Viridian makes no attempt to disguise his disdain, even though it would be the kingly thing to do.
“A personal guard?”
Corvus, down on one knee, keeps his fist respectfully over his heart. “Aye, Sire—the appointment of your personal guard is overdue, and I am pleased to report that a candidate has finally crossed my path that I am confident in entrusting with your safety.”
Viridian’s eyes shift to the silent man kneeling by Corvus’s side.
His coal colored hair is long, unkempt, pulled into some kind of odd half-bun at the back of his head. Not that Viridian pays attention to the garrison under Corvus’s command, but he is without a doubt new. The stranger is so eye catching, with his odd hair and his tall, wide stature, Viridian knows he would have at least remembered his face.
He resembles a Ukratian native. The Crown City is by no means homogenous, but Viridian can count the number of times he’s seen someone from Ukrait in the palace on one hand—minus a finger or three. The man is dressed in the black robes of the Imperial Guard, and he seems maddeningly comfortable in them.
Viridian grinds his teeth.
“I don’t need a personal guard.”
For a single moment, he thinks he sees a flash of relief wash over the stranger’s face, but Viridian blinks, and it’s gone. Corvus bows a little lower. “Forgive me, Sire, but you cannot go any longer without someone to attend to you. Queen Primrose is anxious that you be protected at all times.”
“My mother,” Viridian snaps, “does not dictate how I live. I don’t need a guard. I don’t—want—one. Do I make myself clear?”
But curse him, Corvus isn’t intimidated by Viridian at all, and instead lifts his clear, green eyes to stare back without shame. “I’m afraid I cannot compromise on matters of your safety, Your Majesty. You are the king now; you have a responsibility to your people to remain in good health.”
It isn’t his imagination—the stranger is grimacing.
Lips pursed, Viridian spins, the heel of his boot grinding into the marble.
There are quick, solid footsteps behind him, and Viridian walks with the speed of a man possessed. He makes it down the hall, around a corner, and halfway up a staircase then halts, turns on a narrow step.
His insults die in his throat.
The man is two steps below, but they’re still at eye-level. His irises are cedar brown, unwavering, and he quietly waits without so much as a sound. Viridian swallows, regaining his confidence. “You. What’s your name?”
“Jet Cho, Sire.”
“Listen to me very closely, Jet, because I’m only going to say this once; I don’t care how talented, strong, or patriotic you are. I’ll never need you. I’ll never want you.”
Jet Cho doesn’t so much as blink. “Apologies, Your Majesty. I’m already sworn into service of the crown.”
Jet clasps his hands behind his back and out of sight. It’s a stance meant to show respect. The soft fabric of his uniform pulls tight across his chest, but Jet isn’t uncomfortable—Viridian’s nails press into his palms. Jet is disappointed, he imagines. He must have joined the Imperial Guard as a Corvus Nott fanboy, yet another iron-pumping, protein-chugging, gym rat, expecting to be posted on patrols within the city, maybe even stationed in a lazy corner of the palace.
Viridian should have known. No one wants to babysit the Big Brat.
The king jumps the last four steps to put some distance between himself and his new muscle, and prays to every deity and holy thing he can think of that no one sees him wobble as he lands.
Wobbling is uncool.
The maneuver doesn’t give him much of a head start, as Jet’s heavy footsteps are always close behind. Still, he winds through the halls as quick as he can, light on his feet for speed. Viridian could take the elevators, and usually does, but he wants to be as annoying and petty as possible, and takes all seven flights two steps up at a time. He’s out of breath when he reaches the base of the spire that continues high above the rest of the palace, and risks a glance back.
Jet’s not even fucking winded; he only watches Viridian, waits.
Viridian sniffs, reaches into the pocket of his trousers. “Mind if I smoke?”
Jet, predictably, says nothing, and Viridian withdraws a single cigarette and a lighter. He takes a deeper drag than he has in a long time, savors the bitter nicotine in the back of his throat. He holds it in his lungs for a moment, turns his head, and blows the smoke into Jet’s face.
Jet’s eyes narrow.
He does have feelings, after all.
Viridian taps the bottom of the stick, and a small wisp of ash falls to the floor. He savors the small victory. “I’m not getting rid of you, am I?”
“It’s clear you’re as excited to be my personal guard as I am to have you. I’m sure we can work something out, yes? Easy as pie. How much do you want to look the other way?”
Jet’s brow twitches, expression remaining smooth as stone. “I beg your pardon?”
“Come on, it’s easy—you let me go out by myself every now and then, and I give you whatever the hell you want. So, speak up. What do you want from me?”
Jet says, “Accountability,” and Viridian drops his cigarette.