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going our separate ways

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You never were one to search for love. Despite this, people often told you you were rather popular and well-liked, and you did consider yourself a somewhat likable person, albeit sarcastic and blunt. But never romantically.

That’s why, when a boy you didn’t know sent you a message asking if you’d like to play video games with him online when you were 15, you didn’t think too much of it. After all, you had many friends online you’d never met in real life, seeing as you enjoyed spending your time playing video games rather than “making anything out of yourself,” as your parents so elegantly put it.

You and the boy, who introduced himself as Nagito, ended up very close friends. He claimed not to be very good at video games nor comfortable with playing online with strangers, but despite this, you could see he had some kind of talent; or at least your playing styles were highly compatible, you rushing into the fray with him as your support. You had a lot of fun playing together like this, and while he usually wasn’t very sociable with the rest of your randomly made up teams, he was always cooperative with you and soon seemed to understand your strategies even better than yourself, getting to be one step ahead at times.

You got close. You had lots of fun playing games together, of course, but you found yourself having just as much fun just talking to him. You’d voice chat, sometimes, and you found the sound of his voice very soothing; exactly what you needed when your ordinary life started to get difficult.

You learned a lot about him. You learned that Nagito Komaeda was of the same age as you, had lost his parents in a plane accident some years ago and was now living with his aunt and uncle across the country from you. You also learned that he was someone who liked to remain upbeat and supportive, someone who gladly put his own time aside for someone else; sometimes even at the cost of his own well-being. You didn’t react to it at first, it was a conclusion you came to after many months of knowing him, but you didn’t think it was worth mentioning; or, rather, you thought it was something he probably didn’t want you to mention.

The neverending support he offered was welcome, of course. You had a somewhat difficult family life that not even your real life friends could help you with, and the support of someone who seemed like he could understand you was welcome. You talked to him more and more, sometimes wondering if your real life friends noticed you were drifting more towards this online friend you’d never met before, but his company was pleasant so you decided not to dwell on it too much.

Soon, you came to realize you’d gotten closer than you had intended. You started thinking of him more and more, started chatting with him on your phone at school, started finding it harder and harder to go to sleep when all you wanted to do was speak to him. Your heart would sometimes leap in your chest when he sent you sweet little messages of support, sometimes ending them with hearts - or, if he was feeling bold, a little kissy face. You said goodnight to each other every night, and the impulse to add an ‘I love you’ got harder and harder to ignore.

Eventually, you had to face the facts that you’d fallen in love with the boy called Nagito. You were a little anxious at first, seeing as you’d never crushed on a boy before, but his endless support and affection seemed to chase these thoughts away. You’d look at the silly selfies he sent you with a soft smile on your face, even being bold enough to make one of them your home screen. The soft smile and kind eyes, framed by a - rather majestic - mane of light-brown hair, made your heart do flips in your chest as you considered them, trying to imagine what it would be like to run your fingers through his hair.

Eventually, you also had to come to terms with the inescapable fact that Nagito most likely harbored feelings towards you, too. You couldn’t say you hadn’t expected it, seeing as he seemed to reply to your messages almost instantly, as if he were waiting for them. The nightly ‘goodnights’ soon did turn to ‘I love yous’, and on your 16th birthday - January 1st - he sent you a long email stating the many things he loved about you, ending it with a simple question: “will you be my boyfriend?”

Without hesitation, you replied: “yes!!!”

Not much seemed to change at first. You continued playing video games together, and even though sending love letters through email was fun, you eventually swapped addresses in order to send each other gifts and handwritten letters. The letters were Nagito’s idea, and you saw why when you received your first; he had really nice handwriting that suited the declarations of love he wrote with it. Whenever you’d come home to a new letter, your heart would skip a beat and you’d quickly bring it to your room to read it in peace.

Your parents weren’t blind to this change, of course. You didn’t have the best relationship with them, but even they had to notice that you’d suddenly started getting a lot more mail than before, and eventually, they confronted you about it. You simply told them you’d made a new friend across the country and left it at that. You weren’t quite ready to admit you were dating him, especially when you’d never met him in person, but they probably had a right to know Nagito existed, at least. When asked how you met him, you made up a story about him being the cousin of one of your school friends, since you knew your parents weren’t comfortable with you making friends you’d never met before.

Your relationship was great, at first. You were completely absorbed in the feeling of loving someone and being loved in return, and you couldn’t help fantasizing about a future together at times, although you knew you were both young and stupid and not fit for making such decisions, at all.

Eventually, you managed to organize a meetup with him in real life. You invited him over for a week during summer break so you’d have plenty of time to show him around and spend time with him. It was easily one of the best weeks of your life; you both had plenty of fun, visiting malls and amusement parks and playing video games together. Every night, you’d snuggle close and kiss shyly, carefully, as if you both couldn’t quite believe the other was real. Butterflies would flutter in your stomach as you held each other close, listening to the other breathe in the darkness of your room. You felt happy; truly happy, for once in your life.

When the time came to separate again, you saw him off at the train station. You both shed many a tear, holding each other close and promising to meet again, and before he rushed onto his train, he left you a quick peck on the cheek. The public affection embarrassed you, but you felt warm the whole way back home, even if the separation left you feeling a bit empty.

After your real life meeting, you started noticing something changing in your relationship. Nagito seemed a bit anxious, to say the least, always responding to your messages within minutes. You started wondering if he didn’t have any real life friends, like you did; which reminded you that you had neglected your other friends for a while now. You started trying to mend your relationships with them, and they quickly welcomed you back into their little circle. Some of them seemed a bit hesitant, looking at you like you were about to leave them in the dust again, but they seemed happy enough about having you back.

This didn’t seem to sit right with Nagito. You talked just like before, just a bit less, seeing as you didn’t just mend your friendships but also realized you had to catch up on schoolwork after having been a bit absent minded at lessons. On most days, he’d talk to you normally, but sometimes, he put on a harsher and colder demeanor, answering you only in short messages. You were confused by this sudden change, but decided to just make the days he seemed to be in a good mood worth it.

Your life continued on as usual. You had school, friends and Nagito, even with his seemingly random cold attitude, and things didn’t seem that bad for a while. However, you started to notice a sort of edge to your relationship with Nagito, something nagging at your brain that you couldn’t really put your finger on. It made you feel uneasy at times, but you couldn’t really figure out what it was.

A year after meeting him in your hometown, he invited you over to his own. The prospect of seeing him again in person made you happy enough, and you had a great week at his place, even if he sometimes seemed a bit off to you, as if there was a subject he wanted to talk about but couldn’t bring himself to. It made you a bit uneasy, especially with the way he would look at you sometimes, with a spark in his eyes that you didn’t recognize. You were mostly able to ignore this, however, in order to have fun and enjoy the sights. Your nightly snuggles turned into nightly makeouts, which often left you flustered and with a heavy weight in your stomach. You didn’t know how to bring up your discomfort with Nagito, so you settled for putting up with it until you went back home.

This time, he followed you to the train station. You shared another teary goodbye, but before separating, he lifted your face upwards by the chin and placed a tender kiss on your lips. You knew he meant well, but knowing you were in public made you extremely uncomfortable, and you quickly broke away from him and rushed onto the train. He remained there, looking after you with a hurt expression, and seeing him from through the train windows you picked up your phone to shoot him a quick ‘sorry’. You weren’t exactly sure what got into you, you didn’t usually react badly to being kissed by him - except for the anxiety that the past week’s nightly forwardness had caused you - so your thoughts were a mess until you made it home.

What awaited you at home was something awful. Your nosy mother had decided to search through your room to figure out what you were up to with this new ‘friend’ of yours, and she’d apparently discovered one of your love letters from a year ago. Her angry expression and shouting made you realize that you liking a boy clearly wasn’t welcome in your home, and you ended up trying to explain the contents of the letter away as simply platonic. It seemed to work, although you were afraid that she would uncover the truth behind you and Nagito’s relationship, so you had to send him a message asking him to stop sending you letters. You explained yourself, but his attitude immediately turned sour, and you went to bed crying for the first time in a long while.

You became more observant after this. You started noticing little things in other people’s behavior, and started believing that other people were talking about you behind your back. You spent a lot of time introspecting, trying to figure out what it was that made you so uneasy, and when one of your friends made a gay joke with you as the butt of the joke, you realized the problem; you couldn’t handle the negativity around being perceived as gay.

You started thinking about it more and more. You had a boyfriend, but were you really gay? You weren’t sure. You remembered the unease you had felt at Nagito’s forwardness during your makeouts and slowly had to come to the conclusion that you probably weren’t sexually attracted to him. You’d felt a strong connection of romantic nature, yes, but you weren’t interested in him sexually.

You decided to take it up with him, which caused another bout of passive-aggressive attitude. You became very upset and desperately tried to make him talk to you seriously for once, but your upset eventually turned into frustration, causing you to lash out at him. You had your first real fight over this, and you ended up turning your phone off for the night in order to calm down.

When you turned your phone back on, you were faced with several messages from him, some longer, some shorter. The most recent one simply stated ‘sorry’. You decided to forgive him, replying with a quick ‘I’m sorry, too’, while considering what had gone wrong.

You came to realize that you clearly wanted different things out of your relationship. You simply sought companionship, support and pure love, while he clearly also wanted the more physical aspects of relationships. You tried to explain yourself to him as delicately as you could manage, although your blunt nature caused your admission to be rather clumsy, and you eventually received a confirmation of your suspicions and assurance that he wouldn’t let this become a problem in order to continue your relationship. You didn’t think he was perfectly honest, but you decided to let it be, for now.

You were now 17 and starting your senior year at high school. However, you were more on edge than before, carrying the baggage of both homophobia and what you now perceived as an unstable relationship. You had found comfort in Nagito before, but now that you came to understand that your relationship most likely wouldn’t last, due to your differences in relationship goals, you became more and more agitated. You were paranoid that people on the street were whispering about you behind your back. You were afraid your parents would figure out your relationship with Nagito and attempt to throw you out of the house. Most of all, you were frustrated at your friends for not understanding that you weren’t gay, and continuing to make fun of you for it.

You became tired, and it became harder and harder to focus on school and maintaining good relationships with your friends. Nagito also seemed to change, now desperate to talk to you at best and cold and distant at worst. He seemed unpredictable and you realized you could no longer count on his support. You wanted to mend your friendships again, but as long as you had your failing relationship with Nagito on your shoulders, you felt powerless to do so.

In the end, you decided to end it. You wanted to do it as delicately as possible, although ‘delicate’ really wasn’t a word in your dictionary, and you ended up sending him an email detailing the many problems you’d faced during your relationship that led to you now wishing to end it. He responded with a long reply, too quickly, too emotional, and although you continued trying to tell yourself that he was just upset and didn’t really mean what he said, you felt a sharp pain in your chest upon reading it.

You tried your best to explain that you wanted to remain friends, but Nagito’s attitude remained sour for several days afterwards, and you became tired of trying to deal with it. Instead, you let your friends know you were more free to hang with them again, and after telling them about your breakup with Nagito, they seemed to realize what they’d done wrong and apologized to you at length. It made you feel a bit better, knowing they at least understood what they did wrong, and you ended up a bit happier again.

Nagito slowly opened up to you again. You started talking frequently again, as he seemed to have calmed down from his initial upset. You thought there was something a bit fake about how he constantly assured you he was fine, but you were too tired to pursue it and decided to let it be.

Eventually, one of your close friends since middle school, Chiaki Nanami, admitted she had had a crush on you for a while but didn’t want to pursue it since you were already in a relationship. You decided to take her up on the offer of dating, seeing as you probably needed a more positive model for what a relationship should be like after Nagito, and she seemed like a fitting candidate. Not to say you didn’t like her, of course you did, but you weren’t sure if you really liked her romantically. Regardless, you entered a very comfortable relationship about a month after you and Nagito’s breakup.

Eventually, Nagito found out about it. You hadn’t told him yourself, as you were worried he would react badly to you entering a new relationship; and you were right. You were accused of cheating, of not having taken your relationship seriously, of not even having cared about Nagito in the first place at all. You tried your best to remain calm and try to explain yourself, but in the end, you shut him down in a much harsher tone than you had meant to. You spent some time calming yourself down with the help of Chiaki, and three days after Nagito’s violent outbursts, you received a short message where he tried to reassure you that he hadn’t meant what he said and that he had simply been upset, asking for your forgiveness. You knew him well enough to understand that he was still upset but didn’t want you to hurt because of it, so you politely accepted his apology.

It became harder and harder to remain friends with him after that. His responses always seemed tense, uncertain, as if he were treading on eggshells trying to figure out where he stood with you. You tried to confront him about it at one point, but he simply shut you down claiming to be ‘just fine’. You, of course, understood he wasn’t, but with him being so difficult to deal with you could only hope that he would seek out comfort from other friends.

Eventually, you talked less and less. Days of silence turned into weeks, turned into months, and soon, you realized that it had been six months since you last spoke with him. You, busy with your real life and senior year at high school, barely even noticed time flying, but now you became a bit agitated that he hadn’t contacted you in so long. You knew, of course, that you could just as easily have contacted him, but you didn’t want to make yourself feel responsible of him again so you decided against checking up on him. You did check his social media accounts, though, but since neither you nor him were active on your accounts, you could only see one post since you last spoke with him. You almost considered taking up social media more seriously, if nothing else than to let Nagito know you were doing okay, but you didn’t really want to get too involved so you decided against it.

Time passed. You got yourself an education at university and went in for the counseling business. Somewhere along the line, you and Chiaki broke up; not because you didn’t like each other, but because you couldn’t see the point in remaining together romantically. You continued hanging out as friends, and sometimes you found yourself asking yourself why your relationship with Nagito couldn’t have ended as smoothly as the one with Chiaki, but you felt like that was an answer you couldn’t reach.

--

A year or so after graduating and moving to a new town, you find yourself spending your lunch break at a café near your workplace. You’ve been enjoying your job, of course; you find it easy trying to solve other people’s problems, even if your own sometimes elude you. Besides, with people always telling you that you make them feel more comfortable, you had figured it would be a suiting career choice for you. You’re casually scrolling through the news on your smartphone, chewing on a sandwich, when…

“Hajime?”

You look up, and are surprised to see Nagito standing before you, fully grown up. He doesn’t look as well as he did last time you saw him, several years ago; his hair seems tangled and unruly and has turned a sickly shade of white, his face seems thinner than it did before, and his eyes are accompanied by heavy bags underneath, making him look tired.

“Nagito..?” you mumble, mouth still full. He chuckles softly as you quickly chew and swallow your food, your cheeks heating up out of embarrassment.

“It’s been… quite a while, hasn’t it? May I sit down?”

You nod, motioning toward the chair on the opposite side of your table. Nagito smiles and takes a seat.

You start talking, a bit hesitant at first. You haven’t talked to Nagito for years, and seeing him so suddenly makes you a bit nervous, seeing as you hadn’t exactly been on good terms last time you spoke. It’s not like you haven’t wondered where he’d gone; on good nights, you had imagined him living a better life somewhere with friends you’d never met, and on bad nights, you’d wondered if you should start checking news for suicides around the country. However, you soon find that Nagito is easier to talk to now than you expected, and you’ve soon told him about what you’ve been doing during the past few years.

When it comes to Nagito’s life, though, he seems a lot more hesitant to tell you. He says it’s one long story after another, but does admit that he’s found himself a job and currently lives in this town. You tell him you’d like to hear more about his life, though, and he seems pleased about your curiosity.

“Right, would you mind giving me your phone number? I seem to have lost it over the years,” Nagito says when you check the time. You comply and make sure you get his as well, and you return to your workplace with a smile on your lips.

You start hanging out like this, meeting up at cafés and talking about your lives. He seems very interested in your work and enjoys listening to your stories, although you can’t quite tell if he’s genuinely interested or just looking for excuses not to explain his own life to you. You can’t help worrying over his very drastic change in appearance, and he seems to notice your concern, as he tries to assure you that he eats and sleeps well despite not looking like it.

Eventually, he starts opening up to you again, and you learn the story of what he’s been up to over the years you’ve been out of touch. He admits to having been diagnosed with lymphoma a year or so after your ‘falling out’, as he puts it, and tells you very briefly of the multitude of treatments he’s been through in order to finally be declared free of cancer a few months back. While under treatment, he got himself an education and is currently employed as an ordinary office worker at some business he doesn’t really care much about. He explains himself as just wanting to live some sort of ordinary life, wanting to be part of the taxpayer workforce, and you believe him.

However, as you hang out more and more with him, you start noticing that he seems to avoid the subject of love. You try to bring it up casually in conversation, but he always derails the discussion to something else, often pointing out things in his surroundings that seem more interesting to him.

You decide to go the old-fashioned blunt way.

“Nagito, are you in a relationship?” you ask him one afternoon, as you’d met up after work to hang out. He looks at you with a shocked expression at first, then turns his head down a bit with a rueful smile.

“I hoped you wouldn’t ask that,” is his quiet response, as he stares into the table.

“Well, are you?” you continue, deciding it’s better to have him spit it out sooner than later. “Is it bad?”

“No, no, I’m- I’m not. I… haven’t been in one since…” Nagito hides his face behind his unruly hair, grabbing at his arm with his other hand.

You sigh, reaching your hand out to grab his hand clutching at his arm. You put it on the table, leaving your own hand over it, keeping it in place. “Nagito…”

“It’s- it’s not like that!” he blurts out, voice a bit unsteady. “I’m not- here to expect anything from you, or anything, I haven’t been- been waiting for you or something, I just…”

He goes silent, face still turned away from you. You notice him shudder with silent sobs, and you realize he’s crying. You take his hand, rubbing soothing circles into it with your thumb, as he cries silently. You briefly remember him mentioning something about hating crying in front of other people.

“Nagito,” you lean forward and speak softly, “it’s okay to cry. I know you think it’s a sign of weakness, but it’s not. Crying is good for you, it helps you relieve yourself of stress and is a good emotional output. Don’t be afraid to cry.”

You continue speaking encouraging words, still holding his hand, while he tries to calm down. Slowly, his shuddering comes to a stop, and he sniffles a bit.

“I- I know. I know it, but… it’s hard to come to believe it.” His voice is still weak as he speaks, and he speaks slowly and softly, as if he’s afraid it’s about to break.

“I know,” you reply, offering him a comforting smile. “But it’s good to remind yourself. You’ll believe it more easily if you remind yourself often.”

Nagito dries his eyes with his sleeve, offering you a weak smile in response. He doesn’t quite look at you when he continues speaking.

“It’s… you asked me if I’m in a relationship. I’m… not, and I haven’t been since we… broke up. It’s not because I haven’t fallen in love with anyone since you, but… I have- have trouble accepting that they love me back, and always end up running away. Out of… fear, I guess.”

“You’re afraid it’s going to turn out like… us?”

Nagito hesitates for a bit, then nods. “I think so, yes. I mean, it’s not like you’re the only wonky love experience I’ve had - truth to be told, I was actually heartbroken when I first got to know you. I’d been treated badly by someone I really liked right before I found you, and you seemed to be really nice, so I decided to just- get to know you. It was probably easier to fall in love when I was already… broken, but it just made the breakup even worse.”

You slowly raise your eyebrows during Nagito’s confession; this is the first you’re hearing of this. “That explains a lot,” you mumble to yourself, and Nagito lets out a soft, unamused chuckle.

“Yeah, I’m- sorry for not telling you earlier. Might have… avoided a lot of hiccups if I’d just been honest with myself.”

“Thank you for telling me now, though. I guess I feel better knowing I didn’t personally fuck you up.”

Nagito barks out a short laugh at that. “No, I managed all this on my own.”

You offer him another smile, then put on a more serious expression again. “Have you sought any help for this?”

“No, I wasn’t really sure where to look,” Nagito sighed, looking away again. “It’s not like it really disrupts my life, you know? It’s only when I get too close to someone and they reciprocate. I can just… not get close to others, instead.”

“That’s no good,” you say with a frown. “People need other people. You’re a social being, just like anyone else.”

“I know, pathetic, right?” Nagito gives you another weak smile.

“Nagito, you really need to speak to a professional about this,” you say, squeezing his hand softly. “Get some help. You deserve love just like anyone else.”

He nods in response. You hesitate for a moment before continuing.

“And… you know you’ll always have me, right? I’d like to think we’re friends again, now. Don’t be afraid to seek out my support if you need it.”

He smiles more widely at your words. “Thank you, Hajime. You really know what to say to make people feel better. I’m sure you’re a great counselor.”

You give him an embarrassed chuckle, rubbing the back of your neck with your free hand sheepishly. “It’s nothing, really…”

The two of you stay at the café for a while longer, discussing this and that to lighten the mood. You feel better now, knowing not only what Nagito’s been up to during your time apart, but also that he has enough self-consciousness not to blame you for your breakup. You’re sure he’s spent a lot of time thinking about it, and you’re glad he’s reached a conclusion that doesn’t put you to blame in the end. It’s all you could ask for, really; not only has he clearly forgiven you for what you did, but he also trusts you enough now that you’ve reconnected to tell you about his thoughts and true feelings. You feel like he hadn’t been entirely honest with you during a good portion of your time together, back then, and you’re glad he’s able to be that now.

Two years later, you’re pleasantly surprised when you run into Nagito on the street, holding hands with another young man. He introduces you to Makoto Naegi, his boyfriend, and you can’t help but notice a difference in tone as he introduces you, as if he’s subtly trying to say ‘that Hajime Hinata’. You’re a bit nervous, as well, seeing as you don’t really know how much Makoto knows about you, but you’re pleasantly surprised by his calm and kind demeanor. He seems like a very understanding and patient person, and judging by the way they look at each other, they’ve already overcome a lot of obstacles to get where they are right now.

Another two years later, you attend their wedding as Nagito’s bestman, and watching them dance together with your current girlfriend, you feel like some part of you is finally at peace.