Melanie's head grew so hot it was a miracle it didn't start emitting steam.
"You." He'd said.
That...was just so unfair!
Melanie was over the moon. The levels of sweetness coursing through her veins right now threatened to put her into a diabetic shock.
In fact she firmly believed that were you to take blood out of her at this moment you would have in your hands an extremely potent form of liquid sugar.
It was just one word but darn her if it wasn't as lethal as an arrow to the heart!
Melanie could only shake her head helplessly, thoroughly defeated.
Who even said things like that? Seriously, this guy...he knew how to pull on a woman's heartstrings too well.
No wonder Lady Sera fell so hard so quickly. Attacks like this, going on continuously? Melanie dared the gods themselves to find a girl who could withstand them!
Ah, it was frightening, too frightening.
Good thing he wasn't a person with bad intentions, otherwise he'd have stolen the souls of countless women by now.
Really, this bad guy...
That was his real talent, right? Had to be. Ugh, even just the thought of it was frustrating. Exactly how were you supposed to deal with something like this?
Melanie had a newfound respect for the Lady Sophia who was able to hold onto a troublesome guy like him for so long.
It was confusing too. She must have went through so much to keep him from the thieving hands of other girls, how could she have just let go? Sure she realized there must have been a lot going on she hadn't known about that had put pressure on the poor girl, but come on.
Was it really that easy for her? Did she have such little faith in him? Melanie might have that same fear Sophia had but she knew, rationally, that he wasn't a man to go philandering around.
Ah, no... that wasn't fair though, was it?
After all, who knew how long that sister of her's had fanned the flames of Lady Sophia's fears and insecurities.
While Mealanie was lost in thought Lyle had taken out two long, rod-like objects from a compartment nestled within the interior of the boat.
The almost looked like...
"Fishing poles?" She asked in surprise. "We're going to fish? There's actually fish here?!"
Lyle just nodded and handed her a pole.
"This place is connected to the river, of course there would be."
"I haven't gone fishing since I was a little girl." She commented wistfully.
"I assume I don't have to show you how it's done then." Lyle was already busy getting the bait out.
Melanie shook her head. Finally something she was confident about!
She had a rare pride about her as she replied. "Heh, that won't be needed at all. Young Master, today you shall see my true power at work!"
An hour later and Melanie was on the verge of tears.
"Why another boot?!"
This was the tenth time already!!!!
She choked back a sob and directly threw the fishing pole into the water in a fit of rage.
"And after I boasted like that too...Young Master, I'm worthless, so worthless..." Melanie whined despairingly.
Lyle flicked her on the head. "Always saying such self-deprecating things, this girl." He tsked chidingly. "Don't get so down . Besides didn't you already catch an amazing one? Being too greedy isn't a good thing."
"Amazing?" Melanie felt she was being mocked. "Amazing?! What's so amazing about it, huh?! It's barely the size of my pinky!" She cried.
"Size isn't everything." Lyle shrugged his shoulders.
Melanie looked over at him with hollow eyes. "You caught ten. And they were all as big as my head."
"Just a few common ones, nothing worth mentioning." A careless wave of the hand. "And besides, what's mine is always yours." Lyle grinned.
The words, which would have normally gave her face reddish hues, didn't have much effect this time around. It just went right over her head.
Melanie held up a small glass. Inside was a tiny fish with silvery scales and a gold streak near it's fins. It had surprisingly long whiskers yet it's small stature just made it sad to look at.
Didn't warrant a bucket. The glass she had now was even too big for it.
In her eyes the lustrous silver-and-gold glow of its scales were, at the moment, hideous.
"This fish." She began miserably. "Is equivolent to the value my life has had up to now. Look at it. So small, ugly and pathetic. So worthless even birds wouldn't want to eat it. Not big enough for a pidgeon to take a poop with even if you had five of them."
Lyle watched her with a strange smile.
"Melanie...don't tell me you don't know what that is?"
She thought he was trying to rub salt in the wound. "A tiny, pitiful collection of blood and bone no one would want even if you paid them? Like me, but a better swimmer..."
Her self-deprecation was spiraling out of control by this point.
She knew how unhealthy it all was but she couldn't stop herself. Although actually, contrary to expectation, all this self-belittlement did help make her feel better whenever it popped up.
Melanie wondered if she was a masochist.
She probably was. Being together with a person like the Young Master, who obviously hid a sadistic nature within his heart, proved it.
Pervert. She was a pervert. Just a useless pervert who slipped into bouts of self-pity at the slightest sign of adversity!
Lyle paid no attention to her pathetic-looking visage.
"Wrong." He stated. " I mean I know it's a baby, but it's still a Golden Sea-Strider no matter how you look at it. You really didn't know? Sure it's more silver than gold for now but that'll change as it matures."
Melanie was lost. "Wait, a what?"
"A Golden Sea-Strider." He repeated patiently.
"And...and they're valuable? Useful?"
Lyle snorted. "Those things aren't easy to come by, you know? You can use their blood, bone and flesh for all kinds of things. Medicine, cosmetics, high-class culinary ingredients...just to name a few. They're pretty famous pets to some circles, even. It's really a wonder how one found it's way here. Maybe it's their migrating season and it got seperated somehow."
He tapped his finger as he tried to come up with a plausible theory. Melanie took a few seconds to fully comprehend what he'd told her.
Life surged back into her dead eyes.
"A-Ah, yeah, I knew that. Of course. I was just testing you." She laughed sheepishly. She didn't want to lose face in front of him when it came to something she'd boasted about so confidently.
"As expected." Was all he said.
Melanie let out a breath of relief. She didn't know whether he saw through her lie or if he was just being tactful. It was probably the latter but either way she was glad he didn't call her out on it!
The Young Master, truly a kind and magnanimous individual!
She ignored the fact that she was actually cursing his keen perception just a while ago.
Melanie thought about the way their date was going so far.
Certainly one wouldn't think a chilly morning of fishing to be a very romantic event for a couple on their first outing together.
It wouldn't seem to be very romantic even if it wasn't, right?
But somehow it was? Yeah.
She was having a lot of fun, more than what she'd expected to have.
Doing this brought back pleasant memories of her childhood. In between the insufferable boot-catching she found the moments of silence to be quite comforting and nice. Just them and the sound of rolling waves was very soothing.
Maybe that's why he chose this. Could he really have put that much thought into it?
Did he truly have such insight into her? Ah, she shouldn't be questioning that anymore. After all he did prove himself time and time again when it came to that.
The Young Master really did seem to know her very well. The thought nearly brought tears to her eyes once again.
Did she know him even half as well as he knew her? She didn't think she did, and it tore at her.
Melanie was supposed to know him. It was, again, her job to. And yet her knowledge about him seemed paper-thin compared to what he'd shown regarding Melanie herself.
She made the decision to fix that in the future.
Lyle had said he wanted to learn more about her, but was there really much left for him to learn?
This was unacceptable. Therefore Melanie, too, would learn as much as she could about him!
It wasn't just her competitive spirit talking, she herself was curious about him too. What kind of person had he been while he was off on his training missions? What other aspects of him hadn't she seen yet, hadn't had the chance to see yet?
What things had he done while she wasn't looking and what kind of people had he met on his journeys?
She wanted to know everything.
He was so devoted to making their newfound relationship work and she was finding that she desired it as much as he did. She liked being with him. It made her happy.
"Getting pretty late in the morning. " Lyle looked up at the sky. "We should be going, it's probably open by now."
Melanie found that comment interesting. "What's probably open?"
"You'll see. Pretty sure you're going to love it."
"Y-Young Master, look! Look! What's that? And over there too, how pretty! So cute!"
Melanie was moving with a speed Lyle could only ever dream about matching as she zig-zagged her way to every exhibit she could find.
They'd made one stop before coming, which was simply to put Melanie's catch into a nice bowl of water at their new, temporary home. As for his, they'd probably make a dinner out of them.
After that they quickly made their way to this densely-populated area of the city.
He scanned the loud, boisterous groups of people around them. Every person present had the same enamored looks as Melanie.
Some just watched quietly, others oopenly ooh'd and aah'd at every opportunity. An even rarer few reminded him of Iris as they stood with looks of intense focus, their pencils or brushes moving with expert precision and speed as they struggled to capture the image of the animals down on paper.
There were quite a number of couples here too.
The place they were at was, of course, a Zoo. One that was going to be closing soon due to the cold. Luckily they got here before that, just a day early.
There weren't many Zoos in the world, mainly because a lot of cities were ill-equiped to tame the many dangerous and wild animals their planet was home to.
It wasn't impossible, and many animals were already domesticated, but the more exotic varieties that would draw crowds?...Well they were difficult to control so it wasn't a very widespread practice.
The animals here were relatively harmless but really only due to extensive training and care.
Melanie, who had never seen such a large variety of animals before, was having a fun time getting to see and learn about all the new new kinds of beasts she was witnessing.
Lyle tracked Melanie's erratic movements. The animals didn't excite him much but waching her certainly did.
Definitely worth it to come here.
Lyle understood he shouldn't be out in front of so many people. That Sera woman might really be looking for him and even with his disguise it was still wise to be cautious. Yet seeing Melanie so happy and excited brought a ripple to his heart that made him throw that caution away without regret.
How did she do that? Just watching her like this gave him a sense of satisfaction he couldn't easily explain. He'd never seen her like this in all the time she'd been in his employ. It was because he never had the opportunity to see it and she'd never had he opportunity to show it.
He felt glad he was able to witness a new side of her. This girl was just so pure and honest, two rare qualities most people didn't possess. Certainly not him. And that smile she made, full of such child-like innocence...it should be a national treasure.
Lyle had always favored her, always considered her a friend rather than a servant, but now he was discovering that he liked her more and more as time went on.
...I was truly lucky to have found her, he thought.
Melanie was a good woman.
She didn't bad-mouth anyone and her shy kindness would be welcome no matter where she went. She was warmth and light, a mellow ray of sunshine that slowly melted your heart.
Melanie was no rose. She was not boisterous or flashy and certainly had no thorns. No, not a rose. But she was a daisy if ever he'd seen one. Vibrant, colorful, open.
He didn't deserve her. Didn't feel worthy enough.
Lyle was not a good man.
He'd done a lot of bad things, killed a lot of people. He had only ever done what he felt he had to and didn't shed a single tear for anyone he'd cut down. Yet he couldn't deny he was no longer stainless.
"Young Master, come here, look at these!"
While he was lost in thought Melanie had appeared at his side and dragged him along.
She brought him to a large exhibit where behind iron bars one could see many small, cat-like creatures.
They had faces slightly reminiscent of a bear but had the body of a cat. Their fur was a rustic red, almost like that of a fox.
"Look, look, you see them? Do you? They're so adorable!" Melanie gushed loudly. "I wonder what they are?"
Her arm was still wrapped around his own as she pointed the creatures out. She didn't look like she had any intention of letting go.
Lyle, of course, wouldn't say anything about it either.
There was a small plaque near them that Lyle walked to after hearing her question.
"Vermello prisca." He read. "Red cat." Lyle absently translated the text for her. "Believed to be part of the racoon family. Heh, mischievous little things like to steal shiny objects. Murphy would get along with them just fine."
"Cute..." Melanie's eyes were bright and wide, completely locked onto the small animals. Desire was written all over her face.
One appeared in front of them just then, looking at them with a tilted head.
Grinning goofily, Melanie put her hand forward with obvious intent.
This one's shade of red almost reminded her of the Young Master's. As she lacked courage to stroke his hair herself she settled for the creature in front of her.
Lyle saw this action of her's and quickly drew her hand away. Almost as soon as it was out of range they heard a snapping sound.
"Careful." He told her. "They like to bite."
"Eh?" She blinked. "To think these cute things actually hide such viciousness!" Melanie shook her head in wonder. Those teeth look pretty sharp you know! Her finger might have ended up as it's lunch!
"You can't really blame them. " Lyle laughed. "If I saw such a delicious-looking treat I'd want to have a taste too."
Again! He was saying that kind of bad thing again! This is the second time today already!
"Young Master, women really can't let their guard down around you. You're far too dangerous, you'd devour them without remorse." She muttered darkly.
"Nonsense." He replied. "I'm most certainly not a danger to most women. Only you."
Melanie was not sure whether she should be pleased or depressed at this. On one hand the thought made her smile like an idiot, on the other she didn't think she'd ever get any rest if it were true!
With such an unruly boyfriend what women could have any peace of mind? She'd fear a heart attack each day.
Ah, maybe that wouldn't be so bad though...
Melanie shook her head, her face heating up.
Not good, he was making her weird. He was a such bad influence, this guy!
"Come on, let's show you the sea life next. I hear there's a dolphin or two somewhere, want to take a look?"
"Dolphins? Where?" Melanie was bursting with eagerness.
Lyle wanted to hug her.
Tsk. Damn girl, she was bad for his health.
He shook his head and guided her through the throngs of visitors. It wasn't long before they entered a dark room connecting underground. A trail of softly-lit crystals led them towards enormous glass tanks behind which resided sea creatures of every shape, color and size.
"Whoa..." Melanie exclaimed as she eyed the sleek, playful creatures that had dominated her attention for some time now.
"So fast! How majestic! Look, they move so quickly, like birds!"
"They're something alright. But it's a shame." Lyle said. "If it were warmer you could've riden one."
Her mouth dropped. "You can do that?"
"It's one of the most popular attractions here from what I understand." Lyle nodded.
She seemed crestfallen. "If only we'd come here sooner." A sigh.
"We can come here again some other time." He assured.
Her spirit came back in an instant, only to deflate once more. "Ah, no, it's alright. It'd be too much trouble."
It was a long distance from Varric to here, she couldn't ask him to travel for several days just to fulfill a selfish desire of her's. Plus hadn't they run into a lot of problems on the way over? Bandits, monsters, a love-struck Noble.
Plus who knew how long he'd be a wanted man? That Sera really appeared quite taken with him, after all.
And Nobles usually got what they wanted.
There was no way Melanie could let him do it.
Lyle understood her worries without even a word from her. "I'm sure Iris would want to come too, perhaps even Mother would like to participate if she's still around by then. It'd be a nice change of pace, not any trouble at all."
"And I won't have to hide myself either. Even if that woman continued her search and discovered my real identity, what could she do to me at that time?"
"But aren't you worried? I thought you wanted it to be kept secret?"
Lyle didn't deny it. "I do. But that's of no consequence. I may have reasons for not wanting attention right now but that won't always be the case. In the future all this pretending won't be needed. Don't worry about anything, just leave it to me, alright?"
"Since it's like that...okay. I understand." If he said so himself she would believe in him.
He watched as her enthusiasm took hold of her once more and prompted her to run off on her own.
Lyle allowed it without care and simply kept a close eye on her.
"Do you really think it'll be so easy to be rid of us?"
The words, soft as a lover's kiss, clutched at both his heart and mind.
Melanie stiffened, a hand on her stomach.
It was so loud!
This little glutton, Melanie scolded, didn't you just eat a few hours ago? Why're you doing this to me, huh? You're biting the hand that feeds you! This is mutiny, mutiny I say!
Ah, so embarrassing....
"What was that?" Lyle asked.
"Oh, um, I think it was from one of the lions. Yeah. Wasn't that a loud growl? They're probably angry for some reason. W-Weird right? Maybe someone threw a stone at them. Haha...ha"
Nice save, me!
Melanie was rejoicing. That is, until Lyle folded his arms and cast a knowing glance her way.
"Lions, huh. I see. So in Melanie-speak that means you're hungry." He poked her stomach playfully.
"Melanie-speak?" Such a thing exists?!
"Indeed. You've a very intricate and mysterious language, Melanie. Luckily I'm quite proficient in decyphering this complex code of yours. "
"What? No, what're you talking about? It was the lions, hear me? The lions!"
"Yes, yes, the lions, I understand." Lyle didn't enlighten her to the fact that there were no lions at this particular exhibit.
He simply gave her stomach another quick poke and said, "Don't worry little one, we'll get you a nice meal to enjoy soon, 'kay?"
Melanie was mortified. What did he think he was doing to her, huh? And out in public too...
...Did he want her to die? Because she'd been getting death-glares for a while now...
Being with a handsome man truly invited great dangers, ah...
She was led to a small restaurant near the center of the area. The outside tables were packed with couples.Those not totally absorbed with each other all glanced their way.
Or maybe it was just her imagination? Ugh, she really was too conscious of others, wasn't she? Probably.
They entered the establishment, Melanie treading warily just a step behind Lyle. She followed him as calmly as one could be when faced with the hatred of maybe the entire female population.
Not to mention the strange looks some of the men gave her that just made her more uneasy.
Lyle, ever her saviour, gave everyone a pointed stare and made them too scared to give her a second glance.
Most of them anyway.
Unfortunately the women here were a bit more courageous than the men and openly regarded that stare as an invitation to continue the task of stripping him with their eyes.
Lewd women. Nothing better to do than act like pervy old grannies.
Gloom hung over Melanie's shoulders like a black mist. Seriously what's with all of you? Save those looks for your own men, leave mine alone!
Melanie nearly tripped after realizing what she'd just thought.
What the heck, woman! Melanie berated herself quietly.
You're as bad as them! You've only been dating for a few days and you already think you own him?! W-Who do you think you are to be so pretentious? Just a lewd, boring, disgusting, possessive, old...
The inner self-hate went on for quite some time.