"It's decided! Well, then, I'll prepare the food. Hisui-chan---can you take care of my work for today?"
"That will be fine. Sweeping the lobby and the east building?"
"Well then, I shall... what should I do, Kohaku?"
"Akiha-sama and Shiki-san should rest in their rooms. I'll prepare dinner early to make time for the party, so if you have anything you need to do, please try and be done by then, okay?"
"Perfect, just enough time to rub one out while thinking of my sister."
"Wait! The maids are busy! Why rub one out when I can get the real thing?!"
Music: play track 3
"Akiha, you here?"
Hurried sounds can be heard from within.
She must have had the same idea.
"I just wanted to talk for a bit, if that's okay?"
"Ah---yes, please, come in."
I put my hand on the doorknob.
Thinking about it, this is the first time I've ever been in Akiha's room.
I open the door a bit tensely.
"What is it, Nii-san? Is it something important, to make you come to my room?"
"Nah, not at all; I just felt like talking for a bit. If you're busy, I can come back later."
"...... Well, I am busy, but... I can put that off, to make time to talk with you."
Akiha tidies up the notebook on her desk.
"Oh, you were doing homework? Then, I should go; I shouldn't interrupt your studies."
"No, I was just about to start, so I can leave it for tonight.
It's fine, so please sit down. I shall make some tea."
"Alright, but no tea, thanks. I wouldn't want to spoil my appetite today."
"Ah, t-that's true... Then, I'll do the same."
Akiha sits on the chair of her desk.
I lower myself into a suitable chair, and glance around Akiha's room.
It's an amazing room, but of course it's not really my type of place.
I haven't even been able to settle into my own room, and it has just the bed and the desk; if they'd given me a room decked out like this, I might have fled.
"Yes? What is it?"
"Um, it's just something I've been wondering about for a while. Why did you call me back? The old man died, and while I am the eldest son, that doesn't seem like much of a reason."
"What do you mean, not much of a reason? This is your home; it's only natural for you to come back here.
There doesn't need to be a reason."
"That was what? Come on, Nii-san, what is it!? You come in here to remind me of things I almost forgot! Do you enjoy making me angry that much?"
Well, he can't start the conversation with, 'Sooo... nice breasts you got there.'
"No! Of course I didn't do it to make you angry. The thing about the letter, I didn't do it because that old man forbade me to do it, so---"
"I know that! I'm angry because you brought it up!"
"---Ah. I'm sorry, I just wondered. I shouldn't have mentioned it."
"Well, I guess it's like you to carry such small matters forever.
Kohaku said so too, right? This is your home. You should be more relaxed."
"Yeah... I think I'll get used to it, gradually. But---"
"Well, no, it's just... there's no nostalgia. I remember life in the mansion, but I'm confused, because none of this matches my memories.
Well, I guess I've been away for eight years, so it's natural."
"Hm? What's with that expression? Like I said, I don't have anything against the mansion. Don't worry, I don't want to leave or anything."
"How would I get that sweet, sweet sister lovin' if I left now?"
"Ah---yeah. I'm glad, but..."
Akiha looks away for some reason.
"Hm... I don't know. The actual wound itself healed ages ago, but there's some unstable organs that got damaged. I heard that some of those would heal in time, but some would stay unstable.
...... I guess my incessant anemia is the result of that, in addition to some emotional damage from the accident."
"Does it... um, hurt, Nii-san?"
Akiha murmurs a question, looking away.
"...... Nah, it doesn't hurt anymore. I just feel a little dizzy when I wake up, no worse than that."
Well, perhaps it hurts occasionally in the dead of winter.
"The dizziness has faded lately, and I'm sure the anemia will go away in a few years.
Anyway, it's nothing to worry about. There are people out there with wounds they won't recover from for twenty years, so my wound's nothing in comparison."
Akiha says nothing, still looking away.
The atmosphere has become heavy again.
Akiha is completely motionless.
Somehow, it seems unnatural.
"What's wrong, do you feel bad? If you do, you should lie down. I'll go back to my room."
"Nn---no, that's not it. I was just...... listening to you, I was remembering about the past---"
Akiha's body shakes.
She almost falls off her chair, but she remains in it somehow.
She takes a halting breath.
"Akiha, you're really acting strangely. You should lie down."
"---No, it's alright. It's not as bad as yours, but I get easily dizzy too.
"No, no... you should lie down."
...... I was just thinking about the accident eight years ago. Your wound was so deep, and there was so much blood coming out of it---that's why I felt so bad."
"...... I see. If that's so, but don't push yourself. If you feel bad, please tell me."
"Of course. I would do that without being told. It's alright; unlike yours, my dizziness is purely mental."
Akiha answers me clearly, completely recovered.
"It's almost time, isn't it? Kohaku will call us soon, so you should go back to your room."
"If she finds out you were here she'll be onto us in no time."
"Ahh, five o'clock already? ...... Well, I'll go back to my room, but Akiha, don't push yourself. It doesn't do any good not to speak up when you're suffering."
"Oh? It's not like you to be so concerned about me, Nii-san. Maybe I should do so once in a while."
"Dummy. It's just an occasional thing. I'll see you later."
Akiha falls silent, unable to find the right words.
But the eyes gazing at me---
"...... I'm sorry. It's nothing."
---seem like they are apologizing to me.
"I'll see you in the dining room later. I won't get angry whatever you do today, so don't worry."
"Ahh, that's a relief. Since Kohaku-san cooked us a feast, I was hoping we might be able to forget about table manners today."
With that, I leave Akiha's room.
Music: play track 3
"...... Uh, Akiha?"
"Hm? What is it, Nii-san?"
...... There's a gurgling as Akiha fills her glass with a tawny liquid, then adds a little orange juice.
"Tha... that wouldn't be whiskey, would it?"
"It would. Is there something wrong?"
"'It would' ...? Akiha..."
Um, aren't we all too young to be drinking...?
"Muahaha... all the easier to get him plastered and rape him when he can't fight back! Shit, did I say that out loud?"
"See, Nii-san? Even Hisui is drinking. Surely you don't intend to be the only one drinking juice?"
"............ Geez. You really want to get the most out of this party, don't you, Akiha?"
"A party's just not a party without incest."
"Yes. I don't usually like parties, but today is an exception."
Well, it can't be helped. A lot of alcohol isn't good for my body, but a little bit should be okay.
The weakest drink laid out on the table is---the wine, it looks like.
"Well then, everyone, raise your glasses, please?
With a clash, our glasses come together. Kohaku tosses hers down in a single gulp, Akiha takes her time, and Hisui sips hers quietly.
...... Oh man, I'm not responsible for this.
Music: play track 3
Not being used to alcohol, my mind is a little fuzzy.
Akiha sits nearby and is still drinking eagerly. It doesn't bode well for the rest of the evening.
"...... Akiha, you really have some tolerance, don't you."
There wasn't a good shot of Akiha in this pose (too many words) so I just quick converted the art file.
"Oh? I'm not drinking it straight up so I think it is about normal."
...... Um, that's not the point...
I'm saying she's pretty used to drinking for being a minor.
"Geez, making that face again. Please get at least a little drunk, Nii-san.
"Raping you will be impossible if you're too sober. Shit, that was out loud again, huh?"
Kohaku prepared all this to cheer you up, so isn't it meaningless if you don't?"
"Ah, that's right. ...... Yeah, I have to thank Kohaku-san for her consideration. Thanks to that, I do feel a bit better."
"What are you saying? You don't look happy at all. If alcohol doesn't make you feel better, isn't there nothing left?"
"Wow, that's a little bold. Saying nothing is left if alcohol doesn't work... isn't that mistaken?"
"There's always sex, right?" "I thought you'd never ask."
"It cannot be helped if you do not wish to speak to me, Nii-san. If you would talk about last night, I wouldn't ask for the help of alcohol."
Just like Kohaku-san, Akiha is concerned about me.
"But, I can't ask, right? I already promised no longer to ask about it."
"...... Sorry. I'm just a big burden to everyone."
"Well, as long as you understand it is alright.
----Um, as you say I seem to be a little drunk, so I will go outside."
She says "drunk", but her steps are firm as she exits the dining room.
Music: play track 9
"...... Red sunset?"
Until now, the red sunset reminded me of fresh blood.
it reminded me of her final smile as we parted on the road home.
...... Throb. A stabbing pain in my chest.
Does the scar on my chest hurt?
Or is my heart in pain from regret?
I can't tell the difference.
Only that my chest hurts.
As if it was bleeding.
Dizziness assails me.
Because of the alcohol and the pain in my chest,
such a small, insignificant thing causes me to lose consciousness----
She probably said that since I was there for her until the very end.
She probably said that since she knew I would carry this regret from now on.
...... So it's okay to forget.
It felt like she whispered those words in my ears.
...... Isn't that just a false happiness?
In a dream I dreamed about, I dream such selfish words.
If I can just forget, it will be very easy for me.
But I can't forget.
I didn't like her nor did I hate her, but,
I think I shouldn't forget her smile.
And more than that,
as long as this scar remains on my neck, I can't forget----
Music: play track 1
When I come to, I'm lying in my room.
While I was sleeping, Akiha must have been watching me because she is there in front of me.
"Have you awakened? Goodness, suddenly collapsing like that, what happened Nii-san?"
"I see...... did I pass out?"
"Yes. Thankfully, you woke up quickly. I'm sorry for forcing you to drink like that."
"No, that has nothing to do with this. I just collapsed on my own."
And thus begins the road to binge drinking. "It's not the alcohol! Really!"
"Yes? What is it, Nii-san?"
"---Um, well. Isn't this boring for you? I'm fine, so you can go back to your room if you want."
"Are you saying I'm bothering you?"
"No, that's not it at all. I was just thinking that maybe you were a little bored."
"It is boring, but I can stand it. This is something I'm doing out of my own interest, so there is no need for you to worry, Nii-san."
Then----I guess that's alright.
It really was a terrible cold; even breathing was painful.
The black-haired girl sat by my pillow, holding my hand and just staring at me.
Tatami and the shouji.
The cool winter air.
In the dark tatami mat room, the young figure of Akiha watching me on the verge of tears.
"...... I'm a little relieved."
"Eh? Did you say something Nii-san?"
"...... Yeah. I was just thinking there is a little bit of the old Akiha in you. It's not really anything, but it makes me pretty happy."
I give Akiha a gentle smile so naturally, it almost surprises me.
"God, not drinking enough when I demand that you do, then passing out after that little bit. You'd better shape up, mister!"
What is that all about?
I understand Akiha taking care of me, but why was it in a tatami room and not my room?
There's something not quite right.
"Akiha. Is there a room with tatami in this mansion?"
"No. There are no Japanese rooms in this mansion."
"Yeah, you're right. It's nothing. I just thought it was odd, don't worry about it."
"Hm? What is so odd about not having a Japanese room?"
"Oh, you know. This mansion is so big, I thought maybe there was at least one."
"There is a detached Japanese-style building however."
----Now that she mentions it, of course.
In the middle of the forest in the garden, there was a Japanese-style mansion.
"...... Goodness, you really have become more energetic. I think I will only be in the way if I stay longer so I will return to my room."
"Hmph, thinking of the past and not sex. You're no brother of mine."
Standing up from the chair, Akiha goes to leave the room.
"Thanks, Akiha. Sorry for making you stay here this whole time."
"Please don't mind. Starting tomorrow your daily life will become more like this."
After saying something I don't quite understand, Akiha exits the room.
...... Right before I fall asleep,
the memory of myself being tended by a young Akiha freshly surfaces in my mind.
The dark Japanese-style room where no one came to see me.
Did she sneak away from Makihisa? Akiha snuck in and cried as she held my hand.
"I'm sorry," she was saying.
I didn't know why, but the black-haired young girl kept repeating "I'm sorry" over and over.
About the proud eldest daughter of the Tohno family who was the only one to care for me.
The young girl always crying in the dark Japanese room. I bit my tongue in frustration while being dizzy from fever.
I wonder why she was crying.
If it was me,
I would never, never let Akiha cry.
AND LET'S NOT FORGET THAT REAL BROTHERS AND SISTERS DO NOT HAVE SEX, OKAY?!