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Cherry Without Any Stone

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Through the cell bars, Eslingen's eyes were wide and dark, the deep blue of night sky. "Are you sure you want to do this, Nico?" he asked. Again.

"It's the principle of the thing," Rathe said, stretching out on the long wooden bench -- he suspected it wanted to be a cot -- that was the only furnishing of any cell at Point of Dreams. He was trying not to pay attention to the cold. A hard task, when it was almost midwinter. "They called the point on me for Aubine."

"When I killed him." Eslingen's reply was flat.

"Yes, and you heard Trijn. If she locked both of us up, you wouldn't be able to feed me. You might as well come on in," he said, kicking the cell door open with the tip of his toe. The imprisonment was, of course, merely a formality, and he'd be out again after the masque.

Eslingen stepped into the cell, arms full of blankets and, Rathe hoped, food. Eslingen had made a trip back to Rathe's -- their -- home after escorting him here, for, he had said, provisions.

"We didn't have much," he said, making a mournful face as he held up a small cloth bag. "Dried grapes. Sorry. I guess you'll want these before the blankets then." Well, that was true enough; they hadn't been to the markets in a while, with all the excitement. But then why did it look like Eslingen was trying not to smile?

Eslingen deposited the pile of blankets on the floor in an oddly careful manner, and as he did so Rathe heard a muffled metallic thump from within the pile. Eslingen winced exaggeratedly, keeping up the pretense, and Rathe started to laugh.

"All right, liar," he managed, "what did you bring me?"

Eslingen's face was transformed by a huge smile as he pulled two metal containers out of the blankets. Squinting, Rathe recognized the tavern's mark engraved on them. "Laneten's," Eslingen said, and he clearly couldn't keep the smug pride out of his voice. "And I didn't lie; I only said we didn't have much. I never said anything about taverns."

Rathe sat up and reached for the bowl Eslingen was holding out. He opened it to find Laneten's stew, one of his favorites. The smell was wonderful. "I'll forgive you," he said, still grinning, "if you brought cutlery."

Eslingen, may Demis bless him, reached into his fancy fur-trimmed winter coat and wordlessly handed him one of two spoons. Rathe solemnly promised to himself never to critique the man's vanity ever again.

"Sit," he said, motioning with the spoon at the empty place on the bench next to him.

Eslingen sat, picking up his own dish, and they ate companionably in silence for a while. Rathe hadn't even noticed how hungry he was, but as he finally scraped the bottom of the dish, he realized he must have been starving. The day had taken a lot out of him.

He watched as Eslingen put his own empty plate down and regarded him gravely, and Rathe couldn't help but tense as he waited for the man to say... whatever he was going to say.

"You know," Eslingen said, as if they'd just been talking about something important and not sitting silently. "Lemanry's not like calling a point on someone, Nico. You don't have to corner him in public and tell him you love him quickly before he has a chance to flee."

Oh. That. He probably hadn't wanted to find out Rathe considered him his leman by way of being introduced to the chief point at Dreams, had he? The analogy wasn't entirely wrong.

Rathe looked over at Eslingen and felt the corners of his mouth begin to twitch upwards. "I didn't know I was going to say it until I said it," he pointed out, quietly, then allowed himself a broader grin. "What, did you want flowers?"

He was rewarded with Eslingen's face of mock horror, mocking to make a joke out of something that would otherwise be far too real. "Seidos's Horse, no!" Eslingen said, violently shaking his head. "I never want to see flowers again." He'd nearly drowned on the stage thanks to a particularly nasty bunch, after all. And he hadn't even been the one hit by lightning.

The remembered horror faded from Eslingen's eyes, quickly, as Rathe watched, and looking at him he couldn't stop himself from smiling. Again.

"I've never had a leman before," he said, choosing his words with cares, "but I get the impression that it can be done however you -- we -- want it to. Assuming it's a thing you want."

Eslingen smiled back, and for some reason he was suddenly reminded of what they said about how the enlisted of Coindarel's Dragons got their promotion to officers; the prince-marshal liked them pretty. A quality that Eslingen certainly had, and knew it. That used to annoy him, about the man, but now he felt... well, it must be love.

He waited to see what Eslingen would say in response, but the man didn't say anything, just reached out and pressed a hand to Rathe's face, still smiling.

Then Eslingen kissed him, and he knew that was a better answer than words. He tasted, unsurprisingly enough, like dinner, and his arms wrapping around Rathe were warm, and suddenly warmer, as the man pressed even closer. Rathe felt fingertips begin to wander under his shirt, through his many layers of clothing, and he drew back with a yelp.

"Philip, I am not doing this in a prison cell." He lifted his hand, with some difficulty, to gesture down the length of the corridor. The open corridor, where anyone, like the chief point herself, could wander by.

Eslingen's face fell. "Not even to say you'd done it?"

"No."

"It can't be that bad," Eslingen wheedled. "Better than horseback."

"Horseback?" Now that was a surprise.

Eslingen shrugged. "It's lonely on campaign."

He laughed and kissed him again, more briefly this time. "Still no. And I know you don't want to sleep here, so get home to bed."

Eslingen made an irritated face that he clearly meant nothing by, as he stood up. "A man brings his leman dinner, and this is what he gets?" He was trying to be casual about it, Rathe knew, just working the word into conversation, as if it were the most ordinary of ordinary things, but from the look in his eyes Rathe knew as well that he was nervous about it too.

"At least you have a leman."

"I do at that," Eslingen said, and Rathe caught a glimpse of the dazed face of the truly besotted, flatteringly enough, before Eslingen turned down the corridor.

"Hey," Rathe called, and Eslingen turned again. "Bring me the broadsheets in the morning, would you?"

"I'll bring you them with breakfast. And a real chair too," Eslingen called back. "Lots of things one can do in chairs."

Rathe laughed to himself as he lay back down on the bench. It didn't feel cold at all now.