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As Mahiru walked out of the orphanage, he heard a familiar noise. Small whimpers caught his attention and his heart dropped when he saw a basket at the bottom of the steps. It wasn’t the first time he discovered an abandoned child but it always saddened Mahiru. He wished that the parent could’ve brought the child into the orphanage at least. Outside and in the snow was no place for a baby.

Mahiru knelt next to the basket and looked down at the infant. It couldn’t be more than a year old and he wondered how long it had been waiting in front of the orphanage. He took off his scarf and arranged it around the child the best he could to keep it warm. He picked up the basket and returned to the orphanage. “Let’s get you inside where it’s warm.”

He said in a soft voice as he pushed open the door. In the front hall, he was greeted by his friend, Licht. “I thought you were going home, Mahiru.”

“I was but I found this little one in front of the orphanage. Thinking simply, I had to take her in. I want to make sure she didn’t catch a cold. Can you get some blankets and something for her to eat while I do that?” Mahiru asked and Licht nodded before leaving.  

He continued to the main room and sat in front of the fireplace. He was glad that it was late because the orphans were sleeping and it was quiet. Mahiru gently lifted the baby out of the basket and set it on the carpet. The child’s whimpers turned into wails when Mahiru put her down so he quickly picked her up again. “It’s okay. You’re safe now and this orphanage will take good care of you.”

Mahiru cradled the child and rocked her until her cries stopped. He placed his hand on its forehead and he was relieved that it wasn’t burning. He held it securely in one arm while he rummaged through the basket. “At least your parents packed you some clothes and diapers. These looks really expensive… I wonder who your parents were.”

If the child’s parents were from a prestigious family, they should be able to raise the it. He knew many nobles would give their children away if it meant avoiding a scandal. That fact had always angered Mahiru. He knew what it was like to be abandoned as a child. His mother loved him but died when he was young. He worked at the orphanage to help others like him.  

“I’m going to name you Machi. You’ll always be someone’s true happiness then.” Mahiru tickled its cheek and it burst out into laughter. He smiled at the light sound. Then he changed the baby and bundled it in a blanket from the basket. “So, you’re a girl, Machi. With bright red eyes like yours, you’ll grow up to be very pretty. I hope you’ll like your new home here.”

Even though the girl was too young to understand him, Mahiru spoke to it. He searched through the basket further to see what else the parents had left Machi. He pulled out a necklace with a pendant of a golden lion. Mahiru turned it in his hand curiously because it looked familiar to him but he couldn’t place where he saw it before.

“… That lazy bastard!” Mahiru screamed when he finally remembered where he saw the crest. He wrapped Machi in a warm blanket and placed her back into the basket. Once he was finished, Mahiru rushed out of the orphanage, anger fueling his steps. With the necklace, he knew who the father was and he would make him take responsibility for his child.

“Who the hell is at my door so late?” Kuro yawned as he walked out of his room. He could hear someone yelling from the entrance and went to see who it was. He walked down the stairs and saw his footman trying to calm his noisy visitor. His eyes met brown ones and he groaned when he recognized the man. It was much too late to deal with a man like Mahiru.

“Kuro— Lord Ash, I need to speak with you!” Mahiru ordered. He didn’t care if he was being rude to the Duke of the Servamps. The only thing he cared about was Machi’s wellbeing at the moment. So, Mahiru pushed his way into the townhouse. He stood at the foot of the stairs and glared up at Kuro. “How dare you abandon your daughter? If you don’t take responsibility for her, I'll—”

“I don’t have a daughter.” Kuro was confused with the whole situation. He was accustomed Mahiru lecturing him but his words made no sense now. Mahiru looked like a scorned lover, and he very much was, as he marched up the stairs. “I’m certain that you’re not pregnant either. You should know that I haven’t courted a woman in the past five years. There’s little chance I have a daughter.”

Mahiru’s hand moved before he could stop himself and he slapped him across the face. His hand stung but he refused to back away. “You truly are a callous man! How could you leave your own blood in front of an orphanage? The orphanage your ex-lover works at no less! Did you think I wouldn’t figure out who her father was, especially after you place your necklace in her basket?”

They were standing so close to each other that Kuro could see the tears brimming his brown eyes. If it was a year ago, he would hold Mahiru and comfort him. He walked away from their relationship for his own reasons that he never told him. He knew that it must’ve hurt Mahiru that he left without an explanation but he thought he had given up after a year. Yet, here Mahiru was.

“I don’t know what you’re suggesting Mahiru but I don’t have a daughter.”

As if to refute him, a cry rose between them from Mahiru’s basket. He realized that their yelling must’ve woken Machi and cursed beneath his breath. He held the basket towards Kuro with the order, “Hold this while I put her back to sleep.”

Mahiru watched his expression as he lifted the small girl into his arms. He rocked her until her crying subsided. Her unique eyes stared up at him and Mahiru wondered how he hadn’t recognized them sooner. They were so much like Kuro’s. His heart tightened at the thought that Kuro left him for a woman. He shook his head and focused on Machi again.

“I found her basket a little while ago. Once I figured out that you were her father, I came to see you. Even if you’re a lazy fool, she’s still your daughter. Thinking simply, you have a responsibility to raise her and provide for her. With your title and money, that should be easy for you.” Mahiru pointed out and hurt crossed his face briefly. He was always reminded of their different stations whenever he visited his home.

“Can’t deal. The kid has red eyes but she’s not mine. I’ve never even been with a woman.” Kuro insisted. If he wasn’t holding Machi, Mahiru would’ve slapped him again. He did take out the necklace from his pocket and held it in front of Kuro.

“This is your crest! I’ve seen you wear this necklace before. How can you deny that she’s your daughter? You’re the most heartless person I know. I’m going home but I’ll come back tomorrow.” He turned on his heel to leave. His foot missed a step and he began to fall down the stairs. Instinctively, he held Machi protectively against his chest and closed his eyes.

Seeing him fall, Kuro dropped the basket and leapt forward to save him. He wrapped his arm around Mahiru’s waist and caught the rail with his other hand. His heart all but stop when he saw him fall and he hugged Mahiru once they regain their footing. Holding him felt so familiar and he buried his face into his hair. Even if a year passed, Kuro’s feelings never faded.

“Kuro, let me go. You’re going to crush, Machi.” Mahiru said softly. A part of him wanted Kuro to hold him longer and he felt a little lonely without his arms around him.  

“Who’s Machi?”  

“Your daughter.” He said once again.

“Mahiru, I haven’t been with anyone since you. That necklace you found isn’t mine.” Kuro took out the necklace tucked under his shirt to show him. He could see the confusion clouding Mahiru’s face and he knew that he would never lie. He sighed and said, “We should go to the drawing room to talk. Sagami, can you make us some tea?”

“And warm milk for the baby.” Mahiru quickly added and walked down the stairs. He knew the house’s layout very well and it hadn’t changed since he last visited. It was all painfully familiar. Honestly, Mahiru never thought he would return to the town house and see Kuro again. When he ran to Kuro’s house, he didn’t think of how painful the memories would be.

He went to the drawing room and sat on the couch. He patted the spot next to him and he was glad that Kuro understood the small gesture. Kuro placed the basket next to him so Mahiru could place the baby inside. He watched Mahiru play with Machi and coo to her until she became drowsy. The scene was almost heartwarming to Kuro but questions swarmed his mind.

“Mahiru, can you go over everything again without yelling at me?” Kuro asked and he sat on the couch as well.  

“I found Machi in a basket in front of the orphanage. As I was changing her, I found this necklace. It has your crest and that led me to believe that she was your daughter. I came here to make you take responsibility.” Mahiru explained and glanced at the necklace around Kuro’s neck. He looked back at the necklace in his hand. They were similar but now he could see small differences in the pendent. “I guess I got a head of myself.”

“It wouldn’t be the first time. You’re as kind as you are stubborn.” Kuro had a small smile on his face that made Mahiru’s heart flutter for a moment. He was still able to affect him without trying. “Can I see that necklace. Maybe it belongs one of my siblings. We were each given one when we turned sixteen. The last I heard from them, none of them are in a relationship or are expecting a child. Wrath—”

Kuro paled and the necklace slipped from his hand. It clattered against the ground but Kuro didn’t move to pick it up. Mahiru became worried when he saw his expression and turned his face to him. He cupped his cheek and gently ran his thumb over his cheek. “What is it, Kuro? Are you okay? You can tell me about it.”

“That necklace belonged to my mother.” Kuro whispered. His voice was so small that Mahiru almost didn’t hear it. He looked down at the necklace and questions raced through his mind. He knew that Kuro must’ve been more confused than he was. Kuro’s mother had disappeared years ago and the family had little hope of her being alive.  

Mahiru stood from the couch and moved in front of him. He appeared lost and the part of Mahiru that still loved him couldn’t ignore that. He hugged Kuro and placed a comforting hand on his head. “It’s alright, Kuro. I know this all must be confusing but we’ll work this out. Everything has a simple answer. We’ll find those answer together.”

“What about her?” Kuro nodded towards the basket.

“Well, she’s not your daughter. But, if that necklace is your mother’s, Machi is your sister. You still have a responsibility to raise her. Don’t think that I’m going to raise her alone though. We both know that you’re not the most responsible man. I’ll help you.” Mahiru let him go and stepped back. Despite his words, he was uncertain and he tucked his hair behind his ear. He didn’t want to have his heart broken again.

“My home isn’t prepared to house a baby but I can have a room made for her.” Kuro looked down at the little girl. “It’s late and the snow’s coming down hard so you should stay too. Your room is still the same so you can stay there for the night.”

“Thank you.” Mahiru reached down and squeezed his hand. “Kuro, we’ll figure this out.”  

Seeing Mahiru’s reassuring smile, Kuro believed him.