A/N: Well, as I predicted, I did not make the deadline. I can't really say I'm disappointed in myself, though, because there was absolutely no way that I would have been able to accomplish this in the first place—a fact that is apparent now that it's over. Mondays through Thursdays I have school, marching band, clubs, orchestra, church activities, and homework; Fridays are mandatory football games; Saturdays are band competitions that last until 3 AM the next day; Sundays I go to church and do homework. If I'm lucky, I get to eat and sleep in between all of this. Every spare moment I had, I was writing this fic. I have given my very best effort. That is all I can say on the matter.
The bright side is that I've had a total blast writing this, and that I'm pretty sure it's bettered me as an author. Even though this particular chapter did NOT want to get written.
Also. For the record, "bacchanal" is definitely one of the greatest words ever. YAY DRUNKEN ORGIES.
Kent was alone.
It was better that way.
He sighed deeply, allowing himself to lean upon his lance—it wasn't as if he was going to use it, this night, although he supposed one could never be too careful. He knew that he had to be especially careful, now that his brain was so fogged and his mouth felt so sour.
This was all Sain's fault…Kent shouldn't ever have trusted him—not with this. With his life, surely, but not with this--!
The Green Lance had come traipsing down the hallways to Kent's post earlier that night, a blur of…bright pink. Pink enough to burn Kent's eyes.
"Elimine preserve us," he had mumbled—under his breath of course, keeping the words in his mouth like hard tack that needed softening, unwilling to let such a sting reach even Sain's ears.
His incorrigible partner stopped in front of him, his face flushed with either excitement or drink—perhaps both. "Kent! There you are, I've been looking for you all night! You should come and—oh, but my dear companion, where is your outfit?"
"I'm…wearing it," Kent replied bewilderedly, glancing down at his usual tan breeches and shirt. He wore decorative armor over that—light, sparse, and definitely not durable enough to protect him in the case of an attack. Kent always felt uncomfortable in the false security of dress armor, although he could find a wry smile at the realization that his dress armor was a rich, dark green…and that Sain's was red.
Unfortunately for Elibe, Sain had chosen to wear something other than his dress armor.
"No, not your outfit," groaned Sain. "I meant your costume! Where is it?"
Kent vaguely recalled the plain, beige mask he had earlier—which was currently left abandoned on his bedside table. "I am not attending the ball. Why would I wear a costume?"
Sain let out a theatrical gasp—it was a wonder that all the stale dust in the musty air didn't choke him with such a breath. "Not attending? Why ever not?"
"I'd rather be here," Kent told him softly. "I am on duty tonight."
"Why in the world would Caelin's general be put on duty during a social event?"
"I asked the marquess for permission."
"Is this because--?"
"I have no motive."
"Yes, well, while you're standing out here lacking in motive, she is dancing with men who have the power to take her away from you."
"Y-you don't know what you're talking about!" Kent shot his friend a glare that was sure to silence him. How dare he…how dare he talk about Lady Lyndis? As if I have any right to her? As if I want to have any right to her? His mouth had gone dry at the thought.
Beneath the vibrant, blushing, spun-sugar color of his mask, Sain's face fell. "B-but…oh, Kent, you at least have to come get a drink with me—"
"I am on duty," Kent retorted stiffly.
"That's preposterous!" Sain threw an arm around Kent's shoulders. "Come on…we'll only be gone a moment."
"I am on duty!" Kent repeated forcefully.
"Then let me relieve you!" insisted Sain. "You should go get something. It'll be bracing. You're in for a long night of 'duty'."
The idea to take a break, though highly against Kent's principles, had been somewhat tempting. And yet, as he stared into Sain's eager face, he realized how very selfless his friend was being in offering to give up a part of his evening. For Kent's sake. The Crimson Shield couldn't accept such a gesture. He smiled gently at his partner and shook his head.
Sain sighed. "At least allow me to fetch you something?"
Kent's already-quivering stomach twisted at the thought of food, but he knew that if he didn't agree, Sain would never leave him alone. "…Alright. Thank you, my friend."
The pink-clad man clapped Kent on the shoulder was gone from view. Kent was left alone in the dim hallway, with nothing but his own mind for company.
As if I could actually attend the ball with Lyndis there…as if I would have the courage to face her, to pretend I've never touched the lips beneath her mask…
Sain had returned then, just as Kent was about to sleep deeper into a dangerous memory. The Green Lance had a pastry in one hand and a glass of wine in the other; Kent was forced to lean his lance against the wall to take the gifts from his friend.
"Thank you," he murmured.
Sain grinned. "Oh…think nothing of it, Kent."
Kent, though not much of a drinker, lifted his glass to his lips. One glass couldn't do any harm, he decided…and after all, such a thing was supposed to be good for you every now and again…
He had other, darker motives, but he did not want to admit them to himself.
Kent took a deep sip…and his mouth overflowed with an unexpected bitterness. It stung his tongue and burned his throat, forcing him to use all of his willpower to keep from spitting it back out.
"What is this?" he demanded of Sain, examining the dark liquid in his glass. "Straight liquor?!"
"Don't be silly, Kent," Sain sniffed.
Kent felt like his mouth had been singed. His tongue wanted to writhe from the sour aftertaste. "It's…disgusting!"
"You just aren't enough of a connoisseur to fully appreciate the subtle nuance of this brand—"
"Is everybody else in the ballroom actually drinking this?"
"Well, of course! It's, er, a drink for very fancy and refined people! Now, if you're going to keep being so stubborn, I might as well go back. Do try to enjoy your night."
Sain flounced away once more. Kent set his glass down on the floor with a grimace. The traces of the strange wine in the back of his throat made him try the pastry Sain had brought him. At first his teeth met only with the flaky, floury bread, but he bit harder until a tangy surge of raspberry welled up in his mouth. The tart sting of the fruit was a welcome relief.
The pastry disappeared, bite by bite, until it was no longer existent. Kent felt a twinge of despair. The problem with being alone and having blank silence cloud one's tongue was that one had so much more time to think. Kent didn't entirely trust himself to be alone with his thoughts, these days…already, this night alone, he had been forced to tear himself away from sweet, warm, impudent reminiscings, only to promptly fall back into them a moment later. Sain's words hadn't helped matters.
A particularly haunting memory that was spinning around in his thoughts had occurred only a short while ago, earlier that evening. He had been walking down the corridor, on the way to his post…when, suddenly, the artfully engraved oaken door of Lyndis's chambers had opened, and the princess had poked her head outside. She gnawed her lip thoughtfully; her brow was creased with an anxiety he had never before seen in her. Her face had lightened immediately when she had spotted him, however.
"Oh, Kent!" she called, sounding relieved. "Could you help me with something, if you're not too busy?"
Kent had hurriedly assured her that he was always available to assist her, and Lyn had ducked back into her room with a smile—doubtlessly assuming that he would follow. He did, standing in the doorframe awkwardly, trying not to cast glances around her room. He had been there before, of course, since she never seemed to realize that men weren't supposed to follow a lady into her room if she needed something—even if it was only himself or Sain or Wallace—but it made Kent uneasy all the same.
"What do you need, milady?" he prodded her, eager to escape back to the cool hallway.
"Do you think you could close up the back of my dress?" Lyn asked him, somewhat helplessly. "There are nearly a hundred hooks that join together, but I just can't reach all of them…"
She had turned around so that he could see, and…oh, holy Elimine, could he see! The pale, thin slip she would wear beneath the dress was visible, which should have scandalized Kent enough…but no, there was worse, so much worse: the low cut of the slip exposed the bare skin of her neck and back and shoulder blades. Kent's mind went blank, and he promptly forgot how to breathe.
"I-I-I…d-don't you have handmaids for this sort of thing?" Kent stuttered desperately, now trying to back himself out of this terrible predicament.
Lyn shrugged, gathering up loose tendrils of hair that escaped to brush her neck. "There was Mina, I suppose, but the maids are all supposedly having a party in the kitchen while the ball is going on…she was so excited about it that I let her go early. I thought that I could finish dressing by myself, but…I was wrong." Her voice dimmed at the end in a surly fashion, as she was obviously loath to admit that there was something she couldn't do. She was still dutifully holding her hair up, so that he could come dutifully fasten her dress…
…But, blast it all, this was a complete breach of duty!
"There must be someone else," Kent protested hoarsely. "Anyone else—"
"There is no one else," Lyn told him sharply, turning her head to look at him out of the corner of her eye. Her gaze was all the more beautiful for its ferocity. With a sudden jolt, Kent realized why she was behaving so strangely: she was nervous. She had to go down and mingle with all of those nobles, very soon, and she still wasn't ready. "I had to call in the first person I knew from out of the hallway—which was you. And if you can't help me, I shall have to go downstairs without the dress on at all."
With a strangled noise of protest, Kent rushed to her side and grasped the back of her dress. He could feel his face and neck heating up. She might only have been teasing, but he did not find it funny!
"I've already fastened the first few at the bottom," Lyn said helpfully. "I just need you to get the middle of my back, if you would…"
Kent let his gaze slide down to the small of her back to see that she had indeed done up the bottom of her dress—incorrectly.
"My lady, it…it actually seems as if you matched up the hooks out of order…"
"Did I?" Lyn stomped her foot impatiently and breathed a curse that Kent was startled to discover she knew. "I'm sorry…would you mind redoing those too, then?"
B-but…that means unhooking her dress! Kent froze so completely that he could have passed for a gargoyle on the ramparts of a cathedral.
"…Kent?" Lyn asked softly, after a long moment of silence stretched between them.
"Oh! R-right…my apologies…" Kent swallowed hard and forced his fingers to undo the lower fastenings, exposing even more of her nearly sheer shift, chastising himself all the while. Stop thinking that way. It isn't…she just needs help. You're the only one who can help. Since you're here. Elimine…she's…I can't stand it. She's too beautiful. She doesn't even know it.
Kent had fixed the bottom hooks and was halfway up, by this point—he had passed the top of her slip, and his knuckles brushed against the smooth skin of her back with every move he made. He shivered, leaning closer to her to examine the tiny metal hooks that he was linking together…the process was a lot harder than it seemed…
Her neck was but a breath away, long and slender and the soft, warm hue of caramel. Kent wondered if it would taste that way, as well. It was entirely possible for him to draw closer still, to put his mouth against that neck, to savor her skin as his lips worked upon it, to positively imbibe himself…
Gods above, I should be sent to a realm of fire after I die!
"Done!" Kent exclaimed weakly, connecting the very top hook of her dress and then quickly stepping back as if her presence could thrust a lance through his middle. He turned away so that she would not see his blush, his face, his shameful thoughts--!
"Thank you, Kent," Lyn told him, apparently noticing nothing at all.
"Th-think nothing of it," the knight insisted, still unable to look at her. Curse it all…that maid should have been there, should have had more presence of mind, should have spared him from this situation. "You…you are far too kind, milady, allowing your servant to run off like that…"
"She is just a girl," Lyn interrupted. "And…I didn't want to deny her this night. Dreams come to her easily, which is rare in people nowadays…" Kent chanced a glance in Lyn's direction to find that her eyes had softened. "She likes to pretend she'll find herself a prince. She tells me that I am…lucky. Because someday I will have one."
Kent couldn't stop himself; the dry and bitter words escaped him before he could swallow them up again: "Of course you shall have a prince someday."
Lyn's hand was suddenly upon his shoulder, forcing him to finally meet her fiery gaze. "I don't want a prince, Kent."
Once, he might have asked her what she did want—but not now. Now he tried his best to keep his thoughts and his words to himself. Throughout the war they had always been close…and then that had happened. Standing before the Dragon's Gate, after Nergal's defeat, Kent had…made a terrible mistake. Something changed, after that day--now their moments together were brief and awkward, instead of filled with their usual strong camaraderie.
Every time Kent left her presence, feeling strangely hollow, he had been forced to remember: Lyn running for him, stumbling under the weight of her wounds, her skin red and raw with burns and the ends of her dark hair singed. The final battle was over. Kent had instantly forgotten all of his own injuries—he just opened his arms to her as she rushed for him, closing them around her in a tight embrace. There was nothing indecent about this, he told himself as he stroked her sweat-soaked hair, nothing at all. He was her servant, her vassal, her friend, and he should be allowed to hold her and promise her that everything was alright now, since Nergal was dead and the dragons were slain and the war could end. It was the strangest, swiftest moment in time: Lyn running towards him, Lyn meeting his embrace…
Lyn's lips pressed suddenly against his own.
Kent had frozen for a fraction of a second at that strange contact, but before he knew it he was responding in kind: tasting the salt on her lips and trailing his hands down her back. She went completely limp in his arms, her lips parting weakly, and Kent deepened the kiss to find that the tang of salt had deepened as well—now it was darker, thick and sharp, like liquid copper…
Oh, Elimine, his mouth was filling with blood.
Kent quickly pulled away, without relinquishing his grip on Lyn—which was a good thing, too, considering that she certainly would have fallen. She had slipped out of consciousness, her eyes rolled back into her head, blood trickling from the corner of her mouth.
Kent's face flamed, his insides screamed with panic. She had been hurt, dying, running to him for help…and he had kissed her? His liege lady?! Surely she had merely stumbled when running for him, and her lips had touched his accidentally! How could he have reacted in such a manner?
He had carried her to the healer's tent, ignoring Serra saying that he'd brought her just in time and that he was a wonderful vassal—unlike Erk—and that was he quite sure that he was feeling alright, because he looked so very flushed? Normally, Kent would have stayed with Lyndis until she could wake and prove to him that she was alright, whether it took moments or hours…yet this time, he could not. He left the tent immediately, knowing that he would be unable to face her when she came to, still tasting the awful, metallic tang of her blood.
She had started to look at him differently, after that day, in a shy manner that he knew was quite unlike her. She pretended like nothing was wrong, like nothing had changed, and he went along with it. They had never spoken of that moment…that wonderful, terrible moment that kept replaying in Kent's head as he stood there in the corridor on the night of the masquerade, doing his duty as a guard. The irony of the situation was painful. He had wanted to work so that he would not have to see her, so that he might keep his mind off of her, and yet…
Blast. He took a swig of his wine in desperation, forcing the fire down his throat and ignoring the acidic taste. It wasn't to be sipped like normal wine, Kent knew that already—no, it had to be swallowed fast, like ale. He had to stop thinking about her, had to stop, had to stop…
Thirty minutes and an empty glass later, Kent began to feel quite peculiar. He wasn't quite so miserable…his body began to tingle…his head was buzzing…and he had no idea what was going on.
What is happening to me? Kent wondered—even his thoughts were sluggish. I can't focus correctly…I can't think straight…it was only one glass of wine, not even a big glass, so it's not as if I…He stopped then, struck with a horrifying thought. What if…it wasn't wine?
Sain! Gods above, the lout had done something to his drink! That was why the wine had tasted so awful—it wasn't wine, not anymore! Kent had a sinking feeling that he had really just gulped down something far more powerful.
"No, no, no," he moaned, clutching his head, leaning back against the stone wall. "This can't be…"
Yet as the minutes dragged on, and his body succumbed to the effects of the alcohol, Kent had to admit that he was drunk. Drugged by the biggest scoundrel ever born…how very embarrassing…
"Kent?" a voice asked softly, tearing him away from his furious thoughts. He knew that voice. Kent found his eyes widening in helpless terror as—of all people!—Lady Lyndis made her way down the hallway towards him. The dark dress she wore—the one he himself had helped her put on--rippled with every move she made, like sweet, melted chocolate. He could not see her eyes beneath her matching mask, but he knew that she was looking right at him—at his armor and his lance. "Kent, I thought you were going to be at the ball?"
"I had asked them to place me on duty this night," he replied, praying that she wouldn't notice his unseemly state of mind.
"Why would you do a thing like that?" she asked. She sounded almost…angry. Kent took a deep, nervous breath.
"Well, I-I would have felt bad attending something so frivolous in lieu of—"
"I'm attending," she retorted. "Are you calling me shallow, Kent? Since I am not making myself useful at the moment?"
"N-no! Of course not, milady! I would nev—um!"
Lyn moved swiftly, silencing him by placing a finger over his lips. Kent felt himself blush until it burned, as if he had swallowed a great amount of spice. She took her finger away, but only to give him leave to answer another question: "Has Sain come to relieve you at all?"
Of course—if by 'relieve', you mean 'trick me in the foulest possible way'. Kent swallowed hard. "Y-yes, milady…he came by earlier tonight, but I sent him away. He looked like he was having so much fun…I didn't want to deprive him…"
"When do you get to have your fun?" Lyn murmured. Her hands reached up—Kent watched her warily, holding his breath, until her fingertips touched his temples and traced their way down to the corners of his mouth. They lingered there. "Your face is going to be a mess of lines before you're Sain's age, you know."
Kent could have seized her hands right there, could have pressed them to his lips in a kiss that represented far more than servitude. He could have pulled her into his arms and—No! He slapped the drunken thoughts away, feeling himself tremble with longing and fear and self-loathing. "My lady—"
"Please," she whispered to him. Her hands trailed down further, until they were resting on his shoulders. "Come dance with me?"
Him? Dance with her? While intoxicated? Such a thing was nigh impossible; Kent would rather have died than attempted it. Stuttered excuses poured from his mouth: "B-but, I have no costume—"
"Decorative armor is dressy enough. You'll be fine."
"I've left my mask—"
"We can go get it. It won't take long."
"I have to man my post—"
"Do you honestly believe that someone is going to attack us?"
Kent was supposed to tell her that yes, he did believe that, and he had to be alert for the sake of her safety. That was what he wanted to say. But the wine made him blunt, and what poured from his mouth was a "No."
Lyn grinned up at him. "You see? Now, come on, let's—"
She had grabbed his hand to pull him along, but Kent had jerked away before she could see him stumble. "No! No…my lady…I can't."
"Why ever not?" Lyn demanded, putting her hands on her hips.
Kent could only hang his head. Because I can't be with you when I am like this…it's so hard to stay in-control of myself right now…I fear what I would say, what I would do…
"…Oh" she said quietly, after a long moment of silence. "I think I understand. You…don't want to dance with me."
It was not a question. Her voice was soft and small and…somewhat sad. Kent didn't want to hurt her…but he couldn't have her see him drunk, feel him pull her against him and refuse to let her go. He had to get her away from him—it was for the best.
"No," Kent answered in a whisper, shutting his eyes tightly. "I don't."
"I see," said Lyn softly, resignedly. "Forgive me for bothering you."
She turned her back on him and left. Kent tried to suppress the guilt he felt, swelling up within him like rancid bile. What else was I to do—go along with her? Show her how superbly incapacitated I am? She shouldn't dance with a drunk, lowborn knight. Kent slipped back into his unruly thoughts, imagining Lyn's lips beneath another man's…any suitor of hers would know only sugar or pepper or mint. He would never know blood.
Kent was still there now, an hour later: spending his night in the dim, musty hallway, full of recent memories of Sain and too-strong wine and Lyn's unfastened dress and a clumsy kiss from long ago and the hurt in her voice when he revoked her invitation for a dance. He stood in a reverie, with a muddy head and a fuzzy tongue, deaf to the faint noise of the ball.
Until somebody screamed, that is.
Kent gave a start. Instinct propelled him into the ballroom, stumbling slightly on unsteady legs, and he was instantly assaulted with the cloying scent of perfume. It seemed to gather in his mouth and glide down his throat, making him want to choke. He looked around wildly for the source of the scream.
That's when he spotted a figure in a dingy green costume, collapsed on the floor. A skittish, gossiping crowd had gathered around, seeming as tipsy as Kent felt. No one made a move to help the unconscious man—some looked as if they would fall over if they attempted to bend down. Women fanned themselves, swaying like flowers in the breeze, and surely one of them had been the source of the cry that Kent had heard. Three people stood on the middle of this crowd—a slender man in purple, a taller man in royal blue, and a damsel in black.
"…Someone had far too much to drink," the man in purple muttered.
"Eliwood, please say that you're not—oh, Elimine, the pity," groaned the man beside him. "You're seriously going to pity Eric?"
"Hector, he tried to apologize. He doesn't want to duel anyone…in fact, I suspect that he might already have been drinking when he insulted Ninian." Lord Eliwood reached for the hand of the black-clad woman beside him and squeezed it gently.
"So you're just going to let him off the hook?" Hector demanded.
"An apology when you're drunk enough to pass out hardly counts!"
"Oh, Lord Hector," pleaded Ninian, "don't trouble yourself with this. I…I do not want milord Eliwood to duel at all. He hates to fight…and I would worry for him…"
"You think he'd get hurt fighting this one?" Hector snorted and nudged Eric with the toe of his boot.
"Hector, don't kick him. You should know better than that…we need to help him out of here." Lord Eliwood bent down beside Eric, less-than-gracefully. "Honestly, such violence—have you been drinking too much, as well?"
"I haven't had anything at all!" Lord Hector snapped. "Lyn ran off with my drink. And you're a fine one to talk—look how red your face is!"
"Please. I only had one glass, and that was but a moment ago. Now, come help me with him, will you?"
Hector grudgingly conceded, and between the two men they were able to carry Eric to a table and leave him in a chair. Kent felt a thrill of fear as he watched Lord Eliwood—he, too, had only had "one glass", and look where it had gotten him! And Lady Lyndis…Lady Lyndis took Lord Hector's drink!
"Lord Hector!" Kent found himself croaking, although he knew the young lord was too far away to hear him. He made his way towards Ostia's marquess after spending a moment trying to find his balance. "Lord Hector, I…please…"
"Ah, Sir Kent!" said Eliwood as the knight finally reached them. "Have you decided to attend tonight's event? We had hoped you would, but Lyndis said that…Sir Kent, is everything alright?"
Although Marquess Pherae's words were as polite and eloquent as always, there was no mistaking the certain unsteadiness in the young lord's voice. Kent knew that Lord Hector would be his only hope: someone had to keep an eye on Lyndis, to make sure she was alright in the midst of such an absolute revelry…Kent could not do it now, nor would Lord Eliwood be able to, and there was no way that he could trust Sain…
"I request an audience with Lord Hector," said Kent, praying that his voice didn't slur, that his posture didn't waver.
Hector traded glances with Eliwood. The latter smiled a farewell and went off to join his wife, while the Hector himself nodded to Kent in a jerky greeting.
"My lord," Kent pleaded, "I must ask a boon of you."
Hector raised an eyebrow. "What's going on, Kent? You're not looking so good."
"I have been having a…difficult night," Kent admitted.
"Maybe it wouldn't be going so rough if you had agreed to dance with her." Hector scowled and folded his arms. Kent gave a start.
"H-how did you--?"
"Well, it's the reason I haven't had a chance to drink anything myself, tonight," Hector replied impatiently. "Now, what do you need?"
"My lord, I have cause to believe that Lady Lyndis will need some looking-after, tonight."
"You're worried for her?"
"Of course!" Kent quickly covered his mouth with a hand, trying to take back his outburst, but it was too late. He took a deep breath and began again. "I mean…I have come across a drink that was tampered with. I just believe that someone should supervise her, in case—"
"And you can't do it yourself because that tampered drink was your own?" asked Hector with a smirk.
Kent bowed his head, mumbling, "I am unable to perform my duty, tonight."
Hector nodded, thinking, and then began to walk, leaving Kent room to fall into step beside him. "Drunk, eh? I have to say, I never thought I'd see you, of all people, like this." He shot Kent a sideways glance. "I think I know who strengthened your drink, though…I'm sorry. I saw Eric of Laus adding to the wine, but I wasn't fast enough to stop him before--"
"Lord Eric?" Kent asked, now sufficiently confused. "But…I thought…I was sure that Sain had done something to it!"
"Sain?" asked an incredulous voice. Nearby, a young man in grey and his cream-costumed partner had stopped their dance. The boy pulled off his bland mask, and Kent dimly recognized him as Erk. "That can't be right—Matthew put something stronger in the wine, Priscilla and I saw him do it!"
"Matthew?" Hector growled furiously. "What is going on?"
A man in ebony silk seemed to materialize out of nowhere next to his lord—Kent blinked--and asked, "…What if I told you the cleric made me do it?"
"Matthew!" roared Hector, but the thief was gone just as quickly as he had appeared.
Ostia's lord raked a hand through his hair, but shook his head and continued to walk, leaving Kent to follow him. Hector led him to the table covered in sweets and pressed a pastry into his hand.
"Alright, so it looks like a lot of people have been tampering with the wine. Maybe eating something will make you feel better?"
"I have heard that rumor," Kent admitted. "Does it…actually work?"
Hector smirked. "It hasn't for me. But who knows?"
Kent gulped. Hector walked the knight over to the doors leading out into the hallway.
"…Don't worry," the marquess said gruffly. "I'll look after her for you, alright? I'll know what's best."
"Thank you, Lord Hector," Kent whispered. He started to bow, but Hector put a strong hand on his shoulder and forced him to stop.
"Hey, you wouldn't want to fall over. Although I suppose you can hold your drink better than, say, Eliwood…oh, St. Elimine, he's not supposed to prove my point!"
Hector was looking over at the floor of wildly-spinning dancers. Kent followed his gaze to find that Lord Eliwood was among them, but standing still, holding his wife in his arms. Ninian fell weakly against Eliwood as he dipped his head down and kissed her neck with obvious yearning. Kent blushed at witnessing a moment that should have been private—and would have been, under normal circumstances. Apparently Lord Eliwood was now also under the sway of the thrice-poisoned drink.
"…So, good luck with that pastry," Hector muttered, and Kent smiled weakly before making his way back to his post. He bit into the sweet he held in his hand, expecting a rush of tangy raspberry, as before…but no. Something different spilled into his mouth, this time: crisp and sweet, with a hint of cinnamon. Apple?
Kent dutifully ate the pastry as he walked back to the corridor where he was stationed. However, as the moments passed, his legs did not feel any steadier and his head did not seem any clearer. He sighed heavily. Time dragged on so slowly...and Elimine, was he dizzy…beneath even the sugary zing of apple, his tongue felt thick and stale with alcohol. And blood, always blood. Kent leaned his spinning head back against the cold wall of the corridor.
"…Kent," a voice said quietly.
The knight's eyes opened somewhat sluggishly, but his heart began to pound when he realized who was approaching him.
"L-lady Lyndis? What are you doing here?"
"I…Hector told me that I would find you here, and I…" She faltered, for just a moment—posture, words, everything. "I've come to apologize."
"Apologize?" Kent asked, rather uneasily—she had already reached him, but was drawing closer still. "F-for what?"
"I was so thoughtless," she whispered. "I never realized that what I did would hurt our friendship…"
She stumbled suddenly, with an uncharacteristic clumsiness. Kent himself was too clumsy to catch her properly—she fell against him, pressing him back against the wall. He sighed and rested his cheek on her hair without really realizing it. She didn't seem to realize, either.
"What do you mean?" he mumbled. "What did you do that hurt our friendship?" That was my fault, Lyndis, not yours…
"That day, I…" She hesitated for a moment, before her trembling fingers found the buckles of his breastplate. He didn't know what do to, so he did not act; the green armor plate clattered to the floor as Lyn leaned weakly against his chest. She had still made no move to back away. Kent couldn't help but wonder why. It was as unlike her to cling as it was unlike him to hold her this way…
Oh, Elimine! She's drunk, as well!
No, no. This wouldn't do. Kent knew that he had to get her to her room, to someplace quiet—she couldn't return to the ball. What if the more sober nobles saw her this way? What if she fell and there was no one to catch her? What if another man was just as entranced by her, just as eager for the taste of her? Kent shuddered at the thought.
"Lady Lyndis," he murmured, "you…must be tired. Come, I'll escort you to—"
Lyn tightened her hold on him, ignoring her words, looking up into his eyes—though Kent found her own gaze hard to read through his cloudy vision, through the dark holes in her mask.
"I'm sorry for kissing you, Kent, the day the war ended!" she blurted out.
It took a long moment for Kent to process what she said…but when he did, he almost lost his balance yet again. "What?! B-but you didn't! I kissed you!"
"I just threw myself at you with no precedence—"
"You were wounded—"
"You stiffened up—"
"Limp in my arms—"
"Tasted like ash and smoke and—"
"Blood, Lady Lyndis, my mouth filled with—"
"But when I woke, there was nobody there—"
"Wounded, and all I could think about was kissing you—"
"You hadn't stayed, you wouldn't look at me—"
"I couldn't bear it, the aftertaste never went away—"
Both of them broke off, out of breath. Kent was grasping her arms tightly, now, she still had a hold on his shirt. He had been babbling like an absolute idiot, his mouth was completely out of control…and he did not care.
"You…" he whispered fervently, "you…kissed me first? Things did not grow awkward between us because I had stepped out of line?"
Lyn let out a loud, almost hysterical laugh of relief. "And you—you didn't reject me? I never remembered the end of the kiss, I had lost consciousness…it was due to a loss of blood, Serra told me later. I…I woke up that night, and I reached out for somebody I knew…like that time in Bern, when I was almost killed by a wyvern knight, remember? Yours was the first face I saw when I was healed enough to open my eyes. But…that night, you were not there. And I thought…it was because I had been so forward, I had frightened you…I wondered what you must have thought of me. I was ashamed."
"You were ashamed?" Kent found that once he began laughing, he simply could not stop. "Milady…that's…I…"
She smiled up at him. "I'm so glad that this was all a misunderstanding."
"I agree!" Kent still couldn't suppress the humor of the situation. "To think, we—"
He was promptly cut off as Lyn pulled herself closer and kissed him in one fluid motion. Kent's muscles were too loose for him to stiffen, this time. Her body fit well in his embrace, her soft lips carried traces of the apple pastries—sweet and laced with the bite of cinnamon.
"This isn't right," he murmured, an automatic response, when she pulled away.
"I don't care." She kissed him again. Ripe, red, succulent apples…Kent suddenly jerked away.
"No…Lady Lyndis, we…we're not thinking clearly."
"It doesn't matter." Her fingers toyed with his collar, her lips brushed his jaw.
"No," he repeated firmly, putting his hands on her shoulders and steering her back a step. "My lady, we can't…not now. Not like this."
"Why not?" she sulked.
His fingers tightened on her shoulders, but he turned his face away. "I…I don't want to kiss you when I'm drunk. It's not right."
"I don't think I'm entirely in my right mind, either," she pointed out, sidling back up to him. Her next kiss was firmer, deeper, showing Kent the now-familiar spice of apples and the sugary crust of the pastry they had come in and…the wine, the dastardly drink that turned knights like him into beasts intent only on devouring warm, stumbling, lovely women…
"No!" he cried, a third time. He untangled his arms from around her and staggered a few steps away. She tore off her mask to stare at him like a child that had been denied a sweet.
"What's the matter?" she asked him, her green eyes as dark and glazed as his common sense felt.
"You taste like the wine," Kent told her hoarsely.
She put her hands on her hips. "So do you."
"But that's not what I would drink, usually!" he insisted. "Nor what you would drink! It's…wrong, what we're feeling in this kiss. We're not being sensible. That's why we need to stop—this isn't us."
She frowned and slowly moved towards him again. Kent felt himself wobble, fearing another advance, but she merely wound her arms around his neck in a snug embrace.
"I've always loved you," she mumbled. "I think this is why."
Normally, he would not have been able to bring himself to say the words—this night, they spilled out of their own accord: "Lady Lyndis…I love you, too." Kent made himself a mental note to thank Sain for his horrible, horrible prank. Someday. After the scoundrel had completed twelve thousand lance thrusts.
Lyn laughed slightly. "I'm so glad…they wouldn't like us kissing here in Lycia, you know. I don't think they'd mind in Sacae, though."
"Yes, I think I'll go back there…now you can come with me! That'll be great!"
"Go back?!" Kent stared down at her in horror. "Why would you think of going back?"
"I'm not thinking, I'm going!"
"No, Lady Lyndis, surely that is the wine speaking--!"
"There is no wine in Sacae," she whispered, tilting her head up so that her lips brushed slightly against his own. "Think about it…nothing so strange to taste, nothing than can be altered to make us act this way. We can just be ourselves. And I can give you the real kiss you said you wanted."
Kent felt himself flush. "Well, I-I don't think I ever actually said—"
Lyn's head plopped down on his chest, interrupting him. He bit his lip as he peered down at her.
"I'm sleepy," she murmured. "Come…come down…"
She tugged on his shirt, sagging suddenly in his arms, and Kent was forced to sink to the floor with her, lest he dropped her. The next thing he knew, he was sitting against the wall with Lyn cradled in his arms, using his shoulder as a pillow.
"Stand back up, my lady," he urged her softly. "We should get you to your bed."
"But you can't follow me there," she retorted, snuggling deeper into his embrace.
Actually, I think I could...
Dear Elimine, that wasn't him, that was the alcohol. Of course. Absolutely. No doubt about it.
…But just in case, Kent decided that he and Lyn should probably just stay there in the cold, austere hallway, rather than risk the soft darkness of her chamber. She was probably too tired to make it up to her rooms, anyway, and he certainly wasn't in any state to carry her.
"I shan't believe that this night even really happened, when I wake," Kent admitted, the taste of wine and apples still lingering in his mouth, taking away the sourness that had been there before. He was starting to feel rather drowsy himself as he absentmindedly stroked her perfumed hair.
"I'll be your proof, then." Lyn told him, shifting slightly. "You'll wake with me in your arms…"
"I'll…I'll panic. What if I don't remember why we were here, or what we were doing, or--?"
"I'll remind you." Lyn kissed him again, lightly, and Kent let his weary eyes close. He could no longer see her face, her hair, the hallway…he could hear her breathing, but the soft noise soon blurred and died away, fading with the exotic, fruity scent of her perfume, leaving him with only the taste of her lips…and then even that fled, and there was nothing at all, and Kent slept.
A/N: Are you ready for a huge Author's Note?
Well, I've never been drunk, so I have NO idea whether or not I pulled off the PoV of a chivalric and rather OCD dude being smashed. Of course, I'm not sure if many of you readers could enlighten me about that experience, so…xD. I figured I'd just keep him essentially Kent…but with poor coordination and less self-control in actions, at least, if not in thoughts. (And yes, Lyn is indeed a total lightweight.)
Like I said before, this chapter fought me. I really hope that it wasn't too confusing, what with Kent's memories at the beginning leading up to the present moment…that gave me a LOT of grief. This wasn't as fun as the rest, probably because Kent's a better angster than the rest of the characters. This tone, too, seemed…rather dark, compared to the other chapters. Or maybe that's just a synesthesia color. I can't really tell.
As to Lyn not having a problem with Kent fastening her dress? Well, it's not like he doesn't see more of her LEGS every day than he did of her back…I figure that them Saceans aren't as stiff as the Lycians about the human body. They probably don't get offended by something so natural—like Renaissance humanists vs. DOOM AND GLOOM Medieval theologians. Besides. Noble women back then all totally wore dresses with a bazillion tiny hooks, which meant that nobody could get dressed by themselves. Sucks for you, Lyn.
Also. Apparently eating does NOT relieve the effects of alcohol. One of the reasons why that rumor came about is because eating a meal with alcohol means that you drink it more SLOWLY, giving it time to diffuse into your bloodstream, so it doesn't hit you all at once and turn you into a drunken spaz. Or so they say. (…Does anyone else find it kind-of funny that Hector, of all people, is the only one who ended up NOT being drunk? xD)
And now for Kent's colors! He wears dark green armor—trust, heaviness, concentration—although beneath that, he wears tan/beige/insert synonym: calm, boring, and a good base. :D
So, for all of you who have read this…thank you a hundred thousand million times! Words can't even describe how great you guys are, or how much your support has meant. Really--thank you.