Kaj sweeps away the crumbs from his shirt with the delicacy of an artist, Rafar thinks. In truth, it seemed that anything he did was wrought with such a gracefulness that one might assume he was royalty, at first glance. The only things to betray him were the very clothes he wore on his back— tattered, off-white, and worn from months of continuous travel. As Kaj always said, it never did him any good to waste money on new things if they were not broken. Rafar was sure he'd wear those rags until they quite literally began to fall off his body.
Clapping his hands together, Kaj stands, stretching in satisfaction. "The bread was good today, don't you think? I thought the poppy seed was a nice touch."
Rafar is still sitting down at the table as he watches. He only takes a sip from his canteen, eyes diverted— now zigzagging through the marketplace crowds as they pass by en masse. Kaj catches this, smiles a little, before leaning down to block his line of sight.
"Hello. You're deep in thought today."
There's no avoiding those eyes of his, golden and sun-flecked. It's almost embarrassing how much Rafar likes them. And to think that Kaj could be oblivious to it all seemed to be the most impossible thing. How could someone so wise for his years be so completely oblivious?
And yet, maybe it was yet another reason why Rafar could not bear to leave after months together. In retrospect, it was silly. He merely agreed to escort him from Arkaios to the next town over, in order to ensure the young man's safety would not be compromised enroute— and yet, here he was, months later and miles away from his guard post at the palace.
In truth, he was a deserter. He trained his entire life to assume a position of importance as a palace guard. All those hours toiling under the desert sun, skin nearly blistering with the heat, with water barrels propped against his back— solid and heavy. The burns underneath his feet from every step in the sand. And the endless meditation— priests chanting in harmony as Rafar would bite back his howls of pain, each crack of the whip demanding the same thing: clear your mind. breathe. rinse and repeat.
All that, thrown away on a whim as soon as he saw him walk alone, hungry and tired, past the palace gates.
"Are you thinking about the palace again?" Kaj asks, tilting his head to the side. "You know… I never did insist you come with me. That was entirely of your own volition."
Rafar plugs his canteen. No matter what he did, Kaj could read him like an open book. "No, I am not thinking of that, thank you very much."
"Well, you must certainly be thinking about something important. You had that look in your eyes again."
"That look?" Rafar asks.
"You look like a lizard when you think too much."
Rafar looks absolutely unamused as he crosses his arms and reclines against the table. "Care to explain how I resemble a lizard?"
Kaj taps his nose a few times with his index finger. "When lizards sit very still, they look like statues. Always wearing that serious expression on their faces."
"Lizards can't make any other faces."
"Yes, and so they always look serious. Like you."
What a curious feeling. Rafar came to know it intimately— indignation, embarrassment, exasperation, adoration —all astir underneath his careful decorum. He would always turn away, make some show of annoyance, then Kaj would always laugh as if he knew that his companion secretly enjoyed his constant teasing. And he would not be wrong— Rafar did indeed turn away, and Kaj's gentle laugh caught his ears like a string of bells in the wind.
It seemed as if Rafar's fate was inevitable: he was to fall madly, deeply in love.