Chapter Thirteen

As the doors slid open softly to admit the man who stood there, head bowed slightly, the king dismissed the healers and maidservants with a nod, and they rose and flocked out, past the man in the doorway.
The silence hung between them, before it grew tangibly heavy with every passing second. Rukawa spoke first.

"Did you know him? Was he your friend, captain?"

Maki raised his head, and met the king's eyes directly across the room. "I-" he looked away, "No. I don't know who he is."

The king smiled briefly, a small smile that traced his lips and then left swiftly even as he rose from the engraved seat and beckoned the captain into the room. "Well then, I will retire for my rest now, captain. I shall see you in the morning."

Maki dropped to one knee and kept his gaze on the floor as the king swept past him, regal even at this late hour, and his mind sharply noted the dirt smudges and the few small twigs on the hems of the inner coat. Where has he been?

He pushed the thoughts aside as the doors closed softly behind the king. He was alone. They were alone.

Walking forward, he let his hand fall from the hilt of his sword. When he reached the side of the large bed, he walked around it to occupy the seat that the king had just vacated. He kept his eyes trained forward, not daring to let his gaze land on the softly breathing man lying asleep on the sheets that smelt of herbs and medicine. After he had seated himself, he folded his hands in his lap, and looked down at them, willing himself not to think.

Then what are you here for? You want to see him, don't you? And he's just right in front of you now!

Slowly, hesitatingly, he lifted his eyes and to his shock, caught the equally intense gaze of deep blue eyes looking back at him.


The king kept walking, his feet silent in his well-soled slippers as he made his way down the corridor to his chambers. The palace was quiet; at this time of the night, all were asleep save those he had summoned to attend to the men. He turned the corner sharply, pulling his cloak closer to hold out the chill, and nodded slightly to the men standing guard by the heavy doors. They pushed it open and he entered, feeling the thorough weight of his new responsibilities falling on his shoulders. He looked down and fumbled at the clasp of his cloak, before untying the silk threads and letting the velvet fall from his shoulders.

He spun around at the intentional cough that came from the other end of his chamber, near the balcony. Trepidation filled him and he turned back, ready to call for help-

Before he could take a step, a shadow moved swiftly in front of him, and he stilled in shock, his eyes widening as coppery eyes blazed at him, before the light in them darkened and faded.

"I didn't come here tonight to kill you."

Rukawa stepped back automatically, before the words sank in. The thoughts flashed in his mind, running frantically as he tried to compose an answer. "Then what did you come here for?" he managed with dignity, his eyes never leaving the direct gaze of the other man. The man who, just nights ago, had tried to kill him. The man who, nights past, had haunted his dreams. Irritably, he pushed the latter images away and focused on the still figure before him.

Almost as if he were reading his thoughts, the assassin chuckled.