He woke to the clatter of pots, pans, and the general cacophony of the best restaurant in town drifting up to his room. Sitting up, he rubbed the sleep from his eyes as a child half his age. He glanced around the room, first at the door and windows, then for his possessions. Eagle eyes trained over a large worn rug, a bedside table, and an upright closet. The decorations were sparse; a small perch and a solitary picture frame reflecting the menacing starlight. He already knew that he was alone. His attention returned to the noise as he closed his eyes to enhance his hearing.
Men blew their lungs, slamming down their mugs after inhaling draughts by the gallon. They shouted and taunted each other in merrymaking. The owner, Old Ria, and her waitresses buzzed about, nimbly skipping over extended feet and luggage with a practiced air. Not a drop of soup was spilled. Cooks yowled at each other from their busy stations in the kitchen with no chance of reprieve. The stove-warmed stuffiness spiked their tempers. Mothers tried to placate the few wailing children and grizzled soldiers sat in corners, reminiscing over the chatter and banter flung back and forth throughout the cozy den. Every seat in the front counter was full but one.
Slowly, Ares opened his eyes as the restaurant died off into silence within seconds of a clang. It was the unmistakable timber of steel on steel. He groaned and slumped back under the covers with a flourish. He peeked at the doorway from under his arm as the mute cessation continued.
He shoved the covers back with a lazy sigh.
Hah...Another fight...Can't a guy just sleep in and wake up in the sun...err...moon to a big bowl of jajangmyun(1) and walk around peacefully...where'd Emergency Food go? That disobedient crow! I'll cook him for dinner tonight, that's what I'll d-
His face turned blank as he slowly fastened a thin scabbard to his waist. A slight click signified its security and he jerked, as though from a trance.
That's what I'll do. Now where'd my other boot go...? .Ah, there it is!
His face lit up with a smile as he skipped a couple of steps and hopped down the rest of them to the open first floor. The door burst open with a boisterous "A! Why's it so noisy down here?"
Pine needles poked at him as he sat at the remaining bench stool, passing two bulky men. One had stood over the other and each were frozen mid-lurch, swords crossed across the intrusive table. The bald, pale man and the darker long-haired soldier's reddened arms showed obvious signs of grappling.
"Ares! You're up!" Melina spluttered from a crowd several feet away, "I suppose you'll be wanting your usual", she muttered more to herself than to him as he flashed a smile. She resumed her busing duties, silently encouraging the rest of them to continue with their meals.
Instead, eyes trained on Ares as he shifted lazily, some more knowing than others.
"Oi, ajusshi-deul*, you might want to sit." Ares said lightly. He didn't look up from squinting at the cup set before him.
The cropped man glared threateningly at Ares' back.
"Hey, punk, whaddy-"
There was a ruffle and the clunk of a metal belt on wood. Rough cloth slid down to reveal brightly colored underpants. With a dumbfounded expression, his nemesis sat quickly lest he be victimized as well.
The tavern was quiet but then there was a snicker. Then another. And so it escalated into full-blown laughter. Life returned full blast as many guffawed, falling off benches and chairs.
"You know, I tried to warn you. You should be thanking me, really, but I'm such a great guy that I'm gonna let you go now, Mr. Muscle. I just woke up.", the young man sang.
The pant-less muscleman's head slowly became the color of his undergarments as he shuffled around awkwardly, trying to get out of the table. His feet were caught, unable to maneuver around the bench with pants holding them together at the ankles. He was too muscled to slip out easily.
Ares downed the rest of his glass as the newly dubbed Mr. Muscle began shouting threats at him. He shoved his hands in his pockets, drawing forth a few coins that clattered on the countertop.
"I'll be going now! See you later, Auntie Ria!" He raised a hand behind him in salute as he sauntered out of the lounge.
Ria bustled out the door behind him, but was caught up in a pool of children running in the opposite direction.
"Ares!" she hollered, "You just got back early today after disappearing to Kiron knows where for a while! Where are you going? You seemed kind of hurt! Ares!"
The youth in question yawned again. A small, black bird settled on his head.
"There you are, Emergency Food! Where you been? Well, you're just in time. We've got an old friend to visit. Hehe. I wonder what-" he paused as the bird pecked him.
"Hey! Bad Emer! How dare you peck your master, you lazy bird! Am I food? My hair's yellow, but that doesn't mean that it's corn or some other bird food!"
Emergency Food did his best to emulate a woodpecker, err, cornpecker.
"Hey", Ares waved his hands wildly around his head and turned around.
His pout split into a grin.
"Would you look at that? I don't have to look after all! Did you get taller? You look taller, M-"
*ajusshi-old guy, around married age
*lit. black bean noodles. Yummy.
(A/N): I haven't decided whether to set this after the series or during the one year that Ares goes missing before the searching for the red eye's swordsman part. Hmmm...What do you think? Reviews!