This is a wee chunk of canon backstory for Rafael from before the story begins, and is noteworthy for having been written on Twig and Lunar's couch when I visited Boston. :D Old cities are good for writing old cities.
It wasn't something Rafael had ever been comfortable doing, much less graceful about. He didn't know whether to be grateful she'd been in or regret that he couldn't turn around and go back. "Ah, Sarvan. . ."
Sarvan leaned her head back to give him a once over with keen dark eyes, then quirked a knowing smile at him. "You look like a man trying to arrange a tryst, only for the wrong sister to answer. Too bad for you, I'm married." She shoved the door open, and stepped back. "Come in, now. We don't keep family waiting on the doorstep. Mind your head."
Rafael smiled ruefully, "I had hoped Vareen would be in." Asking favors of his sister in law was bad enough. Asking favors of her sister-- Well. Still, he stepped in, ducking low through the door. The lintel was quite low, like much the rest of the house; designed for people a foot shorter than him. "For island folk, not giants," Vareen had laughed at him.
Sarvan ushered him and shut the door behind her firmly. "She's staying up with your kin more and more now. Likely she'll stay up at the villa through spring."
"Oh?" Rafael echoed uncertainly. He had thought it Vareen's custom to travel with the shipments, to make the loop and divide her time between the production at the vineyard and the business in the city. Usually it was even odds as to whether she'd be in or out.
Sarvan's knowing smile didn't change a wit. She would have made a wicked interrogator, should she have chosen a different profession than merchant. "Country air is best for her right now, and it'll be easier for her to have a little one with plenty of hands to help and eyes to mind."
"Oh. Oh." Rafael swept his hat off and folded his coat over his arm, more for something to do with his hands than anything else. "I hadn't heard. . . That's excellent news."
"That much was obvious." Sarvan took pity on him and rescued his items to their appropriate places by the door, then shooed him on to a seat at her table. "She hasn't spoken of it much yet; she's only four months along."
"I hope she's doing well." Rafael folded his hands awkwardly before him, as always caught short for niceties in polite company. There was a reason he didn't frequently visit his more distant relations; it must be a trial for both of them.
"Madam DeCrescenza has certainly seen her share of children born at the villa. She'll take good care of her." Sarvan tucked herself into the chair opposite him, closest to the fire where she might warm her skirts. "So, since you didn't know of your impending nephew or niece, what brought you calling on my sister?"
"I . . . had hoped to ask for advice." Rafe did not quite shirk away from the topic.
Sarvan's smile turned wicked, "With women? How is the fair lady?"
Rafael couldn't help the faint flinch, his tone more empty than polite. "I'm afraid that ship sailed, six months gone."
"Oh, Rafe." Sarvan dropped the teasing, sighing. "It seems we're both behind on news. I'm sorry."
Rafael smiled tightly, "No use fretting. She's married well and is happy by all accounts."
"You would have made her happy. More the fool she." Sarvan tsked, then reached across the table to squeeze his pale, long hand with her own dusky and small one. "You will find more than one road to happiness, I'm sure."
And there was another reason he hadn't come calling, since he'd asked the jeweler in the South End to give him a fair price for the ring. His family should never know where that money came from, or at what cost. Their livelihood was more important than his sentimental vanity.
Sarvan let his hand go as she asked, "If not the heart, then what?"
"The city." Rafael seized on the change of topic gladly. "I need to find a room, in the third district or close to it. I have no idea where to begin looking."
"They're transferring you when the barracks are full?" Sarvan scoffed. "That district above all should be able to keep their Watch well-fed and well-stabled."
"They can board more constables in their station than the other precincts, yes." Rafael could not say why the tangled knot of his fingers was so entrancing at that moment. Perhaps the white knuckles were from the cold, not quite chased away by the hearth at half-strength. "There are few rooms for officers, however."
"Oh!" Sarvan immediately caught on. "You are full of news today, Rafael!" She hesitated, then added slowly, "But you are not pleased."
"It's . . . difficult to explain." Rafael forced himself to look up at Sarvan; she was hardly intimidating, nearly ten years his elder, two heads shorter and slightly plump from two children who even now must be at school. She had a sharp mind, for all her looks; she'd even used Rafael to stand in with her on occasions her husband was away to deal with more stubborn sorts. She'd been a merchant in this city for two, nearly three decades. She'd know the implications behind his status.
It was tempting to explain, to lay it out in plain language so someone uninvolved could give him clear insight into what mess had been made of his life.
Yet that came perilously close to whining, and to lay his troubles on her doorstep was hardly fair at all. He could manage alone, he had to manage, or it would be for nothing.
She watched while he struggled with what to say, before finally prompting, "What do you need most?"
"A room." Rafael refocused, the clean details of what he'd come to find aligning. "Nothing much. A place to sleep and finish work, regular meals once a day if possible. Within walking distance of the precinct station."
"That's bordering on the city center. Of course there are places. What's your budget?"
And here was the hard part. Rafe smiled tightly, "Two hundred guineas a month."
He saw at once that she understood. Her nose wrinkled in disgust, "That. . ."
"That is what Sarassan law issues in compensation to a lieutenant that it cannot provide food and board for." It was actually closer to two hundred twenty, but twenty guineas more a month to reduce his family's debt was more important than his fine dining.
"And it will get you a student's closet on the hill, and perhaps crumbs, if you're lucky." Sarvan let her breath hiss out between her teeth. "Why?"
"Most officers of the third district choose to stay with their families. The rooms that are there are provided and funded primarily by their patrons, to keep their chosen in good standing." The answer was flat, empty, and entirely correct. It didn't come close to the vitriol Rafael felt when he learned that the mere six suites of the precinct station were lavishly outfitted by the hands of interested parties.
Sarvan raised an eyebrow, "And your patron. . ."
A direct question; the truth he'd hoped to dance around. No help for it.
He stated baldly, "I don't have one."
"You don't. . ." Sarvan huffed exasperation, "Every commissioned officer has one, Rafael, or you would never make the rank on your own funds."
"I'm rather intimately acquainted with the procedure." Rafael winced at how frosty his tone came out, closing his eyes a moment rather than see Sarvan flinch. He sighed, "I really, truly do not know, and they have not offered any assistance beyond sponsoring me for the commission. I don't know what to make of it."
"And they put you in third," Sarvan concluded.
"And they assigned me to the third precinct."
Silence held for a long moment, broken only by the popping of the fire, until the table creaked as Sarvan leaned forward on her elbows.
"It sounds like someone has made a political choice, and you have to bear the brunt of it."
"I suspect as much." Rafael met her eyes evenly. "I must bear what I can."
Sarvan nodded, misgivings still in her dark eyes. "You will do your duty."
She stood, brushing nonexistent crumbs off her skirts. "And I, well, I suppose I will see about finding you a student's closet and bird's pickings."
Rafael rose as well, feeling far too leaden to have an opinion either way on the matter. "Are you sure? If you could but tell me where to look. . ."
She stepped around the table to catch his arm, smiling. "Rafael, you're family. Leave the haggling to us merchants. And I'll come to you to look imposing and knock heads when my books don't balance."
Sarvan had her fire up and her mind set; he knew when there was nothing for it but to give in with as much grace as even he could manage. "I . . . thank you."
She stood out of the way as he shrugged into his coat, "When do you need the room?"
"By the third Asten's day."
He tugged his cuffs into alignment, idly wondering how it would feel to wear an officer's coat, with the braid-edged cuffs. Sarvan caught the gesture and smiled more warmly, offering him his hat.
"Then by the 20th, if you have not seen me in person, you will have a pigeon, with the name of your future landlord and address of your closet."
She was still smiling when she opened the door to the streets, "Do your family proud, Lieutenant DeCrescenza."
(I love how I find errors whenever I reread things. Augh. Suffice to say I will deal with the wonky numbers at another time. Names are, as always, bullshitted on the spot. The fun thing is that Sarvan did not really exist before I started this, beyond the thought that Rafe's brother's in-laws are factors/distributors in the city, and that they're all pretty fiery lively people. :D)