It was still early evening. Navarre's palace had called for a festival to honour the end of an especially prosperous year. There were dignitaries from Sultan, but it was a local celebration, and Lise knew that her presence would probably draw attention.
She spotted her old friend on the periphery of the event. He wore dress clothes, trousers and a doublet with long sleeves; she'd never have recognised him if not for the hair. He was as handsome as ever, but an air of resignation clung to him, and the sight of him was a stark contrast to the vital man in her memory. He didn't notice her as she approached.
"Is that you, Hawk?" she asked. He looked up and his eyes twinkled, and for a moment she remembered the old Hawkeye again.
"Hello stranger," he said with a half-grin. "If I'd known you were coming... I'd have baked a cake." He automatically moved forward to embrace her, but then thought better of it and took her hand instead. "Goddess, it's been too long."
"I've been meaning to visit you for a long time," Lise exclaimed. "A good thing I came when I did, by the looks of you."
"Oh? Oh," the thief said, leaning back against the wall. "Heh. No, don't be fooled, I'm in fair spirits. All the more for having seen your beautiful face again." He flashed her a smile, but it was subdued, she thought. "And how's being a queen working out for you?"
"Regent-queen," she corrected. "It's... I'm not well-suited to it. But Eliott will ascend the throne soon."
Hawkeye laughed. "No kidding. And here I absolutely had you pegged as queen material," he said. Lise stuck her tongue out at him.
"I do my duty perfectly well, thank you, even if it isn't what I'd choose to be doing," she said. "Rolante's throne demands a king. It'll be good when things are back as they ought to be."
"I'm sure it will," Hawkeye agreed. "Well, I'm very happy for you. You'll get to live your own life again." His smile suddenly seemed a very sad gesture to Lise.
"You know, I don't think I've ever seen you as unhappy as you are now," the warrioress said. The frankness of her statement snapped the thief out of his half-daze, because this was a woman who had stood alongside him when he'd walked through the corridors of his ruined home and when he'd mourned all of the friends who'd died on the edge of his own blade; he knew her. Everything had changed around now, though, and for a moment he recalled a quiet girl who never would have been so bold.
"I'm sorry," he said. "It's been ages since we've seen one another, hardly seems right for me to leave you feeling upset. You're a queen, you've got plenty of things to worry about already."
"What kind of a friend would I be if I left you here like this?" Lise retorted. "Don't you trust me?"
"Hey, I'd trust you with my life any day. Dirty secrets are for private company." He tried another grin to lighten the mood, but he knew his heart wasn't in it. "Ah, nevermind."
"Come on." She caught his eye and felt an old familiar pang of affection, a tender ache in her breast as from a wound never healed. His charm was undeniable, but it had been when he was at his most vulnerable that she'd fallen in love with him. She looked away for a moment, suddenly worried that he might read her thoughts. "It isn't Jessica, is it?"
"No," the thief said bluntly. "Just me. I can't handle how different everything is from the way it was before. I feel it the same as you do; I'm not meant for this. I was raised a thief. We all used to be thieves, now we're, what? Farmers? Merchants? Just another dot on the map." He looked at the warrioress, then thought of something he'd heard a long time ago. Who had said it? Eagle, he realised -- an old tune about those apocryphal days before the desert sand. "The place I used to love is gone, and the things I used to love have no place anymore." He blinked a couple of times. "Guess that's it, there."
Lise measured her words carefully before speaking. "I won't pretend to love thievery, given what I've had taken from me..."
"At least you won't have to worry about that again," Hawkeye said half-heartedly.
"...but I'd like to believe there's still a place in the world for everything, even a thief," the warrioress said. "Back when we were together, I thought that if a bad thief could steal my kingdom away, then perhaps a good thief might be able to steal it back. What do you think?"
The thief paused in thought for a moment, then smiled once more. "Perhaps so."
"Cheer up, Hawkeye," Lise said. "You shouldn't be moping around in corners on a night like tonight."
"You're absolutely right," Hawkeye exclaimed, then leapt forward and took her arm in his. "Dance with me?"
Lise's eyes widened in mock horror. "The partner of the Lady Navarre dancing with the Regent-Queen Rolante? Scandal!"
"Good, we could use a bit of excitement around here," Hawkeye said, and then the pair were lost in the celebration.