Summary: Caius returns from his exile. There he must meet his reckoning. One-shot with the chance of latter expansion.
Word Count: 2,542
Caius knew there was nothing to be done about it, though that didn't stop him from pouting all the while. Finally consenting that nothing short of his Talent would part his dear Alcibiades from his beloved – if travel stained and worn – red coat he settled back against the carriage seat and set about checking his own appearance in the pocket mirror he'd secreted up his sleeves. It, like his knives, never left his person, though he hardly ever truly needed either.
His robes – bottle green with silver and green accents cut in the sharp Ke-han lines that he'd fallen in love with during their stay across the border – were perfect of course, though he smoothed them out and pretended to brush off invisible dust. His blonde hair fell in a curtain across one side of his face, obscuring his white murky eye while leave his too-wide, vixen smile on display. He was in the process of growing it out and it nearly brushed his shoulders now, straight, feathered, and airy as the peacocks he so loved.
Despite his examination, he could help his good eye from wandering out the carriage window where shops and homes had finally replaced the dull, monotonous hills and fields he'd been stuck staring at for the past few weeks and (excluding more recent months with the Ke-han) years. Visiting dear Yana had been an illuminating adventure in and of itself, of course, one in which he had thoroughly enjoyed watching Alcibiades transform from a gruff bear of a man and into a docile young boy with a tender heart.
Still, he would be lying through his teeth if he said that he was not itching to be back at the capital for the first time since his exile years before. Lapis had been fascinating and exciting and Yana's home had been quaint and revealing but Caius longed for the familiar twisting streets of the city of the Three Maidens. He missed Miranda's sprawling excess and the impossible and imposing buildings of the magician's district. He wished to get lost again in Charlotte's diverse streets, bartering in the markets and discovering the secrets of the alleys. He even longed for the dark and cramped squalor of Molly, where, if one chose the right outfit and the right words, anything could be procured or gotten away with.
And now they were bumping along the familiar cobble streets of Thremedon, the last carriage of the diplomats from Ke-han. It was only Caius's good luck that the Esar demanded to speak with all of his diplomats, otherwise Caius was not sure he could have pulled Alcibiades from his dear Yana at all. As it was, the general was still sore about it and grumbling that he would be back in the country before the week was out. Caius had other plans, of course, but there were more pressing matters to be seen to first.
The Esar, for example. Even the thought of the man made Caius shiver in equal parts anticipation and excitement. Any normal person in his shoes would have been feeling dread or nerves or perhaps even fear. Their parting had not been a pretty one, Caius had been told, though he honestly remembered little of it. He'd been the grasp of his madness and his Talent and reality was such a thin thing after all the weeks before he woke up sane once-more in a bed in the country were like a muddled dream.
What he'd been told, though, that's raised even his eyebrows and made his curiosity over how the Esar would receive him nearly boil over. Apparently, he'd been rather vocal about his displeasure. According to some rumors he'd even turned his Talent on the Esar's guards at one point - the Esar himself in some rumors, though he'd dismissed those.
It mattered little that the Esar had stood as the closest thing to a parent to him for seven years, since the first discovery of his skills. Their long talks in the garden, the many colorful robes the Esar had gifted him and all of his uncharacteristic patience with Caius' madness and quirks – none of that would matter if Caius had dared used his Talent against the king. He would be dead. Since he was not, it was obvious that rumor at least was false.
So that left Caius in a position of not having any idea where he stood in the Esar's graces. Nor, for that matter, where he stood at all. Would he still be the Esar's 'pet magician' as the others had often called him? Would his rooms in the palace still be his to claim, or had new Talents replaced him?
The thought irked him, though he was similarly excited by the prospect. Either way it was sure to be an adventure and a scene and he relished the upcoming chaos in a way only someone truly mad can.
A smirked graced his lips, too sharp and wide to be mistaken for a simple smile. Alcibiades caught it, and his face took on an uncomfortable look.
"What's that for?" he muttered, sharp and annoyed the way that he most certainly hadn't been in the country.
Pretending he hadn't been listening, Caius snapped shut his mirror and secreted it away, fixing Alcibiades with his complete attention. "You really must be more specific, my dear. I'm not sure what you mean."
The bigger man grunted. "Don't be coy. I had enough of that sort of side-ways talk in Ke-han. We're coming up the palace and you're grinning like that. I don't like it. What are you up to now?"
Caius hid his pleasure. Alcibiades rare show of cleverness always delighted him, reminding him yet again that he had made the right choice in befriending the gruff soldier.
"Up to? Now you really mustn't suspect me so, my dear Alcibiades. You can hardly assume I'm up to something just because I'm smiling. This is my first time back in the city since me departure. I could be simply happy to be back, you know."
"Hn," grunted Alcibiades. He was seated slouched and crossed arms, sulking all the way back from the country.
Caius smiled and tapped his cheek. "Of course, just because I could be smile for all that, you're right to think I'm not." His dry admittance had the general straightening up and fixing Caius was a sharp look.
"So help me, if you get me meddled up in another scandal I will destroy you. No – wait. I'll destroy your clothes instead. How's that?"
Caius gasped, part horrified and part amused. "You wouldn't dare, my dear, though I appreciate your attempt at intimidation. It was really quite cute." Sitting back against the carriage, he allowed a bit more sincerity to slip out as he cast his eyes on the approaching dome of the palace. "Worry not, my dear, this is not an adventure for two. I've got entirely different plans for you."
Alcibiades grunted again, though he said nothing for the rest of the short trip. The carriage was pulled up the side of the palace, where the expected and esteemed could enter without having the brave the crowd of commoners that congregated daily outside the main doors with this complaint and that. There were other even more private ways into the palace and Caius knew them all. It was just a question of where they would be his to freely use again after today.
For the first time in their history, Caius beat Alcibiades to the door and exited the carriage first. This was his territory and he would not be denied it a second more even to see if Alcibiades would finally turn a gentleman and offer his arm to assist him down. Alcibiades grunted again, this time in a little surprise, though his face was still gruff and blank when he exited a moment later.
Before them rose the Esar's palace, grand and ostentatious in way that Caius had so missed. It loomed, the eternal rival the magician's beloved towers, with the confidence of the Esar himself. Standing in its shadows was an echo to being in the Esar's presence himself, or so Caius had been told. He doubted the feelings he got from being with the Esar were quite a bit different from those felt by the rest of the population.
Caius a pleasant heaviness settle around his shoulders. It took him a moment before he recognized the feeling. It was something he hadn't felt since he was fourteen and foolish. It was the feeling of being home.
He allowed himself a moment to revel in the sensation, as well as the thoughts that accompanied it, before he decided it was enough. Taking his friend's arm he pulled them through the palace doors and began marching them down the familiar path the Esar's throne room. They'd had an escort, of course, but Caius had sent them away before the general had even noticed their presence. He didn't fancy the idea of being led around his own home as though he was a stranger and not, in fact, more knowledgeable than anyone but the Esar and the builders of the palace's secrets, perhaps not even the former.
As such, they reached the wide double doors much quicker than if they took the normal route. Alcibiades thought it strange when Caius steered them off the main hall he said nothing, merely sighed like a man greatly burdened when they at last reached the doors. In the next moment, as though pulled by a string, his back straightened and his shoulders pushed back. He was general once again and Caius privately thought the look suited him far better than farmer.
"Well, no use putting this off now. Let's get this over with," he said, far too grimly for the time. Caius pushed back the grimness he could feel pooling in himself and quirked his lips.
"And to think, I thought you would appreciate the familiarities of Volstic politics after so long with the Ke-han."
"Politics can go to devils who work them, thanks. I'll take my chances against a sword any day."
This time Caius's smile was real. Alcibiades truly was an amusing man. Stalling no further, Caius pushed open the familiar weight of the doors and entered with a strut.
The throne room was a small one, made to intimate conversations with people the Esar deemed important enough to have his ear. It was still far, far more formal than anything the Esar and Caius had shared on a day-to-day bases for years. The moment he entered, Caius could feel a part of him slip away while an older piece emerged from a place buried deep. Alcibiades' existence dwindled to nothing. Caius removed his arm and pulled ahead, reaching the Esar's dais first.
He fell to his knees. It was not the traditional kneeling position that was expected before the Esar, but then Caius had never been anything expected. He did not bow his head either, rather his one good eye remained fixated on the Esar's face without respite. On his knees, with both arms loose and straight by his sides and his face upturned, he made an odd cross between prostrate and defiant, servant and equal.
A moment later, a step behind, Alcibiades kneeled beside him. Caius hardly noticed.
The Esar's face had changing nothing at all in the time that he had been gone. The sight of its flat planes and sharp corners, of the neatly tripped beard and the lines around his eyes, wormed its way into Caius' mind, drawing out all of the different memories he had of that face – amused, irritated, content, uncomfortable, displeased, angry, and – once – frightened. They splashed like raindrops against the blankness of the Esar's current expression.
But the Esar's dark eyes had not left his own since he entered and that alone quieted the shaking in Caius' hands.
For once, he was quiet, waiting for the Esar to release him in a way that only he could. This would determine where Caius stood, and just what, if anything, would change.
The Esar did not leave him waiting long. In that, he was merciful.
"Rise," he commanded.
Alcibiades stood at once. Caius remained where he was – waiting stubbornly.
"Caius," the Esar said and the tone was a familiar one. The Esar held out his hand, the one that held his signet ring, and at once the tension drained from Caius. He rose fluidly and without a word stepped onto the dais. Rather than bending at the waist and kissing the ring, Caius fell again to his knees and, quite like a feline, he took that hand in his own and brushed his face against it, breathing in the scent of home. The Esar's skin was warm and calloused, more from a pen than a sword. He kissed the ring lovingly, sad when he pulled back but feeling more satisfied than he had in years.
"My lord," he murmured, unable to stop his voice from being quite so soft and fragile. He stood slowly and did not let go of that warm hand until he at last had to, standing back beside Alcibiades whose mouth was hanging open in a way that sure to gather flies. Caius reached up and closed it for him, feeling suddenly so much more like himself than he had before.
It was okay. The world was okay. The Esar had accepted him back and nothing unforgivable had changed.
Slowly, the world that had been struck from his mind at the sight of the Esar eased back into his consciousness. Alcibiades first, followed by all the rest. His plans and schemes returned to him as well as his smile.
He thought of how foolish he had been, mere minutes before, believing that he could have gone on quite the same if the Esar's reception had been anything less favorable. The palace was his home and the Esar was the closest thing he had to a father.
And the Esar had not forgotten it. He had said his name and he had allowed Caius to touch him – putting himself at the full mercy of his Talent, showing that his trust had not waivered even after so long.
And – for the briefest moment – he had brushed his fingers against Caius' face of his own freewill in a motion that erased any ill history between them.
Caius closed his eyes and allowed a happy smile to consume his face. Alcibiades began to gruffly give his report and Caius let him talk without even bothering to interrupt him once.
He was home. He had learned from his past mistakes, quieted his temper, and seen the world for the first time from outside the city walls. And now that he was back – now that he was home – he knew that no other place would ever hold sway on his heart like this place.
His mind quieted. His eyes opened and he drunk in the site of his one true family like a man kept too long in the desert.
This was his center. This was the stone that kept him grounded amongst the ocean of his madness.
He was never going to leave again.