A/N: Writing new chapters takes so long! Especially thanks to real life getting in the way, and my own, self-imposed desire to ensure each chapter's quality is as good as it can be. I suppose this is my roundabout, twisted apology for taking so long in between chapters to update.
Oh, and the way I interpret Iroha's character might be strange, but hey, anything to differentiate my characterization from all the other stories out there on Iroha, I always say. Anyway, let's go!
Story 3.3: Siblings ought to be psychic, if only to avoid future conflicts
Let's turn back the clock.
Picture the scene: We waited in silence, me sipping my MAX Coffee and Kawasaki tapping her fingers against the table over and over again, producing a rhythm that I found somewhat soothing amidst the buzz of the crowds walking past our location. The café we were in was located across the street from where the restaurant was, and every now and then cars would speed by to obstruct our view. Housewives passed by as well, clutching that night's dinner in a plastic bag. Groups of middle school kids would walk past us, gossiping about the latest news or TV show they were watching. Sweaty kids heading home from soccer or baseball practice would run past us, bumping into groups of high school couples, who screamed at the kids for not being careful.
Now, before I describe this scene as a regular, after-school scene, imagine that, from the corner of my eye, I spot two middle-school students walking side by side. Unlike the scene that will come in a few moments (or, from my present perspective, an hour ago), the two are walking somewhat far apart. The boy has a nervous, sweaty face, as if unsure of what was about to transpire, and the girl, far from being her cheery, excitable self, took on a mask of determination, betraying her desire to see things through. The two are walking slowly, few words passing between the two of them – they look more like soldiers going to war, or a group walking towards the scene of an upcoming heist. Needless to say, they obviously had something planned out, something they had prepared for in excruciating detail, and were now in the process of enacting said plan. I trained my eyes on the two of them as they came into view, and, at the critical moment, before the girl could notice my present, I immediately avert my pupils and make sure she doesn't make eye contact with me.
Now, continue the scene:
Or, at least, I assumed, this was – I never had the chance to live out this kind of life, after all.
Kawasaki's incessant tapping immediately stopped when I realized a certain pair of middle school students making their way to the restaurant.
There was also no denying the fact that the two were holding hands.
Now, the perspective is definitely skewed – when they came into the collective viewpoints of Kawasaki Saki and Hikigaya Hachiman, they were definitely holding hands.
Let us assume, however, that I am still keeping an eye on the pair from the corner of my own personal vantage point, one that Kawasaki is not privy to. From my own viewpoint, the girl seems to react to our presence – she immediately tugs at the boy's sleeves, surprising him out of his nervouce trance – and leans in to whisper something in his ears. The boy tenses up but manages to give a small nod. In response to this, the girl's hands gingerly make their way towards the boy's, two sets of hands awkwardly seeking space in between each other's. There is no sign of warmth or tenderness, only the cold impulse of necessity, and anyone who was thinking rationally could see that the two hands grasping each other were awkward in each other's lodgings. Hell, from my vantage point, it looked like they were barely touching each other.
Before I can react accordingly, however, the person beside me sprang into action and got out of her seat. I had no choice but to follow. Conflicting emotions welled up from inside my heart, unsure of how to react to the scene that had appeared in front of us. I turned to look at Kawasaki and tell her to stop running, but Kawasaki's face also betrayed the maelstrom of emotions engulfing her – her eyes were trembling as if on the verge of tears and her breathing became shallow and quick.
Perhaps, by instinct, Kawasaki grabbed my hands to drag me after her, not that I needed to be dragged. As we rushed our way across the street, ignoring the potential cars crossing the street, I could not help but note the cold, clammy feeling engulfing my left hand, undoubtedly the same kind of sensations the boy and the girl I was looking at felt at that exact same moment. Kawasaki had broken out into a cold sweat.
I looked at Kawasaki again, whose face was now a mixture of despair and confusion. I wanted to say something to calm her down, but she threw a short glance at me, and her face looked as if it was contorted in pain and ignorance, as if to say I don't know what I'm doing. Kawasaki, in other words, was doing things out of the onrush of emotions that welled up inside her.
"Please help me, Hikigaya-kun." Kawasaki managed to blurt out, and I had no choice but to play along with this farce.
"Okay, so let me get this straight, Senpai," The underclassman in front of me interjected, just as I was describing the actual incident she had managed to witness. She let out a loud, disgruntled, grumpy sigh which was totally odds with the image she was trying to present on the outside – it completely clashed with the cutesy, polite façade she had adopted while talking to the person manning the cashier, as well as the waiter when we placed our orders.
Before continuing, she took a sip of her juice. "So what you're telling me is that you knew what was happening, guessed what your little sister was up to, and decided the smartest thing to do was piss everyone off?"
All throughout my story, the girl alternated between playing on her phone (or probably texting a friend, maybe?) and paying lip service to me, giving out the polite keywords needed to indicate that she was paying the proper modicum of etiquette required of these kinds of conversations. One glance at her betrayed nothing – on the outside, she was a fairly typical, if exceedingly cute, high school student who religiously kept up with all the fashion trends, performed all the typical activities of an exceedingly cute high school student with her other friends and led a very normal high school life with no complications whatsoever.
However you felt about Isshiki Iroha, there was no denying that she was exceedingly cute. Even if her personality was rotten and she was as sly as a fox, there was no denying that from the outside, she was a very attractive underclassman of mine.
…which is why to hear her say exceedingly rude words distressed me a little bit.
"You know, you shouldn't really be using that kind of language in front of your seniors." I chastise her. I take a sip of the coffee I ordered, and truth be told, it wasn't that bad. It seems this family restaurant's coffee was somewhat sweeter than what you expected out of coffee, which I definitely appreciated.
"I really don't want to hear that from Senpai, considering all the things you blurted out earlier," Isshiki replied in a deadpan voice as she rolled her eyes at me. "Seriously, you sounded like one of those old-timey gangsters, y'know?"
"One might say that I am one, considering my reputation at school."
"Oh, but your reputation's changed nowadays. Sometimes you're 'the Student Council's lapdog' or 'Yukinoshita-senpai's sla-"
"Okay, I don't want to hear anymore," I told Isshiki, before she uttered anything unsavory for the rest of the patrons to hear. Seriously, I know high school girls have a reputation for having foul mouths and rude gestures nowadays, but it was distressing to see it come out of someone as angelic-looking as Irohasu! "Besides, should you really be telling me all of this? Haven't you considered my feelings?"
"Come oooon, Senpai," Isshiki replied, as she placed her exceedingly cutesy and overly-decorated phone on the table with a weak slam. "I know you're not dumb. You know what they talk about you behind your back." I had no reply to that one. Like me, Isshiki was apparently used to people gossiping when they thought we couldn't hear them.
Just as she had finished her sentence, the waiter assigned to our table approached us and asked if there was anything else that we needed. Iroha's response was uncanny in how fast she switched gears, as she immediately replied "No thanks! We're fine here! Tee-hee ~!" No, don't ask me how she managed to enunciate heart symbols in speech – just take it from me that she managed it.
"It's scary how fast you change your speech patterns," I told her when the waiter left.
"Huh? You do it all the time, senpai." Isshiki replied.
"Wait, are you serious? I talk the same wherever I go."
"Oh, please, Senpai. You talk differently when you're at the Service Club than when you're with a lot of other people." Isshiki replied. "You're way more, what's the word, reserved? When you're not feeling comfortable where you are."
"Isn't that true for most people?" I asked Isshiki. "You probably have more experience being in unfamiliar situations than me, so you should know how it feels to be out of your comfort zone."
"That's a weird way to put it," Isshiki replied with a scowl. "You make it sound like I go to all kinds of weird places, Senpai. Is that what you think of me as, some kind of weirdo mingling with the weird crowds?"
"Well, you do spend time with me…"
"This and that are different!" Isshiki whined. "Besides, you're just twisting my words. What I mean is, you try to come across as angry and snarl at everyone, but that's so not like you!"
"Why are you making it sound like I'm just pretending to be angry at everyone…?"
"Well, aren't you?"
"I wouldn't say that. I just don't like most people, is all. Isn't that the normal reaction when you're around a bunch of people you don't like?"
"I don't do that. I just smile and nod and look pretty until they go away or get tired of talking to me."
Scary, Irohasu! Scary! Please don't smile when you say that, you make me think you're going to murder someone! "Still, to candidly say this to me… you don't seem to care about your reputation in front of me."
"What's the point?" Isshiki pouted. "I can only act this way around you and Hayama-senpai."
"Speaking of, how's things between you two?"
"Let's not talk about that." She smiles, her face a beacon of cheerfulness, but I can sense the killing intent seeping out from underneath the mask covering her face. The cold air seeping out from underneath scared me, and I was thankful that it dissipated as it escaped into the atmosphere, so none of the other patrons felt the chilly arctic winds that escaped from my radiant underclassman. Life continued like normal in the bustling restaurant, noise and chatter reigning supreme. I decided not to pursue the subject any further.
Let's rewind the scene again, for the benefit of those still confused. Where were we? Right, Kawasaki was rushing to confront Komachi and Taishi.
"T-Taishi… what are you doing here?" Kawasaki finally managed to blurt out.
Taishi's response was to turn his head away, with a look of guilt breaking out on his face. He gritted his teeth, unable to say anything, and from my vantage point I could see his hands tremble, nestled in Komachi's own.
Now, imagine that, while all of this is happening, I'm looking at Komachi, who, instead of the reaction that you would expect (one of confusion, fear, and anger), looked more like a general planning her next strategic move. Even as Taishi's hands try to grip Komachi's tighter, her own hand tries its best to break free from Taishi's grip, as if to say don't interrupt me, I'm trying to think here.
Almost as if a psychic link was established between the two of us, I could read Komachi's face perfectly, and what she intended to do. She was looking at Kawasaki now, whose emotions threatened to erupt at any moment. Evidently, she wasn't expecting things to escalate this much this quickly.
"Ah, Saki-san…" Komachi began to explain in Taishi's stead. "This isn't, this isn't what it looks li-"
"It definitely looks like something to me!" Kawasaki almost screamed. I could feel the eyes of people around us, focusing on the scene that was unfolding in front of the family restaurant. From the corner of my eye, I see one of the bystanders, Isshiki Iroha, looking at us, dumbfounded.
"Taishi, didn't I ask you where you were going today?"
"I-I did…" Taishi managed to stutter out, but Kawasaki immediately cut him off.
"You lied to me! You said you were with your friends, but now you're with her?"
I wanted to cut Kawasaki off – that much was certain. Whatever Komachi and Taishi were planning, this was definitely not something they had anticipated. If I were to act, I had to act now.
Now, imagine the rest of the scene unfolding as normal: I sighed, unearthed my memories, and returned to the path from whence I came.
Of course, that wasn't all that happened – life was not some convenient novel-like drama, where only things portrayed on the page actually happens. In between scenes depicted in novels are countless other incidents deemed unimportant, irrelevant, or useless in the grander scheme of the narrative. Novelists choose what scenes to depict because they forwarded the narrative they wanted to present, or it emphasized the themes they want to say, or that it was a necessary part of the development they wanted their character to undergo. If anything, novels are inaccurate because they portray life as a clean, unified narrative where everything was reported accurately. But that's not true – we leave out as much as we report, and sometimes what we report isn't true.
It wasn't just Komachi that left, obviously – Taishi, after some hesitation, darted straight for where Komachi was going, and Kawasaki followed in pursuit, although she stopped for a second to look at me. Her face betrayed a kind of shock, as if she was unable to believe the words that came out of my mouth. Ah, she's never seen me like this, has she?
I lean back a bit, against one of the pillars, or walls, or whatever, at the side of the family restaurant where Taishi and Komachi were supposed to rendezvous, wondering what my next move was going to be now – whether to explain myself to Komachi first, or tell Yukinoshita and Yuigahama what happened. Neither course of action appealed to me – not at that moment, not while I was still suffering from the sting of Komachi's slap. I doubt Komachi was going to listen to me, not then. And if I went back to the Service Club now, and told them what happened, I was sure they were going to get angry again, almost like I had betrayed the trust they had invested in me.
In many ways, it was the school trip to Kyoto all over again.
In that moment, my sly underclassman appeared, drawn to the commotion, having witnessed the climax of the entire encounter. She zeroed in on me, ignoring the curious looks from the crowd and the murmurs, engaging me in conversation and putting up her own personal AT Field to drive away all the other onlookers. Slowly, but surely, the crowd dissipated, and we were free to talk, away from everyone's eyes. And from there on we proceed to the scene in the restaurant.
"So, what's the plan?" Isshiki asked.
Now that Isshiki knows the entire story, I'm not sure why she's still sticking around. The only reason she was here in the first place was to find out what happened, since it involved someone she knew. Knowing her, she was probably hoping to use it as some kind of blackmail material against me if she wanted to extract another favor.
"Hell if I know." I tell Isshiki. "I'll probably have to explain what happened to Yukinoshita and Yuigahama first. I didn't expect things to get this out of hand…"
"Um, if that's the case, then why are you still here talking to me?"
I looked at her and tried to put on my most annoyed expression. "Huuuuuuh? Are you serious? You were the one who dragged me here to try so you could hear what happened. Yer' pissin' me off here, lil' lady," I replied, putting on my best impression of a nasty gangster.
"W-wait, Senpai! You's scaring me right now!" Isshiki frantically replied, waving her hands wildly. "You wouldn't get mad at your underclassman, would you?! Look! I took time out of my busy schedule to spend time with you!"
I dropped the scowl and sighed. "I guess that's true. I suppose I'm blessed my extremely cute underclassman is taking time out of her busy schedule to spend time with me." Wait, did I say that out loud?
"Huh? Senpai? Are you hitting on me?" She reflexively replied, her voice lowering a few octaves as she adopted a 'woah, this guy is creepy' monotone. Evidently, my sarcasm was lost on her. "I'm sorry, but my maiden heart isn't ready yet. I may have a soft spot for shady-looking types with a sensitive side hidden underneath layers of cynicism that I can easily get free meals off but as of now I'm not yet ready for a serious relationship."
"These things are becoming increasingly elaborate," I groaned. She blows me a raspberry in response.
"…seriously though, Senpai," Isshiki suddenly says, her voice becoming more serious. "What was up with earlier?" All of a sudden the atmosphere – which was somewhat cheery and genial, since it was Isshiki and she always tried to maintain a friendly, cheerful atmosphere even with people she didn't like – turned cold, like she had turned on a switch and shifted to Isshiki (Serious) mode. All of a sudden it felt like all the people around us, the buzz and the chatter, didn't matter.
"What do you mean?"
"You know – what you did earlier."
Let me see – earlier I screamed at my little sister, made fun of Kawasaki Taishi in front of his overprotective older sister, and acted in such a way that betrayed my own ideals, in direct contradiction of all the things I swore I desired in front of the only two people I trusted would be able to accept my confused and arrogant ideals.
Even if I tried to explain all the myriad reasons why I did the things that I did earlier, would it even make sense? I'm not even sure they make sense to me. What did I even hope to achieve? To defuse a potentially explosive situation? To shoulder all the blame for a situation, to shield Kawasaki from the fallout of her mistakes? But that was a lie – I know better now to believe that my act earlier would actually do anything other than hurt the people around me. I should know better. Haven't I learned anything this past year? It was Kawasaki's mistake, and what I should have done was help her, even as she committed mistake upon mistake. Teach a man how to fish, as Yukinoshita would have wanted. That was the essence of youth after all, a series of irrevocable mistakes littering the path to adulthood.
So why do things in the way I did? To understand her better? To better grasp why she acts the way that she does? Did I act in the way that I did in the vain hopes of understanding why a certain older sister acted the way that she did to her younger sibling? Or did I do these things out of a twisted sense of self-satisfaction, because this was the only way I knew how to handle things, because I am a stubborn person who refuses to change paths? Do I tell myself and others that I did what I did because of some grand desire to understand someone better, or is it pure sophistry to hide the fact that I'm afraid of what I'm becoming, and that I keep making mistakes and coming back to my starting point as a result?
"…I guess I was just acting selfishly," I finally answered.
"No way. You're lying." Isshiki immediately answered back, her face scrunched in annoyance at the answer I spent so long deliberating. Hey, I actually took a long time trying to figure out the coolest answer there, Isshiki. The best you could do is marvel at my coolness.
"You weren't acting selfishly there. I know selfish. And that wasn't it." Isshiki continued.
"Oh? What do you mean there?"
Isshiki began playing with the strands of her hair, twirling them around her little finger. "Well, a selfish person knows what she wants, and insists on getting what she wants, to the detriment of everyone else." Wow, Irohasu, that's amazing, how did you learn so much about selfish people…
"And you definitely didn't want to say any of those things," Isshiki concluded.
My ears perked up at that statement.
"You really think so?"
"Duh!" Isshiki's tone was like that of an exasperated upperclassman explaining an exceedingly simple concept to her underclassman. "You tell me you're impressed with how easily I change my speech patterns, but you're an expert at that too. You sound different when you're being honest with how you feel."
"I didn't know you were an expert at detecting when people lie." I replied.
"It's something girls have to learn a young age~!"
Again, don't ask me how she manages to enunciate the hearts. All I know is that, right now, when Isshiki's being entirely honest about her own character, it seems like I can look past her rotten personality and appreciate her for what she is. But it's not like I'm smitten by her cuteness or anything…!
"What I mean is, you were definitely putting on an act there. Anybody who knows you well would immediately notice that."
"What, so you're an expert on me now?" I teasingly replied.
"I've rejected you so many times at this point, so I think I know you well." Isshiki cheekily fired back.
"Oi, underclassmen should show some respect for their elders, shouldn't they?" I groaned. Isshiki's response was to drink the rest of the juice she ordered, so I decided to follow suit and take another sip of my coffee. This wasn't as good as MAX Coffee, but it would do in a pinch.
Of course, there was the follow up question to everything Isshiki raised about my behavior from earlier, one that she never bothered asking: if she could see from a mile away that I was pretending, did everyone else realize it?
Well, there was honestly no need for me to consider that question. Whether or not the Kawasaki siblings realized it didn't matter to me as much, even if I did it for Kawasaki. Honestly, I could care less what Taishi or Kawasaki thought of me after this incident. Because, at the moment of my cruel words, all that I could focus on was Komachi's face, stained with anger and pain.
Isshiki didn't bother asking me either, but I believe she had already guessed as much that I had an idea that Komachi and Taishi's rendezvous had ulterior motives in mind. I was expecting her to ask, but I guess she still had some remaining decency in her bones, as she chose not to invade what little privacy I had left and ask me a personal question. But still, I was prepared to answer the inevitable follow-up question: if it was blatantly obvious that you were pretending, and if you knew that Komachi was simply pretending to be lovey-dovey with Taishi, why did the two of you act in the way that you did?
"Oh, Senpai," Isshiki suddenly said, breaking me out of my reverie. "The Vice-President texted me. He said there was some important StuCo matter we have to deal with. Is it fine if I leave you here?" She gives me a rueful grin, as if apologizing for depriving me of her presence. Even when she's being nice, Isshiki Iroha is being sly, I suppose…
"Yeah, go ahead." I rested my head against my right hand and motion to shoo her away with my left. "Go have fun with your duties. And," I added, somewhat shyly, with a low voice, "Thanks for listening to my problems."
Isshiki, seemingly taken aback by what I said, initially gave me a look of surprise, but then she began to grin. This was not like her foxy, sly smiles that she used whenever she asked for favors, hiding some ulterior motive that was bound to be a pain in the ass for the rest of us. Maybe because she had lowered her guard around me, or maybe because she was honestly taken aback by what I said, but when she smiled, it was a pure, radiant, happy smile, as if she was genuinely happy to have been of help. Or perhaps that was me projecting onto her, maybe. The only thing that I could definitely say was that at that moment, my underclassman, Isshiki Iroha, was definitely the cutest person in the restaurant.
"Alright! See you some other time, Senpai!" She says as she leaves, waving at me every step of the way as she exits the restaurant. Predictably, people were unable to cast their gaze away from the retreating figure of the underclassman who was waving at me. Some of them were even giving me weird looks, as if to question how someone as shifty as me could know someone like her. Believe me, it's not all fun and games…
Of course, I knew very well how painful it is to deal with Isshiki Iroha. After all, it seems like the Shrewd Irohasu had left me with the bill.
Since our parents were both corporate slaves and knew the importance of accumulating capital, Komachi and I knew what to expect upon coming home – an empty house, our voice echoing and travelling through the darkened hallways and bouncing against wooden doors, mindful of every creak and squeak that our footsteps make on the wooden floor as we make our way inside. This was a typical household in modern-day Japan, so it's not like Komachi and I were raised to be delinquent kids because we craved our parents' attention, or anything asinine like that.
What it meant was that, because our parents were rarely there, we were expected to sort out our own problems. We've had our fair share of spats and arguments, but I suppose we learned how to patch things up on our own since our parents weren't there to smooth things over for us.
Most of the lights were dimmed, even if it was past dinner time for most people. Normally, I would take that as a sign that Komachi wasn't home yet, but I could see Komachi's indoor slippers were missing, even if she hid her shoes to pretend she wasn't home yet. My sister may be remarkably mature in some aspects, but she's still a kid, after all.
That was fine. I drew a long, exhausted sigh, trying to organize the rumbling of emotions in my chest. Logically, rationally, I knew what I was supposed to say, and I knew what had transpired, and I knew Komachi understood, but it was still difficult to apologize for making a mistake, especially when all of this could have been avoided.
Many people believe that siblings can easily guess what the other is thinking, perhaps because of how much time they spend together. One well-worn cliché of shounen anime is that of the set of psychic twins, who are capable of reading each other's' minds and sharing their powers. The expectation, according to these clichés, is that siblings are more attuned to each other's feelings and emotions, and in extreme cases, they could even finish each other's sentences.
The truth couldn't be farther from fiction, and I could easily attest to that. Sibling pairs are just like any other relationship, and the amount of affection to be found in sibling pairs vary just as much as in any other kind of relationship. To generalize and assume that siblings intuitively understand what the other feels is a fantasy, and an asinine fantasy at that, one that leads to numerous misunderstandings and problems.
Just look at Kawasaki Saki and Kawasaki Taishi.
Just look at Hikigaya Hachiman and Hikigaya Komachi.
Just look at Yukinoshita Yukino and Yukinoshita Haruno.
Now, why am I thinking of Yukinoshita at this time of the night?
Komachi was lying at the coach, staring at the blank television. Whenever she was annoyed, or sad, or generally distressed, she would take up a majority of the couch and stare into empty space, preferably while dark, claiming that it was relaxing and allowed her to clear her thoughts. In a way, I could understand the sentiment – sometimes, the miasma of thoughts dominating one's brain could be overwhelming, and you need to unwind by thinking of nothing, or gazing at something uncomplicated, like staring at Yuigahama Yui. A very Buddhist Zen concept, if I say so myself. An overwhelming sense of pride overtakes me as I think of Komachi, at such a young age, considering such philosophical thoughts.
"Yo, Komachi," I opened, adopting what I imagined was my gruff, brotherly voice.
Predictably, Komachi didn't reply. I leaned over the sofa to look at my sister, whose back was against me, playing with a can of soda that she probably wanted to pretend was alcohol. She had changed out of her school uniform, probably because it was stained with her tears. I shuddered at the thought of her running away in tears, but pushed forward nonetheless.
Since the current conversation track was not working, I decided to try another route. "How'd the thing with Taishi go? Did it work out?"
I crouched down next to the door leading upstairs and leaned against it. This was going to take a while.
"I tried contacting Kawasaki, but she wasn't replying. I'm kind of worried about her, since she can get pretty bad when she's panicking." I continued, as if talking to air. I knew for a fact that Komachi could hear me just fine, and I didn't mind her ignoring me – I'm used to it. "Hopefully Taishi can explain it well enough to her."
Still the cold shoulder from Komachi. Honestly, it's like talking to a wall.
The silence between us was nothing new, but I hated it every time it happened. I was used to not talking to anyone, sure, but it was strange not to have Komachi talk to me. At the very least, I knew that I could count on hearing Komachi's bright voice, even at the height of my chuunibyou phase when I tried to shun everyone, or when I'm being particularly abrasive. As much as I pride myself on being a loner, I honestly could not imagine myself not having Komachi to bicker with. Would I have gone crazy, having nobody to talk to? Or would I have become incredibly lonely?
"…that went terribly, huh?" I said, after much hesitation.
"…yeah. You were horrible, bro." Komachi finally replied. "Really, really horrible. You couldn't even stick to the script."
"I didn't know the script in the first place. I was ad-libbing the entire time."
"Well, maybe you shoulda learned how not to overact. You'd make a good Sentai villain, but you'd never work in a TV drama."
"You'd be a crappy heroine too, if we're judging acting abilities."
Komachi, from her position on the couch, began to giggle a little.
"The hell was that, bro? Did you watch too many gangster films or something?" She sat up, turned to me, and adopted an unpleasant grimace and hunched shoulders while pretending she was holding a shinai behind her back. "Ya little punk, whatcha think yer doin' with my sister, huh?"
"That's the worse gangster impression I've ever heard," I said, offering my expert acting criticism.
"Better than yours." Komachi replied. "Oh, my poor, stupid brother, why'd you have to go and ruin everything?"
"Which one, younger or older?"
"Both, maybe?" We share a chuckle over that joke, and a few minutes we let silence reign over the household.
"…Kawasaki-kun was worried about his sister." Komachi began. I noted her conscious choice to refer to Taishi in that mode, but decided not to make a fuss about it. "He said he didn't think his sister had any friends, that she didn't have anyone to confide to, and he was worried sick about it."
I wasn't surprised that Taishi thought that, considering his sister's personality, but I had to ask. "Did he not talk to his sister about it?"
"Well, he wants to, but you know how it is with siblings. It's hard to talk, especially in such a large family." She tossed the used can of soda into the nearby trash can, and surprisingly, the can found its mark. "Plus, Kawasaki-san's a very private person, and Kawasaki-kun didn't want to be a burden to her. So he tries to keep to himself."
"Kawasaki's the same," I reply. "Honestly, those two siblings are a pain. I still don't get what you see in him."
My teasing remarks seem to have gotten to Komachi, as she scrambled out of the couch and rushed towards me. "There is nothing going on between me and Taishi-kun. Got it?"
I grinned as she tried to stare holes in my face with her piercing gaze. "Uh-huh, sure. So what was your brilliant plan?"
Komachi retreated from me and sat on the couch again. "What I figured was, I knew you were friends with Kawasaki-san…"
"We're not friends."
"Whatever, bro. I knew Kawasaki-san would inevitably ask for your help since you're friendly with her and owe her a ton of favors anyway. So I told Taishi-kun to get her to worry about his well-being, and she'd drag you and Yukino-san and Yui-chan along to help her out, just like we did when she was busy moonlighting as a bartender."
"So you wanted the Service Club involved."
"In a way." She stuck her tongue out like a kid. "He was worried that Kawasaki-san didn't have anyone to rely on that was her age, and he wasn't going to be convinced otherwise. I knew you guys were there for her, but he doesn't know you guys, so…"
"Right, right. But why not just talk to us directly? We would have done something. Yuigahama would have jumped at the chance to be friends with Kawasaki, and you know how Yukinoshita can get with requests."
Komachi looked away, as if embarrassed with what she was about to say. "Erm… truth be told, I was…kind of… you know.." At this point, she began something about me and motorcycles. "Oh, that sounds like it scored a ton of points!" She began squeeing at her own statement.
"Huh? Dearest little sister, could you repeat that?"
"Nothing! I just didn't want to be a bother to you~!"
"This entire thing was a bother already!" I replied, annoyed.
"Because you made things worse! I was expecting you to get involved, but I didn't expect you to take things that far!" Komachi fired back. "Knowing you, I expected you would try to do things on your own, so it wouldn't have to be a big Service Club thing. If Taishi saw you helping Kawasaki-san out I can easily make him believe she's on good terms with the rest of the Service Club!"
I pinched the bridge of my nose, annoyed at the roundabout nature of Komachi's plan. "So you're saying… that you were counting on us… acting very specifically… based on what you know of us. Did I get that right?"
"Well, yeah," Komachi replies wryly. "I know you guys are busy with your own thing, so I didn't want to bring my own problems to the mix."
Surprisingly, my little sister, in her own way, was being considerate of us.
"I guess I owe you an apology, then." I tell her, scratching the side of my head. "To be honest, I was fully counting on you understanding what I was trying to do… and I guess I went too far. I guess I was abusing your understanding too much."
Komachi smiled wearily, stood up, and made her way next to me. She sat down with a thud and nestled her head against my shoulders. Her hair was messy but warm, and I didn't mind it that much. I patted her head and stroked her hair gently.
"I have no clue what in the world you were trying to do there, but don't you ever do that again, ok?" She whispered. Her eyes were closed and she was nudging me gently with her head, smiling like a Cheshire cat. "I hate it when you try to act like the bad guy. It doesn't fit you at all."
"I don't…" I began to say, but she silenced me by placing the index finger of her left hand against my lips.
"Bein' the bad guy in a Precure or a Sentai show might look cool, but it's tough work." She says, gently. "I don't ever want my bro to do something like that. You're way better off as the Green Hero or somethin'."
"Excuse me? Can't I be the Red Hero? Why am I one of the sidekicks?"
"My trashy brother can't be a hero. He's way too unreliable for that." Komachi giggled. "But seriously, don't you do that ever again. I know Yukino-san and Yui-chan don't like it when you do that and act like everything's fine afterwards."
"What do they have do with this?"
"Everything." She looks up to me, her eyes serious and determined, like they were when I first spotted her and Taishi making their way to the restaurant. "I guess I got mad at you because I thought you were finally doing what you wanted to do with yourself, and here you were pretending to be someone you're not. I know you've been spending way too much time with Haruno-san, but still."
"What does she have to do with this?" I asked, dumbfounded that she even brought up her name.
"Isn't it obvious?" She replied, and she began giggling again.
In the end, what are siblings?
I still don't have a definitive answer. In the first place, coming up with a definitive answer is pointless. What it means to be a sibling differs from person to person, and trying to define the kind of relationship each individual sibling pairs have is an exercise in futility.
Komachi's plan, as roundabout as it was, made some sort of mad sense – Taishi was worried that Kawasaki had no friends, and she wanted to prove that, when push comes to shove, that Kawasaki would have people she could rely on. When I pressed her for reasons why, she explained that she felt it would have been more 'natural' if we didn't know the full extent of the plan, so she deliberately held back on explaining things to us and relied on me grasping what she was thinking. Evidently, she wanted to prove to Taishi that Kawasaki had at least me to rely on, and if I knew, I would have been a terrible actor and would have given it away immediately.
I still don't buy that, and I still think it was a terrible plan. But I couldn't blame Komachi, since I was guilty of the same thing as well, and I suppose the Kawasaki siblings were guilty of the same thing too. We all assumed we knew what the other person felt, would do, could do, wanted to do, and acted without consulting one another, believing that we knew what the best course of action was.
When I chose to do what I chose to do, it was with the understanding that Komachi would understand why I chose to antagonize Taishi. Don't get me wrong – she definitely did, but she also could not approve of it, no matter what reasons I had, or what sophistry I wrapped myself in, or what justifications I presented. All she knew was that she could not accept it, and my mistake was assuming that she would be willing to accept what I did.
Komachi told me, over dinner, that Taishi managed to explain things to her, but I'm not satisfied with that. I think I'll look for her tomorrow and try to explain things to her. Hopefully, her fears over Taishi lessen a little, if only for Taishi's sake. I, for one, had no desire to be dragged into one of his harebrained schemes again.
…well, that's for tomorrow. Right now, I have to worry about a certain penalty game.
"Ah! No, don't slice the carrots like that!"
Komachi, in full boot camp mode, swatted my right hand, the hand I was using to hold the knife. Hey, hey, isn't that dangerous?
"Seriously, my trashy brother can't even do the most basic of tasks in the kitchen… you can at least cook the rice, right?"
"M-maybe… it might turn out a little burnt, though?" I reply, weakly. On Komachi's face I could see the tell-tale signs of annoyance, which means I would have to appease her with sweets or such.
Well, I still have a lot of things to do:
1) Talk to Kawasaki and explain things to her
2) Prepare the boxed lunches for Yukinoshita and Yuigahama
3) Explain to them whatever happened today, and hope they don't get too mad
Easier said than done. Yukinoshita's extremely picky with food, although at least I think Yuigahama would willingly eat whatever I gave her. I mean, hey, it's almost impossible to screw up curry, right…?
Well, that's for tomorrow. Right now, I have to get through the cooking, hopefully without losing a finger or two.
"N-nee-san, calm down!"
"How can I calm down?! You're telling me that - that all that worrying - all that concern was for nothing?!"
"N-no! I mean, maybe? Wait, wait! Please don't get mad, Nee-san!"
"And you dragged Hikigaya-kun into it!"
"D-d-d-d-don't worry, Nee-san! Hikigaya-san told me she's 90% sure Onii-san knows what was happening and was just playing along!"
"God, I'll have to apologize to him later on..."
"I'm sure he won't mind! He's a good guy!"
"He also looked like an idiot out there because of your stupid goddamn plan!"
"...I didn't mess things up for the two of you though, right?"
"...I hope not."
"Oh, and Taishi?"
"Why the hell are you calling Hikigaya 'Onii-san?'"
"Hey, hey, is Haa-chan Onii-san?"
A/N: Wow, a chapter without Yukino and Yui! I understand that this chapter's a huge departure from the formula I've established with the previous chapters (I don't think I spend a single scene in the club room!), but variety is the spice of life and all that. I've experimented a bit with the narration, the dialogue, the characterization of certain people, and I'd love to hear everyone's thoughts on them. I do read all your reviews, and I frequently edit chapters to fix mistakes and whatnot, so feel free to comment!
Consider this the end of this story arc, although obviously I'll address all the dangling plot points with the next story arc I'm planning. But what I'm planning for the next chapter is a standalone "AU" of sorts: a Valentine's Day story with Iroha, in a universe where Haruno decides not to mess with high school kids and be a little bit patient about character development. Seriously, Haruno? Stay tuned for AU 1: What We Talk About When We Talk About Chocolate!
Anyway, what did you think of the chapter? Leave a review!
 From Neon Genesis Evangelion. A literal shield protecting the characters in their mecha, the manifestation of one's ego and individuality.
 A line from Final Fantasy 8, first uttered by one of the characters, Quistis, to the protagonist, Squall. Sidenote: Squall is irritating, and I want to punch him in the face.