True love stories never have endings.

Richard Bach

"Any news yet?"

Sabatt did not glance up from her book. "Asking me every five seconds will not make Gregson walk any faster."

Kestral flopped into her armchair. "Refec was supposed to send him as soon as they had them securely locked up together."

"And he will have, lass," said Thordal, taking a sip from his tankard casually. "He'll be here soon."

She smiled briefly, then frowned. "I just can't shake the feeling something's gone horribly wrong."

"It was your plan, girlie."

"And you agreed to take responsibility for any injury or cost incurred by the Darion Empire connected to this scheme," Sabatt added smoothly.

"Does that include me strangling her?"

Three heads spun to face the door. Marcus stood in the entrance, arms crossed, eyebrows somewhere near the ceiling. Alandra was just behind him, although it took Kestral a split-second to identify the capeless woman as her commander.

Sabatt was, unsurprisingly, the first to recover. "I think it would be safe to conclude that something went horribly wrong."

"No kidding, Crims." Kestral jumped to her feet. "What are you two doing here?"

"Scolding you," Alandra said as the pair entered. "What in the world did you think you were doing?"

"How much do you know?"

"Hakim told us everything we hadn't already guessed." Marcus perched on the table.

"Traitor," Kestral muttered under her breath.

"I'm waiting for an explanation." Alandra's loss of her cape, however that had happened, hadn't detracted from her dignity.

Kestral looked helplessly at her co-conspirators. Sabatt smirked and Thordal grinned. "You're on your own, Kes."

"You too?" she groaned, before turning back to the pair eying her balefully. "We – I," she corrected, as Sabatt raised an eyebrow, "was trying to help you two out."

"And wasting two weeks, as well as crown resources, constitutes helping us out?" Marcus snapped.

Alandra's face was grim. "Not only was it fraught with peril and a waste of time and money, but it was an unforgivable invasion of privacy. You intruded upon matters that were none of your concern, and in a way that was highly likely to result in injury to at least one party. I am appalled at your behavior in this matter – all of you." She glared at Thordal and Sabatt, neither of whom looked particularly contrite. "What do you have to say for yourselves?"

A long pause. "Did it work?" Kestral ventured.

Marcus groaned. Alandra sighed, but her face relaxed into a faint smile. "Since you're obviously unrepentant, I shan't waste my breath." She turned on her heel and marched from the room.

Marcus began to follow, but stopped in the doorway and turned back to the company with a rueful grin. "Thanks, Kes. I owe you one." Then he jogged away before she could reply.

"Well?" the young woman crowed over Thordal's laughter. "What did I tell you?"

Sabatt's voice shook with suppressed mirth. "I hope you are not considering a career as a matchmaker, bandit."

"Not a chance." Kestral flopped back into her armchair, shoulders shaking. "It's not worth the effort. Or the risk to my neck."

"Speaking of risk." Alandra's head poked into the doorway again. "Was I mistaken, Lady Kestral, or did you state that you would take responsibility for any loss incurred by the Darion Empire in connection to this scheme?"

"Yes." Kestral sat up, eying her commander warily.

"Excellent. I shall expect you to have prepared me a replacement cape by morning."

Author's Note: Thanks for reading, everyone! Credit for the last few lines goes to Rockerduck.