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Playing Cards on a Marriage Bed

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The night breeze in Ischia carried the sounds of its revelling populace up to the palace windows long after the marriage feast they celebrated was cold and picked over by the last guard shift to get any. Their prince and saviors-- for Darvish had always been the people’s prince, drunken but loveable, and both he and his gently-bred foreign bride had arrived both recently and spectacularly to save the city from its volcanic Lady-- reclined on the marriage bed, exotic petals crushed beneath them, and played cards.

His bride was winning.

Darvish eyed her, guileless blue eyes-- the visible sign of his own dose of outlander blood, and until recently a painful reminder that he didn’t look enough like the rest of his family to make his father accept him-- suspicious. “Are you sure you’ve never played this before?”

Chandra waved a small brown hand at him dismissively. It no longer glittered with wedding jewels, because she didn’t really like to wear rings. They tended to get caught on things, and vanity wasn’t a particularly wizardly attribute in her opinion. Besides, it felt odd to have her fingers constricted. “I said I haven’t. Don’t get huffy just because I’m quicker to learn things than you apparently were.”

Blue eyes narrowed, and Darvish opened his mouth to start the third argument of the day when a quiet sound of amusement from the city’s third savior drew both of their attention to the princely windowsill.

“Aaron!” Chandra said it, her voice glad, but Darvish’s mouth widened harder in a broad and helpless smile. As he’d told Aaron when nursing him back to health after the adventure, he and Chandra were friends, and that was more than most treaty marriages had going for them-- but he loved Aaron.

It was all right that Aaron couldn’t say it back yet. They both knew.

“You seem to be cleaning up,” Aaron said softly to Chandra, dropping to the marble floor on noiseless feet. “What are you playing for?” He nodded at the pile of cards and petals on her side of the bed.

“Orange ones,” she shrugged, pointing her chin at the flower-strewn bed. “They’re the rarest of the lot, mostly they’re red for passion or green for fertility, and we didn’t really have anything else to use.”

“It’s not like royalty needs to handle coin,” Darvish said wryly. That had come up in their travels, too. What prince pays for his own breakfast, or even knows how to get one in the absence of servants?

“It’s not like you need to come in through the window anymore either, come to think,” Chandra pointed out, tilting her head at Aaron. “Why did you?”

Aaron, who had started life as a clan chief’s heir and then moved on to handling a great deal of other people’s coin in his chosen profession as thief, snorted and tossed his copper-bright hair. Even now, a full smile from him was rare, but the corners of his mouth turned up and his stone-silver eyes lightened further with pleasure. “Because I could.”

Even seeing him smile, Darvish wondered if it was lost on Aaron that his two best friends had been using his color petals as their win tokens while they waited for him to come back from his nightly roaming. He didn’t ask. Aaron was touchy about being loved. Instead, he tossed his own head, though the blue-black fluff atop it was barely shaggy enough to move, much less flounce-- and patted the bed. “You can get here any way you like, so long as you get here. Join us?”

Their princely little thief froze, cheeks flushing and grey eyes going wide as he looked at the still-made marriage bed, looked at them, and swallowed.

Chandra saved them. It was not the first time. It was not even the first time she’d saved them from this particular awkwardness. Her own hair, richly chestnut and long enough to strangle a man with, did toss very nicely, and this time it whapped Darvish right in the face. “Honestly, Aaron. If anyone does anything of that nature tonight it’s going to be the two of you. I like Dar, but we’re taking it slower than that. So don’t look at us like if you get on the bed we’re both going to maul your trousers off and… do whatever it is two people do to a handsome young man together.”

She’d already done her blushing about that in private, thank you very much. Although the thought of touching either or both of them was not altogether uninteresting... in fact, it was something she kept exploring in the privacy of her mind, like a tongue probing the sweet, insistently interesting ache of a bitten cheek or loose tooth.

That was not actually the saving that Darvish had expected. He wasn’t sure she was saving them at all. “She meant to say,” he said through gritted teeth, because Aaron’s face had acquired alarmingly red spots high up on his amazingly sharp cheekbones while the rest went even paler than usual, “that we’re not going to do anything, period, and you’re safe, and would you like to play cards? Fair warning, though, she’s a shark. She’ll get all your...” he waved to the mangled flower-bits on the bed. “Rare flowers.” Orange for Aaron and the beaten copper of his outlander hair, a crown in and of itself. But then, no matter what he wore, Aaron had been raised to be prouder prince than third-son Darvish, and it showed when you knew him.

The fair demon wings of Aaron’s wonderful eyebrows flew, and Darvish breathed a sigh of relief. The rest of Aaron was not going to fly, this time. Instead, their thief came to settle as lightly on the bed as any domestic cat. “I don’t have any flowers,” he pointed out mildly, and they all agreed to pretend that he wasn’t still blushing and that it hadn’t taken considerable Aaron-style bravery to come to them on a bed after Chandra hung a lampshade right on top of the reason he’d hesitated.

Poetry rose to Darvish’s lips before he could stop himself, born both of long years as a courtier and the warm and gooey way that Aaron made him feel in the center of his chest. “No flower but your youth, no rose but your lips, and no purer perfume than the scent of your hair,” he quoted softly, sapphire eyes locked with silver. The world outside them stopped again, as it had a habit of doing. He found a foolish smile on his face when he was aware of its shape again, because Aaron still hadn’t run after that. In fact, despite a bit of pink about the cheeks, Aaron was smiling back.

Chandra slipped quietly off the bed in her wedding slippers, not quite as soft-footed as Aaron but possessed of wizardry he was not. The tiny notice-me-not she wove lasted her to the balcony, and then she leaned on the smooth marble balustrade and enjoyed the sweet air rising from the palace garden. There was an odd little edge to it that made her frown and send a thread of power questing for danger… until she realized it was peacocks. Or more precisely, the things that some of the Most Blessed Yasimina’s peacocks had spattered all over the well-tended grounds, right under this balcony, beneath the tree they were roosting in for the night. She wrinkled her nose and sighed. At least they didn’t scream while they were asleep. Very pretty, peacocks. Horrid sounds.

The sounds coming from the bed behind her were not horrid at all, however, and she eavesdropped shamelessly.