Chapter 34:

Start Again [Part 3]

Chained Regalia

For what felt like the billionth time today, my brain failed to properly process what was going on.

I had no sense of how much time had passed before Lucia pulled back. Her ears were dyed pink, and her cheeks were rapidly flushing with the same color. Despite being the one who had acted, she looked a little shocked.

She partially averted her gaze away from me, but it was obvious that her attention was still fixated on my reaction—though, unfortunately for her, I sat completely frozen and unresponsive.

Finally, my consciousness sparked to life once more.

Sh-sh-sh-sh-sh-she kissed me!? Did that actually just happen!?

Still not convinced it wasn’t just a delusion I’d conjured up, I continued to stare blankly in her direction.

Clearly fed up at this point, she finally shattered the silence. “S-say something, Layn! This is really awkward!”

Like I couldn’t already tell!

“L-L-Lucia? W-why did—” I fumbled through asking a barely coherent question, just to be interrupted halfway through by an aggressive click of her tongue.

“You cannot possibly be that dense, right? Y-you know full well why!” She looked kind of ticked off, but no less embarrassed. If I’d had the mental clarity to do so at the moment, I would’ve burned this image into my memory for safekeeping. Alas, I was too caught up in a flurry of emotions to fully appreciate the sight.

I wanted to reply to her in some way, but I couldn’t find the right words.

I didn’t know what to say.

I didn’t know what I needed to say.

“Layn.” Her voice was soft, but far from weak. “You have no obligation to reciprocate these feelings, but I hope you can at least accept them as genuine. You do mean a lot to me, and I do trust you. I am in no way mistaken when I tell you that. Whoever you may have been in the past, whatever you may have done—it will not change this fact.”

Suddenly, I felt something wet on my cheek. I must’ve started crying without even realizing it.


Why? Why? Why? Why? Why?

When I had fought with Ellie at the end, she accepted my cowardice as authentic. When I had tried to leave her behind, she let go of me. She cursed me and left. I didn’t blame her for that at all; she’d had every right to do so.

So why wasn’t Lucia doing that? Perhaps she just didn’t want to lose all the time she’d invested into training me.

No. Bullshit.

I knew she wasn’t that kind of person. I knew she wasn’t, and I knew everything she’d been telling me was honest from her heart. I’d spent more than enough time with her to know that.

Maybe… I had changed. Maybe the person I was now was worth trusting, worth caring about, and that was why Lucia refused to leave me behind. Or maybe I was still the same coward I’d always been.

But even if that’s true…

In an instant, I felt as if a heavy weight that had been straining my heart for a very long time suddenly lifted.

“… I don’t care anymore.”

Her eyes widened at what I’d said, and I quickly realized she’d probably misunderstood what I meant.

“N-no! Not about what you said. It’s just… I’m sick of it.”

I mustered as much strength as I could and poured it into each and every syllable I uttered.

“I don’t know if I really am as trustworthy as you think I am, but I don’t care anymore. I’m sick of feeling like this. I’m sick of feeling so worthless. I’m sick of… playing the victim.”

I’d been a willful victim of my regrets all along—I finally understood that. A person would never change if all they did was look to their past as a guide—and that was what I had been choosing to do since the start.

I’d been walking blind for far too long to know how far I might’ve come, but I didn’t care anymore. Maybe I had already reached that destination, or maybe I was just getting started.

“But…” My emotions gushed out uncontrollably. “… even if I’m not worth it yet, I swear I’ll become the kind of person you believe I am! I refuse to let your faith be misplaced! Because…”

I hesitated for the briefest of moments—

“… because I love you!”

—but finally managed to put into words what I’d failed to say sooner. What I had, at one time, believed I had no right to say.

And, in doing so, I’d declared my resolve to not just Lucia, but to the world itself. At least, that was how it had felt to me.

I couldn’t back out now. I’d made quite the promise, but I would follow through this time. In the end, I just had to believe, as Lucia did, that I could; that was how I could finally move forward.

I didn’t want things to stay the same forever. I wanted to move forward—to finally put the past behind me.

“Ah.” I let out a short grunt as something belatedly clicked in my head.

What Lucia had been trying to tell me earlier—about how I’d supposedly changed her life—finally made sense to me. I wasn’t sure why it’d taken me so long to understand; it really wasn’t all that different from how she’d changed my life, too.

“You always lived for the future, ignoring the present to seek something in the far-off distance…”

We were opposites, but, in a way, the same.

“… and I’ve lived chained to the past, too fixated on my self-pity to take a step forward.”

We might have been facing different directions, but we were both equally lost—or, rather, we had been.

“Lucia, I don’t know what we would’ve done alone, but… we have each other now. If one of us gets lost…”

“… the other will bring them back.” Lucia finally spoke again in a somewhat watery voice, completing my sentence and seemingly accepting the sentiment I was trying to get across. She smiled at me, and a couple of tears streamed down her cheeks, which reminded me of my own.

You refused to let me keep grasping on to the past. It took a lot of pushing, but you dragged me back here, back to this moment. No matter how lost I got, you would always come looking for me. You’re so stubborn… so damn stubborn.

“I don’t care about the past anymore, Lucia. Not as long as I can live in the present.” I grew more cognizant of my own watery tone as I continued. “And since you refuse to leave me behind, I refuse to leave you behind, either. That was our promise from the very beginning, wasn’t it?”

Rather than reply, Lucia opted for an alternative, but equally direct, response—she threw herself at me, squeezing me in a death grip like she was terrified I would run away. I almost toppled over at first, but I ultimately managed to maintain my upright sitting position.

Lucia typically behaved with more reservation, so I was a little shocked at first, but since both of us were overly emotional at the moment, her action made sense the more I thought about it. Not that I would’ve complained even if it hadn’t.

As she hugged me, I felt a warmth gradually grow in my chest. It felt like my whole body would burst if I didn’t let some of it out.

“I love you, Lucia.” It was rather uncomplicated, but that was how my passion took shape when I vocalized it.

She eased her grip and slid back slightly so that our eyes could meet. She looked like she wanted to say something but couldn’t manage it.

She looked so cute that I couldn’t help but coax her. “So, how do you feel about me, then?”

“I… do I really need to say it?”

“Why not?”

“It’s… embarrassing.”

Once again spurred on by her reaction, I took the chance to laugh and tease her. “What are you, a kid? If you don’t say it, I’ll never know, and I’ll have to assume you hate me. I’m a pretty sensitive guy, I’ll have you know, so I’ll probably cry!” Of course, I conveniently ignored the tearstains from earlier which I hadn’t yet bothered to wipe off my face.

“You can really say some of the stupidest things sometimes, Layn.” Her expression looked unimpressed by my banter.

O-ouch. And here I thought you appreciated my awful jokes!

“But I do… l-love you.”

I could’ve done without the insult to my otherwise spotless humor record, but she more than made up for it in the end.

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