On unexpected adventures and their rewards

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Warnings/notes: Seregil/Alec, AR, written for Christmas.

Disclaimer: The wondrous world of the Nightrunner-serie was created by Lynn Flewelling. This ficlet blatantly ignores the actual state of the relationship between Seregil and Alec by the end of the first book and refers to people mentioned in the second book, which is why it's labeled AR.

written at 6th july 2005, by Misura, for Teldra, who requested 'Something fluffy involving a lockpick maybe?' (It turned out as something fluffy -not- involving a lockpick in the end, I'm afraid.)

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" 'This is going to be easy,' you said." Alec groaned, his voice coming out slightly muffled due to the fact that his arms were loaded with packages of various shapes and sizes. Looking back, Seregil was slightly surprised that not a single package had been dropped yet, although of course, with himself as a guide, Alec had been able to avoid the more slippery spots of the road.

"Well, neither of us has been injured." Seregil smiled brightly, in spite of knowing that his expression was probably lost on Alec, who kept his eyes on his burden, as if to assure himself he hadn't lost anything without him noticing it. "I'll admit that it took a bit longer than I'd hoped to get what we came for, but ... we succeeded in the end. Why dwell on what might have happened?"

"Because I'm cold, wet and hungry, while I could have been warm, dry and comfortable, if you hadn't forgotten your lockpicks?" Alec suggested, shivering. Seregil didn't think it was for effect, which made him revise his answer to something more teasing than reproachful.

"I never, ever forget my lockpicks." Seregil drew himself up in a pose of righteous indignation, managing to get a chuckle out of Alec, albeit a small one. "Unlike a certain person I could mention," he added pointedly, to remind Alec that he was as much to blame for this evening's misadventure as Seregil, if he insisted on blaming anyone.

"That's not fair!" Alec protested. His face was mostly hidden behind the packages, but Seregil could well imagine the expression on it. "You said we were going shopping for presents to give to our friends at Midwinter. How was I to know we'd need to pick any locks?"

"If you didn't know, then how could I?" Seregil pointed out in what he hoped to be a reasonable tone. In truth, he'd counted on being able to use Alec's set of tools if there'd be any need for them, since he'd left his own set in the Oreska House during his last visit, and hadn't yet felt like returning there and risk running into Thero. If nothing else, meeting Thero again would be sure to spoil his mood for the rest of the day.

Alec muttered something.

"We're almost home anyway." Seregil managed to keep his voice cheerful only by thinking of warm baths, hot food and the reception this evening's spoils would be given.

"If you hadn't spent so much time fussing over that present for Wethis, we'd have been home by now, without us having risked both our lives for the sake of a stupid book!" In Seregil's opinion, Alec sounded much more put out than the situation warranted.

Possibly, the weather was getting to him; Seregil knew that he himself could turn rather moody during the long winter in Rhiminee, but Alec had always seemed to be rather used to the cold and the snow. True, it had come as a bit of an unpleasant surprise to find themselves in need of a set of lockpicks without either of them carrying one, yet Seregil had taught Alec enough to be able to open a door with nothing more elaborate than what most people usually carried with them.

"You might as well blame the owner of the bookshop for closing up so early," Seregil commented, mentally going over their earlier conversation, looking for any clues that might explain Alec's unusually sour mood. "Not everyone celebrates Midwinter, which is why nobody will be surprised at Lord Seregil not hosting a party today, but the exchange of gifts is fairly popular."

"Thero said you gave him a book of poetry last year." Alec's tone didn't give Seregil much of an indication whether or not this was an attempt to change the subject to something more pleasant than the events that would lead to their late arrival at The Cockerel. Still, if Thero had only referred to the gift he'd received as a book of poetry, it might be a good idea to straighten Alec out a bit.

"Another one of my failed attempts to get him to get a bit less stuffy, I'm afraid." Seregil sighed. "Maybe he'd have been happier with a nice long epic about some ancient hero, but I was feeling generous at the time. Not that he appreciated it."

"You gave him a book with -romantic- poetry?" Alec sounded surprised. Seregil supposed that, from a certain point of view, presenting a person you disliked with a collection of love-poems might seem a bit odd.

"Nysander suggested that perhaps if my own words didn't affect Thero, the words of a poet might." Seregil shrugged. "I guess he might have been right, considering Thero's attitude towards me."

"It still sounds like a weird gift," Alec declared. Seregil felt there was a hint of what might be the answer to his earlier question in his tone, though it seemed to slip through his fingers for the moment.

"Perhaps it was," Seregil acknowledged, willingly enough. This year, he'd decided on a more practical and less personal gift for Thero, consisting of a pair of socks. Doubtlessly, Thero'd find something wrong with them, which would nicely prevent him from actually needing to thank Seregil.

"I'm glad to hear you're not in love with Thero or something like that though." Alec's laugh sounded the slightest bit off, as if he hadn't quite been convinced of the idea being as ridiculous as it was.

"Me and Thero? Oh please! You should know I've got better taste than that!" Seregil snorted and shook his head, a bit insulted that Alec could seriously have thought he'd fancy ... Seregil frowned, wondering how much of the idea that had just occured to him was wishful thinking, and how much of it was actually based on fact. "You don't think I'm in love with -Elsbet-, do you?"

"Elsbet?" Alec's tone was bewildered.

"The charming young lady for whom we got the book you complained about earlier?" Seregil wished they were having this conversation someplace where he would be able to see Alec's face. No matter how much better Alec had gotten at not letting everything show on his face, to someone who knew him as well as Seregil, he could still be read like a book.

"I know who Elsbet is. And I don't mind having gotten a bit of extra practice in house-breaking to get her her gift, especially since we left payment for it and all - "

"Which we couldn't have done safely if Master Belrond wouldn't have been so forgetful that he probably won't think twice about a book missing from his shelves as long as its price is clearly present in his moneybox," Seregil put in, to remind Alec that honesty shouldn't be practised at the expense of personal safety.

"Yes, yes, I know that," Alec replied slightly irritably. "I like Elsbet." Which implied that there was also someone whom he -didn't- particularly like, but Seregil couldn't think of anyone who'd been mentioned in this conversation who that might be, aside from Thero.

Considering that Thero had never before had such a negative influence on Alec's mood, it seemed rather unlikely that he might be the person in question, no matter how eager Seregil might be to put the blame on him.

"Do you like her a lot?" Seregil inquired curiously. He knew Alec had made quite an impression on Micum's daughters during his visit, but he'd assumed, or maybe hoped, that it had been rather one-sided. He was tempted to add "Do you like her more than me?" yet that would be sure to earn him a strange look, and no answer that would help him in any way. Regardless of how much Alec had opened up to him, there were still some topics that met with evasive answers and blushes.

"She's really nice." Coming from Alec, that could mean a lot. Seregil regretfully decided there was little to gain from pursuing this line of conversation, and instead returned to their original subject.

"If you want to find the perfect present for someone you truly care about, you sometimes lose track of time a little. I agree that maybe I spent a little too long in Mistress Bertha's shop, but you have to admit that I practically had to drag you out of Master Gilber's workingplace, so I'd say we're even." If necessary, Seregil promised himself he'd apologize to Alec, together with presenting him the gift he'd gotten him, only part of him still felt that excuses shouldn't be required.

"Yes, but ... " Alec mumbled the last part of the sentence.

"Ah, look, we're almost home." This time, it was true, rather than being merely a statement meant to encourage Alec. Seregil could only hope Thryis had saved some food for them. Knowing her, she probably had, even if there'd likely have been more customers than usual this evening.

"Is Wethis someone you truly care about?" Alec flapped out.

Seregil reviewed their earlier exchange, concluding that yes, Wethis' name had come up before. He'd thought nothing of mentioning it to Alec; anyone would know that in general, people bought gifts for those they visited at the Street of Lights out of affection and genuine liking, but not out of anything beyond that. There were exceptions, naturally. Seregil had personally introduced Alec to one of them.

Holding open the door for Alec, Seregil composed his answer.

"I enjoy the time I spend with him," he started. "However, he doesn't know anything about who, or what, I am. To him, I'm simply a visitor. We could never be friends the way I and Micum are, or the way you and I have become. I couldn't imagine sharing my life with someone like Wethis, no matter how pleasant his company may be."

"Oh." Alec sounded relieved.

Before Seregil could get to the bottom of what -that- meant, however, they found themselves being greeted by Thryis, who scolded them for being late, before complaining that by now, there was hardly any decent food left.

Perhaps, Seregil reflected much later that night, listening to the sound of Alec's even breathing, some things were better left unspoken and unknown. Some things, like his supposed crush on Thero (of all people!) should definitely be discussed, but whatever was growing between him and Alec might be better left alone, to develop without either of them putting a name to it.

OWARI