Chapter 13:

Ex: In Her Care

Lovely kNight


Author's Note 2022 July 9: The original version of chapter 9 released publicly was given an alternate ending to the full, official version. With the release of this chapter, the previous chapter's ending has been restored. For full context of this chapter, please read the ending point of chapter 9.

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Facing myself in the mirror, I bear witness to the results of my encounter with Plutia. My face is absolutely peppered with prints of lipstick. There isn’t much more than a millimeter left open on my skin that isn’t colored a dark red.

“What a mess.” I whine to the man standing before me.

Try as I might to wipe them away, they stay strongly on my skin as if I was forcibly tattooed in that room. I give up and collapse onto my bed. All the weight of my embarrassment is like a blanket of lead place upon my body. Not only had I bumped into Celine like a klutz and looked like a drunkard in front of her the day before, but now…

“Plutia.” I sigh for the umpteenth time today. “It’s going to be a real challenge to do my job as the Celestial Knight… It already had been, but now what can I do?”

I roll on my bed, pushed around by the waves of mortification that flow against me as I remember every little mistake I’d committed.

“I just hope Celine hasn’t caught wind of my run in Neptanie. If that happened, I’d probably be a goner.”

Just when I begin to steep even deeper into my wading pool of self pity, I hear a rapping at the door.

“Khiron? Are you there?”

“J-Juna!”

I hurriedly plant my face into a pillow to hide my embarrassing state. When I can find the confidence inside, I give her the go ahead to visit. A small click of the handle and I hear her stepping her way into my room.

“You’re laying down in bed? At this time?” She’s audibly confused at my unusual behavior.

“I’d met with a few of the maidens today. I’m feeling pretty worn out so I’m just having a moment’s rest. Are you taking a break from studying?”

I hear my door close and then feel Juna’s weight press down on the bed.

“I’d felt like I could use a small break, so I came by to see if you were here. Sure enough, you are. But I didn’t expect that you would be so fatigued.”

“When are you going to be getting back to studying? Did you need any help?”

“No, no. Don’t worry about that. I think I’ll give myself an hour before I return.”

The conversation falls. In my timid state, it’s a tall order for me to talk as confidently as I would any other time. Juna shifts her weight lightly and I can feel her inch a hair closer.

“Is there anything on your mind? You’re acting a bit unlike yourself. It goes without saying that I’ll help in any way I can. All you need to do is let me know.”

“How am I acting peculiar?” I ask her in a feeble attempt. to evade the situation.

“If I had to find a place to begin, you’ve been smothering yourself with a pillow the entire time I’ve been here. Usually you would at least look at me. Something is obviously troubling you.”

“…I should be fine soon enough. Just a little bit more of a rest and then I’ll get back to being productive. Just give me some time.”

“I have a hard time believing that. You’re always so motivated and I can barely remember many moments at all when you’d seemed this out of it. I won’t force you, but I know there’s something more on your mind that’s weighing you down.” She lets loose a concerned hum. “Well, were you able to meet with Celine personally yet?”

She manages a precision strike to a nerve while completely blindfolded. The signal splits my chest in two. I weigh my options before I give up the ghost. I muster my will and lift my face from the pillow to reveal my face to Juna. Her eyes shoot wide when she sees me.

“Wh-Wha-?” She stumbles in surprise. “What is that? You’re wounded?! Are yo alr-… Wait… Is that… lipstick?!”

“Y-Yeah.” I moan in defeat. “As for Celine, I haven’t really gotten time alone with her yet. Well, anything substantial, that is.”

“This… Plutia.”

“It’s… You’re right. It’s from her. How could you tell?”

“It’s simple. She wears makeup more than of any of us maidens. But did she do something to harm you, Khiron?”

“Something to harm me?”

“Yes. You’re not acting like yourself. She didn’t do anything to cause you grief, did she? I want to hear it and do whatever I can to help.” She’s surprisingly tense as she speaks, a sharp line is found in her eyes.

“No, nothing like that. She was just really forceful is all and caught me by surprise. I assure you that I’m fine. A little shaken is all.”

Though I explain, she seems slow to drop her concern. It comes in waves that wash over her features and slowly ebb away what troubled expression there is with each sweep.

“Are you really okay?”

“I am. Please don’t worry. It’s a part of my job as the Celestial Knight to get close to the maidens like this, so there’s plenty of incidences on the job… Perhaps.”

“But something happened with Celine too, right? I have a strong feeling that your predicament has something to do with both her and Plutia. I know that Celine has been rough around the edges since you two had first met. And then Plutia has always… had a strong will about her.”

“N-No! Of course not! It’s not like they’re bullying me or anything, just...”

As I mute myself, she finally comes to the conclusion after a bit of thought and reading of my face.

“O-Oh. I see. So Plutia did this and then Celine saw it and got the wrong idea.”

“Well, I wouldn’t say her idea is completely wrong, but...”

“That doesn’t matter.” She stops me. “It’s been difficult for you since the beginning, hasn’t it? You weren’t ever the most open and social person. Sure you did talk with a friends, but outside of myself, you’ve never been too close with others. So… I’ve been worried about the toll that all of this could be taking on you. Especially after whatever Plutia has done.”

“I… suppose you do know me the best. I’ve… never had to be with so many people before. It’s a bit… hard to adjust to.”

In a lapse of silence, she stares me in the face for a moment longer before she gets up from the bed and steps away.

“What’s wrong? Where are you going?”

“We need to take care of this little issue before you can make things right with Celine. If she were to see you with all of this lipstick on your face, it wouldn’t exactly help your case.”

“Y-You’re probably right about that.”

“I’ll be back shortly.”

So she leaves the room behind. I right myself to sit on my bed and bide the time thinking to myself.

✩ ✩ ✩

True to her word, Juna comes back to the room with a surprising pace. In one hand she has a clean, white towel and in the other is a small container.

“What’s that?” I ask as she retakes her seat beside me on the bed.

“This is something to help us get all of these marks off of you.”

She raises her legs onto the mattress and faces me. The evening light filtering through my blinds strikes against her skin. The rather troubled expression she wears glows with the touch of the light. Her red hair and eyes glitter as passionate fire.

With a small dab of the bottle onto the cloth, she gently raises it to meet with my skin. My breath catches in my chest as I meet with her eyes.

“Don’t worry, this won’t hurt at all. Just relax and let me help you.”

Her hands are delicate as they work. I’m stuck staring at her lovely face without a chance to break away. Something about her attitude and spirit in the moment bonds me to her. My eyes fall to her lips. Though I doubt my own perceptions, they seem a touch more red than they were at the beginning of her visit.

“You’re doing well, Khiron. I couldn’t imagine what it must be to get thrown out of your comfort zone and into an entirely new world. All of your life you were always so reserved and withheld, but now you have to throw all of that away for Celestia. But you’re strong and I know you can do this. You’ve always done your best in everything and this is no different.”

“Y-Yeah. It’s a bit harsh here and there so far, but it’ll all be okay. I just need some more time. Soon enough I’ll be back to the Khiron you know”

“You’re still the Khiron I know. This little situation didn’t change anything. It just brought out that adorable, shy side of yours again.” A smile glitters across her lips as she says that.

She lightly scrubs my cheek bone and is intensely into her work, making sure the marks fade away finely. All the while she’s so focused, I continue watching her face without her seeming to realize my unabashed staring.

“J-Juna. I’m a bit… surprised...”

Her hand halts for a moment and we both meet eye to eye.

“Surprised about what?” She wears a mildly confused expression and for some reason beyond me, I can’t get enough of her.

When it dawns on me that I’ve been so openly staring, I quickly look away to the world outside my window.

“Ah… That’s… Sorry… I was just kind of thinking aloud and got a little bit lost there.”

“You really are acting strange today. Could it be that there’s something more that’s bothering you? Something other than Plutia and Celine?”

“I’m… not sure. I do feel a bit strange.”

Without another word, she flips back the bangs of my hair and draws herself close. She closes her eyes and our foreheads touch. She remains there for a handful of seconds, but it feels like time slows to a still. When she’s found what she’s looking for, she distances herself slowly. I’m reluctant to feel her leave, but my body begins to feel like gelatin left out under the sun after she was so intimately close.

“Your forehead feels a little bit hot, Khiron. I’m thinking that you might be getting sick.” Her expression is soft and full of concern and care.

“S-Sick, you say? I do feel a little bit unwell. My heart is kind of beating fast too.”

“The signs aren’t looking good. Maybe I should go to Urania and see if she has anything that can help you. She’d told me if I’d needed any medicine or treatment, she could assist. You’re precious to the kingdom, so of course the best would be given for you.”

“W-Well, I don’t think it’s all that bad. I can last… I think.”

“I trust your confidence, but if you do begin to feel worse, just let me know.”

So she resumes her cleaning and I resume marveling over her while she proceeds. It isn’t too much longer until she’s finished and sets the towel down to look over her handiwork.

“There. That should be it. You’re all fixed up now.”

She sends me the sweetest smile full of pep as she declares her accomplishment. That cute, adorable smile that lights up her features like a little glow of heaven.

Something inside of me snaps loose and I charge forward against her. She falls beneath me and the next thing I know, she’s flat on her back peering up into my eyes. That smile of hers is replaced with a look of surprise. The dancing light from the opened window is an inexplicably alluring sight as all of her features nearly shine upon her fair skin.

“Kh-Khiron…?”

I’m magnetized to her, attracted with a force that threatens to push my lips to hers. Yet I’m barely able to maintain a shred of control over myself and fight against it. By the breadth of a single hair, I’m able to overcome that compulsion. With a sigh to exhale my exhaust, I raise myself and offer my hand to her. She timidly takes it and I help her back upright.

“...Sorry… I… fell over.” I apologize to her, barely able to make heads or tails of what had just happened.

“N-No. It’s… okay. There’s nothing wrong at all.”

The two of us face away from each other. As the silence we share ensues, I glance back in her direction to see her cheeks lit up with a cutely rose hue to match her hair. Her lips dance in a wave from a smile while she teases a small lock of hair between her fingertips.

“I-I guess I should go and make things better with Celine, shouldn’t I?”

“Y-Yes. Now that you’re all… better, you can go and meet her without a problem...”

“M-Maybe...”

As we return to a still where the sounds of nature play as music from the outdoors, I feel Juna’s drawing near. Her fingers meet with my own and they mesh together. A cute, tender sensation presses against my cheek. Twisting, I see she wears a bashful expression, unable to meet my eyes.

“Juna...”

“I just thought I’d make you a bit stronger is all. With all those kisses Plutia gave you, it seems like I’m falling behind on my maidenly duties now… aren’t I?”

“Th-Then if that’s the case, you’ll just have to make up for it with a bit more.”

“Y-You mean-”

Her eyes fly to my own but before she knows it, I’m already there with her. I lean forwards, planting my hand against the surface of the bed as I take in the most of Juna I possibly can. She whimpers lightly to start, but relaxes herself in a heartbeat. I release her and watch her lovely eyes, every little nuance I can find inside of their fiery pools.

I don’t waste a second and meet her again. Her mouth opens and so we caress each other deeply. I make my way to her side and hold her close while we kiss. Feeling her warmth, the sensations of her body in my hands, I can’t nearly get enough no matter how hard I try. It feels as if I dive into an ocean where the deepest depths are just beyond my fingertips so I push myself deeper in hopes of finally touching down.

Juna moans a lovely song. She raises her arms and holds my shoulders while we continue. Though we break apart for small instances at a time, the rests are short lived and they only get shorter and shorter as we go. But the two of us finally need to come back up for air and so we begrudgingly part from each other. But not before she gives me one last, quick peck on the cheek. Although we were both caught up in an ocean together, we’re both quickly given into shy spirits and nerves.

I’m a touch forlorn as she raises from the bed and shyly begins to step on her way. But before she goes too far, she twists on heel to face me one last time.

“I-I’m grateful to be doing my job as a maiden.” She says with a dreamy smile on her face. “I… shouldn’t hold you back from Celine any longer, though.”

“I… I’m grateful for your strength. I’ll… fight Eclipse in no time, I’m sure.” I can’t control just how awkward and red in the face I’ve become. “But I really should get on that Celine situation soon. Thank you for being my training partner, Juna.”

Her skin burns an even more fiery shade as she nods her head to me in response. She stands in the middle of my room, her hands behind her back and her feet lightly touching the floor beneath her as if she floats where she stands.

“A-About training… I’ll be doing some final studies for the test tomorrow and I was thinking of practicing a few spells while I still can. I’ve been reading so much but haven’t really put all that much of it into practice yet. I’d gotten a little carried away with the books.”

“Then if you’ll be practicing spells, do you mind if I tag along with you?”

“O-Of course not! We’ve always practiced things together and… well… this hasn’t been anything different than that, right? It’d be a big help to have my training partner there with me. I was hoping to ask if you’d be there anyways… So...” She shrinks into herself ever so slightly.

“Th-Then it’s a date…! A-A deal! It’s a deal!” I step on my own tongue.

She makes her way to the door and readies to step into the hallway. But not before turning to me to speak.

“I’m thinking of starting practice at sunset, so we can catch up before then and go to the training grounds.”

“Of course that’d be a great time! I’ll see you then tomorrow!”

“Tomorrow!”

A smile sits stilted on her face as a shaky line. As she plays with the doorknob, she leaves me one final word.

“I… I’ve left the towel and the solution. You may need it before you see Celine. We don’t want you getting into even deeper trouble for the same thing, do we? Take good care, Khiron.”

And with that, she quickly twists on heel and makes her way out of my room. Though I’m confused to start, when I check the mirror, I understand what she’d meant to say. Rather than be peppered everywhere with red, only one mark remains now. A sweetly colored shape of lips left upon my cheek.

I lay back down in my bed and savor the special mark I’m left with for just a moment to indulge myself. I caress that place on my cheek and can’t help but smile to myself.

“Juna...”

✩ ✩ ✩

Though it takes me a fantastic sum of will, I’m eventually able to hoist myself to before the mirror where I hold the towel lightly dampened with the solution. I keep my eyes trained on the mark of Juna’s lips on my cheek.

With a labored sigh, I finally press and wipe away the remnants of her kiss. As I lift the towel to see my plain cheek once more left bare, I sigh from my core.

“I suppose I really shouldn’t get hung up on something so minute. I’d better get on my way.” I speak to my reflection.

As I prepare to leave my room behind, I halt at the door and remember that I’m minus my blazer. As a part of mine and Juna’s own personally made uniform, going out without it feels wrong. That it helps to add some extra layers before my scar is an added benefit.

I reach my closet and quickly notice that something is off. I could swear that I’d shut it firmly after I’d hung up my blazer when I’d returned from my little run in with Plutia. Yet it’s opened a peek.

Curiosity welling up, I slowly slide the door open. My blazer hangs just as I’d left it, but as I scan my eyes through the space, I pass by a head of ocean blue hair.

Sitting in the corner, knees held up against her chest, is a familiar face of a shut in I’d seen earlier today. Her sunflower yellow eyes are wide as they peer into mine. Several beats pass as we stand in a petrified confusion together.

“...Neptanie? It’s unexpected to meet you here… in my closet…”

She’s without a word. Her skin begins to pick up its tone redder and redder.

“W-Well, as curious as I am to ask, I think I’ll just... get my blazer.”

I take it from its hanger and slip my arms through before I step aside and open up the way for Neptanie. Though she’s slow to begin as she cautiously rises and takes baby steps, soon enough she breaks into a jog out of my room.

I seat myself on my bed for a beat to think as I attempt to make sense of the peculiar circumstances that had just unfolded.

“Neptanie was… was she spying on me?” The thought is absurd. “If that’s the case, it looks like we might be even now.”

I raise back to my feet and get started to my next task to make amends with Celine.

“I’m just glad I didn’t take off my shirt or anything.”