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Nicolette O'Hara

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Featured Thread #1
[[OOC: Evening, early Justinian, 9:41]] Celeste Monroe

Nicolette was second-guessing herself again. Ever since finding her family again on the outskirts of Cumberland, she had decided to remain in the port city; they had spent so long worrying about her, and even with the good news that the Inquisition was recovering itself after the attack at Haven, it was risky to head out alone again. Cumberland was a major port, and the letter that Celeste had left behind at the cottage in Val Royeaux indicated that she would be back there eventually. Nicolette had decided it would be better to remain put, for as long as it took until the Wicked Grace sailed in again.

But it had been two weeks, and each day she headed down to the docks. Each morning and evening, she checked for the familiar masts. To have stopped searching felt as though she was giving up, even though she knew that it would be far easier for Celeste to find her this way than if she kept moving; nonetheless, she could not help the restless agitation that drove her from the house each day. She could not stop the swell of hope each time she scanned the new ships that had lined up at the docks, or prevent the punctured feeling that followed when she did not see the Grace.

Maman had noticed, of course. She had commented on how Nicolette, never a great one for paying attention when she had an idea in the first place, seemed even more distracted than usual, and that she still was not eating properly. She was occasionally moody, verging on irritable, and the restless energy came with a listlessness she had not felt since separating from Eward. She was having trouble finding joy in anything, and it took Maman all but shoving her out of the door before she finally made her way to a tavern to play.

It was not normal to have to force herself to a display of gaiety, but she had played in poor circumstances before and instinct took over before long. By the end of the first song, a little ember started to spark in her chest; two more and she found her energy again. Indeed, playing and singing kept the worst thoughts from her mind, and with that realisation she gave a performance as good as any she had given. At the end, the landlord had made himself friendly, asking a great deal about her travels, before asking her to return when she could.

Another two weeks passed, and she had been back in the tavern almost every day. Playing finally eased the restlessness and she slept a little better each day, although she still experienced the same high and low each time she searched for sight of the Wicked Grace without success.

Today, she had not had the chance. Saul had asked her to play for a client of his in the morning, and they had insisted on keeping her to talk once they heard that she had spoken with some of the companions from the Blight. Midday went past, so she might as well stay for the noontime meal, and then Michel had asked her to show him some of the tricks she had been taught with a bow. Before she knew it, the sun was slipping towards the horizon, and the landlord at the Sleeping Dragon had asked her to be there that evening with a promise of extra coin; apparently he was expecting a great many customers and needed somebody to keep the clients distracted from the long wait at the bar.

For the first time since coming to Cumberland, Nicolette was not able to stop by the docks; instead she headed straight to the tavern. It was already thick with people and it took a little doing to work her way through to the musician’s dais, although Oscar and Thibault managed to turn away any wandering hands in the process.

This crowd would need a lively tune, something they could sing and stamp to, and drain their drinks a little less quickly in order to relieve some of the pressure on the barmen. It would also mean something a little bawdy. Nicolette brought her foot down sharply on the floor, setting the bells on her ankles ringing. That got the attention of some; the rest would follow.

Was on a bright morning, right early in the year!
That Charles came to our town, a young chevalier.
Charlie is my darling, my darling, my darling,
Charlie is my darling, the young chevalier!

As he was walking down the street, the city for to view

O there he spied a bonnie lass, the window peeking through…”

A few people knew the song, and Nicolette felt her spirits begin to lift as they joined in.

[[OOC: Nicolette is playing the Eddie Reader version of ‘Charlie is My Darling.]]
 

Celeste Monroe

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#2
A big chunk of Celeste’s take from every job had gone to giving coin to every bartender and tavernkeeper at every dockside inn and dive from Llomerryn to Gwaren, asking them to keep watch for a pretty minstrel with an Orlesian accent, amber eyes and an enormous dog, and to send word if they did. Even in normal times, it would have been a gamble, but now, when they never knew when they were going to have to raise anchor and haul ass because of demons or templars or rebel mages (recently replaced by red templars and Venatori, which was one fuck of a downgrade) or one of the other assorted hazards that went along with the world trying to end, the likelihood of a messenger actually being able to track them down was somewhere between slim and none. And the likelihood of Nicolette remaining in one spot long enough for them to get there, when she had to deal with the same shit without a crew to back her up was even slimmer. But she’d had to try, and so a bunch of assholes had pocketed her coin, and if any of them had sent any messages, they’d been eaten by demons en route.

Until now.

The Sleeping Dragon wasn’t even one of their usual haunts; they seldom spent much time in Cumberland, because Nevarrans as a group were the most uptight and boring people that Celeste had ever encountered. But they’d been making semi-regular runs there to bring Nevarran steel to supply the Inquisition’s growing demand, and Celeste had left word and coin at a handful of establishments, more from habit these days than anything else. Catching a hint of the minstrel’s trail, only to lose it again, had taken much of the wind out of Celeste’s sails these last few weeks - figuratively speaking, at least, and when the messenger had found them in a coastal village between Val Royeaux and Val Chevin, she hadn’t allowed herself to hope too much. She’d actually begun wondering if maybe Nicolette had simply decided that it was time to strike out on her own again. She’d voiced the thought aloud exactly once and gotten her ass chewed from approximately half a dozen directions. Since then, she’d kept quiet about it, but the notion wouldn’t go away, no matter how much logic argued otherwise.

If Nico wanted to end things, that was fine, Celeste told herself repeatedly, ignoring the hollow ache that accompanied the idea. She just … needed to know that she was all right, that was all. The restless energy that danced along her nerves grew with every league they sailed west, keeping her prowling the deck day and night, sleeping in fits and starts and eating but little. By the time they sailed into the harbor at Cumberland, her agitation had worked itself up to gale force, and she didn’t bother waiting for the ship to tie up, leaping from deck to dock before the gangplank could be lowered. She ran for a few blocks, then slowed to a walk, cautioning herself that the message had been wrong, that it hadn’t been Nicolette, or if it had, she’d have moved on by now. Setting herself up for the now familiar crash that had followed every single moment of hope these past weeks.

Then she heard the veille.

Her mouth went dry and her heart started hammering. It was faint, all but lost beneath the bustle on the streets, but she knew the voice of the instrument almost as well as she did that of its owner. Still, she held herself to a walk, rehearsing the words in her mind, trying to make herself believe them:

If you don’t want to come back to the ship, that’s fine. I just wanted to make sure you were okay.

Up to the door of the Sleeping Dragon, and now she could hear her singing, and there was no doubt that it was Nicolette in there, leading the crowd in a lively tune, her veille floating above the sound of stomping feet and clapping hands. Celeste’s hand trembled as she reached for the doorknob; she clenched it into a fist until it steadied, then yanked the door open and stepped inside.

The tavern was crowded; there wasn’t an empty seat in the house, but they all could have been demons and Celeste wouldn’t have noticed. Her gaze was locked on the raised platform at the front of the common room, feeling like she’d been swimming and gotten hammered by a monster wave, slammed from the surface down to forty feet in an eyeblink, because there was her minstrel on that stage, bow dancing over the strings of the veille, her braid flying as she twirled and dipped with the tune, her smile bright and playful, and her eyes - Maker, her eyes like amber in moonlight shining with the joy that her music always kindled in her. For the longest moment, Celeste couldn’t breathe, couldn’t speak, couldn’t do anything but stare.
 

Nicolette O'Hara

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#3
As she had hoped, the song was widely known, and quite a few in the bar were roaring along with the song. In fact she could barely be heard over it, but the vielle made up for the difference and even those who did not know the lyrics could quickly pick up the chorus. It was a song Nicolette had played many times before, and could almost do in her sleep; it was received well almost everywhere but Ferelden – understandably, most of the people there were not charmed by the notion of a chevalier barging his way into a house where he had spotted a pretty girl.

She had played it so often that Thibault did not even cock an ear at it; indeed, he usually spent his time asleep while she played. Which was why, when he sat up and suddenly bayed loudly, it caused Nicolette to miss a step, and half the tavern to stumble to a halt in a confused cacophony of shouts. Meanwhile Thibault had thrown himself into the crowd and had quickly wormed his way through the thicket of legs and out of sight. Nicolette resumed the song quickly, almost near the end, but tried to see what had caught her dog’s attention.

For a long time after her separation from Celeste, Nicolette’s heart had jumped to her mouth every time she caught a flash of blonde hair in a crowd. Each time she had been disappointed. There were many women with blonde hair, and nowadays a lot of them sported scars as well. Once she had seen a woman who so resembled her captain from the back that the disappointment as it turned out not to be Celeste had been borderline unbearable. So she tried not to miss her beat again as she caught sight of familiar locks, her direct line of sight blocked by the head of a tall man moving in the way.

But Thibault was still whining at the top of his lungs, and Oscar had made his way over to investigate as well. The broader hound managed to knock the man out of the way, and Nicolette saw her properly.

It was her. Glittering eyes and scars and all of her, and for the first time in many years, Nicolette simply stopped, suddenly terrified this might be a dream, staring at the woman who had filled her thoughts without pause for the last six months.

With the break in the music, the tavern had gone quiet; a few people, following her line of sight, drew back a little. Thibault was pushing himself against Celeste’s legs, begging for attention and wagging his tail madly; Oscar sniffed out of simple curiosity. The strength went from Nicolette’s arms and her vielle and bow fell loosely to her sides; she tried to speak, and found that an apple had settled in her throat, making it nearly impossible.

Skies, please let this not be a dream.

“Celeste?”

Her voice cracked.
 

Celeste Monroe

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#4
From the direction of the stage, a familiar bark sounded, loud enough to make Nico to miss a note on the veille and cause a startled outcry from a good many of the patrons. Celeste watched, a hopeful smile tugging at her mouth, as people in the crowd jumped or were knocked aside in a more or less straight line from the stage until Thibault burst out and barreled his way to her side, whining eagerly and shoving his burly head beneath her hand.

“Hey, mutt.” A lump rose in her throat as she scratched at his ears. She’d missed him, yes, but this was the real confirmation that she hadn’t simply gone round the bend and started hallucinating. It really was her minstrel on that stage, and when another shaggy dog, shorter but more powerfully built and with a decidedly wolfish look, nearly knocked one bloke over as he emerged from the crowd, the music stopped altogether.

Puzzled murmurs and the odd protest rose from the spectators, and Celeste lifted her gaze from the dogs, her eyes locking with Nicolette’s over the crowd.

“Celeste?” The minstrel’s voice broke on the second syllable of her name, and the emotions warring for control of that beautiful face - disbelief, hope, fear - made Celeste’s heart clench.

“Yeah.” She could feel the goofy, relieved smile spreading on her face, didn’t give a damn. “It’s me.” She took a single step forward, stopped at a rumbling growl from below and looked down to find the second dog had planted himself in her path, eyeing her suspiciously. Thibault chuffed at him, but he didn’t budge.

She lifted her eyes back to Nico, one eyebrow arched. “Little help here?” she asked plaintively. She’d go through him if she had to, but if he belonged to Nicolette - and between the reports they’d had and his behavior, that seemed overwhelmingly likely - then a snout full of sneezing powder wasn’t going to get them off on the right footing.
 

Nicolette O'Hara

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#5
“Yeah. It’s me.” Celeste’s face was splitting in a smile, even as Thibault was still prancing around her whining for her attention. Her face glowed, light touching her eyes, and Nicolette felt her throat tighten. She had known Celeste lived, but her dreams since the encounter with the demon had all but convinced her that they would not meet again, and each day she had lived with a low bubbling terror that she would hear word of some disaster that had befallen the Wicked Grace.

But no, there Celeste stood, as vivid and beautiful as Nicolette had preserved her in her imagination.

Celeste took a step forward and Oscar immediately blocked her path. Since warming to her, Oscar had apparently appointed himself her protector alongside Thibault, but he was more wary than his compatriot. Perhaps he had fallen under the demon’s influence for a while as well. He growled, but it was more of a warning rumble than an explicit threat. Celeste did not attempt to push past him. “Little help here?”

A little dazed, Nicolette set her vielle on the nearest table without even looking at it, murmuring. “Oscar. Couche.”

He sometimes took a little longer to react to her commands, but this time Oscar obeyed, and lay down, although he kept his eyes firmly on Celeste. Nicolette left the dais, walking towards Celeste like a woman in a dream. The distance between them seemed to stretch, even though she crossed it in a few paces, and the tavern was silent now, all eyes on them as she reached her captain, bringing her hands up to cup her face with both hands. “You are alive.”

There were new scars there, which made Nicolette ache to see, but Celeste was alive and whole and here, and Nicolette gazed at her in wonder for several seconds before tears mixed with laughter bubbled up, and then without another thought going through her head she wrapped her arms around Celeste’s shoulders, relief singing out in every word as she clung to her, unsure if she would ever be able to make herself let go. “You are alive!”

She needed to kiss her, the final proof that this was not actually a fantasy she had constructed before the demon finished her off, and she did, losing herself utterly in the other woman, the rest of the tavern completely gone for her.
 

Celeste Monroe

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#6
Celeste had witnessed some happy reunions since the Breach had turned the world upside down, had even contributed to a handful of them. After being repeatedly approached whenever they docked by desperate people asking if she had seen this or that person in such and such port, she had begun keeping a log of the people that they gave transport to: names, where they’d been picked up and taken. She’d seen fear and worry change to joy and relief when someone searching the faces of those descending the gangplank of the Wicked Grace recognized their loved one, but far, far more often, she’d seen them fighting off despair as they turned away after the last passenger had disembarked, undoubtedly telling themselves that maybe the one they were looking for would be on the next ship.

She’d become all too acquainted with that sinking feeling herself, the dull weight that settled in the gut, dragging everything down with it and turning the whole damn world grey at the edges, robbing food of its taste. She knew that for some of them, the searching would never end; they’d spend the rest of their lives looking and wondering and never knowing, with a part of them gone forever. The idea that she might be among their number had haunted her more and more in recent weeks, and she’d been ready to leave her ship in Gideon’s hands and search inland, because not knowing would slowly but surely drive her crazy.

But Nicolette was here, alive and so damn close; only one thing stood in Celeste’s way, but those big white teeth made a very convincing argument for Celeste to stay put and appeal to the one that she sincerely hoped was the hound’s mistress.

“Oscar. Couche.” Oscar, huh? He obeyed the command readily enough, but his wolfish gaze remained locked on Celeste. Deciding it was worth risking a bite on the ass, Celeste moved forward as Nicolette set her veille aside and stepped from the stage, meeting her halfway as spectators stepped and scooted aside to make room. Most of them had likely seen the same things that Celeste had: too many people searching and too few happy endings.

Her heart was pounding so loudly that they could probably hear it back at the docks as they reached each other, and she closed her eyes briefly at the warmth of the minstrel’s hands against her cheeks, but she couldn’t keep them closed long. She needed to see her minstrel, needed to touch her, to confirm that this wasn’t just another dream that she would wake from in an empty bed.

“You are alive.” The words were little more than a whisper, and the glorious eyes were shining with tears. There was a small scar near Nico’s right eye and nick along the edge of that ear, but what made Celeste’s heart ache was the hollowness of the minstrel’s cheeks and prominence of her collarbones above the neckline of her dress.

“I kept looking for you,” she murmured remorsefully. She had been safe on her ship the whole time, while Nicolette had been fighting to stay alive. She had chosen her ship, and her lover had paid the price.

The first tears spilled, and Nico let out a half sob, half laugh, throwing her arms around Celeste and holding tight. “You are alive!”

Celeste’s embrace was no less tight, and her own cheeks were more than a little damp. “I’m here, querida,” she managed, her throat almost too tight to get the words out. The minstrel’s body was light against hers … too light, and while by no means skin and bones, Celeste could feel the outlines of ribs and spine beneath her fingers.

And the Nicolette was kissing her, and all other thoughts were swept aside in the sweetness of it. Dimly, Celeste was aware of scattered applause and cheers, along with a few crude requests as to what they should do next. Celeste ignored them all, pouring months of longing into the kiss until the need for air forced a break, then brushing kisses over Nico’s face: cheeks, eyelids, forehead, nose, before returning to the softness of her lips.

“You’re bein’ paid to play!” one unromantic soul groused loudly, and was immediately shushed by those around him.

Celeste drew back just a bit, her thumb brushing tenderly along Nicolette’s jawline. “Whatever you need to do, love,” she told her, though she didn’t loosen her hold on the other woman just yet. Normally, she wouldn’t even suggest that she cut a gig short; she knew the pride that her minstrel took in her work. But if this didn’t qualify as special circumstances, nothing would, and the tip that she intended to bestow on the tavern keeper before leaving should more than make up for it, if Nico chose not to return to the stage.
 

Nicolette O'Hara

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#7
“I’m here, querida.”

Nicolette had imagined some version of those words a hundred times or more during their separation. During lonely nights or quiet days she would close her eyes and think of how it might happen, how they would spot each other in a marketplace or she would find the Wicked Grace at the docks and run up the gangplank, and the words would spill out, a litany of longing that would let Celeste know exactly how much Nicolette had missed her, and how glad she was to have her back.

All of those words vanished into nothing. Instead all she could do was repeat herself and then kiss Celeste, again and again, as the crowd watched and commented completely without leaving any sort of an impression on Nicolette’s mind. At least until one interrupted.

“You’re bein’ paid to play!”

Nicolette did not even look at him. As Celeste pulled away, she chased her mouth for a second, not wanting to be apart for even a moment, before she managed to give the other woman space to speak. Celeste’s hand cradled her jaw and Nicolette leaned into the touch as she gazed back at her; strong, and beautiful, and understanding. “Whatever you need to do, love.”

Love.

Nicolette laughed softly. She had never walked away mid-performance before. It would be leaving the landlord to deal with a busy crowd, which normally she would not be able to countenance, but right now, she wanted more than anything to be selfish. She cleared her throat, turning slightly to address the crowd. “I am sorry, everyone. I need to go-”

Thick fingers closed hard around her upper arm, yanking her away from Celeste. The man who had complained before, who turned out to look as though he had ogre somewhere in his lineage, was scowling at her. “Get back on that damn stage! I’m not listening to these arseholes all night!”

Thibault and Oscar were already up, hackles raised. “Non! Assieds! If they attacked the man in here it would get extremely violent, fast, and it would be agony if anything happened to Celeste now. The man shoved her back towards the dais and moved to block Celeste from following –

Right as a fist flew up, catching him hard on the jaw. He stumbled back with a curse as Dax appeared, cracking his knuckles. Kali and Sorcha were behind him, and as a few of the man’s friends moved to back him up- with the rest of the tavern either moving behind Celeste or drawing back to start betting - Dax winked at her. “Good to see you again, Nico.”
 

Celeste Monroe

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#8
Nicolette gave no sign of being interested in letting go of Celeste, and the sailor certainly wasn’t going to insist that she finish her set, but she left the choice to her lover. Gentle humor lit the amber eyes as Nico tilted her head into the touch of Celeste’s hand, and without loosening her embrace, turned to address the rest of the tavern, her expression apologetic.

“I am sorry, everyone. I need to go-”

Celeste caught the hulking form looming forward in the instant before Nicolette was jerked roughly from her arms. “Get back on that damn stage!” the brute who had complained before growled, towering over her threateningly. “I’m not listening to these arseholes all night!”

Both of the dogs were poised to charge when Nico called them off, but Celeste was not so well trained. This fucker was going down. She let her hands fall away from her daggers - it probably didn’t warrant gutting him - and curled them into fists, lips curled into a snarl as the big lunk shoved Nicolette toward the stage and turned to plant himself between Celeste and the minstrel.

“Let’s dance, asshole -”

A fist came flying in from the right, slamming into Ugly’s lantern jaw and sending him staggering back a few steps, patrons scrambling to get out of his way.

“Good to see you again, Nico,” Dax greeted the minstrel with a grin and a wink, squaring up with his fists in a pugilist’s stance as Kalindra, Sorcha, Bailey and Téo spread out behind him. Half a dozen men came to their feet behind Ugly, and most of the rest of the patrons cleared the floor, though most of them hung around to watch, and Celeste could hear more than one bet being made.

Her eyes never left Ugly. “Get your own,” she snapped to Dax, who obligingly turned and lit into the nearest of Ugly’s mates, the rest of the crew following suit. “This one is mine.” She stepped forward on the last word as the giant straightened, bringing her right foot up in powerhouse kick that connected squarely with his sweetbreads, lifting him up on his toes. Beady eyes bulged under shaggy brows, and he folded over with a wheezing squeal. She grabbed the hem of his filthy jerkin and dragged it forward over his head, then snatched up a wine bottle from a table and brought it down hard. The bottle shattered, crimson soaking into the grimy cloth, and Ugly dropped to his knees.

Then he got back up, swaying unsteadily as he tugged the sodden tunic back off of his head, eyes wobbling in their sockets as they tried to focus on her.

“That hurt,” he rumbled.

Well, shit.
 

Nicolette O'Hara

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#9
Pain lanced up Nicolette’s arm as she was pushed towards the stage. There would undoubtedly be bruises there tomorrow; the man had a strong grip. However he did not possess the perception required to dodge Dax’s blow, and he stumbled back as the regular patrons of the tavern took position along the walls with a practiced ease that suggested this was a frequent feature of this tavern. Now she had an idea of why the landlord had been eager for a distraction from the crowding.

Normally, as the two opposing parties squared up to each other, she would have made herself scarce, but she was deeply annoyed. A moment before she had been happier than she had been in months, alight with joy and the possibilities that lay before her now she and Celeste had found one another, and now she had a wrenched limb and a mountain of a man separating her from the other woman.

Uncharacteristic irritation crawled beneath her skin. Despite that, she resolved to keep back as Celeste proved herself perfectly capable of handling the man alone; a kick to the crotch and a wine bottle over the head would have put down most brawlers with relative ease. The man did fall to his knees, face shrouded by his tunic, to the background of Kali, Sorcha and Dax starting to show his friends what sailors could do, but he was back on his feet in a few moments, refocusing on Celeste.

“That hurt.”

His hand went for the knife at his waist, and Nicolette darted forward, ducking under flying fists and managing to evade hands grabbing at her plait, and grabbed another bottle from a nearby table. She held the neck in both hands, did a running jump, and brought it down heavily on the back of his head.

The sound made her feel nauseous, but the effect was instant; the man went down like a felled tree, the dagger falling uselessly from his fingers. He crashed to the ground with a groan and did not rise again, although he did manage to cradle his head while he muttered a string of obscenities.

Apparently fuelled by rage at seeing their friend go down, the other brawlers stepped up the ferocity of their fighting, and one broke away from Kali to try and punch Nicolette. She ducked, then lashed out at the back of his knee, sending him stumbling. She was not enjoying this at all – but there was a faint twinge of satisfaction at watching a brawny man flailing around because she had knocked him off balance.
 

Celeste Monroe

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#10
Nicolette had never been fond of combat; faced with a threat to her own safety, she would generally either run or use her wits to get away if she could. It wasn’t fear; she simply didn’t like hurting people. Even the ones who deserved it. Celeste had always let her know up front if a job was likely to be rough; she almost never back out, but at least she was ready for it when the fighting broke out.

When she was defending someone else, though, she could be utterly fearless, and occasionally reckless enough to make even Celeste sit up and take notice. As Ugly went for his knife, the minstrel flew from the stage, snatching up another bottle from a table, gripping the neck in both hands and leaping high enough to let her smash it over his head with a dull crunch. Glass and wine went flying, Ugly dropped his knife and toppled to the floor, and Nico landed lightly on the balls of her feet, golden eyes flashing and her braid swirling bout her waist.

Celeste whooped her approval. “Nice!” she called admiringly, her gaze flickering quickly around the donnybrook, looking for her next target. Another time, she might have been enjoying a brawl that wasn’t a fight to the death (and all right, she was … a little), but right now, she was just looking for a fast finish so that she could drag Nicolette out of here, back to the ship and lock them up in their cabin for three days or so.

One of Ugly’s mates was promptly dubbed Stupid when he turned his back on Kalindra to charge Nicolette, evidently bent on revenge. The minstrel dodged nimbly, then kicked the back of his knee to send him stumbling and cursing. Celeste was ready to pounce when a walking wall interposed itself, moving with the easy grace that only one individual of that size possessed … or at least, the only one that Celeste knew.

“Don’t you have better uses for your time?” Gideon inquired as he caught Stupid by the front of his tunic and pitched him back to Kali, who promptly broke a chair over his head.

Celeste hesitated, glancing around. “You sure?” The crew of the Wicked Grace fought together; you fucked with one of them, you got all of them. That was the rule.

“Go!” Kali called in exasperation, dropping to execute a leg sweep on the bloke that Sorcha and Bailey had backed toward her. “We’ve got this!”

Which they did, and when the guard arrived, there would be questions to answer and still more delays, so - “Thanks!” She fished out the pouch of sovereigns that she’d been planning to give the tavern keeper and pitched it to Gideon. “Pay the man!” He’d be spending a big chunk of it on repairs, but that was his fault for having assholes for patrons.

She leaped onto the stage to snag the veille and bow before some idiot decided to use the instrument as a club, then snagged Nicolette’s hand. “Come on!” Out the door as a thrown bottle shattered overhead, showering them it what tasted like fairly decent whiskey, and back down the street toward the docks with the dogs at their heels and Celeste casting quick glances behind to be sure nobody had decided to try to chase them down. When no pursuit materialized, temptation won out, and she detoured into a narrow alley, spinning her lover against the stone wall and kissing her thoroughly, the surging adrenaline from the fight now feeding into a very different fire.

“Anyone ever told you that you’re beautiful when you’re pissed off?” she breathed, smoothing a few stray strands of hair away from that lovely face with her free hand before kissing the other woman again, lips trailing along the line of her jaw to the curve of her ear. “I missed you so damn much!” She nipped at the earlobe, weighing the benefit of instant gratification against returning to the ship where she’d be able to put down the veille, because ravishing her minstrel effectively was going to be difficult with one hand. Not impossible, mind you, just inconvenient, though she could have Nicolette hold the instrument -

“Crap.” Her head came up, consternation washing across her features. “Do I need to get your things from your room?” A second-story job would be easy enough with the distraction in process on the main floor, but if the proprietor was the vindictive type, he might well burn everything once he realized that Nico was gone, so it would need to be done soon.
 

Nicolette O'Hara

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#11
Celeste’s whoop of approval was enough to prevent Nicolette feeling any remorse for the damage she had caused to the back of the man’s head – not that she would have anyway, given he had been drawing a knife on the woman she loved. She could no more have stood by and watched him attack Celeste than she could have gone to the moons. While there was satisfaction in seeing the Wicked Grace crew working as well together demolishing their opponents as they did running a ship, there was only so much more of the violence she could bear, however. So she was thrilled to see Gideon for a number of reasons.

“Gid!” She could not get to him to hug him, but she would claim that later. For now all her focus was on getting out of here, and Celeste thankfully was of the same mind once she saw that her crew were handling the situation with aplomb. She threw some money to the landlord, retrieved the vielle, and grabbed her hand. Then they were both running out of the door, shaking shattered remnants of a bottle out of their hair, and fleeing along the street.

Nobody had managed to follow them except for Oscar and Thibault, and Nicolette had just enough time to register that they were safe when Celeste dragged her into an alleyway, pushed her against the wall, and kissed her so fiercely that every thought beyond reciprocating flew right out of her head.

Skies, she had imagined their reunion so many times, and never one had her mind done Celeste justice. Nicolette was greedy for her, running her fingers through her hair, down her back, everywhere she could reach, remembering everything about her captain all at once and even with her so close, it was still not yet enough to compensate for the months of separation. It was Celeste that broke the kiss first, but barely, their lips still so close that Nicolette could feel the faint brush of air when she spoke.

“Anyone ever told you that you’re beautiful when you’re pissed off?”

Nicolette laughed, the sound catching as Celeste rediscovered the exact spot beneath her ear that made her knees weaken. “As are you. I was not letting that man take you away when I only just got you back.”

“I missed you so much!”

It seemed increasingly likely they were about to try something that would get them arrested if a member of the watch stumbled across them, and Nicolette did not care at all, whining slightly when Celeste pulled away.

“Crap. Do I need to get your things from your room?”

Muzzy-headed, Nicolette tried to remember which room she had been staying in before she realised she had not. “Oh, I – I am not staying there. Merde.” She did not want to even think of her family in this moment, it felt decidedly wrong, but if she just vanished overnight without a word, Maman would bend her ear in the morning. “I am staying with my family. I need to send them a message.” She held Celeste’s gaze. “That I will not be back tonight.”

She removed her hands from beneath Celeste’s shirt, but left them resting on the other woman’s hips. With the brief gap in Celeste’s concentration, she went on the attack, teeth closing on the side of the captain’s neck, tracing the column with her tongue. She pulled away with a softer kiss after a few moments of ravishment. “The sooner we find a messenger the sooner we can get to your ship.”
 

Celeste Monroe

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#12
Nicolette would - and had - pitched in on fights alongside the crew when the need arose, and could hold her own quite nicely, but she had never enjoyed a good brawl the way that Celeste and the others did. Any other time, Celeste would have relished the chance to blow off some steam in a fight where the stakes weren’t life and death; they’d had plenty of the latter since the Breach had turned the world upside down.

But at the moment, her interest in fighting was at an all-time low, and with Gideon showing up to bolster the others, grabbing Nico and ducking out the door was a no-brainer. Her minstrel seemed to be in agreement, keeping pace with her as they ducked and wove through the staid and proper residents of Cumberland, more than one of whom turned to cast disapproving glances and oaths in their wake after dodging them and their furry shadows.

Celeste didn’t give a damn, and when they were far enough from the tavern to be sure that nobody was following, she didn’t hesitate to detour into an alley and pick up the reunion where they’d left off when that asshole had interrupted. Waiting until they got back to the ship was just too damn long to put off the moment she’d been dreaming of for months, and she let herself get lost in the other woman, trusting that the two formidable hounds would discourage any would-be interrupters.

“I was not letting that man take you away when I only just got you back,” Nicolette told her, hands creating trails of nearly overwhelming sensation in their wake as they caressed her ardently, seemingly trying to touch everywhere at once … a feat that Celeste was attempting to replicate in turn.

She laughed, a bit breathlessly. “Not a chance,” she promised before kissing her lover again … and again, her mouth claiming every inch of skin she could reach. Words were a distraction, clothes were a hindrance, and that sodding veille was on the verge of being placed unceremoniously on the dirty cobblestones (not dropped, mind you; even as love-drunk as she was, Celeste wasn’t that stupid) when yet another unwelcome reality butted in, and this one probably couldn’t be ignored for long.

Confusion joined the haze of desire in the amber eyes when Celeste asked about getting the rest of her belongings from the tavern, then cleared. “Oh, I – I am not staying there. Merde. I am staying with my family.” That was damn good news; Celeste liked Clarice, Saul and Michel, though she suspected she’d be in for a well deserved ass-chewing for losing Nicolette while the world was ending. She’d take it. “I need to send them a message,” Nicolette went on, her eyes locked on Celeste’s, the energy dancing between them like lightning in clouds over the ocean. “That I will not be back tonight.”

And then she was closing the scant distance that had been opened between them, the delicate scrape of her teeth and the teasing brush of lips and tongue finding the exact spot on Celeste’s neck that turned her bones to water and coherent thought evaporated in the sudden flare of heat.

And then she stopped. “The sooner we find a messenger the sooner we can get to your ship,” she suggested, her tone all innocence, but a familiar gleam of mischief in her eyes that Celeste had missed almost as much as her kisses.

“Our ship,” she corrected Nico, pulling her in for one more fiercely triumphant kiss, then resting their foreheads together, tracing the curve of her minstrel’s lip with the tip of a thumb. “Our ship.” Nicolette was as much a part of the Wicked Grace now as any of the crew. “And she’s been missing you, too.” The ship hadn’t danced as lightly through the waves in the absence of Nicolette’s music, even when other minstrels had offered their tunes. One last kiss pressed to her lover’s forehead, and she stepped away, catching up her hand. “There’s always someone looking to earn coin at the docks,” she promised, “and you can get parchment and quill on the ship.”

Stubby gave a whoop when he saw them coming, leaning on his crutch and waving wildly with his free hand, and Brannigan emerged from the infirmary, a smile creasing his face.

“Welcome home, my dear,” he greeted Nicolette with an affectionate hug. “You’ve been a hard woman to find.”

“This calls for a feast!” Stubby declared after he had claimed his own hug, heading for the galley. Celeste caught a glimpse of Charlie peeping out, but the girl quickly ducked out of sight.

“Where are the others?” Brannigan inquired before she could call to Charlie.

“Finishing up,” she replied innocently, then grinned at the pointed look that he gave her. “Nothing they couldn’t handle, but you might need a poultice or three. She was worth it,” she added, nodding toward Nicolette as her smile grew considerably gentler.

Blue eyes regarded her with knowing warmth. “No arguing about that,” the man who had been more of a father to her than her own had ever managed agreed with a nod as he turned back to the infirmary. “I’ll get some bandages ready, then.”
 

Nicolette O'Hara

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#13
“Our ship.” Celeste cut off any reaction Nicolette might have made with another kiss, which was just as well as she might have burst into sobs, so high was her elation. Not only did she have Celeste back, but she had the closest place she had had in years to being a home as well. She had missed the Wicked Grace so much that she had only rarely taken other ships during their separation, as each time she had risen from her berth only to find the crew were all strangers had been too much to bear. “Our ship. And she’s been missing you, too.”

Oh, she was starting to tear up again, but it was stalled as Celeste kissed her forehead more tenderly than she had ever known, and then took her hand. “There’s always someone looking to earn coin at the docks, and you can get parchment and quill on the ship.”

Nicolette wound her fingers in with Celeste’s, that happy bubbling feeling rising in her chest again as she grinned. Hoe was it possible there had been a time when she had had the same sensation and had not recognised it for what it was?

The message was temporarily forgotten when they reached the ship and she saw Stubby there, waving crutch aloft. A few more familiar faces popped up over the rail and when Nicolette reached the deck she was enveloped in a series of hugs. It was not much different from the greeting she had received when she had finally reached her family’s home, but she received it with the same sense of overwhelming gratitude, as though she had not had a kind touch in a long time.

“Welcome home, my dear.” Brannigan was the first. “You’ve been a hard woman to find.”

Nicolette chuckled. “You try chasing an entire ship up and down on the coast on foot. I would get to one place and you would all be gone already!”

There was no real complaint in her tone, she was too happy. Stubby declared it was time for a feast, and Brannigan asked where the others had disappeared to.

“Finishing up.” Brannigan saw right through that; he had keen eyes and a keener sense of the sort of trouble the crew regularly found themselves in. He had even given Nicolette the occasional poultice or bandage, when a Red Jenny mission had gone slightly sideways. “Nothing they couldn’t hadn’t, but you might need a poultice or three. She was worth it.”

Nicolette blushed under Celeste’s smile, and Brannigan’s agreement. Her captain could draw that reaction out of her, as though she were still only nineteen. When he turned back to the infirmary, Nicolette murmured in Celeste’s ear. “As you were worth the wait. Although maybe not so long again, I think.”

It seemed unlikely that Stubby would be long with the feast, or that the other members of the Wicked Grace would be long in returning, and Nicolette wanted to spend time with each and ever one of them, but she also desperately wanted Celeste to herself for just a few moments; they had been hampered in the alley by the vielle and in the tavern by the presence of other people. She stroked Celeste’s face, doubting she would ever get tired of looking at the other woman, chest almost bursting with tenderness and love. Here on the ship, she seemed to glow even more than she had in the chaos of the tavern.

“Can I have a few moments alone with you? Before the others return?”
 

Celeste Monroe

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#14
It still felt too damn good to be true, even with Nicolette beside her, eyes bright with emotion and hand warm in hers, and a part of Celeste didn’t relax until they were up the gangplank and Brannigan and Stubby’s reactions confirmed that no, she wasn’t dreaming or hallucinating. She relinquished her hold on the other woman to allow the others to hug her; they might have missed her differently than Celeste, but they had missed her no less, and been no less determined in the search.

“You try chasing an entire ship up and down on the coast on foot,” Nico returned Brannigan’s tease in the same spirit that it had been offered, but Celeste still winced a bit. “I would get to one place and you would all be gone already!”

“Lingering was frequently not an option that we had,” the healer apologized, keen blue eyes taking the minstrel’s measure as Stubby claimed his hug. “You could do with a bit of feeding up,” he remarked. “I’ll see you in the infirmary for a checkup after you’ve settled back in,” he announced as Stubby headed for the galley to get started on the feeding up. His knowing gaze shifted to Celeste, the faintest twinkle of indulgent amusement acknowledging that the ‘settling in’ was going to include a lengthy sojourn in the captain’s cabin.

“As you were worth the wait,” Nicolette responded to Celeste’s heartfelt declaration. “Although maybe not so long again, I think.”

“Definitely not,” Celeste agreed fervently. She hoped it would be a bit before the minstrel got the urge to go walkabout again, because it was going to be scary as fuck to let her go. Maybe she’d just tag along.

“And who is this fine fellow?” Brannigan asked, crouching and holding out a hand as Oscar made his cautious way up the gangplank, his tail tight between his legs and golden eyes fixed on Nicolette. Thibault, who had led the way, came to him immediately, but the other dog hung back warily, though his tail did swish from side to side.

“The Thing don’t like dogs,” Charlie spoke up from the galley, her chin set at a pugnacious angle.

“He and Thibault have an understanding,” Brannigan told her, scratching the big hound’s ears and getting a happy groan in response. "I'm sure that he'll reach a similar truce with this chap with a bit of time." The girl scowled and ducked back out of sight.

Celeste frowned, but any response she might have made was forestalled by a gentle hand turning her face to the regard of incredible amber eyes. “Can I have a few moments alone with you?” her minstrel inquired. “Before the others return?”

That question required no thought whatsoever, but before they had taken more than a handful of steps in the direction of their cabin, reality intervened.

“Oh, shit.” Even after more than forty years at sea, that upper-class Starkhaven burr could still make cursing sound elegant, but there was no mistaking the consternation in Brannigan’s tone, and when Celeste turned to follow his gaze, the reason became all too clear. The crew was pelting back toward the ship at full speed, Piotr and Sorcha in the lead, but the rest close behind, all of them shouting variations of the same thing:

“CAST OFF!”

“Soon,” Celeste promised Nicolette, stealing a quick kiss and pressing the veille into her hands. “Get that note written and bring it to me,” she added before turning to help Brannigan start the process of readying the Wicked Grace for a quick departure. “I think we just set a record,” she quipped, grinning despite the prickle of irritation at having her plans thwarted. They’d been in port less than an hour.

“Not even close,” Brannigan replied with a snort, bending to take in a line. “First year we were out, we had to leave Hercinia after fifteen minutes when Quinton punched the harbor master for calling the Wicked Grace a rich man’s dinghy.”
 

Nicolette O'Hara

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#15
Nicolette had not been looking for an apology, but Brannigan offered one of sorts anyway, explaining that they had not often been able to stay in one place long. Nicolette understood. Demand for transport was higher than ever now and most captains could name their price; those with a conscience, like Celeste, who would not gouge people for every penny they had, were likely inundated. They would have needed to make money to stay in good enough shape to travel, and to earn that money they needed to keep moving. Honestly, it was a miracle they had caught up to each other at all.

She was about to express that thought when Brannigan reminded her of her mother by pointing out that she was in need of a stout meal or two. Now, however, the thought cheered her rather than making her feel a little nauseous. She had been either forced to eat very little in order to keep her dogs fed, or had simply not had the desire, distracted as she was by worry. She acceded the point with a soft chuckle. “Maman said as much as well. I think I may have my appetite back, now.”

“I’ll see you in the infirmary for a checkup once you’re settled in.”

Food could assuredly wait until after ‘settling in’, and she was only distracted from the idea of heading straight to Celeste’s – their – cabin as Brannigan voiced his admiration of Oscar. The smaller hound was his usual wary self around all these strangers, but even with that he was a handsome boy, and appeared to ease a little as Thibault pushed his head into Brannigan’s hand for more scratches.

“This is Oscar. He and Thibault saved me from a demon, a few weeks after we were separated; afterwards, he decided to follow us.” It had been Oscar’s decision entirely, but she had been glad he had done so. She would have wondered for months afterwards what had become of him otherwise. “I think he often decides whether or not to obey me before he actually does so.”

“The Thing don’t like dogs.” A teenager of ambiguous gender had popped up from the galley, and was eyeing both dogs – and Nicolette – somewhat warily. They sounded like a girl, although Nicolette would wait for guidance on that.

“He and Thibault have an understanding. I’m sure that he’ll reach a similar truce with this chap in a bit of time.”

Nicolette was about to introduce herself, but the cabin boy or girl disappeared again before she could get the words out. She cocked her head at Celeste, querying the frown on the captain’s face with a curious expression, but when no explanation was forthcoming she decided to wipe the look away. There had been too much frowning in the last few months for her tastes, and she was eager to spend some time alone with her captain.

Celeste did not disagree, but apparently something in the universe did, as Brannigan’s epithet caused them to pause and turn their attention back towards the docks. Dax, Kali, Gid and Sorcha were all racing back towards the ship, hollering for them to cast off, and following them were quite a few members of the crowd from the tavern. Some were carrying torches.

This seemed a little excessive for the outcome of a tavern brawl.

Nonetheless, they needed to get out of here, although Nicolette did not quash a plaintive whine when Celeste pulled away. “Soon. Get that note written and bring it to me.”

Oh, Maman was going to be cross, when she received a message saying her daughter had suddenly left town and her lover’s crew had been chased out, but they could always come back later when things had been smoothed out a little. Nicolette had none of her things but her vielle and the dress on her back, so she would need to return for them eventually.

But she was not too upset at the idea of waiting for a couple of days for that to happen.

She disappeared into the cabin to write the note, pausing as she got inside. She had forgotten that she had actually left a few things behind before her last departure, and not one thing had been moved since then. There was the peacock scarf, above the mirror; all her dresses remained in the closet, and various trinkets she had given Celeste still took up place on a few of the surfaces. She had not expected Celeste to throw them away, but she suddenly imagined what it must have been like for her captain, to walk back in here every day and be reminded of her absence. The thought of her lover’s pain almost brought tears to her eyes. It must have been so much worse for Celeste; at least Nicolette had been fairly certain her captain had been alive most of that time.

There were so many weeks she needed to make up for, and she intended to make good on them; but first, she scribbled out a quick note of explanation to Maman, and then returned to the deck.

The crew had lost none of their skill, and the Wicked Grace was already pulling away. A few people in the crowd were throwing stones but most fell short of their mark. The returning crew had all set to their usual jobs, but even Dax looked a bit red from the exertion of his run. “What on earth happened in there?”
 

Celeste Monroe

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#16
Nicolette dashed off to write the note to her mother, and Celeste joined Brannigan in casting off the lines and getting ready to raise sail. Fortunately, the same favorable wind that had let them sail into dock would take them out again, because it definitely didn’t look as though they’d have time for kedging, a process that involved taking a light anchor out into the harbor in a dinghy with its line affixed to the capstan, dropping it in, then winding the line in, pulling the ship to the anchor, repeating as many times as needed to get the ship into a good position to catch the breeze. Backbreaking work, and not something that they did unless they were on a tight schedule and couldn’t afford to wait for the wind to shift, which was rare.

This … was a bit tighter than usual, but Celeste was still grinning like an idiot as she worked. She had her minstrel back safe and sound, the doldrums that had been shrouding her spirit these last few weeks had vanished like fog burned away by the sun, and she was ready to take on the sodding world again. Or even just a few guards.

The crew dashed up the gangplank one after another as the Wicked Grace began to edge away from the dock, Gideon bringing up the rear with his usual panache, kicking back with one booted foot to send the gangplank - and the two closest of the guards pursuing - into the drink. The rest of the dozen or so guards hit the end of the dock; one of them tried to jump the widening gap and came up short, gripping the rail briefly before Sorcha smacked his fingers with a belaying pin. A small crowd that had trailed behind the guards clustered, some jeering at them, others pitching rocks at the now out of reach ship. Brannigan had moved to the helm to see to the delicate task of maneuvering the Wicked Grace out of the crowded harbor, and the rest of the crew slipped into their tasks with the ease of years of practice.

“What on earth happened in there?” Nicolette wanted to know as she came back on deck with the note in one hand.

“Ran into an old friend,” Gideon said with a crooked grin as he adjusted the sail. “Besides you, I mean.”

That sounded interesting, but Celeste had finally spotted the group of wharf rats she’d been looking for, watching the commotion from further back on the pier.

“Distraction,” she barked out, plucking the parchment from Nico’s grasp and heading for the bow.

‘Save the questions for later’ was a regular routine on this ship, so Gideon simply shrugged, secured the line, stepped to the rail, dropped his trousers and mooned the crowd on the dock. Seconds later, Sorcha and Dax joined him. With all eyes now on the three moons rising, Celeste leaped from the bow, catching a line and swinging onto a ship still tied up to the dock.

“What the fuck?”

“Just passing through!” She dodged around the sailor she’d nearly bowled over, her eyes darting between her targets and the mob, who didn’t seem to have noticed her yet.

So far, so good. Across the deck and down the gangplank, ducking around and between the stacks of cargo until she fetched up beside the group of kids.

“Here.” She pressed the note into the hand of one, a boy named Marco that had run errands for them in the past. “Take this to the address on it. Go that way.” She pointed away from the direction of the crowd, folding the fingers of his other hand around a coin, saw his eyes widen as he registered the weight. He flashed her a grin and darted off, note and sovereign gripped tight. “The rest of you -” she passed out silver to the rest of the gang, “any direction but where he went. Go!”

They scattered, and Celeste headed back along the dock, tracking the slow progress of the Wicked Grace, picking out an intercept course.

“You!” Turning, she caught sight of a familiar face. Not sure where she’d seen it before, but he definitely looked pissed. Which admittedly didn’t narrow the possibilities down all that much. Whoever he was, he was wearing a guard captain’s badge, and he had plenty of backup, so -

She sprinted back down the dock as they charged, a sweep of a blade in passing slicing a rope to release an avalanche of wooden barrels in her wake, along with a storm of oaths that probably weren’t only from her pursuers. The Wicked Grace was approaching the end of the dock, and she redoubled her pace, rolling beneath a descending cargo net filled with crates and charging up the gangplank of the last ship in line, an ungainly galleon called the Sweet Mirabelle.

“Comin’ through!” she sang out, ducking around the captain, cutting the line that secured the mainmast boom and taking aim at the rail.

“GODDAMMIT, MONROE!” he bawled irritably as the guards barreled aboard right behind her, but she never slowed, swinging the boom out and over the rail, releasing and delighting in the brief sensation of free-fall before landing in a heap on her own deck with a whoop of triumph.

“Message on its way!” she announced smugly, pushing herself to her feet as the Wicked Grace glided into open water, bound for the mouth of the harbor.

“Showoff,” Gideon accused her as he and the other two distractions pulled their pants back up.

“You know me well,” Celeste replied, with a grin for him and a wink for Nicolette, still enjoying the rush of adrenaline from the little jaunt and with quite a few ideas for burning it off, but -

“Who was that guy?” she asked, curiosity winning out for the moment, jabbing her thumb in the direction of the docks, where the guard captain was still hurling abuse out over the water.

Gideon chuckled. “Remember the scam we pulled in Val Chevin about a year ago? And the guard who tried to cut in?”

“Yeah.” The old ‘female Qunari’ scam, but one of the guards who had been shaking down the brothel owner for protection money and roughing up her workers had decided to take his cut in trade … and Gideon had gone along with it … to a point. The asshat hadn’t taken the big reveal well at all. “That was him?”

“Yup.” Gideon smirked. “I’d heard he got laughed out of town. Guess he wound up here. He recognized me as soon as he got to the tavern, so I gave him a kiss for old times sake.”

“He means he bent him back on a table and stuck his tongue down his throat,” Sorcha clarified, grinning wickedly. “Pretty much went to shit after that.”

“Can’t imagine why,” Celeste snickered, stepping to the rail and sending the asshat a sunny wave. “Guess the Inquisition’s going to have to find someone else to ship their Nevarran steel for a few weeks. Or months.” Maybe they’d check back next year sometime. No great loss, particularly considering who they’d gained. “Miss this?” she asked Nicolette, her tone playful but her eyes more serious. There had been precious little of ‘this’ the last few months on board the Wicked Grace.
 

Nicolette O'Hara

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#17
The ship was already pulling away, and Nicolette had questions about how they were supposed to deliver the message, but was somewhat curtailed by Celeste asking for a distraction and Gid, Sorcha and Dax responding by showing their behinds to the yowling crowd on the dock. Fortunately nobody appeared to have a bow or one of the three of them might have ended up with an injury that resulted in a lifetime’s worth of teasing.

Then Celeste was away, jumping ship – literally – and sprinting across it down to the dock. Nicolette clutched at the rail, mouth open as she watched Celeste fly over to a group on the outskirts. The Wicked Grace was pulling further away from the dock, and now there were guards heading for Celeste, and Nicolette tracked her progress with her fingernails digging into the wood as she watched the other woman send barrels into the path of the men pursuing her, ducking cargo that nearly came down on top of her, and then away up onto the next ship, grabbing a length of rope and then swinging across the open space between the vessels. Nicolette on instinct almost went to catch her, but Kali fortunately caught her shoulder before Celeste could flatten her. The captain landed with a bone-rattling splat, but was back on her feet in a moment, grinning. “Message on its way!”

“Showoff.”

“You know me well.”

“That was amazing.” Nicolette liked to tease Celeste sometimes by withholding compliments that had been well earned, and she had seen her captain pull off stunning feats before, but there was no supressing it this time; that flight had been nothing short of outstanding. Celeste threw her a wink and would have found herself pinned to the mast in another moment, but was more interested right now in who had been pursuing her particularly.

“Remember the scam we pulled in Val Chevin about a year ago? And the guard who tried to cut in?”

Nicolette remembered that one. She had gone along partly to watch the show – Gid and Celeste never picked a target who was not already something of a connard – and partly to serve as another pair of eyes in case there was trouble. She had got the show. The man had attempted to get his cut from Gid, which would have been a foolish move even if he had been the buxom female qunari he feigned so well. She grinned. “Ohhh. No wonder he remembered you so well.”

“Yup. I’d heard he got laughed out of town. Guess he wound up here. He recognized me as soon as he got to the tavern, so I gave him a kiss for old times sake.”

“He means he bent him back on a table and stuck his tongue down his throat.” Sorcha was clearly delighted; Nicolette giggled. “Pretty much went to shit after that.”

“Can’t imagine why.” The cocky smirk was one of many of Celeste’s expressions that Nicolette had missed; her heart softened again on seeing it, and she became aware that she was grinning as broadly as she would if she were half-drunk. “Guess the Inquisition’s going to have to find someone else to ship their Nevarran steel for a few weeks. Or months.” The Inquisition? Nicolette was intrigued about that, but questions could come later. Celeste had turned to her. “Miss this?”

Nicolette caught the more serious undertone to the playful comment. She crossed the space between them, one hand resting on Celeste’s jaw as the other brushed a lock of hair back from her forehead. “Everything about it.” She smiled; she could almost cry again, with relief, and gratitude, and the final release of everything she had carried in her heart, heavy as lead, for months. But she had done enough crying to last a lifetime. She wanted to laugh, and to lift the pain in Celeste’s eyes, and fortunately she had something for it.

“Although I was not entirely bereft. I met an acquaintance of yours while I was on land. Apparently you stole his coin and kicked him overboard after refusing to move a-” she adopted the most stuck up accent she could manage – “feeeeelthy Fereldan pah-sant minstrel from his cabin?” She grinned. “I dosed him with the ‘mystery potion’ you gave me. He gave quite the performance after that.”
 

Celeste Monroe

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#18
“That was amazing.”

That was pretty much exactly the response from Nico that Celeste had been aiming for with that particular stunt, but there had been a practical reason, as well. She was already resigned to catching holy hell from Clarice for leaving her daughter to deal with demons alone - though she was willing to wager that she wouldn’t hear anything worse than what she’d told herself over and over. Still, no need to set herself up for greater ire by absconding with Nicolette without leaving word. And now the minstrel would not be fretting about her mother worrying about her, allowing them to enjoy a day or three before reporting for the public flogging.

Gideon provided the explanation for the unexpectedly swift departure, along with the reason that the bloke leading the charge had looked familiar. Celeste remembered that particular caper quite well, though she obviously hadn’t gotten quite as close a look at their unwitting mark as Gideon had.

Nicolette had been there, as well, and her eyes danced with mirth. “Ohhh. No wonder he remembered you so well.”

And Gideon had … renewed the acquaintance, so to speak. Which meant that they’d be giving Cumberland a wide berth for the foreseeable future, but Celeste couldn’t bring herself to care. She waved to the asshole, caught a shouted opinion of hers and Gideon’s ancestry that seemed improbable at best, then turned away to find Nicolette watching her with an expression that cut every other thought adrift.

She’d known that she loved her for quite a while now, but she hadn’t realized just how much she needed her until these last miserable months of searching. Seeing her now, back on the Wicked Grace, the part of Celeste that had been floundering in the doldrums righted itself. To say that she had missed her minstrel was a woeful understatement, and no matter how whimsical she tried to make her query to Nico, the weeks of fear and yearning swirled beneath her words like a riptide.

Reading her mood as adeptly as ever, Nicolette moved to Celeste, framing her face with gentle hands and looking into her eyes. “Everything about it,” she said fervently, her eyes brimming with emotion and her smile utterly beautiful. Celeste drew a slow breath, the first in months that didn’t feel restricted by a leaden weight in her chest, and smiled, turning her head to press a kiss into her lover’s palm. So much that she wanted to say, but as much as she trusted her crew, very little of it was for their ears, and while neither she nor Nicolette were averse to a bit of exhibitionism, what Celeste really wanted was a few hours of privacy in her cabin with the door locked. Before she could suggest it, she caught the gleam of humor in those lovely amber eyes.

“Although I was not entirely bereft,” the minstrel began, her smile growing sly. “I met an acquaintance of yours while I was on land.”

“Oh?” Celeste arched an eyebrow inquisitively. There was no shortage of those in ports across Thedas, but the merriment in her minstrel’s expression suggested something special.

"Apparently you stole his coin and kicked him overboard after refusing to move a-” she assumed an exaggeratedly arrogant expression as her gentle Orlesian accent thickened into parody, “feeeeelthy Fereldan pah-sant minstrel from his cabin?”

Celeste’s smile spread from ear to ear, and the crew burst out in uproarious laughter.

“Comte Fuckwit!” Sorcha crowed delightedly.

“Cap’n booted his ass over the rail in the middle of the harbor,” Bailey informed Nico.

“He was an ass,” Kali confirmed. “He was complaining about Lucais getting free passage.” Nicolette had met the other minstrel, and was quite familiar with the longstanding tradition of giving berths to performers who would pay with tunes and tales. They had kept it up even when Nico was aboard; she had enjoyed the chances to perform with other artists, and the Wicked Grace had enjoyed some rousing concerts.

“He swam pretty well once he dumped his money belt,” Celeste smirked, eyeing Nicolette curiously. “What happened?” She felt a prickle of protective instinct, but the other woman’s demeanor didn’t suggest she’d taken any harm from the encounter.

The minstrel’s smile was pure mischief. “I dosed him with the ‘mystery potion’ you gave me. He gave quite the performance after that.”

“Perfect!” Celeste gave a whoop of approval, catching Nico around the waist, lifting her and spinning her about in delight. “You hear that Dax?”

“It worked?” the ship’s resident alchemist demanded eagerly. “What did it do?” Nico had been carrying the only vials of that batch, and they hadn’t been in a position for him to experiment much since then, sticking to tried and true methods of mayhem.
 

Nicolette O'Hara

Prominent member
DAO/DA2 Timeline
Posts
186
#19
Celeste had been grinning following her successful run to shore and back, and she turned her head to gently kiss Nicolette’s palm. Nicolette wanted to do so much; to pull her in for a kiss, towards the cabin, or just to wrap her arms around her captain and not let go for a long time as she breathed in the scent that had come to mean home for her. She had missed Celeste in so many ways, but one thing that had really hurt had been on occasions when something funny had happened and she had turned, laughing, to share the moment with Celeste, only to remember that she was not there.

She could share a moment now – one that Celeste had unwittingly participated in. She started on the story of her encounter with the chevalier, and the moment she gave her impersonation of him, half the crew started to roar with laughter. In bits and pieces, she got the backstory of how they had run into the Comte in the first place.

“He was an ass. He was complaining about Lucais getting free passage.”

“No wonder you dropped him! Who complains about Lucais?” The Fereldan minstrel was a sweet-natured man, with a stock of tales to rival Nicolette’s own. They had spent more than a few companionable evenings playing the most raucous music they knew to amuse the Wicked Grace’s crew.

“He swam pretty well once he dumped his money belt.” Celeste grinned. “What happened?”

Nicolette beamed, happy to deliver the news that she had dosed the man with Dax’s concoction. The handsome sailor laughed his approval, then eagerly asked how it had worked out. Nicolette chuckled, settling happily into story-telling mode.

“Nothing immediately, and then, as he was halfway through offering an invitation I had no interest in, his voice went as high as that of a young boy. Higher, even, until he squeaked. He apologised, attempted to clear his throat, and the most almighty belch I have ever heard in my life rolled out.” She was giggling at the memory already. “I began to laugh, and he started yelling at me to stop, but it was impossible to even make out the words, his voice was so shrill. He also kept belching, and then – his behind joined in. Between the flute of his voice, the percussion of his belching and the horn-like noises coming out of his derriere, he could have made a decent one-man troupe.”

Dax was howling now, apparently pleased with the effects of the potion, and he was not the only one. Sorcha was on the floor and Gideon appeared to be holding onto the rigging to try and stay upright. “Then what happened?”

“Ah, well. He became very cross when I would not – could not – stop laughing at him, and he made to strike a blow. Enter Oscar, who is very protective, and made a line right for his groin. He was lucky in that Oscar did not get a proper grip on him, but he did manage to seize the front of his breeches, and rip it away.” She paused for effect. “Which immediately revealed that he was not wearing smallclothes. It may have been the fright Oscar gave him, but I am fairly sure I could see his equipment shrinking by the second.”

“He ran off cursing after that, perhaps realising the chance to depart with dignity had long since gone.”
 

Celeste Monroe

Shenaniginstigator In Chief
DAO/DA2 Timeline
Posts
281
#20
As much as Celeste wanted a few hours of privacy with her minstrel, the crew of the Wicked Grace had missed Nicolette no less than her captain (though admittedly not for all the same reasons) and had searched for her no less diligently. So when Nico offered up a tale of one of her adventures that involved a prig they all knew and one of Dax’s experimental concoctions, Celeste loosened her embrace and leaned against the mainmast to watch as her lover launched into the story, her expressions and gestures as much a part of the narrative as her voice.

“Nothing immediately,” she began, “and then, as he was halfway through offering an invitation I had no interest in, his voice went as high as that of a young boy. Higher, even, until he squeaked.” Celeste snorted with laughter and looked inquisitively at Dax, wondering if he had intended that effect, but his full attention was on the storyteller, his face alight with interest. “He apologised, attempted to clear his throat, and the most almighty belch I have ever heard in my life rolled out.” She giggled at the memory, and most of the crew was laughing by now, as well. “I began to laugh, and he started yelling at me to stop, but it was impossible to even make out the words, his voice was so shrill. He also kept belching, and then – his behind joined in. Between the flute of his voice, the percussion of his belching and the horn-like noises coming out of his derriere, he could have made a decent one-man troupe.”

That image was priceless, as much for its effect on the crew as anything else. Bailey and Téo were leaning into each other to stay upright, Sorcha was laying down drumming her heels on the deck and Stubby was propped up in the door to the galley with tears running down his face. Even Charlie was smiling, though she still didn’t come out.

“Then what happened?” Dax demanded after he caught his breath.

“Ah, well. He became very cross when I would not – could not – stop laughing at him, and he made to strike a blow.” Celeste felt herself start to bristle at that, but evidently another savior had been close at hand. “Enter Oscar, who is very protective, and made a line right for his groin. He was lucky in that Oscar did not get a proper grip on him, but he did manage to seize the front of his breeches, and rip it away.” The briefest pause and a sly smile. “Which immediately revealed that he was not wearing smallclothes. It may have been the fright Oscar gave him, but I am fairly sure I could see his equipment shrinking by the second.”

“Ho! Gooood dog!” Gideon boomed at Oscar, who eyed them all warily while staying close to his mistress.

“He ran off cursing after that, perhaps realising the chance to depart with dignity had long since gone,” Nicolette concluded her tale to whoops of laughter that had not been heard on these decks in far too long.

“Good dog, indeed.” Celeste was smiling as she pushed away from the mast and strode to the galley. “Any venison left?” she asked Stubby. They’d traded smoked meat for fresh fish at a village a few days back. Stubby nodded and pulled a slab of meat from the burlap sack. Celeste took it and crouched, holding it out. Thibault came immediately, and Celeste tore off chunks to feed to him, noting the advance of grey in his muzzle and the slight hitch in his step. “Good boy,” she told him softly, feeding him with one hand and tossing the rest to Oscar. “Your bed is waiting for you; think you’ve earned it.” Another thing that had remained undisturbed: the well padded bed in one corner of the captain’s cabin. They’d need to get a second one now, but she wasn’t complaining.

“C’mere.” She motioned to Charlie, and the girl stepped out of the galley, looking caught between shyness and defiance. She wore a green bandanna around her head, and she’d pestered Kalindra until the seamstress had crafted her a pocketed vest from scraps of sailcloth, but hero worship wasn't going to excuse poor manners. “This is Nicolette O’Hara, ship’s minstrel,” Celeste introduced her. “Nico, this is Charlie, our cabin girl.”

Charlie frowned. “Ship’s don’t need minstrels,” she challenged.

They didn’t need cabin girls either, strictly speaking, but Celeste wasn’t going to hit her with that. “She can also man the helm, raise the sails, keep watch from the crow’s nest and tie every knot there is.” Which was an area that Charlie was still struggling in. “She was a landlubber not too long ago, though,” she added with a wink for Nicolette. “You could learn a lot from her.”

Message received, and there was no lack of brains behind those blue eyes. “Pleased t’meetcha,” the girl offered, sticking out her hand, and if there was a distinct lack of enthusiasm to the words, at least the rebellion had subsided.
 
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