After The Rain Has Fallen
Music and Lyrics by Sting
Challenge Response by Le Meg

Challenge #23: "So Many Songs, But I'm Feeling So Lonely!"

General Idea: Write a one-shot based on a song, either one from the SKoW playlist or another of your choice - as long as it's even remotely related to love, it'll do.

- the story must follow the plot of the song
- the title of the song must be the title of the story, or at least a part of it (ex: Walking By: Pete's Story, with the song in question being "Walking By" from Something Corporate... you get the gist)
- you must use at least three lines from the song as narration or dialogue. Be sure to bold or underline them.
- give us what song you're using at the beginning of the chapter, along with all the usual skow challenge requirements
- must be at least 6000 words

- this is not a "songfic" so no free-hanging verses in the middle of the story (all song lines added in must make sense and flow with the rest of the story)

Optional: you could turn the one-shot into a chaptered story by using a different song for each chapter; if you're feeling really creative, use the same artist and/or album for the whole story.

Rated-M for sexual situations.
(You have been warned.)

The necklace was said to be of finely wrought gold filigree and dusted over with diamonds, emeralds, pearls, sapphires, and other precious stones, nearly as beautiful as the princess it was made for, and worth at least seven times the amount that he could hope to make in a lifetime.

It was that last bit more than anything else that convinced Takis to steal the necklace. He was a man of principle, after all.

He checked the position of the moon in the velvet expanse above and smirked; fortune was smiling down on him tonight. A storm was building, but even without the threat of rain on the dark horizon the moon was in its last waning stages and would soon disappear from the sky entirely. A good night to steal, he thought, and moved from his place out of the shadows towards the palace walls.

Takis was no stranger to the palace and its surrounding grounds. He'd been up and over the walls numerous times in the past, always without a hitch, and always returned with a new souvenir for his troubles. But generally he aimed for the royal stores or kitchens and did not slip into the bedrooms of the royal family. This would be a new challenge for him, and it was one that made his blood sing with excitement.

He flexed his fingers as he took stock of the outside wall before him, thinking. The Princess's rooms overlooked one of the smaller gardens on the east side of the palace. If he remembered correctly, that particular garden was home to a number of very beautiful flowers and small, blossoming trees – orchids, myrtles, palms, and tamarisk, mostly. But particular to this seemingly innocent garden was a variety of flower a little less than innocent. Oleanders grew next to the inner walls of the palace, the sweetly smelling white, pink, and yellow blossoms covering the deadly poison carried within. It was the milky white sap in the plant that was the most toxic, but Takis didn't want to take any chances. Getting over those would be the second obstacle in retrieving the necklace.

But first thing was first. He circled around to the east walls casually, his hands in his pockets as he strolled along. Guards usually kept their patrols close to the two entry points, but every couple of hours a small unit might be sent to walk the circumference of the wall itself. Whether that happened or not generally depended on who was in charge of the rounds that night and how much alcohol was involved in those rounds.

Takis knew that the guards would be more or less slack tonight – the necklace had caused quite the uproar at court and celebrations for the Princess Xenia's following betrothal would go on well into the night. The thief was sure, in fact, that in some portions of the palace there were courtiers still drinking it up, indulging in their various decadent pleasures. But these rooms would be on the other side of the palace, in the lower level glass conservatories where water cascaded over the roof of these elegant rooms into the decorative pools below. No doubt the entire upper crust was swaying on their collective feet now, fawning over the glittering piece of bride price and gossiping drunkenly over the future of the last and loveliest daughter of King Stylianos IV.

He'd seen it – everyone had. The Princess's suitor had wanted it sent through the streets in a roundabout route so that everyone – commoners and gentry alike – could admire the unadulterated wealth and resource behind it as it made its way to the Princess. The King had been so impressed that he'd immediately seized the artless thing from its silk pillow and clasped it around his daughter's smooth, tanned neck. It had glittered beautifully, and Takis had thought it as cold and hard as the woman who wore it. A perfect match.

A match, unfortunately, that he was going to have to break up.

Takis smirked a little, eyeing the distance of a nearby building to the top of the wall. It was a good five feet, but it was doable. Still, there was no need to be particularly extravagant here – the simplest entrance often made for the best exit, and while he could clear the gap on one end, getting from the top of the wall back across would be another matter. And in the event that he was being chased out – unlikely, but one should consider even the most outlandish of circumstances – he would need a much quicker exit.

So he kept walking. The clouds were building on the horizon, looming ever closer, darkening the sky even more. It was good cover, but if it got too dark it could mean a loss of sight for him just as well as for the guards.

In the end he was farther north than he would have liked, but at least here he knew he could scale the wall unseen and get in and out without difficulty. Traveling the grounds of the palace was easy enough if one knew and used the gardens and the guards' positions to one's advantage; Takis could claim such knowledge.

Basically, what wasn't palace inside the wall was garden – the grounds were overflowing with different kinds of flowers, shrubs, ivies and trees. Each of the Stylianos kings one through four had brought his own touch to the palace and its gardens received similar additions. In the northern part of the grounds, where Takis crept quietly through, much of the work was done by the original King Stylianos almost a century before. The grounds had been expanded then, more for protection against opposing factions rather than for gardening purposes – the first Stylianos had gained his throne through bloody civil war. Once his country had settled and order was more or less restored, he set about cloaking his tiny fortress palace behind an array of landscaping.

Stylianos II – who had by far the longest rule of all Stylianos kings thus far – had continued the work of his father and added both gardens and vast, glass-like pools to compliment each other on the west side of the grounds. Extensions were built on the royal residence, and what was once a tiny stone fortress slowly blossomed into a mesmerizing symphony of stone and glass rooms and porticos. He also saw to the renovation of the stables and the game paddock in the south, tucked away in the thicket-like growth of tamarisk. The glass rooms were designed under his rule, but it wasn't until Stylianos III that they came into fruition. The third King modified the designs slightly to include the roof-turned-waterfall, and also shipped in a number of exotic flowers that he planted liberally throughout the grounds. Some of the flowers could not survive the desert heat, but some flourished in the highland climate.

The current King, Stylianos IV, had spent the twenty or so years of his rule pouring money into the palace, indulging on extravagant clothes and trinkets and games for his family and for the court. While he encouraged sea trade and financed certain entrepreneurs in their portside endeavors, most of these ventures returned little to no profit. Meanwhile, silphium – the crop that had sustained their country for so long – was being over-harvested. Pressure on farmers to produce more with less was growing as the King spent money on pleasurable rather than practical ends. The country that had been more or less satisfied with its change in monarchy just a century before began to grumble again. The discord was quiet but there.

Takis, for his part, took out his frustration by taking directly from the royal family. There were plenty of men and women like him – men and women who'd grown up poor, who'd worked their entire lives just to keep clothes on their backs, bread on the table and a warm place for their babies to sleep – that felt some form of vengeance was due. When he came to the pawnshops with priceless vases, jewelry, and other collectables, no one ever gave him a second glance. It was a silent agreement between the people. Takis was just doing his part of the agreement.

It helped that he was damn good at it.

A low wall separated the northern gardens from the eastern gardens. Takis checked around himself first, careful to inspect the windows of the palace before hoisting himself up into a nearby tree. The palace was a good twenty-five yards away, but it was better to be safe than sorry. He hadn't been caught yet, after all, and he had no plans to be in the near future. If current events were anything to go by, most of the guards were probably too drunk to care, or passed out at their posts – so far he'd caught three doing just that, one of them snoring quite comfortably.

He crept carefully from branch to branch, making sure to travel over the thickest only, and then once again checked the grounds on the other side before dropping down into the east garden.

Faint music could be heard, and from the far side of the palace, an occasional burst of laughter sounded. He heard it as though it was muffled, but it assured him that the party was still going in the glass rooms in the west. Takis rolled his shoulders and began edging closer to the palace, his eyes continually roving about him as his ears stayed alert for ominous noises. He carried no weapon but his surprise. All that he truly needed was agility, ingenuity, and patience – traits he had in spades. It was his cleverness, not his ability to slit throats, that made him the greatest thief in the high Sahara.

Although, truth be told, he could slit throats rather effectively, as well.

The sweet scent of the flowers here drifted over him gently, almost tenderly, and he half expected to see fairies dancing flippantly about flower petals and soaking in dew. It was a night for it – the coming storm lent the air an extra spark and a sense of the otherworldly that seemed to shimmer in and out like the heat.

Electricity tingled its way down his spine, settling uncomfortably in his groin, and he took a moment to shake the feeling off. This kind of pre-storm weather was also his preferred time for lovemaking, but now was certainly not the time to indulge in such thoughts.

As he rounded a particularly large patch of myrtle he saw, with some pleasure, that the Princess had so graciously left her balcony doors open for him. Oleanders bloomed beautifully beneath, deceptive in their soft color and inviting in shape. Crouching low, Takis observed the palace closely. It looked as though this was going to be a little trickier than he'd first imagined – there didn't seem to be anyway up. Though there was a helpful lattice just below each of the windows on either side of the balcony, the Oleanders guarded the crawling ivy frames jealously. He could probably take a running leap and grab hold of them that way, but not only was it noisy, it was entirely possible that the shock of his weight would compromise the stability of the lattice and send him crashing down into a toxic and flowery death. Neither one of these things appealed to him.

Still, he was not daunted. He made his way back around the myrtle and edged past some large, leafy thing he didn't even have a name for into the next section of the garden. A modestly sized portico ran beneath the palace out over a small pool here, and was surrounded by more of the leafy shrubbery for privacy. There was an entrance inside the portico, though the thief suspected that this was a private entrance, in use for the royal family only – he'd used it twice before. He peered through a gap in the hedge and spied a lone palace guard, leaning against a column near the door with his eyes closed. The question as to whether or not the man was asleep was answered when said man reached up and scratched at his beard absently, and then yawned.

Well, that's no good, Takis thought.

Just as he was about to scuttle along to another section of the garden, salvation came in the form of another one of the royal children – Prince Dimitrios, playboy extraordinaire. Though he was four years older than his sister Xenia, Dimitrios was not yet required to marry, and this was something the young man took full advantage of. If the tasty, voluptuous woman spilling out of her dress following him was anything to go by, Takis guessed he was taking advantage of that right now.

The Prince's unannounced arrival made the guard jump into a hasty salute. Waving him off, Prince Dimitrios gave the man a rogue smile and said to him in low tones, "I've my blade, Rhinos, and I've left you some ale by the door. If you would be so kind…"

The guard Rhinos obviously didn't need to be told twice – this, Takis assumed, was a regular event in the palace. Rhinos saluted him again, grinning, and sent the woman with the Prince an appreciative look over before leaving.

The Prince watched until he was gone, apparently unmindful of the woman who was currently unbuckling his pants. But once they had the little pool to themselves, his attention swiveled back to her. "Strip," he ordered succinctly, removing his sword belt.

She needed no more encouragement. The woman immediately began to remove her gown, caressing herself as she did for his viewing pleasure. Takis sighed internally and rubbed his forehead, and hoped that the Prince would skip the foreplay and get straight on to the fucking. He was pretty sure that once they were in the throws of intercourse, he could slip around the hedge and through the door the guard had just gone through without anyone being the wiser. It wouldn't be the first time he'd done it.

You oversexed bastard, Takis thought. Still, he should really thank the third Prince – Dimitrios's sexual exploits almost always worked in his favor.

"Now me," the Prince commanded with a grin. The man's pants were already looking a little tight, but once the curvy minx got her hands on him the Prince's arousal was clear. They fell together into the pool soon after, where her giggles and his hushes eventually gave way to moans and grunts, with much sloshing of water. Takis looked up at the sky in thanks and then moved for the door, alternating his attention between the lovers and whatever might lay in wait for him once inside.

He had to hand it to the palace architects – they'd really created the perfect palace. With all the angles and airways, it was beautiful, impressive, and entirely too easy to break into. There was no sign of the guard Rhinos, or of anyone else, for that matter, and Takis allowed himself another small smirk before considering his options. He could take the stairs – though that would leave him in the open and vulnerable to attack – or he could find the windows just below the Princess's rooms, open them, and climb the nearby lattice up to the balcony. Neither option appealed to him greatly, but it was redundant – not to mention incredibly risky – to slip into the palace and then climb out of it back into it.

The stairs, it was. He headed towards them, moving slowly in the shadows as he followed his mental map of the palace. If he was right – and he usually was – the Princess's rooms – and thus the necklace – were to the left. The second level corridor was just as dark, and many of the windows had been left open to help ventilate the palace. The air was warm, though not uncomfortably, and at any rate the storm brewing would certainly help cool things down a little. Incredibly, as he crept along Takis could actually hear the woman's rhapsodic shrieking coming in from outside. The thief wondered briefly what the hell the Prince was doing to her to make her scream so loudly, and then wondered just as quickly if the woman wasn't faking it. He just hoped it didn't draw too much attention to this part of the palace.

The Princess's rooms came into view shortly after. Though he'd never been in them, he'd seen enough of the rest of the palace to assume that like the rest of the royal children's chambers, hers would consist of a personal sitting room, her bedroom, and a connecting bath. Most of the opulence had been saved for the King and Queen's chambers, the glass rooms, and the throne hall.

Takis stilled for a second, listening carefully for footsteps both inside and outside of the room. When he was sure that the coast was clear, he tried the door handle. It gave easily, and he edged in quietly, closing it behind him.

He found himself in what appeared to be her sitting room. There was a faint glow from a light on her desk, but otherwise the rest of the room remained in shadows. The window was open, and he could still hear the Prince and his lady friend in the pool below. What they were doing, he decided, was not at all natural.

All right, let's see what we've got. Takis began searching the sitting room, moving silently amongst the royal things as he looked for any kind of glass case, jewelry box, pillow threaded with gold… anything that might house Princess Xenia's glittering necklace.

Princess Xenia was the second youngest child of King Stylianos IV, and one of two daughters. The elder daughter, Princess Kyriake, had been married off eleven years earlier in an advantageous alliance with the region to the south. The Southern King had only just ascended the throne there, and being young and spirited, had every potential of being a threat to their country in the highlands. Unlike the more arid south, the north received more rainfall more regularly, and had better resources over all. To protect his kingdom, King Stylianos IV had brokered a deal with the younger King and sent him the "Highland Blossom" as his bride, along with an ample dowry to persuade him where hormones might not.

If Kyriake had been the "Blossom," than Xenia was now the "Jewel." Where her sister had been perfectly handsome, Xenia was now the epitome of all that was beautiful – at least, physically. But for all of that outward beauty, the younger Princess was nothing but prickly underneath. She was exactly like the Oleanders that thrived below her room – breathtaking but full of poison.

The gold filigree necklace she'd received had stirred so much interest not just because of the sheer amount of money on it, but also because of the simple fact that somebody had actually thought her worth it. How valuable was her royal blood when you had to deal with that royal temper?

While Takis did not find the necklace, he did seem to find a friend in a leopard cub that had been snuggled in cushion near the desk. He hadn't even noticed the thing, but when it attached itself to his leg he definitely felt it. As much as he'd wanted to just kick it off, he couldn't risk the noise, so instead he'd carefully pried its nails from his pants and set it down. It, in turn, blinked up at him with its wide cat eyes and meowed pitifully.

It had not stopped following him since.

Once he was sure he'd exhausted the sitting room, Takis moved carefully to what he assumed was the bedroom door. If his sense of direction was correct – and it usually was – he was moving towards the balcony he'd seen outside. He opened this door just as carefully as he'd opened the other, frowning when he felt the cat trip over his foot into the room, and then shut it again behind him.

There were two lights in here, on either side of the balcony doors, and both were dimmed slightly by the tinted glass they were encased in. The curtains billowed gently as the wind wafted in, and even from the door Takis could smell the rain in the air. On one wall sat a large, four poster bed fitted with white, gauzy curtains and gold trimming along the top. The wall across from it housed two large armoires on either side of a matching vanity stand. The armoires were both extravagant in their own right, each sporting a carefully laid mosaic, but it was the stand in the middle that caught his attention. There, sitting proudly on the pillow it rode in on, was the glittering necklace that had put everybody in uproar. Diamonds, emeralds, sapphires, and the gods knew what else winked invitingly at him in the dim light, tempting him near with their promise of untold fortune.

Takis eyed the leopard cub, which had wandered into the middle of the room and started licking itself, and held his finger up to his lips in the universal quiet gesture. The cub blinked back, and then promptly returned to its previous ministrations.

The thief started forward. His fingers were already itching to hold this sparkling monstrosity, and his mind whirled ahead, thinking of the look on people's face when they realized what he'd managed to get a hold of. You've gone too far this time, they would say, but they'd smile while shaking their heads and hide their chuckles behind their hands, and then together they'd sit down and work out how to sell the little bitch, piece by filigreed piece.

And then he realized, glancing into the mirror on the vanity, that he was not alone after all.

Princess Xenia slept partially on her hip and partially on her back, her arm thrown over her eyes, to ward off the light or a looming headache, he didn't know. The night's festivities had apparently been too much for her. You damn lightweight, he thought, but even as he scowled at her he couldn't help but appreciate how much of her body she'd so charitably left visible. Judging by the haphazard and twisted way the bed sheet fell to the side, he guessed she'd thrown it off at some point and now only lay in what only the very generous would call a nightgown. The skirt of it was knee-length but sported a mean slit that arched up her thigh to her hip, exposing more royal leg than he'd ever seen in his life. The curves off her hips were well outlined in the dim light, and the thin silk of the gown combined with the warm, pre-storm air molded lovingly to her breasts.

He was still staring five minutes later when she muttered, "Are you going to steal the damn thing or just keep ogling me?"

Takis's scowl returned. "Have you been awake this whole time?"

"Pretty much." She shifted, moving her arm off of her eyes so that she could prop herself up on it and watch him. Her eyes were a dark espresso brown, matching the thick, disheveled mane that curled over her shoulders so invitingly. The expression she wore was, surprisingly, one of polite curiosity. He hadn't quite known what to expect if he got caught, but this definitely hadn't been one of the options. "It is kind of hard to sleep through Dimi's trysts when they occur right outside your window," she added.

The cub made a loud purring sound then and vaulted up onto the bed. It rubbed its beautiful spotted head under her chin briefly before curling up against her stomach and flicked its tail back and forth contentedly. The Princess didn't even move to look at it, and instead just murmured, "Bad kitty. You must work on your guardian skills."

Takis put his hands in his pockets and forced himself to take a mental step back for a second. This could end badly, he thought. This could end very badly. He let his eyes travel over her still, opting to keep his appearance as cool and collected as possible while he calculated the risk involved here. She was toying with him, certainly – beneath that smooth surface was an utter hellion, if the rumors about her were to be believed. He had no idea what she would do with him but he was imaginative enough to come up with some pretty morbid ideas. Takis wasn't even going to start thinking about what the King would do.

"What a dilemma we have here." The Princess finally dropped her eyes to the leopard cub snuggled against her and stroked its black and gold coat gently, paying particular attention to the skin around the ears. He could hear the cat purring from there. "But, I have an idea. Let's pretend that I'm a helpless and innocent young princess and you're the terribly mysterious man that's robbing me." She bent forward and kissed the leopard's head before gently shifting away from it and off of the bed. Nothing about her movements suggested that she'd had too much to drink or had passed out from alcohol consumption. She was lithe and fluid, and completely sure.

"You've snuck past all the sleeping guards and have arrived uninjured. The priceless jewels are within your grasp." She paused a few feet off, close enough to make the thinness of her nightgown readily apparent. The fact that her hair was a wild, sexy mess didn't help. But it occurred to him that she was deliberately showing herself off to him, so he played along and let his eyes linger where they shouldn't have: on her golden brown legs; on the hint of lace underwear underneath, barely covering that coveted place between her legs; on the gentle swell of her breasts and the darker pertness of her nipples beneath the shimmering fabric.

"What's your motivation?" She asked.

He deliberately waited a full minute before raising his eyes to hers, challenging her with an insolent eyebrow. "Pardon?"

She raised her chin a little. "What's it going to be?"

Takis considered her a few seconds longer. He was turned on by her blatant display and brazen attitude – it was not at all expected – but it wasn't like he was dealing with a normal woman here. This was the Princess Xenia – this was not a woman you could throw on a bed and have your way with, consequences be damned. Even thinking such thoughts could very well end in a slow and painful death. He drew on his inner reserves of strength and turned away from her, moving towards the necklace. As he carefully unpinned it from the pillow, his choice apparent, he asked, "What are you going to say to people when they realize it's gone?"

The Princess moved as well, out of sight of the mirror. When she appeared again she was shrugging on an equally silky robe, tying the belt loosely around her. It didn't do much to slake his lust, but at least he couldn't see her breasts anymore. "That it was stolen. And I, ecstatic about my engagement, drank far too much and slept right through the whole thing." Her voice fairly dripped with sarcasm.

It became a little clearer as to why she was letting him just waltz off with the necklace. Apparently the Princess wasn't terribly thrilled with it, let alone with the larger betrothal the necklace signified.

That, however, wasn't his problem.

Takis realized after a second that the necklace was far too unwieldy to fold up and carry in his pocket. "Shiny as this is, couldn't he have just sent you a damn ring?" He glanced at her wryly over his shoulder and added inquisitively, "I don't suppose you can tell them that I stole a bag as well?"

The cool attitude from before was gone; the Princess appeared completely comfortable with the fact that she was being robbed of her bride price. Maybe even pleased. The smile she flashed him in response to his question was like a punch to the gut – it wasn't fair that one woman should be so beautiful. "Not much of a planner, are you?" She stepped next to him, all pretense gone, and opened a drawer in the vanity in her search for a bag. This close to her he could smell what scents she used in her hair and could count the number of piercings she had in her ear for jewelry. The sudden glimmer of personality didn't help. He watched unabashedly as she closed that drawer and then opened another, and finally came up with what she was looking for. "This should do."

"Why are you doing this?" He asked. He wasn't totally sure why, but Takis was almost certain that she wasn't going to turn him in. It made him feel at ease, and a little bolder than he probably should have been. But for some reason, he really wanted to hear her say it.

This time she considered him, her rich dark eyes meeting his. After a moment, she replied honestly, "I've been promised to another. To a man I've never even met." There was a pause, during which she dropped her gaze to her hands as she closed the drawer. "I think I have the right to be a royal pain in the ass if I want to."

Takis wasn't sure if it was the honesty or the terrible pun that got him, but suddenly the lust was uncontrollable. He moved quickly, no longer caring even the slightest bit that she was a betrothed princess, and pushed her back against the nearest armoire. The move obviously surprised her but he seized her mouth with his before she could say another word. That first kiss was brutal, all tongues and teeth and need, but she started kissing him back with just as much force and that thrilled his blood even more. He tugged the robe off of her and placed a hand under her thigh as he moved his teeth to her neck momentarily. As he dragged her leg over his hip, he nibbled her earlobe and murmured huskily, "Guess my motivation."

One of her hands raked through his hair, pulling it out of its short ponytail, as the other traveled down his stomach, past the hem of his pants. His muscles jumped with every inch, and when her warm fingers closed over his quickly hardening arousal, she asked sweetly, "Am I getting warm?"

He bit her in response, swallowing the groan in his throat, and then kissed her hard. Takis discovered quickly how easy it was simply to rip through lace, and then he was lifting her up against the armoire, desperate to feel more than just her hand on him. The Princess was all too obliging, and then with one hard thrust he was in her, completely encased in that wet, delicious warmth.

"Oh, fuck," he groaned against her neck.

Her nails dug into his back, thighs clenching around him as she purred, "Yes. Oh, yes."

He began moving both of them, lifting her up and down as he jerked his hips up into her. The rhythm was sharp, like a battering ram, and with every brutal, wet thrust he felt her nails dig into him even more as she panted against his mouth. Her whimpers were a result of both pleasure and pain, and they spurred him on even harder than before.

And then he realized what he was doing, and stopped abruptly.

"No," she pleaded, tightening her hold with her legs. "Don't stop. Please, keep going. Don't stop."

"Xenia," he hesitated, tasting her name on his lips. "I'm not fucking you like a whore in a brothel."

"Yes you are." It actually sounded like a command, but then her mouth moved up his neck as her fingers raked through his hair again. "I don't want to be a princess. Please, don't treat me like one."

He tightened his hold on her and began moving towards the bed. The leopard had disappeared, but Takis wasn't the least bit concerned about the cub at this point – he had bigger cats to tangle with. Xenia fought him all the way, pushing against his shoulders and trying to unwind her legs from around him. "Stop," she ordered imperiously, but as he continued her voice starting to sound a little desperate. "Go back. Don't do this, damn you!"

He set her down and settled over her, pinning her beneath him before she could squirm away. "You're not a princess," he told her, and kissed her as he continued, "I'm not a thief. We aren't in the palace." His lips moved down her neck, teeth nipping at her collarbone gently as he slid the strap of her nightgown off one shoulder, then the other. She'd grown quiet under his mouth and hands and no longer fought him. "You're just a woman, and I'm just a man, and this is just a bed."

She let him slide the nightgown the rest of the way off, and then tugged at his tunic. He let her pull it off but when she reached for his pants he grabbed her wrists and pinned them above her head, and settled over her again. This time his kiss was gentler – still a little toothy, but without the frantic biting and clawing and bruising. He tongue probed teasingly, his mouth alternating between sucking and nipping at her bottom lip. Takis waited until he felt her breathing calm completely before he slid his hand between them to tease her in other ways.

Only when she was arching against him, whispering desperate promises in his ear – promises that made him forget exactly who and where he was – did he relent and remove the last of his clothes. He slid into her again, one throbbing warmth into another, and kissed her silent as his hips arched into hers again and again. They rocked together, moving from a mostly quiet, rolling pace to something stronger, more frantic, and much, much louder. She had no name to scream when she came, but he heard it all the same, and kissed her for it, and surged forward to his own release. And then there was the edge, and the explosion, and then all that was left was the dreamy after-pumps, his last ditch efforts to make sure all possible tingles of pleasure were collected and accounted for.

After a little bit she turned on her side, away from. He nestled close, his arm snug under her breasts as he kissed the back of her neck. They remained that way for some time, basking in the silence and in the slow, languid breaths of their post-coital moment. If he'd thought the night otherworldly earlier, it was now well beyond anything he could possibly dream up. Takis was in no hurry to relinquish his hold on her, though part of him knew very well that this moment could not last forever.

Eventually, she asked quietly, "When do you need to go?"

He kissed her neck again. "There's a storm coming over the mountains. I'll be gone long before morning."

Another moment passed before she spoke again. "Take me with you."

His delusions of grandeur promptly vanished. Takis wet his lips, and shifted onto his back. "I don't think you realize what you're asking for," he said after a second.

"Don't patronize me," she replied. Her back was still to him but he watched her muscles tense as she muttered, almost bitterly, "I'm not asking you to love me or marry me. I'm asking you to get me out of here. Help me get on a ship. Come with me or don't. But I can't stay here any longer." She shifted towards him then, her dark eyes impassive as the dim lights danced over her golden brown skin. "If anybody can smuggle a princess out of here, it would be you."

Takis narrowed his eyes at her. "Flattery?"

"Fact," she corrected. "My father might not know who keeps stealing his things, but I do."

This surprised him. He moved to his elbow, staring down at her. "You've known?"

She closed her eyes, smiling lightly as she shrugged one shoulder. "Night owl. I see a lot of what goes on around here when the rest of the palace is asleep."

"And you've never said anything." He sounded dubious. Hell, he had every right to be suspicious. While he'd had no illusions that their little tryst wouldn't be anything more than one night of spontaneous lust, it irked him that she'd apparently had her own agenda the entire time. It was a matter of pride.

Xenia reached over and picked her nightgown up off of the floor. "I know this may come as a surprise," she murmured, icily, "But not every one in my father's court agrees with his spending habits. Some of us would prefer to see that money put to better use."

He watched her slip the slinky, silky chemise back on, a little dismayed at how easy it was to want her again. She went to the vanity and picked up the necklace, sliding it carefully into the velvet pouch she'd found for it. Takis continued to lounge but he kept his eyes on her as he thought about her request. She'd shut down again – he could see the difference in her eyes and in the way she set her shoulders. This was the icy cold Princess Xenia that the kingdom was used to seeing; the one being sold off to the highest bidder. He wondered how many men had seen her private side… the one that smiled without restraint, that opened her heart up to strangers, and then begged those strangers for more.

Takis was smirking before he realized it. He noted, too, that the Princess was watching him in the mirror. The thief took in both of their appearances – her thick, dark locks and sun-kissed skin, his caramel hair and work-hardened physique – and couldn't help but dwell on how different their lives were. What did she expect to find out there? His world was entirely different from hers.

He asked casually, "Princess, have you ever worked a day in your life?"

Her grip tightened on the velvet pouch but she remained otherwise impassive. As much as he admired self-control in a woman, Takis wanted to ruffle her feathers. He wanted to get under her skin and see what made this woman tick. "Do I work? Yes. It may not be the kind of physical, grueling effort that you seem to take such pride in but I have worked every day of my life here to keep this palace from falling apart completely."

He glanced around the room lazily. "Yes, it must be back-breaking."

She threw the pouch at him. "Damn you! If all you're going to do is lie there and make me feel—" But she cut herself off abruptly, refusing to go any further, and then turned away, picking her robe up off the floor. "Take the damn necklace and get out. I don't need your help."

Takis caught it easily, and watched as she stormed into an adjacent room. He hadn't noticed the curtained doorway before, but he caught a glimpse of the porcelain interior and guessed that it was her personal bath. The sound of running water met his ears a few seconds later and he rubbed his face, sighing.

Pissing off a princess is probably not the smartest thing to do, he told himself, climbing off the bed. Despite how sexy said princess may look when angry. She might, after all, change her mind and turn him in.

What was more concerning, though, was that he was starting to consider her plea – to empathize with her. The fact that it was absolutely crazy and far too dangerous had crossed his mind, but Takis couldn't help but think of the benefits of the situation, should he actually pull it off. Like how much his reputation would soar if people began to suspect that he'd stolen not only the necklace, but also the Princess who wore it. No one else in the kingdom could boast such a feat. And what a calling card that would be! There was no need for him to babysit her – he just had to get her out. And then when people questioned him about this night, when both the necklace and the "Highland Jewel" went missing, he could just smile mysteriously and shrug his shoulders.

Pride, he thought with a smirk, is going to be my downfall.

He rolled out of the bed and ambled towards the armoires, opening one after the other. As he picked through the assortment of clothes, looking for something that wouldn't scream wealth and give them away, the leopard cub trotted in from the balcony and rubbed up against his calves, purring loudly. Takis glanced down at it, raising his eyebrow. "What do you think?" He asked it quietly, still deliberating.

The leopard gazed back at him curiously, and then pawed the air and gave an insistent sort of growl.

Takis hesitated, and then bent down and gathered the cub up into the crook of his arm. It batted his chin playfully, and he couldn't help but grin at it. Cute. Part of him suspected that if he'd known about the cub before he would have been tempted to sneak into her rooms much earlier and steal it. But leopards, like princesses, were a little harder to hide.

"I'm sorry, is the necklace not going to be enough?"

He looked over at her briefly, noting her refreshed appearance, mildly tamed hair, and subtly hostile stance. Instead of replying to her, however, he scratched the cub behind its ears. As it purred contentedly, he remarked companionably to it, "I think she's mad at me."

She stalked over and took the cub from him, frowning. "Why are you still here?"

"Can't resist the charming company."

He received a royal roll of the eyes in response, and she moved back to her bed. "Your storm will be here soon," she reminded him, her voice tight. She sat on the bed, holding the leopard cub close to her breasts, and for that brief moment instead of a self-assured princess he saw in her a lonely and miserable girl. He watched as the cub pawed her the same way it had swatted at him, adding to that a few affectionate licks of the tongue, and the slight smile she gave it in response was what motivated his decision more than anything else.

Pride, and pretty women, he amended. "Which is why you should think about getting some packing done if you're going to come with me."

The princess raised her eyes to his, and for a moment all they did was stare at each other. Then, somewhat carefully, she said, "There's a compartment behind those shelves." She nodded towards the armoire he was in front of. "I've been… keeping some things, getting ready."

Takis checked the shelves, and after a few seconds of curious prodding he found a little notch on one of the back panels. It slid open with some effort, and then he pulled a worn, patchwork bag from its dark hiding place and began to go through its contents: a pair of old work boots; a spare set of clothes; a bundle of herbs, the coveted silphium included; a pouch full of coins; an easily concealable blade. He shook the tunic out experimentally, inspecting the quality of the fabric and the stitching. It was well made but very plain and inexpensive, and certainly nothing that a princess would ever be caught wearing. "Where'd you get this?"

"I made it."

At his inquiring glance, she shrugged and stroked the cub's coat idly. "I was going to leave with or without your assistance. Either way, I needed to be prepared."

That made him pause, and his glance became suspicious. "You knew I was coming."

Her dark eyes met his after a second. "I had hoped the necklace might tempt you," she admitted, and then lifted a shoulder ruefully. "I know a little about pride, thief."

"Takis," he corrected. The princess was cleverer than he'd first given her credit for. Intelligence was sexy in a woman. He grinned at her, and began calculating how much time they had left before they absolutely had to leave – if there was time left to ravish her a little more.

As if she could read his mind – or more likely, could see the stiffening of certain parts of his anatomy – Xenia stood, putting the cub on the bed gently as she told him, "Put your pants on, Takis." She'd regained a little bit of her haughtiness, but he noted how deliberately she avoided his gaze and smirked.

"Am I making you uncomfortable?"

"No," she countered, haughtier still, "You're making me impatient." She crouched down next to her bed and began to search under it. "If you would be so kind as to grab some underwear from the second drawer there…"

He gave her a mock bow and then turned to the task, making sure to pick out what he thought were the sexiest ones. Already he was planning to have her again. Maybe not now, but soon – he would make sure he had her writhing beneath him one last time before they parted ways permanently. He spent a great deal more time than necessary admiring her undergarments, and when he eventually turned back with his choices, she was watching with a hand on her hip, his pants in her fist.

"Done?" She asked. He thought he heard the slightest hint of amusement in her voice.

He held up two particularly scandalous pieces - why the Princess had underwear like this, he didn't know - and compared them solemnly. "I'm not sure if I like the black one or the gold one more."

She threw him his pants in response. "Get dressed."

Takis did as she commanded, pulling his pants on leisurely as he watched her strip out of the nightgown. She did it quickly, changing into another plain, somewhat fitted tunic she'd procured, presumably from under her bed, and then slipped on one of the changes of underwear he'd tossed haphazardly behind him. The whole thing should not have turned him on as much as it did, but then again, nothing about this night had turned out to be anywhere near normal.

As she pulled on a pair of worn boots, she asked, "Is there anything else I should add?"

"How much money is in the bag?" He picked his discarded tunic up off the floor and shook it out before putting it on.

"Enough for a month, maybe."

He nodded, and ran his hands through his hair absently as he glanced around. "All right. We need another bag, and you need to dirty yourself up – you're far too beautiful to be walking around this late, as it is. And tie your hair back."

She disappeared into the bath again, and then reappeared a few seconds later with a leather tie in her teeth and began gathering her hair at the nape of her neck. As she tied it back, she asked, "What's the bag for?"

Takis pointed towards the leopard cub, which watched them both with interest from his perch on the bed. "Unless you want to leave it here. It's going to attract attention."

For the first time since he'd seen her, Xenia looked completely and utterly unsure of her herself. The smart choice would be to leave the leopard behind – it was too young and would bring far too much attention to her. Takis didn't think it was common knowledge that the Princess had such a creature as a pet – he hadn't known, after all, and he'd been in and around the palace at least as often as any courtier – but not many could claim ownership to such an exotic animal in the first place. As she sunk down next to it on the bed, though, her heartache alarmingly clear, Takis made the decision for her. He would do anything, in fact, if it meant he didn't ever have to see her look like that again.

"Take it," he said firmly, and moved to extinguish the lights on either side of her balcony. "We'll figure out a story for it later."

"One involving theft, no doubt," she quipped, but he thought she looked grateful. At least, she looked as grateful as she would ever allow herself to appear.

They finished what little packing was left – the leopard included – and then Takis watched as she used a handful of soil from one of the potted plants in her sitting room to dirty her hands and face, and whatever skin was left showing. He still thought she was beautiful. Just rather dirty.

And then she asked him, "Ready?"

He just smirked at her, and slung her pack over his shoulder. The necklace was buried between the extra tunic and changes of underwear, glittering for no one now. When they left her rooms the sky outside was a deep, dark purple; the storm was maybe a league off, if that, and thick with rain. Lightning lit up the sky once or twice as they skirted through the gardens, and the temperature dropped in a last ditch effort to warn against the oncoming weather. But it was the threat of rain that worked in their favor and cleared the grounds of any who might stop their progress.

It was incredibly easy, as it turned out, to smuggle a princess out of the palace.

The thief helped the Princess climb down the wall the rest of the way, and then took her hand wordlessly as he pulled her quickly down a small, discreet side street. The scent of rain was as strong as ever and he knew the skies could open up on them at any moment. Shelter would have to be their first priority; they could plan their next move from there.

He took her to his humble abode for the time being. She eyed the small upstairs room warily, setting the bag with the leopard down gently before taking a look around. Takis kicked off his shoes, his eyes following her, and then settled back on his bed. "I'll take you to the port early in the morning," he told her, somewhat quiet. "No one will be shipping out in this storm anyway."

The leopard cub managed to disentangle itself from the bag's clutches and trotted across the room to join its mistress in her explorations. Xenia picked it up, the gesture clearly one of habit, and continued on for a little before eventually wandering closer to where Takis was lounging.

He gave the space next to him an inviting pat. "I won't bite," he offered.

"I doubt that," she replied dryly.

Takis flashed her a lazy grin. "So, Princess. Do you have a destination in mind or are we just winging it at this point?"

She eyed him. "We?" She repeated.

The thief shrugged with one shoulder, matching her stare head-on. It hadn't occurred to him right until the word slipped out of his mouth that he'd been planning to go with her all along. "I could use a vacation." He paused deliberately for a second before adding, "If you could use the company."

They remained silent for a long moment after that, staring at each other in his tiny one-room apartment. And then, slowly, she began to smile. Takis thought he could almost see her defenses breaking down, one after the other. The Princess had been left behind; it was Xenia, the woman, who said next, "Take me where the wind blows."

"It won't be easy," he warned, watching as she moved towards him. "We'll have to improvise. Steal, cheat, lie. It's going to be dangerous, especially for you."

She dropped the cat on the end of the bed. "Then take me to the danger. Take me to the life of crime. I don't care."

Takis caught her hand and pulled her down with him, quickly shifting his weight over her. "You know, I think I'll take you right now," he murmured, his mouth hovering over hers.

She smiled another one of her brilliant smiles. "Thief."


1. The song is, obviously, Sting's "After the Rain has Fallen". Just thought I'd reiterate. All the underlined bits are direct lines from the song.
2. The country is vaguely based off of the ancient Greek colony of Cyrene, located in present day Libya. Check out the Wikipedia article on it for some parallels - that's where most of the information I used came from.
3. Silphium (from the big W): "Generally considered to be an extinct "giant fennel" ... it once formed the crux of trade from the ancient city of Cyrene for its use as a rich seasoning and as a medicine. It was so critical to the Cyrenian economy that most of their coins bore a picture of the plant ... Chief among its medical uses, according to Pliny the Elder, was its role as a herbal contraceptive. Given that many species in the parsley family have estrogenic properties, and some (such as Wild carrot) have been found to work as an abortifacient, it is quite possible that the plant was pharmacologically active in the prevention or termination of pregnancy."
4. I used Greek names for each of the characters, found at a name database on ze web. Takis is a pet form of a name that means "all holy"; Xenia means "hospitality"; Stylianos means "pillar"; Kyriake means "of the lord"; Dimitrios derives from the Greek goddess Demeter.

Other fun facts: I actually made up this whole ridiculous time line for all of the kings, including things like how long they reigned for and how old they were when they first ascended the throne. Also, there are four other members of the royal family that were not mentioned - the Queen (sadly, deceased), and three more sons/brothers. (Stylianos IV was a busy man.)

I really enjoyed coming up with this one. It certainly has the possibility of being continued, doesn't it? ;p