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It's a long run back to Myouren Temple, but a pleasant one. Evening is falling by the time you actually reach the place. There's no sign of Kyouko on arrival, which isn't too much of a surprise considering she probably couldn't sweep all day every day without going absolutely insane. You'd investigate inside the temple, but as it so happens, the gates themselves are closed at the moment.
Even if you were of a mind to simply break in, there's the issue of the gatekeeper, a spear-wielding blonde in tiger-patterned dress with what appears, at first glance, to be a weed perched firmly atop her head. You know hats are the in thing in this burg, but that's just ridiculous.
"Hail, stranger!" she says, her words coming out in a smooth, confident contralto, that of a woman who holds no fear of any intruder, least of all you. "I hope you have not come to cause a disturbance, else I should be forced to impale you most grievously."
"Why do you have a weed on your head?" you ask, ever the image of decorum.
She blinks, her self-assured stature shaken by the sheer idiocy of your question. "...This is a lotus, sir," she says, in the slow tone used teaching toddlers the basics of speaking. "It is a common Asian flower, the likes of which can be found with ease at any waterway." She tilts her head slightly and squints at you. "You should consider perhaps opening a book. Or not being an imbecile."
"All right, I had that one coming," you say. "However, I thought you people were Buddhist. Doesn't stabbing travelers sort of go against that?"
"Most innocent travelers do not come here in full suits of armor," she says, her tone mild. "Generally, that sort of dress is impractical unless you intend to actually make use of it, such as in the fashion of, for example, a barbaric raider intent on pillaging a holy place of all its treasures."
"I'm unarmed?" you say, uncertainly raising your hands.
"Steel fists can kill sure as any weapon. Believe you me, I speak from experience." She leans back against the gate, her expression casual, yet her body tensed for action. "Though, to be honest, I much prefer tooth and claw. It feels more natural."
"Hence the spear," you say, delighting in her narrowing of eyes. You lower your arms again as exasperation starts to get the better of you. "Now, lady, I'm just here to visit someone. I'd rather not have to punch you out to do it, because that would hurt her feelings."
"Oh? And who could a brigand such as yourself wish to see here?" she says, her tone cold.
She blinks once, slowly. Then she does it again. And again. And a few more times, just because. "Oh," she says, very quietly, horrified realization playing across her face. "Then, that armor means- oh."
"Yo, Shou!" Kyouko shouts from somewhere inside temple grounds, her voice carrying so clearly it's almost as if she's right next to you. "I hear talking! What's going on over there?"
"I am a complete moron!" Shou calls back, her face flush with embarrassment.
"I am forced to agree!" you bellow, determined to make your voice heard.
There's a brief silence before Kyouko shouts again, a great deal more excited. "Hold on, hold on, hold on, I'm coming over!"
One moment it's just you and Shou, and the next Kyouko is pressed up against the gate like a dog trying to squeeze through the holes in his chain-link cage. "Hi, AE!" she says, waving at you with a sizable smile lighting her face up. "Was Shou bothering you?"
"I was, and for that I am sincerely sorry, sir," Shou says. She sets her spear aside, and bows until her face is parallel with the ground. "We've all heard so much about you that I should have been able to recognize you on sight. Please forgive my hostility, and know you have my deepest thanks for what you've done for Kyouko."
"Apology accepted," you say, happy to be moving on. "And don't be so hard on yourself, you were only doing your job."
"Incompetence deserves nothing but scorn," Shou says, her face set grim when she straightens up.
"You can stop being all worried about 'HONOR' any time now, missy," Kyouko says teasingly. She pushes the gate open and steps through, and gives Shou a companionable pat on the back. The tiger-lady sighs, but her dour expression lightens up.
"So, Kyouko, there's something I wanted to talk to you about," you say. "Privately, if possible."
"Is... something wrong?" Kyouko asks, her own good cheer suddenly on shaky ground.
"Nothing like that," you say quickly. "Do you mind coming with me?"
She's at your side in a handful of long strides, apparently deciding hesitation is for wusses. "Of course not! Let's go!"
"Stay safe!" Shou says, waving you off as Kyouko grabs you firmly by the hand and drags you with her. You play along with it, letting her lead you on into the forest until the two of you are clear of Shou's prying eyes, and then a bit further just to be safe.
"This should work," you say, pulling free from Kyouko's grip. She settles up against a tree, green eyes watching you with curiosity.
"So, this is awful soon for another visit," she says, her tone worried. "I'm not complaining, but you mind telling me what's going on? Is something dangerous happening?"
Her concern is so sudden that you can't help but feel like a heel for giving her the wrong idea. "Nothing so serious. I just visited the mansion earlier."
Her lips twitch downward. "Ahuh."
"And I talked with Meiling," you say, watching her close to gauge her reaction. "She told me about you."
Her eyes widen by fractions of an inch, and her mouth drops open by the same measure, before her expression falls to something profoundly glum. It's not a good look for her.
"...Oh." She slowly nods, eyes downcast. "It's okay. I know what she's got going for her."
"What's that supposed to mean?" you ask.
She clasps her hands together. "Well, y'know, she's all tall and strong and gorgeous, and I'm short and can maybe punch out a few fairies if it comes down to it, and also cute, cute is definitely a term thrown about a lot when I'm involved. We're kind of complete opposites like that, so..." She looks back up at you, smiling wanly. "I can see why you'd go for her."
Ow, your heart. "I came here for you."
"Yeah, I figured you wait what." Kyouko's jaw hangs open, her entire body frozen in place as she dares not even breathe, her eyes focused intently on your own. "You're not serious here, are you?" she whispers, her hands trembling so slightly you almost miss it.
"Why wouldn't I be?" you say, taking a cautious step forward, wary of spooking her off.
Of all the things you expected her to do, she laughs, something small and wavering and easily crushed. "I- I didn't push for anything yesterday because I thought you only wanted to be friends. But... you're really interested?"
"Would I be telling you this if I wasn't?" you say, spreading your hands in a hopefully friendly manner.
The rise and fall of her chest is growing steadily more erratic, and the shakes are proceeding up from her hands to the rest of her body. Just when you're about to take another step, she launches herself at you, hooking her arms between yours and around your back in a tight hug, burying her face against your chest.
Her voice cracks when she speaks. "This is real. It's really happening."
"Shh," you say, running metal fingers through her hair. "I'm here. I'm here."
She's content to simply rest against you in silence, the two of you held together by her iron grip. You didn't expect her to react like this, but... there's something intensely cute about it, all the same.
"Hey," she says, very quietly. "I'm sorry. I- I know I'm being stupid about this. It's just... if Meiling hadn't said anything, would you have gone for her instead?"
You suck in a breath, not looking forward to her reaction. "Yes."
Kyouko pulls back just enough to look up at you, the tears beading in the corners of her eyes contrasting sharply with her tiny, sincere smile. "That's how close I came to missing out on you, then, because I didn't ask when I had the chance." She sniffles. "I don't know whether to be mad at myself or happy it all worked out anyway."
And then she leans up, straining on her tip-toes, to lightly press soft lips to your own. It's a short, chaste little gesture, but you still sorely miss it when she breaks away.
"But," she says, brushing the tears out of her eyes, her smile widening. "I think I'll go with happy."
"...I can't promise this'll last," you say, reluctantly. "I could be redeployed elsewhere, and orders are orders. If that's a dealbreaker, then so be it." Seeing her frown ever so slightly, you hold up a finger. "But if you really want to stick by me, I promise that as long as I'm here, I'm damn well going to try to make this work."
"If that's how you want to play it, mister," she says, her smile back in play as she reaches up, wrapping her arms around the back of your neck. "I agree to your terms."
"Allow me to seal the deal," you say, and dart in those few inches to kiss her full on the mouth, pulling her close in your arms. Her eyelids drift shut, and she sinks into you without any resistance.
Even with this barrier of metal between the two of you, it feels good just holding her, and it's only with great reluctance that you eventually break it off for air. Kyouko's cheeks are rosy as she looks up at you, and she giggles breathlessly while she leans back in your arms, your sure grip the only thing holding her upright.
"Well, I think that's a good start to things, don't you?" she says, reaching down and gently prying your hands off her.
"I'm forced to agree," you say, letting her do as she will. She takes a few steps back once she's out of your grip, the better to get some room to smooth her dress off.
"You know what?" she asks once she finishes, a twinkle in her eyes as she sizes you up. Both her hands grasp one of your own. "I think it's time I introduced you to everyone."
She pulls you along, back to the temple, and it's with a glad heart that you follow her.
ALL AVAILABLE EPILOGUES COMPLETED
KYOUKO ROMANCE COMPLETED
FINAL EPISODE UNLOCKED
[X] The Man In The Iron Mask
THERE WERE NO FUCKUPS HERE. NONE.