Water in a serene stagnation, circling the wooden rims of a bucket it resided in. A glow of warm orange reflected back in its fluid shimmer of dusk. A finger then hovered inches away from submersion in its depths. The water replicated back the erratic movement, the feeble sways of motion before the finger plunged within. The ripples of contact gradually grew across the circumference of the bucket until it settled back to stillness once more.
The finger remained immersed, despite the high temperatures that pervaded every inch of skin. She did not feel it. A simple measure of temperature and yet Rem remained benumbed to sensation.
More and more, progressively across each agonizing day, she had found her basic senses faltering. She could see, yet only through murky glints. She could hear, yet everything sounded a muffled distant echo. Smell, yet only the strongest of scents. Touch, yet only feel the slightest of sensation.
Emotions... the water glimmered back her reflection... finding none on her face.
When was the last time she smiled? Rem couldn't remember of any time recent. Her eyes were heavy, her skin a sickly white and her lips... wouldn't smile.
She sighed, stood... and walked. Her heels clacking on the stone-tiled floor of the kitchen, muffled as it made its way to the carpeted hallway of the mansion, in her hands, a tray of tea she held, wobbling slightly.
Like the gloom that plagued her, fatigue too was an ever haunting constant.
"Don't fall..." Rem whispered to herself, mustering, scraping the energy to keep forging onwards.
Rem immediately froze in place. Footsteps drew near her and she turned back to face them, knowing already whom they belonged to, as it stopped short a fair distance away from her.
Ram stared at her sister, feeble as can be. Now there was no hiding it. The dark circles around her eyes, the sweat glistening on her forehead, the shiver, and sway as she strained to steady herself upright. Ram could see it all.
No veiling, no masking this time.
Silence was her gaze, empty was her expression. Ram looked ready to speak, a yearning to say something, but no words would come.
Rem took a breath. "What is it?"
That jolted Ram to her sense, snapping so suddenly from a daze that she averted her eyes.
"The bathroom door squeaks, once in a while," she spoke, still looking away. "Once you're done with serving tea… just don't forget."
Again the same longing to speak out trembled Ram's lips, her eyes quivering as if pained. Her pink meeting her blue. Then she stalked away out of sight, leaving Rem alone in the deserted corridor.
Rem continued her way with little thought to the encounter. Tea needed serving. But deep within herself, she knew definitively what was left unsaid between her words, what Ram really wanted to say.
Ram needn't have to bother.
"I'm fine, Nee-sama. I'm fine." Rem whispered in the quiet.
But the tea spilling over the side of the teacup told otherwise. She wasn't.
Soon, she somehow managed her way to her destination without incident, fronting her was a closed wooden door. With respect, she rapped the timbered surface with her knuckles gently and proclaimed softly after, "Tea, Emilia-sama."
"Come in," drawled a voice, muffled, from within.
The door opened with a creak. The hinges needed tending to. Rem drew a mental note of it and stepped into the room, the tray clattering mildly in her trembling hands, dampened only slightly by her tight grip.
Pausing for focus, her eyes adjusted to the absence of light, curtains veiled, and plunging the room to darkness. Emilia sat at the far end behind a cluttered desk, papers, stacks of them, strewn about haphazardly with ink blotches blemishing a fair few.
In her demeanor permeated a great misery, her enthralling violet eyes lost of its luster, instead dull and vacant and without life. A hand tended to the ache in her forehead as her face lined with creases of distress, tarnishing the beauty that had once radiated so bright.
No smile, as her eyes met Rem's. Nothing to welcome save for a direful sigh.
"Thank you, Rem," she spoke dully.
Rem walked to her side, placing the tray at the only vacant spot on the table, a difficult fit, even as Emilia attempted to swipe away a few loose papers lying about.
"Forgive me… I've… I've meant to tidy up," Another sigh. "Eventually."
Rem merely shook her head. "No apology necessary, Emilia-sama," she nudged the teacup in front of her. "Drink. You're drained of energy. And rest, perhaps. The day has gone now, and you need your strength for tomorrow."
The hot swirl of tea wafted through the air, Emilia gently lifted the cup, the curved edge mere inches from her lips but yet abstained herself from a sip. Instead her gaze was deep, staring wistfully away into the empty room before speaking once again.
"Tomorrow…" she muttered, her expression tightening as if the prospect pained her. "Tomorrow," and remained motionless in thought.
Gloomed, withdrawn, troubled and alone. Rem stared at the half-elf but seemed to find only her reflection gazing back at her in her deep purple eyes, delving deep. She tore her gaze away and cleared her throat.
"Well then, if nothing more… I shall be taking my leave."
A polite departing bow, withdrawing the now empty tray to her side, four steps to the doorway, that was when Emilia sounded out again.
Rem halted midway from a step. A small confused frown curving her lips.
"Was there anything else, Emilia-sama?"
"N-no… it's just..."
Rem sensed hesitation and spun around, finding in her glance, Emilia's eyes staring back at her own, mirroring within a pain that was not so different from one another, a pain that simply had no remedy. Perhaps they could both sense it in each other.
"Well…" Emilia continued, her finger absentmindedly circling the rim of her cup. "Would you like to drink with me?"
Rem blinked. "Drink?"
"If it's no bother… that is. I'm not forcing you to, please don't misunderstand. It's just… it would be nice, you know?" said Emilia, managing a smile, but just as everything was, that too was strained. "It's been long since I've had a proper chat with someone other than Puck."
Not just anyone, certainly.
Rem had a vague idea of just who that someone might be.
"My apologies," Rem began. "But I don't think I'd-"
"For a while," interjected Emilia, her tone almost pleading. "Please?"
There were still many things to do. Many duties needed tending to. The Mansion had stood neglected, only a shadow of its former glory. The garden had grown weeds, many windows had fogged with dust, the wooden exterior still needed polishing...
The hinges still squeaked.
She took another bow.
"It'd be my pleasure."
To the kitchen, a brief return, drawing another cup from the cupboards. In the room again, Emilia placed a chair across from hers and together they sat, each with a cup in hand, hot steam swirling through the air, a subtle sourful scent enveloping their nostrils.
Rem took a sip. Emilia followed suit.
Emilia, a soothing sensation ebbing away her dampened spirits, formed a small relaxed smile.
Rem tasted nothing.
"Something wrong?" asked Emilia, noticing the blankness in Rem's expression.
"No, it's nothing, Emilia-sama," Rem shook her head, taking another sip. "It's splendid."
"I suppose anything is when it's made by you. Everything you make always ends up as a delightful treat."
Another shake of the head. "It's really nothing. Your words are too kind."
"Modest too," Emilia flashed a smile. "Sometimes I wish I had skills like yours. As I am now… seems all I'm good for are filing reports."
The cluttered mess from before now sat in an organized pile to the side of them, stacked high past their heads.
Rem's eyes flickered towards it. "These are?"
"Trust bonds, contracts, deeds for empty lands… as a candidate, sympathizers are a must if I'm ever going to win the election. To start, I felt giving away valuable resources will certainly open up opportunities to earn the trust of the people here."
"And how are you faring?"
"Well. I hope," said Emilia, crossing her arms together. "Roswaal and I had a discussion previously. The mining rights to the magic stones around the domain seemed like a viable asset. We've negotiated with a Russell Fellow in the Capital in exchange for him vouching for us and using his influence to garner interest our way."
The weary inflection in Rem's voice, perked Emilia ears upwards. Immediately, she sat herself even more upright, erupting in a short nervous fit of laughter, her hand in a dismissive wave.
"Forgive me, I must be boring you with all this talk. Believe me, I'm not too fond of it myself. We shouldn't be talking of such things - here - let's enjoy ourselves, shall we? We've never really talked… you and I."
Rem remained silent, lips only parting slightly for another sip.
The violet in Emilia's eyes darted about, scouring frantically for something to talk about.
Finally one had emerged, and she took upon it to give it voice. "Has Ferris… How was Ferris's transition into Kararagi? I hope it wasn't too hard on your body… but given how much you've offered already… I have to ask - are you still okay?"
"I'm fine," Rem answered at once, her gaze straying elsewhere, then shortly after, continued quietly. "I wasn't present for it but I've been told it was almost instantaneous. Ferris-sama has arrived safely in Kararagi, Beatrice-sama has assured me. As we speak, it's safe to assume he's already begun, searching the country for any signs of… any signs of him."
In the presence of Emilia, Rem didn't know why, but his name was painful to say. She took another sip, dulling down the painful sting in her throat.
"That's splendid to hear," said Emilia, a smile faintly on display. "Hopefully everything goes well on his end. Hopefully… Hopefully Ferris will be able to find him."
Silence once more. A long one this time. The conversation has run dry, much like the cup wrapped in her hands. Rem placed the empty cup on the table and stared at the one across from hers, noticing something peculiar.
"You've been neglecting," Rem said.
"Hmm? Oh!" In a haste, Emilia lifted her cup with her hands, drawing it closer to her lips, saying as she did, "Sorry… I was just deep in thought. I tend to drift off a lot recently."
Rem merely nodded, her eyes straying elsewhere once again, gravitating to the loose stack of paper close by. Something about the pile had piqued her interest, but she didn't know what it was.
A fleeting glance.
Could it be the dozens of rejected propositions that seemed to take up the majority of the bundle? The half-written proposals that looked to never be touched in weeks?
She saw it, despite faltering vision.
Down, all the way below, flattened between a letter of admonishment from the Sage Council and a scrapped contract. Protruding out the corner of the pile, was the pointed edge of a thin sheet of paper, and within it contained no words of business, no endless paragraphs of political monotony.
Instead, a sketch. A rough sketch, yet unmistakable nonetheless.
Hair, eyes, and a face.
Rem narrowed her sight, slowly creeping a hand to the jumbled pile. An action that did not go unnoticed by Emilia, whom tilted her head in confusion before realizing with widened eyes what exactly she was reaching for.
"Ah, Rem! I wouldn't -"
With a little careful, albeit, forceful tug, the paper was pried loose from the pack, creases unfurled and spread out laying bare in her hands before her very eyes.
She wasn't mistaken. There it was.
Hair, eyes and a face.
It was as if he was right there. It was as if she could just reach out towards him and feel him, but even as she tried, her hands only sailed past the smooth parchment. Her fingers trailing along the outline of his short, black hair. She could almost feel the strands of hair ruffling between her fingers.
His eyes, it was just right. Through first glance, stern and intimidating. But buried beneath the rough exterior laid a gaze so gentle and kind… a warmness like no other.
She could still remember how he looked back then during their last encounter. The way he trembled, the way he shouted, the desperation and agony that stared back at her. It was a harrowing sight.
The drawing smiled. Subaru smiled. Happy, content, conveying no distress, no suffering. He simply smiled the same comforting smile that seemed so long ago now.
Rem almost smiled back. She untethered her eyes from the drawing to focus on Emilia, who had been staring at her all this time.
It was almost amusing, Rem thought to herself. Before, Emillia expressed her envy over her skills. Now it was Rem's turn to feel envious over a skill she could never possess.
Rem placed the drawing on the table, speaking in a hush, "You've a gift, Emilia-sama. It's wonderful."
Face in a flush, Emilia looked to the side. "It's not… It's nothing."
"It's a very intricate, captivating 'nothing', then."
Emilia shifted uncomfortably in her seat, her lips trembling as if greatly restraining herself from speaking something, in its place, she exhaled a deep breath.
"I just miss -"
"As do I, Emilia-sama."
At those words, Emilia's expression softened. Her eyes found Rem's once more, hesitant no longer. It seemed what she yearned to truly discuss about she finally found the courage to speak on.
"Rem could you tell me - no, I need you to tell me… how, how was he before he ran away. How did he… how did he look?"
Memories almost unbearable to relive, Rem closed her eyes, recalled back to the very moment, the very instant that things went awry.
His hand outstretched, downcast, hiding the despair in his scrunched eyes. Then he spoke it. The words of a frightened man.
Run away with me.
"Broken," Rem simply said.
"Broken…" Emilia repeated in a whisper.
Broken. That was how she left him. Battered and bandaged, dejected and unstable. Was the expression the same, she wondered, the way he screamed himself hoarse, was it the same as it was with Rem?
"Rem, am I to blame for this? Was I the cause for all this? His running, his pain, his sadness, his struggles - was it all because of me?"
The prickling thorn of guilt lashed at her from within. The sensation was unbearable, but she knew it was all well deserved. Again, the sight of him, the frenzied desperation, the violent outcries…
"It's all my fault, isn't it?"
She walked away from it, away from him.
"You know he would never say that," Rem said quietly.
Emilia stared at her. "Would you?"
Rem failed to find an answer.
Author's Note: Your words of support in the last chapter has pierced my cold, dead heart. I thank you all for the continued support on the story despite my utter train-wreck progression in chapters. Okay, I'll continue the story the best I can. For now, we'll see how it goes.
For now, here's a chapter I've whipped after reading all the reviews urging me to continue. Part 1 out of 2, next part coming soon. Please do let me know what you think of it and I'll be seeing you all later.
Also PS, since I can't reply to guest reviews: Don't worry Mister Buggy. None of the OCs, not Ilma nor Irma, will be replacing Rem. Rem is here and here she'll stay. I won't do Rem dirty like that.