Part 4 That Golden Week ended in a flash, and we were back to our school lives. The scenery remained the same, but everyday life began to change slowly. “… Yo.” In the morning just after the break, Sudou was the first person I ran into, near the shoe locker at the school. It was just a run-in with a classmate, but it was also part of that changing everyday life. “It hasn’t been easy for you for a while. Are you alright now?” “No problem. It’s the same as before. I made it through Golden Week with no problems.” “I see. You know, this vacation went by real quick.” I walked side by side with Sudou, who had adjusted his walking pace to match mine, to the classroom. Because he had to leave the classroom for his club activities, Sudou must have heard the details from Ike or Hondou afterwards. I didn’t need to tell him what happened in that classroom, as he should have understood everything. “So you were hiding the fact you’re good at studying because of Suzune’s strategy, right?” I nodded my head a bit in agreement, and Sudou pouted a bit. He looked away from me and turned straight ahead. “Well, you two have been close ever since school started. A bit late now, but I understand that.” “We didn’t get along. If anything, at first it was more like we wanted to keep our distance from each other.” “It was like that? Sorry, didn’t look like that to me.” That was probably because Sudou was viewing Horikita as a person of the opposite sex. There was no point in me pointing that out, so I skipped over his words. “I heard about it from Yousuke afterwards. You put in a good word for me, didn’t you?” “I can’t say I was covering for you; I was only stating the facts.” “You call them facts, but you didn’t know the truth at that time either.” “’Course I know that!” Sudou got a bit angry and pouted again, as he spoke again. “It was a secret that you’re a genius at math, but is the fact that you’re good at fighting also a secret?” To Sudou, this aspect was apparently more important than the bit about math. “I don’t know what you mean.” I pretended not to understand what he was talking about. However, Sudou was no longer the kind of person to back down on hearing that. “Don’t play dumb with me. I fought with Housen, so I’m clear on it. His superhuman strength is the real deal. And he’s faster than anyone I’ve fought so far. Honestly, he’s a monster.” Sudou said that it was precisely because he had confronted him that he was able to experience it first hand. “That was the first time I’ve ever felt scared in a fight. Even now his smiling face is burnt into my brain.” Stopping, he poked his temple with his left index finger two, three times. “You were scared, huh. Even so, it looked like you fought bravely for Horikita.” “Well, there was no other choice. That guy has more than a few screws loose.” I couldn’t deny that. From what I’ve seen up close, Housen’s obsession with violence was truly extraordinary. “But you had a chance to win, too, didn’t you?” A few days before, Sudou was KO’d by Housen only because he got baited. In a situation that required one to keep their opponent in their sights, Housen used Horikita as bait to make Sudou expose his defenseless side. It turned out to be fatal for Sudou, and ended the fight with his defeat. “Who knows… In a real, serious fight, I don’t think I can win against him.” Sudou was definitely not weak. If Sudou, who had excellent physical ability and coordination, talked about Housen like this, he was not one to be trifled with. Even carefully selected people such as Horikita’s older brother, Horikita Manabu, who had studied martial arts, or Albert, who was born with a remarkable body, could not beat Housen in a fight. “Hey- that’s not what I wanted to talk about! My affairs don’t matter.” At that moment, Sudou looked at my face. “You… you surpassed that monster Housen’s strength and stopped him. I’m not wrong, am I?” Something like “I reflexively used more power than I normally can” certainly wouldn’t work on Sudou anymore. It’s natural for him to associate that with, “this guy also got a perfect score in math, so it’s not surprising.” And there were things he could see only because of his fondness for Horikita. “And you’re sure it wasn’t just a misunderstanding, Sudou?” “Yeah, that’s right.” Sudou grabbed my biceps with his right hand. To confirm how powerful my muscles were, Sudou lightly gripped them several times and said, “I’ve had this feeling since last year, when I saw you at the pool. You weren’t even participating in any club activities, but you had a super muscular body. It’s hard to tell with clothes on, but those firm muscles… you wouldn’t get those without considerable training.” Sudou has focused on his body and trained regularly. There was no point in trying to fool him anymore. Saying something like I work out on my own after getting out of bed has no chance of convincing him. He wasn’t merely watching. When touched like this, my body itself would tell him the truth. “Speaking of that, your grip strength when we measured it before the sports festival was around 60kg, right?” Sudou gradually thought back about last year. “That time, I already thought that was amazing… but you were holding back. How much can you grip exactly?” “Who knows. I honestly don’t know.” “You don’t know?” “I don’t remember ever measuring my grip strength properly.” “How is that even possible? We have physical evaluations so many times in primary and middle school!” I honestly don’t remember. Of course, there were periodical physical examinations in the white room. They collected vastly more data than what a normal school’s physical examinations would measure. However, only the instructor would know those things. The instructor wouldn’t bother telling individual students the details of their values.
And then the students themselves had no interest in the numbers that changed every day. It was because they only saw them as numbers that went up or down. However, while I was training to maintain my body every day, my physical ability was slowly decreasing now when compared to when I was in the white room. “You really don’t know?” Sudou said. He was looking straight into my eyes, so he must’ve understood that I wasn’t lying. “Back then, I heard that a grip strength of 60kg was the average for a 1st year at high school, so I adjusted my strength to around that. I was trying not to stand out.” Later, I learned that this was higher than average, and I remember being a little surprised. “I’m talking about you, how strong is the real you?” A questing heart filled with envy and jealousy. “How strong… huh.” Depending on what the reference point was, the answer and perception would change with it. While I was thinking? “Forget it. You don’t have to answer.” Sudou withdrew his own question as if he was refusing my answer. Even if I tell him everything about my situation here, it wasn’t something just anyone could understand. In the end, it wasn’t something that could be expressed clearly with just a few words. “Powerful or not, there’s no point if I don’t see it with my own eyes.” He let go of my bicep that he had grabbed earlier. Sudou, just like Keisei, had started to digest things by himself. “But I understand now that you’re a pretty unbelievable guy. You’re seriously powerful, Ayanokouji.” “Doesn’t it upset you that I’ve always been hiding my strength?” “Well, in the beginning I thought, ‘what’s with that?’, and I get how Yukimura feels. If I feel like I’m already super powerful, it sure wouldn’t feel good to know that someone by my side was hiding his powers and is actually more powerful than me. But it’s not like I can’t understand what you’re thinking, you don’t like to stand out, right? Somehow, I’ve come to understand your approach, I guess.” From Sudou came a reply that I wasn’t expecting at all. “It would definitely be a lie if I said I didn’t care, but I’m doing my best in my own way to grow. That’s got nothing to do with how other guys are, that’s what I think.” Cater to yourself, not other people. He said that as if to instruct himself to become someone that would be the best for himself. “Besides, no matter how amazing you are, at basketball, I’m definitely better.” For the first time today, Sudou laughed boldly. It was a statement brimming with confidence, about something he didn’t even need to confirm. Of course, it was indisputable. Even if I had played once or twice, the result was extremely clear. I had no chance of winning. “If it’s basketball, we can have a match any time!” “Spare me. I don’t want to become your punching bag.” “Hahahahah! I see you understand that!” As long as people have something they’re better at than others at, their mood would find it easy to relax. “So I won’t talk about the situation with Housen to anyone. I feel like this was very roundabout, but that was what I wanted to say today.” “Alright.” I appreciated him from the bottom of my heart, for his consideration for me. “Ah yes, let’s not talk about Housen again, but can I ask one last thing?” “If it’s something that I can answer.” “Did you not think I would tell anybody else about the fight with Housen?” A sudden question, perhaps one that was bound to be asked during the conversation. If Sudou had been a witness, there was every possibility that I’d have to force him to keep quiet about it. Of course, just in case, I thought about asking Horikita to force his mouth shut about it, but after that night, and the full score in math afterwards, I could guess what he was thinking from Sudou’s eyes. “If it were the old Sudou, I probably would’ve arranged for it. I’d even go so far as to request Horikita to tell you to keep quiet.” “If it were the old me?” “From the OAA evaluation, the one with the highest growth in Class D is you. Unlike the time when you were hotheaded, You’re now able to calmly assess the situation. That’s why I didn’t take any measures.” This decision was based on my own analysis of Sudou Ken. But if it were another student such as Ike or Hondou in that situation, there could have been different developments. “I feel like… I’m being talked up to.” Sudou had a surprised expression, and sighed in admiration. “I’m totally convinced. Doesn’t feel bad to know that you have a high opinion of me.” Saying that, Sudou brought his face close to mine. “There’s one more question I’d like to ask. You and Suzune…” “We’re not dating.” As I took my distance from the face that was far too close, I used a “it’s the truth” attitude to reply to him. “Oh…” The instant reply made Sudou skirt a bit. “For that, well, it’s not like I’m telling you not to date her. Suzune is free to go out with me, or you, or anyone else if she wants. But, well, if you’re deliberately hiding it, then I won’t have any mercy on you.” “Okay, okay… If, by any chance, that happens, I’ll tell you right away, alright?” “Good. Wait, no, that’s not o?! …k, but, no, that’s fine.” Now that he’d asked everything he wanted to ask, Sudou breathed out a sigh of relief. “It might be cold coming from a friend of Haruki, but I’m glad you didn’t get expelled during the class vote. There’s no doubt that you’re someone we need to rise up to Class A. See you later, Ayanokouji.” Saying that, Sudou picked up his pace a little, and moved towards the classroom. Was it meant to hide that we were talking to bystanders? “Someone we need to rise to Class A…huh.” I never thought that I’d get such an evaluation from Sudou. However, I wasn’t the kind of person that the class currently needed. There was no doubt that Sudou himself was indispensable to the class.