23 - Seed of Suspicion

They revised the conversation before it was changed.

After Godou went home and Kiyoka returned to the living room after his bath, he noticed this abnormality.

The interior of the house was awfully quiet.
Miyo should be inside, but there was absolute silence. Did she finish cleaning up?
The lights in the kitchen were off, and there was no sight of any fire.

Then, was Miyo in the living room? Or, her own room? No, he didn’t sense anyone when he walked past her room just now.

He frowned as he approached the living room. And, then, Kiyoka’s ears picked up these broken words.

“…op, …ya. St…er, pl…se…top.”

It was Miyo’s voice. However, rather than having a conversation, it seemed that she was incoherently muttering.

(What…?)

When he hurriedly opened the sliding doors, he saw Miyo lying asleep on the table pushed to the corner of the room.
There was no doubt that she must have been exhausted and fell asleep on the spot. That part wasn’t strange.

Rather, he sensed the faint remnants of a supernatural ability being used from somewhere.

As someone who was constantly accompanied by the supernatural, Kiyoka knew.

(This…wasn’t my imagination.)

It was impossible for someone to have visited while Kiyoka was soaking in his hot water bath. If so, he would’ve noticed immediately. Godou didn’t use his power during the banquet. Neither did Kiyoka himself.
This was weird.
Did some nonexistent person who was skillful enough to avoid Kiyoka’s detection use their power here? Was such a thing even possible? Or, perhaps…

He only pondered for a moment as his attention was immediately directed to the sleeping Miyo.

“…top, ple…se.”

The words coming out of her mouth were a plea.
When he drew closer to her, he saw that her face was wet with tears. Her eyes were closed, but she was having a nightmare with a pained expression.
He wouldn’t forcibly wake up her if she was peacefully sleeping, but there was no way he could leave her like this if she was suffering this much.

Kiyoka put his hand on her shoulder and lightly shook her.

“Hey… Miyo, hey, wake up.”
“…ya, pl…se.”

Even though he called out to her, she continued to be tormented by her nightmare.

“Hey!”

He couldn’t help it and called out stronger.
When he did, the incoherent muttering that so squeezed his chest stopped, and Miyo opened her eyes in a daze.

“…Hn.”
“Get a hold of yourself. …You alright?”
“Hu…uh… Hus…band?”

In any case, there didn’t seem to be anything wrong, and he let out a sigh of relief.
But, he couldn’t let down his guard as long as the remnants of this unidentified power remained.

“That’s right. You looked like you were having quite a nightmare. How are you feeling?”
“Eh? Um…”

Miyo raised her upper body though still not fully awake as she tilted her head, unable to understand the situation.
The streaks of tears on her face were pitiful that he reflexively narrowed his eyes.

“Did you have a bad dream or something?”
“A dream…”

One pause later, she opened her eyes widely and new tears began to flow down.

They were different from the first tears he saw from her.
Seeing Miyo cover her distorted face with both hands and curl her thin body made Kiyoka’s chest ache.

Before he could think of anything, he promptly hugged her tightly.

“H-hus..band…!”
“I don’t care. …It was an unpleasant dream, right? You can cry until you feel better.”

Embarrassment didn’t at all matter to him.
He understood that the contents of her muttering must be connected to a dream of her life back in the Saimori household. He heard bits of “Stepmother” and “Kaya” so it must not have been a good dream.

“We’re engaged to each other. I told you this already. I want us to be open with each other. Say what you think. Rely on me more. Depend on me. Display your bare emotions. Be pampered. Supporting each other is how a married couple is supposed to be, right?”

Kiyoka wondered how much of his words actually reached Miyo.

He believed that at least some of it was conveyed to her. But, there was no doubt that the scars on her heart were far bigger and deeper than he could ever imagine. No matter how much Kiyoka could comfort her as her fiancé, those scars cannot easily disappear.

(I want her freed already.)

There wasn’t anyone here to hurt her anymore. Even if they were members of the Kudou family or those around Kiyoka, he would protect her till the end.

“That’s why, cry as much as you like. And after your tears dry, I want you to smile once again.”
“……!”

Kiyoka gently brushed Miyo’s hair as she pressed her face into his chest and wept.
There was no hesitation in his actions. If this could stop the girl’s crying, if this could alleviate her pain, there was no problem. He’ll hug her this way no matter how many times it takes.
Rather, he would be delighted if she would cry in his arms no matter how unbecoming it may seem.

After being like this for some time, Miyo began to disclose the contents of her dreams in between sobs.
Her stepmother and half-sister appeared, destroying and burning her deceased mother’s mementos. Even though she cried and petitioned them to stop and return them, the two mocked Miyo.

She didn’t say if it had actually happened, but Kiyoka immediately understood that something similar must have occurred.

“Must have been hard.”

He wasn’t talking about the dream. He naturally said these words when he thought about how a young girl less than ten must have felt when she lost the servant close to her and had to spend her life groveling.

Kiyoka could only imagine what the Saimori household must have been like from the documents and impressions, but he wanted to believe that Miyo’s heart would one day heal.

“Husband. I-I really…Is it really alright if I am allowed to stay by your side like this?”

That again.

“Of course. Stay here, until death.”

He gave the kindest smile he could when his fiancée raised her face to him.

“I believe I told you this already. It’ll trouble me if you disappeared.”
“…Even if I’m so incompetent and useless?”
“Yeah. Despite all that. …Well, you’re not incompetent and useless to me.”

Miyo’s face turned red, and she turned her face as her teary eyes grew moist again.

“I…”
“?”
“I really don’t think I’m the type of person who should receive such words from you. But, if I could stay by your side, I want to be of use to you.”
“Yeah.”
“So, I’ll…I’ll work harder. To do as much for my husband for as long as I can.”
“…Yeah. Please do that.”

He was fully aware that this was the current Miyo’s limit.

These were the most positive words that she could give after having been denied for so many years.
It was impossible for her to instantly become confident. But, he hoped that little by little, she would gain confidence and believe in both herself and him, her husband-to-be.

(At any rate, what exactly was supernatural presence before…?)

That presence grew so weak now that he could barely sense it.

Could it be, possibly… If the origin of Miyo’s nightmares was supernatural… Then, the owner of that power can be no one else but a member of the Usuba family.

* * *

Miyo decided to lower herself in her bow even more when she met Kiyoka the next morning.

She had dozed off without waiting for her husband, cried loudly because of a nightmare, and sloppily clung to Kiyoka.
Even if he told her to be open with her feelings, that wasn’t how she should’ve done it. Any female, no matter how old, would have been embarrassed.

Furthermore, she accidentally revealed that she had been continually experiencing nightmares since coming to this home, causing what she believed to be unnecessary concern.
Kiyoka silently listening with a stern look was very scary. His expression gave off the feeling of cold apathy.
He didn’t seem angry at Miyo’s blunders, but he was shaking.

“Therefore, I would like to rectify by any means.”

Miyo proposed to do something as an apology.

“…Lunch?”
“Yes.”

She was highly doubtful that making lunch for him would be enough of an apology. Yurie had suggested, so she tried it out.
There was a lunch box already in the house, but as it was filled with Miyo’s dishes and carefully wrapped by her, it was filled with her feelings now.

“Thanks, I’ll take it with me.”

Kiyoka accepted the lunch with a smile, got into the car, and drove off. It must have been her imagination that he seemed to be in a better mood than usual.

“I have to work harder.”

She wanted to please him. She wanted to support Kiyoka as his fiancée.
If she poured all her effort in doing each and every thing to the best of her abilities, she may one day become a wife fit for him.