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It was early April, and the spring rains battering Corus were enough to drive everyone inside.

Almost everyone.

A door opened, then shut.

A disbelieving voice: "Surely you didn't go running in this."

"It's just a little rain."

"It's a spring thunderstorm, and you go running on the wall. I'm surprised you didn't slip and crack your fool head open." The words were shockingly casual.

A snort. "I am not that stupid, Your Grace," Lord Wyldon said, and the scritch of his pen across some document or another ceased. "Why are you here, anyway?"


"You can never just give me a straight answer, can you?" the training master snapped, exasperated already. "At least your scapegrace son, for all his flaws, is terrifyingly direct."

"Oh?" Baird asked, quiet amusement lacing his voice. A rapid tattoo, fingers against a chair back. "What has Neal been up to this time?"

A sigh. "What hasn't he been up to? Your son is a menace."

Baird laughed.

This time, the irritated tapping of a finger on wood came from Wyldon.

Baird managed, barely, to get his laughter under control. "I'm sorry, it's just-" he chuckled again, "Neal's being much better behaved than I anticipated, actually."

In the silence that followed, one could almost hear the blink.

"Wyldon, I got urgent letters from the masters at the University every week detailing his misadventures. At least here he hasn't rigged anything to explode, yet."

"Mithros, Baird, don't give him ideas. . ."

A chuckle. "I wouldn't." A pause. "He doesn't really need them."

Wyldon groaned.

The silence stretched out again.

Finally, Wyldon sighed and shifted. "Don't think I didn't notice you avoided my question. Again."

Baird remained silent.

Another huffed sigh. "Fine."

The scrape of a chair, the slow, deliberate footsteps of the training master, a muffled curse from Baird as he was pulled unceremoniously forward, the indefinable but unmistakable sounds of a kiss.

"Do you always have to look so damnably smug?" Wyldon snapped breathlessly, after a moment.

Baird's response was entirely nonverbal.

"I hope you locked the door," Wyldon muttered.

"Don't I always?" Baird replied, mild-but-wicked amusement lacing his words. "I am not one to forget the details."

"No," Wyldon said softly, voice husky. "You never do."


Somewhere else in the palace, in a room in the pages' wing that was suddenly not far enough away from anywhere, Neal let the small eavesdropping spell he'd picked up at the University die.

There, you pretty much had to spy on the masters, unless you wanted to get a nasty surprise in class later. Here, this, like so much else, seemed to be the precise inverse - you got the nasty surprise by spying in the first place.

Suddenly very glad he'd never told his father about that spell, Neal threw himself into his bookwork.

He'd think about it later. Or never. Never worked, too.

(But the memory persistently bubbled at the back of his brain, and in time, in a weird way, he got used to it.)

(He never noticed his father watching him with quiet amusement in his eyes. Or the way Lord Wyldon watched Baird, his own eyes full of resigned suspicion.)