A List of Hazardous Things
Anise is standing at his door, singing, "Colonelllll Cuuuurtiiis," and Jade is instantly wary. In his innumerable years of existence (which leaves him nowadays so weak and vulnerable to the wiles of the youthful) he has encountered many dangers, but none so potent as
1. Anise dropping in unannounced after several months of silence,
2. Anise using his full title, or
3. Anise singing.
He, of course, smiles pleasantly at her, setting aside his pen and his paper and rising to greet her. "Anise! Such a pleasure. It's been too long."
"Oh," Anise coos. "I never would have thought the Colonel would have missed me. That's incredibly flattering for a simple girl like me to hear."
Mentally, he amends the above list to include
4. Anise calling herself "simple," "shy," or, above all, "plain" and
5. Anise flirting.
He is, though, despite his advanced age, at times rather cagy; not as quick as the youth of today, but quite thoroughly experienced. "Really now," he replies; "days without your company were like days without sunshine."
And this, at least, puts a bit of a halt on her coquettish ambitions. "I have to say, Colonel, you don't sound very sincere." And Jade (never a coquette himself) simply smiles at her. Her eyes lose their previous width; her broad, toothy grin slips into a more dutiful smile; she looks away and mutters under her breath, "Boo."
Jade pretends not to notice the difference. "Can I get you something, Anise? Tea, water, a snack of some sort..."
She's regained her composure; her eyelashes flutter furiously at him as she says, "Well, I don't really know what I want. Why don't you decide? I trust your judgment, Colonel."
"My, my." He touches his chin thoughtfully. "The last time I heard that, someone diedbut if you insist..."
Anise's laugh is a loud "Ah hah hah hah," the laugh she laughs when she's fairly but not fully sure he's joking. His smile is deliberately serene, and it doesn't slip a bit when she takes a break in her laughter to check his expression then goes back to laughing again.
"Oh, Colonel," she finally says, and sits without addressing the refreshment issue at all. "You're so funny."
6. Anise complimenting him.
"Oh?" He cocks his head to the side and purses his lips. "Hmm." He sits off her confusion, picking up his pen once again and rolling it between his fingers and waiting for her to speak. She fidgets before she finally does.
"How's the Emperor?" This, though, isn't her semiannual how-can-I-catch-his-majesty's-eye trip. (7. Anise not even mentioning marriage.) She always scratches her nose before she actually broaches the relevant topic, and just at the moment her hands are clasped nicely in her lap. (8. Anise having manners.) No, this is just a delaying tactic.
"Oh, doing quite well. Very healthy."
She nods and hmms and twiddles her thumbs then asks, "Say, how's Dist?"
"Oh, doing quite well. Very incarcerated."
"Well I was just curious," she harrumphs. A bit more fidgeting. "I'd ask after Guy, but I saw him just a few days ago, so, you know." Fidget. "How is he, by the way?"
His advanced age has brought him limitless patience, but really this is getting absurd. "Well, he's quite busy," Jade says, hardly even bothering to disguise his semi-voluntary drawl. "We all are, you know."
Anise catches on, of course. "Booooo," she pouts. "Well, I'm sorry I'm wasting your time."
"As am I," Jade says (quite a bit harsher than he intended).
A lesser girl would have been discouraged by Jade's cruelty. Anise merely pursed her lips and declared him a "Meanie. Don't even know why I came to see you at all. Maybe I should stop visiting you, and then you'll die alone like the old man you are." (9. Anise delivering ultimatums.) "And the only way anyone will notice you're gone is because your room will start to smell, how's that sound?"
He starts to say, "Peaceful," then reconsiders. Then he looks at Anise's furious glare and reconsiders that reconsideration and goes ahead and says, "Peaceful."
"It sounds like the sound of rotting old man flesh," Anise hisses, then makes a peculiar "krrssh krrshh" sound, clenching and unfolding her fists. He watches her with a slightly furrowed brow, but otherwise doesn't react. When the krrsh-krrsh doesn't work, she moves on: "Or maybe you'll shrivel up and turn into a mummy, and then they'll find your mummy corpse and put in on display in a museum where all the children will pick at it and pick at it. How's that for peaceful?"
"I'm pleased at the thought of being able to help the younger generation."
Immediately she turns back into flirty-Anise, cheerful and bubbly and not discussing rotting flesh. "Are you? Then maybe, just maybe, you might consider helping a poor, young, shy little girl, who can hardly stand up for herself - Maybe you might consider helping that little girl out?"
"Maybe I might consider it, sure," Jade says, still as cautious as before.
And Anise, finally, looks away to the side and scratches her nose and then looks back at him and says, "Okay. So, a few weeks ago a guy stole from my dad and I want you to arrest him." Immediately she looks away again and fidgets a bit more.
Jade watches her a moment, then croons at her, "Anise..."
She looks back at him, once again wide eyes and innocent smiles. "Yes, Colonel?" she sings back.
"What else, Anise?"
"Umm - " She flutters her lashes a bit. "I'd like you to arrest him, please?"
He almost laughs in spite of himself. "Now, granted, it's been many a year since I've peeked outside of this dusty old office, aside from the occasional stroll - "
"Around the world - " Anise amends.
"But the last I was aware, there were police to whom you might take that sort of complaint."
"Oh, yes, police." Her hand flutters like she's waving away a bad smell. "I need someone better than that. I need your brilliant mind, Colonel. I need your amazing investigative skill."
Jade raises an eyebrow at her. "So, you don't even have evidence against him?"
She laughs, nervous. "And besides, they'd never pay attention to a plain little girl like me. I can trust you to do the right thing, can't I?"
"Hmm," is his only response. "What all happened?"
"So you will help me!" she cries and claps her hands together in delight. "Oh, I knew I could trust you!" She waits for him to say something gallant, but waits in vain, finally sighing and saying, "The guy stole from him. What else do you need to know?"
"Well, was it a break-in, was it a scam...?"
"A scam," fidget fidget, "I guess."
Again, she's completely refusing to meet his eyes, and again she scratches her nose, so Jade tilts his head to the side and sighs. "Anise, did your father give him the money?"
She winces as though he's struck a physical blow, then coughs and bares her teeth in a grimace. "I, ahh, umm. Maybe." He sighs and presses a finger against the corner of his eye as though he feels a headache coming on. She leans forward and spreads her hands. "But Colonel, he's a bad man, a bad bad man, I promise."
Jade shrugs. "I'm afraid we can't arrest someone just because they're a bad bad man, Anise."
"Good news for you," she mutters, leaning back with crossed arms. He pretends not to hear.
"In any case," he says, "if you tell me about it, there might be something I can do."
She relents, then, leaning back and easing up on her furious frown. "The man comes to my dad - "
"What was his name, by the way?"
"His name?" She spreads her hands theatrically. "Gee, I couldn't give you his criminal name that he uses in the crime ring he probably runs..."
"Well, then," Jade replies, "I suppose his normal name will have to do."
"Jasper Watkins," she says with her customary pout.
Anise looks at him, her pout now a frown. "You don't know him, do you?"
"Oh, yes," Jade says; "he attends the same mean-old-man meetings as I do."
And that frown becomes less quizzical, more condemnation. "Very funny. Anyway, he comes up to my dad and says that, you know, Yulia's word isn't reaching enough people, especially children, blahdy blahdy blah, and that he needs money to help spread her word. You'd never fall for something like that, would you, Colonel?"
Jade deliberately purses his lips and shrugs. "Who's to say? I have a marked tendency towards naïveté, you know."
"Boo." She pauses, crosses her arms, and then continues. "Anyway, Papa handed over everything he has on him."
"Yeah, and..." Fidget. "His wedding ring and stuff too."
"Ahhh." Jade nods. "And how does your mother feel about that?"
But Anise is shaking her head. "Oh, no, it's nothing like that. You know Mama, she'd forgive the man that killed her. She just sighed and then went about her business again."
"Then why is it so imperative that you recover his ring?"
She scratches her nose and smiles and shakes her head. "What do you mean, imperative? I just want to see this creep behind bars."
"Mmm." He nods in mock-thoughtfulness. "Sure. Of course, it's just a coincidence that you brought this to me rather than to the Order, isn't it?"
"Hardly a coincidence, Colonel," she flirts desperately. "I was after your keen intelligence and investigative mind."
"I see. And not, of course, the antiquated and barbarian rules of the Malkuth court, which include auctioning off the accused's possessions to cover the cost of an attorney."
"Of course not," Anise echoes quietly.
He sighs and adjusts his glasses. "Anise, I think even you can see what's wrong with taking a perhaps bad but ultimately innocent man - "
"Not innocent - "
"Someone who didn't actually break any laws - to court just so you can recover a lost possession, particularly when I would be abusing the Emperor's name doing it. It's dishonest, it's mean, and it's borderline tyrannical."
A bit more fidgeting. "I can see what's wrong with you saying it that way." He doesn't say anything. "Yes, I see what's wrong with it. I'm not a kid, you know, you don't have to talk down to me like that."
He starts to shake his head and sigh and ask her who failed to teach her the difference between right and wrong, but then he thinks about how that will come out and decides to say something else instead. "I beg to differ."
"Booooooooo." She hooks her fingers into the corners of her mouth and sticks out her tongue, but quickly drops them. Again, she looks down, but so far as he can tell she's not being manipulative like before. "I just...My family doesn't have a lot of stuff left over. We've sold most of it off, you know? But that ring was sort of a family heirloom. I was kind of looking forward to my dad giving it me so I could give it to the man I married." She shrugs. "It was just selfishness, I guess."
In that moment, ironically the first in which she isn't trying for this very reaction, he feels incredibly sorry for Anise. Not, perhaps, so sorry as she feels for herself, but even so - he hates the way she's left to fend for herself, and hates the way she hasn't had anyone to teach her what's wrong, and hates the way that the poverty she's been forced to take upon herself has made such questions moot for her anyway. In short, he hates her father, and wants to find the man and slap him until he either grows some sense or apologizes to his poor daughter.
Of course, it's only in that moment; then he quickly quashes the feeling. After all, of the things most dangerous in the world, the modified list looks rather like this:
1. Anise calling herself "plain."
2. Jade thinking he's anywhere near qualified to play the father.
3. Jade feeling self-righteous.
4. Anise singing.
He has no right and no responsibility. And he knows that Anise loves her father, and that he'd have done a poorer job of it and would have resented the hell out of everyone involved.
"I really am sorry," he says. "If you'd like to set up some sort of elaborate sting operation, of course..."
Her giggle and "Oh, Colonel, that's so kind of you" is half-hearted at best. "No, it was pretty silly of me," she says. "I'm sorry for wasting your time."
Just before she walks out, he manages to salvage the situation slightly by saying, "I do wish you'd visit more often. This old man gets awfully lonely - " But even then only slightly.
Two months later he gets an absolutely ecstatic letter from Anise.
Colonel, you're amazing! You're brilliant and handsome and charming and sweet and wonderful and I'm getting weak in the knees just thinking about you -- ♥
How did you do it?
Love love love love love,
Your devoted Anise
(P.S.: I appreciate that you decided to send it to me rather than giving it to the Emperor directly. While that may have been more efficient, I'm looking forward to being able to put it on his finger myself. ♥)
He considers his reply longer than is his wont, then eventually sends back a simple
I have my ways.
If he were to overthink it, he might say that it's because Anise, faced constantly with two people who are incredibly, overpoweringly human, should have someone protecting her who she sees as omnipotent. Truthfully, it's probably just because this reply (so mysterious! So cool!) sounds better than "I bought it off the crook that swindled your dad."