This is set post-game, so...yeah. This is also a birthday present for Omniflyer. Read this, and then go read his Abyss story. It's spiffy.
The sun was shining on Guy's face. He kept his eyes closed firmly, stubbornly against it, as though daring it to try continuing to infringe on his sleep. He could, of course, always get out of bed and pull the curtains closed. That would require getting out of bed, though, so he didn't count that as a choice. He was historically an early riser, but just this once – just today – he wanted to sleep until it just wasn't physically possible anymore.
"Gailardia!" Guy flinched, groaning and rolling over at the sound of Emperor Peony's singsong call. Therein lay the fatal flaw in his sleeping plan – the Emperor's routine morning arrival to play with his rappigs. Giving up on sleep entirely as Peony beckoned him a second time, Guy rolled out of bed and staggered over to his wardrobe to find some clothes.
He emerged, fully dressed, from his room just as the Emperor topped the stairs. He was grinning from ear to ear – typical of him when rappigs were involved – and he waved to Guy in a distinctly not royal way. "Morning Gailardia! You haven't seen Jade, have you?"
"I don't know why he'd be here," Guy said, confused. "Shouldn't he be in his office?"
"Not that Jade, I meant my cute little Jade!" Guy's sleep-disoriented mind caught up with the conversation at that point, then ran back into hiding at the peculiar look and tone of voice Peony always adopted when talking about his second-favorite rappig. "Have you seen him?"
"I just got up, Your Majesty, and there weren't any rappigs in my room." If Guy had been fully awake and aware, Peony might have seemed just a tad too busy, today. As it was, the Emperor was his usual overly jovial self. "Do you need me to look for him?"
"No, just go down and get their food ready. I'm sure he'll show up with the rest of them." Peony made a complete about-face and headed back down the stairs. With a defeated sigh, Guy trudged after him, passing the 'living room' where the Emperor usually played with the rappigs and heading into the kitchen.
Guy had accepted the position of Head Rappig Walker quite freely in exchange for the restoration of House Gardios. He had not been told this position extended to things such as feeding, washing and generally giving free run of his house to the Emperor's furry pets. He could hardly walk through the first floor these days without everything he had on accumulating a fine layer of pale pink hair.
Once the rappigs were fed – Jade did indeed arrive with the rest of them, right on schedule – and the Emperor happily watching them eat, Guy bowed politely and took his leave. In seconds, he was up on the third floor. Slipping down a side hallway, he fiddled with a surprisingly complex lock on the last door on the left. The door opened, and he jumped inside, closing it silently behind him.
Spread before him on several long tables, glinting in the sunlight, was all the fontech he could ever dream of messing with. Half-completed projects, beginnings of ideas, and complete and utter failures all awaited his attention and revision. He had hours before he would need to walk the rappigs for the morning. Usually he spent the time reading, or refining his sword skill (though there was little use for it anymore). But today – just today – he was going to enjoy himself as completely as possible. Grinning like only the fon-machine-obsessed could, Guy chose a shiny metal object from among the dozens and got to work.
He didn't know how long he'd been in there when a sudden sound made him freeze. It wasn't the presence of someone else in his sanctuary so much as the nature of that too-polite cough, which explained to Guy how someone had managed to get inside in the first place. Glancing over his shoulder, he gave his visitor a hesitant smile. "Good morning, Jade."
"Guy." Hands in his pockets, the uniformed colonel nodded in acknowledgement. "I trust this morning finds you well?"
"Well enough." He was trying desperately not to seem surprised or embarrassed. That was rather harder in his secret fontech workshop than it would have been, say, in his bedroom with a book, or out in the courtyard with a blade.
"Splendid." Leaning back against the wall, Jade removed one hand from a pocket and pushed his glasses back up onto his nose. Guy waited patiently for some indication as to why the colonel had gone to the trouble of breaking into his secret room, but Jade continued to stare at him evenly.
"So…did you need something?" he ventured finally, running a hand through his unruly hair. Only now did he realize he'd forgotten to comb it earlier.
"I believe you are quite late for your appointment with the rappigs." Jade smirked as Guy's face fell. "Fortunately, I made your excuses to Emperor Peony before I attempted to find you." The colonel's words carried a definite 'and you owe me for it' undertone.
"Thanks, Jade." Guy dashed past him, headed for the door. Calmly, Jade followed behind him, closing the door and listening to the lock click into place. Racing on ahead, Guy hardly noticed; somewhere in the distance, bells chimed the hour, making him a full half-hour late. I hope the Emperor isn't angry about this…
Guy got to the door of the living room and stopped dead in his tracks. His eyes widened a bit, and after a moment of shock he tilted his head slightly to the left, listening.
"Oh my rappigs are so beautiful..."
Beside him, Jade wore a similar expression of disconcerted confusion. The swordsman glanced over at the colonel and lowered his voice. "Is…is the Emperor…singing?"
"Unfortunately," Jade replied, stepping smoothly into the room in such a way that Peony's voice cut itself off. "As you requested, Your Majesty, I have found Gailardia."
"Jade," Peony whined; Guy edged into the room as quietly as possible. "How many times have I told you to call me by name?"
"Countless times, Your Majesty." The colonel was bowing, but his smirk was evident in his speech.
"Hmph," Peony pouted. He was seated in the softest, most fur-covered chair in the room, with a rappig on his lap – Nephry, judging by the jeweled collar – and another at his feet. The other four were in various places around the room, making a general mess of things. Guy cringed inwardly at the amount of cleaning this room was going to need at the end of the week. "And you're late, Gailardia."
"M-my apologies, Your Majesty," he stammered, dropping into a bow of his own. "It won't happen again." As he moved to get the leashes from their rack on the opposite wall (he had to step over Saphir in the process), he heard Peony sigh dramatically.
"Well, I guess I'll let it go this time, just because—"
"I'll be accompanying you on your walk, Gailardia." Peony pouted again at Jade cutting across his sentence, but didn't rebuke him. "It's a nice day, after all, and an old man like me could use the exercise."
"Watch how old you start calling old," Peony grumbled. "We're practically the same age, you know."
"As I said," the colonel grinned, "an old man like me can use all the fresh air he can get."
In typical Jade fashion, he strolled through the park square with his hands in his pockets and a vague smile on his face, leaving Guy to handle six rappig leashes and the creatures attached to them. As the irony of days that began as Guy's had must dictate, none of the Emperor's pets were being very cooperative. Saphir and Gelda wanted nothing more than to stop where they stood and laze in the sun; Luke had escaped the swordsman's tenuous hold and gone to roll in the mud; Jade was nosing around in a patch of flowers that Guy was certain had just been carefully landscaped to look just so; and Aslan and Nephry spent most of their time trying to get away from Guy to sniff at the other people out for a walk.
Overall, Guy's patience was wearing quite thin. It frayed even more every time Jade cast a knowing smirk his way.
In hindsight, he should have guessed it was coming.
"Guy!" A pair of arms locked around his waist from behind. Startled, Guy lost his grip on all six leashes, sending rappigs who found themselves suddenly free in all directions. He glanced over his shoulder at the owner of the arms.
"Waugh!" Shaking uncontrollably, Guy scrambled backward out of Anise's hold. He was several yards away before he was able to compose himself.
"Oh, boo, Guy," Anise pouted, looking remarkably like the Emperor had barely an hour previous. "I thought you were over that silly fear of women."
"You coming up from behind like that doesn't help!" he replied shakily. Anise paid him no attention; with a cry of, "Colonel!" she had already thrown her arms around Jade in a similar fashion.
"Why, Anise, what a surprise," the colonel said dryly. "Whatever are you doing in Grand Chokmah?" The girl sighed, shaking her head in frustration, pigtails bouncing around her ears.
"I'm supposed to be doing some kind of diplomatic thing for Daath," she complained, waving a hand dismissively at this information, "but I decided to do a little sightseeing first instead. I'm so happy I found you, Colonel!"
"The rappigs!" Guy shouted, one hand striking his forehead at his own idiocy. It was a small relief that Saphir and Gelda sat in a sunny spot only a few feet away; the others were nowhere to be seen. "Jade, Anise, you have to help me find them!"
"I'm not spending my day hunting down Emperor Peony's pets," Anise argued, hands on her hips.
"But it's your fault they ran off!" Guy retorted.
"I didn't let go of their leashes!" she shot back, taking a few menacing steps closer.
"You made me drop them!"
"If you two are quite finished," Jade cut in, glaring steadily at both of them, "we should probably try to find the rappigs before they can get any further away than they already are."
"Good point," Guy agreed. He had a vague idea of where each of the animals might be, but actually finding them – he knew this from experience – was another matter entirely. "Jade, you head toward the docks, and I'll start looking near the palace."
"Of course." Ordinarily, Guy would have wondered why Jade was being so cooperative. But today – just today – he didn't have time.
"What about me?" Anise called to Guy's retreating back.
"You stay here and make sure Saphir and Gelda don't leave!" he called back, breaking into a run toward the palace.
With a pronounced, dramatic sigh, Anise sank down onto a bench beside where the two rappigs were sunning themselves. "How come I always get stuck with the boring jobs? Honestly."
"Gotcha!" Guy pounced, catching the end of Luke's leash on his smallest finger before the rappig could get away. He felt his wrist stretch and twist painfully, but closed his fist to secure the leash in his grip. Standing, he studied his clothes with what was becoming a steadily more defeated sigh. He was covered in grass stains from his attempts to corral Jade, and now caked in mud from his slow, steady cornering of Luke.
"I hope Jade managed to find the other two," he mumbled to himself as he worked his way back to the main square. He knew he was attracting several harsh stares, and he kept his eyes focused on the ground. Today's just getting better and better…
"There you are, Guy!" Anise jumped up from her bench and ran closer to him, but stopped at a respectful distance. "Eww, you're all dirty."
"Yeah, well, I had something of a hard time catching them." He looked around. "Is Jade back yet?"
"Oh, he was here a little while ago. He brought back Nephry and Aslan, but then he said he had a lot of work to do, and he left them with me too." She motioned to where the four rappig leashes were tied to a leg of the bench. "He said you'd take them all back to your manor."
Guy sighed again. Leave it to Jade to leave him with all the dirty work. "Yeah, I will. Thanks for sticking around, Anise."
"Oh, you're welcome, Guy," she said sweetly, giving him her best endearing smile. "Do you think I could walk back with you and see your manor? Please?"
There it was, the ulterior motive. "Sure, I guess. …If you take two of the leashes."
"No way!" Anise backed away, holding up her hands in disgust. "I'm not getting all dirty. You wouldn't want a lady like me to show up at a noble's manor with dirty clothes, would you, Guy?"
He didn't want to fall to the act. He wanted to just get back, preferably with some help, deal with washing and feeding the rappigs again, change his clothes and sleep the rest of the day away. But he knew he couldn't do that. It wouldn't be right.
"Fine." He untied the other rappigs from the bench and settled their leashes in his hands again. "It's this way."
"You're so sweet, Guy," Anise giggled. Guy resisted the strong urge to sigh again. Yeah, maybe I am…but I'm probably going to regret it.
They walked the rest of the way back in silence, with Guy needing to stop occasionally to tug on one or another of the leashes. Anise bounced along happily beside him, admiring the clean, rainwashed look of Grand Chokmah with a smile. If Guy had been paying attention, he might have noticed something devious about that smile of hers. But there was so much on his mind today – just today – that he hardly even remembered she was with him.
The rappigs burst through the door ahead of Guy; as he struggled to corral them toward their baths, Anise stood in the entryway and gushed about the lavishness of his house.
"I can't believe this, Guy, I mean I knew you were really a noble, but I didn't really think…well, I mean, look at this place, it's so…is that rappig hair?" Her voice dropped into disgust as he shoved the last of the rappigs into the bath room. He had people to help him, of course, but right now he felt as though he were facing this daunting task all by himself.
"Hey, Anise," he called suddenly.
"I thought you had some diplomatic thing to do here. Why did you follow me to my house if you're so busy?"
"Oh, I'm going to be here for a while, and I wanted a day off," she explained dismissively. "Really, I don't see why they should send me anyway. I'm going to be the next Fon Master, after all. Goodness, Guy, is this gold-plated?" Guy shook his head at her resumed rambling and went back to preparing six rappig baths.
Still going on about the grandeur of Guy's foyer – which, really, wasn't that grand compared to some – Anise grinned at her reflection in a mirror. Really, sometimes it was almost too easy.
Guy fell backward onto his bed, staring up at the ceiling, the light from the sunset falling across his face. He was tired. He had washed all the rappigs, fed them, brought them to the palace at Peony's request, left Anise there, returned home, scrubbed himself of all the dirt and sweat and work of the day, put on clean clothes, and taken his dirty ones down to be washed.
He sighed. Today – just today – he would have liked to go down to the kitchen and make himself something new and unusual for dinner. As it was, though, he didn't even feel like he had the energy to roll over, let alone cook something. His stomach rumbled in protest.
There was a soft knock at the door. "Come in," he mumbled, forcing himself to sit up and focus on the doorway. The man who opened it bowed politely, then stood to formally address him.
"Master Gailardia, His Majesty Emperor Peony the Ninth expressly requests your immediate presence in the audience hall of the palace." The messenger looked hopeful, awaiting his reply.
He was certainly surprised when Guy flopped back onto the blanket, covering his face with his arms. "Erm…Master Gailardia?"
"Tell him I'm coming," he muttered, rolling over and burying his face in his pillow. He heard the man close the door behind him; he waited a few minutes before venting his frustration on his feather pillow. Just this once, why couldn't I be left alone?
He rolled off the bed and stood, walking over to the mirror hanging on his wardrobe door. Reluctantly, he straightened his hair, though 'straightened' was always a relative term, with him. He brushed off his clothes, too, straightening the hem of his shirt irritably. Composing his expression, he stepped out of his room and headed for the stairs.
He stood before the audience chamber door. It was taking longer than usual for Guy to push it open. It was odd that it was closed, though. With a final sigh, and feeling the last of his energy starting to fade, he reached out a hand and pushed into the room.
"Surprise!" chorused so many voices. Guy nearly screamed, backing against the door before realizing what was going on. Carefully placed fonstone lights gave the otherwise-dark room a starlit feel, illuminating a long table in the center of the room. Around it sat all of his closest friends, and at its center…
"Happy birthday, Guy."
…was a cake.
Guy's stunned expression broke into a wide smile. Anise and Florian were beaming at him from the end of the table nearest the door; beside Anise, Jade smirked knowingly. Peony was beside the colonel, reclining in the chair with his hands behind his head. On the other side of the table, Luke grinned in his typical giddy fashion. On either side of him were Tear and General Cecille, both smiling calmly, but with an excited light behind their eyes; Mieu was bouncing happily in Luke's lap. Past them, Noelle and Ginji sat opposite each other, waving to him. Natalia stood at the far end, pulling out a chair obviously designated for him.
He took a step closer, speechless. Not liking the silence, Anise filled it. "You don't know how hard it was keeping everyone's arrivals a secret from you, Guy! You almost ran right into Florian while you were looking for one of those rappigs. He was so confused."
"So this is your diplomatic stuff from Daath, huh?" Guy asked brightly, finally finding himself possessed of speech.
"Fooled you good, didn't I?" Anise teased.
"Yeah, you really did."
"What the hell are you waiting for, Guy?" Luke asked, trying and failing to sound annoyed despite his huge grin. "I want some cake already, so get over here."
"Thank you. …All of you." Guy made his way over to his chair, smiling at Natalia for holding it out for him. She smiled back, returning to her own chair on his left. "I…well, I really was starting to think today was just awful."
"It's your birthday, silly," Noelle argued. "It can't be that bad."
"Yeah, remember my last birthday?" Luke cut in. "Man, did we ever party."
"If you call loitering in the Tataroo Valley at all hours of the night a 'party,'" Jade remarked, deadpan.
Tear held out a carving knife to Guy, handle-first. He took it, holding it above his cake and pausing for a moment. He was supposed to make a wish, but if he really thought about it, today – just today – he couldn't think of anything else to wish for.
Still grinning, Guy leaned forward and blew out the candles.
Well? Hehe, thanks for reading! Comments are appreciated.
Happy Birthday, Omni!!!