Title: Gilt By Association 
Author:
Kirathaune

LJ: http://kirathaune.livejournal.com/ 
Rating: NC-17
Pairing(s): Koumyou/Ukoku
Disclaimer: Just in it for the bishies. Oh, and the pr0n. No profit sought whatsoever.
Summary:AU - A foreign visitor comes to the Queen's court, and Lord Kenton Niversham is attracted not only to the man himself, but also to the extra privileges he enjoys by being associated with Elizabeth's new favorite.
Warnings: A glaring breach of theatre etiquette.
Notes: Written for
7thnight_smut, my prompt was "Elizabethan court intrigue". For the curious, the year is 1594. Many thanks to charliesmum for her beta-fu! 12,600 words.



"Niversham! Over here! You simply must see this creature who has presented himself to the Queen."

Kenton Hontough, Earl of Niversham turned as his friend Zachary Kurrington tugged on the sleeve of his doublet. While it was always advantageous to attend when Queen Elizabeth made an appearance in the Presence Chamber, he found what he termed the "introductory" part very tiresome indeed. Lesser nobles and gentry vying for notice, vapid young girls being pushed forward by ambitious mothers seeking to advance their station through a favorable match, and foreign dignitaries endlessly pursuing the Virgin Queen for an alliance. A complete waste of a beautiful Saturday morning.

Boring. None of these people could aid him in his personal advancements, so he had found an ornate pillar to lean against and was studying a particularly intricate portrait when his friend interrupted him.

"Bah. I've no need to see yet another silly courtier whose head has more lace about it than sense in it." Kenton started to turn back to studying the painting, but his friend tugged harder on his sleeve.

"No, no. It is some sort of ambassador from Spain, and he is completely ridiculous."

Kenton allowed his friend to guide him, and his gaze followed the direction of Zachary's flapping handkerchief. His gaze was trapped by the elegant figure who was now shamelessly flirting with the Queen.

He had heard that in certain regions of Spain - Galicia especially - the people were fair-skinned and had blond hair, but this was the first time he had ever personally seen a blond Spaniard. He had no idea that they could look so... attractive - and he hadn't even properly seen the man's face yet, it was obscured by an ash-blond curtain. But the Spaniard certainly cut a dashing figure.

Sunlight glinted off the intricate silver embroidery on the black velvet of the man's doublet, the arms of which were slashed, revealing shining black satin. The legs of his velvet paned hose were similarly partnered with the black satin. Rakishly dangling from one shoulder was a black brocade cloak trimmed with the same embroidered velvet. It was an extremely artful display of matte and gloss, executed perfectly, right down to the gleaming leather shoes at the end of that perfectly turned leg.

If nothing else, Kenton considered, one must admire the man's panache.

Next to him, Zachary was practically quivering with malicious glee. "My God, man, that doublet is at least five years out of fashion! And who wears paned hose like that anymore? And look at those shoes! That heel is almost scandalous. Hardly any neck ruff, either - but then again, he is a bloody Catholic." His friend craned his neck for a better view. "At least he has a proper beard. But that hair... Niversham, have you ever seen such long hair on a man? And in a braid, no less!"

"No, I haven't," Kenton murmured, mesmerized by the way the long plait swayed and rolled against velvet and brocade as the visitor swept into another low bow. He absently heard Zachary snickering about how old-fashioned the bow was as well. Certainly not a modern man, he thought. But not a boring one, either.

"Kenton! Where is Lord Niversham?" The Queen's voice rang out in the hall. "My dear Crow, I know you are skulking about in a corner somewhere. Attend me at once!"

"Ah, my good lad, you've been summoned." Zachary cocked his head and gave Kenton a once-over, reaching out to adjust his neck ruff. "Off you go."

Kenton murmured his thanks and pushed his way through the crowd, moving forward to kneel before the Queen, next to the exotic foreigner. "Your Majesty. I wouldn't exactly call it skulking, Ma'am. I was... merely assessing the flow of intelligence in the room." He looked up and gave his monarch a grin.

Elizabeth waved him to his feet. "You and your words, Kenton. I daresay you could re-phrase anything to your advantage, you wicked boy. Come, Spain has finally sent me someone interesting. He is delightful, and I wish for you to make his acquaintance, as you have a similar sharpness of wit. Don Komiyo, this is Kenton Hontough, Earl of Niversham. He is a member of my Privy Council, and is one of my closest advisers. I pray you, Don Komiyo, would you be so kind as to repeat that glorious, long name of yours to Lord Niversham? I'm afraid I can't remember it all."

The elegant stranger smiled. "Of course, your Majesty. For, as you know, the entire purpose of a Spanish title is to completely exhaust their enemies upon the hearing of it." The Queen let out a hearty cackle. He turned toward Kenton and inclined his head. "I am Komiyo Homay Sanzo de Kinzano, el Duque de Matena y Seitena." Soft brown eyes twinkled with amusement, and Kenton noticed that the older man's gaze swept over him with frank appreciation.

Kenton found himself frozen for a moment, trapped by those eyes. My God, what a beautiful man. But he recovered his wits quickly and swept into a low - proper - bow and murmured, "Your servant."

"Don Komiyo is here for - a 'goodwill' visit, is that what you called it, my dear Don? To show us that the Spanish are still charming, despite trying to sail against us a number of years ago with that dreadful Armada?" The Queen bent and rapped the duke with her fan.

He took the blow with amused grace. "Ah, Gracious Lady. I cannot speak for my fellow Spaniards, but for myself-" Komiyo's voice dropped to a loud whisper, "-I suffer from the most dreadful sea-sickness. England is quite safe from me."

The hall erupted in laughter. Kenton bit his lip to maintain his composure.

Elizabeth clapped her hands. "Oh, yes, you will do very well. Very well indeed. My dear duke, you must stay here with us at Greenwich, I won't hear of you lodging anywhere else. It so happens that I have commanded a play to be presented here this evening, after supper - I should like you to dine with me and be my guest at the performance tonight."

The Queen's sharp gaze turned to Kenton. "You too, Kenton - your wit is always grand entertainment in itself. Please make sure the Lord Steward gives Don Komiyo a pleasant set of rooms, something with a good view of London. Gentlemen, I look forward to your attendance this evening." She dismissed them with a nod.

The two men bowed, and Kenton led Komiyo out of the Presence Chamber, where the Lord Steward was already waiting for them. "This way, my Lord, Your Grace."

"You have been accorded a great honor," Kenton commented to the duke as they followed the Lord Steward through a maze of grand hallways. "Not only to be lodged here in the castle, but to be her guest for supper and the evening's entertainment is considerable favor. You must amuse her greatly." He was rather pleased that he had been included in the invitation. The Queen usually dined alone, or with one of her favorite courtiers. Perhaps this eccentric Spaniard's charm could be useful to him.

Komiyo smiled. "La Gloriana is everything I'd heard she'd be. I am honored indeed, but is it not also considered wise to 'keep you friends close, but your enemies closer'?" He chuckled, and then his smile grew wider. "And to see a play! I am delighted. I am a great patron of the arts in my country, and I have longed to see some English plays. Do you know what they are performing?"

Kenton thought a moment. "Doctor Faustus. By... Marlowe, I think. You'll like it, it's quite dramatic."

The duke clapped his hands. "Excellent! I have heard of this Marlowe. Will he be here tonight? May I meet him? I have always wished to meet a playwright."

Kenton shook his head. "He's dead, I'm afraid. Just last year, in fact."

Komiyo made a sad pout, and Kenton found himself wanting to see that mouth smile again. "Perhaps I can take you to see another play later in the week," he offered. "The playhouses have reopened, and I'm sure you'd like to see a performance done on an actual stage." The smile came back, even more brilliantly than before, and Kenton was oddly pleased with himself.

"I should like that very much," Komiyo replied.

Ahead of them, the Lord Steward stopped before a door and unlocked it. "Here are your rooms, Your Grace. I will see that your belongings are brought here and that your servants are lodged appropriately." He handed Komiyo a key and bowed. "You are most welcome at Greenwich Palace." He turned and left, hurrying down the hall.

Kenton watched the man leave, then turned and made his own bow to Komiyo. "Your Grace, I look forward to seeing you this evening at supper."

* * * * *

It was much better to view a play from the Queen's dais, Kenton thought.

He sat back in his gilt chair with a satisfied smile and decided that it was far more entertaining to observe Don Komiyo watching a play than to actually watch it himself. Not that Doctor Faustus was a bad play - Kenton had seen it before and enjoyed it immensely - but the Spaniard was completely enthralled with the entire production and his enthusiasm was infectious.

Kenton glanced over at the Queen. Her Majesty was enjoying the play as well, completely charmed by her foreign guest. And Kenton was benefiting quite nicely from Don Komiyo's favored status. Tonight he had dined with the Queen in her Privy Chamber - a privilege he had not experienced before - and now he was watching a play from the dais, not over in the side seats where he normally would have sat. There were more than a few envious glares directed at him from the nobles in those side seats, and Kenton acknowledged each one with a smirk.

The smirk still played on his lips as he watched the source of his good fortune clap his hands in delight and lean over to whisper something to the Queen. Over supper, Elizabeth had declared that it was a tragedy that Don Komiyo had never been to England, and that he simply must experience the Queen's best entertainments - hunting, hawking and her favorite, bear-baiting. She had been quite pleased that Kenton had offered to escort the duke to a second play, and insisted that he accompany them on their planned adventures.

It was a shame the man was only going to be here for a fortnight, Kenton thought. He was going to milk this visit for all it was worth, and hope the Queen would want the duke to return in a more official capacity.

Kenton's gaze drifted back over to Don Komiyo. He was leaning forward, and his grinning profile glowed from the light of the torches, that same light making his blond hair almost seem like it was on fire. Kenton found himself smiling at the almost child-like wonder on the duke's face, like a little boy who was seeing his first marvel.

The audience oooohed, and the noise brought Kenton's attention back to the play. Doctor Faustus was being dragged off to Hell by a pair of demons, and the performers had constructed a garishly painted man-sized open mouth to represent Hell's entrance. They had cleverly set torches behind the gaping maw so that it seemed to truly be the flames of Hell, and it was quite a hit with the crowd in the Presence Chamber.

Komiyo jumped to his feet, clapping. "Bravo! A wonderful show! Most excellent!" The demons froze, not expecting such a reaction, and Doctor Faustus stopped his screaming to stare at the applauding duke in confusion. The Queen grabbed Komiyo's braid and yanked him back into his seat. "Let them finish the play, silly boy," she chided with a laugh, and gestured for the actors to continue. The demons shrugged and went back to dragging off Doctor Faustus, who resumed his lusty screams.

For the second time that day Kenton had to struggle to keep himself composed as laughter filled the chamber.

The play finished a short time later, and the Queen allowed Don Komiyo to applaud again. More torches were brought to brighten the room, and people were soon moving about and talking; some discussing the play, others making social connections. Kenton noticed that quite a few of the nobles approached Don Komiyo to introduce themselves. The Spaniard chatted amicably with the men for awhile, and then Kenton saw him bow and stride over to the stage.

"Well, my Lord Niversham," said Elizabeth, "I think we will have some grand entertainment over the next fortnight, don't you agree?"

"I do, Your Majesty,"

The Queen rose from her throne. "I think I shall have a feast in his honor on Tuesday. I haven't laughed this much in years."

Kenton inclined his head. "It's good to see you in such merry spirits, Ma'am." He bowed as she walked past him to go speak with some of the other privy councillors. The Queen wasn't the only one in merry spirits - Kenton was in a decidedly good mood. It had been a very... profitable day, indeed.

"Well, Niversham, you've certainly benefited from the silly Spaniard," Zachary Kurrington appeared at Kenton's side. "You should have heard all the sniping that was going on over there during the play." He waved at the row of chairs on the other side of the room. "Private supper with Her Majesty, watching the play with her - what other little perks have you weaseled out of your new... friendship?"

Kenton smirked while he watched the other nobles. "She is taking him hunting, hawking and to the bear garden, and I have been invited to accompany them. In three days she is also going to have a feast in his honor, and I'm sure I will have favored seating there, too."

Zachary raised his eyebrows. "You lucky bastard," he murmured. "Did you see the way they were all tripping over themselves to meet him? You will introduce me, won't you, old boy? Speaking of the man, where is your lucky charm?"

"Of course I'll introduce you. He went over to meet the actors, I think." Kenton cocked his head as he continued to observe the other men. "I wonder," he considered, "should I rub their noses in it now or let them find out about all these activities after the fact? Which do you think would be more fun, Kurrington?"

His friend laughed. "Oh, after. Otherwise they'll be trying to wrangle - say, what is Duke Sanzo doing over there?" Zachary turned to peer at the stage, frowning in his attempt to get a better look.

Kenton didn't bother looking. "I told you, he went to see the actors. You should have seen the man when I told him Marlowe was dead, he was most upset."

"No, no," Zachary tugged at his doublet to get his attention, "He's doing more than talking - I just saw him hand a packet of papers to one of the players."

Kenton turned to look, but only saw the duke chatting with the troupe's manager. "I didn't see anything."

"You just missed it!" Zachary was insistent. "He most definitely handed that man a packet, and in a rather strange manner, I might add - like he didn't want anyone to see him do it." His eyes widened. "My god... do you think perhaps he might be a spy?"

Kenton burst out laughing. "Him? You must be joking. And passing materials to an actor? My dear Kurrington, what have you been drinking this evening?" Their conversation was interrupted when the Lord Chamberlain loudly proclaimed that a feast was to be given on Tuesday for Duke Sanzo. He then announced that the Queen was retiring, and the two men joined the rest of the crowd in a low bow as Elizabeth swept through the room in a flurry of attendants.

Zachary straightened and pouted stubbornly. "I know what I saw. Oh, look, he's coming back over here - don't forget to introduce me." Zachary's expression changed to polite interest as Komiyo approached them.

"Ah, it was wonderful to be able to meet the players this way! It was a very good play, Lord Niversham, you were right to say that I would like it." The Spaniard glanced over at Zachary, who jabbed an elbow into Kenton's arm. Rubbing his arm, Kenton made the introductions. The duke chatted for a few moments with Zachary, then turned to Kenton. "My friend, I wonder if I might impose upon you to assist me in locating my rooms? I should hate to wander about the palace."

"Of course, Your Grace," Kenton replied. Zachary bowed and left them, and the two men set off down the hall.

Two sets of stairs and a series of hallways later, they were standing in a small alcove in front of the duke's chamber door. "There you go,' Kenton told him, "not that bad, actually. You should be fine. Her Majesty's staff will have a servant come for you for any daytime activities and regular meals, but I would consider it a great honor if you would allow me to escort you to the feast the Queen shall be having for you in three days' time." He began to bend into a bow, but was stopped by the touch of Komiyo's hand to his cheek.

"I would like that very much. I enjoyed this evening with you, Kenton," Don Komiyo murmured, and trailed his finger along Kenton's jaw. With his accent, the name came out sounding like "Ken-ton".

Kenton was distracted by that teasing finger and by the effect it was having on his composure. "I, hmm... most people pronounce my name 'Kentin', Your Grace." He wasn't going to bother schooling the duke about address etiquette. A man who was five years out of fashion and let the Queen tug his hair like they were in a school-yard was hardly going to address people appropriately.

"Kentin." A tiny frown appeared between the blond eyebrows as Komiyo said the name. "No, I much prefer Ken-ton." His finger moved to brush across Kenton's lower lip. "And you must call me Komiyo."

Kenton's breath hitched at the light caress, and he had to admit that it was very arousing to hear the duke's low, melodic voice say his name that way. So was seeing the appreciative gleam in those warm brown eyes. Still, one must at least make an attempt at proper form, he thought.

"That wouldn't be proper of me, Your Grace," Kenton replied primly, but his eyes never left Komiyo's. His lips curved in a smirk, and then he shivered as Komiyo's finger traced along his neck, right above his ruff.

The Spaniard laughed softly. "But you are not proper, are you, Kenton?" He leaned forward and pressed his lips against one corner of Kenton's mouth. Kenton's heart began to pound.

Komiyo's lips lifted, then moved to press a slow, soft kiss to the other corner. Kenton's breath caught in his throat.

Lips lifted again, lowered again - this time to take possession of Kenton's lower lip. A soft groan escaped Kenton as his lip was drawn into Komiyo's mouth and sucked gently.

Komiyo pulled back his head and smiled, his eyes dark and glittering. "No, not proper at all. Good night, Kenton." Lips brushed over his again, then Komiyo moved away and opened his chamber door, stepping inside. The door closed with a soft click.

"Good night... Komiyo." Kenton murmured, still dazed, and then he headed through the maze of halls and stairs to return to his own rooms. That night he dreamed of moonlight changing into long blond strands of hair, a shimmering web that covered and caressed his naked, writhing body.

* * * * *

Kenton smiled to himself as he walked down the sunlit hallway leading to Komiyo's rooms. He had to admit, Don Komiyo Homay Sanzo de Kinzano coming to England was one of the best thing to happen to him since Elizabeth selected him for her Privy Council. The eccentric Spaniard was quickly becoming a favorite of the Queen, and it seemed like Kenton was along for the ride. And what a ride! In the course of less than a week he had dined with the Queen not once, but three times, accompanied her and Komiyo on a private hunt, and just yesterday, enjoyed a morning of hawking.

Even better, this new favor seemed to be spilling over to affect his status on the Council. This past few days at the daily Council meetings Elizabeth seemed to solicit his opinion more, seemed to listen more readily to his suggestions rather than those of his peers. Kenton was thoroughly enjoying this extra attention, and even more he was enjoying the effect it was having on his fellow privy councillors. Their jealousy was almost palpable, and Kenton was loving every minute of rubbing it in their faces.

And today there was the feast. Another lovely opportunity to be seen in close company with the Queen and her charming visitor.

Komiyo. Kenton's pulse raced as he remembered the way Komiyo had kissed him that first night. Unfortunately, there had been no opportunity to be alone with him since then, but there was a good chance that this evening might be spent very... pleasurably.

He rounded the corner, then stopped in surprise. There, in front of Komiyo's rooms, was the manager of the acting troupe from the other night. The one that Komiyo had been talking to after the play. The one who Zachary swore received a packet of papers from the Spaniard.

Who was now giving Komiyo a packet of folded parchment, tied with a red ribbon.

Kenton slipped behind a pillar to watch. The man was definitely ill at ease, and he was pushing the packet at Komiyo and shaking his head.

What is this? Could it be possible that Zachary was right?

The man bowed and left, and Kenton quickly walked over, hoping to get a glimpse of the packet. "Don Komiyo," he greeted the older man as he approached, "You had a visitor? A delivery?"

Komiyo waved a hand. "Ah, no, nothing - it was no one of import." Kenton noticed that Komiyo quickly slid his hand behind his back. "You have come to fetch me, Kenton? I'll just be a moment, I'll be right back." The duke disappeared through the door.

Kenton went to the door and peeked in. Komiyo was striding over to a large walnut desk to an ornately carved box that sat amongst a pile of books. He was placing the packet inside the box when Kenton decided to see if he could get a closer look.

"Is anything wrong?" Kenton asked innocently as he opened the door and stood in the doorway of the sitting room. Komiyo gave a start and slammed the box lid shut, then put several books on top of the box.

"No! Ah, no, nothing is wrong at all. I-" Komiyo plucked a slim volume from the top of the pile, "I wished to give Her Majesty this book. It is called La Galatea, and is written by one of my countrymen, Cervantes. I had forgotten it." He tucked the book inside his doublet, then headed for the door, brushing his fingers against Kenton's cheek as he came to stand next to him. "You look splendid today. I see why Her Majesty calls you her 'Crow'... the black velvet of your clothes, your hair black as a crow's wing," Komiyo's fingers moved to stroke a lock of Kenton's hair, "and your eyes dark as midnight." Komiyo's hand slid around to rest at the nape of Kenton's neck. He then tugged Kenton's head gently forward and covered Kenton's mouth with his.

Kenton felt Komiyo's lips move slowly over his, and when he closed his eyes he was surrounded by the scent of sandalwood and the feel of Komiyo's fingers caressing the nape of his neck. When Komiyo's tongue brushed across his lips Kenton willingly parted them for more, and he groaned at the silken slide of Komiyo's tongue inside his mouth.

Kenton brought his hand up to trail his fingers along a soft blond beard and he rolled his tongue around Komiyo's, pleased to hear a muffled moan escape the older man when Kenton took over the kiss and let his tongue make its own explorations.

Komiyo broke off the kiss with obvious reluctance. "Ah, Kenton. We had best leave... you tempt me so." Another kiss, a brief tangle of tongues, and Komiyo released him.

Kenton followed him out of the room and waited for him to lock the door. His lips still tingled and there was a hot, tight knot of arousal that lingered low in his groin. The knot tightened when Komiyo came out into the hall and Kenton saw that his lips were kiss-swollen as well.

It was going to be a long afternoon.

* * * * *

As Kenton predicted, he had a very favorable seat at the feast. Right up on the dais, next to Komiyo who was seated next to the Queen. The spread of food on the table before him was spectacular, with a large roasted stag, a boar and numerous roasted peacocks all artfully arranged before them. Wine flowed freely and the hall was filled with chatter and laughter.

Kenton slouched in his seat a bit and played with the food on his plate. He should have been in a state of high spirits and high snark. Not only were there more envious glares from his fellow Council members, but he was seated next to an extremely attractive man whose leg was brushing against his at every opportunity. Who had thoroughly kissed him not more than an hour ago.

Who might be a spy.

Kenton frowned as he ran a finger along the rim of his wine goblet. He really didn't want to entertain the possibility, but he was going to have to look into it. An association ran both ways, he knew, and the same association that had him sitting in this very spot was one that could land him in the Tower, or worse. If Komiyo was a spy, Kenton needed to find out quickly so that he could expose him without taint to himself.

He didn't want to believe it. The sensible part of him scoffed and blamed his reluctance on the undeniable attraction he felt for the duke. It was an attraction that was also undeniably mutual - and Kenton knew enough about body language that he was certain Komiyo genuinely desired him, wasn't 'playing' him. They were on a path that would soon lead to them becoming lovers, and as much as he wanted that to happen Kenton knew he must find out the truth about the Spaniard first.

Damn. Kenton raised his goblet to his lips and drained it. So much for getting fucked after the banquet.

He was still lost in his musings when a burst of cheering and applause made him look up. The musicians had changed to playing dance tunes, and as the guests formed their dancing lines Kenton was shocked to see Elizabeth and Komiyo walking to the head of the main line. Elizabeth laughed at his expression. "Close your mouth, Kenton, you'll catch flies." She waved a bejeweled hand at him. "Come here. I shall let you have the Pavanne, since you are as much a strutting peacock as you are my Crow. Don Komiyo shall have the Galliard. I fear a Volta is beyond me now, but by God, I can still dance a Galliard!"

Kenton did as he was told, and took his place opposite the Queen, while Komiyo stood next to him and across from the lovely daughter of an earl. The dance began, and Kenton moved through the paces of the courtly, gliding dance, making his turns and curtsies while the Queen's hand rested on top of his. I am dancing with the Queen. He felt surreal, removed from himself as he danced, sensing everyone's eyes on him.

A final bow, and the pace of the music quickened to segue into the next dance. Kenton exchanged places with Komiyo, bowed to his new dancing partner and began maneuvering the leaps, hops and jumps of the Galliard. The duke and the Queen were enjoying themselves immensely, the sixty-year-old Elizabeth moving as quickly as the young girl next to her and the middle-aged Komiyo was giving Kenton a run for his money. The dance soon ended, and there was a rousing cheer for the monarch as she resumed her seat on her throne. The two men moved to return to their seats, but Elizabeth held up a hand to pause them.

"My dear Don Komiyo, I should like it very much if you could show me a dance of your homeland," the monarch said. "I see you have some life in your feet - I pray you, show me how a Spaniard truly dances."

Komiyo swept into his elegant, old-fashioned bow. "Of course, Gracious Lady. You have been so kind to me this evening, and I would be honored to show you a dance of my country." He glanced over at the leader of the musicians, who was clearly panicking about having to accompany a Spanish dance. "My dear fellow, for this dance I do not require music," he said with a smile, "although it is traditionally danced to a guitar." Komiyo turned around and raised his hands to the surrounding crowd. "All I need is your hands, my dear friends." He began to clap in a steady beat.

People looked about uncertainly, then one by one they began to clap their hands.

Komiyo bowed with a flourish. "This dance is called El Zapateado," he announced. Then, in a flurry of footsteps, he began to dance.

The Spaniard's feet flashed at an impossible speed, beating out an amazingly complex rhythm on the stone floor. Bam! Bam! The heels of his shoes struck the floor and the sound rang through the hall. Komiyo's back stayed regally erect as he moved his arms before him and behind him in rhythm to his steps. Heel, toe. Heel, toe. Bam! Bam! Bam! His long blond braid whipped around his body as he twirled, almost with a life of its own. The crowd continued to clap.

Kenton watched from the side, unable to take his eyes off the man before him. This dance was unlike anything he'd ever seen - it was proud, it was primal, it was alive. And it was sexy as hell.

Another blaze of heel strikes, and then Komiyo ended his dance with a final stamp, his arms thrown in the air. The hall erupted in applause, and the Queen cried, "Bravo! By God, now that's a dance!" She waved for more wine as Komiyo returned to his seat, and the Spaniard gratefully accepted a goblet while he caught his breath. Twinkling brown eyes met Kenton's, and Komiyo grinned at him while he mopped his brow with a handkerchief.

The musicians struck up another dance, and moments later the guests were gliding to the much slower tempo of a Courant.

"Hah!" snorted the Queen, "They were smart enough to not follow that with a fast dance. My dear Don, that was a delightful treat. Are all the dances in Spain so passionate? I am only familiar with the Canary." The two spent the next quarter hour comparing their countries' dances, and Kenton was just beginning to feel the first stirrings of boredom when Elizabeth declared that it was time for her to retire. Komiyo rose and gave an impromptu speech, thanking her for the hospitality of the evening, and everyone bowed as the Queen exited the room. The musicians continued playing.

"Well, my friend, I think we can safely say you made an impression this evening," Kenton commented as Komiyo sat back down. "I can't remember the last time I saw Her Majesty dance at a feast."

Komiyo laughed and poured himself another goblet of wine. "She is quite a dancer. I hope to be half as agile as she is when I am that age." He looked over at Kenton. "Did you enjoy the zapateado?"

"It was... amazing," Kenton admitted. "I could hardly see your feet, they were moving so fast."

The Spaniard smiled. "I was even faster when I was your age." He drained his cup. "But, I am no longer a young man, and I must admit that it tired me. So perhaps it is best that I take my leave as well." He rose from his seat.

Kenton got up from his seat as well. "Yes, a good idea. No point in staying further now that Her Majesty has retired." And, he thought, there would still be time left to meet with Zachary and solicit his advice and help.

Their leave-taking took quite a bit longer than he expected, as a goodly number of people came forward to congratulate the duke on his dancing prowess. Kenton used the delay to find his friend and arrange a meeting. It was full a half-hour later when they finally extricated themselves and were on their way to Komiyo's rooms. As they stood in the alcove while Komiyo fished for his key, Kenton felt his pulse quicken, his mind flashing back to what had happened the last time he had stood in this alcove.

"Ah, there it is." Komiyo held up a shiny, ornately scrolled brass key. He reached out with his other hand and traced one of the buttons on Kenton's doublet. "Will you come in, Kenton? Share a... drink with me?"

Kenton's heartbeat pounded hard in his chest. There was definitely a deeper invitation there, but one that he could not afford to accept right now. Not until he found out what was truly going on with Komiyo and the parchment packets. "I'm afraid I can't," he replied, and his regret was genuine, even if his words were not. "I must meet this evening with a member of the Parliament." It was technically the truth, Zachary was a member of the House of Lords. The official-sounding excuse sounded infinitely better than I have to meet with my friend to arrange to have you followed so I can find out if you're a spy.

Komiyo was clearly disappointed. "Ah, one must answer when duty calls. I will see you tomorrow, then, at the bear-teasing?"

"Bear-baiting." Kenton corrected, suppressing a laugh. "Yes, and I will be taking you to see another play on Saturday."

"In a theatre?"

"Yes, in a theatre." Kenton was amused at how child-like the duke could be sometimes.

"Very well, then. Although I still wish that you would join me." The hand that had been toying with the button flattened against Kenton's chest and pushed him back against the panelled wall of the alcove.

Kenton met Komiyo's gleaming brown gaze and softly laughed. "You're being petulant, Your Grace, it doesn't become you," he teased, and against his better judgment he let his fingertips brush over Komiyo's pursed lips. "Although I must say, your pout is quite charming. I-" He next words were cut off as those pouting lips covered his in a hungry kiss.

Kenton groaned and responded just as hungrily, opening his mouth to welcome Komiyo's invading tongue. His hand came up to thread through silky blond strands, while the other hand clutched at Komiyo's doublet and fisted the soft embroidered velvet. Komiyo's other hand twisted in his hair, and Kenton felt the press of the duke's body against his as Komiyo's tongue slowly explored his mouth.

Komiyo's mouth left his to trail kisses along his jaw, and Kenton let out a strangled gasp when the hand on his chest slid down to press against his rapidly hardening erection.

"I cannot persuade you?" The words were murmured close to his ear, Komiyo's breath puffing warm against his neck. Another groan escaped Kenton's throat when he felt teeth nip at his earlobe. Dear God, he wanted to be persuaded. Wanted to be taken inside those rooms, wanted to see if the Spaniard fucked as skillfully as he danced.

Kenton's hand shifted on Komiyo's chest, and he froze when his hand encountered a hard, rectangular form under the soft fabric.

The book. The book that Komiyo had said he was going to give the Queen. The discovery sobered Kenton like a bucket of cold water.

"I... no, I must go," Kenton asserted, albeit shakily. He pushed Komiyo back and moved away, straightening his doublet. "Good evening, Komiyo. I will see you tomorrow in the bear garden." He barely heard Komiyo's response as he turned and strode down the hall, not stopping until he had reached his own chambers.

Once there, he poured himself a large brandy and downed it, then settled in a chair and tried to will his aching erection away while he waited for Zachary.

* * * * *

It was early Saturday afternoon, and Kenton glared at the clock on his desk. Zachary, damn him, was late. He was going to have to leave soon - the carriage he had ordered would be ready in less than an hour, and he still had to fetch Komiyo.

The fleeting thought of the duke brought both a curl of heat in his belly and a cold touch of dread in his chest. For the past few days Kenton had been playing a dangerous game... it was possible that Zachary's suspicions were wrong, and if that were the case Kenton wanted to maintain this advantageous friendship, for it was undoubtedly bringing him increased attention and favor from the Queen. But if the Spaniard was a spy, it would have to be handled very carefully and very, very discreetly. Komiyo was a Duke, a foreign visitor of very high rank, so the proof would have to be absolute. And if it were true, Kenton would have to be the one who exposed him.

Kenton frowned and drummed his fingers on the arm of his chair. He had to know. He knew that Komiyo desired him, and God help him, he wanted the Spaniard just as badly. And the more time he spent in Komiyo's company, the harder it was getting to ignore that desire. Ignore it? He couldn't ignore it. He could only postpone it, and it was getting increasingly difficult to do even that.

If Kenton was honest with himself - and he usually was - he would admit that he was captivated, he was enthralled, he was seduced by that beautiful, ridiculous man. And that right now, the only thing keeping him out of the Spaniard's bed was his strong sense of self-preservation.

Damn it, where was Zachary?

As if summoned, there was a knock at his door, and Zachary entered Kenton's sitting room with a shamefaced grin. "Sorry, old man, didn't mean to keep you waiting."

Kenton gave his friend an exasperated look. "Kurrington, you do realize that I'm taking him to the play this afternoon? We don't have much time - sit down and tell me what you've learned."

Zachary took a seat. "I heard back from my man this morning," he began, "and he says that over the past two days, he followed Duke Sanzo to two separate playhouses where he was seen giving a packet of parchment sheets to the manager of the acting troupe in each playhouse." He leaned back in the chair and fiddled with the cuffs on his doublet. "He stopped back at the Rose yesterday and was given a packet back, and the same thing happened this morning at the Swan."

This did not sound good. "So he was seen giving and receiving papers?" Kenton asked.

"Yes," his friend replied. "But here's the curious thing - my man said that in his opinion they were the same papers. Duke Sanzo gave a packet of folded parchment sheets, tied with a red ribbon, and he received what my man believes was the same packet back, tied with the same ribbon. Although in the case of the Swan this morning, he said the ribbon was simply knotted and the packet looked sloppy."

Kenton frowned. "That makes no sense. If he were passing information it doesn't make sense that he would receive the same information back. And why playhouses and actors?"

"I know. My man said said it's one of the strangest things he's seen. Duke Sanzo acts a bit odd - well, odder - when he actually gives or receives the packet, my man says, but otherwise in no way tries to hide where he goes or who he sees. As for actors and playhouses, you have to admit that with the late Kit Marlowe widely rumored to be a government spy for the Privy Council," Zachary gave his friend a pointed look, "who's to say that other governments don't do the same thing?"

Kenton leaned forward, his fingers steepled as his elbows rested on his knees. "Don't talk to me about Marlowe, it was before my time on the Council." He sighed. "I'm a loss to explain this. If your man was asked to swear by it, would he say that the duke is a spy?"

Zachary shrugged. "I'm not sure. He said his gut tells him the Spaniard is just an eccentric foreigner, but he cannot properly account for the exchange of packets. But I've known and used this man enough that I would probably trust his gut." His forehead creased in thought for a moment, and then he asked, "Niversham, what playhouse are you taking him to today?"

"Newington Butts. The Lord Chamberlain's Men are performing Titus Andronicus there today at three. A good dramatic play."

"Hah! Bloody and savage, you mean." Zachary fingered his beard. "Hmmm. That playhouse is a bit out of the way, isn't it? I'm surprised the Lord Chamberlain's Men are playing there."

Kenton laughed. "Actors will play where they can get a space cheaply. Yes, it is a bit of a distance, so I've ordered a carriage. Where are you going with this, Kurrington?"

"I would wager that Duke Sanzo might try to give a packet today. The Chamberlain's Men are a popular new troupe, even if Newington is not a popular playhouse." Zachary glanced at the clock and rose from his chair. "You should go, my good lad. I'll ask my man to watch there this afternoon, just in case you aren't able to see it yourself."

Kenton walked out with him, and when they reached the hallway that would lead him to Komiyo's room he clapped a hand on Zachary's shoulder. "Thank you, my friend. I am indebted to you for your help in this matter."

Zachary grinned. "Oh, you're indebted, all right. If the man ends up safe to know I expect a public invitation to a private supper. I might even expect to be included in one of your outings with your new majestic friend."

Kenton shook his hand. "It's a deal."

* * * * *

Their carriage bumped and swayed as they traveled on the rutted road toward Newington, and while Komiyo's attention was distracted by watching the bustle of the city around them, Kenton reflected on that morning's meeting with Zachary.

His friend was convinced that Komiyo would attempt to meet with the manager of the Chamberlain's Men, so Kenton was going to try and manufacture an opportunity. His status as a Privy Councillor gained him entry pretty much anywhere, and he imagined that the manager would want to gain his patronage. So he would request an introduction, make some small talk and then manufacture an excuse to step away so he could leave Komiyo alone with the man. And then find a good place to watch. A excellent plan. He nodded to himself.

"Kenton! Look over there, there are more bears! There are other places that have the bear-teasing?" Komiyo was pointing out the window.

Kenton looked where the duke was pointing. "Bear-baiting. Yes, a number of the playhouses offer bear-baiting as well as plays." He leaned back on the hard wooden bench. "There is bull-baiting too, I imagine it's not unlike your country's sport of bullfighting."

"Hah," the Spaniard snorted, "that is nothing like la corrida de toros. You English chain these creatures and set dogs on them. In my country, the bull has no restraint, and his opponent is a man, armed with a cape and a sword." His lip curled with scorn.

Kenton raised an eyebrow. "But the bull still dies."

"Well... yes," Komiyo huffed, "but he dies much more elegantly."

Kenton was still laughing when the carriage pulled up outside the playhouse. They were shown to a private box on the second balcony, and a serving-girl brought in some wine and a platter of delicacies. Komiyo leaned over the edge of the high balcony wall and looked all about the amphitheatre, occasionally asking Kenton questions about the building and the stage setup.

The production started about a quarter hour later, and they were soon caught up in the action of the play. Kenton was fascinated by the sheer viciousness of the events that were unfolding in front of him, the brutality of the suffering inflicted on Andronicus and his family. He stole several glances at Komiyo during the third act - which was particularly bloody - and found the duke staring wide-eyed at the stage below.

The act ended, and a bell rang to signal the interval. The actors left the stage, and then the audience milled about, chattering loudly.

Kenton leaned back in his chair and stretched. "Well? What do you think so far?"

Komiyo was still staring at the stage. "Dios mio," he murmured. Wide brown eyes met Kenton's. "What a wretched man! A mutilated and ravaged daughter, two sons - no, three sons killed, and his hand taken for nothing."

"It would seem that if he had not killed the son of the Goth queen, all of his misfortune would not have happened," Kenton opined.

Komiyo looked thoughtful, blond brows drawn together. "This is a very different play from Doctor Faustus."

"Well, they do call it a 'Lamentable Tragedie'. Look, the playbill is even printed in red ink." Kenton lazily waved the leaflet at him. "After the play is over, I shall take you to meet the players, and you may see the stage."

The Spaniard brightened at the offer. "That is considerable incentive to stay," he said. "I must confess, I find this to be a very dreary play."

"It's a tragedy, Komiyo. Tragedies are dreary. And we certainly can't leave early, it would cause a stir. I quite like it, actually."

"Pfft," was the duke's only reply.

A horn sounded to indicate the end of the interval, and they settled back in their chairs to watch the rest of the performance. The action in this half of the play was more centered on plots of revenge and the machinations of the Goth queen, and Kenton could see that Komiyo was getting restless. Komiyo scooted his chair closer to Kenton's, leaned over and whispered in Kenton's ear, "Dreary."

"Shhhh." Kenton returned his attention to the play, but a few minutes later he felt Komiyo's hand on his thigh. Before he could properly react, the hand slid higher, higher, until it rested in his lap.

"K-Komiyo!" Kenton hissed, trying to suppress a gasp as Komiyo's hand slowly stroked him through the velvet of his breeches. Pleasure coursed through him. "What are you doing?"

"Something more entertaining." Komiyo's fingers stopped just long enough to work their way through the opening in the front of Kenton's breeches and grasp the hardness that they found there.

Kenton shuddered at the touch of Komiyo's hand on his cock. "I... you..."

"Shhhh," Komiyo replied with a mischievous smile. In his other hand was his playbill, and while his gaze locked with Kenton's he tossed it on the floor in front of Kenton's chair. "Oh my," he murmured. "I should fetch that." Komiyo released Kenton and gracefully slipped off his chair and onto the floorboards, ducking behind the wooden wall of the balcony.

"Komiyo?" Kenton looked on in disbelief as Komiyo parted his knees with strong hands and moved to kneel between them. Komiyo grasped him again and Kenton moaned softly when Komiyo leaned forward and took the hard length into his mouth.

Kenton felt surreal, detached from the rest of the world as he knew it. Komiyo's mouth and tongue were wreaking havoc with his composure, and it took every ounce of Kenton's control to continue to act as if nothing was happening to him. To act as if he was merely watching the play, not having his cock licked and sucked as it was enveloped in the wet heat of Komiyo's mouth. He threaded his hand through Komiyo's hair, brushing the blond strands away from that beautiful face so he could glance down and watch his flesh disappear between Komiyo's lips. Oh, such pleasure... The fact that they were surrounded by hundreds of people, and the knowledge that a servant could walk in on them at any moment added a thrill that only intensified the heat that was building in his groin. Building, rising, and sending him rushing toward climax.

Around him, the audience gasped and exclaimed when Andronicus' revenge took a particularly gruesome turn. Kenton shuddered and brought his fist to his mouth to attempt to stifle the moans that burst from him as his orgasm took him. He watched in a daze while Komiyo swallowed his spend, released him and picked up the playbill from the floor.

"Ah, there it is." Komiyo grinned wickedly at Kenton and flapped the slip of paper at him while he resumed his seat. He raised his goblet of wine to Kenton and took a long draught, then returned to watching the play.

With trembling hands Kenton adjusted his breeches and he leaned back in his chair, breathing heavily. Clutching at his goblet he drained its contents. "My God... Komiyo," he managed.

Komiyo's gaze was still on the stage, but a corner of his mouth turned up in a satisfied smile.

By the time Kenton returned to some semblance of normal the play had come to its end, and the audience was clapping and cheering. The actors came out for several bows, then disappeared backstage. Kenton rose from from his seat, his legs still a little shaky. "We should go backstage now, while all the actors are there. Do you still want to meet them?"

Komiyo nodded and got up from his seat. "Oh, yes, very much so. The actors were all very good, very talented. Even if the play was... dreary." He gave Kenton a sidelong glance.

"God help me if I ever take you to see a history," Kenton said, and he directed Komiyo out of the room.

They headed down the stairs and made their way to the back room where the actors were changing and cleaning up from the performance. The manager rushed over to greet them, and Kenton introduced himself and Komiyo, adding that Duke Sanzo was a "favored guest of the Queen." Komiyo complimented the actors on their talent and then, to their delight, he gifted each actor with a 10-shilling gold coin and requested that wine be brought to everyone. This generosity overcame any reticence, and soon Komiyo was being shown costumes, prop weapons, even the two gruesome fake heads from the third act.

Now was his chance, Kenton thought. "Don Komiyo," he said, tapping Komiyo's elbow to get his attention, "May I leave you here for a few moments? I noticed an acquaintance as we walked back here, and I should go and have a few words with them."

Komiyo looked up from the stage armor he had been examining. "Of course. I am in fine hands with my new friends, am I not?" The actors cheered in agreement.

Kenton left them with a wave and headed down the narrow hallway. He saw one of the stagehands working at taking some of the benches off the stage, and he walked over to the man, his lie ready. "Listen, my good man, I am in need of your help. There is a gentleman here that owes me money and I believe he went backstage to see one of the actors. He went in that way," Kenton said, pointing in the direction he had come from. He reached in his pouch and fished out a gold sovereign. Holding it in front of the now wide-eyed stagehand, Kenton continued, "This is yours if you can take me to a spot where I may see into the room where the actors are. I mean no harm, I just wish to verify that he is the man I seek."

The stagehand stared openmouthed at the gold coin. "Th' actors are in th' Tirin' House, m'Lord. If ye'd be wantin' to see this man all quiet-like, I can take ye up on th' stage, an' yonder's another way in t' th' Tirin' House."

"I knew you were the right man to speak with. Lead on, good sir." Kenton followed the man onto the stage and then through the left stage door. They walked down a narrow passageway and the man stopped before a heavy curtain. Kenton could hear the voices of the actors through the curtain and smiled. "Thank you, you have been most helpful," Kenton whispered, and he pressed the gold coin into the man's waiting hand. After the man left Kenton went over to the side of the curtained doorway, pulled back a section of the heavy fabric and peered into the room.

Perfect. He could see everyone, including Komiyo.

One thing that struck him was how Komiyo behaved no differently with this room full of commoners than he had with a hall full of nobility. He laughed at their jokes, admired their handiwork, and was his usual charming, affable self. The manager of the troupe was showing Komiyo a set of drawings; it was a little hard to tell from where he was standing but it looked like drawings of a playhouse. Komiyo then beckoned the manager off to the side, and the actors resumed their post-performance ablutions.

Kenton gripped the fabric tightly. This was it. He saw Komiyo undo a few buttons on his doublet and withdraw a packet of parchment sheets that were folded in half, tied with a red ribbon. Just like he had seen in the hallway the afternoon of the feast. Komiyo's manner was definitely nervous, and Kenton was surprised to see that sort of behavior from the normally confident Spaniard. He focused on the manager now. The expressions on the man's face seemed to fluctuate between confusion and amusement. He did accept the packet with a bow, and said something to Komiyo that made the duke nod vigorously and smile.

He'd seen enough. Kenton retraced his steps and made his way back to the other entrance to the "Tiring House". His head was spinning from trying to puzzle out the perplexing mystery. Well, Kenton considered wryly, it was also spinning from the fact that he'd just had an intimate encounter with the man who was at the very heart of that same mystery. When he entered the room Komiyo looked over and beamed at him, and Kenton's heart did a strange flop at the look of warm delight on Komiyo's face.

"Are you ready to return to Greenwich, Your Grace?" Kenton asked, careful in his address.

Komiyo nodded. "Yes, I imagine we should go, it is almost time for supper." He crossed over to where Kenton stood and raised a hand in farewell to the actors. "Gentlemen, I look forward to seeing you perform again. But not Titus." The actors laughed at his statement. "I should like to see a comedy next time, please." The men all bowed and thanked him for his generosity.

A short time later when they were in the carriage Kenton remarked, "I envy you the ease with which you associated with them. I am afraid I cannot be so unreserved around commoners."

Komiyo leaned back in his seat, and he cocked his head and looked at Kenton, an enigmatic smile on his face. "My dear Kenton, it is quite simple. When our expensive, fancy clothes come off we are just as naked as another man who had been wearing rags. Station is merely a whim of Fate."

Kenton raised an eyebrow. "Well, I shall thank Fate for her whim, then, for I quite like my station. And my fancy clothes."

"Oh, I quite like your fancy clothes too," Komiyo replied with a wolfish grin. "But I think I'd much prefer you naked."

Kenton sputtered, and for perhaps the first time in his life he could not think of a single thing to say.

* * * * *

They spoke very little while Kenton escorted Komiyo back to his rooms. The air around them was practically humming, however, and when Komiyo turned the key in the lock he turned to Kenton and said, "This time, there will not be a meeting with a parliament member."

He pushed the door open. "This time, there will not be a feast in my honor." Komiyo walked into the sitting room, grasping Kenton's doublet to pull him inside the room as well.

He shut the door and pressed Kenton against it. "This time," Komiyo murmured, his lips hovering above Kenton's, "you will not deny me." His lips came down and took Kenton's mouth in a rough kiss.

Kenton had no intention of denying Komiyo anything, not after what the Spaniard had done to him this afternoon. All thoughts of spies and parchment packets flew out of his mind while he eagerly opened his mouth, and their tongues rolled and thrust against each other. Komiyo's hands tangled in his hair, caressing the short black locks, and Kenton groaned when one hand tightened in his hair and pulled his head back to expose his throat to Komiyo's hungry mouth.

Their hands started fumbling with the ties of their neck ruffs, and the elaborately folded lace collars soon fell to the floor. Doublets were next, and more than one button fell with a tink on the stone floor as rushed hands started pulling at the fasteners.

"This way," Komiyo tugged on Kenton's now-open doublet and led him into his bedchamber, where he coaxed the garment off of Kenton's shoulders. He proceeded to work at the laces of Kenton's linen shirt, pausing only to allow Kenton to push his doublet off.

Their shirts soon joined the doublets on the floor, and Kenton let his hands roam freely over Komiyo's lean, muscled torso, shivering at the touch of Komiyo's hands on his own bare skin. Their mouths met again, tasting, devouring, and their hands slid lower to unfasten breeches and hose and let them spill to the floor. There were several thunks as shoes were kicked off, and then they were on Komiyo's bed, skin against heated skin. Komiyo's mouth explored Kenton's neck, his shoulders, his chest while Kenton untied the ribbon that held back Komiyo's hair to let it fall in a shimmering curtain over them. Kenton twined his fingers into blond tresses and brought them to his face, where he kissed the silky locks and deeply inhaled their intoxicating sandalwood scent. Komiyo's mouth closed over a nipple and Kenton gasped and arched his back, a moan escaping his lips as Komiyo sucked and teased at the sensitive nub.

Komiyo paused just long enough to reach over and retrieve a pot of ointment from the bedside table, and then he resumed his attentions. His mouth laid a trail of kisses across Kenton's ribs and over taut stomach muscles, lingering to delve his tongue into Kenton's navel.

"Oh, dear God, Komiyo," Kenton breathed when Komiyo's mouth once again enveloped his cock, and he felt slicked fingers enter him. Komiyo soon released him to hungrily claim his mouth, and while their tongues tangled together Kenton savored the delicious burn of Komiyo's hard length pushing inside him. The Komiyo began to move, and Kenton was lost in a sea of pleasure. Oh yes, he fucks as wonderfully as he dances.

Kenton rolled his hips to answer each thrust, reveling in the groans that spilled from Komiyo's throat. Words poured out of Komiyo's mouth, but they were not in English - in his passion the Spaniard had reverted to his mother tongue, and hearing Komiyo voice his pleasure in low, husky Spanish only added to Kenton's desire. Kenton canted up his hips to bring Komiyo's body even closer to his and he urged Komiyo on, moaning as Komiyo's thrusts repeatedly struck a spot that sent exquisite jolts coursing through his body. His hands roved over Komiyo's skin, twisting them in the long, silky mantle of Komiyo's hair.

Komiyo's mouth licked and nipped along Kenton's jaw, and Kenton shivered as Komiyo whispered more heated, unintelligible words against his skin. Komiyo began to move harder, faster, deeper, and his hand slipped between their bodies to grasp Kenton's aching cock. Kenton jerked his head back and groaned as his orgasm pounded through him, and his release spread warm and slick between their bodies. Komiyo soon followed, Kenton's name on his lips as he reached his own climax. Their mouths met again in lazy, leisurely kisses while their bodies slowed, then stilled. With a nip to Kenton's lip Komiyo pulled away from Kenton and fell on the bed next to him, rolling over to lay on his back.

The room was filled with the sound of their ragged breathing as they lay next to each other, and Kenton drew a handful of blond hair to his lips once more, letting the scent fill him as he moved his mouth over the soft strands. Lulled by Komiyo's breathing and his own satiation, Kenton drifted off into sleep, still holding Komiyo's hair against his face.

When he woke the room was drenched in the golds and reds of sunset. Komiyo lay sleeping next to him, his hair in a glorious tangle around them. Kenton carefully extricated himself and quietly got out of bed, wincing a bit when his body complained as he walked over to the washstand to have a quick wash. Their lovemaking had not been gentle, and while Kenton knew he would probably be sore through tomorrow, his mouth curved in a satisfied grin. It had been more than worth it - the Spaniard had proven to be an incomparable lover.

His grin faded as he realized he still had not solved the question of whether or not this new lover was a spy. He tugged on his drawers and walked to the doorway, where he looked about for the wooden box that Komiyo had put the packet in that afternoon before the feast. It had dawned on him after his conversation with Zachary that there must be at least two packets, if it was to be believed that Komiyo was giving and receiving the same stack of parchment. Where was that box? He frowned when he was unable to locate it in the sitting room. Had Komiyo moved it after that afternoon?

Kenton noticed that a servant had started a fire in the fireplace. He lit a taper from it, then also lit an oil lamp and a branch of candles. Blowing out the taper, Kenton carried the oil lamp back into the bedchamber. There it was. The box was on a small dressing-table in the corner of the room, next to the clothes chest. Kenton set the lamp down on the table and carefully opened the box. Sure enough, there was a thick sheaf of parchment, folded in half and tied with a red ribbon. Kenton's heart began to thump painfully in his chest - this was it, he was finally going to find out what the hell was going on. His fingers trembled slightly as he undid the ribbon and dropped it in the box, and then he unfolded the papers, tilted them toward the light and began to read.

He frowned.

He went to the next page and skimmed over the words.

His frown deepened. What the hell was this?

"Kenton, what are you doing?" Komiyo's puzzled voice broke the silence. Kenton started badly and almost dropped the papers that he held. He turned to find Komiyo standing behind him, clad in his drawers, his hair loose to his waist.

Damn it.

Komiyo saw the papers in Kenton's hands. Blond brows drew together, and he reached over and took the papers back. "Why are you going through my private papers?"

Kenton's mouth opened, then closed. He drew a deep breath, and decided to just dive in. "I needed to know who you were spying for, and what information you are passing along."

Now it was Komiyo's mouth that opened. He gaped at Kenton, confused. "Spying? Information? What-"

"Yes, yes," interrupted Kenton. "You've been observed giving packets like this to several individuals over the past week." He hesitated, then touched Komiyo on the arm. "I... haven't wanted to believe this of you , but..." His hand fell away to his side.

Komiyo continued to stare at him. His lips pursed in thought, and then he raised an eyebrow and queried, "You think I am a spy."

Kenton looked away from that piercing gaze. "It very much appears to be the case."

The Spaniard cocked his head. "You think I have been passing along secret information."

"Yes." Kenton raised his head now. "I saw you, Komiyo - when we were at the theatre this afternoon, I saw you give a packet just like that -" he pointed at the sheaf of papers in Komiyo's hand "- to Master Burbage. And Lord Kurrington saw you give a similar packet to the manager of the acting troupe the evening we watched Doctor Faustus!"

Komiyo began to laugh. It wasn't a sinister laugh, it wasn't an ironic laugh. It was a deep belly laugh. "You- you think... I- they-" He staggered back and sat down hard on the edge of the bed, his shoulders shaking with mirth.

Kenton frowned. Of all the reactions Komiyo could have had upon being confronted, this was not one of them. "Komiyo," he began, "I-"

"A spy! You actually thought I was a spy!" Komiyo roared with laughter. He clutched at his side. "Oh, Kenton," he hiccuped, "you are priceless." He grabbed a corner of the bedsheet and dabbed at his eyes while he held out the parchment sheets to Kenton. "Here. Read it."

Kenton took the papers.

"A spy," Komiyo giggled. He waved his hand at the dressing-table. "Sit, please, and read it."

Kenton sat down, brought the oil lamp closer, and began to read. There was complete silence, and Kenton could feel Komiyo's eyes on him as he worked his way through the pages. The sun finished setting, and Komiyo got up to light a few more candles. He disappeared into the sitting room for a few minutes, then came back in with a plate of cheese and some sliced apples.

Kenton looked at Komiyo with confusion. "This is... a play."

"Yes," said the duke.

"You wrote a play."

"Yes," replied Komiyo proudly. "Here, have a slice of apple." He held the bit of fruit to Kenton's lips.

Kenton absentmindedly accepted the food, and as he chewed he pointed a finger at the papers. "So... this is about faeries, and their king and queen have a row-"

"A dreadful row," supplied Komiyo.

"-and the queen runs off and falls in love with a half-man, half-ass." Kenton double-checked a page. "The man is half an ass?"

Komiyo nodded. "Yes, he is not unlike a Minotaur, like in the Greek stories. But instead of being half bull, I made him half ass. His head - he has the head of an ass instead of a bull."

Kenton eyed him dubiously. "And the faerie king is heartbroken and tries to regain her love by enchanting her? By sending one of his underlings to bewitch her with magical flowers?" He flipped through a few pages. "And when their love is rekindled, the faerie king changes the ass-headed beast into a human, and then," he looked at the last page, "the faeries all dance at midnight. This is your play." Kenton shook his head in disbelief. "Komiyo... this is ridiculous."

"It is, isn't it?" Komiyo beamed at him. "It is delightfully silly, I think. I was positive that I could find a theater troupe that would perform this, but everyone keeps telling me no." His smile faded to a sad pout. "I took it to the Rose, the Swan, and I showed it to the men who performed Doctor Faustus, and they all said no. They thanked me nicely, but no. I hope Master Burbage will be favorable."

Kenton set the papers down. "Komiyo, why didn't you tell me about this?"

The Spaniard's chin jutted stubbornly. "I wanted them to accept the play because it is a good play, not because Lord Niversham asked them to accept it."

A fair enough reason, Kenton had to admit. Something else niggled at the back of his brain. "What about the book? You lied to me about giving the Queen that book."

Komiyo grinned sheepishly. "She already possesses that volume of Cervantes. But she did not have any of the poetry of deVillalta, so I presented that to her instead when we attended the bear-tea - no, bear-baiting."

Kenton stood and turned away, looking out the window at the darkening night sky. "I apologize for going through your private things. And for... thinking that of you." He shivered when Komiyo came up behind him and slid a hand into his hair.

"But you did not wish to think it, did you?" Komiyo murmured against the back of his neck. "I could sense that something was troubling you, making you resist...this." His lips traced the hills and valleys of Kenton's shoulder, while his hands slipped around to lazily stroke Kenton's abdomen.

Kenton closed his eyes and leaned back against Komiyo. "No, I didn't want to believe it," he admitted. "But I had to be sure, you understand?"

"Of course. Now you know it is just a silly play, although I am quite flattered that you thought I could have been a spy."

Kenton felt Komiyo's lips curve in a smile against his skin. Komiyo's hands moved to the waist of his drawers and pushed the fabric down, down until the linen fell to the floor. There was another rustle of linen, and when Komiyo pressed against him Kenton felt nothing but warm, naked skin and the hardness of Komiyo's arousal.

"Come back to bed, querido." Komiyo's voice was low and husky with desire. "The night is yet young."

* * * * *

The sea breeze was strong, and Kenton grasped his cloak closer about him as he stood on the dock next to Komiyo. Deckhands were lugging Komiyo's trunks up the gangplank, preparing to stow them away below decks.

"I expect that I shall return before Christmas-time," Komiyo said. "It will take me a few months to get everything in order at my estate. My son Genjiyo already oversees our vineyard, so I will have him take care of the rest of the estate - I will prepare the necessary paperwork so he can govern in my absence. He will grouse about it, but he is very capable." Shielding his eyes from the morning sun, Komiyo looked back at the city as he continued, "It will be very exciting to be here as ambassador! I am also looking forward to experiencing Christmas in England. I am going to have a beautiful set of jewelry made for La Gloriana out of the finest Spanish silver and La Paz pearls from the New World. And for you, Kenton, I will bring cases of wine from my vineyards - we make a very fine Rias Baixas."

"Don't forget, you should also have a gift to give her on New Year's Day, it is a tradition amongst the courtiers," Kenton reminded him. "That gift should be your flashier one."

"Pfft," sniffed the duke, "you and your flash. I will give her gifts of great elegance."

"I'm sure they will be most elegant," Kenton replied with a smile. "I will arrange for us to spend the holidays at Hontough Castle, my ancestral home. As a special treat, I will have the Lord Chamberlain's Men come and perform for us."

"That will be wonderful!" Komiyo exclaimed. "Oh! I forgot to tell you - Master Burbage, their manager, sent me a note with the most exciting news. He has accepted my play!"

Kenton stared at Komiyo in disbelief. "They are going to perform your play?" He couldn't imagine how a play about a faerie queen falling in love with a man with an asses' head was going to be remotely successful.

"Yes, they are!" Komiyo hesitated, and scuffed a buckled shoe against the weathered boards of the dock. "Well, Master Burbage used the word 'adapt' - I am not sure of this word, but he was very positive. He said he is giving the play to one of the actors who also writes most of their plays, to... 'tighten it up' - yes, that was the expression he used. He said Master Shakespeare is their best playwright."

"He is very good," Kenton agreed. He'd have to be good, he thought, to take on that mess.

One of the deckhands came trotting up to them. "Your Grace, we're ready to set sail," the young man said with a quick bow. "The Cap'n requests that you board the ship now, if you please."

"Ah, I fear it is time to depart. My Lord Niversham, I have thoroughly enjoyed my visit to your country." Komiyo's words were formal, but there was a twinkle in his eyes. "I look forward to coming back and living here as an official ambassador, and I will be most grateful for your continued ...association and friendship when I return." Komiyo executed a neat, almost fashionable bow, and the heated gaze that met Kenton's told Kenton exactly what manner of association and friendship his lover had in mind.

With a smirk, Kenton bowed and replied, "It will be my pleasure, Your Grace."

The deckhand coughed politely to get Komiyo's attention, and said, "We must go, Your Grace." Komiyo nodded and waved for the young man to lead the way. As he turned to go he lifted a gloved hand to briefly touch Kenton's cheek. "Kenton," he murmured, and followed the deckhand up the gangplank to board the ship.

Kenton gave a final wave and watched the ship depart, and then he headed off to return to his carriage. It had been a profitable and pleasurable fortnight, he reflected, and he could look forward to more profit and much more pleasure when Komiyo returned as Spain's official ambassador to England. There had not been a Spanish ambassador at court for almost eight years, but yesterday the Queen had announced that the only Spaniard she would have in her court was Don Komiyo Homay Sanzo de Kinzano. "One must keep one's enemies close by, my dear Crow," Elizabeth had told Kenton with a laugh.

Oh, yes, Kenton thought as he glanced over his shoulder for a final look at the departing ship, I shall keep this enemy very, very close indeed.

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