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Baby Princess Volume 1 Chapter 3

by Kimino Sakurako | Natsuki Mibu and Yuki Kiriga (Illustrations)


Translated by SoulSlayerAbad

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Catcher in the Family


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February 6th.

Around a month and a half had passed since Youtarou had arrived at the Amatsuka household. He was finally getting used to the presence of the 19 sisters. In such a big household, every day was as bright and busy as a party. Little by little, he was gaining back the peace of everyday life. Youtarou had avoided the fate of dropping out in the middle of his school term, and was going back to school as soon as the new semester started.

Give me back my solemn resolution that I made when I thought it was the last of my school days on that December day! Is what Youtarou sometimes thought. Of course, getting to graduate was a lot better than dropping out in the last semester of the last year in Middle-school, and Youtarou had no complaints. In the end, he didn’t find any trace of Grandma’s bankbook or last will from among his belongings, so his tuition was of course being covered by the Amatsuka family. Of course, he had tried to decline, but it was ‘a situation where he couldn’t decline the kindness being offered to him’ is what Miharu had told him as a ‘message from Mama’.

“‘Its fine, its fine, since you are already my own cute son!’”

No, no, that feels wrong no matter how you look at it. Miharu winked at him and continued with the message: “‘When you grow up, join up with our company, and pay me back with your body by becoming part of a star squadron of handsome guys. Of course, the color of the protagonist is red! Always!’”

No matter how much I grow up, I kinda don’t have the confidence to become part of a star squadron of handsome guys…

But Youtarou had become so used to his new environment that he could now laugh while nodding at the jokes of this ‘Mama’ that reminded him of his own Grandma.

Then I guess I’ll let myself be spoiled on the basis of my future success…That he had become able to think like this was probably not just because this family was rich. No. What was the best way to describe it? He had was supposed to have been penniless, without any family. But this family had such bottomless brightness that it did not let him feel any guilt.

The big and loud welcome party with all 19 sisters.

The New Year’s Eve.

The New Year’s Day.

In this family, there was nary a dark day. Youtarou, who had not before lived with sisters or anyone else except Grandma, had no idea. He had no idea that the creatures known as girls could be so bright, so cute, so kind and graceful, so…dazzling that it became hard for him to look away. Looking at them, and being called “Onii-chan” by them, Youtarou could feel from the bottom of his heart: Ahh, It really is okay for me to be here. He didn’t know the reason why. Probably because it wasn’t related to logic. Youtarou found out for the first time that the existence of girls couldn’t be explained with logic.

Then his school started, and Youtarou’s lifestyle became calmer. Because he had to take a 30 minute train to his school all alone, he was the first one up and out of the house, excluding Miharu, who had to leave even earlier because of her weather news job. By the time he returned, it was almost 5 in the evening.

He was then pestered by Yuuna or Seika to help them with their homework, or held on to by Sakura and Mari as they asked him to play with them, or surrounded by Nijiko and Sora as he read a book to Watayuki, and in no time at all it was time for dinner. It was a surprisingly calm and regular lifestyle.

But for some reason, that particular morning was very noisy.

 

Youtarou had just finished eating breakfast, and was getting ready to leave for school. He could sense the buzz of activity in the dining room even from the corridor. Glancing at his hairstyle in the full-sized mirror on the wall, he began to search for his shoes at the entrance. He heard the sound of small slippers behind him. It was Haruka.

“Ahh, wait a bit.” What could it be? “Here you go!”

In her hand was a fork, and on its end was a boiled carrot cut in a heart shape.

“I’m very sorry. I forgot to put just Ouji-sama’s share in his salad today.” Even though her words were apologetic, she seemed awfully happy.

Youtarou recalled the breakfast’s menu: Bacon and sliced tomatoes, omelet with lots of butter and chopped onions, salad comprised of potato and watercress, and sausages marked with browning. Delicious smelling freshly baked bread, lots of milk coffee, and chilled sweet strawberries to top it all off. Come to think of it, he had thought that it was rather colorless salad.

“Here, say aahn!” Haruka raised the fork with the boiled carrot.

We are doing this so early in the morning? Youtarou had become too used to it to think like that anymore. He knew that even if he resisted instinctively it would be useless, so he obediently put it in his mouth.

“Un! Good, good. The child that eats all vegetables without being picky grows into a great adult, you know?” His head was being patted.

“Ah, thanks Haruka…Onee-chan.”

“Iyan~, you don’t have to be so formal, Haruka is happy doing this!” She made an embarrassed face, and suddenly came closer.

“But, I told you didn’t I? Calling me Onee-chan— I don’t like you calling me something so distant. Even if I’m older, it’s just a difference of one year, and as far as Haruka is concerned, you can just call me Haruka, without the need for any honorifics.”

Uwaah! Her face is too close! Even though I finally remembered to put “Onee-chan” on the end…this was a failure.

He remembered. The day after the party where he met all the sisters, Youtarou had been called to Miharu’s room. There, he had made seven promises with Miharu, Mizore, Haruka and Hikaru so that they could live together as a family.

1: That he wouldn’t be reserved.

2: That he wouldn’t attach “san” with any of the sister’s names.

3: That he would eat all his meals without being picky.

4: That he wouldn’t lie.

5: But keeping secrets was apparently OK.

6: That he would participate in all family events.

7: That, as a general rule, he wouldn’t let any of the sisters alone into his room. If it was absolutely necessary to let them enter, then only if two or more of them were together.

 

“Even though we are calling it a ‘Promise’, it’s nothing too hard, right? And these rules are generally followed by everyone in our household, so don’t let it bother you too much. I’ll let everyone else know later too. Ah, and the rule about the room entry does not mean that we don’t trust you, it’s just that we have lots of full grown girls in our household too.” As Miharu said this and laughed, Haruka was pouting a little for some reason.

“But the fact that I’m a part of this family—” isn’t that a lie too? Is what he wanted to say, but Mizore cut him off.

“Don’t worry about something that is more trivial than the dust of the Universe.”

“That’s right, and besides, there’s always the chance that you really are our brother—” As Haruka was about to complete her sentence with a pink blush, Hikaru interrupted her by poking her in the back.

“Iyan~! Hikaru-chan is being mean!” Haruka started to make a fuss over nothing, and Miharu blocked her out and finalized things.

“In – any – case. As Mama has decided, in front of all five of us, you are from this instant our real brother.” Hearing this, Haruka winced and became silent. “You should start believing in this too. You really were separated from us at birth, and are our real brother. The fact that we could not live in the same house until now is a shame, but if we keep looking to the past, nothing will start. That’s why from now on, let’s really become a real family.”

As she was speaking, Miharu didn’t break eye contact with Youtarou even once. Her eyes were filled with conviction, and hearing her made Youtarou feel like it was okay to believe her.

This person surely has a natural talent for hypnotism.

“Since we are going to be living together for a while anyways, isn’t a happy and fun live style better for everyone involved? Since we are living under the same roof, it doesn’t matter if we are related by blood or not, doesn’t matter what anyone says, we are a real family.” She stated it with a sense of finality.

As he looked at Hikaru unconsciously, he saw her behind Miharu with her eyes closed, silently thinking about something as she listened to the conversation.

“But it really is a relief that you are such an honest and nice boy.” Miharu said and laughed.

“Yeah, you are a speck of dust that one feels close to naturally.”

Ah, so the dust part doesn’t change, huh?

“He is not dust! He is a spectacular prince of Haruka that exceeded her expectations!” Saying that, Haruka attached her to Youtarou’s arm with a “Kyun~!”

And then suddenly: “But are you fine with that?” Hikaru asked in a serious tone.

Youtarou thought it over for a moment, while Miharu smiled gently, Mizore nodded silently, and Haruka sent him a “Of course you are, right?” look while hanging onto him arm.

It was a stifling silence. This was probably his final chance to reverse this whole situation. Youtarou realized with a start that this was the first time he had been clearly asked for his opinion. Without really knowing what she was thinking, he had come this far by just following Hikaru. But was he really fine with this? Of course, a homeless life would not exactly be the most pleasant, but he couldn’t say that the situation in this house was normal either. Just because of the reason that he had lost any place to return to, should he be allowed into such a happy family? Or should he find out his own path even if meant facing untold hardships? His head should have been hard at work thinking seriously about these matters. And yet, his body reacted faster. Out of the corner of his eyes, he saw Hikaru’s hand clenched into a fist, trembling slightly.

“Y-Yes.” Before he knew it, he was speaking with a light voice. Hikaru drew a breath of relief.

“I’m glad. It’s decided? Then here we go.” Miharu interjected with such speed that Youtarou wouldn’t even have time to change his reply even if he wanted to. She took out a note book. “Suddenly having to add a member to your family is tough business.” It was thick firm looking leather bound notebook. “Let’s begin a family dairy from today!”

“Family dairy?” Mizore asked quizzically.

“Yep. Even if we say that we are ‘family’ now, we sisters add up to 19, and among them the little ones are numerous. I think it’ll be a little difficult for him to talk to everybody, yes? That’s why, one of us will write in this diary one day, and the next day another, and so on. The subject matter will be directed to Youtarou-kun, so that he can understand and get accustomed to us as soon as possible. If you want to term it, I guess it would be a family interchange diary, I guess?”

“Kya~! That’s wonderful!” Haruka exclaimed, her voice rising in excitement.

“So, will we all be writing in it?” Hikaru asked in a confused voice.

“Of course! Even if Hikaru-chan is the great person who brought Youtarou-kun to our home, from now on, I’ll have you sharing him with us all equally from now on, okay? Or wait, maybe you’re jealous because you have to write in the diary along with everyone else? Ufufu~! But even for you Hikaru-chan, getting ahead - is - not - allowed, okay?”

“G-Getting ahead? What idiotic things are you—?”

“Well, Hikaru writing in a diary is more difficult than finding a Supernova in this vast, infinitely boundless universe.” Mizore said while snorting happily.

“We all know how hard it is for Hikaru to write anything in formal style, so I guess this will be good practice. She can think of it is as writing a light hearted letter to him, no?” Miharu said while smiling wryly.

“Um, so, what should I be doing...?”

“Ahh, all you have to do is, generally, read the dairy every day. If you felt like it, it would also make us all happy if you wrote down some comments too, but just reading the diary and slowly getting to understand us is good enough. We have some shy girls too, so there might be some things that they cannot directly say to you. However it would be easy for them to write their thoughts down in the diary. Isn’t it a clever method?” Miharu pointed to her head and smiled widely.

 

Diary entry: 26th December. Plans for winter vacation. [Yuuna, the 10th daughter]

It’s going to be a real fun winter vacation. I’m a little sad that Christmas has ended, but, Yuuna has loooots of things she has to do this winter vacation, so she’s like, super excited! What is it that Yuuna wants to do in the winter vacation? Ehehe~ That is, to make a magic potion! Winter vacation is smaller than summer vacation, and that’s pretty lame. But did you know? In winter vacation, there are lots of pretty red and golden dead leaves around the house garden or the park, and mysterious green jagged leaves too! There are also small red fruits fallen everywhere! Yuuna feels that the forces of magic will be in abundance everywhere! That’s why, if she can gather lots of strange things this winter, she feels like she will be able to make a great magic potion. Yuuna is doing her best with research right now! Hmm? What will the magic potion be for? Even Yuuna doesn’t know that! Ehehe~ Yuuna will let her precious brother test the very first batch of potion she completes! I’m sure it will have a really, really mysterious effect. It would be great if the potion can make sparkling powder snow fall on Onii-chan and Yuuna after they take just one sip!

 

Diary entry: 1st January. Happy New Year. [Haruka, the 3rd daughter]

Happy New Year. Flipping our new calendars to the first month, it’s the start of a new year today. This New Years, for the first time, we welcomed a male to our family. Cool and kind, our one and only Ouji-sama! In our family, on the morning of New Years, we usually make a Japanese style room by connecting the inner room and the drawing room together, and all 19 sisters gather there in brand new clothes, and drink New Year’s sake. This year, our prince was also present there. Ufufu~ Just remembering it now makes me happy. The seat of the guest of honor in front of the alcove, which is usually occupied by Mama, was this time occupied by Mama carrying Asahi and our Ouji-sama! You two looked like a long married couple. As the eldest son of our house, of course you were the one who gets the first cup of sake, and the Kimono with the Crest of the family suited you really well. You looked really dignified and reliable. And all of the 19 sisters sat in a circle around you, with their small tables before them, staring at your great figure. Ouji-sama was a little bit nervous, and your hands were shaking just a bit, but when it came to it, you confidently and elegantly drained the first cup. Kyun At that time, I thought: Ahh, finally, a prince that we all can depend on has appeared. From now on, we sisters are going to live our lives centered on this person. That’s what I really thought. Haruka’s heart felt really full to the brim with emotion. This person is the one that we can depend on, more than anyone else in this world. Our prince that will stay with us forever and ever. Our precious prince, who will be a part of our family no matter what happens. Haruka will probably never forget this year’s New Year’s all her life.

 

Diary entry: 8th January. Cold Hands [Fubuki, the 12th daughter]

I like the cold weather. When I’m in the cold air, somehow, I feel better. That’s why I’m a little bad with summers, and I try not to go to places with strong sunlight. It seems that I’m prone to fainting if my body temperature rises too much. Urara-nee often calls me a poikilothermic1 and laughs, and I too sometimes think that I am. And no, I don’t mean that in a biological sense. I’m also a bit weak in the presence of people. Especially, if I come into contact with people with high temperatures, my head gets all hazy. And sometimes, if my body over-reacts, I faint. That’s why I’m a bit bad with children, because they usually have high temperatures. Fortunately, all of my sisters understand my problem. I don’t have to have more contact with others than necessary, so this house is a really easy place for me to live in. Even if one of my little sisters suddenly rushes towards me unthinkingly, someone usually picks them up in the way.

But sometimes I think: if the weather is this cold, then I can probably interact with other people physically a bit more. At such times, can I try to come closer to you?

 

Diary entry: 15th January. Untitled [Urara, the 9th daughter]

I hate men. I really hate them! I don’t have any words to speak to a man. I”m going to go ride on the Denentoshi Line today, so stay away from me!

 

Diary entry: 22nd January. Babuuu! [Asahi, the 19th daughter]

Babuuu! Babuabu. Babuabuabuuuu~!
Kukuku~
Daada! Daaadaaaa~!

 

After being satisfied with Youtarou, who had obediently swallowed his carrot, Haruka reluctantly departed for the kitchen to make breakfast for the other girls. Somehow regaining his composure, Youtarou opened the door to go outside. As he took a step outside, he felt a light impact somewhere around his legs.

“O-ni-i-channn!”

Having run up to him with light footsteps, the one hugging his legs was the 2 year old Nijiko.

“Are you going to come back today?” Holding onto his uniform pants, she raised her head and asked.

“Yes. Of course I’ll come back.”

Her thin, soft, fluffy looking hair was tied up and arranged with a rose shaped hair ornament. Did Haruka do that for her? Thinking that, he unconsciously bent down and patted her head.

“Are you going to come back soon?” Nijiko had a bright, honest smile. Her cheeks were so soft. You unconsciously wanted to start rubbing them.

“Well, I’m leaving just now, so I don’t think I can return so soon…” He replied, smiling.

“Then, will you come a little after that?” She asked seriously.

“Umm…” He thought of a way to explain that even a 2 year old would understand. “After Nijiko has eaten her lunch, and has had her nap, then, around the time she is eating her snacks, I’ll come back.”

He squatted down and studied her face. Did she get it? Or not? Nijiko had a mysterious look on her face. Then she suddenly smiled.

“Then, Niji doesn’t need her lunch or nap. Niji will be eating her snacks soon!” She said.

“No, that’s not what I meant…” Youtarou smiled wryly.

I guess I still have a long way to go before I can interact properly with the smaller girls. He thought. He had been a single child without any siblings, so it was hard for him to have any meaningful interactions with the older sisters, let alone the younger ones. Nijiko was now making a fuss around his legs.

“Waaiii! Waaiii! I can play with Onii-chan after I finish eating my snacks. I can play with Onii-chan after I finish eating my snacks~” She was singing along without a care in the world.

“Ah, no, I mean…what should I say…”

And then suddenly: “Nijiko, don’t go around troubling Anija2 so much!”

“Ara, Niji-chan. Monopolizing Onii-chan so early in the morning? You’re good! Ufufu~!”

The 15th daughter Mizuki and the 14th daughter Mari had arrived. Mizuki was supposed to have highly sensitive powers of a Shrine-maiden, and was said to be able to see the aura’s of people. She spoke in an old fashioned way, and together with Mari’s haughty queen-like attitude, both of them were quite mysterious to Youtarou. Both of them were wearing uniforms, and were ready to go to kindergarten. Even though they were still in kindergarten, compared to Nijiko, both of them seemed much more levelheaded.

I guess growing up in a big family is different after all. To Youtarou, who was struggling to keep up with just one of Nijiko’s demands, both of them somehow seemed dependable.

“Good girls who don’t eat their lunch and take a nap don’t get to play with Onii-chan.”

“If you are a good girl all day long, I’m sure Anija will also rush back to your side. But if you are a bad girl, instead of a kind Onii-chan, a red demon might come for you.”

Nijiko immediately stopped her dancing, and became read in the face. “N-Niji doesn’t want that. Niji will be a good girl.” Before Youtarou knew it, Nijiko was holding his hand and standing stock-still halfway behind him, her lips trembling.

“That’s right. Nijiko is a good girl after all. That’s why she will be okay!” Mari and Mizuki looked at each other and laughed.

“Well then, hurry up and say your goodbyes to Anija and return to your room.”

“At times like, you have to put on your best princess smile and make a request of Onii-chan to come back as soon as possible.” Mari whispered in Nijiko’s ear.

“Onii-chan, come back soon, okay? Niji will be waiting like a good girl, so come back as soon as Niji finishes eating her snacks.” Nijiko tried her best to smile even while there were tears in her eyes.

How lovably gallant…She was so cute one just wanted hug her. Youtarou gently stroked Nijiko’s cheeks.

“Un. I’ll come back as soon as I can. In fact, I’ll return on the super-express.”

“Yes!”

“Ah, then we too…!” Mari and Mizuki also raised their voices.

“Waaiii! When that time comes, we too will play together with you! I’ll be waiting for you, my beloved Fersen!”

“Umu. We will think of what to play till then. Don’t forget about it. It’s a promise!”

Nijiko joined in with the two cheering girls, not really understanding had suddenly happened to the two to make them so excited. Her tears dried up without a trace.

“It’s a promise, if you break it you have to swallow a thousand needles~! Pinky promise~

He was forcefully made to promise. Youtarou left the house after a kiss on the cheek from Nijiko and was seen off by the three waving girls.

“I’m off~!” He said his goodbye properly. This was also a rule of the family.

 

When Youtarou glanced at the clock, it was almost 4 PM, even though he had planned to return really early today. Nijiko’s words had stuck with him the whole day, and so he was hurrying back.

I’ve got to get back soon. Even though winter solstice had long since passed, the winter days were still very short. In a hurry, he almost ran all the way back from the train station. As soon as he opened the door, he saw Nijiko. She had been pacing here and there in the entrance hallway pulling a pink stuffed animal behind her. Her face lit up.

“Onii-chan, you’re back!” She immediately ran over to hug him. Youtarou also crouched down to accept her hug. There was nothing left to be said. Rather than siblings, these two felt more like father and daughter. A sweet, candy like smell was coming from Nijiko. Like milk and butter and…

“Today’s snack was a hot cake!” Nijiko told him.

Ahh…Is this how being a father feels like?

This new feeling of happiness that he had never experienced before was making his head spin around. He heard loud, flamboyant footsteps from the direction of the corridor.

“Yahoo~! It’s Onii-chan! Rikka’s classes finished early today!”

“Welcome back, Onii-chan! After this, you have to come with Seika and—”

“Don’t leave Yuuna out of it! Let’s play with magic!”

It was the miniskirt wearing 7th daughter Rikka, followed closely by the 10th daughter Seika who had hair-dumplings, and the 11th daughter Yuuna bearing a magic stick.

“This is so exciting! With this many of us, we can also play Karuta!”

“Fersen, how good of you to keep your promise. As expected of Mari’s Fersen!”

Mizuki and Mari were also present of course.

Why are there so many…? Youtarou was surprised by the number of the people present.

1, 2, 3, 4, 5…6 people. But if he really thought about it, this was a small number, even just among the younger sisters. These were probably the ones that just happened to be there when he came back home. Now that it had come to it, he had no choice.

“Okay then, I guess I’ll play with everyone today!”

Everyone’s faces began shining.

“Then let’s…playyyyy~!” Joining in with the sisters who were shouting in unison, Youtarou pumped his fist in the air. For some reason, whenever he was with these girls, everything became bright and sparkly. Enveloped by this strange sensation, Youtarou barely convinced Yuuna and Mari to go on ahead to the hall with the others while he returned to his own room to change first.

 

“Like I said! That precious family vase is definitely hidden in the closet of this hall!”

Teaming up in pairs, they had played 3 rounds of “My Neighbor Totoro” Karuta. Rikka, who had become a little bored and had sprawled down on the floor, suddenly extended her arms and legs out straight and going “Gorogorogoro~” rolled across the tatami mat and with a “Dashin~!” collided with the knee of Youtarou who had been sitting cross-legged on the floor. “Crash!” Because her movements were so sudden, Youtarou dropped all the cards he was holding beside a laughing Rikka.

“Oh no!” The earnest Seika hastily began collecting all the cards, and the cool Mizuki also began helping her silently.

“S-Sorry…” Watching all this, Rikka made a ‘not-my-fault’ kind of face and going “Gorogorogoro~” rewound back about 3 times, and attacked again.

Really, now. Are you a kid!? Rikka didn’t seem at all concerned about this secret retort, and was absorbed in her gorogorogoro game.

Oi! I can see your panties…But it seemed like Rikka cared even less about that.

“Here, Onii-chan. I think these are all of them.” Seika handed him all the cards after arranging them. “Ah, thanks.” He smiled kindly.

Seika is a really good girl, with her earnest and honest attitude…Youtarou thought. The girl was in 3rd grade, and the fact that she was a huge fan of ‘The Three Kingdoms’ was a little bit weird, but that fact made her a bit easy to talk to. Instead of really feminine girl, talking to a girl that was a bit more approachable was easier for Youtarou.

Before they knew it, the ‘Battle of the Magic Princess’ had started between the reincarnation of Marie Antoinette: Mari and the descendant of the Great Mages: Yuuna. Youtarou was helped by Seika as he gathered up the cards and put them back in the box as everyone else watched from the sidelines.

Everyone was really gung ho about it at first, but I guess when you are playing with kids, the game can only go up to 3 rounds, yep. He made a note to himself.

“So, that family vase that you were talking about, what exactly is it?” He asked, suddenly remembering the conversation from before. It seemed like that vase was a very precious family vase that was handed down in the Amatsuka family. In this huge Amatsuka house, this was one of the biggest multipurpose halls of the house, so maybe there was some truth to the words that the vase was housed here somewhere.

The Family Vase. You were drawn in just by hearing about.

“Ah, that is...Um, I think, it really is here somewhere. Even though I have only seen it a few times. It seems like it is an expensive vase that our great-grandmother cherished. But, um, I think, it is not something as mysterious as Rikka-chan is making it out to be…The number of children on in it is wrong too…” Seika said with a troubled face.

It was something like the Amatsuka family heirloom, and was originally in the belonging of the grandmother of Mama, that is, their great-grandmother. It seemed like the vase was white and had a red or green handle, was of a Chinese make, and had a serene painting on it. The painting was of a couple on a backdrop of a calm rural town, and with various children playing here and there. Apparently, in that painting, the current Amatsuka family members were painted.

What the hell is that supposed to mean!? That part seemed very fishy to Youtarou, but in this family, something like an heirloom-class vase seemed like it might just exist.

“Hmm…”

“The vase had been decorated on this room’s alcove until few years ago, but now it is stored in the upper part of the closet in this room, because it would be bad if it broke.”

“You know, the family vase is really huge! It’s so big, I think Niji-chan can be put inside it.” Rikka suddenly jumped into the conversation. “So whenever a baby is born in our home, it’s a tradition to put them at least once inside the vase. On the 100th day after the baby is born, we have that ‘weaning ceremony’ right? Ah, Onii-chan, do you know about it?”

No, well, I’m a little ignorant about such matters…

Still lying down on her side and propping herself up on her elbow, Rikka continued.

“I see. I should guess it’s only natural. Our last baby had her ceremony long ago. A ‘weaning ceremony’ is held on the 100th day after the baby is born. At the time, the baby can only still drink milk, and can’t even eat baby food. “So that the baby won’t have any trouble with food in her entire life”, we make a special meal for the baby and the baby is made to do a little imitation of eating. That is the ‘weaning ceremony’ but…”

Rikka suddenly stopped and spreading her arms tried to indicate the size of the vase.

Just about big enough to be unable to contain within her arms?

“At that ceremony, our family takes out the family vase and we put the baby inside.”

“You put them inside?”

“Yes. Erm, how do I say this? The baby finally becomes a part of our family. It’s that kind of ceremony I guess.” Rikka tilted her head a little. “And well, on that vase, many children are painted. And their number is…”

Listening to the conversation closely, Mizuki suddenly said thoughtfully. “About that, I think I once heard from our grandmother that the vase had only one child on it at first.”

“Eh? But Seika is pretty sure that when she saw vase during Aa-chan’s ceremony, there were many children drawn on it. That’s why she asked Yuuna to help her with counting them…” Seika suddenly realized. “Now that I think about it, I remember hearing a lot that Mizuki-chan was the only who inherited the talent of our great-grandmother.”

At Seika’s words, Mizuki got a faraway look in her eyes, and began to narrate.

“That vase is a mysterious vase that originally belonged to the grandmother of our grandmother. Whenever a baby is born in our family, the number of children painted on it mysteriously increases. The bigger the family gets, the more the vase rejoices. And when there are enough children that the surface of the vase is filled with them, the greatest happiness will come to the family…”

“Increasing one by one…greatest happiness…? Ahh~!” Rikka suddenly cried out.

“Wh-what!?”

“Rikka-chan, what happened?” Seika was surprised by Rikka’s sudden cry, and the other children also became attentive.

“I remember, whenever Rikka tried to count the number of children on that vase, she became confused and had to count again, but it was definitely 21, 22, or 23…”

“I know right, that’s a few extra!” Yuuna said with a triumphant face.

“Ahh!”

“Ahhhh~!!”

Mari and Seika realized simultaneously. “What if there were 20!” and pointed at Youtarou’s face.

“Ah…” Rikka and Yuuna’s mouths also fell open.

“If you add in Onii-chan, it becomes prefect!”

 

“Hmm. A little bit to this side, I guess?” Rikka’s thighs touched Youtarou’s cheeks. The thighs that were positioned on both side of his face suddenly closed tightly, sandwiching his head. Half of Rikka’s body was inside the upper part of the closet.

“Ahh, a little more and I’ll get it. Un, it’s got to be in this box, for sure…”

Man, riding on my shoulders while wearing a miniskirt, this girl…Does the fact that I’m a guy even register with her? She’s completely let her guard down. First of all…she’s heavy. Isn’t she a little bit over the age to be giving shoulder rides to?

As soon as he thought that, Rikka’s backside slipped from Youtarou’s shoulder.

Ah, she’s gonna fall.

“Kyaaaaaa~!” Rikka let out a loud scream and fell down. Dust flew everywhere.

“Ahh, I was this close to getting it too~!” Rikka said with a vexed look on her face. She was holding a piece of string of an old looking tea box.

“Uwaah! Did you break something?”

“It’s fine, look, it’s just a piece of string of a tea-bowl box.”

The small wooden box that Rikka presented smiling ear to ear had small unreadable signature on it, and the string that was holding it together had snapped. And then, with a small sound, the side of the old looking box cracked into four pieces from the joint.

“Ah!” Rikka opened her mouth and her movements ceased, as she began to panic. “Awawawawa~. It’s alright, it’s alright. We didn’t see this!” She somehow gathered and arranged all the wooden pieces together in their original shape, and tried to cram it back into the closet.

“Uwaan~ I can’t reach it! Onii-chan, one more shoulder ride, please!” Rikka said, shaking her hips.

“Okay.” This is bad, my shoulders could get used to this sensation…

 

In the end, it was decided by the ‘Weighting-by-being-carried-by-Onii-chan championship’ that Mizuki, who was far lighter that Rikka, and in addition had a knack for finding things, would climb up to the closet compartment. Mizuki had the size to just about fit inside it. On top of everything else, she also had her mysterious Shrine-maiden powers, which made her sensitive to strange presences.

 

“Un. Is it really in here? I don’t really feel grandma’s presence in here…” After Youtarou pushed Mizuki into the closet’s upper compartment, she started searching around inside it, helped by the light of the flashlight Youtarou was holding, dragging behind the long tails of the Hakama she was wearing. Among the old boxes of various sizes, the air was stale with the smell of insecticide. The light from the flashlight produced eerie shadows. But Mizuki was almost swimming in it gleefully. It didn’t really fit her image, considering her age.

“Mizuki, aren’t you scared?” When Youtarou tried asking that, Mizuki replied:

“What’s there to be scared about? There is nothing here but old things. They can’t do me any harm, and I like old things anyways. And the things inside the boxes have aged well. There might some things with cute Tsukomogami3 attached to them. If I find one, won’t it be interesting?”

“H-Hmm.” Is that how it is? Once again, Youtarou was reminded about the strange powers of the girls in this household.

The one who is said to be able to see the spirits and the auras of people, Mizuki. Fubuki, who is weak to heat and has bad eyesight, and yet has the brains of a genius. Mari, who is said to be the reincarnation of Marie Antoinette, and Yuuna, who adamantly claims that she is the descendant of a great line of mages— Hm? Those last two seem a little different.

“Mumu~!” He heard Mizuki voice. “I found it! I can feel grandma’s presence from it.”

Hearing her voice, Youtarou looked through the entrance of the compartment. It’s width was about 50 centimeters. It was and old discolored wooden box that was sitting in a corner of the compartment.

“If you are my blood brother, maybe you can see them? The small, pea-sized imps dancing around the box?”

Imps? Wait, you mean…spirits?! Panicking, he rubbed his eyes. Oh, thank goodness, I can’t see anything like that.

“By the way, where is this ‘grandma’ person you keep talking about?”

“Oh, right now, she is over there.”

Over where!? Wait, I’m too scared to ask anything more than that.

“Okay then, Anija, pull this with me will you?”

“Okay.” Following the order of the 4 year old Mizuki felt somehow good.

Wait…Does this mean that I lean towards M!?

“What happened? Did you find anything?” Rikka called out from behind after noticing the two talking. Youtarou called out to the sisters who were playing around the room while waiting for them to find the vase.

“We found it. But it seems to be pretty far inside, so I’m going to pull it together with Mizuki…”

“Roger!”

“Roger that!”

“…and help her get it down…”

Everyone answered in unison before Youtarou had a chance to finish his sentence, and began lining up behind him in order to pull out the box.

 

The vase that came out of the box was exactly as Rikka had described.

“See? Exactly like I told you. ☆”

“Yeah, amazing. It is similar to a fault.”

Rikka and Seika nodded in unison. Youtarou looked at the vase closely. He wasn’t very keen on collecting old things. He didn’t even watch the ‘Appraise Anything!’ show on TV. But even he felt that this particular vase was really expensive.

In this house in which everything was over the top, the vase was put away in an even more over the top old looking box. It was big enough that you couldn’t even think of using it for everyday things, and had a delicate design. There were even some gold leaves attached here and there.

“So, what are we going to do now?” Yuuna asked with a smile.

“Eh? What are we going…to do?” Rikka replied with some surprise, blinking her wide eyes. “What are we…What were we going to do again?”

“Rikka-chan~” Seika drooped her shoulders.

“We’re gonna count the number of children on it!” Mari said, thrusting her index finger at the vase vigorously.

 

Everybody began counting all at once.

“One…Two...Three…”

“Ichi…Ni…San…”

“Eight…Nine…Ten…” You could call it lively, but there was a more appropriate word: chaos.

“20! Amazing! It really is 20!”

“Huh? Isn’t it 21?”

“That can’t be! Yuuna counted up to 27…”

“Hey wait! Don’t start spinning it on your own!”

“But Mari started counting it from here!”

“I felt like there was another one in the shade of this tree drawn here...”

It was a total mess.

“Like I said, don’t spin it around!”

“Ahh, I lost count in the middle again!”

“Hey! Don’t pull on it!”

Before they knew it, it became a struggle over the vase.

And then—.

Someone pulled on it strongly, and the vase fell on its side…

“Ahh! This is bad—!”

…and started rolling. The big vase gained speed surprisingly quickly. In front of it was the sliding door that lead to the veranda, and a pillar!

“This is bad!” Rikka and Yuuna quickly jumped out of the vase’s way.

It was now just question of whether Rikka’s outstretched hand would reach it first, or the pillar. The vase…

Gashan! The vase cracked and split apart with a loud noise. It was like a balloon bursting, reduced to small pieces. An unimaginable silence descended on the sisters that had been earlier the very definition of noisy.

“……”

“U…U…Uwaan!” Rikka’s face distorted as she began to cry.

“Uwaan!” Yuuna followed suit. And then Mari, Mizuki, and even Nijiko, affected by the atmosphere, began to cry.


 

“What should I do about this?” Youtarou exhaled while holding the broken pieces in his hand.

After a bout of crying, the mood in the room was a gloomy one, like a funeral. Youtarou looked around at everyone’s faces.

“Haruka Onee-chan is gonna kill us if she finds out.” Rikka said, trembling uncontrollably.

“Tsurara Onee-chan also really liked the child that looked like Yuki-chan in the painting.” Yuuna sniffed.

“This was a really expensive vase. I heard that if we sell it, we could earn a considerable amount of money.” Mari said, bowing her head.

“Ahh! So many cute Tsukomogami that were just playing around innocently have disappeared like mist…” Mizuki said in a trembling voice.

“Uwa! Uwaah!” Nijiko just kept on crying. Youtarou, unable to do anything else for her, just silently kept patting her head gently.

“What do we do? Should we just…pack it all up and pretend nothing happened? We might be able to get away with it, you know?” Rikka whispered a devil’s whisper.

“Th-That”s…” Seika began in a trembling voice.

“Even if we do that, Urara Onee-chan or Haruka Onee-chan will definitely find out.” Yuuna said is a downhearted tone.

“No, Hotaru Onee-chama is the one who is surprisingly the most perceptive about these things…” Mari said, her eyes flashing.

“In that case, when it comes to blunders like this, the powers Mizore Aneja or Miharu Aneja possess to see through them are unrivaled.”

“Hmm…yes, you’re right.” Rikka’s shoulders drooped again. “Ah~ahhn. All Rikka had wanted to do was to count the number of children to make sure that Onii-chan was part of our family…But instead, I got even Onii-chan caught up in this mess.” She said, dejected. “It was a really, really important vase for the family. Now we can never use it again.”

The room became deathly silent.

“Grandma used to say: Having a lot of family is a very good thing, because nobody is born all alone from the bark of a tree. Just like the painting on this vase, live everyday loving your family. Just like the painting on this vase, live everyday happily. Then, even without the miracle of this vase, happiness will surely come to you…” Mizuki murmured.

Everybody’s face filled with distress.

“Such a beautiful…”

“Such an important…”

“Our beautiful family vase…” Tears began to overflow from Rikka’s eyes again. “It broke! Uwaan~! Great-Grandma, I’m so sorry!!”

 

Youtarou’s chest was hurting.

These small, noisy sisters.

So yeah, they were a little weird. No well, maybe more than a little, and it was sometimes quite troubling. And he still felt that the number of family members was too much.

But…

Why were these girls so likeable? Even if they were convinced that he was their older brother, they were still so kind to him, a shady person they had met only recently. Youtarou was deeply moved.

So there are families like this too…

 

“You can say that I was the one who broke it.” Youtarou suddenly spoke up.

“Eh?”

Yep. This is probably for the best. This was the extent of what Youtarou could do. If it was just getting yelled at, he would swap anytime for the sake of these kind little sisters of his.

“But in return, you have to absolutely keep this a secret, okay?”

Everyone was staring at Youtarou with wide, round eyes. Nijiko, too tired to cry anymore, quietly appealed Youtarou for a hug.

 

“Quiet down!!! What are you guys all worked up about!? It’s almost evening, so—”

As if things weren’t bad enough, the one who opened the sliding door of the hall was the sixth daughter, Tsurara. Among the sisters, she had the most uptight and strict personality, and was often feared by her younger sisters. Sure enough, Yuuna immediately started trembling.

“You made such a mess again…” Tsurara looked around the room, with an air of resignation.

In the hall which was usually empty, the six sisters Rikka, Seika, Yuuna, Mari, Mizuki and Nijiko, and the so called “eldest son” that had arrived recently –in Tsurara’s mind he was just servant– were sitting in a circle. The sliding doors of the closet in north part of the hall and its upper compartment were open, and its contents were spread here and there all around the room. The marbles Nijiko was playing with, the beanbags that belonged to Mizuki, the Karuta cards that still hadn’t been gathered up, in addition to the pieces of something were all spread around the seven of them. Tsurara almost got dizzy from all the clutter.

“It’s almost time for dinner. You guys are playing with the things in the closet again? Aren’t you guys always being told to not to open the closet in the hall because there are important things in there? And you guys got over-excited and broke something again, didn’t you? Even though you have been taught not to handle things roughly… Now, let’s hurry up and clean this place. Afterwards, Mari, Mizuki, Nijiko, you guys hurry up and get in the bath. Rikka, Seika, Yuuna, you guys need to hurry up with your homework or else the time…” While speaking bluntly like that, she suddenly stopped and her eyes went wide. “W-Wait, what’s this?” She had thought it was a toy or something so she hadn’t paid much attention to it, but now that she looked closely at the pieces…

Wait, don’t tell me this is… Her gaze fell to the open amber box. “Don’t tell me, it this…the family vase?” Tsurara face went from red to blue with agitation, and she became unable to say anything.

“Sorry, I said that I wanted to see it and had it taken out. And then my hand slipped and…”
Tsurara became still as if her body was paralyzed.
“I-I can’t believe it…for something like this to happen…” She wasn’t even paying any attention to Youtarou. She just stood there, muttering in a small voice at this horrible sight. The other sisters became unable to say anything. Even if they had been living together for all these years, they rarely saw Tsurara get this angry.

“Wh-What the hell were you thinking!? Are you saying that knowing how precious this is? I can’t believe this!” She looked up at the heavens. “This is a vase that tells the history of our family. It is a vase that has been passed to us from great-grandmother and to her from her grandmother, unbroken. It is a vase that has a great history. It is supposed to bring our family great prosperity and happiness.” Tsurara walked up to Youtarou saying that, and without breaking eye contact suddenly pulled back her hand. The sound of a slap echoed around the big room as Tsurara slapped him. “Don’t just easily say “My hand slipped” while lowering that stupid face!”

Ouch! Pain ran across Youtarou’s cheeks. Tsurara’s hand that was still in the air was trembling. The surrounding sisters all gasped.

“If you don’t know then I will tell you. Listen well. When anyone in this house is born, they are put into this vase to pray for their future good health and happiness. Asahi, Sora, Nijiko, all of them. Of course, that includes me too. We even have pictures of it. That’s what it means to be a family. We share all kinds of memories as we grow up. We can never get back the past afterwards, so we carve the priceless history of our family into our memories. One year after we are born, a signature with red ink and our picture of us being inserted into the vase is put into an album.” She pointed to the pieces of the vase that were scattered over the tatami. “Asahi went to sleep like a log when she was put in there, making everyone laugh. We still tease Watayuki that she has a weak body because she was afraid at the time when she was put in and came out immediately. That’s a joke of course, but to us, they are important memories that become the proof of our bond as a family! But of course you don’t know that. Yes, by entering into the vase, we are recognized as a member of the family by the vase, and that proof is engraved onto the vase…No wait, telling something like this sincerely to someone like you who has only appeared in front of us recently won’t change anything. You, who we don’t even know if he was really born in our family and received the blessing of the vase, you suspicious ‘brother’!!”

Tsurara’s voice grew gradually more and more intense, and her eyes slanted upwards.
“Listen here. I don’t know with what intentions you came to this house –Well, you’re probably aiming to get a share in the inheritance, or some stupid curiosity probably brought you here.”
The air in the room grew as cold as ice. “Well, I don’t really care what you are thinking inside that worthless head of yours. Just don’t forget this. I don’t care what the others think. I…” Tsurara made a gesture with her finger as if she was thinking “impossible”.

“No matter what Mama says, no matter what Miharu Ane-sama says…” She said while raising her voice gradually, like a screw being unscrewed.

“My heart knows. It’s screaming…” Youtarou gently pressed on his cheek where he had been slapped.

“That you are our brother…” She gazed at him with a gaze like she was challenging him seriously. His cheek was hot and painful.

“I don’t believe that in the slightest!!”

Tsurara’s eyes didn’t allow any rebuttal. She took a step forward, aligned herself next to Youtarou, and brought her mouth near his ear.
“It’s impossible for an eldest son to exist. For starters, the fact that you are the same age as Hikaru Ane-sama is the strange, no matter how you think about it. You must have been thinking that all these sisters are pretty laid back, softhearted, stupid and easy to deceive. But I am different from my elder sisters. I won’t be deceived by likes of you. Do you understand? If you have something like a conscience, you might want to get out of this house, fast. However, if you really intend to stay like this in this house, you would do well to remember that there is someone who doesn’t believe in you, right here!” She said, lowering her voice so that no one could hear. It seemed like waves of anger were crashing against Youtarou’s ears.


A moment later, they heard the hurried footsteps of someone wearing room shoes approaching.
“Everyone, where are you? I heard the loud voice of Tsurara-chan all the way here.” Haruka opened the sliding door casually. As the sight of the room came into her view, she let out a scream while covering her mouth. “Ahh!” Hotaru was just behind her. “Is that the family vase?” Haruka asked in a voice that was like a scream.

“The vase great-grandmother treasured…” Hotaru also came close to crying, but somehow held back. “Everyone, playing around like that is dangerous. I’ll clean it up now.”

They both dashed back to the living room to get tools to clean up the pieces. As if that was some kind of signal, Tsurara began picking up the pieces of the vase. As Youtarou moved to help her, “Don’t you dare touch them! I don’t want help from the guy who trampled over the history of our family. The guy who doesn’t even know the worth of family should hurry up and get out of here!!” Her voice wavered. Nijiko started crying again, so Seika and Yuuna took Nijiko and Mizuki to the living room.

“Onii-chan…” Rikka said with face that looked like she was about to start crying.

It’s alight. But if you don’t want the commotion to get any bigger than this, don’t give in and confess halfway, alright? Youtarou somehow signaled with his eyes. Rikka had a troubled expression on her face, but under the circumstances, she just nodded reluctantly, and saying “I’ll bring something to cool that down.” dashed off in the direction of the kitchen. Hearing that, Youtarou remembered that he had been slapped, and gently touched his cheek again. It was still slightly warm. But it didn’t feel like it was too bad. His skin might be a little red, if at all.

Yep, girls really do have less physical power…He thought. In reality, because hadn’t been the one to break the vase, it wouldn’t be weird to say that he didn’t mind it too much. But, the things Tsurara had said, especially the things she had whispered in his ear, really stabbed at his heart. And on top of it was the fact that they were very true words…

 

After that, Tsurara somehow dispelled her anger by continuously ignoring Youtarou. Hotaru and Haruka looked like they were in shock, but nonetheless cleaned up the pieces of the vase. They did not blame Youtarou even once, who was continuously apologizing.

 

The incident seemed more or less settled, at least temporarily. Probably because it was such a big family, even though there were some effects of the incident still lingering about, the conversation at the dinner table didn’t really stop. Dinner that day began somewhat peacefully.

“Really, I can’t believe it! Even though he’s just a servant, he dare lay hand on our family vase.” Tsurara said, piercing a piece of fried chicken with her chopsticks. She was still a little irritated.

“What’s broken is broken. We can’t help it. It’s a pity that the family vase broke…But it’s not like everyone did it on purpose.”

Haruka said, passing Tsurara the grated radish with citrus sauce.

 

Today’s menu was: Fired chicken, accompanied by grated radish with citrus sauce. Tomato Salad. Asparagus, bacon and egg cocotte. Parmesan and Aioli.
In Seafood, they had: Lemon marinade of onion. Kenchinjiru4. Fired noodles.
…Wait, fired noodles? Why does this menu have fried noodles?

 

“Oh, Haruka Ane-sama, saying something so soft again. That’s unfortunate. And it wasn’t everyone who broke the family vase, it was the servant that has recently arrived at our house. He confessed himself, so there is no doubt about it. Really now. Such a clumsy servant is useless. If he knows even a little bit of shame, he should hurry up and get out of this house.”

As Tsurara flourished and gestured with her hands to make a point, the piece of fried chicken that was still pierced on her chopsticks flew off.
“Kyaaa!”
The piece of chicken flew into the Kenchinjiru bowl of the 9th daughter Urara, sitting next to Tsurara, quietly eating her food.
“Ah, sorry about that.”
“Tsurara-chan, that’s why I’m always telling you its bad manners to pierce food with your chopsticks…” Both Tsurara and Haruka spoke at once.

“That’s because this fried chicken is slippery. Ever since the New Year started, we changed our chopsticks to lacquered chopsticks didn’t we? It’s probably because of that. I wasn’t that good at using chopsticks from the start.” Saying that, Tsurara tried to recover her piece of chicken from Urara’s bowl. The piece of chicken that had become immersed in the soup inside Urara’s bowl, slipped and slid from the clumsy Tsurara’s grasp, floating on top of the brown oil.

“This stupid, piece of…chicken! So irritating! Perish this instant! Eeii!” As Tsurara became desperate and began thrusting blindly at the piece of chicken, suddenly Urara stood up with a loud noise.

“Ah, sorry. Did I make you mad?” Tsurara glanced at Urara. Her eyes were closed, and her eyebrows were knit together. Massaging her temples desperately, she muttered: “I can’t stand this anymore.”

This is bad! Tsurara thought, holding a hand over her mouth. Urara is about to erupt.
Everyone there, except Miharu who had still yet to come home, and Asahi, who had finished her dinner and was now playing in the playpen, took emergency evacuation measures.

“Hey! You there!” With a flourish, Urara pointed the ends of her noodle-carrying chopsticks at Youtarou. There was only fired noodles and kenchinjiru in front of Urara. In fact, the fried noodles had been included in the menu to correspond to the picky tastes of Urara. She was not very good with sour flavors. “Why are you still here with that carefree attitude of yours!?”

Eh? Me? The one who sent the chicken flying was Tsurara…

For a moment he was surprised, but then he immediately realized that Urara wasn’t talking about that. “After having broken after precious vase…” Urara’s hands began trembling. The dining table returned to silence. “I can’t believe you are sitting here eating dinner, feigning ignorance. You can do that because you don’t really know the meaning of that vase. That vase was the precious belonging of great-grandmother. If it was one of us that broke it, the food wouldn’t pass from our throats because of the guilt. Not only that, we wouldn’t be able to stay at the house because of the shame. And yet, here you are, making that shameless face and eating chicken…”

Youtarou hurriedly gulped down the piece of chicken in his mouth without chewing it properly. “Sorry…” That was the only thing he could say.

“Urara-chan, that case is already closed. It’s not like Onii-chan is the only one at fault. He didn’t even know the existence of the vase.” Making a troubled expression, Hotaru came from the direction of the kitchen holding a pot of tea. It was like she released a spell.

But Urara changed her angle of attack and continued. “That’s right! Rikka and the rest are also to blame. Showing the family vase to a guy like this. Men really are all so insensitive. He’s clumsy, and on top of it insensitive. Shamelessly eating chicken—” Hearing this was too much for Rikka and she got angry.

“Urara-chan, that’s too much! Onii-chan is a part of our family now! What’s wrong with showing him the family vase?”

“Rikka-chan!”

Rikka was unusually angry, and her face was red. “It’s just that he was not able to live in this house. Onii-chan is a part of our family now, same as you. Of course, the fact that me and rest of us took out the family vase out on our own was wrong, but wanting Onii-chan to know more about as fast as possible is the most natural thing. We started the family diary for that purpose too. I know that Urara-chan has an irrational hate for all men, and that in itself is fine. But! That and this has no relation. And in the first place, Onii-chan is not at fault at all. Actually, it—it was…”

This is bad! I can’t let Rikka say any more than that. As soon as Youtarou stood up, Mizore, who had been until then calmly eating her food with a seeming no-involvement stance, interjected softly without raising her eyes: “It’s not like I don’t understand Rikka’s feelings. But that doesn’t change the fact that you carelessly taking out the family vase without permission ultimately led to it being broken, does it?”

Ahh, even Mizore. I wonder what she is thinking.

Rikka began trembling all over. “Even Mizore Onee-chan is saying such heartless things…”

“Though I don’t know who really broke it…” Mizore said, shooting Rikka a quick glance. Hearing that, Rikka became unable to say anything.

“Some things can be recovered from, and others are not so. I don’t really care about the family vase…”

“That’s not true…”
“Even though it’s a magical vase…” It was uncertain that the things that Seika and Yuuna said under their breath reached the ears of Mizore or not.

“I don’t care if it’s the vase or a person. In front of this infinite Universe, they are all the same dust. But I don’t think that this kind of rule breaking can just be forgiven easily. Because, unlike me, it was very precious to Tsurara and Urara.” Mizore’s statement, as the statement of the one eldest among those present in the absence of Miharu, invited an even heavier atmosphere.

“Everyone, I think it’s not good to quarrel at the dining table.”
“Ye-Yeah, these things are bad for your digestion…” The vain efforts of Haruka and Hotaru to calm everyone disappeared into nothingness. A sound of a sniffle came from the direction where Mari was sitting.

Ahh…This tension. This…strained atmosphere. Youtarou wanted to run away. It’s my fault that these peaceful sister who are on very good terms are now fighting. Should I have not taken the blame at that time? No, at the time, that seemed like the best opinion. And anyhow, it is a little too late to be thinking that.

“I am really sorry. It was such a precious vase for all of you, and it broke because of me mishandling it. I’ll take reasonability for this.” Youtarou felt like if this went on for any longer, Rikka and the others would end up confessing and telling the truth, so he suddenly spoke up with a loud voice.

I just have to end this conversation somehow. Mari and Mizuki look like they are at the end of their ropes.

“Take responsibility? How? No matter what it is, just like a local railway that has been abandoned, once a thing is gone, it never comes back.” Urara said, turning her eyes towards Youtarou. Hearing that, Youtarou was at a loss for words.

“….”

Looking at the voiceless Youtarou, Urara couldn’t stop her words.

“You don’t have the right to be our family!” She shouted. Urara herself couldn’t tell why she was so frustrated anymore. “You don’t understand anything about our family, and you don’t have any right to be a member of our family. If you say that you will take responsibility, then get out of here at once! We don’t need a male in our house. Yes. Men, who are filthy, irresponsible and insensitive, I hate them with a passion!”

At that moment, Hikaru, who had been keeping her silence until then suddenly left her seat loudly.
“Thanks for the meal!” She said, with a hint of finality in her tone. And then, as if that was their signal, Haruka and Hotaru seemingly came alive.

“Ahh! Look at the time!”

“Okay then, everyone say “Thanks for the food”. The talking will have to wait till tomorrow, okay? The small ones will help me carry the dishes…”

“Okkayyy!” The frozen air thawed at once, even though Urara’s words still hung in the air. Youtarou thought he saw Kosame, who was sitting next to Urara, hugging Urara’s shoulders from the corner of his eye, before his arm was taken by Hikaru, and he was pulled into the corridor unconditionally.

 

“You really are an idiot, did you know that?” Pulling Youtarou along by the arm, Hikaru walked down the corridor briskly.

“But if I didn’t say something like that, everyone wouldn’t…” Youtarou somehow kept up with brisk pace, even though his balance was unsteady as his back was bent forward. They walked as far as Youtarou’s room, formerly Hikaru’s room, and when they reached the door of the room, Hikaru suddenly stopped. Youtarou almost fell down. He was a little bit out of breath.

“Don’t come out of room for today. Idiot. I’m sure you’re just covering for someone anyways.” She looked at Youtarou with sharp eyes.

Gulp. “Th-That’s not true…”

“Don’t lie to me too, idiot.” She suddenly pinched Youtarou’s cheek lightly.

Ouch.    He felt the soft touch of Hikaru’s hand and a slight pain.

“You might’ve deceived Tsurara and Urara, but Mizore Ane and I aren’t falling for that so easily.” Hikaru was very irritated for some reason. “You kind-hearted idiot! You really are an idiot. It’s because you defended your little sisters by telling lies in that manner that things have gotten so bad. Tsurara and Urara becoming angry is nothing out of the ordinary, but at end even Mizore Ane began pouting and saying such obviously mean things…I swear, all of this and that was all because of your idiocy, you idiot!”

“You don’t have to call me an idiot…” so many times, do you? The line in his heart came to his lips unconsciously. Hikaru looked at him with a blank face.

“Do you…dislike being called an idiot?”

“Well of course, it goes without saying that anyone would…” Seeing Youtarou’s discouraged face, Hikaru burst into laughter.

“Now this is a surprise. So you feel like that too.”

“That’s obvious— mmpf!” I feel as if I am not being taken seriously, so that’s completely natural! Is what Youtarou was going to shout, but Hikaru covered his mouth with her hand.

“Shhh! Quiet down. If someone comes it will become a complicated situation again, won’t it?” She glanced up and down the corridor. “Sorry, I’ll try not to call you idiot so much from now on. But it has become something of habit, so if I do say it, I’m very sorry. But yeah, try to mind it too much.” Hikaru’s face had returned to its normal handsome state.

“Me too, I’m sorry.”

“Hm?”

“I’m really sorry.”

“For breaking the vase? It’s not like you broke it so…”

Ahh, so she really does know the truth. Youtarou though. “No, not about that. Because of me, everyone started quarrelling.”

Hmm. So that’s troubling you too. As if she was thinking that, Hikaru’s eyes become a little kinder.

“At times like those, you should just hurry up and leave the room. Then everyone will calm down on their own.”

“But, I fell like that would be too irresponsible…”

“You were called irresponsible, insensitive and a fool by Urara anyways, so isn’t it the same?”

“No, no, not a fool, I think I was called filthy, or something…”

“I see. Yeah, being called filthy is still better than being called a fool. Because a fool is an individual insult, but filthy is a word that is directed at all men, as per Urara. You’re a man so you can’t help but fall in that category…”

Pfft~! Neither of them could stop it, and both of them burst into laughter while looking at each other.

“Sorry, you had to see her in such an unsightly state. She’s usually not like that.”

“Well, it was my fault to begin with.”

“No, it’s not like that.”

“Even if you say that—”

“Like I said, it’s not like that.”

“But if I wasn’t there, it wouldn’t have—”

“And I’m telling you that that’s not true.”

“No, but—”

“Quiet! Don’t say that anymore, you idiot.” Hikaru’s hand came flying towards Youtarou’s cheek. This time a soft, small sound came from his cheek.

“I said it again, didn’t I?” Hikaru smiled. “It seems like when I am looking at your face the word “idiot” just slips out on its own.” You kind-hearted idiot. That’s what Hikaru’s face seemed to be saying. “Anyways, don’t worry about it. Our family is rather simple. By tomorrow they’ll have forgotten all about this. If they say something to you tomorrow morning, just don’t reply. Time heals. Grandma often used to say: You can naught but forget painful things! You got it?”

Saying that, Hikaru softly hugged Youtarou. Her sweet smell enveloped Youtarou like a dream.

“Hey, where’s your reply? Say okay already.”

“Okay.” As the sound of her voice resonated inside his body, Youtarou felt a ticklish sensation.

 

Even though she said all that, that night, Youtarou lay awake in his bed, unable to sleep. Moonlight flowed through the windows curtains, making the room bright. Gazing at the ceiling, Youtarou was thinking again.

Even is she says that…Today’s events were unmistakably my fault.

He remembered what Tsurara had said to him in the hall.
And then, at the dining table. The face of Urara as her lips trembled with anger.
The red face of Rikka that looked like she was about to cry.
The guilt-filled, downcast head of Mari, who was always energetic.
The frustrated-looking face of Mizuki looking as if she wanted to say something but couldn’t. The small, scared, innocent face of Nijiko.
The faces of Hotaru and Haruka, who cooked such delicious food, and yet didn’t get angry when dinner time was completely ruined. Instead, they worried for everyone.
The faces of Yuuna and Seika, whose expression told him that they stood by him, and the rest of the small sisters.
Because of him, the dinner time that supposed to be a fun experience, became a really bad experience for all of them.

And then there was Hikaru. She had led him all the way back to his room. Her last smile came back to him. The sinking feeling in Youtarou’s chest subsided a little after seeing her smile.

Really now.

Our family is rather simple. She had said and just smiled silently. Wasn’t it possible that the simplest one was Hikaru? She had said they would forget by tomorrow, but it was possible that she was the only one who would forget.

Is she going to be fine, being an “Onee-chan” with that kind of attitude? Youtarou asked himself. Should I not be at this house after all?

A home that was most peaceful when he wasn’t there. Those very uncommon but friendly 19 sisters.

But because a foreign existence like me came here, the balance of this house has been destroyed. The painful words of Tsurara came back to him. I’m sure that I can’t really become a part of their family. I was supposed to have known that very well myself, but choose to feign ignorance until someone told me. Youtarou realized. I’m sure it was because I was very happy…

“Onii-chan is also a part of this family!” The words Rikka had shouted with a red face caused his chest to hurt.

I’m sorry, Rikka. I’m not a really a part of your family. In reality, I’m just a poor, lonely middle school student. I’m like a stray dog that your kind “Hikaru Onee-chan” picked up. Even if the family vase had some kind of mysterious power, I’m sure that I wouldn’t appear on it. So you shouldn’t really include me in something so important as your family. This past one month, even as I was surrounded by the kindness of everyone, I always felt guilty somewhere in my heart. I am only here by deceiving everyone else.

He wondered how many times he came close to confessing everything when his silence became too painful. Of course, the ones who made the plan were that intense mother and Miharu.

The more the little sisters showed him their gentle, cute, innocent selves, and the more they idolized him and called him “Onii-chan!” the more Youtarou felt like he couldn’t take it anymore.

I’m not really your brother. Tsurara. Urara. You two are right. Youtarou thought to himself. There is no need for a man in this house. I don’t have the right to be a part of this family. It’d be better if I left. “That would best for everyone…” he tried whispering to himself. He became a little bit more convinced.


The face of Hikaru when she got angry at the dining table and stood up. That kind smile he had seen as her last expression in the corridor.

“I’m sorry, Hikaru.” The first time he called her by her name. Though she wasn’t present.

Following some strange occurrences, he had found himself with ‘sibling’ of his own age. He had never known what to call her. He just tried to make do with “hey” or “um”.

“I’m sorry. Many happy things happened, and also many things that I am really grateful for…but…”
All alone in his dark room, he smiled. A smile that would be never seen by anyone. Yes. I will leave this house. That is the best way to preserve Hikaru’s smile.

“Thanks for everything. I’m really sorry that I did nothing but cause you trouble.”

I won’t cause any more trouble for you…

 

At that time, Hikaru was sleeping soundly. It was a very peaceful sleep. She had no grievances. That was because Youtarou had promised to not worry about the recent events anymore. That’s why, there was nothing left for Hikaru to think about.

 

Thank Goodness, now everything will be fine. We can convince Urara by telling her a train joke. When the times comes, she’ll just have to teach Youtarou how to appease Urara. They’ll just have to go see the railway crossing, or ride together in her favorite commuter train. As for Tsurara…well. We’ll leave her alone for now. Her getting angry is nothing unusual. Fufufu~.
 

That night, Hikaru dreamt of doing the “Thousand-knock5” exercise of baseball she used love in Middle-school with Youtarou.

 

The next day was a holiday. It was breakfast time in the dining room.

The morning menu was relatively simple: Milk tea and Belgian waffles. Fruit salad of strawberries, bananas, kiwi and oranges, topped off with papaya’s yogurt sauce.

“Is Onii-chan sleeping in late, I wonder?” Hotaru said, with a little concern in her voice.

“Ufufu~. Maybe Haruka should go wake him up?” Haruka, saying this and immediately leaving her seat was stopped by Hikaru.

“It’s fine, since it’s a holiday after all. He probably just wants to sleep well.”

“Ara, that’s a shame. And here Haruka was thinking that she would go wake up Ouji-sama like a gentle, refreshing spring breeze…6” As Haruka made this light joke, Urara made a retort in a small voice:

“There’s no way a breeze wind will blow in February, is there? I mean really, ever since that person arrived, Haruka Ane-sama has had a breeze wind constantly blowing through her mind…”

“Ara? Urara-chan, did you say something?” Haruka said, squinting her eyes while smiling.

“Uh-un. Nothing...” Panicking, Urara focused on getting a piece of banana out of the fruit salad while carefully avoiding the yoghurt, and put it in her mouth.
Really? Yoghurt over fruit salad…what is this, harassment!? Urara hated sour things, and of course Hotaru and Haruka both knew this fact. “Nothing…at all.”

“You shouldn’t be too picky with what you eat, you know. Sour things are good for your health, and of course, for your skin too.” Hearing Haruka talk in such a cheerful voice, thinking I don’t really care about my skin Urara put the next bite into her mouth absentmindedly. Sour~! The piece of kiwi that had accidently came in was causing her pain inside of her mouth.

“Men are really sloppy after all.” She whispered in a small voice that no one could hear. Even if it’s a holiday, oversleeping in the worst…

“Ah, Urara-chan! The sauce is dripping down!” The eighth daughter Kosame sitting next to her quickly took out a napkin.

“Ahh, this is bad— sorry…” Helping the panicking Urara wipe the sauce off of her skirt, Kosame knew for a fact that the Princess of Irrational Anger Urara actually hadn’t got much sleep last night.

 

Rikka, Kosame and Urara shared a room.
After the events of last night, maybe because she was worn out from the fighting, Rikka went to sleep unusually soon after they returned to their room.
“Urara-chan, if you say the same kinds of things tomorrow, then we’ll have a fight on our hands. If that happens, then I won’t help with your homework either. Hmph!” Before getting into bed last night, Rikka said that and, like a kid, stuck her tongue out at Urara.

Urara, in turn, said: “I don’t remember you ever helping me with my homework, and talking about that worthless man is filthy in and of itself, so whatever.” and got all worked up.

Hearing this, Rikka made a helpless pose and said: “Urara’s men hating has begun again.” She continued provoking Urara: “Saying “I hate him” all the time is more suspicious. Ah. I figured it out. Urara-chan, in reality, you actually like Onii-chan don’t you? Ahh, Rikka has it all figured out. It’s that, where the more you like someone, the more you want to tease them…Ah, surely, this is…”

Ah, Rikka-chan, that will have the opposite effect. But before Kosame could stop her…

“Rikka-chan!”

…Urara’s face became red and looked like it was filling up like a balloon.

“Ahh, Urara-chan, if that was the case then you should have said something sooner. I’m sure you were jealous of us playing with Onii-chan all the time, weren’t you?” Rikka shook her head exaggeratedly like she was a foreigner saying “Oh no!”
“It wasn’t like we were trying to exclude you or anything. If Urara-chan wanted to join us, then she should just have said so. Really, Urara-chan is like small child, somehow courageous, and really easy to tease!” Holding Urara’s head, she began furiously patting it.

“Hey- Wa-Wait!” Trying her best to get away, the color of Urara’s face became more and more red. But, seeing the face she was making as she struggled— huh? Kosame realized something.

Maybe, Urara-chan is feeling a little regretful?

That night. After enjoying the one sided pretend-pro-wrestling, Rikka had fallen asleep like a log. Kosame realized that Urara, couldn’t fall asleep and was just tossing and turning. Kosame had always been a light sleeper, and even a small presence or slight movement was enough to wake her up.

“Having trouble sleeping, Urara-chan?” In the room that was completely dark because Urara hated the orange light of the night, Kosame tried asking in a small voice.

“Sorry, was I being noisy?”

So she really was awake. “Uh-un. I just woke up by chance. Do you want to go to the toilet?” The bedside clock showed 1:00.

“Should I go with you?” Urara asked.

“Eh? Ah…Yes.” It wasn’t like Kosame wanted to go to the toilet, but she thought it would be a little bit of change of scenery for Urara, so she agreed.

The already fully awake Urara helped the still hazy Kosame get up. In these kinds of situations, Urara was the surprisingly attentive type. She gently covered up Kosame’s shoulders with the gown that she had set down a chair.

Urara-chan really is kind. If only she would who the same kindness to Onii-chan too…Kosame couldn’t help but think that way. The two softly left the room.

 

After going to the toilet, the two were on the way back, when Urara suddenly asked as if she was confirming: “Kosame-chan, you are also vexed that the family vase was broken, aren’t you?”

“Uh…” For a moment, Kosame hesitated to answer. The family vase the great-grandmother treasured. It was a family heirloom that was supposed to have mysterious powers, and was a symbol of the unity and history of the family. But more than anything else, it was sign of their happiness, with a lot of memories attached to it.

“Yes, I was very vexed when I heard it broke, but…”

“But…?” As is she had been expecting that word, Urara asked while looking down without moving.

“But, just because the vase broke, for us to start arguing amongst ourselves makes me even sadder. Just like Haruka Onee-chan said, the vase will not return to its former shape, and it’s not like Onii-chan and the rest did it on purpose…”

“But it’s something so horrible that it can’t be reversed.”

“Yes, I understand that. Kosame does feel very apologetic towards great-grandma, since her precious vase has broken…”

Urara was startled. She hadn’t even thought of that. How dare you break something so precious to great-grandma! Shouting and complaining, she only felt the anger that something of hers had been broken.

“...but in the in the end, Kosame will choose everyone staying friends over the vase. Ehehe. But, I’m sure that’s because I am a cowardly person, and am not very brave like Urara-chan and Rikka-chan. That’s why I can’t say aloud what I am really thinking. I am really bad at fights and at getting angry, so…”

“Kosame-chan is really great, isn’t she?” Urara said.

“No I am not! Kosame thinks that Urara-chan, who’s always smart and says what she wants clearly, and leads everyone else, and proposes so many things, even though she’s one who’s supposed to be one year junior, is just plain amazing. Kosame wants to become like Urara-chan.” Kosame said panicking, as her glasses fogged up because of the difference between the corridor in winter and the room they had come from. Her look was very funny.

“I want to become a kind, honest girl like Kosame.” Urara said, laughing.

“It’d be better if we to were combined into one.” Hooked in, Kosame also retorted back, laughing.

“Ah, even Kosame-chan is beginning to say stuff like that. I am always being told that by Miharu Ane-sama. But she should know that by now, since her experience as an elder sister has been so long. She has 18 little sisters you know? It’s something she should know well enough by now.” Urara said, making an exasperated face.

“If you are going to be apologizing to Onii-chan tomorrow, should Kosame go together with you?” Kosame said.

Urara’s feet stopped suddenly. Before the two had realized, they were back in front of their room.

“Un. Thanks. But it’s fine. I’ll be alright.” She nosily turned the knob of the door. The load on her chest was a bit lighter now, and she felt like she could go to sleep. Tomorrow, she will take out her favorite Keihin-Touhoku-line train set that she had acquired recently and play with that. Tomorrow is a holiday…

 

“ThisisbadThisisbadThisbad—” Yuuna and Seika came running into the dining room.

“What’s the fuss about?” Mizore had one last piece of waffle on her plate, as if she had been carefully saving it for last. She had a little melted margarine and red-bean paste spread on top of it, and was about to happily stuff herself with it when she was interrupted.

“Onii-chan has disappeared!”

“Ehhhh~!?”

Mizore choked, and had to have her back massaged by Hotaru. Urara upturned the plate filled with fruit salad, and her skirt became covered with yoghurt. And Hikaru…
Hikaru stood up with a crash, her face pale.

 

Why? Hikaru’s heart was filled with question marks.

They searched the whole room for a note that may have been left behind, but there was nothing. Various small articles had been removed from the room that had belonged to Hikaru before so that Youtarou could stay in it, but now, even Youtarou’s things were gone, and only a drab emptiness was left behind. The only thing that had been left behind, was a small bat and ball for kids that Hikaru had owned since she was child and had really treasured back then. She had forgotten it in the room. When she remembered it later after he had arrived, she decided to leave it there, thinking that he may use it. Looking at the empty room, Hikaru stood stock still in a daze.

Seika and Yuuna’s faces were contorted and the looked like they were about to cry.

“Yuuna thought that Onii-chan was late, so she would go in and wake him up! So, to cast the “Happy Lucky Honeymoon~! Yuuna’s tiny, clever Baku7 will eat Onii-chan’s dreams!” spell, she opened the door, but Onii-chan wasn’t there! Uwaan~”

“Seika and everyone did a really bad thing to Onii-chan yesterday, so we thought we’d go to apologize to him. Because the ones who broke the family vase was actually—”

“I know that!” Hikaru snapped without waiting for the trembling Seika’s words. Seika flinched.

“Ah…sorry.” Even while saying that, Hikaru was unable to suppress her impatience. She was feeling like she had been feeling yesterday evening.

She had said “Don’t worry about it” while lightly hugging his somewhat thin body. Hadn’t he laughed and nodded? She felt sick to the stomach at the extent of her own thick-headedness.

“Onii-channn~!”

“We’re really sorry!!”

“Where did you go?”

The sisters were crying for their brother. Unable to stay there any longer, Hikaru left the room, a little dizzy.

 

The criminals had returned to the scene.
Without learning their lesson, they had gathered in the large hall again. Rikka, Seika, Yuuna and Mari had their heads together and were discussing things.

“There’s nothing left to do but go out and search for him!”

“Yuuna agrees!”

“If Mari goes to get him, I’m sure Fersen will be moved very much!”

Only Seika was saying realistic things. “But do you know where to look for him?”

Rikka put a finger in her mouth and thought for a while. “Umm, I guess, somewhere near the croquette shop on the shopping street?”

“Why?”

“Because Onii-chan hasn’t even had had breakfast, you know? He’s bound to be really hungry!”

“I see, that’s our Rikka-chan for you, smart! “You can’t fight with an empty stomach” is what they say, right Seika-chan?” Hearing Yuuna, the “Three kingdoms” loving Seika smiled wryly.

“Hm. But would he be so close? If he wanted to the croquette shop, he wouldn’t have run away from the house.”

“Yeah, that’s what Mari thinks too! Let’s see…if you wanted to run away from home, wouldn’t you normally go to place where your heart feels at peace? If it was Mari Antoinette, she would go to Petit Trianon. If it was Mari, lemme see…I would go to the secret base we built in the mountains behind the house. Bringing along lots of Gugelhupfs, macaroons, chocolate candy and Finanshie filled with almonds with me…”

“Great Mari! That’s a nice idea! I’m sure Onii-chan is also at that secret base! But because he’s a boy so instead of sweets he must have taken along some croquettes— oh wait, we just decided he didn’t go to the croquette shop, umm— taken something like cup noodles or something along.” Rikka was so happy she twirled around.

“Eh? But there is no water there, so how will you make cup noodles? Let’s see, if it was Yuuna, she would take along something better, something softer…like Marshmallows, Strawberry rice cakes, sweet-bean bread and milk—”

“Aahn, that kind of thinking is a little nuts, Yuuna-chan.” ChiChiChi, Rikka shook her finger back and forth. “If you take along something like sweet-bean bread along, the bean-paste loving Mizore Onee-chan will go after you and find you immediately. The great arrest of the runaway Yuuna!” She grabbed Yuuna’s hand.

“Uwaan~! I have been found!” Yuuna did a crying impression while laughing.

“Stop it you two! You know this is not the time to be going on and on about that!” Seika couldn’t take it anymore and got angry.

“Yeah, you guys are just talking on and on about eatables.” Even Mari got angry at them. “When Mari said secret base, she meant only in the case of Mari. Fersen must have some other place that Fersen likes. What are we going to do if we don’t think about that?” The elder sister among the kindergarten sisters put her hands on her waist and struck a Queen pose. Both Rikka and Yuuna both went “Yes your majesty” and following the royal decree began thinking as hard as they could.

Places that are familiar to Onii-chan. Places Onii-chan likes. As they thought about it, they became more and more sad. Maybe, we don’t know anything about Onii-chan at all. They remembered his smile. This past one month and a half, he had always played with them whenever they asked without declining even once. All they remembered was his face that looked like he was having fun.

Was Onii-chan really having fun at those times? They got worried about it now.

“Well, he’s bound to have climbed on board a train, I’m sure.” At that moment, they heard a voice from the direction of the corridor.

“U, Urara-chan…” Seika was a bit surprised. Before any of them had noticed, Urara and beside her Kosame had opened the sliding door of the big room and were standing there with little bags hung from their shoulders.

“Mari, you can still get on the train for free…You three, do you still have this month’s pocket money?” Urara asked. Seika nodded, and Yuuna and Rikka looked at each other uneasily.

“We are going with you guys too!” Urara said with an expression that said that it was final.

“Ehhhh? But, didn’t Urara-chan—” Yuuna said, trembling.

“Waa! Good girl! Urara-chan has finally become honest! Wow. Urara-chan also loves Onii-chan after all—” Rikka tried to jump on Urara again, but Urara wasn’t about fall for that again. Urara lightly repelled her with one hand, and reached out with her other hand.

“You’re wrong! I am not going to stop hating men! The fact that men are smelly, filthy creatures is still true, and I don’t have any reason to stop him in that regard. But, be it a man or a woman, that person is a part of our family, isn’t he? What choice do I have? I can’t have Kosame and you guys blaming me for driving him out either. And anyways, even if I didn’t follow him around 24/7, the place that that person is likely to go to, even I have an inkling about that.”

“Eh? Where is that?” Yuuna asked.

“Think back. Whenever he talked about his life before he came here, he only talked about two things: His school and his house. A house that he lived in all alone with his grandmother that was beside a river.”

“Ah!”

“His old home…” The sisters only had the image of Youtarou after he had arrived. They had been so busy living with him in the present, they had rarely thought about his past.

“Yes, that’s a good idea! Then, let’s go to the house that Onii-chan lived in before. Let’s GO!”

“Ah, Rikka-chan, you know the address!?” Kosame asked happily.

“Uh-un. I don’t?”

“Rikka-chan…”

Even Mari had a worried expression on her face. Urara spoke up with some irritation in her voice: “Like I said, we need money.”

“Eh?”

“I’ve asked him. I’ve asked that person which station he lived close to before.  Ah, don’t get me wrong okay? I was just a little interested in the station…” Urara said, embarrassed, as if she was using an excuse she was not used to. “The station is on the Denentoshi-line. The subway line goes directly there, and is in fact favorite of mine.” Leaving the Urara who had naturally broken into a smile talking about trains, Rikka and Yuuna left in a hurry to find their wallets.

“Uwaan! What should I do! Seika-chan, if Yuuna doesn’t have any money in her wallet because of the mass-buying-eating she did the other day, would lend her some?”

 

Hikaru was running. She didn’t know what else to do, so she had left home alone. She searched here and there, just blindly. Around the station, near fast food stalls, in the bookstore and the CD shop. The net café, the family restaurant. Where ever she could think of. She didn’t know where she was headed. Just, doing her best to find a trace of his face. His voice. His presence. Leaving the rest to her instincts. While doing this, her body automatically headed towards that place. To disappear like this, she would never allow it.

That…idiot. Being swayed while riding the train, Hikaru looked outside the window. I thought I completely convinced him last night. If I am too simple and think too less, then he thinks a little too much. That over-kind…guy. I’ll say it as many times as it takes. My…idiot guy.

The smell of water came to her. Before she knew it, she had arrived near the riverbed where she had first talked with Youtarou.

 

They got off at the station that ran along the river. The six of them approximately followed the main street that continued on from the station.

“Onii-chan was never raised along with us ever since he was little, right? He hadn’t even entered the family vase when he was little, so I thought that he must’ve been pretty lonely up till now. So I thought that if we found him in the painting on the family vase, he would feel that he really was connected to us. Of course, Onii-chan can’t fit in the vase anymore…” Rikka talked as they walked. It was a little late, but she had plenty of excuses.

Hearing Rikka talk like that, Yuuna couldn’t help but laugh. “If there was vase Onii-chan could fit in, wouldn’t that be awesome? Yuuna would also want to get in with him. Doesn’t it sound fun? Like Aladdin’s magic lamp. The Jin that was living hidden in the lamp, when called out would come out with poof. And then would fulfill lots of wishes for Onii-chan.” She spread her arms wide and pretended to be a magic spirit. She looked to funny so Seika was also roped in and began laughing too.

“That just means that Yuuna-chan wants to get in the vase instead of Onii-chan.” she said. “But Seika also wanted to see if the child representing Onii-chan was on the vase or not. Seika definitely thinks it was painted there, you almost feel like it was destiny. An oath that even if your birthplace was different, when you die, you will face your doom together…Kyaaa! It’s like the “Oath of the Peach Garden”!

These people never did learn.

Walking along, Seika spun once, and then smiled as is she was in play and made a bowing-in-thanks pose. “I’ll be serving you with my life, my dear revered Aniue-sama!” At the end of her arm she had spread reverently was…

“This is…Onii-chan’s house?” Before they knew it, they had arrived at their destination. Seeing the decrepit public house with vines growing on it, Mari’s eyes went round.

“It…It seems that way.” The lollipop Rikka had in her mouth fell to the ground with a plop.

After making a scene in the police box in front of the station, they had finally learned about house where a funeral was held recently. Following that lead, the house they had arrived at was just too old.

Urara bit her lip. “Looks…pretty bad.”

“It’s like a horror house.” Yuuna murmured.

Kosame was moved to tears. “Onii-chan grew up here, didn’t he?”

The nowadays rare 3 story apartment had a style that looked like it was built in the 1950s. At the entrance —if it could be called that, since it was made with cracked, gray concrete and looked like the entrance to a cave that didn’t get enough sunlight— was a large signboard. On it was an eviction notice. According to that, the inhabitants of the buildings were supposed to empty the apartment in spring two years prior, when their advance payment contract ended. Next to it, 9 warped mailboxes with their red paint peeling off were installed in a 3X3 grid on the wall. On 8 of them, as if to prevent anything from being put inside, X marks were made with packing tape. As they approached the remaining one rather fearfully, they noticed Youtarou’s name written on it.

Everyone went quiet. Nobody said anything. They were all imagining.
Rikka, and Urara, and Kosame, and Seika, and Yuuna, and even Mari, all of them. They were imagining what kind of life their Onii-chan had led there. After his grandmother had passed away, he had lived here, all alone.

“It was Yuuna, I would just have started crying.” Yuuna said with a face that looked like she was going to start crying any moment.

“I wonder with what kind of feelings Onii-chan lived here…” Rikka murmured.

“I’m sure he was very lonely.” Seika replied, sniffing.

“Onii-chan…” Kosame took off her glasses to wipe her eyes. Only Urara got mad.

“You guys, stop it! Don’t you know that’s rude?” Everyone froze. “I’m sure he was living here very happily. Are you guys dumb?” Her hands were shaking. “Otherwise, he would never have become such an idiotic person. Taking on the blame for a vase that he didn’t even break…”

So she had realized it after all.

“He’s so cowardly that even if someone like me got angry at him and said so many horrible things, he wouldn’t even say anything in his defense…”

Seika made a face that said “That’s not true.

“If you tell him to get out he obediently leaves…”

Mari crossed her arms like she was saying “That’s what it means to not understand the maiden heart.”

“If I said the same things I said to him to Miharu Ane-sama, do you know how much I would have been scolded…?”

Kosame couldn’t help but break into a light smile.

 

Around the same time, Youtarou was sitting on the side of the river carrying a large sports bag. He was a little tired. Being so close to the ocean, the river around here was very wide. There were not many people around the huge riverbed. It is pretty cold after all. Youtarou shivered a little. Ah…What do I do now? I just left without a place to go, but this is unexpectedly pretty boring.

He had a thought earlier, and went to check up on the house he had lived in earlier. But the door was firmly closed, and the apartment’s appearance was now like that of a ruin. He did feel a slight pain in his chest, but mysteriously he was able to gaze upon it with calm and peaceful feelings. The public apartment building looked like it was the same age as grandma. When he looked closely at that abandoned building, Youtarou became aware of the fact that an era had come to end. He felt somewhat refreshed.

Now then, what should I do now? Just because I’m feeling refreshed, doesn’t mean my troubles are over. I still have nowhere to go. That kind of thinking was also surprisingly fresh, too.

I wonder why? I just lived with those girls for one and a half month, and I have completely adopted their positive way of thinking. No wait, it’s less like positive thinking, and more like…no tension at all.

He smiled wryly and thought back on the things he had learned from those girls. Their thoughts were never one. Everyone had their own opinions, their own understanding. If there were 10 of them, there would be 10 different feelings and opinions. If there were 19, there would be 19 different feelings and opinions. That was their way of thinking. And that fact that they were kind enough to accept each other despite that. And they were strong.

He remembered everyone’s faces. Rikka and Urara, fighting. The red faced Seika. The almost crying Yuuna and the downcast Mari. And then, their flip sides…Rikka who would begin dancing spontaneously. Urara who would get serious spontaneously. Seika happily talking about Guan Yu Shogun. Yuuna casting magic spells left and right. Mari and Mizuki playing with blocks…And Hikaru.

Hikaru had said that she had to become strong and take up the male role in the family so she could protect her sisters, but was there any need for that? Those sisters had so much kindness and strength. If he had to compare them, he would say that they were all as strong and kind as Hikaru. He remembered the feeling of being lightly hugged by Hikaru.

I am a guy after all. I’m of course not her long lost brother, I’m a complete stranger that could do anything I wanted to her. I get the feeling that that innocent defenselessness is what I should be working to protect.

Youtarou remembered when they had first talked on this riverbed, Hikaru had said that she had to become even stronger to protect her sisters. Youtarou was slightly worried…but then he stopped thinking. If he wanted to find excuses, he could find a ton of them.

The simple fact of the matter is, that house is too good for me. To the younger sisters who have been so kind to me, I’m really sorry. It’s like Urara said, I don’t have the right to be a part of your family. It’s unfortunate, but I was not a long lost sibling of yours. I would have been really, really happy if I was born in this family. I learned to be able so think so honestly like that from watching you all. To be honest, I was just a little jealous of Urara when she was talking so proudly about the vase that told the history of her family. That’s because I have nothing like that. I was like duckweed in a cloudy pond in the garden, floating and drifting to that house with nothing but myself. No property or wealth, no family. Nothing particularly of note in my short history. Compared to you, I’m like cheap tissue paper like existence. But. From now on, I’m sure I’ll remember all of you again and again like this. That lively and fussy place where the cheers of joyous girls resonate. Where every one of you has found a place for herself. The fun times will forever remain in my memories, unchanged.

I wonder. Would Urara forgive it if it exists just in my mind? Would she forgive the dream that all of you are really my family…?

 

He stared at the silent, peaceful, almost still surface of the lake for a while.

Now then. He began thinking about his wallet, which he had checked earlier. I drank coffee at the Family Restaurant, which cost 280 yen. That leaves 5846 yen. It’s a bit too less to go on a date with a girl. It’s so-so for a 15 year olds wallet. But thinking of tonight’s stay, it’ll be a bit tight. Maybe…I should look for a friend that would let me stay, or…should I finally make my debut as net café live-in? He suddenly realized that his stomach was grumbling. Well, for now, I guess I need 300 yen. It’s pretty cold after all. I guess I’ll go visit the Takoyaki stall on the road above the riverbed.  

 

So that it wouldn’t be at an angle and spill out, he was holding the pack along with the white plastic bag in this hand. It was warming his hand which was completely cold. The irresistible smell of the sauce and dried bonito flakes was drifting out of it.

 

When he removed the rubber band from around the pack, it made a loud pakkan sound and opened. There were two toothpicks attached.

This is pretty hard to decide somehow. Should I use one toothpick to stab it or two? He stabbed a piece with one of the toothpicks. He left one, even though there wasn’t anyone to eat it with that would use the other one.

I think I really have been influenced too much. He tried putting a piece of Takoyaki that wasn’t steaming in his mouth, and it was unexpectedly hot.
“Ah, h-hot…!” But, it’s delicious. Tears welled up in his eyes. Probably because the Takoyaki was too hot and delicious.

At that moment, “I finally found you, you idiot!” a voiced came to him from the sky, and at the same time, BAM! Something came flying and hit Youtarou directly in the head.

“Ita~!” The thing that had hit is head and then rolled down a fell between his legs was small square wrist band made of white and blue terrycloth. The fact that this wristband had enough weight that it could be thrown with enough power to hurt when it hit was because Hikaru had secretly modified it to carry around sand in it for training purposes.

Youtarou turned and looked back. The one standing there, holding a plastic bag pointed his way, was Hikaru. “This is your treat, got that?”

Even though he had left the house prepared for the worst, when Hikaru came into his view, he somehow felt that this was not unexpected at all. Youtarou smiled despite himself. His eyes filled with tears. He looked upwards so they wouldn’t spill out. Hikaru, who had ran down the slope of the embankment, was a little out of breath. The smile on her face…was shining and sparkling. Even though it was the middle of winter, there was trace of sweat on her forehead.

“What, you bought it too?” Looking at Youtarou’s hand with surprise, Hikaru laughed embarrassedly. “Idiot. You’re supposed to mention these things earlier. Now I bought one too!”

 

Facing the river, the two were sitting side by side. Hikaru, sitting rather defenselessly with her knees drawn up while wearing a mini-skirt, gave him a piece of Takoyaki she had bought.

“Ah, h-hot!”

Hikaru laughed. “This isn’t that hot, you know. Are you may be bad with hot things?” Saying that, Hikaru clumsily picked a piece and put it in her mouth.

“Ah, hot!”

“See, I told you it was hot.” Seeing Hikaru’s bewildered face, Youtarou began laughing too.

Ahahaha!” Just what it was that was so funny, even he didn’t know. The laughter just wouldn’t stop welling up from the bottom of his stomach. For a while, both of them laughed together. Then, when both of their voices died down naturally, Hikaru, without looking at Youtarou, said calmly.

“You’re coming back, aren’t you?”

“…..”

“I mean, you now have no other home than our place.” Hikaru said, a little cautious of whether he would be hurt by those words or not. Youtarou remembered the appearance of the public apartment that was almost in ruins.

“I mean…” Hikaru continued. “It’s not really...like I want you to come home.”

It’s not!? Then how is it!?

“It’s just that it will be troubling for us if you don’t come back.” Hikaru said with a discontent look. “Do you understand?”

Yes. That’s what he wanted to reply. “But, I’m sure that at that house, it’ll better if I—”

Youtarou was about to say when Hikaru interrupted him. “Idiot. Don’t say that.”

Hearing those words cut down his own so fast, Youtarou tried to persist. “No I mean really—”

Seeing that Youtarou was being persistent, Hikaru gulped down the remaining pieces of Takoyaki and said to Youtarou: “I told you not to say that! Do you know what a family means? A family is not people you are supposed to be so reserved around. Have you forgotten already? The day after you came to our home, you made a promise in front of Miharu Ane, Mizore Ane, Haruka and me that you would become our family.”

Would you call that a promise? Half the reason he had agreed was spur of the moment…Is what he thought, but since Hikaru was technically right, he didn’t say anything.

“……”

“And yesterday night too, you promised that you wouldn’t worry about it anymore, and seeing your smile, I was able to completely feel at ease.” He remembered, again, the feeling of the body that had gently embraced him last night. As a family member, as a friend, they should have shared their feelings, and yet…

Wrinkles were forming on Hikaru’s forehead. “Oi! You. Say something! Why are you clamming up on me? You worry on your own, then decide to be reserved on your own…without saying anything to me, just smiling…” Hikaru’s hands began shaking, her expression becalming more and more grave. “You don’t even trust me that much!? Even though we are family. We’re even of the same age. I was supposed to be the closest family member to you, and yet…Ahh! Now I’m getting angry.”

Hikaru suddenly said in a low voice “The family rule number 1 “Don’t be reserved” and rule number 4 “Don’t tell lies” have been broken, right?”

Eh~!?

Hikaru, who was sitting beside Youtarou, suddenly got up, and grabbed Youtarou’s collar…

“Eeii YAH~!”

…and threw him. In that instant, Youtarou flew.

Just as he was realizing that something was happening to his body, the blue sky and the green earth had already switched places and rotated back into place. Before he could think of anything else, his back connected with the ground with a loud don noise. His limbs sprawled pitifully, like an upturned insect.

Awawawawa…He couldn’t speak due to the shock. In that moment, his world had been literally turned upside down.

Seoi-Nage8…One blow.

As Hikaru straightened herself up, she was a little out of breath. Her cheeks were flushed. To Youtarou sprawled on the ground, Hikaru’s childish —considering her age— panties were fully visible, but of course, now was not the time to be admiring the view.

“With that, I’ll forgive the violation of the family rules. If you don’t want this happening you again, you might want to follow the family rules from now on.” Hikaru said, getting down on all fours, leaning over Youtarou’s face and suddenly brining her face closer to his. Her long, silky, chestnut-colored hair lightly fell on his face. She had big eyes.

“Don’t you know? A family member doesn’t have the option to ‘quit’ his family. Have you heard that?” Her serious expression didn’t waver one bit. “One can’t quit his family of his own violation. Even if you die, your family is your family, forever. No matter how far you run away, you can’t run away from the fact that you are family. Your family is not something you choose. It’s just something that is decided. That’s why, don’t forget. Forever and ever, even if you die, for us, you are a part of our family.”

Her confession was like a small, awkward, heart-to-heart between two boys. But Hikaru was unmistakably a beautiful girl. This was further proved by the dazzling, healthy thighs extending from her mini-skirt. Seeing them made Youtarou’s heart beat a little faster.

 

It was sunset, and the two were walking along the riverbed, headed towards the station, when they heard the “Yuuyake Koyake9” chime, encouraging the return home. In the sky, which was still a bit light, stars were beginning to appear.

Before he knew it, Hikaru had slipped her hand into Youtarou’s. He wondered how many years it had been since he had walked while holding hands with anyone.

Ahh, I’m returning home…Youtarou thought.

 

And then, after they had passed the Takoyaki stand, they met several small figures running in their direction.

“Ahh! We followed the smell of Takoyaki, and found Onii-chan!”

“Uwaan~! Onii-chan, I’m sorry!”

“Please don’t go anywhere anymore!”

“I promise I’ll be good girl from now on!”

He heard both sad cries and joyous shouts…


Translator notes:

1. A poikilothermic organism is an organism whose internal temperature fluctuates considerably.

2. Mizuki talks in an old Japanese style. So Anija is just her saying Onii-chan.

3. The term Tsukomogami is generally understood to be applied to virtually any object that has reached their 100th birthday and thus become alive and self-aware.

4. Kenchinjiru us a clear soup made with root vegetables and tofu.

5. A practice of pitching balls until you are too exhausted to stand.

6. Haruka’s name, written Harukaze, literally means a spring-breeze.

7. A Baku is a dream-eating spirit.

8. A Seoi-Nage is a shoulder throw in Judo.

9. Yuuyake Koyake is a melody that is used as a signal in Japan. It means that children have finished school and can go home.

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