At this point, not the manga nor the anime is finished yet, and I'm still unsure about who I'll give my full support to in winning Kougyoku's heart (if anyone). But I do think Judal and she have an irreplaceable bond, so I want to give some credit to that (and I believe they could make a nice couple, despite their issues).
I warn you now, it will be OOC or just plain unlikely to happen, so don't go ballistic on me; this is my first attempt at Magi. Takes place somewhere after chapter 85 or episode 11, I guess.
Disclaimer: I do not own Magi: The Labyrinth of Magic.
A misted fog shrouded the Kou Empire, rising up into the night sky like steam.
The moon shown brightly from where it hung in the shape of a cat's claw, and in addition to the starlight reflected within the white fog, the darkness was significantly reduced, and instead the buildings gave of an eerily hypnotizing feeling.
The castle was silent for the most part aside from the guards who were on night shift, speaking in hushed voices as they restlessly paced back and forth at their posts, admiring the stars.
One other person was awake at the time as well, as she had promised her elder siblings to take care of some work in the main library. She did not expect it would take her so long to complete the work, and thus she had skipped supper, and only when she had finished her endeavor did she realize it was past midnight. She had tidied up the room before extinguishing the candlelight she had been working by, and then trudged wearily back to her room.
Presently, Kougyoku closed the door behind her as she stepped into her quarters. Pale moonlight filtered in through a large window, bathing the room in liquid silver.
Since she was not a proper princess due to her mother's low status, Kougyoku had been given one of the lesser rooms for the nobles. At first, she had felt that it suited a mediocre princess such as herself, but she came to love it over time, as no other room's view within the massive building could compare to the scenery of the Empire and the lands beyond that was visible from her window.
She shivered and clutched her arms to her chest, squinting slightly as she realized her window was wide open. "That's odd." She murmured, suppressing a yawn as she removed her shoes before moving to the window. She inhaled the crisp, night air for a brief moment, letting it fill her lungs satisfyingly before she closed the window.
The cold floor assaulted her bare feet as she crossed the room to her dresser. Feeling too tired to change into her sleepwear, she simply removed her excess robes and folded them neatly until she wore only her pink ankle-length, long-sleeved dress.
Even when she slept on the most humid of nights, she found it excessively difficult to show skin in her own room. She rolled her sleeves up experimentally to her elbows, but only left them that way for a few seconds before she frowned and returned them to their proper length. "As I thought, this is the most comfortable." Feeling the soft fabric shielding her bare skin had always made her feel somehow safer ever since she was young.
She yawned once more as she removed her metal vessel from her hair. As she did so, the maroon cascade of her tresses were released and flowed down fully to the backs of her knees. She shook her head from side to side and unruffled it.
She let out a small sigh as she opened the drawer at her bedside table and place the hairpiece inside before sealing it closed with magic.
With her eyes almost completely closed due to fatigue, she groggily climbed into her bed, slipping underneath the covers before flopping down onto her pillow, exhausted. She listened to the distant wishing of the wind beyond the window frames and let her mind begin to drift off.
After only a few moments had passed, she turned over onto her back in order to displace a ticklish strand of hair, however the sensation remained. Moaning in slight annoyance, she opened her eyes to glance to her right but found not a strand of hair out of place.
Blinking in confusion, she was about to start wondering what the ticklish feeling on the side of her neck was, but before she could even manage that, something made contact with her left shoulder.
Immediately, Kougyoku jumped, sitting up straight with a short shriek as she pulled the blankets to her chest and looked to her side. Terror crashed over her as she made out the unmistakable shadow of a person lying in her bed beside her.
W-W-What is happening?! She screamed internally. I must have been so tired I didn't even notice!
She made a swift move to reach for her metal vessel, but before she could undo the magic barrier around the drawer, the other person stirred in the darkness until a ray of moonlight illuminated his figure.
Kougyoku froze, feeling a strong wave of deja vu wash over her as she stared down at the person in bed next to her.
"J-J-Judal-chan?!" She shrieked.
Unlike her ordeal with Sinbad, thankfully Judal was clothed, but it did not lessen the princess's shock by very much.
Stirring as she loudly said his name, Judal opened his red irises with an annoyed sound.
"You're so loud, Kougyoku." He grumbled, glaring up at her.
"I believe I have the right to be!" She defended, pulling more blankets up to cover herself. "Wh-What exactly are you doing in my room?" She demanded, her face flushed pink.
"Ah, well," he sat up cross-legged in her bed and she slid farther away. "I had to go on that annoying expedition today, and by the time I got back, it was already nightfall. So I ditched the carpet for the nearest room." He explained casually, as if discussing the weather.
Kougyoku was still huddled against the headboard of the bed, shaking. "T-This is highly inappropriate, Judal-chan!" She hissed, being sure to lower her voice this time as to not alert anyone who might still be prowling the halls. "Just go back to your own quarters! Why did you feel it necessary to intrude on mine?" Her voice was still a mixture of fury and embarrassment, but she made sure to keep her tone low.
"Quit your nagging, you old hag." He spat. "I'm beat and I'm not trekking all the way back there now. And besides, what's so inappropriate about it? We used to do this all the time when we were younger, right?"
"D-Don't mention such things!" She blurted. "B-Besides there are obvious reasons as to why we shouldn't partake in such shameless acts-"
"Hah? The hell's so 'shameless' about it? You're over-reacting, moron." He growled. "I was just sleeping here quietly until you came along screaming. Plus, who'd ever make a move on a hag like you anyway?" He added, just to see her flinch as her face reddened even more.
"You..." she took a deep breath and managed to speak calmly at last. "You really won't go to your own room?" She scrutinized his enervated gaze and slumped posture cautiously.
"Nope." He stated bluntly.
"V-Very well." She bowed her head and closed her eyes as she tossed the blankets aside, quickly sliding her legs off the bed.
"Where are you going?" He sighed, knowing this would be her reaction and already bored with it.
"I'm going to another room." She declared.
"Like where, exactly? There aren't exactly spare rooms in this place, you know. And what if someone else found you and asked what you were doing there? Would you rat me out for being too damn tired to get back to my own room and crashing in yours?" He bombarded her with scenarios, causing her to halt in her tracks halfway across the room.
"Then I shall go to the library." She decided. "If someone finds me, I shall inform them of the work I was asked to complete there and simply say-"
"You fell asleep on the job?" He finished, skeptically. "And what impression of you would that give them? You'd just be the same helpless, useless little princess all over again." He reasoned and noticed her flinch again. "You proved that theory wrong when you captured the dungeon, but in case you haven't noticed, you're not exactly everyone's favorite person around here."
Still, she did not budge, her head bowed as she stood with her back toward him.
"Why must you say such things?" She sighed, and he did not miss the tremble on her breath.
"Because I'm nobody's favorite person either. You shouldn't sink to my level." He rasped as a yawn overtook him. "Anyway just stay in the damn room tonight. No one will find out as long as you keep your trap shut."
"Whether or not we are found out is not the greatest issue at hand in this situation." She muttered under her breath.
"What was that? Stop mumbling and just sit down." He said, irked. "Unless you want to kick me out."
Kougyoku sucked in a breath before turning swiftly on her heel and stomping back to the bed. She fished out her pillow and hugged it to her before turning away and sitting on the floor.
"The hell are you doing?" He peeked over the edge to see her sitting there huddled on the floor with her back pressed against the side of the bed.
"I won't kick you out..." she mumbled. "But I'll stay on the floor." She replied without looking up at him, burying her face into the pillow as she pulled her knees in.
However, her reclusiveness only served to unlock his mischievous side, and he stealthily leaned down over her shoulder.
"Hiyaaa!" She shrieked yet again and immediately kicked away from the bed in a fluster, stumbling over her dress. Judal sat on the bed, cackling harshly.
"Too good! Your reactions are just too good, Kougyoku!" He guffawed. Humiliated, she crawled further away, putting as much distance between them as possible. Judal smirked down at her, his eyes dancing with silent laughter.
"I cannot believe I'm being held captive within my own room." She sniffed, unsteadily getting to her feet. She could not deny the fact that she was almost faint with exhaustion, but she did not know how to bring herself to be around Judal when he behaved in such a taunting manner.
"You just left yourself wide open." He shrugged. "But I guess I'll leave you alone for now." Flopping down onto his side, he was silent after that, and Kougyoku waited hopefully for him to fall asleep.
When she finally could wait no longer and could not trust herself to stay conscious, she stood and stumbled back to her bed. Judal had left reasonable spacing for her, but as she placed her pillow back onto the mattress, she felt her cheeks start to burn again.
Slowly, tentatively, she slipped back beneath the blankets, putting excessive effort into her movements as not to rouse him.
Unbeknownst to her, Judal had remained awake the entire time, fiddling with the pink blanket on his side. When he felt her carefully making her way onto the bed, he nearly blew his cover with a snicker as he noted her extensive attempts to not be disruptive. He waited a few moments until he assumed she would have fallen into a light slumber before he turned around.
He blinked once with a bored expression as he got a look at her; her back was facing him and she was lying on her side on the absolute edge of the bed, so precariously that he knew she would roll right off if he so much as blew on her. Her slender back rose and fell rhythmically with her breathing and for a moment, he let her enjoy her peace.
Yet ever since he had first met her, he had been constantly overwhelmed by the powerful urge to torment her in every way possible, and now was no exception.
He could no longer contain that urge as he slid over to her like a serpent poised to strike. Muffling his chuckle, he reached out and poked her spine.
The next time he blinked, Kougyoku had disappeared and a loud thump was heard. Judal looked over the edge again and pressed his palm to his mouth to stifle his amusement.
Kougyoku lie curled on the floor in a tangle of flowing hair, clutching her head with both hands and moaning painfully. Blinking her eyes open, she turned her watery gaze up to him with a stricken expression, like a faithful dog who's reward was naught but false affection followed by a kick to the ribs.
A tear rolled down her cheek as he continued to laugh, and Kougyoku sniffed as she pushed herself up, feeling her ears and face burning with mortification.
"That's a reaction only you could ever display." He mused, looking down on her like a troublemaking monkey. "You were wide open, as usual. You can hardly blame me for taking advantage of your openings."
She rubbed the back of her head repeatedly until the throbbing began to subside, letting his cruel words cut into her skin before she absorbed them into her person.
"Am I not even allowed to show weakness as I sleep?" She wondered.
"Not in your position." He snapped.
"You're not making any sense." She lowered her tone, letting her frustrations seep into her voice. "You were always like this, taunting me to no end. I'd thought my eventual adaption to such actions were what made me stronger, but evidently I still lack resolve, as you continue to chagrin me." She gazed up at him with dull eyes that betrayed her hardships, the ones he had saved her from, as well as those he had provided for her.
But for once, it was Judal who was speechless for a moment. He then scratched the back of his head and wore a sheepish grin.
"You know that's not true." He finally said, causing her eyes to widen in shock. "You're ten times stronger than how you used to be. Maybe even a hundred times. But no one can get stronger unless they rest properly."
When he said this, Kougyoku glared up at him sharply. "Then what exactly was your purpose in saying those things and knocking me off?" She was slightly taken aback by the vehemence in her own voice, but allowed it to stay there.
"You idiot. I was just being an ass." He shrugged, which left the princess blinking and baffled. "Sorry about that. I'm just as beat as you are. I'll cut the crap this time so come back up here."
"...I'll be fine." Although she was speechless for a moment in regards to his apology, she respectfully refused his offer, lifting her chin indifferently.
She made a move to get up off the floor, but Judal was determined not to let her escape. So before she could budge any more than an inch, he swooped down onto her like a hawk on a rabbit and hooked his arms under hers. She screamed.
"Up you go!" He declared, chuckling as he hoisted her up next to him.
"J-JUDAL-CHAN!" She yelped. "U-Unhand me this very instant!"
"What would be the fun in that?" He grinned, bearing his fangs at her shoulder where her alabaster skin was just barely visible beneath her dress.
"Judal-chan!" She said again, more firmly this time. "You know better than anyone else about how I feel... a-about such contact." Her composure slipped and her voice stammered. "P-Please release me. I beg of you..." She sounded on the verge of tears as she lowered her head, refusing to glance back at him. She did not even move or attempt to wriggle free, as though she were paralyzed by his touch.
Judal frowned as she remained rigid like stone, however, he managed to suppress the annoyance that sought to spark within him. He knew he could not blame her for her cold behavior toward him; ever since she was small, she did not like to be touched. Every contact with another person would make her jump and slip away as quickly as possible, until eventually she would walk about on a daily basis constantly looking over her shoulder, as though she were a deer being hunted.
He never understood why being touched discomforted her to such a high extent, but Judal knew that he could only get his kicks out of her reactions for a short amount of time before even he could not bear to watch.
He knew she did not struggle right now because she did not want to hurt his feelings, a childish fear of hers she never could get over. But he felt that the way she had frozen completely, as if he were a beast about to devour her was even more powerful than if she were to elbow him in the jaw.
Finally, Judal let out a long sigh that expressed his exasperation with her, and he retracted his hands from her shoulders. Koygoku let out the breath she had been holding throughout the predicament, her face hidden behind the screen of her hair.
"You're such a pansy." He scoffed, another idea already forming in his mind. "Just lie down and go to sleep already."
Without waiting for her response, Judal lashed out once more and locked his arms around her stomach, pulling her down onto the bed as he embraced her from behind. Kougyoku cried out again as she fell sideways onto the bed before him, his strong arms ensnaring her torso.
"J-Judal-chan...please..." her voice was weak as though she were about to faint, unable to bear the thought of someone else touching her so casually.
"You need to get over this ridiculous fear of yours." He informed her, tightening his grip on her slender waist. Her heart was pounding frantically against her ribcage.
"No... Judal-chan... I can't..." She was trembling again. That was her trademark defense mechanism, and now she was shaking so violently it almost deterred Judal enough to let go of her, but he only just managed to refrain.
"You can get over it, if you'd just relax and shut your trap." He closed his eyes, uninterested in her pleas for mercy.
"I'm sorry." It irked him that she had resorted to apology again. "Th-This just...isn't something I can handle...I never could..."
"That's going to be a huge pain in the neck eventually, you know. You have to get over it some time." She was still trembling, her arms useless to pry his off as she desperately tried to keep her breathing shallow so that he would not feel it.
"I just can't..." she whispered again.
"Not even if it's just me?" He asked unexpectedly. Kougyoku opened her eyes in surprise, the tears hanging at the edges of her eyelashes shimmering in the shifting moonlight. "Like I said, we used to sleep like this all the time when we were younger. You're not even used to me? You really are cruel, Kougyoku."
He felt her flinch as she drew in a sharp breath.
"I...I remember how we used to be like this..." she mumbled, her shoulders slumping in helplessness. "But now I just... I cannot calm down. I'm sorry..."
"There you go again." He growled into her ear. "If you're going to apologize, then don't let it happen in the first place, moron."
"Just go to sleep." He muttered. "Don't even think about it. I'm about to pass out, too." He admitted, too enervated now to even put forth the effort to counter her.
However, he had no intentions of letting her go, despite her protests. As far as he was concerned she could muddle to herself all night long and he would not move a centimeter.
Yet if she were to actually muster up the guts to hit him or kick him away, he might have considered releasing her; any time she sought to take initiative, he was resigned to step back and let her. Any instance she intended to stand up for herself made him feel somewhat accomplished inside.
He heard her make a small whimpering sound on the exhale, but he refused to slacken his iron grip.
The moonlight shifted another inch before she finally ceased her trembling, and when Judal felt the change in her condition, he reopened his eyes. He blinked in surprise when he saw her shoulders rising and falling steadily. He recognized her controlled breathing as her means of attempting to calm herself.
A part of him was disappointed that she had avoided his urgings to speak her mind, but in a demanding, no-bullshit command, not in her tiny, timid voice. But the other part of him was almost content that she had decided on the silent treatment instead.
She was focused on heeding his suggestion and was trying to fall asleep; she was probably so exhausted by now that she could fathom no other option. Even her stiff shoulders went slack, although she did bury her face into her pillow out of embarrassment.
Judal felt himself on the verge of sleep as well, his usual snarkiness suppressed by factors such as the dim lighting of the room, the slightly enticing scent of her hair, and the nostalgic warmth of her body.
Kougyoku, too, remembered how the two of them used to fall asleep like this together when they were younger, before she knew any better about being bashful. He would usually tug at her hair and even tickle her, and despite her screeching and begging for him to stop, deep down they were both aware of how she always ended up smiling at the end of it all.
Briefly, she wondered when exactly they had lost those fun times together, when he had grown so distant from her, when she had let him.
Closing her eyes at last, Kougyoku allowed herself to smile as she reflected on those fond and precious memories.
Judal let himself feel surprised at her eventual acceptance of the contact, and he experimentally loosened his embrace just enough to allow her room to breathe. But even when he did this, Kougyoku made no move to escape. He found himself smiling, not even smugly, but rather almost contentedly, even though he would rather die than ever admit that.
He closed his eyes and retightened his grip around her soft stomach, unconsciously nestling closer to her back, her cool, lacy hair ticking his cheek.
Just as he was about to let his mind fade off into a much-desired sleep, he heard her quiet voice, carried out on a shy, but certain breath:
"Good night, Judal-chan."
His eyes flew open like slammed doors when he heard those familiar words. After tussling and taunting when they were younger, the two of them would fall asleep in quite the same position, and those were the words she would always end up murmuring.
Although her voice sounded slightly more mature than back then, there was still a familiar innocence there, and he could hear her smiling.
Unwilling to believe the feeling of heat that rushed to his face, Judal held back his sputter of sounds and surprise before he finally replied properly, just as he always had.
He could not recall how much time had elapsed since he had last uttered that phrase. It sounded foreign to him now, but at the same time was so natural he could not have held it back even if he had tried.
He heard her giggle gently as she lightly placed her cold hands atop his as they pulled her in slightly closer, and within moments, a calming warmth replaced the chill.
At last they both closed their eyes, letting the momentary troubles dissipate in the moonlight.
And as the comfortable silence ensued, they drifted off into a deep slumber together, just as they always had; blissful and unashamed.
A/N: I do hope you liked it. I usually just go off writing senseless fluff, but with these characters' personalities, it was a challenge to incorporate just a small sprinkle.