A Lingering Notion

DISCLAIMER: "Jane and the Dragon" belongs to Martin Baynton and company. This is merely a whimsical piece of fan fiction made for no other profit than the joy of receiving reviews.

---Set after "Mismatched"---

--

The young squire sank into an exhausted heap on his bed at the end of a long and maddening day. He lay still for a few moments, his chest heaving, and tried to regain a fraction of his strength. And yet, in spite of the physical fatigue, he was relatively content (and extremely relieved) at the way things had turned out that day at the arena.

The results weren't exactly the ones he had hoped for but at least the whole "sweethearts" issue had been resolved very satisfactorily. Everyone went home happy that night, albeit tired.

The match had gone on so long with both knights in training that they had even begun to fight in the dark. And they would have continued (in spite of the futility) had Sir Theodore not stopped it.

Nevertheless, Gunther smiled contentedly. It was so much better to fight that red-headed girl than to deal with all that emotional hogwash.

Honestly, he thought, it was so much harder to get himself to like her back than to simply give her a sound thrashing. He still cringed when he remembered all the compliments he had to give her and all the happy, noncombatant thoughts he had to immerse himself in just to be able to convince himself to like her.

Gunther hadn't liked dealing with the guilt of not returning Jane's so-called affections, and it didn't help that that overgrown lizard of hers felt it his job to coerce Gunther into reciprocity.

At least, in the end, Jane sorted the matter out herself and they could go back to being bitter rival on the battlefield – or at least, the courtyard.

No more awkward silences, no more uncertain movements, no more being careful about hurting the other's feelings (or worrying about the disapproval of the dragon). No more seeing Jane's face in his mind constantly, or hearing her voice, memorizing every word she had uttered (insult or no), or visualizing the way she moved....

Gunther shook his head to banish all such notions. There was no need for them anymore.

Yes, Gunther sighed with relief, closing his eyes to get some well-needed rest, everything is back to normal.

But much to his dismay, he was greatly mistaken.

The days following that curious incident proved this uncomfortable fact.

Nothing went back to normal, as far as his interaction with Jane was concerned. And as much as he tried to convince himself that nothing had changed, a nagging voice inside him told him he would have so much more to deal with than he had previously supposed.

For one thing, he could not seem to look at Jane the same way. He couldn't explain why. He just seemed...more aware of her than he used to be.

It was annoying and unnecessary, Gunther told himself, there was no point in even nurturing such a partiality to the skinny, redheaded girl.

After all, she had made it perfectly clear that she had no romantic feelings for him whatsoever. He had nothing to reciprocate, right?

And judging by the fervor with which she sparred with him everyday, she saw him as nothing more than a fellow knight-in-training, a rival, and a formidable opponent. That was just as it should be.

To be fair, Gunther had observed once, the girl was improving. Although she would never be his equal in brute strength, her agility and coordination were topnotch and she was able to perform excellent footwork. Her fighting stance was steady and her execution of basic battle forms was quite impressive.

He had then violently shook his head to break such a train of thought. Why was he becoming more approving of her all of a sudden? Why was he admiring her? And why couldn't he resist smiling when he saw her in his mind?

It wasn't too hard to like her, he had had to concede, after much internal debate.

She was brave and determined, a credible fighter, clever and witty (in a highbrow way), and a fiercely loyal friend. And in all fairness, she wasn't that bad to look at. She certainly wasn't hideous. And sometimes, even that unruly hair of hers seemed as fascinating as a burning flame.

He shook his head and willed himself to concentrate on his training instead of such distracting musings.

Such lapses had become more frequent ever since the whole "sweethearts" affair and squire Gunther was getting more than a little disturbed. What was worse was that he suddenly realized that this was not the first time such musings had plagued him. It was only now that he was more conscious of them, and this scared him more than the thought of his father's fury or of being devoured by the most fell beast that one could ever imagine.

Fortunately, most of the time, his approval of Jane was not outwardly noticeable. He was mostly able to mask his admiration with arrogant smirks or condescending sneers or even just expressions of indifference. These external signs often just enraged Jane and only exacerbated the others' dislike of him.

But he never worried about it. After all, the only approval he needed was from true knights like Sir Theodore or Sir Ivon, his father, and the King, of course.

And Jane, the infuriating voice would always add, to which Gunther would say a resounding "NO!"

It should not be. It must not be. It can't be. No.

But lately, it was becoming harder and harder to ignore that voice.

And it was becoming more challenging to suppress the smiles, or to stop his face from growing warm whenever she smiled, or to stop his heart beat from increasing whenever she called out his name (even in anger or jest)....

"Arg!" Gunther cried in frustration as he struck the dummy with his wooden sword. This latest blow left a visible dent on the thing, one of many he had already dealt it.

The squire closed his eyes and took a deep breath, trying to steel his nerves. All this was driving him mad.

"You're becoming too aggressive again, squire Gunther," a voice called out from above.

The dark-haired boy looked up to see Sir Theodore shaking his head disapprovingly at him. Gunther's face fell and he gave profuse apologies. Fortunately, the elderly knight did not seem too displeased.

"I appreciate your diligence in your training," Theodore assured the younger man, "but always remember that aggression caused by strong feelings, clouds your judgment and does nothing to help you in a fight."

"I'll keep that in mind, sir," Gunther answered respectfully, his head bowed as his mentor gave a small nod. Sir Theodore gave the squire a knowing and understanding look before leaving.

What worried Gunther more was that Sir Theodore had a more accurate suspicion of the reason for his sudden aggression. But if he did, Sir Theodore gave no sign of it, and for this Gunther was very thankful.

Gunther tried to be more guarded about his feelings in the following days and tried to make sure that no one else in the castle detected any change in his behavior. It will not do to have another "romantic" mess in the arena. And he wasn't too sure that he would escape unscathed this time.

And for the second time in his life, Gunther Breech struggled to reciprocate the feelings of his fiery rival and fellow squire. But much to his surprise, this reversal of emotions was proving to be more challenging than he had first thought.

"She hates me, I'm sure of it," he whispered to himself, almost sadly, "why can't I feel the same?"

He resolved to hide whatever inconvenient feelings he had for Jane as well as he could. Whatever else might happen, she must never know about this.

It would be for the best. It would not do for both knights to be too awkward around each other that neither would be able to train properly and therefore reach his (or her) full potential.

Gunther wasn't about to give up on his dream of becoming a knight – even if it meant forgoing --- other pleasures.

Once again, the dark haired squire sighed ruefully and quite regretfully.

She was sure to refuse him anyway and he could not really blame her.

He had never really been a good friend to her and mostly treated her with hauteur and condescension. He deserved whatever she said about him, as painful as this was for him to admit.

She was not an unkind person and surely she would not reject him bitterly.

In fact, he had already heard her gentle refusal once, and though he had appreciated it then, he did not think that he could bear to see the pity and regret in her eyes again. Her kindness would only be hurtful.

At the moment, another such look would be more painful than a sword piercing his own heart.

He cringed at the accuracy of such a statement, and also at the construction. Clown boy must be rubbing off on him.

Great, just great.