Title: Appearances

author: tsutsuji

Fandom: Slayers

Characters/Pairing: Kervan/Marcus - original fandom characters from the fics "Poison" and "Birth Rite." (No regular Slayers characters appear in this story)

Length: around 5600 words

Kink: Shaving/Depilation, with elements of Danger, Class Fantasies, Blades, a hint of wet/messy/dirty, and a fair bit of dom/sub.

Summary: Fleeing from their homeland (for reasons as yet undisclosed), Kervan and Marcus pause to relieve some tension and, in the process, explore certain complicated aspects of their relationship.

Notes: This is a side story/prequel that reveals a bit of Kervan's and Marcus' history; it takes place a few years before Zel and Xel first meet Marcus in Poison. Spoilers for their backstory, but might be jossed (if it's possible to joss yourself) since I haven't worked out all the details of said backstory yet. I am clear on the power and class dynamics of their relationship, which is what this fic really is about. I'm not sure how well that comes across in this, so feedback would be even more loved than usual. XD

It had been a week - more or less; Kervan was starting to lose track of days at that point - since they'd crossed the border, which meant it had been that long since he'd slept in a real bed or had a real bath, or even a decent wash and shave. He felt as if he had gone beyond guttersnipe and was rapidly approaching barbarian. Even Marcus had begun to make faces when he caught a whiff of himself, and that was saying something. Marcus actually was a guttersnipe, after all, even if he was an unusually fastidious one.

Neither of them was much cut out for camping in the wild, as they'd proven in the past however-many days it had been. Kervan's obligatory military training was only cursory, his birth right assuring him an officer's rank and an office far from the reek of any battlefield if he was ever actually drafted into action. He remembered how to make a campfire without magic and without burning down the forest, and which berries were poisonous (most of them, in this part of the country at this time of year), and that was about it. Marcus' city street smarts were impressive, but that didn't really cut it in the mountain wilderness, either. It was one part of their escape plan that neither of them had taken into consideration.

When they finally decided to indulge in the risk and expense of staying at an inn, Kervan half expected the innkeeper to chuck the filthy pair of them out the door. Whether it was because of Marcus' chameleon charm or because they were the only travelers in town, the old man didn't even raise an eyebrow. In fact, the disheveled look did them well in one way; the innkeeper did not try to fleece them as he would surely have done with recognizable nobility. He did make a half-hearted attempt to sell them two rooms, but when they said one would do, he just shrugged and handed them a numbered key.

The Double Ax Inn was little more than a barn partitioned off into box-like rooms, a hostel for the itinerant woodcutters and tinkers who traveled through these sparsely populated hills. Still, it was shelter and civilization, comparatively speaking. They were thankful for a roof and a bed and a warm meal, and Kervan dared to hope for a bath, at last.

That hope was nearly dashed, however, when they met a pair of drunken lumberjacks coming out of the bath house at the back of the inn. Two men of substantial girth stumbled past them, eyeing them in suspicious silence which they returned in kind. Both were as hairy as barbarians, and still reeked strongly of wood smoke, sweat, and booze even after they presumably had bathed.

If that wasn't discouraging enough, the bath itself turned out to be a large, leaky wooden tub in a dimly lit shed that smelled of mildew. Marcus grimaced but went ahead in, while Kervan hesitated at the doorway. If he hadn't been desperate, he would have given up and gone back to their room.

But, since he was desperate, he muttered a quick spell under his breath as he crossed the threshold. Unfortunately, Marcus heard him. Half undressed and standing at the edge of the tub, Marcus turned and glared at Kervan. Clutching his dirty tunic, he stood there, twitching like an angry, nervous wasp, his eyes darting around the room as the cleansing spell took effect.

"Kervan! What're you thinking!" he hissed. "You were the one who said no magic, remember?"

Kervan winced, but he held Marcus' glare with his own, his mouth set in a grim line. Deliberately, he shed clothes and approached the water. Marcus gave way with a shake of his head; he finished undressing and plunged chest-deep into the water himself, muttering some comment about who was the crazier one here anyway.

Kervan ignored the griping that he knew he was meant to hear. It was worth the risk, as far as he was concerned, just to be able to relax into the bath and actually feel cleaner rather than worse. Disappointingly, the water was barely lukewarm, but at least it was clean. He didn't have the energy left for a Fireball to heat it up again.

They did not lounge in the tub for long, anyway, only enough to soak the worst of the grime and ache of the road from their weary bodies before they slipped back to the privacy of their room. Marcus was still shaking his head and pursing his lips at Kervan when they got there.

Kervan unrolled their map and spread it out across one of the beds, and then just stood there, staring down at it. He was determined to plan the next stage of their journey, but he felt too tired to think. Marcus sidled up to peer around his shoulder at it.

"Decide where we're going yet?" Marcus asked with a cheery, all too innocent smile.

Kervan opened his mouth to snap an answer, but snapped it closed again instead. Marcus nodded.

"Well, no need to decide right away, is there! I mean," he continued, leaning forward to point at their location on the map. He let is fingertip follow the jagged line marking the mountains, following them down toward the bottom of the page.

"No reason to take the hard way over the mountains," he said, as Kervan expected. "Better to keep on this road 'till we get further south, and then we can cross over the lower passes to the plain and go... well," he went on, straightening up again with a shrug. "If you still want to go to Seyruun by then, it'll still be quicker to backtrack that way. Better roads, less hills to scramble around in!"

"And we'll be that much closer to this mythical wonder land your oh-so-trustworthy cleric friend told you about," Kervan finished for him. "Which you think you will have talked me into going to by then, I suppose?"

"It's worth a shot, Kervan," Marcus answered. The forced joviality had disappeared. "Not just because Argo's a Shrinekeeper there. You know the reputation that place has. Anyway, it's bound to be safer than Seyruun, you know, politically speaking. Unless you think the aristocracy in the Holy City is likely to support a rebellion in some little country that's barely on the map."

Kervan tried to rally his usual arguments, but he couldn't find words. The long days of travel and that last spell had taken too much out of him; he had no energy left to deal with Marcus' ridiculous theories and superstitions, and right at the moment, less scrambling around in hills sounded more appealing than he cared to admit.

"We don't have to decide tonight, anyway," was all he managed to say about it.

He ran a hand through his hair, wearily, and grimaced. In spite of the bath, he still felt grimy and unkempt. He hoped to all the gods the bed was cleaner than the bath had been. He really did not need bedbugs to add to the mosquito bites he had already.

He realized Marcus was staring intently, not at the map any longer, but at him. He crossed his arms, turned his head, and stared back.

"Is there something else you'd like to say?" he asked, in his most aristocratic "this had better be good but probably isn't going to be" tone of voice.

Marcus leaned in close and peered up into his face, in that way he did when he was trying to look smaller than he actually was. Pale blue eyes studied him intently for a few close seconds, darting around to take in everything from the straggled ends of bangs hanging almost in his eyes to his disgustingly stubbled chin. So intently, in fact, that Kervan could only stare back and wait.

"You look terrible," the guttersnipe finally announced.

Kervan's left eyebrow rose of its own accord.

"Oh, really?" he answered, his voice flat with sarcasm.

He was certain he didn't look as terrible as he felt. Eight or ten days (he really had lost track) of constant travel through rugged countryside with very little sleep would do that to a person. Or at least, it would to a person who was more accustomed to being driven around the city in a comfortable carriage.

Marcus didn't look all that much the worse for wear, really, though his eyes, now that Kervan was forced to stare into them for a moment, were fever bright, and his fingers twitched nervously. Well, no, that was not a sign of anything unusual. Nervous was Marcus' default condition. He was almost always jumpy and twitchy about something or other, and often with good enough reason-except for those rare and startling moments when he wasn't.

"Yeah, you do. You look like a Guttersnipe on a bender, or worse!"

Kervan's right eyebrow joined the left one. Then he grinned, not at all humorously.

"I thought that was the idea," he reminded Marcus.

Marcus' idea, as a matter of fact. Which, come to think of it, had actually worked like a charm to get them out of the city and across the border unnoticed, or at least, much less noticed than the heir of the House of Alfas would normally have been under the circumstances. He supposed he should thank Marcus for that, somehow...someday.

"It was!" Marcus agreed, stepping back to take a full look at him. "And you're welcome, now that you don't mention it! But now you actually look convincing."

"Meaning I didn't before?"

"Are you joking? If I hadn't kept the porter at the city gates distracted the whole time, why, you'd still be..."

He cut himself off, even before Kervan narrowed his eyes in warning.

"Well, never mind where," Marcus finished with a wave of his hand. He ducked his head, avoiding Kervan's sharp gaze for a few seconds before he shook off that thought and went on cheerfully. "Never mind! You're here now, and as charming as the barbarian look is on you, I think we'd better get you cleaned up a bit before we go any further."

Kervan gladly went along with the change of subject, if it meant no more discussion of route they should take. He pluck a lock of hair out of his eyes, eyeing it distastefully. His hair was indeed tangled and lank, already a good bit longer than its usual length, curling over the collar of his tunic. His ran his knuckle over the rough stubble on his chin, and that raised his eyebrows again. Barbarian, indeed. No Alfas had ever been so uncouth as to grow a beard, like a monk or some uncouth lumberjack out of the hills.

Then he glanced around at the bare room, the luxuries of which included a cracked basin and a pitcher on a rickety wash stand, with a pair of rough, yellowed towels on a rack beside it. Considering the local residents they'd seen so far, he strongly doubted he'd find a barber shop just down the street-not one that he'd care to trust his skin to, anyway.

Lovely. Now that he'd thought of it, he longed for a shave as he could not remember ever longing for a thing ever before. Well. Maybe a few things.

He turned away from the map with a resigned sigh. They really should have thought through this escape plan more thoroughly.

Then he stopped and stared. Marcus, with his usual, rather alarming knack for anticipating Kervan's needs, had pulled a straight razor, soap, towel, a small mirror, and a cup out of his bag, and was already mixing up a thin bit of foam in the cup.

He pointed at the implements. "Have you had those all along?"

"No reason to use 'em before now, was there?" Marcus answered. "We're just a couple of mangy, grubby guttersnipes, right?"

"Yes, but..." Kervan said faintly.

Marcus ignored the unspoken question of how he'd managed to hide all that gear away in his little bag, from which he'd also already pulled a change of clothes for each of them and more than half of the food they'd manage to escape with. Probably the same way he'd managed to walk past a half-dozen guards and sorcerers carrying a stolen chest full of centuries old Elf-made charms on the occasion of their first meeting. It had just been Marcus' bad luck that the chest had a magical Trace on it - which had turned out to be Kervan's very good luck in the long run.

Marcus was now rubbing his own chin and peering at himself in the little mirror, frowning and humming thoughtfully. He was fair-haired and round cheeked, looking perpetually younger than the 30-some years he claimed to be. Kervan couldn't help noticing with some envy that even after this many days of unwashed travel, his face barely showed a shadow of a beard.

"All right," he said, with a nod toward the a rickety-looking chair that was wedged between the bed and the window. "You'd better come sit here, the light's better."

After a moment of hesitation long enough to make it clear that he was not in any way taking that as an order, Kervan went and sat. He reached for the cup and the razor, though now that he was sitting, he felt almost too tired to bother after all.

He got hold of the cup, but Marcus snatched the razor back out of his reach and shook his head.

"Planning to cut your own throat, are you? Look how your hand is shaking! Better let me do it, hm?"

"Don't be silly," Kervan snapped. "I'm perfectly capable."

It was true that he preferred to let one of the professional barbers in the city shave him as often as possible, but he could certainly do it himself just as well-usually. Unfortunately, what Marcus said was also true. When he reached out for the razor again, a tremor of sheer weariness ran down his arm.

"I'll do it," Marcus said, as if it was a decided fact already. He snatched the cup out of Kervan's hand as well. "Safer that way!"

"You have many hidden talents, Marcus," Kervan said dryly, "but you're no Barber. I'll manage."

The next thing Kervan knew, Marcus was sitting on the edge of the bed right in front of him, leaning toward him, and staring at him with a familiar, slightly manic gleam in his eye.

"You're probably used to having one of your High Street barbers shave you, aren't you? Well, it's not the lap of luxury you're used to," Marcus said with a quick glance at the bare room. "And I'm not one of your fancy Barbers, I'll grant you that. But I've seen worse!"

I'll bet you have, Kervan thought, but where he would have spoken the words aloud with a sneer of contempt not so long ago, he kept the thought to himself now.

He may have failed at being a convincing guttersnipe, but he'd been enough of one by now to know that no one would choose that life, no matter how much they all seemed to cling to it. Not that he could entirely blame them for that, when he thought about what he'd seen while living in their world for a while. There was, at least, a kind of honor among the guttersnipes, a familial loyalty which the nobility didn't even bother to pretend to have anymore-blood related or not.

None of that mattered now, he reminded himself. He had given up what little honor remained to the House of Alfas in order to run off into the wild with this particular guttersnipe, and they were stuck with each other now, unlikely allies in self-imposed exile. The situation that had brought them here was complicated, but the real reason, when he thought about it, was simple enough that even his tired brain couldn't miss seeing it. Not when it was sitting right in front of him, staring at him with that peculiar gleam in pale, blue eyes. Not when it was plain that Marcus was offering something he hadn't even realized he needed more deeply than he needed bath and bed and a shave.

For a moment, his eye was caught by the flash of light from the window on the fine edge of the razor. Marcus twirled it between his fingers, as deftly as he would flip a silver coin in one of his tricks of parlor magic. He felt Marcus watching him intently, watching him watch the blade. It was unnerving, as only Marcus could be, and that... in spite of Kervan's weariness, that made it just slightly arousing.

No. He was too tired for this now. He didn't need this now, no matter what Marcus thought, no matter how Marcus always knew. He just wanted a shave and then a bed, or so he insisted to himself.

"I would prefer..." he began, reaching out again.

"Hands down," Marcus snapped quietly. He flipped the razor up, blade angled toward Kervan, not quite exactly in the way one would hold a knife on a cornered enemy.

Kervan went completely still. He was suddenly alert, eyes wide open; suddenly awake enough to know that he was too exhausted to rest yet, wound up too tightly after days of scrambling through the hills with the threat of much worse than death at their backs. As was Marcus, clearly; awake and aware enough to know what they both needed before Kervan had figured it out.

Marcus waited, leaving the choice entirely up to him. He wouldn't insist, Kervan knew, and he wouldn't offer this again, not now. Who knew when there would be another chance?

Kervan returned Marcus' stare, and let his arms hands fall to his sides, let his arms hang there loosely on either side of the chair.

Marcus flashed a smile, the mad grin that had worked like a spell barrier to keep cutthroats and soldiers at bay when he needed it to. A shiver ran down the back of Kervan's neck. He inched his hands further back, curled them behind the chair.

Marcus nodded. Then, suddenly all business, he settled in front of Kervan with the cup and shaving brush, and started to lather up Kervan's face.

The familiar scent of the finest sandalwood soap was surprisingly comforting, taking Kervan back to the luxurious barber shops in the city that catered to the most refined tastes of nobility. When and where did Marcus have time to steal luxury grade shaving soap, he wondered. And was it coincidence that it was Kervan's own favorite scent and brand? Not likely.

The hard chair and the ache and weariness in his bones were reminders that he was no longer in that lap of luxury, and most likely would never know such things again. More to the point, this was not his favorite deferential and highly skilled barber getting ready to put a sharp blade to his skin; this was Marcus, the chameleon charlatan, the thorn in his side whom he had somehow become ridiculously fond of, if fond was even the word for it any more. Marcus, the nervous mouse who would flinch at a shout and vanish at the first hint of danger, except when he turned as fierce and reckless as a wolf protecting its life mate-a sight which Kervan frankly hoped never to witness again in his life.

Marcus, normally twitchy with nerves, who hated weapons of any kind, now casually flicked that razor back and forth, back and forth along the short length of stropping leather. His pale eyes followed the flicker of the blade for several strokes, then suddenly lifted to catch Kervan's gaze again. The grin that slowly crept across his face made the short hairs stand up on the back of Kervan's neck. He could not define how much of that reaction was from fear and how much from anticipation.

Kervan let the shiver of nerves ripple up his arms and down his spine. That was why he was sitting here, with his hands behind himself as if bound there, after all.

Kervan's skill was - had been - his quick and cunning mind, the ability to see patterns and to connect ideas, to see the flow of energy, whether that be patterns of magic or the flow of money or the intricate web of political power. Marcus' magic was in his hands, and in his chameleon-like ability to blend into any background. Recent experience proved it was far easier for a guttersnipe to play the part of a nobleman convincingly than the other way around, but Marcus had a particular gift for putting on convincing airs.

He was a guttersnipe with quick and agile hands, which was reassuring when you needed him to snatch a purse or palm a jewel, or misdirect a palace guard's attention for an essential few minutes. It was a little more disconcerting, Kervan decided, when he was flashing a freshly sharpened, naked razor blade in the vicinity of your jugular vein.

Marcus stopped with the blade held a hair's breath from his skin. His eyes twitched, a sign of his intense focus on the task at hand, or of nerves, or maybe of an edge of madness. Even Kervan could not be certain which was in play at the moment. He could only hold his breath and hope this was an instance of the first.

Marcus held his gaze for a moment, like a snake holds a mouse frozen with its stare-an analogy that made Kervan's lips twitch with a threat of laughter. Anyone else, surely anyone who knew either of them back in their homeland, would far more likely see Marcus as the mouse and himself as being as snakelike as they come.

He congratulated himself silently when he managed not to flinch at the first touch of the blade on his skin.

He thought he could feel the intensity of Marcus' focused gaze on his skin now, as he nudged the razor over lathered skin with a steady pressure, carefully following the curve of his jaw. His face was so close that Kervan could feel soft breaths puffed out through lips parted in concentration.

Marcus nudged Kervan's chin up with his knuckle, and started in on the stubble below his jaw. Kervan's mouth felt dry, suddenly; he had to clamp down hard on the urge to lick his lips. He distracted himself with a thought back to how this had begun, not long after he discovered the talented thief walking off with a rival family's treasure which he himself had not found a way to acquire. That had been coincidence, a convenient one as he'd thought at the time, but it was also-probably-coincidence that the upstart ruler of the land had a special interest in the contents of that treasure chest. It was annoying, to say the least, that they had not only lost said treasure because of this, but that they still did not know why they had nearly ended up worse off than dead because of it.

Even now, with no hope of going back to settle the matter, he could not help but follow the thread of circumstances that had led from that to chance meeting to this moment, sitting here in a threadbare room of an inn in the middle of nowhere, wary and motionless while a guttersnipe with clever hands, pale blue eyes and peculiar twitching eyebrow shaved the eight-day beard from his face...

That twitching eyebrow turned out to be all the warning he got. The corner of the razor bit at the back of his jaw. He was too startled to even jump, though his lips did part on an almost-out-loud exclamation.

"Oops!" Marcus said. He leaned in and peered up at Kervan with earnest but false apology. He shook his head and tsk'd as he dabbed at the cut, making the faint sting of it blossom into a thin line of fire in Kervan's skin. "Can't have that! Wouldn't want to give you any distinguishing marks, now, would we?"

Kervan let an eyebrow leap to its full height without moving one single other muscle in his face.

Marcus beamed at him with pure, angelic innocence. That smile had fooled many a judge in their homeland, and some of them more than once. It did not reassure Kervan in the slightest.

"Are you implying I'm not distinguished?" he quipped. The sarcasm slipped out before he could stop it.

He felt more than heard the soft snort of laughter. Marcus didn't look amused at all; his attention seemed to be back on the task at hand even as his words rambled on absently.

"We could always go back home and find out! I mean, even in Guttersnipe's rags and a nine day's beard, I daresay you are quite distinguishable enough for the palace guards to know you when they see you!"

He seemed to have a second thought about that as he paused and sat back. With his head cocked to the side, he regarded Kervan's half shaved, half lathered face.

"In that case, p'raps I shouldn't ..."

"Finish the job," Kervan demanded through clenched teeth. Well, it was half demand and half resigned plea, really.

Marcus stared at him for a moment, eyes shifting again, lips stretching into a thin curve. Kervan stared back, for a heartbeat or two. His fingers twitched, but he didn't raise his hands. He hadn't moved them or anything else, as instructed, so-aside from the lapse of attention and the sarcasm that slipped out of his mouth-what rule had he broken now?

Oh, yes. Probably that one.

"If you would. Please," he finally added. It was as sincere as his naturally sarcastic mouth could make it, as humble as his noble upbringing would allow. He couldn't quite bring himself to lower his eyes, but that was as much caution as pride.

Marcus did smile then, beamed at him in fact, momentarily brilliant, before his conniving I've-got-you-where-I-want-you-now grin returned. The blade flashed in front of Kervan's eyes again, then pressed against the side of his throat. It was the side that was already shaved clean.

Kervan tried to convince himself to exhale slowly and relax. Then he thought better of that. They could both relax later, in bed. Marcus had offered him this opportunity to do something creative with all this tension they'd both accumulated, like two tightly coiled springs, over the last however-many days. Even longer than that, ever since they'd noticed that their own personal little schemes had landed them in the midst of a political revolution. In other words, nearly as long as he could remember.

He went completely stiff and still again, let his eyes fall half closed, and let himself drift down into that fine, sweet line of pain under his jaw. Then he leaned back and lifted his chin a little further, baring his throat.

Marcus' eyebrow twitched again, though he did not shift his gaze from Kervan's throat. He'd seen or sensed the change in Kervan, though, and then Kervan could feel it in him as well. He just barely saw the flash of a grin before Marcus moved in again and got back to work.

Through his lashes, and through the stinging pain of the cut, Kervan stared at Marcus' mouth, and imagined what it would taste like, later, and imaged the warmth of Marcus' skin against his. He imagined running his tongue over all of Marcus' skin that he could currently see, and since he couldn't do that yet, he let his eyes travel there instead. He stared with gently swelling hunger at the lips pursed in concentration, the slight curve of Marcus' mouth, the gentle roundness of his cheek, the line of his jaw, pale lashes fluttering as Marcus' quick eyes studied his handiwork.

There were no more nicks to his skin, no more reminders of who was in control of even his thoughts at this moment. He was only acutely aware of Marcus' quick and steady hands gently pulling his skin taut, and of the scrape of the blade. He concentrated only on the warm, spicy scent of the shaving soap, and the soft sound of Marcus' breath, steady in concentration. He was aware only of sensation, and then not even that, no thought at all, only the bright sting of the cut, and Marcus' presence, as if those were all that held him in place in physical reality...

By the time Marcus sat back and tipped his head to the side to look him over, it felt entirely natural not to move at all. Not even when Marcus placed his palm against Kervan's smooth and sensitized cheek.

"Yes," Marcus said, tipping his head the other way. "Now you look more like your aristocratic self again. Well, an aristocrat from our country, anyway," he went on, sitting back again. "Do you know, I've heard that the Royal Prince of Seyruun has a really impressive beard, all black and bushy, like a barbarian in our land? I wonder if that means we'd look like common riffraff to him?"

Kervan went as far as narrowing his eyes, then, but he managed to hold his tongue. Marcus grinned.

"Well. Different countries, different customs, as they say!" he quipped.

"Are you finished?" Kervan finally asked, his voice as neutral as he could make it. He wasn't sure if he was relieved or not when Marcus leaned forward again.

"No," he said. "Not quite."

Then he began the task of checking his work, testing the smoothness of Kervan's skin with his lips and with quick, light fingers. Kervan held himself just as still as if the blade was still there against his throat, his hands back and down at his sides, until finally Marcus' teasing mouth passed across his lips. Kervan turned his head to follow it, caught it with his own, and then caught Marcus in his arms.

Marcus grabbed the hair at the back of his head, pulling him harder into the kiss, for a moment, and then Kervan heard him set the razor down on the windowsill. The soft tap was like a signal.

He clutched the back of Marcus' shirt, dug his fingers into bow-tight muscles, and felt Marcus exhale sharply, almost like a sob of relief. The life-or-death tension Kervan had been holding onto melted away then, quickly replaced by a tight thrill of need.

Marcus tugged his head back and caught his gaze, forcing Kervan to focus on him. Blue eyes, clear and steady now, searched his face.

"Are you sure, Kervan?" he asked, still studying him so intently that Kervan was caught between laughing at him and growling at him. "I mean, is it enough? I really don't want to mark your face up, of course, but there's always the stropping leather, if you want?"

Kervan decided on the growling, with a smile. He really did have to thank Marcus, not later but right now, and for several things.

"Oh, it's quite enough, for the moment," he said. "As you might have noticed..."

He pulled Marcus forward, onto his lap, which made the answer clear enough that even Marcus couldn't miss it.

"Oh!" Marcus said. He smirked, obviously pleased with the results of his tonsorial efforts. "Oh, well, in that case..."

It was a short stumble from the chair to the bed. Marcus' skillful hands were as shaky as his own, just as clumsy but just as effective in getting their clothes out of the way, getting them skin to skin.

"But," Marcus pointed out, "I haven't shaved yet. Are you sure it's proper for the exalted Heir of Alfas House to take a tumble with a scruffy guttersnipe like me?"

"The formerly exalted Heir of Alfas only wishes to bestow the proper reward on said scruffy guttersnipe for services rendered," Kervan said, with only a touch of sarcasm, because it was basically the truth.

So he proceeded to thank Marcus... as well as he could, for the moment. In spite of how skilled Marcus had turned out to be as barber, now that the tension had dropped away they were both too tired to do much more, after all, but lie tangled together and fall asleep.

It didn't matter. For now, Kervan decided, he didn't care where they were going, how they got there, or how long it took. What they had ever been, what they appeared to be to the rest of the world, certainly didn't matter to them at all.

~~ the end ~~