A Winter Afternoon
by Mina Lightstar

Richard's swords were not for show. They were unlike the decorative blades nobles wore to either impress or intimidate. Richard's blades were crafted for duels, for fights to the death -- to be wielded only by the strong and skilled. They were a swordsman's blades, not a nobleman's accessories, and adequate practice was required to make use of them effectively.

Richard St Vier was the best for two reasons: he was good, and he practiced regularly. Innate skill was just that, but could never be undone with proper toning.

"Are you going to do that all day?" Alec asked, sounding annoyed. He was curled up in the chaise longue as was his wont, quite a feat considering his height.

Richard paused mid-swing, turned his head and raised an eyebrow. "For a while."

"It's boring." This pronounced with finality and confidence. Alec spoke his mind no matter who he was speaking to -- and used a haughty tone more often than not. "Let's go out."

"You can go out," Richard invited, returning to his swinging. By-standers and youths eager for his counsel often remarked his easy he made it look. Stopping a swing dead with a sword was harder than many supposed.

"I don't feel like going alone."

"It hasn't ever stopped you before," Richard pointed out, seemingly engrossed in his practice. More than frequently, Alec was out and about without Richard. In the beginning, Richard had tried giving him small weapons -- knives, daggers -- to defend himself. After the former University student had lost the fifth knife, Richard had given up. Given his lover's audacity, Richard had seen to it that everyone in Riverside knew he was St Vier's lover. Alec had a bold mouth, but couldn't ever hold his own in a fight.

"I could teach you a bit of the sword." It was a token offer. Though Richard would always be willing to teach Alec, the scholar's preference for ignorance was unyielding. The extent of Alec's knowledge of blades was that you stabbed people with the pointy end.

But Richard offered anyway, because he often turned away those who begged to learn from him. "I can't teach anyone to do how I do," he would say. And Alec was different: Alec was his. Richard would make the effort for no other.

As expected, Alec waved the suggestion away. "Richard, Richard, *Richard*," he chided. "Why, if ever I *did* deign to learn the sword, you wouldn't fight for me anymore!"

"I would if you paid me," Richard pointed out. He was grinning and didn't bother saying that he had yet to find a reason *not* to raise his sword for Alec.

"And besides," the scholar went on, "I do so love watching the excitement. Sometimes you can put on a good show, you know that?"

"The neighbors don't think so," Richard replied wryly. He stopped swinging, lowered his blade, and glanced fleetingly at one of their worn walls. He wondered if the neighbors were home, decided to *see* if they were, and had his answer in less than three swings.

"Stop making a racket!" came the muffled shout.

Richard bit back a grumble, and sheathed his sword.

"Oh, well," Alec mourned superficially. "I suppose you can't practice anymore today. Shall we go out?" He stretched out as far as he could get on the chaise, dark green eyes closing. He certainly didn't *look* as though he wanted to go out. Actually, he looked tired. Richard wondered if the scholar had slept well, or if he'd abandoned bed for a book. True, he'd been up early, but Alec was usually up early. He couldn't have gone out to dice; Richard would have known.

Richard looked to the window, watched a few flurries of snow fall. "It's cold outside."

"So?" Alec's reply was almost a murmur. "Cold doesn't bother you."

"But it bothers you."

"Hmmm." Long legs unfolded and Alec pulled himself into a sitting position. The way his shoulders slumped spoke of fatigue. The scholar was, for one reason or another, suddenly quite tired. Richard's bet was still on lack of sleep, though a small part of him *did* wonder; Alec was Alec.

"Actually, maybe I don't want to go out." Alec ran fingers through his fine hair, visibly biting back a yawn. "I've an urge for a cup of chocolate."

"We don't have any chocolate," Richard said. "I think we have brandy, though."

Alec's gaze met his own, and Richard almost lost himself in their green depths. "I didn't sleep well last night," the scholar confessed.

"Well." Richard raised an eyebrow. "Was it because of the fish you ate?"

"Oh, ha." Alec stood and stretched. "I know it's early, but I think I'm going to bed. Perhaps I'll wake up sometime before midnight, and I'll feel energetic enough to go dicing."

"You'll wake me, won't you?" Richard watched the long, thin body outstretch, watched the appealing mouth open to release a yawn.

"If I think of it." After one very steady glance, Alec made his way to the bedroom.

Richard followed.

At first, he was gentle. He handled Alec's body as though it were made of glass and could shatter instantly. He traced the lines and caressed the curves, kissed what looked especially appealing and easily warmed what was cold. Soon Alec's skin was afire, and Richard embraced all of the heat, combined it with his own, until they were both blind with passion.

Later, when they were more than sated and quite content, Richard turned into the curve of Alec's arm. "You didn't seem *quite* so tired."

"Oh, I am *now*," Alec assured him. "But yes, before was mostly to get you to quit swinging that sword around all day."

A smile tugged at Richard's mouth. "Well. Don't think it will work every time."

"I think nothing of the sort," Alec replied defensively. "How useless you would be if you could no longer kill people I didn't like."

"Ah, at times like this I wonder if you want nothing more than my sword."

"...Richard, I don't make such rudimentary jokes."