A sickroom on a certain night. This was not a shop in the cultural festival but a sickroom in an actual hospital.
There were two men. One was a man in a patient's gown with creepy long hair, sitting up on the sickbed. The other man had even longer hair and was dressed in a black lab coat. He was sitting in the pipe chair by the bed.
The man in the chair—Pakuaki—took out a mask from his bag and placed it on the bed.
"Let me return this to you first, Himura-kun. It turned out to be quite fortunate that I borrowed this from you. It did help me out a great deal indeed."
"Really? I'm happy that it came in handy, Lab Chief."
Himura nodded lightly as he answered quietly.
"Sorry for making so many visits. I hope I haven't hindered you from recuperating."
"Don't say that, I'm very happy you visited me personally, Lab Chief."
"This implies that I recognize your worth, as well as the exhausting work required of my sister's partner... Also, I appreciate your capabilities. Your observation reports have always been very accurate and I'm especially interested in that research report regarding «Il est dans Bastille». Compared to the beginning, our understanding of it has advanced greatly, such as only transmitting the voice, or the sense of presence manifesting when one is too forceful—like emanating murderous intent, for example. Looks like it cannot be used for assassination purposes, what a shame."
Himura's expression remained unchanged. The quiet and unassuming man, whose presence could easily be neglected if one did not pay particular attention, simply nodded lightly in response.
"However—I would advise you to pay more attention to its curse, okay? Because your sense of presence has already diluted to the point that you don't even need to wear the mask. We are researchers, not fanatical zealots like those from the Family. Once you acknowledge there's a risk, I will approve transferring all rights of ownership back to the Lab Chief's Nation."
"...Yes, I know."
"Good for you. That's it, so please don't worry too much. It's not like I'm threatening you that 'you'll instantly lose awareness of your own existence.' I'm simply warning you as your boss. If you're using it for observation or research, that's fine, but I hope you won't indulge in matters of amusement. Indeed, take for example—"
Pakuaki spoke in nonchalant tone of voice.
As though it were common knowledge.
"Helping Oratorie Rabdulmunagh escape from the branch lab, or anything of that sort?"
Himura was visibly shaken while Pakuaki began to giggle.
"If she were to regain her freedom, one would predict that she would attempt to locate Bivorio in order to obtain further orders. Hence you made a deal with her, right? If she proceeded to kill the boy you indicated, you will tell her Bivorio's location. Also, you'll let her roam free. And since I borrowed this thing from you this morning, hmm~ It really was quite tight in timing, how dangerous."
"Okay, what would be your reason for doing so? Of course, I also know why. The feeling of converting unknowns into knowns is wonderful—I knew about your infatuation with Kirika from a long time ago. Despite the accuracy of your reports, to this date, you've never written a single sentence regarding whom Kirika held feelings of love for, right? How very strange~ As Kirika's partner, always hanging by her side, you were supposed to report immediately if anything happened."
Pakuaki stood up from his chair and started pacing aimlessly in the sickroom. After wandering for a few rounds, he happened to stop in front of the window. Looking outside, he took out a packet of CalorieMate from his pocket and started eating.
"...You must have expected it all along. Once I came here to take Kirika back, she would play the hand of revealing her feelings of love. When that happened, what would I do? Haha, just as you predicted, I acknowledged her idea and relented. Because, isn't this very interesting? That Kirika, the Kirika who could not free herself from Wathes, to think she would actually fall in love with someone by her own volition."
Staring into the darkening sky outside the window, Pakuaki's hair and shoulders shook as he laughed:
"Then, this is probably what you proceeded to think, right? Once I found out about Kirika, I'd find it amusing and would try to fan the flames, perhaps even going as far as to help her feelings bear fruit—Hmm, regarding that, it's a little different. I am a researcher. Even though she is my little sister, I won't easily interfere in the matters of the subject under observation. Logically speaking, you should know that very well... However, if there's no further progress, perhaps I might consider it. After all, it's quite natural to add reagents to an unreactive test tube whose development is stalled."
He bit into the second piece of CalorieMate, thereby ingesting another 100 calories.
"This resulted in a sense of crisis for you. As to what kind of crisis, I won't say it out in consideration of your personal reputation. Due to that sense of crisis, you decided to use Oratorie to kill a boy. Doing the deed yourself was a no-go. Also, the aforementioned mask cannot be used for assassination. More importantly, you needed to find someone completely unrelated to you to kill that boy. In actual fact, that kind of ugly mindset is common to every person... But something must have happened to spur you to make that decision, right? For example, Kirika might have said something when she caused your injuries."
"According to my observations, her intent to kill you isn't extremely clear and well-defined. Probably on the level of 'if possible, I hope he'll die.' But that was still quite a bold move on her part."
At this moment, Pakuaki shifted his gaze to the glass window before him, because it was reflecting the image of the silent Himura in bed, staring at Pakuaki's back.
"You have questions? Go ahead, questions are very important. Students in recent times don't like asking questions. It's very troubling."
"Researcher... Ueno... Is it really true?"
"Indeed, hence she is now listed as a subject under observation and cannot be repatriated. Although under the Lab Chief's authority she still belongs to the Lab Chief's Nation, in actual fact, she's no longer one of us. As for your job—as the partner in charge of reporting on Fear-in-Cube, I think I'll need to replace you with someone else. However, I'm still considering who to choose, in any case, it'll all have to wait until you're discharged from the hospital."
Himura's eyes, reflected on the dark window, showed a gaze of doubt.
"...I won't be punished?"
"Didn't I mention already? You're an excellent researcher. Also, like in this incident, you also became a cause for new unknowns, isn't that interesting? So I won't punish you specifically, however—"
Pakuaki suddenly turned around. Leaning forward, he brought his face close to Himura on the sickbed, still wearing a faint smile on his face. However, his eyes were cold and merciless. Furthermore, he was so close that Himura could hear the sound of his breathing.
"From now on, I absolutely forbid you from making any attempts to kill Yachi Haruaki."
"Of course, that includes indirect means as well. Because of you, I was forced to send Un Izoey to save him. Kirika herself can die any number of times, that's not a problem. But at least within my view, I absolutely forbid him from being killed. He is a very important research subject. I'm currently very busy so I'll set it aside for now, but sooner or later, I will probably research him seriously. A constitution immune to curses—Isn't that intriguing? How could I let such a rare and useful guinea pig go to waste just because of your personal lust, understand? Answer me if you understand."
Holding his breath, Himura looked down and remained silent. His long and swaying hair rustling.
After several seconds of silence—
"Yes, very well."
Pakuaki smiled like a child and stood up from the bedside. Sticking his hands into his pockets, he walked towards the door with brisk footsteps.
"By the way, one final reminder. Although it should be totally obvious—"
Pakuaki looked back as he rested his hand on the door handle:
"—If you want to pursue love, then fight seriously. There's no secret trick to it."
Then he waved ostentatiously as the black lab coat disappeared outside the sickroom.
After the door closed, only silence remained.
Then the sound of a fist striking the bed hard.
The next day after the cultural festival, at the Yachi residence's living room...
"Uh~ Kuroe... W-What's with you?"
"K-Kuroe-san—? I've prepared very tasty tea~ W-Would you like to have some together?"
Completely ignoring Haruaki and Konoha's calls, Kuroe simply lay on her side on the tatami, only showing her petite back towards the two of them. At this moment, a bundle of her hair slid down and began to casually and aimlessly write the character for "person" repeatedly on the tatami... Although Haruaki was convinced that there were errors in the written characters, Kuroe was giving off intense vibes of sulking.
Furthermore, the sighing coming from the other side of her back continued nonstop.
"S-Say, Kuroe, I can understand how you feel, but it can't be helped that the cultural festival has already ended."
"It's really a shame you couldn't come because the shop was too busy, but there will be another cultural festival next year... Besides, isn't it a good thing that the shop's business is booming?"
Haruaki had no idea why she was making strange sounds but her symptoms were really severe. Precisely because Kuroe really loved happy events, everyone could understand her regrets for being unable to attend the cultural festival. However, the event was already over so they tried to cheer her up.
"So... Is there any show you wanted to see? Although I'm not too sure what you're interested in, the drama club's public performance should have some recordings, I'll ask someone..."
"N-No! Absolutely not! U-Umm... I'm sorry but it was a very absurd failure of a product! There was a weirdo box woman who suddenly appeared and disappeared! It's better that you don't watch it, that's the honest truth!"
"Oh~ Why would you oppose so vehemently?"
Kuroe whispered carelessly as Haruaki and Konoha listened attentively.
Her hair that was originally tracing words on the tatami collapsed as if out of energy.
"Yesterday, I... was essentially like air..."
Just as Haruaki and Konoha exchanged glances of "What's that supposed to mean?"—
"Didn't many things happen yesterday? But... Haru, you guys were in trouble but I couldn't help out. That makes me... feel... so bad..."
Her face was still turned away but her words did come directly from the heart.
Haruaki and Konoha smiled at the same time:
"I'm very glad you wanted to help, but really, please don't let it weigh on your mind."
"Yeah, after all, things ended on a happy note, right? Doesn't it feel better if you think of it as things getting handled without requiring any troublesome effort on your part?"
"Not just that... Umm, my greatest regret is..."
Kuroe deliberately stretched out her sigh and muttered. Full of emotion and forcefulness, her mutterings were completely different from her past image of eccentricity.
"Not being able to see Ficchi and Kono-san's nurse outfits or Haru's white coat look! That's my greatest regret...! Ahhh, m-my life... is over... Cannot be saved. This absolutely awful feeling is like pre-ordering a first edition collector's limited version but receiving the normal edition for some reason...!"
"In the end, that's your greatest disappointment!?"
"A-Actually, it wasn't as great as you think, umm, anyway it was really embarrassing... So don't feel so depressed! S-Say, Fear-san, you should convince her too!"
Konoha looked back at Fear who was lying on her back, staring at the ceiling blankly as though in deep thought. She also kept turning her Rubik's cube, resulting in a continuous stream of clicking sounds. Fear had been acting strange since the previous night, even during the after party. Haruaki originally thought she would accept invitations from Kana and the rest to dance and make merry, but Fear ended up only chatting half-heartedly and drinking juice in a daze. He had no idea why she would act like that.
"Sigh~ She's no help at all... Is this what's known as burnout syndrome?"
An inattentive answer, accompanied by the clicking of a toy. What a disaster. Fear was no help at all.
"Oh right! I remember we had photos taken! We'll send you a copy once they're printed!"
"That goes without saying. Of course I'll take them. However, that's not quite enough... What I actually want to experience is the atmosphere, the atmosphere of a nurse cafe in the cultural festival."
"You say you want to experience the atmosphere, but..."
"I know it's very willful of me, but it can't be helped. So, it's okay... Haru, you don't need to mind me, just carry on with your happy conversation about the memories of the cultural festival..."
The mood felt as though a mysterious sound effect of ijii could almost be heard. Even photos were no good?
"Ahhh~ Seriously... Kuroe, you have to pull yourself together. I'll do anything in my ability to help. How about tonight's dinner, would you like to try some yakisoba fried noodles in the style of cultural festival stalls?"
"—You said... You'll do anything to help?"
Kuroe turned and looked at Haruaki over her shoulder for the first time. Haruaki felt an ominous feeling. He probably said something wrong.
Haruaki looked towards Konoha for help but she muttered "Haruaki-kun, there you go again..." as she pressed her hand against her temple. Then Kuroe slowly squirmed and got up, sitting formally on the tatami in seiza, staring straight at Haruaki in serious but blank manner, then—
"So, let's begin now—We'll play a game of doctors and nurses."
"Wait a sec, how could you say that with full seriousness? It's very troubling."
However, Kuroe was not dissuaded.
"...Didn't you just say you'd do anything to help me? Haru... Were you... deceiving... me?"
"Since I can't experience a nurse cafe, then at least let me feel the atmosphere of a hospital game. So that's why I'm proposing a game of doctors and nurses... Sob sob, I'll be very depressed if this continues, or rather, I'll feel unwell, Dr. Haru..."
"You're starting the game immediately whether or not I consent!?"
Standing on her knees, Kuroe slowly approached, then for some reason, she started flipping up her skirt.
"Could you look here? Doctor... I feel... unwell here..."
"W-What the heck are you doing!?"
"I suddenly feel... itchy here... It feels uncomfortable if I don't finger it. It also burns and hurts like hell unless I finger it like mad... Starting yesterday, I had to finger it many many times..."
Kuroe's gaze looked up while her rising skirt continued to shake. If her hem rose a few more millimeters, the part above her thighs was going to be exposed in full view. In other words, her thighs were currently revealed to a high degree. Smooth, tender, well-shaped, pale, but there was one reddened spot—
Kuroe suddenly returned to normal.
"In other words, I was bitten by a mosquito out of season. Haru, would you apply some ointment for me?"
"You should know where the bug bite ointment is kept! Do it yourself—Ouch, that hurts!"
"Immorality Blocker (Visual Variant)... Do not get careless, Haruaki-kun. And you, Kuroe-san, of course I cannot allow Haruaki-kun to do that! I'll help you apply the ointment, please instantly terminate this indecent game of doctors and nurses!"
"Eh—or how about I'll be the nurse this time. In other words, the next patient is Kono-san. Kono-san, where would you like Dr. Haru to examine you—"
"...Konoha, did you just swallow hard...?"
"W-What are you talking about, Haruaki-kun? Aha... Ahahaha. I didn't do anything at all."
"Then switch afterwards and you can examine Haru. Whether measuring body temperature or feeling his pulse, in any case, you can examine any place you want on his entire body."
"Y-You want me to examine... Haruaki-kun's body...!"
Then Konoha removed her palms that were covering Haruaki's eyes. Clearing her throat—she then spoke with a smile:
"Kuroe-san, you're indeed a very important member of the family. Even I find it necessary to revive your spirits through a game of doctors and nurses. Good idea, this game of doctors and nurses. Excellent, this game of doctor and nurses. Very well, let's continue."
"I don't really get what you're talking about, but it looks like my enemies have further increased by one!"
Next, Kuroe and Konoha laughed creepily with unknown intentions as they slowly approached Haruaki. Seeking help, Haruaki looked around him but—
Fear was still doing nothing but swiveling the Rubik's cube, spacing out and staring at the ceiling.
—While Fear was looking up at the ceiling, she recalled what had happened the previous night. She recalled asking Haruaki to insert the Indulgence Disk, resulting in the sealing of the «The Duke of Exeter's Daughter».
As well as a trivial matter that happened at the time—
"Woah, this is dark! Why do you have the light off? How am I suppose to insert it like this?"
"W-What does it matter? I just don't want the light on right now, okay!? If you can't see, just go grab that thing called a flashlight."
Haruaki grumbled as he exited the room while Fear sighed in her cube form. Although she was asked why she wanted the light off, she did not actually know the answer. She felt strange today, in many different ways. For example, asking Haruaki to help insert the Indulgence Disk was a perfectly ordinary matter, but for some reason, just today, she found herself making strange faces or saying strange things. Hence, she had no choice but to leave the light off. But in actual fact, her expressions could not be seen since her face was part of a cube—It was a matter of mood.
Then Haruaki returned and began his usual task.
Haruaki manipulated her body and exposed her deepest part.
"Hmm—I can't see very clearly. Well then, I should take this and..."
Fear had miscalculated. Although Haruaki could not see her face, she was still able to see his face clearly. His serious face. Due to the detailed work required but having nothing but a flashlight's illumination, one could hardly blame him for concentrating so hard. Within this pitch-black room of darkness, all she could see was his face. Although the strange feelings in her heart grew even weirder, she could not ask him to switch the light on now, right?
"Okay, I'm going to insert it now."
"Oh, okay. B-Be more gentle, do it slowly. Don't... be too rough..."
"I know. I'll do it slowly, slowly—"
"Mmm... Ah, nnngggh..."
Slowly, it was inserted. Holding the object, Haruaki slowly pushed it in, rubbing against the inside of her body.
It still hurt a bit.
Enduring the pain which would have caused her to clench her fist if she had a hand currently, she glanced in trepidation towards Haruaki's face in an observing manner, taking a partial look which would be conducted with one eye closed if she had eyes right now. He really was very serious. He was still using the flashlight to illuminate and peer into her most private spot. I clearly asked him not to bring his face so close—Because his exhaled breath would touch her slightly. And for some reason, she even felt her spine trembling repeatedly.
"Just a little bit more. So, I'm going to plug it all the way in, okay..."
"Ah, yes... Hmm. I know, I know, so, hurry up... and push... oh!"
Inserted, it was inserted all the way in.
Then as usual, she was overcome with an indescribable sense of fatigue and burnout—Plus another feeling throughout her entire body that she was not certain of. Although it was definitely not unpleasant, for some reason, she was slightly scared of this process that she did not actually find unpleasant.
"I-If you're done, hurry... and remove your hand. You... shameless brat... H-Hmph!"
"Yes yes yes, it's been a long day for you. Ah—Why do my eyes hurt now? My sight definitely worsened."
As Haruaki's hands manipulated her very sensitive parts, they automatically closed up with clicking sounds. Just as she thought "finally done without any issues" and breathed with relief—
"Then I'm off. Although it's become a perfectly ordinary task, do speak up if you feel anything strange. Hmm! Ouch that hurts, my legs are numb...!"
Perhaps because he was working while kneeling in a posture akin to seiza, Haruaki could not stand steadily when he got up. Also due to the darkness of the room perhaps, he had struck the cube with his numb foot and was overcome with pain. Haruaki lost balance slightly—waving his hands about, he grabbed the metal cube to support himself but that motion caused his face to descend from the momentum—
His lips touched her metal skin, they touched. Instantly, she felt an inexplicable shock running through her entire body, accompanied by a rising temperature of unknown meaning. It felt as hot as boiling water. Even when scorched by the fire for the «Voices of the Brazen Bull», she had never felt this hot. I get it now, these are lips—So what I saw on the roof that time was the touch of lips?
"Guah, m-my legs, so numb, finally... Phew~ Ah, s-sorry, Fear. Are you okay...?"
Haruaki hastily stood up, terrified for some reason. Was he worrying about which body part he had grabbed in desperation to support his weight? Of course, Fear would definitely throw a tantrum under normal circumstances—but for some unknown reason, she currently did not feel any anger at all.
Haruaki did not seem like he minded what had just happened. Perhaps he did not realize what occurred? Or perhaps, touching someone else's body with his lips was nothing to him? No, he probably failed to notice? It was for an instant, happening by chance... An accident.
Fear looked up at the living room ceiling, experiencing the noise surrounding her.
Meanwhile, she continued to swivel the Rubik's cube.
Thinking over it calmly, she recalled seeing it on television, so she knew what kind of behavior kisses were. How should it be described? She knew it was something done only between people who loved each other.
But Haruaki and Kirika probably were not like that, right? They had not done any of those things on television, such as shameless acts performed while stuck together inseparably, gazing into each other's eyes, yelling at each other when talking over the cellphone, or even embracing inexplicably under the rain. In short, kissing should be something that occurred between people in a relationship like Shiraho and Sovereignty.
But why? What was that scene she had witnessed on the roof?
(Hmm, this is question number one. However, at least I now know what it was. Last night's accident gave a hint...)
That scene was an accident.
A quick and simple solution. Because Kirika had fought with all her strength and was injured, she temporarily lost strength in her legs and slipped. No doubt about it.
(Then there's question number two, why did I feel so strange when I was watching that scene—"
At this moment, Fear heard an especially loud noise, causing her to turn her head.
"W-Wait a sec—!"
"Kono-san, hold this! I'll unbutton the shirt!"
"Wait a minute, I refuse to relinquish the task of unbuttoning!"
"Eh—Then how about I take charge of keeping this thermometer pressed against Haru's skin?"
"U-Umm, I can't let you have that either!"
"...Kono-san, I never knew you were that much of a tyrant."
"Have you two played enough? In any case, can I ask you girls to get down from my body!?"
So noisy. This thought had never crossed Fear's mind before, but she felt increasingly mad about it. She never expected those girls to engage in such shameless behavior while she was not around. Although Fear felt repulsed and shocked, but Haruaki was undoubtedly enjoying this. How could there be such a shameless man?
Very likely, that time on the roof was the same.
Yes, indeed. Definitely the same.
Although it was an accident, Fear had chanced upon a scene of shamelessness. Although Haruaki appeared to be asleep, it was definitely shameless behavior he would enjoy. No, whether he was actually sleeping was suspect. For some reason, Fear felt reluctant to confirm it, but ultimately, that possibility was the most important.
What she experienced that night was not heartache but extreme anger. Actually, she could not remember much of the feeling back then, so she was unable to say for sure, but—Yes, that possibility was very likely indeed.
At this moment, the image of Sovereignty surfaced in her mind. Fear felt as though Sovereignty would know something if she asked, but at the same time, she felt that not asking might be better. No no no, that's obvious, this has nothing to do with her. Logically speaking, there's no need to ask her specifically. If it feels like she might know something, that's just an illusion. Anyway, the strange feeling I felt at the time was simple anger, that's that.
Hence—What the heck, this wasn't anything strange to begin with, really.
Just as Fear sat up, the gazes of the trio in the living room settled on her all at once.
"Uwah? Y-You're finally awake, Fear? Hurry and save me!"
"You're asking... me to save you?"
Fear cackled malevolently and moved by spinning around horizontally on the tatami.
"Why am I obliged to save you, shameless brat...? Running back and forth noisily beside me from a while ago, if you want to play doctors and nurses so much, fine, I'll play with you! Examination for confirming the patient's stamina! Tickling punishment!"
"You went off the weird end the minute you mentioned punishment... Wahahaha! S-Stop it right now!"
Instead of listening to Haruaki's pleas, Fear continued to tickle his flank.
"Hehe, serves you right. Even though it's a shameless act with her meat pressing against your body, Cow Tits is doing her job as a stone weight, you can't escape!"
"A stone weight? Y-You're too rude...! Besides, I'm not pressing on his body. I'm simply imitating a nurse who is offering herself to help a disobedient patient undress!"
"I don't really understand Kono-san's excuse, but it sounds quite fun. I'll help out too—tickle tickle."
"H-Hair, you're tickling me with your hair? Wahaha, stop it, Kuroe, that's way too unfair!"
"Well done, Kuroe! I've tasted that tickling effects of that move personally before, go ahead and tickle him as much as you can!"
Fear laughed as she continued with her hands.
There were still many things she could not figure out no matter how hard she thought. Many things where correct answers could not be found.
The cultural festival yesterday, what she heard about in the training hall, as well as what he had said.
Actually, there was no need to force herself to understand everything, right?
Because there were more important things than that.
Ignorant people and things had their own ignorant ways of acting.
So let's do it this way. Perhaps it was not right, but let's do it this way.
Forget about what I don't understand and let myself act as usual in the past.
It's definitely more happy if I do that.
"Fufufu, Haruaki, you've fallen into our hands! If you agree to raise my daily rice cracker rations, releasing you is not a problem!"
"Why is your excuse for bullying me changing again and again!?"
Despite not knowing why things became this way.
Despite lacking an answer no matter how hard she thought.
Fear believed that there was only one thing she should not forget.
Because she felt that it would be too much of a shame if it were forgotten.
Namely, what she felt when Haruaki's lips had made contact with her body.
It had felt exceptionally comfortable.
And exceptionally blissful too.
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