Youth, Recuperating. Third.
“It’s seems that you’re in a stable condition.”
The insides of his head was pounding, and spinning, with a feeling of unrest. Dale had become a complete mess inside, but he kept up his appearances, and answered the Duke nevertheless.
“The rumoured 『beloved daughter』 of such a famed character as yourself, had come. And she said that it was because she had been worried. You sure are loved.”
Unable to think of anything clever to say in response, he replied briefly.
It was an impossible task for his brain, which had been brilliantly scrambled on the inside.
In several senses of the word, his heart still wasn’t prepared.
(….Would it be bad if I ran away here?)
He wholeheartedly submerged back into the pathetic conclusion that had crossed his mind for a second.
“I offer my deepest thanks for the generosity bestowed by your Excellency, Duke.”
The young girl whom he should have been familiar with had, in an unfamiliar manner, conveyed her thanks to Duke Eldishtett.
If they were an 『ordinary』 citizen then, they wouldn’t even be able to stand in the face of such a presence, in front of nobility. Despite that, although she was a little nervous, she didn’t seem to be hesitant or fearful of [any of] her actions.
Thanking him with the proper formalities that he had never taught her.
Her elegant actions, matching her dignified, beautiful appearance, would probably make even those in the upper echelons accept her.
“It was no trouble. It has opened my eyes.”
As he was comprehending, in the corner of his mind, what the Duke, who had a gentle look in his eyes, meant, Dale finally noticed the fluffball following behind the young girl, waving its tail around, pomf pomf.
He almost did a spit take.
No matter how cute she was, there was no way that would get the interest of that Duke. After all, if it was gorgeous, fair princesses he was looking for, then within the upper echelons, those with out-of-this-world appearances were a dime a dozen.
Which meant that, she could only have brought out something other than that, that had captured his 『interest』.
First, would be if she said that she was 『his foster child』.
As his greatest weakness, it was his greatest 『taboo』. It’s been frequently communicated how, if she was to be handled poorly, it would lead to a terrifying revenge.
Her long hair, as well as it being such an unusual colour, probably attracted his interest too. It was an unusual colour, not brought about by『Magic Materialisation』. 『That』, which seemed just as beautiful as jewelry, felt even more rare and precious, precisely because it was within the imperial court where all with value had been gathered.
However, more than that.
(L-Latina… Why did she bring 『that』 along….?)
It would probably be harder to not attract interest by the sight of the 『doggy』 being led by her. Wind’s wings, which were usually always hidden away, were currently stretched out to their fullest, the bottom of which was scratching against his head. And the look on his face, was so casual, and relaxed to the point of annoying Dale.
More than her sudden appearance, it was the fact that she had brought along her 『furry pal』 which he had a problem with, and was perhaps what was getting Dale to reveal his true emotions through his current panicked manner.
As he was sending off his Highness – the Duke, who had a look as if he wanted to say ‘I will have you tell me more later’, Dale still had not readied himself internally to deal with the current situation.
‘Let’s talk then, no matter what it would be about’. Having his conversation topics arrive at ‘Latina’s cuteness, and loveliness, and how good a girl she was!’ was probably due to this current chaotic state of mind of his. Although the fact that those topics were going towards, ‘If you were to actually take a look at her, then her loveliness should be evident to you!’, probably had nothing to do with his 『that』.
He was envious of Wind, who was opening his mouth widely, Kuwaa, yawning.
With a quiet look on her face, Latina kept up her polite mannerisms to the very end. It was a sight 『he’s never seen before』.
He was thinking that she was cute.
However he thought that, right now, the girl in front of him was 『beautiful』, to the point where words couldn’t describe.
(….What do I do now….)
Seeing her right now, he had no words to say back to those around them who had always scolded him, saying that he was blind.
It was probably only when he was told『It’s because you close your eyes to it』, that he knew.
— Right now, the 『girl』 in front of him, to the point that he would actually feel that, looked like an adult even from Dale’s point of view. Although there was a little bit of charm left from her younger days, he could actually feel that she was becoming more than that, and was growing into a 『beautiful woman』.
As he was listening from a distance, hearing her voice as she greeted Gregor on their second meeting, Dale realised all the more, the reason why it all didn’t seem 『real』 to him.
“Why…. are you here?”
Since he was befuddled, he had questioned Latina directly, but her face warped, with the question as the trigger.
Due to her putting up an act, her appearance, which had been 『beautiful』 to a scary degree, crumbled, and she returned back to her original 『loveliness』, capable of charming her surroundings.
“….I, heard that…. You were… sick….”
It was the moment that her voice seemed to have cracked that he thought, ‘Fuck.’
Large drops of tears started overflowing from her large grey eyes, as if she was crumbling down.
Dale didn’t need to realise what was happening again, as he was extremely, earth-shatteringly, absurdly weak to this child’s 『tears』.
“B-but, I just needed to rest for a little bit, that’s all. Didn’t they tell you that it wasn’t anything major!?”
As she was sobbing her heart out, Latina nods and continued talking.
“But, but…. I was scared…. so scared…! I can’t be at ease unless I see your face…!”
Dale, who was looking around nervously in panic, finally understood the reason for her 『fear』, with her next words.
“I was so scared…. That you would be gone, just like Rag…..”
It was something he had heard quite a long time ago. Something about her father.
She was quite young then, and didn’t know much vocabulary so there were some unclear sections with what she said about him, but despite that, he could understand it.
Her father didn’t have a very healthy body, and as a result of continuing to protect her as they travelled, he ran out of strength and collapsed inside that forest from the piled up fatigue and curse.
What became the direct cause of his death, was 『Illness』 — 『Magic Impairment』.
She had once lost someone important to her from 『Illness』.
The thought of 『Illness』 was one that was much heavier for her than for him.
“I’m sorry…. I’m sorry, Dale. I won’t be selfish anymore, okay? I won’t say anything that would make you troubled, okay? So… please…. Don’t go away…..! Please, I’m begging you, let me be by your side…!”
Ahh, that’s right. That’s how this girl always is.
“Please…. let me be by your side….”
She, who had lost both her 『family』 and her 『hometown』, places that all children should have been given unconditionally, is always trying to protect 『her own place』.
She was a young girl who would always be a good girl, never throwing tantrums, or being selfish like a kid.
He had never liked that side of her.
He spoiled her heaps, and even allowed for her selfishness, and pranks, and all those things that children do. He had racked at his brain so that she could feel at ease.
He had always wished for this — For her to understand his intentions and wishes for her like this, and tell him what she truly had in her heart.
Which is why, 『that』, wasn’t what he wanted to hear.
He reached out with his arms, and hugged the crying Latina, with her trembling shoulders.
Catching, from the corner of his eye, that Gregor, having considered their feelings, had left the room, he fully embraced her stiffened body into his arms.
Having her name whispered to her, she shakes, pulls back her body.
“I’m the one, who should be apologising. ….I’m sorry, Latina… I made you worry.”
She takes a breath as if she was trying to reply, but she couldn’t make out a noise, and could only gasp within Dale’s arms.
“I’m sorry…. Even though I’ve got so many things I want to say, and things that I have to say no matter what…. I’m sorry.”
He pats Latina’s head, who was trembling, shaking her head slightly.
Her hair had grown to be this long before he knew it. That, which he was brushing his fingers through, used to have soapy fragrance when she was a child, but now that he was aware, had a sweet perfume fragrance around it.
“Latina…. I…. I’m not your father, but I’ll always be by your side… no….”
Her grabbing onto his clothes tightly, as if clinging onto him, expressed her worry. He gently pats her back as if to ease that anxiety, and wipes away the tears collecting on her long eyelashes with a fingertip.
“I guess it’s more…. I want you to stay by my side from here on out. Latina, could you be with me, from here on out?”
Swallowing down his embarrassment, he shows her a smile.
He recalled, when he would be close to her like this, looking at himself being reflected back in those watery gray eyes.
And, he recalled, how he used to embrace the girl who would sob, just like this.
“Although, I will, without a doubt, die before you,”
He whispers the words that he had told her back then, for a completely different reason to back then.
“Let’s be together, until 『that time』 comes.”
“For now, could you accept 『that much』? Once you’ve grown up a little bit more… well, umm… I’ll say it…. more properly, alright?”
His embarrassment and, a strange sense of pride seemed to be in the way, and he couldn’t continue after that.
Facing Dale, who was muddying his words, and looking around all over the place, Latina turned to him, looking straight at him with her eyes wet with tears.
“Dale, Dale… um, you know….”
“I like you, nano.”
His voice spiked up. He never thought that right after saying all that, he would get such a direct reply.
“I like you. I’ve always, always, liked you. To me, Dale isn’t a 『father』, but rather my most important, most loved person, nano….”
Looking up at her in such a close distance, he once again ended up aware that this young girl’s appearance was way too beautiful, as if it could poison.
Nevertheless, once he got past the first attack, he noticed that she was red to her ears, so much so it was pitiable.
Her wet eyes had more than enough destructive power to shake men’s hearts, but at the same time, made him remember her crying face from when she was young.
Seeing the fact that throughout all that she had some 『resemblance of her immaturity』, he was relieved from the bottom of his heart.
That meant that, he still, 『had some time until he had to face off with his own heart』.
It would be fine to accept the fact that his relationship with her has changed, by the time 『that』 stopped being something she wanted.
“Dale….I…. want to always be with you…”
“….Ahh. I promise. I’ll always be with you…. until my very last moment.”
Which is why, Dale calmed down a little bit, and just like he did 『back then』, gave her a kiss on the cheek.