The following conversation apparently occurred at some point.
“My, my, if it isn’t Karen-san. What a coincidence it is, meeting you at a place like this.”
“And you’re Senjougahara-san, right? Yeah, it’s a real coincidence, you running into me in front of my own house and all.”
“Yes, it’s almost as though I looked up the exact route you take to get home with the navigator in my cellphone and waited here to ambush you. Heheh.”
“Ahaha, there might really be people stupid enough to misunderstand it like that — the world’s full of idiots, y’know? It’s not often you find people as smart as me. I know, it’s a shame, really. Oh, but Senjougahara-san, what about school?”
“School? What’s that?”
“Oh, well, I guess it’s fine if you don’t know…”
“Oh, I jest. I do know, of course. Just a Gahara Gag. Due to some unavoidable circumstances I am on break today. Your school is still on half-days, yes, Karen-san?”
“Yeah. But you have really bad timing, Senjougahara-san. You probably wanted to see my brother by accident, but as luck would have it, he’s out right now — he went off somewhere just as the new term started. Well, I’ve gone soul-searching a second time myself, too. He should be able to fire off a Kamehameha by the time he’s back.”
“Going on a journey to find yourself doesn’t really involve that sort of training… never mind.”
“He should be able to fire off an Eva Ha by the time he’s back.”
“I doubt Araragi-kun has that kind of talent… oh, speaking of which, I just suddenly remembered, by which I mean it is quite a surprise to me as well, but did you know that there was a fire at Hanekawa-san’s house?”
“Oh, I’m so sorry, what a foolish question that was. Araragi Karen, ally of justice, the fighter of the Fire Sisters by whose sole efforts the peace of this town is kept, not knowing of such an enormous incident? Unthinkable.”
“Uh? Oh, um, yeah, right. I knew that. Yeah, that was terrible. I was just thinking of maybe going to visit her and see how she’s doing.”
“Luckily, it happened while she was at school, so she wasn’t hurt. However, since she was burnt out of her house, she doesn’t have any place to sleep tonight.”
“Didn’t you know?”
“Oh, I know, I know. I was just thinking of bringing that up. Why did you say it first, Senjougahara-san?”
“I’m sorry about that. But how strange it is, really. A good girl like Hanekawa-san, with no bed for her to have a good night’s sleep in, in the whole wide world? Nothing could be more outrageous. Really, if justice truly existed in the world, I’d wonder what it was trying to do right now.”
“Well, thanks to this so-called ‘justice’ being all talk and no action, I actually took a day off from school today to help Hanekawa-san look for a place to sleep. Oh, speaking of which, you went to school just as normal, didn’t you, Karen-san? Did you have fun while Hanekawa-san was suffering?”
“Oh my, I’m sorry. There’s no helping the cause even if I talk to you about this. You may be Araragi-kun’s sister, but you’re just a middle-schooler, after all. It would be expecting too much for me to treat you like Araragi-kun. Onii-chan is Onii-chan, Karen-san is Karen-san.”
“Yes, I really do have poor timing, don’t I? Why, if Araragi-kun were here right now, he would never abandon Hanekawa-san. But, for the, oh, ‘Fire Sisters’ (hah), well.”
“I’m so very sorry, I know you can’t do anything without your beloved brother around, so this sort of talk is just bothering you, isn’t it? It wasn’t my intent to trouble you, you know, not while you were enjoying life to the fullest, which is the exact opposite of what Hanekawa-san is doing right now. It’s perfectly all right for Hanekawa-san to suffer, yes? Well, we’ve been standing here talking for quite some time, but I should take my leave now. Seeing as I now know that, just like Hanekawa-san’s bed, justice no longer exists in this world.”
“Huh? What is it?”
“Hanekawa-san does have a bed… and justice does exist!”
Thus, Senjougahara-san dexterously maneuvered Karen-chan and succeeded in her scheme, or what have you — not that I thought it was exactly ‘dexterous’.
Rather, it felt something more along the line of picking up horseshoes for good luck during a lightning storm.
If anything she did had been scheme-like, it was making the simple Karen-chan, rather than the planner Tsukihi-chan, her target.
I arrived at the Araragi house.
In the living room of the Araragi house…
“Well then, just treat this like your own place, Tsubasa-san.”
“That’s right. Just think of this as your own home. Think it all you like, Hanekawa-san.”
Said Karen-chan and Tsukihi-chan as they got a drink for me.
They managed it deftly without needing any prior arrangements, dividing the tasks between Karen-chan who took out some chilled barley tea from the refrigerator, and Tsukihi-chan who took glass cups from the cupboard.
The teamwork of the Fire Sisters (hah)… I mean, Fire Sisters was, as could be seen, quite impressive.
They communicated without words.
One’s own home — huh.
This was actually not the first time I had entered the Araragi house — I had visited many, many times before. I still acted as Araragi-kun’s home tutor (though we did not study in the house, but at the library) and in particular, when Karen-chan had collapsed in a high fever, I made myself comfortable and stayed here until late at night.
However, how should I put it, late though it might be, this was the first time I was welcomed here as a ‘guest’.
I felt a strange sense of nervousness.
Or rather, I felt a strange sense of discomfort.
Araragi Karen-chan and Araragi Tsukihi-chan.
Araragi-kun’s little sisters.
The more I looked, the more they resembled him.
You could even say they were his spitting image.
Strange simile though it may be, they were like differently-aged triplets.
Of course, their personalities, or rather character traits, were quite different — Karen-chan was a combat sport enthusiast and boyish, while Tsukihi-chan seemed gentle, but was in fact very firm inside.
…What surprised me was that both their hairstyles had changed since I last met them.
Karen-chan’s characteristic ponytail had been cut off and now she wore a bob cut (she had straight bangs, like Senjougahara-san and I had had before) while Tsukihi-chan had her hair in a thick braid wrapped around her neck like a muffler (wasn’t that hot, during the summer?)
“Anyway, you’re just so icy, Tsubasa-san.”
Bringing only her own cup of barley tea, Kare-chan sat down on the sofa.
By ‘icy’, she likely meant I was being reserved.
“If you didn’t have a place to sleep, the very first thing you should’ve done was come ask me for help. I mean, really, I was just waiting for you to ask, Hanekawa-san. Well, I thought maybe it’d be hard for you to say it yourself, so I brought it up myself.”
She still did not realize that she had been manipulated by Senjougahara-san.
The lie, that she had known about the calamity at the Hanekawa house all along, was now more deeply believed by none other than Karen-chan herself. I wasn’t worried about her future, but only because she was plenty dangerous now as a middle-schooler.
“That’s right. Karen-chan brought it up herself!”
Saying this, Tsukihi-chan came soon after bringing cups for both herself and me. It would seem that she, smiling as she sat next to Karen-chan, had accepted Senjougahara-san’s proposal knowingly.
She was quite devious, this one.
Karen-chan is in her third year of middle school and Tsukihi-chan her second year, by the way.
Sitting together like this and wearing the same clothes (the Tsuganoki No.2 Middle School uniform), they really did look like twins (though they had a height difference when they stood, so they no longer looked to be so.)
“By the way, this is called barley tea, right? Does it mean that if it works hard enough, it can become beer?”
Karen-chan suddenly threw off all reserve and began small talk.
She must have an incredible sense of distance when it came to interpersonal relationships.
It wasn’t a talk we should be having five minutes after I was welcomed into her home.
Please let me ease my tension first.
“Tracing it back, the raw material of both was barley, but barley tea is roasted, whereas beer is fermented, so, well.”
Putting aside whether ‘working hard’ was the correct expression, they certainly were relatives in terms of beverages. I had wanted to say that it was completely wrong, but, hmm, Karen-chan’s question was unexpectedly to-the-point regarding the essence of the subject.
“Hmmm. So I guess it’s no wonder that drinking barley tea gets you in a great mood.”
A disappointing conclusion, however.
Karen-chan gulped down the entire cup of tea in one go — she was quite hearty.
And actually, now that I looked at the cup closely, it was of a very high quality.
Was that Baccarat glassware?
Even if it wasn’t, all the same, it was almost disrespectful to call it a ‘cup’.
Moreover, judging from the way they were handled, Karen-chan and Tsukihi-chan did not know of the value of these cups…
Could it be that the Araragi family was wealthy?
“Well, at any rate,”
Said Tsukihi-chan, casting a sidelong glance at Karen-chan.
She seemed to be used to Karen-chan’s riotousness precisely because she was her sister.
“If you don’t have a place to stay, you can stay at our home for as long as you like. Conveniently enough, Onii-chan is out right now. You can just use his room.”
“Araragi-kun’s — room.”
“Yep. It’s pointlessly got this pointlessly springy bed.”
I — knew that.
Moreover, this was the ‘essence’ of the scheme that Senjougahara-san had thought of.
It was difficult for me to express this, but it was impossible not to feel more than just a little guilt about this scheme which took advantage of Karen-chan’s and Tsukihi-chan’s innocent sincerity, as well as the Fire Sisters’ sense of justice — however, seeing as the way they felt was entirely a result of their own affections, I could not remain so coldly reticent.
Having thoroughly predicted how I would feel about this, Senjougahara-san turned this idea into her ‘scheme’ without letting me know.
So that, to the end, I would know nothing.
She took it upon herself to bear the role of the villain.
It was too much of a mystery to me, what kind of mental state she must be in having helped arrange for another girl (said girl being me, of all people) to stay at her own boyfriend’s home, but on that front, it was perhaps due to the intropunitive tendencies that she had had since long before and retained to this day.
She endured the pain.
That was what she had done for me.
When I thought this, the words of Karen-chan earlier finally pierced my heart.
Icy — reserved.
The first thing you should’ve done was come ask me for help.
I — was waiting to be asked myself.
Just like when Senjougahara-san had me stay at her home, I did not seek help on my own — surely, I thought, this logic was the complete opposite of what Oshino-san had said about people ‘getting saved all by themselves’.
I had — given myself up to despair, probably.
I did not think of getting saved myself.
It also made me remember what Senjougahara-san had said to me this morning.
I simply accepted the lack of tastes.
I was dim to the darkness.
A failure as a living creature.
“…Tsubasa-san? What’s wrong? You’re spacing out. You got this really stupid look on your face.”
She really didn’t hold back with her words, did she?
What do you mean, a really stupid look?
“I guess it’s really a shock to have a fire at your place, huh? The only time I’ve ever seen something like that before was Nagasawa-kun from Chibi Maruko-chan.”
“…Oh, no, I’m fine.”
So I said.
I said I was fine — even though I couldn’t possibly be.
“But, all right, I’ll take you up on your offer and stay here — until Araragi-kun comes home, at least.”
I didn’t know when that would be but, well, it was simply a case of whether the ones whom I should call my father and mother found a place to rent, or that, would happen first.
I had no clue for either of them, so it couldn’t be helped no matter how deeply I thought about it.
“Thank you for this.”
“Same for us!”
“Let’s have a good time with this.”
Somehow, it happened in the course of shaking hands.
We managed to form some sort of ring.
Are we going to do ballet, or something?
I didn’t know how Senjougahara-san had explained the situation with the Hanekawa family (actually, Senjougahara-san herself didn’t know about the situation with the Hanekawa family) but I was honestly thankful that the two of them did not ask me about it.
“Let’s have a pajama party, Tsubasa-san!”
“I won’t be able to take you up on that.”
“Then how about play-wrestling, or something!”
“No, thank you.”
“Oh, I’m the oldest girl, so I’ve always wanted a big sister, y’know? Can I call you ‘Onee-chan’ while you’re staying here?”
Karen-chan said something that sounded rather like what Sengoku-chan had done.
Tsukihi-chan watched over Karen-chan with a smile — who would be able to tell who the older sister here was?
Then, I realized something.
Or rather, it was something which I had thought of from the very beginning.
“Oh, that’s right, seeing as I’ll be here for quite a while, I really should say hi to your parents.”
In all the times I had visited the Araragi house before, it was by the intent of Araragi-kun, or Karen-chan and Tsukihi-chan, and I had never met their mother proper — no matter how much Karen-chan and Tsukihi-chan wanted me to stay, if their parents refused, then I would have no choice but to leave.
Hmm, I wonder.
In dealing with a high school girl who slept here and there like some sort of refugee from the local net cafe, would the normal verdict of an adult with good sense not be to lecture her and persuade her to return to her parents’ home?
“It should be all right, I think.”
“Papa and Mama are our parents, and Onii-chan’s parents, after all, so their personalities are pretty close to ours.”
“They both have a hot-blooded sense of justice, so they definitely won’t tell someone in trouble to leave.”
Tsukihi-chan seemed very confident, for some reason.
Speaking of which, I had no idea at all what Araragi-kun’s parents were like.
Perhaps that was obvious, seeing as we had never met before, but it was telling that Araragi-kun had been reluctant regarding this topic — it was part of a high school boy’s biological nature to keep silent about his parents, so I had never been particularly bothered… and Araragi-kun did not seem to be good at dealing with his parents in the first place.
But a sense of justice?
Not to mention a hot-blooded sense of justice?
“Hey, Karen-chan, Tsukihi-chan. For future reference, you told me before that your parents work together, right?”
They nodded at the same time.
“They should be back at around six today.”
“…And what is it that they do?”
Their voices rang out at the same time.
So this was why Araragi-kun tried his best to hide it, I thought, and at the same time, I felt that Hell had truly frozen over.