Length: 1100 words
Prompt: Illyan and Allegre, the chief's secrets
Content: suitable for all
Summary: Illyan tries to live with being protected.
Illyan was sitting up and hoping for a distraction from his strangely chaotic thoughts when there was a quick knock outside. Then the clinic door opened and a blessedly familiar face appeared, one he didn't have to shred his moth-eaten memory to identify. He turned and made a welcoming gesture.
"Guy, good to see you, come on in."
General Allegre smiled at him, a broad and genuine smile. "How are you, sir? I won't bother you for long, but I hoped to have a chance to see how you were getting on."
"Better," Illyan essayed. Better than what, he wasn't quite sure, but as an answer, it seemed to keep people happy. He scanned Allegre's face again, this time with concern. There was a bruise fading to yellow around his eye, and a half-healed cut on the bridge of his nose. "But what about you? What happened to your face?"
Allegre's bruised face twitched, but whatever it was, the emotion was instantly suppressed. "Oh, that. That was a while ago, sir. Nothing for you to worry about."
There was a note in his voice that triggered an image in Illyan's mind, too faint to be called a memory, a mere quiver of thought: Allegre trying to pin him to the ground--why? when?--as he fought back with everything he had. He shivered. Negri had trained him to go for the eyes, once.
"Good," he said vaguely. "So how's everything going in Komarran Affairs? Are you making them all work their asses off? No slacking off while I'm in here, I hope."
"Oh ye of little faith," Allegre said, gently teasing. "It's fine. We're doing you proud, sir. Everyone is."
"I would expect nothing else." In truth, he had few fears about how ImpSec was running. Lucas was good and knew his stuff; Illyan knew that in some ways, Lucas was better than he was. A sudden unrequested memory flashed into his head, from ... last year, was it? When Aral had been ill and Miles dead and he'd been working twenty-six hour days and finding it harder than it'd used to be, he'd fallen asleep in his office when he should have been at a meeting. Lucas had tactfully woken him up and got him briefed in time to put on a good face at the meeting and never said a word about it to anyone. A good man, Lucas.
Allegre too. Illyan gazed at his bruised face again. The damage must have been severe, if it hadn't fully healed by now. He had inventoried his own state this morning and found bruises and cuts on his knuckles, the marks from the medical restraints and the pinpricks of too many hyposprays and cannulae, but no other injuries. Allegre knew dozens of ruthless ways of restraining violent and dangerous men, but most of them required you not to care too much about causing injuries. For Illyan to have got through his guard, Allegre must have been far more concerned with preventing injury to his boss than to himself. He closed his eyes for a moment.
"I'm sorry, I'm tiring you. I'll let you rest now," Allegre said quietly. "Don't worry about anything, sir."
Illyan opened his eyes and blinked at him in feigned surprise. "What happened to your face?" he asked again. He could see Allegre's thought process clearly: was he being interrogated, or had Illyan forgotten the answer already? This fallible-memory thing could turn out to have its uses. But the previous question had given Allegre a chance to get his lie sorted out.
"An accident with a lift-tube--someone's suitcase came open in the tube in my apartment building, and I went up the fast lane in too much of a hurry and got a stilleto shoe in the eye. Very embarrassing, I had to tell the department I was attacked by a suspect."
An excellent lie. Illyan laughed, as he was meant to, then gave Allegre a nod. He could see the steel door behind the joke now: nothing Illyan could say or do would induce Allegre to tell Illyan even the least detail of how he had humiliated himself, how he had attacked and injured his friends. He knew his men were loyal, but this was something new. Being protected from danger was familiar: he'd had bodyguards for the past thirty years, not to mention Aral running political interference and Alys social. But being protected from himself was bitter in the mouth.
And it wouldn't stop. He might not be able to remember, but he could reason. The chip held most of his knowledge, most of his data, had given him an edge nobody could match no matter how old or tired or distracted he was. The chip was gone and destroyed, it wasn't coming back. Therefore, he wasn't going back to work. Not like this.
"Thank you," he said to Allegre, but he wasn't sure he meant it. Perhaps he would just forget about this extra humiliation, like he was forgetting so many things. For consolation, that one was about as effective as offering a man dying of thirst a glass of seawater. But still, he told himself, grasping desperately for his accustomed equanimity, it was hardly Allegre's fault--and would he not do the same, for his men, for the people he loved? Now he would see it from the other side, the protected, not the protector.
Allegre smiled, but there was a little tense line between his eyes that told Illyan he wasn't covering his dismay as well as he might. He inhaled slowly, then said, "I'm not worried. I know everything is in the best possible hands." And as he spoke, he felt that at least was true. If he was to be protected, he would not have it by anyone other than his own men. They had earned that right.
"Thank you, sir," Allegre said, and came crisply to attention and saluted him, and though he was sitting up in bed and dressed in hospital pyjamas, Illyan returned the courtesy correctly. Looking happier, Allegre wheeled and went out.
"Well," Illyan said aloud to the empty room after the door slid shut, "this is going to be strange."
But better than many of the alternatives. He had prevaricated a little with Miles, with Alys, with his doctors: he remembered more from the past few weeks than he'd let them think, hundreds of disjoint moments of confusion and pain. He had survived the chip, he had survive its destruction, he could survive being protected too. But still, he thought with more than a bit of self-pity, it would be nice to have something more than mere survival, one day.
His brooding was interrupted by a second knock at the door, and the corridor guard looked in. "Lady Vorpatril is here, sir. Shall we show her up?"
Illyan began to smile in earnest, a much better set of thoughts filling his mind. "Yes," he said, "Please do."
Crossposted at http://philomytha.dreamwidth.org/88