It only took Kael a sennight to find him.

Thiel was set up on a corner on Scarlet Street. He'd had to get there early to get the spot, since Scarlet was popular amongst the beggars. The street was filled with brothels, ranging from the ones you'd get a disease from just being in the vicinity to the others that serviced the merchant class. The higher class ones were closer to the palace, in the wealthier districts of Kasimyr. It was a fairly famous street and many people were teeming on it at this time of night. Street vendors had set up food carts along the way, the smell of cooking meat and bread making Thiel's stomach growl with hunger. The street was full of life and loud, the people passing by ranging from tourists to off-duty soldiers to young hopefuls. Pickpockets raced through the crowd – Thiel saw a street rat nimbly snatch a young man's money pouch out of his pocket as he gawked at a half-clothed woman hanging out of a brothel's window.

Thiel was at the better end of Scarlet, sitting with his wooden bowl out in front of him. The ground was still filthy – dirt, spit and other things coating it – but it made no difference to his already soiled pants. He still had some money left over from Kael's candelabrum, but he had nothing better to do. He'd spent the past months scrutinising the Crystal Palace and could find no weaknesses. He was close to giving up, but Thiel wasn't admitting defeat just yet. He'd only leave off when he was buried deep in the ground as worm food.

He was having a pretty good night. Begging on Scarlet always reaped good money, since most of the men and women wondering around just had a good fuck to put them in a generous mood. Thiel sure as hell wasn't complaining.

"You have a strange way of repaying kindness."

Thiel froze. Damn. He knew that velvet voice. As much as he'd tried to forget it, it still haunted him in the small snatches of sleep he managed to get. Polished, knee-high boots shone in the lamplight, right in front of Thiel's begging bowl.

"I dunno what ye're talkin' 'bout, good sir," he said croakily, putting on an accent from the south. He wiggled deeper into his raggedy blanket so he was further hidden.

"Nice try, Thiel," Kael said, voice amused once again. "If you're going to try and hide, do it away from my domain."

Thiel scowled, looking up at Kael towering over him. The man was just as attractive as Thiel remembered, if not more so. His silky hair was combed back away from his face so there was nothing to detract from his sharp jaw line and piercing eyes. There was a small smile playing around his kissable lips and Thiel couldn't stop his eyes dropping down to focus on them. He snapped them back up almost immediately, but it seemed nothing escaped from those green eyes.

"What do you mean by that?" he asked belatedly. "And what're you doing here?"

"Looking for you, of course. You left without saying goodbye."

Now that sounded menacing. Eyes flicking around, Thiel looked for any goons that were going to scoop him up and haul him away. There was no one, but there were quite a few people that glanced Kael's way. Thiel couldn't blame them, since the man was certainly eye-catching, but in some of their eyes there were traces of fear and respect mixed in with the lust. That confused him.

"So you were keeping me prisoner."
Kael snorted. "Hardly. If that were the case, you would not have gotten out. I am merely pointing out that you could have at least stayed for breakfast. The cook had made quite a feast when she heard I had a guest."

Thiel's stomach rumbled at the thought of a hot meal. The gruel he'd been living off may have all the essentials to survive in it, but it had absolutely no appeal other than that. Kael obviously heard his stomach because he smiled, one of the ones that didn't reach his eyes again. Thiel wondered what he looked like when he truly smiled in joy. It would probably give him a heart attack.

"Come, I'll give you a hot meal and maybe even let you use my shower."

Just Kael mentioning a shower had all sorts of sinful images floating through Thiel's mind – images of Kael's naked body under the cascading water and Thiel tracing the droplets with his tongue. And how he'd love to have a shower – he hadn't had one it what felt like years, yet could only have been months. The fact that Kael even had a shower just reinforced how rich he was. Only the most affluent could afford to have the plumbing needed installed in their houses. Thiel wanted so badly to take Kael up on his offer of a hot meal, but there was no way the man could be trusted. How had he even found Thiel anyway?

"What kind of blue-blood are you?" he asked suspiciously. None of the nobles he knew would ever help a beggar, let alone heal him and offer him a meal. Kindness like that just didn't exist in that echelon of society.

"I told you before I wasn't a lord. I fuck them, I'm not one of them."

Thiel's eyes widened.

"You're a whore!" he exclaimed. Kael inclined his head in confirmation, not seeming in the slightest bit annoyed at Thiel's loud accusation. "But what type of whore has a house like yours?"

"A very expensive one," Kael said, his eyes showing his laughter but hiding so much more.

It would make sense. If Kael was some pricey prostitute, he could easily have been entertaining in the Crystal Palace the night he'd found Thiel. It would also explain how he'd found Thiel on Scarlet – he probably had connections with other whores. It didn't sit quite right in his mind, but he didn't know if that was because he was suspicious of everyone these days.

"How can I trust you?" Thiel asked, still eyeing him suspiciously.

"You can't, not really," Kael admitted. "But you should at least find assurance in the fact that I haven't called the authorities on you for stealing my candelabrum."

That was true. And he had noticed, after all.

"What do you want with me?" Thiel asked. The question that had been burning in his mind since he'd met the strange, charismatic man.

"Nothing but a bit of your glorious conversation." When Thiel scoffed in disbelief, Kael went on. "You remind me of someone that I used to know. Plus, some of the insults you came up with that night were quite imaginative. I couldn't help but be intrigued."

Thiel couldn't help the trill of pleasure that went through him at being able to intrigue a man such as Kael. It could all be bullshit, but Thiel found he didn't really care. A free hot meal was just too good an opportunity to pass up, not to mention spending it in the company of someone as stunning as Kael.

"Fine," he snapped, pretending the answer had been wrung out of him. The knowing glint was in Kael's eyes again and Thiel knew he wasn't fooling anyone. "I'll go with you, but you better not be fucking me over, whore."

"Not at all," Kael murmured, his eyes strangely intent as Thiel stood up. Kael set off down the street, hands in the pockets of his expensive breeches. Thiel followed, not even trying to disguise his limp. It took too much energy and hurt too greatly to bother. Plus, he wanted to see Kael's expression when he saw. Thiel was a tad disappointed when the man took note of it while his expression remained unwavering.

"Speaking of fucking," Thiel said abruptly, not liking the silence that allowed him to notice the great number of people looking at them, "don't you have a job to be doing at night? Earning the money to keep that huge house functioning, say?"

"Not tonight," was all he said.

The rest of the walk was in silence. It didn't actually take very long, but Thiel's leg was still aching mightily when they arrived at the mansion. It was in one of the nicer parts of Kasimyr, quite close to the palace and surrounded by houses of equal or greater opulence. It was relatively small compared to the other great mansions, with only two stories. Thiel could pick out the room he'd escaped from. The blanket rope was, unsurprisingly, gone. At this time of evening, there were lights burning in a few of the rooms.

As soon as they entered, a mouth-watering smell greeted Thiel's deprived nostrils and, for the first time in many days, he found himself desiring something as much, if not more, than Kael. Ignoring the man, he followed his nose until he found the kitchen. A portly woman with red cheeks and hair pulled into a messy bun was carving up a hunk of meat, eyes narrowed. She glanced up and smiled when she saw Thiel. It was a kind, sparkling expression that shocked Thiel. He hadn't had a look like that directed at him in a long time. Most people either ignored him or looked at him in disgust. Was everyone in this household going to be an exception?
"Master Kaelin said 'e was 'oping to 'ave a guest!" the woman exclaimed, her southern accent strong. "And look at ye! All skin and bones! The Master brought you to the right place, he did." She looked over Thiel's shoulder and winked at Kael.

Thiel may have fallen a little bit in love with the cook right then and there.

"Thiel, meet Leelavati, my cook," Kael introduced. "How long do we have?" he directed towards his cook.

"Not long now, about 'alf an 'our I'd say fer me to finish the veg'tables."

Kael nodded then headed towards the stairs that Thiel had completely bypassed on his search for food. Thiel glanced longingly at the succulent juices running off the meat before catching up with Kael reluctantly. He tried not to stare at the way Kael's breeches pulled tight over his arse as he stepped up. Thiel ended up being too busy staring at his arse to notice that they'd stopped. He whipped his eyes up and looked around at the bathroom. Both the walls and floor were made from slabs of expensive white marble. A huge bath gilded with gold took up one corner and Thiel dragged his eyes away before he started imagining Kael naked and in it. He did not need the images from before in his head again.

The other corner held the shower, concealed at the moment from his eyes by a waterproof curtain. The sink – also made of marble – had two taps, showing that Kael could afford to get both cold and warm water. He must have a water heater in his house somewhere and had at least one servant to keep the fires underneath it going.

"There should be a clean towel on the rail and I will place new clothes out here for you," Kael said, stepping out of the room and making to close the door behind him. Thiel ripped his eyes away from staring hungrily at the shower to back out of the bathroom as well.

"No," Thiel snapped. "I'm not having a shower."

Kael frowned in confusion. "You can have a bath if you want."
"No," he repeated.

Kael looked at him closely, his eyes assessing and running over the grime that coated Thiel's face. He wanted to shy from the look but stubbornness made him meet Kael's eyes evenly. Finally, Kael stepped back, face blank.

"Fine. But if you don't wash at least your hands and your face, I'll throw your food out onto the pavement for you to eat like a mangy dog."

And with that threat, the man turned on his heel and walked back down the stairs. Thiel grit his teeth but when he glanced at his hands, he realised that he did have a point. His hands had once been dainty and pristine, with neatly buffed nails. Now, they were almost black from dirt and his nails were filthy.

Thiel went back into the glorious bathroom and washed his hands, using the soap provided. The water was black as it ran down into the hole. Thiel even splashed some over his face, just enough for there to be a slight difference but not enough so he'd be easily recognisable. His scraggly beard covered up half his face, anyway. When he was done, his hands still had some stains on them, but the difference was remarkable. Other than his two shattered fingers and warped fingernails, they were almost the same as what they used to be. Thiel had never liked his hands back then, how feminine they were, but now he wished his hands were whole like that again. Two of his fingers on his left hand, the smallest one and the one next to it, were sickeningly misshapen. It made Thiel's stomach turn just to look at them, so he quickly turned off the tap and followed his nose again to the delicious scents coming from the kitchen.

When he got there, Kael was already seated at one of the stools at the bench across from where Leelavati had been slicing up the meat. Two plates of steaming hot food sat in front of him. Both had cuts of meat on them, but one had much more than the other, plus a more sumptuous range of sides. Thiel guessed glumly that the plainer one was for him.

Kael caught sight of the look on his face as he slipped onto his chair and said, "Your stomach won't be able to handle foods any richer than this. I'll be amazed if you can eat all of the meat."

Thiel took this as a challenge and tried to eat as much of it as possible. He couldn't help closing his eyes and savouring each bite though. The meat was absolutely heavenly. Surely he hadn't eaten anything as wondrous as this before he'd taken to the streets? He thought it was beef, but he couldn't be sure. He licked a bit of juice off the corner of his mouth as he opened his eyes.

"This is so good," he moaned, taking another mouthful. Leelavati gave him a delighted smile.

"I'm glad you like it, Thiel," the cook said, throwing him a quick smile as she bustled about the kitchen, cleaning up and putting things away.

Thiel turned back to his meal but caught sight of Kael staring at him intently from the corner of his eye. Thiel frowned at him.

"What?" he snapped.

Kael blinked, then said, "I'm sorry to see that good food hasn't improved your attitude in the slightest."

"Having a good attitude wasn't part of the deal," Thiel replied, turning his attention back to his delicious food. "I probably would have eaten this off the pavement, it's so good."

"How did you end up homeless?" Kael asked, completely blindsiding Thiel. It was only for a moment, though, and then Thiel was back to scowling.

"I ran away from home to join the circus travelling through town," he said. "I was an acrobat until I fell and broke my leg, which is why I have my limp. They dropped me after that and now I've just been trying to survive here."

Kael rolled his eyes. "That's a pretty story."

"All true," Thiel lied.

"Mmhm," the man said. "Then why are you hiding?"

Thiel's eyes widened and he actually stopped chewing for a moment.

"How do you know I'm hiding?" he blurted before he could stop himself, thus confirming it if Kael hadn't been sure before.

"What kind of beggar turns down the chance to be clean and have fresh clothes? And you just confirmed it for me." He leaned closer and Thiel's breath turned shallow as his chiselled face took up his whole vision. He hated that he could get lost in those deep green eyes. "Who is looking for you, Thiel?"

Thiel jerked away, hating how affected he was. "No one," he bit out.

"I could help you," Kael said lowly, his voice bewitching and enticing.

"I don't trust you as far as I could throw you." Thiel honestly doubted that he could even pick Kael up – his arms were as skinny as sticks. Kael looked equally impressed by this statement, even shooting him a pointed glance. But the main problem was that Thiel did trust him, to a certain degree at least. He had followed the man home, after all, and was eating food with him. He could hardly believe that he felt safe enough to do this, but he couldn't help it. He even wanted to trust Kael to help him, but there was no way that he could, even if he did have access to the palace. He was just a whore, after all.

"You don't 'ave enough meat on ye to be liftin' anythin'," Leelavati commented, chuckling. Thiel shot her a glare.

"I thought you were on my side," he whined.

"It'll take more than you to take her from my side, boy," Kael said, reaching a hand over to ruffle Thiel's grimy hair. Thiel was stunned. He couldn't believe that Kael had actually touched his oily, disgusting hair – it was so dirt-ridden that you couldn't even make out the blond regrowth at the top. He was also peeved that Kael continued to refer to him as 'boy', especially since he couldn't stop thinking about what Kael would look like naked. No wonder the man was a whore – he could seduce anyone without even trying. The man breathed sensuality.

"Where'd he even find you?" Thiel asked curiously. He wished that he had a Leelavati of his own to cook him delicious food.

"I used ta work in this little tavern down south in 'orrible conditions, young master. I was the cook but I barely made enough ta get by. Then Master Kaelin arrived in all his usual fanciness, declared I made the best lamb stew 'e'd ever tasted, and whisked me outta there. This is much more enjoyable."

Thiel's eyebrows rose. So he wasn't the only person Kael had helped out. His respect for the man grew, as well as his admiration.

"She does make a mean lamb stew," Kael agreed.

"I'll 'ave to make it for ye, Thiel," Leelavati said. "I 'ave a special secret ingredient that makes it completely unique."

Thiel frowned. That made it sound as if Thiel was coming back, which he wasn't. This was just one free hot meal and nothing to get accustomed to. He'd be back out on the streets in a heartbeat, where he could go his own way.

"I do like lamb," he eventually said, then berated himself when Kael glanced at him sharply. Only people of means could afford lamb – someone living on the streets should never have even smelt it. Thiel didn't like how he was letting down his guard around these people, just because he felt comfortable in the warm, homely kitchen.

Leelavati handed him some a cup of tea to wash it down and Thiel eagerly took it, savouring the taste.

Unfortunately, his stomach soon felt too full to continue eating, no matter how hard he tried. He was sure that if he ate another bite, he would burst. Leelavati laughed at the depressed look on his face as she took the plate away.

He should want to run as far away from this place as possible, but he was strangely reluctant against all his better instincts. Nevertheless, his pride kicked in and he stood up, intent on leaving.

Kael stopped him, however, when he said, "Do you know how to play chess?"

Thiel loved to play chess. He loved how, no matter how stressed or horrible his day had been, he could sink into that focused state and think only about the best strategy to win. He knew he should go. That would be the wise thing. He should not get further indebted and entwined with this mysterious man, but his mouth was already moving.

"Yes."

Kael smiled and surprisingly, it seemed to touch the edges of his cold green eyes.

"Excellent. I just had a new set made and need an opponent to test it out on."

Kael led the way into another room. This one seemed to be a library. It wasn't overly big, but the entire space was packed full of books, with shelves right up to the high ceiling. There was a fireplace with three comfortable looking chairs surrounding it. They all looked to be well loved and used. Kael led Thiel passed rows of books until they came to the table with the chess set on it. Kael settled himself into one chair and waved at Thiel to do the same with the other. Thiel cautiously did so.

The chess set was a work of art. The black and white sets were both the same, but for the colour. Each piece was carved with such great detail it astounded Thiel. The rearing horses of the knight looked almost life-like, right down to their foaming mouths around the bit.

Saying nothing more, Kael started the game. Thiel slowly relaxed as he felt himself slipping into his usual state of intense concentration. Kael was good, planning his strategies well, but Thiel managed to beat him within the hour.

Kael sat back, his face surprised. "Unbelievable. How did I just get beaten by a beggar?"

Thiel couldn't help the smug smile spreading across his face.
"I guess you're just not as good as what you thought you were."

Kael was studying him with that intent look, looking intrigued by Thiel. Thiel liked how Kael didn't seem even slightly angry that he was beaten – he was completely gracious and didn't even seem to take it personally.

"Or you're just exceptionally talented at this game. Should we play another?"

Halfway through the next game, with Thiel's pieces dominated the chequered board, he picked up a piece and then paused. He studied the board and sat back for a moment, before moving a pawn on the other side of the board. He realised his mistake when Kael straightened up. The whole evening, Thiel had made sure to not let Kael get a good look at his hands and had paid particular attention to not letting his left hand be seen at all. For just a moment though, he'd forgotten and Kael, unsurprisingly, had noticed. Before Thiel could snatch back his hand, Kael's hand shot out a grabbed his.

Thiel frowned at Kael then scowled and tried to tug his hand back when he saw the man was surveying his ruined fingers and fingernails closely. Kael's fingers were strong and warm against Thiel's hands, almost making him shudder, and a green ring on his finger glinted in the light.

"How did you get these wounds?" he said, all amusement gone from his voice and face. Thiel wasn't used to this side of Kael, especially not when he turned the full piercing quality of his eyes onto him. It made Thiel want to spill out all his secrets.

"It doesn't matter," he snapped, struggling to get his hand back. Kael's eyes narrowed and his eyebrows drew down in annoyance. His thumb ran down Thiel's two shattered, deformed fingers. He examined them closely, his breath puffing softly along the fingers. Some of Thiel's fingernails had grown back properly but the majority had not. Instead, they'd grown back warped and distorted, which was glaringly obvious now that his hands were clean. It had been harder to see when they were covered in filth.

Kael looked back up at Thiel, a stormy expression on his face. "Were you tortured?" he asked bluntly. While lines of anger could be seen his face, his eyes were coldly blank. Before, they'd just been closed. Now they had a freezing quality to them that made Kael shiver.

Thiel's world narrowed in on the look on Kael's face. His breath turned shallow and harsh, but for much different reasons than earlier. His fingers began to ache, echoed by his bad leg. He could almost feel the cold metal of the thumbscrews as they were pushed onto his pinkie finger and that horrible voice saying 'this would all be over if you told us where he is'.

Thiel stood up, successfully managing to snatch his hand back. He knocked over a few pieces but neither of them bothered to pick them up.

"Don't be idiotic," he sneered, before storming out of the room.

"Thiel, where are you going? You can st—"

"Eat a dick!" Thiel snapped as he shot out of the door and out onto the street, the hand Kael had been examining clutched tight to his chest.

"That's what I do for a living," he heard Kael say, the amusement faintly back in his voice. It soon faded though when Thiel dashed into a side street and began to make his way back to the slums of Kasimyr, limping all the way.

He should never have let that man convince him to go with him, no matter how beautiful he was. Thiel sure as hell didn't need him or his fancy house and meals. He'd survived this long without help and he'd keep going until his time came. He began to pray that it would be soon.