When they first locked eyes in the circus, the only thing either knew was that there was this odd, sudden spark. The fact that it would turn out later that Thisbe was looking for a new position as an assistant, and that Proconsul Alectria was looking for an assistant, specifically female, would work out well for them. Introductions were formally made by Thisbe's wealthier friends. They did not leave together, but Thisbe was taken in a carriage out to Alectria's estate for an interview later that week.
But when they first locked eyes in the circus, they knew none of those things — they only knew that they were of the same audience and that suddenly they had glanced at each other across a crowd, separated by social class and many bodies and sand and excitement and the tinge of blood and sweat, and coincidentally their eyes had met, and there had been an instant connection. A feeling that Thisbe felt meant she had known Alectria all her life, somehow.
Her soul knew those eyes, called out for them in dreams.
Working for her might be uncomfortable.
It could have been uncomfortable, but it wasn't. Not at first. Their relationship began simply as employer and employee, the wealthy widow who had inherited her late husband's governorship and had to step into the world of politics, the lady's maid right-hand-girl who would do anything for her. And Thisbe would do anything for Alectria, she learned quickly.
She also remembered that electric moment in the crowd, and wondered if Alectria didn't, or had done her best to pretend otherwise. Perhaps Alectria didn't want to admit that there was something there. Or maybe she knew about where Thisbe had come from. Who Thisbe's parents were.
While she had previously worked as a personal assistant because she liked it and it was steady and it made for less death on her hands, she never retired from being linked to career assassins, if not often being available to serve as one herself; sometimes being in the right communication loop in the right time was still immensely satisfying. Sometimes, unlike her parents who would do anything for a price, a job came where the death was the right price by itself and the money was a bonus.
But Thisbe had long grown tired of death, and while she was a good killer from a young age, now in her mid-twenties she just wanted to belong somewhere and be with people who didn't revile her. That link was only a link; she would be contacted if there was something worth her doing.
Now, though, there was only Alectria.
Who she would do anything for. And anything with. And if Alectria ended up wanting someone dead, Thisbe wouldn't even ask why.
Love was a truly terrifying thing, it turned out, and the only part more terrifying was not knowing if Alectria felt the same and not being sure how to ask.
Having been trained from early childhood to have heightened senses, and having been born to two people who also had very good eyesight and hearing and excellent speed, Thisbe noticed when something was off. It was two in the morning, it was a sound at the gates that shouldn't have happened. What sounded like footsteps on a shed roof.
From the shed, then, it was easy to get into the tree that led to the balcony that would then only require going through one room to get to Alectria's bedchamber. Thisbe's room was two down, with an office in between them, but Thisbe was a constantly light sleeper and Alectria often drank quite a bit to be able to sleep.
The job weighed on her, Thisbe knew, and even though she worried a little, she didn't interrupt. It wasn't as if Alectria indulged in much alcohol any other time. If she needed help to sleep, so be it — but this time was a very bad time not to be a light sleeper.
As her window overlooked the same courtyard, Thisbe simply climbed out it and down the side of the building. It had enough ridges. She heard clangs that she instinctively didn't like, sounds of talking or breathing, and the quiet growling of Alectria's dog, Nero.
When she hopped down, it was to find both Nero and the gardener tied up.
Twenty minutes later, Thisbe, Nero and the gardener stood at the base of the tree looking at the man who had been knocked down by Thisbe's pitched rocks, shrugged, and left him there.
"Attempted robbery," Thisbe determined, as the gardener took the poison darts away from the now-dead man.
"Of course," the gardener agreed.
Thisbe didn't mention that she'd recognized his face.
"Why is there a corpse in my garden?" the Proconsul demanded to know, sharply, but the majority of the groundskeepers had no idea, and the one who did kept his mouth firmly shut.
Thisbe tried for a wide-eyed shrug, and got away with it.
A lady's maid was meant to be above reproach; she also was expected to behave in an appropriate fashion to be beyond reproach. She absolutely was not meant to read her lady's correspondence – at least, not without being invited.
And yet, while cleaning Alectria's desk of another late night's debris (plates holding naught but crumbs, dribbles of melted sealing wax, shredded envelopes from incoming entreaties, and the like), Thisbe found herself hesitating, an ink-splotched draft of a letter in hand.
She truly wasn't going to read it – at least, not until her own name caught her eye.
and backwards and the worst possible thing for the province! All because he was elected on his own merits, and he thinks he should be appointed proconsul pro tempore rather than me, and never mind that the entire Senate thought I was a better choice! And that’s not even the worst of it – Thisbe is driving me out of my mind. I just don’t know what to do about her. No, no, it’s nothing like that . I know what you’re thinking, Linnaea, I’ve known you since we were in ludus together. I wish she had been caught stealing my earrings! That would be so much simpler than this. It’s not as if I don’t remember grammaticus, and the way the girls would practice ensnaring their dream husbands with each other – or the way enough of them only said it was practice, and then never bothered looking for a husband! – but Juno’s tears, Lin, she’s my servant! How am I supposed to tell her that I’ve been wanting to kiss her since before I even knew her name, when I first saw her at the circus? How do I tell her that she sends shivers down my spine when she brushes my hair at night, and I want nothing more than to tug her into my bed?
I can’t even tell you , and you’re my oldest and dearest friend, and now I have to rewrite half this page, too, so I can actually send this blasted letter.
“What are you doing?”
Abruptly interrupting, a note of panic tinging her voice, Alectria’s presence in the doorway gave way to Alectria’s presence mere inches away, as her lady snatched the entire bundle of papers from Thisbe. Glancing down to see which page had caught her maid’s eye, while trying to keep her gaze sternly fixed on Thisbe at the same time, only meant it took three seconds longer before Alectria blanched white and looked as though she didn’t know whether to throw up or faint. A question, haunting her eyes: Did you read this?
Thisbe knew her own eyes would betray the answer that she had.
“P-please,” Alectria stuttered, almost hiccuping in her haste, “don’t – don’t go, you’ve been doing so well here, your help has been such a blessing –”
“Go?” She tilted her head, looking curiously at her beloved Alectria, with perhaps a touch of her own predator’s nature starting to come to the fore. “Why,” she asked slowly, setting the plates in a clear spot on the desk, “in the name of all the gods,” then taking the pages from Alectria’s nerveless hands and leaving them behind on the desk as well, her own hand encircling her lady’s wrist, “would I possibly want to go? ”
The callus on her thumb grazed the vein on the inside of Alectria’s wrist, calling forth the tiniest of gasped whimpers, nearly inaudible. The second whimper, though louder, carried no further out of the room, given that it was smothered by Thisbe’s lips on hers.
It was too bad she never managed to figure out who it was that last letter page, the one that had mentioned her, had been talking about. That was probably who was trying to take Alectria out, and he was probably one of those people who never shut up at meetings who sent her home in tears, too. Which meant Thisbe despised him on multiple principles.
And she was getting very tired of cleaning up his messes. His failures, really. Tired of cleaning them up, tired of orchestrating them, tired of having to hide it to not burden Alectria even more.
Even now that she was regularly welcome to stay the night in Alectria's bedchamber rather than leaving her suite once her lady was asleep, Thisbe often felt uncertain about doing so, and the fact she wanted to watch in the windows for invaders every time didn't help. Especially since Alectria stopped wanting to keep the dog inside; robbery could be better prevented from outdoors.
Feeling a traitor, Thisbe would smuggle the dog in late at night, then sneak him out before Alectria woke. Which, considering her hours, was nearly impossible. Thisbe had to catch naps while she was in meetings, still get her other duties done, and hope her instincts were sharp enough that she didn't miss anything. But the one time she tried to tell her lady that she suspected there might be an assassin after her, Alectria had just laughed and said her guards were enough. That the one robbery attempt (because she only knew about the one, and they'd gotten better at moving the bodies to places where she wouldn't notice them) was a one-and-done; she had fired the gatekeeper.
Thisbe and the head gardener suspected her guards were either on someone else's payroll or remarkably terrible.
Nero only growled at some of them.
"Everyone knows you're amazing at what you do, or you wouldn't be here."
Thisbe's point was well-made, but Alectria still seemed too worn out to hear it. As Thisbe undid her hair and ran her fingers through it to loosen waves that had once been pinned, Alectria leaned back against her and let out a long, sleepy sigh.
"Some people," she said cooly, catching Thisbe's hand in hers, and yet it was clear that Thisbe wasn't one of the 'some people' she meant, especially as she kept going, "Some people are not fans of what I'm doing, regardless of whether or not I'm any good at it."
Alectria knew, of course, that she was amazing at what she did, because it was true that she wouldn't otherwise be there; her husband had been a force of nature, and most people thought she was the force behind that force of nature. A powerful woman behind a powerful man, a man who was well-loved and a wife who was as well, a wife who participated and knew what was going on. She was always at his side when he was Consul, then Proconsul; it made sense that after his death she would take his place.
Maybe, with that hand-holding, Alectria also knew where Thisbe had been before she was a lady's maid looking for work. And yet Thisbe was confident that even if she did, she didn't actually care . By then it was clear that this was not a setup. Thisbe hadn't taken the job to try to get close to her and kill her.
Though it was apparent that other people had that idea, and it was getting harder and harder for Thisbe and the gardener to keep that a secret. Alectria was intelligent and noticed when her staff disappeared, and it was hard for her to not notice corpses on her property. Thankfully, she'd only noticed the one in several months.
Of course, there had been more than one; they seemed to come every few weeks, and Thisbe and the gardener, who she was suspecting also had some interesting background she didn't know anything about whether or not Alectria did, had to keep dealing with it. And anytime he suggested telling the proconsul the entire story, Thisbe argued. She just couldn't take the stress.
Pulling her closer and wrapping her arms around her from behind, Thisbe could tell the way Alectria sagged further and squeezed her hand tighter that there really was no way. The reason she kept her skills up now, despite not wanting to kill anymore, was clear: it had all been for this.
To protect her.
"You are wonderful at what you do, and doing right by your people, and your people think so. Not just us here. People in the city. People at the markets, at the circus -- you're doing well and I might not know much about government, but I think when the people mostly don't notice it much and don't have worries, the government's doing well enough." She leaned forward and dusted a quick kiss to Alectria's cheek, and the squeezing hand let go, wandering up Thisbe's arm.
"I hope," she said softly, "that you are right, Thi."
"I can distract you," Thisbe whispered into that closer ear, and Alectria let out a tiny giggle, very girlish for her forty-some years, and allowed it.
Thisbe hated getting blood on her nice skirts, but sometimes it was a requirement.
"Who sent you?" she demanded, voice whispering but harsh. She didn't want to upset Nero, who she was sure was watching carefully in case Thisbe couldn't handle the job alone. Her boot tip was up against the man's chest, and she had a garrotte loosely around his neck.
It wasn't so tight he couldn't speak. Couldn't think that maybe if he told her she might release him.
Instead, he laughed and leaned into it, the sound of haughty laughs leaking into the crackle of death.
"No, no matter how beautiful a day it is, I can’t go out with you to enjoy it,” Alectria muttered, scowling and rubbing at the spot between her eyes. "You know how much of this paperwork I still have to have finished by the end of the day! And don’t you dare," as she lowered her hand to glare at Thisbe, "bring Nero into this."
The dog, hearing his name, lifted his head from his spot lying beside the office door, and gave a couple of half-hearted, hopeful wags of his tail. Out?
It was enough to have at least a few tears well up in the proconsul’s eyes, a fact that made Thisbe feel guilty even for asking – thoughts of a picnic lunch, on a day when she knew for a fact there weren’t any dead assassins piled up in the hedge, notwithstanding. At least she hadn’t brought the picnic basket into Alectria’s office – and at least the cook hadn’t actually made lunch, yet.
"All right," Thisbe relented, her thoughts racing their way through a new plan of action on how she might assist. "If work you must do, work you shall do – but you’re also getting a massage."
The scowl, forgotten, wilted away, replaced by a far more quizzical expression. "And how do you expect me to do both at once?” was asked almost with a laugh. "I can’t exactly take this work to the baths, either –!"
A tug, of calloused hand around delicate wrist, brought Alectria back to her desk, and a gentle press to her shoulders urged her back into her seat. Thisbe, then, much to Alectria’s surprise, promptly sank down into a seat on the floor, leaning against a desk drawer, and picked up a foot, her grip just as firm and demanding as it was in Alectria’s bedchamber. A grasp, a press, a slide and twist – and a shuddering sigh, as her ladyship melted back into her chair, her foot beginning to remember how to relax under Thisbe’s guidance.
(A few minutes into the massage, of course, Alectria made herself pick up her pen once again, and actually get back to the work in question.)
It was some time after that – after, in fact, Thisbe had spent nearly as long on her other foot as on the first, if perhaps not quite as long yet – that they were interrupted, by the eternally odious Caeso Duilius Salinator, the political thorn in Alectria’s foot, which was tensing up in Thisbe’s hand once again.
"My dear Proconsul Alectria,” she heard, even while pulling herself the rest of the way under Alectria’s desk, the better to avoid being asked why she was on the floor in the first place. "I’m so glad I caught you – I wanted to talk to you about this matter with the Praeconians…"
Alectria hated him, and so Thisbe hated him; she also didn’t want Alectria’s day to be ruined, even though she knew her lady was too gracious to have him thrown out on his ear as he so richly deserved. A whim crossed her mind, then – a thought, a plan – and then her thumbs swept up the inner side of Alectria’s ankles, which was very close to the only warning she gave. The desk was quite solid; her tunic and stola loose-cut, for comfort in the summer heat; and Thisbe strong enough to pull Alectria to the very edge of her seat, gradually enough that Salinator wouldn’t notice.
Not, Thisbe supposed, that he would notice much, over the sound of his own oration.
Her lips brushed over the inside of Alectria’s knee, then grazed higher; a hand landed in her hair, grip uncertain as to whether it wished to push her away or demand her kisses be more fervent. In either case, well – Alectria was, again, too gracious to cause a scene, and utterly unwilling to let Salinator learn of any possible vulnerability. Thisbe, on the other hand, would never hesitate to take advantage of anyone or anything, should it be necessary.
This was also fun, to behave so scandalously – and arousing, to have the taste of her beloved on her tongue, to feel the tiny quaking shudders of her thighs, the way they gripped so tightly at her shoulders, until she was reaching between her own legs as well – and then, suddenly, dragged out from under the desk, as Alectria grabbed the front of her stola and demanded a kiss, pinning her against the desk, and Thisbe was left to wonder just how it was the proconsul had dismissed the magistrate, and when – though not for longer than half a minute, until all thoughts fled her mind.
It had been a little over a year of more of the same - of feeling safe followed by having to eliminate threats coming at odd hours - when the moment Thisbe had dreaded and anticipated both came to fruition.
A note came for her, in code (but a code she knew well), requesting that she eliminate Proconsul Alectria. Considering they cohabitated, this should be very easy, but because it was such a repeatedly failed job due to the woman's infernal guard (Thisbe laughed, and laughed to herself) there would be a higher price attached. It would be a death that would be worth her while. And as one of Alectria's close employees, Thisbe would also benefit from an inheritance.
Thisbe looked over the note, and the identifier of its origin, and folded it up, placing it in her pocket.
She would sleep alone that night, because there was much to do in the morning.