Disclaimer: Belongs solely to Jim Butcher, not me. I am just not that awesome.

"You've been visiting Veradis again," observed Tavi without looking up as Max entered his office.

Max frowned then shook his head with a chuckle as he said, "I know I should know better by now than to ask but how'd you know?"

The First Lord chuckled in response and leaned back in his chair after finishing what he'd been writing. Folding his fingers together and resting them in his lap, he just grinned at his friend.

"Right," said Max, "I should know better than to ask." He then saw a blur flash past the window outside the tower and his laughed with realization that he'd been spotted on his way in. "I forgot you had your own little spy now. Weren't you trying to keep him on the ground?"

"We'd have to tie him down," answered Tavi fondly as he glanced out the window where his nine year-old son was a blur of movement in the air under the watchful eyes of his mother and half the staff. "So how is she?"

Max shrugged and moved to take a seat on a stool sitting in front of the First Lord's desk for anyone wearing armor since one of the staff had protested the thought of the furniture being scratched. After he was settled, he answered, "Fine. Her father's affairs are fully in order and she's been teaching Vereus' son how to handle all of it. Kid's smart and so far she's just holding the title in trust for him."

He paused, flashed the wide grin he'd been wearing when he entered the room, then added, "That's the official story anyway."

Tavi laughed. "So you are wearing her down. I'm impressed; she's been turning you down for how long now?" As Max made a grunting noise that said he wasn't going to answer that question, he shook his head and said, "Well I'm happy for you, Max."

"Thanks, Calderon."

"Anytime." At that Tavi rose and waved his hands at Max as he headed towards one of the tower windows. "Now go do whatever duties you've been fobbing off on whoever you could talk into it. I have another meeting." Then with one smooth motion he had the window open and was out in the air.

Max stood and watched for a moment with a smile as the First Lord intercepted his wayward son in mid-air, playing a brief game of chase before both of them headed to the ground. Shaking his head, he turned and left the chamber, ready to start his next round of bribing his way into a few days free to visit Veradis.

He was going to do some actual work before that, of course.

Later that night when he entered his room, Max wasn't aware that someone else was there until he heard a noise from behind him as he was taking off his armor. He slid his gladius from its scabbard and reached for the metal as he turned to face the intruder, half removed armor clanking far too loudly. Then he froze, eyes wide, at just who the intruder was.

"Now," greeted Veradis in a low voice, "is that any way to treat a visitor, Maximus?" She lifted a hand to rest on his wrist, pushing the weapon down to point towards the ground, and slowly slid her fingers up his arm as she moved closer.

Max finally found his voice and glanced towards the door as he asked, "What are you doing here? Better yet, how did you get in?"

She blinked at him then her face began to twist and for a moment he didn't know what she was doing. Then he realized and frowned.

"You're laughing at me."

"Yes," she admitted between barely held back giggles. Veradis then shook her head and rested both of her hands against his armor, her fingertips framing the wings of the First Aleran's crow. "And you're one of the few people that have honestly managed to make me laugh in these past years."

Smiling, she looked up at him through pale eyelashes.

"Have I ever told you how much I appreciate the help you've given me, Maximus?"

Max frowned, a little confused as to where this was going, then answered, "No?"

"Oh?" said Veradis in a very smug tone. "I suppose I should amend that then."

It took him a moment to realize her hands were sliding up his shoulders, slim fingers locking around the back of his neck and dragging him downward. Certainly with him and women it was usually the other way around.

Then Max realized Veradis was kissing him and the gladius slipped from his hand as he folded his arms around her. It was, surprisingly, not what he expected. Honestly he'd been expecting the passionate kisses of his previous lovers.

This was as different from that as Vord from Canim.

This kiss was slow, the two of them easing into the pattern, testing the feel of each other and making sure they knew it. It didn't speed up, consumed and forgotten by the hungry passion of skin-against-skin. This was no kiss of experimenting children, randy lovers, or a one-time fling.

It was...something else.

Max smiled then into her mouth and stretched out his watercrafter senses to lightly touch her own. He was pleased to find that she was pleased then he stumbled across her smugness and wondered what it was. Not that he was going to ask right then.

Give up kissing a pretty girl to ask a question? Crows, he wasn't that crazy.

When they did finally separate and he was looking down with a crooked smile at her now bruised lips, he did ask. "What are you so smug about? Don't I get to be the one to be smug since I finally won the girl?"

Veradis blinked at him then her face did that twist again as she struggled to contain her laughter. This time, however, she couldn't and had to lean against him as her body shook with the force of it. Max just steadied her and waited with his eyebrows raised in question until she recovered.

When she was finally able to speak again, she said, "Oh, he was right. You can be dense sometimes."

"Who?" asked Max.

"Who do you think let me into your room?"

Max frowned then groaned, closing his eyes. He should have known. "Calderon," he grumbled. "He set me up."

"Technically," purred Veradis, tapping her fingernails against his armor, "he only helped me a little." Smiling, she looked up at him in amusement. "You mean all this time and you haven't figured it out?"

He looked at her blankly and she laughed again before rising up on her toes, leaning against him to get closer to his ear as if to tell him a secret.

"I caught you. Not the other way around."

Max stared down at her for a moment, opening his mouth to deny that, then he stopped and really thought about it. He thought about all the things he'd done for her and then it hit him.

"Veradis," he said in a low voice, "how long has our chase been the other way around?"

"What chase?" she asked as she locked her fingers around the back of his neck again. "I've just been waiting for you to come to me."

He blinked then laughed and wrapped his arms around her again, dropping his head to briefly meet her lips. "That," he murmured, "makes too much crowbegotten sense."

"Blame the First Lady," Veradis said with a laugh. "She's the one that made me finally realize it."

Max chuckled. It would figure that Calderon and Kitai would have their hands in his love life. They just couldn't help themselves and they were so sneaky about it that no one involved knew a thing until it was done. He supposed he should be grateful they cared that much, though.

"I'll thank her later," he said. "Right now I'm wondering how a certain Lady is going to get home."

"And go without my prize?" she questioned, smiling.

Max laughed at that and pulled her as close as he could, wishing he'd actually been able to get his armor off. "Your prize, as you say," he stated, "will go home with you as soon as he's free."


"Crows." He then glanced towards his bedroom and found her eyes following his. "But why," he drawled, "go home when there's a perfectly good place to sleep right here?"

She laughed at that, nodding slightly in agreement, and Max couldn't strip out of the rest of his armor quick enough even with her help. Then he frowned, debating what to do next, before he threw caution to the wind and swept her up into his arms, pleased when she laughed.

"Can I at least tell everyone else that I caught you?" he asked plaintively as she teased the hair at the back of his neck.

"No," answered Veradis with a smile as the door closed behind them.

And that, as they say, was the end of that.