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…
If then true lovers have been ever cross'd,
It stands as an edict in destiny:
Then let us teach our trial patience,
Because it is a customary cross,
As due to love as thoughts and dreams and sighs,
Wishes and tears, poor fancy's followers.
~A Midsummer Night's Dream, I:i
He was drowning. It wasn’t a nice, sensible drowning either – oh no – there were squirrels everywhere that water ought to have been (and several places that water ought not to go) and they all had teeth. He wasn’t even sure they actually were squirrels, to be fair, but he was less sure how one went about drowning in squirrels to begin with. Not that it mattered, for that was exactly what was happening and it was all he could do to throw his arms and legs and back into escaping, into dragging himself back to the air. Finally, he breached the surface and tossed his head back to gulp down a victorious breath-
His eyes popped open as his head smacked into the wall with a loud crack. Not drowning, then. At least not in squirrels…though they might have been easier to disentangle himself from than the mess of blankets that was now wrapped around and between his legs, neck, and torso. And the squirrels probably would have had less beady, disturbing little eyes than the centaur staring back at him-
“GAHH!” Watanuki screamed, kicking his feet into the mattress and shuffling as far back toward the wall and away from Doumeki – who had somehow (quite miraculously, in fact, considering his two broken legs) managed to maneuver himself to the edge of the bed during the night – as he could. “How the hell did you even get over here, you ginormous brute?” He clutched at the blankets, pulling them close to his chest as he heaved for breath.
Doumeki shrugged. “Back two still work fine-”
“What, so you pedaled?” Watanuki demanded, “Are you insane? That poor girl – sprite – girl carried you all the way back here and bandaged you all up and this is how you repay her? You better not have busted anything up again, or so help me I’ll break your back legs too-”
“Your concern is touching,” Doumeki assured him, crossing his arms across his chest, “But it seemed like a good idea, since you were flailing and kicking so hard in your sleep that I thought you were going to put a hole through the wall.”
“You don’t need to worry about me.”
“I wasn’t,” Doumeki nodded toward a dent Watanuki had failed to notice on the wall behind him, “I was worried about the wall.”
“Oh shut up,” Watanuki mumbled and rubbed at his forehead. It really stung where he’d smashed it earlier…
“Here,” Doumeki said and unceremoniously slapped what appeared to be a slab of raw meat across Watanuki’s forehead.
“What the-?” Watanuki sputtered and moved to wrench the foul thing away.
Doumeki was faster, however, and slapped his hand over the bulk of it before Watanuki could to pull it too far. “Leave it,” he insisted and pressed it more firmly against Watanuki’s head, “It’ll keep down the swelling.”
“Why do you even have this?” Watanuki grumbled, swatting Doumeki’s hand away to replace it with his own. He leaned back against the wall and debated whether he actually wanted an answer to that question.
“The old lady brought it earlier. This, too,” Doumeki said simply. He turned his attention to the bedside table, where a tray with a loaf of bread and a steaming pitcher with two cups had been left out, and set about filling both cups to the brim. Satisfied, he thrust one at Watanuki. “Drink.”
“What are you, my nursemaid?” Watanuki groaned, but accepted the cup all the same. Its contents were bitter and burned all the way down; he had to stop himself from coughing it back in the centaur’s face. “What is this?” he sputtered.
“Medicine, probably,” Doumeki said and shoved a torn off piece of the bread toward him, “Eat.”
“Oh for-” Watanuki scoffed, “I can take care of myself, you know. I’m not the one with two broken legs. I ought to be the one-” his voice broke off as a deep flush of shame flooded his cheeks. That bastard. He hung his head. “I’m…sorry,” he mumbled, almost inaudibly.
“What?” Doumeki broke off mid-mouthful.
“I’M SORRY!” Watanuki shouted, then quickly recoiled. “I’m sorry, alright?”
Doumeki swallowed noisily. “For what?”
“For…” Watanuki seethed. Was he going to make this difficult too? FINE. “For not helping more with your…brokenness.” He waved an arm in the general direction of Doumeki’s bandaged front legs.
“Oh,” Doumeki bit off another mouthful and seemed to consider this. After a moment passed in silence, he continued, “I thought it was because you chucked this,” he produced a familiar book from the floor, “At my head last night.”
Watanuki grimaced. The front cover of his journal taunted him like the older brother from its pages, and he quickly snatched the book away. “You didn’t read this, did you?” he demanded. He could feel every hair on his neck standing in embarrassment-
“Well, I hope it was to your liking, you big-” he stopped short as his brain caught up with his ears, “Oh.” He drummed his fingers against the cover. “Well, ah-”
“Just call me ‘Oi.’” Watanuki sighed and flipped the pages open, staring them down and pointedly ignoring the horrified look Doumeki was casting his way. It was all the same, anyway. “Watanuki” was just some name he’d conjured up for himself while traveling, looking for this brother of his. Or so the book said. It was odd (well, more like infuriating, but he didn’t have the energy to muster that properly) – for all that this should have constituted “getting his memory back,” it felt more like having a fictional life thrust upon him and being expected to act a role… This other him – this Kimihiro – didn’t seem familiar in the least (alright, maybe a little bit, but he was almost positive that he was not that much of a spazz and he certainly never would have kept up a tally of how long he’d been without a girlfriend…), and while some of the stories printed on the pages here felt viscerally true, they weren’t sparking any sort of memories or producing any of the gut-wrenching emotions he’d always expected would accompany having his past return to him. Was this it? More worryingly, now that he had this…what was he supposed to do with it? Was he expected to go off and continue hunting down this brother? Or maybe return “home” to this family that he had no recollection of?
Both options were equally terrifying.
“Oi,” Doumeki began again.
Well, at least that was still annoying. Possibly more so that Doumeki had agreed to it so quickly. “Nevermind,” he snapped, “Watanuki is fine.” It was at least familiar and that was comforting at the moment. “What do you want?”
“Nothing,” Doumeki sighed and broke off another piece of the bread, “Just wondering if you were going to be alright. The old lady said-”
“Hahaha,” Watanuki laughed bitterly and swallowed down more of the horrible tea, “That I’m not who I say I am? That apparently I’ve forgotten an entire life and family? That not even magic is going to bring my memories back and all I’m going to be left with is this tattered old book and well-wishes?”
“Because it’s all true,” Watanuki snatched a bit of the bread away from Doumeki, “My head is completely messed up and you’re along for the ride.”
“Right…” Doumeki stared at him with concern, “That’s not new information, though.”
“The old woman was saying,” Doumeki continued talking over the top of Watanuki’s complaints, though he didn’t bother to raise his voice, “That the book held your memories. Or something. That’s what you’ve been working for all this time, right?”
“Yeah…” Watanuki stared pointedly at the far wall.
“Seemed private,” Doumeki continued, munching noisily on the bread, “So I left it alone.”
Watanuki stared, dumbfounded, for a long moment. “Thank you,” he mumbled at long last.
“You gonna be alright?”
“Eventually,” Watanuki sighed, “I don’t really know what to do with it, to be honest.” He laughed bitterly, “I don’t actually remember anything that’s in here. I suppose I should go home now and find my family, but-” He shut up abruptly – he was being far too candid, with no good reason. Damn this irritating, useless wanderer…
Doumeki raised an eyebrow, clearly waiting for him to continue, then sighed when Watanuki’s mouth drew into a tight line. “Sounds like reasonable fear.”
“They’re not really memories,” Doumeki continued slowly, “So much as they are an account. They’re yours, and not yours at the same time. Same with your family – if you go track them down, they’ll still be strangers as far as you’re concerned. For a while, anyway.”
Well, that was certainly more insightful than anything Watanuki had ever expected the blasted centaur to come out with. Apparently being maddeningly stoic wasn’t his only talent. He bit his lip – what was he supposed to say to that?
Doumeki shifted uncomfortably, a frown pulling at his lips. “Of course, if you don’t go, all of your work to get your memories back will be for nothing and-”
“Alright, you don’t have to say that much,” Watanuki grumbled.
“You won’t ever know where it is you want to be,” Doumeki finished.
What the hell was that supposed to mean? Where he wanted to be? He didn’t have the time or patience for riddles at the moment – he needed to figure out exactly what the hell he was supposed to be doing with himself. He wanted to be far away from here – far away from this decision – but how the hell was he supposed to know where that was when he didn’t remember anything?
…Which was probably the point, he realized with a grimace. If that was all gone, there was nothing to do but continue on and figure it out…
Damn that Doumeki and his insight. Why was the bastard so intent on talking now, of all times?
“We should figure out how to get back,” Watanuki mumbled, desperate for a change of subject.
“Mmm,” Doumeki nodded. Watanuki breathed a sigh of relief as the topic as laid (at least momentarily) to rest. “Old lady says there are a couple of options. We can send out a messenger to the Queen and ask for help getting back. Alternatively, you can go back on your own and I can stay here and marry her granddaughter.”
Watanuki rolled his eyes, “Yes, and what a useless, rotten housewife you’ll make with your broken legs.”
Doumeki shrugged, “I like bonbons.”
Watanuki scowled and wrenched the slab of meat away from his forehead, fully intending to slap Doumeki across the face with it. He would have succeeded too, if Doumeki had not been deceptively agile (even in his current broken state) and caught him mid-stroke. The meat slapped back against his forehead with a juicy thwack. Resigned, he clapped his hand back against it to hold it in place and sighed. “I’m not going to leave you behind.”
“No?” Doumeki seemed genuinely surprised by this, which only served to irritate Watanuki all the more. Of course he wasn’t going to- What kind of asshole- Oh. Right.
He wondered if he had always been this way. From what was written in the journal, he could gather that he’d always had a temper and could hold a massive grudge (or maybe this Eriol had simply really deserved his wrath), but he’d taken off to find the source of all his apparent irritation, hadn’t he? So maybe he wasn’t entirely an asshole… Did it even matter, at this point? If he couldn’t remember, was he even the same person-
“Your eyes are crossing,” Doumeki droned.
“They are not,” he snarled, almost completely on autopilot. He shot Doumeki a withering glare, every muscle in his body stiffening at the mere thought of what he was about to do. “Why the hell would I leave you behind?” he finally spat.
“Do you want the unabridged version, or just bullet points?”
“Oh SHUT UP!” Watanuki sqwaked. No one was that heartless! And especially not him! How dare this Doumeki even suggest as much? “There’s one way to fix you so that you…you…” He gave up on speech and pressed his lips into something loosely resembling a pucker.
Doumeki looked vaguely horrified.
Watanuki ignored this, pinched his eyes closed, and leaned forward.
He wasn’t even sure he was aiming in the right direction until his lips brushed against (what he assumed were) Doumeki’s. He debated, for a second, opening his eyes just to double check, but quickly fought down the temptation when a surprised gasp informed him that he’d hit the mark. He froze, lips mashed against Doumeki’s, unmoving and completely unable to process what the hell he was meant to do next. He parted his lips with a quiet smack and backed away. “Did it,” he cracked an eye open, “Did it work?”
“Um, no,” Doumeki mumbled, though the bright pink hindquarters bleeding into his line of vision were more than enough confirmation of this. Watanuki growled low in his throat.
It won’t work unless you mean it, Watanuki. Yuuko’s teasing flitted through his mind.
Goddamn it, he did mean it. There was nothing, at the moment, that would make him happier than to see this great broken lug of a horse transformed into something vaguely resembling a functional human. It wasn’t even just this overbearing guilt (though quite a lot of it was), or the fact that he couldn’t stand to see people in pain. For as much as Doumeki had driven him mad for the past weeks, he didn’t particularly wish him harm. Anymore. He wished him well, in fact, and that much he was certain he meant (even if it didn’t include all of the warm fuzzy feelings Yuuko had so often suggested that it should). And just to prove how much he meant it, he parted his lips – slightly – in an effort to mimic some of the more meaningful kisses that he was sure as hell never going to admit to reading about in the vast collection of fairy smut that populated Yuuko’s library.
Doumeki followed suit, and Watanuki felt the bottom drop out of his stomach.
Magic. Had to be – though, when he opened his eyes to confirm this, there were none of the tell-tale pyrotechnics or other assorted light tricks he’d come to associate with fairy magic. Why? Surely this was tender enough to get his point across? Or maybe he needed to use his tongue? How the hell was that even supposed to work, anyway? This is what came of seven thousand plus days of not having a girlfriend. Or a boyfriend. WHERE THE HELL HAD THAT COME FROM?
Oh, to hell with it. He darted his tongue out between his lips-
And only barely avoided inserting it into Doumeki’s left nostril as the centaur collapsed forward.
Watanuki balked. That…hadn’t gone quite as expected. He scrambled backward on the bed, anxiously avoiding the unconscious face slipping ever-closer to his lap. On the bright side, it appeared that something was happening to the bright pink hindquarters splayed out on the floor. Something that appeared to be making them smaller and far less pink with every passing second…
Watanuki breathed a sigh of relief. Doumeki’s front legs, bandaged and broken, were quickly shrinking and disappearing before his eyes. Good. They could both go on with their lives, and there would be no more need for kisses.
On the not-so-bright side, it was now quite apparent no clothing was going to miraculously materialize to cover the obvious nakedness of the (rapidly transforming) man hanging off the bed. He clutched at the blanket tangled beneath him, wrenching and pulling it free of his legs. He succeeded mostly in tipping himself backwards and very nearly smashing his face into the wall a second time, but eventually freed enough of it to toss over Doumeki’s trunk. He edged slowly along the wall, scooting along the far side of the mattress toward the foot of the bed.
No way in hell was he taking care of that.
Fay groaned and locked in the inside of his elbow over his burning eyes. Morning had this nasty habit of coming far too early – especially these days – and he himself seemed to be developing a nasty habit of forgetting to close the curtains before bed. This went hand in hand with his nasty habits of forgetting to lock the door, forgetting to put out the stove, and generally forgetting to make it all the way up the back stairs most nights before he passed out. It must have been a particularly good night for him to have even made it this far…
Urgh. Scratch that – a particularly good night wouldn’t have left muscle in his body feeling as if they had been stretched on a rack and left to dry for several days, and it certainly wouldn’t have left his stomach screaming and twisting in his abdomen, or bile bubbling up into his throat-
He wrenched his legs out from beneath the blankets – stretched and dried or not, he was not having another one of these episodes in the bedroom – and promptly panicked as they collided with something – someone – big and hairy collapsed over the edge of his mattress.
Oh sweet Satyr’s sin sticks, what had he done?
He retreated back into the corner next to the headboard, pulling his knees up tight against his stomach (which was now quite angrily flip-flopping about and threatening to do horrible things to both him and his linens if it was not quickly appeased). That damned bush gave the worst relationship advice… It had been literally centuries since he’d pulled a stunt like this. Probably there was etiquette, of some sort, for this kind of situation (and probably it did not include slipping out the back door and sticking a note to the poor thing’s forehead like his less-refined instincts were insisting), but damned if he could remember what it was. Pickled melon? Pancakes? Fireworks and a miniature garden fountain?
He slid down the side of the mattress, carefully avoiding the still-snoring slump of shoulders and hair. Curly horns. Well, at least his taste was consistent. He’d nearly made it to the foot of the bed when an unnecessarily rough grip circled his wrist.
“Where do you think you’re going?”
Fay blinked at the (fully awake and faintly annoyed) red eyes staring back at him. He swallowed thickly, a horribly jumbled memory from the night before tickling at the base of his brain. “K-Kurogane?”
“I,” his tongue suddenly seemed to swell to the size of a small horse, “What. Why are you?”
“You’re an idiot, you know that?” Kurogane grumbled and released his grip. He dragged a hand through his bedraggled hair, wincing slightly as it brushed against the velvet clinging to his horns, and clambered to his feet. “Just stay here. I’ll…make breakfast or something.”
“But, Kurogane, I-”
“Don’t call me that,” Kurogane huffed and started for the door, “Just…stay here and try not to do anything stupid for the next half hour or so.”
Fay sunk back against the pillows as the door slammed. Kurogane was here and Kurogane was a faun. Neither of these things made sense. (The tap dancing griffons inside his skull were not helping in any way to sort this out.) And he’d been sleeping by the side of the bed, which made absolutely no sense at all, as Fay had gone to great lengths to leave the big brute’s things alone. His fastidiously made bed, still taking up far too much space in the opposite corner of the room was evidence enough of that. There was even a fine sheen of dust collecting on its surface and an intricate cobweb sweeping down from the headboard, both very much evidencing how little attention had been paid to it in the weeks since…
Okay, maybe it wasn’t such a mystery why he didn’t want to sleep there. Still…
He buried his face in the palms of his hands. Kurogane had obviously been banished once again. Fay could only guess at what he’d done this time around. Probably body-slammed whomever had his old job… And after all the trouble he’d gone to, too. He shook his head. Well, one thing was for certain, after everything that had transpired between them – Kurogane wouldn’t be hanging around here very long again.
Fay stretched and hauled himself out of bed. Might as well make the most of his company while he had the opportunity, then.
It was a damned good thing, Doumeki decided as he trudged through the thick underbrush after his overly-excited companion, that his front legs had been an entirely magical creation, and not homologous to any of his actual body parts. He paused to stare at the basket (a care package sent along by the old woman, though it seemed to be mostly filled with raw eggs and not anything easily made for lunch) in his hands and waggle his ankle in a circle, just to be sure. Everything was mercifully unbroken.
“Would you hurry up?” Watanuki seethed at him from a few feet ahead. He set his hands at his hips and clucked his tongue irritably. “I’m already going to be in enough trouble as it is. A whole day late… I can’t even imagine what she’s going to do to me…”
Doumeki frowned, but picked up the pace once again. He had hoped that this morning’s little debacle would have…softened his desperately flailing companions demeanor, but that seemed to be an idle fancy. “She’s not going to do anything. She’ll probably be happy you finally managed to get the centaur out of her-”
“Don’t even bring that up!” Watanuki groaned and slapped a hand across his forehead, “And don’t go thinking there are going to be any sort of repeat performances! It’s a onetime deal!” He spun around to jab a finger directly at Doumeki’s face, “You should feel blessed, you know! Getting a kiss from the great and mighty Lord Watanuki! HA! Most would grovel for the opportunity! You ought to be-”
Doumeki plugged an ear with his free hand and pushed past him. Idle fancy…or a lost cause. “Noisy.”
“Hey!” Watanuki spluttered, then set his jaw and scrambled to catch up. He slowed a few seconds later, however, and shielded his eyes to stare up into the canopy. “Haven’t we…” he trailed off, “No, that can’t be right…”
Doumeki paused to look over his shoulder. “Haven’t we what?”
“Nothing,” Watanuki spat and stomped forward again, “I could have sworn we’d passed through here already, but that’s obviously not the case. Come on,” he grumbled, “It can’t be that far off.”
Doumeki followed warily. Fully human or no, the forest’s tricks were still painfully fresh in his memory. Travelling with one of the Queen’s servants had eased his mind for the most part, but now that Watanuki mentioned it…
A loud CLANG rang out somewhere above them. Doumeki watched in mild amusement as what appeared to be a large, metal gong crashed down through the canopy and embedded itself into the ground not two feet from where Watanuki stood. There was a tussling in the leaves overhead. He craned his neck back for a better view, but found only squirrels staring back.
Kurogane slammed a griddle onto the stovetop (which was still glowing brightly with fairy fire from some previous use, he noted with no small amount of distain – couldn’t the idiot manage anything?). He fumbled around the small counters, knocking over bottles and at least one drying rack of spice (alright, so Fay could manage a kitchen far better than he ever could, even if the idiot was likely to burn it down in the end), as he tried desperately to collect the ingredients for a pancake of some sort. In truth, he didn’t have the faintest idea what he was doing – mostly he was mimicking what he’d seen Fay do a million times over. Eggs, flour, milk. Well, there didn’t seem to be any milk, but he was sure orange juice would do just as well. Sugar. Salt. How much salt? Did it matter? He dumped in half the pot. Died berries…why not? Nutmeg. Splash. Cinamon? Splash. That…looked about right. Apart from the very obvious lumps of the nutmeg and cinnamon stick which…well, those should dissolve with some stirring.
The lumps failed to disappear.
He stirred vigorously.
Enough of this. He snatched the nutmeg and cinnamon out of the bowl and deposited them on the counter. He knew there was a mallet around here somewhere-
“You’re going to break the counter if you do that.”
Kurogane spun back around to face the doorway. “I thought I told you to stay in bed,” he grumbled at the ragged looking faun leaning against the frame.
“I thought I’d better make sure you didn’t demolish my kitchen while you were…what are you doing in here?” Fay swiped at the last remains of grime hanging around his eyes and staggered into the room. “Waging war?”
“Making breakfast,” Kurogane ground out, mallet now safely in hand. He raised it over the blasted nutmeg-
“It’s no wonder she banished you back here, if this is how you think breakfast is made,” Fay yawned and stumbled forward to pluck the mallet from Kurogane’s grip. “Some things require delicacy, Kurogane.”
“I told you to knock it off with that,” Kurogane roared, “And who said anything about being banished? I’ve spent over a week looking for you, you complete and utter dimwit. I had to go all the way back to Her Highness for information and then I find out that you’ve come right back here – like a goddamned idiot. And you’re back in the hooves, even after all the trouble we went to-”
“You went looking for me?” Fay half laughed, half choked, “Kurogane, I didn’t know you cared-”
“Oh shut up-”
“And speaking of being ‘back in the hooves,’” Fay continued, shuffling Kurogane away from the stove and being generally dismissive, “If you weren’t banished again-”
“I just told you I wasn’t-”
“Then how did you score that fancy little pair? They’re quite shiny – doesn’t even look like you’ve had them for a whole day.”
”It was the goddamned price I had to pay to find you,” Kurogane bellowed, finally at his wits' end. He slammed his fist against the counter. Why was this idiot being so flippant about everything? This wasn’t some kind of joke-
Kurogane blinked and flexed his banged up fingers. “Why what?”
“Why would you do that?” Fay was staring at the ground, the mallet he’d swiped from Kurogane only moments before tottering now in danger of slipping from his fingers. He looked like an idiot. Which was normal, but he wibbling lower lip was definitely not. Kurogane scoffed and narrowed his eyes.
“Because I-” he coughed. He didn’t know why he coughed, only that his throat was suddenly very dry and getting more parched with each passing second. He swallowed heavily and ran his tongue over his teeth, which were also startlingly dry. Dammit. “Because I miss-” No, that sounded wrong. “Because I don’t like being alo-” No, that was worse. “Because you’re a dumbass,” he finally settled on.
Ah yes, that was the one.
Fay stared back at him for a long moment. It took another for Kurogane to realize that the small shake in his shoulders was laughter. Tche. Let him laugh all he wanted…
“Kurogane,” Fay finally said, straightening himself out, “You can’t-”
“Would you just listen to me?” Fay snapped, “You can’t stay here like this. You worked too hard to reverse this already. And it was my fault to begin with-”
“No, you listen to me,” Kurogane growled, “Two days of chasing brats around the woods has nothing on the amount of effort I put into find your drunken hide. If I didn’t want to be here, I wouldn’t be here. So cut the crap. What do I have to do to convince you, cut a goddamned arm off?”
Fay blinked and took a step backward. “I don’t know,” he mumbled, “You’re not going to try to serve it to me for breakfast, are you?”
“Oh for-” Kurogane cursed under his breath. He wasn’t sure why he was bothering to hide it at this point, but it seemed to him that cursing aloud would taint his next move-
Which was to grip Fay firmly by the horns and pull him close enough to smash their lips together.
He pulled away after a few moments of fumbling and not really having any idea in hell what he was doing. “I’m sorry,” he mumbled, “I should have-”
It was probably for the best that Fay grabbed him again, just then, as he didn’t actually remember how he wanted to end that sentence, anyway.
“What the hell is wrong with you? Do you have any idea just how expensive that gong is?”
“Now, now. If you don’t have the stamina to carry it, you shouldn’t be lugging it around with you all day! It’s a sure way for you to put your back out again – and you know how she is about worker’s comp claims…”
“Just stay away from me, you irritating-”
“After I made you lunch and everything!”
“Pathetic excuse for a wif- There he is! Watanuki!”
Watanuki stared at the bickering, beetle-winged fairies with no small amount of disgust. This wasn’t the first time the duo had managed to completely mangle their duties, though it was the first time he’d nearly been killed in the line thereof. He’d never understood why Yuuko had been so insistent on leaving them to guard the front entrance. Something about an accident with one of the Mokonas…he couldn’t really imagine her feeling guilty enough about that to allow them to continue on in their old positions just because of that, though. No, this was probably (like all things) some form of sick entertainment for Her Majesty. And seeing how they’d now abandoned their post altogether-
“Her Highness has left a message for you,” the blue-winged one – Takeshi – continued, straightening himself as best he could with his, er co-worker draped around his neck, “If you please.”
“A message?” Watanuki balked, “I’m heading back to her now – or does she have some other errand she wants done?” Sheesh – he’d been expecting (hoping for, at any rate) a little bit more concern from his employer after she’d dropped this latest load of bricks onto him. It wasn’t enough for him to be completely torn by this…this…journal – oh no, she probably wanted some very specific variety of chrysanthemum that only grew at the bottom of a well, tucked back inside some enchanted glade on the other side of the mountain, whose seeds had been buried in Griffon dung for exactly 16 years and allowed to germinate under the care of a particularly large gremlin, all so she could have some wine-
“She says that won’t be necessary,” Takeshi said.
“I-” Watanuki started, “Wait, what?” He clearly hadn’t heard correctly.
“Yes,” Takeshi continued, shaking the red-winged fairy around his neck violently, “Damn it, Kentaro – will you get off so I can get at the scroll?” Kentaro sheepishly released his death-grip, and Takeshi took advantage of his newfound freedom to summon an overly ornate scroll that could only belong to Yuuko herself. He cleared his throat, “Ahem. My dearest Watanuki. Smile kindly.” Takeshi’s face pulled back into a sneer. “Did she leave me stage directions? What kind of…oh never mind.” His forced smile was worse than the sneer, Watanuki thought. “I have received word that you have met with my dear friend the forest spirit and received your memories. I have also heard that you manged to eyebrow waggle and suggestive kissy-faces.” The sneer reappeared, “What did you do?”
Watanuki scowled back at him. “Just get on with it, will you?”
“Of course,” Takeshi grumbled and muttered something under his breath about “not getting paid enough for this, anyway.” “I always knew that you had it in you, you sly dog you.” Takeshi shuddered. “Now that your memories have been returned to you,” he held a hand up, looking confused, “Our contract has ended and you must return to your family. I apologize, I had hoped that your memories would physically return to you before this time, but-”
“But that’s not-”
“There’s no sense in arguing,” Takeshi continued, looking faintly amused – as if the letter had instructed him exactly what to expect there, “You were aware from the beginning of our acquaintance that once your debt had been paid and your memories restored that we would part ways.”
“But how can you-”
“I am pained as well, Watanuki,” Takeshi sighed and fanned his face resignedly, “Look at me, I’m all choked up. Please don’t take this personally-”
“But it is-”
“Actually, do take it a bit personally. I know how prone you are to hunkering down and clinging pathetically to familiarity. So I am making this decision for you.”
Watanuki sank to his knees. She couldn’t mean this, she just couldn’t…
“Fret not, for you are in good company,” Takeshi continued, nodding toward Doumeki, whom Watanuki had conveniently forgotten existed until this very moment, “As you may recall, before he was waylaid, Doumeki was on his way to the human’s palace to bless the marriage of their queen. He’s been called a long way to preside over this wedding – legend has it that a marriage blessed by priests of his family line will last a lifetime. I can’t say if that’s actually true or not, but I’m sure that should you guide him through the forest, the palace staff will be obliged enough to assist you in locating your family. If, of course, that’s what you should choose. Also assuming you haven’t brow-beaten him to death. I did tell you to be nice.”
Watanuki stared suspiciously at Doumeki. “You have got to be kidding me… Is that true?”
Doumeki frowned and took a step backward. “Is what true?”
“What do you mean- Aren’t you paying attention?”
“Attention to what?”
“Ahem,” Takeshi coughed, “Be gentler, Watanuki, or you’ll never get beyond that first taste of…oh she’s got to be kidding me.”
Watanuki looked up just in time to catch the tail end of what he supposed was meant to be a lascivious swivel of Takeshi’s hips and immediately forced his eyes back toward Doumeki. “Don’t be an idiot, idiot. Are your…services really that special?”
“Services?” Doumeki’s face twisted into a bizarre mixture of confusion and disgust, “What are you talking about? You’ve been arguing with yourself for the past five minutes.”
Watanuki stared in disbelief.
Takeshi snapped his fingers. “By now you’ll have realized that Doumeki – being fully human once again – is not able to see or hear my messengers. And thank god for that,” Takeshi added beneath his breath, “You, too, are not able to see all that you once were.”
Watanuki’s eyes darted around him. He knew this place had looked familiar – he was kneeling no more than thirty feet from where the gates of Yuuko’s palace ought to have been, yet they were nowhere in sight. He wrenched his head back around to stare at the guard, who grinned wickedly back at him before continuing.
“Not to worry, my dearest Watanuki. Your ability to interact with the fairy world is something no one can ever take away from you. My home, however, is something that is only accessible to a very select few, and as it is no longer necessary for you to dwell here, I am closing it off for both your benefit and my own protection.”
“Humans are strange beings Watanuki – perhaps the strangest of all creatures. But, as you are one of them – and strange in no small number of ways yourself – I know that your future happiness lies down this path. I shall miss you dearly.” With that, Takeshi rolled up the scroll and nodded to Watanuki. “I suppose that’s that, then.”
“You’re so cruel, Takepon,” Kentaro, who had remained mercifully silent throughout most of the ordeal, groaned, “Look at him – he’s a mess! We really ought to do something…”
Watanuki swiped at his eyes, which were now overflowing with unrepentant tears. He felt sick – how could she just throw him away like this? He’d been happy working as her servant, and she’d never expressed any displeasure with his service. Maybe the occasional teasing, but all of that was fine, so long as she didn’t just toss him out on his own. Not even on his own – leaving him alone with Doumeki…this was just cruel and unusual punishment. What the hell was he supposed to do with Doumeki of all people?
“We should go,” Takeshi said quietly above him. He shirked off Kentaro’s concern uneasily and turned his back. “Her Highness specified that we’re not to interfere any further.”
“Come on,” Takeshi sighed and pulled his despairing companion higher into the tree tops.
Now Watanuki was truly alone. With Doumeki. Who was staring at him with all the concern generally reserved for someone in the middle of a fantastic break with reality.
Which might not have been far from the truth, but it didn’t mean he had to accept it.
“What?” he snapped, tossing an angry glare back at Doumeki, “Something wrong?”
Doumeki blinked and sighed as if he were the one really being put up on here. “Would you prefer the unabridged version, or just bullet points?”
“Oh, you think this is funny-”
“Not really,” Doumeki sighed and pulled the handkerchief covering the picnic basket free. He held it out to Watanuki, who steadfastly refused to accept it (he didn’t need any sympathy, dammit). “Would you just-” he broke off with a growl and pinched the rag forcibly against Watanuki’s nose, “Blow.”
“I’b not gun-” Watanuki tried and failed to shake his face free. “FINE,” he roared with all the dignity befitting a man with his face buried in a snotrag and let loose with a loud, trumpeting blow that shook his knees against the grass. “Happy?”
“Not particularly,” Doumeki frowned. He seemed to forget all about the handkerchief a moment later as he dropped down to one knee to better stare, perplexed, into Watanuki’s face.
Oh gods this was emabarassing.
“Get up,” Watanuki scolded. He swiped the last vestiges of tears from his eyes and scowled in Doumeki’s general vicinity (carefully avoiding looking directly at him, because who even knew what sort of trouble that would bring about). “I’m fine. I don’t need your…snotrags.”
Doumeki frowned again (or at least Watanuki assumed he did – there seemed to be a general down-ward turn visible from the corner of his eyes). “We’re not going back to the fairies,” he said after a long moment.
“You’re not going,” Watanuki snarled, “You’re going to the human palace. And you’d better hurry up – who knows how long she's left you to get out of the forest without trouble.”
“What about you?” Doumeki said.
Watanuki chanced a glance toward him and recoiled – that was definitely the face of someone who knew more than they were letting on. How much had he even said out loud? “I’m staying here,” he ground out.
“For what?” Doumeki demanded incredulously, “Don’t be an idiot. Whatever just happened, it’s obvious that-”
“Shut up,” Watanuki snapped, “You don’t have any clue, do you? You can’t see them.”
“I don’t need to,” Doumeki snapped right back, “You’re rolling around in the dirt bawling your eyes out.”
“I am not rolling around!” Watanuki sniffled, “And I am certainly not bawling.” He ground a dirty fist across his tear-stained cheeks and snarled, “Hurry up and get the hell out here now. Before you piss me off any more.”
“Why don’t you come with me?”
“What?” Watanuki spluttered. Had he overheard after all? “No. Look, I did you a favor and got you your legs back…or reduced or whatever. Now return the favor and leave me alone.”
Doumeki heaved a mighty sigh and dragged himself back to his feet. Good, Watanuki thought miserably, it’s much better this way. In truth, he’d expected that to take a little more effort – usually it was impossible to convince the big lug to do anything. But he supposed even Doumeki had his limits. Besides which, he was free to go now that he wasn’t a hulking horse-beast anymore.
Watanuki exhaled in relief and brushed some of the grime from his knees. This was much better. He could wait out Yuuko. Eventually she would grow tired of him lurking around her palace and darkening the areas he remembered doorways existing. He would wait. Even if it took years-
The first impact took him by surprise – so much so that he nearly toppled over and turned Doumeki’s accusations of rolling about in the mud into a reality. The second hit with no less force, but thankfully he had already turned his face away from its trajectory.
It wasn’t until the third impact that he realized there was something wet and slimy trailing down the contours of his face. He dragged his hand across his cheek, smearing the slime and dragging it out in a glistening trail that clung to his fingers as he examined them. What the hell was this?
This moment of confusion only served to give Doumeki time to refresh his stocks. Three more shiny white projectiles collided and shattered against his still gaping face before Watanuki had managed to voice something even partly resembling a complaint. Eggs. That bastard was lobbing eggs at him!
Who the hell threw eggs? Honestly…
The barrage of shell and yolk continued as Watanuki hauled himself to his feet. He clawed at the splattered yolks as they trailed over his cheekbones. That was going to leave a mark. That goddamned Doumeki – how dare he look so smug? He was grinning – grinning – as he continued to hurl the contents of the basket in Watanuki’s direction. Watanuki set his stance to lunge. Stupid, bloody ex-centaur was going to be mashed into a-
And without a word, Doumeki vanished from sight, tossing the last of his eggs to land with a splat at Watanuki’s feet and darting off in between the gnarled tree trunks.
Watanuki stared at his back.
Oh hell no.
He took off after him just quickly, all thoughts of Yuuko temporarily forgotten. The albumen smeared against the soles of his feet might have made the trek through the forest all the more treacherous, but there was no way he was letting Doumeki escaped unscathed.