Aldrich looked at Valera's hopeful eyes and smiled back. "If you put it like that, then there's no reason for me to refuse, is there?"
Valera's eyes widened further. "Does that mean…you are saying…"
"Yes. It means I'm saying yes. I'm willing to try. I don't know where this path will lead us, but I'm willing to walk it with you. " Aldrich nodded. He did not know too well what he was getting into.
He knew how to play the part of a confident flirt in case he needed to infiltrate enemy spaces via a woman, but he figured he would never have to play that part beyond just regular flirting.
Actually being in a dedicated, long term relationship was something he had never factored as a valuable asset to him. Because, he had figured, he would be dead long before he could get into a relationship like that. Or if he did, it would only just cause pain for both parties.
But Valera made it obvious that he did not have to worry about that. She was strong. The only thing he worried about was hurting her because his memories were not as real as hers or being unable to properly love her, but she was willing to accept that.
To try, as she had said.
And, Aldrich would never admit this out loud, but he liked this feeling. Of being loved.
It was a feeling he had almost forgotten until his encounter with his Boundary core. Maybe it was because that memory was so recent that he was more open to it now as well.
It was nostalgic and warm. It reminded him of good times he had long forgotten.
As Aldrich reminisced, Valera collapsed into him, embracing him in a full hug. Unlike her usual hugs full of force and impulsive desire, this one was tender, like she was holding something the most precious thing in the world to her. She buried her face in his chest, and he could feel warm tears on his shirt.
"Are you okay, Valera?" said Aldrich, somewhat concerned. He held her back this time, not feeling awkward about it. There was something about becoming 'official' that really did make some things easier.
"Yes, yes I am. I was simply nervous," said Valera. She looked up at Aldrich with a beaming smile, the faint remnants of tears gracing the corners of her red eyes. "I was willing to accept any answer you gave me, but-but I was still so nervous. I was shaking like a coward – it was unsightly."
She turned her head away, ashamed. "My apologies."
"It's nothing to be ashamed of. Dealing with a fight and dealing with this are entirely different things. You're no coward for reacting like that." said Aldrich. He could sympathize with her, especially after he had faced his fears in his Boundary core.
He, like her, could face life threatening danger without batting an eye, but when it came to matters of the heart, they were just nervous trainees that either did not know what to do or had run from their fights.
"Thank you for understanding. For always understanding." Valera closed her eyes in bliss as she snuggled up to Aldrich.
"I'll keep trying to," said Aldrich. He immediately began to think of what trying meant and how to optimize it. "What do you exactly mean by 'trying', by the way? In what ways do you want me to try? What do you think is the most efficient way-,"
Valera giggled at Aldrich's voiced thoughts.
"Hm? What is it?" said Aldrich.
"Always thinking so far ahead. Always thinking about the details," said Valera. She shook her head. "When you put it like that, it really does kill the romance out of what I said, does it not? But it is so very much like you. I like that side of you, but for now, all I want you do is to hold me.
And when you hold me, I don't want you to think of anything. I want you to just stay with me in the present. Let your mind be close with me, not wandering and getting lost in a future we have no idea about."
Aldrich held her, and she kept up her content smile as she basked in his embrace. He looked down at her and took her advice. He stopped thinking so hard for a moment, just focusing on her, on her warm body, on her happiness, and…and he managed to relax.
It was an almost draining feeling. For so many years, he had never once been able to relax his mind like this. But focusing on her warmth, he could do it. Striking memories surfaced. Of how it had felt to be held by his parents when he was a child without a single care in the world, how comforting and warm and wonderful it all was when he could just let go.
Maybe…maybe this was not so bad. Relaxing.
Aldrich fell into Valera's embrace with more ease now, his usual tenseness fading away. He closed his eyes.
They stayed like that together for what felt like
"I want hugs too."
Aldrich and Valera both immediately opened their eyes and drew away, looking at the source of the voice. The Chrysalis was on the edge of the bed, but because she was so small, only the top of her head and her curious green eyes peeped out. She put her pale hands over the top of the bed, asking to be raised up.
"I love hugs. Not fair you two get them but not me," said the Chrysalis.
Aldrich briefly glanced at Valera, wondering if she was ticked off about this interruption. But on the contrary, she looked at the Chrysalis with a gentle and amused expression.
"Is that so?" Valera got off the bed and picked the Chrysalis up in her arms. "Then will you let me hold you? Even though I am scary?"
"You give good hugs. I want it," said the Chrysalis. She cocked her head and looked at Aldrich. She pointed at him. "But…but he gives good hugs too, especially at the end. I want both."
"Come here, then, child." Valera held the Chrysalis gently, and the Chrysalis nodded in contentment.
"Not bad," said the Chrysalis like she was some kind of connoisseur. She pointed at Aldrich again. "Now it's your turn."
"What is this, an interview?" Aldrich sighed but could not help but feel amused. He took the Chrysalis into his arms as well, and as he did so, he wondered about the Chrysalis. According to the Death Lord, the Chrysalis was essentially a manifestation of his soul's 'good' side.
And it would seem that good side was all from when he was little. Before he had been shaped by the world into the killer he was today
In a way, then, the Chrysalis was a living embodiment of the childlike innocence and goodness that he had buried long ago. Did that mean she picked up his habits as a kid, too? That included things like boundless curiosity and a penchant for asking for hugs.
"Bad," said the Chrysalis. She shook her head vigorously.
"What? What parameters are you using to judge this?" said Aldrich.
"You think too much. Not a big hug." The Chrysalis pointed to Valera. "Not like the one you gave her."
"Well, that's different. That's a special case," said Aldrich.
"S-special?" Valera blushed.
"Anyways," continued Aldrich. "I'll give you back to her, and when you're done, you should get some rest again. You're going to go through training soon, and you'll need to be on maximal efficiency for that."
"Training? With the other scary lady?" The Chrysalis widened her eyes in fear.
"She's not that bad," said Aldrich.
"Can you promise?" said the Chrysalis.
"I don't like promises. Nothing is a hundred percent certain-," began Aldrich, but then he noticed the Chrysalis getting even more nervous and Valera giving him a disapproving look.
"Okay, yes, I promise," said Aldrich.
"Okay then, I trust you." The Chrysalis nodded.
"Good. Then get your rest." Aldrich handed the Chrysalis over to Valera.
Valera gently held the Chrysalis until the little girl grew sleepy. It did not take very long, just a few minutes considering how tired the Chrysalis already was. When the Chrysalis slept, Valera laid the girl down on her bed, putting blanket covers over her.
"I had thought you had no idea what to do with children," said Aldrich. "But you know, you're not bad. Far better than I am."
"Nalia was a small girl when I first became her Guardian Knight," explained Valera. She stroked the Chrysalis's white hair with a tender touch. "Not much older than this. If I could deal with her, spoiled and infinitely louder as she was, then I can deal with this."
After the Chrysalis was fully entranced in a cozy slumber, Valera went back to Aldrich. She shyly looked around at the ground. "Well, h-how do you want us to sleep?"
"Together, of course," said Aldrich simply.
"S-so forward!" said Valera taken aback and turning even redder.
"There's a child here, so no funny business," said Aldrich. "Just sleeping together."
"Yes, yes, of course." Valera took a calming breath and laid on the bed with Aldrich.
They laid with space between them, staring up at the magic crystals that acted like room lights.
"You prefer darkness, don't you? I'll turn those off." Aldrich waved his hand, sending out strands of his magical energy. When they touched the crystals, they flickered off according to his will.
As he did this, his mind wandered to thinking about sleeping. Undead did not have to technically eat, sleep, or rest. They could run out of mana or, in the case of Alters, ether based energy to fuel their powers, but regular physical stamina or needs were not issues.
The only reason to sleep was to just pass time. For some undead, Aldrich recalled from lore, they got so bored that they just went into coffins and slept for centuries at a time, wanting to wake up when things were more exciting.
"A-Aldrich?" said Valera from the other end of the huge king sized bed.
"C-can I hold your hand? While we sleep?" said Valera.
"Sorry, I was thinking again," said Aldrich. "Come here."
Aldrich reached out and grasped Valera's hand, to which she gasped at the sudden forward movement. He drew her in close with her hand until they were once again touching skin to skin, lying side by side together.
"A-a-are you truly alright sleeping like this? So close? On our first night together?" said Valera as she looked up at Aldrich, her face beet red.
"What's the issue? You've been just as close when you were blood drunk," said Aldrich.
"Th-that's different!" pouted Valera. "I-I got blood drunk because my heart was too frail to handle this sober!"
"Oh? If this isn't comfortable for you-," said Aldrich.
"No," came the immediate response. "I am perfectly fine with this."
Valera looked up at Aldrich with blushing wonder. "Still, you are alright with this? I thought you had no experience in these matters. Perhaps…perhaps you had other women before?" Valera looked down, biting her thumb nail in mild irritation, probably imagining phantom women he had been with. "It makes sense, considering your looks and charm, but I just know none of them were worthy! How can weak humans ever be by your side!"
"No, nothing like that. This would be the first time I've ever decided to open my heart up like this," said Aldrich. "It just felt right to be close, after how we opened up to each other. At least, it did for me. And…" Aldrich felt mildly embarrassed to say this, but he decided to be honest. "I like it. I like the warmth. It's something I've been without for so long."
"Then you are a natural flirt!" Valera looked shocked, then whispered under her breath, "How dangerous…" But in the end, when she looked up at Aldrich, seeing an expression of contentment she had never before seen on his face, she sighed, smiled, and lay by Aldrich's side.
"As long as you are happy, I am happy too, Aldrich," said Valera as she laid her head on Aldrich's shoulder.
"…" Aldrich looked down at Valera as she prepared to drift off. "I am," he said, no louder than a small whisper.
Together like that, close and warm, they let the gentle hold of sleep take them over.