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Nights Like These

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Kazuma hated nights like these.

It was quiet, for the most part. He'd long become accustomed to the sound of horses moving about, their quiet chuffing and movements. The sound of crickets blending into the night. Aqua's snoring didn't even bother him anymore, usually. But tonight...

Everything felt too loud.

Exhaustion crept deep into him, settling from the moment he'd gotten up for work and worsening. Even when his back hit the cheap, scratchy quilt he and Aqua slept on, he ached in places he didn't know you could ache from.

He'd never admit this aloud, knowing Aqua wouldn't let him live it down, but...Going from being a shut-in NEET to doing hard physical work wasn't easy. All this manual labor, just to be sleeping in a barn, struggling to find any steady income.

Some adventurers' world this was. This would be laughable, if it wasn't so pathetic.

Aqua was adjusting better than he was, but Kazuma wasn't surprised. She was a Goddess--a useless one maybe, but still a goddess nonetheless. She was naturally charismatic if you didn't know her well enough, and she got along with most people.

Kazuma turned on his side, arms hugged against his own middle. His tracksuit was beginning to carry the smell of manure and sweat constantly. He wondered, sometimes, why he didn't just choose to go and live a happy, neverending life in heaven instead of this. Adventuring was nothing more than smelly, exhausting, emotionally and physically draining work.

He missed sitting at his computer for hours, staring mindlessly at some visual novel, RPG, anime, anything. He missed having more than one set of clothing. He missed eating nothing but ramen.

....He missed his parents more than he thought he would. Huh.

He blinked against the sudden burn in his eyes. Sniffling as quietly as he could, he wiped at his face, scowling. The last thing he was gonna do was that.

He failed to notice Aqua's snoring come to a halt.

"Kazuma?" She sounded half-awake. Great. He tried to even out his breathing.

"Hey, Kazuma!" A finger dug in his side, and he couldn't stop the flinch. "I know you're up!"

He pushed her arm away and sat up, huffing, "What?"

Aqua was facing him, legs crossed and eyes half-mast with tiredness. Hay was stuck in her hair, and dried drool was on her chin.

She blinked at him, her eyes nearly shining in the dim atmosphere of the barn. "You were crying."

"I was not."

"I heard it!" Aqua insisted, mimicking an exaggerating sniffle. "Like that!"

"You've transcended so many levels of useless that your ears don't even work properly anymore." Kazuma said, solemn.

Kazuma suddenly found himself being tackled. She was whisper-yelling (didn't need the stable owner threatening them about being noisy again) about NEET this and Useless Otaku that, hands bunching in his collar and shaking him, completely offended. Kazuma, as always, found himself getting swept in her childish antics all too easily.

"Oi!" He snarled, pushing her back as far as he could. "Quit it, useless goddess!"

"No!" She whined, pawing at his face. "Not until you praise me! Shower me with compliments!"

"Like hell-"

Fighting for them mostly consisted of him trying to get Aqua off of him, and Aqua trying her absolute hardest to cling to him like a koala. It could go on for quite a while, surprisingly.

No one really won this time. A few minutes later, when they were both too exhausted to be angry, the two of them fell back on their makeshift bed, panting. His tracksuit clung uncomfortably to his sweaty back. The sleeves and pant legs of Aqua's pajamas were now rolled up.

Summer nights were a mixed bag. At least they weren't freezing to death, but feeling humid at nightime was just unpleasant. Kazuma didn't even want to imagine how badly winter was going to be for them.

The two of them stared up at the dark ceiling of the barn. The crickets seemed quieter, or maybe it was because Kazuma didn't feel as listless anymore. As melancholic. Though he'd rather die than ever tell Aqua she'd technically helped him.

In her annoying, roundabout way.

He felt eyes on him a good while before she spoke.

"Why were you crying?" Her voice was light, quieter than usual. From fatigue or curiousity, he didn't know.

"I wasn't," He starts, and then deflates. "I got something in my eye."

"Uh-huh." She sounded completely skeptical. "And I'm not a goddess."

"Not surprised." He remarked.

She didn't have the energy to pounce on him again, so she just nudged closer, brushed roughly against his shoulder with her own.

"Everyone gets sad. It's normal." She said finally. "Except for goddesses like me. So it's okay for shut-in NEETs like you to feel down sometimes, alright?"

She was awful at comforting. That didn't change the fact that she was trying, which he didn't expect. He'd been dreading the taunting for minutes now, but it never came.

"Wow. Aqua-sama, you're so wise." His tone dripped with sarcasm, even as his smile was fond.

"Of course! Plus, you have me. So there's no need to be sad." Aqua beamed with pride. "As you know, Kazuma-san, I am the best godde-"

"Alright, I'm going to bed." He interrupted happily, turning over.

He heard Aqua huff, completely indignant. "I'll show you my true potential one day, I swear it! You'll pray to me every day! You'll see!"

"Yes, yes." He yawned, eyes shutting. "Goodnight, Aqua-sama."

He heard her muttering to herself, not being able to quite make out what she was saying. Knowing her, it was more raving about how great she was. A few minutes later, she quieted down. Kazuma felt the quilt shift with the movement of her moving closer, getting comfortable.

It took about seven minutes before she was clinging to his back, deep in slumber. A leg slung over his torso, an arm wrapped around his shoulders; snoring, right in his ear.

Kazuma found that he didn't really mind.