There’s a dark bruise starting to bloom underneath his right cheekbone and what seems to be a busted capillary in his nose because it continues to bleed a little. I wipe him down as gently and carefully as I can, minding the worse-for-wear areas, though he still winces here and there.
He’s also definitely holding something closed on his side. Both hands rest firmly against an epicenter of blood, but what the scope of the injury beneath is, I can’t say yet.
JUN: Sorry. Bear with it.
He tenses and moisture springs to his eyes, but he continues to tilt his face obediently for me. Once I’m satisfied, I sit back on my ankles and wait for him to meet my expectant stare.
KRYSTOFF: …There isn’t really anything in this house for cleaning wounds proper, so don’t bother yourself with the rest. Once I’ve gathered a little more energy, I’ll drag myself to the shower.
JUN: Will you heal faster if you have more negative energy?
KRYSTOFF: Yes. But I gather it passively at all times just from being in my sector. I’ll heal eventually. I just—need to rest. Expended a lot of energy… fighting.
JUN: Can I do something? Is there a way for me to give you the energy faster?
He smiles slightly, and his walls are too broken down from exhaustion for it to carry its usual wry angle.
KRYSTOFF: I gather more just by having someone close by.
JUN: Then I’ll stay here until you feel strong enough to get up.
He looks like he wants to argue, but I sit next to him against the wall and fold my hands, bracing myself for however long this will take. The protests die on his lips.
JUN: Um… Is Regenald okay?
KRYSTOFF: Yes. I’ve put him somewhere safe. Funny of you to concern yourself with a stranger’s enchanted umbrella.
JUN: Yeah, well… I like Regenald, so I got worried when I didn’t see him with you.
JUN: Is it… my fault you got attacked?
KRYSTOFF: It was going to happen… sooner or later. You were just a catalyst to it happening sooner. Not the cause.
JUN: I’m sorry…
KRYSTOFF: Did I not just say it wasn’t your fault?
JUN: Yeah, but it might not have happened like this if I hadn’t catalyzed it. Plus it doesn’t feel good to know I had any part in this happening to you, no matter how small. I’m sorry, Krystoff. I didn’t know crossing over would hurt anyone.
KRYSTOFF: Please. You’re hardly the first or last human to do it. It only shook out this way because tensions are already high among the apparitions right now…
KRYSTOFF: There’s more to it, but talking hurts. And it’d probably go over your head. So… just don’t blame yourself.
He sighs and shifts, seeking a more comfortable position for the wound on his side, and there’s something very… humanizing about the whole thing. The Krystoff I talked to before seemed so untouchable… so above the mortal inconveniences of pain and discomfort.
I don’t want to say that seeing him miserable is making him more likable to me, exactly, but…
It’s definitely made him feel more like someone I can talk to as an equal.
KRYSTOFF: You really don’t have to stay.
JUN: Yeah, I know that. But I’m not just gonna leave you here while you look like something chewed you up and spit you out. I’d go home and just worry about whether or not you passed out in a puddle of your own blood.
A beat or two of silence passes. I twiddle my thumbs, and speak.
JUN: I’m going to talk a little. You don’t have to say anything since you’re in pain.
He nods his acknowledgement, so I begin to untangle a memory I’ve been picking at for the past several minutes.
JUN: So… I got bullied a lot growing up—for a lot of reasons not worth listing. In most grades it was restricted to insults and isolation. But sometimes it escalated to fights. This is gonna sound nuts, but I actually preferred it when that happened because it was the one time I felt like I could stand up for myself.
JUN: I liked the catharsis of swinging back at someone, even if I was a wimpy kid who couldn’t really defend myself properly. It was a chance to finally get out all the hatred and resentment I had towards everyone. And it was kind of fun to be gawked at by other kids. It was like being the center of attention for once.
JUN: I had a really bad reputation among the teachers as a violent delinquent. Isn’t that funny? I tried really hard to do well in school, but it’s hard to excel or even want to show up when you know everyone there hates you. So it kinda self-perpetuated itself.
JUN: I didn’t have it the worst, or anything. Sometimes other nerdy kids would realize that I was just a loser deep down and I’d have brief glimmers of friendship now and then. But, oh man, come high school, kids were really cliquey. I got beat up way less, but I think that was the first time I’d ever felt so miserable.
JUN: So, I mean, I wasn’t a docile angel all the time. I said something shitty to this guy who’d always given me mean looks. I think I called him a brainless waste of space or something after he failed a test. He cornered me outside during lunch and really let me have it.
I laugh a little, knowing fully well that it isn’t an appropriate way to punctuate this story, but it’s incredible how yesterday’s woes can look so funny and small in retrospect.
JUN: And everyone was just tired of this shit. I think everyone just, like… went inside. Nobody told the teacher. They just wanted to eat and get through the day like anyone else. The bell rang and he left, too.
JUN: I just sat against a wall outside for hours, probably looking pretty stupid. He didn’t break anything, but for some reason, I felt like I was gonna die right there. Maybe because I was alone.
JUN: I realized that part of why getting into fights was desirable to me was because there had always been someone on the other end who had no choice but to worry about me. A school nurse or an angry principal, blotting peroxide on my scrapes. Even if I was getting yelled at, they had to be at least a little nice to me.
JUN: Man, that’s really childish, isn’t it? But I always looked forward to it. So when it didn’t happen, and I was left alone, I felt like that was it for me. I got up later and cleaned myself up and was fine. But for some reason, that’s one of my least favorite memories.
JUN: Anyway, sorry for talking about something kinda weird. When I realized something bad might have happened to you, that memory hit me like a ton of bricks.
I don’t really expect him to care about my high school drama, both because it’s probably below him and because he barely knows me, but when I meet his eyes again, he’s looking straight at me. And not in the weird way he usually does, where I feel like he’s waiting for me to entertain him.
KRYSTOFF: …That isn’t childish. I think it’s normal to want to feel cared about. Not that I claim to know what is normal.
The passage of time is difficult to gauge in Krystoff’s mansion, but we sit in a companionable silence for a spell, and despite the lack of conversation, I feel like I learn something about Krystoff from the whole experience.