(1310-10-17) Living Dangerously
Summary: The hunt for The Ariadne is on. Dawn breaks after Isabelle de Valais finishes her conference with the Lady of Eisande and Charlene Morhban de Fhirze. As she plots the next steps with her partner, Alcibiades Rousse, both acknowledge the difficulties of what's to come.
RL Date: October 17, 2018
Related: Takes place directly after this.
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.

A day and a night have passed since Alcibiades and Isabelle last.. spoke. There has been a burst of activity on Alcibiades' part — a tense meeting with Athene Lesse, where he passed on a heavy purse of ducats from Isabelle, a series of preparations for putting to sea in a hurry, a conference with Jaime that revolved around hiring some other former Royal Marines to improve their chances when they find the Ariadne.

Now, back in his quarters, Alcibiades spreads a sea-chart out before him on the table and settles down. He's studying the isle of Kriti and the ocean surrounding it, frowning as he scrutinizes the chart in the dim light of his candles. It's nearly dawn — he can see the spreading pink fingers through his room's small window — and he still hasn't slept. Reaching up to scrape a finger along his jaw, he sighs and straightens from the table. Walking to the door, then downstairs, he speaks quietly with a chambermaid. "Yes. Hot water, please. And my razor."

He returns to his room, settles back down at the chart. "Let's see.. this time of year, the Aegean will be getting choppy.. I wish we knew more about the Ariadne, but I have to believe we'll have the legs of her."

<FS3> Opposed Roll — Isabelle=stealth Vs Alcibiades=perception
< Isabelle: Good Success (3 7 1 6 1 8 1 1) Alcibiades: Good Success (4 3 8 2 2 4 7)
< Net Result: DRAW

The moment he steps inside his room talking to himself, he'd sense someone else's presence. It is nothing overt - given his meticulous care in keeping everything he owns in order, regardless as to how temporary his quarters are, he would find that none of them have been disturbed. But it is in the air - no change in its character, no whiff of perfume, because the person who is waiting for him doesn't wear it for a reason…and that reason would be apparent now when all he can feel, in the end, are eyes on him, triggered by the sixth sense he has developed in a long career in a relatively dangerous profession.

The dark-garbed figure steps out from the shadows of his dresser, Isabelle drawing down her hood. Midnight waves spill upon its dislodging to frame her face.

"You still talk to yourself when you're thinking particularly hard, I see," she murmurs. She, too, hasn't slept - she had returned to the Leaping Fish Inn to come and find him as soon as she could after her audience with two important figures at the ducal palace, though her journey back to him necessitated a stop at Courtly Couture to see Guillermo, change and leave instructions…and see someone else.

She sheds her coat at that, hanging it up on a hook and takes several long-legged strides towards him. "I have news," she tells him. Her expression is downright incandescent with exhilaration and purpose, her smile as sharp as a blade, and the look in her eyes causing them to smolder like live coals.

Before Isabelle emerges from the shadows, Alcibiades goes still. A hand darts forward as she moves, grabbing his knife from where it's been doing double service as a paperweight on the map. Whirling around, the dagger comes up — and stops at the sight of her. He grins, laying it back down on the chart, and nods. "I do talk to myself," he agrees. "First sign of impending senility, or so I am told."

He steps forward to meet Isabelle as she strides toward him, his hand coming up to catch her chin sharply and tilt her mouth up toward his with a sense of entitlement that might well be infuriating, even dangerously so. He smiles down at the woman as he leans in for a brief, fierce, kiss. "As do I. Yours first."

"You're not as old as you would like yourself to think," Isabelle tells him, laughter implied on her expression, though her mouth keeps it secure. Before she can continue, however, his larger shadow dwarfs her own, head tilted back for his kiss. Even now, as if sensing that near-infuriating entitlement, she makes him work for it - but the ferocity of his mouth on hers has her yielding, eventually, hot and returned and leaning hard into it, body and soul poured into the act. It leaves her banding her arms around his neck, breath shortened for a few moments.

Lashes hang heavily over her eyes after he deigns to break it, the tips of her manicure dragging lightly over his jaw. "You need a shave," she observes lowly, head tilted.

She withdraws her arms from him and takes a breath. "We are to pursue The Ariadne with all haste," she tells him. "Together. And in the event that our chase fails to yield any important fruit, we ought to return here to Marsilikos so I can deliver the reports I need to and check on a few things, and then, I am bound for Kusheth. I believe if you manage to capture The Ariadne and take her for a prize, it would necessitate the voyage back here anyway - someone might recognize her in Kusheth." She inclines her head at him. "I have information on a possible witness, Monsieur Gustave Laroche, the trusted healer of House Morhban."

Her lips purse quietly, before lifting her dark-and-gold stare to his sea-blue one. "Cib," she continues softly. "I asked the lady about her eldest brother and she informed me that he died three weeks prior to Lord Richard's disappearance at sea. He was a strong, unyielding, formidable man that suddenly took ill, listless and coughing up blood. He died within a matter of days. It is either a sudden onset of wasting sickness, which can kill that quickly, or something more insidious. Either way, we will not know until I make inquiries in Kusheth."

"I'm glad you're coming with me," Alcibiades replies softly. He keeps a hand on the side of Isabelle's neck as she speaks, listening with an intent, hawk-like stare. The bigger man might not be an operative, but he is a seaman, and he nods along with her suggestion that they'll need to return to port. "If we can even make it back to Marsilikos," he says mildly. "We may need to put in somewhere for repairs. But I'm certain we can find a place to do that without blowing the gaffe. Besides, even if someone recognizes her, they don't necessarily know I work for you. I can spin any tale I wish."

He considers the rest of Isabelle's information for a few beats, closing his eyes, his thumb brushing along her jaw. "I'm not surprised to hear this," he says quietly. "I wasn't raised among the nobility, not really, but I know people. I would wager my fortune that someone murdered him." He opens his eyes, looking down at Isabelle for a grave moment. "What happens if it turns out that the letter was a forgery and we prove it was a rival House?"

I'm glad you're coming with me.

"Our chances of success are greater with the two of us working together," Isabelle acknowledges quietly, her expression gentling when his palm encompasses the side of her throat, her head turning faintly to the absent caresses of his thumb. "I've confirmed for a fact that the document is a forgery however, not the one that the lady remembers having in her possession, originally. I suspect that whoever Jean-Louis is, he either did not know who actually signed his orders, or did not care so long as he was paid…regardless, as I stressed many times, we need to find him." Her smile fades, adopting a more contemplative mien. "To trace the original document, I would have to go back even further and that, too, will lead me to Kusheth. But one thing at a time. There is only so much we can do at once, after all, and we ought to be prioritizing this as this puts us, potentially, in a straight line with the actual culprit."

What happens if it turns out that the letter was a forgery and we prove it was a rival House?

His last question is an astute one. Lips quirk faintly upwards in a smirk. "That," she murmurs. "Would be up to the lady and Her Grace. Such decisions are well beyond my purview and yours."

After a heartbeat, she continues. "Monsieur Laroche has a daughter named Therese, based in Pointe d'Oeste. If going to Kusheth is necessary, that will require a more cautious and delicate touch. Pirates off the coast of Kriti is one thing, but Eisande cannot be seen to be poking into Kusheline matters, even if it is at the behest of a daughter of House Morhban. Before I even venture there, I intend to take the time necessary to prepare."

"I had Jaime make preparations today," Alcibiades informs Isabelle, his voice low. "I'm hoping to have ten more former marines aboard when we sail tomorrow." He considers Isabelle, his sea-blue eyes darkening, the hand on her neck tightening briefly. "It's not going to be easy, Isabelle. Come and look at this."

He guides the woman toward his sea-chart, pointing down with his spare hand, tracing a line around Kriti. "We'll try to lure her out to us with a lame-duck ruse, I think. If the weather cooperates. Pretend to be in some difficulty, draw her alongside. That's the ideal." He glances aside at Isabelle. "But the weather down there, this time of year?.. We could be in genuine trouble. You understand that I cannot guarantee any sort of result?" But by the light in his eyes, Alcibiades does not believe that he is going to fail.

"I can't speak to Kusheth, love. But there's a very good possibility we'll need to put in there, or somewhere, on the way home. You should prepare for that possibility as well when you make your plans." His voice is almost gentle, but at the same time, there is the iron bar of command tracing through his words. He's relaying the stark reality of a situation.

"We can be ready to sail tomorrow. The men are fetching on the last of the water."

It is not going to be easy, Isabelle.

Her smile is both a commiserating and accepting one. "It never is," Isabelle tells him, before she lets herself be guided to the nautical chart on the desk. Leaning forward, a palm braces flat on the wooden surface, the other hand planting on her hip as she examines the parchment and follows his gestures with the keen and critical eye of a woman who hardly misses anything in even the worst of times.

You understand that I cannot guarantee any sort of result?

"If we can't preempt trouble, we will have to mitigate it as best as we're able," she decides. "But if we need to make berth on the way home, I would prefer it if it was in any other place but Kusheth if we manage to take The Ariadne. We can't risk someone recognizing her lines and you indicated that the figurehead is very distinctive - it would alert those we absolutely do not want alerted that we've been looking into Lord Richard's disappearance at sea. However, if we fail and manage to get out of the present hunt with our skins intact, we can sail directly there if there isn't any closer port. If there is a closer port…" She looks up to meet his eyes. "Then I will have to leave you to take care of the ship or ships, and go on ahead to Marsilikos."

Sailing tomorrow. She nods, straightening from the table. "Tell me something," she says. "Should everything go to plan, what is our timeline? How long will the entire voyage take? I don't need anything precise - just an estimate would be sufficient."

<FS3> Alcibiades rolls Seafaring: Good Success. (4 5 4 3 7 3 5 6 4 7 6)

"Given ideal conditions? A week to sail down to Kriti. Roughly… fifteen hundred, seventeen hundred nautical miles. If we're making a steady speed of ten knots…" Alcibiades considers the question with his lips pursed. "A week down, yes. That's reasonable. And then, say… perhaps a week to track down Ariadne, lure her out, and take her." He looks down at Isabelle with a quirked brow, absently chewing the inside of his cheek. "At the outside, a month. Ideally, two or three weeks. But nothing is guaranteed at sea, Isabelle. Nothing."

The tall sea officer stares down at the map, flexing his jaw. "I'd feel better if we had a better idea of the Ariadne's capabilities. I don't even know how much water she draws." At this moment, there is a knock on the door. Alcibiades smiles. "You said I need a shave?" He winks, then gestures for her to step out of sight. Moving over to the door, he cracks it open and accepts a basin of steaming water. Carrying it, and a towel, carefully inside, he clears a space on the table and sets it down.

"How are you with a cutthroat razor?"

"I'll take that under advisement."

Isabelle seems undaunted, the passionate creature that she is shelved, bringing out the colder, more calculating beast from underneath - one that has been shaped by the experiences that have transformed her into what she is now from the time she was all but thirteen years of age. "I ask because I'll need Guillermo to work while the two of us are abroad," she tells him. "I have a business to run and that machine must continue to do so while its mistress is out personally meeting with suppliers in Kriti." The story is already prepared, and chances are she has already thought about arrangements in the event that she would have to visit Kusheth.

There is a knock at the door, and she's already moving to position herself away from it. When he returns with a basin of hot water and a towel, her brows lift at the query.

How are you with a cutthroat razor.

"You really do like living dangerously," she quips, something more humored, and indulgent, entering her smile.

She gestures for him to sit, and once he does, long legs stride over to him, her lithe, slender frame adopting a loose straddle over his lap. Those dexterous, elegant fingers shift to find the towel, dipping it in the hot water before looking down at him from her higher perch. Delicately, she moistens his skin, and opens up his pores in the doing, every sweeping gesture a careful, meticulous thing befitting one who prides herself, and depends, on her fine attention to detail.

"I can't remember the last time a man was actually willing to get close to me with a blade in hand," she murmurs as she works. "Let alone suggest it."

"Typically speaking, I shave myself, it's true. I've always been of the opinion that if sharp steel must be near my face, I should be the one to wield it." Despite his words, Alcibiades seems perfectly relaxed, slumping back and tipping his head up toward the ceiling to make Isabelle's work easier. But just now, before the razor is opened, he lets his hands roam freely up Isabelle's back, brushing the back of her neck, then down her side.

"But I know you need me alive, or Captain Lesse won't work with you," he continues in that same upper-class drawl, teasing Isabelle with his words at the same time as his hand comes down on her thigh. "And I know that I'll have my revenge if you so much as nick me." This last — this last is only half a joke. His hand tightens, squeezing at the lithe muscle beneath it with a grip strong enough to hurt.

"Your Guillermo is a man of many talents," he observes in that same affable tone. "Sometimes I wonder if he quite approves of me, however." There is the hint of a question in his voice at this, but when he lifts his head to the hollow of Isabelle's neck, hot skin touching hers, he seems to already have distracted himself.

He'd feel her react to him, responsive and even eager, gooseflesh mottling at the pass of his calluses over her soft skin wherever it is accessible, and shifting on his lap when his hands start to roam. Possessive, almost. As if he had every right. As if he owned her. Pupils shrink in a telltale manner when he squeezes the top of one thigh, reminded of the last time she had seen him.

After pressing the hot towel over his neck and jaw for a few moments longer, Isabelle sets it aside, taking up the soap and brush, working it up to a quick lather once enough water finds the surface. But he doesn't make it easy to focus. Lashes drape heavily over her gilded stare as her head slowly tilts backwards when his face nudges her jawline up to find her throat, inhaling sharply when she feels the press of his mouth against the sensitive niche. Doing away with the soap, her hand moves, to push his head away, thumb hooked underneath his jaw, tilting his head back. She looks down directly into his eyes, foam and brush painting over his neck, jaw and cheeks.

Her expression there is inscrutable, never one to reveal much about Guillermo…and especially with the question he asks. Her right-hand man's softly whispered words pluck at her from behind her skull.

"I'm like a daughter to him," she says at last, her smile curling up on the corners. "Would any father approve of any man who desires his daughter? He has been with me since I was a child. It must be strange to you, I'm sure, that I would seemingly favor my Aragonian side over my d'Angeline one with what I do for a living - I was raised in most of its traditions."

The razor plucked from where it is, it opens further with a sharp flick of her wrist and slowly, carefully, she drags the dangerous edge upwards from his neck to the point of his chin, cutting a path through suds and soap.

"I've had proper instruction with a blade at four years of age, for instance." Her tone is absent, as if in memory. "The necessary forms, though other pursuits have left me unable to refine my skill in that regard. I'm no duelist. Guillermo…"

She flicks the blade along the sturdy line of his jaw, wiping the excess of foam on the towel.

"…taught me how to end things with one strike."

Alcibiades breathes in slowly — very, very, slowly — when that razor touches his skin. His hand relaxes on Isabelle's thigh, and he listens with the deep attention of a man whose next words may well result in a slit carotid artery. You do like to live dangerously. Asking Isabelle, of all people, to shave him — for the first time, it strikes Alcibiades just how dangerous that decision might be. For anyone but him.

He relaxes back as the razor scrapes along his throat, up to his jaw, and smiles slightly as she flicks foam away from the blade. "No," he says once the danger is directed away from him, "I don't suppose any man would be pleased to have me sniffing around his daughter." He seems amused at the idea.

"Nothing about you seems any more strange to me," he says after another beat, "than any of the rest." He smiles faintly. "You must remember where I come from. For all I know, what you do is perfectly normal for women of your breeding." Of course he knows that isn't the case, but it does make his point neatly. Alcibiades is noble in name only — what does he really know about how that world works?

"Jaime taught me the same," he says after another momentary hesitation. "Did I ever tell you how he and I met?"

"Are you?" Isabelle wonders, the look of her languid and feline, her tone soft and almost sing-song.

The blade bites into his skin, pressing at the delicate, precise point just before it breaks, though it doesn't. Her smile turns dangerously impish as she lifts her gaze again to meet his own. "Sniffing?"

The razor returns to its voyage up the line of his throat, smoothly dragging it over lather and up the angle it makes at the hinge of his jaw.

"No, you never have," she begins as she works. She reaches his cheeks. "Regale me."

"I most certainly…" Alcibiades waits until the razor is clear again before he finishes. "..Am."

He grins up at the woman in his lap as though he has no fear at all — a fact that is certainly not true, for any sailor fears a leeward shore.

"I was twelve," he says quietly. "I'd snuck off to the taverns along the docks. I forget which one it was now." He squints up at the ceiling. "Well, as I often did in those days, I got myself into trouble. Some rather unpleasant men from the lower decks of a war-galley decided that I looked…" A brief, considering pause as he searches for the perfect word, "Appetizing." He lets that hang in the air. "I was a very fetching young man."

He tilts his gaze downward, staring Isabelle in the face for a moment. "They had me in the alleyway before I realized what it was they were after. I was still naive as to the ways of some sailors, you see." Clearing his throat delicately, he goes on.

"It was really quite bad luck for them — and quite good fortune for me — that Jaime was taking a piss." His hand comes down on the base of Isabelle's stomach, pressing in lightly, squeezing the tight muscles there. "He reduced them to mincemeat and made me take him to my home, where he had a quiet word with my mother. She hired him as my master-at-arms."

Appetizing, he says, and there's a slight pause at the stroke of the razor against his skin. The air is suddenly charged, alive with dangerous intent - though not directed at him. It may not even be directed at the memory. But something lurks in the depths of Isabelle's eyes as the sleeping dragons of her most savage nature stir from the fathoms of their lake, momentarily transported to another place…another time, when blood filled her mouth.

The pause is brief, almost indiscernible but she continues on. She draws down the sharp edge of the blade in her hand down his cheeks, to rid him of the fuzz there. "They must've been foreigners," she says. "A d'Angeline wouldn't dare." Rape is taboo in their society, a crime punishable not just by death or the worst possible measures, but the eternal damnation of one's soul, forever barred entry from Terre-d'Ange-That-Lies-Beyond. "Even those who suspect they have the predilections know to take assignations in the Night Court to play out those fantasies safely."

Ridding him of the last trace of his scruff, she sets the razor down on the table, reaching for the towel again, folding it over so she could wipe the last of the soap off his skin. Tossing it aside, light fingertips smoothe over his jaw, thumbs bracketing under it, dragging down both sides of his throat to inspect her work.

"You were fortunate, with Jaime. Most mercenaries are self-interested, and not at all inclined to charity." The words come out in a contemplative murmur, her focus on his face and the smoothness of warm, freshly-shaved skin. "There, finished, I think."

<FS3> Alcibiades rolls Perception: Success. (2 3 1 6 7 4 4)

<FS3> Isabelle rolls Subterfuge: Good Success. (3 6 7 3 8 3 8)

"Jaime is d'Angeline to the core, for one thing — when he saw what was happening, he… well, he has a violent temper, does Jaime." Alcibiades smiles faintly at the memory. As Isabelle finishes, Alcibiades reaches up and runs a hand along his jaw. "Excellent job. You are officially hired as my barber." He's teasing, that hand reaching to slide along Isabelle's jaw in turn. "Almost as smooth as yours." He smiles up at her, then taps her cheek lightly with his fingertips — not a slap, but the gentle imitation of one.

"And he wasn't a mercenary. Jaime worked as a Royal Marine in his youth." His tone is gently defensive. "When I went to see at fifteen, he came along. To keep an eye on me." And made quite the sacrifice, he doesn't say — the man had been receiving a pension at the age of thirty, paid for by wounds and heroism in his youth.

"I had a father, you know." Of course she knows. "But I think Jaime felt that he could play a role as a miscreant uncle."

You're officially hired as my barber.

"You," Isabelle begins, poking his chest emphatically. "Are deluding yourself if you think I'll be indulging you regularly on that front." But she recognizes the jest for what it is, and she grins back at him, those earlier shadows banishing, burned away by the brightness of it. The tap of his fingers against her cheek earns him a humored look.

"I'm unapologetically vain," she informs him, regarding her skin. "You should see the things that go into my bath before I soak in it every day. The regimen was recommended to me by a Menekhetan princess. Milk and honey, oil, some spices." She can't help but tilt her head back, breaking out in a sudden laugh. "Typical that I'm to embark on a long sea voyage, now that I think of it, I've practically basted myself for the sharks."

His defense of his best friend and mentor noted - her inherent nature as a provocateur as irrepressible as ever - she draws her fingers through his hair, leaning forward until the softness of her is pressed against him, arms draped around his neck. She looks down at his face quietly, the shadows she casts upon him only igniting the brilliant color of his eyes.

I had a father, you know.

"You had a sire," she tells him softly, seriously, a set of fingers falling to brush the tips of her index and middle fingers over the shape of his mouth. "You didn't have a father."

"I delude myself on a regular basis," Alcibiades responds equably. "I once convinced myself that I could survive for three days on raw shark and rainwater." His eyebrows quirk as she reveals her routine and, when Isabelle leans in, Alcibiades inhales deeply. "Ah, yes. I thought I smelled sour milk." He leans back briefly to show he's joking, offering up a goofy grin. But something in her words touches him.

"He was drunk, you know," Alcibiades says softly. "His first watch as a lieutenant, and he was drunk." The seaman is not speaking of his friend Jaime any longer — that much is obvious. He leans in, resting his forehead against the woman's chest, pressing a kiss to her collarbone. "Men died because he couldn't hold his liquor."

There is a deep shame in his voice — buried so far down that it's unlikely he's aware of it. He leans back in his seat. Clearing his throat, he tries to change the subject, reaching to capture her wrist and press his lips to her palm. "I don't believe I shall feed you to sharks," he says consideringly. And then he nips at her palm. "I shall eat you myself."

The inhale in which he indulges carries those faint cinnamon notes, as well as something sweeter and even more muted, though it is so subtle that it wouldn't be easily identifiable. "That razor is still within my reach, you know," Isabelle tells him as he grins up at her, expression comically flat. "You're fortunate to even get a single warning. I really must like you."

She glimpses the gentling of his mien, senses it in his demeanor. As he leans forward to brush his mouth against the visible expanse of her clavicle under the open collar of her plain white shirt, her hand slips around to cup the back of his head as he rests there, just underneath the drape of his ponytail. Her predominantly dark eyes find the far wall. She has nothing to offer his words, never one to so easily reveal what lies underneath her imperious facade at the best of times, but he would feel her thumb stroking gently against his nape, sweeping, tender gestures.

Her hand removed away from him, her smile returns, fingers curling in a loose cup when his mouth finds her palm. She lowers her hand, though it remains caged in his grasp by the wrist. Her face leans over his.

"You had better consume every bite, then," she whispers, before slanting her mouth over his own.

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