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 any idea in heaven or hell what to do with these foolish mortals...
A/N: I am so sorry this chapter took so long to get out. It's grant season in academia and I've been up to my eyeballs in soggy monkey parts and budgetary nightmares. Thank you for coming back, and I hope the chapter is worth the wait!
Also, as I always forget to put notes on my chapters (read: I am incredibly absentminded and lazy…), I want to take a moment here to thank a couple of people who've been amazingly helpful in putting this together. mikkeneko and irenegerke – without the two of you
taunting me kicking my ass into writing gear, I likely wouldn't have finished this for another month. I probably owe the two of you somewhere in the neighborhood of one million hypothetical dollars for all of the ideas you've given me. Thanks also to Mikke for the occasional spot-checking and offering of smart-ass comments. A big thank you to truedespair69 who, in addition to being an absolute doll, sent a whole bunch of readers this way. And finally, a huge thank you to Bottan/konnichipuu who drew not one, but two amazing fanarts for this fic. The first is the most adorable picture of Fay and Kurogane I have ever seen – asfauns! You can find that one here:
And the second is a fantastically cracky picture of Doumeki the pink pony (or "My Little Doumeki," as I have affectionately dubbed him) giving Watanuki the ride of his life… (Literally. Mind out of the gutter – this is a clean fic…mostly). That one can be found here:
Leave her some love – she is amazingly talented and the pictures are sooo worth a peek! (This isn't even my own bias speaking, though I have nothing but praise for her!)
Anyhow, enough rambling! Enjoy!
UPDATE: ZOMFG it's nekkid Kuro-fairy!!!!!!!!
My lord, I shall reply amazedly,
Half sleep, half waking: but as yet, I swear,
I cannot truly say how I came here;
My Oberon! what visions have I seen!
Methought I was enamour'd of an ass.
-A Midsummer Night's Dream IV;i
Sakura woke with a start. Her ears rang with the screeching, inhuman howl of some wild beast lurking in the shadows of the forest. Her heart raced in her ears; there was something very important that she needed to do. Someone, somewhere…
No, that couldn't be right.
Her eyes fixed on Syaoran and she bit back a laugh. He was gaping back at her, his delightfully full cheeks flushed and pulled back into a shocked half-grin, his ever-so-slightly-off-center nose wrinkled so adorably in consternation…hanyan! She'd never noticed before how dreamy his eyes were when pulled so wide! It was almost like…almost like…
She blinked, forcing herself out of her daze and pushing away any lingering thoughts of limpid pools and sparkling amber. "Syaoran, are you alright?" she managed.
"I-" Syaoran sputtered, eyes stretching impossibly wider, "It's just-" He yanked his hands up between them.
Hers came with. "Oh," Sakura murmured, eying the intricate latticework of cord that looped around their wrists, their ankles, their waists... "What happened?" A thought occurred to her, "Di-did my brother find us?"
"I don't know…" Syaoran trailed off. He hadn't seen any sign of Lord Touya, or anyone else for that matter, and he certainly doubted the big lug's ability to tie such intricate knots with enough delicacy to avoid waking either he or Sakura in the process. He scoured their immediate surroundings for any signs of their captors, or possibly something sharp to cut their bindings… "Sakura," he said suddenly, jerking both of them up into a sitting position, "There's a knife in my boot. If I can just-" His voice dried up as Sakura toppled against him, her face buried in his neck as he stretched their hands toward his feet. Just a little farther…
Sakura fell happily back into her daze, despite the blood burning in her cheeks. Syaoran smelled of musky cologne (probably a gift from Tomoyo, she noted with a pang of guilt) tinged with smoke from their fire and apples…
Well, the apple scent explained the strange nightmare she'd had, at any rate. Chasing around Yukito and assaulting Syaoran with fruit and pine switches… She flushed deeper and bit her lip; she hoped she hadn't been talking in her sleep.
"Huh?" she lifted her head quickly from Syaoran's shoulder to find him stripping away the last of the rope, his small knife gleaming in his hand.
Syaoran smiled warmly and helped her to her feet, holding her fingers with his own just a bit longer than was absolutely necessary before remembering himself and backing away quickly. "I'm sorry – I…" he scratched nervously at his neck.
"Syaoran, really," Sakura half murmured. He was going to have to move past some of his shyness if they were going to be wed. So was she, for that matter – the mere thought sent a chill down her spine and heat to her face. She moved to take his hand once again and froze. Everything hurt. She craned her neck painfully to examine her arms and legs; there was barely an inch left unscathed – even her knuckles were bruised. "What in the world?" she wondered.
"I don't know," Syaoran answered honestly, gingerly flexing and extending his fingers. "I didn't wake up at all – I had the craziest nightmares, though."
"Me, too," Sakura confessed, debating whether she should continue. After a moment's pause, she decided that honesty was the cornerstone of any relationship and, furthermore, might break down some of the flustered embarrassment that seemed to tear at them so frequently. Or would it? She could never tell; everything was always so much more confusing when the blood rushed to her head like this. Up was down, right was left, and Syaoran was Yukito…
"I dreamt that we were fighting over Yukito. With apples and tree branches." She finally blurted, then quickly slapped her hands over her mouth in a vain effort to force the words back insdie.
Syaoran stared back at her, eyebrows furrowing in disbelief. Sakura swallowed thickly and took a step backward.
"I dreamt the same…" Syaoran finally admitted. Sakura, however, had time neither to be shocked nor relieved as he quickly snatched her hand and headed away from their makeshift bed of dry brush and rope cuttings. "We need to leave here. Whoever – whatever – tied us up might still be around. We need to find our way to Outo and then-"
"Wait!" Sakura pulled her hand back, "Do you hear that?"
Syaoran listened closely. It was faint, but there was a soft rustling sound from their left and if he really strained he could make out…groaning? He tightened his grip on Sakura's hand and started forward again, "We really have to go! If we're found-"
"But it sounds like someone is in pain!" Sakura insisted, pulling back once again and staggering toward the sounds, "Please, Syaoran, we can't leave th-"
"Sakura!" Syaoran sprinted quickly to the thick trunk where Sakura had stopped to steady herself. "What's wrong?" he gasped. Her face was as pale as a bed sheet and twisted into a macabre caricature almost beyond recognition. "Sakura!"
"It's…" she sobbed and collapsed against his chest, relieved when his arms wrapped around to support her.
"It's what?" Syaoran seated her quickly on the ground and set about checking over her wounds. They didn't appear too serious, but she wasn't making sense – he could have sworn he had just heard her mumble "Worse than a garden fountain." "What's worse than what?" he tried again. He tilted her head to back to meet her eyes. She wasn't crying – if he didn't know better, he'd say she was horribly embarrassed, what with the wide eyes and impossibly pink face. He followed her previous line of sight and felt his jaw fall slack.
"Oh for…" He stood up, but Sakura caught his hand.
"How did they get here?" Sakura hissed, pulling him back down and behind the trunk, "They must have followed us!"
"I don't know," Syaoran grumbled, his mood now thoroughly ruined. Who did that kind of thing in public? It wasn't fit for alley cats, let alone a lord of Touya's stature… "Let's hurry and leave, before they see us."
"But, Syaoran – they're tied up, too! We can't leave them."
"They're what?" There was no way. No way. Not after what he'd just witnessed.
"They're tied up!" Sakura insisted, "We can't go – no, I won't go!"
"I know, but," Sakura paused to gather her wits, "This is really a strange morning. We woke up tied together, and had the same dream, and now Touya and Yukito are here. We have to do…something!"
"But they're…!" Syaoran stammered, steadfastly refusing to look away from Sakura. He shuddered, "How are they even-"
"Please don't," Sakura choked, shaking her head.
"Sorry…" Syaoran ran hand through his hair and sat back down. "Alright, we'll take them with us. But we should really move away from here quickly…" he trailed off, not liking the implications of this statement.
"Thank you," Sakura inched closer to rest her head against his shoulder, "…Would you…?"
They sat in silence for a long moment before Syaoran cleared his throat. This was no time to wallow in the dregs of childish impotence. Now was the moment to strike out on his honor, to call forth his steeled reserves of courage and display his valor before his lady, to prove once and for all that he was a man…
"How about we draw straws?"
The force of his sneeze startled Kurogane back to consciousness. Damned allergies – he'd probably gotten that fuzzball's dander mussed into his fur and was going to spend the next however-long in mucus-dripping misery until he could get a bath.
What the hell was he doing here? Dozing off mid-hunt wasn't his style, and moreover, he certainly wouldn't have chosen a pile of dirt for a pillow – no matter how short his intended nap. He wiped angrily at the side of his face and moved to scratch his fingers through his fur.
"Nyga!" He winced at the introduction of sharp nail to bare skin. What in the…?
He stared. It was gone! Every single last strand of that damnable, lamentable, devil's pelage was gone! His legs were unusually pale, having not seen the sun in ages, but that was fine – he could work with that… The hooves! He wiggled his toes – five of them! – in front of his face, not quite believing his luck.
And if the fur and hooves were gone…
He groped blindly at his back – stll afraid to look, lest it might be a dream – and felt his expression melt into ecstasy when his fingers connected with a solid, sleek wing. He craned his neck for a better view. There they were, in all of their former glory; black lattice filled with bold red, their edges tapered into familiar sharp peaks and long tails trailing down beyond his knees.
"Heh," he snorted, stifling the primeval instinct that insisted he let loose with an earth-splitting cackle of joy. He flexed his back, worried the years of disuse might have weakened his muscles. It was an unfounded worry, however (they may have been weaker, but they still worked, dammit), and his heart raced with the light breeze brushing across his sides from the flutter of his wings. He was in the air a moment later, unable to restrain himself any longer.
He soared high above the treetops – altitude restrictions be damned, he'd just spent six years earthbound and he was going as high as he damn well pleased – basking in the familiar comfort of the scenery below him. The wind whipped through his hair, tugging and yanking the unruly strands in all directions and slapping the fringe against his forehead; he wasn't sure anything had ever felt as marvelous. He circled, dived, dipped, all the while clutching uselessly at the breeze coiling around his fingers, teasing up his arms, and encircling his trunk.
The idiot had done it! Kurogane had no idea how or when, but he'd done it! After all the strife they'd been through, all the bollocksed, half-witted, half-failed attempts these past few days, he'd finally succeeded. He was so unabashedly grateful to and proud of the fool that he had little trouble stamping down his own guilt at proving essentially useless throughout the entire endeavor. He'd make it up to Fay – dinner was on him tonight, and he was willing to shell out the last of his savings to let the idiot get as stinking, slobbering drunk as he liked. Scratch that; he was getting stinking drunk, too. And in the morning (or possibly afternoon, considering), he could go to see about getting his job back.
He fluttered down to rest on a large bough and collect his thoughts. He had to find Fay first, and then return that little puffball to Her Majesty. And then –
A sharp whistle interrupted his thoughts and he leaned forward to glare at the intruder below. Predictably, it was nothing more than a gaggle of wood nymphs, paused mid-step in one of their ridiculous ballets. He sneered – he didn't have time for their foolishness this morning – but was only met with gaping and giggles. Whatever, he didn't need thi-
Blushing furiously, he grabbed a fistful of leaves from a nearby stalk and shuffled them into his lap.
First things first, then. He would return to his old home, find some clothes, and then set about finding Fay.
Watanuki pinched the bridge of his nose as he stirred his tea with all the concentration of a chessmaster and grace of a drunkard. He watched in fascination as the droplets bounced over the rim to splatter against the intricately woven tablecloth, the dark splotches seeping and spreading into abstract patterns…
God, but it was fascinating. He'd have to try this later with green tea and possibly a yellow linen. He wondered if the tea would seep into the folds at the same rate, if a different surface tension in the green tea might spread the droplets wider to create different designs…
Laboriously, Watanuki peeled his eyes away from his table-top artwork to glower at his tea-time companion. Or, as Yuuko had so recently demanded, his constant companion, which was currently waggling its tea cup back and forth and staring meaningfully at Watanuki. "What?" he demanded, scowling at the monstrosity. Today it was a garish shade of blue, too bold to be called "sky," too bright to resemble the ocean, and too obnoxious to be anything less than one of Kakei's misguided experiments. He had to wonder if the centaur's agreement to participate in Kakei's often pointless, occasionally dangerous experimental machinations in return for room and board was really a fair price. Sure, it kept the over-enthusiastic fairy out of Yuuko's hair and, more importantly, occupied enough to prevent any further "accidents" within the palace, but really; the day-glo color selections were putting Watanuki off his food, no matter how entertaining they might be for the first few minutes after transformation.
At least this latest shade didn't come with the unfortunate gastric side-effects of the pink.
Watanuki gaped for a moment, trying to parse exactly what it was trying to say. They certainly were drinking tea... It was even waggling its teacup as if to announce it wanted moretea…
Watanuki growled low in his throat and screwed his face into a snarl. "Get it yourself!"
"Can't." The centaur indicated the teapot just beyond his reach.
"Just get-" Watanuki sucked in a deep breath as the centaur shifted his bulk against the table and rattled the flatware as he stretched demonstratively for the pot. "I am not your servant!" Speaking of servants, surely one of Yuuko's minions must be somewhere nearby to serve the tea…
He cringed. No, of course not. Yuuko had ordered everyone to stay away while he and the centaur "enjoyed their late-afternoon bonding exercise," or something equally humiliating. To coax Watanuki into reluctant compliance in this matter, she had personally overseen the set-up of an exquisite tea-time spread. To ensure their full enjoyment of the banquet, she had dead-bolted the door. Watanuki sighed as he got to his feet and wordlessly snatched the teapot from its resting spot amongst the china. "Just say when…" he mumbled as he filled the centaur's cup.
Yuuko frowned from her perch just beyond the wall of the dining hall. Magic swirled against the plaster, creating a small window through which she observed the decidedly tense scene playing out on the other side. Piles of books cluttered the floor at her feet, detailing human mating strategies, offering suggestions for productive interpersonal relations, and announcing 101 ways to set stimulating mood lighting. She closed the window as the lighter of her pets crawled into her lap.
"They're not doing very well, are they?" Mokona asked quietly.
Yuuko scratched her long white ears. "No," she said slowly, "I suppose they're not. But, with a little time…"
"Mokona could kiss him!"
Yuuko laughed at this and picked Mokona up to speak at face level. "I don't think that will be necessary. Besides, don't you think enough problems have been caused by that?" she lifted her eyebrow with a teasing smirk.
Mokona's ears drooped. "But Mokona thought…"
"It's all right," Yuuko soothed, "Though the rest of the guard has been complaining again. I'll have to put them back on gate duty by themselves…"
"The black Mokona could kiss him!"
Yuuko chuckled once again, "Yes, I suppose his spell does wear off a bit more quickly than yours does… But, more to the point," she continued, "It's not necessary for these two to fall in love. It's only important that Watanuki form a bond with another human. If they become close, he can break the spell easily and…"
"Yuuko?" Mokona asked after a moment of silence had passed.
Yuuko smiled. "It's important for him to form bonds with humans. He can't stay here forever – his memories aren't returning as I had hoped and without human contact…"
"But he gets along so well with everyone here! Many people love Watanuki!"
Yuuko smiled sadly and resumed stroking Mokona's ears. "He does. But humans aren't meant to live amongst fairies. We're fundamentally incompatible; humans crave grounding and permanence that they'll never find amongst fairies. It always ends in loss and heartbreak…"
"But aren't loss and heartbreak an important part of life?"
Yuuko started, blinking down at Mokona in surprise. "Of course, little one. But eternity is long, and human life is fleeting…" She set Mokona at her feet and gazed steadfastly toward the window.
"We'll just have to call in some experts," she decided, quickly getting to her feet and pacing across the room. "Yes, I think I know just the people…"
Touya was in heaven, or some place very much like it. The forest seemed to sparkle, even though the low, late-afternoon sunlight barely trickled down through the leaves and the muddy path did more to absorb the rays than to scatter them. It was warm as well – far warmer than the shaded, damp undergrowth probably should have been, though he supposed much of that was attributable to the massive (and likely unsustainable) vasodilation currently in the process of shepparding every last bit of his blood to rest just below the surface of his skin. His cheeks were hot, his ears thrummed, and his fingers throbbed. This last was likely due to the fact that his wrists were bound together in a sloppy approximation of cuffs, fashioned from what he assumed had once been material from his sister's gown – a momentary flicker of anger floated through his consciousness as he realized that her ankles were very likely bare and exposed for all the world to see – but he found himself completely unable to care and only pressed forward. He could feel Yukito's heart banging against the walls of his chest – faster than his own, if that was possible – as he finally reached his goal, and was only too glad that the tree was there to support them as they toppled into clumsily against its trunk.
Yukito hissed as Touya collapsed against him, the expelled air huffing hot and fast across the nape of Touya's neck and tickling against the fine hairs peeking through his collar. Touya shuddered and latched onto Yukito's lips with his own (This was at least partially a balancing act – he wasn't well equipped at the moment to latch on with anything else. The ends, however, justified the means and Touya was forced to admit that this was far from a disappointing turn of events.). He steadied himself before raking his-
-teeth across Yukito's lower lip and gently nudging the other's chin upward with his nose. His footing regained, he set to work lavishing Yukito's throat with lingering, open-mouthed kisses, tracing his tongue along the sinews of his neck, and finally returning-
"Oh for f- not again!"
-to nip once again at Yukito's lips. Beneath him, Yukito exhaled sharply and pressed closer, chasing Touya's teasing teeth back behind the shelter of his lips, which Yukito quickly took advantage of, sucking greedily at them and swiping his tongue suggestively against their parting. Touya grunted a muffled invitation and smirked as-
"Syaoran – do something!"
-Yukito thrust his tongue between his lips, delving and twisting around Touya's own. Touya rocked against him, straining against the makeshift cuffs and giving into the baser instinct that demanded more contact, more groping, more ravishing, and certainly less of these horribly obtrusive scraps of fabric keeping him accomplishing the former. He pulled away, ignoring Yukito's gurgled disapproval, and dipped his head lower, lower, until his teeth plucked at the ties fastening Yukito's collar. He tugged sharply, loosening their knots, but nearly losing his footing once again in the process. Undeterred, he lifted one leg to loop around Yukito's waist-
"I'm trying! Oh crap…"
-and paused, noting a particularly bony lump at Yukito's hip he was positive hadn't been there just the night before. He lifted his head, troubled by this sudden and apparent spread in his advisor's hips and caught the terrified gaze of… Who was that exactly? Oh, yes. That insufferable brat who wanted to marry his sister… What in the name of all that was holy was he doing tangled up with himself and Yukito like this? It didn't make much in the way of sense, but Touya wasn't particularly in the mood to fight. If the kid wanted in, so be it; he certainly wasn't going to deny that this was an extremely pleasurable configuration they had all wound themselves into. The more, the merrier – wasn't that the saying? He flexed his knee more forcefully, dragging the boy closer and closing the gap between himself and Yukito once again-
The ground seemed to leap up to smash against the side of his head in the next instand and when he next opened his eyes, Touya found the angry face of his sister mere inches from his own. "Sakura?" he sputtered, scanning the area desperately for Yukito. What the hell was Sakura even doing- ah! There was Yuki, sprawled across the ground next to the brat, rubbing his head. Touya rolled to reach him…
"What is wrong with you?" Sakura demanded, stamping one foot down between her brother and his fiancé.
Touya squinted back at her in confusion. He was fairly sure that this was the most right thing he had ever done. Hell, even her fiancée had seemed to agree…
Or perhaps not. The brat had stumbled to his feet and was glaring back at him just as angrily as his sister. Touya couldn't figure out for the life of him what could possibly be upsetting the both of them so badly (in fairness, he might have been more successful had he spared more than three seconds and four neurons for this line of inquiry, but he had more immediateconcerns occupying his higher thought processing centers and couldn't really be bothered), and promptly resumed snaking his way across the ground to Yukito.
"The palace!" Sakura exclaimed, digging her heels into the ground to ensure the over-amorous couple was kept safely apart. She kicked at her brother's shoulder, just for good measure.
"Ow! Monster…" Touya grumbled as he rubbed at his arm, "The palace is so far away… Just let us…for a little while…"
Sakura smacked her forehead and massaged her temples. "No, I mean-" she paused to grin wickedly as Syaoran hefted her brother to his feet by the wrist bindings. She moved to help Yukito to his feet, though she was careful to keep a more firm grip on his arms than she had managed just prior to this terrifically upsetting display of affection. "We're here," she finally finished, satisfied that Yukito was not able to break free of her grip and begin the tortured cycle of tongues and testosterone all over again.
Touya blinked. "We are?" he murmured, dumbfounded. He scanned the surroundings quickly and was appropriately surprised to find a group of palace guards staring blankly at them from a short distance. "Oh."
Sakura huffed and bit her lip. "Brother, what in the world- Stop that!" she practically shouted and yanked harshly at Yukito's arms as he attempted to pull away. She gaped helplessly at the guards, all too aware of the flush heating her face for the millionth time this afternoon. "Can you help us?" she begged, "Please?"
The leader of the group seemed to consider this for a few seconds longer than Sakura deemed absolutely necessary. With a resigned shrug, he motioned his men toward the struggling group.
Kurogane landed silently on the balcony of his long-unoccupied home and tucked his wings carefully behind him. He'd been here only hours earlier to find some clothing suitable for this form (he'd been pleased to find that his old clothes still fit after all of the cullinary extravagance Fay had foisted on him over the last six years, though the shoulders were a bit saggy from muscle wasting – he'd have to make a point to get back into the habit of six laps around the forest before dawn if he wanted to build them back up in a timely manner), but it seemed no more familiar upon returning than it had when he had first arrived this morning. That had been a rushed venture – he'd flown in, dressed, and flown back out in a matter of minutes – in the name of finding Fay and returning that long-eared rat to its owner as quickly as possible.
In the end, he had found neither. The entire day had been wasted fluttering from one corner of the forest to another, fielding questions about his return from old acquaintances and squelching the urge to smash the faces of the idiots who cast obnoxiously knowing looks in his direction, but failing to procure any information concerning the whereabouts of his wayward companions. He had decided to return home shortly after nightfall, exhausted and with an aching back. Now he stood, surveying the forest below his doorstep and wondering where in the hell the two morons could have gotten off to. He desperately hoped they hadn't been stopped by the royal guard for public indecency after the spell had broken (Fay had a penchant for prancing, even as a fairy, and the older generation of harpies could be such prudes…), or, worse, arrested for breaking altitude restrictions during a rollicking celebration flight… He pushed that thought away; he still wasn't certain that Fay would celebrate being restored to fairy form and, moreover, the idiot was deathly afraid of heights (a fittingly stupidfear for an idiot fairy, Kurogane had long ago decided, but at the moment it offered some solace at least, and he refused to dwell on it).
It was only the rumbling of his stomach that pulled him out of his wandering concerns. Sighing, he pulled open the heavy door and trudged inside. He fumbled for a moment in the darkness, trying to recall just where he'd left the glo-wicks for his lanterns. Fay had always insisted on keeping them tucked away in the den where they would be protected from the damp that seeped through the doorframe on cold nights, which probably meant…
He found them in the top drawer of the entranceway table. He snorted; the wicks were predictably soggy and required several extra shakes to light, but soon he had a number of them glowing, albeit weakly. He deposited them in several hurricane lanterns scattered around the small entrance, where they reacted reliably with the enchanted glass to throw enough light about the room to allow him to make his way around the sparse furniture without too much difficulty.
There was a thick layer of dust over everything – inevitable, Kurogane supposed, after six years, but annoying nonetheless. He'd have to take care of it in the morning; for now, all he wanted was to scavenge something to eat and head to bed. He stared into the dingy cupboards, nose creeping ever higher in disgust. He should have realized what six years would do, even to dried and preserved foods. Cleaning out the debris would have to be another task for the morning.
He shut the cupboard quickly and stomped over to the pantry, where he hoped against hope that something might have fared a bit better. Most of the food there hadn't, but he did manage to locate three corked bottles of brandy that didn't appear too foul. He plucked them from the shelves and set them on the kitchen counter.
He wasn't much in the mood for alcohol, despite his earlier fantasies of drinking himself into a blessed stupor, and left the bottles after a moment's deliberation for bed. It wasn't as if there was any reason for him to stay awake beyond eating, anyway.
His bedroom was much as he had left it, with only a small bed and table for furniture and a lantern hung from the wall that he didn't bother to light. He swiped a hand across the bedding tentatively and was rewarded with a palm full of grime that had settled into the quilts in his absence. He frowned, but decided he didn't really care and collapsed face down into his pillows.
He had been so exhausted when he arrived home that he'd assumed sleep would come quickly, without the tossing and turning and burning eyes he found himself fighting nearly an hour later. The room was too quiet without the sounds of noisy bar patrons eeking through the floorboards, his pillows smelt like someone else, and his own bed seemed foreign. And moreover, there was no drunken snoring or murmured sleep-talk floating around the room for him to set his breathing to. How the hell was he supposed to fall asleep if he-
He sat up quickly and rubbed mercilessly at his stinging eyes. This was not how he had anticipated returning home. Everything was supposed to be so much better here. He wasn't supposed to miss the obnoxious snoring or the idiots partying until sunup downstairs! He was supposed to melt into the silence, dreamy and content, without a care in the world beyond reestablishing himself…
What the hell had happened to him? Had some part of his soul, some part of his core manliness drifted away, unnoticed, over the past six years? Where had this infantile desire for familiarity come from? He shuddered; perhaps idiocy was catching. Perhaps years of living in such close quarters with Fay had..
Oh to hell with it. He stumbled out of bed and back into the kitchen, knocking over a stray dining chair he hadn't remembered leaving so close to the doorframe and cursing loudly. He snatched a bottle of brandy from the counter and ripped the cork from its neck with his teeth. If sleep wasn't going to come naturally, he was just going to have to help it along.
He tilted the bottle back. Surely tomorrow would be less trying