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AutumnReaper     190d ago

Fridays are supposed to be his days off.
Isn't that supposed to be one of the perks of running your own business? What good is having the disposable cash to have your heater set at 72 with the balcony door open, be three beers deep, laying in your boxers, half an hour into a Hexflix crime documentary, if you can't be home to enjoy it all? The soft strumming of the guitar of the aspiring artist living on daddy's money from across the hall, a car alarm blaring in the distance, the scent of a candle burnt down to the glass jar by the girl on the floor below who's blown her student loans on a car she really didn't need and now has to make every penny count. Every obnoxious, ambient noise and scent is a piece of what makes a top-floor loft a home. And today, in the barely lit morning of Vasilios, it is but a distant memory.


Because, where was he? Work. Beating the shit out of some poor sap that, for the fifth month in a row, failed to deliver his payment in full. And, what was he smelling?
Blood. 
Mold. 
Wet concrete.
Listening to the skittering of mice, water in the vents, the rush of water through rattling pipes held together with duct tape and a weak prayer to the gods - old and new - that refused to take his phone calls.


Royland Vondien, handsome, wealthy, and [i annoyed], stared down at the man in a heap in front of him. No matter the manner of fluid that escaped from his target's mouth - be it bile, blood, or spit - could inspire any glimmer of sympathy in his tired, blue eyes.
"We've been over this, Tarron." Royland said.


Tarron, in response, sputtered and gripped his chest, rolling onto his back. Just, pathetic. 


"You signed a contract." Royland said. "You agreed to pay back the money that you borrowed. There has to be an easier way to get my point across than coming out here every month to kick your ass." Royland holds out a bruised, bloodied hand for assistance. "Rag, please."


Alain, his blonde and broad-shouldered friend, gripped the shirt of their victim and tore it off, handing it over.


Royland, a shade disgusted, took the gory piece of fabric between his thumb and index finger. 
"[i Thanks]." He said. "Maybe next time, you could just hand me his fucking underwear?"


Alain sneered. "I gave you what you asked for."


"Fucking barbarian."


"Fuck you." Alain grumbled. "You called me out here in the middle of a very important appointment."


Royland rolled his eyes. "Oh, I'm so sorry. How is Mrs. Jack and Coke?" He asked.


"Fuck. You." Alain snapped, folding his arms across his chest, indignant.


Royland made a halfhearted attempt to wipe his hands, ignoring his coarse and burly friend's temper tantrum. "Walter, what time is it?"


"5:30." Walter yawned. "Are we done? I gotta be in the kitchen by 7, or Ma is gonna blow her top."


"Yeah, I…Yeah, we're done. Dump him at the hospital." Royland sighed, carelessly discarding the rag, which hadn't done much at all to his mess, except spread it around. He watched Alain and Walter take Tarron by each arm and hoist him over their shoulders to carry him outside with some effort. He knew the speech by now: 'I want my money, I'll increase the rate another 10%, blah blah blah.' Surely, the next month would be different.


The day was young, and Royland just wanted to go [i home].


[center —]


Halfway across town, among the constant beeps and droning of machines, the whining squeal of gurney wheels whizzing by, Tarron lay in the ER. Thankfully, being tended to, under the irritated eyes of a girl who was only an hour away from her shift ending when he'd arrived.


"Honestly, Tarron…" Sumina sat back, checking her handiwork for accuracy. For the most part, she'd been able to sew her brother's face back together, set his broken nose, and ice his bruises. She couldn't do anything about the defeated look on his face, the anger behind his eyes, or the hole in his pocket that was spreading to hers. "You need more money? Do you know how many extra hours I had to–"


"I know, Mina. I know… it's just, the guys I owe, they're serious about getting their money." Tarron responded, weakly.


Sumina stared at her hands, curled into her lap while she thought. "...I don't… I don't have any savings left… what I gave you was the last of what I had." Her shoulders slumped. Tarron deflated beside her.
"W- Well, we have to do something. Maybe Vaeril can–"


"No. No, don't ask that asshole for anything." Tarron sat up, wincing. "He'll just tell me how stupid I am for trying to handle Ma and Pa's money issues on my own."


"But you [i are] stupid." Sumina said, frowning.


"Mina, please…"


A slender finger tucked a lock of stray hair out of Sumina's face. The idea of working yet another month of doubles, skipping breakfast, and only just having enough to scrape by at the end of it was enough to make the promise of tears sit over the brim of her lashes. But, could she leave her brother to his own devices? That was how he'd gotten into this mess, anyway.
"...I can try. But, you have to try, too. I can't keep doing this. My grades are really suffering and yesterday I almost fell asleep on my break…" She turned her head to glance at the clock in the far corner of the room. Her eyes widened. She stood, frantically removing her gloves.
"It's 6 already? I'll be late for the bus. I'll be late for work."


"Go." Tarron shooed Sumina. "I'll be fine."
Reluctantly, but with haste all the same, Sumina ran to gather her things.


[center —]


It hasn't been an hour since Royland has left the warehouse basement when he finds himself standing outside the nondescript diner closest to his apartment, itching at the five o'clock shadow he never bothered to shave, bleary eyed, and still missing the quiet of his usual Friday morning. Through the window, he can see the usual senior citizen crowd gathered for their morning discount, driven to wakefulness by some curse that kept them going far longer than they should be able to. Meanwhile, here he was, in his youth. Floundering as a fish does on shore, for energy he couldn't be bothered to muster.


What a day to run out of coffee.


He seats himself and is served soon enough. The coffee does little for his mood, and less for the stinging in his hands from the beating he had administered this morning.
The heat from the cup makes him sweat, causing the cuts on his knuckles to burn. He stares into nothing, heart thundering. [i How much longer is he going to keep this up?] Royland thinks, [i He's only got a couple more beatings in him.]
Repeat customers were such a pain in the ass.
Sirius had chastised him over the phone, reminding him that the six month deadline was quickly approaching. If Tarron's payment was delinquent again, he may not live to see the seventh month. Sure, they had made money off of him - but not nearly enough to satisfy the boss…


Before the thought of more blood on his hands could consume him, a voice like a bell draws his eyes towards the door.
Clunky non-slip sneakers and light blue scrubs walk past him, and behind the bar to the kitchen, long white hair trailing down her back in a tight ponytail. Royland perks up immediately, heart thundering for a different reason, now. Thank goodness he'd decided to wear a dress shirt and slacks. He never comes on Friday. If he knew she'd be here, he might have started earlier than now.


Sumina hasn't had time to take her change of clothes out of her bag, before she's accosted from behind by a coworker.
"Oryanna!" She giggled.


"Your regular is here. Seems like he was waiting for you!" Oryanna playfully poked at her friend's cheek, winking. "He sat right in your section." Sumina, unable to contain her embarrassment, flushed.


"He is [i not]!" Sumina squirmed. "Is he? No, it's just a coincidence. Let go of me. I have to get dressed."


"So you say… Castien sees it, too." Oryanna is singing as she returns to the floor, leaving Sumina standing in front of the bathroom door, chewing over words she wondered if she could believe.


Royland holds his breath when Sumina comes to his table, coffee pot in hand. He'd hardly drunk what was first served to him, but neither of them noticed.


Sumina clears her throat, mustering courage from the depths of nowhere, "I thought Fridays were your days off?"


Royland laughs. "They are. I…ran out of coffee. Seems like that was lucky for me."


It takes everything in Sumina not to break eye contact. "Well, while I'm here… would you like a- oh. Your hands." She furrows her brow, focusing in on the bruised knuckles, cleaned, but still stark in contrast to the rest of his mostly clean appearance. He'd been coming here for so long, but recently, he'd had more injuries than she'd ever seen on him.


Royland's expression drops, but he recovers. "Oh. This? It's nothing. Went a little overboard at the gym." He shrugs, but smiles nonetheless. "The end of the month is stressful for me… so… I box to get the frustration out…"
He drops his gaze over her figure, then catches her eyes again. "Should I take a midnight trip to the hospital? See you there, too?"


Sumina blushes. "W- Well, I…" Belatedly, she realizes that he's probably only kidding. She smiles, giggling, and the sound makes Royland melt into his seat.


"I'll remember to ask for…" Royland said. He leans forward, eyeing her name tag. "Sumina. If that's okay with you."


"I should get back to work." Sumina said, sheepishly. She turned her face away, intent on scurrying to the kitchen while she could. She felt hot wherever his eyes landed. She'd never last if she stayed.


"Don't forget about me. Promise?" Royland smiled, and Sumina scurried away.
She never did end up refilling his cup. But the look on her face was worth every drop of the cold coffee he'd have to endure this morning.
AutumnReaper     84d ago

Sumina tucked a lock of hair behind her ear and watched as her mysterious admirer walked out the diner in a characteristic, sudden hurry. He'd smiled and waved to her on his way out, but when he passed by the window outside, he had a cold and distant expression. Sumina tensed and bit her lip. What could go on in his life to have him make such a face? She wondered, if perhaps that she could one day ask.


There was some natural attraction between them, something undeniable and magnetic. She could feel it in the depths of her stomach and below even that. As though she had known him for a thousand years, or perhaps longer. It was silly, but the thought made her cheeks flush with color. He was a stranger, wasn't he?


"He's more handsome when he smiles." Oryanna said, resting her elbow on the serving window, glancing at her friend's face with earnest mischief.


Sumina, startled from her thoughts, glanced at her feet. Handsome was putting it mildly, in her opinion. Royland had smooth, tawny skin, chestnut hair with a slight curl to its pattern, eyes that looked as blue as the deepest part of Lake Arouet; glimmering, captivating depths that might drown you if you were to stare into them too long. He was a sturdy 5’11”, broad shouldered, and toned but not too muscular. A shade past gorgeous, in her eyes.


“He’s trouble.” An airy tenor came from behind Oryanna. Castien, their manager, set his clipboard on top of his waitress’ head, and stared at Sumina. He was at least a head taller than Royland, Sumina noted, with luscious red hair tied into a messy topknot, and odd eyes, speckled with colors that Sumina didn’t have the names for. Handsome in his own right, but a hair overbearing. “I wouldn’t get involved with him, water lily.”


“You say that about every man that shows interest in her, Castien.” Oryanna said, pouting. She swatted his clipboard off of her head and away from her. 


Castien frowned, vibrant, multicolor eyes settling on Sumina's, as pink dusted her cheeks. It was true. Whenever Sumina drew unwanted attention, it was Castien that came to her rescue, rebuffing the odd drunken patron that got a little too handsy, or the persistent admirers she often picked up from the buses she replied on to get to work and home to her family. His attractiveness was intimidating enough that whenever men saw him, they kept their distance from her. The casual way he would hold her hand or slide an arm protectively around her shoulders, the ease with which he could cutely call her a pet name to indicate familiarity, often left most men unable to find a reason to return. With Royland, it was different. Castien kept his distance, for reasons unknown to Sumina.


“Just trust me this time,” Castien sighed. “We went to school together. He’s nothing but trouble. A thug who grew up in the lap of luxury and chose to use his intelligence to become a common criminal. His only redeeming quality is that he’s more honest about it than his father…”


“Harsh.” Oryanna said, her voice carrying a tune to it. “Surely, no one is that bad. Who’s his father?”


[center —]


“It’s always something with you.” Royland held the phone to his ear with a non-committed shoulder, dodging passersby and fighting the mighty urge to retreat to his sanctuary. If the constant barrage of texts weren’t disruptive enough, the phone calls had been enough to drive him from his spot of admiration and into the gentle sunlight of what was - just to reiterate - supposed to be his day off. “You can’t call when I’m on the clock?” The voice in his ear sighed.


“Maybe you should learn to pick up, then.” Davin’s voice was gravel against Royland’s ear, an unpleasant but familiar grumbling that always sounded as though the older man was struggling to release it from his throat. “This is the third time I’ve had to call this week to get you to come out to the office. You insist on making me chase you around like you’re some kid on a playground.”


“You think I want to see your face? I’m not in the mood for a fight, Davin.” Royland snapped. “And I’m not a teenager, anymore. I'm not gonna let you beat the shit out of me just for not abiding by dad's shit rules about answering the phone."


“I’d hardly call what you put up a fight, little boy. Get to the office now. Or you'll regret it."


If one could slam cellphones, Royland was sure Davin would have done so at that moment. He still felt slighted, irritated that he hadn't gotten the last word in. Still, it wasn't enough to force any urgency in his stride towards his father's towering office building at the city center.


[center —]


Royland entered the foyer of his father's sleek, modern, corporate office with a scowl on his face. To any stranger looking in, it was a testament to what money and good connections could buy you. Windows, five stories tall, cleaned and polished daily, giving passersby a glimpse of high paying corporate hell. At the center of all thirty stories was an elevator door, with the offices, meeting rooms, and cubicles organized in a circle behind the main column. Each floor had a small kitchenette with marble countertops, stocked with imported espressos and flavored teas, and all the syrups and creams that one would need to make the constant overtime seem worth a damn. There were even break rooms with beds, meditation rooms, and a chapel. All unused since their building, doors always locked. Royland knew. The illustrious Harrenhal Vondien was controlling that way.


Neatly groomed, poised, postured men and women stepped out of Royland's way to let him pass by. The receptionist averted her gaze. Security silenced the alarms of the metal detectors he set off, without addressing what might have caused the alarm to shriek as it did. The elevator ride to the executive floors was a quiet and isolated one. Everyone he passed in the hall could tell he'd stewed on something on the way over, and only veteran employees would guess that it was due to the fact that most of his visits to his father's office were against his will. And Royland Vondien possessed a strong will, indeed.


"I wonder what it is this time." Someone murmured, misjudging whether or not they could be heard.


"What else? It's either another fight or money problems. Or another [i girl]. It's the Prince, after all."


Royland snapped his head around, eyes burning with hate, but his feet planted with his fists at his side. He curled his fingers into a tight fist, but said nothing.


The aide who'd made the offensive remark stiffened, his entire body straightening, knees locked and eyes wild and unfocused. Like a terrified animal, cowering in place, hoping that the lack of movement and sound would force the predator on the hunt to pass over him. Royland kept walking. The aide scurried away and back to his desk, gossiping mouse in tow behind him.


The first thing Royland saw when he stepped into his father's office was Davin's fist, headed for his stomach. Royland took the hit, and before it could send him to the ground, Davin grabbed him by the front of his shirt and dragged him inside. The blow left Royland gasping for air, and he collapsed in a heap on the floor, right at the foot of Harrenhal's desk. The office was smaller than it ought to be - tight, intimate, and dark, despite the corner window bringing in light and a clear view of the cityscape. Not for lack of space, but because fighting in a small, unfamiliar environment was more difficult for strangers. Royland had to laugh as he brought himself to his feet, slowly and unsteadied. It was safer to incapacitate him first, rather than risk a lengthy fight. Flattering, if a little annoying.


"Do you know what I despise most about this little side business I've allowed you to keep, son?"


Royland didn't look up from his feet, still catching his breath, but scowled at his shoes, imagining his father's face on the ground. "Don't call me that. It's not a term of endearment." He said through staggering breaths.


"What I despise most," Harrenhal continued, ignoring the remark, "Is that you seem to think it is fine to run a charity under the Vondien name. You give, and you give, and yet your accounts seem to never increase. No matter how much time I give you." His voice already had a touch of impatience in it.


Royland chuckled dryly. "Yeah, well… when your clients are gamblers and addicts… you don't always get paid…" He said.


"Seems like you don't get paid either way." Davin said from behind him.


"Shut up." Royland said. He turned, finally facing his father, who was now nose down in a plain black ledger. Harrenhal's hands dwarfed the tiny notebook, making it look like a child's diary.


"Tell me about this "T.L.," son." Harrenhal flicked his gaze to his son's face. Royland didn't miss the days when just that quick turn would make him flinch, turn away.


"He's just some broke moron." Royland said, huffing. "Always needs money to make ends meet. He gave me some sob story about how he supports his entire family, but I'm not so sure it's true." He folded his arms across his chest. 


"Has he been [i reminded] about your policies on partial or delinquent payment?” Harrenhal asked, lazily.


“Six times, including today.” Royland said. "This time, he didn't even bring enough to cover the interest."


"Seems they rarely do, Royland." Harrenhal said. He leaned forward, elbows resting on his serpentine mahogany desk, eyes closed. 


Royland watched his father for a time. There were a few more grey hairs than usual speckling his mutton chop beard and neatly coiffed and otherwise black hair. He watched his father's thick eyebrows knit together, strong, square jaw and grecian nose of his face tightening in deep concentration. Then he flicked his eyes open again, focusing on his son, neither set of azure looking away from the other.


"Tell this "T.L." that he has one month to make his arrangements to pay." Harrenhal said.


"Or what?" Royland said, stifling a laugh. "What do I do if he runs off or can't pay?"


"You [i find] him, you twit. Or, you find his family. Kill him if he resists. Do whatever it takes." Davin said.


"I'm not killing some guy just because–"


"Then," Harrenhal interrupted, "You'll forfeit your business. I've supported this little endeavor of yours long enough, Royland."


Royland felt his heart rate jump ten beats a second. "Dad, no."


Harrenhal raised an eyebrow, seemingly picking up the urgency in his son's voice.


"I mean," Royland cleared his throat, "You shouldn't do that. We have plenty of other clients that are keeping us afloat. People that are paying on time."


"I'm not interested in other people." Harrenhal said, impatience slipping off the edge of his words. "See to it that the money is secured by next month. Or I'll send Davin to your little pillow fort that you play with your friends in, and have him deal with all of you."


"And I'll enjoy every second." Davin sneered.


Royland turned his head to glare, but said nothing.


"Now, get out of my sight." Harrenhal said. I despise looking at disappointments longer than absolutely necessary."
AutumnReaper     22d ago

"Tarron Liaren is a [i nobody.]" Sirius repeated for a third time, exasperated.

Royland couldn't accept that answer. He paced around the room, around the faded bloodstain from that morning's "meeting", ignoring his friend's occasionally annoyed glances. "Nobody's a 'nobody', Sirius." Royland said.

"This guy is. He barely passed high school, never went to college, doesn't own a bank account–" Sirius aggressively tapped the down arrow on his keyboard. “His rap sheet’s pretty unimpressive, too. Disorderly conduct, aggravated assault… Just schoolyard fights. Nothing serious… Explains why he can’t keep a job, though.”

"What about his socials?" Royland asked, resting his hand on the back of Sirius' chair and peering over his shoulder.

"Nothing." Sirius said, setting his hands on the edge of his desk and leaning his chair back, surrendering. “Doesn’t do anything in his spare time except gamble, sounds like… Wouldn’t be surprised if he was in debt to every casino and underground poker ring within a 15 mile radius.”


"He got any family?" Alain asked from the far corner of the room. “Maybe he’s got a cousin or something we can rough up for info.”

“I mean, [i maybe]-- We could run an ancestry search on him. Liaren isn’t a common name.” Sirius said, rubbing his temple, “But if he does have any, they’re not mentioning him on social media, either. I think he once said that he had a sister that was helping him cover payments…" 

“Bah. That doesn’t explain why Mr. V is so interested in him. Even when that moron [i does] show up here, he barely brings enough to pay for lunch!” Alain waved his hand in the air, as if dismissing himself from the conversation. He took a shot from the small glass of whiskey on the table beside him.

“Alain,” Walter looked up from the other end of the table, concerned, “It’s [i two in the afternoon].” 

“What are you, my mother?” Alain snapped.

“Could you guys focus?” Royland turned, glaring over at his friends at the table. Walter frowned, but closed his mouth. Alain poured himself another drink. “This is a serious problem. If we don’t find some sort of information, we can’t make Tarron pay. We’ll get our asses kicked by Davin, and then we’ll lose this place. Can we afford that?”

Royland received his answer in the form of silence. Walter’s head hung especially low. “That’s what I thought. So, come on. We need to look for more leads.”

[center —]

The efforts for that day, and several days afterwards, had amounted to nothing, though Royland had been expecting as much. Tarron was hard enough to pin down when his payments were due, it made sense that he’d keep as much of himself off the radar as possible. He didn’t seem to keep close friends, just a ring of people whose couches he periodically slept on. A ring that grew smaller each time Royland had to venture out to find him, leaving many busted windows or terrified innocents in his wake. A necessary evil… or so he’d been telling himself. It helped not to think about it. Helped to force the guilt back into the depths of himself. There was no room for sentiment when it came to money - [i his father’s] money, especially. It should have made the debtor easier to track down, but instead, the opposite seemed true. Sirius had even called the morgue to make sure the last beating hadn't killed him - or left him vulnerable to someone else looking for money owed.

All the while, Davin demanded progress reports, names and phone numbers of all known associates, wanting to know why none of the family had been located yet.
It wasn’t like his father to take such interest in much of anyone. Not his own wife, not Royland’s mother, not even Royland himself. It was such an anomaly to be considered by Harrenhal Vondien as a person, rather than an object. There was always a reason, always a motive, always a pattern. Royland, perhaps, knew that best. Being the sole sired bastard to an internationally acclaimed leader of a conglomerate had its blessings… but, it was also a curse. Their relationship, and all that he had been allowed to do thus far, had only been afforded from a half-hearted attempt on his father’s part to secure his legacy. A legacy that both father and son struggled to reconcile between one another. A prestigious education hadn’t turned his pauper of a child into the socialite Harrenhal so desperately seemed to want him to be, it had only fueled his need for independence, and instilled a stubbornness within him to carve out his own identity. One now at the mercy of his father. All over one, slippery little leech who had slid out of Royland’s grasp the previous Friday and right into the gutter, never to be seen again.

Royland stopped just short of the door to his apartment, pinching the bridge of his nose.

If the endless pondering were going to help him, he’d have come up with a solution by now. After collecting himself, he reached for the door and took in a deep breath… then stopped. A sweet, warm smell lingered at the door. [i His] door. He growled, irritated, and stepped inside fearlessly alert, head on a swivel, making his way to the bedroom. The door made contact with the wall on his way in, but the woman on the bed didn’t react.

“What are [i you] doing here?” He asked brusquely.

The woman pushed a lock of blonde hair behind her ears, eyes lighting up with a suggestive excitement. She bit her lip, glancing over Royland’s expression, unable to contain her smile when she saw a troubled look brewing behind his harsh gaze. “Is that any way to greet your beloved girlfriend?” She asked.

“Lenoir.” He looked her over, glancing from the champagne heels placed neatly beside her bare feet, to her scandalously short miniskirt and white chiffon top, tied at the waist. A simple, stylish, no doubt expensive ensemble. Obviously, she hadn’t run the outfit by her father that day - he’d have died before he let her go outside in [i that]. Royland rolled his eyes. “We’re not dating. And I’ve told you not to let yourself in.”

“And yet, despite all that, you seem almost happy to see me.” Lenoir said.
Royland laughed - it was dry, forced, and almost took the smile off of Lenoir’s face. She tensed for only a second, watching him walk around the room to deposit his things. He set his wallet and knife in the nightstand, checked the lockbox underneath the bed. A simple routine, but one at least that meant he was relaxed enough to let her stay, perhaps say her piece. That he hadn’t ousted her yet was a sign of cooperation, or indifference… Either would work. 

He’d caught the knowing, calculating expression on her face, and they stared at each other for a while before she spoke again. “Trouble with work?” She asked.

“Trouble with everyone.” Royland said softly. His expression fell, and his guard along with it. Admitting to himself that his father’s interest in Tarron was bothering him had been an ordeal in and of itself. To tell Lenoir was… Well, she didn’t need to know the details. He wasn’t so desperate for company today. “Late payments, angry co-owner. Nothing sophisticated like you’re used to.” He smirked.

Lenoir scoffed, crossing her arms, “Well, what else were you expecting? Working beneath your station was never going to be rewarding.” She said. Royland’s smirk never subsided. Instead, he raised his brows. Lenoir bristled. She’d almost let him make her forget why she stopped by. “Stop trying to get a rise out of me.” She kept his gaze as she eased into the bed, lithe and loose, like a snake in water. Drawing a hand to her collarbone, she undid the top button of her chiffon blouse, then undid the knot at her waist, hand waiting on her stomach. “Come lie down.” She said.

Royland drew back his eagerness to tease her further and obliged. He crossed his arms, intent on keeping his hands to himself, despite her intentions being laid bare. That didn’t detour Lenoir from sliding a hand underneath his shirt, as close to his chest as she could get. Royland shifted, but his discomfort couldn’t dissuade her. She leaned into him, miniskirt preventing her from doing much else without exposing herself.

“What’s this about?” He asked. 

“Well,” Lenoir sighed wistfully, “It would seem Father is finally making good on his promise to send me overseas to conduct some business in his stead. I’ll be gone for about three months…”

“Wow,” Royland said, flatly, “A three month party with a bunch of stiffs? Sounds exciting.”

“You say that, but each of those “stiffs'' will be the best and brightest from their respective companies. It’s a planning and strategy department conference and seminar open only to a select few markets, including internationally.” Lenoir said.

“So, you got your promotion.” Royland said, closing his eyes. “Good for you.”

“Not just yet. The first step of many. Father is sending me to prove myself worthy.” Lenoir hummed thoughtfully into Royland’s chest and he squirmed. “You should consider coming along, you know. It’d be a way into your father’s good graces.”

“It’d be good for [i you] to be the one to convince me.” Royland said, glancing down at her from the corner of his eye. “Isn’t that what you really wanted to say?”

“Hmm…” Lenoir sat up, her blouse sliding down one shoulder. She noticed Royland’s gaze following her. “I wonder about that.”

“Feeling guilty? That’s unlike you.” Royland said.

A wave of irritation crossed over Lenoir’s eyes. It was such a stupid, inisipid little mistake that she had made as a fussy teenager, who was too naive to see what she had in her grasp, too driven by the satisfaction of ruin to recognize what she’d lost. She remembered vividly how her father had punished her for pushing away the heir to the Vondien fortune. It was why she was only just attending this conference, as opposed to eight years previous, when she [i should] have. Despite the bitter taste in her mouth, her smile never wavered. “I didn’t come to talk about the past. In fact, I came because… I’m going to miss you.” Lenoir trailed her finger up the length of his leg, frowning when he pulled away from her touch. “I thought maybe we could talk about our future. Together.”

Royland regarded her for a moment, eyes wandering to her bare shoulder, before he stopped himself and glanced away. “There is no “us”, Lenoir. No future. No “together”...” He trailed off. Even as she leaned in closer, pulling his arms away from his chest, and laid a kiss on his shoulder. “If that’s all you came for…?”

“Hm…” Lenoir put a hand to Royland’s cheek, forcing their eyes to meet. “I wonder about that, too…”

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