The first time Laylea told Ares she loved him, it was when they were standing outside a pub after being unceremoniously kicked out— Laylea had gotten into fisticuffs with a rival dancer who had provoked her, and with Ares taking up his blade to both scare the wench and defend his lover’s honor, the owner had decided that that was where she would draw the line for rowdiness that night.
It was damp and dark out in front of the establishment, not to mention the chill of the approaching winter was starting to come in waves as of late, which made Laylea grab her bare arms and rub at them furiously. Worse than that, they had already paid for their meals and drinks, but only got halfway through them before they were sent out the door. The scent of food was still wafting in the air as they both stared dumbfoundedly at the entrance, as if they expected to be let back in any second now.
These didn’t seem like ideal conditions for any sort of profession of love to occur. In fact, Ares and Laylea had gotten into arguments before that stemmed from situations that were less worse than this.
Yet, instead, Laylea looked up at Ares and gave a toothy smile, something that was rare to see, on account of her hating how her teeth weren’t exactly perfect. It was small detail told Area that she was definitely buzzed at the very least, because she held the smile a good couple of seconds before speaking. “You sure freaked her out good, didn’t you?” She pat him on the shoulder, pleased with his work. “Always ready to jump in and help me out! That’s why I love you.”
She then turned on her heel. The direction she faced now was now to a road that would lead to a town close by. “Now, where else could we go for dinner…” She asked aloud, and began to mumble things to herself.
Of course, Laylea had turned around so suddenly, she hadn’t seen Ares’s face blossom into red at the words I love you .
They had been seeing each other for a long time, and knew each other even longer than that, but neither had ever said something of that caliber to the other before. It was new, and, admittedly, a bit alarming to Ares, who was not nearly as collected as he pretended to be when it came down to romance. He was a bold, diligent man, and almost always was, but the smallest bit of affection from Laylea caused him to come undone faster than a lightning strike, leaving him a blushing, bumbling mess. In contrast, Laylea took all of Ares’s shows of care with a smile, a teasing comment, or in an action of repayment, but everything was always in stride.
There would come a time where Ares would learn to get over himself, but tonight was not that time.
“Wait, wait, my dearest,” Ares called after Laylea, who had already begun trotting ahead down the stone path and had been listing locations of eateries under her breath for a few moments now. She slowed her pace and craned her neck to stare at him, “Oh, do you want to try that little family-run restaurant? I heard their selection of alcohol isn’t too good, though, and I could go for some—“
“You said you loved me.” He cut her off.
Now, to do such a thing would normally result in someone’s death, but Ares looked so flustered and bewildered that Layla held back her wrath, and instead just stared at him.
“Mmhmm. I did. I love you,” she clarified as she crawled to a stop, and got to see Ares’s eyes widen even more somehow.
“You’ve never said that before.”
“...I guess I haven’t.”
“But now you have.”
Laylea turned around completely to face him now. Her emotions were mixed on her face— it seemed she both wanted to have this discussion and also run away from it as far as she could. “It’s just that, y’know… When I work, I work for all kind of sleazebags… You have to say that stuff to them so you get paid more, really butter ‘em up,” she admitted. There was a light blush on her cheeks now, but the narrowing of her eyes indicated it wasn’t a playful one, but instead a blush of genuine embarrassment. “So I always felt that way about you, but it felt a little dirty to me to say I love you . Before, it kinda just slipped out... I think I had one too many in there, haha.”
Laylea’s job of dancing was a tireless one, and it rarely paid exceptionally well, so her trying to milk her customers of every piece of gold they had by means of lies did not offend Ares in the least. Of course, if any of them had ever tried to go past dancing with her, then he would gladly have their heads roll across the battlefield without question. But he trusted Laylea, and he knew she would never do something like that, that she had no meaning behind what she told her clients, and, now, that she loved him, so he continued on.
“Nonsense,” Ares stepped forward, tenderly holding Laylea to himself by the waist— an affectionate gesture he did so often that Laylea completely eased into his touch. “If that phrase is dirty to you, I want to clean it so we may use it all the time, through all of our days together. Won’t you let me at least do that, my sweet?”
She peeked up at him, resting her chin on his chest. “And how do you plan on doing that? Which one of us here is as red as a tomato?” She giggled.
Ares leaned down and kissed her on the forehead. “I would like to start by saying that I love you, as well, then.”
When he pulled away, Laylea was smiling ear to ear. “I could get used to hearing that from you,” she said. “Though, it’d help if your lip didn’t tremble quite as much.”
The young lord raised an eyebrow, confused. “What are you talking about? My lip did no such thing—“
Before he could complete his thought, Laylea stood up on her tiptoes and kissed him square on the lips, yet another thing that often caused Ares’s mind and heart to race madly whenever she did it. She held herself there for just a few seconds before pulling back and admiring how flustered her lover looked now, then took a few steps back and pointed down the road which the two of them were still on.
“Come on. Let’s go get some dinner again, and make sure we don’t get kicked out this time,” she grinned.
Ares felt at his mouth, which was still warm, with his lip trembling ever so slightly.
“I’d follow you anywhere, Laylea.”
The first time Lana told Larcei she loved her, it took an entire two months of planning, a lot of counseling with her brother and Ulster, and plenty of deep breathing exercises to help her steel her nerves for the event.
Truth be told, she had always loved Larcei, but she never knew how to say it. Her hands would shake at any sort of confrontation, her voice would go quiet, and she would want to be anywhere else than where she was at that second. It was her weakness. She was a gifted healer and trusted friend of many, but she was also a nervous wreck.
To make matters more stressful, it seemed everyone knew of her crush except for Larcei. Ulster would leave the two alone whenever he had the chance, Lester would switch seats at dinner so they could sit side by side, Seliph had flat-out assumed they were seeing each other already until Lana clarified matters for him, and Shannan had even strode up to her one day to give her his blessing to wed Larcei in place of her late mother. Larcei herself, however, seemed completely oblivious to these notions, and it killed Lana inside.
Enough time had passed between Lana first harboring a crush on Larcei until this very day to tell her how she felt. Lana had planned everything out— at dinner, she would ask Larcei to go on a walk with her, and then, once she had eased into the conversation, she would say it. Whether or not Larcei accepted Lana’s confession, she didn’t care. For a while, she thought she would have, but she had grown with her feelings so much that Lana had come to terms with the fact that she would rather have Larcei reject her and be happy than to date her out of pity.
The overall day was uneventful, and dinner came and went quickly. When Lana saw that Larcei was close to finishing her meal, she poked at her arm. “Do you want to go walk with me for a bit?” She asked, voice meek.
Larcei turned to look at her, mouth stuffed with mashed potatoes. All she could do was nod. When she swallowed, she pointed her fork at the cleric. “Where to?”
“Just around. We ate a lot, so it’s good to maintain movement for a bit before we sleep.”
“Alright. Sounds good.”
Larcei quickly inhaled the rest of her food and followed Lana out of the back entrance of the Liberation’s current base. While the two of them strolled along, Larcei began talking about the sword she had recently purchased, and how she was struggling with the prospect of using it. “I mean, it’s so nice, you know? I don’t want to get it ruined. But if I don’t use it, what’s the point of having it?” She showed Lana the sword in question, which was adorned in gorgeous etched-in flowers and vines along its hilt and base, the end thin but needle-sharp. She swung it out at the air in front of her a few times before resheathing it.
Lana nodded. “I can understand. But I think it would be best to use it, right? That’s what it’s meant to do.”
Larcei fiddled with her under armor for a moment. “It’s kind of like you,” she mumbled.
A pause. Their walk slowed.
Lana stared up at her. “What do you mean?”
Larcei perked up then, as if she had just said something wrong and was now realizing it. “W-Well, I mean… You’re pretty, and I’d rather you didn’t fight so you don’t get hurt, but I know you have to, because we all do, and I like seeing you do your best anyways,” she explained quickly, running on her sentences like she was trying to justify her thinking for the first time. Upon seeing Lana looking at her wide-eyed, she panicked, and shuffled away slightly. “Sorry, was that weird?”
It took a second for Lana to come down from the high of Larcei’s compliment. When she did, she felt more embarrassed than Larcei did, for some reason. “No, no!” She insisted. “I just, uhm, never thought you’d call me pretty.”
“Huh? Why would you think that?”
A silence settled between them, as Lana couldn’t really explain herself without giving everything away about how she felt. This wasn’t how she was expecting tonight to go. She thought that they would just ramble on about whatever had happened earlier that day, and then she would try to bring up the actual reason for calling her out as calmly as possible. Now, though, they were already teetering on the edge of a possible romantic attraction, and Lana felt her stomach flipping.
But she couldn’t keep putting this off, either…
“C-Can I just say something?” Lana asked. “Larcei, I… I—“
“I love you.”
“I love you— huh?”
The two had stopped in the middle of a patch of grass, Larcei snatching Lana’s hands up and squeezing them tightly. “Lana, I love you,” she declared, staring straight into her eyes. “Everything about you. For as long as I can remember, I…”
Lana’s whole head was spinning. Was this real? She was now suddenly hyper aware of everything, like how her hands were beginning to sweat and how she was very close to Larcei and how the moon was shining above them in such a way that the moment seemed otherworldly. She squirmed in place, unsure where to look or what to do. “Well, I’ve loved you for as long as I can remember, too…” She mumbled under her breath.
Larcei’s eyebrows shot up. “Really?!”
“Yes, really! Why do you think your brother was always pushing us together?”
“Well, that’s because I told him to.”
“And I even got your brother to tell me what you liked every year for your birthday, so I always got you something you wanted!”
Lana was, needless to say, dumbfounded. The entire time, it was just a series of misunderstandings on both of their parts? Perhaps no one told either of them how the other felt because they felt it wasn’t their place to. That annoyed Lana for a brief second, before she realized she was much more glad to tell Larcei how she felt, rather than have someone else do it for her. That was what she wanted to begin with, wasn’t it?
She was so caught up in her own thoughts that she was only brought back into reality when she heard Larcei ask, “...So will you say yes?”
“Y-Yes to what?” Lana blinked.
“Becoming my lover. The two of us, together. I can be by your side,” Larcei reached down to unsheath her blade once more, holding it up to her face with her stare determined, “with this sword to protect and fight beside you.”
Everything she had just said sounded ridiculous and corny, but Lana would be lying if she said she didn’t love it.
The cleric pulled the hand that was still being held by Larcei away to join her at the blade’s hilt. “Of course…!” She nodded, locking her fingers around Larcei’s hands. “I-I’d love to!”
When Larcei reached across to kiss her, Lana saw stars.
The first time Shannan told Patty he loved her, he said it indirectly.
And he was also bleeding out.
In hindsight, the prince knew he was going to be fine. A cleric had already begun their work to patch him up, and it wouldn’t be too long until the various slashes on his person, as well as the large gash that went down from his chest to his stomach, were sealed shut. The pain, though agonizing, wasn’t enough to knock him out or jumpstart him on his way to the other side. All he could do for the moment was lay still and wait for the process of mending him to be done.
However, Patty was hovering over him the whole time, and she would not stop freaking out.
“Oh, if I had just been there sooner, I would have knocked everyone there senseless!” She repeated for the fifth time since she had arrived by his side. “I’m always telling Lord Seliph he should give me a horse. He doesn’t, and boom! This happens! I’m telling you, this wouldn’t have happened at all if he just listened to me!” The thief cycled through her emotions fast, from regret, to anger, to sadness, to vengeful, all in a dizzying loop. Strangely enough, while it was always a bit annoying to hear Patty ramble on so much, Shannan actually found it helpful to focus on what she was saying instead of his wounds.
Now that he thought about it, though, even if Patty was on a horse, he doubted she would have done much good. The foes he faced on the battlefield today were tough, and he was lucky enough just to have defeated them all while still maintaining consciousness by the end. By the time Patty had actually caught up to him, she was so startled by the sight of Shannan having trouble holding himself together that she just threw a vulnary in his direction and signaled for a cleric to rush over.
Back to real time, Patty was still circling around him like a hawk, not breaking her stare from the sight of his grisly wounds. “Are you feeling better yet, Shannan? Can you speak? Can you breathe? Blood isn’t in your lungs or anything, right?” She asked, biting her nails now out of nervousness. “Because I can get another cleric to speed up the process, or—“
“I’m fine…” Shannan croaked, eyebrows furrowed as the cleric focused her stave on a particularly tender gash on his upper thigh.
“Do you need anything? Besides the healing? Do you want me to call Ulster or Larcei over? Or for me to clean your sword? Anything at all?” She asked, nearly tripping over her own questions now with how fast she was shooting them out at him. It seemed that the longer it took for the cleric to heal him, the more Patty was beginning to come undone, and they were nowhere near finished with their job. They hadn’t even the time to move him back into the sick bay in the base— he was actually laying out on the battlefield with a few other people in conditions similar to his.
Shannan lifted his right hand slowly, and Patty darted over to it, thinking maybe she was about to receive something important from him. Instead, the prince reached out in the direction of Patty’s hand, but wasn’t strong enough yet to move far enough to grasp it. So, her hand met his, and she held him as tight as she could. “You need to calm down,” Shannan chided her lightly, trying to play things normally while he was being hammered with pain at every possible angle and sweating profusely in cool weather. “I’ll be alright… Take a seat and wait with me…”
Patty sat down so fast, it was as if she had teleported.
There was a silence between the two for a second before Patty started up again. “I’m real sorry, Shannan. Really,” she mumbled. “Even if I’m not the most useful in combat, I at least wanted to help you. But I couldn’t even do that, and now you’re…” Her mouth flattened into a straight line, and she narrowed her eyes.
Shannan looked up at her and gave her half a smile. “Don’t worry… I’m,” his voice hitched as he felt disinfectant being poured over his other arm, “fine. Nothing that… can’t be fixed.”
But Patty didn’t look convinced by his words. This was the most downcast Shannan had ever seen her before, even when she had suffered grave wounds of her own. “I’d rather they’d have gone after me then you—“
“Absolutely not.” The prince said a little too loudly, startling Patty. “Why would you rather yourself get hurt...? Don’t be ridiculous…”
“Because I love you! And I hate seeing you like this!”
This was definitely not the first time Patty had told him how much she cared for him. She was extremely vocal when it came to saying exactly how she felt, whether it be about someone else or about the prince himself. As long as they had known each other, she had peppered him with various “I love you”s and compliments, but he had always brushed off such things time and time again. Unbeknownst to the thief, Shannan felt similarly about her, but never said it out of not wanting to complicate their relationship. Even now, he was well on his way to doing the same thing again, but he stopped himself once he saw the tears welling up in Patty’s eyes, threatening to pour down her cheeks.
In all the time he knew her, he had never seen her cry, but she was about to because of him. He could feel his heart sink.
Shannan put his hand to her forearm and squeezed to get her attention, but with his lack of strength, it was really just more of a slight tightening of his grip. “Do not think I… would be okay with letting you get hurt for my sake, no matter how much you care for me,” he told her softly. “Please. I don’t want to even… imagine you like this. I could never forgive myself for it.”
Patty wiped at her face, “Well, yeah, now you know how I feel, idiot,” she mumbled.
“I’ve always… shared the same feelings as you,” he closed his eyes. “Trust me, Patty.”
For a second, all that could be heard was the low hum of mana flowing from the cleric’s stave and Patty’s sniffling.
Then, her eyes widened, and she looked down in disbelief at Shannan.
“...Eh? What did you—“
“Just sit and wait…” he says, his eyes still closed. “Everything will be over soon. We can talk then. For now, all I need is you to be here.”
And Patty, who had just been through every emotion she had ever experienced in the past 5 minutes, decided she would wait with Shannan to ask him more about how exactly he felt.