At first, the carriage seemed to be a thoughtful gesture. Surely, they couldn’t make their way back to school on foot in a timely manner.
But no one else came with them. It’s just Mary and her, and while Katarina loves her best friend with all her heart, she finds it a little odd that none of their other friends are with them.
The carriage ride takes a lot longer than usual, and when she glances outside, they’re at their Port.
“What are we doing here?” she finally asks, and Mary just smiles at her.
“Didn’t you say you wanted to eat fish this morning? It’s always fresher near the Port.”
She frowns, because she did say that, but Mary looks like she’s plotting something.
Still, she did want fish, so she follows along.
The boat is moving. And while the fish is delicious, Katarina’s now reached peak levels of suspicion.
Mary looks like she knows it, because while she’s too high class to fidget nervously, she won’t meet her eyes.
“Do you remember what you said last year?” asks Mary. “Right after we went to the hot springs.”
She furrows her brows as she tries to think; honestly, Katarina remembers saying a lot of things, mostly uncharitable things about how the boys kept trying to interrupt their girl time.
“You wanted to run away,” she elaborates. “And I’m – we’re running away.”
She pauses, because she does remember mentioning that offhand, but she never expected Mary to take her up on it. It is true, that she’s getting more and more nervous about Gerald exiling her, and with Mary taking her away forever, the destruction flags will never come to fruition.
And besides the Ministry, it’s not as if Katarina had any plans for after graduation.
“Okay,” she says, and Mary stares at her in shock. She briefly wonders if she should’ve put up more of a fight, but there’s happiness in Mary’s eyes and a beautiful smile to boot, so she can’t regret it too much. “Where are we going?”
“One of the fiefs under my family name. There’s a mansion and a greenhouse on the grounds, but really, we don’t have to do much but relax.” Mary looks relieved, and so happy that Katarina just nods and continues to eat her fish.
Mary’s eternally grateful that Katarina doesn’t seem to mind her ‘kidnapping.’ At first, when she had started planning it all out, she had plans upon plans in case Katarina protested in coming along. But Katarina seems content with the mansion, even choosing the room next to Mary’s to claim as her own.
She comes over at night to talk and doesn’t seem mad at all with Mary despite with all intents and purposes, Mary had kidnapped her.
Mary knows she shouldn’t get complacent. It won’t be long before the others sniff them out and come visiting. Mary needs to entice Katarina to stay forever, and she knows just how to do it.
The greenhouse is huge. Katarina is quite impressed, and even more so when Mary shows her the stock of seeds it has in its stores.
“I’ll show you how to grow flowers too,” promises Mary, and keeps to it when a day later, she shows up with a plate of cookies and sunflower seeds.
Mary’s spoiling her. Everyday, Katarina is woken up with more and more baked goods, all homemade and all absolutely delicious. Sometimes, they go out into the town nearby, and Mary buys her anything she touches. They come home one day with a frankly alarming stack of romance novels, and Mary sits next to her in the living room as Katarina devours each one, the fireplace crackling and freshly brewed tea at their elbows.
She would be more charmed, except she’s more confused by Mary’s behavior. She doesn’t hate it, being spoiled by Mary, but she’s starting to feel more and more guilty that she’s not doing enough to warrant it. She doesn’t deserve all this, no matter how much it feels like a dream, and she wonders sadly when it’s going to end.
Mary wonders who she has to thank for the others staying away. She did cover her tracks as much as she could, but she thought at least one of the princes would have figured it out already.
She’s grateful though. It had been hard enough to make sure Katarina didn’t notice everyone’s growing affection for her. She gets to keep Katarina all to herself now, thankfully, and she only hopes it stays that way for as long as possible.
It’s been months now, and they’ve settled in a comfortable routine. After dinner, they read – Katarina, her romance novel, and Mary, the papers she needs to proofread for the fief – and in the morning, they garden. Sometimes they visit town, and Mary can’t stop herself from buying Katarina anything she wants. Katarina is the daughter of a duke, after all, and only deserves the best, even if her family doesn’t know where she is right now. And besides, Mary isn’t spending all the money from the fief on anything else, so she doesn’t feel too bad about spoiling Katarina.
Still, it isn’t a bad way to live. Mary just has to look past her paranoia and focus on Katarina, and that’s easy enough to do.
It’s been three months since she’s basically taken Katarina, and they’re settling down for another comfortable nighttime with their respective pastimes.
Mary’s a tad stressed out because one of her cooks just came up with a new dish and they’re still brainstorming a way to market it to the people of the fief. So she doesn’t notice what Katarina’s doing at first.
Katarina’s not reading like the many other nights they spend together in front of the fireplace. She’s writing a letter.
Her heart feels like it’s going to beat right out of her chest. “What’s that?” she asks, and Katarina doesn’t even look up, her pen moving as she continues to write.
“A letter to Sophia-chan,” she explains, “I’m asking her what she thinks of the new dish.”
She stares, because she thought she had been so careful in not letting anyone know where they are. And here Katarina is, casually chatting with Sophia about her life.
“Are you – have you been sending letters?” she starts hesitantly, and this time Katarina looks up at her, surprised.
“Yes?” she says, sounding confused. “Since we got here.”
“And …they don’t care?”
“Why would they?”
“Because I basically kidnapped you!” she blurts out, and Katarina is staring at her in shock, and Mary wonders just how naïve her love is. “I’m forcing you to stay here with me… I hid you from everyone else.”
“Everyone knows I’m here,” says Katarina, eventually. “And you’re not forcing me. I told them I want to stay here.”
She wonders if she’s the naïve one, if her paranoia could’ve all been excused if she had just asked Katarina. She hadn’t wanted to, too afraid of what would happen if Katarina said no, and now she feels as if she’s been punched in the gut. “I – “ she starts, and then stops and stares down at her shaking hands. “Why?”
“Because I want to stay here,” says Katarina, slowly, as if Mary’s being the oblivious one, and Mary can’t believe her words, her head spinning at the idea that Katarina wants to stay.
She must stay quiet for too long, because Katarina stands and walks close enough to place a hand on hers. “Mary?” she asks, quietly, and Mary can’t muster up the will to say anything, her hands shaking underneath Katarina’s.
Katarina’s eyes are gentle and her smile fond, and slowly, as if not wanting to spook her, Katarina turns her hand around so she can interlock their fingers. “Why wouldn’t I want to stay here forever?” she asks, and smiles even wider when Mary just stares at her helplessly. “I’m with you,” she continues, and squeezes her hand once.
“Oh,” she says, eventually, too thrown to say anything else, “Forever?”
“Yes,” says Katarina, kindly, and then before Mary can move, darts forward and presses a chaste kiss on her cheek. “Forever,” she repeats, and then retreats to her comfortable armchair, picking back up the pen to continue her letter.
Mary can’t concentrate now, not after that, and puts down her pen. Katarina doesn’t look up again, her hand moving impossibly fast as she continues her letter, and Mary spends the rest of the time until bed staring at her in wonder.