When he woke up, Julius stared up at what he assumed was a ceiling. It was above him, and seemed flat, so, probably.
He couldn’t really tell, since it was dark and, for some reason, he felt something over one of his eyes. Gritting his teeth, he tried to sit up, a dull pain shooting through him as he did. Still, he was up, somewhat, and he began to look around.
Well…he wasn’t in a medical room, or at least not a traditional one. In fact, it seemed more like a hotel room. So a fancier inn. Probably had a nice view if it wasn’t so dark out. As it was, he couldn’t see much, though he could hear…snoring? Climbing out of bed, Julius tried to stand up, only to fall flat on his face as soon as he tried to put any weight on his feet.
“…ugh.” Flipping over onto his back, Julius laid there quietly, only coming to attention as he heard some rapidly approaching footsteps coming from outside the room.
“Julius!” The door flung open and he was greeted by the sight of a worried Claire standing in the doorway.
“Down here.” Pausing at his voice, Claire slowly looked down to find him on his back. “Hey there.”
“…You’ve been unconscious for three days and that’s what you have to say?”
“…In my defense I had no idea how long I was out.”
“In my offense, why was your first instinct to get up?!”
“…That’s not a phrase.” She glared at him. “And you look really cute.”
“D-Don’t change the subject. Besides, how can you even tell, your-…” She went silent, then snapped her fingers, signaling all the lights in the room to turn on and ow, fuck, that was his eye burning. Bringing a hand up to block the light, he waited for his eye to adjust, then felt a pair of hands grab him under his arms and lift up onto his feet, with Claire helping him so he wouldn’t fall back down. “Just stay in bed for now okay?”
“Sure thing. Just as long as you make sure to take care of me~.”
“…I’m not wearing a nurse outfit.”
“Damn.” Julius let her lay him back down in bed, then finally took a moment to look himself over. Aside from some bandages wrapped around his head and covering his eye, his right arm was also wrapped up, and his clothes had been replaced with a loose-fitting white patient’s gown. “…Wait, did you say three days?”
“I did, and the fact that it’s only been three after fighting an angel is surprising, though I suppose getting up earlier than expected has become normal for you.”
It kinda had, yeah. Still, huh. “…Speaking of, what exactly happened?”
“That’s what I want to ask you. By the time we arrived, that angel was gone and there was a violet chimera guarding your body.” Oh, that was the snoring. There was a chimera on the other side of his bed. Probably a good thing he didn’t try to get up on that side–
“Wait, they left?”
“As far as anyone can tell, yes. Though Lucene’s other ‘escort’ attacked everyone and fled before they could be stopped, so I wouldn’t be surprised if they went to get them out of here before anyone could discover it was an angel who attempted to disrupt a peace meeting.”
“…I feel like anyone would realize they were an angel.”
“They would have, if it wasn’t for the fact that Gabriel used the whole ‘skylanders’ thing Douglas was using as an excuse. As such, officially speaking, the one who attempted to kill me was a skylander.”
“And people believed that?”
“Lucene was more than happy to jump on that excuse so no one would accuse him of colluding with the angels, or ‘skylanders’, on an assassination attempt. Torahiko and Molgari were already on their side, Friedrich was forced to agree once Gabriel brought up that he was the one who came to them with talk of the skylanders, and soon enough, everyone came to agree with them. There was skepticism, sure, particularly since it was the cardinals’ own actions that aided in the ‘skylander’s’ escape, but no one wanted to argue.”
“…Well, you lose some, you win some.”
“Quite. Especially once I used Gabriel’s words to prove that the ‘skylanders’ were a threat to us all. After all, they managed to infiltrate the Lucenevan king’s personal guard, so they must be quite the threat.” Claire smirked victoriously. “The talks of peace went much more smoothly after we established a common enemy, and especially once that card of yours came into play. Bulinto was much easier to make deals with. Surprisingly eager too. I imagine she enjoys opportunities like these.”
Ah, right, he almost forgot about that card. “I imagine Sova wasn’t happy there.”
“If she wasn’t, she at least took her loss with grace.”
“Yeah, that follows what I know of her…” Julius frowned. “Wait, didn’t I have that card on me? I’m kinda surprised it didn’t get wrecked during the fight.”
“Oh, it did. It was still relatively intact, so I could have some communication, but it fizzled out eventually. Fortunately, Bulinto is on the island.”
Julius blinked. “…Oh. How?”
“…But, travel time?”
“Julius, it’s been three days, remember?”
Julius considered that. Then considered that it took about three days for him to get from Ebkai to Orindaco on Joral’s ship, which wasn’t quite the same amount of distance, but a royal airship was probably fancier and faster than a simple transport one…How many miles would that be? “Yeah, I’m not good with distances.”
Claire giggled, then ruffled his hair. “It’s fine, you’re better at other things.”
“Hmph. So what else has happened?”
“Well, Galinori was quite pleased that I had vouched for her as the queen of Naloriva, which she is guaranteed to become, based on agreements from the other monarchs and representatives. Talks of trade have been going smoothly with both Friedrich and Bulinto, and the latter is quite interested in meeting Sieda. I haven’t told her she’s a goblin yet, so it will be amusing to see her reaction to that. Also, question, what’s the deal with Magrave and Molgari?”
“You know what I’m talking about. Those two were basically half a second away from trying to stab one another.”
“…Well, I don’t know everything my sister did while as a pirate.”
“Well she must’ve told you some stories.”
“Some. Not all,” Graves answered as she entered the room, a ghost of a smile crossing her face when she saw Claire stiffen.
“I wanted to see how Julius was doing.” She glanced at Julius. “How are you doing?”
“…Kinda shitty? My arm still feels like crap, something is up with my eye, and a few parts of my body still feel hot.”
“Yes. That follows what I know.” Graves sighed, crossing her arms over her chest as her gaze went to Claire. “Did you tell him yet.”
“No, I was focused on catching him up, but…” Claire sighed, glancing at Julius. “…Julius, are you aware of how ‘holy’ wounds work?”
“…Not in the slightest.”
She grimaced. “Out in the world, there are certain wounds that are far harder to deal with than others. When inflicted by powerful angels, they’re called ‘holy wounds’, and the demonic equivalent are ‘cursed wounds’. Their malice clings to those they’ve struck, and it’s immensely difficult to drive it from a person’s body. They tend to scar badly too.”
“…So that’s what’s up with…” He gestured to his covered eye with his bandaged arm.
“Yes. Your arm should heal easier. You were armoring it enough to avoid third degree burns, though it’s still rather bad. Your eye, though…”
“Eyes are a delicate organ at the best of times,” Graves said, “Its nearly impossible to armor them properly without affecting one’s sight. Even then, too much heat and light coming that close can sear away important parts.”
“…Huh.” That was…something. “I haven’t lost it completely?”
“No. It wasn’t burned out of your skull.”
Claire grimaced. “Could you not?”
Graves raised an eyebrow. “That is what unnerves you?”
“It’s because you’re talking about it happening to me,” Julius answered, smiling a little, “Claire’s fine with gore, but she’s bad when it comes to people she cares about getting hurt.”
“Alright, you shush and lay down. You still need to recover.”
“Fine fine. Just, can I get something to drink?”
“No,” Grave replied.
“I’m not the one banging him. Taking care of him is up to you.”
“…I feel like you could have worded that better.”
“And yet, I didn’t.”
“…” Letting out a sigh, Claire walked past Margrave to head out. “Be back in a moment.”
“See you soon.” Giving her a small grin, Julius leaned back onto the bed, trying to make himself comfortable.
“Hm. You know, you’ve changed since I last saw you.” Leaning against a wall as she looked down at him, that ghost of a smile once again crossed his sister’s lips. “You used to be so tense, and now look at you. Almost died fighting an angel and you’re not even frowning.”
Huh. He wasn’t. “…I guess I just…feel good.”
“Your eye is angel-cursed.”
“…I don’t think that’s the term.”
“Fine. Your eye is sanctified. With death.”
“…I mean that sounds cooler, but still.”
“Agree with me or you get a shitty eye patch.”
“Why is it that every time we talk you end up blackmailing me.”
“Cause you’re not a bitch so I can’t just intimidate you. I suppose I raised you too well.”
“You’re welcome.” Letting out an amused huff at his sister, Julius turned his attention away as Claire came back with some water and an apple.
“It’s not much since none of the cooks are awake, but I made sure to grab you some fruit.”
“Hm. So, when are you going to talk with the dragon you fucked.” Julius was really glad Claire had a good grip on the water, otherwise it would have spilled all over him.
“…Well, I suppose when I’m able to walk around? At the very least, given that she’s now queen of Naloriva and will most likely talk business with Claire, I’ll be seeing her sooner or later.”
“Just don’t be a deadbeat.”
“I already made you angry enough, no way in hell am I kicking that nest of hornets.”
“What if she doesn’t want him to be around?” Claire abruptly asked, “She might be fine being a solo parent. Though it’s not really solo considering she’s got those vassals…”
Graves shrugged. “If she does, she does. Jules just needs to make it clear the offer is open. And if the kid eventually wants to know him, he needs to be there.”
“Hm. I suppose…”
“Are you jealous.”
Claire blinked. “W-What? No. I’m not-”
“It’s not too late for you two to have kids. You could get started-”
“A-Alright Graves, it was nice seeing you, but shouldn’t you get some rest? I guess? Ah, how late is it?”
“About midnight. Not too late-”
“Please leave now.”
Graves smirked. “I didn’t say anything.”
“You said and implied far too many things.”
She just chuckled. “I’ll be seeing you. With both eyes.”
“Leaving.” She gave them a little wave, then finally left, so Julius could finally relax.
“…Your sister is weird,” Claire muttered.
“That’s just Graves. She cares. Mostly.”
“I noticed. Mine didn’t.”
“…” Julius leaned up, and gave Claire a hug. After a second, she returned it.
“Sorry. You’re a mess and I’m just-”
“It’s alright. Do you wanna talk?”
“…No. Can I stay with you?”
“Of course. Though I should probably have that water and apple you so kindly brought for me, my darling sweetheart~.”
“H-Hey, don’t-don’t get all mushy, I’ll wind up embarrassed on your behalf.”
“Aw, but what’s embarrassing about showing my fiancée how much I love her~?”
“…E-Eat your apple.” Grinning, Julius ate and drank slowly, letting Claire take the time to compose herself.
And once she seemed sufficiently composed, he spoke up again, “So, everything should be good now, huh?”
“No war, you managed to one up the angels, no one died, and we’re still at this nice getaway island. Sure, I probably can’t return to the Light Lands, but, well, I did just go on a tour of the place, so I think I’m good there,” he explained, grinning in good humor.
“Ah yes, and what a lovely tour it was. I don’t think holy wounds are normal gifts they give at the end of the tour.”
“Well, why don’t we test that?”
She raised an eyebrow. “How so?”
“How about you and me go around the Dark Lands? I haven’t been able to see much of your lands, so it could be fun to see what it has to offer.”
“I can at least tell you it doesn’t offer holy wounds, provided you don’t anger Semyaza and her followers.”
“I managed to not do that last time I saw her, so I think I’ll be good. So as long as you’re up to it, I think it will be fun.” Julius took Claire’s hand and smiled up at her.
“…Hm, that does sou-“
“NO!” Slamming the door wide open, Ariel–in her humanoid form, thankfully, for the sake of the doorway–rushed in. “I was keeping quiet because you were unconscious for a few days, but I refuse to let you monopolize my lady Claire’s affection for months!”
“…Well I mean, you knew her for years before me so…”
“Th-That doesn’t count! We weren’t even together back then!”
Claire rolled her eyes. “Ariel, do you want to come with us?”
“Julius, are you fine with Ariel coming along?”
“Eh, sure. She can carry the bags.”
Ariel stiffened, then glared at him. “I am a noble, you boorish-”
“Aw, you won’t?” Claire spoke up, pouting, “And here I thought the magnanimous Lady Leicester of the Woodcourt Coterie would use her obviously immense strength to help out a poor, helpless invalid, crippled in his efforts to aid our glorious empire?”
Julius tried not to grin. “Invalid?”
“…” Ariel frowned, glancing from Claire to Julius, then huffed. “I suppose I could aid such a pathetic wretch…”
“Sure, Miss Lost-to-my-Students.”
“Whatever you say, Mister Proposes-to-someone-he-just-met.”
“Glad to hear you agree, Miss Pines-for-decades-”
“IT WASN’T EVEN ONE DECADE!”
“Really? We’ve known each other for…seventeen years now, right?” Claire wondered with a playful smile, “I believe that’s more than a decade~.”
“…I-It still isn’t decades, my lady.”
“True, you did manage to snag me before we reached that point.”
“You’re welcome, by the way,” Julius added, grinning at Ariel’s immediate angry glare.
And yet, Julius did not shut it, and instead continued to poke fun at Ariel, knowing that the only reason she hadn’t knocked him out was because of Claire. Which only made it more fun for him. It helped that Claire was amused by it too, occasionally chiming in just to get Ariel flustered.
Still, he did have to rest at some point, and it was with a smile on his face that he slipped off to sleep, even while Claire and Ariel continued talking. It was nice, hearing his fiancée’s voice, and it was nicer waking up with her snuggled up next to him in bed.
Ariel had apparently taken a chair next to them instead–either she really didn’t want to sleep in the same bed as him, or she was still flustered by the thought of sleeping with Claire–but that was fine. It was nice having Claire to himself. Well, partially. She was holding onto Claire’s hand as she slept, which was also cute.
Equally adorable was how Ariel insisted on helping Claire get dressed in the morning. A demon general probably shouldn’t be acting like a blushing handmaiden with a crush on her mistress, but eh, it was nice to watch, and not just because Claire was still absolutely gorgeous.
Granted, he did get kicked out once it was Ariel’s turn to get dressed, but he was able to channel his blood enough to walk downstairs on his own. His legs ached, but it seemed to be working well enough. And for a small resort island, it did seem like the hotel was packed with how many people were downstairs. Hm, was it okay to show his face around here?
“Teach!” Well, guess that didn’t matter anymore. Julius waved to Adrien and Sue as they came bounding toward him, with Sophia apparently apologizing to Molgari behind them, who they’d been talking to before running off. Hm. Well, at least they seemed to be trying to get connections. “Are you sure you can walk around? You were pretty messed up when we saw you!”
Julius smirked. “I think we all know it’ll take a little more than almost dying to keep me down.”
Sue raised an eyebrow. “…Pretty sure you should still at least stay in bed.”
“Well, at least he’s making sure to get some exercise. Last thing we need is for him to get lazy just cause we won,” Adrien said, playfully elbowing his girlfriend.
“Oh, you won? Funny, I don’t recall either of you doing much fighting.”
“We won by having you for a teacher, duh. Besides, I could probably take an an-ah, skylander. Probably.”
“Yeaaaah, don’t test that. Seriously, don’t.”
“I dunno, we do still have one cardinal hanging around, I could probably wrangle her into a spar–”
And then Sophia was hugging Julius, nearly knocking the wind out of him. “Gh-Uh, h-hey Sophia. Everything okay?”
“…” He wrapped his arms around her, giving her a comforting squeeze back. “Hey, it’s okay. I’m fine.”
“I-I couldn’t heal you a-at all…n-nobody could…”
“Yeah, I heard. But it’s okay. I’m fine.”
He heard her choke out a little sob, then she looked up at him, tears not quite falling yet. “…B-But your eye-”
“It’s fine. Trust me, it is. If worst comes to worst, I could get Hans or Mira to set me up with some cool demon eye. Wouldn’t that be awesome? I could do those weird poses like the stageplays.”
“…You have no idea what you’re talking about, huh?”
“Not in the slightest.” Ah, there was a smile. A shaky one, but genuine. “Hey, if it helps, just look at it like me embracing my pirate heritage. I can get a fancy eyepatch and everything.”
“How fancy are we talking?” Adrien chimed in, jokingly considering the suggestion, “Gold leaf might work, considering your name, but I’ve always thought silver suited you better. Y’know, because you’re super old.”
“I’ve got one working arm, I can still slam you straight through this floor.”
“And then you have to pay for damages.”
“…When did you get so cheeky?”
He shrugged, still grinning as he linked his hands behind his head. “About the time I beat a dragon you lost to.”
“I dunno, I think you’ve always been a smarmy shit with more bravery than brains,” Sue chimed in with her own smile.
“Also, that fight was a tie,” Julius added, “Don’t forget which one of us actually beat a Great Dragon.”
“Oh, scary. So why don’t you go talk to the one who’s having your kid?”
“…Graves got to you, didn’t she?”
Adrien smirked. “She’s still annoyed, yes.”
“…I’ll get right on that, as soon as I know-”
“She’s in the dining room.”
“……Thank you Adrien. You’re so very, very helpful, in all parts of my life.”
“You’re welcome, Teach!” Adrien mock saluted him. “We’ll remember your sacrifice!”
Julius sighed- “Sue, don’t salute too.”
“…” Julius sighed again, then gave Sophia a pat on the head. “You good?”
“…Yeah, I think…For now. But…” She took a breath, then looked up at him with a far more determined look. “I’m going to get better at healing. So, don’t get a replacement yet. I’m going to find a way to fix you up.”
“…Thanks Sophia. I’ll look forward to it.” He smiled and ruffled her hair, earning a slightly annoyed grimace, then a resolute nod from his student.
Then it was time to face the dragon.
Well, face the angel first, since the instant he opened the doors to the dining room, he was met with Cardinal Gabriel staring right at him. “…Were you waiting for me here?”
“No. I did see an opportunity, however, and took it. I will make this brief.”
He considered that, then considered his tense students behind him, as well as all the other eyes on the two of them. “Okay. Say what you have to say.”
“…If I had cause, we would not be having this talk. My hand would be through your chest, and you would be choking out your last breaths.”
Julius raised an eyebrow. He’d heard worse. “And?”
“…And then I would likely be killed by your fiancée. Or by Mister Yew, or Miss Vlahos, or even Mister Dro behind you. I’ve seen what a sufficiently enraged hero can do, and, despite my own opinions on the matter, the chosen sword, Iginia, has not found him unworthy. That is vexing. You are vexing.”
“Yeah, I can tell. Michael thinks so too.”
That earned a far worse glare. “You are very lucky they survived your…excursion.”
Hm. Couldn’t say it was a battle. Good to know. “I’m glad they did.”
Gabriel blinked, then stared at him, genuine confusion on her face for the first time that quickly morphed into a deep scowl. “Regardless. My message is a simple one. Your exile is still in effect. You may not have had a hand in Pontiff Vocula’s abduction, but matters remain, even if most will not know them. If ever you step foot in the Light Lands, even one toe within our territories, I will enact the appropriate punishment.”
She stepped closer, glaring straight into his eyes. “I do so, not merely in service of the Light, not merely because I am the loyal and prudent servant of the Just God Iudex, but because you hurt my sibling, and I will kill you for that.”
“Yeah, I figured.” Julius shrugged. “I think Michael gets first dibs though. So check in on your wounded sibling. Don’t waste your time hating me when you can still help them.”
Her eye twitched. “…You are the most aggravating mortal I have met in generations.”
“Nice. Good to hear I’m beating records.” He patted her on the shoulder, a gesture that earned a shocked, enraged hiss, and pushed past her. Best he take his own advice and focus on family.
So that’s how he wound up sitting across from Galinori, with Vercoda to her right. That was weirdly familiar. “…Don’t you have a second dragon minion?”
“Yup. She’s just has a massive crush on that minotaur of yours, so either she got some stones and is fucking her by now, or she’s pining like the sea to the moon.” Galinori didn’t seem bothered either way, focused on cutting up a large steak on her plate, which also had two large sausages, a mound of scrambled eggs, and some buttered toast. “If you’re ordering, get the steak and eggs, it’s good.”
“…I’ll keep that in mind. Though, I do have something else to bring up.”
“About, well, if you want me around to help with our kid.”
“…Pffft, you really think I would need your help with that? Last I checked I was the rich one with two dragons as my aides, and as far as I know, you got no idea about dragon culture.”
“This isn’t about if you need it or not, just if you want it. I know I’m probably not really fit to be a parent, but I don’t think I would ever forgive myself if I didn’t even try. That being said, I understand if you don’t want me near them. I haven’t exactly had the most stable life as of late.” Despite his words near the end, he kept a calm and steady gaze towards Galinori, refusing to break eye contact.
“…and if I said I didn’t want it at all?”
“Then I won’t bother you again about this. But if they want to meet me, then I would love to meet them.”
“…How much do you even know about dragons?”
“Ah…um…well, I know dragons value strength a lot, and that…they’re very strong…”
“…Heh. What a joke.” Standing up as she finished her food, Galinori began to walk away with Vercoda immediately falling in step behind her. Feeling his face flush with embarrassment, Julius remained quiet, accepting her choice. “You got until this kid is born.”
“…huh?” Julius looked up at her as she glanced over her shoulder.
“I’m not letting some has-been hero around my kid if he doesn’t know shit about dragons. So you got until they’re born to study up.”
“I’ll be ready.”
She snorted, some smoke coming from her nostrils. “You’d better be. I don’t want someone pathetic for my mate.”
“Right, I’ll-” Julius blinked. “Wait, mate?”
And Galinori was already walking away. Okay then. Right. That. Hm.
…So clearly he had a lot to talk about with Claire. And other people.
Julius sighed as he leaned back in his chair, staring up at the ceiling overhead. He still had way too much to do…
Then he smiled when he heard Claire’s voice. “Hey, are you finished with your talk already?”
“Yup. So. Two things. How much do you know about dragons, and what should I do if Galinori wants to marry me too?”
“Quite a bit, and I can and will fight her.”
Yup. Lots to do.
But at least he’d live to see it done.