"You here arresting someone, or did you actually leave the armour at home?" Isabela claimed the chair next to Merrill's and looked at Aveline with her best innocent expression (though as she hadn't been innocent in multiple decades, it wasn't a very good one.)
"I do take time off, you know," Aveline said.
"Right, sure." Isabela stretched and looked pointedly at the empty chairs around them. "So I guess Hawke's taken her concubines off adventuring and left us to fend for ourselves?"
"What's a concubine?" Merrill asked.
Isabela waited at least two breaths for Aveline to helpfully volunteer an answer, and when no answer was forthcoming, she propped her booted feet on Fenris's usual chair—more for the knowledge she'd done it, as he wouldn't notice with the Hanged Man's usual level of cleanliness—and smirked. "It's a companion kept for someone's pleasure, Kitten."
Merrill looked thoughtful.
"Hawke said she was going to the Wounded Coast," Aveline said. "I did see Anders and Fenris glaring daggers at each other a bit excessively in Hightown, so I suppose she took both of them."
"They're both really nice people—well mostly—when Fenris isn't glaring at me, I mean," Merrill offered helpfully.
"Well, if Hawke's busy, maybe you two would like to help me out," Isabela said.
Aveline narrowed her eyes. "I will not do anything illegal," she said.
"Oh, Maker," Isabela said, "do you really think every single thing I do is illegal?"
"You're a pirate," Aveline pointed out.
"Pirates do legitimate things sometimes! I mean, I returned the book and everything," Isabela pointed out.
"Only because you felt guilty about Hawke getting in trouble for you—a first, I presume." Aveline raised an eyebrow.
"There was that. And I figured you'd hunt me down for it, and be annoyed by the time you found me." Isabela shrugged. "And really, why put you to all that trouble?"
"You put me to plenty of trouble every time you try to incite a riot here," Aveline replied.
"Oh, well, it wasn't much of a riot the last time," Merrill said. "I only had to put six of them to sleep. And Varric took care of the rest."
Aveline sighed. "I can do without Varric trying to do my job for me," she said with feeling.
"He doesn't want to do it anyway, so I think your captaincy's safe." Isabela grinned.
"If it was safe, I wouldn't be much of a captain."
Isabela waved a hand dismissively. "Details of language," she said.
"What did you want our help with?" Merrill asked.
"Ah yes, that." Isabela leaned back in her chair until her back arched, and enjoyed the resulting attention from the sailors at the bar. "Well. It's been a pisser of a week and I could do with a good night out. Let's get drunk and raise a bit of a fuss."
"The last time you got drunk and raised a bit of a fuss," Aveline said, "I had to arrest two dozen sailors."
"And the guard treasury benefited from the fines," Isabela pointed out. She waved to Norah and the waitress waved back before offloading the last glass from her tray and heading back to the bar.
"I am not going to start a brawl in the streets of Kirkwall," Aveline said.
"No one's asking you to," Isabela said. "Just—what would Varric say? Some good old-fashioned carousing."
"I don't think I've ever caroused before," Merrill said thoughtfully. "It sounds like fun, though."
Aveline sighed. "I am going to regret this," she said.
"You won't," Isabela replied, and smiled as Norah brought the first round. "So, who's up for a round of telling each other our adventures?"
Merrill perked up, and Aveline looked at her warily over the rim of her tankard of ale.
"Oh, all right, I'll start," Isabela said.
"And, well, I didn't exactly mean to end up in the Bann's gardens but he should have had a sign posted," Merrill finished, and took another long drink of her wine. She had moved from her usual chair to the one next to Isabela, and she was close enough for Isabela to feel her warmth. Isabela tipped the bottle as soon as Merrill set her glass down, refilling it with the sweet Orlesian white. Merrill tipped the glass to watch the wine slide back and forth.
"Generally fences are a sign of private property," Isabela said, and grinned. "I like them. They tell me who's got an overinflated sense of self-importance."
Aveline laughed into her mug of ale. "You just like people watching you when you climb over it," she said.
"If they're watching me, I've done something wrong," Isabela retorted. They were several rounds in, though Aveline had been nursing her drinks much more than Isabela or Merrill.
"Have you ever been in love with someone?" Merrill asked suddenly.
Isabela caught herself just before she did something as obvious as brood into her rum, and tossed back half of it instead. She deliberately kept her mind away from that particular topic. "What for?" she said. "A night's good enough."
"But don't you ever get lonely?" Merrill pressed. "Aveline, you—I mean—what do you think?"
"About love?" Aveline asked.
"Well, yes. I mean you've been married twice, haven't you? You must think something about it," Merrill said, and then drank half her wine off at once. She wobbled back in her chair and set her glass down unevenly.
Aveline glared at Isabela with sufficient force that Isabela put the wine bottle back on the table without refilling Merrill's glass, though not without a shift of her shoulders to show she didn't really care.
"Yes, do tell us about it," Isabela said instead, leaning forward with her best grin. "Particularly the naughty bits."
"I will not," Aveline said with dignity. Her expression softened a little when she looked at Merrill. "Any reason for asking?"
Merrill shrugged and shrank in on herself, the way she did when she was feeling uncertain. "I was thinking I might be interested in someone," she said, not looking at either of them, "and—I don't know, I thought maybe I should know what to look for."
"You'll know," Aveline reassured her.
Isabela could not resist the opportunity. "Just don't tell him, or her, that it's a fine night for an evening," she advised, and laughed even harder when Aveline kicked her in the shins.
"The important thing," Aveline said over Isabela's laughter, "is to remember that you'll both make mistakes—and that's all right."
Merrill nodded tipsily, and tilted farther against Isabela.
"Our mistakes make us who we are," Isabela said, and gave in to temptation—why fight it?—to put an arm around Merrill's waist. Even in the Hanged Man, Merrill smelled a bit like the forest—probably her magic. Isabela preferred the sea, but she liked Merrill's scent. "Just learn from them and you'll be all right."
Aveline pushed herself to her feet. "Well, I've an early patrol," she said. "Merrill, do you need an escort back to the Alienage?"
Isabela looked at Merrill, listing like a ship amid a storm, and shook her head. "I'll put her up here," she said to Aveline. "You'll both be in trouble if one of the gangs is bored tonight."
Aveline nodded, and headed for the door, as steady as if she was sober. She probably was. Isabela didn't think she'd had more than three ales the whole night.
"All right, Merrill, come on," she said, dropping silver pieces on the table for their drinks.
Merrill came willingly enough, listing against Isabela on her way up the stairs. Once inside her room, Isabela steered her toward the bed.
"You never said if you'd been in love," Merrill mumbled.
"Didn't I?" Isabela brushed a loose strand of hair back from Merrill's eyes and reminded herself that while she often did take undue advantage, it wasn't nice to do it to her friends.
"I think you were," Merrill said. She laughed. "I think I am."
"Are you?" Isabela grinned. "With who, Kitten?"
Merrill smiled up at her, and leaned forward to plant a slightly off-center kiss.
It took Isabela a moment to sort out what was happening—she had, after all, had a rather large quantity of rum herself—but she was pleased enough to slip her arms around Merrill and kiss right back, though she promised herself she'd do no more until Merrill was sober. She had some rules.
A few minutes later, tucked up with Merrill in a bed too small for the pair of them but that seemed adorably cozy (at least for tonight; no doubt she'd grow annoyed quickly), she thought that they might have to have more ladies' nights out.