The gesture made my heart flutter. Then, Edi grabbed my hand and pulled me to his side. I looked up at him for an explanation, and his lips formed a smile. It was an expression I had seen since we were young, as subtle as the dew that drips off leaves in the early morning, but nonetheless, it was a smile. Captivated, I lost the ability to speak. He addressed the crowd,
「This is the first time that many of you are meeting her, but this lady is my wife, Filmina Von Lancent.」
It wasn’t a terribly loud voice, but even so, that declaration resounded across the entire reception hall. The crowd was buzzing with conversation, but the one most surprised by his announcement must have been me. To think that he had gone and openly declared it, in this sort of situation. He had been so strongly for keeping it a secret. And just when we had finally been re-united, he did this sort of thing. It would have been better not to have seen him here – I wanted to say, but the fact that I couldn’t was frustrating. I stared at him, dumbfounded. He took my hand, then continued.
「I apologize for waiting so long to introduce her. I selfishly wanted to keep her to myself, and she went along with it.」
Then, he must have used some kind of magic, because alongside his speech, there was a second stream of sound, audible only to me, that whispered into my ears.
「Stand tall. You said you’d stand beside me, didn’t you?」
His words shook me out of my daze. He was right. To stand beside him, was what I had wished for. What was I doing being cowardly now? This was my opportunity to prove my resolve. I grasped his hand back, and used my other hand to raise my dress and give a curtsey.
「As he said, my name is Filmina Von Lancent. I am honored to make your acquaintance.」
I couldn’t do more than give a simple introduction, without any frills, but thankfully, I pulled it off without trembling. I could sense that all eyes were on me, but for some reason, now, I didn’t think anything of it. I glanced at Edi, who was expressionless, but I could tell that he was satisfied. It was an irritatingly beautiful face that made you want to pinch it, but alas, this really wasn’t the place for that.
Clap, clap, clap. A moment after my address, I heard the sound of applause. I turned and saw the princess, her smile as wide as her face, delicately clapping. As she continued, here and there throughout the hall people began to clap, and before long the sound of applause had spread across the entire hall like a wave. That applause had some amount of confusion, but it was in good intent.
Feeling embarrassed, I met Edi’s gaze, and I don’t know which one of us started it, but we exchanged smiled. The waitstaff walked through the hall, distributing slender glasses, and I accepted one, automatically. Behind me, the princess announced,
「Now then, to our young couple’s happiness.」
The princess raised her glass in toast, and throughout the hall, others followed her cue. We, too, raised our glasses in toast, then drank the contents.
After that, the party ended without incident. Or rather, after I addressed the crowd, and before I could be confronted by my friends, Edi whisked me away, so I couldn’t tell you what happened in the aftermath. Since I had left my younger brother there, he was probably drilled for information. I understood in the moment the fate I was leaving him to, but I still let Edi pull me away, so I guess I am a bad sister.
In the carriage ride home, Edi didn’t say a word. I had a mind to, but he didn’t seem in the mood to talk, so in the end, I couldn’t bring myself to say anything either. But, we continued to hold hands, and for some reason, that warmth was reminiscent of when we were children.
Inside the rattling carriage, I looked out the window as the scenery changed. Where were we going? I wondered for only a brief moment, before realizing our destination. It had been quite a while since I had seen this scenery. And where this road was headed.
He gave no response. Then, the carriage halted, and he helped me down. I looked up at the building. I had finally returned, to our home, the Lancent Estate’s secondary residence.
Continuing to ignore me, he unlocked the door, and led me inside. The magical gemstones installed inside brightly lit up at the master of the house’s return. It had been a couple weeks since anyone had been hear, and the interior gave off a somewhat lonely, deserted feel, but at the same time, it felt like it was happy to finally have the master back.
Edi continued to say nothing, silently holding my hand and pulling me along, until finally, we stopped in front of the large window with an attached balcony, which was in our bedroom. He let go of my hand and opened the window, letting the cool night breeze come in, which brushed my cheeks.
Edi turned to me. Backlit by the moonlight, his beauty would make even a night fairy bashful. Those sunrise colored eyes looking at me trembled with doubt.
I tilted my neck, encouraging him to speak. If you make me wait any longer, I’ll be the one to start talking, I conveyed that intention in my gaze. For a bit, he seemed to be struggling to find the words, which was unlike him, but finally, he spoke,
「Um, that dress…」
At those words, that had apparently taken so long to say, I blinked. By that dress, he was certainly referring to the dress I had on. I suddenly became extremely embarrassed under his gaze, and lowered my eyes, muttering,
「I heard from Suzette that you had this prepared for me.」
「Yes, I’ll have to thank her. It took longer than I expected, and I was extremely annoyed when they wouldn’t let me come visit you, but it appears that it was worth it in the end. It looks very good on you.」
Who are you? I wanted to retort. And who would blame me? How many years had it been since this man had given me an honest compliment like this? I barely managed to blurt out a stiff thank you, as if I was a broken marionette.
That explained it though. The reason that there was no contact besides the sympathy gifts, he must have been busy with preparing the dress. It filled me with a somewhat happy, and somewhat embarrassed, I couldn’t really put it into words, but a strange feeling. That he went this far for my benefit, the thought itself made me this happy.
He stretched out his hand and brushed my cheek. The gentle, warm heat of his hand traveled down my entire body. He continued to rub my cheek, as if he was handling some precious object, and then I felt a soft, warm sensation on my forehead. That kiss felt very warm.
I reflexively put up both hands and stepped back, but even before that he had caught me in his embrace. I thought I could hear my body stiffen.
「Just for a little」
「Just for a little, let me stay like this.」
Whisperingly, that voice was so quiet that as to almost slip past unheard. I stiffened once more. To think that he would say that sort of thing. Those who knew him, and even those who didn’t, neither would believe that. Even I, who had known him so long, could not believe it.
Somehow managing to get my arms to move, I timidly wrapped them around his back, and he strengthened his grip so much that I almost groaned. There in his arms, I asked,
「At the very least, it would have been nice to have heard your voice. Using that bracelet, that much would have been possible, wouldn’t it have?」
Even now, I was wearing that bracelet that he had given me over my glove. I knew it could do that. Even as busy he was as the top magician in the kingdom, we could have at least exchanged meaningless greetings every day.
He must have noticed the little bit of bitterness in my voice, because for a moment, he was lost for words. Then, he muttered, ever so faintly. We couldn’t have been standing closer together, and I still couldn’t make out what he said. I pestered him to repeat it, and he said again, in a small voice,
「If I had heard your voice, I thought I wouldn’t be able endure it.」
We hadn’t been allowed to see each other when I was at the Adina House. I knew what it was he was trying to say. But 「I wouldn’t be able to endure it」, saying such a spoiled thing. I didn’t know how I should respond, so I just stared up at his serene beauty, dumbfounded. He lowered those sunrise eyes of his, and muttered,
「I wanted to see you.」
That short statement, that held so much emotion, caused the strength to leave my stiffened body. So that’s what he had been wanting to say, this whole time.
My arms around his back strengthened their hold. Aah, I see. I had too.
「Me too. I’ve been wanting to see you this whole time.」
After all, that was what it was. The thing I wanted to say, I had thought it over a lot, but in the end, that sentence just about summed it all up. The whole time, I had wanted to see him. So much I couldn’t bear it. The thought that I was the only one feeling that, was frustrating, and I couldn’t say it. Just, that I had wanted to see him.
I felt the happiness from when we re-united all over again. I looked up at him.
「Even so, it surprised me.」
「The dress too, of course, but more than that, the fact that you publicly introduced me back there.」
I never expected that he would do that, and in that way. My words were laced with a tad of criticism, and he struggled for words again. After a short span of silence, he sighed, saying,
「I had thought that if we kept it hidden I could protect you. At least, that was my intention at the start.」
「At the start?」
I prodded him to explain that bit. Those sunrise eyes looked at me, and continued,
「I guess it wasn’t really about protecting you. The reason I kept you a secret was because I didn’t want to show you to anybody else. I wanted to keep you all to myself.」
He strengthened his embrace, and that pleasant voice continued,
「I didn’t ever consider that it would cause you to suffer. Sorry.」
Saying that, he stopped, looking as if he was waiting to accept whatever complaints, whatever criticisms I had. I inwardly sighed. Geez, how frustrating. I couldn’t possibly say anything with him in that state, and that was extremely frustrating.
Instead of responding, as if I was pulled toward him, as if it was the completely natural thing to do, I stretched up on my tip toes and, so lightly that I just grazed his lips, I kissed him. His eyes opened wide.
I smiled. Really, what a helpless guy. But I supposed that meant I was even more helpless. We were both beyond saving.
Concluding that, still in his embrace, I looked up into his eyes. And this time, he initiated it, a deep, deep kiss. To the extent that I started to run out of air, and had to break free. Supporting my giddy, oxygen-deprived self, he smiled. That smile was filled with happiness. As if cold, frozen, pure-white snow had melted, out came a warm, soft smile. I smiled too. Our foreheads were so close they were touching, and I could feel his breathing on my skin as we smiled at each other, our only witness the glittering, pale moon high in the night sky.