“Nee-sama, nee-sama. Please listen to this. Today, Subaru-kun was able to get out of bed.”
“Nee-sama, nee-sama. I’ve promised to cut Subaru-kun’s hair. What kind of haircut do you think would look good on him? He looks wonderful no matter what, but……”
“Ah, hmm, yes.”
“Nee-sama, nee-sama. Just now, Subaru-kun was able to go to the bathroom by himself. Please compliment him!”
“It’s simply incomprehensible.”
Sitting and holding her head in her hands, Ram let out a sigh with a weary expression on her face.
Day by day, her usual routine was one taking care of trifling odd jobs while following her younger sister around as she handled the heavy work. However, her drive had now withered to the point where even those odd jobs were bothersome.
“That, too, is entirely Barusu’s fault.”
“What kind of baseless rumors are you making up about me on my first day back on the job? More importantly, how bold do you have to be to let me do all the work when I’m just recovering my health!?”
Where Ram’s gaze lingered woefully, Subaru wiped a shelf with a rag held in one hand, and howled.
Currently, Subaru and Ram were together in one of the guest rooms in the Roswaal manor’s east wing. Visitors to the mansion were rare, but cleaning the guest rooms and maintaining the furnishings was nonetheless a required daily labor.
On this day, the two of them were seeing to the airing out of one of those guest rooms. As a work assignment, It was almost too light, but it was necessary to let Subaru get used to it gradually after returning from medical treatment.
There was no way for Subaru to know that Rem had spent her entire saved-up salary on the brand-new butler uniform he was wearing on his return to work.
His lack of awareness of that fact became yet another seed of dissatisfaction to Ram.
“It’s likely pointless to expect that sort of thing from Barusu, though. Honestly, what does Rem see in a man like this? It hurts to think about it.”
“Won’t you please quit muttering to yourself and lend a hand, senpai? I’m doin’ the best I can here!”
“You likely returned to work early to put a stop to Rem’s worries. If you really have that sort of resolve, then you shouldn’t be whining no matter what kind of difficulties you encounter. ……It’s not manly at all.”
“Neither my resolve nor my manliness are excuses for you to be slacking off on the job!”
Subaru was going on about something or other, but Ram covered her ears and pretended not to hear. Having said that, it was obvious to see that while Subaru was making a fuss, he was moving stiffly and being cautious about spots here and there on his body.
Roughly a week since the mabeast commotion – thanks to Rem’s devoted nursing, and the healing spells that Beatrice regularly cast on him due to some whim, he was in more or less perfect condition.
It’s just that, that was speaking of nothing more than surface appearances. Ram, who had heard Roswaal and Beatrice’s assessments, knew how serious the remaining injuries on the inside were.
And despite that, how infuriating was the sight of him refusing to let the pain show on his face. Did he think that Rem would feel responsible if he kept on staying in bed?
In truth, that was correct if one considered Rem’s feelings. Ram’s cute little sister was clumsy with her own heart, and pushed herself to the breaking point shouldering this burden and that. She was a worrier down to her very core.
“So, although it’s true that Ram had hoped that someone would bring that under control…”
“Your face is dull. You get ahead of yourself easily. You have no learning or strength worth mentioning, and not only are you penniless, you’re reckless…… Finding someone who brings together so many unfortunate attributes is actually fairly difficult, indeed.”
“Just so you know, even I can tell that you’re making fun of me, y’know?”
For him not to express anger at that point made her think that he lacked spirit as a man. Truthfully, it was exactly because she was aware of this that she was willing to speak so impolitely.
Having thought that far, Ram was suddenly stunned.
…The way that thought just now made it seem as if she was depending on Subaru’s good nature was quite disagreeable, wasn’t it?
Standing up without allowing her irritation to show on her face, Ram casually ran a finger along the edge of the room’s window frame. Seeing that there was white dust on her fingertip, Ram turned back to Subaru.
“Barusu, what’s this?”
“You’re supposed to be taking care of that part, you know!?”
She’d intended to point out poor results in his cleaning, but Ram was miffed to have her own deficiency pointed out instead. Her already-scarce drive to work diminished further, and Ram wanted to go lie down in her room soon.
“But really, you’re even more listless than usual. I’m just guessing, but are you actually not feeling well?”
Resting his weight lightly on the table, Subaru said that while gazing in her direction.
At his glance and question, Ram drew her eyebrows together in displeasure.
His worry was off the mark. It was true that in the last few days, she’d exceeded her limits in utilizing mana due to the mabeast commotion, and her gate’s condition wasn’t good. As part of settling matters afterwards, she’d travelled between the mansion and the village time after time, and she’d been tasked with a daily survey of the boundary in the forest to ensure there were no failings in it. As well, her nights were spent assisting Roswaal, who was as busy as ever, by handling paperwork in his place, and this morning, too, she’d slept little more than an hour.
Her body felt heavy, it was difficult to think, and just keeping her eyes open was tiring. Her limbs moved sluggishly as though filled with lead, and, perhaps due to her poor circulation, her entire body seemed to be creaking.
“But, that’s entirely normal.”
“I’m not sure what that ‘but’ is talking about; just don’t push yourself, alright?”
As she rubbed between her eyes after realizing how heavy they were, Subaru walked right next to her and, with a ‘Let me see’, placed his palm against Ram’s forehead. Ram stiffened as she realized her carelessness.
“Fever……doesn’t seem quite right, maybe just a mild fever? If you’ve gotten worn down, it wouldn’t hurt to take a break just for today….owowow!”
“Who gave… you permission to… go ahead and touch Ram? One really can’t let down their guard around you. Filthy.”
Pinching the back of the hand that had touched her forehead, Ram sniffed dismissively as she made Subaru cry out. Rubbing his hand as he jumped back, Subaru glared at Ram as he went teary-eyed.
“You little… I’m trying to show some concern here, you could be nicer about it.”
“Ram doesn’t need your sympathy. More to the point, how can you be concerned about Ram’s problems on top of everything else? If you’ve got time to worry about her, worry more about Rem……”
While saying that, Ram moved away from the side of the resentful-looking Subaru. Continuing like that, as she went to move on to cleaning the next guest room…
Whether the hoarse, quiet voice belonged to Subaru or Ram, she couldn’t tell.
Only that, immediately after the soles of her feet lost sight of the feeling of carpet, her vision went dark like a curtain coming down with a whoosh, and her body could no longer support the heaviness of her head.
(click here for the illustration)
…When she awoke from a sleep so deep that she saw no dreams, she was met by the sensation of a cold cloth on her forehead.
“……This is… Ram’s… room?”
She slowly pushed her eyes open, and when her fuzzy vision cleared she was greeted by a view of a familiar private room.
It was a simple, undecorated and dreary bedroom. Only the pink curtains, along with the sheets and thick blanket on the bed, brought flowery colors to the room, to match it to Rem’s tastes.
Aside from that, leaving one with utterly no sense of her self was what made it the room of the girl known as Ram.
“Oh, you’re finally awake, are ya? Honestly, you really had me freaking out there, c’mon.”
When she raised her upper body on the bed, and turned her head to the side, Subaru appeared holding a pottery bowl filled with water. Looking over her memories of just before losing consciousness, and her current condition, Ram understood.
“Barusu, you pervert……”
“That’s the first thing you say after suddenly collapsing!?”
“Ram’s clothing has been changed. The sweat has been cleaned from her back as well; how meticulously you must have licked all over her body. Filthy.”
“You think up some really scary stuff, y’know!? It was Emilia-tan that changed your clothes and wiped the sweat off! There’s no way I could do that, and licking? What do you think I am, some kind of boogeyman!?”
From Subaru’s explanation as he claimed false accusations, it seemed that immediately after she’d gone unconscious in the guest room, Subaru had made sure it was nothing serious, and called for help right away. As Rem was away from the mansion for shopping, he’d called Emilia, and asked her to take care of Ram.
“Is that so. It’s not that you caused trouble for Emilia-sama without any thought at all, then.”
“No matter how much I’ll jump at any chance to have contact with Emilia-tan, when it’s time to do what matters, I’ll do it. So, how are you feeling, actually?”
“The first face Ram saw after waking up was so evil-looking, it really soured her mood.”
“Tell me about your health! I don’t care about your mood!”
“Don’t shout at a sick person. You really are a boy incapable of consideration for others, aren’t you.”
As Subaru ground his teeth in chagrin, Ram let slip several weighty sighs.
…The truth behind that was that she was berating herself for what she honestly felt were her own blunders.
That she showed weakness to Subaru, and, through her own carelessness, mistreated a part of Rem’s feelings that she should have taken consideration of. That she felt just a little serenity, too.
“Well, if you can run your mouth the same as always, then you’re probably fine. Here, have some water. Emilia-tan said it was probably overwork, too, so you’ll get better if you just take it easy for a while.”
Not noticing Ram’s internal conflict, Subaru offered her a pitcher of water. Taking it, Ram sipped at it to moisten her throat. At her side, Subaru retrieved the damp towel that had fallen from her forehead, and wet it again in the room’s washbasin.
Given that it was Subaru, taking that kind of care was quite out of character.
She had been thirstier than she’d thought, and after draining the pitcher, Ram slowly lay down on the bed. Right away, Subaru placed the damp towel on her forehead; it felt nice.
“That’s unusually thoughtful of you, Barusu.”
“Heheh, I’m so glad to meet your approval, nee-sama.”
Speaking flippantly, Subaru dragged a chair to the side of the bed and plopped down on it. Facing the opposite of the usual direction, he sat with the backrest hugged into his stomach.
Ram frowned as his attitude suggested that instead of returning to work, he was thinking of staying to tend to her.
“If it’s just a matter of sleeping, even Barusu could do it. Anything Barusu can do, Ram can do as well.”
“Your repertoire of abuse never runs dry. …Don’t worry about it. By now, there’s no way I’d get today’s jobs done anyway, so I’ll just watch until you go to sleep. Want me to hold your hand?”
“Please don’t say such creepy things. The thought of you watching me sleep gives me chills.”
“Hmf, is that so.”
Subaru frowned, and looked like he was pouting. Wondering if he was that upset simply because he’d been unable to hold her hand, Ram’s gaze towards him became increasingly stern.
It was just that, a situation where she was lying in bed like this, and someone was watching over her at her side was…
“This reminds me a little of long ago.”
“When you say long ago, Ram, you mean that you’ve experienced being tended like this? From how steady you normally are, it’s tough to imagine you being frail.”
“…Shortly after Ram lost her horn, it was common for her to fall ill like this. It was also partly due to being unable to control mana properly, and it ended up placing a burden on Rem.”
Perhaps because he’d intended to tease her, Subaru’s face fell when he realized the topic was her horn. Mildly pleased that she’d put Subaru to silence, Ram smiled faintly.
…Nine years ago, just after Ram (having lost her horn) had been taken in by Roswaal, the total amount of mana she was able to manipulate inside her body was vastly reduced, and her body, unable to withstand the alteration, fell ill many times. Each time, Rem cared for her at her bedside.
She’d overdone it for the first time in a long while. The bill for that was falling into the same sort of condition that she had back then. Perhaps the reason she couldn’t laugh at it at all was because the one caring for her was no longer her little sister.
Back then, while caring for Ram when she’d fallen ill, Rem would often hold her hand.
On nights when it seemed like Rem would be crushed by needless guilt, of course Ram held her hand as well.
Perhaps it was because, thanks to Subaru’s banter, she was able to remember that sort of thing.
Assaulted by a sudden sleepiness, Ram was on the edge of losing her hold on consciousness, unable to endure the weight of her eyelids.
Just before that, she spoke unexpectedly, her voice calling out to the boy beside her…
What she had said at the end, she wasn’t sure.
Still unsure, Ram once again submerged into a deep, deep sleep.
“…Nee-sama is sleeping soundly, then?”
“Mhmm, like a log. I guess it’s impressive that she kept up the verbal abuse right until she went to sleep.”
As he looked down at Ram’s sleeping face, Subaru responded to Rem (who had returned from shopping) with a wry smile. Insistently proving that the body and heart are separate things, Ram remained herself, even if weakend.
Removing her gaze from Subaru’s pained smile, Rem’s eyes went wide with a ‘Hmm?’.
“Subaru-kun, are you holding nee-sama’s hand for her?”
“Right at the very end, she went and called out to me with a really forlorn look on her face. Maybe not forlorn, it was more of a…..dunno, it’s hard to put into words.”
Subaru thought to himself about what was meant by the emotion Ram showed at the end, and her thin, soft voice. But, Rem shook her head at Subaru’s troubled thoughts.
“Rem is sure it could only mean that nee-sama has finally accepted Subaru-kun. There’s a part of nee-sama that’s just a tiny bit more suited to being aloof than most people, after all.”
“You could take that different ways, but basically you’re saying she’s a bit difficult to handle, then.”
“No, that’s not true at all. The part of her that’s just a little bit stubborn is precious, that’s all.”
“When I hear you say that, it really does feel like you two are sisters……”
Holding a strong belief in her heart, and being unwilling to let others sway her from it. When Subaru responded with that nuance, Rem tilted her head with a “Is that so?”, seemingly unaware of his meaning.
Subaru’s wry smile deepened at her reaction, then he looked down at his own hands. His right hand was, even now, still grasped in Ram’s palm as she lay on the bed.
Seeing her face as she slumbered, Subaru let out a little sigh.
“You’d be cute, too, nee-sama, if only you could always look as gentle as this.”
That was his appraisal of Ram with a peaceful look on her sleeping face.