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Re:63 Melacholy IF: "The music wouldn't play" or, Resigning to this Sad Song in Another World

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I can’t do it anymore! I can’t— I—”

The blue haired maid looked ahead with a silent frown. A deep, deep miasma filled the air, a vile, evil thing in which, so thick, one could easily drown, and yet for the longest time now, she had no trouble breathing, for in its center was a brilliant, shining star.

Kneeling before her, enveloped in the witch’s stench, her beloved star stood hunched, in the greatest depths of pain. Rem couldn’t understand what had happened. Just earlier today, Subaru, her Subaru, was smiling. Perhaps not very happily, but smiling! The past few days haven’t been the easiest on her, Rem knew this, but Subaru had pushed through that, and she showed optimism again, because that’s just who Rem’s Subaru was. The girl who’d stare death in the face and wouldn’t flinch. The girl who could bring light into even Rem’s heart when she had long forgotten she even had one.

And now, as if from one moment to the next, she was enveloped in the darkest aura, begging her, begging Rem to take her away, to allow her to ‘give up’ on something unstated, unable to do even as much as to look Rem in the eye. All her Subaru could do was beg for Rem to stay with her, and take her to House Astrea.

Perhaps— Perhaps she did ask for too much.

 

Taking Subaru back to the Karsten estate, Rem asked the knight charged with healing her Subaru to evaluate their health, only to be told that there was nothing medically wrong with her, though they too could see Subaru’s sudden, inexplicable degradation.

“Just please, please don’t leave me. Please. No matter what.” Subaru would mumble throughout her examination, clutching at Rem’s arm, their eyes never meeting once, in spite of the maid’s attempts. “Just this one thing, just this much, please let me have this.” Subaru would say, holding onto Rem’s waist while resting in her lap. “I can’t— I’m sorry. Just this, I won’t ask for more.”

Who did Subaru, her Subaru beg to? At first, Rem thought it was to her, but no. No matter how she cooed the girl, no matter how she caressed her hair, no matter how many times she repeated in a whisper that she’ll always be by Subaru’s side, blushing heavily at Felix’s company at such embarrassing words— No matter what she did or said, Natsuki Subaru would not be at peace, begging further for pity, for mercy, for a single chance at salvation.

A different answer burned deep within the oni’s heart. An answer far too terrible to voice, but the only one she could imagine to be correct. There, in the market, there as Subaru patted her head, there was that sudden explosion of the Witch’s miasma. Rem could never fathom what connection Subaru could have had with the Witch. Someone as gentle and selfless, someone who’d sacrifice herself readily to protect others, even if they wronged her in ways Rem had once thought completely beyond the realm of forgiveness, someone like Subaru could never, ever have anything to do with anything as evil as the Witch of Envy— And yet, there was that foul stench, following the girl everywhere she went.

The few moments in which Rem had a chance to witness this miasma grow first hand, each a sudden explosion of different magnitudes, had almost no throughline. First, just before she awoke on her first day at the manor. This was easily the furthest out of reach of the others. Then, multiple times in those two brief days, whence she almost single handedly organized the defense against the wolgram attacking the nearby village, and then, now in the market.

When she could actually see it happen, each time but the last, Subaru appeared in great pain. Even the last, she felt as if Subaru had experienced a different kind of pain. She had to, or she wouldn’t have changed so much in an instant.

Rem had long believed that anyone so marked by the Witch would have to possess their love, but no. Subaru was clearly cursed. For whatever reason, a clear object of hate. As she charged into the forest alone to rescue a girl, she was punished with an explosion of miasma. When she repeated this on the verge of death to save Rem, the one who had nearly killed her the previous night, she was barraged by these explosions repeatedly, each time in great pain for it.

The Witch cursed her, hated her for who she was. Punished Subaru, for the pure hearted deeds she had aimed to accomplish. Likely twisted her for months or years before Rem even encountered her. How else could someone so noble have such a low opinion of themselves?

Rem cursed the Witch silently, for whatever pain she had now delivered upon her Subaru. If before today, if before listening to Subaru whimper in her arms while Felix conducted her examination Rem wasn’t certain, she was now, that the Witch was to blame for all her Subaru’s suffering.

It was the Witch, to whom Subaru prayed for mercy. It was to the Witch she begged.

Offering such subservient words to the cruelest, most evil being who could have ever existed, would be a sin from any. But not her Subaru. Anyone else would denounce her, if they realized. Anyone else might suspect the darkest things, but not Rem. She will never give up on her Subaru. She will never let her down. If Subaru needs her as desperately as she needs her now, then she’ll offer her safety. Damned be her task. Damned be Roswaal. Damned be the manor. She will stay by her faint, glimmering star, as long as it takes to see Subaru rekindle herself, so she may shine brilliant once more.

These were the thoughts Rem repeated to herself. The promises she posed upon herself. The feelings she prayed would last, as finally she made up her mind and with a carriage kindly lent by Crusch, she sat out to House Astrea near Flanders with a pathetic, black haired girl wrapped around her waist, lying beside her in the driver’s box. A pathetic, black haired girl, who was more wonderful than everything in this world put together.

 

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“Subaru.” Rem spoke softly, a tremble in her voice.

The girl she loved laid in bed in their dark room, on their side, face towards the wall, an arm pulled over their head. Subaru made no sound besides her light breathing, though Rem, sitting there beside her bed in a chair, knew that the girl was awake.

It’s now been the first morning since their arrival at House Astrea. Reinhard had, true to his apparent word, saw to Subaru and by extension Rem receiving permanent housing there, after upon their arrival Subaru greeted him by falling to the ground and begging him to let her and Rem stay there. A shocking display that seemed to find the knight with great surprise as well. Subaru would not explain even to him why she wanted so terribly to seek shelter here, rather than back at Roswaal’s manor, though Rem suspected it had to do with the half-elf’s rejection of the girl.

Yesterday, when they arrived, Rem had still hoped that this would be mended in time, and as she promised, Subaru would get a chance to make peace with the girl she so desperately wanted to regain the friendship of, by delivering a young child’s gift; but after Reinhard’s return tonight after having had to seen a gruesome task…

“Subaru.” Rem repeated. “There’s something…” she couldn’t finish the sentence on her first go. The truth was far too terrible to speak. “Please, look here. This is important.”

Subaru wouldn’t turn around, though Rem could sense the faintest quivering. A haunting thought entered her mind. Had she known? Did she figure it out from Rem’s voice alone?

“Subaru.” Rem tried one final time, but as the girl refused to react to her, she took a deep breath, and forced out the following words. “Reinhard-sama had returned. The mansion— The village— Everyone is dead.”

The girl in the bed whimpered at the words, but didn’t say anything, just pulling her blanket higher over herself.

“Em— Emi—” Rem tried to say the name, however she found herself unable to speak it.

She had long harboured distrust and a deep dislike for the half-elf. Rather, she did, until Subaru’s arrival. Perhaps even saying she hated her wouldn’t have been entirely wrong, though none of these feelings were aimed at the half-elf herself, but the cult with which Rem was certain her destiny would be tightly intertwined. It took Subaru and the people she brought to the manor, to finally let Rem see the gentle, caring soul behind the face of a half elf; and realize that the words of kindness the half-elf had always attempted to offer to Rem and her sister were not just simple pleasantries, but someone lost in a familiar isolation refusing to give up as Rem once had.

After the half-elf rejected Subaru, Rem regretted now to admit, but her negative feelings returned in lesser force under a new light. She thought her a fool, for casting aside someone that even at their most foolish and pathetic was placing her ahead of themselves.

Now, Rem would never have the chance to put these feelings to bed, or to ask for forgiveness, for the only lips that could give it were struck permanently silent.

“I get it.” Subaru muttered under her blanket, and Rem realized just how long she’s been sitting there, staring at nothing, trying to find the strength to speak a simple name. “They’re dead. All of them.”

Rem’s body tensed up at these words. While it wouldn’t have been right to say that Subaru’s voice was without pain upon hearing this news, something seemed to be missing. Rather than shock, Subaru’s reaction was… Almost matter-of-factual. As if she had expected this since Rem mentioned the warning she received from her sister the day after their departure from the capital. At the time, Subaru begged her to not leave, to not return to the manor, a request Rem chose to abide by. Upon their arrival at the Astrea manor, and Reinhard had ordered his servants to set aside guest rooms for Rem and Subaru, once Subaru left for her room, Rem of course shared this warning with him, which concluded with his summary departure to the manor. Rem was certain that if there was any threat present in Roswaal’s domain, the Sword Saint would be able to resolve it— But, tragically, by the time he arrived, it was too late.

Upon his return, the Sword Saint’s behaviour was also not quite what Rem had expected. She expected deep grief from him, but while it may have been present in his heart, his body moved on like an automaton, the disappearance of his almost ever-present polite smile being the only sign that his discovery changed him. That, and having asked to be left to himself in his room for a time.

From what the knight told her of his findings, there were countless witch cultists present there, all dead before even Reinhard’s arrival. Killed by Puck, who after the assassination of his contractor went on a rampage, finishing off the cultists still present there. With the number of bodies he listed, Rem doubted she could have made any change if she headed there, instead of staying with Subaru, but still… Still…

“Nee-sama…” Rem began, finding it difficult to mutter out even the simplest of sentences. “Reinhard-sama… He said she… Tried to protect…”

Raising a hand to her mouth, Rem bit down on her own words, her hand quickly growing wet, tears pooling atop it.

I get it.” Subaru repeated angrily, curling into a ball. After, she sucked sharply and deeply of the air, exhaling raggedly. “I get it! I get it! I get it!” she shouted into her blanket, pulling it completely over her head.”

“Su-Subaru—” Rem called, her own voice cracking a bit, in spite of her best efforts.

I. Get. It! ” Subaru screamed, pulling her pillow under the blanket and hugging it judging by the blanket’s movement. “ You don’t need to explain. I get it. I get it. I get it.” she repeated again and again loudly, before her voice softened. “I can’t do anything. There’s no point telling me. I’m useless.” she spoke weakly. “Just go.”

Rem’s lips quivered, and she hung her head. There was not much else to expect, but—

Standing up and stepping closer, Rem stood next to the bed and with a heavy sigh, interrupted by involuntary sniffles of her own, she leant forward, placing a hand on Subaru’s back. The girl under the blanket crumpled together even more somehow, giving out a long, weeping sigh.

“Those things aren’t true.” Rem said softly. Even if Subaru wasn’t strong or skilled in conventional ways, Rem couldn’t bear to hear someone, especially Subaru herself refer to the girl as useless. Not the girl who opened her long lost heart up once more.

Shaking under her blanket, Subaru gave a long, ragged breath, before yanking herself closer to the wall, away from Rem’s touch.

“I can’t. I can’t! ” Subaru reaffirmed with a shaking voice. “I never could! I never will! Leave me alone! Leave me alone and go!

Rem’s body froze, only her extended arm moving back to its resting position.

“Su—”

Just go! You have a room! Leave me!” Subaru yelled, partially muffled by her pillow under the blanket.

The maid’s face contorted enough to induce physical pain. Did she—? Yes. Subaru wanted her gone. Perhaps for only a time, but even then…

Summoning her meager strength, Rem stepped back and walked to the door.

As she stepped outside, the last thing she could hear like a whisper from inside as she closed the door was simply: “I’m not worth your time.”

With the door clicking closed behind her, Rem stopped.

Her room was just next door. It would be the simplest thing, to simply walk there, and rest. It was indeed what she should have done. What she had to do. But at the same time, she couldn’t.

Even staying on her feet was a labour. No matter how she wiped her face, the tears would not cease. Her whole body was trembling. Never, not once in her life had she been reduced to such a state. If any of the residents or servants of the manor would see her like this, it would be an embarrassment. So why, why couldn’t she just take a step, and—

Soon, Rem found herself sitting on the floor, her back against Subaru’s door. Her arms rested on her raised knees, her eyes staring at the opposing door of a vacant guestroom. Tears were slowly but surely soaking her corset. Her sister, her amazing sister would never find herself in such a pathetic state. She would have summoned some hidden, hidden reserve of strength and dealt with these events with impeccable dignity. She would have—

Rem shook her head at her own stupid thoughts.

What did she expect from Subaru? Did she really think Subaru, her Subaru, the Subaru who gave everything she had and then some to try and help everyone around them would take this any easier? That she would embrace her like long ago, and sing for Rem a silly, gentle song that will make everything better?

No one could accomplish a feat like that. Not even Natsuki Subaru.

Just how weak and selfish could Rem be, to expect to be so comforted by someone just as hurt?

“Please excuse me, am I intruding?” an elegant voice called quietly enough that it would certainly not travel through the door behind her.

Somehow, the man who assured their safe lodging, Reinhard van Astrea, the Sword Saint had managed to walk all the way next to her, just outside of her peripheral vision without being noticed. He now stood there, with a simple, concerned frown. In one hand, extended towards Rem, he held a handkerchief.

Realizing the compromising position she found herself in, Rem looked ahead, closed her eyes then took a breath, as was a small ritual of hers. She’d also call to mind the image of her sister, asking for her strength, but that didn’t quite feel the same now. Her concentration had been broken, a small pained gasp escaping her lips before she stood up with one clean motion and turned to her host with a bow.

“Rem is grateful for Reinhard-sama’s concern, but it is unnecessary.” she said as formally and politely as she could muster, doing her best to minimize the quiver in her voice.

“So then, I’m not intruding?” Reinhard asked once more, cocking his head forward slightly.

Rem swallowed uncomfortably, and shook her head.

“No, as Rem’s host, Reinhard sama couldn’t possibly be intruding.” Rem noted, intently ignoring the handkerchief still held towards her.

“I see.” Reinhard nodded, before lowering the handkerchief. “I won’t offer anything as convenient as the claim that I understand how Rem-san and Subaru feel, but you both have my deepest condolences. I wasn’t quite in the right state of mind earlier, but I wished to restate, given the circumstances, that both you and Subaru are welcome to stay as guests for as long as you please.”

Rem clenched her teeth a bit.

The knight was hard to criticise. His demeanor was gentle, he showed respect to everyone around him every time Rem had seen him, and he utterly lacked that certain air of superiority that so many nobles possessed. The last detail was especially notable considering both his family and position. By all means, Reinhard van Astrea appeared every bit the exceptional man and ‘knight amongst knights’ that he was reputed to be.

And yet, some part of Rem couldn’t forgive him for his relationship with Subaru.

She couldn’t be thankful enough to the man for saving Subaru’s life and even arranging for her arm to be saved. But after that, he sent a bouquet of flowers to her. When they came to the capital, he humbled himself before Subaru, and gave her a gift before Rem had her chance to. Then, he took the chance to share an intimate carriage ride with her to the palace. After that, he stole the privilege of carrying Subaru to knight Julius’ quarters for medical treatment. Not long after, as Subaru recounted amidst great fluster, Reinhard had intercepted her at a flower meadow, offered her his deepest respects and even gifted her a flower, not stopping there, and planting it into Subaru’s hair.

This man had stolen from Rem more than he could have ever imagined.

“Rem believes she’s also speaking for Subaru-kun when she says that we are deeply grateful for Reinhard-sama’s generosity.” Rem said with a bow.

“Please, think nothing of it.” Reinhard said, shaking his head, still frowning. Then, he glanced at Subaru’s door before returning his eyes to Rem. “Also, I wish to note that there is no need for such formalities.” he added. “You are both free to call me just Reinhard.”

Rem’s eye twitched.

“Excuse Rem, Reinhard-sama. While Rem may have failed to maintain proper etiquette at this moment, she is still a servant.” she responded, casting away his offer. “Rem will endeavour to live up to—” she choked for a moment. “To Nee-sama’s example, and put this incident behind herself without further slip ups.” she was forced out with the slightest hunch.

“I understand.” Reinhard nodded with a sigh. “Though there is no need to force anything. I understand Rem-san risked her life for Subaru’s well being. For that, you have my thanks and respects.” he said with a bow of his head.

‘His thanks’? Had he already imagined such ownership over Subaru that he should offer his thanks for her? Air hissing through her lips without her control, Rem closed her eyes to calm her anger.

“No need for such a thing, Reinhard-sama.” she said with strain. “Rem had only done what was her duty, and she will turn this tragic page in life as certainly as Nee-sama would have.”

Reinhard nodded sadly, once again lifting up the handkerchief.

“Forgive me if I spoke out of line, Rem-san.” he spoke. “I feel I must caution however that I doubt Ram-san would have tried to close such a page so simply.” he spoke, Rem’s eyes widening in shock. “I can’t pretend to have known her, but from what little I heard from Subaru, she must have been a wonderful woman, who deeply cared for Rem-san. I’ve little doubt she would miss Rem-san dearly.”

Rem’s hand raised up involuntarily. She wanted to slap the insolent knight across the face for daring to talk so brazenly about her sister he knew nothing about—

Reaching out, she took the handkerchief offered to her. It served at least to hide her initial intent, and so she quickly moved it to her face to conceal her feelings further.

“Hm.” Reinhard hummed quietly. “I can’t help, but think it a tragic coincidence that that handkerchief now dried both my guest’s eyes.” he sighed. As Rem lowered the cloth, she saw the knight’s eyes hang low, in a display of pain that did not seem to fit his features.

“Subaru-kun also used this?” Rem asked quietly, gripping the now wet velvet.

“Oh, I’m terribly sorry, she probably wouldn’t like me discussing such things.” Reinhard said, shaking his head. “I find my mind distracted, since…”

The knight didn’t finish the thought, but he didn’t need to. It seemed even the invulnerable bulwark of the kingdom wasn’t quite the same anymore.

Rem looked down at the handkerchief clutched in her hand, and thought of all the anger and frustration she felt towards the man who had indeed lost the cause to which he swore his life. Subaru, her Subaru would not let anything this minor cloud her view of another. Not when she knew that the man in question had aimed to do what was right with every step.

“There is nothing to apologize for, Reinhard-sama.” Rem bowed, clutching the handkerchief close to her chest. “If Rem may, she should return to her quarters.” she said, then paused. “May she… Keep the handkerchief?” she asked, foolishly.

“Naturally.” Reinhard nodded, giving a weak attempt at a smile. “It would be my pleasure knowing it’s of good use. Consider it Rem-san’s.”

Rem bowed once more, then quickly turned and walked a couple of paces until she reached the next door, opening it and entering her own, far, far too luxurious quarters. Just as she did so, she heard the knight knock on Subaru’s door.

For a moment, she hesitated. Dark thoughts crossed her mind, but then she hung her head and looked down at the handkerchief. Even if it gave her some discomfort, the fact was, that the knight oozed a certain air. Not of superiority, but purity. Perhaps that was what she found most threatening in him. That was why his smallest courtesies pained her heart more than Felix’s inappropriate behaviour toward Subaru.

If he stood a chance at comforting Subaru where Rem couldn’t, perhaps she should accept that he deserves that opportunity. The one thing she was certain of, was that this man wouldn’t step over any boundaries, though it was difficult to say where such conviction came from.

With a sigh, hoping that Subaru would soon recover from her terrible state, Rem banished the knight from her thoughts and pulled the door behind her shut.

 

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The hospitality afforded to Rem and Subaru was impeccable. The staff at the manor changed bed sheets daily, and on every turn, they offered all conceivable courtesy. While Rem felt that said courtesy was ill placed in her, given that she was only here as the guest of a guest, none but the lord of the manor, Heinkel Astrea showed any dissatisfaction with her or Subaru’s presence.

“Is that it?! That slum rat talks my son’s ear off, until she’s given refuge at my home, and then she refuses to pay so much respect as to show herself?!” the laggard would yell sitting at the dinner table. “And you, jumped up servant, you won’t break bread with your betters when invited either?!”

While Reinhard’s displeasure was visible, he hadn’t spoken out against his father’s words, leaving Rem to simply bow and apologize. This was, of course, proper, even if the lord of the manor could have chosen finer words.

Rem had gotten quite used to eating alone. Even back home— Even there, she wouldn’t always eat with her sister, often them eating at separate times, one handling the dishes for Roswaal and any guests’ meal, while the other returned to their room to eat, then by the time the dishes were done, the one who got an early start was ready to get to her duties, leaving their sister to eat in their quarters.

In recent days, Rem had cheated this system somewhat, finding small excuses to dine with Subaru in her quarters. Usually probing her for ideas on new fillings for the various desserts that Subaru introduced from back home, or simply to discuss whether anything should be changed in the recipes that Rem invented to match Subaru’s descriptions. Seeing Subaru eat what she had prepared filled Rem’s heart with gladness.

Now, on their second morning, she could only pray that Subaru will eat at all, let alone with Rem.

“Subaru, Rem is coming in.” she announced quietly with a knock on the girl’s door, holding a tray she borrowed from the kitchens. It had two portions of the well prepared meal that was prepared for them.

As she entered the room, she saw that the curtains were pulled in, and no lights were on, save for the time crystal in a corner of a room. In the dim illumination, she could see Subaru’s guitar, her other REM, laid against a desk, seemingly unmoved since she last visited yesterday.

Subaru, same as last time, was rolled over in her bed, staring away from the windows and at the wall.

“Rem has brought breakfast.” Rem said, quietly walking to the desk, and placing the tray down, before walking to the nearest curtains. “Rem hadn’t begun with it yet, but it seems well prepared. The staff had done an admirable job.” she continued as she pulled the curtains open.

“I’m sure.” Subaru answered briefly and quietly, not moving at all.

“If Subaru would like, Rem could stay, and could eat with Subaru.” Rem offered hopefully as the curtains were open, turning to the girl.

“Thanks, but I’m not hungry.” Subaru responded lethargically.

Rem sighed painfully, and walked around Subaru’s bed to the side where Subaru was looking, only for Subar to once more, like yesterday, turn her back, driving a stake at Rem’s heart. Sighing once more, Rem sat down behind Subaru’s back, who had now pulled a pillow before her eyes. To hide her face, or to block out the windows, Rem couldn’t say.

“Rem understands that Subaru barely touched her meals yesterday.” she spoke, miserably. “Rem understands why Subaru is upset. She— Rem is also—…” It took her a few moments of staring down at her hands locked together in her lap to find the words. “Rem too is hurt terribly by what happened, but one cannot give in.” she said, as she imagined her sister would comfort her. “What happened, happened, and it cannot be undone. Felt-sama and Emilia-sama would—”

Please. ” Subaru suddenly cried out, crumpling together, hugging her pillow to her face. “ Stop. Just stop.”

The oni looked at Subaru helplessly, then turned back ahead once more.

“Whatever Subaru’s feelings…” Rem began quietly. “She needs to eat. If she would rather do that alone, Rem understands, but Subaru will only hurt herself if she skips her meals and…” Rem took a deep breath. “Seeing that, would hurt Rem terribly.” she admitted. “Rem doesn’t want to watch Subaru waste away or even die over something like that.” Subaru trembled under her blanket as Rem continued. “So, even if Subaru will hate her for it, if she has to, Rem will force Subaru to eat. She just hopes it won’t come to that.”

The girl under the blanket didn’t respond right away, fumbling and shaking under her blanket. Rem wanted to extend a hand and place it on Subaru’s back, reassure her, but she feared at this moment, it would only upset her further.

“Okay. Just leave it here, I’ll eat.” Subaru muttered out.

Rem closed her eyes and gave thanks to her sister for giving her the strength and words to say what she had to, then stood up.

“Rem is glad to hear that, and she hopes Subaru will enjoy her meal.” she said, walking back to the desk, removing one of the portions from the tray and then leaving with the tray, heading for her room.

She ate slower than usual. She didn’t have any duties to go to, which was part of why she could excuse herself, but not the reason why she ate slowly. Between bites, she found herself wondering, thinking, hoping. That dark shadow which so violently exploded out of Subaru in the market had clearly not left her yet.

Thinking of the days at the manor was more painful than anything Rem had experienced in her life so far, but still, she searched those treasured, thorn-covered memories. Perhaps she had seen or heard something from Subaru that would help now. Perhaps her sister once said something wise.

Almost half an hour later, still without any particularly good answer, Rem had finished her meal completely. While it of course went somewhat cold by the end, it was indeed well prepared, if not quite up to her elevated standards.

Before she would have returned the tray and the dishes to the kitchen, she stopped by the door next to hers, listening closely and allowing herself a slight bit of gladness, as she heard the clinking of knife and fork against a dish from inside Subaru’s room. She knew she shouldn’t intrude, but just knowing that Subaru was eating was enough in this dark fog that her life entered into, to shine a guiding light.

Leaving the girl be, she left towards the kitchens and finding no servants currently there, took the liberty to wash up after herself before heading off to return to her room. Without a schedule, she had nothing she had to do. With wishing to give Subaru at least a few hours to herself not to overwhelm her, there was nothing she could do that she’d want to do. Waiting in her room was the best thing she could do. Had she had a more distant room, perhaps she could have indulged in her growing hobby, but Rem felt at this moment, revealing it to Subaru would be a poor tasted distraction.

“Rem-san?” a familiar, elegant voice greeted her as she exited the kitchen. It was the Sword Saint. “I’m sorry, I heard someone in the kitchens, and I thought it would be a servant.”

“Rem is a servant.” she answered with a small bow. “Rem hopes she wasn’t stepping out of line, but she wanted to clean up after herself.”

“Not at all.” Reinhard said, shaking his head. A frown was still her only companion of his face, his mind quite apparently wandering as his words grew long, and his eyes searched for something on occasion that Rem suspected wasn’t anywhere to be found. Not anymore. “Actually, since we met, I thought I should ask, does Rem-san not have any other clothes than her uniform? I would be happy to have something tailored.” he offered.

“Reinhard-sama is very kind to offer, but Rem already feels she is intruding too much as is. Please think nothing of it, this uniform is precious to Rem.” she answered honestly. For better or worse, this uniform was one of a few things left in this world to tie her to her sister and the life they had together. She had no intention of replacing it in the name of anything as trite as fashion.

The Sword Saint’s face contorted for a brief moment, his frown growing slightly.

“Please do not say that.” he asked. “I had meant whole heartedly when I stated that I consider Rem-san an honoured guest, same as Subaru. The… Events haven’t changed that, and they won’t. Myself and the staff remain and will remain at Rem-san’s disposal.”

Rem bowed deeply as thanks for the words, initially planning to then proceed back to her quarters, but—

‘Rem’s Subaru wouldn’t leave such words be.’ ran through her mind.

“If Rem isn’t intruding,” she began carefully, not certain how to proceed properly. “Reinhard-sama appeared to have been upset by Rem’s words. If there is anything she could do, please do not hesitate to ask her. Rem remains in Reinhard-sama’s debt for taking Subaru-kun and her in.”

“No, no, it wasn’t… It wasn’t exactly Rem-san’s words. I didn’t wish to imply such a thing.” Reinhard sighed. “If I may be honest, Subaru offered similar sentiments yesterday. I’m afraid I do not know how to offer her contentment, which as host is a considerable failure on my part.” he spoke bitterly.

Looking at the slightly sunken posture of the knight, Rem’s heart tugged once more. Why was he so moved by Subaru? Well, that wasn’t a hard question to answer. Better question would have been why did he have to be moved by her too?

“What did Subaru-kun say to Reinhard-sama? Rem has found that given her foreign background, Subaru-kun is sometimes liable to convey one thought, when she really means another.”

“I doubt this is such a case.” Reinhard sighed, rubbing his forehead. “To summarize our conversation, she said something to the effect of ‘Everything which I have gratitude towards her for had been lost, and so I shouldn’t waste my time on her.’ She also had words on how she doesn’t deserve the hospitality given to her, which I had to heavily disagree with.” Reinhard explained, looking discomforted in the recollection.

Rem nodded with a frown. Subaru’s words weren’t entirely without merit. Indeed, from what she understood, Reinhard offered her shelter in Felt’s name, the girl Subaru helped save, thus allowing her candidacy to be discovered. The girl who was now dead.

“I made an attempt to explain to her how what happened was beyond her control, and that… Felt-sama’s demise does not reduce the virtue in the least within the brave efforts she had demonstrated on multiple occasions for her, nor does it retract Felt-sama’s wish for me to ensure that Subaru has a home.” Reinhard continued. “This seemed to only diminish Subaru’s mood sharply.” he finished, placing a hand against his temple.

“Rem is afraid that is just how Subaru-kun is right now.” Rem nodded painfully. “Rem hopes this is simply how Subaru-kun deals with loss. Having lost track of her home, having said that she has no way to return, Rem is certain Subaru had experienced a similar tragedy in the past, and it will only be a matter of time until she recovers.” she explained hopefully, before continuing with a touch of bitter honesty. “It is kind of Reinhard-sama to try and aid her in that, however.”

“I wouldn’t say it is much, what I’ve done, or tried to do.” Reinhard shook his head. “Subaru is entirely deserving of the support she is given, and it honestly pains me to see her doubt that, after how much she had done.” he spoke, as if reading the words from Rem’s heart. “Even in moments that I cannot approve of, such as what transpired at the palace, I’m certain it was her desire to aid another that motivated her. Someone like that shouldn’t be afforded the kind of shame she appears to feel.”

Rem could do nothing but simply nod, while the man stared off into the corridor leading the guest wing.

“Ah, I’m sorry, I believe I might have trailed off.” Reinhard stated suddenly. “This doesn’t usually happen, please forgive—”

“There is, once again, nothing to apologize for Rem.” said with a small sigh and a bow.

She hated and detested the idea that anyone else would possess feelings that may make them stand between her and Subaru. Especially that it would be a man, someone so naturally advantaged against Rem. She also hated that she could find nothing to take exception to in the knight’s words. That not only were his thoughts dangerously kind towards Subaru, but correct to a fault. What she hated most of all, was the voice of reason in her heart, reminding her that she had two months to make her feelings known, and failed to do so out of nothing more than embarrassment. That the same voice told her that since Subaru never once showed her interest in that way, that Rem never expected of herself to find such interests at all meant that such things might be for the best.

Whatever the case, she wasn’t willing to give up on this contest. If she had no way to compete for Subaru’s heart, she would create it. Where the Sword Saint may compete with the combined prowess of his status, obvious charms and the very force of nature itself, Rem will beat him in experience.

“If Reinhard-sama isn’t bothered too much, there is one thing Rem would like to request.” she spoke, recalling Subaru's own actions as inspiration.

“Not at all.” Reinhard noted. “If there is a matter in which I could aid Rem-san or Subaru, it would be my honour.” he answered.

Rem gave a small bow and held it before continuing.

“Rem can’t help, but feel without purpose as a guest. If it is possible, she would like to offer her services, at least so long as Subaru-kun remains here. In particular, there are some dishes she feels the manor’s occupants might find enjoyable that Rem had mastered over the years.” she stated. “Also some new, exotic desserts that may be a delight.” she added, Subaru before her eyes.

 

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It’s been roughly a month since Rem began her new duties at the Astrea manor. She had come to well understand the lord of the manor’s nature as a drunken wastrel, completely unfit and unworthy of his status in the Royal Guard, likely carried by nothing but his family name, and his son’s notoriety. Not that this came as much of a surprise. Rem had already been aware of the man’s nature for some time, but only out of reputation, and the not particularly loudly spoken kind at that. Experiencing it for herself first hand was much more certain.

He had remained as unwelcoming as ever, continuing to grumble about a ‘useless, miserable layabout’ in his house. It was only through great effort that Rem had managed to maintain a professionally amicable attitude towards her new master. The occasional words of minor praise in relation to meals Rem prepared did nothing to endear him to her heart.

What occupied her heart more, was simply Subaru’s continued lack of improvement.

Ever since their arrival, Subaru had refused to venture further from her room than the attached bathroom. Any time Rem ventured inside, she’d find the curtains pulled, and Subaru laying in her bed, wearing the same nightgown. The fact that Rem was the one who sewed it for her, didn’t not make this fact any more pleasant after the first week. When she had the time away from her new duties, Rem grew a little forceful and dragged Subaru on her feet. She had seen Subaru perform those daily exercises enough to know they must have been a good way to keep her body from succumbing to lethargy. With silent, emotionless protest, Subaru would perform her exercises in her room under Rem’s watch, but any attempt at discussion was met with silence or dismissal.

From what she saw and was told, Reinhard himself attempted to talk with Subaru on occasion, though he wasn’t always at the manor. His attempts from what she could tell were also effortless.

Seeing Subaru in such a state filled her heart with the deepest sense of inadequacy.

“Rem is coming in, Subaru.” Rem announced, entering through the door with a simple, half-hearted knock.

As expected, Subaru was in her bed, buried under her blanket, staring at a wall.

The rest of the room appeared mostly unchanged. The guitar resting against the side of the desk continued to collect dust. Something Rem would have to fix soon. The only noticeable difference was that one of the books she left for Subaru to read was in a different spot, and the book mark inside it seemed to have moved, if only slightly since yesterday.

“Is Subaru enjoying that book?” Rem asked, pulling the desk chair to the bed and sitting down.

The girl in the bed didn’t answer, nor turn towards Rem. It was a heartbreaking matter of fact that in spite of her best efforts, Subaru and her haven’t met each other's eyes since their arrival here. A fact that didn’t seem like it was going to change any time soon, even with her spending her free time each day right here, keeping Subaru company.

It had developed into something of a habit of hers to come visit the girl, sit by her and just watch. Sometimes, she talked about things that have been happening at the manor. She avoided unpleasant topics like Heinkel Astrea, instead mentioning the progress on teaching other servants such as the Remendis twins’ certain dishes.

She less avoided Heinkel because she didn’t want to upset Subaru, and more because she still found it distasteful to talk ill of the person in whose employ she was, and who continued to permit Subaru’s stay here. Because of this, she shied away from sharing her conflicting feelings about the Remendis twins, recognizing herself and her sister in them. A feeling not aided by both gentle girls sharing her sister’s hair colour. At only twelve years old, they felt like seeing a picture from her own past.

Rem also told Subaru of the twins’ grandparents who recently moved to the main house, having previously been the keepers of the villa in the capital. Apparently, while his duties continued to take him afar, Reinhard had been ordered by his captain to spend his free time with family at the manor, and so the old couple asked to be moved here in support of their master. While the noble circles weren’t exactly the widest, she also told of the coincidence of Roswaal’s grandmother having been friends with said old couple, a fact she had only remembered when Carol Remendis, the twins’ grandmother greeted Rem and expressed her deepest condolences, speaking of how fondly she held that previous mistress of the Mathers domain in her memory.

Considering that the two of them were the attendants of the villa in the capital where Reinhard had previously spent most of his time, it didn’t come as much of a surprise that the couple made special note of how much the knight had changed, Rem sensing a hidden fear underneath their words. A fear that she would have lied if she claimed didn’t resonate in her too, but as she explained to the back of a silent Subaru, she had realized Subaru would aim to remove such unfounded thoughts from her mind. It was after all both unfair, and foolish to treat the man who could obviously not even stand against his father, and treated her Subaru with such fondness and respect, as only the kingdom’s weapon.

Throughout all these ‘talks’, Subaru never gave a response any greater than an occasional hum, refusing or unable to participate in conversation. The dark cloud of miasma had dissipated somewhat over the girl, but its mark clearly remained on Subaru’s spirit.

Rem sighed, looking back at the book that Subaru refused to answer a simple question about once more.

“Please, Subaru. Rem isn’t asking for a lot.” she said, feeling as though she was reaching the edge of something. This state of affairs had gone on for far too long. “Please, say something. Anything.” she begged, looking at the blanket covered back.

Subaru offered no answer.

“It’s so hard to… Understand.” Rem mumbled quietly. “Subaru isn’t like this. Subaru had never been like this.” she spoke, to which her answer was the blanket crumpling together some more around the hunching figure. “Rem understands Subaru’s pain. She had lost everyone too.” The girl before he shook. “Rem knows it is painful, but Rem is here. Subaru isn’t alone. Subaru will never have to be alone. So just please, let Rem help.” she begged with a weak voice, reaching out to touch the girl’s back. “All Subaru has to do is let her.”

The moment Rem’s hand touched Subaru’s back, she jolted away from it, nearly falling down the opposite side of the bed, before breaking into fit of heavy breaths, sitting up halfway in her bed, sucking air, still showing her back to Rem, while balancing her torso on one arm.

“Subar—!” Rem called out in a moment of panic.

Leave! Leave! Leave! Leaaaaaaave!” Subaru screamed holding her free arm towards the door, not even looking back, her head hanging down.

“Subaru can’t mean—” Rem pleaded, clutching at her heart, looking at the exasperated girl.

Leave! ” Subaru repeated, before returning her pointing hand to her head and digging her fingers into her unkempt hair she hadn’t allowed Rem or anyone else to cut for a month. As Subaru continued her rabid cries into the corner opposite from Rem, she switched to her ‘English’ language. “ I tried everything! This is the best I could do! Why don’t you just take it?! Why don’t you just live?! I can’t be who you want me to be! I never could! Even if I was that way, I’m not good enough! I’ve never been! Not for anyone! What do you mean I’ve never been like this?! This is me. This is all I’ve ever been. Who or whatever you liked was never me! It was a lie! I made you believe in a lie! That is how low I am! That is how disgusting I am! So why, why, why won’t you just go and live a better life?! Why won’t you go?! Why won’t you live?! I don’t deserve this. I never did! If I had a choice, I’d just die. I wanted to die so, so bad. I wanted to be free of this, but I couldn’t! I can’t! Not unless I lose even this one thing! This one thing! Everything will just go back, and it will all start over again! All I want is for you to live, so fucking go already and do that! Because if you won’t— If you won’t—!

Subaru cried and rambled on like this, Rem recognizing only the occasional word as ones she heard before, but utterly clueless to their meanings.

“This is…” Rem muttered, her heart aching like it hadn’t since she heard of her sister’s death. Perhaps more. “This isn’t fair.”

It isn’t! It isn’t! It isn’t! ” Subaru cried.

“The first time Subaru actually speaks…” Rem continued miserably. “And it’s spoken so Rem can’t even understand it.”

Subaru fell quiet, simply dropping down into her pillow and weeping into it.

“This is too cruel.” Rem spoke, wiping her eyes. “Rem’s Subaru—”

Rem’s Subaru was a shining beacon. An embodiment of beauty, kindness, bravery and joy. Someone who always tried their best, who’d know the depths of danger she faced, but would face it anyway, because she believed she must. Rem’s Subaru couldn’t always save the day on her own power, but she’d do her best regardless. Rem’s Subaru would always look to make the life of everyone around her a little better, a little brighter. Rem’s Subaru would do all of this even while surrounded with the worst odds, the darkest shadows, and the deepest miasma. Rem’s beautiful, beloved Subaru.

This broken girl, who had refused to leave her room for a month, who did nothing but vegetate in bed and occasionally read, now even tortures Rem with such cruel hidden words…

This wasn’t Rem’s Subaru.

“Give her back.” Rem wept, her tears flowing faster than she could wipe them away, if she hadn’t given up on that. “Give back Rem’s Subaru.”

Subaru refused to answer, just hugging her pillow.

Something deep and terrible welled in Rem’s chest.

“Give back Rem’s Subaru!” she cried, standing up with such force that her chair fell over behind her. “Give her back!” she yelled.

She wasn’t yelling at Subaru, nor at the facsimile lying in the bed. She was screaming at the Witch, whose stench still oozed from the girl. No one else could have so surely taken away Rem’s reason for living. The only thing that kept her going after hearing of the manor’s destruction. Her one guiding star. The embodiment of all her hopes.

Give! Her! Back! ” she continued, screaming, her tears flung far and she shook her whole body violently. “ Rem deserves this much! You’ve taken everything else!

Subaru, who had curled up into a ball before her in her bed simply continued to weep, until finally speaking a few, quiet, arcane words.

She never existed. ” is all Subaru spoke.

Rem’s lips quaking, her hands shaking, her whole body trembling— She felt something within her fill to the top and then over.

Reaching into her front pocket with one violent stroke, she grasped something she had once held extremely precious, and held it high.

If you’re going to take everything again, then don’t forget Rem’s dreams either!” she yelled, and threw it at the corner of the wall with enough force that not only did the fragile rod snap into multiple pieces, but it even left a considerable mark on the woodwork.

Rem’s hands jumped to her mouth as she realized what she did. She never intended this. She never thought it through. She never wanted Subaru to—

Gasping for air, looking at the frozen girl before her, then at the mark on the wall, then the fallen chair at her feet, Rem couldn’t take it anymore, and turned around, ran to the door and slapped it closed behind herself without stopping.

 

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A few days passed, but Rem couldn’t enter Subaru’s room. Not after what she did.

As could be expected, Heinkel berated her heavily for damaging his ancestral home; beration she could and should do nothing but accept. Beration she completely deserved, and many fold at that, allowing her emotions to get the better of her once more in a destructive, thoughtless fashion. If her sister was here, surely even she would look to Rem with the deepest disappointment.

The rest of the staff did not touch the topic at all, leaving her to her just guilt. The only person offering her their condolences, and aiming to show a measure of misplaced compassion, was Reinhard, once he returned from his duties and learned of the incident. He also offered to visit with Subaru, and attempt to figure things out, but Rem could only ask him with the deepest shame to not bother. This wrong was one only Rem could set right.

Whenever she had the strength of spirit to enter Subaru's room once more.

Even though she took on duties at the manor, at the time Reinhard insisted that Rem keep the quarters near Subaru’s. His reasoning was that even though Subaru may not show it, he was certain the girl would feel better knowing Rem was nearby.

The maid could no longer live contentedly believing in this idea.

With each night, sleeping became a chore onto its own, Rem finding it difficult to sleep, knowing Subaru was just a wall across from her, possibly still thinking of her outburst. She wished to apologize, to make herself clear. But how could she, when Subaru wouldn’t even respond to her presence, except to burst out with a display of misery. This Subaru couldn’t possibly forgive her the way her Subaru had.

There was no such thing as restful sleep anymore. She couldn’t help but hold each breath while lying in bed, listening, vainly hoping that she might hear Subaru call out in the night. That perhaps, even without braving the entrance of Subaru’s room, she could find some petty proof that Subaru hadn’t abandoned her. That Rem may yet mend some semblance of what they had.

Each night since the outburst passed this way until Rem slowly lost consciousness. She never needed too much sleep, having before, back home stolen away into Subaru’s room at night on occasion for a chance to watch her. She told herself it was because ‘who knows what other mabeasts’ may live in the nearby forest who may steal into the manor, tracking Subaru’s scent, and she’d need Rem’s protection, but in truth it was only because seeing Subaru sleep peacefully gave the kind of comfort to her heart she never felt before. Why did she find it so difficult to find an excuse to state this before? Why did she have to doubt her own feelings so? Why did she have to postpone stating them plainly to a time when surely, Subaru couldn’t return them?

Haunted by such questions day and night, Rem’s quiet vigil continued this night as well, expecting no sound once more, though hoping—

A muffle noise broke through the wall separating Rem’s room from Subaru’s. The walls were thick, few sounds could pass through them, but this did. The sound of something heavy thumping on the floor!

Rem snapped completely awake, her heart beating heavily. It wasn’t the sound of a body. Subaru hadn’t simply rolled out of bed. Nor did it sound like wood of any kind. Instead, if anything, she thought there was the faintest afterring, like it was something metallic.

What could have produced that sound? It didn’t make any sense. Her cluelessness burning in her heart and mind alike, Rem couldn’t help it, but jumped out of bed in her nightgown and rushed to the door. Making her way down the corridor to the neighbouring door with hurried but quiet, barefoot steps, she reached for the handle of Subaru’s room and quietly turned it, pushing it in.

“Su—?” she began with a whisper as the door pushed open, her heart still beating in her throat, until it stopped.

Ahead of her, across from the door, there sat Subaru against the wall, her knees pulled up, her arms hugging around them. She was crying quietly, one of her hands and sleeves splattered with something dark, that curved blade she received on their arrival to the capital lying away from her near the foot of the bed where it seemed to have been tossed, a red liquid gleaming in the moonlight breaking through the curtains at its tip.

Subaru!” Rem cried out desperately as the darkest premonition entered her mind, and she launched herself across the room and to Subaru.

Pushing Subaru’s hands and legs aside, she searched for the wound, and quickly found it, a not too deep cut on the side of Subaru’s throat. It was almost right on top of a vital artery. It wasn’t well placed enough to threaten her life, but still—!

Subaru! Why would—?!” Rem gasped, shaking her head, before reaching out and pressing her hand against Subaru’s neck, beginning to channel her mana through her neck to heal the bleeding wound as fast as possible.

The girl sitting before her simply turned her head away, closing her eyes, her arms and legs hanging limply. She offered no complaint for Rem’s rescue, nor any other words.

“Why?” Rem gasped as the wound closed. “Why would Subaru do such a thing?!” she asked beggingly, turning to Subaru, before beginning to check her body over for any other self-inflicted injuries to make certain that as she sensed with her magic, there were no other injuries.

“It’s all my fault.” Subaru said quietly, with a weeping voice. Rem was taken aback by the answer given. By the mere fact that an answer was given to her. “They’re dead because of me. Because I wasn’t good enough.”

Rem knelt there, frozen before Subaru for a moment, before wrapping her arms around the girl’s head and drawing it to her chest.

No! No!” Rem cried into Subaru’s hair. “It isn’t Subaru’s fault!” she said, shaking her head, rubbing her tears deeper. “There was nothing Subaru could have done! Is this why Subaru’s been like this?” she asked, as Subaru simply sat and beared with her. “Rem never blamed Subaru! Not for anything!” she continued desperately holding onto her.

“You don’t get it.” Subaru spoke, somewhat muffled. “You’ll never get it. If I was just… If I was just anyone else, maybe they could all be alive still.”

How could Subaru ever think or speak something so foolish? So plainly ill founded? Something so cruel?

“Subaru is wrong!” Rem wept. “Reinhard-sama explained what he found there, and nothing, nothing Subaru could have done could have stopped it from happening.”

“You don’t know that.” Subaru muttered, Rem feeling their tears through her nightgown. “Maybe there was some way.”

Squeezing the girl even harder, Rem shook her head again.

“Even if Rem was to go when she received Nee-sama’s warning, she couldn’t have stopped it. The cult forces there were too many, too strong.” she cried into the hair of the girl below. “Nothing but an army could have helped, and— And—”

Rem’s heart sunk, as she recalled the last task bestowed upon her by Roswaal. The task she failed.

“That is what Rem should have secured, but she couldn’t.” Rem admitted. Her greatest failing along with allowing Subaru to become like this. “If Rem did better, if she had made the alliance she was tasked with forging, then when Nee-sama sent her warning, it could have been stopped!” she cried. “See, Subaru’s not at fault! Rem is!”

There was perhaps a time Rem could never have behaved this way, or even admitted something like this out loud. A time when her heart was securely locked away in a lost lockbox in a forgotten corner of the world, its key tossed over the great waterfall. A time when she could swallow such shame and carry on as if nothing happened. But then, Subaru, her Subaru happened across the lockbox, returned it to her, and with nothing but a crooked twig picked the lock open in one casual motion, like she wasn’t even trying.

Rem had since had to try to remain herself, to follow her duties first, as was once her only nature. Underneath it however, slowly growing, there was a voice. A voice she had lost even before her earliest true memories. The voice of a young girl who was never allowed to live in her and her sister’s original home. A girl who was cast away, so instead someone clinging to her sister’s shadow may take her place and keep her safe. A girl who had awoken for the first time in earnest, and for whom every little thing was a fresh, beautiful new experience, so long as it was experienced with the person who pulled her from the pit whence she was tossed and forgotten. The pit even her sister couldn’t reach the bottom of, tries as she may have.

Seeing that person, Subaru hurt? It was unacceptable. Seeing Subaru become this thing? It was unthinkable. Having such a thing happen because of her own failure? It was unforgivable.

And so, what she was certain was her final shield melted away, leaving her a hopeless sinner.

“Don’t… Don’t ever say that.”

These words came from Subaru, who grabbed Rem’s arms, and pushed her back. Her normally comparatively immense strength having left her the moment she felt the cut on Subaru’s neck against her fingertips, Rem was helpless as Subaru pushed her off of herself.

“It’s not your—” Subaru began, staring at Rem’s left shoulder as Rem descended back on her heels before her, but then Subaru’s eyes wandered off to something behind Rem, her pupils narrowed and biting at her lips, Subaru turned her face away.

Looking behind herself, Rem saw the silhouette of a tall man in the doorway, wearing a simple nightgown, his blazing red hair illuminated by the magic crystals in the corridor practically beaming from the doorway. A look of utter, uncharacteristic shock spread over the Sword Saint’s face, as he held onto the doorframe, his mouth slightly agape, his eyes filled with disbelief wandering between the pair of Subaru and Rem, and the discarded blade by the bed.

Pushing Rem further away, Subaru pulled her legs in, raised her arms around her head and rolled her body against the wall, pulling her knees tightly in against her chest, blocking any hope of approach.

“Please, just leave Rem.” Subaru said quietly under her arms. “I’m not worth your time.”

Her heart pushed to its limit once more in so few days, found herself only gasping silent words at Subaru, wishing to beg her to change her mind, to let Rem— No. She had lost that chance.

Standing up, Rem tried to steel her heart, and brushed off her nightgown. Subaru’s blood and tears couldn’t be so easily removed. Stepping to the bed, Rem reached down and grabbed the discarded blade. She couldn’t trust it near Subaru.

“Did—?” Reinhard spoke in disbelief as Rem stood up and walked to the door where he stood.

“A knight should know that barging into a maiden’s room at night is highly inappropriate.” Rem spoke drying, a fresh, new, passionate hatred burning in her heart towards the knight, as she pushed the bloodied blade he gave to Subaru against his chest with its flat side, pushing him out of the doorway, soon to follow him out. “Rem will alert the staff so the gowns and the floor may be properly cleaned.” she continued, averting her eyes from the night to avoid giving him any untoward looks of unbridled rage, knowing he just cost her the first time in months, perhaps the only time that Subaru spoke to Rem, on top of giving her Subaru the weapon that could have taken her life tonight. “Reinhard-sama should return to his quarters.” she finished.

The soft thumps of Rem’s bare feet on the wooden floor did little to deafen out the echoes of weeping growing more and more distant.

 

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Days slowly began to meld together. At the time of the incident, Rem was in a state of… She wasn’t even sure what it was. She wasn’t thinking straight. Thinking back, she found herself preoccupied with the fact that it was the closest Rem had gotten to talking with Subaru since they came here. It was the most Subaru had spoken since what happened with Roswaal’s manor.

Since then, Rem had completely lost the strength to visit Subaru. She wanted to, more than anything. Even if it would be like before, with the girl only showing her back, it would be enough for Rem, but…

Ever since the incident, Reinhard had visited Subaru each day he was at the manor. Rem couldn’t bear to ask him whether he managed to get a word out of her. She didn’t know if it would be worse if he did or if he didn’t. Suffice to say, Reinhard never approached Rem, telling her that Subaru wished to see Rem. By itself, that was enough to keep her away. After all, what had happened, was in truth more Rem’s fault for what she said and did. It had to be. Her heart’s accusations of blame towards the knight in giving Subaru the exact tools, were just that. She could have thought the same, had Subaru simply used a kitchen knife.

The duties of seeing to Subaru’s well being were taken on by Carol Remendis. It was the dutiful elderly woman that delivered her food each day. It was her who saw to clean clothes and everything else being delivered to the room. While the old woman didn’t seem to share Rem and Reinhard’s compassion towards Subaru, she performed her duties without complaint.

The knight himself seemed to have only sunken in more since what Subaru did. Rem understood that he apparently disposed of the blade, and the times in which Rem saw him sit or stand somewhere during his visits to the manor, staring off into nothing, have grown considerably. Sometimes he’d sit in the manor’s library with a closed book before him, staring at the shelves, other times, he’d spend time in the gardens by himself. Occasionally, Rem even found him entering the room where his mother’s body rested, rendered paralysed and motionless for about two decades now. While Rem hardly kept track of such things, she didn’t recall ever seeing the Sword Saint enter that room previously.

Ultimately, it appeared that even with her best efforts to continue to be a model servant, one her sister could be proud of, she had done the opposite of not only her heart’s desires, but of what her duties expected of her. She had plummeted Subaru’s condition even further, and in doing so set a darker dark cloud upon the man who by virtue should be the master of the manor.

For a time, she could live with this shame. For a time, she selfishly held onto her desire to be near Subaru, but she could do that for only so long.

Finding Reinhard in the library by himself, Rem cleared her throat as she approached the dejected man whose attention was utterly separated from the book held in his hands. By all means, she should have gone to the knight’s father with this, but frankly, she preferred the knight’s company to their father’s, even with him having been a rival.

“If Rem may have a moment of Reinhard-sama’s time, she has something she needs to announce.” Rem said with a bow once the knight looked up at her.

“Please, go ahead.” the knight nodded distantly.

Calming herself for a moment, Rem collected her thoughts and spoke simply and to the point.

“Rem would like to resign from her position on the staff and leave the manor.” she spoke, pushing her emotions down as much as she could, hoping not a hint of them escaped through her voice.

Reinhard simply hummed and nodded at first, before his eyes tensed up, and with one quick motion, he closed his book shut, placing it on the table and turning his full attention to Rem.

“Rem-san, what do you mean by this? If you intend to take Subaru somewhere else, you have my blessing, but arrangements should be made. Where are you headed? Are you certain she’ll be well there?”

Rem hung her head. Hearing his thoughts first being of Subaru filled her heart with a painful sort of gladness. Subaru would be in good hands even if they weren’t Rem’s.

“There is no need for arrangements.” Rem said with a bitter smile, shaking her head. “Rem is certain Subaru is in the best possible care here. It is only Rem who will be departing.”

The knight’s brows furrowed sharply, matching his eyes.

“And where exactly do you intend to go, Rem-san?” he asked with a tired, disapproving sigh.

“Rem is not quite certain.” Rem admitted. “She understands very well how outstanding Reinhard-sama’s generosity was, accepting a demi-human such as herself on his staff, and that most other nobles who could put Rem’s experience would likely either not approve of a demi-human on their staff, or wouldn’t need another maid or cook, so likely Rem would seek to instead put her knowledge to use and become a tutor. She had realised a small passion for it thanks to Subaru-kun, after all.” she spoke quietly, maintaining her bitter, not entirely disingenuous smile. “Another possibility that occurred to Rem was perhaps travelling abroad, to Kararagi perhaps, where she has heard demi-humans are generally less frowned upon.” she continued. “All in all, Rem is certain she can find something to do with a little effort, but it isn’t really a matter with which Reinhard-sama should concern himself. He had already shown the greatest hospitality to Rem.”

Having said all this, Rem considered her announcement properly carried out. All that would remain would be to gather her belongings which she took the liberty to pack ahead of time, and depart for the city of Flanders nearby. Even receiving her pay felt like a task that could well be skipped. After all, she was in debt to the manor.

This was proper.

This was good.

As she turned and began to walk towards the library’s exit, she heard the slightest creaking of a wooden chain, and moments later, a hand wrapped itself around her wrist.

“Rem-san, please wait.” Reinhard spoke, gently pulling back on her hand.

Rem couldn’t turn around to face him. Speaking these words, these words that would be her final condemnation to leave Subaru behind, was all that her strength could muster, and her face no longer obeyed her commands, tears running in streams down her cheeks.

“Rem-san, if I may, please explain why you wish to leave at this time.” Reinhard spoke again.

“There is simply no need for Rem here.” Rem spoke quickly and quietly, pulling her hand free, and holding it before herself.

While Reinhard didn’t hold her back from freeing her hand, he wasn’t giving up on the conversation either, and continued, towering behind her, his shadow from the magic crystal chandelier blotting Rem’s out on the fine floor.

“I have to disagree, Rem-san.” Reinhard spoke. “I do not know much of the staff’s workload at the manor, but at the very least, I am certain Subaru would be very sad to learn that Rem-san had departed, were such a thing to happen.”

Subaru? Sad for Rem’s leaving? After everything she did?

“It is best for Subaru-kun that Rem leaves.” Rem said, shaking her head, still only showing her back to the knight. “Rem is clearly a negative influence on Subaru-kun’s recovery. Maybe she reminds Subaru-kun of everything that happened, maybe it’s something else. Regardless, it has been made clear that Rem can’t help her. The only change she accomplished was a detrimental one. Rem should leave for Subaru-kun’s sake.”

As she spoke, an audible weep escaped her lips, but she tried to hide it as a hiccup. She was uncertain of the effect.

“Doesn’t Rem-san want to at least talk about this with Subaru before making a final decision?” Reinhard asked, placing a gentle hand on her shoulder. “I’m certain, if Rem-san just gives it a chance…”

“Has Subaru-kun ever asked to see Rem?” Rem asked, hanging her head, her tears dripping onto the floor below until she moved a hand ahead to absorb them into her uniform instead.

“Well, not quite asked…” Reinhard admitted, to which Rem simply pulled her shoulder out from under his grasp and straightening out, she continued towards the door without further word, until—

Reinhard placed a hand on Rem’s shoulder once more, this time walking ahead of her and turning to face her.

“Rem-san, you should know that when Reinhard visits Subaru, she almost never speaks.” he began, while Rem’s face quivered with the shame of her tears being witnessed first hand. “However, when rarely Subaru speaks, the only thing she speaks of is you.”

She wanted to retort. She wanted to protest. She wanted to put away her etiquette and push the nobleman out of her way before storming off, but instead, as she could do, was stand there, frozen in place, emitting a series of pathetic gasps, as her hands slowly raised to cover her face.

Why? Why couldn’t he just let her leave. Perhaps her heart could have survived leaving that way. Even if it didn’t, she could have followed through with it.

Her head low, weeping into her hands, experiencing shame beyond any she had known before, she just stood there.

“Subaru-kun shouldn’t think of Rem.” she cried into her hands. “What happened was entirely Rem’s fault! If she had only—!”

In a sudden development she couldn’t have predicted in a thousand lifetimes, she felt the knight’s hand move from her shoulder, and joined by its pair, wrapped itself around her. She had to lower her hands to confirm, but the knight before her had stepped close and embraced her.

This was wrong. This was unacceptable. Not only did she not want to be hugged by this man of all people, but it was also completely inappropriate!...

But right now, she lacked the strength to even push him away.

“Rem-san is wrong.” Reinhard spoke. “Rem-san isn’t to blame for what happened, only me.” As he said these words, there was no sorrow in his voice greater than the sadness he carried since the massacre. “You had no responsibility to rescue the manor from such a catastrophe. No one would or had expected such a thing of you. Dealing with the Witch Cult is the duty of the knights, and was doubly mine, with Felt-sama there.” he spoke, his voice not wavering with grief, instead simply in a perpetual state of regret. “So please, do not let this stand between Rem-san and Subaru. I know for a fact that Subaru doesn’t, and would never blame Rem-san. She has said as much.”

Feeling utterly drained and defeat, Rem let her head slump forward against the knight’s chest, and wallowing cries overtook her.

Subaru’s cooing voice echoed in her memory: ‘It doesn’t matter, Rem.’

Then, Subaru’s words from just before they were interrupted by the man who now so brazenly, so grossly, so wrongly held her flashed through her mind as well.

‘Don’t ever say that!’ Subaru once yelled at her before. ‘You’re not doing anyone any good by thinking such horrible things!’

It wasn’t fair.

As she wept, she just repeated the thought in her mind.

It wasn’t fair.

Why did the Witch have to curse them so?

 

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After a long, fortifying breath, Rem reached out and knocked on the door before her.

“Rem is coming in, Subaru.” she announced, stepping inside, finding the room much the same as the last time she came here so long ago. Carol appeared to have kept the dust off of things, including the guitar still resting against the desk in the same way as always.

Subaru, like before was lying in her bed, the only thing about her visibly changing from the picture in Rem’s mind, was that Subaru’s unruly hair had grown noticeably longer.

As was once Rem’s tradition, she moved to the desk, took the chair and moved it to Subaru’s bed. As she did so, she noticed a small detail she hadn’t realized before. Under the desk, there was a large lockbox that hadn’t been there before, and on a closer, if glancing look, Rem noticed a mark left by an ink splotch on the top of the desk.

When the chair was placed, Rem carefully held the back of her skirt to the back of her knees and sat down quietly.

For the first few minutes, having asked for a free day, rather than proceed with her previous plans of resignation, she simply chose to enjoy this precious, if sad time with Subaru. Seeing the blanket slowly rise and fall with her breaths, the way her head moved slightly on occasion, making her hair wrinkle. Even this much satisfied something starved and lonely inside her.

However, watching Subaru act as if she was asleep was not the reason for which Rem wished to claim a full day to herself.

“Subaru? Rem would like to talk about something.” she began. “It is alright if Subaru doesn’t answer, but Rem would like to talk anyway. Is that fine?”

Subaru offered no answer, so Rem simply nodded to herself.

“It is difficult to put this into proper words, but… There is something Rem had wanted to tell Subaru for a long time now. Something she doesn’t expect anything for, but something she simply needs to say.” she began with great difficulty.

If she tried to look back on all the opportunities she had to say this, she would likely break her own heart with her foolishness.

“The truth is… The truth is, that Rem… Rem loves Subaru.” she said finally.

She wished it wasn’t Subaru’s back that she would have been confessing to, but it was better this way than not at all.

“At first, Rem wasn’t certain of what she felt. She had never thought to fall in love.” she continued. “More than that, she didn’t think it would be, well, someone like Subaru.” she continued awkwardly, smiling a bitter smile into her own lap. “Well, not Subaru specifically, but… Rem hopes Subaru understands.”

Even with preparations, it was difficult to talk about this. Indeed, she truly never gave much consideration to such things. Her vision of the future had always been simply growing old with her sister. If anything, Rem had been averse to the idea of romance, as she never considered herself someone who’d have room for such a thing, and any romantic thoughts aimed at her sister felt like a hostile incursion. If her sister had feelings towards someone, that Rem could live with. She would have to live with. However, there was occasion for her to put childish advances in the ground before.

“Truth is, when Subaru said those awful things about herself that day, before the departure from the capital, Rem wanted to tell her how wrong she was. Ever since then, Rem wanted to say, but… Then, she was afraid Subaru might not accept her feelings, or worse, might leave without Rem, not wanting to be with her anymore, because it would be too strange.” she recalled with a heavy sigh.

It was strangely both difficult, and surprisingly easy to speak her mind now. Perhaps it was that she simply cried herself out before, and there was no more room for pain or fear, only the truth.

“Later, Rem didn’t wish to share anything of the like, because… With what happened at the manor, she feared it would be exploiting Subaru’s emotions. Especially with Nee-sama, Emilia-sama and Felt-sama… Rem couldn’t do that.” she continued with a heavy heart. “The truth is, that it breaks Rem’s heart, to hear Subaru think so poorly of herself, as if she didn’t know how wonderful she truly is.”

Still no answer came from the bed, Subaru lying motionless aside from her breathing, and a hand visibly clutching into the pillow before her.

“The infinite kindness, forgiveness, and unconditional love that Rem knows is in Subaru’s heart, is breathtaking.” she said, gazing at the slowly shifting blanket. “Even while she was injured, and barely had any energy, Subaru would go to the village to play with the children. Subaru came up with such wonderful ideas for them, as well for everyone at the manor.” she recalled. “Rem had honestly never expected to see Beatrice-sama as many times in her entire lifetime as she did in those short, beautiful two months. Rem is certain it was only Subaru’s gentle nature, and her bottomless reservoir of thoughtful little things like all those desserts that brought Beatrice-sama out of her library with such frequency.” she said. “In fact, if not for Subaru, Emilia-sama would likely never have opened herself up as much as she did, visiting the villagers, even if in disguise. Rem is certain that her life was a little brighter, a little better because she had Subaru in it. And that goes for everyone there.” she spoke, small, rapid breaths over taking her for a moment. “Especially… Especially Rem.”

The blanket moved once more, so Rem paused, hoping that perhaps Subaru would say something, but as she did not, Rem continued.

“Until Rem met Subaru— Rather, until Rem truly came to see Subaru— It’s as though Rem’s whole world was incomplete. Looking back feels akin to recalling a time in which Rem was an unknowing prisoner, seeing the world through only a small window. A world in which Rem had no real place.” she explained. “Rem doesn’t know for sure exactly what it was that shattered those walls. Whether it was seeing Subaru risk her life for a child, risking her life for Rem, after all she had done twice, the way in which Subaru did it, or everything Subaru said afterwards… There isn’t a single thing, Rem doesn’t think so. There isn’t a single thing for which she feels this way towards Subaru.” she said, clutching her heart. “Everything. Everything about Subaru. Everything she did that day, everything since then, had been nothing but wonderful. Even the things Rem found distasteful… Especially the things she found distasteful!”

Rem’s mind wandered back to that distant day when Reinhard came to the rented manor in the capital, to retrieve Felt.

“When Subaru snuck into the palace, because she was convinced she would be able to help Emilia-sama, when she asked to train with Wilhelm-san, to try and become stronger.” she listed. “Even the smallest things, like the way Subaru would always turn her plate a certain way when eating those parachintas. How she’d put on a strong face during those nightly runs, and pretend she wasn’t as tired as she was to keep Emilia-sama in high spirits. How she would always try to match Rem’s pace when we were walking together. The whimsical way in which she tried to teach Rem her language, because songs are so close to Subaru’s heart. The way Subaru would break into humming tunes while thinking that Rem doesn’t think Subaru even noticed she did.”

The more she went on, the lighter and lighter her heart began to feel. While she still feared what Subaru’s response would be, if there would even be one, the relief of finally saying it all was like nothing she had experienced outside of the time Subaru embraced her and sang her a song from Subaru’s home, after recovering from the battle with the wolgram.

“Everything about Subaru makes Rem happy.” As she said this, she wiped a tear from her eye. For once, not one of pain. “And Rem is certain of one more thing. Something that Subaru may say she’s wrong about, but something Rem knows for certain.”

As she said this, she straightened herself in her chair.

“What Rem knows for certain, is that this isn’t Subaru.” she spoke, making her absolute conviction and confidence known in her voice. “Rem does not, and cannot know what pain made Subaru like this. She’s not even certain she can aid against it, but what she does know, is that Subaru isn’t someone who gives up on the future. That Subaru doesn’t give up. Even now, even after everything, Rem is certain of this.”

She spoke truly. She couldn’t comprehend Subaru’s state. It was utterly beyond her understanding. However, she understood that Subaru was in pain, and that Subaru was far too strong to succumb to such a thing. Not permanently.

“And because of that,” she continued. “Is why Rem will remain right here. For as long as it takes. For all eternity if necessary. Because she knows that Subaru is so much stronger than whatever it is she’s fighting. Even if Subaru doesn’t believe it, even if she might think others don’t believe it either, Rem knows it’s the case. Rem knows that no matter what, Subaru will keep fighting in her own way. And so, Rem will be right here, if Subaru needs her. Because Rem wants to. And because it makes Rem happy.”

As she finally finished, she leaned back in her chair, giving off a long, exasperated sigh.

In truth, Rem didn’t expect any sort of an answer. She didn’t know what kind of answer could even be given to such a declaration, bu—

Just then, she heard it. A quiet weep echoing from under the blanket.

Standing up, Rem walked around the bed. This time, Subaru didn’t roll over to her other side, though her tear seeping eyes were closed, and partially covered by one of her forearms.

Subaru continued to offer no words, only these quiet whimpers.

Her heart bearing it no longer, Rem crouched down, gently held Subaru’s forearm, and pushed it slightly out of the way, planting a kiss on the girl’s forehead

“Rem is very sorry to have left Subaru by herself for so long.” she whispered, caressing the girl’s head.

“I… I…” Subaru muttered weakly, still not opening her eyes, yet sending Rem’s heart aflutter all the same. “I can’t be someone like that for you.” Subaru spoke. “I can’t—… I can’t.”

Rem’s heart shuddered with a small, sharp pain, but she simply closed her eyes and bore it.

“That is fine, Subaru.” she whispered, having long made up her mind about such an eventuality. “But it doesn’t change what Rem knows. So she’ll be here within reach all the same.” she said, caressing Subaru’s head once more.

Subaru continued to quietly weep, while Rem just courched there, caressing her head.

If she was completely honest with herself, it wasn’t only Subaru that kept her here anymore. Subaru was, and would remain the primary reason she wanted to stay at the manor, but after this much time, Rem had grown fond of the staff.

Using her Subaru as her guiding star, she had taught a few little things to the young twins, mostly the dessert recipes that she and Subaru worked out together. In this time when she didn’t visit Subaru’s room, she had instead spent time on the manor grounds, often fantasising about what she may do there once her Subaru recovers. How she’d join Subaru on her nightly runs, her little exercises. Perhaps, she’d even find an excuse to sew some more clothes for Subaru, as there were a number of lovely dresses in the many wardrobes of the manor she had thought would look lovely on her.

Through all these daydreams and fantasies, her time with the staff, in which she had aimed to follow the example her Subaru set, the manor had begun to feel somewhat like a home. At first she didn’t like this thought, at first she felt she was betraying her sister and her memory, but… Even the young twins, who so painfully reminded Rem of her, had grown to have the opposite effect. As time passed, and the pain faded slightly, she came to see that familiar something not just as a reminder of what she lost, but as an embodiment of the last, most precious things Rem still had of her sister. Those memories, those feelings—

Having afforded herself some introspection after Reinhard’s words, Rem came to believe that her sister wouldn’t have sent such an abrupt warning, except to keep her way. As vile and tragic as it all was, her sister wanted Rem to live, as much as she wished her sister didn’t die.

Had it not been for Subaru, Rem didn’t know if she could have ever made such a ‘peace’ in her heart, but this was just more reason to bear with it.

Rem had known an abyss, a prison of one’s own making. And she knew that it was possible to break out.

Subaru was certain to succeed.

“I’m sorry.” Subaru whispered after a long time of the two of them laying and crouching like this, snapping Rem’s wandering consciousness back to the moment.

The girl’s eyes still weren’t open, but her mouth moved weakly.

“I’m sorry I can’t be…” she spoke again, drawing another, relieved tear for Rem’s eye.

“There is nothing to be sorry for, Subaru.” Rem whispered back, planting another gentle kiss on the girl’s forehead. “Rem said that she didn’t expect Subaru to answer these feelings.” she cooed. “However Subaru feels, Rem will be here to support her.”

Subaru’s lips quivered but remained silent, Rem quietly caressing the girl’s head some more, enjoying the simple fact that Subaru let her be so close and look at her face.

As Rem let time slip by, giving what little encouragement and support she could offer, a thought slipped into her mind. A thought still a little hurtful, but not as much as before.

“Subaru, Rem would like to ask something a little personal.” she began, then after a short pause asked what had echoed in her since first she saw the two together: “Does Subaru have feelings for Reinhard-sama?”

Expecting silence, Rem was surprised to see Subaru open her mouth, think for a moment and then say:

“No.” Subaru’s voice sounded earnest and simple. “It’s not just you, Rem. I don’t… I don’t feel like that about anyone. I’m not sure if I ever really did.”

The end was sounded with unusually miserable words, which made Rem’s heart ache slightly.

At the same time, hearing that Subaru had no feelings for the knight now filled Rem with a strange mix of feelings. Strangely, a part of her was disappointed, while a larger portion of her being was glad.

She didn’t know how to feel about some parts of her than sighed out with gladness.

 

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Having returned to her habit, Rem had for a long time now visited Subaru daily. When she had the choice, more than daily. All this, of course in addition to bringing Subaru her meals.

On rare occasions, she would find Subaru not in her bed, but at her desk, writing. At such times, she’d always quickly collect her papers, and put them in the lockbox that apparently Reinhard had given her, specifically so Subaru would have a place to keep such things. While Subaru remained very short on words, it appeared she sometimes wrote what she called journals, keeping the key to the box on a necklace she wore at all times, but when opening or closing the box.

Rem would have loved a chance to read what Subaru had written, but she wanted to accept this as a part of how Subaru fights to heal herself. Part of the way to her recovery.

Something had to be.

Much like before, Rem’s habit would involve sitting down in the room, and reciting little things that happened. Usually, Subaru would offer no comment. When she did, it was only a few words, but Rem considered even so much a form of progress.

She had to.

Subaru’s disposition itself, her mood hadn’t improved. Even when Rem caught her out of bed, short of doing a few exercises, the girl would always return to bed and roll away, not looking at Rem at all. Had she not known from Reinhard and Carol Remendis that this is how Subaru simply was with every guest, Rem might not have been able to continue for long, but she endured nonetheless.

On two occasions, Rem had made an attempt at dragging Subaru out of her room and making her partake in some simple activity, but both times the only actions she managed to make the girl perform, were the ones she puppeted her to do, and so, with a heavy heart, she had to abandon that approach.

Her heart was however heavier, with the one topic that she had for some time since a little while after her failed confession neglected to talk about. A topic she felt terribly wrong to discuss, but one which had come to a head yesterday. A fact she had to confess.

“Subaru? There’s something that Rem hadn’t really talked about until now.” she began, uncomfortably. “Yesterday… Yesterday, in Louanna-sama’s room…”

 

The day before, while on her way to Subaru’s room after finishing up a few light duties, Rem discovered the usually closed door of the room where Louanna Astrea’s perpetually sleeping body was left ajar. Normally, the room was off limits except for cleaning duties, which would only be permitted to senior staff, so on a whim, wanting to see if someone snuck inside, or simply the door was forgotten that way, she wandered to the room, only to find the sword saint himself, sitting by his mother’s bed in the completely unlit room.

For a long, long time now, he had been in a dark lull. It naturally began with the passing of the young woman he swore himself to, only deteriorating with time, and of course discovering that the blade he himself gifted to Subaru, intending only good, was nearly used to end her life.

With initially only misgivings towards the knight, after such a long time here, watching him try his best to help Subaru for no reason other than he believed it right, seeing the way his father treats him, and indeed how the entirety of the staff keeps a certain distance… The ominous veneer of the Sword Saint, the man considered to be the kingdom’s greatest weapon began to fall away. Rem had due to her initial view of him as a rival realized a certain level of fundamental fear she had felt towards the nigh legendary figure. After all, this man may have been one of very few that were likely beyond the grasp of even her idea sister.

Now however, as they nearly switched shifts watching Subaru, that fear had begun to fade. After all, her Subaru was never terrified of Rem or her sister either as they worked together, nor of Roswaal or Beatrice or Puck. Each of them would have been just as insurmountable an opponent to the poor girl, as the Sword Saint was to everyone else in the kingdom so what excuse did anyone else have to feel that way towards someone who offered them their roof?

Especially then, seeing him sit in the dark, in spite of the quiet ominousness of the sight, the fear could only fade, as for once, truly, the Sword Saint appeared nothing more than human.

“Is that you, Rem?” Reinhard would surprise her, asking her by name, without so much as turning around. Naturally, his terrifying abilities were still present

“Yes, excuse Rem.” she bowed. “It’s only that the door was ajar. Rem will leave momentarily.” she spoke, beginning to close the door, but then the knight spoke once more.

“Can I ask you a question?” he spoke, not turning back, or even budging from his seat.

“Rem is… At Reinhard’s disposal.” she answered uncertainty, opening the door back.

Reinhard seemingly gathered his thoughts for a while, before finally posing the question:

“Do you think there’s something wrong with me?” he asked, setting Rem aback. As many seconds passed without answer, he shook his head. “Sorry, it’s probably a stupid question. Pretend I didn’t ask anything.”

Rem, recovering from her frozen state, called her Subaru to mind and stepped inside, closing the door behind herself.

“It isn’t a stupid question, but it’s a rather cruel one.” Rem spoke. “Both to the one asked, and the subject. After all, how could someone in good conscience answer anything but no; while the subjects is just expected to be a valid target for such harsh words.”

“I’m afraid I don’t know what you mean, Rem.” the knight sighed, continuing to stare at the sleeping body before him. “What is your answer?”

“Rem’s answer is that she doesn’t understand the question. What does Reinhard believe is broken about him?” she probed.

The knight hung his head, before looking back up at the body before him and answering.

“I don’t… Feel. Not like you. Or like Subaru.” he spoke plainly. “I know you see her every day. I know this means a lot to you, but to me, it’s… It’s only frustrating. Seeing her like that, wanting to help, but…”

The knight raised his gloved hands and stared at them.

“I should be different, shouldn’t I? Being in this room should feel…”

The knight cut himself off, resting his forehead in one hand, his elbow on his leg.

“Sometimes, I begin to wonder why certain things are not permitted.” he added morosely.

Rem lowered her eyes to the floor, thinking.

“In truth, Rem is frustrated too.” she admitted. “Seeing Subaru in such a state is… Difficult… Rem is not sure what exactly Reinhard thinks he should feel.”

“Like…” he trailed off, holding her head in one hand. “The way Subaru feels. The way you felt, when you were going to leave.” he spoke, burying his face into his hand. “Perhaps if I only understood such things, I… could have chosen better words, and prevented Felt-sama from breaking that metia, and then, no one would have had to be lost.”

The man before her hunched forward in his seat. A being reputed to be the strongest mortal, if he was even that, crumpled together,asking the stupidest question imaginable, which answer was blindingly obvious from his own, miserable state.

Rem wasn’t certain what it was that got to her. Was it the foolish question that should have been hilarious if it wasn’t so tragic? The knight’s contradictory vulnerability? That she finally realized just how heartbreakingly earnest he was? The simple thought that however little, she might be of help? Something else?

What was certain, was that not long after Reinhard finished talking, Rem found herself with her arms wrapped around the knight’s back, telling him he’s an idiot that can’t recognize grief when it’s practically consuming his existence.

 

“...and that’s what happened.” Rem finished recounting yesterday’s events. “Shortly after that, Rem came to her senses and left, naturally, but the truth is…”

Her eyes wandered off of Subaru’s back and to her own hands.

“Truth is, for some time now, Rem had been thinking about Reinhard’s situation. It isn’t as though Rem has feelings there, it’s simply that he…”

Since Subaru entered into this state, Rem felt various degrees of adrift. While the manor had grown homely to her, it offered her no purpose. Her only purpose was, and remained to stay by Subaru. Any other purpose Rem may have had, was destroyed along with their previous home. Even if she could forgive herself leaving Subaru like this now, she had no direction left. Preoccupied only with her ongoing failure, Rem continued to summon strength from the one source left to her: Her Subaru.

Rem desired only hope. That elusive something that Subaru had so long ago planted in her heart. Hope for herself, hope for Subaru.

Hope was a precious commodity, that had been all but unknown to her until the black haired girl entered her life.

Without the ability to save Subaru as she was, Rem chose to do what she could to become a better person A stronger person. To try and become, if just a little, like that which she loved. Someone who’d fight on forever.

Her Subaru, who so readily offered her heart to everyone around them could surely not bear to have seen what Rem had seen. A man so lost, so alone that even his own emotions have grown to be a mystery to him. A man abandoned by his own family. A man who had every right and power to abandon the responsibilities that slowly mounting have brought him low. A man who in spite of this persists. A man who tries his best, while the world around him doesn’t even realize he needs to, as Rem hadn’t until recently. A man who—

“...never gives up.” Rem muttered more to herself than to Subaru, burying her the shame upon her face in her hands.

 

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Approaching Subaru’s room once more with her duties done for the day, a bit early this time, she raised a hand to knock, when a voice broke through the door. Subaru’s.

Pausing, Rem quietly held her head close, and began to listen.

“...a bad idea.” Subaru spoke with a lethargic voice. “It’s weird, I don’t want it, and they banned it for a reason.”

“I understand that, Subaru.” Reinhard’s voice responded, Rem thought perhaps Subaru was talking to herself, as she had done on occasion, so hearing his voice made her cover her mouth and hold back a surprised gasp. “But, it’s all I can think of.” he continued with a tired voice. “I can’t imagine you wish to stay this way forever, and it’s breaking her heart. You would know that, of course, but…”

A little quiet fell, as the knight seemed to have lost his steam. Rem searched her mind, trying to think of exactly what they could have been talking about. Well, certainly, it sounded as if Reinhard offered Subaru some way he thought he might help her, which Subaru refused. But what?

Rem at the start had always expected that Reinhard would either draw Subaru out the way Subaru herself drew Rem out, or he would simply lose interest, and leave Subaru be, the way every other resident of the manor did, treating her like a second Louanna. To see him still try after such time, even though he had next to no responsibility or connection to the girl, it brought both joy and pain into Rem’s heart, though in a very different way than at first.

“So that’s why, huh?” Subaru’s usual, misery-ridden voice called out. “That’s why you decided you’d be willing to go so far?”

Silence, the knight giving no answer.

“It’s for Rem?” Subaru continued, plainly.

“Yes.” the knight answered, weakly, perhaps for the first time in his life.

A low hum echoed out of the room, then Subaru continued in more words that Rem heard from her in the past month.

“Then, let me say two things.” she began, her tone not changing, but the sound of her bed slightly creaking accompanying her. “First, stop doing what you’re doing right now. Stop going around people’s backs when trying to make them happy. Especially Rem. Stop keeping secrets. Stop trying to convince yourself that it’s better if you just try and take care of everything on your own. You can’t, you won’t, and you will only make yourself and everyone around you miserable.” Subaru spoke calmly, without any past sign of overwhelming sorrow or emotion, simply stating these words as if talking facts. “Second, if that’s really what motivates you, then you don’t need to do any of this. You don’t need to bother going through me. She’s right out there somewhere, trimming the garden or dusting some furniture right now.” she continued, a hint of sadness finally entering her voice. “She spoke of you for some time now. I don’t really get what’s going on, but it isn’t wrong to simply go to her.”

Rem’s heart beat faster. She wanted to remove her head from the door and then quietly sneak off, but between this being the first time in… Much too long that Subaru spoke so openly, Rem couldn’t bear to leave. What’s more, she wanted to know what the two of them had been saying.

“Even with the stuff you said before,” Subaru continued. “I don’t buy that that kind of bullshit would stand in your way. If you even considered going against orders for me, then no. I don’t buy that you would care enough about expectations and some ‘noble’ idiots. Let’s be honest, Anastasia’s going to be queen. Her only friends are from the Iron Fang. Think of her kids. No one is going to bat an eye at this in a while. And even if somehow that Barielle bitch wins, she wouldn’t care enough about anything to stand in the way.”

“I don’t know if I can…” Reinhard spoke, cutting himself off, before eventually Subaru spoke up once more.

“Let me ask you this:” she began. “You would like to, wouldn’t you? Do you think it would make her happy? Is that something you want to see?” she asked, quiet enough that Rem could barely make out the words.

Silence fell once more, Rem wondering if perhaps they simply started talking too quiet for the door to allow their words to pierce through.

“..:Yes.” Reinhard finally noted.

“Then, there’s the only solution you need.” Subaru answered in a glum tone, her bed creaking again. “Do it for her, and for you. Be happy and make her happy. You both deserve it, so damn the nobles, damn your father and damn everyone.”

In the ensuing quiet, Rem listened closely, her heart beating faster than almost ever before. Would they speak some more? Would she be able to hear—?

A chair creaked slightly against the floor inside, signalling that Reinhard had stood up, getting ready to leave.

Freezing for only a moment, Rem quickly and quietly leaned away from the door and as quietly as she could muster, backed away from it down the corridor, then began to walk towards it once more as she heard the knight bid farewell to Subaru and open it.

“Rem.” Reinhard nodded at her, as he closed the door. “Here to see Subaru again?” he asked simply.

“Yes, Reinhard.” she answered, banishing her blush from her face.

“Of course.” Reinhard nodded once more with a little sigh before looking up at Rem with a weak, gentle smile. Something he had redeveloped only recently. “You do know I heard you since before you even pressed up to the wall, right?” he added.

Twitching slightly, Rem let out a long, defeated sigh. “Naturally.” she nodded. She had hope he might not be alert this time, but then she would have forgotten who she was talking to.

“It’s a bit rude, you know.” Reinhard said, shaking his head. “If Subaru wasn’t as talkative, I might have told her you were there… Was it good to hear her voice?”

Hanging her head, her blush winning the war in the end, Rem simply smiled and nodded.

“I’m glad.” Reinhard answered, before stepping closer, and placing a hand on Rem’s arm just by her shoulder. “You probably caught a bit of it, but… There’s something I’d like to talk to you about.”

Feeling light, her mind and heart burning with anticipation, Rem simply adopted her practiced, casual smile, and looking up at the man answered simply: “Very well.”

 

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“It still feels somewhat unreal.” Rem said, sitting in that same desk chair by Subaru’s bed.

Her usual uniform had now been replaced with a light pink dress, one of a number Reinhard insisted on having made for her.

“As if everything was moving simply a bit too fast.” she continued. “Of course, Rem then reminds herself of just how long it’s been, but still.”

Smiling down at her own laps, she fiddled around a bit with the sleeve of her dress. Reinhard preferred a different dress to this, a yellow one, saying it compliments Rem’s hair better, but she would only shake her head. The pink fabric in this reminded her of her sister, in a way that she had grown to treasure, even if the ache hadn’t completely left her.

“It’s strange, but Rem wishes Nee-sama was here.” Rem began, looking up at Subaru, laying there under her blankets. “Well, that’s not so strange, it’s simply that Rem doesn’t think she’d be here, or any of this would be happening if Nee-sama was still with us. So maybe it’s strange to wish for both.”

Subaru, still offering no comment, simply shifted around under her blanket.

Indeed, Rem hadn’t expected much more. It was very rare that Subaru spoke, even now. As sad as it was, after so long, Rem had to accept it.

She never gave up hope that one day Subaru would recover, that her Subaru would get out of that bed, walk out through that door and shine again like she did before, but there came a point where Rem realized that even if it was for her sake, her Subaru wouldn’t want Rem to put her entire life on hold. And so, Rem walked forward in a way that would allow her to always be near to the girl who gave her that ability in the first place.

Yes, she had come to accept that she will be no arbiter on when or how Subaru will recover, but… Now…

Rem’s smile turned slightly bitter as she thought of the days ahead, before withering into a frown.

Standing up, she leaned over the bed slightly, and placed a hand on Subaru’s back, who didn’t move or protest now.

“Subaru… There is something Rem would like to ask.” she spoke quietly. “Rem understands that this is a difficult request for Subaru, so she understands if Subaru refuses, but… Even if Subaru might think, with everything, that Rem’s feelings changed, they didn’t, and they won’t.” she confessed once more, much simpler. “And that’s why… Why would it mean the world, if Subaru would be there. Nothing more. Subaru wouldn’t have to do or say anything if she didn't want to, but if she could only make it to the ceremony…”

Subaru’s breaths slowly pushed back on Rem’s hand then gave way again. A few moments passed in such silence, before contentedly, that she had passed on what she wanted to, Rem stepped back and sat down in her chair, beginning to search her mind for further words to spare. Her only regret was losing most of her duties, due to the staff feeling it inappropriate to keep her working, which reduced the tasks with which Rem could occupy herself with when not with Subaru to gardening, cooking and occasionally sewing.

Indeed, perhaps she could next time bring a few flowers from the gardens, and see if perhaps Subaru would like to give her opinion on arrangements—

Suddenly, without a word, the blanket covering Subaru rolled back, pushed by Subaru’s arm, stopping every thought in the once-maid’s mind, focusing her attention entirely to the girl in bed, her back still to Rem, as she slowly sat up, and lowered her legs on the opposite side of the bed.

“Subaru?” Rem muttered, but there was no answer.

Spending a few seconds staring at the floor, her arms pushing down on the edge of the bed by her side, Subaru finally pushed herself up and stood on her feet.

No matter how much Rem searched her memories, this seemed to be the first time since they got here that Subaru ever got out of bed on her own while Rem was here. The meaning, the purpose, it all eluded her, as her heart beat faster and faster in her chest.

Still not talking, Subaru lumbered away from the bed, and towards—

The girl, dressed in nothing but a wrinkled nightgown, stopped in front of the wardrobe that had only been opened to be cleaned for the longest time now, and grabbed its handle.

“Subaru—!” Rem spoke quietly, a hand on her racing heart.

“I’m…” Subaru said, still not looking her way, audibly licking her lips. “I’m going to try on some things, I’d like to be alone.”

It took a while for Rem to process all this. She couldn’t believe it. It was simply… It was simply…

“Rem understands.” Rem said with quivering lips. “Rem will step outside, but if Subaru needs her, then she'll be only a call away.”

With that, Rem simply stood up and began to walk to the door. As she passed by Subaru, she paused for a moment, wanting, wishing to just reach out and touch her back. But no. This moment was far too precious. Too fragile. She had to leave it be, or else it would break.

As Rem reached the door and opened it, she heard Subaru speak up one more time.

“I’m…” the girl began, her voice still dark, and mostly void of emotion, but a small promising tremble was ringing in there. “I’m happy for you.” she finished, filling Rem’s heart with light.

 

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The ceremony, even in the moment, felt completely unreal. Rem knew perfectly well that most of the attendants harbored some level of disapproval, some greater than others. The two men that have constituted Reinhard’s closest family have both chosen not to attend, though in that case, Rem knew there were different reasons for one, though not any less unfair to him. The fact that his mother was the only one to show, as unconscious as she was, under the careful care of Carol Remendis and her husband, etched a deep grievance into Rem’s heart towards the two men.

Even though it was meant to be a smaller ceremony than most, there were still enough guests to fill out the garden of the Astrea manor. She barely knew any of them, some from passing as she had visited Flanders in the past, from whence most were. She also overheard many of them whisper their doubts and disapprovals, which was to be expected, though bitter anyway.

In the end, she had cause though not to care. Her heart that day was moored by a pair of pillars, stronger than any storm.

First, of course, was the man standing with her. A man she still didn’t fully understand the presence of. Someone she shouldn’t have been standing with here by all rights. Someone who should have been far above her, above everyone.

Yet that is why she could stand there with him, because she had learned that is not the truth. Because in witnessing the truth of his humility, and the grief great enough to elude understanding, which no one else would see, Rem had found something she had been without for far too long: Purpose.

Purpose to be someone no one else dared to be. To be needed. To be wanted. To pass on the gift that Subaru had given her, to one so terribly lost, as she once had been.

But, naturally, the other pillar was just as strong as the mightiest man alive who now stood and smiled beside her in a way he hadn’t for too long.

That pillar arrived a little late, and throughout the whole thing stuck to the back, away from the crowd, wearing an ill-fitting dress she refused to have re-tailored. Her skin was sickly pale, her limbs were in spite of Rem’s insistence on daily exercise considerably more wry than before, and under her wonderful, sharp eyes that in the past some had described as ‘scary’, there were heavy bags.

And yet, on that day, that tumultuous, chaotic day, she was there! Her Subaru! She stood, and she watched and she listened! And then—

Once it was over, Rem looked to her, to the girl that had been so lost, so consumed by the Witch’s curse so long and… Their eyes met.

For the first time. For the first time since that explosion of miasma in the market. For the first time since leaving the capital, Natsuki Subaru looked her in the eye. And she didn’t flinch.

Her Subaru didn’t look away, she didn’t hide her face. She didn’t turn and return inside, she simply stood there, behind a crowd of insignificant, unimportant people, and smiled a weak, miserable and yet truly, truly genuine smile.

 

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“Subaru should say if Rem pulls her hair, she hasn’t done this in a while, after all.” Rem spoke, beaming with a quiet joy.

They were sitting in Subaru’s bathroom, a large cloth gathered under Subaru’s chair, as Rem slowly went through the girl’s hair, trying to find the best way to bring out Subaru’s inner beauty. That beauty that had smoldered like a dark ember for so long, only to reignite on a day that would surely, truly, forever be the happiest of Rem’s life.

It’s been a week now. Rem still had to get used to so many things. To having a last name, how she’s supposed to address people differently now, but most of all, to Subaru.

She didn’t know why, but something changed in Subaru that day. She still was averse to spending time around other people, still refused to eat outside of her room, and even with Reinhard, she kept her distance, but— She smiled.

Every time Rem would visit, she’d either find Subaru at her desk, writing notes she quickly locked away, or reading. If by chance Subaru was in her bed, rather than turn her back and stay there, Subaru would get up and greet her. Every time with a smile. A real smile. Rem had seen enough of Subaru to tell the difference.

“You could never hurt me.” Subaru said contentedly, as Rem’s fingers happily dug through her wet locks. After a moment’s pause, Subaru added. “I guess this is where I’m supposed to quickly add ‘Ow!’.” she joked. Joked!

Rem soon cursed her foolishness and she moved her soapy wrist to rub a few tears of joy out of her eyes, but even that burning pain brought her happiness.

“Yes, that is something Subaru would do.” Rem laughed, sniffling happily.

A few black locks falling onto the cloth below, Rem carefully measured each clip of her scissors. Grooming was one task she hadn’t practiced on anyone but herself since they lived here, as it was a rather personal task for which there was already a selected caretaker.

No matter how it turned out, she was confident Subaru would beam beautifully, but still, Rem tried her best, wanting to make sure everyone else can see how beautiful the girl sitting infront of her was.

“I was thinking…” Subaru began. “I don’t really want to go anywhere far, but I’d like to see the gardens.” she spoke in a surprisingly casual way. “Would it be alright if we went out there some time?”

“Of course, Subaru!” Rem gasped. “Anywhere Subaru wants to! If she’d like, Rem will make sure we’re alone too.”

“Thanks.” Subaru said, hanging her head, before continuing in a tenser voice. “I… Realize I have been horrible.”

Rem blinked then shook her head. “Do not say such a thing, Subaru.” she scolded lightly. “It is as Rem said long ago. Subaru had been in a dark place, but just as Rem knew, Subaru came back from there! Subaru didn’t give up!”

“But I did make you suffer to—”

Rem let go of Subaru’s hair, and placed her hands on the girl’s shoulder. Naturally, Subaru’s back was this once turned to her so she could work, but Rem stared intently into the back of her head regardless.

“The only suffering Rem felt, was for Subaru.” she said calmingly. “None of that matters now. The happiness Rem feels just from Subaru being the way she is now has far more than made up for any pain.”

The girl before her sighed heavily.

“You know, this is why I said I don’t deserve those feelings.” Subaru said quietly. “I’m a little surprised that in the end anyone was worthy of it at all.”

Rem smiled with content, her hands returning to care for Subaru’s hair.

“Well, Subaru should be careful with her compliments. It doesn’t do to try and charm a married woman like this.” Rem scolded.

“My apologies, Rem-sama.” Subaru answered, to which Rem reached down and pinched her ears. “Ow! Won’t call you that, got it.” Subaru sighed.

When Rem was finally done with cutting Subaru’s hair, she stood up, grabbed a towel and dried the girl’s hair. It seemed to have lost some of its natural luster over time, but it was, to Rem’s eyes at least, still wonderful. Those playful, curly locks that simply refused to be organized, that unique dark shine, that fluffy texture… Rem had missed terribly getting to do this.

“Well, what does Subaru think?” she asked, helping the girl up and leading her to the mirror.

Subaru stared at herself for a while with a mix of emotions.

“You did a great job as always.” Subaru said, her voice betraying a forced sense of joy just now, as her eyes wandered down in the reflection, examining her body, naked except for a towel wrapped around her. As her eyes wandered back up, and Subaru’s eyes seemed to meet her reflection’s, Rem could feel the girl’s entire body shiver as her head slumped forward.

“Subaru…” Rem called quietly, wrapping her hands around the girl, humming the tune of a song she taught her, as best as she could remember. “Rem is here. Do not be upset.”

“I’m… I’m sorry for everything I put you through.” Subaru wept. “I— I should have—”

Wrapping an arm around the hunched girl’s head, Rem raised up on her toes and planted a kiss on Subaru’s forehead.

“Subaru did her best, and now she’s better, and going to keep better.” Rem cooed. “That is all that matters. That is all that matters.”

Rocking left and right on her toes, trying to be on the girl’s level, Rem continued to cradle her like this for a short while, until Subaru, once again collected herself.

Tying up Subaru’s hair as she once wore it, on a whim, Rem looked at herself in the mirror, feeling her locks.

“Subaru? Rem’s been wondering if maybe she should let her hair grow out a little.” she noted.

Subaru and her had very different kinds of hair. Where Subaru’s was naturally messy, Rem’s was straight and smooth. Still, she had wondered on occasion how she would look with a similar cut.

“You could, if you like.” Subaru answered, her eyes wandering over Rem’s head. “Though, if I’m honest, I like you this way the best.” she added, looking at Rem through the mirror. “It reminds me of Ram.”

Biting down on her lips, the once-maid took another look at herself in the mirror. Subaru wasn’t wrong. Without even realizing, Rem had spent so much time not looking in mirrors since her sister’s death, and only cutting her own hair by practice and experience, that she had completely forgotten just how much she resembled her sister like this.

“I think she was the first to actually talk about my music, way back when.” Subaru added quietly, as if to herself.

Rem nodded, looking away from the mirror and at the girl.

“Speaking of.” Rem began. “Would Subaru like to play? Her other REM is certainly missing her a lot too.” she added, joking about the name Subaru had given to her guitar so very long ago.

The girl’s face lit up for a few moments, a deep breath of mild excitement lifting her head and her chest— But then, with a bitter smile, Subaru sank back down onto the ground and shook her head.

“I don’t think I can do that right now.” she said. “I wish I could, but… I really don’t feel like playing.”

Rem looked longingly at the side of Subaru’s head, as the girl continued to stare into the mirror with a slowly deflating expression.

“Rem understands.” she nodded finally with a sigh. “But, perhaps, until Subaru changes her mind, would she like to teach Rem instead?”

Looking up with surprise, Subaru turned her head first to Rem, then out the open bathroom door and at a corner of her bedroom near the bed before returning her gaze to Rem.

“I…” she began weakly, then with a sunken, half-smile of defeat answer: “I guess I could try.”

 

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Rem’s sneaky little plan hadn’t worked as well as she hoped. When first she proposed months ago that Subaru teaches her how to play music, aside from the simple joy of getting to spend more time with Subaru, she had also expected to indirectly trick the girl into playing some music anyway, if only to show Rem how to go about things. She thought that perhaps could reignite the flame in Subaru’s heart, but sadly that didn’t appear to be the case. Instead, Subaru simply substituted standing behind Rem and puppeting her hands, a method that seemed comically wrong, until Subaru once revealed as Rem suggested Subaru just shows it herself:

“I knew what you were playing at since day one, and I’m not falling for sneak attacks.”

As much as she had to pout at her defeat, Rem would soon be overcome with laughter, as she continued to try and fail to play the guitar properly.

Though of course, Subaru, her Subaru didn’t give up on her, and kept at it, showing Rem again and again with patience, until she slowly began to get a hang of it.

“Rem can’t help but feel that maybe she should have started when she was young.” she pouted, as she attempted to play out a simple tune that Subaru called a ‘ chord progression .

“Well, no guitars existed here when you were young, so that wasn’t an option.” Subaru shrugged, slumping down in her bed, in front of Rem.

“Of course they did, but only in Subaru’s hometown, it seems.” Rem corrected, trailing off somewhat. “It would have been nice if Rem and Nee-sama could have grown up there, with Subaru.”

Subaru’s past never much came up, the girl never bringing it up herself, and dodging the topic whenever it arose naturally. Now, she simply sighed and stared down at the guitar in Rem’s hands longingly.

“You probably wouldn’t have liked me a lot back then.” Subaru said quietly. “At least, not near the end.”

“Rem is certain that’s not the case.” the oni said, shaking her head, but seeing Subaru slouch down more made her choose to change the topic herself. “Also, Rem should note that she thinks Subaru is doing an admirable job teaching, even with that silly, self-imposed handicap she had given herself.” she noted with a slight sting. “Rem hopes that perhaps soon Subaru may teach someone else. Someone who won’t be as temporally handicapped as Rem.” she added with a small, but beaming smile.

“Someone else?” Subaru repeated with furrowed brows. “I… I don’t think anyone at the manor would really want that. Aside from you and Reinhard, I don’t think anyone likes me.” she said. “And you know how I get with others so…”

“Rem wasn’t talking about anyone Subaru knows.” Rem noted playfully.

“Someone new?” Subaru asked, scratching the bridge of her nose. “I don’t think strangers would make a difference.”

Rem closed her eyes and gave a small, mock frown before looking at Subaru again, putting the guitar on the ground beside her chair and placing her hands in her lap.

“Is Subaru certain?” Rem asked, keeping her hands palm up in her lap in a suggestive, presentative fashion.

Subaru seemed utterly puzzled by her hints for a while, her eyes wandering between Rem’s hands and her serene smile for a while until.

“Not as temporally handicapped?” Subaru repeated, her eyes going wide and finally shooting down at a precious spot just above Rem’s hands. “You mean?”

“Yes.” Rem answered happily, cocking her head a bit to the side.

Leaning forward in her chair, Subaru practically jumped off the bed, staring at Rem’s stomach.

“May— May I?” Subaru asked, looking up at Rem.

“There is not much to feel yet, but Subaru is free to do however she pleases.” Rem nodded with a bright smile, happy to see Subaru’s reaction.

Sliding off the bed, Subaru fell to her knees and scooted closer to Rem’s chair, before tentatively reaching out and placing a hand against her still almost completely flat abdomen.

A range of emotions flashed through Subaru’s face, which each thrilled Rem with joy. Surprise, happiness, contentment, even amazement all found their place on the face of the girl kneeling before here, one after the other. It was only after these that for a brief but distinct moment, a look of shock flashed through Subaru’s face followed by a moment of terror.

“Subaru? What’s wrong?” Rem asked, though by the time she could voice the question, Subaru had already banished those emotions from her face.

“Ah, sorry Rem.” Subaru said with a slightly forced smile. “I just thought of something a little scary, but it’s gone now.”

Rem frowned a bit, but then leaned forward and placed a hand on Subaru’s head.

“Subaru has nothing to worry about. Reinhard had arranged for the current ‘Blue’ to examine me, and absolutely everything is fine. There is nothing to fear.” Rem explained. Indeed, he spared absolutely nothing these past months for Rem’s comfort and well being, even with those recent tragedies befalling the kingdom weighing on him. Tragedies that were her privilege to soothe in his heart.

Subaru stared at Rem’s stomach for a while more, gently caressing it with one hand, frowning, lost in thought. When a few silent minutes later she was done, Subaru looked up at Rem.

“Can I tell you something stupid?” she asked, her shoulders slumping down, as she continued to kneel before the expecting mother. “Well, not stupid just…” Subaru’s eyes wandered around the room for a bit helplessly.

“There is nothing Subaru can’t tell Rem.” she answered, to which Subaru gave out a pained chuckle and got back on her feet before resting down on her bed once more.

“I’ve… I think I’ve always wanted a big family.” Subaru said. “Ever since I was little.”

Rem’s eyes wandered over the girl, who crossed her fingers in her lap, staring down at her hands, bitten by some dark sorrow.

“That isn’t stupid at all, Subaru.” Rem said quietly, pulling her chair closer, and placing a hand on Subaru’s knee. “That is a wonderful thing to want.”

Subaru looked at Rem’s hand on her leg with a weak smile before shaking her head.

“No, it’s… It was pretty selfish.” she said. “When I was little, I wanted my parents to have another child, because I thought it’d be nice to have someone around who looks up to me as their big sister.” she began. “Then, when I got older, too old to really be a proper big sister even if I did get a sibling, I thought that maybe if I ‘found the one’ like they say, then it could happen like that. That I could be this cool mom who plays the guitar, or if not that, then maybe someone’s cool aunt, you know?” she went on, Rem listening quietly. “Of course, I never really got so far back home to even really look for ‘the one’, and since then, I don’t really think it works like that anymore anyway, but… I’m really not as great as you often say.” Subaru finished, looking up at Rem.

“What—? What does Subaru mean?” Rem asked.

“You praised what I did, when I played for the children in the village. The desserts we made for Beatrice…” Subaru began slowly. “Truth is, I think I only did those things because it felt good. Because I liked that they appreciated me for it, even if just a little bit.” Hunching down, she held her temple with both hands, elbows on her legs. “I always wanted to be the cool big sister, the cool mom, the cool aunt. Never the cool sister-in-law or cool wife or cool friend, because I… I can’t do those things. It’s always been so much easier to buy the affection of kids. For the longest time, being with anyone my age, is just… Scary. Even with Emilia, I was in a little bit of a panic deep down. Also with Ram, even with you. I had to try to… Because I don’t… I’m not really…”

Rem watched carefully, as Subaru continued to sink down some more, and then, she stood up, took a few steps and sat down next to Subaru , and wrapping one hand around the girl’s shoulder, laid her head on Subaru’s.

“Subaru doesn’t know how much emptier Rem’s life would have become, if not for her.” she said softly. “Rem may not know why Subaru still thinks such awful things of herself, and she doesn’t wish to belittle her by simply calling these thoughts stupid… But Subaru is wrong. Subaru is so much more wonderful than she realizes.”

The girl beside her sighed, and slowly nodded. Probably not in agreement, but at least acknowledgement.

“As she promised, Rem will be here, until Subaru learns that. While holding the guitar will become a little more difficult soon, Rem is excited to learn.” Rem spoke calmly, still resting her head against Subaru. “She will continue to prepare those wonderful desserts that Subaru introduced, and most of all, she will cherish the songs Subaru taught her, even if Rem still doesn’t understand the lyrics to any of them.” she added with a little chuckle, which seemed to make Subaru laugh up too quietly. “Rem will do this, until Subaru realizes how much she has done for everyone around her without even knowing. Until Subaru’s dream of a big family becomes a reality, and even beyond.” she continued, nuzzling her head against Subaru’s shoulder. “And until then, Rem knows Subaru will become the ‘coolest’ aunt anyone ever had.”

Sniffing quietly, and wiping her eyes with her sleeves, Subaru nodded once more.

“I’ll try.” she said, weeping, placing a hand on Rem’s lap. “I will protect them however I can.”

 

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Explosion after explosion, the witch’s stench spread through the Astrea manor, as Rem hurried down the corridors.

This was far from the first time this had happened recently.

“Subaru!” she exclaimed, pushing open Subaru’s room, where like before, she found the girl hunching over her desk, a writing pen pinched in her hands, their back crooked, and their whole body shaking with what Rem could only imagine to be immense pain.

“I’m fine!” Subaru exclaimed with heavy breaths, putting the pen into its holder, before blowing onto the papers before herself and quickly sliding them under the desk into the open lockbox, shutting it closed with her foot. “Sorry about that, I don’t know what’s with these fits.” Subaru added with a mock laugh, leaning under the table, locking the box with the key around her neck then standing up and turning around.

She looked completely disheveled. If Rem didn’t know any better, she’d think the girl just walked in from a storm, or returned from torture. There was simply no conceivable rhyme or reason to what Rem witnessed from her now for the manieth time.

It started a few weeks ago. Until then, the explosions of miasma had not been seen again since the market. At first, Subaru tried to deny that she even knew that there was anything wrong, but after repeatedly experiencing it, Rem managed to pull something akin to an answer out of Subaru. The girl utterly refused to elaborate, but she claimed that she had some sort of health condition that's been with her since as long as she could remember. This made no sensense to Rem, especially not after Reinhard invited the current ‘Blue’ to examine Subaru, and they confirmed as Felix before them, that there was absolutely nothing medically wrong with the girl.

Only, there were things beyond even the capacity of such masters of the healing arts. After all, it was a disease that wiped out the royal family as well. Perhaps, like Subaru’s condition, that too was somehow Witch-born in nature. It would explain why whatever it was that burned away at Subaru proved beyond the ability of the greatest healers.

“Subaru, please, try to think, did something happen right now that triggered it?” Rem begged with deep concern. “If there is a pattern, it may be possible to avoid it, or at least treat it.” she suggested, breathing heavily from the exercise of coming here.

“Nothing new I noticed.” Subaru said, shaking her head, before taking a few quick steps across her room and placing one hand on Rem’s nape, another on her growing stomach. “Please, come sit down, you shouldn’t exhaust yourself like this.” Subaru urged. “I’ve had fits like this before and it will pass, but you don’t want to hurt yourself or the baby, do you?”

As Subaru spoke this kind, gentle words, her words were still accompanied by laboured breaths of pain from her latest episode. Whatever Witch-cursed ailment it was that tortured her Subaru, it was clearly a truly exceptionally orchestrated kind of suffering. One so terribly ill-placed upon someone who’d even in its midst would think of nothing but Rem and her child.

“Subaru…” Rem called weakly as the girl guided her to sit on her bed. “Please be careful, and look for any hints.” Rem begged. “Rem couldn’t bear if—”

The girl before her placed a finger on Rem’s lips, quieting her down.

“Do not worry about that.” Subaru spoke like a whisper, gently pushing Rem onto the bed, and quickly fluffing the pillow under her. “You’ve got far more important things to worry about now. They’re coming in about a month, aren’t they? Their mom should be rested and ready when they get here.” Subaru cooed, kneeling down beside the bed, shaking with pain but smiling at her, caressing Rem’s forehead with one hand.

Rem’s eyes welled with tears. She felt so useless, once again, unable to lend a helping hand to Subaru, while at the same time, her Subaru had been so, so strong. Like Rem always knew she would be.

“Rem truly, truly loves Subaru.” she whispered, reaching a hand out and caressing Subaru’s cheek.

“I know.” Subaru nodded, grabbing the hand, then gently pulling it off her cheek. “But a married woman probably shouldn’t say things like that to someone else infront of their husband.” she added scoldingly while turning her head around. “Isn’t that right?”

The red haired man towering in the doorway stepped inside.

“You know I don’t mind it if it’s Subaru.” Reinhard said with a soft, but concerned expression, walking to the bed, stopping beside Subaru. “You haven’t overexerted yourself, have you?” he asked, crouching slightly to lean forward and place a hand on Rem’s stomach.”

“Rem’s been very careful.” Rem answered tiredly as Reinhard carefully caressed her stomach through her gown.

“Good.” Reinhard nodded, before turning to Subaru. “I’m sorry to leave you for second, but are you feeling well too?” he asked.

“A little shaken, but I’ll walk it off.” Subaru answered simply with a smile. “Rem can stay here as long as she needs, I think I’ll just go explore the forest a little more again.”

“Are you certain that you want to do that right now?” Reinhard asked, reading Rem’s mind. “If there’s another fit, and you’re alone—”

“I won’t go that far, and no mabeast would dare come near the manor with you around.” Subaru said, waving a hand. “If I get another fit, Rem will know anyway. So just stay with her, and she can send you running if it’s that important.” Subaru finished with a carefree shrug, almost hiding her trembling hands.

“But Subaru, it’s still—” Rem began, reaching out a hand, which Subaru grabbed.

“I need the exercise, and I’d rather do it alone, and see a bit of nature. You understand, right Rem?” she spoke softly.

Rem’s eyes wavered. She trusted Subaru to know what she’s doing, it’s been many wonderful months since Subaru began her recovery from that dark, glum period that felt as though it went on for eternity. Each time the miasma surrounding Subaru intensified, Rem’s heart shook, fearing the return of those times, or perhaps even something worse.

Answering with only a longing frown to Subaru’s question, the girl before her sighed then leant forward, placing Rem’s hand on her cheek.

“I promise I’ll be back in an hour, two tops. Maybe I’ll even try making you some parachintas when I’m back if the kitchen is empty.” Subaru offered with a smile, holding Rem’s hand to her cheek.

With a smile filled with many, distant, hard to grasp fears, Rem nodded.

“That would be wonderful.”

 

※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※

 

There's nowhere you can be that isn't where you're meant to be. ’ Subaru sung incomprehensibly in a sweet dream of a distant place and time, in which Rem was submerged. It was a pleasant dream, though in it she had deep reservations against the girl, still so foolish, still so foolish.

Feeling something tickle her hand however, drew her swiftly out of this dream and back into the darkness of her and Reinhard’s large bedroom, his arms wrapped around her guardingly as always. It wasn’t him that tickled her hand. In fact, her hand felt like it was quite far, extended to the other edge of the bed—

“Subaru?” she whispered quietly, in a daze, still mostly asleep.

Next to her, the familiar figure paused and then turned towards her, their wonderful, sharp eyes, curving now with kindness glimmering in the light stretching in from the open door. She was hunched down next to the bed, holding Rem’s hand with one of hers, and something else in the other.

“Ah, so sorry, I didn’t mean to wake you up.” Subaru whispered quietly. “I just wanted to leave you a surprise for the morning.”

There was something in Subaru’s smiling voice. A slight tremble?

“Is something wrong, Subaru?” Rem asked, trying to move, to which Subaru simply crouched down and reached to her face, caressing Rem’s cheek.

“No. Everything’s fine, it's just that… There is a lot we need to talk about.” she said, a large, kind smile’s silhouette stretching through her face in the dark. “There is so much I want to tell you. Some things that I never really got around to. I don’t think I can tell you everything, but with how smart you are… Well, we’ll see. The point is that tomorrow, if you want, just come to my room and I’ll tell you everything I have to tell you.” she continued.

Rem was still barely awake. So close to the birth now, her energies seemed to be completely drained, and that was to speak nothing of it being the middle of the night, if the lack of light from the windows were anything to go by.

Something glimmered below Subaru’s eyes on her cheek, but Rem just couldn’t quite place it.

“What is the surprise?” Rem muttered.

“Hm?” Subaru hummed. “Oh, that.” Nodding, she put her hand back on Rem’s, opened her fingers, then used her other hand to put something small and solid, vaguely rodlike in her hand then close the fingers back. “You’ll see in the morning, otherwise it wouldn’t be a surprise.” Subaru smiled again, rubbing her own cheeks. “Let’s call it a present.”

“A present for what?” Rem asked, sleepily, feeling herself drifting still.

“It’s not a special occasion…” Subaru began, before standing up and leaning over the bed, whispering into Rem’s ear: “But let’s call it a ‘I am so very thankful to have met you’ present.” she said with a loving tone. “It’s a thing from my hometown.”

Caressing Rem’s cheek one more time, Subaru leaned over her and planted a kiss on Rem’s forehead.

Her heart filling with unbound gladness, Rem hummed happily, clutching the little unknown something in her hand, and drifting into a blessed slumber with the shadow of a loving smile hanging above her, not caring, or thinking about the slight drip of something that struck her ear a moment before she sailed off into sleep.

 

※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※

 

‘Why, why, why, why, why, why, why, why, why, why?’

This simple, unanswerable question burned inside Rem as stumbled inside Subaru’s room, utterly devastated, needing Reinhard’s help so much as make it to the door from their room.

Why would Subaru do that? Why now? Wasn’t she happy? Wasn’t she getting better? Weren’t things only improving? How could she—?

“Rem, we don’t have to do this right now.” Reinhard spoke calmingly, holding her.

“Rem has to.” she answered, smearing her tears all over her face with an arm, clutching the small key in the other. The key Subaru gave her last night. “She said… She said she has a lot to talk about. She must have— Subaru must have—”

The strength leaving her legs, she was about to fall to her knees, but naturally, Reinhard caught her, lowering her down gently. Onto her heels.

“Are you certain this is what you want?” Reinhard asked, kneeling down beside her while holding her arms reassuringly.

“Rem… Rem needs to… Rem needs to know why…” she mumbled, inconsolably.

Reinhard simply closed his eyes and nodded, with a look of deep sorrow on his face, standing up and walking to the desk where the lockbox was placed, and pulling it out from under the desk.

Earlier, they had discovered that Subaru was gone from the manor. In a panic, men were sent to search the nearby woods where Subaru sometimes liked to wander and certain enough, Reinhard himself had soon found her. Or at least, what remained.

The cause of her death was very clear, although the circumstances were a mystery.

Subaru’s body was discovered with a knife wound in her throat, and a knife from the kitchen that matched the wound next to her. There was blood on Subaru’s hands near her thumbs, as well as on the knife. It appeared clear that she did it to herself, but it seemed certain she had a co conspirator who helped her. This was simply due to the strange circumstances in which the body was found.

Subaru’s hands were no longer clutching the knife, instead, the knife was simply tossed to the side. Her body was laid out, as if she was sleeping on her back, her hands on her stomach, and most notably of all: the blood was wiped from her neck, her eyes closed, and her facial features showed no sign of the obvious pain in which she must have passed.

Someone had to have helped her, though neither Rem, nor Reinhard had any idea how it could have been, the staff of the manor having already sworn to have known nothing of it, though clearly, someone had to be lying.

Reinhard placed the large box before Rem and then knelt down next to her.

“She said she has a lot to tell you, so if you want, I can leave, but…” Here, he held Rem’s hand. “I’m here for as long as you need me.”

She couldn’t bear to look at Reinhard. Not now. She didn’t want to let him see her eyes like this, but neither could she tell him to go. While Subaru never opened up to him as much as to Rem by the end, she knew this must have been terrible for him as well.

Rem simply stared at the box for a while, holding up the key before herself, thinking again and again on what possible answers it may hold that would in any way improve upon this situation. What possible excuse or explanation there could be for what happened, that Subaru may have prepared. If it was even any of those things at all.

Why couldn’t she see it? Why could she still not see it? What pain did Subaru have to carry, to do this, when she smiled so honestly, so truly each day?

She wasn’t going to get any of those questions answered. At least not, unless she did the only thing left to her to do.

With trembling hands, Rem finally slid the key into the lockbox’s keyhole, and then turned it. Hesitating for a moment more as the lock clicked, Rem pulled on the handle, the lockbox easily opening up, though as she also pulled the box forward, she could feel the weight of the many, many pages of paper stacked inside it.

The very first thing that caught her eye was that atop a large empty parchment, which seemed to have been placed over most of the pages below, there were a couple of envelopes, each marked ‘To:’, followed by a name written in romoji. She recognized them. The names included ‘Felt’, ‘Emilia’, ‘Ram’, ‘Beatrice’, ‘Petra’, ‘Oringo’, as well as an envelope marked ‘Reinhard’. There were also two with strange characters written on it, that she vaguely recalled seeing long ago when Subaru would write in the text of her own. They were ‘母’ and ‘父’. The letter titled Emilia, had a familiar looking brooch clipped onto it. Though the one that stood out, the one placed in the middle of the lockbox and atop the others, was one labelled ‘To: Rem’.

She felt her breathing grow heavy. If she wrote letters to everyone— Even the dead— How long had Subaru been planning—?

Gathering all her strength, Rem reached in and picked up the envelope labelled with her name. It felt thick. Turning it around, she saw that it wasn’t glued shut. She opened it, pulling out its contents, which proved to be a few folded up pages.

Unfolding them, she noticed that the first page’s top was folded in against the next page, in addition to how they were all folded together. Unflapping that part, she saw that it was just a bunch of scratched out addresses, such as ‘Dear Rem’, ‘To the — Rem’, with the middle being especially scratched out and so on. It seemed Subaru just flapped this part back, so she could read from the real start.

Rem wasn’t certain she could. Instead of looking at the letter’s contents, she stared at the scratched out addresses. There were no great secrets to divulge, no meaning, nor did she try to make anything of them. She wasn’t thinking in such terms, it was simply, that looking at them, they were so conveniently separated from the words below by a crease, sparing her, if only for a while from having to see the final words she’ll ever receive from Subaru.

This charade, of course, could only go on for so long, and her eyes finally wandered below.

 

 

 

“Rem.

 

If you’re reading this, one of the following happened:
1) You broke into my lockbox, naughty, naughty. I’m very ang— No. Even then, I couldn’t be angry at you, though I hope you didn’t before I was ready. I beg you, stop reading right now. It is very important. Come talk to me before you continue reading and stop right now. I couldn’t forgive myself if you read this before I was ready.
2) You or Reinhard or someone stopped me, and now I’m probably feeling like an idiot, being held down for my own good or something, while you guys are checking all these notes, thinking you might figure out why I tried to do what I did, maybe so you just understand, maybe so you can convince me it’s a bad idea. I cannot blame you, but please stop reading right now. It’s not something you can do anything about. If you ever trusted me, if any of that still remains, please just stop reading right now.
3) I died. Almost certainly by design. In this case, and this case only, if it’s not too much, if it’s something you want to do, please read on.

 

First of all, I am sorry. I am so, so, so sorry that I made you go through this. If I said all the ways in which I am sorry, the manor would have run out of paper. I’m making light of things by saying it like that, and I realize you might not appreciate that at this moment, but I guess it’s just the only way I can put things.

Second of all, I want you to know that none of this is your fault. I don’t expect you to fully understand how deeply I mean that. As always, you have done everything, absolutely everything anyone could. What I did, I didn’t do because you haven’t done enough. I know it doesn’t make sense, but I did it because you allowed me to be happy. I was happy. I am happy.

I am happy that you’ve found someone you can love, who can be everything to you that you deserve. I am happy that I got to see your marriage ceremony. I am happy that even after everything, you cared for me. I am happy, because I saw how you felt when you told me you were expecting a child. I am happy, because if you are reading this, then that child will be born. And I am happy, because I know you will be a wonderful mother. I should know. You’ve taken care of me for a long time.

Naturally, you’d want to know then, why this idiot went and did what she did. I’d love to tell you right here, but I want this letter to be as articulate and clean as it can be. I want you to be able to read it easily. I want you to see this first, before anything else, so that when you look at the pages in the drawer, which I give you full permission to do, you won’t feel like this letter too was written by a mad woman, whose words are empty ravings. I want you to know, that when I write the following words, I am doing so completely lucid and in perfect focus, meaning every single character you taught me to write:

I love you.

I do. In so many ways and so much, that I could never properly express it, so I’ll try it, as inadequate a fashion as I can.

Note, that the second part of what I’m about to write here won't make sense now. Maybe it never will, but even if you can’t understand or accept these words of thanks, I have to give them to you, because you deserve them:

You saved me.

When I was surrounded by mabeasts, holding that poor girl in my arms, you saved me. I know you might still think of yourself poorly for that moment, but you shouldn’t. You saved me.
When I got bitten a hundred times, you went into the forest, and fought off a horde of those creatures. You saved me.
When I thought my life was utterly worthless, thinking I could have been nothing more than some strong headed idiot, you gave me a chance to have one shining moment in my life. You saved me.
When I was cursed and beyond recovery, you ended my pain. You saved me.
When I was without hope, beset by nightmares tearing me apart, you held my hand so I could rest. You saved me.
When I was convinced of something foolish, and was ready to curse the world, thinking my future held nothing but pain, you came to me with kindness, and sacrificed yourself so I could see my error, giving me a chance at those happy days at Rozchi’s manor. You saved me.
When I wanted to charge head first into danger, you left me behind and faced it in my place, even though it was hopeless, to protect me. You saved me.
When I dragged you down the same dangerous path again, you faced off against the undefeatable. You saved me.
When I abandoned all reason and madly sought to face the witch cult alone, you followed me against words of warning, enduring pain no one was meant to for my sake. You saved me.
When I lost everything, when I thought that nothing I did or could do could ever have any value at all, you found love, happiness. In this way, more than any other: You saved me.

I couldn’t do anything else. I was too weak, I still am. I held onto you, because you were the only one I could hold onto at the time. Because I thought, no one else was there. Because I thought, if I could just save you, if I could just stop you from going, take you somewhere away from the danger, then maybe I could live with it all. Maybe I could accept that it couldn’t end any other way.

At least, that’s what I thought then, but no, it was more than that. It wasn’t just that you were there, it was because of why you were there. Because of who you are. Because you are truly strong. Because I wish with all my heart, I could have had just a fragment of the incredible strength you had, sitting by a silent body day after day, calling to me, comforting me, supporting me when I had nothing to offer in return. When I was nothing but an empty shell, an embodiment of everything you lost.

I wanted you to be safe, because you’re the only truly beautiful thing in this world that wasn’t beyond my reach.

Even with my desire to make this letter concise and to the point, and to sound articulate and well thought out, I feel as though I’m just rambling. Maybe rambling is good. I wish I could have rambled to you directly, instead of going around your back like this, but I couldn’t risk it. Now that I’m gone, one way or another, it should be safe. Either this letter doesn’t exist, or its dangers are gone along with me from this world. At least I hope so. I’m fairly certain. Regardless, I couldn’t leave you without some explanation, which again, this letter isn’t, nor is anything in the drawer precisely but—

The contents of the drawer below are everything I ever wrote down in this room. Some of it is crass, some of it is poorly thought out, some of it is even lies. When I started, I never intended for anyone to read it. Later, I tried to weave around the truth to make things make sense, trying to cheat the system, but it never worked. You might see. I left everything there. You deserve my everything. Do with it as you please.

I simply ask that you do not read the sealed envelopes. Which is to say, the ones for them. Also, leave Reinhard’s to him. Some time after you two came together, he offered to help me in a certain way, and I wanted to say a few words to him on that. I don’t think he’d want you to know about it, so please, for his sake, and as to not make me a tattle-tail, just give it to him and let him decide what to do with it.

The sealed envelopes you can, again, do with as you please. While once more, I ask you don’t read them, as they would be for their eyes only, I can’t fault you if you want more answers, so again, I couldn’t be angry at you if you did end up reading them. I was thinking about burning them, or burying them, or tearing them apart, I couldn’t make up my mind what would be a good thing to do, so I just sealed them and left them as is.

Wow, look at me, turning a farewell letter into a set of instructions. I’m not very good at this am I, Rem?

I just realized I never actually wrote down your name since the address at the top. Rem. Rem. Rem. Rem. Rem. Rem. Rem.

I wish I could write that name down forever. I wish I could speak it forever. I wish I could be with you, see the wonderful family you’re going to have. Your kid will definitely have blue eyes, but I wonder what their hair will be like. Blue? Red? Purple? Will maybe Reinhard’s mother’s blonde hair skip a generation?

I love you.

I don’t want to end this letter. I want to keep writing. I want to say so, so much more, but I can’t. I can’t wait until they are born. One day, I will die, no matter what. No one lives forever. But what then? If things remain the same, if everything will be as it was, then I would just steal everything away from you all over again. Or, maybe it would be only a little, but I can’t take that chance. What if it’s just over and over and over again? I need to know. I need to make sure, before they’re born. I can’t let you have something this important, if there’s the slightest chance I’ll just take it from you. I have to be sure. Though, of course, if I am right, I won’t be sure. I won’t be anything at all, probably. Bit of a bitch, isn’t it? Sorry. I shouldn’t have written such a word here.

Writing it all out like this, it sounds pretty selfish, doesn’t it? I risk taking away what you already have, so I don’t have to live with taking away even more. What’s more, if things work out as I hope, then that means that I’ll never have to deal with the consequences, while, as always, you have to carry things for me. I’m truly, truly awful.

And yet, for some reason, you stuck by me. You had hope for me. I could never in a million lifetimes thank you enough for that. Thank you for being the only future I hadn’t given up on.

I am sorry beyond all measure words can express, and hoping even more that you can maintain and grow the happiness you’ve found, without me.

 

—With nothing but love, your (if after all this, you still wish it so) Subaru.

 

P.S.: Rem. Rem. Rem. Rem. Rem. Rem. Rem. Rem. Rem. Rem. Rem. Rem. Rem. Rem. Rem.

There. Just had to get that out of my system.”

 

Lowering the stack of papers which now had collected wet marks additional to the ones with which she found them, Rem slumped onto her heels, looking emptily at the lockbox.

It wasn’t… It didn’t make any…

Raising up the letter again, running her eyes over the lines, trying to see if maybe she missed a paragraph somewhere, Rem scanned the letter over and over again, but it was… Nonsense.

Kind, gentle, torturous nonsense.

The only things therein that made any kind of sense, were the words in which Subaru expressed her feelings. Feelings that should have sent Rem flying, were they expressed before… Words that…

She felt Reinhard’s hand gently rub her back as her own hands fell into her lap, tears raining upon them.

“Mine was about that conversation.” Reinhard noted quietly, closing the much shorter letter in his own envelope with one hand. “From before I asked you to…” he trailed off, before taking out a handkerchief and holding it to Rem’s eyes, brushing the tears away gently.

“Maybe if we read more…” Rem muttered, putting aside her letter. “Maybe, somewhere in there…” she continued, taking out the other letters, putting them aside, then lifting the large parchment, revealing hundreds, possibly thousands of pages.

On the bottom side of the parchment, she noticed there was some more writing, and turning it around, she found a verbose explanation.

Apparently, Subaru had collected a simplistic guide to her language, explaining in a note that some of the text she wrote initially was in kana and Kanji, because, again, she didn’t think she’d want to let anyone read it. The kansas were explained as phonetic elements, with Kanjis only getting a long list with meanings, a hundred or two of them sometimes in pairs written down, along with their romoji equivalent.

In a note at the bottom, Subaru apologized for never following up on her promise to teach Rem.

As if that mattered at all, especially now.

“Rem, are you certain you want to keep reading this? We could come back another time.” Reinhard pleaded, holding Rem’s cheek and turning her to face him.

Looking into his eyes, Rem remembered a time she hated this man. A time when she thought it was him that would take Subaru away from her, leaving Rem all alone, and instead, now it was him that stayed, trying his best to be comforting. He still didn’t really get a hang of so many things. It took such a long time for Rem to get through to him, always thinking of what her Subaru would say, what her Subaru would do.

None of what was happening felt like what her Subaru would do.

And she needed to understand why.

“Reinhard can go if he likes, but Rem will stay and read.” she said simply, reaching into the lockbox and taking out a stack of papers.

Her husband simply sighed and placed his hand back on Rem’s back, sitting there and bearing with her patiently.

Rem began by skipping papers that were written in Subaru’s hometown’s text, setting them aside into one stack. Reading the rest, it almost all came off as random thoughts from a diary.

Some pages recounted ‘conversations’ Rem or Reinhard held with Subaru before she opened up, or talked about how stupid she feels even writing in romoji and imoji for practice, since ‘What am I even practicing for?’. Amongst these, achingly, Rem found a group which recounted times when Subaru opened up to Reinhard slightly, accompanied by a few pages of thoughts along the line of what she said to Reinhard, thoughts on ‘What I wish I could do with Rem.’

 

 

 

“I wish I could walk with her through a forest, not infested with monsters for once. I wish we could go to Irlam and see the children again. I wish I could play music for her. I wish I could hold her hand. I wish I could see her smile. I wish I could look her in the eye. I wish I could take her home. I wish I could explain it all to her. I wish I could introduce her to my parents. I wish we grew up together. I wish I didn’t let her sister die. I wish I could tell her I love her. I wish I was worthy of her love. I wish I was someone who could give her a good life. I wish she never had to suffer. I wish I could have protected her. I wish I could hold her when she’s sad. I wish I could wipe away her tears. I wish I could laugh with her again. I wish we could bake again. I wish I had taught her all the things I promised. I wish she figured it out. I wish there was a way to tell her. I wish she would stop loving me. I wish she would give up. I wish she would find happiness…”

 

Her face quivering with pain, Rem put the paper aside and wiped her eyes with Reinhard’s handkerchief before moving to the one under it.

 

 

 

“I can’t believe Reinhard did that. When I told him I wish I could hold Rem when she was sad, and he asked that stupid question about why, I didn’t think explaining it would mean he’d go and hug her! Seriously, what the hell is in that idiot’s brain? He’s lucky if Rem doesn’t poison his next dinner.”

 

Rem turned to Reinhard with sharp eyes, holding the paper out to him. The knight took it, ran his eyes over it and then as a moment of realization hit him, he turned back to Rem and gave her an uncomfortable, apologetic smile.

“This might be that time in my mother’s room.” he said, very sheepishly for the man known as ‘The Sword Saint’.

Rem puffed out her lips and frowned, before a bitter laugh came over her, looking at the piece of paper.

“Subaru… Even then… Even this…” she muttered, rubbing her eyes.

Truly, there was nothing good in Rem’s life that didn’t originate in some capacity from that wonderful girl.

Digging deeper, Rem invited Reinhard to come read the texts with her, and they progressed down, the letters growing over time, stranger and stranger.

Rem attributed some of this to getting to older letters where Subaru was deeper in whatever dementia that had taken hold, but… Things began to grow extremely strange. Ruminations of events that never happened. Pondering about why people did things they never did.

 

 

 

“Why did Beatrice come with me to that cliff? It’s not like she liked me or anything. She actually joked about not saving my life when I was cursed, and she never showed any compassion to anyone. So why then? Why did she come with me and comfort me all evening before Rem arrived? There had to be a reason, but it doesn’t make sense.”

 

Rem didn’t remember ever encountering Subaru at a cliff with Beatrice.

 

 

 

“What happened the time she found me escaping with Felt and Rom? It was late enough that probably the village children would have already been taken. Did she just ignore that to come after us? Or perhaps Ram handled it while Rem tracked us down? Maybe the children weren’t taken yet when she passed through Irlam?”

 

Subaru never ‘escaped’ with Felt and Rom. These seemed like complete nonsense.

 

 

 

“The more I think about it, the weirder it gets how Roswaal tried to convince me that poison was the wrong way to go in my search. I wasn’t even cursed yet, but she told me that I want to look into magical causes instead. So she couldn’t have known, but at the same time, it always stuck out a bit how weirdly disappointed she seemed when I told her about how I’m researching poisons. What was that about? There’s no way she could have known, and yet…”

 

Researching poisons? Rem didn’t recall Subaru ever doing anything like that. And doing this before she was cursed? Rem had paid very close, very ill-placed attention to anything even vaguely suspect Subaru could have been doing at the time, and yet she never saw her research poisons.

 

The deeper they went, the stranger things got bit by bit, until eventually, Rem noticed through the cracks between the stacks of paper, a couple of papers laid sideways at the bottom. Ones with large black splotched areas that didn’t seem as clean as the rest.

“Reinhard, please help Rem take out the remaining pages.” she asked, reaching down and lifting out some of the stacks of papers to get to the different ones at the bottom which called to her as something oddly inviting, odd and different.

As they did so, they finally saw them.

A good dozen pieces of paper lay at the very bottom of the lockbox, with chaotic writing all over them, except for one laid parallel with them, atop the rest. It read simply:

 

 

 

“I’m sorry about the smell, but it’s the only way I could.”

 

The pages below, were covered in the same, rambling scribblings on each. Two simple sentences following one another, drawn repeatedly over and over. The end of the second sentence always scratched and not at all legible. And atop each page as they were written out, there was one character each.

First, reading the repeating sentence, Rem took out one of the papers and tried to read them.

 

 

 

“I’m sorry for whatever I did, I give up, I give in, this world is good enough. So please, don’t make me ————— “I’m sorry for whatever I did, I give up, I give in, this world is good enough. So please, don’t make me ————— “I’m sorry for whatever I did, I give up, I give in, this world is good enough. So please, don’t make me ————— “I’m sorry for whatever I did, I give up, I give in, this world is good enough. So please, don’t make me ————— “I’m sorry for whatever I did, I give up, I give in, this world is good enough. So please, don’t make me ————— “I’m sorry for whatever I did, I give up, I give in, this world is good enough. So please, don’t make me ————— “I’m sorry for whatever I did, I give up, I give in, this world is good enough. So please, don’t make me ————— “I’m sorry for whatever I did, I give up, I give in, this world is good enough. So please, don’t make me ————— “I’m sorry for whatever I did, I give up, I give in, this world is good enough. So please, don’t make me ————— “I’m sorry for whatever I did, I give up, I give in, this world is good enough. So please, don’t make me ————— “I’m sorry for whatever I did, I give up, I give in, this world is good enough. So please, don’t make me ————— “I’m sorry for whatever I did, I give up, I give in, this world is good enough. So please, don’t make me ————— “I’m sorry for whatever I did, I give up, I give in, this world is good enough. So please, don’t make me ————— “I’m sorry for whatever I did, I give up, I give in, this world is good enough. So please, don’t make me ————— “I’m sorry for whatever I did, I give up, I give in, this world is good enough. So please, don’t make me ————— “I’m sorry for whatever I did, I give up, I give in, this world is good enough. So please, don’t make me ————— “I’m sorry for whatever I did, I give up, I give in, this world is good enough. So please, don’t make me ————— “I’m sorry for whatever I did, I give up, I give in, this world is good enough. 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So please, don’t make me ————— “I’m sorry for whatever I did, I give up, I give in, this world is good enough. So please, don’t make me —————“

 

The last bit was completely illegible in the small print each time, but on squinting, Rem could make out the first few characters, which then, she realized were also the first few characters spelled out in giant, repeatedly redrawn and jagged, ugly characters upon the center of the pages.

 

 

“R E T U R N B Y D E A T H”

 

Rem stared at the words for a time, trying to gleam their meaning, Reinhard also looking down at the pages in confusion, scratching his chin.

“Does this mean anything to you?” he asked, turning to her, but Rem didn’t answer.

Why would Subaru write such a strange phrase as ‘Return by Death’? Did she mean that she begged not to ‘Return by Death’? But what would that even mean? Return to where? And by dying? She died, and she didn’t want to—?

Rem’s eyes glazed over, as those distant moments in the forest returned to her mind.

Each time Subaru exploded with miasma there, she looked disheveled, as if she experienced pain beyond understanding. Each time Rem found Subaru after a recent explosion of miasma, she was sitting at her desk, writing. Was she… Was she writing these? These words? These pages? This phrase? This message?

‘You have people you can count on, don’t go charging at every challenge by yourself! Unlike me, you can actually ask for help from people without getting your hear—’ echoed from long, long, long ago in her mind, something Subaru said, just before the pain overtook her, and she tumbled.

What was she trying to say then? What made her tumble? What brought the Witch’s wrath upon Subaru?

‘I know that that doesn’t make sense to you, but it means that I can’t lose!’ Subaru once told her full of confidence yet pain, before going to face an enemy she couldn’t have expected to survive against.

What was the meaning of any of this?!

And for those in the cheap seats! ’ Subaru shouted triumphantly in Rem’s memory. ‘ That means I can go ba—!’ and was silenced by another wave of pain, exploding into miasma.

The same miasma that haunted her at the start of her stay at the manor. A stay where, once suspiciously, Subaru seemed to familiarize herself with everything at an extreme rate.

After having found Felt-sama for Emilia, even though no one there had ever seen her.

Before exploding into miasma and the darkest of depressions in the middle of a happy day, just before an insurmountable tragedy struck everyone both of them struck.

Rem’s eyes darted madly upon the letters before her, over and over again.

“Return by death. Return by death.” she muttered, her voice growing deeper.

Is this why Subaru thought it was her fault?

“How… How many times…?” she muttered finally.

 

 

                                           

Epilogue

※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※

 

Waddling, waddling ever onwards, a little adventurer stomped down, down, down the great brown road, with massive barriers on either side, decorated with evenly placed glowing rocks and still-windows looking at things and people that do not move! Behind her chased a mighty giant-in-white with legs three times as tall as her, but it wasn’t going to catch her! The giant-in-white stood no chance, for she had recently found that his red hair would always flop in her face when the blue-haired siren didn’t brush it aside! And even if the siren did, she could free it, by simply knocking her aside that hard flower the siren would put on her head!

With the power of that red hair, the little adventurer knew she was unstoppable, for not only did the red-haired giant command great power, everyone turned to him when he entered a room, but each time anyone rubbed her head, they would soon flee! Flee from the terrible power of her hair!

“Hey hey, careful now, a bit slower.” the giant thundered down, to which the adventurer redoubled her efforts! She would yet escape him! “Hah, you really caught on quick, didn’t you?” His cries behind her would not discourage her! She will yet reach the end of the great ro—

Slipping on the brown road under her feet, the little adventurer had begun to tumble forward! Curses! This—

Before she could hit the ground, she felt two, large somethings under her arms, and felt herself lift into the sky.

It couldn’t end like this! Not when she had almost made her escape! Escape to where she wasn’t quite sure on, but escape nonetheless!

“Oh, no, no.” she heard from behind herself as she wailed in defeat and was raised up, before something laid itself under her back, and she felt herself pressed up against something big, strong and flat. “I’m sorry, did you hurt your toes when you slipped? I tried to catch you before you fell, but I might not have been fast enough.”

Turning to the sound, in place of the insurmountable giant-in-white, she saw instead—

Chichi! ” the little adventurer called in surprise. She already couldn’t remember what she was so scared of.

“Hah! Yes.” Chichi smiled, his large hand reaching to her and caressing her cheek. “You were stomping quite fast there. Were you trying to get to her?” he spoke, recounting familiar sounds the little adventurer knew not the meaning of yet. “She’s one floor down, in your aunt’s room.” he said, brushing a finger against her cheek again, the strange white cover on his fingers tickling her, the little adventurer laughing up happily. “Oh, you want to? Alright, I’ll take you down to her.”

Carrying her in his large arms, rocking her back and forth as he went, Chichi reached the end of the great brown road with blazing speed! At least three times as fast as her fastest waddle! Then, conquering the mighty falls, he descended the pit of disaster, reaching the false road! A tricksy lookalike of the great brown road that stretched from the little adventurer’s room.

With a few more big steps, Chichi walked to a door with a few strange symbols painted on it, before knocking his curled fingers against it.

“It’s me, I’ve brought a little guest.” he announced, before reaching down to the metal claw jotting from the door, and pushing it down, making it give way. “Oh.” he noted quietly as the door opened.

As the door gave way, the little adventurer could see, in in the middle of the room, next to a large drawer with a bunch of flowers and envelopes atop it, the blue-haired siren sitting quietly in a chair, her arms hanging down by her side, her head cocked to the side. She quietly drew hair in and out through her mouth.

“Well, better close this then.” Chichi said, stepping inside the room illuminated with glowing rocks, and closing the door after himself, before carrying the little adventurer to the siren, and crouching down next to her.

Using his free hand, he gently grabbed the siren's arms and moved them to her lap, before brushing aside her hair and pressing his big lips against her cheeks.

“Hmh?” the siren murmured, raising a hand to her face. “Reinhard?”

“Sorry for waking you, I just couldn’t help myself.” Chichi said with a smile, rubbing the siren’s large belly gently.

“Oh.” she hummed with a pouting face. “Yooouuu.” raising a hand up, she pinched the tip of Chichi’s nose.

“When I went to check on this little troublemaker, she ran out of her room and started going towards the stairs. I think she wanted to see you.” Chichi said.

With a tired expression and a little yawn, the siren bent her head forward and took hold of the little adventurer, resting her down on her plump belly.

“Did you want to see Re—” she began, but then stopped and closed her eyes. “Did you want to see me?” she asked.

“You’re getting there.” Chichi smiled, pressing his lips against the siren’s cheek again.

Haha! ” the adventurer exclaimed, invoking the siren’s name, which she knew always had a big reaction.

“Aaah, that’s right!” Haha nodded, holding out her index finger and tickling the adventurer’s nose. “You seem to be in good spirits. Did you want to come visit your aunt instead?”

The little adventurer wasn’t sure what the word ‘aunt’ meant, but having paid close attention to Chichi and Haha, she noticed that their expression always changes a little bit when they say it, so it sounded important. When they said those words, they usually were either in this room, or were about to come here, so it probably had something to do with this ‘aunt’ thing.

“Actually, on second thought, she might have just been running from me. She cried a little when I picked her up until she got a good look at me.” Reinhard spoke. “I’m starting to think she just doesn’t like it when I’m in uniform.”

“Well, why would she?” Haha returned. “Most of the time you wear it home, it’s because of some gruff nonsense with the kingdom.”

“I wouldn’t call it ‘gruff nonsense’.” Chichi sighed. “Also, this time it was just Julius. Turns out, he wasn’t even here in an official capacity.”

“Oh?” Haha hummed with surprise. “Why did he come?”

“He wanted to pay his personal respects to…” he stopped, and looked at the dresser with the envelopes.

“Ah.” Haha noted, looking sad, which made the little adventurer upset. “Oh, oh, don’t cry, Re— mom is here.” she laughed up, raising the adventurer up to her shoulder and patting her head, before putting her soft lips to her head. “There, there.” Haha smiled down at her, before turning back to Chichi. “He chose a fine time for it. He’s closer to the anniversary than the event now.” she huffed.

“To be fair, he had been very busy with Anastasia-sama’s campaign.” Chichi sighed. “He had sent that letter before, you remember?”

“Yes. Of course.” Haha nodded looking displeased.

“Actually, I’ve been thinking to ask: Do you think we should explain everything to him?” Chichi asked. “He… He still seems to think that everything that happened was partially his fault. Perhaps if he knew…”

“I doubt he’d even believe us.” Haha answered, shaking her head. “And if he did, he might just feel worse, considering.”

“You think so?” Chichi asked, brushing a hand against Haha’s cheek.

“Yes.” she answered, looking away at the dresser once more.

The two large people held their head together, looking at the dresser together, until suddenly Chichi raised up his head.

“Oh, I almost forgot.” he said, reaching under his jacket, and pulling a yellow flower from it, placing it atop the wardrobe. “He brought a a bouquet of these.”

“When did you tell him they were her favourites?” Haha asked.

“I didn’t.” Chichi responded, shaking his head. “When I asked, he said he heard that I put one of these in her hair from someone way back then, and that’s why he chose them.”

Haha’s mouth opened a little bit, and then she bit down gently on her lips before sighing.

“Alright. I guess we could invite him to the anniversary.” she said, rubbing one of her eyes.

“I’ll catch up to him and let him know then.” Chichi answered, leaning in and pressing his lips to Haha’s cheeks one last time, before standing up.

“Ah, you’re going already?” Haha called after him longingly.

“I don’t have to.” he answered, stopping before the door. “I can catch up anytime, if you want me to stay.”

“Well…” Haha spoke, smiling down at the little adventurer. “I was thinking, I’d like to hear one of her songs again, but with the second one on the way, I can’t really… You know.”

“Understood.” he nodded, smiling back, walking to the dresser, and taking a large brown thing with a long dark neck and thin hairs running along it up, that the little adventurer very vaguely remembered seeing Haha use before her belly got as big as it was now. “Any request from the lady of the manor?”

Haha looked down at the little adventurer, sat on her stomach and then with a smile said:

“That soft and pleasant one. The one she said was the first she ever played on a lyulyre on getting here.”

“You mean this one?” he asked, beginning to play with the long hairs on the brown thing, to which happy little tunes began to play .

“That’s the one.” Haha smiled. “It really is unfair how good you got with it at a touch.”

Chichi gave a bitter look up at her, but then just sighed, smiled and shook his head.

“Hey, you know what that is?” Haha continued, looking down into her lap at the little adventurer. “That’s a song from your aunt’s home.” she spoke with a big smile. “Your aunt brought us a lot of lovely, wonderful things like that, that I can’t wait to show and teach you!”

“She’s probably a bit young to play one of these.” Chichi interjected without stopping his playing.

“Maybe for now.” Haha nodded with a smile. “And maybe she won’t want to play music at all. But Re— I still want to show her. Show you.” she added, poking the little adventurer’s nose with her finger, a little water running down her cheek. “So, so many wonderful things. And for your little brother or sister too.” she added. “And, you’ll be there to help them too. And if there’s one thing I’m sure of, is that no matter what happens, they’ll grow up knowing that Subaru is the world’s coolest big sister.”