"Thanks for letting me know about this right away," said Ari. Her voice was calm on the line, but Justin could hear the contained fury in it. "Florian is going over the message and your system. Finding out who's threatening you just became one of my top priorities: don't you doubt it."
"Thank you, Ari." His voice was threatening to wobble. Of course she would regard any threat to him as a threat to her authority, but he still felt an embarrassing rush of gratitude. "I don't suppose they could have got the vid from one of your resources –"
"Absolutely not. Giraud may have kept a copy somewhere, offline: that's the most likely path. We already know his security was compromised as hell. Justin, I need to go: I'm scheduled for a press conference in 15 minutes."
"I understand. Break a leg."
"It's an old saying that came up in something I was reading the other day. Actors say it to each other before a public appearance."
She laughed, and he found that strangely comforting. "How odd. Thank you, then. I'll be in contact again as soon as I have Florian's report. Grant?"
"Take care of him, OK?"
"I'll do that, sera."
"Good," she said, and signed off. Justin sighed and leaned his aching head on both hands. His fingers were cold.
We have a very interesting video of you, the message had said. What would the public think of the Proxy Science Councillor's youthful sexual gymnastics with his patron's genemother? We're willing to make sure you get the only copy - for a price, of course. Let's talk. And then there was a public comnet number.
He should have known that it was time for a crisis that would rock his new sense of stability out of its orbit: everything had been going too smoothly.
"Here." The clink of ice and smell of Scotch arrived at his elbow: Grant, with a glass presumably poured from the genuine Earth import that Ari had provided for his birthday. Justin hadn't even heard him leave the room to get it. He picked it up and sipped, fighting the urge to knock it back in one fiery gulp. Grant's fingers ruffled his hair gently, stroking upward from the nape of his neck.
"That's nice," he said.
"Young sera won't let this go until she gets to the bottom of this. Challenge to her carefully set-up authority structures. I wonder what they want?"
"If Florian doesn't turn up anything right away, I may get to ask them. Damn it, I don't know why I care anymore, but it puts me right back in the same place, mentally." Another swallow of whisky, this one larger.
"What? You gave it to me."
Grant's fingers drifted down his back to his hips, making him shiver. "Maybe we should just go to bed."
He thought about that. Given the feelings aroused by his memories of the video, that shouldn't sound like a good idea.
Grant's arms wrapped around him, gentle and strong. "You're not that teenager anymore. What's the worst that could happen, at this point?"
"Worst between us? Or are we talking about the larger problem?"
"The larger problem. The one young sera will handle. We've never had trouble between us." And Grant kissed the top of his head and then, lingeringly, his neck.
Young Ari, flexing her spinmeister muscles as Councillor of Information: the little girl in the blue suit, capturing hearts across Union; the young woman in the fire-foam spattered silk blouse, defying the terrorists. She'd think of some way to turn this threat to her advantage: damned if she wouldn't. And her advantage was theirs. Grant's hands were warm through the fabric of his shirt, and he kissed along Justin's jaw to the corner of his mouth. Justin pulled him down for a real kiss, lips and tongues and the grazing edges of teeth. The whisky and the brushes of skin against skin were waking a warm glow within him. When they broke for air, Grant raised his eyebrows, and his gaze flicked in the direction of the extravagant bedroom that Ari had ordered built especially for them.
Justin rose and wrapped one arm around Grant's waist, grabbed the glass with its remaining finger of Scotch in his other hand. "Yes, bed. Let's do that," he said.