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[X] Koa is my precious family.
You get up, and move towards the door. As you exit the room, you turn back to Remilia for a moment. “Koa is my precious family.” It's the truth.
“So, you've found your answer? Fantastic. It seems I don't need to worry about that getting in the way of you and Alice after all. Just because I won't be pushing the two of you together anymore doesn't mean that I'm above a few nudges.” She lets out a smirk and follows you on your way out of the library, and moving to the front to guide you to the lounge that she left Koakuma in. Maybe someday Remilia will be able to say that she was just worried without trying to pass it off as one of her schemes, but it's fine this way too.
Of course, only a poor friend wouldn't play along, and a bit of playful banter will help to calm your nerves en route “Still on about that? I don't suppose I'll ever get to hear what it is that you were trying to accomplish by playing cupid, right? Surely the great Remilia had some higher agenda than simple matchmaking.”
She gives you a look that might be genuine surprise. “My, you didn't realize it yet? I thought for sure you had, in light of your recent actions.”
“My recent actions?”
“Well, in the end it's such a small affair that I'm sure you'd want to give me a punch if I told you.”
“Talking about that thing from the book again?”
She chuckles. “It is a little strange for me to have read a book that you haven't, isn't it?”
“It's been a while since I had time to read much fiction.” Too long perhaps.
“If you're interested, the name had something to do with seas and stars, but I wasn't terribly interested in that part of it. Nevertheless, I would highly recommend it.”
“I'll consider it.” More importantly than any of that, however, is clearing things up with Koakuma. While you were talking, you arrived at your destination.
“I take it you're ready?”
“Of course.” You already had your mind set on a course of action before you left the library.
“Then I'll give the two of you some privacy.” Remilia knocks once on the door, and a moment later, Sakuya and Meiling open the door and leave the room, joining Remilia in departure. It's good that they seem to have enough sense to respect that this will be a personal conversation, and interlopers are not welcome.
Taking a deep breath, you enter the room and see Koakuma sitting on one of the couches. Upon noticing your entrance, she starts to cover her tear-red eyes. Seeing her like this is painful, but more than anything now, it strengthens your resolve. You know what you have to do.
“Koakuma, I need to apologize to you.”
She starts to protest. “No, I should be the one to apologize!”
You hold up an open hand to interject. “I'll listen to any apologies you still feel the need to give, but first, may I just say a few things?”
“Oh, of course, Patchouli. I'm sorry for interrupting you.”
She apologized again, but you aren't going to call it out, since you have something more important to say. First you sit next to her and say a little incantation, one that she was probably too young to remember the last time she heard it on the day that you contracted with her. She's grown a lot since then, so it's only fitting that she would outgrow that old contract as well.
“Alright, it's done. You're free”
“W-what?” She is understandably startled, but once you explain, you're sure she'll understand.
“I released you from your contract, I’m no longer your master-”
“You're getting rid of me? But I don't want to leave! I love this library, more than anything.”
It’s an understandable mistake for her to make. Perhaps if you had more of a way with words, you could have headed that off preemptively, but if you explain your intentions clearly, it should still work out.
“I'm not getting rid of you. If you want to stay, then stay. What I mean, is this is still your home. No matter what, you'll always be welcome here.”
“So, you don't hate me?”
Actions speak louder than words, apparently, so you extend your arms to give her a hug, and after a moments hesitation, she practically jumps into them. For the sake of clarity though, it'd probably be best to speak your thoughts as well. “I'm sorry for worrying you and making you cry. You're my precious family, I could never hate you, and because we're family, I want us to be equals, not master and servant. Okay?”
With her head practically buried in your chest, it's a bit difficult to hear her response, but you make out what sounds like an affirmative response, and coupled with some vigorous nodding on her part, you get the picture.
It's a bit embarrassing to admit this, but it doesn't feel right to hold it back either. “One more thing, Koakuma. Even though you're free now, I'm glad to hear that you want to stay here. I don't want to bind you to this place, but it's also true that the library wouldn't be as warm a place if you weren't here.”
She doesn't respond but instead just tightens the hug slightly in affirmation.
The two of you stay like that for a moment in silence, neither willing to break away. Normally you wouldn't like this kind of physical contact, but if it's Koa, then it's fine.
It's been a few minutes now. Perhaps you should say something to break the silence. You're not really sure what to say, but you suppose that anything will do. “I've just started on a new research project, but I'm not really sure what to name it, maybe you could help me come up with some ideas?”
There's no response, and you realize that she has fallen asleep on you. Well, anyone would be exhausted by all this drama, and she's already the type to work herself to exhaustion normally. As for yourself, you just woke up, but it seems you weren't asleep for long, and it wasn't exactly restful either, so following suit might just be a good idea. It's not like you could leave her while she was asleep after saying all that, or rather, you couldn't allow yourself to leave her.
You shift Koakuma gently so that you can both be more comfortable, making sure she doesn't wake up in the process. You consider disentangling yourself from her a bit more, but this way is more like how she used to be, so maybe, just for now, it's okay to stay like this.
Waking up, you feel a little bit stiff, and start to get up with a start when you feel the warmth of another person next to you, but upon recalling prior events and remembering that it's just Koa, you ease back down.
You probably foolishly woke her up doing that. This kind of closeness is still going to take a bit of getting used to.
Those fears, however, were unfounded, as it seems Koa was already awake.
“Good morning, Patchouli” She greets you with a smile. “Shall I prepare your morning tea?”
She starts to get up, but you pull her back. “It can wait a bit.” It's not something you'd ever admit it to anyone, but the idea of losing Koakuma scares you. Right now you're just being a bit overly possessive, but if it lets Koa know how important she is to you, then that's fine.
“...okay.” She returns the embrace.
At this time, you realize that there is another presence in the lounge. Sitting up and looking around, you see that Alice is here, in full maid regalia, dusting the shelves. When she sees you, she bows and apologizes, “Sorry to disturb you, I hope I'm not intruding on anything. Remilia told me that this room had to be cleaned right away.”
Remilia doesn't waste any time, it seems. “I don't really mind, but you can make up for the interruption by getting us both some tea. Use the blend from the library storeroom, and bring my medicine from there too.” You do kind of mind, but it's more Remilia's fault than hers. Besides, you've learned that Alice, like Koakuma, is the sort that doesn't seem to respond well to negativity.
She's about to leave, but you catch her attention. “Actually, make that three cups of tea.”
“Myself, Koakuma, and yourself. I'd like to talk some more about our research.”
“Is that alright? I mean, I am on the job right now, and the two of you are, well...”
“Well, Koakuma, do you mind?”
“It's fine by me. I also want to continue to assist your work in any way I can.” It's possible that she just said that to please you, but you want to believe in her to speak her mind.
“There you have it.
“Then, right away. Also, it might be out of place for me to say this, but I support the two of you. I mean, I also...well, never mind.” As she says that, she does a nervous quick walk out of the door.
And so the interloper leaves with a statement you don't quite understand. “You'll support the two of us?” You repeat it and look at Koakuma. “Do you have any idea what she meant by that?”
From her expression it seems that she's just as confused as you are. “No idea. Alice is kind of weird like that, but I think she's also a good person, so she was probably just trying to be nice, maybe?”
“I guess.” Now, where have you heard that phrase before? The context was....romance of some sort? But why would....oh, right. The hugging and sleeping on a couch together. Why does everyone automatically assume that, when it's far more logical to just see that she and I are just close family.
It seems that you'll need to correct the mistaken assumption of hers. Alternatively, a devious thought crosses your mind. If you let the mistake persist, it will throw an amusing wrench into Remilia's matchmaking. Perhaps you've been living with Remilia for too long, for it seems that you've grown a liking for her forms of amusement, or perhaps instead you are finally accustomed enough to counter her. The thought does bring a small smile to your face.
“Um, Patchouli, you said that you wanted us to be equals, so...can I say something?” It seems that Koakuma has something else on her mind.
“Go ahead, and you don’t need to ask permission anymore.”
“Right. Well, the thing is, I don't dislike it, but it feels a little odd to be getting hugged so much at my age...”
Hmm. Perhaps it was a bit too much, but going with the flow, it felt like the right thing to do at the time, and it certainly matched the familial affection that you've experienced through books. Looking back, however, you have to admit the poor logic of literary mimicry, as exaggeration is a staple in fiction. It's not like Liu Bei actually cried that much; going so far as to hug her might have been too much. Perhaps you were forcing yourself because you weren’t sure how else to express yourself. It’s true that it was out of your nature, but it’s also true that you wanted some way to show her that you cared. Interpersonal relationships really are tough.
Another thought crosses your mind. Even though you said yourself that you wanted to be equals, you're still treating her like a child. It seems you still have a ways to go yourself.
“Right, I forget sometimes that you're no longer the little devil I found lurking amongst the shelves.”
“Even though I've been here for so long, I still don't feel mature like you or Lady Remilia.
Remilia being mature? That's a good joke. “If you're taking Remilia as an example, then you should know that she just acts that way. You could too, with a little practice, but I think you're fine the way you are now.”
“Maybe so. Lady Remilia said something similar during the party last year.”
“The party?” It's early Autumn now, and that was mid Winter, so it really has been almost a year now. Of course, you spent all of that time in this library doing research, so it's not like you had any need to mark the passing of days.
“Yeah, as soon as we arrived, Sakuya and Lady Remilia took me with them and accompanied me the whole night. I got to meet a lot of new people, which was a bit, well, scary, but it was also interesting. Gensokyo really is an amazing place, to have so many different youkai and humans in it.” She pauses a bit and gets a bit red faced. “Sorry, I'm talking too much about boring things aren't I?”
“Not at all, I'm interested in what you're interested in, I want to know more about you.” It's also interesting to put the pieces back together in hindsight. That was the night that you met Alice, so presumably Remilia wanted Koakuma to not get in the way. You'd be annoyed, but it seems like it was a good experience for Koa too, so it's probably fine. It seems there are some things that you can't do for Koa by yourself.
“I also wanted to spend the evening with you, Patchouli, but Lady Remilia said I should give you some space for the evening...”
Come to think of it, it doesn't seem that Koa knows about Remilia's matchmaking plan. It's not like you've been keeping it a secret from her, it just never came up. There's no reason why you shouldn't be able to tell her now, but there's also no reason to do so. It's not like anything is actually going to happen between Alice and you.
“I wouldn't have minded...
[ ] ...Remilia only said that because she's trying to start some kind of romance between Alice and myself. Pretty silly, right?”
[ ] ...We're family after all.”