Intense feelings of self-hatred assaulted me as I made my way back.
I had thought of asking Kanbaru-san to let me go along with her, but seeing as the message had asked her to ‘come alone’ this was something I should refrain from — I knew that much, at least.
Thus came my indecision as to whether I should tell Senjougahara-san about this. As Araragi-kun was her boyfriend, telling her would be the proper line of thought, but it would definitely make her worry — and she was, in her own way, a girl likely to single-mindedly become angry at him.
I arrived at Warren Villa, still unable to come to a conclusion —
“Oh, welcome back, Hanekawa-san. You’re quite late.”
“Yeah, I went to the supermarket and bought some things to replace what I used this morning… oh,”
when I opened the door, I noticed one more individual in the room with Senjougahara-san.
It was a man with silver-gray hair, knotted in the back.
With his elegant suit, he truly looked to be a serious person — to use an expression from another era, he felt like a corporate soldier.
Alternatively, his image suggested an attorney, or a bureaucrat, or something to that effect — but I knew differently.
I had heard from Senjougahara-san.
That her father was working as a consultant at some foreign-owned enterprise —
“Pleased to make your acquaintance.”
he greeted me first.
He had been sitting at the table, but purposely stood up and bowed.
“I am Hitagi’s father.”
I was perplexed.
In fact, Senjougahara-san had told me that her father would be coming back today, but I did not think that he would be back so early.
As expected from someone working at such a company, he was not tied down by time, and I felt an absurd sort of amazement.
“Hanekawa Tsubasa. Excuse me, I took the liberty of staying at your home last night.”
Senjougahara-san’s father nodded.
And then he became quiet — he felt to me like a taciturn sort of person.
He appeared to be an extremely, heavily silent man, though when I continued standing at the door without taking off my shoes, he gave me a glance, and
“Let’s make some tea.”
headed to the kitchen.
Then, he put a kettle on the stove.
With his words, and his actions, all tensions eased, and I managed to take off my shoes.
Caught my breath.
Without taking my eyes off her father, I sat down beside Senjougahara-san.
“I’m sorry, Hanekawa-san. Father finished up at work quicker than expected, so he came back earlier than I thought he would.”
Said Senjougahara-san in a whisper.
“No, it’s all right.”
I was the one who intruded in the first place, I whispered back.
“But if that’s the case, you could have just sent me a message or called me.”
“Oh, well, I wanted to give you a surprise.”
Consider me surprised.
To think that Araragi-kun had surprises like this sprung on him day by day, his life must be, despite appearances, quite challenging as well.
“Your father’s very stylish.”
Not as simple flattery.
I saw now, regardless of how serious she might have been, that Senjougahara-san’s self-proclaimed love for her father made sense — if you were to live together with such a father, all the males of your own age would probably appear as nothing but children.
That Araragi-kun had managed to succeed against eyes of such sharp taste, well, it was a complicated feeling, but he really was amazing.
It was common folklore that women fall in love with those who resemble their fathers, but in that sense, Senjougahara-san’s father, who was preparing tea leaves right now, and Araragi-kun were completely unlike one another.
They weren’t simply different types of people. You could even consider them of completely different dispositions.
Although Araragi-kun liked to maintain an air of coolness, and was even called a ‘motionless mute’, he actually quite liked talking — next to Senjougahara-san’s father, who was truly taciturn, they were two utter extremes.
Furthermore — tautological though this might be, Senjougahara-san’s father, while stylish, was stylish in that ‘dad’-like way, the kind of ‘father’ you could find anywhere, but not really as a ‘man’, so to speak.
As for what that indicated —
…No, no, I shouldn’t.
What could come of analyzing a friend’s father like this?
I thought I had already given up on doing these things.
It would seem the abrupt appearance of the ‘father’ had flustered me somewhat. I should have known better.
Not, that I was so amazing a person that I could tell myself ‘I should have known better.’
A normal girl — I was not, but regardless.
To begin with, of course I was flustered — after all, I did not even possess this image of ‘father’, of a ‘dad’.
There was one whom I ought to call my father.
But one whom I should call ‘Father’ — I knew of no such person.
I know nothing.
“Did anything out of place happen at school?”
As though declaring that the fact of her father being here was now closed for discussion, Senjougahara-san changed the topic of conversation.
This sort of pushiness she had really was an example I ought to follow.
“Out of place?”
“Did Araragi-kun come?”
That was what she had wanted to ask, apparently.
I was slightly lost, but feeling that it would be strange to hide anything, I told her of what happened at school.
“A message to Kanbaru?”
“Yep. Looks like the issue he’s dealing with right now needs Kanbaru-san’s help… at any rate, the message was too short, so I don’t know why he needs to call Kanbaru-san out…”
Senjougahara-san was surprisingly frank, saying this together with an expression of displeasure.
This wasn’t just single-minded anger. This was rage.
Moreover, she was enraged not by Araragi-kun, but by Kanbaru-san.
The tip of the blade was aimed not at her boyfriend, but at her underclassman.
I immediately regretted what I had said.
What would I do if this caused a rift between the Valhalla Combo?
“Leaving me behind to get asked for help by Araragi-kun, whatever shall I do with that woman? First, I’ll take her insides,”
“Senjougahara-san, your personality’s going back to before your rehabilitation.”
Noticing this, Senjougahara-san pulled on her own cheeks and made a smile.
How pitiful it was, to see a smile forced like this…
“There’s probably a reason, I think — for that, I mean. He said there’s something he wanted to ask her, and besides, unlike the two of us, isn’t there still an abnormality remaining in Kanbaru-san’s left arm?”
“Yes — remain it does.”
The monkey’s paw.
“In other words, rather than Kanbaru — perhaps what he needed was Kanbaru’s left arm.”
“Well, it’s just a guess.”
I doubted that it was something so simple, but as a general idea, this possibility was quite high.
“If he really did need to lend the combat strength of Kanbaru — would that mean that things had unfolded into a battle yet again?”
“Well, that’s hard to say. But if we’re talking about combat strength, then Araragi-kun has Shinobu-chan right now — it’s not set in stone that he needs her help in a fight.”
They were all simply guesses.
Without knowing what situation Araragi-kun was currently in, Senjougahara-san and I would never be able to reach a conclusion no matter how much we talked.
“Well? What will you do, Hanekawa-san?”
“What do you mean?”
“Will you go to that waiting spot, or not? Regardless of his situation, if you go there, you’ll be able to meet Araragi-kun, no?”
“…I did consider that, but I don’t think I will. I get the feeling that I’ll get in the way if I do — ”
Senjougahara-san nodded to my answer.
“Then I won’t go, either.”
Having been entirely sure that Senjougahara-san would insist on going herself, I had expected a very vocal argument, so rather than being unexpected, this felt more as though she had dodged my question.
And I was already thinking of ways to stop the resolute, insistent Senjougahara-san from going, too.
“I’ll take the lack of news as proof of his wellbeing — anyway, unlike the time with Kanbaru’s monkey, it doesn’t seem as though he is hiding anything. If anything, he is being quite upfront. If he sent a message to Kanbaru, he sent it knowing that she would tell the two of us.”
That was true.
“…You’re not going?”
Answered Senjougahara-san, to my pointed question.
“Just like you, Hanekawa-san. I doubt I can accomplish anything but get in the way even if I go — and I feel that there are other things I can do, as well.”
The meaning behind the deep words she added was completely unknown to me — but for the moment, it seemed that was how it would be.
The lack of news was proof of his wellbeing.
And a testament to her faith in him.
Let’s just leave it at these convenient explanations —
“…Though it would seem that it wasn’t only Araragi-kun and Kanbaru with abnormalities remaining inside them.”
“Huh? Who else is there?”
I tilted my head at her remark.
“Araragi-kun’s demon and Kanbaru-san’s monkey are the only abnormalities still around us, aren’t they?”
“That’s right, nyah.”
For some reason, Senjougahara-san answered with the inflection of a cat.
I felt like pressing the question a bit more, but at that time, Senjougahara-san’s father brought us tea for three, so our whispering talk was brought to a close.
Well, even had he taken slightly more time to brew the tea, the talk would likely have ended here regardless.
For it was then that I heard a knocking sound on the door of Warren Villa, Room 201 — they had no intercom, by the way.
“Ah, it seems they have arrived.”
Seeing the way Senjougahara-san stood up, it would seem to be an expected guest.
However, expected though they might have been, I did not know who they were, and my body stiffened slightly, but after Senjougahara-san opened the door and I saw the girls on the other side, I understood everything.
What the ‘scheme’ Senjougahara-san had spoken of yesterday was.
It needed no further explanations.
And them no further introductions.
On the other side of the door were Araragi-kun’s younger siblings, Araragi Karen and Araragi Tsukihi, the Fire Sisters.