"So once upon a time there was this girl, see?" He waved his arm wildly, carelessly splashing his drink all over the place and the man beside him. His companion flicked him an annoyed look, catching his wrist to still it. The first ignored this, continuing on with his story. "We'll say she was a princess."

      "What is this, story time?" came the bored question from the far corner.

      "Shut up." The drinker sent a scowl that direction, yanking his hand free from his companion's grip. The move just sloshed more alcohol against the counter but he didn't seem to notice and instead took a deep swallow from what was still left in the tall glass. "Anyway, she was a princess. And one day she was captured by a dragon, as princesses often are." There was a rolling of dark eyes at this and he flipped the other a rude gesture, turning to the one beside him instead. This one would be his audience. He didn't look particularly interested but that didn't matter. "So she was captured by a dragon and she spent many days with him, locked away in his castle. And there was a great outcry, and knights were rounded up to save her. That's what knights are for; they aren't worth anything if they're not off fighting dragons and saving princesses."

      "Mm-hmm," came the unimpressed answer.

      He ignored that. "So many people die trying to save princesses, you know. They're always getting into some sort of trouble. So many men spend their lives trying to save the girls. Ch'! It's such a waste. It's the girl's fault if she gets caught in the first place. But someone's got to succeed sometime, right? Lots of people die, brave people keep coming forth, and one day a knight finally storms through the castle and he slays the dragon and carries the princess away to marry her."

      "The end," his companion intoned, bored.

      "No." He gave a sharp shake of his head and hurled his glass across the shop with a vicious throw. It shattered against the far wall and both of his companions stared at him, startled by the violent action. He glared daggers at the one beside him. "That's not all. That's not how the story ends."

      "It's a fairy tale. That's how fairy tales go," he was reminded, in that slow tone that one uses when speaking to a child.

      "But what if she didn't want to be saved?" was his acid response, and he shoved himself to his feet. His companion grabbed at his wrist to still him, stopping him before he could get far. "What if she would have picked the dragon?"

      "What girl in her right mind would pick a dragon over a knight?" came the inquiry from the corner. "Righteous hearts and valiant steeds versus fire breath and scales. It sounds like a no-brainer to me."

      Raw blue eyes stared off at nothing. Silence fell, and finally the fingers fell free from his wrist. He still didn't move, blue eyes lowering to study the ground. "One girl," came the quiet response at last. "One girl would have. Funny." He laughed, a short, mocking sound, and tilted his head to one side to study the man still seated at the counter. "Funny, isn't it? You'd think it'd be her choice, but in the end, she doesn't have a say in any of it. Fucking princess. Fucking knight."

      He grabbed his keys and started for the door, and neither moved to follow him.

Part One
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