Kevan favored him with a cocksure grin, flinty eyes catching the light of the candles as he hovered just outside Abeir’s window.
“You don’t look pleased to see me. I feel like I should be insulted.”
Abeir dragged him off the ledge and into the room. Kevan stumbled and would have gone sprawling if not for the heavy, waist-high statue of the All-Knowing positioned conveniently by the window. He latched on to the massive stone wings and pulled himself upright.
“What,” Abeir said tightly, “in the name of the All-Knowing, are you doing here?’
“My dear.” Kevan raised a hand toward Albeir’s cheek as Albeir ducked out of reach. “I would say that surely even you couldn’t be that dense, but that would be a lie.”
Abeir’s lip curled. “Give me one good reason why I shouldn’t call in the Guard right now.”
“They’d behead me, and then where would you be?”
“Better off, I assure you.” Abeir rubbed his temples. “You cannot be in here.”
“Then call your guards.” Kevan’s voice was suddenly cool, a thread of steel in his words. A challenge. He lifted his chin, his eyes narrowed. “Do it.”
He wouldn’t, and Kevan knew that. Abeir hated that he had become so predictable, so easy, and so soft. In the early days of his reign he wouldn’t have hesitated to have the mercenary hanged; the mercenary who now leaned casually against the statue of the All-Knowing in the private chambers of the King, his long fingers idly stroking one marbled wing.
“You’ve been drinking,” Abeir said finally.
“Of course I’ve been drinking. It’s the New Year. Anyone who stays sober through this night is a fool or a child.” Kevan smirked at him. “Or both.”
“What are you doing here?”
“As I said, it’s the New Year. I’ve come to pay my respects to my King, the same as everyone else in the country.” Kevan sank low into a deep, exaggerated bow.
“That isn’t how you pay obeisance to the King.”
Kevan straightened, dark eyes glittering. “You would rather me on my knees, then?”
Abeir finally compelled himself to move. He crossed the room to Kevan and gripped his jaw.
“I would rather you,” he said in a low voice, “in your place.”
“By all means.” Kevan’s grin was feral, all teeth and no mirth. “Put me there.”
Control was an illusion, as was obedience. Abeir knew this was happening only because Kevan was allowing it. At any moment, he could flip the encounter, twist out from under Abeir, and smash a heavy lamp over his head, or wrap strong fingers around Abeir’s neck and squeeze the life from him. Kevan was fire, a poisonous snake, a ferocious gale. A myth who appeared out of the night and faded away again with the morning mist. Abeir couldn’t help but be drawn to him as fiercely as he was repulsed by him.
In the quiet of after, the only time Kevan was ever without words, Abeir lay staring at the canopy above his bed. Tiny pinpricks of light shone through from the chandelier mounted above, the fabric carefully crafted to mirror the precise placement of the stars in the night sky outside.
“I hear the northern provinces are restless.”
“The northern provinces are always restless.” Abeir got out of bed and started to pick his clothes up off the floor, stepping into them and doing up the elaborate laces. Kevan, who hadn’t made it fully out of his shirt, resettled it on his wiry frame and went about searching for his trousers.
“You’ll want to be careful. There have been threats on your life.”
“I’m the King. There are always threats on my life.”
“It’s different, this time.” Kevan reached out and brushed his fingers over the mark at the base of Abeir’s neck, which his collar would hide until the bruise faded. Abeir could feel the heat of the mark, as sure as he could still feel the scrape of Kevan’s teeth against his delicate skin. “This time, they might succeed.”
“Is that a promise?”
“Not from me.” Kevan lifted one corner of his mouth and drew closer. Abeir resisted the urge to back away, pulled instead by the intense desire to draw Kevan near. “I haven’t grown bored with you yet.”
“The day they hang you,” Abeir said softly as Kevan nosed at the sensitive skin behind his ear, “I’ll be in the very front row of the crowd in front of the scaffold.”
“I would expect you nowhere else.”
“How many have you killed this past moon cycle?”
“Enough to keep me fed with a roof over my head.”
“But you enjoy it.”
“My dear King, I would never waste my time with something I didn’t enjoy.” Kevan brushed the back of his fingers down Abeir’s cheek, deceptively tenderly. “At least I had the freedom to choose. You never even had that. Raised for the throne from the day you were born. What a terrible existence.”
Abeir knocked his hand away. He saw a brief flash of anger in Kevan’s eyes, and for a moment wondered if he would strike. But Kevan only took a step back, strapping his sword around his waist, and moved to the window. He leaped adroitly onto the edge, agile as a cat, and turned to toss Abeir one final grin.
Abeir crossed over to him, took the rope that would sound the alarm in hand, and pulled.
The bells sounded. Shouts, then pounding footsteps. Kevan had three seconds, perhaps four. Time enough, truth be told, to slip a dagger between Abeir’s ribs or wrap an arm around his chest and drag him out the window.
Instead, Kevan gave a devastating smile and leaned in. His lips brushed Abeir’s as he murmured, “Until next time, my king.”
He tumbled backward out the window and was swallowed by the night.