Falling in love was quite annoying. (Alfeegi/Ruwalk)
Thanks as always to Ddae for her encouragement and helpful comments!
Alfeegi had never liked other people very much. Usually they returned the favour and left him to get on with his own work instead of forcing him to listen to their useless blathering. Mostly, they had. Ruwalk seemed intent on making an exception of himself.
At first he had thought Ruwalk was a bit slow. After all, from the beginning he had hardly made it a secret that he was here to do a job, not to make friends. People looking over his shoulder annoyed him (he was more than capable of doing his work without supervision); chatter grated his nerves and wasted his time. Yet Ruwalk persisted in dropping into his office at every hour of the day to share pieces of gossip about people he didn't know and wasn't interested in, and to try to nag him into going to lunch with him (he himself didn't nag at all and it was a very unattractive habit of Ruwalk's). He resisted all Alfeegi's attempts to get him out of his office, and into his own to actually do some of his own work instead of bothering him all the time, with a lazy smile which proved he obviously thought far too much of himself if he thought for even one second that that was going to work on Alfeegi.
One day he'd asked in exasperation, as Ruwalk walked into his office for the third time that day and sprawled himself bonelessly all over his couch, why Ruwalk kept coming back when he so very obviously wasn't welcome.
Ruwalk had just blinked. "Because I like you," he had said mildly, and gone back to his book completely oblivious of the fact that he had just made Alfeegi speechless.
That should have been his first clue. He had missed the chance to get the man out of his office before he made himself a permanent fixture of it, and instead of redoubling his efforts, he'd gone along with it. There was no sense in only giving himself a headache running into that brick wall repeatedly, he had thought, but oh, what a mistake.
His first budget as the chief secretary was an utter nightmare and only proved, as he had said many times only no-one had believed him, that he was surrounded by incompetent fools. He fired half his team, made the rest of them cry when he threatened to stab them with their own pens if they didn't start doing things right for once in their godforsaken lives, and finally spent eight days holed up in his own office with the door locked working frenetically as the deadline loomed large over his head.
Ruwalk showed up somewhere around two in the morning on the second night (how had he gotten in? If he needed more proof that Ruwalk was moonlighting for the Dragonlord -which he didn't, but anyway- that was it).
"Go away," he said irritably, trying to work out where the error in his calculations was.
"I thought you might have been hungry," Ruwalk said, all wounded innocence, and held out a paper bag.
On cue, his stomach rumbled embarrassingly.
"Fine," he said grudgingly. He would have had to leave for food eventually; it only saved him time to have someone bring it to him instead. Besides, it didn't smell or look as if it had been tampered with, and he really was starving.
"For the last bloody time, I'm not trying to off you," Ruwalk said, a hint of sulk around the downward curve of his mouth, and threw himself down on Alfeegi's couch.
"Hmm," he said, and took a tentative bite. Ruwalk smiled.
"So, d'you need anything?"
"No. Please leave before I have you removed." The sandwich was actually quite good. He was surprised. Ruwalk was good for something, after all.
"You're so mean to me, Alfeegi, I'm wounded." He leaned over his shoulder, hmm-ing to himself as he read what Alfeegi was working on, which was still annoying but with food in his stomach he was feeling much more forgiving. "Oh, hey, you forgot to factor in the deficit up there."
His fingers twitched. Perhaps he could be forgiven for nearly strangling the insufferable man? Ruwalk hadn't shown so much as a hint at being vaguely competent at anything besides sitting around and looking pretty and being annoying, and he chose now to display acumen in accounting? He was going to have a nervous breakdown one of these days, and it was going to be completely Ruwalk's fault.
"You. Sit." He shoved Ruwalk roughly into the chair next to him. "Add these up. If you do it wrong, I kill you."
"Okay, okay! You know, all you had to do was ask if you needed help," and god help him, he nearly cried.
Somewhere along the line, he'd actually gotten used to Ruwalk popping in and out of his office, and had taken to unlocking it around lunchtime when Ruwalk usually wandered by. He wasn't silly enough to take up any of his invitations, of course - down that road lay laziness of epic proportions, drinks with strange names and untold debauchery- but Ruwalk got a good idea in his head every now and again, and was good at spotting minor errors in Alfeegi's (otherwise impeccable) calculations, so it was worth keeping him around, he figured.
And while he had a terrible sense of humour, once in a blue moon he actually told good jokes. Alfeegi needed something else to laugh at every once and a while besides the comical incompetence of the rest of his colleagues.
And he wasn't very good at keeping secrets, either. If he pried long enough, Ruwalk would usually let slip when Kai-stern was planning on leaving the castle (since Kai-stern never saw fit to inform /him/, even though he needed to sign off on his travel forms), although Alfeegi hadn't managed to catch Kai-stern in the act yet. One day he would, and then wouldn't Kai-stern be sorry.
And he needed to keep a close eye on Ruwalk. God knew what kind of information he was passing onto to Lykouleon, although he was dumb enough to keep insisting that he wasn't a spy for the Dragonlord, which was obviously idiocy (how old did he think Alfeegi was, thirty-five? How did Lykouleon keep managing to sneak out if Ruwalk wasn't helping him?)
And if Ruwalk was with him, then at least, sometimes, Alfeegi could get him to do something productive (so far Ruwalk had reorganized his bookshelves and come up with a new filing system that was much easier to navigate) even if he didn't do his own work and gossiped all the way through it. If he was in Alfeegi's office, then he wasn't at the bar or the tavern or any of various unsavoury places he frequented and kept trying to make him come with him to.
"Hey, can I borrow your stapler?" Ruwalk wheedled, poking his head around Alfeegi's office door, obviously doing his best to look charming and since Alfeegi had only had three cups of coffee today, halfway succeeding.
"What happened to yours?"
"Rath happened," he said, and made a face which conveyed so eloquently the certain destruction his stapler would have met with that it almost made him smile in spite of himself and open his drawer despite his misgivings.
"I am not your personal stationery cabinet," he warned him sternly before he handed it over, and Ruwalk bounced over and gave him that how-could-you-kick-this-puppy smile, and heaven forbid, he almost cracked for a moment.
"You know how much I appreciate you," Ruwalk wisecracked, and Alfeegi told him to get out of his office before he couldn't be responsible for the consequences.
Spring came, and with it, the usual bouts of hayfever and spring colds, caught by stupid, nameless people who insisted on celebrating the occasion by sunbaking even though the temperature still wasn't high enough... Alfeegi, who stayed inside most of the time, was usually impervious to such things being that he didn't deplete his immune system with alcohol as the others did, found himself oddly afflicted.
Not with sneezes or headaches (although he had those in their usual quantities, usually brought on by certain vagabond dragonlords) or a stuffy nose, but with hot flushes, a racing pulse, and tinges of nausea that felt like a hoard of killer butterflies had been let loose in his stomach. He found it difficult to concentrate on things he could usually do in his sleep, his mind wandering to the warm sunshine and the spring flowers coming up in dazzling colours and the light playing on Ruwalk's hair as he sat on the window seat idly folding Tetheus' latest report into a swan.
It was altogether disconcerting, and not like him at all.
He had thought that perhaps Kai-stern had brought back some exotic tropical disease, undoubtedly one without a cure and that would result in a painful, tragic death, such as his luck usually ran, but since Kai-stern was as fit as the proverbial horse when he wasn't drinking himself into a stupor and since no one else was exhibiting the same symptoms, that ruled out that explanation. The nurse sent him back, baffled, with instructions to drink lots of water and to get a good night's sleep.
As if that was going to happen. Who knew what might happen in the castle if he was absent for more than six hours?
He discovered the next day when Ruwalk dropped by to hand in his report that it got exponentially worse when Ruwalk was in the room. His hand was shaking so badly he nearly dropped the folder.
"Are you okay, Alfeegi?" Ruwalk asked with concern, and Alfeegi waved him away. It took a while for the weak, wobbly feeling to fade, and he didn't feel completely himself until he knew Ruwalk must be safely back into his own office.
Perhaps he was allergic to Ruwalk?
The idea had merit, and although he had never heard of it before, since coming to Draqueen he'd learned that most of the things he'd thought never happened, /happened/, and on a daily basis.
He spent his lunch hour holed up in an obscure corner of the library with a pile of medical textbooks, but even under his microscopic scrutiny, they revealed nothing except that doctors possibly spoke another language altogether. And he'd thought that accountants were bad. Much better to just say what one meant, he thought.
If it wasn't Ruwalk himself, perhaps it was his cologne or something like that. Pity; Ruwalk could just change it and keep barging into his poor office like a bull in a china shop the way he always did, then.
As the weather grew warmer, his illness got worse. When Ruwalk was in the room his mind began to desert him completely, and once when Ruwalk tapped him on the shoulder he was so startled he fell out of his chair. That had been very embarrassing, and so was the time he hadn't realized he'd been staring and Ruwalk had patted his hair in a worried fashion and asked if he'd grown horns, Alfeegi had been staring at him so long.
The nurses were beginning to get sick of him (he heard the word "hypochondriac" being thrown around more than once but that definitely wasn't true; Lykouleon was the one who refused to come into work at the slightest sign of a sniffle) and sent him out of the infirmary claiming they had real sick people to be helping. Delving further into the archives, even the oldest scrolls, so delicate they threatened to disintregrate if breathed on, produced nothing. Either Ruwalk was out to get him -he didn't want to believe Ruwalk was quite so evil considering he had actually been behaving himself rather nicely lately, but people could surprise you- or he had a unique, never-before-documented disease and was going to drop dead before the week was out.
Neither option was particularly appealing.
He posed a few subtle questions to Ruwalk the next time he showed up (with /coffee/; now, if the man wanted him dead why would he bring him coffee?), but Ruwalk only laughed, and he was forced to conclude that if Ruwalk was conspiring against him, there was no way he could be clever enough to hide it so well.
When he found himself thinking that Ruwalk was actually perhaps maybe kind of rather attractive, he knew he had to do something before the rest of his braincells dissolved.
He bit the bullet, swallowed his embarrassment, and asked Cernozura. She knew a lot about the kind of maladies that affected the castle populace, and as the unofficial castle historian perhaps there were tidbits of information not in the official books that she might be privy to.
She giggled a lot as he described his symptoms, in that annoying way women did when they knew something he didn't, and by the time he'd got to the end she was almost doubled over in a very unladylike fashion in the middle of the hallway, and his cheeks grew hot. He'd always known Cernozura to be an extremely sensible and pragmatic woman; perhaps whatever it was that was making him act strangely was affecting all the sane people of the palace (which would explain why only the two of them were so afflicted...).
After an ungodly amount of time, she managed to compose herself, and promised to drop off a book to his office at lunchtime that would explain his condition, she was sure.
That at least was good news, although Cernozura's sudden reversion to girlhood was rather alarming.
When he returned to his office after lunch (having hidden himself in the second floor boxroom to avoid anymore embarrassing confrontations with Ruwalk; the morning's sudden onslaught of stuttering and stammering had been quite enough for him, thank you very much), Cernozura's promised book was lying in his intray like a manna from heaven, and he pounced on it eagerly, snatching it up, unable to wait a second longer for the cure for his mystery illness...
This surely couldn't be right. Perhaps Cernozura had brought the wrong book. The thin paperback was rimmed with tacky gold foil and illustrated with a very well-muscled and tanned blond man holding a swooning beauty tightly to his chest. The title read /Knights of Passion/.
He turned it over and started to read the summary out loud to himself. "Mischa, a clerk with a temper as fiery as her flame-coloured locks, has never had time for love. But when the handsome, romantic and very, very interested Lalwyn walks into her office, sparks fly and she finds herself falling head over heels when she had vowed she never would. Will Lalwyn be able to steal the heart she is determined to protect?"
Not only was it a cheap romance novel, it was a very bad cheap romance novel and of no relevance to him, and he threw it in the paper bin in a fit of disgust before he remembered it was Cernozura's (he would have thought such a refined woman would have a better taste in literature, really) and went, sighing, to fish it out again.
/Will Lalwyn be able to steal the heart she is determined to protect/?
If this Mischa had an ounce of brains in her, she would know better than to fall for the beautiful but undoubtedly brainless Lalwyn. That would be like him falling in love with Ruwalk.
Falling in love.
Dear Lord, he was going to throw up.
Nobody had ever said Alfeegi wasn't determined. He hadn't worked his way up from nowhere to become the chief secretary without having to overcome a few obstacles everyone said were insurmountable. Save for making Lykouleon actually act like an Emperor, there was little he couldn't do if he put his mind to it.
His minor and momentary lapse of sanity, which he was sure was entirely Ruwalk's fault (sensible Alfeegi would never have done something as daft as falling in love if Ruwalk hadn't had something to do with it), could also be cured with the judicious application of a little willpower.
Falling in love had been so easy he hadn't even noticed himself doing it, and had done it completely by accident. Trying to make himself fall out of love wasn't working quite the way he had hoped.
The problem was that Ruwalk was annoying as he had ever been -unless Ruwalk stooped to putting chalk in his coffee, there was pretty much no way he could find Ruwalk more annoying- and that hadn't stopped him from developing his... little problem. He tried to get aggravated when Ruwalk slumped into the office late Monday morning, obviously too recently out of bed, but his annoyance factor, unfortunately, had maxed out and all he could manage was his usual lecture, and even that was disarmed slightly by Ruwalk's dopey who-me smile, as sickening as that was.
He spent one very unproductive morning at his desk recounting all the things about Ruwalk that would drive him absolutely crazy if forced to live with him: he was habitually half an hour late and called it fashionable, was obsessed with his hair, never did what he was told, aided and abetted rogue Dragonlords, took unpermitted breaks from work to play marbles in the dining hall with Rath, changed partners as often as he changed his socks, drank far too much and yet never did anything incriminating while drunk... the list went on and on, until if it was written down on a scroll, it would have reached the dungeons.
All it did was make him more jumpy.
Now that he was aware of what was going on, he was much more conscious of his reactions to Ruwalk and what they meant - and more conscious of his utter inability to do anything about it. Even as he snatched his hand away when they brushed fingers as Ruwalk gave him his pen back, he knew what he was doing and yet couldn't stop himself. Ruwalk gave him a weird look, and he knew he was on the verge of giving himself away (Ruwalk might have been stupid, but he wasn't /blind/; soon he was going to work out something odd was in the air), but he didn't know what else to do.
Women had their mothers to advise them on matters of the heart, but his had been gone for many years, and he was too old for motherly chats, anyway. Still, he had surely been let down - someone should have warned him about the dangers of pretty but vacant brown-haired men. It hadn't been mentioned in any of his textbooks, and really, it did one no good to learn about surpluses and functions if one person could wipe it all from his brain with a single look.
Perhaps he could write a letter to the author of those tomes informing them of their failings.
"Are you sure everything's okay, Alfeegi?" Ruwalk asked, with some not small amount of concern in his voice when he'd dropped the quill he'd been trying to hand to Ruwalk three times, and when Ruwalk's voice got all soft and low like that, and his hands were so warm, well, it was hard to keep his mind from drifting off places it really oughtn't to, and he manufactured a snippy remark somehow and Ruwalk, thankfully, backed off. He sighed a deep breath of relief inwardly.
"Okay, but if you need to talk to me about anything, you know where I'll be," and curse him, Ruwalk's smile shouldn't make his stomach flop over like that.
The gods must hate him, there was no other explanation for it. He'd lived such a peaceful life up until this point, really; apart from the daily crises and the threat that Rath might accidentally burn the place down, he hadn't had much to worry about until this thunderbolt from absolutely nowhere had spoiled his lovely, beautifully-ordered life. They'd decided he'd gotten too complacent and were going to ruin everything to make him pay for it.
Ruwalk looked at him very strangely, and he realized he'd been holding his pencil so hard it had snapped clean in two.
Maybe that was too paranoid, even for him.
He forced an appropriately Alfeegi-ish grimace and Ruwalk smiled, relieved of his concerns, and departed from his office so he could bang his head a few times against his desk and wonder how much more he could take of this.
Kai-stern sprung him at his desk not/actually/reading Knights of Passion (it had opened up like that when he'd got it out of the drawer thinking he should return it to Cernozura but wondering whether he could handle another one of her gigglefits. Horrible woman, having known what was wrong with him and not saying and having a nice laugh at his expense! And why was Kai-stern back early/, anyway? He wasn't expected back for another week at least; something fishy was probably going on there as well), took one look at him and /very obviously had to bite his lip to stop himself from laughing.
He was not going to be grateful for small mercies, damn him.
"What do you want?" he said very grumpily and put the book away from him, although there was no saving face now. Kai-stern, struggling to wipe the grin off his face, dropped a notebook on his desk (which he supposed was all the travel report he was going to get, lucky him) and asked, with so much sugar in his voice diabetics around the country were probably dropping dead, "Is there anything you'd like to talk about, Alfeegi?"
He was going to tell him where he could shove it, only much less vulgarly than that, of course, until it dawned on him that a) Kai-stern and Ruwalk were good friends and he would most likely know something about how the infernal man's mind worked, being that he was also exceptionally annoying, and b) Kai-stern had what one might politely term "experience" in the relationship arena and was probably his best shot at solving his problem without excessive embarrassment.
"Shut the door and sit down," he said reluctantly, and Kai-stern had the impudence to smile and wink before doing as he'd requested and slouching into his seat so far he'd fall out of it if he slipped another inch, and putting his /feet up on Alfeegi's nice clean desk/.
Another of his pencils nearly met an untimely death before he gritted his teeth and reminded himself that one oughtn't to look a gift horse in the mouth.
"So, what did you need my help with, Alfeegi? I mean, if you're trying to net that pretty young thing," he nodded towards where the devil book lay safely closed in its drawer prison, "I'm sure you've charms enough to nab him by yourself," and Kai-stern was very lucky (and very fast) that he could move away quickly enough so that Alfeegi ended up with two fistfuls of empty air instead of a satisfying grip on Kai-stern's throat.
"Not one breath of this leaves this room, or I'll have your hide as a rug," he threatened, and Kai-stern only lifted one eyebrow, faux-wounded.
"You know your secrets are always safe with me, Alfeegi," he said - and Alfeegi took a deep breath, wondered if this was really the sanest thing to do, and started to tell his story.
He really was going to be sick this time. His heart was pounding at three hundred miles an hour and threatening to beat out of his chest if he didn't calm down soon; his skin felt like it was on fire. It didn't help that Ruwalk kept shooting bemused looks his way, and eventually he was going to get curious enough to come over and ask whether something was wrong with Alfeegi.
"All right," Ruwalk said, coming up behind him suddenly, "what's up with you?"
Had he not predicted this? And yet he could still think of nothing to say except a wordless almost-whimper, barely contained, when Ruwalk brushed his hand, and Ruwalk was very, very close to him now, and this was very, very dangerous.
"You've been jumping like a cat on a hot tin roof everytime I'm in the same room for weeks now. What have I done this time?" Ruwalk seemed equal parts confused, amused, and perhaps hurt. "I swear I haven't been putting itching powder in your sheets or anything like that."
"No, that would be /Rath/," he muttered, getting sidetracked from his search for that rare pen that actually worked when Ruwalk's hand closed over his gently and his blood pressure rocketed through the roof.
"So," Ruwalk said, prodding him gently, and although he knew it was nonsense, he could almost feel that smile on the back of his neck, "/Give/, already."
Kai-stern had said just to tell him how he felt, as if it was that easy, just a matter of saying a few words and then everyone lived happily ever after like they did in fairy tales. Well, Alfeegi was a realist, and even if Ruwalk did want someone who dragged him out of bed at half past four in the morning to train, there was not even the smallest chance of it working out without the two of them killing each other (or, most likely, him killing Ruwalk). It made for a beautiful tragedy, but not a very enjoyable life.
If only some small, stupid part of him would stop longing for exactly that.
He had never been a sentimental person. He'd spent his entire life developing and practising rationality and practicality. But Ruwalk laced his fingers through his and squeezed gently and his heart swelled so much he felt like it might burst, Ruwalk bent to whisper in his ear, "You know you can tell me anything," and Alfeegi closed his eyes for just a second, wanting, more than anything else in the world, to stay like this for just a little longer before he had to come back to reality.
Reluctantly, he gathered up a shred of his control and shook himself free of Ruwalk's grasp. "I need to get back to work," he said at last, priding himself that his voice didn't waver.
Ruwalk withdrew enough to let him let by and then grabbed his hand and yanked him back at the last minute. "You didn't answer me," he accused, stepping forward and Alfeegi stepped backward instinctively, trying to shake him off, except that his desk was in the way, and now he was stuck between the rock and the hard place and Ruwalk was leaning into him and for once in his life he really had nothing to say except "I...um," and-
Ruwalk cupping his jaw, hands gentle but firm, and bringing their mouths together, just a fairy-light brushing of lips yet it made him feel hot and cold all at once, like every cell in his body was coming to life yet his knees were threatening to buckle beneath him, and his hands of their own accord came to rest on Ruwalk's upper arms, to push him away, of course, this was insanity, but Ruwalk took it as invitation instead and covered him more firmly, with his mouth, with his body, licking his way into his mouth which had somehow come open and /oh/, oh, oh, he'd never been kissed like this before.
Kisses ought to come with warning labels, he thought in a daze when Ruwalk finally let him go; caution: may cause all higher brain functioning to cease. Ruwalk gave him a cheeky but stupidly endearing smile, trying and failing to look innocent, as if he hadn't just turned Alfeegi's neatly-ordered world inside out.
"You can't just go around kissing people like that," he accused faintly, and ruined his good work by inhaling too sharply when Ruwalk ran just the very tips of his fingers lightly down the curve of his neck, which he'd just discovered was extremely sensitive to just that.
"A little bird gave me the idea," Ruwalk said, managing to look innocent and serious at the same time considering he was fiddling with Alfeegi's sleeve and the brush of his thumbpad against his wrist was for some reason unbelievably sensuous and wait a second, he was going to kill Kai-stern three hundred different ways and then resurrect him so he could hurt him some more.
"I don't..." He didn't know how to finish, although he should probably say something about how this was a terrible idea, and then Ruwalk turned his wrist up and kissed the spot where his life line finished, where his pulse was racing underneath his skin, very gently, and something very soft gave way inside him.
"If you want to throw something at me now, I'll go," Ruwalk said quietly and drew back, letting go of his wrist, and sharp prickles of panic needled at his skin. He didn't know what to say or do; his tongue, suddenly thick and clumsy in his mouth, just wouldn't work, and if being in love meant being this hopeless, he didn't see how anyone could ever survive it. No wonder in the books they all died of consumption and other beautifully romantic tragedies.
"Stay," he finally fumbled out, looking at the ground because he knew his cheeks must be heating up and he just couldn't bear to meet Ruwalk's eyes, and what he might find there.
"If you say so," Ruwalk agreed cheerfully and wrapped his arms around Alfeegi's waist, loose enough so he could easily get away if he wanted to - except that he didn't really want to; being held like this was oddly comforting and, well, /nice/, and Ruwalk was nuzzling his ear and his hair smelled good and dear god, he was turning into a teenage girl but he couldn't quite work up the effort to be disturbed by it.
There was always the possibility that such close proximity to Ruwalk might turn his brain into mush, but, he mused, mightn't there also be a chance that he might be a steadying influence on Ruwalk?
"You're thinking again," Ruwalk said, and from this close he could feel his chest rumbling and his breath against his neck.
"I was just thinking that," he gripped Ruwalk's wrist tightly until he yelped and pouted a little, "that a few kisses doesn't mean you get out of the rest of your work for the afternoon."
"You've discovered my cunning plan," Ruwalk said with a laugh, and Alfeegi leaned up and nipped that tempting lower lip hard enough to remind him he wouldn't be getting away with that sort of thing with /him/, and Ruwalk just shrugged, and let Alfeegi drag him back to his desk.
Perhaps there was hope for them after all.
Disclaimer: Dragon Knights belongs to Ohkami Mineko.