As soon as her brother peeked his head out from behind the blanket covering the cave's mouth, Iris was already flying forward.
She had her arms outstretched, crashing into him.
"Iris?" Her brother, having been dealt a preemptive strike just now, had been knocked down onto the floor with her resting right atop him.
"Big brother, you were gone for so long! Why did you have to rush off like that? I was starting to get worried, you know! Even though I trust in big brother's ability, I still couldn't help but think that something had...had...!"
Iris choked up, not able to express how afraid she'd been that some how, some way, he had been badly hurt. A while ago she had a terrible feeling, a dark, sinister feeling that something horrible had happened to him.
"Iris, why are you--?" Her brother began.
But Iris stiffened abruptly. She sat up, look down at him with an odd expression.
"Big brother, you..." She shook her head, as is she didn't want to believe it. "..Why do you smell like another woman?"
She narrowed her eyes, taking a small whiff to confirm her suspicions.
She was right!
Although it was faint, it was there!
And then she saw it.
Iris swallowed hard, her eyes coming to a stop on something by his shoulder. It was like a thread, but it wasn't. It was something different. It was a faint brown, a golden brown...
Iris picked it up with two fingers, as if it were a poisonous snake, showing it to him. "Big brother, this long strand of hair...." Iris couldn't go on.
Her brother showed confusion, his gaze zeroing-in on the object in her hands.
She squashed down the hot, burning anger that currently ran amok within her and addressed her brother once more.
"Big brother, whose hair is this?" Her voice became weird, quiet.
But as if by some sixth sense, she noticed her.
Standing some feet away, by a fire, was a girl. Pretty, really pretty, with thin eyebrows and elegant cheekbones that combined to give the girl a considerably attractive face.
What made it worse was her large round eyes which were the color of hazel, giving the girl an innocent and naive aura about her.
She wore a cute, frilly dress--Iris' dress--that fit her too small, especially around the chest. The skirt did nothing to hide her legs, which could still be seen to be rather shapely even despite the bandages she currently had wrapped around them.
The girl stared at Iris, as if trying to comprehend who she was and why she had appeared so suddenly.
This girl 's hair exactly matched the piece Iris held in her hand.
Iris slowly stood up from her brother, ignoring his questioning looks.
Her eyes were only for the girl.
Iris reached her shortly, coming to a stop by her feet.
She kneeled down, staring straight at her face, and leaned forward. Iris inhaled deeply, closing her eyes.
And then she opened them, her face cold.
"Oi, slut. Why...are you wearing my brother's scent...."
Iris was usually never this rude. Not to strangers who'd done nothing to her, and who'd not even talked to her up to now.
But when it came to women, when they were near her brother...she became much overbearing.
And this..this slutty bitch...had her's brother's scent all over her body!
Iris very nearly went feral with the levels of anger and hate she felt for the girl at that moment.
Look at her. Stinking of sweat, shame, guilt and sin. Her hair a mess, the dress she wore looking slightly unkempt...that healthy glow about her cheeks..
E-even her brother, with his torso laid bare for all to see...
Iris wanted to scream, to thrash about and rage.
This woman, she...she must have seduced her brother.A man and woman, out here all alone, what's more with the man being as high-spec as her brother... and with her brother being the one to take care of her, having saved her from danger...
And then this woman, seeing how reliable and gallant her brother was, had...had probably wanted to use her body as some sort of "repayment" all while really just planning to make him her's...
Her brother, giving in to carnal desire and...and doing who-knew-what with her...Iris felt her heart break just thinking of what might have been done!
Not just now, Iris had already assumed the worst from the moment she laid eyes on the woman!
A she-devil! A succubus!
That's what she was!
Brother, oh, I failed you! I let this vixen put her filthy, vulgar hands on you! Brother, why must you always attract these vile, liscentious women?
When the girl blushed, Iris was full of an unstoppable fury!
She had to do away with this evil temptress!
"Iris, it's not what you probably thinking about. Don't jump to conclusions." Her brother sat up, glancing at them.
But Iris was too busy staring daggers at the sow. "No! Big brother, don't try to defend her! I can't accept this! I'll...I'll fix this! Big brother, let me kick this no-good woman off a cliff!"
Nothing could save this girl from Iris' wrath!
She was so furious, so full of hate and anger, that there was no force in the world that would be able to stop Iris from taking this girl and--
"Iris, calm down. Come here." A beckoning finger. "If you behave and listen quietly, I'll even rub your head."
"Yes, big brother."
She was weak, ah!
"Young Miss, I'm so glad you're safe!"
They were all standing inside the cave, with one of the knights from earlier showing a relieved expression as he knelt in respect towards Sera.
"I'm sorry, Young Miss, we all failed your!" He bowed his head in shame, unable to meet the girl in the eyes. "In our incompetance we were unable to help either you or Captain Voorhis, having to rely on a stranger we didn't know to come and find you and in the end you had to suffer so much!...Our actions were too shameful! Please, punish us as you see fit!"
Jon, was it? It was the knight Lyle had saved before.
After everything that had happened to them was told, he and the other knight, Tomas, got on their knees and awaited judgement for their errors.
Sera shook her head, saying, "Please rise, Sir Jon, Sir Tomas. I won't punish you at all, your previous actions were justified. There's nothing you or any of the others could have done. Even Captain Voorhis was..."
She didn't go on.
But they knew.
The knights were useless. They had failed in their duty, and though they were indeed justified, they were unable to save their Young Miss. They had to ask a stranger for help, not knowing whether he was a trustworthy or black-hearted person at all, while they stayed behind.
If the boy was a bad person, then when he saw the Young Miss, he might have even...
" The two didn't continue, because that wasn't so. But they sent someone else to save the Young Miss, while they did nothing. Forced her to endure even having to spend time in a filthy place like this here cave...
...They would never be able to face Captain Voorhis after this...
Sera continued, looking at Lyle, her face softening. "And if you didn't this young man for aid I would have surely died. Tell me, can any one of our company face three manticores by himself and live to tell about it? What's more, you don't know just how much he did for me.
"Had he not acted, those manticores would have made me their dinner. Even though he did have us jump down a high waterfall, had he not held me afloat then I would have certainly drowned. Or had he not found us shelter, then if not the manticores or the water, I would still have long since succumbed to the cold. But as you can see.." She gestured to the cave around her, the fire, the blankets and everything else, "I was very well-taken care of by him. He even tended to my wounds, see?"
The girl pointed downwards, to her bandaged legs.
"So your choice...it was the right one. What's more, if you didn't do what you did, then I'd never have met him. Since It's so, I would even say that I owe you two my thanks?"
Of all those present, only Lyle and Iris thought there was something wrong with her words.
Lyle had felt he was being too suspicious, so simply put it out of his mind.
But Iris hadn't. She was thoroughly annoyed.
Because from the way the girl worded it, didn't it sound like she was thanking them for allowing her the opportunity to be able to meet her brother in the first place?
As if her being saved, compared to that, was secondary?
Iris may have been reading to much into it, but she didn't like how it sounded in any case!
The two knights nearly cried! The Young Miss was too kind, ah!
Lyle turned away from them, addressing the other four people in the room.
Murphy, Nyk and Val.
In addition, there was Cecelia, Jaime, Boris and a few others who had first came with them.
Plus a few extra knights, who had all stayed silent as they knelt alongside Jon and Tomas.
Phaedra was also there, but she'd not spoken a word at all and Lyle didn't bother to even acknowledge her.
"Bell, you bastard... Taking down two manticores when it's to save a beauty, yet when it's just one and your friends are taking a beating, you can barely keep up? I lost my most beloved cloak to that fucker, you know!"
Lyle snorted. "This and that are two very different things. I had to rely on a little trick to take down one, and the other I'm lucky actually had the weakness I had hoped it did. Trust me, I think there'd be a very different outcome if I tried that again as I currently am. And as for the cloak...I'll buy you another, don't worry." He said drily.
Lyle should have used that red sword of Davron's from the get-go.
The ones he had used before would never have survived the swings he was capable of giving out.
And he was only able to strike with all the force the blade could withstand, all previous strikes were not ones cataining his entire strength. They contained all the strength in te sense of what the blades could take, but that was it.
It was like taking a buket of water filling a small glass of water to the brim. You could still pour more water, but it'd leak out and cause a mess everywhere.
In this case the mess would be a spray of thousands of metal pieces.
But that red sword...Lyle thought that maybe he would be able to actually use his dull strength in truth while using it.
And he felt like an idiot for not doing so at the start.
Honestly, it was made specifically to be durable, wasn't it?
Lyle, now that he experienced how great the sword was, would make it his primary weapon from now on.
"Speaking of buying things...Bell, I hope you'll not back out of our arrangement." Val cut in, speaking into his ear seriously.
Lyle smiled at her politely. "Oh? But where was that back up I wanted? Don't tell me you want me to pay you for time, despite you not doing anything? Come now...that would be like paying for a whore and letting her just sit on her ass doing nothing. Where's the service I would have paid for? I'm not a man who likes to waste money, you know?"
Val glared. "Hey now, don't be pullin' that shit with me, Bell. Of course you should pay me for my time. Even if I didn't do anything, I still kept watch. And were it needed, I would done my part. Plus, it was me who led them here!"
"Hm? Really?" Lyle looked at Jaime and Boris with a questioning glance.
"Well, she did lead us...but actually she kind of just..."
Jaime didn't exactly know how to say it, but what happened was a little...
His eyes went to Boris to help him explain.
Boris scratched the back of his head, sneaking a look at the little girl by Bell's side.
He was very uncomfortable. "You see, Bell, it's like this...So, when we all regrouped and formed a search party, your little sister there butted in and demanded she go. She'd not take no for an answer. And Cecelia couldn't let her go by herself, obviously, so she came to keep watch over her. But the thing it..."
"Yes?" Lyle asked, not understanding why they were both acting like this.
"...Uh, how do I say... She's the one who really led us here. Val, kinda just followed her the closest." He coughed.
Val glared fiercly at him.
Lyle's face blanked.
"You're telling me that Iris...was the one who found us? You were led by a little girl?"
Boris had a sheepish grin. "It sounds bad when you say it like that? It's just...hm, although we did track you, halfway through it started raining. And we didn't know how far the stream took you two.
So once we reached that point, when we walked down the cliff, she kinda just...took over?"
Even he didn't want to believe it. He didn't even want to be the one explaining it.
Murphy spoke up. "She just started running, so we had no choice but to follow. And she said...she said that she could feel you? Murphy got became very uneasy, his posture a little awkward. "Um, I don't know, but like... That... is that something siblings can even...do? Bell, this sister of yours, she's a little..." He was picking his words delicately, which was rare for him, but he couldn't go on.
Lyle's face got darker with each word.
" You let her run off...by herself? You people let Iris just...'run off'?"
There was a noticeable edge to his voice that made Murphy stiffen.
Cecelia was the one who stepped in and saved them.
"Bell..." Lyle. " I'm sorry. It was my fault, I never should have let her come. I..."
The words were hard to push out, because she knew she'd failed him. Even though he'd entrusted his sister's safety to her, she still let Iris come. And in the end the girl had started running off on her own.
Cecelia, at least, should have been right by her side. But she wasn't, it was Val who was the fastest and it was she who had followed Iris the closest. Cecelia was close behind but...
She couldn't meet his eye.
Cecelia knew it had taken a lot from him to be able to trust his sister's safety to anyone but himself. It was only because he had faith in her abilities, because they had fought together so many times and built up an understanding of each other, that he had let her come and allowed Cecelia to be the one to watch her if he himself for some reason couldn't.
Before he left, he'd said, "Take care of them."
He'd meant Iris and Melanie, but Cecelia knew who to prioritize. It was a cruel, hard fact that he cared about Iris much more than anyone else.
Compared to Iris, she and Melanie were small specks of dust.
Though he did care about them too, though they were part of his "important people"...Iris was by far his "most important person" and that was something that no one could deny.
Cecelia knew this well, Melanie did too, but they didn't mind it all because she was his sister. They knew it wasn't as if he didn't care, just that he cared more about her than anyone else.
So for him to entrust her well-being to Cecelia...it spoke volumes.
Despite that, Cecelia still failed to live up to expectations...
Lyle's face was an emotionless mask, a dark cloud seeming to descend upon the room as he silently watched her.
When he finally spoke it was not with an angry tone at all, and neither was it loud.
No, it was with a calm, quiet voice that was infinitely worse.
"...Next time I ask you to watch her, do it. If she throws a fit, you can even knock her out. But don't ever let her do something like this again."
He didn't yell at her, and he didn't chastise her.
But she'd have preferred it if he did.
" I know. I will." What else could she say to him?
"Big brother... was I wrong to come here?"
As they sat together on one of the extra horses, Iris asked him that.
Iris lay in front of him, staring ahead.
"Yes, you were." He didn't deny it. "Iris, you put Cecelia in an awkward position because you wanted to come. And when I heard you ran ahead, I was angry with her, with all of them. Because of you. I even told her, specifically, to keep watch over you. And you didn't make it easy for her. Why couldn't you have stayed behind with her and Melanie, Iris? I told you I'd be back. Does my word mean nothing to you?"
Iris didn't say anything for a time. Then, with a small voice, she whispered, "I'm sorry, big brother."
She felt her throat going raw. She knew he was disappointed in her. She knew he was angry at her.
She thought that he would ignore her, or hit her, or yell at her. She was prepared for it. But he didn't do any of that, and what he said next she wasn't prepared for at all.
"Iris, I love you." He began slowly. "And it's because I love you so much that I'm angry with you. Because it take a lot from me to trust someone else with your safety, and if something had happend to you... I'd hate Cecelia for it. Even though I would understand that I shouldn't. I don't want that, Iris."
"But brother, I had to go!" Iris cried softly. "I felt..I felt that something terrible had happened to you...And...and you just left me there, even though you promised me you wouldn't...I had to go, big brother, I had to know you were safe! I had to!"
"Iris..." He sighed. "...As a Noble, I can't just turn my eyes away from situations like these. It's our duty, as those with power, to give aid to those who need that aid. And yes, I know I promised to never leave you, but you misunderstood me.
"I meant that I'd never leave and just not come back. That no matter what, I'd always find my way back to your side. Until the day you no longer want me to, until you want to live your own life without me in it looking over your shoulder. Even then I'd still be there, always, if you need me.
"This is what I meant by that, Iris. It's not possible for me to be with you every second of every day. I know you wish it was, but it's not, and I wouldn't want you to. Not because I dislike you being with me, but because I lead a dangerous life when I travle places. The word itself is dangerous. So there are times when I don't want to bring you into more of that danger than I have to.
"There are times when I will want you to stay behind and be safe. Make no mistake, Iris, I can stop all of this. I can ignore everything, my ideals, my morals, my dignity, my guilt,... If I came onto another situation like this, I could just leave people to die...If that's what you asked, I would do it. But...is that the version of me that you call your brother? Is betraying all that I believe in, for you, something that you would ask of me?"
Lyle would hate himself. Leaving people to their fates, not trying to help at all, having the guilty of his own inaction haunt him for life...he could live with it.
If Iris really, truly asked him to do that...he would. Because if it was for her, he'd do anything.
But would that be him? Would he still be the brother that she had always known and loved? Even he wouldn't consider himself the same person, because those things were a large part of who he was.
Iris was his weakness and she always would be. He understood that.
He couldn't truly deny her anything. But he'd not blame her if she asked this of him, but rather himself for going through with it.
Because he would.
She had that sort of power over him. People may not understand, but they didn't need to. They can call him a fool for it, they could say any number things, but it wouldn't matter.
She was his sister, he was her brother. If she made a request then he couldn't deny her.
It was the largest flaw he had. He was well aware. It bordered on insanity, but he didn't care.
...But if Iris really asked of him to do something like that...would she be the Iris that he'd always loved?
If she really did ask, neither of them would be who they once were.
There were some things that even siblings should not request of one another.
That would be one of them.
To ask the other to betray themselves in such a way...
...It wasn't something that could be taken back, because it wasn't a matter so light. It was serious, and should betaken seriously.
Iris trembled, but not due to the cold.
" I understand, big brother..." She said, her voice decidedly hollow. "I'll behave. I'll be a good girl. I won't..." She swallowed. "...I'll never ask you to do that. I want big brother to always stay the same...."
...Even though she wanted to ask it of him, even though she hated the thought of him getting into dangerous situation, even though it tore her up inside every minute he wasn't here where she could see him...
She didn't want him to ever have to force himself to change, she didn't want to be the one tomake him change. She'd love her big brother just as he was.
No, more than that, she'd love him no matter what he became like in the future. But if she asked him to do all that for her...he'd resent himself for it.
She knew her brother better than anyone, and that's exactly what would happen. He'd be unhappy. Iris didn't want to be the one to make him unhappy.
So despite everything, she forced down the outrageous request before it could leave her lips.
One of Lyle's hands let go of the horse's reins, giving her a one-armed hug.
"Iris really is a good girl." He smiled down at her. "Since that's what you want then I can only oblige, no? Alright then, let's not talk about it anymore..."
And so they went, lapsing into a comfortable silence, until they were back with the others.
When Iris and her brother arrived, she was dropped off back her tent.
It was one she would share with her brother later, as was usual.
But her brother left to go check on that Melanie girl, wanting to let her know he was okay.
Cecelia was inside with her, idly reading a book by the lamp that rested not far from her. She didn't look at Iris at all.
"Lady Cecelia...." Iris began formally, not knowing how to proceed. "I...I'm sorry. Because of me, brother got angry with you."
Cecelia shut her book gently, setting it down on her lap.
She closed her eyes, taking a deep breath and letting it out in a weary sigh.
"He wasn't angry at me." She said after a moment of pensive silence. "Not really. He was disappointed in me. Your brother is a person that it very easy to let down, he sees things in a much different way than most people. Especially when it comes to you.
"No, he wasn't angry. He just lost a little faith in me." From the way her hands tightened, Iris thought that the girl believed that to be even worse than if he was angry with her. "And that's my fault. I..." She trailed off, but recovered quickly. "...I just wasn't able to live up to his expectations. At the first sign of trouble, I failed to keep watch over you. He shouldn't have had to tell me what to do, I should have known what to do beforehand. He understands that, and so do I.
"Iris, with your brother's personality... do you think he'd ever forgive me if something had happened to you?"
There was a calm look about her, a quiet sadness, that made Iris feel a burst of guilt.
Iris didn't respond. They both knew what the answer would be.
"That's what I thought, yes." Cecelia smiled at her, but it rang a touch bitter. "Iris, I won't accept your apology. You didn't do anything wrong, it was me. I made a mistake. I know that. But I won't dwell on it. No, instead I'll have to focus on a way to regain your brother's complete faith. It won't be an easy task, but we'll see what can be done."
"Ah, that's right." She said, almost as an afterthought. "I never gave you my thanks, did I? For keeping quiet, I mean."
"What do you mean?" Iris asked.
"Please, there's no need to act dumb. I understand that you've long since figured out what I...did that day. You're a smart girl. And you don't have the same trust in me your brother does. So you knowing isn't strange at all."
"Although I, too, know why you stayed quiet about it. You don't want to run the risk that your brother would patch things up with Sophia, do you? Of course, you don't like me very much either. But then again you don't think your brother would take an interest in me at all, so you don't bother to ruin our friendship by telling him what I did.
"Regardless, I know I should give you my thanks. So I am."
Iris shook her head, denying it. "I don't know what you're talking about."
Cecelia shrugged. "You're a terrible liar. I wonder what you think about Melanie, then? She's the only other women outside his family whom he's truly close with. And you never cared for either me or Sophia. So I'm curious, what do you think of her?"
Iris wasn't sure what to say.
What could she say, exactly?
Even she...didn't know her own feelings about the matter. Melanie was a good person. Iris would be able to push her around easily. And she got along well with her brother.
But the thought of big brother with any woman, these days, made her sick. She rejected the idea outright.
It didn't matter if they were good or not, it didn't matter if their intentions were to be pure.
Just thinking about her brother someday going to start his own family....
Iris hated it.
Why couldn't they just be by themselves? Why couldn't they just go some place far away where they didn't have to worry about complicated things, and just be together?
Mother and father were still young, they could have another child to succeed the family name...
...Iris forced her thoughts away from that direction. There was no way her brother would go along with something like that. He felt a strong sense of duty to the Greyborne name and he would never abandon that duty.
Someday, he'd really get married to some woman. Maybe one Iris didn't know. And eventually that woman would slowly start to dominate more and more of his love and attention.
Even if Iris wasn't forgotten, her brother would no longer have as much time for her.
Iris didn't plan to marry. Ever. So when that happened, even if her brother was still by her side, she'd always feel alone....
Because his eyes would no longer only hold her within them...
...Thankfully that time was still far away...
Please, Little One, who are you trying to fool? You know that's not true. Look at yourself. While you're busy chatting with this bitch, you're completely unaware that Our Beloved is once again being marked-- sullied!--by another woman...
The voice, sweet and melodious, spoke words that rang sinisterly within Iris's mind....
"I see." Cecelia laughed lightly. "So that's how it is. Iris...I always thought so, but you're a very greedy person, aren't you?"
Iris didn't even hear her.
She just stood and ran out of the tent, a rising fear in her heart.
The sun was already starting to set by the time they got back. Everyone, including the knights from before and, of course, Sera, had traveled back with the mercenaries to the place they had made camp.
The camp was precisely the place where the caravans and carriage had been left, and this was also the place where the mercenaries had brought the injured knights to get their wounds tended to.
As for the able knights, they were busy helping out the mercenaries with some minor tasks such as going to forage for some more herbs so that their comrades could be treated. This was mainly led by Nyk, who was among the more accomplished in herb-picking.
Unfortunately not many mercenaries had medical knowledge. Still, those that did all pitched in. Nyk was apparently helping out with that, too. The guy was no slacker, that was for sure.
But not everyone had something to do. There were some people who simply sat by fires, taking the time to oil or sharpen their weapons.
Even aside from that, other things were going on too. From gambling, to drinking to a bit of rough housing, it could be said that the entire camp was abuzz with activity.
Lyle dropped Iris off by the tent they would be sharing, then asked where Melanie's had been set up--which was, as expected, not too far from his own.
He stepped inside, closing the flap behind him, and called out her name.
"Young Master!" She jumped up, instantly knowing the owner of voice, growing extremely excited. "Are you okay? Are you hurt anywhere?" She began looking him up and down with deep concern in her eyes.
Lyle wanted to pinch her cheeks. The way she fussed over him was just too adorable. He refrained from doing so, though it was a great effort on his part.
"I'm fine, Melanie. As you can see, I'm perfectly alright." Better, actually. He made a mental note to once more thank that Sera girl for her help later.
Melanie sighed, the small knot that had taken residence in her chest ever since she first learned of his disappearance slowly coming undone.
"I'm happy to hear it, Young Master. When Lady Cecelia heard what had happened and came to inform us, Iris and I, about your disappearanc...I feared the worst. I was so worried!"
"Come now, Melanie, there's no need to force yourself. I mean you couldn't have been too worried, eh, since you didn't even bother to try looking for me." He joked, obviously not meaning it.
But Melanie wasn't able to see through him at all, believing his every word, looking like she was going to cry. "Young Master, that's not true at all! I was really, really worred!" She said passionately. "It's just..."
Oh? It looks like she took him pretty seriously. Lyle tried to pacify her." Melanie, no, it's nothing to fret over. It's okay, I understand."
"Young Master, but...! I...I did want to go! I really did! But...but I knew I'd only drag everyone down, and if anything happened to you because I held them up, I...!"
She was getting pretty worked up, wasn't she?
"Melanie, you...were you really worried about me that much?"
"Of course I was!" She answered without hesitation.
Lyle couldn't help feeling a little lost when he heard her words.
He didn't really understand them, didn't understand why she was being like this.
It had to be said, Lyle wasn't used to people worrying about him. His parents and Iris aside, he couldn't really say that many people did. No, even his parents didn't, not really. They had a lot of trust in his abilities. They couldn't even imagine harm coming to him. They both believed that any trouble he got into, he could get out of.
As for Cecelia, she was much the same. She could worry about him, but at the end of the day she would still think him capable of getting himself out of any sort of danger that life threw at him. In fact, she'd even told him that once.
So towards something like this...he didn't have much experience in it. No one aside from Iris ever really showed so much concern for him. No one ever thought he'd really need it. It was probably because he'd always put on an almost invulnerable image towards others.
The chinks in his armor, he couldn't let people see them. They could see what he wanted them to, but anything more was forbidden.
He can feel troubled, or scared, or hurt, but to show it to other people was out of the question. He should project an aura of power and confidence, at all times. Even when he was with his parents, he did this. Because that's how he'd been raised. To control himself. To hide weakness and show strength.
There are many people who would look at him, but they could only ever be shown the version of him that couldn't more "perfect". A version of himself that they could respect and admire but never reach.
He was a Greyborne. Nothing less could be expected of him. If he didn't stand above others then there was no need for him stand up at all.
Althought when he took on the identity of Bellamy Greyson, he did admit to easing up a little. But never entirely. It couldn't be allowed.
This is why so few people ever worried about him, probably.
For Melanie to do so, and say it so openly, honestly... He wasn't sure how to respond to that.
Lyle wasn't good at handling situation like these.
So he avoided it, opting instead to fall back on his usual routine of teasing her.
"But then...where's my welcome back hug? Don't tell me that the knowledge of my safety isn't worth one?"
Melanie was stopped right her tracks, her cheeks heating up excessively. "S-something like that..."
Lyle was just teasing her, and was about to say so, but before he did something happened that caught him completely by surprise.
It was that Melanie, entirely outside of his expections, actually worked up the courage and hugged him!
Lyle was assaulted with a sweet, subtle fragrance that was all her own, her two soft peaks pushing against his chest...
Her hands wound themselves around him, holding him close, a very intimate position that he'd never think Melanie able to initiate herself.
Her head was nestled right by his shoulder, the difference in their height exceedingly clear.
"I...I, um, I really did worry a lot, Young Master..." She breathed. "Probably more than I should...or even have the right to. But me worrying about you like this...it's okay, right?" Her voice was tiny, a mere whisper.
Lyle was unable to answer her for a few moments, all thoughts of teasing her drifting away.
He stared down at her with a peculiar face, not sure exactly what he felt in response to her pure, honest feelings.
Lyle wasn't nervous at all, he never had an aversion to being in close proximity to women.
But he was not numb to it. When a women as pretty and warm as Melanie got close to you, how could any man not be moved? Melanie was the type of girl that could only be descibed as being very "lovable".
A person capable of healing people in a way that a Cleric never could.
So despite not freaking out or becoming awkward like some his age would, Lyle still felt his blood pump faster than it normal.
His entire body started to heat up, and that familiar fire began to blaze once more.
"Melanie..." Lyle started. "You shouldn't get so close to me like this. Because if you do...."
"If I do...what?" She asked, head still buried in his chest, her previous courage having already been used up in it's entirety.
"...It makes me want to kiss you." He whispered into her ear, turning it a bright red.
"Oh..." Melanie made no move to break away, too afraid to look at him face to face.
"Do you want me to?"
"That...I...I don't know..."
"Then If I tried to right now...would you stop me?"
"This too, I also...don't know."
"I see." Lyle pushed her a away, just a little, and used a hand to tilt her chin up so that she was forced to look up at him. Her blushing, embarrassed face looked especially enticing right now, pulling at his hearstrings.
" Let's find out, then..."
Melanie closed her eyes unconsciously, her lips puckering almost against her will as he brought his face closer. She waited, expectantly, not even knowing what she wanted to happen.
As their lips were mere inches apart and getting closer, Lyle knew this would be an important step, one that would change everything between them.
He didn't want to rush it, didn't want to frighten her, moving slowly.
When their lips were nearly right atop each other's, when they could feel the warmth of each other's breath...just as they completed the kiss, momentarily unaware of anything else apart from the taste of each's tongues...
Iris walked right in.