When Faleron kissed Kel, it was an awkward, one-sided affair, which turned immeasurably worse when she walked off without a word.
“What's wrong with him,” Neal asked incredulously, peering around Merric and the door to eye Faleron mumbling hysterically into his pillow.
“You give terrible advice,” Merric replied, stepping aside to let him in. “Even I knew better than that.”
Interest piqued, Neal sidled into the room and took stock of the situation. Fact one: Neal always gave fantastic advice. Fact two: If it didn't work, Faleron was doing it wrong. “What happened?”
Faleron let out a high-pitched whine Neal wasn't sure had any words in it to begin with, but the pillow distorted the sound to the point of ridiculousness. So, Neal, being the only apparent adult in the room, pulled it out from under Faleron's head and gave him a sturdy thump on the head. “Speak up, darling. I can't hear your dirty, slanderous lies about my pearls of wisdom.”
“I did it!” Faleron yelled, “And she hates me!”
“Did you start talking about your hair,” Neal asked suddenly, “because everyone hates you when you start talking about your hair.” That and Neal had no idea who they were talking about.
“Everyone loves my hair,” Faleron objected, absently running and hand through his tangled locks of magnificence, only helping the dark curls stick up at hilarious angles.
Neal tugged one curl to stick straight up and knew something truly had gone terribly wrong when Faleron let him. Neal gave the curl and extra flick just to watch it dance and sat down on the bed next to him. “Alright,” he said seriously, looking from Merric to his cousin and back. “Why don't we start at the beginning.”
“You ruined my life,” Faleron mourned.
“You really did,” Merric agreed.
“I did not,” Neal objected.
They both glared.
“Why don't you explain the situation and then we'll judge,” Neal compromised.
Faleron slumped and dropped his heads in his hands, whimpering, “I kissed Kel.”
Neal blink. With a scratch to his head, he chided, “We're going to have to work on your diction because it sounded like you just said 'I kissed Kel', which we all know you didn't because that would be ridiculous, silly, and stupid.”
“You know she's seeing my cousin, right?” Neal offered helpfully, “I don't think I can condone ruining Dom's happiness, so this whole idea I told you to kiss Kel – nonsense, obviously – is deluded. I'm worried for your mental well-being, Faleron, I really am.”
“You're a shit,” Merric scoffed, pouring a glass of wine and sipping it idly. He leaned back against Faleron's messy desk and crossed his ankles, “You know that, right?”
“I'm just clarifying matters!”
“You told him to kiss her,” Merric argued, “I heard you.”
Neal sputtered, “I most certainly did not!”
“You were sitting right there,” he nodded at the empty arm chair in the corner, “last week, hiding from your wife.” He took another sip, “Which should have been our first clue you haven't any idea what you're talking about, actually.”
“I was not hiding from Yuki,” Neal sniffed, “I was giving our relationship room to breath.”
“I'm going to throw myself off the needle,” Faleron wept.
Merric sighed, “He's been saying that all morning.”
Neal tossed his hands in the air and exclaimed, “And what am I supposed to do about it!”
“Simple,” Merric shrugged, “you're going to admit it's your fault, tell him how to fix it, and then let him throw you off the needle.”
“You,” Neal glared, “are a mean, spiteful person, and I don't like you.”
“But he makes me feel better,” Faleron snapped, “and I'm going to kill you because you ruined my life.”
“All of these accusations!” Neal bounced to his feet, dodging his hysterical – that's what they called irrationally murderous people these days -friend and took refuge behind the arm chair, using it as a shield. “We're educated men of means. Why don't we all talk this through like adults?”
“You want to talk?” Faleron snapped, “Oh, then we'll talk!”
This was not going half as well as Neal hoped.
“You told me 'Don't get complicated, Faleron,' do you remember that? 'Gifts are insincere if she doesn't know how you feel'!”
Actually, now that Faleron got going, the conversation did sound a bit familiar, but Neal had some moral objections to being quoted in falsetto. “Oh, right. That conversation.”
“Yes, Neal!” He spat, “That one.”
“Well, I didn't know you were talking about Kel!” Neal huffed, “If I'd known that, I never would have encouraged you.”
That sort of gravelly roaring couldn't be good for the soul, but Faleron didn't seem to notice, “How could you not know? I spent two hours talking about how I should approach her! Weren't you listening?”
“To be fair, you did waffle something awful,” Merric chipped in helpfully. “I can't really blame him for that bit. Personally, I just started adding 'and chickens' to everything you said.” He chuckled fondly and remembered, “I'll weave her a cornet made of a dozen of the freshest roses and chickens.” He shrugged off his cousin's angry scowl, “You were talking about weaving bloody roses, Faleron. We all did what we had to.”
“I hate you and I'm writing you out of my succession,”Faleron spat.
“I was never in your succession,” Merric sighed reasonably, “I'm from your mother's side.”
“So now that I know what you've done,” Neal mused, “what happened?”
“I kissed Kel,” Faleron said again.
“Yes, we know that part. I meant, what made you think that glaring lack of judgment was a good idea and how did she politely crush your dreams?”
“You said be direct!” Faleron accused hotly, “You said she was a woman of action and she'd appreciate no-nonsense. Be clear. Leave no room for misinterpretation.”
“I said all that?” Neal asked, impressed in spite of himself. “That's all rather impressive for not listening to a word you said.”
Neal held his hands up soothingly and cooed, “By which I mean I'm sorry and I really should have taken this whole mess more seriously. How did she take it?”
“Ouch, let you down, pat you on the shoulder, and walked off,” Neal winced sympathetically. “That's always a rub.”
“No,” Faleron corrected, “she just left.”
Neal stared and Merric asked, “Wait, you mean, she just... left?”
“No, 'You're a dear friend, Faleron, and I will always care about you very platonically.'?”
“Ouch,” Neal said finally.
“What did you do?” Merric asked, aghast. “I mean, this is Kel. She stabs people politely!”
“I kissed her!”
Neal scoffed,“Not very well!”
“Fuck you, Queenscove!”
They sat in tense silent for a long time, Faleron's eyes hot and his hands flexing dangerously. Finally, his shoulders unwound and he collapsed back on the bed, collecting his pillow so he could sprawl on his back and smother himself.
“I've heard the ladies talk about you,” Neal started timidly, “and some of them have very practical experience. It couldn't have been that bad of a kiss.”
“Yeah,” Merric added encouragingly, “Maybe she was simply so overwhelmed by your confession she had to leave or – or...”
“Or risk doing something untoward,” Neal finished wrly, giving Merric a pointed glance. Someone was not helping matters. “She is, after all, connected to my cousin. Kel wouldn't want to give him the idea she wasn't loyal.”
“Because Kel's really big on being loyal,” Merric insisted, glaring back at Neal.
Neal sighed, “Yes, exactly. I'm sure she was just... very flattered.”
Faleron lifted his pillow and groused, “She looked like I'd just killed a baby.”
“That can't be true,” Neal soothed, “if you killed a baby, she would have stabbed you. Kel's consistent like that.”
“She was so horrified she couldn't even find the words to hate me.”
“Maybe she wanted to spare you the let-down?” Merric offered. “She's never been one for uncomfortable conversations.”
“Actually,” Neal mused, “I'm surprised she stayed still long enough for you to kiss her. I would have expected her to make some terribly transparent excuse as soon as you started talking.”
Faleron keened and slammed the pillow back over his face.
Neal blinked, “Um, Faleron, my dear fellow. You did talk to her first.”
“Faleron? You did, didn't you? I mean, you wouldn't just walk up and kiss a proper young woman without warning,” Neal chuckled nervously, “because that would be crazy and ridiculous and – you do know that's the sort of thing a lady can report and have you challenged in mortal combat by her biggest, meanest, male relative to regain her honor, don't you? Things to do with her good reputation and chivalry.”
“You're an idiot.”
The pillow sobbed.
“Well,” Merric offered timidly, “at least she hasn't turned you down.”
Neal neck would regret snapping around to stare at his madly brilliant red-headed friend later, but now, oh, right now? Neal was being a genius. He grabbed Merric firmly by the head and kissed him. “Brilliant. Just – Brilliant.” Neal stumbled over the footstool hiding next to the arm chair and skidded out the door.
Faleron lifted his pillow, “What just happened?”
“I feel so violated,” Merric gaped.
“So,” Faleron sulked, “not madly in love with him?”
“What?” Merric stared.
“Being kissed suddenly,” Faleron sighed. “I guess it really wasn't the best approach.”
“Oh, Mithro's sake,” he cursed viciously, “No wonder she won't talk to you!”
“So, Keladry, sunshine of my life,” Neal began reasonably, trotting alongside his friend as she headed in from the practice courts.
“Are you going to try and kiss me too,” She huffed, turning on him, “because this whole business is on my last nerve.”
“You're being unusually hostile for this early in the afternoon,” Neal pointed out, pouting dramatically, “and I hardly think one man's ill-fated attempt at romance is enough evidence to start accusing every good fellow you pass of untoward advances. It's very paranoid. Bad for your health. Also, Yuki would never forgive me.”
“One,” Kel scoffed, turning up the tight starcase. She did that on purpose, he knew, just so he'd have to trail behind her as he talked. “If it were just one, I wouldn't mind. Besides,” Kel turned with a teeth-bearing grin that was not at all friendly, “It's not paranoid if they are out to get you.”
“You're frightening when you're in a foul mood.”
“Brilliant,” She snapped, turning on heel back up the stairs. “Perhaps it will keep my glowing suitors away.”
“He really did only have the best of intent-” Neal paused, craning his head sharply to follow the curve of the stairs. “What, what in the Goddess's name do you mean by 'suitors'?”
“I mean 'suitors', as in 'more than one irrationally stupid man making embarrassing gestures in public places with me as the butt of their grand joke,” Kel was not pleased. If Neal had to judge her displeasure on a physical scale, he was surprised no one was dead yet.
Glancing down the hall, he considered the wisdom of being alone with her in closed quarters. Homicidal rage rarely listened when nice practical friends screamed 'But I didn't do it!' before gutting them and suspending their dismembered corpse out the bedroom window by their large intestines.
“Are you sure they aren't just, perhaps, very sincere? And following some less than fully appreciated advice given spur-of-the-moment by an improperly informed but usually very wise friend?” He asked hopefully, “I hear it happens more often than you'd think these day.”
And suddenly there was a very perturbed Kel scant inches from his nose, “Who did you tell, Neal?”
Neal was a knight of the realm, brave and stalwart in the face of certain doom. He spilled his guts like golden cookies, “Faleron.”
Kel glared at him absently while she considered it. “Well, he was the least embarrassing of the lot, I'll admit. He had the decency to catch me in an empty corridor and there wasn't much in the way of awkward confessions.”
“And he really, really likes you,” Neal added.
She smacked him upside the head and went back to walking.
“He really does!” Neal called after. When she didn't stop, he cursed and ran to catch up, “He's face down in his pillows crying.”
“He is not,” Kel reached her door and pulled out her keys.
“He really is!” Neal insisted, bouncing carefully through the door before she could slam it shut on his foot. “He's been telling Merric he was going throw himself off Balor's Needle. Wait, Merric didn't kiss you, did he? Because if he did, he was just following some badly timed advice meant for someone else.”
“Meaning you ran your mouth and poor Faleron was foolish enough to listen,” Kel sighed, settling her glaive back in it's stand. She turned around and held a hand up to silence him when Neal objected to her summary of events. “I'm taking a bath now.”
Neal waited for her to say something else. When she stared at him pointedly, he chipped in, “Yes, well, hygiene in important. Good job?”
“Well it's not like there's anyone else – Oh!” Neal blinked, “You're going to be naked.”
Kel winced, “Please tell me someone hit you over the head today and you're just concussed?” She perked up, “Or this can all be a dream and when I wake up in the morning, it will all be better.”
“I don't think I've ever been insulted quite so often in my life.” Neal sulked, scuffing his shoes on the floor. “Today is not a good day.”
“Out,” Kel shuffled him towards the door.
“Can you at least tell me who the other suitors are? Faleron deserves to know who the competition is!” Neal squawked, tripping backwards over her chest.
Kel rolled her eyes and paused with her hand on the door, “Cleon, Dom, and that chap from Dunlath, but I really think he was just drunk and trying to be friendly.”
Neal nodded, “I can see that and – Cleon, really? Isn't he married?”
“Yes,” Kel said sharply.
“Ah,” Neal cleared his throat, “So you're not actually considering him.”
“The black eye I gave him certainly seems to lean that way.”
“Are you going to tell his wife,” Neal asked out of curiosity, but Kel just shook her head.
“He was out drinking with Dunlath. I'm hoping he doesn't even remember.”
“So what's wrong with Dom?”
“Nothing,” She sighed tiredly, “Just, we've gone our separate ways. I know he was just trying to give our relationship some merit, but we missed the timing. I suppose we'll always remember ourselves as some sort of 'not-quite lovers'.” Kel slumped against the door and crossed her arms. “Don't you have something better to be doing than asking me for all my girlish details?”
“If I go back to Yuki, she'll throw me out for waking the baby and I can't see Faleron or Merric because they have the ridiculous notion you hating Faleron is all my fault.”
“Because you give terrible advice,” Kel agreed.
“Everyone is a critic!” He exclaimed critically “I don't see anyone else giving him better ideas.”
Kel chuckled, “How about you tell him to send me flowers? I like flowers.”
Neal blinked, “Flowers? Really? I always expected you to be more of a 'torch and pitchfork' kind of girl.”
“Yes, Neal,” Kel opened the door, “I like flowers. Just like I like chocolates, ribbons, and pretty baubles.”
Neal sputtered out the door, “But that's all so normal!”
“Goodbye, Neal!” Kel called happily, slamming the door in his face.
Neal stared, “Pretty baubles?”
When Kel kissed Faleron, it was a sweet, private affair, made immeasurably better when she took his hand and walked off without a word.