A few quiet moments pass, and I’m finally at a satisfactory enough place with this task, so I rinse, starting from the scalp. My fingers keep bumping up against his horns as I do, and I’m surprised to find that they’re firm but the texture is almost velvety, which I wasn’t expecting at all. I decide to satisfy my curiosity and divert the weird, heavy air I accidentally unleashed upon us both.
JUN: Do you have feeling in your horns?
KRYSTOFF: Huh? Um. Kind of. …Why?
JUN: Just wondering. One of those duenkhy things I get curious about. Like does Cassius ever get headaches, or why is Tor’s lifespan clearly different from white tigers in the human world, or how does Calisto breathe air at all…
KRYSTOFF: Are you feeling alright?
JUN: Yeah, I’m fine. Let me be weird, I’m embarrassed that you just saw me cry.
JUN: Also I’m done rinsing—here.
I hand him a towel and watch him sit up and squeeze thoughtlessly at the hair he cares so much about. He grounds himself and stands at his full height, and when he’s this close, I become aware of just how much taller he is than me, something much harder to gauge when he floats around all the time. It makes me feel some kind of way, but if you asked me what that was, I don’t know if I could tell you right now. I just feel my heart stir in some unwanted manner.
He leans over me, and I feel particularly small in this moment.
KRYSTOFF: I don’t know how to put this, so I will say it all inelegantly. I am not a creature that was made to be warm towards others. I’m this sector’s protector, to be sure, but I do it out of self-preservation, as do many apparitions. I have known the pain, hatred, and suffering of everyone here as my own, and I’ve spent my life putting these emotions into a box that I can close and lock and compartmentalize as an inevitability of my role, lest it drive me to insanity.
KRYSTOFF: I think it is safe to say that I am ill-equipped to be a friend in the human sense of the word. Every relationship I’ve ever had has been predicated on measurable, mutual benefit. It’s difficult for me to think of relationships any other way.
KRYSTOFF: I don’t know how to be different, or if I even can. I am—desensitized. I know this about myself. I have to be to fulfill my duty.
KRYSTOFF: And yet, I find myself thinking of you in a way that goes beyond that of benefit. I enjoy the time we spend together simply because it is you. Your spirit is warm, and your will is so strong despite the heavy burdens you carry in your heart. You are stronger than me in that regard.
KRYSTOFF: Even if our connection were to lose all mutual benefit for both of us, I think I should still like very much for you to come and see me. That’s how I feel. I hope that if you decide to stay here in Duen, you will stay by my side—belligerent and arrogant though I may be.
KRYSTOFF: How can I appease you in this situation? Would you feel better if you hit me?
JUN: Wh-what?! No!! Haha, what the hell?
I snap out of my silent reverie, startled, almost, at the sound of my own voice.
KRYSTOFF: Well, you said before that you felt better after getting into fights when you were young.
JUN: That was a long time ago, and I did not hit people who I considered friends.
Krystoff brightens a little at the word, and any vestiges of anger I had left go straight down the drain. Man, I’ve gotten soft, but that’s alright. I don’t have the energy left within me to maintain anger the way I used to.
KRYSTOFF: Of course, everything I’ve just said is for naught if Rotys’lav actually succeeds in killing me! I’ll be relieved of my sector duties, but also my physical existence!
JUN: Please don’t talk so blithely about your brother killing you.
KRYSTOFF: I’m just being honest. You should probably know that I’ve gotten lucky both of these times and if he managed to drag me outside of my sector, I’d be a goner.
JUN: Will you become stronger if I stay with you?
KRYSTOFF: Hm? Perhaps, but how so do you mean?
JUN: I could stay here at your place for a while. You’re just down the street. It wouldn’t really change that much for me, I’d just have to talk to Lady about it. If you were stronger, would you be safe from Rotys’lav?
KRYSTOFF: …I don’t want to put that on you. I could also just attend to my sector duties better and be around people more often. It’s just draining to do. Hate absorbing the misery of strangers.
JUN: Oh, come on, don’t act all mild and restrained on me, now. If you want it, I’ll do it.
KRYSTOFF: I also don’t want to make you mad again.
JUN: Too late for that.
I grab his horns and drag him down closer to my level so that I don’t have to keep craning my face up at him. And also because I just wanted to yank him around. He yelps a little but doesn’t pull away.
JUN: You already look completely healed. That’s a relief.
KRYSTOFF: Y-you are so confusing right now, Jun.
JUN: Yeah, I know. …I’m just really glad you’re okay.
KRYSTOFF: Thanks, me too. I’ve finally come to enjoy living, it’d be a shame to stop now.
JUN: Hey, where’s Regenald? I sent him to get clothes quite a while ago.
KRYSTOFF: I bet he tried to come back in while we were having our lovers’ quarrel and got grossed out, so he ran away.
JUN: Hang on, now, you don’t get to upgrade us to lovers all of a sudden when you just told me you don’t even know how to have friends. Learn to be nicer to me and then we’ll talk.
KRYSTOFF: Hey, stop yanking my horns like that—
JUN: I’ll do what I want! You’re on thin ice right now.
KRYSTOFF: Jun, I have to beg you to stop pulling them, it’s—
JUN: Why? Huh? Tell me why or I won’t stop.
KRYSTOFF: It’s—ah—please stop!!
REGENALD: Perhaps I got stuck on a dresser handle for a reason. I will come back later. Or never.