"You look lonely."
Evander blinked, looking up at the tall stranger that had approached his table in the only quiet corner of the crowded inn. Blue eyes stared at him intently through blonde bangs, shining as if the man had just heard a good joke and the humor of it hadn't left him yet. A large grin was plastered across the stranger's face, full of disarming charm and a complete lack of guile. Blonde hair streamed over one shoulder in a long ponytail as the man stood, leaning forward slightly with his hands on his hips.
"Lonely?" Evander considered the idea for a moment. "Yes, I guess you could say I am."
The stranger pulled out a chair across the table from Evander, twisted it around with a flick of his wrist and sat down, still grinning widely. "Then you won't mind if I join you."
Evander smiled in return, a tiny smile but more than had graced his features in many a day. "I don't mind at all." He leaned forward slightly and extended his hand across the table. "I'm Eve."
Evander could feel strength in the man's grip even if his touch was light. "You can call me Drake."
Drake's touch lingered far longer than etiquette dictated but Evander wasn't going to complain. His smile widened a fraction.
The blonde stranger tilted his head to the side to study Evander for a second before nodding his head as if he'd decided something. "Ah, that answers it."
"Answers what?" Evander cursed himself for what seemed like the thousandth time that week as soon as the words left his mouth. His mother was always telling him not to blurt things out. Of course she also told him not to visit seaside bars like the one he currently sat in. He tended to ignore what his mother said.
Drake smiled at him, reassuring Evander that he didn't appear as much of a fool as he feared.
"It answers why a looker such as yourself is all alone over here. Everyone else just saw you sitting here with that frown on your face and a storm cloud overhead." Drake leaned forward and playfully held a hand over Evander's mouth. "Better hide that smile or I might have to fight for your attention."
Evander blinked in surprise, only a fraction of what he really felt showing on his face. Lightly he pulled Drake's hand away, and it was his turn to study the other man. "You flatter me too greatly. A mere smile will not bring attention to one such as myself." Had he really been frowning as much as Drake claimed? Evander hadn't noticed but then he had been lost in his own thoughts until the stranger had appeared. Considering the normal path his thoughts eventually took, it was quite possible his expression had been as dark as Drake described.
"And what is it about one such as you that defies the attention your beauty warrants?"
Evander had almost forgotten the stranger still sat with him, he was so used to being by himself. "I'm not beautiful."
Drake's hand returned to Evander's mouth to caress his bottom lip with a coarse thumb. Evander was thankful for the relative seclusion of their table that let the intimate gesture go unnoticed by the other patrons. But Evander had learned long ago that there was always the chance that someone was watching. Against his own inner urgings, he pulled Drake's hand away once more.
"Please don't make such gestures in public. It's inappropriate." Evander couldn't meet the stranger's eyes as he spoke so he stared at the wall beside them instead.
Drake nodded once in understanding and pulled his hands back. "Shy?"
Evander shook his head slightly. He met the man's eyes for a brief second, wondering why he was being so frank with this strange man. It wasn't his way to be open with someone he had never met. Too many times he'd accepted an outstretched hand only to be betrayed later on. But never before had one of his father's spies come to him with such a guileless look on their face.
"A copper for your thoughts?"
Evander smiled and shook his head. "A hand-full of platinum would not make my lips divulge what my mind keeps."
"Really? Your thoughts are of such import?" Every line of Drake's body mocked him.
"Nay, they are of little import but to one such as myself."
"You still haven't told me much of what defines your sort."
"And I would rather not, if you would allow me."
"Aye, it is allowed. I'll not be pushing you to speak of things you'd rather not."
Evander lifted the mug before him, long ago warmed beyond its original chill, and took a sip of the vile contents. It wasn't for the taste that he drank the dark liquid but for the relative peace it would bring his mind later on. "Then my thanks to you for allowing me my secrets, as I'm sure you have your own."
"Aye, that I do, be they small as they are."
Evander smiled at that. Judging from the man's appearance, he doubted Drake's secrets were small. But then Evander's own were far from small as well, which is why he was currently staying at a seaside tavern instead of one of the more well to do inns in the city proper. Even if his purse could afford it, he preferred the danger of the tavern to the eyes another inn would attract.
"Would you care to take a stroll? It's rather stuffy in here."
There was fire in Drake's eyes as he made the suggestion. Evander had been wondering how long it would take the man to get around to that. He considered it. He was at least a hundred leagues away from his father and the bounty hunters weren't due to catch up with him until next week. By tomorrow morning he'd be long gone from this place.
It had been a while.
"That sounds like a good idea." Standing, Evander wound his way out of the crowded tavern without looking back to see if Drake was following.
The cool night air was a blessed change from the musty tavern, and he felt a weight lift off of him as he stepped into the dim streets. Choosing a direction at random he started down the street toward the docks. An arm brushing his waist alerted him that Drake had caught up. Gently, he was pulled into an alley. Darkness closed over him as warm lips pressed against him. He was distracted by the kiss, but not enough that he missed the sound of booted feet approaching behind him.
Instinctively, Evander tried to turn around in anticipation of an attack but Drake's firm grip on his wrists constricted his movement. Something large and heavy struck the back of his head, sending him careening into Drake's waiting arms. As darkness settled over him, Evander cursed himself for trusting a stranger. He should have known better.
"You aren't going to beg for your life?"
Evander stayed where he was curled on the bunk, facing the wall. He didn't move or speak, same as every other time the Captain had visited over the past four days. Captain Drake Blackstone of the Dauntless Tracker, a trading vessel rightfully called pirate.
The Captain stepped forward, for the first time deviating from their normal ritual. Steel hissed as a sword was drawn and in two strides Evander felt the chill metal press against his skin, a light touch that would draw blood with the slightest application of pressure. He rolled over onto his back to stare up at the Captain. The sword point followed him, shifting slightly to press against the hollow of his throat.
"Why don't you beg?" There was curiosity only in the Captain's eyes, not sympathy or anger or any other emotion that would aid his circumstance.
Once more, he was frank with without intending. His mouth opened and the words spit forth, the sword point moving a hair away to give him room to speak even as his lips were parting.
"Because nothing changes."
The Captain smiled and he saw there the man he'd met in the tavern. Here was Drake the mysterious traveler, not Blackstone the pirate. He saw the difference in his eyes.
"You aren't afraid to die?" Drake's voice mocked him.
He spoke too quickly, answering ahead of thought or reason. "I am afraid of death but not from you. Your hand will not be the one to slay me."
The sword dipped closer, breaking skin just enough for a bead of blood to well up and color the point, dying it a pale red. "You do not fear me?" Blackstone was back, smile mocking in its cruelty and he could tell this man was one to be feared. But not by him.
"There are things darker than the death you would bring that cause me fear. You will not kill me, at least not until you are paid."
Drake smiled and the sword was removed immediately. The tip was wiped against a dirty sleeve and then slid home to its resting place as Drake sat, his smile wide and his eyes merry.
"So you knew."
Evander sat up, drawing his knees to his chest but making no move to touch the trickle of blood that was slowly sliding down his exposed throat.
"I know now, though I should have suspected then. But I was...." lonely. "...careless."
The man leaned back in the small wooden chair, black boots settling on the edge of the hard bunk as he reclined. "Not the first time I take it?"
Evander smiled his tiny smile. So, this one was new. "No. This would mark the seventh time, I do believe." The look in the Captain's eyes made him amend his statement. "Though none have caught me in the way you did. That was my own carelessness."
At that the Captain's eyebrows rose and his smile grew a large deal wider. "Well, I do hope we find you again next time. Bounty hunting could turn out to be quite a lucrative career for me."
It was Evander's turn to smile wider, but his was in no way a cheerful smile. "I doubt you will get the chance."
Again there was the slight lifting of the man's eyebrows and then they settled, a tainted grin spreading wide over the Captain's features. Boots hit the floor and then the Captain was looming, one hand closed around Evander's neck in a tight grip forcing him back on the bed. Instead of fear there was only blank acceptance in his eyes and he let himself be pressed to the sheets.
"Well, if this will be the last time," the Captain murmured with his lips drawing close to Evander's own. "Then we should make good use of it."
He offered no resistance as his clothes were stripped, the Captain's own following suit though the blade stayed, laid flat on the bed next to Evander's head in easy reach of either of them. Blue eyes stared down, searching solemnly for one brief second and then the moment was gone and the eyes returned to their mocking stare.
The Captain's mouth brushed low near Evander's face, his breath ghosting warm bursts over his cheeks. "Rape doesn't scare you?"
"I've been raped before."
If the Captain had a reaction to the words he didn't show it but his eyes delved deeper, raking over Evander's skin to take in the marks and scars etched in pale flesh. "You don't fear pain?"
"Not from you." Slowly, Evander settled back, raised his hands to rest lightly on the Captain's shoulders. One hand grabbed the sword as soon as Evander started moving but the blade did not lift as he loosely settled his hands and followed them with a kiss to the corner of the Captain's mouth. "It's been a long time. I won't fight you."
Drake stared for a short moment and then he moved, releasing the sword and covering Evander's body with his own. There was no gentleness to his touch but there was no deliberate cruelty either and for that Evander took comfort. He let himself relax as he was entered, let himself feel for a moment what it was like to willingly give himself up. Green eyes drifted closed and he sighed softly while the Captain grunted above him, their bodies shifting together with smooth force and then drawing apart to repeat the cycle. His mouth opened to receive a kiss and he let the pirate in, let him take over and for the brief moment of their coupling he forgot there was anything else.
"I thank you for returning my son to me. If you speak to my Treasurer, he will see that you are handsomely rewarded."
Drake Blackstone bowed politely and gestured for his men to follow him out of the lord's study. His second in command was sent to collect the bounty for returning the young lordling to his father, the best of his crew following behind their captain as they strode through the lavish halls. Not one thought turned to the fate of the boy, though he did feel a wisp of regret that was quickly buried and forgotten.
As he left the castle gates he knew he was being followed but that was to be expected when a group of armed pirates enters a Lord's keep. But the trailing figure followed them past the city shops and into the slums, well past the bounds of normal pursuit. A tiny gesture had two of his men quietly breaking off from the group. Drake slipped into an alleyway a short distance ahead and seconds later his men followed, escorting a terrified, ragged-looking peasant between them.
Drake's eyebrows lifted and he stepped forward, one hand on his sword, the other placed firmly on his hip. "Well, to what do we owe the honor of your interest?"
The man shook visibly in the arms that held him, seeming on the verge of wetting himself at any moment. But he gathered his courage and uttered the first words of his speech. "I... I... Please forgive me, Sir. I mean you no harm. I... If I may, I have an offer. Please."
A flick of his hand released the man and he fell to his knees, digging in his pockets to pull out a small sack. Drake took it, opening it to reveal a handful of coins, not even a tenth of what the noble had just paid them.
"I know it's not much but it's all we had but please...." The man prostrate himself on the dirt. "Please raid the castle."
Captain Blackstone stared. It took him a moment to mentally accept the ludicrousy of the request before he burst out laughing. "You actually want us to attack the castle? You're inviting us?"
"Please. We'll give you anything, everything. I can tell you where the treasury is and lead you to the key."
The Captain's eyes narrowed. He knew when a deal was too good to be true. "What's the catch?"
The peasant looked up, staring the Captain straight in the eye with a serious gaze. "Take him with you."
Captain Blackstone had a sinking feeling he knew already, but he had to ask. "Who?"
"Lord Evander. We'll sacrifice everything if you take him with you."
"Why are you asking us?" He had to know. His common sense told him this was a trap by the Lord to get his money back. With all the mercenaries that had returned the lordling before, why ask them?
The peasant's eyes shone with earnest honesty. "Because he said you were different."
They entered at nightfall. A servant let them in through a small gate in the castle wall and then slipped past them to disappear into the darkening night. The castle itself seemed deserted. All but a few servants and guards remained, and these were dispatched with ruthless efficiency before they could utter even a tiny squeak of alarm. Through the halls they rose, stopping once to gather the keys to the treasury, left exactly where they'd been told and then continuing on and upward. The loot would be gathered afterwards, on the way back down.
Their directions lead them to the Lord's bedchambers in the highest tower. Drake moved ahead of his crew, his men falling behind to dispatch the guards they'd found and check every room and hall in search of more. The chambers were easy to find at the end of the most elaborate of all the halls, with two massive, deeply inlaid wooden doors closing in the chamber. They swung open easily when pushed with both hands and Drake stalked forward into the vacant sitting room. A smaller door to the right was his target and he had his sword out as he burst into the bedroom.
One occupant showed blatant surprise. He jerked back with a start, his eyes opening wide in terror and outrage. Face purpling, the pompous man gathered his breath for a scathing outburst but Drake ignored the bulbous naked man as he started in on his tirade. Instead his eyes were drawn to the other occupant of the room, lying still on the bed, too far gone with either pain or drugs, most likely a combination of both, to care what was happening. His open eye stared vacantly at the canopy of the bed, the other swollen shut from bruising similar to what covered the rest of his body. Trails of red crossed the bruises, and his wounds were laid bare, plain for the eye to see as he lay with legs spread wide on the blood red sheets, his hands bound tightly to the headboard above him.
The purpling man was approaching, rolls of fat bobbling as he waddled closer. With a single motion Drake turned, his sword rising in a shining arc to sweep through the air. As it swung down again, a trail of red followed, dripping from the sword. There was one thunk as the Lord's head fell, rolling away from the body to hide under the bed with wide and vacant eyes. Drake stepped to the side as the body followed with a second thunk as it struck the floor, blood spurting from the neck to paint the marble tiles to match the canopy of the bed, pooling around the dead body and slowly deepening.
Rich robes dried the blade and then it had one last act before returning to its sheath.
Green eyes blinked open in the morning sun. One hand reached up and touched the delicate face searchingly, looking for bruises that should have hindered his eyes and finding only a hint of lingering sensitivity. A movement to the side caught his attention and the head turned, brown hair cascading around the face, touched by morning sunlight to give it a golden hue and the onlooker smiled. The two men met eyes and shared a lingering look, amusement shining from merry blue while confusion darkened the emerald green. Then after a long while, the man in the bed spoke, shifting lightly as best his injuries would allow so that he more easily faced the pirate Captain.
"Why?" The soft lips parted for the rasping voice.
"You looked lonely."