"Ivan Vorpatril," Byerly said, sounding like Ivan was his long-lost brother - and not his older brother who'd been presumed dead and had now unexpectedly shown up again to claim his inheritance either. "Just the person I wanted to see."
Before deciding to grace Lady Vorgazhul's party with his presence, Ivan had carefully checked the guestlist. Twice. True, he'd checked mostly to make sure Miles wouldn't be there, or his mother, or the female gossips whose presence would only mean his mother would lecture him later, instead of on the spot, but he'd checked fairly thoroughly, or so he'd thought.
Byerly smiled at him broadly, seeming not the least bothered by Ivan's lack of a proper reply.
Ivan's automatic defense-systems kicked in.
"I didn't do it, I wasn't there and I don't know anything about it," he said.
"Anything about what?" Byerly inquired, looking slightly amused, which was fine with Ivan. He'd much rather be found amusing than to be considered interesting or worse: useful.
"Whatever it is you want to talk to me about." Miles, at least, had the decency to never expect Ivan to know anything he didn't already know himself. Of course, he might send Ivan on the occasional mission to pump someone or another for information ("because they know my face, and everyone knows you're a complete, harmless idiot") or to be a distraction, but basically, Ivan felt he and Miles had an understanding of sorts. Ivan did his best to stay out of Miles' sight, and Miles made sure that whenever Ivan failed in this, he was punished by immediately getting roped into helping Miles with one plan or another. Ivan might not feel it was very fair, or like it, yet it was a familiar state of things by now.
Byerly's interest was new and unwelcome, and to add insult to injury, he wasn't even family.
"You want to know anything, go ask Miles," Ivan added, made bold by his righteous anger at being about to be taken advantage of. "He knows practically everything." Of course, he might well not be willing to share that knowledge with Byerly, but that was hardly Ivan's problem.
"Miles is getting married." And here people told Ivan he was a master in the art of stating the obvious and the commonly known.
"Do you honestly think that's going to slow him down any?" Ivan snorted and tried not to think of a whole bunch of little Mileses running around, calling him 'Uncle Ivan' and pulling his strings whichever way they wanted. He'd given some serious thought to emigrating off-planet, although considering Miles, Ivan didn't believe there'd be any corner of the universe where he'd be truly safe.
Byerly shrugged. "I'm not really interested in Miles," he said, plainly lying, as far as Ivan was concerned.
"Then what are you talking to me for?" The first woman to show any interest in talking to Ivan all month, and she'd only wanted to know what Miles' bride was going to wear, Ivan remembered bitterly. It was almost enough to make him begin to feel middle-aged.
Byerly flashed him a grin with far too much teeth to do anything but rouse Ivan's suspicions.
"Obviously, because I am interested in you."
"I told you I don't know anything," Ivan snapped, beginning to feel a little annoyed now.
The corners of Byerly's mouth twisted upwards, but he chose not to take the bait. Miles wouldn't have hesitated for a moment, Ivan knew, although Miles' teasing and comments were always softened by some level of affection. It didn't keep Miles from making a complete mess of Ivan's life whensoever it suited him, yet it kept Miles' words from actually hurting.
On the other hand, while Ivan was willing to admit (in private, with no recording devices of any kind in the same room) he cared a little about what Miles thought of him, Byerely's opinion was one he didn't place any particular value on.
"I don't expect you to know anything," Byerly said pleasantly. "Or do anything. In fact, if you were to do nothing at all for the next ten seconds, that would be perfect."
Ivan frowned. As far as 'instructions that would probably get him into trouble, even if people'd promised him they wouldn't' went, 'do nothing for the next ten seconds' sounded ... easy. Like it might actually be true he wouldn't get into any trouble if he followed it. Which probably meant that he'd get into more trouble than he could imagine, even if right now, he wasn't able to see how.
Byerly's expression was utterly innocent, although Ivan noticed Byerly was standing a lot closer to him now than he'd been at the beginning of their conversation - the better to whisper to Ivan his secret, brilliant and mutually beneficial plan, no doubt. Part of Ivan told him he ought to turn and walk away right now, while Byerly was still more annoying than convincing, but Ivan firmly suppressed it. Byerly wasn't Miles, even if Ivan's initial reaction might be somewhat similar. He could say 'no' to Byerly at any time he wanted, and if Byerly was truly up to something devious, it might be useful to find out what it was. If nothing else, it might give him something to distract Miles with next time they'd meet.
"All right," Ivan said. "Ten seconds. You'd better talk fast."
"Who," asked Byerly, "said I wanted to talk?"
(His mother, Ivan thought as he was being kissed by Byerly Vorrutyer in front of a room full of guests, was going to give him the lecture to end all lectures - and this once, Ivan felt he might actually deserve it. Also, once again, it was proven the universe was fundamentally unfair: Byerly was actually a pretty good kisser.)