--He knew from the start, before Shuurei went to Sa Province, what her answer was.
That's why, at that time, he'd been extremely careful how he did things and not didn't give an ultimatum. If he heard her answer now, he'd end up right where he began.
"Listen! I-I have an ambitious and great plan." Ryuuki tried stating things as firmly as Shuurei had done.
"I'll say it again. I never once said that I wanted your answer!"
"What was that "I love--" embarrassing bit you just said?!"
"That, that was to stock up on happiness. I was lonely, and...... you'll be going back to Sa Province, so I thought I'd replenish my spirit. In any case, all that matters right now is that you know that my feelings haven't changed. That's all!"
"I want to get this over with quickly!"
"I haven't finished setting up my battle formation, so I absolutely refuse!!"
"Do you honestly expect your enemy to just listen and say, 'oh, okay'?!"
It was hard to tell if they were talking romance or about a final battle.
Shuurei was panting as she glared at Ryuuki.
"......You think it'll make a difference if you can finish setting up your battle formation"
"I'm setting it for a reason"
"You can tell me that when that time comes. In any case, if you attack now, I'll take the offensive and run for it."
"Where're you taking the offensive there?"
"--To 'me'," Ryuuki murmured as he looked away.
"I'll go for my first and final bet, so why not leave me a chance."
Shuurei slowly exhaled.
......she knew. In light of the power he held, her will was meaningless. He could end all of this with a single word, but he never did.
Because he respected Shuurei's wishes above all.
And on top of that, he was planning something. And he didn't want a reply until that time came.
"......Even if I promise that I won't change?"
"I'm afraid I really hate giving up and am exceptionally patient."
As if he could give up.
Ryuuki didn't want to have Shuurei as a friend.
"......Fine. In that case, I won't say it right now. A temporary cease fire then."
Ryuuki sat cross-legged leaning against the sapling; Shuurei moved to sit next to him, also leaning against the sapling although with her legs stretched out.
"......But what are you going to do if I get married to someone before then?"
"Hm, that's the one thing that worries me, but you promised in the spring that you would send me a letter before that would happen."
"When that happens, you're telling me it's inevitable that you'll take my husband away from me?"
It was so like her to put things opposite to how people would normally express things.
Ryuuki hung his head like a wilted new leaf.
"...... I...... might end up doing so. I...... can't promise not to."
"You're very honest."
Shuurei tapped the end of Ryuuki's proud nose sharply with her finger.
"Let me ask you one thing. Do you intend to let me return to Sa Province?"
"......? Of course."
"Thank you. I'll remember those words instead."
Even though he said he was lonely, he never asked her to stay by his side. And in this way, even though he said he loves her, he still let go of Shuurei's hand. He didn't even ask her to wait.
He never once tried to compel her. Shuurei decided to remember that fact should that time ever come.
Ryuuki was always straightforward with her, so Shuurei told him honestly, "Even if I come to love you, I'll probably give you the same answer as I would now."
"I know. That's why I'm not saying anything right now."
"You always make me say such terrible things."
"It doesn't hurt me, so it's okay. Besides I know of something much kinder."
Ryuuki stretched out his arm and held Shuurei's hand. Shuurei didn't shake him off.
It was almost as though his icy palm was telling how lonely he was.
The skies in the east lightened. As the two watched, Ryuuki murmured, "......Shuurei."
"......Am I really not allowed to kiss you?"
Shuurei wasn't fooled by his lonely, abandoned puppy tone.
After Shuurei answered him firmly to the very end, she decided against telling him that she almost closed her eyes 'that time'.