A piece of Roger's past told by a lonely and sexually frustrated prison guard in King's Town. If you're wondering where this is in the timeline, it's during the previous incarnation of Nick in Tannika. If you squint, you will notice that Roger mentions him but not by name.

_

Darius Blackwood was devoted to his job. It wasn't the best job, guarding prisoners all night, but there was room for advancement if you did well and you worked hard enough. Why, his boss not ten years earlier was in his same position, and now was head of twenty men and women, all whom made up the guard of the west most interior of the King's Town prison. The guard captain was a good man; he never forgot where he came from, and as long as he was treated with respect he gave it back.

There were two others that guarded this section with him at night, James and Corthe, who admittedly spent most nights playing cards by candle light while Darius patrolled the walkway between the cells. They weren't bad guards, it was just that the west section wasn't for hardened criminals. Most of them were well-mannered or at least asleep for most of the night which made all their jobs easier. Darius, James and Corthe would take turns patrolling the full west section, but Darius took more turns than necessary, just to get some time alone.

The way James and Corthe flirted with each other made him itch, definitely in an unpleasant way. If Faustina ever found out he spoke to Corthe in such a manner she'd have her husband's bollocks. He knew and surely Corthe knew, as she was married as well, James would never cheat on his wife, but Faustina was a jealous woman and tolerated very little.

Darius was extremely devoted to his wife, who without question moved here from West Bay—across the country—so their unborn child could have a better life than they had. At the moment they had to share a bedroom with James and his wife Faustina, which made things difficult if Darius and Anne wanted more than a cuddle. It wasn't as if more than a cuddle was in the cards lately. Pregnancy made her very untouchable. It wasn't as if he didn't want to, she refused him. But he loved her and soon, it wasn't long now, the baby would come and soon he'd scrape enough together they'd get a place of their own. He'd get his wife back again.

In the meantime his frustration was mounting, though on the surface he fought to keep the show of it minimal. He didn't have a bad life, things were going rather well. And they had a baby on the way. Who couldn't be happier?

He heaved a desperate sigh, hearing Corthe and James' laughter from just around the corner, softer now, the further he was away. Darius hooked the torch in the niche in the stone wall and leaned beside it. He began to hum and sing softly to himself to drown them out.

"The Western Sea, she comforts me, waves breakin' on the shore…"

Darius heard the familiar drag of chains against the stones which probably meant a prisoner was turning over in their sleep or pacing their cell. The reason it made him pause was because he was sure no one had been placed on this end.

Someone cleared their throat, and in the torchlight shining on the bars of a cell in front him, he saw a pair of the greenest eyes he'd ever seen staring at him.

"Not bad, but I'm afraid I can still hear them," the prisoner said, in a sort of deep drawling voice. "You have a lovely voice."

In the beginning Darius had taken his job very seriously. One of the rules was to never speak to prisoners, but the more he worked in the west section with James and Corthe, the more relaxed he became. The criminals here weren't dangerous. Sure, they might try to negotiate their release or offer favors in exchange for a bit of wine, perhaps even a sip from James' flask of whiskey, but they weren't the sort to try to kill you. They kept all those below in heavier security.

Darius pushed away from the wall and retrieved the torch from its niche, shining the light toward the figure in front of him.

The man's longish blond hair was an orangey gold in the firelight, and he was quite tall. Weirdly lanky, but not in an off-putting way. The shackles around his wrists would only let him reach through the bars so far, but even so the prisoner offered him one friendly but dirty long-fingered hand and a leisurely smile, showing a perfect set of incredibly white teeth.

"I'm Roger," he said. Darius stared at his hand. "No? I get it." He withdrew his hand, wrapping his long fingers around one of the bars of his cell door.

"You're new," Darius said, and noted the man's rather well-made clothes, which would have been very fine had they not been here and there splotched with mud. His white shirt was starched, he saw, and he still had his cravat which was undone and hung about his collar loosely. The man looked as if he had just stepped out of a wedding party and found himself in a fight at the reception. Perhaps he had told the best man to meet him outside and his drunken ass was swiftly beaten into the muddy street.

"All by myself in a dark corner." The man's curl of a smile oddly made heat pool curiously in his belly. That was a surprise. "Also I was told I'd be here for a while and wanted to make friends."

While staring at this man his mind began to wander. Maybe Darius could talk James and Faustina into giving him and Anne a bit of alone time when they got off work. He lowered the torch, feeling a rush of blood color his cheeks unexpectedly, although he knew Anne probably wouldn't be in for it. She never was lately. He turned his attention back to the young man in front of him. He was mildly disturbed when he had trouble dragging his gaze from his open shirt front.

"What're ya in for? Bustin' up a wedding?"

"Close enough," he said ominously, and gave him a wink that shocked Darius into a grin. This one certainly was charming. He wondered where he had come from? He was quite tan for someone who dressed so finely. Darius had never seen a rich man with any color unless they were Endines. None of them would ever be seen in custody. "I had a full week which ended rather badly."

He pouted and Darius found himself drawn to that mouth. Surprised at himself, he flicked his gaze back up to the man's unusual eyes. It could have been the torchlight, but they shown brighter than any green he'd seen in nature. Darius swallowed uncomfortably. "Then ya are gonna be here a while."

"I've been through worse, darling."

Shocked to silence at the term of endearment, Darius fumbled for words but instead after a moment turned around, torch clutched tightly in his hand, and walked away. He neared the candle lit table at which Corthe and James sat, his mind troubled by what had just happened. A man had never flustered him so before, not since he was a boy, but even that had come to nothing. Darius didn't want to blame Anne, but if she hadn't denied him so often this never would have happened.

He had to remind himself that nothing really had, yet, not that he wanted it to. And it certainly wouldn't. They had rules about fraternizing with prisoners, although some were in so often you couldn't help but get to know them. Some of them were even good friends, though you'd never let them in your house for fear they might nick something you couldn't replace. On a guard's salary just about everything was irreplaceable.

Aw, he thought, what was the harm? He seemed nice enough, but he had often heard James warn Corthe about the handsome ones, because they always had something up their sleeves.

"'Ere, Darius, take m'place," Corthe said, holding her cards out to him. "Gotta answer a call o' nature."

"Very proper," James teased, and gave Darius a welcoming gesture as Corthe disappeared up the stairs. "Come, come, she's winnin' and we can' 'ave that."

Darius arranged the cards in his hand absently, his mind clearly on something else. "James, can ya let me an' Anne have some time when we get off?"

"Oh!" James pressed his fanned cards to his chest and whistled at him. "Sure, ya buck, no problem."

Darius couldn't help chuckling at his friend's reaction, nervous as the idea made him. He wondered what Anne would say to being given some time with her husband. It had been months since she'd touched him or wanted to be touched herself. He reached out for Corthe's cup and took a drink, surprised to find it was filled with Rosehip wine.

"My gods, Jamey, are ya tryin' to get the woman drunk?"

"She's the one who brought the stuff," he said quickly, then, "Play a card, lad, we donna 'ave forever. She's only gone to relieve 'erself."

_

James chatted to him all the way back as they walked through Dawrie's Way, and all the way to the Blue Quarter where his humble house sat in a connected row of other little homes, all the same gray stone with steep blue tiled roofs. Darius hadn't been listening as in his mind he saw those inexplicably green eyes and playful grin, the torchlight lighting up that impossibly white set of teeth. They were lethal those things; they could blind you, he thought as James twisted the knob at their number eleven.

"I'll keep Faustina in the kitchen, while you an' Anne 'ave your time," James said, waggling his eyebrows.

Darius blushed, a little ashamed as he had not been thinking about his wife. "Thanks, mate," he muttered as they pushed inside and closed the door on the cold.

The small house was warm and cozy. It was really just two rooms, a kitchen and bedroom with a small outhouse in the back, and clotheslines for laundry. Faustina was in the kitchen preparing breakfast, the smell of fried meat and baking bread already making him hungry as soon as he shrugged off his coat.

"Where's Anne?"

"Tending our beds," she paused in her cooking to give her husband a kiss while Darius stole away into the other room, not missing the wink James gave him before he closed the door.

He was graced with his Anne's profile when he turned around. She was bent over, humming sweetly as she made their bed, then fluffed the pillows. Most of her dark brown hair was held in a loose bun at the back of her head, but some stray lovely curls graced the side of her face and forehead. Her small, sweetly turned up nose wrinkled as she hugged his pillow to her chest, sighing at the smell of him.

Darius silently came up behind her, and tenderly wrapped his arms around her waist, nuzzling the side of her neck. "Mornin' m'love," he murmured into her pale skin, feeling her shiver against him. She wormed away, however, and dropped the pillow in place on the bed.

"Mornin' Darius," she cooed and planted a kiss to his cheek. Anne nearly got away again, pointing herself at the door but he caught her arm and pulled her into an embrace. "Darius," she warned, her hands playfully pushing on his shoulders. "What are you doing?"

"Stealin' some time with my wife," he said, one of his hands moving to undo the ties at the front of her dress.

His hands were lightly slapped away. "What if James or Faustina were to come in?" She sounded scandalized.

"Trust me, angel, they won't be doin' that," he said hastily, returning to his task, even as she squirmed away from him.

"How do you know? This is their home."

"I've asked James to keep away for a moment. He's a good lad, he'll do as I say, now come here, love," he tugged gently at her hands, wanting to kiss her, but she abruptly jerked away, face aflame.

"I can't believe you! As if living with two other people like this isn't uncomfortable enough, you openly discuss our …" she struggled for the words as he gaped at her, defeated. "…private affairs?"

"I didn't!" He declared, throwing his arms up. Again he reached for her, "Love come on, I need you."

Anne frowned slightly, but stepped forward and wound her arms around his neck, pressing a cheek to his chest. "Oh, dear, I know, but I can't. I worry about our baby." She gazed up at him, those cool blue eyes, warm and understanding, but ultimately denying him. "I can't with those two here anyway."

"It's not as if the little bloke wouldn't understand, girl, an' James an' Faustina know what this is like," he teased, but she took offense and slapped his chest. "I'm sorry," he said, dropping an insistent but brief kiss to those perfect, pink little lips. "I just miss you."

Anne sighed against him, her warm breath tickling his neck, and while it excited him to have her so close, a yawn worked his way out of his mouth, cracking his jaw open. He had had a long night.

She kissed his jaw tenderly. "My poor guardsman! So tired," she said. "Eat some breakfast and go to bed."

Darius' hand smoothed down her dress, resting his palm on her round belly. After a moment of holding her this way, he pulled away from her and conceded, trying not to show his frustration. "As you wish," he said and exited the room with her following.

James and Faustina looked surprised when they filed into the kitchen and sat at the table, but Anne acted as if all was normal and so Darius had to as well, thanking Faustina quietly when she tore him some bread, and nodding to James for pouring him a cup of wine. This was technically their dinner, after all, and the ladies sipped delicately at their water, as their day had just begun.

As he dipped a corner of his crusty bread into the wine his thoughts strayed, watching Anne out of his periphery. Absolutely unfazed, she seemed, happily slicing into a fried piece of ham, making small talk with Faustina. James quietly stared at him from across the table, face solemn but his eyes sympathetic. It filled Darius with resentment when he noticed that, and he gulped greedily at the wine in his cup to avoid speaking.

_

"D'you wanna 'ave a chat about it?" James asked as they got into their simple armor, the city's crest engraved on the front of the light cuirass.

"No, I don't want to have a chat about it," he insisted, irritated that James even brought it up.

"You could take care of it yerself, ya know. Ain't no shame in that."

Darius paused in pulling on his boots and gave his friend a long look. "Course I can, you daft son of—" he stopped halfway through the insult as Faustina stirred in her sleep. They had both, Anne and Faustina, taken up doing other people's clothes to help bring in money and had gone to bed early, tired from the day. Darius and James both paused in their actions until her breathing regained its even rhythm. "I know I can, I'd just rather have it off with my wife, if ya don't mind!" he hissed in whisper, to which James chuckled amiably and nodded.

"All right," he said, standing, threading his belt through a notch in his scabbard. "I understand, mate. It wonna last forever."

Ten minutes later they were making their way out of the Blue Quarter and were soon down Dawrie's Way, heading toward the city prison. All the while Darius remained silent, fuming not just about their earlier awkward conversation, but about Anne's continual refusal of him. Didn't she care about him? Perhaps she didn't need him at all; he was just someone to make the rent and warm her side as she slept.

He sighed; that wasn't an exactly fair way to think. Darius knew she loved him and that things were rather complicated for her, for them both right now. As soon as he had enough gold saved up, they'd rent a place of their own, perhaps close to James and Faustina so they could still have their friends close by. More than anything he wanted her with him, and their baby, little Danny, which was what he called the baby inside his head, to live independently, happily. But King's Town was expensive, and he didn't know how long it would take to get the privacy of their own place, which he thought was the main reason for Anne's reluctance.

"Oi, there, men," a familiar voice called at the gate. The orangish, fiery light from the setting sun obscuring their vision of her, but it was definitely Corthe's brogue, tomboyish way of speaking.

"Evening, guardswoman Corthe," Darius said, and nodded to the gatekeeper beside her. "Tesland."

"Oi Tesland," James nodded with a cheeky smile. "'eard you an' Joan are gettin' on."

"All here?" the gatekeeper said, flushing red, and when they nodded he signaled to the men on the wall to open the gate. "See you come morning," and he stepped aside as the gate swung open. "And don't go spreading rumors, Jamey, or I'll have you sacked!"

"Oh!" Corthe laughed and nudged at James' elbow with hers. "Got his panties inna twist. He an' Joan must be gettin' sideways often!"

"By the blush of 'is cheeks!"

"Gods, will you two shut it!" Darius yelled at the two of them, and silence fell as the gate slammed closed.

After a moment and a shared glance at James, Corthe giggled and said, "Oh, Darius, no need ta be jealous, just cause he's gotta taste more often than you have."

Darius silently fumed and walked ahead of them, hearing James whisper hindrances into Corthe's ear.

As soon as they were inside and inspected, he pulled off his helm and tucked it under his arm as they went down the spiraling stone steps to the cells below. They passed a few of their fellow guardsmen, who nodded and spoke very little, looking as if they had a bit of a long day and didn't want to discuss it.

In the west section they met Collin who passed off the keys to Darius for a change. "Watch for the new fella," the older man said, pointing his finger to the far end of the hall. "'Round the corner there."

"Why's that, man?" Corthe asked offhandedly, not really noticing how serious he looked. She took off her helm and set it on the table they so often used for drinking and card playing.

"Oh, I don't mean to say, you know I don't go sayin'," then he mumbled something under his breath as he pushed past them and went up the stairs.

"What was that about?"

"Never mind," James said, setting his hip flask down beside Corthe's helm on the table. "The ol' man's getting' senile. What age an' places like this'll do to ya!" He shook his head and Darius chuckled, hooking the keys to his belt next to his short sword.

"Bet he's talkin' bout that handsome fella they picked up yesterday mornin'. He tried ta talk me outta my uniform last night!" Corthe said, taking a seat and already beginning to shuffle a deck of cards.

Darius remembered the man, but hadn't heard this story yet. "What did he say?"

"Lookin' for pointers?" She asked, quirking an eyebrow. Darius blanched. "Don't go like that. It wasn't what he said, it was how he said it."

He knew exactly what she meant. The way the man said things, like he was taking off your clothes with words. His smile, like he was seconds and a cell door away from eating you up. Darius ducked his head as he pondered these things then ultimately decided to set them aside for later, Anne's refusal still fresh on his mind

"In fact," she said, eyes fixed on James as she half-rose from her chair. "I'd better go an' check on him."

"No, no," James refused her, placing a hand on her arm. "It's Darius until midnight an' you an' me til seven, ya brazen hussy." He turned his head and focused on Darius. "Why dontcha go ask 'im for tips?"

Darius' lips formed a tight line and he strode away with James' cry of "I was only jokin'!" worsening his already sour mood.

"Ooo, feel that chill," he heard Corthe say as he walked down the hall, inspecting the cells disinterestedly on his patrol. "Whatcha spose crawled up his arse?"

"Don' go on. 'E's 'avin' a time."

"Tell me?"

"Leave it, girl, an' deal those cards."

Darius stopped listening and paused to light his torch on one of the ones hanging on a niche in the wall. "Hey, there, guardsman!" A gravelly voice called from one of the cells. A dark arm reached through, holding a note.

Darius approached the cell door, but stood well away as he had the keys this time. He shone the torch so he could see the prisoner's face. Ink black eyes studied him stoically, his hand shaking the note toward him.

"What's this, elf?"

"For your captain. He said he wanted to know and he'd adjust my sentence. I need out."

"This is for the captain?" Darius asked, taking and opening the note.

"Don't read it, you fool, it's not for your eyes!"

"What is it?"

The elf pressed his face to the bars, his dark skin glowing in the light of the torch. "Location and time. It would mean nothing to you."

Darius shoved the note in his pocket but promised nothing. Prisoners were always bargaining for their freedom. He didn't see why down here on west section, since the most these idiots served was six months to a year, the least being a couple of nights perhaps just to sober up.

Before he turned away, confusion furrowing his brow, the elf slunk back into the shadows. "Make sure he gets it."

Darius walked slowly away, hearing his companions chatter in the background. Tangarians were very odd, he thought to himself, and one didn't see very many in here. Elves usually kept well away from King's Town, or at least the better areas. He hummed the song he often sang in his youth, and turned around the way he came before he reached the turn for the corner cells, not ready to face the man 'all by himself in the dark'.

"Come here, song bird," a voice called from the corner, making all the small hairs on the back of his neck stand on end. "I've been waiting."

Darius' hand went to the hilt of his short sword and hung on, turning slowly toward the voice. "Ya should be sleepin'," he called back, to which a few prisoners told him to shut it so they could sleep as well. "Then go about it!" he groused, resolved to go and see the man and tell him the same thing.

"There you are," the man said when he reached him. His slender arms slid through the bars of his cell door and folded together.

Darius chanced a few steps closer. "Where are your shackles?"

The man laughed softly. "I convinced your friend Collin to remove them." He cocked his head and gave him a lopsided grin. The guardsman turned to place the torch in the niche in the wall, to hide his amusement. "A woman came for my clothes and gave me these rags."

Darius studied him, noticing he was washed and shirtless, a pair of low-hanging threadbare trousers were tied at his hips with a slender rope. "They do nothin' for ya, prisoner."

"Roger," he drawled and then laughed, seeming to notice the flush in the guard's cheeks. He pulled his arms back in the cell. "It's a bit cold, Darius," Darius made eye contact at the use of his name, aiming a questioning look in those odd eyes. "Don't suppose you could light a fire anywhere near?"

"No…" He laughed; there was no place for it. "The woman surely brought ya a shirt?"

"I think these trousers are embarrassing enough, don't you?" The man, Roger, ran his fingers along the slender rope holding them up, the guardsman following their movement with his gaze without realizing. "How did you get so far from home?"

"How did…?"

"The song, sung by sailors of the Western Sea," he said matter-of-factly. "You sang it last night, humming it tonight. You're wistful for home."

"Not exactly," Darius admitted, shifting his weight. He wasn't wistful for home; though he did miss the way Anne was there. They had their own place by the sea, just the two of them. But they had been hopelessly poor, though they weren't far better here. "I am from West Bay," he said, although he wasn't sure why he had said, and it wasn't exactly a good idea giving a prisoner such information.

"And you came here to escape the sailor's life?"

"I can say no more." Darius turned and took the torch from the niche and the man called Roger tutted his disapproval. "I have a patrol, ya know." When he turned around the man had backed away from the door, only his intensely green eyes shone out from the shadows. "Ya couldn't tell me why you're in here?"

"Come closer."

He very nearly did, Roger's voice was so tempting. It caused the flush in his cheeks to travel lower, a well familiar heat pooled in his belly, but as he took a step the keys clinked against his armor and he was brought to reality. Darius knew what this bloke was after: the bloody keys.

"Ah," he said, "Good one, but no." He turned with a lingering smile at the figure in the shadows and resumed his patrol. "You'll not be getting these keys, man."

"I could escape without them, darling," Roger said, the words making Darius forget all about the chill in the air.

"They all say that." Confused by these feelings, he walked away, determined to keep away from the man the rest of the night.

_

"Go home, Darius," the captain said without looking up from his papers. At Darius' hesitation he looked up and folded his hands on his desk. "Unless you've something to report, lad?"

The guardsman nodded to James and Corthe as they exited. James would wait for him outside, but Corthe would walk to the university to see her husband on his daytime patrol. They got less time together than he and Anne but still managed to keep things fresh by the nasty things Corthe said during their shifts.

"The Tangarian told me to give you this. He'd said you'd want it?" Darius handed the note over and the captain examined it.

"The elf said what else?"

"He said not much," he admitted, noting the pleased expression on his captain's face.

"Did you read this?" The captain didn't wait for his response. "What am I saying? Of course you did. What do you make of it?"

"I dunno, sir." The captain tossed the note over and gestured impatiently for him to read it again. Darius plucked it from the edge of the desk and read the tiny scrawls. "'Ecclesia's Garden, sixth day of Johanna, midnight.'" He shifted his feet. "Still dunno, sir."

"When the elf was caught he was high upon the wall around Lord Holm's estate, carrying a bag of stolen goods. This is the drop point." The captain grinned, enthusiastically grooming his gray mustache with his fingers. "The elf wants out."

"What was in the bag, sir?"

"It's all in the evidence chest, but what it is is not important. A decoy will be placed and we'll find out who comes to pick it up."

"Well done, sir," Darius said, not knowing what else to say about it. He hadn't been let in on the investigation, being just a prison guardsman.

"Well done, you! Off you go!"

Just as Darius reached the door he turned. "You'll be letting the Tangarian go then?"

"Not until we catch his accomplice. If his information proves useful his sentence will be adjusted, not repealed. You'll be guarding him for a few days yet." When all Darius did was offer a confused look, the captain returned to his papers and waved him away. "Good day, guardsman."

"Good day, captain."

_

"What did the boss want?"

"One of the prisoners has squealed, shining a light on something I spose."

James refilled his cup and tossed him a piece of bread. "What's that got to do with you?"

Darius shook his head and shrugged, gulping down some wine before he spoke next. "Elf slipped me a note and I slipped it to the captain."

"Careful with that, mate, don' want him to slip you anything else. Elves are tricksy folks."

"Where are the women?"

James shrugged disinterestedly as he munched on his hunk of bread. "Who knows our women are gettin' up to? Prolly off to the shops or fussing with laundry." He got up and went to the fire, warming his hands. "Could go for a bit o' ham. Interested?"

"No," he said, thinking about Anne out with Faustina, picking fabrics for the baby, or buying produce and meats for their table. He thought then they'd gather some clothes from folks and launder them here all afternoon. Then he thought about Anne on her back on his little skiff back home, naked with him at her side as they gazed up at the stars from the boat. The waves rocked them, their fingers locked. He missed her. "Might go to sleep," he said.

James looked over his shoulder at him as he downed his wine. "Right, I'm going to see about a priest," he said and went to the outhouse grinning the whole way. Darius wished he wouldn't call it that; it was so sacrilegious.

At least he had a few minutes alone, he thought, and went to the bedroom to remove his uniform and banish away some seriously naughty thoughts. He was going to see about a priest himself.

_

That night just before dusk, he uncurled himself from Anne, pausing to brush all those lovely curls away from her neck and pressed a kiss there. She stirred, sleepily reaching out for him, but he had to get dressed and ready for patrol. She watched him with dreamy eyes as he pulled on his armor in near dark, her arm was curled around her belly. Anne smiled sweetly at him when James told him they had to go before they got docked for being late.

"Darius," his wife whispered, reaching up for his hand. She pressed his palm against her stomach. "He's in there."

He let out a startled laugh when he felt the baby move. How weird and wonderful it was to know he was alive, and moving around in there! His little Danny. He kissed her stomach through her nightdress and bent to kiss Anne's lips as well.

"Love you," he said. "Both of you."

James was already at the door. "Come on, mate. Corthe'll be waitin' at the gate for us."

_

"I'll take first watch tonight, if you don't mind," Corthe said, and James groaned in protest.

"Why so eager, love? You got a date with one of the prisoners?" Collin tsked and shook his head with a smile.

"Ya old geezer, get home to your woman before I pound ya!"

The older guard waved her off, shuffling slowly up the stairs, his chuckling echoing down on them.

Darius fixed her with a stare as he handed the keys off to James. "Why are you so eager, then?"

She kept her helm on, but took a swallow of James' flask before she started her round. "My Reg has changed shifts and I don't wanna be on my feet for more than eleven hours at a time, if you don't mind."

"I thought 'is patrol was 'round the university?"

"It is, then he has a double by the Shakes and I don't want him to go alone."

"Careful, girl, don't let them catch ya workin' off duty. That's four days on the wall," Darius warned, but she waved him off, just as Collin had done her earlier. "Silly girl," he said to James as soon as she went mostly out of ear shot.

"She's new but she's all right."

"Betcha think so, the way you two get on," he muttered bitterly, although he had tried to keep his tone light.

James laughed and fished a pack of cards from his pocket. "You canna begrudge a man for a harmless bit of flirtin'."

"Faustina would have your bits."

"Aye," he admitted, shuffling the cards, laughing. "So would Reg, I wager." James dealt the cards between them. "You could do with a bit of tail yourself, poor man."

Darius snatched his cards off the table and arranged them irritably, hoping his silence would make his friend drop the subject. He had had such a happy evening so far, feeling his youngling press against his fair wife's stomach, and the sweet press of her lips against his.

"Hang on, ya haven't?" Darius asked, fixing James with a hard stare.

"'Aven't what?"

Darius jerked his head down the way, where Corthe was just returning from her first walk around the cells.

"Are ya jokin' mate? No!" He didn't vehemently deny it, but he laughed like it was best joke he'd ever heard. "Not ever. I've seen Reginald, Darius, 'ave ya?"

Indeed he had. Corthe's husband was a tank, through a through. A descendant of soldiers, and a bit of a hot head. He very nearly took every word as an offense and hardly anyone could last on patrol with him. He was the perfect lad to go to the Shakes, for not even the most hardened could be stupid enough to try him if not in large numbers.

"All right," Darius conceded, grinning in spite of himself, focusing on the cards in his hand. He had a winner at first go by the looks of things.

"Oi, watch out, Jamey. He's already got a full there," Corthe said, briefly scanning his cards over his shoulder before she marched off down the way again.

"Fold," James snapped and yanked the cards out of his hands.

After that round James went off to help Corthe walk the cells, leaving Darius alone with his flask and the cards. He played solitaire, which is exactly what he had been playing for the past four months, at least this time it was with cards. Funny thing was he could win this game, and did until the clock in the yard struck midnight, and Corthe and James came to gather around the table, announcing his turn.

"My flask's empty, how'd ya manage that?" James asked, tipping it upside down and frowning. Not one drop descended from its opening.

Darius stood with difficulty, leaving the cards spread out on the table.

"Oh, Darius, you didn't?" Corthe protested in an uncharacteristic feminine whine, snatching the empty flask from James.

"I did," he said resolutely and stalked off, grabbing a torch on his way. His other hand rested on the hilt of his sword, the gesture sobering him minutely. It wasn't often that he'd got pissed at all, and never at work, but he was now. At least the prisoners were asleep, he thought, if there was any sort of commotion tonight he'd be well fucked.

"The Western Sea, she comforts me, waves breakin' on the shore. I caught my lover there. Pulled her from the sea, we wed, quite stately an affair…"

Darius' ears perked up, making his way to the cell around the bend, where the voice sang. He hooked the torch in the notch on the third attempt and leant against the wall opposite the cell for fear of failing over. Roger hummed the rest within.

"Sorry, I don't know all the words," he said when he reached the end of the melody.

"Yer awful."

"I'm quite excellent at other things," Roger's voice drawled from the shadows in the back of his cell. "I'm sure you can guess what sort."

Darius' face burned. "Yer cheeky, aren't ya?" The only answer he got was a muffled laugh. "Don't spose ya wanna tell me what all ya did in yer mad week."

Roger came out of the shadows and went to the bars so Darius could have a good look at him. "Why should I? It was only the last deed that got me in this dreadful place. Though it's not as bad as some places I've been." Darius felt his gaze keenly as it slowly moved up his body. Roger smiled lazily. "Why you're drunk, aren't you?"

Darius thought about denying it and decided otherwise at the last moment. He let out a breath he had no recollection of holding. "A bit."

"A bit? I love drunk people," the man said, he slipped his long tanned arms through the bars. "They're so much friendlier. Come closer."

He ducked his head and pushed away from the wall, feeling that heat again, willing it to stop. "Oh, I won' be doin' that."

In an instant Roger's arms slid back in the cell and he took a step back. "Not even with your sword to protect you? This is hardly maximum security, and as I told you last evening I can escape any time I wish."

"Oh, go on."

"I'm not jesting. I was out this morning, though no one saw me. People rarely do."

Darius' guard slipped, and he gave the man an appraising look, watching Roger's hands close around one of the bars on the door. How could anyone miss him? He bit his lip and leant against the wall again, following the long line of his body to where that slender rope held those threadbare trousers to his hips.

"Why bother comin' back then?"

"Would you believe I'm safer here?" The hand around the bar slipped up and down on it suggestively, Darius watching it with wary eyes. "Maybe you would. I'm sure the beggar thieves you've guarded have said the same once they've spent a day or two in here and have something to compare to the streets."

"Not hidin' from the streets are ya?"

"No, darling," Roger said, and Darius' gazed locked with his, staring into those unnatural green eyes. "I'm not."

He shoved himself off the wall again, and poked his head around the corner, seeing Corthe and James down the hall, laughing in the distance at the table. He could hear them faintly, though they spoke low, but he couldn't understand them. They were blessedly distracted, and wouldn't notice if he stayed here for a bit longer.

Darius turned to face the cell again, spurred by the man's teasing grin.

"Darius," he drawled, that voice getting inside him, addling his mind, making heat settle in his groin. "Come closer."

"An' let ya take advantage of a drunk guard?"

"Oh yes. That exactly."

"'Aven't got keys this time, mate," Darius slurred and tried to make his next words clearer. "What could you possibly want?" he asked more slowly, suddenly realizing he had taken steps toward the cell, close enough that Roger reached through, grabbed his belt and had him slammed against the bars. Darius just missed dashing his head on one of them. It was all very sobering. He yelped and tried to pull himself free.

"Hush now," Roger coaxed, slowly releasing his belt as Darius reached for his sword. "Don't want the others to come running." Darius noted a faint coppery taste in his mouth; he had accidentally bitten his tongue and it was swelling up in his mouth. "Calm now?" The man's hand never moved off him, sliding below his belt to palm over him through his leather greaves. "Don't need that sword, do you?"

Darius leaned into the palm, grabbing the bars for balance, and let out a stuttering breath. "Athalla," he breathed, unable to tear his eyes away from Roger's.

He chuckled at him and Darius faltered a bit, ready to pull away in the next moment, but Roger's other hand grabbed his belt again and held him fast. "That laugh wasn't for you. Seems they all let saint's names fall from their lips when I touch them. You're no exception. This," he squeezed his prize, "is very respectable."

"Oh…" Darius gasped and rubbed himself on that palm.

"Yes, you're starved for attention, aren't you?" The man said, and he leaned toward that voice, feeling hot breath on his face. "You've bitten your tongue…" The man's pupils grew, till the brilliant green was just a tiny ring around them and he fastened his mouth on Darius', licking into his mouth.

Darius had never been kissed this way, and it was rather awkward to do through the bars, but it was mind erasing and Roger was doing very well despite the obstacle. It sent a shiver through him as he jerked his hips forward, pushing his hardness fully against that blessed hand. His tongue didn't even hurt anymore, the swelling where he bit it was gone but Darius only noticed this absently, fully losing himself on this man's tongue.

A man's tongue. A man's tongue. He pulled his mouth away and stared at him.

"What?" Roger asked, still a breath away.

Even through his panic he couldn't help but notice the man's eyes were so dark now, drawing him in with almost hypnotic power.

Footsteps pounded toward them and Darius was released. He scrambled for the torch, half out of his mind before he saw Corthe come around the corner. She looked him up and down, not noticing anything amiss, but surely James had told her he was drunk. She had noted the empty flask herself.

"All right?"

He nodded mutely, not trusting himself to speak, stealing a glance into the cell, but Roger had already hidden himself in the shadowy corner of it and made no sound.

Corthe started laughing when his first step was a stagger toward her. "Well, fine, ya drunk bastard, give us a turn!" She giggled more and pulled him away. "Let James finish it, will ya? Come play a round with me before sunrise."

"Keep it down!" someone hissed from a nearby cell. "Some of us are still tryin' to sleep it off!"

_

"Anne'll be cross. Wonder the captain didn't notice," James said as they were let out the gate.

"I won't be doin' that again. Don't say anything, will ya?"

"Fine, ya know me. I'm your friend, Darius. Won't say a word." After a beat he said, "Mind you I had to tell Corthe the same. Ya know how she goes on."

"Yeah."

There was a spike of worry there, and he focused on it desperately, though he knew Corthe only thought he went around the corner to shut his eyes for a bit. Darius was afraid to blink too slowly for fear last night would all come back. Even as he thought about it he felt that man's hand on him again, his tongue in his mouth. Gods, he could lose his job and his mind all in one go…

"That Bay speak got well worse with whiskey!" James laughed at him, nudging him in the side with his elbow as they walked. "Forgot ya did that. Gods, ya do speak funny, don' ya?"

"I never," Darius insisted, cutting his eyes over at his friend. He did know it to be true, which was why he never got pissed around mixed company. His accent tended to put off regular folk here. The captain was a proper King's Town man, with the speech of a well-learned one. If he was ever to get out of the prison guard life perhaps he'd have to change a bit, but that turn of thought had him thinking of something else entirely…

"Ha ha! There ya go. I nevah!"

He tuned him out after this, walking silently down Dawrie's Way until they reached their home. James noted the smoking chimney and sighed, "Fresh bread!" he called happily. "I do love my Faustina."

They filed inside, the smell of warm bread and frying egg and ham filling their nostrils. The kitchen was pleasantly warm, and Darius stopped just before retreating to the bedroom to take off his armor, seeing Anne bent over the table slicing a tomato. The tops of her lovely white breasts pressed out the top of her dress, one of her arms pushing them together with every slice of the blade. With each day they seemed to get more magnificently tempting, and what a dashing smile she gave him when she looked up through all those little dark curls around her face and saw him looking.

"Mornin' love," she said, setting down the knife and pulling out a chair for him.

He watched her for a second more, nearly fully giving into the fantasy of running his hands over those full white breasts, weighing them each in his hands before descending his mouth upon them. Darius had done that first a month after they were together, she did make him wait, but she gave into him in the end. Anne had let her dress fall around her waist that evening, and he had kissed her breathless. What a sweet wonderful thing she was! That first blush in her cheeks when she told him how handsome she found him, and said yes again and again as he plunged into her. A retired ship's captain had married them a week later, and every day since he had had the most beautiful woman in the world locked in his arms in bed with him, the sweet smell of her neck just under his nose.

Darius forgot about the other two in the room, went around the table and swept her into a kiss, devouring that pretty pink mouth until she succeeded in prying herself away.

"Gods, Darius! You taste of whiskey!" Anne sounded affronted.

Faustina giggled and slapped James on the shoulder. "Been feeding him your flask," she scolded.

"Only to take the chill away, Anne," he said, grabbing for her hand. He placed a kiss there on her palm and she wrinkled her nose distastefully. "What's wrong?"

"Tasted like sick," she said, pulling her hand away. She pressed her small warm hand briefly on his cheek. "Why don't you go an' clean up?"

"Right…" Darius grounded out and went through to the bedroom, followed soon after by James, who shut the door softly behind him.

"Might wanna shave an' all, mate," James teased, yanking at the straps of his cuirass. Darius chucked his helm on the bed and sank down next to it, dropping his head in his hands. "Come now, do I hafta take care of ya?"

He was kicked sharply in the shin and he jerked his head up, scowling. "No," he said, sighing, and took off his uniform, dropping it away next to James' in the chest between their double beds.

Darius stripped down and washed himself with a cloth and some icy water from the basin by the window. "That's whiskey finished for me," he muttered as he dried himself off. He'd never have it again after what happened that morning. On my mother, he silently swore.

"Now yer dad's spinnin' in his grave. Never mind, Darius, put some pants on an' find some trousers fore I go blind."

A few minutes later they were both washed, shaved and dressed in plain clothes when they sat down at the table in the kitchen. Darius ate in silence as the rest chatted together happily, tucking away what was really a lavish spread for folks like them.

"Oh, Darius," Anne said suddenly, calling him out of his thoughts. "Faustina reckons she knows a place for let."

He brightened up then, imagining the two of them finally alone. Isn't that what Anne wanted? He grinned and looked from his pretty wife to Faustina, who took a drink of her cup of water before explaining.

"Only I'm not sure if you'd like it. It's a one room house, but fully furnished. They'd want three gold a month." She looked fondly at Anne, reaching to clasp her hand. "You'll be able to afford it with our washing business, yeah? And it's not far off. Just on Dawrie's Way."

"Oh, that's lovely, ain't it!" Darius sighed in relief, and grabbed his wife's other hand. "Shall we go look at it now?"

"Sure you're up to all that? After such a trying shift?" Anne ducked her head. "And it's hardly enough room for a baby."

"Ho, now, Anne. Babies are small creatures," James offered around a mouthful of tomato and ham. "All tucked away in its bassinet, you'll have plenty of room."

"Yes, but he won't be small forever."

"No," Darius said, hope draining at his wife's words. The child must be thought of, and he should like a yard in the back or at least a garden for the little man to play in. "Spose not, of course."

"Aw, there's that then," Faustina said. "Tell ya what, I'll get this girl and we'll go looking past high street."

"Sweet Anne," Darius said mournfully, dropped a kiss on her cheek. "You're so good to look for us."

She frowned as he got up and disappeared into the bedroom to sleep.

He lay down fully clothed, staring up at the ceiling. He couldn't sleep now, not with it all bearing down on him, driving him mad. Anything past high street wouldn't be safe for a child; it was way too close to the Shakes. He wouldn't have Anne staying home alone all night while he was down at the prison either.

What in high heaven was wrong with a one room house? They had that much in West Bay! He thought again that at least they could be alone for a while, maybe find something else to let when the child got older. Darius turned on his side, listening to them talk in other room to get out of his thoughts but there wasn't much left to hear. He heard Faustina's laughter as she went out the front, and after a few moments the bedroom door opened.

The bed dipped on the other side and an arm came around him, squeezing him around the chest. Anne's soft brown curls tickled his neck as she held him.

"What's the matter?" she asked, her voice a soft whisper into his shoulder. He turned under her arm, careful of her stomach, and pulled her close. "Oh, be careful."

Darius dropped his lips to her neck and was even as bold to gather up the skirts of her dress with one clever hand. He loved the way she giggled when he kissed up her throat, this time however she only sighed.

It was like it was all unraveling straight from the top, yet he was determined to move forward on this. She had to give him something.

Anne laughed then, probably at his eagerness when he slid a hand between her thighs.

"Where's James?" he asked, caressing the lips of her sex with his fingers.

"Let's not talk about James," she said, still laughing as he nuzzled her neck.

"I've missed you," he said to her, hard already but in all honesty these days it didn't take much. "You're beautiful." He pressed a kiss to her jaw. "Gods, I've missed you." But something was wrong because she was pushing him away.

"What do you mean? Missed me?" Anne had that cool look in her eyes again. His hand retreated from between her thighs. "I've been here. I've always been here!" She sat up and swung her legs off the bed, fixing her dress. "Here with your baby shacked up inside me and us shacked up with your friends in this tiny house in this big bollocks city!"

Anne stood with difficulty, cradling her stomach. She turned to face him but all Darius could do was gape at her. Her face was red, tears already running down her cheeks. What had he said? How could he stop it?

"We've spent months here and not a word from my mum! Probably hates me just as much as she does you now, running off to this place, this stupid, stupid place!"

"Anne, she doesn't hate you," he groaned. Where had all this come from?

"She called me your tart. Said you were no better than a highwayman for taking me away," she rushed out, pacing while she finally took a shuddering breath. Was that what her mum had said the day they left? Oh, gods, that woman was a stake to the heart! Now Anne was glaring at his trousers; why was she doing that?

Darius looked down at himself and laughed pitifully. There was one part of him that never lost hope. When he looked back at her she was seconds away from slamming the door on him.

"Aw, Anne!" She set her jaw and slammed the door. "Sorry…" he said and dropped his head back on the pillow with a pathetic sigh. "Damn."

Unbuttoning his trousers, he set about the familiar task of pleasuring himself, only this time Anne wasn't in his thoughts at all. She made a clean break from his fantasy as soon as he got a good rhythm. Green eyes and a demanding tongue controlled his thoughts as he furiously pumped into his curled fingers.

_

That night Darius got up early, having not really slept at all. He donned his armor and went silently into the kitchen while James was just starting to move about. He sat alone at the table, having some bread, and shoved some in his pocket for later. Anne had her back to him, peeling carrots over a bowl by the stove.

"Gonna speak to me?" he asked, but she didn't even turn to look at him. "Right."

After some minutes of listening to her scrape the outside off carrots, James entered, dressed and ready to go. Anne didn't say goodbye, but she stood still enough for him to press a kiss to her temple before they left.

"Was it that bad?" James asked, as soon as they got to Dawrie's Way.

Darius cut his eyes at him, "What do ya mean?"

"Me n' Faustina left for a while. Went to see Georgie. Thought maybe you'd take an opportunity." He nudged him, but Darius lips formed a thin line. "I see."

"Honest, I don' even know what I said," he broke after a minute. "Had sweet Anne in my arms one moment an' the next she'd turned on me. Shoutin' about her mum an' this place and what all."

"What all?"

"It was hard to listen. Can' do it properly when Darius the second has touch on his mind."

"That what you call it?" His friend stopped and reached out, laughing so hard it was silent. He had to brace himself on Darius' arm for a minute.

"Oh, shut up," Darius groaned. He shook away and kept walking.

When they got to the gate Corthe wasn't there. Tesland said they shouldn't bother waiting.

"Why's that?" James asked.

"She got stabbed out in the Shakes. After she gets well she's got four days on the wall. Won't be seeing that piece for a while." Tesland grinned like it was the best thing he'd had to say all day.

"Piece?" James shouted. Darius had to hold him back. Gods, he looked ready to throw a punch.

"She all right?" He asked, once he had his friend under control.

"Fine, an' would be, wouldn't she if she's gonna be on the wall?" His laugh was like a series of coughs as the gate opened, and Darius could still hear him laughing as the gate shut behind them.

"I've a mind to pound that old fucker!" James muttered.

"Fancy some days on the wall?"

"Yeah, I might if I gotta spend the next month or more with ya broodin' and bitchin' to yerself. I wouldna say this but ya need some quinny. Find Erina, ya know she's been lookin' at ya."

"Erina?"

"Ranier, ya've seen her. She's always outside the main office in the mornin'. Corthe reckons she's sweet on ya."

If James wasn't his friend he would have knocked him in the head then. He gave him an incredulous look, reigning in that impulse; Darius still had no idea who he was talking about. He was only joking, he was sure. James had to know he had no attention for any other woman.

That was problem wasn't it? His wife had no attention to give him of late and the only one who had shown interest in these late nights definitely wasn't a woman. Curious, then, how tempting it was to stray. Darius would have never thought, never wondered, and for the life of him was sure nothing would come of it; he'd swear to that. How could he, anyway? With an angel like Anne at home, with his baby soon to come?

When they filed into the office to check in, Darius saw a group of guardsmen standing around the posting wall. It was usually piled with shift listings, inquiries, list upon lists of angrily written reminders from the commander upon which one of the guardsmen would scrawl something crude or maybe just smear shit on it when no one was looking. It was their quiet way of rebelling. Tonight they all rabbled around a recent posting, all murmuring together in a disgruntled manner.

"What's all this, ya reckon?"

"Stop you, James, Darius!" Someone called authoritatively. Darius and James pushed their way through the small crowd of guardsmen to the desk, behind which Errol Demras stood, second to the captain. "Check in." He briefly turned his attention to the others, "You lads clear off! Anything to say can be said and held against you!"

The men group split, some went out the main doors, and some went to the sides, going down the spiraling narrow stone steps to their patrols, muttering all the way.

Darius fixed a wary eye at Demras and stood at attention next to his partner.

The second ticked boxes on a piece of parchment and passed it over for them to sign.

"What's happened?"

Demras looked sharply at James who had made the inquiry. "Your new patrolling guard. Went off duty to the Shakes, got herself cut and her armor pinched. Her and that daft husband of hers!" He yanked the parchment away and slapped it on the desk. "Captain's got a soft spot for her, was meant only to punish but Commander got wind and she may be sacked."

"What?" James protested. He grabbed the edge of the desk and leaned in. "He canna do that!"

"Guardsman Horthus, he certainly can!" Demras literally yelled them both back a few steps.

Darius was reeling. Sure, Corthe was new, but surely this could be taken as just a lesson for her! Working off duty didn't necessarily warrant a dismissal. He had to admit though, getting your breast plate stolen by roughs was a grave mistake, but that wasn't entirely her fault. Anything could happen in the Shakes. She was lucky she was just stabbed.

Then he thought what the commander might be worried about. It wasn't as if it hadn't happened before. A few men had donned the city crest and tried to infiltrate the prison. They'd been unsuccessful, mind, but it was a serious matter. The whole of the guard had been under investigation until the commander was satisfied. Darius wasn't certain about the outcome of that story, as that was before he'd passed his training and no one was keen to discuss it.

"No one can get in here without Tesland and the other boys on the wall saying so. We'd know if it weren't our own, yeah?"

"Shut your faces and get to your posts! I won't hear another word," Demras said and turned his back on them.

Darius shared a look with his friend before they went down the winding stairs. Fuck all, this wasn't going to be a good night.

It was Collin and Albrech they met when we got down. Albrech nodded without a word, he was always a silent sort of bloke, but Collin passed off the keys to Darius and set his eyes firmly on James.

"Heard your girl got cut inna Den o' Shakes. Got her breast plate stolen an all. Very bad. Very bad indeed."

"Corthe'll be back in no time," James retorted, though he didn't look very confident she'd come back with a job.

"Darius, that elf's been asking after ya," Collin grumbled and then went up the winding stairs without another word.

Darius went to speak to the elf, but not before James told him to 'watch out for anything funny 'round them elves'.

"Ho, Tangarian."

The elf limped out of the shadows, his eyes following James until he went past them checking on the other prisoners along his way. The Tangarian pressed his face to the bars and he looked a right mess. His face was swollen, bottom lip split and one of his eyes blackened. His knuckles were the worst, dried blood all over them, and he winced when he grabbed hold on the bars.

"What happened to ya? We wouldn't do this."

"No," the Tangarian croaked. His voice was hardly above a whisper. "Your men are too soft which is why criminals are so fond of this city."

"How'd this happen then?"

"The blond one thinks he's better than me. I taught him a lesson."

"Roger?"

"I do not care of his name, but aye, that one." He grinned. "He looks far worse than I."

"Is this what ya meanta tell me?"

The elf shook his head. He wiped at a still oozing cut on his cheek. "You kept your word. The captain assured me this morning that my sentence will be shortened once my information proves useful."

"So you meanta thank me?"

"Thank you?" The elf laughed softly and inclined his head. "I suppose I have." He extended his dark brown hand through the bars and Darius clasped it, quirking an eyebrow in surprise. "Ahemut."

"Ahemut?"

"That is my name," the elf said and jerked him forward by his hand. "Do me one more favor? Tell that blond slip if he cuts his poison eyes at me again I'll rip him apart."

Darius yanked his hand back and flexed it; it was now sore from the elf's grip. "Poison?"

The elf nodded, and as he crept back into the shadows of his cell he said, "Like the plants which grow in our jungle. The great spiraling flowers of the Sun."

"Poison flowers?"

"Aye," the elf whispered. "And they bite as well."

Darius walked away confused. What could the elf had meant by that? Suppose Roger fought dirty, maybe got a few bites in to get the elf off him. That grip was terribly strong; he was still flexing his hand went he went to find James, hearing his friend's laughter as he walked down the cells.

"Oh, 'ere 'e comes," James said as Darius rounded the corner. He found his friend leaning against the bars of Roger's cell, still laughing. "Oi, Darius, this lad says 'e beat that elf inna sleep darker than 'is skin!"

"That's not what I heard," Darius said, approaching the cell to get a good look at the man within. He was puzzled when he noticed Roger bore no marks from his fight. In fact he looked just as fine as the first day he saw him, minus the dirty clothes. "Spose the elf was lying? Did he not get ya once? His knuckles looked battered."

"It truly is a mystery," Roger drawled with a crooked grin. Darius just stared at him.

James clapped a hand on his back and turned down the other way. "I'm gonna take a look at that elf for a laugh."

"Don't laugh too hard," Darius said to him, unable to take his eyes from Roger. He stepped closer, looking the man up and down. "That Tangarian looked so bad. Black eye, split lip."

"They've all got black eyes," Roger said. "I just made one of his a bit blacker than the other."

"Ya haven't a scratch on ya."

"I can take a pounding." He gave him a wink that set Darius' cheeks aflame. "And he did hurt me not that you can see it now." Roger folded his arms and leant against the bars. "As much as I love talking about myself, tell me… what happened to that adorable little guardswoman of yours?"

"Corthe? Got stabbed out in Shakes." He didn't mention that she'd had her breast plate stolen. Perhaps Darius was being optimistic. "She'll be away for a while."

"I'll miss her. Those leather greaves really showed off that spectacular ass." Darius cocked his head, trying to think if he'd noticed something like that, but he didn't ever remember looking at Corthe's ass. To him, Corthe was just one of the lads. James would know; he'd ask him later. "But yours is nice too, darling."

"Hmmph, dontcha ever sleep?" Darius said for lack of anything else to say. The longer he stood there alone in front of Roger the more nervous he became. He had to get away from him.

He went to find James to ask him about Corthe's ass. Focusing on that seemed to be healthier than thinking about the way Roger's fingers wound around the bars of his cell door, the way his tongue ran across his bottom lip, the way those odd eyes glittered with untold mischief when he looked at him.

Darius tried to ignore that pang of guilt that wrenched inside his chest. How could he be thinking about anyone else? He had too much to think about nowadays. Darius just needed to get Anne alone. Gods, he missed her, but he'd never say that aloud again. He didn't know what was going on with her. She had never been so beautiful, but with each passing day she seemed to slip further out of his grasp. He hoped when the baby came, whether they were in their own place or not, he'd have her back again. Perhaps then he wouldn't be so tempted.

_

The next morning they waited for the next shift to come down. James was rubbing at his eyes and stretching. He'd spent most of the night walking and was hardly good for conversation, obviously worried about Corthe.

As far as Darius was concerned, the girl was fine. It was her job they had to worry about. He wondered if he could just speak to the commander, perhaps he could vouch for her.

"What a borin' night. Gonna go see Corthe after this. Ya comin'?"

"Yeah, why not," he conceded, picturing the poor girl laid up at home probably bored out of her mind. He'd never met someone so keen to work. "We can tell 'er what a problem she's caused."

James knocked him aside his head as the morning lads came down to relieve them. "Ya wonna be sayin' that to 'er!"

The lads chuckled and muttered to each other, something about 'the ol' marrieds are fightin' again'. Darius angrily handed off the keys to them and followed James upstairs, plotting to trip him as soon as they were out the gate but Demras stopped them once they got to the desk.

"If you're off to see Corthe she moved back to the barracks."

"What's she doin' there? Thought commander was gonna sack 'er?"

"Reg's has gone off her and you two'd do well to distance yourselves as well."

"That bastard! I'll kill him!" James shouted and bounded out the door before signing out.

"He didn't mean that."

Darius hurried his sign off, forging James' name before he rushed out himself. He had to run to catch up as James was already out the gate, stomping down the long stone bridge to Dawrie's Way.

"What're doin'? Ya can't take Reginald!"

"I'm mad enough I'm gonna take 'is 'ead clean off!" James shook him off when he grabbed his arm. Then he turned and shoved Darius so hard he was knocked on his backside. "Get back!"

"You can't do this, James! If he doesn't kill you, you'll be sacked for certain. The commander's dying to make someone an example out o' this whole thing. Will you just stop and think about it?"

"Darius, the woman went off to him 'cause she couldna stand 'im bein' alone in the most dangerous part o' the city, gets stabbed for her pains, breast plate stolen an' now she's lain up in barracks. She did it all for some bloke who chucks 'er for makin' the mistake of bein' by 'is side!"

Darius got to his feet with no help from his friend, but at least now James wasn't fuming in motion. Though he shook with anger he wasn't going anywhere at the moment.

"Yeah, he's a wanker, but we were gonna see Corthe, not Reg. Fuck Reg."

"Yeah, fuck Reg," James said, ducking his head to stare at his feet. "Where was 'e when she was bein' stabbed?"

Darius threw an arm around his shoulders. "Let's go ask her?" James nodded mutely. "Come on."

The barracks were just across the bridge, right at the start of Dawrie's Way. It was a two story stone building which would have been large if it weren't for the number of guards who had to stay there. There were three such barracks in King's Town, all stuffed with guards and recruits. Kitchen and tables on the first floor, training rooms in the basement and rows of bunk beds on the top floor.

Darius was spared spending his training days in one these places, for the only way out was to get married or promoted, for perhaps then one could afford a place of their own. A barracks was no place for a civilian spouse. It was no place for a decent man either for that matter. For some reason once the guards ended their shifts and returned to the barracks, the top floor turned into a mad house of men and women reverted to children, stealing under clothes, starting fights and inflicting their bare asses on each other. James had some disgusting stories. He said then he met Faustina, saying it was the best thing that happened to him for two reasons: he married and moved in with the love of his life and he could finally keep track of which under clothes were actually his. Never again would he have to stitch another J.H. into his clothes. Faustina would do that for him.

Darius had his first six months of training in West Bay. It wasn't extensive as there was hardly anything to do in West Bay if one wasn't a fisherman. Anne had been so proud of him though, and impressed. She would have married him that first week if they had given him any time to whisk her away proper, or if her mother hadn't been so dead set against giving her away to 'just a recruit'. She said it was bad enough that he was the son of a sailor, which Darius didn't really understand. Everyone in West Bay was a child of the sea, descendents of men and women who fished and sailed, manned lighthouses and seaside inns, and tended bars for seaworthy folk. You couldn't wave an arm without hitting a ship captain in the face. You couldn't walk the pier without stepping in fish guts.

Sometimes he missed that place.

They reached the door as a few lads were walking out. Darius nodded to them while James stared them down like they all had Reginald's face. Luckily they didn't seem to notice. They pressed in pushing past a few more men with bows looking as if they were late for their first day on the wall.

"Pardon you!" James shouted at them.

One of them glanced back and looked him up and down. "Pardon me, Martha!"

Darius had to grab him again before he launched a punch at the back of the lad's head. "Will ya just—" he gave him a smack to remember, "Gods, man!"

"Yeah, fucker? Which one?"

"All of them!" Darius shouted, and then they both realized it had gotten uncharacteristically silent around them. Someone dropped a fork. Darius turned his attention to the fifteen staring faces of men and women at the tables in the room. He cleared his throat. "Lookin' for Corthe Sexton…"

They all pointed to the stairs and then casually resumed their breakfast as if the interruption had never happened. Then he was shoved aside as James went past him and bounded up the stairs. Darius dragged behind, tired from the day. He didn't want to have to sit James but at the moment his friend was at the verge. James'd do the same for him given the chance, he was sure of it, but he was getting so tired and the smell of the food on the first floor was making his stomach grumble. Potatoes, carrots, onions and venison covered with brown gravy. Darius would never get that at home.

Surprisingly the rows of bunk beds on the second floor were all neat and tidy. Though a few of them were occupied, the floor was blessedly free of under clothes, boots and the occasional gauntlet as Darius had pictured in his mind when James ever launched into one of his barracks stories. There was a roaring fire at the end of the room, and all the shutters were closed to give the night shift a good day's rest.

Corthe was in the middle of the row to the right, reading a book by candle light and looking quite peaceful for someone who had lost her husband and could possibly lose her job as well. Through the opening front of Corthe's shirt, Darius could see her right shoulder was all wrapped up in bandages, and there was a cup and a wine bottle by her bed, no doubt there to help numb the pain. Otherwise she looked fine, happy even. The book she was reading must have been incredibly entertaining for she was actually laughing. The only thing that seemed to be amiss was her short, close cropped black hair was flat on one side from sleeping.

Darius and James shared a confused look before they walked over.

"Ya think she'd be cryin' or somethin'," James muttered and kicked the side of her bed. "Well?"

She looked up, giving them a bright smile. "Aren't ya sweet?" Corthe turned the book over on one leg. "Didja bring anythin'?"

"Yer mad, ya know that?" James yelled, stirring a few folks nearby trying to sleep in their bunks.

"Keep it down," Corthe whispered, already looking cross. She tried to shift and winced. Her book fell to the floor.

"Darius told ya not to go!"

"I did," Darius said and picked her book off the floor, turning it over in his hands. "What's this?"

"Bunk mate's journal. Why come here if yer just gonna lecture me? I'm havin' a fine holiday, an' I don't need ya—"

"Holiday?" A woman across the room told him she'd rip off his testicles and shove them down his throat if he didn't quiet down. "Holiday?" he hissed, continuing in harsh whispers. "Ya got yer breast plate stolen, ya got stabbed and Reg's chucked ya."

"Chucked me? We fight all the time, he's not chucked me!" She laughed. "We got separated in Shakes. I made a wrong turn an' got a lesson. I dunno what would happen if he hadna come into that alley."

"You're about to lose your position, Corthe," Darius said, handing the book back to her.

"Listen to ya! Sounding so official. Been talkin' to my father?" Corthe winced, curling her left arm around her stomach. "Where's that Bay boy I usta know?"

"What does ya father gotta say 'bout this?" James' tone was accusatory, even as he sat on the foot of her bed, cruelly shoving at her leg for some room.

"E's finally come 'round about Reg after 'e killed two of those roughs for me. Might forgive 'im for yellin' at me whole way to barracks. Course I got stabbed twice and could say not much in my defense."

"Twice?" Darius examined her, lifting up the end of her shirt to see the bandages around her middle. He held the corner of her shirt up just long enough to get his hand smacked. "Gods, girl, what were ya doin'?"

"Not what ya told me. The first swipe cut the strap on my shoulder. Didna cut deep, but once the plate swung down the second stabbed deep in my side."

"Corthe, you're quite lucky."

"Lucky not ta be sacked just yet. Don't think they will an' til they decide whatever at least I'm here with some ol' friends, bottle of wine—though it does taste like piss—an' this journal."

Darius picked up the bottle in question, gave it a sniff and then downed some. With the day he was having he really needed it.

"Hold there," James protested and yanked the bottle away. He drank a bit, paused, seeming to think about it, and then gulped down some more. "Does taste… funny."

"Give that back," Corthe whined. "If ya really wanna help, go get me somethin' to eat, will ya?"

They spent half the morning with Corthe, eating, discussing what had happened in the Shakes and what might come of it. Darius didn't seem quite as convinced as James that she was doing all right, but she was smiling when they left, and assured them that Reginald would stop by to check on her when he'd stopped being so cross.

_

When they got home their women were gone, and they both took off their armor and settled to sleep for the day, but once Darius' head hit his pillow he couldn't sleep. He turned his head and looked over at James, who seemed just as restless.

"That elf said Roger looked worse than him."

"What?"

"Beat him down, he said."

"We both saw the lad an' 'e 'ad not a scratch on 'im."

"Dontcha find that odd?"

"Elves lie. 'E was lyin'."

Darius wasn't convinced of that. He hadn't met many elves. In fact Ahemut was the first one he'd really met. The others he had seen were few in King's Town. Not many traveled this far north. There was a town in the valley that was almost all elves he had heard, but they were rumored to be working with The Quickhands, a guild of notorious thieves that seemed to rule that little city and had their hands in so many pockets all over Tannika.

Darius didn't know much about it that wasn't from rumors, but he was smart enough not to believe everything he heard. He knew enough to know it was silly to pick a fight with a Tangarian, that was for certain, but James had been right; there wasn't one scratch on Roger that could be seen unless it was under those threadbare trousers he was made to wear.

"Whatcha spose he did?"

"Roll away? I dunno… musta evaded 'im somehow."

"No, I mean ta get him locked up."

"Collin said 'e stole somethin'," James muttered disinterestedly. "They all do, don't they?" Then he turned and stared at the ceiling. "Why'd Demras say Reg'd chucked her?"

"Dunno."

Darius turned his back on James then, confident if he didn't pretend he was sleeping the conversation was bound to take a downward turn. Who cared about Demras' motives? So what, he had gotten it wrong! That was nothing new. Demras always seemed to get it wrong when it came to guards relations. And he had it out for Corthe. Never did like women in the guard.

Something way more interesting was formulating in his head. He had somehow developed a rapport with the elf who had given him the note, and the date on it was swiftly approaching. Darius wondered if he was due a night off soon, and if he could get the night after next off to find out what exactly or who was at the drop point in Ecclesia's Garden. He may have to get someone to take his shift since the idea had set itself in his mind and wouldn't budge.

But who could he ask?

"Looked well though, did she?"

"Yeah," Darius said tiredly, "She'll be all right," and he shoved his face in his pillow. "Sleep," he pleaded, his words muffled in the cotton.

That night came too soon for when James nudged him awake he felt as if he hadn't slept at all. They found Anne and Faustina in the kitchen after they were dressed and ready.

"And where did you two run off yesterday morning?"

Darius looked from Faustina to James. "One of our mates got stabbed."

"What?" Anne said and flew to his side. "Not in the prison!"

"No, dear, in the Shakes." He kissed her forehead as she held onto him like he was about to be stabbed himself any second.

"Why don't they just burn that place to the ground?" Faustina chimed in. "Everything south of the river!"

"Now, Faustina, we canna just set folks on fire." James said.

"That's how they got rid of those unsanctioned witches in Arrow's Bend." Everyone quietly stared at her until she erupted with, "You know what I mean! Why don't they do anything about that place? Your mate, he all right?"

"He's fine," he said and Darius gave him a sharp look. Why couldn't he just tell her it was Corthe? "Spent some time with 'im at the barracks."

"That's all right then, but I don't want you two going south of the river for any reason, let alone that place."

"We're guards, woman." James grinned and thrust out his chest. "We'll go where we're needed."

Darius snorted. "Right now we're needed at the prison so we'd better go."

He gave Anne a quick kiss, but she held onto him and dragged him back for a few more. Perhaps Corthe should get stabbed every night if this was going to happen! He was quite all right having her attack him like this, and was tempted not to go to work after all. Anne reluctantly released him when Faustina asked her if she wanted to go with them.

"Perhaps I oughta stay…" Darius said, glancing back at his wife as they exited.

"Be careful!" She said, following them out. "I love you!"

_

Darius was in a fine mood once they checked in, already humming to himself as they went down the winding stairs to their west cells. James went on to the table at their end, setting down his flask and a hunk of bread he'd stolen from the table at home. Darius hung back a bit, stopping Collin before he got away.

"Don't spose you could cover for me tomorrow night?"

Collin's bushy gray eyebrows rose. "I'm an ol' man, Darius, d'ya think I wanna stay here for more than—"

"Yes, yes, fine," he interrupted, put off how Collin's usual grumbling tone had turned furious. "Sorry."

"Ho, Darius!" James said from the table. "What're ya two whisperin' about?"

"See ya, Collin."

The old man ascended the stair, Darius hearing his low grumbling fade out until he was gone. He'd have to think of someone else to cover him. They had to have at least two down here according to the rules, and he wouldn't have James here by himself anyway. He'd be bored out of his mind. Not to mention he'd probably spend the whole night getting drunk and badgering one of the prisoners to stay up with him just to have someone to talk to.

Darius dropped his helm on the table and plucked up James' flask for a nip.

"Careful with that. Ya remember what happened last time?"

He almost choked on the mouthful of whiskey. Darius quickly swallowed it and shook his head. "Chasin' away the chill." He put the flask down and turned on his friend. "Why didn't ya say it was Corthe?"

James dropped in a chair and took a nip from the flask himself. "Oh, ya know Faustina."

"But she's met Corthe?"

"A problem in itself," he said with a cheeky grin. "What 'bout that Erina?"

Darius rocked on his heels, laughing. "I still dunno who you're talkin' about."

"Impossible! That lil red-headed girl. Always waitin' for ya when we come out? Pair of the greenest eyes ya ever saw."

He shrugged, not really thinking about her, and he really didn't know who he was talking about. The mention of green eyes didn't call to mind anyone female. "I'd better get on with patrol. Ya'd better sit an' think."

"Go on! Ya'd better watch for 'er come mornin'," James said, tipping his flask again. "Pretty girl."

Darius walked away after that, already thinking about something else. He barely noted the prisoners settling down in their cells, walking on to the end of the row completely lost in his thoughts. If he did see this Erina, perhaps she could take his shift tomorrow night and he could sneak off to Ecclesia's Garden at the city's center. He'd have to climb the wall at that hour for the iron gates were shut and chained when the clock struck nine. And Darius supposed he'd have to make some excuse to Anne and James about where he was going, but what could he say?

"No singing tonight?" Darius stopped and turned his head to the darkened corner cells. "I expected to be serenaded. And you've forgotten your torch."

He looked down at his hands and realized they were empty. He always remembered his torch, why didn't he take it? "Must have," he muttered to himself, embarrassed, but he had had his mind on other things.

"Come and speak to me."

"In the dark?"

"Then fetch your torch first, it makes no difference."

Roger spoke with plain confidence that Darius would do just as he said, and he suppose he had to. He couldn't be caught whispering to prisoners in the dark; what would people say? The whole idea made him a little uncomfortable, but a sharp thrill went through him just thinking about getting close to him. When heat rose to his cheeks he very nearly decided to forgo getting the torch at all; better to speak in the dark so his shame wouldn't be seen.

"The blush on your cheeks is very endearing. What could you be thinking of?"

Now the lad was just guessing. Darius didn't dignify that with an answer; he knew he could see no better than he in the dark. That was impossible. He walked back the way he came, going slowly, set on ignoring him for the rest of the night, but as soon as he got to the table James noted the absence of the torch and told him he'd trip over his own feet in the dark.

"I haven't yet," Darius insisted, but a torch was pressed into his palm and James shoved him on, concentrating on the cards lain out before him on the table.

"Go on," he said. He was looking rather preoccupied himself though Darius doubted it had anything to do with cards. Never mind, he thought, he had his own problems.

Could he trust James with the truth? If he were to get someone to cover his shift, he was sure he could count on his friend not telling his wife he was off at Ecclesia's Garden, spying on his fellow guardsmen in action. James would be here, for one, and he supposed they'd have to leave together in order to keep up the ruse he was just having another night patrolling the west cells.

It was a simple enough lie and as long as James was keen to keep a secret he should be able to get away with it. Darius wouldn't be caught with his armor on, not like Corthe had been. He'd have to bring a change of clothes in case he was seen. Naturally he'd take pains to ensure he wasn't seen at all, but he'd like to avoid getting a few days on the wall.

It seemed the elf was asleep when he walked by his cell. A shame since it was so early in the evening. Darius didn't think it was necessarily a good idea to tell him he was going to the drop point he provided and however unlikely it was he thought perhaps he could get some more information out of him. The Tangarian did seem to regard him with more respect than he did the other guardsmen even if that was changeable; one never knew with elves, as James would say. Their temperaments were wild as most considered them a primitive people. Darius didn't know who James spoke to about elves but whoever it was seemed quite biased. Whoever it was they weren't alone. Many had the same ideas about Tangarians.

He hooked the torch in the niche in the wall across from Roger's cell and looked down. There was a chair across from the cell, facing the door.

"Why's there a chair?"

"I told your man Collin I often escape during the day. He set out to watch me."

Darius turned around and sat down in it himself. "Did he catch ya?"

"I couldn't escape with him watching." Roger sat next to the bars, back against the side wall of his cell. His arms rested on his knees, his cravat, Darius noticed, was used to tie his hair back away from his face. "Not that any of you believe me."

"Why return?"

Roger's lips stretched into a slow smile, and he looked at his hands. "I'm waiting."

"Ya could serve out your sentence."

He shrugged and cut his eyes over to Darius. The elf had called Roger's eyes poisoned and he was tempted to believe it. That color green was hypnotic, unnatural. Whatever their strange color, the intense feeling he could not identify shining out of them is what made something long restless within him hunger.

"Thought ya were hidin' from somethin'."

"In a short while it won't make any difference," Roger said offhandedly. "Who's the reluctant woman?"

That gave Darius pause, enough to make him forget about the cryptic response Roger had given. He leaned back in the chair, tempted to get up and walk away, but it wasn't as if anyone was keen to listen to him these days.

After he studied the man's interested face he said, "My wife."

"Figured you were courting some shy little virgin, some girl that's kept you waiting." He paused, stretching out his legs in front of him. "What's wrong with your wife that she won't hold to her spousal duties?"

Darius scoffed. "Nothin's wrong with her."

"Can't see anything wrong with you either. Is she blind?" That made him laugh. He shook his head as Roger continued. "Missing a part of her brain, perhaps?"

"She's pregnant."

"That's your own fault, Darius," he teased. He cocked his head, fixing those strange eyes on his. "How long has it been? I'm guessing quite a long time considering how eager you felt under my touch."

He should leave now. Roger had deliberately steered the conversation this way, had been toying with him for the desired response. But Darius found himself unable to move just yet, the memory of his touch caused his cock to stiffen and so he was at least trapped in his seat until that went away. He adjusted himself uncomfortably under the weight of Roger's playful gaze.

"Do you have the keys tonight?"

"Ya won't get gettin' them."

"Hmmm… tell me about her? She must be very beautiful to get away with so much."

Darius closed his eyes briefly, calling up his mental picture of Anne. She was beautiful. The most beautiful woman that ever was, really. "She is," he said simply, dropping his gaze to the floor. "Bright blue eyes than can be both cold and warm at the same, like the sea curved around my home. She's beautiful, yes."

"Is she a Bay girl?"

Darius shook his head, laughing softly. "Her father died in some duke's army, an' her mum took her to West Bay. Imagine she was lookin' for a quiet life. Instead I stole her daughter away."

Roger chucked darkly. "What a rogue you are!"

"She may 'ave thought that. Was told she called me a highwayman," he said, recalling Anne's shouted words with disdain. "She liked me not much."

Anne's old mum had kept the girl inside too, careful not to let the sun color her skin. Her skin had remained as pale as milk, lovely; he'd never seen anything so fine. Her mother had disliked Darius straight off, knowing he was common, saying he was too simple for her daughter. Darius wasn't simple, though he wanted simple things: a wife, a family, but her mother's insult had always struck him solidly.

Maybe now Anne thought the same, thought he was too simple for her, he didn't know. They rarely got the time to speak these days; with work they seemed to lead opposite lives. His in the dark and hers in the daylight. He wouldn't urge her to speak about these things, but every day she slipped away. Every day she seemed less and less his.

"Aw," Roger exclaimed, drawing him out of his thoughts. He looked up into those eyes. "You really do love her, don't you?"

"Haven't ya ever loved that much? Maybe you're too young to know what it's like."

"I'm older than I look, guardsman." Roger looked away. One of his arms slipped through the bars, his fingers tracing around one of the stones that made up the floor. "I have and found it a weakness." Darius stared at him. "I did things for him I'd never do, and in the end it didn't matter because there were more important things he had to do."

"He?"

"I'd imagined you'd be more surprised I'd ever love someone, not that he was a man." Darius was speechless, not that he was surprised exactly, but to hear it spoken so plainly was new to him. "He's got eyes like yours, that dark brown."

"Ya mean what you're sayin', don't ya?"

"Is it so hard to believe?" He pulled his arm back in and rose up to his knees, turning to face him. "Never mind, this isn't what I wanted to discuss." Roger gave him a toothy grin that made his shift in his seat. He subconsciously grabbed onto the hilt of his short sword, flexing his fingers on it. One of Roger's eyebrows rose. "Gods, you are tense, aren't you?"

Darius cleared his throat, stood, and looked around the corner for James. He saw him leaning against the bars, chatting with one of the prisoners. They were passing his flask back and forth. He shook his head; James really was crap without Corthe here to keep him motivated. Come to think of it Darius was doing no better, but it wasn't as if any of these prisoners posed a real threat. They hardly needed to be watched, but no one would catch him saying that aloud to anyone lest it cost him a job.

"I'm not finished with you." At that he turned back, staring at Roger still on his knees, leaning against the bars of his cell. "Come here." Darius laughed and tugged at the keys on his belt. "If you're so bothered set them on the chair. I couldn't reach them from here." Darius stared at him. "… or you could trust me." Roger cocked his head. "How's your luck these days?"

Roger looked pleasantly surprised when he unhooked the keys from his belt and laid them in the chair. Darius was surprised at himself frankly as he stepped close enough he could reach through the bars and touch him. His hand went through unbidden and cupped Roger's face, his thumb smoothing over his cheek. How had he spent days here without needing a shave?

Roger palmed his hands up his thighs, fingers already at the lacings of his leather greaves. His cock was eased out of the opening Roger created and Roger leaned in, coaxing it to full hardness with his tongue. Darius gasped, shocked as he watched the man take in as much as he could with the bars in the way. He buried the fingers of one of his hands in all that golden hair, mesmerized by the sight of that mouth working on him. A long fingered hand wrapped around the base of his cock, stroking what could not be reached with his lips.

His entire body hummed with the pleasure of it as he rocked his hips toward that mouth. No one had ever done this for him. He'd had other women before Anne, not fully, just frenzied teenage fumbling. Those girls had been scared to touch him there, let alone put their mouth on it. And now that Roger was doing it he couldn't imagine Anne kneeling before him like that. Darius instantly knew she wouldn't, especially as distasteful as she seemed to find him lately.

Roger's other hand gripped his hip to hold him still, and Darius' hand that wasn't cradling the back of Roger's head clutched at one of the bars for the strength to keep standing. Darius felt his knees weaken, the end quickly approaching. "Oh, gods," he moaned, resting his sweaty forehead on the cool bars. He didn't want it to end and he sighed mournfully when Roger's mouth popped off the head of his cock, but that blessed hand was still stroking him.

Darius lowered his eyes to Roger's, taken in by that bright green mischievously glowing up at him. "You could come in here," he whispered and then swiped his tongue at the leaking head.

"Please," Darius begged, urging him closer.

"I can do much more than this."

Of that he had no doubt, but it wasn't what he needed right now. He needed to find release and quickly. It had been too long. Roger shrugged minutely and had his mouth on him again. Darius desperately took his lower lip between his teeth to try to keep silent, biting down hard and tasting blood. He did not want to be caught like this but he wouldn't stop for his life. Soon it was all too much; Roger's tongue and hands were driving him to a sweet, pleasurable death. He gasped, choking on a moan, the taste of blood on his tongue as he came into Roger's mouth.

Darius' knees were shaking as Roger tucked him in and did up the lacings on his leather greaves. He was in a pleasurable dream world when Roger stood and licked at his mouth, sucking his bitten lip. All was sweetly fuzzy around the edges, making him dizzy. He closed his eyes and kissed the man lazily, happily sated after so long being ignored.

Darius sighed when he pulled away. Roger swiped his thumb below his bottom lip and Darius winced, expecting a sting from him touching where he had bitten it, but there was no pain. He staggered back a step and brought his fingers to his lips. He knew it had been there; Darius had bitten his lip so hard it had bled into his mouth, but the wound was gone. He turned shocked eyes to Roger; was he losing his mind?

Considering what had just happened between them that was highly possible but Darius had heard of mages who could heal wounds with a few arcane words. If Roger was one of them it seemed he didn't need words at all.

"Ya've healed it," Darius said, his voice full of wonder. Roger said nothing. He took a step forward and grabbed onto the bars, gazing at the man in fascination. "What are ya?"

Roger grabbed one of his hands and gently pulled it through the bars. "At the moment?" Then he pressed Darius' palm on the tent his cock was making in those threadbare trousers he wore. "I tire of conversation."

_

When morning came James looked just as terrible as Darius had after that one night he had the whole flask. He wobbled a bit on his feet but other than that he seemed to be in possession of his mental faculties, even if they seemed to be in pain. Darius laughed when they exited, seeing his friend wince when the sunlight fell on his face.

"Shut it!" James grumbled, rubbing at his eyes. "What's got ya in sucha good mood?" Darius stopped laughing. "Ya like seein' me like this, eh? Tosser?"

James was skillfully ignored while he scanned the immediate area, trying not to think about last night. He needed to find that girl… what was her name? Eril? Eren? Then Darius saw her when he turned around, a small red-headed woman with a face like a child. Her hands toyed with her long braid as she beamed at him from beside the door they had just exited. Her eyes were indeed green, but they weren't the greenest eyes he'd ever seen. They were pretty enough he supposed.

Darius' face took on a look of determination and he sternly suggested James to wait there and not try to fall over before he came back to mock him. He leaned his friend against one of the statues in the yard, and walked over to the girl.

Her eyes grew large once Darius stood in front of her, a helpless smile cracking her lightly freckled face. "Erina?" Yes, that was it. It had to be because the girl nodded enthusiastically. "Was wonderin' if ya could… help me."

Darius already felt awkward. The girl's eagerness was a bit off putting; she hadn't even heard what he was going to ask but she was already nodding.

"What're ya doin' Darius!" James shouted from the statue.

He forced a laugh and it all became stranger when Erina joined in, giggling behind her hand. Darius was just about to scrap the whole thing.

"Ya couldn't take my shift tonight could ya?"

"Yes!" she shrieked and leaped forward, grabbing onto his breast plate. Darius' eyes widened and he took a big step back. Erina frowned suddenly; perhaps it just dawned on her what he said. She stumbled forward a little and he had to set her back on her feet. "Wait, take your shift?"

"Yeah," he said while gently prying her hands off him. "Just tonight."

"All right," she said after a moment, then her face brightened. "But you owe me."

Darius swallowed with difficulty. "Gods." He stared at her a moment more and then patted her shoulder. "Well, many thanks. Meet James at Dawrie's barracks?"

She nodded reluctantly, her smile tense. He walked away quickly, grabbed James' arm and dragged him through the yard and out the gate.

"I was just teasin ya 'bout Erina! I didna think ya'd do it!"

"I didn't do anythin'," Darius insisted and pulled him roughly over by the wall. "Listen, I need ya to do somethin' for me."

"Oh, Darius! I canna believe it." His friend grabbed at Darius' breast plate, much like Erina had earlier. "She ain't that pretty…"

"I asked the girl to take my shift tonight," he rushed out because he could see in James' eyes he was working out something else entirely. "I need ya to keep it to yaself."

"Where're ya gonna be?" Despite his outburst he seemed a little disappointed that he hadn't worked out a tryst after all or maybe that was James' hungover version of suspicious. It was hard to tell. "What're doin'?"

"Nothin', it don't matter."

"They'll notice if ya donna leave with me."

Of course James meant Anne and Faustina. Faustina noticed everything. She was a woman who missed her calling as a guard, but she couldn't handle strong authority figures. Looking at his friend, Darius realized Anne would wonder why he wouldn't spend a night off with her. It would hurt her and he didn't want that. Especially not with how things were going between them lately.

At that thought he fought a pang of guilt as he said his next words. "I will an' we'll leave early, stop at the barracks so I can change. You'll go on with Erina."

"What's goin' on?"

"Ya can't keep a secret!"

"I can!" James shouted, shoving at him ineffectually. "I can an' do. Never tol' no one 'bout Randyn Fawlkes set that turret on fire!"

"Who's that?"

"Never mind! He was my mate an' he was drunk an' I never tol' no one."

Apparently his friend didn't realize that Darius counted as someone. He studied James for some seconds before he broke. "I'm goin' to Ecclesia's Garden."

"Why?"

"It was on the note the elf gave me to give to the captain."

"Why're goin'? Did captain ask for ya? Yer just a prison guard, Darius, they wonna need ya."

"They won't know I'm there."

James stared at him in disbelief. His mouth dropped open a couple of times before he finally got it working. "If ya get caught I donna know ya."

"Deal," Darius said and they shook on it, though James' hand seemed to be still drunk and he had to chase it with his before they finally got a solid grip.

They continued their walk home in blessed silence.

"My gods, look at the state of you!" Faustina's tone was quite amused, watching her husband stumble in the door before Darius moved quickly to catch him. He pressed his friend into a chair.

"Enough of yer tongue, woman," James slurred. "Bring some wine an' 'ave a seat." He gave her a crooked grin and patted his thighs.

Darius looked up in time to see Anne's shocked face. He shrugged but it had no effect to diffuse the situation.

Faustina seemed unfazed. She laughed, brought a bottle and a cup and sat down in James' lap. "Here's the wine but don't you think you've had enough?"

"O' whiskey, perhaps," his friend told her as Darius watched with mounting frustration as Faustina didn't seem to care that her husband was drunk or that he smelled strongly of whiskey. She didn't shy away from James the way Anne had shied away from Darius when he had come home in such a state.

He looked over at Anne, unable to hide his irritation. He didn't want to be in the same room with any of them. Darius stole a hunk of bread from table and went off sulkily to the bedroom to remove his armor.

Darius got as far as removing everything but his leather greaves before he plopped himself down on the edge of his bed and began to moodily munch on the hunk of bread he had taken. He dropped his head, leaning forward on his knees and regarded the floor, hearing Faustina's girlish laughter coupled with James' drunken slurs from the other room.

Dropping the bread on the blankets next to him, Darius rubbed at his face. He had the night to think about and the night before to try and forget about. Though it was already sneaking into his mind, the hands that would touch him, the mouth that had swallowed him. That tongue that did things that had never occurred to him before.

Darius groaned into his hands, recalling with shame-laced excitement how satisfying it had been. Even as his guilt built within him it was impossible to stop the memory from playing out, feeling a lust fueled heat pool in his belly.

"Athalla guide me," he whispered, choking on the words. Darius grabbed the remaining piece of bread and threw it angrily at the door. The hard crust of it made a very unsatisfying thump and fell to the floor.

"Darius?" Anne came through, glancing at the piece of discarded bread on the floor. He said nothing, feeling his eyes well up as he watched her enter the room and close the door behind her. "What's the matter?"

He reached for her and she took his shaking hands. Darius couldn't look at her face. Instead he drew her standing form between his legs and rested his head on her belly. "My dear," he said, feeling her fingers in his hair. She deserved better. But suddenly he was overwhelmed by his need for her, and his need to reaffirm that she was what he wanted.

Darius picked up his head and gazed up at her, taking in her beauty, letting it wash over him though he was unworthy. Anne bent down, taking his face in her small hands, her dark hair falling around him like a shroud as she kissed him.

"You've no cause to be so sad, my love," she said. "Our family is growing."

"Danny," Darius whispered, stretching a hand on her stomach.

"Danny?" He nearly smiled when he saw hers. It lit up her face like the sunrise hitting the city as it rose over the eastern hills. "It's a fine name." She playfully shoved at his shoulder. "Move over a little."

Darius shifted toward the end of the bed, his arm going around her shoulders as she hugged his side, sitting on the bed beside him.

"Faustina and I will look again today. For our place, I mean." Darius forced a brief smile. "Look over there," Anne said, pointing to the opposite wall. He gave her a questioning look. "Go on."

He turned his head, seeing a long mirror on a stand, its frame made out of intricately carved dark-stained wood. Within he and his wife were reflected on their bed. Darius saw his tight lipped grimace, and focused that hard stare at his wife's confused reflection.

"How much did this cost us?"

"Does it matter? It's just like my mother's one, only she wouldn't let me have it."

Darius twisted to face her and grabbed onto her arms. "Anne!"

"Ten gold, and maybe a few pieces." Her voice was small, pleading with him as he was tempted to shake her.

"Anne, a baby cares not for a bloody mirror!" he bellowed, getting to his feet. "We could've had a month's rent with that in a nice place! Nicer'n this place which is hardly enough room for two, let alone four with a baby on the way!"

"Darius, it was only a bit of coin! We'll make it up in no time."

"I should smash it, show ya it's true worth to us!"

Anne got to her feet faster than any pregnant woman should be able to and slapped him across the face. "Don't you dare!"

"Ya sell it back today!"

Those cold blue eyes of hers glared at him icily. "I will not! You don't know what it means to me."

"A mirror, Anne? Bought with coin that would have us meat and produce for weeks!" Darius ignored the sting on his cheek, feeling the throb absently. "Take it back!"

"Get out of this room Darius Blackwood!" She shoved him hard toward the door. "Get out!"

"Ten gold, Anne!" He shouted and went out of the room, slamming the door behind him.

"It was thirteen," Darius heard Faustina say behind him, which only fanned the flames. "I tried to stop her."

Darius growled and punched the closed bedroom door which seemed to make the entire house shake.

"Hey, friend," James slurred at his back. "Donna poke the beast. 'Ow many times do I hafta say that?"

"The beast?" his wife shouted, affronted. "She's pregnant, you ass!" Faustina shoved Darius aside and went into the bedroom.

Darius dropped morosely in a chair by the table and began eating someone's breakfast. It certainly wasn't his as there were only two plates laid out. James was kind enough to slide the bottle of wine in his direction, but they otherwise sat in silence, with James occasionally staring at the door to the bedroom, and Darius sipping from the bottle of wine.

After about an hour or so he intruded on them in the bedroom and fished some clothes for himself out of basket by the door. He skillfully ignored their glaring faces, changed and shoved his greaves in the chest.

"I'm goin' to sleep," he announced to the room, refusing to even look at the two women. "If ya don't trust me with it in the same room, ya shouldn't have got it."

To his surprise the two women left, leaving the mirror unprotected in there with him. He wouldn't touch it. Darius had confidence that before he woke this evening it would be gone. Anne would see the truth of it and take it back like he asked her to.

"Oh, that's nice," James said when he entered the room. Darius propped his head up as he lay on the bed and looked over at him. The bastard was talking about the mirror. James happened to look over at see his expression and quickly changed his response. "Rubbish, ain't it?"

Darius dropped his head back on his pillow with a sigh.

_

Darius awoke early, donned his armor and packed some of his second best clothes for him to change into at the barracks. Ecclesia's Garden was in a better part of King's Town and he at least wanted to look like he belonged but he wouldn't wear his best considering he'd have to climb the wall around the garden and possibly hide in shrubbery. Second best was good enough.

He noticed the mirror still stood on the other side of the room, having the gall to reflect him. Darius scowled at it. It was a nice mirror, but there were other things they needed. He couldn't understand why Anne chose this of all things to spend their money on. What they needed was a place of their own and assorted little things for the baby. Like a place to put him… what were those things called? And some bits of cloth to make the boy some tiny clothes.

Darius heard the women out back, possibly removing the clothes they had laundered off the line. They talked and laughed together and Darius resented Faustina for getting most of the good that was Anne since they arrived in King's Town. Before they came here, Anne was his best friend but now she had a replacement.

He roused James cruelly from his sleep and told him to make haste. They had to arrive at the barracks in time to meet Erina. James grumbled, got dressed and muttered to himself all the way to Dawrie's Way, but when he saw Erina waving to them from the barracks front it he stopped.

"D'ya even 'ave a plan?"

"Yeah," Darius said, but he hadn't thought about it too much. "Not be seen."

James scoffed and started walking again. As soon as they got close enough he patted his friend on the shoulder and went around the back of the barracks to slip through the doors in the back which lead to the basement training rooms.

The back area of the basement he had slipped into was storage. Barrels, crates and wine racks were stacked in this area, but beyond that small, overly packed room was the main area with wooden golems set up for sword practice on one short wall, targets on the opposite for bow practice, and the armory cages on the long wall facing the door to the room in which he was in at the moment. Darius could hear a few of the recruits practicing in the other room. There was no need to go in there, he decided, though he was sure entering the room would hardly cause suspicion.

He changed quickly, shoved his armor behind a row of barrels lining the wall near his exit and left.

_

Once Darius entered the cobblestoned streets of the inner city, he felt immediately out of place. He hardly looked the part. In these stone houses, the wealthier class of merchants lived. Some of the lower families of the council even occupied these. There were some nicer shops that occupied the circular center of this district: clothiers, higher end goods shops, and a fine bakery.

Guards patrolled these streets although there was hardly any danger, and none of them seemed to recognize him. Not that they would considering they didn't associate with the guards who patrolled the prison. They thought themselves too good, a step below the imperial guard. To them Darius would have been no better than a beggar.

Fortunately in his second best, perhaps he could pass for a lower merchant, just making his way to one of the nicer inns at the center of the city, which was his tentative plan. He wasn't about to wait under cover of shrubbery for hours. There were two inns; one called the Gold Hollis which was situated between a relic shop and a tailor, and the Faraway Traveler's that sat on the far end of the circular center next to the bakery. Darius didn't have much gold on him so he settled on the Faraway Traveler's.

He was relieved when he entered, looking at the other patrons as they ate and drank quietly at small tables on the lower floor. With his current attire he didn't seem to be too off mark, but when he asked the inn keeper for a room he balked noticeably at the price. Darius reluctantly slapped three gold coins on the counter and was presented with a key. Luckily the high price included a small dinner in his room which was to be brought up once he settled in.

Darius went up the wide stair to the second level, where a hall presented four doors on each side, a well kept blue rug on the floor. Candlelit sconces hung between each door, bathing the hall in soft light. There at the end of the hall stood a pendulum clock, about a foot taller than his head. Its golden arms clicked into position and the clock chimed softly eight times, announcing the hour. He had never been in such a fine place before. Darius stood at the head of the hallway for a moment, staring around him as he tried to soak it all in. He was interrupted by a maid holding a tray, who nudged him in the side with it to get his attention.

"Pardon me, sir," she said and gestured to the first door on the left. "That's your room."

Darius tried not to seem too shocked when the door opened, but found it difficult. There was a large armoire by the door, sturdy, polished end tables on either side of a large bed with a simple frame, but fine clean sheets of pale blue. A desk and a small round table for dining were on the other side, along with a bookshelf which had a few volumes chronicling the history of King's Town.

The maid set down the tray and went around lighting candles for him, blessedly distracted by her work. Once she was finished she left the room, saying she'd be back for the tray in the morning. Darius would be gone by then. He should be at the barracks in his armor before sunrise to meet James.

He set his pack on the bed which contained a small cloak to help conceal himself in the shadows and shrubbery of the Ecclesia's Garden. He also had a knife, just in case, which he strapped to his leg under his trousers before settling down at the table to eat. The meal was roasted chicken quarter and an assortment of vegetables, with a small loaf of bread that was tastier than anything out of Faustina's oven. Even the water in the silver plated carafe was cool and more crisp and clean than any he had ever tasted. There was a clear bottle of what looked, smelled and tasted like some sort of golden, shimmery seed oil and he had no idea what it was for but it was one of the fanciest needless things he had ever seen.

Darius wished he could spend more than a few hours here. It was definitely worth the high price.

After dinner Darius cracked his door so he'd hear the clock strike eleven, and settled on the bed with one of the books from the small shelf next to the desk. It was awfully dry and thoroughly boring. He nearly fell asleep a few times until he finally he heard the chimes count eleven. Darius donned his cloak and exited his room.

The inn keeper and a few maids were clearing up and didn't notice when he slipped out. _ Ecclesia's Garden was on the upper side of this part of the city, walled by high, twisted iron bars. The front gate was chained as he expected, but he had no problem climbing the thick ivy that had overgrown the stone archway.

Darius dropped hard on his feet, feeling his ankle twist as he landed. He winced, limping to hide himself behind one of the stone statues of Saint Ecclesia to examine his foot. He'd only been in this garden once and that was with Anne. The garden was beautiful during the day but it was a bit creepy at night.

There were small trees circled at the center around a giant fountain on which the saints Ecclesia and Athalla stood with outstretched hands, faces toward the sky. At night, with the large basin of oil at the base of the fountain alight, the statues looked sky high and menacing. The firelight danced on their faces, making their shadowed eyes look possessed with darkness.

The garden was divided into four parts, with rows of delicate flowers and well manicured bushes, with smaller statues of Saint Ecclesia with flowers in her hair near stone slab benches upon which civilians could sit and admire the garden's beauty. The statue behind which he hid himself held a trowel in her hand, and a mound in the other that was to represent fresh earth.

Darius worked on his ankle, massaging it, hoping it wouldn't hinder him should he need to make a quick escape. It wasn't long however when he had to duck into a rather large piece of shrubbery by a bench, hearing someone unlocking the chains at the gate.

He peered out from his hiding place, seeing guards file in and hide themselves behind statues. A couple hung back and re-chained the gate. The captain himself was there, and Darius watched as he silently gave his orders to a couple of men who took their positions in the shadows cast by the one stone wall at the far end of the garden. A mage was with them; a tall, slender elderly man with flowing robes.

"The book will be returned when this business is over," Darius heard the captain tell him. "It is safe."

The mage scowled, raised the end of his dark blue cloak until swept it up over his face and simply disappeared. The captain placed a crate in front of the lighted basin at the foot of the fountain and disappeared behind a statue of Ecclesia watering a flower bed.

Darius stared at where the elderly man had been with his jaw dropped open. That had been fine magic indeed! He idly wondered if Roger could perform such things, when he noticed a figure on the top of the stone wall with a bow at his back. It was probably one of the captain's guards, but he hadn't entered with the rest.

The garden regained its eerie silence for a few more moments until he heard the chain at the gate rattling. The noise stopped and Darius nearly jumped out of his skin when he heard someone drop very near where he had hidden himself. A figure clothed in black approached the fountain, eyes scanning the garden. Darius glanced up at the archer on the wall, who was silently drawing back an arrow.

In seconds the figure dressed in black was surrounded by guards, the captain shouting orders to restrain the intruder. The mage popped into existence again, a wooden staff at the ready, closing in. Darius took this opportunity to limp around the periphery as silently as he could to the stone wall upon which the archer stood. The mage and captain argued loudly as the guards held onto their captive, and none heard his movement.

"I demand retribution!" the mage shouted, a wind that he seemed to have conjured swirled around his robes as he waved his staff. "Pull away her mask!"

"We'll question her! Stop your tricks, Mai!"

"Sir Mai," the mage hissed as the wind died out. "Your commander will hear of this."

Darius panicked, turned around and began feeling the stone wall for easy footholds. This had been a bad idea and he was not about to get in the middle of a bunch of guards defending themselves from a powerful mage. He scrambled up the wall just as the archer let his arrow fly. It whizzed in the air and Darius watched from the top of the wall in horror as it struck home in the eye of the black-clothed figure the guards had been holding.

"You fools!" he heard the mage shout and Darius had just enough time to see the hooded archer beside him place his bow back on his back. "Your fumbling has cost me for the last time, captain! I want my book out of evidence immediately."

Darius' arm was grabbed and he was turned around, faced with the long drop on the other side of the stone wall. "Come on, darling," a familiar voice whispered. "Jump!"

"Find the archer!" the captain shouted.

He jumped, pain exploding in his ankle again when he landed. Darius exclaimed in pain, but a long figured hand covered his mouth, an arm hugged him around the middle and he was dragged down the street. The archer's hood fell back when they got to narrow alley and Darius' suspicions were confirmed.

"Roger?" he questioned, watching him uncover a sewer drain. Roger rolled the circle of iron aside and reached for his hand.

"Quickly," Roger said. "If they catch you they'll suspect you."

Darius slipped into the sewer, going down the iron ladder rungs to the moist stones below, followed closely by Roger, who slid the circular iron cover back in place behind him.

"You killed someone!" Darius yelled as soon as Roger was standing beside him in the moist stones, his nose wrinkling at the horrid smell that came from the place around them.

Roger grabbed the front of his shirt and backed him into the iron rungs that made the way up to the streets. "We'll talk, all right? But not here. Tell me you have a place not far from here?"

He stared at the man for a few seconds, still astonished. "I have a room at Faraway's for the night. We could go there."

"Good enough," Roger said and let him go. "We'll have to back track a bit. Follow me and try not to get too much muck on you."

He grabbed Darius' hand and led him in the darkness of the sewers, guiding his steps with soft whispered words. Pockets of light shone through grates high above along the way, but the light was low enough Darius could hardly see in front of him. Roger seemed to have no trouble. They followed the rush of smelly sewage beside them for a short while until Roger let him go and left him standing in the darkness.

"Wait here."

For a few moments Darius stood with his cloaked back against the wall, hearing Roger's light steps move up what sounded like another set of iron rungs to the surface. The scrape of metal against stone was heard, the sound echoing softly to him. He heard nothing else for a long time and all he could do was stand and wait, pressed against the curved wall of the sewers until Roger came back for him.

Darius felt something furry and wet crawl over his boots and he kicked at it, sending it squealing and squeaking into the sewage in front of him.

"Roger!" he called, his voice a tense and hoarse whisper in the dark.

"I'm here." His hand was grabbed and they walked on until Roger placed his hands on the beginning rung about chest high. "Climb. We'll come out just behind the Gold Hollis."

Darius climbed steadily, blinking up at the moonlight ahead while Roger followed close behind. Once they were on the surface Roger looked around, and seeing they were alone he replaced the cover to the sewer opening. They walked around the quarter and ducked into Faraway's before the guards patrolling the area walked by with their torches.

No one was in the first level. The inn keeper, maids and other patrons had gone or were long in bed for the night. They slipped up quietly and Darius didn't breathe until the door was shut behind them.

"Oh, very nice," Roger drawled and plopped down on the bed. He toed off his boots and let them fall off the end. Then he watched with amusement as Darius yanked his cloak over his head, unable to work the clasp in his frustrated state, and tossed it over a chair. "It's been so long since I've been in a real bed."

"Ya killed that … whoever that was!"

"Mai was going to kill her anyway."

"That's not an answer."

"But that's how he deals with people." Darius began to pace the room, tracking muck everywhere. "Come over here and take off those shoes."

He looked at the trail he had made on the floor behind him and grudgingly sat down on the end of the bed. As Darius took off his shoes Roger massaged his shoulders. It felt nice but it didn't make him any less angry. Nevertheless he found himself leaning into the touch.

"How long had you been in that garden?"

"I'll ask the questions, if ya don't mind. I'm not the one who broke outta my cell to murder someone in front of Ecclesia's statue."

"Under his torture she would have said who sent her. Her loyalty could not be purchased."

The captain wouldn't have allowed that! He was an honorable man, but as Darius recalled the angry mage in the garden he doubted the captain or his guards would have been able to stop him.

"He kept yellin' about a book," Darius said, voice softer, less angry now as Roger's hands kept working on his shoulders. "Captain said it was in the evidence chest."

Roger laughed. "Not anymore."

Darius turned around and shoved him back against the bed. "Escaped from prison, stole from the evidence chest, killed someone an, an…" he looked at his clothes. Roger wasn't wearing the clothes he had been brought in prison with, and he wasn't wearing the threadbare trousers he had been wearing ever since. He was wearing something very like the black figure he had shot through the eye in the garden. "Where'd ya get those clothes?" Then it dawned on him and he felt such a fool. "Ya lied to me. Weren't hidin' from anythin' in that prison cell, were ya?"

"I'm certainly hiding for the moment, although if it weren't for you I'd be gone by now." Roger reached for his face but Darius grabbed his wrist and shoved it down next to his head. "Don't be angry, darling. Mai's a bad man and he doesn't deserve this book back."

"What's all this about?"

"You could come with me and find out."

He scoffed and got off him. "Yeah, go on the run with a fugitive. Fine end for a guard." He wouldn't do it, and wouldn't let himself even think about it. Darius had a wife he loved dearly. He couldn't be without her. And a boy, a son on the way. Darius flinched when Roger laid a hand on his arm, angry that he even put the idea in his mind. "Why'd ya do all this?"

"There's a very powerful, very rich man who wants this book. He's been trying to get it for a long time. I could share the reward with you in exchange for company on the way." He scooted closer, slipping his arms around his waist, and then he dropped his head on his shoulder. "You could set your little family up very well when you return."

"I'll never go."

"How'd you know what was happening in that garden?" As Roger spoke he pulled the end Darius' shirt from his trousers and slipped his hands underneath it. Darius shivered under his touch. "How did you know to go there?"

"Such a fool… Shoulda never been there."

When Roger shook with laughter Darius sighed pathetically and dropped back on the bed. His eyes were set at the ceiling but he didn't see it. He was going around the bend. Why did he ever think going to that drop point was a good idea? Darius could have been caught. He could have lost his position. He wouldn't have been able to look Anne in the eye after that. She'd be so disappointed and he wouldn't blame her. Darius had dragged her across Tannika for a chance their baby could have a better life here.

"Don't think about her."

Roger's hair fell over his face as he fell back beside him. Darius sputtered and wiped it off his face. "How d'ya know what I'm thinkin'?"

"You've got that daft look on your face. Like there'll never be joy again." Darius frowned over at him. "Are you sure you won't join me?"

"No, Roger! I love her," he said, though his tone sounded desperate even to his own ears. "Why don't ya find your one, make him go with ya."

Roger's hand stroked up his chest under his shirt. "And be second to saving the world? I'd rather not."

"Savin' the—what're ya sayin'?"

"Oh, whatever he thinks he's doing without me." Roger settled his head on his chest and Darius put an arm around him.

"Said ya loved him."

"And you love your wife yet here we are. If he really wants me he'll find me."

Darius gave him a look of pure disbelief. He'd never heard something so silly in his life, but he had to admit it did remind him of how he felt when he first started courting Anne. It hadn't worked. She had wanted to be chased. Most of them did, in fact, though Darius had no idea how it worked with men… well, men like that.

"Now who's bein' daft?"

"Listen to you, using King's words like you know what they mean," Roger teased. "And I know he'll return. He has to. I'd never come back here if I didn't think this would be the first place he'd go."

"When he's finished savin' the world…" Darius said incredulously.

"Ha! That's a job that'll never be done." His tone was so sad, though he laughed, the sound sort of broke Darius' heart. "I'll always be waiting." Roger sat up and rummaged around in one of his boots for a second or two. When he fell back against Darius on the bed he had a small book in his hands, a little larger than his palm. "Hopefully this will help him come back sooner."

Darius peered over as he flipped through the book, seeing symbols, scrawls of small lettering and sketches as Roger thumbed through the pages.

"I have no idea what's in here," Roger muttered, "…but without it Mai will be cross enough to make mistakes. That's certain."

"What is it?"

"Something about drawing magical power…" Roger read, and then he turned to a page where a large circle was drawn.

It took up the entire page. Swirling lines were drawn within and in between those symbols, tiny drawings which were hardly discernable from Darius' angle, but it seemed to move, almost pulse as he stared at it. He gasped as the circle swirled before him on the page. He reached over and shut the book before Roger could read anymore.

"That thing's dangerous, Roger."

"In Mai's hands, certainly, but he hasn't got it anymore."

"Put it away," Darius said sternly, and stared at him until he shoved it away in his boot again. "I don't wanna know anymore about it."

"I have to leave soon." Roger looked over at him and laid a heavy hand on his thigh. "Don't you have to be somewhere?"

"Not til sunrise," Darius said with difficulty because Roger had crawled on top of him. He hadn't realized he was backing away until the back of his head hit the wall behind the bed. Darius groaned helplessly when Roger sat on his thighs, his blunt fingernails scraping over his nipples under his shirt.

What was it about this man? He hadn't noticed any man like this before and couldn't say for certain if it had ever crossed his mind to do something like this. Was it his strange eyes? Perhaps Roger was indeed a mage that he could addle his mind, make him desire him.

In West Bay there were rumors of strange-eyed fish that took on human form to lure sailors into the deep. Sailors would fall over the sides of their ships with their arms outstretched, and be dragged down happily to the bottom of the crushing ocean. Under the spell of Roger's intensely green eyes Darius felt like one of those sailors, ready to fall into the cold water and have his breath sucked out of him.

All these thoughts seemed to evaporate as Roger did just that, sucked the breath right out of him with a kiss so thorough he felt dizzy but somehow desperate for another. It was strange then, though he couldn't acknowledge it fully in such a state, that none of his former protests mattered because here was someone who didn't shy away from his touch. Without words Roger demanded it, coaxed it out of him expertly with his lips, teeth and tongue, which were now on his throat.

Darius jerked when he felt teeth sink into his skin, pain exploding at the junction of his neck and shoulder. He gasped and wrapped his arms around man at his neck, unable to scream, but as soon as the pain had come it was gone, replaced by a wash of intense pleasure, a heat that pooled intensely in his groin.

After a moment Roger pulled away and through his haze he watched Roger's tongue swipe across his bottom lip, wondering at the pink tinge on his teeth. Darius promptly forgot all about it as he rolled Roger over on his back, compelled to confess his ignorance before they moved any further.

"I've never… oh, gods…" he was interrupted when Roger's hooked around his.

"Hmm," Roger hummed. He grabbed his ass and ground their hips together. "Never what?"

"… made love with a man?" Darius said hoarsely, but hadn't meant it to sound like a question. He hid his face in Roger's neck to hide his embarrassment, but that was quickly forgotten when he heard the man laugh by his ear.

"I doubt you ever will," Roger said. "This isn't love making, darling."

_

At sunrise Darius was dressed in his armor waiting for James in front of the barracks with the memory of Roger using that shimmering seed oil for what he was sure was not its intended purpose. He flushed, his lips breaking into a silly, giddy and satisfied grin as he closed his eyes, leaning against the building next to him. In his mind he saw his fingers coated with that golden oil working into Roger's ass. Darius could say for certain he'd never done that before.

Roger had been right. None of what they had done that morning involved love, and it was unlikely it would ever happen again. Roger had gone with his book and Darius had hurried back, limping on his twisted ankle to the barracks to meet James. He had arrived there early, thus ending his adventure and satisfying that well of guilt that wrenched in his chest with the confidence he'd never see Roger again. And that after what they had done in that room he'd never be allowed back at the Faraway Traveler's ever again.

He couldn't wait to see Anne. It felt like a century since he'd seen her. Darius didn't give a damn about the mirror anymore. It was a nice mirror, and if it made her happy then it was fine that she keep it. He'd spend the rest of his life making sure she stayed happy and safe and blissfully ignorant of all that had occurred last night... though he'd never forget it.

_

Darius found out from James that the Tangarian in their cells had been murdered on Collin's shift and that the odd prisoner in the corner cells had escaped. The rumor of the captain's ambush in the garden spread that it hadn't been a complete success, though nothing was said about the book that was stolen out of evidence, and he was forced to retire before his time.

Demras took his place as captain, and though he had always been a hard man he reinstated Corthe and with some convincing transferred Darius under a different captain, who set him to patrol around the university. It was a day shift and it was just as boring as walking the west cells of the prison, but his nights were spent with his family, not two houses down from James and Faustina in the Blue Quarter. Years later, when his son was old enough to attend school at Athalla's Chapel, Darius was training recruits on Dawrie's Way, a well-respected guard who had the devoted eyes and ears of every hopeful guard in Dawrie's barracks, though he never did make captain.

His life with Anne had never been better, and he never heard from Roger again. That night long ago had been the last time Darius had seen him. He thought about him often and would never forget the odd-eyed man that had him so easily slipping into indiscretion and had tried unsuccessfully to take him away from his family.

As for Roger, who had escaped to the western forests of the Pergne territory… He had been captured with the book and had been stolen away some place secret, never having reached his intended destination.

But that is a story for another time.