It was a ten day walk from the dungeon back to Axel. They'd covered most of that distance and had made camp about ten miles from the gate. Along the way they'd stopped by a couple small villages and Kazuma had bought boots, clothes, blankets, and other basic necessities for Katrina and Timothy. A magic wand, weapons, and armor though weren't the sort of things you could get just anywhere though.
"You guys won't have any problem getting everything you need as soon as we're back in Axel," Kazuma said. "They have shops there just for adventurers and-"
"I know," Katrina said cutting him off. "Being dead for a year didn't erase my memories. I still know where everything is."
"Well, except for all the places that got blown up by the Destroyer," Aqua said trying to be helpful.
"Did that really happen?" Timothy sounded suspicious. "It's hard to believe the Destroyer was finally defeated. Or that so much of Axel is just gone."
Aqua sat back and puffed out her chest. "It's absolutely true! I personally-"
"Yeah, it's true," Kazuma said. "But don't worry, I can give you directions to the new places if you want."
Aqua sent him an unhappy look, which Kazuma either didn't notice or deliberately ignored.
Katrina was staring into the campfire. "I've been dead for a year. Roland is gone for good. I'm sure all my friends and family have mourned me and moved on. Someone else is living in my home now and all my things have probably been given away. It's going to be… strange for awhile, I guess."
Timothy was sitting next to her and put a hand on her shoulder. "Yeah, I feel the exact same way. But at least we have each other to rely on."
Katrina dropped her shoulder, causing his hand to slip off. She gave him a silent look.
"I'll help you guys in any way I can," Kazuma said. "I actually have a lot of money now, so it's no problem! I can give you jobs if you want. You're both welcome to join my party."
Timothy frowned. "Katrina and I don't need a low-level adventurer to help us. As soon as we get equipped, we'll be just fine."
Katrina sent him a hooded look he didn't see.
Kazuma rubbed the back of his neck. "Uh, actually I'm level-"
"That's so not fair!" Aqua shouted. "They're both in the twenties and not even advanced classes! Why would you invite them into your party but not a goddess like me?!"
"You want to know?" Kazuma held up both hand and started to tick points off on his fingers. "Neither of them ever abandoned me. Neither of them are worthless drunks. Neither of them ever tried to steal my teammates. Neither of them are hundreds of millions of eris in debt. Neither of them ever got teammates killed. Neither of them are stupid enough to get swallowed twice inside of five minutes. And I don't hate either of them like poison." Kazuma had seven fingers up. "Want me to keep going? Cause I can."
"But I did what you asked me too! I brought them back, didn't I?"
"Yeah, you did, and for that, and ONLY that, you have my thanks. That's why I'll pay you the million eris I promised and hire you as a freelancer if we ever need a whiny priestess for something."
"You also said I'd get a share on any treasure we found but you made us leave the dungeon right away you big cry baby!"
Kazuma's face reddened.
"The only thing we got was the magical battle axe and you gave it to them!" Aqua pointed at Katrina and Timothy. "They didn't even help! That's so unfair!"
Katrina and Timothy both glared at her.
"That dungeon's full of treasure and we could have cleared it out if you hadn't been such a crybaby." She put her hands to her eyes and began to mimic him. "I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I'm so sorry. Wah, wah, wah!"
The color drained from his face. "I… I don't remember that. I didn't cry like that."
"Yes, you did! It was so pathetic and sad! I mean I know you're a hopeless NEET and all, but even so, to cry like that after killing a monster? It had to be the second most pathetic moment of your lives."
He looked away from her and stared into the fire. "I don't remember that," he whispered.
Everyone but Aqua was uncomfortable and silently hoping she would stop.
"Well, I sure do! When we get back, I'll tell everyone about how you made us abandon a rich dungeon because of your water works."
At this moment Darkness stood up and strode over to Aqua. "I would like to discuss something in private with you." Her manner and tone were formal and polite.
"Huh? What is it?"
Darkness reached down and grabbed Aqua's wrist. "This is a private matter."
She hauled Aqua to her feet and dragged her into the woods.
"Hey! Hey! Not so rough!"
Kazuma and the others sat and watched as the two of them disappeared from sight. They clearly heard the two tramp through the woods before coming to a stop somewhere. Then they all heard one very clear sound.
"Ow! Why'd you hit me?!"
"You," a calm, serene voice said. "Will not make fun of Kazuma about this again. You will also not tell a single soul about it. If you do, I swear by Eris I will slap you one hundred more times."
"You know Eris pads her chest, right?"
Eventually the two girls returned. Neither said anything, though Aqua had two bright red handprints on her cheeks.
The following morning they arrived in Axel and went directly to the guild hall.
Needless to say, people were shocked to see Katrina and Timothy back from the dead. The adventurers handled it the way they normally did, and the drinks were soon flowing as everyone welcomed them home. Kazuma was happy to pay.
And even though Aqua drank herself into a stupor, no one heard a word about Kazuma shedding any tears.
The party lasted well into the night and a good time was had by all.
The following morning Kazuma alone accompanied Timothy and Katrina to the weapon's shop where they sold the magical battle axe for eight hundred thousand eris. The money allowed both of them to reequip themselves and have a sum left over.
"So, you're both sure you don't want to work with me?" Kazuma asked.
Timothy shook his head. "I appreciate what you did for us, but Katrina and I will be just fine on our own." He placed a hand on her shoulder.
She slapped it away.
"Actually, I never liked you. I only put up with you because Roland thought you were a good wizard. Let's go our separate ways."
Timothy's jaw dropped. "But-"
"But what?" She crossed her arms and gave him a stony glare.
That harsh and unforgiving stare made him shrink. Defeated, Timothy lowered his head and walked away.
Kazuma was left alone with her.
"So does this mean there's a chance you'd want-"
"Kazuma," Katrina faced him. "Thank you for bringing me back to life. You will always have my sincere gratitude for that. But there's something I think you need to understand."
"Huh? What is it?"
The bunny girl paused. When she spoke, her words were a touch softer than before.
"What happened in the dungeon, really hurt you didn't it?"
"I'm not making fun of you, and I don't think any less of you. I wouldn't be alive now if not for you. But it's obvious what happened then made me, Timothy, and Roland very important to you, didn't it?"
"Well… yeah," he looked at her in confusion.
She nodded. "That makes sense. I bet you had nightmares. I bet you thought about us a lot. You wouldn't have come back the way you did if it didn't really matter to you. But, see to me, Kazuma. You're this weird guy I met less than two weeks before I got killed. I barely know you, and to be honest, you sort of creep me out."
He stared at her, having no idea what to say.
"All I'm saying is that I think you imagine we were a lot closer than we actually were. We weren't friends, we were just working on a job together, that's all. Please don't imagine we're more than that. I'm grateful for what you did, and I owe you, but please don't think there's anything more between us."
"Uh, okay. I guess I understand."
Katrina nodded. "Good. Well, I'm sure I'll see you around. Goodbye, Kazuma."
She turned and walked away. Kazuma stood there and watched her go.
But after ten steps or so, the girl came to a halt. She remained where she was for a moment, before returning to Kazuma. She was red faced and avoiding his eyes.
"What? Did you forget something?"
She took a deep breath. "Ears."
She finally lifted her eyes to meet his. "Just this once… I'll let you touch my ears for five minutes."
It was a very pleasant five minutes.