Cheating Death

It was a crisp day in early fall. Not quite into the full maw of winter, the air still had a bit of a bite, gusts of wind showing more teeth than was quite comfortable. Richard St Vier anticipated the warmth as he entered Martha's, well accustomed to the press of bodies in the bar heating the small room quite adequately.

He had not, however, anticipated walking in on a fight, or the prequel to one. Fights in Riverside were not uncommon, of course; he made his living off the fact that life demanded conflict.

However, the fight that was shaping up at Martha's was not apparently fair, as it seemed to involve two large men bearing swords at their sides, against one tall but lanky and unconditioned man, whose long hair and tattered robes indicated a student of the University, and who was unarmed. The conclusion was obvious.

"Are you accusing me," one of the men who St Vier vaguely remembered as being called 'Gad' demanded of the student, "Of cheating?"

The young man opened his mouth in an unpleasant grin. "You cheated no more..." he said, "than when your mother cheated on your father to get you."

It was the voice that marked the boy as interesting in Richard's mind, when it came right down to it. He was in a bar deep in Riverside, which meant that he'd somehow had a reason to come to a bar in Riverside and pick a fight there. He was dressed as a student, but it was far - very far - from the University, and not the place for any of their type. But his language was the language of the Hill, the drawl of the nobles, crisp and not the type of thing that could be found in either the University - a retreat mostly for scientifically-minded farmers' sons - or in Riverside. It was as if he laid claim to all three identies without losing any of them.

He was interesting, and he'd always been drawn to interesting things, though he had attempted to avoid noticing them since Jessamyn had - since he had killed her.

Richard shouldered his way forward. "Excuse me," he said, politely. "I would prefer you leave, if you'd rather not fight me."

"Yeah?" the man who was not Gad said. "Who do you think you are, St Vier?"

"Yes," St Vier said.

Gad spat at the scholar, who wiped it from his face with a clinical expression. The two men retreated sullenly to a back room.

"Are you all right?" Richard St Vier asked.

The scholar looked at him mockingly. "Ah, Richard St Vier. I've heard of you. Don't do weddings, don't do women. I suppose your life is a dull tedious chore, and all you can do is long for something new and interesting to brighten your mockery of an existance."

Richard shrugged. "Yes," he admitted. "That and I like a challenge."

"I'm not one," the scholar drawled, and spread his arms. "But if you like, I can try to scream interestingly."

So. It was like that.

"Walk with me," Richard said.

The man shrugged and finished his drink, then rose and would have loomed over St Vier if it weren't for his habitual slouch. He let Richard lead him out.

"What's your name?" Richard asked, eventually.

"Alec," the man drawled. He gave no last name, so Richard did not ask for one. He was forming an image of a runaway noble, most likely one who'd failed at University. Perhaps he was seeking entertainment in Riverside, or something to give interest to his life.

Or, simply, death.

"You wanted me to kill you."

"It'd be a lovely death," Alec said. "Would you?"

"No."

"Then why am I walking with you? I can find what I want elsewhere, you know."

"Come with me," Richard said. "To my room."

Alec sighed. "Oh, all right."

St Vier didn't quite hide a smile as he lead Alec up the stairs at the apartments belonging his whore landlady, Marie. Down the hall and to the right and they were in his rooms. Richard stripped his overcoat off, glanced at Alec. "Well?"

"I'm not entirely sure what you want, other than the obvious." Alec noted, sliding off the outer layer of his own robes.

Richard hadn't been sure that Alec would be so blatant, with his noble's accent, but there was little to be sure of about this gentleman scholar. He shrugged. "We can begin there."

A snort. "Well, why not."

Alec let Richard roll him under easily enough in bed, though there was a glint in his eye that spoke to St Vier, told him that at some other time, Alec might fight him for it. Richard didn't mind. The fights he would throw were few, but there was winning and there was losing, and throwing the fight in bed wasn't necessarially the latter.

Richard soon discovered that Alec was what was referred to commonly as a talker. He whispered muffled words - not obscenities, St Vier noticed, as was common - that Richard tried to ignore. The words, whatever they were, were not meant for him; they seemed directed at companions past, perhaps. Other men would be jealous.

St Vier was not by nature a jealous man, and it was easy enough to lose himself in the dizzying focus of flesh on flesh, the tilt of a hip, the taste of skin. The movement of muscles. He nosed in Alec's hair, smelled sweat and the tang of grease. The heat between them burned, was sweaty, sticky, almost too much, and Richard couldn't quite keep himself from wishing he'd left a window open, fall chill be damned.

He lost himself for a while, then found himself again, and Alec was begging into the pillow, "Kill me, kill me, kill me."

Richard held Alec until it passed, then murmured. "I'll kill you."

The sound of Alec's indrawn breath was loud in the small room. "Really?" he drawled weakly, unconvinced. "You don't seem the type to know a man so, then leave their bodies at the side of the street."

"Not yet," Richard said. He stroked Alec's shoulder, pulled the taller man around to face him. "Not yet. Stay with me. Change your mind, if you can. And if you don't, I'll kill you someday."

Alec closed his eyes, let his head rest against Richard's shoulder. "Really?" he asked again, but his voice was soft now, compliant, drowsy.

Swordsmen tended not to settle down, but Alec was interesting, and why not draw as much from that as he could? St Vier pondered a fleeting fantasy, Alec as an old man, telling him to take his life already before Death took it first, telling him to fulfill his promise. Perhaps it had been Jessamyn, perhaps reasons Richard could not say, but the idea, of having so many years with someone interesting at his side, appealed.

He had sworn not to kill her and had lost his temper with her, came to himself to find her crumpled on the floor, quite dead. This time he would swear to kill, and do his damnedest not to.

"Yes," he said.

Alec slept.