© Carole Cummings



Ailin slipped the first button loose, letting his hands sweep over Garreth's lapels, gentling, as he moved to the second. “Everything all right?” He dipped his head a little more, still peering closely but yet unable to get a look at Garreth‟s face.

Garreth only shook his head, one sharp negation back and forth. Ailin couldn't tell if it was an answer to his question or an indication that he shouldn't ask it again. Garreth's thick gold hair hung down, tangled from the wind, obscuring his eyes, and the light in the hall was chancy; all Ailin could see was the tight twitching in the muscles of Garreth's jaw, the firm, slightly downward set of his mouth.

Some deal gone wrong, perhaps, or a ruling by the Mayor that didn't go in his favor. Whatever it was, it must have been serious. Ailin didn't think he'd ever seen Garreth so troubled that he couldn't speak; in fact, it was when Garreth was the most troubled that he did speak. Not one to keep things stoppered up inside, this one.

Ailin loosed the last button of the coat, slowly slipping his hands between it and Garreth's jacket. He leaned in close as he smoothed the heavy wool from shoulders set rigid and tense. Garreth was chilled and he smelled of sweat and horse, so Ailin knew that he'd ridden; but he also smelled of pine and leather and violent autumn skies full of thunder and fire, and it somehow made Ailin feel better to have Garreth here, regardless of the queer mood in which he happened to have arrived.

His hands had slipped the sleeves to Garreth's elbows and Ailin paused, giving Garreth's arms a quick squeeze inside woolen warmth. “Tell me,” he said, soft and close to Garreth's ear.

A slight shiver ran through Garreth and a long, deep breath swayed him a hair closer, a ghost of a touch of his chest to Ailin's. He tilted in, almost as though he meant to lay his head to Ailin's shoulder; he only dipped his nose to the hair that was curling damp at Ailin's nape.

“You smell nice,” was all he said.






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