If a full day of walking, bloodshed, more walking, a bit of extra stabbing, some walking on top of that, washing the blood splatter off your face for the third time, and two more hours of walking before FINALLY settling down for camp did not justify the ten bottles of alcohol that Mihel had already downed, fuck knows what else would justify it.
I mean, he was going to find an excuse to do it anyways, but today was definitely, definitely, a good excuse.
It wasn’t that he wasn’t used to it - he’s a mercenary, it comes with the job. But being part of the rebellion, it’s not like he could take a holiday whenever he wanted. It was a job, yes, and he was getting paid, yes, but the royal army was relentless. They hadn’t caught a break since they got off that bloody ship, and today they’d barely had room to breathe. It didn’t help that several of their caravans had been destroyed, so everyone had been taking turns all day on who got to sit in the only one they had left. Very nobly - a word that Mihel hated to use - Mihel had surrendered his turn. He needed the walk, it helped to clear his head before the next battle.
Right now, however, he definitely needed a sit down.
Leaning against the wheel of their surviving caravan, Mihel clenched the cork of his eleventh bottle between his teeth, and pulled it away. It came out of the bottle with a satisfying pop, and he spat it to the side, along with the ten other corks. He was probably running short of bottles at this point. Not that anyone would complain; he was the only one who really drank any of them. And not that he cared if any of them were to complain. As long as he could swing a sword the next day, he could do whatever he wanted as far as the team was concerned. They’d all stopped worrying that he’d die from alcohol poisoning within a week of meeting him.
Except for Beau. But Beau never stopped worrying about anything or anyone, so he barely counted.
The camp was quiet. All the lanterns had been darkened by Edward’s request; too much risk of being spotted if they stayed on. Some slept quietly in their shared tents. Others - namely the dragons - slept not so quietly under the stars. Eh, it didn’t bother Mihel. Their snoring mixed in with the background buzz of the night. The usual noises of crickets, the occasional owl, the flow of a nearby river. Soothing, which is just how he liked it. Loud noises plus alcohol were not a healthy combination. The night was cool too, which was a bonus. The heat had not been kind to them today; Mitzi especially had been complaining about sunburn for the latter half of the day. The cool breeze was welcomed, plus it kept his drinks chilled, which was nice. And speaking of drinks...
The first swig came - or at least the first swig of this bottle, god knows how many swigs there had actually been that night. The drink was bitter, as to be expected, though slightly sour too. Eh, he’d had worse. It got him drunk, and that’s all that mattered. His mouth had become numb and loose though, and he couldn’t stop a couple of drops from falling out of his mouth. Sighing, he brought the bottle back down, and wiped them away with his sleeve.
“You know, you should really slow down.”
The voice caught him off guard. He knew who it was before he even looked. That unmistakable accent from...wherever the fuck Úna was from, Mihel had no clue. And sure enough, there she was, sat to the right of Mihel. She was looking right at him, absentmindedly swirling around the liquid in her own bottle.
The fuck? How long had she been there? And when the hell did he give her a bottle to drink from? Damn, he must have spaced out somewhere. Perhaps she was right; if he was blacking out this badly then maybe slowing down would be a safe bet.
Oh who was he kidding, he was too far gone already, there’d be no point in slowing down now.
“I never slow down,” he informed her. Surprisingly, he didn’t slur once.
“I thought you told me rushing drinks only makes things worse,” she retorted, looking at him curiously.
“True,” he replied, “But the difference between us is I’ve been doing this longer. You drink it up like it’s milk, and then you wonder why you can’t walk in a straight line before you finish your first bottle.”
She giggled slightly.
“Maybe I just need to build my tolerance, you know? How long did it take you?”
“My whole adult life,” Mihel sighed, “and a couple of my teen years. Maybe more, fuck if I can remember. But I’ve built myself for it, so don’t go off destroying your liver because you think it’s fun.”
Úna shrugged, swigging the remains of the bottle. Mhmm, seemed about right, she wasn’t going to listen to drinking advice when he was in this state.
“And what if I do it anyways?” she said, nudging his arm with her elbow teasingly. “It’s not like you can stop me.”
Mihel sighed again before snatching the bottle from her hands. There was still a tiny bit left at the bottom.
“Yes I can,” he said, “I’ll just drink it all before you can.”
He raised the bottle and let the last remnants flow into his mouth. When he dropped the bottle, he saw that Úna’s eyebrows had lowered, her lip now puckered. Oh great, she was pouting.
“Don’t look at me like that,” he said tiredly.
“Don’t tell me what to do,” she threw back at him. But as she leaned back, she quickly started smiling at her. Figures, she could never stay properly mad for long, least of all playfully mad.
“So what about you?” Mihel finally cleared his head enough to ask her a question. “What’s got you drinking tonight?”
Her smile faltered. Oops, he shouldn’t have asked that. Her shoulders slumped as her eyes looked to the ground. Well done Mihel, he thought to himself sarcastically, annoyed that he’d failed to read the mood. But before he could apologise, she answered him.
“...well, can’t blame you for that,” said Mihel after a pause. “Just don’t make a habit out of it.”
“I don’t want to,” she continued. “But still, it does make things easy for a bit. Today was just...long, and…”
“Difficult?” He finished her sentence for her.
She nodded, pulling her arms around herself. Whether because of the cold, or for her own comfort, Mihel didn’t know. Her hair fell over her shoulders, blocking her face from his view.
“I knew this was what I was getting into,” she said, her tone darkening in a very un-Úna way; the best way Mihel could describe it. “But sometimes I forget it can be this scary. I just wanted to help all of you, but...I didn’t expect to get my own hands bloodied.”
“You get used to it quickly,” Mihel offered up. Okay, probably not what Úna needed to hear, but it was all he could think to say.
“But what if I don’t, Mihel?” she said, looking up at him. Her purple eyes were starting to water. Oh god, please don’t cry, he thought. “Edward keeps telling me this is for the greater good, and I believe him. But what if I come out of all of this and I’m...I’m not myself?”
“Úna,” Mihel sat up from his slump, his tone becoming more serious. “If you’re that worried even now, then maybe this rebellion isn’t for you. Why don’t you just go back home now, whilst you’re still yourself?”
She shook her head quickly.
“No!” she said with such force that it looked like she’d startled herself. She blinked, but quickly took a deep breath, trying to calm herself.
“No...not yet,” she continued. “I can’t go back now, knowing you’re all still out fighting. I couldn’t forgive myself if I heard one of you had died, and I wasn’t there to save you. And besides, I just…”
“...you just?” Mihel questioned.
“...I don’t want to see my parents right now,” she finished. “Not like this.”
“I see,” said Mihel, before taking a long swig of his own bottle. He let a pause settle before he spoke again.
“You wanna talk about it?”
“...I don’t know.”
“Hmm,” he just shrugged, “Well if you don’t, not gonna push you.”
“What about you?”
His eyes narrowed.
“What about me?”
“Do you miss home?”
Christ, what a question that was. He allowed himself a larger swig than usual before answering.
“No,” he said, “Never. Not much to miss.”
“Do you not have a family to go back to?” she pressed on.
“No I do,” he replied - fuck, why was he entertaining her? Whatever, he’d already started. “It’s like you though, I don’t want to go back. Not now, not ever. When I left Algonza, I left the old me behind, and he is not a guy I wanna see again.”
“Why?” Úna asked - she never knew when to stop asking.
“Because that old me was stuck in a pattern of smile and wave, back straight, respect your elders. What I am now...well I’m a mess, yeah, but I’m free from all that. Being a mercenary, it ain’t much of an adventure, but at least it’s away from all that. Away from…”
They both said it at the same time. Mihel felt a sudden rush in his chest. Almost like...his heart stopped? Oh fuck, had the drink finally come to kill him? No, don’t make excuses, he thought.
He didn’t expect this. He didn’t expect Úna of all people would understand. Elusive as she was about her parents, there was certainly a reason. But despite her farm life being far from nobility, and even further from his home in Algonza, just that one word - expectations - that was all she needed to say, and he knew that she knew.
His head rose up to the sky. Cloudy, only a few stars peaking through. Didn’t matter. These were skies far from Algonza, which meant they were good in his books.
“It’s been a journey alright,” he said out loud. “Never planned for any of this to happen. Now I kill, I slouch, and I drink. Not the most conventional life. But it’s one I chose for myself, Úna. So I guess it ain’t so bad.”
A breeze washed over him. He breathed out, more relaxed than before.
He blinked and looked back to her. Was he? Her face was soft and sincere, and as soon as he questioned it, he could feel the corners of his mouth, both perked up.
“Huh,” he couldn’t help but chuckle a bit, “I guess I am.”
Another blink, and he became more aware that she’d leaned in closer to him. Or maybe his sight was messing up? No, he felt her arm leaning against his. He thought of saying something, but he looked at her eyes - so soft, so innocent - and noticed they were narrowing slightly. Closing.
Oh, she was…
He didn’t stop her. Closing his eyes in return, he moved his head closer, waiting for the touch of her lips. This wasn’t his first kiss...but was it hers? He didn’t know...didn’t care. No questions as to what was happening, why she was doing this. No concern that it would inevitably taste of more alcohol.
It was the middle of the night, he was tired, but he wasn’t alone. Someone was here with him.
And in this moment, that was all he needed.
And in the next moment, his face fell full force into the ground.
It didn’t hurt, but then again his body was full of alcohol. Ugh, give it a couple of minutes.
It took a few seconds before he coughed and managed to push himself up. Brilliant, he was kissing dirt, literally. Was his aim really that bad? Blaming the drink or not, that was surely an embarrassing sight. No doubt he wouldn’t hear the end of this.
Though as he looked back up, he realised he’d never hear it at all. There was no-one here.
A quick glance around confirmed that Úna was nowhere to be seen. Damn, he’d embarrassed himself so much that she’d already up and left. He was about to give himself a slow clap of pity, before he heard something. The sound was only slight, but he managed to catch a couple of creaks, coming from inside of the caravan.
That was enough for him to separate drunk clarity from dream clarity.
“Oh,” he muttered to himself, “just a dream.”
Úna was sleeping in the caravan with the rest of the girls, and had been there the whole night. Mihel’s head slumped to his left, and he saw a bottle stood up, half empty. He must have drank himself into a slumber. But even then, he barely dreamed, least of all when he was inebriated. He usually just closed his eyes and then blinked back awake with the sun in his eyes and a hangover to slowly murder him. So what the hell had this been?
Fucking idiot, he thought to himself, of course it had all been a dream. For one, Úna was never that calm after drinking “special juice”, as she called it. She always devolved into a giggling mess, rambling to anyone she could see about how nice they were, and “how lucky I am that you’re my friend!”. Mihel had lost count of the amount of times he’d had to hold Angel Eyes back from driving a knife into her on those nights.
The other thing, well it’s obvious, that would have never happened in a million years. She was nice, yes, but Mihel didn’t like her like that. He doubted she had feelings for him either. She was a free spirit with her head in the clouds half the time; settling down with someone was the last thing on her mind. Or there was the other alternative, but why she still followed Mianir around despite his obvious attempts to give her the cold shoulder, Mihel had no idea. Women were weird.
Mihel scooped the remaining bottle up. Fuck, this stuff must be strong. Either that or his dream logic was a complete mess. The fact he didn’t hesitate once or tried to push her away…
...that it had all felt so natural.
He shrugged and down the rest of the bottle, making sure to block the pain in his nose before it even arrived. At the end of the day, the drink was all he really needed. And soon, the memory of that dream had been washed away completely.