Pixel is six beers in and he can’t bring himself to regret challenging Zack to a drinking contest.
If he’s being honest, he hadn’t exactly meant to. He’d just picked up his tankard, met Zack’s gaze, and chugged the entire thing in one gulp without breaking eye contact. And Zack had chosen to respond by doing the same. And now he’s here, grinning and laughing with the mercenary as the tavern lights sparkle at the edges of his vision.
“You don’t even know how to hold your mug prop—hic!—properly,” Zack taunts, though some of the bite is lost when he tries to slam his own tankard down and ends up whacking his hand on the edge of the bar. He just shakes his head and chuckles, hiding his smile behind his free hand. “It’s like you’re from another world or something.”
“Shhh! It’s a secret!” Pixel leans forward, putting a finger up to Zack’s lips, except he misses and pokes Zack in the cheek. And then he giggles too, because secrets are fun.
“Heyyy!” Zack grips Pixel’s wrist in one strong hand, moving it away from his face. “You don’t even know what a discharger is.”
“I know what a discharger is!” Pixel insists, batting Zack’s hand away with the force of a kitten.
Zack arches a brow, staring at him with curiosity. “Oh yeah? What is it?” He even has the audacity to prop one elbow on the bar and sit there looking smug. Pixel’s just going to have to prove him wrong, that’s all.
“It’s a deadly weapon.” Pixel shifts in his seat, hips angling toward Zack as he subtly parts his legs. “In my pants,” he adds, just in case Zack hasn’t picked up on the innuendo.
Zack’s still just staring with the same half-assed smirk, so Pixel decides to mirror the expression. “It’ll wreck your insides,” he adds. His grin turns triumphant when he sees a pink flush rise on Zack’s cheeks.
“I see what you did there!” Zack chuckles, turning to motion for another pint of beer. When he turns back to Pixel, his arm seems much closer than it was before. Was he always this close? Pixel blinks twice, head still swimming pleasantly. There’s a lot going on. He still isn’t sure if he won the drinking contest, but either way, Zack is still here.
Huh. Zack. They’ve been in close quarters plenty of times, having shacked up in many an inn and even snoozing next to each other on the crystailrail to Bazada, but Pixel can’t remember actually being this close to Zack. Up close he can see a thin ring of gold around Zack’s dilated pupils, and a few silver hairs mixed in with the black. The scar across his eye runs down his cheek, a thin white line on an otherwise unmarred face. Maybe he’s watched too much anime but Pixel thinks it kind of makes him looks badass.
“Huh?” Zack is looking at him expectantly.
“What?” Pixel slurs back.
“Who’s a badass?”
Oh, shit, he said that out loud. “You,” Pixel informs him, reaching for the glass the bartender’s put in front of him before another wave of laughter overtakes him once again.
“You lads keep it down, you hear?” The bartender shoots them a warning look. “People are starting to stare.”
“Oops.” Pixel ducks his head, chastised, but Zack just grins.
“Let them stare,” he declares, knocking his elbow against Pixel’s. “It’s ‘cause they’re jealous.”
Well, Pixel would definitely be jealous if he weren’t the one at the bar with Zack, that’s for sure. Zack’s an attractive man, what he can say? And he’s only human.
He’s also well aware that everyone else seems to think the same thing about Zack, if his interactions with the two scantily-dressed women in Bazada are any indication.
“You trying to break the handle off that mug?” Zack asks him.
Pixel looks down. Oops. When had he started gripping it like that? He lets go sheepishly. “Whatever. Oh, no! The others,” he moans as he suddenly remembers the other three in their party, and leans forward to let his forehead rest on the bar.
“I—hic!—you know what I say?” Zack says, clasping Pixel’s shoulder.
“What?” Pixel says to the bar.
“Fuck the others,” Zack gets out before dissolving into laughter again. “Right now, it’s just you and me and the beer.”
You and me and the beer. That sounds so very nice. Pixel picks his head back up and drags his mug toward him for a sip. They fall back into a rhythm of talking and laughing and drinking, though Pixel swears something’s different this time. He keeps glancing over to Zack and he notices Zack doing the same to him. They keep missing each other’s gazes though, sometimes just by a millisecond. How odd. Pixel decides to make up for it by resting his chin on his hand and just staring. Zack doesn’t mind, right? He won’t mind.
Finally, their gazes meet. Have Zack’s eyes always been that shiny and big? Pixel smiles, almost dopily.
Zack leans in closer. “This is fun.”
Pixel nods. “Drinking is fun.”
“Well, yeah, but.” Zack waves a hand around aimlessly. “You know. You.”
“Don’t let it go to your head, now.”
“A compliment from you? That’s the first place it’s gonna go.”
“I retract that statement.”
Zack sighs, and they’re both quiet for a moment.
Pixel blinks, his vision already starting to sharpen. He’d better get this off his chest now, then. “Hey, Zack…”
But before he can finish his sentence, a familiar voice cuts through the din of the bar. “Oh, good, you’re both here!”
Zack groans and sits up at the sound of Leanna’s voice. “Wha?” he mutters.
Leanna spots them from the doorway and hustles over with Kara and Amelia in tow. “I was wondering where you two went! At least you stayed together.”
Zack leans over, shoulder leaning heavily into Pixel’s. “Be cool. Maybe they won’t notice,” he whispers, beer-heavy breath tickling Pixel’s ear.
Pixel giggles. “They totally haven’t noticed,” he whispers back.
Kara glances at the tankards on the bar in front of both men. “I see you’ve been using your time wisely.”
“They noticed,” Pixel laments, shoulders slumping.
“Anyway,” Leanna goes on after a beat, “we went to talk to a guard, since it’s starting to get dark out, and…”
Whatever Leanna’s saying is very important, Pixel thinks, but truthfully his alcohol-addled brain is much more focused on Zack, who’s still leaning against him. Any more and the both of them just might topple off the stools onto the floor. What a sight that would be.
“Have you heard a word I’ve been saying?” Leanna huffs.
Pixel blinks. Oh, shit, he’s been caught. He hasn’t, in fact, but maybe Zack has. Once glance over at the mercenary is enough to tell him that neither of them were paying a lick of attention. “Nope,” Zack replies, popping the ‘p.’ “I got more interesting things to hear.”
“Oh yeah? Like what?” Kara crosses her arms, unimpressed.
“My discharger!” Pixel chimes in, finally contributing to the conversation.
Zack bursts into raucous laughter while Leanna, Kara, and Amelia all stare at him.
“But you do not own a discharger,” Amelia points out.
“Do so!” Pixel protests.
“Pull yourselves together!” Kara punches Zack in the bicep. “We found something interesting. So you better sober up or just go to bed before you do anything stupid.”
“Clearly, they are in no state to assist us in our investigation,” Amelia says.
“Now that is a great idea.” Zack claps once. “Pixel, ready for bed?”
“Aye aye, sir!” Pixel hops off the stool, only for his head to start swimming the moment his feet hit the ground and he stumbles.
His shoulders make contact with a warm body, and strong hands pick him up under his armpits and haul him back to a standing position. “You okay there?” Zack asks.
Pixel grins up at him. “Peachy.”
“Go to bed, you two.” Kara shoves the key into Zack’s hand and pushes them both toward the hallway. “We’ll have plenty of fun without you.”
“See if we have more fun without you!” Zack retorts, stumbling up the stairs toward their room with surprising grace considering his state.
“Hey, wait for me!” Pixel scrambles up the steps after Zack, trotting a step behind. “Slow down or we’re gonna—trip.”
“We’re going on a trip? Where?” Zack stops abruptly in front of a door marked “17.” “S’this us?”
“Don’t you have the key?”
Zack looks down at his hand. “No.”
Pixel frowns. “Huh?”
“Thought I…” Zack pats his pockets trying to find it.
Pixel decides to help him out, sticking his hand into Zack’s pocket and rooting around. “Got them!”
“No, I got ‘em.” Zack grins impishly, holding up the key on its metal ring. “What’ve you got there?”
Pixel yanks his hand out of Zack’s pocket and has the decency to blush. “Oops.”
“Get your hand out of the gutter, you.” Zack shakes his head as he pushes the door open, but he’s still smiling. Pixel mirrors the grin, traipsing inside and immediately throwing himself onto the nearest bed. Mm, the blankets are so nice and soft. He nuzzles his cheek into the fleece and shuts his eyes, already feeling the fog of sleep start to drift over him.
“Hey, you can’t take up the entire bed,” he hears Zack grumble from somewhere above him.
“No. Mine now.” Pixel flops a hand out. “Take the other one.”
“One what?” Pixel feels the bed dip beside him, and then hears Zack’s sigh.
“You’re really not gonna move, are you?”
Pixel shakes his head. “Nahhhh,” he mumbles into the blanket. “Nice.”
There’s a pause, then the blanket is yanked out from under him.
“What the—” Pixel yelps, eyes flying open as he prepares to crash face-first into the wooden floor, before there’s a strong arm dragging him back toward the middle of the bed.
“Shhhh,” Zack slurs, covering him with the blanket. “Just…shhhh.”
“Okay,” Pixel agrees, tugging the blanket over his head and letting himself slip into a dreamless sleep.