An Uncomfortable Encounter
Characters: Severus, Serenus, Gaius Summary: While in Greece Gaius spies someone alarming
"Ooo... look at these silks! I think I'll have to pick up some for the shop!"
Gaius ran his fingers appreciatively over a soft length of brilliant peacock blue fabric, one of dozens of similar bolts stacked up in a vendor's stall. The marketplace of the village wasn't huge, but it boasted a nice selection of merchandise, everything from touristy gewgaws to small, weathered statues in ancient marble. There was also a large section which focused on food, which was ostensibly what had lured them away from the delights of the beach in the first place. Serenus was a brilliant cook, and it wouldn't do to provide him with anything less than the freshest ingredients. But Gaius, with his cat-like nature, couldn't resist the bright, shiny things on display nearby, and he wasn't disappointed by what he found.
He looked up, glancing back at where he'd left the twins. It wasn't difficult to spot them nearby, at a stall featuring fresh seafood that Serenus seemed to be examining with a practiced eye. With a murmur to the silk vendor, he excused himself and trotted over toward them, wanting to get their opinion on the fabric.
"So what's for dinner?" he asked, coming up to them with a huge smile on his face.
"Serenus is debating between octopus and eel," Severus replied, deadpan, and Serenus elbowed him reproachfully.
"You shouldn't tease Gaius," he said. "I'm not debating between octopus and eel." He paused, a wicked gleam appearing in his own dark eyes. "It's squid and eel."
Gaius shuddered, unable to help himself. He liked fish well enough, and shellfish, but squiggly things gave him the creeps. "You're both evil," he said, pouting slightly and giving them both a look of scant favor. "Be nice to me, or Anubis might decide to rub up against your bath towels!"
Laughing, Serenus reached out and ruffled Gaius' hair before smoothing it again. "Don't worry. I'm getting some lovely fresh fish, some shrimp, and some scallops. I asked for recommendations on the best catch of the day," he said, pointing to where the vendor was wrapping up the purchase.
Gaius smiled at the playful way Serenus touched him. "That sounds better," he said, then glanced sideways at Severus. "Although if you want to get something unusual for La Diva, might I suggest spiny sea urchin?"
Severus snorted. "Keep that up, and you'll find your pillows and pampering products mysteriously vanish."
Holding up both hands, Gaius surrendered. "You win! I should know that I could never match wits with a Slytherin, much less you!" he chuckled. "Especially as I would like your opinion on some fabric I've found. Once Serenus is done fishing, that is. I wouldn't dare interrupt an artist at work!"
Serenus murmured thanks to the vendor, exchanging payment for the parcel of seafood, and turned back to his brothers. "I'm ready," he said cheerfully. "I can get a few vegetables before we leave, but this will make an excellent main course. What new shinies have you found?"
"Silk!" Gaius replied, looping an arm through Serenus'. "Beautiful silk. I'm thinking of a whole new display for the shop." He looked at Severus as he led them back toward the fabric stall. "You might find this stuff inspiring for a whole new line of cosmetics. The colors are just... well, you have to see them!"
Serenus walked beside Gaius, and Severus fell into step with them as they returned to the stall. "These are lovely," Serenus agreed, spotting the beautiful fabrics as they approached. "It's no wonder you fell in love."
"They could be inspirational, at that," Severus agreed, moving closer to inspect the wares with a critical eye, although he had clothing rather than decor in mind.
Gaius beamed, pleased that his brothers were as enchanted with the silks as he was. He released Serenus' arm, reaching for the bolt of peacock blue again. In that moment, he caught a flash of movement from the corner of his eye, like a dark shadow passing by the stall. Something of his Animagus form's reflexes and instincts kicked in, and he whirled, staring out of the open side of the stall, just in time to catch a brief but clear glimpse of a man stepping out of a sight - a man with dark hair, a hooked nose, and blazes of white at his temples.
A harsh German expletive escaped him, and he cursed the fact that he couldn't shift into Anubis here, not with so many Muggles about. But he had to find out if it was the same man who had come into Regulus' shop over a month ago; the man who had given Gaius such a creepy, unsettled feeling.
Pushing past Serenus, he dashed for the side of the stall, glancing about wildly as he tried to catch another glimpse of the man he'd seen.
Severus was immediately on the alert, old instincts flaring, and he took off after Gaius, wanting to make sure there was no danger about. Serenus knew better than to try to keep up with them, and he stayed behind at the fabric stall and tried to catch a glimpse of them in the crowd, fretting a little over not knowing what was going on.
Frustrated, Gaius looked about the market, not seeing the man again. He buried both hands in his hair, clutching his head and muttering to himself, wondering if he was losing his mind. He turned around, eyes still scanning the crowd, and as he turned back toward the stall, he found Severus approaching him. "Did you see him?" he asked his brother, pointing back toward the way they'd come. "The man, just outside the fabric stall?"
Severus jogged until he caught up with Gaius and came to a halt. "What man?" he asked, frowning. "I didn't see anything except you running off."
"There was a man, a burly man, with black hair and white temples," Gaius replied. He realized he must sound mad, and he drew in a deep breath, eyes still darting around the marketplace. "I saw him outside the fabric stall. This same man had come into Regulus' shop about six weeks ago. He looked around, looked at me, then just sort of walked out. Regulus saw him. He... makes me nervous. I don't know why, really, but it's like all my fur stands on end around him. Regulus had a bad feeling about him too. But why... how... could he have been here, when I saw him in Diagon Alley?"
Severus' frown deepened, and he reached out to grasp Gaius' shoulders. "Have you told Tybalt about this man yet?" he asked. "If not, you should. Seeing him in the shop once may have been a chance encounter, but for him to turn up here isn't quite so coincidental, in my estimation." Anyone else might have called Gaius paranoid, but not Severus, whose sense of paranoia and self-preservation had been honed to a sharp edge over the course of two wars.
"Yes... Regulus and I both talked to Tybalt weeks ago," Gaius replied. Severus' touch helped to steady him, and he drew in a deep breath, running one hand over his forehead. "Maybe it was a different man, but... I don't know. I only caught one glimpse of him, and it looked like the same person, but..." He shook his head, biting his lip and giving Severus a worried look. "Let's not worry Serenus, all right? I could be wrong, and I don't want him fretting over what might be nothing."
"I agree," Severus replied firmly, giving Gaius' shoulders a little squeeze before releasing him. "We can tell him you chased after a pick-pocket, all right?"
"All right." Gaius managed a wan smile. "Sorry, I'm not try to cast a pall over our holiday. I normally don't jump at shadows."
"You're right to be careful," Severus said. "There are dangers still out there. For all we know, that man might be in league with Bellatrix. We won't tell Serenus, but I will keep a close eye out as well in case the man shows up again."
"Thanks, Severus," Gaius said, stepping closer and giving his brother a brief hug. For all that Severus' words of warning were worrisome, just knowing that Severus hadn't dismissed him as crazy made him feel better. "I'll have to tell Regulus as well. Just in case the man shows up back in Diagon Alley."
"Yes, you need to tell him as soon as you return home," Severus agreed, allowing the hug and even deigning to return it. "He'll want to know. He can help you watch for the man's return and protect you. I would suggest informing Tybalt as well. He might decide an investigation is in order after this."
"I will," Gaius promised, drawing in another deep breath. "Okay, then... we should get back to Serenus. Mr. Worriwart is going to be fretting."
Snorting, Severus slid his arm around Gaius' waist and steered him back toward the fabric stall. "No doubt," he said dryly. "At any rate, I believe you can relax and enjoy your shopping. I doubt the man will be back after being spotted, especially since he probably saw you weren't alone."
"Hopefully." Gaius shook his head. "Maybe it was just coincidence, but somehow I don't think so." He looked at Severus sheepishly. "Do you think we could all sleep together again tonight? Otherwise I know I won't sleep a wink!"
"I think it could be arranged," Severus replied. He had no problem with helping allay Gaius' fears, and he didn't want to face another round of tossing and turning himself. He could only imagine how their partners would react once they found out the three of them couldn't handle sleeping alone... but then again, he wondered how they handled the separation as well. They might not have any room to mock.
"Good!" Gaius said, feeling much relieved. "Thanks, Severus. For everything."
"Pfft!" Severus waved dismissively, although he also gave Gaius a little squeeze. "No need to thank me. As Serenus would no doubt soppily note at this point, it's what family does."
"I have a wonderful family," Gaius replied, smiling soppily. They were almost at the fabric vendor's stall, and he looked at Severus. "So I took off after a pick pocket, and you took off after me, right?"
"Yes, that is our story, and we are sticking to it," Severus replied firmly. "I don't think Serenus will doubt us."
"I hate deceiving him, but I would hate to worry him more," Gaius said. Then he smiled, trying to relax a bit before they faced Serenus. "Showtime."
As expected, Serenus was waiting for them, hovering anxiously, and he hurried to meet them. "Are you all right?" he asked fretfully. "What happened?"
"Nothing too serious," Severus replied with convincing calm. "Someone tried to nick Gaius' wallet, and we went after him, that's all."
"Sorry about that. He didn't get it, but I was afraid he might go after someone else," Gaius said, wrapping his arms around Serenus and hugging him. "I didn't mean for you to get worried. Everything is fine."
Serenus hugged him tightly and stroked his back gently. "I'm glad you're all right," he said, awash in relief that the situation hadn't been more serious than an attempted petty theft. "I'm glad he didn't get your wallet either, or you wouldn't have been able to buy the fabric you want, and you'd have been in mourning for the rest of the trip," he added, teasing a little.
"It would definitely have been tragic," Gaius agreed, pulling out his "endangered" wallet, then pointing toward the peacock silk. "I'll take the whole bolt. I think it would look wonderful on some pillows.... and maybe a dress for Severia?" He smiled at Severus, forcing himself to put thoughts of the creepy man out of his mind. He didn't want their holiday spoiled, and he was determined to not let some idiot stranger ruin it.
"A dress for Severia is an excellent idea," Severus replied. "I might even indulge in some fabric myself to support that cause."
"While you two have fun with fashion, I'm going to buy some vegetables," Serenus said. "Then we can go home, and I'll prepare a lunch that will take Gaius' mind off his near miss - and nearly getting his wallet stolen as well."
"What would I do without my supportive family?" Gaius asked teasingly. "I'll even clean the vegetables for you, to show you how much I appreciate you!"
"An offer I can't refuse!" Serenus replied with a warm chuckle. "All right, then, I'll see you in a few minutes. Don't wander off," he added with an admonishing wag of his finger before heading off for the vegetable stand.
"We won't," Gaius replied. The fabric merchant had packaged up his silk, and so Gaius paid for it, then turned to Severus. "Shall we join him? We can come back to the market again before we leave. I think I'll feel less nervous another day."
"If you like," Severus agreed. He kept an eye on the crowd as they made their way to the vegetable stand, alert for any sign of danger, and he'd already made up his mind to cast a couple of wards on the villa and perhaps send a note to Regulus. He had been called paranoid plenty of times over the course of his life, but he subscribed to the idea that it wasn't paranoia if they really were out to get you.