※ This is seen from The Pope, Claris Répète III’s perspective.
“Miss Pope, what’s wrong?”
“Do we have something on our faces?”
The young twins―― whose names were Mei and Alea―― looked at me dubiously.
Although, “dubious” was probably not the most appropriate word to use.
There was no look of skepticism on their faces, and if anything, it felt like they were simply just asking me a question.
We were currently in Claire and Rei’s dormitory room, which was also where I was being housed for the time being.
Since Claire was currently out, I was housesitting along with Mei and Alea.
Unfortunately, because I was unable to do any sort of housework at all, I was quietly passing the time with Mei and Alea.
Perhaps it was more accurate to say that they were the ones taking care of me in the meantime.
“It’s nothing. I was only thinking about how cute you two are.”
I said very frankly.
To me, this was a very valuable experience.
As the Pope, I rarely ever had any opportunities to express my feelings freely.
My speech habits, expressions, and even my thoughts were representative of the large organization known as the Church.
I did not consider it as a heavy burden, though.
I was raised like that ever since I was born, and that was how I had always lived.
Living as a symbol for the Church was just my life.
That was what my existence was created for, after all.
“Was that a compliment? Miss Pope, were you praising us?”
When I nodded, Mei smiled happily.
However, Alea looked somewhat dissatisfied.
“Miss Pope, when you look at cute things, you should be smiling, you know?”
“Yes. Otherwise, even if you say that we are cute, with that face, I cannot tell if you really mean it or not.”
“If anything, I was kind of scared,” she added, which made me feel a bit troubled.
“Alea, when you say that I should smile, how am I supposed to do that?’
When I asked her that simple question, Alea’s face looked like she hadn’t expected me to say that.
“Miss Pope, do you not know how to smile?”
“Has anything ever made you smile?”
“I don’t think so.”
“Well, this is tough. Mei, what do you think we should do?”
Alea sought advice from Mei.
Smiling was probably something really difficult to do.
“Just leave it to Mei! It’s simple! All I need to do is this!”
Mei gave me a hug and tried to tickle me from behind.
“Huh? Miss Pope, are you not ticklish?”
“I am ticklish.”
“But you aren’t laughing?”
“So it seems.”
“Alea, come help me out! If both of us try to tickle her at the same time, maybe she’ll start laughing!”
Alea came over to hug me as well, and together, the two of them tried to tickle me.
“She still isn’t laughing?”
I could not laugh.
Even though I was being tickled, it did not lead to me laughing.
After that, Mei and Alea tried various things out in order to try and make me laugh, but in the end, I was unable to do it.
“I’m sorry, Mei, Alea. Even though you went to such great lengths to help me.”
“Don’t worry about it, Miss Pope. But it seems like somebody that’s unable to laugh is a really tough person to fight.”
“Especially since we like to laugh every hour and every second of every day.”
“It’s strange, isn’t it?” The twins exchanged glances.
“But Miss Pope, when you looked at us, you thought we were cute, right?”
“In that case, one day, you will be able to smile too. As Rei-okaasama once said, ‘Cute is justice’.”
Cute is justice.
I wasn’t exactly sure how smiling and justice were related.
It seemed that smiling was something profound.
In the end, Claire returned not long afterward, and our conversation ended without being settled.
However, the fact that I couldn’t smile somehow made my heart feel a little bit hazy.
The next day, Claire and I visited a convent in the Empire.
Originally, because there was somebody targeting my life, I wasn’t supposed to leave the house much, but staying indoors all the time was not like Rei at all.
Because of that, I asked Claire to take me to a convent.
The purpose of coming here was,
“Ah, it’s Claire-sama and Rei-sama!”
“Mei and Alea are here too~”
“Hello, everybody. Have you been well?”
I’d heard before that there were a lot of kids around here.
Apparently, Claire and the others had been visiting convents, donating to them and doing all sorts of charitable work back when they were still in Bauer.
It seemed that they continued doing these activities even when they arrived to the Empire, so their faces were quite well-known at this convent.
“Everybody, please try your best to not cause trouble for Claire-sama, okay? Welcome, Claire-sama, Rei-sama.”
“We have come by again, Carya. Are we imposing on you?”
“Don’t be ridiculous. The kids here are always excited to see you.”
“If that’s the case, then it’s fine. Here, I brought some candy for you all. Please share it among everybody.”
When Claire lowered the basket and handed it to them, the kids cheered.
The nun by the name of Carya appeared troubled as she furrowed her eyebrows.
“Come on, be sure to express your gratitude properly, okay? What do we say?”
“““Claire-sama, Rei-sama, thank you very much!”””
“You’re welcome. Mei, Alea, feel free to play with everyone else.”
The children took the basket and ran out to the convent’s garden.
They sat down next to a flowerbed and immediately began to portion the sweets.
“Rei-sama, is there anything wrong?”
A voice called out to me, which made me feel bewildered in return.
Have I done something strange?
“You don’t seem that energetic today. Normally, you’d be joining the kids and playing with them, but today, it somehow feels like…… actually, I don’t really know how to put this.”
As expected, the people that really knew Rei could tell that something was oddly different.
Even if our faces were completely the same, we were still different people.
Well, that was obvious.
However, to begin with, this body belonged to her.
“Do I usually play with the kids?”
“Eh? Yes…… That’s right?”
“That’s because Rei is quite like a child herself, right? That’s why she fits in well with the other children.”
So that was it.
“When I play with the kids, do I laugh with them?”
“That’s a given! You look like you’re having a ton of fun as you’re laughing with them.”
After separating myself from Carya and Claire, I went over to where the circle of kids were.
As I approached them, the kids, who were sitting down, looked up at me.
“What’s wrong, Rei-sama?”
“Did you want to eat some sweets too?”
“We’ve got some sweets for you, Rei-okaasama!”
“But first, please take a seat.”
Alea took my hand and allowed me to join their circle.
“We’re playing house right now with the snacks.”
“Mei is the eldest sister!”
“I’m the mother!”
“I’ll play the father.”
“I don’t wanna play house, I’d rather play tag.”
“Why don’t we play tag afterward, then? Since we still have some sweets left, we want to play house with them. Will you join us?”
I listened to the conversation that was taking place among the children before me with deep interest.
Even though these children were so young, they were establishing all sorts of communication among themselves.
The things they were discussing were surprisingly complicated. The words they used, the different intonation and all of the facial expressions they could utilize were endless in numbers.
Learning all of these things was slightly dizzying, but it was not painful at all.
If anything, I thought it was something quite good.
Initially, I thought that since Mei and Alea were so cute, by coming to a place like this, I would be able to see all sorts of other adorable children.
However, seeing all of these kids holding an assembly together seemed far more complicated than I had imagined.
“They’re more than just cute,” I thought to myself as I had a new perception of them.
“Rei-sama, will you eat this?”
A young girl handed me some baked goods.
She appeared to be shy from every angle from what I noticed and had been wavering and gazing at me up until now, but I didn’t know how to react anyway.
“Well, this is an unusual sight, Julia. Usually, you’re afraid of Rei-sama.”
“Rei-sama doesn’t seem that scary today.”
The child named Julia said as she took a seat next to me with a smile on her face.
Ever since we swapped roles, every comparison between Rei and myself had been nothing but negatives, so what Julia said gave me what you could call a warm feeling in my heart.
However, that feeling did not last very long.
That was because I couldn’t let it stay.
Even so, before I noticed it myself, I was stroking the girl’s head.
Her hair had a thin and soft feeling to the touch, which was something unique to children.
Julia squinted like she was being tickled.
“Why don’t you have a taste, Rei-okaasama?”
Alea asked me, even though I had never eaten such snacks before.
Today’s sweets were apparently made by Alea.
They were supposedly not as good as Rei’s, but from what I’ve seen, they seemed to be quite well made.
“…… It’s delicious.”
When I took a bite, the soft spongey texture mixed with the sweetness of the sugar and the rich flavor from the butter spread throughout my mouth.
Not long after, a citrusy scent tickled my nose.
From the standpoint of somebody who has never eaten sweets before, this was a very new experience for me.
“Did that suit your tastes?”
“Alea’s sweets are delicious, aren’t they?”
“Wait, did you make these, Alea?”
“Isn’t that just like Rei-sama?”
It seemed that the children found something like this delicious.
I felt a bit excited at being able to share the same feelings as everybody else.
After that, I enjoyed doing various activities with the children.
Since I wasn’t able to keep up given how weak my body was, the children ended up making fun of me by saying: “Rei-sama is soooo weak today” among other things.
However, no matter how many times the feeling of what you would call “having fun” came up, I had to kill those feelings each time.
“Well then, Carya, everyone else. We’ll come to visit again soon.”
“Okay. We’ll be happy to have you again.”
After we were being seen off by Carya and the kids, we left the convent.
“How was it, Your Holiness? Usually, you wouldn’t visit these places, right?”
Because of my position, I was often contacted by senior officials from different nations and royal aristocrats.
Of course, there were many opportunities to visit convents and monasteries and people in unfortunate situations, but those were all strongly politically oriented.
Up until now, there were zero opportunities to play with children up close like that.
Any pope would be amazed to hear of such a thing.
“It was a valuable experience that is very hard to come by.”
That was what I truly thought.
If I hadn’t received this opportunity, I might’ve just gone my entire life not learning the things that I was able to learn today.
I felt a lot of emotions that I never knew I was able to feel before as well.
“Oh my. Look over there, Your Holiness.”
Claire giggled as she pointed over towards a small figure, who was waving at us, standing by the convent’s gate.
It was Julia.
With her small hand, she was earnestly waving at us to see us off.
I waved at her in return.
When she saw my response, she excitedly shook her hand around even more.
“Your Holiness, do you know what sort of face you are making right now?”
“No, is it not the same as always?”
“Fufu……. You are smiling.”
I poked around my face.
It did seem like the corners of my eyes were lowered, while the corners of my mouth and my cheeks were both raised.
So this was what it meant to smile.
“Let’s come again sometime.”
I was probably never going to be able to visit as Rei anymore.
However, I decided that I would stop by again.
“Thank you very much for today, Claire.”
“No, it was nothing. I only wanted to come just to have fun.”
Claire smiled gently.
“She probably smiles a lot more whenever she is with Rei,” I thought to myself.
As I stared at Claire’s gentle smile, I had another thought.
Aware that this was something unacceptable, I made a wish anyway.
Please, don’t let these girls, who know of their own happiness, lose against the truth behind this world.