Chapter 32:

Start Again [Part 1]

Chained Regalia

“… will you still head towards that future with me, Layn?”

I stared at her without responding, although I couldn’t actually see her. I felt fundamentally disconnected from what my mind perceived, as if I’d suddenly detached from reality itself.

“L-Layn? Are you alright?”

No. Not really.

I didn’t know how I was feeling at that moment. I didn’t know how I was supposed to feel.

I stifled the urge to laugh, not understanding why I would have even wanted to in the first place.

I thought something had grabbed me, but I lacked the cognizance to be sure. Everything still felt so unreal.

“Layn, what just happened?”

It still felt hazy, but as if my eyesight had suddenly decided to reconnect to my brain, Lucia’s expression sharpened in my vision.

“I… remembered who I am.” The words I produced came out as a barely audible mumble.

“H-huh?” Based on the way her face twisted in worry, I assumed the response wasn’t because she hadn’t heard me.

Stop sounding so concerned. I’m not worth your concern.

She must have moved me at some point during my trance, as I was now sitting on the edge of her bed. Still standing, she was looking down at me.

“Layn, tell me what’s wrong.”

I wondered what expression I had in that moment that made it all so clear to her. I supposed she could always tell; they both could. And yet, despite that, I was more than capable of screwing everything up.

Even when they understood me, I never really understood myself, did I? Even now, I didn’t understand how I was feeling. I hadn’t changed at all since then. I was still the same coward I’d always been.

“Layn!” Fed up with my unresponsiveness, she called my name louder. “Please, talk to me. I am not merely giving you the choice to open up; I am asking you to tell me.”

Of course, nothing was actually forcing me to speak, but maybe I owed it to her. I thought that, if I told her, she might finally hate me as much as I hated myself. And, maybe, that validation was what I ultimately wanted.

So, in a shaky voice, I told her everything I had learned about my past. About the girl named Ellie. About the boy named Lewis. About who I had been, and who I still was. About how worthless I was and always had been.

Lucia listened to me speak for a long time without interruption. At some point, she moved to sit down next to me, and she started squeezing my hand with her own, probably trying to comfort me.

Honestly, I hardly felt it. I was barely there.

My rambling was unfocused and meandering, and, at times, probably incoherent. But, despite that, she sat there silently, calmly listening to what I had to say, until, finally, my story ended.

“So…” I muttered in a scratchy voice, my throat raw from speaking for so long without pause. “I can’t do what you asked. I can’t work towards that future with you. You… you can’t trust me. You shouldn’t. It doesn’t matter if I don’t mean to or if I try not to; I’ll screw up and end up hurting you at some point anyway. That’s… just the kind of person I am.”

The last thing I wanted to do was hurt Lucia. In this world, she meant everything to me.

But the old me, the me of that other world, could’ve said the same about Ellie. No matter how strong my feelings had been, I wasn’t able to understand her or myself in the end. Why would it be any different with Lucia?

Recently, I’d come to realize just how much I cared about my new life, but if it meant hurting her, I couldn’t will myself to continue following this path.

As my voice finally trailed off, Lucia looked up at the ceiling of the room with an inscrutable expression, as if collecting her thoughts. Then, she finally spoke, her gaze still turned upwards.

“I don’t care. I trust you, and you cannot convince me otherwise.”

Her response to everything I had to say was a simple, blatant rejection of it all, a clean invalidation of every misgiving I carried. It was probably what I needed to hear.

But, still, I couldn’t accept that response.

“W-why?” my voice weakly squeaked. “I’ve been reluctant at every turn since we met! It’s the exact same as before, so… why shouldn’t it turn out the exact same way too?”

I wanted her to reject me. How else was I supposed to live with myself? It would all be so much easier if she just hated me. That way, I’d never have a chance to betray her misplaced trust.

Inexplicably, she sighed as if exasperated. “It is different, dummy.” In spite of the sigh that preceded it, she spoke with an unfaltering compassion in her voice.


“You clearly regret what happened. Regrets can offer us far more than just pain.”

“But—ow!” When I tried to interject again, she aggressively squeezed my hand. Unlike the comforting way she’d done it before, she definitely intended for it to hurt this time.

“Listen to me.” She’d begun staring straight into my eyes. She somehow looked resolute, sad, and angry all at once. “Our regrets are what give us the strength to be better than our past selves. If nothing else, your regret is proof of your desire to grow. Personally, however, I believe you have already grown.”

When all I do is worry that I’ll screw something up? There’s no way that’s true. I didn’t vocalize my thoughts, but she seemed to intuit them regardless.

“I never knew the man named Lewis, so I can only guess as to his character. But I do know the man named Layn; I know him very well. And that man is, without a doubt, strong and reliable, and more than worthy of my deepest trust. You have proven that to me time and time again. Perhaps this Lewis was not, but Layn certainly is.”

“Th-that’s nonsense. I’m just as much Lewis as I am Layn. I… can’t change that. I can’t change the past.” I desperately hoped she would just accept that.

Despite my wish, her counter came instantaneously.

“That does not mean who you once were is who you must be now. You have the power to decide who you are. This life does not merely have to be an extension of what came before; it is your chance to start again, to be the person you wished you could have been on that day.”

“Stop living stuck in the past, Lewis. You can’t go on forever like that.”

Ellie’s last words to me sprang to mind. I was doing that very thing right now; I understood that. But isn’t that just proof I haven’t changed? I still can’t seem to let go of the past.

And yet… that wasn’t quite right, was it? I’d had no shortage of uncertainties in myself from the moment I’d awoken in this world, but one by one, I’d overcome them. I was here right now, after all. That, in itself, was proof I hadn’t fallen to any of the challenges I’d faced thus far. I’d fought through them all—sometimes literally—to reach this point.

Whatever it was, I would always insist I couldn’t do it, but she would refuse to let me run away. She always believed I would succeed in the end.

So… had I? Was I really still the kind of person I’d convinced myself I was?

I didn’t know what to believe anymore. The scars borne of my memories nested far too freshly in my mind to dismiss them out of hand. But maybe… she’s not completely wrong, either.

After a brief stretch of silence where I found myself lost in thought, Lucia spoke without warning.

“Layn, you are a very important person to me.”

My head was already starting to hurt, and then she hit me with that. Considering how I felt about her, it was an overwhelming sentiment to internalize.

“Why?” I whispered that question without even realizing it. I wasn’t sure if I’d asked it out of curiosity or desperation.

“E-eh?” She must’ve expected to leave it at that, because she looked surprised. “It’s… a long story. I am sure you would rather—”

“Please, tell me.” I mustered what little strength I had left in me to make the appeal with some semblance of conviction.

Lucia had insisted that she trusted me, and that nothing I could say would change that. I was still too confused to fully accept that, but, maybe, if she laid everything out, I would finally understand.

She looked the slightest bit reluctant but nodded, nonetheless. “… Very well.”

And so, after pouring my heart out to her, she did the same in turn.

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