By the first morning of his convalescence at Onnum, Alexios had figured out how to eat properly. When the orderly brought him another bowl of broth, he pushed himself upright with his good arm. When he was perfectly balanced at the edge of the bed -- he ignored how already he shook a little with exertion -- he could reach for the bowl and tip it, only a bit messily, into his mouth. He did not need anyone's help, and that thought sustained him for the rest of the day as he slept more, drifting in and out of blood-stained and unsettling dreams, woken every so often by a passing medic rechecking his injuries.
Yet, after the trumpets had sounded the evening watches and the rest of the soldiers surely had eaten, Alexios stared at his newly-delivered supper, waiting. If Hilarion came again -- though why should Hilarion come? -- he ought to tell him no. He could manage on his own.
The curtain swung back, letting in an icy chill, and Alexios, his heart lifting, turned at the sound of familiar booted footsteps.
"You don't want me to eat that for you, sir," Hilarion said, laughing. "You'll be hungry."
For a few breaths, Alexios could have said something, could have told his senior centenarius -- his only centenarius -- that he was fine. Instead he found he was smiling, gratefully. Without being asked, Hilarion picked up the bowl and folded his lanky frame onto the bed next to Alexios, sitting up against the wall and putting his back against the cold stone. Then he reached out his free arm and pulled Alexios to him, supporting him, holding him upright.
It ought to be embarrassing or shameful, Alexios thought distantly, to have one of his men see him so. But this was Hilarion, and he could not bring himself to be shamed. It was only kindness. After everything that had happened in the run south from Castellum, nothing he could do in front of the man would be awkward, and there was no one else here to judge them. They had spent so many days on the edge of death together that it should not matter how they ought to behave. It only mattered what they wanted.
"Thank you," he said, fervently, relaxing against Hilarion as Hilarion held the bowl to his lips.
"Thought you might like that, sir. You seemed to appreciate it last night." Hilarion's voice was quiet; there was no jesting here, no mocking that Alexios was grateful for the help. It was a strange, secret side to the man, and one that Alexios found himself liking.
Hilarion's hands were thinner than usual, Alexios noted, and they were scraped and scratched up to and probably under the cuffs of his tunic; that much he could see in the rapidly-dimming daylight. The recent events had taken a toll on everyone, it seemed. But he could see the veins under the pale skin, feel his friend's heart beating, slow and lazy, against him where they lay. He was alive. They were alive.
"Mmm." He did like it, having this help, even if he did not need it. He liked having Hilarion here. He did not even need to say it, because Hilarion knew it, and he liked that too.
While he sipped the soup he let Hilarion tell him about the day's news, further troop movements, how the other injured Frontier Wolves were faring. It was pleasant just to hear the man talk, pleasant to hear his light, even voice wash over him now that nothing more could go wrong, now that he would not be woken by tense, urgent tones saying that the Votadini were on the move.
Eventually the bowl was empty, and Hilarion set it aside. The broth had been warm and nourishing, and Alexios was already beginning to feel sleep tug at him. He yawned, and Hilarion chuckled.
"It's time for everyone to go to sleep, I should think," his centenarius said, and started to slide away, out from under Alexios.
Perhaps the fatigue made him bolder, made him give voice where he would once have held his tongue. Alexios reached out and wrapped his hand around Hilarion's thin wrist. "Stay?"
Hilarion froze. He looked down at Alexios' hand, then up, and when his wide, pale eyes met Alexios' there was a question in them that Alexios did not quite know how to answer.
"Gladly," Hilarion said, with kind eyes, though his voice was very small and soft, a voice he had never heard the man use. "I would be more than happy to, if it is what the commander wishes."
"My name is Alexios," he told Hilarion, slurring his speech in his exhaustion. "I only sleep with people who call me that." After he had said the words, he noticed the extra meaning in them -- he had not exactly meant to let that slip -- but he hoped the man would take no offense even if he guessed how Alexios could have meant it.
"Do you now, Alexios?" Hilarion's voice was fond, and as Alexios watched, he was starting to smile, and there was a kind of promise in it.
Alexios grinned back and let himself turn and fall against Hilarion's side as the two of them slumped sideways to the mattress. It would be well. They had each other. And at least they would keep each other warm.
"I certainly do," he said, quietly, in reply, and he felt Hilarion chuckle.
Hilarion was draped over him now, and Alexios was finding it far nicer than watching the man sprawled over walls or in doorways. Hilarion's breath was warm in his ear. "So if I call you Alexios, I can come back tomorrow?" he drawled. And his voice was full of hope, as though he too wanted what Alexios wanted, what he could not bring himself to ask yet.
"Any time you would like," Alexios mumbled, sated and happy. It was enough to be close, enough for now.
He was dimly aware of Hilarion shifting to pull the blanket over both of them, and he burrowed contentedly into his warmth. Let them be found like this tomorrow, two Wolves huddled close in their den, he thought as Hilarion's other arm came around him. He knew he would sleep well this night.