/ Ludwig's pov /

`` It is said that if you unveil all the authentic aspects of yourself, especially those you keep hidden, the others will accept you wholeheartedly because unadulterated truth, not stained with secrets, is what they supposedly seek.

What happens if that kind of genuineness can make some of them feel like they have no control or power over you? Could you ever trust their strength to endure what they see and think?

Acceptance is a struggle, so it becomes easier to reject.

I have thought of the consequences so many times that it doesn't feel so tough anymore; And so deeply, that the loneliness that would follow seems like a shelter to me and my prohibited hope...

There is a pile of rules, conditions and ethical dilemmas that stand in the way. Who can move my own obstacles, besides me? Nobody. This is my concern. It is not the resposibility that bends me, or the chances that disappear; I know, every decision has a price. What drains me is that I cannot make things better, even a bit more bearable, for the one I care.

No matter what I say or do either cleverly or not, you will leave, you will return back... It appears like everything will go to the beginning, to the starting point, just like ourselves in some way. You will leave, even if I pleaded you not to. And my reasons aren't all personal. I worry about you, perhaps more than I do about me. The times we live in are difficult, merciless, strange. The world is looking for an end and a beginning in methods that can be harmful, especially towards those who are not directly at fault.

I want you beside me... But how can I keep you, even if I possessed you by force, when I myself, is captured by the bounds of my duties? In the end, is that wish larger than me and more than I can take?

No, I won't search for excuses there. I won you with my worth, with all that I am... And now I lose you.

It's subtle, but what appears to remain with me is hope. And I really cannot tear it out from me, as though it's inseparably connected with my survival instict. This notion brings some comfort, yet it's potentially unpredictable. I don't fear it. It won't kill me. I think it's going to become oxygen, to help me live with the absence...´´

/ /

Naoji glanced impatiently at the wall clock, under the dim light. Considerable time had passed since he separated himself from Ann after their conversation was finished. He was in the guest room now, waiting for Ludwig.

Propelled by a sudden motivation and obeying his body without query, he stood up and headed to the exit... His eyes easily adjusted to the dark before proceeding to cross the corridor with sure steps. Once he reached the stairs that leaded to the lower floor, the faint light of an oil lamp or candle encouraged him to go down. It was then that it became clear to him that he was searching for his partner.

The door of the front room laid half-closed. Naoji remained motionless for a minute, not attempting to peer inside and listened closely, to check if he could detect any audible sign or voice. The rhythmic noise of raindrops upon glass sounded unnaturally discernible, as if the place was empty of any presence, besides the whispers of the rain.

The man's estimation proved to be wrong because Ludwig was there, sitting on a couch near the balcony window... He also noticed that it was particularly dark outside and the outdoors lamps at the garden appeared as a blurry image.

" Lui." The utterance induced a slight bodily reflex to the receiver but no other reaction followed. The Japanese Strahl did not demand a quick, reassuring answer. He came near and knelt by his partner's side... Moments like this were not too unusual to the couple; Ludwig preferred to keep his emotions inside, clad in silence, especially when these stressed him. Their gazes finally locked when the person who was there earlier felt Naoji's touch gripping his wrist as though he was about to drag him from that place and take him away, under the cover of weather, so they could be somewhere else without restrictions.

" You seem tired... Should we talk later?"

His partner averted his eyes. " Go upstairs." He replied swiftly, with no force in his voice.

" No. I will wait." The other man affirmed.

" It would be unwise if both of us stayed longer; The privacy here is limited." Ludwig commented. " Just give me a moment, Naoji."

The guest room seemed more vacant than before and cold, even though the heat coming from the fireplace was not missing. Naoji thought that the sense was possibly inward, as a result of becoming gradually informed about the nature of Ludwig's meeting with the duke as well as the sight of him struggling not to show any traces of sorrow.

" Are you so willing to offer such a vital part of yourself? Do you consent?"

" I am sure you know how it feels to let others decide what direction you ought to take... You were in my place once. And in the end, you accepted your father's wish to send you to an overseas school in a far country."

" That comparison... is unjust." Naoji's retort was laboured, yet the answer was said with confidence.

A flash of distress appeared briefly on Ludwig's face. " Whatever it is, I won't complain if you accuse me."

" That wouldn't be my intention."

Ludwig approached his partner, speaking quietly. " You tolerate my unkindness."

Naoji was silent for a moment, staring at the glaring fireplace. It was possibly the sight of fire that kindled his courage to say, without fear, what he had been thinking...

" Come with me in Japan." The man proposed collectedly. " I will teach you everything; The language, the customs... People like you can excel everywhere and my country appreciates charisma, knowledge and ethics such as the ones you possess."

The listener found himself delighting the extreme offer and it wasn't because of the obvious compliment. He thought again how honest and open Naoji had been with him, earnestly showing how much their relationship mattered to his life. The conclusion was both relishing and painful. The impossibility held cruelty, while the imagery of a potential future brought a sense of freedom, though it couldn't last long.

" It's not the country, neither the language, the people or even the distance, that stops me. It's the reason that lies with me, the available choices I have along with the price each of them carries."

" And the personal cost for coming with me is much heavier than staying where you are?"

" ...Given the current condition I must face, yes."

" I see. If only that last, positive word was for me... Do I sound selfish now?"

" No, Naoji. You don't."

" It's strange... I am not sure whether I should feel like I have lost or that I still keep your love and maybe a place in your future."

" You own much more than I can admit right now. You know. You always knew."

/ /

/ Naoji's pov /

`` Lui, if you can live without me, if that's how it must be, then I will brave it. In any event, you have become a permanent part of who I am. And I know that I have affected yourself as much. So if it's written by fate and while there is the smallest hope for a more auspicious era and the circumstances ever present a chance for us, hopefully before transcending to another life... I shall seek you again. Like the first time.´´