I like to watch Mildmay when he is with Kay. When he is telling stories, especially, but at other times as well. I don't know precisely what it is – but he seems lighter, almost, less weighed down by life and everything it has brought him. And maybe I am fabricating this out of whole cloth and it is only that I want him to be happier, and so I see him as such. If it is only a sort of dream, it is, for once, a pleasant one.

That is why I am here, though, today – sitting in a corner and reading my book, pretending not to listen, but present all the same. I stretch out my legs and pretend to turn a page to keep anyone from getting suspicious, but still Mildmay keeps looking at me like he suspects me of planning something, which – is a little bit of a guilty feeling, I must admit, for how often it has been true – but pretends like he isn't, and Kay ignores me altogether, which is all right for both of us. I suppose I am enough an embarrassment, even silent.

"Your brother ask to come with you or did you invite him?"

So perhaps not entirely ignoring me. I am ashamed to admit that I lower my nose closer to the spine of my book, as though to hide my face. iA bashful boy still/i, I mock myself, and pretend that I am still not listening.

"What? –oh. He asked, I guess. Why d'you ask?"

"Because if he had been invited and only accepted to be – forbid – polite, would be an excuse for pretending not to be here."

I felt my cheeks grow warmly pink. "I would hardly want to interrupt your – conversation."

"Reading," Kay corrected me. "Not so much. Here you are, by choice, after all."

"Let me try another," I said, trying for casual. "Your conversation is so fascinating that I would never dream of interrupting it for my own petty observations?" They were both looking at me now, and I felt silly for being embarrassed – after all, I ihad/i asked – but it is difficult to control what one feels.

"Oh, yeah, because you never interrupt," said Mildmay, and I gave him the haughtiest glare I could summon. He was predictably nonplussed. I held up my book.

"I'm reading."

"Could read at home," Kay said. "If you are here then you talk. Are the rules." What rules, another day I might have sniped at him, with just enough bite to sting, but for once (for only?) I wasn't in the mood.

"All right, all right, fine. If you're that eager for my company." I marked my place in the book – not a particularly interesting one, to be sure – and set it aside. "All right, I'm listening. What did you want me for?"

"We've been talking for an hour," Mildmay said, in a voice too quiet to argue with. "If I know you you've got loads of things you want to say." Which was, of course, true, I was itching to talk more about, for example the foundations on which the Cabaline system stood, or the catacombs under the Mirador, or even ghosts, though the latter had very little at best to do with the book Mildmay was reading. But mentioning that would have entirely defeated the purpose (what the purpose was, I was no longer sure that I knew).

"If he finds us so disagreeable to talk to, would be rude to insist," Kay said, and I could practically hear him laughing at me. It made me blush more than bristle when he did it, and I couldn't help but wonder how much he knew about the Duke, or more precisely, the Duke and me.

I hoped nothing. I rather liked Kay.

"Oh, very iwell/i. If you insist. Demanding little men."

"All men are little at your height. Will stay so far away?" My chair was across the room from them at an angle, but it wasn't that great a distance. I raised my eyebrows. "Will have to shout to speak from here," Kay said, inot/i shouting, and without a trace of humor. I glanced at Mildmay, without really thinking, and he looked like he might be smiling too, in his eyes.

So I made my sigh a little more exaggerated.

"If you insist." I stood up and took a different chair, nearer to them. "On one condition, though." I put my elbows on my knees and propped my chin on my hands. "Mildmay has to tell another story."

Mildmay looked like he wanted to throw something at me, but not really. That was what I liked about being here, getting to see him being like maybe he might have been if Keeper hadn't laid hold of him, if I hadn't laid hold of him after that. "All right," he said. "I have one neither of you's heard before."

He tells good stories, Mildmay does. If he ever makes one about me, he'd probably even make me sound like a good person.