Aishe found happiness in the simplest things nowadays. Tonight, it was simply that she was walking with Kiamhaat, hand in hand, heading home after a movie. There was no rush; for once they had nowhere important to go tonight or tomorrow. They meandered along the strip, window-shopping, people-watching, and taking their time, chatting easily about the movie, comparing opinions.
As they passed a side-street Aishe chanced to look down it and saw a familiar figure, tall, broad, straighten up from locking a door and turn toward them.
"Well, hello, doctor Xeph," she said as she recognized the attractive face of the tall veterinarian. She looked at the building he'd come out of. Aha, so this was where his hospital was. An odd location for a vet hospital but it made sense; it was close to a lot of Nachton businesses. It was very convenient for people to come and go, to drop off or pick up their pets, or to swing by on a lunch break from any of the nearby apartment complexes.
"Nice to see you again," he said with easy falsehood. It wasn't that nice. He actually liked Xephier, based on their first few meetings, but recently he had to wonder.
He smiled at the familiar voices that greeted him and turned to see Aishe and Kem passing by, hand in hand, obviously out for recreation. His naturally friendly feelings were tempered on two levels. First, he knew what Kem was... and if Aishe wasn't a vampire as well, she surely couldn't be ignorant of Kem. They'd been together ever since he'd met them and that had to have been a good deal more than a year ago.
Secondly, though, Xeph was influenced by the jackal-vampire still. And he had wanted information on Kem in particular. So much so that Xeph had been forced to do his best to get Drew into Meridian as a cover.
"Kem, Aishe... long time," he said agreeably enough, his mouth curving into a smile that he really wished could be more genuine. "How've you guys been?"
It could have been a lifetime ago since they'd met, with everything that was between them now. And all of it unspoken. Amazing how fast the walls could be erected.
Xeph's smile was ready enough though, and his voice was friendly. Aishe squeezed Kiamhaat's hand and moved closer to him, letting him do the talking, while she concentrated on observing.
Xephier's voice was reserved but friendly enough. Kem watched his face for any sign of aggression or hostility and found none. Instead, what he imagined he saw was something fleeting and shadowed. Something sad, or remorseful. He didn't know. If Aishe could use her skills though, so could he. He smiled back, concentrating on the newest of his abilities, doing his best to encourage Xephier to drop his guard. He wasn't sure when this had become reconnaissance, but suddenly it was.
"We've been fine," he said easily. "Better than, I guess." He shrugged. "Wedding plans, and all that."
Which were going forward slowly but surely, mostly to keep Aishe's parents happy... the two of them didn't need a certificate to feel secure with each other. It made a good talking point, though.
He gave a nod of his head, indicating the direction he was headed and tacitly inviting the couple to walk with him. There was something about them, which he'd observed in prior meetings. A sense of calm, maybe, or happiness. It was why he'd detested the jackal's directive to snoop on them and pry into their lives. He liked them. Xeph hadn't wanted to know what Kem was, what his odd habits were that made it painfully obvious when you knew what to look for and were given some broad hints. He hadn't been required to look into Aishe's background, and he refused to do so. Bad enough he was doing this at all. Maybe they'd never have to know.
"Wedding plans, huh? Congrats," he said, masking his surprise. Did vampires get married? Wasn't that blasphemy of some sort? But whatever the relationship between the two, their mutual affection was obvious.
God, he thought suddenly, I don't want to have to ruin that for them. The less he knew about these two, the less he could tell his controller. He shouldn't have invited them along. He should have dismissed them completely.
"Those can get stressful," he said, deliberately vague although he was interested. "I'm sure you'll have a good time."
Suddenly it seemed imperative to be gone. As much as it would be pleasant to talk to them, even knowing one of them was technically "the enemy," possibly both of them, Xeph found it difficult, at best, to dislike either of them. He had no right to try to protect them but talking couldn't possibly do them any good. Given the choice between these two and the detestable jackal, he'd take Kem and Aishe any day.
She let her fingers squeeze Kiamhaat's hand again, tugging very gently, indicating she was worried. They walked along beside Xephier however, in the lights along the strip.
"It's exciting," she said softly, "not stressful, really. My parents can't travel much, so we're going to go over there, to Egypt."
The wedding was mostly for Aishe's family, so they figured, why not have it in Egypt? Why make her parents, and especially her father, undertake a long flight in his condition? Aishe hoped her friends would be able to join her there; flying them overseas would, fortunately, not be too much of a problem since many of the people she wanted along were in Evenhet anyway.
"I'm sure it'll be beautiful," he said noncommittally. "How's life at Meridian?"
Xeph changed the subject quickly, afraid to learn more about their personal lives. It was all going back to one source, one he wished weren't involved. Without the jackal, he'd be free t make friends with these two. Xeph was convinced they could live together, that they need not be trespassing constantly on each others' territories, if only they could communicate properly. And he couldn't do that, not now.
Business matters were far easier to converse about. He felt a little less guilty that way.
He paused a moment; he and Aishe had to go the opposite direction to get home. [Why don't you go on ahead,] he sent to Aishe. [I'll be right behind you.]
She gave him an odd look before excusing herself, explaining the reason for her departure, and heading the other way down the street. Kem was certain she stopped once she was out of sight, but he kept his eyes fixed on Xephier.
"Your friend, Drew," he said, "he does decent work."
Kem's words took him aback. He pinned the pale-haired man with his mismatched gaze, but he didn't see any hostility in Kem's open expression, and his equally pale eyes were unreadable. Reaching out with his own intuition, Xeph looked 'into' Kem as best he could. What he saw there didn't surprise him; not really. Maybe he expected different from a vampire, but this particular one he knew. There was need there, all right. Everyone had something that was particularly important to them. In Kem, he saw the need to protect, to stand between. Xeph didn't have to be a rocket scientist to guess at the obvious, but this went deeper than just caring for a loved one. This was larger, somehow, more encompassing. Not specific. Kem was a guardian, himself. Like Xeph.
He was dealing with more than just your run of the mill vampire. Kem had bigger concerns.
He let out a puff of air, worried, very worried, and addressed the spoken words without acknowledging the meaning beneath.
"He's a good kid."
In seconds, it was over, and whatever had passed between them was traveling on by. Xephier was speaking again, and Kem could see his concern.
"So," was all he said. There was no need for them to say it any more plainly. Kem knew what Drew was. He knew why he was there, at Meridian. And Xephier was also aware of that.
"So," he said, his voice gruff.
He wanted more than anything to end these lies and falsehoods. This wasn't how he would have acted if the situation were really under his control. Xeph valued honesty. He could handle having enemies... that wasn't the problem. But all of this subterfuge, all of these games and deceptions, they weren't him.
"He's a good kid," he repeated. "A student of mine."
Helplessness; that was the word that sprang to mind. Was Xephier not the leader of the wolf pack after all? Everything they had learned said that he was. All of their evidence claimed that this man, right here, was the Alpha wolf. And up until now, Kem believed it. Now he wasn't so sure.
The silence stretched out. Neither man moved, neither man spoke. Finally Kem let out a long sigh.
"I can't promise anything," he said, dropping his voice although they were practically alone on the street, "but if it comes down to it... I'll get him out if I can."
It was a dangerous statement to make. Kem knew it. And he wasn't sure he could hold himself to his word, if the situation ever became volatile. But he gave it anyway.
"I can give you no such word," he finally ground out. Struggling against the compulsion laid upon him, he shook his head and glared at Kem. There was already a war going on, and Xeph hadn't even wanted it to happen. He wanted to tell this man to be careful, to watch his back for a threat that came not from wolves with teeth and claws, but from his own kind.
"It makes no difference," he said, feeling a sense of calm spread over him. "I'll keep mine for both of us. Good night."
Kem turned to leave, exposing his back to Xephier, not looking back as he headed down the street in the direction Aishe had gone. She emerged from the corner a block or so down, rejoining him and falling into step alongside him. His hand slipped into hers automatically, and he glanced down to see her watching him with open speculation.
He shook his head briefly at her; she nodded back. They walked quietly through the Nachton streets, twisting and turning their way back home, just in case, until they reached the safety of their own front door.
((ooc: Kem and Aishe out))
This would be a lot easier if Kem were a complete asshole. Xeph breathed for a few moments, letting the anger inside of him subside, redirecting it to where it belonged, toward the composer of this quiet little drama inside of him.
If the Pipers couldn't figure this one out, he thought suddenly, maybe there was an outside chance that this vampire could... after all, it looked like they might have a common enemy.
With that thought in mind, wheels churning away, Xeph made his way out of the City and back toward the Den.