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The Cottage by the Waterfall

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It was absurd, really.
Seven years ago Sei had high-tailed it out of the Black Shroud, determined to never look back.
Now they had spent a small fortune on a cottage in the Lavender Beds, and were collecting furniture catalogues – as you do.


He cracked open an egg, and while the broken yolk made acquaintance of the milk in the deep, flat dish, he wondered absently whether his foster family still had that apartment on the outskirts of Gridania.
Yeah, considering they had only taken him in because they needed that monthly salary, it was not bloody likely.
Did it, then, make him some sort of bastard for running away, and dooming a family already struggling to make ends meet?


But how did Gridanian social services even handle foster families which had failed to take care of their charges?
Would they even recognize reducing a child to 'Coeurlclaw spawn' as abuse, when the poachers were the entire reason why he ever landed in foster care to begin with?
And never mind how the documentation Gridania foisted onto him insisted that he was female, regardless of what he had to say on the matter.


Knowing his foster parents, they had probably spun some sob tale about how they're the true victims of this bandit brat from the deepest pits of the seven hells, so blaming himself was a waste of a perfectly good guilt complex.


The thick, fluffy bread slices had soaked up the rich egg-milk mixture, and sizzled cheerfully in the frying pan, already well on their way to become Ishgardian toast.


Strictly speaking, he could seek them out, and learn of their circumstances. But that would imply that he cared.
Well, one thing was certain – they'd gladly welcome him now that he's a realm renown adventurer with a solid enough paycheck to afford land in Gridania's shiny new residential district.


He took the toast outside onto the porch, where – first things first – he downed a mug of chamomile tea like his life depended on it. The drink warmed his insides, while the crisp morning air seeped through his skin, and gnawed at his bones.
He wanted to think that the temperature contrast helped him to stay anchored to reality.


„I was already confused when I realized that you aren't asleep anymore“, U'mikke said, stepping out of the front door behind Sei, „But now I see that you've made breakfast, too.“

„I guess.“

„Who are you, and what did you do to my husband? He's nocturnal, you foul fiend.“

Sei breathed out a laugh at that.

„Anyway. Gil for your thoughts?“, she prompted, and perched next to him.

„I'm a homeowner now, and the concept is decoherent to my internalized self-perception.“

„...And now one more time for those of us who haven't finished their doctorate in bigworldology yet.“

Sei's response was to gesticulate wildly at nothing and everything in particular, and nearly knock over the toast plate in the process.

„I see. Of course“, U'mikke deadpanned.

„What I'm saying is, I was prepared to be invisibly homeless for the rest of my life, and now I don't have to so much as look at an inn room anymore. I don't know how to cope with that.“

„You're saying that like it's a bad thing.“

„It's not, but.“ More helpless flailing.

„You'll get used to it in time“, U'mikke shrugged, and patted him on the shoulder. „People get used to the damnedest things. Let's just leave this at you being happy about the new place.“


Sei deflated. He didn't feel like his wife was understanding what his issue here was, but what else was new. And this wasn't a war worth fighting.

„Want toast?“, he offered instead.

U'mikke sniffed at the plate like it had personally offended her. The plate did its best to look innocent.

„You used that raisin bread, didn't you?“

„I may have.“

„Yeah, no, thanks. Raisins aren't meant to be fried.“

„Says you, but the folks of the guild of culinarians liked it.“

„People who dine at the Bismarck are a bunch of overstuffed rich snobs, so it stands to reason that the cooks are just as gaga“, she decided with a nod, and went back inside.

Sei shrugged to himself. Left more toast for him, he supposed.