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Watch Over Him

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True, Vox Machina were no longer truly Jarett's employers - the keep was in ruin, Emon shattered - but it didn’t hurt to take a request from people doing good. It especially didn’t hurt when that request was to watch over one of the arcane saviors working their asses off to keep Whitestone safe.

 

Shaun Gilmore was an easy man to keep eyes on: friendly, damn funny when he wanted to be, and best of all not particularly secretive. He didn’t duck into corridors or try to break away from Jarett’s sight. After a few hours of dedicated watching - Jarett honestly not sure just how thorough ‘keep an eye on him’ should be - Gilmore turned to where he hung back and offered a wan smile. “I take it you’re the security detail?”

 

Jarett nodded, and then returned his smile with a half-cocked grin. “Something like that.” They continued into the palace, time to refresh the ward, he assumed. He’d seen the wizard at work a number of times - arcane energy crackling in the brisk Whitestone air as he expended what strength he had in him to keep the city safe. It felt different to not be in the courtyard, like he’d been invited behind the curtain before a show. Gilmore slid off his robe this time, loosened the collar of his lightweight shirt and cinched his belt down tighter, making a show of tugging free the black cord that held back his long hair before pulling it up even higher.

 

After a moment, he paused and looked back,quirking a eyebrow; “A little help? Since you’re here and all.”

 

Jarett didn’t hesitate, stepping forward he placed himself between the step up and his quarry. “Shall I lift you, sir?” He spoke with a soft lilt of amusement in his voice, the corner of his mouth twitching toward a smirk.

 

“Buy me a drink first…” Gilmore’s voice trailed off as he took Jarett’s hand, allowing himself the small comfort of someone watching his step as he made his way out onto the ledge to begin casting.

 

“Afraid you might be a little out of my price range, Mr. Gilmore.”

 

Gilmore laughed out loud, a full bodied chuckle rattling through him followed by an audible sound of surprise when Jarett’s strong hands grasped him around the calves as though he might fall. “I’m not that graceless,” he protested, and then; “and please, if you must call me… call me Gilmore. Only Gilmore. The whole Mister thing is rather off-putting.”

 

“Yes sir.” Jarett answered automatically, his smile stretching when Gilmore glared down at him. “Aye, Gilmore.”

 

“That’s more like it.” He chuckled, softer this time. “Now, if you’ll excuse me… duty calls.”

 

Jarett offered a single nod and stood at rest at the bottom of the step - watching with open curiosity as he listened to the low chanting. Gilmore raised up his arms, purple energy already beginning to dance across his fingertips, and the quiet chant turned into a full loud growl as the energy seemed to be pulled from his very core toward the barrier. He watched as what had been a firm, stable stance when Gilmore stepped up melted into an exhausted bend, his soft shoes sliding wider on the ledge to spread his weight as every ounce of his being seemed to go into the spell until finally it stopped. When he collapsed, Jarett’s muscles twitched into quick action and he caught Gilmore in his arms as he staggered backwards and fell.

 

“Gracious…” Gilmore groaned, eyes closed and body limp against the solidness of Jarett’s chest. Strong arms wrapped around him protectively and he exhaled a slow sigh. “If you would, don’t tell them about that little… misstep.”

 

“Wasn’t a misstep, sir, Gilmore…”

 

“It was.” He sighed again, louder, as he shifted his weight back onto his own feet. His face was flushed when he turned back toward Jarett, his smile faded and weak. “Obviously.”

 

Jarett lowered his eyes and offered another nod before fetching the wizard’s robe. He understood pride well enough to know that one so… well, glorious… would hardly admit just how much was being asked of him. In that moment, seeing the sweat on Gilmore’s brow and the way his hands shook as he fretted over the folds of soft purple and gold fabric, he understood why his previous employer had asked for eyes on him. He was exhausted, and wasn’t about to let that be known. The weight of his task was written across the tired slope of his shoulders and shuffle in his previously firm gait. “May I escort you home to rest?” He bit off the inclination toward another misplaced ‘sir’, already sidling up behind the man with an arm around his waist.

 

Gilmore’s back stiffened and his hand rested on Jarett’s unexpected forearm, grasping loosely before simply letting it sit. “That’d be… much appreciated. Thank you.”

 

“Of course.” He answered quickly, slowing his own steps as he leaned Gilmore into him. At first the other man seemed clearly wary, but as they descended the Whitestone palace steps Gilmore’s acceptance became more clear in the weight pressed into Jarett’s side. They didn’t speak, but Jarett kept close watch on him - monitoring each labored breath under his arm along with the rise and fall of their steps.

 

Entering the small home, Jarett couldn’t help but smile. It had clearly not been his originally, but the decor seemed to already have taken on the influence Jarett had known well enough from the shop in Emon he’d not had the coin to enter more than a few times. If he hadn’t known beforehand it would have been obvious that Gilmore hailed from Marquet - it was a comforting peek at the place he hadn’t seen in many long years.

 

He escorted Gilmore to a large chair, letting him down with a friendly pat on the shoulder. “All right?”

 

Gilmore nodded, his smile a little stronger than before. “Thank you, again.”

 

Jarett wasn’t quite used to being thanked for doing his duty, for doing what was expected of him. Working under Vox Machina had been his first job where he was really treated as a person and not one step above a murderous thug. In a way, it brought him the same pride that seeped out of Gilmore’s pores. Without asking, he excused himself to the small stove where a kettle for tea was on low boil, the familiar tradition drawing out a wide smile. He found a steel tray close at hand, two glass cups, and a small bowl of sugar crystals.

 

“You don’t have to-” Gilmore protested, watching keen eyed as Jarett poured him the first cup - the dark brown tea swirling into the glass and then back into the kettle before filling it once more halfway. “Water, please.”

 

Jarett laughed under his breath and offered another short nod, topping the cup off with warm water before pouring out his own. “I haven’t made a proper tea in years.”

 

“It’s perfect.” Gilmore murmured, smiling broadly up at him from his chair. When Jarett lifted his cup to sip, Gilmore added; “Be pleased.”

 

“Be pleased.” Jarett echoed, his smile stretching to match Gilmore’s infectious joy. He plucked a crystal from the bowl and placed it between his teeth - tongue darting out to taste the subtle sweetness just as it had in his youth - before taking a long sip of strong black tea tinged with hints of spice hiding behind the bitter tang.

 

Gilmore watched him with eyes that seemed softened, still bearing the soft twinkle of merriment as well as the darkness of exhaustion but with something else there too. Jarett’s smile wavered as he invited himself to sit on the floor near Gilmore’s chair, turned with his side to the small table to face him directly - more comfortable there than sitting across from him in a chair, and he wouldn’t pretend it had nothing to do with his station as a guard and Gilmore’s status as well… these days, a damn hero.

 

A moment of discomfort washed over him as he realized he’d not offered his host the sugar. With a deft hand, he pinched another large crystal out of the bowl between thumb and forefinger and offered it to him, warmth coming to his cheeks as the man’s hand guided his wrist up until Jarett’s fingers rested against Gilmore’s lips - feeling the brush of smoothness and then a wet flick of his tongue before dropping away.

 

He was speechless in the moment, the unexpected intimacy drawing a hot blush to his cheeks that didn’t dissipate when Gilmore swallowed the sugar with a long draw off his cup and looked back to him curiously. “I… well…” Jarett chuckled awkwardly and rubbed his palm against the knee of his leather breeches. “Your tea is excellent, Gilmore.”

 

“Only the best.” He answered, licking along his lower lip before leaning forward to close the small distance between them, his eyes nearly level with Jarett’s. “I assume that’s why Vax’ildan chose you for this particular job.”

 

Jarett shook his head; “No sir, not just Vax… they all wanted me to-” he stopped his words short, finding himself scrambling back over what he was saying in lieu of an awkward laugh. “I’m just a guard. They brought me on back when they first got the keep… and now…” he shrugged.

 

“You are just… a guard.” Gilmore sighed, “And I am just a purveyor of the finest enchantments and potions. Yet, here we are.” He shrugged with an unexpected flourish of flowing fabric. “We are alive. Somehow, in this great mess we call life we’ve survived literal dragons to have this very moment.”

 

Despite the smile that still tugged at his lips, Jarett looked away as though it might hide the heat clinging to his cheeks. “True.”

 

A quiet passed between them and for a long moment, Jarett wondered if he’d overstayed his welcome. Then, Gilmore reached past him, the soft fabric of the velvet robe caressing Jarett’s cheek as he turned into it. He tilted his chin, ready to offer to freshen Gilmore’s cup, only to feel the unexpected rasp of a braided goatee against his chin. There wasn’t a moment to think, he could only respond in abundant honesty and shock as Gilmore’s tongue swept across his lips and pressed another crystal of sugar against his own in the lightest brush of a kiss.

 

“Be pleased.” Gilmore murmured in a far softer tone as he leaned back once more, offering distance but still giving the sensation of authority he’d held all afternoon.

 

The cup touched his lips and Jarett drank before he even realized that he was doing so - nearly choking on the hot bitterness as he once more found himself. He swallowed hard, locking eyes on Gilmore only to find him seemingly unphased by the moment - content, if not a little coy as he laid back against a large red pillow. Jarett cleared his throat and asked; “You kissed me?”

 

“I did.” Gilmore confirmed, his smile unchanged. “I was curious.”

 

Silent another long moment, Jarett then shook his head and chuckled under his breath. “You have a habit of kissing unsuspecting men?”

 

He seemed to be considering the question, one eyebrow quirked before another half-shrug. “More than you’d think… but not nearly as much as I’d like. Certain mutual acquaintances notwithstanding.”

 

Jarett, puzzled over the comment only a moment before realization struck him. Vax’ildan. Of course. That would make significantly more sense of the fraught look on his face when asking that Gilmore be watched over. Of course, that would also mean that… “Oh.” Jarett nodded slowly; “You are… with him?”

 

Gilmore shook his head, a brief flit of sadness disrupting his smile before it once more lit on his lips. “No, no… that was a fancy a lifetime ago.”

 

“Oh.” The sound hung in the air and Jarett tried to break the tension by once more offering the sugar only to this time have it waved away.

 

“And you? I take it you’re not frequently taken unaware.”

 

“Not usually, no. In general.” The words came in an uncharacteristically slow cadence, his mind still tripping over the situation and disarming his usually quick wit. “Granted I usually square off against blades, not kisses.”

 

Gilmore chuckled, the rumble dying down to a soft sigh that he followed with another statement; “That’s a shame. You have a very kissable face.” His eyebrow rose again for a second before he added; “And without that armor I’m sure there’s at least ten other places deserving of kisses.”

 

Jarett’s face warmed again, blushing harder this time until he could feel it spread down his throat and across his cheeks. He looked away, staring down into the dregs of his cup with an awkward smile. It had been a long time since a man had said such things, even longer since they’d seemed to be more than a ploy to get drinks or coin out of him. It wasn’t that the attention was unwanted, only that it made him feel almost painfully aware of who he was - what he was in this place. “You flatter me.” He muttered into his tea before taking an unsweetened gulp to busy his hands.

 

“One could almost assume you don’t mind a bit of flattery.” Gilmore offered, leaning down once more, this time letting his warm fingers stroke over Jarett’s turned cheek, drawing his attention once more. “But, I am willing to apologize for the kiss. Curiosity often gets the better of me.”

 

“It’s all right.” Jarett found his words even as he turned away from the tender touch. “I should go, I… I have watch tonight.”

 

Gilmore stilled for a moment, and then nodded. “Of course. Thank you again, Jarett. You’ve been good company today.”

 

His mouth twitched again, a slow smile creasing Jarett’s lips as he looked down at Gilmore’s somewhat stilled expression. “I’ll find you tomorrow, then? After I’ve had my rest.”

 

“I think I’d like that very much.”

 

***

 

Night watch went late, well into the early hours of the morning when most of Whitestone had begun their day. Jarett watched from below as Gilmore emerged from his home and made his way once more to reinvigorate the spell, his arcane spark mingling with that provided by the other casters as a shimmering wave of purple energy against the sphere that shielded them. His strength, Jarett thought, given to the people.

 

He’d seen two very different versions of the man called Gilmore in the last day: the strong and charismatic showman that had walked the palace halls and kissed a man who served him tea, but also the softened weary man who gave of himself and refused to let the toll show in his warm smile. Both sides of the same man, one that left him equal parts confused and intrigued.

 

And really, what sort of man just goes about kissing strange men without warning?

 

His morning - early afternoon - came with the warm scent of cardamom and cinnamon wafting over him. He woke to find a low fire burning at the stove, his kettle on with fresh tea already made and boiling. On the table a small loaf of bread and a square of fine parchment with long broad-strokes of heavy handed script.

 

An apology for the evening’s errors. - G

 

He read it twice, as though some new meaning might be drawn from the words, while tearing off and stuffing himself with the fresh, soft bread that had been left. It was sweetened with honey and warmed him just as much as the unexpected embarrassment the night before.

 

It didn’t occur to him until he’d already done his first walk around the courtyard that Gilmore had presumably gained access to the small room he called home, seen the small stove for warmth and meals tucked dangerously close between the narrow platform of his bed and the tiny salvaged plank table. Soldier’s lodgings, from back when Whitestone may have actually housed soldiers and not refugees. Another reminder of his station in comparison, another thing he’d actually rather not think about.

 

“Jarett!” Gilmore’s voice called from a hidden patch in the large courtyard where there had once been a garden. He looked over to see the man relaxing on a stone bench, casting out crumbs for a raven in between a pair of chickens that had gotten away from their roost. “I was beginning to think you’d slept in.”

 

Jarett smiled again, the motion fast becoming a reflex when hearing that delightful tenor, and jogged toward him. “Don’t usually have breakfast waiting for me, sir.” He answered, quick to correct himself; “I mean, Gilmore.”

 

Gilmore nodded, tearing off a piece of hard bread and crumbling it between his fingers before drawing a line in front of the birds. He smiled, the raven quick to grab the largest pieces before retreating back from the clucking chickens. “Sit. Please.”

 

He nodded and sat down beside him, resting the sword at his hip along his thigh. “You know,” he said after a quiet moment, watching the chickens squabble; “you didn’t have to apologize.”

 

For a long moment, Gilmore didn’t answer. Then he let out a soft laugh and said; “I thought I should. After a long day, I’ve been known to make a bit of a fool of myself around attractive men I think I have a sense for.”

 

The warmth returned across Jarett’s cheeks and he forced himself to focus on the birds pecking idly for crumbs. “A sense for?”

 

Gilmore waved a hand dismissively, trailing breadcrumbs to the toe of Jarett’s boot - sending the raven to perch on it protectively. “I may have thought you were keen on me…” He shook his head as Jarett looked back up to him. “I was foolish… happens when you feel as old as dirt.” He turned slowly, bending his knee up onto the bench and taking the flowing dark fabric up with him. “Don’t mind me.”

 

Perhaps it was the moment, he’d later think, perhaps something about the unexpected drops of sadness in Gilmore’s voice. Either way, Jarett found himself leaning into the man, finding his own way on his terms this time - offering the same brush of a kiss without the sugar’s sweetness or the blame of a tired man’s folly. Gilmore leaned into him, sighing sweetly into the kiss until he broke away. “I… I’m never speechless…”

 

“I had a sense for you.” Jarett found himself once more smiling, eyes darting around the mostly unoccupied courtyard and ready for the familiar buzz of new gossip he’d started.

 

“You’re either bold or crazy.” Gilmore grinned, his hand dropping the last few stray crumbs down the front of Jarett’s tunic as he grasped the rigid folds, pulling him closer.

 

Jarett didn’t back away. It didn’t even occur to him that he should. “I prefer both-” He started, words cut off with a much deeper, intent kiss. Stronger than the night before, Gilmore pulled him in and held him there. Jarett’s hand cupped his cheek - feeling the bristle of new stubble as the scent of rosewater and cardamom clinging to Gilmore’s skin tied itself to that very act of kissing.

 

When Jarett broke away, shaking his head and laughing, Gilmore watched him with unexpectedly soft eyes. He said; “This is quite an interesting development…”

 

“I probably shouldn’t have-” Jarett started only to be cut off again.

 

“Don’t start that, Jarett. Please. Second guessing only leads to trouble.”

 

“No.” He answered softly. “Not second guessing, just…” He shook his head and shrugged. “I’m just a guard.”

 

Gilmore’s shoulders sank slightly, his eyes lowering down to where Jarett’s palm had come to rest on his knee so casually. He said; “I get the impression you’re not just anything.”

 

“You know what I mean. It’d be… inappropriate for you to be seen with the likes of me as anything more than a sword watching over you.”

 

He was caught off guard when Gilmore’s grip on his tunic tightened once more this time, the tug not to pull him in for another kiss but to tear him up off his feet - the unexpected shift more than enough to move his muscles into motion. “Gil-” He started as he was hauled up the palace steps. “Where are we-” he stammered as he was thrown into what appeared to be a library, stacks of books and papers in disarray as though they’d been recently combed through.

 

“I need to show you something.” Gilmore said firmly, “If it will cease this whole protest over what you presume to be my class distinction when it comes to who I should and should not be kissing.”

 

“You don’t have to show me anything.” Jarett protested no less, letting out a loud sigh as Gilmore began to conjure a purple-tinged sphere. “Save your strength.”

 

Gilmore waved one hand dismissively as the other continued to form the illusion - a simple still image of the home where he’d grown up. “Look closely, Jarett. This is the Marquet I called home. The stretch of nothing in the desert is where I came from… far away from the glittering city.”

 

“Gilmore…”

 

“Look. If you think I give a damn about where someone comes from, what they do, the nonsense titles men give themselves to feel powerful…”

 

“I never said-”

 

“Perhaps you shouldn’t have been so bold, dear swain.” Gilmore dismissed the illusion with a curt twist of his wrist and then turned away.

 

“Oh get off it.” An unfamiliar voice called from behind the stacks of books. “Just get it over with and sleep with the man.”

 

“Oh dear gods.” Gilmore sighed under his breath; “Zahra, darling… I didn’t know you were in here.”

 

“Clearly not.” She answered, pushing up until her horns peered out from behind a stack of old tomes. “Is that the guard fellow who was following you yesterday?”

 

“Jarett, Ma’am. From Emon.” He answered, lowering his eyes - the fresh shame washing over him in tandem with what Gilmore was trying to push through.

 

“Of course, yes. Excellent guard I’ve heard.” Zahra answered, her horns finally joined with the shock of white hair and glare of white eyes. “Don’t mind me, if you’re looking for a place to sneak off to for a romantic interlude…”

 

“Please…” Gilmore sighed again, somewhat more exasperated than before. “I simply thought it’d be less conspicuous to talk here than in the courtyard.”

 

“The courtyard?” Zahra laughed; “How deliciously scandalous.”

 

“I’ll just… excuse me.” Jarett mumbled, turning back to the door. Before he could be stopped, the door slammed behind him and Gilmore didn’t follow. “Of all the stupid, mindless things…” he whispered to himself, closing his eyes as his fingers wrapped tightly around the hilt of his sword. Romance was a distraction. Even the simple pleasure of kissing and being close and comfortable with another human being was nothing more than a distraction, even if it did make his gut flutter and the blood pound in his ears.

 

He’d been nothing but professional until that moment, until he had been bold and overstepped his place in returning that awkward and unexpected affection. That had been… well, improper to say the least. The sort of thing that happens after a much-needed night with too much ale and too much loneliness to bear it for another night.

 

It didn’t happen on the job, and it certainly didn’t happen in times of war and suffering.

 

Jarett walked away, returning to the city to do rounds even though he wasn’t on watch again until after dark. It was the only place he felt he should be when running away from social awkwardness.

 

***

 

Early afternoon dropped into late afternoon and then the early evening chill crept up on Whitestone, sweeping over the small city as folks began to go to their supper and retire for the night. There were still some hours before he was due on watch, but Jarett knew as he nursed his second mug of ale there was somewhere he ought to be.

 

Rosewater and cardamom. The scent caught his attention well before he felt Gilmore’s undeniable presence behind him and then sitting on the stool beside him. A glass of wine was set down without a word spoken, his usual Jarett thought, expensive - and from the spiced scent likely imported from Marquet.

 

“You haven’t refreshed the barrier yet.” Jarett said, taking another long sip.

 

“I’m tired.” Gilmore answered in a soft, mellow tone. It was something Jarett hadn’t expected to hear, an excuse.

 

“Oh.”

 

Gilmore sipped his wine at first, and then took half the glass in a deep swallow. “I’d feel safer if I had someone to catch me when I don’t fall .”

 

Jarett felt the tugging at the corner of his mouth again and hid it behind his glass. “Do you think-”

 

“I think you’re thinking too much. You should enjoy what life offers.” Gilmore tilted his head toward Jarett, offering a small smile. “We could all die tonight. Does it really matter that in your eyes I apparently have more value than you to this world?”

 

Jarett was quiet a long moment, rolling the thought over again and then again. It was logical, held weight… and in a way broke his heart just a little more. Things were bad and not getting much better. “We won’t die tonight because of you. Because of your magic, and the others… you’re protecting us.”

 

Gilmore swirled the remaining wine in his glass, and then finished it in another long swallow - eyes serenely closed with just a hint of red staining his lips. Jarett felt the new flutter again and drowned it with ale. Opening his dark eyes to look sternly at Jarett, Gilmore smiled once more - the bright, warm smile of the showman - and said; “And tonight you can make the tea.”

 

Slowly, Jarett nodded and stepped off his stool, leaving a handful of silver beside his mug. They didn’t speak again, he followed Gilmore once more and shouldered his weight to help him up to the platform. He watched in the same stunned silence as raw power was pushed into their safe little bubble - and then stood firm to take the man once more against his chest when he stumbled back down.

 

“Home.” Gilmore nodded into Jarett’s shoulder, resting his forehead on the warm leather as his hand clutched at the tunic. “I’d like to go home now.”

 

Jarett was watching over him, likely not from the far away vantage Vax had had in mind, but it felt good to help him home, to follow the shaking hand that guided him through a beaded curtain instead of to his chair and let him down into a plush pile of pillows in rich reds and purples and gold. Gilmore looked every bit the hero he’d seen thrusting his power into the world - protecting the people, and every bit the exhausted man that had stepped back down into his waiting arms. This Gilmore was a mystery wrapped in soft robes and gold chains.

 

“Thank you.” Gilmore smiled, reaching up to him, drawing Jarett down on one knee - his scabbard awkwardly stabbing at a misaligned pillow.

 

“For what?” Jarett returned the tender smile, not entirely surprised when Gilmore kissed him again - letting it come this time, letting himself be bold and enjoy the moment for what it was.

 

“You think anyone ever sees me in this state?” He chuckled, gesturing a trembling hand from his face down to the skewed open chest of his robes.

 

Jarett chuckled, more polite than truly amused, and then pushed up to go to his duty. He fumbled in the unfamiliar kitchen space, unlabeled jars - some recognizable, some not - eventually calling on his keen sense of smell to find the small blue jar of tea leaves tucked between an empty satchel and another loaf of bread wrapped in cloth. He put on the kettle, sliced bread and cheese, and set up the tray properly this time. It was a darker brew, hotter than the night before and bitter on his tongue, the sort he usually only made for himself.

 

When he pushed through the curtain, Gilmore sat up already looking more refreshed than not an hour before - he put down the book he’d been leafing through and reached out to take the tray. “Please stay.” Gilmore said softly.

 

He’d heard the tone before, though always on the alcohol-loosed tongues of lonely tavern patrons. It pulled at him that much harder knowing Gilmore seemed to see right through him every time he tried to pull away. Jarett nodded, already moving to doff his sword and leather armor. “I’m on watch tonight.”

 

“Not yet, it’s early.”

 

It took him a moment to collect the nerve, to make his point all the more clear. “Can I come back here in the morning?”

 

The smile was nearly full-bodied, stretching across Gilmore’s lips to take his rounded face as his body shifted back against the pillows. He sat the tray down across his lap and nodded. “If you’d like. Will you watch over me again when I cast in the morning? Perhaps not so far away this time.”

 

Another flush warmed Jarett’s cheeks. He’d been careful to remain hidden, only close enough to see the effort on Gilmore’s face from below as his robes rippled in the chilled morning breeze. “I will.”

 

Gilmore waited until Jarett’s armor had been carefully folded and set aside - a belt with small pouches crossing his sword topped with his trusted crossbow and a small pouch of bolts - to gently pat a generous pillow beside him. “Come,” Gilmore said, “the water’s cooling.”

 

The pillows were soft, both in fabric and filling, and crushed under his weight as Jarett shifted and wiggled to find a comfortable position. The opulence of it was awkward and strange, but when Gilmore’s hand rested on the knee of his worn breeches, Jarett couldn’t help but smile. He moved to serve the tea only to have his hand brushed away, Gilmore’s flowing robes accentuated the grandiose gestures of warming and pouring. “Thank you.” Jarett whispered, taking the warm cup in both hands, watching as the same fingers that had performed magics he could only imagine pinched a sugar crystal and brought them up to warm lips that seemed to always bear a smile.

 

Gilmore didn’t answer. Instead, he leaned in close and pressed an unrestricted kiss against Jarett’s lips. Welcome this time, expected and sure. He pressed the crystal against Jarett’s tongue, smiling all the more broadly when it was accepted with a throaty chuckle. “Much better.” He murmured, leaning back to take his own between the teeth before following it with a mirrored slug of bitter tea. “Mmm, you take tea like my father. Bitter and dark, better fit to strip floors.”

 

Jarett choked, about to apologize when Gilmore’s laugh bubbled up - drawing an echo of his own. “I usually take it with milk, but it’s been hard to get here with the troubles. Not much livestock left.”

 

A slight shimmer crossed the darkness of Gilmore’s irises as he once more produced a magical effect from his fingertips. “Allow me.” He murmured, a ghostly hand appearing and then moving through beaded curtain.

 

“You should save your magic…” Jarett said, not particularly surprised when Gilmore kissed him again - stopping all protest. He knew his limits, and the allure of the warm hand on the back of his neck was enough to squash Jarett’s worries. He let himself get lost in the touch, in the way the wizard’s braided beard scrubbed against his chin. It was easy. Lonely souls, it seemed, made good enough bedfellows.

 

The thought was broken by a chill pressed against his cheek, the spectral hand offering a small glass bottle. Jarett laughed awkwardly and shifted his thigh against Gilmore’s - turning his attention back to the warm tea in his hand and away from the thought of panic. “You’re spoiling me,” he said, taking the bottle and then watching as the hand vanished as easily as it had arrived.

 

“In trying times, good company is worth far more than gold.” Gilmore topped off their cups with the creamy milk and then stirred his own with a finger before finishing the cup in a long gulp. “Not that I’d usually admit it openly.”

 

Jarett took his time, sipping his tea as Gilmore’s fingers trailed up his arm, taking in the dark skin marked with fine spiderwebs of scars from battles long past. Gilmore’s fingers dipped under his sleeve and lifted it almost cautiously, seeing where the lines stopped on creamy skin that rarely saw sun.

 

“Let me,” Jarett said; taking the tray with their cups, bread untouched, and setting it aside. “It’s been some time.” He chuckled under his breath, the sound lost in the rough fabric of his tunic as he tugged it up over his head.

 

“A shame.” Gilmore drew a breath between his teeth, appearing for the first time to be uncertain of himself. His fingers reached out again, following a delicate silver chain that had been hidden to the center of Jarett’s chest where it caught with a slashed scar that appeared long healed.

 

“Ank’Harel wasn’t kind to me.” He chuckled dryly, more than a little pleased when the gentle touch shifted away, Gilmore’s palm flattening to caress lean muscle openly. After a moment, Gilmore leaned back himself, shouldering off his robe and then his shirt until his own soft chest and rounded belly were displayed.

 

His hand dropped away, one still lingering close to Jarett’s knee as he showed the jagged scar he’d received himself. “I dueled the Cinder King.” He chuckled, the sound rumbling against Jarett’s palm as he touched what little remained of what he imagined was a far worse wound. “I lost horribly , and by all accounts should be little more than a smear of entrails in the Cloud Top District.”

 

“But you fought him.” Jarett whispered reverently, drinking in the warmth of the white scar cut through dark skin. He remembered when Gilmore was brought to the keep the night of the attack… the night of refugees. He remembered the blood that turned the regal robes black and heavy. Pike, he thought, must have saved him as she had saved so many. He had never known the details, had never asked. They were all nearly dead that night.

 

“It was nothing,” he chuckled again; “foolish pride.”

 

“It was heroic.” Jarett’s hand slid up higher, following the slope of Gilmore’s soft belly up to his chest, catching coarse hairs as he waited for something to stop him.

 

“Not at all.”

 

Looking up, he caught Gilmore’s eyes again - warm, kind, but with a glint of the showman still lingering despite their increasingly intimate situation. “Modesty doesn’t suit you.” Jarett teased, blushing hot when the other man lowered his head and let out another thick laugh. He took the initiative then, pushing into Gilmore until he was guided down on his back - following him with intent kisses.

 

“Mmmm, now this…” Gilmore purred; “this is delicious.” He took Jarett’s hand, lacing their fingers and squeezing hard.

 

Jarett broke with a throaty sigh; “Gilmore…”

 

“Please.” His voice came out a bare murmur; “If this is half the night I’ve a mind for, you should call me by my proper name.”

 

He paused, uncertain if he actually knew the man’s proper name - everyone had always called him simply Gilmore, Glorious Gilmore. “I-”

 

“It’s Shaun.” He answered, pulling Jarett closer to nuzzle against his cheek. “Please.”

 

Jarett groaned low and loud as Gilmore’s surprisingly strong hand guided their twined fingers to the rise of arousal between his thick thighs. He wasn’t the only one enjoying the proximity.. Retaliating, or perhaps simply basking in the moment, Jarett tugged free the cord holding back waves of coarse, dark hair that smelled of sweat and sweet rosewater and spicy cardamom. He buried his face in it, shifting his weight to press against Gilmore’s solid form as his fingertips dared to caress the hardness under them. “Shaun…” he whispered against the man’s ear; “Handsome, bold Shaun.”

 

“Flatterer.” Gilmore moaned, arching into his touch. “Mmmm, I knew there was a reason I liked you.”

 

It had been a while since he’d been so close with another man, but not so much that the soft fabric giving way to wiry curls and even softer skin should feel as foreign as it did. Shaun Gilmore was nothing like the men in taverns; swordsmen, adventurers, rough trade that pushed and battled for dominance in every way. Gilmore yielded to him, reaching only to turn belly to belly with him and embrace him with both arms as Jarett’s palm closed around his arousal, exploring him with gentle strokes that drew out the sweetest sounds he’d heard yet.

 

“You’re quite good with your hands.” Gilmore sighed against his ear, following it with a moan as Jarett’s thumb caressed the head of his cock in slow circles, spreading the first drops of wetness across velvety skin.

 

“Practice.” He answered, grinning wider yet as he nuzzled closer. A man like Gilmore, he thought, should be used to hands like fine silk and not the callused fingers that stroked reverently down to his balls, squeezing only a moment before wrapping once more around the thickness of his manhood. And yet, here he was.

 

Jarett could almost feel the words that were cut off with a delighted groan against his cheek, Gilmore’s breath hot on his skin. It was easy to be with him in that moment, to let his body respond to the way each breathy sound seemed to exist full-bodied as the man rocked into his touch. “Shh…” he smiled into Gilmore’s throat, pressing it with fond kisses. “You don’t have to say a word.”

 

But Gilmore did. He spoke in the tongue of their home, in sharp grunts and elongated syllables that lost meaning beyond purpose. He grasped first for the bulge held tight behind leather thongs he couldn’t manage open, and then for Jarett’s muscular back - clinging and crying out as teasing touches became deliberate strokes.

 

“Surely Lady Cassandra wouldn’t notice one guard missing watch…” he sighed, slipping in and out of the mother tongue. “You could stay tonight.”

 

Jarett thrust himself against Gilmore, the man yielding once more without argument as his hand withdrew to be replaced by the rocking of his hips driving the front of his breeches against his exposed cock. “We’ll have morning.” He panted, drawing a deep breath to still himself as he tugged free the lacing and pushed the garment down around his hips. There was no way to know that they would beyond hope, beyond the wishful thinking of lonely souls in dire times. Still, it was something to cling to.

 

Gilmore arched into him once more, pulling him down and kissing his face as Jarett dug against him, thrusting his hips against soft flesh and hard arousal. The tension knotted in his gut, delicious and needy - reminding him of how much he had missed touch, had craved the sensation of desiring and being desired. Still, it was Gilmore who clenched first, wrapping his arms fully around Jarett’s chest and pulling his weight down. Wetness streaked between them against the flatness of Jarett’s abs and the roundness of his lover’s belly, encouraging him to thrust harder into the yielding flesh.

 

“Yes…” The charming baritone crooned against his cheek, teeth catching his ear only a second before the resounding tone doubled; “ Yes. ” Gilmore’s fingers slid down his bare back, and then dug into the firm musculature of his ass, spreading him and squeezing hard. The silent promise was enough to drive his last thrust in the cleft of his lover’s thigh, cresting with several small jolts of his hips. His lips closed off further words, seeking out Shaun’s - not Gilmore, he thought, he was merely Shaun in that moment - and bruising him with fierce defiance of the hesitation he’d held hours before.

 

This was theirs. This lonely night in Whitestone, with tea knocked aside and spilled in their revelry, with expectation and posturing driven out of the formation.

 

“Stay,” Gilmore whispered as Jarett’s hands raked through his long curls. “Just a little longer?”

 

Jarett pushed up on his knees, still leaning into the increasing familiarity of Gilmore’s belly and hips, and looked him over with a sedate smile. He traced one hand down to Gilmore’s shoulder, following it to his arm and all the way to where his fingers still grasped at Jarett’s hip. Curving them into his own, Jarett brought the soft knuckles up to his lips and kissed them too, letting it linger a long moment. “I promise I’ll be back.”

 

“We both know you might not.”

 

He looked down then, away from Shaun’s expressive eyes and curved brow to the steady rise and fall of his chest as he drew breath. “I don’t have to worry, we’re safe here.”

 

“You don’t believe that, darling.” Gilmore’s hand pulled away, his curved fingers catching under Jarett’s chin and lifting to look him in the eyes; “Promise me again, dear swain, you’ll return.”

 

“I’ll be watching over you.” Jarett answered unwaveringly, catching another shimmer in the flecks of gold in his lover’s eyes. “Until the moment I do.”