It was noon before Zhou Yu finally awoke, still blood-stained and muddy from the previous night's fighting. He was also sore in places he didn't even know he could BE sore, and he winced as he rose, "Ow..."

It was to his and everyone else's great relief that the whole fiasco with the were fox curse was over. Things slowly came around to him, seeing the events again as they played through his head. Yes, he had finally slayed the beast called Xiahou Dun, and he looked at himself, to make sure that none of this was a dream. It was almost too good to be true; was it finally over?

A knock on his door shook him from his thoughts, "Zhou Yu! Aren't you awake YET?!"

"Of course..." Zhou Yu replied, giving a weak smile as he ran a hand over his face. Yes.... was this truly a happy ending?

The sight of Sun Ce's slightly scowling face made him believe so, "Well, don't just SIT there! You're going to miss all the fun!"

Raising his eyebrows, he asked, "What?"

His answer was a chuckle, as his lord plopped himself on the bed, "It's New Year's Eve, you forgetful thing! Tonight we eat, drink, and be merry! Nothing but sin and pleasure until the morrow!"

"What?!" Zhou Yu jackknifed, bloody and muddy robes and all. "How COULD I forget?! The world but be falling on its axis if I could not remember such a thing!!!"

Sun Ce blinked, "Are you making fun of me?"

Zhou Yu couldn't believe himself, as he gave a deep laugh, "Of course not, Sun Ce... I guess I was so caught up by this whole werefox business that I simply forgot the original purpose of the treaty! However, all of that is over and we can rest easy... at least I hope so."

"Well, YOU need to get cleaned up!"

Sun Ce stated, noticing the blood and mud. He smiled, neglecting it, "Be quick, though... Gan Ning might devour the food and steal the wine for himself if we don't get there first!"

Pulling him close, Zhou Yu stole a kiss, purring, "Now wouldn't that just be a shame?"

He grinned, spotting the blush instantly, and Sun Ce tried so hard to cover it up. "Hey, I like that wine!"

"Is that your master plan? Get me dead drunk and seduce me?" The strategist asked with a sly grin, resting his chin on Sun Ce's broad shoulder. "I must say, it seems to be a very good one."

Giving a slight choke and turning as red as his clothing, the man blurted, "Who's seducing WHO?!"

Before Zhou Yu could even make a comeback, the doors swung open, and as it slammed against the wall, poor Zhou Yu leapt a good foot in the air before crash-landing on the equally surprised Sun Ce. Turning to Lu Meng, the general spoke quickly, easily ignoring what they had been implying. "My lord, I've come to inform you that the Wei forces are about to depart."

"Depart? They won't be staying for the festivities?"

"After Zhou Yu's act against Xiahou Dun, why would they wish to stay?" Lu Meng pointed out, not wishing to place the blame on Zhou Yu. "Xu Huang was reported missing and they can no longer find the head of Xiahou Dun. I suspect that once Cao Cao heals from his wounds that he will want to seek retribution for the loss of his cousin, whatever the reasons were."

Zhou Yu gave a start, "Then that means... Zhang He will be leaving with them?"

They didn't know what thoughts were resting within Lu Meng's mind, but he gave a small smile, "He is ordered to take up the rear until they find Xu Huang. It will take awhile before they can mobilize their forces completely, so he will stay for a little while."

"And what about the Shu forces? Are they leaving as well?" Sun Ce asked, wondering if they were going to be celebrating alone.

"Lord Liu Bei has begun to have his troops prepare for departure, though they will not be leaving until after the festival."

That was good news to hear, and Zhou Yu could not help but express it, grabbing Sun Ce and Lu Meng and rushing them out of the room. "Then by all means, let's go! The best way to drown away the horrible memories is to replace them with new ones, correct?"

"You need a bath first," Sun Ce winked, hiding his blush. "Need me to bring you anything?"

And Lu Meng, the poor unfortunate soul, only smiled as he was dragged along. He was glad to see things as normal as possible, and he shook his head with a slight laugh, "Please, speak of this later... it's best for me NOT to know."

"Then perhaps you should both go... I will be coming shortly."

That was a great idea, and as Zhou Yu departed towards the bathhouse, Sun Ce turned to Lu Meng, his mood now sullen and serious, "So, how's everything within OUR kingdom?"

"Whatever do you mean, my lord? Or do are you referring to anyone in particular?" Lu Meng was clueless, until he looked into Sun Ce's eyes and it instantly clicked, as he gave a nod. "I haven't had the time to check on Lu Xun, but Gan Ning was up and about quite early this morning, raiding the kitchens and saying something about his New Year surprise. Twice I had to chase him out of the kitchens..."

"What was he stealing... er... borrowing?"

"Pastries and sweets mainly," Lu Meng replied with a fake scowl, keeping good humor about it. "I went to speak with Lu Xun earlier today, but he locked himself in his quarters... and resting outside were trays with the stolen food."

Giving a chuckle, Sun Ce shook his head, "It would be just CRIMINAL to disturb them, eh?"

"Perhaps it would..."

"You DO realize that means we are now OBLIGATED by the Gods of Misdoings to go, right?" Sun Ce informed him, and he gave a deep, heart filled laugh when he saw Lu Meng's face flash bright red. "You don't have to... in fact, I want you to be the master of ceremonies! Go keep our visitors entertained!"

Giving an audible sign of relief, the man nodded, "Yes, my lord."

Sun Ce didn't need to be a psychic to see that Lu Meng was pleased with this, and as the general left, he gave a sigh, trying to remember now where Lu Xun's quarters were. He was slightly worried about him and his pirate, but he figured that whatever hardships they were going through, they'd pull themselves out of it.

He needn't have worried about finding the room however; the trays were still just as Lu Meng described.

And, sitting against the wall, sleeping the morning away, was the pirate, arms crossed over his shoulders and chin to his chest. Sun Ce said nothing, wondering why he was outside, but he did not question this for long, placing his hands on his hips as he gave out demands, waking the pirate from his slumber. "You thief! You scoundrel! Raiding the kitchens AGAIN?!"

Gan Ning merely cracked open a single eye, making a shushing sound, "Sh. He's about to come out..."

"Hm? You're awake?"

"Of course! Now be quiet; it's taken me ALL MORNING to get him to come out!" Gan Ning whispered, and Sun Ce noticed the redness around his eyes. Was he crying? And why would he have to cry to get Lu Xun out? He stopped, though, as he heard movements from within, and he backed away, waiting for his arrival.

The pirate quickly resumed his pretend sleep, and the boy poked his head out of the door, timid as a rabbit, whispering, "Gan Ning? Are you asleep?"

Sun Ce wanted to say otherwise, but he kept silent, hiding well as Lu Xun stared at Gan Ning for the longest time. He was dressed in the finest of silken robes, and his hair was damp, as if he had just returned from the bathhouse himself. Those golden eyes were oddly bright today, but still, Sun Ce said nothing, waiting to see what was going to happen.

Lu Xun stared at the sweets packed on the trays outside of his door for a moment, then back at the pirate, his expression softening as he inched closer.

"Gan Ning, you're not asleep... you're breathing much too lightly for that. Where did this food come from?"

Giving a sigh, the man murmured, "The kitchens. I TOLD you I had to fight off Lu Meng to get it!"

"Lord... Lord Lu Meng wouldn't be happy to see the food at my door, nor would he like to think that I would be a gluttonous pig." Even as he said this, Lu Xun gave a smile, resting on his knees and tilting his head slightly. "But you fought him for me? He'll have your head."

"If you'll stop avoiding me... then it will be worth it..."

That brought silence, and Sun Ce felt horrible to hear Lu Xun's words, "I'm sorry.... I guess I'm too timid and heartless then. But, Gan Ning..."

Opening a single crimson eye, the pirate covered the tenseness he felt, "Yes, Lu Xun?"

"I.... I..." Lu Xun began, but no words would form. God, Sun Ce could see how much he trembled, and he could see Gan Ning's face light up, as if to know what he was going to say. Lu Xun tried again, failing once more, and he bowed over completely, resting his forehead on the lap of Gan Ning. There, he let his tears fall, "I can'y I say this... why... why can't it be easier?"

"I love you too..." Gan Ning said softly, after a long moment of silence. As Lu Xun looked up at him with those golden, tear-filled eyes, he rested a hand on Lu Xun's soft, wet hair, his smile ever so relaxing. "I never doubted it for a minute, and you know that, don't you? You're young, and you needed time to think about it..."

"Is... is the part where you take me into your arms and kiss me?"

It was a deep laugh, as Gan Ning swooped him up, "You've been in there studying, me thinks! That's a good boy for you!"

Lu Xun blushed, "Some... some of the stuff I read was... interesting..."

Seeing the two finally together made Sun Ce smiled, and he laughed softly, wondering if he should leave now before he attracted any more attention to himself. They needed time alone, and he didn't want to be the one to ruin it.

On the other hand... it was all so meltingly cute that he couldn't bear to leave. Smirking, he settled into the corner, "They'll figure out to go in the room... eventually..."

"Gan Ning, I know I'm weak, very weak, but... do you think that you could be gentle? Just for me?"

"Hmmm... don't worry about it, lover... nothing but pleasure for both us, I promise..."

NOW Sun Ce felt as if he should have left, but the minute he rose, he spotted two familiar faces walk down the hallway. He gave a fake smile, making it ever so obvious that he did not wish for them to see the scene that lay behind him. "Jiang Wei! Zhao Yun! Good to see YOU two've decided to stick around for the fun!"

Zhao Yun gave a smug smirk, "The fun of the festival or the fun going on right behind you, sir?"

"Hey, you two aren't authorized to know that!"

Jiang Wei giggled, "We know MANY things we aren't supposed to know. I mean, who do you think advised the pirate on what to do in the first place?"

Things began to make sense, and he sighed, ushering them away from the scene, "I guess it WAS giving him too much credit, eh?"

"Give him SOME credit, Lord Sun Ce. He knew he could not give Lu Xun the comfort he needed on his own... so he asked for help. That takes great strength." Jiang Wei stated, as if his own troubles meant nothing to him. "Lu Xun was hurting himself so much and we couldn't handle it..."

"Then I thank you... because you were able to do what I could not."

Zhao Yun only gave a bow, "Do not mention it. I am to serve with utmost loyalty."

Stretching, Jiang Wei asked, "And where is the mighty Zhou Yu? Still a bed?"

"Taking a bath..." Sun Ce could not help but smile because of this...

"And, WHY aren't you with him?" To hear the young Jiang Wei say this was a shock indeed, and he gave a laugh. "I only jest! Lord Sun Ce, Liu Bei regrets to tell you that he's off aiding the Wei in their departure and that he will be back later."

"Hmmm... surprise surprise..."

"Though valorous, you two have dirty MINDS!" Sun Ce blurted, his embarrassment highly obvious. "How can you just TALK about things like that?!"

"We only jest!" Zhao Yun chuckled, his green eyes shining with amusement, "My advice though, my lord, is for you to avoid Zhang He at all costs. He'd have you so red there would be no mistaking you for the Lord of Wu."

That made Sun Ce hesitant to speak for a little while, but it was short lived as he gently pushed them along the hallways, to give his generals privacy. "Well, WHILE he's distracted, let's go get some food for ourselves before he returns to take it all! He's a gluttonous pig!"

Jiang Wei bowed, "As much as I would love to accept, sir, I have a previous dining engagement."

Sun Ce was clueless until he noticed Jiang Wei's grin, and he nodded, "By all means, then... and you, Zhao Yun?"

"I too, have a previous engagement, but I can spare a few minutes to accompany you."

Zhao Yun nodded, joining the Wu lord as they journeyed down the hall together. Zhao Yun struck a conversation halfway to the dining hall. "So... Xiahou Dun is finally dead."

"Yes. You really hated him... didn't you?"

The look on his face told him all he needed to know, and his voice went cold all of a sudden as he replied, "I still do. Sun Ce... you are lucky to have Zhou Yu to protect you, especially from that demon! He is no more human than... than... oh, how I LOATHE him!"

"I'm sure... I'm sure Ma Chao would have protected you, if he had known..."

"I know... however, it is done and over with... and I got my revenge." Zhao Yun said with a smile, a rather peaceful look upon his face. He turned to Jiang Wei, and then to Sun Ce, "Best not let such things overcome happiness I suppose..."

"But Ma Chao IS taking things slow with you, right?" Jiang Wei asked, very much concerned for his friend.

As the two broke off into conversation, Sun Ce kept his silence, only wondering to himself on how two men could be so open with such things? What was it LIKE in Shu?!

Zhao Yun nodded, "Nothing but supportive and caring. Don't let his rough exterior fool you; on the inside he's a big, soft, bunny rabbit."

"To think... the great Ma Chao the Splendid, referred to as a bunny rabbit..." Sun Ce snorted, unable to stop his laugh.

"Just don't tell him you heard it from me!" Jiang Wei laughed. "I don't want to take the blame for this!"

Their mirth was stalled when Sun Ce heard the beatings of a drum, and he turned about, going to the closest window with the two Shu officers behind him. The beating was coming from the gates, and, cupping his hands around his mouth to carry his voice, he asked the nearest guard, "Heeyyyyy! What's the deal with all the banging? Some people are trying to sleep!"

"We are sorry sir, but we were told to do this to announce the arrival of Lord Sun Quan and his band!"

Giving them a blank look, Sun Ce could not see the banners wofting in the breeze and the dust rising from the hooves of the horses. Like a brick to the head, he remembered giving the order, and he gave a string of curses, berating himself for forgetting. Yes, it was true, his younger brother, sister, the Qiaos, and a few armed guards had traveled overseas... how could he forget?!

With a jolt he realized he was supposed to MEET them at the gate, and turning to the two Shu officers, he gave a hasty bow before hurrying off, "I'm sorry; I have to run!"

The two made no objection, as they merely laughed and waved him off as Sun Ce sped down the hallways. He nearly ran over three maidens and a guard, but he didn't slow down, only apologizing as he leapt out of their way. He sighed, "Quan's going to have my head! How the hell do I explain what's happened without them LAUGHING at me?"

He paused long enough to catch his breath, giving a yelp as he felt two hands touch his shoulders, "WHAT THE HELL?!"

"HA! I WIN!"

The Little Conqueror sputtered, "Zhou Yu? WHAT WERE YOU THINKING?! You scared me out of my skin!"

Yes, the strategist pinned him to the wall, a bright grin upon his now clean face. Sun Ce was more then afraid of this oddly, psychotically chipper Zhou Yu that stood before him, and he wondered if he was hiding any true emotions, as he spoke, "It's not like you to be afraid, Sun Ce! Is the Little Conqueror finally submitting to his fears, hm?"

Not wanting to be taken completely at a disadvantage, the man sneered, "Submission? Can you not get your mind out of the gutter for a MOMENT, Zhou Yu?"

"Sun Ce, you're no fun... but I will try, just for you." Releasing him, Zhou Yu made himself presentable, brushing back his damp hair and titghening his robes. Now he asked, his usual calm and civilized tone ever so obvious, "So why the rush, Sun Ce? You only run like that when there are wild banshees knocking at our doors."

"Is that any way to refer to my beloved younger sister and the two women who THINK they are going to be our wives some day? Not to mention poor Quan! You've turned him into a woman!"

Zhou Yu's expression changed, and he lowered his gaze, "You wouldn't believe me if I told you that I forgot about that..."

Sun Ce was in shock. Zhou Yu NEVER forgot things! Swallowing, he did his best to cheer him up, "Well, I mean, with all the stuff that's been happening here... you WERE sort of preoccupied, ya know?"

"And how do we explain this to them?" Zhou Yu asked, near panic. "They will see the Wei and Shu forces... but surely they wouldn't bring up arms..."

"Didn't you send them news of the celebration?" Sun Ce asked, looking at Zhou Yu and seeing his slight distress. "Perhaps we should send someone out to inform them... you know, just so that they don't panic."

"Yes... a couple of messengers..." As if his fears had disappeared, Zhou Yu's smile returned, giving a nod. "Crisis averted... perhaps we should send Lu Meng out to greet them, unless you wish to go for yourself."

Sun Ce snorted, "And let them know that BOTH of us forgot they were coming home? Come on Zhou Yu; I'm not a genius but I'm not THAT stupid!"

His best friend was known to be a quick thinker, as he merely brushed the subject. "No, but we will be preparing their rooms, for they will be tired after their long journey. Nothing to fear; that will be our reason for not greeting them at the gates."

"Works for me!"

~*~*~*~

This was truly an odd day indeed, and it was as much as a victory to Cao Cao as it was a defeat. Though he won his generals and his people back and cheated death, it could not overcome the hole within his heart. Another member of his family, lost, and he gave a saddening, painful sigh from atop of his jet black horse. Even though he was betrayed, he could not help but mourn for his cousin.

He was not going to go to the festival, as some of his officers were. He was content to wait for the march.

Yes, quite content just to wait, to reminisce the memories of his childhood that he spent with his brothers and cousins. Even then he and Xiahou Dun played that silly game, divide and conquer, and Cao Cao always came out on top. Even now it was the case, but this wasn't a game. His cousin... was dead!

"You look as though you have something preying upon your mind, Lord of Wei..."

Hating to be taken unaware, Cao Cao merely spat, turning away from the Shu lord. "Better my mind then my heart... there is already a hole there that no one can fill."

"No one, sir?" Liu Bei went to stand next to the black horse, looking up at the sad, injured emperor. He could almost read his pain, and he lowered his gaze, "Family ties run deep... for that I don't blame you for remorse. However, in the end, he did have it coming to him."

"As one of your brothers would have had it coming to him?"

Taken back slightly, Liu Bei answered truthfully, "Then I would find myself in the same position as yourself. It's okay to mourn for him, but if you plan on avenging him, then why attack Wu for it? They did what they felt was necessary... just as you would have done."

His eyes narrowing, the Wei Lord spoke lowly, "So, for me to do what I feel is necessary... is right?"

Knowing that someday he was going to regret these words, Liu Bei spoke them without hesitation, preparing to return to Jian Ye. "If you find it necessary, then I will not stand in the way. I've learned now that there is no wrong or right, only life and death and reasons. I understood their reasons, and so do you. And they understand yours. Just remember the treaty... and who broke it first."

"Liu Bei... are you such a fool to think that I am speaking only of that blasted treaty?" Cao Cao growled, turning his horse about as it gave a snort, stopping Liu Bei dead in his tracks. Liu Bei could see his dancing blue eyes, and pain and anger was planted deep in his throat, "I lost a cousin, trust, and something else out of this entire experience... what else is there to lose?!"

"Your cousin and your trust I understand... but what else have you lost?"

Turning his head away, Cao Cao answered, "You... what else is there for me then? I rather have nothing then to have this pain again! Now, please... show some mercy on me... right now I am but a weak, pathetic fool, and I would not want for you to see such a depressing sight.

This shattered the poor Shu lord's heart, as he whispered, "Lose me? You have not lost me... what are you saying?"

"Before all this, I thought I knew everything. Who my enemies were, my allies... where my heart stood." Cao Cao confessed, looking away and giving a sigh, turning to let his tears fall. How he hated this land, these Southern lands. "But now... I only come to realize that I knew nothing... absolutely nothing."

It was a strange sight indeed, to see this man cry, and Liu Bei knew he would probably never see it again. Nevertheless, he rose onto the tip of his toes, kissing the moist cheek of the one he loved, "So, you learned more about yourself... and this can only make you stronger, no?"

"Never was I defeated like this before... never do I want to be defeated like this again."

Liu Bei sighed, speaking softly, "If I could help you, I would. But I do not know what you need of me..."

With great pain, Cao Cao said this, "I want you to leave... with no feelings towards me. So, that if you should die, I would not have to feel this pain ever again. For if I should feel it for a third time in my life, then I will not be able to live on..."

"Why do you ask something impossible?" Liu Bei asked. "You know I can't do that. I can't change my mind, nor my heart, once its set."

"I was afraid you would say something like that..." It was a small hint of a smile, but it was there, as Cao Cao looked to him, giving a sigh. "I loved him dearly, as a cousin, almost as much as a brother. I trusted him, and look how easily he betrayed me, for power, for immortality. How can I be sure that you would not do the same?"

"I am never capable of betraying you. Even if we battle, which we will, even if we disagree, which we will, I will always love you."

It was as if Cao Cao was waiting for these words since forever, and Liu Bei found the man on top of him, his strong arms wrapped around his body like a vice grip. Not fighting it but questioning it, Liu Bei asked, "Cao Cao! Are you alright?! What are you doing?!"

"What I feel to be right..."

"But... but here?!" The Lord of Shu blushed, even as his hat was pushed back to reveal his soft hair, "What if someone finds us?!"

"Then let them! It will be the last thing they see before I take their heads!"

Liu Bei could feel his face burning with heat, and he stammered, "B-but... it's improper!"

Cao Cao merely laughed, "You and your traditional thinking... get over it!" He ran a hand down his love's face, "You are warm, dear... and the night is cold..."

As red as a rose, the Shu lord gave a sigh, giving in. If this would ease this man's pain, then why not? He gave in, resting his head against the lord's chest. "I understand then..."

"Do you not want this?"

"I do... just..." Liu Bei was interrupted by a kiss, then finished breathlessly, "I'm afraid..."

To this, Cao Cao did not laugh, but returned the kiss again, withdrawing and wiping his tears against Liu Bei's armor as the fireworks went off in the Wu capital behind them. "In one visit I lost my cousin and trust, but at least... at least I have gained this!"

"I will do my best not to disappoint you..."

~*~*~*~

At last, it was New Year's Eve, and the night's festivities were in session, as all the generals, soldiers, and civilians celebrated this beautiful holiday. The past troubles were gone with the past year, and the day was coming to a close, as the people of Jian Ye welcomed the New Year. Hopefully this year would not be filled with as much pain as the last.

At least this was Zhang He's hope as he took a sip of the water before him, preferring it to the wine others drank. He gave a sigh, "Wouldn't it be wonderful, Yi-chan, if every day could be as happy as this?"

Sima Yi looked about at the celebrations, reminding him of his own hometown to see grown men goof off like this. Yes, he gave a smile, fiddling with the glass of wine in his hands as men began to sing in the background. "If it was like this, then the world would be a boring place indeed. But enjoy it while you can, I suppose... even if it is rare, nothing should spoil it."

Giving a silver chuckle which warmed the Wei strategist's heart, Zhang He looked to him, "Yes, my lord. Rare moments such as these are precious... more precious than anything."

"Gan Ning, the wine!" Lu Meng gave a stressful shout, trying to save the wine from the gluttonous pig called Gan Ning. The two watched the scene, as Lu Meng withdrew a sword from a soldier's sheath and chased the pirate about the party grounds, a round of laughter heard throughout the courtyard. Yes, they truly were enjoying themselves, as Sima Yi nodded, "Hard to think they are ever serious... but it does answer the question of what they do when not at war."

His companion merely smiled, "They do what all men do; have a good time. They know it necessary, for no one knows if once more they will greet the dawn."

"Scoundrel! Scallywag!" Lu Meng scolded, the slight swagger he had developed displaying his own drunkenness. Chuckling, Zhang He rested his head upon his hand, "I remember a time when you indulged yourself in such a fashion, my lord..."

Giving a false surprised expression, Sima Yi questioned this, "What? Explain yourself!"

"Surely you will recall it. It was one night during a long campaign, and to raise the morale of the soldiers, Lord Cao Cao proposed a drinking contest amongst the officers. I, of course, declined, but you felt it was your duty to participate. Xu Zhu, I do believe, was the ultimate winner... but what I WILL always remember is the way you acted afterwards!" Here Zhang He paused to chuckle, before continuing in his musical tone, "Walking up and down the camp you were, demanding that someone tell you where I had gone. And in between that singing a bunch of ballads that would make a pirate blush!"

To this, Sima Yi did blush. "I... I do not RECALL such a thing!"

"Oh?" The grin his lover gave was impish, "Then you do not recall that, when you did find me at last, you attempted to announce to the whole camp your intention of making me a 'blushing bride'. Or how you awoke beside me the next morning, with your beautiful robes somehow thrown to the floor in the same pile as my own clothing?"

Now the blush had spread to more places but his cheeks, and it was not the effects of the wine. Sima Yi gave a spat, never one to admit of his faults. "Perhaps so, but it was not because I was drunk!"

Amethyst eyes sparkling with amusement, Zhang He purred, "No, Yi-chan? Why was it then?"

"Why else do you think?" Engulfing the drink, he gave another spat as the alcohol burned in his mouth. "Because I love you, not because I was drunk! So foolish..."

"Foolish indeed... since I love you in return." The two laughed as Lu Meng finally caught the pirate, tackling him down and the two scuffled in their drunken states, men gathering about, laughing and cheering them on. Lu Xun sat apart from the others, watching with a smile and keeping civilized among the chaos, merely clapping his hands in his mirth. Zhang He saw this and looked to Sima Yi with a smile, "And I always will, so I will take this foolishness as a compliment."

"Why is it that you manage to turn ANYTHING I say to you into a compliment?"

Sima Yi wanted his question answered, but it was merely overlooked as Zhang He clapped his hands, "Oh look, an arm wrestling contest! Come on, let's go watch!"

"Now, why would I want to go watch a bunch of drunken, sweaty men exert themselves?" Sima Yi asked, pointing to the two and giving a whine. "Let Ma Chao and Lu Meng break their arms... taking them over will be easier from then."

"Don't be a stick in the mud, Yi-chan!" His lover pouted, practically DRAGGING the strategist closer to the table, "It'll be fun!"

Seeing the two argue like this was amusing for Lu Xun to watch, he admitted, merely smiling at the sight of the festivities before him. Everyone seemed to forget their worries and cut loose. He wished to do the same, but he decided it was best for him to sit back and enjoy the show. He wasn't a dancer or a singer, but he was rather amused into thinking who would win. He gave a shout, "Go, Lord Lu Meng!"

His shout was only combated by Zhao Yun, "You can do it, Ma Chao!"

The two seemed evenly matched, and both strained to succeed in pinning the other's arm down. However, it ended as a draw, as both competitors were drenched in bright red wine. The joker, Gan Ning, laughed, pointing at his comrade. "HA! REVENGE IS MINE!"

"And Ma Chao is, for tonight, an honorary member of Wu," Lu Xun giggled.

It was chaos once again, and the pirate gave a high screech, fleeing from the angered generals. Ma Chao was at his heels, while Lu Meng gave death threats. The camp erupted with laughter, as Sun Ce tried to regain order. It was impossible, he figured, grabbing his tonfas and banging as loud as he could on the gongs. Not even THAT stopped them...

Zhou Yu smirked, "You might as well tell the sun to stop rising to try and stop this..."

"It's worth a try, right?" Sun Ce sighed, poking a finger in his ear. "Sheesh... MY ears are the only ones ringing!"

If he would have asked for Sima Yi, Zhang He, and Lu Xun's opinion, he wouldn't have been alone. Zhang He gave a suggestion, "Perhaps one of us should strip naked and demand their attention?"

"You would be the only one to catch their attention in this state, and I'll be DAMNED if I let these men see my treasure," Sima Yi growled.

"Perhaps a song?" Lu Xun suggested, his voice soft.

"Indeed, though a little dance would have to be thrown in, I warrant," Zhang He laughed, tweaking the boy's nose. "But you're going to have to perform too, as it was YOUR brilliant suggestion."

The golden eyes widened, and he immediately objected, "I can do neither, sir! And my voice alone would not carry enough to catch their attention. Perhaps we should wake the Qiaos; they've always such lovely voices!"

"Nonsense. Your words alone are music, and with Zhou Yu's help... I do believe you will cause quite a stir..."

Sima Yi grinned, poking the child, "Yes, little one! Sing your heart out! We'd all love to see that! And don't forget the fan!"

Lu Xun gave a frightened meep, and he took a step back, "No! I refuse!"

Withdrawing his flute, Zhou Yu practiced a few notes, giving a deep laugh from the throat as he looked down at the nervous Lu Xun. "I don't think I can drag their attention alone... why won't you sing? Are you nervous about what Gan Ning will think?"

"Well... no... but why would anyone look at ME?! I'm not as tall, commanding, beautiful or graceful as you or Zhang He! If you played and he danced I'm sure they would look!" Lu Xun proclaimed, turning his head to the flames of the torch besides him to hide his blush. He could still feel their eyes, and he only sighed, refusing them again. "And I don't know of any songs..."

Zhang He stood firm, giving an elegant stretch, "That I refuse to believe. Surely you must know SOMETHING!"

Seeing that they weren't going to back down, and that Ma Chao and Lu Meng finally caught their pirate, he lowered his gaze. "I know something... but it's a ballad.... one that I heard from a pirate a few years ago. It hardly fits the occasion I think..."

"That's perfect; what is the title?"

Surprised to see them agree, Lu Xun nearly panicked, hearing Gan Ning's cries of help from the unruly mob. "Of Wine and Dames, I think..."

Zhang He's violet eyes flew open, "I DO hope you mean the version acceptable for the ears of children!"

"Lu Xun!" Zhou Yu's face registered shock, and he almost laughed aloud, "W-where did you learn that tavern trash?"

"Who else to learn it from then by a pirate himself?" He replied, and he almost laughed when they diverted their eyes towards the poor pirate. "He wasn't the only one, as Zhou Tai joined in with him when he taught it to me. If it is inappropriate then I'm sorry, but it's the only song that I know of by heart, sirs."

He felt Zhou Yu's chocolate eyes upon him, and the elder strategist grinned, "Not the only one..."

"Lord Zhou Yu, please!" Lu Xun was really embarrassed now, as his face was a bright as his clothing. "Please don't make me sing! I haven't the voice nor the strength to do such a thing!"

"Now, now, gentlemen," Sima Yi interrupted, tracing the rim of his wine glass with his finger. "If the boy is not comfortable singing, then we cannot force him..."

Giving him a silent thank you, Lu Xun turned away, and Zhang He asked, "I surely don't know this song..."

Zhou Yu shrugged, "Looks as though you'll have to use that which you display so well, Zhang He: your body..."

At the sight of Sima Yi's facial expression, Zhou Yu almost instantly regretted it, picking up his flute to begin the tune. "I was merely jesting, Lord Sima. I will try a tune, to catch their attention then..."

"Aww... is wittle Zhou Yu gonna play his flutey-wutey?!" All eyes turned to the freed pirate, who leaned against his young comrade heavily, nearly knocking both of them over. His eyes were bright with amusement, despite his obvious bumps and bruises, and, giving a laugh, he took another swig of the bottle in his hands, missing completely and getting it all over his bare chest. "That... is such a sissy thing!"

Zhang He smiled sweetly, rubbing a cloth against the pirate's wine-covered, bare chest, "As sissy as becoming so utterly intoxicated that people marvel how you stand on two feet?"

"Ah, but I got my little buddy here... hey, where did he go?"

Giggling, the Wei officer hid the boy behind his back as he continued to dry off the pirate's chest, "Poor Lu Xun... he seems to have disappeared, has he not?"

Lu Xun gave a laugh, poking his head out from behind Zhang He too late, as Gan Ning fell flat on his face. He sighed, going to help him up, "I thought you were tolerant of alcohol..."

Zhou Yu tried not to chuckle, "Seems he drank just a little too much..."

As Lu Xun did his best to revive the pirate, Sun Ce turned to Zhou Yu, sharing a laugh, "Remind me to ban alcohol from him for a week... that should give him a good scare, eh?"

"Oh, you are indeed cruel, my lord!"

"Gan Ning, you're drooling on me!"

Zhang He could not resist, giving the boy a playful nip on the ear, "It's because you're so sweet!"

"HE-CHAN!" The look on Sima Yi's face was to die for, and Zhou Yu finally DID burst into uncontrollable laughter, "Zhang He... please control yourself before your lover becomes so jealous that we are ALL killed!"

Once again, the round of laughter overtook them all, and Lu Xun finally got the pirate to his feet, using all of his strength to do so. He could not help but smile. He tried to speak over their laughing, ignoring the babbling coming from his pirate friend. "If you do not mind, my Lord, I will be off. Gan Ning is too intoxicated and I should get some sleep myself... may we be excused?"

Giving a grin, Sun Ce nodded, "Sure. G'night!"

"Don't do anything you two will regret in the morning!" joked Zhou Yu, giving a little tune on his flute as Lu Xun's face flashed red.

Zhao Yun chuckled, "That was quite cruel of you, Zhou Yu."

However, even as the elder strategist apologized, Lu Xun felt not anger from the remark. He only blushed because he figured what he said was true. Gan Ning slipped a few times, but Lu Xun was there for him now, and he almost embraced him, giving a sigh and thanking him for getting drunk. Now, they could be alone...

"I was wondering how many jugs of wine it was going to take for you to try and help me up..."

"I'm sorry... I guess I overestimated you..." Lu Xun smiled, "You could have just said you wanted to leave... I could have claimed fatigue..."

The pirate gave a lopsided smile, and his red eyes glistened with amusement and a hint of tears, "And I heard you... you remember that goofy song Zhou Tai an' I were singin'..."

"How could I forget? I learned more than I ever WANTED to know about what happens behind closed, bedroom doors..."

The look in those eyes made Lu Xun melt from the inside, and the pirate asked, "Care to sing it with me, then, eh?"

Flushing, the boy shook his head, "You need rest..."

"Then sing me to sleep... best way to take a load off..." Gan Ning smiled, tripping as they were going up the stairs and dragging them both down. However, he caught Lu Xun, saving him from harm, and he held him close, "But, if you don't want to, I won't force you... just stay with me tonight... just in case if I need someone to throw up on."

The boy gave a purr of contentment as the pirate kissed his neck, "Not here, you lusty thing! I might stay with you if we're in a proper bedroom setting!"

"You're no fun, but I have no objections..." He burped the last part, and once again, the two were off. He nuzzled his love, "You sure you're up to this?"

"I'm... the TOUGHEST pirate of the seas!!!! Why would I not be?"

"Because I just KNOW the minute I lay you down in that nice, soft bed, you're going to roll onto your side and fall right asleep!" Lu Xun laughed, somehow able to get him through the doors with little or not problems involved. He didn't notice the eyes of the generals watching him at all, but even if he did, it wouldn't matter to him. He just wanted to be alone with his pirate, and they didn't bother him anymore.

Zhang He sighed, "They really are a sweet pair, aren't they?"

"As sweet as can be..." Lu Meng commented, nearly falling over himself and resting his head on his hands. You could tell he was drunk, and it was not normal for him, as he brought the glass up to drink more. "What time is it? Is it midnight yet?"

"Not yet... but soon..."

"Lu Meng, it's not like you to drink like this." Zhou Yu pointed out, taking the glass from his hand as he was trying to down the drink. "You're letting that pirate set a bad example on you."

"Eh... leave him alone, Zhou Yu!" Sun Ce chuckled, throwing an arm around his strategist's shoulders. "Tis a time for sin and pleasure, remember?"

"Yes, not like he will REMEMBER anything by next year," Zhang He pointed out, noticing the general's blank stare. He waved a hand before his eyes, "Yoohoo! Anybody home?"

It took about a few rounds before Lu Meng finally blinked, following the hand for a second before trying to get back up. He nearly tripped up a few times, and he caught himself, standing at a salute but at an odd angle. Sun Ce felt horrible for laughing at this, but he held nothing back as Lu Meng slurred his words, "Sir, if you don't mind... I'd like to propose a bre... I mean, a toast. Yeah... a toast..."

"Propose away!"

So the general turned about, and Zhou Yu eyed Sun Ce, "Are you sure? He'll be horribly embarrassed in the morning if someone tells him how drunk he was."

Zhang He gave a giggle, dangling his ponytails before the intoxicated general, who batted at one like a cat, "Oh, come on Zhou Yu! What's the worse he can say?"

"I'm sure I can imagine!"

Sun Ce joined in, "Please, Zhou Yu! It may be our ONLY chance to see what lurks behind the serious mask!"

Now that Zhou Yu could not pass up such an opportunity, and he kept silent as Lu Meng grabbed one of the sticks and banged on the gong three times in a row. It took awhile for them to settle down, and Lu Meng looked at EVERY single one of them, opened his mouth to speak, but froze. His eyes bulged for a second, and, fearing he was about to vomit everywhere, a soldier grabbed a bucket, only to hear him belch. "Oops."

Ma Chao gave a drunken smirk, twirling Zhao Yun's hair betwixt his fingers, "Think he'll ever manage to get words out?"

It was Zhuge Liang who answered, his voice almost too soft to hear, "He will... it all depends, however, if they come out right."

Jiang Wei shushed him, "Look, he's going to try again!"

He had raised his glass already, however, they only saw the back of his head, as he began his speech towards the horses that were lined up in the stables near by. The crowd laughed and they laughed even harder when the same soldier with the bucket came and turned him about.

Zhou Yu blinked, "I don't know whether to be amused... or just plain scared..."

"We might slip some alcohol into your water supplies, just so that we can see how he is in battle!" Sima Yi joked, hiding behind his black fan to hide his tears.

Zhang He smiled seductively, "Indeed. You would be the first to know about the horrid effects of alcohol... right, Yi-chan?"

"Silence, he speaks again!"

Sun Ce shook his head, laughing, "I don't even know if I can bear to watch!"

"Southlanders, Northern men, and Riverlanders!" Lu Meng began, catching their attention again as the laughing subsided. One could tell how drunk he was, as the soldier stood at his side, keeping him balanced as he continued his speech. "Many years ago, a rebellion started, and the Han was in ruins... it still is? Soldiers and brothers were separated by greed and hate..."

"We know! We were sort of there," Zhao Yun pointed out.

Again, the crowd was dying with laughter, and Lu Meng gave him a look as Zhang He rose, trying to relieve some embarrassment off of Lu Meng's name. "But look at us now! The only FIGHTING we're doing is the fighting of who gets the last meat bun."

Zhou Yu laughed, sitting back in his seat, "Indeed, Zhang He. Very important matter, you must admit!"

"I'd like to propose a toast!" Lu Meng announced, as men eagerly filled their glasses. "To what... I... haven't a clue! Does anyone have something they want to toast to?"

Zhang He made a suggestion, causing the drunken man to look upon him once again, "How about to love?"

"To love?"

Giving a faint blush, the Wei general looked away, "It was merely a suggestion..."

To agree, Zhou Yu rose, raising his glass, "To love!"

"TO LOVE!"

The toast was made, and they heard a loud crash as the soldier could not catch Lu Meng this time, letting him fall to the ground. As the soldier tried to revive him, the rest only laughed, and Sun Ce, wiping tears, called to the guards, "Please take him to his quarters!!! Before we all die from laughter!!"

Jiang Wei laughed, "You must admit, though, it is a good way to go!"

"Let us hope he doesn't remember this when he wakes up, and perhaps we should ban any 'rumors' running about?" Zhou Y suggested to Sun Ce, seeing his tears.

"Whatever you say, buddy!"

With a laugh, Sun Ce grabbed Zhou Yu's sword and held it high, letting the crowd see it's fine blade. "This is the very blade that struck down the traitor Xiahou Dun! If I hear word spread about Jian Ye of Lu Meng's actions, you will be JOINING the one eyed, headless bastard!"

That seemed to throw a dark cloud over the party, and the Wu lord blinked, "Put my foot in my mouth again, did I?"

Sima Yi gave a snort, "Most definitely, young lord of Wu."

Zhou Yu sighed, "Will he haunt us... even in death?"

It was Zhang He who saved the celebration, as he gave a shout, "The starts are shining brighter then ever, and the moon is almost directly upon us! Midnight is near!"

Even as the crowds began to cheer, Zhou Yu felt the desire to slip away. How he yearned to see his packmates together, before they all had to slip apart, without all the drunken revelers and noisy shouts. Just peace, and quiet... and talk...

"Something eating you?" Sun Ce asked, seeing his friend's despair.

Giving him a soft smile, he shook his head, chasing away his desires, "No. Nothing."

Feeling a tug at his pants, Zhou Yu looked down at Zhao Yun, "You know better than to lie!"

"And you know well enough that I never lie..."

Zhou Yu replied, as at the soldiers broke off into song and dance again, he looked to the moon, remembering a time when he hated it. But the transformation would not come, much to his relief and his dismay. He gave a sigh, as other's gazes followed his own. "After this night is full of questions to me. Will we remain friends, or will be become enemies again? And... if we do become enemies, then will we ever remember this?"

Zhang He scoffed, smoothing the other man's hair beneath his tender hand, "Of course we shall be friends. But we shall also be enemies. Our allegiances are clear."

"Of course..." Zhou Yu gave a sad sigh. "I fear it, but I understand and cannot argue with it."

Jiang Wei came next, resting his back against Zhou Yu's chair, "Why worry? We have been through an experience we shall never forget. But we also think so differently that we can never join one side. Perhaps... if we all make it through this war... we can be friends as we like."

"Yeah... no need to worry TOO much over it, right?" Sun Ce asked.

"But I do..." Zhou Yu replied, and, with a sigh, he rose. "May I be excused, my Lord?"

"Oh no, not without me!"

To this, Zhang He grinned, "Oh... if THAT'S the case..."

Zhou Yu gave a growl, punching him lightly on the head, "Keep those thoughts to yourself, if you please."

The Wei officer only gave a sly grin, and he grew serious, "Don't you at least want to wait until midnight before you leave, Zhou Yu? The moon is quite beautiful tonight... and it is the last night of the full moon."

"I will stay... if you wish me to." Zhou Yu directed this to Sun Ce, and his friend gave a low grin, sitting back in his chair. "My lord?

"Zhou Yu, when you leave, why don't you show them the balcony? That's the best place to see the moon, you know..."

"As you wish, my lord." Zhou Yu spoke slowly, wondering about his gaze, but, taking a glance at Zhang He and Zhao Yun, the grin spread to him. He gave a bow, resting his cheek against Sun Ce's own. "Thank you for understanding then, my lord... my love."

Flushing at the last part, Sun Ce murmured, "What are... lovers for?"

Zhao Yun looked up, his eyes light with questions as Zhou Yu stepped rose from his position. "The balcony is indeed a great place... I will show it to them then, my Lord..."

Zhang He looked to Sima Yi, "You do not mind, love?"

The look he was given was a frightful one, but it was in jest, "Return quickly... Lord Cao Cao plans on heading out after the festivities."

Kissing his forehead, the elegant officer rose, "I shall be swift then."

Zhao Yun and Jiang Wei were already up and ready, and the four departed, leaving the rest to enjoy the holiday without them. Sun Ce gave a sigh, wondering if that was a safe idea. However, he did not stop it, and he looked tot he moon, giving it such a look.

Zhuge Liang spoke softly, "The moon never wronged you, sir."

"No, but it wronged others..."

"The Silver Lady merely rises. She knows not the mischief her bewitching rays create," Sima Yi answered. He fiddled with his glass of wine, careful as to not spill it. "If she did, perhaps we would have such lonely nights, don't you think?"

Ma Chao gave a drunken slur, "I never though YOUR nights would be lonely, Lord Sima Yi."

As the man's face light with anger, Zhuge Liang waved the fan in front of his general's face. "Do not be quick to judge, Ma Chao... better he spend those nights doing that rather than to devise plans to destroy us all."

"But you always get your plans done, despite Jiang Wei's sweet interference," the Shu officer chuckled.

Now the conversation had grown out of hand, but Sun Ce did not care, laughing alone with the jokes. His laughter could be heard from where Zhou Yu rose up the stairs, halfway there he had stopped to look back at the three. They only returned his stare, and he gave a smile, trying to hide his uneasiness. "I... don't know why this is effecting me so... it was only a few days, but it was enough."

Zhao Yun smiled, "I understand. You forget, it was longest for me."

Recoiling from the ping of his own consciousness, Zhou Yu gave a nod, "I forgot... I'm sorry."

"Don't be. We may have still been in that same situation if not for you..." Zhao Yun stated, scaling the stairs to stand by him. He wore a relieved look on his face, though his eyes hinted slight pain from his heart. "To think, a warrior such as I, reduced to that in so little time. But it's over now, and we can live out with it in our past."

Zhang He nodded, sighing, "Yes. And I, for one, know it is best to leave it there."

"Best to learn from it, so look at the bright side. If another one should rear its head, we will be prepared for it!" chimed Jiang Wei happily, trying to keep their spirits up. "Now, where is that balcony? I'd love to see it if it's better than anything else in this castle; it's so beautiful!"

Zhou Yu smiled, turning once more to show them the way, "It is. The stars and moon shine so bright... it's easily the most beautiful spot..."

"Then let's waste no time..." Zhang He raced up the stairs in a single bound, reaching the top and striking a graceful but intimidating pose. "Beauty never lasts forever, you know!"

The Wu officer gave a smirk, "What? You mean one day you'll turn UGLY, Zhang He? Say it's not so!"

"Take that back!"

"I never take back the truth!" Zhou Yu laughed, catching up to him and taking the lead once again. He was halfway down the hallways when he stopped. The others were silent, until he gave another sigh, "I regret that Lu Xun won't be able to see you all off, as he has more pressing issues to take care of."

"You will have time with him," Zhao Yun said calmly. "Besides, it is his first time, correct? It is better for him to do it on a beautiful night like this. It will give him a pleasant memory that no one can take away."

"That is if the pirate hasn't fallen asleep on him yet..."

Zhou Yu chuckled, "You are all FAR more open with such things in your clans then within my own."

Jiang Wei gave a shrug, "We had more time, I suppose."

"I wish it were thus in mine..." The Wu strategist sighed, merely smiling. "Oh yes... the balcony... I keep getting sidetracked."

"Indeed. How do you EVER manage to get a strategy put together," Zhang He teased.

Zhou Yu was thinking of a smart-ass remark to that, but he found none. Today was his off day, he figured, so he had the right to forget things. When they reached the balcony, he caught sight of Lu Xun leaning against the bars, and he asked, trying not to startle him, "I assume... he fell asleep?"

"No. He just asked me to leave. Something about wanting to be fully able to enjoy the moment..." Lu Xun replied, not turning around to face them but keeping his gaze towards the moon, as if waiting for something. Zhou Yu could not sense his slight tension, but Zhao Yun and Jiang Wei did, as he gave a weak laugh. "So I decided to come here..."

"Nervous, little one?"

Lu Xun merely laughed at Zhang He's words, "Why... why would I be? There is nothing to be nervous about."

Jiang Wei gave the startled Zhou Yu a wink, as he spoke to Lu Xun, "You're far braver than me then. I was quite nervous..."

"But you are younger then..." Now Lu Xun turned around, spotting the others there, and he quickly turned away. He spoke merely to himself, or to the moon, but his words could hardly be heard. "The topic is closed... I'd ask for you to respect my wishes and cease mentioning it..."

"As you wish, Lu Xun. But it's perfectly normal."

"What brings you all here, then?" Lu Xun asked, dropping the subject and looking to Zhou Yu. "It's nearly midnight."

"We're looking at the moon." Zhang He replied, standing next to him and leaning against the balcony's railings. He gave a happy sigh, "Lord Sun Ce is correct... the view from here is WONDERFUL... I could take this balcony with me when I return home.

"All by yourself? You're willing to get the blisters upon your lovely hands?" Jiang Wei joked, avoiding the fake, heated glare that was sent towards him. Running up to Lu Xun, he tugged his sleeve, catching the older strategists's attention. "So, when you were looking at the moon, what were you thinking?"

"Nothing, really."

Zhou Yu snorted, "That's a lie... lying for you is becoming a bad habit. Lu Meng shouldn't be pleased."

"How do you know it is a lie? You cannot read my thoughts now!" Lu Xun joked, but, seeing the seriousness of Zhou Yu's face, he gave in, looking away instantly. "Just looking at the moon and thanking that I won't become that thing. Then again, I am sure it's on everyone else's mind, so, really... nothing special."

Zhao Yun blinked, "And I here I was thinking you were actually reflecting on something SERIOUS!"

He was somewhat hurt by the expression, but Lu Xun dared not show it, "See? Nothing special."

"That's not what I meant and you know it."

Acting as the mediator, Zhou Yu now questioned Lu Xun, to get Zhao Yun off of his friend's back. "You don't have to stay if you don't want to. We just came here to reflect, since this will be the last time most of us we see each other on friendly terms. I know you haven't been in here long; in fact, you were the shortest member, but still, you are welcomed to stay."

"I'll go. I bring nothing but discord in my midst." Lu Xun's voice sounded a bit sad, and he was halfway out before Zhao Yun grabbed his shoulder, impeding his march. Lu Xun gave him a look, but did nothing to remove the hand. "I would have hoped you all enjoyed your stay, however, that doesn't seem to fit the occasion. I do apologize... for the way I treated you all earlier."

Zhang He's voice was silken, a healing balm, "Don't leave us. Let us help you... no matter what the problem you feel now is."

He actually looked to consider this, and Jiang Wei gave a bow of his head, "In that case, I apologize for my harsh words as well. I had no right to say such things, especially since I was wrong."

Zhou Yu merely sat back, smiling as the "pack" seemed to be coming to a peace once more.

As Lu Xun turned to forgive Jiang Wei, Zhou Yu could see slight relief, knowing that he wishes to stay. Perhaps this was Lu Xun's chance to ease his own pains and faults, something that no one else in their kingdom could help him do. Sadly enough, he was quite THANKFUL to this curse...

"You brood much as Sima Yi does; I wonder if it means your mind is engaged as his is?"

Hearing this, Zhou Yu laughed, "I am nothing compared to him... however, I do thank you for your compliment."

Zhang He had, somehow, slipped to his side unnoticed, and the elegant officer merely smirked, laying his head upon the man's shoulder and nibbling on a piece of his hair.

"What are you doing?" The Wu strategist asked, keeping his voice low to avoid interrupting the other three, but not bothering to hide his surprise. "I do hate to remind you that I already have a love..."

"It's what I do... when Sima Yi broods. I want to know your thoughts..."

"You could simply have asked," Zhou Yu pointed out, gently pulling away. "Your Sima Yi would not like to see you turn your tricks on me..."

Smiling, Zhang He nodded and backed away, "Yes?"

"I am thinking... how nice it is to have this gathering, one last time."

The strategist admitted, watching the three break off into conversation, as if their past tensions were dead now. It was with a sad sigh when Zhou Yu spoke his next words, "And I must thank Xiahou Dun for this feeling I'm having now. Without him, I'd never confess myself to Sun Ce, and I'd still see you all as my enemies."

"It must be so hard for people in Wu... to express love..."

"Is it not hard when you are fighting for survival?"

Zhao Yun chuckled, shaking his head, "Sometimes it is easier."

Seeing the eyes of the other officers on him now, Zhou Yu tried to hide his blush, and Lu Xun spoke up, "I, too, must thank the one who caused all of this. And I regret to see how a man such as he could turn on his own blood for immortality. How... how do you think Xu Huang feels?"

Zhang He sighed, "Used. Betrayed. Unworthy of being in the company of others. Ashamed of his broken heart. I know the feelings well..."

"Do you think he will ever be the same warrior that he once was?" Zhao Yun asked.

"He will never be the same; you cannot be the same after something like this..." Zhang He proclaimed, wondering where his comrade was at this very moment. He felt for him with a deep compassion, but he gave a defiant look, nodding slowly. "But, Xu Huang is by far one of the strongest warriors I know of. And I know that he will survive this and move on with his life, like he should."

Jiang Wei laughed, "An oracle you should be!"

"But I prefer to be a general of war! How else can I see my enemies, my allies, on the battlefield once again?"

Zhou Yu smiled, "If you were an oracle, you would be able to see anyone you wanted, whenever you wanted."

Zhang He only laughed softly, but they were all silenced when they heard Lu Xun give a meep. However, the panic was gone quickly, as they could see the pirate's hands gripping Lu Xun's clothing and barely able to keep himself up, Gan Ning mumbled loudly in Lu Xun's ear. "Xun... what are you doin' out here? You'll catch a cold..."

"I thought you wanted to rest?"

"Lu Xunnnnn, you're no fun! I'm sick! Pamper me!"

Lu Xun's eyebrow rose, "Oh? I do believe that YOU were the one who swore always to pamper ME?"

That brought laughter from the others, and Gan Ning finally noticed them, blinking several times to get them focused. "Hey, some privacy here!"

"You are the one who walked in on a private party!"

Zhou Yu laughed, noticing how much Gan Ning was dragging Lu Xun down. "How about you two head out for the night? You look ready to take poor Lu Xun down with you!"

Zhang He smirked, his violet eyes shining, "Indeed. You cannot claim he will get a cold in your bed..."

To this, Gan Ning blushed just as much as Lu Xun did, and Lu Xun nodded, hugging onto his pirate and resting his head against his bare chest. "That will be quite enough... now come on, Ning... it's time for bed..."

"Sleep sweetly." Zhao Yun said waving them off and wondering if Lu Xun would need help dragging the pirate to bed. "Don't stay up TOO long…"

Gan Ning blinked, staggering a bit, "And these are your FRIENDS, Xun? Sheesh..."

"I can say the very same for you and Lord Lu Meng," Lu Xun replied, giving him a small kiss on the cheek. Silently, he turned to Zhao Yun and Jiang Wei, expressing his thanks with a warm-filled smile, and the two were off.

Zhou Yu gave a sigh, resting his head upon his hand, "About time... those two have needed each other for a very long time."

"Surely that is the biggest understatement I've heard in awhile, but I do agree." Zhang He proclaimed, resting against the balcony's edge and giving a sigh as the moon hung directly above them. "Midnight! What a blissful sight this is to see without fear! How I missed to stare at it!"

Jiang Wei nodded, "It's hard to appreciate something so beautiful when it fills your heart with terror."

"Not anymore, though… not anymore…"

"Not anymore, though… not anymore…" Zhao Yun sighed, his expression sombre before turning to a sly grin. "Zhou Yu... perhaps you will permit to comment on something?

It was awhile before Zhou Yu drew his eyes away from the moon, and he merely nodded, not uttering a word and waiting for the Shu general to ask his question.

"You said that Gan Ning and Lu Xun have needed each other... do you not need Sun Ce just as much?"

To this, Zhou Yu could not answer instantly, and he lowered his gaze, as if to ponder the question. If Zhao Yun would have asked him this a few weeks ago, Zhou Yu would have denied everything, his own feelings and his heart. But now, as he rose his head to reveal his smile, he nodded. Of course he did, and now Sun Ce knew! He replied, "Yes…"

"Then... should you not spend this glorious night with him?" Zhang He asked, giving him an artful look. "We know our way out…"

Flushing, the Wu officer scowled, "Seducers! All of you!"

They merely laughed at him, and Jiang Wei gave an innocent look, "Just more outward! Now go, before he falls asleep!"

"It makes me wonder what Sun Ce would be like with the lot of you..." Zhou Yu said with a grin, and he gave one last look at the moon before agreeing with them. He gave them each a bow before leaving the beautiful scene on the balcony. "Take care… I would not wish for anything to go wrong, especially not now…"

"Fear not." Zhao Yun laughed, his eyes sparkling all the more. "Farewell, and thank you for protecting us."

With that Zhou Yu took his leave, walking once more through the celebration in search of his love. Drunken soldiers sang songs and familiar faces were about, but not the one he was looking for. He passed by Sima Yi, seeing him ready to fall over from sleep, and he asked softly, hating to wake him up. "Excuse me, but where is Lord Sun Ce?"

"I do believe he excused himself... to go to bed."

Hearing this was almost a crushing blow, but Zhou Yu dared not let it show, giving a bow and excusing himself as well. "I was too late… well, I shall have my day."

"But would you rather not have your night?" Zhuge Liang cooed slyly from where he sat at the table, twirling his drink about as he noticed his rival's expression.

"Are ALL of your minds so shallow?!"

Like their loves, they merely laughed at his response, and he retreated back into the castle. Sima Yi was laughing the hardest, gripping his fan to cool himself off from the heat of the alcohol. "Making him angry is fun…"

"Indeed."

The castle seemed empty, but it didn't bother Zhou Yu in the least. It wasn't as empty as his heart was, as he made the trek to his bedroom. He took the longest route possible, knowing better than to go anywhere near Lu Xun's or Gan Ning's bedroom, knowing that his depression would only grow if he did such a thing. Lucky them, he thought…

Stopping outside his own door, he sighed. He really did not wish to spend this night alone...

What choice did he have, he wondered, and he opened the door, only to see someone already resting in his bed. The second his eyes adjusted, he could clearly see who it was, as a smile crept onto his face. "Tell me you're not so drunk that you confused my quarters for yours…"

"Do I appear drunk to you?" Sun Ce asked, his blue eyes glistening in the darkness. "Tell me truthfully, old buddy…"

"No. You turn the most adorable shade of red when you've been drinking..." Zhou Yu laughed, taking a seat in the bed next to Sun Ce. Tears were ready to stream down his face, but he held them well. "And you are not like that now..."\

"I should hope not." His lord ran his tongue over suddenly dry lips, "So... we just sit and talk?"

To this, Zhou Yu blushed. "Of course… everyone seems to cheer it on but myself. Of course not, my Lord… where would the fun be in that?"

"I'm not your lord here..."

"But..." The strategist smiled. "You are. You are always my lord."

Sun Ce surprised Zhou Yu when he resting his head on his lap, and the Little Conqueror gave a sigh, looking into his love's deep brown eyes and smiling deeper. "I love you, Zhou Yu, I've always had…"

"And I love you... and always will..." Zhou Yu replied, embracing him closely. "I only regret that through hell I've finally confessed the truth… I wish I could have told you sooner."

"But then it wouldn't have been as special.... right?"

Considering this, Zhou Yu could only agree, kissing him lightly on the forehead. "So true, my lord… so very true."

"STOP IT!" Sun Ce snapped. "I tell you I am not lord here."

How could Zhou Yu resist? "Of course… forgive me then."

"I do not want this relationship to be for title or rank!" Sun Ce demanded, looking up at Zhou Yu and capturing his gaze once again. He remembered their camping trip, remembering what he said then and grinning. "You know, that's exactly how all this started! Do you remember, Zhou Yu?"

"I remember the night well... but how does it connect to what you say now?"

Convulsing with laughter, Sun Ce replied, "I was fussing at you for staying so strict, and I finally got you to say my name. Then we wrestled and the fish disappeared! Remember? Now say my name, Sun Ce!"

Smiling, his love complied, "As you wish... Sun Ce."

"Good! Now, let's continue off from there… where did we leave off?"

Taking him into his arms, Zhou Yu kissed him gently before withdrawing, "Something like that, my love?

Sun Ce's eyes lit up, and he gave a cocky smirk as he nodded, "Yeeeeep, I remember now."

"I thought so..."

The night was pure bliss for them, as fireworks exploded in the air to welcome the New Year. All welcomed and looked forward to it, praying that this year would be much more successful and peaceful than the last. It was a hope for everyone, even those who were unfortunate in their quest for love.

Sun Ce rested peacefully in his love's arms, perfect as a content kitten. Never had he been so happy in his life; even conquering lands from his enemies hadn't felt so good before. How could it even compare to this?

"Zhang He taught me a trick... let me see if it works on you..."

When Zhou Yu took a piece of his hair and began to nibble on it, Sun Ce was utterly confused, "What are you doing?"

"It's supposed to allow me to tempt you to let me learn your thoughts..."

Still, this confused Sun Ce, however, he didn't argue with it, as he laughed. "I'm thinking about just how much I love you, that's all. I think it'll always be on my mind, you know?"

"Oh dear... I should hope not," Zhou Yu teased. "That would make me feel just wonderful, to know that you had been shot with an arrow because you were too busy thinking of me to pay attention to the battle going on around you."

This only made him laugh some more, "But the arrow would be worth it, right?"

"Not to me." Zhou Yu sighed, his gripping tightening. "Let's try not to think how life would be without one another, okay, Ce?"

His love gave a grin, stretching out on the bed like a content cat, "Whatever you say."

And within seconds, Zhou Yu was upon him, and he gave a triumphant laugh, weighing himself down and making damn well sure that Sun Ce did not struggle. His friend looked up at him, eyes wide with panic for a second, but they instantly relaxed when Zhou Yu gave him a peck on the cheek, "Ssh…"

"You aren't scared, my heart?"

"Scared, no. Surprised, a little." Sun Ce answered before relaxing. "Ready, though… yeah, I think I'm ready."

"Ready are you?" Zhou Yu asked, his eyes a beautiful color, glistening in the moonlight. He waited for the words, with utter anticipation.

"Ready... if you are..."

Those were the exact same words that Zhou Yu wanted to hear, and, dropping his pants, he whispered in his love's ear. "Then here it is…"

Sun Ce shivered as a kiss was placed in the whirl of his ear, and he whispered, "Umm... I think there's a problem here..."

"No problem, no problem..."

"Well, unless you're that much of a genius to figure out how I'm going to get out of these clothes if you don't release me..." The Wu lord smirked, covering his slight nervousness. That stopped them for a second, perhaps, but it was not long before Sun Ce now laid down willingly, his clothing scattered all over the floor. It was midnight, and it was time to party. "NOW, I'm ready!"

Zhou Yu laid beside him, and his lord nuzzled his neck, looking at him with wide eyes, "Why so quiet?"

"Because, Sun Ce... I... I am too happy for words right now..."

"But you always know just what to say!"Sun Ce argued, a smile plastered onto his face as the first firework was released into the moonlight sky. Their faces lit up bright red and faded to white, and Sun Ce's smile deepened when his friend's.

"The fireworks are pretty..."

That was all he could muster, before Zhou Yu rested on top of his friend, doing his best to give him all the pleasure within his body and transfer it into him. It was bliss, pure, utter, undeniable bliss for both of them, and Zhou Yu felt tears of joy run down his cheeks. "I love you Sun Ce... I love you!"

Sun Ce gasped, "Oh gods Zhou Yu... I love you too! I always have; I always will! Believe me..."

The night was pure bliss for them, as fireworks exploded in the air to welcome the New Year. All welcomed and looked forward to it, praying that this year would be much more successful and peaceful than the last. It was a hope for everyone, even those who were unfortunate in their quest for love.

~*~*~*~

To carry someone's head in your arms is hard. For that head to belong to the one you love is harder. For Xu Huang, this was a true test of strength, as he walked alone through the woods, holding the bloodied head of the traitorous Wei general under his arm and dragging his axe along the ground, to mark his trail. If he survived this trial, then he would survive horrible battles in the future.

Nothing could be more horrible than this. He felt as though someone had taken a blade to his heart, slicing it to bleeding pieces.

Actually, he thought, blade to the heart felt blissful compared to this. He could not look down, in fear of seeing his love's eyes stare at him through death. This was too painful, but he carried on, ignoring the still damp blood in his hands. "Just… a little while longer."

He prayed Lord Cao Cao would forgive him this one last rebellion. But he knew that this was the only way to make sure his love got a funeral... of any sort.

Cutting through the ticket, Xu Huang recognized the clearing before him. This was the clearing where he cured his love, and tears pricked his eyes but would not come. No, crying was for the weak, and he was anything but weak.

"You told me never to be weak, Dun. I will not be..."

If Xiahou Dun was alive, he would have complimented him, but alas, he wasn't, and, throwing his axe to the ground, Xu Huang took the head and held it firmly in his hands, daring to look at the face. It was a horrible sight, to see the blood drained lifelessness radiate from that face, but he bared the pain, staring into the still opened eyes.

"You told me you loved me Dun. Zhou Yu told me that it was your dying wish for me to know. Why then? Why did you do this to me... to us?"

Oh, how he wished he were here to tell him, but he knew the dead could not speak. He could have crushed the head within his strong, powerful hands, but he could never bring himself to do such a thing. Instead, as strange at it seemed, he embraced it, holding it firmly to his chest. "And I love you still, even after all you've done. And I forgive you."

Was it his overactive imagination, or did the wind seem to give the relieved sigh his lover's lifeless lips could not?

"Xiahou Dun..." Now tears fell, as his shattered heart stabbed at his soul. "Xiahou Dun... I'll miss you, but I must move on. Your cousin will need me in battle, and he will need me to be the strong warrior he acquired many years ago."

Taking a ragged breath, he continued, "And... I think this is what you would have wanted, before you allowed that madness to take you. I will be strong and loyal... the way I will always remember you being."

If he listened carefully, he swore he could hear Xiahou Dun's words of encouragement, and he began digging the hole, resting the head next to him and using his bare hands to dig into the earth, to bury what was left of his love. The pain had not eased at all, but he only grew stronger from it now…

"Good-bye Dun... sleep in peace."

As he covered the face with the rich soil, he heard the distant sound of the fireworks, announcing the arrival of the new year. He looked to the beautiful patterns in the skies, and smiling, he grabbed his axe and left, leaving these woods to remain here in memory. This was where he confessed his love, and this is where he love stayed now.