Responsible Distance

Title: Responsible Distance
Time Period: October, 134 A.E.
Characters Appearing:

Summary: Algernon finds himself unwillingly acting the host to a woman with designs all her own.

Cruikshank's band was a sorry lot to begin with, but they're even sorrier since they were diverted into Dornie. Relieved of weaponry, valuable belongings, pack animals and no small amount of (admittedly dubious) dignity, they've since settled themselves on the outer fringes of a community that they are not free to leave. Small in number, diverse in education, age and health, some are more social than others. The majority tends to draw together in a slack huddle round a central fire as shadows lengthen and the wind picks up. Stories to tell. Guidance to seek. Safety in numbers.

Algernon does not participate.

Tall on his feet, arms folded across his chest and bowler low on his brow, he is considering the sulfer glow that marks marginally more affluent sectors of Dornie as much as he is keeping an eye on it in wary wait of further liberation. Dogs tend to have a certain look about them that betrays their disposition at a distance, and so does he; after however many days spent stagnating in a tent, he does not look friendly.

None of them are locals.

That small tidbit of information is all Luna cared to listen to before taking it upon herself to something of a welcoming committee to the tent city dwellers. Given the situation of the unfortunate people, she didn't dress up in her best nor did she send some poor child ahead to announce her arrival. That might give them the impression that she puts on airs, something they can find out later. Historically the blonde has brazen but not brave, especially without an entourage to goad her along with laughs and dares. Unfortunately, none of her usual crowd deigned the visit a desirable way to pass the time.

Skirting along the edge of the outermost tents and wagons, the prostitute's stride is as silent as a grave. Those gathered around the fire would be none the wiser to her presence but her shadow flits across the line of sight between Algernon and the affluent area of Dornie that he's eying. Rather than pretend not to see him, she graces him with a smile and a nod of greeting.

"Oh hello there!" It's a passable attempt at a better welcome, at least it's friendly. As Luna steps a little closer, she adjusts a leather bag on her shoulder. It clinks but by the look on her face, she doesn't seem too worried about the contents. "You wouldn't perchance have a sitar player in your lot, would you?"

In turn, Algernon does not startle or stiffen. He does adjust his focus far to near, private train of thought effectively derailed for the time it takes him to look Luna over. Young. Female. Convenient leather bag that goes clank, padding silently around camp in the dark. 'Friendly.'


Fogg works his mouth. Doesn't unfold his arms. Underwhelmed.

"I have a sitar in my tent."

"Rrreally," Luna rolls her r just a little though it's nearly impossible to discern if it's because she's actually impressed that a man in a bowler actually has a sitar or that she doesn't believe a man in a bowler hat capable of playing one. "That is rather convenient for me, isn't it? I'm looking to hire someone who can play well."

She pauses for a moment to look Fogg over, her eyebrow arching slightly as she looks up to his face. "Or at least well enough that it doesn't make me look like a fool," is added on, maybe because of the hat. She sweeps a grand gesture toward the tents, cocking her head slightly to the side as though inviting him to lead. "If you're willing to barter a trade for services, that is."

A subtle shift in weight sways at the tail of Algernon's long coat, wide lapels turned up against the wind. He is from England, probably, according to his accent, bone structure clean as it is bleak, whiskers meticulously maintained, eyes clear. Reading her as he is read.

"No." He says. Finally. Decisively deadpan, once his eyes have ticked down to the lead of her hand and he's made no move to go along. "In answer to your first question, that is. I do not 'rrreally,'" emphasis hers, "have a sitar in my tent. Or much of anything else."

The smile drops almost immediately as her bottom lip is blown out by a huff of air that sends the wisps of blonde hair at her forehead flying. "Well then why would you say you did?" Her tone almost matches her expression in annoyance, as though she has better things to do than banter with a man who doesn't, in fact, have a sitar in his tent. "I was so hoping that one of you lot had a taste for the exotic or at least out of the ordinary. This town is so bleak and common… and boring."

Letting loose another sigh, she glances toward the fire and the people gathered around it. The annoyance turns to pity and she shakes her head a little before looking back up at Algernon. "My name is Luna Owens, I'm looking to hire a sitar player so that I might perform a dance before the solstice. I am in need of new clients."

"Because you've been treading awfully lightly in the dark for someone in search of a musician for hire, Ms. Owens," says Algernon, with not the least bit of pity in exchange. If anything the floor drops out a bit beneath the growl of his voice, pleasantry weathered briefly threadbare.

"My name is Algernon Fogg and if you're in search of someone to keep you from wandering heedlessly into the tents of strange men in the middle of the night I may be of some service — "

Fogg pauses there, brows twitched in towards each other in time with a rapid mental replay of what she's just said. About clients. Fortunately he is worldly enough that his struggle with tact is a brief one.

"What is it that you said you were selling?"

"Well, there is good reason for that, I wouldn't want to wander heedlessly into a strange man's tent." Luna's somewhat sarcastic reply is cut off for a brief moment of thought and then added to with the obligatory, "pleasure to meet you Mister Fogg." She doesn't address him by his first name, perhaps a little intimidated by the emphasis was on his last.

Letting the pack slip from her shoulder, she holds it in front of her with both hands. The clink of glass once again heard and this time a little moreso. "I'm not selling anything, I came to barter for a musician. As for what I do sell… you're looking at it." A very slight smile makes it's way to her lips, something to capture attention more than friendliness. "I allow men to spend time with me for a price, which is the reason why I am in need of a musician."

"Of course," agrees Fogg, brow hooded in exaggerated sympathy for her reasoning. Of course she would have waited outside while he collected his imaginary sitar. As to the rest — he's able to willfully extend ignorance for the purpose of propriety with the help of a long-suffering sigh and a glance up after the stars, which are slightly less crisp here than they are out in the country proper.

"You must be considered exceptional company, if men are willing to pay to experience it. I'm not sure we're harboring any musicians here, but Fletcher is certainly the type to spring for more involved intercourse." He smiles there, finally.

Also very slightly.

Luna's eyebrows draw down a fraction as she attempts to puzzle together any hidden meaning that Fogg might have behind that smile. "I am exceptional company," she agrees with the assessment readily enough and holds out the bag to Fogg, allowing him to either peek inside or not. "Not that I wish to impose myself on you for longer than you can suffer it, but I could stand to lose a little of the weight in this bag. We could chat more about what sort of people you are harboring, if you're willing to share?"

It's a leading question, of course the prostitute is banking on the Englishman being a bit more willing after she opens the flap covering the contents. "If you're not fond of the fairy, I have other things… They're back at the Dovetail, of course, in my room. You'd have to be a bit more presentable to be seen there" in her room "but I'm sure we could manage swimmingly with what I have."

A look slanted down and a thoughtless reach to tilt the bag's contents into better light confirm that the fairy is indeed what Luna is harboring. At a glance, anyway.

"Sounds as though we have an arrangement," seems straightfoward enough, followed up by a flat look for her assessment of his attire as it is. "Retiring to more private quarters won't be necessary."

A nearly full bottle of absinthe, three glasses, and a bag filled with herbs that look a little too well packed to be run of the mill tobacco are hidden away by the flap as Luna swings the pack back up over her shoulder. "Splendid, although I don't believe I brought enough for all the inhabitants of your little— company— so somewhere less out in the open would be appreciated." Especially if the militia should happen by.

She hesitates before taking a few steps in the direction of one of the larger tents, deciding somewhere along the way that it must belong to the man in the bowler. "So are you the ringmaster in this little circus? You mentioned a fellow named Fletcher, the name sounds a bit… birdish. Or maybe just thin, like an arrow…"

"Hired help, more like. Security, courtesy of Fletcher Cruikshank's sense of self-preservation." So no. That larger tent does not belong to Fogg, as further evidenced by a lift of his hand to a more medium-sized and unremarkably gloomy tilt of canvas.

He is polite enough to automatically hold the flap up for her to enter first, though, so there's that — a slinking brush of fabricy friction out the tent's opposite end about all the welcome she's likely to get out of the dark interior. There is a bedroll inside that occupies most of the floorspace, and an oil lamp. Somewhere. A trunk and a rucksack. It's all very brown and grey, really.

"He's the man in charge."

Ducking into the tent, Luna takes a quick peek at the surroundings before placing the pack down on the trunk and pulling the rucksack around to use as a seat. Never being one to waste time when there's drinking and smoking to be done, she pulls the contents out and arranges it on the trunk. At first she doesn't quite listen to what Algernon has to say, then she quirks one eyebrow and cants her head toward him. "Security? I suppose that's a sort of career a man could be proud of. My mother is the proprietor the Wandering Albatross."

Sugar is heaped into a teaspoon over the glass before the young woman begins to pour. "Neither of my parents are much for fun," which might explain her current occupation, "I expect they'd be simply scandalized if they were to hear where I am now."

"Wonderful," says Algernon, mostly to himself once he's stooped himself down into a more awkward sit and half-recline at the head end of his makeshift sleeping arrangement. Matches are extracted from somewhere; the lamp is lit, sooty glass and low wick spilling sallow light against smudges of shadow.

Makes the act of pouring easier. Not that he's any less hawk-eyed about the prospect of her spilling on his trunk, lingering ill-temper showing in the whites of his eyes when he settles back onto the bend of his elbow. If he avoids looking at her sitting on his pack, he can't be annoyed about it.

"And your father?"

"He does something, I'm sure, a merchant of some kind. I couldn't be bothered to find out what, we don't get on very well. He doesn't approve of … " There's a wave of her hand above her head before she carefully passes the first glass to Algernon. Her own glass isn't poured quite as carefully, a little more liquid than sweet in a spoon. It sits on the trunk in want of toasting as she busies herself with the next task at hand. Rolling a cigarette.

"Do you like herbs? Oh I hope so, I couldn't imagine taking a little trip with the fairy without at least one cigarette." Placing it to her lips, she holds her hand out for his pack of matches. "I'm sure you'll find tonight quite lovely, the absinthe is only enhanced by this blend."

"I see." He doesn't. Eventually, he probably will. For now, Algernon unhats and takes the offered glass, bowler set well aside and out of the way. Where it won't be sat or poured upon.

Less tense without it, or less stuffy and so appearing less tense, he flips the little box of matches over at her behest and shakes his head a deliberate beat after swallowing down the absinthe. Lest she retract the offer of one when he denies the other with a plain, "No thank you."

A spark of the match and smell of sulphur quickly dissipates as a few puffs of sickly sweet smoke fill the air.

"Mister Fogg! If you're going to refuse the cigarette, the very least you could do is wait for the toast." The mock scolding comes with the punctuation mark of a giggle and the snrk sound of a cough held in. Eventually Luna manages through the urge and pours Algernon another drink, this time without the sugar. The bottle is capped again and she wraps her fingers around her own glass while waiting for him to retake his.

Tiny puffs of smoke pour from her nostrils and lips as she quickly sucks the small stick down to halfway. It's extinguished after that, on her boot, and then placed on the trunk for later consumption. "That's much better, now then… a toast? To what?"

"So sorry," says Algernon, who doesn't sound it and doesn't smile when Luna giggles. Looks away sideways, more like — not quite a roll of his eyes. A pass of his hand across his brow helps to hide the sentiment while she pours him another round. Straight up.

He's slower about this one, naturally, grey eyes measuring volume and hue as if to better gauge its ultimate effect. "To Dornie."

"To Dornie?" A wrinkle of her nose paints Luna's distaste for the subject but she toasts the air and feigns a small smile. "To humdrum Dornie and high hopes that you and your man Fletcher will give the ladies more than enough scandal to talk about."

Her first drink goes away as fast as Fogg's first one did. It probably didn't help that she smoked half the cigarette because her hand goes over her mouth to mask the few dry heaves that lurch through her. Everything stays down, which might be good for the tent, and when she's calmed down, she finds the audacity to lie on top of Algernon's bedroll. "You should tell me a story. How does a man such as yourself find his way into a ragtag bunch of nomads?"

Dry heaves are regarded with all the affection and understanding one would expect from an Algernon. Which is to say: none. He does not blink until she seems in control of her esophagus, and even then, is more on the alert. Like he might need his reflexes to shove her out before she can make a mess of his scanty belongings.

Resignation and regret tighten crow's feet and harden the line of his mouth; he looks down at the small glass balanced in his hand. A clear cost-benefit analysis, with her bumping booted feet that fail to yield right-of-way.

"Scandal, intrigue. Estrangement. All of the usual things, I suppose. Arthur and Elvira Banes are storytellers by trade. Second tent to the left," he gestures with his glass, not yet having downed it. "I'm sure either one of them would be more than willing to make up a fascinating version of my history for a small price." The glass is lifted. He almost tips it back, and then — doesn't. "Maybe even for free."

"Arthur and Elvira Banes, second tent to the left, storytellers." The repitition is more to commit a little more of the place to a mental map. If she had one. "Big tent belongs to Fletcher, the ringmaster, and you're the muscleman with the mustache and a dapper bowler hat." Luna's eyes close though her head moves around like she's looking at something. And smiling. Weed and liquor seem to put her in a good mood.

Her arms are lifted and waved through the air like the young woman is directing a thirty second symphony and then they fall to her sides, too heavy to move. "Mister Fogg, do you find me pretty?" Her head turns toward him, though her eyes are still closed.

"You are very pretty, Miss Owens." This is the truth and Algernon has no trouble saying so. He is even nice enough not to sound patronizing about it.

The fact that she brought absinthe and hasn't thrown up on anything yet is in her favor.

His opinion may change in the morning when he realizes that all of his clothes smell like weed.

"As for the rest, you've followed well so far."

"I think I would look very pretty in your hat," she says a little quieter. The crackle of the fire and muffled talking of Algernon's companions sounds much closer to her ears than before and perhaps because of nerves, she swallows then licks her lips to wet them again. Maybe give them a pink sheen. "You should visit my mother for a room… but don't tell her that I slept in your bed, it'd get around to my father. He doesn't like that very much."

The ramble stops in favor of a mischievous smirk as the prostitute images the scene, her lips moving as she silently plays the part of her angry father and distraught mother. The part of Algernon Fogg is mostly a mimicked frown and shake of her head.

Algernon is not giving Luna his hat. Her supposition is thus regarded in a very stalwart kind of immovable-object silence. Meanwhile he is pointedly not watching her lick her lips after an ill-timed glance to check on her (elevated?) state of consciousness, lower jaw jutted and glass tipped slowly sideways. One way, and then the other.

"I might. When and if I can afford it." A conspicuous beat of quiet later, he adds: "I take that to mean you intend to spend the night."

"I much too delicate to be skulking about the roads after dark, I could be waylaid by highwaymen or something worse." And she's had a shot of absinthe. And half a joint all to herself. "Of course I mean to spend the night, how could you even think to throw a delicate creature such as myself out into the cold. Shame on you." Whether or not her guilt trip works, Luna doesn't seem to be moving from the bedroll.

"Besides, it could only do your reputation some good to have me crawling from your tent in the morning. You admitted it yourself, I'm very pretty." Not that she's insinuating in the slightest that he isn't.

"I was under the impression that Duncan's men see to it that there are no highwaymen to waylay anyone." Unconvinced all the same, Algernon swallows down the second serving after another abortive hesitation and sets the glass down somewhere in the region of his hat. Out of easy reach.

"I'm in need of gainful employment. Trying to convince all of Dornie that I charmed you into my tent free of charge seems like a futile uphill climb, by contrast." He doesn't say no offense. An arch of one brow might imply it.

The arm he'd been weighing against straightens out and stretches. So begins the process of him getting up onto his feet.

"You might think…" she says, her eyes still closed as she rolls to face the side of the tent. It seems, whether he is there or not, she intends to stay. "Then again others might ask what makes a man such as yourself special enough that I might actually deign to allow you into my bed… free of charge or no. Just because a man has a few baubles in his pocket, doesn't mean I'll drop my knickers for him."

A slow catlike grin spreads across her face, for only the wall of the tent to see. "Who knows, a few of 'em might ask you what your secret is." After a beat she adds. "I do know everyone in Dornie, if you're looking for work."

Agnostic again, Algernon does not argue. She'd have to open her eyes to see it, or detect it in the stretch of quiet that is him stooping second thoughtish after his hat — not trusting her enough to leave it behind. Evidently. "The moustache," he provides for her all the same, should she find herself in need of a reason tomorrow.

Tonight, he intends to keep watch outside, which is more in line with his habitual schedule anyway. "I am," reiterated on his way out, his voice is muffled through canvas for the rest of the responsible distance he puts between himself and her. "We can discuss it another time. Good night, Miss Owens."