Some distance away from the parade, in a huge structure opposite the direction of the fireworks, at the balcony of one of the higher areas of Aura Castle inaccessible to customers, was a boy and a girl, standing beside each other as they watched the luminous flowers and the scene below.
The character costumes have already been removed and placed behind them, side-by-side, seemingly exhausted like a pair of workers that just finished a good day’s work.
It was too difficult to return to the storage room without being noticed, so they came here instead.
They’d jumped across building to make their way to the parade, but with how so many eyes were on the night sky right now, that wasn’t an option anymore.
That’s why although there were other places they could hide in, Shinichi made this proposal.
『It’s a rare opportunity, so we might as well get ourselves some special seats.』
Aristel didn’t have any reason to refuse, so she accepted, and this was the place that Shinichi brought her to.
Despite seeming like the most conspicuous choice possible, everyone was too focused on the parade and the fireworks to notice them.
Moreover, little attention was given to this castle on the other side, while the balcony was just for decoration, so people couldn’t actually access it.
And by being at a height and position too difficult to see from below regardless of the angle, it was perfect for viewing the fireworks while keeping away from prying eyes.
“…You sure are well informed.”
“I did a little studying of my own about Japan, you see.”
A gentle smile surfaced on them as they watched the fireworks together.
There were already fireworks prepared for the event, so Kimura just had to activate them at the right time to make them work in their favor.
Apparently, the staff had that much authority.
“To draw flowers in the night sky with gunpowder… What a wonderful and beautiful idea. It’s so different from the records that before I knew it, I was captivated.”
“Yeah, it feels like I’m finally seeing the real thing. It’s been awhile since I came back, but it’s only now that I’m finally feeling like this.”
When he muttered that while glancing at the parade down below, she found herself swallowing her breath, then after becoming thoughtful for awhile, she asked the boy standing beside her.
“…So, what will you be doing?”
“What do you mean?”
Without averting his gaze and without turning to her, he asked her that in response; Aristel did not find that strange nor felt estranged and just continued with what she had in mind.
“There’s still time before the park closes. With everyone’s attention taken by the fireworks, I’m sure all the rides are free right now.”
She was implying that they could use the remaining time to have fun, but unfortunately, only an apologetic smile could be glimpsed from his face from the side.
“Can’t say I’m really in the mood for that kind of fun after giving a beating. Oh, but then I guess I’d end up taking your free time away. In that case, if there’s anything you want to do, I’ll…”
“Don’t you have a place or a sight here that you wanted to visit?”
The boy was about to tell her that he would accompany her, but the girl spoke before he could and asked that question with a serious tone and gaze.
He could tell that there was another meaning behind her question, so he found himself blinking as he turned to her.
A hint of surprise could be glimpsed from her, but there were no emotions beyond that.
By coincidence, Aristel had heard the words he muttered back at the Tokyo Tower and was shocked. She didn’t know anything about the drifters beyond what she’s heard.
As such, the extent of her knowledge about the drifters unfortunate enough not to end up in any of the cities was sorely limited.
With how low their odds of survival were and his unadulterated opinion, Aristel found herself speechless.
Though her situation wasn’t anything like a drifting, she was also someone whose environment was turned upside down one day.
That’s why she could understand the myriad of emotions hidden behind his remark then.
“………I’m satisfied already.”
After a moment of silence, Shinichi’s gaze returned, and a troubled smile surfaced on him.
He knew exactly why she was being considerate, but even then, he just smiled and looked at the scene before him.
It was then that Aristel realized that he was actually looking at something else other than the fireworks, something much lower than those flowers in the sky.
She kept herself from asking out loud what he was looking at and instead used
Her eyes opened wide.
At the end of his gaze were people, those people that gathered here for the parade, enjoying that fake show and the fireworks decorating the skies above.
Smiles shone everywhere, and friends and lovers and families alike all partook in them.
Those same people that would let out remarks of ‘it’s beautiful ‘or ‘how fun’ and laugh among themselves. He was looking at them.
And when she turned back to look at him from the side, a tender, gentle smile could be seen on him.
He was watching over them with satisfaction and joy, and the sight of that made her fall for him all over again.
────Ah, I was right. It has to be him.
That’s why the warmth that filled her led her cheeks to slacken.
Because it was in this moment that she was certain of it – yes, without a doubt – there was indeed no man more fitting to be her husband than he.
His response, ability, and insight to resolve an emergency was indeed remarkable, but that was not something that was particularly necessary for the companion of the Padyuel Family Head.
Indeed, if one were to seek the ideal, then someone that excelled in various fields was indeed charming; however, that was only true in the sense of seeking a talented personnel. Rather than take such a person to be her spouse, it would be fine to just employ such a person to be her subordinate or retainer instead.
She did not confess her feelings to him merely because she’d become aware of her them.
Of course, it would be a lie to say that that played no part whatsoever, but someone in her position couldn’t confess her feelings just because of that.
After all, the man she married would too rule over their territory as her equal.
Since birth she has been raised to become the head of the Padyuel family; therefore, it was impossible for her to choose her partner simply because of feelings.
Though she’d lost her parents at a young age— Or rather, it was precisely because she lost her parents while young that she ruminated over those few teachings they could impart to her in their brief time together and carved them into her heart.
That’s why the criteria she relied on for picking her partner was actually based on whether that person could benefit their territory or not.
Or to be more precise, whether that person would devote himself to such a cause.
Of course, having ability was better than none, but the Padyuel family was still one of the Ten Great Nobles despite once having been driven to the brink of destruction.
Even if the man she chose was talentless, they could just train him later, while experience and knowledge could be supplemented by employing subordinates; even the man’s temperament could be developed.
But this, just this alone, was something that they couldn’t provide: a heart to devote oneself for the happiness of others even without anyone knowing.
Someone who, without anyone watching, with neither honor nor reward, could be content just by watching the warm expressions of the people; a person that would find himself smiling purely because other people were happy.
Yes, just that alone, was too difficult to teach.
Yet here was a boy in whom the very concept of humanity was carved into his soul.
She understood now the true reason why he was so angry at that man and woman.
They were trying to steal
To those that knew of the true value of that and just how fleeting such a thing was, such a transgression was worthy of a thousand deaths.
That’s why he was so angry back then that she feared he might kill them.
In an extreme sense, rulers were truly nothing more than servants to those below them.
Those that failed to understand that would either turn into a tyrant or be disposed before they could become one.
To the Garestonian noblemen, who were both guardians and rulers, the most difficult yet most important part of their education was to teach them how to use themselves for the sake of their land and their people, as well as instill in them the value of peace, so that they may be able to act with decisiveness against any and all who act contrary to that.
To express such ideals in words is a trivial task, but to actually imbue oneself with them is surprisingly difficult.
But this boy beside her has already accomplished that. If so, then just who else could possibly have the qualifications to even contend with him?
To her, this was something far more valuable than his impossible combat potential.
And it was in fact because she picked up on it even back in the department store or the exam incident that she decided to confess, but now, she was certain of it.
Of course, she couldn’t say with conviction that she was not merely looking at him in a favorable light because of her affection for him, but the sight of him ignoring the large flowers in the sky to gaze lovingly at the small flowers blooming on the ground was just too captivating, and she couldn’t help but realize just how deeply and sorely she yearned for this man.
She took his arm and snuggled up to him.
He turned to her curiously, and she rested her head on his shoulder and looked up at him with upturned eyes.
“I wanted to wait until I was more deserving before saying this, but… I really wish I were your woman right now.”
She said that so casually that the boy was stupefied for a moment, but that quickly turned into a wry smile.
“…My, what a candid noble lady we have here.”
Though there was astonishment in his voice, there was admiration as well.
“Do you not like it?”
“Let’s just say… It depends on the person.”
He spoke vaguely as though in attempt to dodge the question, so the girl held his arm even tighter and snuggled even closer.
The boy did not reject her advances, and his warmth and heartbeat felt so pleasant, so the girl was relieved.
“Well, you at least seem fond of me. That’s a relief… Though it’s a little sad that you could be so calm despite all this.”
As a maiden, however, she felt defeated in how he could keep his emotions from stirring despite snuggling so closely. It was quite frustrating.
She was letting her chest touch him so brazenly, yet not even the slightest agitation or blush could be seen on him.
If anything, he seemed to be amused by how tense and embarrassed she was.
“Fu fu, you’re 10 years too early if you want to seduce me, my lady.”
“So I’m still a long way. I knew, but it really is regrettable.”
But she understood full well that she could not seduce him with her looks or charms.
Even when they met in this form for the first time, and even when they took classes together, what caught his attention the most was not her beauty or figure but her efforts to maintain her Status; hence, her seduction would likely only be able to take effect once more of such efforts have been acknowledged more by him.
“In that case… Won’t you at least give me a reward? For today?”
As a girl aware that she was far from ready, that was the most she could plead from him,
the most she could pester from him with flushed cheeks; a request all too difficult for Shinichi to reject.
“I’m weak to requests like that.”
The boy brushed aside the hair dangling on her face and gently caressed her cheeks.
Just that alone seemed to make her face warmer, and the touch of his fingers more than enough to make her heart beat quicker.
They gazed into each other’s eyes.
The girl’s eyes were passionate, so full of heat and ardor, while the boy’s was calm yet sincere, but then those eyes suddenly lost strength, and the boy smiled merrily as he whispered, “Looks like we’re out of time.”
“────The audacity! To actually perform such illicit sexual relationship right in front of a teacher!”
Shinichi’s quiet words were immediately followed by a spine-chilling voice.