A Flare of Dragons

 

Part Two

 

(Koushiro)

I can say with absolute certainty that I do not like this.

Not at all.

In behind me on the horse, Daisuke shifts, trying to balance without hurting himself. Fortunately, it's not necessary for me to be an expert rider - as I haven't ridden one myself in quite some time. That may be the only good point about the fact that the reigns of the placidly trotting mare that we were given to ride are tied securely to the saddle of the brown-haired mercenary in charge of leading us toward disaster.

This man - Taichi - must be an excellent fighter. That's the only reason I can think of for putting him in charge of us; he certainly doesn't seem overly bright.

At least we're not tied up to Ken, though. That one makes me nervous.

I let out my next breath slowly, turning my gaze from the leader of this less-than-ordinary expedition to look behind me to the man who is supposedly his subordinate. He's riding somewhat behind us and to the side that Taichi isn't on, and he doesn't even notice me give him a hard stare. His eyes are too busy following Daisuke's attempts to get comfortable.

That is what worries me the most.

Everything - and I mean everything - is going to fall apart if I'm not extremely careful. I've spent almost half my life protecting Daisuke - and with good reason. He's got no one else.

But without explaining things that we really don't want explained, there's no way I can possibly hope to convince Ken that seducing Daisuke is a very bad idea.

"Koushiro…" Daisuke nudges me in the side, still fidgeting. "What're you thinking about?"

"I'm just worried," I tell him, glancing quickly to the side. Ken probably won't hear us as long as we keep out voices down, and Taichi isn't paying all that much attention to us anyway. "We - "

"Big surprise. Koushiro's worried." I can almost see him rolling his eyes and grinning mischievously at me. "What is it now?"

"I was about to explain, before you interrupted," I point out in a fake flat tone that I'm sure he doesn't even take seriously. "I was thinking about that mercenary - Ken. He's pretty dangerous."

"I know!" Daisuke agrees enthusiastically. "Did you see how he fought? He was great! Some of those movements were so fast you almost couldn't even see them! I mean… wow!"

I shift uneasily. That's another thing… I remember how that fight went all too well…

The blades of Ken's two katana slide expertly along his opponent's skin, drawing out a thin trickle of blood that I'm certain was a deliberate effect. "Now will you listen?" Ken asks. "Before I have to cut you?"

The once-arrogant boy stares back at him wordlessly, eyes wide with fear.

"Good." Ken removes the blades, returning them to their sheathes with a practiced ease. He hasn't even broken a sweat, I notice numbly. I've never seen such an effortless display of combat skills before… And his opponent wasn't exactly a rank amateur, either…

This is the man who's going to be escorting us to the High Sorcerer's Tower.

I notice the way his eyes immediately seek out Daisuke's reaction to the show, and feel a mix of anxiety and annoyance stir at the pit of my stomach. This is the man who's going to be courting disaster in the worst way possible.

And he won't even realize the danger.

"It's about time," Taichi mutters to him, when he returns. I get the feeling that the fight we just witnessed could have come to the same inevitable conclusion much sooner, and was extended purely for our benefit.

Or - excuse me - for Daisuke's benefit.

Ken smirks faintly, his eyes sliding to Daisuke again. "Are we going?" he asks with a deliberately casual tone - as if the fight were nothing at all. Part of that is overacting, but by the fact that he's not even winded, I suspect the ease with which he defeated the other mercenary was not faked.

Which was definitely enough to make me wary.

"He was really great, wasn't he, Koushiro?" Daisuke hasn't noticed my lapse. I turn my head again and look at him out of the corner of my eyes. He's looking back at Ken with a hint of a smile on his face.

Not good.

"That's not what I'm worried about," I mutter, nudging him with my elbow to draw his attention away. "Don’t look at him, Daisuke."

He blinks, honestly confused. "How come?"

'How come?' I roll my eyes upward and sigh. How can you ask that, Daisuke?

Ken's skill with his katana is not the focus of my worries. Not even close. He's clever, and together with Taichi, he might give me considerable trouble, but neither of them can possibly hold out against Daisuke. If the situation becomes desperate, and there's no other way to do it… That would be our last resort, and it would certainly work.

No… My main worry is definitely his obvious attraction to Daisuke. That isn't going to lead anywhere pleasant, no matter what might happen.

And the hints of interest Daisuke is showing in return are a serious concern.

Daisuke can't afford to show any interest - in anyone. I have to keep him away from Ken, at any cost. And the first step toward doing just that is to make him aware of the problem.

"I'll tell you how come," I answer, being sure to keep my voice down. A glance ahead of us shows Taichi shielding his eyes from the setting sun to look to the sides of the road and up ahead of us, but I don't want to be too careless about this. "Because you don't want him to get the idea that you're interested."

He's silent for a moment. "You mean… like that?"

I nod. "Exactly. Haven't you noticed how he's been staring at you?"

"Well, sort of… but I didn't think…"

I sigh. Of course not - Daisuke never thinks if he can help it. "Daisuke, be careful," I caution. "You can't get close to him. Don't give him any opportunities at all. If you have to, start pretending you despise him. Or fake complete disinterest. Whatever you have to do - just keep him at arm's length. Can you handle that?"

"I dunno…" He sounds a bit worried now - good. If he's worried, he'll take this seriously. "What's he going to try? I don't want to have to use my - you know…"

I do know. "Don't talk about that," I warn him firmly. "Remember what I said when we were taken in? We can't let anyone know." I chew on my lower lip a bit, then answer his question. "Logically speaking, he can't do anything without your consent. Not without using force, in any case - and if he does that, try to go easy on him. We'll get around his partner somehow and get away before they find him."

"I guess…" Daisuke doesn't sound so sure of that. "I don't think it'd be so easy to get around Taichi. Look at how big that sword is… I'll bet he knows how to use it, too."

I turn my gaze back to the man leading us. He's still looking ahead of our little group, over the slight hill we're currently trudging up. His hair defies all laws of gravity, spiking out from his head at the most impossible angles. What I presume to be his uniform is already disheveled and several layers are carelessly hanging from his saddlebags instead of on him as they should be. His skin is darkened from time spent outside, and the expression on his face is one of careless, confident ease.

As if sensing my gaze, he turns and offers a friendly half-smile. There is nothing guileful or suspicious in those brown eyes… He offers me that simple courtesy so casually - as if it meant nothing more than Ken's "fight" had.

I can see why they'd make him a leader; it'd be easy to make people follow him. But I'm confident in my ability to outthink him - he's a noble, after all. "I'm sure we could think of something," I tell Daisuke. "We wouldn't actually have to fight him if we could outsmart him first."

"Maybe," Daisuke agrees, sounding less dubious. "I'll leave that sort of stuff to you. Just tell me when you've got a plan for getting us away, okay?"

"I will," I promise him. "I'm working on - "

"Okay, everyone." Taichi reins in his horse, and reaches back to bring ours to a halt as well. Ken immediately halts, watching his partner. "It's getting late, so we're going to stop at the village just up there." He points forward, and I notice that it's possible to see the outline of houses over the crest of the hill. "There should be an inn somewhere around, so we'll get rooms for the night, and keep going tomorrow."

"Hey, great!" Daisuke bounces a little in the saddle.

I have to agree there. If we have our own room together, then it might be possible to slip away unnoticed.

Perhaps it'll be easier than I thought to outsmart these two.

~\\~

"Well, we obviously can't put you two in the same room."

I scowl at Taichi, who ignores me and keeps talking.

"I made sure there were locks on the doors," he continues, holding up a pair of keys. "It'll be two to a room - so that means one of us with one of you. The only thing left to decide is who - "

"Daisuke and I will take this one," Ken announces, plucking one of the keys from Taichi's fingers. "See you two tomorrow," he adds, and firmly takes hold of my confused younger friend's arm to haul him off toward the stairs.

There is no way I'm letting him get away with that!

"Wait a minute!" I take hold of Daisuke's other arm, glaring at Ken as fiercely as I know how. "Why do we have to split up exactly like that?"

"Because we're supposed to be guarding you two," he points out, raising an eyebrow at me. "You can't share the same room."

"I know that," I snap, feeling a wave of irritation. "Why doesn't Daisuke share a room with Taichi and I share a room with you?" That way I'll be able to keep an eye on you. And I don't feel at all nervous about leaving Taichi alone with Daisuke.

"Because…" Ken frowns, searching for an excuse - and a moment later his face lights up in triumph. "Because Taichi wanted specifically to share a room with you."

"He what?" I turn to give the man in question a blank look.

Taichi blinks. "I what?"

"Forgotten already, Taichi?" Ken stresses the words. "You told me that you wanted to share a room with Koushiro… remember?"

"Uhhh… sure." Taichi shoots a dirty look his partner's way, then offers me a sheepish look. "I remember now. So… uh… I guess Daisuke goes with Ken."

No!

"But Daisuke can't - !" I cut myself off before I can voice a protest. Blurting out our secret is definitely not in our best interests at the moment. As it is, I notice Taichi give me an odd look.

"I'm glad that's settled," Ken says smugly, and resumes dragging Daisuke away. The younger boy has a trapped expression on his face as he stares back at me - and all I can offer him in return is a helpless gaze.

Oh no… This is definitely bad…

I turn on Taichi, absolutely furious at him for his part in this little set-up. The idiot! He doesn't even realize what he's just done! "There had better be a good reason for this," I mutter, wishing it were possible to bore holes in his head with my eyes.

"If 'for the pleasure of your company' isn't good enough, then I guess there isn't." He shrugs and smiles at me again, moving past me to head up the stairs after Ken. "Come on, follow me. I promise I don't bite."

It's not you I'm worried about… I bite back that response and follow after him anyway.

"Can I ask you a question?" Taichi asks, after enduring my silence on the way into the room. It's actually a decent-sized room, holding a couple of chairs, a table, and - thankfully - two small beds. "You don't have to answer."

I sit down on one of the beds with a sigh, and stare at the wall. "You're the one giving the orders, as I recall."

"Good point," he agrees, in a good-natured tone. "I notice you're not terribly happy with the fact that Ken is sharing a room with Daisuke. Are the two of you involved somehow?"

Involved? I turn and stare at him incredulously. "Are you suggesting that the person I consider to be the closest thing I have to a brother might be connected to me in a romantic way?"

Taichi raises both hands as if to ward me off. "Okay… I'll take that as a 'no'."

"I'd appreciate that, thank you." I turn back to the wall. I'm not really angry with him any more - it'd be sort of pointless - but I'm already worried about what's going on in the other room. I know Daisuke can handle himself, if he wants to… But from the way he was looking at Ken, that 'if he wants to' part might be a problem.

He sets down the bag he'd brought in with us. "Hungry?"

I am, actually - and it'd be pointless to refuse food based on the fact that I feel some resentment toward my jailer. "Yes, actually."

"All right then." He reaches into the bag, and brings out the food he'd bought for us at our last stop. "We have bread, we have fruit, we have some of that leftover meat from lunch… take your pick."

This man seems far too nice for a mercenary. "I'll have fruit, please."

He tosses me an apple and sits down on his bed with his own meal of cold chicken. "So what did you guys do to earn yourselves an armed escort to a place you obviously don’t want to go, anyway?"

I stiffen. "That's none of your business, thank you."

"True enough." Taichi shrugs, but doesn't look apologetic. He absently brushes thick brown hair off his face and smiles at me. Objectively, I have to concede that he is attractive. One of those 'not much beneath the surface' types, I'd be willing to wager. "Where do you come from, anyway?"

Why does he care? I frown. "Karse."

"You are from pretty far away then, aren't you?" He raises an eyebrow at me. "I thought so. You don't look like you're from around here - I've never seen anyone with hair like that."

One of my hands tugs at my hair without my conscious direction. "And just where are you from?"

"Vespin." He doesn't seem interested in talking about himself, though. "How'd you two meet, anyway? You said 'the closest thing I have to a brother', which rules out blood relation."

I find it hard to believe that he caught that, even though it wouldn't have been difficult. "We met when I was running away from home," I admit, truthfully. "Daisuke lived on the street. We took care of each other since then." I don't care much for lying - we've had to do too much of it already. Omission works just as well for the most part.

"So you guys don’t have any family, huh?"

Why is he so interested? I frown at him, but there doesn't seem to be an ulterior motive behind these questions. He can't possibly profit from being given the answers… "My real parents died when I was young - and Daisuke can't even remember what happened to his. I suppose both of us have something of a tragic past; it's why we need to look out for each other."

Taichi's brown eyes watch me with interest - I find his attention a bit unnerving. It makes me shift a little and look away. "So what's yours?" he asks.

I glance back at him and blink. "My what?"

"Your tragic past." He doesn't seem like such a simpleton at the moment; there's something in his expression that displays more understanding than I'd given him credit for earlier. "Daisuke's seems obvious, since he lived on the street and can't remember where he came from. Yours probably has something to do with why you ran away from home when the two of you met - am I right?"

I have to reassess my original opinion of him - he's not half as stupid as I'd thought. Which doesn't say much, I suppose.

"My foster parents weren't what you'd call a loving family," I reply, carefully. I have bad memories of pain and fear connected with that home… beatings, rough treatment, screaming… Those two didn't even like each other, much less me. And that experience is the reason I intend never to so much as contemplate drinking anything with alcohol.

"What, like abusive?"

Not very tactful, is he?

I look away again, feeling my eyes narrow. "Yes, like abusive. And I'd rather not talk about it, if you don't mind."

"All right… Sorry if I dragged up bad memories." He actually sounds as if he is sincerely sorry. I turn back to meet his gaze, mollified, and he changes the subject. "So where were you guys headed when someone apprehended you?"

That, I feel certain I can answer. "Nowhere in particular. We make a point of moving from place to place fairly often."

"Man, that must be nice." Taichi smiles again. "Moving whenever you want… Free to do what you like… That has to have its good points. I mean, I'm not saying your life is easy, but it's probably not bad, either."

"I guess it isn't." I manage a small, hesitant smile in return. Maybe Taichi really is a decent person…

"I'll bet those two aren't having a bad time tonight, either." He snickers to himself.

… I believe I'll take back that last thought.

~\\~

(Daisuke’s pov)

I can still hear Koushiro’s indignant protesting as Ken leads me away with a firm grip around my wrist. His hand is warm, and although I know I shouldn’t be letting him touch me, I can’t help it. He’s just got that likable personality. I have to fight a shiver and remind myself that shivers over Ken are bad.

It’s not like I can’t control myself when I have to, I pout silently. Honestly Koushiro thinks I’m just a kid…

It’s easy to forget about that and look around curiously as we top the set of narrow creaking stairs, the beginning of a long dingy hallway. "This place isn’t very clean," I remark casually. Anything to keep my mind distracted, and since I’m well accustomed to the dirt and grime of life, it’s easy to point it out. "Those stairs are dangerous, too. Are you sure splitting up was a good idea?"

The mercenary—Ken, my mind whispers gleefully, shooting down my efforts to keep him nameless—the mercenary turns his head to smile prettily. "It’s safe enough," the other boy murmurs. He’s even got a gentle-sounding voice. "Why—are you afraid I can’t do my job?"

"I’m not scared—Besides, I can handle myself just fine, thank you."

Really. I’d even tell you more, but I don’t think that Koushiro would like it very much.

"Is that so?" Ken says as he turns to find the door to the room.

"Hell yeah!" I focus a glare on the back of Ken’s shirt where the harness of his weapons hung. It’s right between his shoulder blades, and I’m sure that if I stare right there, I won’t look anywhere else. Right there, where his neck disappears into his collar and his hair—really, he’s got long hair for a mercenary. Tai’s hair is even worse, but you don’t mess with a guy who’s got a sword that big. Watching him move, a small part of me wonders at how silent he is, despite wearing leather—and all of the buckles, and his swords

"That’s so not fair," I mutter to myself. We’re nearing a set of doors at the end of the hallway, but I don’t pay this any attention. I’m still focused on the back of Ken’s shirt, and that’s probably I’m talking so carelessly. "I can’t move that quietly even if I was naked!"

Much to my entertainment I get to see my very first uncontrolled expression as Ken jerks his head around, the key in his hand jingling with his shock. His face colors a slight pink, and I stare up with huge stricken eyes at my slip of the tongue. I really hadn’t meant to say that…but his expression—it’s too worth his face!

"Pardon?" Ken asks after a moment.

I fidget uncomfortably, hating the way my face is going all warm. "Um. You move really quiet. I’m a klutz, so I trip over stuff a lot and I was just thinking that I can’t move like you can—because you’re wearing leather!" I exclaim. "And—it’s just I tend to talk to myself sometimes…heh…"

Ken regards me with veiled amusement, his hand turning the key and pushing the door open. I am suddenly glad that our room is adjacent to where Koushiro is going to sleep—it wouldn’t be too far away if something came up. I mean, it’s not that I don’t trust this Ken, but I’m not about to take chances. Koushiro can be really scary. I cast a longing glance down the hallway, hoping to see my redheaded companion—maybe I should have opted to stay with the mercenary Tai…

"Come on," Ken says, grabbing my attention. Fingers tighten around my wrist before it’s dropped. The taller boy moves inward as I look back to see the door open and Ken watching expectantly.

"Right," I say. "Man, I’m tired. Riding horses is hard. I think I’m going to right to sleep," I finish, smiling cheerfully.

"Of course," Ken replies knowingly, turning away to let me step inside. The room inside is dusty, apparently cleaned less than often. A glance takes in a single bed, a stand with a bowl of thankfully clean water, a wooden chest at the food of the bed, and a small chamberpot stashed in the corner. Not the best of rooms, but from I heard of the two mercenary talking, it was the best they could afford.

Wait a sec…

"Uhm," I point out uneasily. Ken drops his bags in the middle of the room and looks busy rummaging through them for something. "Isn’t there supposed to be two beds? There’s two of us! There has to be two beds!" Koushiro’s going to kill me if I let him sleep next to me!

Ken raises his eyes to me. He doesn’t seem unnerved by the fact that there is only one bed. Kneeling, he pulls out a wooden box the size of his palm and a folded cloth. "I noticed," he replies. "It’s okay. You can have it. I’ll sleep by the door."

"Oh." I frown. Sleep by the door—which means no sneaking out. "Okay." Experimentally, I go and sit down on the edge of the bed. It creaks ominously under my weight, and I poke dubiously at the ticking. No squeaking, and no musty scent of tiny rodents…it seems to be clean enough. A bed, I think. I haven’t slept in a bed for years!

Grinning happily to myself, I fall back to the bed and stretch, gaining a glance from the mercenary as the bed squeals. Tiny puffs of dust float up around me, but it’s a bed! "Too bad this doesn’t happen all the time," I whisper to myself.

A second later I turn on my side to watch Ken unbuckling his straps and harness, drawing his blades and laying them carefully to the side. He’s sitting neatly near the two items he had picked out earlier, legs folded at the knee and his rumpled travel-stained shirt still managing to give him an air of elegance.

I know I’m staring when I belatedly realize that dark eyes are peering at me from behind the curtain of hair as the hands open the box, gathering the cloth and smear something dark on the rag. "Go to sleep," Ken says quietly. His face holds an expression as if he wants to say something else, to do something as his eyes linger in my direction.

Odd. I wonder what it means. Probably that thing that Koushiro gets all upset at.

"I am," I reply with a tiny whine. I was tired, and sore from the riding, and the whole situation wasn’t helping—You know, I’m all up for riding around and having adventures, but there is no way in the deepest hells that you’re gonna get me going to that damned Tower.

Ken goes about to oiling and cleaning his weapons, partially facing the bed. His movements are quick and quietly efficient. Almost hypnotizing.

I fight a losing battle with a yawn and a wave of exhaustion—I wanted to watch how he does all those little cleaning things—but the next moment I knew I was dreaming…

~//~

I wake up gasping from a nightmare that I can’t quite remember, just faces and voices and firelight—out of habit I pull my other sense inward, leashing it tight in the chance that Koushiro was near. Koushiro had enough power to sense when mine was building; all I could hope for now is that it had been a brief spike of energy.

The hands brush my shoulders. Maybe he did feel it, I think. Another habit has me turning towards the hands, whispering "Kou, I had the dream again."

I felt the hands smooth against my hair, my own grip fastening into a loose shirt and my forehead pressing against a muscled chest. "Shh," a voice I couldn’t quite place, and a scent I didn’t quite know—

It’s not Koushiro!

"…Ken?" I venture into saying after a long swallow. "Is that you?"

"Yes," the other boy murmurs. I felt the bed shift under his weight, creaking as an arm cradles my shoulder. "You were sleeping badly. Do you have nightmares often?"

I think of just exactly where I am, and who was holding me. My control isn’t the best after such a dream, and although I know I’m enjoying the unexpected embrace…

"You need to let me go, Ken," I whisper. I can’t I can’t—Koushiro said no.

"Daisuke?" Ken replied as he carefully didn’t move his hands. "Are you okay?"

"Let me go," I plead quietly. "I…you shouldn’t…I might—"

Ken lets himself be pushed away before even I quite realize what my hands are doing, but no matter how hard I push he won’t rise from the bed. He must have a foot on the floor.

"What’s wrong?" I hear him say. He sounds almost disappointed. "Why shouldn’t I touch you?"

I think it’s a good thing I can’t see much more than a shadow. A look at his face might make me break my promise. "Because," I finally reply. "Because I might—"

You can’t tell him, idiot! I catch my breath behind my teeth and bite my lip.

Gentle hands catch my wrists, pulling them away from pushing on a chest. My lungs seize, and I hear myself make a choking sound, a strange sort of breathless whimper—

—but—

no!—

It was gentle. There’s a gentle voice murmuring something. Nothing bad. A hand that cups my chin, fingers exploring over my face. I let a nervous puff of breath against those fingers, my eyes closing against the darkness.

"Shh, shhh, It’s okay," the voice says to me. Low, smooth, caring.

I was beginning to believe it, beginning to gather my nerves and control when the hands tilt my face upwards.

Then Ken bends his head to press his mouth against mine. A kiss.

Oh...

Yesyesssohplease

I hear that funny sound again as Ken bestows my first kiss, a brief thought over how Koushiro would freak—but after a second I’m not thinking about anything else at all. Just how weird it felt to have another person’s mouth against mine, how nice it was at the same time—it was lifting, it was an electrifying feeling—

Something was pounding in the background.

No! a part of me warns. I gasp, realizing just thin my control has slipped, and slam my palms against that chest again, pushing Ken back with enough force to send the boy tumbling to the floor. "No," I whisper, hugging myself out of habit, trying to pull that other sense back inside. "…no no no…"

You just pushed him off the bed!, a wry voice whispers. I think he’s hurt.

I fight down my panic, my surge of guilt as I stare into the darkness for some sign of Ken. "Shit," I whisper. "Ken? Are you okay? I’m so sorry—I didn’t mean—"

Someone was pounding on the door—a very familiar someone, if I could judge the voice. Koushiro sounds really upset—I think I let it go a little too far this time.

What if…what if I did that to Ken!

"Daisuke!" Koushiro shouts through my thoughts. "Open the door! No—hey! Let me go this instant you wild-haired buffoon!"

I sigh and run a hand through my hair, mind twinging as the emotions make it difficult to control the other side of me. I’m somewhat relieved to see a darker blot of movement heading towards the door—it’s got to be Ken.

A moment later I hear the sound of the lock turning over, and the door is thrown open. The light of a meager candle outlines Ken for a brief moment, but he moves away and back into the shadows before I can catch a glimpse of his face.

Then I see the funniest thing in years—Taichi, clasping a struggling Koushiro to his chest. A Taichi that isn’t wearing a shirt, and a kicking twisting redhead who looks ready to start biting and scratching. I grin in the darkness, fixing the moment in my memory for future torment. My grin fades fast, though, as Ken lights a candle on this side of the door. He’s got a hand firmly fixed to the back of his head, and he looks all dour-faced…

Probably pissed off because I pushed him, part of me remarks.

"Daisuke!" Koushiro cries through the open door. He glares and kicks at Tai’s angles. "Put me down!"

Tai grins over the top of his head, peering in enough to meet Ken’s eyes. "What’s going on? All of a sudden he got up and started freaking out—Ken? What happened?"

Ken walks back into my direct line of sight with the candle in hand. "Nothing," he says politely. "Daisuke was dreaming and I woke him. He reacted…badly."

And kissed me, I think, but I know I’d better not mention that. Just in case I clamp my mouth shut firmly and nod sheepishly as Koushiro starts to struggle even more.

"Are you sure that’s all?" Koushiro snaps suspiciously. "You didn’t do anything?"

From what I can see of his face Ken looks mildly disinterested. "I assure you, Daisuke is unharmed and untouched."

I see Taichi give him a concerned look, but Koushiro growls out a word I’m not supposed to know under his breath. "So if it’s nothing big, why are you—"

Ken scowls and admits in stilted tones "I was pushed off the bed and hit my head. That’s all. Don’t concern yourself, Tai."

"I didn’t mean to push you!" I cry out, forgetting in a brief second just how important keeping my mouth shut is. My head hurts, and a part of me twists to hear him being so cold. "You startled me! I’m not used to having anyone but Koushiro wake me up—and even he doesn’t kiss…uh…"

Damn.

Everyone looks at me in surprise, even as my hand flies up to cover my mouth. "I’m sorry?" I whisper. "I’m really really really sorry!"

"You..." Koushiro has gone an odd color of white and furious red. I’m pretty sure that without Taichi holding him back he’d be flying at Ken with any available weapon. "You kissed him?! After a nightmare?!"

I admit, even now, that Koushiro is really hard to hold onto when he gets his mind fixed on something. I witness a mix of pain, stubbornness and annoyance flash across Taichi’s face as he wraps arms around the redhead’s middle and lifts him off the floor again.

I get the impression from Ken’s stiffened shoulders that he would be more than welcome to a scuffle. He looks disturbingly ready to fight, even though his face is still expressionless.

Koushiro is screeching, "Do you realize what you could have done?!"

"Yes," Ken snaps. "I could have enjoyed something without interruption!"

"Idiot! Fool! You could have—"

"Koushiro!" I yelp out before he goes any further, and narrow my eyes. "Shut up! Nothing happened! I’m fine, Ken’s fine—we’re all fine!!"

"It is not—mpgh!!"

For once, I’m glad that the mercenary is strong and agile enough to slip a hand over Koushiro’s mouth at the risk of his fingers. "Well, that’s nice—come on, Koushiro, they’re alright—" he paused to level a warning glance in Ken’s direction. "You two behave and get some sleep—we’ve got to leave early. And I mean behave."

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised when Ken slams the door in his face and blows out the candle in one movement. "I really am sorry," I whisper after a moment. "Really…"

Ken merely made a soft sound that could have been a disbelieving laugh. "Get some sleep," I hear in that terribly polite voice.

"Okay," I reply meekly, and obediently lay back down. The mattress squeals faintly. My first kiss and everything, I think. And I’ve already got him hating me…

 

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