Part 63: Ir2Part 63 - Ir2
Momose's yell was flying toward him as soon as he entered the office. Hunching his neck, Ban put on an amiable smile and walked up to the desk of Freesia's company president.
He hadn't brought her any refreshments today, and he was starting to regret it, thinking he'd made a mistake.
"Oh, where's Suwa-chan?"
"You're using a youngster so you can take things easy, in other words."
"....Nah, nah, I'm doing my best too, doncha know? Just yesterday, I pulled an all-nighter looking up all kinds of things."
"Thanks to that, I've become pretty familiar with the lives of contemporary high school girls."
"Haa.... unbelievable.... you amaze me so much, I've got nothing left to say."
"She's here now."
"Way to go, Momo-chan."
"On a side note, is she a cutie?"
"You can't always be prattling the same stupid stuff, ya old lech."
There was something Ban had requested of Momose as a personal favor.
He wanted to have an individual conversation with a certain person who was connected to one of the New-Gen cases, so he'd asked her to create a setting in which the two of them could meet.
He intended to discuss something based on purely personal circumstances, nothing presently related to the New-Gen investigation.
Due to his position, Ban couldn't get a jump on the other detectives at headquarters and go to meet her on his own as part of work.
It was the space they used as a waiting room, and two couches with room for two people apiece had been crammed in there.
Head lowered and shoulders slumped, she appeared horribly worn out.
"Sorry we made you wait."
"Ah, no. I'm.... fine...."
Upon seeing Ban, she nodded to him with a somewhat intimidated expression.
Ban felt a bit wounded. In his own way, he'd been aiming for an "attitude and appearance that wouldn't scare anyone." But he was forced to acknowledge that the fierce, high-pressure atmosphere unique to detectives had come creeping out regardless.
He smiled wryly at himself on the inside, knowing he still had a long ways to go, and sat down facing Yua.
"The twin sister of the late Mia-san. Am I still on the mark?"
Pulling her chin back a tad, Yua answered with a nod.
"Well, no need to be so tense."
"I'm not investigating you or anything. Think of it as a light chat, nothing more."
"Before we get to the subject at hand.... can I ask you something?"
"No, my bad. It's like an occupational disease."
"I can't phrase things considerately."
"No, it's fine...."
Momose had half-risen at the insensitivity of Ban's statements, but Yua silenced her.
"....Because I also think it's strange."
"Except.... only Mia-san's family was different."
"Why is that?"
Anguish seeped into Yua's voice.
"At first.... the day we received notice of what happened to Mia-chan, they wept."
"Mom and Dad both seemed to be having a very hard time."
"But for some reason, the next morning.... the two of them were laughing cheerfully. They'd completely gone back to how things were before Mia-chan died."
"In a single day...."
"I had no idea what was going on...."
"I thought maybe the two of them were trying to forget about Mia-chan...."
"Even if I showed them the clothes and shoes Mia-chan had left behind, they wouldn't take any notice of it."
"They said they'd bought them as back-ups for my sake."
"Mom and Dad went on averting their eyes from the news and from everything the police told us...."
"They were attempting to erase Mia-chan from their memories...."
"In short, to make it as if you weren't twins...."
"Mia-chan and I were identical twins, and we looked exactly the same on the outside, but...."
"She always suppressed her own emotions and put me first...."
As Yua spoke, she recalled a memory from the time when Mia had been alive.
One day, their relatives brought them a single big teddy bear as a present.
In opposition to the delighted Yua, Mia said she hated stuffed animals and wouldn't give it a second glance.
Their relatives and parents were repelled by Mia's not-childish behavior.
Even then, Yua had secretly told her that the two of them should share it and treasure it, but Mia only answered, "I don't want stuffed animals, so you can have it."
About a month later, when Yua was starting to become bored with the teddy bear, she woke abruptly late at night and witnessed a certain scene.
It was the first time Yua had ever seen her look so happy.
Then, for the first time, Yua realized her sister had been lying about not liking stuffed animals.
She had borne it the whole time for her big sister's sake.
Mia had slept holding it as she waited for Yua to tire of the stuffed animal.
The same sort of thing had gone on for these past eighteen years.
When they celebrated their birthday, Yua was always the one who blew out the candles on the cake. Mia angered their parents by saying, "Like I could ever do something so idiotic."
Because of the issue of tuition, their parents could only afford to send one of them to a private school.
No matter how Yua tried to yield to her younger sister, Mia stopped her and prioritized her instead. Moreover, she purposefully assumed the sort of demeanor meant to make others dislike her.
"When Mia-chan passed away.... for the first time.... I became incredibly regretful.... wondering if I couldn't have done something more for her...."
"And on top of everything else.... to have our parents ultimately forget her existence itself...."
"It's too much.... It's all too.... sad.... uuuh...."
"And so it seems that Yua-chan was investigating the incident all by herself."
"In order to find out what on earth had happened to Mia-chan."
"It must be really hard."
"And she pinpointed a single person."
Arm around Yua's shoulders, Momose gave Ban a look.
Ban leaned forward from the sofa as he rubbed his unshaven jaw.
"I remember hearing from some detectives in the area about a highschool girl who was interested in tracking down that Nishijou kid who was involved in the crime."
"Could that have been you, Yua-chan?"
Yua gave him an apologetic nod.
"That's pretty interesting. I'd love to hear--"
SFX: Ban is interrupted by the sound of a cell phone ringing.
The cell phone in his inner suit pocket was what had interrupted him.
He quickly pulled it out and checked the LCD screen. Suwa's name was displayed there.
"Hello. What's up?"
Suwa's voice was tense.
Even the sounds of the other investigators rushing around in a panic behind him came through the phone.
It would seem that Suwa was at headquarters.
Eyes wide, Ban finally bit his lip, a bitter look on his face. Deducing the gravity of the situation from his bearing, Momose and Yua watched him worriedly.
"Three victims. Seems like they were pals."
"....Some kind of message?"
"Who knows. And there's something else that bothers me."
"We found out from the autopsy."
"The part where the victims' torsos got severed, they weren't cut by a saw or a butcher knife."
"What do you mean?"
"Tore them apart...."
Upon reciting Suwa's words in a groan, Ban scratched his head with the handle of his fan.
"Like a monster. Or the wizards who've been so trendy lately...."
"Um, Sempai, are you talking seriously here?"
"I may be a movie otaku, but even I have a hard time agreeing with this opinion of yours."
"It's just an example! Fool!"
"Just hurry up and go back to the investigation."
When I went headed home from school with Rimi, the sky was dyed pale orange.
"It must've been hard on you in a whole lot of ways."
It had been a while since I'd last gone home with Rimi like this. I was sincerely happy she'd returned. She'd said "Let's go home together" to me today.
Although since we'd only gone back together two times before, to begin with, I'd secretly feared she would act as if nothing had ever happened, but it wasn't that way at all.
"I'm sorry I couldn't be with you."
"I was looking after him the whole time."
Though I hadn't asked her, Rimi told me about it without being prompted.
But to be perfectly honest, Rimi's words were mostly failing to enter my head now.
Even though, Nanami was my little sister. Even though, I was Nanami's big brother.
I hadn't quite understood who she was that time....
The nurse had said Nanami wasn't injured.
The hand "Shogun" sent to my base had disappeared from my refrigerator.
It was supposed to have been a delusion.
Could it simply be that I was over thinking things, and the reason behind it was something as minor as a burn or a bug bite....
Yes.... of course. That was the most likely answer of all.
But.... I was still scared to find out....
Despite the fact that I hadn't been able to save Nanami, I went on dawdling like this and didn't make any attempt to talk to her.
I truly was the worst brother ever....
"If you're mad, tell me so. It.... it really kind of hurts when you ignore me...."
"Ah, err.... eh?"
"Could it be that you weren't listening to me?"
"Salute! I totally thought you were ignoring me--"
"Don't act so ambiguous!"
Auu.... Your nails, it hurts when your nails dig in, you know....
Rimi murmured her usual phrase upon finally stopping her cheek-poking. Yes, Rimi always used those words to show her concern for me.
"You've been kind of pale since lunch break. And you don't seem to be feeling too well."
"Did somebody say something mean to you?"
"If they did, tell me. I'll get mad at 'em for you."
Like a big sister or my guardian....
Rimi had quite a meddlesome personality.
Well, it was already as plain as the nose on my face from how she was nice enough to go along with a creepy otaku like me.
Maybe I should talk to her about Nanami....
But when I spoke to her about Di-Swords before, Rimi hadn't believed a word of it.
She'd shown the natural reaction of a person who operated by common sense.
Which was why, if I brought it up this time, the likely result was her either being put off or brushing it off with a laugh....
If so, there wouldn't be any point in asking her advice....
I was fine as long as Rimi was with me.
Rimi muttered in amazement the instant she set foot in my base. For all that, I didn't really get why she was smiling so happily.
"It hasn't changed a bit. The messiness in this room is so you, Taku."
If you're gonna go on about it that much, you could clean up for me.... Sighing, I turned on my PC.
"Wait up, wait up, you're gonna go on your computer as soon as you get home? You have a friend over, so don't you feel a little like offering some hospitality?"
Rimi made a reckless demand as she sat on the sofa.
If I had a mano-a-mano conversation with a 3-D girl, I'd soon run out of things to talk about.
While I'd gotten much more used to it, due to the recent increase in how many opportunities I had to speak with Rimi, I still wouldn't last five minutes.
Besides, my head was full of Nanami right now, and I was very much not in the mood to have a light-hearted conversation....
Positive, Negative or Neutral?