Hardin shifted on the mattress as he woke the next morning, but only slightly. An old habit; Sydney was a very light sleeper. Not that Sydney was likely to be there this morning. Just in case, Hardin didn't roll over to look, but used the Sight.

No, he was alone. And no wonder - the bedclothes were a filthy, tangled mess. Stained this time as usual, but not torn, as far as he could tell from where he lay looking down at himself. They might have been salvaged, had he thought to put them somewhere to soak before falling asleep.

He grumbled faintly in disgust as he sat up. There was nothing to be done for it, he thought, stripping the sheets from the bed. There were more bedsheets, and he would fetch them once he had washed himself.

Where was Sydney, then, he wondered? Still in hiding? This morning the Dark was more obedient, and he found Sydney easily, lying on his back on one of the spare beds in the barracks, still fast asleep. Hardin decided that he must have grown jaded; where once he would have lingered on the sight, instead he turned his attentions to the pitcher of water on the table. He'd intended it the night before for drinking, not for washing, but there was enough to make himself presentable before he clothed himself and left the room to bathe properly.

Though the sun had not properly risen, there was already warm water for the baths, and Hardin silently undressed behind one of the screens. No one would have taken note of his presence anyhow; there were only two others in the large room, already secreted behind another screen, their conversation punctuated by faint splashes. They seemed to be enjoying themselves.

"Don't look so disappointed - you have gotten me into the bath with you, have you not?"

"I'd hoped you might take more of an interest in what you see..."

Gwynn certainly didn't sound disappointed, Hardin thought, easing himself into the water. The other voice sounded like... Kieran? (With his talent, it would have been easy enough to find out, but he was not going to scrye anyone in the baths.) In context, it seemed correct - the man was a somewhat recent convert, and despite Sydney's assurances that his long-repressed desires would find no condemnation among their number, he was not yet entirely comfortable with them. Hardin could sympathize, and he wondered cynically if Gwynn was the right man to try to convince him. Gwynn had been with Müllenkamp even longer than Hardin - in fact, he had been one of Sydney's consorts before they encountered each other - and was not the slightest bit shy or subtle about his tastes.

"Do I seem disinterested, then?"

"Not disinterested, precisely..."

"The bath is for bathing, besides. ...It is! Don't stare at me so."

"I find it difficult to avoid staring at you. Particularly like this."

Hardin sighed wearily at the pause in their exchange, imagining all too well the looks that must be passing between them. There had been a time, not even so long ago, when he and Sydney had found such conversation entertaining. After his initial discomfort had worn off, Hardin had enjoyed the banter. He wondered when it had begun - this slow descent into bitterness. It would have been much simpler to determine, he supposed, if he could have determined when Sydney had begun this latest bout of indifference. Feigned indifference, Hardin reminded himself - it was obvious that Sydney was troubled just by the pains he took to make it appear as if he wasn't. Even Hardin was having trouble remembering.

But enough of this. He'd gone over it too many times already, and there were other subjects to think upon. Today, he was to begin training with some of the brethren who had taken well to the Dark. Sydney had been training them in magic, but it was no longer sufficient to be skilled with either magic or weaponry. Because of the cardinal's men - and Romeo Guildenstern in particular, who was becoming strangely proficient in routing their usual tactics - they would not be able to survive their encounters with the enemy if they were not trained in both areas.

Hardin ignored the playful conversation going on elsewhere in the room, and considered where to begin. He supposed that the first thing to do was to find out if any of them had previous experience with weaponry, and what kinds. They certainly had plundered a wide assortment to choose from...

A few hours later, quite a variety had been gathered to lean against the wall of the courtyard, all used but cleaned and polished until they gleamed in the morning sun. Hardin stood before his new pupils, his own sword belted to his waist, and schooled his self-consciousness into a grim look, as he always had in such situations. After his own experiences as a youth, he had never had any urge to become a drill instructor.

Sydney had been the only instructor Hardin had not chafed under, perhaps because he had not taken the role of a superior. Neither were the other brethren his underlings, exactly, and Hardin tried not to treat them as such, attempting to lighten the mood occasionally as Sydney had, so the instruction would not seem so oppressive or ominous. "You may not be comfortable with the first weapon you handle. Try raising it, try pointing it, and if it does not feel manageable, put it down for now and try another. Perhaps something completely different, even unfamiliar. Since every one of these weapons was first seen pointed at us by the Crimson Blades, I trust I need not instruct you on which end is which."

This drew a few chuckles, which put him more at ease as the men did as he said, talking amongst themselves while handling the various weapons, picking them up and hefting them, then trying another. Hardin let his attention wander briefly, glancing around the courtyard. Some had come to watch, it seemed - and Sydney was present too, he realized suddenly. He was standing in a shadowy alcove beneath a crumbling statue, arms crossed over his chest, simply observing. Perhaps he'd come to offer advice once they began. After all, Sydney had been the first trained mage that Hardin had instructed in swordplay, and his experience might prove helpful... though Hardin couldn't think what adjustments he might need to make, as Sydney had picked up the forms so quickly and easily. It may have been just because it was Sydney, however - he did anything well if he set his mind to it.

He turned his attention back to those whom he was supposed to be instructing. Like most men, the majority of them were naturally gravitating towards the largest pieces - the spears, the greatswords, the heavy maces. Typical, particularly among those who were untrained. "Don't overlook the one-handed weapons," Hardin advised them. "The largest may look impressive, but require more finesse. For instance, keep in mind that you'd have no hand to spare for a shield. As well, I have seen several well-armed men on horseback taken down by one man who was especially talented with his daggers." The first irreverant comment had gone over well enough, so Hardin tried another. "Regardless of what you might have heard in the taverns, size truly is of no consequence - it is all a matter of whether or not one has technique."

This prompted a few more laughs, and Hardin dared to smile slightly as he glanced over to Sydney; this was the sort of comment he would have taken pleasure in delivering, some time past. This time, however, he did not look the slightest bit amused.

Hardin realized why when he glanced back at the men he'd been training, and saw that many of them had noticed that glance - and evidently believed it to be more meaningful than it was, from the way some smirked or winced. ...Hardin did not delude himself into thinking that the others in their company didn't know that he and Sydney had been sharing a bed for some time, but was it so obvious that they'd been having difficulties lately? So obvious that they would believe he would make such crude remarks about Sydney?

At least he knew that was not Hardin's intention, Hardin thought with another glance back at the alcove. That was one advantage of Sydney being a heartseer. Unfortunately, Sydney was already gone.

Hardin cleared his throat and told his men to get on with it, fortunately not blushing. He was not going to back up or sputter denials - it would only draw more attention to the matter. Let it blow over, he thought. And if they believed he was irritated with Sydney... it was not untrue. Let Sydney hear it in the hearts of others, if he'd stopped listening to what Hardin's heart told him.

Unfortunately, Hardin was not the sort of man who could be personally vindictive. To society as a whole, perhaps, the monarchy and military of course, but not to someone he cared for. As the day wore on, he found himself growing slightly guilty. It was a minor relief when he chanced to come across Sydney in the hallway after dinner, which Sydney had not been present for. Of course he wouldn't speak of it. No need, when Sydney already knew what he would have said.

Instead, as he paused, catching Sydney's eye, he stated something even more obvious. "You did not have dinner, did you?"

Sydney shook his head slightly, but did not elaborate. Hardin wasn't especially surprised; how many times could Sydney explain that he hadn't been feeling well before it was simply assumed? It also didn't surprise him that his guilt was so easily turned to mild concern. Sydney also hadn't slept well, or so Hardin assumed from the lateness of the previous night's visit and his sleeping elsewhere afterwards. It may have been part of the problem. Again, nothing he needed to say aloud. He had, several times. Sydney had wasted no time in showing his irritation with Hardin's concern - he was immortal, after all.

"There are fresh linens on the bed," Hardin told him. Sydney seemed to at least not chafe so much when his concern was shown in a more subtle way. "It should be more comfortable for you."

Sydney smiled slightly, but not at Hardin's words. It was as if he was listening to something far away. "I am not overly concerned with the state of the linens, but thank you."

Hardin hadn't believed for a moment that it was what had kept Sydney away the night before, but hearing Sydney say so was still frustrating. "...As well, if my presence disturbs you," he offered, somewhat reluctantly, averting his eyes, "I shall sleep elsewhere."

"That is not necessary." The faint smile had faded, and now Sydney just looked strained. "The room is yours as well."

"It was yours long before it was mine," Hardin pointed out. "Your willingness to share it has always been appreciated, but it has always been your room."

"And I say it is your room as well," Sydney told him. "You need not seek slumber elsewhere."

Hardin met his gaze plainly. "Nor do you."

Sydney just peered at him, unfazed. Why will you not explain this to me? Hardin thought in exasperation, knowing perfectly well that Sydney would hear.

Sydney did not explain, however - he only nodded in acknowledgement, and continued on his way. Hardin wondered, as he also went back to his evening rounds, if the nod was an indication that Sydney might accept his invitation. An invitation to sleep in his own room; it grated to think that such a thing had become necessary.

By the time Hardin had fallen asleep in their room that night, Sydney had not arrived. When he awoke, just as he expected - he was still alone.

The Dark told Sydney many things that distracted and displeased him of late, especially when he was deep in meditation. At the moment, this included the fact that Hardin was scrying, watching him from afar. As he had not yet been to bed, and doubtless looked unwell, Sydney simply blocked himself off, as well as the room in the ancient temple where he knelt. Almost immediately, he felt a twinge of remorse; Hardin had once described the feeling of being cut off in that way as being similar to having been slapped in the face, and this was not the way to begin the day on a good note.

He ignored it, however, and reminded himself that Hardin deserved it, for the most part. Of course he knew better than to believe that Hardin had meant any harm - the misinterpretation said more about the minds of the other men than it did about Hardin's intentions. No one would have remembered the comment five minutes later had they not jumped to conclusions, based on assumptions they had already made about the state of his relationship with Hardin. And even so, it would not have been memorable if it had been allegedly aimed at anyone but himself - Sydney Losstarot, Keeper of the Dark, immortal voice of the gods, high priest and prophet of the end days. No one would dare question him, much less speak disrespectfully of him. None but Hardin.

Sydney found that he was smiling faintly in spite of himself. To be honest, that was one reason he'd become so fond of Hardin. A certain amount of blind faith and unquestioning obedience was required in his followers, given the role he was to play, but Hardin's occasional insolence was far more comfortable. It even felt reassuring sometimes to know that at least one man followed not because of the Dark and his prophesies, but because he knew the human behind them.

Blind as they may be in some ways, the assumptions his followers had made regarding himself and Hardin were correct, of course. There were no fools among his men - not now. Müllenkamp could ill afford the dubious assistance of fools at this time.

And he personally could ill afford dissention among their number - and was that not where the murmurs and speculation would lead? Those who may question his divine appointment were beginning to have second thoughts, for Hardin was well-respected among the brethren, who knew that he knew Sydney better than anyone; disapproval from Hardin was a serious matter. Those whose faith in him was unshakable - they were beginning to feel uncertain about Hardin, for if he had done something that displeased Sydney, he may not be worthy of being Müllenkamp's second-in-command. It was bad enough to have the strain between the two of them to deal with, without it seeping out into the whole of their company and causing a rift. He would have to do something about this.

It was difficult to think this way, Sydney thought with irritation, realizing that the man had once again distracted him from his prayers.

"Be it true," Duncan asked at breakfast, looking puzzled, "that Sydney an' yerself've been fighting?"

Hardin managed not to glare at Duncan. He was, after all, one of the first friends Hardin had made among their number, and he had been off on a patrol the past few days, partnered with Aiden, who sat beside him, listening with curious interest. Duncan was only repeating the rumors that Hardin had suspected to be circulating just out of his earshot.

"We are not 'fighting'," he stated firmly. "If this has to do with a remark I made yesterday, it was not aimed at Sydney, nor at anyone else." In truth, if it had been mocking anyone at all, Hardin thought, it would have been mocking himself. Once his stature had been a source of pride, but next to Sydney he often felt overly large and clumsy.

"It be more than that," Duncan replied dismissively. "Ye were actin' a mite off well before Aiden an' I left, an' I was thinkin' as much... Then I come back to all kinds of rumors. E'en if they be only half true..."

"It is true that we have not been quite comfortable with one another..." ...And that was all Hardin could say, wasnt' it? No one saw Sydney the same way he did, and Duncan was the one who had, long ago, told him matter-of-factly that Sydney was immortal. If he tried to suggest that Sydney might be unwell, or suffering from the pressure of his position, Duncan would not believe it.

"Was it something ye did? Or just..."

"I could not say. If I've done something to displease him, he has not told me what it is that I've done."

"Perhaps it has nothing to do with displeasure," Aiden suggested. "You do realize that he was never inclined to single out one of us as the favorite."

Hardin looked at the man in disbelief. This was true enough - Aiden had been one of Sydney's consorts before they'd met - but those sorts of affairs were different than the relationship he and Sydney shared. At least, he'd believed so for quite some time...

Before he could manage to think of a way to put forth this idea without sounding overly defensive, Duncan spoke up. "Aye, but things changed when he met Hardin. No more countin' heads around the campfires an' wonderin' which head would come up missin' tonight. 'Twas yours, often enough." Aiden muffled a chuckle in his drink, and Hardin wondered why he'd ever thought that Duncan was too ... ordinary to speak of such things. For all that Duncan vastly preferred women, and was not shy when it came to saying how much he preferred them, there was no one among their number who would bat an eye at Sydney's habits, or those he chose to indulge in them with.

"True," Aiden acknowledged, turning back to Hardin thoughtfully. "And although we all knew we had no right to resent you for it, Hardin - none of us ever had a claim to more of him than he offered - some of us were curious... You have been chosen as his successor, no?"

...Successor? Hardin had no idea what to say to that. It was not as if the thought had never occurred to him, but it had mostly been in the context of praying that it was not his destiny. Such things hadn't crossed his mind for a long time anyhow. "Where did this idea come from?"

"When Sydney met his predecessor, the two of them were very close - in fact, the other had taken no consorts among the brethren until Sydney appeared." Aiden nodded knowingly. "It seemed to be similar when he met you."

"How would you know?" Hardin asked, narrowing his eyes incredulously. The idea was absurd. "You've spoken of how you came to follow Sydney, when he was already the high priest."

"He... took to me rather quickly." Aiden looked somewhat self-conscious all of a sudden. "Some who had been with Müllenkamp longer than I, longer than even Sydney, told me that I resembled the former high priest."

Hardin considered this for a moment, and decided he didn't want to think about Sydney's former partners. Just thinking about Sydney on his own was frustrating enough. "To my knowledge, I am nothing more than his second. He's never suggested more." But then - would he? Especially knowing that Hardin wanted none of it?

"Hmm..." Duncan looked speculative, most likely thinking along the same lines. Just how many assumptions were there about him, Hardin thought, annoyed? He'd hoped that the respect shown by the brethren had been because he'd earned it, rather than because of rumored power.

Actually, Hardin decided that he didn't want to think about any of it anymore - it was unsettling. "I'll need a full report from your patrol," Hardin told them, glad to have a valid reason to change the subject. "More formally after breakfast. I trust there's nothing urgent?"

"Not at all," Duncan replied, and Aiden nodded in agreement. "Mostly we've been seein' what we already knew, or guessed. Blades've been pokin' at the tunnel into the wine cellar from across the way - an' I wager they're not after a drink..."

"I doubt anyone here would take you up on that wager," Aiden chuckled.

Matters of security and surveillance were enough to keep them occupied for the remainder of the meal, and for a short time afterwards. Eventually, after talking to a few others who had been sent out to scout the surrounding area, and the men who were to return that afternoon from a trip to the camp they'd set up for the women, children, and elderly - eventually Hardin would need to pass the compiled information on to Sydney.

Hardin was not looking forward to this. Between Sydney's having abruptly turned the Dark back at him early that morning, and the discovery of more rumors than Hardin had suspected, he knew there was no way to make such a meeting not awkward and suspicious. Sydney had enough to deal with, Hardin thought, without the questions that circled through his thoughts. But if there was any truth to them, Hardin should know. ...But if there was any truth to them, surely Sydney would have told him already.

Later, Hardin told himself firmly. There were other things to be taken care of. More training - and Sydney would be busy with the same, teaching magic rather than weaponry - more reports, more strategies and maneuvers to think upon. They were running a bit low on some supplies, so someone must ride to a nearby town... It was unlikely that he would have a chance to speak to Sydney until after dinner.

He did not quite manage to put it off that long, however. After having spoken to everyone whose information he required, and arranging for two of their number to travel to a nearby village the next day, Hardin settled down for a slightly late dinner. Lost in thought, he wasn't paying much attention to the conversation of his companions until it quieted suddenly. Before Hardin could look to see what was the matter, he felt a hand settle on his shoulder - a familiar hand, for he could feel the thin edges of the fingers through the wool of his shirt.

He looked up to see a little smile of... amusement, perhaps? on Sydney's face. "I'd like to have your report tonight, Hardin."

Was that a rebuke? Hardin frowned. "I only spoke to the last team a short time ago - I'd intended to find you after dinner."

"Not to worry," Sydney assured him smoothly. "I've been otherwise occupied as well. Shall we convene in our room, once you've finished?"

Hardin hesitated. Sydney was acting so normal all of a sudden. He wished he could feel relieved instead of wary. "As you wish," he agreed. And since he was acting as if nothing was wrong... "Have you eaten yet?"

Sydney shook his head, still smiling a bit, and the hand on Hardin's shoulder instead came to rest on his head, almost fondly. "Not yet. Why don't you bring something for me when you come?"

The cool tone of his voice and the eerie almost-bite of his fingers upon Hardin's scalp were embarrassingly compelling, more than enough to make Hardin's heart beat faster just by instinct. "...What would you like?"

"Whatever you see fit to bring will be fine," Sydney replied, nearly stroking Hardin's hair. "You know my tastes by now, I should think."

He did. Hardin swallowed, finding it very difficult to remember that he'd been annoyed with Sydney only recently. Not Sydney's compulsion, though - this was his own weakness. "I'm sure I can find something appropriate."

"Of course." The metal claws removed themselves from Hardin's hair, and Sydney gave Hardin one last little smirk before turning to leave.

Hardin could feel many curious pairs of eyes on him, no doubt all wondering what had changed. Well - he couldn't answer that question when he was wondering the same. Before anyone could ask it aloud, he turned to the others at the table. "What was it you were just saying, Kermiak, about the animals behaving oddly?" Another old friend of his, who had gone out on a hunt - but he would answer Hardin's question, because of his rank among them. "In what way?"

Despite Kermiak's willingness to change the subject at his request, Hardin was still receiving the curious looks, and he finished his dinner quickly. He had more than one reason to do so.

After gathering some rolls and fruit and a bit of butter - Hardin wasn't convinced that Sydney was actually in the mood for dinner, but he had agreed to bring him some - Hardin took the covered plate to their room, pausing outside for just a moment. Was Sydney truly inside? The Sight showed Hardin that he was, seated in a chair at their small table, waiting.

Almost immediately, Sydney raised an eyebrow at the phantom Hardin that stood inside the room with him. "You may enter, Hardin," he said, seemingly amused. "You were, after all, invited." Feeling foolish, Hardin reached for the door's handle.

He'd been right - Sydney still looked ill and exhausted, and his eyes remained downcast as Hardin set the plate before him on the table, despite the murmured words of appreciation. A moment's hesitation, and Hardin seated himself across from Sydney to uncover the plate. He noticed the sideways glance at the aroma of fresh rolls and butter, which he knew Sydney fancied. Knowing from experience that it would do no good to encourage Sydney to eat, he reached for one of the rolls himself, buttering it and then wordlessly breaking it to offer half to Sydney. He was relieved when Sydney accepted it, picked at it restlessly for a moment, and then tore off a morsel to eat. He'd seen Sydney in a similar state many times - starved, yet barely able to stomach the lightest foods - but normally this happened only after close communion with the gods, such that they spoke through him or he received divine revelation. If he'd been recently given a prophesy, however, he had not told Hardin.

It could not be said that they'd spoken much at all recently, of course, so after watching Sydney pick at his food some more, Hardin finished his half of the roll and then spoke quietly. "Have the gods shown you something?"

Sydney glanced up, his eyes revealing nothing. "I'd thought it was you who was to relate what you have learned, not I."

Hardin's eyes narrowed, his irritation with Sydney's behavior returning easily. "Mocking makes it no less obvious that you've been troubled."

Sydney said nothing, merely watching Hardin as if he were waiting. Hardin, knowing what he was likely waiting for, stifled a sigh and began to tell Sydney of what their scouts and patrols had learned. He had intended to come on business, after all; there was no sense regretting it if that was all it was.

He could not pretend that it had escaped his notice that Sydney wasn't listening as closely as he normally would have. The mage seemed to be only half there listening to Hardin's report, while the other half was elsewhere, listening to something unrelated. He was listening, though, because once Hardin had finished speaking, he asked, "What would you advise?"

"About the knights? I would like to take the matter of the Blades' intrusion upon myself for a time. Now that Kermiak has returned, he might work with the men I've been training while I keep watch on the entrance to the cellar. Perhaps I will overhear something useful - and I should be safe enough on my own, as I can scrye while keeping my distance, and lock the way behind me with sigils should I be discovered."

Sydney nodded. "About Kermiak, and his observations... the animals may know more than we expect. You spoke of some among the women who wanted to return to fight alongside the men - I expect that Branla was among them."

The implication was clear without Sydney having to finish - the young woman's Talent allowed her to speak to animals. "Yes - Morrison reported that she was quite insistent about returning to serve you in Leá Monde. Shall I send word with the next rotation that she should return with the last?"

"She, and Emma also. They were both powerful enough in the Dark that they need little protection, and should be of use to us," Sydney replied. "Do you have any further advice to offer?"

...Hardin couldn't help himself. "I would advise you to get a good night's sleep in your own bed as soon as we are finished discussing Müllenkamp's plans," he muttered, knowing already that Sydney would not like this response, but looking him in the eye nonetheless. "I couldn't say if it's a glamour you adopt for others, or simply a unique lack of faith on my part when it comes to your invulnerability, but even if I am the only one who notices how exhausted you look - you do."

Sydney's returning gaze was cool, and Hardin waited, expecting it to turn icy. Instead, Sydney spoke quite calmly. "Will you not admonish me to eat more of my dinner first?"

Hardin wondered if he were mocking, teasing, or... he wasn't sure what else. "If I believed that it would do any good, I would." The honest answer was a good enough response to whatever angle Sydney might be taking.

Fortunately, Sydney just glanced back down at the plate, and at the roll he'd hardly touched. "I'd thought to try. Perhaps sleep will be easier."

Hardin's resentment began to melt away as quickly as it had come; Sydney was just... complicated, and couldn't help himself sometimes. The admission that he was at least trying was almost certainly difficult to make. Hardin nodded, and began to rise. "Shall I go elsewhere, then, and leave you in peace?"

"If you wish," Sydney replied, "but it is not necessary. Your presence does not disturb my slumber."

Of course not. Hardin knew better than anyone that what most disturbed Sydney's slumber was the sleeping itself - and that it was the presence of another which most often brought peace. They could both benefit from some peace, Hardin thought, offering Sydney his hand. He wasn't surprised when Sydney didn't take it, but stood by himself. He'd made too many concessions to weakness already, and would make no more.

Perhaps that stubborn pride was what caused him to turn his head away when Hardin lay down beside him, after stripping them both of their clothes. It didn't matter to Hardin, and he placed an arm across Sydney's chest regardless. What was important was that they both slept.

It would have been simple enough for Hardin, had it not been so difficult for Sydney. Sydney was restless, tossing and turning, and before long Hardin had removed his arm just to give Sydney more room to move freely. It didn't seem to help much - Sydney still was unable to settle in one position. No wonder he'd not come to bed recently.

Due to his rising early, working the men hard, and fretting over Sydney every time he had a spare moment to do so, Hardin was tired enough that even Sydney's restlessness beside him wasn't enough to completely prevent him from dozing. Only half awake, a sigh of frustration still registered, even muffled in the pillows as it was. Without conscious thought, Hardin placed a hand on Sydney's lower back, rubbing softly.

Sydney quieted for a time under the gentle touch, and Hardin drifted off further, until Sydney shifted again. This time, when Hardin tried to remove his hand, the touch of Sydney's fingers on his wrist caused him to wake somewhat - more so when Sydney settled again on his back, and lowered Hardin's hand to touch somewhere else.

...Oh. That might well exhaust Sydney enough that he could sleep, Hardin supposed, and he rubbed his eyes with his other hand, forcing himself to wake up. It helped when he pushed himself upright, kneeling over Sydney, then bending over him as Sydney urged him to, carefully and skillfully tugging him downward with his dangerous hands.

The restraint Sydney showed, merely pressing and pricking against his skin instead of cutting and biting, was such a phenomenal way to tease that Hardin could scarcely stand it. This was how things should be, how they had once been, before... something had changed. Many nights had begun this way, and had not ended without Sydney gripping Hardin's shoulders firmly, his fingers carving shallow red grooves, and rolling them both over to pin Hardin against the mattress.

This was not to be tonight, however; tonight, Sydney remained on his back, never prompting Hardin for more than his hands and his mouth. Hardin was certain he had nothing to complain about, for he was enjoying himself - but afterwards, as he lay with his head on Sydney's stomach, feeling the breathing slow to normality and then the deeper rhythm of slumber almost without pause, he had to admit that he felt a bit disappointed, or at least unfulfilled. At least Sydney slept, at last - at least Hardin could give him what he needed.

And Sydney did sleep, Hardin saw as he watched from above with the Sight. So often, Sydney's expression was solemn or pained as he slept, the world's end unfolding itself layer by layer in visions that left him weeping as he slept. Now, he simply lay still, his face blank and still slightly flushed. There was none of his usual grace, none of his characteristic serenity. Rather than a god, he looked like an ordinary man, exhausted and helplessly unconscious, much like Hardin would soon be himself. Hardin still thought he looked beautiful.

It was only a passing thought before he joined Sydney in sleep - he'd never asked about the matter of his successor.