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Jealous of Roses Arc 1- Box Of Rings

Summary

Home Is Where You Stash Your Guns

It's a slice-of-life relationship drama about a bunch of trained killers in the future.  Inspired by the trashy action anime of yesterday and brought to you now with feels, canon queer characters, BDSM, competent women, actual assassinations and plenty of cocktails.  

Arc 1: Roa settles in to the manor, but how will the manor settle around her?

Jealous of Roses is presented in a form of textual formatting which was common (in English) from the 90's up through the late 00's. No specific term exists for this style, but it incorporates archaic word processor markup and once had the effect of making the prose involved display readably in regardless of browser settings.  Character art by Dorodraws @ tumblr.

Jealous of Roses 01-001: She Only Has One Box And That's What's In It

Jealous of Roses 01-001

(She only has one box and that's what's in it.)

 

~*~

 

Siebenkas was not as young as he had once been.  Seeing his bed in the barely dawn blue lead him to that space and he slept for a while, thinking before he did that it was nice at least to be able to appreciate having a bed at all, something he'd never quite done when he was foolish and sleepless and could drink any of his lords under the table.

 

He got up in full sun and the air conditioner complaining overhead.  His clothes from the night before proved unsalvageable, which left him with one clean undershirt and some ratty jeans.  Someone had drunk all of the coffee.  As for his gun still being a freshly shot wreck, that was his own sloppiness.  He started a load of laundry and another pot, then went to the smaller, cooler common room with his cleaning kit.

 

Firearms seldom broke irrevocably if their owners kept after them.  His probably counted as old, though pieces of it had been swapped out over the years.  Most of it had gone dark, but the barrel was still silvery.  It came apart so easy in his hands, it almost felt like he had broken the thing.

 

He was rubbing a stubborn spot of gunk over a chiffonette instead of the other way around when he first heard the noise.  Flupflup.  Flupflupflupscuffflup.  A long shadow fluttered past the doorway, only to return another instant after, and linger there, watching through the wispy outline that she left. 

 

Nobody ever snuck up on anybody else while wearing flip-flops.  The shadow at least seemed to understand this and did not play that she had any other intentions as she flupped and she scuffed right up to him.  Peered around his shoulder and then went to the far side of the table.

 

She took the same spot she always did, though now Pip had to crouch to peer over the table at him.  He'd caught out of the corner of his eye besides that the gingham sundress wore too short on her.  It seemed to fit otherwise. 

 

He could hear her bare feet squeaking in her shoes between his own sounds.  "And what are you doing over there?" he asked her, by and by.

 

"I love the smell of gun oil," she said.

 

"Aren't you supposed to be in school?"

 

"No school.  It's summer."

 

His hands paused on the barrel of the gun.  Summer again.  Of course that made sense, thinking off the heat of the early morning sidewalks.  Pip, there with him now. 

 

And of what she told him next.  "Duckie got a new person."

 

"Well, I guess if you're here, it is that time.  Just one?" He looked over to her now to see if she was nodding and it wasn't her hair caught on her fingers he saw darting out of focus. 

 

In fact, she had stood, and pushed herself up, palms flat to the table and her bare shoulders set tight.  It looked awkward, but children would do awkward things if left to their own devices, just to see if they could.  Considering some of the ways he'd seen her father sit...

 

There was one thing about her that he couldn't get used to and he doubted he ever would.  Every tidbit of truth was supposed to have a price, and most of the clever falsehoods too, if they sounded useful enough.  Duckie got a new person.  He would have found this out for himself soon enough, but it was still a piece of now that she didn't need to share.  Yet, she had.  He should have scolded her for that.

 

Instead, he decided to make things even.  He'd left his bag of favor tokens on an end table, rather than launder them again.  He didn't usually play the favor game.  The relative values of the tokens he found tedious to deduce.  There were phone applications that rooted such things out of the web on demand, but Siebenkas did not own a mobile.  It went without saying that one should not be able to merely dial up an assassination. 

 

He got something pretty out of the bag- a greenish black pearl, almost the same color as the gun grease smudges left on his hands.  He knew as soon as he'd placed it on the table that it was too much.  Pip's attention clung to the spot and her fingers flexed against the glass table top.  She looked to him, and back to the pearl, watched him then as her hand crept that way to cover up the black spot, though soon enough that disappeared into her dress. 

 

"The name she picked is Roa," Pip said after.

 

"I see." Though, it could be in the next few hours knowing just that ahead of time- /her/ name is Roa -could prove invaluable.  Roa being no name he'd ever heard before.

 

"She's really pretty."

 

"TV Pretty, or...?"

 

"Pretty pretty."

 

"Good." The world had no place for vain courtiers. 

 

"She's Wa'eki, but nobody said so."

 

"That's interesting," Siebenkas laid his towels aside, the pieces in them rolling about as he did.  Well, they weren't going to get any cleaner at that point.  "Wa'eki?"

 

"Uhuh!" Pip nodded, gesturing now, one forefinger ticking on the air as if to beckon her facts back in.   "She's definitely not white an she's got tattoos on her legs.  Prolly some other places, but legs's all I got.  An she brought a steel string harp."

 

"Really?" Not that he'd had any expectations at that point of knowing about Roa, but the bit about the harp was not what he'd expected to hear.  Even if he was pretty sure such things had a correct Wa'eki name, not being only harps.

 

"I looked in the box.  She only has one box and that's what's in it," Pip nodded, bit did not manage to repress her smile, which was that of a stinker who had been there, done that, and sneaked into more than a few adult councils with a skill most adults had forgotten.  "Well, she an Duckie were talkin about a delivery, but that's different."

 

Because courtiers still needed clothes and sundries and objects for the quarters where they'd been installed.  Siebenkas sighed.  He'd always been fine with only the clothes part.  Everything else was just pretending he had some other job.  Nice enough, but still.

 

Pip's flip-flops tapped after her heels.  One-two-three steps closer by the rim of the table.

 

"It sounds like you've got some excitement this summer," he said.

 

"You say that like last summer was boring," she came right back, something of a pout forming on her lips.

 

"Well..." he thought back.  Last summer.  Summers before that with Pip in the manor Duclos kept.  At first, the memories were all strange to him, and he suspected he'd had too much or not enough of the coffee, as fast as they flung past with no rhythm and hardly any meaning to the sights glanced over him.  The simple answer rose out of the center of things, ripped free of the rest, there as he heard it again, the scuffs sounding his way.  Last summer had passed brutal hot and he'd been out in it besides.  Waiting.  And the papers piled up in the common room where nobody read them because they already knew pieces of first hand.

 

Pip had not been out with them.  She had waited in the manor rooms.  What had her summer been like? Well, surely she knew there was work to be done and kept her own estimations of the thunderstorm tension riding on the air, since not all of them belonged to the clouds. 

 

He still couldn't be sad for her, not where she wasn't sad at all herself, waiting a few footfalls off from him, her hands behind her back.

 

Zephyr could have been his own at their ages, but Pip was no older right then than he remembered his son.  The nostalgia he found in her there filled him tight.  And the thing about Pip was, she probably knew she'd done it.

 

Besides, he'd gone quiet awfully long there.

 

His son.  The boy who had been the light of his life for so long and with such brightness even from the first few instants, holding him still wet from his mother.  To that one luminous flash that last of their evenings together.

 

When it was summer and the fireflies were out over the fields and outside of the city, the moon had hung immense over the three of them.  Mother.  Son. One man so filled with the idea there must be something greater than himself out there in the world.  And so.

 

Pip had laid one fingertip to his bicep.  Her hands were small and warm, so he hadn't realized at first, and then hardly by touch.  He could see the wire glinting in her skin though as she flexed small circles after him.

 

"Naughty."

 

"I know."

 

He thought of asking her- does it make you happy, what you're soaking out of my memories? But, he knew that answer already and it was enough besides that he had thought of it.  Of summer again and the years he had lost.  So he said instead, "Is your father going to be angry if I hug you?"

 

"Why would he be mad?" Asked as if she really had no idea.

 

Though he figured that half a lie, and at least enough permission from her. 

 

Siebenkas gathered her into her arms, sudden enough that one of her shoes tumbled from toes, and she eeked against him.  He carried her onto his lap and held her, caught the baby peach smell of her hair and that sunny gloss of children left outside where they belonged in the warmth of the year. 

 

Like this, he had exposed all of his own summers, old and new and then and lost.  He thought of his son and his beautiful Natalie, who had given him his own courtier name.  He thought of what had been instead of what wasn't.

 

Pip squirmed, but she did not fight her way off of him.  It reminded him of holding a rather large gingham kitten, not quite sure if it liked this whole people business. 

 

When the old paths through his thoughts had begun to wear away, he turned her on his lap and ran his hands over the gun glinting on the table.  "Now, I *know* you know how to take these apart, but there comes a time in the life of every good child where you need to start learning how to put things back together."

 

Pip trilled happily and reached to the grip.  "This part goes on the bottom."

 

"Yes, but you have to be careful how you put it on."

 

It got kind of awkward, reaching around her to hook this here and snap that there.  But, he had done it enough the easy way alone, and he managed well enough.  Besides, there were always her hands to borrow if he couldn't reach.  Maybe it would be better if she did some of this herself.

 

In the mirrored spaces of the table still visible between the rags, he caught a glimpse of Zephyr in the doorway, slouched there and smiling.

 

Jealous of Roses 01-002: Well Then, Welcome To My Manor, Roa.

Roa had no idea that she was beautiful.  It wasn't that she came into life as some selfish being incapable of appreciating such a state of grace or that she thought little of herself.  Quite the opposite- she was never so proud of anything she'd accomplished as she was that morning, handing herself over to Duclos.  But, Roa had seen many people think a myriad of different and lives were lovely.  She remembered all of them.  Who they had belonged to and the ideals they left behind.  Given this, her appreciation of beauty came subject to clinical relativism.  Meant nothing to her own physicality.

 

She was southern sun bronze, smooth and warm and creamy, her legs long and her hands elegant.  Perhaps, if she had any vanity in her, she despaired that her fingers were destined to grow rough and scarred, given the lift of a courtier.  Her figure took a gentle hourglass that she carried with a sureness, always knowing how her poses looked from the outside. Her hair fell in soft, black waves to the small of her back.  She had a heart-shaped face, her eyes downturned and her lips small. 

 

On her morning with Duclos, she wore a ruffled cream blouse and a black pencil skirt; two diamond studs in each ear and a chain of crystal dangles around one ankle.  Faces, birds and bodies melted blue along the curves of her legs.  Her stockings did not hide them, only made them ghostly after her gait.   People passing by the office stared.  Tripped on one another and spilled their coffee. 

 

Duclos had left them to take a business call, one that sounded legitimate.   The second slouched against the wall in the same careless way, albeit between Roa and the door.  "You're trouble," she said, somewhere underneath her fedora. 

 

"Perhaps," Roa answered, settling her hands on the back of one leather guest chair. 

 

"It's not the tats.  Hell, it's not even that thing you do.  It's the way you move.  That's what says you're trouble." She had this cold, throaty voice, like a monster in a fairy tale. 

 

"Trouble" came through like something that should have quenched Roa's satisfaction.  It didn't.  "You would know.  You've been here the longest, haven't you?"

 

"Maybe.  Maybe not."

 

"You're the only person I haven't been introduced to since this started.  Of course you're the oldest."

 

The second grinned, maybe just showed her teeth.  It was hard to tell.  "My name is Tian and I think murdering people like you is fun."

 

Roa didn't back down.  Her muscles sang that she should, but today of all days was not the time for such lapses.

 

Besides, Duclos swung back into the room.  "Don't worry.  She says that to everybody."

 

"Anyone would do then?" That was the implication anyway.

 

But, Duclos paused, hardly an arm's span from her second, and rubbed her chin in thought.  "I think she prefers wights, but it's hard to tell."

 

The second gave no answer but more of her teeth.

 

"Anyway, the only person who'll be drawing blood from me today is you."

 

The contract been done up on fine paper, but still subject to a copy machine.  The letters in the calligraphic heading had empty specks down their swirls, but that was true of the drafts before.  This of all things seemed wrong to Roa.  Who used a copier to make up a contract that had to be signed in blood? Well, the process would be neater, simpler this way. Cleaner. Not in the sense of art, since the feed for the machine had left dents. 

 

Still, she read the words, knew the meanings one more time.  Duclos closed the office shades, then settled in to watch, sitting on the edge of her desk.  When she saw Roa's eyes near the end of the writing, she handed her the pen with the blade at the point.

 

Roa hiked up her skirt and stuck herself on the thigh.  A sensible quiet greeted the gesture.  She signed, she dated and she finished.  Duclos consulted the signature and added her own, drawn out of her thumb.  She offered her bloody hand to Roa and Roa shook it.

 

"Well then, welcome to my manor, Roa.  Band-aid?"

 

They each took one from the box in the desk drawer.  The blinds into the office didn't stay closed more than they had to.  So, it was going to be obvious to any one of the regular employees with even a passing interest in the potential conspiracies of their superiors just what had happened in Duclos's office.

 

Roa wanted them to know as much as they could.  Today was her day and if, in another world, she could have bragged about being a courtier to people who weren't, she would have. 

 

Tian, leading her upstairs, seemed less of a threat, even though nothing in the second's demeanor had changed.  Only Roa was Roa now.

 

The manor wasn't literally that.  Still, it did not disappoint for all the trouble it would have had doing so from twenty floors up at Sky Plaza #1.  Duclos owned the entire installation- three smaller towers and a glittering fountain in the piazza below.  Her own rooms could be accessed only through a stairway in the manor floor, itself subject to a second, keyed elevator at the end of a maintenance hall.  The place was lush and bright, the very first window Roa found so full of late morning horizon it made her breath run deep. 

 

It was also empty, save for her and Tian.

 

The second had carried her bag for her, but handed it back now.  "They'll be around.  Think there's furniture in your room." A key sailed out of her hand, and Roa had to catch it, letting the harp weigh her sideways.  "Me, well, you're not the only thing on my agenda.  Go chill out.  I'll be back round five."

 

"Alright.  Thank you, Tian."

 

Tian held still, not looking to Roa, but tasting her by her bearings at least.  "Don't kill anybody while I'm gone."

 

"You too."

 

She'd have been lying if she'd said it didn't delight her stupid to know they left it like that, not even a quarter hour into her courtier life.  In the meantime, what door did the key fit? 

 

The manor floor felt both brimming and deserted.  Perhaps it reminded her of a hotel during the lush part of the day, laid out in calm formality, but abandoned for the beach by people careless with their bags.  She kept her own close, even in the time she trailed near the window, perhaps a little disappointed that the beach did not come close enough to enjoy from where she stood. 

 

Most of the doorways she crossed lead to places that didn't belong to any one person and so had no keys.  There was a big sitting room with a television and a bar and a few smaller parlors that reminded her of study rooms in the back of library, just better appointed.  A place with treadmills and weights and a mirror with a bar, like went with ballet dancers.  Roa went to that, putting one heel against the glass, thinking though it would be hard to dance on a floor so soft. 

 

The other common room was all dark wood and pale fabrics- very classy, she thought, or close to it anyway.  Someone had left a bottle of creme de menthe out on the sideboard. And a stiletto.  Roa stole over to get a good look.  Yes, it was really just sitting there with someone else's fingerprints on the grip.  It didn't smell of blood or speak to her at all of anything remotely murderous.  In fact, up close, it reminded her of something for trimming the ropes around a sailboat.  So, she let it go and went to continue the search for her quarters.

 

Except the liqueur turned out not to be the only splash of color in the room.  The other one though startled her, and she it.

 

Perched on the shade of one pedestal lamp was a blue-and-yellow macaw.  Now that she saw it, she could hear too that the pale clinking in the back of her mind was its claws trying to fix on the milk glass beneath them, not the air conditioning at all.  It was enormous, its tail as long as her arm, the Caribbean splash of its feathers staining the whole wall behind it bluer than the last of the morning.  It stretched its wings at her, losing specks of rainbow down to the sunbeams and made one small caw.  Small for a macaw, anyway.  Out of the drifting silence between Roa and the bird, the bird sounded like a horrible trumpet accident. 

 

"Are you the welcoming committee?" she asked.  But, the macaw had nothing else to say to her.  Its wings flared again as she passed by on her way out.

 

Across the way, she found a dining room with New York apartment chic Lucite chairs at attention beside a mirrored table.  Spider plants flanking the china cabinet had overgrown their pedestals.  The room itself opened into a substantial kitchen- more than she'd figured she'd find, and shockingly aqua besides.  Even the spoons in the carousel beside the stove.

 

It was also the first room she'd come across occupied.  A small, stocky redhead dangled on the fridge door, not quite sure if she was going to close it or not.  She had on a pair of swim trunks and a towel draped between her damp hair and the scars on her shoulders.  She'd spotted Roa quite some time before Roa spotted her.  "So," she drawled. "You new or am I gonna hafta fightcha to the death if I want outta the kitchen?"

 

"I’m new," said Roa.

 

"Damn.  Well, frees up my afternoon." She got out two double-sized juice boxes, one of which she stabbed with a straw, and the other of which she left on the counter, somewhat more Roa-wise.  "I'm Nene." 

 

"It's very nice to meet you," she hadn't been expecting a handshake.  But, then again, she also hadn't been expecting a drink.  As much as she wanted a glass to go with that, it would be a bad first impression to refuse.  The contents of the juice box was not awful- some white grape and taurine jelly soda.  "Is there supposed to be a parrot in that room over there?"

 

"Nah.  Parrot’s s’posedta stay over..." over /where/ served with a pop and Nene pointing a way Roa hadn't yet ventured.  "Sophie! Are you a good bird?"

 

"Sophie is a good bird!" came the answering squawk.

 

"Good birds stay in their cages."

 

"Sophie is a good bird!"

 

"Think yer lyin' to me."

 

"Orange chicken, easy on the sauce.  Spring rolls! Spring rolls!"

 

Nene pursed her lips in the quiet aftermath of that.  "We get a lotta takeout.  Menus're in the fridge if ya need a fix.  Commissary stuff's not thrilling."

 

"Noted."

 

"Anyway..." she sidled around the island, sucking on her juice box hard enough to make it complain, the towel sagging into the crooks of her arms.  Not that it had covered up much in the first place.  It might not have been her intention that Roa accompany her, but Roa did that. 

 

The parrot took off from the lamp as Nene approached, placing herself as the finial on another.  But, without further lighting to bother, she fled no further, permitting herself to be seized around the middle and toted away.  She did say though,  "We do not put ranch dressing on pakoras."

 

"You and Seine can say that as many times asya want.  Doesn’t make it true.  No, it doesn’t," Nene pointed out, leaving a scritch on the bright blue head, even if this got the parrot flapping all askew in her grasp.  The room she carried it to must have been the middle of the floor- the only view outside being that of a skylight gushing against a small garden under glass.  There was space enough for more flowers, but only deck chairs and one half-hearted watering can had been left, and most of the room taken over by a mesh enclosure home to battered coconuts and branches besides the usual assortment of half-devoured rope. 

 

The screened door of parrot room had three locks, none of which were done- it dangled ajar into Nene's elbow, though before she pushed it back into place, she made sure the bird had settled on a branch, and from there sank her fingers into her plumage, scratching and ruffling and laughing at the coos that came from this.  

 

The glass garden was full of rosary peas.  White ones.  Growing in under the watchful bows of a strychnine tree. 

 

"So, I betcha got a name too, princess," remarked the courtier, being as scritching time had run short.

 

"I’m Roa," It felt then in that moment that there had never been another word for herself.  Her wonder at this, at finding these other courtiers to keep her company, overwhelmed her words into something quick and half-bewitched.  "You’re Nene.  And the bird is Sophie.  Is she yours?"

 

"She’s always kinda been here.  Like Tian.   Dun think she’s hers, though.  She doesn’t like bad birds."

 

"Sophie is a good bird," insisted the parrot.

 

So, there were two of them at least.  Three, counting Sophie.  Roa put her bag and her juice box on one of the chairs and came very close to Nene, just about side-by-side, though there was plenty of room for that at the screened door.  She offered her hand, gently folded, to the bird and the bird regarded her fingers, still a little dazed from all her skritches.  But, she seemed to understand- this unthreatening fist meant more of those.  And so, she relented to the touch. 

 

Oh, she felt like raw silk.

 

"When I was young, all I ever wanted was my own room, my own betu and a parrot.  Today, I got all three.  And all it cost me was my name."

 

Nene made a curious sound with her straw.

 

"I didn’t like it anyway."

 

"Well, good.  So, I dun hafta pester ya to help clean the ‘Macaw Enclosure’?"

 

"No, not at all.  Does Sophie know to step up?"

 

Golden wing reaches answered this.  Sophie shot past Nene and launched herself towards Roa, who only just had time to gasp and raise her arm.  She hadn't really wanted parrot on her new blouse, but blouses were transitory things, even in the world of regular people.  Sophie's weight settled on her forearm, that was a thrill she would only know once for the first time.  And if it meant a few pulls to indulge now, so be it.

 

Sophie seemed to belong there, perched regal on her sleeve, and looked out from her space.

 

Roa's space, and no one else's.

 

"Well," said Nene.  "How 'bout that?"

 

Jealous of Roses 01-002.1: Aspirations of Hopscotch

One she'd run into Nene and the bird had settled on her shoulder, once Nene had also put some clothes on, Roa spent most of the rest of the day being coaxed at haphazard whiles around the complex.  The passed the office where she'd signed herself over to Duclos three and a half times. 

 

After a while, Nene gave up interjecting: "Stop me if this's too much" or "You wanna break?"

 

Nene didn't need a break.  So, Roa didn't either.  When things got quiet for too long, Sophie spoke up about spring rolls and got bits of oat biscuits fed to her.

 

Roa very much appreciated how matter-of-fact Nene turned out to be, explaining how the enzymatic cleaner had to be handled this way for blood and the other way for...

 

"Interstitial fluid?"

 

"Yeah, that's it. Well," Nene scratched her hair.  "OK, not it-it.  That's a damn lucky shot if it's all you got."

 

Roa considered the odds, "It would merit another, if anything."

 

"That's the spirit. You ever use a UV lamp fer like cleanin' shit?"

 

Maybe Nene didn't expect Roa to remember all of this.  But, she still showed and taught and suggested.  Roa listened.  And her feet started to hurt, but that was what she got for wearing shoes that weren't quite broken in, given the presence of Nene and all.

 

That much she learned as well. 

 

~*~

 

Between trips up and down from the manor, other voices began to filter in to the rooms.  The owner of one appeared face-down in the middle of the entryway come four in the afternoon.

 

"Zeph, yer bein' a traffic hazard," Nene suggested, and bounced right over him, only to go backwards a few steps later and make some gestures of introduction.  "Roa, Princess Whiney Bratface.  Zeph, Roa."

 

"Hey," said 'Zeph'.  As in, 'hello' hey, not 'stop calling me princess whiney bratface'.  Besides, he happened to roll over onto his back as Roa skipped over him. 

 

She smiled to the carpet marks on his cheeks and he twiddled his hand after her ankle to no luck at all in catching her.

 

"Spring rolls," said Sophie.

 

It was halfway down the hall (again) before Nene pointed out- "Yeah, don't mind him or his kid."

 

"Kid?" asked Roa.

 

"There's a Pipsqueak 'round here someplace.  Trained her not to bite.  Y'know, mostly."

 

"Unless it's an emergency."

 

"Unless that, pretty much."

 

Coming up on six and Sophie retiring to a lamp- which she was allowed to sit on but only after five and if someone had put her there -besides a shouting, paper-ball hurling decision that they were getting "Giant Effing Epic Level Munchy Boxes" for dinner...

 

("What sort of protein does that come with?" asked Roa.

 

"Every kind," replied Nene.  "Wait, dude.  You never had one? Yer SO gettin' a twelve inch fer that." Which sounded plenty indecent before Roa discovered the place such boxes were procured from went by Vice City but still wasn't allowed to formally list their "Giant Effing Epic Level Munchy Boxes" on any menu ever due to health concerns.)

 

...Nene finally ran out of steam.  "Well, I'm cashed.  Wait there a sec."

 

There being the hallway or not, Roa waited.  Some slamming around followed circa the kitchen and this not being especially violent, she didn't let it concern her.  Anyway, Nene soon enough showed up with a bouquet of sloshing, open beer bottles, one of which apparently belonged to Roa. 

 

This was never said.  She grabbed her hand with one of her own sudsy ones and they wiggled their way into one of the common rooms.  "Can take yer shoes off, ya know.  C'mon.  We're so off the clock fer least the next hour."

 

"Duclos said there was no clock,."

 

"See?"

 

So, Roa had off with those.  And her stockings, which she managed to tug away without dropping her beer.  Of course, with everything all lined up neatly in the shoe rack, Nene seized upon her and hauled once more.

 

'Zeph' occupied the couch off to the side of the smaller common room; Ambra and Seine the bar, glittering glasses in their hands.  'Zeph' also had a beer and so did the person at the table with the game board.

 

He gave just the barest nod, seeing her fall into the chair before him.  Him being 'Siebenkas'.  Seb as Nene had referred to him.  Because Seine was busily drinking (did he realize this was the second time he'd tipped his hat to her?) and from what Roa had gathered, 'Seb'/Siebenkas/Yet Another Princess Some Of Whom Came Off Ostensibly Male was older than the rest.  So, assuming the simplest of al stories made 'him' 'Siebenkas'.

 

More than old enough to be her father.  Barefoot as herself and Nene.  The scene around them smacking of tournament. 

 

So, Roa said- "May I be black?" Looking at the pieces. 

 

One of the dishes of chips slid over to her side.  "Of course you may."

 

He placed the starting tiles.  Two black and two white.  Then, one more white which, having surrounded a black piece, turned that one over so it was also white.

 

Easy enough.  Roa took the diagonal move, flipping that chip back to what it had been.  Clack, clack, clack went the pieces as she turned them over. 

 

Second move or not, Siebenkas paused to take a sip of his beer, considering what whites he could claim.  He took all of hers.

 

An Roa wasn't disappointed at all.  Far from it.  The game wouldn't turn tedious if he actually /played/ her.

 

In the meantime, a silvered hand popped up between, creeping towards Siebenkas's beer.  "Pip," he said between turns. 

 

"Hey, 's my job to say that," followed from Zephyr, besides an earthly chuckle. 

 

This child didn't seem... well, she popped up, flashed a huge grin to Roa, and then bounded over to the couch where her father wiggled her beer over her head before handing her a soda he had hidden under the back cushion.

 

Roa found herself in a position there wouldn't be any turning over /all/ of Siebenkas's last move.  So, she started at the other corner.  And tasted her beer.

 

Now that was awful.  But, it had a ritual significance. 

 

She hoped.  The alternative being she found herself excusing a burp for no reason whatsoever.

 

~*~

 

It was coming up on midnight by the time Roa retired.  Someone had put her box by the door intended as her own.  It didn't seem like anyone had gone in to the room besides the garment bags that had turned up spread over the bed during the morning tour.

 

Not that she had much to worry. For that evening, the bed made most of it.  A very standard issue hotel sort of mattress though the sheets? Though very soft and very clean, quite unlike hotels.

 

The bathroom beyond would have to be redone.  Its burgundy and white seemed glary to Roa.  The layout otherwise though, quite appealing with a sunken tub and tiled space walled off in glass, all but asking for more showerheads.  She could have a whole waterfall in there.

 

She would, she decided.  She was allowed.

 

And a bed.  She'd get an even bigger one.

 

Even though she hardly took up what she had.  Well, once her clothes had been moved to the closet and her betu unpacked to watch over the downtown.

 

~*~

 

The first other lord Roa was introduced to: one who went by Baudelaire and who quite obviously kept only female courtiers.  None of whom were 'princess', not in front of her, anyway. 

 

"Of course, I did that once upon a time too," Duclos explained.  "But, then again, someone here can't be bothered to covet my *men*, so to speak."

 

Baudelaire smiled almost sweetly about that.  "I do.  Just not in that way." His overall appraisal of Roa being only a small part of the meeting and his approval of anything short-lived besides. 

 

Otherwise, she took a place to Duclos' left and a respectable distance from Tian's teeth.  There, she held mild against the attentions of the other women.

 

It was thrilling, in a way.  But, not quite as thrilling as she'd suspected.

 

At least, she enjoyed the attention.  Who wouldn't?

 

It took a moment for the idea to surface again.  She was strange.  Not everyone belonged where she stood.  Fewer store found any joy there at all. 

 

Strange, but she had found her way.

 

To somewhere at least. 

 

~*~

 

"Now, as for the rest of the day," explained Duclos as they rounded her black town car. "I'll be contacting my secretary to confirm a few appointments, but it should be very much of the same."

 

The conversation after started out dragging satisfied, but by the time they'd circled around to the exit of the parking garage, things had soured and rather a lot and someone had to be conferenced in and Tian blew the horn at bicyclist sporting a serious death wish.

 

"No, that's not acceptable.  Where did you even get the idea.  Yes, I am talking to you.  No, you do not tell any of my employees anything. Why? Because they're mine."  And a sigh.  Duclos held her hand over the speaker.  "Southbelle on Seventh.  Step on it."

 

A riot on laughter after and Tian banged them out onto the road.

 

Stepping on it got Roa a very nice view of the arcologies and office towers feathered in around the highway as they swung around the limits of the glistening districts rather than attempting to cross them straight out.  The cars below them on the surface street glinted away despite being really quite still.

 

~*~

 

Southbelle on Seventh sprawled white over a handful of corners, a vague and brassy nautical theme to its trimmings.  Siebenkas and Pip had taken up a table for two under a ship's wheel besides mostly out in the hallway leading back to the "Surf" and "Seabird" meeting rooms.  They both wore faintly wilted suitings, besides sat with their feet so obviously out of their shoes Roa could tell from coming around the corner.

 

If nothing else in the manor came to please her.  If tomorrow there was no bird and Munchy boxes weren't delicious anymore.  At least she still got to live with people who appreciated bare toes.

 

Although, the two present did scramble back into theirs, dashing to meet their Lord and pull themselves demure, the little girl somewhat overdoing it, matter of her bottom lip stuck out.

 

Duclos looked them over, tapped her foot, and sighed.  "Fine.  You're still alive.  The hell with the rest.  Go... have a drink or something." To which she flicked a finger towards Roa.  "You too." Before stalking off in terse finality.

 

Pip shrugged.  Her companion cocked his glass and they headed back. 

 

Not to the table they'd taken before, to a shady spot along the smaller arc of the bar. 

 

It was most certainly not after noon, but then again, they were most certainly not the only people in the bar, or Siebenkas the only one with two fingers of anything on the rocks.  He stood, elbows on the glass.  Pip usurped a barstool, albeit backwards. Roa joined them, standing over and almond cordial and soda. 

 

She just had to wonder- what purpose was there to sending the oldest and the youngest courtiers to what should have been a simple exchange? Perhaps- shock value in Pip's case, and Siebenkas had a certain imposition.  And besides, was there ever such a thing as a simple exchange in this world she'd crossed into? Probably not. 

 

Her lord was not a stranger to her, but the novelty of even the most everyday things she did.  Roa would grow out of it.  Find out.  Just like...

 

Maybe the Pip's own shock and novelty wasn't only meant for jobs.  That would be quite a clever use for someone so small.  And yet, Roa thought away from the sugar ribbons twisting in her glass, quite splendidly cruel.

 

Besides the part where Pip happened to be grinning at her. 

 

"Your hair looks very nice today," said Roa.  If the bun and ringlets was very much too old for her, that only made the care with which she'd been coiffed all the more apparent.

 

Besides got her to beam.  "Thanks! Yours does too.  Dad fixed mine.  I made him cause he said it makes me look like Roissy."

 

"That's a business associate of Duclos's." A name she'd overheard besides.

 

"Uhuh! Uhuh! She's fun, but I'm not 'lowed to go over to her house." This wasn't a bother, only a fact, worthy of stretching against the bar, then over her head and then demonstrating for one and all about the bar where Pip /was/ permitted to go.  Say, the most convoluted route through the tables, clacking about as if she had aspirations of hopscotch.

 

She made her way meandering around the room to the part of the fish tank display that did happen to be straight behind them.  And she swayed there, nosing along with the likely-looking tank residents.

 

Roa went after.  She found the tank quiet herself, the filter bubbling more lively than any of the fish.  A snail or two wandered the substrate, but otherwise there were sponges and clove polyps and some very fake pearlescent plastic weeds where dangled a handful of bone-colored seahorses, all content to waft along with their unchanging current- to be stared at by little girls in suits.

 

"I heart fishies," Pip explained.

 

What a novel grammatical construct.  But, more than that, something so unnecessary to share.  Roa reached into her purse, coming up with her tiny pouch of favor tokens.  A little something green and bright for that should work.

 

But, Pip waved her off such that she had to lean away for get little silver fingers all over.

 

"Hey.  You're smart.  That one gonna make eggs or she got the ich?" Meaning a seahorse whispering close to the glass, though quite unable to hear, let alone understand, any interlopers.  One puffed up like a milky bubble.  "Cause if ish ich, we should beat up the tank guy."

 

Roa crouched to have a better look- not that she needed as much, but to see the little seahorse there, bobbling all swollen and charming, well, she hadn't expected that either out of anything so far in her position and she figured she should enjoy it regardless since the city didn't exactly overflow with seahorses.  "He's just fine.  He's going to have babies soon."

 

Pip turned away from the tank and looked at her as if she'd lost her mind.

 

"Male seahorses incubate the eggs they fertilize with their partners.  It's not exactly like being pregnant for a mammal, but it improves the outcome for their offspring and the time between when their mates can make more eggs."

 

"He sure looks preggers to me.  Hey, Seb?" Directed at their companion who had meanwhile made his own way across the bar.  "Would you wanna get knocked up if it did that thing Roa said about not dyin?"

 

"Ah, well.  Since I am a mammal and all..." he began, fading off though to an absent gesture over his own midsection.  "Not like this.  If I was going to get pregnant, I'd rather just be a woman."

 

The seahorses became much less interesting to Roa, who picked herself up and looked back at Siebenkas from the swoosh of purple plastic leaves.

 

To see him do no more than take another sip of his drink.  "In a society where I could do that, I'd have no reason to be embarrassed for saying so."

 

"You wouldn't," Roa agreed.  "Would you like that world though?"

 

That had him thinking on the last kiss of his ice cubes.  The glass he lowered, but not too far.  With it close to his chest, he leaned over the far side of Pip, looking down at the quiet, little reef that had distracted them all for the time being.

 

"I have enough reasons to dislike this one.  The same would be true of any world, but..."

 

Even though he was caught up with the glass and the little girl between them, Roa still caught it.  The deep unhappiness that settled an instant in Siebenkas.  The way his hand tightened on his glass so that the condensation rose bright around his fingers.

 

Then, it was gone.

 

And he was the one who stroked a fingertip over the glass, though none of the fish in the tank seemed to notice the gesture at all.  

Jealous of Roses 01-002.2: The Others Would Be Able To Hear Her All Over The Manor

 

Jealous of Roses 01-002.2

(The others would be able to hear her all over the manor.)

 

~*~

 

A few nights passed before she got an evening to herself.  They sped past her into more sunsets and more champagne and strange moments alone in the midst of crowds.  But, things had been like that on her way to the manor, or so Roa thought back on that time, there, by herself, in the city.

 

They- Duclos, Tian, the guests and the other courtiers caught passing by -ran out of things to tell her all of a sudden.  "There should be a job for you in a few days.  Until then... Well, think of it as your debut."

 

Roa felt debuted enough, but Duclos spoke over the shadows of her regular employees headed out to their cars and the train stations they preferred. 

 

Someone had lost a tie in the lobby, tearing it off at the end of the day with a little too much enthusiasm.  Roa took it to the lost and found, the only person walking west in the eastward rush towards the door.

 

She considered her options for the lingering rest of the day. 

 

Most people who played the betu had low stools carved particularly to sit between them and the instrument they favored.  That was one luxury Roa would have to wait on.  But, the chairs in the manor were all too high.  She always had the option of stacking pillows on the floor, but that would be hard balance, besides bothersome to anyone else who wanted to use the pillows raided.  An ordinary stepstool would do or even a bottom from a broken office chair.  She had some hope of coming across the latter in the storage rooms she visited. 

 

Every chair she found remained intact, at least seat-wise.  Some were missing arms or backs.  The only one that looked as if it might sink low enough despite the wheels being in place pitched backwards to an awkward angle when she tried to sit in it.

 

She had begun to consider looking for another supply room, besides the idea that she could order something that would work for playing on another evening, when she spied the lawn chairs.  Three of them, lined up in the back of the office with a few scratched film screens.  After picking herself out of the wobbly chair, she tried to conceive of what one did with lawn chairs in an office building.  But, she came up with no productive answers and so helped herself to the set.

 

(The next morning, the head of Floor Two Supplies came into work, blinked out her vexation, suspected she'd been served decaf by mistake again.  Then, a kind of relief washed over her.  The lawn chairs which had haunted her inventory had vanished, their departure every bit as clumsy mysterious as their arrival had been.  But, they were gone.  That was the important part.  She went back to the commissary and treated herself to a danish.)

 

Roa took the chairs into the manor dining room.  She liked the view- the way the spindle shadows of other buildings dripped hot pink and violet across the glass, and the bright ribbon of the highway cut into the distance. 

 

In the islands she had come from, it was a gift to share music with others in the quiet intervals of the day.  Even if she wasn't quite so good as the others who would give themselves away to play against the contemplations of their companions and the evening chorus in the trees.  Now, she had some incidental television sounds instead of birdsong. 

 

The others would be able to hear her all over the manor.  If they asked her to stop, well, at least she would have gotten that one evening out of them.  There would be ways around them in the future.  For now, she wanted to try.

 

Roa sat in the green lawn chair, and unwrapped the betu, settling it on the carpet between her feet. At first, she found herself perhaps half an inch too high, but the latches in the lawn chair settled with a clunk, so everything went just right between her and the instrument.  It had not been cut to her as some betu were, but it had the most enticing dip in its scrolls that cradled her collarbone, seemed to draw her fingers towards the strings as her nerves reacted to the weight there. 

 

The instrument had two pillars, one curved and one straight, not quite touching one another.  The whole thing had a bellflower outline, with a scrap of stem of course.  When Roa held it to play, she became the sister leaves. 

 

She touched up the pitches of a few strings, and began to play.

 

The betu sounded more like a steel guitar than a harp, but there were hints of that too.  With the weight of the strings, songs could go beyond plucking to strums and blows.  She took a rainy sort of cadence at first, remembering both a tune she knew and thunderstorms over heavy, green leaves.  The first few notes and the first few drops of rain scattered between her fingers. 

 

And then all of a sudden, she was swept down in all of the sounds the betu could make, her skin singing along with the peels.  You had to cradle these instruments.  If you did not, they began to sound tinny and dead.  With her and inside of her, the notes mellowed out, even trills where her mind took to the highway lights out there, the speeding neon places sinking blue before her. Though that too began to end, go still and back to the pauses in her fingertips. 

 

The sunset had not yet blown itself out- there was still some blazing on the crests of the distant towers.  She would not waste this evening across the distance with one improvisation played after rain.

 

So, she tried a few notes.  Which one felt like summer sun? Which one reminded her of that heat glare rising away from Sky Plaza as the clouds went out to glassy flames? She felt more than heard it, matching the timbre in her muscles.  The others came to sort themselves out after that pitch.

 

Roa played closer the "right" way now, starting her own theme with one hand light through the strings, darting off of that with the other into the notes of the second pillar, where she had a few false starts, but played them away, so that they could have been some fanciful introduction to the melody.  Then it was back to the first line, pieces of the second, before they swept in, darting together into deeper keys and taking knocks on the soundboard, chasing and circling so that sometimes one note made another searing bright or two more washed one another to a third form, crystal and fleeting.

 

She liked this second song: the sounds of her knuckles seeping in, the way it troubled the flow of her blood beneath, how it soared against the last fade out of the evening.  She loved though the way her fingers took the vibrating hurt by the end. 

 

She let the music go out like that.

 

A hush came over the dining room after.  She could hear people casting about in the doorwayThe other courtiers had come to watch, listen, hang in the evening shade.

 

Roa swung away from the betu, turned over her shoulder, and smiled.  They were all sort of glancing at each other, and the flash of her attention jarred them to stillness, though only for a second.  Zephyr began to applaud.  The others fell in soon after. 

 

She thought: /You don't really have to applaud someone doing what they have to do anyway/, but she stood and she thanked them with her head down, which seemed to be what people did in the city after they performed and anybody else noticed.  It felt very, very strange to be in that place, just for strumming a betu.  Would they have done this if she'd swept the ashes from the hearth they didn't have or opened a bottle of extra sweet palm wine to toast off the rain?

 

Well, perhaps they would have given her an ovation for that too.  She could find out. 

 

Zephyr socked Seine in the shoulder.  "You mad you're not the only musician we got now?"

 

Seine looked into the ceiling.  "Kinda.  You play piano too?"

 

"I do not," Roa answered. 

 

"Eh, I'll live.  Was nice while it lasted, though."

 

"You're ma~ad," sing-songed Zephyr.  "You're gonna go pout and write torch songs."  He flicked his glittering hands the other courtier's way, knowing full well he'd get side-stepped.

 

Possibly not that Seine would sock him back in the middle of his dodge.  "Why, you want to help?  You can pout enough for five people."

 

Which made Roa smile- they were easier with one another than she would have guessed.  Watching them pretend to slug each other, that reminded her of careless moments otherwise in her life.  Her life before.

 

It did leave her somewhat nonplussed that Zephyr had been the one to clap first, speak first, react to her.  She might not have known him very long, but he puzzled her: bringing a girl he introduced as his daughter to his manor while hardly looking, let alone acting, an adult himself.  No Wa'eki would have tattooed him. None had though- his work was a composition of vines and insects.  She didn't know if these were meant to cover the wires in his skin or show them off.  They seemed to accomplish both and neither, depending on how the light caught him.

 

Speaking though of this daughter of his, Pip wiggled her way into the dining room, skipping around the table and over to where Roa had left the other two lawn chairs.  She plopped one down next to Roa's and sat down without any seeming care that there was anyone else around.

 

"Oh, hello," said Roa.  "I'm sorry, but I think I'm done for tonight."

 

"Ish OK.  View's not done," replied Pip.

 

Well, it wasn't.  The highway had started to come into its own in the distance, bright white spangles where the last shadows ended.  The orange spaces in the clouds above, mirrors of the clouds below, faded peach and sea and finally deep violet blue. 

 

"You wanna drink?" the girl asked her.

 

Roa flexed her fingers.  They felt small and tender at the edges of her sense of touch.  "No, thank you."

 

This was not the answer Pip had expected.  Her head twitched sideways.

 

"Later perhaps, or tomorrow night, if that's alright."

 

"You can havea drink whenever you wan.  Your fingers needa break, huh?"

 

"Yes.  And right here." She tapped herself on the collarbone where the pillar of the betu had rested.  "It's still buzzing."

 

"Neat. Sooo..." Pip swayed onto the arm of her lawn chair, propping her chin on her fist.  "You know anya those dances with the hand things?" Funny way she put it, and how ungraceful she mimicked.

 

Roa thought she should have been taken aback by the yanking around of the conversation.  But, Pip was a child and for all the seriousness of her poise, her eyes sparkled.  Everything about her said- tell me yes.  Roa did much more than that.  "I know dances that are done only for the jungle and any human who sees them is left for the trees to feast upon."  Perhaps the last part was a bit gruesome, but it was just as much of the truth as yes. 

 

And it didn't put Pip off at all.  "Will you show me? We only got that one tree.  Ish doin just fine, so why kill me? 'sides, Dad'll be *mad*." Mad like if someone had hidden his phone, the way she made her own demise sound. 

 

Roa thought she heard Zephyr laughing, but it could have been someone else or some other reason.

 

"Of course I will.  That's a silly taboo.  What does the jungle care for dancers, anyway?"

 

Pip smiled. 

 

"I'll start right now."

 

"Now?"

 

"You took the time to ask.  You should always be prepared for people answering 'now'.  Take off your shoes."

 

Pip tossed her flip-flops into the rungs of the unopened lawn chair and scrunched her bare toes in the carpet.  Roa got to her feet and toed off her flats, nudging them under the table.  Her stockings came after.  It wasn't just the custom, that part.  She hated the feeling of trying to dance with anything between her feet in the ground.  It unbalanced every move she made.  Although, fishing off her stockings had much the same effect.  She listed towards Pip's side of the window. 

 

The girl took one little step away, hands behind her back.  To Roa's questioning look, she said, "Careful.  Dun touch me an Dad."

 

"What kind are you? Of..." she knew the word they used in the city, but it had no power in her mouth.  "Kauhe.  What kind of Kauhe?"

 

"Evokers."

 

"Oh," and then as she settled on the thought, her hands on the betu to move it to the table.  "Oh! I thought..."

 

"Noli me tangere, Caesaris sum?" Pip shrugged.  "I mean, you /can/ touch us, an you /can/ toucha ruiner just to watchyer hand fall off.  With us, you just won get any privacy.  You know, in your head." She tapped her own, and then one of the lawn chairs, which collapsed into itself.

 

"That's alright, then.  It was alright before." Since there was no reason she couldn't have taught a ruiner to dance.  Maybe there would have been gloves if she needed to correct their posture, but no more than that.  "You're a little old, but now is the time of your life you start to think about who you are.  So- I want you to think: I am a dancer."

 

"I am a dancer," Pip repeated, casting about on her heels, waiting for some other affirmation. 

 

"Take a step towards me."

 

"Like a dancer?" So, she was onto her already.  She still did it, something of a sway in her hips and at least some deliberation in the way the sole of her foot closed against the carpet.  Of course, the arc of her ankle was all out of time, her movement coarse because of it.  She seemed to know where she was at least.

 

When Roa gave her no response, she took another step.  That one marked with a bit more slide rather than mere movement.  Pip was left-footed? Left-handed too then.  Well, that shouldn't make that much difference since there was no way to train her out of it by then.

 

Roa matched her, step to step; put them only giggling inches from each other.  "And the other way," so, they went backwards.  "I'm imagining a beat.  It's one-two-three four." Her toes kept the time up, tapping a first, coming into a flex, one pose and then the other, moving on the sound that wasn't.  Pip went a little different than herself- stepping sideways on one, tapping out to four and then back on one to go through the whole thing in the other direction.  "Usually, we would start by going back and forth, not side to side.  Watch my feet, but don't do what my feet do."

 

Which got her a trill of consternation.  Of course, when Pip stepped her way, she went backwards, and like that they moved.  Clumsy at first, since the girl was so intent on watching what would come to her next.  She did get into the rhythm of doing rather than matching, seeming to understand step now and not then, even if some of the subtleties of where her limbs had to be between the beats were lost without a real drum, or the confidence of knowing this step against all others.

 

"When do we get to the hands?" she asked a few more back-and-forths in.

 

Roa did not answer, but let her palms sway between them.  Now, 'you do what I do' fell obvious between them.  And their fingertips so fluttering close.  She had to go off of her instincts for that.  For the first time, it would be watching Pip's footwork.  That was the basis and that would need a formal explanation in time.  But they could return to that, another night perhaps.

 

When no one else's feet had intruded on her view.

 

"Daaad," drawled Pip.

 

There was ink even on his toes and butterfly on one instep.  "I just wanna see whatcher doin."

 

"There is no just," said Roa.  "It's /very/ taboo for men to dance this way.  You could at least pretend you care that you're going to be killed for it."

 

He stopped where he stood, craning his head sideways to Roa as his daughter began to laugh.

 

So did Roa.

 

The next time Pip came back to his side, he fell into step with her, serious now, his hands all a-flutter and just barely free of her shoulders.

 

 

Pip says: "Do not touch me.  I am Caesar's."

 

Jealous of Roses 1-003: Duclos's Other Courtiers Wouldn't Appreciate The Smeary Numbers One Bit

Whenever anything any of her courtiers did made the evening news, Duclos would buy them gifts.  The logic behind this still threw Siebenkas.  Was she rewarding them for making a show? They only did what she asked, and the whole idea was to /not/ make a show.  She should have just congratulated herself with another house.  And besides, it wasn't as if she had much stock or even interest in the mainstream press. 

 

She enjoyed the floating courtier world so much more than the real one.  It was the only thing that made her face light up that certain way as if years had fallen from her, or the air gone full of love and wine.

 

That being part of the reason Siebenkas never got around to telling her he didn't drink as much as he had back in the day, and went on accepting her presents to him even if they took the form of very expensive, very strong booze.

 

They were still just booze.  His favorite kind of booze, but that stood far beyond the point, assuming there was a point to the situation, and he wondered more often than not.

 

He also didn't know why Coeval VSOP was called Coeval.  What was it supposed to be Coeval with, exactly? Cognac was still cognac and the years on the bottles Duclos gave him kept getting bigger and bigger.

 

Except for the one which came in the most recent beribboned box.  It had one of the old labels with the gold leaf that flaked off on his fingers.  He held the neck up under a light and squinted to get a look at the date.  Someone had started messing around this this particular bottle of cognac when he'd been in elementary school.

 

Duclos's other courtiers wouldn't appreciate the smeary numbers one bit.  The Coeval would be just one more thing to get them giggly and stupid and possibly draped at weird angles in the bathroom.  Or so he told himself, having already decided that one glass wasn't going to hurt much and he could always save the rest for a time that merited a celebration.

 

The common room bar- of course they had a bar, being as most modern courtiers wouldn't work without round the clock access to such a thing -turned up without any proper swirling glasses.  Siebenkas said the hell with it and poured a few splashes into a lowball.  Then, since no one else had already done so, he put his feet up on the coffee table and turned on the television.

 

It had been a damn long time since he'd done absolutely nothing.  The Coeval smelled amazing, tasted downright heavenly where his tongue had been so dry these past few weeks and all the fruits living in the cognac had decayed down to their very essences until there was nothing earthly left about them.  Only that dark and fleeting taste before they smoked away to alcohol vapors on his tongue and he hardly had to swallow, though he did feel them clear through.

 

It was *good*.

 

He wished he could say the same thing about that night's programming.  At first, he thought it must be his own bad luck that he'd tuned into a talk show with some actors shilling their latest film.  Talk shows in general tried his patience, but this one was just tedious and somehow the host going into a digression about ice cream made things more so.  Clearly, the host showing off- the clip shown of the film had come from a drama.  Well, it could have been the wrong clip.  Regardless, Siebenkas cast around for the remote, only to find it wedged between the two major cushions, which was to say directly beneath him.  Fishing it out put the TV on something with a laugh track, so he mashed the channel button as soon as he had grip enough to do so.

 

Which brought him the news.  He hit the button harder this time.  Cartoons ensued.

 

He gave that more of a chance.  Who was to say that cartoons were not worthwhile entertainment? But, in the end, he couldn't quite empathize with the anthropomorphic pink elephant, no matter how many times it shouted "ese!" at its friends.  Besides, he could hear someone shuffling past the doorway.  Cartoons were one thing and cognac another, but he did not wish to be seen drinking cognac while watching a pink elephant do anything, "ese!" related or otherwise.

 

The television situation deteriorated from there.  He began to average mere seconds between programs, words floating where the liquor vapors had been.  That stunt double's isn't very good at this.  Just saying "No" isn't a joke.  That's not how people fall over when they die.  It was not relaxing at all, even as he felt his veins begin to warm.  He resolved, after adding a conciliation splash to his lowball, that he would stick with the next show, no matter how dreadful.  Dreadful would just have to make the Coeval seem better by comparison.

 

At least he landed on something close to tolerable.  Siebenkas did not mind giant robot shows, no matter how gaudy or foolish or in this case, eerily familiar.

 

Footsteps passed the doorway again, someone else with a paper shuffle trailing.  And bothering him only because there was no paper on screen that moment, so the sound fell so far out of the narrative that was supposed to have sucked him in, but kept failing between the cognac and the rhythmic affronts to his suspension of disbelief.

 

The cushions on the back of the couch sagged.  Pip had gotten up on her toes to flop exactly there and put him off kilter like that.  "Whatcha doin?" she asked.

 

"I'm having a drink," Siebenkas replied as he scooted over.  She was a moment more in the big glossy robots before she caught his patting invitation. 

 

Then she joined him by clambering over the back of the sofa and crashing down beside him with a leatherette squeak.  As undignified as this maneuver had been, she took the time to straighten herself out after, so she was not all little girl limbs and ruined ponytail beside him. 

 

With her there, he wasn't technically drinking alone.  Not that it would matter much.  The other courtiers acted at least like they drank plenty by themselves.  His was an old prejudice left over from his days as a sweet fool who'd never killed more than a rabbit or two for Sunday dinner.

 

Pip turned away from the screen, but flicked one forefinger that way, her heels drumming on the frame beneath them.  "Is this It Never Ends or It's Already Been Cancelled?"

 

"It Never Ends, Robot Version.  You know," he paused, taking a small sip before holding his glass out, holding all those CG stars through the cuts in the crystal.  "The last time I turned on the TV, I swear this is what was on."

 

"That's the magic of summer reruns."

 

"It was even this episode.  Watch, he's going to miss."

 

That got her attention.  She was hands down in her lap, intent upon the imaginary boy who was about to make an imaginary blunder at one more ludicrous and thoroughly imaginary foe.  The boy fired and his glimmering missal zinged off into the void beyond his starry battlefield. 

 

Pip frowned.  "Where's the kickback?"

 

"I'd like to know the answer to that myself."

 

"Oh show, guns aren't that easy." This one had once again lost her attention.

 

Siebenkas being in much the same situation.  He'd heard this panicked shouting match after the misfire before.  It had no power besides the faint droll of his mind following along.

 

"Alexis watches this sometimes.  She thinks the guy with the mecha with the things is cute."

 

"Well, he is.  I'll give this show that." Just a matter-of-fact observation.  A classic sort of face was a classic sort of face, even behind a whimsical space helmet.

 

Pip giggled.

 

On the television, one of the less cute boys declared: "I always get my mark and my women on the first try!" to a swell of music and engine noises.

 

As he turned the volume down, Siebenkas added.  "The other one is smarmy and careless.  Pip, if you ever end up working with someone like that, he's a liability and you should kill him right away."

 

"Oh.  Noted." She gave him a winking salute, slouching now, her legs uncrossing only to knit back together one of those oh so uncomfortable ways.  She was barefoot and had a spot of blue ice pop on the hem of her shorts.  Her thin elbows didn't sit quite right on the arm of the sofa.  Looking back to the robots left her still more dreamy distant from the drama that was supposed to have come so close on that big screen of theirs.   

 

/You're thinking about something.  I can see the wheels turning.  Not paying attention to the boys at all./  So, he shifted.  If she wanted an in, some sound outside herself could serve as one.  But, as he'd about talked himself back to this not being the case at all, given the constancy of her fidgeting, her hand brushed his, then lit on the glass.

 

"Is it nice?" she asked, tipping him down so she could peer therein.  

 

"I think so," said Siebenkas.  "Do you want a taste?"

 

Oh, did she nod.

 

"Bring me a spoon then."

 

Pip shot off of the couch, bounded to the bar and rooted into the first cabinet that caught her attention.  He guessed she was after the shaker set, and sure enough she hurried back with the olive spoon dangling from her fingers.

 

Siebenkas rubbed the glitter off of his palm and onto his pant leg before he took it from her.  Coming in from the side of the glass he hadn't drunk from, he dipped out the daintiest little mouthful of extra special old pale and held it out to her, expecting she would take the spoon back, maybe spill a little on the couch, and sup for herself. 

 

Instead, she leaned over and closed her mouth on the bowl end.  Smiling, at first.  He could feel the spoon moving on her tongue, and after a little of that, her eyes grew dark and certainly displeased.  The cognac sloshed in her mouth.  And at last, she swallowed.  Her tongue shot right out of her mouth once she had.  "That's like the worst cough syrup *ever*."

 

Siebenkas glanced into the remains of the cognac.  He could see that.  It made him a little disappointed in himself that he could see that.  "I think it tastes more like an attic smells.  But, good."

 

"I've never smelled an attic!"

 

"Well, most people don't start with something that has this much alcohol in it.  You have to get used to that.  You'd begin with a Burgundy or a good Bordeaux.  Fruit wines, well, they just taste like candy..."

 

It wasn't as if he'd downed a terrible lot of the Coeval.  He realized he was having a conversation about wine with a child while watching boys hardly old enough to drink themselves go off and kill each other.  But, the thing was, in the light of the cognac, the former struck him as that much more of a serious issue.  With that in mind, he went to the bar himself this time, his glass unguarded on the table.  Pip wasn't going to touch it again.  Not after that face.

 

On his return, he offered her an aperitif glass of Burgundy.  "Here, try this.  Wait!"

 

He paused in sinking back to his seat, and she with the glass mere flashes from her lips. 

 

"Sniff it.  I poured it so it's still hard.  It has a different smell if you pour it soft."

 

Pip wafted the vapors, a student with a chemical she did not know.  Then, she also stuck her nose close to the rim of the glass.  "It smells like strawberries an flowers an shoes."

 

"The shoes part will grow on you."

 

She took that as her signal to try it- tentative now, after the cognac.  The robots and their boys reeled about on screen, lost with their bullets.  But Pip, she was soft gone to her little glass of Burgundy, swishing it in her mouth before she swallowed.  Taking another taste from the drip caught on the rim and making her lips smack.

 

"Do you like that?"

 

"Is much better than the Coeval stuff, but it hurts my tongue."

 

"You don't have to finish it."

 

"No," she put her nose up.  "The wine won't beat me.  It dunno algebra or anythin about kickback."

 

He would have ventured it knew how to be wine and perhaps the sensations of being caressed over by vintners, left over from its formative days as grapes.  Pip consumed it in darting sips it took him most of the commercial break to realize were hardly more than his own ventures back to the cognac.

 

In the manor entryway, greetings and bags rustling- which he was glad to hear in his own way.  Evenings too still grew to restless soon enough.  A fist knocked into the door of the common room and the door hinges slid into a whine.  "You better not be in there gettin my daughter sloshed for your own amusement!" laughed Zephyr.

 

He'd already gotten halfway back the way he'd come by the time Siebenkas turned over the back of the couch, offering.  "I just gave her some Burgundy.  And a little cognac."

 

Which should have been, and was, more laughter at the first, at least until Pip hiccupped.

 

Zephyr stamped to the couch, peeking over the two of them, and their two glasses, not empty but certainly not full.  "You like that," he said to his daughter.

 

Pip's nose was a nice shade of pink by then.  "Kinda."

 

"OK then."  With that, he tossed his shoulders and removed himself to the bar.  Whatever he made there, it resulted in sticky cordial bottles and half a can of soda left behind, plus a cherry stem sticking out of the corner of his mouth.  He perched himself on the arm of the sofa.  For Pip, he had an extra cherry floating in his glass, which he fed to her on the point of a plastic sword. 

 

"Me, I figured you'd be at least fifteen before we drank together.  Cheers cutie-pie."

 

"Cheeeeers."

 

Their glasses met.  Nobody spilled, but soda spray fanned out all over the place.  Neither of them drank, though Pip pulled her Burgundy in close.  This gave her father room to reach across her lap.  "You too, Seb.  Cheers."

 

Toasting obviously required more cognac than he had, so it was a slosh later before his glass got to Zephyr's, and then to Pip's.

 

Perhaps he should have done hers sooner.  The gesture as it was made her kick her heels into the couch. 

 

"In other news," said Zephyr on the surface of his drink.  "The hell're we watchin?

 

"It Never Ends, Robot Version." Perhaps it didn't matter that much.  They'd gotten to it eventually.

 

"Huh.  That is *not* what people look like when they get beat up."