Epee fiddled restlessly with the cages, all the little dishes and bells and other toys that Sharp put in there for his birds. “Are you certain they’ll be all right?” he asked, hesitantly reaching out to touch one of the newest additions, then one of the older birds.

Nearby stood Thomas, a man who dealt in animals, primarily pets. He chuckled quietly. “Yes, Master Epee. They’re the same species, just a different breed. They come from overseas, a different environment, slightly. Hence the change in color. That aside, they’re exactly the same.”

Smiling at his own anxiety, Epee finally closed the cage up and turned away, extending his hand to Thomas. “I thank you, my friend, for both the birds and putting up with me.”

Thomas laughed. “Hardly a chore, Master Epee. I promise. I’ve not yet begun to pay back the wine you’ve given me. If you want more birds, let me know.”

Epee nodded. “I hope—” He broke off as the conservatory door opened, and the nervousness which had finally abated returned threefold.

He didn’t even notice as Thomas slowly backed away and vanished entirely, chuckling softly all the while.

“What are you doing in here?” Sharp asked with a smile

Epee grinned. “I was thinking of getting a cat; I wanted to make certain there was enough food in the house.” He clasped his hands behind his back so they wouldn’t move about with nervous anxiety.

“Haha,” Sharp said, rolling his eyes. He drew close enough to give Epee a kiss.

“You taste like claret,” Epee said. “Your mother must have been in a fine mood.”

Sharp rolled his eyes again. “Indeed. She—” He stopped and turned to face the nearest cage dead on, hands going up to rest lightly on the bars. He stared quietly for a moment, then shot Epee a suspicious, disbelieving look. Opening the cage, he reached inside and gently coaxed the birds into coming to his hand.

“There are new birds in here,” Sharp said in wonder, eyes only for the newest additions. “Blue and green, I’ve never seen them with blue and green feathers.” He finally withdrew, looking at Epee with wonder and delight. “Where in the devil did you find some with blue and green feathers?”

“A wise merchant never reveals his source,” Epee said, all but vibrating with the success of his surprise. “So you like them?”

For reply, Sharp merely yanked him close and kissed him hard and deep, clinging as though his life depended on it.

Oh, he did like when Sharp was so overwhelmed he stopped pondering and simply acted.

“I’ll take that for a yes,” Epee said breathlessly when he was finally released.

“Yes,” Sharp said. “They’re beautiful. Thank you.”

Epee smiled. “You’re welcome.”