thing.”

“Can’t you see!?”

“Well, I can’t see any cockroach or centipede from here.”

Isn’t there a guy wearing school uniform here!?

He wanted to yell it, but disposed of the thought after seeing her expression, signaling she might swing the menacing cooking knife upon him without hesitation.

Koharu shut the glass door and left.

“That is a fierce older sister you have.”

Hikaru glazed over the fact that his trademark smile was ineffective as he said this.

Meanwhile, in Koremitsu’s mind.

Calm down… Calm down…

Koremitsu repeated this to himself as he frantically sought the composure to figure out what was happening.

Hikaru Mikado, who should by all means be dead, appeared quite alive in Koremitsu’s very bathroom.

He had legs, but his wispy body floated in the air.

And Hikaru was not visible to Koharu.

Koremitsu looked tentatively toward the mirror on the bathroom wall, saw that there was only his naked self reflected with a haze of steam, and looked back to Hikaru again.

He was still there.

Koremitsu again looked at the mirror.

The red-haired, wiry boy with menacing eyes went pale to the image he saw.

“Well, Mr. Akagi.”

The voice closed in.

“!”

Koremitsu turned, seeing Hikaru behind him like a pet trainer ready for work with an overexcited canine, who said calmly.

“It’s just like what you said, Mr. Akagi. I truly am dead now. This is why I feel this form must be my ghost.”

Hikaru paused in contemplation.

“Yes, this much has to be the case. I’m not too sure of what it means to be a ghost, but I feel I am even without knowing a strict definition. I prefer the feeling of a fantastical existence over some convoluted science fiction, so it’s better this way. You should see me in this light, too, Mr. Akagi.”

What good is that? How can you be so convinced you’re right!? A dead person suddenly appearing before the living is simply fantasy to you!? This is a disturbance of reality, not imagination!

He felt this wave of derision in his heart, but Koremitsu did not express it.

The only time when he actually believed in ghosts was in his days as a fledgling in school—a product of immaturity. In addition, the mirror’s reflection bereft of a certain Hikaru still remained.

Koremitsu became tangled in the conflicted twine of common sense and observation.

“Here, have a look.”

Hikaru reached his white, slender hand to touch Koremitsu’s. It passed through him, and the skin and bone went through to the other side.

Koremitsu held in a powerful compellence to shriek. He did not want to see the sight of someone else’s hand passing through his like that. It was all too illogical to him. He had goosebumps all over his body, as if there crept a centipede on his back.

Koremitsu reeled the shaken hand back to his chest, breathed a series of deep breaths, and said, “A—assuming that this is reality, and I’m not a ghost, even if you are a ghost, why must you appear in my bathroom?”

They were not friends.

They were not classmates at all.

They merely had that single interaction at Heian.

Hikaru gave a stunningly captivating look with those clear eyes to Koremitsu.

“It’s not sudden at all. I’ve been above you ever since you were at the funeral parlor. I called you ‘Mr. Akagi’ during the funeral, and you looked back, remember?”

Koremitsu stupefied over Hikaru’s words.

It was true that I felt someone calling me when I was returning home. So this guy here has been floating above my head ever since that moment!? Has he been tailing me from behind when I walked home!?

“At that moment, I was wondering if I was stuck on you, Mr. Akagi. Of course, that s in occult terms.”

“Oi! Why me? What did I do to incur your vengeance? Did you want to become the 27th chief or something? You want to fight me because I surpassed you? Did you talk to me on the corridor because of this? In that case, I’ll give that position to you. You can call yourself whatever you want here. Or I can go engrave it on your tombstone too, with a carving knife.”

Koremitsu’s forehead had crossed veins popping with agitation. Hikaru made a relaxed smile as he replied.

“Not at all. I don’t have a grudge with you at all.”

“Then why?”

Koremitsu eyed him, Hikaru returning the gaze shamelessly.

“Didn’t we have a promise?”

“Huh?”

Koremitsu was dumbfounded.

What promise?

“I had something I wanted to ask of you when I approached you to borrow the textbook.”

A charming grin splayed across Hikaru’s face as he looked at Koremitsu.

Koremitsu did not care about his awkwardness as he leaned his body forward to view Hikaru.

“Hey, what is it that you requested me for?”

Ever since he heard of Hikaru’s death, Koremitsu could not help but feel bothered by it, as if there were a bone stuck in his throat.

What was the “matter” Hikaru wanted to tell him of?

Hikaru requested him, someone he did not know, someone whom he had met for the first time.

Hikaru requested Koremitsu, someone who was infamous for being a savage delinquent – someone others would shy away from.

Hikaru’s smile disappeared, and his expression turned to sadness. He averted his gaze and fell silent with Koremitsu’s question.

“…”

Hey, why isn’t he saying anything now? Why does he look so upset?

Koremitsu became impatient with Hikaru’s now-solemn expression.

He felt an uncomfortable cold sweat as he awaited a reason behind the silence. At this moment, Hikaru curled his lips and gave a thin smile.

“About that…forget about it.”

He muttered it softly.

“Huh!? What does that mean!?”

Koremitsu’s tone had inadvertently become gruff. The situation developed into something Hikaru would feel bad about, so the forcefulness of Koremitsu’s reply came to be lamentable.

“Don’t try to pull a fast one on me. You’d better tell me the truth here.”

Koremitsu puffed his cheeks as Hikaru clapped his powdery white hands together and apologized.

“I’m sorry. Actually, I think I had a little memory loss when I died. I can’t remember now.”

Are you kidding me!?

Koremitsu shot him an interrogative stare, Hikaru smiling back once more.

“However, it is rare to have such a promise, and since we’ve met even after my death, I would like to ask you for another request.”

“Another request, you say!?”

Hikaru nodded obediently.

“Yes. I’m definitely stuck with you, so I hope that I can get your help here.”

Hikaru’s eyes peered into Koremitsu with an inexplicable gravity – like everything in the vicinity would succumb to their power.

The prince of the school.

Koremitsu could finally understand why everyone at school gave Hikaru this nickname; it was beseeming of his majestic, regal presence.

—I can be forgiven by anyone no matter what I do.

Koremitsu nearly agreed to do anything the other party wanted after beholding that lovely grin.

Not good!

He did not know why, but his instincts rang alarm from deep within.

He had the vexatious feeling that he would be pulled along by Hikaru’s front if things kept up. The realization jolted through him like lightning.

“Koremitsu! How long are you going to talk to yourself in the bathroom like that!? Have you become friends with the cockroach!? Get out once you’re done!”

Koharu had again slammed the glass panel open to yell.

“Oh, okay.”

Koremitsu hurriedly reached down to retrieve a bucket for covering his lower body.

“…She says I am a cockroach?”

Hikaru mused, seemingly devastated by this.

♢ ♢ ♢
“Wow! A Chabudai. To think that it still exists in Japan.”

While Koremitsu, Koharu and grandfather were having dinner in the dining room, Hikaru looked like a prince who finally entered a peasant’s house as he curiously floated around the house. He would exclaim whenever he saw something, and would observe with wide eyes, without looking away and give a smile.

“Ah, the yam is cooked! It looks really delicious oily like this~ So good. It has that motherly flair to it. I want to try it out too~”

Koremitsu, who started to grab his chopsticks to cater to his salivating tongue, felt his hunger partially subsided with the famished set of eyes probing him at the table.

Aren’t you a ghost? You can’t eat.

Koremitsu wanted to speak, but he stopped himself after seeing Koharu and his grandfather continue their meal with their usual expressions.

Looks like gramps and Koharu really can’t see this.

The recurred proof of his situation caused another headache for Koremitsu.

“Hey, this piece of calligraphy is written expertly. Who wrote it?”

Gramps.

“What is this raccoon decoration here for?”

Who knows?

“Ah, this sliding door is covered by sticking Washi A type of Japanese paper. Can be used for virtually anything artistic. over it. Ah, here too! Did you repair them by yourselves? That is very handy of you.”

Don’t go cooing over such minor things.

Taking his chopsticks again, he grimaced at Hikaru.

“Koremitsu, what have you been looking at since just now?”

Koharu asked the question not for an answer but to give Koremitsu a warning. Koremitsu’s venerable grandfather, having been born before the war, also lectured him.

“Don’t drop rice all over the place. You’ll get divine retribution.”

Koremitsu cringed his neck.

Hikaru was meanwhile admiring the sliding door with fascination, “Ah, this is covered up with chiyogami…”

Koremitsu thought that this was all Hikaru was doing.

“Mr. Akagi, Kokeshi Dolls! The Kokeshi Dolls are lined up. Do you collect them? They’re really cute! These narrow eyes are really a form of Japanese Beauty!”

Here Hikaru was thrilled over sundry baubles again.

Shut up over there! You’re already dead!

Koremitsu had stopped himself from speaking out of irritation for another time that day.

He would be troubled if Hikaru’s airy form might squat in a room of the house as a baleful ghost seeking vengeance for a misdeed.

Either way, he felt the need to make haste in taking Hikaru out of his sight, lest Koharu and his grandfather misunderstand anything more.

Koremitsu would normally eat an extra serving of rice for dinner, but that luxury had to be forgone.

“I’m going away.”

He let out a low growl as he muttered, “Why act so cool when you’re just returning to your own room here? You want to go raid a yakuza base or something here!?”

Koharu had yapped something back.

“First, sit down before we begin.”

Koremitsu returned to his room, closed the door, threw a cushion onto the tatami. and ordered Hikaru.

“Mr. Akagi, I am happy that you are inviting me with a cushion as well, but I do not suppose therwe any significance in giving me a cushion. However, I do understand your intentions.”

Hikaru bent his knees slightly over the cushion as he floated in the air.

Koremitsu started.

“WHO’S WELCOMING YOU HERE!? THE HAIRS ON MY BACK ARE STANDING WHEN YOU’RE FLOATING IN FRONT OF ME LIKE THIS. AT LEAST PUT YOUR FEET—no, wait, knees on the floor—ANYWAY, IF YOU WANT ME TO LISTEN TO YOU HERE, YOU’D BETTER SHOW ME THAT YOU’RE SINCERELY TRYING TO ASK ME HERE!”

Koremitsu’s face had changed colors as he yelled.

“Okay, I understand.”

Unexpectedly, Hikaru knelt down onto the floor and put his knees together to sit properly on the cushion.

Even so, he was practically sitting in a ‘Seiza’, and his back looked straighter than Koremitsu’s, who sat with his back arched. It was perfect other than the fact that the cushion did not sink at all.

“Is this good? Are you willing to listen to me now?”

Hikaru flashed his trademark smile of allure.

How do I say this? This guy…can really mess up my rhythm.

Koremitsu thought as he sat cross-legged on the floor.

“Well, I’ll just hear you out now.”

“If possible, I hope that you can help me, too. Actually, there is a girl I can’t let go of in my heart. Her birthday’s coming soon, and on the last day of Golden Week, I sent a letter attached with Lilacs to her home.”

Why must you use plant stems to tie the envelope? Can’t you send her a phone message?

Koremitsu was perplexed.

Then, Hikaru’s eyes and lips looked like they were emitting sweetness.

In this letter, he wrote,

“This is the first present. I prepared another 6 gifts for your birthday. Please look forward to it.”

Are women the greedy enough not to be satisfied without receiving 7 gifts? Don’t you have to spend lots of money if you have to give 7 gifts for every birthday? Before we even talk about that, how were you able to think of what 7 presents to give?

To Koremitsu, gift giving for a lady was a concept from another dimension.

But Hikaru showed a melancholic expression in his eyes.

“As you can see, I’m already dead, and I’m unable to fulfill my promise. Would you please hand the presents to her in my stead?”

“So, you’re requesting me to do something related to a girl here.”

“Yes. To me, she is a very important girl.”

Hikaru’s eyebrows perked up as he showed his ever sweet, soft charm. Koremitsu showed a contrastingly unhappy expression.

“I’m not doing it.”

“Eh—!? Wa-wait, are you not rejecting me too quickly here, Mr. Akagi?”

This was the first time Hikaru, who had been so carefree even after becoming a ghost, showed signs of faltering.

Koremitsu kept frowning, “I won’t talk about requests concerning girls.”

“Why!?”

“Gramps told me not to get close to girls.”

“What does that mean?”

“20 years ago, his wife – my grandmother – said that she wanted to start a second life, and left divorce letters before she went off.”

Ever since it happened to him, his grandfather’s catchphrase was that “women are all like this,” and he would often quarrel with Koremitsu’s aunt Koharu as a divorcée who often said in the same derisive manner that “men are all like this.” According to Koharu, it was to be expected that Koremitsu’s grandmother could not stand his grandfather.

“This…this might have been quite a shock to your grandfather, but your grandmother cannot possibly represent all females.”

“During the first year of my elementary school, the woman called my mother dumped my father and I, and eloped with another guy.”

“Uw!”

Hikaru was immediately rendered speechless.

“And also, the guy she went with was my homeroom teacher.”

“Ehh.”

“And then, half a year later, my dad died of a heart attack.”

“Is-is that so. You’ve really had it tough up til now. Your — your father really suffered quite a tragedy too…but this girlfriend of mine won’t hand me divorce papers or elope with another guy. It’s not like I want you to go out with her or get married either. I just want you to send her the presents on her birthday, and then I can go to Heaven happily. See, it’ll be bothersome if I keep sticking alongside you all the time, right?”

The meaning hidden within those words was that Hikaru was threatening Koremitsu with continued haunting unless his request was made. Hikaru retained a pitiful expression.

“Please~? It’s a very important promise. I don’t have any real friends, so I can only ask you here, Mr. Akagi.”

“You’re actually saying that you have no friends? Keep trying to bluff me here. Aren’t you some extremely popular socialite?”

He was born with a dazzling appearance, and his personality was so refreshing it was endearing. He was also the ‘Prince’ of the school, someone surrounded by obsequious followers. To Koremitsu, it was an infuriating thing someone like him could say they “did not have any friends.”

How could this flippant guy understand the pain of being left aside when the teachers instruct the students to ‘team up in pairs’ during Physical Education or Arts classes?

Everyone scattered from me like spiders when I was just walking around, asking for directions to the teachers’ staff room. There’s no one I could talk with during class breaks, I have difficulty spending those 10 minutes of break, and I can only use that time to keep revising work. How can some naïve young lord like you understand the pain of being excluded?

However, Hikaru shrugged his shoulders as he muttered sadly.

“It is true…I was always popular with the girls ever since I was in kindergarten, and all the girls in my class wanted to be my girlfriend. During the class meetings in primary school, they went through a long discussion, which amounted to ‘Hikaru belongs to everyone, so no one can elope with him here’ and ended up with this agreement.”

…Is he just bragging here? Speaking of which, those elementary school students sure are annoying to use this majority vote to decide things here.

The more Koremitsu listened, the more his lips started to twist in a frown.

“But because of this, the boys would often exclude me.”

On hearing that, Koremitsu’s ears suddenly twitched.

(You were…excluded?)

“It was the same during Physical Education Class. Nobody would pair up with me.”

Koremitsu’s ears twitched again.

“It was the same when I entered middle school. I was called up by a group to the back of the sports hall, saying that I snatched their girlfriends. They were looking for trouble with me…making all sorts of bad rumors to a point where none of the boys in class were willing to speak up for me…”

Koremitsu imagined that scene and felt a pain inside his chest, as if there was something stuck within.

He understood more than anyone else the pain of being excluded due to vilified rumors.

He recalled how he had to eat lunch alone during noon break, he recalled how he would move his chopsticks silently while hearing the laughter and chatting of his classmates. He recalled the despicable people who were overly bored and used compasses to doodle on his table, calling him names like “Sam” and “John” and all sorts of things.

Every time he recalled that, his eyes would feel hot.

Is that so? So this guy understands such pain?

So he lived through such bitter days?

He wants to fulfill a promise to a girl he can’t let go of in his heart, but he has no friends. He’s so lonely that he can only rely on me.

Is that so? Is that how it is?

This is really unbearable, damn it.

“It…it can’t be helped…I’ll just help send the presents in your stead.”

Koremitsu blinked his eyes and looked aside and said this stiffly.

On hearing this, Hikaru heaved a sigh of relief and said,

“Thank you! I knew that you’ll help me, Mr. Akagi. Really, thank you.”

The words full of undiluted graciousness and trust caused something hot to rise up his throat.

“I’ll go to…the toilet.”

He lowered his head and hurriedly left the room to avoid letting others see the salty and spicy juices on his eyelids.

He opened the toilet door, used his fingers to wipe away his tears, sighed, took off his pajamas pants with his underwear—

“!”

But there was a slightly apologetic looking Hikaru floating above the toilet bowl.

“WAH!? WHY MUST YOU FOLLOW ME HERE!? AND YOU’RE EVEN LOOKING AT MY PRIVATE PART HERE! ARE YOU A PERVERT!?”

“I saw both front and back earlier when you were in the bathroom.”

In the face of the flustered Koremitsu, Hikaru sighed slightly and showed a serious look, saying,

“There is something unfortunate I have to tell you of.”

Wha-what is it?

Koremitsu held his breath as he listened, and Hikaru tried his best to lighten the shock as he calmly explained.

“It seems that no matter where you go, I will be dragged along with you. So please don’t mind me and continue on.”

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