“See, I ain't as cruel and vicious as I seem.
Though I do like breaking femurs
You can count me with the dreamers;
Like everybody else, I've got a dream.”
It starts, as for some reasons many stories do, with a man climbing through Roger’s window.
Roger, having been sitting in the dark sharpening his knives (shut up, that’s something normal people do) for the last half hour, not asleep in the least, waits patiently as the man shimmies rapidly up his drainpipe and tumbles into the room. He rolls with the momentum, landing surprisingly quietly and springing easily to his feet.
And then he blinks as he comes face to face with Roger.
Roger sighs, sets his knife down and strikes a match, lighting the candle on the table. “Larceny is a lot easier to commit when the victim is asleep,” he says conversationally, picking the knife up and turning it over in his hand.
The man blinks at him warily through his wavy hair, messy from the fall.
“Well, plain old burglary is always an option, too. I always felt there was more honor in that.”
“Honor is something you care about,” the man says quietly. It isn’t a question.
Roger tilts his head. “It is.”
Roger traces the pad of his thumb over the blade, testing the sharpness as he regards the man—no, kid is more apt. He’s young, definitely no older than Roger is. He wears all black, clearly armed beneath his cloak, and he’s scraggly and thin the way everyone outside of the citadel seems to be these days.
It’s no wonder he’s attempting to commit petty theft, then.
“Are you here to discuss politics with me?” Roger asks flatly. “Or are you here to steal?”
“I’m looking for someone.”
Roger tries not to let recognition show on his face. Brian doesn’t need the trouble. Brian is sweet and awkward and perfectly harmless; he studies at the university, he waits tables at the town’s tavern, he is not a criminal, and Roger is a little bit in love with him. Which is definitely not relevant.
The point is the guy wouldn’t hurt a fly. He definitely couldn’t fight off a petty burglar.
“Who is he?” Roger asks dryly. “One of your gang members?”
“You know him,” the kid says flatly. “I can tell.”
“I know a lot of people.”
“Tell me where I can find him.”
“What was your plan, then?” Roger asks him. “Break into every house on the block until you figure out which one is his?”
“Or ask around until someone shows me the way.”
Roger shakes his head with a grin. “This town doesn’t work like that, mate. People don’t help each other here. You’re not in the citadel.”
“I’m aware,” the kid says sharply.
Roger drags his desk drawer open and pulls out a small sack. It’s heavy, and the kid blinks in surprise at its weight when Roger tosses it to him. “Take that,” Roger says. “You should be able to afford another month’s food. Forget you were ever looking for him.”
The kid shakes his head mutinously. “I’m not here for money. I’m here for him.”
He puts the sack down. Then he climbs back out of the window and disappears.
Roger shakes his head and turns back to his whetstone. “He could’ve used the stairs,” he mutters to himself, scraping the stone across the blade once more.
He keeps an eye on Brian the next day, but if the burglar found him he certainly doesn’t seem worse for wear.
His hair is as bouncy as usual. His smile is as smiley as usual. Roger passes him two coins to pay for his pint and Brian drops one clumsily on the counter, his cheeks going delightfully pink as Roger picks it up neatly and hands it back to him.
In short, he’s as perfect as always.
“Hey,” Crystal spits at him from across the table. “Stop ogling.”
Roger turns sullenly back to their table and glares at him. “I wasn’t ogling.”
“Yeah, sure you weren’t,” Crystal snarks. He’s immediately forgiven when he offers Roger his pipe.
Roger takes a drag and then coughs for about twenty seconds. It’s been a while. “Alright,” he says. “What have we got?”
Crystal sighs. “I hit the Eastern Woods yesterday.”
Roger squints at him. “Seriously?”
“On my life. The guard is getting better over there. I think the army is moving out for a training exercise. I’m honestly not really sure.”
“Great,” Roger hums. “Well, that’s out, then. What about Lakeshore?”
“You just want to see your—”
“I just want to get a good haul for once,” Roger says quickly, glaring. “As you very well know, as a fellow petty criminal. My gods. Are all the others this hung up on my love life?”
Crystal takes a sip of his beer.
“Unbelievable,” Roger gripes. “Actually unbelievable.”
“Look, you can’t blame ‘em,” Crystal says. He has a foam mustache, which Roger purposefully doesn’t inform him about in a fit of pettiness. “You’re young, you’re hot, you’re 20—”
“These are all true facts—”
“—And you could totally get some ass!”
“—Which aren’t relevant at this time,” Roger finishes flatly. “Tell me who we’re gonna rob next.”
Crystal rolls his eyes. “You’re no fun.”
“Said no one, ever.”
“Listen. As much as I’d love to watch you awkwardly flirt with your government contact—”
“—I have to remind you that Lakeshore isn’t a good idea.” Crystal frowns. “Actually, that entire side of the valley isn’t a good idea. We never get a good haul, for one, and the army is really bearing down. I’m telling you, it’s only a matter of time before we get caught.”
Roger sighs. So much for that.
“Besides,” Crystal adds. “Your boy? Pretty sure one of the higher-ups has figured out that there’s a mole.”
“What makes you say that?” Roger asks suspiciously.
Crystal hums. “Word is the king is planning on executing one of his advisors tomorrow.”
Roger’s eyes widen. “Bulsara?”
“No. It’s not Bulsara. Relax. It’s the new one. McAdams or something.”
“I don’t know him,” Roger says with a frown.
“Not many people do. Like I said, he’s not exactly a senior staff member. Either way, it’s best if everyone just lays low for a little while. No more jobs in the citadel, and no more fucking around in Lakeshore.”
Roger pouts into his beer. He’s about to respond when Brian appears beside their table.
“Alright?” he asks quietly.
Crystal rolls his eyes as Roger immediately brightens. “Alright, yeah. You?”
“Yeah,” Brian says with a soft smile.
“How was your night?”
“It was good. Quiet,” he adds. “Just studying. You?”
“Quiet, yeah. Just working. You know.”
Crystal gives him an unimpressed look.
“Did you, uh,” Roger starts awkwardly. He isn’t sure how to ask about the burglar, not without giving anything away. “Did you see anyone?”
Brian’s eyes widen.
“That’s not,” Roger starts, then backpedals. That…didn’t come out right. “You know, I mean—”
“No, I didn’t see anyone,” Brian says, still startled. A blush is rising back to his cheeks again. “I’m not, uh. I mean I saw some people but I’m not seeing anyone. If that’s. What you meant.”
That’s not what Roger meant, but it feels like the breath is knocked out of him all the same. “Yeah?” he asks.
“Mhmm. Yeah. I’m, uh. I mean, I’m single. Not seeing anyone, no.”
The cook sticks his head out from the kitchen. “May!” he snaps.
“Oops. Sorry, I’m just over here to give you this,” Brian says, handing him a gold-sealed envelope. “A courier dropped it off for you earlier.”
Roger takes it, frowning. He turns it over, but it only bears his own name in elegant, curling script. “Do you know who left it?”
Brian shrugs. “Just the regular delivery girl. I’m sorry, I don’t know.”
“That’s alright,” Roger says quickly. “I guess we’ll find out, won’t we?”
Brian smiles at him sweetly. Roger smiles back.
Here they are, just two clowns smiling at each other. It’s nice.
Crystal clears his throat.
“Right!” Roger starts. “Well…”
“Yes, it’s been good to see you. Er, talk to you. I’ll be off. More work and things.”
“Yes! Working hard! Right,” Roger says. “Good luck, I suppose.”
Brian gives him an odd look as he leaves.
A moment later Crystal’s head thumps down onto the table. “You have literally no game,” he informs Roger. “’Did you see anyone?’ Really, Roger? That was painful to watch.”
Roger rolls his eyes and slides his thumb under the envelope’s seal. “I didn’t mean it like that. Something happened last night, okay?”
“If this is about some exploit of yours then I take back what I said earlier. I really don’t want to know.”
“Shut up,” Roger hisses, leaning across the table. “It wasn’t that, alright? I almost got robbed last night. Or burglar…burglar-ed.”
Crystal snorts. “It’s a little ironic, don’t you think? Someone taking all your stuff for a change?”
“Yeah, except he didn’t take anything.”
“You fought him off, then?”
Roger shakes his head. “He didn’t want anything. I even offered him money.”
“What was he looking for, then?”
Roger nods in Brian’s direction.
Crystal frowns. “Seriously?”
“On my life.”
“You don’t suppose he’s a petty criminal like us, is he?”
“It remains to be seen,” Roger says. “We can’t very well ask him, can we?”
“I don’t think he’ll turn you in,” Crystal says. “He doesn’t seem the type.”
“Better safe than sorry,” Roger replies. “It’s a shame. He’s sweet, but he said he’s on a scholarship from the Crown. He’ll probably be working for the fat cats one day.”
Crystal’s mouth flattens. “Shame indeed,” he mutters, eyeing Brian suspiciously.
Roger sighs, working his thumb back under the flap of the envelope. He tugs a piece of paper out, creamy and thick, and scans the cursive quickly.
Crystal turns back to him, frowning. “What is it?”
“Gimme a second,” Roger mutters.
“Don’t tell me that’s your government contact.”
“Oh, so what if it is?”
“He can’t be trusted.”
“He’s got good intel! He hasn’t led us astray so far.”
Crystal gives him a tired look. “I really fuckin’ hope that you know what you’re doing.”
Roger knows what he’s doing.
More accurately he knows who he’s doing, as he arrives at the quiet inn on the outskirts of Lakeshore just after dusk, tracing the familiar path up the stairs and to the room at the end of the hall. The girl at the desk politely avoids eye contact. They’re good with discretion here.
He opens the door on silent hinges. He barely makes it two steps into the room before he’s being dragged all the way inside by his collar. The door is slammed shut and the wind is knocked from his lungs slightly as he’s pressed up against it. Then it’s knocked away even further as a mouth clashes against his own.
He whimpers and tangles his hands in thick hair, blood rushing to his head as a warm thigh is pressed between his own, silk trousers catching against his rougher clothing. His knees go weak and he feels seconds away from collapsing entirely before an arm snakes around his waist and the mouth pulls away from his own to trail down his neck instead.
“Do you know,” Freddie breathes between kisses, “how much I’ve missed you?”
Roger gasps out a laugh. “I think I have a pretty good idea,” he gets out.
“You have absolutely no right,” Freddie says. “Leaving me on my own like this. You’re cruel.”
Roger can feel his grin against his collarbone, and then he’s gasping again as nimble fingers go to work on his belt. “I’ll make it up to you,” he says.
Freddie pauses. “Yeah?”
“Yeah, as long as you don’t stop.”
“You’re quite demanding.”
“I’m a criminal, aren’t I? Or have you forgotten?”
“You don’t seem like much of a criminal right now.”
Roger laughs at him. “Oh?”
“Mhmm.” He pauses as Roger drags his shirt over his head, and then he’s standing there, shirtless and dazzling. “I got the drop on you earlier fairly easily, actually.”
“I’m weak for a pretty face,” Roger tells him, reaching down to palm the front of his trousers.
Freddie gasps, then grins. “How weak?”
Roger pushes him backward onto the bed and does.
It’s not really like their last time. It’s not like any of their previous times, actually, not that Roger finds that to be particularly surprising. Freddie has a way of keeping him on his toes, and it’s one of the many things about him that has Roger coming back again and again.
This is different, though.
When Freddie kisses him he does it like a dying man. At Roger’s every touch he squirms, and whenever Roger gets too far away a warm hand is dragging him close, always closer and closer. It’s a new kind of desperation, like he can’t get enough.
“You alright?” Roger asks him at one point, stilling and pulling back to study his face.
Freddie sighs, tugging him closer with the leg crooked around his waist. “Of course. Of course I am.”
“Not physically. I mean…”
Whatever he means, he doesn’t get to state it. Freddie silences him with a firm kiss, sweet and surprisingly chaste. “I’m fine, darling. Move.”
He does, and tries not to let it weigh on him that something might be the matter.
But Freddie is as sweet to him as always. When they finally collapse onto each other he’s breathing deeply against Roger’s neck like he’s trying to ingrain the smell of him into his memory.
Roger strokes a hand through his hair. He tries to shift, but Freddie won’t let him go far.
“I suppose we should talk, shouldn’t we?” Freddie asks him.
Here it is, finally. “What’s going on, Freddie?”
Freddie sits up just enough to rest his chin on Roger’s chest. “I’ve got news straight from the throne room itself.”
Ah. Politics, then. It doesn’t matter that political motives drive them to these little meetings in the first place. Roger feels his heart sink. “I meant what’s going on with you.”
“Nothing,” Freddie says swiftly. “Nothing at all.”
“Do you want my intel or not?”
That shuts him up.
Freddie gives him a tight smile. “You heard about the execution, I’m guessing. The crown is getting twitchy, and with good reason.”
“Because they know there’s a mole under their noses?” Roger asks, kissing his knuckles.
Freddie’s smile gets a little warmer at that. “Maybe, though it’s probably more to do with the current state of affairs. Things aren’t going well, Rog.”
“I know.” He’d be a fool not to see it, living in rebel territory as he is.
“They’re getting bad, and they’re bound to get worse. People are fleeing the city for opportunity, and the king is getting nervous. He thinks there’s a revolution mounting or something.”
“No revolution could take off against the army,” Roger says. He kisses his hand again. “It just isn’t possible. Nobody has that kind of manpower.”
“If people keep deserting they just might,” Freddie says.
“Believe me. I know plenty of people who’d like to mount a revolution. It’s not in the cards right now. Insurrections always fail.”
Freddie purses his lips. “There’s a first time for everything. With the way things are going I wouldn’t be surprised.”
Roger sends him a sad smile. “Don’t hold your breath, love.”
Freddie grimaces and looks away. “That’s not all. There’s an economic crash on the horizon. The drought has had enough of a detriment. The citadel can’t take much more strain, and when it does…”
“You’re worried it’s all going to fall on its head.”
“Not me. The crown, and all of the advisors along with it. Change is coming, for better or for worse.”
Roger frowns and turns that over in his head. For better or for worse…he isn’t sure how much worse it can get.
Freddie swallows, turning to kiss a love bite on Roger’s collar bone. “Listen to me. I want you to be careful, alright?”
“Change could only benefit me, Fred. It’s you I’m worried about.”
Freddie waves him off. “Oh, don’t worry about me.”
“I’ll always worry about you,” Roger insists quietly. “If there’s unrest, I’m not going to be the one people come after. If you’re not careful you’re going to get stuck between a rock and a hard place.”
“I think I already am,” Freddie mumbles.
Roger sits up. “Do you need help? I can get you—”
“—out of here, I can get you away. You can come—”
“Roger, just stop.”
Roger falls silent, breathing heavily. He doesn’t understand the situation in its entirety; all he knows is Freddie can’t die. Whatever happens, he can’t die.
“Listen,” Freddie says slowly, watching him unblinkingly. “I’ll be okay. Alright? I’ll find a way through this. You’ve got bigger things to worry about.”
“Like what?” Roger grumbles.
“Like putting food on the table,” Freddie reminds him gently. “Like avoiding getting caught. Like robbing the transport caravan that’s heading north as we speak.”
“What’s that?” Roger asks, perking up.
“You heard me. Some of the South Palace’s wealth is being moved north. It’s disguised as grain. You should be able to make off with a few kilos of rubies if you’re fast.”
“Wait a minute. Don’t think you can just distract me from—”
“Only,” Freddie says, “if you’re quick. Go right now. I’ll see you in a few weeks.”
And Roger doesn’t know him that well, is the thing. He’s seen him a hundred times, fucked him a hundred times, stared into his very soul more times than he can count.
But he knows him well enough to know when he’s lying.
“Go now,” Freddie says with a smile. “Don’t worry about me.”
“I’m always going to worry.”
Freddie drags him down and presses their lips together. He kisses him angrily, like he means it, and Roger gives as good as he gets until the two of them are gasping against each other’s mouths. Freddie kisses him one last time, chastely, and says, “Go. I’ll be in touch once things have settled down.”
Roger thinks about it, then; he thinks about telling him he loves him. He can tell when Freddie’s lying. They’re not going to see each other when things have settled down. It’s possible they’ll never see each other again.
But then he meets Freddie’s eyes, and he knows Freddie gets it. Freddie understands; he isn’t going to say it either, but he understands.
Roger nods once and all but drags himself toward the door.
As soon as he leaves the building he starts running. He can’t help it.
Freddie is going to be fine.
Like he said, running. He needs to get the nerves out somehow.
He can’t imagine Freddie getting caught. He’s always been infallible, ever since the day he and Roger met—Freddie, publicly known only by his birthname, the grandchild of one of the king’s statesmen, and Roger, then just a student in a too-good school while his father was still working and the economy was good. Maybe Roger was always a disaster waiting to happen, and Roger himself doesn’t mind that so much. He was never meant to be in the citadel.
That’s not to say anything of Freddie—Freddie who keeps a flawless public persona, ever the doting grandchild with a perfect record, perfectly adept at being just good enough to be boring, just kind enough to be unremarkable. He handles his public appearances and duties in court with a quiet grace that Roger can only be in awe of; and even that pales in comparison to the way he occasionally chooses to ignore those duties—to aid the rebels, to fight against the crown and to support the greater good.
That right there? That is the reason Roger loves him.
So yeah. Freddie is going to be fine simply because he needs to be, and because Roger can’t accept an alternative, and because the world needs more Farrokh Bulsaras, not fewer.
The caravan isn’t hard to spot. It really does look like grain transport, on first glance. It’s a long string of covered wagons and it’s almost too easy to hop into the back of the last one in line and duck quickly to the floor.
They really should start putting more guards on these things.
He cracks open a barrel of wheat and digs around through the grain until his fingers hit canvas, and then he’s tugging with all his might as a sack slowly unearths itself from the depths. It’s heavy cloth stamped with the kingdom’s crest, FORTES SOLI stamped right below it, and Roger spares a moment to roll his eyes at the lack of decorum. He unties the drawstring and pulls it open, and the unprocessed rubies inside are enough to make his jaw drop.
It’s going to be a pain to lug back to the village, but it’ll be more than worth it.
His dismount from the wagon is less than graceful, but that’s okay. He hears guards shouting behind him but the darkness has lent him good cover; he already knows he’s going to lose them. Between his knowledge of the territory and his dark clothes they don’t stand a chance of finding him once he disappears into the trees.
Two arrows thump into the soft ground just behind his heels. He swerves to the side just in time to miss another volley, and one makes its home deep in the bark of a pine just inches from where his head was only a second ago—but then he’s home free, running as fast as his feet can take him as he falls back into the familiar path toward the village.
He smiles, and for a moment he even forgets that Freddie might not be okay—that Freddie might not even last the night. For one blessed moment he forgets.
He runs straight back to Crystal’s, picks the lock on the door and drops the sack onto his dining room table right next to his nightly pint. “I told you about Lakeshore,” he says.
Crystal pulls back the flap and then hisses through his teeth. “What the fuck is this?”
“A tip from my contact,” Roger says loftily.
“Oh, he just gave you the tip, did he?”
Roger smacks him upside the head. “As I was saying,” he continues. “If anything this makes the case that we need to lean even heavier on that area of the Eastern Woods. It’s only right. The trade routes there are still in high use, and—”
“And they’re sure to be overrun with guards come tomorrow,” Crystal finishes for him. “I’m glad you took the opportunity when it presented itself, but even you have to see that this is the last time.”
“It doesn’t have to be,” Roger argues.
Crystal shakes his head. “Listen to yourself,” he says. “Not even Sid and his boys would be so stupid. You hear? You’re going to get us all killed.”
“There are good jobs there,” Roger argues. “I mean, look at this. We could have every night go like this one if we keep leaning on the area and protect our contacts.”
Crystal stills. He slowly puts his teacup down. “That’s what this is about, then?”
Roger frowns. “What?”
“Don’t give me that. What’s going on with Bulsara?”
“Nothing,” Roger says quickly. “I just think we should be more careful about looking after the people who risk their lives for us.”
Crystal raises his eyebrows. “Roger…”
“Bulsara in particular. He’s done more than enough for us. I want men on him. I want a check-in tomorrow. Something’s going on.”
“We can’t risk the men,” Crystal starts.
“Bullshit we can’t risk the men,” Roger says quietly, and Crystal’s eyes shoot up to meet his. “That’s bullshit. He’s always looked after us, and we look after our own.”
Crystal blinks. “What’s going on?”
“You were right. They know there’s a mole. He’s made.”
“I don’t know.” Roger sighs. “Fuck. I have no idea. It’s Freddie. You know he doesn’t give anything away.”
Crystal frowns. “It’s a significant risk to our own guys even to send them into Lakeshore.”
“Then they better not get caught.”
“You know I am.” Roger licks his lips. “If we don’t protect the people that try to help us then what’s the point of us doing this at all?”
“Listen, Roger,” Crystal says. “You’ve been good to us. You’re a good leader, alright? Don’t let that go to your head. Making this call—”
“Is my call to make,” Roger says, voice barely above a whisper. “I’m sorry. I don’t want to pull rank, but I need to ask you not to question that.” He pushes the sack closer to Crystal. “Choose three and compensate them generously. I want proof that he’s alive and well, and if there is even the slightest indication that he’s not then I want him out of there. The army can’t try to track him. Make it look like a suicide or something. I don’t care.”
Crystal nods. “Alright. Spike, Pete and Clay. I’ll tell them in the morning.” He takes a slow sip of his beer. “He better be worth all this.”
“You know he is.”
“Then we’ll do what we can,” Crystal says quietly.
Roger nods, suddenly exhausted. “Alright. Thanks, Crys.”
“Of course. You want me to leave the rest of this in the vault?”
“Sure,” Roger says. “We’ll find a way to move it tomorrow.”
Crystal nods, eyeing him carefully. “Get some rest.”
He sees himself out, stepping out onto the street and taking a deep breath of the cool air. Fall is descending quickly now, and the harvest is coming with it. Maybe that means they’ll get a few final rainfalls to bolster the crops before winter.
Somehow he doubts it.
No, the cold will come, and with it will come the hunger. People will be unhappy before November is over, and with the unhappiness will come restlessness and anger.
Freddie was right. The crown won’t last the winter, not without strain. The going will get rough before they’re through, if they make it through at all.
His feet carry him down the cobblestones before his mind is even made up on a destination. He feels untethered, ungrounded. He no longer feels like his goals are straight. One thought is bouncing around his head on repeat: the crown will fall. The rebels will win. It’s not what might happen, it’s what has to happen.
But how? And why? Surely things will get worse before they get better. Nobody likes the system, but it hasn’t always been bad. Good times will come again. Freddie will continue to walk the palace by day and sneak through dingy hotels at night, and Brian and Roger will continue to dance around each other in the bar, and Roger and Crystal will continue to rob the rich for all they’re worth.
He can’t make sense of anything anymore. Gods help him, but suddenly nothing makes sense.
He finds himself standing before the one thing that does: Brian’s door.
He hesitates before knocking. It’s still early into the night. The bar is usually open well into the morning, and Brian always ends up working late. There’s a good chance he isn’t even home.
For some reason Roger doesn’t care. He has to see him—if not here, then he’ll haul himself down to the tavern and buy a drink with a handful of raw, unpolished rubies. He doesn’t care.
He raps on the door three times.
Down the street someone’s dog barks. He waits, but nothing happens.
“Brian?” he calls.
He steps back and surveys the building, and that’s when he sees it. There’s a lamp burning upstairs. He must be home.
Maybe he just doesn’t want to see Roger. Maybe he’s enjoying a night in, or he’s in the bath. That’s always possible.
But then Roger’s paranoid, frazzled mind takes a turn in another direction, and he begins thinking down the other road. He thinks of rebels, starved from the lack of grain and desperate for a few extra crowns. He thinks of burglars who wander through windows at night. He thinks of Brian with his skinny wrists and gentle eyes, Brian who spends half his time with his nose buried so deep into a book that he seems to lose all other sense of the world, Brian who couldn’t hurt a fly, and indeed has refused to do so in the past.
Brian could be in trouble.
Without hesitation, Roger pulls his picks out of his pocket and begins working on the lock. It takes him only a moment, and then the door swings open beneath his touch.
It’s warm in the house. That’s the first thing that hits him. For a home that’s probably been empty all day with Brian busy in class or at the shop, it’s surprisingly cozy. He wonders distantly who’s been keeping the fire lit.
The light is still on upstairs, a beacon calling him toward the stairwell. He casts a glance around the darkness of the living room, but he can’t see anything but the grim shadows of furniture and decorations. Brian has never been the tidiest of people, but everything seems to be in its proper place. Nothing has been disturbed.
He starts toward the stairs, and that’s when he’s tacked bodily toward the floor.
He hits the oak floorboards with a huff, a hushed noise compared the thump of his body. A weight lands on top of him, and he doesn’t even think before rolling with his own momentum and hurling the person cleanly off. He hears a short exhale as his attacker thumps into the chest of drawers across the room. Whoever it is, they’re trained to take such blows.
He’s barely gotten himself to his feet when he’s down again, this time by a foot kicking his own legs out from beneath him. He lands on his back but rolls quickly to put the person beneath him. They land in the dim square of light cast down the landing from upstairs, and Roger has only a second to look but he still instantly recognizes the man: the wavy hair spread out on the rug like a halo, the eyes squinting at him in the darkness.
“You,” Roger hisses.
The man growls and hooks an ankle around Roger’s leg, rolling him roughly and pinning one wrist with his knee. “Expecting someone else?”
“The man who lives here, maybe,” Roger snaps. He manages to whip his knife out from the sheath on his thigh, but just as quickly the man is squeezing his wrist until the blade falls to the floor and slides away.
The man grunts as Roger wrestles his hand free and makes a grab for his hair, meaning to drag him down. It just sends the two of them thudding into the dresser. Roger spots the knife laying there beneath it in the darkness just as an iron vase comes falling from the dresser’s surface and lands on the floor beside them.
They move at the same time. Roger lunges for the knife and makes to jam it upward into the man’s ribs; the man makes a grab for the vase, hoisting it over his head and ready to ram it down into Roger’s own. Roger throws up a hand to defend himself.
The room illuminates suddenly as Brian walks in, lamp in hand.
The three of them freeze. Roger looks at Brian. Brian looks at the two of them.
“Do either of you want to explain to me,” Brian says congenially, “what the fuck is going on here?”