༺ The Lord Is With Us (22) ༻
It was a short reply. A simple phrase that was only two words long.
Yet, those two words were enough to leave Elsie’s mind blank.
Her eyes glazed over and wordlessly moved her mouth before closing it as she struggled to find the right words to express herself
She simply wanted to ask him.
Ask him how he was able to do such a thing when he could clearly lose his life.
The injuries that he sustained that night were serious. He would have lost his life if the fingernails that pierced his abdomen shifted even slightly.
Elsie couldn’t understand. She especially couldn’t comprehend Ian’s attitude of dismissing his action that required resolve with a simple, “Just because”.
No one would have said anything even if he acted a bit more shameless as it didn’t change the fact that she was in a position to bow her head several times in gratitude. That was what it meant to owe him a life debt.
However, his nonchalant attitude left her stunned and confused as to how to react.
Elsie seemed lost as she lowered her gaze while clutching at her large-brimmed hat.
She was a girl who grew up not knowing how to apologize or express her gratitude.
To her, acts of kindness were mere debts to be repaid someday, and if she wronged someone, she preferred to trample over the other person to ensure they wouldn’t bring it up.
In the end, there were only two types of people who approached a girl like her.
People who wanted to use her or people who wanted to fight her.
It was the first time in her life receiving a purely well-intended favor with no strings attached. As such, she could only fidget in place, clueless as to how to react to such goodwill.
Ian had been observing Elsie’s behavior for a while now and thought the way she was fidgeting around was cute. However, he kept it to himself as he figured it was rude to think of his senior that way.
Then, he spoke again with a bitter smile.
“I just wanted to save you. That’s all.”
His reply was on the same wavelength as his initial answer.
Elsie realized from his smooth, even tone that he was telling the truth.
However, that only deepened her doubts as she fell into greater confusion.
She just couldn’t understand.
Since a young age, she had always prioritized herself. She valued herself more than anything else, and the violence and cruelty that she exhibited were merely desperate measures to protect herself.
As such, she found the very notion of risking one’s life to save someone else’s incomprehensible. However, she found herself unable to convey all her thoughts and emotions, so she condensed them into a single question.
“……Even though you could have died?”
“But in the end, I’m still alive.”
Hearing his calm, soothing voice left Elsie on the verge of tears.
She wanted to convey her feelings but didn’t know how. And so, she fell back on her usual approach of raising her voice.
“You, you… Do you know how dangerous that was?! Your guts were about to spill out!”
“Then, technically speaking, you were in greater danger.”
Ian shut her down as what he said was the truth.
At that moment, she was defenseless, and she would have likely died if the beast had successfully attacked her.
She would have been abducted, and being kidnapped by a demonic beast led to an obvious ending.
She would have ended up as either a sacrifice or eaten as food. Her shoulders shuddered as she imagined herself becoming a cooked meal for the demonic monkeys.
However, she was the ill-tempered Elsie Rinella, and backing down wasn’t in her dictionary.
She realized that she had veered off course from expressing her gratitude, but at this point, that didn’t concern her. In fact, she didn’t even recognize that she was intentionally avoiding her own emotions.
Because it was unfamiliar to her.
All the emotions she was feeling felt unfamiliar.
She didn’t know why her heart was pounding so hard, and why she felt so out of breath. She also felt too shy to make eye contact, and to hide her shyness, she raised her voice even more.
“Y-yeah, but that doesn’t mean you had to sacrifice yourself!”
“So you don’t like it?”
Once again, his words directly struck the core of the matter.
Elsie quickly avoided his gaze as she asked reflected on herself.
Did she not like him saving her? There was no way she didn’t.
It was the first time she received such pure goodwill. She was someone who didn’t trust anyone except for her younger brother. She believed that people easily changed their attitudes when their lives were at stake, and all the people she ever interacted with were just like that
Inflicting enough pain had always done the trick. Even the ones that acted haughtily had begged for mercy while clinging onto her ankles once the pain became unbearable.
They pleaded for her to stop, saying they were in the wrong.
She was no different. She despised the weak because she saw herself in them.
Their tear-stained faces as they pleaded for their lives overlapped with hers like a hallucination. She couldn’t bear the thought that she would have been the one begging for mercy if the roles of the perpetrator and victims were swapped.
She hated herself for being weak.
No one had ever offered her any affirmation. Not even herself.
Therefore, Elsie could only respond with a single word.
She liked it. Having someone protect her at the cost of their own life felt like validation in itself.
That meant that she was worth that much to him.
He was a cheeky junior. Even as she thought that, she tugged down her hat in an attempt to hide her flushed cheeks as she felt her face grow increasingly hot.
“I’m just glad that I didn’t get scolded after saving your life.”
That was it.
There were no demands nor accusations. He simply turned his head and showed a satisfied smile.
As silence enveloped the room, Elsie was overcome by a strange sensation.
Her heart pounded loudly, and she became anxious, fearing that Ian could hear the sound of her racing heartbeat.
Unable to figure out the root of her anxiety, she desperately grasped at random words in an attempt to say something.
At her words, their eyes locked together.
As their gazes met, her thoughts became jumbled. She opened her mouth, but she was unsure of what to say next. In the end, her true feelings unintentionally spilled out.
It was a secret that she had kept hidden. One that she didn’t reveal even to her beloved younger brother whom she cherished the most in the world.
“I… I’m not worth much…..”
Her voice sounded pitiful. It was the self-confession of a cat pretending to be a ferocious beast.
Ian stayed quiet.
And afraid to reveal the vulnerability she harbored ever since she was young, Elsie lowered her gaze as her timid voice continued to flow out.
“I’m actually super weak and a coward. That’s why I was bullied a lot when I was younger… I’m selfish too, so I only think about myself.”
Faced with her confession, Ian cleared his throat as he contemplated how should respond. Uncertain of how he would react, the girl trembled and continued to ramble.
And before she realized it, tears were welling up in her eyes and her voice started quivering more intensely as a sad confession quietly leaked out from between her lips.
“S-So… next time, don’t do that… because I’m not a good person……”
Once again, silence settled in the room.
For a while, both Ian and Elsie didn’t say anything.
After pouring out her heart, the girl remained trembling on her spot.
Finally, the boy opened his mouth.
Elsie’s puzzled eyes turned towards Ian. There, he snorted, seemingly flabbergasted at her confession.
“I know that you’re cowardly, selfish, mean, and that you even wet your pants… I’m not an idiot, so how would I not be aware?”
“…….I-I don’t wet my pants!”
Elsie protested against the absurd accusation, but Ian didn’t seem to pay much heed as he continued speaking.
“I saved you despite knowing all of that, so don’t worry about it. And here I thought thinking it was going to be some grand confession.”
Ian scratched the back of his head as if he worried for no reason.
In turn, Elsie once again found herself at a loss for words.
Then with a quiet voice, she hesitantly asked him.
She felt the boy’s gaze focus on her and looked down at the floor.
“If you knew everything… why did you save me? I’m a bad person like you just said.”
“That… I’m not good with words… so I don’t really know how to say it……”
The man scratched his cheek. He closed his eyes, trying to come up with a way to articulate his thoughts. But before long, he opened them back up with a look that seemed to have given up.
Then, with a wry smile, he gave a simple explanation that didn’t seem to qualify as one.
“It’s just like I said. Just because. There’s no real reason other than that.”
For some reason, Elsie found herself staring at him in a daze as the muscles on his arms looked especially firm with his arms crossed.
Catching herself, she quickly regained her senses and averted her eyes.
She truly couldn’t understand why she was being like this.
“It’s not like we can go about our life only weighing the pros and cons of each of our actions. I just wanted to save you, regardless of whether you were a good or bad person.”
“Yes, just because… I just wanted to save you. Isn’t that enough?”
Elsie murmured inwardly.
That was it. There was no specific reason. It was the same for the emotion that was washing over her – the emotion that was seeping into her heart and making it race.
It was nothing more than an ambiguous feeling at the moment, but either way, she felt strongly attached to this emotion that she had never experienced before. It was the only feeling of affection that the distrustful girl held for someone else.
Her face became heated without any signs of cooling down. In such a state, Elsie continued to avoid Ian’s gaze.
In contrast, Ian was puzzled as to why she was reacting in such a way.
“What’s wrong? Did you catch a cold?”
Playing with the brim of her hat, Elsie pondered how to respond.
She felt like she needed countless words to define her emotions.
Her racing heart budded like sprouts in the spring sun.
His golden eyes seemed to pull her in as she found herself staring blankly, much like a wild beast mesmerized by the flickers of a flame. Whenever she stood in front of him, she felt both comforted and anxious. It was like being wrapped in a soft blanket but simultaneously walking a tightrope.
It was contradictory.
But because she couldn’t vocalize her numerous feelings, she ended up muttering just two words.
Right now, it was just a vague emotion that had yet to develop its colors to be given a name.
Even so, she had a hunch.
That one day, the emotion that had sprouted today might grow beyond her control.
It was at this point that she finally broke down the walls she had built around her heart.
Just for the sake of one person.
Even though that person still had a bewildered expression, unaware of what she was going through.
Looking back, that was the day that marked the beginning of her change.
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