"So tiny!" Yana proclaimed, eyeing Caius with a disapproval that made Alcibiades grin and feel considerably better about the whole situation.
Caius's smile seemed slightly nervous. "I'm sorry? I can't really help it, I'm afraid - it's a family trait."
"Nonsense!" Yana said. "We cannot have Al taking wife all thin and small. Need lots of good food, make you big and healthy." She patted Caius on the shoulder. They were, Alcibiades observed with some surprise, almost of the same height. He had never thought of Yana as 'little' before, though.
"Well!" The smile Caius offered to Alcibiades was decidedly not at all nervous this time around. "How could I disagree? Although I must tell you, Yana - in all confidence, of course - I do believe the dear general could use some fattening up as well. I am quite convinced he has spent much more time picking at his food than actually eating it these past weeks."
"Only because the Ke-Han have some damn crazy ideas about what you can expect people to eat," Alcibiades protested. "It's not my fault they didn't serve us anything decent."
Caius looked at him reproachfully. "Honestly, my dear. I think they were quite wonderfully accommodating, given how difficult you were being. You are simply far too much of a picky eater."
"They tried to kill us!" Alcibiades said, before he remembered that mere days ago, he had extracted a solemn promise from Caius not to mention anything of the kind. "With all that disgusting food," he added quickly, noticing the way Yana's eyes had narrowed.
"I, for one, found it quite delightful," Caius said, and Alcibiades thought Caius probably didn't mean the part where the Ke-Han had tried to kill them, but he wasn't entirely sure. "Speaking of food though, might I hope dinner will be served soon-ish? I must confess I am quite ravenous."
Yana seemed to genuinely like Caius. It bothered Alcibiades for reasons he couldn't quite put his finger on. Caius could be charming, certainly, when he put his mind to it - which seemed to be 'never' when he was alone with Alcibiades, but then again, perhaps Caius knew that no matter how charmingly he acted, it wouldn't make Alcibiades actually like him.
"Do you know, I've been wearing this outfit for an entire day now and I barely even noticed." Caius sighed and shook his head. "I do hope it is only the country air clouding my mind. I should never live down the embarrassment if the effect were permanent."
Alcibiades would be plenty happy to wear his uniform every single day. Not the same uniform, of course; he'd want to have it washed at least once a week or so.
"I suppose it's because you don't really pay any attention to these things," Caius went on. "And Yana is much too polite, of course."
Alcibiades didn't think not minding someone didn't dress up differently for every meal was a matter of being polite.
Caius sighed. "You would at least tell me, wouldn't you, if I were going fat?"
"I know," Caius said, as if Alcibiades had actually made some sort of reply. "But Yana is such a dear - I would simply never forgive myself for turning down a second helping when she's offering me one with such hope in her eyes. You do understand, don't you? And so I would be ever so grateful if you kept an eye on things for me."
"Aren't you going to be leaving soon?" Alcibiades asked. He didn't actually recall Caius ever having mentioned anything about the duration of his stay but surely the man had other things to do with his time.
"My dear, is that what has made you so grumpy these past days? Don't worry; I won't be going anywhere soon. Where could I possibly go that's as entertaining as here?"
The thing that bothered him, Alcibiades thought, was that neither he nor Yana were there to be entertaining. They were people, damn it. People weren't entertainment.
"Is bad beginning of morning to walk around with frown on your face," Yana said.
"Just thinking about Greylace - Caius."
"Ah." Her face brightened. "Not to worry, little Al. Let your Yana take care of things, yes?"
Alcibiades wasn't sure what that was supposed to mean, nor what Yana thought in what way she'd be able to 'take care of' a problem the likes of Caius.
Yana patted his hand. "Yana knows what to do."
"Thank you for the flowers," Caius said, holding up a small bouquet of petunias. "So very thoughtful of you to remember this day being - well, I'm afraid I haven't got the first idea what special occasion today is, but I nonetheless appreciate your gift and I do hope you will forgive me for being so ill-mannered as to have forgotten the significance of today's date."
Alcibiades stared at the flowers. "They're not mine."
"No?" Caius cocked his head, reminding Alcibiades of a small bird - a sparrow, perhaps. "Do you mean to tell me I have somehow succeeded in acquiring an unlooked-for secret admirer? How positively thrilling. Who can it possibly be, do you have any idea?"
"Yana," Alcibiades groaned.
Caius arched one eyebrow. "Yana? Oh my. This is rather awkward. I do apologize."
"What? No, it's not - " Alcibiades said quickly. "It's only - she's not - that would be - "
"Breathe, my dear. Breathe."
Probably, Alcibiades reflected, that was the best, most sensible piece of advice he'd ever gotten from Caius. "She probably thinks you and I had a falling out," he explained.
"She does?" Caius offered him a wide-eyed look of confusion. "However could she have gotten such an idea? I can assure you I never speak to her of you in any but the most flattering terms - well, not to the point of lying, of course, and I do think you could do with some ... polishing, shall we say, in some areas. But I am sure I have been quite clear about the great affection I bear you in spite of whatever flaws you may have. In fact, I might even say it's your flaws that endear you to me so. They make you who you are, after all."
"I was a little ... grumpy this morning," Alcibiades said grudgingly.
"You are ever not grumpy in the morning?"
"It's endearing," Caius said. "And at least you're awake. Well, then, I suppose we shall have to convince dear Yana that, thanks to her lovely gift, we are back to being the very best and closest of friends. It is - " he went on " - the very least we can do."
"We're not friends," Alcibiades said, a little surprised to find himself not sounding as sincere as he could have. If anything, the protest sounded rather feeble, like he was only saying the words, not meaning them.
True, he did not think of Caius Greylace as worthless or insane or unstable anymore. Caius annoyed him, certainly, with his strange tastes and stranger notions of what was 'interesting' and Alcibiades suspected they would never see eye to eye on the matter of clothes or the theater.
Still, in any kind of dangerous situation, Alcibiades thought he would sooner trust Caius at his back than nearly anyone else. Trust was a kind of friendship, too, he supposed.
"We're not close friends," he amended.
"My dear, we've been living like two peas in a pod for close to half a year now," Caius said gently, as if explaining some unpleasant but obvious truth to a slow-witted, well-meaning child. "I would have to say we are quite close. And I even still like you." He beamed at Alcibiades.
"It's not as if we had much of a choice," Alcibiades grumbled.
"Fate can be ever so clever on occasion, don't you agree?" Caius said happily. "However could we have found out how well we suit one another if it hadn't been for the Ke-Han letting us share living quarters? Why, I'd probably be back at the court by now, quite bored out of my mind in spite of my best efforts."
Alcibiades thought that he, personally, would have been just as happy with that particular turn of events. "So what's your idea?"
"Idea? Oh, to convince Yana all is well again." Caius's expression turned thoughtful. "I suppose it must be something obvious. A sleep-over?"
"A sleep-over?" Alcibiades repeated incredulously.
"I could bring my blankets and pillow and we could talk about - well, whatever you want. Perhaps a bottle of wine - you do have wine here, don't you? A few candles. It will not be entirely comfortable, but I'm sure I'll manage. It's for a good cause, after all."
Getting drunk would be a terrible idea, Alcibiades decided. He'd learned his lesson back at the Ke-Han capital. This time, he'd simply drink just enough to keep his temper, to be able to put up with Caius's incessant chatter.
On a positive note, likely as not, he wouldn't actually have to say anything. The occasional grunt would be enough to keep Caius happily babbling on, and with any luck, the wine would ensure he'd fall asleep fairly quickly. With even more luck, Caius might fall asleep as well, rather than waking him up again to admonish him for his lack of stamina.
"So when is the last time you have spent the night not being alone?" Caius asked, after a lengthy anecdote about some diplomat or another - Alcibiades had never met the man in question and even if he had, he doubted he'd have taken any interest in what the man got up to in his personal life.
"What kind of question is that?" Alcibiades sputtered.
Caius shifted slightly. "I'm simply curious."
For all that he had no intention of answering the question out loud, Alcibiades decided that yes, it had been a while. Not that that was any of Caius's business.
"It's one of the things I missed when I was away," Caius said. "I suppose I could have, if I'd really wanted to, but everyone I met was just so ... At best, I think they might have felt sorry for me. It would have been absolutely dreadful."
Alcibiades supposed he could imagine that much, at least.
Caius sighed. "And then, of course, right after I got back, I got ill and right after that, the Esar thought I would make a suitable diplomat. I guess he was right - and anyway, how could I ever turn down such an opportunity? To visit such an exotic place. The chance of a lifetime."
Not exactly the words Alcibiades would have used to describe the mission.
"And now you're here," he said, by way of saying that if Caius was feeling lonely and sorry for himself, he really had nobody to blame but himself this time around. Nobody'd forced him to follow Alcibiades home like a puppy, after all. Bastion, nobody'd even invited him.
"And now I'm here," Caius agreed. "So close and yet so very far away."
Whatever that was supposed to mean. Perhaps Caius was a little drunk, Alcibiades thought.
"You are so very oblivious, my dear," Caius said, voice dreamy. "It really is quite vexing."
Alcibiades made a grab for the wine bottle and was disappointed to find not a drop left in it.
The look Yana gave them the next morning, Alcibiades decided, was knowing. The worst thing about the matter was that he had no idea how to tell her that nothing had happened, because he and Caius didn't have that sort of relationship - except that apparently, it wasn't for lack of willingness on Caius's part, which was ... well, just another one of those damn things that always seemed to be happening to Alcibiades. Like how, of all the horses that Ke-Han prince and his retainer could have picked to make their escape with, they'd picked Petunia.
Bad luck, was what it was. If Alcibiades had been interested in any kind of relationship, he'd hardly have chosen to pursue one with the likes of Caius Greylace.
"Eat. Need to stay strong and healthy." Yana smiled at him fondly.
Caius seemed to need no encouragement. If he remembered anything he had said last night, he seemed just as happy to pretend otherwise. Alcibiades supposed he might be grateful for that, at least.
Looking at Caius's lips, Alcibiades imagined what it might feel like to kiss them - what he would feel like, kissing Caius. The thought didn't revolt him, precisely. It simply seemed ... strange.
"My dear, if there's something on my cheek, you can simply tell me," Caius said.
"No. Nothing." Caius couldn't just read his mind, Alcibiades knew. There was no reason to feel as if Caius knew what he'd been thinking of just now. Alcibiades was free to fantasize all he wished, without Caius being any the wiser.
"Do you know, I'd almost forgotten about my peacocks?"
Alcibiades hadn't recalled the peacocks himself, actually. They'd seemed a rather unimportant detail.
"I think I should go see them, make sure they're settled in properly," Caius said. "After all, it's my fault the poor animals have been brought all this way. And it seems quite unlikely anyone at my estate will have even the slightest idea how to treat them or what to feed them. So, you see, I really should leave."
Alcibiades saw a rather thin excuse for a retreat.
Caius said nothing more for the next five minutes. It was unusual enough to make Alcibiades almost glad when he started talking again.
As far as strategies went, knocking on the door to the guestroom with a bottle of wine and a petunia and hoping for the best wasn't much of one. Still, Alcibiades had decided that kissing Caius was much preferable to killing him, and even slightly preferable to never seeing him again, so that was that.
"Is there a fire?" Caius asked. To his credit, for once he did not look excited at the prospect of something interesting happening.
"No," Alcibiades said.
Caius looked at him expectantly. Alcibiades made sure the wine and the flower were visible. Surely, Caius would be able to deduct his reasons for being here from them.
"Can I come in?" he asked at last, when Caius still hadn't said anything. He felt like an idiot to make the request; Caius had invaded his own room often enough, often without even knocking first, let alone wait for Alcibiades to invite him inside.
"My dear, I'm not sure that would be wise. You are, after all, unattached, as am I. Think of what people will say. One must be careful of one's reputation - or you should be, at any rate."
Alcibiades wondered if Caius had been drinking. "We're friends," he said.
"I am very happy to hear you say so. Thank you. I am sure I will sleep much more soundly now."
"That's not why I said it."
Caius looked at him. "General, do I really need to remind you of what I said last night? Do I need to explain to you why the very last thing I want to do right now is to invite you inside my room?"
"I think they might have felt sorry for me. It would have been absolutely dreadful."
"You," Alcibiades said, "are an idiot. And I am beginning to feel like one."
Caius smiled very faintly. "Well. I suppose you might be able to help me with the peacocks."