Not sure what I’m going to do with this. Whether it’s part of the main story or not. Maybe it’s time I plot that story out. Add one more outline to the growing pile of unwritten things.
Avery peeled a piece of entrail? off the back of his neck. He needed a bath in the worst way. Going to the staff bathhouse was tempting. He could get clean and then go to Alex and Dillon.
He climbed the narrow, dark stairs of some long forgotten back passage. The passage exited two floors above Alex’s suite. Avery went to the window, hooked the sill, then slid down to the roof over Alex’s balcony.
Alex was already in his suite, moving around. Doors, probably to the armoire, opened and closed. Water splashed. Then there was quiet.
He would just stay on the roof until Dillon returned from his party. Avery almost regretted pushing Dillon back into society. But with Dillon in society, he could be with Alex and guard him. Avery, who was still little more than nobody, could never be accepted like that. It mattered little. Avery preferred being the hidden party. Whenever people saw him, they looked on him with pity—the jilted lover of Lord Effingham. Bastard.
It was a good night to sit on a roof. Better than the spider web filled tunnels he’d been navigating for the past five hours. The shuffling sound on wood made Avery fairly sure Alex had moved to the balcony.
Avery wanted to join Alex. To wrap around him and feel him and feel safe. Safety was an illusion, but what a lovely illusion. If he were clean, he would go. But he was so filthy. So ugly. Alex shouldn’t have to see him in his wretched state.
Stars twinkled bright in the moonless night. From his balcony, high above the city Alex could choose his preferred prospect, from the array of glowing street lanterns, to the fields dark and obscured beyond the city walls, to the heroes immortalized in the stars. He watched the wide road that led to and through the outer castle gates, which in their time of peace were always open. No one, save the Queen’s Guard, walked the road during the late hour.
A draft emanating from within his room told him he was no longer alone. He listened, trying to identify his new companion by the pattern of footfalls. There were none. He breathed slow and deep. After a moment, the scent of sandalwood and citrus tickled his nose. “Lord Ratcliffe, you are quite dapper this evening.” Dillon, Lord Ratcliffe, never wore scent unless he was dressed for a social function.
“Thank you your highness.” Dillon wrapped his arm around Alex’s shoulders, and Alex leaned in to the warmth. Avery may be absent, but at least Dillon was there. “What are you doing, outside in this chill?” Dillon asked.
“Watching the road.” Watching for Avery.
“And what do you expect to happen, on that, the most heavily guarded road in the entire country?”
“Nothing,” Alex said with a sigh. “Absolutely nothing.”
Dillon was silent. His presence became part of the environment. The stars, the fields, the city, the crisp breeze, Dillon’s warmth, his scent, the puff of breath against Alex’s hair.
“What are you looking for, Alex?” Dillon’s voice was serious. Perhaps worried. Alex sighed again.
“You know Avery, Leo, and I were good friends.”
“I am aware.”
“Leo used to stand at the window of his south parlor; it overlooked the drive. He didn’t care what I did–quite rude really.” Alex smiled, thinking of them when they were all still friends. Of course, Avery was completely unattainable then. “He watched out the window, waiting for Avery. Sometimes I stood with him at the window. In his own good time, Avery would appear on the road. Distant and blurry at first.”
Alex had resigned himself to watching Avery and Leo. Had done so for years. “Eventually he would look up—at Leo—and give Leo a brilliant grin. I suppose at such a distance I couldn’t actually see the smile. But he was. He loved Leo.”
Against all expectations, fate had been good to Alex–at Avery’s expense—which made him a bastard for being happy about Leo’s arranged marriage. But Alex got Avery. And Dillon. But Avery had changed.
“He doesn’t smile any more.”
“He smiles.” Dillon’s arm tightened around his shoulders.
“Not like that.” Avery would never smile at him like that. After his anger and hurt at Leo had passed, Avery had become subdued. Asking him to make Alex’s enemies go away was probably not helping either. Avery had been so sweet. Now he was hard.
“You know,” Dillon said, “if he came, he wouldn’t take the road.”
“You’d do better to watch the tunnels.”
Alex shrugged. “It’s a fantasy. The smiles. The looks. All of it is a fantasy.”
Avery no longer cared about the dried carrion speckled all over his body. He no longer cared that his right eye looked hideous and was still swollen shut. He silently swung his body over the roof and onto Alex’s balcony. He pulled Alex out of Dillon’s grasp and into his arms. Already a long smudge of brown-red marred Alex’s face. His hair was soft, but the more Avery touched it, the more matted and filthy it became.
“Avery?” Alex said. “You smell.”
Avery nodded against Alex’s head. “Like dead things.”
“Yeah.” Avery looked up at Dillon and smiled. “You’d do better to watch the tunnels.”