Title: Lovers, Fools, and Madmen
Rating: PG-13 for a bit of language
Warnings: Gratuitous hoof-shots and innuendo galore.
Summary: AU; loosely based on A Midsummer Night's Dream. When Lord Touya seeks the Queen's counsel to forbid his sister to wed her childhood love, he isn't prepared for the interference wrought by two disgraced fairies to thwart his plans. Which is probably just as well; it’s not as if they have a clue in heaven or hell how to deal with these foolish mortals…
Previous Chapters: 1 2 3 4
Like to a double cherry, seeming parted,
But yet an union in partition;
Two lovely berries moulded on one stem;
So, with two seeming bodies, but one heart;
Two of the first, like coats in heraldry,
Due but to one and crowned with one crest.
And will you rent our ancient love asunder,
To join with men in scorning your poor friend?
O, when she's angry, she is keen and shrewd!
She was a vixen when she went to school;
And though she be but little, she is fierce.
-A Midsummer Night's Dream III;ii
Sakura was beyond flustered. Today had been a thoroughly confusing day; she'd woken up to Yukito's brilliant face mere inches from her own and had, in that instant, realized that she'd wasted a good portion of her life. Worse, only a day before she had been willing to throw away everything – everything; her life, her family, her title – on this little child of a man! That had been perplexing enough, it was really icing on the proverbial cake that she now found herself completely unable to remember how or whyshe had ever felt so strongly about Syaoran that she'd stoop to such lowly tactics as running away, let alone puzzle how she had not realized her true feelings for Yukito. He had been there all along, right by her side, and she had failed to notice. Her cheeks flushed with the shame – if only she had realized sooner…
She had fretted – if only momentarily – over how to break the news to Syaoran. It wasn't exactly his fault that he scarcely compared to Yukito's divine perfection. Surely it wasn't fair to compare his rather drab brown eyes to Yukito's sparkling gold and he (probably) couldn't help that his nose was ever-so-slightly off-center, or that his cheeks occupied rather too much of his face. No matter his numerous imperfections (and no matter how she despised herself for not making note of them sooner), she had resolved to let him down gently; breaking his spirit might reflect poorly on her.
And then he had shown up, panting and sweating and looking otherwise disheveled, with a shirt-full of apples to gift her beloved.
She floundered for a moment, the final pieces of a long-jumbled puzzle finally snapping into place. Everything her brother had said over the years had been correct; Syaoran was nothing more than a low-life, sniveling brat intent upon stealing everything that was precious to their family. She glared and plucked an apple from the pile. She had been a fool.
Syaoran whipped around to face her. "Those aren't for you," he said flatly.
Sakura scoffed and bit down noisily.
"It's no use telling her not to eat something," a voice came from behind them, "Monsters have unusually large appetites."
"Touya!" Sakura exclaimed, feeling only the briefest pang of shame that she had been so utterly wrapped up in basking in Yukito's presence that she had completely neglected to ask (or care) where her brother had gotten to. The two were usually inseparable, and yet it had not struck her as odd to find Yukito alone in these woods…
Her eyes narrowed sharply.
Competition was everywhere this morning.
Touya ignored his sister's angry glare and dropped to one knee in front of Syaoran. "You dropped these," he said, pressing two apples into the young man's hands, "You worked so hard at picking them, I thought…"
Syaoran took the apples gingerly and leaned back as far as he could, his face twisting into a bewildered grimace. "Uh, thanks…" he stammered.
"Touya, what are you-" Sakura started.
"Quiet, monster," Touya snapped, eyes still fixed longingly on Syaoran's face, "And put that apple down. If he says they're not for you, then they're not for you." He picked an apple up from the pile at Yukito's feet. "May I?"
"I, uh…" Syaoran managed, looking worriedly back at Yukito, "They're for…" His grimace faded into an expression of outright horror as Touya bit into the apple and let the juices drip down his chin.
"Touya, what's gotten into you?" Sakura demanded, then spun to face Syaoran, "And what do you mean they're for him? Stop- stop flirting with Yukito!"
"Yes," Touya chimed in, "Stop flirting with Yukito." He reached forward to take Syaoran's hand into his own, "Please."
Syaoran yanked his hand back, eyes darting suspiciously back and forth between the siblings. "I can flirt with whoever I want! I…" he flushed deeply and stared at Yukito in wide-eyed embarrassment.
"Your charms are wasted on him, Syaoran," Touya soothed, "And the monster is just jealous of your good looks and unending kindness, even to someone as homely and plain as Yukito."
"Yukito isn't homely or plain!" Sakura declared indignantly, "I love him!"
"You don't know the meaning of the word!" Syaoran retorted, "You could never love him like I do!"
"You…love…" Touya choked.
"Um, Sakura, Syaoran…" Yukito stammered, "That's very kind of you, but- What do you mean, 'homely and plain?'" Yukito spun to face Touya, eyes narrowing into thin lines. Sakura gasped; she had never seen Yukito get angry before and it was marvelous – marvelous – the way his face contorted just so. He looked like a marble god, ready to strike down the heretic who had invoked his wrath. She shivered in anticipation.
"Oi, monster," Touya said, suddenly calm. He stood from his crouch at Syaoran's feet, "Pick your chin up off the floor; you're drooling." He stepped closer to Yukito. "I meanhomely in that you have a dopey, sucker's face that only a ridiculous teenage girl would find attractive and plain in that you have the emotional range of a blissed out donkey!"
"Blissed out donkey?" Yukito sputtered, "What the hell is that even supposed to mean?"
"Oooh," Touya taunted, "Someone's breaking out the big-boy words! How very unlike you, Yukito."
Yukito glared. "I don't have time to play with you today, Lord Touya," he shook his head sadly, "Not when your sister complex has wounded such a tender, beautiful lady such as Akizuki…" His eyes were suddenly bright with tears as he turned to stare off into the woods where his lady had disappeared.
Touya stiffened and glanced quickly at Syaoran, who grimaced and looked away just as quickly. "Shut up," he muttered, "I don't have a sister complex."
"Really? Then why are we here?"
Touya floundered. "Because I…I have only just realized my true love for Master Li! I knew there was something driving my…opposition to their engagement, but I…"
"Wasn't it only yesterday that you said that she has terrible taste in men?"
"Brother!" Sakura was indignant and drew herself up to full height.
"I…I only meant for herself!" Touya sputtered, dropping to one knee in front of Syaoran, "Please, Master Li – may I call you Syao?" -Syaoran shook his head "no" emphatically- "Please forgive me, Syao."
Syaoran cringed and shifted his gaze rapidly between his silver-haired knight and the clearly deranged man at his feet. Flustered beyond coherency, he quickly plucked one of the apples from the ground and thrust it at Yukito meaningfully.
Yukito smiled and accepted the offering. "Thank you, Syaoran. But I'm afraid I must be going now. Lady Akizuki…"
Syaoran's heart beat thunderously against his chest with Yukito's acknowledgement and his face felt like it might explode. "I…I…yes…" he mumbled dumbly.
Sakura stared in disgust and picked one of the apples up herself, rushing to Yukito's side and offering it with all the gentle charm she could muster over the deep welling of hatred for Syaoran she could feel bubbling up to the surface. Yukito sighed and accepted this as well. "Thank you, Sakura," he ruffled her hair quickly and stepped to the side, "But I'm going now."
Sakura barely registered the last of Yukito's words through the thick ocean of viscous jelly occupying the space between her ears where her brain had once resided. She fought quickly to recover. "I'll go with you!" she exclaimed, catching his hand as he attempted to break away from the group. Yes, that would do nicely; they could wander uninterrupted through the forest and when they returned to the palace, she could see to finding that stash of glitter…
She was snapped out of her machinations by a loud scoff. "Don't be foolish," Syaoran sneered, "She has a terrible sense of direction, even on the best of days. I'll return with you."
"Syao-" Touya yelped, grabbing at the younger man's leg.
"Get off!" Syaoran tried in vain to shake the vile weight from leg but, in the end, gave up and made a valiant effort to stride to Yukito's side with it still attached. Touya sobbed and gripped tighter.
"I have a fantastic sense of direction!" Sakura insisted, "It was you who got us lost out here in the first place!"
"You were the one who insisted we stop to sleep!" Syaoran shot back angrily, "Probably because you wanted to snuggle that ridiculous stuffed bear of yours!"
Touya stopped nuzzling against Syaoran's thigh long enough to cast a horrified glance at his sister. "You're still doing that…?" he groaned.
"Kero-chan is not a bear!" Sakura stamped her foot, "He is clearly a lion! Or…something! My brother was right when he said you were an uneducated little punk!"
"Sakura!" Touya gasped. He clutched fiercely at Syaoran's leg, which was coming dangerously close to connecting with his face, and stared pleadingly up the other, "It's true," he admitted quickly, "But only because I didn't underst-" He was cut off by an apple thumping against his forehead and stared back at his sister. "Monster," he hissed, "This is no time to pick a fight…"
Sakura smirked triumphantly. "Sorry brother - I missed."
Touya was horrified and quickly let go of Syaoran's leg to stand as a shield between his sister and her intended target. As uncooperative as his love was being, he would not stand idly by as his sister threatened physical harm – not one hair on his perfect head would be damaged! And then, once the monster had been appropriately dealt with, they could work on their problems…
He stared mutely as an apple sailed over his head to land with a thwack against his sister's face.
Yukito, meanwhile, skipped happily through the forest, his thoughts firmly and devoutly centered on his dearest love. With each passing moment, he put more and more distance between himself and the brewing storm of insanity he had left to quarrel. He did not hear the hoarse battle cries of his would-be suitors as they squared off, nor the heroic calls for peace and useless flailing of his once-betrothed as they flung themselves at one another.
Watanuki practically cackled with glee as he arranged the serving bottles and glasses on a tray. The previous day's attempts to return the damned centaur back to human form may have ended in complete and utter failure, but he had seen just the barest hint of despair flitting across the otherwise expressionless centaur's face and that – that– made the entire tortured experience worthwhile.
Yes, that passing grimace had been worth a thousand mornings spent slaving away in this kitchen. He paused, then set the breakfast tray down to dig through the cupboards once more. A few indigestion tablets should add insult to injury…
The cupboard door banged shut as he spun around to face the intruder. "What?"
Mokona bounded up to rest on the counter and frowned deeply. "We asked for the strawberry wine and apricot jam, not the other way around!"
"Oh," Watanuki paused in his arrangement of the indigestion tablets to skip back to the cupboard. He returned a moment later with an enormous bottle and much smaller jar. "Sorry," he practically sang, "Can you take these in for me? I'll just be a second."
"Wow, Watanuki is in a very good mood today," Mokona chuckled as it balanced the liquor bottle over its head, "Yuuko must be right…"
Watanuki spun around. "Right about what?"
"Then again," Mokona continued, "Maybe you've been at the wine already!"
"Right about what?"
"Hurry up with the pancakes!" Mokona exclaimed as it bounded out of the kitchen, "We're so hungry!"
"You are ten times more annoying without your counterpart…" Watanuki muttered as he pulled fruits and pastries from the larder. He arranged these on the trays without too much thought – as long as there was wine with breakfast, Yuuko wasn't likely to kick up too much of a fuss – and followed the black ball of fuzz out of the kitchen.
There was a loud commotion emanating from the informal dining room and Watanuki was certain he could hear his name being repeated, even without opening the door. This wasn't generally cause for concern – a human living amongst the fairies did tend to cause a bit of a stir – but the laughter punctuating the gaps between iterations made his blood run cold. Yuuko was always insistent upon hosting her subjects overnight; he knew full well that the diners taking his name in vain were none other than the conjurers and apothecaries who had failed so spectacularly to relieve him of that irritating centaur just the day before. They were laughing at him? He considered adding vinegar to the wine…
"Watanuki!" Yuuko's voice rang from beyond the door, "Don't lurk in doorways. It's antisocial."
Grumbling, he pushed through the ornate, swinging doors and stomped over to the table, unloading dishes from his tray as he maneuvered along its edge. Pancakes, eggs, toast, jam…hopefully he hadn't forgotten anything, lest the gluttons send him back for a second trip…
"Why don't you join us, dear?" Yuuko motioned to the empty place-setting as Watanuki set the last of the dishes down, "You've worked so hard this morning."
Watanuki shifted his eyes suspiciously between the place-setting – set smack in the middle of the long table and directly between the apothecaries he'd wished to avoid – and Yuuko. "That's alright, I'll take my breakfast in the kitchen."
"It wasn't a request," Yuuko smiled sweetly as Watanuki nearly dropped his serving tray, "Have a seat, Watanuki."
"But the kitchen-"
"Chii can take care of it," Yuuko interjected before he could finish. She smiled as he prepared to launch into a detailed list of all the incidents that had left him cleaning for days on the other occasions Yuuko's well-meaning, but all-too-often hapless servant girl had been left to "take care of it." "Surely she's learned something from you these past few years…?"
"Of course she has, but-"
There was nothing for it – Watanuki set the tray on the sideboard and pulled the ridiculously ornamented chair out, siddling in as unobtrusively between the smirking fairies as he could.
"Pass me that ashtray, boy," Saiga instructed as Watanuki settled in. Watanuki frowned and groped for the glass tray just beyond his reach, coughing and blowing the smoke that wafted from Saiga's lit cigarette away from his face. He couldn't help but notice that the two apothecaries were still smirking at him; Saiga from behind his sunglasses and Kakei leering more obviously over his cup of tea. The conjurers were staring at him from across the table with expressions that were probably best described as "pitying." Watanuki swallowed thickly as he passed the ashtray to his left and sank back into his chair.
"Now," Yuuko folded her hands and leaned menacingly over the table, "It seems we have somewhat of a problem on our hands."
"Oh?" Watanuki was fairly certain he didn't want to know any more details, but decided this somewhat choked response was better than silence.
"Indeed," Yuuko grinned, "It would appear that none of our known spells and potions are able to change poor Mr. Doumeki back to his human form."
"Have you considered that he's probably a lying freeloader who was never human to begin with?" Watanuki spat before his mind caught up with his mouth.
"Watanuki," Yuuko continued patiently, "Please remember that I am the Queen, no matter how casual our acquaintance may be. Just because I don't study magics the way these gentlemen do doesn't mean I'm not able to recognize a curse when I see it. I'm quite put out that you would suggest otherwise."
Watanuki sighed as her face twisted into a pout. "Okay…" he relented, "So what does this have to do with me?"
"Well, as Kakei pointed out yesterday, there is a well-known counter-spell."
"So why haven't you used it?"
Yuuko smiled. "We can't. This counter-spell can only be performed by a human."
Watanuki stared expectantly, then sank back into himself as all eyes around the table focused on him. "I can't do magic…" he mumbled.
"It's more of an unlocking mechanism than a real spell," Kakei supplied from his side, "Almost entirely physical in nature."
"Yeah," Saiga grinned, "All you need to do is kiss him."
"What?" Watanuki spluttered, "That's the stupidest- What is this, some sort of dumbass fairytale? Find someone else!" Of course it would be something ridiculous like this. His employer did, after all, keep one pet whose kiss was capable of reducing the most notorious of stoics into lovesick fools and another whose…he shuddered. It was probably best not to mention either of them, lest she get any more ideas.
"Oh come now," Saiga guffawed, "We've all seen your garden fountains. Don't play like humans aren't into that kind of thing!"
"It's not stupid, Watanuki," Yuuko admonished, "It's quite clever, actually. You see, as a centaur, Doumeki is practically invisible to humans. How do you suggest going about kissing someone who can't even acknowledge your presence?"
"I can see him just fine-"
"Of course you can," Yuuko chuckled, "Surely you've noticed that there aren't exactly a lot of humans running around here, though. It takes an exceptional human to even be aware of, much less interact with forest spirits; you're very special. A fairy might be able to make themselves known to humans with a considerable amount of effort, but a centaur… And a centaur so new to our world certainly doesn't stand a chance."
Watanuki grimaced. He had always imagined that being special entailed something slightly more exciting than having to defile his lips against an over-grown manure mill. He sighed, "I suppose you're just going to order me to, anyway…"
"Not at all," Yuuko assured him, "It has to be done willingly to work properly. If I were order you to kiss him, you'd just have to do it again and again until you wanted to," she paused to sip her tea, "As amusing as that might be, I think it would get in the way of your normal duties."
"Alright so, what am I here for?" Watanuki asked hesitantly.
"We feel it's best that you develop a relationship with Doumeki," Kakei explained, "So that, in time, you might be willing to help him break the curse."
"This part is an order, Watanuki," Yuuko practically sang as she cut him off, "From today onward, Doumeki will be your apprentice, assisting you with your chores and sharing your living space. You get along so well with the rest of my servants that I'm sure the two of you will form a close friendship in no time."
Watanuki stared in horror. What did she mean sharing his living space? And the beast was so huge it was sure to knock over more furniture than it tidied in the course of sharing his chores… Why was he being punished? He'd been nothing but a loyal servant to Her Highness from the moment she'd taken him in. He'd worked tirelessly to uphold his end of their contract so that one day he might regain his lost memories. And now this?
"You're so quiet, Watanuki," Yuuko observed as she began passing the breakfast dishes around the table. "Are you so horribly opposed?"
"I…" he managed to control the urge to yell and wave his arms and instead focused all his energy into bolting to his feet and-
He was held fast by the apothecaries on either side of him. Yuuko clucked her tongue from across the table. "Two weeks," she said over her tea cup, "That's all I ask of you."
Watanuki sighed. Two weeks was a long while to spend alongside a reeking half-horse who rarely spoke – hadn't through this entire conversation, Watanuki noted and tucked away for future annoyance – and only occasionally changed its facial expression. Still, in the grand scheme of things…
"Alright," he muttered, defeated, "Two weeks. And that's it."
"That's a good boy," Yuuko praised, lifting her glass, "Now, let's drink to-"
There was a loud clatter from the kitchen; the tinkling of shattered glass across the stone floor and the hollow bong of a kettle leaping from the counter.
Yuuko smiled, "-To your first assignment as a duo: cleaning up Chii's mess in the kitchen."
Kurogane stared. There was no justice in this world. Or mercy, for that matter. If either existed, he was fairly certain that he would not be standing here, in the middle of the woods – next to a man who had ruined his life, but for some reason he was not allowed to properly throttle – watching a couple of half-grown humans who had, until recently, been so utterly devoted to the other that they were willing to tear apart their families and defy their countries for the sake of their love, attempt to thrash one another to death with switches pulled from pine trees.
The one in the dress – obviously one of Tomoyo's creations, he noted with a hint of sympathy for the girl – was proving exceptionally brutal.
"What a bunch of frickin' idiots."
"Oh come on now, Kuro-sama," Fay chided, "Don't you think this situation calls for a bit more eloquence?"
"Fay is right!" Mokona chirped from its perch on Fay's shoulder, "The line is 'Lord, what fools these mortals be!'"
Kurogane grunted and sneered at the diminutive puff ball. "Idiots should be called idiots."
"And Kuro-puu should make an effort to sound like something other than a backwater, whiskey-swilling faun!"
Kurogane snatched Mokona up by the ears and held her just inches from his face as he seethed. "And who's piss poor idea was it to just leave them all alone in the forest, anyway?" he jogged her up and down for emphasis, "I'm not taking any advice from an over-stuffed manjuu."
"Kuro-pon," Fay set his hand under Mokona and lifted her away as she squealed in protest, "Don't be cruel."
"Cruel?" Kurogane roared, "You two have fucked up absolutely everything since we began this little mission! What do you want, a cookie?"
"Mokona wants a coo-"
Fay quickly clapped a hand over Mokona's mouth before she could finish. "Kuro-sama," he said, all former traces of joking gone from his voice, "Let's not kill off our incredibly important plot device, okay? We need her to fix this."
Kurogane scoffed and turned away. "Whatever," he grumbled, trudging forward to keep up with their brawling targets, "Let's just keep an eye on them. We can knock them out later if it comes to that…"
"Kuro-puu is such a brute!" Mokona squealed and buried herself into Fay's neck.
"I swear to god, manjuu, I will-"
"Kuro-sama," Fay cut him off quickly, stopping dead in his tracks.
Fay gulped audibly before continuing, "The silver haired one…"
"What about him?"
"Well…" Fay bit his lip, "Where is he?"
"What do you mean 'Where is he?' He's right-" Kurogane stared at the flying foliage and dust clouds. He counted; one, two, three… "Shit."
"I'll go find him," Fay said quickly, "You keep an eye on these three-"
"I'm going," Kurogane snarled, "We already know where these three are, so you stay here and keep an eye on them. Should be an easy enough task even for you, manjuu."
"Don't Kuro-rin me," Kurogane snapped as he stomped away, "Just don't lose them!"
Fay frowned as his surly companion disappeared into the foliage. Mokona snuggled comfortingly into his neck. "Don't worry," she said, "We'll fix it. And then Kuro-puu can be happy!"
"Yes…" Fay nodded and straightened his back. Kuro-puu would be happy. And that was the most important thing, wasn't it?
Fay shook his head quickly; the cool air flowing across his face snapped him back into the present. He turned quickly to face his shoulder. "Yes, Mokona?"
"Mokona will go get help."
Fay cringed; he knew very well that price for whatever help Mokona brought back would be more than Kurogane was willing to pay, but he was also acutely aware that mistakes were no longer an option. "Help," or whatever the little fuzz ball's definition of such entailed, would at least give them better odds… "I'll pay," he decided quickly, "Kurogane doesn't need to know."
Mokona smiled and bounded to rest in Fay's hands. "No payment needed," it declared, "I'm not Yuuko, and besides, he really likes getting out."
"Who does?" Fay wondered as Mokona skipped to the ground and bounced away into the trees.
"A friend!" Mokona assured him as she disappeared.
Fay was left staring into the empty space where Mokona had been only seconds earlier. He hoped Mokona knew what she was doing.
Living with Kurogane was undoubtedly having an effect on him…
"My name is not 'Oi!'" Watanuki repeated for the umpteenth time this morning.
"Oi, Not-Oi – where does this go?" Doumeki held up a copper-bottomed skillet, still dripping with soap suds.
Watanuki seethed and glanced over his shoulder. "Over on th- You have to rinse it first, dumbass!" He leapt across the kitchen to snatch the pan away and dunk in the rinsing bin. "Are you completely inept?"
Doumeki blinked. "I was going to," he said flatly, taking the pan back and toweling it dry, "I just wanted to know where it goes."
Watanuki exhaled deeply. "Over there on the rack," he pointed as he shuffled back to the pile of glass shards he'd been sweeping. The centaur was decidedly worse when it was speaking, he decided. Not that it spoke much, mind you, but the stream of dead-pan sarcasm punctuated with repeated Oi-s when it did was more aggravating than the blank stare it kept on its face the rest of the time. Never before had he witnessed nonchalance radiated with such absolute – and annoying – consistency.
Two weeks was going to be an eternity…
"Look," Doumeki's voice broke through his inner grumblelogue, "It's not like it's that big of a deal, right? It's just a kiss, so let's do it and get it over with."
"Ha!" Watanuki scoffed, "You probably get off on stuff like this. After two weeks is up, you can go gallop through the forest for the rest of eternity for all I care. I'm just being gracious to Yuuko until then."
"What?" Watanuki demanded. He dumped a dustpan full of glass shards into the trash bin and stormed back over to stare the centaur in the face. "What are you hmming about?"
Doumeki shrugged. "If you hate me so much, you could just do it now and I'd be out of your hair that much sooner."
"You'd love that, wouldn't you," Watanuki stomped toward the entrance. "I don't kiss creeps!" he shouted back over his shoulder as he banged through the doorway.
"Watanuki is chaste!" Mokona's voice rang from down the hall.
"Shut up, manjuu!"
"He only kisses his pillow!"
"I said shut up!"
"Late at night when he thinks no one is watching!"
Doumeki sighed and continued drying the dishes as Watanuki disappeared down the hallway, the loud thuds trailing behind him the only evidence that Mokona had once again gotten the better of the boy. His prospects for returning home seemed to be growing ever dimmer.
The sun was drifting low on the horizon, its last few rays meandering uselessly through the think canopy overhead, as Kurogane tramped through the underbrush. He was exhausted; this forest was supposedly rife with enchantments and wards to keep humans from wandering too far off the beaten path, but the silver-haired interloper seemed to evade him no matter which tack he took.
He settled down atop a large rock to pick the twigs and grit from his hooves. He hoped Fay had been able to keep an eye on the rest of the party and that he'd have enough wits about him to subdue them if their brawl got any more out of hand. He could only imagine the consequences if one of them decided to take their death threats to a more literal level…
He growled. Humans were such simple, stupid creatures. In fairness, he had only ever interacted with the one (and while he was being fair; she wasn't entirely human anyway), but seeing them scurry around the palace during his shifts, laughing like idiots and congratulating themselves on being such a superior species had always left a foul taste in his mouth. This little endeavor wasn't doing much to improve his opinion.
He sighed and got back to his feet. There was no point in lazing around here any longer. He'd search the whole night through if he had to.
Yukito stepped lightly over the twig-laden ground – he could hear voices nearby and didn't want to draw attention to himself. He'd rounded back on the quarrelsome trio several times since he had set off in pursuit of his lady love (he wasn't entirely sure how or why; he'd followed the sun which, by all current astronomical projections, rose in the east and traveled a straight line into the west and did not go in the the circular paths his current trek might have suggested), but had each time manage to evade notice by quieting his steps and slowing his breath.
This time was the exception to the rule, it seemed. He stepped carefully, but a loud CRACK echoed from between his toes; he jumped back, hopeful that no one else would hear…
He found himself sprawled across the ground only moments later, the victim of an unseen and surprisingly fuzzy attacker. Or, attackers; he was fairly certain there were two of them, and they were small – much smaller than the strength of the blows they landed would have suggested. His mind raced as they quickly subdued him – he was well versed in the lore of Cephiro Forest and could only imagine the sort of demons these miniscule terrors these must be. Or maybe rogue fairies, hell bent on stealing his virginity…
He crossed his legs and threw himself into the struggle, but quickly found it was worthless.
The last thing he saw before the world went dark was two large eyes peeking through a mess of white fur, and a loud "Mekkyo!" rang through his ears.
Fay balked at the sight of the tied up party and quickly shifted his gaze between Mokona and the little black friend she had brought back with her. It had taken them most of the night to subdue the squabbling trio and locate the errant fiancé, but now, with dawn peaking through the leaves, they had finally assembled all the players. His only concern now was that they would wake after the consummate thrashing they'd received at the Mokonas' hands – er, paws. "You two certainly did a, um, thorough job…"
"Mokonas always do the best job!" the white one squeaked indignantly and hopped from sleeping head to sleeping head.
"Of course they do," Fay patted her on the head and regarded the tangled mess of bodies, "Well, I suppose it's best to leave them somewhat tied…" he paused thoughtfully, "How did you move them all over here?"
"Like this!" the black Mokona stretched its mouth impossibly wide and inhaled. Fay's eyes grew nearly as wide as he watched the humans were lifted from their resting spots and unceremoniously sucked into its depths.
"Waa-aa-aa," he breathed, "That's…handy…"
"Mokona is very useful!"
"I'll say," Fay agreed, "They do come back, right?"
"Oh yeah," the black Mokona grinned, "Where do you want them?"
Fay paused, surveying the patch of forest surrounding them. "How about the older two over there," he pointed, "And the younger ones over there, on the other side of the brush pile. That way they're far enough apart that there can't be any mix ups."
"Right!" the black Mokona chirped and spat the couples out in Fay's designated locations.Fay cringed as they collided rather roughly with the forest floor. "Are they going to be okay?"
"Sure!" the white Mokona sang, bouncing over to the older pair, "A kiss from Mokona makes everything better!"
"Wait," Fay caught her mid-bounce. This was likely their last opportunity to make this work; he wasn't about to take any chances. "We're going to tie them together first-"
"Mokona is an expert at shibari!"
"That's not quite what I had in mind," Fay chuckled, "But the knots will come in handy. Help me tie them face to face…and maybe to the tree so they can't move too much without opening their eyes…" he watched in wonder as the two Mokonas bounded back and forth with a length of rope, securing the humans to one another and to their surroundings, and producing a rather aesthetically pleasing harness in the process. "Wow, you really are an expert…"
"Told you!" the black Mokona grinned, "And now for the kissing…"
Fay let them go about their business unchecked, having seen quite enough the last time around. From the corner of his eye, he saw the white Mokona scamper over to the younger couple alone. "You're not going to kiss them too?" he asked the black one.
"Why not? I thought you two loved this sort of thing?"
"We do!" the black Mokona screwed up his face (as much as he was able), "It's just…they look like minors."
"What does that have to do with-"
"All done!" the white Mokona announced, bounding back to rest on Fay's shoulder. "Now all we need to do is wake them up," she paused, "Should we wait for Kuro-puu?"
Fay considered this. It might be easiest just to wake them now, and besides which… "No," he said finally, "We'll wake them now. And then I will take you two back to Yuuko and thank her personally."
The white Mokona frowned. "But what about Kuro-puu?"
"He'll be fine," Fay assured her and scratched her ears, "Now, let's do this."
"Okay!" the black Mokona exclaimed, jumping atop a low-hanging branch and opening his eyes wide, "Everybody cover your ears!"
Kurogane crouched, covering his ears and nearly losing his footing as the piercing call rang through the forest. What the hell was that? The screech was bad enough on its own; the ethereal laughter ringing after it was making him dizzy. He stumbled forward a few steps, trying to clear his head and finding it almost impossible. His knees kept hyper-extending, his feet felt six times too big and banged clumsily against the ground. He pitched forward and sprawled gracelessly across the ground. What the hell was going on? There was something more than just the ricocheting scream of some wild animal banging around his consciousness; his fingers felt fuzzy and his horns…
Whatever it was, he was going to have to pick himself up from the ground to do anything about it, and that in and of itself was proving to be more of a feat than he was prepared for. He stopped struggling long enough to catch his breath. There was something horribly familiar about all of this, he decided as he fought to open his eyelids, which had suddenly and miraculously become stuck to their lower counterparts. Something horribly familiar