As they entered the bar, Ivan regarded Angelique’s comment with slight surprise, not expecting a compliment of any sort. He had never thought of the run-down cafe as anything close to “lovely,” and he shot her a glance, unsure if she was just trying to be polite. However, her honesty was evident in her tone of voice, and Ivan knew before his eyes even made it to her face that she had meant it. He hummed slightly as he tried out the word in his head, his lips pressed together in a thoughtful manner as his violet eyes scanned the room. To his surprise, the word quickly settled in with the old furniture and young laborers, like the abandoned sweater a child finds in his father’s closet that slips on easily over his head as it envelopes him in a new yet familiar scent. Though weathered and even slightly dirty, the place was comforting like a blanket with its edges unraveling from the nervous touch of small hands. He tucked the word away in the cracks in the walls, but before he could thank Angelique, she had already turned to the bartender, easily returning his lively greetings. She greeted him exactly as Ivan would have expected, with immediate good humor. She really had a surprising character; with one word she could send him lost in his thoughts, but with another she brought him quickly to reality. Even with the comfort and continuity of friendship, their relationship was never boring.
Ivan raised his eyebrows playfully at Angelique. “If you’re worried about appearances, I can assure you that no one here really cares about ‘presentability,’” he replied, mimicking her attempt to keep a straight face. Holding back laughter, he nodded toward the patrons around them, all slightly drunk. A few at the bar had their arms around each other’s shoulders for balance and were swaying back and forth as they sang along to an old classic with strong, confident voices; another man at a nearby table was raving to a friend about a girl he wanted to ask out, nearly serenading him as he tried to demonstrate how he planned to woo her. Just the sight of the drunkards was almost enough to make him feel drunk himself, even if in reality that would have required more than just a few shots of vodka.
“Meeting? Well, he wouldn’t know if you never returned, da?” Feeling more and more at home among his comrades, Ivan’s Russian was starting to slip out. He had always been proud of his language, even if many of his citizens always considered French to be more beautiful or “educated”, or English more useful. His language reminded him of home - not his actual home, which was nothing but a collection of several empty apartments or cottages across the country, but an imagined home he figured might have existed if he had been born a human, or just the entirety of his country and all the cozy homes of people within it. The robust Russian words - the soft, round vowels and hard consonants - brought both a sense of nostalgia for a time that never existed and a sense of pride for what he had now. But honestly, he thought as he glanced around the bar, he had no intention of ever returning to the meeting at the moment.
“Well, I certainly hope you weren’t planning to win,” he responded cheerfully. “Even if I like you, I’ve never in my life lost in a drinking game.” That being said, if he had ever lost, he certainly would have been too far gone to even remember it. As Angelique leaned away from the table, Ivan sat up as well, allowing Mikha to set down the drinks. “Pozhaluĭsta, mademoiselle,” the bartender replied, thinking himself very gentlemanly for using the French term rather than a simple address such as “comrade.” He winked at Ivan as he left the table; Mikha had a rather annoying yet comical tendency to think whomever Ivan brought into the bar was his new date. Ivan only managed an amused look at him before Mikha had already turned his back and rushed to accommodate the other customers.
Following Angelique’s eyes to the bottle of vodka, he laughed and responded, “I’m thirsty, so it should be okay, if that’s what you mean,” knowing exactly what she was referring to. “I’m more concerned about you - but I’m sure you’re great company no matter what level of soberness you happen to be on,” he countered with a grin. He took a big sip from the tea, feeling the hot liquid travel down to his stomach, soothing his throat. It was a bit silly of him to order tea and vodka at the same time, but thinking to himself, he realized he wouldn’t know what to do if he ever had to choose between them. He took another gulp, partly because he loved the taste and partly because he was excited to get to the alcohol. The cup was shallow, a properly sized teacup unlike the huge cylindrical mugs Ivan liked to use when alone and at home, so after a few large gulps the tea was already half gone.
He poured two shots of vodka and ceremoniously placed them next to each other in the middle of the table. The clear glasses (the one thing Mikha prided himself on keeping clean in the entire bar) and the transparent liquid inside looked like two crystals on the dull table top. Ivan gestured toward them with one hand, while the other held the tea cup. “But I insist, ladies first.” He returned her mischievous look, challenging her with his eyes as he glanced again toward the shining shot glasses between them. Without breaking the gaze, he lifted the teacup to his lips, wondering silently what she would do next.
Angelique followed his gaze about the bar, feeling the corners of her own lips curl, first into a grin, then into a full smile. Their buoyancy and laughter was contagious, and she couldn’t help but laugh underneath her breath. Even in the midst of such political tensions- or was it, perhaps, because of it?- their was still laughter, still merriment to be found in the heart of Russia. The thought cheered her considerably, and she, too, felt nearly light-headed at their amusement. The song the men were singing was unfamiliar, but for a moment, she would have quite liked to join in singing regardless. Turning to Ivan with a fresh smile on her face, she shrugged her shoulders lightly, her head tilting to the side as if to indicate complete ease. “I can see d’at-bondye, it’s as if I’m channelin’ René!” She shook her head in mock-sorrow, as if horrified by her actions. “And d’at simply will not do. Appearances be damned, I ‘ave my reputation at stake!” she exclaimed, shaking the curls from her face and lifting her chin.
It was rare that Angelique had the opportunity to hear Ivan speak his language, as of late; of course, she sometimes overheard his conversations, low and muttered, with Gorbachev, but the nations generally spoke English, or French if need be. In the early days, she’d learnt Russian, but it had been years. She herself often slipped into Kreol, and without guilt; she loved her language, loved the unique twists her people had put on the French words, loved the many different languages that had added to it, loved how many foreign terms it had accumulated over time until barely any of the original French remained. “Bah, I could send a tortoise in my place,” she replied, the idea bringing giggles to her lips, “And ‘e’d never know d’a difference, wi?” She winked, her emphasis on her last word, as if to somehow glorify the utterings of their native languages. Perhaps her enjoyment of one simple word was strange, but with so many changes, she supposed she found it comforting that Russia, Soviet, was Russian, that Ivan was Ivan.
Snickering, she threw one hand up as if in surrender. “I’ve too much French blood to ‘ave a ‘ope of winnin’, zoli,” she responded, the old joke bringing a smirk to her mouth. “I don’t d’ink I’ve much of a chance. I’ll drink wit’ ya’, d’ough,” she added, grinning conspiratorially. “Why should I let d’at ruin my fun?” She smiled at Mikha, her eyes warm and buoyant, and caught sight of his wink. Before she could stop herself, she found herself laughing- goodness, it felt nice to laugh so often- and shook her head in amusement at the man’s retreating back. “‘E’s quite a character, non?” she asked conversationally, her gaze following the Russian as he interacted with the other patrons. He was a breath of fresh air, she had to admit; the entire place was, in this climate, and once again the same word rose to mind as she glanced about. Lovely.
“Men of course, disik,” she responded, taking her cup and blowing very, very softly on the warm brown liquid. “I’ve been told my drunken company can be preferable to myself sober- I ‘ave a tendency to start singin’ old sailin’ songs, eventually,” she said, her eyes bright and amused over the top of her tea cup. “Per’aps I’ll end up serenadin’ ya’ wit’ d’a ‘Past Time of Good Company’!” She quoted an old tavern song, from centuries before, that she’d been known to belt out when intoxicated. She took a deep sip of her tea and sighed; the warm, sweet flavours of the Indian spices and the musky notes of tea leaves warmed her right through. She took soft, deep sips, enjoying her cup slowly; she always did find the beauty in a good, strong cup of tea. Glancing up, she couldn’t help but notice that Ivan was nearly done, and she grinned in response. She imagined Ivan’s mugs- made to fit his large hands- and entertained the thought of great big tankards.
Biting her lower lip to hold yet another laugh at bay, she set down her half-filled tea with delicacy. The two tumblers really were like shining bits of crystal against the old, faded wood, and she took the one nearest her, swirling the translucent liquid within. “Mezi, ya’re very kind,” she replied, grinning despite herself, and she gave the glass another twirl. Meeting his gaze, she brought the glass to her lips, the sharp, harsh scent of the vodka reaching up her nostrils like knives. With one quick motion, she brought her head back swallowed its contents in two gulps.
She winced, bring the glass back to the table and shaking her head. “Két, it’s like d’a damned fires of Mordor!” she managed, laughing at the burn still in her throat. She met his eyes, before gesturing to the glass remaining on the table. She leaned back, taking her tea cup with her, and watched him. She supposed she might be more of a ‘girlish’ drinker, with her preferences in margaritas and pina coladas, the most vodka she made a habit of drinking being part of an apple martini. She wrinkled her nose, her tone teasing. “It’s because it’s Russian, I d’ink,” she bantered, “French vodka is not nearly as sharp.” Utter nonsense, but she tilted her nose in the air in a show of arrogance. “Eeet ees charmante.” Why she found such amusement in mocking her father, she wasn’t quite sure, but she laughed regardless. She took a sip of her tea, still grinning, and watched her friend, waiting.