What just happened?!
It’s like we doubled our score in one night!
How can I not be worried about this?!
I can’t just let this one go! I can’t, I can’t!
What on earth is going on while I’m sleeping?!
Just how big of an adventure was there for it to jump 25 chapters?!
That’s a whole novel’s worth of plot not being touched on!
And so on.
Well, putting aside that sort of tongue-in-cheek fourth-wall perspective — now that we had come this far, even I began to feel it unnatural.
When I was in bed in those ruins, well, that could be forgiven.
I felt that, just as anyone else would, I had a sense of attachment towards the bedding I worked hard to make, that overflowing sensation towards something homemade, and that helped me to compensate and sleep a deep sleep — and it was not unthinkable that, as I had spent the day before in such severe conditions, being at Senjougahara-san’s home had a reversing effect and compensated for it, allowing me to sleep a deep sleep.
The former and the latter appeared to be contradictory, but when you consider them together, it was not impossible to consent to both points.
Just like those two episodes of Napoleon.
…However, putting aside when exactly I had thought of those episodes of the Emperor (it felt highly unlikely for them to be of my own conception — )
Sleeping soundly on Araragi-kun’s bed?
Completely relieving me of all the day’s stress?
Even mentally calming me down?
That was — just impossible.
Not that I wanted to put it this way, but I felt tense as soon as I got into the bed — shamelessly speaking, I was excited, and I could not sleep at all.
I was physically experiencing what Senjougahara-san had said about being unable to sleep in her father’s bedding, and so, I could not sleep comfortably at all — not to mention that I was currently wearing Araragi-kun’s pajamas.
You could even say I was feeling Araragi-kun over my entire body.
Speaking as a girl, the only deep sleep I could have like this would be one I never woke up from.
It might be an exaggeration to say I was completely unable to sleep, but all the same, it should have been quite shallow.
And yet — this feeling of refreshment.
An invigorating morning.
It was clearly — out of place.
It was clearly suspicious, and strange.
I slowly rose and inspected myself — if something had happened to me, there must be some traces left over.
Was it just my imagination?
Was I simply more unabashed a person that I had thought, or not — I looked for some sort of proof.
Something must still remain.
And I found it immediately.
First, the pajamas I borrowed from Araragi-kun — aside from the soaking sweat that came from me during my sleep, there was a faint smell of earth.
The smell of ‘earth’ may be difficult to visualize, so perhaps it would be better to say the smell of the outside.
“…Did I leave the house while I was sleeping?”
Like a somnambulist?
Muttering to myself, I bent down and sat in an improper, cross-legged posture, just like doing calisthenics before a jog, and checked my feet this time — mainly, the soles.
But there was nothing there.
Just size 23.5 feet.
Beautiful, pure things.
Said I, and my eyes turned to the box of wet tissues on top of Araragi-kun’s study desk (though it was likely a very recent event that it began to actually be used for studying).
As expected, it was slightly off from its position yesterday.
By about three millimeters.
I got off the bed, and peeked into the garbage can next to the desk. As I had predicted, there were a few diposed, used tissues in it — dirtied by earth and gravel and such.
As such, I looked at my own hands.
They were pure, just like the soles of my feet, but — that was not the case in the gaps between my fingernails.
A small amount of dirt was clinging to them.
An awfully wild sort of nail art.
“They say the proof of a crime lies in the fingernails… but this is no joke.”
Saying this, I then headed towards the window.
Well, I could not be sure that I had left the room this way — but thinking back to the incident during Golden Week, I doubt I would have took the effort to conscientiously exit through the hall, down the stairs, and out the front door.
Being the closest exit, the window should be the most logical choice — and this speculation was proven correct, though only by pure luck, as the crescent lock of the window was left open.
I confirmed the night before that it had been locked, of course, before I went to bed.
It was an obvious precaution, after I had experienced just how angry Senjougahara-san could get at me — and yet, this.
In other words — someone opened the lock to this window while I was sleeping, and seeing as there was no one in this room but me, the one who opened the window could be none other than myself.
“Putting aside whether I’m a criminal or not, this does feel like I’m some culprit being cornered by a detective.”
In the first place, the culprits who appear in detective novels would never leave bits of evidence all over the place so conspicuously — not even the detective would be interested then. He would probably just leave the whole case to the officers of Scotland Yard — although,
unexpectedly, cases where the culprit was a Bakeneko were fitting enough for great detectives in the good old days — so I thought.
To deliver the final blow, I returned to the bed and held up the pillow.
It was Araragi-kun’s pillow — though that made no difference in this case.
If, when I had become that, I laid down for even just a moment –
“…There it is. The decisive piece of proof.”
I plucked out a single strand of hair from the pillow.
Hair is something which is constantly regrown regardless of gender, so a few strands will always fall out during sleep — though this was an obvious fact, the problem was that this strand was white.
Or not — perhaps, in this case, it should be called white fur?
Yes, it was not like the hair from a human being, but the fur from an animal –
“So that’s it… I’m, turning again. Into the Hindering Cat… into Black Hanekawa.”
I did not want to believe it — or even consider it, but with the circumstances solidified to such a degree, it was pointless to escape from reality.
It was no good continuing to deny the truth, as I had done on the day before the Cultural Festival, even when cat ears were sprouting directly from my head — thinking this, the possibility suddenly hit upon me, and I confirmed my own appearance with the mirror on the desk.
It’s all right, they’re not growing out.
…I utterly digress, but it came to me that Araragi-kun, having a mirror equipped on his desk at all times, might surprisingly be something of a narcissist.
What a strange boy.
Well, pressing on.
“But, now that I’ve considered everything in order — besides the cat ears, this is pretty different from the time before, and the time before that. I didn’t get those telltale headaches, and I’m turning back to normal, even though Araragi-kun’s not here…”
It became all conjecture from this point on, but it was highly likely that, during the night I spent at the ruins, and the night I stayed over at Senjougahara-san’s home, I took on my ‘Black Hanekawa’ form — it was all conjecture, but I was 90% certain that I was correct.
Only this line of thought could explain my feeling of ‘freshness’, after all.
And yet — I was turning back.
I turned back into myself.
“Maybe I’m getting used to turning into Black Hanekawa… just like how Araragi-kun learned to use his vampire immortality.”
I wonder why it was that some part of my mind got hung up on that word — hmm, it’s not very clear.
Honestly — what had happened while I was sleeping?
It was for certain that something had happened.
Something, extremely important…
“…But I can imagine why I’m turning into Black Hanekawa again — “
The fire at my house.
It could be nothing else.
Black Hanekawa was the incarnation of my stress — my inner personality, embracing the emotions that I could not.
“I’m not just rampaging about to release my stress… if that were the case, the traces I left behind would be a lot more visible.”
I felt that this was just a hopeful observation, though.
At any rate, it gave me a bad feeling that there were blanks in my own memory.
“Oh, no… I wonder if Black Hanekawa-chan can take care of this stress.”
Playing the fool, I began to change.
There may be no point in escaping from reality, but confirming the reality of Black Hanekawa did not change the other fact that nothing could be done from my side under the present circumstances, so I had no choice but to go to school.
Neither Araragi-kun nor Oshino-san, the ones whom I ought to consult, were here.
Due to the anxiety of having my home burn down, I could simply be absent again — this did not escape me, but now that I had confirmed I was simply pushing said anxiety onto someone else, I found it difficult to do so.
And, to be honest, I wanted to ask Kanbaru-san whether she had managed to meet Araragi-kun yesterday, and if he was safe — not knowing her phone number or e-mail address, I had no choice but to contact her directly if I wanted to ask her anything.
“I guess I can ask her through Senjougahara-san as well… but she’s sharp, so she might suspect that I’m turning into Black Hanekawa again.”
Seeing as it’s her, Senjougahara-san might already be suspecting it.
I got the feeling she had insinuated something earlier…
Just as I was finishing changing,
“Hanekawa-san — !”
I was shocked by Tsukihi-chan’s voice coming from the other side of the door.
Was I talking to myself so loudly, even though I was in someone else’s home?
Did she hear me?
Though that did not appear to be the case, thankfully,
“Did you wake up yet — ? If not, then wake up now — ! It’s time for breakfast!”
as Tsukihi-chan continued.
“It’s a rule at the Araragi house for everyone to eat breakfast together — !”
“…Okay, got it — !”
I answered her.
“It’s all right, I’m up. I’ll be right there.”
“Okay — !”
Her lovely voice rang out, and I heard the sound of footsteps walking down the hall.
That was something of a disappointment.
Araragi-kun had always expressed his sisters’ morning routine of waking him up as ‘beating him up’, as though it was quite a bother, but what exactly was so bothersome about such a lovely act?
Geez, he shouldn’t do that.
The way he put it, you’d mistaken believe he was attacked with crowbars in his sleep.
Thinking this, I confirmed my appearance with the mirror once again, with contact lenses in one hand for when I stop by the bathroom before heading down to the living room, and left Araragi-kun’s room.