Moody What Ifs


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Scene Title Moody What-Ifs
Synopsis Richard visits for what passes as an old friend in the Pelago, if she's not quite the same as the Peyton he knows back home.
Date June 23, 2021

It’s been awhile since Richard set foot within a brothel. Some of those old memories are pleasant ones; others involve knives and torture that he was on the wrong end of. Fortunately, he has other things circulating through his mind as he infiltrates the Siren’s Song than those old traumas.

Technically he hasn’t set foot in the ship either - at least not tonight - but there was a shadow that slipped beneath the feet of those still partying late into the night on the upper deck and went below, creeping along the darkened ceiling to avoid notice on its way to find the good captain’s quarters.

Knocking would be polite, but he doesn’t know if she’s in… and ‘asking politely to enter someone’s residence’ was never a skill that the old thief ever mastered. Shadow seeps through the cracks in the door instead, as subtle as a shift of light towards and away.

The Siren Song, in the Pelago

The repurposed ferry boat wasn’t really built to have bedrooms or private quarters, but belowdecks has been renovated to provide just that. But in a flooded world, such renovations means making do with salvaged lumber and decor. Every door is different, and of course the one that leads to Valentine’s quarters is a deep red.

Within, the space is even smaller than her little cabin back on the The Freedom of the Seas. Draped in swaths of silk in reds, pinks, and violets, it’s almost like a little lair. A lamp, covered by a thin scarf to blunt the bright-white LED lights, throws a golden light across the space. This cabin does have a window, starboard side, revealing nothing but blackness without – the dark water and dark sky cannot be distinguished from one another in the scant light.

Luckily, Valentine is without company at the moment; she sits on the bed with her back against the wall, one leg bent and hugged to her body as she paints her toenails; the benefit of being the madame is she gets good barter, and nail polish is a rarity. It usually needs thinning, and thus a few coats to get to the opaque shades she prefers. Tonight’s shade is a deep lilac – everything she wears seems to be in shades of reds, violets, deep pinks – the slip-style nightgown she wears is a burgundy just on the edge of black; in contrast, her skin looks even more pale.

Valentine doesn’t see that shadow, focused as she is on the polishing; her hands are deft, and she manages not to spill or get anything anywhere that’s not intended.

Just another shadow against the wall, after all, part of the patterns of them cast by the scarf-draped lamp. There he watches for a few silent moments, and then that shadow shifts– just enough that it’s a silhouette of a man against the door. Then the shadows offer an apology, soft and rustling through the night-cast room.

“Sorry for intruding…” …intruding…

Then he hesitates. What is he going to say? Why is he even here?
The shifting shadows draw Valentine’s dark eyes up a second before he speaks, and Valentine jumps a little at the same moment his voice comes, a sussurance in the quiet room. She manages to cap the bottle before she spills it, then one hand reaches for something under her pillow. It doesn’t come out, but stays there for the time being – a knife? A gun? What good would it do a person made of shadow?

Not much.

“And yet, here you are… I do have staff, if you needed to request a meeting with me,” she points out – she’s not angry, quite, but on edge. Still, there’s something in her gaze that the Peyton from his world had had in spades, back before everything had fallen apart – a curiosity and a questioning, the kind that often got her into trouble.

“But I suppose it’s too late for that. What is it you were intruding for?” she wonders. She isn’t performing, like she was the other night; this iteration of her seems more down to earth, less deliberate than the one at the party.

“Sorry. Never been one for requesting meetings. Bad habit, I suppose, but it’s saved my life a few times, so…” …so…

The shadows shift, they stretch outwards from the wall, darkness wisping away and sublimating into fabric, leather, flesh. Once corporeal, Richard’s weight rocks back on his heels, shoulders resting to the wall, hands lifting to show they’re empty as he offers a bit of a wan smile.

“Honestly? I was asking myself the same question. I… guess I just needed to see a familiar face, even if it’s not one that knows mine. Which I know sounds crazy, but…”

Dark brows lift when she sees who it is, and Valentine gestures to the chair at the little vanity table.

“A face that doesn’t know yours,” she repeats, scooting forward so that she can reach for a couple of glasses and a bottle of whiskey that sit on the table beside her bed. She splashes a few ounces into each, and then lifts one to offer him – the little cabin is small enough it’s not too much of a stretch.

“It doesn’t sound that crazy. I’ve learned a few things since the last time strangers came this way. Back then, I wasn’t all here, you know?” she says, reaching up to tap her head. “I’m a little less in the dark now. Putting a few things together.”

She takes a sip of her own glass, considering him over the rim of it. “I’m always happy to add some friendly faces to my collection.” A merry laugh follows, one that sounds much more like Peyton of the past. “That sounded less creepy in my head.”

She rests back against the wall, then, and tips her head. “So now you know I’m not going to call security and get you thrown out – if they could. I don’t know how one catches a shadow. What’s on your mind? Why do you need a friendly face, even one that doesn’t know you?”

The invitation - and the laugh - brings a bit of a smile tugging up at the corner of Richard’s mouth before he pushes away from the wall to approach. To the chair, which he takes, turns around, and sits on it backwards facing her, arms draping over the back.

“Glad to hear that, if only because explaining parallel dimensions always makes people look at me like I’m crazy,” he admits, gaze dropping and head shaking slightly, “My life’s a sci-fi novel I think, honestly. But here I am, all the same, and…”

Shoulders shift– almost a shrug– and he looks back up to her, “I’m on a mission I might not return from, surrounded by people I’ve never been terribly close to– except for one, who’s too wrapped up in their own issues right now– and the dopplegangers of people I’ve known for years but who don’t know me. It’s a bit stressful.” Understatement, thy name is Richard.

The honest answer is more than she probably expected, and Valentine chuckles, shaking her head as she takes another drink from the glass.

“I didn’t know the last time,” she says, leaning to put the glass on the bedside table, then reaching for a pillow to hold on her lap, she curls up, more comfortable to continue the conversation. “But people talk, and I’m not so out of the loop as I was last time.”

Now that John Logan’s gone, and she’s her own boss, she’s much more clearheaded.

“The last time, a man came by to see me. Said I looked like someone he knew – someone that was like a sister to him.” Valentine’s eyes are solemn, watching Richard’s across the dim space of the small room. “Someone who had died.”

Her head tips, and her brows raise. “He was handsome, too, though very sad. This other me, she must have been very special, to have people seek her out even when they know I’m not her. But… I can try to be a friend, in her place. I’m happy to be a familiar face. Maybe when I’m gone, people in another world will remember mine.”

Valentine’s dark gaze flits to the window, though it’s dark, and she smiles. “I think I’d like that, if people remember me in your world, when this one dies.” Does she know? Or is it only because it’s been drowning for years?

Richard closes his eyes for a moment, and he nods slightly without saying anything– gathering himself after a surge of emotion he had to push back. “Pretty sure I know who,” he murmurs, before he shakes his head.

“You aren’t her; not the one he knew, not the one I know. But if there’s one universal constant… in every timeline, in every world I know of,” he says, opening his eyes again and offering a faint smile, “There’s been a you there for a me when I needed you. Even if I didn’t always appreciate it. I was born here, you know, in– this world. There was an accident that dropped me into another not long after, but…”

A smile, faint and rueful, “Given how all the other timelines go, we probably would have known each other, if I grew up here. It’s a little weird, knowing the people I’m meeting now are the versions I was supposed to have known.”

“I’ll remember you, if nothing else, if I live that long.”

Valentine’s dark eyes stay focused on his face as he speaks; she’s quiet, though a small smile lifts when he says there has always been a version of her for every version of him that he knows of. And then her eyes fill with tears when he says he’ll remember her. She makes a breathy little laugh, looking up at the ceiling and bringing her fingertips up to swiftly catch any tears from her lower lashes before they can smear her makeup.

“That is sweet of you. If she was anything like me, you probably are speaking more highly of her than she deserves, but I’m glad to know that somewhere I’m worth thinking of so highly,” she murmurs.

She scoots a little closer to the end of the bed so she perches on it across from him, and reaches out to offer her hand, as if for an introductory handshake.

“My real name is Peyton, but no one has called me that in years,” she says. “It’s nice to meet the real you, Richard.” With a tip of her head, she adds, “How many timelines? How many people are hopping them, accidental or otherwise? I feel like I’m the last person to find out about the biggest new trend.”

Richard smiles faintly. “I know. You were Peyton Whitney where I grew up, but… you were adopted. I don’t know how things went with your parents here,” he admits before leaning forward to clasp the offered hand, “Richard Cardinal Ray. It’s good to meet you for the first time.”

He draws back then, head tilting back in contemplation, “We call this the root timeline because it’s the one that all the others we’ve had contact for branched off of. There’s the one I grew up in, there’s one where a virus killed most of the planet - that was the Vanguard too. I think that’s where the guy that talked to you last time was from. There’s one where war left nothing but wasteland and killer robots behind, where the anti-Evolved factions won out. There’s one that turned out pretty well, honestly, as good as things ever go anyway…”

A shake of his head, “Not many of us. Just a few. It’s not– safe, or smart. But we’re desperate.”

Her hand squeezes his and she lifts a shoulder. “Still adopted,” she says, but doesn’t elaborate on her past – that she’s out at the edge of the world working as a madame probably means she doesn’t have “people” anymore, in the traditional sense, anyway.

But as he goes through his litany of the timelines, her dark eyes widen and she shakes her head. “And I thought this was bad,” she murmurs, with a nod out the window to imply the water as far as the eye can see.

“‘No one leaves home unless home is the mouth of a shark,’” she says, the words spoken as if quoted from something. “It has to be pretty bad over where you’re at, if coming here was your best option, Richard Cardinal Ray.”

She reaches for her whiskey bottle to splash more into her glass, and picks it up. “Is there anything I can do to help?” It’s a simple question – and also very complicated.

His fingers squeeze hers in return before drawing back slowly; his hand is marked with black in places, as if another’s hand grasped and stained it. A curious tattoo, if that’s what it is. He lets it hand down with his arm, over the back of the chair.

“They’re not all bad,” he admits, “But– a lot of them are. Small things don’t cause timelines to split, at least in any noticeable fashion. The big things, though… the big things are usually forked by something that’s pretty bad. Home…”

Richard trails off for a moment, his eyes closing as he admits to her one of the truths of their journey, “Home is dying. If we can’t find a technology that doesn’t still exist in our world– but we hope does in yours, up in Alaska– the whole world’s going to burn.”

“It’s a pretty big shark, Peyton.”

Her dark eyes remain fixed on him, her expression sorrowful, sympathetic. She doesn’t look shocked at the news, but his careful wording doesn’t hint at the danger to her own world, only his own.

“I’ve heard people talking about going to Alaska. That there’s a settlement there,” Peyton says, looking to the window again, as if she could see the path for the travelers across the dark water on the other side of the glass. “I have a few who are planning to go, I think.”

She smiles a little sadly, for the loss of some of her people, but it’s clear she isn’t going to try to force them to stay behind.

“I hope you find what you’re looking for. I may have some supplies and things, things people have bartered for, that might help you. There’s not much, not here on the Siren, but I’ll have Jericho show you to our storage closet and you can poke around. Any friend of mine is a friend of mine, after all.” Her laugh is low and warm.

“You could go too,” Richard is quick to observe, an eyebrow lifting, “Nobody’d turn down another ship in the fleet, or another face or ten with the convoy. Things should be more… sustainable up in Anchor. Supplies are starting to get low out here…”

He doesn’t tell her about the threat. What good would it do? Just introduce fear to her life.

“And– I appreciate it, but any supplies we’d need you’ll probably need just as much,” he admits then, drawing in a slow breath, “I don’t want to leave you in a worse position. But I do appreciate it.”

Briefly he chews on his lower lip, then starts to say something more, hesitates, then finishes– “You said you were adopted here, too. Do you want to– know who your biological parents were, at all? I can tell you that, at least, if you do. Not that it matters, but…” People wonder, after all. He did.

She tips her head to study his face as he invites her to join the convoy, and she smiles, a slow but sincere thing. “That’s kind of you. But we’re a lot more than ten faces, and if I can’t bring them all, I can’t leave them. Captain goes down the ship, right? Or Madame with the brothel that happens to be a ship.”

Valentine lifts a shoulder. “Maybe when the weather lessens we can make it via ship, but most of my people…” Her smile is fond, protective. “They’re not built for that sort of travel. I’m not built for that sort of travel. There’s a reason we ended up on Freedom, back when, you know? But I will let them know they’re free to join you. I won’t keep anyone here if they want to go.”

The other question is considered, and she looks out to the water again, like the answers might lie outside the ferry. “I don’t know who they were, no. My adopted parents were good people who deserved a bit better than I gave them in return. I’m not sure what happened to them, but my guess is nothing good.” After a beat, she adds, “I couldn’t find them,” with a gesture to her eyes, assuming he knows what that means. “After the flood.”

Her dark gaze returns to him. “I don’t want to be sadder than I already am, so…” her smile returns. “If it’s not sad, sure. If it’s sad, I’ll just imagine something nicer.”

Richard’s chin dips a bit at the refusal, understanding as much as he wished the answer was different. “It’s good of you to be so loyal to them.” he says approvingly, a faint smile to his lips, “They’re lucky to have you.”

He straightens, then, rolling his head a bit on his shoulders to try and stretch out a bit of tension. “I wouldn’t say it’s sad, not any more than any adoption was. Your mother was named Faye Crawford; she was fairly young I think when she had you, s’why she had to give you up. In my world she joined the Coast Guard, a few other positions– always protecting people. A good woman. She was a telepath. Your father was a guy named Albert Winslow. He was– a little more complicated a guy, but in the end, he did everything to make things right for you, and your mother. Ben Ryans knew him in my world, not sure about this one, if you want to see if he knows any more.”

He offers her a faint smile, “Good people, though. Nothing to be sad about.”

A piece of personal history is a gift she wasn’t expecting from a stranger, even if Richard Cardinal was hardly a stranger to another version of her. “That’s nice to know,” Valentine says with a smile, “Thank you for that.”

“Winslow,” she repeats after a moment, then, “Crawford.” She shakes her head. “So strange to hear names that should have meaning but don’t. They’re just words. But I guess all names are like that. I know I decided to go by Valentine because I felt like I had no connections really to the life I’d lived as Peyton.”

Valentine’s smile turns a little playful. “Well, and because most of us had fake names. Names like Peyton and Tammy and Edith don’t really scream sexy, do they?”

She watches him for a moment, then asks, “Does she have a good life, your Peyton?”

“Names are important. What we go by is who we are,” Richard says with a smile and a hint of good humor, “Valentine suits you… although I always liked Peyton.”

At the question, the smile fades just a little. “She does, now. She had a hard time of it for awhile– “ He grimaces fully, glancing down, “I blame myself for that. I didn’t appreciate her presence, her contributions enough, and– well. I guess I never do, in any world. Except one. But– “

He shakes his head, the guilt that stirred to the surface evident, “Anyway. She runs a school now, for Evolved kids and others, she’s doing well for herself. She seems happy.”

Her brows draw together in a thoughtful way, and she reaches to touch his arm lightly.

“If she’s anything like me, she made plenty of bad choices all on her own,” she says softly. “I don’t know what happened, and I think it’s maybe better if I don’t – I have enough regrets of my own to carry through this lifetime, without adding another set.”

Her pensive expression turns to a small smile.. “I feel appreciated, just by the fact you’ve come to see me. It really does mean a lot, to know I mean so much to someone in another world – at least two someones, anyway, with the Southern gentleman from the last time we had visitors.”

Valentine shakes her head, finally, and laughs. “A school. For children? That’s a little hard to believe, but I’ll take your word for it. She must be very different from me.”

Her eyes sparkle a little, and she rises, moving to the little vanity he’s seated at, but she reaches around him to open a drawer, deft fingers reaching in to pull out a small box. She pulls out a silver chain with what looks like a dog tag on it, and she reaches for his hand to drop it into his palm.

It’s a Tiffany and Co.’s necklace – the silver dog tag, but with the initials P.W. engraved on it. It’s not tarnished, meaning she’s taken the time and effort to keep it silver and bright.

“I want you to have this,” Valentine says with a smile. “I never wear it anymore – it reminds me too much of the New York that isn’t anymore. But take it as a good luck charm, I guess. It survived, against all odds, so maybe it is lucky, and it sounds like you can use some.”

Valentine’s smile turns a little crooked, her dark eyes full of mirth. “Or you can trade it for something at Delphi. Don’t worry… I won’t spy on you to make sure you don’t.”

“I don’t know if she’s that different,” Richard replies, a smile tugging a bit wider, “Maybe you’ve taken different paths, but… you’re both insightful and more forgiving and understanding than anyone probably deserves.”

He hesitates, then, before opening his hand to accept the chain and tag - lifting it, turning it over, gaze searching the letters on it. His expression softens, eyes closing briefly as he closes his hand around it.

“Thank you,” he says softly, looking back to her, “I wouldn’t trade it for the world. And– well. November 5th? Around noon, say, check on me. That way I can tell you how things went.” A twitch of his lips, “I’ll just have to trust you won’t be too much of a voyeur otherwise. Not that I could stop you.” The last two lines are more teasing than those that came before.

Valentine’s smile is slow, soft. “I have made too many mistakes to not be forgiving, Richard,” she says, which is something the other Peyton would likely say as well.

The request for her to check in with him on the specific day and time draws a nod. “I promise. I’ve seen plenty that I didn’t intend to using this power in my time. I only look if it’s an emergency or if someone asks. It’s safer for my mental well being that way.”

Her smile turns a little impish, and she dips her head toward him. “Not that you aren’t worth watching, I’m sure.”

Richard flashes her a grin at that, teasing, “Never had any complaints about the view.”

He shakes his head, “And– good. Good stance on that. Nobody should rely too much on their– special abilities anyway. Makes you rely on it too much. Besides– you? Who’d say no to you checking in on them in person.” Teasing, again.
“Flattery will get you whatever you want, darling,” Valentine murmurs, lashes dipping. “I’m afraid I won’t be able to check in on you in Alaska, in person, at least not this year. Maybe when we can make our way on water.”

She reaches for the whiskey bottle to pour a bit more in her glass, and then his, if he’s made a dent at all. “But if you come back this way, you’ll have to come see me and tell me all about it. I do enjoy an epic saga.”

Taking a sip, she watches him over the rim of the glass. “I can’t help but wonder what might have been different if you’d stayed in this world, had I known you earlier,” she says softly. “I love my life now, but it’s taken some time to get here, after a lot of troubles. If I’d had better friends along the way.”

Her expression turns a little wistful, and it’s then she resembles Peyton the most, but she laughs after a moment, the sound warm and low. “Ignore me and my moody ‘what ifs,’ Richard Cardinal. I have to say, I do like your name. I am partial to the color red.” She laughs again, as it seems to be her signature color, due to her chosen moniker.

“Right? We match,” Richard replies with a slightly crooked smile, though her earlier musings– her moody ‘what ifs’— turn his own expression just as wistful, gaze dropping from her to his hands.

“We probably would have met, at least,” he admits, “Temporal inertia is… strong. All the timelines strive to keep things as close as they can, even if sometimes the paths to get there are very different. They don’t– they don’t succeed all the time, but they do try. It’s enough to make you believe in some greater hand guiding things sometimes.”

“Anyway.” He chuckles, looking back up, “I can’t judge. I’m nothing but moody ‘what-ifs’ these days myself.”

She tips her head, dark eyes searching his lighter gaze, and then chuckles.

“Temporal Inertia either sounds like a band name that one of those – what did they call them? Scene kids? Would have liked back in the day,” she says with a warm laugh. “Listening to them and taking selfies on a toilet somewhere while dyeing their hair.”

But the topic and mood dips again as she considers his ‘moody what ifs,’ along with her own. “What is one thing you would do differently, and what is one thing you wouldn’t change?” Valentine wonders.

“You don’t have to tell me, but I’m happy to listen – honestly, that’s half my job, even before I was the boss. Most people just need someone to listen to them, to be kind to them. The rest, well. It’s an excuse, I think, most of the time.”

“Oh, man,” Richard exhales a chuckle, one hand coming up to rub against his jawline and burgeoning beard, “That’s a– that’s a hard one. I have a lot of regrets, a lot of things I would’ve done differently… people I wouldn’t have taken for granted, lives I could have saved, lives I could have… could’ve not taken.”

He exhales a sigh, shaking his head, “Too many. As for wouldn’t change…? If there was just one thing– heh.”

A smile, faint, “By all accounts, a one night stand I had with someone once was crazy. We weren’t together; aren’t now. We never really were an item. But it gave me two of my kids, and I wouldn’t change that if it saved the rest of the world.”

The mention of children draws a sad, sympathetic smile from Valentine. “You must miss them very much,” she says softly. “I’ll hope you never have to make that choice for the rest of our sake – I guess that only applies when you’re in this world, though.”

Her thick, dark lashes dip, then she looks over to the window, which is almost a mirror, really, it’s so black outside. “I don’t know what I would keep the same, which is probably about as sad a statement as I’ve ever said, really.” The words end in a laugh, low, and self-deprecating.

“Plenty I would change. Besides just being better in a general sense…” She pauses for a moment, then lifts her shoulder. “Once, there was a boy who loved me, and I knew he was too good for me. But I wonder, if I’d let him stay, if I would’ve been better, trying to be worthy of him.”

Her slim shoulders rise and fall. She lifts her glass in a lazy toast. “To the what ifs and the what is, and maybe to what may be.”

“The way back is closed,” Richard replies, reaching out to lift the glass set out for him in an easy toast, “So let’s do what we can to make what’s ahead of us a better path.”

His hand drops after a sip is taken of the drink, and he nods a little, a faint but sad smile touching his lips as he looks down at his other hand. Toying with the chain, the silver tag, with callused fingertips.

“If we spent too much time with the what ifs, we’ll never look at the what is - and the what may be, we’ll lose our chance to make,” he says, looking back, “And I really hope that your what may be… will be good for you, and for yours, Peyton.”

She finishes what's in her glass, lashes lowering though she keeps him in the frame of her vision. Setting the glass down, she smiles.

“I never say never. There are time travelers, right?” Her low voice is a bit smokier thanks to the large swallow of probably not the smoothest whiskey. This Peyton hasn’t dabbled in time travel with the warning not to step on butterflies. She probably also hasn’t read much Ray Bradbury.

Dark eyes study him, and Valentine tips her head. “What else can I do for you, red bird, that will help you avoid having regrets later?” she wonders, standing to move in front of him, reaching to put a hand beneath his chin, to turn his eyes up at her.

“I suppose there are more things under Heaven and Earth,” Richard allows with a slight lift of one shoulder as she points out the existence of time travelers, straightening up a bit in his chair to flash her a smile as she rises - and then her fingers are brushed beneath his chin, and his gaze lifts up to her. The hand holding his own glass sets it to one side, and he shifts to rise as well, shoulders rolling back slightly and the hand holding the bit of jewelry sliding it into a pocket so it’s not forgotten.

A smile tugs up at the corner of his lips, and he playfully observes, “You waited for me to have whiskey in me to ask that? Dangerous.”

Her laugh is low, and her smirk a little crooked. The hand on his chin drops to his shoulder, straightening the clothing he wears as if he were in a suit or some other finery.

“See, alcohol… it works both ways. We can blame it on an impulse, sure, take a little of the guilt off when we do something we want to do, but feel we shouldn’t. Or,” Valentine murmurs, taking a step back, as coquettish eyes look up at him to see if he follows that step with a step forward of his own, “we can see it as a way to lower the defenses and let us think less with our minds and do what our bodies, hearts, or souls, if you believe in that sort of thing, want instead.”

Her head tips, and she lifts both shoulders. “I don’t think I would regret a night spent in your company, red bird, but not if it brings you any pain or guilt. That choice is yours and yours alone, though if you want more whiskey to help you make it, that I can give you.”

“In vino,” Richard quotes at her with a slightly wider if equally crooked smile as he follows her that slight step backwards, one hand coming up to brush a bit of hair back from her forehead, “Veritas.”

“I don’t need any more whiskey to make that choice, Valentine,” he chuckles then, giving his head a slight shake that doesn’t bring his eyes (dark as midnight, just a sliver of color around the edge of enlarged pupils) from her face, “I try not to make choices when I’m drunk, anyway. I don’t want to presume any more than I already have by– well– “

He glances to the door, then back with a wry expression, “Sneaking into your room in the middle of the night… but I don’t think that I’d regret spending the evening with you either.” Translation: Yes, but don’t feel pressured.

She takes another step back, which more or less brings her back to the bed, as the room is small and her legs are long. “That was very presumptuous, wasn’t it,” Valentine murmurs, shaking her head in a way that mirrors his, all very deliberate and playful. Her eyes stay focused on his, as his on her. “I suppose I like people who surprise me. So few do anymore,” she says with a wry expression of her own, her dark eyes sparkling. “And If you had enough alcohol in you to make the decision for you, you wouldn’t be any fun, anyway.”

Leaning closer, her lips brush his lightly; this close, her hair smells of something warm and spicy, clove and orange, complementing the taste of whiskey on both of their lips. “Here’s to a night not to regret. Shall we make the most of it, red bird?”

“Well, if there’s one thing that I strive to be…” Richard brings his hand up, fingers brushing against her cheek lightly to frame the side of her face, his own lips curving wider after that brief kiss. A hint of whiskey on his lips, the salt of the sea and wind that pervades the Pelago lingering about him. “It’s surprising.”

His other hand slips to her hip, fingers curling there to draw her in closer, murmuring against her lips, “Let’s. Like there’s no tomorrow to regret it.”

Because there may not be.

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