Three hours later, the party was still going, without any signs of letting up. Zelda had claimed a table overlooking the floor, and nursed a glass of sparkling water. She had been all over this place, but still couldn’t see the significance. Neither Zoë nor her bodyguard were here, not even on the upper levels. There were no soldiers, either. As far as she could make out, everyone was Germanian, though not all from Mattium. The singer sang in Germanian, and the prices were strictly set in marks. They wouldn't accept her denarii under any circumstances. The bartender had looked ready to clock her until Fulco swept in with a rescue. He also started a tab for her. She could pay him back before she left town, he said.
She was beginning to wonder if that shouldn’t be sooner rather than later. She wasn't making much headway on either assignment. Zoë was somewhere in town, but she was guarded by that bear of a man. The army had threatened to send her packing if she asked any more questions. And her only tip had lead her to… this.
Fulco appeared at her shoulder. "Zelda, you are not having fun? Smile! What are you drinking? Water? Pah. I'm getting you more wine. This is a dance party, not a place to drown your sorrows."
Zelda shook her head. "Thank you, but I should really be heading home."
"Nonsense." He paused to listen to the music, then took her hand, bringing her to her feet. "What did I just say? This place isn't for moping. It's for fun. I am going to make sure you have fun."
Somewhere beyond the headache that was beginning to make its presence known, she sensed a certain militancy behind his words. Then he swung her onto the dance floor and it didn't seem to matter anymore.
The band was excellent, and so was Fulco. He lead like a professional, and Zelda found herself by turns swept out, and brought back in to him. On the third turn, they paused, the handsome Germanian staring down into her eyes. Zelda's middle went hot. His lips were just the right height to press a kiss to her forehead, a gesture she wished fervently he would make.
When had she last had a serious boyfriend? School? Summer vacation. What a disaster that had been.
The set ended, and Fulco stepped back. Was it her or were his eyes still smoldering with… something?
She opened her dry mouth to say something into the brief silence, when a familiar laugh caught her ear. They both turned, and Zelda blanched. Zoë, peering over the new disc jockey's shoulder. She looked plastered.
Before Fulco could say anything, Zelda interrupted, "I see someone I know. Excuse me."
The crowd was in no mood to stop dancing, already transitioning from live jazz to the recording now being played. Zelda pushed through, keeping her eye trained on Zoë. What was wrong with the girl, putting herself in full sight like that? Where was her bear? He wouldn't be happy when he found her.
Zelda got to the disc jockey's booth first. He was lounging beside his console, flirting shamelessly with the beautiful, dark princess. She giggled again, taking another sip of her cocktail.
"Hello!" Zoë turned toward her with a big smile that faltered. "Zel? What—what're you doing here?"
"Sticking my nose in where I shouldn’t. Come on, Zoë, lets go find a seat," Zelda offered her hand. Prayed Zoë was too far gone to remember how much she hated her.
Zoë shook her head, her whole body, and her drink, swaying as well. "I wanna stay here. I'm talking to—what's your name?"
"It doesn't matter what his name is," Zelda said firmly. "I want to talk to you."
She frowned. "You don' wanna talk to me. You never wanna talk to me. No—wait, you DO. You ALWAYS wanna talk to me. Daddy doesn't want me talking to you." She paused, trying to process her own words. Ah, but Daddy… that did it. "Let's go! Bye, domini," she twiddled her fingers in a wave for the disc jockey and teetered toward Zelda.
Zelda caught her before she tripped. How many had she had?! "Come on…" Somehow they got to a private booth some way from the pumping speakers. Zoë dropped into a seat and promptly waved her arm at a passing waitress.
"Another of these, please?"
Zelda grabbed her arm and shook her head at the waitress. "A bottle of sparkling water, two glasses, please."
Zoë pouted. "Water? When did you stop being fun?"
"When did you turn into a bacchanal?" Zelda shot back, irritated with herself now that the urgent moment had passed. Honestly, what had she been thinking? Zoë didn't want her help. And that damn Protector would probably skin her alive for even going near her. Seeing up there had been such a flashback, though… She looked at Zoë in dismay, now. When had she turned into a drunk?
"'Round the time you turned into a total effing bitch, actually," Zoë said, with some pride for herself. An impressive sentence for someone who was so deep in her cups!
Zelda tried not to flinch. She wanted to ask her what had driven her to it. Wanted to ask how sneaking off at important social events turned into getting smashed on Germanian liquor. But she knew enough of the answers to know she wouldn't like the others. "Where's your Protector?" she asked instead.
"Biernevich. Big man, snarls a lot."
"Oh! Oron! Mm, he's probably looking for me." Zoë tipped her empty glass back, then glared into its depths.
Zelda looked around the warehouse, suddenly feeling very old. "Do you know the address for where you're staying?"
"S'written down somewhere."
"So if I put you in a cab, you could give it to the driver?"
Then that was the plan. The waitress brought their water, finally, and Zelda poured them each a glass. Zoë giggled as the bubbles leapt up onto the end of her nose. Zelda watched her wearily. They had come so very, very far in the last few years. "Here's to strange bedfellows," she murmured, and tipped back her own drink.