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(Re:63) Arc 4: "Traps for Troubadours"

Chapter Text

What—?

What was—?

What was happening?

Subaru could follow the events that had transpired around her up to a certain point.

She woke up to knocking at the door, still hunched in the chair by the bed next to Rem. It was Reinhard, having come to ‘thank’ her for what she had done. They talked a while, he confessed that his mother was in a coma, and then asked Subaru to teach him how to play guitar, which went fine until she remembered her last promise to Rem, asked him to leave out of shame for the shameful weeping she failed to take under control and then—

What was happening?!

Why was the knight’s hand pressed against her cheek, his finger tips gently wrapping under her hair towards the back of her head?!

Why were his lips— His lips— Against her—?!

Subaru’s arms rose up by her side, fingers curved instinctively into claws, though only hovering beside her head, shaking, not knowing what to do.

She should push him off! Yes, she needs to—! That’s what—!

Just before her arms were about to slam against his shoulders, Subaru could see Reinhard’s sky-blue eye look into hers, and his brow tensed above it, the knight withdrawing before Subaru could put so much as a lay a hand on her, he drew back.

In spite of drawing back completely in what appeared in a moment, his hand didn’t so much as rub her cheek or pull her hair.

For a brief moment, they were simply staring at each other. The knight stood there before Subaru, his stance still, his right hand lifted before his waist, fingers slowly closing, under the tip of his thumb, his face filled with uncertainty and confusion. Subaru sitting in her chair, arms hovering in the air where a moment ago the knight’s shoulder used to be, her face adorned by confusion equalling his, shock in place of his uncertainty, both burning behind her quivering brown eyes perched above fizzing, slightly wet lips.

“Suba—?”

Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah!

As Subaru screamed by sudden impulse, jumping off her bed, holding an arm out over Rem’s body, Reinhard stepped back, startled… And a few moments later, something downstairs seemed to have been slammed.

“Subaru, have I done something—?”

“Stay back!” Subaru said, intending to have shouted, but unable to reach the full capacity of her voice.

Her mind was a jumble. This didn’t make sense! This couldn’t make sense! Sure, the knight was kind towards her in the past, but he wasn’t— He wasn’t that kind of nice! He wasn’t flirting with her or— Well, there were those flowers, but—

Pressing her free hand not guarding Rem against her temple, Subaru struggled as her mind wrapped itself into knots trying to get everything straight.

Reinhard van Astrea, the man now slowly stepping back into the opposite corner of the room with that pathetic expression— He couldn’t have been that kind of man, right? And yet, he had to be! Subaru’s childish fairytale delusions have been thrown out some time ago. She was perfectly aware of how there would be and could be no absurd scene of some noble knight swooping into sweep her off her feet like in one of those clihché otome games! Even if it wasn’t ridiculous fundamentally for anyone, let alone a knight to take romantic interest in her, the fact that Reinhard was from a noble house and she wasn’t even Lugnican meant that there could be no room for a proper thing between them, which left only—

Her cynical side was screaming at her the fact that she had ‘known’ this man for all of 2 days really. Even that was a stretch. Outside of the brief encounters during her first day in this world, they only shared a carriage ride, he took her into an official meeting, exchanged some words with her afterwards and then once again the day after when they met near that field of flowers before walking back to the noble quarters. That was it! That, and that letter he wrote to her when she was sent to Roswaal’s manor for the first time— Along with a bouquet of flowers…

Her skin crawling, Subaru kicked the chair behind her to the side with her heels so she could back further away without parting from Rem so she could keep a hand over the unconscious girl. If Subaru could be so wrong about the knight, then— Then Rem had to be kept—!

 

Suddenly, the door of the room slammed open. The first thing Subaru registered was a pair of twitching cat ears.

“Wyat happened?!” slurred Felix, sticking her head forward, looking at Reinhard near the door, then Subaru across the room from her.

“He— He— He tried—!” Subaru muttered, unable to finish the sentence, simply covering her lips with her free hand.

“I believe I’ve done something wrong, Felix.” Reinhard spoke, his voice was much more measured than Subaru’s, though it wasn’t quite as elegant as he usually sounded. His voice sounded a little shaken.

“What could you hyave possibly dyone?” the knightess demanded, turning to Reinhard, her tail coming into Subaru’s view, standing fully erect behind her, its fur standing on edge as if someone rubbed a rubber balloon all over it.

“He tried to kiss me!” Subaru erupted suddenly, surprising even herself, and sending a shake through the cat tail in the doorway, the knight’s expression darkening with a sense of helplessness.

“You what?!” Felix’s exclaimed, staring at Reinhard.

“I’m afraid it is the truth.” Reinhard nodded, raising his hand to his heart. “I must have made a grievous misunderstanding.” he spoke, turning to Subaru who couldn’t help but recoil slightly. “I am deeply sorry for whatever mistake I have made. I had believed— I was simply trying to banish your distress, but I can see I have only added to it.”

“Her—?” Felix began but her words cut off and her tail violently jerked itself into a zed shape behind her, the knightess’ mouth hanging open, eyes staring off into space for a second before she looked to Subaru then at Reinhard, continuing with a trembling voice: “Tell me— This isn’t about what I told you five days ago!”

“I’m sorry, I must have forgotten one of the details you’ve— Felix?”

Reinhard’s words halted, because Felix’s face rapidly turned beet red, a deep, embarrassed frown curving down her cheeks while her tail nearly spun into a ball behind her.

“What are the two of you talking about?!” Subaru demanded.

It seemed for a moment that the knight was going to answer her, but Felix gripped his shirt with one hand, holding up a finger towards Subaru with the other, however as she turned to the black haired girl with an open mouth… Words appeared to fail her, Felix’s embarrassment mixing with a touch of panic.

“He…” Felix began, glancing between Reinhard and Subaru. “He didn’t… He thought…”

As the knightess continued to mutter, visibly descending into a deeper and deeper pit of embarrassment, a pair of heavy footsteps approached outside and with an urgent momentum behind him, the image of Wilhelm van Astrea entered the door behind the knightess.

“Felix?” the old man spoke with a surprised expression. He could probably only see the knightess’ back from outside the door. His eyes flashed to Subaru, seemingly reading her body language right away, hand darting to his hip as he stepped inside only to freeze up as finally he was in a position to see Reinhard standing in the nearby corner of the room with that expression that wouldn’t be out of place on a particularly well behaved four year old that found itself lost in a crowd. “Reinhard? What is the meaning of this?!”

“Don’t ans—!” Felix warned, clutching Reinhard’s shirt harder, but Reinhard had already turned the old man.

“I have committed what appears to be a grievous oversight, grandfather.”

‘Grandfather?’ Subaru’s mind repeated. Her thoughts were far too jumped to remember if she ever learned that their relations were quite that close.

As Subaru’s eyes shifted to the old man whose posture relaxed somewhat at seeing that the intruder Subaru was getting defensive about was only his grandson, she noticed that a white strip of cloth was hanging from the sleeve of his suit. In fact, it wasn’t even buttoned up properly like he had come to expect of the aged gentleman.

“I can’t understand what ‘oversight’ could have Subaru-dono react in such a fashion.” Wilhelm answered Reinhard with narrow eyes, before beginning to turn his head towards her.

“I’ve kissed her.” Reinhard answered simply, his voice unclouded by shame, echoing only a clear sense of regret.

The old man’s head stopped mid-turn, his brows furrowing, a familiar pressure reaching Subaru, though not quite as heavy as when the While Whale’s name was uttered downstairs three days ago.

Hyold on! ” Felix shouted out, standing between the two men, holding her arms out towards both, her back turned to Subaru so all she could see to read her emotion was the tail curling around rapidly in tight knots. “I can’t be responysible for whatever this would be!” she continued with a heavy breath. “Reinhard—” Here, she raised her head towards Wilhelm, Subaru finally seeing from the side her more than embarrassed, almost fearful expression. “I might have tyeased him, and tyold him something silly, which I didn’t think he’d believe.”

Wilhelm’s eyes which now lowered themselves to the knightess narrowed to the point that they nearly appeared closed, only a glimpse visible of the burning inferno behind his eyes.

“Ferris-san.” he spoke simply, his voice bringing the whole room’s temperature down.

“Felix had nyo idea anything like this would happen!” Felix protested, gritting her teeth slightly in panic before turning to Reinhard, and smacking his chest with the back of her hand. “I told you to forget about it, didn’t I?!”

“I’m not sure I follow.” Reinhard said, looking down at the knightess beside him. “Was it all some sort of prank?”

Subaru’s still right arm which had been hovering over Rem began to lower slightly as she observed the chaotic scene.

What have you told Reinhard, Ferris-san?” Wilhelm hissed.

WIth an audible gulp, Felix turned back to the Sword Devil beside her and straightened her stance, facing him in the closest thing she could approximate right now to proper form.

“Felix might have…” she began, glancing embarrassedly at Subaru. “...told Reinhard that knights kissing the ones whose lives they saved is customary… To deal with…”

“Distress.” Wilhelm finished, frowning and closing his eyes.

“Is that then not the case?” Reinhard asked innocently, as if he truly had to be told such fanciful nonsense wasn’t common.

Before anyone could answer him, a new voice chirped up, that of a young girl on the other side of the door.

“Hey! What’s the damn commotion about?!” Felt’s voice called out from the doorway, heavy footsteps approaching somewhere nearby signalling that old man Rom wasn’t far either.

Gritting her teeth, feeling Rem’s hand on the bed where she lowered her hand, Subaru has had enough of this circus.

Do you all have to do this here?! ” she shouted, clutching Rem’s wrist. “Can’t you just let Rem rest?!”

There came no answer, the three others in the room simply turned their heads towards Subaru with varied degrees of guilt and bitterness. Wilhelm simply bowed before shooting a dark glance at Felix as she straightened her clothes and her tail.

“What the hell happened?” Felt’s voice came from outside, followed by Rom’s grumbling tones.

“Sounds like it’s over, would be best to leave it be.”

“Screw that! They force us to stay in this stupid manor, least they could— Ow! Quit it!

“My apologies for the intrusion, Subaru-dono.” Wilhelm spoke before turning to leave through the door. Though not before shooting a dark glare at his grandson who simply returned his look with a solemn bow of his head.

Felix offered no words, of defense or goodbye neither, simply followed after the old man, with Reinhard stepping after her, turning to Subaru with a hand on his heart, opening his mouth in what after all this Subaru felt could only be another apology.

“Not you.” she said bitterly.

“Excuse me?” Reinhard answered with a voice filled with confusion.

Chewing her lips for a moment before she realized where they'd been earlier and quickly wiping them, Subaru sighed darkly. Her head was spinning, trying to make sense of everything still, but… The Reinhard he just saw struggle, didn’t seem like a man who could assault her on purpose. Felix and Wilhelm’s reactions were also far too visceral to have been an act to cover up Reinhard’s ‘dashing knight swoons maiden’ routine not working, so as ridiculous as it sounded, he might really have been tricked into what happened.

“I want to ask you a few questions, close the door.” she said quietly, letting go of Rem’s hand gently so she could stand up straight. “But stay in that end of the room. I if you try coming near, I’ll scream again!”

Frowning with a painful expression, Reinhard nodded, and turned around, securely closing the door before returning his attention to Subaru. His eyes, his features… None of it contained any malice, or even anger at Subaru order him around, even though as a noble, he probably would have been in his rights to deny her little demand.

“What… What did Felix really tell you? Why did you… Do that?” Subaru asked.

At her core, she just wanted to be alone. She wanted to send him away, just sit down and be by herself… But at the same time, she didn’t want to be angry at Reinhard. The swirling feelings of the past few minutes felt wrong. She wanted to believe this truly was just a misunderstanding. She wanted him to make her believe that.

Seeming to collect his thoughts for a few moments, Reinhard took a deep breath and placing a hand on his heart began to answer solemnly:

“I must admit, I had not thought it through properly at the time.” he began. “Felix told me of a tradition where knights—”

“Yeah, yeah, I got that.” Subaru said, shaking her head and rubbing her cheeks with one hand as if she was trying to clean the blush off them. “Why would she lie like that?”

“I’m afraid I cannot say why she would do such a thing, if it indeed was a falsehood.” Reinhard spoke with an unhappy shake of his head. “If you meant when, she suggested it in conjunction with my observation that… I wasn’t sure what to make of it, but when we talked in the capital, I sensed as though I did something wrong, given how you acted rather reserved at times.” Reinhard explained, Subaru’s nerves flaring up. “She explained you were likely upset with me because I had committed a social oversight by having aided you during that trouble at the loot house, and yet neglected to—”

“You don’t need to say it!” Subaru exclaimed, her hands jolting up defensively. The very last word she wanted to hear out of the knight’s mouth right now was ‘kiss’. “So… You’re telling me she just told you that you’re supposed to kiss women when you ‘save’ them, and you bought it? Were you just going to make out with any woman you ended up helping out?”

“Well, no.” Reinhard answered. “As Felix explained, this is a practice reserved for close friends. Except it wouldn’t apply for Emilia-sama and Felt-sama… And other knights.” he listed thought fully, rubbing a hand to his temple.

“Knights?” Subaru repeated. “What kind of arbitrary rule is that?!”

“When she first explained about how it is expected, I had nearly kissed her, given that—”

Stop! ” Subaru hissed. “ Too much information!

Rubbing her temple, Subaru contemplated with quiet, festering contempt as the dark feelings and pressure she had briefly built up towards Reinhard slowly but surely began to shift inside her from the knight to Felix. ‘Oh yeah, you should make out with people close to you, except important people like the candidates, the knights!’... Was she trying to—?

Subaru shuddered angrily. She had spent too much time with business-mode Felix facing the Witch Cult. She had almost completely forgotten the infuriating bastard Felix who posed herself as a womanizing jock on their first encounter. Her playing this kind of a prank would make sense… But for Reinhard to believe it…? That felt preposterous.

Rubbing her lips again and shaking her head, Subaru gave out a cold breath.

“To lose my—” she began, but cut her word off.

“You’ve lost something, Subaru?” Reinhard asked in the kind of ‘I honestly just want to be helpful.’ tone that was impossible to get angry at.

Furrowing her brows, Subaru shrugged. “Maybe you get to do this with your fiance a lot, or noble ladies you court or whatever, but some of us…” As Subaru’s mind caught up with the fact that she was just about to admit that it was her first kiss in her life, she blushed and covered her face. “Some of want to withhold that sort of thing for…Special occasions.”

“I see.” Reinhard nodded with a sorrowful expression. “Allow me to apologize from the bottom of my heart once again. Had I experience, perhaps I could have seen through Felix’s prank, but I can tell my foolishness has hurt you, Subaru. I can only pray that some day, some way I can make this up to you.”

Frowning, pulling her head between her shoulders Subaru swallowed tensely.

“Forget it. Plus what kind of ‘experience’ do you even lack? Was this seriously the first time Felix pulled a prank on you?”

“No, Felix had been playful like that before.” Reinhard answered. “It’s simply that I’ve never had time for such things as fiances or courting as you put it, Subaru. I must admit this was my first time kissing anyone, so I was and still remain quite ignorant of the implications surrounding it.”

Subaru’s nerves flared up a second time, though in a much different way than before.

“Are… Are you serious?” she mumbled in disbelief. “You used your first kiss… For that?”

“I have.” Reinhard answered, not a single hint of misdirection or dishonesty apparent on his face or voice. His clear, sky blue eyes were filled with earnestness alone.

“Don’t you regret that?” Subaru asked.

“I regret having upset you, Subaru.” Reinhard answered, to which she had to shake her head.

“No, no! I mean don’t you regret it being…” ‘Me’ was a word that flashed through her mind. “Wasted on something so stupid?”

“At the time, I had hope to make you feel better.” Reinhard answered with a continuously earnest expression. He truly didn’t seem to be picking up anything of what Subaru was saying. “Because of that, I can’t imagine seeing it as a waste, only misguided.”

Listening to the knight who Subaru was certain the entire female population of the city would swoon over go on so innocently infuriated her fiercely. Though not near as much as her own impotence as getting her point across.

“What are you going to say when you get some noble fiance, and she asks who you kissed first? ‘Oh some girl who seemed to be in a bad mood?’” she asked in frustration.

“Not in those exact terms, but it is correct.” Reinhard answered.

“Don’t you think they’d find that upsetting?” she asked hopelessly.

“I’m not sure I understand why they would.”

Biting down on her lips, Subaru once again realized where they’ve been and quickly began to wipe them. This could really not have been how… No, this wasn’t how she lost her first kiss!

“Well, no.” Subaru spoke up. “This doesn’t count. Nuh-huh. Doesn’t count at all.” she spoke.

“What are you saying, Subaru?” Reinhard asked, voice tinged with confusion.

“It wasn’t a real kiss to begin with.” Subaru said, continuing to rub her thumb against her lips. “You just pressed your lips to mine, you didn’t—” ‘Suck’ was a word she couldn’t bear to speak. “Point is, what you did was no different than two people’s lips accidentally touching when they bump into each other, or doing artificial resuscitation.” she rambled, eyes planted on the floor. “So we both— I mean, you still have your first kiss. Congrats, use it better next time.”

A bit of quiet fell on the room as Subaru finished rubbing her lips, feeling good and done with getting any bit of the knight off herself now.

“I’m not sure if I followed Subaru.” Reinhard spoke eventually. “Does this mean you are no longer upset with me?”

“Oh, I’m mad. Extremely so.” Subaru answered, still staring at the floor. “Only, I’m not sure how much of it is at you. Most is definitely on that stupid cat girl in denial.”

Reinhard, who still hadn’t moved from the spot where she told him to stay, simply bowed his head in bitter acknowledgement… Still, there was no sign of him being upset at her. As Subaru’s nerves calmed, she realized she literally just spent the past few minutes berating the knight over something as stupid as a mistaken kiss. This kind of stupid, self-indulgent thinking was what got her in trouble at the Royal Selection. She really should have known better… Though to know that even then, Reinhard didn’t raise a complaint…

She really, really didn’t want to be angry with him.

If it wasn’t her first who developed such stupid flowery delusions even back the very first time they met by those flowers in a loop that was erased, she probably wouldn’t have overreacted this badly. Part of it was probably her fault, for looking at the knight and in spite of her better judgement actually thinking—

Knock. Knock. Creeaaak.

“Subaru?” The soft voice like silver bells that came through the door sounded of a slight tension and worry. “I thought I heard someone scream, and I saw people leave looking anxious. Did something happen?”

As Emilia stepped inside, forgetting her manners and not waiting for invitation, she looked around, noting Reinhard’s presence.

“Please, forgive me, Emilia-sama.” Reinhard spoke. “The disturbance you heard was due to—”

A misunderstanding. ” Subaru interrupted.

It was bad enough her heart had to go through this rollercoaster. She didn’t need Emilia who she promised to stay by finding out that Subaru’s had locked lips with what at the end of the day was the first knight of one of her rivals!... Even if Felt couldn’t give him the time of day.

Wait, did she just think that her heart was what went on a ride?

“Oh, I see.” Emilia nodded with a frown. “Well, in that case I’ll leave you two be.”

“Actually—!” Subaru began but bit on her words, not knowing how to send the knight off.

“I was just leaving as well, Emilia-sama.” Reinhard spoke, for once actually managing to pick up on a basic cue.

Turning towards Subaru he bowed deeply once more.

“I’m grateful for your patience, Subaru.” he spoke softly, and heading after Emilia who retreated with an oddly disturbed look on her face, the knight closed the door quietly, leaving Subaru alone once more, with a sleeping and utterly oblivious Rem as her only company.

Swallowing, Subaru pulled her chair back and sat down, caressing Rem’s hand on top of the bed.

“You would have been soooo mad right now…”