“Did you… you didn’t get what I asked for, did you?”
Vidvan had the grace to blush. “I’m sorry. It took me so long to get to the shop that it was already shut.”
Iqbal rubbed his forehead. “Really? Oh, fine. Next time, you do what I ask first. There is little point in me helping you out if you can’t do any shopping.”
Vidvan put down his bag, clapping his hands in front of himself and lowering his head. “I’m so sorry, Iqbal. I’ll do better next time. I’m getting much more familiar with the city.”
It wasn’t immediate, but Iqbal nodded. “Yes, yes. I understand. Just do better next time.”
Vidvan couldn’t believe the amount of slack he was being given. However, with the day he had had out with Tavesh, he couldn’t bring himself to worry about it.
Vidvan was settled back at his station when Iqbal came to him. He was tugging at his perfectly groomed beard, making it less perfectly groomed. Vidvan didn’t know why he bothered with it if he was going to mess it up in public.
Then Iqbal grabbed Vidvan by the ear. “Ow! I’m not a child anymore!”
“Are you not?” Iqbal hissed, dragging him from the station. He let go of Vidvan’s ear by the time they reached the hallway, but Vidvan knew better than to do anything but follow him. All the way to Iqbal’s chambers. Which was when he turned on Vidvan with the words he dreaded to hear the most. “You left?”
Vidvan felt the blood drain from his face. “I-I…”
It occurred to him that he should have lied, but now it was too late. “You know what will happen if someone finds out?”
Vidvan blinked. “Someone has found out,” he managed to say without stuttering.
Iqbal pushed his glasses up the bridge of his nose. “Stop being an idiot! It doesn’t matter that you are the Master’s favourite! He will still have you sentenced to death!”
Well, he knew that was always a consequence. “But you aren’t reporting me?” Iqbal smacked him with the palm of his hand, right into the centre of his forehead. “Ow!”
“I can’t believe you’re supposed to be so intelligent!”
Vidvan rubbed his forehead. But his panic had subsided. Funny, he wouldn’t have thought that Iqbal liked him enough to protect him. But as he had, Vidvan couldn’t doubt it. Not at all.
Iqbal’s glasses were always a curiosity to Vidvan. They were nothing like the other pairs of spectacles he had seen. The frames were not made of metal, as they tended to be. For a place that prided itself on its steel, avoiding the obvious was more of a curiosity than the actual material that Iqbal used.
“What do you need?” Iqbal asked as if he was trying to get along. While he might not have been scowling, Vidvan could hear it in his voice.
“I wished to ask you a question about your lenses,” Vidvan began.
“What question would that be?”
He had many questions, so he had phrased that incorrectly. Then Vidvan had to ask the least important question first. It just came out. “How difficult was it to find such a pair? It would have been easier to go with a metal frame, no?”
Iqbal shook his head. “Easier to find, perhaps.”
That didn’t answer Vidvan’s question, nor did Iqbal explain himself.
“Are you not a researcher?”
If Vidvan had an extra minute every time he had heard Iqbal say that to him, he could have gotten more done. “How so?” he asked, glancing up. It took his eyes a moment to return to focus as he returned them to his papers.
That got Vidvan’s attention again. He looked around for the mess. Then frowned. “It is all where I know how to find it!”
“Research is not an independent project here,” Iqbal reminded him. “You may be the Master’s favourite, but you have to work with the rest of us. Please, take a moment and organize this mess into something people could work in!”
It was not a mess, not really. Vidvan felt his temper flare, though he did his best to hold it back. He had done nothing but been as accommodating to the others as possible since his addition to the team. Honestly, nothing mad Iqbal happy.
But Vidvan wasn’t here to make Iqbal happy. He was here to repay the Master for all of the opportunities he had been given.
Which meant he may or may not have said something worth repeating. When Iqbal was far enough away, of course. Vidvan was getting along, after all. He only wished he had said it louder.