Yesterday's Love, Today's Despair

Chapter One: Intoxicated

:III:

Kel surveyed the room for what seemed the fiftieth time that evening. She was searching for the blue-eyed sergeant who had promised to meet her there. Trying not to appear obviously anxious, she retreated behind a blank Yamani mask and waited. It wasn't as if Dom was characteristically late—or punctual for that matter, but tonight she was especially impatient. She hadn't seen him in months, for even though the Scanran War had come to a long-awaited end, Kel had been otherwise occupied at New Hope and the King's Own was working elsewhere.

Shaking her head, Kel shifted her weight and suppressed a sigh. She and Dom weren't courting, not yet, but she felt that such a relationship was impending. There was something in the little glances he darted at her, in his eyes when he looked at her, in his sudden confusion when she asked him a question. It wasn't as if he had actually confessed his intentions, but it was fairly probable to Kel what feelings they shared, and Dom had told her to meet him here, tonight.

She couldn't guess what he was going to tell her, however it was Midwinter, and the least Kel was hoping for was a kiss. Not anything particularly passionate, merely a kiss.

"Kel?" A voice behind her called.

She turned with a smile and focused penetrating hazel eyes on the tall man before her. "Dom, hello."

Kel's delight at seeing him quickly faded when she noticed a lovely woman a few years older than herself standing beside Dom. His arm was around the woman's petite waist. Kel's panic rose. His sister, perhaps?…no, why was the lady smiling that way at Dom? It couldn't be…

"How are you doing?" Dom inquired politely.

Kel nodded. "I'm alright."

"I'd like to introduce someone to you. This is Irene," Dom said, indicating the woman at his side. "She's my, er..." He blushed.

Kel's smile seemed forced. "Your…" Understand dawned on her as she realised the unspoken word. Lover.

A lover. Dom has a lover…She's not me…

Why am I so surprised? she asked herself silently. I know he's a perfectly available bachelor, and it wouldn't be long before this happened. I'm certain that Irene's a good match for him.

But the envy rose up inside of her. Regret. Aching. She wanted it to be her, not Irene.

Kel met Dom's eyes for a fleeting moment and understood. "Oh," she said softly. She had made assumptions about Dom's feelings towards her, and they had proved to be wrong.

"Kel," he said quietly as she turned and walked away. Then again, louder. "Kel? What's wrong? Please wait!"

She faced him, eyes cold. "What is it?"

Dom swallowed. "Kel, I know that—that I should have told you. I'm sorry."

"What were you doing with me?" Kel questioned, struggling to keep her voice from quavering. "All that time I thought you were interested in me! Why did you deceive me like that?"

He sighed. "Kel, listen to me. I never meant to lead you on. You have to understand—you're my friend. I love Irene." Kel's gaze locked on the floor. "I'm sorry. Kel, I couldn't be more sorry. I didn't have any intentions of making you think that—I'm sorry. Please, believe me."

Kel evaluated him. He couldn't possibly be telling the truth—she couldn't believe that the way in which he had led her on was unintentional. But he did flirt with many women. Why had Kel thought that she meant something more to him? And yet, it couldn't have merely been innocent dalliance. It couldn't.

It had been more to her. To Dom, it had been what was natural. For her, it had been different.

Dom's blue eyes were pleading. "Kel?" It was impossible to gauge her reaction. Her face was emotionless and smooth.

"I understand," she said finally. "Really, I do. And I'm sorry." Kel turned abruptly and left Dom standing behind her, puzzled.

She had been hurt. Kel had allowed herself to assume that Dom's feelings were similar to her own, and she blamed herself. It was her own fault that she had been under the impression that he was considering a courtship with her. It was the product of her own fanciful dreams. It wasn't Dom's fault; it was hers.

I'll never be so naïve again, Kel told herself severely. I'll be careful. I won't let myself be fooled.

She sighed and made her way to a table crowded with drinks and glasses. Kel poured herself some wine and stared blankly into the crimson drink. Usually she disliked liquor, but tonight she felt an urge to intoxicate herself only slightly. A glass or two would be alright.

"Thought you didn't like wine," said a dry voice behind her.

"I do tonight," Kel replied. She took a relieved sip.

Neal slung an arm around her shoulder, drinking from his own wineglass as he surveyed the room. He noticed Dom and Irene speaking in hushed tones a distance away. Darting a glance at Kel, Neal realised that her eyes were on the couple as well. His forehead creased.

"Kel?…is something wrong?"

She looked up at him and smiled. "No, no I'm alright."

Neal took another swallow of wine and realised that he and Kel's glasses were nearly empty. "More?" he asked her as he poured more wine for himself.

"Yes, thank you."

Five or six glasses later, Neal began to notice that the room was growing hazy. He kept a firm grip on Kel, using her to support himself.

"Need to sit down," he mumbled.

Kel looked slightly unsteady herself. "Alright."

The two stumbled over to a couch and collapsed into the plush fabric. Kel leaned against the opposite end of the couch, away from Neal.

"How much wine did we have?" Neal asked, the words slurred.

Kel shook her head. "A lot," she managed before succumbing to violent hiccups mixed with giggles. She shook her head, trying to clear her senses. "I never get drunk."

"Don't the Yamanis have wine?"

"Yes." Kel laughed as she imagined a drunk Yamani. "But they don't get drunk." Neal chuckled.

Suddenly Kel lifted her head, and her eyes met Neal's. He stared back into her own green-hazel eyes that swirled with emotions. Her eyes were the only way to discern what went on inside her head usually, but tonight the more-than-slightly intoxicated Kel had neglected to put on her Yamani mask. Her feelings were displayed on her face, and she was frightened. He saw it. He saw fear, and denial. But most importantly, he felt passion moving inside of her.

Neal found that his hand, moving of its own volition, had slipped into Kel's. He frowned at it, reminding himself to punish the wayward hand. Neal's eyes flickered to Kel's belt, where he noticed a sharp shukusen tucked behind the supple leather.

Memories flooded into the wine-induced blur of his mind.

Yuki. Their betrothal. The approaching marriage. Her own shukusen that he usually wore.

But not tonight.

The argument he and Yuki had the previous night. Nothing seemed to make her happy anymore. Then, the anger in her eyes as she pulled off her engagement ring and tossed it onto the floor.

It wasn't the first time Yuki had done that. Neal was certain that in a few days, she would come back to him, he would meekly apologise, and she would accept the ring back. But it troubled him still. He was discovering faults Yuki possessed that were harmful to their relationship.

She didn't understand him like others did. When Neal woke in the night, sweating and gasping, plagued by nightmares of the war, of his mother's illness, or his brothers' deaths, Yuki was uncertain of how to provide comfort. In the dark shadows of his dreams when he desperately needed a light to save him from the night, no one was there.

But Kel, she had always amazed Neal. All through the Scanran War when Neal had struggled with grief and fear, Kel had been his support, his anchor, even in his darkest hours. She was the greatest friend he ever had. It was in the dark times of his mind that he saw Kel more clearly than any other.

If she was merely his friend, why did his heartbeat quicken and his spine tingle when he looked into her eyes?

Had drink not impaired his judgement and blurred his senses, Neal would have dropped Kel's hand and not given any more contemplation to his attraction to her, but as it was he was thrilled by this growing feeling. And he wanted Kel to share it.

She was so near to him…he could smell her, could have counted her eyelashes. A sudden spontaneous thought occurred to him. The temptation was irresistible. He needed to give in to it.

Neal leaned closer. Kel could see in detail every curve and hollow of his face. She was frightened, but thrilled, her heart a myriad of emotions. "Kel," Neal murmured. "Hear me out. I want you to know something."

She swallowed. "Yes?"

The lights, people, and music around them seemed to fade, and there was Neal, only Neal, filling her vision and mind and attention. She gazed into hazy emerald eyes, drugged by his scent and the touch of his hand against hers, and a few light brown strands of his hair that fell into his eyes.

Kel's fingers itched to brush those strands of hair away from his face, facing the same craving that she had when she was a page with a silly crush on a boy who was merely her friend. But the look in his eyes, tantalising and inviting. Along with the liquor that robbed her of all inhibitions prompted her to give in to her longing. Gently, slowly, Kel reached up with her free hand and tucked the strands of hair behind his ear, thrilled with the intimacy of the moment and delighted, for the silken feel of his hair against her fingers was wonderful and so very new. She could give in, she could surrender to everything she forbid and restrained herself from doing, and she didn't care. Kel's heart pounded so loudly, she was sure that he could hear it.

"I don't know what I'm doing," Neal admitted, his voice low and husky. "But what I'm feeling is clear enough. And Kel…I'm holding your hand, and I'm looking into your eyes, and I realise something that I've been wanting to do for a while now."

"What?" Kel breathed.

"This," Neal replied.

He leaned in and captured her lips beneath his own, hearing her sharp intake of breath before her own lips moved hesitantly against his. Neal slid his hands around Kel's neck, bringing her closer. Kel felt overwhelmed by the heat flooding through her body, warming every part. The kiss swept through her. She clung tightly to Neal, she could hardly believe that this was real.

But he isn't Dom, a small part of her whispered.

Warmth from Neal's kiss inflamed her, banishing any bitter thoughts of Dom. Indeed, any rational thoughts had fled her mind after her first several glasses of wine. All Kel could focus on was Neal's lips against hers, fascinated and elated.

Neal pressed closer, drowning himself in the passion and heat of the intimacy, deepening the kiss for a spellbinding moment before pulling away far too soon.

"Neal, I—I," Kel stammered.

He pressed a finger to her lips, silencing her. Kel saw that his chest was heaving from the intensity of their kiss and was struck with the insatiable desire to kiss him again. "Hush, Kel," Neal whispered hoarsely. "Now, that wasn't too bad, was it?"

She studied his deep emerald eyes, parted lips, and heavy breathing and came to a conclusion. "No, it wasn't," Kel admitted, gripping his face and pulling it back to hers to seal his mouth with a kiss.

Kel hadn't the faintest idea how she and Neal ended up in a small, dark room against the wall, kissing. He fumbled with the buttons of her shirt, having already forced her tunic off. Kel's fingers found the hem of his tunic, and she had just begun to lift it over his head when Neal suddenly slumped against her, using her as a complete support. Kel nudged him, but the only response she received was a loud snore.

She smiled. Neal had fallen asleep.

Grunting, Kel dragged Neal's limp body to the bed and shoved him onto the far side. Her eyelids began to droop, and she stumbled onto the bed and fell into a deep, dreamless sleep.

:III:


Disclaimer: Protector of the Small and all of the characters, places, and items therein do not belong to me.

AN: A birthday present to my wonderful sister Dom's Lover. I've dedicated many of my fics to you, but this one is especially for you. So enjoy. Today, 6th Oct., is Dom's Lover's birthday. Wish her a happy one.

This story was inspired by a poem called "Yesterday's Love, Today's Despair" by my sister (who goes by "Dom's Lover" here at fanfiction-dot-net). It's posted at under her pen name "FyreFromTheEast" at fictionpress. So go read her poem. You will not be disappointed, I assure you.

Thanks also to my wonderful, WONDERFUL beta, the eternity—you are the best! She is largely, if not completely, responsible for clearing up this chapter and making it better, as the first posting left much to be desired. So thank her.

And, while you're at it, send me a review :)