The string that held the ragged charm was peeking from his nape, in the middle of his swaying blond hair.
The moment Ruth saw him, he got goosebumps and an uneasy feeling swelled up inside him.
“Maxim, could you please excuse me for a bit!?”
“Ah, of course.”
The moment Maxim released his hand, Ruth ran towards the collapsed Alec in a hurry. After seeing him up close and checking how he breathed and moved, Ruth’s suspicions were confirmed.
(It’s Alec. It’s really him!)
It was difficult recognizing him due to his change in attire, but there was no doubt that this was the real one. Although questions like “How did he appear out of nowhere?” and “Why did he show up here?” kept popping out in Ruth's mind, his main priority was figuring out why Alec had just collapsed.
He brushed away the now slightly longer hair sticking to Alec’s forehead and took a good look at his childhood friend’s face. When he realized that Alec’s face had lost all color, Ruth felt a chill down his back.
“What happened to you, Alec?! Why are you so pale?”
He turned Alec’s body and helped him sit up. After shaking his body a couple of times, those beautiful green eyes that Ruth was so accustomed to seeing slowly opened. Even though Ruth has seen them time and time again, a wave of emotions came crashing down when he watched those kind eyes.
“It’s me, Alec, it’s me! Wake up!”
After seeing Alec’s vacant expression, Ruth couldn’t help but grab onto Alec’s hand and lightly pat his still pale face. Then, before he knew it, the look on Alec’s face turned into joy.
“Ahh, are you kidding me…?! That was the real thing, you old geezer…!”
“Ruth…Ruth! I’ve missed you.”
“Huh? Wait, A-Alec?”
Despite Alec’s current state, he still managed to sit up and give Ruth a strong embrace.
Although it was a bit uncomfortable being hugged while most of Alec’s body was still resting on Ruth’s knees, Ruth couldn’t bring himself to tell Alec to let go after hearing how happy he sounded. He gently hugged Alec back.
“Alec, what on earth happened? You look terrible.”
“Huh? Oh, this is nothing, I’ll be fine. More importantly, what about you...”
“Me? You don’t need to worry about me, you’re the one who’s still out of breath and you’re freezing too, are you sure you’re alright?”
“I’m fine, I swear. I heard from that old geezer...that you were badly injured...and I couldn't just stand around after that…you’re okay, right?”
“You idiot…enough about me, worry about yourself first, Alec."
Ruth’s chest began to hurt at the sight of Alec gasping for breath as he worried over Ruth’s well-being. Somehow Alec had caught wind of the news about Ruth’s injury and without being concerned over his own well-being, his thoughts were entirely focused on Ruth. It was somewhat frustrating.
(Even Alec isn’t invincible after all …)
Ruth knew that Alec’s physical and magical capabilities are far better than his, but Alec is only human. He has his limits and experiences exhaustion like anyone else. This is why even when Alec insisted that he was fine with that sort of complexion, only anxiety filled Ruth’s mind. It was impossible for him to just let it go.
Ruth called out to Alec in a pitiful sounding voice. When he did so, Alec raised his head from Ruth’s chest to take a look.
“What’s wrong? You look like you’re about to burst into tears, Ruth”
Alec caressed Ruth’s cheek with his hand. The warmth from his hand made Ruth feel like all the emotions welling up inside of him were about to suffocate him. He didn’t know what these feelings were, but he knew that he only felt this way towards Alec.
Alec began to sit up and rubbed his forehead against Ruth’s, almost as to comfort him, and Ruth did the same.
“Thank god you’re safe.”
“I should be the one saying that…”
Ruth didn’t want to make it seem as if he didn’t believe in Alec so he chose not to bring up all his fears and unease, but to be truthful, there was not a single day where Ruth didn’t worry about him. Due to the memories of his past life, he imagined how dangerous and difficult the hero's journey would be. However, Alec wasn’t some sort of game protagonist that would revive after a game over. If he died then Ruth would never be able to see him again.
(I’m so glad I can see you again.)
Ruth hugged Alec and from behind them came a muffled thump.
Surprised by the sound, both of them quickly turned around towards the source of it—
(Oh right, Maxim was still here…)
With Alec’s sudden appearance in such critical shape, Ruth had completely forgotten that he was just talking to Maxim earlier.
Although Maxim’s body was still facing Ruth, his shoulders were slumped and his head was lowered which made it difficult to tell what sort of expression he had on his face. On the ground next to his hand was the extravagantly decorative large knife he wanted to give to Ruth from before.
(What was he going to use it for?)
When that thought popped into Ruth’s head, Alec’s arm suddenly tightened his hold around him.
“...You’re Maxim Calafanti, the Captain of the Royal Knights…?”
Alec’s tone of voice changed. His heavy breathing evened out and his voice became frigid low. Their entire surroundings had become freezing cold in a matter of seconds, as though it was responding to Alec's emotions.
Maxim raised his head when he felt that chill and his once reddened face from the alcohol had sobered up. In fact, his complexion had turned completely pale. He then stiffened up as if there was a knife to his throat.
“Indeed...I am the Maxim Calafanti you met before.”
“Why...are you here...”
“Why are you in his room…”
Alec’s embrace around Ruth grew stronger. His face was resting on the other side of Ruth’s shoulder which drew both of their bodies even closer together. However, this was not the time to get embarrassed.
“Why are you in Ruth’s room in the middle of the night...and all alone with him...YOU BASTARD, WHAT WERE YOU TRYING TO DO TO RUTH…!”
Alec let out a growl and something suffocating began to permeate through the room. It was similar to the pressure Ruth felt when he stood against the baal. Although Ruth wasn’t the target of it this time, being in the same space of it was enough to send shivers down his spine.
“Gah...Sir Alec...Sir Ruth and I…”
“You and Ruth were doing what?”
Maxim’s face twisted in pain as he tried to speak, but the more he talked, the more he seemed to be running out of air. Maxim held his chest and groaned, he looked like he was in far more pain than Ruth.
Judging by the situation, Alec was unleashing his anger onto Maxim. Regardless of the reason, Ruth knew that it would be dangerous if things continued like this.
“Alec, you idiot, stop that right now. What are you getting all mad about, calm down.”
“Well, Maxim has been the one helping with the village’s demon hunt.”
Despite being in the comfort of the Royal Capital, he went out of his way to come to this remote village to keep the promise he made with Alec. Let alone showing his gratitude, Alec shouldn’t even have gotten angry at him.