Under the Radar (open)
In the six days since his little romp in the park, Amir had been laying low. He would have loved to see the ensuing and no doubt mostly fruitless search of his well-made crime scene, but the unplanned addition of a were had caused some difficulty. He had been some few days recovering after having dragged himself bleeding and dripping innards through the Manor. Low activity and a good number of extra meals had helped put him to rights though, and he was mostly recuperated. His insides were safely back where they belonged and the numerous injuries sustained were now vague echoes. There were some very pale bruises just disappearing in places yet, mostly his stomach and his regenerated left shoulder, which was still giving him a small amount of trouble. The skin had healed over but he suspected not all the bone had yet filled in. It hadn't made any difference though; he'd been able to hunt for himself for the past two nights rather than relying on Bao.
He grinned to himself at the thought. Bao had been less than pleased to discover his creator had gone off and had some fun without him. Amir had still been suffused with the heady exhilaration of the hunt when Bao had found him so he hadn't noticed right away, but the next time he'd seen Bao the man had fairly dripped with disapproval. Amir was having a hard time feeling guilty about it; Bao had his own agenda and Amir stayed out of it, mostly. Bao could do the same.
It was nearly time for him to make another trip into the Park; perhaps further. The investigations were over by now and Amir was anxious to keep whittling away. Nearly, though - not just yet. So tonight he was reading, an activity that calmed him when he was restless. Heolfor's vast acreage was dotted with numerous parks and gardens, and it was into one of these Amir had wandered, one not too far from the Manor itself but enough that the normal nightly traffic wasn't a disturbance.
Tonight's book, a work by a man Amir wished he'd known; Sun Tzu. He'd memorized the Art of War from front to back long ago but it never hurt to refamiliarize himself with its welcoming pages. Subira had been proud of him, yes, but also in her words he'd sensed a note of exasperation. He was her most willful child, he knew, and she cared for him in her way. She had berated him for acting rashly, for using himself as bait when he could have let someone else bear the load. Her harsh words had hidden fear, fear that Amir would someday bite off more than he could chew.
He had laughed at her. Of course he would - someday. That day was in the future. For now, his objective was best achieved by using his own strength and resources. This fear of Subira's - it wasn't born of love, or of any soft sentimentality. No. It was because of all her children, Amir was the oldest, the strongest, the most resilient. There had been others before him but they had perished in one way or another. Amir had remained, a youngling with potential at first; a juvenile with promise next; then one day he'd been someone, older, wiser, stronger... and her favorite.
He didn't worry for his future for the reasons Subira did. He was a tool to her. A well-loved and favorite tool, to be sure, but he was still a piece on her chessboard. To her. To Amir, his loyalty was not to Subira but to the Clan. His values had been put in place by her, and he was ready to give himself for his cause if that was what it took. Amir couldn't help but suffer a selfish hope that it wouldn't get quite that bad, however.
These thoughts of disquiet were distracting though. He'd ridden into Nachton ealier that night and sated his thirst but the hunt had been too easy, not challenging enough. After returning to Heolfor he'd excersized and it had done some good. He'd considered looking for Dana, unable to deny that her company was welcome, but in that area, too, were restless thoughts. She would find him when she was ready, and he would enjoy her company again.
Social interaction must have been on his mind, though, he mused as he flipped the pages of the book and idly skimmed over Chapter Two: Waging War. Surely something in his subconscious was looking for company, or else he would not have chosen a fairly obvious location to sit with his book. Heolfor had many other places for solitude and while he was a little out of the way, this particular garden wasn't one of them.
She'd been neglecting her study of the instrument since coming to Nachton and now would be a perfect opportunity to continue.
She crossed the room and grabbed the case as well as a book of sheet music she'd purchase on a shopping trip with Cadence. That girl still overwhelmed her even after two trips through the Nachton Mall. It had been difficult to object to her choices for Dana. She preferred flowing things that graced her body, but the girl had insisted she get things that "were like from this millennium."
That young woman had no idea what she was talking about, but Dana could not deny how nicely the dress she wore fit and how it helped her curves look more...rounded than they were. With a sigh she left the room and went in search of a place to play her guitar in peace and not annoy her fellow housemates.
She made it outside, turned left, followed the path and turned right, finding herself in a garden she'd enjoyed on her first trip through it. It was close enough to the house so that should the weather turn she could get inside quickly, but far enough away that she wouldn't disturb anyone.
Finding a bench, she sat and deftly pulled the guitar from its snug home, and put the case to the ground. After getting the thing over her shoulder and the book opened, she made a little wish that she didn't offend the late great Patsy Cline.
Her fingers found the first chord, and she worked her way through opening walk of a song she'd come to love, before her voice joined in. She knew her vocals were too small for these songs, but they were sweet and true and pleased her as she sang...
"I fall to pieces,
Each time I see you again.
I fall to pieces.
How can I be just your friend?"
"Sorry Cyrus, I did try." She spoke almost as a soft sigh.
She had tried. Perhaps not as stridently as she might have on some other topic, but the longer Cyrus was gone from her life, the less important he became to her. What had started out as a way of keeping him close to her, and possibly giving Fallon some insight into his life, had become a chore. What was the point now? She was becoming more and more involved with Nic, and not surprisingly now much more interested in his history. There was nothing about the Mongol empire that Nic found entertaining. And who else did she have to talk to about such things now?
A stray hair fell forward, from the low pony tail she wore, and when Fallon pushed the lock back behind her ear she felt the pencil she'd placed there earlier. It was while she had been doing the books in her office that the sudden desire to go out and read had come over her. Hence the pencil. Now she had come to realize it hadn't been any desire to read after all, but the need to just get out of the office period. For whatever reason Fallon still felt like she needed an excuse to stop working, even after she'd put in ten, or twelve hours. Today it had only been six.
Before she was through the gardens, Fallon came across one of the newer residents of Heolfor, who also had a book and looked to be up to the same goal Fallon thought she'd had. The difference being Mr. Rashid looked to actually be reading his book.
"Hello, Mr. Rashid. I'm Fallon Arslantai. It's a lovely evening, isn't it?"
Through a mixture of random events that had seemed to come up every time Fallon was going to introduce herself to the young man, she had yet to have that pleasure. Of course she knew of his arrival - there wasn't anyone living in Heolfor that Fallon wasn't aware of - it was pretty uncommon for her not to meet them upon their arrival. She felt totally remiss in her lack of greeting the young man, and hoped she wasn't interrupting him now to do so.
She also knew the man wasn't remotely close to being as young as he looked, but also didn't know just how old he was either. This seemed to be a rather normal occurrence among their kind, and because of such Fallon had taken to ignoring the way a person looked, extended a respectful demeanor, and treated those she didn't know equally. If she had the pleasure of getting to know someone more extensively, her personality opened up, and she allowed herself to be freer. Mr. Rashid, at this moment in time, was among those she didn't know, so she extended her hand, offered a friendly smile, and waited to see if her introduction would be accepted, rebuffed, or treated indifferently.
"I was just trying to read as well, but wasn't able to focus long enough to make much headway. I've now given up, and decided to just enjoy the rest of my evening without any stress or pressures.
I hope you're enjoying your stay at Heolfor?"
It was then the music caught Fallon's ear, and she turned slightly toward it.
"A pleasure, Fallon. Please call me Amir."
He went through the motions because they were expected, and because she was trying to be polite to someone who shared family with her. He respected that, and so he committed his page to memory for later and tucked his book away in the pocket of his sweatshirt. Although the night was warm, Amir hadn't felt the need to advertise his fading bruises so he wore long sleeves.
He inclined his head when she asked about his stay, although he raised both brows at her. "Heolfor is as it always is," he said, his tone sombre. "It's peaceful here. I'm grateful that my rooms have been kept; it's been a while since my last visit."
That much was true. Amir's suite had been the same every time he came to Heolfor. After the first few visits he had felt secure enough to decorate, such as it was with him, and the few personal belongings he cared to display had been kept in good condition for his return.
Before any more words could be exchanged, they both heard music wafting through the gardens. A guitar, accompanied by a high voice, almost frail in its lilting tones. It was accented and sighing-soft, but Amir placed it and smiled. Turning to Fallon, he said, "Apparently there's a garden nymph serenading us. I'm compelled to find her, care to join me?"
He offered Fallon his right arm, which was the mannerly thing to do, though if she declined he would bid her a peaceful night and be on his way. She had seemed to take an interest in the song as it floated through the garden though, so he didn't think he would be wrong in assuming she would accept.
"Amir." She smiled, and took his arm. "Thank you. Let's."
Though a tiny bit disgruntled not to have a little one on one time with the newcomer, who she just realized wasn't all that new apparently, Fallon walked along the path the short route to where Dana sat, singing the sweet country western song. Seeing the 'nymph', as Amir had referred to her, was Dana, Fallon's mood lightened a bit. She didn't know much about this other newcomer either, so to learn more about both was almost doubly interesting. In any event, she wasn't as put out as she originally was beginning to feel.
Waiting for Dana to pause, Fallon only spoke once she had.
"Hello Dana. You have a lovely voice, and I've always liked that song. Do you know Amir?"
Dropping the gentleman's arm, after patting it in a small acknowledgment of his politeness, Fallon moved to stand closer to Dana, looking at the guitar.
"I've played this on the piano a time or two." Memories stirred and awakened an old passion Fallon had lost sight of for some time. How nice it would be to have her piano here now, to join in with Dana.
Someone who'll love me too, the way you used to do.
But each time I go out with some one new,
You walk by and I fall to pieces.
You walk by and I fall to pieces."
She strummed the final note, letting it ring. It was a sorrowful song, but the notes were lovely and struck things with in her. She had decided to sing it again, to work on the more complicated fingering during the second chorus...
"Hello Dana. You have a lovely voice, and I've always liked that song. Do you know Amir?"
Her head shot up, and there he was. The yearning in her turned to something sweet she didn't understand, she felt her face brighten and a smile curled her lips. To hide this somewhat uncomfortable reaction, she turned to face Fallon. Her memory served her well, this had been the very distracted woman that gave mention of where she could stay upon her arrival, then had disappeared again.
Her opinion of the woman wasn't has high as it probably should be. She had manners about her, but seemed flighty and distracted.
"Good evening, Fallon. Yes, Amir and I have met."
She let her eyes move back to where they wanted to go, and blushed as her gaze met Amir's. It was a bit irritating that she would finally see him again, only to have another person there. Then Fallon spoke again.
"It's a beautiful song, though I find some of the movement more complicated than I am skilled for in some places."
Remembering her own manners, Dana slipped the sleek black instrument from her body, laying it to rest in the open case behind the bench. She moved the book of music, before turning and putting her feet to the ground. Standing she offered her hand first to Fallon and then Amir.
"What brings to two of you out this evening? I didn't disturb you did I? I had hoped to be far enough from the house to keep that from happening."
Something like panic tripped through her heart at the thought of disturbing Amir. It was one of the last things she wanted to do.
Suddenly she felt like a third wheel, and knew she wouldn't be getting to know either of the newly met Anantya tonight.
Nodding when Dana talked of the complexity of the song she'd been playing, Fallon couldn't really relate since playing it on the piano had always been rather easy for her. But then she had never really tried playing a guitar, and supposed it must be quite different.
"You didn't disturb me, though I'm afraid I probably did disturb Amir, even if he was courteous enough not to admit to it. I was trying to read but failing, and returning to Heolfor when I discovered Mr. Rashid about. It was then we heard your lovely signing, and decided to investigate."
Fallon took Dana's hand and gave it a friendly squeeze, thinking now as to how she might make her excuses and continue her original trek back to the manor alone. It never occurred to her to look to Amir for his reaction toward Dana. It was truly none of it was her business, and men were usually so gifted at concealing their emotions anyway. At least this had been Fallon's personal experience. Though contrary to that, she was finding her Nic to be a bit of a conundrum, as he didn't seem to follow that path himself.
Listening to both women declare their intentions of disturbing people, not disturbing people, and whatnot, Amir rolled his eyes to himself. Hobbies were what they were.
He turned to Fallon with a soft smile and said, "Rest assured if I had found your company truly unappealing I would have found a way to disassociate myself with far more alacrity than I'm currently displaying."
To Dana, he said, "And as I have no talent for music myself, I can appreciate when I find it in others. I'm told it's much like math, which I am good at; however I've never been able to apply the one to the other and come up with anything appealing to anyone but the local cats."
Amir grinned at Dana. He exaggerated slightly; he could hold a tune well enough, he supposed, and no one had ever really complained, but he wasn't a musician by any means. It wasn't anything he had ever tried to learn. He knew his sense of rhythm was accurate enough, having lived and grown through ages where dance was as essential as breathing, and movement in any form came naturally to him. Dancing was much like a martial art - especially when one was busy avoiding crushed toes.
"You can't possibly be that bad, Amir. "
It occurred to her they were all standing, not a hardship, but certainly less comfortable than the alternatives. She took a quick look about and found a small cluster of chairs not far from where they stood.
"Would you care to move to those chairs there?" She indicated where she meant with an open hand. She didn't want to assume anyone's company, but she did wish to extend her time with Amir for as long as possible.
Though now it seemed he had more reason to have left his reading behind. It was quite possibly all in her head, but Fallon could have sworn there was electricity buzzing between Amir and Dana. She was curious, of course, to learn more about the newcomers, but she was also still romantic enough to feel the need to give them privacy. And in truth, these feelings were only hers at the moment. If they turned into anything more concrete, she would definitely excuse herself, before making a situation more uncomfortable.
"I've been told that 'math theory' before too, and considering how dreadful I am at math, I'm not sure what that says about my own musical talents."
Fallon giggled. It had taken her some time, but she now accepted, and was proud of her voice and skills at the piano. Unfortunately that did not transfer to her ability at bookkeeping, which she was competent at, but only after more work than she thought a normal person would have to put forth.
"If we two had been part of that study, I dare say the results would have been much different."
Finding the conversation welcome, and too engaging to pass up right now, Fallon took Dana's suggestion and a nearby seat. Having fed earlier, she was fairly footloose and fancy free till dawn, so why not take advantage of the offer of friendly conversation and getting to know more of her clan.
She was poised to remove herself still, if the mood turned less group like and more of a pairing atmosphere.
"So, have you two known each other long, or more recent acquaintances? I'm not so old to the fold that I'm yet comfortable with the fact that many of us have been around for hundreds of years. Part of that always comes through in my surprise to find people who've been friends for many of those hundred years. I've yet to have the opportunity to experience a friendship for more than three decades even."
Sometimes when Fallon was in the company of those she guessed had to be much older than she was, she felt it necessary to apologize to a small degree. In case they expected someone with her position at Heolfor to have been a long time confidant of the elders, she felt somewhat required to set that score straight. She knew she'd been terribly lucky to have been placed in such a prestigious position, though she had also been told she was doing an exemplary job at it. None the less, she did not take the job for granted, and didn't want anyone to feel she was at all uppity in performing it.
He followed both Fallon and Dana to the nearby chairs, holding the backs of each lady's as she sat before claiming his own between the two. As Fallon continued the conversation, he nodded to himself. He could see her as being a little newer to this than most. She had an air about her, something undefinable. Perhaps it was that she seemed distracted or preoccupied. Whatever it was, it set her apart from the people Amir usually hung out with. Even Dana had more of a focus about her.
"We haven't had the pleasure of hundreds of years," Amir said silkily in response to Fallon's question. "Ours is a more recent acquaintance than that."
As to the other half of her statement, he said, "Friendship will come in time. But those that will last the true test of time are somewhat few and far between."
They were to him, anyhow. Amir had many acquaintances and few friends. He preferred it that way, admittedly being picky about who he chose to associate with. As for Dana, unless she chose to expound on the nature and details of their meeting, he would say no more. He was a fairly private person. Even having had fun with Dana, he hadn't actually shown her much about himself. It wasn't necessarily intentional; he was used to a good deal of anonymity and old habits died hard.
Fallon's question however changed her smile. She did not quite understand the woman's need to quantify herself. Something that she'd learned long ago was that age was irrelevant with their kind. She'd been so much older than Sebastian, but he was the wiser of the two. You can live hundreds of years, but if like she, you were sheltered age has no place.
In fact Fallon was the first Clan member she'd ever met that revealed their relative age with out being asked. It was, she'd found, simply not discussed. The woman confused her, and made her wonder just how long ago she'd been human.
Amir answered her question in a way Dana felt satisfied with, and felt no need to add to it. For her friendship and love walk hand in hand. One can not have a friend for hundreds of years with out some kind of love between them, but it was not something she cared to share in the hearing of a man who's friendship she wanted very much.
And as she had nothing to add, Dana remained quiet, she would add to the conversation when she had something relevant to say. It bothered her, those that spoke, just to be part of the conversation and did nothing to move it forward. In her experience, it was almost always better to remain quiet than to spew hot air into the room with no purpose behind it.
Fallon agreed with Amir. In her short time in Nachton, thinking of Aishe, Cyrus, Ana, and Nic, her group of good friends had increased beyond what she would have ever imagined only as recent as five years ago. Had she already received her quota, what with making so many close and true friends so quickly? She hoped not.
First impressions were often wrong, or misleading, and Fallon knew this yet still found herself considering them often, or at least until something came along to change them for her. She didn't always have the patience to allow people a great deal of time to prove themselves to her. She mused and smiled as she considered her current companions.
So far she liked Amir. He seemed to be gracious, and accepting, and did not project himself to be above her, or not in an obvious way that she could sense. Dana, on the other hand, gave Fallon pause.
There wasn't anything she could point to, or put her finger on per se, but good reason or not, Fallon felt less at ease with the tiny woman than she had in meeting anyone else recently. Though there was probably all of one or two inches separating her and Dana in height, Dana seemed much smaller. She also appeared to Fallon to be younger, though she knew this wasn't true, and if anything the little Fallon had seen of the other woman had shown she was much more self-possessed than Fallon would ever hope to be. Yet seeing how Dana's face changed when she looked from Amir to Fallon, Fallon definitely felt judged, and found lacking.
Recalling her distraction during their first meeting, Fallon had also felt dismissed by Dana then, even before she had fully welcomed her to Heolfor. At the time Fallon excused the feeling having been slightly stressed by work. Tonight though she was relaxed and not haunted by things to do, yet she still felt a slight chill around Dana. Was it fair to feel this way, of course not, but that didn't change anything. Maybe it was one of those chemical things. Aishe would probably tell her she was crazy, and her concerns unfounded, which they were. Fallon felt ready to return to the mansion still.
Dana's quiet convinced Fallon it was time to bid the two good night. She stood, and picked up her book from the table, moving behind her chair and pushing it forward a bit.
"Please excuse me. I just remembered there were a few things I needed to see to before dawn. Just when I think I have a handle on running Heolfor, I think of something else to do."
It was a bit of a lie, since she really didn't have another thing to do tonight, but something told her it wouldn't matter. It really hadn't been that long ago that she and Cyrus had spent time together like this, getting to know each other. There was no cause to garner further resentment, real or imaginary, when it didn't matter to Fallon in the first place. So she and Dana would never become those 'lasting' friends, she still wanted to maintain a cordial relationship with all those in her Anantya clan.
"I hope to see more of you two around the manor, and wish you a good evening."
Trying to appear relaxed and casual, and not hurried, or flighty, Fallon gave both Amir and Dana soft smiles, and returned to the path, disappearing into the trees.
Watching Fallon's departing back he turned to Dana and said "Well that was - brief."
"Indeed, I don't think she likes me much."
Dana shrugged, it wasn't a hardship, and she wasn't necessarily bothered. However, manners dictated that she do something about it. She'd send her a note, and a small gift. Perhaps that would smooth things over.
She curled her feet up into the chair with her body angled toward Amir.
"It's good to see you again. What have you been doing with yourself?"
Satisfied that Dana wasn't about to lose sleep over it, as it were, he answered her next question in a matter-of-fact tone. "Working, of course."
He pulled his book from the front pocket of his sweatshirt though and showed it to her.
It was polite to inquire the same of her but in this case it was also of genuine interest to him.
"What about you? Any more excitement in the last week? Or do we need to work on that together?"
His eyes narrowed a little as he smiled his slow, curling, slightly devilish smile.
Dana flushed a pale pink at his devil's smile. It was a smile that implied more than his words, and the implications of that is what had her blushing.
"I don't know if you would find it exciting."
She did, tremendously, and was looking forward to her work with Bao.
"I met another clan member, and he's going to help me find a place for myself in the Clan. He's a lawyer and I'm going to be working for him until we figure out what I'm good at."
She beamed at Amir, hoping he would be proud of her for becoming productive instead of continuing to remain sedentary.
"A lawyer?" His brows rose. "Who would that be?" He suspected he knew, but there was always the possibility that there was more than one male lawyer in the clan currently in Nachton.
"What will you be doing for him?"
What a coincidence though, for Dana to have met both he and Bao in such a short span of time. Maybe not entirely coincidence; Bao, dutiful child that he was, had supplied Amir with a number of meals whle he was recovering in the past few nights. If Dana had been exploring the Manor it wasn't inconceivable that the two would have run into each other, although Amir's rooms were quite out of the way.
"Oh his name is Bao Huang. Mostly I'll be doing translations, filing and paper work for those of his clients outside the usual parameters of the law."
She chuckled softly. She was very excited to get deep into her new role. It would be learning a balance between it and life as she already knows it, that would prove the most interesting to her. She'd never had to do anything more than what she wanted, except for those occasions when Lady Erin needed her to act as a spy. There had never been anything to balance, juggle or move around to accommodate her work or study. Life might actually become even more interesting now.
"I'm not sure how suited I am for such work, but it is a beginning."
Dana's description of things sounded a whole lot like she might end up handling some of the paperwork he himself generated for Bao. He wasn't oblivious enough to think his movements didn't cause concern in the humans' world. He also was arrogant enough to think they could operate completely outside human law. He was superior-minded enough, though, to realize humans were tiny, fleeting things and their laws could be circumvented if one knew the right avenues, and Bao certainly did.
Or one could go Amir's route and use Command. Different tools for different jobs. Why use a scalpel to cut down a tree when you've got a handy axe?
"I'm familiar with how he works," Amir said to Dana. "I think the two of you will get along just fine."
Bao did hold another role in the clan that served a highly useful purpose. He was excellent at identities. One thing all of them needed at one or more points in time was an ID. Histories, birth records, death certificates, family lineages - Bao was an expert at creating or altering those.
Amir mentioned as much to Dana. "It's interesting work, if you don't mind a desk job," he said.
He didn't know Dana well enough to suggest it, but there was always the chance she might develop more than a passing interest in what they did for Anantya. Normally the vampires Bao, Amir, and Subira worked with had been born to their tasks. Their small circle was unofficial, unremarked-upon, and largely unnoticed, but it existed nonetheless.
He kept those thoughts to himself though. What they implied was that he needed to get to know Dana much better, an objective he'd already decided upon pursuing. With that in mind he stood, tucking his book away and offering Dana both hands.
"Walk with me?"
Being sedentary was fine for reading but conversation required walking, in Amir's opinion. Dana's guitar would be safe here; either left for her or brought back to her rooms if bad weather threatened. The night was clear though, and meant to be enjoyed.
"We seem to so far. He's an interesting man."
Dana shrugged, this new avenue was not contingent on if she liked desk work or not. "Our goal is to find a way for me to be useful, more than if I like being behind a desk. Fortunately I don't have a desk yet, so it doesn't matter either way."
She was pleasantly surprised when Amir stood and offered his hands. With a soft pleasure bubbling behind her heart, Dana slipped her fingers into his hands.
"Nothing would please me more."
She stood, a fleeting thought for her guitar, she'd be upset if it was harmed, but it was not so important at the moment. The fluttering behind her heart moved, causing the muscle to speed up as her body came into proximity with his. They stood apart, not touching anywhere but their hands, but Dana could feel the length of him before her. It was quite distracting. She was torn between moving to his side to begin their walk, and closing the distance between them
He solved her dilemma, with a quirk of his lips, as he tucked her left hand into the crook of his arm and started them down the path. This is where she would use the excuse of gathering her skirts out of the way to regain her composure, but this modern dress had no skirts and the romantic in her was sorry for her choice of clothing.