Chapter I: Of Muggers and Smugglers


Subaru raised the bag of groceries to his eyes and looked at it for a moment, then lowered it back down to his side and looked at Rem. The tiny maid had both of her hands together in front of her as she looked around the city square with an open mouth and fervent, yet confused eyes. He knew she recognized where they were, but she was most likely trying to work out how they had gotten there. They had been inside the palace, after all, and now they were suddenly in the Royal Capital of Lugnica with the only signifying change in scenery being a jarring entrance into a shadow world filled with the Witch's scent. At that thought, Rem's eyes snapped onto him, but when she found him looking back at her, her gaze softened.

"S... Subaru-kun?" she questioned, taking a step toward him and watching how he reacted. When he did not look surprised at the situation they were in, it almost made her falter, but instead she pressed on until she was standing right in front of him. When she was looking right up at him from just inside his personal space, she continued, "How did we get to the capital, Subaru-kun? We need to return to the palace. Emilia-sama will be worried about Subaru-kun."

"Well, see, the thing is, Rem-rin, well, kind of..." Subaru sputtered, scratching the back of his neck and looking everywhere but at the blue-haired girl in front of him. When he realized what he was doing, he took in a deep breath and stared at the fountain beside them, deciding to get it all out at once, "This is not the first time this has happened to me, Rem-rin. I've been going through the same thing we just experienced for what feels like months."

"What? What has Subaru-kun gone through so much? He is not making any sense," Rem replied in a small panic; Subaru was not acting like himself. In response, he put his hands on her shoulders and leaned in. She blushed and glanced at his lips as his face got closer, but caught the hint and leaned in to hear him speak quietly when it became apparent that he was not attempting to kiss her.

"I call it the Return by Death," Subaru whispered, "and it is what happens when I die. This is the fountain in Lugnica Capital about a day before I met you. For a week of my time, every time I died, I would... err... restart here. That is, until I arrived at Roswaal Mansion with two cute maid girls hugging in front of me. Then I restarted there."

Momentarily, Rem's eyes widened as she made several connections in her head between Subaru and his actions at Roswaal Mansion. So many hints he had given them all that were brushed away as eccentricities or oddities, so many obvious weird happenings that made no sense at the time but were swept away by the personality that was "Subaru" all made sense at that moment, and the last piece of the puzzle of Natsuki Subaru fit firmly into place. Still, it tugged at her heart in two conflicting ways, and the first thing that she thought of was unfortunately what came out first.

"So... Subaru has died so many times... He has met Rem so many times... Befriended her so many times... Was it all planned? Did Subaru... Has Subaru's relationship with Rem been a lie? His relationship with Emilia-sama? His relationship with Roswaal-sama and Beatrice-sama? Is Subaru really-" she attempted to finish with tears in her eyes but was cut off by the firm hug that Subaru attacked her with as her mind ran wild. As calm as she usually was, when it came to Subaru or Ram, Rem could hardly contain herself. It was nearly as touching to him as her hunting of the pack of dark creatures for him.

"No! Rem-rin, you should think less! Well, that is, you shouldn't overthink my returns so much! This is the first time that anyone has ever come back with me before, and I don't know what happened, but everything I have ever done in my returns has been in an honest attempt to help you and the others at the mansion. I've even... I've even died to make some of you come back. Don't ever question our friendship, Rem-rin, because I promise you, and I am a man of his word, that everything is real!"

His whispered speech had the desired effect on Rem, who calmed down and by the end was smiling into his chest. Their physical contact in the past had been rare and brief, but they had hugged once or twice before, and of the family at the mansion, Rem felt she could rely on Subaru and Ram the most in any situation. The amount of convincing that she had needed that Subaru was who he said he was was minute. Her brain re-rationalized itself, and she looked up at him again.

"But then, Subaru-kun must have died hundreds of times, mustn't he have? Rem can't imagine how hard that must have been for him..." she was cut off again by the tightening of his arms around her once again.

"Don't worry about it. I've gotten used to it, honest!" he exclaimed. When it was clear that this was causing Rem the opposite reaction to one that he was intending (as her eyes widened again), he quickly added on, "At first it stressed me out, dying so many times and remembering it all, but now I know that each life that goes away isn't really real anymore, and I've gotten over it. I've... embraced it. Just like I've embraced the Roswaal family! It's a part of me now."

He separated from her once it was clear that she was back to herself, and he took a look around again.

"Come on, let me show you what I did the last time I was back here, the time that I got past this part of my life. It should be easier with two of us."

He grabbed her hand and led her towards the alleyway where the muggers resided. It was a few moments of walking before they were there, but he was relieved when they arrived and saw that the muggers were back where they had been in the previous timeline. He hadn't missed them as he at first thought. A quick call for help led to Reinhard chasing away the criminals and asking him a favor once more. Once Reinhard disappeared, Subaru quickly led Rem through the slums and towards Felt's house, where he allowed himself to get caught looking into her belongings again, convinced her that he was a customer, and followed her to the smuggler's den. It was a textbook repeat of his last return in the capital, except Rem watched furtively and picked every detail through with her eyes as she watched Subaru's surprisingly outstanding memory lead them through their new world.

Subaru repeated to the word (as closely as he could) the appraisal of his phone, the argument with Felt, and his surprise at seeing Emilia reveal herself in the doorway. The first hurdle, the one that he had expected but had not planned for, was Emilia's recognition of Rem, and her presence in the smuggling den rather than at the mansion.

"Rem? What are you doing here? And who is this man with you?" a confused sounding Emilia questioned of Rem, who looked at Subaru for help but found him wanting. Thinking quickly, having been the mastermind behind Subaru's escape to the palace earlier, she devised a quick excuse.

"Emilia-sama," she bowed, "Roswaal-sama left Ram-oniichan and Rem with standing orders to maintain the condition of the mansion. Rem noticed that the kitchen was missing a few ingredients that could only be found in the city and left as quickly as she could. When she saw Emilia-sama in a troublesome part of the city, she followed Emilia-sama to keep her safe. Rem arrived before Emilia-sama to ensure her safety. This is Subaru-ku... Subaru-san. He... helped me find ingredients and had business here," she finished awkwardly, hoping that it would hold up to Emilia's guaranteed scrutiny. Fortunately, Emilia was too focused on the crest to pay much mind to shoddy excuses and nodded swiftly before going back to arguing with Felt.

Subaru lightly tapped Rem's elbow and gestured with his eyes towards the place where Elsa would soon pounce, and he saw Rem's eyes narrow and an almost imperceptible nod bob her hair before she pretended to watch Emilia, all of her senses except sight directed at the spot Subaru had indicated.

Subaru looked her over to make sure she had gotten the message, turned towards Emilia and Felt, and started to broker a deal between them like he had last time. A glint of pale skin in the darkness where he had gestured to Rem caught his eye and he internally grinned. It felt quaint to know his opponent's moves before they were made again, finally. As soon as the dark lady made a twitch, he pounced.

"Puck! Guard her!"