His gaze was strangely cool.
“You’ll have to let it go.”
But Louise smiled.
“To be exact, he told me that he likes me with you.”
“Who Sir Hesse really cares about is you, Your Highness.”
Louise reached out and placed her hand on his cheek, and he seemed strangely embarrassed. She had guessed that this would be his reaction.
“Aren’t you moved by it?”
“A little bit.”
It didn’t seem like just a little. It was obvious he was so happy he didn’t know what to do.
Louise whispered, still holding his cheek.
“There may not be any other substitute for your grandfather in this world.”
Louise recalled the tears Ian shed for him.
He answered her quickly, as if he understood what she wanted to say.
“I still have Hesse.”
“There’s also Claire and Lord Simon.”
“Unfortunately there’s Dean Crissis, too.”
“And your parents as well.”
“My father, who is a fool.”
“And the memory of the clever and beautiful queen.”
Ian stroked Louise’s long hair that fanned out on the bed.
“You…will you be there for me?”
Louise struggled to find her answer when Ian posed the question so seriously. Come to think of it, she had something she wanted to say to Ian. And if she couldn’t say it, then their relationship would always be at a standstill. But was it okay to bring it up now? Wouldn’t that be a bother?
Suddenly, Ian’s hand captured Louise’s chin. Just like that day in the dormitory.
He spoke the same words, and Louise understood what he intended. He was trying to recreate the moment in the dormitory before it had fallen apart, to hear the story that Louise couldn’t tell him then.
He nodded encouragingly, and Louise gathered her thoughts for a moment.
She also brought back the words she once spoke in the past.
“There’s something important I have to say.”
It was the same reply as the day. Except this time, the atmosphere was different. Back then he was playing around, but now he listened with devoted attention. No, not just to her words, but to the subtle tremble of her eyelashes and the curve of her mouth.
“I…won’t be too stubborn anymore.”
“You’ve never been too stubborn for me.”
Louise shook her head. She was. She was scared that even their long friendship may turn twisted.
“I have been. Drawing a line in our relationship.”
Louise took his hand that was stroking her hair.
“Defining what we would allow for each other… This is all because you listened to my stubbornness.”
“Because I was greedy.”
He answered frankly. Meanwhile, their fingers curled and tangled with each other.
“More than that, is that alright with you? You said you didn’t want to be misunderstood.”
“I wonder if everything’s okay.”
“Everything’s a total disaster.”
Ian shook his head with regret for a moment.
“So my fiancée was dumped. Who was your partner? You can tell me now.”
“You did have one, right? Didn’t you say you didn’t want to be misunderstood because you were involved with someone?”
Well, the person she didn’t want to misunderstand was Stella, but that was a failure.
“I-it’s not like that! I didn’t have someone I liked. Not at all!”
“…Well, I see. There’s nothing in it for you even if you do become known as my fiancée. You’ll just get checked on needlessly. You don’t have to worry. Of course I’ll be careful about calling you my fiancée in the future.”
His tone was friendly, and Louise ventured on carefully.
“Perhaps…That’s what you planned to do from the beginning?”
He smiled lightly when he answered that.
“I never thought I’d be restricted at all.”
“Then how should I treat you in the future?”
“Oh, just naturally, normally…”
“That’s a difficult answer.”
“Even someone with no sense like Louise Sweeney would know. You saying that you’ll stop being stubborn and allow me to…”
His dark pupil gazed at her quietly.
“…That’s how it sounds to me.”
Louise didn’t turn her eyes away from him.
She gladly confirmed that he was understanding correctly.
“There’s no other way, naturally.”
“T-that’s how it is. Since we already k-kissed…that’s how it has to be.”
Louise added with a sense of embarrassment, ‘You don’t do that with someone you don’t want to share your heart with.’
“I’m glad you don’t deny my thoughts.”
Ian gave her a questioning look.
“So you called it a kiss?”
Louise jumped up and sat next to him. His hand, which seemed to have never let go, moved away, and Louise clenched her fist.
“How could it not be a k-kiss! I even circled the calendar on that date! Both times!”
“I thought you would do that, so I circled the calendar too. I even colored the first one blue and the second purple to distinguish who initiated.”
He seemed very proud of himself, but she didn’t understand him.
“Anyway, I’m relieved.”
Louise murmured gently.
“I was worried you would define it as a mere impulsive act.”
“There’s no way you came to such a terrible conclusion.”
“But it’s the simplest way to escape.”
“…But if I said that.”
If she made an excuse like that…
“Then it would truly be over.”
“So did you think that we really need to face it?”
Louise nodded, and Ian chuckled. How could she be so entirely committed, making a face like she was ready to go into battle? What made her look like this? Louise sometimes was like this, as if there were another version of her he couldn’t reach. He wondered if he could ever meet the complete Louise.
“…I want to meet.”
When she turned to look at him again, her expression was as usual. The other shadow of the Louise that he had caught a glimpse of was completely gone.
“You don’t think I’m serious?”
“You’re already looking at me, aren’t you?”
Louise then picked up Alice, who had rolled onto side, and checked if there was anywhere she was flattened.
“I can’t see you right now…”
She gave him a questioning look, but he shook his head and pulled her in his arms.
“Wait, hold on. Alice will caught in the middle. I told you I don’t want her to be squashed!”
“I just want to hold both of you.”
“What the hell, are you kidding me…?”
“I told you, I’m not joking.”
He tugged Louise a little closer, but neither her nor the rabbit came any closer. He whispered in a small voice.
“…I mean it.”
Maybe he really did need to.