The ships are burning in the harbor. People flee like panicked rats.
One of Rook's finer compositions, he thinks. A chiaroscuro of fire blazing orange against black night.
Too bad he can’t stay to admire it. The game's still on. The city teems with agents, each playing rabbit and hawk in turn.
He moves on, heading deeper into the heart of the city. His head is swimming. For a moment, the city blurs into impressionist noir, flecks of white lights and darkness in broad strokes.
Rook curses. Too little sleep, the blood loss, maybe the Carinthian poison from the wound on his shoulder -- all catching up to him, his body making its own demands.
Get through this. He steadies himself against the wall, catching his breath.
He has a mission. The papers he's after will keep the powder-keg of the Continent from exploding into war. He'd sworn an oath, back when he was eighteen and young, Alizarin paint the only red beneath his nails. Mostly, he's kept to his word. For queen and country.
But all Rook wants to do is collapse. Queen and country won't get him through this. Even if he brings those papers back, there will always be another war.
So he looks for another reason to keep going and ends up thinking of Thom instead. Before he left, they'd fucked for luck, or for a farewell if the luck didn't take. Something quick and efficient to take the edge off and keep them focused. Two-thirds of luck was making sure you always stayed one step ahead, Thom would say. You couldn't do that if you couldn't concentrate.
Afterwards, Thom had dressed himself quickly. Adjusting his tie in the mirror, he looked back at Rook. "Leave without the plans if you have to. You're too valuable an asset for us to lose, with a war maybe coming, Rook." Already back to being the spymaster, all business.
So that's the second reason. Thom thinks Rook can't do it. Thom thinks Rook had better head back empty-handed. So fuck Thom and fuck his good luck sex. Rook is going to get those plans. He's going back even if it's the last thing he'll do, just so he can wave those stupid plans in Thom's face.
He comes to the crossroads and stops at the sound of movement ahead. It could be a stray animal -- it’s never a stray animal. Rook draws his knife.
The Wolf of Aubigny steps out of the shadows with the briefcase. Blood runs from her temple, and her jacket is burned. She points a pistol at him, her hand steady.
"Surrender and I won't shoot you," she says. "For old time's sake."
He should have something witty to say. His tongue feels stuck to the roof of his mouth.
"You won't shoot me," he says at last.
She arches an eyebrow. "Won't I?"
"I watched you kill the six Milesian agents earlier."
"That should make you less confident."
"Maybe," Rook shrugs. “But I think you’re out of bullets."
And, he throws his luck to the wind and rushes toward her.
The chalk marks on the tunnel walls lead him out of the city. Rook reaches his ship with the briefcase in tow. The ship's doctor bandages his wounds and orders him to bed rest.
Thom meets him at the harbor three days later. With a glance, Thom takes in the briefcase and Rook, bandaged and bruised.
"Gavin," Thom says.
Funny. Rook can count on one hand the number of times Thom has called him by his real name. So maybe the spymaster isn't all business, after all.
Rook grins. “You thought I couldn't do it. Well, you were wrong. I win. Your move, spymaster."
"I know," Thom says. His eyes are cold, grey as morning fog. "And I'm going to use it to wipe every last one of those bastards who hurt you off this earth."
Then he steps closer and kisses Rook.
Sea waves crash behind Rook, the city spreads itself before him. Above, the gulls cry their secret codes, and in Rook’s right hand is a briefcase sought after by every agent on the Continent.
But for now, Rook won't be distracted, because he tastes Thom on his tongue, clean and sweet as a promise.
So there it is: a third reason to come home.