The very last person Serik wanted to see right then was Aiman.
Most of the time he loved his job; he could do much worse, and not really better, than the King’s Lord of the Wood. He could ask for no better life than one that left him free to guard the royal forest, guard the sacred creatures within, see the dangerous ones were killed, and bring the King whatever he desired.
But on days like the one he had just barely survived, he hated it. There was nothing quite so humiliating—and painful, he hurt everywhere and the royal healers would be in bed already and it was not worth waking them for nonfatal injuries—as nearly getting killed by one dragon, no matter how nasty a dragon it happened to be.
Serik limped from the forest, wondering why Prince Aiman stood in the back courtyard, clearly waiting for him. He really wished Aiman was abed, instead of there to see him battered, bruised, bloody, torn, and barely standing upright.
Prince Aiman was always so beautiful, but all the more by moonlight. His hair was black—and loose, Serik saw with surprise. Instead of braided back like usual, Aiman wore it loose, falling nearly down to his hips, dark against his formal dark violet court robes, moonlight gleaming on the silver trim.
He looked like a child of the moon, a Witch of old casting spells in the dead of night to avoid the royal guards. His pale gray eyes glowed faintly with magic, probably from the mage lights he was keeping lit. Serik had indulged a thousand moonlit fantasies of Prince Aiman, but he knew they were only that. The idea of beautiful, educated, highly-favored Prince Aiman wanting a mere hunter—even the Lord of the Wood—was laughable at best.
Some deity could have spared him pity enough not to have Prince Aiman waiting for him, there to see his humiliating failure. “Highness,” he greeted. “Is there some problem beyond my failure to return in time with the King’s dinner?”
Aiman shook his head. “We were worried. It is not like you to be more than a little late on a bad day. My father ordered that men go to search for you in the morning, but I was certain that if you were able to return, then you would do so tonight. The Lady Moon favors you as well as she favors any Witch.”
Serik stopped, startled by the words. He watched, puzzled and flustered, as Aiman walked toward him and laid a hand flat against his chest. Then magic flooded him, hot and cold all at once, and Serik did not know what to say or do. Princes did not heal hunters; that’s what the royal healers were for. “Why—”
“You did not come back,” Aiman said, looking at him. Serik had always stupidly liked they were the same height. “An hour late, not so worrisome. Even two hours late is reason for curiosity, but not concern. It has been almost ten hours, now. I began to fear the worst. I beseech the moon to bring you home, and have been waiting patiently to see if she would bring you.”
Serik opened his mouth, then closed it again looking at Aiman in confusion. “Why would you beseech the moon on my behalf?”
“Because there is something I want to say, that I have hesitated time again to say, for fear of your reaction. When I thought today that you were dead, I realized that fear was a stupid reason to hold back.”
Serik was far too aware that Aiman’s hand was still on his chest, warm, almost hot, and without the excuse of magic it felt intimate. “What—” His words cut off as Aiman leaned forward and kissed him. Serik almost pulled away, he was so startled, but he had not gone from being a nameless hunter to Lord of the Wood by refusing opportunity when it fell across his path.
Aiman tasted sweet, like cool, pale wine and sweetmeats. His hand slid from Serik’s chest, and he wrapped both of his arms around Serik. Thinking became completely impossible, as Serik lost himself in the taste and feel and smell of the man he’d always wanted but was certain he would never have.
If it took almost getting killed by a dragon to make moonspun fantasies turn into moonlit reality, it was a price he would pay a thousand times. Sinking his hands into Aiman’s hair, Serik kissed back with everything he had been holding back, breathless with the way that Aiman matched it.