They had a rule where everyone ate breakfast together.
…Though as far as I knew, this was a rule that Araragi-kun constantly broke, but there was no reason to question that right now.
He likely had not wanted to tell me, and I did not want to say it either, but it would seem that gauging the amount of distance there ought to be between himself and his family was awkward for him — how much he distanced himself from Karen-chan and Tsukihi-chan did not need to mentioned, but not even his father and mother were exempt.
But, well, after taking into account the new information regarding both his parents being police officers, I felt there was a slightly different implication to this.
First, his mother.
Before I went to school — it’s further than the middle school attended by Karen-chan and Tsukihi-chan, so I left about thirty minutes beforehand — I stopped at the entrance, said ‘I’m off’, and raised my hand toward the doorknob,
she raised her voice.
“I don’t know what sort of situation your family is in, and I’m not thinking of asking you about it now, but please don’t think that, right now, without your parents by your side, it’s normal for you to say, ‘I’m off’ while you are leaving our home. At the very least, please don’t think that.”
“We can treat you as a guest, but we can’t become your family. No matter how much Karen and Tsukihi want you as their sister. Oh, but don’t get me wrong — you’re not troubling us. Karen and Tsukihi are happy, too — and you’re Koyomi’s friend, so we want to do as much for you as we can. After all, from what I hear from him, you were the reason he started studying seriously.”
not true, I answered.
I don’t know how to put it, but Araragi-kun’s mother — she resembled him, but I felt that her eyes belonged to someone who had reached some sort of enlightenment.
Like she had achieved something.
I saw the way she was, and even taking away the part about being a police officer, I got the feeling I understood why he found it so hard to deal with his mother.
“I’m sorry. I must have made you worry somehow — but my family isn’t too much of a problem. We just, well, you could say we don’t get along well…”
We were in discord, you could say.
We were distorted, you could say.
“Parents not getting along with their child, that’s nearly abuse in itself, you know.”
Said Araragi-kun’s mother.
“Always look for help whenever you’re in trouble. It doesn’t matter if it’s public service, or even Koyomi. He can be dependable in his own way.”
I — knew that.
I knew very well, just how dependable Araragi-kun could be.
I had always known — and yet,
I tried my very hardest not to depend on him.
I got on without depending on him.
“It’s not wrong to not have a family, but if you do, it should be something you’re glad for. That’s what I believe. As a mother.”
“As — a mother.”
“Hanekawa-chan, when bad things happen to people, it’s all right for them to run as far away as possible, but it’s not running if you just turn your eyes away from it. As long as you say that your situation is fine, no one from outside can do a thing — but how about you try just going for it first?”
With these words, Araragi-kun’s mother showed me out — it was quite a long, ‘take care’.
Powerful people, really, mothers — that was the humorous impression I got.
I felt like I had been beaten and bruised.
But it was not a bad feeling.
That — was something I had no concept of, even at this age.
What exactly had I been doing all this time?
Not just at night — but in the afternoon, in the morning.
“Turning my eyes away from it isn’t the same as running away — huh. Deep words.”
I felt completely moved.
Rather than Araragi-kun, those words felt more like something Oshino-san would say.
As such, I headed to school while continuing to contemplate those words — but, along the way, I found myself face-to-face with a sight that, quite aptly, I wanted to ‘turn my eyes away from.’
No, really, I almost wanted to turn around on the spot and walk back the way I came.
A boy with golden hair and golden eyes was walking on the same path as mine — from his height he seemed to be around the same age as me, but judging from his baby face, with some vestige of youth still clearly remaining but not enough to be described as child-like, he looked to be a middle schooler.
However, for a middle school boy — his eyes, those golden eyes that appeared to constantly be glaring forward, were far too ill-natured.
Although — perhaps, unlike spring break,
it was already an improvement, appearance-wise, that he was not shouldering a gigantic silver cross.
I really had considered changing my direction, but just before I could make the decision, he had noticed me.
With a ‘hmph.’
Those far too ill-natured golden eyes perceived me.
Our eyes met,
seeing each other perfectly.
“Whoa, whoa, you — uh, what was it — yeah, you were the one from a while back who nearly got killed by me. Heh heh — that was hi-larious.”
the half-vampire vampire hunter — Episode, said this, and pointed at me, looking overjoyed.
I bowed slightly.
“It’s been quite a long time… Episode-san.”
He did not seem to be troubled by any of the conflicting emotions I felt — but to me, this was very unpleasant, something which I could do nothing to help, and the tone of my words clearly conveyed this.
But I suppose it was not surprising.
As he said, it was just a while ago — just during spring break, when I was nearly killed by him.
Not that it would be an exaggeration to say that he did kill me — he had blown away half of my internal organs, after all.
Originally, he had come to this city in pursuit of Shinobu-chan, the legendary vampire, and ended up dueling Araragi-kun, who had become kin to Shinobu-chan — it was a very painful incident.
It had been my fault, unapologetically intruding in a duel between two men, but he was rather unapologetic himself.
“I heard that you went back to your own country soon after that… why have you come to this town again, Episode-san?”
I asked him timidly.
It occurred to me that he might have come back in order to try and ‘exterminate’ Araragi-kun or Shinobu-chan again — that this could be cause for the trouble Araragi-kun was now embroiled in.
Oshino-san, as the specialist, should have settled things on that end — but Oshino-san wasn’t all-powerful, either.
He might have made a mistake somewhere and exposed the two of them — but against my question, the half-vampire (fine even while under the sun, and able to move about in daytime) widened his grin, and,
said this, laughing fiendishly.
“Don’t call me ‘Episode-san’ — I’m not the age for that kind of stuff, and not in a position to hear that kind of polite talk.”
But he was a vampire, even if just a half — should his lifespan not be fairly long then?
“Just ’cause my lifespan’s long doesn’t mean I’m actually old, you know. You’re hilarious. It’s actually a secret, but it’s pretty funny so I’ll tell you. You’re actually a lot older than me — by now, I’d be six years old.”
My shock was clear.
As though that was the response he had expected, Episode-san… no, Episode-kun wore a happy expression.
“It’s my birthday next month, so I’ll be seven then — my parent on my vampire side was a type of abnormality that matured really quickly, and I’ve got traces of that.”
“Anyway, don’t judge a person just by how they look — well, not that I’m a ‘person.'”
Episode-kun then brought the conversation to a close, so I had no way to confirm the authenticity of this.
It just felt like he was playing with me.
On the topic of not judging someone by how they look, though, I did not want him to explain his age, so much as I wanted him to answer why he was wearing a white, long-sleeved school uniform, just as he had done during spring break, despite the blazing August sun.
Perhaps he could not feel heat, as a half-vampire.
So he wasn’t a high schooler or a middle schooler, but a grade schooler in terms of age, younger than even Shinobu-chan or Mayoi-chan…
It would not even be odd to call him ‘Episode-chan’ rather than ‘Episode-kun’ by mistake, so he didn’t really have a baby face, but in fact looked older than he was.
I could not deny feeling that a hidden character trait was just revealed at this late stage for no particular reason.
Talk about your ‘nonexistent youth.’
“Oh, and why aren’t you carrying your cross?”
“Huh? Yeah. Duh. I’d kind of stand out if I walked around carrying that.”
It would seem that he did have some mindfulness regarding this, in some measure at least.
“…So, can you answer me now on why you’ve come to this town again?”
“Huh — ? You’re pretty fussy, aren’t you? Well, I do owe you one, so I was going to answer you anyway.”
Apparently, he considered ‘having tried to kill me’ as ‘owing’ me.
I felt slightly relieved.
“But I don’t even know why I’m here yet. I suddenly got called out and just arrived by the night bus — ”
“The night bus…?”
That was oddly mundane of him.
What was he, a tourist?
“Anyway, you said you were called out?”
“Yeah, that happens too. I’m more or less a freelance vampire hunter. Not like Dramaturgie or Guillotine-cutter. I’m just a mercenary working for my own gains, and anyone who can pay can hire me.”
“You take jobs without hearing the contents first?”
“I get paid in advance. Besides, I couldn’t refuse this time. Well, the contents of the job makes no difference. You leave someone to me, whoever he is, and I’ll kill him so dead there won’t be anything left to treat.”
“…So, would you take a contract to exterminate a tiger?”
Surprised, Episode-kun’s face went blank.
“Uh… actually, I’m a hunter specialized in vampires, so a tiger’s a bit… what, did your general tell you to do something crazy?”
Why did he know the story of Ikkyu Sojun?
I suppose the anime, which was recommended by the Ministry of Education, was popular even overseas.
In the end, no answer came for my question (I had wanted to get an answer from him any way I could, but if he didn’t actually know it couldn’t be helped), although I did feel that it was surprisingly easy talking with him.
Much had happened during spring break between him and Araragi-kun, so even though we only came in contact for several minutes, I already had some impression of what kind of character Episode-kun apparently was in advance — but now, meeting him under the sun, it came to me that he was this kind of person.
This was what people meant by, ‘something that appeared like ethereal, only to be whithered grass.’
He was an almost disappointingly normal boy.
While it was impossible to see him as only six or seven years old, talking with him on the roadside like this really felt as though I was dealing with a younger boy.
The white school uniform was just a kind of fashion, the product of his self-consciousness —
“But, still. You, Hanekawa Tsubasa, was it?”
it would seem that, in his own way — he had a similar thought to mine.
“Compared to before, it’s like you — got really normal.”
His words, frank and without any embellishment, reveberated within my heart.
“That’s why, earlier, I — even with the ‘sight’ of a vampire, I couldn’t tell who you were for a second. Not just how you cut your hair or lost your glasses or stuff like that, but something more deep down — before, you felt really, how should I put it, really intimidating, or something like that. But it’s totally gone now, disappeared. Or maybe I should say it got cut off from you, without leaving any scars behind — ”
I knew what he was trying to say.
It was something I had not considered until I had been told, though — after all, the me that Episode-kun knew, was the me from spring break.
It was the me from back when Black Hanekawa had not yet been born inside me — the me from before I had cut that dark part of myself away as an abnormality.
That was why — but, wait.
Just hold on.
Becoming normal, or becoming not intimidating, that sounded just like —
Speaking of which, I recalled what Karen-chan had told me in the bath yesterday.
You really aren’t pretentious at all, are you, Tsubasa-san — however,
that was not because I did not pretend, but because I could not pretend — I could not possibly pretend when I had already cut my own individuality away from myself, so it would of course stand to reason —
That’s wrong. That’s even worse.
It would be — a bad idea, to consider this further.
Most likely — this line of thought led — to a truth that I would shield my eyes from —
As though what he had just said was something he just wanted to mention for no real reason despite it being a shocking statement to me, Episode-kun seemed to have lost interest in the matter and, looking over my shoulder, discovered something.
With his vampire sight or whatnot,
he saw someone behind me.
“That’s her, right there — the one who called me out without even saying what it was about. Well, when I asked, it turns out she’s the senior of that aloha bastard, that Oshino Meme guy, when he was in university — seeing as we have a connection like that, I just couldn’t turn her down — ”
And I — turned around.