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in vino veritas

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Cliff stared at the scene in front of him, bewildered and horrified and out of his mind.

Albel Nox, face buried deep in his arms, was slumped at the table, and hiccuped.

Mirage gestured at the bottle just beside Albel’s elbow. “At least we found out who took your booze.”

Fayt felt positively ill. Mirage had gifted Cliff a bottle of beer from her hometown on Klaus, but because it was neither labelled with its name or that of its recipient, Albel had claimed ownership over it instead.

And, true to fashion, had downed almost half a bottle of it.

“Uh, how strong is it?” Fayt did not drink, so he should be forgiven to not be privy of the details.

Cliff scratched the back of his head. “Let’s just say...it’s enough to knock a cow for two days.”

“Two days?” Fayt exclaimed. “You’re talking about cows, but what about Albel?” He turned to Nel, hoping for some enlightenment.

She shrugged. “I heard that Albel Nox could hold himself against liquor.”

Despite the scene in front of him, Cliff snorted. “Elicoorian liquor is like plain spring water—“

Mirage nudged him hard in his side. “I apologise, Fayt, but I didn’t expect anyone would open a wrapped bottle—“

“How’d he end up with the bottle anyway?” Nel, ever the pragmatic one, queried.

“He must’ve fetched it from my backpack,” Fayt said. “Cliff, when you said you wanted me to keep something for you—“

“How was I to know that crazy maniac would freely go through your things?!” Cliff exclaimed loudly. "Serves him right for—"

A pained groan came from Albel, making them jump. When Albel’s head turned in their direction, they had a sense of foreboding...until it was replaced with dread mixed with humour.

The poor man looked positively ill. Gone was the menacing aura - his vengeful eyes now nothing more than lifeless, as if his soul could be leaving anytime soon. His pallid complexion was even whiter than paper. There was drool running down one corner of his lips.

“Too loud,” he croaked.

And his voice bordered on whimpering.

Cliff bit his lower lips to suppress and incoming laughter, Mirage clasped both hands over his mouth and Fayt...was uncertain if he should just shove everyone out of the room in case Albel reverted to his bloodthirsty self.

“Albel—“ he ventured, taking a step forward.

“Don’t scream at him.” Coming from Albel, it should have sounded like a threat. But now it came out as imploring. Then again, did he just say that in Fayt's defense?

Cliff rushed out of the room, where he could explode in fits of laughter without Fayt’s rebuking glare. Mirage asked to be excused as well.

Nel shrugged. “I guess he’s all yours.”

Fayt massaged his forehead.

She managed a sympathetic smile. “He has always been yours, in a way.”

“Fayt.”

Nel blinked in surprise when Albel called for his name. “I won’t lie, I rather approve of this character change.” She bowed her head and closed the door behind them. “I will tell Ms. Maria that we will leave later than we had planned.”

Fayt approached the other swordsman. His hand was shaking when he tried to reach for his shoulder.

“Hey, you don’t look so good,” he said gently. He was a teetotaler, so he was not sure how to interact with someone so wasted. Would an Elicoorian and an Earthling behave differently?

“Feels worse,” Albel mumbled. “Why?”

“You accidentally drank something of Cliff’s.” Fayt caressed his back. “It’s okay, I’ll carry you to the bed so you can just rest overnight.”

Albel grunted something that sounded like an affirmation. Fayt slung his arm over his shoulder and led him to the bed nearby. It was fortunate that this disaster happened in the room that they were sharing. He made a mental note to never let Cliff anywhere near his things when he was not around.

Albel dropped himself on his bed. Fayt undid his shoes, gauntlet, and dragged the blanket over him. Albel had adopted a foetal position, facing away from Fayt. As the latter made a move to leave his side, Albel grabbed his hand.

“Don’t.”

Fayt felt the pit of his stomach drop. Sure, this was possibly karma at work, but Albel looked too miserable, too vulnerable. What his enemies wod give to see him in this state.

“I’m drawing the curtains,” Fayt said soothingly. “I’ll be back before you know it.”

He kept his words, of course. Albel kept his face hidden underneath the blanket, but his hand was exposed, and he seized Fayt’s the moment he sensed his nearby presence.

Still attentive as ever.

“Fayt?” Albel asked.

“Yeah.”

“Are you staying?”

“We’re sharing a room.”

“Forever?”

“Huh?” Fayt gawked at the blanketed figure. This escalated too quickly.

“You liar.”

“What?”

“You’re following that girl.”

“Sophia? She’s a friend.”

Albel made a gagging sound.

Fayt climbed on the bed, settling on the remaining space. “But you don’t want me around.”

“Wrong.”

“You hate me.”

“Wrong.”

“You wanted to kill me.”

“You idiot.”

This was spoken in exasperation. Nerve wreckingly honest, as if Fayt was an utter buffoon for not catching on. To be fair, Fayt rarely dealt with sadistic if not borderline psychotic warlords before his life took a drastic turn. Especially not when said warlord had stunted emotional growth and very few redeeming qualities as a romantic partner.

“So you’re asking me to stay by your side?” Fayt asked cautiously.

“Hm.”

“Even after everything is over?”

“Mm.”

Fayt, kicking his boots, leaned closer. “Albel.”

“What?”

“Will you remember any of this tomorrow?”

“If I do, I’ll kill all of you.”

Fayt surmised that Albel was there, somewhere, but it was like his self control took a well deserved break, and his filter just broke down. “No, you won’t.” 

“...If you say so.” The rational Albel would never have bothered with a response.

“I’ll follow you, then.” Fayt gave a gentle nudge. “Even if you forget this request of yours, I’ll ask you again some other time. And I’ll expect you to agree, and promise to never shoo me away.”

“Very well.”

“We’d better make it a formal agreement. In case you do end up forgetting.” He pulled the blanket aside slightly, making Albel stir.

“My head...” Albel trailed off.

“Do you feel like throwing up?”

“...it feels light.”

“Let me get you something—“

“And something in my chest feels...hot.”

“Is it heartburn?”

“It’s...not unpleasant.”

Fayt broke into a chuckle. “That, you idiot, is called being warm and fuzzy and happy. Enjoy it while you can.”

====

When sunrise came, along with his grasp of reality, Albel became aware that there was another person lying close to him. He opened his heavy eyes, and was greeted by Fayt’s sleeping face.

He was taken aback for a moment, but Fayt seemed so blissfully deep in his sleep that he was not woken up by Albel’s sudden movement. Fayt did, however, turn his face away, and that was when Albel saw a red mark at the base of his right neck, exposed by his open collar.

A hickey.

He inhaled sharply and nearly fell off the bed.

This time, the blue-haired did wake up.

“Morning,” he said groggily, but still managed to flash Albel a brilliant smile. “How’s your head doing?”

“Wh-what happened last night? Why was I out cold?” Albel demanded. “Why are we sharing a bed? And what the hell is that?!” His shaky finger pointed to the mark.

Fayt rubbed his neck nonchalantly. “It’s our seal of promise.”

“What?!”

“That we won’t leave each other.” Fayt smirked, pointing at Albel’s own neck, where his own neckline had been pulled downwards, an almost identical hickey was starting to bloom.

Albel registered a confused then horrified look, but Fayt had grabbed on to his shoulder before he had the chance to switch to anger.

“It’s all right, Albel. I feel the same way, so all is good.”

“Last night—“

“Nothing happened, aside from some necking. I won’t take advantage of you, especially not when you’re not entirely yourself.”

Albel muttered a profanity.

Fayt laughed in mirth, pulling Albel down and closer. “It’s still early, let’s stay like this a bit longer.”

Albel could hardly say no. Fayt brought their faces closer, their noses were almost touching.

“Can I do something?” Fayt asked. “Can I kiss you?”

Albel was held hostage by Fayt’s deep, hopeful eyes. He sighed impatiently.

“You don’t have to ask.” Albel brushed Fayt’s hair aside and brought their lips together.

====

“Let me get this straight,” Maria said steadily, but her eyebrows were twitching once in awhile. They were having a small meeting in one corner of the inn, and Maria had sent Sophia on a little errand with Roger, on Nel’s advice. “You had smuggled an alcoholic beverage on my ship earlier with the intention of passing it to Cliff, but Albel Nox ended up drinking it, and now he’s completely incapacitated?”

“Reduced to a drunk,” Cliff said, trying to keep a straight face.

“You are a dead man,” Mirage quipped.

“Hey, are you two ganging up on me? Mirage, you were the one who brought it!”

“I trusted that you’d take good care of it!”

“Was it really just beer though?” Nel asked. “It worked more like a truth serum. Or, less likely, a love potion. It had no scent to give it away.”

“What do you mean?” Cliff asked. “Were you snooping around outside their room last night?”

Maria raised an eyebrow. “This is why you asked me to send Sophia and Roger away?”

“Albel Nox confessed to Fayt?” Mirage hissed excitedly.

Cliff, his jaw hanging open, was rendered speechless.

Nel folded her arms, her expression serious and unwavering. “Quark technology is certainly formidable. But is the effect only specific to us Elicoorians? I’m going to need the recipe for research purposes, if you please.”