New Year's was always an exciting time, even in the country. In the city, however, it was always nothing short of extravagant! I haven't been to one of the city's parties in quite some time, so, naturally, my tigers and I had every intention of going—and dragging Alcibiades along with us! I would have gladly celebrated in the country—provided Alcibiades was there, otherwise I would be terribly bored—but this year, the party was going to be even more grand than any other time in the city ever. The Emperor of Ke-Han was going to be there, along with his very muscled friend. Alcibiades and I hadn't seen Mamoru and Kouje in quite a few months, and though I got regular letters from Mamoru, I did so miss him.

As I rode the carriage to Yana's, I contemplated the possibility of Alcibiades or Kouje feeling the sudden urge to protect us—yes, us. After they got back, but before we left, a man was propositioning me, for the lack of better words, and Kouje punched him, yelling something about "inappropriate conduct toward a diplomat and my lord's best friend." It was quite entertaining. Anyways, I was wondering if they would feel the need to protect us and attack someone, or perhaps get into a fight with each other. The latter was very likely, given Alcibiades' war mentality; the former, not so much. The prospect was thrilling!

What my dear general failed to consider was the fact that they were very much the same, he and Kouje, despite the difference in nationality and culture: they were both over-protective warriors, doing what they can to guard their friends.

I couldn't wait to see Yana again, and, unquestionably, Alcibiades. But Yana and her excitement for all city-related things would be my key to getting the general to agree to come with me. I knew he would be reluctant to leave his quiet country life for even a week in the city, whereas I had to go between both to stay sane.

It wasn't long until I heard Yana screeching for Alcibiades, immediately recognizing the carriage. I leaned out the window and waved at her, beaming, and got a huge smile in return. Alcibiades came lumbering down the hill and stopped dead at the sight of me climbing out of the carriage.

"Hello, my dear" I said, smiling at him "Long time, no see, huh?"

He grunted, which I took to mean 'I missed you too' as I ran forward to hug him. He surprised me, though, by wrapping one of his huge arms around me and saying "Too damn long" My heart soared. The surly general was actually admitting to an emotion! "Yana was worried if you were eating enough" And crashed like a young boy trying to fly by jumping off his barn—which I'm quite sure Alcibiades did when he was young. Nothing broke, though. I held no illusions that he could admit weakness, even that of missing a friend.

"And for good reason, too" Yana chirped from behind me, pulling me out of the depths of my mind. "Look at you! You're as thin as a weed! Oh! But you've grown!"

And I had. During the course of the six months I had been gone, I had taken two centimeters off that Great Wall of eight centimeters that separated Alcibiades and me. I think that was the last time I grew any at all.

"Well, he's still a short shit" Alcibiades said, being his normal, gruff, vulgar self. I was glad to see that he hadn't changed, as much as I fussed about his language.

"In! In!" she said, shoving us toward the house. "It's a good thing you got here when you did, Caius. Dinner is about ready."

Later that night, Yana had me telling her about happenings in the city, and I saw my chance.

"You see, dear, there's this parade for the New Year's celebration. It's going to be amazing, just grand, this year more than any other! I wonder what Royston and Hal are doing for New Year's?"

"Off subject, Greylace" Alcibiades said, bringing me back to my story.

"Thank you, my dear. What was I talking about?"

"Parade. Why's it gonna be better this year?"

"Oh! Everything's going to be better, my dear! Simply extravagant! The Esar has to put on a good show!"

"Why?" he prompted, just as I wanted him to.

"Because our old friend is going to be there, dear!"

"You say that as if it answers my question. Who?"

"Mamoru, my dear" I sighed, pouting a bit to get the point across. Sometimes the poor dear was just so thick.

"Who's that?" Yana asked, offering me another biscuit, which I had to turn down, or risk bursting. Dear Yana obviously was trying to fatten me up.

"Only the emperor of Ke-Han, Yana, dear!"

"Oh! My Al is friends with an Emperor!"

"More like Caius is his friend, and they drag me and Kouje around to every damn thing they do" He turned to me "You want me to go with you, I'm assuming."

"Yes, of course! Why else—"

"Fine"

Well, that was easy. I didn't even have to ask! Then again, Alcibiades knew me well; better than anyone else, in fact.

We left the following morning with a promise that I would stay with them when we returned.

The night we returned to the city, Mamoru arrived. The Esar summoned me immediately since I had previously met him and had some experience with his language. As we—yes, we; Alcibiades had accompanied me, with much persuasion, naturally—entered the room, we were announced, which resulted in quite a commotion. I had no idea we were so popular!

"Caius!" Mamoru yelled in a manner very unfitting of an emperor, and ran to greet me. Alcibiades, likely sensing a non-existent threat, stepped in front of me, causing Kouje to grab Mamoru's arm and swing him protectively behind his own body, brandishing his free fist in Alcibiades' face. They were screaming and yelling in their own languages, likely something about "Don't you dare hurt him; I'll kill you before you lay a hand on him!" Or, at least, that's what Alcibiades was saying. I never knew he cared so much!

After trying in vain to calm our respective self-appointed—on my side, at least—body guards, we gave up, slipping around them to talk to each other and laugh about the absurdity of the situation. Noticing this, Alcibiades stopped yelling, and—surprising me once again; he keeps doing that—started laughing! Kouje, suddenly confused, looked over to see what was so funny. Oh the look!

Mamoru apologized, explaining that sometimes he forgets that Alcibiades is a soldier, not a diplomat; Alcibiades apologized, saying that even though he fought against the Ke-Han, he really ought to remember that it's just Mamoru; and Kouje apologized for his behavior, in general, nose touching the floor and being coaxed out of his bow my Mamoru.

Raucous laughter announced an interruption in the form of the one and only Airman Rook—I shiver just thinking of him and his terrible manners—and another man that I had only seen once, at the Esar's party, just before all the magicians got sick. He was their babysitter or something. At their arrival, Kouje—that poor dear, he must have been going through some awful culture shock—got even more confused, whispering in Mamoru's ear and pointing at Rooks blue braids.

Noticing the attention, Rook said with a sneer "Yeah, I know they look better on me than you. So what'cha gonna do about it?"

"Airman!" I chastised with every intent of giving him quite a mouthful on the proper way to speak to royalty—and the bespectacled man at his side seemed to have the same intention, by the look on his face and the fact his mouth was open in appall, though he didn't seem too shocked.

"Well if it isn't the little Cindy Greylace" he said, crossing his arms and leering at me, causing Alcibiades to growl and glare—what is up with that man?

"Cindy?" Mamoru asked before I could properly respond to the insult, and causing me to miss Alcibiades' remark. "I thought that was a woman's name?"

"It's also quite a rude term for someone who takes male lovers, my dear" I responded, smiling gently to soften the blow. He nodded in understanding, looking offended, as Rook continued to tease me until the Esar came in, prompting Mamoru to immediately switch to emperor mode. He greeted the Esar formally.

Then the Esar turned to me.

"Caius, my dear! You're back!" His arms were spread wide, as if expecting a hug. I merely inclined my head to him. "General" he rumbled at Alcibiades, as if greeting an old friend. Alcibiades grunted at him. He continued to greet everyone in the same manner; they were all cold to him. We remember.

"Well!" He clapped once, looking distressed at the lack of affection, "Let's get this party started, shall we?!" He led us to a huge room with tables laden with food and small, private balconies with a great view of the parade. All in all, it was nice, but I would have preferred to be on the ground, right in the commotion, despite the inevitable damage to my shoes. And my robes. And the possibility of losing Alcibiades. I am a small boy; I could easily lose him, though he is quite a large man.

There were fireworks—likely courtesy of Margrave Royston—and loud music, and it was all incredibly thrilling! I wasn't even the least bit cold because Alcibiades stood right behind me the whole time, acting as my own personal heater. He is quite warm. That was a nice discovery to make in the winter time. Maybe my time at Yana's this winter won't be so miserably cold, knowing this. The wine was good. Mamoru had brought both the red wine and the clear wine Alcibiades was so fond of, along with dumplings, courtesy of Josette and Lord Temur.

"You're tired" Alcibiades stated, having noticed my yawn, though how, I have no idea. He was behind me, and I was trying to be subtle.

"No, I'm not"

"Yes, you are"

Were we really arguing over whether I was tired or not? "No. It's not even midnight yet"

"What the hell's that got to do with it?"

"I'm staying until midnight. As it's not yet midnight, I cannot possibly be tired, because if I'm tired, I have to go home, and I don't want to go home." I thought my logic made perfect sense.

There were warm fingers at the nape of my neck as he leaned down to speak to me quietly. "You do know that you can see all this at home."

"The thing is, Alcibiades, dear, I don't want to go home. Not yet."

"Neither do I, but we're both tired"

"It's only a few more minutes"

And it was. Soon the new year was written in the sky with fire and everyone was singing the traditional New Year's song. I was pleasantly surprised by the rumbling behind me. Alcibiades had quite a nice voice. I'd have to see about getting him to sing for me again sometime, somewhere much quieter.

He tugged gently at a lock of my hair to get my attention and turned me around. I smiled up at him and said "Happy New Year, dear"

He smiled and squeezed my shoulder. "Happy New Year, Caius"