For a moment, it was all Angelique could do not to march back through those doors and give the two a piece of her mind. If there was one thing she couldn’t stand- and there were many- it was being ignored; her pride and her honour were far too great to be slighted by a pair of mortals, mortals that would live for barely a breath of time in comparison to her life. Yes, that was her hamartia, her fatal flaw; her own arrogance, her own pride. Arthur had raised her to control such emotions, though, and she reigned them in, contenting herself to shoot another foul glare at the offending door. “Annoyin’ little dullard,” she muttered under her breath, before shaking her head. Her nose still wrinkled in annoyance, she once again met Ivan’s gaze, and took comfort in his much mellower expression.
Relieved, she, too, felt a warm smile spread across her features; his mood was infectious. Despite her annoyance with her leader- and she was certainly still irritated with the man- she couldn’t help but laugh, her disposition nearly buoyant. “Anfay. I could go for some tea, actually. A good cup does wonders for d’a soul, non?” The words had barely left her mouth when Ivan turned, leading the way down the hall with quick, earnest strides. Her legs, not nearly as long as his, worked double time, matching each of his steps with nearly three of her own. She managed a nod at the guards, this time, even a smile; once out of the building, she inhaled as if she’d been underwater. The cool, crisp air was like a shot of whiskey to her senses- a headache she hadn’t even noticed develop began to fade.
The air was still sharp with cold, but the wind had slowed considerably; no longer did her skin feel inflamed, as if the breeze carried tiny knives. The sky was a lovely shade of blue, now, and for a moment she was reminded of her own seas. It was a small comfort, but the knowledge that she and her friend shared the same sky still managed to ease a bit of strain she felt from day to day. She kept her pace about a metre behind her companion- she was already moving nearly into a light jog, simply attempting to keep up with him. It was an agreeable way to keep warm, she had to admit- while the day had certainly warmed, it was still far too nippy for her personal comfort. Still, she managed to return each of Ivan’s smiles.
Their destination proved to be a rather run-down sort of establishment, but those inside seemed to bring a warmth throughout, as good as any roaring fire. Once more, Angelique’s lips curved into a smile. The furniture and settings had certainly seen better days, but hadn’t they all? And so it was with an entirely sincere tone that she murmured, “Oh, Ivan… it’s lovely!” And so it was, particularly when the jolly bartender welcomed the pair with a boisterous greeting. She returned his grin, even laughing as he spread his arms wide- he was an enthusiastic character, that much was clear. “Allo, Mik-a,” she replied, her accent faltering slightly on the syllables.”It’s good to meet ya’, mm?” Still beaming, she, too, sank into a rather sardonic curtsy. As she straightened, she studied the man, noting his open, warm attitude; he didn’t appear to be very stern, and she decided immediately that she liked him.
Ivan was much larger than she, and he cleared a path quite easily. The other patrons seemed perfectly content with shuffling aside, but she still smiled apologetically to each. For a moment, she marveled at them; their pale skin in particular. Her own flesh, the tone of powdered cocoa, shone like coal against the snow of the Russians. She wondered, briefly, how unusual she must seem here. She was reassured by their friendly greetings, however, and by the time the two found a table, she felt as comfortable as she could possibly be, so far from home. She settled into the proffered chair with good grace, grinning brightly.
Raising an eyebrow, she couldn’t help but giggle. Nodding politely to the bartender, she, too, leaned against across the table. She rested her cheek in her hand, biting her bottom lip to keep from laughing outright. “Ivan, I d’ink we bot’ know ‘oo’s d’a lightweight, ‘ere.” She shook her head, feigning concern. “I ‘ope ya’ can finish nearly d’a entire bottle ya’self, because I don’t d’ink I can be presentable after two shots.” She was exaggerating, of course; she wasn’t quite so prone to drunkenness. She might have been small, yes, but she wasn’t human. Still, the idea of taking the edge off certainly appealed. She met Ivan’s gaze, her eyes dancing with mischief. “What do ya’ d’ink René would say it I returned to d’a meetin’ drunk on Russian vodka?” She kept her voice low, of course, but she still glanced aside so as to assure herself of their safety.
Winking, she giggled once more, her dimples once again prominent. “Still, I’d like to. We’ll see which of us can outlast d’a od’er, non?” She hadn’t a doubt in her mind who could hold their liquor the most- it certainly wasn’t the Kreol. Sensing Mikha’s return, she straightened, accepting her cup of tea- smooth, creamy chai, a drink that was actually quite popular in Praslin- and thanked the man. “Mezi- d’ank you, brod’er.” She eyed the bottle and accompanying glasses with some amusement, her lips hovering over the surface of her tea as she blew on the warm brown liquid. Her tone was playful, teasing, as she smiled at the man across from her. “Damn, d’at’s a big bottle. Ya’ sure ya’ can ‘andle it?”
As they entered the bar, Ivan regarded Angelique’s comment with slight surprise, not expecting a compliment of any sort. He had never thought of the run-down cafe as anything close to “lovely,” and he shot her a glance, unsure if she was just trying to be polite. However, her honesty was evident in her tone of voice, and Ivan knew before his eyes even made it to her face that she had meant it. He hummed slightly as he tried out the word in his head, his lips pressed together in a thoughtful manner as his violet eyes scanned the room. To his surprise, the word quickly settled in with the old furniture and young laborers, like the abandoned sweater a child finds in his father’s closet that slips on easily over his head as it envelopes him in a new yet familiar scent. Though weathered and even slightly dirty, the place was comforting like a blanket with its edges unraveling from the nervous touch of small hands. He tucked the word away in the cracks in the walls, but before he could thank Angelique, she had already turned to the bartender, easily returning his lively greetings. She greeted him exactly as Ivan would have expected, with immediate good humor. She really had a surprising character; with one word she could send him lost in his thoughts, but with another she brought him quickly to reality. Even with the comfort and continuity of friendship, their relationship was never boring.
Ivan raised his eyebrows playfully at Angelique. “If you’re worried about appearances, I can assure you that no one here really cares about ‘presentability,’” he replied, mimicking her attempt to keep a straight face. Holding back laughter, he nodded toward the patrons around them, all slightly drunk. A few at the bar had their arms around each other’s shoulders for balance and were swaying back and forth as they sang along to an old classic with strong, confident voices; another man at a nearby table was raving to a friend about a girl he wanted to ask out, nearly serenading him as he tried to demonstrate how he planned to woo her. Just the sight of the drunkards was almost enough to make him feel drunk himself, even if in reality that would have required more than just a few shots of vodka.
“Meeting? Well, he wouldn’t know if you never returned, da?” Feeling more and more at home among his comrades, Ivan’s Russian was starting to slip out. He had always been proud of his language, even if many of his citizens always considered French to be more beautiful or “educated”, or English more useful. His language reminded him of home - not his actual home, which was nothing but a collection of several empty apartments or cottages across the country, but an imagined home he figured might have existed if he had been born a human, or just the entirety of his country and all the cozy homes of people within it. The robust Russian words - the soft, round vowels and hard consonants - brought both a sense of nostalgia for a time that never existed and a sense of pride for what he had now. But honestly, he thought as he glanced around the bar, he had no intention of ever returning to the meeting at the moment.
“Well, I certainly hope you weren’t planning to win,” he responded cheerfully. “Even if I like you, I’ve never in my life lost in a drinking game.” That being said, if he had ever lost, he certainly would have been too far gone to even remember it. As Angelique leaned away from the table, Ivan sat up as well, allowing Mikha to set down the drinks. “Pozhaluĭsta, mademoiselle,” the bartender replied, thinking himself very gentlemanly for using the French term rather than a simple address such as “comrade.” He winked at Ivan as he left the table; Mikha had a rather annoying yet comical tendency to think whomever Ivan brought into the bar was his new date. Ivan only managed an amused look at him before Mikha had already turned his back and rushed to accommodate the other customers.
Following Angelique’s eyes to the bottle of vodka, he laughed and responded, “I’m thirsty, so it should be okay, if that’s what you mean,” knowing exactly what she was referring to. “I’m more concerned about you - but I’m sure you’re great company no matter what level of soberness you happen to be on,” he countered with a grin. He took a big sip from the tea, feeling the hot liquid travel down to his stomach, soothing his throat. It was a bit silly of him to order tea and vodka at the same time, but thinking to himself, he realized he wouldn’t know what to do if he ever had to choose between them. He took another gulp, partly because he loved the taste and partly because he was excited to get to the alcohol. The cup was shallow, a properly sized teacup unlike the huge cylindrical mugs Ivan liked to use when alone and at home, so after a few large gulps the tea was already half gone.
He poured two shots of vodka and ceremoniously placed them next to each other in the middle of the table. The clear glasses (the one thing Mikha prided himself on keeping clean in the entire bar) and the transparent liquid inside looked like two crystals on the dull table top. Ivan gestured toward them with one hand, while the other held the tea cup. “But I insist, ladies first.” He returned her mischievous look, challenging her with his eyes as he glanced again toward the shining shot glasses between them. Without breaking the gaze, he lifted the teacup to his lips, wondering silently what she would do next.
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