Convenient Tides

((From => Earlier this morning))

It was mid morning by the time Rogan arrived at the suspiciously well-populated pub that served as his contact location for Varda. He could already hear the northern folk music playing as he made his way down the stairs towards the heavy door. The volume increase along with the wash of warmer air and light that greeted him as he pushed into the common room and glanced towards the barkeeper polishing glasses at the central bar. He nodded to Rogan in turn and tilted his head towards a particular table and Rogan followed the direction with a gracious smile. Around him, the familiar sensation of many eyes focused on him over the tops of books and from the edges of sidelong glances. The room followed him as he took his place at the indicated table and waited.

There were faces that had become passingly familiar to him by now – never quite the same collection of 'punters', but many of the same faces mixed and matched in different combinations over the course of many visits. He wondered how familiar he seemed to some of them; they certainly had to watch many different clients and servants come and go from this place to conduct their business, and he was only one of many, but his particular circumstance was more unusual. The Family was largely need-to-know of course, but it was always worth bearing in mind.

It was several minutes before Varda emerged from one of the establishment's back room. Today she had opted to present herself in a tightly tailored dress, dark green long, with splits to show off modest stiletto heels. It didn't go out of its way to emphasise her femininity above the waist; that wasn't the play this time, and likely not towards him any more now that their working relationship was established... but she was comfortable and confident, more than usual. Rogan nodded to her with a brief smile as she took a seat opposite him.

“Varda, a pleasure as always. Shall we?” A cool smile met his greeting, along with the faintest incline of her head. She'd left her hair out and loose about her shoulders for this meeting; another sign of carefree comfort, just as calculated as every other part of her presentation. It could mean a couple of things, but she wasn't exuding the air of a predator about to strike this time, just confidence and satisfaction – that was probably a good sign. Across from him, the woman pulled out her PET along with a small sheaf of documents. She kept the files close to her for the time being, without moving them across the table and Rogan only let his eyes linger on them for a moment before returning to her face. Varda watched him for an extra moment, holding his gaze in silence, then swiftly set up the transfer they'd agreed upon and showed him the screen.

“We have confirmed that your work was successful, mister O'Conaill. The work was well done, yes? The destruction of this material and data, you know, it has cut an important leg from beneath our troublesome interloper, and it left them no fall-back in response to our other efforts. We are... pleased with your skilful compliance.” She paused for a moment, watching him; Rogan kept his expression calm and friendly, but held his tongue for the time being – instead he just nodded and let Varda continue to fill the space between them instead.

“And so... because we are pleased, you know, it pleases us to share with you something that may help restore some of your... confidence in our methods, yes?” Her smile curled wider for a moment, faintly smug and satisfied as the barkeeper brought her a narrow cocktail glass. She continued after he moved away again.

“The white-coats that worked at this place... as it should turn out, most of them have valuable talents that we could, you know, bend to our own purpose, with some convincing. And so, those who were agreeable may yet find welcoming embrace within our family, and their lives need not be sacrificed after all. We foresaw this might help you understand us a little better, yes?” Rogan fought to keep his expression under control and staved off the urge to grimace. There was more than one message in Varda's words, and he heard each of them in turn. The claws might be retracted for now, but they were never far below the fur. Instead he nodded to himself and wore an expression of contemplation to mask his other thoughts.

“My principles are simply about myself and what I will and will not do, Varda – their fates are of no true concern to me... but yes, that sounds like a much better outcome for those souls.” He glanced towards the document folder again and then back up to Varda as she sipped her drink.

“Might I assume that you share this good news with me, because you wish me to take favourably to the next task?” he raised an eyebrow but Varda only grinned towards him again and turned her head to regard him from the side of one eye.

“Can we not offer a pleasant gesture to a good worker who does as he is told, little night wisp? Just a little bit of gratitude, no?” Amusement glittered through her voice and Rogan kept his features neutral.

“Don't ask me to trust you, Varda. No action is without motivation.” Here, she shrugged and gave a brief exhale that turned into a short chuckle.

“Ahhh, perhaps not, it is true. Nevertheless, we are quite busy, you know, and perhaps we do not have a particular task that we require of one of your talents right at this particular moment. You have your payment... our business is concluded, yes?” Her hand set the glass down and ran one fingertip across the edge of the document folder in front of her, and Rogan let himself look at it before lifting his gaze to hers again.

“Nothing without motive; you want me to ask, so I will. If not a job, then what have you brought, Varda, and why?” Rogan kept his expression flat, but across from him the woman shrugged and looked aside, feigning disinterest. Her fingertips twisted the folder in place, then flicked it across the table top between them

“This? It is nothing of great importance. Useless intelligence we do not intend to act upon, yes? But this thorn in our side, you know, he clearly has some bad blood with you... and so perhaps we might offer a good worker something more? A gift, because we are, truly, a loving family, no?” From the side of her gaze, Varda watched him open the file and skim the top few pages, the curl of a smile cresting her lips.

Reports on movements of purchases, materials and construction, bribes and pay-offs. Lance's work; project projections. The urge to read more closely was hard to resist, but Rogan closed the folder again after another moment. He could see what they were doing but, as much as he'd like to be paid for the work, having a free hand was welcome too. Was it a pledge of non-interference? He couldn't trust that, not entirely, but it was good enough for now. He curled his fingers around the edge of the folder and pulled it from the table, slipping the documents into his own bag without looking back to Varda. In the same motion, he resettled the bag on his shoulder and stood from the table.

“Well then... until next you have need of me and the coin to pay my price, Varda... Good afternoon to you.” He allowed himself a side glance to her as he inclined his head; she watched back with a satisfied smugness, then gestured with one hand as though dismissing him. Rogan made sure he was already leaving the table before she could say more.
From the safety of her own living room, Lyntael listened and held her silence while Rogan navigated the ever uncertain shoals of his meeting with Varda. It had been a peculiar exchange this time, not quite like any of the others she remembered. The mafia contact had seemed more satisfied with herself, and the outcome, but Rogan didn't seem perturbed or put out either, though she could tell it had left him with a lot more on his mind than she'd picked up from just the words they'd shared.

As Rogan returned to his car and started it, Lyntael reached out to touch the screen in front of her, and passed through to clamber out into her usual place in the vehicle's dash alcove. Rogan had a thoughtful expression as he pulled away from the curb and Lyntael watched him for an extra few moments, settling herself at the edge and letting her heels swing gently, ankles crossed. After a few moments more she ventured a query.

“That was different. Why would she just give you information like that, without any strings?” Rogan didn't take his eyes off the road, but there was a flicker of a raised eyebrow regardless.

“It was some preliminary scouting reports about what Lance is up to, and where he has shifted the bulk of his personal research and projects after the last handful of incidents. I'll review it later, once we're somewhere cleaner.”

“But why would...” Lyntael's brow furrowed as she thought it through. Contemplating Lance Fitzpatrick and his work was uncomfortable even now, and it brought her mind back to things that she preferred not to think about, but she set those aside. Why would Varda give him this information, if she didn't want to contract him to take care of it. Oh. She felt her body perk up slightly, as the thought occurred to her.

“Why hire you, and pay you for something that you'll do yourself without being told... right?” A brief nod and the corner of a smile from Rogan was her answer. Lyntael frowned. “She's expecting you to go after him, with this... Is it some kind of trap?” Above her, Rogan shook his head

“I don't believe so. Just pragmatism. I could wait, until they contact me again and actually make a contract out of it for me... but time is a factor, and Varda and her family are relying on the belief that I won't dare pass this up, just to hold out for a wage that they don't have to give me.” When he shook his head this time, it was with a small sigh, and Lyntael could feel the resignation behind it.

“Unfortunately, she's right. I'll have to double check the information, of course, but if it is what I think it is, then it's a chance for us to wrap up this rather too personal vendetta once and for all... I'll be giving Varda and her Family exactly what they want, but that's a secondary concern against the fact that I'll be getting what I want, so, this time, they can have their free lunch.” Rogan fell silent, and Lyntael looked out the window, watching the buildings and sign boards fall behind them. They were heading towards the airport, she realised; Rogan wasn't wasting any time at all.

Without realising it, Lyntael drew her feet up and wrapped her arms about her knees, letting her eyes cast downwards. If they were moving on this right away, that would mean they'd probably be confronting Lance himself, and probably... probably Vigilance as well, soon. It was a difficult chain of thoughts for her to fumble her way through.

All the memories were there, but at the same time as all the dark and terrible things, there were also the memories of how confident and capable she was able to be anyway, even after all that. Maybe that was because she hadn't really known the fullness of it, at the time, but it was still a proof within herself, that she didn't need to be held back by it. There was the memory of how easily he'd overpowered her, and the things he'd done... but there was also the memory of their last meeting; she hadn't known him, then, but they'd fought and it had not been nearly as one-sided, for the moments that it took. She was stronger now, and holding those memories side by side made it really feel as though it was only her fear, and her uncertainty that were holding her down. She took a deeper, longer breath; at some point her breathing had grown short. It wasn't that easy, she knew... but it was a start at least.

“Lyntael...” Rogan's voice pulled her out of her thoughts and she blinked, scrubbing quickly at silent tears she hadn't noticed herself shedding. His voice had been soft; firm enough to call her attention, but gentle even so. “We're not going to dive straight into this unprepared, Lyntael. We're going to make sure we're both ready for the tasks ahead of us, before we act.” He paused, and Lyntael caught him flicking his eyes down towards her for a moment before returning to the road ahead. She swallowed a breath and nodded.

“Thank you. I'm sorry.” she closed her eyes and took another long breath, calming and smoothing her features. Even she didn't really know how she would react to danger, now, after everything... so of course they needed to work that out before Rogan could trust her with anything.

“It's alright, Lyntael... but we have work to do, and that's going to mean more training for you before we can act.” She could hear an edge of reluctance in the words even as he spoke them; now that she had the whole picture, it was much easier to see where it came from and that he didn't want to put her in any more danger... but... they were both involved in this now, and she wasn't going to leave him to deal with it all without her help.

“Yes, sir. I understand.” She wasn't ready; she knew that... but that didn't mean she couldn't imagine a time where she was, and path towards it. It was a start.

((To => A Distant Shore))