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We go to bed immediately after Richard finishes his story. Too much has happened in the last day alone, let alone everything that I heard while country hopping, and at this point sleep is the only thing that’ll help me sort through my thoughts.

My feelings are another matter entirely, but for now it’s probably best not to dwell on them. There are other things to worry about… But that doesn’t exactly stop bits and pieces of our conversation from keeping me awake until late into the night.

I come downstairs the next morning and find Richard at the kitchen table, already awake and on the phone. If the light grey under his eyes is any indication, we each got about the same amount of sleep last night.

“Yes… No, it shouldn’t affect anything pertinent… Yes, yes, I know… I’ll let you know immediately once we can resume work as normal… We will. Goodbye.”

It’s only then that he notices me there and greets me with a tired smile.

“I’ve just finished discussing our schedules with Saul.”

He doesn’t elaborate, and he doesn’t particularly need to. In other words, we’ve got as much time as we need to deal with the little lady.

But that does remind me…

“I had a pretty long talk with him in Hong Kong.”

“As I’ve been made aware. What an incorrigible man. The least he could have done was told me he had safely found you.”

His brows furrow as he rests his chin in one hand, and it takes a surprising deal of strength not to laugh. I probably shouldn’t mention the voicemails.

“He told me I could take his name, if I needed it.”

It comes out in a surprising rush. Richard’s head lifts up from its resting spot, but somehow his brows knit even closer together.

“His name…? Ranasinghe?”

“Yeah.”

“...”

He drops his head back to his hand, turning a bit to look at Jirou as he stretches out with a whine.

“...if you include Maya - despite her not using the name - and Monica, you would become a member of a rather eccentric family.”

“Family?”

It’s not a phrase I’d expected to hear from him. Does Richard consider these people his family? I never thought about it… Not because of any blood relation, of course. Nakata-san is nothing if not my father, and we certainly aren’t blood related. But considering when he met a lot of these people, I could see there being a unique kind of affection there.

Maya-san would be an interesting older sister. The kind fond of pranks on a good day, but with sage wisdom on a bad one. I’ve only met Monica-san once, and only for a few minutes, but she’d be a pretty responsible younger sister. I’d probably end up learning more from her than she learned from me.

It’s surprisingly easy to imagine Saul-san as the dad in all of this. He’s already done so much for me as it is.

But… Richard as a brother?

I definitely used to describe him that way to other people. I’m an only child, so I enjoyed having someone older in my life to guide me when I needed it and just spend time with me when I didn’t.

But now? Now, the thought just… nags at me. Makes my stomach twist, even. And not just that. Taking Saul-san’s name itself makes the base of my spine tingle. Our circumstances are too different. If anything, it’d be more like—

“Are you that against the idea?”

Richard smirks at me, his beautiful eyes twinkling in the morning sun.

“It’s not quite that. If anything, it’s actually a really nice image.”

“Hardly.” He scoffs, probably at the idea of Saul-san being anything even remotely resembling his father, but his voice lacks a decisive finality. There’s definitely something there for him, at least.

“There’s just something different about me taking the name, you know?”

“...Care to elaborate?”

I hesitate.

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with my way of thinking, but I’ve matured enough to know that what I am, in fact, thinking may sound a little odd to most people.

“It’s unlike you to chew on your words so carefully.”

“Hey.”

“I mean it as a compliment, of course.” The curve of his lips soften from a smirk into something more reassuring.

Well, if you want to know that badly…

“I owe Saul-san a lot, but not in the way Monica-san does. And not in the way you do.”

“And how does this connect to using Ranasinghe, exactly?”

I purse my lips. He’s really gonna make me say it. Where’s his usual fifth-dimensional level of understanding?

“‘Ranasinghe’ for you feels a little closer to the way ‘Nakata’ is for me. Yours was by choice, sure, but there was a lot happening at the time. It’d be a purely free choice for me, so it feels a little… I’d be ‘family’ not because I’m your sibling or anything, but through marriage.”

His hand lowers to the table at this point, and he leans back like the muscles along his spine demand it of him.

“Seigi.”

“Yes.”

“Just to clarify—“

“Uh-huh.”

“In this theoretical scenario of yours, who would you be marrying, exactly?”

“Well, I… guess it’d be you. Uh, by process of elimination.”

“...By process of elimination.”

Even I’m a little shocked at that addition. As I thumb through my memories, I find plenty of times I’ve been more straightforward and never batted an eye. I wasn’t even personally fazed by the idea until I started speaking.

...No, that’s wrong. This weird lump in my throat, the incessant drumming in my chest, none of this is “unfazed.” It’s exactly the kind of thing that made talking to Tanimoto-san so terrifying during the early days of my second year, like I could’ve keeled over any minute.

I wasn’t supposed to be thinking about this. But now that I am, I’m terrified. I don’t want to feel like I need to watch myself around Richard. Not like this.

...Watch myself? Why would I feel the need to suddenly start watching myself now?

I grind my molars. We can dissect all this later. I just want to be honest with him, that’s all.

“I mean, if I were to enter the ‘Ranasinghe Family,’ it’d almost certainly be for you.”

He picks up on what I’m not saying.

‘I’m sorry, I didn’t mean it that way. I didn’t mean to say you were a last resort.’

He probably picks up on a lot more, too, since even though I can’t bring myself to look at him, the cool blue of his stare lands cold on cheeks I know are certainly flushed.

As I stand there at the edge of the kitchen, I’m suddenly struck with thoughts of a certain English gentleman’s words during my visit to Paris. They were oddly cryptic at the time, but otherwise didn’t register as much more than his usual antics. Now, though, they’re accompanied by an oddly keen pain, right in the center of my chest.

Richard says something about making a pot of tea as he stands up and urges me to sit at the table. When I do as told, his hand gently lands on my shoulder, and if my sleep-deprived brain isn’t lying to me, he gives it a slight squeeze.

“It is ultimately your choice. I… may provide advice, should you seek it, but I would never force you to make a decision so important. But whatever your decision may be, I will support it as long as it is something that truly makes you happy.”

When I finally look up at him, he’s completely turned around. I rub at my eyes a bit, wondering if sleep is playing tricks on me.

His right ear, barely visible as he pulls out a pot and fills it with water, has a slightly red tinge to it. When he turns to grab the tea leaves, his face tilts just enough for me to see that it extends to his cheeks.

I quickly turn back around, burying my face in my hands.

I may just be trying to give myself hope - and that feeling alone sends my thoughts into a spiral I have to shove off into a corner for later - but I get the distinct feeling…

...he wasn’t just talking about a name change.