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Title: Perspective
Fandom: Leviathan Trilogy
Characters/Pairing: Count Volger, Dr. Barlow, slight Volger/Barlow, and a little bit of Alek
Rating: PG
Word Count: 1,216

"I still believe this is a mistake."

Alek, who had stopped in front of a mirror in the hall to straighten his tie, glanced over at Count Volger's scowling reflection. "I know," he said calmly. "You've told me several times."

"And if I continue to do so, perhaps it will eventually sink in."

Alek only smiled. He'd been much more at peace with everything lately, and Volger had yet to decide if it was an improvement on his temperament or not. Some days he thought he might honestly prefer the indignant sulking of the past. "Even if I did agree with you, it's far too late to change my mind," the boy pointed out, smoothing his formal jacket and turning around. "Do I look presentable?"

Volger frowned but gave a curt nod. "Enough to impress your new boffin friends, surely," he said, an unmistakable hint of disgust in his voice. His opinion of the Zoological Society of London was hardly a secret. He paused for a moment, then continued in a less sneering tone, "If you insist on going in there, be sure to keep your wits about you. The war isn't far behind us, and I doubt everyone will respond positively to your presence."

"Of course," Alek said, brow furrowing at the thought. He shook his head as if to drive it away. "You're sure you won't come in as well? I don't know how long this will take. You could be waiting a while."

"It's you they're accepting into the fold, not me. I imagine they'd enjoy my sitting in on their meetings about as much as I'd enjoy being there." He gestured farther down the hall. "You should head in. It wouldn't due to be late on the first day."

"Right." Alek adjusted his tie one last time and turned to walk away. "I'll find you whenever they release me," he called over his shoulder.

Volger watched impassively until the boy was out of sight. Then, all at once, he pressed the heel of his palm against his forehead to try to ease the dull and constant throbbing that had resided there for the past several weeks, let his shoulders slump, and breathed a heavy sigh. This whole ordeal would be the death of him.

"Still mourning your charge's lost throne, Count?"

He looked up to see Dr. Barlow approaching him from the end of the hall, Tazza at her heels and that ungodly creature on her shoulder as always. Her expression was entirely too pleasant.

He let his hand fall back to his side and straightened from his miserable, slouching stance, attempting to maintain some degree of dignity in front of this other source of all his troubles. "To be quite honest," he remarked drily, "I'm still holding onto a vain hope he'll change his mind and request the East River be dragged." He gave the boffin a critical look. "I suppose I have you to blame for that girl convincing Alek to join this society of yours?"

"You flatter me," she said with a small laugh, "but it's hardly my society, and it was entirely her own idea. I doubt if anyone really has that much influence over Miss Sharp."

"True enough," Volger sighed. Of all the objections he had to the girl ̶ and there were many ̶ he certainly couldn't fault her for a lack of independent thought. Nor, he was beginning to reluctantly admit, a lack of genuine affection and loyalty for Alek. He shook his head. "I suppose, given enough time, I will eventually get over the loss."

Dr. Barlow reached out to place a hand against his shoulder. "You have my deepest sympathies," she said, sounding quite sincere, though the familiar teasing glint in her eyes ruined the effect somewhat.

He shot her an unamused glare that only succeeded in making her smile cheerfully while that beast on her shoulder began to chuckle to itself. There wasn't much ferocity behind the look anyway. As frustrating as the woman could be at times, he'd rather missed the comfortable rapport they'd developed on board the Leviathan. There were few others who could trade quips with him so easily. "Yes, I'm sure you're absolutely devastated on my behalf."

"Completely," she assured him. "Though if you're planning to remain in the city with young Alek anyway, despite your perfectly understandable grieving, I do hope you'll make an appearance with the Zoological Society yourself on occasion, instead of merely skulking in the corridors."

Volger raised an eyebrow, caught slightly off guard by the suggestion. "And why on earth would I do that?"

"Because I'm sure your input would be most valuable," Dr. Barlow said simply. Her gently mocking smile shifted into something more genuine, and she gave him a look that could almost be described as fond. "At the very least, I always enjoy hearing your unique perspective on things."

He took a moment to decide how to respond, unused to such direct praise from her. Between the two of them, compliments and insults alike tended to be veiled by teasing and overly proper language.

"Perspective," interrupted her strange creature before he could reply. It tilted its head to peer curiously at the wildcount.

Volger blinked down at the beast, which was much closer than he cared for it to be, and realized that the space between himself and the doctor had shrunk considerably in the last few minutes. She'd moved closer to lay her hand on his arm and hadn't bothered to move back again.

No sooner had he noticed this than Dr. Barlow took a sudden step away, a bit too hastily to be an unconscious, casual shift in position. She cleared her throat delicately, and by the time Volger looked up again, her expression was carefully neutral, devoid of any warmth or teasing affection that had been there moments ago. "I suppose I should be going," she said shortly. "I need to make sure my new assistants haven't managed to get themselves into any trouble yet." She adjusted her bowler unnecessarily and snapped her fingers to recall Tazza, who, bored by the lack of attention, had wandered a short distance away to inspect a potted plant.

Volger inclined his head in acknowledgement and took a step backward as well, further increasing the distance between them. "I shall take your suggestion into consideration," he told her. "After all, I haven't much else to occupy me in this country." He hesitated for a brief moment. "And there's certainly worse company I could keep."

Dr. Barlow, taking up her pet's leash as she turned to leave, offered him one last smile. "I'm glad to hear that," she said. "Farewell, Count."

He nodded and watched as she left, each step measured and graceful. The door closed behind her, as it had behind Alek earlier, and Volger let out a slow breath.

He could hardly frown on Alek's decision to put personal feelings before logic in trading his throne for Deryn Sharp. Not while he continued to spend his spare time whispering together in corners with a married, Darwinist woman merely because she was one of the few things that made living in this city bearable.

"You should listen to your own advice, you old fool," he chided under his breath.

Perspective, indeed.

Aw, Volger trying to decide if peaceful or sulking Alek is more annoying makes me want to give him a hug.

Also, "I doubt if anyone really has that much influence over Miss Sharp" is such a nice concise character summary ::grin::.
There's just no winning for him in this situation.

Heh, I do love Deryn, and I had to try and get her essence in there, even if she couldn't put in an appearance herself. =)
Oh Volger. I love that he thinks dredging the East River is still a possibility! I don't personally ship Volger/Barlow -- I like the idea that Nora is a kickass scientist/diplomat/spymaster who also manages to have a relatively happy marriage and raise brilliant children, etc. -- but Volger's thoughts about her at the end of this seem too in-character for me NOT to consider an uneven attraction (on his side but not so much on hers) a real possibility.
I imagine he'll hold on to that vain hope until the day he dies.

And oh, definitely! I just love the idea of Volger being rather fond of her and really annoyed about it. I deliberately tried to keep it a little more ambiguous on her end.

Thanks for reading!