Araragi-kun, Araragi-kun, Araragi-kun —
I hurt all over from the heat.
Due to my consciousness firmly surfacing, I felt pain for the burns all over my body — but I did not pay this the least bit of attention.
Because my heart is burning with far hotter a blaze.
So Tsukihi-chan was right, after all.
It is love which inflames the heart — much more so than envy.
The sight of Araragi-kun alone is making me burn up like this — even though it has only been a few days.
It felt to me like we had not met in centuries.
“Araragi-kun… why are you here?”
“C’mon, don’t ask stupid questions like that, Hanekawa.”
You’ll hurt my feelings, said Araragi-kun.
“You’re in trouble. Of course I’d come running. What else do you think?”
“…Ahaha. Oh, well said.”
I involuntarily laughed.
Really, that was quite a thing to say.
And it had only been a short while ago that he helped the unfolding of an epic adventure together with Mayoi-chan and Kanbaru-san.
He got hurt all over again…
He is injured here and there, and covered in wounds.
He had probably been doing many thoughtless things.
He had probably been doing many senseless things.
He had not done any meaningless things.
“Actually, I dropped everything and came running after I saw that picture you sent of you wearing casual clothes!”
“Oh, no, no, no.”
Please let that be a joke.
Besides, those clothes belonged to Araragi-kun.
And they were mostly burnt to tatters now.
Below Araragi-kun — it moaned.
The Tiger moaned.
`Aaaahhhhh… it hurts. It hurts. It hurts. It’s hot. It hurts. It’s hot. It’s hot. It’s hot. It’s hot — ”
Seeing this, Araragi-kun drew out the sword from the Tiger’s throat with a single motion.
It was a very well-practised motion.
Truly, just how much carnage has he descended into these few days for his caliber as a warrior to have apparently increased like this?
“Um, are you… Black Hanekawa? Right now, I mean. Well, I guess that still makes you Hanekawa… but, you grew ears, and your hair’s white — ”
“All of it is me.”
Nodding, Araragi-kun took the dying tiger — the mass of emotions still stubbornly sputtering by the scruff of its neck, and dragged it in front of me.
He pulled that great, fierce beast, easily weighing over five hundred kilograms,
right in front of me.
” — Well, you’re not going to exterminate it, right?”
Sorry, but I went ahead and read that letter of yours, said Araragi-kun.
Apparently, he returned to his room once before racing over here — well, of course, how else could he have known to come ‘here’?
“I stabbed it in the vitals with Kokorowatari so it’s not going to last very long. If you are going to absorb it, you better hurry.”
If he’s read it already… then he already knows everything.
He knows, if I did that, I would no longer be myself.
At the very least — I would not be the me that I have always been.
He said it while knowing this.
“…Is that, all right with you, Araragi-kun?”
I needed to confirm it with words, even if Araragi-kun did understand everything.
I relied on his kindness.
Even though, to the last,
I remained stubborn and never did say anything like, ‘help me’.
“Is it all right, if I am not myself anymore?”
“Like I said — don’t ask stupid questions like that, Hanekawa.”
He immediately replied.
“You said it yourself just now, didn’t you? No matter what, in the end, it’s all you. Even if you change, you’ll still be you. So don’t worry. It’s not like I will go easy on you for any weird reasons. If you turn out hateful, I will dislike you. If you do wrong, I will be angry at you. If you are despised, I will stick up for you. And if you aren’t as smart anymore — well, I can teach you.”
And if you cry, I will comfort you.
Saying this, Araragi-kun —
stroked my head.
burned my heart — to cinders.
It can’t be described as just ‘heat’ anymore.
All this time — I wanted someone to do this to me.
I wanted someone to brush my head gently.
I wanted someone to caress me.
“I am in love with you.”
“Would you be with me forever?”
I finally managed to say it.
These simple words — have taken nearly half a year for me to say.
After receiving my sudden confession, Araragi-kun looked only slightly surprised and, with a troubled smile on his face,
“I’m really, really happy for that. But I’m sorry. There’s already a girl I like.”
“Right. I knew that.”
I raised my head and looked forward.
Warren Villa, Room 201.
She must be right there — sleeping with her father.
“Do you like her more than me?”
Although I meant only to tease, he answered my question frankly.
But it made me very happy.
Of course, it also hurt me much more.
“…Sigh, I got rejected, huh.”
This is correct.
I confessed, and I was rejected.
It is very saddening.
But if I had never experienced such sadness — how could I possibly go on a journey to find myself around the world?
It wouldn’t be a journey to find myself or a journey to create myself.
How could I take a holiday to mourn for lost love — without ever having been lovelorn?
I never did manage to save, ‘help me’.
But I’ve managed to say, ‘I love you’.
I said it.
Of course, Araragi-kun has known about my feelings for a long time. He understand that before the Cultural Festival.
And if he’s read the note in his room, then he would be able to understand once again.
But having him understand is not good enough.
I have to make him understand.
I have to hear an answer.
I have to know how Araragi-kun feels about me.
I have to hear this from him.
Now that I have finally heard a response — now that I have been rejected,
I have finally been hurt.
I stretched out my hand, touched the brow of the Tiger —
and stroked the head of the third me.
The thing that made me so happy was now being done in turn, to the flame of emotions still burning before me.
I stroked my own sputtering emotions.
This would be the last Energy Drain.
This will heal the burns all over my body — and in its place, a tempest of emotions surged inside me.
They are the dark emotions I have accumulated over eighteen years.
And my stress, as well.
All that which I have pushed onto Black Hanekawa, onto the Tiger — is now returning to me, with interest.
Why did this happen, I wonder?
Before I realized it.
“Uu… uuu… uwaah…”
Before I realized it, I was crying.
Perhaps I could not withstand the flood of emotions that had flooded inside me, or perhaps it was due to the pain of the stress accompanying said emotions, or perhaps it was because I had just experienced the pain of lost love — but, right before Araragi-kun’s eyes,
like a child,
like a baby, I wailed.
“Uwaaaahhh, aah, sniff, uu… uwaaaaaaaahh — !”
That is why, on this day —
I am finally born, I think.
As promised, Araragi-kun comforted me until I stopped crying.
Without a word,
he continued to stroke my head, gently through the night.