The meeting spot was a rest area along the pathway to and from school, unsuitable for meeting up during lunch break. Nobody liked coming out here around this time of year, especially during spring and autumn. “Sorry for calling you out here.” “It’s nothing. Sorry for making you wait in such terrible weather.” “Don’t worry about it.” The person I was meeting with was Horikita. However, it wasn’t the younger Suzune, but rather the elder Manabu. “…Greetings.” Tachibana bowed her head slightly. Despite both of them having left the student council, Tachibana still continued to stay beside the elder Horikita. It went without saying that their relationship seemed to go beyond that of a mere boss and subordinate. Tachibana usually tended to be a little abrasive with me, but today she seemed somewhat reserved. I wondered if it was because she had previously fallen into Nagumo’s trap and had forced Class A to take action to prevent her expulsion. “I hear a supplemental special exam has begun.” “News travels fast. Well, it’ll be over soon enough.” “A few first-years have already come to consult the matter with us third-years. Though, there probably aren’t any of us who’ll be able to help in any meaningful way.” “As expected, there aren’t any upperclassmen willing to lend out their private points?” “It would be difficult. The same special exams are being carried out every year, but it’s effectively on a set three-year rotation. This is in order to prevent currently enrolled students from leaking any exam information.” It was just as I had suspected, although it was fairly obvious. “The special exam given to the third-years will probably be decided by the number of private points we have. We don’t have enough to leave any behind for our underclassmen.” I see. This was probably the reason why Tachibana’s complexion didn’t look very good. Because of her mistake, her class was forced to hand over 20 million points. Her reaction was understandable considering that those points would have been important for overcoming their own special exam. “I’m so sorry. If only I were more reliable…” Driven by her guilty conscience, Tachibana proceeded to lower her head to the elder Horikita. “You’re doing something unnecessary.” “Ah, y-yes…” He proceeded to scold her. I wondered how many times she had already apologized to him. “Have you heard from your little sister?” “Suzune isn’t going to approach me.” “This special exam has been unprecedented. There needs to be someone willing to advise her.” In reality, Horikita was desperate. This was clear enough given her recent contact with Ry?en. Instead of getting anything out of him, Ry?en had shut her down completely. “If that’s the case, wouldn’t it be fine for that someone to be you, Ayanok?ji?” “You’re asking for the impossible. Horikita and I are far too different.” “So you’re saying that she and I are similar?” “At least more so than me.” “…” There was a moment of silence before I spoke up again. “She’s expected to make the tough decisions from now on, whether she wants to or not. You’re the only one who can guide her.”
“Even if that’s true, that’s something she’ll have to decide on her own.” He wasn’t wrong. He shouldn’t force his younger sister to come to a decision. Everything would ultimately have to be judged and decided by Horikita Suzune herself. “So, what exactly did you call me out here for?” Having a deep, long conversation in this cold weather wasn’t preferable for any of us. Since he wasn’t fond of talking about his younger sister, I thought I’d move on to another topic. “It’s about Nagumo. I wanted to know if you’ve noticed him make any unusual movements.” “Is that really something we had to talk about in person?” “Actually, I’m the one who asked for it.” In an unexpected way, I found out the reason why this meeting had been arranged. “I want to know why you’ve been acknowledged.” I could see traces of frustration in Tachibana’s eyes. Whatever the reason, the elder Horikita had accepted her request to set up a meeting with me here, so he was probably interested in helping her mature. “I’ve been acknowledged? He’s probably never thought of me as anything but disrespectful.” “I know that.” Hearing such a clear, decisive answer from her stung my heart a bit. “Still… I’ve decided to try broadening my horizons at least a little. You may have potential worth recognizing that I’m just not able to see.” “What’s your impression after meeting with Ayanok?ji once again?” “Honestly, I don’t have the slightest idea.” “I thought you’d say that.” I found myself perplexed by their conversation. Perhaps because of the strange, yet somewhat relaxing atmosphere, the elder Horikita let himself show a slight smile. “It’s a shame that we’ll only know Ayanok?ji’s true value after we’ve already graduated.” “No, nothing will change, even after you two graduate.” “I think so too.” Tachibana gave her thoughts as well, agreeing with me. They had called me out into such cold weather just for this. Well, I suppose this was also a testament to how large the wound Tachibana has been carrying actually was. I spoke up again. “Nagumo hasn’t shown any interest in me because of his obsession with you. If you want him dealt with, you might as well face him head-on, just this once.” This wasn’t the type of request I should be making of a man about to graduate from Class A. It was just that, one way or another, Nagumo would surely make his move. No, it was entirely possible that he already has. “…Nagumo-kun has been in close contact with the third-year’s Class B recently. I think he’s going to offer them his complete support, just like he did at the training camp.” For the sake of defeating his long-term rival, Nagumo may have offered to help demote Horikita Manabu and his class down to Class B. “There’s always something else. I just want to pass the time in peace.” “If you really want to do that moving forward, this problem with Nagumo… You can’t afford to neglect it like this.” The elder Horikita was confident that something terrible was going to take place next year. After Horikita Manabu takes his leave and there’s no longer anyone he’s obsessed with defeating, Nagumo would start to act violently, doing whatever he pleased. That is to say, I would suffer greatly if I didn’t take the necessary countermeasures by then. “I’ll do what I can.” I gave him this answer for the time being.