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Slings and Arrows

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     When Doumeki woke up, he was surrounded by metal shelves of pans and knives of all shapes as far as the eye could see, with vivid yellow signs offering price roll-backs and bright white lights glowing on the ceiling like magic. When he'd gone to sleep, the Queen Cassandra had been miles out to sea with at least two days' journey to any known shore and considerably more to the unknown ones, which left very few possibilities.

     Could be some scurvy backstabber had decided to mutiny, killing him dead in his berth without waking him in the process (unlikely), and this was Heaven, or possibly Hell, the situation being somewhat ambiguous.

     The second option, and more plausible, was that he was stuck in a bizarre dream. It felt somewhat like the time Princess Kotori had called his crew in to back the Dragon of Heaven in a particularly rough fight, but it probably wasn't her doing. The Dreaming Princess had asked before she entered his head, and she'd taken him to a quiet seashore with driftwood logs as comfortable as the king's own throne. This was different.

     Princess Kotori had dreamed clothes for him, too, and at present he definitely found himself in nothing but the trousers and knife he'd belted on before laying down for the night. If he'd been pulled into a dream, it had to be someone else's. He'd heard the ninja had a Dreaming Princess of their own, who might be able to do the same, but he'd never heard of a pirate getting his brain picked by her. If it were Daidouji Tomoyo's way to drag men out of their sleeps into strangely lit racks of assorted housewares, someone would have mentioned it.

     Just in case, Doumeki pinched his arm, holding it for several seconds as he watched his surroundings to see if they flickered away. Despite the pain, nothing happened.

     "Aah!!" a voice yelled out from behind him. Doumeki whirled, knife in his hand before he could blink, and found himself face to face...

     ... with Watanuki. Holding a pile of bananas in his arms stacked up to three feet over his head.

     Scratching his neck, he stuck his knife back in it's sheath. "Hey."

     "Hey~?! You show up here -- where you're not supposed to be, ever -- surprise me in the middle of grocery shopping, nearly make me drop my bananas, and you're naked, and all you have to say to me is, 'HEY?!'"

     "How can I be naked if I'm wearing pants?"

     "That's not the point!" The ninja shifted all the bananas to one arm and took a piece of fruit from the pile with his newly freed hand. "I cast thee out, foul Doumeki! Out! Out! Be gone!" The rain of yellow around his head was fairly easy to dodge, so Watanuki couldn't have really been trying. "This invasion will not go unpunished!"

     He knew it would infuriate the other man, so he caught one of the bananas out of the air, peeled it, and took a bite. Ninja dream though it might be (Heaven and Hell were presumably still options, but less likely given Watanuki's comfort level with his surroundings), no one could stop a pirate from having a little fun. True to form, Watanuki turned red in the face and shook so hard that Doumeki was hard pressed to say why the swaying mountain of yellow fruit didn't topple over. That was a ninja for you, he supposed.

     "I did not throw that banana so you could eat it, you over-salted lout! I threw it to make a point! I have some very important shopping to do, so if you don't mind, I'd like you to get out of this store before I have to force you out!"

     Swallowing the last bite with a shrug, he tossed the banana peel over his shoulder. This dream didn't seem to come with trash cans, although it did come with entertainment. "I've got an invitation," Doumeki bluffed, "so I'd like to see you try."

     "An invitation?! You can't have an invitation! This is a public venue, open to everyone. Everyone who isn't a public nuisance like you!"

     "Tough luck," he answered, pushing the ninja up against one of the bright yellow signs. True, he hadn't seen an invitation as such, but he doubted it was easy to stumble on whatever ninja dreamworld this was without a ninja pulling you most of the way. "Someone wanted me here. Are you sure it wasn't you?"

     The pile of bananas still balanced impossibly on one arm trembled. "Very, very, very..." Watanuki insisted, breath catching as their noses brushed. He stole a taste of the petulant whine coming off his strange lover's lips, which thanks to the logic of dreams tasted faintly of strawberry jam. With a ragged breath and a failed attempt to retreat further back into the shelving, the ninja whispered, "...a-almost entirely sure."

     Maybe this was just an ordinary dream after all, Doumeki thought to himself. The scenery was odd, and his consciousness felt oddly present, but this was hardly the first time he'd taken advantage of a night's sleep to have his way with Watanuki in some unheard-of scenario. He'd kept a list of particularly good ideas to recreate sometime in real life, and while kissing and biting amidst a shower of bananas up against a sign advertising a sale on cast-iron skillets wasn't likely to make that list, it was fairly entertaining while it lasted.

     "You. Are. Not. Supposed. To. Be. Here," his ninja hissed. "I'm going to get in trouble because of you."

     "Nice to see you, too. You planning to make a banana sauce for your popcorn with all those bananas?"

     "If I were to do so, it would be fantastic, and would probably involve a base of hot butter and brandy with fresh orange zest, and I am not planning this recipe right now! I am making you leave the Shop before someone finds you!"

     "Not a concern I usually have in dreams."

     "And who the hell said this was a dream?!"

     The clatter of metal on metal behind him meant that, dream or not, there was someone around. A tall man in a red velvet suit with white fur trim, from the looks of it, flanked by two very well endowed ladies in black corsets with bunny ears and tails. The gentleman seemed to have tripped on the discarded banana peel, causing his cart to ricochet into a bank of shelves. One of the bunny girls was helping him to his feet despite the precarious perch of her four-inch spike heels; the other one was retrieving his red velvet hat from the ground.

     And since when did Santa Claus need a shopping cart full of throwing knives and bulk fishnet? Doumeki shook his head and raised an eyebrow at the steam coming out of Watanuki's ears. "If this isn't somebody's subconscious, I'm at a loss."

     Dropping a rough sigh that was halfway to an 'Arrrgh!', the ninja dragged him off by the belt. "I am not having with this. I'm going to put you in a corner, and then you're going to stay there until I find a way to get you out of here with no one else seeing." Doumeki would have made a pithy comment, but Watanuki disappeared faster than a mermaid's tailfin the instant he found his corner, and wasting words by talking to thin air was one thing Doumeki never liked to do.

     This had to be a dream. Nothing else made sense. Then again, ninja didn't make sense, so how was he to judge? And if this were a dream -- at least, if it were his dream -- he'd be having sex on a check-out counter right now instead of standing on his own in a corner next to a door that said, "Staff Only" and a display of manga adaptations of the complete works of Shakespeare.

     Re-enacted by foxes and poodles.

     "Welcome to my Shop." He turned to face the laughing voice and found a lady with smirking ruby lips leaning up against a row of shelves. Her long-stemmed pipe didn't quite seem suited to the high ponytail or the apron that hugged her curves like a blue poplin miracle, but there was no doubt she was used to holding it. "Well, well, well. Captain Doumeki Shizuka. I've heard so very much about you."

     "You have me at a disadvantage, milady."

     "I have everyone at a disadvantage, but you can call me Yuuko." Taking a slow puff on her pipe, the lady, who seemed to be the shopkeeper, sauntered forward. She traced a scarlet nail down his chest and blew her smoke out by his ear. "Now, if you're in my Shop, there must be something you want. Speak up, don't be shy."

     "He just wandered off."

     She laughed like a little girl and smiled like a cobra. "Oh, I'm afraid my Watanuki's not for sale. Fate drives a hard bargain, but she pays in advance."

     "Well, I didn't come here to buy him." All the same, he didn't like the sound of that. Doumeki had developed a particular attachment to the fishnet-clad idiot that he wasn't ready to let go. Having a fate could mean a lot of things, with the only thing in common being none of them were good. "Any chance he gets a say in that deal?"

     Yuuko drew back with a cackle. A hand popped onto her hip and her pipe pointed to a banner dangling from the ceiling -- a blue sign trimmed with balloons and confetti so bright he couldn't believe he hadn't seen it before, with white block letters proclaiming, "There is no chance! There is only inevitability!"

     "I'll take that as a no."

     "If it be now, tis not to come," she recited. A book had appeared in her hand the way everything came and went around here, whose cover showed a fox dressed in black holding a skull. "If it be not to come, it will be now; if it be not now, yet it will come..." The shopkeeper looked up and let her deep, twilight eyes drill into him. "... And how far, Captain Doumeki, would you go to stop it?" She set the book in her hand in the air in front of him, letting it hover. "Would you go this far?" The cover of the next book to appear featured two poodles under the moon -- one on a balcony and one below. "Perhaps this far, oh fortune's fool? Or maybe you'd go this far..." A third book blinked into the space beside the other two, where a poodle in purple robes lay on the ground with foxes on every side. "I think I should know."

     Doumeki narrowed his eyes at the choices, which he hoped weren't the absolute limit on his options. None of them looked good. "Is this a test?"

     "It's just a question."

     He'd met enough people with power in his life to know this one was out of his league, but as long as no one started a fight, that wouldn't be a problem. "I do what I like, milady, and what consequences that brings, I weather. It's my choice, not any kind of fate."

     With a wink, she collected the books in a stack and sent them back into the aether. "You sound like someone I know. Don't look like him, though." The shopkeeper tapped her fingers on her lips with a sigh, cocking her head as she studied his face. "Well, I suppose I don't mind if he keeps you."

     "No, no, no, no, no, no, no!" The voice could only be Watanuki, Doumeki knew even before the flailing blur of black and blush skidded to a halt between him and the woman who called herself Yuuko. "This isn't what it looks like! I don't know how he got here, he doesn't know how he got here, and he's leaving immediately -- without delay -- and he will absolutely bother no one with his piratey nonsense!"

     "Don't be silly, Watanuki. He can't leave the Shop without settling his bill." Yuuko pulled a paper slip out of her sleeve and cleared her throat. "I have him down for one banana and minor damages to the dignity of a customer, in trade for..." She looked him up and down with a smirk. "Hmm. It's a good thing we don't take money. Your knife will do, but I'll need to throw in a little something to even the balance."

     A wooden flute appeared with a twist of her fingers. He didn't particularly want it, nor to part with the dagger he'd had since his first days on a ship, but Doumeki had a good idea who he was dealing with. Better to shut up and pay up. He could get another knife; he'd never count on another warning that trouble was in the offing. The last thing he saw was Watanuki's whole face in a terrified, slack-jawed quiver as payment changed hands, and the strange brightness of the scene scattering in a cloud of black butterflies.

     Their wings cleared, and he saw his berth around him. Rough sheets and a salt breeze, lanterns on low setting the creaking beams in contrast with their own shadows. Nothing to say aught had happened but the flute in his hand, the empty sheath on his hip, and a trail of black wings fluttering out a mysteriously opened window. That was plenty enough for him, though. Without another second's thought, Doumeki reached up and rang the bell by his head. His First Mate, Sai, took less than a count of ten to get to his door, with her icy stare asking for a very good reason she'd been summoned in the middle of the night.

     "I need the ledger," he said.

     She took a pointed look at his empty bed, as if to say that he couldn't possibly have been having any sex that counted towards his annual tally, then tracked him with her eyes as he strode over to the window. "Why?"

     "Because I've been low-balling my ninja, that's why." One last butterfly was walking along the rim of the window. Doumeki laid the flute down across it's path, not sure he should touch the creature with anything else. Calm as you please, it stepped onto the wood, and he carried it over to show his dubious First Mate. "That Witch-Queen doesn't drag a man out of his dreams across time and space for a chat because he took up with a no-name footsoldier." From what he'd just heard, he'd been shorting himself seven or eight hundred points a lay for most of the year.

     "Aye, aye, Captain."

     He blew lightly on the end of the flute, careful not to blow in it til he knew what it would do, and the butterfly took to the air. Doumeki watched it follow its fellows outside, thinking long and hard about ordering his helmsman to change course. He wasn't sure he wanted to wait two weeks to find Watanuki and tell him that, whatever had just happened, this wasn't over.

     In no way was this over.