Come breakfast I’m pleasantly surprised as Juna is yet clad in her nighttime dress at the table. She has her legs lifted and crossed on her chair as she eats her meal with a cheerful smile on her face. The sight brings me my own smile I couldn’t ever hope to hide. But I’m not the only one who’s noticed her relaxed demeanor. The rest of the maidens at the table steal glances of her. For them it’s a bit unexpected of Juna given how reserved and knightly they’ve seen her since they’d first met us.
“Look who’s relaxed so early in the morning.” Mercy stares unabashed with a cheeky grin glittering while she takes sips from her cup. “You don’t look like you’ve had a bad night’s sleep. Looking good there.”
“Wh-Why are you dressed like that?” Celine’s face glows a light pink. “Don’t you realize he’s here? And what’s with that creepy smile?”
She directs the latter question to me. Juna lifts her gaze to meet Celine’s all the while her confusion comes out clearly in her expression.
“This isn’t anything out of the ordinary for us. It’s nice to see Juna so relaxed, so I can’t help but smile a little bit.” I answer Celine in Juna’s stead.
“I think I’ve finally gotten used to living in the manor. It isn’t too much different from being in the dorms of our old academy. This place is so lovely as well. Much better than where I used to live. So it feels right to finally get comfortable and let my hair down.”
“B-But…!” Celine stutters to herself in shock.
“Your knightly training has really done wonders for you! You look so lovely!” Venna praises her with a small, delighted smile.
“Gotta agree with her. Nice body you've got there.” Marcia snickers from her sister's side.
“Oh stop it, you guys! You're making me blush!”
True to her word, her face is bright and she is gleeful from all the positive attention.
“You’re really not joking that you’re going to dress like that in front of him?” Celine's tone is concerned, perhaps even a bit irritated as she questions Juna.
“Of course not. Back when we were in the academy together, I'd gotten more than used to being comfortable around Khiron. He was there for me ever since we were so young. Just as Khiron had said; this is normal for us.”
“Seems you two are a lot more casual with each other than I'd expected.” Says Mercy, surprised.
“Khiron is a wonderful man. I've always been safe with him. There's never been a reason for me to be afraid or defensive. We've been partners for so long and we're each other's greatest teammates. I'm not sure if I can even count how many days we've spent apart on one hand.”
“How dreamy! I envy you for all of your beautiful fortune to be so courted by such a gorgeous knight!” Venna seems to be floating off into her own dreamland.
“Yeah, yeah. Come back down to reality, will you?” Marcia taps her sister on the head with her spoon, earning a small yelp from her.
“Interesting. Would you please continue? I'd like to hear more about your past together.” Celine's face reads of intrigue.
“Well, sure I can.”
Juna places her fork down onto the table and her hands into her lap. After a small pause for thought, she starts her account.
“There were times in the academy when I would stay late with Khiron in his room and I'd end up spending the night with him. It all started since we’d run the risk of being apprehended by dorm monitors and finding ourselves reprimanded or punished. Little by little it started to become fairly normal for me to stay in his room at night. We would get caught up studying or doing whatever and we would lose track of time together. Looking back on it, it seems that we were more like roommates.”
“And often I’d wake up with Juna laying against me.” I continue from where Juna leaves off. “She’s the hugging type when she sleeps, but it’s not like I’d ever minded that. It was quite comfortable that way too. But there were those times when I had difficulty getting up for the day since I was begrudged to wake her.”
“And during all of those times, you...” Celine’s words trail off.
“If you really want to know how comfortable we are with each other; the night before we’d come to the manor, we’d slept together. In the past there were a few times I’d been as comfortable as I could get. Especially during summer.” Juna adds.
“Slept together?” Venna’s eyes widen.
“A-As comfortable as you could get…?” Celine’s face looks like it’s ready to combust.
Her mouth twitches as she’s struck into a stupor.
But it isn’t just them. The other maidens are just as caught off guard. Plutia’s smile stretches wide and she stares the two of us down, meanwhile Neptanie keeps her sights bolted to the plate before her as her skin is positively luminescent. Then there’s Mercy who smirks to herself and chuckles as she watches the scene playing out before her as if it’s entertainment.
“You sure look disturbed. Just what are you thinking?” I ask Celine, but it isn’t too much longer until I come to understand the unfortunate implications of Juna’s statement. “W-Wait! She just means that she’d slept beside me in her undergarments is all! We haven’t seen each other entirely liberated from clothes yet! Er...”
It’d have been just as intelligent if I’d have thrown a jar of kerosene into an open bonfire. It’s better than the implications left hanging prior, but I’d managed to say something even more outrageous.
“Y-Yet…?” Juna begins to play with her hair as she parrots my poor choice of words. “You aren’t wrong about that...”
“I’m right, but that doesn’t mean I’d meant to say or imply anything more than the fact that we have yet to see each other entirely unclothed! Th-That was poor phrasing too… Let me try again!” I trip over my own tongue and break my ankle.
“Y-Y-You…!” Celine shakes lightly in her seat.
“My, my, you two. You know that kissing is as far as you’re required to go for your duties?” Plutia teases the two of us as she bears a pleased smile, her chin rested upon her interlaced fingers.
“O-Oh my!” Venna giggles to herself and holds her cheeks in the palms of her hands.
“Whatever you’re thinking, it’s not going to happen!”
Marcia’s declaration seems to be aimed towards everyone in the room starting with her sister and then moving as a chain down from Plutia ending with a sharp point at my throat.
“H-Hey! Nothing like that! Of course not! There’s no reason to step out of line of our duties as well! It’s best we follow traditions!” I stutter.
A clattering scoot catches the table's attention. Neptanie raises from her seat. Her plate is surprisingly clean.
“Th-Thank you for breakfast! I'll be on my way now!” She bolts off into a hurried dash out of the room.
“That was… sudden.” Says Juna, still red in the face.
“I guess the chat was getting a little too intense for her.” Mercy chuckles some more with that carefree smile still hanging on her face.
“Y-You’re a little calm there, aren’t you?” I say through nervous laughter.
“I mean, why not? It’s been a pretty fun chat.”
“But it seems you two have some ambitions for your futures, don’t you? Did I perhaps manage to hit a little tense nerve you have inside of your heart?” Plutia pushes ahead with her teasing.
My mind fizzles, at last overloaded past its limits. I too shoot up from my seat and start towards the door.
“I-I think I’m going to go check after… Neptanie.”
“Kh-Khiron! Just a moment!” Juna’s voice halts me at the threshold.
I reluctantly peer back to her and the others and offer the best smile I can muster, yet it comes out a touch wry.
“Before you go, I was wondering if you’d like to meet at dusk?”
“Dusk? That's a little bit late, but I take it you'll be busy studying until then.”
My eyes flick to Celine's but slam back to Juna's as I see the snowy haired maiden's brows deeply furrowed.
“Yes. I’d wanted to make sure to have everything possible prepared before we have another practice session tonight. I think I’ll take the lead this time.”
“Sure thing. I’ll be seeing you then!”
“Just stop by my bedroom when you’re ready to go! I’ll be waiting for you there!”
She barely finishes her final, mortifying statement in time as I zip my way out of the room and plant myself against the wall beside the door. I can hear Mercy’s explosive laughter echoing from within.
“Dusk sure does sound like a romantic time.” Rings Plutia’s voice.
“W-Wait! No! It’s not like that! I mean, sure we’ve kissed a few times already, but… whatever you’re onto, I’m sure you’re completely off base!”
“All I said is that it’d be romantic. I’d never said anything more. It sounds to me like someone’s mind is wandering into strange places.”
I sigh deeply and pray for the best for Juna… and then myself.