Not for the first nor the last time this evening alone, Roronoa Quinto questions his choice to follow a certain captain by the name of Duparis the Gentleman.
His captain, he reminds himself gloomily, who at this hour leads him down the clumsiest path on the beach towards some unseen and yet probably just as unsound destination. There is the slightest of springs in the elegant step of his gait, and he keeps urging Quinto to quicken his pace to keep up. Really.
“And this could-” he allows himself a great, teary-eyed yawn, to Duparis’ consternation. “-not possibly wait until a more lucid hour? Suppose we say morning?”
Duparis’ eyebrows knit together beneath the brim of his favorite cap (none of the more elegant top hats for this occasion), and he fumbles with the handle of the lamp in his hands. “This cannot wait, you sentient boulder-moss. Now hurry.”
Quinto grumbles, letting his tired gaze wander around since he doesn’t really need to see where Duparis is going. His sense of direction is wonderful in that aspect (tripping over random beach refuse is a different matter).
Beachgrass flourishes at the crown of the bank; among its hardy stems hide the artful little Gemra’s Blush flowers, each wreathed with a dancing string of tiny iluz-grillas, the fireflies he remembers so dearly from his boyhood.
He is certain that the whole scene is quite picturesque, but this is the unfortunate time of night in which he very much misses his bed. Terribly.
Duparis is especially unmoved when he laments this out loud, and his complaints about bedeviled individuals who seem to thrive on no sleep at all are met with a beautiful look of pure indifference. The captain can be very expressive in private.
“Are you bedeviled, by any chance?” he presses teasingly. “You are an excommunicate, after all, and I’ve heard that unpleasant things do get in occasionally.”
Duparis’ eyes twinkle in the lamplight. He is never one to miss an opportunity to make light of himself, especially among friends, and so he touches a hand to his breast pocket and gives an exaggerated, mournful sigh. “Might I remind you of the devastation that my spiritual condemnation wrought on Father Easter’s gentle heart? Truly a sign of the end of times, he wept. A shame that a faithful so blessed in charm, wit, and the letters should be cast out into the cold, cruel world-”
“Didn’t he go on to claim that you were probably the enemy of God incarnate because of your ‘beauteous gifts’ and ‘natural inclination toward the worldly temperaments’?”
“Bah, he was always a bit overzealous,“ the captain says dismissively. “Watch your step here, mate.”
The embankment comes down to meet the water at a lazy slope, as though it has adjusted to its place on the eastern shore of the island. It has lost its sharp profile to the sea, where the waves have eroded much of the original stone into a finer blueish sand. Of course, it isn’t so loose that one cannot walk on it, but it has been roughly a half hour since he was woken, and he feels that the moon is still disconcertingly high in the inkblot sky. His sleep-heavy eyes are of little use to his feet as he stumbles his way through the dark.
“No, no, no; open your eyes and look.” Duparis catches his arm and turns him toward the horizon on the sea, where the low glow of the distant navigational buoys paints the sky a quiet, earnest green. But it isn’t until they climb up onto the now abandoned dock pilings overlooking the bay that he sees their intended point of interest.
Duparis is an individual of composure and presentation; so much of what he says and does is so carefully processed that sincerity is hard to come by with him. Right now, that polished façade is gone, leaving at his side (peering at him with dancing, overbright eyes and a wide curl of a smile) a Duparis so barely restrained that he is holding his breath and cupping his flushed cheeks as he awaits Quinto’s reaction.
Quinto has to blink a few times to make sure he isn’t just seeing things.
“Are you seeing what I’m seeing, Captain?”
Duparis makes an undignified noise in his throat and nods.
“You’re not, that’s not…” Quinto shakes his head. “Wait, that’s ours?”
Duparis cannot bear it longer and lets out an ecstatic cry, grabbing his hands and tugging him off the pilings and toward the docks on the port. “Yes, it’s ours, you sodden lump of algae! That’s our ship! Isn’t she a beauty?”
It takes a moment for the thought to become real in his mind. By that time he and Duparis are knee deep in the surf, cutting through the shallows to reach it faster, and the only thing he can think of to say is, “Deu, I may have fallen in love.”
“Wait until you see the interior; I fear you’ll ask to marry the dear thing.” Duparis spins around and sweeps the navigator off his feet, an impressive feat considering that the navigator is taller by a foot and nearly twice his weight. “We’re set, my bonny lad. This one’s all ours to sail wherever we want, to the ends of the earth even! You’ll be her first and only navigator, from now to the horizon.”
Quinto’s mind reels. They had never been on a ship of their own, not even when they tried venturing out of North Blue a year ago. Those had all been fine, worthy vessels, but to have a ship to keep, one that belonged only to them? The thought leaves him breathless and giddy. He grasps Duparis’ arms and shakes his shoulders urgently. “How?”
The captain gives him a wily grin, the familiar twinkle back in his eyes. “I had some substantial favorable circumstances to trade in with the Commissioner's Office. A little purse of gold only helped sweeten the deal, see?”
His feet are firmly back on the ground, but his head still hasn’t come down from the clouds yet. “Oh my God, I have to start charting possible courses. Where do you want to go? Where does the crew want to go? Oh God, we need to tell them; they will positively swoon on the starboard. Look at the build of the keel and those boons...forward, aft, all of it is ours!”
He is rambling, he knows, but he honestly feels like a little boy who has been told Papá Noel has come early just for him. “This is amazing, I can’t believe...Duparis, you are absolutely brilliant and I could kiss you right now.”
At this, the captain looks away and chuckles nervously, rubbing the back of his neck with a trembling hand. “I-it isn’t that big a fuss, really. The ship is the important part-”
“Duparis, you silken little doe, are you blushing?” Quinto grabs the captain and, in a fit of pure Hespenian ardor, dips him down and presses a kiss afire on his lips, taking pleasure in the way that Duparis’ eyes became two bright curves of light smiling back at him within the darkness. It is something transient and fiery, done heat-of-the moment and gone. They are drunk on emotion and the night, and by morning they will have forgotten all about it.
Duparis chuckles as his hat slipped off his head, leaving his short-cropped hair to be ruffled by the cold sea breeze. By the time they fish it out of the water and trudge up the gangplank onto their ship, they are both soaked and shivering, huddled next to each other on the steps to the forecastle to stay warm. Quinto feels his burst of energy give way to exhaustion, and even Duparis doesn’t seem to want to move to explore the rest of the ship yet.
The morning is too peaceful for moving around right now.
“...hey, Quinto,” Duparis mutters, tugging at a strand of hair that is curling stubbornly at the end. “Where would you want to go first? On our new ship, I mean?”
Quinto smiles and rests his head back against the banister, watching the stars fade one by one into the paling sky as dawn approaches. “I don’t know...Oegenburg always looked so quiet and beautiful in the pictures Pai brought back from his trips. I think I’d like it.”
“Sticking with the Old World?” Duparis smirks. “How baroque.”
“It’s charming,” he counters with a grin. “Besides, you cannot tell me that you won’t miss this place when we’re gone.”
“I do not disagree. ‘There is nowhere in this world that God loved more than North Blue’, so the saying goes.” Duparis looks out at the horizon, now an avid shade of orange. The wind picks up, though it can't decide whether to throw his hair across his face or to shove his bangs away from his brow. In the end, he brushes it back as much as he can and glares at Quinto when the latter starts to chuckle at the familiar sight of those two frivolously curly eyebrows. “We may be biased, but I doubt we’ll find another place like this.”
“What about you, Captain?”
“I think I’d like to go somewhere with sun. I wouldn’t mind if it was cold, but there should be lots of sun.”
Quinto smiles quietly. The goal has never been to find another place like home, and adventure is only part of the reason they are out this close to the Continent. They are seeking (answers/closure/a lonely girl) and though it is a quest that promised a certain sort of destruction, even if they were successful. Not that this matters to any of them; they have all been aware of what they signed up for when they chose to follow Duparis.
Their biggest clue lead to somewhere on the Red Line, and the man who has the answer to their first question was none other than the Qohar’s heir, which makes their task that much harder to fulfill. He hopes, for Duparis’ sake, that this will not be a false lead like the first time.
You’d better have what we’re looking for; he’s worked too hard for this to end in failure. We’re coming for you, Khala the Scion.