A/N: Written for tyger on InsaneJournal (aka tyra_amria on LiveJournal) as a Yule-type gift-thing.
Brennan sighed and looked deep, deep into his tankard, in the hope that there was a dragon down there. Sadly, there wasn't, so he kept on drinking, hoping it'd show up sooner or later.
"If you don't mind me saying," a voice broke in, "you look like you could stand to be cut off sooner rather than later." The voice was unexpected enough to break through Brennan's dragon-induced depression. He blinked up blearily at its source. There was the impression of blue, blue, and some more blue, all of it most appealingly offset by the low orange-yellow light of oil lamps.
"Wha?" he asked eloquently.
"Ah." There was a scraping sound and then the person who was too blue plopped down opposite him as Brennan blinked owlishly at the man. At least, he was fairly sure it was a man. Certainly no woman he'd ever met had a voice that deep. It was a nice voice to listen to, comforting even through the beer-fog in his brain, even as certain parts of that brain struggled to sit up and take notice.
"Drowning your sorrows?" the vision of blue asked.
"Buh?" Brennan queried, which meant No, I'm trying to find a dragon, but they keep not having the good grace to show up at the bottom of my tankard, so I need to keep trying. Also, I'm nearly broke.
"I'm going to go with yes," the strange man said with a quirk of his mouth. "I would buy you another round, but I'm afraid you would accuse me of trying to get you drunk. Ah. More drunk."
"Eh," Brennan replied, which mean Well, I can see how my devastatingly handsome good looks would lead you to try. Not that it would work. Because I am not drunk. At all.
"Yes," the man said, sounding amused. "Quite."
He sighed into his tankard when the strange blue man really didn't try to get him drunk. Brennan wouldn't have minded too much—even through the haze of alcohol he was almost sure that the stranger wasn't entirely horrible looking—though he had dark suspicions as to whether Little Brennan would be able to do anything except flop about limply. He would have liked to drunk. Drunk-er.
"Bed," he said at last, aiming for decisive and getting sulky. He stood up and tossed a handful of steel drams on the table to pay for his drinks. As soon as Brennan was upright his head swooned. Oh, he was not looking forward getting back to the stables like this. It would be awful. At least there he'd have horsies to watch over him as he curled up on a nice, thick, warm, devilishly scratchy pile of hay.
"Are you all right?" the man was asking. "If you have rooms here, perhaps I could help you—"
Brennan shook his head, which just made the nearly empty tavern swim around even more. "Stables," he grunted.
"You're in no condition to ride—"
He waved a vague hand, trying to indicate the impromptu mattress awaiting him. "Stall," he grunted, staggering over the wooden floor. When had it gotten so dim? "Hay—"
There was a breathless moment where his sluggish beer-addled brain registered, Hey buddy, watch where you're going, you just tripped over somethOHSHI—
Everything went black.
He woke up in something that was nice, thick, soft, and decidedly not scratchy at all. At least, he was pretty sure it wasn't scratchy. It was hard to tell through all the woodpeckers making merry in his skull.
"Huh?" he mumbled. The pillow under his head was deliciously soft and warm, a boon against the aching of his head.
"Ah, you're awake. You're in my room," a familiar voice. "When you passed out on the floor I thought it might be prudent to let you sleep off your, ah, mishap in a place that did not smell of horse manure." The speaker's voice was dark and rich. It reminded Brennan of the really good kind of chocolate, the kind that was only just sweet enough to offset the bitter bite. It was, in short, pure sex.
Brennan opened his eyes a crack to find out what manner of sex god was surely was speaking, before whimpering and curling up on the fetal position.
There was the sound of hurried footsteps. "The drapes are closed," the voice of pure sex said, sounding a little sheepish. It should not be possible to sound both sexy and sheepish, but Strange Disembodied Voice managed it. "You may, ah, open your eyes now. Without whimpering like a small child."
Brennan tried again. This time there was no sensation like spears enthusiastically stabbing out his eyeballs, so he decided it had been a success. "Guh?"
"Eloquent as ever," the sexy voice said, sounding amused now. Now that Brennan was no longer whimpering in a very manly fashion that was not at all childish in any way whatsoever, he realized that this voice really was the strange blue person from last night. He looked at the source. And nearly passed out again.
The owner of the voice that was pure sex was surprisingly pretty—not at all the big, rugged, handsome woodsman-y type Brennan had pictured it belonging to, though he certainly wasn't complaining. The Blue Man was so slim he could have easily passed for a woman, and the falls of blue-black hair over his shoulders certainly didn't help the impression. Even so, Brennan's eyes kept catching on little details that denied the illusion—something about the thickness of the eyebrows quirked over bright eyes, the sharp lines of his jaw and nose, the size and shape of the hands settled in his lap. His skin was chalky blue-tinged white that made Brennan think of nobility and, less sexily, of corpses. The man's clothing was in myriad shades and patterns of blue, a slightly old-fashioned style of long coats and lace-edged shirts and stiff-knotted cravats; every inch of his body was covered, from throat to fingertip, though it didn't do much to hide the form of his long, lean body. Somehow all this made him even more exotic and Brennan knew he was staring and tried desperately not to care. Or stop.
After a moment the man coughed and Brennan tore his eyes away, wincing as that jarred his aching head. "Sorry," he mumbled. "Didn't mean to stare."
"So you can speak in complete sentences," the stranger said delightedly. "I was beginning to wonder, considering the constant monosyllables."
Brennan had a feeling he ought to feel insulted. Instead he felt oddly pleased, because the man of blue's laughter was twice as sexy as his voice and wasn't mean at all; in fact, despite the gnomes cheerfully trying to kick in his skull, he smiled a little. "Yeah," he muttered. "Uh. Sorry 'bout that."
"No worries," the man said cheerfully. "If you're feeling up to it, shall I call for a maid to bring up breakfast? Perhaps some cold water for your head, or perhaps some coffee? I understand the town prizes its coffee quite highly."
"The same way they prize that dog piss they call beer?" Brennan said without thinking, before he colored. The most beautiful man he'd ever seen and he just had to open his mouth like the big dumb idiot he was. But to his surprise the man threw back his head and laughed again.
"Yes, well, why do you think I wasn't as piss drunk as you were last night?" he replied with a sly little smirk on his lips. "However, their coffee is rather more palatable. Shall I call for food? Unless you're still feeling unwell…"
Brennan considered this. His head was still huddled in a dark corner crying for the end to come, anything to make the hurting stop, but on the other hand he'd never suffered from nausea like some other people he could name. Also, he was pretty sure he'd blown the last of his money on last night's beer; who knew when he'd scrape together to eat well again? "Food sounds good," he said at last.
The man in blue smiled at him in a way that made Brennan warm all over. "If we're going to dine together, I suppose we should learn each other's names," he mused. "I am Blucobavy Lanse. Many people simply call me Blue, for obvious reasons."
"Brennan d'Vana," he replied, sketching a little bow from the bed. "Dragoon of Tiphun, at your service."
Breakfast was brought up by a maid, or rather maids, as it consisted of plates of eggs and bacon and hashed potatoes and fried tomatoes and bread and cheese and what appeared to be a miniature mountain of cold sausage as well as. Brennan arched an eyebrow at the last in Blue's direction. The other man busied himself arranging the plates on the rickety table in his room. "I like my meat," he said, almost apologetically.
With the philosophical acceptance of a fellow dedicated carnivore, Brennan shrugged and fell upon breakfast like a man three days starved, while Blue sipped his coffee (which Brennan noticed he took black as night and sweet as sin, exactly the way Brennan like his. Clearly this meant something; he wasn't sure what yet, but it did.) and nibbled down sausage and bacon with quick, sharp bites.
"So, dragoon," Blue said thoughtfully, licking his lips in a way that Brenna found extremely distracting. "What brings you so far from the capital? Lashwind is a month's travel south, I believe."
Brennan sighed and looked down at his eggs. "It's a curse," he said mournfully.
"Oh? Haven't encountered one of those in a while."
He nodded and recited sing-song, "Never again your home you'll see, until a dragon gives you busses three."
Blue choked on his coffee and set the cup down, scrabbling for a napkin. "B—Busses?"
"I know! What does buss even mean?" He moodily took a huge bite of cheesy scrambled baby chickens. "I keep hoping it was some kind of sorceror speak for wish because that would be really useful in not being excommunicated."
Brennan nodded and gulped down his coffee. "I've been gone for four years now," he explained. "If I ever show my face in the capital again I'll be excommunicated for desertion." He pulled a face. "That's why I'm going to try and rescue the fair Princess Jenna."
"Rescue the princess?!"
"I'm hoping that saving her from the tower might be enough to get me back into the High Dragoon's good graces as well as the king's," Brennan explained. "And it's the only place where I know for sure a dragon is to boot, so I can ask about the busses. Whatever they are." He scowled. "All the wizards I ask just laugh or look at me funny."
"Well." Blue set down his napkin thoughtfully, having apparently recovered from his brief coughing fit. "I happen to have traveled past the tower a time or two myself, and I happen to know for a fact that the dragon flies daily around the tower on patrol. It is entirely conceivable that you may be able to sneak into the tower while it's in the air—once you're inside, it can hardly set you afire, after all, and you can commence negotiations for your, ah, busses."
Brennan paled. "It's a fire dragon?"
"Well, yes," Blue said. "Didn't you know?"
"No one said anything about fire dragons…" Brennan muttered. He stared gloomily at his plate. "Well, I guess I don't exactly have a choice, anymore."
"Cheer up," Blue said with a companionable hand on his shoulder. "I'll escort you there and aid you in, ah, penetrating the dragon's defenses."
Brennan brightened. "Oh, thanks," he said gratefully. Finally, someone willing to talk sense with him about breaking this stupid curse. "Let's go right now!"
"Oh, yes," Blue said. "Let's."
Blue didn't have a horse, and neither did Brennan because it had been either eat poor Blackie or starve, so they were forced to set out on foot for the Princess Jenna's tower. Battered his armor may be and ragged his cloak, but the prospect of breaking the curse and going home without losing his head filled him with vim and vigor, made him feel like he could run whoopingall the way to the dragon, except it would have been rude to leave Blue eating his dust.
"Hey, so that inn's coffee was really good, yeah, totally not like their beer and do you think I could maybe like you know import it to Lashwind because it was really really good and like it would be so cool if I could wake up and drink it every day and and and—" Brennan paused, trying to think of something else to say. It was hard, when his brain was this jittery; he was positively vibrating in his armor and felt like turning cartwheels. Yeah, cartwheels sounded good. He spun down the road, limbs out like spokes, waiting for Blue to catch up. He bowed to the sound of his companion clapping, blue eyes warm with laughter. The bright sun caught the highlights of his hair, making it gleam with color deep as sapphires.
"Bravo, bravo," he said, not sounding winded at all. Brennan felt obscurely warmed by the praise and couldn't resist puffing out his chest a little, even though he knew it made him look ridiculous. "The good innkeeper was kind enough to give me coffee for the trip, but I can see that I should perhaps avoid brewing it for you."
Brennan wilted. It had been very good coffee.
"Or perhaps not," Blue laughed, patting him on the head as he passed. Brennan tried not to like it so much. "How could I resist such pretty eyes?"
"You can't," Brennan smirked, trailing after him.
"Such a charmer," Blue murmured. "How could any sorcerer bear to curse you?"
Brennan looked at nothing in particular and counted clouds. Oh, there was one that looked like a bunny and a kitty in the middle of…um…
"I was serious," Blue said after a pregnant moment. The moment had gone on to give birth, screaming in excruciating detail what it would do the question that had impregnated it, and apparently the question's broken sobs of terror were getting to him as much as they were getting to Brennan. Those things could scream. "What did you do to the sorcerer to bring such a curse upon your head? They tend to be quite conscious of what they can do when they lose control."
"It's very embarrassing," Brennan muttered.
"More embarrassing than not knowing how to break your own curse?"
"Fine! You got me. I, uh. Look, it wasn't my fault."
"Mmhmm." Blue made a sort of get-on-with-it type of gesture, though he didn't sound annoyed, just amused. "I'm sure I've never heard that one before."
"It, uh, started at this ball…the annual Carnivalle di Ballance? And I, um, maybe drank a little too much and…" Brennan scratched his head, scuffing his boot in the road dust. He looked up at the sky, side to side at the trees that loomed over the little winding road leading to Princess Jenna's tower, then glanced back at Blue. "Well…"
He remembered the ball as if it'd been yesterday. He'd planned to slip on a mask and head into the city, enjoy the food and drink and dancing, maybe head to the seedier quarters of Lashwind in search of a apprentice let off the leash or sloe-eyed soldier to pass a night or two with. There was a reason you couldn't spell Carnivalle without Carnal, after all, and he'd been looking forward to his first chance for all the guilt-free sex he could find in years.
Instead, his twin brother Brendan had dropped by his room entirely unannounced and informed him that Brennan was going to be his guest to the king's annual three-day-long ball, because he was too busy to find himself a more appropriate companion (read: date) and though it was utterly alien to Brennan's nature could he please try not to embarrass Brendan before the entire royal court? And before Brennan could even utter so much as an "I have to wash my hair," he'd swept away and Brennan was stuck wondering frantically where he'd stashed his good clothes after last year's Carnivalle where the same damn thing had happened.
Brennan had, predictably, been miserable. He just wasn't made for eating food in bits the size of his pinky finger or fancy dancing with ladies in unnaturally huge skirts or pastries that had names twice the length of his or, Drakes forbid, mingling. Miserable Brennan was a drinky Brennan, and as soon as he was sure he could get away with it he'd headed straight for the bar and gotten real friendly with the bartenders.
"You were at the drinking…?" Blue nudged him, and he definitely sounded amused now. It was, Brennan decided, a good sound for him. Even when at his dignity's expense.
"So…drinking…and um…I saw this…well, he was an incubus." Blue's eyes took on a knowing look and Brennan continued, "And he was—well, let's say he was gorgeous and leave it at that. I wasn't to know that he was taken! And he was flirting back! And I was drunk! Very drunk!"
"Oh dear," Blue said. "I can see where this is going."
"So, er, his sorcerer boyfriend showed up and he wasn't very happy I was flirting with his piece of tail."
"And then he cursed you," Blue concluded.
Brennan nodded piteously. "I woke up in this little nowhere town with a massive hangover in this pokey little town called Crone's Wall and after two weeks of trying to get back to Lashwind I realized I'd ended up at the seaside. I still don't even know how. But I haven't been able to get anywhere near the city since that night."
"Sorcerers are generally a touchy bunch." Blue laid a sympathetic hand on his arm.
"If the incubus had only told me," Brennan lamented. "It was totally his fault! I was drunk! He was in leather pants! You do the math."
"There, there." Blue squeezed his arm and let go. "If all goes according to plan we ought to be at the tower close to nightfall, and then you can ask the dragon for your, ah, busses."
The rest of the day was spent walking. The coffee wore off—eventually. Brennan was glad to find he could once again concentrate on something for more than five seconds at a time, though this had the unfortunate side effect of him spending most of his time concentrating on Blue. The other man seemed to be getting more and more talkative as they walked on, covering a vast and erratic range of subjects in that gorgeous deep chocolate voice of his—from the history of the Tiphun Mining Company to this season's Look in the faerie courts (heavy on the gauze and jewelry, yum) to the relative merits of Asunian steel to Hanoy-treated quicksilver…Brennan couldn't keep up with half of it (there was a reason he was a dragoon rather than a soothsayer, after all), but he was more than happy to listen, and especially to watch unawares.
When it was his turn to talk he told Blue wistful stories about Lashwind, and being a dragoon—even found himself occasionally throwing a story or two of growing up in the famous City of Spires, which was strange because he usually avoided the topic of the past. Even now, he skirted carefully around Brendan's name. There was just something about Blue that made him want to talk (well, more than usual), that made him want to bring a smile to Blue's lips or make him nod or see the way he absently and irritably pushed his long hair out of his face as he listened to Brennan prattle on, enthralled.
He tried not to make too much of it. Blue was probably some noble or other; even if he was amenable to another man's attentions, it was doubtful he'd want a rough-and-tumble dragoon like Brennan, who half the time couldn't even remember to shave. Like today.
Blue smiled at him as he finished his story of the Incident of the Killer Squirrels, and Brennan found himself trying not to read too much into it.
They stopped to make camp just as the sun showed the first hints of setting—it was too late and Brennan was too tired to be able to take on a fire dragon, even if he wasn't trying to kill one. Besides, he couldn't help feeling a little squirmy inside for even contemplating killing on. Sure, the Smokescorcher wasn't exactly the most well-liked of the Four Drakes at the moment, but Brennan was still a idragoon/i. Dragons were supposed to be sacred to him. Killing a dragon—even a fire dragon—wasn't very sacramental. Also, he wasn't sure he could take the beast all alone. Blue didn't seem to be a fighter-ly kind of guy.
He slung the pack off his back and onto the grass, stretching to get the kinks out of his spine. "Most of that weight had better be food. And coffee," he added, glaring at the innocent canvas. Marches with full packs were nothing to new to him, but that didn't mean he had to like it.
"Are you really sure you ought to be drinking the coffee?" Blue's voice said behind him. "I was under the impression that having the attention span of a drunken gnat was iundesirable/i when about to face a great flaming lizard."
"Ha. Ha," Brennan replied sourly. "Shouldn't you be gathering firewood or something?"
"Unnecessary," Blue said smugly. He nudged a small hollow into the earth with the toe of his boot and crouched beside it. Brennan couldn't see what he was doing, but the familiar scent of magic filled his nose, horribly ticklish—like he'd given the pepper pot a good hard sniff. He sneezed. He sneezed again. Five sneezes later, Brennan managed between the tears to see Blue was standing proudly beside a flickering blue flame that hovered above the dirt hollow, fuelless.
Brennan's eyes bulged. He sneezed again and sniffed hugely. "How are you—"
"Do leave off speaking," he said, draping his outermost cloak over Brennan's shoulders. "Now, you sit here and pull your nose together. I shall see what kind of meal may be made from our supplies, such that they are."
Being in no condition to argue, Brennan sat and waited to see what kind of meal could be made from their supplies, such as they were.
He sniffled and hugged the heavy black wool closer about him, giving it a discreet sniff when he was sure Blue wasn't looking. It smelled like no cologne he'd ever encountered; a strange smoky herb-y smell that he found he liked quite a lot. He breathed in deep and promptly sneezed so hard he was surprised he still had his nose attached.
Blue bustled around their modest campsite, placing a small saucepan over the floating fire (which, he noticed with a huge sniff, was also floating in midair) and filled it with water (which, Brennan noticed, seemed to be poured right out of his hand). Within minutes, Blue had brewed thick, sweet tea, which he poured into a battered tin cup and handed to Brennan before he went once more into the culinary fray.
Eventually they ended up with a modest meal of bread, a little hill rather than a small mountain of cold sausage and ham, and some hard cheese that Brennan gnawed at hopefully for a few moments before setting it aside with the conclusion that it was actually a rock in disguise. He noticed that Blue seemed to be eating not much more than the meat, the bread being used more as a handy dandy spoon substitute than any substantial part of the meal.
"Eat," Blue ordered, and Brennan complied. His sniffles died down, though he couldn't help the occasional little sneeze—not the enormous body-shaking things that'd plagued him when the fire started, but rather respectable exhalations not to be sneezed at. Ha ha.
Brennan mulled over the fire. It cast them both in a ghostly light, its glow a pale blue that reminded him of ice rather than any respectable flame. Yet it was certainly as warm as any fire he'd have struck from tinder and, he admitted guiltily, a lot less work and swearing. The heat wrapped around him like a lover's embrace and Brennan found himself growing sleepy in spite of himself. He watched in fascination as Blue nibbled at his own meal, popping the last bit of sausage into his mouth before licking his fingers clean with long, luxurious pulls of his tongue.
Blue stopped. The strange firelight made him look even more exotic and, well, blue than ever. "Ah, Brennan?"
He realized he was staring. "Buh?"
"Back to monosyllables, are we?" Blue said with a fond smile.
"Huh? What? Oh, no. Just uh. Nothing." Brennan took a huge gulp of tea but despite this being his third cup he didn't feel any more awake. In fact, he felt sleepier than ever—he must really be out of shape, if one day's march had tired him out this much. "Um. What?"
Blue laughed quietly and set down his own plate. "If you don't mine me asking…why exactly did you decide to rescue a princess in order to meet your dragon? They're quite populous in the mountains, so I've heard. And the success rate for obtaining Princess Jenna's hand has been dismally close to nil, so far as I know."
"Execution," Brennan mumbled. "Didn't have time or nothing to tell anyone 'bout the curse. They're gonna think I deserted. If I get back without somethin' to make up for it 'm gonna kicked out an' lose my head."
"Killing a dragon seems a bit extreme, don't you think?" Blue said quietly. "Even to break a curse. You are, after all, in your own body and possessed of all your own limbs. It could be worse. You could be green. And slimy."
"I know," he replied, sinking deeper into the wool of Blue's cloak. It smelled so good; the scent was less strong so now he found himself breathing in rather harder than strictly necessary just to get good steady whiffs of eau de Blue. "Don't wanna kill it…but I don' wanna be a deserter neither…wanna see…my brother again…"
Everything seemed to growing warm and fuzzy. Brennan gazed dully at the fire, dimly aware the tin cup clutched in his hands had long gone cold. He yawned hugely as Blue got up and padded silently around the fire.
"I really am sorry about this," he sighed, and laid his gloved fingers on Brennan's forehead.
He had just enough time to feel a really doozy of a sneeze come on before everything went black.
Brennan woke up, groaning. His head was pounding in fine hangover fashion, which was funny because he didn't remember getting drunk last night, and if he had he had obviously been completely miserable and was probably better off not remembering. Unless he was missing his pants.
No, one quick glance assured him that his pants were still with him. On the other hand, he was tied to a chair which was set in the middle of a spacious room. To the right he could see a large four-poster bed with a quilt splashed with faded flowers; on the walls he saw scrolls of parchment haphazardly tacked into the plaster and enormous windows that were currently letting in a nice cool breeze.
"Hello? Hello? Ah, you're awake! Excellent, excellent." Brennan flinched as the brisk female voice penetrated his aching skull and swiveled his eyes to the sight of a woman with long falls of honey-blonde hair and cornflower-blue eyes and the dainty porcelain-doll features in a simple green dress sitting in another chair, this one beside a table. Behind her stood Blue, looking apologetic.
"Mmph?" he asked, and found out that the reason his mouth felt full of leather was because it was.
"No, no, don't talk, just listen," the lady said, skirt rustling as she crossed her legs. Her cornflower blue eyes were sharp as tacks, boring straight through him. "Now: did my father send you?"
He shook his head.
"I told you, my lady," Blue said.
"Hmph. Second question: are you really under a curse? No lying now, or I'll hex your balls off."
He nodded frantically.
The princess—she ihad/i to be Princess Jenna, she looked exactly like the portrait in the king's throne room, though admittedly with ten years' worth of curves and without the pinafore and teddy bear—squinted at him. She waved her free hand in an arcane gesture that had Brennan shaking his entire seat as he sneezed; Blue hurried over and pulled out his gag before it did him a mischief. He sniffled, eyes watering.
"Alright," she said at last with a sharp nod. "I believe you. Now, Blue's told me all about your touchy—or rather no-touchy—sorcerer I know exactly how to—"
"Is this why you offered to guide me here?" Brennan asked, puzzled. His initial impulse had been anger at being betrayed and embarrassment at how easily he'd been betrayed…but all of that was being swiftly replaced by utter confusion. "So the princess could…break the curse on me? What about the dragon?"
The princess stopped mid-speech. "Dragon?" She swiveled in her seat and gave Blue the gimlet eye. "You mean you didn't tell him?"
"Tell me what?"
"Ah, yes, that. Well," Blue said, looking a trifle embarrassed, "I suppose I might as well as show you now…"
Blue pulled off his thin leather gloves, and slid a silvery ram's skull ring of his finger. His hat vanished, to be replaced by a pair of curving horns in a fetching shade of azure, darker than his eyes but not as dark as his hair. A similarly colored tail with scales that shone like gems curled apologetically around the ankle of his left boot, tipped with a cluster of black spikes. The tips of his fingers were suddenly tipped with azure talons, the nails thick and sharp. His eyes took on a glow that made him look even more unearthly than before, as if they were flames trapped behind colored glass. The lack of pupils didn't exactly help the impression any.
If Brennan hadn't already been tied to a chair, he would definitely have taken that as a cue to flop in one dramatically.
"Do forgive me," Blue said anxiously. "I was sent to guard the princess' tower, but…well, the last owner had vacated rather, er, hastily and Jenna got into the old witch's spellbooks and before I knew it we'd bonded over Chandlersohn's Five Transmutations and…"
"I can't leave this tower without being mobbed by idiots trying to 'rescue' me and take me back to Father." Jenna rolled her eyes. "The old coot doesn't seem to realize that I don't want to be rescued. Magic is so much more interesting than etiquette."
At those words Brennan felt his heart sink. He loved Lashwind, it was true, and he wanted to see his home again with all his heart—but not so much he could force the princess home against hers. He barely registered Blue's next words.
"— buying supplies for the princess' experiments, you see, and I had to be sure you had enough sense to listen to Jenna say her piece." The dragon looked at him worriedly, biting his lower lip with teeth that looked rather too sharp than was strictly usual for humans, or at least human-shaped creatures.
Brennan shook himself out of his stupor. "Well, you were right," he said gloomily. "I can't force the princess back home...so even you could break the curse—begging your pardon, your highness—I wouldn't be able to return anyway."
"Oh, don't worry, Blue told me all about that," the princess said reassuringly. She slid a piece of folded parchment across the scarred tabletop. He saw that it'd been sealed by a blob of wax stamped with the royal crest. "This letter will explain everything to my father."
"If I live long enough to give it to him," Brennan replied gloomily. He had no illusions what his brother would do to him the moment he set foot in Lashwind.
"Last I heard, Dad was still a talk-first chop-later sort of king, so I wouldn't be too worried," Jenna told him firmly. Her eyes took on a manic, focused gleam. "Now, for the curse. I'm afraid Blue wasn't terribly specific about all the details…"
Brennan sighed and repeated the words that had been engraved in his heart ever since that fateful night of drunken attempted debauchery. "Never again your home you'll see, until a dragon gives you busses three."
The princess stared at him. Then she burst out laughing, doubled over in her chair and wheezing with mirth.
"It's really not that funny!" Blue exclaimed hotly, and to Brennan's surprise he looked embarrassed, his pale cheeks flushed pink. Brennan found he liked the way it added color to Blue's skin immensely, and started thinking of several more enjoyable ways to bring it there.
Jenna finally straightened in her seat, wiping tears from the corners of her eyes. "All right, all right. Well, we have our dragon—" she nodded in Blue's direction. "Now all we need are the busses." She couldn't quite say this last with a straight face, dissolving into giggles again.
"I thought they might be magic-speak for something…?" Brennan asked hopefully. "Like, um. Wishes?"
Blue growled in a way that was far from human and shot straight to Brennan's cock, crossed the floor in two long strides and crushed his mouth against Brennan's. His tongue was in his mouth before Brennan had even processed what was happening; before he knew it he was being kissed harder and more thoroughly than he had ever kissed or been kissed in his life. Brennan sensed that attempting to take control of the situation was a lost cause. Not that he minded. Not at all.
"Huh?" he mumbled when Blue finally let him up for air. He caught himself following the dragon as he pulled away, and sat back in his chair, hard.
"Busses are kisses, you idiot," Blue informed him.
"What?" Brennan said stupidly. Something shifted in the air around him, in the back of his mind: he found himself staring through the tower-top's south-facing window, imagining Lashwind's famous spires in the distance. He hadn't known the muffling wall between him and his home had even existed, until he'd felt it weaken.
"Blue, you sure know how to pick them," the princess grinned, eyes dancing. "Wishes! That's djinn, darling, not dragons."
Brennan considered this. Parts of his brain were occupied with considering the way Blue looked with his eyes heavy with desire and how tempting his lips looked like that, swollen and slick with their spit.
"The curse said busses three," he said slowly. Blue nodded and, squinting a little, Brennan thought he looked a little nervous. Just a bit.
He looked up, straight into Blue's gorgeous, blazing eyes. "Then," he said, "I think you'd better give me two more. And maybe a few more. Just to be sure."
As they walked under Lashwind's north gate, Brennan suppressed the urge to fall to his knees and kiss the cobbles. It would have been incredibly undignified and, more importantly, incredibly disgusting.
"Good to be home?" Blue asked. Brennan grinned at him in reply, knowing he probably looked deranged but too happy by his first glimpse of home in four years to care.
Approximately fifteen minutes later, he was no longer grinning quite so widely. He didn't know how they'd been found out—he'd been very careful to keep his hood up and shadowing his face—but found out they had been, and Brennan found himself being squished beneath the weight of three soldiers.
The heavy thump of boots approached. Brennan craned his neck backwards to look at the approachee, and waved his hands feebly in an attempt to salute properly to the High Dragoon of the Draconic Order of Tiphun.
The man couldn't have been more than thirty, and he was of middling height and built stocky; even so, his armor and clothing clearly covered limbs taut with muscle. The crest of the Tiphun was carved into his breastplate, the stained black lines spreading across his chest and belly. The gems set into the backs of hands were smooth, bluish opals. The High Paladin's hair was bound back in a severe queue, and Brennan didn't need to see his face to know his pale skin was peppered with freckles. He didn't even have to see his face to know what color his eyes were; he already knew: pale grey with a rim of darker grey.
Brennan opened his mouth to give the proper greeting—he wasn't kicked out of the Order until he was dead, and he refused to believe otherwise, damn it!—but instead what popped out was, "'lo, Brendan."
The High Dragoon's face became, if possible, even more stonelike. "What are you doing here, deserter?"
Brennan flinched on the flagstones. "Don't execute me! I have a letter from Princess Jenna!"
"He does," Blue added, his voice muffled from where he was being similarly squished. "It's inside his jacket, on the left."
There was a long pause, and then Brendan stumped over and rooted around inside Brennan's jacket. He took the opportunity to study his twin's face. Brendan had always preferred to wear his hair on the longer side—Brennan maintained that curls were plenty girly already and kept his to an inch or two—but it looked like Brendan grown his out some more since that fateful ball four years ago. No hair hung in Brendan's face at all now, which made his habitual stone-face look even more severe than usual. Sometimes Brennan wondered how they'd come from the same womb, he really did.
After what felt like an eternity, Brendan finally pulled out the folded parchment, smoothed it on his knee and studied the green seal for a long moment. Then he nodded at the soldiers and said, "Take them to the king."
They were half-led, half-dragged up Lashwind's main street to the palace and through the marble into the throne room. One look from Brendan sent whoever was inside scurrying. The soldiers dumped them on the marble and Brennan noticed Blue making a show of dusting and straightening his clothing with cool glares at the soldiers who had dared to muss his formerly pristine clothes. Brennan just barely managed to suppress a fond little grin at Blue's antics; he knew the dragon was fussier about his clothing than a girl about to make her debut. He'd gotten to know Blue quite well on the journey back to Lashwind. Oh yes. Very well.
"Ah, High Dragoon," King Samuel said. "To what do I owe the honor?"
The king was a big man, tall and wide and packed with muscle though too many years spent doing more paperwork than fighting had given him a bit of a gut beneath his tunic. His eyes were the same flowery blue as Princess Jenna's, but his hair was a muddy, ordinary sort of brown beneath his crown. Brennan was usually immensely fond of his liege, but usually his king was not about to possibly-execute him.
"This deserter has a letter from His Majesty's daughter," Brendan replied, and Brennan's heart sank a little more at his cold words.
The king nodded and settled a pair of golden pince-nez on his nose. He accepted the letter from Brendan's hand and broke the seal with an easy flick of his thumb. "Dear Father," he began, peering at the script. "The bearer of his letter, Brennan d'Vana came by to try and rescue me. He got past the dragon and even into the tower before I turned him away, but not before I detected a curse on him. No, don't ask me how I knew, it'll just upset you Daddy and you ought to be careful of your heart at this delicate stage in your life. Suffice to say it was broken and I sent him on his merry way to tell you to please not execute him for treason, because most assuredly he did not desert the Draconic Orders of his own free will. Love, your daughter, Jenna." He frowned at the parchment's end. "P.S. I did it with magic."
He sighed and glanced at Brendan, who was doing his best impression of a wall. "What say you, High Dragoon? The seal cannot be faked by one without the royal blood, as you well know."
Brendan's face remained exactly the same. "It would seem that I cannot in good conscience condemn him to execution, then. Brennan d'Vana, you are welcomed back to the Draconic Order of Lashwind as one of the faithful of Tiphun, and will be reinstated as soon as humanly possible. Quarters will be found for you and your companion until a room in the barracks has been found for you. Consider it a gesture of apology for your rough treatment."
Brennan executed a textbook bow because he knew it was annoy his brother even more than having to admit he was wrong. "I thank you for your generosity, High Dragoon."
The king nodded sharply and tucked his pince-nez back into his jacket. "Very well then," he said. "All are dismissed. Minister Croven? It's alright to come back out now."
The soldiers led them back out into the city proper and Brennan felt himself overflowing with possibilities at the combination of Lashwind and Blue—places to show him, places to eat and drink, places to buy the shiny knickknacks that Blue had such an unholy love for.
"Happy?" the dragon inquired.
Brennan took a deep breath as they passed a bakery, inhaling the scents of dozens of pastries, fresh from the oven. "Definitely," he nodded.
"Good," Blue said. "You shall have to show me everything, including the food. I hear Lashwind is famous for its cookery."
"Oh, Drakes, like you would not believe," Brennan grinned, already making a list of restaurants to take Blue to so he could stuff his dragon stupid with the best food the City of Spires had to offer. "I'm so glad you came back with me."
"You idiot," Blue said fondly, "where else would I want to be?"
"Don't know," Brennan replied. He slid an arm around his dragon's waist and pulled him in for a kiss. "But this right here is home."