“I can smell your bleeding heart from down the hall.”
Vardan looked up at the sound of the other man’s voice, unsurprised at the half smile on Donnemey’s face. His eyebrows were bent together, examining Vardan as he approached in the stone hall. It was such a familiar expression, this false confusion poorly painted over his amusement, that Vardan hardly registered it anymore. There was so much more to dislike about the man than the vaguely insulting lines of his face.
He met Donnemey’s eye dully. “What does it smell like?”
Coming to a stop beside Vardan, Donnemey turned shoulder to shoulder with him, facing the wooden door that Vardan had been examining a moment before. “On you? Black beer with just a hint of kicked dog.”
“So, it suits me then,” Vardan said. And he liked the way Donnemey paused and glanced at him, smile lost for just a moment.
“Honestly,” Donnemey said. “Does Lord Damion know you look like this every time we come down here?”
Vardan didn’t respond.
“Traitors have been locked up in small dark rooms for most of history, you know that, right?” Donnemey asked.
“Some of them, ” Vardan murmured.
Donnemey chuckled softly. “And some of them get to sit on thrones?” He looked at Vardan slyly. “Is that what you were going to say?”
Vardan held his eye a little longer than was comfortable. It only took an extra moment or two for Donnemey to lose the sharpness in his smile and start to lean away.
“You should be careful what you say,” Vardan said, and speaking seemed to give Donnemey permission to glance away. He looked down, then to the wall, as if Vardan simply wasn’t that interesting. “Some traitors lose their heads.”
“Right.” Donnemey chuckled, flicking a look at him once more. “That was what you were going to say.”
Vardan didn’t bother to nod.
Donnemey retrieved a ring of keys from his pocket. Looking back at Vardan, he paused, bouncing the keys in his hands.
“Is it because you used to be in one of these boxes? Are you just always getting lost in old memories?”
Vardan looked up from the keys in his hand. He wished he was still surprised by the number of keys that he carried, but for now, he had settled for hating the sound of them. “Are you going to open the door?” he asked.
Donnemey’s eyebrows came together again, and his smile stretched. “Or is it just an old thing? You hit a certain age and… Was your father like this?”
Vardan might have glared at him, if he had the energy for that.
“Your grandfather? Does it run in the family? Do I have to be worried?” Donnemey asked.
Vardan raised his eyebrows. “Excuse me?”
“How close are we related again?” Donnemey asked. “I can’t remember. Cousin. Or second cousin. Your mother was my uncle’s…” He trailed off, deciding to run his calculations silently as he pointed down an invisible family tree in front of him.
Vardan took a single step toward him. Donnemey looked up with a start.
“My father’s cousin was the grandson of your mother’s grand-aunt,” Vardan murmured, his voice low and rough.
Donnemey looked like he would respond, his eyebrows rising into his hairline, his head starting to nod. Mouth open, he still said nothing.
“Do you know what that makes us?” Vardan asked him.
“I don’t think there’s a word for…” Donnemey began.
“It makes us just close enough, for a Clan Lord to pretend that there is some legitimacy in handing the keys to my family’s estate to your mother when he has need to lock me away in the dark,” Vardan said. “There is a word for that.”
“I don’t…” Donnemey said.
Vardan stopped him, leaning in another inch. “You’re my burglar, Donnemey, not my cousin. Call me that again, if you wish. Then there won’t be any evidence of my bleeding heart to bother you, at least.”
Donnemey blinked, tried to laugh, but it didn’t even turn into a smile. “All right.”
Vardan straightened slowly. “Now, open the door,” he told him. “And stop pretending that what’s on the other side isn’t a man anymore.”
Head down, Donnemey shrugged with one shoulder as he sifted through the keys. Vardan tried not to hate him more for the callous motion.