(1310-10-15) Need To Know
Summary: At the dead of night, Isabelle de Valais calls on Alcibiades Rousse at his rooms in the Leaping Fish Inn for updates on their search, which she receives…eventually, but not before having to confront him within the minefields of their relationship that have been left to languish for two whole years.
RL Date: October 15, 2018
Related: Everything in this page.
isabelle alcibiades 

Room 3 - Leaping Fish Inn

A painting depicting a leaping fish adorns the wall above the bed, which is overall tidy and orderly made. It has a pillow, a warm wollen blanket and some straw stuffed below a sheet of roughly spun cotton. A single window lights the room during the day. At night there is an oil lantern at the wall, right above a small table in a corner, that provides a flickering yet cozy light. A single chair beside the table can be used to deposit garments and other belongings. A door leads out onto the hallway.

As far as rooms go, the Leaping Fish's are at least clean of lice and grime. For a seaman, used to rising before dawn to holystone his deck, this is a necessity. But Alcibiades has placed his mark upon the room nonetheless, borrowing a broom from downstairs and sweeping until the place is spotless. And then he has settled into it with a neatness that approaches the fanatical. His sea-chest, embroidered and padded on top, doubles as a bench. Atop that rests his violin and bow.

The desk in the corner is stacked with documents, divided neatly into three piles. One is clearly related to The Dancer — columns of numbers, lists of names, all written in an exacting and neat hand. Another appears to be a sort of ledger, and atop that Alcibiades has laid two coin-purses. But the third — the third is interesting. It is a mixture of sheets of music and single-page journal entries, written in the same exact hand which had made out the other documents. A bottle of blackstrap, that awful liquor, sits at the head of the table.

Alcibiades himself is stripped down to his shirt, seated on the edge of the bed. His breeches are undone at the knees, and he holds a boot in his hand, a brush in the other. Spit. Polish. Short, sharp, strokes of the brush work at removing a scuff-mark from the toe. His cutlass, and a long-bladed dagger, hang from one of the bedposts. The hilt of another dagger emerges from beneath a pillow.

"Oooooooh, what shall we do wi'a drunken sailor, what shall we do wi' a drunken sailor, what shall we do wi' a drunken sailor.. early in the mornin'?" His voice is a pure baritone and he sings cheerfully, apparently fully focused on the task at hand.

She has spent most of the night out and about, but the truly dark hours eventually find her in the Leaping Fish Inn, taking several, long-legged strides up the stairs and towards the rooms she knows Alcibiades Rousse keeps. A slender arm lifts, to knock on the door with a gloved hand.

He may not recognize her at first when he finally gets around to opening the door; a warm scarf keeps the lower half of her face obscured, dressed in a black coat with little by way of embellishment and attached with an overlarge hood. Black, form-fitting breeches and over-the-knee boots with heels thin enough to puncture a body make up the rest of the simply tailored ensemble. The outline she makes is rather androgynous - her height puts her in the range of an average youth, and the way she has structured the garments and their dark color makes her gender indiscernable when looked upon at any angle. But the eyes within the shadows of the cowl are dark and flecked with gold, gleaming like a cat's - a pair that he would know instantly.

Isabelle de Valais reaches up to pull the scarf down her face, the gesture dislodging a midnight curl that clings to the visible curve of her cheek. "I know the hour," she tells him in lieu of a greeting, her voice pitched quietly as she leans forward from the doorframe - again, no perfume, save for the hint of spice she puts in her bathwater. "Unfortunately the years have not made me less nocturnal. I thought I'd— " She pauses, suddenly reminded, looking past his shoulder. "Are you alone?"

Alcibiades answers the door with a caution that might surprise Isabelle. He's still singing as he draws a short, heavy-bladed little dagger from beneath the pillow. "Weigh, hey, and up she rises. Weigh, hey, and up she rises. Weigh, hey, and up she rises… early in the mornin'." The voice is still cheerful, but the dagger is concealed behind his thigh as he opens the door. Just for a moment, he stares at the figure in front of him. And then he smiles as he catches sight of her eyes, hears that voice.

Without thinking, Alcibiades reaches out with his free hand to take Isabelle by the shoulder and guide her into the room. "You're welcome at any time," he says easily. "And yes — I'm alone." Alcibiades kicks the door shut, barefoot, his boots sitting atop his bed. He locks the door, then turns toward Isabelle. The dagger's visible now, but the sailor looks… sheepish rather than threatening.

"Why are you dressed like a man? Not that it isn't.. rather fetching.." He trails off, an actual blush suffusing his features. "I suppose it staves off harassment and avoids scandal," he mutters, answering his own question.

Those eagle eyes miss nothing. Isabelle's stare follows the dagger in Alcibiades' hand and smiles ruefully, a hint of approval on her lips. As stated before, she doesn't tend to bring fools in her undertakings, and the man's caution, if nothing else, only heightens the trust that she has placed on him a few years ago. His sheepish expression has her shaking her head. "You and I know how absurdly dangerous the world is, Cib," she says. "Even if you actually pulled a blade on me, I would be the last person to ever blame you."

The scarf unwound from her neck, she steps further in the room, her gilded irises already wandering over the personal touches he's made to the place - it's the violin that she notices first and the documents on the table, followed by the position of his blade, the state of his boots in mid-polish - indicative that she had interrupted him - and the shifted angle of his pillows. It is as natural to her as breathing, gathering information with her senses, quick to catalogue the ones she needs and dismisses the ones she does not. It all happens in the blink of an eye.

Why are you dressed like a man?

The young woman turns to look at him, lips parted to explain, but when he provides his own, lips quirk upwards in a grin at the sight of his sudden blush, giving him a turn before sweeping him a bow as smooth as any courtier's; one foot in front of her, an arm wrapping around her middle. Looking up from her bent position, she flashes him a wink.

"If I looked like I normally do, dressed in the manner I normally do, I'd be rather memorable," she says, unbuttoning her coat and slipping it off her to hang it up neatly on a hook. Underneath, she wears a shirt with an open collar, simple and white with large cuffs. "And anonymity serves me well in some of my undertakings." The hollow of her throat is set with a black lace choker, the only item that could be considered feminine on her current outfit. With the hood pulled off, midnight waves frame her face in a careless tousle, the rest of her loose ponytail tucked underneath the collar. Fingers busily strip off her gloves.

"Have you heard anything from your own network?" she wonders, setting her gloves down on the desk.

"Nothing yet. I'm expecting news soon. Jaime is out doing a bit of boozing at the moment." Alcibiades strides back to the bed, slipping his dagger back beneath the pillow. He looks over his shoulder, returning Isabelle's wink with a smile. "Pour yourself some 'strap, eh? Glasses by the bottle." Alcibiades walks to his sea-chest and settles down at it, apparently content to let Isabelle examine his documents if she wishes. Another sign of trust between the pair.

His eyes drop briefly down to the hollow of Isabelle's throat, the skin barely visible beneath the lace, as he picks up his violin and lays it on his knees. Absently stroking the delicate woodwork of its neck, he says, "You've been working, then?" He clears his throat after he speaks, gaze returning again to the tousled hair, the neck, the glimpse of leg beneath the fitted breeches. Glancing down at his violin, he plucks the E string, letting the bass note vibrate in the room.

You've been working, then?

"When am I ever not?" Isabelle laughs, brows lifting upwards towards her hairline as she regards him fussing around his bed. "Even my diversions these days are work somehow." She does turn an eye towards the documents, but she affords him a little privacy when she doesn't let them linger, though they do rest on the music sheets in a curious fashion. Instead, long, elegant fingers curl around the bottle of liquor, tilting it to examine the label…or lack thereof. "….well, this is nostalgic. I distinctly remember a bloody evening when I was promised a bottle of brandy and ended up with this in my belly instead."

Uncorking it, she pours two glasses, moving over towards him with those businesslike strides. She offers him a glass.

"I have news of my own." She pauses, her dark-and-gold stare sweeping over his features. Strangely, she hesitates - it is a brief second or two, but palpable to an observant man, and one who knows her better than most. "It's related."

Her more negligible weight depresses the mattress next to him, a tilt of her head enabling her to regard the violin. "It's well loved," she says, though she makes no move to touch it. "It's determinable by the color of the varnish. I was told the more a wooden instrument is used, the richer the patina." Her eyes lift to regard his profile, smiling faintly. "As if soaking in the musician's very soul."

At the mention of that far-away night, Alcibiades takes his glass and swallows half of it down in a gulp. It's an effort to hide the expression on his face, both amused and… something else. Wistful, perhaps. He sets the glass down carefully on the floor, reaching aside to touch Isabelle's knee. "I wasn't sure how much of that night you remembered," he observes. His tone is carefully neutral, but the pent-up desire of that long ago night seems to be just behind his constant dam of self-control.

He notes her hesitation. His eyes lock onto Isabelle's, blue locking with dark. That hand, which had been resting on Isabelle's knee for a moment, goes to take hold of her own free hand. "The violin? Yes, I've had it since I first went to sea. Much mended, and it's not a — not a beautiful instrument, as some are. But it has been faithful to me, and me to it." He's not pressing the subject, not yet, but his warm hand squeezes around hers firmly. "I don't know if it has my soul soaked into it… but it's certainly had a few tears and a lot of sweat."

Stroking his hand along the neck of the violin, his other still gripping Isabelle's, he finally says, "Whatever it is you have to tell me, Isabelle, just tell me. You won't be able to keep me out of it. No matter how hard you try."

"I remember everything about the raid," Isabelle tells him, her own eyes on the glass as she takes a sip of it. "I remember almost fighting you in the belowdecks. I remember the brandy, and the empty bottle that we found in the room, finding the blackstrap, drinking from it…" Her gaze lifts, something rueful playing over the pliant line of her smile. "Your mouth."

Silence falls for a heartbeat or two before she turns her face away, knocking back a shot of the 'strap. A long leg extends, heel wedged on the floor. "I drank too much before I knew it and then nothing but waking up the next morning with my head about to burst and tangled up in your hammock, with you sleeping on the trunk," she says, in a tone that is almost apologetic, tilting her head to look at him, expression humored in a self-deprecating way. "You weren't the only one wrestling with demons that night, Cib." Her tone grows absent and soft. "I also wanted to get away."

The hand on her knee shifts as she listens to what he says about his violin intently, her hand taken - it gives her something to set her eyes upon, rather than dwell upon the looming minefields that have always remained between them, no matter how many years have passed. So long that she isn't even sure when it had started - the first time they met? The third?

"You did tell me once that you aren't a fool," she says at last, her fingers slowly curling into his. "That you've always known that there was something. But you never asked me either why I do what I do." Slowly, her eyes lift, dark to sea-blue. "Are you asking me now?"

Alcibiades raises Isabelle's hand to his mouth, pressing his lips to her knuckles. He holds it there, looking Isabelle in the eyes, his own lacking their customary smile. That night two years ago — had it been a desire to feel alive? Had it been a desire to be with this woman? He can hardly remember. Perhaps it was all of it.

Your mouth.

He remembers hers, too. Remembers realizing how drunk she was when she sprawled into him, words slurring. Remembers the feeling of lust transferring to the feeling of tenderness — how odd, how often that happens — as he covered her in his blankets and and sea-cloak. He remembers the ache in his stitched-together chest as he lay on this very sea-chest, feet draped on either side, helping him to ride the waves. Deft seaman that he is, Alcibiades still came close to pitching onto the deck that night.

All of this passes through his mind quickly, in an instant of memory, as he stares at the woman. He presses a second kiss to her hand, then turns his head, stubbled cheek resting against her knuckles for a moment.

"No. I'm telling you I don't care."

Goosebumps rise at that first kiss, this elegant and tactile creature who constantly allows herself to be enslaved by her senses - he would hardly be able to miss the way her lashes lower over her eyes. He's kissed the back of her hand before, a practiced gesture anyone could master, but it is the way he looks at her while doing it that tests that taut wire between them time and time again, plucking at the string and gauging whether it will hold…or snap from all the tension and cause them both to bleed.

A second kiss. The lean into her hand and despite herself, Isabelle turns it to let his cheek rest into the cup of her palm, windburned complexion meeting one that carries all the traces of her incorrigible vanity. An adventuress, yes, but also one who avails herself to the comforts of civilization and the trappings of high society, able to move between the two spheres with ease.

I'm telling you I don't care.

That twisting ache sharpens between her ribs, as if he had taken the dagger from underneath his pillow to slide it through her. White noise cottons the back of her skull, Guillermo's whisper filling it, filtering through it. The smile she gives him is that same melancholy one, her thumb moving to drag the pad of it delicately over the shape of his lower lip.

"You should," she tells him quietly, finishing her trace, the edge of her manicure resting lightly on the corner of his mouth.

After a breath, she lowers her hand, though it remains caged loosely within his own. "There's a guest in the ducal palace," she tells him. "Connected to the missing ship. In fact, it is for her sake that I started making inquiries in the first place. But I suspect there may be a bigger picture at work, so I started looking into the events what happened before the ship went missing."

Isabelle's caress of his cheek causes the sailor to hold his breath for a moment. There is nothing so dramatic as a sigh when he breathes out, just a soft puff of air through his nose. He smiles faintly as she lowers her hand, though the smile fades faintly at those words. You should. He needn't explain, not to Isabelle, that articles of faith are not always religious.

Listening to Isabelle, Alcibiades remembers his own words of a few days before. I feel as though we are in a fog bank, and there is a ship lurking somewhere off to starboard. His sea-blue eyes darken as they narrow. Not in suspicion, but with the intense scrutiny of a lookout staring off to sea. "Alright," he says slowly. "But you're still only telling me a part of your tale." His eyes glance toward Isabelle's hand. He presses his thumb against her thumbnail, scratching his callus back and forth.

"What do you think is going on, Izz?"

They get along, but it could hardly be said that they're similar. She is not so willing to take much of anything on faith.

His thumb moves and it seems to resuscitate her own, inspires it to do the same. Most d'Angeline women, so used to the androgyny of their men, might take offense to being subjected to something so rough, but Isabelle doesn't appear to mind and in fact, seems to relish it. The appendage inscribes a slow circle over the lowest knuckle of his index, drawing a line through it, though whatever personal significance that has to the young woman, she has never explained.

"My tale…" she begins, looking up to meet his eyes. "Starts with that very same guest. She was being pursued by persons unknown because of a damning document in her possession, which she lost en route to Marsilikos. She later trusted a relative of hers to find it and retrieve it once she reached safe habor here, where she would be protected. Only in the pursuit of the missing document, this relative also ended up being pursued. Given my unique…skillset…in handling this sort of trouble, I was tasked to make sure that the document in question was relieved from his possession, and returned to the lady."

"I tracked him down in Cabries, where he was hiding and once I found him, I retrieved the document from him but he was reluctant to part with it, at first. He was being hunted and he thought the same would happen to me. But I made arrangements, in the event that the assassins succeeded. I felt like I was being shadowed through the north of the province." Her eyes burn as she recounts this part of the story, determination and exhilaration in equal measure. Being chased. Hunted. Possibly killed. And yet there's nary a trace of fear. Instead, she radiates with confidence that borders on zeal, utterly relentless no matter how inevitable the prospect of her death.

Alcibiades glances down as he feels her thumb against his index finger, and there is a hint of curiosity in his expression, a slight quirk to his right brow. He's felt her do this before. But before he can ask what it means, she continues with her narrative. A narrative of danger, assassins, stolen documents. There is no longer any doubt what Isabelle is, if there ever was. At first, his expression is impassive. But the list of dangers continues.

Alcibiades' hand tightens on Isabelle's, slowly at first. Gentle pressure turns to something a touch more fierce. His other hand grips the violin's neck. Very carefully, he sets that instrument down on the bed before leaning down and taking up his blackstrap. He tosses it back, swallows hard. He's still gripping Isabelle's hand as though he were dangling off the side of a ship — or as though she was.

"Well done, Izz. I knew you were capable." He swallows, the flush rising in the back of his neck. And he cannot hide it anymore. "I only.. have one question." There is raw hurt in his voice. Abruptly, Alcibiades hurls his empty glass into the wall in a sudden explosion of frustration, shattering it. He pivots to face Isabelle, taking in a slow, deep, breath. "Why didn't you let me help sooner?"

All the changes in him are prefaced by the tightening of his grip - it almost hurts, but she welcomes the pain, watching the storms brew in the depths of his blue eyes as he attempts to hold in the hurricanes that he is capable of harboring, before unleashing them against the wall in a shattering of glass. Isabelle almost jumps, eyes flicking over towards the shards embedded on the wall, dripping with the spent drops of blackstrap.

Why didn't you let me help sooner?

Her burning eyes grow downright luminescent as she stares at him, incredulous that he would even ask. Pain twists his expression and it does nothing for the sensation that he has already inflicted upon her with his earlier words. This isn't the first time she has hurt someone because of what she does for a living, an elusive woman in her best days and downright cryptic in the worst, but the cause of it is a thing that eludes her. She is at a loss as to why he's so upset.

Or is she?

She kicks the door shut at the nagging tug and she attempts to wrench her hand away from his, to put some distance between them as a strange, irrational panic starts to settle in her nerve endings, all alight with her fight or flight responses. She attempts to rise from the bed, to take a few steps away so she can square herself off against him more directly.

"What did you want me to do, Cib? Send a letter and ask you to come?" she asks, breathless with temper. "You were off Elua-knows-where and the task was urgent. Do you think me so helpless that I wouldn't be able to handle the demands of my profession on my own?" The words come as a rush, voice rising a decibel or two. "When I asked you earlier, you said you didn't care. But I think you do! I know you do! Didn't I tell you, I remember everything about the raid, what we saw down there belowdecks! I saw your face! You were haunted, and sick, and it brought you low!"

She grits her teeth, tilts her jaw, every fiber of her brimming defiance, cracking through her imperious facade. But she struggles still and takes a breath.

"I have…done things I'm not proud of," she says, looking him in the eye. "And even further, these are things I would never take back, even if I were given a choice. They were necessary and I will never apologize for them." Her gaze move away from him then, finally. "But I'm not so heartless that I wouldn't…if I could spare you from most of it, I would."

Her eyes close, at that. "I would."

Stubborn, stronger in this physical sense if not in the mental discipline of her trade — and what is becoming his trade — Alcibiades refuses to let Isabelle pull away from him. No, he pulls her hand closer, to his chest. She can feel his heart pounding beneath the tattooed skin, the dozens of marks that she still has only heard described.

"You're right. What those fucking men did.." He's normally so careful with his language, so delicate, around her. But he is a seaman. He knows the word. And he drops it into this conversation without hesitation. "It was wicked. And what they made me do, us do.. putting those poor souls out of their misery.. it haunts me." His heart thuds. "I tattooed several marks to remind myself. Because I never want to forget it. And I don't believe that you can forget it."

Alcibiades' voice gentles from the harsh, desperate, tones of a man in an argument to something more akin to a lover seeking forgiveness. "Of course I care about that. But I don't care at all that you're a spy, Isabelle. I don't care at all that you kill for your cause." His own eyes are fierce, defiant in their turn as he holds Isabelle's hand to his chest. His tone, however, remains soft and nearly repentant.

"But I am very, very, angry that you think I want to be protected." He takes in a deep breath. "Isabelle, my… my friend… I am not a fool. I know how deep I am diving. And my eyes are open. Promise me you won't forget that."

She will fight him. He can overpower her, but this is a woman who is extremely aware as to just how far she can and will go, how savage she can be, when wounded and cornered, to defend her own life and the sanctity of her body. Several years into her adulthood and she can still taste the blood of the first one in her mouth, still remembers how it gushed from his throat.

She was alone, then. At the time, she had nothing and no one but Guillermo's words, a testament to how deep her relationship with the man really runs when even his spectre keeps her alive.

The intent is there when Alcibiades doesn't let her move away from him. Isabelle jerks upwards but his grip is unyielding and it makes her stumble, to nearly sprawl against him, and he would see it on her face, the willingness to fight and die, sacrifice all and give everything to the cause she believes in. Eyes lit like embers, tresses tousled wildly around an expression so open, and intense and so relentlessly ferocious that in this moment, he would see her for what she really is - this roaring, irrepressible tempest, barely contained by its feminine vessel.

In the end, it is his heartbeat that spears through the blood rush deafening her ears. Her fingers tighten into the front of his shirt. Underneath solid muscle and sinew is the fiery engine that drives him, too.

Promise me.

He's so quiet now while she is poised on the brink, ready to unleash all of her fury. His immovable object meeting her unstoppable force. But his heart…

His heart…

It beats like a battle drum between her fingers. How did her hand even get there? Why did he put it there? She doesn't…

"Why?" she finally utters, her internal tumult reflected in those burning eyes. "I don't understand. You're already doing what you love. Why do you even want to do this?"

"You wouldn't ask that if you could see yourself right now," Alcibiades says softly. There had been a moment there, more than a moment, where he was certain she'd strike him, perhaps even go for one of those hidden daggers. He doesn't know precisely what he triggered, but he knows that the tempest barely passed — if it has at all. The lean seaman leans into the hand that's gripping his shirt now, staring at Isabelle intently.

"I am a Rousse. My father was a coward. My brother is sickly. Isabelle, I was born to serve my duchesse and it was stolen from me." The words are soft, but no less hot for that. "My father stole it, and beat me for seeking it. Beat me from the time I was six." Things that he's never spoken aloud, the hidden pain behind a story she's always known.

"Love what I do? Oh, Izz…" The words are drenched with need, need of various sorts. "Look at you. You are a falcon. I'm a fucking seagull. And it's not just this, Isabelle…" He trails off for a few moments, closing his eyes tightly.

"Even if — even if — I was truly meant to be a merchant… Isabelle, I want to do this with you."

He presses in closer, chest flush against her palm and the sudden, overwhelming urge to give him one good shove and make a quick exit out the window fills her bones. Her veins practically sing with it. But her pride is a ruthless creature all on its own, and she remains firmly planted, ready to wage war in this newest battlefield, and one that she has never had a cause to tread very often. Isabelle's passions run as red as her blood, but there was never any fear that she would run headlong into someone within them because she was wholly, utterly convinced that every part of her was already invested elsewhere. There was nothing left for anyone to take.

But he looks her right in the eye, bulling forward unafraid. Her inhalation catches at the back of her throat and that twisting ache scours through her innards like spinning blades. A breath. She can barely breathe.

"I…" Her voice struggles from the back of her throat, low and brimming with pain she can't comprehend. That she can't express eloquently. "I don't…what does this…"

…have anything to do with me…?

But she doesn't continue it. She is not certain if she is ready to hear the answer.

Guillermo's words hammer home from the base of her skull and she squeezes her eyes shut, lowering her head. Her hand remains on his rapidly beating heart, but her forehead fits against his shoulder, her hair teasing the hard line under his jaw. She falls silent, forces herself to breathe in an effort to reclaim the composure she has lost and it is almost her undoing when the sea invades her senses from his skin, carrying with it the notes of wood, varnish, liquor…and the threads that are distinctly his.

"Alright," she says at last, her voice pitched low. "Alright, Cib. We'll do it your way, this time."

There may be nothing left for Isabelle to give, nothing left to be taken — or perhaps there is always something, that little diamond that each person carries deeper inside themselves than they realize, within their molten core. Alcibiades feels Isabelle relax against him, feels her head drop into the hollow of his shoulder. He reaches up, grasping the back of Isabelle's neck, sliding his hand beneath her hair. He turns his head briefly to kiss the side of her head, his other arm encircling the woman's waist.

Muscle and sinew are evident in the seaman's arm, but he doesn't squeeze. It's simply there, offering her something to lean back against. "Thank you," he acknowledges, his words as quiet as hers. He strokes Isabelle's neck lightly with his callused fingertips, so unusual among the men of Marsilikos' nobility.

"Stay with me tonight." The words are flat, constrained, awkward. He is concealing something — fear, perhaps, of rejection.

Over her head, Alcibiades is staring at his cutlass dangling from the bed, features set as though he's preparing to receive a cutlass wound of his own.

He manages to dislodge more of her ponytail by how his hand makes a pass over the back of her neck, sailor's fingers tangling in those rich midnight tresses while gooseflesh fountains up at the rake of coarse calluses against tender flesh. Isabelle tightens the shutter of her eyes, her own hand lifting to bunch her own digits over his sleeve, just under his shoulder. Outwardly composed, the maelstroms within herself are indescribable, rattling her own thoughts when she ought to be clearheaded. She remembers Guillermo's words, the whispered truth that he delivered onto her hearing so many years ago, and desperately hangs onto them but even now, feels them slipping from her grasp when he gathers her up loosely, his mouth pressed warmly against her temple.

There's nothing left for anyone to take. There's nothing left for her to give away. There's simply no room.

…is there?

His quiet request manages to break through the dull roar threatening to shatter her skull from within. It isn't as if she's never heard the same words spoken to her before. Her affairs are rare, acknowledging the simple truth that intimacy can be deadly in her line of work, and she is vain enough to know that she was beautiful and beguiling. This is nothing new.

So why does it feel like standing on the edge of a cliff, looking straight down?


And then the door rattles against someone's insistent knocking.

Her head snaps up, staring at the door. Metal glints in her hand - instantaneous, instinctive - where her fingers are curled around the blade she hides under her sleeve. Her attention moves towards her companion, the question in her eyes.

Were you expecting anyone?

Alcibiades can feel the tension, the temptation, building in the young woman. He is prepared for either answer — like a man bracing himself against the wind, every muscle in his frame is taut. Beneath her hand, his shoulder bunches as though he's preparing to throw a punch. Or receive one. But then there's the knock against the door. Alcibiades produces that dagger from beneath his pillow again. He reads the question in Isabelle's eyes and mouths, 'Jaime'.

Rising to his feet, the lean sailor ambles toward the door, letting his footfalls be heard. But he conceals his dagger behind his leg, as before, ready to drive it up into an unsuspecting gut if the visitor is not who he believes.

Looking back over his shoulder, he gestures for Isabelle to step out of sight. Without waiting to see if she listens, he cracks the door. Only his side of the conversation can be heard, low and muttered, the door remaining only cracked.

"Is that so? The Ariadne?" And then a few moments' silence, some muttered conversation on the other side. "No. We're gonna need some extra hands. Gimme ten hard men t'add to our vanguard. No. Can't drink." Pause, mumble. "Yes. I do." Pause. Mutter. "Like y'never had a woman. Bugger off, Jaime." He closes the door in the other man's face.

When he turns to look back at her, Isabelle is already off the bed, and has positioned herself against the wall, away from the doorway's line of sight and right within the shadows cast by a tall dresser. Like a wraith, she is silent when she wants to be, the look in her eyes focus and intent. She isn't so much as looking at Alcibiades as he answers the door, but everything else in that side of the room, already ready in the event that things go terribly wrong.

And she listens, too, though she can only hear one half of the conversation that occurs between the sailor and his more martial mentor. There's some temptation there, but of a different sort - she's always liked Jaime, and since Alcibiades' return to her life, she hasn't had an opportunity to even so much as say hello. But then there'd be plenty of questions, wouldn't there? - her presence in his room so late at night, the way she is dressed…and the fact that she is still dressed, even if they attempted a convenient and opportune lie.

When the door closes, her blade is gone, and she crosses the room again to retrieve the bottle of blackstrap.

"What was it?" she wonders, retaking her seat…and taking a swig of the liquor right from the neck.

Alcibiades leans against the door, his expression thoughtful, then shoves off and paces over to Isabelle. He stands over her, absently reaching down to cup her cheek with his fingertips, but there's a sudden fire in his eyes now, turning their sapphirine depths into blue coals. "Did you ever see the Etoille du Soir? She had a very distinctive figurehead, apparently. A golden mermaid holding a star." With his other hand, he takes the bottle from Isabelle's hand and slugs from it.

"We got a friend, just got back from Kriti." His voice has dropped into lower-deck. "Says he seen that figurehead recently. Says there's a ship down there called Ariadne. Says Ariadne has a very distinctive figurehead." His fingertips trace down Isabelle's cheek to her jaw in an attempt to lift her head toward his as, abruptly, he leans in for a kiss. Just before she either pulls away or their lips meet, he says "Says she's a pirate."

Information. Her already beleaguered heart drums against her ribcage as she rises again from the mattress, watching him as he strides over to her. Even if he said nothing else, Isabelle would find it on his expression, his stare as bright as distant stars. "I've never seen the Etoille du Soir in person," she tells him. "I was abroad when it went missing, I was coming into this well after the fact, which has been one of the challenges I've had to deal with since this assignment was placed on me." The details are catalogued carefully- a golden mermaid holding a star…

He'd find no resistance when he takes the bottle and takes a drink from it. There are more questions, but clearly there is more, because he mentions Kriti and the ship renamed to something else entirely. The implications slam into her gut - she hasn't given Alcibiades the full picture yet, she hasn't even told him what the damning document she mentioned a few minutes ago actually says. Her lips part, galvanized by these small, but significant gems of knowledge, more to add onto the growing portrait of the current situation…

"Cib," she says, her hands reaching for him in an effort to grasp his shoulders. "You need to kn— "

His lips find hers and it delays whatever she wants to say.

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