Ah, yes, I have somehow managed to again annoy Alcibiades. The poor dear really needs to learn to control that temper of his, or he'll end up having a heart attack, which would be bad for both of us.

And I think I know just the way to cheer him up.

Alcibiades ran into the room, eyes wild and face blood red—perfect color for him, that, though it clashes terribly with his clothes. My concern about his heart increases, I mean, if his heart was to explode, I would be terribly sad, not to mention dear Yana, and I tell him so.

"Why the hell," he asks, calming a bit at the mention of poor, dear Yana, "would you be sad? You're the one who—"

"Oh?" I cut him off, "Because you're my best friend, that's why." I left out what else he meant to me, knowing it would only anger him more. "But, my dear, I want to show you something." I clamp onto his arm, tugging him out the door to my secret place, flattered that he didn't try to shake me off as he used to in Xi'an.

"You gonna answer my question?" he asks.

I snuggle closer—pretty as it is, this thin silk is not good for autumn in the country—and say "Alcibiades, my dear, I already answered it. I said I'd be sad because you're my best friend, and—"

"No," he interrupts, "I got that. I asked a different one."


"Yeah, where the hell're we goin'?"

"You'll see." I smile, look up at him, and snuggle a bit closer, trying to hide a shiver.

"Cold?" he asked, inevitably pulling his arm out of my grasp and stealing all the warmth.

I suppress another shiver and try not to pout, not wanting to anger him. "No, I'm fine"

"You can't be. That silk is thinner than Hapenny cloth! Hold on." He pulled his off soldier's jacket, wrapping it around me and pulling me to his side. "There, better?"

I sigh contentedly. "Yes, much, thank you. But won't you get cold?"

"I'm not the one wearing silk in the bastion-be-damned winter."

"It's still fall, my dear. And we're almost there." I sigh again, content in the warmth, and utterly thrilled that he was holding me for a change. I snuggle yet closer, though heat isn't what makes me do it. There's plenty of heat now: heat from the jacket, heat from his arm and body, and heat pooling deep in my gut. As I slip my arm through the sleeve of the coat and around his waist, I feel him shiver violently. "You are cold!" I cry indignantly. Touched as I am that he gave me his coat, I was not going to let him freeze in the cold autumn air, but when I try to shrug off his arm and jacket, he only pulls me closer, his other arm crossing over us to hold the coat on me.

"No," he said, "not cold. We there yet?"

His voice sounded funny, and I told him so. He just chuckled—rare sound, that. "Yes, dear, it's in the cabin up ahead. I'm sure you'll like it."

"If it's worth getting your new shoes dirty, I'm sure I'll like it"

I smile, thinking this is the friendliest he's ever been, though he had been notably friendlier after he nearly tore the castle in Xi'an down. I wonder what Lord Temur said to him?

"Cute," he says, "the cabin, I mean. Never knew it was here"

"I built it myself, or rather, had it built," I say as I open the door—quite a challenge, since Alcibiades showed no signs of letting me go for a moment. I finally broke away from him. Sweeping my arms out elegantly, I say "Your room at Yana's is your own." I don't much like the idea of leaving my sweet Alcibiades, but I try to hide it. "If you want, I'll stay here." I'm trying to present it like it's a great idea. The one thing Alcibiades wanted from me more than anything was space, time away from my craziness. I really was trying, I was, but I still had to turn away to compose myself, so I walked to the window.

Alcibiades grunted, and then grunted again. Suddenly, his hand was on my shoulder and he was growling "Turn the fuck around, Caius." I barely had time to paste a falsely excited grin on my face before he jerked me around, grabbing my other shoulder. He stared at me a moment, sadness and disgust and something else written on his face and in his eyes. "No," he said, shaking his head violently and shaking me gently to punctuate his point. "If anyone leaves Yana's, it's me."

"Alcibiades, my dear," I said, raising my hand to touch his face. I hadn't meant to hurt him. "I'm the stranger here. Dear Yana would be horrified if you leave. I—"

"She likes you too much."

"You're like a son to her"

"She worries about me too much, you'd—"

"I am not letting you leave her!" I yelled. "I just can't let you."

"You can and you will, Caius. It's me that's gotta go. It's not far away—"

"But what about her cooking? It's wonderful! Wouldn't you miss—"

Alcibiades silenced me with a fingertip. "There's a fair deal more privacy out here, too. She won't be offended if I leave, but you're a guest. She'd be offended if you left."


"And you're my guest, so I don't suppose she'd mind as much if you follow me."

Had he always been holding me so close? I can see each eyelash, the tears in his eyes. Was I wrong? Did he not want me to go, to give him space? And what did he mean by 'follow'?


When did his hand get on my hip? And the other, why was it cradling my face?

"Caius, please, please listen to me. If anyone moves, it has to be me. You can come with me if you want—I don't suppose there'd be any stopping you—but it has to be me."

"I'm sorry. I was trying to give you space. I thought—"

Alcibiades smiled softly. "Caius," he breathed. It was such a beautiful sound and I wanted to make him do it again, but at the moment he was speaking. "If you wanted to give me space, Caius, you would have never read that letter," he said, running his thumb along my bottom lip.

I was wrong, so wrong. He wanted me to go—with him, some place very private.

He bent down and caught my lower lip between his teeth. I sighed, then groaned, as he toyed with it, licking and nipping, then, when I finally decided enough was enough, I grabbed him and kissed him full on.

He tasted really nice. He slid his tongue against mine in an imitation of what I really wanted our bodies to be doing. The way things were going, it would be soon that I got my wish.

He tasted really good, and I told him so. He told me to kindly shut the fuck up.