Puddles of Ink

There's no place on the ship as quiet as his cabin.  It's a place of solitude, somewhere he can just go to and hide away from all the annoyances on board his ship.

Sure, he thinks as he dips his pen in the inkwell on his desk, he's the loudest one on the damn ship, but he needs his moments of silence too.  Besides...

He shifts his gaze to the yellowed piece of paper lying in front of him, its edges slightly frayed and crumpled.  An ancient relic dug out of the dusty corners of his chest.  The original ink lines are faded, and with a grim face, he traces over them. It takes a great deal of determination to keep his hand steady, but at the very least, there's no room for his thoughts to wander to all of those fools out there, especially that blasted joke of a second mate.  It's just him, the coarse feel of the map underneath his fingertips, and the muted sound of the fountain pen gliding over the paper.  As close to peaceful as he's ever going to get on the circus act of a ship he's managed to put together.

When the door flies open with an unceremonious thud, the captain immediately gets to his feet and slams his hands down on the table, the ink from the pen dripping out onto his desk.  "God damn it, I told you I didn't want a single one of ya lot to come in 'ere!"

It's Arlen.  Of course.  Goddamn Arlen and his stupid smile like he has no clue what he's done wrong.  Damn him and his blatant disregard for anything the captain does or says.

In response to the angry outburst, the black-haired man simply laughs lightly and waves a dismissing hand.  "Ah, did you now?  Oh well, I'm already here so we can forget little details like that."

The captain gives a low groan and sits back down.  He catches sight of the mess the pen has left on the table and groans again, his scowl becoming more pronounced.  Just one person is all it takes.  One person to disrupt his peace and make him lose his damned temper. He hasn't changed one bit.

Arlen, on the other hand- something about him's different.  He can't quite figure out just what has changed about him though.

The captain grits his teeth and mumbles venomously under his breath, "Next time, I'll take up my sword and skewer you with it." After having his authority undermined so many times by the same damn person, he's more than a bit fed up.  With a sigh, he presses a handkerchief into the pool of ink on his desk, knowing better than to smear it around.  Arlen steps into the center of the room, casting a cursive glance over his surroundings before settling his gaze on the worn-out map on the captain's desk.

"What d'you want, ya little snake?" the captain growls, picking up his pen and wiping the nib before continuing the task from before.  He finds it considerably more difficult to concentrate with someone in the room, especially when it's Arlen.

"Just curious, is all," Arlen answers, quirking an eyebrow.  "The edge of Envirdia wasn't so jagged last time I checked."

The captain grits his teeth.  He had been working on outlining Envirdia when the door had opened.  Instead of losing his temper (again), he breathes a deep sigh and asks what has Arlen so damn curious, even though he knows already.

It's been eleven years; they both know each other much too well. Unfortunately for the captain, it means Arlen knows just what to do to send him into a blind rage.

Well, he's always known.

"You only stay in here when you're thinking hard about something-"

"Or sleepin'."

"Or sleeping.  And then you hide in here for the whole day and when you finally come back out..." Arlen places his hands on the desk, trying to catch his eye.  "You'll have decided this ship's fate, and nobody will be allowed to object."

"So what of it?" he mutters as he picks his hand up off the paper and moves it to another section.  "I'm only trying to decide the best way to boot that idiotic second mate off my ship the next chance I get."  It's uncanny how well Arlen guesses his thoughts, but the captain unflinchingly continues with his work.

"At Lumir then?  Along with the cargo?"

"Aye."  He holds the pen to the paper a moment too long and an unsightly blotch of ink spreads out on the paper, but at this point, he can't bring himself to care.  The map was probably ruined the moment he touched it.  "The fool can barely stand straight, and I won't have any liars on my ship!"

With a disgusted growl, he pushes the map away from himself and places the pen back in its stand.

And all the while, Arlen wears the same amused smile, though it seems to have gained a triumphant quality. The captain eyes this suspiciously and, against his better judgment, ventures to ask what has him so damn smug with himself.

Arlen dips his head, lowering his voice to a conspiratorial whisper, "Oh, captain. If you can't have liars on your ship..."

His eyes widen, his breath quickens, and his heart is hammering his ribcage.  He knows him too well --they know each other too well-- to not know what's coming.

"Why did you let Sam onto the ship in the first place?"

There's a moment of silence, when all the captain can hear is his own nervous heartbeat.

And he breaks it by loudly scrambling to his feet, because he can't stand that oppressive silence.

"What of it?" he half-yells, slamming his right hand down on the desk.  The thud it makes is somewhat satisfying, but it tells him nothing about why he's throwing such a childish tantrum, except that he wishes his desk was Arlen's face instead.

"Why?" is all Arlen has to say.

"Why?" he finds himself echoing. "Is it wrong then?"

Arlen shrugs.  "Some of the men might find offense, but Sam's smart, and motivated. Pulls his own weight."

"As I expected.  Arlen, I trust my judgment," the captain says in a firm voice.  "As should you."  At this, Arlen's smile twitches, making him wonder yet again what has changed with the man.

"Aye, cap'n," he quips, making a small salute. "I trust your judgment."

And with that, he's gone.  To the captain's annoyance, the raven-haired man leaves just as loudly as he enters, the door slamming shut behind him.  At the very least, he is finally alone, left to brood upon his true thoughts that were interrupted before.

He glances down at the mess on his desk, and grimaces once more at the broad lines marring the yellow surface of the map.

He would have to get a new one.  After all, it is the map of their new supply route.

The End

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