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"Inigo, do we really have to keep doing this? I'd rather we spend an evening in peace for once." Gerome growled, trying to brush away a wrinkle on his favorite shirt.

 

"We've been over this, Jerry! Just because we're a couple now doesn't mean we can't get out and have some fun every once in a while!" the smaller man called from the other side of the tent, spritzing what Gerome guessed were a few gallons of flowery cologne all over his neck.

 

"I suppose my definition of ‘fun’ differs quite significantly from yours..." the redhead grumbled, sighing as he conceded the battle for a pristine shirt to the stubborn fabric. He felt Inigo's arms latch around his neck as he pressed a quick peck to his nose, a manipulative (but effective) tactic to quiet his whining.

 

"Just humor me, in that case. Besides, perhaps I like the idea of my tall, handsome lover carrying my drunk ass back to our tent, before gently ravishing me upon-"

 

Gerome shoved him away, face burning as he briefly pondered calling Minerva over for a midnight snack. He decided against it, only because he was afraid the overpowering bouquet of her meal's perfume would upset her rather sensitive stomach.

 

"Alright, alright, I get it. Go ahead and pretend you don't enjoy this. Let's head out." Inigo chuckled, raising his hands in mock surrender. They trudged outside, a chilly evening breeze sending a shiver through the dancer's lithe body as he laced up the tent flaps.

 

They set off towards the town they had set up camp near in silence. After encountering so many of these quaint little villages during their months of marching, they had all started to blend together for Gerome. The only thing that stood out anymore were the ridiculously corny names they gave their pubs without fail. The one they were approaching now was called "The Graceless Ape", which was such a nonsensical title that he suspected it was some sort of in-joke among the townspeople.

 

The first thing that hit Gerome when Inigo opened the door was the noise. The chattering of dozens of drunken revelers packed into such cramped quarters, along with the clinking and sloshing of glasses and faint music drifting from somewhere in the back drowned out whatever Inigo was eagerly calling for him to see as he disappeared into the crowd. At times like these Gerome felt more like a babysitter than a wingman, having to chase down his partner to keep him from getting into a spat, rather than attempt to enjoy himself, as much as he doubted that was possible in such an atmosphere.

 

He waded into the throngs of people, muttering apologies and excuse me’s as he made his way to the bar, which was usually where he found his companion downing some sort of embarrassingly-named cocktail, flirting hopelessly with some poor dame. He spotted the unmistakable flash of his silver hair at the other side of the bar, animatedly chatting with the bartender, who politely nodded along in hopes of a better tip. He noticed Gerome and waved, almost knocking over his drink in his excitement.

 

The wyvern rider edged along the bar, trying not to gag at the stench of spilled ale and unwashed commoners. If there was one good thing about the excessive amounts of perfume his lover used, it was how effectively it cut through the stuffy air surrounding him, making staying close to him a slightly less painful proposition.

 

"Any luck yet?" Inigo shouted over the crowd as Gerome settled onto the stool beside him, silently signalling to the bartender.

 

"What are you talking about? We just got here." Gerome replied, his own voice barely audible above the din surrounding them. The bartender approached and Gerome gave his order, fishing his coinpurse from his pocket to pay for their drinks as usual. Inigo's hand landed on his before he reached his pocket, and he looked up at the dancer with a bit of confusion.

 

"Don't worry about it. Drinks are on me tonight!" Inigo exclaimed, gesticulating ridiculously and knocking Gerome's ale out of the bartender's hands, sending it sailing through the air before landing on the counter, splashing both of their shirts. Gerome buried his burning face in his hands as Inigo sheepishly dabbed at the stain quickly spreading over his chest with a napkin to little avail. "I guess they're on you, too! Heh." he tried to play it off as a joke. Gerome just sighed. At least the wrinkle wasn’t the worst of his problems anymore. True to his word, Inigo mumbled an apology to the barman as he slid a few coins his way.

 

A commotion behind them mercifully distracted Gerome from the alcohol-soaked doofus, the crowd hushing as an announcer of some sort got up on the stage where the musical troupe had been playing moments ago. The audience roared with applause as the lute player took an extravagantly flourishing bow before dashing off to join the rest of his band, among whom Gerome recognized Brady. He remembered the priest saying he didn't want to rely on his ma for money his entire life, and how he wanted to earn his own coin. Putting his considerable talents with the violin to use like this made sense, especially considering how generous the rowdy, inebriated crowd was with tips.

 

The announcer spoke again as they quieted down. "And now, for the main event of the evening, it's time for COUPLES COMEDY NIGHT! All you lovers here tonight, come on up and make us laugh!"

 

Gerome relaxed slightly; laughing at some drunken buffoons bumbling out half-remembered anecdotes might go some way towards salvaging this evening. Inigo took advantage of his dropped guard and grabbed his sleeve, tugging him towards the stage. "Wait a second, where are you-?"

 

Inigo pressed a finger to his lips. "Shush, this is gonna be fun," he giggled with a wink as he pulled Gerome through the crowd. The wyvern rider attempted to dig in his heels, but the slipperiness of the floor, coated in spilled booze and gods-know-what-else, resulted in him nearly losing his balance and forcing him to keep pace with Inigo to keep from toppling over. He would've prefered the fall to the embarrassment awaiting him under most circumstances, but he didn't want to ruin his shirt further (his mother had sewn it for him, and as embarrassing as that was, he had to admit it fit perfectly and looked quite snazzy).

 

He squinted as he stumbled up the stairs, the lanterns illuminating the stage momentarily blinding him, which gave him some small measure of relief. For a man as reserved and private as himself, being forced onstage in front of an audience like this was a fate worse than death. What did the moron dragging him along think he was doing?!

 

"...and it appears we have our first couple of the night! Let's give them a hand!" the announcer's voice bellowed, resulting in a small round of polite applause from the audience. Gerome's stomach churned and a cold bead of sweat rolled down his spine. He had no fear diving at a band of armed soldiers on a shrieking reptile big enough to swallow his head whole, yet here he was, ready to faint at the prospect of telling a few jokes to a bunch of drunkards. Do I even know any jokes? he pondered; Minerva wasn't exactly the best stand-up partner.

 

"What the hell are you doing?" he hissed to Inigo, hoping it wasn't heard over the audience's clapping.

 

"It'll be fine, jes' follow my lead..." Inigo whispered back, already visibly buzzed from swig of ale he'd taken earlier. Lightweight.

 

The cheering died down, and the two were left standing in silence on the stage. Gerome desperately wished he had worn his mask, but Inigo had taken to hiding it before they left on these excursions in a clumsy attempt to force him to (quite literally) face the world. He felt exposed, vulnerable without it, as if he were onstage in his smallclothes. Inigo just beamed his cheery smile to the crowd, and Gerome desperately hoped he had SOMETHING to say, or he would keel over on the spot from shame.

 

"So, Jerry, what's th' deal with wyvern food?" Inigo finally asked. A few groans came from the tipsy patrons; this was the oldest routine in the book. He may as well have told a knock-knock joke, and considering his humor level, Gerome wouldn't put it past him.

 

"What about it? If I don't feed Minerva 10 pounds of fresh meat every morning, she'll probably chow down on the first poor soul to wander by her stable." Gerome deadpanned; he knew precious little about comedy, but he knew enough to know he'd be playing the role of the "straight man", a description he didn't normally fill.

 

"But wouldn't it be better t' keep her hungry, so she can eat the bad guys?"

 

"I don't know, but I haven't feed her yet today. Why don't you go ask her?"

 

The audience burst into laughter. Really? Is that all it takes? Gerome's nervousness started to fade; these people were so drunk they'd probably laugh at Miriel reading from a tome on insect biology. Laurent probably heard some interesting bedtime stories from that one...

 

"Ohoho, but where'd ya get all that meat every day?" Inigo giggled, feeling quite clever at his double entendre. Subtle as a brick.

 

Gerome barely suppressed a remark about how Inigo should take that question to his mother, instead opting for "Mostly from fools asking stupid questions, such as 'where do you get so much meat?'". He delivered the last part of that sentence in a nasally falsetto, intended to be a mockery of Inigo, but instead sounding more like a cat with its tail stepped on. The audience laughed even harder. Gerome wondered how many more of these he'd have to think of before they fainted from giddiness.

 

Inigo was visibly flushed by now, from the combined effects of the alcohol and the roasting he was being given. He decided to pull one final ace from his sleeve. "I get the last laugh, I told ya the night would end with a hot girl's mouth around me!" The audience howled, and Gerome felt all the eyes in the room shift to him. Inigo smirked smugly, awaiting his rebuttal.

 

"Nah, I don't think you're her type. She's a carnivore, and with all the perfume you're wearing, I think she'd mistake you for a flower instead." The audience erupted into cheers, laughter and whistles of approval reverberating throughout the room. Gerome cracked a smile at last upon seeing Inigo's flustered expression. Even the announcer was chuckling as they left the stage and retreated to the bar. This would be a tough act to follow.

 

Inigo flopped back onto his old seat, a blush of inebriation rising on his cheeks as he lifted his hand, signaling for another pair of drinks. “I think ya earned yerself 'nother round,” he drawled, passing a tankard from the bartender to Gerome with a clumsy flourish of his wrist and taking the other for himself. “C'mooon... it ain’t gonna be fun 'til ya really let loose.” Gerome ran his hand through his disheveled hair in exasperation, feeling the beginning of a headache wriggling into his skull. Inigo hollered something at someone across the bar, his voice grinding in Gerome’s ears.  

 

Maybe drinking would be a good idea, to help drown out the embarrassment of the evening before it had a chance to take root in his memory. He took a sip of the ale, wincing at its bitterness, watching tiredly as Inigo slipped back off his seat, draining his own mug before staggering off into the crowd. He made towards a mountain of a man standing hunched nearby, whom Gerome hazily recalled had been shooting the two of them some particularly nasty glances and whispering some likely unpleasant things about them to his buddy all evening. Another swig, and Gerome began to realize that something was about to go down between this large, unsavory drunk and his silver-haired companion weaving clumsily towards him.

 

“Hey,” Inigo hollered, and Gerome could tell he was trying to look tough, his facade somewhat undermined when he nearly tripped over his own stumbling feet. “I’ve been seein’ the way yer lookin’ at us… Ya got somethin’ ya wanna say t' me an’ Jerry?”

 

Oh Naga. Gerome abandoned his drink and made his way towards what he hoped wasn’t about to become a fight, as this was one likely to end with his lover spitting out his teeth, and perhaps with a fractured limb or two.  

 

The gigantic drunk matched Inigo’s height in his slouched stance, though fully erect he must have stood at least a foot taller and a hundred pounds heavier.  “I do,” he growled, handing his mug to his partner to allow him to crack his knuckles menacingly. Inigo, with his last shreds of rationality drowned by the booze, wasn’t backing down. He gulped down the last drops of his drink and shoved the tankard in Gerome’s general direction.

 

“Hold m’ beer,” he slurred, rolling up his sleeves. “I’mma fight this mrrfucker.” The gigantic drunk let out a tremendous laugh, and before Gerome could react, his sizeable fist connected solidly with Inigo's face. A sickening crunch sounded as Inigo was knocked off his feet, flying backwards and landing in a slump by the bar. His nose was askew and blood trickled down his face. If he was conscious, Gerome didn’t doubt that he’d be bawling his eyes out.

 

He hadn’t even hit the floor before Gerome slammed the tankard into the drunk’s face, using the seconds he bought to retrieve the small knife ever-present on his belt, whipping the sharp steel up to the man’s neck. He pressed just hard enough for him to feel the blade a hair’s breadth from his windpipe. A look of clear terror replaced the smug grin on drunk’s face.

 

"You got a problem with my boyfriend and me?” Gerome growled, pressing down a bit harder to drive the point home. The threat came out more clumsily than intended, but the blade in his hand made up the difference.

 

“No, no! In Naga’s name, no!” the drunk wailed, scrambling backwards, tripping over the retreating feet of spectators in his haste to flee. “I was gonna give ‘im hell for the awful comedy bit, not for being up some lad’s bum!”

 

Oh. It wasn't the usual.

 

The drunk’s voice cracked as tears streaked down his rotund face, reminding Gerome a bit of an oversized baby crying for his mama. Gerome glared at him again, and decided he had learned his lesson. He scooped Inigo into his arms and slung him over his shoulder as he left. That was enough “fun” for one night.

 

~~~

 

They were halfway back to the camp when Inigo finally came to.  

 

“Gerome... We’re nod ad de bar adymore,” he mumbled, sounding ridiculous attempting to talk with a nose full of clotted blood. Gerome, eager to relieve himself of the dead weight, let Inigo down onto his own unsteady feet, and he stumbled forward before righting himself against a tree.

 

“No, I thought it would be wise to get you home and have Libra examine your nose. It got busted quite badly during your little bar brawl.”

 

“Bar brawl...” Inigo murmured, wobbling slowly along the path beside Gerome. “Did I wid, ad least?”

 

“You sure did,” Gerome assured him, rubbing his temples in an attempt to stave off the imminent headache. How many bars have they been kicked out of, now? It hardly mattered, really, since they rarely stayed in one place long enough to have a chance to return, but it would be a fun bit of trivia to know. “You knocked him out, then fainted and hit your face on the bar.”

 

Inigo grinned stupidly and nearly tripped over his own feet again, grabbing onto the sleeve of Gerome’s shirt for support, adding a sizeable stretch to the list of damages it had incurred during their evening. “Sweeeeed,” he breathed, marveling over his informed feats of bravery as he scraped at the dried blood with his handkerchief.

 

~~~

 

They arrived at their tent at length, eyes grown accustomed enough to the darkness of the night that they didn’t bother lighting their lantern as they stripped for bed. As Gerome unbuckled his pants, he muttered another blasphemy. “Minerva… I forgot to feed her.”  He turned and attempted to stand to leave, but Inigo’s hand had wrapped about his wrist, and with a tug he fell back onto the blankets beside him.

 

“She’ll eat a rabbit or somethin’,” he mumbled, pulling Gerome against him stubbornly. “Just come to beeed..." For a moment Gerome considered protesting, pulling himself out of the drunk embrace and fleeing for Minerva’s pen, but as Inigo snuggled down against him, sighing sleepily, all thoughts of leaving left his mind. Inigo craned his neck to plant a sloppy kiss on Gerome’s jaw.

 

“Stay ‘n make sweet, sweet luuuuv to me...” he babbled, giggling incoherently and wrapping his arms around Gerome’s neck a little too tight, pressing his lips wherever he can reach. “Did I ev'r tell ya how much I looooove you?” he slurred between kisses, bursting into another fit of drunken laughter until Gerome finally pinned him down and shut him up with a kiss on the mouth.


Getting dragged along on these nights out was worth it for moments like these.