The Wolf Lord's Lady

Chapter 19: The return of you and me
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Chapter 19: The return of you and me

We stopped once at Kolkia town, bathing in hot water, washing the dirt, and adjusting our outfits.

The town that was cleared away from the black, mourning clothes, adjusted itself for the festival’s preparation. Each house was adorned with many flowers, the decoration chiming from the wind that I couldn’t tell whether they were made of colored glass or gems, both adults and children were in high spirit.

I wouldn’t have expected that the black clothes were hanging to cover these decorations. The ash-colored town is completely buried in many colors instead, just like a flower field in spring.

However, as much as I regret it, I can’t see Kolkia town properly.

The reason was Kaid; as soon as the news that he was well started to spread, he must return to the mansion as fast as possible. Moreover, I am also to return with him.

If that was the only reason, there wouldn’t be any problem to gaze outwards from the window, but an incident occurred. After the hot bath, I broke into fever, had my wounds treated, and had a medicine to reduce the fever. At that point, it was still good, there was no problem at all. However, the antidote that I got at the end, was the problem.

I tasted something sweet at first. Thinking that the antidote was unexpectedly easy to drink, a misunderstanding, I’m sure it was for protecting me.

I even became unable to tell if it was bitter, spicy, hot, or cold. Moreover, I literally felt separated from my senses. You see, the sweets that Kaid carried all the time, for some reasons, could it be that they weren’t for feeding hungry kids, but to cleanse his palate from the antidote’s taste? It was a huge shock when he poured the antidote into my mouth. I couldn’t even tell the taste. It was a shock of that scale.

The doctor spoke that consuming it raw might be too harsh with its taste. Also, he had tried to improve the taste for a long time now, but somehow, after all these years, the taste had become even more potent.

Turning his face away, he must have recalled the moment he said that. That was not an exaggeration, joke, or anything as such; that was the reality I couldn’t escape from.

“Sobs…….”

I feel that the shocking taste still remains in my mouth, so I spit out the discomfort while groaning. Every time my consciousness returns, I drink some tea and get some sweets, but the discomfort is so stubborn that it’s scary.

Inside the carriage, I’m lying flat on my right side, where my chest doesn’t hurt. There’s a light, warm blanket draped over me.

While the carriage was hurrying, out of concern for the impacts, the view from the slightly open window was too rushed, but it was quiet when we started dozing off.

Yes, we.

In my one-sided field of vision, I saw Kaid sitting across me. With his arms crossed, he even snored a little, and I stare at him absentmindedly. Different from me who dozed off all the time, when we passed the town, Kaid rode a horse, displaying their lord’s well-being to the townspeople, easing their anxiety. Starting from the place he passed through, the mourning ended. Right now, all across Laius, the news of the lord’s safety must have spread.

The lifted curtain didn’t say “Liberation Festival”, it was “Wolf Resurrection Festival” instead. Kaid, who worried about whether it would be established as such from now on, was really cute, but that’s a secret.

Though he must have been way more exhausted than I am, his posture never revealed that exhaustion, not even a word of it. As a lord, he’s done splendidly. However, as a human being, I wonder if it’s alright.

If Isidore is here, he would have said something, but even though we set together to the mansion, he’s not in the carriage with us. He was riding a horse instead with the other soldiers. I know that since we marched in hurry, the number of carriages was kept to a minimum. Still, even though it would be better if we were in the same carriage, he said “absolutely no way” without any hesitation. Tilting my head and looking at Kaid, who responded by saying that “if I were in Isidore’s shoes, I would have declined too”. I wanted to cry to their straight faces, had I been snoring too loud!? They both strongly denied it, but I was too anxious to sleep on my back from then on.

While listening to the clattering wheels as they spun, I’m still staring at Kaid absentmindedly. His eyelashes are unexpectedly long, though unlike a girl. It’s just mysterious. Mysterious, interesting, strange, so much that I want to get closer to look at it, until I can tell every lash apart, until he feels ticklish or itchy. It’s a luxurious problem for me, whose relationship with him is close enough to be forgiven for it, something embarrassing and to be proud of, making me feel as ticklish as I thought.

When I put a blanket on him until it covers his mouth, his golden eyes fluttered upon without saying anything. He blinks twice, three times, searching until he finds my eyes, then smiles tenderly. It drew the blanket up until it covers his nose.

“My lady? Do you need to drink?”

I wryly smile unconsciously.

“That is what I said when you were awake just now. Great job, Kaid.”

“I can sleep along the way, so it’s not that much.”

Does Kaid say something like that in this harsh trip, because it’s his thoughtful act, or because he’s too used to his rigorous training? I thought it was both, maybe, let’s catch up with him this time.

“Where are we, now?”

“Please wait a bit.”

Taking his head out from the window, Kaid confirmed by looking at the immediate surrounding. He took out the map from his chest, then spread it in front of me. If it’s raised, we’ll stop instead, so, there’s no other option but to open it while laying down. Making it easy for me to see, folding both of his knees on the floor, Kaid’s face is close. I look at him more than the map that he explains by pointing his finger, so I turn downwards, feeling flustered.

The place he pointed to me was further along the way than I thought. At this rate, we’ll be arriving at the mansion when the night falls today.

“That’s surprisingly fast.”

“If we go in a straight line, it’s to be expected.”

Perhaps he’s right. Since we don’t need to pass through the road of “landslide blockade”, “washed away bridge”, or “sunken village”. Thoroughly, it looks like a detour. Still, Joblin has a fit body. He must have chosen to cross the path that was completely safe from the beginning. The narrow paths and those with unsafe bridges were used, so it wasn’t hard to estimate the path he took.

I’m staring at his black hair swaying as he turns the map upside down in order to figure it out. He’s all grown up, that kind of thought, suddenly came to me.

“Hey, Kaid.”

“Yes?”

“As I thought, I keep correcting my words, don’t I? No matter how I think about it, this treatment to you, the fief’s lord, is definitely rude.”

As I told him the thing I had in mind all the time, Kaid looked utterly displeased.

“Please spare me. If I receive a humbled down gesture from you, my lady, I want to die.”

“I-it probably won’t become that far. ……Hold on, don’t tell me, you weren’t even planning to return to the mansion?”

“Eh?”

“……Eh?”

Silence falls.

From the slightly open window, I can see the cloudless sky, feel the wind that is just as refreshing, but inside the carriage, we are wrapped in speechless atmosphere.

Would this be the reason why Isidore didn’t want to get into the carriage with us? I can sympathize with him, somehow.

Inside the carriage, a sudden meeting had begun. A meeting of two, but somehow, there’s not a glimpse of a festive mood in it.

The agenda is about us, from now on.

We both find our knees very interesting. Kaid stretches his body with a snap, but before, I tried to do so with great difficulties. But still, we stretched as much as we could.

“Kaid,”

“Yes, my lady.”

“…………Uhm, you know, my name is Shirley Hince.”

“I have known about it.”

I wonder how I should say it, so I just speak while squeezing my brain. At any rate, there’s the way to engage in a discussion without touching, but I think that will result in mutual discomfort. I don’t want to fight him either……. We never fought before. Never in brawls, of course, but not even a verbal argument. Not only with Kaid, with anyone.

I never had anyone who was close to my age, being raised among adults. Hence the lack of fight I ever had. It was difficult to meet someone else in the first place, let alone having someone who treated me as an equal, not that anyone was ever allowed to.

As that thought passed my mind, it sounds as if I want to have an argument, but to say that I want it to happen right now is a no.

Holding the forefinger and the middle finger, I lick my lips that’s already dry without being noticed.

“Hey, Kaid. My current self doesn’t have the blood of a royalty. I’m not even the daughter of an aristocrat.”

“Even so, it doesn’t change the fact that you are still my lady.”

“You are the fief’s lord, and I am a maid. With my current place, I have to call you Master. Actually, that’s the reason why I shouldn’t speak to you this way. Even I knew that.”

In that sense, I knew that I couldn’t do it with my position. Originally, I must wait until Kaid starts the talk, as my master, but Kaid seems to be intent on waiting for my turn instead. Thus our talk never really started.

Even now, I’m making a face that sincerely shows my thoughts, without treating it as a joke or sarcasm.

“A more exalted figure than you are, who else could it be but the royal family who lives in the royal palace?”

“Kaid.”

Kaid turns his head towards me, which now looks as troubled as I am. No, it looks like he’s in more agony, more despair than me. But even so, those golden eyes were so dazzling that they looked like they were almost burnt out, even now, even when they looked like they would melt into tears.

“……I beg you to forgive me, my lady. For me, my lady is my lady. I didn’t believe that my lady could have truly come to love the likes of me. You were, truly, an unattainable flower. Your figure, your voice, your words, your feelings, everything that you gave to the world, every single thing was beautiful, and I thought, all the time, if only I could serve you. How joyous it would be, were you to live at the end…… From the beginning, I am a man who lives to serve under someone. I even wished, of having you as my only master, living only for your sake, protecting the Laius where you would reign over, how good could it be. I wished to that extent.”

My eyes are wide open at his confession.

I had no clue that he felt that way. People like him truly wished for a stupid thing. I don’t have the slightest ability to govern this land. I didn’t see a thing, didn’t hear a thing, a woman who had willingly submerged herself in the only happiness that was given to her.

No, it was a fact that he already understood. That’s why, he didn’t choose that road. Maybe it’s more accurate to say it must have been a road that he couldn’t choose.

If he chose that road for Laius at that time, it would be the same as choosing Laius’ collapse. More than collapse, a crueler rebellion, or even war, could have happened.

If he left a single person from the lord’s family, the main cause, alive, and even placing her in the position of the lord, what could have happened? There was no way that someone as clever as him couldn’t figure it out. Even someone as foolish as me could notice.

The principal offender was our aristocrat family, to the bitter end. But even so, only giving a severe punishment and placing me in that kind of position couldn’t have been something good. Laius would be enveloped in disputes, in war. If things were handled awkwardly, even he could have been punished.

That’s why, from the depth of my heart, I’m glad that his reasoning won.

I’m a completely cruel woman, to feel this relieved at his unfulfilled wish, but this is the only thing I feel relieved about.

Looking at my appearance, with his own face in a bitter smile–or is it suffering there?–Kaid continued.

“But even so, I fell in love with you. And, you, too, came to like me. How could it happen, to the likes of me, I’m still thinking about that. ……However, I’m truly sorry. I cannot give it up anymore.”

Kaid covers his face with both hands, looking downwards. He’s all grown up now, no longer in his youthful stage, and yet, I could see his irritation, just like a little child.

“……I’m truly sorry, my lady. Perhaps, this part of me, isn’t a pretty or noble thing such as fondness or love. No, a long time ago, it truly was. It’s probably just my wishful thinking, but at least, it was something different than what I feel now…… However, now, it has melded with obsession, with greed, turning into something brutal and self-centered. Therefore, now, I could no longer let go of your hand. I’m sure that I am…… not a single bit different than him. Forgive me, forgive me, my lady. I couldn’t bestow upon you kindness and warmth, I still touch you even as unsightly as I am. I beg you, please, forgive me.”

That voice which begs for forgiveness gradually turns hoarse, then finally diminishes. His crossed fingers make a creaking noise, as if his muscle and bones is going to break out of his skin.

Have we entered a flat road? Compared to before, the shaking has increased. Even so, along with the small shakes from the rattling carriage, I’m looking at the top of his downcast head. Even in this kind of circumstance, I couldn’t help but to absentmindedly notice that his hair still whorls clockwise, same as before, that long time ago. While thinking that I had been looking at this head too, back then, I exhale a deep, narrow, long breath. I figured out that whenever I exhale my breath, the strength will further break my bones, but still it grows stronger.

“…..In that case, I have to think of a way to explain to everyone, so that there won’t be a problem from now on.”

As I said it, his head that stubbornly cast downwards, twitches.

“Thinking about something like that isn’t exactly my forte, but…… that’s right…… I will be my lord’s wife. That’s why, what should I do, if you stay afraid, using honorifics at me? I might touch upon the lord’s dignity…… but, as the lord’s wife, I’m sure I could do it, leave it to me. A long time ago, I studied by reading Mother’s and Grandmother’s ladylike correspondences, as well as Father’s and Grandfather’s gentlemanly correspondences. In the ladylike correspondences, there was a column for “A Skillful Way to Make Rounds in the House”, while in the gentlemanly correspondences, there was a column for “Today’s Submission to Her”, so I knew about a lot of stories.”

It used to feel like the talk from a faraway land, somehow, some talk that would never have anything to do with me. They had no sense of reality, I read them just like I read novels.

I figured that the day would come when that knowledge would be necessary, if it’s my current life. But Kaid somehow only stares speechlessly. Since it’s the face that finally looked up, it’ll be good if he’s laughing happily instead, in my opinion.

“……Excuse me, my lady?”

“What is it~?”

“……………….Am I allowed, to marry you?”

“E.”

It was my turn to turn pale. That was an assault that made me so embarrassed that my blood felt like being drained, I unconsciously cover my mouth with both hands.

“Th, that’s right. I’m, now, no longer a noble’s daughter, I don’t have any good background anymore, it’s hopeless to become a fief’s lord’s wife. No, I, suddenly, acting like this, I’m sorry. That’s right, we’re lovers. It’s fine with me. I will definitely support your wife. I’ll never butt in, or threat the wife, or…… Can we at least reach the town first?”

Thinking about shameless things spontaneously, my head is hanging from being too embarrassed that my chest hurts. I was being haughty. We promised to live together, but his social status and mine this time around are too far apart, so how could I spontaneously think like that?

My downward vision was obstructed by his hand. I lifted my flustered face, Kaid was there, before my lap. There was his face, looking paler than mine, fading to blue, even.

“I, I’m sorry. A friend. A friend, isn’t it? Yes, a friend……….. is probably hopeless, though…… A contact…… An acquaintance……”

“Please stop getting even further away. Why are you only using your aristocratic sensibility for that part? It is fine to register you as someone’s adopted daughter if you’re worried about social status, moreover, I think it won’t be a problem at all. If my lady could find it to forgive me…… the master of that mansion is you, my lady.”

No sooner than saying all those things, Kaid grasped my hand with both hands and bumped our foreheads. It wasn’t just the fingertips like he did in the cavern, he’s holding my whole hands this time.

“……Am I allowed for that, my lady? I’m this kind of man, I didn’t prepare a ring, or anything.”

Peeking on his golden eyes, my shoulders lose their stiffness. I’m so glad that it’s not a misunderstanding on my part. Being together with him in this life within our hearts is all right, but if possible, I want to live a life where I can be forgiven for being close enough to touch him with my position.

With my hands in his grasp, his lips drop to my forehead.

“Then give me your oath. Give me an oath that from now on…… this time around, we’ll be happy, and we’ll be happy together.”

His fluttering open eyes is such an adorable sight. At first, that’s the only thing in my mind, then that love is overflowing.

It’s good that Kaid doesn’t move this time, since for the second time, my kiss drops above his eyelid.

“As the fief’s lord, it’s no good to address me like this, but…… if that’s Kaid’s wish, it’s okay. I’m going to work hard to fulfill Kaid’s wishes. Even if I can’t give it directly to you, it’s okay, it’s okay, Kaid. Tell me all your selfish desires. I want to listen to your selfishness. If you’re too cruel, I’m going to scold you, be mad at you, pout at you. That’s why, calm down and tell me. I want to know your selfishness. I want to know your wishes. Hey, Kaid. I wonder if you’d tell me the wish you desire so much to kill for. Little by little, I don’t mind no matter how small it is.”

This time, I kiss the hands that grasp mine.

My vow.

“I’m in love with you, Kaid. Obsession or greed, if it’s yours, I’m happy. Love is this kind of thing, isn’t it? I’m sure I’m the same, too. Because we’re lovers, you see. It’s not a strange thing at all.”

Don’t bow your head. This is the road that you paved, so don’t bow in front of me. Don’t drown yourself in reasons. Don’t throw away the road where you live as Kaid.

“Speak selfishly. I’ll do the same. This time around, I won’t lie. It’s okay to have a small secret, but let’s talk a lot. Teach me a lot of things. The things about you that I don’t know about. Then, I wish you’ll listen to the things about me that you don’t know either. We both have troublesome characters, so if we don’t talk often, I’m sure there are things that we can’t convey. Hey, Kaid? I’m not seeking to mend things with you. We’ve already separated once. That’s why, this time around, I want to start with you. Let’s think. The way to do things as ourselves. Let’s shape it on our own.”

I did the same thing. I could find excuses everywhere, but saddling myself with those things will only make me depressed.

“I want to be your happiness.”

No matter how deep I’m sinking or drowning, the hell has no bottom. Struggling in agony, dragging other people to the same place. When I look at the people I’ve hurt, it is an infinite quicksand.

“I want to be happy.”

But, please.

If you hold me, do it for me.

“I want to be happy, with you.”

More than you can reason for, hold me tight.

Because I’ll do the same for you. Because this time, I’ll live it through.

Kaid gazed downwards, and I could hear a long, long sigh from his smiling face. While holding my hands, he rubs his cheeks to my stomach. He’s not heavy, but the stubble on his face is ticklish. My hands are full, so I close my eyes while rubbing my cheeks on his black hair. Did he laugh? I could tell that his body slightly shook.

“……You’re too bold, my lady. I’m 30 now, but I feel pitiable.”

“I’ve lived for fifteen years, it feels like I could finally breathe now.. ……Uhm, too enthusiastic……….. I did as I please, is what it is, I suppose. Uhm, forgive me for acting as I please?”

“……My lady, is there anything you want selfishly ask?”

His muffled murmur doesn’t press me, so I think a little.

“You’re right…… I, want you to release my hand.”

With the hands that he released in an instant, I hold Kaid’s head.

“Then…… that, uhm………… let’s return to the original topic.”

“Yes?”

I pushed his head down with all my strength despite him wanting to lift it up, he gradually settled into my arms obediently. That way, I hide my happy, blushing face in his hair.

“……It’s true that I thought you were strange as the lord. I didn’t lie either when I said that if it was your wish, I wouldn’t change my attitude and speech. But…… I-if we’re lovers, your…… That, uhm………….. I want to, uhm, see, your relaxed, less formal self…… and, that, uhm…… if you can call me, by my name, Shirley, I’d be truly happy, so……”

It’s not like I want him to rock me back and forth in his lap like Father did, though that’d be cute too; I just think that it’ll be good if he put his defense down with me.

But, this is truly just my selfishness. I understand that I’ve become so embarrassed that my ears and neck are too feverish. His head, which has been obediently staying still, has started moving again, so I panic and press it down again.

“My lady.”

“No way.”

“I want to see your face.”

“You can’t.”

“My lady.”

“It’s my privacy.”

“Shirley, I want to see.”

My breath stops. That, just now, is just, too much.

“You said you’d let me see your expressions.”

“……No.”

“Show me.”

“…….You’re too much.”

This is too much.

My mouth curls in displeasure, I mess around with his defenseless hair. And yet, the face that he slowly turns to look up is looking terribly mischievous. I wonder where the man with child-like tear-stained face has gone to.

Matching him, I’m sure I’m blushing so hard that it’s improper. My ears, my cheeks, my nape, they must have been breaking out in fever even though they’re not touched. Staring hard in point blank at this face, Kaid hums in a sing-sang voice.

“So cute. Shirley, you’re so cute.”

“…….You’re bullying me.”

“Haven’t you figured it out already?”

His canine tooth peek out from his parting lips.

I’m sure that was a smile, but his feral look told me I was the prey.

“I’m actually really evil.”

From our overlapping lips, I could taste the sweet candy and the antidote.

The town where the mansions resided was filled with unprecedented loud shouts of joy. The whole town was decorated three times as much as preparation for the festival, all of them was devoted to the joyous return of Kaid. This was surely as merry as being in the festival itself.

Their greatest joy was represented by such a big volume that I couldn’t even hear what I was saying.

Kaid pushed out the window, facing the people outside, waving his hand with a smile, and I looked at him. Until the very end, Isidore refused to accompany us in the carriage.

His “I was kicked by a horse” reason was something that no one told me. When we took a break and climbed down the carriage before, I realized that I was seen by everyone in the flesh like a hot potato. It made me blush hard.

Kaid threw a glimpse at me, then his lowered hand made a signal. I leaned my head and sat beside him. When I did, he hugged my shoulder in the unseen angle from the outside. I wondered if he noticed and wryly smiled.

The carriage stopped. The reason was neither for break, falling into mud, nor a broken wheel.

We’ve finally arrived at the mansion.

My tightly grasped forefinger and middle finger are as freezing as the midwinter, but they are damp with sweat.

I said the cruelest things. I vomited the words that would cruelly hurt the kind people by choice.

That was caused by Wilfred, but our relationship was the root of it.

I don’t know what kind of eyes await for me beyond this door. I knew about Kaid’s explanation for them while dashing with his fastest horse, that I was taken as a hostage. I’m sure they were concerned about my condition. They are that kind of people. I knew that. They are not people who would blame or rebuke me for shouting those thoughtless remarks while being held hostage. I knew that.

I know that, but my limbs are shaking. There’s a clattering sound from my teeth.

Because, you see, this place was where I was convicted.

There were many cheers, rejoicing, wishing for my death. The excited voice of those who were happy overlapped with the excited voices of those who were set free; they were a little, just a bit, too intense.

As my head hung low, the door was open, blowing wind onto me. If I look up, I’m going to hold onto Kaid’s hand, who has climbed down before me. Without hurrying, I reach out his smiling and waiting figure. I lean one of my arms until my chest won’t be in pain, stepping out of the carriage while slightly bending down my body.

It’s all right. It’s not burning hot. That red color was in the past. There’s no longer redness in the sound, in the smell, nor in anyone’s eyes.

I keep telling them to myself. My heart is more sluggish than the clock tower’s bell, but it beats with all its strength.

This time, my arms won’t be twisted, I won’t be forced to prostate on the ground. There’s a hand that will support me, so I’m not afraid. It’s scary, but I’m not afraid. I’m all right.

I stop chewing my lip, and slowly lift my head up.

As if it had been waited for, the voice were in unison.

“Master.”

“M’lady.”

“Welcome home.”

A row of people lining up, bowing at the same angle, made the trembling I’ve been having to disappear. Only bewilderment remained.

I understand if it’s Kaid. This place is Kaid’s territory, Kaid is the lord of this fief, the head of the mansion. The master. The righteous. That’s the way it is.

Welcome home. I get it too. You see, because this is Kaid’s mansion.

But.

“…………My lady?”

Pondering dumbfoundedly, I look up to Kaid.

It’s too much of a surprise. Kaid wryly smile and push my back forward, a little.

The one leading the bowing people whom I’ve become familiar with, Kaid’s aide and direct subordinate, the head butler and the head maid, and then, people who are somehow too scattered in the lines. Just like Caron, these people are always here.

“What’s wrong, you guys? I’ve brought Shirley back as I promised, you know? Carolina, you’re frozen, Jasmine too, aren’t you nailed to the ground? The people behind you are restless and stuck, you know?”

Hearing Kaid’s words, Caron slowly lifts her head up. Just like her, the people around there are looking up. And then, with a crumple.

With a crumple, their faces distort.

Among them, the oldest man is well past his middle age, but everyone is equally on the verge of tears, and I look back at Kaid, who pushes me forward. Kaid, making a mischievous expression, leans his body and whispers to my ear.

“I only told Carolina.”

“……Only?”

“I left it to her to choose whom to tell…… Most likely, all of your former staff already knows? If their looks are any indication.”

M’lady, I look at them again in sudden realization, at the quivering voices.

Caron and the others walk forward, one staggering step at a time, and collapsed right before my feet. In their folded position, none of them moves an inch, so that they don’t break into tears. I’m unable to move too.

“We have been waiting for you.”

“Caron.”

Caron starts sobbing.

“To have you, return, all well, from the depth of my heart, the same as everyone, from our deepest hearts, we have been waiting.”

The voices, in unison.

“M’lady……!”

“Shirleeey!”

Only one person burst differently.

Jasmine jumped out from the neat row. Together with Jasmine, with her messy tears and snots, the others were jumping in. Even Samua started running.

After that, each one of them raced against one another, until the row completely disappeared, no one knows since when.

Whether she stumbled to it, or if that was her plan from the start, looking at Jasmine who jumped and ran forth already made my chest throb in ache before she even arrived.

“Hey, hold it, Jasmine! I told you, Shirley is injured!”

“Jhaarliiiiiy!”

With Samua’s arms restraining her from the back, Jasmine cries in a mess, stretching her hands out. When I grasp that hand, her face wrinkles again around her eyes. Without wiping away her dripping, overflowing tears, Jasmine is sobbing.

“Sorry, I’m so sorry, I’ve hurt you, I’m sorry, it must’ve been scary, it must’ve hurt, I’m sorry, I’m so sorry, Shirley.”

“Me too…… I’m sorry I said those cruel things to you. I chose the exact words that would’ve inflicted pain for you.”

“The fact that I was close enough to you for you to know the words painful to me, I’m so happyyy……!”

Jasmine raised her voice in tears just like a child; as soon as the hold to her arms was released, she jumped straight like an arrow, then hugged me like I was fragile. Her light, soft, warm body wasn’t as painful as I thought, so I wrapped my arms around her trembling, flustered back.

“Boohoooooooooo, Jharliiiy!”

“There’s no Jharly here! …………Welcome back, Shirley. I’m glad that you’re all right.”

“Th, thank you. ……Uhm, what’s that about calling me m’lady?”

I thought to ask to the only person who wasn’t crying, but when I looked up, his eyes were red too.

“What, you ask, that should have been our line, we knew nothing, none at all. Why, how, since when, I don’t even know, but Shirley is going to marry Master, right? Therefore, since as our Mistress, as the wife, Shirley is still too young, isn’t married yet, to call you Mistress out of no where would make you bewildered, so everyone was mulling over how to call you. It would be good to call you Shirley-sama, but Carolina and the others preferred m’lady, and we thought it sounded nice too…… Should we change it?”

“N, no, that’s, unnecessary, really. All of you, are good, just as you are. That’s what I want.”

“I see. I’ll address you properly in front of the guests, but otherwise, I agree with you.”

As Samua laughs in relief, I feel relieved too.

Now, the biggest reason to strain my surroundings in vain respect is gone, I’m no longer a person to be humbled upon. That was one of the reasons, but the treasures I got from this mansion were too many; I felt lonely. That’s why, I want to stay this way.

Right now, I’m going to look for the shape of things as they ought to be, right here, from now on.

“Samua, you know, Tim,”

“………..yeah, he–”

“He loved you a lot.”

“E?”

The eyes he was hiding in pain widens to circle shapes.

“He really loved you, so he targeted you. He really loved you, so he didn’t let you drink the poison, choosing to drink it himself instead.”

For him, there must be a lot of chances. He could have put it in the food, even mixing it in the ingredients. There really wasn’t any meaning to drink it himself, nor was there any meaning to drinking it alone.

He’s warped. Defiant. It would’ve been better if he was only those, but he couldn’t even be like that, so he was drowning. His past pushed him down, twisted him around from the depth of hell, kept him in the middle of falling forth.

Kaid said that he was just like him, but I was the same. He, was my other self.

“When I see him again, I must sink my fist to that guy. Because I’m his senior, you see.”

Swallowing whatever he wanted to say before, Samua grinned wide. That smiling face was truly dazzling.

Stupid Tim. Stupid Wilfred.

You and I are both foolish.

Even though we had a future here. Even though Laius is, now, facing a different future. Even though the days when only ruin awaited was long gone already, replaced by a future that spins the tale of budding smiles.

Why are we nothing but a prisoner of our past?

Even though the life that wasn’t born at that time, the smiles in their faces that wouldn’t appear if not for that day, are this precious already.

“My lady.”

Kaid holds my shoulders.

I can’t stop the tears. My chest is in pain from sobbing this heavily, but more than that, it’s painful even deeper in. It’s painful, and warm, and agonizing.

I have nothing but regrets. I’ve only been making mistakes, hurting those around me, running away, but why is it so, so warm in this place? The building is different, the garden is gone. Even my family, none of them is around except me, but why does it feel that, even with all of those, nothing has changed?

“M’lady.”

“Shirley.”

People who know my past self, people who only know my current self, they call me all the same. While crying, while laughing, they have been waiting for me.

Clasping both of my hands, I bow deeply.

“I’m home at last.”

Let’s live in this place. Let’s live with them. Let’s live as myself.

No matter what happens, let’s return back here.

Because, you see, this was once my final abode.

This is my living birthplace, even now.

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