23

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Warnings/notes: Yujinn/Darres.

Disclaimer: I don't own Vampire Game. This fic was originally written for Yuletide 2005.

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23

It's been 23 minutes since Sir Keld has started telling Ishtar how lucky she is that, thanks to the vast influence and resources at the disposal of Sir Keld (read: the power he's supposed to hand over to Ishtar in a few months and should use wisely and sparingly, and Zi Alda's network of spies he only has access to thanks to his being a distant relative of the royal family) he's managed to find a replacement for the tutor Ishtar reduced to tears and chased away.

Yuujel/Yujinn is bored out of his mind and decides that 1) someone should tell this doddering braggart to shut up already, and 2) the captain of Ishtar's bodyguard is staring at him funnily. Sir Keld has assured him aforehand that there is no way that Captain Darres will be able to recognize him, but given the source, Yuujel/Yujinn is rather disinclined to put too much faith in that assurance.

Still, as long as Captain Darres doesn't jump up and accuses him of not being an orphan taken in by one of the greatest mages of the kingdom -and who, in the name of Duzell, came up with a background-story as lame as that?- Yuujel/Yujinn supposes he might as well play his role as best as he can.

The next time the captain's gaze travels up and down his body in a way that's almost identical to the way women -and some men- have been looking at him for years, Yuujel/Yujinn turns his head ever so slightly, at exactly the right time to look straight into the captain's eyes.

Captain Darres flushes, as if Yuujel/Yujinn caught him doing something he's not supposed to be doing, instead of something so simple as his job.

Yuujel/Yujinn has to suppress a strange desire to grin, keeping a straight face while Sir Keld tells Ishtar once again how lucky she is (to be surrounded by incompetent idiots like him, who usurp her power and try to mold her into some mute, obedient puppet) and how well she and Yujinn are going to get along (because they at least have their dislike of Sir Keld in common).

22

It's a full three weeks (give or take a day) before Captain Darres confronts Yuujel/Yujinn about his so obviously-fake history as the world's luckiest orphan. He does so while Ishtar is supposedly studying an ancient text concerning how best to go about keeping moths away from your favorite woolen cloak by the use of magic, rather than herbs (as most sensible people would).

Actually, Ishtar is staring out of the window Yuujel/Yujinn insisted on having in his so-called work-room, doodling a rather good caricature of Sir Keld, which amuses Yuujel/Yujinn enough not to remind her of the book lying opened in front of her.

"Where do you really come from?" The question just pops out, against all social niceties that some dear old lady has been attempting to teach Ishtar for years and years, without any notable success to show for her trouble.

Yuujel/Yujinn is tempted to be sassy, or to at least remind the captain that he should be setting a proper example for Ishtar (always keeping his cool and being polite, and ready to draw his sword at the first sign of danger, to charge it headfirst and beat the snot out of anything or anyone evil enough to wish to harm Phelios' descendant) but the captain's cheeks are slightly red again, and Yuujel/Yujinn is reminded, strangely, illogically, of Ashley attempting to get a straight answer out of Leene.

Besides, someone asking him where he's from means that someone hasn't (yet) found any reason to suspect him of being from Zi Alda, and a prince-in-disguise.

"Some place you've probably never even heard of, Captain." Yuujel/Yujinn is pretty sure that he's lied before, to Leene (a lot, he hopes), to Lucy (not too often, he thinks) and, of course, to Ashley (for Ashley's own good, he assumed at the time). Most people he's met are easy to lie to, almost eager for it, as if the truth is something they'd rather not have.

However, Yuujel/Yujinn feels like Darres isn't one of those people, like Darres might actually know he's lying when he casually drops the name of some little-known or imaginary village in, say, La Naan.

"Oh." The Captain seems to blush very easily, at least when he's around Ishtar (which is all the time, so maybe there's a reason for Ishtar claiming to despise all of her relatives, aside from the obvious one that most of them are people Yuujel/Yujinn prefers to meet only as names in reports, rather than in flesh and blood). It makes Yuujel/Yujinn think of him as being a lot younger than he actually is, as someone more of his own age. Someone he might have tried to seduce, purely for the fun of it (and because Darres probably would be quite a pleasant challenge).

21

"I really like Darres," Ishtar says, on a lovely springday that she doubtlessly would much rather have spent outside, riding, than inside, surrounded by dusty books and people pretending to have her best interests at heart.

Darres, standing a mere three feet away from her, remains silent.

"He's a very likeable person," Yujinn agrees, after having counted to ten twice, to make sure he won't burst out laughing as soon as he opens his mouth, and then waiting another heartbeat to study Darres' expression, or lack of one, as it is.

Ishtar nods, smiling and beaming, and suddenly so beautiful that Yujinn isn't sure whether to fall in love with her or to envy her.

They both turn to Darres, watching the blood creep up from his neck to his cheeks, before Ishtar goes and spoils the mood by asking to be allowed to skip today's lessons.

20

Darres reminds Yujinn of Ashley, but only because they're both swordsmen (in about the same sense that Phelios and Yujinn are both mages). Beyond the fact that they both more or less know what to do with a pointy piece of iron, better than what to do with spells and charms (in both senses of the word) though, they have nothing in common (much like Ishtar and Yujinn are similar in no ways but one).

Ashley is quiet, because he doesn't always knows how to say what he wants or feels, and there have always been people (read: Leene and Yuujel) to talk in his place, to voice his opinions and intentions.

Darres is quiet, when he knows nothing he says can make a difference. Darres uses words the way he uses his sword, even if it's usually the sword that cuts deepest, because there are only three people Darres ever raises his voice to, and one of them is too high-born and spoilt to pay him any heed, while the other two suffer from over-exposure to Ishtar, and will probably never be impressed again by any other person.

Ashley, Yujinn loved as a friend, even if maybe he shoved him down the road to hell with his good intentions. It was rather easy for a while after that not to get attached to anyone else, to just play at affection and love.

Darres, Yujinn suspects, would never let himself be shoved down any road, not even for someone he's in love with (though maybe he'd do it for Ishtar). Darres would, at the very least, drag along the person who tried to shove him.

(And he'd come willingly, Yujinn is worried to think. He's supposed to be more jaded about things like this, but Darres isn't, and that makes him tempting in a way that Yujinn can't quite resist or give in to.)

19

"Anyway, I've heard that he was chased out of the village where he lived by a mob of people who all thought he was responsible for the bad weather."

Overhearing Krai and Jill's conversations occasionally is nearly as informative as reading the summary of the latest report Lucy has sent him, and often twice as entertaining. Besides, her last package contained nearly twenty pages of paper (which made it rather hard to get rid of unnoticedly).

"That's stupid," Krai says, sounding like the expert on stupidity that he is, according to Darres-in-a-bad-mood. Darres-in-a-good-mood probably merely considers Krai 'best suited for uncomplicated missions'. "Farmers just don't know anything. If I suspected someone of being a involved in dark magic, I sure wouldn't let him find out."

Jill nods. "Yeah. That's just asking to be cursed."

"You're a smart guy." Krai says, sounding like the expert on smartness that he's not, according to everyone Yujinn has overheard on the subject.

18

When he sees the new way Darres steals glances at him, Yujinn begins to think that perhaps he's been less smart than he thought he was, starting a rumor of his own about his reasons for being so eager to take up a job that's likely to get him killed, deranged or suicidal, and possibly all three -within two weeks and four days, according to the bet that Krai turns out to have made with Jill on the day of his arrival, based upon Sir Keld championing him as a paragon of virtue, to which Jill made the counter-bet of claiming Yujinn just might be smart enough to run away with life and sanity, both of which ideas Yujinn has already proven to be wrong.

17

Darres being Darres, Yujinn had rather expected to be asked about the 'questionable love-affair' that drove him to call on dear, dear Sir Keld -his uncle, Krai thinks, though Jill considers it more like that Sir Keld is Yujinn's grandfather, whose daughter has run off with a wandering scoundrel at the tender age of seventeen, which just goes to prove what kind of stories are most popular in Pheliosta's worse taverns.

Ishtar doesn't say anything about it, if she has even heard of the rumor. Yujinn isn't entirely sure if she'd care, aside from the whole 'getting on the bad side of Sir Keld' aspect of the thing, which might score him a few points in her book.

Yujinn couldn't care less about what Sir Keld thinks about 'a person of his elevated station' having his (non-existent) good name 'dragged through the dirt of indignity and disgrace', though he's glad of being able to point out that, as far as the world knows, he's just a humble tutor and mage, with no blood of some sainted forefather flowing through his veins to provide him with superhuman virtues and morals.

Krai and Jill, predictably, eat the whole story up, swallowing hook, line and sinker, and speculating wildly about who, or what, he might have been having an affair with. Yujinn suspects that Krai is mostly jealous, while Jill enjoys a bit of excitement that doesn't involve Darres giving them a tongue-lashing.

16

"Have you ever," Yujinn asks, in one of the rare moment that Darres isn't by Istar's side, but is leaning against the wall near her room instead, waiting for Ishtar's maids to finish dressing her up, "contemplated having sex with a sheep?"

"No," Darres replies, in a tone that (falsely) implies he doesn't see anything strange about the question, and would have answered in the same tone of voice if Yujinn would have asked him how old Ishtar will be in eightteen months.

Yujinn allows himself to look at Darres in the way Leene sometimes used to look at him (even if Ashley never ever looked at Leene that way, which might make him a purer, better person than either Leene or Yuujel, although that's all water under a rotten, burnt-down bridge by now).

"Neither have I." To say that Darres is good-looking wouldn't be fair. Darres is great-fabulous-looking, and the fact that he doesn't flaunt it only adds to the attraction. "However ... "

Darres straightens, his position changing from 'swordsman slouching' to 'swordsman ready to defend himself'. Yujinn has never noticed any kind of pattern in Ishtar's doings, but it seems that Darres has, and that whatever it is that's allowed him to is now telling him that Ishtar will come out shortly.

Yujinn moves closer to Darres, just to see how near he can come before Darres' instincts as a swordsman and bodyguard object, and because, well, Darres is as much fun to look at up close as from a distance. And it's all a game, of course, so it's not like Yujinn should worry about having blundered in love again.

"... I do have thought about having sex with you."

Ishtar saunters out -obviously Sir Keld has been blabbering about royalty needing to stride again- at exactly the moment Yujinn backs away from Darres, causing Yujinn to suspect that she's been eavesdropping. He's not sure if it'll be a good thing to have Ishtar know about this. Ishtar likes Darres, after all, and Darres would die for her.

"Your majesty." Yujinn bows.

"Get a room next time you guys want to make out," Ishtar tells him, sailing past, with Darres in her wake, who promptly starts to deny everything. Yujinn wouldn't have expected him to do anything else.

15

"If you ever hurt him or make him unhappy, I'll kill you," Ishtar says flatly, and she's only a fifteen-year-old girl who can't do any magic that's more advanced than lighting a candle, and a mediocre swordswoman at best, although Yujinn has never seen her practice personally, so Lucy's reports may be wrong on that account, even if they tend to be right about everything else (but he almost feels like she's what Phelios might have been like).

"And if I intend to do neither?" Yujinn manages, because Ishtar scares him a little right now, and he's glad he's never shown her a spell like La Gamme, since he thinks she just might cast it on him if he does or says the wrong thing now.

"Then I'd say you could do with some pointers, considering it's been four months since I found you kissing in front of my door, and you haven't gotten anywhere since then." Ishtar giggles, shrugs and suddenly she really is nothing more than a fifteen-year-old again.

Yujinn recalls that once, he made this same offer to Ashley.

"I admit that I might need a few pointers." He grins wryly, as if they're of an age, and sharing a secret.

"Give me tomorrow morning off, and I'll tell you his weak spot," Ishtar promises.

14

Yujinn swears he's going to kill Ishtar, even if he has to admit that Darres looks kind of cute and approachable and ravishable when he's bended over double, laughing to the point where he's in danger of choking, all because Yujinn has believed Ishtar when she said that Darres'd probably love to receive flowers, chocolate and a hand-written poem of two times four and two times three lines, as prescribed by ancient tradition and some guy named Virgil, by someone wearing a feathered hat and the latest in fashion.

13

"I like you much better in normal clothing," Darres tells him, in a stolen moment during which both of them are supposed to be attending Ishtar, who declared she'd rather go out riding than have Yujinn try to teach her a new spell to encourage her hair to change colour today, upon which Yujinn traded in her lesson for an hour with Darres.

"Thank you." Yujinn ponders if this is worth abandoning his scheme for vengeance on Ishtar, and decides that it's not quite enough, nice as it is to receive praise from Darres. And then, because it's an hour past midday, on a beautiful afternoon, and he thinks that the one thing that might make this whole scene even more perfect would be to see Darres blushing, he adds: "And how would you like me without any clothing whatsoever?"

12

"You're doing this all wrong!" Ishtar accuses him, having sent Darres on a fool's errand for a glass of water, after having assured him that Yujinn's magic will be more than capable of defending her against any attack.

"I'm sorry," Yujinn replies, because he is. Not in any apologetic sense, towards Ishtar, but it's not a lie to say he's rather sorry about his lack of success concerning Darres.

"You'd better be!" Ishtar scowls. "I gave you a dozen ideas about how to get into his pants, and you just keep screwing them up. I'm starting to think I'm better off finding someone else."

"I'm sorry," Yujinn repeats, deciding he doesn't want to think about what she means by that last line, even if he knows all about trying to find a way to give someone you love someone who you hope will make him happier than you will ever be able to.

"So am I." Ishtar sighs.

Yujinn wonders if this is what people mean when they say that misery loves company.

11

"So ... who was it that you fell in love with back home, wherever that may be?" Darres asks, in typical-Darres fashion, not sounding nosy or even curious. However, he also doesn't add that it's okay if Yujinn would rather not talk about it, which probably means that it won't be all right if Yujinn refuses to answer the question.

"Nobody." It's the truth, in nearly every way except the one that Darres is most likely to find out about, if he ever discovers that Yujinn is Yuujel. There are few people who believe he's never been in love with Leene, and rather a lot who can tell the story of how they almost committed double-suicide.

Darres looks pensive for a moment, before he nods, apparently accepting this answer as the truth. Anyone else, excepting, perhaps, Ishtar, Yujinn would suspect of only pretending.

"When the princess was ten or so, she used to bring me flowers, and tell me that when she grew up, she was going to marry me." Darres doesn't sound sorry that the only thing Ishtar brings him nowadays is trouble, and loads of it. He just offers up this anecdote as a way to tell Yujinn something.

Yujinn wishes he could figure out what, and says so, after a moment's consideration of dignity versus sense, lust, logic and reason.

"I suppose that girls bring flowers to people they love." For Darres, that's one very cryptic answer. Yujinn wonders if that's a bad sign, or a good one, and resolves to ask Ishtar about it later.

10

"It's two hours to midnight, captain," Yujinn remarks, being formal because he hadn't counted on running into Darres in the library, of all places. On top of which he's about to go to a bed that's still completely empty of anyone else. "Shouldn't you be sleeping?"

Darres blushes, for reasons that are a mystery to Yujinn, but hopefully involve the word 'sleep' being associated with the words 'dream', 'sex' and 'Yujinn' in the strange world that's Darres' mind.

"There was something I wanted to check up on," Darres offers hesitantly. It's not quite the plea Yujinn had hoped for, but he supposes it'll have to do.

"What kind of something would this be?" Yujinn inquires, with his best smile.

"Kyawls." The word is almost a question.

Yujinn sighs and, grabbing the candle, leads Darres to the section where books on wild animals are being kept, making sure to point Darres to some books on the top and bottom shelves first, before hazarding the guess that they might be standing in the easy to reach middle section.

Darres' expression tells him that Darres knows Yujinn has been taking at least a little advantage of his ignorance, but also that, perhaps, Darres doesn't entirely mind someone ogling his backside.

Yujinn wouldn't say he wakes up from a good night's sleep the next morning, but at least his dreams have been interesting, if still dreams.

9

"Now, slowly count to ten before lifting the paper from the water. After that, you will - "

"Why ten seconds?" Ishtar interrupts him. She tends not to ask many questions during his lessons, preferring instead to let him talk on and get it over with as soon as possible.

"It's been determined to work best that way." Yujinn smiles.

"Hasn't anyone tried to do it in nine?" Ishtar demands, putting her pet-kyawl on the table, next to a stack of scrolls. Yujinn swears he'll ban the pet from this room if it so much as bumps into anything.

"Yes, it so happens that someone did." Yujinn leans back, enjoying himself.

"Well? Did it work?" Ishtar doesn't like being baited. She's a little like Darres, and Yujinn himself, in that way, so Yujinn can't say he dislikes that about her.

"Nobody knows." Yujinn shrugs. "The next morning, his students opened the room to his work-room to find nobody there, except a kyawl, chasing a small ball of yarn."

Ishtar snorts, clearly not buying the kyawl-part.

Darres makes a movement as the probable reason for Ishtar's disbelief -and, incidentally, the inspiration for Yujinn's little tale- does exactly the thing Yujinn hoped it wouldn't, and brings down half of Yujinn's recently arrived collection of books and scrolls on how to predict and manipulate the weather.

"See? Duzell doesn't believe your story either!" Ishtar picks up her kyawl, who looks faintly guilty, at least to Yujinn, while Darres bends down to pick up a few scrolls to hand to Yujinn. "I'd better go before the old fart forgets he still has some documents for me to sign."

It's not the most subtle of ways to give him and Darres some alone-time, but it works, and Darres can't do anything about it (except complain that Ishtar is compromising her safety) so he bears with it, as the good soldier he is.

8

"You know, you almost seem like Ishtar's shadow." Yujinn knows that, maybe, this isn't the best of times to ask about Ishtar, and probably, he's going about this in the perfect way to make sure Darres will never seek out his company again, but Darres has asked him about Leene and Ashley and Lucy, even if he wasn't aware of it, so Yujinn feels it's only fair that he gets to ask Darres about Ishtar in return.

"I'm her bodyguard." Darres doesn't say that he's the only capable person with that title, because Krai and Jill might be able to handle two modestly determined assassins who aren't very good with their swords and don't know the meaning of the word 'teamwork', but Darres, Yujinn thinks, could handle four times that number, even if they'd be expert swordsmen.

Darres also doesn't say that Ishtar is his one and only love, so in that way, Yujinn supposes the answer to the question he's not going to ask is a positive one.

7

"Do you think lust is a sin?" Yujinn asks, curiously, because he truly doesn't know what a concept like 'sin' means to Darres. Mostly, Darres seems to divide his world into things that are dangerous and things that aren't, and his reaction to encountering either is much the same.

"No," Darres says, in a tone that implies having heard Sir Keld lecture for several hours on the subject of the seven capital sins has been far too much already, and that he'd like for Yujinn to pick a different subject for them to talk about.

Yujinn refuses to oblige him, in a way, because it's a lovely summer-afternoon, and Ishtar won't be needing Darres again until the next morning.

He'd like to think that Darres doesn't mind all that much - he is smiling in his sleep when Yujinn stares down on him the next morning, the first rays of sunlight slowly making their way into the room, as if reluctant to bring an ending to the night.

6

"I swear, they're totally sleeping together," Krai tells an incredulous Jill, who snorts and tells Krai he's been chasing after that new serving-girl in the Broken Trumpet for too long, since it's obviously messed up his head, to which Krai replies that it's been less than a week since the first time he saw the lovely Iacintha, which isn't that long at all.

5

"Now, Phelios was the greatest of kings for several reasons." Sir Keld is probably the only person in the world who can drone and mumble at the same time. Yujinn wishes he hadn't allowed Darres to rope him into volunteering for back-up bodyguard duty after the latest assassination-attempt on Ishtar.

True, he's probably the most skilled mage in the castle at the moment -though he's been picking up a strange presence recently, as if something ancient and powerful is stalking the halls and corridors of the palace without anyone noticing, which has got to be nonsense, and the influence of too much listening in on Krai trying to freak out Jill by telling ghost-stories. However, that just means he can construct powerful charms to protect Ishtar when he's not around; unlike Darres, Yujinn doesn't have to be near someone all the time in order to be an efficient protector.

"He ruled wisely and fairly, introducing many laws and procedures, as well as designing a system of taxes that we still use today." Ishtar yawns. Her kyawl seems to be asleep already. "Most well-known, of course, is his victory over the dreaded vampire-king Duzell."

The 'dreaded vampire-king's namesake hisses. Ishtar pets him with one hand, using the other to barely hide another yawn.

"Lady Ishtar, please pay attention." Sir Keld frowns. "The attributes of your sainted forefather ought to serve as a guidance and an example to you. You should aspire to resemble him as much as you can, for all agree that the world has never known a ruler as exalted as Phelios."

"And all agree that Sir Keld is the biggest bore there ever was," Krai whispers to Jill, who snickers.

Yujinn smiles.

Darres does not, and Yujinn thinks that perhaps, Darres knows that in Sir Keld's opinion, the best kings are all dignified, humble, virtuous, male and very, very dead, and Ishtar is none of those things.

Yujinn reaches out briefly, secretly, to touch Darres' right hand that's resting on his sword, to be rewarded with a slight relaxing of Darres' posture and a hint of a smile.

"I'm tired," Ishtar declares, dramatically sagging in her seat, putting a hand to her forehead in a gesture that's so obviously inspired by the ending of the fifth scene in 'The Lady of Pheliosta', which goes on for two long hours about Phelios' wife waiting for his homecoming, that Yujinn can believe all too easily that Sir Keld falls for it like the proverbial rock.

"Perhaps you are not yet fully recovered from yesterday's attack, your highness," Yujinn steps to her side, in time to see her winking at him. Darres must have seen it as well, judging by the mixture of relief and disapproval on his face.

"Of course, of course. I should have realized something was wrong with your highness much sooner," Sir Keld blathers, going along with the majority like the politician he is. "In my youth, my grandmother used to prepare a special remedy for me that consisted of - "

"The royal physician has recommended rest," Yujinn lies, because Darres can't -and Yujinn values that inability in him- and Ishtar won't be believed. "I'm sure he knows best."

4

"Go on, Duzell, don't you want to catch that butterfly?" Ishtar coos to her kyawl, who stares at her with an expression that seems to imply blatant disbelief at her suggesting that it might have any interest whatsoever in chasing after some colourful insect.

"Are you looking for assassins hiding in the grass, or just for a lucky clover?" Yujinn asks Darres, in what he hopes to be a tone less doting than Ishtar's. He's come to realize that Ishtar's pretty intense about those she loves, and he supposes it's natural that she talks to a kitten like one would to a baby, but it still feels a bit strange to think that this is the same girl who sharply reminds Sir Keld that the royal seal is not his to use as he pleases, and the young woman he thinks might almost have become as dear to him as Lucy and Ashley (and Leene?).

"I'm just being cautious," Darres replies, displaying a dignity that would fill Sir Keld with pride if Ishtar were to ever show it -although his pride would mostly lie in having been the one who taught it to her, rather than in Ishtar acting like a true queen.

"And boring!" Ishtar jumps up. "Stop being so stuffy, Darres! Let's all go looking for lucky clovers, and go for a drink in town later! I've heard that there's a really good tavern two streets from the North Gate."

"We'll just look for lucky clovers and then go straight back to the castle," Darres says quickly. Yujinn's willing to bet that Krai and Jill are going to receive another preach about not discussing their favorite taverns within earshot of Ishtar.

"Oh, all right." Ishtar can't quite hide her triumphant grin. It doesn't really matter, since Darres is very much aware that he's been tricked - so maybe the word 'tricked' isn't right.

Darres loves her, Yujinn thinks, and by a miracle, there's no need for him to envy her for that, because Darres loves him, too, and that's why this will never become a triangle (Ashley and Leene and him) or a square (Lucy and Ashley and Leene and him) though he supposes a threesome might lie within the possibilities, because he, too, loves Ishtar, which is unexpected but not entirely unpleasant.

3

"One is for you." Ishtar solemnly hands a lucky clover to Yujinn.

"One is for you." Ishtar, her face still solemn, hands a lucky clover to Darres, before spoiling the ceremonial mood by giggling and adding: "Although I guess you both got lucky already." to which neither Darres nor Yujinn have any quick and witty reply at the ready.

"And this one, Duzie and me will share."

The sun sets, and Ishtar almost looks like a saint, with the dying light of day forming a halo around her head, as if she were Phelios, on the painting that hangs in the Great Hall, the words of La Gamme still lingering on his (her) lips.

2

Yujinn sometimes wonders what it would be like to be staring at Darres over a blade, to meet him in a clash of steel and swords, to set his speed and dexterity against Darres'. Most often, he wonders about this in a bed that's no longer empty most of the nights.

He thinks about it as he feels Darres' hands trailing unseen patterns on his back, while Darres' mouth ghosts over his stomach and his chest before meeting Yujinn's. He's never been bothered by these kinds of thoughts about his lovers (one-night stands) before, and that has to mean something.

Unfortunately (or fortunately) thoughts have a habit of not sticking around for too long when Darres is around him, not when it's like this, when it's hard to even think in words that have more than one syllable. Words like 'yes' and even, surprisingly, 'please' fall from his lips easily enough, but for some reason 'would you like to spar with me tomorrow?' is a bit slower in coming.

Darres does something that a person who's been spending the majority of his life being bodyguard and ignoring his admirers regardless of gender really shouldn't know about - not that Yujinn's complaining, except that what with Ishtar and Darres both bruising his ego fairly regularly, he'd almost begin to doubt if he's as good as this kind of thing as he assumed he was.

Yujinn's sight goes black for a moment -or actually, his eyes have fluttered shut for a moment, which sounds like a phrase straight out of those kind of books he and Lucy both aren't reading- and the next, he's forgotten his reasons for ever thinking that anything that feels this beyond-good could possibly be a bad thing -aside, possibly, from the fact that his heartbeat sounds unnaturally loud and fast in his ears, and his lungs feel like they're about to run out of air, because his mouth has found much more interesting and enjoyable things to do than breathing.

Come to think of it, his mind probably has better things to do than thinking up words to describe something that he can't put into words without sounding like a writer of bad romance-novels. He's pretty sure, for example, that there's still a trick or two Darres doesn't know about yet.

1

"I can only use this once?" Darres asks for the dozenth time, staring at the small magic mirror Yujinn has presented to him with so much suspicion that Yujinn'd almost feel insulted. It's only the knowledge that he is, in fact, if not outright lying, then at least giving a spin to the truth that might be considered somewhat deceiving, that keeps him from losing his temper and turning this farewell into something Darres will remember for the rest of his life, rather than merely for the duration of his trip to La Naan.

"You can use this mirror in an emergency involving the princess, yes. Not to contact me just because you're missing me." Yujinn makes sure his smile implies that, of course, he's only making a joke, because their relationship isn't of the clingy, sappy kind that inspires songs and legends. (Although there are certainly some classical ingredients present, what with his still not having told Darres his real name, and with Ishtar studiously paying more attention to her kyawl than to Darres.)

Darres nods. He doesn't say that he's going to miss Yujinn, which is fine, since Yuujel hasn't told Darres he's going to miss him, either (but Yuujel knows he's going to, and he selfishly hopes that Darres will miss Yujinn, too, and maybe thinks of him when he holds the mirror and ponders if this is the one emergency that he can't deal with all by himself.)

OWARI