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Uncalled For Actions (8/?)

Days 50-56 of the experiment.

gg_uncalledforactions

[PARTS 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 ]


With a defeated sigh, he sat next to her on the bed, careful not to wrinkle her dress.

“Talk to me Tarvek,” she whispered, squeezing his hand in support.

He remembered this from when they were little–huddled together in the corner of his room or under the covers of her bed after their mother had died taking what little solace they could find in each other. He swallowed hard.

“Remember when I was on Castle Wulfenbach.”

She tensed.  “I remember they stole you away in the middle of the night.”

Tarvek rolled his eyes–like Anevka hadn’t been jealous he’d been chosen over her because everyone knew being held hostage by the Baron was the place to be; it meant you were someone important or would be someday.

“Yes, well, I wasn’t their prisoner for long was I?”

“No, I suppose not. You were pretty quiet when you came home and never wanted to talk about it. Father was angry.”

Boy, had Father been angry, Tarvek thought–being sent home in disgrace like that. His punishment had been discreet but intense; he shivered thinking about it but regained his composure quickly under Anevka’s watchful gaze.

“So what happened?” she prodded after a moment.

“I got in trouble.” He glared at his scuffed boots. “Or more precisely, Holzfäller got me–got us–in trouble.”

Anevka raised one perfect eyebrow. “I’m going to need more than that if you want me to hate Gil along with you.”

“I don’t want you to hate him,” he said without thinking, getting a knowing look from his sister. He frowned at his shoes again and played with a tear in his trousers he must have got in the fight. The memory of Gil standing over him looking more than a little crazy and raging about not wanting to be here helped direct his thoughts back to the topic.

“See,” Anevka said, bumping his shoulder, “you do need me to hate him. With you or for you is yet to be determined,” she added with a bubbly laugh.

Tarvek glared at her. “I don’t need you to hate Holzfäller for me; I can hate him quite enough for myself.”

“I can tell after that fight.”

He let go of her hand feeling too exposed all of a sudden. He knew she wouldn’t understand.

Before he could get up, though, she tugged his sleeve and gave him an apologetic look. “I’m only teasing and I shouldn’t–that wasn’t very thoughtful. Please continue with a list of Gil’s offenses so we can brainstorm forms of acceptable retaliation.”

“Ugh,” he said, hopping to his feet, “I’m being serious, Anevka. Holzfäller is bad news, and I don’t want you hanging around him.

This got an eyeroll. “I’ll decide that for myself if you just tell me what happened for Gil to deserve such wrath–he seems really sweet.”

Tarvek narrowed his eyes. “Well, he’s not; he’s a duplicitous, backstabbing snitch, and the reason I got sent home.”

“Quit being so dramatic,” Anevka said with a dismissing gesture, “that’s Seffie’s department. Sounds like you’re pretty hung up on him after all these years if you ask me.”

“Well I didn’t ask you, and I’m not hung up on anything besides his betrayal.”

The two stared at each other until Anevka finally sighed, looking away then patted the bed beside her. “All right, tell me what actually happened, and we’ll figure something out together because in less than an hour you have to sit across from him for an entire supper if you can handle that.”

Tarvek sat next to her again but refused to take her hand, instead, crossing his arms over his chest “I can handle it just fine,” he grumbled.

“Good,” she said, patting his knee then tucking her legs under her, “now spill it; I want to know everything that happened on that blasted ship.”

He ignored the gentle ribbing implied in her tone, took a deep breath, and let it all out–everything that happened before and during that night and after he got home. Well, everything except the important stuff like figuring out who Gil really was and maybe how it was Tarvek’s idea to sneak into the vault in the first place.

He thought it would feel good to finally tell someone but he only felt drained and deflated at the end.

Anevka leaned back on the bed, letting out a long breath, her face scrunched up in thought. “Are you sure about this?” she finally asked.

Tarvek shifted away from his sister out of frustration. “Am I sure that the kid I thought was my friend completely betrayed me and ruined my life?”

She rolled her eyes. “That’s not what I meant.”

“Then what did you mean?” He sounded surly even to his own ears and fought to rein in his irritation.

Anevka got up with a little spin that fluttered the skirts of her dress before facing him looking sympathetic but skeptical of his motives which wasn’t anything unusual. “I’m just saying that doesn’t sound like Gil.”

This time Tarvek rolled his eyes nearly out of his head. “You don’t know him at all.”

“And you haven’t seen him since you were eight so how do you-”

“Whose side are you on, Anevka?” he nearly shouted causing her to stumble back.

Her expression softened as she stepped towards him and rested her hands on his shoulders. “Your side, of course, brother, as always.”

Tarvek doubted she was ever one hundred percent on his side, but it still felt good to hear the words. His shoulders relaxed some as Anevka tugged him in for a hug, her hand running up his neck to pet his head–something else she must have learned from their mother in their short time with her.

He sighed, burying his face in her neck. “I’m sorry,” he mumbled. “I’ve been awful today.”

“Oh, you’re awful all the time, you’re just more self-aware when you’re drunk,” she said, hugging him closer.

Tarvek tried to push away with a groan, but it only made her grip tighten until they were both laughing at the struggle. When she finally released him, he let out a long breath and with it fled the anxiety and confusion from earlier.

Anevka smiled then reached for his face “Look at you, all grown up,” she said, playfully.

He smacked her hand away but couldn’t stop his own smile. “Shut up–I probably look awful.”

“You do, but I still love you. Now let’s get you cleaned up before supper or Father will have another fit.”

“We wouldn’t want that,” he muttered, following Anevka into the bathroom where she started to run water in the sink.

Tarvek made the mistake of looking in the mirror as he unbuttoned his shirt–the person staring back looked nothing like him with his bloodshot eyes, bruised cheek and bloody lip. He didn’t even remember Gil hitting him in the face, but it all happened so fast and was so confusing. He sighed again then let Anevka do her mothering thing–she loved taking care of Tarvek for some reason.

After a good thirty minutes, she had him washed, groomed and wearing enough face gunk to cover the bruises and cuts. “How am I supposed to smile in this stuff–I feel like I have ten layers of lead paint on my face.”

Anevka giggled. “Do you think I look this good naturally?” she asked, blinking her eyelashes dramatically.

Tarvek frowned at her flawless skin and sculpted cheekbones. “Where are your freckles?”

She laughed even harder. “You are ridiculous–boys know nothing of what it takes to maintain that which they love to look upon.”

“Ick,” Tarvek spat. “I don’t want to know about why guys are looking at you.”

While Anevka returned her makeup to a small bag she carried, Tarvek carefully picked out a shirt in a mauve silk, sighing as the soft material slid over his skin. What knowledge he lacked in cosmetics, he made up for in his formidable knowledge of attire. He paired the shirt with trousers and jacket of deep purple with gold piping and buttons.

Anevka came from behind to straighten his sigil then patted his shoulders with a smile into the mirror. “There, all fixed up. No one will know you were a drunken bully an hour ago.”

“Gee, thanks for ruining the effect,” he mumbled getting a bigger grin.

* * *

Violetta slipped into one of the secret passages, leaving Tarvek and Anevka to get all sibling mushy. Her own siblings never treated her with anything but ridicule and contempt because of her size and lack of ability as a Smoke Knight so she didn’t understand her cousins’ affection or behavior towards each most of the time.

At the least, it made her uncomfortable, and at the most, it made her unjustifiably jealous. Or maybe it was a little justifiable when she tended to consider Tarvek more of a brother than any of her own even though, deep down, she knew she shouldn’t–it was dangerous as Tarvek always pointed out and led to nothing but heartache.

She growled at her unfiltered and unwanted thoughts as she navigated the pitch-black tunnels with the expertise that only came from years of practice avoiding bullies and creepy uncles. She cleared her mind of familial dissatisfaction to focus on her current mission–seek and destroy one Gilgamesh Holzfäller.

After several turns, Violetta hauled herself up into the recently installed ductwork that came with the new heating system and crawled along the ceiling of the largest library in the castle, coming out the other side over a hidden lab, past that through several sitting rooms occupied by various summit members and back into a tunnel, cutting her arrival time in half.

She smiled at the thought that not many Smoke Knights could use that particular speedy method; her size came in handy sometimes.

Another turn and a squeeze through a busted section of wall found Violetta in a long gallery filled with paintings of the Storm King and the Shining Coalition among other artifacts supposedly from that time. The important part was she was near the guest quarters where she knew the most important summit members were housed, including the Baron–all she had to do now was locate the scoundrel and-

Violetta ducked behind a bust of Andronicus as voices approached the room. She immediately recognized the Baron’s commanding voice talking to someone in the corridor then a lone figure entered the room, his young face highlighted by the torch near the door.

What luck–just the person she was looking for, she thought, watching Gil inch farther into the room to look at the collection. She quietly pulled a vial from her cloak along with a dart. She wasn’t allowed any of the more potent or dangerous poisons Smoke Knights used, but she still had a few tricks up her sleeve using what she had.

Not really caring about the dosage in her thirst for revenge, she loaded the dart with truth serum, and as soon as Gil got close she took her shot, hitting her mark square in the neck.

Gil stumbled back and yanked the dart out, staring at it then looking around. “What the-” he said, words slightly slurred as he continued to sway unsteadily.

Maybe she used too much serum. Oh well, not her problem. With that thought, she jumped out from behind the bust, nearly scaring the older boy half to death.

“Now it’s time for you to talk,” she said as she shoved him into a dark recess.

“What are you doing?” His words were less garbled now.

“Why are you here?” Violetta demanded.

“What?”

Gil blinked furiously like he was trying to clear his thoughts more than his vision.

“Why are you here?” she repeated, standing on tip-toes to get as close to his face as she could.

He took a step back, connecting with the wall. “What are you talking about?” His eyes suddenly narrowed. “Wait, you’re that kid Smoke Knight that hit me earlier–what is your problem?”

“I’m doing the interrogating here, buster.” She emphasized each word with a poke to his sternum that forced him back against the wall each time until he finally swatted her hand away.

“Is that what you call this–an interrogation? You’re like five.”

This time she kicked him in the shin, doubling him over in pain. Smirking, she said, “I’ll ask the questions.”

Gil glared up at her, still holding his injured leg. “What do you want?”

“Why did you come here–are you still out to get Tarvek? What’s your goal? Your plans?”

Gil’s eyebrow shot up as he straightened to his full height again to tower over Violetta. “Tarvek?”

Violetta crossed her arms over her chest, waiting–it was taking an awfully long time for the serum to kick in. Gil matched her stance, scowling down at her in what he probably figured was intimidation, but Violetta dealt with people like Martellus on a daily basis–he didn’t scare her one bit. Besides, she had several weapons and Smoke Knight techniques she could use to incapacitate a grown man in seconds if she needed.

“Look, kid,” he said after a moment, his shoulders relaxing, “I don’t-”

She tried to kick him again, but he easily hopped out of the way. Violetta growled, reaching into her cloak. “I don’t have time for this.”

* * *

Before Gil could react, the girl spun and something caught him on his shoulder with a sharp, piercing pain that thankfully only lasted a few seconds. He ripped another small dart from his arm, dropping it at his feet. “What is with everyone stabbing me today?”

A moment later, Gil found himself flat on his back, the kid standing over him with a menacing smile that creeped him out–what was her deal anyway?

“Just tell me why you’re here?”

“I’m the Baron’s apprentice,” he said, hoping answering her questions would end the madness. “I’m here for the same reason everyone else is.”

She smacked him lightly on the cheek. “Wrong answer.”

“What?” he yelled, trying to free his hand to rub his stinging face. “It’s the truth.”

She nodded but didn’t look at all convinced. “I want to know what your plans are–are you here to get revenge on Tarvek?”

Gil bucked suddenly, catching her by surprise and sending her flying into the wall. He scrambled to his feet, putting distance between them. He felt a little woozy from whatever she dosed him with, but his father had taught him many tricks to keep his cool and his mind clear.

“You’re crazy, you know that? Tarvek was the one that attacked me–I didn’t do anything to him.”

“Everything was fine until you showed up, and now Tarvek is a mess–this is obviously your fault so what are you up to?”

Gil shook his head in frustration which did nothing for the growing fog threatening to suffocate him. “I don’t know what Tarvek told you, but I doubt it’s the whole story so this conversation or interrogation or whatever you want to call it is over.”

He made to shove past just as her foot shot out in front of him, giving Gil just enough time to hop over it and continue to the door.

“This isn’t over,” she shouted. “Yes, it is,” he yelled back, sprinting for the safety of the hallway.

Outside, he slumped against the wall with a sigh. “Is everyone here crazy?” he muttered.

He glanced down the hall, expecting his father to be looking for him, but found him still talking to the two summit leaders that approached them in earlier. At least he cut a break there–he couldn’t get in trouble for delaying them if his father was the one to stop to chit-chat.

He waited near the gallery, watching the tension grow in his father’s shoulders and half expecting another attack from Tarvek’s little psycho bodyguard. This day just kept getting worse and worse, he thought before pushing off the wall and strolling towards the group down the hall.

He tugged a watch from his pocket popping it open without looking at it as he approached. “Herr Baron,” he said over the babble of voices bringing the conversation to a halt. “It’s getting late, sir.”

The flash of relief in his father’s face was more than a little satisfying–maybe he still could do some things right. He snapped the watch closed with a smirk that thankfully no one noticed.

His father turned to the group. “I’m sorry, gentlemen, but our company has been requested at supper–it would be rude to our hosts to be tardy.”

The other men reluctantly mumbled their good-byes then headed off in another direction while their obviously grateful guard continued to escort them to the dining hall in the private wing of the castle.

“Thank you,” his father whispered, falling back to walk next to him.

Gil shrugged–he didn’t have much experience with any kind of praise and had no idea how to react to it coming from the Baron of all people.

His father laid a hand on Gil’s shoulder. “No, that was good thinking. Could have been a little sooner, though.”

With that, his father returned to the guard’s side leaving Gil sighing in frustration. Even when he did things right, he did them wrong.

“I can’t win,” he muttered then rubbed at the sore spot on his neck that was making his entire jaw feel tight and painful to talk.

A moment later, they turned the corner and passed through a set of unassuming doors into what could only be described as a cozy home within a home. Well, a home within a castle. It wasn’t unlike the Baron’s personal quarters on Castle Wulfenbach. Not that Gil knew much about that–he’d only visited them a few times and still lived in the dorms with the other kids in the school.

They followed a carpeted hall past a large living room, smaller lady’s sitting room, a smoking room, sunroom with no windows but beautiful summer landscapes painted on the vaulted ceilings, and finally to a rather grand dining room although not as spectacular as the official ones he’d seen in other parts of the castle.

The room was large, holding several long wooden tables adorned with linens, but it was obviously a family room–paintings of children and parents adorned the walls, the chairs were actually comfortable and most importantly, everyone was laughing and talking over each other like Gil assumed a family would.

The whole thing was a little overwhelming, but he followed their escort who guided them to the head table where Prince Aaronev sat with a small child on his lap. He tweaked the girl’s noise getting a giggle before she whisked away by her mother or nanny.

He stood, shaking the Baron’s hand. “I trust everything is in order, Klaus,” he said, eyes sliding to Gil with obvious meaning.

Gil straightened up and before his father could prod him, he sucked up his pride and said, “I want to apologize for my earlier ill behavior, Your Highness. As you know, I was friends with your son on Castle Wulfenbach, and we didn’t leave things in good terms. I regret that it boiled over today–I should have handled things differently.”

His father nodded in approval. Even the Prince seemed satisfied with his apology and cowed demeanor. It’s not like he’d spent all afternoon thinking about what he’d say to ease things over with his father, but even though he did mean most of it like wishing he’d handled things differently, it still nearly killed him to say it out loud.

With the formalities out of the way, Gil was shown which table to sit at which consisted entirely of children of various ages, the youngest attended by nannies at one end of the table.

From the farthest end, Seffie waved frantically at Gil, motioning him to join her. He felt a moment of panic that resolved itself into resignation when he realized there was no polite way to decline the younger girl’s obvious invitation.

He reluctantly, and rather slowly, made his to the empty seat beside her. “Good evening, uh-” He stumbled over his next words–was she a princess like Anevka; what did he call her? Unsure of the answer and the extent of his lessons on royal formality, he settled on a slight bow and a mostly mumbled, “Miss Seffie.”

“Oh, please–it’s just Seffie,” she said, scooting her chair closer to Gil, forcing him to slide nearly off the other side of his own seat.

He quickly reached for the glass of water beside his plate, avoiding eye contact with her, but Seffie didn’t give up easily.

As soon as he returned the glass to the table, she reached for his face. “Oh, Gil, what happened to your eye?” she asked dramatically.

Gil blinked at her–he was pretty sure everyone in the castle knew what had happened earlier in the day. She waited for an answer, her thumb running over the edge of the bruise causing him to cringe away. “Just a misunderstanding,” he mumbled, taking her hand and placing it in her lap. “I’m fine.”

It was then that he noticed who sat across from them. Anevka watched the two of them, mouth slightly open in apparent shock while Tarvek glared back. Gil quickly looked away, cursing under his breath and getting a weird look from the older girl on his other side.

Seffie still wasn’t finished, though. She brushed his bangs from another bruise on the side of his head. “Who would do such a thing?”

“No one important,” he said, surprising himself at the words and the resentment behind them. Across the table, Anevka’s jaw snapped shut with an audible click.

Seffie’s hand dropped back to her lap, but Gil didn’t miss the way she glanced in Tarvek’s direction–so she did know what happened and was playing him for a fool. Figures–his father did say the entire family was poison; he supposed that included cousins and other distant relatives like crazy miniature Smoke Knights.

Gil took a deep breath, centering himself. “I’m fine,” he repeated more for himself than anyone at the table.

Seffie nodded, though, and thankfully, dropped the subject, turning to Anevka to discuss some other scandal from this afternoon.

Tarvek’s heated stare burned his skin or maybe that was all of the drugs he’d injected with over the course of the evening. He rubbed at his shoulder then took another sip of his water before putting the glass down slowly and straightening all of the eating utensils in front of him.

He picked up a tiny spoon, examining the detail on the handle then picked up a small fork, comparing the two. He set the spoon down but continued to play with the odd fork–anything to avoid everyone at the table.

“It’s for the salad,” Tarvek informed him.

Gill glared, setting down the fork. “I know that–I was admiring the filigree. It’s very detailed, reminiscent of Viktor Hophauser during his Paris phase, but you can tell by the scroll work that it’s more likely the work of one of his students–Iliad Marquois, perhaps, although he favored an Indian flare as opposed to Provençal.

“If I had to guess, the original silver was lost in a card game of some ill repute and replaced by these stunning Herrod Garteau recreations–excellent workmanship but not authentic, unlike this demitasse spoon which is a Hophauser original but from his later Bavarian inspired Paris-style designs. Of course, that means these were made long after Adronicus Valois would have been considering flatware for any reason but meant to look like something he’d chosen for himself.”

Gil’s words trickled to a stop as he noticed more than three sets of eyes focused on him, many narrowed with contempt. At some point, he realized, he’d slipped into the French he’d originally read The Full History of Europa Cutlery; or Why You Should Never Use a Soup Spoon to Reanimate the Dead, a Cautionary Tale.

He quickly wet over his entire speech while sipping his water–had he just accused the Royal Family of using forged flatware? Finally, he couldn’t hide behind his glass any longer, setting it slowly above his set of shiny, pointy knives he considered his first line of defense if the natives decided to riot. “Of course,” he said, clearing his throat, “I could be wrong.”

The table was utterly silent, the tension suffocating until Seffie suddenly clapped. “Gil, you speak French?”

“Oui,” he said before finishing off his water to hide a giddy grin.

And just like that, the tension broke–the other diners going back to their conversations just as servers arrived with the first course.

“Have you ever been to Paris?” Seffie asked, tugging at his jacket sleeve. “Grandmother took me last summer–there is nothing like summer in Paris.”

A bowl of what appeared to be creamed asparagus was set in front of them. Gil fiddled with his soup spoon as he waited for the others to be served while Seffie continued to babble about all of the things she’s seen on her trip which to Gil’s ears consisted mostly of cafes, dress shops, and other frivolous venues–girl stuff.

Tarvek and Anevka continued to watch him with matching scowls–no doubting they were related. Obviously, Tarvek had turned Anevka against him. Not surprising, but it hurt more than Gil thought it should considering he’d only met her this morning.

He tried not to think about the fun they had running around the castle and exploring the arboretum but he felt his face flush just the same as the memory of Anevka holding his hand and smiling at him. He couldn’t shake the image of that crumpled drawing now at the bottom of the wastebasket in their guest suite–kind of a metaphor for their entire relationship so far.

Gil snorted at that, getting Tarvek’s attention again. The other boy’s eyes narrowed, spoon halfway to his mouth. They watched each other for a moment before Seffie distracted both of them when she switched to rambling about the unfairness of her not being allowed at the summit.

Gil stuffed his mouth with spoonful after spoonful of soup to keep out of the conversation, but he noticed each bite had less taste than the last. That matched the growing haze around the corners of his vision and overall fogginess of his brain. He frowned, dropping the spoon in his bowl with a clank then sat back, the whole room swimming around him.

For a moment, he wondered if he was going to be sick but a twinge in his jaw brought his hand up where it rain across the sore spot on his neck. That damn Smoke Knight. “What did she do to me?” he mumbled.

“Pardon?” Seffie asked, her attention suddenly focused entirely on Gil as if he’d spoken to her by name–just what he needed.

Gil forced a smile on his face. “I was just saying that you don’t belong at the Summit.”

“Oh?” Her face fell in disappointment.

“I mean,” he added, quickly as he fought to gather his thoughts, “it’s boring–you would hate it.”

“Told you,” Anevka said, taking a sip of her soup.

“I’m sure you’re being much more useful outside the summit,” he continued despite the constant internal threats to shut the hell up. “You’re an information gatherer, correct.”

She seemed delighted by this description, sitting up straighter with a smile.

“You mean rumor-monger,” said Tarvek as he set his spoon neatly beside his empty bowl then dabbed at his mouth with the corner of his napkin.

“I prefer rumor collector, thank you very much,” Seffie said, turning her nose up at Tarvek and getting a laugh from Anevka.

“And the interesting stuff isn’t happening in the meetings, and if it was, it’s all being recorded by fifty different people. Everyone will know every detail of what happens in the meetings, but the other stuff-”

“Don’t encourage her,” Tarvek interrupted as a waiter removed their bowls and another came behind them filling one of their glasses with white wine.

Seffie stuck her tongue out at her cousin, reaching for the filled glass just as someone else snatched it from in front of her.

They all looked up as Martellus passed them, tossing the entire contents of the glass back in one gulp. “Ah-ah,” he said to his sister, “you’re still a little too young.”

He left the glass on the platter of one a waiter and continued back to one of the adult tables with a laugh.

Seffie slumped in her chair, arms crossed over her chest. “I hate him.”

“We all hate him, sweetie,” Anevka said just as another waiter stepped between her and Tarvek. She put her hand over Tarvek’s glass. “He’s good,” she told the white-haired man.

If looks could kill Anevka would have been laid to rest ten years before she was even born.

“What?” she said to her brother as she sipped her wine. The two glared at each other in some unvoiced sibling standoff before Tarvek turned away, his cheeks slightly red.

What was that about? Gil wondered. He glanced at Seffie who looked more interested in how she might steal the glass from the gangly teen boy sitting on her other side than whatever was going on with her cousins.

Gil realized he was out of his element when it came to family affairs; he had no idea if this was normal sibling behavior. The way Tarvek had talked as a kid, he worshiped the ground his sister walked on to the point that Gil had worshiped her, too–well, worshipped the idea of her.

He’d always dreamed about finding his real family and learning he had a sister to love him as much as Tarvek and Anenvka loved each other. Of course, that never happened, he had no sister, and from what he can tell, things between brothers and sisters aren’t that great anyway.

A new set of waiters descended on the table, dropping off plates of poached salmon in some kind of sauce. It smelled amazing, but like the soup, Gil found he couldn’t really taste any of it. So not fair.

“Something wrong with your fish?” Tarvek asked, his voice sounding large inside Gil’s head.

Gil blinked at him then at the fish. “No.” He stuffed another bite, tasting nothing but bland dryness. As soon as supper was over, he was going to find that little psycho and make her tell him the antidote to whatever this… detastifying drug was.

“Do you like fish?” Seffie asked.

“Huh?”

He forced his eyes to focus on the little red-head next to him. She was wearing a different dress than this afternoon–this one a plum color that actually looked nice with her bright hair. She kind of matched Tarvek with their color scheme while Anevka’s green dress fought for attention with her own flaming hair.

Gil was wearing a plain black suit with red trim. Why was he even thinking about this? Didn’t Seffie ask him a question?

He shook his head, trying to clear the growing fog and finally focused on Tarvek across from him, eyes narrowed. It was the first time Gil took a good look at him since their fight earlier, not that you could tell Tarvek had been involved in any scuffle. His skin was as pale and flawless as always–not a hint of bruises or cuts.

Gil couldn’t remember if he’d hit Tarvek. His knuckles hurt like hell so he must have but Tarvek didn’t show it. Must be some kind of makeup.

Gil didn’t know about any of that stuff so his wounds were out in the open for everyone to whisper about which was pretty par-for-course for Gilgamesh Wulfenbach. Heir to the Wulfenbach Empire… er-

“Gil?”

Gil started, turned wide eyes on Seffie then smiled a little maniacally and said, “yes, I do like fish,” more loudly than he’d intended before quickly gulping down half of his wine.

Tarvek and Anevka just stared while Seffie seemed completely immune to his absurd behavior. She lifted her plate, looked around then dumped the contents onto his. “It’s useless to eat fish without the wine.”

She batted her long eyelashes up at him–they were red like her hair. “Unless you want to share your wine, Gil.”

Without thinking, he slid the glass over to her which got a huge smile, but when she reached for it, Anevka took it away.

“You’re no fun,” Seffie said, thrusting her lower lip out in a royal-size pout.

“I’ll get us some more waters,” Tarvek said, signaling to one of the waitstaff positioned around the room.

“I don’t want water,” Seffie moaned. “I want wine like everyone else.”

Her feet swung back and forth, kicking anything in their way. Anevka moved sharply under the table, causing Seffie to sit up straight with a yelp. “Well, maybe if you weren’t acting like a child you wouldn’t be treated like one.”

“Tarvek isn’t drinking,” Gil said. “He must be acting like a child as well.”

The three just stared at him then Seffie fell against him in a fit of giggles. “He is being a brat, isn’t he?” she said into his shoulder.

Gil smiled, proud of himself for some reason–it was hard to tell why with the growing haze in his head–but making Seffie laugh seemed like a good reason.

Tarvek huffed just as a waiter deposited several glasses of water between them and refilled Gil and Anevka’s wine.

“He’s abstaining for his health,” Anevka said, grinning over the lip of her wine glass as she sipped.

Tarvek’s face reddened further. Gil thought he might literally explode so he pushed his glass across the table. “You look like you need this more than me.”

Anevka spit her wine back into her glass with a snort while Seffie burst into another round of laughter–this one more honking than giggles.

Tarvek pointed the death glare directly at Gil, and that didn’t feel very good, but he couldn’t seem to stop the stupid that kept coming out of his mouth.

“You’re funny,” Seffie said, laying her head on his shoulder–she was practically sitting on his chair now so he slipped his arm around her to keep them both from falling off.

Anevka frowned; Tarvek’s eyes narrowed, but they didn’t get a chance to say anything before more waiters descended on the tables to whisk away the fish and bring out another course–this one some kind of small, whole bird surrounded by steamed squash and carrots over rice.

“I didn’t finish my fish,” Gil said glumly, poking at the bird with his salad fork.

“It wasn’t very good without the wine anyway,” Seffie added.

“I had wine.”

“But you gave it to Tarvek who was very ungrateful by the way.”

Gil snorted. “He wasn’t, was he?”

[ Part 9 ]

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