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9 Odd Couple

 "WOW," Tilly said while admiring the big, black carriage with the crest of the Black Serpent Knights. The troop's symbol was a black serpent (duh) with yellow snake eyes coiled around a rapier sword. "Your carriage is huge, Kiho."

"Oh, is it?" Kiho asked with a curiosity in his voice. "To be honest, I rarely use that carriage since I often ride on my horse." He paused for a while before he turned to her. "I even get lost in my own mansion. Not because it's huge but because I haven't stayed in it long enough to know my way around."

She giggled at that.

Kiho's residence and servants were all chosen by Emperor Aku. But the captain was often away on long missions, missing the chance to explore his own home or bond with his servants. And even if he was in the Royal Capital, he still couldn't catch a break because the emperor would always summon him in the palace.

[Emperor Aku is very clingy.]

Not that he could blame the emperor. After all, His Majesty knew that the most loyal and the most dependable follower he had was Kiho.

"And here I am, hoping you'd give me a house tour once I moved in to your residence," she teased him.

"Let's go together once I return from my mission," he said. "The head butler knows the mansion more than I do."

She just smiled and nodded at him. Then, her gaze went past him to look at the young knight standing behind the captain.

"Ah, I almost forgot," Kiho said, obviously a bit embarrassed that he forgot to introduce his companion to her. But as soon as he regained his composure, he motioned the young knight to come closer. "Lady Prescott, I'd like to introduce you to Damian- the youngest yet one of the most talented in his batch. He's my aid."

"G-Greetings, Lady Prescott," Damian greeted her nervously. "I'll do my best to serve you well!"

"Don't yell," the captain scolded the young knight.

Damian immediately bowed to her. "I-I a-apologize, my lady."

She giggled at the adorable young dork. "Rise, Sir Damian."

Damian looked up at her with a surprised look on his face. Like he couldn't believe that she called him "sir." He looked touched. "M-My lady..."

'Sir' was the appropriate title that every knight in the empire was bestowed upon.

But because of the discrimination against the Black Serpent Knights, most people didn't "accept" them as knights. There were still a lot of citizens who looked down on the Black Serpents, especially the snotty nobles.

Kiho cleared his throat. When she turned to him, he offered her his hand. "Shall we go, Tilly?"

Tilly smiled and gently grabbed his hand. "Let's go."

***

TILLY was now in the spacious carriage while sitting across her handsome date. Kiho looked uncomfortable, obviously not used to using a carriage. But she understood why he looked that way because he said a while ago that he was more comfortable in riding on a horse.

Right now, the carriage they were in was being escorted by Damian who was riding on a horse beside their coach.

"Kiho, do you want to sit beside me?" Tilly offered while gently patting the space beside her. "Come here."

Kiho nodded, then he stood up and quickly sat beside her. "I didn't know that a carriage is a dangerous space. If we were attacked here, it would be hard to move."

She raised an eyebrow at that. "Is that what you're worried about the whole time?"

No wonder he fell silent as soon as the carriage started to move!

"I was thinking about different ways to protect you if we were suddenly ambushed," he said while looking back and forth to the window on her right and the door on his left. "It will be hard, but I'll do my best to pull you out unscathed."

She couldn't help but laugh at how serious he was about that when they were supposed to go on a peaceful date. "Kiho, I know that the Black Serpent Knights have a lot of enemies. But no one in their sane mind would attack us in broad daylight. Especially not when we're headed to the heart of the Royal Capital."

"I can't help it though," he said. "It's impossible to not care about you."

"Thank you for worrying about me," she said with a smile. She was genuinely touched by his concern. But she had to remind him of one thing. "Kiho, I'm not a frail, porcelain doll. Just like other nobles, I was born with Mana. That Mana makes us stronger than average humans. Well, my magical ability isn't really fit for combat but I can use it to protect myself." She gently nudged his sides with her elbow. The action surprised him, but in a pleasant way. She clearly saw his face light up when they made physical contact. "If you worry too much, we won't get to enjoy our first date."

He took a deep breath before he nodded. That seemed to calm him down because a few moments later, he was back to his usual stoic face and monotonous voice. "You're right, Tilly. I should focus on our date. Where do you want to go again?"

"I want to check out the newest attraction at the Moon River," she said excitedly. In fact, she wore a hat and brought a parasol for that. "There's a newly opened riverside café called Velvety. We can buy light fare for lunch at the café, then rent a boat to tour the riverbanks. The weather is good and it's not too hot so I'm sure we can enjoy the boat ride. Is that okay with you?"

"Will that make you happy?"

She nodded, a huge smile plastered on her face. "Yes."

He looked pleased while looking at her smile. "Then, let's do that."

Her forehead knotted in confusion when she noticed the mild hesitation on his face. "Kiho, if you're not comfortable with my idea, don't hesitate to say so. We can plan a date that the both of us can enjoy."

He shook his head. "No, I like to do what makes you happy."

"But I don't want you to do that at the expense of your own comfort."

"I'm fine," he assured here in a gentle tone. "Don't worry too much, Tilly."

She was about to say something when the carriage stopped. Then, the coachman announced that they have arrived at the café.

The captain went out first. Then, he lent his hand to her and she let him assist him while getting down the carriage. After that, the captain gently took the parasol from her to open it. But he didn't give it back. Instead, he carried it and made sure she was protected from the sun. Then, he offered his arm to her.

[When did he become extra sweet?]

She smiled while feeling giddy again. Then, she linked her arm with his. While walking, only Damian was left following them quietly. That was because the coachman had to take the carriage elsewhere to park while waiting for them.

She was starting to think that they would have a good time but as soon as she got aware of her surroundings, her smile faded right away.

[What the hell...?]

Everyone around them was looking at their direction. To be precise, people had their attention fixed on Kiho. Worse, they didn't even bother to mask their fear and disgust.

That was when she realized why Kiho looked uncomfortable a while ago.

[Kiho probably knows that the people they'd meet would react this way. He may be used to getting this sort of reaction, but it still definitely hurts to be treated like a monster.]

She felt guilty for being so thoughtless.

But on second thought, she should use this opportunity to support Kiho.

After all, one of her greatest regrets in her past life was her failure to stand up for her husband. She let the nobles stomp on Kiho's pride before. She wouldn't make the same mistake again. This time, she would fight for him.

"Kiho, it's because you're too handsome," she said with a playful smile.

The captain was smart so she knew that he'd get what she really wanted to say.

"Don't worry, Tilly," he assured her with a blank face. "I'm used to this."

"But it doesn't mean it hurts any less, right?"

He turned to her with a surprised look on his face. "Tilly..."

"Tell me, Kiho," she started carefully. "Between the opinion of one hundred strangers and the opinion of a few who cares about you, which matters more to you?"

"The latter, of course."

"Good," she said with a smile. "But I know that even if you ignore how other people look at you, it won't change the fact that they make you uncomfortable- that they hurt you. So I won't tell you to don't mind them. Because if we always ignore the way they treat you, they'll never acknowledge that they're awful for bullying a person just because of his bloodline."

His forehead knotted in confusion. "I'm sorry but I don't seem to follow you, Tilly..."

"What I'm saying is sometimes, it's okay to be petty and stoop down to their level," she said with a laugh. "You don't always have to tolerate them, Kiho. I know that you're in a disadvantage if you fight back because once you do, you'll only "prove" to them that they should really fear you. But you know what? I'm not as patient as you. If someone dares to cross the line, I'll show them who the boss is."

Kiho's face lit up, his yellowish eyes turning into gold under the sunlight. He seemed to be relieved so that meant her attempt to cheer him up was a success. Gosh, this man was so really beautiful. "For someone who's tiny, you're quite intimidating."

"I'm not "tiny,"" Tilly complained lightly while gently hitting Kiho's arm. "You're just too big, Captain."

[And I mean that in every sense of the word.]

She noticed that while she and the captain were teasing each other, the people around them were giving them strange looks. Now, she was the one who had their attention. Those nameless strangers were looking at her as if they were asking her if she just lost her mind.

Their "audience" obviously couldn't believe that she just (playfully) hit the "monster's" arm. Some of them were probably expecting that Kiho would suddenly strangle her or something. But of course, that would never happen.

[My captain might be a scary "monster" to you, but he's a gentle monster to me.]

***

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