Kagerou reached for the cube in Patchouli’s hand. She grasped it gingerly, as if afraid that he colorful object would shock her as soon as she touched it. Nothing that fanciful happened. Patchouli put the other cube away as Kagerou inspected her new possession. It sure was pretty. Myriad colors shifted about in seemingly random patterns and pulsated with varying brightness.
“...” Kagerou seemed bemused with the tiny cube and stared at it silently.
“Keep it close,” Patchouli instructed, with a fixed stare at her chest. It wasn’t a lecherous stare or, for that matter, even directed at her. It was a message directly for me. “Enjoy it,” she said so quietly, so quickly that I wasn’t even sure that she moved her lips at all.
“Let me touch it,” I said, drawing the werewolf’s attention away from the cube. “It’s a gift for me.”
Kagerou sighed, caressing the edges of the cube gently as if that would somehow make it react differently. She looked up at Patchouli who had reclined with a satisfied smile in her chair. The witch offered no further insight. Kagerou pinched the cube between her index and thumb and brought it towards her bosom. She was no doubt uncomfortable about doing it in front of Patchouli but she nonetheless shoved her hand down her blouse and towards me.
The fireplace was at full roar. Though the wood split up and crackled as it burnt up, none of its heat could be felt. The room itself, small and with its single window shut with a thick curtain drawn over it, simply failed to warm itself up. Even the bed, with its luxuriously padded quilt and multiple layers of sheets, did little to address the dearth of proper temperature. It was a terrible problem. One that, in more my lucid moments, I suspected was entirely my fault.
The ceiling seemed so distant. Before I had gotten to bed, I could have effortlessly stretched my arm up and touched the plaster. Now, however, it might as well have been all the way up on the Moon. But that was alright. In between chills and overwhelming fatigue, my mind wandered. It projected its half-maddened thoughts up on the white surface, made a better suggestive canvas by the flickering of light and shadow as the fire consumed the logs. Dark shapes danced around and distorted, giving fake texture and depth to what I saw. In those moments where I was less sure—sure of everything, maybe—I could see both memories and my imagination crudely animated up there.
“How do you feel?” she interrupted a familiar scene that had manifested itself time and time again.
“Like shit,” I replied, my voice sounding like croak. Everything felt like it was sore, so things like chills were a welcome distraction.
“I’ve brought you a herbal tea,” she said, placing a tray on the nightstand.
“Thanks,” I said, “I wish you’d get rid of her, though.”
“Her?” she checked my temperature for the millionth time, placing her hand gently on my forehead. Her expression was neutral, as if to assure me that everything was routine. There was a pale glint as she withdrew her hand, of light reflected off the ring she wore.
“Fatima,” I replied, her name sounding far more guttural than I intended. “She’s been keeping me company while you’re busy,” I explained, “over and over I see her. Remember her, I suppose. Nasir, too.”
“They’re not real,” she said, a subtle note of concern seeping into her voice. Sakuya had been taking care of me for… hours? Days? A while. For however how long I had been in that bed. All that while she had diligently nursed me, bringing food and keeping me clean and comfortable. She had been quick to joke that I would be up and about in no time at all and whenever I felt like talking, was quick to keep the subject light.
“She was real,” I told her, “met her just south of the Zarqa. It was a whole year. you don’t really forget that sort of thing.”
“Maybe I should let some fresh air in here,” she sat down next to the bed on a stool and offered up the cup of tea.
I tried to sit up but found it too difficult. Saying nothing, she put down the up of tea and helped prop me up and placed some pillows behind me as support. “I feel really cold, I don’t want fresh air,” I complained, “and besides, I know what you meant. I know she’s not in the room. I’m not that far gone!” I coughed that last bit out and felt so winded afterwards that I had to take a moment before accepting the tea.
I looked at her while I took a sip. She was studying me carefully, looking for signs of either recovery or further decline, all the while sporting an amicable smile that was meant to reassure me. If I had had more strength I would had tried something playful, like tugging at one of those twin braids she wore in front and tell her that she wasn’t as good of an actress as she thought. She may have had the others fooled, but I could see right through her. Just like with Fatima.
“I think I love her more with time,” I confessed, the bitter drink making my throat and airway feel a little less sore.
“Maybe I should leave if you’re going to do nothing but talk about your ex-girlfriend,” she teased, more concerned that I drank the tea than what I was actually saying. I was used to her being like that. She was only serious when she absolutely needed to be.
“It wasn’t like that,” I said, “I was a kid and had a crush. And I think she liked me too, I remember the look she gave me from time to time. But she loved her cause much more. And Nasir. I never stood a chance.”
“Hm, so you shied away from confessing?” she fussed with one of the ribbons on her right braid, tightening it, “and here I thought you were a lot more courageous than that.”
I drank my tea slowly. It was pleasantly hot and made my stomach feel, well, something other than discomfort. “Maybe I did lack a bit of courage in those days,” I said, thinking about it. “But when you meet someone that’s rebelling against everything without bothering to look at themselves as well, you can’t really reason with them. I realized that many years after. Even if I had become her lover, she would have dumped me as soon as it was slightly inconvenient for her.”
“Sounds like a pitiful excuse to me,” she smiled knowingly, “I’m always honest about things like that.”
I was too tired to say something appropriate as a response. If I tried to change my train of thought, I risked complete derailment. And then where would I be? Just staring at shadows on the ceiling until I became lucid once again. “Nasir,” I continued, “was my friend as well. He became a politician later, you know. Dunno if Fatima ever told him how he felt; he probably would have smiled and said something cool like ‘I know’ and kissed her. ”
“Fine...” she got the hint, pouring more tea out of a teapot and into my cup, “why have you been thinking about them?”
“There was a lot going on in my life back then and I felt very alone. Even when I was with them I didn’t really cut loose as much as I should have. I think I’ve changed for the better...” I closed my eyes and drank more tea. It made me happy even if I knew that, if more of my taste buds were functioning, I would have normally gagged from the taste. “I’m living more in the moment, enjoying what I do have. I don’t need to dwell on her anymore and so I love her for allowing me to grow. Time is a precious thing” I said, smiling at her.
“Yes, it is,” she agreed, returning the smile easily.
I gave her back the empty teacup and slunk back down into the bed. She helped me settle in once again. “Hey, Sakuya?” I asked.
“What is it?”
“I’ll get better soon, right?”
“Without a doubt,” she replied firmly.
“Good, good,” I nodded weakly. “Can I hold your hand? I still feel really cold though I’m sure my fever is higher now. I could see it in your eyes earlier.”
“Bluffing won’t work with me,” she said quietly, correctly guessing I was fishing for information.
“Can’t blame me for trying,” I said, letting the precious focus and presence of mind I had held onto dissipate some.
“It would be dull if you didn’t,” she said and then quietly reached for my hand. She was as warm as the fire normally would have felt. Her slender fingers coiled over my left hand and tightly held on. It was a soft, cloud-like feeling to have her hold my hand—even the small spot where I could feel the relative coolness and hardness from her ring. I was sure that I felt sticky and probably disgusting after being ill so long. It didn’t seem to bother her as she quietly stood vigil, holding on to me for as long as I could remember. Her affection was dearly felt and allowed me to set aside anxieties and pain.
I felt as a small ship tied in at a safe harbor. However much it may rain, or waves crash up against me, I wouldn’t sink so long as I remained tethered to her comforting touch.
“She has really soft hands, you know,” I said, “I wonder what moisturizer she uses.”
“Who does?” Kagerou asked as she climbed another flight of stairs.
“Sakuya,” I replied.
“And how would you know that? You don’t have hands,” she pointed out quite logically.
“Oh… I just do, is all,” I said, realizing that I had completely lost track of reality again.
“Had fun with your cube?” she asked, keeping a deliberately slow pace. We were far from the library, on the other side of the mansion. Near Remilia’s bedroom if I wasn’t mistaken.
“I don’t think fun is the right way to describe that,” I told her, “but it was interesting.”
“It disappeared with a bright flash as soon as it touched you,” she said, playing up her own inconvenience, “next thing I know you’re quiet for the longest time. That bookworm smirked at me and told me not to worry about it and then just told me to go away and go do something else for the time being. Kind of rude, don’t you think?”
“Sorry, still think she’s cute,” I laughed, feeling playful, “but don’t worry, I’d only scratch you behind the ears, my lovely.”
“Try it and I’d bite your hand off,” she cautioned, baring her quite-sharp teeth.
“Next time I have a hand, we’ll see what actually happens. I bet you’d relax so quickly you’d be begging me to rub your belly next.” I could have gone on all night, but I was worried about what I might have missed. “So where are we going now?” I asked.
“I wanted to check in on Remilia. Make sure she hadn’t keeled over and died,” she said.
“Reasonable enough,” I said, “it did look like she was at death’s door earlier.”
Before we reached the vampire’s inner sanctum, Kagerou stopped by an unused bedroom. The door had been left ajar for whatever reason. There was no one inside and a careless fairy was likely the likeliest suspect for why the door wasn’t closed. Kagerou wandered over to the window and stared out at the moon. It had been freed from the clouds for the moment. She silently closed the curtains before leaving and shutting the door.
“Hey, Al?” she asked, keeping her voice as low as possible.
“Are you alright? You’d tell me if that cube was harmful, right?” she sounded a little hopeful at the last part.
“I’m fine. And I think I’d tell you,” I said, “we’re stuck together. Anything I want to do depends on your cooperation.”
“Is it really just that?” she asked, “would you tell me if you had your own body?”
I thought about it. No clear reply came. So I was honest, “I don’t know. I’m trying to be as straight as possible with you. Not sure why but I think that, as far as people go, you’re alright. So you deserve my cooperation.”
Kagerou grabbed me, removing the pendant from under blouse and staring at it directly in her hand. I still looked as I had before, colorful and mysterious. She traced a finger on my surface. I felt smooth and not cold. Not warm either. Just not as cold as you’d expect something like a gem to be.
“Let’s keep cooperating for now,” she said after a moment and placed me back out of sight. “So how do you think I’m doing as a maid so far?”
“About average,” I told her, “the previous chief maid left big shoes to fill. Could stop time, you know. Well, allegedly, according to this file I have here.”
“Average is fair,” she nodded, “I never thought I’d be at a place as silly as this mansion. The people here are different than what I’m used to.”
“I think you’ll keep on improving, you have the potential” I told her.
“Thanks. A compliment from you is liable to make blush, so you better cut it out,” she joked.
“There is one thing you should watch out for. Well, keep an eye on, at least.”
“And what would that be?”
 That beautiful witch sure was vague as to why she needed to make a charm in the first place.
 It was odd that Remilia’s pride would let her lose control in front of someone she had just met.
Time remaining: ::
Timer ended at: 2018/11/21(Wed)13:00