Ivan gazed blearily at Illyan. His mother's lover, he thought savagely. It was a sign of - of something he was too drunk to think of, when your mother was getting laid more often than you were. And that was another mental image he didn't want. He drained his glass.
"Dammit!" he blurted out. "Couldn't you have kept it really, really secret? I'd have thought you'd be able to."
"You mean you'd be happier if your mother and I had kept this from you?" Illyan said.
"Of course I would have been!" Ivan set his glass down with an emphatic thud that was only partly due to his being unable to judge precisely where the table was.
Illyan gave an annoying thin smile.
"I'm not going to call you 'Da', you know," Ivan went on.
"I wouldn't expect it." Illyan sipped from his glass. "Your father was a good man," he added. "You're like him."
"And you're betraying his memory," Ivan snarled, then wished he hadn't as Illyan's eyes narrowed to slits. Ivan suddenly found himself understanding why the ImpSec fellows he knew all spoke of their chief with the uttermost respect and circumspection. He watched as Illyan swallowed a remark that would undoubtedly have left Ivan a quivering heap on the carpet - which was where he was going to be when he tried to get up anyway - and instead said coldly, "If you ever say anything like that to Alys, you'll answer for it to me. Go sleep it off, Ivan. I'll drive you home. We'll have this conversation when you're sober."
"Yes, Da," Ivan retorted.
Embarrassingly, he was right about landing on the carpet. Illyan helped him up without comment and piloted him out of the bar to the ImpSec groundcar waiting.
"I didn't mean that," Ivan said suddenly. "I was just -"
"Drunk?" Illyan supplied, his lips quirking.
"Yeah." He slumped down in the rear compartment of the car. "I know my mother doesn't care what I think about this anyway, but... yeah. I guess I can get used to it."
"She does care, actually," Illyan said. "Very much." He sat opposite, and the blandly polite ImpSec driver closed the door.
Ivan studied Illyan's face, and realised that Illyan wasn't trying to conceal anything from him. He was used to seeing Illyan stuck in neutral mode; it was strange to see him let his emotions show on his face. Fuck, he thought, Simon Illyan loves my mother. He had no idea what he'd done to deserve this. Surely Miles for a cousin was enough family-related stress for one person. Illyan for a - a stepfather... was more than he'd signed up for.
The groundcar started to move, and Ivan stared out the window at the blurry lights of Vorbarr Sultana. He'd just wanted to have a few drinks after dinner with some guys from Ops. They'd been ragging him a bit about his mother and Illyan, since it was all over town now, when Illyan himself had shown up. All Ivan's friends had fled in disarray, abandoning Ivan to his fate. The conversation had been polite and excruciating, and whilst Illyan had nursed a single shot of whisky for what felt like hours, Ivan had decided to try and improve matters with several glasses of a very nice brandy. It hadn't helped.
"I wish I remembered my Da," he said suddenly. God, where had that come from? He tried biting his lip to stop himself saying any other stupid things, but the brandy had his tongue now. "Mama and Uncle Aral have told me stories and stuff, but I don't have any memories of him at all."
Too late he thought that perhaps it was a bit tactless to complain to Illyan of all people about not having memories he wanted. But Illyan only nodded.
The silence was just starting to feel uncomfortable when Illyan said, "I never knew my father either."
"I didn't know that," Ivan blurted out.
"Not many people do. I have pics of him holding me when I was a baby, but he was killed in Yuri's civil war soon after."
Ivan tried to picture Illyan as a baby, but the stretch was too much for him, even drunk. "Oh," he said stupidly. "But the rest of your family -" He knew Illyan didn't have any living relations, but he'd never wondered why.
"My brother was in the Service too; he was killed at Komarr. My mother died during the Regency, in the..." Illyan frowned. "God, you'd think I wouldn't have forgotten that, wouldn't you? The seventh year? I'm not sure. She was ill for a long time before. I have some cousins somewhere, I think, but I've never met them."
"Oh," Ivan said again. He had a sudden suspicion that Illyan was revealing all this on purpose, to help them bond or something. It was the kind of sneaky thing he would do. The trouble was, it was working. He went back to watching the city lights in self-defence, and Illyan didn't volunteer any more information about his life.
The groundcar pulled up outside Ivan's building. He groaned and looked at his chrono. The numbers danced before his eyes, but he made them out after a moment. "Shit," he muttered. "I have to be up again in five hours."
"That's early," Illyan commented. "They working you hard at Ops?"
"It's my birthday," Ivan said by way of explanation. Illyan frowned uncertainly.
"My birthday," Ivan repeated. "Tomorrow. Mama and I will go burn an offering for Da."
It was Illyan's turn to say "Oh," in a blank voice. That made Ivan feel better, because Illyan didn't know everything about him and Mama, then feel bad for being pleased Illyan had forgotten something. His thoughts tangling, he sat still for a moment. He noticed Illyan was searching through his pockets. "Here," Illyan said, pulling out packet of pills and checking the label. "I got these from the ImpSec clinic. Take two before you go to sleep, and they'll take care of the hangover."
Ivan's eyes widened, but he took them and peered at the label. The medics at Ops never gave this stuff out unless there was a real emergency, they said it just encouraged people to get drunk. He would wake up feeling like he'd never touched brandy in his life. "Thanks," he said in real gratitude.
The driver opened the door, and Ivan pushed himself up.
"Need a hand?" Illyan said neutrally.
"I'm all right," Ivan replied. He stood up to prove it, steadied himself against the side of the car and found his balance again. Illyan stepped out with him anyway. The light from his apartment building's entrance shone on them and lit up Illyan's face. Something about Illyan's expression and the shadows reminded Ivan suddenly of his time on Illyan-watching duty at the clinic, and he realised that even with this damned thing with his mother, he was glad Illyan was still here, battered maybe, but essentially himself.
"D'you want to come?" he blurted out. "Tomorrow, I mean. To burn the offering."
Illyan went still, his face suddenly a bland, neutral mask. "I don't want to intrude," he said. "This is something you and Alys do together."
"I'm sure Mama would like you to be there," Ivan said.
Illyan's face seemed, if possible, even more neutral. "Perhaps. But she's not the only person involved."
Ivan was much too drunk to verbally fence with the Chief of ImpSec, but he heard what Illyan wasn't saying. He took a deep breath. "I'm the one asking. I'd like you to come."
The funny thing, Ivan thought, was that it was true. He'd never lied to Illyan, because lying to Illyan was the sort of thing that always ended in disaster. Illyan had been part of his life for as long as he could remember, there in the background. Not a father-figure, more like a minor deity, occasionally benevolent, telling stories of his time as a covert ops agent to the fascinated boys, occasionally stern when they'd done something wrong, but mostly silent, watching and recording.
But now Illyan was just human. And Mama inexplicably wanted him, after rejecting practically every eligible man in Vorbarr Sultana, and though he would have rather died than admitted it to anyone, Ivan trusted his mother's judgement. And if Illyan was going to be part of Mama's life, then he would be part of Ivan's too.
And besides, he couldn't have survived the agonising hours of answering the same questions over and over again if he hadn't liked the man, just a little.
"In that case," Illyan said, his rare smile flickering across his face, "I'll be there. Good night, Ivan. I'll see you in the morning."
"Good night," Ivan said, then added, "Simon."