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Need a Second Chance at a First Impression
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15 March, 1889 — Fisk Home, Bartonburg

Alfred had been talking himself into and out of this decision for weeks now. He knew how he felt about Zelda, but the entire structure of English romance didn't feel right to him after his return from South America. It was like trying on a shirt that didn't quite fit him anymore — after not having worn a shirt for over two years. But whatever his feelings on the formality of courtships, betrothals, engagements, and marriage, this was really the only thing to do. There wasn't any alternative if he wanted their relationship to continue to grow. There was no future without some sort of formal commitment. They couldn't just keep running around seeing each other 'accidentally' and exchanging flirtatious letters.

He really had no idea how to do this — his prior engagement hadn't been a formal one, only something decided between himself and Lily, which he understood now was absolutely not the right way to go about things. So he had no relevant experience to draw on, and only the vaguest idea of what was expected of him — and he supposed he'd have to figure out the rest as he went. He'd picked what he thought would be a suitable date and time; early evening on a Monday, when Mr. Fisk was certain to be home from work at the Ministry, but unlikely to have any social plans.

What he had failed to account for, not having even the faintest idea of what went on in Judaism, was that the Monday evening he'd picked was also the first day of Passover. His first shock of the evening (but certainly not his last) came when his knock on the door was answered by the Fisk he was least inclined to ever speak to again.

"Uhm," he mumbled, having immediately lost his train of thought. Was it too late to back out? He could claim he'd knocked on the wrong door. "I, er — Evening." That was progress — it was a word, at least. He could do this. Ari Fisk didn't scare him. He just needed to regain his mental footing and forge ahead.

"I was hoping to speak to your father," he said quickly. It was an intelligible sentence, but his nerves were still clearly showing both in the color that had risen to his cheeks and the speed at which he'd rambled it out. Merlin help him.

@Ari Fisk first, then open to any Fisks/relations who would be home for Passover.
Ari had leapt up at the knock on the door, sure it would be Katia: everyone else was already here, after all. He pulled open the door to the family house with a warm smile. The smile abruptly dissipated when he recognised the face.

Darrow (Captain Darrow) had slipped his mind for the most part, in the last few months. There had been enough going on in his own to much be concerned with the particulars of his youngest sister's life, beyond the question of how long Zelda might hold a grudge against him.

For Dionisia, that was. He wasn't sure she actually knew about his, er, lecturing Darrow back in the hospital.

It dawned on him quite suddenly that perhaps he had been stupid to assume his warning had been heeded, and that - just because he'd heard nothing else about the two of them - Darrow had disappeared from Zelda's life after all. Because he was here now, here on the family's front doorstep on Passover, and that could not just be a coincidence.

The greeting that had been on the tip of his tongue dried up about as quickly as his smile had; the only consolation here was that Darrow seemed as thrown off as he was. Only - Darrow was hoping to speak to their father.  

Why? Ari very nearly said, but hurriedly bit back the rudeness in it, determined not to be anything but civil until he knew what, precisely, was going on. Of course, he was also determined not to budge from the doorway until he knew what, precisely, was going on. He raised his eyebrows in wordless incredulity, a silent interrogation.

He pulled together a more polite, if just as sceptical, variation of this question eventually. "Tonight? Is he... expecting you?"

Was there any way on earth that Darrow had been invited here tonight by anyone in the family? And with their father's knowledge? With his blessing?

Surely not.
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The response wasn't overtly hostile, which was a great start given their previous interaction. It was discouraging, though, and Alfred had a moment of internal panic. What was he supposed to do, make an appointment? Surely not. And it was the sort of thing you were supposed to ask in person, wasn't it? It probably would have been easier to just write a letter and send it off (and then fret continuously until the return came), but that didn't seem like the right way to go about things. Should he have sent a letter beforehand to warn Mr. Fisk of his intentions? Tried to meet the man elsewhere and find some other pretense for inserting himself into their parlor on this particular evening? Was he doing this all wrong?

There was something in the other man's tone that implied that tonight wasn't the best time, but that could have just been Alfred nerves jumping to conclusions — or it could have been the fact that, however civil he was being now, Alfred knew that Ari Fisk didn't like him. As far as Zelda's oldest brother was concerned, never was probably a better time for this conversation. But maybe it was a bad time. Maybe Mr. Fisk wasn't even at home. Would that be a disappointment, or a relief? He wasn't even sure.

"Er, no," he admitted, face still flushed. "I didn't expect — I mean, on a Monday evening, I thought — I could come back tomorrow?" he offered. "Or — some other time?"

This was not exactly how he had planned the evening to go.
Passover was a holiday Dionisia had never had the pleasure to celebrate — if by pleasure she meant being surrounded by a group of Fisks whose eyes were more fixated on her rounded stomach than her anxious expression. It was only made worse by her unfamiliarity with Judaism as a whole; although born and raised a Christian, Dionisia had sworn off religion entirely once entering the magical world. She (wisely) chose to stick to her husband's side for the entirety of the evening, excusing herself every so often for 'fresh air' — something no one argued with her about.

The moment Ari left to answer the door was the first moment she'd been left alone with her newfound family that evening. She straightened her body and tried to look comfortable, but could only fidget as she focused on Ari's hushed voice from down the hall. After a solid minute, she'd had enough.

She rose from her seat, paying no mind to her in-laws as she followed the sound of Ari's (and a familiar person's?) voice.

"Mr. Darrow," she greeted in surprise, her gaze flickering between her husband's raised brows and Mr. Darrow's flustered expression. She remembered the man's words from days earlier at the hospital. "Ari Fisk doesn't like me," he'd said, and until now, faced with the unfamiliar expression on Ari's face, hadn't believed it was that serious.

"It feels like I saw you just yesterday. We're celebrating Passover this evening," she said, hoping to interrupt whatever tension existed between them now. Dionisia wasn't a cunning sort of woman, but Mr. Darrow would certainly be a welcome distraction from all the awkward chatter. "Have you heard of Passover?"

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Alfred had only the vaguest recollection of meeting Mrs. Fisk, drugged and injured as he was at the time, but at the moment it seemed there was no one he would rather have seen in the world. She remembered him, she didn't appear hostile, and — well, to be honest, she wasn't Ari Fisk, and that itself was enough for him to be relieved by the interruption. She was trying to help him, too, it seemed, by cluing him in on what was going on that evening, though Passover didn't mean much to him. A holiday, he presumed, since she'd said celebrating, but not one that existed in the Christian calendar he'd been raised with. Had Zelda ever mentioned it in any of their letters? Maybe, but if she had it would have only been background noise to him. Even if she had thrown out a helpful detail or two, the chances that he would remember it now were slim to none.

"I — might've heard of it," he said evasively, falling back into the now ingrained habit of keeping any conversation he'd had with Zelda, in print or otherwise, a secret. That was a little silly, he realized afterwards, because the whole point of being here tonight was to come out into the open about all of this and be above-board moving forward. That being said, it hardly seemed like confessing their involvement to Ari Fisk was the ideal way to start off.

"I don't know much about it," he continued, though of course that was obvious. "I don't want to interrupt. I could just come by tomorrow and leave a card," he offered. It would have to be tomorrow, because Alfred didn't have a card — he'd never needed to leave one before in his life, having come from a more rough-and-tumble sort of upbringing and then joining the Navy immediately out of Hogwarts. If it would get him out of this conversation and off of this doorstep, however, he'd be happy to spend his entire day tomorrow having a card made up especially for the purpose of leaving it with Mr. Fisk.

Except how did leaving cards work, exactly? Was the recipient supposed to pop by at some point for a chat after receiving one? The last thing Alfred wanted was Zelda's father showing up at his flat — in the middle of a neighborhood mostly populated by goblins, above a now empty storefront, with a roommate who worked for the Prophet. It wasn't exactly the sort of residence that implied he was in any sort of position to be courting a girl — particularly when that girl was the Minister for Magic's sister. Merlin help him.
If he were honest, he had been quite enjoying watching Darrow flounder - and might have let him fumble over himself for a lot longer, had Dionisia not appeared at his shoulder. It sounded like she was trying to help Darrow, being a great deal more forthcoming than Ari had planned to be; he recognised the tactic. It was usually him trying to soothe the tension.

Of course, if she wasn't talking to Zelda as she had used to, his wife wouldn't know the full story here. He didn't particularly want Dionisia to think badly of him - want anyone to think badly of him - but hopefully she would assume he had his reasons. He had reason enough, he thought, to refuse Darrow entry entirely, and speak to his father himself. He didn't know what Darrow wanted, but it must have to do with Zelda. And whatever it was, there was a fair chance it would not... go down well.

Especially not during Passover. Especially not in front of the whole Fisk family. As he had found out once and for all himself at the end of last year, facing the attention of the whole collection of Fisks was - quite something. Even the bravest of men might stumble.

So inviting Darrow in was a disaster waiting to happen. Ari knew this. The family did not like surprises. Zelda certainly did not like surprises. He didn't like Darrow, and he was already quite certain he would not like what Darrow was planning to say. Sending Darrow away to leave his card for another day would be the kindest thing to do.

For once in his life, Ari wasn't feeling kind. Darrow had landed Zelda in the worst sort of position (the same situation that had landed Dionisia here, out of her job and married to him, enduring the Fisks regularly at family holidays!), and had evidently not yet been discouraged enough from pursuing her. Well, then. So be it. He ought to have to endure the Fisks, too, and face up to reality. Ari had no obligation to make it easy for him. "Oh, no," Ari said evenly, as if Dionisia's arrival had possibly changed his mind and his manners. "This evening is fine." He stepped back into the hallway, opening the door wide and firmly ushering Captain Darrow in. "Please, be my guest."

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With his confidence having steadily declined since the door was first opened to reveal Ari Fisk, coming inside was just about the last thing that Alfred wanted to do. It didn't seem he was going to be able to gracefully back out at this point, however, judging by the way Fisk ushered him in. He'd just have to steel himself and get on with it, Alfred told himself, and nerves be damned. No one ever died from nerves. There wasn't anything to be afraid of. And if the only actual Jewish person in the conversation thought it would be fine for him to come inside, even during Passover (whatever it was), then Alfred had to believe that it would be fine.

After a walk down a short hallway and into a room absolutely full of Fisks, however, Alfred realized it was definitely not fine. Merlin, this was a lot of people. Zelda had told him her family was expansive, but he hadn't exactly realized what ten siblings and a handful of spouses would actually look like together in a room.

Alfred froze in the doorway and wondered if it might not be better to just disapparate on the spot and leave Ari Fisk to supply whatever explanation he liked.
Brannon had assumed, as Ari had, that it had been Katia at the door and had paid the noise little attention other than making a note to teasingly chide her for knocking (do you feel like a stranger here already? Perhaps you should be bringing my grandchildren around for visits more often!) He was engaged in conversation when the other man appeared in the doorway to the room, and didn't notice right away that he wasn't Katia or her husband — or, in fact, anyone that Brannon recognized at all.

Who was this fellow? Some sort of door-to-door salesman? He wasn't making much of an impression if that was the case, with his hair that was far too long and the way he was just staring from the doorway. Besides, if he was just a salesman, Ari would have explained that the family was busy and waved him away at the door, not shown him in.

"Can I help you?" Brannon asked, politely but a bit impatiently.
Alfred had scanned over the faces in the room, trying to see if anyone looked familiar, but even the Fisks he'd known during his school years had been so long ago that he wasn't confident he recognized them now. They certainly wouldn't recognize him, with how much his appearance had changed since he'd been shipwrecked and returned. He found Zelda's face, but could only meet her eyes for a moment. This had been a bad idea. He should have told her he was planning to do this, because she would have told him it was a bad idea — she could have told him, at least, not to come tonight. He'd had some sort of vaguely romantic idea that this sort of thing was supposed to be a surprise, but he had a feeling tonight — while almost certainly surprising — wasn't going to end up being a good surprise.

Her father had addressed him and Alfred had no idea what to say. Backing out now was impossible. There was no reasonable excuse he could have for being in their home, and even if he could have thought of something on the spur of the moment it would probably be obvious he was lying — particularly to Zelda. She had to know why he was here, or at least know generally speaking. What would she think of him if he got all the way to her home — all the way to the dining room — and then appeared to change his mind?

Do or die.

"I came to ask your permission to court Miss Zelda Fisk," he blurted.
Zelda was going to strangle Ari. And soon, too.

She'd been having a perfectly pleasant passover - other than Dionisia's too-round pregnant stomach, which was suspicious as anything - until Alfred stepped in. Well aware that she could not say or do anything in front of her entire family, Zelda's expression had remained entirely impassive. That in itself could have been a sign of how much she cared about this - Zelda was an extremely expressive person - and she just stared, wide-eyed. Why was he here? He could have said something to her!

The only expressive shift: an eyebrow twitch at Ari with the open door. This was his fault. She was sure of it. And she was going to strangle him. Her murderous - (murder, Zelda was sure, was not Passover-approved) - thoughts dissipated as soon as Alfred spoke. Actually, all of her thoughts evaporated. She had never anticipated Alfred asking to court her - and now he was here in front of her entire family, and she should intervene, but everything in her mind was - blank. She couldn't do this. She stared, eyes flicking between Brannon and Alfred, her cheeks distinctly pink.

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For a while, Ari wasn't certain Darrow was going to say anything at all. As the awkward pause lingered, Ari let his gaze drift innocently to his youngest sister, who was perhaps the only person in the room who might have some idea of what was going on. Zelda twitched her eyebrow at him. Ari pretended not to see it.

And then Darrow came out with it, what he wanted to say. No niceties, no bluster, straight to their father, never mind the audience, just - he wanted to court her.

He was almost happy for Zelda, for a moment. Almost impressed at Darrow, evidently trying to do things right. And not that Brannon Fisk was so desperate for his daughters to marry that he would say yes to the first scruffy stranger who inexplicably waltzed in to offer their hand anyway, but... oh, their father didn't know the half of it.

He almost expected their father to laugh Darrow right out of the room, but amidst the stunned silence of the room (how many of them presumed this an elaborate joke?), Ari cleared his throat, supposed he ought to lay things out a little. Civilly. "Everyone, this is Captain Darrow," he said, every cell he possessed concentrated on keeping a straight face, and trying to resist shooting his father a look to see Brannon's reaction to Captain. "The explorer," he added helpfully. To give the family enough time to digest this insanity, Ari turned briefly to their guest again and offered a conversational aside, as though he wasn't waiting on some response to could he court Zelda. "Did you ever discover if that island of yours was Avalon?" (Avalon! Brannon would love that.)
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That certainly hadn't been the response Brannon was expecting. Truth be told, he hadn't really expected anyone to ever come around asking to court Zelda. His youngest child was trying, in every sense of the word; it seemed appropriate that she would stay here forever, just to continue giving him new reasons to worry well into his old age. He particularly hadn't expected anyone to come asking to court her now. Brannon had been approached by several young men seeking permission to court his daughters before this, and it had never come as a surprise. The way that young girls talked with their sisters, or their mother when she had been alive, Brannon felt as though he'd known every detail of his prospective sons-in-law before they'd ever arrived at the door. Zelda, although she was the proper age for this sort of thing, hadn't mentioned anyone — not, at any rate, since the conclusion of the Jameshill disaster.

But then, wasn't that just like Zelda? She had been the one accepting drinks from a strange man in the Casino, of all places, and Brannon had heard about that through the grapevine, not from her. Perhaps it wasn't so unusual that she had been utterly silent on the subject of this gentleman (Brannon used the word only for lack of a better term; there was nothing about his appearance that seemed particularly gentlemanly), but in any case, it did little to endear this stranger to Brannon.

He was about to ask if the man would care to introduce himself, but Ari had handled the introduction. Captain Darrow — the explorer! That certainly explained his appearance — how in the world had Zelda gotten herself mixed up with a sailor, of all things? She must have been hanging around in the Casino again, he reasoned. He would have to have a little chat with Mrs. Parkinson about the types of freedoms a girl of her age was allowed in the performance of her Ministry duties — she seemed to be using them quite liberally.

Brannon shot his daughter a look that made it clear there was a discussion to be had between the two of them before she retired for the evening, then turned his attention to the sailor. "How exactly did you meet my daughter?"
Alfred had spared a brief glance to Zelda after he'd made his declaration, but immediately regretted it. It was difficult to read her expression exactly, but she was blushing. He had embarrassed her — he was still embarrassing her. This had been a mistake. Coming tonight had been a mistake, but maybe asking at all was a mistake, as well. What if she didn't want him to ask? It wasn't as though she'd been dropping hints about it, or anything. They'd never talked about a future. He knew that she liked him, but there was a good deal of difference between enjoying someone's company and enjoying the feeling of laying one's head on their shoulder for a minute or two, and wanting to maybe marry that someone one day.

Ari Fisk was not helping matters. Alfred wasn't ashamed of his profession, by any means, but that wasn't exactly the way that he would have brought it up. He certainly didn't introduce himself by bringing up Avalon to perfect strangers. Whether it existed at all (and whether or not it could be found if it did) was a point of some contention, and decidedly not the point in this conversation. And it wasn't as though Alfred was under any illusion that Ari Fisk actually cared about Avalon — he knew that Alfred was floundering here and was cheerfully sloshing another bucket of water over his head. Mr. Fisk's question was at least an excuse not to answer Ari's, which was a boon.

"It was — uhm," he said, realizing that the truth probably wouldn't be the best response. He was already embarrassing Zelda; the last thing he wanted to do was get her in trouble, too. And admitting that the first time they'd met she had been alone and barefoot on a beach probably wouldn't do her any favors with her father. Not to mention that it wouldn't give anyone the best impression of him — sailing around shirtless and picking up women from the beach. Merlin help him. "A little over a year ago, at a Halloween party," he supplied instead.
Brannon couldn't really take issue with that. There were certainly worse places for Zelda to be running into men, as she had already demonstrated. Striking up conversations with eligible men was actually the entire point of sending girls to those sorts of events... though Brannon still had quite serious doubts about this fellow. He would have been referring to the Dippet party, but he didn't seem like the logical choice of guest for such an affair. Nothing about him suggested wealth or influence. Maybe someone in his family was an old friend of Armando Dippet?

In any case, how the pair had met and how long they had known each other was, at least superficially, sufficient. It did make him wonder again why Zelda had never mentioned him to anyone in the house, but most of the things Zelda did made him wonder.

"And exploring," Brannon continued, treating the word as though it were something distasteful he'd been forced to pick up off the floor. "Does that provide a steady income, Mr. Darrow? Do you have a proper house?"
"Uh — no," Alfred admitted, primarily to the second question though it was equally accurate as an answer to the first. He didn't feel as though he was pressed for money the majority of the time since he'd come back from the expedition to Avalon, and he was hardly living his life as a pauper. His ship was for hire, however, and the very nature of freelance work as that it wasn't steady. Most of the money he'd acquired through fundraising when he first returned to England had gone into financing the refurbishing of the Ophelia and the Voyager, and ensuring they had the necessary supplies for a months-long journey. Since then, he'd been taking small jobs here and there escorting merchants or making deliveries, but nothing he'd done was something Mr. Fisk was likely to find impressive. The most steady source of income he had was the royalties from the damned memoir that had been published, but those would eventually dry up — and like hell was he going to bring up that book when he was trying to get permission to court Zelda. Sensationalism and lies might pay the bills, but no one wanted a potential cannibal as a son-in-law.

"I'm living in London at the moment," he explained, without elaborating too much. The predominantly goblin neighborhood and the fact that he was sharing a flat wouldn't impress anyone. "And we go out to sea pretty regularly for — well, other work — not, uhm, exploring."
Zelda clenched her hands into fists under the table. This was going poorly. You did not have to be astute at reading people to know that this was going poorly. You also did not have to be astute to realize that Ari had completely fucked her over, and although she hadn't thought such a thing possible after the last few months, Zelda was now even more furious with him than she had previously thought possible. If things had been going less terribly, she probably would have just stayed at the table, steadily shrinking into herself and wishing that Katia would arrive - Katia, who would believe in the romance of all this - but they had really reached the point where she needed to intervene when Alfred mentioned his flat.

She cleared her throat and straightened. Zelda had never been shy about taking up space and - now was really not the time to start, was it?


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