(1310-10-25) The Pursuit of Happiness
Summary: Phaistos, Kriti. As Alcibiades Rousse busies himself baiting the trap meant for The Ariadne, Isabelle de Valais intercepts some much anticipated correspondence from Marsilikos.
RL Date: October 25, 2018
Related: Everything in this page.
isabelle alcibiades 

Phaistos - Kriti

The small, but colorful island city of Phaistos, Kriti.

When The Dancer finally arrives at Kriti's colorful capital city, its annual trade festival is in full swing, where merchants from all over the Hellenic Isles pay a visit to this specific island to peddle their wares and do business. It is a time when the harvest makes it out of Hellas' mainland and into Phaistos and therefore, one of the more important events in its annual calendar - reflected on how seaside tariffs are lowered for the entire week, and customs and red tape are a little more lax than usual. It is a tradition that, despite their different professions, Alcibiades Rousse and Isabelle de Valais know very well and have even taken advantage of in their separate experiences of Kriti.

There is no sign of The Ariadne, as expected, at port, indicative that the ruse The Dancer's first mate has concocted will be a necessary one, though it is difficult to keep one's mind to business when there is so much happening before their eyes. There is an understandable excitement among the crew when shore leave was announced - and during a festival, no less, and quite a few have been eager to get to the docks and indulge in a much needed break from all the hard work it takes to survive at sea. With the skiff moored properly, and Captain Lesse handling the formalities with the local customs officials, the rest are free to pursue whatever entertainments they desire….so long as they return to the ship at the alotted time.

Isabelle de Valais does not dress or carry herself like a d'Angeline today, capable of changing skins like a chameleon changes color in a new environment; well-loved, well-worn leather breeches are tucked under knee-high boots that lace up the sides, her long-sleeved shirt tucked into a corset cinched up the back, sleeves encased in a shorter jacket with an attached hood, with wide cuffs on its sleeves. Expertly tailored, but nothing that stands out unnecessarily, though it clearly marks her out as a woman with how everything fits. Today, she leaves her hair wild and free, and the distinct presence of a light, slender rapier is attached to her belt.

Loose curls unfurl like midnight ribbons against the wind as she eagerly trots up the white steps that cut through the city's narrow streets and cobblestoned paths. She seems to know where she's going, gloved hands unencumbered by any burden as she leads her companion to their destination. She has mentioned Kostas before, an old contact who runs a cafe close to a specific textiles business where she intends to purchase some bolts of silk to complete their ruse - but it has been a long journey, and the enticing smells wafting from the food stalls from the open air night market all around them are giving her some second thoughts and consideration in switching up her itinerary. As they push through the throng, eyes shot with gold lift to regard his profile.

She is all smiles today, thrumming with a palpable aura of restless energy. She always appears as if she's moving, even when standing still. Now, it's even more overt - a woman who thrives in color, noise and chaos. A woman in her element.

"How long do you think we have to stay to ensure the word gets out before baiting the line?" she wonders.

<FS3> Alcibiades rolls Perception: Success. (1 7 4 6 2 5 5)

Seamen the world over — officer and crewman alike — relish the opportunity of shore leave. The shore is a wonderful place to visit, a place upon which to lavish their hard-earned ducats and brag about their finery among friends. Friends of all sorts, who flock to these easy marks as quickly as sharks surround chum. And the men of The Dancer, who have often had opportunity to create their own shore-going rigs from the finery of far-off ports, look so outlandish as to be either far-ranging merchants or circus performers.

In this, at least, Alcibiades Rousse is no exception. Isabelle might be astonished to see him when he emerges on deck in a crimson silk shirt and tight, tight, black breeches. His hair has been oiled — oiled! — and pigtailed. A short coat of fine black silk hangs over his shoulders. The shirt is open to his navel, displaying his muscled and tattooed chest. His shoes have silver buckles. He looks rather fine, if utterly alien and savage compared to the snappy dresser of Marsilikos. A heavy cutlass hangs beside his purse.

He, too, seems utterly at home in this market festival — he shouts greetings to several merchants as he passes, and to several beautiful young women. A gang of urchins fall in behind the other seamen of The Dancer, and one approaches Alcibiades. The tall First Mate is busy answering Isabelle, and thus completely misses the little bastard pickpocketing his handkerchief.

"Oh, I imagine today will do it. They know The Dancer here. Word'll go out quickly."

The urchin steps in front of the pair and squeaks, in a voice just passing through the pangs of puberty, "..Scuze, scuze. Dropped handkerchief, sir! Three ducats for good boy?"

<FS3> Isabelle rolls Perception: Good Success. (3 4 8 1 8 2 3 3)

Unlike the man she is addressing, Isabelle clearly glimpses the quick legerdemain employed by the urchin as he picks his pocket for Alcibiades' handkerchief. She does not, however, point this out to The Dancer's first mate, amusement in the undercurrents of her expression. "You heard the lad," she says with a laugh, propping a hand on her hip and waits for him to do so, inclining her head towards Alcibiades' taller form. "I stand corrected, you know. You told me once had you been born another life, you'd be a pirate." Her hand lifts, tugging lightly at his collar. "You fit the part," she murmurs.

Lips adopt a humid graze on his cheek before she works her way higher up the hill, and turns a corner. Down a twisting avenue flanked on both sides by colorful shops is a small cafe with a relatively good view of the coastline and the port. As a hand reaches for the door, as if on cue…




"Oh, Kostas," Isabelle mutters, before she swings the door inward and takes a step inside.

The dinner crowd takes up every nook and cranny of the humble, but popular space, and the mouth-watering smell of food wafting from the open kitchen entices the nose upon entry. The ambience within is a cacophony of a hundred conversations happening at once, and surveying his domain behind the curved bar is a large man with the shoulders and arms of a blacksmith and the bulging pot belly of a man who isn't shy about tasting his own creations. The chef, like Alcibiades, is visibly marqued, though his array isn't quite so impressive - inked images of his trade's symbols wind up each arm, his left shoulder carrying the swirling lines of an absurdly fat, stylized goose.

Alcibiades eyes both Isabelle and the urchin suspiciously; he has been guarding his poke since he was fifteen, but he's no expert spy like some. Still, the amusement in Isabelle's eyes is more than enough recompense for three ducats. He fobs over the money, accepts the handkerchief, ruffles the boy's hair, wipes his hand on the square of silk, and shoves it away. Incident forgotten, the pair continue on up the hill. "I look magnificent," Alcibiades counters with easy amusement. He returns the kiss with a quick peck to Isabelle's temple. "And no one will look at me for subtlety, either."

At the shouts from inside, he quirks his brows and hesitates a moment before stepping thhrough the door. "Are you bringing me to a cafe or to a battle?"

But he shuts up once he's within the crowded space, sniffing the air with a look of sudden relish. He locks eyes almost immediately with Kostas, smiling at the bigger man with unaffected good will. This despite the thick crowd — Alcibiades seems to spot a master in his own home and recognize him as such. He keeps himself at Isabelle's shoulder, following her lead now.

"Is this the part where you tell me that you're a peacock and that I have to let you fly?" Isabelle wonders, nevermind that she knows that peacocks don't actually fly, in midst of the quick peck to her temple before the two of them venture inside. "And to Kostas Galanos, the kitchen is a battlefield. Just…do yourself a favor and don't ask him to explain it."

They eventually find their way into the corner of the bar, with Kostas tracking their every movement the moment that he locks gazes with the taller man. But once the crowd has cleared some to make way for the lady and her companion, her closer proximity sparks recognition in the man's eyes. Staring for a moment, there's a wide grin, shouldering past his own barkeep so he can snatch up the woman's knuckles and deposit a loud kiss upon them.

"Mercedes." He savors the name, and even pronounces it correctly. "Que pasa?"

"Only a few minutes in your cafe and you're already trying to get me in trouble with your wife." There are subtle changes to her voice, and her manner of speaking, the faint, rolling 'r's' of Aragonia present and unfairly suited to her low contralto. What's more, she does not give her companion advance warning, either trusting him to play along, testing his ability to adapt, or both. Isabelle's smile lifts at the corners. "Bueno, Kostas. Que pasa?"

"The usual. Where's Guy?"

"Unfortunately, Papa can't travel with me this time, so I had to turn to an old business associate, instead." Isabelle retrieves her hand and gestures between them. "Kostas Galanos, Alcibiades Rousse, merchant sailor."

Kostas offers a massive hand across the counter, brows lifting upwards in inquiry. "A Hellene name on a d'Angeline face," he remarks. "Don't see many of that around here. What brings you to Kriti, sailor? The usual? Or sommat else?"

"I am an osprey," responds Alcibiades with mock-hauteur, sotto voce. He adroitly navigates the crowd, stepping around serving staff and customers alike, moving with the grace of a dancer — in this crowded place, there are certain aspects of Alcibiades that come to light from where they have loitered beneath bushels. The man is, when he forgets the consummate seaman's swagger, graceful.

He grins at the interaction between Kostas and Isabelle, absently resting a hand atop the hilt of his cutlass - not in threat, but simply because his hand has to go somewhere. "Can you keep a secret, Master Galanos?" Alcibiades leans in, but somehow forgets to lower his voice very much. "The Dancer is contracted to transport something rather special this time 'round." He absently taps a finger against the side of his nose and winks. "But you know how it is. Least said, the better, eh?"

When he seizes Kostas's hand, his own lean grip is firm and hard — if somewhat dwarfed by the other man's sheer size. He doesn't attempt to measure manhoods, but he does match Kostas — if the cook is soft-handed, so is Alcibiades. If he squeezes, the seaman does likewise. "I figure there's no fortune t'be made in doing the usual, eh? I see you know the same."

Kostas' grip is secure, with the rough palm and complexion that suggests a life of hard work and toil. But neither does he overcompensate for it. A grin splits his broad face, head cocked in a curious angle towards Isabelle. "Thought you brought a bloody pirate to my pride and joy," he says, pumping the man's fingers once before releasing. "Perhaps after a few short glasses of raki, you'll be willing to tell me more, neh? Because now I'm extremely curious. Meanwhile…sommat to eat?"

"Please," Isabelle says.

The man grins at them both, before vanishing to the kitchens after that, his loud, bellowing orders heard despite the din. The woman slides onto a seat, propping her chin on one hand as she surveys the bustle of bodies flocking in and out of the cafe. There's no smile, but he'd be able to sense it - the contentment of returning to familiar, albeit dangerous territories, no matter how colorful everything else seems. Not that there isn't any pleasure to be had in it…there's plenty.

"Always good for gossip, places like these," she murmurs, dark-and-gold eyes alighting on a rougher crowd at the far end of the room. "Whatever you want spread, you can tell him and he'll make sure he does. Some additional incentive can't hurt either." He would know what she means, judging by her smile.

"Money always greases the wheels."

Alcibiades snorts a soft laugh at the 'bloody pirates' comment. He takes no offense, merely grinning all the wider. "Not for me, pirating," he answers Kostas equably. "A little smuggling here and there, a little avoiding of the tariff… well, that's just good sport and smart business. But I draw the line at the black sail." He winks at the chef before the man vanishes, and lets himself be guided to a seat alongside Isabelle.

"This is the perfect stop, then," Alcibiades murmurs softly. "A little incentive and he can make certain the message gets right to our friends." Caution forbids him from mentioning The Ariadne aloud, but it seems he trusts Isabelle to follow the thread of their more oblique conversation, blue eyes following a flash of color in their midst. He smiles suddenly and remarks, glancing down at the table, "I would wager every ducat in my coin-purse that I know one of those men." There is a small beat. "We had him flogged and sent ashore from The Dancer for thievery." He lets the implication of that hang in the air.

<FS3> Isabelle rolls Subterfuge: Good Success. (5 6 6 8 7 2 4)

A long leg extends to prop up her ankle against the chair directly across from her, Isabelle shifting on the bench to make room for Alcibiades' taller, broad-shouldered figure. She leans against the frame, her head rolled back and an elbow casually draped behind her. "Everyone comes here," she murmurs, and while her fine-featured profile is turned towards her companion, her attention remains on the rest of the room. "Foreigners, natives, the local officials. Money may be the universal language, but food and drink are the universal doorways. Allow for both, then fit a man as talented as Kostas in the mix, and you don't even have to search to get what you need. It'll simply come to you."

She follows his line of sight, a flare of interest present upon her. "What did he take?" she wonders, marking the man the moment Alcibiades draws her attention to him. "Can we use that very thorny history as a lure?"

Can they? If he knew nothing else about her, that alone would reveal plenty about her life as a professional, when she elects to ask not whether he was going to be a problem, but whether his possible personal vendetta against The Dancer could be harnessed for their purposes.

As she speaks, the plates start arriving: grilled, tender octopus drizzled with olive oil with a spritz of lemon, mussels and clams prepared simply, steamed and garnished with a sauce made of tomatoes and basil, small slices of sarikopitakia - pastries filled with sheep's cheese served piping hot and brushed with honey on top, pieces of roasted lamb over stamnagathi and traditional Kritan dakos, topped with fresh tomatoes and crumbled feta.

On top of one of these offerings is a small cardboard tube sealed with wax - of the size that a pigeon could carry, cheekily poking out of a shell. As Isabelle reaches out to pick at their bounty of shellfish with her fingers, she deftly plucks out the message and slips it into the folded end of her jacket's right cuff, wedging it tightly just underneath the button.

<FS3> Alcibiades rolls Seafaring+2: Great Success. (5 2 8 8 6 8 6 3 5 6 1 1 8)

"He stole a dried monkey's head from one of his mates," explains Alcibiades. "The monkey was a pet. We lost it in the high southerns, and his mate kept her head as a reminder. He loved that monkey." Alcibiades begins to eat, pretending not to notice the note that has just vanished. He does not glance back at the colorfully-dressed sailor just yet. "I ordered him tied to a grating and given ten lashings, then we threw him overboard and made him swim to shore with his kit-bag."

He takes a bite of the octopus. And stops. "This is incredible."

The sailor glances over in their direction, fixes on Alcibiades as Alcibiades chews, swallows, continues to speak. "We can use him," he says easily. "This man was always scum. I'm only surprised it took him this long to become a pirate." The sailor stands, shoves past several of his friends, begins to make his way over. He's drunk.

Alcibiades does not seem to notice his approach. He's trying one of the pastries, practically salivating over it. "He'll sell it hard. He knows the sorts of cargoes we normally carry."

She eats with gusto - there is no need for ceremony here; whatever etiquette that has been drilled into her marrow from her upbringing as a lady of gentle breeding (or whatever counts for gentle in Isabelle's case) is shelved heartily in favor of the mannerisms of any adventuress who finds herself in the rougher parts of the world. While she is a far cry from a slob, she doesn't use utensils either, freely using her fingers and the occasional pulls of a seafood fork to dig out the meat from her clams. A buxom serving girl passes their table and sets a bottle of raki upon it, as well as two small glasses and a pitcher of chilled water. She smiles coyly at Alcibiades as she sashays past.

Her fork left on her plate, she uncorks the bottle and pours the clear liquid in the receptacles provided. With the addition of water, it turns white and cloudy - the correct way to drink the island's favorite libation. There's a quick smile in his direction, and his appreciation for the food, and while there is no verbal acknowledgment, she flashes him a quick wink, and reaches for one of the sarikopitakia.

She suddenly laughs, as if he had just told her a joke, turning her face to lean further into him as if to reply, lips hovering close to the arch of his ear. "Those must've been some lashings," she murmurs. "Because if looks could kill, you'd be dead a hundred times over. Whatever your flaws, my darling, you're terribly talented at making people remember you no matter how drunk they are."

The devil's own mischief is in her low contralto, but there's a nugget of truth in there also, with the confidence of one speaking from very personal experience.

Alcibiades winks up at the serving-girl, flashing her a rakish grin that is just barely in his character. It implies a piratical nature that Isabelle knows is only half the truth. But he, too, is something of a master when it comes to playing roles. The difference between Isabelle and Alcibiades is that he has devoted his entire life to one role — that of the consummate seaman — and at times, it threatens to engulf everything else that he is.

But he has not forgotten the pirate approaching their table. When Isabelle murmurs softly in his ear, he smiles back, as though she's just made some lubricious offer. He replies in the same manner, reaching to touch the side of her neck with one greasy fingertip. "He's a mean cuss. But he's a coward. Watch." Lazily, Alcibiades raises his gaze to where the pirate stands glowering at him.

"Hello, Renee." His voice is cool. "You've come to exact your revenge, I suppose? Well. Here I am." Alcibiades slides his chair back from the table, but he does not stand. He merely stares expectantly up at the man, toying with the hilt of his cutlass. "Strike me down, old chum. Or go away. Your smell is irritating my companion. She says you smell of snails."

For a moment, the pirate's hand goes toward the long knife that hangs from his belt. But he stops himself. He's not that drunk. Instead, he says "Oh, I know better'n t'fall for that. Jaime Daur's around here somewheres like always t'fight your battles. No. I ain't gonna touch a hair on your pretty little head." The pirate points a finger at Alcibiades, and then Isabelle.

"Not yet." And then he turns and stalks back into the crowd. Alcibiades watches him go, then coolly re-addresses their feast, pouring water into the raki for Isabelle and then himself. "Between that, Kostas, and the other rumors… I think we've managed it."

She says you smell of snails.

"I happen to like snails," Isabelle replies, adopting a lazy tone and making the most of her Aragonian accent, though she doesn't even look at the inebriated sailor that has decided to approach their table. Her hand lifts, curling a pinky finger on the end of Alcibiades' pigtail draped over his shoulder. "But only piping hot, and drenched with garlic and butter." Her eyes slowly lift, lips pulling upwards in a sharp, bladed smile, leaning into the man's shoulder, hand shifting to curl over it as she watches Renee.

"I think this one'll need to be tossed into the fire before he'd be considered acceptable company." Her head tilts, and while her teeth nip delicately into Alcibiades' earlobe, her eyes do not move away from Renee.

When he eventually ventures off, she eases off on the act, taking a bite out of her pastry and wiping her hands with a napkin. Fingers find the raki, now in its proper pearlescent color and lifts it to her lips. But there's a lingering glance towards his cool expression, and the implication that the man wasn't all too happy to see his former comrade, either. Still, she says nothing, swallowing the taste of liquor and anise, feeling warmth blossom over her stomach when it hits.

"Well, this is your ruse," she says, eyes lifting towards the large shadow moving in the kitchens. "I'll let you field it with Kostas, and then we can wait."

The proprietor and chef of the cafe does join them, eventually, the growing din enough of a cover for the details of their conversation. The man listens to Alcibiades as he shares the meal on the table, and after a few glasses of raki, the man seems convinced - or if he isn't convinced, he is at the very least willing to spread the word, and by the time coin has exchanged hands, the skies have grown dark, and the multicolored city-on-a-hill turns into a field of gold against them, with so many lanterns lit for the festival.

Alcibiades is perfectly frank with Kostas, whom Isabelle seems to trust — to an extent. Well, one should say that he seems perfectly frank with Kostas. He passes over a small purse of ducats and asks the chef, as the three drink raki, to please inform his various smuggling connections that The Dancer will be looking to move some very valuable cargo in the next few weeks, when she returns to Kriti. The implication is that they're here to make a deal, and that it will come to fruition on her return.

Once Kostas leaves them, Alcibiades looks back to Isabelle and smiles. He tosses back his raki with a lazy grin and leans forward, pouring himself another glass before speaking. The first mate of The Dancer says, quite mildly, "When I came aboard The Dancer, I was only a master's mate. Assisted in navigation. Renee was a holy terror if he had three big mates with him." His smile is a touch strained. "I slept in the gundeck with the rest of the foremast jacks. He and I… had several disputes."

His eyes are cold. "When I became First Mate, I saw to it that his thieving was exposed. He knows that I am the one who caused him to be caught." The smile turns cruel. "I like that he knows. I would wish him a long life, just so that he could know it for longer…" His hand reaches forward to touch the back of Isabelle's. "…But I intend to make certain he has nothing of the sort." This is a vindictive side of Alcibiades, a vengeful side, that prior to this has only surfaced when discussing his father.

"Jaime did say that you were slight as a boy," Isabelle replies, though there's a touch of mischief there. "And too annoyingly beautiful." There's less of that now, the sea takes as much as it gives, but to one who finds curiosity and fascination in the rare and unique, that is an affliction that only heightens his appeal in her eyes rather than diminishes it. As she had explained to Chimene before she left Marsilikos, she has always been physically drawn to hard fighting men, and women who manage to overwhelm her senses in some way.

She can't help, as he offers up these glimpses of the more sordid parts of his history, but wonder whether there was just simply something about him that called for abuse; too pretty, or too tricky, or so talented that he can't help but inspire jealousy. She doesn't know, dark eyes intent upon his bold, strong features when frost glazes over his sea-blue eyes - a direct contrast to the way his callused fingertips brush warmly over the backs of her knuckles. After a moment, slowly, she turns her hand over, her gentler own stroking over the lines and scars that marr his palm.

"There's always some advantage in knowing who your enemies are," she says at last, her tone absent. She has no such luxury - most of her eradications happen in the shadows, as far divorced from honorable duels as possible. Nothing is ever truly personal.

Save one.

She pulls her thoughts away from La Serenissima, and the memory of the splayed, shattered body on the courtyard surrounded by fragments of stained glass, before her eyes lift to meet his own. "Jaime also told me you were chafing in the last two years." It isn't exactly prying, and it isn't phrased as a question, but it is an invitation of a sort.

"Chafing? I suppose I have been, in a way." Alcibiades stares down at Isabelle's hand for a few moments, stroking her palm in turn. He smiles faintly as his fingers trace lines down the recently-blistered skin, then looks up at her. "It's difficult to explain," he says carefully. "All of my adult life, I have made ducats. At times, I've practically minted them. It's easy for me. I just see a risk, and I take it, and it usually pays off."

Alcibiades draws a breath. "And I'd fought before that night. Of course I had. Killed, too. But never…" He considers, tilting his head up to the ceiling for a moment. "Most pirates are small vessels, pirogues or even just skiffs. Usually they come in twos or threes. They're easy for my crew." He looks back at Isabelle. "That night wasn't easy."

He squints for a moment at Isabelle, then smiles. "That was the night I came alive. Ever since, it's been as though…" He sighs, still smiling. "Ever since, until I tracked you down… I was…" The big seaman is clearly just not at home with this sort of introspection, but he's gamely trying. "…I was only sleepwalking. I kept looking for trouble, Izz. For something to awaken that bit of me again."

Eisandine balms are dowright miraculous; the hand he caresses is well on the mend, welts already fading into new and supple skin. But despite the shot of electricity she normally feels whenever he touches her, her attention is fully, sharply focused on his profile and taking in not just his words, but the way he says them…how he looks when he communicates.

That night wasn't easy.

Her work never truly is, and as he continues on, her eyes fall on her raki, finally downing it and pouring herself another shot, and then the water that leaves it cloudy and white, like drinking a sky that tastes like licorice. There's a slight twinge in her stomach, uncertain in a way. Somehow he has managed to place her in a position that she has never had to face before, wondering whether she ought to find it complimentary or distressing that he sought her out because he felt incomplete, and almost dead. In many ways, she and him were plenty alike, at least past their many superficial differences - right into their very cores, finding commonalities in the things that truly drove them as people and professionals. There had been a time when she, too, felt that way, only it had come upon her when she was much younger…and disastrously, at that.

She toys with her glass. "I can't help but wonder if that's my curse, after all," she says, taking another gulp of her raki. "Being of a certain demeanor where I can't help but create my own monsters. I don't do it intentionally…hardly anything about my work touches on anything personal. And yet…"

Isabelle falls silent at that.

"Though I can't help but wonder what that means, in the end," she says, disregarding what she was about to say in favor of levity, shooting him an arch look, her good humor returning. "You wanted to look for trouble and the first thing you thought of was to come and find me. What are you trying to say?"

Alcibiades looks baffled. He grabs his raki and downs it, swallowing hard. "I think I'm trying to say that I knew you'd have dangerous work for me and that I decided to be…selfish." It isn't at all what he's trying to say, but the trouble is that he simply doesn't know that. He doesn't know what he means. "Damn Jaime anyway for meddling," he grumbles. He runs his hand up Isabelle's forearm, fingertips brushing along the soft skin there, then back to her palm.

"Do you think," he says with a surprisingly thoughtful note, "That your work creates monsters? Or that you simply don't know they were monsters until you do your work?"

He considers for a few beats. "Monsters are real. I've seen strange things in the sea. A giant squid, once. Dead, floating on the surface." After a brief pause, he adds "It smelled." He smiles across the table at Isabelle, then down at his raki.

"I think I'm trying to say I want to hunt monsters."

Do you think that your work creates monsters? Or that you simply don't know they were monsters until you do your work?


It is the simplest answer that she can give to a complicated question, Isabelle's eyes dropping down to the way his hand strokes over her forearm, only to return to her fingers, his larger, rougher ones interlacing with her own. Her other hand absently toys with the glass of raki, but she doesn't drink it yet, lips quirking in a faint, rueful smile when the man next to her confesses that he wants to hunt monsters.

"I never considered my work to be heroic," she tells him, her voice low and meant for his ears only - appropriate in the quiet corner they're seated in, turning in her seat so she could look at him directly in the eye, her expression solemn. "Most of the time it's sneaky, and underhanded. Occasionally bloody and murderous. There's hardly any glory in it - it's a far cry from what the likes of Augustin do and has done. All I'm usually left with, in the end, is the satisfaction that I'm doing the best I can with the charge I was given, the hope that it means plenty in the grand scheme of things, even if the effects are not instantaneous, and the cold comfort of understanding and accepting that what it is, in the end, is that it is a necessary evil."

Her thumb rolls over the knuckle underneath his own. "Most of the time, those who I come across in my assignments aren't monsters at all, but people with objectives that directly conflict with my own." Her gaze lifts, scrutinizing his expression carefully.

"I'm not trying to undermine its potential for good," she continues. "I recognize the enormity of it - of what it means, the sacrifices and the costs associated with it. I say that while it is a lonely life, it's a very far cry from an unfulfilling one. I would not call myself empty, in fact I am very much the opposite, and I am far from unhappy. But that is the reality, Cib. Right down into the bones of it, it's dangerous, nasty business. It's not a place for true heroism and more often than not, you find yourself choosing one difficult outcome over another in hopes that it is the right one. It's hardly what Jaime wants for you, as I think he wants you to serve with distinction, the way you're meant to as an officer in the Royal Navy. It's hardly what I want for you, if I'm being frank and honest. We may be similar in some very significant respects, but you've a different heart than mine." Searching his profile for a heartbeat or two, her smile returns.

"But you'll get your chance," she tells him, squeezing his hand and marveling at the difference between their sizes - how small and dainty her own looks compared to his. "I did give you my word."

"Isabelle, I hope you won't take it amiss if I tell you that I am bloody tired of people telling me what they want for me." Alcibiades has absolutely no heat in his voice, he merely drops a hint of emphasis on the words as he absently bends his fingers atop hers. "Jaime wants me to serve in the Royal Navy as a frigate captain, dashing about hither and yon — but there's no naval war for frigate captains to distinguish themselves. Hunting pirates is nothing to the Navy." He lifts a finger, as if ticking off a point.

"Athene Lesse wants me to use Myrmidon as a merchantman, operating as a captain beneath her umbrella. I would make my fortune and I am touched at her trust." His eyes narrow slightly as he continues. "But it would do nothing to advance my goals, personal or familial."

Another finger rises into the air as he continues. "I'm not even certain what it is you wish for me, darling, apart from my happiness." He smiles briefly across the table at Isabelle. "And I'm pursuing that. I shall become a privateer. I shall make my fortune hunting the scum of the seas, and achieve both a modicum of glory and a modicum of wealth. Or, perhaps, I shall die."

A final finger rises into the air. "And in so doing, I shall be perfectly free to assist my lover in protecting my Duchy. Perhaps it is not glorious work, but it is, as you say, necessary to protect those we love."

That is understandable, too, in a way. On her part, for a long time, Isabelle has been tired of people telling her what they want from her (and thus paved the reasons why Armandine has become so important to her when she hasn't done that), and how Alcibiades stresses the fact and the way he phrases it only illustrates the wide gulf between their experiences, their lives as two sides of the same coin. But it does make it glaringly clear that the man has enough people to care about him to at the very least communicate, to him, their hopes and dreams for him. That he is important in ways beyond his talents and abilities. That he is loved.

I'm not even certain what it is you wish for me, darling, apart from my happiness.

"Honestly?" And here, Isabelle takes a swallow of her raki. "That's all. But wishing such for anyone is a contradiction on its own, I think - the sentiment is so simple, but the machinations with which to achieve it so complex. It is both the easiest thing to wish for anyone and the hardest to coax to reality."

She watches him quietly, reminded of what she had told Jaime, in all of his good intentioned meddling - that she does not want to kill the thing that makes people love him. "The work takes, Cib," she tells him quietly. "And chances are, I will keep trying to dissuade you now and then, but if you're determined, I hope that you take that to heart."

With that, she leans in, pressing her lips against his cheek, lashes brushing against it when she closes her eyes. Then, she eases her fingers away and rises from her seat. She tosses a few ducats on the table to pay for their meal, and lifts a hand in a wordless goodbye towards Kostas.

"Come on, we've got more work to do."

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License