This was co-written with the wonderful writer Suffaru41 who can be found on Archives of Our Own for Turacoverdin in Pidgie/TranslatorError's fandom wide fic exchange. We hope you enjoy, and suffer too like we did.

Beatrice sits at the edge of the bed, legs dangling aimlessly off the side.

The muted melodies of various insects and critters fills the room. No longer did footsteps ring through the mansion, nor did the telltale creaks of doors and floorboards echo across the mostly barren hallways. The sounds of people had long since died down to a mere whisper, everyone having fallen asleep.

Or, at least, into a subdued quietness of the night at this point.

Everyone, that is to say, except Betty, who's currently right beside her one and only hopeless contractor—Natsuki Subaru.

Betty's made it a habit to always fall asleep after Subaru. Naturally, she was up pretty late, so this wasn't unfamiliar to her or anything.

Not to mention the countless nights she had spent in the library, paging through her Book of Wisdom over and over again, awaiting something and someone that would never come.

No, that's—that's far behind her now. No matter how recent that was, she's separated herself from that. She's changed. She's different. Only a few months ago, she wouldn't have even dreamed of sleeping beside someone as loud and obnoxious as Subaru, after all.

Still, one could even say she thrived in the night. Being an artificial spirit and all meant that she didn't need as much rest as most others did. That isn't to say she didn't sleep though, she just needed less of it.

Subaru also seemed to be a bit of a… "night owl", in his own words—Betty has in fact picked up some Subaru-isms—but that didn't prevent fatigue from burning itself into him and marking him as its own.

More often than not… Betty's Subaru would fail to have any degree of restful sleep, waking up periodically throughout the night always tense and afraid, his eyes darting around as if awaiting a blow that would never come. More often than not, the hand which she held so close to herself was clammy and shaking. More often than not, Betty's Subaru would toss and turn in in a desperate attempt to sleep—only to fail miserably. More often than not, Betty's Subaru would fake being asleep just so she herself would sleep.

On the really bad nights, Betty would find herself wrapped in Subaru's shaky grasp as he would murmur things she didn't—couldn't—understand no matter how hard she tried to get him to talk to her.

And of course he, being as stubborn as he was, would always just shrug it off, saying things like: "Don't worry, smile more Beako, seeing an adorable loli like you sad will bring tears to my eyes."

He's not the first human that she's seen to have these kinds of issues… but he's certainly the first human she's cared this much about. And to see him suffering right in front of her eyes, with her being unable to do anything but hope and pray that she's still doing something—it fills her with a kind of pain she cannot describe.

He'd always, always downplay his own issues. All the time. It was frustrating—whatever it was that ailed him she would help, no matter what, because he was her contractor, and together they could go toe to toe with the world if they wanted to. If they had to.

And yet, despite all of her pestering, she was always met with dismissal.

"Please I suppose, why won't you tell me?" she's asked, more times that she could count, in a fit of desperation—only to find a sad and strained smile on Subaru's lips.

With a complex whirl of emotions gracing his face, he just shook his head in his stupid, dopey Subaru way, and then quickly changed the subject.

Again, more times than she could count, this was the same song and dance they've been through so, so many times—he'd keep his lips sealed, he'd keep going to her because she's the only one he has, and she'd keep silent with him because that's all he's allowed to happen.

She hasn't tried much at all otherwise anymore, only subtly asking questions or making comments in an attempt to gain the slightest insight into the enigma that her contractor was—

And she's always just met with that same tired expression.

Though recently, admittedly, Subaru had been sleeping a bit better.

She hadn't noticed at first, just assuming it was a coincidence. But after the bags under his eyes started to recede, and some of the fatigue that clung to him obsessively started to dissipate, she knew it had to be something else.

Whatever it was that happened that caused this, she was happy for him regardless. Of course she was. He had been far more energized lately, with more of a bounce in his step and a brighter spark in his eyes and a less slouched posture, and she was happy for that fact alone.

And in the wake of that newly developed habit, her contractor has long since fallen asleep now.

For once, it leaves Betty up at night, all alone, to ponder while slowed, muffled breathing whispers in her ear beside her.

Truthfully, Betty doesn't know why she's still up. Yes, generally she would wait at least fifteen minutes until after her contractor had fallen asleep, but that amount of time has long since passed. So really, Beatrice has found herself at an impasse.

She lets out a small hmph and then sighs, reserving herself for a long night, carefully taking Subaru's hand into her own.

When sleep finally took her in its grasp, her dreams were filled with an unplaceable sense of discomfort and unease.

A sense of loneliness leaks in, reminding her of long days spent in solitary—but it was more a sense of melancholy than anything else. Dark, and cold, and consuming her whole until it's all she could see. Until it's all she can see, along with the fact that there won't ever be a way out of this

There isn't.

The morning comes far too soon for Beatrice's taste.

The sunlight abrasively streaming through the window tears her out of her unrestful slumber. Blinking away a bit of drowsiness, the idea of falling back asleep seems so, so appealing to her right now. The bed feels so very soft too, and maybe there isn't anything she wants more than to not move.

But… something was wrong. There were no fingers interlocked with her own. There wasn't a presence taking up the other side of the bed either. Usually Beatrice woke up first, and even when she didn't, Subaru would wait for her.

Worry floods into her, though she knows it's all irrational.

A familiar head pokes in through the doorway. He glances at the bed, glances right underneath it too, before he looks back at Beatrice again. "Ah, my adorable Beako, did you miss me perhaps?"

Beatrice jumps out of bed, a gasp tearing itself from her lips. That irrationality melts away, and she relaxes—Subaru's here and awake and was just waiting for her, of course. Why was she so worried in the first place? Why is her heart still pounding?

...she has no hea—

"Betty did no such thing, Betty was doing just fine on her own in fact." Betty crosses her arms, quickly turning her face away from Subaru while puffing out her cheeks.

Subaru, in response, falls to his knees dramatically, clutching at his chest wincing as if he had been struck. His eyes flicker down to look at the floor, almost too quick for her to notice. "Oh Beako, you wound me with this rejection from the fairest of maidens!" he exclaims, like the idiot he very much is. "My heart can't take such an insult to my personality."

Beatrice rolls her eyes at her contractors' playful antics. Typical Subaru with his nonsense. With a grumble, Beatrice lets out with a mutter, "Tsch, perhaps if you begged and gave Betty a hug, she would be kind and merciful enough to take it back."

Within an instant, Beatrice finds herself scooped up in the warm embrace of her beloved but foolish contractor. Subaru spins her around with a wide grin, making sure to keep a steady but comforting grip on her.

"Put me down already, I suppose!" she shrieks, wriggling in his grasp. "Betty is not a thing to be thrown around!"

Subaru sets her down with much less fight than expected. His grin turns irritatingly smug. Betty huffs. Why is she even surprised at this point? "Sorry, sorry, I just can't help myself when it comes to you," he says placatingly, not sounding sorry in the slightest.

"You are utterly insufferable in fact," Betty spits without any true malice, eying up her contractor who meets her gaze sheepishly. She glances at the ground, near the foot of the bed—what is Subaru even looking at? Subaru flinches. She pauses, before asking, "Where were you, I wonder?"

"Ah, sorry, I woke up a bit earlier than normal," Subaru replies, rubbing at the back of his head with an embarrassed smile. There's a weird hint of anxiety to it. "And, uh, you seemed to have slept a bit rough. So I thought I might as well cook something to cheer you up! A Subaru specialty dish—though, well, Ram turned it into helping cook breakfast for everyone, but it's the thought that counts right?"

Betty gives a half-hearted cross between a huff and a fond sigh. "I suppose you are forgiven." A small but warm smile tugs around the edge of her lips, even as worry curls in her stomach.

Shaking off any lingering grogginess, the next few minutes fade into the blur of routine as Beatrice, ever the creature of habit, goes through the motions of readying herself for the day while her contractor patiently waits for her.

Her schedule has been… such a drastic change from the one she had months before. She had her bed and her chair in the library, and she rarely stepped foot outside of it. Tidying herself up in the mirror after sleep tousled her hair, with someone at her side watching her fondly—it's… nice.

Everyday feels new again.

Beatrice sneaks a small glance at Subaru as she quickly finishes tidying herself up, his eyes shining with love and affection and perhaps even a hint of pride. Her cheeks flush pink—Subaru's always been an imbecile who loves so openly. He's always been so confident with it, to the point where it almost makes her envious.

But… maybe she was seeing something that wasn't there, but she swore some degree of sadness also lurked within them—as if he wasn't completely there.

And then everything is wiped away, even if for just a second, as he mumbles, "Oh man, am I a brother now? Yep. I definitely am."

The words are spoken tenderly, quietly, as if not meant to be audible to Beatrice—a thoughtful little comment that's just as idiotic as he is. Of course he's beloved—he's practically gathered together a small found family of his own.

But then his expression returns to something more… solemn. The kind of expression he only gets when he's particularly worried about something, she knows.

As if he was focusing on something intently, his eyes keep darting to the same part of the room, not for the first time. It's quite odd, because the last time she even looked in the same direction, he flinched, didn't he?

It's… under the bed. Whatever he's so worried about is there. That's it.

"Subaru?" Beatrice bites the corner of her lip, working at it with her teeth.

"Hm, what is it, Beako?" Subaru exclaims, putting a hand to his heart proudly. "Do you perhaps need a savior? A knight in shining armor, even? I am an actual knight now, you know!" Energetically, he makes even more of the most ridiculous but endearing poses, drawing a couple of laughs out of Beatrice.

There's a sort of familiar, manic desperation to it.

With a small sigh, she quickly quiets down again. He's just trying to distract her, it seems. Just as he always does. "I can't find my…" Betty pauses slightly, very discreetly, fully aware that Subaru will interrupt her before she can finish.

Right on cue, Subaru asks, as earnest and desperate as ever, "Oh! Do… do you want help looking?"

Guilt stabs at her, but she continues anyway. This is for his own good, isn't it? "No, Betty does not need your help, in fact, but she appreciates the gesture. She can do it on her own." It's fake and she absolutely knows it, but—please, Subaru, don't catch up on—

…he definitely can, based on how he shifts ever so slightly—a bit baffled, a bit anxious, but not willing to call her out on it.

With his eyebrows furrowed and his lips pursed, he tries weakly, "It would be no trouble. No trouble at all. Anything for you, Beako." It's an obligatory gesture. His eyes flicker back to the bottom of the bed again, just as quickly as the first time, and yet even more desperate.

"No, no, just go on without me," she insists. She's let Subaru keep things quiet far too many times, and a part of her is tired of it—tired of him sweeping himself aside like garbage. "Betty supposes she will be down in a second."

A conflicted expression spreads on Subaru's face, his eyes flashing with a hint of frustration. Betty knows that he's heavily considering whether he wants to insist or not—it's not in her contractor's nature to surrender quietly to anything, after all.

I'm sorry, she tells him in her head, before adding on, just to guarantee that he'll leave, "Betty can handle herself. She is not something that needs to be protected at all times, and in fact, she was doing fine before you showed up. Betty will tell you if she needs help."

Checkmate.

I'm sorry, she tells him again. Maybe she'll have the chance to say them out loud, later—this is for Subaru, no matter how stubborn he is.

Subaru deflates at the statement. His expression contorts, before he forces himself to relax with: "Okay, Beako… if—if you're sure."

Beatrice takes a deep breath. "Betty is very sure."

She waits a few seconds to continue searching around the room until she is sure Subaru has definitely left—the sounds of his hesitant footsteps stopping right outside the door.

Then, she makes a beeline for whatever had been making Subaru look so fearful—whatever it was that kept eating away at him, whatever it was that was worrying him oh-so-much.

She, his Betty, would surely sort it out for him. She would protect him from himself if she needed to. Subaru was so stubborn, always refusing help even though Betty knows there's a part of him that wants it, needs it—but this time Betty would not fail him.

She's not going to simply leave him to face everything alone.

Beatrice heads over to the bed and glances underneath it.

The only thing she finds is a few glass bottles—the kind that's clearly shaped for the purpose of holding a potion, and… it's not something she's ever seen before, even in her long, long life.

In addition to that, there's a tiny drop left in one of the bottles, shining gold in the dark, but even then—whatever potion was in there was almost completely sucked dry.

As if the drinker was desperate to swallow down every last drop.


Subaru listens to Beatrice's wishes and leaves her be, of course.

He lingers in the doorway for a split second. Longer than needed, yeah, but…

Subaru leans against the wall, his fists clenched at his sides and his teeth sinking into his lip. The urge to argue with her then, in that room, was overwhelming—and he definitely still wants to argue with her now.

But it wasn't something he would have won. She's Beako—stubborn and determined and strong. The only person who's seen him so…vulnerable.

Besides. The look in her eyes was downright pleading. She wanted to be alone. She wanted to do… whatever it was in their room without him there. She was searching for something. Searching for… for…

He should've fucking hid it better. He's been slipping, slipping lately with that—just finishing one after another. He needs to. That's what he needs, that's all he needs right now. But so many other things slipped his mind, and so did hiding it far better than that. It's—

But as much as he wants to help her, as much as he wants to march right back into that room and stop her—his efforts would amount to nothing.

There's no point. No point at all. She'll find out, they'll all find out, and then what? Then he won't be able to—

He pushes the thoughts into the back of his mind. Whatever. He'll stew it over later.

Subaru wipes away the blood at his lip and approaches the dining room.

No use thinking about it now. Maybe he could talk to her about it later, but all he can really do is just try his best to be there for her and let her come to him. And—

Try to run away, like he always does.

How pathetic. Boring, even, like these same brown walls and brown doors and red carpet of the mansion.

Maybe he'd rather be asleep.

As he reaches the doorway, the aromas of fresh food tickle at his nose. It feels… homey.

Of course it does, he did very well help cook it!

Assorted platters of fruits and various other foods are laid on the table. Plates are neatly strewn about as well.

Ram had definitely been getting better at all the chores around the house given that Rem was… well—

Gone.

For now. It's just for now, it's—

Soon. He'll see her soon. He just has to go and—

Ram calls out from her usual spot at the head of the table. Right where Roswaal always sits, of course. Completely unaware of Subaru's thoughts, of course.

"Good morning, Barusu," she says slowly. "How predictable for you to show up to your own breakfast late. It's a bit rude to leave a lovely maiden like myself to set the table alone."

That—well that actually hurt a bit, unintentionally. The words I'm sorry sit at the tip of his tongue before he bites them back.

No point in saying it. Ram wouldn't even understand, not really. Maybe she's trying to care about Rem and—

But it's all foggy and blurred and Subaru doesn't know anymore.

Subaru hurries to his seat under Ram's sharp gaze. "What can I say," he scrambles to respond, the words fumbling in his mouth, "Someone has to keep you on your toes. Also, hey! I don't remember establishing a specific time I was supposed to be back at. I would have helped!"

Ram rolls her eyes at that. Then she softens. "Fine. Your earlier display of tardiness is excused since I am feeling merciful. Besides, I did a perfectly fine job." She pauses, staring at him for a moment. With a start, Subaru realizes that she looks more tired than usual. Not completely exhausted, but—that's not normal for her at all. "Barusu. Where is Beatrice-sama?"

Subaru's heart crawls up into his throat. His mouth goes dry, so dry that he almost wants to pour magma down it. Just to get rid of that itching, itching feeling stuck there. It's a familiar feeling at this point anyway, what more will it do?

"Oh, she'll be here soon," he babbles, "She was just looking for something she lost and told me to go on ahead." He leans forward with a hop in his step, teasing with a shaky grin on his face: "But hey, is that concern I hear in your voice? Could it be that Ram's going soft?"

"Your ears are clearly faulty, Barusu," Ram replies, eying him closely. He stiffens. "The only senile one around here is you, despite being at the tender age of seventeen."

Seventeen, huh. These last couple months have been so long, even longer for him compared to the rest because of all the… ah, dying and rewinding back, but—

Subaru can stay seventeen forever. He knows now, but Beatrice might be on his trail and—

"How you can say things like that with a straight face is beyond me," Subaru bemoans. Not a single fucking stutter—good—to which Ram smugly shrugs in response.

Bell-like laughter rings through the room.

Subaru startles violently. Making a double-take, he turns around to find Emilia smiling warmly at him and Ram.

And there's this earnest little part of him that can't help but ease in response.

Ram greets her with a nod and curtsy. "Good morning, Emilia-sama."

Brightly, Emilia greets back, "Good morning, Ram, Subaru." She shuffles over to her seat without another word about tardiness from Ram.

Subaru perks up. He waves excitedly and chirps, "Morning, EMT!" Just as quick, he whips around back to Ram and retorts, "Talk about unfair treatment, berating me for being late when everyone else hasn't even arrived yet! Emilia-tan is a special exception, duh, but what about Garfiel, huh? And Otto?"

Ram snorts. "Quiet, Barusu. How self-centered of you to say such a thing. I do not play favorites."

Subaru makes a loud, offended gasp. "You don't play favorites, huh?!" Is he doing this right? Is he being enough of the Subaru they expect? He's too far away now, isn't he? "What a load of—"

Emilia hides her giggle behind her hand, suggesting, "Perhaps both of you should stop with your mischief-making? How are we ever going to proceed with breakfast if you two keep teasing each other day and night?"

Subaru has the decency to at least try to look ashamed. And by ashamed, he means batting his eyes innocently and pretending nothing happened. For once, he doesn't have to rub the sleep out of his eyes too.

He's always had okay sleep, at least! No nightmares in sight!

Meanwhile, Ram looks away just to subtly stare daggers at Subaru, who sits down at his usual spot at the dining table beside Emilia.

The two of them totally don't shoot each other matching smirks behind Emilia's back.

"And Beatrice is coming soon, yes?" Emilia asks, haltingly, as she gives Subaru a worried expression he also pretends not to notice. "It is the slightest bit odd, and—"

"She'll just be here soon," Subaru says, hasty and quick. "Just doing something important."

Important. Like how they're all one giant step away from leaving him for being so stupid.

A strange, almost tense atmosphere lingers over the table.

Subaru shudders, the world around him going fuzzy and dark and cold and hot all at once. The others don't notice, the others are all distant and far away, but he knows this like he's the only one that knows everything that's happened these past couple months.

There's always a cost to everything. He went through Sanctuary recently, and then before that it was the White Whale and Petelgeuse and—

A certain clown isn't at the head of the table.

Ah. Subaru forgot about that. He normally doesn't, but it's fine. Roswaal isn't particularly pleasant anyway.

Roswaal wouldn't fit in all too well here because of that. Maybe only the nice things should remain.

Ah. Stop running away again, Subaru. What happened to those fun little lessons you learned in Sanctuary?

His reflection stares up at him from the fork and spoon and plate in front of him on the table.

Subaru clears his throat. He raises his hand and bursts out, "S-So where is Ros-chi? Did my cooking scare the clown—I mean, Ros-chi away?" He corrects himself at Ram's glare before continuing on, "It isn't that bad right? Ram, back me up? Or, surely Emilia-tan can vouch for my superb skill?"

Desperation worms its way into his voice while Emilia tilts her head and gives a small, airy laugh. "Subaruuuu, I'm not quite sure how to answer that."

"What she means, Barusu, is that it's something only those with bad taste would enjoy," Ram supplies.

"Right for the heart, as always," Subaru deadpans, acting betrayed. "I don't know what I expected. Of course Ram would be so mean to me, twisting Emilia-tans wonderful words into insults."

Much to his dismay, Ram brushes aside his words, seemingly unaffected: "On the note of Roswal-sama, he left earlier this morning to sort out some business—it will be at least for a couple of days." Ram pauses, and then adds, "And, before you ask, as well as to ensure you don't follow me around like a lost puppy, he requested that Fredrica assist him as well."

Emilia hums, giving a nod of acknowledgement, before asking, "What about Petra? She never misses an opportunity to eat you or Subaru's cooking, Ram!"

"And Garfiel's out training again, right?" Subaru guesses. "He's been doing that a lot in the morning recently, actually."

As Subaru's sleep improved, he's managed to wake up earlier than he already does, and he's found Garfiel up and at it at the crack of dawn way before him.

Garfiel would always glance back with slightly droopy eyes and go, Juuust doin' some early mornin' trainin', Captain! Gotta—take my mind off some, uh, things!

Subaru would always either sprout some nice encouragement, or he'd be up a bit later and glance out the window to see Garfiel working himself to the bone in the field.

It could never stop giving Subaru this strange feeling of wrongness. For absolutely no reason! Sure, Garfiel got a bit sluggish as time went on, but he's still as strong and fit as possible!

He's Garfiel, and Subaru knows there's nothing wrong here.

"Petra is visiting her family in the village, most likely due to Barusu's own uselessness corrupting her poor innocent young mind," Ram replies, her chin held high. Subaru makes several indignant noises in response, but she shuts him up with a glare. "She will be unavailable, meaning that naturally, Barusu will be expected to pick up the slack and assist my lovable self with daily duties. Please keep your perverse tendencies to yourself, Barusu."

Subaru deflates with a little pout. He complains, "You really are a slave driver sometimes. I almost wish I could join Garfiel right now." A groan leaves his lips. "Even though he'd totally kick my ass."

"Do try to keep up then, Barusu." The corners of Ram's lips twitch into a smirk.

Emilia chuckles at the two's antics. "You two really are such good friends! Even though you two did go back to teasing each other again." She gives an exasperated and fond sigh, before brightening with another wide smile. "Ram, why won't you join us at the table?"

Confusion sweeps across Ram's face as if she didn't understand the question at first. In dismay, she protests, "Emilia-sama—"

"Pretty please?" Emilia insists, her eyes going wide and innocent and pleading.

Ram caves in with a heavy sigh.

Somehow, Ram finds a way to make the act of sitting down seem sulky. Then again, Ram could make anything seem sassy and sulky anyway.

Subaru raises a thumbs up at Emilia and winks. This has gotta go in his journal, this moment is way too good to forget or erase or—

They'll hate him. Beatrice will be first, and then—

That's not true. It's not. Is it?

He stops. "Wait, aren't we forgetting about someone?" He shrugs, one-hundred-percent knowing exactly who he's forgetting. "Nope. Probably not."

"Absolutely not," Ram chimes in.

Emilia tilts her head like a confused puppy. "Aren't you forgetting—"

Right on cue, Otto pops his head in through the entrance. "Wow!" he cries out. "I feel kind of hurt over here!"

"That's wonderful, does anyone have anything to add?" Subaru claps his hands together over Otto's appalled face.

Otto wails, "Can't I add something on my own behalf?"

The resounding answer that meets Otto's ears is a matching nope and no, not particularly from Subaru and Ram, who totally don't high-five each other underneath the table.

Emilia raises her hand. "I would like to hear what Otto has to say!" she exclaims cheerfully.

"Can't we overrule that?" Subaru whines. Ram rolls her eyes at him. "It's Emilia-tan and Otto versus me and Ram, so I say me and Ram win this."

"Natsuki-san, you do realize it's a tie, correct?" Otto replies, just a pinch sarcastic. "I may be under duress to manage paperwork, but surely you can do simple math?" He takes a moment to let his words sink in before continuing, "Any objections?" Subaru raises his hand, but Otto presses on as if nothing has happened. "Before I was… interrupted... I was going to ask where exactly everyone is? Especially Beatrice-sama—you two are never seen apart, Natsuki-san."

"Hm... now that you mention it… she has been looking for whatever it was for a while," Subaru mumbles to himself, so quiet that none of the others can hear it. Can they hear him? No, no, they can't, especially not when Beatrice already found—

He cuts off that line of thought, but Subaru can already feel his heart drop as it pounds against his chest, anxiety swelling up inside him into nasty little knots and pressing up against his innards.

Stop it. Otto's staring at you. Do something, say something, stop staring back at him. So what if you should've hid those damn things better? It's too late now!

Emilia fusses over him, saving Subaru from having to respond. "You look a little pale! Are you alright Subaru?"

"I'm fine," Subaru says quickly. His breaths come out in little, shallow gasps. "Just a bit worried about Beako." He laughs, just a bit hysterical. "Normally she's not such a slowpoke! She was making really good progress, but she is a pretty recent ex-hikkomori, after all."

"He-key-key-more-e?" Emilia repeats, her eyebrows furrowed. "Subaru, you say things that are sooooo befuddling sometimes."

"Emilia-tan, who even says 'befuddling' anymore?" Subaru says, indulgently slipping into the familiar habit. Please, please, please let the conversation move elsewhere. Please.

"Beatrice-sama is stronger than you likely give her credit for," Ram states, matter-of-fact in her usual I'm right and you're wrong way. But it's her usual glare at Subaru that makes him scratch at his arm underneath the table—stop. It's just Ram. "She's been alive longer then you, and yet you are the one who is senile."

"Oh, come on, not this again," Subaru complains. Loudly, just to be super annoying. Better him drawing attention to himself like this and not like… like—

So he can't stop himself from bursting out: "Besides, if anything, you're the one who looks like an old lady that ran a marathon after pulling a caffeine induced all-nighter with eye bags that size."

An uneasy silence falls over the room for a second while Ram gives Subaru a shrewd glare.

Subaru freezes. His words catch up to him, and—

Fuck. You were supposed to change the subject, idiot.

"I slept rather unpleasantly last night," Ram says curtly. She doesn't elaborate.

Subaru's blood runs cold.

"Actually, Ram-san?" Otto offers. "Funnily enough, now that you mention it... I also had a pretty nasty dream of sorts. It seems just my luck that I can't remember it well though. It's… it's been going on like this for the past few nights! And—and all the paperwork keeps piling up on top of that!"

The last few words tumble out of Otto's mouth rapidly as he tries to explain his thought process, though it comes out more in a jumbled heap.

Ram and Otto… having poor sleep all of a sudden while Subaru sleeps soundly? Garfiel, going out extremely early in the morning everyday to get his mind off things? Subaru's nightmares have been gone for a while, gone gone gone, but they're the ones having nightmares now, right?

It's just a coincidence, surely! Just—calm down, it's not like night terrors we're something exclusive to only him.

He takes a deep breath trying to regain his composure—only to have it shattered by Emilia.

"My dreams lately have also been reaalllly taxing," Emilia explains quietly. "It's made me feel quite weary and worn thin, frankly, and it saddens me to hear that the both of you have also been afflicted by this. It's… strange. They feel so familiar, but I never remember them as well." She sighs heavily. "However, I'm… certain you can work things out, Otto!"

Emilia turns to Otto and gives her best winning smile.

All Subaru can do is sit there and tremble and try not to scream.

"Easy for you to say." The words are muffled as Otto buries his head into his hands. He continues on weakly, "But I suppose I appreciate the gesture, Emilia-sama. Thank you."

The urge to laugh tickles at the back of Subaru's throat, overriding his own paranoia, but he squashes it down for the sake of Otto's dignity.

Judging from Otto's glower, he didn't do the greatest job.

Well. To be fair, he wasn't sorry at all. Otto was just so… easy to bully, and… he really could use the distraction. Really, Otto's existence was just asking to be poked fun at. It would be a crime not to, right?

Subaru and everyone else are totally fine, right?

A familiar voice cuts into the conversation, biting and playfully arrogant: "I suppose one as hopeless as you would say something like that. But what's this about dreams? Betty supposes hers have also been a bit worse than usual."

Subaru flinches and whips around towards the doorway. He swallows, shouting out, "Beako!"

"Oh, why hello, Beatrice," Emilia greets as well, with Otto groggily waving as his own greeting.

Ram bows from where she's seated. "A pleasure to see you've finally joined us, Beatrice-sama."

"Yes. It is Subaru's Betty," Beatrice confirms, strolling further into the kitchen and taking her seat beside Subaru. She looks directly at him, almost accusatory, yet more subdued. Subtle. "Although… Betty wishes you would share your secrets to such a nice sleep."

She knows—she definitely knows. She has to.

Ram looks on curiously. More quiet than usual, she adds, "Please enlighten us then, Barusu."

Panic surges up inside him. "Oh, weeell, um, I've always slept pretty okay actually! I mean—I do have the occasional nightmare, but they aren't very often or anything."

Subaru pauses for a second to discreetly check Beatrice's expression.

Her fists are clenched into tiny balls, but it doesn't seem like she's willing to comment.

She does, however, give him the most disappointed little sister stare he's had in a while.

"Besides," Subaru continues, shuddering, "even when I do have bad dreams, I always have a loli by my side holding my hand. For once, it was her clinging onto me this time though!"

Beatrice stomps her foot. "Betty was not! That claim is slanderous!" she cries, puffing out her cheeks. "In fact, it was Subaru who was clinging desperately onto Betty's hand like a lifeline!"

"Ah, perhaps, perhaps, but I remember differently, Beako," Subaru sing-songs, booping her on the nose just to distract her. She scowls at him in response.

Emilia clears her throat. She smiles gently, her eyes fixing on Subaru worriedly before glancing away. "As much as I enjoy conversing with you all, we've forgotten about our food. It's going to get cold at this rate."

"Agreed," Otto says. Jokingly, he continues with, "Natsuki-san, we went off topic, and now our food could get eaten by rats. Does it look like I want to fight rats again, Natsuki-san?"

Ram still seems more subdued than usual, but she retorts, "Hah. You call that a fight? Your sorry excuse for a merchant only sat there and tried to negotiate terms with them—it was Garf who did all the work."

Otto squawks in protest. "Th-That's not true at all, Ram-san!"

"Hey, it wasn't thaat bad," Subaru drawls. He attempts to shovel food into his mouth. "It was just like a little sidequest. And besides, watching Otto's piss poor performance while Garfiel beat up rats was funny for sure."

"Barusu," Ram scolds. The corners of her mouth twitch. "Chew with your mouth closed, you savage beast."

Subaru swallows. His hands shake so much that he drops his spoon and fork. He puts on a pout and complains, "Why can't Ram be nice to me for just one day?"

"With all due respect, Natsuki-san, but that day will likely never happen," Otto replies sadly. He gives Subaru a sympathetic pat on the back—and Subaru knows that it's only half-joking.

It was meant to be reassuring, but it just felt like there were thousands of claws raking across his back, screaming into his ears and whispering his secrets out for the world to hear.

No, he's being irrational. That can't be it. That—

Emilia claps her hands, interrupting Subaru's line of thought, it was a respite if anything. "No, Ram is quite nice, actually! I'm sure—"

"Hmph." Ram folds her arms and raises her chin. "When is Ram ever nice?"

Emilia beams. "You sat down when I asked you to, and now you're eating with us!" Ram looks away quickly with another hmph, her cheeks ever so slightly pink. Emilia claps her hands again and adds, "Yes, we should go ahead and start eating now!" She pauses. Then she finishes, a bit more somber, "I do hope that everyone's sleep improves soon. This will pass, I'm sure of it."

Exactly. They all just had to wait. Then they could all be happy together again. Then no one would have to get hurt. Even if they found out his secrets, none of them would die. None of them would suffer.

"Subaruuu?" Emilia calls out to him. But her words feel sluggish, lethargic, far away, so he only half-registers them. "You seem… a little distant… or well, aloof… is everything alright?"

"Yeah, of course, Emilia-tan! Couldn't be better." Subaru gives her one of his typical smiles. She returns the gesture, but it's clearly strained.

Beako shoots him a concerned glance that also clearly spells we will talk about this later.

He pretends that he doesn't see it.

And he especially pretends he doesn't see it, as the room fades down to muted murmurs and small talk while everyone eats their food. His own thoughts drift elsewhere, and for the most part, he tunes out the banter. Everything's spinning, moving way too fast, and in the blink of an eye, all the various members of the camp leave to do their usual things.

Leaving just him and Beako behind.

Subaru stands up abruptly. He needs to leave, quickly. He should've left so much earlier than this.

Desperately, Beatrice calls, "Subaru? We… should talk, in fact."

The back of his throat feels so dry. "I," he stammers, before hardening his resolve. "I have to do something." She stares at him pleadingly, looking so painfully helpless as she does—and he, he wants to say something, he wants to comfort her, he...

He leaves the room as swiftly as he can, stumbling over his own clumsy feet. Coward.

And he, being the useless person that he is, can't help but to look back.

Beatrice's crestfallen gaze stares back at him, a conflicted mess of emotions swirling inside her eyes—disappointment, hurt, pain, betrayal—

It hurts more that there isn't any anger. He would deserve it anyway. He would deserve that far more than anything else.

Hold onto what makes reality worth it for you.

Yeah right. What a load of bullshit.


After breakfast ends, and Subaru leaves her behind—Beatrice finds herself peering once more into that potion in the bottle.

It really looked like a murky abyss of ichor, sloshing around unassumingly—even with its golden color, nothing about it seemed particularly unique or special.

She swallows. Imagining Subaru drinking this, day after day after day, and still would've continued if she hadn't noticed today…

Glaring at the liquid as if that would change anything, Beatrice hisses, "This is all your fault in fact."

There was no reason for it to be hidden with such vigor anyway. Subaru tried so hard to hide this. So after she had found the bottles under the bed, she proceeded to search the room out of a morbid curiosity and—

Worry.

Subaru was admittedly pretty good at covering his tracks. She had only found a couple other empty bottles stashed around, but she had no doubt he had disposed of countless others in secret.

She knows Subaru—if he set his eyes on something, he wouldn't stop so easily. He'd keep going and going until he couldn't anymore.

There was a full bottle underneath a hollowed out part of the floorboards as well. Meticulously, impressively hidden, to the point where she wouldn't have noticed it if she wasn't desperately searching through every part of the room.

She's staring at the golden liquid of the potion now, filled to the brim of the glass and topped off with a cork. She can already picture it—Subaru drinking it down countless times, right behind her back, and—

No. No, Betty was pretty sure that she wouldn't have ever seen it if Subaru had not left the room first.

The board was a bit ajar. Barely even noticeable, really. For whatever reason, Subaru had rushed to hide things today as she had never noticed any of the bottles before—clumsy and hasty and too-frantic.

He had wanted to hide it well enough that Beatrice would never find out.

That none of the others would, too.

An uneasy feeling sinks into her stomach.

It hurts. It really does. The fact that he felt it necessary to go to such extreme lengths, the fact that he's hidden this for god knows how long, the fact that he's stopped hiding his self-harm from her after she found out and then she found this. It's… its…

They're supposed to be a team. Contractors. She's his Betty and he's her Subaru—they weren't supposed to hold such secrets to themselves. Or even if they did, if one of them did, they'd trust the other to still go to them whenever they needed help! Not—

"Oh, Subaru." Her shoulders slump, shuddering as she sighs.

Beatrice doesn't even know what the potion's contents were, which is a surprise—she's read every single book in the Forbidden Library a thousand times over when she was still trapped waiting endlessly for that person.

Maybe she would have some luck if she asked someone else. But the idea makes her feel a bit wary—would it be considered betrayal of trust if she did? After all this time, after all the promises she's made to keep quiet just for Subaru's sake, would this be—

No. Betty has to do this, no matter how much dread she feels having to do it in the first place.

Asking for help… that's such a foreign concept to her. She's spent a long, long time begging everyone she's come across inwardly, only to finally let herself accept it in a burning mansion. If Subaru could just—

Beatrice shakes her head. Focus.

Otto sits across the room from her, his face not revealing any of his thoughts as he holds the bottle up to his eye and examines it.

"So you found this random potion and wanted to know what it was?" Otto raises an eyebrow. With a bit of a sheepish smile, he asks, "Why not ask anyone else, Beatrice-sama? Surely Natsuki-san would be happy to help you, or even Ram-san, or—"

"Yes," Betty interrupts, her fingers anxiously fidgeting in her lap. "It's as simple as that. Betty was curious as it is not something she is familiar with, in fact."

Otto hesitates. "Why me, Beatrice-sama?" he questions softly, pressing for information.

Beatrice sighs. "You're the most likely person to know I suppose," she says, watching Otto carefully as his expression changes, ever so slightly—his eyes widen by a fraction as he examines the potion. "Emilia, Garfiel and Betty's Subaru are a bit sheltered. You're a merchant, so surely you'd have a better chance of knowing."

A shrewd smile spreads across his face. "I'd almost say that was a compliment, Beatrice-sama."

"Hmph." Beatrice huffs impatiently. "You misheard in fact." She studies Otto, desperately trying to calm her own nerves. This better not be a waste of time. "I wonder though, is it familiar to you?"

Otto purses his lips. "I… think so," he mumbles, "but I can't quite recall any details. However, I can try to think about it, and I'll tell you if I remember anything." He pauses, staring back at her. He lowers the potion back onto his desk. "You're… quite interested in this."

Beatrice's breath hitches. "It is none of your business, I suppose." So Otto had noticed her nervousness, then. Of course. Otto's always been smarter than he looks.

Otto closes his eyes with his sigh. "I imagine it has to do with Subaru then?"

Beatrice looks away. "Of course it does," she replies quietly. "And Betty would rather have this safe with you, than still with Subaru."

"Alright, Beatrice-sama," he murmurs. Otto stands up, taking the bottle and placing it in a cupboard behind his desk. "I assure you that I'll keep it hidden away as I try to figure out what it is." He tries to give her a reassuring smile. It still doesn't hide his anxiety. "I won't pry, but I do hope that whatever's going on with Subaru is sorted out."

Betty doesn't answer, instead moving to exit the room. But right before she walks out the door, she turns slightly and whispers, "Thank you, Otto."

Otto nods with a small chuckle. "Y-yeah. Of course. I'll see what I can do, promise."

Beatrice smiles back, even as it's slightly strained. Then she turns around again and heads down the hall—

All the way to her and Subaru's room.


Subaru spends the rest of the day in a haze, mostly just going through the motions.

It's easier this way. It's easier this way. He tells himself that over and over until he sounds like a broken record.

So he volunteers to help Ram, who can definitely tell that there's something wrong, but just lets him quietly clean the house with her. Her tone's a bit less clipped then usual, and her words seem to lack the bite they had earlier.

Great. Good job, Subaru. You're worrying them. You need to be better—do better.

After that, he kinda just… drifts, so he makes sure that he's always with someone. Just to take his mind off things, right? Prove that he's still the same and all?

Hell, he even helps Otto with finances, who keeps looking at him with a complicated expression on his face. He tries and fails to hide it through strained smiles and sickly sweet words, but Subaru's not stupid. It's fake. It makes him feel uneasy, but it's probably just that Otto had a bad dream or two.

Everyone seems to be a bit off today because of that. How odd.

He pretends he doesn't notice the way Otto's smile drops whenever he thinks Subaru isn't looking. The way his brow twists in a mix between worry and distress, the way he keeps opening his mouth as if he wants to say something, before closing it again. Subaru wants to scream at Otto to just—stop it. It's stressing him out, but it's also really, really obvious that Otto's also stressed as well, so he bites his tongue and scribbles down useless math equations.

It does nothing to shut up the thoughts in his head threatening to tear him apart.

She knows. She has to, there's no way she doesn't, so why hasn't she tried harder to confront him? At this point, he thinks he'd rather her just do it outright than have that constant knot of dread twisting up his insides.

...Ram, Otto, Emilia, Beatrice, even Garfiel have been worse off lately—all while Subaru's had it so fucking good recently, right? A coincidence… yeah. A coincidence. Sure.

He'd admit it all if he wasn't such an asshole or a coward or—

"Natsuki-san," Otto blurts out, interrupting the awkward silence, "perhaps you should go rest. You... don't look very well, have you been feeling alright?"

Subaru swallows. He forces a smile. "Yeah, I'm feeling just peachy. What's up, Otto?"

Otto pauses, looking a bit strained, before adding on, "You've seemed a bit out of it, has something been on your mind? We're your friends, Natsuki-san… you can talk to us about anything, right?"

The silence falls again for a moment, only emphasized by the crinkling of papers that seems so loud in comparison. Otto nervously glances away to the side, his eyes flickering to some random cupboard behind his desk.

"I…" Subaru trails off, desperately trying to think of an excuse. He should sleep. He really, really should. He needs to. But… Beatrice—he can't avoid her forever. "Yeah, you're right. I just need some rest, is all." He shrugs, acting as if his insides aren't churning with dread. And then he mockingly swoons and announces, "I am very, very tired. Really. Tired. So tired that I'll collapse on my feet here and now and spill ink all over the papers, and then you'll ruin all your work, and you'll have to start over without my help, and—"

Subaru slowly melts over the desk like a lazy, attention-seeking cat.

Otto's face flushes red in mock panic as he shakes at Subaru in a desperate attempt to rouse him. Subaru, being an extremely mature seventeen-year-old, makes astronomically bad impressions of snoring and slumps even further.

"Natsuki-san," Otto says, exasperated and a bit done with Subaru's bullshit, "please remove yourself from the desk before I tell Emilia that you're being problematic."

Instantly, Subaru perks up. "That's so mean, Otto," he whines, like he wasn't just annoying Otto a second ago. "What a low blow."

Otto just gives him a deadpan expression that very much means really? before practically shoving Subaru out the door and into the hallway.

Subaru pretends that he doesn't hear Otto quietly saying, "I hope that you feel better, Natsuki-san. Please don't keep things to yourself like this."

The atmosphere shifts, suddenly going gripping and cold, as if being with Otto had warded it away.

He shivers, hastily walking towards his and Beatrice's room. He can't stop feeling like he's being watched, the sensation clinging onto him oppressively—even as he's so very alone at the same time.

Hurry up and maybe you can avoid it. You'll just go to sleep right away and you'll be out like a light. The sun's already going down anyway. You don't need dinner. That's just all you need—go to bed. Whatever's happening with the others isn't your fault. If it is, then—

"So you finally decided to stop running away, I suppose?"

Melting out from the shadows, Beatrice steps out of seemingly nowhere just to stop him in his tracks. Dull light harshly illuminates her face, which twists into a grimace. Her own bitter words echo in the halls coldly.

Subaru freezes, his body betraying him as he goes rigid. Why is he… so afraid? It's just… her. So what if the halls keep shifting in his vision and the darkness keeps closing in on him?

"Beatrice," is all he can manage to say as his throat locks up.

She stares right through him, but makes no effort to say anything else besides just blocking the hallway. He pushes past her gently, the sound of her footsteps following his sending a chill down his spine until they reach their room.

Beatrice doesn't enter. Instead, she leans in the doorway, watching as he tries to discreetly search for it.

Where is it? One of the… the new ones, the ones he hasn't used yet? He just misplaced it. Lost it for a bit, but he'll get it back again. He has to. He needs it. He needs it so much.

That's all he tells himself, as he shuffles around the room trying to pretend he's doing something else—trying his very best to hide the fact that he's trembling, that he's practically gasping for air.

"Are you looking for something?" A hint of accusation lingers in Beatrice's tone. The words seem distant, familiar, and—

Oh. This is just like a twisted reflection of this morning, isn't it? He's the one trying to evade her now. That confirms it, doesn't it, she knew—or maybe she didn't, hopefully not, but assuming otherwise was just wistful thinking. He's being an idiot again.

But he needs to find it. He needs to.

"Yeah I think I, uh, lost something." Subaru turns to her and forces another smile. Yes. Just act like his words aren't shaky and complete bullshit. "No need for you to stay, it's really, really embarrassing."

Please… leave.

The thought feels strange, almost foreign—and he's hit with the awful realization that this was probably how Beatrice felt earlier. Guilt for even doing this in the first place crashes into him, fully drowning him and pulling him under.

Beatrice stares at him and firmly says, "Betty is fine right here in fact."

There's such a little chance that he could get her to back down and he knows it. He's so screwed.

He gulps down air while his heart pounds wildly in his chest, blood roaring in his ears and drowning out sound. He just wants to crawl in a hole and disappear—to be anywhere but here.

His searching grows more and more frantic and animalistic as he gives up any pretenses of subtlety, savage desperation taking hold of him. His semblance of a calm from before all falls away—every bit of his movements keep being made in haste with less and less regard to making a mess, his shaking hands tossing item after item aside in a frenzy.

Where. Is. It.

"Care to elaborate on what you're looking for?" Beatrice says, looking Subaru dead in the eye. "Perhaps Betty can be of use instead of you making a mess of yourself."

Subaru stops. He whips around quickly, stammering, "It's nothing. I'll—look for it later, I just…" He lets himself slump a bit, putting on a frown on his face. If he plays up exhaustion, she'll let him go, right? She has to. He needs to sleep. He needs to. So what if he can't find it? He'll find it later. Later. "I'm really, really out of it, I swear. Sorry about that, Beako."

"It's nothing you say?" she whispers in agonized disbelief, blinking away tears, before pleading, "Betty is tired of dancing around the subject as you always do, I suppose. Betty wishes that you could just tell her—she won't hurt you at all."

Subaru can't stand to look back at her so—he doesn't. He slowly gets into bed, resting his head on the pillow as his mind spins, and spins, and spins. He looks up at the shadows on the ceiling and murmurs, "I'm just… tired." He smiles ruefully. "We… can talk about this when I wake up, Beako."

Beatrice climbs into bed beside him, leaning against the headrest. She reaches for him, hesitant, before resting her hand on his head. "There's nothing to be afraid of," she says, gently yet firmly. "But please—please promise Betty that you'll tell her. She's… she's afraid of what the bottles mean."

Subaru squeezes his eyes shut. Fall asleep already, Subaru. You're gonna make such a big fucking mess, and sleep is just gonna be a nice little escape for a while. "I'm sorry," he replies, soft, like that'll fix anything. "When I wake up… I promise that I'll explain. Promise."

The grief on Beatrice's face is a familiar, familiar sight. His heart throbs, and he just knows that this won't be the last time he'll see that expression. "Betty… Betty will hold you to that promise," she breathes. "Please rest now, Subaru."

Subaru turns his back on Beatrice, and hopes and hopes and hopes that he'll drift off to sleep quickly. There's a part of him that wants to turn back to her, wants to spill everything about what he's been doing behind their backs, wants to beg for someone to grab his hand and pull him out of this, but—the words just won't come out. All he can think about is—is—

He falls asleep, and as he does, the world falls away with it.

Guess he'll stick to dreaming, then.


Beatrice, too, falls asleep with Subaru. She isn't sure why, really, other than not wanting to leave Subaru alone right now after…

When Beatrice opens her eyes again, the immediate feeling of wrongness washes over her.

This has happened before, hasn't it? Waking up before Subaru, suddenly overwhelmed in the most irrational sense of the word, with worry flooding into her for no apparent reason other than the fact that something, something had to be off.

The sun streams in through the still-closed curtains, high in the sky. Subaru is fast asleep beside her; eyes squeezed shut, his breathing slow and steady and calm. His fingers aren't interlocked with hers this time.

Not for the first time, ever since he's been more well-rested lately.

A part of her—that lonely, hopeless and helpless part of her—misses the feeling of his hands intertwined with her own. She doesn't want him to distance himself from her any more than he already does. She doesn't want him to leave early. She doesn't want to be alone.

Whatever's happening with Subaru lately, they can figure it out together, right?

But that cold feeling always coils around her, holding her in its sickly embrace.

She sighs heavily, sitting up in bed. She rubs away the sleep from her eyes, before furrowing her eyebrows at the sunlight along the ground.

She's… woken up later. Far, far later than usual. Exhaustion still clings to her, every fiber of her being screaming wrong, wrong, wrong, but she doesn't know why at all. The darkness closes in on her, shadowy hands phasing through the walls and reaching for her pounding heart, for her legs, waiting to drag her in, waiting to—

How strange. How… familiar, even.

Outside the door, it's a little too quiet. No noisy shenanigans from Garfiel and his early morning training, no clatter from Ram going around with her maid duties, no idle chatter from Otto and—

The silence creeps in, haunting in the same way staring at that door was. Lonely in the oppressive sense, time ticking away slowly with inch by agonizing inch. Familiar. She can feel it in her core when she's all alone—it's always too quiet.

…why is she thinking about this?

Stop panicking. Stop panicking. Why is she panicking? Betty is above this, isn't she? She's not a scared, lonely child. She's not even a child. All she did was wake up later than usual, so why does this feel like her entire body is on fire? Burning, as if the flames reached so high until the entire mansion was collapsing, until she was back there again, until all he could smell was charred flesh and all he could feel was rabbits nipping at his calv—

No, she was—she saw herself, begging and pleading and sobbing for death, casting magic and protecting—protecting… she was… was

She was—dying—no, she was—

Beatrice takes a deep breath. And then another. And another. Her fingers have ended up in a death grip on her bedsheets, so she loosens them quickly. She glances over at Subaru, and she can't help but feel even more unease—it's irrational. Concerning. Familiar. Subaru's sleeping so peacefully, and the mansion is whole and everyone is alive, so why are these… odd… thoughts coming to mind?

How very strange, in fact.

With another sigh, Betty makes her way out of bed. As dignified as ever, of course. Perhaps if she walks for a bit, maybe eat or drink anything too, then she'll calm down even further.

But there were more important things to attend too first, at the very least. She had to find Otto. She needed to talk to him soon, she really, really needed to before—

A chill runs down Betty's spine. Perhaps she should speak with the others as well? Or would that… be foolish? Whatever happened in her sleep, whatever thoughts she's having—they're slipping through her fingers as smoothly as water. They're foggy, blurred, and already gone from her memory.

Right?

Her hands remain steady as she writes and leaves a note for Subaru. She makes sure to use i-glyphs—just so he'll be able to read it quickly and easily. He'll worry about her suddenly disappearing otherwise.

Hold onto what makes reality worth it for you.

She shakes her head. Where did that come from?

Oh well. It's just a bit of nonsense. She places the note on her pillow beside him. The words are shaky and half-scribbled, a teardrop stain muddling the corner of the paper, reading:

In case you awake without me by your side, I am only downstairs, in fact. Don't worry about Betty. I'm simply engaging in what you call socializing, I suppose.

And no, Betty is not this "ex-hikkomori" you speak of! Do give Betty a head pat when you wake up!

Subaru still doesn't stir. She quickly wipes the tears from her eyes, and she wonders why exactly she's crying. She doesn't feel sad at all, doesn't she? So why...

Perhaps he needs the rest. He's had so many night terrors before, and even more sleepless nights—surely this is all this is. Needing more sleep, just as Betty did. Just without the negative feelings that slammed into her full force, of course. There's no reason for her to be so panicky.

But… truth be told, Betty always hated herself every time she healed his arms or kept silent to respect his privacy.

...privacy. He practically begs her to never tell anyone.

That changed yesterday, didn't it? When she found his potion and empty bottles and handed the liquid over to Otto.

With a chill going down her spine, Beatrice glances back one last time before closing the door behind her. She ignores the way her eyes burn and the way her vision blurs.

The hallway stretches on, reaching even further with the eerie stillness blanketing the entire mansion. Her every step makes a small, dull thud against the carpet, and the shadow she casts along the walls feels so much bigger without anyone else. So big, that perhaps she'll fall in. Maybe after she falls, those familiar shadows will hold her and whisper, I love you I love you I love you I—

Betty finds her arms wrapped around her torso without her say. Shuddering, like a fragile little thing. There's nothing around to see her like this, right? Not even Subaru's here to watch her shivering like a newborn deer. But—Betty is not. Fragile. She absolutely refuses to be.

How very, very strange.

She lowers them with a huff, before turning one corner after another into the kitchen.

The light is even brighter here, streaming through the open window. The sky outside is such a brilliant blue, as well—a stark contrast to the abyss Beatrice faced in her dreams, and the violent red sunset, and the searing snowstorms, and—

"Good afternoon, Beatrice-sama," Ram greets with a small bow. There's dark circles under her red, red eyes, and her maid's uniform is the slightest bit askew—somehow the sight of it makes Betty wince. It makes her heart pound even more too, but—

Betty doesn't have a heart. She's a spirit, a Great Spirit no less, with only streams of technicolor for her insides. She has no heart and never will have one. Why is she—

She forces herself to straighten up, as proper as she should be. She's only trembling ever so slightly as she replies, "Betty is wondering where the others are, in fact. She would like to speak with everyone over breakfast, I suppose."

Ram freezes for a moment. Then she raises her eyebrows, a bit taken aback. "Beatrice-sama," she says carefully. Her gaze shifts to the side before she steps aside in that direction. "Everyone else in the mansion at the moment is already present." As an afterthought, she adds with now furrowed eyebrows, "Except for Barusu, of course. How very strange."

Betty's eyes widen. What? Everyone's here? But Betty didn't see—

A hand lands gently on Betty's shoulder. She flinches. Violently. She whips around to see Emilia, standing there with worry and exhaustion drenched all over her. With her silver hair pulled into messy pigtails, and her own dark circles appearing like bruises on her paler-than-usual skin, she laughs nervously.

"Beatrice." Somehow, Emilia's hoarse voice still sounds like a ringing bell. "We've... all been here this entire time. Ram was the only person you noticed. Are… Are you alright? Are you hurt or anything?"

"I…" The words die in Betty's throat. She pauses, and then tries again, "Betty is not hurt, I suppose."

Emilia hesitantly lifts her hand off of Beatrice's shoulder. She gives Betty a small, reassuring nod.

Betty turns around a second time to see Otto sitting at the kitchen table, his face full of concern and a kind of exhaustion to match Emilia and Ram. Beside him is Garfiel—his chin tucked on his folded arms, his eyes half-lidded with sleepiness, and his head drooping as if he's about to fall unconscious at any moment.

Otto sighs. "So… Natsuki-san is still asleep then? Normally he's up quite early."

"My foolish contractor simply needs some rest, perhaps," Betty replies. She just barely avoids stuttering the words.

Otto brushes a stray hair strand behind his ear—it does nothing to make his bedhead any better. He blinks slowly, his eyes bloodshot, but the look he shares with Beatrice sends a chill down her spine. She knows that all the two of them can think about in regards to Subaru is that golden, murky, ichor-like liquid. "All of you should sit down, in fact. You all seem as if you're about to keel over and die at any moment."

Drowsily, Garfiel mumbles, "W-What… Brotto said."

Ram sits down beside Garfiel with a huff. "In actuality, I am far too glorious to die." She quickly glances at Garfiel with the barest hint of surprised concern. "Be more concerned about Emilia-sama, Beatrice-sama, and Garf. In particular, Garf is already sleeping like the baby he is."

Garfiel grumbles into his arms. "Why ya always gotta be so mean to me, Ram? I really wish Capt'n was here to see this."

"Hmph." Ram hides her slight pity with a little snort. "Honesty is a virtue, and I am quite virtuous, if I do say so myself."

Following Ram, Emilia takes the chair opposite from her with a small chuckle. "That's reaaally kind of you, Ram, but I assure you that I'll be fine, at least." She turns to Beatrice. Hesitantly, she says, "You… said that there was something you wanted to tell us, correct?"

Otto perks up. "Emilia-sama is correct, yes," Ram adds. "What is it, Beatrice-sama?"

Beatrice gives a silent nod of thanks to Ram before opening her mouth to speak. The words won't come—why won't they come at all? Why… Why is this so hard?

Betty shakes her head. How idiotic of her to stay frozen in place like this. Frozen—like being trapped in a raging snowstorm, cold spreading throughout her entire body, cracks forming where—

She sits down beside Emilia, straightens out her dress, and replies, "The dreams we discussed the other day. They've… become worse, I suppose."

"Damn right they have," Garfiel mumbles, still half-asleep. "Barely… got a wink last night… n' Capt'n's still th'one who's sleepin' like a baby right now."

Emilia's eyes widen ever so slightly. "Garfiel, I'm sooo sorry—you weren't there when we discussed it. You've been affected by this as well?"

Garfiel opens his mouth to speak, but Ram beats him: "Don't be envious of someone like Barusu, Garf." She folds her arms. Her hands clench at her sleeves as she glares down at the table. "With all due respect… everyone here has a rather unsightly appearance for that same reason."

Otto startles violently. Garfiel jumps at the noise Otto makes, the latter weakly saying, "P-Perhaps we should stop dancing around the subject, I suppose. What else could it be other than the horrible nightmares?"

"Yes," Ram deadpans, dripping in sarcasm. "I do wonder what else it could possibly be." She sighs, suddenly letting go of all the harshness in her voice. Then, hoarsely, she says, "Unlike last time, it seems that Ram has… remembered more of the dream. Is this the same for everyone else?"

Emilia fiddles with her hands under the table. "I've had nightmares before, of course," she admits. "However… I've realized that these ones weren't… right... at all. It was as if I wasn't supposed to be there, as if… as if I really wasn't me."

All he could smell was burnt flesh and ash and fresh blood.

Silence falls over them abruptly, heavy and thick.

Betty shivers. Garfiel grits his teeth, just barely holding back tears. Ram looks away, clearly disturbed, judging from her contorted expression. Otto collapses in on himself, murmuring, "If you can… perhaps talking about what you've dreamt would help us figure this out together." He glances over at Betty. "…Beatrice-sama? Do you… happen to know anything about this?"

"No, I suppose," Beatrice confesses. She's barely audible, forcing her words out like the sting of it will hurt less. She has the weight of so, so many years behind her, and the knowledge and the slight craving for it from her own mother, but—she doesn't know this, like she doesn't know that stupid potion, and she absolutely hates it. "The dream itself was… fragmented, in fact. It is not something Betty has seen before, even. Even if the dream was more understandable, it would still hardly make any sense. It's…"

"Incomprehensible," Emilia says quietly, "yet familiar."

Familiar… familiar

The memory comes to Betty suddenly—there was ash, and smoke, and biting cold and biting teeth at her ankles. There were hands, intertwined with her own, picking her up and dragging her along even as she protested, and then—grasping her desperately, gasping and screaming as streams of technicolor and life drifted away into the dark sky. There were hands too, glowing and pointed directly at her, as she woke up surrounded by familiar stone walls and familiar crushing snow.

Hands that pushed her away from a blade, hands that teleported her to a madman deadset on the dead girl she cradled to her chest, hands that yanked a gospel away from her own and—

Garfiel hides his face in his arms, shuddering and trembling—a far cry from the usual bold child he is. Taking a shaky breath, Otto answers, "The sheer incoherency of the dreams—it split apart our minds, did it not?" He presses his lips together, as if the words just couldn't come out without a struggle. He breathes, "This feels… familiar to me. I believe I've heard of a phenomenon like this before—but even then… the dreams itself were…"

"That cannot be true," Ram insists through her teeth. "Not a single thing in those dreams could have possibly happened."

Garfiel growls in frustration into his hands. He drags his fingers down his face, already flickering from his normal hands to razor sharp claws, and he snaps, "Yer gotta be kiddin' me. Y'ain't sayin' those're real, are ya?" He turns to Otto frantically, his chest heaving desperately for air. "Brotto, tell us that 's jus' a joke. Please."

Otto can't meet Garfiel's gaze. "In my dream, I was racing through the White Whale's mist alongside… someone else," he whispers. "I couldn't stop myself from running my mouth—there was something, someone that I was forgetting, even as my mind kept being clouded. Staticky, as Natsuki-san would say. The person driving the carriage clearly thought I was just raving mad. That I'd doom us both. The Whale kept getting closer and closer, and it sounded so… terrible. The driver couldn't handle its sounds any longer, and…"

Where'sRem? What happened to Rem?!

Who's

Die! Take responsibility! Die so that I can live!

"He pushed you off, Emilia finishes. "He pushed you off, but he sent his ground dragon after you soon afterwards. Then he… later died to the… the witch cult." Her eyes blown wide with a horror that only intensifies as she realizes that— "I…" She swallows. "I don't know how I knew that."

I don't… wanna die… I-I don'twanna die

Otto's shoulders are trembling. "I don't know how I know that that truly happened, either." His eyes finally glance back at Garfiel, terrified and apologetic in equal measure. "I don't want to feel that way, Garfiel, but… it's not something that we can deal with by running away." Otto laughs a bit, nervously. Barely audible, he adds, "I'm sure Natsuki-san can understand."

The golden liquid. Subaru's improving sleep, while the rest of them worsened until this extent. Subaru—Subaru still hasn't woken, and—Beatrice stammers, "Th-the dreams, in fact." Ram and Garfiel both visibly tense up. "They're connected—we're connected, I suppose."

"Even if they are," Ram hisses, the dark circles on her face even more pronounced with the light behind her, "I refuse to believe that those nightmarish dreams truly happened." Her voice cracks. "I would never even try to kill Barusu, and I have never witnessed any of those deaths. Including—the girl that is Ram's sister."

If you know something… you… y-you have to tell me! Help me!

Help Rem!

Live.

I'm going to kill you!

They're… allthey're all dea

Beatrice needs to leave. She needs to. And that need grabs hold of her and just won't let go.

All of this—the dreams and nightmares and memories—points directly to—

I'm going to save you!

P… Petelgeuse! Diedie, die, die—

Emilia bites down on her lip, her hands fidgeting with her messy hair nervously. A horrible realization dawns on her, writing itself all over her exhausted face. "They have not happened, no," she says, slow, "and yet… they're far too familiar otherwise." She tries to weakly, reassuringly smile at Ram. "I… I think that it's likely that these events could happen, but… they never have. Perhaps they never will. I—my third trial at the Sanctuary was similar, but with voices, mainly, instead."

"Emilia-sama," Otto says, quietly. "I—"

A loud bang echoes throughout the room. Even Ram flinches, wincing at the noise as Garfiel growls again, moving his closed, shaking fist away from the table he just punched. "Don't be stupid," he snarls. "Yer yankin' on m'leg here, ain't ya? 'S obvious that we weren't dreamin' as ourselves. Who d'ya think is conveniently missin' from the dreams? Who d'ya think ain't even here at breakfast?" Panting, gasping, the anger and frustration fades away until only the hopelessness and fear is left. "What's… what's happen'd to Capt'n? Where… where is he?"

Otto stands up, abruptly, whipping around quick to stare at Betty. She scrambles to her feet to join him. "Beatrice-sama," he gasps. "The potion."

Ram grits her teeth. "What is this potion you speak of? What has Barusu been up to this time?"

Subaru. Subaru.

"Whatever's happen'd, it ain't Capt'n's fault," Garfiel snaps. He stands up too, looming over Ram's smaller, weaker form with his sharp claws. "'S can't be!"

Ram leans forward, her breathing labored. "I am not blaming Barusu. I am simply stating that he may have more to do with this than we think, and if that is the case, perhaps he holds the answers to this entire situation. You know full well as I do that it is typical of Barusu to be the damsel in distress regardless. I would not do such a thing as horrid as this to Barusu, Garf."

No, there isn't the time for this. Beatrice has to leave. She has to check up on Subaru and—

"—we can't go 'round the fuckin' subject like this, aight?!" Garfiel roars, tears shining bright in his eyes. "We watch'd ourselves—d-die there! In our dreams! Don't ya see?!"

Finally…

No… don'tyou can't die on me!

Die where Betty can't

You should've just let me die! Now we could be stuck with a horrible future because of you! Why the fuck did you

"Garfiel!" Otto cries out, grabbing hold of one of Garfiel's wrists. Immediately, Garfiel relaxes, a tear slipping down his face. "We don't—we don't have the time right now. It's going to be alright, okay? But we can't—we can't dwell on it too much right now because this is dangerous. The potion, it's…"

Ram staggers to her feet, stepping in between Otto and Garfiel. Otto lets go of Garfiel's wrist as she says, wide-eyed and vulnerable for the first time in a while, "Explain this instant. Ram needs an answer. What's happening to Barusu? What. Is. This. Potion?"

Otto falters, hanging his head hopelessly. "I… I…"

Emilia moves forward to gently place a hand on Ram's shoulder, pulling her back away from Otto and Garfiel. Shaking with her own fear, Emilia says, "Beatrice. Otto. Garfiel. Ram—we need to stick together in order to find a solution. We—we cannot split apart, and we can't afford to, when—"

"Betty needs to see her contractor right now," Beatrice says, her voice shaking. She turns to face Emilia, before looking directly at the others one by one. "Now. Betty has had a bad feeling about this ever since she woke up, and she needs to see him right now."

Garfiel's hands curl into fists while Ram wears a scowl on her face. Otto grimaces as Emilia nods quickly and replies, "Go, Beatrice. We'll—wait for you here then."

"The potion is still safe with me," Otto adds, hasty. Sweat beads on his brow as the others turn towards his direction, their questioning gazes burning into him. "Go check Natsuki-san, Beatrice-sama."

Betty freezes for a moment, before turning back around and staggering at first, limping along with scrambling and shaky limbs until she breaks out into a run—she has to hurry. She has to—otherwise, she—she doesn't know what she'd do.

Be Betty's number one! Be that person!

If you can't do that, then at the very least, you should kill Betty, in fact!

Why do you care about that book so much?! What, did it tell you that all of this would happen?! Is that why

All of that meant nothing to you?!

...die where Betty can't see you.

Why is this happening now? She doesn't understand, she doesn't—

The door opens with a loud creak. Practically shaking, her legs wobbling, she rushes over to Subaru—

The note she left for him is gone. It's—it's gone.

Her breathing quickens. Her hands shake at Subaru of her own accord.

"Subaru!" Beatrice cries out. His expression tightens ever so slightly, just for a second. She keeps shaking him, gradually growing more and more rough. Subaru has always been a light sleeper, and before this he'd been waking up early and well-rested, so—why? Why now? Why— "Subaru, wake up, in fact! Why won't you wake up?"

Subaru doesn't stir. It's—it's like he's dead, with the way he's unmoving and—

Betty heaves for breath. That's—that can't be, so stop panicking. His promise to die peacefully at the end of a long, happy life with her by his side still stands.

She grasps for his arm and clenches it tightly.

Like a life-line, the pulse is faint, so faint she almost hadn't felt it, like feeling a drum beat from far away. It's slow too, way slower than it ever should be.

Tears drip down her face, and she isn't sure if it's out of panic or relief. He's alive. Of course he's alive. Betty's Subaru wouldn't just leave her like that, this is all just so much.

Quietly, she goes through every single healing spell she knows, murmuring out the words like a mantra.

Ceaseless words spill out of her mouth until nothing is left. There's no response, no change, absolutely nothing.

Her arms fall slack to her side in disbelieving defeat.

Numbness starts to creep up upon her. She climbs out of bed, and she brushes off her dress, and she announces, only a tiny bit shaky, "Something... is wrong, I suppose. Betty promises she will be back for you in just a moment."

Subaru doesn't answer. He almost never looks peaceful in his sleep, but now, he really does seem as if he's sleeping peacefully.

So peacefully in fact, that it looks like he could sleep for eternity—just like the blue-haired girl that he cares for so deeply.

Rem.

Who's Rem?

...from zero!

Live.

Boldly encroaching on a place in which me and my sister belong, all while reeking of the stench of the witch

I believe in you, Subaru-kun.

It's a horrible image that springs to mind as she runs through the hallway—the idea that the two would be forever frozen in time, that their eyes would never open, and that Betty and the others would have to place Subaru beside Rem—

Never to wake again, their intertwined lives ending together, as they must have wanted.

No, that's—stop being irrational. It doesn't feel real, it feels like a dream, it has to be a dream.

Betty forces herself out of her daze. She has a job to do, and that's gathering the rest of the Emilia camp to wake up their dear Subaru. Betty can't—can't be taken over by panic now. That won't help her, won't help the rest of the camp, won't help Subaru.

The light in the kitchen shines so bright that she has to squeeze her eyes shut—especially when she's met with concerned stares from every angle.

Don't worry about Betty, worry about him.

Lifting a trembling hand to shield her eyes, hoping that no one will mention how she can barely stand upright or the fact that there's dried tear stains on her face, she announces shakily—

"Subaru will not wake up, and Betty suspects that he is comatose, in fact."

Thanks for reading! This ended up turning into an elaborate essay on why you shouldn't do drugs somehow but we are very proud of this fic even if it kept beating us over the head with our own kneecaps. Next chapter should be coming out soon we hope you are excited.