——Or so I thought.
Is this a dream? Or an illusion?
First, I tried reaching out to the white face in front of me. It feels warm. As I stroke that cheek, his sunrise-colored eyes narrow like it feels good. That beautiful face is unbelievable, as he gently presses it further against my hand.
So it definitely is a dream? Or an illusion? I have to make sure. Making that my heart’s mission, I suddenly pinched that cheek before he had any chance to argue.
With a soundless scream, he rips my hand off his face. The thin, angular hand he grasped mine with feels warm too.
The cheek I’d pinched with all my might indeed looks like it considerably hurt. Those sunrise-colored eyes, taller than me, had grown slightly wet — very slightly, but they did.
——Tsk tsk, what a pathetic face.
I didn’t say that out loud, but his expression was far more eloquent than what I thought, as he glared at me. To be glared at by such androgynous beauty is unbelievably intense. Well, I’m used to it, though.
「What are you doing?!」
「I thought you were a dream.」
「Who’s a dream, who?!」
How many years has it been since I’d heard that pleasant-sounding voice sound so harsh? Yep, it definitely feels like a dream. The man I knew wasn’t the type of man to expose his emotions like this.
「I wonder if it’s because I haven’t been sleeping much lately…… Ah, it’s no good, just like Suzette says.」
「Oi, what are you saying?!」
For some reason, the illusion in front of me keeps saying a lot of things, but it all has to be a hallucination thanks to my lack of sleep. How long had it been since I’d been unable to sleep?
Even if the world’s in applause over the demon king’s defeat and today was the parade of the party of heroes’ triumphant return, I still couldn’t sleep.
My appetite has sharply decreased, so I’ve thankfully lost a lot of weight, but it isn’t in the healthy way that I’d get compliments on it — I look too thin now. That plus my lack of sleep was a double-punch to my skin, which is now crumbling. My eyebags have grown to the point I can’t hide them with makeup.
I’d finally stopped worrying about having my looks compared to his when he died – he really is the kind of man to keep tormenting me even after dying.
While my parents quietly let me be, my wet nurse fusses over me, saying, 「I’m not leaving until you fall asleep, my lady!」 And my brother says the most sister-complex things like, 「Sis, you should just forget about a man like that. I’m going to take care of you and keep you happy.」 My wet nurse say, 「In any case, your sister would first like you to get rid of that sister complex; I wonder if her spoiling you since you were little has backfired?」
But setting that aside, this is the man my brother always called 『a man like that』.
It’s completely unbelievable to think that man can exist in reality right in front of me. ……Yes, this can only be a dream.
「I say, how about I take a little nap? Oh, that’s right, the medicinal tea is certainly……」
「Snap out of it, Filmina!」
The second I turned my eyes away from the illusion in front of me and stepped away, he grabbed my arms. I felt red hot; the scars on my back start aching.
‘No way,’ whispers the 『me』 that lived somewhere in my head. That 『me』 starts to desperately hold on to me, trying to see ‘reality’, not believing this can be possible. I shook 『me』 off, timidly looking up at that face I couldn’t even find in my dreams.
What I see are those beautiful sunrise-colored eyes. I felt my lips tremble.
「Why have you come here?」
「Is that bad?」
「It’s not bad. It’s just… Strange.」
In contrast to his somewhat disappointed voice, I manage to keep calmly talking, sounding disinterested enough to surprise even myself.
He’s right in front of me. That man who I’ve heard no news of since the day of the report, Agedilus Von Lancent, was here. Just how is this possible?
「I really thought—」
「That I’d died?」
「Well, must be a shame that I’ve come back alive.」
「…….Yes. …….No, no. …Yes.」
「Yes or no?」
I’m so confused over what to say, I end up saying meaningless words. He knitts his eyebrows at me. His voice, mixed with irritation, feels so nostalgic.
That reminds me, that’s right. Although he was usually composed, he did often get angry whenever I beat around the bush with my words like this. For example, if I did that on the topic of marriage, or such.
He was indebted to me. Indebted because he was just marrying me because of the scars on my back, right? I mean, that’s true, right? There was no other reason for the head palace magician to continue keeping me as his fiancée, I who was average at best in both looks and ability.
Even if his jet black hair is feared of and kept away from by many people, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t better people out there that want him despite that.
The only card I had was the childhood friend card, and the scars on my back card. It wasn’t like he really wanted to marry me. I just didn’t want to act like I was using his feelings of obligation towards me. This wasn’t what he thought, but my own stubbornness. I myself think I’m a very unlovable, not very charming woman.
There were also times I felt sorry for him to have to marry a woman like me. But even so, I wouldn’t surrender, that’s why I always beat around the bush with my words, and so, that’s why, umm –– ugh, I really don’t understand anymore.
I take my own confusion considerably lightly. He was alive. He was alive. I can do nothing but repeat that internally, looking up at him, dumbfounded. He continues talking smoothly, without any hesitation or anything.
He said he did almost lose his life from the great magic.
That great magic wasn’t the kind that would exchange your life with something else or anything, it would simply take the life of whoever was in the center of explosion, i.e. the person who cast it. He had already been studying this magic from before, and just managed to cast a teleportation spell in the nick of time, barely escaping with his life.
It was a gamble, but in the end, he made it. Just barely, but he kept his life. And then he didn’t tell even his partners about his survival to lure the demon king’s armies into being less prepared, while carrying out secret missions of his own.
And then, apparently he met up with them right in front of the demon king’s castle in the city he’d captured, and magnificently defeated him with the other heroes.
——What the hell?
I was about to blurt that out, but somehow managed to hold myself back. Well, it is a common story for a hero to be thought dead by his companions, only for them to reunite with him having been alive all along, but… But hearing that happening in reality really seems like a joke.
‘I see, I see,’ the 『me』 inside my head nods belatedly. I too, nod a bit delayed in real life. In other words, the man in front of me isn’t a dream or an illusion.
I understood everything until that part, OK, got it. But while that’s all fine, why is he here?
「Edi, is the return parade going to start soon? If so, this isn’t the time for you to be in a place like this, right?」
「No problem. I told them all already that I’d received an external wound and couldn’t move from my bed.」
「……You’ve thought it all through, haven’t you?」
I can do nothing but be amazed at how far he’s gone. What even is this man doing? Is this what he’s using that brilliant mind of his for? Even though he shouldn’t be using those brains on me. This man is a hero that had saved the country, if not the whole world.
Ah, maybe I’m wrong. It wasn’t for my sake. That reminds me, he had always been the type to get out of things he disliked beforehand.
「If you have something to say, please be brief. I’ll overlook how you barged in here this time, so how about you hurry towards the princess now?」
The princess had ended her long journey, finally returning to the capital. Like this man, she too had become a hero of this saved world. If he means to announce that he’s breaking off our engagement, he can say that right away. It’s wonderful that he’s come back alive, but I can’t keep this topic hanging for much longer.
Maybe it’s surprising that I’d bring up the topic of the princess, since he knits his eyebrows, looking puzzled. His expression looks like it says, ‘What are you talking about?’
「……For whom do you think I returned back alive?」
「For the country and the other heroes, right?」
I couldn’t say ‘For the princess, right?’ No matter how much of a minor character I am compared to the princess, I still have my own womanly pride.
This man has always been in an isolated position, feared by others and kept at a distance from everyone because of his magical power and his contrarian personality. That’s just why I could be closest to him. But even that’s going to end soon.
Looking at this situation, it seems like the hero (I forgot his name) had become close friends with him, as well as that head knight. I’m not thickheaded enough to not notice the soft expression he had when he said 『them all』. I couldn’t have gone without noticing, because I’m so close to him.
I now realize it after so long. That the whole ‘preparing myself for the worst’ thing was such a lie. I’m happy he’s come back alive, that’s the truth. I’m so happy I’d gladly die right here, basking in my happiness. I’m so, so happy I can’t bear it. But I’m also just as jealous. God, I’m so selfish, being as I pleased.
Whether he knows that or not, he looks somehow surprised, looking down at me with wide eyes.
What’s he making that face for? It’s like he can’t believe what he’s looking at. His mouth opens and closes several times to say something before holding back, until finally, he calls out my name as if resolving himself.
「What is it?」
「I did indeed prepare to die once.」
I really think he’s fooling around. He has to be messing with me. There’s no way the thought of me had come in his head at all.
I give him a sharp glare full of those feelings, but he gazes back at me without faltering or hesitating. His face that I’m seeing after so long is definitely beautiful, but I realized there’s a scar under his left eye only now. I instinctively reach out to it before stopping in the nick of time, but he grabs my hand.
I grimace at how he grasped my hand hard enough to hurt. He notices, loosening his grip as if surprised. But he doesn’t let go of my hand.
As we face each other, hands intertwined, he continues.
「I thought something then.」
‘Thought of the princess?’ I mock myself internally as I gazed at him, when the white hand opposite the one holding mine touched my cheek. So gentle it’s surprising. Is he really the kind of man that had been touched like this? I don’t know that either. I don’t speak, staying silent as those sunrise-colored eyes stare at me with a definite passion.
What the hell? Did he think about his old childhood friend, about something like asking me to be happy even after he was gone?
「『Don’t be happy.』」
I haven’t heard that one often. Or, more like I don’t want to hear that one. I blink, eyes wide and unable to follow his line of thought, but he doesn’t seem like he’s joking around at all. In fact, he was endlessly serious and earnest.
「『Don’t be happy in a world where I’m gone.』 That’s what I thought.」
How to put it… It’s rather contrarian once again.
He doesn’t even have to worry about that. Thanks to him, I was considered a widow, although I was never a wife in the first place. A world without him, a world without that jet black and that sunrise-color was a world without any color at all. Not painful, not boring. Just tranquil, and then, an overwhelming sense of loss filled my chest. That’s what the world without him was. I couldn’t have been happy or anything in that world either way.
Was I just neglected enough to wish for misfortune when he died? ——No, that’s wrong. It’s wrong. That can’t be, right? Those sunrise-colored eyes are looking down at me, those beautiful eyes. Those eyes that had caught both my eyes and my heart the day we met when we were young. The light in them is so hot it feels like it’ll burn a hole through me. Ah, that’s right. That’s right, that was right. That’s right, I knew it. I knew that this has to be Agedilus Von Lancent.
My voice trembled. I murmured the same word I said the day I heard he died, in a completely different mental state. He’s an idiot. He really is.
Even though I wasn’t complimenting him at all, the beauty in front of me narrows his eyes in happiness for some reason. He really is an idiot, it’s not a joke. No matter how much I curse at him, I can’t say it in words. My voice won’t leave my throat. Instead of that, several hot lines fall over my cheeks.
「Please, let me cry just this once.」
His lively voice is irritating. It’s been like this since we were little. He only smiled whenever I was worried or made a mistake. But at times like that, I could get a peek of the man inside, and I loved that lovely smile that fit his age. It was dear to me. I bring my cheek close to his chest. Both my hands wrap around his back, and I hide my tears. I feel him respond, warmth wrap around my back, and my tears flowed all the more at it.
「Welcome home, Edi.」
「Ah, I’m home.」
I’m home. I’ve always been wishing to hear those words.
And then, what happened a few minutes later was: my wet nurse came in to check on me, saw the two of us embracing in my room, and was so shocked she literally fell over.