On this day, the Yachi home's garden was more noisy and bustling than usual.
"One, two... Then jump to the right! —Uwah!?"
"Ununu, you're in the way, Cow Tits! Your volume problem is gradually making Earth impossible for people to live in!"
"Y-You're the one who crashed into me! Besides, normal people cannot possibly jump three meters without a running start. You have to control your strength more! If you make the same mistake in the real performance, it will be very problematic!"
"Hmm... Now that you put it that way, I did overdo it. Hmph, I'm just putting in a bit too much effort, that's it. So all I need to do is restrict my strength. Stop nagging."
"Yes, I am becoming increasingly worried about the real performance... I hope you don't break any world records by accident."
"Konoha-kun, don't be too concerned. Fear-kun does keep her strength under control during PE class. However, she's still regarded as the number one athlete in the class."
"Well... I restrained myself too much in the beginning and ended up being thought of as a clumsy girl... I-I couldn't accept that..."
In response to Fear's explanation, Konoha smiled while Kirika turned her head lightly.
"Okay, let's start all over again. Yachi, please."
"Yes, playing now..."
Sipping tea on the veranda, Haruaki pressed play on the CD player beside him to playback the lively dance music that was going to be used in the real performance. Lined up in the yard, Fear, Konoha and Kirika began to dance to the music. For the most part, Kirika faced Fear and instructed her movements one by one.
"When exactly did she have time to learn the steps? ...But then again, she's Class Rep. Memorizing just by watching from the side is nothing strange for her."
It was a holiday today and the day for special training. Konoha was originally asked to instruct Fear, but Kirika, who for some reason had mastered the steps despite not being part of the dance team, was also teaching her. Perhaps because there were only a few days remaining until the real performance, Kirika could not help but intervene as the class representative. On the other hand, possibly because Fear's training was finally bearing fruit, her dancing started looking decent. She was now able to move her arms independently with effortless ease.
Sipping another mouthful of hot tea, Haruaki leisurely looked up at the blue sky. The pleasantly warm sunlight seemed quite out of place in autumn. Peaceful days like this were the best after all~ The tea was so tasty too~ These thoughts surfacing in his mind would definitely be derisively ridiculed as belonging to an old geezer were Taizou or Kana to hear them.
Finally back to peace—In other words, several days had passed since Bivorio was defeated and driven away. Who knew if Kirika's bluff worked, but the Family did not make any new moves for now. Speaking of changes that had occurred during this time, first there was the sealing of Fear's mechanisms, «The Blessed Virgin Mary's Steel Embrace» and the «Cat's Paw», through the insertion of Indulgence Disks. Based on what the cross man had said, the Family should have fought the Knights Dominion in the past. On further thought, there was nothing strange about a conflict between those two organizations, one that affirmed cursed tools on one hand and one that aimed to destroy cursed tools on the other.
In any case, while pondering the seemingly destiny-guided mutual attraction between Indulgence Disks he had heard about, Haruaki had inserted the two newly obtained disks into Fear's secret slots...
"Nngg, nnnngggg... fnngggh! ...Ouch, it hurts, it really hurts, Haruaki! Be more gentle!"
"Even if you say that, I can't help it because it's really tight. Just endure a bit longer. See, I'm inserting it slowly... Say, what's this presence I've been feeling—uwah!"
Haruaki ended up discovering Kuroe behind the gap in the sliding door, expressionlessly pointing a video camera at them.
"Tsk tsk, I was hoping to capture naughty secrets of you two on video... Why do I find it so strange somewhere? But this is a rare chance, I'll record it anyway. After all, the voice track alone is already usable. Oh, please don't mind me, you two, just carry on."
In this manner, Haruaki was once again reminded of the recently returned household member's eccentric behavior.
If he had to describe further the changes occurring since that day—
"One, two, three—Good. You've improved a lot, Fear-kun."
Kirika's expression seemed much more cheerful. Until this incident broke out, she had been so gloomy—or perhaps because Kirika's unwell state was such a shock to him, Haruaki was led to this impression.
"Nuu. But I still can't understand the third action."
"Really? Then let's center the next bit of practicing on that action. The trick is to stay aware of the tips of your arms and legs."
Teaching in this manner, Kirika suddenly looked up into the sky. Wiping sweat from her forehead, she sighed:
"...Today is really hot."
"Because the weather is sunny today, Ueno-san, yet you're still wearing a long-sleeved tracksuit."
You're right—answering Konoha like that, Kirika glanced at Haruaki. Then after a long while—
"Oh well... Whatever. After all, this home's boundary walls are quite tall." A strange grumbling entered Haruaki's ears.
Began to slowly remove her tracksuit.
Kirika withdrew her legs from the pants to reveal shorts underneath. The sight of her snow-white thighs extending out from the shorts was especially refreshing. Then she took off the jacket on top. The thin fabric of her t-shirt was drenched with sweat from the physical exertion, offering a semi-transparent glimpse at the black leather underneath.
Kirika brought her removed tracksuit to the veranda, folded it neatly and put it down.
"...Stop staring at me continuously, okay?"
"Eh? Hmm... Wah... S-Sorry!"
Haruaki frantically turned his face away. Then he heard an exasperated sigh.
"No—never mind, it's not like I'm forbidding you to look completely. Umm... Rather, I suppose being seen cannot be helped, right...? Given it's here, and the one watching is you, I guess it can be considered a good thing..."
"For some reason, whenever I reveal this appearance, I get very displeased with the idea that I am like 'a tool imposed with the mission of immortality.' But now, it feels like—This feeling seems to be fading. Fufu, perhaps because I have decided where I belong and what duties to fulfill? Yes, indeed. Regardless whether I am wearing this thing or not, I am human. Even if seen, I won't let any rules bind me."
Haruaki turned his face back to find Kirika standing before his eyes, having finished folding the tracksuit. The white t-shirt fabric clung tightly to the bulging black leather on her chest, emphasizing its existence. Kirika blushed.
"D-Didn't I ask you to stop staring continuously!? This is basically underwear, so it's still embarrassing to me, you know. Besides, I'll still continue to hide it during PE class, and even if it's you, I don't like being stared at. Only because today's weather is so hot, being seen cannot be helped!"
"Uwoh! I really don't get it anymore, anyway, sorry!"
Hmph—Kirika snorted and pulled her t-shirt to make it cling less tightly to her body, then she returned to where Fear and Konoha were. The trio began to dance again. Although she said not to stare continuously, the sight easily entered his view accidentally whenever he looked in the general direction—The single color penetrating the t-shirt as well as the curves it traced out.
Wasn't this essentially asking him not to face forward? —Haruaki leaned back and collapsed as if drained of strength. Feeling the veranda floorboards against his back, he opened his eyes only to find—
The view beneath Kuroe's skirt. A delicate expanse of fluttering, wavy whiteness in an adult style—
"Uwah! Ahhh, sheesh, what is with today!?"
"Haru, you're a perv."
There was not a single shred of embarrassment in her sleepy, blank gaze. Haruaki really felt like telling her off for standing behind him with a concealed presence.
"What's the matter? What about your shop?"
"Taking a brief break. Because I remembered a few things I need to do, I need to do them now or else I'll forget. Also, everyone is gathered here doing fun things, so I'd like to experience some of that happy atmosphere."
"What excessively sloppy business management... Please, I'm begging you, seriously."
"I do work hard when it matters."
Kuroe then waved to Fear and the girls, calling them over:
"I forgot to give you wages for helping out at the opening. Thank you all for passing out flyers and other help."
She handed envelopes to Fear and Konoha. Wow! —Fear accepted the envelope with an exclamation, but—
"Wait a minute, Cow Tits, let me have a look at yours."
"What are you doing? Give it back to me!"
"Oh hoho! Fufufu, mine is heavier, it's clearly heavier—I win! This means my contributions are rated higher than yours!"
"You should check what's inside first."
Hence the two girls opened the envelopes. Konoha exclaimed softly: "Ara, that's so much!" At the same time, Fear yelled loudly: "Ohoh! What a magnificent shiny golden color! Haruaki, this must be an amazing amount, right!?" What she ended up taking out was—
"...It's a 500 yen coin."
"Ohoh? Then what's that scrubby-looking paper Cow Tits is holding?"
"5000 yen, in other words, ten times what you have."
"Just kidding. This is for you as well, Ficchi. That 500 yen can be considered a gift for celebrating your moving in as a fellow housemate."
Receiving a total of 5500 yen in the end, Fear finally surpassed Konoha and thus her self-esteem was greatly satisfied. Happily hugging money that belonged to her for the first time, she suddenly went "Ah!" and made a face as if she had recalled something. After hesitating awkwardly for a moment—
"Hmm? What is it?"
"...If... that's the case... How should I say this... In other words, umm—Here, take this."
Presenting the envelope she had just received to Kirika who had widened her eyes, Fear explained:
"Umm... Because Haruaki was caught, you had to leave the Lab Chief's Nation and lost out on what you originally had. Matters like money should be more difficult for you now, right...? I am partly responsible for Haruaki getting captured, which also makes me responsible for you, Kirika, so..."
Fear continued quietly. Kirika relaxed her surprised expression gently and said:
"I can't accept this. It was a decision I made on my own volition and not anyone else's responsibility. Besides, I have quite a lot of money saved currently, which allows me to live normally for now—I am also in the process of finding a cheaper apartment."
"If I wanted to, I could also work part-time. In that case, Kuroe-kun and Konoha-kun should probably be able to ask through their connections in the shopping street... This level of support is enough. Thank you, please use this money on things you like, Fear-kun."
"Hmm... Really? If you say so, it can't be helped... If you ever have any trouble, you must tell me."
"Class Rep, what about that partner you had? And what's the current situation between the various organizations?"
Kirika narrowed her eyes slightly, but replied nonchalantly:
"Nothing much. That partner did not die. I simply cut off communications on one side... No matter what happens, it's in the future anyway. There will always be a solution."
"What do you mean, there will always be a solution..."
It was too worrying. But Kirika turned her gaze away at this point and murmured as if talking to herself:
"Were anything to happen—would you help me?"
"That goes without saying. How could you treat me like an outsider by asking that?"
"Yeah, Kirika, even if you refuse to accept money, I won't allow you to refuse help."
"We are greatly indebted to you, Ueno-san. Please allow us to return the favor."
"That's right, that's right. Using our bodies... So first... strip?"
Hearing these words, Kirika half closed her eyes and smiled.
It was as if she had posed these natural questions to herself and felt embarrassed.
Making the most of Kuroe's rare presence at home, the group decided to have a break first. Haruaki and Konoha went to the kitchen to prepare tea. On the other hand, Kirika entered a washroom, saying she wanted to borrow a towel to wipe her body.
Kuroe sat blankly on the veranda, swaying her short legs. Fear also took a seat beside her because she wanted to chat with her.
"Hey, you... How do you feel now?"
"It feels so warm right now, I want to sleep."
"I'm not asking that. This is a serious question for you."
Kuroe's black hair shook and turned her eyes, more sleepy than usual, to face Fear.
"A-After seeing those people—Bivorio who used humans as tools, as well as those members of the Family who viewed themselves as tools and sacrificed their lives, I've become a bit confused. There are tools that resemble humans and also humans who are like tools. I was thinking, what exactly is the difference underlying it all?"
"...In other words, you are bothered by the definitions of what it means to be tools or humans, right?"
"That's right. So I'm asking how you feel, because I have no basis to begin imagining. You've already lifted your curse and become like a human, yet at the same time you retain your powers from your days as a tool. Which one do you consider yourself? A human who was once a tool, or a tool who has become human?"
Perhaps one might say this was mere wordplay and that there was no difference between the two. However, Fear felt that Kuroe should understand what she meant. And in fact, she did understand.
The answer Fear got was completely unexpected.
"Which one do I consider myself? I have been pondering this question all along."
Fear was stunned. She originally thought she did not have the answer because she was still in the middle of her journey. However, why would Kuroe not know if she had already reached the final destination?
"I am the same as you, Ficchi. Even currently with my curse lifted."
Kuroe spoke calmly and gazed at Fear again.
"Although I've never asked, I think the same applies to Kono-san. This is a question that only existences like us would ponder. Other people might ask why get caught up in the details like this. Take the Bivorio Family for example, because you are all transcendent existences whether as a tool or a human, the issue is irrelevant for them—That's the fanatical and worshiping kind of love. Or consider Haru, because living here, we are simply who we are, he won't bother with the difference between tools and humans—That's the kind type of acceptance for what we were originally."
"But... We can't help but feel constrained by this question."
"Indeed. So lately, I've been thinking this—"
A cool breeze blew for an instant, sending Kuroe's hair fluttering. Fear's silver hair also drifted in the wind. Like holding hands together in a dance, the two colors made contact in a cool, refreshing manner.
Amidst the contrast of the two colors, Kuroe's eyes seemed exceptionally gentle.
"A simple tool won't be bothered by the question of whether it is a tool or a human, right?"
Now this really resembled wordplay. Fear felt kind of deceived.
But very incredibly—The meaning behind these words felt quite comforting.
Fear chuckled lightly. Kuroe chuckled in turn. There was a mysterious sense of camaraderie between accomplices.
Perhaps it really was true. Perhaps being deceived was not bad. After all, time was on their side, now and forever.
At this moment, the doorbell's ringing could be heard in the living room.
"Good~ afternoon~! We have arrived to cheer for your special training~!"
"...I was simply dragged along. Please serve us your best tea, human."
Fear could hear this sort of dialogue coming from the entrance. Kuroe relaxed her expression slightly and whispered softly:
"...This home has become quite lively now. When I first returned home, I never could have imagined this."
"It's a lot better than a quiet home, right?"
Saying that, Fear recalled there was something she still needed to do—Indeed, her time staying at this home will persist henceforth.
So she should do this while no one else was watching.
"...How should I say this? You're much better than Cow Tits and we're both comrades in the Ladylike Bosoms Alliance."
Fear extended her hand bluntly.
"It's a little awkward to say this so late, but... Umm... Pleased to meet you, let's get along from now on."
Kuroe was taken aback for an instant. Then she exhaled slightly audibly with a wry smile.
Taking Fear's hand, she shook hands lightly.
"Pleased to meet you, Ficchi. I welcome you as your new friend—And new family."
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