(1310-10-27) What's Past Is Prologue
Summary: After seeing to Jaime Daur's injuries and the temporary incarceration of the pirates they captured from The Ariadne, Isabelle accidentally discovers that the letter Alcibiades handed his mentor and friend was addressed to her. Unable, and perhaps even unwilling, to read it, she tries to escape her ensuing panic and fails spectacularly.
RL Date: October 29, 2018
Related: Specifically this memoir.
isabelle alcibiades 

Aboard The Myrmidon, formerly The Ariadne, anchored off the coast of Phaistos, Kriti

Whereof what’s past is prologue, what to come
In yours and my discharge.

— The Tempest, Act II, Scene 1


It takes a few hours more until they manage to limp back to Phaistos.

The Ariadne, given the way its hull is built and the effects of The Dancer's initial grape-shot salvo, sustained minimal damage, though the same certainly can't be said for the smaller ship that eventually brought it to heel. Major repairs are required for Captain Lesse's ship, having been savagely dismasted by The Ariadne's cannons, not to mention all the accounting necessary after such an expensive engagement. Twenty of Lesse's men are dead, with twenty more seriously wounded - without taking into account crew members that sustained non-life threatening injuries, it is a significant enough number to require sending chirurgeons from the mainland to see to the survivors.

There is plenty of work to be done, but one thing is glaringly clear - they cannot take The Dancer back to Marsilikos, not with the loss of its men and the damage it had suffered, and there are too few men to successfully and safely maneuver The Ariadne across the waters. Piracy is rampant on the open seas, and considering how hard-won the battle was to take it in the first place, not to ensure that she is properly manned would be folly. In short, what remains of The Dancer's crew have several very important decisions to make.

Activity is rampant in both ships as twilight descends on Kriti, splashes of blue and indigo slowly submerging the brilliant red and gold of the autumnal sunset. Several skiffs have been launched back to shore in an effort to parole and bounty the survivors of The Bloody Vulture, with Howling Kelly included among its ranks, but the bodies that once commandeered The Ariadne remain within its bloodied bowels at Isabelle's instructions - while common sense dictates that the captain of The Ariadne's pirates would probably have the most information, she doesn't take that chance, ever-thorough when it comes to the work she performs for her duchy. There is the clear intention to milk every drop of information from every body, even if she has to strangle it out of them with her bare hands.

With the vacating of what survives of The Bloody Vulture's crew leaves the brig relatively empty save for the lucky, or unlucky, ones who managed to escape Alcibiades Rousse's indiscriminate and desperate slaughter of The Ariadne's crew in order to take it to defend The Dancer. With the man himself engaged in the preparations to disguise the ship, she finds herself belowdecks with Jaime in taking stock of the prisoners, quiet conversation giving way to Isabelle convincing the man to at least take off his jacket momentarily so she could temporarily patch up the wound on his upper arm - his shirt was practically soaked with blood, but those eagle eyes can somehow distinguish his injuries from the crimson of his other victims. She is crouched next to him, winding a clean bandage around the injured limb.

"I heard it was your shot that destroyed the Vulture's waterline," she tells the older marine, looking up at his profile and smiling faintly. She looks tired. "It's been a few years, I almost forgot how much I love watching you work."

"Ah, it's hard t'say if it was mine or not, truth is. But I do think I hit her right as her bow rose, so it was well below the waterline. Might've been mine that caused her to founder." Jaime pauses to grab a pirate by the back of his neck and bodily hurl him out of their way. He seems to be in a foul mood, but eventually, he does strip off his jacket and roll up his sleeve.

"Go easy on it. Just wrap something around it, and I can get back to work." The crusty old Marine is downright furious, though the anger seems directed at the pirates chained in the brig rather than at Isabelle. "Fuck're you looking at? Want some more?" A pirate who may have been on the brink of asking for water shrinks back, clearly terrified. "Soon as you're done with this lot," Jaime tells Isabelle, "I'll have them dancin' off the yard-arm to the Rogues' March." He spits.

"…Kind of you t'say you love my work, tho'. Rather proud of this day's doin's."

"Shh," Isabelle tells him quietly, removing a tin of balm from the inner pockets of her weatherproofed coat, dabbing away at the blood flowing free off his skin before applying it and securing a length of clean linen around it. Dark eyes shot with gold lift to regard The Ariadne's captain and his fellows in the brig from their quiet corner, before she lowers her voice further. "They won't tell me what I need to know if they know they're going to die…I need to give them enough hope that they'll be able to survive this if they give me what I ask."

His anger is palpable - and in contrast to his demeanor, the ducal agent's own emotions are hidden and buttressed by the thick blast doors of her professionalism, compartmentalized in favor of the needs of the moment. She knots the linen securely, but not too tightly, slipping a finger in to make sure it doesn't needlessly cut off his circulation. His expressed pride of the day's toil causes an inscrutable something to pass over her eyes, remaining as they are on her work, watching crimson blossom over red, like roses blooming through snow.

Rather proud of this day's doin's.

She pushes away the image of The Ariadne, only half-manned and with more dangerous persons in its belowdecks, cutting through stormy water to engage a fresher pirate ship. "You should be," she says instead, reaching for the jacket and handing it to him, pausing when something falls out of its inner lining. "If Cib had been less talented in what he does, that last maneuver would have been even more suicidal." Fingers reach down to pluck at the folded, sealed letter that has fallen.

Fingers freeze and grow nerveless when sharp eyes catch her own name scrawled on the back with Alcibiades' familiar flourish.

Jaime stares at the note and it's clear, for a moment, that he is considering snatching it out of Isabelle's hand. But that would constitute, essentially, an assault and he isn't quite so enraged at the world that he would strike at a friend. "You really ought'a give that back to me," he says instead. And his voice has changed, gone cool and reasonable, his anger set aside as he strives to protect his friend. "That's a death-note. We always exchange 'em before battle. It's really nothin'. Usually just to do with legal matters, loose ends…" He's rambling a bit, reins himself in.

Clearing his throat, he goes on "The lad's a wonder, eh? He knew exactly what he was doing, exactly what we could do. None of that was gambling." There is pride in his voice, and something else as well. Something akin to awe — to the hero-worship that the other crewmembers feel toward Alcibiades. "I dunno a Captain in twenty that would've attempted it — or attemptin' it, would've pulled it off. But he did it without blinkin'. Like it was the only logical thing."

Like it was the only logical thing.

Perhaps it is because she isn't a seafarer when she thinks, or rather screams internally, that the logical thing may have been to run.

But not a word escapes Isabelle's lips, staring at her own name on the letter - she rarely ever needs anyone to read between the lines for her, she knew when she witnessed the exchange that there would be something, last wishes, wills and testaments. She did not, however, expect a letter addressed to her and in that moment, Jaime would be able to see it on her face, hairline fissures webbing over the imperious, impervious facade as somewhere within herself, the dam shudders and the roar of pressure within it rising, deafening her ears.

Suddenly, it comes flooding back - the sheer, frightful gruesome reality of it. That had it gone poorly, she would be reading his last words on a page. It is the final straw that breaks everything and spills all that she doesn't want to acknowledge into her more conscious thoughts. Unwanted. Traitorous. This is a place that is alien to her, twenty-four years spared from the realities that face ladies of infinitely gentler persuasions whenever they have to send their men off to war, seasoned with the arrogant confidence that she would never have to worry about being placed in such a position. Her heart crashes hard against her bones, and her senses start to swim, feeling ice-cold fingers close around her spine and pull her down to the depths and drown in it.

She can't breathe.

The rest of Jaime's words lose themselves in the roar when she slowly hands the letter back to him - untouched, unread. The gestures feel like they belong to someone else, as if she had just forced herself to step outside of her body, to witness someone else control it and perform the necessary movements.

She doesn't even seem to be aware that she hasn't responded to him when she stands up and clambers up to the abovedecks, lightheaded and the back of her head throbbing, every pulse screaming at her to run. Run. Run. To pack up, get back on shore. To find the first barge heading to Marsilikos and leave.

Had she been on The Dancer, she might've. But as she blindly maneuvers her way through the throng of bodies that are still working, she desperately tries to find Guillermo's words and her panic only rises when she cannot hear them. She can't. Amidst the dull roar of it all, she doesn't remember what they are, only that she wants to leave but can't. She remembers the prisoners. She remembers the log books. Her job isn't done here.

Her hands shove through the door leading to the captain's cabin, in search of documents. There's an anchor to be had somewhere and even in the state that she's in, she manages to get a mental grip on something.

Alcibiades Rousse, up on deck, has been a busy man. Rigging to be repaired, the butcher's bill to be seen to, wounded to be visited with. And he's done it all with aplomb, while across the water, The Dancer is undergoing what repairs may safely be done at sea. He watches them with a keen, attentive eye whenever he has a chance. He sees Athene Lesse guiding the rigging of a jury-mast. He sees her helping her men get a sail over the side, frapping it to the hull to help keep out the water. He sees the ship's pumps begin to work.

And when all of that is complete, Alcibiades Rousse goes into the captain's cabin of The Ariadne. He goes into his cabin. That is going to take some getting used to. The magnificent windows that make up the stern — those are his now. The huge dining table, the sea-bed set in its corner. All his. Even the silverware that he could never afford — strewn about though it may be — is his.

He's standing here, appreciating this vast expanse — it must be over a hundred square feet, and all his! — when Isabelle bursts in. Alcibiades wheels, hand going to his cutlass. And then stops when he sees Isabelle. His brows knit together. "Izz?" Stepping closer, hand coming toward the woman's arm, "Are you alright?"

Out of the frying pan, and into the fire. As the door slams shut behind her, the fact that she isn't alone in the cabin doesn't register until it's too late. The roar cut through and slivered by a pair of sea-blue eyes, the silence that follows is utterly interminable. Isabelle stares at him uncomprehendingly, barely registering the way his taller, broader shadow falls over her own. If there had been any other attempts to escape, they are halted entirely when a gentle hand closes around her arm.

"…when did you…" she utters, her voice low and breathless. "I thought you were still…" At The Dancer, convening with Captain Lesse about their options. But she can't seem to find the words.

Because the touch has her mind reeling back, triggering the cascade of images she has tried to keep locked away, always ending with The Ariadne with its black sails, intercepting the Vulture before it gets within range of The Dancer, crippled and helpless above water. Her arm suddenly jerks away from his grip, if not just so she could throw her arms around his neck, fingers threading fiercely into his mahogany ponytail as wide eyes stare at the far wall of the cabin - his cabin now, but the fact doesn't register. Not yet. All that does is the copper-tang of blood on his clothes, saltwater on his skin, metal, wood, death…and victory, somehow, snatched from the very real jaws of defeat.

"…oh god…" she whispers, gripping him tight, teeth gritting as reality sinks like a stone in her stomach. "Oh god…what am I doing…what am I…"

Alcibiades has absolutely no idea what is happening. That much is very obvious by his startled grunt as she grabs him and clings for dear life. Certainly, it was a close call today — but perhaps it has not quite sunk in yet just what he accomplished. What he lost — that much, he has absorbed. He's sat with old friends in the past hour who will probably die, or lose limbs, or be crippled for life.

"I don't know…" He murmurs in response, pressing a kiss into Isabelle's temple. He runs his hand up and down the young woman's back, pressing hard, feeling the knobs of her spine against his palm. "…But I do know we're alright, love. Everything's alright." Except for the men biting down on leather straps to keep from screaming in front of their mates. Except for the jagged holes ripped into his beloved ship. Except for the inevitable wrath of Athene Lesse.

He doesn't seem to realize that he has done something remarkable. He's thoroughly nonplussed by this response. He strokes Isabelle's hair lightly, nodding as he repeats, "Everything's alright, love. Everything's going to be fine."

She doesn't have the heart to tell him, as he murmurs these reassurances, that this isn't fine. Not for her. And as he whispers the words against her hair, warm, solid, real…alive, her fingers only curl in tighter. Everything inside her screams its protest, reminds her of how strange this is, how unacceptable this is.

How she hates it that she feels this way.

Isabelle forces herself, finally, to take a breath. She draws in deep, and she takes advantage of their proximity to prevent him from glimpsing the expression stamped on her features, slowly working herself back into her earlier state. Every pass of his fingers up and down the graceful line of her spine drains away the tension, bit by bit, though tightness braids across her shoulders, still. Her eyes squeeze briefly shut in an attempt to force the memory of the letter into the back of her skull. Maybe after enough brandy, enough alcohol, she'll be able to forget it.

She forces herself to nod against the side of his head, pulling back. She doesn't meet his eyes yet, her own fixed determinedly somewhere around the hollow of his throat.

"I told…" She clears her throat in an attempt to rid it of its sudden hoarseness; it sounds like a stranger's, raw and chafed. "…I told Jaime belowdecks to stop threatening the prisoners with a hanging. I need…" She takes another breath. "…I need them to think they can barter information for freedom, even if you don't intend to release them. I'll leave the decision to you, once I acquire what I need from them. You're the captain now, after all."

Finally, her gaze lifts to meet his. Emotion coalesces into a hard knot at the back of her throat.

"Oh, Cib," she murmurs. "The risk you took…with the winds in your favor, you could've just run."

"Alright, Jaime'll stop threatening prisoners. But is that what.." And then the rest of what Isabelle says hits him, and Alcibiades stops cold. He leans back slightly, staring down at her, his eyes narrowed. There is an almost-affronted look on his face. "Run?" His voice is astonished, as though for the first time he realizes that he could have, certainly. Just as he could have danced naked down the deck and turned cartwheels.

"Izz, there was no choice at all to make. Not for me, not for any of the men with me. We couldn't just leave The Dancer." He grips Isabelle's shoulders, squeezing briefly. He runs his hands up and down her arms, then presses a kiss to Isabelle's forehead. "I would never run. Not if there had been three of them. I would have sailed between them firing both sides and when they boarded me, I would've still won. Because I had to. My men needed me. Athene needed me."

"You needed me."

His bravado is just that. What he would have done, had there been a third ship, was die heroically. And he certainly knows that. But Alcibiades is pouring every ounce of certainty into his words, trying — misguidedly — to reassure Isabelle. "Besides. It wasn't a risk. We had the wind and we had the range. Once we dismasted her, it was just slaughter."

Her expression tightens when he illustrates what he would have done if there had been a third pirate ship, the incredulity of the statement plain on her suddenly very expressive face. Isabelle stares at him when he presses his lips to her forehead, closing her eyes briefly, but once he looks her in the eye again, she shakes her head vehemently, damp hair clinging to her cheeks at the gesture. Somewhere within, the stone sinks further.

You needed me.

That twisting ache returns, so sharp it takes her breath away and leaves her bleeding as she gapes at him from where she stands. Because it's true, she did. And even worse, she does. The realization viciously assaults her pride, her sense of independence. It is like fuel, sparks from a match when it triggers the more fiery aspects of her temper, feeling it burn from within her stomach and scream white-hot through her every synapse.

"No," she replies, voice low and vehement. "No. If there was a third ship, I would want you to run. I would expect you to run. I don't say this because I'm a saint. I don't say this because I have inflated aspirations to be a martyr. I say this because so long as one of us is alive, he or she can come back for the other. If I must trust you to risk, to endure, you must trust me to do the same in turn no matter what happens!"

Her own hands lower to grip his shoulders, looking at him in the eye, agitation cracking like lightning over the storms in her expression. "Do you understand me?" she demands, fingers bunching over his sleeves. "I don't want to read your last words on a page! I don't! If…if you've any words for me…" She squeezes her eyes shut. "You say them while you're breathing!"

<FS3> Alcibiades rolls Composure: Good Success. (1 2 4 8 2 7)

"Isabelle, if I had sailed away from a theoretical third ship, they would have killed you. All of you. Did you think that this was an endeavor where prisoners were an option?" Alcibiades' tone is cool, collected, perfectly rational. He massages Isabelle's shoulders lightly, looking down at her, his lips pressed together momentarily. "I would have stayed and fought because that was the only chance any of us had. If I ran, with half a crew and a wounded ship? They would have run me down."

His voice is infuriatingly reasonable as he works his way through his rebuttal, features perfectly collected, his hands firm on her shoulders. "You need to trust me to know my business, my love. I did the only thing that made sense. But I gather that it is not The Bloody Vulture that is bothering you. Jaime gave you my letter, did he?"

And here, finally, there is a hint of discomfort in his voice. He clearly assumes that she has read the letter. "Isabelle, I've been rather open about the fact that I love you. If I put it on paper, it is only because I am no deft wordsmith." Actually, he hasn't ever said it quite like that. Ever.

"I really must protest," he continues, blithely unaware that he's outing himself. "Jaime is going to get a piece of my mind."

The calmer he remains, the more agitated she becomes, Isabelle staring at him as his thumbs roll over her shoulders. His expertise is in every word and while she understands the rationale behind them, every part of her is screaming in protest. How could he be so calm? If their positions had been reversed, would he be so reasonable? Fingernails bite into his upper arms, dulled by his own bloodied shirt - it isn't so she could pull him closer, but to prevent herself from pulling away, and rail at him in hysterics. He would be able to see it on her expression, whatever refinement and composure her d'Angeline blood blessed her with burned away by the scorching intensity of her more volatile Aragonian blood.

Thankfully he's keeping her in his grip. Otherwise she would be using the scattered silver around them, hurling the pieces at him for target practice.

Jaime gave you my letter, did he?

How does he not understand?! The reminder of it has her gnashing her teeth. Her voice rises in a near-shriek: "YOU COULD HAVE—"

I've been rather open about the fact that I love you.

The rest of her tirade dies on the vine. Wide-eyed, her sunkissed expression drains of color as she falls silent. My love, he's named her, and more than once, but she has somehow managed to detach herself from all of it, electing to interpret it as the careless affectation of a man who tends to speak before thinking - the way anyone would say 'my lady', or 'my dear', or 'my darling.' And he's used the term before, two years ago, along with others. Luv, he called her. Sweetheart.

"…what…?" she finally says, her voice so quiet it's almost inaudible. "…Cib, I didn't…he told me to return it to him. I didn't…"

…read it, she meant to say, but the words fail her entirely.

<FS3> Alcibiades rolls Perception: Good Success. (1 8 5 8 2 2 6)

"You didn't read the letter."

Alcibiades' tone is flat. It is not from anger, but rather from shock. He searches his mind, playing back what he's just said. Oh. He reddens suddenly, taking a hasty step back from Isabelle. "Izz, I shouldn't have said that — I — I wasn't intending to force you to — it wasn't meant as pre — as pressure." In battle or trade, Alcibiades Rousse is confident, sure-footed, a force to be reckoned with. Suddenly, caught off-guard by this personal misstep, he is… scared.

"We can forget I said it," he says softly, almost pleadingly. "Don't…"

"Don't go."

Don't go.

He's only got enough time to take a step back and plead with her not to go when Isabelle's already taking that one step to compensate the distance, throwing her arms around his neck, her mouth on his.

Her lips part and moves over his own in the hot, unbridled, restless way that he has come to know, fingers gripping tightly into his ponytail to anchor him there, striking ruthlessly, desperately, with silk and damp softness. Flashfire minutes that stand a real chance at sending the both of them to the pyre of her own making if left to last, he'd feel her nails rake into his nape, the flood of what she has internally endured in the last several moments - unexpressed and unvoiced - mingling with the frantic helplessness of one who doesn't know what to do with what he has just given her, everything he makes her feel, worsened by the things that she knows exist but can't bring herself to say. Her heart drops in a freefall somewhere into her stomach, shattering the memory of Guillermo's words and all the while, every syllable he has just uttered throbs at the back of her skull.

Don't go, he said. Don't go.

"I'm so angry at you," she whispers, her mouth breaking away to scatter fleeting touches all over his face - the bridge of his nose, his cheeks, the silver in his temples. "I'm so angry. Don't go? Don't go?"

Her mouth returns to his, even more fiercely than before, reminded once again of The Ariadne's suicidal run at the Vulture. Reminded of the letter which carries his last words.

"You're the one who almost left me!"

Alcibiades grabs Isabelle around the waist, pressing her into him with one muscled forearm. His mouth is coppery, tasting of salt and a little bit of blood — possibly the spattered remnant of a dead foe. Possibly, she's cut into his lips with her teeth and the ferocity of her kiss. But the heat in response to Isabelle's kiss is all his. He presses forward until suddenly her backside slams into the desk in the center of the room.

When she breaks the kiss to speak and rain kisses across his face, he tries to answer her, but the urgency of Isabelle's words spill over him. And then her mouth finds his again, and he buries his own words with the response to her kiss. He grips the back of her neck, and when they finally part again, rests his forehead down against the bridge of her nose.

"No, sweetheart. I was never going to leave you." The tone of the words is soft, gentle. The words that come next are not. "I killed everything that could possibly have made me leave you."

Blood flavors the intensity of their kiss, a ragged breath lost in the confines of his open mouth when her slighter frame is levered upwards by brute strength, the bite of the desk's wooden edge clipping into the taut curvature of her rear end - with such force that she nearly spills across it. It's only by the virtue of the frantic anchor her arms make around him that prevents her from doing so and for these burning moments, all she does is kiss him. His skin, his breath, all of them carry the insistent daggers of her temper, her head raked backwards and midnight hair trapped almost painfully between his fingers.

I killed everything that could possibly have made me leave you.

That's true, and it isn't just the way he says them, but the words themselves, that draws a painfully electric thrill down her spine as she clutches at him and devours his mouth in an attempt to bury within it those sharp, bladed spikes of remembered fear - an emotion that is just as rare and unfamiliar to her as all of this is, white noise cottoning her thoughts and rendering it difficult to think. Pinned against furniture and his broader body, questing, distraught, hungry fingers find the lower halves of him in an effort find the clasp of his sword belt. Isabelle might very well be intending to use his own cutlass on him, if she's telling him the truth about her anger.

"Two years." Her ragged murmur presses into his hair. "I tried to forget you for two years…if it had been longer, maybe I would have succeeded. Maybe after five, eight…a decade, I would have. But I couldn't…I couldn't…and now you're here, being how you've always been, pleading with me not to leave you right after what you just did…the gall of you, Cib. How dare you."

Alcibiades grabs Isabelle's hair, shuts her up in mid-sentence with another kiss, presses her further against the desk as she grabs at his belt — or his cutlass. He breaks the kiss himself, pulling her mouth off his through main force — his hand tangles tightly in her curls, holding her off of him. His teeth grit briefly before he answers. Suddenly, he seems as angry as Isabelle. Something in her words spark a response as ferocious as her own.

"Two years." He practically growls the words. "And all the time before that, taking you from port to port. Seeing you disappear into every alleyway in every port-city. And then, after that night, you were gone, Isabelle. Gone."

"Don't speak to me of gall." Where did this come from, this sudden fierce hurt? He relents slightly, leaning his lips toward hers, a brief and surprisingly tender kiss. "I refuse to leave you. So long as I have breath and a single spar on which to raise canvas. Resign yourself to that. I go nowhere."

The further press of him draws her across the desk, knees bracketing narrow hips, her head tilted back when he drowns her again in another kiss. The twisting way he grips her hair is almost painful, her own anger inspiring his. Isabelle may not be able to glimpse his expression just then, but she's able to taste the thickening tension in the air when he draws away and looks down at her. In the shadows of his pilfered cabin, his eyes are downright incandescent - he has always been a man who wears his emotions upon him without fear, but he is a gambler by nature, and every gambler worth his skill knows even the most open of expressions could also be a mask.

That falls away now, revealing a different sort of pain that he has carried beyond two years ago, and the realization of it, seeing it on him, arrests her breath within her lungs, staring at him mutely from where she's perched and braced against him.

What was he trying to say? She had elected to leave him two years ago to spare him and save herself. Had it been too late, even then? Why did he come back, she demands of him. Why did she leave, he demands of her.

"Cib…" she whispers, though whatever she has to say next is obliterated by his kiss.

Resign yourself to that.

"You should have— "

He should have stayed gone. All this…after all of this? What was she going to do now?

I go nowhere.

She attempts to shut out the other words with another kiss, as if to prevent him from saying any more devastating promises, his vehement words hammering home every intent that has been lying between them, unaddressed, for so long. And as she clutches him, pulls at him, does everything in her power to find an answer in the maelstroms of his own anger and hurt, all she can do is press a muffled sound of frustration against his mouth.

"You're so….you're so…!"

"I am so right, is what I bloody am. I am Alcibiades Rousse, I love you, and I go nowhere. Not in death and certainly not while I'm alive."

Alcibiades' voice is fierce, but lower now — a growl of lust as much as of anger. He presses another kiss onto her, this time pulling her head back to expose her neck to his lips. Biting there, and then lower on her collarbone, he says, "Just stop trying to convince me to go away."

His other hand comes down between them, reaching for her intimately. "It only pisses me off," he continues. Looming over Isabelle in the shadows of the cabin, Alcibiades seems somehow larger suddenly — as if he were back on the deck of his ship, sailing her into battle. Perhaps this is just as dangerous. Certainly, he loves this just as much. Or more.

"You're treating this as though we lost," he says, his voice growing just a bit teasing. "I'm beginning to want you to congratulate me properly."

What was she going to do now?

Just stop trying to convince me to go away.

"You— " Isabelle chokes back a gasp when lust rises like a savage beast in the throes of his anger. After all, didn't she tell him before? That she has a tendency to infuriate him? Lashes flutter half-shut when her eyes find the ceiling of his cabin - his now - and feels his teeth sink into the sensitive hollow of her throat. Underneath his questing mouth, he would feel it, the roaring rush of her blood through her veins, indicative of the way her heart races so quickly to the point of pain.

…and makes his designs known right away when he palms her. Her response is instantaneous, pushing up against him in offerance. She turns her face into his shoulder to sink her own teeth into the hard curve, and the breathtaking whipcord musculature underneath. She barely hears the words that follow.

"No…" she tells him quietly, breathlessly. Her other hand manages to find the clasp of his belt, the loud, heavy clatter of his cutlass finding the floor of his cabin. "…you didn't lose."

….

..

.

It is a while before they stop.

She says nothing else for a long moment, but the way she treats him after it all speaks volumes, and more eloquently than anything that she can clumsily say. She's still wrapped up around him, with clear view of the door when there's a knock upon it and it cracks open. Someone needs his captain.

The captain's third prize of the day, however, doesn't seem to care, Isabelle's sleek, naked form mostly hidden by Alcibiades' back and shoulders, but those long legs are very obviously around him. Drowsy, satisfied eyes find Jaime's face over his shoulder.

<FS3> Alcibiades rolls Perception: Good Success. (3 7 8 3 4 4 8)

Alcibiades is on the verge of drowsing, standing there. The shallow wound in his side, the exertion of these last few minutes — how long has it been? — the slaughter that seemed to last hours, but in fact took far less than an hour, have all come together to leave the tall Rousse absolutely tapped. It's not the knock on the door that stirs him, either.

As he lazily strokes Isabelle, some sixth sense warns him that there's a presence behind the pair. A dangerous presence, a predator. He lifts his head, suddenly alert. Fortunately for Jaime and Alcibiades both, his body blocks most of Jaime's view of the woman beneath him. Apart from those legs, that is.

"Has The Dancer finished rigging her jury mast?" Alcibiades doesn't turn around. He doesn't need to. There's only one man on this ship who would dare burst in on him, and only one predator that would raise his hackles so quickly. Jaime Daur is the most dangerous thing on this ship, though it sometimes seems that only Alcibiades knows it.

"Aye. And she's plugged the biggest hole. An' gotten the pumps runnin'. And we've replaced the main-course. And I have the lads cleanin' the deck of blood. Know what would be nice?" Jaime's tone is sardonic, harshly amused.

"If our Cap'n an' our financier would stop fuckin' long enough to remind the crew we're gettin' paid."

The tension that braids across his shoulders and down his spine isn't missed. Perhaps it's instinct, when Isabelle's fingers have managed to find the slim, small blade languishing by the side of the desk. But with Jaime announcing his presence so acerbically, she relaxes. Her eyes meet Alcibiades' sea-blue ones, a tired, but satisfied smile exchanged with him. As the older marine rattles off an accounting of the repairs made on The Dancer, she kisses him tenderly, fingers smoothing back the tousled locks of his hair.

"You can always tell them we're simply re-negotiating the terms of our arrangement, Jaime," she says, the devil's own mischief returning, peeking over Alcibiades' shoulder. One graceful leg shifts, to hike higher up his hip. And after that tease, a touch more seriously: "I'll take care of it, unless Cib insists on coming with. He's exhausted."

Her hand drifts down, touching the wound on his side. For the first time since they started, a frown visibly crosses her features.

But in the end, they do just that, though there's the small problem in which Isabelle's clothes have been ruined by their desperation to get at one another. It takes some doing to find spare ones in the former captain's trunk, before she assists in putting the crew's worries to rest about their compensation. There'll be hours yet, in the end, to make preparations - not only do they need to finish repairs, but to make sure The Myrmidon has been crewed with enough bodies to make their traverse back to Marsilikos safe. It would be folly indeed, to risk so much in claiming her, only to lose her because of haste.

The time for rest comes, eventually. As night deepens, she finds herself back in the captain's cabin - the crew has managed to clean it up and right the furniture, at least, replaced the seabed with fresh linens and polished the silver - Alcibiades', now, with the necessary partitions set up. She had spent a good hour or so collecting documents and log books, leaving them in the desk they so thoroughly used in the afternoon.

Now, under the light of a single lantern swinging close to the window, she's busily finishing replacing his bandage. The chirurgeon has managed to stitch him up earlier and now she busily disinfects aggravated skin and binds it.

"Do you intend to hang them, also?" Isabelle wonders quietly, putting the medicine box away before perching herself on the bed next to him. "The pirates belowdecks. I know you already told Jaime to stop threatening them with it."

"The laws and customs of the sea say that there shall be no mercy for pirates. They wouldn't have shown us any, once we fought back." Alcibiades keeps his arms up over his head as Isabelle scrubs his skin clean and changes his bandage. He lowers them as she finishes. His voice is composed, but there is a sense of disquiet in his voice. "I do not relish it," he tells Isabelle softly, "But these are the monsters I set out to slay. If we spare them, they'll be back to sea plying their trade again before the month is out."

He lies back on the narrow bed, which hangs suspended from the ceiling by several ropes. It's called gimballing — allowing the bed to rock with the motions of the sea. "Perhaps some of them are good men or women that were led astray. Perhaps they were desperate. Perhaps they deserve mercy."

His voice grows softer as he closes his eyes. "Perhaps I wish to grant it to them."

"But I can't."

She senses the disquiet in his voice, and something in her demeanor softens - it isn't anything overt, or anything palpable…he would only be able to detect it because he knows her so well. Isabelle remains seated, perched on the side of the bed, lissome form rocking along with the sway of the ship as he speaks. Her eyes do not move away from his expression the entire time, reminded of the time they confronted one another in The Dancer's underbellies two years ago when he defended his crew, and reminded her that privateering was not their main business.

But I can't.

As he closes his eyes, gentle fingertips lift to brush over his forehead, pushing back a lock of his mahogany hair. Should he open his eyes again and look at her, her features betray no discomfiture. Her face is resolute - whatever she actually feels personally about taking the lives waiting for their sentences belowdecks does not make it on the surface of her own expression.

"I thought about it and even if you were willing, I would have advised against it," she tells him finally. "I would have insisted that they meet their deaths. It's not out of vengeance, or custom. I think you know me well enough to know that I don't relish the bloodier aspects of my work. But with the questions I intend to ask them, they'll know that I'm looking for Jean-Louis, and no matter what happens, we can't do anything that'll alert him and his masters that we're on his trail. Perhaps I'm being overly cautious. Perhaps the possibility is so remote that we do not have to worry about it. But I can't take that risk - I can't fathom the full magnitude of what the consequences would be. All I know is that it would be dangerous for Her Grace."

After a few moments of silence, she continues. "I am…relieved that you do not like it. That this part of you hasn't changed."

Alcibiades listens to Isabelle's reasoning quietly, his eyes closed, features growing tense as he listens. It's not that he disagrees with the logic of what his lover is saying — it's that he despises, utterly despises, the necessity of it. "I wish," he says softly, "that it weren't this way. I wish that they'd chosen differently. They fought bravely. If they were soldiers of some navy, I'd insist right back that they be taken as legitimate prisoners of war. But they aren't."

He sighs, leaning his head back to kiss Isabelle's palm lightly. "But what cinches it is that they could endanger you. What if one of them sings to the wrong person? No." Running a hand down Isabelle's side, cupping her hip, he says "I want to sleep." Just as it had two years ago, a depression seems to be settling on Alcibiades — a dark sadness in the wake of such exultation. Perhaps, after such a fierce high, it is inevitable.

"They made their choice," Isabelle tells him quietly. "Cib…they knew the risks, what they decided upon the moment they boarded and worked a ship with black sails. It was their decisions that doomed them, not you."

It is cold comfort. Perhaps even an excuse, a carefully crafted justification of the uglier side of her work, but there is conviction in her voice, determination in every syllable. Who knows how she truly feels? But he would know as he lies there, listening to her voice and availing himself with the comfort in her touch, that some part of her believes it.

With his eyes shut, he would be spared the concern evident on the look of her, softening further when he decides, in the end, that he is determined in this course because of his wish to ensure that she remain protected. The palm running down her side, fingers splaying on her hip, inspires her to move closer, to tuck her body against the side of his and her head lying against his shoulder, the side of his bare chest. She remembers this descent, the inevitable gauging and weighing of the costs of his victories. She had seen this before.

Her lips find the space where his heart beats, pressing there.

"I can handle the rest," she tells him after a breath. "You needn't…if you told me you've done enough, I would accept it. I hope you know that it's always an option. I am…sorry…for the people you lost. I am so sorry, Cib."

And she is. Because he hurts. Because no commander worth following would sacrifice the lives of his men and not mourn the necessity of it. Her arm drapes gently over his middle, and she gives him a faint squeeze.

Alcibiades' voice is cold as ice as he answers. "No," he says. His tone is flat. "If they die, they die properly. In the manner they deserve. They will be run out to the end of the yard-arm, one by one, and hung by the neck until dead. And I shall watch each one drop." The icy notes of his voice melt somewhat as he continues. "I owe them that. And I owe my dead friends that much, as well. If it is to be done by my order, I must stand witness to it."

He runs his hand through Isabelle's hair lightly, then returns it to her hip via a long brush down her back. The iciness in his tone is for him, hardening him, not for her.

"I'm sorry about them too," he says softly. "But it's the cost of the sea that sometimes men die. It's hard to… it's hard every time, but in a day or two, it'll pass. For all of us. If we spent every day mourning those we lose…" Alcibiades trails off. Sailing is a dangerous profession in the best of times — forget about those days in which you wage open naval warfare — and men become, eventually, either inured to death or quick to recover from grief's effects.

"There's honor in that," Isabelle says finally, lashes kissing her cheeks when his hand finds her hair, tangling momentarily in her midnight waves before it returns to her hip. After a moment: "…a few months ago, before I returned to d'Angeline shores, I heard that a Bhodistani witch cursed an entire branch of House Mereliot to die - the children slaughtered during the Festival of Lights in Beziers, Her Grace's sister, later, when she and her cohorts were cornered by adventurers. The witch was later captured, then publicly executed by the hand of the murdered marquise's heiress, a girl…no older than sixteen, who had grown up sheltered in the Night Court when the tragedy happened."

Her eyes fall across his cabin, to rest on the partition separating his bed from his small dining room. "It's a testament to the d'Angeline willingness to do what's necessary, when even the innocent can unflinchingly ask for justice and satisfaction and exact it with her own two hands." She tilts her head, to press her lips on his cheek. "I hope it passes swiftly, as you say."

She reaches into the bandolier on her thigh, and withdraws a strip of paper. She lifts it up between her fingers, letting him glimpse the incomprehensible script scrawled across it. "I wish…that I could give you more time to grieve. You could have it, if you were willing to let me continue on by myself. I…don't know what it is I did, to earn your love the way I have, that you would come with me to hell if I asked." Her eyes lift to meet his own. "But I am glad that I have."

Those fingers reach up higher, still tangled in Guillermo's note, to trace the shape of his mouth, reminded of the question Jaime had asked, that day in the deck, as to whether she would take anything back. She answers it at last.

"I regret nothing, Cib."

"My God…"

Alcibiades listens to the recital of baroque bloodshed, opening his eyes finally to crane down and peer at Isabelle. He sighs, lying back on his narrow little pillow. "You're right. That is one tough girl." Shaking his head faintly, he says, "We don't need much time, love. We'll bury them tomorrow with a needle through their nose and a pair of cannonballs at their feet."

"And once we do that, and once we find ourselves enough of a crew," he continues softly, "we go into this next stage together." Leaning forward, he kisses the top of Isabelle's head. "And me? I only regret that I didn't wake you up two years ago."

I only regret that I didn't wake you up two years ago.

He wouldn't be able to see it, but he'd be able to sense her smile, rueful and faint. "If you had, I might've run a little faster," Isabelle murmurs, her lips finding his shoulder.

"Sleep now, darling," she tells him softly, her eyes wandering towards the door. "You need your rest."

One thing that Isabelle has had too few occasions to appreciate is the sailor's knack for falling asleep on the instant. It's a remarkable thing to witness, but a necessary skill to cultivate — when one may be called on-deck at any hour, in any condition, one must sleep where he can. It's as though Isabelle has given Alcibiades permission.

Flat on his back, his arm possessively around her waist, he is unconscious in moments. At first, his breathing is slow and even. But — perhaps it's the unaccustomed company on his chest, perhaps it's the new bed — his snoring begins soon. And rises. It's not quite a cacophony, it doesn't quite rattle the beams of the ship. But a sailor, passing over the skylight just overhead, can be heard to snigger.

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