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Tea and Conquest

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"You know," Sybil commented mildly, "Rosie was asking me what it was like, to have the two most powerful men in Ankh-Morpork among my conquests."

Rufus, who had only just come to the door with papers in hand, paused thoughtfully at that. Then, silently and with exquisite tact, he reversed direction and made a tactical retreat. Staring at the door that closed gently behind him, Sybil had to smile.

Havelock, judging from the careful press of his lips, felt rather similarly.

"And what did you answer?" he asked mildly, one hand curling against his own cheek the better to cover any smiles that might escape him. A most carefully considered man, was Havelock. Sybil chuckled brightly at him, and took a little sip of her tea.

"Oh, I said I had no idea," she demurred, her eyes on the brown liquid so as to allow Havelock free rein for reaction. "Conquest, really. Can you imagine anyone trying to conquer Sam?"

He allowed himself a cough. "There have been those who tried," he pointed out, amused. "Few that have succeeded, admittedly. But then, I imagine your methods, much as my own, would be somewhat different."

She looked at him. "Much as your own," she murmured thoughtfully, watching the strange light in his eyes. "Hmm. And would you call such methods conquest, Havelock?"

He smiled. Not bothering to hide it. Just a thin little curl of his lip.

"No," he said, with deliberate lightness. "No, I have never thought it conquest. But others do reserve the right to disagree. Or the inclination, at least." He reached out to lightly trace a pen with his fingertip, the skin around his eyes creasing faintly. "It is much easier for people, I've found, if they can blame their desires on an outside force. A wicked tyrant who bullied them into it, rather than someone who simply ... arranged matters so that their desires might come to the surface. In certain circumstances, the illusion of force may be oddly comforting, I believe."

Sybil stared at him, an odd sort of softness in her chest. More delicate, she thought, than the clutching fierceness that came over her with Sam, that emerged every time she saw in him that angry acknowledgement of grubby reality. It was different with Havelock. His knowledge was not so much angry as tinged with an ironic amusement, a soft, steely sort of knowing that smiled absently behind his eyes. No less pained than Sam, perhaps. No more resigned. But better contained, yes, and more wryly amused. It called for a gentler, more distant sort of ache.

"I notice," he said, after a moment, "that you only disclaim Sam as your conquest." He looked up, a faint twinkle in his eyes. "Do I dare wonder, then, what you think of that other powerful man you were asked about?"

She blinked, caught off guard for the smallest of seconds, and then laughed, that distant ache banished once again. She shook her head, setting her tea carefully on his desk.

"I don't know," she said, rather honestly. "What do you think, Havelock? Would you say I'd gone and conquered you, do you think? Or that Sam had, for that matter?"

He didn't answer for a moment. A rather long one, leaning back and steepling his fingers beneath his chin as he considered her, but he didn't look like it was the question he was considering. Not directly, she thought. More ... that he was considering how honest an answer he wanted to give. How much he might wish to expose, even just between them.

But then, after that moment, he smiled at her. A faint, wry curve, and ever so knowing. There was an odd look about him, something half-wistful and half-bright.

"No," he said softly. "I don't consider myself conquered." He traced the curve of his chin lightly with laced fingers, watching her steadily across them. "I think, in this case, that the illusion of force would be more a disservice than a comfort. To my desires, and to the objects of them as well. Wouldn't you agree?"

And oh, she thought, wasn't there a strange sort of warmth in that. Wasn't there a wonderful sort of honesty, in this grubby little world they three shared.

Worth more than all the conquest in the world.

Though if he wanted conquest, she thought, watching the wistful edge to his expression. If he wanted, maybe, some pretense of force now and then, some comforting illusion, well. Perhaps she could do that too. Sam might take convincing, but for her part, if Havelock wanted that, Sybil thought she could oblige him.

A woman is a city, Sam had told her once. The city is a woman, and a woman is the city.

If you wanted her to, she could bring you low, and happily engulf you.