Disclaimer: Growlanser V is the property of Career Soft and Atlus. Rating is for language.

Compromise

When Knight Slayer Gaerik swept through the barracks, red capelet flying, red eyes glaring ahead, and a battleaxe held in each hand, every Grangalian soldier knew better than to approach him with supply requests, casualty lists, or even royal summons. They pretended not to notice as he surged past the training grounds, the outside smithy, stepped into the main building, vanquished a staircase in four strides, cut through a side corridor, and jerked to a halt in front of a tall plain door. Now unseen by any soldiers, he closed his eyes, realizing how hard he'd been breathing (damn wounds), then shifted both axes into his left hand, their hafts damp even through his gloves. His breathing more subdued, he opened the door to his own suite of rooms, greeted by the sound of a four-inch harp being played.

The front room was small with tidy shelves and a cluttered floor. Not looking at any of it, he set his axes in their stand by the door, under several more axes crossed on the wall, then stepped around a stack of personnel dossiers and over a neat pile of folded tunics, walking to the small table and chair at the room's center. He dropped his hand on the chair back, drummed his fingers, but neither sat nor looked up.

The sweet harp had stopped as soon as he entered, and Lily's hands still rested on the strings. The blonde, blue-winged fairy frowned as she watched Gaerik, then settled her face into its customary dreamy expression. She stood and fluttered off the bookshelf over to the table. "You're back so early. How wonderful." If she came closer to covertly check if he'd reopened his wounds or gained any new ones, she drew no attention to it.

Gaerik drummed his fingers, then shrugged and walked away from the table. Arriving at the writing desk, he flicked several old letters into the waste basket, grimaced, retrieved one, glanced at it front and back, then threw it back in.

Lily didn't miss a movement. She folded her hands over her wide skirt. "You're in time for tea. I'm glad you didn't have to drink that horrid army slop."

"I don't know," Gaerik drawled, somehow making it sound tense. He threw in four more letters without looking at them and began to fiddle with the clasp of his capelet. "If I was drinking the horrid army slop, it would mean I was actually accomplishing something."

Lily blinked her long lashes and allowed herself time to select her words. "Were there no Screapers on your patrol?"

Gaerik whipped around, fringe flying, still working fruitlessly at the clasp. "There were plenty! There were hordes of godsforsaken slime-filled pusbags. There was also a vacillating, idiotic, spineless lapdog of a knight-" He broke off as there was a knock at the door. His eyes widened for a moment, then he stalked over and wrenched it open.

His aide hurriedly backed away, holding a tea set close to his chest.

"Oh," Gaerik said flatly. He sighed and took the tray one-handed. "My mistake. Thanks." He closed the door even as his aide half-bowed, half-ran away. He stared at the six tea pots as he set the tray on the table.

"I've been looking forward to tea with you. We don't get to talk as much as we should." Lily bobbed to his shoulder and carefully undid the clasp. The capelet being too heavy for her, Gaerik caught it before it hit the floor and slung it over the back of his chair.

"Won't you sit?"

Gaerik's head snapped up. He'd been standing behind the chair again, finger-drumming. He sat, putting his gloves to the side, wincing from the tight bandage around his ribs. Then crossed his arms and tried not to fidget as Lily served the tea.

Occasionally - very occasionally - he tried to convince her that it'd be morally as well as socially acceptable if he oversaw the meals, but she always demurred. He worked so hard and she did so little. He battled Screapers while she battled beauty pageant contestants. His job was to risk his life and he deserved to be looked after. But she was too tactful to put it that way.

And, by now, he was too polite to swear while she filled his tea cup from a pot scaled for a seven-inch fairy. That pot emptied, she reached for the next. Four pots later, his cup was full. Gaerik picked up his cup and saucer, glad he never took his tea with sugar or milk.

"These look lovely." Setting her jaw with determination, Lily hoisted a sugar cookie and offered it to the knight, then another (in the weight division, she was good for eight fruits, nine when in prime condition). That accomplished, she filled her own minuscule cup and dropped two grains of sugar into it. Then she tucked her legs under herself, rested cup and saucer on her skirt, and smiled attentively up at him.

Because he'd been tapping eight of ten fingernails on either side of his cup. He sighed (third time? fourth?), catching the tea's honey-apricot scent, and, with a massive effort, tried to smile. "What've you been up to, Lily?"

"I went to the grand championship." She reached for one of the tiny cookies the chef, on Gaerik's express orders, laboriously baked for her. "That newcomer Korin trumped Yurii in every category. Such a spirited contender. I look forward to competing against her next year."

Gaerik picked up a cookie, then forgot to eat it as he glanced around the front room, not really seeing it either. He was entirely used to the ten shelves, two cabinets, sideboard and writing desk, likewise the ordered piles on the floor. It no longer seemed strange that the shelves and cupboards were devoted exclusively to Lily's wardrobe, Lily's instruments, Lily's miniature library, Lily's exercise equipment, Lily's furniture, and Lily's apartment on the top shelf of the left cabinet. Lily had told him (very delicately) that he didn't have to so accomodating - she didn't need all this stuff (though it was very useful and she did appreciate it). But didn't he need some place to put his own things? (Usually asked while she straightened up a pile of clean trousers under the bed.) Gaerik always found something urgent to do when she started, muttering about how he was busy and she wasn't going to live off the floor, was she?

"Are they overcooked?"

Gaerik stared blankly at her, then noticed he'd been tapping the cookie against the edge of the table, pulverizing it into sugary smithereens. He sighed yet again, stretched his legs, raised the cookie to his lips, lowered it, set the saucer on the table and dropped the cookie into the cup.

A good hostess doesn't embarrass her friends with upsetting questions. A good hostess seeks to divert her friends with more pleasant subjects of interest. "As for next year's competitions, I think I'll learn some pieces from that new opera." Gaerik leaned back in his chair, glowering at the door. Lily's talk sped up a beat. "I may also reread The Anatomy of Rhetoric, I feel my debating skills leave much to be desired." Gaerik chewed his lower lip. "And-" Lily set her saucer down and fluttered up. "And my weight lifting is mortifying. Maybe if I had a pair of battleaxes to practice with, I'd be more - more - robust."

Gaerik frowned, deep in thought, then slammed his hand down on the table. "Damn him!"

Lily glanced - he'd missed the tea set, good - and hovered at his shoulder. "Would you like to talk?"

Gaerik shot to his feet. "I don't want to talk! I want to court-martial him! Exile him to Zaramba! Throw crap at him!"

Lily put her hand to her mouth, then crossed her arms. "Please don't use such language."

She got an automatic "sorry", then, "He's brown-nosing to the PMB, kissing Neylern's a- feet - tripping off to peace talks with Vittorio, and eating out of Sir Krious' self-righteous hand!"

"You must be tired." Lily flew to Gaerik's right ear and gently extracted the earring. "You know Sir Rufus is no fool and nobody has more dignity."

"Oh, he's no fool," Gaerik snapped as Lily crossed to his other ear. "I don't know what this is - revenge? He's planning to backstab the king? He was breathing fire when they exiled him."

Lily could've reminded Gaerik that he'd been the fire-breather, but she massaged his earlobe instead and kept her tone soothing. "I'm sure Sir Rufus thought long and hard about his decision. He always does." She flew to the writing desk, Gaerik's only personal space outside of his bedroom, and laid the earrings beside the quill stand. "Don't you remember in Zerdok? He placed his wager on Korin instead of me." She laughed and skimmed back over. "You were angry with him then too."

Gaerik glared at her. "This is an army, Lily! This - this is about discipline and being able to trust your comrades, and I can't trust Rufus if he-"

"-does what he thinks is right?" Lily smiled and leaned forward to pat Gaerik's cheek. "Neither of us does well in debate."

Gaerik sighed so heavily Lily had to backwing to stay in front of him. She waited silently as he pulled off his browband and rubbed the place on his forehead it always turned red. "He said I shouldn't be fighting. Does he think we can't win anymore?"

"I'm sure he was only referring to your wounds. And I quite agree with him, if you'll pardon me."

With a defeated slump of his shoulders, Gaerik, Slayer of Screapers, trudged into his bedroom.

"Just rest for an hour or so," Lily said, zipping into the right cabinet. She heaved a glass to the bottom shelf, then, with all her might, uncorked a tall bottle. Taking an eyedropper, she filled the glass until there was an inch and half of brandy, then gathered the glass up and flew into the bedroom.

Gaerik sat on his bed in his shirtsleeves, rubbing a cut on his arm. She passed him the glass. He absently tapped his thumbnail against it.

"Do you want to sleep? Shall I go?"

Gaerik shook his head, knocked back the glass, then put it on the floor, by a pile of socks. Then reached for a box by his bed. "I just need to...clear my head."

"Good." She always liked to see him occupied. With a dimply smile, she drifted to the box. "Could you...do this one, please?"

Gaerik picked up a spool of lavender thread, broke a length off with his teeth, threaded a fine needle, and began stitching the cut outs of a purple fairy-sized dress. With triple lace flounces. Lily clasped her hands. She usually did the small needlwork, but since she'd taught him, Gaerik's stitches had become much neater than her own.

Batting her wings delightedly, she flew towards the door. "I'll be in the other room if you need me."

He nodded, examining a stitch, already soothed by the methodical process. "I'll talk to the smith about those battleaxes. You're going to win the next contest."

Lily twirled and gave him a flourished curtsey.

"Rufus," Gaerik said with conviction, "doesn't need to be right about everything."