Of course Alfeegi wouldn't just let him go peacefully.
Technically speaking, his office was a public space. Anyone was allowed to come in and share a grievance or float a proposal and he listened to everyone regardless of rank or fortune, but very few people availed themselves of it as freely as Alfeegi was currently doing.
"If you're looking for money, it's in the bottom drawer," he said from the doorway. He thought of Rakieta and cold gunmetal thrumming underneath his hands, and hoped Alfeegi hadn't thought to look in that drawer yet. Alfeegi backed away so fast he nearly tripped over his robes, guilt written all over his face.
"So you can see me, then," he said. This was apparently not good news as his mouth was set in that tight line that always meant he was upset (really upset, not just angry) but not going to tell anyone about it.
"Am I not supposed to be able to? I assure you, you're quite visible" he said, quirking an eyebrow as he sank gratefully into his armchair, biting back a sigh of relief. Any trip to the infirmary left him exhausted these days, but it seemed to be getting worse lately. No need for Alfeegi to know that, however.
Alfeegi's expression turned to outright disbelief. "I died, you do realize."
"And here I was thinking you were just off on a nice little holiday." Annoyance crept into Alfeegi's fingers, drumming on the desktop. "For years I worked with a mostly-dead fortuneteller, Alfeegi. Not much surprises me anymore."
"Oh," Alfeegi said, abashed.
"That doesn't mean I'm not pleased to see you, however you managed to do it," he said, hoisting his tired body --just a little longer now-- out of his chair again. Alfeegi was hesitant, and he had to take an extra step to get him in his arms. His skin was cool, or perhaps that was just Lykouleon's hands, but his heart strongly beat underneath those strange new robes, and he smelled the way Alfeegi always had, like ink and coffee and soap. His own legs were still shaky so he leaned a little. Underneath all those layers he was firm and strong as iron. "I'm not dreaming this, am I?"
"No," Alfeegi said, clipped and ungiving, but a moment later he closed his eyes and hands bunched at his tunic.
Even a dream would have been good enough. He rarely dreamed anymore. Alfeegi, real and alive for all intents and purposes was more than he would have hoped for, even if he only allowed the embrace for a few moments before disentangling himself.
"Is Kai-stern going to be paying me a visit as well?" he asked, mostly because Alfeegi seemed to want a moment to compose himself, half-turned away.
"I should hope not. That would complicate things," Alfeegi said, back to briskness. "I looked, but he isn't there."
"And where is there, may I ask?" he asked cheekily, and Alfeegi's mouth compressed into a thin line. "Under your bed?"
"This is no time for jokes, Your Majesty!" Alfeegi snapped. "I don't think you realize how dire the situation is!"
Alfeegi's mouth snapped shut when he realized what he had just said.
"Trust me, I realize," he said, and closed his eyes heavily. He really was so very tired. When he opened them again Alfeegi was watching him in concern.
"I had hoped you had more time," he said quietly, biting his lip.
"So did I." A little longer, and he would have been able to arrange things perfectly. Still. It would have to do. "How long exactly do I have?"
"I can't tell you that," Alfeegi said immediately.
"I'm sure you know, though, don't you? The day, the hour, the minute--"
"Enough!" Alfeegi snapped, and Alfeegi had never spoken to him so roughly before, nor with the undercurrent of tears so close to the surface. He closed his mouth.
"I'm sorry, Alfeegi," he said, and Alfeegi scrubbed at his face tiredly. It could have been disguising something else, but he refrained from pointing it out. "To what do I owe this honour?"
Alfeegi bit his lip, but it didn't hide the tender smile that almost escaped. "Are you ever serious, Lykouleon?"
Lykouleon. The last time Alfeegi had called him by that name had been before he realized that he and the emperor were one and the same, back in that village so long ago, when Alfeegi was younger and softer than he was now.
"There's too much doom and gloom around here as it is," he said lightly. "So why have you come to visit me? Is my time up already?"
Shadows shaded Alfeegi's eyes. "I shall disregard that last comment." He drew up the spare armchair, suddenly all business, and gestured for Lykouleon to sit back down again before taking the seat beside him. He even produced a clipboard. "Technically speaking I'm not supposed to interact with you at all before your death, but in your case we're making an exception."
He didn't have to add, because you've known you're going to die for a long time anyway.
"There are certain matters that you need to take care of before you... pass away," he said, faltering slightly on the last words. "I'm here to help you deal with them."
"This sounds ominous," he said, trying to defuse some of the tension that was building up again. Alfeegi frowned, but it wasn't a real Alfeegi-grade frown. He had changed. He wondered why, and if that should bother him.
"I assure you, it's necessary," he said, producing a fistful of fountain pens, a large rubber stamp and a big stack of paper.
"Let me get this straight," Lykouleon said slowly, flicking through the papers. "You came back from the dead just to harass me into doing my paperwork?"
"Don't be silly," Alfeegi said, turning to the first page. "I'm a death fairy, not a ghost."
"Of course, how silly of me," he said drily and started writing his full name (including rank and title) as per Alfeegi's instructions.
"Someone has to make sure you take care of things," Alfeegi remarked. "If I was a ghost I never would have left you alone."
I never would have left you.
Alfeegi seemed to have realized what he had said and coughed, flushing slightly. "At any rate, your will hasn't been updated recently so I need you to double-check that you're still happy with the contents."
He couldn't even remember what he had written now. Rath was going to get most of it; he would be a good king with Cesia at his side and Tetheus and Ruwalk to guide him. Some things for Raseleane, Thatz, Cernozura, but in the end he hadn't really had much to give. Everything he had was tied up in Dusis, the castle, and the one thing he wanted to give --peace-- was finally, painfully, out of his hands.
I never would have left you.
"Lykouleon?" Alfeegi questioned, more gently than Lykouleon had known he was capable of, and he realized his hand was shaking uncontrollably, leaving fat blots of ink all over the page.
"I'm sorry," he said, forcing a smile. "I'm afraid I've ruined it." He laid the pen down, and Alfeegi cleaned it fastidiously with a little cloth.
"I have others." Alfeegi frowned. "Perhaps this is not the best time."
"There may not be another time," he said as lightly as he could manage, and Alfeegi looked away. "A few moments and I'll be fine."
"Lykouleon," Alfeegi said, more firmly this time, and covered his hand with his own.
Alfeegi never would have been so forward before; he could probably count on one hand the amount of times Alfeegi had actually touched him. His hand was cool and warm all at once, and he wore a ring Lykouleon had never seen him wear before.
"I'm a little tired, that's all," he admitted, hoping that if he confessed to a smaller secret Alfeegi would leave the big ones alone. Alfeegi sighed.
"You should know by now there's no point in lying to me, Lykouleon," Alfeegi said.
He hadn't lied, of course --even breathing was hard work-- but he hadn't told the whole truth either. He should have known better than to think Alfeegi would let him get away with it.
"I'm dying, Alfeegi, can't you cut me a little slack?" he asked hopefully, and Alfeegi's nails dug into his palm. It hurt, but he said nothing.
"Don't ever say that again," Alfeegi said, with real venom in his voice, and when he looked up Alfeegi's eyes were hard chips of bronze. "You can't give up so easily," and that sounded more like a prayer than a command.
"You did," he said, without really thinking about it at all.
As soon as he said it he regretted it. Alfeegi drew back, stricken, eyes instantly hidden in shadow, and the comforting warmth of his hands disappeared.
"Don't say that sort of thing," he said, but his voice shook. "Why are you saying this to me?"
Lykouleon looked down at the blotched papers in his lap. "Look at me. I can't even fill in my own paperwork these days. How am I supposed to take care of myself without you around?" He tried to smile, make it into a joke.
"You'll manage," Alfeegi said, tight and clipped. "Ruwalk--"
"Is a wreck, and you know it," Lykouleon said quietly. Alfeegi looked away. "It would be good for him if he could see you. He blames himself, you know."
"That's because he's an idiot," Alfeegi said unconvincingly. "I can't just choose to make myself visible to whoever I like, you do realize."
"More's the pity." He closed his eyes and leant back in his chair a little. It was getting late. When he opened them again, Alfeegi was watching him intently, a strange look in his eyes.
He decided to just spit it out. "We miss you, you know," he said gently, reaching for Alfeegi's hand. Alfeegi met his eyes reluctantly. "It's not the same. Without you."
"You'll get used to it. People must appreciate not having me breathing down their necks. Rune will be a fine dragon officer, I'm sure."
"It's not the same," Lykouleon said adamantly, because it wasn't. Of course Rune would do a good job, but he wasn't Alfeegi; no one was and that was exactly the problem. He leant his head against Alfeegi's shoulder, and Alfeegi tensed against him and then relaxed.
He had changed, and he'd missed it.
"I miss you," he said quietly because it was late and he was tired, so very tired, and usually Alfeegi would be there to pick up his slack when he got behind.
Alfeegi shifted uncomfortably underneath him. Well, to be fair, Lykouleon thought, there really wasn't much Alfeegi could say in response. Don't, you'll be seeing me again soon enough? The situation was far too delicate for this kind of conversation, but Alfeegi was so strong, so comforting, and he was so weak...
"I'm sorry," Alfeegi said finally, and that was all.
"You left me," he said. It didn't sound piteous; it just hung there in the air between them now that he'd said it. You left me. You left me when I needed you the most.
Alfeegi made a noise suspiciously like a sob.
"I don't blame you," he said. "It wasn't your fault." He smiled against Alfeegi's sleeve. "I'm just not very good at this without you."
"I--I didn't want to," Alfeegi said all in a rush. "I shouldn't have come here tonight, but I was worried--I wanted to see you--"
Alfeegi pushed on his shoulder, forcing him upright in his chair. His grip was going to leave a bruise; he was so fragile these days, but it was good. Alfeegi would never have dared to handle him so roughly before. He propped himself up against the arm of the chair and looked at Alfeegi. Alfeegi wet his lips and looked nervous.
"There's... someone," he said nervously, twisting the ring on his finger so Lykouleon couldn't miss it. "I thought I should tell you."
"Oh," Lykouleon said. There wasn't really anything he can say to that. "I'm very happy for you. What's she like?"
Alfeegi made a frustrated sound, swiping at the air. "That's beside the point."
"Well, what is the point?"
Alfeegi looked down at his hands.
"I wanted to tell you that, that doesn't mean I forgot you."
"I'm glad to hear it," and he was; the thought that at least maybe some people might remember him was a comfort on the worst days.
"And." Alfeegi bit his lip and moved in closer. He twisted the ring off his finger and fumbled in his pocket for something.
His dragon officer signet, big and heavy with his white officer seal imprinted on one side. Lykouleon touched the cold metal, remembering the day he gave it to him, back when Alfeegi was still so nervous around him he could barely choke out full sentences. Alfeegi slid it onto his hand.
"I was yours first," he whispered, and kissed him. "I never left you."
His mouth was hot and dry as he climbed into Lykouleon's lap, one hand against the back of the chair to steady himself, managing to avoid all the places that hurt. Alfeegi opened his mouth and the kiss got wet. Lykouleon knew what he must taste like --blood and death-- but Alfeegi didn't seem to mind and it had been such a long, long time. He couldn't even touch Raseleane these days, and the thought sprang to mind as Alfeegi pushed his tunic out of the way, that Alfeegi was the only person he couldn't hurt anymore.
"I don't work for you anymore," Alfeegi murmured against his mouth, "so it's okay."
"Was that the only thing stopping you?" he said, breathless.
Alfeegi frowned. "Well, of course, there were numerous other factors--" He stopped when Lykouleon touched him, and his eyes slid shut, nails digging into the cushions.
He was so warm, so alive under his hands. There was no escaping the irony - these days, even a dead person was more alive than him. Supple muscle flexed as he lowered himself, and they both stopped when he was all the way. Lykouleon couldn't breathe, and rested his head against Alfeegi's shoulder.
"I do miss you," Alfeegi said quietly against his ear. "It's not the same. I'm sorry."
"It's okay," Lykouleon said, and Alfeegi relaxed all at once, the tension going out of his shoulders, like he'd been carrying that weight around all the time. He smiled, and it was so real and so tender it hurt to look at.
It was slow and Alfeegi ended up doing most of the work but it was good and afterwards he couldn't stop wondering if it was going be the last time.
"I'll put these here for you," Alfeegi said, all professionalism again, opening the second drawer. "Just leave them out one night and I'll come and pick them up."
"I guess that means I won't be seeing you again," Lykouleon said as Alfeegi picked up his clipboard and looked like he was getting ready to leave.
"Not for a while; I've broken too many rules already," Alfeegi said, but he didn't look very sorry. He had changed. Alfeegi hesitated, and then looked around, as if he was worried about getting caught. "You'll see me again, though," he said quietly like he was telling a secret.
It took him a second to process that statement, and Alfeegi was already leaving. "So it's going to be you?"
Alfeegi paused with his hand on the doorknob. "It's highly irregular, but I already submitted a request," and Lykouleon could tell from his voice that he was probably embarrassed, blushing a little. He hadn't changed that much.
"Ah, I'm glad." He sank back into the cushions, even more tired than before but somehow that was okay. He closed his eyes. Maybe he could just nap for a bit and then finish up Alfeegi's papers. Alfeegi opened the door a crack.
"Will it hurt?" he couldn't help asking, just like a little boy, and Alfeegi turned around just for a moment.
"For you, it won't," he said like a vow, and then he was gone.
Lykouleon pillowed his head on the armrest, smiling when he caught a glimpse of Alfeegi's fountain pen lying on top of the desk.
I never left you.