The mask was midnight blue velvet, eye catching for the lack of fuss and shine. It was a dark burn in the hard glitter of the crystal chandeliers. The hair around it was a blonde so pale it may as well be white, framing the dark mask with feathery curls, falling just past his ear, not quite to his chin. His costume was that of a soldier from centuries past – the formal garb of the tragic Queen’s Guard, midnight blue, white neckcloth and lace, silver buttons that upon closer inspection accurately bore the heart and sword crest of the Queen that long ago guard failed to protect.

Keareth drew closer still, intrigued despite himself. A white rose was pinned to the man’s lapel; silk, not real, as real flowers would wither instantly in the heat of the overcrowded ballroom. Beautifully made though, and only barely did he keep back the hand that wanted to reach out and stroke it. The scent of roses teased him as he drew close enough to share space. “Soldier.”

A firm, pretty mouth curved in a welcoming smile. Behind the mask, the man’s eyes were the exact color of the tart green apples Keareth loved to eat. This could not be someone he knew, then, for surely he would recognize such eyes?

“A golden prince of the forest,” the masked man said in reply, referring to Keareth’s costume. Simple, all golds and greens in silk and satin and lace, but with all the right touches to give an impression of the mythical inhabitants of the forest. His jacket bore a subtle pattern of leaves and flowers, with more of the same woven into the lace accents. Trinkets were woven into his long, dark gold hair, and delicate roses of the palest pink twined through vines along his green velvet mask. “What have I done to meit such attention?”

Keareth smiled. “You catch the eye, tragic soldier.”

“I hardly compare to you, prince,” the man replied, and reached up to boldly grasp Keareth’s chin, running the thumb of his silk-gloved hand over Keareth’s bottom lip.

Around them people milled about, and the strains of music started up yet another dance. The scents of people, excitement and alcohol and lust, was near overwhelming, but all faded next to the spicy scent of the masked soldier. He smelled like roses and silk, but also of something rich and spicy that Keareth could not place.

He didn’t even consider resisting when the thumb vanished and that pretty mouth took its place, teasing and nipping his bottom lip before finally taking a proper kiss.

That hint of something spicy flavored the warm mouth, almost making him dizzy, but what a pleasant dizziness it was.

Vaguely he noted a few whispers and hastily hushed cries, as people were either amused or appalled by such a bold display.

Keareth did not care, either way. He did not attend this fete to behave. He clung as the kisses grew bolder still, taking away his ability to breathe, to think, leaving him with nothing but an urge to cling to the man’s broad shoulders and offer himself shamelessly for more.

He almost pouted when the kisses stopped, but was mollified when a hand ghosted over his ass in taunt and promise. Allowing the soldier to drag him to a somewhat more secluded corner just outside the ballroom proper, Keareth then dragged him down to resume where they had left off.


The sound of his name, hastily cut off amidst a groan of pleasure, was a bucket of ice water. Jerking his hands away from where they had been working upon the fastening of the man’s breeches, Keareth ripped off the stranger’s mask.

He dropped it in shock and tried to step away, but Jann’s arm was still around his waist, and he was impeded by a wall anyway.

Jann. There was no way. Jann was quiet and boring and never did anything but write and talk incessantly about history…

Which explained the stunning accuracy of his costume.

It did not explain what in the hells was going on. Jann drove him mad, never able to string two words together unless it was about dead people. They were under the same tutors, as part of the King’s household, but Keareth understood the servants better than he knew quiet, boring, strange, and silent Jann.

“You knew who I was,” Keareth snapped, tearing off his own mask. “The whole time, or did you figure it out?”

Jann stared at him in that frustrating, helpless way he had that always drove Keareth insane.

Keareth just glared.

“The whole time,” Jann finally said, saying the words quickly, as though they were going too fast for him. He looked at the floor. “I’d know you anywhere, Keareth.”

“What?” Keareth said, taken aback. What in the hell did that mean?

Jann shook his head, and finally let him go, and only then did Keareth realize that Jann was stll holding him and he hadn’t minded.

No, he’d liked everything about Jann, until he’d realized it was Jann.

He reached out as Jann tried to leave, and shoved him back into the corner, holding him firmly but lightly enough that Jann could break free if he really wanted. “Jann-why all this?”

Jann just looked at him, and Keareth wished suddenly the corner was not quite so shadowed, because he rembered the clarity of the apple green eyes and wanted to see them clearly now. How had he never noticed the color of Jann’s eyes?

“I just wanted you to like me for one night,” Jann said, the words barely audible. “You hate me; everyone says so. We’ve been training for the Royal Exams side by side for the past two years, and you can barely stand to be in the same room as me. I just thought….” he stared miserably at everything except Keareth.

Keareth stared at Jann, remembering the way Jann had looked when Keareth had first seen him in the ballroom. The bold kisses with hundreds of people around them. “I don’t hate you,” he finally said, reaching out to grasp the lapels of Jann’s jacket to shake him lightly. “You just exasperate me to death. Act more like this,” he finished, and pushed up on his toes to cover Jann’s mouth with his own.

Jann gasped, going tight with surprise and shock, but as Keareth only deepened the kiss, he moaned and cupped Keareth’s face.

“Why don’t you ever act like this?” Keareth asked when the need to breathe forced them apart.

“Keareth, you have no idea how damned hard you are to talk to.” Jann shook his head. “Try impossible. I’m lucky if I remember my own na–” He cut the sentence off, but too late.

“Just how long have you liked me?” Keareth asked, grinning now, because now some of Jann’s behavior was starting to make more sense.

Jann just frowned and shook his head.

Keareth laughed, and leaned up to kiss him again, and decided he’d coax cute confessions out of Jann later. For now, he was more than content to further explore just how wrong he’d always been about his study companion.