[[A Rhythm Thief Secret Santa gift for kurona5-2-4 on Tumblr.
Spoilers: For The Emperor's Treasure.
Set: Pre-game, a few years before Raphael, Marie or Charlie are born.]]
We were friends once, the four of us. Well… the three of us, to be more specific. Jean-François only deigned to join us occasionally because he was my cousin. However, he ignored our 'pity invite' to have Christmas dinner at the Paris Opéra, twenty-one years before children or heartbreak or betrayal.
"Good riddance to the old fart, if you ask me," Isaac huffed in his haughtiest imitation of Jean-François.
I released a small snort. (How unladylike, and offensive to my dear cousin.) Sitting beside me, Paul didn't laugh, but the corners of his lips twitched.
"Oh? Is that a smile I see from Paris's frowniest?" gasped Isaac, nudging him.
Paul took a long sip of his vin chaud. When he set the wine glass down, he was straight-faced. "I don't know what you're talking about."
"Seriously? The Mona Lisa smiles more than you!"
"Speaking of which," I cut in, "has the Constabulary had any success in recovering the missing artworks from the Louvre?"
Paul shook his head. "Not a single lead yet. Those artworks could be anywhere, and so could the thief – "
"We're really discussing this now?" Isaac sighed. "Can't you forget about work for tonight?"
I exchanged a flat look with Paul. "Désolé,"Paul said dryly. "We can't all be freelance artists."
I added, "Some of us have responsibilities to uphold and people depending on us."
Isaac pointed out, "Yes, but you're our Duchess-in-training; you've been burdened with expectations since the day you were born. Paul, on the other hand, only recently joined the ranks of the Paris Constabulary. And yet, he acts like the weight of the world rests on his shoulders."
Paul shrugged. "Your point?"
"Don't you think you should cut loose? Is is Christmas, after all!"
"Indeed, Christmas is a time to celebrate with loved ones," I said, gesturing to Paul and Isaac. It was sad for me to admit, but I would much rather relax with my companions than with my overbearing relatives.
"However," I continued, "this does not mean we must lose our inhibitions, or 'cut loose' as you call it. We're not children anymore, Isaac."
Isaac dabbed his eyes with a red napkin. "Thank you for that moving speech. From this day forward, I promise to uphold my responsibility as a friend… by finding Paul a date."
This time, Paul nearly choked on his drink. "You wouldn't dare – " he spluttered.
For all of his resolution, Paul was not one for romantic endeavours, unlike Isaac. Though, Isaac would never try to set me up with a man, for I was betrothed to a descendent of Babylonian royalty. This left Paul as Isaac's sole victim.
"Forgive me, Paul, but this for your own good." Isaac stood up.
"Elizabeth…" Paul hissed.
He didn't need to ask twice. I pinned Isaac with a glare and uttered, "Alfred."
In an instant, Alfred had materialised besides our table. "Madam?"
"Please return Isaac to his seat."
Isaac squirmed beneath my gaze, desperate to break free. "Now, now, let's not make a scene…"
True, the other patrons were giving us odd glances, but I was enjoying this far too much. (If there was any excuse to Isaac put in his place, I would take it.)
As Alfred loomed over him, Isaac raised his hands. "Fancy seeing you here, Al! I was under the impression that Elizabeth would be unchaperoned this evening."
"Alfred is my trusted friend," I explained blithely, "not a servant."
"Perhaps you should resume your meal, Master Laurent," Alfred advised, cracking his knuckles.
Isaac cringed at the sound. "That's very impolite."
"Sit. Down. Isaac," I ordered.
With a sigh of resignation, Isaac loweredhimself into his seat… and dived under our table and emerged on Paul's side, darting towards the bar.
"Stop him!" Paul shouted, leaping to his feet.
Alfred thundered after Isaac, accidentally knocking over a young woman. Paul caught her and hastily apologized.
By this time, Isaac had jumped onto the bar's counter, grabbing a wine glass and a spoon. He tapped the spoon on the glass to get the entire room's attention.
"Joyeux noël! I hope that you're all having a festive evening. Unfortunately, I am not the entertainment…"
There were a few whistles from his bewildered audience. One man jeered, "We didn't order a performer!"
"Anyway," Isaac went on, pointing his spoon in Paul's direction. "I have an announcement regarding my good friend over there – " He tap-danced across the bar as Alfred attempted to pull him down. " – Paul Vergier! He's an honest, hardworking guy who deserves the night off for once. So, if any of you could buy him a drink, I'm sure he'd really appreciate it! Thank you, everyone – "
Finally, Alfred hauled him off the bar and back to his seat. Isaac offered me a weak grin and the glass of wine he had stolen. The spectators he had attracted wouldn't stop looking at us and whispering. I rolled my eyes, envisioning the headlines: 'Duchess's Daughter Caught with Drunken Dancer!' Jean-François would never let me live it down…
"At least your matchmaking scheme was a success," I observed, taking a much-needed drink of the wine.
Paul was smiling and chatting with the purple-haired woman he had saved. After ten minutes, she glanced at her watch, stammered that she was late for a party, and scrawled something on a napkin. She handed the napkin to Paul and dashed out of the room. Paul blinked at the napkin before returning to our table.
Isaac looked as pleased as Cupid. "Do you have a date?"
"Her name is Emma," Paul informed us. "And she just gave me her number."
Isaac hummed. "It's a start…"
I shot him a warning look, but smiled at Paul. "She seemed lovely. Hopefully, you'll see her again soon."
"Hopefully," Paul agreed, sitting down again.
"Sooo, what do you say?" Isaac hinted.
Paul nodded to Alfred. "Thank you for taking care of Isaac while I talked to Emma."
"It's no problem, as long as she wasn't hurt when I rushed past her."
"Very funny," Isaac muttered. "Sooner or later you'll have to thank me…"
Then, Paul turned to me. "And thank you, Elizabeth, for organizing this dinner."
I replied, "It's my pleasure." For, as impish as Isaac could be, and as much as Jean-François called my friends 'commoners', there was no company I would rather share.
…And there was no company I would miss more in the coming years.