Nicaise’s favorite moments were after. The Regent was kind, sometimes, afterwards, affectionate and good-humored. When he gave Nicaise gifts it was usually after, something decorative drawn from the drawer near to the bed and presented with a small but genuine smile.
But to reach the afterglow they had to make it to the bed first. This particular evening was one of what was becoming an increasingly frequent pattern of the Regent working late in his study and leaving Nicaise to amuse himself.
Nicaise had Jehan help him with his paint, fixing it after the evening meal. Then he amused himself with cards for half of an hour before he left the game spread out on the table. Boredom led Nicaise to wander into the study and arrange himself like a cat at the foot of the Regent’s chair, leaning unobtrusively against his leg and angling to have his hair stroked.
The Regent made a noise when Nicaise came in. It wasn't precisely a welcoming noise, but it hadn’t been a dismissal, either, so Nicaise continued, and after he was patient long enough he finally felt the Regent’s hand rest on the crown of his head. He tipped his head down to disguise the triumphant smile, and waited again.
The royal study was decorated with dark woods, forest-green tapestry covering the walls, and a patterned wool rug between the stone of the floor and Nicaise’s knees. The Regent was seated in front of his desk, though sometimes he preferred to stand as he worked, and had a lectern positioned near to the window where he had good light in the morning even before the fire was lit.
It was another long wait. Even after the Regent had seemingly finished with his work, he made no move to retire from his study, leaning back in his chair and steepling his hands on his chest in contemplation.
Nicaise shifted slightly to subtly draw his attention again. The Regent refocused his gaze on where Nicaise was seated, but still made no move to reach for him or to move.
“Oh Nicaise,” he said, finally, which cued Nicaise to look up. “What am I to do with you?”
Nicaise felt his blood run cold, but forced his face into a light smile. That was not the remark of a man who was contented with his lover. “I have some ideas,” he said, letting his gaze be suggestive.
The Regent laughed lightly, but Nicaise could feel the lack of interest in his eyes. When Nicaise was honest with himself, he could admit that he had felt it for some months, that he was playing a losing game. He hadn’t received any gifts since the season before and the jeweled music box; the year prior he had been gifted almost every month.
The subject of the Regent's waning interest had never been broached directly with Nicaise by anyone besides Prince Laurent and his tiresome gloating. This comment from the Regent himself was new, and it prompted Nicaise to a bold action of his own, as a poorly tamed horse startled by a loud noise might bolt in the courtyard.
“I was talking to Prince Laurent today,” said Nicaise. Laurent was a subject that was guaranteed to get the Regent’s attention; Nicaise used that knowledge sparingly.
The Regent’s face darkened; Laurent was something of a headache to him.
Nicaise watched this closely, but he might not have another opportunity to make this play, and he took it. “Laurent says that when you tire of me he will offer for my contract.”
He had known that would get the Regent’s attention, and it did, and he basked in the level gaze, finally all of the man’s interest centered on him again.
“Did he,” said the Regent.
If Nicaise wanted it to continue, it was better to pretend that so much attention did not interest him, and Nicaise turned his head toward the floor again, as though staring at the Regent’s boot were very interesting.
“And what do you think of my nephew?” the Regent said.
That was a dangerous question. “You have spoken many times of the trouble he causes you,” said Nicaise.
“Does he fancy you?” said the Regent. “Has he spoken of his interest?”
Nicaise ventured a look upwards through his eyelashes. “I suppose I shall know of his interest if he makes an offer.”
The Regent didn’t respond to that directly, and spent a long moment staring out the window toward the gardens in the evening. Laurent might be out in those gardens right now, parading his ugly slave around behind him.
“Nicaise, can you do something for me?” said the Regent finally, looking intently now again at Nicaise and his position at the foot of the chair.
“Of course,” Nicaise murmured, thinking that finally they were going to retire to the bedchamber.
“It will require subtlety and discretion,” said the Regent. “If you were successful I should see you amply rewarded.”
“When I am successful,” Nicaise corrected, rubbing his face against the Regent’s calf. “What is it?”
And the Regent explained.