Disclaimer: Still don't own them. Probably never will.
Notes: Thanks to Ewige for once again hosting this fun writing event. Thanks to VAMB for being around for 10 years. Thanks to QS for giving this story a read over. Thank you Audabee for giving my words a home. The answers are listed under Chapter 2.
Liaisons by Cheshire
The three women dined at a simple round table. In the evening, it would be covered with a tablecloth to give it a touch more elegance, but for now, it was enough that it was clean. The woman hosting the afternoon affair idly swirled the dregs of her drink as the two acknowledged town gossips shared their latest news.
She smiled and nodded at all the right places, but it was only when the conversation abruptly broke off that she looked up. The two busybodies were frowning at something over her shoulder. She turned to see what the problem was and saw the young woman that worked for her carrying in a case of drinks for the evening crowd.
The young brunette balked slightly when she noticed her audience but gave a quick nod of acknowledgement to her boss and took her precious cargo into the back. The door to the back closed on silent hinges and her boss returned her attention to her dining companions.
"If I didn't know you as well as I do," the oldest of the gossips started, her pudgy finger jabbing towards the hostess, "I'd have to question your loyalty."
The red-head's chin came up ready to challenge the veiled threat but she was prevented from replying by the third woman acting as intermediary, her bony hand resting gently on the hostess' arm. "She doesn't mean that." She glared at her matronly friend. "Do you?"
"Of course not," the other muttered contritely then added, "but you must know that keeping someone like that young woman in your employ does you no favors."
It was barely an apology and the mediator rolled her eyes before scooting out her chair and getting to her feet. "I think it's time we were leaving before we overstay our welcome."
"Nonsense," the hostess said even as she stood up from the table. "Same time next week?"
As the small party reached the front door, the younger gossip hung back. Adjusting her hat as her shorter friend continued outside, she spoke quietly to the hostess. "When the time comes and this fight is over, you should hide your friend. People won't care that she was young and vulnerable. They will only care that she shared her bed with the enemy."
The red-head glanced towards the back of the hall. "I understand what others think, but she's one of mine. I'll protect her."
Her hat pinned securely onto her head, the tall brunette gossip smiled tightly and departed. The hostess stood in the doorway as the two older women left, graciously waving as they crossed the town square. She lingered a moment longer, surveying the immediate area, taking note of the faces she recognized and more importantly of the ones she didn't.
Closing the door, she absently rubbed the back of her neck. It was still a few hours before they'd be officially open for the evening. The two gossips were exhausting to spend time with, but they inadvertently passed on more information than she could actively try to find out in a week. It was the main reason she continued to host their weekly get-togethers.
Opening the door to the back, she was greeted with a snarl from her young friend. "Sorry, I crashed your dinner party. Hope I didn't offend anyone's delicate sensibilities."
"You did," the older woman laughed, "but they'll get over it."
"Yeah," the brunette snorted, drying a glass and racking it, "right after they string me up in the town square."
"You know I won't let that happen," her boss said, all traces of humor gone.
The younger woman looked at her for a moment and then shook her head, muttering, "You can't control everything."
It was too early for an argument especially when she knew she'd have more to deal with later in the evening. The older woman dropped into the cook's rickety chair. "All right, what is it? What has you so churlish today?"
She dried another glass, avoiding her leader's gaze. Her boss had saved her life, treated her more like a daughter than her own mother ever had and now she had to disappoint her. Silently begging whatever gods would listen to someone like her for forgiveness; she clenched the rag in her hand and said, "I'm late."
"Late?" the older woman repeated, looking back towards the dining area. "We aren't even open yet."
Brown eyes met blue and the young brunette pleaded silently for understanding. Comprehension followed quickly by fear dawned in the older blue eyes. Moving slowly, almost cautiously, the woman who was her boss as well as her friend pushed up to her feet and approached the counter. "And it's...his?"
"There's been no one else."
The two women stood shoulder to shoulder silently. Finally, the red-head asked very quietly, "Do you want to keep it?"
Surprised, the younger woman glanced up, but the blue-grey eyes were staring fixedly at the countertop. "He'd look for me. It'd be dangerous if I disappeared."
"It'll be dangerous if you stay."
She shrugged. "Only to me."
A pained expression crossed the leader's face and she closed her eyes against it. Her voice was almost a whisper when she said, "We could eliminate him."
"No!" The brunette grabbed the other woman's arm, shaking her head. "No. We can't. He's too powerful. It would put everyone at risk."
The red-head made a sound of disgust. "And you still won't tell me which one he is?"
Finally, the younger woman was able to smile. "No. You taught me better than that. The less you know..."
"The less you can divulge," her boss grumbled.
She studied her young friend's face and finally sighed, shaking her head. She reached under the counter and pulled out a bottle of merlot. Taking down two of the glasses the younger woman had just dried, she began to pour them each a drink.
"You aren't mad?"
"Ma puce, you put yourself in more danger than I would have ever asked of you. No, I couldn't possibly be mad at you." She handed over one of the glasses and kept the other for herself. "We'll get through this." Tipping her glass against the other, she offered the only toast she could. "Santé."