Written for yurichallenge over LJ again. This may become a multi-chaptered piece in the future, but for now it stands on its own.

Let me know if you like it, and how I can improve it!!

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The night was chill. Karura was not normally affected by cold, at least outwardly. A few too many years of beating her subconscious and her opponents into submission in what many would consider the most adverse of conditions had bred her otherwise.

She crouched as she rounded the next set of trees before her. The sentries on the wall of this city were practically sleeping; the dull phosphorous glow of the lights in each tower point did nothing to deter this fact. It was perfect.

Swiftly, and without a sound as always, Karura was joined by her companion for this mission. The other woman was knelt then also, and crab-walked a few feet to get a better peek from behind a bit of brush. Karura gave her the barest of looks in acknowledgment, one which she was almost certain hadn't even been noticed, and then faced back to the wall.

About 40 feet, huh. There was a moment of consideration in Karura's mind for this thought, and then without a second one she cracked her fingers audibly at her sides. Her low-light vision eyes caught the flutter of her partner's ears. Touka was glaring at her pointedly with an expression that sat somewhere between disgust at the other woman's uncanny ability to do this without pressure from an opposing hand and threatening against her to continue.

Karura accepted the glare placidly, then made a quick check to the wall before dashing in a low run to Touka's side. She settled in easily; the sentries weren't doing their jobs at all tonight. "Sorry, it's cold out. This helps a little to keep blood flowing," Karura told her, holding up a hand and cracking a couple fingers again for emphasis.

Touka snatched at the hand and closed it into a fist, forcing it downward. "Would you just be quiet?" she hissed. After a short moment of inquisitive looks from Karura, she turned to face the wall again, then added, "It wouldn't hurt you to be a bit more serious sometimes, too."

The cat girl paused at this. She took her hand away from the other woman's capture and then used it to scratch her cheek, examining the guards' patterns one last time. There was an opening just now; the shift was changing as it always did at this time, and the fresh guards on this side were always two minutes late.

"I'm always serious," Karura muttered to herself as she leapt out from her cover to reach the wall. The Evenkurugan took to her heel.

The shadows afforded them very little cover, but the wind blowing the grasses in a natural fashion did. Their motion, which under normal circumstances would have been more than obvious under a cold, still night, was disguised quite well by the rolling appearance of the plain. Karura remembered spottily and without apparent reason that this country often had cold, still nights.

Cold, still, like stone, like iron pressing against your face, always pressing and always cold, tossing and turning, no sleeping, and nothing giving, not even your own body--

They reached the wall proper without incident, and with a quick nod, Karura cupped her hands and braced her back slightly. Touka nodded in return, and bounded her right foot into the other woman's hands, following the flow of it as she was launched into the air. The thin frame grasped the edge of the wall with ease, using her own innate strength to roll over the barrier.

Karura shot a few furtive glances into the darkness of the field around her, then looked back up expectantly, waiting. Touka was taking a moment too long – she was only supposed to toss the rope as soon as she was set. A trickle of the coldness from the wind crept down her back and wandered around to settle into her stomach. This was not a good sign. Another moment-too-long passed, and finally the cat woman couldn't take it any more.

Scanning the wall for the guard change, she didn't see anyone, but she was terribly close. Frustrated, Karura darted out about twenty feet from the wall. Again, with a better view, no one. As satisfied as she could be with such a hastily-necessitated decision, she ran back towards the wall and unwrapped the grappling hook from her belt. Just as she felt a finality in the twisting from her wrist to get the thing up high enough, the rope she'd been waiting for fell, and Touka's disgruntled face peered over the edge to her.

Karura felt her hands tremble slightly as she put the hook back into its holster. She began climbing deftly regardless, and felt a bit of cold sweat drip down her neck. This is not a good night to feel cold, she thought dully.

She rolled over the edge carefully, her shoes barely making a sound as they hit the ground of the rampart. Taking in her surroundings, Karura was less-than-pleased. Two guards were sprawled, upside-down, butts in the air and face against the pavement, unconscious. She licked at her lips with a bit of trepidation.

Touka said, hushed, "They got here on time for once."

Karura shook her head. "No choices around it, now." She crept against the shadow the over hook of the wall provided until she reached their still bodies. With two solid grabs, she scooped up one in each arm by their scruffs and drug them to lay propped against a wall of the nearby tower. With any luck they wouldn't be found until next guard change. Getting out of the city after they were found, however, was going to be a different trick all together.

Touka peered over the edge of the other side of the wall, into the city. Unfazed, she turned back and asked, "Are you ready?"

Karura smiled a large, easygoing smile. "Of course."

There were two moonlit figures skittering from rooftop to rooftop, like two mice furtively evading a cat. Then, suddenly, Karura felt a bit too late the edge of the tiles she was landing on had mostly worn away. She fell on her side, sliding partly down the roof, causing a shingle or two to fall to the ground with distinct cracking sounds.

I must either be mad or unfeeling, she thought and cursed for what seemed the umpteenth time since they'd gotten inside Na Tunku's limits.

Touka was at her side in a flash; helped her up by tugging at her arm, forcing both their figures from that roof as quickly as possible even though Karura was off-balance. The Evenkurugan hoped fervently that no one, if they had in fact heard the sound, had seen them at least.

They traveled this way for a few roofs before Karura managed to adjust. They continued until they reached the poor quarter. Even with Derihourai's care, not all people could be equal. But then, that led them to their trip here in the first place; reports had been floating around from the yomoru that the newer ruler had in fact been neglecting some of his citizenry, and denying them city-made products. The farmers, for their part, certainly couldn't sell the food to each other, and at this point their community was suffering from the inability to get the necessities from town.

Benawi had sent small search parties out to find the two warrior-turned-mercenaries as soon as Urutorii had informed him. This was not a laughing matter; unhappy farmers generally turned to revolt. When they arrived Benawi delivered the knowledge with his usual stoicism, and Karura's expressions had matched his as though it were a mirror.

Touka, for her part, thought the whole thing was just plain bad news.

A dark alleyway and a set of hooded cloaks later, the two hunched their forms to appear older, and stumbled out onto the street. They hobbled to an inn on the corner, and entered. Karura threw out a few coins to the innkeeper, who currently was tending the bar. "A room for the night," she rasped out, playing the part of an elderly person, "and a jug of your finest to keep my husband warm."

The barkeep nodded, and Karura fairly felt Touka's rage mounting from behind her. She grinned through her tension. This would be a fun night, after all.

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"Your husband is it?" Touka asked once they'd reached and secured the room, with an obviously dangerous edge to the words.

"It's more feasible than two old people traveling who aren't family-related," Karura replied nonchalantly, already having dropped her material possessions by the bed. She made her way to the tiny makeshift, mouse-rotted table to prepare it for the true wonder of the evening: the jug of alcohol. "And anyway," Karura passed the Evenkurugan in her endeavor, completely ignoring her icy stare, "how else could I have explained that sword in your pants?"

Touka froze a moment, and looked down. Certainly enough, her sword pommel protruded in the most inconvenient of places through the cloak. Its design allowed it to be thin enough that the end was not noticeable, but as for the pommel...

"The fellow wasn't going to ask to see that sword." Karura sat down finally, and found a handy set of matches to light the candle at the table.

The other woman seemed rational enough now, but still looked generally miffed. Entirely used to this effect by this point, Karura opened the jug and poured some out into the single serving dish she'd been given. A quick sniff told her sharp nose that there were no poisons present, and the cat woman managed to take the first swig with ease. It was terrible stuff.

With her usual uncanny grace, Touka stalked over to the window to observe and ensure that they hadn't been followed or that anything suspicious was going on. Nothing was. After a few decidedly quiet rounds were made behind her, she turned.

Karura's eyes were partially glazed over and were staring pointedly at her. The soft half-smile Touka was used to when Karura began drinking was present. The candlelight cast contrasts heavily against Karura's face and form, her tail lazily curling and uncurling to her side. Through all this, and something that she thought could have been inspired by the candle itself, Touka's impression was: warm.

Imperceptibly at first, Karura made to lift the saucer in offering to Touka. The sudden scrunching of Touka's face was expected, and Karura failed to take import for this occasion over the so many others that came before it until Touka said, "Why do you drink that, even?"

Karura had to take pause, but then went to refill as she considered her answer. "Think of it as something I use to clear my mind and sharpen my senses."

Touka snorted. "That drink does neither."

The cat woman licked her lips a moment. "Then, as a way to loosen my senses so that they are better tuned." Karura took another saucer's-worth, and found that she couldn't stop talking. "I think that maybe I am too wound-up when I'm sober. The alcohol makes it so I can let go a bit... makes me better in battle and conversations... interactions..."

Touka actually seemed to be considering this concept.

Karura continued pouring, and narrowed her eyes impishly. "Or maybe I just am trying to make up for all the time that I couldn't drink while I was a slave. You decide."

Teasing to the point of breaking Touka's will: this was Karura's gift. The Evenkurugan turned away from her again to face out the window, her ears fluttering downward in an irritated fashion. Karura allowed her stew for another round.

"So tell me then, why don't you drink at all?" The lithe woman settled back and the wooden chair creaked dangerously. It was every bit as mouse-ridden as the table.

Touka did not face her. She opened her mouth to speak, closed it, then opened it again to say, "Our society frowns upon it."

"Society?" Karura prompted. "You mean the Evenkurugans?"

"Yes." Touka gave up trying to appear as though the day hadn't worn on her. She took a few strides to sit on the edge of the bed to face the table; there weren't two chairs, and the room was small enough that she was practically sitting at it to begin with even on the bed.

Karura seemed to pause in thought and stared at the other woman. Touka stared back evenly. Honestly, both of them felt as though they could have volumes of conversation in silence like this, but if one were to ask them what the topics were, they wouldn't have the foggiest idea.

Eventually, Karura sat forward again, her elbow contacting the table, acting as a prop for her chin. The half-smile was present full-scale, and Touka noted the candlelight reflecting in the other woman's eyes, as though to add to the impish effect of her expression.

"You can't handle your alcohol," she stated. It wasn't a question. It was, in fact, a dare.

On principle, Touka did not take dares. They were fools' errands; a quick way to find yourself in a terribly compromising situation that one had no means to extract themselves from. At the same time, Karura had just insulted her honor; no, the honor of her entire race.

"That's absurd!" she blurted loudly, quickly, without thinking.

"Shh!" Karura's hands lifted in a quieting gesture, then returned slowly to their original positions. Touka realized what she'd done, and swiftly backed down. The cat woman couldn't resist herself, though. "Be a little quieter. My older husband shouldn't have as much energy as he was when he was younger."

Touka quite obviously bit her tongue and her feathers puffed out ridiculously. Provocation achieved, Karura found herself chuckling darkly. She was not, however, prepared for what happened next. The other woman reached across her and snagged the jug from off the table with a terrible grinding sound.

Even her tail froze in place for a moment as Karura then watched Touka tip the jug so that the bitter liquid slid down her throat. Touka's throat worked up and down in a fascinating display that Karura began to focus on, when apparently an end to the other woman's antics were not soon-in-coming.

This went on for about half a minute. Karura had to admit, she was definitely impressed. With a sudden gasp for air, following by a hiss at the burning sensation in her throat because of it, Touka finally set down the jug. The Evenkurugan simply clenched her teeth to bear it. Karura noted idly that Touka had some tears standing in her eyes, and that she refused to look directly at her, instead at the wax slowly melting into a puddle at the base of the candle.

She felt her tail slowly returning to its normal lazy circling motion. Karura began pouring herself another saucers-worth as though nothing at all had just happened.

"How-," Touka started, then failed. She tried again, the hoarseness of her voice coating every word, "How do you do that?"

"Drink this, you mean?" Karura asked. Touka nodded in return. Karura lifted the saucer briefly towards her in salute. "It's an acquired taste."

The cat woman resisted the urge to giggle as Touka began muttering darkly about "acquired tastes."

"You should wait a bit before you decide on if you like it or not, though," Karura said suddenly. "It will still take a few minutes for it to actually hit your system." Her own tolerance was getting too high; she took another round for herself, knowing that it would still take at least one more to get buzzed.

After a few more mutterings, Touka stopped. Karura slowly studied her face as she continued to drink. Touka's features were quite striking as always; her sharp cheekbones and petite nose were still her most attractive qualities. But after a while, she noticed that the other woman's eyes became softer, and blurred at the edges. The usual scowl faded from her forehead, leaving behind an almost dashing impression as her eyebrows loosened to raise up.

"So what other 'acquired tastes' do you have?" Touka looked up, directly to the other woman's face, quite out of the blue.

Karura blinked. "A few..." she replied evasively, hoping that would be the end of it.

"I didn't ask how many," Touka swallowed to try and soothe her throat, "I asked what they were."

"Hmmm," she made a noncommittal noise and poured herself more, now certainly feeling the heat in her cheeks. As yet another scorching serving followed its brethren, however, she found a different way to answer. It was obvious that Touka had not had quite enough time for the alcohol to fuzz out her mind, but maybe if she bought a little time, it wouldn't matter. "There are quite a few out there, that I've picked up over the years. Being jailed up can do silly things to your mind when you weren't guilty of anything to begin with, and know that."

Touka processed this for a minute. She then said, her voice low now to attempt to reduce the agitation over all, "Then they must all be bad things. Acquired tastes."

Karura shook her head. "No, not all."

The candle flickered in a baiting manner. Touka took a second to lick her lips as she found them drier than she'd initially thought. Karura noted that the alcohol seemed to be setting fully into Touka's expressions. "Did you ever consider His Excellency an 'acquired taste'?"

The question floored her, there was no other way to describe it. Even so, Karura found herself blindly fumbling to pick up the pieces. "Master was... different." She found herself disappointed that the last of the jug's contents were reaching her cup. "He wasn't any of those, true love, nor an acquired taste-"

"A convenience, then?" Touka came at her quickly, yet again.

"I... well, yes," Karura admitted. "But at the same time he was very much more than that." Her own expression darkened.

This did not progress through Touka's mind as she wished it would. She internally cursed herself for taking the unspoken, self-perceived dare. All of her thought processes seemed to flow like sheets of ice across the surface of her mind, and she found it harder and harder to concentrate. Touka swallowed some more, finally regaining a bit of her normal voice, asking a question that she knew she probably would never have asked when sober, but one she found herself compelled to ask now, nonetheless. "So what am I to you?"

"You?" Karura repeated, stalling for an attempt to think. A voice in the back of her head told her that she should be wary of this question, as it began to delve into the realm of how she perceived the world, and thereby gave a clearer picture of herself to the person she told; her mystery had certainly been her trump card for many years, and was how she'd survived many encounters.

But things now were numb and far off. Even when a bit tanked, however, she knew her limits. Touka, for all her brave actions this night, would also be unlikely to remember quite a bit of it, also. And with those thoughts in mind, she stood, and crossed over to sit on the bed beside the other woman, and crossed an arm behind Touka's back.

Karura leaned forward until her chin hovered over Touka's shoulder. Very seriously, in low tones, she replied, "You are my partner, of course."

The Evenkurugan had, up until this point, been undaunted by Karura's closeness. There was a slight jump in her face as the response filtered through, but she did not move away. "Partner, mm?"

Karura had to smile crazily at the slight slur in Touka's words. Touka herself did not realize it, naturally, but found herself fascinated with the exchange.

It would have normally gutted her to admit that Karura had been right, that the sensations one had with alcohol were, in fact, quite revealing, but she was feeling entirely out of touch now herself. Never before had she thought about the other woman's smile with such detail. It was very playful, warm (warm, she emphasized in her mind again), and truthfully now it seemed very inviting.

Touka felt her inner-self struck by an odd key at this, but dismissed it without much further thought. In fact, her body felt drawn against Karura's. Touka turned partially to face her partner more directly, and she contented herself to nuzzle cheek-to-cheek, burrowing against that warmth she'd been thinking of all night.

Karura wished that she could feel a little surprised, or uncomfortable, but at the same time, she didn't. The alcohol made that conflict easier, and she thanked it again. She also crushed an urge to tease the other woman mercilessly, but as to why she did that she knew she'd not be able to figure out in this state, so she ignored it for the time.

Instead, she focused on her current consciously awkward, albeit pleasing, situation, and let the same alcohol help her to decide that she was going to stop being conscious about it. Things were generally easier this way, and it was how Karura preferred them.

The feathers, unfortunately, were causing her to feel like she had to sneeze. That had to go. Karura faced more inward, and finding herself in a rather convenient place to do so, placed a suckling kiss on the other woman's jaw.

Touka gasped, startled. The sensation tingled, and her light-headedness intensified. Somewhere in the back of her head, a voice yelled, what are you doing this is-, but that was about as far as it got before Touka told it, under no uncertain terms, be quiet. She felt safe with Karura. Karura was not the type to harm her unless Touka knew in advance that such was her intention.

Her lips were, in fact, very warm, hot even. Touka reveled in their heat, even as the coldness seeping in from the badly insulated inn window tried to pressure against her back. The warmth was radiating from that spot, in slow courses, with each small motion Karura made with her mouth.

It was too much; Touka needed that heat more directly to stave away the chill. Clumsily, she reached up and pulled the other woman's face out just far enough to then have their lips meet each other's. Touka was not experienced at this in the least, but tried to make every effort to please.

The kisses were sloppy and out of sync at first. There was Touka's lack of experience, but Karura had again not exactly expected the Evenkurugan's forwardness, and had to jump start her mind with enough juice to compensate. But within a few brief moments, a rhythm began.

Touka would press her face to hers, breathing hard, and Karura would adjust to a tilt, teasing her further and further against her own body. They slowly went back so far that they fell to the bed into semi-horizontal positions.

Semi, in that they fell, and were not in any semblance of reasonable arrangement, and Touka was more-or-less face down to the sheets by the time she'd realized it. Once she had realized it, she scrambled to her side agitatedly, and grabbed on each side of Karura's face, dragging them into yet another kiss. The warm feeling was finally spreading, and Touka wasn't yet ready to let it stop; she closed her eyes and desperately held on.

Karura chuckled slightly through the kiss at the other woman's enthusiasm. Eventually though, she tired of the simple press of lips against hers. She wanted to taste them. In a twist of unexpected events, Karura trapped Touka's lower lip in between her own and started to suck against it languidly.

Touka was naturally confused at first. For a flitting moment she had the impression that she had done something wrong. Though as the soft, slippery lips began to nibble against her own, she knew that suddenly this was designed to generate even more warmth. This was perfectly fine by her.

The Evenkurugan eventually took the unspoken tips provided her, and began returning the favor to Karura's upper lip. The sense of attraction was maddening. Touka strained herself by breathing through her mouth in short, breathless puffs, and this made it feel all the better. It made no sense.

Now Karura took to trading the lip she suckled on, and by this point Touka picked up much more quickly. All the while their breath was hot upon each other's faces, smelling heavily of alcohol and serving only as a catalyst to their impromptu entertainment.

There was a tingling beginning to crop up in Karura's cheeks, and she knew that this was probably about as far as she should push this; much further into it, and they might do something that Touka would later regret, or worse, attribute to her drunken state. As much of a brute she considered herself to be, she wasn't going to do that to Touka.

So it was that Karura pulled away with a few pulling motions at the other girl's lips, letting her know that she was wanted, but at the same time that the kisses were going to be stopping. Touka seemed momentarily lost, her eyes opening to look into her own blearily. Karura widened her half-smile just the slightest amount.

Touka returned it, delayed yet quick, and then promptly laid her head down on Karura's folded arm and shut her eyes. She rubbed her cheek against the ultra-soft skin of the underside of her new-found pillow for another brief moment, and then lay still.

Within seconds, Karura could hear Touka's familiar, yet faint, snores.

The alcohol had created an even more fun night, after all, Karura decided. The trick would be convincing Touka of that the next morning.

Amused beyond any shadow of a doubt, Karura shook her head, fluffed up her own pillow with her free hand, then followed her partner into slumber.