Disclaimer: Twiknham doesn't own any rights to Last Exile. Those belong to Geneon, and Chiaki Koichi, Tamioka Katsuhiro, and Yamashita Tomohiro. I earn not a single penny, Yen, or Renminbi off of this.

Chapter 1: Ruy Lopez

Small hands gently caressed his face. He could feel the tips of her fingers as they trailed from the corner of his eye to the corner of his lip. They stopped for just a second, and he swore he could feel her breath ghost over his mouth, before the fingers tremblingly traced the thin line of his upper lip. He wanted to take his teeth and nip at the tip of one of those fingers, but he was afraid that if he did, the dream would end. Sinking back into bliss as the fingers traced back across his lower lip, he sighed her name…"Yuris."

An instant later, he was abruptly brought out of his dream by the sound of a book falling to the floor. Jerking forward from his sprawl against the back of his chair, he narrowed sleepy eyes at the intruder. "Forrester."

Sophia Forrester stood in her regulation uniform, hands tucked tightly behind her back. "Sir." Her military stance not lessening as the ship listed slightly to starboard. Alex casually noticed how her hips shifted to compensate for her weight as the angle of their listing continued to grow. However, he did nothing except glare at her until a slight blush tinted her cheeks.

"It's a good thing you're not the Empress." She blinked. "If my glare can cause you to blush, I'd hate to see you under the gaze of some of the lechers in that court."

Her voice quietly answered. "It's a good thing then." She continued to stand unfazed as the ship continued to list.

"Is the crew trying to discover if the Silverna will fly upside down, or is there a problem?" He shifted a foot on the floor to prevent his body from sliding in his chair.

"Ressius had a problem in the Claudia room and he took the level calibration unit offline." Although her face didn't change, he could see the beginnings of a smile in her eyes. "The ship has been wallowing for the last hour, first to port then to starboard. This is the forth of fifth trip back to starboard." As the angle started decreasing, she continued. "I believe that Ressius might have the unit back online. That wasn't nearly as steep as the previous list."

Alex closed his eyes. Being a rogue commander of a rogue ship meant that he allowed certain 'liberties' to occur on his ship. However, there were times he almost wished he was a stickler for regulation. He leaned forward as the ship continued towards level. "Are you telling me I've slept through this for the last hour?"

"Mmm." Sophia turned towards the door. "Makes one wonder what kind of dreams you were having." Without looking back, she turned the handle. "Please forgive my intrusion. I woke you to inform you that the Urbanis is approaching and Captain Alzey has requested a meeting."

The door closed behind her quietly and Alex wondered yet again why he let such a strong-willed vixen continue to run his ship.

By the time Alex Rowe arrived in the helm, the listing was down to less than five degrees. He decided that the next time he met Ressius over a chessboard, they would discuss this breach of etiquette. As he stepped onto the bridge, he saw the grinning face of the one man who always seemed to show up when he was feeling most undignified.

"Hello Alex, how long has it been?" The gravely voice of Vincent Alzey broke the tense calm at the helm. Vincent walked forward holding out a hand in greeting.

"Not long enough." He sat down in his chair, ignoring Vincent's offered shake.

Suddenly the tall man with unkept brown hair leaned forward. "Awe, come on. It was just a few years ago I was trying to sink your ass on the training field."

"Trying being the primary word." Alex raised one eyebrow and inwardly smirked as Vincent scowled. "What brings you to my world?"

Vincent looked around at the officers on the bridge. "Can we talk somewhere more private?" Suddenly he chuckled and reached down to retrieve a case. "I'll brew some coffee, it's only Artic Black. The good stuff is still on order."

"I'm only interested if it's Irish." Alex stood and led the way, leaving the bridge to his Commanding Officer. When they reached his cabin, he walked over to the couch area and waited for Vincent to join him.

Vincent tripped over a book in the floor and leaned over to pick it up. "Shakespeare's Collective Sonnets." He looked at Alex. "Are we waxing lyrical now?"

"I've taken an interest in poetry. It fell off of the table when we listed to starboard that last time."

The other Commander laughed, the sound bouncing melodiously off the walls of the cabin and making Alex wish he'd shot the man years agp. "What was that about? It was like watching a drunken sailor try to weave his way home from a brothel."

"Routine maintenance on the level calibration unit. Occasionally these items must be taken offline and repaired."

"Yeah, at a dock, not mid-flight."

Alex just shrugged. "Are you here to discuss my commandeering techniques, or was there a real reason for this impromptu meeting?"

Vincent knew when he'd pushed too far. "There have been rumors of unrest on the Dissive front. Several of our spies have informed us that they are beginning to load supplies on airships that will be heading toward the Grand Stream to launch an attack against Anatoray." He had been setting up his portable distillation system while he talked, and he looked at Alex before adding grounds to the unit and starting the boiling process.

"And the Emperor wants the Silverna to take an exploratory mission into the Grand Stream and inform him of when they are arriving." He watched as Vincent set out two mugs. "What is it worth to me?"

"The Emperor will pay for all repairs the Silverna needs when it next docks at Casino Royale.

Alex took mental note of this. The last time Anatoray agreed to pay for all repairs, he was able to upgrade to armor piercing rounds and front cannons. Since Walker was careful how he described things on the billing, Alex had been able to make many 'repairs' to his ship in that manner. Noticing Vincent's evil grin, he figured Vincent had also made 'repairs' over the years.


Vincent took the time to pour coffee into both mugs before answering. "Next week. It will take them a week to get all of the ships up and headed into the Grand Stream. No idea how long it will take them to travel through. None of our spies had ever been able to tell us how they traverse the Grand Stream without being destroyed." He breathed deeply of the aroma. "You know, the only time coffee is good for you is when it is first brewed. The fresh aroma has antioxidants that cannot be found in any other form."

Alex continued to watch the Commander of the Urbanis. "Except Green Tea." Vincent waved his hand negligently, as if green tea was of little consequence. Suddenly Alex stood and walked over to a cabinet. Returning with a decanter, he liberally added whisky to his mug.

Vincent spluttered. "What the hell are you doing?"

Alex put the crystal lid back in the decanter and picked up the mug. "I only drink Irish Coffee."

"Yeah, but what has that to do with adding…never mind." Vincent's cheeks were rosy in his embarrassment. "Is it good?"

"Yes." Alex slowly drank his altered coffee while Vincent savored his pure.

They both finished about the same time, and Vincent took a few moments to pack up his portable coffee maker. Looking up from his task, he caught Alex's eye. "If it's okay with you, I'd like to speak to your XO for a few moments."

"I'm not her master." Alex stood and left the room.

No, but I'm not the only one that wishes she was free to be captured. When he walked out of Alex's quarters, Sophia was standing at the door.

"The Commander informed me that you wished to speak with me." He smiled and started walking, Sophia staying just behind his right shoulder. "Is there a problem with your first mate? Are you needing some advice?"

"Nothing's wrong with my XO." He gave a grin that every woman recognized as dangerous. "I'd like some advice though."

She frowned at him. "Personal advice?"

"Yes." She took him out onto the deck that led from the officers' quarters to the personnel quarters. She stood as prim as always while he walked over to the railing and looked out over the fields spread below him. "I don't know any other way to say this." He continued to look out over the world, not able to bring himself to make eye contact. "I'm afraid that I've fallen in love," he heard her gasp of breath. "But she's committed elsewhere."

"Does she love that person?"

"Her heart does not belong to me." He looked out at the clouds, but heard her quietly approach. A gentle hand was placed on the upper sleeve of his coat.

"Oh Vince, I'm so sorry." She rested her cheek against his shoulder for a moment. It was a gesture purely of comfort. "Are you sure you're in love?"

He turned and looked at her. "This is what I need advice on." At her quizzical look he continued. "Have you ever been in love?" He didn't know why he felt he had to put himself through this type of hell, but he continued to wait with bated breath.

She looked away, out over the skies. "Yes." It was almost silent, but that quietly voiced word ripped a hole in his heart.

"Was it returned?" He thought he saw tears shimmering in her eyes. "Never mind." He smiled. "It was foolish of me to ask that question, forgive me." He turned to leave, but she placed a hand on his shoulder.

"Wait. That's an unfair question to ask only because of the answer. Whether the feelings are returned or not doesn't matter. I am unable to act on my feelings because of my place in this world."

"But can you tell me if my feelings are love?"

"I don't know. How do you feel?"

He looked her square in the face. "I wake and wonder if she is sharing the same sunshine as me. My heart feels as if it only beats to keep time with hers. I'm terrified that if anything happens to her, I will die at the moment her heart quits because mine cannot beat alone."

A tear slowly traced its way down her cheek and he leaned over to brush it off, smiling crookedly. "What kind of man am I to make a beautiful lady cry?"

She turned and leaned against his chest, quiet sniffs closing the distance between her mouth and his ears. "I'm so sorry Vince. I'm so very sorry." One more delicate sniff and she leaned back, gently wiping her eyes. "I hate to tell you, but the prognosis is fatal. You're in love."

He grinned goofily and stuck his hands in his front pockets. "Doctor, I'm not paying this bill. I already knew that." Suddenly he pierced her with his warm gaze. "I just want to know if it will go away."

She looked through him, thinking hard. "No. It'll finally pass when you do." Her eyes focused back on his. "I wish you could capture her for your own; but if her heart belongs to another, it would be an empty victory."

Vincent knew she was speaking for herself. "I know. And I would never claim her for my own, unless she pursued me."

"Even though you know your love would never be returned?"

"To quote Shakespeare, 'I love her even to the smell of her breath.' There are different types of love, and I would take the palest imitation from her, if she would only allow me to shower her with what I feel."

Sophia blushed lightly. "I almost envy your woman Vince. I hope that you two find yourselves together."

"I don't. I want her to be with the man she loves. I only hope that with the time we've spent together, she realizes that if anything happens to that man, I would want to step in and take care of her." He reached down and checked his pocket watch. "Geez, look at the time. I have to get back to my ship." Turning, he walked to the door. "Thanks for the advice Sophia Forrester. May God watch over you and all those you love."

He was gone before she whispered the same.

A/N: Hope everyone has been doing well. Grad school is continuing and it's keeping me busy, but I couldn't help completing this. Enjoy.