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The Champion of Pephka

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It wasn't as if she looked for him everywhere she went; she honestly didn't.

She'd never had much time for gossip about who might be going where and when, unless a contract was involved, or drachmae might change hands for it. The truth was: she spent more than enough time running and riding and sailing here and there across what Barnabas knew of the world in her sword-for-hire professional life, from Kephallonia to Kythera to Krete, without acting on those rumours more personally, too.

She wasn't looking for him. She didn't expect to find familiar faces in unfamiliar places, though sometimes coincidences happened. Of course, Alkibiades always had a habit of turning up precisely when she least expected it.

What he was doing in Pephka was anyone's guess and Kassandra wouldn't have liked to be the one doing the guessing. He was chatting with Skoura when she arrived at the arena, possibly the best-dressed man in all of Krete and very likely aware of that fact; Skoura looked perplexed by him, on the other hand, which she knew from considerable personal experience was the usual reaction in all matters Alkibiades. Kassandra sighed, steeled herself for the inevitable complications that a meeting with Alkibiades always swept in its wake, and then made her approach.

"Good to see you, champion," Skoura said. He seemed pleased to see her, though she wasn't entirely sure if that was for her own sake or for his own rescue. "Will you fight today?"

"Misthios!" Alkibiades said, without waiting for her answer. He clapped her on the arm and paused to squeeze her bicep with an appreciative hum. "Oh, do say you'll fight today."

Kassandra looked at them both, first one and then the other. "I suppose I'll fight today," she told them, arms spread wide; she knew when she was outnumbered. "I'd hate to disappoint you both."

Alkibiades said something typically him about being sure she never disappointed. Skoura gave him a rather dubious look - probably more to do with how he'd said it than with what he'd said given her arena career to date - and asked her which opponent she preferred to face. She asked Alkibiades to choose one for her, much to his delight, then she stepped in through the gates.

Frankly, it wasn't much of a fight. She made a lot more of it than there actually was because in fact, by that point, she was already their long-reigning champion; perhaps she didn't precisely enjoy bringing death to Pephka at the point of a sword but as reluctant as she was to admit it, Skoura had been right: she understood the allure of the roar of the crowd all around her. And she could hear Alkibiades amidst the clamouring din of it, as she fought back waves of archers and warriors with spears until she'd finally laid out the challenger himself. Then she took off her blood-spattered helmet and she tossed it up out of the pit to Alkibiades. He didn't seem to know whether to be thrilled by it or disgusted by the blood. It was probably a mixture, but she liked to think it was more the former than the latter.

They met again after, once Kassandra had washed the blood and sweat and arena grime from her skin and dressed in something less armoured and more comfortable. He had two burly men with him, probably bodyguards but who knew where Alkibiades was concerned, and he was sitting with Skoura and two of the richer local patrons underneath an awning not far from the cliff's edge. Barnabas had already whisked away her helmet back to the Adrestia. Down at the newly constructed dock below, at the bottom of a long staircase carved into the cliff, she could see what she assumed was Alkibiades' ship idling at anchor beside her own.

He patted the cushion next to him. He raised one brow suggestively. She couldn't prevent a smile, and didn't try to.

"So, what brings you to Pephka?" she asked, as she settled down beside him.

"You don't believe I came for the gladiators?" he replied.

"Did you come to watch or to compete?"

"Oh, misthios, I much prefer pankration," he said, with a shake of his blonde hair. "The bare skin, bodies writhing together..."

"I would have thought you'd had enough of that at the Olympics."

He tutted. "Who said anything about the Olympics?" he said. "I find pankration is best practiced privately. Behind closed doors. Perhaps I could...demonstrate?"

Kassandra shook her head and smiled in spite of herself, though it was more in spite of Alkibiades. She'd always found he had a peculiar kind of forward charm that she couldn't say she didn't appreciate because frankly, she preferred to be that way herself - she liked to think they both made their intentions clear, just in somewhat different ways.

Conversation moved on, and so did the day. If talking had been on the Olympic agenda, Kassandra had a feeling Alkibiades would have been shipped off to Elis as Athens' champion. And, as the sun set, Skoura and the local dignitaries made their excuses, downed cups and left. Kassandra stayed; Alkibiades poured more wine, and they shared the cup between them.

"You know, misthios, I hear rich men from all over the Aegean will pay a great deal of drachmae for a night with the magnificent Champion of Pephka," Alkibiades said. He gave her a teasing half-smile over the rim of the cup and then passed it to her. "Would you say they prefer to dominate or to be dominated?"

She took a drink. "I wouldn't know," she said. "I don't usually give them the chance to explain all the sordid details before I knock them down on their asses."

"What if I told you I've been a very naughty boy?"

Kassandra snorted. "Oh, I can believe that," she replied.

He raised his brows. Kassandra found herself wondering, not for the first time, not even for the second or third, if he knew how to do that any way but suggestively.

"Perhaps the Champion of Pephka can show me the error of my terrible, terrible ways."

"Alkibiades, I don't believe for one second that you'll change your ways. Not because of me or the gods or anything else, for that matter."

He shrugged faintly, noncommittally, and took back the cup. "But that doesn't mean I shouldn't try," he said, and he finished off the wine. "And trying can be very...rewarding."

She had to concede that, at least, though she wasn't sure it was what people generally meant by 'changing ways'. But it was good to see him, she had to admit; it had been too long since she'd seen a friendly face that wasn't Barnabas or Herodotos, or the loyal crew of the Adrestia. It had been too long since she'd been the object of such tempting if obvious attentions. So she stood, and she pulled herself up tall, and she set both her hands at her hips.

"Will you do as the Champion of Pephka tells you to do?" she asked.

He set the empty cup aside and moved onto his knees. He looked up at her. His attention, if sometimes ridiculous, had always been intoxicating.

"Oh, yes, in every way," he replied.

For once, she actually believed him. For once, she was actually proved right.

And, in the morning, as she pulled her clothes back on, he tilted his head as he looked up at her. She didn't mind him watching, given everything else they'd done, and he was still stark naked. Of course he was.

"You know, before you go..." he said. "As pleasant as this most definitely was, you have to know of course this wasn't why I came to Pephka."

He smiled. She groaned. But she couldn't say she was surprised.

"This had better pay well," she muttered. "What do you want me to do this time?" But she knew whatever he might ask for, chances were she'd have done it for him free of charge. There were surprisingly few things the Champion of Pephka wouldn't do for an old friend.

Meetings with Alkibiades were nothing if not...eventful. But she really was glad to see him.