She stared at him. She stared long and hard. And he didn't look back.

It was hard not to stare; Matthew was the most infuriating, disorderly excuse for a spy that she had ever seen. He didn't walk so much as strut, like he was a peddler intent on advertising exactly one good: himself. A perpetual cocky grin was stamped across his face, and it seemed almost like he posed for the benefit of Uther and any passing maidservants that might catch his eye. Leila found herself sorely tempted to write him a note outlining his actual job description—the job that did not involve flirting and making a fool of himself!—but given his organizational skills, that note would only get lost.

Matthew, meanwhile, seemed so intent on garnering attention that he even stole their lord's skivvies, rigging the whole thing to look like she had done it. Anger and humiliation roiling in her chest, Leila sulked in the corner of the scribes' room, filling out paperwork for punishment detail. Her only consolation was that Uther had a good head on his shoulders—he made sure that Matthew was there too, scribbling furiously in his illegible handwriting that looked like so many crickets' footprints.

She didn't forget his little joke as the week dragged on and they both returned to regular business. She had a good memory and a terrible temper, and it was simply a matter of waiting for the right moment to teach him his lesson. Leila took satisfaction in his yelp of surprise as she tackled him from behind on the way to the dining hall. His combat training paled in comparison to hers, and after a short scuffle, he was squarely pinned, her dagger at his throat in an overdramatic display of how deathly serious their occupation was.

Matthew, in turn, merely grinned.

"You're utterly stunning when you're mad," he declared, "but you'd be considerably more stunning if you'd let me up, since I rather like my head attached to the rest of me."

Leila wasn't able to stifle the smile that touched her lips, and she let him up without another word.

As she turned to go, he called after her, jogging to catch up.

"It looks like we got off on the wrong foot. I mean, maybe you're just threatened by my skill. Milord already knows how useful I can be."

"I don't know how you were considered good enough to be a second-rate pickpocket, let alone an Ostian spy," Leila returned with a shake of her head. She quickened her pace in a vain effort to leave him behind.

"This second-rate pickpocket will just have to prove you wrong, won't he? You won't be laughing once you've fallen for my irresistible charms," he said with a smirk and a wink, sauntering off.

"No sane woman on the face of the planet would ever be stupid enough as to be turned on by an egoistic scoundrel like you," she snapped at his retreating back.

She was clearly insane and an idiot, then, she sighed to herself scant weeks later. She stared down at the tiny notebook in which she usually recorded the results of missions, only to see a dozen 'Matthew's written in the margins, a pair of catlike, inked-in eyes staring back at her.

Leila took to tearing out squares of parchment one by one and casting them into the hearth fire as the nights went on. Her skills hadn't dulled in the slightest, and she was still Ostia's best spy, but a small part of her ached as she realized just how much paper had been sacrificed to her childish doodles. She wished sometimes that she, too, could step into the fire and come out the other side strong of heart and strong of purpose, without an ounce of dillydallying or a second to spare on some grinning idiot. Despite her worries, she still couldn't keep herself from staring as he sat across the study, his legs crossed and eyes focused intently on his own notebook.

She stared at him. She stared long and hard. And he didn't look back.

In fact, it seemed like once she started staring, she couldn't stop. Leila took her breakfast early to keep from running into him, lest anyone notice. She couldn't stand the thought of Hector laughing or Oswin lecturing or, worst of all, having to face Matthew's triumphant smirk and the jokes that made her chest ache. He liked to pop up unexpectedly, though, to poke his head into her work with a witty comment and a grin. Leila knew she was little more than the moment's entertainment, someone he could rile up and laugh at, but all the same, she vowed to never change so he'd never leave.

It wasn't long before he found where she spent her afternoons, and he soon sauntered into her corner of the library with that same vexing grin he so loved.

"Hey, is it hot in here, or is that just me?" he asked.

She chucked a book at him, not too surprised when he laughed and caught it.

"So," he drawled, taking the seat across from her. He put his feet up on the table, ankles crossed.

"So," she agreed, rolling her eyes.

"So," he repeated, "The Hare and the Fox? I didn't know you cared for romance."

"So," she replied, smiling to herself, "I didn't know you recognized it."

For once, he didn't have the perfect comeback; his cheeks reddened and he beat a hasty retreat. Leila watched him walk away without calling him back, eyes fixed on his messy hair and the way his cloak swished with his steps. She could imagine him raging at himself, missing that permanent smarmy grin as he walked back to his magpie nest of a room. He kept his papers in a dog-eared and tea-stained stack, with ink blotches and broken quills scattered across his desk, as well as a half dozen empty mugs. His room was a mess, he was a mess, and still she stared after him as he left.

She stared at him. She stared long and hard. And he didn't look back.

It was terrible for her career, to let her mind be fogged or her senses dulled for even half a second, but it seemed her every thought traced back to Matthew. She couldn't infiltrate a manor without envisioning how he'd slink through the shadows and vault effortlessly through the window; she couldn't walk into a bar without remembering the times he'd stumbled, half drunk on tea and brandy, into her room. Even her records of the Tana market prices made her think of his incomprehensible scrawl and the intense look of concentration on his face as he stared at his journal.

Uther came to sit beside her one night, the sun long since slipped beyond the horizon and the fire burning low. She hadn't noticed she was staring into the fire, and when he cleared his throat, she nearly jumped out of her skin.

"Is something the matter, Leila?" he asked, as diplomatic as only a noble could be.

She mutely shook her head and gripped the shell of her notebook with white knuckles. Leila hoped he wouldn't notice how few pages were left in it, lost to her nightly ritual of immolation and self-reflection.

Uther hadn't said any more, but he spent the rest of the evening in the armchair beside hers. As a spy, Leila had grown accustomed to lying and pretending, but his stern black eyes stripped her of every façade. She excused herself too soon, her words just as calm and even as usual.

"I wish you luck," Uther quietly said as she walked out, and for the life of her, Leila couldn't think of a response.

Matthew turned up outside her room mere days later, his own leather-bound journal in hand.

"So," he started.

"So," she said, not looking up from her papers—she wasn't sure she could keep her voice level if she had to meet those heart-melting honey eyes.

He hesitated so long that she looked up anyway, eyes slowly meandering up over his grass-stained leggings and his almost girlish hips, recommitting every detail to memory for the thousandth time. She slowly met his eyes, waiting for that smug smirk, only to see him starkly serious for the first time since she'd met him.

"So, is it hot in here, or is that just you?" he asked finally, tossing his journal on the floor in front of her. As if touched by fate, it cracked open to a page with her name on it, her figure depicted in quick, breezy lines.

Leila picked it up, breath catching in her lungs, and turned the pages. There was her, sitting in the corner of the library; her, pensive by the fire; her, intent on her own notebook, her own doodles of him.

She was too stunned to throw a book at him that time, managing a tight, "So…no, it must be you."

He grinned that grin she so hated—she loved!—and leaned back against the wall.

"So," he settled, "I've never known a relationship to kick off to such an auspicious start."

She stared at him. She stared long and hard. And he stared back.