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The Comfort of Home

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Seregil was late.

That in itself was hardly any reason for concern – delays happened during a night-running mission, and Alec amused himself thinking of some of the more awkward occurrences he had witnessed before.

His part of today's task had gone as smoothly as he could have wished. He had been in and out of that room, leaving behind the missive he had been given in a prominent place on the desk, just as ordered.

He hadn't even woken up the cat draped on the bed on the other side of that room.

Admittedly, that may have had something to do with the immense girth of that animal and the fact that even awake it would likely not be given to pursuing any physical exertion.

Whistling softly to himself, he stripped off his boots and started to set the table for a nice dinner.

Whatever adventure Seregil would have to report on when he came in, the telling would be all the better over a good meal.

He was just weighing the advantages of wine over other beverages, when he heard steps on the stairs.

They sounded distinctly un-Seregil-like, though given that he hadn't tripped any of the alarms, there weren't a lot of people they could belong to.

Alec tensed his body instinctively as the door was flung open, ready to do whatever was necessary, depending on who came calling so unexpectedly.

He relaxed immediately when he saw the dark-haired head appear in the doorway.

"Seregil," he breathed. "What did you--?" He broke off, not quite sure of his voice at the sight of Seregil's bedraggled appearance.

His hair was clinging wetly to his scalp, adorned with a generous helping of burrs. His clothes weren't exactly dripping, but they probably had been a while ago. His shirt, once white, sported green and brown stains, suggesting grass and earth respectively.

"Don't even ask," Seregil muttered at the sight of his lover's amused face as he took the last few steps to the table and flung himself onto a chair.

Alec's expression grew more serious, both at the limp Seregil tried to conceal and the wince he couldn't suppress when his back connected with that of the chair.

"How badly are you hurt?" Alec asked assuming that the question Seregil didn't want to answer was the one about what had happened. That was alright. He'd tell him eventually.

"I'm not—" Seregil tried, but relented quickly as Alec's eyebrows shot up, accompanied by a disapproving stare. "Bruises and a twisted ankle, is all."

"You'd say that," Alec said. "Also, you're dripping on the tablecloth."

"Am not," Seregil tried to object, though evidence of the opposite was right there before him. "Well, maybe I am," he admitted.

"Just maybe." Dinner wasn't going to happen right now – certainly not before Seregil was clean and dry and Alec had ascertained for himself that he wasn't hurt worse than he was letting on. It wouldn't have been the first time, after all. "How about I run you a bath?"

Seregil didn't need to answer that suggestion – the sudden sparkle in his eyes said it all.

Smiling, Alex turned away from the table. "I'll call you when it's ready," he promised.

*

He didn't have to.

The tub was barely filled when he heard Seregil approach the bathroom. His lover wasn't trying very hard to hide his aches in the safety of their rooms.

"I'm getting old," he complained as he perched on the edge of the tub.

"That depends entirely on who you ask," Alec returned, gesturing downwards with one hand. "Boots."

Seregil obediently started to bend forward to untie the laces on his footwear, his movements made awkward by his attempts to avoid aggravating the bruises he had admitted to.

The next moment, Alec knelt before him, pushing aside Seregil's hands and taking over himself. He had the ties undone in no time and carefully pulled off the other man's boots, trying not to cause any extra discomfort to the injured ankle in the process.

A quick check revealed a somewhat swollen and obviously quite painful joint, but without the discoloration that would have suggested a more serious injury. Satisfied with that, Alex straightened. "Did you fall into a lake?" he asked, reaching for the front of Seregil's sodden shirt next.

"Something like that," Seregil grumbled as he gingerly lifted his arms to thread them out of his sleeves, followed by a suppressed hiss as his shirt caught on the burrs in his hair.

Alec mirrored the sound, though his attention was directed somewhat lower, at the angry bruise that was blossoming along the other man's left side, spreading unevenly onto his back. Smaller bruises and scratches complemented it. "A hard lake," he said.

"That happened before." Undressing the rest of the way was somewhat less uncomfortable.

The sigh of relief that escaped Seregil when he slid into the water brought a knowing smile onto Alec's face. He had plenty of experience with the benefits of hot water after a pounding like that himself.

By unspoken agreement, he started to pour water over his lover's hair, watching as it turned even darker in the process. He frowned a little at the bits of plant stuck in it. He picked at one with two fingers, carefully trying to see if it would come loose from the surrounding hair without the help of scissors.

"What are you thinking?" Seregil asked, his eyes drifting closed with the heat soaking into him.

"Wondering if you fell into a bush or something," Alec informed him truthfully.

What had been intended as a grudging nod turned into a wince as the burr, still held in Alec's hand, pulled at Seregil's hair.

"I think we need to cut those out," both of them said as one.

"Most certainly." The younger man rose to his feet, hunting for something to do it with. "Otherwise, we may find ourselves irreversibly entangled by tomorrow morning."

Seregil chuckled at the thought. "Now there's an idea…"

"You'd like that, eh?" Scissors in hand, Alec took his position by the tub again, carefully plucking at his lover's involuntary ornaments to get them out while sacrificing as little hair as possible.

"Don't leave any bald spots," Seregil cautioned.

"I will if you don't hold still." They both knew that one was an idle threat, but it had the desired effect. Seregil's attempts to twist around and see what the other man was doing ceased.

Moments later, six clumps of hair, firmly entangled, were discarded.

Putting aside the scissors, Alec ran his hands through Seregil's wet hair, roughly combing it out. "Should be barely noticeable," he announced. He wrapped a thin strand that looked more than a little out of place where it was around his finger briefly and let go of it again. "At least not with a little more trimming once it's dry."

The soap was just within his reach, and he applied a generous helping. He could feel Seregil's relaxation deepen as he started to wash his lover's hair. Starting out with a feather-light touch that was more teasing than doing anything towards cleaning, the pressure of his fingertips gradually increased until Seregil was all but purring under the massage.

He kept it up a little longer than was strictly speaking necessary, simply enjoying Seregil's obvious enjoyment of the treatment he was receiving after the day had gone so badly for him. Eventually, though, he did reach for a pitcher to rinse off the soap.

"Mmh, I think you forgot a bit there," Seregil muttered when he realized they had come to an end.

"Where?" Alec leaned forward as if to inspect the quality of his work close up. His lips brushed against the side of Seregil's face as the other man turned his head to look at him.

The answer was accompanied by a quickly widening smirk. "Everywhere."

"I'll demand something in return for this," Alec announced, his hands resuming their task once more.

Seregil chuckled. "Is that a threat?"

"It's a promise."