It’d been a small struggle to muster the energy to scrape myself off of the manor’s front steps. I’d pushed myself to keep at a sprint, lest I’d completely fall behind her… Well, more than I eventually had.
Though I do usually feel daggers throughout my body thanks to my scar. My limits having been pushed to their extremes, the scar rings of a slightly more prevalent tone. Even if it’s still bright out, I’m more than looking forward to collapsing into bed and calling it a day.
I come to notice a white haired woman approaching me in the halls. As she comes near, she halts her step and gives me a once over.
“Are you drunk?” Celine asks me with a hint of disgust in her voice.
“Drunk? I’m not. Why would you-?”
It’s then I remember that I’d intended to take the bottle of wine to the kitchen before it had slipped my mind. Since I’d eaten the remainder of what was contained in the basket, I’d placed it on the main table and left with the bottle in hand. Coupled with my disheveled appearance and fatigued body, I just might look like I’ve been imbibing.
“Oh, no, no. I went on a picnic with Venna and she’d left this behind with the rest of the meal, so I was just going to return it to where it belongs. And I’d gone for quite a run with Mercy earlier, so I’m very tired.”
“Blaming your drinking habits on others isn’t the most respectable trait, you know.”
She indignantly snaps herself away from me and continues on her way, drawing an end to the conversation on her own note. I let her leave before I let loose a wavering, dispirited sigh. My energy is waning too dangerously low to give chance. Instead, I reluctantly totter my way through the halls.
“Looks like that’ll be some more distance I’ll need to cover someday.”
✩ ✩ ✩
I’d given into my desires and skipped returning the wine to the kitchen. Rather, I’d gone off to my room to get myself some rest for rejuvenation. When I rise up, I take the bottle of wine in my hand and intend to go to the kitchen. Along the way, I realize my last contact with Juna has been far too long. I meet before her door and knock before entering. Her desk has collected a few more books since this morning.
“Apologies for not checking in sooner. I’d… had my hands tied for most of today.”
“There’s no issue at all, of course. I’ve just been buried in books all this time anyways. I’d barely noticed the time pass.”
“Dusk is already coming. Have you had a single break since I’ve been gone?”
“Well… Just a small break to eat something simple. Besides that, I’ve been too busy with my studies.”
“Maybe we should get you something to eat now while you still have the chance to. You’ll need some more nutrition to make sure it’s all written down in your brain.”
“I should probably get something more, shouldn’t I? I’m sorry I can be such a case sometimes.” She gives me an embarrassed smile. “If it wasn’t for you all these years, I’d might have starved without realizing it.”
“There’s no issue. Now come on, let’s get going. I’d intended to go to the kitchen before and a meal is always better with great company.”
She raises from her seat and steps towards me but pauses at my side. Seeing the bottle in my hand, her brow furrows with curiosity.
“Have you been drinking?”
I sigh to myself, defeated.
✩ ✩ ✩
Having lived and studied in a fairly strict knight’s academy for a great part of my life, I’d learned well how to take care of myself, and by extension, others. I’d practiced well and often cooking in hopes to be able to cook for both myself and Juna. Since she would be so busy with studying, she’d often forget to feed herself. Thus I was inspired to cook food for her during those times and bring it to her.
In the kitchen, I’d began preparing a meal. All the while I’d manned the stove, we’d passed the time with merry chatting. We’d both had ourselves a laugh over the confusion that wine bottle had served. It wasn’t too long of a wait until I was privileged to serve Juna. Well famished from my run with Mercy, I’d prepared my own plate and sat beside her. We both gave a shrug and decided to indulge in the remainder of the wine together for our meal.
Juna and I share company side by side with our plates set before us.
“Thank you so much, Khiron. I didn’t notice just how hungry I was until you’d started cooking. This is just what I’d needed.”
“Of course. I know just how much of a lost cause you can be when you have a book in front of you. Besides, I really could have gone for something myself.”
She takes a small portion of the food onto her fork and nearly moans in satisfaction as she tastes it.
“I’m glad you enjoy it. It’s nothing fancy after all. Another scrappy, quick meal for us. Makes me miss our time in the academy.”
“Even back then you were cooking for both of us. At times I’m really unladylike, aren’t I? I should be the one cooking for you.”
“Why do you say that? I enjoy cooking for you. If I hadn’t, then we’d likely have spent a lot more money. And we both know just how serious you are about reading those books of yours.”
“W-Well… I’d like to cook for you sometimes. It’s only right for a… a br-… a partner to cook for her… partner as well, right?” She flushes.
“I don’t mind having this part together. You’re a talented magician and you need all the time you can studying to become a mage knight. Besides, your company and having you by my side is one of my favorite parts of my life.”
“You really mean that?”
“Without a doubt. I wouldn’t say that unless I’d mean it.”
“Do you think I should cook more and be more like a lady?”
“You’re plenty ladylike now, I’d say. You’re sensitive and gentle. The only difference is that you’re a knight and you’re focused on studying and improving yourself. You shouldn’t be so concerned about something like that.”
“...What else about me do you think is ladylike?”
She pauses eating and turns to give me her full attention. Her full eyes are absolutely focused on me, awaiting my response.
“What else? Well, your appearance is quite womanly, obviously. The way you dress as well.”
“D-Do you like that about me?”
Suddenly I feel the room heat up while the fiery waves of the sun meet their final hurrah. A host of embarrassing thoughts come to my mind and choke at my neck.
“...S-Sure I do. You’re a nice sight to see. It’s been nice seeing you for all my life. It should be obvious.”
“It’s been nice seeing me all your life? How do you expect to woo the other maidens with such clumsy words?” She giggles and plays with her food before continuing to eat. “B-But… Me… Me too. I’ve always enjoyed seeing you. Thank you.”
“Y-Yeah…” From my clumsy words and into clumsy movements, I return to eating.
“So what did you do today while I was locked up in my room?”
“Well, this will explain that wine bottle to you. It was from this evening. Venna had ended up inviting me to a picnic, so I went with her.”
“And how did that go?”
“It went well…” The sensation of Venna’s kiss dances on my lips once more. “I think.”
“That’s nice to hear. It’s a good first step! I was wondering why you had a bottle of wine with you.”
“She’d gotten busy and left on her way partway through, so I’d brought the basket back with me. After Mercy took a bit and I’d had what was left, leaving the wine.”
“Oh? Did you spend time with Mercy as well?”
“I had. We went out for a run together.”
“That sounds every bit like her from what I’ve come to know. That will likely be a good means to bond with her.”
“Most likely. Sometime soon she’ll probably take me up on my offer for fencing lessons.” I pause my meal as I begin to wonder, worry even, about Juna’s part in all of my place as the Celestial Knight. “Juna. You don’t mind if I ask something a bit forward, do you?”
“Forward? I wouldn’t mind.”
“Does it bother you at all that I’ll be with the others?”
“With the others?”
“Y-Yeah. With them. Like spending time with them and… doing my heroic duties.”
I turn away from her and take to admiring the painting at my left as my face begins to heat up.
“...No. It’s a part of your place as the Celestial Knight… It’s important for the kingdom. I’d sent you off this morning to meet the other maidens because… Well...”
“...Yes. We practice together for our missions. We always have. This is something similar, isn’t it?”
“I suppose you’re not wrong.”
A silent settles over the two of us as we fidget about. Our minds run full of scenarios and imaginings. After eating a bit more on my plate, I find my resolve and speak my heart to Juna.
“Juna… We’re partners and we’ve practiced so much, haven’t we?”
“We have. Ever since we’d first met in the academy together, we’ve been sparring partners.”
“W-Well, you know you were the first person ever I’d practiced sword fighting with, right?”
“Of course. And you were the same for me.”
“Then you were the first I’d ever had over at my house, the first I’d let eat my cooking, the first I’d skipped classes with. Though that last one didn’t go that great.” I laugh nervously.
“We really did have it bad there for a bit. That was a lot of running and push ups to atone for our misconduct. At least they went soft on us since it was our first offense. We’d really learned better than to skip after that.”
“That made good for our attendance record and made some quick learners of us!”
We now both chuckle together as our reminiscence overtakes us.
“You were my first kiss, Juna.”
“You were mine as well. I don’t regret it. It was wonderful practice.”
“Well...” I silence myself and gather my final resolve. “I’ve kissed Plutia and Venna.”
“You have?” Her expression is fraught with surprise.
“Plutia had… woke me up with a kiss yesterday. During mine and Venna’s picnic, it was her that had kissed me. I hadn’t at all expected them either time they came. You’d spoken of being unladylike, but the fact that I’d been the one kissed… I suppose it wasn’t that masculine of me.”
“You were plenty masculine when… When we’d practiced... You’re still getting used to all of this. It doesn’t matter anyways, just as long as you’re able to succeed as the Celestial Knight.”
“S-So, what about Mercy?”
“Nothing with Mercy. We’d just ran together is all.”
“...I’m really grateful that nobody was able to do their maidenly duties before you, Juna. It helped me to ease into this whole thing. I’d felt a little more comfortable after I was able to… practice with you.”
“I’m happy too. I got to help the hero of Celestia first. It looks like you’ll be saving the kingdom in no time at this pace.”
“I’m not really sure how much or how long it’s going to take, but I’ll continue doing my best.”
Another silence seats itself between us as nerves begin to rise. Though it isn’t completely uncomfortable. It’s somehow feels a little bit happy to me. A bubbling sort of cheer that threatens to froth over from my heart if I fail to contain it. I force my mouth to remain in its pressed line as I wonder to myself if Juna feels anything similar.
“Do you remember that day when we’d both trained up in the mountains and that storm rolled in?”
By her word alone, that hour returns to me in vivid detail. I remember Juna standing with her training sword poised for the next session before her concentration flinched under the touch of the small droplets that began to fall from the heavens. We’d been so caught up in our training that we had both only just realized that ashen, troubled clouds had begun to sweep over the dyed blue skies above.
“I do. Very clearly. Was that really 5 years ago? We were a couple of teens back then.”
“I remember how you’d taken off your academy blazer and threw it over my head almost instantly before you’d grabbed me by the hand and lead me to a small monastery for shelter. I was surprised you’d remembered that place on the trail and had the sense of direction to get us there. You’ve always had a good memory.”
Juna snickers to herself while deep in her reminiscence.
“For better or for worse.” I chuckle to myself.
“Because you’d covered me with your blazer, I was so dry when we’d gotten there while you were soaked to the skin. I ‘d felt guilty, but you were adamant about making sure I wasn’t ‘wet and miserable’, as you’d put it. I’d felt so spoiled.”
“The temperature dropped so suddenly. Being wet can be so bothersome in that sort of a cold snap. I wouldn’t like to even imagine you being forced to endure something that uncomfortable.”
“I remember holding tightly to your blazer while you sat and had your back faced to me. You’d just stared up at the passing clouds and waited for the rain to let up. We’ve always been so talkative with each other, but we were both so quiet that day while we let the time pass by.”
She touches her shoulder and smiles while reflecting on that moment. As if my blazer was still laid upon her to keep her safe.
“I’d really wanted you to have it. I’d be just fine since I’m more than used to discomfort. Something like that is no bother to me. You’d forgotten to bring your blazer that day. You would have been so cold.”
“I wish you weren’t so well acquainted with pain. The way that you have always been. It’s because of the pain you’ve always felt that you’re so enduring. It’s hard to imagine always feeling an ache and a sting day by day.”
She breathes a burdened sigh and then continues with her thoughts.
“Thank you for always thinking about me. You’ve always done so well with discomfort and misery and you’ve never said a word about it. There were so many times I’d accidentally hit you in the head with my practice sword while we’d trained and yet you would be back into the fray near instantly. I was so clumsy with a sword to begin with. Even worse than you, but you’d been so patient with me every day… every practice. Even during the tournament you’d taken so many strikes and blows and they didn’t seem to deter you at all. You’ve always been such a strong person. A perfect fit for the Celestial Knight without a doubt.”
I unconsciously touch my hand to the scar and remember its shrieking pain that overcame me on some of my worst days. It reverberates a small aching at the moment, but it’s much more relaxed than usual somehow.
“...I can’t let pain and fear stand in the way of saving Celestia.”
“It seems you’ve been working hard on your heroic tongue in the meantime!” She giggles lightly and gives my shoulder a playful shove.
“That was something uncharacteristically cheesy for me to say, wasn’t it?”
“It wasn’t that cheesy! But you are usually so stoic and relaxed, so it’s kind of surprising to hear you say something that... cool...”
“Cool?” I laugh lightly.
“When I think back to that time you were soaked by the rain, I remember how you were shivering. But you’d tried your best to hide that. While you had your back turned to me, I could tell that you were grabbing at your shirt. I wanted to do so much more, but you’ve always struggled with that kind of pain. I didn’t really know what I could do but let you handle it yourself.”
My shirt was soaked through. Its pure white was no match to the rainwater and the scar was clear on display. So I’d faced away from her, worried that she would see the most unsightly mark. The curse I bear. The fear I’d felt of being discovered, it caused my scar to sting even worse. Remembering that feeling, I begin to feel the aching from the scar radiate more powerfully. I grip my shirt even tighter.
“For all the time I’ve known you, you’ve always been so formal and would keep your blazer on at all times, but you gave it to me instead. It… That was the first time I’d ever seen you without your blazer on. I knew it was something truly special that you’d given it to me. Seeing you facing away from me made me wonder more that day. You’ve always worn scarves and collars around your neck too. It’s always been interesting and I’ve wondered to myself why. But I’d never had the courage to ask no matter all of these years.”
My tongue seizes. All of my years of knowing Juna flashes before my eyes. The thought of her pushing deeper, seeking an answer, paralyzes me with fear. But before I can find the words to say, she gives her own freely.
“When we’d gone our way back to the academy after the storm had passed, you’d walked ahead of me… You’d taken your blazer when I’d given it to you and you’d buttoned it so quickly. Even though you were so soaked and most likely freezing, you kept it on for so long. I’d never really understood why... And that’s okay. I feel like it’s something important to you and maybe you don’t want to talk about it. If you had, we probably would have already given all that we’ve been through together. So please don’t worry about any of it. I don’t. Not in the slightest. Of course I don’t.”
Her statement is given its seal with her sweet, caring smile. Even though she was so kind to put my worries to rest, I still struggle to speak. What else can I do but answer her? Answer anything about it. Juna deserves better than to be ignored or be told a feeble lie.
The blissful, happy go lucky feeling that fluttered in my heart slowly empties from my body while a twisting mire takes up the vacancy. For all of my days since the horrific moment I’d received this scar, I’d done my best to keep the evidence well hidden. I could try to keep it a secret forever, but someone is bound to find out when I’ll be spending so much time with so many maidens. A part of the reason I’d been somewhat of a recluse from anyone but Juna for my days was that the hideous truth of the scar held me back in worry… And profound, aching guilt.
What would Juna think if she knew I bear such a hideous stain on my body? What would she think if she knew the truth of the wound and how I’d been afflicted with it? What would anybody think of a man cursed with the very touch of the most abominable creature in the world? A person marked by Eclipse? What would all the other maidens think? And the truth would come spilling out to the source of my pains.
For all the time we’ve known each other and ever since she’d first discovered the pain I’m afflicted with, I’d only ever told Juna that it’s due to a rare sickness. Although I hadn’t quite lied to her, it was still a half truth. Seeing such a disgusting and unsightly deformity couldn’t be so easily shrugged off and explained away. There’s no way I could bring myself to lie to Juna if ever she saw it. A small seed of guilt still remains inside of me for my sin of keeping the truth from her for all of our lives together.
To make my own onset of troubles worse, my curses strikes and begins to plunge its claws deep into my soul. I feel the scar throb and send its shrieking pain to every end of my being. The sudden spike brings me to jerk as I grip at it.
“Kh-Khiron!” Juna quickly reaches her arm to my shoulder in concern.
“S-Sorry. I’m alright. I’m… just having a little moment.” I take a deep breath to steady myself.
“It’s... It’s been a while since you’d last had an attack. What could have caused this?”
“It has been a bit of time, hasn’t it? Don’t worry yourself too much. This is nothing and it’ll subside soon enough.”
I take one more breath and feel the flaring pain rest. I offer her a small smile for reassurance.
“See? It’s already gone.”
“...You’ve struggled with this sickness for so long.”
Juna holds onto my shoulder even more firmly and looks me in my face. Her eyes glow of a bittersweet melancholy.
“Someday we’ll find a way to make it go away for good... When I become an Elite Mage Knight, I’ll do everything I can to search for a cure. And even now I’ll continue trying. Just like I’ve always promised you I would.”
“Thank you, Juna. But this sickness isn’t like any other...”
“Then we’ll have to find something unlike anything else to mend it.”
“I’ll be well. I’m the Celestial Knight now and I’ll do my best to live with this. I-”
I’m silenced as my mouth is set still with a soft, sweet sensation. Juna leans against me and embraces me while she locks her lips with mine. She’s steadfast and unrelenting as she holds her ground. Deeply connecting with me, sharing herself with all that she can muster. I can only receive her care as attempts to give me her magic. When she finally releases our bond, her eyes dive deep into mine. Tears bead their edges.
“You... You gave me your blazer that day... because you didn’t want me to suffer. I don’t want you to suffer either. And I won’t be so helpless like I’d let myself be all those years ago. I’ll be with you and I’ll do anything I can to ease your pain. I hope this little bit of magic will help that sickness leave you alone. Someday, you’ll be cured... I have faith.”
“Juna.” I speak, dumbfounded without another solitary word to spare.
“Thank you for helping me all of this time. I’ll always do my best to help you too. We’re partners and I’m here for you. So please… Let me be here.”
I’m muted by her boldness and the intensity of her heart. I can only nod in agreement with her. She leans into me and presses her cheek against my chest. Her arms cling onto my blazer and the memories of that day in the rain come back even more vividly. While I had been caught under a summer squall today, it’s Juna who offers me comfort in my time of need. I’m slow to start, but I reach out to her and gently wrap my arms around her sensitive form.
Together we remain in a silence. Shy but joyful. The pain I feel from the scar is momentarily vanquished so I wonder to myself whether or not it was Juna’s magic or something else entirely that had managed to seal it away for the time being.
✩ ✩ ✩
“Don’t stay up studying for too much longer, please. You need your sleep.” I request of Juna as we prepare to part ways for the night at her doorway.
“I won’t. I may lose track of time, but I’ve had more than my fill for today.”
“Your test will be coming up the day after tomorrow, so however I can help, I’d be grateful to.”
“O-Okay. But I’ll take some time studying solo tomorrow, so please spend some time with the other maidens. You’ll be needing all the strength you can get to live your dream too.”
“I suppose I should try meeting with them.” I am a bit disheartened to agree. “For now, you should be off to rest. Take good care. We’ll see to it that you’re a mage knight in no time.”
“Yes. You too, Khiron. I know you’re plenty tired and you need your energy for everything you have on your shoulders.”
“Goodnight.” We both say in unison and smile to each other.
With a wave, Juna closes her door and leaves me to my own methods. Yet as I get the keen sense that I’m being watched, I peer to the end of the hallway and catch a head of blue hair and golden colored eyes staring out from a doorway. As quickly as I notice my company is a quickly the door shuts, blowing whatever cover she’d had left.
“Neptanie was listening in? I haven’t seen her at all outside of breakfast. I wonder what she’s up to during the day.”
While thinking it over, I return to my room and prepare for sleep.