"Don't fall asleep."
"You've only told me that nine times. Why don't you tell me again, since I obviously didn't catch it yet?"
Girard tried to scowl in the general direction of the offending paladin, but it was a little hard to know if he was looking at the actual Soon Kim instead of one of the many blurry copies his eyes were making.
"I've told you fourteen times."
"Yeah, twelve, that's what I said."
The blur got a little lighter, the bed shifting with movement from the other man.
"How many fingers?"
Soon sighed softly and the yellow-pink color receded. He felt warmth on his shoulder, and it only took him a moment to realize that the paladin was resting a hand there. "Do you remember anything, Girard?"
"How you hit your head."
"I hit my head?"
"Yes. You did. We were ambushed. Do you remember?"
There was a concerned pause.
Girard smiled. "Okay, that one was a joke."
The hand receded with a slightly annoyed 'mmm'. "Don't do that."
Girard grinned and chuckled, making the headache chewing his brain flare up. The blurs wobbled around him with the motion, making his stomach churn. He felt a cool hand on his forehead, lessening the pain somehow, and he relaxed against the headboard, closing his eyes briefly. There was a fresh coppery smell in the air, he noticed. Huh. "Where are we?"
"A safe house. Most of the cities on the Southern Continent set them up a long time ago."
"Why didn't Lirian fix me up again?"
"She's unconscious, as is Kraagor. I had to spread the limited healing spells I had to make sure no one dies before she wakes."
"Is that why I'm bleeding?"
"You're not bleeding. I gave you enough healing."
"Then why do I smell blood?"
"This is the most coherent you've been in the past hour. I think this is a sign of improvement."
"Improvement of what?"
"Don't do that."
"Why are there so many of you?"
His body was trembling. Goosebumps were puckering on his skin, forcing him to shudder and curl up a little, useless eyes drifting along the brown ceiling. "And why's it so cold?"
"Hmm?" The blurs shifted again. "I thought that was just me. Here."
There was movement. Girard tried to concentrate and understand what was happening before he felt extra cloth wrapped around his shoulders and a source of warmth settled next to him. "I suppose you won't remember this anyway."
Warmth. Warmth was nice.
He shuffled so he had an arm across the warmth and his body was resting against its side. There was a moment of surprised tensing up, then it relaxed, an arm tentatively going around his shoulders. Hmm. The arm wasn't very warm.
"You're holding me."
"Body heat is the best we have at the moment."
"Staying warm, Girard. You said you were cold."
The coppery smell was really strong and Soon wasn't as warm as he should have been. Girard closed his eyes, trying to hold onto that thread of thought. Something… important. It was important.
"Don't fall asleep."
"I think we've been all cuddly like this once before. Haven't we?" He was still trying to place the important thing, but it was slipping away. He couldn't quite remember what was so concerning.
There was a long pause, but he didn't really notice it.
"I wasn't aware you remembered that."
His eyes closed of their own accord, floating away back to a stolen moment at the campfire, the taste of alcohol on both their lips, the pounding of his heart, the secret voice in his head refusing to allow him to forget that the other man could never be as scared as he was…
It was nice to find out it wasn't a dream.
"Figured you wouldn't want me to."
The thread of conversation threatened to float out of his mind entirely, but he caught it by its tail, the only thing keeping it in his mind being the warmth against his body and the knowledge of where it came from.
The other man jostled his shoulder gently, snapping him out of the doze he was about to fall into.
"Wasn't even much to talk about. Only kissing."
"A little more than kissing, Girard."
"Okay, we didn't get to third base, then."
He didn't know if Soon smiled or not at that. Sometimes his snark got a smile, but he couldn't know if the paladin was in a particularly smilely mood. He usually wasn't.
"You… didn't want to go further. I forget why, exactly." His hand was at the older man's breast. It felt nice to be there. Luckily, being all jumbled in the head spared him the usual confliction and angst that came up when he thought about that one drunken night. Yay for altered states of minds? "I can guess. Not ready yet, right?"
"Well, at least it doesn't have anything to do with gay panic or something like that."
Huh. Soon was cold. Why was he cold? And what was that coppery smell?
The man against him shifted, the muscles losing their tenseness. That was strange. When did Soon relax? "That's the least of my concerns, believe me."
Coppery. Coppery coppery coppery.
There was a rush of air against his ear as Soon sighed. Why was the paladin holding him again? "I'm a little tired now, Girard. Don't fall asleep. Try to… wake me up… if…"
Soon wasn't talking anymore. Girard shifted his arm, frowning, only to find his hand against something wet.
Girard shifted so his eyes were towards the general direction of the wet, his heart starting to beat faster when he saw the blurs awash with red. "Soon?"
He sat up suddenly, making the world spin. The thread his thoughts were on threatened to slip away again, but he clutched it fiercely, grinding it into his head. Blood. There was blood. Soon.
He ran a hand along the man's chest until it hit a neck, and his heart jumped when he felt how cold and clammy the flesh was. Now that they weren't talking, he could hear how fast the older man was breathing.
The implications of all this escaped him at the moment, but it was bad. He knew it was bad.
His head pounded.
He rolled back, almost falling off the bed but he caught himself at the last moment, forcing his legs under him against what he hoped was the floor and standing. He wasn't quite sure if he was wobbling or not, so he just assumed he was.
Girard concentrated on putting one foot in front of the other, holding a hand out in front of him until it hit the wall.
"Girard? Girard, stop screaming!"
He ran his hand along the smooth wood surface until he found the door, opening it up and stumbling out.
"What are you doing up? You have a concussion!"
Dorukan's gratingly pompous voice felt a little like a rollercoaster for someone who was nauseous, which Girard coincidentally was at the moment.
"She's unconscious. Get back into your room—I need to be taking care of her."
"No, she…" She what?
He frowned, trying to concentrate.
"Why are you so desperate to see her?"
The blurs were all jumbled together. Important. Something… really important.
There was a small disgusted sound. "Just go back to bed. I don't know where Soon went—he's supposed to be watching after you."
"Listen to me, you self-important asshole!"
Girard swung his fist, connecting to a wall. "Something's wrong and I don't remember what it is but it's important and I need Lirian!"
"Whoa! Girard, calm—" There was a sharp intake of breath. "Wait, what's on your hand?"
Hand? His hand was wet. Why?
Wet. It had blood on it.
"Soon's bleeding out! I think he's dying!"
"What?" Someone brushed past him. "Oh, crap! Why didn't you say so?"
Blurs were smudged across the world. He had the vaguest sense that something important was going on, but he wasn't sure what.
"Serini! Grab whatever gauze you can find and get in here!"
"Just hurry! He can be unsupervised for a few minutes!"
Girard slowly stumbled to the ground, unable to hold himself straight any longer. He could close his eyes now. It'd be okay.
It'd be okay.
"Girard, wake up."
His head pounded irritably before he opened his eyes, vision sharp as the day he was born.
"Do you know how long you have been asleep?"
Girard sat up, rubbing his aching temples, growling in pain when he accidentally touched a swollen spot a little past his hairline. He assumed there was a nasty-looking bruise there.
The man shook his head gently, concentrating on his surroundings. He was sitting on a very hard bed. His back was stiff, he had a headache, and he was inside a plain wooden room with no real features beyond the bed and two darkened windows, revealing that it wasn't even dawn yet.
And Soon was sitting next to him, the tiniest concerned hint to his face, and the paladin's shirt was missing, replaced by bloodied bandages wrapped around his waist.
His face flushed immediately. Oh. Oh crap, had they been drinking again? "Hey, why are we sleeping in the same bed?"
The concern on the paladin's expression was gone. "Okay, you're fine.
"No, seriously, why?"
Soon got very close to rolling his eyes, but apparently, paladins had a special resistance to their sarcastic urges. "You had a concussion. I was supervising."
"Oh." Was it possible for something to be simultaneously relieving and disappointing? Well, it was now.
Ugh. It was too early to be questioning his sexuality. Why couldn't his thoughts go somewhere like that after he had breakfast or something?
Wait a moment…
"You were bleeding."
Soon looked down at his torso, resting a hand on his bandages. "Yes. I misjudged how much healing I needed, so I ended up giving more to everyone else than I could. It turned out fine, it seems."
"You son of a bitch!"
Girard pounded his fist on the man's chest, provoking a wince and a grunt of pain. "You could have died! Fuck, there you were chattering about how I shouldn't fall asleep and you were bleeding out on the bed! Playing hero gets you nowhere if someone ends up dying from it!"
"Girard, you act like I meant to do that."
"For all I know, you did!" The illusionist crossed his arms, cheeks getting just as red as his hair. "You've had a death wish this whole quest. You're always the closest to the rifts. You're always insisting to be the last one healed. You're always the last to disengage from the enemy when we're retreating. You're always the last to leave when there's some kind of disaster, like when the rift lashed out and collapsed the cave we were in. You're hoping to die!"
Soon stiffened, his expression flickering before he smoothed it out. "It's a leader's job to put himself last in any given situation that affects their team's health or well-being."
"Oh don't give me that crap, Soon. What you do goes beyond that and you know it. Do you have any idea what would happen if you died?" The angry red had spread from his cheeks up to the roots of his hair and the paladin looked genuinely taken aback. "This whole thing would fall apart. We'd be running around like a headless chicken for a while and then give up and call it quits. I may not like it, but sometimes leaders are good for something, and that's organizing groups of people for a common goal. No one here can do that like you."
"I doubt that, Girard. You may be an anarchist, but you do have the potential to lead." Soon leaned against the headboard to get more comfortable, frowning. "I'm not sure why you're so angry."
"I'm angry because you're a self-righteous hypocrite bent on getting killed when you know damn well that you're needed," Girard snapped, ignoring the pounding in his head and leaning forward so he was gettting in the paladin's face.
"I would hardly call getting into dangerous situations as 'bent on getting killed'. If that were the case, you are much more a danger to yourself than I."
"I do stupid stuff because I'm hotheaded and rash! You aren't!" Girard pounded his fist on the mattress, glaring deep into those infuriatingly calm gray eyes. "Why can't you wait on throwing yourself in bad situations? Why can't you just try to be careful when you're the only one at stake?"
Soon was very quiet for a while. "This isn't about logistics. You never get worked up over logistics."
Girard tensed up, his face getting even redder. "What do you think it's about, then, oh all-knowing leader? What makes you think you know my motivations better than me?"
"I know you, Girard. You're so used to lying, you lie to yourself." He looked towards the window, watching as the sky started to become red. "You told me last night that you remembered. You remembered what happened after we closed the first gate."
He froze, and suddenly, his face wasn't so red anymore. "What?"
"You told me you remembered that…" he paused, "momentary affair."
"I…" His cheeks started getting red again for a different reason. "Well shit."
Soon nodded, gesturing towards the door. "Dawn is breaking, Girard. Lirian should be awake, and I need to pray to get my spells. Get healed."
The illusionist blinked uncomprehendingly.
"Get healed. Concussions can have long-term effects if you don't treat them."
Soon touched the man's shoulder and pushed lightly. Without really registering what he was doing, Girard stood up and padded out.
It took about twenty minutes before he realized that Soon hadn't gone to get healed himself.
If the rest of their team noticed anything, they didn't mention it.
One thing Girard absolutely loathed about paladins in general was their immunity to fear. He bitterly supposed that this immunity also lent itself to an immunity to confliction, awkwardness, and desire, because Soon was able to act like nothing had happened when Girard had issues keeping his complexion the same color whenever he was talking to the man, even if they weren't alone.
He resented it so much that he was the only one who gave a damn about it.
Or, at least, that was how he felt for the first two weeks.
"Someone looks sour."
"Just keep the mug full."
Girard scowled, leaning back and downing another drink, savoring the burn in his throat as the alcohol crawled down.
"Honey, if you keep that up, I'm going to have to call one of your friends down to carry you to your room," the barkeep said dryly, pouring more of the ale into his mug. "I'm beginning to wonder if I should call them now."
"I'm not drunk. Yet."
"Oh, really?" The tender smirked, putting her hands on her hips. "I bet you could walk a straight line, too."
Girard glared, but his heart wasn't in it. He was saving his really good glares for a certain paladin. (And besides, she was right anyway.)
The tender chuckled, picking up one of the glasses left on the counter and starting to clean it. "Do you know it's one in the morning?"
"Mm." He didn't, but damn it, he wouldn't have been able to sleep anyway. Stupid paladin making him all uncomfortable and distracted. He couldn't stand how little the man cared. Soon didn't care about anything. He didn't care about anything but law and his dead wife.
Girard stopped, grimacing and privately scolding himself. No. Even he felt that Soon's wife was completely off limits. That was one topic that, by mutual silent consensus, no one ever brought up without approaching it with the utmost respect.
He pushed her out of his vindictive thoughts.
"We're closing. You want me to call someone down to carry you back up?"
Girard's eyebrows went up, then shook his head. Well, he couldn't expect a little inn in the middle of nowhere to stay open all night.
"No. I'm fine." The illusionist stood up, wobbling on his feet before he grabbed the edge of the bar.
Girard let go of the edge, waiting for a moment for the world to stop spinning (or at least start spinning just like a carousel instead of a suspended ball), and walked to the stairs. He was in Room Four, right? With Serini? Well, at least he was rooming with Serini. She was always nice to talk to, instead of a certain paladin!
He rested his hand on the rail someone had intelligently put on the stairwell, keeping his grip hard enough to turn his knuckles white. Toppling over and falling down the stairs, while probably not painful with how utterly plastered he was at the moment, would not be beneficial for his still-healing head. Last thing he needed was to get another concussion.
Climbing up the stairs was harder than it should have been. Thank the gods for the wondrous invention of railings.
He staggered to the top floor, glaring downwards when he heard the tender laughing. Screw bartenders. Screw them all.
Huh. The world was wobbling again.
Girard jumped, coming unbalanced for a moment and having to catch himself before he face-planted. Moonlight was coming from the window at the end of the hall, casting the speaker in shadow, but the illusionist didn't need sight to know who it was.
"Girard, I think you had too much to drink."
The shadow came toward him, lacking most of the grace it usually had, and placed its hands on his back and arm, breath smelling of alcohol brushing his face. "It's late. You shouldn't be awake."
"Believe me, I would be sleeping if I could." Soon started to lead Girard towards one of the doors, but the illusionist became rigid, staying in place and snarling.
"Where the hell do you get off? !"
Girard tore himself from the paladin's grip, staggering backwards for a moment before catching himself again. "You're an ass, you know that? !"
Soon paused, resting a steadying hand on the wall. "Girard, don't be so loud. You'll wake the others."
"And heartless to boot!" but he lowered his voice, now speaking in an angry hiss. "Where do you get off telling me what to do? I'm not a lackey. I'm not your toy."
"I've never intended to treat you as a toy, Girard." He was completely calm. Hardly any emotional inflection in his voice. No amusement, no anger, no exasperation, nothing. Nothing!
"Oh don't give me that! We both know how you've been treating me!" Girard would have started circling the paladin if either of them were actually sober, but as it was, he had to settle with glaring and beginning to use the wall to guide him as he walked to his door.
"Well, I don't know. Tell me, how have I been treating you?"
That really provoked a snarl. "Like you need to ask!" he hissed. "Just because you don't give a damn doesn't mean no one else does."
Soon paused, and in the dark, it was even harder than usual to read him. "If you're talking about what I think you are…"
"About how we made out, you know I know, and you still don't care? ! Yeah, that's what I'm talking about!" Girard growled, clenching his fists, the paladin's continued calm only serving to get him angrier. "I am not a toy! Especially not yours!"
"It wasn't my intent to treat you like a toy, Girard. On the contrary, I was trying to be respectful."
"Oh, yes, ignoring the whole issue is definitely respectful!" Girard rested his back against the wall, making it keep the world steady. "Fuck off. Not everyone is as emotionless as you."
"Just because I do not show it does not mean I do not feel, Girard."
Soon, still acting so goddamn calm, straightened, walking with a touch of unsteadiness towards the illusionist. "You're drunk. We both are. We shouldn't be having this conversation."
"Oh yeah. Sweep it under to rug as usual. Maybe you can ignore it, but I can't." Girard clenched his fists, digging his nails into his palms.
"I haven't been ignoring it. It's simply that I don't think that alcohol mixed with this is a particularly wise combination."
A beam of dim light illuminated Soon's eyes a little. They weren't the usual unreadable gray stones. There was something intense there.
Intensity. Something that wasn't calm. But that was the only deviation.
He couldn't stand the calmness. He'd make it go away. He'd prove that that wasn't all there was!
"Bastard." The illusionist reached out, twisting the paladin's hair in his fingers and pulling their lips together, giving Soon a passionate, bruising kiss. The paladin jerked in surprise, but the illusionist kept him there for an extra beat before pulling away, his eyes glowing dark purple by sheer force of emotion. "Ignore that."
The paladin's eyes were wide, his mouth open slightly, and he tentatively touched his swollen lips.
Girard wiped his mouth, the taste of Soon lingering there, and breathed heavily.
"Let's see how you like—"
Soon pulled him sharply, bringing their lips together, ravaging his mouth with savagery he didn't know the paladin was capable of. His heart jumped, then his blood got hot, but not with anger. It wasn't calm. Soon wasn't calm anymore.
He reciprocated gladly.
One of the doors creaked open and a halfling woman, rubbing sleep from her eyes, peeked out, possibly to investigate the noise, then stopped abruptly, her face getting red. Neither of the men noticed.
There was a beat where she just stared in shock, her eyes wide enough to practically cover half her face. Finally, she grinned, flashing an unseen thumbs-up, then very quietly scampered into the hall, bare feet hardly making a sound, creeping to the room the paladin had come from and slipping in there, unnoticed.
Girard was getting crushed to the paladin's body so hard it was painful, but every bit of pain only served to feed the fire. He could feel Soon's heartbeat—going hard and fast, like they were in battle. For all he knew, they were.
The illusionist growled, digging his nails into the paladin's back and nipping the other man's lip. "Don't start this if you don't plan on finishing it."
That only earned him another rough kiss. "I'm ready if you are."
In the back of his head, his teeny tiny sober self was shouting at him about what a mistake he was about to make. That teeny tiny sober self was promptly squashed.
They stumbled in place for a moment, then Soon, the slightly more coordinated of either of them, pushed open Girard's door, closing it shut softly behind them, some little voice in their heads telling them it was safe.
Girard pulled away just long enough to tug off his shirt and drop it on the floor.
"So're you." Girard fiddled with the buttons on the paladin's shirt, his fine motor skills leaving a lot to be desired, until Soon reached up and rested his hands on the illusionist's, helping him undo the buttons.
"I thought you hated me."
Girard kissed the nape of his neck, nipping his collar bone, tasting the salt there. "I don't." He ran his fingers lightly across the other man's chest, tracing the lines of muscle and bone, provoking sounds he hadn't thought the paladin ever made. "I just need to know you're human."
There wasn't much talking after that.
Kraagor turned over in bed, blinking sleepily as a halfling woman quietly crawled into a bed a few feet away from him. A bed that he was pretty sure belonged to a paladin.
"Oh! Didn't mean to wake you up." Serini grinned, crawling under the covers. "I liked sharing a room with you last time so much that I thought I'd take Soon's turn."
Kraagor cocked his head, wondering if it was worth questioning.
"Where's Soon sleeping?"
"Oh, I'm sure he doesn't mind switching with me. Good night!"
She flopped down, hugging the pillow and snoring softly (and sounding very fake while she was at it).
Kraagor blinked, shook his head, and settled back to sleep.
"Oh gods! Fuck!"
Then everything relaxed and he fell back on the bed, breathing heavily, and his partner was beside him, breathing just as slow and deep.
Girard rolled on his side, propping up on his elbow, pushing his tangled hair out of his face and wiping sweat from his brow. "Fuck…"
Soon was still on his back, bruise-like marks peppering his collar and chest and scratches on his shoulders. Girard thanked the gods for alcohol, because if it weren't for the fact he was tipsy and about to fall asleep, he'd have a very different reaction to the whole thing.
The illusionist let out a bark-like laugh, making the paladin look up at him with an arched eyebrow.
"We're going to be so pissed in the morning!"
Girard lay down, still facing his partner, and smirked sleepily. "Maybe we should lay off the alcohol in the future."
Something occurred to Girard, waking him up a little more.
Soon wasn't unreadable.
Giving a concerned frown, the paladin reached out, lightly touching three relatively deep scratches on the illusionist's shoulder. Girard hissed at the sting and recoiled for a moment.
"I apologize. I didn't mean to be rough."
Girard checked his shoulders, noting that the paladin had managed to scratch through several layers of skin, then looked down at the hickeys decorating his chest and abdomen. "Hey, I wasn't any gentler. I like it this way."
Soon nodded, expression softening, and relaxed into the bed. "Girard?"
"I'm sorry if you were hurt. I wasn't trying to toy with you."
Girard frowned. The paladin actually looked genuine, like he honestly hadn't wanted to play with him.
"Then what were you trying? Pretending it never happened?"
Soon closed his eyes, his breathing beginning to even out. "No. Give you the respect you deserve. The reason I stopped the first time was because I was beginning to imagine her."
The illusionist's eyebrows went up, then he shook his head, his mind simultaneously working through muck and getting a little clearer. "Soon, I get it. I thought that was a given."
"No, it's not." Soon opened his eyes again and looked at Girard, giving a genuine half-smile. "You said so yourself: you're not a toy."
Girard blinked in surprise, searching Soon's much more readable expression, and it felt like he was opening some kind of secret book in a forgotten corner of a library.
"I was wrong."
The paladin's eyes were closed again, drifting off to sleep.
"You can feel. You're human."
The illusionist relaxed, hugging his pillow to his head, and decided that they would do this again, maybe even when they were sober.
Then he fell asleep.
A/N: 'Tis finals fortnight for me, so I couldn't edit this as thoroughly as I usually do. If it's crappy and I can't tell at the moment, blame it on that. ;P This was long overdue.