It starts off innocuously enough, so much so that Eleanor doesn’t even notice. Later on when she looks back, things she thought nothing of suddenly become giant glaring signs. Her lack of understanding is nothing less than embarrassing.
But this isn’t later.
This is now.
Rokurou shows up waiting at her doorstep one day, waving easily from the stoop despite her standing frozen, her mouth just barely hanging open. His showing up completely unannounced doesn’t really surprise her—that’s just like him to give absolutely no forewarning, and it’s as exasperating as it is endearing—but the fact that he’s here at all is enough to leave her confused. A fledgling village more or less in the middle of nowhere is hardly the place to find new adversaries to fight.
“Man, you’re a hard woman to track down,” he says with a laugh as he approaches. From how easily he smiles, she wouldn’t think it’s been nearly half a year since they’ve seen each other. “Good thing the ‘Second Shepherd’ has a reputation that precedes her, or I never would’ve even found this place.”
Finally, she manages to find her voice. “Rokurou! It’s good to see you, but what are you even doing here?”
“Like I said, I’ve been looking for you. I just realized a while ago that I still haven’t taken you out for yozakura anmitsu.”
His reply comes so easily, like the answer should be obvious, but she can only stare at him.
“… So you dropped whatever you were doing just to track me down?”
He shrugs. “You make it sound like I got my hands full, but with you and Phi doing such a good job of things, it means the only daemons around are your run-of-the-mill easy pickings. It doesn’t really seem worth it when I’ve fought them a dozen or more times already.”
“In other words, you were bored and decided that visiting me would give you something else to do if nothing else.” Rokurou only shrugs again, not even the least bit sheepish at being called out, and she can’t hide her laugh. Despite her teasing, there’s something sweet about the fact that he went out of his way to find her just to take her out for food. “Was it really that important? I’m sure you can tell, but I doubt this village has yozakura anmitsu available.”
“I’m a man of my word. Honestly, it shouldn’t have taken me this long to take you out for some in the first place.” He nods to himself, arms folded and eyes closed, deadly serious over a promise for dessert. “And I figured that’d be the case, but it’s not like I can fulfill my promise without you around anyways. I’ll just stick around till we go somewhere that has it.”
For him, it’s as simple as that. Eleanor thinks it a little ridiculous, that he’d put his own quest on hold just to take her somewhere to try a specific food, but that’s just how Rokurou’s always been, honest and sincere over things that make no sense to her. This isn’t the first time he’s done something unreasonable, and she already knows this won’t be the last either.
Privately, she can admit the truth to herself: she’s missed it.
Eleanor laughs, shaking her head. “Alright, have it your way. I’m leaving first thing in the morning for a village to the east and then another to the north, but after that, I need to stop by Loegres. We can ask Tabatha if she knows of any place that serves yozakura anmitsu.”
And just like that, it’s settled. They’ll travel together for the time being, and after he fulfills his dessert promise, she imagines they’ll go their separate ways again. For now though, Rokurou’s here, and she’s simply glad to see her friend again.
That’s all it is.
Traveling with Rokurou is easy, she realizes.
There are a few others who travel with her every so often—sometimes other former Abbey members wishing to protect the people, or merchants looking to travel safely with the ‘Second Shepherd.’ It’s a title she bears uncomfortably. She wants no association with Artorius Colbrande, has no desire to even try and lead the people so definitively. Having someone to look to for guidance brings comfort though, and in some ways, she can’t blame anyone for calling her as such.
With Rokurou though, it’s effortless. Familiar. She doesn’t have to be anyone but herself around him. The only thing he looks to her for is to be Eleanor.
It’s not that she hasn’t made friends. It’s not that she’s been lonely. To her ever grateful surprise, there are more people than she expected who want to help and bring stability back to the land. Her travels have brought her friends across towns and villages, across oceans and continents. Still, it’s a journey that has just as many partings as meetings. For every companion she makes in a town, she leaves with two new strangers.
She never would’ve guessed the difference shared history could make, the comfort it could bring. Even now, she misses all of them—Velvet, Laphicet, Eizen, Magilou. Their group was never meant to be permanent, and they all knew that. Still, traveling with Rokurou again gives her something back that she never realized she could lose.
They have different dreams, she knows. As always, Rokurou looks out for his next strong opponent. She keeps her eyes and ears open for the next place that needs help rebuilding. He’s a daemon. She’s human. Inevitably, their paths will have to diverge.
But she’ll miss him when they do.
“Honestly, I think I’ll just stick with you for now.”
Eleanor’s spoon slips straight from her mouth back into her bowl of yozakura anmitsu. She wishes she could just say the dessert was so tasty it sent her into shock, but when she looks at Rokurou as he continues to eat without missing a beat, she’s positive that she misheard.
“I said, I think I’ll just stick with you for now,” he mumbles around a bite, swallowing before pointing his spoon at her. “Are you alright? It’s not like you to zone out.”
She flushes. “I’m fine, I just thought I misheard you. Why would you want to keep traveling with me?”
“Why not? It’s not like I’ve been doing much else, y’know.”
“I thought you were on the lookout for your next adversary. Wouldn’t that involve going out and looking for them?”
“It’s like I said before, you and Phi do such a good job of things that there aren’t all that many strong daemons roaming about. Going with you to towns honestly gives me a better chance of finding one just because there’ll be more people there. Besides,” he goes on with a shrug, “it’s like you said before, too. The next time I run into someone strong, it’ll probably because they sought me out themselves. It won’t make much difference whether I’m traveling with you or searching on my own.”
A good point. Two good points, if she really thinks about it. Still, it’s hard for her to imagine Rokurou being satisfied simply by traveling with her as she goes from town to town, rebuilding and restocking and whatever else the people need from her. She shakes her head, brow furrowed.
“Are you sure you’ll be fine? I know most people don’t see you as a daemon anymore, but I can’t really picture you spending long in town without causing some kind of trouble.”
“Look, just because that’s all we did with Velvet doesn’t mean I don’t know how to behave myself.” She raises her brow, and he at least has the decency to look aside as he cups his chin. “Or, well… You can always just kick me out if I really do cause trouble. Chasing out the evil daemon, and all that.”
Rolling her eyes, she takes another bite of her dessert to hide her smile. “I wouldn’t go that far. I just want you to be sure though. It’s not like I can promise anything exciting.”
Even if her travels bring her to the oddly strong daemon or two, she knows it’s hardly the challenge that Rokurou wants. Going from town to town, listening to the people and playing with the children there… No matter how she thinks about it, it’s not much she can offer him.
“Seriously, you worry too much. You’ll be there, right?” he asks, as bluntly and straightforward as ever. From someone else, she thinks his words could almost make her blush, but Rokurou is Rokurou. Honesty runs as deep as his sword is sharp. “So I’m sure I’ll be fine. And if I really end up that bored, I’ll let you know if I wanna take off, but I doubt that’ll happen. How does that sound?”
“Alright, alright, you win. You can stay with me for as long as you like. Just don’t complain if it’s more mundane than you expected, okay?” she says with a laugh, resting her chin in her hand as she watches him.
He grins, wild and sure. Not for the first time, she thinks his unreasonably confident attitude is more of a comfort than it should be. The past few months have shown her that, but no matter how she thinks about it, she can’t picture it lasting. It’s not like with Velvet, where he owed her a debt—if anything, hers has already been paid with this yozakura anmitsu. Even if he says her being there is enough for him, she’s sure it won’t always stay that way.
But for however long it does, she intends to treasure it. People come and go, and with everything their journey taught her, she’d be a fool to waste time thinking over a future that’s yet to come. For now, he’s here. For now, he’ll stay.
For now, that’s enough.
It’s strange, how easily change becomes familiar.
The days bleed into weeks, then months, and then a year passes before Eleanor even notices. All of that time spent together, as if this is how things have always been. As if this is how things are meant to be. Seeing Rokurou beside her becomes such an everyday occurrence, it’s hard to remember what it was like before he decided to travel with her again.
In time, she starts booking rooms at the inn for the both of them, not leaving it up to Rokurou to book his own. They share their gald, like when they traveled with Velvet and the others, except now it’s just the two of them. When inns are booked and there’s only one room available, she hardly even blinks. She loses count of the times there’s no choice but to share a bed, and she’s never felt less than at ease. At the budding village where he first found her again, she rearranges one of the rooms in her house into a space for Rokurou.
She doesn’t think much of it, the way they change to accommodate each other—the way they work to fit their lives together. Rokurou always insists on sharpening the blade of her spear himself, and he makes a point of visiting the shops to see if there’s anything better available for her. At times, it almost looks domestic, as if he went to shop for groceries rather than weapons, and she can’t hide her smile when he comes back with a newly reworked spear for her.
Normal now is seeing Rokurou beside her, his ever-easy grin in place as he asks her where they head to next. For all that she tells herself it’s silly to hope, that she acknowledges how unlikely it is, part of her hopes regardless.
Part of her hopes this change lasts.
“Why don’t you ask her, Rokurou?”
Eleanor pauses at the foot of the stairs, having just made it past the first staircase of the Empyreans’ Throne. With the dissolution of the Abbey, there are few who make the dangerous journey all the way out here. It makes visiting Laphicet—Maotelus, she reminds herself, no matter that she can only ever picture the young boy she hosted when she hears him speak—easier usually, no one to ask why she speaks to thin air, or worse, scream at the giant dragon at the top of the temple. Today though, she and Rokurou accompanied a few merchants who insisted on gathering wares and materials here. She remained on the ground to keep an eye on them while Rokurou went up the stairs to visit their old friend. With their business done, she made her way up to quickly speak with Laphicet and let Rokurou know they were ready to leave.
Instead, she walks into what’s surely meant to be a private conversation. At the very foot of the temple, the wind is enough to sweep away Laphicet’s gentle, resonating voice. Halfway up though, his voice carries no matter how softly he means to speak.
This isn’t for her to hear, she knows. She should walk back down and wait.
Her feet carry her forward instead, one quiet step at a time till she takes a seat halfway.
“Can’t say I’ve really felt the need to, y’know?” Even without seeing him, she can picture Rokurou’s relaxed shrug all too easily. “It wouldn’t change all that much.”
From her spot, Laphicet’s face just barely peaks past the stairs. As a dragon, as Maotelus, his expression can hardly change. Even still, she hears his furrowed brow, the way he frowns in concern for his friends. “Wouldn’t it make you happy though? To know she felt the same as you?”
She holds her breath.
“Of course. It’d make me happier, sure, but I’m already happy as is. I don’t mind things staying like this.”
Like this, she realizes that she doesn’t ever need to see Rokurou to know what kind of smile he has. After all this time together, tone alone is enough. Besides, she’s sure she’s seen them all—from bloodthirsty to wild, teasing to sly, cheerful to excited.
His smile is happy, she’s sure. Sincerely happy, from the bottom of his heart, and all he’s doing is talking about her. Her and whether or not she feels the same as him.
Eleanor heads back down the stairs, as quickly and quietly as possible, cheeks flushed and heart pounding wildly.
As ridiculously as she hoped that he might stay with her—no, she never imagined it like this.
They’re at Tabatha’s tavern in Loegres, and what was supposed to a night quietly spent before heading out in the morning turns into an impromptu party when they run into Magilou, Eizen, and the rest of the Van Eltia’s crew. Drinks are passed all around, most patrons not even blinking when they see what looks like a floating tankard or cup, and unsurprisingly, it’s a rowdy time. Even if she didn’t want to catch up with everyone there, she doubts she’d be able to sleep with all this noise.
Not that she minds, taking a sip of her drink as looks over the crowd. It’s been a long time since she’s had this sort of raucous, sleepless night. She’s missed it. Her gaze drifts over to Rokurou, deep in discussion with Eizen over yet another species of bug, and she thinks he must have missed it, too.
“So, finally figured it out, have you?”
She blinks, only just realizing Magilou’s taken a seat in front of her. The witch rests her chin on her folded hands, lips curled the same ever-knowing smirk she always wears. Nothing about the scene is that different from what Eleanor’s come to expect of her honestly, but the glint in her eye makes her wary regardless.
“Figured what out?”
“Oh, please,” Magilou says with a roll of her eyes, jerking her thumb to back where the boys are. “I thought the chemistry when we all traveled together was ridiculous enough by itself, but now? I never thought I’d see the day, but here you are, eyes glued to Rokurou every time you’re not talking to someone else—or even when you’re talking to someone else, hello, I’m right in front of you!—which can only mean one thing: you’re pining.”
Eleanor gawks, but she feels the flush spread on her cheeks even as she shouts in an almost knee-jerk reaction, “No, I’m not!”
“Riiiiiight. Suuuuure you’re not.” Magilou’s smirk only widens as she leans back in her chair, arms folded behind her head now. Eleanor sighs, downing the rest of her drink.
“To answer your actual question, no, I didn’t figure anything out.” She keeps her eyes pointedly fixed on her empty cup, but somehow, she still feels Magilou’s flat stare and raised brow at her. Eleanor coughs delicately behind her hand. “… It’s more like I overheard it.”
It’s enough to send Magilou cackling, so loud and piercing even Benwick yells for her to pipe down, and Eleanor puts her face in her palms. A talk about feelings of all things, and she’s having it with Magilou. If she wasn’t the other party involved, she’d probably laugh too.
“That’s right, you just came back from the Empyreans’ Throne, didn’t you? I can’t believe you never actually figured it out yourself, but at the same time, of course I can! For things to have taken this long, only a little outside interference would get the ball rolling.” Eleanor glares at her, but Magilou doesn’t even acknowledge it as she kicks her feet up on the table, her grin lazy as she rocks back and forth on her chair. “Well? What’s the deal then? It’s not like you to just sit around and wait.”
She sighs, tightening her grip on her empty glass. “I find it a bit hard to believe, I guess. It’s not like we do anything special together, and any daemons we run into tend to be as far from a challenge as possible. I always figured that one day he’d want to leave and continue searching for his next worthy opponent. That’s always been his dream.”
Magilou hums, eyes distant and glazed from boredom as per usual. If she’s only discussing this with her to get a kick out of her obvious distress over it—well, it’s a jerk move, but it’s not like Eleanor can put it past her friend to pull a move like that for the sake of her own fun. Part of her almost expects it, but even as the witch continues rocking precariously on her chair, she reply comes more exasperated than teasing.
“You realize he has all the time in the world now, right? Without someone to kill him, he could live for as long and endlessly as a malak, thanks to being a daemon. He can do whatever he wants, whenever he wants. If all he wanted was someone to fight, he’d still be out there looking. If he just happened to be lonely, he could’ve just as easily found Eizen, or even me—honestly, I’m a little insulted he hasn’t! If he’s really that bored, we could’ve done a second round of Magilou’s Menagerie, or tested the limits of sanity with that priest we always ran into, or—”
“I’m just saying!” Magilou says with a roll of her eyes, but despite her casually disrespectful posture, her gaze cuts to Eleanor sharp and strong. “But instead of doing any of that, he’s spent all that time with you and only you. Shouldn’t it be obvious why?”
Eleanor looks past Magilou to Rokurou instead, and she wonders. Logically, it really does seem obvious, no matter how silly she feels for not having noticed sooner. But even if she didn’t realize, she thinks about how naturally he slipped back into her life, how easily she let him—and that makes something else just as obvious. She grins, laughing at herself more than anyone.
“All I know for sure is that I can’t imagine life without him anymore.”
Despite all the teasing and heckling, Magilou’s smile just barely softens. She sets her feet back down, standing up from her seat to leave, but not without getting in the last word.
“We’re human, Eleanor. Life is fleeting. If you have the chance to grab happiness, why not take it?”
“Hm?” He looks up from where he sharpens his sword, her spear lying next to him to work on afterwards. The yard of her house leaves plenty of room for him to work under the sun, but today, he does so from beneath the shade of a nearby tree. It’s become one of her favorite sights to see. “What’s up?”
She nearly bites her lip but stops herself to take a deep breath instead. Patient as ever, Rokurou waits.
“You love me.”
It’s not a question or a demand, just a simple statement of facts. He blinks at first, mouth hanging open the slightest bit, before he smiles up at her. It would be easy to think it’s the same casual grin he always wears, the one she’s come to find more comforting than anything else, but it’s not.
No, this one is softer.
Rokurou is about as far from gentle as possible, but when he looks at her like this—she can believe that for her, he is. If that’s not love, she doesn’t know what is.
“Yeah, I do.” Unsurprisingly, there’s no denial or embarrassment. For him, it’s his own simple statement of facts. There’s no hesitation when he asks, “Does that bother you?
She answers immediately, her grin wide and sure. “No, it doesn’t.”
“I’m getting the feeling there’s a ‘but’ here,” he says, but his smile widens regardless.
“But… I’m not sure I get how.”
Rokurou laughs, loud and long enough to ring throughout the yard, and she fights her own urge to laugh with him. There’s an answer she needs first.
“You can’t just know I love you and call it a day, can you? No, you’ve gotta work out the logistics and everything. Only you, Eleanor, I swear.” He leans back, resting his weight on his hands. “So, shoot. What do you mean by how?”
She takes her own seat in front of him, smoothing out her skirt as she thinks. For an answer she knows she needs, she doesn’t know how to actually ask for it, just that she needs to hear it all the same. As with nearly every matter of the heart, logic simply doesn’t cut it. “I just don’t really understand how you could be happy just by being with me. Sure, I’m traveling around now, but one day I’ll probably want to settle down somewhere so I can be a mother. You’ve spent your whole life pushing yourself to become stronger, to fight the next strongest enemy, and I can’t offer you that. Not even close. The life I want to live won’t be anything like that. Would you really be satisfied, staying with me for a life like that?”
He listens to her without interrupting, gaze calm and open throughout it all. It’s the same earnest consideration he tends to give her regardless, but it reassures her all the same. By the end of it though, he slumps forward with a heaving sigh, almost exaggeratedly relieved.
“… Man, you really worry too much.”
“Rokurou! I’m being serious!”
“I know, that’s what I’m saying! If this is all that’s been eating at you, you should’ve said so sooner. This answer isn’t that complicated.” She raises her brow at him, and he hums as he folds his arms. It’s not that she doesn’t believe him—really, Rokurou’s about as straightforward as a person can be—but she can’t accept things as easily as he does. “How do I put this… You’re right in that the life you want is completely different from anything I ever imagined for myself. I dedicated my life to my sword, my craft, so that one day I could defeat Shigure. I’ve never felt there was anything wrong with that, and I still feel that way now. But I have a different problem now.”
“And that is…?”
He smiles again, and she wonders how she never saw it before. The fondness she sees never comes out for anyone or anything else. No, it’s only when he looks at her.
“I already beat Shigure. And there’s no point in just spending all my time looking for an opponent who might not even exist yet. Besides, I can do that whenever, it doesn’t have to be now. As it is, there’s nothing else like that to dedicate my life to.”
She frowns, ready to argue there are plenty of things to spend his time on in that way—honing his skills, meeting new people and experiencing new fighting styles, imposing challenges on himself—but he reaches out to brush her hair behind her ear, gaze soft and warm.
“So, I don’t mind dedicating it to you.”
Her cheeks flush, and there’s no stopping the pounding of her heart. It’s far from the most romantic line she’s ever heard. Honestly, his confession could almost sound like an afterthought to someone who doesn’t know him. To someone else, it might not be much of a confession at all. But she does know him, she’s not someone else, and his words are more heartfelt than she ever expected to hear from anyone.
Eleanor beams. His answer is more than she could’ve hoped for.
“Just so you know,” she says, leaning forward till she can press her forehead against his, “when I’m old and gray, and you’re complaining that you haven’t had an exciting battle in years—don’t say I didn’t warn you.”
His laugh warms her cheeks, and she knows her own laugh must do the same for him. “I think I can live with that. You’ll keep on my toes just as well anyways.”
For all she’s thought of the future, whether in idle passing or serious consideration, this was never quite what she imagined.
It’s even better.