Victoire - Tasteful Discussion

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Description: Following their bout, NiCO invites Victoire out to a dinner worthy of the very best. There, they discuss ambition, pride and the prospect of a mutually beneficial business relationship. Which is definitely not a friendship. And that's good, since neither of them would know what to do with a friend if they got one.

The message was simple, and cut directly to the point.

- - - - -
Would like to talk about the future.
I have reserved a table for us at Le Petit Escargot.

Av de la Grande Armee.
Hope to see you there.

P.S. My treat for a wonderful fight.
- - - - -

The card itself, though, was very, very extra. Delivered by courier, printed on fine card stock, embossed with gold leaf borders. The post-script is handwritten with rounded letterforms in gel ink, colored a lovely shade of cerulean blue - a very 'girly' mode of writing to contrast the finely chiseled letterforms of the printed text.

The timing does not leave much wiggle room -- but somehow, uncannily, it falls into a timeslot for which Victoire has no prior obligations.

Le Petit Escargot is one of those restaurants that everyone's heard about, but no mortal is actually able to talk about. At 5pm it's approachable. At 6pm the lines are already around the block, the throngs of people obscuring what would otherwise be a pristine view of Paris' legendary Arc di Triomphe. At 7pm the venue is just about as busy as it could possibly get. And the bouncers and maitre'd are very well paid to ensure that only the right people are allowed entry.

The suited gentleman out front does, thankfully, recognize the name Victoire Invaincue. Because of course he does. And as soon as she arrives, he will be happy to welcome the shining star of the fighting world inside.

The outside is... well, it matches the distinct style of the Avenue. Stepping inside is like taking a trip back to the time of Napoleon III. The ceilings and walls are adorned with intricately carved wooden appliques. The earthy, muted palette of the wallcoverings is offset by exquisite chandeliers and bold red draperies, harkening back to a more extravagant time. Despite the hustle and bustle outside, the interior of the restaurant is considerably more sedate and laid back -- after all, the fancy embellishments also serve an acoustic dampening purpose as well.

And in the midst of all the warm lighting and color accents is a shock of powder-blue hair. NiCO sits at a round table for two, watching the door expectantly. Two wine glasses rest upon lace doilies -- one for her, and one for the untaken seat opposite her. Her hands are neatly folded before her. And while she is wearing white, as before, the garment is of a different class entirely: a Victorian-styled bib blouse with puffy sleeves.

What could be NiCO's most disarming feature, though, is the pleasant smile on her face.

It is important in life, as in fighting, not to acknowledge the possibility of defeat. That, at least, is Victoire's philosophy. If a tournament refuses entrance to the great Victoire Invaincue? Then clearly it is a tournament not worth attending. Beneath her notice. Besides, she is back in France after her little jaunt to America. Home, where she genuinely is much more well-known. It gives her energy.

Nevertheless, the card is a truly wonderful surprise. Unsigned, true, but there are some invitations it is worth accepting simply because of the quality of them. Dinner at Le Petit Escargot? It was the kind of thing she had dreamed of when she was a little girl. Merde, it's the kind of thing she dreams of right now! The latest round of donations have left her with very little in her account, and the Neo League fights are simply not coming as fast as she had hoped. Thus why she had begun having to take exhibition matches. She needs the money.

Someone who can secure a late-notice booking at such a restaurant, let alone offer to pay her way, is someone who can solve such ... distasteful problems. Therefore, she makes an extra special effort with her outfit.

The dress is designer, and expensive; it's also last season's, but it must be said that the dark tan material looks good on her. The neckline is high, the hem coming in just above the knee, with a golden V situated perfectly in the centre of her waist thanks to an entirely superfluous belt made of the same material. More blusher, more dark eyeshadow, ruby lipstick - Victoire never fails to make an impression, but it seems she can do so in more than just a fighting sense.

Albeit, she's still wearing those same high-heeled leather boots she wore into the ring with NiCO, which might undercut the effect just a little. Those are far more functional than the dress. When accepting mysterious invitations in her line of work, it doesn't do to come disarmed.

Perhaps surprisingly, she doesn't make a scene or announcement on her arrival; she simply breezes past the crowd outside as though she has every right to be there, and soon enough she is vindicated in this assertion. Happy to be led by the maitre'd, she does favour a few obvious fans with a lift and a wave of her ungloved hands; showing them instead the gold nail varnish she has chosen to adorn herself with instead.

And there's only the faintest flicker of surprise when she sees who it is she is actually meeting.

"Nico, my friend." She says, leaning in to graciously kiss the younger woman's smiling cheek before she moves to sit across from her. A cheerful wave of her hand as she does so.

"I admit, when I received your missive, I thought it was some rich patron who had merely admired one of my fights, not someone with whom I had the pleasure of sharing the ring. I must say, this is even more of a shock than your electricity!"

She laughs at her own joke, though she is quick to carry on, "A far more pleasant surprise though, of course, of course! I am pleased you enjoyed yourself so very well."

Apparently she'd misjudged this person quite badly. She definitely wouldn't have pegged the stoic, quiet young woman as someone who had the means to come to a place like this... or the inclination, for that matter! Fascinating.

Reservations at a high-class restaurant such as this are nominally non-transferrable. But people can be coerced. And reservation records can be changed. All in a day's work, really.

NiCO stands as Victoire approaches. Her dress is frilly, her high heels are appropriate. Her look isn't as modern or haute couture as Victoire's, but classical and timeless -- and it fits her well, which becomes apparent as she gives a brief curtsy. She has definitely made the effort to look the part of someone who belongs in the restaurant -- even if it isn't strictly her own style, per se.

"... Victoire! Hello! It's so good to see you!" She welcomes the kiss to her cheek, and attempts to return the favor. It seems she's been able to replace the tacit, mechanical inflection from their fight together with warmer, more human-sounding tones. At least, for the moment.

Smiling warmly, she gestures to the seat, and moves to sit down as well. "It was the least I could do! I learned so much from you in our last fight. To be able to share the stage with you in even such small measure was a treat I can only hope to begin repaying."

She smiles brightly, taking her seat. Before long, a member of the waitstaff stops by with two menus and an offer of wine -- which NiCO graciously accepts. "Please -- as I'd mentioned, order as you like! I am so glad for the opportunity to see you again."

NiCo demurely opens the menu, nodding back to the waitstaff as they finish with her wine and trot off. "Ah... I've never eaten here before. I'm sure it's nothing new to a champion like yourself, though." She smiles distantly, tilting her head to the side. "I have heard the Espelette pepper is especially exquisite. I do wonder if my palate is up for the task," she adds, covering her mouth for a small titter of laughter.

"... Oh, pardon me. ... Though I am curious... how have you been since our last meeting?"

"I must confess, I have never had the pleasure either." Victoire says, as she lets her eye drift down the menu. "Ordinarily, I would not dream of imposing on your hospitality so, but... if you insist, and if as you say you feel so strongly, then, I suppose I will just have to pick up the bill next time... of course, of course..."

Her momentary discomfort doesn't last too long. If NiCO is paying close attention, it's almost as though the woman across from her makes the conscious decision to swallow that doubt and push it out of her mind. Instead, she smiles, hand raising to her chest.

"I have been very well!" She exclaims, "Naturally! The life of a professional fighter is a demanding one, beset by challenges on all sides. It is important that one is discerning about the opportunities that one takes, otherwise I should be simply overwhelmed by the clamour of the many people determined to beat down my door!"

She laughs, the very picture of a woman at ease with herself, though, she does make a small concession to reality. "In truth, Nico, I have not found a single worthy competitor since our little tete a tete. But, I am sure that I will find someone worth my time soon."

She waves her hand loosely, "I take it that you have reconsidered, then?" She says, "When we spoke in the ring you did not seem too interested in fighting as a career. But perhaps your, success, has given you a taste for it?"

It's incredibly easy for one to play the big spender role when one knows the bill will never actually reach oneself. But even though she'd be -more- than happy to keep bankrolling time and time again at fancy restaurants... it is still incredibly enjoyable for NiCO to watch Victoire squirm on the hook. After all, Victoire's financial situation was just one of many mysteries uncovered by the researcher's investigative work.

"Oh, really? France has so many wonderful restaurants I would -love- to try out. That would be so sweet of you!"

And... how -curiously- that one little gesture helps the champion bury the desperation away. NiCO rests an index finger on one of her eyeglass temples, slowly adjusting her focus with a broad grin as she listens to the fighter thump her own drum.

Satisfied, she parts her gaze from Victoire to peruse the menu. She's already researched her pick -- but she makes a point of allowing Victoire the time she needs to perfect her own selection. Burgundy snails, of course, seem to be the restaurant's specialty; other popular selections would include duck pie, frog legs Escoffier style, and beef filets; asparagus is an option for those with lighter tastes.

On the question, she folds the menu slightly so that it's not blocking her view of Victoire. "Mm... You could say that, yes! In reviewing the footage, I'd noticed that almost all of the cheers were for your performance. And it got me to thinking... what could I have possibly been doing wrong?" And then she nudges the bridge of her glasses up with an index finger. "And then I reviewed the footage again, with your performance alone in mind. And the magic was all there. You really seemed to get into the head of the crowd there at Nashville, didn't you?"

Not long afterward, a waiter appears with a large platter of about a dozen snails. He places the piping hot platter on the table before the two with a smile.

"Oh," starts NiCO, "I hope you don't mind. I had requested a sampler just before you arrived. As an appetizer for us both. Won't you try some?"

Smiling -- perhaps -unnervingly- so, considering -- she folds the menu up and sets it aside. "So you must be excited for World Warrior, then. A proper stage with plenty of competition that's sure to be worth your time, no?"

"It would be my pleasure, of course!" Victoire says, cheerily, and perhaps in that moment she even means it. NiCO is being pleasant and the environment is everything she had dreamed it might be; she luxuriates in her choices; the finest wine, the snails, of course, because she could hardly come here and ignore them. She would have shared her thoughts regardless, that's just who she is, but the surroundings and the company make it much easier to do so with verve and vigor.

"Oui, oui." She agrees, nodding along as she reaches for the first of what is sure to be many of the delicacy; it's quite a thing to watch. The special cutlery required to deshell the unfortunate creature is handled deftly and with almost, reverence, as she pops the morsel into her mouth and sighs with naked delight. Ah, yes. This is the sort of thing that a champion ought to enjoy!

"It is true. You did nothing wrong, on a technical level. As is obvious from the result! I could not overcome your tricks, on that occasion. You are very accomplished in your own right. But, you are... clinical, in your approach."

Wine is poured, and after the tasting of that as well, she is drinking deep of the glass. Not one for small sips, it seems.

"Ah, this truly is a magnificent place!" She enthuses, "Nico, my friend, I really must thank you. And I will do so with advice. You see, you may be the fighter with the highest number of wins in the world, but that? It means very little. Very little."

She leans across the table to emphasize her point, smiling broadly.

"The crowd, they want someone to root for. The audience yearn for it! They don't want to see just two people beat on each other, if they wanted that, they could go to any cheap bar in the world at closing time and enjoy the same spectacle in each. Non. They want to see a performance! And they want it to be good! More than this... so does the opponent, really! You were impassive right until the end but, there were moments I could tell, you were eager to play your part. The vaulting on my shoulders, oui? Inspired! Truly!"

And then, the second question. The World Warrior Tournament. And a tiny crack in the armour; the woman's golden gaze flickers away. She excuses it, pouring herself more wine, but it was there.

"I will not be taking part." She says, stiffly. "Entrance to these things can be, very political. I am sure that an even greater tournament will be just around the corner. The Festival des Arts Martiaux in Paris, for instance. Undoubtedly, I shall, be there."

There are times even her confidence has to take a hit. Reality is not always so indulgent of her pride, after all. The reason why she has been denied is clear; she's not accomplished enough, not strong enough, she's taken two significant losses - losses which weren't even close - to people more or less unknown within the fighting community.

She may be the greatest fighter in the world in her own mind, but alas, not on Earth.

NiCO hadn't spent much time learning how to shell, but watching Victoire go first presents an excellent opportunity. Her own attempt is slow at first, but as she's had a wonderful demonstration, it doesn't take her long to realize the trick to the task. She, too, pops the delicacy into her mouth, mirroring Victoire's smile.

"The taste really is quite exquisite..." Each of the samples upon the platter is slightly different, amplifying different aspects of the natural flavor. NiCO nods with approval, holding off on the wine for the time being -- and leans close once Victoire prepares to offer her advice.

The crowd... wants someone to root for?

It's right then that the researcher's mask begins to falter; some of the warmth drains from her expression as she squints her eyes slightly. "... Hopping on your shoulders was a means to an end. With my reduced size it was necessary to increase the lever length to maximize my capability to bring you to the mat. It was not a performance -- it was applied physics." She frown, ever so slightly... but when she realizes that her mood has dampened somewhat, she reaches for the wine glass, taking a sip for herself.

Luckily, talk of World Warrior is less confusing to her. "Political? I had no idea. Is it... a case where each country can only send one fighter?"

Sweeping her glass close to her, she seems content to allow Victoire to eat more than her half-dozen -- if she so chooses. "You seem to know all the best fight venues. Have you been a competitor at this Festival before?"

Victoire is definitely far less restrained than is proper with both the wine and the food. Though, interestingly given how self-aggrandising she tends to be - someone as analytical as NiCO will surely notice that she doesn't take more than her fair share. Right now, everything on the table is there for both of them; she's burning through her half at quite a rate, but she makes sure NiCO has just as much opportunity to sample the treats as she does, and her appreciation is entirely genuine, even if she does attract more than a few disapproving looks from the highbrow clientele. One isn't supposed to *rush* these things.

"Is that so?" She says, between mouthfuls. "Hm. There is more room for improvement than I thought, then. What you did was incredible! Precisely what the crowd needed to turn. Evading my move like that is not something just anyone could do! If you had more... pizzaz, that would have been the moment for you to steal their adoration from me."

She drains her wine glass as she sits back in her chair, and manages to resist just reaching out for the bottle again. The continued talk of the World Warrior tournament has her pressing her lips together. This is a nice place, with someone who she is genuinely glad to be helping. She would not have thought that such a small obstacle would make everything suddenly taste bitter in her mouth.

"No..." She concedes, shaking her head just a little. "There are no restrictions based on nationality, as such. Instead, one must apply and be accepted. The criteria that they use are, of course, their own, of course, of course. And, by whatever metric that they use, they decided that the great Victoire Invaincue is... not invited to compete."

She forces a laugh, smiles. Her teeth are still bright and shining as she flicks her fingers in a dismissive motion. None of this fully reaches her eyes. "It is not my concern! I have nothing to prove to some petty official who has never stepped in a ring in their life! There are many who will look at this tournament, and see that I am not there, and know that therefore the title is meaningless. That is their loss, not mine."

The last question is met with just the faintest little nod, "Oui. When I was just starting out. It will be good to return, I think. Perhaps you would like to join? That, I promise you, is a REAL competition, run by professionals who know talent when they see it."

The researcher is... learning a lot from this little experiment of hers. She tends to eat less just on general principle, so it's not really impacting her own health. Seeing that Victoire has something of a ravenous appetite and still manages to adhere to social niceties, though, is a fascinating datapoint for her to take note of. If mildly embarrassing.

Still. It'd be a shame to waste the food. She waits for an appropriate gap in conversation before discreetly snaking a snail and cracking it open. And while she does repeat the word, "Mm. Pizzazz," she declines to pursue the matter at the moment.

It's far more interesting to return to the curious, heartwarming personality so that she can more effectively prod for the young woman's thoughts on World Warrior. "Oh. It was by invitation?" She smiles reassuringly. "Indeed, it -is- their loss, to rob themselves of someone of your obvious talent. I would dare to say that no mere pencil-pushers can experience what -we- do in the ring, mm?" She laughs softly, taking a sip of her wine. Truly, the best part of being an eighteen-year-old in France.

"For me the appeal lies in getting into the heads of my opponent. It is... like a form of speed chess, a showcase of strategy and tactics, but -physical- in nature. An experience unlike anything else. It's no wonder that narrow-minded fools would seek to prioritize profits over the purity of expression."

She glances at Victoire's menu for a moment, before looking back up to her eyes. "I might be interested. Would I need to learn French as well?"

"Not, an invitational as such, non." Victoire admits, again forced back into the uncomfortable portion of the conversation. "You make an application, and mine has been rejected."

More wine. Losing out on the opportunity to compete in the World Warrior tournament really is a heavy blow. Not least because she truly believes she has what it takes to win; she is a talented fighter with many titles to her name! She might suffer the odd setback, but such things are part of all lives. There is nobody, she feels sure, that she could not stand against and have the chance of beating. And yet, she will not be given the opportunity to do so, because of those pencil-pushers.

She drains the next glass practically in one swallow. The kind of motion that would make someone who cares about the cost alone flinch, let alone the richness of the wine. But it makes her feel better, and that is the important thing.

"They understand nothing about the art." She agrees, "They cannot. That they would presume to stand in the way of one such as I, it is a bad joke. One I do not find amusing at all."Her new friend is talking about her take on fighting, though, and Victoire listens. It is a very different perspective to her own, of course.

"Interesting." She says, pursing her lips for a moment as she considers, "For me, of course, it is the wins that draw me back. This is what I'm good at. I do not know that I think of it as chess, exactly, but when I am in the ring and pitting myself against another, it is when I am at my most alive."

A heartbeat, and again, she has to concede, raising her hand to wobble it back and forth in the universal 'this is not so good' gesture.

"I do not deal so well with failure. That you were able to overcome me is, galling. Which is why I would be delighted if you were to take part in the festival!"

She grins, flashing those bright teeth of hers again.

"I promise, no language requirements are necessary and I would be happy to help you complete the registration, though if we were to fight a second time, well, now I am aware of your shocking tricks, non?~"

Wine is the latest casualty of the World Warrior tournament's callous pencil-pushers. NiCO flashes a pleasant half-smile in reply. She may be enjoying Victoire's reaction, but she's not -supposed- to be enjoying it, so she presents a face that radiates as much commiserating empathy as possible -- and declines to add more fuel on that -particular- fire.

The night is still young, after all.

The following statement brings a question to the mind of the researcher. A small conundrum that she feels necessary to square up with the champion's earlier statements -- which she just happens to ask within the veil of friendly banter. "... Hmm... Is it really the *wins* that drive you, Miss Invaincue, or is it the crowd reaction *when* you win? Perhaps this is what I have yet to learn..."

NiCO does refrain from pursuing that matter too deeply at the moment though, as other, more lighthearted topics emerge. Ones in which she can poke and prod without being quite so... needling.

"Mm. Perhaps I shall bring some more tricks to the table then." She grins. "Is it long off? I would be interested, but I will have to see how it fits in amongst my work schedule."

And with the waiter popping into sight, NiCO signals him with a look and a brief dip of her chin, turning back to Victoire. "Mm, yes! It makes sense that you would stay at home where you know the environment best."

She takes a sip of her mostly-full wine glass.

"To minimize the encounters of failure, mm?"

If Victoire has a response to that, NiCO might miss it, as the waiter has arrived. "Mm, yes! I think we will have another round of the sampler, and the wine -- plus an order of duck confit for myself." She spares a curious glance to Victoire. "Are you content with the escargot, or might you be ready for an entree?"

"Non, it is the victory."

Victoire gestures expansively with her left hand as she continues. She really can't understand the difference between the empathetic young woman she's talking to now and the cold, calculating soul she had encountered in the ring. But, there are many people who have markedly different personalities when fighting and when not. Perhaps this is the real NiCO sitting before her and the one in the ring was the facade. It's more comfortable to think of it that way around, at least.

"The crowd do not care who wins, for the most part. They want a show. You give them the show, and they leave happy whether you are the victor or not. After our bout, for instance, I do not think a single person left that arena feeling cheated, non? But the win. The victory?"

Here, she sighs, and looks up at the ceiling. "That is something that is only for me. A win is a declaration, a celebration! It confirms my skills, my... superiority. I am a champion! And a champion wins! A champion who does not win... well, who has a use for that?"

There's a, hint, of bitterness in her tone there, given who she is talking to and the outcome of the match. The waiter saves her from faltering too much, though. His interlude gives her a moment to consider how she wants to push forward with the conversation. It's curious. They are supposed to be discussing the future, but she has spent much of the time discussing the past, feeling the need to... justify, herself, somehow.

"I think I should enjoy the frogs legs." She says with a smile, "And yes, more wine is... most definitely in order."

She feels less bad about helping herself to another glass now that a second bottle has already been ordered; though, mercifully, she is slower with this than the last as she looks over the top of it at her dining companion.

"I believe the Festival is scheduled for early next year." She says, lightly. "Though, that does bring us to an interesting point. What is it that you do, exactly? You know that I am a fighter by trade, I had presumed the same for you, but, it seems you have me at a disadvantage there, my friend."

NiCO's eyeglasses reflect a sheen of light as she tilts her chin down, listening to Victoire extol the virtues of victory. And, in doing so, the researcher does not take much of a mental leap to imagine the dark corollary -- the mood into which Victoire must have descended after her loss. It is, by some accounts, sad. But what's most interesting to NiCO is the way in which Victoire's denial allows her to march onward, triumphantly looking to the next battle rather than dwelling on a doomed past. Perhaps it is not an invincible spirit, but it shows she is not easily deterred from her dream.

The waiter's timing is, of course, most opportune. The diminutive Finn nods back, with a brief and perfunctory smile to the waiter, as he leaves a bottle and slinks off. She turns back to Victoire with a sunny smile.

"Oh, I'm a medical researcher! I am tasked with finding..." She trails off for a moment, her smile fading as she cants her head to the side, lost in thought. After a moment, focus returns to her eyes; she nudges her glasses up with a finger and continues. "... Finding innovative and revolutionary methods for carrying out regenerative cell therapies." She focuses more intently on Victoire, and flashes a smile. "I am following in my dad's footsteps. Hoping to finish the work he wasn't able to."

She reaches for the glass -- her first, still -- and takes a small sip. "So fighting's just a hobby for me, I suppose."

She sets the glass down, steepling her fingers as she leans forward, her hair swishing slightly as she does so. "Perhaps that's why I don't mind losing a fight here and there. If it doesn't work out, I simply return to my day job."

Victoire is a little surprised by the revelation, albeit not completely. She knew that NiCO had something to do with science; there was that talk of data and so forth, but she would have guessed weapons technology or electricity at a pinch. Medicine is not an unbelievable leap, but it isn't the first thing she would have thought of. "You're a Doctor?" She asks, obviously surprised - the girl is so young! But, such things are not completely unheard of. "I admit, that all sounds... quite far beyond my understanding, but I am sure you will do your father proud."

Such lofty pursuits were not for her. She might be one of the greatest fighters in the world, but she didn't know the first thing about medicine; other than, perhaps, how to break and dislocate bones. Not exactly a subject for polite society, that. It does make her squirm in her seat just that little bit more that she had been beaten so handily by a hobbyist, but... well... she can't, hold NiCO responsible for her own failures.

"Whereas for me, you see, the fighting is the job." She says, trying to affect a breezy air. "Ever since I was a little girl, it has been my talent, you know? It is what I am best at. To lose..."

She trails off, not even drinking her wine, but just staring into the dark red liquid for several moments before she makes herself laugh.

"Lucky for me, it is a rare occurance, non? More common since I stepped outside France, that I will allow, but still, it is in my nature to win, and it is as simple as that."

NiCO answers with a patient smile. "Technically, no. A PhD was not my goal. It was hardly necessary for my employer." It seems she's answered the question before, but she nonetheless feels very confident in the path she has chosen for herself.

As she reaches to take another sip of her drink, she notices Victoire squirming about in her seat. Which, itself, causes her nose to wriggle. And she... takes in a deep breath.

She rests her hands on the table, steepling them once more. And then she leans forward slightly.

"Miss Invaincue," she starts, her tone falling distant to match the cold and clinical expression Victoire might recognize from the Nashville arena. "... If you will pardon me for stating the obvious." She raises fingers, counting off with her fingers. "Not counting our prior discourse, you have attempted to convince me of your proficiency at winning at least four times in as many minutes."

She takes her breath, reaching up to adjust her glasses back upon the bridge of her nose. After a long blink, to ensure that her change of mood is registered properly, she continues.

"It has become clear to me... that you appear to be having difficulty reconciling your identity as a winner with the reality we both know to be true. It is particularly painful for me to admit, considering my pride can at times be almost as great as your own, but I am having difficulty in sensing whether you would like me to continue offering shallow affirmations of your preferred identity, or to rather deny this reality, offer compassion in some capacity which I have not prepared for, and help you to work towards a more healthful state of mind."
"It has become clear to me... that you appear to be having difficulty reconciling your identity as a winner with the reality we both know to be true. It is particularly painful for me to admit, considering my pride can at times be almost as great as your own, but I am having difficulty in sensing whether you would like me to continue offering shallow affirmations of your preferred identity, or to rather deny this fantasy, offer compassion in some capacity which I have not prepared for, and help you to work towards a more healthful state of mind."
She returns her fingers to a steepled position. "In America, I learned the phrase, 'pride goes before a fall.' But you have shown remarkable resiliency in continuing to maintain it. And, while a valiant effort, I am uncertain as to how sustainable that may be in the long run."

Victoire says, "EDIT"

As it is, NiCO is treated to a front row seat as the obvious is pointed out to her. She hadn't, really, considered that was what she was doing. She has drunk an impressive quantity of wine, though. Even by her standards she was taking it quickly. In vino veritas, indeed. To have exposed herself so clearly, and to have a mirror held up"

Victoire's expression runs from shock, to anger, to embarrassment and finally settles to a kind of resigned ennui all in a matter of moments. Her cheeks flush hot and pink, and for several seconds she sputters. When her brain shifts back into gear, the woman pinches the bridge of her nose and lets out a heavy sigh, eyes closed.

"Sacre bleu, you have a tongue on you."

She sits back, looks into the wine again, rather than at her conversation partner.

"To acknowledge the possibility of defeat is to lose before you even step into the arena." She says, and her tone has definitely changed. Softer, less brash. "It is a frightening thing. To think that you are going to risk concussion, broken bones, even death, and that it might all be for nought. To be a champion, one must remove such thoughts completely from one's mind."

She looks back to the girl sitting opposite her, and shakes her head a little.

"I am pleased, at least, that you are being more genuine with me. I suppose that under the circumstances, I ought to pay you the same courtesy. So. Let us say that you have successfully comforted me. You were not prepared to give it. I was not prepared to need to receive it. We may each then go on with other topics and enjoy the evening."

She gives NiCO long enough to respond to this, and then she rises smoothly to her feet.

"Give me a moment. I need to ... powder my nose."

Victoire's expression showcases a gamut of emotions. In contrast, NiCO's showcases nothing but cold, precise logic: a porcelain face so perfect as to cast her own humanity into question. Pupils narrow slightly within rings of green, as NiCO carefully correlates the physical signs of Victoire's distress.

As Victoire looks into the wine, NiCO lowers her gaze -- not to the glass, but to Victoire's mouth. A polite deference, but not a complete one.

"So I have been told."

She is still looking down when Miss Invaincue bridges to how her philosophy extends to fighting. Her fingers remain calmly steepled. Her heartbeat is just as regular now as it had been before.

She waits only half a second to ensure that Victoire is done before offering her tacit rejoinder.

"... Yes. In the arena."
An objection in neutral tone, delivered plainly.

When Victoire looks back to her, there is a calculated 0.8 seconds allowed before NiCO's gaze meets her in kind. "I appreciate that. And I apologize for the duplicity. I felt my artifice was necessary to properly ascertain how deep yours went."

The Finn's eyes continue to track Victoire's as the latter stands. "By all means. But please do not forget to return. The frog legs will not eat themselves." Only after making her statement does NiCO lower her gaze back to the table, bowing her head in a silent statement of gratitude.

Or possibly foreboding. One of those.

"Of course, of course!" Victoire says, as she walks away, trying to recapture some of her usual cheer. "It would not do to miss such an opportunity."

She takes her time. The bathroom is, not as discrete as she would have preferred - with an attendant on hand to witness the woman staring into the mirror and trying to regain her composure.

By the time she emerges again, the frogs legs have indeed arrived. And there is a rather more obvious change. She has removed her contact lenses, revealing the somewhat pale, watery green eyes beneath the gold affectation. She takes her seat, and clears her throat.

"You will have to excuse me." She says, "It was the wine, clearly, which went to my head. A little cold water on the face, a little food in my stomach, and all will be well again."

An implicit acknowledgement that all is not well now; that relentless optimism of hers has certainly been damaged.

Nevertheless. It isn't a total tragedy. She still has excellent food to enjoy, which she begins to tuck into with the same kind of ravenous fervor she had treated the snails; less need to hold back, now that the dish is entirely her own.

"Now." She says, between mouthfuls, "Your note implied a wish to discuss the future. I doubt you truly have any interest in the Festival. It is, a small thing, all told. So, I must ask. What was it you did wish to discuss, hm?"

NiCO's wine glass is at the same level as it was prior to Victoire's departure. At the time of the champion's return, the researcher is liberating duck meat from its bony confines with a fork and knife. It appears to have not been long.

NiCO looks up, tacitly acknowledging the change in eye color with mechanical precision.

And yet, as she responds.
There is the barest hint of a smile.
An implicit acknowledgement that she's ready to move on.

The researcher's own appetite is not as ravenous; she's careful to control her pace and enjoy each morsel on its own merits, parting gaze with Victoire only as necessary to ensure that she doesn't make a mess.

She nods, in response to the suggestion that she wishes to discuss the future. Her lips purse, though, as the suggestion that she has -zero- interest in the Festival. "I have not definitively ruled out my participation." The word 'yet' is merely implied.

She sets her fork and knife down in consideration, her attention now solely upon Victoire -- perhaps uncomfortably so, considering. Her fingers return to a steepled position.

"I have worked with a number of people who believe their judgment to be infallible. Inevitably, they are proven wrong. And it would be criminal for someone of your talents to fade from the spotlight due to..." She looks down for a moment, considering her words carefully, with pursed lips.

"... Failure to acknowledge the broader perspective," she affirms, restoring her dispassionate expression. "To that end, I would like to offer my help. In exchange, I would like you to help me learn more about..." NiCO tilts her head slightly to one side. "Crowd appeal."

The explanation gets a quirked eyebrow from Victoire; the woman's expression quizzical indeed. It says a lot that it is enough to make her pause in her demolition of the frogs' legs platter to instead drum her fingers upon the table. Another habit which gets disapproving looks from the high society diners, but she's considerably less interested in them than she is the food - and even the food is no longer her primary concern.

"Now that is an interesting request." She says, pursing her lips in consideration.

"You have already done a good job in fooling me." She says, "When I first arrived here I was thinking, perhaps the cold young thing in the arena was the affectation. Then again, perhaps that is the first lesson I can share."

She shrugs her shoulders easily, waving one hand in loose circles as she regards the aqua-haired scientist.

"The real trick is to make the audience want to believe you. You are telling them a story. Is it true? Is it false? It does not matter. If they come with you, you can lead them wherever you like. You can lead yourself there too. I would not have had half the success that I had if I had not learned this."

She gives a softer laugh; self-effacing, even. One which seems more genuine than the loud, boisterous guffaws which she had used to try and banish her earlier misgivings.

"The broader perspective says that this is wrong, non? People say that to know your limitations is important, to have a... realistic, view of oneself?"

Her hand lifts, and she touches the golden V broach on her dress with two fingers.

"A realistic view would serve me poorly. To seize victory, we must first believe it is possible with all our hearts. It is not realistic that I would be sitting here, in Le Petit Escargot, enjoying fine food and wine which costs half a month's wages for the average Parisien, non? And yet. I am here. So I am curious, how can what you offer help me?"

While Victoire is shrugging her shoulders, NiCO interjects calmly, "Sadly, the cold young thing is the reality." showing she has no compunctions against talking about her own shortcomings. Though, in a way, that may be why she is here.

Still. With her sincerity no longer in question, she takes the opportunity to resume the systematic consumption of her dinner as she listens, making the occasional nod and murmur of acknowledgement. She seems to agree with most of what Victoire is saying -- though she does take a few moments to cut up a few bites of food before she answers.

"To put it bluntly, I would like to beat some sense into you."

She holds up her left index finger, selects a bite-sized morsel, impales it with her fork, and chews thoughtfully before qualifying that statement.

"I am not disagreeing with your fight rituals: victory is, to your point, most readily achievable with a positive mindset. But failure to acknowledge limitations does not erase them from the equation."

NiCO lowers her knife and fork. "I offer you a training partner. Myself. And the companionship that comes along with that. My offer comes with the condition that, outside the cheering masses, you resolve to set your pride and ego aside and open your ears and your mind to the science of rational thought. If the answer is, simply, 'no,' then please rest assured that I will not be offended in the slightest, and I will be more than happy to return to my quite profitable career in the midst of a laboratory, and ordering escargot takeout whenever it suits me."

The first two fingers of her right hand rise up, nudging the bridge of her glasses back slightly. "You /can/ beat me. And in time, you will. But not with your current attitude, and not with your current level of skill. My limited-time offer is one of remedying that situation."

"A... training partner?"

Victoire had listened to the rest in silence, but it is those last two words which seem to really trip her up. The woman has, at least, returned to eating her appetizer - albeit at a slower pace than before. There is a lot to think about here, on multiple levels. The offer is pretty baffling to her. Not least because they are such very different people with such very different styles. That and, well...

"I have never had one before." She admits, frankly. "I am self-taught. Working with others is, not something at which I have excelled. Even my staff tend to grow, tired, and move on sooner rather than later."

She takes a long sip from her wine, mulling it over. This kind of openness is new; she doesn't exactly lie, often, but a frank examination of her deficiencies is like prodding a sensitive tooth with her tongue. Uncomfortable.

"You should know as well that, science, is..." She struggles for the word, still trying to hold on to her pride, until she just shakes her head, "... beyond me, for the most part. I have little formal education."

She smiles, flashing those bright teeth of hers again, and gestures to indicate herself.

"I have not lied to you, oui? As I said, I am self-taught and have been since I was a child. Learning such things to get as far as I have, it has taken much time, it left little for anything else. And I have not seen the merit in worrying about anything else."

She looks to the ceiling, sighs softly, and shrugs her shoulders.

"But, if you do not think that these shortcomings will make it pointless, then, I have very little to lose, non? Victoire Invaincue... she is, not in such high demand, right now. Goodness knows I could use the distraction as the World Warrior tournament becomes all people wish to speak of for weeks to come."

"It would be hypocritical of me to judge your course in life, as I am largely self-taught, and work poorly with others." NiCO forges a small smile, this time.

She falls quiet, afterwards, though, dedicating herself to the task of carving meat away from the bones as she listens, nodding as Victoire talks through each point. "Right," she agrees, to the suggestion that she has not lied. And as far as NiCO has come to understand, there's a very good possibility of that being true. Far more interesting to the researcher -- though it might not look like it, as she makes quick work of the duck -- is the fact that Victoire is now sharing a manifest of her situation, one that comports nicely with the reconnaissance NiCO had conducted in the days prior.

NiCO looks up from her neatly rearranged confit. And this time, her smile is much more wide.

"Please allow me to set your mind at ease. I do not engage in pointless endeavors."

And with that, she spears a morsel, and pops it into her mouth.

Chewing thoughtfully, she continues to smile.

"Generally. If you had left, I would have been regrettably prevented from employing that phrase in the future. I am, accordingly, glad you stayed."

Victoire has soon finished her frog's legs and that gives her the time to sit back and consider as her new friend(?) explains that she doesn't see the lack of aptitude in the scientific realm as being an insurmountable element in the proposed partnership. She's not sure whether to feel relieved or not, truthfully; the girl might be younger than her by some years, but she can't help but feel that NiCO has manipulated her quite expertly. Without even really trying.

There's just the faintest frown as she turns the idea over in her head. Is that really so bad a thing, though? In the end, they are both set to get something they want. Doubtless it is true that NiCO could use the assistance in her stagecraft, if that was something she wanted to develop, and Victoire really could use the distraction. And the training. NiCO wasn't the only teenager to have made a fool of her when she stepped outside of her comfort zone, after all.

"I am not sure about the extent to which that sets my mind at ease." She says, slowly, "But oui, I can see the truth in it. I don't believe that I have ever met someone quite as, calculated, as you before. Not that I mean that in an offensive way, not at all."

It is still unnerving. From the note to the venue to the way the conversation had unfolded, Victoire is starting to empathise with a fish caught on the line. Best, then, to steer the conversation back to her area of expertise.

"I suppose." She says, thoughtfully, "That we will need to decide your persona. If you are to become more of a performer, I mean. The Genius may work, perhaps, I cannot think of any professional fighters who also fit that mold, so there is an opening for it. And there must be an element of truth to these things, or else the audience will see right through it."

NiCO takes a moment to savor the flavor of her entree. She's certainly not rushing; someone is paying really good money for the meal and she aims to enjoy every last morsel.

"I will appreciate it as a compliment, then," answers NiCO with a brief nod. The MIT graduate is accustomed to that sort of praise and seems much more interested in the manner in which Victoire is now speaking. The shift is tangible: Miss Invaincue demonstrates her cognizance of the situation, which was instrumental in order for NiCO to feel like her words were even reaching their respective marks. Their connection is closer now than it was before, surely, but she can sense that she isn't -quite- seeing eye-to-eye with Victoire -- and she's not entirely sure why.

Another reason for her to default to not expressing any emotion at all, really. It's a policy that's served her well in the past. And it serves her well now, as Victoire insists that a persona is... required.

"... Genius," she states. She doesn't seem to disagree with the rest of the statements. But the name...

"The posters printed up for our last bout billed me as 'The Lightning Technomancer.' Is that not a more accurate descriptor?"

Victoire can't help but smile at the question. Nor does she rush her dinner companion in her enjoyment of the first course; such things are a big part of the reason to seek success after all. The better things in life are reserved for those who deserve them; who earn them with blood, sweat and toil. The means by which they had achieved that status may be different, but she had no doubt that NiCO must surely have worked as hard as she had to obtain so much at so young an age.

"Let me answer your question with another question." She says, "How many people in that arena do you think knew the word 'technomancer' before the fight? I will admit, I had not a clue what it meant. I went away and looked it up when we were finished. And honestly? I would not have even done that had you not been the victor."

She hadn't been joking about her lack of technical knowledge it seems; nor does she seem particularly bothered about her ignorance. If she hadn't been given a reason to care, she wouldn't have; and in truth, learning the meaning hadn't actually helped her much. Knowing that NiCO was a wizard of technology got her no closer to understanding how best to overcome her.

She takes another deep drink of wine, and then calls over the waiter - though, not to order more food. Instead, she clears her throat, "A little water for the table, if you please?"

This conversation is already proving taxing in all sorts of ways. If she keeps it up with the wine, she's really going to embarrass herself.

Up until this point, NiCO has generally seemed to be on top of the conversation, ready to catch each curve ball and return with a tailor-mode counter-strategy. So her response might seem a little out-of-place.

She narrows her eyes.
"Is a four-syllable word a bridge too far for the good people of Nashville, Tennessee? They should be graced with the favor that they've been compelled to broaden their vocabulary."

It is here that NiCO reaches for the wine glass, giving it a small sip. After that -- and a brief intake of breath, her eyes return to normal.

"I concede the point. Appealing to the masses demands a realistic estimation of their relative intelligence levels." A small, albeit brief, smile flickers across her features, as she works on another small morsel of her entree.

"Mm. I admit some gaps in my understanding. It feels... ludicrous to make a vocal appeal to the audience. Shouting drains lung capacity, roughens the throat, and worst of all, introduces temporary hypoxia which in turn invokes an adrenergic reaction, which can give a desirable feeling, or 'rush,' but also attenuates the limbic system in such a way to dampen the effects of any later, more -urgent- adrenaline rush."

She bows her head slightly, offering deference to Victoire. "With limited resources available in such a fight, how do you justify such an expenditure?"

"Not, exactly how I would have phrased it, but... oui. The simple stories are the best. The Rising Star, the Conquering Champion, the Unsurpassed Genius. These are things that people will understand. The Lightning Technomancer? It asks, a little too much."

Victoire is grateful for the arrival of the water; ice cubes and all, along with a second glass for it. This, she can drink to quench her thirst, and help her regain some cool. They are back on more solid ground for her. Discussing the strategy of fighting is something she rarely has the opportunity to do, with her lack of professional fighting friends, but she has always relished the chance when it arose.

"The answer is, I suspect, in the reason you have gone through all this trouble to ask me for help." She says easily, gesturing loosely as she leans back in her chair.

"Fighting is more than just the body, though that is a big part of it for certain. There is also a momentum in fighting, non? The give and take, the back and forth. To keep momentum on your side is a considerable advantage. Even in our fight, I would wager that there were few moments where you felt as though you were the one setting the pace, non?"

She flashes that smile of hers again. Even without the golden gaze to back it up, there is something effortlessly charming about her grin; she might have conceded many points, but there is an ease and a confidence to her which just comes back so naturally.

"Having the crowd on side helps. Though really, at my best, I do not even need a crowd. With the right words, the right motions, at the right moment? You can win your opponent over into your own corner, and that makes all the difference."

A little shrug, then.

"Your... personality, may afford you some protection to that." She concedes, "I do not know the extent to which I was actually able to get in your head. But as you say, you do not do pointless things, so you must have taken something from the experience, non?"

Unsurpassed Genius. NiCO would like that one better if it were true; her record against world-class fighters is not as pristine as she would have liked. Still... if there's one thing that Victoire might have better knowledge of, it's marketing.

And that's a factor that NiCO had considered as well. Breaking down Victoire's will was not a tactic she had intended to employ on this leg of the trip, but it served the purpose of instilling some measure of trust. And now with that trust gained... she feels it's important to keep Victoire invested in this group venture. To give her a prize to fight for. A battle that she can win.

It helps, of course, that NiCO does not need to act much. The researcher recognizes that, as a social recluse, she really is hopeless at this sort of thing. And Victoire does have good points to make.

"Yes," answers NiCO, matter-of-factly. Pacing is a crucial component to fight strategy -- and one in which NiCO vividly remembers holding from the very beginning of that battle. So when her companion brings up the swells in audience favor -- the things that seemed like statistical aberrancies to her analytical mind -- she knows the exact moments Victoire is talking about.

"Mmm," concedes NiCO. "It may not have worked the way you wanted it to." She reaches for the wine glass -- still being on her first serving, she is loathe to yield for the water so soon. "But the anomaly did remain on my mind as a question to ask about later." She adds after a pause, "... Clearly."

She takes a sip, then slides the glass away once more. "My question is more about the crowd itself. If defeating your opponent is the objective then it seems prudent to target them in a direct assault. A good 'burn' will invigorate the crowd as a matter of course. And yet, that was not your style at all. You did not seek to demoralize me, but rather, played directly to the crowd."

She prods at her entree; a mirthless chuckle tumbles free. "I failed to see the utility of it at the time, is all."

"Oh. Well. That is an easier thing to explain." Victoire says, "I respect my opponents too much to talk them down."

The smile remains unbroken, though she does understand that she needs to elaborate there. "You may take a different path." She allows, "But for me, anyone who is prepared to fight me? Is someone worthy of esteem. I have never had a fight where I did not see something in the opponent to admire."

She shrugs her shoulders easily, "I could give you other reasons. For myself, being insulted only makes me want to dig deeper to prove my opponent wrong. Even just the earlier comment you gave, that I cannot beat you right now, well. It may be true. It may not. But to hear you say it, lights a fire in my belly, you see?"

She takes another sip of her water, as though the ice-cold liquid really is required to keep things at the civil tone she has managed so effortlessly throughout this; it's an affectation, of course. She's not actually furious. But it does rankle, just a little bit.

"Nevertheless." She concludes, "Other reasons are just that. Secondary reasons. The truth is, for me? A Champion lifts up those around them. My brilliance is not diminished by others. In fact, it makes my triumph all the better for their own. To make others feel small is... beneath me."

NiCO takes her turn to listen as an opportunity to polish off the remaining confit. It's clear through her subtle, nuanced movements that she is taking the time to appreciate each of the flavors on their own merit -- and yet, her eyes show herself to -also- be wholly attentive to the points that Victoire is clearly spelling out for her.

In a way -- it shows what NiCO has theorized from the beginning -- that the conceit of Victoire as a 'winner' is constructed from the core out. That being a -winner- informs everything Victoire says, does, and feels. And, in NiCO's own estimation, proved she was right to threaten the core itself, in a time and place where she would be unwilling to shy away from the challenge, and also unable to be overly embarassed by it. After all, this is one of the many locations that paparazzi are not only discouraged from bringing recording devices into, but largely persona non grata due to the reputations of the clientele within.

"I have noticed that, yes," she answers, before taking a languid sip of her wine. "I did avoid teasing you on that particular aspect during the midst of our fight -- and it was purely due to concern about invoking this... fire in your belly, as you say."

She looks down, gaze focusing on the rim of the wine glass for a moment. "... I understand that I may have ruined our friendly comradery with my statements. I also have no particular shame in that regard, as it has led to the discussion we are having now, and I feel it will be most instrumental in the future."

Her shoulders shrug slightly, as she looks up. "Emotions are a means to an end for me. A net neutral. I do not operate on the same wavelength as people who see emotions as the most important tenet of one's personality. That said -- your views on the matter have value to me. I do feel superior to most, in an intellectual arena if not an altitudinal one." She allows a moment for a half-smirk, here. "But I can recognize that stating such would be... unnecessarily provocative."

She picks up her fork as if to select the next piece, but... finds her plate empty. And seems puzzled by that, momentarily.

"Mm. Earlier you presented a supposition that I -had- successfully comforted you. Might I inquire if you now find this to be the case?"

"... Altitudinal ..."

It is only pride which stops Victoire from getting her phone out and googling the term then and there. In terms of intellect, there's a vast gulf between them - that much is indisputable at this point. She thinks that she gets the broad strokes of what is being said, though. The idea that one could even hold emotions at so great a distance is, odd, to her. But she has no reason to doubt the sincerity of what NiCO is telling her. Lying, as far as she can tell, about this at least, would be counterproductive. Then again, she also can't begin to fathom what strategies NiCO might be trying to apply, so maybe that line of thought isn't a helpful one.

"I do not mean to be rude." She says, "But, is friendly comraderie something you are interested in? I mean to say..." She waves a hand vaguely, "I honestly don't know what to make of you as a person. You and I, we live in different worlds. But..."

And here, she falters. The waiter looks like he wants to come over and take the orders for the main course, but she gives him a sharp gesture to hold him off, at least for a few moments longer.

"... I live in a different world to most people, and I think this is the longest and most productive conversation I have had in years. So. I do not know if I would say you have, comforted, me? But I do feel that you and I have a great deal to learn from one another."

There better not be standardised tests, is the part she leaves unsaid.

NiCO saves her the trouble of a phone call, at the cost of a small measure of pride.
"I'm short. I am making light of my height disadvantage."

If NiCO were lying, then it's ingrained into her behaviors as well as eating, breathing, and sleeping. Admitting that emotions are nothing more than a means to an end would certainly be of value to a psychologist or an adversary -- and yet, she's happily volunteered this information with no expectation of compensation or remuneration. The knowledge simply isn't important to her -- and her admission shows this.

She sees Victoire. And her response to the waiter. And seems... puzzled by this, but states calmly in his direction, "Please come back in two minutes. Thank you."

And as the waiter walks off, she returns her attention to Victoire.

"I suppose that in light of my admission, it could seem suspect, mm?" She... smiles. That same awkward smile. "I am... confused, but not altogether upset. Perhaps it is accurate to say that I would like us to be honest with one another. I do not feel it is productive to give a misleading assessment in the sake of sparing feelings, as ultimately, that can prove much more harmful in the end. But I would be happy to take criticism in that regard, in hopes of improving our working relationship."

She looks down at her empty plate. And pushes it forward, slightly.

"So, if we can be so honest. Are you not still hungry?"

"... Ah!"

The explanation does get a light blush rising on her cheeks, but in her defense it is almost impossible to tell when NiCO is joking. The girl really is a puzzle, and that's interesting! As she had said, it has been a long time since Victoire was actually given the opportunity, let alone had the inclination, to get to know someone properly. That it is someone so very different to herself is, well, fascinating.

"To be honest with each other. Hm." She purses her lips thoughtfully. "I suppose that I can see the logic in it. We cannot help each other to improve if we are not, forthright, about where our approaches could be improved." That is... a very circuitous way of avoiding just saying that there are flaws in her style; some things just aren't going to change that quickly.

"I only ask because a working relationship and a friendship are very different, oui? I am content with either, but it is good to know if I should be planning trips to the cinema, or just the gym, you see."

She laughs lightly; but it isn't, really, a joke. It feels strange to be talking so plainly about the expectations here - but if she didn't, she suspected she'd be trying to puzzle out the cool, seemingly-detached Finn for months. She lifts her hand, then, to bring the waiter back over, and smiles.

"Thank you for indulging me, I think the duck looked fantastic so, for the main course, I will enjoy the duck a l'orange, merci!"

NiCO's entire work paradigm is shaped around the concept of minimizing face-to-face time with other humans as much as possible. Any expression of emotion, no matter how minute, can drag out a conversation to unnecessary and unwanted lengths. And as NiCO is very, -very- dedicated to her work, that has left very little time for honing social skills.

She had practiced blending in with polite society as a means to an end; for her reward to come in the form of something approximating an actual conversation was unplanned.

NiCO's eyes fall to half-lidded as Victoire echoes that word back to her: honest. It sounds so much different coming from the Frenchwoman -- like the violation of the pledge that it suggests might actually come with penalties attached. Like Victoire's invocation actually carries -weight-. NiCO's teeth press together, as she finds herself oddly uncomfortable for a moment, looking away.

"The cinema? The thought of..." In her distracted state, it takes NiCO a moment to slam the brakes on that train of thought. She continues, turning back to face Victoire after recollecting her thoughts. "... I watch movies in bits and pieces while waiting for lab results."

The waiter coming over allows her a moment of further distraction. "Ah. ... I will try the beef bourguignon, please." Flashing an abbreviated smile, she nods her head to the waiter, turning back to Victoire.

It takes her a moment before she processes the meaning behind the 'joke' as more than a literal. "... Oh. You had asked that as a question." She draws in her breath. Honesty -- that's what she's working towards. "... It might be best to consider this a working arrangement at first. Developing an emotional bond may jeopardize the efficacy of your combat training."

Victoire actually bursts out laughing, which is ... not the most diplomatic way to get this relationship off to a good start. She's full-throated with it, too. It takes her a few moments to get herself under control, and when she does, she is at least contrite about it. "Apologies, please, forgive me. Please, I am sorry, I do not mean to be rude, truly, I do not, but..."

She shakes her head, actually dabbing at the corners of her eyes as her cheeks burn hot, "It is just, the turn of phrase. You think that I will take it personally if you beat me senseless over and over again? Aheh, heh. NiCO, I'm afraid you have misunderstood me quite severely. Non, non. If you are able to do that? Then, by all means, by all means!"

She brings the napkin back to her lap and rests her hand upon her chest, touching the V broach again. "If there is any recrimination, it will fall on myself, not on you. I would hope that you would see it the same way if the tables were turned, non?"

She's still smiling as she shakes her head, "But, of course, we can simply treat this professionally. Of course, of course! As you wish."

NiCO's response to the laughter is an ice-cold stare.

Many restaurant patrons turn to look towards the sound, as well; indeed, the ambient volume of conversation progresses asymptotically towards silence in the wake of the several-seconds-long disruption. Just what -was- being discussed that could arouse such a reaction in the Parisian native and her Finnish companion?

NiCO does not move a muscle. It's as if she's just simply turned to stone for a good long while, until the signs of laughter turn into a more comprehensible smile. It's at that point that the first fingers of both hands reach up to press against the temples of her glasses, adjusting the frame position across the bridge of her nose.

"I was not saying that at all," she says, reaching for her glass of wine.

She downs the remaining contents of such in one long gulp.

Victoire raises an eyebrow. She had not expected NiCO to react quite like that. Apparently, beneath that stony exterior, a heart of flesh and blood does beat after all. Nor, truly, does she want to get things off on a bad footing.

She raises her hands in a placating gesture, "I am sorry, then. The error may well be mine. As we have discussed at some length, your mind and mine are on, very different wavelengths. Please, if that was not the intent in your words, correct me."

The woman does, at least, have the good grace to be sincere in this; the notion had just struck her as so absurd that she couldn't control herself!

"Sorry for what?"

NiCO's response is as cold, matter-of-fact, and most of all, quick. She sets the glass aside, steepling for little more than want of something to do with her fingertips.

"If the degree of our combat training was such that 'beating you senseless' was deemed the appropriate way forward, then formulating an response that would be properly appropriate for a subsequent social engagement would take an unconscionable amount of time. Moreover, your utility to me at such point would be limited to the use of spare parts. I should hope that the situation never comes down to that, and based on your performance in the ring, you are nowhere near that inept."

NiCO pauses to take a breath. And to assess Victoire's reaction for a moment, before continuing.

"I would note that it... /pleases/ me that you would not take such a thing personally. Many would."

Again, Victoire finds herself having to take a moment to parse everything that is being said. Would that she could blame the language barrier, but she - like a surprising number of people in the world - has always been quite talented when it comes to languages. In that she understands most of them as well as she understands French. It is just that NiCO's manner of speech, her habit of circumlocution, takes some time to translate for the poor woman. Not that she would put it in that exact way, of course.

"I am sorry because, quite clearly, I made you uncomfortable. Which was not my intent." She says, "Though, I think we are perhaps keeping pace with one another in that regard. Spare parts, indeed." She smiles wryly, shaking her head and - apparently - taking this as another of NiCO's very, very dry jokes.

The waiter arrives, and the main courses are slid neatly into place, which gets a pleased clap of her hands from Victoire, "Ah, this looks wonderful!" She exclaims, "Bon appetit, Nico. I promise, a meal such as this more than makes up for any ... small peculiarities, aheh."

"Mm." NiCO accepts that Victoire seems to have considered the 'spare parts' comment as a joke. It wasn't till then that she realized that perhaps that should have been kept to her internal monologue, rather than blurted out in such a clear fashion. But the fact remains -- NiCO's taken the phrase 'beaten senseless' literally, as opposed to simply a one-sided battle. That part -- the keeping pace with one another -- she agrees with.

She looks up to the waiter with a brief nod, forging a smile as the meal is placed before her. After a glance at Victoire, she too claps her hands and bows her head in thanks.. "Indeed. Bon appetit."

As the waiter walks off, and she reaches for her fork and knife once more, she cants her head slightly to one side.

"Do I -seem- uncomfortable? For I can assure you, I am not."

She glances down for a moment, replaying in her mind the moment at which awkwardness ensued. "... Perplexed as to the reason for laughter, perhaps. But not uncomfortable."

There are many problems in life which can be solved with a good meal, and for all the criticisms which could be levied at places like this - the classism, the extreme expense, the just plain snootiness of the individuals present - the food truly is absolutely excellent. It is, in fact, the best meal Victoire has had since her last tournament win. The pleasure that she takes in it is obvious, even if, again, she eats with rather more speed and vigor than is entirely appropriate for such fine cuisine.

"It was in the way you drained your glass." She says, between mouthfuls. "And the way you froze, when the laughter began. I read that as offense, but, ah, well, I will believe you when you say it was only puzzlement." She grins, pausing in her demolition of the truly excellent meal to pour herself a little more wine - only half a glass. Moderation!

"You see? We are already being of use to one another. Now you know the tell, you can work on it."

NiCO's eyebrows furrow at the simple statement that follows. Is it... really that simple? It wouldn't be hard, the researcher surmises, for her to pick up on such behaviors when looking at them from outside. But to have her own drastically simplified behaviors pointed out through a similarly analytical lens? That's informative.

NiCO's lips purse, slightly. "Perhaps I was just testing you. To see if this working arrangement will in fact be useful to me."

She pours herself half a glass of wine, not wanting to be outdone. And to this -- she consults her mental repository of notes, digging -way- further back, where she finds a ritual that might be useful to her at this juncture.

She raises the stem of the glass towards Victoire.

"I suppose we should make this official, then. To a productive working arrangement."

"Then I am very pleased to have passed the test."

There's a little smugness there; Victoire can't help it. She has felt that she is on the back foot for the entire meeting, from the moment she walked through the door. This, she is prepared to take as a little victory - and little victories are important in life. She lifts her glass and rings it gently against NiCO's own.

"To a productive working arrangement, of course, of course."

She only drinks half of the wine in her glass before setting it down again, and digging back into the meal without any further restraint. Not, exactly, how she had imagined this evening would go - but, whilst a wealthy sponsor might still elude her, she's hardly coming away empty handed.

Log created on 07:03:17 08/24/2023 by Victoire, and last modified on 06:26:26 08/28/2023.